Local History News - Number 104 - Summer 2012

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1. Tip Of The Iceberg  Show more → Show less ↓

Alan Crosby is Titanic-proof

As far as I am concerned, the most positive thing about 2012 being the centenary of the sinking of theTitanic is that I won’t be around in 2112 for the bicentenary. I am Titantic-proof. I confess that I have never seen the film – only those bits at the end where the water is pouring through the corridors and Leonardo di Caprio is larking around with whatever her name is. But I’ve never been much enthused and the media circus that went with April’s centenary had a powerful additional deterrent effect. Clearly, though, the event had to be marked up and down the British Isles and towns and cities, and their local history societies, sought to find connections, however tenuous, with the doomed ship and its dramatic story.

There was that slightly unseemly bickering about which actually was ‘the city of the Titanic’. Belfast claimed the honours on the not unreasonable grounds (it seems to me) that the ship was built there. Photographs show her, and her disregarded twin sister Olympic (a vessel of no interest because she stayed afloat), towering above nearby buildings at Harland & Wolff, and floating majestically down the Lough dwarfing the tugs on either side. Then there’s Liverpool, which the ship never visited but which provided senior crew members, and where lived the Ismay family, who owned the White Star Line. The wonderful website Encyclopaedia Titanica points out that, inter alia, a Liverpool firm provided the famous band, another supplied the china, and that the ship’s bell was made in St Helens. Southampton, from which the ship sailed on 10 April 1912, is also aTitanic city, arguing also that more victims came from Southampton than from any other place (because so many of the crew were local residents). Then there’s Cobh (nee Queenstown) near Cork, the last calling point before the vessel set off into the North Atlantic. Of course in reality the label ‘Titanic city’ doesn’t mean much, and all can justify their claims to Titanic immortality. And there’s even a French challenger: Cherbourg, la cité de la mer, which has a characteristically elegant and sophisticated website commemorating the ship’s brief stopover there on the evening of its first and only voyage.     

More modestly, but in many ways more interesting, has been the wealth of local research, teasing out all sorts of (at first glance) improbable connections. For instance, I was intrigued to note that the Bedfordshire & Luton Archives and Record Service News had a feature on Bedford’s links. Clearly the great ship had never steamed in stately fashion down the Great Ouse and past St Neots, so what was the association? Some research (isn’t the internet a godsend?) revealed the genuinely interesting fact that the massive set of electrical generators that powered the lighting which remained on even as the ship sank were built by W.H. Allen of Bedford. It might in other circumstances have been good advertising … but perhaps wisely that was not pursued. Carlisle has a lovely connection: Carr’s Water Biscuits, made in the city and stamped with an image of the ship, were served on board in the luxurious dining rooms (as long ago as 2001, well before Titanic-mania, a Carlisle-made Titanic biscuit sold for £3500 at auction).      

Then there are the people. One city for a long time understandably reticent about its Titanic connections is Stoke on Trent. Edward John Smith was born in 1850 at Well Street, Hanley and in normal circumstances would be unknown to wider posterity. But unfortunately, as its captain, he steered theTitanic into that passing iceberg, bungled the subsequent evacuation, and drowned as the ship went down. He has thus achieved a very dubious and posthumous celebrity status, rather oddly becoming a local hero, and his apparent birthplace was marked in April this year by the unveiling of a blue plaque). Here in Lancashire we have a much more worthy hero: Wallace Hartley, the bandmaster who with his fellow musicians continued playing as the ship submerged, was born and grew up at Colne. The town has always been proud of its son, who has a fine monument in the cemetery, and he has perhaps the most signal honour of all - a Wetherspoon’s pub in the town is named after him. And now I raise my glass to commemorate, with great thankfulness and naïvely misplaced optimism, the end of Titanic-mania for the next hundred years. 

2. Armstrong Library  Show more → Show less ↓

A valuable collection at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, introduced by Danae Tankard

The Weald & Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex, which opened to the public in 1970, is one of the leading museums of historic buildings and rural life in the United Kingdom.  It has a collection of nearly fifty historic buildings – domestic, agricultural and industrial – dating from the thirteenth to the late-nineteenth centuries, and an extensive collection of smaller artefacts.

The Museum was founded by Roy Armstrong (1902-1993) as a response to the widespread destruction of vernacular buildings in the post-War period.  His principal aim was to develop a representative collection of buildings illustrating the structural development of vernacular buildings in the Weald and Downland region of south-east England.  Part of his vision for the Museum was that it should become a recognised centre for research into traditional building, so from the outset the establishment of a library and associated research facilities were major objectives.

The Armstrong Library, which is housed in the ground floor of a late medieval building from Crawley, now contains about 11,000 books and journals covering all aspects of traditional building, including history, materials and construction methods, as well as related subjects such as local history, agricultural and country crafts.  It is perhaps the finest specialist public library on vernacular architecture and traditional building in the country.  It is reference only and is open every Monday morning from 8.30 am to 12.45 pm or at other times by appointment. The library catalogue can be accessed through the Museum’s website at the following address:


If you would like to make an appointment to use the library please contact Danae Tankard by phone (01243 811037) or email (history@wealddown.co.uk), preferably at least a week in advance of your proposed visit.

Danae Tankard

Museum Historian
Weald & Downland Open Air Museum
West Sussex
PO18 0EU
Website: www.wealddown.co.uk

3. Balh Award Winner 2012  Show more → Show less ↓

Profile of John Crane

The delight of discovery 

Saline & District Heritage Society is still very young compared with many of our member groups, but it is going from strength to strength as the result of John Crane’s enthusiasm and knowledge. This has proved so infectious that he has a growing number of fellow-residents actively involved in researching the history of their community. 

Saline is some five miles north-west of Dunfermline. Initially an agricultural area, weaving began in the 18thcentury, and from the early 1800s to the 1980s coal and iron ore mines flourished. Comrie Colliery in the north of the parish was reputed to be the most advanced coalmine in Scotland, and there are two opencast operations close to the village today.

John Crane was born on the Isle of Sheppey but first lived in Scotland shortly afterwards. As his father worked for the Admiralty the family moved around, so his education was somewhat fragmented. However, although feeling that moving from Kent to Lancashire aged 10 was ‘like going to another country’, he clearly remembers the beneficial influence of his history teacher Mr Gregory at Bewsey School, Warrington, who stimulated his life-long interest in the subject.  John left school at 15 and became a ‘Junior Storehouse Assistant’ at the Admiralty Stores Depot near Warrington.  Taking a personal route through Further Education and gaining promotions, some ten years later he was part of a small group responsible for auditing the accounts of HM Ships and Shore Establishments. Although based in Portsmouth, in an office that looked out onto HMS Victory, he spent a great deal of time in other parts of the UK and overseas.  A particularly interesting aspect was being hired out to other countries when they purchased new ships from UK Shipbuilders or old ships from the Royal Navy. On one visit to the west coast of Scotland he met his wife who was on holiday there, and after further moves and with two young daughters, they decided the family home should be fixed in one place. 35 years later they are still in the same house in Saline.

Following his retirement in 1995, John became increasingly involved in community activities and over the years has held a number of roles and been involved with diverse organisations there. As well as serving on the PTA, the Horticultural Society and the Community Council (of which he is currently Vice-Chair), he became editor of the village Newsletter. For that he began researching the village’s past, indulging his long-held fascination for history.  The resulting articles have been collected into two books which have proved very popular, and a third is planned. John Crane’s work is both highly readable and meticulously researched, setting a high standard of scholarship and pointing the way for others to follow. The content covers the ecclesiastical, political and social forces that shaped the area over the centuries, and comes right up to date, exploring the lives of ordinary people today.

John describes the parish of Saline as ‘as goldmine for local historians’ and, until he began, one that was largely unexplored. In addition to its varied industrial history mentioned above, there are four Iron Age hillfort sites, the ruins of Killernie Castle, standing stones, a medieval graveyard, early 19th century limekilns, and a notable number of listed buildings.  Sir Walter Scott regularly visited the area, and the famous Scottish novelist Annie S Swan lived close by for a number of years.  All this provides a great deal of scope for John Crane and his enthusiastic fellow local-historians.  As it says on his nomination form, John has ‘a constant delight in the business of discovery, and of connecting the dots to make a coherent story’.


With thanks to John Crane, Colin Stuart, Jane Roxburgh and Linda Moyes.

4. Community Responses To The Outbreak Of War, August 1914  Show more → Show less ↓

Catriona Pennell continues our series

The image of mass enthusiasm amongst the British population at the news of Britain going to war with Germany on 4 August 1914 remained resilient, in historical literature, until very recently.(1) Trevor Wilson’s methodologically imaginative use of unpublished diaries, correspondence and recollections of ordinary people, in The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War, 1914-1918 marked a clear turning point in how the war was ‘written’. Yet his vast and fascinating single volume is a general political, military, and social history of Britain during the war that loses sight of specific issues, such as the outbreak of war. (2) Although Hew Strachan has pointed to the mixed emotions and ambiguity in the European responses to the outbreak of the war, the two most substantial pieces of research that dissect claims that all Britons marched joyfully to war has been provided by Adrian Gregory’s The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (2008) and my ownA Kingdom United: Popular Responses to the Outbreak of the First World War in Britain and Ireland (2012).(3) These two contributions complement the ground-breaking work done on French and German popular responses to the outbreak of war by Jean-Jacques Becker and Jeffrey Verhey respectively.(4) In addition, important German works are appearing that embrace the reactions of the press, particularly by Thomas Raithel whilst some exploration has been undertaken on the Australian experience.(5) At a local level, Bonnie J. White and Stuart Dalley are excellent examples of what can be done at a micro-level, although with a somewhat heavy emphasis on recruitment as the only measurable response of public opinion.(6) More micro-studies of this kind are required to ensure that British popular responses are not simply subsumed by London. Taken together, these works do not suggest that the populations of the belligerent countries were jingoistically enthusiastic for war, nor that they refused to fight, but rather that they did so in a spirit of seriousness and in acceptance of their duties.

How is it possible to gauge popular reactions in Britain and Ireland to a war that erupted a century ago, in a time before opinion polls? Newspapers provide an excellent foundation for establishing popular reactions to war in Britain and Ireland. Although any one newspaper in isolation is of limited value, taken together and treated with care, they remain an irreplaceable historical source. Most significantly, as well as reflecting opinion they also record public behaviour. Much can be gleaned about public responses to war by asking what were peopledoing in August 1914? How were their feelings expressed in their behaviour? Popular collective behaviour – such as a protest or riot – is a blessing to the researcher of‘history from below’, and in particular the researcher of popular opinion. Although the task of identifying the‘faces’ of historical crowds is problematic it is useful to dissect incidents of popular collective behaviour to understand what happened, why, who was involved, and what motivated them. In autumn 1914, collective behaviour of this kind was particularly evident in xenophobic riots against actual or perceived Germans. The absence of such activity at crucial moments is also important and research into public opinion should not be limited to the disaffected. Finally, acts and gestures should not overshadow the realm of the imaginary, what ordinary people perceived to be true. Myths and rumours, such as German atrocities in Belgium, the Angel of Mons, or the landing of German spies, often turned out to be exaggerated or untrue, but it is important to remember that, at the time, they achieved their power because they were grounded in reality and resonated with wartime societies, providing a language in which to express some of the fundamental reactions to the outbreak of the war, such as fear and hope.(7) Tracing such emotional reactions and perceptions provides yet another ‘window’through which to view attitudes held in common by a wide range of people.

One of the main sources for establishing popular responses to the outbreak of war, aside from newspapers (at national, regional and local level), is diaries and journals, although these tend to favour the literate middle-classes. Other sources might include pamphlets, leaflets, magazines, committee minutes, records of universities, Working Men’s Clubs, Mining Lodges and Trade Unions, memoirs, letters, photographs, police records, sermons, government records, and many more. Contemporary sources can be supplemented with interviews taken retrospectively. There are, of course, well-known pitfalls in using retrospective testimony so it is important to ‘control’ such sources by cross-referencing to published and unpublished official and private papers, as well as secondary literature. Local archives and Local Studies libraries become essential to this type of investigation, alongside national repositories such as the Imperial War Museum, the National Army Museum, and the Liddle Collection, Leeds. It is important to cross-reference evidence of this kind with online resources such as the Census 1911 to ensure you are providing a clear context to your witness and illuminate variations in class, age, gender, occupation, location etc.

By attempting to reconstruct how people felt on 4 August 1914, there are a number of themes and questions that you could consider. A detailed chronology is crucial; it is only by zooming in on the day-by-day that you can reveal the constantly changing visage of the conflict. For example, reactions to the outbreak of war differ from responses after its outbreak. Public attitudes to the war evolved day-by-day, if not hour-by-hour. What types of emotions are being expressed in those early days? A roller coaster journey that takes into account shock and dread, grief, excitement, uncertainty and anxiety, fear, relief and depression would not be surprising and certainly challenges any monolithic notions of war enthusiasm. As mentioned above, crowds and public behaviour can reveal a lot about how people are thinking and feeling in these heady days. Look to locations to see what is happening, for example around newspaper offices (searching for news) or railway stations (waving off departing troops). Measurable behaviour obviously includes recruitment figures, but also look to see how many people rallied around the national cause in terms of humanitarian and philanthropic initiatives such as supporting Belgian refugees and knitting socks for departing soldiers. More negative behaviour might be expressions of fear and hatred towards the enemy, such as spy-hunting and demonstrations against Germany. Consider what types of myths and rumours people are hearing and repeating during these early days of the conflict. Even if they turn out to be false, what can they tell us about the societies they are originating from? In all cases, be sensitive to ‘who’ is giving their opinion and think imaginatively about how you may reveal younger, female and working-class voices. Any study of popular responses to the outbreak of war must try to illuminate a mosaic of experiences and ensure that the voices of a vast number of contemporaries are heard.


1. For examples of historians who confidently state that British society was strongly jingoistic at the outbreak of war see: Arthur Marwick, The Deluge: British Society and the First World War (London: Bodley Head, 1965); Peter Parker, The Old Lie: The Great War and the Public School Ethos (London: Constable, 1987); W.J. Reader, At Duty’s Call: A Study in Obsolete Patriotism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988).

2. Trevor Wilson, The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War, 1914-1918 (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1986).

3. Adrian Gregory, The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Adrian Gregory, “British ‘War Enthusiasm’ in 1914: A Reassessment,” inEvidence, History and the Great War: Historians and the Impact of 1914-18, ed. Gail Braybon (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2003), 67–85; Catriona Pennell, A Kingdom United: Popular Responses to the Outbreak of the First World War in Britain and Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Hew Strachan, The First World War, Volume One: To Arms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 142–62.

4. See Jean-Jacques Becker, 1914: Comment les Français sont entrés dans la guerre(Paris: Presses de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1977); Jeffrey Verhey, The Spirit of 1914: Militarism, Myth and Mobilization in Germany(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

5. Grant Mansfield, “‘Unbounded Enthusiasm’: Australian Historians and the Outbreak of the Great War,” Australian Journal of Politics & History 53, no. 3 (September 3, 2007): 360–374; Thomas Raithel, Das “Wunder” Der Inneren Einheit: Studien Zur Deutschen Und Französischen Öffentlichkeit Bei Beginn Des Ersten Weltkrieges (Bonn: Bouvier, 1996).

6. Stuart Dalley, “The Response in Cornwall to the Outbreak of the First World War,” Cornish Studies 11 (2003): 85–109; Bonnie J. White, “Volunteerism and Early Recruitment Efforts in Devonshire, August 1914 - December 1915,” The Historical Journal 52, no. 03 (2009): 641–666.

7. David Clarke, The Angel of Mons(Chichester: Wiley, 2004); John Horne and Alan Kramer, German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial(London: Yale University Press, 2001); Catriona Pennell, “‘The Germans Have Landed!’: Home Defence and Invasion Fears in the South East of England, August to December 1914,” in Untold War: New Perspectives in First World War Studies, ed. Heather Jones, Jennifer O’Brien, and Christoph Schmidt-Supprian (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2008).

Dr Catriona Pennell is Lecturer in History at the University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus

5. The Great Ejectment In The Wilds Of Wannie  Show more → Show less ↓

Win Stokes takes us on a musical journey

Earlier this year our West Gallery singing group which specialises in performing music from a period roughly between 1700 and the 1830s was asked whether we could sing at  a commemoration of the Great Ejectment of 1662 in the tiny United Reform church at Great Bavington which is on the edge of an area of south Northumberland commonly referred to as the ‘Wilds of Wannie’ The term ‘wilds of Wannie’ is one used in the North East to indicate somewhere remote, away from civilisation, but its derivation as we discovered is from its being the source of the river Wansbeck which flows through the county town of Morpeth and out to the Port of Blyth.

The  Great Ejectment  of the title refers to the eviction of clergy appointed to livings during the Civil War and Commonwealth period who refused to conform to the terms of the Act of Uniformity which re established the Anglican hierarchy under the restored monarchy of Charles II . Part of the argument against many of them was that as bishops had been abolished during this time they could not have been properly ordained. But there were fundamental theological differences which antedated the Civil war and which had never been resolved. An estimated 2000 clergy  nation wide were expelled from their livings and forbidden to minister or come within 5 miles of their previous parishes. Their failure to conform to the new laws made them ‘nonconformists’

The clergy of the Diocese of Durham of which Northumberland at this date was a part were particularly vulnerable because John Cosin the restored Bishop who was one of the authors of the new church settlement had already demonstrated his opposition to Puritanism before the .War and himself been forced into exile during the Commomwealth.

The vicar at Kirkharle ,(now better known as the birthplace of Capability Brown) was a man called Ralph Blunt about whose background very little seems to be known except that he had only recently arrived there and subsequently moved to Alnwick where in 1672 he was granted a licence to preach and continued to preach to nonconformist congregations in South Northumberland until his death aged 92 in 1715. According to tradition members of his flock from Kirkharle and other local sympathisers met in a field at the back of a farm at Great Bavington to hear him preach and there seems to have been a meeting house of sorts there in 1693. The present building well hidden behind the farm,dates from 1725 which makes it one of the earliest nonconformist chapels still in regular use in the country.

One would like to know more about the both Blunt and the process of ejectment which was scheduled to take place across the country on St Bartholomew’s day August 24th 1662. Perhaps more will emerge as local interest grows hopefully some of it stimulated by our attempts to recreate the Psalm tunes that these congregations sang.   

6. Taking Strength From The Luddites  Show more → Show less ↓

David Griffiths explains how commemorating an anniversary benefits a society

In the last LHN, John Hargreaves outlined the wide range of events in West Yorkshire to mark this year's Luddite bicentenary.  Huddersfield Local History Society has played a significant part in this, alongside other organisations – and the Society itself has been strengthened in the process.

Our two major contributions have been to publish a book and a trail leaflet.  The book, Liberty or Death: Radicals, Republicans and Luddites, 1793-1823, by long-standing local historians Alan Brooke and Lesley Kipling, has been fully revised from the original 1993 edition, now long out of print, and sold over 300 copies in its first six weeks. Based on a close reading of national and local archival sources, it sets the Luddites firmly in the longer perspective of ‘the making of the English working class’, exploring the local response to thirty years of radicalism from Tom Paine to Richard Carlile.

Alongside this scholarly work is an illustrated trail leaflet, ‘William Horsfall’s Last Journey’.  Horsfall, a local millowner, was fatally wounded by Luddites on 28 April 2012, for which three men would eventually hang. The trail takes the walker from the site of the Cloth Hall, where he had done the day’s business, to the scene of the shooting, and then to Milnsbridge House, seat of Joseph Radcliffe JP, who led the pursuit and prosecution of the movement’s leaders.  Research was assisted by history undergraduates at Huddersfield University, and both publications were supported by a grant from the Lipman-Miliband Trust.  Society members have also been offered a guided walk along the trail (repeated for delegates to the University’s Luddite conference in May), a coach tour of Luddite landmarks and additional material in our annual Journal. 

The Luddite programme reflects a new level of confidence in the Society.  Other recent achievements include publication of a new town centre heritage trail (jointly with the Civic Society); a major revamp of the Journal, now on public sale for the first time; and an initiative – in its early days – to ensure proper representation in local history of the town's diverse ethnic communities.  All these are turning us outwards, but more traditional indicators of activity, such as membership and attendance at talks, are positive too.  Indeed we seem to have established something of a virtuous circle, with larger numbers boosting confidence and attracting more people in turn.  The Luddite bicentenary has both embodied and strengthened this developing process.

David Griffiths is publicity officer of Huddersfield Local History Society. Details of the Luddite publications mentioned above, and much else, can be found at the Society’s website, www.huddersfieldhistory.org.uk

7. News From VCH Herefordshire  Show more → Show less ↓

Sylvia Pinches reports

Things move slowly in Herefordshire. When I began work on the England’s Past for Everyone project in Ledbury in 2005 and told people that the first Victoria County History volume for the county had been published in 1908 and nothing since, I got the reply, ‘we’re like that down here’!

Although the first efforts towards a VCH Herefordshire faltered and failed before the First World War, the pace of VCH work has increased slowly but steadily since the formation of the Trust for the Victoria County History of Herefordshire in 1998. While the objective of raising sufficient funds to employ a full-time County Editor has yet to be achieved, there have been some notable successes. Herefordshire was one of the counties involved in the HLF-funded England’s Past for Everyone project. Work was focussed on Ledbury, with the enthusiastic help of many local people. Some fifty volunteers participated in projects as diverse as archaeological test-pit digging and oral history or transcribing documents ranging from a 13th-century rental, through 16th- and 17th-century probate material to 19th-century census enumerators’ books and 20th-century rating schedules. Their contributions, combined with the work of professional historians and archaeologists, resulted in the publication of two books,Ledbury: A Market Town and its Tudor Heritage andLedbury: People and Parish before the Reformation.

 The first VCH Herefordshire volume was a ‘general’ one containing articles on natural history, archaeology, Domesday book, political history and agriculture. The Trust is now pressing on with plans for a topographical volume. This will build on the research that went into the EPE books, resulting in a ‘big red book’ on Ledbury and the surrounding parishes. The first of these histories, of Eastnor, is now in draft. As the production of 'Red Books' or EPE-style paperbacks without a full-time County Editor will be a very slow process, the town or village histories will be published on-line as they are completed. The Trust is also investigating the possibility of publication through ‘print-on-demand’.

The Trust wants to build on the foundation of the EPE project in other ways, too, including its community involvement with local history societies and volunteers.  A number of the EPE volunteers have definitely got the ‘local history bug’ and have continued to work with the VCH. They have produced transcripts of the Eastnor parish registers, census enumerators’ books and probate material pre-1700. (The latter, along with the Ledbury probate material and more can be found athttp://www.victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk/explore/ ). Volunteers also helped with a survey of the historic farmsteads in Eastnor, through the kind permission of Mr James Hervey-Bathurst of Eastnor Castle, one of the Patrons of the Trust.

Current work on the nearby parish of Bosbury reflects the many-faceted approach of the VCH. The VCH volunteers are transcribing the pre-1700 probate material. In the spring I taught a ‘House History’ course through the local Workers Educational Association branch, using many Bosbury buildings as examples. (See cover illustration). A project to start researching the history of some of the older buildings, using material in the National Archives and the National Monuments Record, has been part funded by the European Union (EAFRD) and Defra through the VITAL Herefordshire LEADER programme. The Trust is delighted to be working closely with the local history group, the Bosbury Chroniclers who make the fruits of their researches available through the ‘Bosbury History Resource’ (http://www.bosburyhistoryresource.org.uk/ ). Piece by piece, the history, first of Bosbury and later of other Herefordshire parishes, will be stitched together.

Sylvia Pinches is Team Leader, VCH Herefordshire

8. Let Nothing Be Lost  Show more → Show less ↓

Steve Hobbs musing in the archives

The publications of local record societies are a much valued and familiar source for local historians. Most counties are covered a record society, some of which were founded in the late 19thcentury. The Somerset Record Society active since 1887, is sufficiently old enough to have a motto, in Latin, of which the title of this piece is a translation. The early output of these older societies had a strong bias to medieval records, usually published in Latin, with little or no concession to those lacking a classical education. However, time has passed on and the range of sources covered has widened to reflect the development of historical research into later periods at local level.

Wiltshire Record Society (WRS) has published one volume firmly based on 20th century material: Motor vehicle Registration, 1903-1914, which offers far more than just for the vintage car enthusiast, as it documents the social pattern of car ownership at the dawn of motoring.  Volumes are no longer restricted to editing a single text: WRS has published a collection of farm accounts and other documents illustrating farming in the 17th century, and a collection of memoranda, annotations and notes from parish registers, 1538-1812.

This year WRS reaches the milestone of 75 years of activity during which it has produced 65 volumes, and the anniversary will be marked by a conference jointly held with Wiltshire Local History Forum at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre on Sunday 21 October. (For details contact me at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre).

However, local historians should also be aware of the work of family history societies many of which have a publications programme. Typically this will comprise transcripts of parish registers; an important source for more than just genealogical research, particularly with the inclusion, intermittent before 1813, thereafter regular, of ages at death and occupations of fathers.

However, Wiltshire Family History Society (WFHS) has included a wide range of material under its imprint of interest to local historians. While lacking the sophisticated editorial apparatus which is the perquisite of a record society publication, nevertheless, they are a most useful and accessible source of raw material. Church seating plans of the 17th and 18th centuries and Incumbents’ visiting books from the mid 19th century, are invaluable sources for understanding the social structure of a parishes. It has produced an index to the 70, 000 marriage licence bonds covering Wiltshire, Berkshire and parts of Dorset, 1609-1837. This is an invaluable source for those pursuing ancestors who avoided marriage by banns, often because the parties were moving between ecclesiastical jurisdictions. But consider this: Each document has two named bondsmen, one of whom was usually the groom to be, whose abodes and occupations or status are given. This could be regarded as something of a regional rolling trade directory, although it must be conceded the indexes are geared more to person and place.

The introduction of conscription in the First World War resulted in the creation of Tribunals to determine those who reason of their by their trade and work should be exempt from service. WFHS has published material for Swindon (from local newspapers) and Calne Rural District Council (from original records), and it is an unrivalled source for agriculture and industry during the war years. As an example I draw on the papers from the Pewsey RDC, which have not been published.  George Keel of Choulston Farm in Figheldean explained that the ‘Dangerous position of the farm owing to the Flying Corps at Netheravon being entirely situated on our place; with the aeroplanes overhead & the lorries in the road, it is necessary to have a man with the horses & we cannot replace him’. The quote perfectly captures the point when the agricultural world was on the cusp of mechanisation.

A neat example of overlap and continuity between both branches of historical research is the current project of the WFHS transcribing team is a series of Coroners’ bills, 1797-1824, which are amongst the papers of the Quarter Sessions on its ‘Great Rolls’. Wiltshire Record Society published them for the period 1752-1796, edited bythe leading expert on the office of coroner, Roy Hunnisett. These documents, created for the mundane purpose of recompensing the coroners with a fee and travelling expenses are the only source for inquests into cases of sudden death for the 18th and 19thcenturies. The period is important for the impact of the Industrial Revolution in the predominantly rural county of Wiltshire. Steam-powered machinery for the woollen industry, a network of canals, and the introduction of threshing machines, were all indicators of this development. Unfortunately they all offered new hazards to the innocent and unwary. Many drowned in the canals, or perished as a result of accidents with the new machinery in factory or farm. Several children died as a result of accidents as they laboured in factories, although the danger in the home presented by open fires and candlelight, was the most common cause of death for the young. For adults, accidents on the road (falls from horses, carriages and carts), were not infrequent. The bills are a vivid reminder of the often brutish nature of life, and prevalence of the fatalistic belief in God’s will, which appears to have acted as a disincentive to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

9. Pauper Prisons ... Pauper Palaces (midlands)  Show more → Show less ↓

Natalie Whistance updates us on this exciting project

As many of you will be aware, back in March, BALH was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant (see Local History News 103 – Spring 2012).  This has enabled BALH to start work on the ‘Pauper Prisons…Pauper Palaces (Midlands)’ project which will see over 100 volunteer editors catalogue and research records concerning mid-nineteenth century poverty.  This short notice is a brief update of what has been happening so far.

At present around 60-80 volunteers have been recruited to the project.  They will be working from digital images of poor law union correspondence documents held at The National Archives.  The project covers the Basford, Mansfield, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster, Wolstanton and Burslem and Newcastle-under-Lyme poor law unions, with the volunteer editors coming together in groups based in their localities.

Dr Paul Carter, Project Director, and Natalie Whistance, Research and Records Coordinator, have just starting visiting the groups of volunteer editors across the Midlands providing workshops in the ‘art of cataloguing’ archival records.  So far three out of four workshops have been completed in Belbroughton (Bromsgrove Poor Law Union), Kidderminster (Kidderminster Poor Law Union) and Hucknell (Basford and Mansfield Poor Law Unions).

The project is still in its early stages and we hope to bring you regular Local History News updates on how the project is going and what material is being uncovered. Material discovered just in the production of the workshops is giving a tantalising glimpse of the riches awaiting us.  As well the fascinating stories of individuals caught up in the poor law system, these records provide the local historian with a wealth of material highlighting the general conditions within the areas covered. Fluctuations in trade and local employment are well documented.  For example, we find in early 1852 in Kidderminster that the staple trade of the town, carpet manufacture, was in a very depressed state leading to an increase in relief applications by able bodied carpet weavers.  Those with families were offered stone breaking and single men were offered admission to the workhouse, which already contained 213 inmates out of a maximum capacity of 300. (1)

Similarly from Bromsgrove, a letter from early 1848, stated that unemployment amongst nailers had seen a dramatic rise in able bodied paupers, with the local authorities employing a James King to keep the able bodied to work at breaking stones or at the mill.(2 In Basford in 1855 we find detailed lists of able bodied paupers being given relief, many being discharged from the workhouse due to overcrowding caused by mass unemployment.(3)

These downturns in trade had a dramatic impact on the local poor and the poor law union correspondence helps us as local historians to examine how local authorities sought to manage poverty in times of high unemployment.

Natalie Whistance, Research and Records Coordinator, Pauper Prisons… Pauper Palaces (Midlands)

1. Kidderminster Poor Law Union MH 12/14020. Folios 264-265.

2. Bromsgrove Poor Law Union, MH 12/13908. Folio 246.

3. Basford Poor Law Union MH 12/9244. Folio 74-76.

10. I Say It ....  Show more → Show less ↓

Paul Anderton on Local History Day in Manchester

Manchester in June welcomed members of BALH with a right warm civic ceremony and the sort of weather that confirms (quite wrongly) all the prejudices about life ‘up north’. Those who gathered in the Friends’ Meeting Hall had treats galore thoroughly justifying the bold decision to break out from the capital’s embrace for a second time. Previously, I am reliably informed, Crewe was the host, but as a northerner I scarcely count that as a true north-country location. Manchester, however, is redolent with all the symbolism of Britain’s alternative wealth creating capital. We met on the edge of St. Peter’s Fields and were reminded of the events in 1819 when the sabres of oppressive authority dealt savagely with the aspirations of the disenfranchised. In the sanctuary of a building serving the most long-lived radical sect generated during the mid-seventeenth century political and religious crisis we revelled in our break with tradition. Those who organised the event and attracted a substantially new audience for Local History Day deserve fulsome thanks and sincere congratulations for a smoothly run event – expressions we all, regrettably, failed to properly publicly register at the close of the day.    

The programme was a very neat balance of two nicely contrasting presentations either side of the AGM and attendant awards ceremonies, with plenty of time for networking, meeting old friends, making new acquaintances and even slipping out to pay respects to the victims of Peterloo. Dr Paul Carter most appropriately opened the day with his lively, enthusiastic and most informative explanation of the latest BALH project using the records of Boards of Guardians stored in The National Archives at Kew. He dwelt a touch too long perhaps on the workings of the old poor law, but very rightly stressed the huge, and still underrated, significance of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act as a revolution in local government. It is the correspondence generated between a selected group of Midland Poor Law Unions and the Poor Law Commission at Somerset House in London which is the core of a BALH backed cataloguing scheme. This extends a more wide-ranging project involving twenty local history groups cataloguing the correspondence of Boards of Guardians 1834-54. The intention now is to take this up to 1871. The results will be a large addition to the free, National Archives online service allowing name and subject searches of many thousands of documents generated by the actions of a set of revolutionary local government bodies transforming early Victorian society. Dr Carter gave numerous examples of the varied types of records held within the bound volumes of papers. These, carefully digitised and available on screen, can be identified by researchers online using the catalogues. Ancestors who were Union medical officers, paupers beaten and abused in workhouses, the incidence of lunacy, the extent of out-relief provision are only a few of the topics opened up for examination using digitised original papers. To clarify his explanations Dr Carter made full use of audience participation to bring home the size of the pauper problem, the issues (many with current resonance) of poverty alleviation and the complexities of the Poor Law Commission’s bureaucratic operations. Plentifully illustrated with photographs, though not perhaps always with text as easily read at the back of the room as one might like, Dr Carter’s talk, delivered in his delightfully inimitable style, gave the day an inspiring start.     

An AGM is a necessary element of Local History Day but no one seems to want it to stand too much in the way of the awards ceremonies. Together they form the second act of the Day and are crucial to the purpose of BALH. Fourteen individuals and one local history society received public acknowledgement of contributions to scholarship and group activities of a hugely varied kind. The scrolls and citations only touch the surface of, for example, the hours of voluntary effort put into research, organising society programmes of talks, preparing publications and marketing the work of colleagues. This year attention was drawn to the range of historical inquiries celebrated when one citation was read in Welsh. Names and details of all award winners are deservedly published in one way or another in BALH publications – could they be more widely advertised?

The day came to its third act with Professor Karen Hunt’s lecture. Her title – The local and the everyday: interwar women’s politics - did not quite anticipate at least one conclusion which can be drawn from her densely worded, carefully structured and clearly articulated text. In effect, she presented a case for local historians to take up the subject of how, why, to what extent and with what effect women entered into local authority politics in the twenty years or so after getting the Parliamentary vote. Her own case study was Manchester and women such as Margaret Ashton and Hannah Mitchell (see her autobiography The Hard Way Up) as active members of Manchester City council. Although she did not say it directly, or with any great force, she correctly identified a reluctance among local historians to tackle political history at the municipal level in general, let alone with specific reference to women in the inter-war years. This understates the multi-layered analysis Professor Hunt provided of the means by which women engaged in Manchester’s politics, not only, or perhaps not chiefly, in the three national Parliamentary parties, but in organisations and movements with particularly feminist aims and interests.  Her argument was rooted in the notion that nothing lies outside the sphere of politics: the every day issues of domestic circumstances, so significant in the lives of British working class women, conditioned their lives and generated political activity even when they did not always recognise their politicisation.  The difficulties faced by those who knew what they were doing, the Ellen Wilkinsons of this world, who aimed for the stars, were, of course, immense. Husbands and sons were praised for being cooperative and positively helpful to the aspiring councillor when, at election time, they lunched out four times a week to ease the burden of household duties! Obstacles to success included the unwillingness of many women to see their lives in political terms. They had to be persuaded that casting votes was a route to a more fulfilling existence. In the end, Professor Hunt presented her study as an exemplification of what local historians ought to do to redress the balance in narratives of the twentieth century which not only leave out political activity, but the role of women as agents in a political world.                                        

This purely personal note on the benefits of the day for me, a man from the north and keen advocate of bringing Local History Day out of London more frequently, is, in a kind of way, ultra vires. The object is not to divide BALH into northern and southern divisions, but to promote unity and exploration of all parts of Britain in an equitable manner. An appreciation of an event in the north would come better from a West Country or Home Counties contributor. This fills a gap, if the gap exists, should no one south of Watford feel moved to report on a day out in Manchester.  

11. All-party Parliamentary Group On Archives And History  Show more → Show less ↓

Margaret O'Sullivan reports on the APPG's annual lecture

A large and appreciative audience heard an entertaining and informative lecture on ‘Dickens and Parliament’ delivered by Professor Michael Slater on 20 June 2012 in the appropriately Victorian surroundings of the Grand Committee Room in the Houses of Parliament. Professor Slater, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Birkbeck College, has published extensively on Dickens and has edited his journalistic writings.  His erudition was amply demonstrated not only in his paper, but also in his replies to questions from members of the audience.

2012 is the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth.  For five years from the age of eighteen he was a Parliamentary reporter and observed the passage of the Great Reform Act, the Poor Law Amendment Act and the  destruction by fire of part of the Houses of Parliament.  The activities of MPs and peers provided him with much material for satirical episodes in his novels. Many of his characters embodied behaviour and attitudes he had seen at first hand. Dickens was not universally critical. There were some MPs whom he admired, but corruption and venality, especially on the hustings, shocked him greatly.  When towards the end of his career Dickens was asked to consider becoming a Member of Parliament himself, he declined and said he was ‘quite an infidel’ about Westminster.

Appositely, just as Professor Slater quoted a passage from Dickens about the ringing of the Division Bell and the shout ‘Di-Vis-ion’, a Parliamentary usher opened the Committee Room door and made the same announcement in the same way as in the writer’s time. But now the message of the division bell is also delivered electronically and on television monitors throughout the buildings.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History, chaired by Dr Hywel Francis, now has more than 70 members, many of whom are historians, and this was their second annual lecture.

Margaret O’Sullivan

12. Irish News  Show more → Show less ↓

reported by James Scannell

Restoring historic buildings

Dublin City Council has granted planning approval for the restoration of the derelict Clontarf seawater baths despite objections from local residents who were concerned about anti-social behaviour. The promoters envisage full restoration of the baths and the provision of a single-storey pavilion containing a café/bar. The facility opened in 1884 and was a popular venue until it closed in 1996, after which it fell into decay. The Clontarf Swimming and Water Polo Club was based there but then moved to the National Aquatic Centre in Abbotstown, Co. Dublin. It is now intended that the club will operate the swimming pool in the refurbished facility.

Meanwhile at Clonmel in Co. Tipperary the superb Main Guard building, which 20 years ago was literally falling apart, has been completely restored in a £2.5 million project. It was originally built in 1675 by order of James Butler, first Duke of Ormonde, to serve as a courthouse for the Palatinate of Co. Tipperary. In 1810 the construction of a new courthouse rendered it redundant and the building was then substantially modified with the addition of new floors and windows, and subdivided into shops. Acquired by Clonmel Corporation in 1886, the building was handed over to the Office of Public Works in 1944 and designated as a National Monument. Great care was exercised during the restoration work to ensure the preservation of as much of the original building as possible. The Main Guard now serves as a visitors centre and as a venue for recitals, lectures and other cultural events.

Missing relics

Until the 1950s an ancient 2-metre high granite cross stood outside St. Patrick’s church, Wicklow Town. Then it was removed by a local priest on the grounds that some of the carvings were too explicit. The cross was broken into two pieces and buried somewhere near the church. Now the Wicklow Peace & Remembrance Memorial Committee hope to find the cross and use it to commemorate all those from Co. Wicklow who fought in conflicts on the island of Ireland and overseas, and have received the support of local clergy. It is hoped that the two segments will be located, excavated, repaired and then erected on a suitable site.

In early March thieves stole a heart-shaped wooded box from Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, containing the preserved heart of St. Laurence O’Toole, the patron saint of the city. It is 890 years old and has been displayed in the cathedral since the 13th century. Laurence O’Toole was Archbishop of Dublin from 1162 to 1180 and achieved a great reputation a skilled mediator between the Norman and Gaelic factions who were fighting at that time for power in Ireland. He was canonised by Pope Honorius III in 1225 following numerous claims of miracles at his original gravesite. This is the latest in a series of thefts of religious objects from places of worship. Last year three relics believed to be fragments of the True Cross were stolen from Holy Cross Abbey in Co. Tipperary: they were recovered in January this year. Also in January, a reliquary which normally holds the jawbone of St. Brigid was stole from a north Dublin church, but the relic was not there at the time of the theft because it had been removed to permit the cleaning of the reliquary.

Images of Protestant missionaries in India 

Glass plates showing Irish Protestants missionaries working in India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been recently discovered and can now be viewed on-line. The slides were found in the deanery at Killaloe, Co. Clare, and have been digitally re-mastered and made available by the Church of Ireland. They show the missionaries going about their daily work. In 1892 a group of Trinity College graduates responded to a request from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel for missionaries to work in the Chota Nagpur area of north-east India, working in a diocese the size of Ireland. The Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur established schools, a seminary, dispensary and hospital and founded St. Columba’s College, now part of Vinoba Bhave University of Hazaribagh. Although no Irish missionaries currently work in the area, the mission remains a registered charity and supports projects in India. Further information on the mission to India is available on www.Ireland.annglicann.org/library.

Documents in the news

Those who believe that social welfare fraud is a relatively new phenomenon received a surprise when a ledger dating back to the Famine years (1845–1851), discovered in Co. Waterford, revealed that civil servants at that time were issued with guidelines to ensure that all claimants were genuine. Starving claimants applying for a daily food ration were required to apply in person or to provide a medical certificate in the case of the illness. Those classed as ‘lunatics, idiots, deaf and dumb, crippled or helpless from old age‘(political correctness was not a virtue of the Victorians) were excused having to sign on daily. Small farmers unable to leave tilling the land were also allowed to sign on less frequently. The ledger has a column which recorded changes in the circumstances of claimants, with death and emigration being the most common. The ledger was sold in Dublin during April by Mealy’s, rare book and manuscript auctioneers.

At the same auction an original ‘Criminal Card’ for Michael Collins was sold. Designed to brief Crown forces on how to spot Collins, it was issued by British intelligence during the War of Independence (1919-1921) when a £10,000 reward was offered for his capture. The card states that ‘MICHAEL COLLINS, Chief of the I.R.A. & organiser of ambushes and murders … will stop at nothing, is an expert shot’. It does not mention that he used the alias ‘Mr. Grace’ and often cycled openly around Dublin, though it does observe that ‘Often wears the disguise of a priest’. The comments, ‘On these occasions he invariably carries an umbrella’ was struck out, though other remarks include ‘He sometimes wears a black moustache, which is false, and often changed for another colour’ and, remarkably, ‘Has been known to travel as a nun’. The card was purchased by an anonymous bidder for £3500.

A file of documents relating to Pádraig Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin and a signatory of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, were auctioned in April. The documents showed that his life insurance policy was cashed in several weeks after his execution in May 1916, in order to redeem a series of promissory notes taken out to establish his celebrated St. Enda’s School in the Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham. The correspondence revealed that only half the borrowed sum was paid in this way, the balance not being cleared until 1960 when some of the proceeds from selling the Pearse family home, Cullenswood House, were used to pay the debt.  

An Irish Independent desk diary from 1916 has been donated to the Media History Collection in the library of Dublin City University. It records details of assignments to be covered by reporters each day but for Easter Week 1916 the page for Easter Monday is marked ‘revolution breaks out in the city between 11 and 12 noon’ andsubsequent pages are left blank except for the single word ‘revolution’. Gerry Murphy, a descendant of the newspaper proprietor William Martin Murphy, donated the diary.

Titanic connections

In Ireland events were held during April to mark the centenary of the loss of the Titanic while on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. March saw the opening of the new Titanic Centre in Belfast while Cobh, Co. Cork, the last port of call for the liner before its rendezvous with fate, is marking the centenary under the title ‘Titanic Cobh 100’. But one of the few remaining direct links with the ship is in danger of being lost: the 19th century wooden pier, from which 123 passengers boarded tenders to go out to the Titanic, is in an extremely dangerous state and experts have warned that it is likely to collapse without urgent repair work. Who currently owns the structure, which is known locally as the ‘Heartbreak Pier’ or ‘White Star Pier‘,  is unclear, but it was used by generations of Irish emigrants who departed from Cobh to seek a better life in the United States or Canada. The former White Star line offices in Cobh have been renovated and turned into a visitor centre, the Titanic Experience, and many local people believe that it the pier should likewise be preserved. It is not on Cobh’s register of protected structures and the Town Council has no funds to carry out any remedial work (the cost is estimated at £300,000). A poignant commemoration of the tragedy took place at distant Castlebar, Co. Mayo, on Easter Sunday. Stationmaster Noel Hoban unveiled a plaque in Castlebar Station to the 14 people from the tiny community of Addelgoole who travelled thence to Cobh to sail to America on the Titanicas steerage passengers. Eleven were drowned when the liner sank.    

A decade of centenaries

Dr. Maurice Manning, chancellor of the National University of Ireland, will chair a group of leading authors and academics, the Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations, established to advise the government on centenary commemorations covering the period 1912-1916. The Group will initially prepare an overview statement for the commemoration programme, which will culminate with the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Dr. Manning has indicated that the Group favours an inclusive and non-triumphalist approach, ensuring authenticity, proportionality, and openness.

On 11 April, Waterford City Hall was the venue for an event to mark the centenary of the Third Home Rule Bill, inaugurating a decade of commemorations covering Home Rule, the First World War, the Easter Rising, the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921 and the Irish Civil War. In 1912 John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons, secured the introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill as the price for his party to support the Liberal Party in government. He was M.P. for Waterford from 1891 to 1918. The measure was never implemented. Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and Hugo Swire, UK Minister for State for Northern Ireland, jointly opened the event.

13. New Heritage Lottery Fund Policy On Digital Projects  Show more → Show less ↓

In July the Heritage Lottery Fund changed its policy on funding digital projects. It has provided detailed guidance on eligibility and expected outputs. Now projects which are exclusively digital can be funded, provided they meet the criteria of the relevant grant programme. Both creation and dissemination of material in digital form are encouraged, but initiatives must have as a primary objective  ‘ to help people learn about their own and other people’s heritage’ . This can be through the technology itself – including websites, crowd-sourcing, social media, apps or other platforms.

HLF expects publicly-funded digital content to be available free for non-commercial uses so that as many people as possible have access and can use it for their own purposes.  Sustainability is also a criterion for funding and underlying digital files- software, data, images, movies or text- must have a longer life than the project term and be available to others to use. 

You can find new guidance ‘Thinking about using digital technology in heritage projects’ at


italpractice.aspx. Twenty-two case studies ranging from crowdsourcing to geocaching and from mobile applications to web sites can be found at: http://www.hlf.org.uk/aboutus/howwework/Pages/Digitalparticipationandlearnin

g.aspx. HLF grant terms are at:


Margaret O’Sullivan July 2012

14. Warwick Symposium On Parish Research  Show more → Show less ↓

Anne Tarver reports

These annual Symposia are organised by the Warwick Network for Parish Research, an informal association of researchers, with an institutional base at the University of Warwick's Department of History, whose aim is to support the study of British and European parishes from the Middle Ages to the present.  The event was supported this year by the British Association for Local History and the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture at the University of York.

The symposium opened on one of the hottest days of the year and delegates were welcomed appositely on their arrival into Scarman House on Warwick campus with slices of chilled fruit, iced tea and iced coffee.  Some 119 delegates had registered from USA, France, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom representing Universities, archives and other groups. Delegates included 14 members of 5 local history groups from Warwickshire and 24 independent scholars.

The programme comprised a veritable feast for those interested in parish research, covering a wide variety of topics from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon.  Topics were introduced by four plenary lectures and groups then divided into fifteen themed sessions each including between one and four presentations.  

In the conference pack was a list of abstracts of presentations and proposals received, very welcome in view of the fact that it was not possible to move around easily between the themed sessions.  It was an extremely useful networking session for everyone, especially so for the Warwickshire local historians outside the university and the independent scholars working on local history across the country.  In view of the contraction of adult education and the loss of courses teaching local history, events of this calibre are a vital link between local historians and the current trends in local history research.  Thanks are due to the organiser, Professor Beat Kümin of Warwick University and his team for producing such an excellent programme.

15. BALH visit to John Rylands Library, Manchester  Show more → Show less ↓

A report from Lois Dean

We travel miles across the country and abroad to see places of interest, whilst virtually ignoring those on our own doorstep.

I had visited Manchester’s John Rylands Library several years ago, but it took the BALH group tour, on the day before the AGM came north, to prompt me into boarding a tram to make the return trip that I had been promising myself since the Library’s new extension was completed in 2007.

A small group of us met in the light and airy new entrance area in Spinningfields, the gateway to Manchester’s business district, where glass and steel sit alongside the original neo-gothic building on Deansgate.

We were welcomed by Anne McClelland, Public Programmes Support Officer and John Hodgson, Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, who told us the history of this Grade 1 listed memorial to cotton textile manufacturer John Rylands (1801-1888), Manchester’s first multi-millionaire.

After Rylands’ death, his third wife, Enriqueta, commissioned architect Basil Champneys to design the Library, adding her own ideas – not always well received by Champneys.

Begun in 1890, building work took 10 years. No expense was spared, best quality Cumbrian sandstone was used and oak imported from Poland. 

The John Rylands Library opened its doors to public readers on 1 January 1900 and its shelves and bookcases – fitted with state of the art means of protecting the contents from the Manchester grime – were far from bare.

Enriqueta Rylands was an avid collector, with the means to acquire many valuable early books, illustrated medieval manuscripts and other documents. Her purchases included the Althrop book collection of Earl Spencer in 1892 and that of Earl Crawford from Haigh Hall, Wigan, in 1901. 

The John Rylands became part of the University of Manchester in 1972 and houses most of the University’s special collection, as well as the archives of the Methodist Church of Great Britain.

Its new four-level extension provides lifts for improved disabled access to the old building, lockers, conservation rooms and a new special collection reading room on the fourth floor.

Our tour began by walking from the new to the old through a corridor reminiscent of monastery cloisters, now cleaned to reveal the varying pink shades of its sandstone. Our guide John paused to point out carvings, including a foliate head.

We moved through the Spencer and Crawford rooms with their elegant glass-fronted bookcases and the Christie Gallery, which is used for the Library’s themed temporary exhibitions.

The tour paused for a few minutes in the Rylands Gallery, which has permanent exhibitions on the themes of Faiths, History of the Bible, Beautiful Books, Science, World Literature, Everyday Life and Manchester.

Here, Anne and John showed us one of the Library’s oldest treasures, a First Century fragment of the Gospel of John.

The most magnificent part of the Library is its cathedral-like old reading room, built 30 feet above street level to lessen noise from outside. The room’s stained glass windows and the statues that face each other across the central aisle depict not saints but notable individuals from the worlds of literature, theology, science and the arts.

At either end of the room, statues of John and Enriqueta Rylands face each other, although during our visit Mr Rylands was temporarily obscured from view by a display screen! These statues are the work of Irish sculptor John Cassidy who also created the imposing statue on the wall of the historic entrance hall, ‘Theology directing the Labours of Science and The Arts’.

Our visit concluded with a short talk by John on searching the Library’s online catalogue, with its ‘Elgar’ section for archives and ‘Luna’ for digitized images. This was followed by the chance to view a number of items from the collection. 

These included a relief fund account book for those injured in the Peterloo Massacre, with details of injuries suffered by some 350 named individuals – a fantastic source for family historians.

Also on display were manorial record books for the Earl of Stamford’s Dunham Massey Cheshire estate – something that grabbed my interest, as my husband’s ancestors farmed the Earl’s land in Carrington for several centuries – and a legal scroll from a large collection amassed by an individual with a penchant for parchment 

Afterwards, we went our separate ways, me to the new Elsevier reading room to research a family document, others to view the exhibitions at a more leisurely pace or to sample the delights of the café and shop in the new extension.

The conclusion was that it was a pity more BALH members could not have joined us on what had been a very enjoyable and informative visit to an impressive building, in a city with a proud industrial heritage just waiting to be explored through its excellent guided walks for visitors  - and those of us who live only a tram-ride away.

Lois Dean

16. Publications Awards 2012  Show more → Show less ↓

Alan Crosby comments on the short lists

At Local History Day in Manchester on 16 June the BALH Publications Awards for 2012 were announced. As in previous years the judges were greatly impressed by the range and diversity of the subject matter and by the quality of the research, referencing and presentation. The awards are given annually for the best articles published in the local and regional history journals which are sent to Evelyn Lord, our Reviews Editor, for listing in The Local Historian. During 2011 we received 198 journals and newsletters, and this means that the winning articles are selected from a total of something like 1200 papers. It’s quite a challenge to choose a handful of these for shortlisting, and even harder to decide which of them should be declared the winner.

We have a panel of judges, all highly experienced local historians. They have different interests and live in different parts of the country, so we reflect a broad spectrum of views. The judges read all the articles that are shortlisted, rank them, and from that process the winners emerge. In the last few years we have given another award, for a short article. Many journals include articles which are of considerable length, but a large number of shorter contributions also appear, and the ‘short article award’ reflects this.

In 2012 the winning long article was by Philip Spinks, and it appeared in Warwickshire History. This journal, published by the Warwickshire Local History Association, is an exemplary publication. It has been going for over forty years, and it has won several BALH awards. The contributions to the journal come from professional and non-professional local historians, and have an eclectic subject mix. Phil’s article was the fruit of his longstanding interest in the military history of the county, and it looked at the conscientious objectors in South Warwickshire in the First World War, and how they were dealt with by the system of tribunals which was set up to process their cases. In the run-up to the four years of commemorations from 1914-1918 this article was very timely, for it draws out attention to the complexity of the situation. There is much attention to memorials and the remembering of the dead, but a significant minority of people were deeply opposed, on the grounds of conscience, to the war itself. Their fate deserves to be the subject of enquiry and Phil’s fluent, meticulously researched and detailed article provides a model. It will be published in the November issue of The Local Historian.

Social history was also the theme of the winner of the ‘short article’ section. David Hayes researched the Homes of Hope which were opened in the 1860s in Regent Square, south of Kings Cross station and on the edge of London’s most notorious red light district. His paper was published in the Camden History Review. The Homes of Hope were refuges for unmarried mothers, their babies, and other women who needed assistance. Among them were fallen women (the ‘reception of the less degraded class of penitent fallen young women for whom little provision has been made’ being one of the aims of the undertaking. The article traces the history of the Homes, analysing the social and economic circumstances of those admitted and exploring the importance of evangelical religion in its regime. The Homes fell into financial difficulties in the 1890s, and were wound up at the beginning of the First World War. The article is a valuable contribution to the local history of Camden, but also reveals interesting detail of philanthropic and charitable works directed towards the ‘unfortunate’ in mid- and late Victorian London. As with Warwickshire History, theCamden History Review has a fine record of publishing and has a particularly attractive appearance.

Other articles shortlisted for awards looked at the medieval road network of North Yorkshire; the emergence of the colliery town of Easington in County Durham after 1900; plague in the small Warwickshire town of Atherstone; the pinfolds of Cheshire; a street in Acton, West London; the 1933 strike at the Firestone factory in Chiswick; the turnpike roads of Andover; and the ironmaster of Amblecote in the West Midlands.

17. Book Review: Derby  Show more → Show less ↓

Bonnie Prince and Burning Rebel: Derby’s Golden Age of Joseph Wright and Revolution, Harry Butterton, 2011, Horizon Editions, 208p, ISBN 978-184306-545-6, £14-99 [plus £2-50p+p] Available from the author at 37 Windley Crescent, Darley Abbey, Derby DE22 1BY.

This long-awaited book completes Harry Butterton’s commentary on the history of his adopted city of Derby, an endeavour upon which he embarked over twenty years ago, with this being the tenth volume.

This book succeeds at various levels. Inhabitants of Derby and its region, and regular visitors to the city, will find it informative as it explains Derby’s highly successful development in what we might define as the Georgian period. It is not just its structural and topographical growth but also its cultural and artistic emergence which attract Harry’s detailed attention.

Equally this is a case study in how to use one highly productive evidential source in an effective way. Harry has used the extensive newspaper archives of the Derby Mercury, which commenced publication in 1733. Of course he was fortunate that a continuous sequence of one newspaper was available, and from such an early date, but Derby is also fortunate in having an historian who has analysed this source to such a good effect. Historians of other provincial towns will easily be able to compare the situation in Derby with their findings eleswehere

Other local historians in other places would gain from seeing how Harry has managed to use the material available to create a seventy year collage of what life was like in Derby, and to see how major cultural figures such as Joseph Wright, Erasmus Darwin and John Whitehurst fit into the story. His chosen period basically begins with the arrival of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite rebels in 1745 and ends with the merciless execution of Jeremiah Brandreth, Isaac Ludlam and William Turner after the disastrous Pentrich Revolution of 1817.

Harry Butterton presents his findings in a very engaging manner, very much in the vogue of having a dialogue with the reader. He relates the past to the present, not just in a structural way but also at a conceptual level, and he places Derby into the wider perspective of the political, economic, social and cultural context of the Georgian Age.

Trevor James

18. Book Review: Tutbury Castle  Show more → Show less ↓

Tutbury: ‘A Castle Firmly Built’ – Archaeological and historical investigations at Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire, Malcolm Hislop, Mark Kincey and Gareth Williams, Birmingham Archaeology Monograph Series 11 [BAR 546] 2011, Archaeopress,  293p,  ISBN 978-1-4073-0855-5, £55-00. 

This is the long-awaited report on the historical evidence that has emerged at Tutbury Castle and its proximity since the early 19th Century. Tutbury Castle overlooks the River Dove which, at that point marks the boundary between Staffordshire and Derbyshire, but it had a wider strategic significance in the governance of the north Midlands.

It embraces an assessment of the evidence surrounding the discovery of the Tutbury Hoard in 1831. This is believed to have been the largest-ever discovery of a coin hoard, with estimates varying from 100,000 to 300,000 coins. Only 1,500 of these coins are in public collections, the rest were pillaged by local villagers directly the discovery had been made. The hoard is said to have been hidden in the bank of the River Dove shortly after Thomas of Lancaster’s defeat at the nearby Battle of Burton Bridge in 1322. The quality of what has survived is a matter of continuing interest and it is still believed that further coins may yet be recovered from the immediate locality.

There is detailed assessment of research carried out in the Park Pale which is an outer line of embankments to the south of the castle, towards the Forest of Needwood, and also of modern excavations within the Castle precincts which have revealed that the Norman occupiers of the site came relatively late in terms of the total history of the site. Of course the prominence that Tutbury Castle assumed during the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots and its deterioration as a fortified position from the Civil War period also attract some attention.

Local historians of Staffordshire and Derbyshire will find this report of interest: they can easily get a sense of the overriding analysis without being overwhelmed by the technical detail. By contrast those who are interested in either the strategic significance of this site or the richness of archaeological evidence which has emerged on this relatively restricted site, or both, will equally find this a very informative and helpful report.

Trevor James

19. Book Review: King Edward Vi School Nuneaton Show more → Show less ↓

Leeke’s Legacy – A History of King Edward VI School Nuneaton,

David Paterson. 2011, Troubador Publishing, £12.95.

Histories of old established schools are often very interesting and this book is certainly no exception. The author taught history at King Edward’s, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, for over thirty years. He knows his subject very well and he has researched diligently to produce a thorough history of the school. He takes us through five centuries of the ever changing fortunes of the school. The title refers to local landowners, John Leeke and his son, also John, who both died in 1508. They left legacies, which eventually resulted in the foundation of King Edward VI School in Nuneaton in 1552, although the school may have started before then.

The frequent disputes between governors and teachers are highlighted through the centuries. At many times, it looked as if the school would not survive. The 17thCentury, which was a turbulent time nationally, created upheaval at King Edward’s. Typical was the outbreak of the ‘Trevis Affair’ after 1660, which involved pupil revolt and use of guns, all well documented and described.

Paterson goes on to consider the uneven development of the school in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Eventually, the school became a 20th Century boys’ grammar school, before evolving into its present format of a mixed Sixth Form college. Not only is this a well-researched book, it is also very entertaining, with a wealth of well- supported detail and illustration. For anyone interested in school histories, it is highly recommended.

Trevor Osgerby   

20. CARNal Knowledge  Show more → Show less ↓

Alan Crosby lost his card

Lying awake in the early hours, I was going over in my mind the work I’d done that day. I was staying in Carlisle, but had spent the day at the record office in Whitehaven. I mused on the documents I’d studied, the catalogues over which I’d pored, the possibilities for the next stage of the research, and on the beautiful drive to Carlisle on a glorious May afternoon, ‘back o’ Skidda’, along the lonely lovely roads that run along the northern edge of the Lake District to Caldbeck, with superb views south to sunlit Skiddaw and its brethren and north, over the wide Solway Firth, to the purple and blue mountains of Galloway.

Suddenly, there came a nagging feeling. Something about my departure was not quite as it should have been. Had I, or had I not, retrieved my CARN ticket? The only answer was to arise from my bed of care and worry, and search wallet, trouser pockets and rucksack. No CARN ticket. Calamity … cursing … despair.

Those little blue and white cards are the key to our good fortune, the magic device which unlocks the riches of record offices up and down the country. They were introduced about 20 years ago, at a time when archive security was suddenly, and with very good reason, a major concern. Highly publicised cases of organised and systematic theft demonstrated the lack of protection at record offices. I’m not sure that the tickets really serve as an impenetrable barrier in that regard, but without them access is denied … hence my panic.

At Carlisle the following morning I was allowed in on a temporary arrangement having confessed my shame and sin to Tom, the archivist. A good natured fellow, he laughed and produced a stash of CARN tickets each of which had been left by an errant researcher – in total, 24 of them. We looked at the assembled hoard. Exactly half were in the names of researchers known to Tom and, as he said, some of those tickets had certainly seen life: stained, dog-eared, crumpled, faded (like their erstwhile owners?). Others were in mint condition, pristine because they had been used by someone from, let us say, Topeka, Kansas or Wollongong NSW (or, to be truthful, Wetheral just outside Carlisle) who had been once and then jetted off (or got the bus home) never to return.

I thought of my own CARNal knowledge. How many tickets have I got through and what fates have they suffered? Two have drowned, immersed in a 35 degree long cycle with fast spin, tucked inside my shirt pocket on leaving the record office and never removed, except post mortem as a pale blue sliver of papier mache. At least one has disintegrated through overuse and another met its death through my bad habit of picking at its laminated cover while it’s in my jacket pocket. It separated into tissue-thin layers, held together by a corner of shredded plastic. I really need a worry-bead to save future CARN tickets from that fate or, of course, to obey the strictures of fierce teachers at grammar school: ‘Get your hands out of your pockets’.

Others have actually come to full term and expired. I’ve had tickets issued at Preston, Carlisle and Kendal, and usually manage to memorise the number just before the ticket ceases to be valid. I think in total I must have had eight tickets, or twice as many as should have been necessary in the roughly twenty-year span of CARN time. My current ticket is relatively safe from destruction, as it is enshrined within a plastic mini-wallet which I pinched from some conference or other where it had held a name badge. But it is not safe from mere forgetfulness on my part, as the Whitehaven experience demonstrated. An email to another of Cumbria’s friendly and very helpful archivists solved that problem, and it was sent back to me by Royal Mail the very next day – though I know it won’t be the last time. But it seems a little strange that, lying awake in a hotel room in Carlisle at 1 am, my thoughts are on that little blue and white rectangle, clearly so central to my existence. Perhaps I need to get out more!        

21. News From Archives  Show more → Show less ↓

The Magazine of the Friends of The National Archiveshas begun another regular feature. In addition to ‘Map in Focus’ which we have noted before, and ‘Document in Focus’, there is now ‘Photograph in Focus. The issue for April 2012 looks at a collection taken in Hull by Special Constable Thomas Turner on the day after a German Zeppelin raid on the town. Here Mr and Mrs Scott are looking at the damage caused to their house. TNA AIR 1/569/16/15/142

Despite Alan Crosby’s misgivings (see page 4) there is much evidence of enthusiasm for seeking Titanic connections around the country. A Bedfordshire engineering firm, some way from the sea, supplied 400KW generators driving Allen dynamos for the new liners Olympic and Titanic. The archive of W H Allen & Sons Ltd at Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service includes a copy of a letter from Harland & Wolff placing the order, and a photograph of the completed generators. www.bedford.gov.uk/archive

Friends of Shropshire Archives, and the Volunteering for Shropshire’s Heritage project are holding ‘Discover Shropshire Day’ on Saturday 29 September at Shirehall, Shrewsbury. There will be displays, talks and demonstrations highlighting the variety of Shropshire’s outstanding archives and museum collections. Email archivces@shropshire.gov.uk In its newsletter Salopian Recorder  No 73 there is a delightful list of words and phrases found in churchwardens’ accounts that need reading phonetically, preferably aloud! For example ‘prayer for the peas’, ‘for a Cushing’, ‘for wesing the curples twise an menden im’.

A recent news item about Croydon’s unsuccessful attempt for city status included a heartening reference to the benefits of archive services. In its bid Croydon Council had claimed George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788 - 8824) was one of \'many artistic talents nurtured by Croydon\', which it said was a \'centre for innovation\'. Unfortunately the famous poet had no discernible connection with the South London borough – as far as is known, never even having paid it a fleeting visit. The confusion had arisen because members of a family with the surname Byron were Lords of the Manor of Coulsdon in the south of the borough  from 1782 to 1921. They are commemorated in a local primary school, hotel, and so on. The references to Lord Byron have now been removed from Croydon’s information leaflets, but, as the Vice-President of the local history society pointed out, a quick check with the local archive service would have prevented the error. Archivists would have safeguarded the Council from embarrassment and from the headline in The Telegraph: ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know – but not from Croydon’.

Margaret O’Sullivan

22. News From Libraries  Show more → Show less ↓

Halton Lea Library was the setting for an event last Spring to launch ‘Exploring Halton’s Collections’. This HLF funded project has brought together online the collections of Norton Priory Museum, Catalyst Science Discovery centre, Halton Borough Council Library Service and Halton Borough Council Democratic Services, telling the local, social and civic history of Halton.  The collections have been filly documents and can be searched atwww.haltoncollections.org.uk

Sheffield Archives and Local Studies Library continue to add to the impressive list of study guides on their website, to help people make best use of their resources. New additions include Exhibitions 1851-1951, Jewish Community, HMS Sheffield, and Tracing Missing Persons. www.sheffield.gov.uk/libraries/archives-and-local-studies/publications.html. Their new set of pictures on Flickr are ‘retro’ images to take you back to the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s. www.flickr.com/photos/shefflibraries/sets/

23. News From Museums  Show more → Show less ↓

Mansfield Museum recently received two awards at the Nottinghamshire Heritage Awards Ceremony. They won Best Event 2012 for The Nightshift Tours which take visitors on a spoof tour with comical actors of the museum, including access behind the scenes. And Best Exhibition 2012 was received for the Mansfield Metal Box Exhibition. This ran from October 2011 to January 2012 and showcased 1,400 examples of the iconic tin boxes manufactured by one of Mansfield’s biggest-ever employers. The museum is owned and run by Mansfield District Council. It was founded by William Edward Baily in 1904 in what was known as the ‘Tin Tablernacle’, moving to its current building in 1938. www.mansfield.gov.uk

The Victoria and Albert Museum has been given planning permission to create a new purpose-built underground gallery, courtyard area and entrance. This is intended to make an inaccessible back-of-house space into an open courtyard for installations and events and to provide a new link between the heart of the V&A and Exhibition Road. The project will also reveal the Victorian façades on the west side of the complex which have never been on public view, but are now fully restored . The main building work should run from 2013-2015, with a public opening in 2016. Some £25m has now been pledged out of a total project budget of £41m. In addition, the Museum has announced it will open a new furniture gallery in December 2012 to provide a permanent home for its internationally renowned collection. This has been largely financed by a gift from an anonymous donor. For the first time at the V&A, digital labels will be used with touch screens to provide additional content and context for each object.www.vam.ac.uk

From May 2012 to February 2014 the exhibition at theHarley Gallery, Welbeck, Worksop, Notts, will be ‘Runners and Riders: the Rise of Modern Horse Racing’ illustrating how the Cavendish-Bentinck family helped develop horse racing to become the sport we know today., accompanied by works of leading equestrian painters. The exhibition will tour to the National Horse Racing Museum at Newmarket. www.harleygallery.co.uk

Sport is inevitably prominent in many ways this summer. At Enfield Museum there is a free exhibition looking at Enfield’s sporting heritage, past and present. From the Walker cricket ground of Southgate, to the gold courses around Enfield Town, the tennis courts of Bounds Green and the athletics tracks of the Lee Valley, ‘Our Sporting Life’ explore the borough’s sporting heritage. Edmonton Hundred Historical Society. www.edmontonhundred.org.uk

‘Bikes, Balls and Biscuitmen: Our Sporting Life’ is atReading Museum until October. The museum has worked with local clubs and sports stars to produce an exhibition that examines the wide-ranging sporting life of Reading through the ages.  Berkshire Local History Association Newsletter  www.blha.org.uk www.readingmuseum.org.uk

Conservation Bulletin of the Historic Environment Summer 2012 from English Heritage is devoted to Sporting Heritage. Amongst an amazing variety of places and traditions are famous locations such as Lords cricket ground, as well as temperance billiard halls, and early water polo. www.english-heritage.org.uk 

Sport and Fashion is the subject of an exhibition at theFashion Museum, Bath, and a series of talks at the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution.  Still to come are ‘An easy day for a lady’ on the dress of early women mountaineers, ‘Sink or swim’, ‘Almost entirely white’ and ‘The female skier’. www.brisi.org 

Volunteers at the Museum of Bath at Work have assembled a mineral water manufactory from the museum’s main treasure – the complete contents of the Bath firm founded by Jonathan Bowler in 1872. When the ironmongery, engineering and mineral water soft drinks business closed in 1969 nothing had ever been thrown away, and the Museum acquired over a million artefacts. Health and safety considerations prevent drinks being made fizzy with gas. www.bath-at-work.co.uk

24. Notes News Issues  Show more → Show less ↓


Joan Thirsk has been a Vice President of BALH for many years. She recently celebrated her 90th birthday, and Association sent its good wishes to her. In his introductory remarks on Local History Day BALH President, Prof David Hey, commented on her lifelong enthusiasm for the subject and her many achievements.


Thank you to everyone who came to Manchester on 16 June, and contributed to a very successful day, and thanks to all of you who have since written to say how much you enjoyed it. Paul Anderton’s personal report, for which the editor is most grateful, can be read on page X. The visit of the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Elaine Boyes and Linda Geoghegan, made it a particularly special occasion.


At the AGM Dr Tim Lomas was elected as the new Chair of BALH, and Jacquie Fillmore became Vice-Chair.  The members of Council and committees are listed overleaf as usual. When members receive their subscription renewal notices in the Autumn, they will see that the AGM agreed to an increase in rates with effect from 1 January 2013. The modest rises are necessary for the Association to meet increasing costs, and are made with considerable reluctance in these difficult times. Membership subscriptions are virtually our only source of income, and we hope very much that members will continue to support us. If society members would encourage their own members to take out an individual subscription, and if each individual member would check that local societies in their area were also members, the increase in numbers would be a huge help.



A revised fact sheet is included in the centre of this issue of Local History News.

Will all Society members please remove it and keep it safely for reference. Note particularly the advice to contact Towergate (in good time) if you are running an event such as a Local History Fair.