Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Do you remember March 1968?

Springfield Old Boys substitute John Oakes made footballing history in March 1968 when he was ordered off without even playing. In the only incident in a tense game between Kingsley Youth Club Oakes ran on to the pitch with several spectators when a skirmish developed between players and fans. The ref ordered him from the field and to the dressing room. Had a Springfield player been injured, Oakes still wearing a track suit could not have been bought on.

The after effects of the Foot and Mouth epidemic that had hit Staffordshire earlier in 1968 were gradually becoming overcome. The first distressed sale of cattle after the outbreak took place at Waterfall. It should have taken place the previous November. Another sign of a return of normality was the first wedding after the epidemic which took place at Rushton Church when Miss Christine Knowles married Roland Sales. Endon Secondary Schools annual cross country took place with a slight change of route because of the disease. One school record was broken when John Lockey romped home some distance ahead of the second place runner getting back in 14minutes 38 seconds.

The Easter school leaver had plenty of choice with many companies vying for their employment. All the major employers in North Staffs were featured in a 8 page spread with particular large adverts from Slimma, Wardles and White's . The most attractive opportunity for the young person in North Staffordshire at the time was probably the apprenticeship at the Michelin with opportunities in draughtsman, craft and technology and business administration. Perhaps the most poignant promotion was a full page spread for the National Coal Board- “Coal's heading for a bright future -be part of it”. Of course from the perspective of 2013 we now know that Coal in North Staffordshire had under 20 years before the last pit closed. The advice of the local paper for the young worker was as telling then it is now “ The Easter school leaver would be wise to look ahead . He will be tempted by the job that paid the most money. However, if he is wise he will look further ahead In a technological world the man without skills will be in an increasingly difficult position”

Language of 1968 used to describe vulnerable people would make people today wince if used now. Take the group that would be referred to as people with learning difficulties the words used then were brutal. Reporters were taken on a visit to the Adult Training Centre where “ subnormal and socially inadequate” young people were made work ready. The unit offered training in self reliance, work attitude and abilities to work without supervision. The ATC had contracts to supply work for the GPO amongst others. The article noted the importance of relationships between “ the normal and the subnormal” which can be beneficial to both. Normal youngsters learn to understand that there are people less fortunate and there is satisfaction obtained from helping others”

A distinguished visitor to Leek High's prize giving was the Speaker of the House of Commons Dr Horace King who spoke to the pupils feeling that he had to explode one of the myths about Parliament that it “consists of faceless men belonging to the party block without minds of their own. No two Labour men and no two Tory men are the same.” He was probably correct in that the Parliament of the 60s contained such giants as Enoch Powell and Michael Foot as well as people with great experience of life in peace and war.

Councillors discussed whether the controversial film of the novel “Ulysses” should be shown in Leek. Reluctantly they agreed that it should be shown. Some Councillors felt that they should protect the public from itself. Cllr John Sales believed that if people wanted to see the film they ought to be allowed “ to roll in your own moral and intellectual excreta”.

St Bertram of Ilam

It took 100 years for Christianity to establish itself in England after Augustine landed in Kent in 597. It seems that missionaries mixed pragmatically piety with an ability to “schmooze” the local rulers as they fanned out around the country. Bishop Wilfrid of York, in one example ,held a three day drunken revelry with many of the nobility of Northumbria and Mercia to celebrate the dedication of Ripon Cathedral in the 660s. Proselytising in those days came with a hangover it would seem. It was a crucial time for the establishment of the Church and it was around this time that Christianity arrived in Staffordshire. It is difficult however to disentangle the myth and reality in the lives of the local Saints. I was pondering on this whilst visiting the shrine to St Bertram or Bertellinus at Ilam Church.

Bertram, so the story goes, was of royal blood and having fallen out with his father fled to Ireland where he fell in love with a princess. She became pregnant and they escaped to England sheltering in the dense forests that surrounded Ilam in the 7th century. Alexander a monk writing in the 13th century takes up the story.

They were in hiding in a dense forest when lo ! the time
of her childbirth came upon them suddenly ; born of pain and
river of sorrow ! A pitiful child bed indeed ! While Bertellinus
went out to get the necessary help of a midwife the woman and
her child breathed their last amid the fangs of wolves. Bertellinus
on his return imagined that this calamity had befallen because
of his own sin, and spent three days in mourning rites”.

That was the turning point in his life, he retired from the world and became a hermit. Bertram is linked with Stafford where he preached converting the heathen. Then he returned living in one of the caves beside the river Dove. After his death his remains were buried at Ilam,

The shrine itself is in the Lady Chapel. It is in the form of an altar tomb made about 1386 when a blind Ilam man, named Wilmot prayed to Bertram and recovered his sight. People still leave requests for prayers on the shrine. When I was there prayers of intercession among them people who had lost their faith, a sick relative and for a woman who had committed suicide from Birmingham were placed on the shrine.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Do you remember March 1991?

  • Good news for the local economy was the confirmation of a new headquarters for the Irish dairy company Kerrygold at Barnfield which would safeguard the future for the concern in Leek, along with the jobs of the 300 workforce. The cost of the undertaking was £7.5 million. The headquarters was opened by the European Commissioner for Agriculture Ray McSharry, assisting him chairman of the Irish Dairy Board Dr Noel Cawley- no relation. The new facility would have the facility to supply 25% of the UK market for pre packed hard cheese and 15% of processed cheese and be ideally placed for good access to retail outlets in the UK and Europe.

  • Other good news was news of a major contract to wire the Channel Tunnel won by Thomas Bolton of Froghall. An order for £1.5 million had been placed by the French Government and had been won by the Staffordshire company beating off stiff competition from others including a French company. The contract required Bolton's to supply the cable by the autumn. Work on the tunnel had begun in 1988 with the work competed in 1994. It cost £4.6 billion to build an over run of 80% in the amount originally budgeted. At the peak of construction over 15,000 were employed on the Tunnel. It should be noted that Bolton's involvement in this project completed a notable double as the company had supplied the copper cable for the laying of transatlantic telegraphy cable in the previous century.

  • Leek's last foundry closed in March 1991 Sneyd Engineering based in Sneyd Street. The firm specialised in non ferrous castings having been founded as Goodwin Brothers early in the century. It became Sneyd Engineering just before the Second World War. The demise of the company prompted one correspondent to refer back to the War in a subsequent letter “ The war brought a great increase in business, at one period it seemed that half of Leek's skilled machinists were making bronze bearings for the Bailey Bridges, whilst the other half were making gun barrels up at the “Daimler”

  • A Tudor Hall long thought to be demolished many years before was rediscovered in the structure of the Red Lion Inn in Market Square. Workmen carrying out repairs found the remnants of Leek Hall. The Red Lion was established as a coaching Inn in 1767 when the incorporation of the early structure into the Inn must have taken place. Chief conservation officer John Leech considered the discovery one of the most important archaeological finds in Leek. It appears that the front of the hall was removed when the Red Lion was built and a second floor added with a flat roof. It had been long thought that the hall built by William Jollife in 1627 had been demolished to make way for the coaching Inn

  • The year had begun with the successful prosecution of the First Gulf War when the army of Saddam Hussain had been ejected from Kuwait and pursued back across the Iraq border. A local soldier Steven Tatlow in the 1st Staffords visited a local school -Valley Primary in Oakamoor- to thank the children for writing. He had received many letters from the kids which had very helpful to him and his colleagues whilst waiting for the final assault and during the days of conflict. Of course no one knew that the second Iraq conflict would occur exactly 12 years later

  • For the past year Mr Terence Howell of Hill Top Farm, Brown Edge had been battling to win the right to sleep with his chickens. There had been complaints of the mess that littered the site, but Farmer Howell was determined to assert the right to live by his “feathered friends” “ If I lived on the site it could be tidied up, but if the Council wants war then war it shall have”, he added belligerently 

The Grey and the Red

My daughter Phoebe is in something of a dilemma . “I like the Grey because we see them on the way to school, but the Red reminds me of a visit to Formby Point”. She was talking, of course, about squirrels. The introduction of the Grey, some say, has proved a disaster for the native Red and a species that was wide spread at the beginning of the 20th century is now confined to the fringes. I have seen the Red Squirrel at the National Trust reserve near Southport myself and they are attractive critters rendered tame by the high numbers of visitors to Formby Point. The Red or to give it its Latin name Scirus Vulgaris was plentiful once, but a combination of disease, a major epidemic destroyed many between 1910-20. the destruction of its habitat have undermined the species. It is likely that the Grey- a Northern American native- first introduced on the Duke of Bedford's Woburn estate quickly spread northwards and were better equipped to take advantage of the changes.

A Guardian report of 1912 referred to “large numbers of these grey squirrels have managed to escape or have been allowed to run loose from and in the gardens of the Zoological Society of London, and others have been turned down on various estates. A friend who lives on the edge of a Cheshire woodland not far from Manchester tells me that a large grey squirrel, which looks to him very like the squirrels he has seen in Regent's Park, has paid visits with other squirrels in his garden” .

I don't know when the Red Squirrel became extinct in the Staffordshire Moorlands, but I would have thought some of the woodland around Oakamoor would make an ideal habitat should they return.

Another introduced animal which has also devastating implications for a native species is the American Mink, many have been released into the wild by animal liberationists. In the late 90s over a 1,000 escaped from a fur farm at Onneley. A resident of Denford told me with some bitterness that a colony of water voles locally had been eliminated a fact that she blamed on the mink. I saw a mink once by the River Wye feasting on an elver. These voracious animals are blamed for the 90% reduction in the water vole population.

Looney Tunes

I was in conversation with a man wearing a flamboyant tie with a picture of Wile E Coyote. The critter was always engaged in a fruitless battle against Road Runner in the deserts of the American west. I can see the look of weary resignation with large ears back as yet another plot fails and the coyote gets its comeuppance. Its usually in the form of a boulder that causes the animal to fall hundreds of feet to the desert floor, a puff of smoke denoting where he hit the ground.

My personal favourite was Foghorn Leghorn a large bird a " good ol boy” Southern speaking style , and a penchant for mischief. He had great lines “This is going to cause more confusion than a mouse at a burlesque show” and That dog's like taxes: He just don't know when to stop”.

I was introduced to the Looney Tunes cartoon characters in the Saturday club at the local cinema. I went to one at the Esseldo at Stoke. My recollection was that it was a fraught occasion for the middle aged man who fought a loosing battle against the hordes of kids who threatened to over run the place. The fare at the Saturday Club was standard. A serial usually a western with Randolph Scott, something from the Children's Film Foundation. A comedy short which meant The Three Stooges. Now I am aware that The Three Stooges have currently attained some form of cult status but to us kids back then they were somewhat disturbing. Larry, Curly and Moe seemed to to me to be three inmates that had been released too early unsupervised into the community and not taken their medication. It was the cartoons however that were the main draw. Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck as well the afore mentioned Foghorn and Wile E Coyote.

I watched a Looney Tunes cartoon again the other weekend with my daughter. It was a pastiche of a Wagner with Elmer Fudd as the Wotan and Bug's as Brunehilde. It was cleverly done with Elmer singing “ kill the wabbit” to the “Ride of the Valkyries”. With some very impressive graphics the cartoon ends to Bugs being carried off to the strains of Siegfried's Funeral march. He opens one eye “ What did you expect in Wagner a happy ending”?

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Do you remember March 1955?

The month became with a severe storm which swept in covering the area with many feet of snow. Locals reckoned it was the worst weather since the infamous winter of 1947. The roads were blocked with vehicles abandoned in Solomon's Hollow. There was a birth and a death in the blizzards. A retired miner Ernest Jones aged 70 in a vain attempt to get to a health tribunal in Stoke tried to walk through the snow and was later found dead only yards from a farm house in Quanford. A GP from Hartington battled through the weather to deliver a baby at Longnor. Public transport acquitted itself fairly well and a snow plough fitted to a train was able to keep all local lines clear including the “bread” train down the Churnet line. The weather was eloquently described by a farmer WS Buxton from Old Mixon Haye Farm, Onecote. “ The weather has just been about as much as people can stand. It is a marvellous sight at the back of our place. The snow has formed into a 20 foot drift 100 yards long tunnel- its a wonderful sight”

A murder trial came to its conclusion in March 1955. It was a terribly sad affair as the jury took only 15 minutes to reach its verdict . Polish labourer 45 year old Jan Mirys was found guilty and ordered to be detained in a secure hospital as he was deemed unfit to plead by dint of insanity. The previous year Mirys had killed his Mother in Law Maria Kosarzewska at her Cromwell Terrace home in Leek with an axe. He then went on the run and was found later in Ballington Woods with self inflicted injuries to his legs. Mirys was suffering from paranoid delusions when he killed Maria. At his trial 12 months later he cut a pathetic figure as he had to be carried in by a prison warden as the Pole's legs had been amputated.

From the perspective of today we make the assumption that the 1950s were a period when political engagement was at its height. Over 80 % of the electorate had turned out in the 1951 election and both the two main political parties had over a million members. However apathy existed in the 1950s in votes cast in council elections. An editorial in the paper found the low turn out in the County elections deplorable accusing the people of the area of having a “ a could not care less attitude”. Only one member of the public attended a parish council meeting in Alton on a sewerage issue.

The sad news that Danny the last horse to work for Leek Urban Council had been put down. Danny represented the end of a tradition of the working horse. In 1900 there had been over 1 million working horses. The First World War had killed many horses and there future as a general beast of burden ended with the arrival of the internal combustion engine. News of other horses was reported in the letters page of the Post and Times suggesting a campaign against the high number of deaths at the Grand National at Aintree. In the 1954 Grand National 4 horses had been killed or humanely dispatched.

The death was announced of Charles Bill aged 83. He was the last Bill of Farley Hall near Oakamoor. The family had held the estate since the beginning of the 17th century and the family had been prominent in local politics for many years . Charles Bills father- another Charles- was Tory MP for Leek between 1892-1905. His son had a distinguished military career fighting in the Boer War and First World War. Mention should be made of his brother Hugo's exploit who rode from Persia back to England in 1911

It was in the news recently that there are plans to re open the Talbot pub as a hotel which will be a major boost for the town, There was a major renovation of the former coaching inn that year. The article in the paper informed the readers that “ the bar has red mottled plastic tops- cigarette burn proof and oak strips alternative light and dark in colour.” 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Did "James Bond" live in the Moorlands?

I came across the name of Admiral Sir Guy Gaunt whilst researching a piece on Baden Powell the founder of the Scout Movement who visited Leek in the summer of 1920. Sir Guy was part of the welcoming party that accompanied the hero of Mafeking as he visited Scout troops eventually staying with Sir Guy and his wife at their home Swainsley Hall in the Manifold Valley. Entirely in character Baden Powell spent the night under canvas in the grounds of Swainsley Hall much to the amusement of his hosts. Sir Guy's wife was Margaret Worthington ,daughter of Thomas Wardle the Leek industrialist. Thomas Wardle had owned Swainsley the house passing into his daughter's ownership in 1909 after his death.

I thought that I would find out a little more about Gaunt. He sounded intriguing

He was born in Australia in 1869. He attended Melbourne Grammar School and despite a parental desire that he go into law had a yearning for the sea eventually joining a training ship for Merchant Navy officers. He soon transferred to the Royal Navy where his dashing, reckless manner bought him to a wider public. In 1897, while serving on HMS Porpoise he came to the defence of the British Consulate at Samoa repelling a rebel attack. In following uprisings he raised and led a native force that became known as “Gaunt’s Brigade”, earning him a mention in despatches and rapid promotion. He was a natural leader, extremely able, a formidable linguist- he spoke several languages, ruthless and a very good shot. Gaunt was also debonair, dashing and something of a ladies man.

His commands included ultimately the battleship HMS Thunderer. With a scintillating career as naval officer established he seemed the ideal candidate to become the naval attaché to the United States, an appointment he took up in June 1914, just as the First World War was about to break out.

It proved an ideal appointment as he was able to prove to his superiors his drive and adaptability in a situation that was vital to the successful prosecution of the war. He was fully engaged in intelligence work countering the activities of secret agents and saboteurs from enemy powers, he worked closely with various nationalist groups such as the Czechs looking to form their own country in the aftermath of the war .Gaunt successfully infiltrated the Hindu-German conspiracy that attempted to ferment rebellion in British India was involved in the British machinations surrounding the infamous Zimmerman telegram that drew the US into the war. Gaunt captured one high profile German saboteur and killed or captured a number of other enemy spies. He also helped to run the spy network set up by Balkan nationalists in major American cities and disrupted German intelligence efforts to such good effect that he was the automatic choice to become the senior liaison officer to the USA when President Wilson reluctantly declared war in 1917.

In 1918, with the United States now firmly on the Allied side American intelligence officers took over responsibilities that he had handled so effectively, and Gaunt's request to go back to sea was granted by the Admiralty. However, he was soon appointed to the naval intelligence staff in London and promoted to Rear Admiral where he worked on the Bolshevik threat. He retired from the Navy at the end of the war with the final rank of Admiral and a knighthood for services rendered to the State. It was at this stage that he settled in the Staffordshire Moorlands standing unsuccessfully in the 1918 General Election in Leek for the Tories. He did eventually become an MP for an East Yorkshire constituency before being forced to resign having been named as a co- respondent in a divorce case in 1926

While over seventy years of age when World War Two broke out he remained active, and there are records of correspondence between him and naval intelligence officers. It is highly likely that the young intelligence officers of the Second World War would have sought his advice and used his knowledge. They would have known of him without a doubt because his exploits in the war barely twenty years before were legendary in the cloudy world of naval intelligence: even if the general public only knew of him as an old sea dog with an eye for the women. He died in 1953.

Fans have debated who might have been the model for Ian Fleming’s most famous creation the fictitious secret agent James Bond. A number of names have been suggested that make up the personality of the super agent and perhaps the character is a composite of a number of people. Gaunt has been regarded as a possible prospect by some authorities. He was handsome, suave, brilliantly effective, well-connected, remorseless an expert shot,multilingual, served as an officer in the Royal Navy and at the time of his intelligence activities during the First World War held the substantive rank of Commander, just like the fictitious Bond. His other qualification for the part he proved later in life when he was cited in a notorious divorce case that resulted in the failure of his own marriage, after which he married many years his junior with whom he had two daughters. Is it possible that “James Bond “lived in the Moorlands?

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

All Saints Church, Leek 1887

It was interesting to read the account of the restoration work being carried out on the Nicholson Memorial by the Birmingham based company of stone mason. It is a pity that a building company with the right degree of expertise was not found locally. If it is a case of not having the right skills then it was not always the case. I recently came across an article written in the late 60s in the Six Towns Magazine on a diary of a Victorian Stonemason. The man in question was James Heath who was entrusted with the workers in his Leek based company to work on All Saints Church between 1885-7. All Saints Church is recognised as one of the glories of late Victorian architecture by no less an authority than the late Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman. The church stands not as a monument to the genius of architect Norman Shaw but also to the application and skill of local craftsmen. The work of these local men is chronicled in Heath’s diary. He was a deeply religious man and he entered into the contract for the building of the church with a high degree of piety.

“ May God in his great mercy and wisdom help me to complete this work to his Glory, my honour, and everyone’s satisfaction” as he wrote on signing the contract. Heath was energetic and committed to the project sometimes walking from his home in Endon and staying on the site for 10 hours. The conditions were hard and the winter of 1885-6 was particularly gruelling. In March 1886 a portion of the church collapsed after a heavy thaw. He had difficulty with some of the workmen. One James Rhead was imprisoned for abandoning his wife and another was sacked for “ spending too long at the closet”. The central tower and the strain it placed on the building were a continual worry. In November 1886 his diary contain passages that Heath fears that the building is in danger of serious collapse. By March 1887 most of the structural work was completed and on the 24th a visit from the architect who is tremendously pleased with the quality of the work. Heath records modestly “ I am not worthy of such confidence”. When the church was finally consecrated heath wrote in touching terms

Monday 25th July 1887. Day beautifully fine. I go to Compton by 10.37-am train. I find them ready for the consecration service. The chancel is beautiful. 2-15 pm. The consecration service by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield, and a very imposing service it is, and a grand sermon by the Bishop. Thank God for permitting me to see and enjoy this day. Amen.

In the 19th century there was no need to seek the skills some distance away- they existed on our doorstep.

M Liszt plays Newcastle December 1840

In an age of the celebrity it is perhaps interesting to reflect when the cult of the “star” performer actually began. One individual who the appellation “rock star” could be applied many years before Elvis Presley was the Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt. He was considered to be the greatest musician of the age. By the 1840s the reception Liszt enjoyed as a result can be described only as hysterical. Women fought over his silk handkerchiefs and velvet gloves, which they ripped to shreds as souvenirs. Helping fuel this atmosphere was the artist's mesmeric personality and stage presence. Many witnesses later testified that Liszt's playing raised the mood of audiences to a level of mystical ecstasy. At the beginning of the decade he underwent a tour of the UK and in December 1840 played at the Roebuck in Newcastle. Liszt’s tours around England were as part of a small troupe of musicians – ‘entertainers’ might be a more accurate word – who travelled by coach and occasionally train (rail was still in its infancy) and took an Erard piano with them. It cannot have been a heavy instrument. Liszt would offer a few, short, flashy pieces as part of the programme often transcribing well-known works for the instrument

In a report of the Staffordshire Advertiser Liszt programme was listed

“Liszt might be considered the Prometheus of the piano forte; he does not merely play on it, but he imparts to the rich melody, tone, feeling, expression, brilliant execution, rapid fingering and unerring judgement. He emits sounds whilst they charm the ear, appeal to the heart. We will not easily forget his rendition of William Tell. It is impossible to describe the electric atmosphere of his performances, which were received with the most enthusiastic admiration”.

The programme included songs by a number of singers including John Parry an artist the article went on well known to audiences in the Potteries and Newcastle. Parry a Welsh born singer and composer left an interesting account of that 1840 tour which chronicled Liszt’s rock and roll life style. In Glasgow he was said to have “brought in some very dashing Scotch girls with him”, in Edinburgh to have sallied forth. The following night, the party left Dunbar at 7pm, arriving in Newcastle at 9.30 the following morning. “We did not sleep much last night,”wrote Parry, though Liszt had 'bunked' off in Alnwick and found himself a bed elsewhere.

The concert tour was not a financial success although by the following decade Liszt had made so much money that many subsequent recitals were fund raising events for charity.

Kathleen Ferrier 1912-1953

April 2012 saw the 100th anniversary of the birth of the  great contralto Kathleen Ferrier who achieved an international reputation as a stage, concert and recording artist, with a repertoire extending from folksong and popular ballads to the classical works of Bach, Brahms and Elgar

Ferrier who died tragically young of cancer aged 41 was well known and loved in North Staffordshire through her friendship with Harry Vincent.

Harry Vincent, a shoemaker, organised wartime CEMA (Council for Encouragement of  Music and the Arts) concerts in wartime became a friend of the singer and gave her a number of opportunities to sing in the Potteries from early in her short career. Ferrier supported Vincent and the Etruscan Choral Society in concerts in Newcastle Guildhall, Victoria Hall and a small concert hall in Etruria seating 130 which was renamed the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Hall two years after her death in 1955. The hall was demolished in 1973 as it stood in the path of a road development.

Vincent described as a “ remarkable man with a great enthusiasm for music” by Tom Harrison the Regional Director of CEMA named his daughter Kathleen after the singer and Ferrier became godmother to her namesake.

I came across a 1976 article by long standing music critic of the Sentinel Jack Oliver who describes Ferrier’s rather mischievous sense of humour when she appeared with the conductor John Barbirolli at a concert shortly before Ferrier’s death. They were performing Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied Von der Erde”.

“ Ferrier came onto the stage first at the rehearsal. The conductor did not appear. Ferrier sat that there looking around then with an impish grin and taking the baton in her hand essayed a few tentative strokes. The way she held the baton and the crook of the fingers of her left hand caught JB’s manner to life. The orchestra loved it”.

Influential women of North Staffordshire

Woman over the centuries have made a considerable impact on the community life of North Staffordshire. In a wide range of areas women have contributed greatly to improvements in Health, Education, Social Services and the world of work. This is an involvement that stretches back through the centuries linking an Anglo Saxon Princess and an ardent Communist, an aristocrat and a mill worker.

But first a Saint! Saint Werburgh who was born in Staffordshire early in the seventh century and died at Trentham, 3 February 699. Her mother was St. Ermenilda, daughter of Ercombert, King of Kent, and her father, Wulfhere, son of Penda the fiercest of the Mercian kings. This royally connected dedicated her life to reforming convents around the country including Trentham. She was also endowed with the gifts of prophecy and of reading the secrets of hearts knowing how devoted her different communities were to her. St. Werburgh one of the best known and loved of the Saxon saints and after her death through fear of the Vikings and in order to show greater honour to the saint, the body was removed to Chester Cathedral.

The Wedgwood men had a great deal of influence on the development of North Staffordshire after the 18th century but the Wedgwood women were equally strong minded characters and of certain opinions. Charles Darwin’s Aunt Sarah, daughter of Josiah used the considerable inheritance of her father to support humanitarian causes such as Etruria’s needy but her great cause was Anti Slavery and she launched North Staffordshire Ladies Anti Slavery Society in 1828. At the first meeting in Newcastle papers were read to the group and the women resolved to boycott sugar from the Caribbean. A recent biography of Charles Darwin puts the case that the “Sacred Cause” of anti slavery learned from his aunts and cousins lead Darwin to a belief in a common human ancestor and expounding his theory of evolution.

Not too far away from Maer where Sarah Wedgwood lived was Trentham Hall the home from one of the most remarkable women of the area Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland. Millicent came from a life of privilege and was acknowledged a great beauty, but her views differed radically from most society ladies. Pottery owners called “Meddlesome Millie” for her attempts to raise issues such as the effect of the poison lead on pottery workers where she lobbied members of the Liberal Government that she knew personally. It was alleged, a claim repeated by her biographer that the Duchess acquired he Socialist opinions after attending a Labour Church meeting in Leek. Millicent was also interested in the health of children and was the mover behind the establishment of North Staffs Cripples Aid Society which later lead to an establishment of an orthopaedic unit at North Staffs Royal Infirmary. She also tried her had at writing producing a number of serious documents to support her belief in attempting to improve the workers lot and novels that stressed the problems that local workers suffered from Her 1899 novel “One hour and the rest” concerned itself with on the conditions of the mills in Leek and largely written in dialect. It was not well critically received. In the First World War she ran a Red Cross Hospital in France and received the decoration the “Croix de Guerre”.

A close colleague of the Duchess was another woman born to some ease Dora Twyford (1880-1924). Born in Biddulph to a Pottery manufacturer Dora helped to found Twyford Hall in Hanley – a centre for Guides and Scouts. She worked with Millicent with local handicapped groups and like Millicent was involved with the special centre for the handicapped in Hanchurch. She also founded the Hanley Infants Welfare Centre in Bath Street and was President of the local Red Cross and involved with the local hospitals.

Of a different class was the redoubtable Fanny Deakin (1883-1969) She was born into a mining community in Silverdale and was a member of large but poor family. Interested in politics she was first elected as a Labour Councillor, but after 1927 was a Communist Councillor. She was a popular with local people, who nicknamed her "Red Fanny" after she visited the Soviet Union in 1927 and 1930. In an era of high infant mortality she campaigned for better maternity care of women and free milk for children under five. In 1941 She became the first communist to be appointed alderman in Newcastle. And later in the decade a maternity hospital, which bears her name, was opened in the area.

The early years of the 20th century saw many doughty fighters who struggled to get women the recognition they deserved especially those courageous women who fought to get the vote before the First World War.

 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.

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.

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 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. She was involved with the William Morris Labour Church where she acted as a caretaker for a period. She had known William Morris personally.

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

Florence Farmer (1873-1958) left her position as a head teacher of a Longton School to work with her brother to establish a laundry business. Eventually she became a director of the company by 1927. She was active in the Labour Party and became the City’s first woman councillor. She was active in health matters and a supporter of Hanchurch Open Air School. A keen supporter of local voluntary organisation was elected the City Councils first mayor and also became the first female magistrate.

Where Florence lead other Councillors followed and as a young Councillor myself I met with three women who made a considerable impact on community life in the City during the 1960s and 70s. Mary Bourne had her power base firmly in the Longton area and amongst the Catholic community 
She attended UNESCO as a representative of the Catholic Church and was a member of the Union of Catholic Women’s League eventually becoming its President. One abiding interest of Mary Bourne was the elderly and she remarked herself at the age of 83 at a community meeting in Blurton “that we must do something for the old people”. She was also active in a number of blind charities. She became Lord Mayor in 1971. 

Another Councillor for the south of the City was Doris Robinson who lived to the great age of 99 and was something of a formidable operator. Her father Sam Clowes was MP for the City in the 20s and her brother was a leading Councillor in the post war years. Doris interest was very much the health service and she called in an interview given in the year she became Lord Mayor that one of her first acts was to sell cakes and sweets which realised £20 which she donated to the building fund of the local hospital. The esteem in which she was held was shown by her appointment to the local hospital committee after the NHS was established in 1948. She was for many years the Chairman of North Staffordshire Community Health Council and she maintained an interest in the Health Service throughout her long life. I did visit her on one occasion at her Lightwood home and I was given a tour in which she showed me many photographs of royalty, Prime Ministers and other notables that she had met in 70 years of public service.

Mary Stringer was a Tunstall Methodist who described herself as a 'backroom worker' when speaking at her mayoral inauguration in 1979.
She worked for the Worker’s Educational Association for 38 years and maintained it was attending lectures by the late Hanley MP Bob Cant, which made her stand for the council.

Both Mary Bourne and Doris Robinson were fervent believers in the NHS and the same applies to another local fighter- Dot Griffiths. Dot from Hartshill started the campaign to improve access to the cancer drug Heceptin after finding out that the drug was not given to women in the early stages of breast cancer. She felt outraged that many women who could benefit that a group that could benefit from Herceptin were denied it. She contacted the local oncology department and began to raise awareness of the issue firstly locally and then nationally a campaign that took her to the steps of Downing Street as well as appearances on Women’s Hour on Radio 4 and BBC Breakfast programme. Sadly Dot died in April this year but her indomitable spirit lives on 

I have saved the most intriguing North Staffordshire woman who made an impact on the lives of others but remains the only North Staffordshire person to have a feature named after them. Mary Blagg (1858-1944) was born in Cheadle to middle class parents. She seemed to be a retiring sort and lived in the town all her life. Her fame rests principally in her work in astronomy and in 1905 was appointed by the new formed International Association of Academies to build a collated list of all features of the moon. After the publication of several research papers for the Royal Astronomical Society she was elected as a fellow in 1916. She was the first woman to be allowed entry into that society. Her other interest was voluntary work she cared for refugee children during the First World War.

The crater Blagg is named after her.



Roger Morrice- 17th century diarist of Meerbrook

The diary of Alistair Campbell has been the subject of a great deal of much comment in the media in the last week. The newspapers, both broadsheet and tabloid expended a great deal of ink in covering the publication of the spin master at the heart of New Labour and the man who had the ear of the most senior politicians of our time has been interviewed by both the new and old media. Campbell’s diary from the reviews I have read would appear to be self serving that uncritically endorse the actions of the powerful while despising the powerless and perhaps add another mark to the general lack of esteem in which politicians are held. Certainly they portray the leaders of today to be vacuous, foul mouthed and lacking in insight

However the use of the diary as a vehicle for self-justification and name checking is a new phenomenon. In the golden age of the diarist in the 17th century the purpose of the diary was complete different. Samuel Pepys diary, perhaps the most famous English diarist was written in code which was only cracked centuries after his death and it is the diary of a near contemporary of Pepys a person called Roger Morrice who was born in the Staffordshire Moorlands which was also partly written in code has excited interest in academic circles.

Roger Morrice was born in 1628 in Meerbrook and he returned to die in the village in 1702. Morrice was a puritan minister who was the minister at one time at a parish in Duffield in Derbyshire before moving to London and like Campbell became a political journalist who became extremely well placed and privy to some of the main political stories of his time. Morrice wrote down many of his entries in a form of shorthand into a number of “entiring” books which were bought by a religious library in the 18th century and for centuries simply gathered dust. The Entiring Books comprise of a million words and cover the period 1677 to 1691 one of the most turbulent periods of English History. He would have reached his early adulthood during the Civil War where religious intolerance was common and hatred especially of Catholics was frequently expressed. It was a time that the most feared country was Catholic France, which in the later 17th century was at the peak of its power

 Morrice was an extreme protestant and unlike the more relaxed and hedonistic Pepys took a firm moral view of his times. He described Tunbridge Wells then a very fashionable town popular with royalty and the aristocracy as the most debauched town in the country. With a great deal of approval he reports the reaction of the Moroccan ambassador at the court of Charles II when he was urged to “ receive a whore into his bed”

“ He said to our great rebuke and shame ‘ My religion forbids whores, does not yours?” When I come home I shall be counted a liar in my own country, for my master will not believe me that so many ladies came open faced with bare breasts to see me”

During the late 17th century the River Thames often froze and fairs were held on the ice. In 1684 the ice was able to bear coaches, which travelled on the ice and bull baiting, and other activities even a bonfire were held on the surface of the river. Morrice did not approve

“ The concourse and all manner of debauchery upon the Thames continued on the Thames upon the Lord’s Day and Monday the 4th and 5th of this instant”.

The 1680s saw three different monarchs on the throne and it was a time of the greatest suspicion and plotting as rival groups sought to establish power over other factions at court. Morrice wrote in code because he wished to protect his source at the centre of power believed by modern day researchers to have been a member of the cabinet. A team from Cambridge University have transcribed the diaries and have produced a number of volumes, which were published in 2005

The diary describes in great depth the events that lead to the overthrow of James II and the successful revolt that lead to William III assuming power in 1688. Morrice was ferociously anti Catholic and was appalled by the birth of a son to Catholic James in June 1688

“ The child was a large full child in the head and the upper parts but not suitably proportioned in the lower parts,” wrote Morrice.

Six months later James was deposed in perhaps the most successful coup d’etat ever seen in British History and in the last occasion when England was invaded by a foreign power. Dutch troops marched on London in December as James fled the country.

James II grandson Charles Edward Stuart would over 50 years later return and play a part in the history of the Moorlands by leading the Highland Army through the area during December 1745

Morrice wrote that women” shook the soldiers by the hand as they came by and cried “ Welcome, welcome, God bless you came to redeem our religion, laws liberties and lives”

He returned to North Staffordshire before his death in 1702 and left £100 to the church in Meerbrook for the purchase of bibles and the education of 8 poor children in Latin. He also left £20 to a Josiah Hargreaves to run a Presbyterian Meeting House in Westwood after his death. Hargreaves was still at Westwood in 1716.

Morrice diary describes the politics of over 300 years ago. It is questionable whether the Campbell diaries will have the same longevity and they are certainly written in a far less elegant style and Morrice words carry with them a certain resonance that should have serves as a warning to the politicians and placemen like Campbell who played such a pivotal role in involving us in Iraqi war.

“For men of power are so void of sense and reason, their cares are not open with patience to hear men of little passion greater sense and consideration”

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Do you remember March 1970?

1970 saw the passage of the equal pay act a major step in women's rights . The legislation was the result of the pressure applied to the Labour Government by actions such as the strike at Ford's Motor Company over equal pay- the subject of the film “Made in Dagenham . Job adverts of the time are a good place to start looking at the obstacles that females faced in the workplace. In Leek women with families were encouraged to apply for the “Housewives Shift” , an innovation in employment practices, at Weston Street Mill. Female typists were required for Thomas Boltons at Froghall and at Gush and Dent a “keen young lady” was needed. The evidence that men and women were paid differently was apparent. In March a report of the Association of Manufacturers and Dyers published their minimum pay rates for a 40 hour week, for Men the rate was £14 and for women £11. It should be said that local Trade Unions were not overtly concerned in closing the gap as they tended to be male dominated

An unspoken social problem was domestic violence and the 70s saw it for the first time being debated openly. During March 1970 the local paper reported two cases in Leek and Cheadle. One of the incidents was described as a “domestic tiff” The book “ Scream Quietly or the neighbours would hear” was published in the decade. Erin Pizzey detailed her experiences of establishing a woman’s refuge in West London. (Her belief that the problem of violence against women was widespread is born out of my own experiences in Stoke. As a child I once see a woman attacked in the street.}  As she wrote in the introduction to her book “ as long as the myth of the Princess and the frog continues then young women will believe that a good woman can save any man and the ugly frog will turn into a Prince”.

Language was an important weapon in objectifying women. Young women attending a weekend Duke of Edinburgh course were referred to as “Dollies”. The Dollies in question -28 young women- spent a weekend at Ilam Youth Hostel taking courses on make up, cake decoration and fashion. Even in well meaning examples, the words used can be jarring to the modern ear. The principal of Leek College congratulated Leek woman Catherine Turner who had been selected to visit the USSR and study education methods going on to say that “she was part of a memorable band of housewives who had pioneered day classes for GCE exams”.

Domesticity was a quality prized and it was a attribute nurtured across the area by Women's Institutes- at the height of their popularity- where there was a perceived need to pass on housewifery skills across the generations. The WI had branches in most communities. In Rushton they had a talk on the new decimal coverage starting up the following February. Greenaway Moor were shown a film of Max Bygraves promoting Dutch Cheese, Tean a session on cake making. Mothers Union added to the sense as they pledged to perform their duties “they owe their husband, their children and their God”. At schools girls were taught domestic science concentrating on home making reinforcing the traditional role of women

Leek Ladies Hockey team were going from strength to strength in the early spring of 1970. After defeating Newcastle they had become the undisputed champions of the county. In this victory they had relied on three goals from Patsy Allen centre forward, The reporter was of the opinion that they had won because, “they had greater fire power up front and they commanded the centre of the field with the authority of an all conquering army”

Ali Barba's Club in Milton were running regular strip shows on a Tuesday alternating with a stag comedian. One can presume it was not a very sophisticated night out and little prospect of the “Second Sex” or “Female Eunuch” being discussed

Mary Adela Blagg- Lunar scientist

Bill Cawley on a Cheadle woman who deserves wider recognition in International Women's Day.

The first week of March is the time of the year given over to celebrate the achievements of women on International Women’s Day. A local woman who, as far as I know, is the only woman to have a crater on the Moon named after her and deserves wider local recognition is described below.

Mary Adela Blagg was born in 1858 in Cheadle. She was the eldest of five daughters and four sons of a solicitor. Largely self-educated in mathematics, she was attracted to astronomy by attending the university extension lectures of J.A. Hardcastle the grandson of the Astronomer Herschel, who encouraged her to original work in selenography” study of moon”.

Blagg achieved international repute by her work on the Moon. In 1900 lunar maps were still based on measurements made at the beginning of the 19th century, but by 1900 means of photographing the Moon had improved considerably. In 1905 Professor Saunder who has worked with Blagg proposed an international committee to remedy lunar nomenclature, and he called for an accurate map of the Moon surface. An untimely death led to Mary Blagg undertaking a crucial role in mapping the Moon . Blagg was already engaged in compiling a list of features. Saunder’s sudden death in 1912 forced her to work on the mapping project completed a year later -the Collated List of Lunar Formations.

In 1920, Blagg joined the Lunar Commission. She secured the best photographs from Paris, Mount Wilson, and other observatories. From these she had by 1922 drawn the maps for the 10 outer portions of the Moon. After 1928 she and Dr K. Muller of Vienna developed a definitive list naming nearly 6,000 features, published as Named Lunar Formations of which the second volume was the atlas, not surpassed in accuracy until the 1960s.

She undertook masses of tedious work for others in effect the number crunching. The originality of her contribution was that she first disentangled the errors of the selenographers who had relied on earlier inaccurate measurements, and then brought order to the chaos that had accumulated in naming features on the Moon.

Blagg was one of the first women to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in January 1916. She died at her home in High Bank in Cheadle in 1944, highly respected and following in the great tradition of the amateur scientist.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Atos hearings- a cruel charade

An acquaintance asked me to accompany him to a hearing as he was turned down for the disability benefit had been on for a number of years. Jim- not his real name- had worked for over 35 years before coming ill in the early years of the last decade. He suffers from heart disease and had bypass surgery. He had taken the work capability test organised by ATOS earlier in the year and had received zero points. Jim was in his 60s and was expecting to remain on invalidity benefit for the rest of his working years. He had been made redundant in his last job in 2004, in fact he told me that of the 9 factories he had worked in 8 had closed. He appealed and went to the local CAB they did not have enough advisers but told him that he had little chance of overturning the verdict anyway. Jim asked me to go along and speak on his behalf. We thought we would give it a go and I spent time with him so that we could put together a case. On reading the lengthy paper work from the DWP it was apparent that the Atos test was very limited. One test was an ability to carry an empty box- what sort of job required the worker just to carry just an empty cardboard box was not explored in the documentation.

Jim and I arrived early. We were met by a clerk who explained that the panel which comprised of two people was independent. In retrospect, it seemed to me that the panel slavishly adhered to the DWP regulations. From the chairman’s opening remarks it was quickly apparent that we stood no chance. There was a moment of farce when the chairman questioned Jim on his history of depression. Jim remarked that he never claimed to be depressed. A passage from Jim’s documents was read out to prove the contention and there was mention of a baby. Jim is a single man in his 60s. The comment about the “baby” let us open mouthed. The chairman corrected himself and acknowledged that he was looking at the wrong papers. That incident along with the inability of the chairman to correctly pronounce my surname made me question the professionalism of the Tribunal. The chairman and the doctor, who looked disinterested in the proceedings, will have received a hefty fee for their participation in this event; certainly we can assume it was way above the minimum wage. Atos will be paid a fee for reducing numbers of people on disability benefit.

As we expected the letter rejecting the appeal was received two days later and Jim is now stopped from receiving benefits for some months. He will receive JSA eventually and have to agree the stipulations implicated in receiving the allowance or risk sanctions. Jim is in his 60s is highly unlikely to find work given the state of the local economy and some indication of how desperate Job centres  are in suggesting employment for the mature job seeker can be evinced by the story I heard of a 60 plus job seeker being invited to become an e-bay trader. However the man had no computer and did not know how to use one.

This experience leaves me in no doubt that the Work Capability Assessment and Atos performance related involvement means that the whole exercise is a cruel charade. It does not offer the older disabled worker opportunity: it will inevitably lead to poverty and a likely early death

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The strange death of Manuel de Silveria Leek 1836

Manuel Egido da Silveria of Rio da Janeiro disembarked from the Manchester coach a matter of minutes before his death. Mr Brunt the silk manufacturer was worried. The foreign looking gentleman who climbed out of the Manchester coach looked very agitated. It was midday on Tuesday the 7th October 1836 and the mail coach had arrived promptly outside the Red Lion in the Market Square. The arrival and the departure of the mail coach were always noted with interest. Mr Brunt and Mr Alcock, the ostler, returned to the Red Lion and climbed the stairs to an upper room. At the top of the stairs they met Miss James, the niece of Mr Barlow the landlord, and a serving girl Agnes Hambleton having heard what had sounded like a gunshot. The two men entered the room, which was full of smoke and smelt of gunpowder. In a corner of the room was a toilet, which had been locked from the inside. They tried to force the door. They eventually got it open and lying on the toilet floor was the foreign looking gentleman with a pistol in his right hand. Mr Robins a local doctor was called for but it was obvious that the man was beyond hope. He had shot himself in the right ear and blood and brain matter oozed out of large hole in the left side of his head. They laid him on the bed in the room but he died a few moments later without uttering a single  word.

Who was Manuel da Silveria the name of the man who lay dead on a bed in the Red Lion? He was Brazilian and a man of some importance. He was described in the coroner’s report published in the Macclesfield Courier on the 15th October 1836 as being a person who held a commission for the newly independent Brazilian Government for the West African country of Sierra Leone. In other words, Manuel Da Silveria was probably a person of some influence and connections; certainly the name had a long connection with Africa and Portuguese influence. A Silveria was canonised by the Catholic Church following his murder by Muslim Slave Traders in Africa in the 16th century. Several of that name crop up as colonialists running areas of Asia and Africa for the Portuguese Crown in times past. The Brazil that Da Silveria would have known would have been in a state of turmoil during the 1820s and 30s as it sort to free itself of Portuguese rule to eventually proclaim in 1822 the first Brazilian Emperor Pedro 1st to rule an extremely large empire. The Emperor proved autocratic and after an uprising fled to Britain.

One subject that would have linked Brazil and West Africa where Da Silveria worked would have been slavery. The Portuguese had began to take slaves from West Africa in the late 15th century and slaves were forcibly taken in their millions over the next 300 years to North and South America. By the early 19th century a country like Sierra Leone, by then a British possession, would have been in the front line in the attempt by the British to drive slave trading out of the continent. During the period that Da Silveria worked there the British launched military expeditions against slave owning chiefs. Perhaps he was ensuring Brazil’s interests, still slave based, were defended? It took Brazil several years to take the decision to abolish slavery and then only after considerable British pressure.

A clue about the wealth of Da Silveria emerged at the inquest when reference was made to him living at a London address and also a Liverpool one. The London address of Portland Place would have been very fashionable in 1836 as the Adam brothers designed the houses only a few decades before. In the case of the Liverpool address the area around Great Charlotte St was rapidly being developed in Liverpool, a city that had very strong slavery associations.

At the inquest a local doctor, Dr Robins, reported examination of the corpse revealed that the bullet had entered the head of Da Silveria through the right lobe of the ear and had travelled upward causing an inch long exit wound. Mention is also made of an old injury on the back of the head, which he had complained about to Henry Numes, a personal friend of Da Silveria and lived in Liverpool. The doctor also suggested that the dead man’s liver showed signs of damage.

Numes gave a vital clue at the inquest, which confirms Da Silveria involvement in West Africa. He said that Da Silveria had moved to Liverpool only 4 months before he shot himself in Leek. He was on long-term sick leave from the Brazilian Government after falling ill with a fever in West Africa. He told the coroner that his friend was of a depressed state of mind as a consequence of his work in Sierra Leone.

Another possible reason for the action taken by De Silveria was that he was under investigation by the authorities and the police accused of a massive fraud against the Brazilian Government. In fact the Consul General for the Brazilian Government and a man called Ruthven a detective hired by him attended the inquest. The matter led to a great deal of interest in the town with over 200 trying to attend the inquest in the Red Lion