Thursday, 29 November 2012

Hares and "Unquakerly" behaviour at Swythamley

The Hare ambled nonchalantly off as the car passed. It was sitting beside the back road between Monyash and Bakewell as we approached. I have been closer to them before. One March day in fields near Ipstones I came across them “boxing” and so unconcerned by my presence that I got close to them as the fur literally flew.

Throughout the world, there are legends concerning Hares from the Americas to the Far East, from Africa to Europe. The animal is embedded deeply in the folk myths of our ancestors. It is associated in mythology with the Moon, cunning and bravery. There is evidence of Hare mythology in ancient pottery, coins, seals, and cuneiform writings and in oral history.

The most striking thing about the mythology of hares is the degree of commonality across the globe. Similar to the fact that most ancient cultures have a flood myth, most also seem to have hare mythology

To the Celts the Hare was sacred to the White Goddess - the Earth Mother - and as such was considered to be a royal animal. Boudicca released a Hare as a good omen before each battle divining the outcome of battle by the animals movements.

Hares have a place in British folklore. The suggestion that the animal is unworldly is an ancient one. Gerald Cambrensis writing in the 12th century tells of a belief that witches in Wales can change themselves in Hares. One such story closer to home was collected by a Catholic priest in Leek during the 1950s. WP Witcutt’s account concerns Hag Farm near Swythamley and a 17th century witch who turned herself into a Hare to be coursed by a farmer called Wood in return for a gratuity given by her husband. The husband of the witch would watch the event with interest and often money was exchanged. Witcutt mentions that Wood was a friend of the Quaker William Penn the founder of Pennsylvania. The Priest speculated what the local Society of Friends in Leek must have felt of this bizarre carrying-on, as it is very unquakerly behaviour, is unknown

Monday, 26 November 2012

North Staffs and the American Civil War

John Clews was born in Burslem in 1839 and left as an 8 year old with his father to be part of the scheme to set up a community in Wisconsin supported by the Potters Union after recession hit the industry in the 1840s. This decade was known as the hungry 40s as many suffered poverty and hardship emigrating to the New World seemed the only way to escape unemployment. A number of families from the area arrived in New York on the ship the Clifton in May 1847 and journeyed north to establish a settlement in Columbia County, Wisconsin..
Unfortunately the community did not thrive and quickly collapsed. The settlers stayed in the States amongst them John Clews who was working as a farm labourer in the 1860 US Census. He married in March 1863 and joined up the following year. Clews enlisted in E Company 38th Infantry Regiment which saw heavy fighting before the key Virginian town of Petersburg. In many ways this battle seemed to prefigure the terrible battles of the First World War as Union and Confederates fought in trenches in heavily fortified positions. Clews was killed on the 21st August 1864 at the Battle of Weldon Railroad. As the official history of the 38th Regiment details the regiment threw up a barricade across the railroad track
" These works were scarcely completed, before the enemy made a fierce assault at 9am determined to gain this important line of supply. They were repulsed with great slaughter. Again and again they returned to the assault and each time they were repulsed. After two hours hard fighting the Union forces drove the enemy from the field and fortified their position".

Another veteran of this particular battle was Clews near neighbour Henry Sawyer who was born in Burslem in 1840. Unlike Clews he survived the war and became a prosperous dairy farmer. Sawyer died in the 1920s
Tracing a North Staffs connection with the Confederate forces is however is problematic as the South was a more settled agrarian community. One family that settled in Virginia in the 17th century were the Bagnalls. John Bagnall received land in the area for dealing in slaves in 1654. Some years later the area became known as Stafford County, the Bagnall family honouring their ancestral home. During the Civil war several Bagnalls fought for the South including Richard D Bagnall who joined the 6th Virginian Infantry Regiment who fought at Petersburg close to where John Clews of Burslem, fighting for the other side, lost his life

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Colonel Olcott and Ceylon

Bill Cawley on a Leek connection to Sri Lanka and bloody business now.
The American Colonel Henry Olcott is the only speaker, as far as I am aware, at the Nicholson Institute ever to have a national day proclaimed after him as well as appearing on a national stamp. Olcott spoke at the Institute in November 1889 as the guest of Ralph de Sneyd Tunstall of Onecote- mystic, collector and eccentric. Both were engaged in the Theosophical Society founded in New York by Madame Blavatsky
The Society developed in response to the interest shown in the Victorian period in spiritualism and Eastern religions. Sneyd who was fascinated with the occult met Blavatsky in 1889. He fell under the spell of the movement and arranged that Olcott later to become President of the Society to give a talk in Leek.
Olcott was a very interesting man. He was the only Yankee journalist to attend the execution of John Brown in 1859 after the failed uprising at Harper’s Ferry- one of the causes of the American Civil War.
He was also a member of the board of inquiry set up after the assassination of President Lincoln. He later moved to Ceylon or Sri Lanka as it is now known and was one of the instigators of the Buddhist Nationalist revival which fuelled the independence movement. He is commemorated on a Sri Lankan stamp and the death of his death 19th February is honoured by the lighting of candles.

Sri Lanka is in the news now. There are substantial accusations of war crimes carried out by the army following the ending of a particularly bloody civil war involving the separatists Tamil Tigers who also committed atrocities. Over 40,000 civilians, many of them children, died in the final stages and covering up of these events has caused international condemnation. They are not brought to book because they have powerful friends in India. The Indians don’t want to upset the Sri Lankans as their business interests are threatened. In the same way that the Russians excuse the behaviour of the Syrians and the West overlook the Chinese actions in Tibet. Sadly commercial interests will always trump human rights every time and the result is innocents suffer.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Leek and the Haiti connection

I saw a puppet Baron Samedi the voodoo deity in a garden in Leek. His black top hat was covered frost. He did not look happy. The figure suggests that the Haitian cult of voodoo may have a toe hold in the town. Curiously enough though Leek does have a connection with the benighted Caribbean island in the shape of General Brunet of Clerk Bank.

The early 1800s saw the culmination of a bloody slave revolt on the island of San Domingo. The man who would eventually lead the revolt was Touissant L’Ouverture regarded by admirers as the “Black Napoleon” due to his military prowess. This remarkable man the son of African slaves proclaimed the end of slavery on the island and lead a war of liberation taking on the French, Spanish and finally the British who sent 20,000 to conquer San Domingo in 1798.

 By 1802 Napoleon was determined to recapture the island and reinstitute slavery. And this is where General Jean Baptiste Brunet comes in. An army commanded by General Le Clerc with Brunet as a second in command landed. Toussaint waged a successful guerrilla war against the French who lost many. Eventually both sides wearied of the conflict and peace negotiations agreed. However, Napoleon still wanted him arrested and Brunet drew Toussaint in on a promise of safe conduct. It turned out to be a trick and he was arrested along with his family and taken to an isolated chateau in the French Alps. (I realise that readers might find difficult to believe that the French act duplicitously).

The manner of Toussaint’s betrayal of which Brunet played a prominent part lead to a violent uprising which lead to the French abandoning the island. San Domingo changed its name to Haiti and became an independent country, perhaps the most successful slave uprising in history.

As for Brunet he was captured by the British in October 1803 and arrived in Leek the following year. By 1812 he was living in was living in Clerk Bank. He held a soirée, which met weekly in the Sheepmarket. The General had a comfortable life to be contrasted with the humiliation and privation suffered by the great man he brazenly tricked.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Russian War hero visits Alton Towers 1839

Gallitzin- a battle hardened visitor comes to Alton Towers

It is gratifying to note that corrections in spectacular mistakes in newspapers are not a new phenomenon. I came across such a correction in the Staffordshire Advertiser in July 1839 concerning a distinguished visitor to the home of the Earl of Shrewsbury- Alton Towers. The newspaper amended a previous report that Prince Dmitry Gallitzin of the Imperial Russian court was the governor of Moscow and not Mexico as had been previous stated.

It was something about the name Gallitzin that triggered a response in me. I looked further. They were an extended family of Russian aristocrats that served the Czar’s right up to the revolution where a descendent of Dmitry was the last Prime Minister to Nicholas II and like his master was shot by the Communists. The one who visited Staffordshire in the 1830s was a soldier. He seems to have been involved in every battle fought against Napoleon from Austerlitz in 1805 to the killing grounds of Borodino in 1812. His mother was the model for the poets Pushkin’s “Queen of Spades”, she was also known as the “moustached lady”, and his brother Nicolay was a patron of Beethoven and commissioned the late string quartets. While Dmitry was in the area he visited the Potteries he visited the Copeland showrooms.

The Battle of Borodino was a ferocious encounter fought was the largest and bloodiest single-day action in Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. It involved more than 250,000 troops and resulting in at least 70,000 casualties. Such losses were next seen in World War One. The French attacked the Russians under General Kutuzov, but failed to destroy the Russian army despite heavy losses. About a third of Napoleon's soldiers were killed or wounded; Russian losses were also heavy. Gallitzin commanded a cavalry division. The Russians retreated after the engagement and the French advanced on Moscow burning it before being forced into an ignominious retreat. By the time they left Russian lands over 300,000 had died in fighting or cold and disease. In the depths of the savage winter the retreating French ate their horses and huddled inside the carcasses of animals to keep warm. The campaign forms a backdrop to Tolstoy’s great novel “War and Peace”. Given this experience the life of French Prisoners of War at this time lozzucking in Leek would seem to be cushy.

Rousseau- father of the French Revolution and the Moorlands

Jean Jacques Rousseau, political theorist, father of the French Revolution,  creator of the first autobiography and pioneer conservationist spent time in the Moorlands.

Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712. His mother died in childbirth and he had a very difficult childhood. He came to writing late and achieved fame in an essay that promoted the notion of the “noble savage”.

 A principle target was the Catholic Church, which he accused of supporting tyranny. He particularly criticised the role that religion had in educating the young. These sentiments bought the wrath of the Church down on his head in his adopted country France.

 His house was attacked by a mob and he had no choice but to become a refugee. The agent for achieving this rescue was the philosopher David Hume who met Rousseau in Paris.  Hume made the arrangements for Rousseau’s move to Britain. The journey was incident packed, foolishly he allowed his mistress the sexually insatiable Madame Levasser to travel later with the philanderer biographer Boswell.

He was offered the use of Wotton Hall, which offered him the rural tranquillity that he sought.

Philosopher, mistress and Sultan the dog all arrived in Staffordshire in late March 1766. He instantly fell in love with the area.

His wandering figure was a strange sight for Moorlanders.  William Howitt in “Visits to Remarkable Places” published in 1841 reported him dressed in Armenian cloak, a furred cap and long stripped robe. The locals  80 years on recalled the strange figure that some thought was an exiled potentate.

 “ What owd Ross Hall? Ay know him I did, well enough ah’ve seen him monny a tarm, every dee comin and gooin ins hays comical cap and ploddy gown.”
His mistress however was complaining in the manner of a modern day WAG found shops of Ashbourne unworthy of her custom.

Eventually having to endure another cold spring at Wotton, Rousseau whose mental instability had been exacerbated by the sour feelings that his mistress had for the area. They left in May 1767; he distributed his clothes amongst the poor. He continued to correspond with his Staffordshire friends for years after. He died in 1778. In 1794 at the height of the Revolution his body was exhumed and he lies in the Pantheon in Paris, a city he despised in life.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Leek Soldier in the Crimea 1854-5 Part 2

The 20th Regiment of Foot was involved in one of the major battles of the campaign at Inkerman when they were part of the Second Division under the command of Sir George Cathcart at Shell Hill above Sevastopol. The Russians launched an attack on the heights, which nearly took the British by surprise on the 5th November 1854. It was a bloody and closely fought affair as a report from the New York Times describes

“It was a series of dreadful deeds of daring, of sanguinary hand-to-hand fights, of despairing rallies, of desperate assaults - in glens and valleys, in brushwood glades and remote dells, hidden from all human eyes. No one, however placed, could have witnessed even a small portion of the doings of this eventful day; for the vapours, fog and drizzling mist, obscured the ground where the struggle took place to such an extent as to render it impossible to see what was going on at the distance of a few yards”

The Leek soldier must have been heavily involved in the murderous fighting which took the life, amongst the 597 British soldiers that Sunday morning of the commander Cathcart. He was forlorn

“I have left many thousands of my brother soldiers dead on the field of battle, praying that their souls are in heaven are far better place where any are of us are at this time. The miseries that I endure are unaccountable”

He was cold and starving as there were difficulties with transporting supplies  handicapped by impassable roads and frequent blizzards. Basic supplies were not getting through. The French by contrast had a better stores. Stuck in the trenches before Sevastopol he was knee deep in mud and water. The conditions predict the conditions endured by First World War soldiers 60 years later. “May God send you and yours may not suffer what I have suffered”, he wearily wrote. He sent his brother a gift of 3 red feathers taken from the hat of a Russian General at Inkerman. He asked that they be distributed to friends and his niece Ann. “I could tell you things that would blood turn chilly, if I should return I could tell you many a tale”. The ink, which the soldier had written his letter, was made from gunpowder, as there was a shortage of ink and paper.

The fate of the Leek soldier is unknown but his account indicates that the lot of the ordinary soldier is a common one throughout the ages.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Comet 168o

In the parish records at Alstonefield is an astrological phenomenon that the villagers witnessed

Very strange and fiery meteors in form like a sword, appeared North West by west in December 1680, and continued about 6 weeks after which ensued a long and tedious drought.

Between 1663 and 1680 there were 5 comets seen over England which to the contemporary mind linked celestial activities and the unsettled times that the country was living through with plague, pestilence and revolution all occurring at this time. There is a sense that whoever wrote the comments in the parish journal was simply echoing the feelings of the time that comets seen in the sky were a fearful celestial sign of events that were being played out on earth. People believed all over the world that the Day of Judgement was approaching.

But the 17th century saw a growing interest in the heavens through the work of Galileo, Newton and Halley aided by technological advance such as telescopes and an intellectual framework on which to develop concepts

On November 14, 1680, Gottfried Kirch the German astronomer detected a new comet, becoming on that day the first person to discover a comet using a telescope. Astronomers throughout Europe tracked its position for several months. It was visible in the Northern hemisphere and by the end of that year the comet became bright enough to be seen at noon as it completed its hairpin turn around the Sun. The long, golden tail of the comet of 1680 was estimated to be 30,000,000 miles in length.

Originally thought to be two comets, the comets of late 1680 and early 1681 were in fact a single comet observed before and after perihelion- the point closest to the sun- a situation that hindsight reveals as critical in the determination of the comets trajectory. Upon examining the course of comets, it is easy to believe that some of them must occasionally fall into the sun. The comet 1680 approached so near, that, at its perihelion, it was not more distant from the sun than a sixteenth part of its diameter; and, if it returns, which some predict, in the year 2255, it may then fall into the sun. This must depend upon the accidents it meets with in its course, and the retardation it suffers in passing through the sun's atmosphere

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A Leek soldier in the Crimea 1854-5 Part 1

The Staffordshire Advertiser of the 30th January 1855 carried in its pages a series of fascinating letters from a young Leek man fighting in the Crimean war to his brother in England. The documents offer an fascinating insight into a war that  lives on in such phrases as “ thin red line”, and “ Charge of the Light Brigade”. This engagement involved Sargent Major John Allen later the landlord of the Swan. . The Leek correspondent was a private soldier in the 20th Regiment of Foot, later the Lancashire Fusiliers. He and Allen were part of allied force fighting the Russians..

How did we find ourselves in a war against the Russians? The cause of the war were fears that Czarist Russia was looking at expansion  at the expense of a disintegrating Ottoman Empire. The British and French felt that such an growth threatened their own colonial interests and war was declared in 1854.

The condition of the British Army was poor. Officers bought their commissions. the ordinary soldiers were of poor quality and discipline enforced by flogging. (The Leek soldier, however seems to be a pious man). The leadership was also lamentable. The Commander in Chief was the elderly Lord Raglan who had lost an arm at Waterloo nearly 40 years before. He frequently had to be reminded that the French were no longer the enemy. It should be said that the French were the more professional as they had seen recent conflict in Algeria

Our soldier left England on the slow moving “Columba” on 17th July. It was an eventual voyage; there was a collision with Portuguese vessel.. The 20th regiment had a brief stay in Malta and they were later caught in a dreadful storm in the Mediterrian. The battered convoy arrived in Constantinople on 1st August. They reached the Crimea weeks later. It was an impressive force as there were 400 ships in the flotilla. The travel weary soldier started on the march to Sevastapol on the 19th September and marched 40 miles. The force comprised of 80,000 French and British troops. Sevastopol the main port was surrounded by hills. He was soon in action. His regiment assaulted the heights above the town with heavy losses “it was a dreadful sight to see”, he commented. The British marched on to Black River where again they were brought up in battle array, but the Russians retreated

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Leek and an early Mormon connection

On this 4th of July I thought that I would shed light on a local man Thomas Bullock who achieved a significant position in the Church of the Later Day Saints better known as the Mormons. They are of some topicality as the Republican Party nominee for the Presidential election next autumn Mitt Romney is one.

Mormons were one of those faith groups that arose in early America. Its founder a ploughman called Joseph Smith produced a book allegedly following a vision. He set up a community of followers in Nauvoo in Illinois. Smith’s messianic self-belief often led to clashes with neighbours. One of the early supporters of Smith was Thomas Bullock whose ability with the pen led to him becoming Smith’s Secretary.

Thomas Bullock was born in Leek in December 1816. He became an Excise Officer. He married a Leek girl Henrietta Rushton in 1838 and three years later joined the Mormons. In 1843 Bullock and a number of Leek people set sail for America. On arrival in New Orleans they took a steamboat up river arriving in Nauvoo on the 31st May 1843.

In June 1844 the tensions between Smith and others exploded into violence. An armed mob stormed a local jail where Smith was held and he was murdered.

Throughout this period Bullock kept a diary, which chronicled events from the assassination of Smith to the decision to set up a community further west. He recorded the hardships of the exodus as many crossed several states to reach Utah.

18th April 1847

“At 5 a.m. the horn should be blown & every man then arise & pray, attend to their cattle, & have every thing done, in order that all may start by seven o'clock. That each extra man should travel on the off side of his team, with his gun loaded over his Shoulder; that each driver shall have his gun so placed that he can lay his hand on it in a moment, that every gun shall have a piece of leather over the nipple, or in the pan of his gun, having their caps, & Powder Flasks ready for a moment's warning”.

Bullock made it and followed the Mormon practice of polygamy. He fathered 23 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood.

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Queen and I

The occasion of the Diamond Jubilee earlier this year gives me cause to examine my own encounters with the Royals. I can recall going down to Wolverhampton in 1962 to see the Queen present the new standard to the Staffordshire Yeomanry, which my father served.

 I did see the Duke of Edinburgh though when he attended a civic luncheon in Stoke in the mid 80s. He seemed genial enough but more latterly he blew the gaffe when he called the City a "ghastly place".

Faux pas involving members of the public and the Royal Family must occur frequently as a witnessed incident with the Lord Mayor of Stoke demonstrates. At the opening of Bradeley Retirement Village Lord Mayor John Birkin introduced the uniped Leader of the Council Ted Smith who unfortunately lost a leg to illness with the comment that "When you were last here Your Majesty, he had two legs". I don’t think that John- a family friend- was being sardonic, but it was just an unfortunate slip of the tongue.

My brother and I share a distinction that we have both missed events when the Princess Royal was present. I think its two each. I missed her opening Brough Park Leisure Centre in 2002 and he missed her when he was on some sailing ship in Cornwall. As for the lesser Royal the same brother received his degree whilst at Lancaster from Princess Alexandria the Chancellor unfortunately for him she choose to have a conversation as he walked past her seated figure.

"Hev yew gort e jorb"? He said her aristocratic tones making it impossible for him to understand her.

" Pardon"

"Hev yew gort a jorb"

As this progressed he had her hand and as the time elapsed the grip became vice like. Panic was displayed in Alexandria’s eyes. My father who was taking film from the back as my brother wearing a cape lowered his head to try to catch what the Princess was saying later told us that it was like Dracula about to bite someone in the neck.

It turned out that she was asking him about his employment prospects.

The Butterton Poltergeist of 1877

Last year 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.

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.
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.