Thursday, 27 June 2013

Cross dressing at Biddulph Moor- a 19th century "singularity"

The following “singular” case appeared in the Morning Post in the autumn of 1848 concerning a Biddulph Moor woman. On the 16th September Doctor Bland ,a physician in the Macclesfield work house was asked to attend a man dying from dysentery who lived in a lodge house in the town. He thought that the man who was aged about 60 looked decidedly feminine around the face. The man named John Smith also had a womanly voice. He spoke to Smith's wife who was with some of her eleven children. She was not married to him, but had met him 14 years ago in New Mills, Derbyshire. Smith worked as an itinerant knife grinder and spoon maker. His wife said that he was a supportive husband. Some days later John Smith died and Bland returned to sign the death certificate. His suspicions were correct and Smith was female. His wife told the doctor that she had only found out the day before Smith's death that he was male when he had her implored to sew the body into a winding sheet. She told Bland that the 11 children had been fathered by her first husband. “John Smith” was buried in Christ Church and a great deal of interest was shown at the funeral.

After subsequent investigation Bland found that the dead woman had been born Sophie Locke in a cave at Croker Wood, Sutton and moved to live with her extended family who lived on Biddulph Moor. Sophie followed her father's occupation as a tinker and knife grinder. The Lockes were an itinerant lot and spent the year moving around the country, although they always wintered on the moor. From an early age she dressed as a male and often accompanied her brother around the pubs in Biddulph and Congleton where the two would dance and play the violin. She appeared to be a volatile soul and pretty handy with her fists. Sophie got involved in a massive punch up at Bolton Green in Lancashire and in the fight a breast was exposed. News of the incident got back to Biddulph and the community impressively kept the secret for the remainder of her life. Over the years whenever she met someone from the town she became very wary and withdrew from society although the concealment held. She rarely visited Biddulph Moor after the Lockes were accused of sheep stealing.

She lived as a husband to several women including one whom she married in Winster Church in Derbyshire. The story is that a serving girl became pregnant after a liaison with a local squire. Sophie was encouraged to marry the woman and bring the child up as the “father” and this relationship lasted some years. The woman that Doctor Bland met had lived with Sophie for about 14 years and spent the year travelling around the country with Locke and her large brood of children. Taking part in the hop picking in Worcestershire every autumn was something that the family enjoyed.

As I said earlier Sophie gained enjoyment from challenging men to fight. On one occasion at Bosley she was making a noise in a local pub. She was defying a room full of men when in walked a hawker from Biddulph that she knew. She exchanged compliments with the man and then left.

She was described as being dark haired, of wiry build and very swarthy ( that sounds very “Saracen “ to me). The writer of the “Morning Post article remarked “ that she would draw the attention of many admirer of the gypsy picturesque”.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The early aeronauts- an experience with a balloon in Cheadle 1784

A new phenomenon was seen above the skies of Britain in the 1780s. One summer day in 1785 the celebrated naturalist and writer Gilbert White roused the locals to view a balloon as it floated above Shelbourne Church in Hampshire. It was all a new and wondrous development. The first manned flight took place in June 1783 when the Montgolfier brothers launched a hot air balloon from Paris. In the early days unmanned craft were launched. In February 1784 one such unmanned craft launched in Birmingham landed in Cheadle. The locals were unaware of the explosive nature of hydrogen gas which soon became apparent. The Bristol Journal takes up the story

“The farmers took it into a two pair of stairs room, and attempted to blow it up by use of bellows, during which one of the company approached too closely with a lighted candle. The remaining inflammable air tore off the wainscot, broke all the furniture and drove the casement to a considerable distance, but did no damage to the bystanders, except singeing their hair.”

The first successful manned flight in Britain took place the following September. A large crowd , including the Prince of Wales, gathered at Chelsea to see an Italian Vincenzo Lunardi set off along with a dog, cat and pigeon. The flight took him to Hertfordshire where he landed near to what is now South Mimms service station.

Closer to home a daring aeronaut named Harper took off from Birmingham rising to over 4,000 feet. He flew over Trentham Hall descending to ask a farm labourer where he was, talking to the startled man by way of a speaking trumpet. Eventually he crashed at Newcastle and was rescued by a blacksmith as his basket crashed through bushes.

Fairly soon records were being established in terms of altitude and distance by balloonist. In 1784 the first balloon to cross the Channel landed in France piloted by Blanchard and an American Jeffries

One of the first uses of the new form of transport was military. The French used balloons as platforms to observe troop deployment at the Battle of Fleurus in 1794. Among the troops present that day was Jean Baptiste Brunet who much later as General Brunet would become the most senior officer imprisoned in Leek during the Napoleonic War.

One myth probably needs questioning and concerns a balloon that is supposed to have landed at Gun Hill in the 1820s frightening the locals who took it for a devil I am sure that people of Leek would have been very familiar with balloons from the earliest days of flight.                                        

Sunday, 23 June 2013

He should have a long spoon who sups with the devil

1386 CHAUCER Therefore bilhoueth hire a full long spoon that shall eat with a feend. 1539 TAVENER He  neede to haue a longe spoone that shal ete with thee deuyl. 1592-3 SHAKESPEARE Comedy of Errors Marry, he must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil 1611-2 Tempest This is the devil and no monster. I will leave him : and I have no long spoon. 1641 FERGUSSON He should have a long shafted spoon that sups kail with the devil.

Hell is broke loose

1577 Misogonus I thinke all hell broke loose when thou gatest this poste. 1593 GREENE Friar Bacon Hell's broke loose: your Head speaks; and there is such a thunder and lightening that I warrant all Oxford is up in arms. 1611-12 SHAKESPEARE Tempest Hell is empty and all the devils are here1623 JONSON  Time Vind How now! What's here ! Is hell broke loose, 1733 SWIFT Hey what a clattering is here! One would think all hell had broken loose.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Castles in the air

To indulge in visionary projects or day dreams

Augustus Sermo 2 Subtracto fundamentio in aere aedificare 1566 PAINTER Pal of Pleas (Jacobs) Alerand  .. was a building of castels in the ayre. 1589 North Plutarch 1676 They build castles in the air and thought to do great wonders  1612-15  Ye great men , spend not all your time castles in the air , or houses on the sand. 1633 Massingers  Mor Ha Ha these castles you build in the air. Will not persuade me to give or lend me a token to you. 1894 BLACKMORE  Perlycross:  His wife had seen Jenny dancing with one of her pretty daughters and edified with castles in the air,

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The mobile phone- 40 years on

The editor of the Sentinel in early 1878 was extremely prescient in his comments.

“We have the telephone which promises to annihilate both time and space and enables us to talk audibly to our cousins in America and to our unborn great, grand children in the 20th century. The telephone has already established much. Its latest achievements is to enable London editors to hear by word of mouth what is passing in the House of Commons. The next thing to wish for is to be able to know what MPs, ministers especially ,intend to say before they say it”

In January 1878, when the editorial was written, the telephone was only 18 months old. It was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in the United States. The first public demonstration of the telephone was in May 1877 in Boston. For the editor of the Staffordshire Sentinel to be so alive to the possibilities of such an infant invention is remarkable.

In the resultant 135 years we have all become aware of how central the telephone has been to our lives, more so since the invention of the mobile phone. In April 1973 a researcher for Motorola Martin Cooper made the first call on a cordless phone to a rival Joel Engel of Bell Labs whilst walking the streets of Manhattan. Later, he remarked how open mouthed New Yorkers were to see someone moving around making a call. Of course we joke about cumbersome and limited the first mobile phones were. I even remember the first time I ever saw and it was in peculiar circumstances. It was in the late 80s and I was in a Manchester night club. A very attractive blond was summoning a taxi with a phone the size of a house brick and lying on the floor was a very drunk Alex “Hurricane” Higgins the snooker player.

The mobile phone is now a ubiquitous part of our lives. And unfortunately people seem to abandon any sense of propriety in its usage. I saw a young woman give a love rival what for in colourful language while walking down Gladstone Street a few weeks ago. And the existence of more sophisticated equipment now makes it possible to buy train tickets amongst other things, keep in contact with work colleagues every waking moment,and to download various forms of entertainment. It also has a down side. I was in a pub in Leek recently and could not help notice that two men spent more time on their I-Phones than they did in talking to one another.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Ecton Copper Mine

On Oct. 13, 2010, 33 miners who had been trapped underground for more than two months returned to the surface after a successful rescue operation that inspired Chile and riveted the world. The miners travelled up a narrow, nearly half-mile rescue shaft in a specially designed capsule. The final phase of the long rescue effort took roughly 22 hours, The leader of the group was the last to be rescued. I came across an event 250 years ago which struck me as having parallels with the Copper miners of Chile
On April 20 1759 the following extract of a letter was published in the Derby Mercury. “We received an account from Ecton about 6 miles from Leek that the Sough through which men go into the Copper mine had fallen in; there were 15 men in the mine when the accident happened. Luckily there was a cleft in the ground left open which that they received their meat or they must have perished. The Inhabitants are generally employed in digging away at the earth. In order to release them it is feared it will take some time. The Accident was caused by excessive rains they fell on Mondays and Tuesday which caused such floods here”.
Copper mining began in earnest at Ecton at the beginning of the 18th century although the existence of copper had been known about since the Middle Ages. It became one of the richest mines in the country and was considered a good investment as the rival copper mines in Cornwall were prone to flooding. Ecton did not suffer from drainage problems. It returned a healthy return of 40% to the Dukes of Devonshire the profits were used to develop Buxton as a Spa town. In its heyday Ecton boasted of a number of initiatives. Explosives were used for the first time in mining, boats were used underground shortly after their successful introduction at the Duke of Bridgewater's Collieries, an early use of balance beam pumping engine was pioneered at Ecton as was employment of a James Watt rotative steam engine in 1780. The mines were very deep( over 1300 feet) some of the deepest in Europe. A description of 1769 describes how little boys wheeled barrows on the dressing floor while young girls sorted the ore previously crushed by women with hammers. Wages started at 2d per hour for the children and up to 30d for the men. The age span of worker ranged from 5 to 60

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Stoke City and I- Fifty Years On

This year sees the 150th anniversary of the founding of Stoke City Football Club and it gives me the opportunity to think of my memories as a supporter of over 50 years

My first memories of Stoke City encompasses the surreal and the disgusting. I will get the second point out of the way first. The earliest recollection of the Victoria Ground was collecting cigarette butts in a bucket for a relative who had a Rizla machine to roll fags. I would be the child labour and about 5. The butts were the means of obtaining the tobacco supply. It did not do this particular relative harm as they lived to a great age. The bizarre memory is of sheep grazing on the Victoria Ground to keep the grass closely cropped. There might be a picture somewhere in the archives. I am sure that I am not making this up. I went to school at St Peters next to the ground and the club were kind enough to let the school hold their sports day there. I was in a relay team that won the sprint. My first and only ever sporting achievement on any Stoke City pitch

But back to football

My first Stoke match was in March 1962 when I was just short of my 7th birthday. We played Swansea Town and it ended as a 0-0 draw. It’s strange how memory plays tricks as I thought that there were goals. We lived in Lytton St and in the promotion season of 1962-3 the roar of the 40,000 plus crowd could be clearly heard where we lived the other side of Stoke. An early opportunity to make a bit of money was offering to look after supporter’s cars. It was done innocently and not in the modern day way of “ looking after cars” as practised around Anfield or Old Trafford

I missed the centenary game against Real Madrid in 1963 although my father went and bought back the programme. Years later a woman living in Hartshill showed me a Real Madrid medal she was given by Puskas who she met wandering around Shelton.

However I did go to the Matthews testimonial match in April 65 and, unlike Tony Blair, saw “Wor” Jackie Milburn play in the veterans game before the International XI v Matthews XI main feature. Milburn patted his midriff when he was unable to reach a ball much to the amusement of the crowd.. For some strange reason I also remember the Dagenham Girl's Pipers as well.

When the “galloping major” Puskas died a few years ago the sports writer for the Guardian named him as the 5 greatest footballers in the last 50 years along with Pele, Best, Cruyff and Maradona. I was lucky as I saw 3 of the five, not Maradona or Cruyff , at the Victoria Ground.