Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Archaeology in the Stafordshire Peak

I have something of an interest in how the Victorians came to terms with the past especially pre-recorded history. By the start of the 19th century the old beliefs about the beginning of mankind were unravelling. This applies this to those early geologists and archaeologists that examined the landscape of the Peak District. The sense of curiosity extended to those who saw in the countryside possibilities for discovering more about the lives of the earliest inhabitants of the Staffordshire Moorlands. By the 1840s the interest in early man was showing itself in the excavation of many of the ancient monuments. The science of archaeology had been established years before. Rev William Buckland who had discovered in 1823 the Red Lady of Paviland in South Wales, the first human fossil of its kind ever to be found in the world. The bones were later found not to be female at all and are still the earliest remains ever to be found in the UK at 33,000 years old.
One of the earliest local archaeologists was Thomas Bateman of Middleton in Youlgrave who in one year 1845 excavated 38 barrows and tumuli in Staffordshire and Derbyshire. Amongst then was one near Wetton in June 1845 in which early pottery and the skeleton of a girl were discovered. The site had lain undiscovered for 4,000 years. Bateman was an amateur and the archaeology bug seem to have bitten others. Mr Charlesworth of Heath House near Longnor who was interested in a mound of earth close by. According to the Derby Mercury of May 1847 he opened the barrow and as the account follows discovered bones and charcoal a few feet from the surface. " In the centre of the barrow was a body fixed in an upright position. The bones were presented to Mr Goodwin of Longnor Cottage"
. I am sure that the techniques that were used by these early rooters into the distant past would make a modern day archaeologist wince. I am equally certain that they made mistakes, but I recognise that they were the pioneers trying to reconstruct the distant past, a fascination that continues up to the present day.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Workers Rights

The Tories seem to be of the opinion that the way to growing the economy relies on eroding the national minimum wage especially for younger workers and scrapping employment laws for all. So if I have it right the way out of the crisis is to trample the few rights that employers have gained under the last Labour Government. And the present predicament is nothing to do with collapsing confidence, banks refusing to lend and demand through the floor. I would conclude that the arguments are being advances are fatuous.

I am getting rather tired of the very wealthy placing the burden of the cuts and a reduction of living standards on the backs of the low paid, insecure worker. I am firmly of the opinion that many big companies are keeping their profits nice and high and bonuses for Chief Executives nice and fat. Recently the pay of the leaders of the top FTSE companies was reported by 47% at a time when the wages of many are at stand still or are being eroded.

The present crisis and our inability to get out of the greatest economic depression for over a century is not because minimal employment rights improved in the last decade or because a very basic minimum wage was established initially at £3.60.

Monday, 21 May 2012

PFI- the real cost

Having read articles on benefit fraudsters such as Sandra Edwards who defrauded taxpayers of £11,000 is all very well, but there are bigger fish who have cost the exchequer multiples of £11,000.

The national media over months has highlighted the huge waste of public money in a number of projects by the Labour Government. In ascending order we had the £500 million wasted on the reorganisation of the national call centres in the fire service. But this is peanuts compared to the £12 billion lost on the national computer scheme for the NHS, the folly of which has been known about for nearly a decade. But top of the heap of malfeasance and waste is the Private Finance Initiative started under the Tories but fully exploited by Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The cost of new NHS private- financed schemes will stay with future generations of taxpayers up to 2049. Hospitals that would have cost £11 billion under the old Treasury arrangements of financing public projects such as hospitals will now cost £75 billion. An absolute disgrace which dwarfs the £11,000 stolen by Edwards. If Edwards deserves jail what fate should be in store for the politicians and civil servants that sanctioned this grand larceny?

Of course there are other projects funded through PFI including City schools. I hear horror stories of local schools been charged astronomic amounts for even minor repairs or maintenance. The whole PFI sorry saga requires more scrutiny then it has so far generated.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Amazon and worker's rights

One reason for resisting the onward march of Amazon is the company’s disregard for workers rights for those employees who work for the company. A friend of mine worked at the new distribution centre at Rugeley in Staffordshire and for a few weeks before Christmas was able to witness firsthand their 19th century attitudes to employment rights. This was mostly clearly demonstrated in its view of trade unions which according to management " had no place in Amazon’s business plan". Workers at the Midlands centre, were hired by a temping agency, had their productivity tracked by a scanner database minute by minute, routinely had their picking and packing quotas doubled, were constantly harassed and were paid the minimum legal rate.

Unemployment and a Mum

The Sentinel carried a poignant letter recently from a Sneyd Green Mum whose 45 year old son had been out of work for 4 years and despite hundreds of job application remained unemployed. He had volunteered for 15 weeks within a Co-operative Store in the City. His mother felt that such a comparatively young man had been tossed onto a scrap heap
This heart felt cry puts into plain words the central difficulty that the unemployed face in trying to get into work in Stoke on Trent. The jobs are not out there. Last week the Sentinel advertised 378 jobs in an area where there are 11,000 unemployed. This week it had fallen to just over 250. I realise that not all jobs will be in the paper but it seems indicative to me of the dearth of jobs available in North Staffs. I suppose the question needs to be asked what happens if we never get back to a situation where we have a plentiful supply of jobs. Are we going to be content with a situation when approaching a third of the population are either unemployed or underemployed?

This Sentinel letter is important for another reason. We have to nail the belief that is out there that unemployment is a personal failing. Its your fault. The Sentinel play this game with the article on clothing and the unemployed. Believe me trying to struggle on the pitiful Job Seekers Allowance is not easy. The argument that unemployment is the fault of the unemployed suits the Government and the agencies behind the Work Programme. I have a friend who has been out of work since November 2010. He like the man mentioned in the letter is in his 40s and Mrs Bailey of Sneyd Green is absolutely correct the prospect of landing a job after 40 is slight. Anyway my friend has now been allocated an into work adviser courtesy of Leek CVS. Tom- not his real name- calls jokingly this man who he has to see at the Nicholson Institute his Probation Officer. Tom has to fill in forms in duplicate that this not particularly helpful individual can scrutinise. Tom feels that he will be electronically tagged next. My point is that the Work Programme also works on the premise that its your fault and your continued worklessness is down to a character defect and not down to the bleedin obvious reason of the shortage of jobs.

What happens to people like Mrs Bailey's son. Well we can leave him to rot with the prospect of hopelessness and the prospect of depressive illness or we try to do something to change the situation

Something for nothing culture

Someone I know told me about a recent encounter with the "something for nothing" culture. They were contacted by an Italian magazine who wanted to write an article on the seamier side of London in the run up to the Olympic Games. They required a piece of gritty journalism. My acquaintance first ascertained whether he was going to be paid for this which the answer was in the positive. The trip went ahead and he was given a tour of a particularly notorious South London council estate. He was introduced to people in the local pub, the local community centre and other places which would have added colour to the piece.

After awhile it was clear that the money of payment needed to be broached as the tour had taken a few hours. The Italian journalist who had been asking many questions suddenly went quiet and aid that he needed to ask his editor before payment could be agreed. My contact felt that he had been duped and began to argue with the Italian. He was getting nowhere so he decided to take things into his own hands by frog marching the aid journalist to a cash point and after a while persuasion the Italian duly coughed up the agreed payment.

The reason that I raise this matter is that I have all too often found myself in the position where I have written something to discover the article has been published and no payment forthcoming. This happened once with the Staffordshire Magazine who did me out after they published an article I had written on the North Staffordshire Regiment. They did a crap job as well of producing the article with appropriate pictures.

It seems to me that the "something for nothing" culture is now endemic in society and it is not only sited in one part of the community

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

On tunnels

When I was a child I lived on the Abbey Hulton council estate in Stoke which was named after the medieval monastery built in the 13th century. The stones of the Cistercian abbey were in the grounds of the high school I attended so they served as a marker on the past. There were always stories of ghostly monks and the like. One legend persisted. It was the sort of story, which always attaches itself to ancient buildings. It was claimed that underneath the abbey there existed a complex tunnels that stretched off in all directions included a passage that connected Hulton Abbey with Stoke Parish Church some 4 miles away, a journey, if true, that would take it under the river bed of the Trent. Even then it seemed to me implausible that the builders of the monastery should have gone to the trouble to cut a tunnel through the clay and rock to such a great distance but this did not seem to have an impact upon the rumourmongers

A similar tale exists about passages that lie under Leek either under the market place or under the parish church one of which leads off in the direction of Dieulacres Abbey. The existence of a tunnel and an event that I relate during the ghost walk is linked to Dieulacres, which is only a short distance away from the town.
The existence of tunnels and passages is a commonly held belief in folklore. Stories often crop up of there existence although exploration often only proves that the tunnel was a cellars or drains. Sometimes the story of tunnels might refer to a historical fact. Houses that belonged to Catholics had secret passages and hiding places. Moseley Old Hall in the south of the county had a priest hole, which was used by the fugitive King Charles II in his escape from the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

To bring the mystery that surrounds tunnels up to date the 70s saw the creation of Subterranea Britannica; a society devoted the study and investigation of man-made underground places from the Second War onwards. Their website for Staffordshire includes a wartime structure in Station Road, Cheddleton- no doubt structures like these will add to the myths in the future.

Vera Brittain

On the 20th July 1914 Vera Brittain left her family home in Buxton and was driven the 12 miles by her father to Leek. On that day she was to take the final exam that would lead to her fulfilling a long held ambition of going to Oxford. Her father dropped her off in Leek while he journeyed on to the family business in the Potteries. She was distinctly unimpressed by the venue for the examination Leek Technical College in Stockwell St.

She later wrote in her autobiography "Testament of Youth"

"I felt strange and a little humiliating to be examined in the airless atmosphere of Leek Technical College surrounded by rough looking and distinctly odoriferous sixteen year old of both sexes. It was not a heroic for the final stage of my prolonged battle with persons and circumstances, and I left Leek with a depressed sense that I had certainly failed".

She need not have feared and she was accepted to begin her degree at Somerville College. The early struggles in her life to achieve the sort of education that she craved and the impact of the First World War are the principle themes of her autobiography, which is still in print having been originally published in the 1930s.

When Vera Brittain took the exam in Leek in July 1914 Europe was descended into the carnage of the First World War. In the previous month the Archduke Franz Ferdinand the heir to the throne of the Austrian crown was shot dead by a Serbian nationalist. On the day that a doubtful Vera left Leek Austria declared war on Serbia whom it blamed for harbouring the terrorists who had assassinated the Archduke. On August 4th Britain fulfilling a treaty obligation of century earlier to defend Belgian neutrality against aggression declared war on Germany.

The Technical College in Leek that Vera Brittain was so dismissive about was part of the complex within the Nicholson Institute, founded in 1892 as part of a national drive to improve the technical expertise of the nation. Classes that were run from the college included practical classes on cookery, handicrafts and silk manufacturer. Possibly some of the smelly 16 year olds that Vera complained about were completing some of these courses.