Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A cannibal on the prowl- the gruesome case of Sam Thorley Leek 1777

The proverb "Coming to Leek out of the noise" was still popular enough in the early 20th century. I wonder if anyone still uses it? It is a saying which has a history and a history that could be not more gruesome. Most people in the early 21st century will have heard of the fictional exploits of Hannibal Lecter- the creation of the writer Thomas Harris whose terrifying desire to eat human flesh has gripped modern audiences. Well, Leek played its part in a real case of cannibalism which dates from the end of the 18th century and it’s from this case that the saying sprang. The basic details are outlined in the diary of the Rev Jonathan Wilson, Master of Congleton Grammar School and Vicar of Biddulph which was published in 1876 in the Leek Times to mark the 100th anniversary of this most shocking murder

Saturday 23rd November 1776While at dinner heard of a most abominable murder a woman cut into a score of pieces in Prester Fields BrookSunday 24th November 1776The murderer detected and lodged in the town hallMonday 25th November 1776Sam Thorley the murderer sent to ChesterThursday 11th April 1777
At school after dinner the boys are given leave to go and see Sam Thorley drawn on the gibbet

Gibbeting a body after a hanging was a fate reserved for the most heinous of crimes. The body would hang in a metal cage for a long time. The idea being that the horror of the image would act as a deterrent, warning people that they would suffer the same end if they acted criminally. In order to preserve the body pitch was used which could be a very successful preservative. There was a case in Warwickshire where the body of a man hanged in 1766 was still on display 60 years later
How Sam Thorley came to deserve this fate I will now tell.

Samuel Thorley was not an intelligent man and was described by his contemporaries as "half thick". He was born in Astbury in the 1720s and up to the events of late 1776 lead a quiet, unremarkable life. He worked as a labourer on local farms and carried on his life honestly. He jobbed about in the slaughter houses of Congleton carrying out the butchering of livestock, a skill that was to have terrible consequences. He was also employed to dig graves at Astbury.

On Wednesday 20th November 1776 Thorley came across Ann Smith a well known tramping ballad singer who had come to sing at the Lammas Fair in Congleton the following Friday.

Three days later her body was found dismembered by boys in a ravine where the footpath crosses a brook called the Howty. The sight was made more terrible as early snow had fallen and the whiteness contrasted with the bloody remains of the woman.

Later on that Wednesday Thorley was seen with a blood stained apron which seemed to be full of pork. A witness named Hannah Oakes is approached by Thorley and is asked to boil up the "pork" for his supper. He ate some and fell sick and she is told to feed the rest of the meat to the dogs. She acted otherwise and keeps it back when she heard of the disappearance and murder of Ann Smith. She gave the meat to a constable who gives it to a local doctor name Reade who on examining the meat pronounced it to be human flesh

Thorley’s blood stained appearance at first excited no suspicion on account of his employment as a butcher. He later became excited when he heard people talk about the discovery of the body and makes the statement to Hannah that will live on many years after his death

"Folks will be laying this job onto him and he would go to Leek out of the noise".
He went to Leek on the Sunday and was quickly caught by the constable and bought back to Congleton to be imprisoned prior to the trial at Chester

The proverb has been said to owes its rise and popularity due to the self incriminating remark of Thorley
What led to the horrible fate of Ann Smith?

Thorley admitted all at the trial and gave an account of the fateful encounter. Smith met him in a local wood and asked him to borrow a knife to cut up bread and cheese which she was carrying for her dinner. When she finished she ran off laughing and waving the knife at him as she ran. He followed her to the brook took the knife from her and in a rage cut her throat and then began to butcher her. Thorley was always reckoned to be dangerous if provoked, today we would say that he had anger management problems.

There were sufficient doubts about his intelligence at the trial to set a test to see whether he was sufficiently compos mentis to stand trial. Thorley was set to count a score of nails and having succeeded in the task was thought to be a sufficiently component candidate for the gallows

He was hanged at Broughton near Chester from the old fashioned method of driving a cart from under Thorley leaving him to strangle slowly. It was not until the middle of the next century that the scientific method of hanging using a weight/ height ratio devised by executioner William Marwood was employed which caused death to be instantaneous.
But this story has one final grim twist. The grotesque horror of the case was compounded by the wagoner who carried the body back to be gibbeted at Congleton got drunk and lost the body when it fell out of the cart on his way through the Delamere Forest. After a prolonged search the body was found and conveyed to Congleton where the Rev Wilson young charges witnessed the educative experience of seeing Thorley strung up one more time.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Arthur Berry on the Lost Pubs of Burslem Part 1 Listener 1979

I sat down and wept when I remembered the lost pubs of Burslem- the demolished Star that stood when the Moonglow Ballroom stands now, on the corner of the street of the Preacher and the Tote office. It was a gaunt dark building, nicknamed the Star of Bethlehem; a grimy stuccoed Star the colour of years of wet smoke. From the outside it looked forbidding and empty lit only be one or two naked light bulbs. Its doors were difficult to find. Its main door, on the corner of the square had been screwed down for some reason on the inside covered with a sheet of painted plywood. Only the side doors would let you in and these were narrow and difficult to open. One was in Queen Street and the other down William Clowes Street, opposite the Dolphin. Behind the blocked up main door was the weighing machine, which didn’t work, that stood in a passage leading to a closed smoke room.

For all its dreary appearances the Star was the highest drinking temple in the town. Nothing has been the same since it was knocked down. No pub has more lamented. It was a place filled with snugs. And in these snugs were little stoves each with a bucket of coal and a shovel. The snugs were the haunt of Guinness drinking old women who sat night after night, squat as toads, drinking and watching, eating and taking it all in.
There was one I remember Mrs Potts. God rest her soul! Who never stopped eating pork sandwiches all the days of her life, and the great chops must have chommelled herds of pigs down. I do not think her stomach had been empty for half a century before. She sat there, night after night, filling her face with roast pork and Guinness. I heard one man say that she would have eaten a bat in a straw or a raw monkey if it had stood still. But she knew what her pleasures were and what they were and she attended to them every night in the snug of the Star.

The snugs were often called pairing pens. Gossip had it that certain publicans for a consideration would lock one and turn the other way while the lascivious occupants attended to their carnal pleasures. I did not see this myself, but I was an innocent at the time and would not understand it if I had.

Behind these small cubicles was the big main taproom, a wooden floored L shaped bar, with cane bottom seats round the wall and a few little heavy iron-legged tables. These tables had been wiped with damp cloths that they were stripped bare of varnish. And the main bar was the same. Raw, wet wood covered with damp beer mats. There were spittoons around the bar on the floor and an old rose wood piano in the corner; and once there had been a big stove pot, but even in these days they had been ripped out and replaced by a pitiful but convenient heating arrangement.

How terrible has been the loss of these stove pots- the magnificent dark stoves that were once the heart of every taproom- elegant dark shapes that stood there with such dignity, such presence like a totem. To sit against one of these on a winter night and feel the rich heat and watch the clear amber beer was a benediction. Men would come early doors to get a seat on one of the wooden forms against it. And how the stovepipes were fitted at all angles to get to the ceiling. To watch a publican’s dog lying asleep in front of one of them was to watch luxury.

The loss of these stoves was a great blow. I always like to see the way the world works- where the heat comes from. Men have watched fire for millions of years. To give a form like a stove to hold a fire was the perfect blending between nature and art; to watch the publican lift the top and put on a shovel of coke was to watch a high priest attending to a ritual of life.

To go in say the Sea Lion in Waterloo Road and to get into the place when it was fresh mopped and the new beer mats were laid out on the tables and the ash trays were clean and the stove was cracking with fresh coke and the red quarries were gleaming red and the bar pumps were shining and the dominoes and the cards were waiting and the publican had a clean collar and tie on and all the world was ship shape- this was happiness or at least as nears to it as I will ever come.

What could be nicer, fresher than the smell of newly whitewashed gentlemen’s? I have patronised public houses because the gentlemen’s smelled so fresh But then, I have patronised pubs for very strange reasons. I used to go to the Black Lion because it had two brasses across the doors. This pub was flush with Queen Street and I used to press forward as though it was bulging out on to the narrow pavement. I remember the pleasure of having a couple of halves on a Saturday dinnertime, before going to watch the Vale play at the Old Recreation Ground.

Burslem was filled with pubs in those days, one every few yards- The Rose, The Shamrock and the Thistle, the Waterloo Stores, Norris Wine Vaults, The New Vaults, the Albion, The Mason’s Arms, the Durham Ox, The Hole in the Wall, the Jig Post. Gone, gone, gone every one!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Butterton Poltergeist 1877

In April the Daily Mail reported on a case of poltergeist activity in the West Midlands. The case followed the classic type of poltergeist activity pots and pans thrown around the kitchen, blinds moving up and down, lights going on and off, doors locking themselves, chairs flying across the room, and cupboard doors opening and banging shut before being ripped off their hinges among other phenomena. The strange occurrences started a couple of weeks after Mrs Manning and her children moved into the Coventry council house. The disturbances became more malevolent when the poltergeist pushed the family's two dogs down the stairs resulting in horrific injuries to one of the pets, which resulted in it having to be put down. A chair moving across the floor on its own was also captured on film. The housing association who owns the property sent a priest who blessed the house and the phenomena temporarily abated for a couple of weeks before starting up again. Derek Ancora the medium was then called in who identified the source of the problem as Jim who died in 1900 at the age of 58 of a heart attack. Ancora exorcised the spirit.

The first poltergeist case identified in the UK was the Tedworth Drummer of Wiltshire. A sudden case of drumming began in the home of a local magistrate called Mompesson in the spring of 1662. Activity increased children were lifted into the air, shoes flung at a person’s head, chamber pots emptied on a bed and the leg of a horse forced into its mouth. The events were linked to an itinerant conjuror and drummer William Drury who had been arrested for trying to obtain money with forged documents. He was brought before Mompesson who let him off with a warning and confiscated his drum and told him to leave the district. The drumming started soon afterwards. There were reports that the drum was lifted by unseen hands and gave off booming hands. After several nights the sleepless magistrate had the drum destroyed but the noises continued. At this point the other strange manifestation began to be witnessed. Drury was suspected but this line of enquiry ended when it was found that Drury was in jail in Gloucester many miles away. A committee w set up by King Charles II concluded that no human agency could be deduced.

The Moorlands has its own case of poltergeist activity. In July 1877 the village of Butterton was subject to a bizarre occurrence a humble cottage in Back Lane and dating from 1617 the former home of Hannah Gould was subject to periods of sustained noise and thumping which struck terror into the hearts of the villagers. Hannah had died the previous February at the age of 80 and locals assumed that it was her ghost that was causing the commotion. Anxious villagers consulted with church elders. They contacted the old women’s son who was reluctant to become involved and still the noise was heard constantly and the local vicar Mr Cantrell who lived close by Back Lane. The next Sunday villagers gathered in old Hannah’s house where it is reported that the rapping continued and furniture rocked. Eventually suspicion fell upon a serving girl in the village who is thought to have engineered the event to gain access to the property.

What causes poltergeist activity?

 Aside from accusations of hoax and exaggeration, which although applicable to a number of cases by no means apply to them all, the most popular theory is that the poltergeist is caused unwittingly by a human agent, usually a teenage girl. Researchers believe that a troubled adolescent unconsciously manipulates objects using psychokinesis (PK), a type of energy generated in the brain. According to researchers at the Rhine Research Center Institute for Parapsychology at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, poltergeist activity is the physical expression of psychological trauma. However, more natural explanations are often the cause of what appears to be a poltergeist disturbance.

Perhaps this might help to cast light on some poltergeist cases . However, this does not explain how enough power is generated to move objects such as heavy pieces of furniture, or to shower a room with stones, make objects appear from nowhere, or start fires, if accounts of such phenomena can be trusted.
There are also a number of poltergeist cases where the people involved have no psychological problems at all, and where there are no adolescents in the household.

How can we explain these?

A further point is that there are millions of troubled teenagers all over the world, but the vast majority do not cause poltergeist activity to occur. Other researchers have suggested that 'spirit entities' are responsible for the phenomena, perhaps generating the power by attaching themselves to suitably disturbed teenagers. But the very nature of these hypothetical 'spirits' means that scientifically at least, they cannot be properly investigated. . However, if accounts of the more extreme unexplained occurrences alleged to be caused by poltergeist activity are themselves exaggerated, or even completely unreliable, which is entirely possible in older cases, then no further explanation is required.

Nevertheless, the inability to find a convincing explanation for the phenomenon, the significant amount of cases exhibiting similar characteristics occurring over a long period of time in widely different cultures, and the bizarre but somehow consistent nature of the phenomena, make the poltergeist perhaps the most baffling and enduring of unexplained mysteries.

Concern for home care for the elderly- a local case.

The two women who arrived at my till looked close to exhaustion and they wanted to void their feelings of contempt at the management of the company they worked for. I was a sympathetic ear. They worked for Care UK one of the largest care companies in the UK. They had previously worked for Sue Ryder who had lost out in the contract to Care UK some time ago. Home Care UK were recently the centre of a Panorama programme of abuse of the elderly at a Bristol care home.

The women were caustic about the management of the company describing the management as "Twats". According to them the management were incompetent and lazy. The training of new front line staff was negligible and the workload crushing. One of the women told me that the company practised " call cramming which she said was illegal. As many as 10 old people were seen over the course of a morning with workers rushing from home visit to home visit.

These women also mentioned the impact on their pay and conditions, which had deteriorated. Costs had been driven down as the company which offered the lowest value had been taken on with a damaging impact on both the care offered and the impact on staff who had to put up with gruelling schedules.

This account is timely as a soon to be published interim report by the Equalities Commission shows the terrible care which elderly people have to endure. There are reports of people left in soiled clothing for long periods. Of people left in their homes not visited and visited in very brief periods as the private companies rush home visits. One woman in the national report was seen by 32 different carers in a two-week period
The research also found that due to the strict time controls on visits, which could last as little as 15 minutes, some elderly patients had to choose between being washed or having a cooked meal.

The two women were adamant that under increasingly stressful circumstances they were trying to deliver decent home care but pressures the consequence of cost and work load were contributing to their worn out and demoralised state

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Mark Twain visits Leek November 1899

Mark Twain perhaps America’s most distinguished men of letter visited Leek on Wednesday 29th November 1899. His signature appears in the visitor’s book of the Nicholson Institute in a very clear and strong hand. Samuel Langhorne Clemens the real name of Mark Twain was born on the 30th November 1835. It is therefore possible that he celebrated his 64th birthday in the town. This is a matter for conjecture because an extensive search of the Leek Times has revealed no additional information about the visit and one has to conclude that the visit was private and secret.

Mark Twain was one of the most celebrated writers in the world in the 1890s He had created Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn’ two of the best loved and enduring characters in world literature so the lack of comment in the local press is mystifying. News of this most celebrated of authors would have certainly made the headlines and press coverage would have been extensive. It should be said that Leek at the end of the 19th century was well used to receiving high profile visitors. Indeed a reading of the newspapers reveals a very rich cultural and political heritage. In October 1899 the pioneer of investigative journalism who would later die on the Titanic WT Stead spoke at a well attended anti Boer war rally in the town and in December the first Labour MP Keir Hardie spoke in Leek and was fully reported in the Times.

Twain when he visited Leek that late autumn day had endured many tribulations. Since 1895 he had more or less been on a permanent lecturing tour in order to clear debts following the collapse of his publishing firm. The following year his beloved daughter Susy died of meningitis at the family home in Connecticut while Twain was forced through circumstances to stay in England. Just prior to his visit to Staffordshire Twain had undergone a health cure in a sanatorium in Sweden where he had stayed for several months before returning to Britain in October 1899. His main preoccupation as a writer in these years was the production of political essays and what exercised him most was the colonial wars that both the United States and Britain were engaged America in the Philippines and Britain in a war in South Africa- the Boer War. Twain was bitterly opposed to both military adventures. He had a card printed, which bore the slogan

"I bring you the stately maiden called CHRISTENDOM- returning bedraggled, besmirched and dishonoured from pirate raids in South Africa and the Philippines; with her soul full of meanness, her pockets full of boodle and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking glass".

The Leek Times in late November was full of news from the South African War and one can make an assumption that as a journalist himself Twain might have read the edition. The newspaper printed the previous Saturday 25th November was full of bad news. The British were suffering reversals in places, which would become very well known to the general public- Kimberley, Belmont, and Colenso. A small news item in the paper noted the capture of a journalist named Winston Churchill following an attack on an armoured train. A Leek man was wounded at the Battle of Modder River.

The Boer War certainly divided opinion in Leek the architect Larner Sugden wrote a lengthy letter defending the Boers describing them as "intrepid peasants" for which he received much obloquy. The war was going so badly that the reservists were being called up. In fact a childhood memory my grandmother had as a 9 year old were the soldiers in their red coats marching to Stoke Station to the war at about this time.

Further delving into the newspapers of the time uncovers fascinating snippets of information. Interestingly there is a review of a novel called " One hour and the Next" by Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland on the conditions of the mills in Leek largely written in dialect. The Duchess herself would be fictionalised in Arnold Bennet’s " The Card". And on the subject of fiction and in a story that might have come from the pen of Thomas Hardy there is a description of an elderly man in a letter recounting a boyhood incident when he visited a witch who lived in Russell St. She would discourage the many black witches in the town by throwing a "dashun" of salt into the fire when one passed.

A perusal of the pages would rapidly disabuse you of the notion that this was a golden age for children. Mortality was very high whether it is through disease or by accident. Clarice Burgess aged 8 of Garden Street was reported killed when she was hit in the head by a wooden seat of a swing while playing on Westwood Recreational Grounds. Arthur Sheldon 9 was sentenced to three strokes of the birch for annoying Mr JPF Smith of King St by ringing his doorbell frequently.

The sports writer for the Times seemed to have a Twain- like sardonic turn of phrase describing a poor season for Leek Town

"the unexpected happened on Saturday last Leek actually won a game and against the Congleton Hornets".
Many of the stories had almost a modern ring and the late Victorian’s were equally concerned with lawlessness and excessive drinking. Writing in November 1899 the Chief Public Health Officer was deeply concerned at the easy availability of alcohol.

"The returns of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue show on the whole that users of alcohol consume about 25% more than alcohol users of 50 years ago…. English people today do breath less poisons than their fathers and grandfathers did, they voluntary swallow much more" Such opinions were supported by a very well organised temperance movement in Leek who were strongly of the view that drink did the poor no good at all. The members of the Leek Board of Guardians put this view into practical action and stopped the one-pint ration of beer for the Christmas dinner of the workhouse inmates. As Twain himself wrote a few years earlier in "Pudden’head Wilson’s Calendar "Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits."

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Execution of Napoleon Cheadle Market Place May 1814

The town of Cheadle will feel sensibly the beneficial effects of a lasting peace of which there is now a prospect from the extensive manufacturers established in the town. Saturday last was a day set for rejoicing at that place. The bells began to ring at an early hour and several cannon situated on a hill, which overlooks the town, were fired at a signal. The British colours were hoisted at a signal and other flags with appropriate descriptions were displayed at various places in the town.

A well-wrought effigy of Buonoparte was carried through the streets in a cart preceded by an excellent band of musicians and attended by an executioner and confessor. He was conducted to the gallows erected in the Market Place and after due ceremonies had been observed he was launched off. After the hanging for sometime he was a burned and large amount of gunpowder deposited on his body.

Between 40 and 50 gentlemen of the town sat down at an excellent dinner at the Wheatsheaf Inn where Colonel Bulkeley presided and filled the chair with great credit and pleasure to the company. After dinner the chairman made an eloquent address to the company where he congratulated them for the happy change of affairs on the continent. Many loyal and patriotic toasts were drunk. An abundant quantity of provisions was sent to different inns in the town to be consumed. 700 of the poorest classes were regaled, each one having three pints of ale. 100 gallons of fine brown stout were distributed in the market place. 600 females were divided into groups to have tea drinking in different homes.

At 11 the inhabitants were greeted with 21 discharges of cannon repeated at 4 in the afternoon as gentlemen in the town in the Wheatsheaf were toasting the King. Manifestations of loyalty into the late hours and concluded with a brilliant display of fireworks.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Farewell to Coffee Clique

Coffee has been known and popular in Europe since the 17th century and in the following century Staffordshire Pottery manufacturers were selling ware to supply the burgeoning market I both tea and coffee. From then both have retained their popularity. In the Victorian period the Temperance Movement in Leek were keen to promote non-alcoholic alternatives to beer.

There are now about a dozen cafes in Leek in the town centre. After last week that number was reduced by one as Coffee Clique in Getliffes Yard closed. I don’t suppose anyone has written an obituary for a café before but I mourn the passing of this establishment and the energy that Julie Lovatt put into the enterprise over its 5 years of existence. Julie is expecting a child in August,but in truth the business has been experiencing difficulties as a consequence of the continuing recession last Friday it bowed to the inevitable. It is a great pity. I have worked closely with Julie and her staff. Julie particularly bought energy and ideas to a town that desperately require them. She encouraged the café as a place for local artists to show their work. Local writers used the café. It was the first Internet café in town and she worked well with others to utilise the potential of café and the Yard.. These last months have been very hard for her but throughout this period she has great fortitude and unvarying consideration. She has always been cheerful and considerate. I wished the same creativity and energy that she displayed could have been shown by the District Council. She, like other local businesses in the town, only saw the merciless side of the Council in pursuit of Council Tax arrears using bailiffs at the earliest opportunity. The seeming indifference of the Council to local traders has been documented elsewhere.

I hope she does comes back to run another café. I suggested the name Jabobytes for this future Internet café venture. The name not only having historical resonances but also serving as a base for the thinkers and doers of the town.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Absent Dads- a 19th solution

The Prime Minister believes that fathers who abandon their families are as bad as drink drivers. David Cameron said recently that "runaway dads" ought to feel the "full force of shame" for their actions.

This is not a new problem as a recent document I discovered in the William Salt Library in Stafford demonstrates. I was researching poverty in the early 19th century when I found a advert in the Staffordshire Advertiser for 1813 under the headline " Runaway Husbands.

It featured a few local men who had left their wifes and children including Ralph Marsh of Penkhull a Labourer " a broad set man about 49 years old with dark coloured hair and had on when he left a dark coat, light coloured corduroy breeches and cotton waistcoat

Another was John Meigh of Hanley a collier " about 40 black hair and dark eyed with marks of bluish scars under the eyes occasioned by blows. He had on a brown jacket, washed waistcoat and dark coloured small clothes and a white painted hat worn by colliers to preserve their heads from injury in the pits".

The writer of the announcement Christopher Preston, Guardian of the Poor in Stoke, demanded to know the whereabouts of these men because their irresponsibility was placing a burden on the tax payers of the town. He was offering two guineas for their capture.

I am not sure whether the bounty hunter will become an integral part of the welfare reforms but I am sure that the modern Conservative Party it might be an attractive proposition.


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Charles Dickens, Bleak House and the Staffordshire Moorlands Connection

A extremely protracted legal case involving the Cook family living in Onecote at Lane End Farm provided Charles Dickens with the material he needed to attack the workings of Chancery in his 1852-3 novel Bleak House. Thomas Cook bequeathed £300 to his second son, Joseph, to be paid after the death of Thomas Cook’s wife Mary. She died in 1836 and in 1844 Joseph began a Chancery suit to obtain his money. Four years later the case had made no progress and costs of nearly £900 had accrued.

At this point a Leek based Solicitor William Challinor whose practice was based in Derby Street took up the case. He was born in Leek in 1821 and educated at Leek Grammar School. He was educated for the Bar and a member of the Inner Temple of the Law Courts. He began to practice law after the death of his father in 1839. He was a man of many interests and friendships. He was a progressive on the social issues of the day, a local historian, and a minor poet and involved in local government. He presented the drinking fountain to his town, which stands in front of the Council Offices in Stockwell Street. He was interested in developing railways and keen on promoting public health in Leek. He died in 1896.

In 1848 he wrote leaflets calling for legal reform exposing the cost and delay of the system based on his own experiences such as the Onecote case. It was welcomed by many people in the legal profession at some point Challinor's critique found its way into the hands of Dickens. There has been a suggestion that Dickens was on good terms with Challinor and visited him at his house at Pickwood House. I doubt this to be the case. Dickens did visit Staffordshire in 1852, which was at the same time as he was writing Bleak House. He visited Stafford and was very dismissive of the county town. He was more interested when he visited the Copeland Pottery Works in Stoke and wrote an article for his magazine Household Words on his stay in the Potteries during the 1850s.

A picturesque heap of houses, kilns, smoke, canals and river lying in a basin
But Dickens did use Challinor's researches in Bleak House in the preface he stated that the case of Gridley in Chapter 15 was based on the Onecote case. He had received the details early in the writing of the novel, it strengthen his desire to attack the machinations of the legal system.

The groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds in the sight of heaven and earth.
Dickens had been looking at addressing the inequities of the legal system for some time. He linked the problem as he often did with the state of the poor, the inability of authority to tackle disease, and the lack of philanthropy to address these concerns at home. Dickens used cases like the Onecote case to prove that the law was at the centre of this decay since it had become a "byword for delay, slow agony of the mind, despair, impoverishment, trickery, confusion, insupportable injustice".
 The link between Dickens and Challinor was the indefatigable Radical MP Joseph Hume a campaigner since the 1820s where he had successfully campaigned for the ending of flogging in the British Army and the ending of the imprisonment for people in debt a cause from Dickens’s own childhood experience made the two men. Challinor met with Hume in London and the leaflet was widely distributed to many opinion formers in the political establishment.

The pamphlet was then sent to Dickens who sent acknowledged the document from his Tavistock Square address on the 11th March 1852.

Foster, Dickens’s first biographer wrote of the episode

Dickens was encouraged and strengthened in his design of assailing Chancery abuses and delays in receiving a few days after the appearance of his first number, a striking pamphlet on the subject containing details so apposite that he took from them, without change in any material point, the memorable case related in the fifteenth chapter. Anyone who examines Mr Challinor’s tract will see how exactly true is the reference to it made by Dickens in the preface.
Gridley in the novel comes to a sad end " a tall sallow fellow with a careworn head" as his attempts to get a hearing lead to spells of imprisonment for contempt of court. He dies in a shooting gallery in an attempt to escape arrest.

The system! I am told, on all hands, it’s the system. I mustn’t look to individuals. It’s the system" which Gridley rails against finally defeats him
The interest in the Leek link came back into local interest following the showing the highly successful TV programme in the winter of 2005 and the rediscovery of this literary connection which prompted this article .

Monday, 20 June 2011

Lady Football Team Comes to Leek 1895

The football season with all its celebrity and passion kicks off in a few weeks time. Supporters of all teams will look forward to the new season with either a sense of anticipation. It was perhaps another form of anticipation that led a few thousand supporters to turn up for a very unusual game in Leek in the autumn of 1895. We tend to think of women’s football as modern trend. In fact women’s football has almost as long a history as the Football League itself, which was established in 1888. In delving amongst the archive at the Post and Times offices I discovered a report of a game of women’s football in Leek in October 1895. The creator of the first women’s football Nettie Honeyball had founded the British Ladies Football team a year earlier. The principal purpose of establishing the team was political and the women who were involved were ardent supporters of the fight to get women the vote- a right denied them for another 23 years.

The team had played in many different venues prior to the Leek game and comprised of a squad of 30 players who were drawn from the middle and upper classes and were based in London. All had been privately educated. JW Julian, centre half of Tottenham Hotspur, coached the team and the opening game was played at Crouch End in North London on March 23rd 1895. The teams were divided between North London and South London teams the sides that played at Leek 6 months later.

The president of the club was Lady Florence Dixie a redoubtable figure in her own right- travel writer, archaeologist and war correspondent who had survived assassination attempts. One website described her as an Indiana Jones character an ardent feminist and crack shot! The team went on a national tour culminating in playing at St James Park the home of Newcastle United on the 20th April before a gate of 8,000. Many of the reports of the games focused on the kit the women were wearing which was a compromise between the need to maintain Victorian propriety and to wear a strip that was comfortably fitting. At the Leek game the women wore black knickerbockers and roomy red and white blouses for the North team and a blue blouse for the South team. This rather ungainly outfit was topped off with a fisherman’s cap with a tassel.

The match at Leek took place on the 25th October 1895. The women changed for the game in the Red Lion Hotel. A cheering and curious crowd assembled in the market square as the women embarked in a brake to take them to the game, which took place at the Broad Bridge ground. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for the match locally and over 400 people rushed the ground and got in without paying, maddened one would like to think, of the prospect of a flash of late Victorian thigh. The reporter estimated that the gate was around 3,000 and around half were women. The teams however were low on numbers and were augmented with local men the Red team having 8 players while the Blues had 9. Two men Mr H Redfern for the North and Mr Lavington for the South agreed to be goalkeepers for the afternoon.

The teams were
North team: Nellie Hudson, Nellie Clarke, Russell, Sundall, Newton, Oliphant, Ivy Hudson, Anderson
South team: Bird, Vernon, Wilson, Hodge, Potter, Holloway, Oliver, Young, Hoferon.
Nellie Hudson captained for the north and Miss Hoferon for the south.

 Mr A Lee acted as referee. The match was 30 minutes a half.

The star player was the right winger for the north Ivy Hudson a 14 year old was encouraged on by the crowd shouting " Goo it Little Un" and the North seemed to dominate the play in the opening moments of the game. The match was won early in the second half when Miss Bird for the South crossed from the right for Miss Hoferon to shoot past a diving Mr Redfern in goal. There is a suggestion that the male goalkeepers tried very hard not to be beaten. The account of the match concentrates on the novelty of the match and the reaction of the crowd who felt the quality of play was very inferior and began to drift away long before the end of the match. The gate money was estimated at around £30 although a high proportion of the gate had got in for nothing. The reported rather acidly had thought the experiment a failure. After the match report a Leek Times carried a long poem I will quote only three verses to give the modern reader a flavour of the sentiments of the author, Tom Stafford

Oh spare us this our winter game
-We don’t mind a blue stocking
But in the football field! For Shame
Miss Honeyball tis shocking
Don’t flatter your abandoned souls
Those thousands went for pleasure
Or went to watch you score goals
There’s were but lewdest leisure.
Your pretty ankles look so thick
Your baggy breeks ungainly
And then when you attempt to kick
Nine times in ten tis vanity.

The paper also covered another football story in that edition which serves as a reminder that football hooliganism did not begin in the 1960s. Mr Armitt of Leek referred a match between Wolverhampton and Everton at Wolves in October 1895. He disallowed a Wolves goal and as a consequence of this decision was attacked by the home supporters. The Directors of the Club were fined and the ground closed for a number of home matches after this outrage.

As for women’s football that particular experiment of Miss Honeyball failed by 1897 although football as a working class women’s activity really began to become popular during the First World War where women working in the munitions factory took up the sport. The high water mark of the women’s game was in the 1920s when attendances were as high as 50,000 and in 1922 Stoke Ladies beat Doncaster Ladies in the first Ladies FA Challenge Cup. At this time the Football League stepped in to deny facilities to women and women’s football had to wait to the 70s before being re-stablished. Even today the game struggles. Recently it has been announced that a number of clubs including Manchester United have closed their women’s teams at a time when football amongst girls has never been more popular.

Exhibition Of Children's Art Jewish Quarter Prague October 1987

Hitler planned to make the medieval Jewish ghetto in Prague into a museum. A testimony to the influence of Jewish culture in central Europe. In years to come he believed future Europeans would visit the museum thankful that they would no longer exposed to such malign, as he saw it, influences.

The Jewish quarter of Prague has existed since the 15th century and lies close to the Vlatava. It is a community, which even before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 were used to the hardship and suffering of the many religious and dynastic wars fought in and around Prague. It is a community, which has helped to enrich the cultural traditions of Europe. Kafka, Rabbi Low the 16th century scientist and Hebraic scholar and the ancestors of Freud were all connected with the quarter. In the complex of building lies the Museum of Children’s Art from Terezin concentration camp some miles from Prague.

It is a testimony, a threnody to the dead and a warning to the living to the living of the full scope of Nazi barbarism.

Terezin camp served as a model resettlement camp. It had schools even a symphony orchestra. It was frequently visited by the Red Cross but it served to hide the truth of the real nature of the death camps further east. Primo Levi himself a survivor of the camps, describes in his book "Is this a Man" to describe its effects on himself and his fellow internees.

 It is an exceptional human statement.

"Thousands of the individuals differing in age, condition, origin, language, customs and culture are enclosed within barbed wire; there they live, a regular controlled life which is identical for all and inadequate to all needs, and which is more rigorous than any experiment could have been set up to establish. What is essential and what is adventitious to the conduct of the human animal in the struggle for life…We believe that the only conclusion to be drawn is that in the face of driving necessity and physical disabilities many social habits and instinct are reduced to silence"

The Children’s Art Exhibition from Terezin demonstrates that silence and it shouts it. From Terezin over 15,000 children were taken to Auschwitz, Solibidor and the other camps to die in the gas chambers. The Children’s Art serves as a memorial. A naïve drawing here and there shows signs of a burgeoning talent. All the drawings and paintings have a common theme; they show signs of domestic happiness, father smoking a pipe, taking the family dog for a walk, a picnic in the countryside, a wedding. These representations suggest a collective desire to shut out the image of horror and to substitute in its place recollections of home, family and peace.

No one could fail to be deeply moved by these paintings, this memory of the unbearable. On my way out I paused to read the comments in the visitors book. Remarks were made in Czech, German, French, Russian and in English. I wrote my name and a recalled quote from the poetry of Wilfred Owen " and the old man would not so, and slew his son, and half the seed of Europe, one by one"

Thursday, 16 June 2011

No evidence of jobs bonanza in North Staffs

Some weeks ago the Sentinel published an article full of optimism for the wave of much needed jobs that are to hit the North Staffs economy. This immediately heartened me. As people are aware the local economy has been badly hit in recent years and currently they are many thousands of people without work. In Stoke there are over 8,000 people on the dole.

I therefore looked the jobs section of the Sentinel with interest. But if there is a jobs bonanza there is little evidence from the most recent jobs section
I realise that not all local jobs will be advertised in the paper. A number of companies will use their own websites. However of the 218 vacancies I would say that about half are short term or part time. In the 7 pages there were also organisations advertising courses and apprenticeships as well as volunteering opportunities. A number of agencies such as Forrest, Gap and Proactive also advertised. On a more positive note potbanks and engineering companies advertised although one ceramic company was based in Lancashire.

The point of this exercise was to confirm a thought that I have had about job creation which is confirmed in the national data. Many of the jobs that are replacing the long term and full time jobs are neither. A recent interview on the news of a man who had lost his job and had 3 temporary jobs to replace the permanent one lost is a graphic personal account of the problem. Pay is another matter with only minimum wage only on offer.

This is no way to build a vibrant economy or to provide work that is sustainable. What is the point of offering work to unemployed people that might only last a month?

One way out of this predicament is by developing self-employment as an option but of course the long-term unemployed are likely to have access to capital to develop ideas. The Government hopes to encourage 40,000 people to begin the path towards self-employment but these issues need to be addressed

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Harriet Ann Kidd of Leek and the Cooperative Womens Guild

I came across a very interesting tale in the archive of the Leek Post and Times of a formidable woman who perhaps deserves far more recognition in her home town than she gets. The story came from an article in the Post and Times dated January 31st 1980 and is headlined Harriet Ann- a dedicated woman.

It is a very interesting tale, which I will restate augmented by addition information from the Internet gathered in the 30 years since the article was written.

Harriet Ann Kidd was born in Leek in 1865 and at the age of 10 went to work in the silk mills of Leek as a "skeiner" She then went on to become a "marker", that is someone who ties cottons round the bands to indicate the different colours and qualities needed and in the opinion of the dyers was highly thought of for her abilities.

It seems apparent that she was a very determined woman a quality that shines through her as I will describe. It is written of her that she had a fiery temperament, which evidenced itself in a concern for the welfare conditions of the workers employed in the mills

The article does say that Harriet came from a family that was interested in politics and discussions took place around the kitchen table. Her grandfather was a passionate supporter of Home Rule for Ireland and the story has it that he was expelled from Ireland for his republican sympathies.

One defining moments in her life was a meeting she attended in Stoke where she argued for workers rights for the mill girls with an unidentified MP who bested her in argument, her inexperience led to her being publicly humiliated by the MP
She was determined to get her revenge and she studied at night for some months before deciding to confront the MP again. She was resolute in her persistence and walked to Liverpool from Leek for another chance to confront the man. (I think that the map would have been George Melly MP who was MP for Stoke on Trent in the late 19th century and was also a Liverpool merchant)

This time Harriet won the argument and the views of the MP were swept aside. After the meeting she was approached by a friend of Emmeline Pankhurst and urged to become more involved in the campaign to get woman the vote. When this person heard also that Harriet had walked the 50 miles to Liverpool she gave her the train fare back to North Staffordshire
When she was 17 Harriet learnt the way in which the young women were treated in the mills by the owners. She was raped by a factory owner and gave birth to a son. The lot of a lone parent with an illegitimate child in late 19th century Leek must have been extremely harsh and cruel Harriet continued to work in the mill and joined the Co-operative Women’s Movement in 1897. She was a very active Secretary and was able to progress in the Guild .She also built up the trade union movement in the textile industry which quickly reached 2,000 members and was elected its first President.

She also sought a position in one of the few public offices open to women at that time as a Poor Law Guardian polling 484 votes. The first time any woman in the town had stood for public office and a worthy effort given the local prejudice that existed against woman seeking the vote at the time. Some years after the Suffragette campaigner Charlotte Despard spoke in the town and the meeting was broken up by local Tory rowdies
She continued her political activity in Leek and by the dawn of the 20th century she was a fervent Socialist and connected with some of the progressive individuals in the town such as Larner Sugden. She was involved with the William Morris Labour Church where she acted as a caretaker for a period. She had known William Morris personally.

During this period she must have met many of the speakers that came into Leek during the late to address members of the Labour Church such as Keir Hardie the first Labour MP, Edward Carpenter, Ramsey McDonald the first Labour Prime Minister and WT Stead the campaigning journalist who was to die on the Titanic.

Between 1899- 1901 she was active in the anti Boer War movement which was centred on Larner Sugden.
Her activity eventually led to a full time paid position in the Co-operative Women’s Guild firstly working in the north and then at its headquarters in North London a job, which she combined with working for Women’s Suffrage
She contracted a fatal illness in 1916 and supported by friends nationally and in Leek she succumbed to her illness in 1917. Her funeral took place at Golders Green Crematorium on July 10th 1917 a headstone was donated by the Guild in recognition of her unstinting work for women and working class issues over many years.

Her friend the writer Virginia Woolf said of her into in the book "Life, as we have known it"
"One could not enter the Guild Office go upstairs without encountering Miss Kidd. Miss Kidd sat her typewrite in the outer office. Miss Kidd, one felt had set herself as a kind of watchdog to ward off the meddlesome middle class wasters of time who come prying into other people’s business. An extra share of the world’s grievances seemed press on her shoulders. When she clicked her typewriters, one felt that she was making that instrument transmit messages of foreboding and ill-omen to an unheeding universe"
And later

"And nothing perhaps embittered us more at the Congress than the thought of this force of theirs, this smouldering heat which broke the crust now and then and licked the surface with a hot and fearless flame, it is about to break through and melt us together, so that life will be richer and books more complex and society will pool its possessions instead of segregating them- all this is going to happen inevitably to Margaret Llwellyn- Davies, Miss Harris and Miss Kidd- but only when we are dead"

Harriet Kidd’s son Arthur Kidd known as "Lew" spent his life participating in promoting local football and cricket and particularly in encouraging young and promising sportsmen in Leek

Harriet Kidds’s life and achievements seem to have passed by her hometown and I feel that it an oversight. The issues that she campaigned for the rights of workers, women’s issue and addressing the structural failings within British Society as evident now as they were a century ago

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Circus comes to town- Leek 1860

In October 1925 a wonderfully evocative letter was published in the Leek Times. To the writer it bought back distant memories of an event burned into his mind. And a poster of a forthcoming event in the market had triggered the remembrance. Bostock and Wombwell Menagerie was hitting town and notices were on the hoardings. The Circus was coming to time re-visiting a town that they had strong connections with. When Bostock and Wombwell Menagerie came to town it was opening the casket of memory for one elderly resident who felt compelled to write to the paper chronicling a visit made by the circus to the Leek of his boyhood.
"I can still remember the old show 60 years ago", the letter from "Old Resident" began his letter. "I had the pleasure of visiting the show as a child of 10. It was a gala day… every one waited patiently for the advance guard of tiny coloured ponies to arrive… The memory revives such happy memories. The great day arrived and we did not want any calling most of the town were up at an early hour forming a procession as the menagerie entered the town. The wagons, some pulled by horses harness all shining others drawn by elephants and camels came into view. What a shout went up when we saw the first wagon. All of us eager to ride in the managers trap pointing out the best way to the showground. The canvas canopies were soon fixed up in the market place. The crowd would be harangued with stories of how dangerous the animals were and the public were begged to look for themselves. The lion tamer was dressed in a red jacket with gold braiding and wearing many medals. He was our hero and our ambition was to be a lion hunter nothing else was sufficiently dangerous when we grew up.

The Band- and what a good band they were- at the front all dressed in top hats and frock coats. The show had opened and my father carried me on his shoulders. I saw the first wild animals I had ever seen: it was an education. What a pleasant recollection the old show brings to my mind! What happy carefree boyhood days!"

"Old Resident" then went on to mention the family connection between the Bostock’s and the area. The original partner in the business James Bostock had been born in 1815 at the Dairy House, Horton and joined Wombwell’s Menagerie in 1830 as a Waggoner and a trainer of horses a skill he acquired on the family farm. He acted as advance agent for 28 years for the company reaching a peak when he took presented the menagerie before the royal family in 1847 and 1854 at Windsor Castle. He died in 1878 in Surrey. One of the Bostocks had run a grocery in Church Street and a relative Frank Bostock lived in Alsop Street.

James Bostock’s son Edward Bostock wrote a very entertaining book called Menageries, Circus and Theatres in 1927, which details the family connections between Bostocks in Leek and the family business. There is a section on how he met his wife after suffering an occupational hazard. Following an attack by a hyena at a show in Stockport Edward recuperates in Leek and is nursed back by his wife to be Elizabeth. They marry at St Edwards Church in Leek in August 1881.
The account is a marvellous depiction of life at the edges in Victorian Britain. His autobiography has so many stories that there is enough material to make a very interesting book or film. There are instances when animals get out and wander amongst the audience, as a boy on tour with the menagerie in Ireland he mentions a stampede when a Lion gets into a crowd, of extremely risky acts such as a Tiger mounted on the back of an elephant riding around the auditorium in Glasgow in 1892.

He demonstrates the excitement that people in rural communities must have felt and which comes through in Old Resident’s letter as the menagerie came into town. Edward uses the expression " booming the show" to describe the procession. At the front were the bandsman well dressed and playing the popular tunes of the time. Sometimes the circus would arrive at evening and there way would be lighted by naphtha flares. Fires seemed to be a common occurrence and several are detailed in the book and derring do acts of bravery are frequently carried out as Edward and others rescue the animals at one event at the Goose Fair in Nottingham when the canvas catches fire. In 1872 in Hanley an elephant trampled to death a 14 year old boy. It is a terrible event but no blame is attached to the animal, as it seems that the boy was provoking the animal. There does not seem to be much regard for health and safety. Early in his career he goes into a lion cage with a trainer who has had too much to drink and towards the end he rescued a drunken trapeze artist who is tangled up in ropes many feet above the ground.

The journeys that the menagerie makes are truly heroic. In the winter of 1875 they walk through a blizzard over the Yorkshire Wolds. The horses are rough shod, as the roads are sheets of ice. The wagons are skidding down the hills and they have no control as cages containing lions and tigers and bears slither into ditches. By the time they get to Sheriff Hutton at night and the racoons have escaped and in the dark are difficult to find. The team have to crawl on their hands and knees in the snow to find the animals. The wagon containing the wolves is lost and by the time it arrives the following day the wolves are fine but the Wagoner known as the Dodger is so cold that he has frozen to the seat and has to be thawed out before an open fire and generous amounts of brandy poured down his throat before he is revived.

But what conditions must the animals have had to put up with. The animals must have had to put up with terribly cramped conditions as well as having to put with great extremes of the British climate. The constant journeying must have been trying for animals and people. Edward details a tour they took in 1883/4 when he visited Burton on Trent, Tutbury Ashbourne, Derby, Nottingham Sunderland, Galashiels, Edinburgh, Stirling, Perth, Dunkeld, Pitlochry, Kingussie, Inverness, Wick, Thurso, Foress, Aberdeen, Forfar, Fife, Edinburgh, Glasgow, York, Hull, Beverley, Filey and Scarborough.

One story that is told predates Edward Bostock’s involvement with the menagerie and is an indicator of the cruelty of the menagerie in the very early days. It is also an excellent reflection on the idiocy of mankind. Edward records that Wombwell in 1825 wanted to recreate the Circus Maximus of Ancient Rome. He decided to use mastiff dogs to attack a lion. A large crowd had gathered at the event in Liverpool but the dogs were so cowed and the lion so docile that nothing happened. The enraged crowd, which had been drinking heavily, turned on each other while the animals passively watched the rioting humans.

Bostock and Wombwell finally wound up in 1931 in recognition of the part the town had played in the history of the company Leek was included in the final tour. The animals formed the core of the collection of the newly opened Whipsnade Zoo

Monday, 13 June 2011

WH Hudson on Axe Edge 1913

The years before the First World War saw a renaissance in an interest in the English countryside in every aspect. The Arts and Craft Movement inspired by William Morris and the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded on the desire to return to a pre industrial past including a return to a simpler life attuned to nature and a rejection of mass industrialisation. In architecture houses that were inspired by rural dwellings were being built by Lutyens and Gilbert Scott at the end of the 19th century. In music composers such as Holst, Vaughn Williams and George Butterworth who died on the Somme in 1916 were collecting folk songs in the West Country and the Sussex Downs. This interest in rural life was probably the result of a reaction against the growth of urban life during the Victorian period. By 1851 more people lived in cities than lived in the country. This love of nature and an awareness of country life is particularly marked in writing. Writers at the times as diverse as Thomas Hardy, Richard Jeffries and Flora Thompson, whose chronicle of country life in Oxfordshire "Lark Rise to Candleford" is still printed.

In May 1913 the Anglo Argentinian writer WH Hudson was in the area. He was at the peak of his powers and had produced many books on bird watching and nature either in Britain or on Latin America. His most well known book "Green Mansions" was published in 1904 and often cited as the first ecological novel subtitled- A romance of the Tropical Forest- it is a mystical novel on the life of a forest child in the Amazonian jungle who is at one with the animals of the jungle. Hudson in May 1913 was collecting material on Axe Edge for a book "Adventures Among Birds". Hudson was not impressed by the locals comparing them unfavourably with the more fiery Lancastrians. He blamed their lack of spirit and energy on Methodism.
"Moorlanders are not a happy looking or a lively people. They have colourless faces and for good looks compare badly with inhabitants of the adjoining districts.

The farming methods were backward. "The farmers depend mainly on their lean ill fed cows for a livelihood: they make butter and feed a pig or two with the skim milk. They live on bacon and buttermilk themselves and bread which they make or buy, but vegetables and fruit are luxuries"

"I asked several farmers why they did not cut bracken which was plentiful enough, to serve as bedding for cows, since they could not get straw. They answered that occasionally a farmer did so, but it was not a custom and they thought the cows did just as well without bedding at all!"

Hudson encountered the innate deep rooted conservatism of the area. This entirely coincides with an account from a farmer Tom Mullins born in 1863 whose autobiography is included in a collection of autobiographies of working people called "Useful Toil" published by Penguin in the 70s. Mullins whose autobiography was collected when he was an old man recounts walking to Leek market as 10 year old from his parent’s farm at Rushton Spencer with a basket containing two hundred eggs on one arm and another basket with twelve pounds of butter on the other. In the 1870s Mullins records that the reaction of the locals when the first steam powered farm machines arrived in the area was one of laughter! The farming methods described are not far removed from the medieval with Mullins quoting a farmer who was far opposed to anything modern that he even refused to use horses.
Hudson details the life of the amateur biologist at the beginning of the 20th century who must be fit and must have money enough to exist without work. He was in that category having inherited wealth from family interests in Argentina. On Axe Edge he found what he was seeking the companionship of birds and nature. He is captivated by the song of the curlew as it is breeding season and birds trill to each other as they fly over the bracken. He describes with great pleasure hearing the plaintive song of the ring ouzel while walking near Flash while decrying the absence of larger birds

"Not a buzzard, not a harrier, not a raven which when soaring would seem an appropriate object and part of the scenery in these high wild places".

I wondered in the intervening 90 years since Hudson wrote his observations on Moorland birds how the species he describes are coping in the early years of the 21st century. I am indebted to Rhodri Thomas, Ecology Manager of the peak District national park Authority for a very full response to my questions about bird populations on Axe Edge.

The Curlew, which is included on Staffs Moorlands District Councils coat of arms, did well between the 20s and 50s but has declined steeply in the local area since the 80s. In 1985 there were 421 pairs which fell to 173 pairs in 1996 changes in land management may lay behind this decline.

The Ring Ouzel the sound of which so enchanted Hudson has suffered a sharp decline in the Southern Pennines. The RSPB have suggested that there is evidence that climate change might be implicated. It is not completely gloomy news the Buzzard population was all but extinct in the early years of the 20th century probably as a result of persecution. I have noticed myself the rapid rise in population around the area. Again with the Harrier the news looks favourable. There were two successful nests last year producing 10 chicks. The Goyt Valley saw the first nesting of Hen Harriers in over 130 years in 1997. The species had been common once in the area but had become very rare by 1863. The signs are that the bird is about to make a return in numbers to the area. The Raven a bird which had been common in the 18th century had virtually died out by 1905 but they have recolonised during the 1990s and are maintaining a consistent and significant increase.

1913 was the last full year of peace. There is evidence that Hudson was accompanied for part of his time on the North Staffordshire Moors by the poet and nature writer Edward Thomas who was recovering from a nervous breakdown. Thomas was to be killed in the First World War four years later. I wonder how many of the listless young men Hudson and Thomas met on their travels in the district or were friends of Tom Mullins escaped their isolation when the opportunity presented itself after August 1914 never to return to their remote farmsteads?

What is clear about the writings of Hudson, Thomas and Jefferies are expressions of wonderment at the natural world. These are feelings that many people today share: a sentiment testified by the growing interest in wildlife. This is a world under threat with 60% of the ecosystem services that support life on earth being degraded or rendered untenable. We need to drastically heighten our sense of the first principle of ecology- that everything is connected to everything else.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Missouri after Jesse James and a Leek Woman 1884

This is an episode from the bloody aftermath of the American Civil War, which catches in its snares a Leek woman who had moved to the United States with the intention of starting a new life in a community with people of like mind. The story is carried in a Leek paper of May 1885 with the eye-catching headlines

A terrible adventure
A Leek woman and her husband shot
The shooters lynched

The Leek woman who was subject to this assassination attempt was Mrs Dickenson whose maiden name was Bromley. She had one point lived in Church Street before marrying and moving to the States arriving in New York in 1882. The Dickenson’s were one of twelve English families who set out west with the idea of forming a socialist commune in Texas. Throughout the 19th century there were many attempts to found communities such as New Harmony in Connecticut by Robert Owen or the fictitious community that appears in "Martin Chuzzlewit" by Dickens. And of course there exists today religious communities such as the Amish who live in the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The party of settlers arrived in Springfield Missouri where four of the group amongst them the Dickenson’s were tempted by the offer of land in South West Missouri close to the border with Arkansas in the area of the Ozark Mountains. They arrived in 1883 and settle in the Tanney County area to grow tobacco and coffee living in a community according to their deeply held principles of cooperation. Unfortunately they arrive into an area devastated by the Civil War, which despite ending 20 years before was still blighting the area. In truth, that part of the United States had been in a lawless state for many years prior to the war of 1861-5. The states of Kansas and Missouri were notorious for maundering banditti, some favourable to the continuation of slavery and others not. In the 1870s and 80s their numbers were swollen by discharged soldiers of both north and south with scores to settle and harbouring grievances. The most famous being that of the James- Younger gang of fervent confederate sympathies who fought a ferocious guerrilla war with the authorities and northern sympathisers with a tendency to rob banks. However, the gang had broken up after the disastrous Northfield Raid and Jesse James had been shot dead by Bob Ford in St Joseph, Missouri in April 1883.
The downfall of that gang did not put an end to the lawlessness and this was especially true of Southern Missouri. In Tanney County between 1865 and 1885 despite their being 40 murders no one was bought to justice: it is believed that many of the juries were packed with relatives or Confederate sympathisers. Some residents of the state resolved to tackle the anarchy amongst them Mr Dickenson, by use of violence if required. A group lead by the imposing Nat Kinney who was 6 foot 6 inches tall formed a vigilante posse, which were called the Bald Knobbers. They met secretly on the mountaintops of the Ozark Mountains posting sentries on the rocky outcrops of the peaks from whence they acquired their nickname.
It was a violent crime against the Dickenson that lead to the first bloodshed. The Dickenson ran a store and post office that Mr Dickenson who was a great fan of the writer would later name Dickens. The store was based at the isolated community of Eglington. The Dickenson’s got into a dispute with a pair of vicious young hoodlums called Frank and Tubal Taylor who were supported in their crime wave by Elijah Sublet. The row was over credit for a pair of boots. The young men reached for their guns as explained in a letter published in the Leek Times of the 25th May 1885. Mr Dickenson described what happened.

"Just after 7 pm, Frank Taylor entered the Post Office. I was sitting on a bench by the fireplace outside the counter…. He took hold of me by the throat and said that he had come to settle with me. I got up intending to reach for my pistol, which was just behind the counter. I just got one step and said, "Loose me" when he put his pistol straight in front of my face and fired. Elijah Sublet and Tubal Taylor were then in the room, and Frank and Tubal tried to drag me out. My wife came to my assistance as soon as she heard the first shot, and as soon as she appeared Frank pointed a pistol at her head and fired. After a little struggle I got released. During the whole of the struggle I heard 4 or 5 shots. The whole affair last a few minutes.

The first shot entered my upper lip, taking a portion of left jaw and three or four upper teeth; one shot went through Mrs Dickenson’s head straightaway, about two inches behind the right ear; another ball went into my right shoulder, steering its way into the right side of my neck; another went through Mrs D’s thumb; another went through my coat sleeve, another grazed Mrs D’s cheek and eyebrow. Our wounds are not serious.
The account ended with the information that the young men were intent on murdering the couple as they had fired at their heads. A Hue and Cry was raised for the Taylor’s. They quickly made their escape and hide in local caves before surrendering to the sheriff on the promise of protection. The Taylor’s were placed in jail in the principle town of the area Forsyth. However was in store for these unfortunate young men was an invitation to what in the Old West was called a " Neck Tie Party".

The New York Times then takes up the story in an article, which is dated 10th December 1885

At about 10 o clock the following night a band of men, estimated about 150, rode into the town and posted their guards at different points and with sledge hammers, forced open the jail doors. The two Taylor’s begged piteously for their lives, but all to no purpose. They were quickly marched out and taken away. The next morning their bodies were found hanging to the limb of a scrub oak tree two and a half miles west of town. It was generally believed that the Bald Knobbers did the lynching.
After that incident the violence and the numbers of vigilantes grew although

others dropped out of the "Bald Knobbers" sickened by the lynching of the Taylor’s. The gang’s became more harsh and sought to impose their own will on the community seeking to correct such " lawlessness" as gamblers, couples who lived in sin or "loose" women into changing their ways. Sometimes they intimidated those who spoke out against the vigilantes or who were considered "ornery" About 18 people were killed for speaking against the gang. The gang swaggered around the local counties and began to act as despots themselves. They began to alienate former supporters. Many people in Southern Missouri began to see them as tyrants and felt the call to resist.

A reaction set in and groups of armed men called "anti bald knobbers" were formed to oppose the vigilantes. In 1887 the Bald Knobbers attacked families of men who were critical of them. Shotgun blasts and explosions were directed at family cabins. The cries of the women and children bought neighbours to the scene of carnage as two men were shot gunned to death and others including children injured. This caused a national outrage and action to cause the vigilantly bands roaming the state 20 members of the gang were arrested. Four were sentenced to death and clumsily executed.

A member of the anti bald knobbers murdered the leader of the Bald Knobbers Kinney in August 1888 and was found not guilty at a subsequent trial on the grounds of self-defence. The bloodshed and the intimidation petered out by the end of the century although the events left much bitterness in local communities.
The story however did achieve a national prominence with the publication in 1907 of a novel depicting the events. The book by Harold Bell Wright " The Shepherd of the Hills" became a best seller. In fact it was the first American novel to sell 1 million copies. A silent film was also made of the book in 1919. Southern Missouri became a tourist attraction on the strength of the history attracting 5 million Americans a year to theme parks that play out the events in a family friendly way.

As for the Dickenson’s they opened a bigger store by the end of the 1880s about a mile from their close brush with death. The Post Office Dickens remained open till 1952. Mr Dickenson became a successful businessman and later judge and a prominent local member of the Republican Party in Missouri.

Sir Philip Brocklehurst Edwardian Adventurer

Most people celebrate their 21st birthday with family and friends in some comfortable place, a pub, a restaurant or on holiday. Sir Philip Brocklehurst of Swythamley Park near Leek was somewhat different, he chose to celebrate his 21st on March 5th 1908 in a party that was attempting to climb Mount Erebus at 12,448 feet the world’s most southerly active volcano. On that day, he was sheltering in a sleeping bag with two others. Photographs taken show the 4000-foot column of smoke and steam billowing around the volcano. He was one of a party of 6 pulling a sledge that weighed 600 pounds. How the young man found himself in this situation and what happened to the 1907-9 expedition is an adventure worthy of being described as a ripping yarn.

Brocklehurst’s fate, he was born on the 5th March 1887, was linked with one of the country’s greatest polar explorer’s Ernest Shackleton, 13 years older than the baronet. Along with Robert Falcon Scott, the Norwegian’s Amundsen and Nansen and the American Peary, he is one of the greats in the Golden Age of Polar Exploration. When they first met, the Irishman had achieved fame as being part of an expedition who got nearest to the South Pole. Known to the people who worked with him as "the Boss" Shackleton displayed throughout his life excellent leadership abilities; which were tested in the extreme conditions of polar exploration. He also combined the characteristics of man of action and meditative man, as he was a voracious reader: He loved poetry. At his welcoming dinner in June 1909 Shackleton quoted lines from Keats, wholly in keeping with the occasion to illustrate the courage and the doggedness that the men under his command had exhibited.

His early life at sea equipped him to be accepted on the Discovery expedition to the South Pole in 1902 led by Robert Falcon Scott. There was a personality clash between the two men, and while the Discovery expedition was successful in that they got further south than anyone before, they were still 533 miles short of their objective. After returning to Britain, Shackleton began to raise funds in an attempt to reach the South Pole. He had maintained good connections with the Royal Geographic Society which enabled him to be successful when a competition to reach the South Pole was opened by the society in early 1907. Shackleton, however, had been making contacts to raise money. However, lack of funding was to remain a constant problem right up to the start of the expedition.

Ernest Shackleton met Brocklehurst in the London flat of an American acquaintance Miss Haveymeyer in 1906. Shackleton was rather vague about the details of the expedition to the South Pole however the young baronet was enthusiastic and volunteered his services at once. At that time Brocklehurst had just left Cambridge he was in the language of the time regarded as a "hearty" interested in sport. He was a good boxer and at Cambridge acquired a Half Blue. After leaving University, he failed to take his degree; he continued to box ultimately sparring with Champions Jimmy Wilde and Bombardier Billy Wells. Both Brocklehurst and Shackleton would express their great interest in the sport and at the end of the voyage the younger man noted the excitement he felt on discovering the outcome of the heavyweight boxing championship fight between Jack Johnson- the black American challenger and Canadian Tommy Burns. (In later life Brocklehurst was a patron of a boxing club in Macclesfield).
Shackleton was doubly impressed by Brocklehurst's wealth and his physical prowess. Sir Philip by Shackleton on the grounds that he was "one for the ladies", "Bohemian" and "extravagant with taxis". The meeting was a great success and Shackleton and Brocklehurst remained life long friends. I have the impression that the older man was a father figure to Sir Philip: He was also influenced by Shackleton's leadership style. The expedition leader was a good communicator. He had the ability to treat the men as if they were all individually important. His spirit of optimism and transparent honesty made him a natural and personable "Boss".

Brocklehurst offered to help pay for the expedition although as he was only 19 and had no control over the family finances. His mother held the purse strings. Shackleton met with Lady Brocklehurst and so charmed her that money was found to assist in funding the expedition. He was keen that the young man assisted the expedition in a practical way as well as offering the undoubted drive and stamina.

"take up a course of practical surveying; learn to take your latitudes and longitudes with a theodolite. Learn to take your bearings with a compass. Learn to take a survey with a planer table. Take up a course in field geology. Learn to recognise the particular formations of rocks... Learn the particular sedimentary, volcanic and igneous rocks."More importantly, when the fitting out of the Nimrod- a Dundee built whaler- was proving to be a financial burden on Shackleton was able to call on Brocklehurst’s financial support to guarantee £2,000. Later on Brocklehurst’s contacts with the Scottish author Campbell Mackellar would prove equally beneficial to the outcome of the expedition. His cousin also had useful social connections. John Fielden Shackleton was equerry to Queen Alexandria and was able to gain royal patronage for the voyage. King Edward VII visited the Nimrod before they embarked.

Sir Philip joined the expedition late and was unhurried spending some time in Australia watching an Ashes Test match in Sydney during Christmas 1907. He saw George Gunn of Nottinghamshire make 119 in his first Test match although Australia went on to win the match by two wickets. Brocklehurst joined the party in Christchurch.

The voyage took several weeks to reach South Victoria Land. The expedition had to endure mountainous seas shortly after they left New Zealand on New Years Day 1908. They sighted their first iceberg on January 14th and the following day the ship encountered pack ice. Shackleton feared that they would become trapped altered course for the McMurdo Sound; they landed at the end of the month at Cape Royds. The weather was atrocious and stores were buried under several feet of snow and ice. The first task that the expedition decided on was the conquest of the unclimbed Mount Erebus in early March 1908.
Brocklehurst was to take part in the ascent despite having little experience of climbing. Blizzards blew and the snow was described by one of the expedition members as being very fine and gritty like whipping into the faces of the mountaineers. The temperature dropped in the final stage of the ascent to -34 degrees.
The final party to attempt the summit was made up of 3 of Brocklehurst’s comrades Edgeworth David, Mawson and Mackay with Brocklehurst and two others as support. The group were provisioned with ten days supply. Below the volcano a fierce blizzard blew up and the men sheltered in three man sleeping bags, much criticised by David as being very uncomfortable and affording little protection or comfort. Brocklehurst complained that often on waking he would find his mouth full of fibres.

 "Everything is covered with these little hairs about an inch long out of our Reindeer sleeping bags. The other night I turned the bag outside out and shook it, but it is every bit as bad if not worse"
 Sleep deprivation was something that all the participants on the expedition complained about especially as men were snoring and moving about trying to get comfortable. At some point Brocklehurst emerged from the sleeping bag to answer a call of nature. It was an action that nearly proved calamitous. The force of the wind was strong enough to blow him half way down a chasm. Another of the party was also swept down the mountain and after a struggle was able to reach the safety of the group. The blizzard lasted for a day after it had subsided Brocklehurst complained that his feet felt cold. His feet were examined and it was discovered that both big toes had been attacked by frostbite. He was in some discomfort and it was decided to leave him behind while the others successfully climbed the summit. A month later at base camp one of his frost bitten big toes was amputated.
After this initial accomplishment the expedition then split up into three groups to carry out specific tasks. The Northern Party task was to reach the magnetic South Pole; Shackleton led the Southern Party whose objective was the South Pole, while the Western Party including Sir Philip surveyed mountains around McMurdo Sound discovering the potential for economic exploitation of minerals. Earlier, Shackleton had suggested that Brocklehurst be a part of the larger Southern team, but the conditions of his toes forced a change of mind. The Western Party were carried 16 miles by the car that had been bought out- a first in Polar exploration.

The Arrol- Johnson performed very well. The oil was specifically developed to withstand temperatures down to –30F. Ordinary tyres with skid-chains were found to be adequate and operated excellently in the conditions. This was 100 years before Clarkson and May attempted a polar excursion in a Toyata Hilux along with film crew. sat nav and with emergency services to hand. On the way back from dropping off Brocklehurst and the others the car got stuck in ice crevices and was not used again. In the thawing ice it was thought too dangerous.

Brocklehurst began to have strange dreams, which reveal the sense of insecurity that he and the others must have felt.

He dreamed "that the ponies had died, and that Shackleton was unsuccessful, while Mackay sat at Butter Point when we arrived back explaining how he had quarrelled with the Professor and Mawson were on some thin ice. About as ill omened a dream as I ever heard"

At first the group achieved their tasks and the three men collected minerals and fossils as well as surveying a previous unknown part of Antarctica. They enjoyed breakfasting on Skua eggs, as the birds were a terrible nuisance, both to the men and dogs. Brocklehurst despite have an amputated toe climbed a small mountain -Harbour Heights- and was able to keep a note on the surrounding topography.

On January 25th 1909 their lives were placed in peril when the ice they were camping on broke off and floated along the coast. There was the risk of being carried off into the open sea, and the danger of killer whales. Brocklehurst and his comrades were in a dilemma, but the only course open to them was to remain on the floe and await a passing ship or the hope that they might drift back to land. The men had good fortune as the following day the ice had drifted very close to the shore and they were able to jump on to the shore.
The ice floe then drifted back into the open sea. Brocklehurst commented on a disappointed group who had been recent observers.

The killer whales were all around the foot of the glacier, great ugly brutes deprived of their unusual breakfast
 He had cheated death for a second time.

The Northern Party under the command of Edgeworth David reached the magnetic pole despite suffer appallingly in blizzards and temperatures below -20F, and were like Brocklehurst’s party picked up by the Nimrod. Shackleton leading the Southern party passed the previous record for most southerly point set by Scott during the "Discovery" expedition of 6 years earlier and on the 9th January 1909 planted the Union flag 97 miles from the South Pole. Disappointed the group turned back for their rendezvous with the Nimrod
Nimrod returned to Britain in June 1909 and Shackleton, Brocklehurst and the rest of the crew were feted at a Royal Geographic Society dinner. Shackleton in responding to the toast said that the reception that the crew had received in New Zealand and Australia had been a very fulsome one and had prepared them for the welcome they received in London. He congratulated the crew on their devotion to duty. They had miraculous escape, but they were ready to return to Antarctica. Brocklehurst enjoyed being feted and made much of his missing toe. At another dinner at the Savage Club chaired by Scott, he was at the centre of attention. Scott asked what had happened to the toe." I hear he has bought the toe back in a bottle".
Brocklehurst informed the gathering that it was doing the rounds of London Medical Schools examined by clinicians interested in the effect of frostbite. "I wish I had it. I can’t regain possession of my toe. The Doctors want it".
 The Leek Times of the 19th June 1909 devoted an editorial to the safe return of the Nimrod. Shackleton felt that to turn back only 100 miles from the Pole was the correct thing to do. "We could do no more", he said. The editorial praised the actions of the party, "they had touched the limit of human endurance". No mention was made of the local connection that Sir Philip had with the area.

Shackleton went to Antarctica in 1914 in the Endurance expedition. The voyage proved to be nearly disastrous, after the ship was crushed by ice the expedition was forced on an epic journey of survival. Despite suffering much hardship all the crew were rescued, after an ordeal that lasted 10 months. Shackleton died at the age of 47 in January 1922. He was buried on the South Atlantic island of South Georgia.

Sir Philip was to continue a life of public service up to his death on the 28th January 1975. He married in 1913; Shackleton was best man. During the First World War Sir Philip served in the Life Guards, he was wounded. In early 20s, he worked with the Egyptian Army and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. An interesting aspect of his life was his involvement in Military Intelligence in the mid 1930s keeping an eye on far right groups including his North Staffordshire neighbour and British Union of Fascists Leader Sir Oswald Mosley at Wootton. In the Second World War he commanded a mechanised brigade of the Arab Legion and was British Consul in Trans Jordan between 1943-4. He chaired Swythamley Parish Council for over 50 years. He was also very active in the Conservative Party.

He was devoted to his brother Henry Courtney Brocklehurst who was killed in action in Burma in 1942. Philip inscribed an epitaph to him on Hanging Stone Rock to his memory. Henry shared his brother’s outside life: He hunted game in East Africa and wrote an account of his time as a warden for the Sudanese Government. His book Game Animals of the Sudan written in 1931 is dedicated to Philip. Henry went on to set up the wild life sanctuary on the Roaches before the Second World War, which was continued by his brother after Henry’s death. In the late 40s a Tibetan Yak wandered the estate and a friend of mine came head to head with one when climbing in the area. The Wallabies were a result of this enterprise.

A story circulated about the fate of Brocklehurst’s big toe after he had recovered it from a London teaching hospital. It had a place of honour on the mantelpiece at Swythamley Park and disappeared after his death. The yarn went that a guest ate it thinking it was a snack at the wake for Sir Philip.

In October 2007 the Times carried a report that the descendents of members of the Nimrod expedition were to follow in the steps of their forebears and attempt to reach the South Pole amongst them Patrick Bergil, the great grandson of Ernest Shackleton. The expedition was to begin on the 28th October 2008 and was being used to launch a Shackleton Foundation, which will fund projects that embody the spirit of leadership and adventure personified in Ernest Shackleton and the men who followed him 100 years ago.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Henry Wainwright, a severed hand and Leek Mechanics Institute

The Mechanics Institute in Russell St cuts a rather forlorn figure. I took a party to look at it. It is an early Sugden building dating from around 1860 and strongly influenced by Ruskin. The lions on the front of the building suggest to me someone who had read the "Stones of Venice". The chronology is right of the book was published in 1853 and for William Sugden, as for many, it must have resonated. I said forlorn and the ground floor frontage of the building now occupied by Age Concern must the most hideous in Leek.

But first what was a Mechanics Institute. They were established at the beginning of the 19th century. Historically, they were educational establishments formed to provide adult education particularly in technical subjects, to working men. As such, local industrialists often funded them on the grounds that they would ultimately benefit from having more knowledgeable and skilled employees. The Mechanics' Institutes were used as 'libraries' for the adult working class, and provided them with an alternative pastime to gambling and drinking in pubs. In practice however the fees demanded from Mechanics Institute put them out of the reach of many of the working men of Leek. The Leek Literary and Mechanics Institute was initially founded in 1837 and it moved to the present location in the early 1860s. It was described as a very impressive structure with a commodious reading room and lecture theatre. It was the only library in town prior to the establishment of the Nicholson Institute in 1884.

One of the earliest speakers at Leek in late January 1864 was a 25 year old Londoner Henry Wainwright. He was an acknowledges expert on the 18th century poet Thomas Hood and Wainwright spoke on the "Wit, Whims and Oddities of Thomas Hood. The meeting was chaired by Lord Norton and the money raised for the building fund totalled £13 7s 1d. It was a very successful meeting.

Move forward 11 years and Wainwright is in a very different situation. He had a brush making business in East London and lived in the Whitechapel Road. Right next door was the Pavilion theatre - and Henry did love a trip to the theatre, socialising with many performers, even inviting them back to dine with his wife - though the younger, prettier actresses were entertained elsewhere. And, when he met a hatmaker by the name of Harriet Lane, he set her up as 'Mrs King' in various East end residences, the last being in Stepney's Sidney Square. But, Henry tired of Harriet's charms. She was murdered and her body was buried under the floor at his warehouse. A year later, in 1875, with the warehouse sold and about to change hands, Henry exhumed the corpse, cutting it into pieces, which he wrapped in thick canvas cloth. He certainly did try to move the remains, even asking a member of staff to help with transporting them to his new premises - claiming they contained hair for his trade. When the poor workman complained at the stench, Wainwright assured him that it would 'blow off'. A little while later, out in the street, when he complained again at the weight, Wainwright became exasperated, leaving his employee alone with the parcels while he went off to find a cab.

He returned and loaded the packages into the cab and then travelled on alone. But during his absence, the suspicious employee had sneaked a look and discovered a decaying hand. He did not challenge Wainwright at the time, fearing he might be murdered too, but as soon as the cab set off, a constable was informed and, in due course, Wainwright was detained, red-handed, with blood seeping out through the cloth in his arms. However, there was a twist. Wainwright was hanged for the crime, but during the court case it came out that he had a brother, Thomas, and Henry had encouraged Thomas to woo Harriet in his place - hoping to make their break easier. When Harriet's body was found, Thomas had long disappeared. Some believe that Henry, having already lost his reputation, sought to protect his brother's name, taking the blame for her death on himself.

Prior to the Mechanics Institute cottages occupied the site. One of the cottages a Mrs Yates an oatcake maker. She was known to augment her supply of wood for her business by stealing from neighbours. They were determined to teach her a lesson and hid an amount of gunpowder in a pilfered amount. The subsequent detonation served Mrs Yates right and cured her of her stealing.