Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: A-Z Series

  • A-Z of Stamford by Christopher Davies

    When asked to write an A-Z of Stamford, the task seemed restively simple. However, once I gave it some thought, I realised that there were two questions that needed to be addressed before I could start putting pen to paper. The first of these was ‘who am I writing this for’ and, secondly, can I find sufficient material to cover every letter of the alphabet.

    The first question is possibly the most problematic. Serious historians of Stamford (of which there are many) will already be well acquainted with most aspects of its history. So, after much thought, I decided to aim this book at the newcomer to the town and those with a passing interest in local history.

    The Eleanor Cross at Geddington. (A-Z of Stamford, Amberley Publishing)

    The question of what to include in an A-Z was much more taxing. What I wanted to do was to give an overview of the town’s development within the constraints of the brief from Amberley. Generally speaking, the first half of the alphabet does not tend to cause huge problems. In fact, it would probably be quite easy to fill a book just using the first half of the alphabet. It does mean however, that it is necessary to carefully select those aspects of the town’s history which will be of interest to the casual reader, and present an overview of the town’s history.

    From O onwards however, is a different matter, particularly X, Y and Z. In writing the A-Z of Stamford I was fairly certain of being able to cover most letters of the alphabet. The letter K caused a problem however, and I had to fall back on Klips Hill, which was the earlier name for Barn Hill. The letter X was always going to be a problem, as X does not figure at all in local personal names or place names. However, a flash of inspiration reminded me about the incised X on certain buildings to denote parish boundaries. The six parishes of Stamford were irregular in shape. Reference to Knipe’s map of 1833, for example, shows that St John’s parish was in two parts, separated by All Saints parish; St Michael’s parish was separated by part of St George’s parish. However, for a number of reasons, it was important for people to know in which parish they lived. The answer to this was to place an incised cross on to buildings where two parish boundaries met. Over the years, some 29 such marks have been located in the town, although they are ever in danger from re-building and alterations to buildings. Some years ago, the Lord Burghley public house was completely rebuilt, and it was only intervention from the writer of this blog that ensured that the parish boundary mark on the front of the building was preserved.

    Parish boundary mark. This particular mark is to be found at the entrance to the Theatre Cellar Bar in St George's Square. (A-Z of Stamford, Amberley Publishing)

    For the letter Q I decided to use the Queen Eleanor’s cross that once stood on Casterton Road. The main reason for this was that it presented the opportunity to re-examine the evidence for where it actually stood.  The 17th century Town Clerk and historian Richard Butcher, seems to have it firmly placed in the area of Clock House on Casterton Road. Later evidence very clearly has it in the area of Foxdales. In 1745, William Stukeley reported that the base of the cross had been discovered half a mile north of Stamford. In 1993, a fragment of Purbeck marble was found in the garden of Stukeley House in Barn Hill (William Stukeley’s home in the 1740s). The appearance of this fragment accorded with the description of the upper shaft of the Stamford Eleanor Cross which Stukeley claimed to have found in 1745 on Anemone Hill, which is the upper part of Casterton Road. It looks therefore as if Butcher was wrong in where he placed the cross in the 17th century. This however leads to an interesting question. Butcher was reporting what he could see; so if what he could see was not the Eleanor Cross, what was it? For illustrative purposes, I had to use the Eleanor Cross at Geddington as my example. Fortunately, it is said to be stylistically for similar to the one that once stood in Stamford.

    I have to confess that Z was something of a cop-out. Search as I might, I could not find anything significant in the town’s history that I could use. However, searching through my stock of newspaper cuttings, I came across a report of Zeppelins circling the town in 1916 and 1917. Not unusual I suspect given the proximity of a Royal Flying Corps base just a mile to the south of the town.

    Writing the book has been an interesting exercise, even for someone who has been involved in Stamford’s local history for over forty years. It has certainly forced me to re-think a number of aspects of the town’s history, and to put myself in the place of someone new to the town or just visiting who wants to know a little about Stamford’s history.

    Christopher Davies's new book A-Z of Stamford is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Gloucester by Roger Smith

    I have been photographing scenes around Gloucester for more years than I care to remember – street scenes, buildings, statues and blue plaques. Several years ago I started posting articles to Facebook’s ‘Our History – Gloucester’ group. My intention was to enhance the group’s knowledge of the city, including its suburbs, churches, listed buildings and vanished landmarks; the history of these places, how their names have changed, and how they have developed into how they are today.

    Baker's clock with Father Time and figures representing Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. (A-Z of Gloucester, Amberley Publishing)

    After writing nearly 50 articles, many members of the group were asking whether I was going to turn the articles into a book. With this in mind I submitted a proposal to Amberley Publishing enquiring whether such a book would be of interest. The response was that although my proposal didn’t fit in with their current range of titles, it could fit in with their ‘A-Z of …’ series. After reading through the requirements defined in the A-Z Author Guide I considered it was well within my scope, and more importantly, I already had most of the information to produce such a book. The only proviso, apart from the word and image count, was that there should be at least one entry for every letter of the alphabet.

    The task proved relatively simple for most of the alphabet, but letters X and Z were initially problematical. Then one day a photo appeared in the Facebook group of a policeman on point duty at The Cross, the crossroads in the centre of Gloucester, with the caption that at one time this was the busiest crossroads in England. There could therefore be no better choice than to go for ‘X marks the spot’ as it had earned the sobriquet of the crossroads of England.

    That just left the letter Z. Again, a spot of inspiration came when driving back from Swindon to Gloucester one day. After descending the Cotswold escarpment on the outskirts of the city, one comes to Zoons Court roundabout. The Z problem was solved; now I just needed to research the history of the court.

    Gloucester Cathedral's tower and the cloister garden. (A-Z of Gloucester, Amberley Publishing)

    My brief was that the book should run to 20,000 words and include 100 images. The task was simplified by first producing a detailed synopsis, which stemmed from many years experience working as a technical author where a synopsis defined for the client the envisaged content of the finished document. It also avoided any later dispute where the client suggests that x, y or z should have been included.

    I was aware that there are already a large number of books about Gloucester on the market, many of them nothing more than a collection of photographs with just a single sentence caption. They leave the reader unaware as to the history or significance of what they portray. For example: how many people know that John Stafford Smith, who composed the music for the American national anthem, was born in Gloucester; or that it is the place where the oldest peal of bells in North America were cast; or that it is the place where the world’s first Sunday school was held. To make mine distinguishable from these other books, I determined that my descriptions should run to more than just a single sentence for each topic.

    As I developed my proposal I became more rigorous in what I should or should not include. Here I was guided by the book’s sub-title ‘Places, People, History’. From an initial list of over 100 topics, I selected 66 that I deemed to be of most interest.

    There were certain places that just had to be included: the docks, which was granted port status in 1580 by Queen Elizabeth I, it is the UK's most inland port, and whose old warehouses have provided ideal backgrounds for shooting scenes for many films and period television dramas. ‘The World of Beatrix Potter’ shop which replicates illustrations of the tailor's shop in Beatrix Potter’s story The Tailor of Gloucester, the actual tailor’s shop being in nearby Westgate Street. There is Baker’s Clock, the city’s most-recognisable public clock with figures representing Father Time and people from each country of the British Isles; Bull Lane, Gloucester’s narrowest street; Maverdine Passage, which conceals a medieval merchant’s house with a Georgian frontage that is reputed to be the finest example in Britain of a timber-framed town house. You also have Pinch Belly Alley, which has stones in its walls positioned to stop cattle escaping from the butchers’ quarter into Westgate Street’s upmarket merchants and Kingsholm stadium, known world-wide as the home of Gloucester Rugby, one of England’s top rugby union teams.

    Tall ships in Gloucester Docks during filming of Alice Through the Looking Glass. (A-Z of Gloucester, Amberley Publishing)

    With a history going back 1,500 years, there was plenty of scope for historic entries. You have the Cathedral, which is considered to be one of the seven most beautiful cathedrals in the world, and the only place in England outside Westminster Abbey where a king has been crowned. The New Inn, which is the most complete surviving example of a medieval courtyard inn with galleries in Britain. The Fleece Hotel, one of three major inns in Gloucester that provided lodgings for pilgrims visiting the tomb of Edward II in the cathedral.

    The choice of people to include gave plenty of options. And threw up some surprising choices: Æthelflæd, the daughter of King Alfred the Great; Sir Thomas Bell, largely unknown by most Gloucester residents but was one of the city's largest employers and one of its wealthiest citizens; Bishop Hooper, a Cistercian monk who was condemned for heresy and burned at the stake; Dick Whittington, who went to London to make his fortune, became the greatest merchant in medieval England, and was mayor of London four times; and James ‘Jemmy’ Wood who became nationally known as ‘The Gloucester Miser’, and was known as the richest commoner in His Majesty's dominions.

    Throughout the project I tried to put myself in the place of a first-time visitor to the city who didn’t have the benefit of a tourist guide. Does A-Z of Gloucester achieve this? I believe it does.

    Roger Smith's new book A-Z of Gloucester is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Aberdeen by Lorna Corall Dey

    Places-People-History

    “I’m really intrigued by this one and have been pretty distracted by it all day.”

    Castlegate. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

    The words of a reporter from Aberdeen’s Evening Express on receiving a review copy of A-Z of Aberdeen. Such a positive response from someone fielding innumerable publications straight off the press is heartening for, by its nature, the A-Z is selective and subjective and might have proven to be too personal, too close to me as the author. It appears this has not been the case.

    Aberdeen Grammer School. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

    Compiling A-Z of Aberdeen I was something of a hostage to fortune, for Aberdeen is a city with a long, long recorded history, and during the last thousand years or so many great lives were lived, and countless notable events occurred. As I explained in the introduction to the book the areas covered were picked because they were of special interest to me or stood out in the context of Aberdeen. In the end one hundred and twenty-five topics were included, many illustrated with photographs, but another volume could easily look quite different. Indeed I had to remove several entries from the original draft due to sheer lack of space.

    As a historian my natural inclination was to head back in time – trawling through out-of-print books or old newspapers for lesser-known anecdotes or detail which will add flourish to the contents. To find curiosities that will stick in the minds of readers.

    William Wallace, Guadian of Scotland. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

    I love quirky items such as the story I stumbled across of a natural feature which has disappeared from the city and was known as the Roon O (Round O.) The O was a dip in the landscape formed by boulders scouring away at land during the last ice age in what became the area of Ferryhill. Once a little church was said to have stood upon the Roon O. One night its minister and elders were indulging in a spot of illicit gambling when a great flash of lightning lit up the kirk and Auld Hornie (the Devil) was seen dancing there as church and its sinners were drawn down into hell. Perhaps pause for thought for those residents living in the vicinity of the Roon O today.

    Being a city renowned for its education Aberdeen has been a cradle of many a great intellect – people who influenced politics, science and social thinking not only in Scotland and the UK but across the world. Aberdeen has always been an outward-looking town with its mercantile tradition but also because of its two universities and their strong links with prestigious European seats of learning. Some of the greatest minds who contributed to that remarkable intellectual force of the 18th century. The Scottish Enlightenment, honed their intellects in Aberdeen – such as Thomas Reid who founded the Scottish Philosophical School of Common Sense and the innovative educationalist, George Turnbull.

    Trawlerman in the 1970s. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

    Several of the cities curiously named places and buildings get mentioned in the book such as the Monkey House and Monkey Brae, the Vennel, Patagonian Court and Froghall. There are tragedies, too, such as the high loss of life from the whaling ship, Oscar, when it sank at the mouth of the harbour. That was a natural calamity but another tragedy that was man-made was the despicable treatment of innocent women and men convicted of witchcraft in the town who were dipped into the harbour from the cran (crane) or partly strangled and burnt.

    Aberdeen being a Scottish city there are the inevitable unicorns – an ancient emblem of the nation. As a former shipbuilding port the odd zulu is included for good measure. Ships carry cargo and maritime trade in and out of Aberdeen has been controlled through the institution of Aberdeen Harbour notably the oldest surviving recorded business in the UK with records stretching back to 1136. The city is also the proud home of the oldest surviving co-operative business, Shore Porters’ Society, dating from 1498.

    Aberdeen rowies. (A-Z of Aberdeen, Amberley Publishing)

    Ten centuries after Ptolemy of Alexandria recorded a place called Devana by the River Diva (Dee) on his 2nd century globe, the community later known as Aberdeen has flourished as an international city of trade, engineering, fishing, woollens, granite, ideas. A vital servicer of the British empire, the UK centre of oil and gas production while retaining its unique character because of its relative isolation from the central belt of Scotland. This is a place where a distinctive dialect of Scots known as the Doric is spoken.  Doric has its own vocabulary and pronunciation, the result of the many peoples who lived around this part of Scotland from Scots to Scandinavians and perplexes many a visitor to the area.

    Another vital ingredient that demanded inclusion in the book is that culinary delicacy that is quintessentially Aberdeen – the rowie, roll or buttery. The origins of this half bread, half pastry are unknown although some suspect they were produced as an alternative to bread for the city’s fishermen away at sea for days at a time. David Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones (once Zowie Bowie), developed a taste for the rowie when he spent part of his childhood in Aberdeen with his city nanny, Marion Skene. Nowadays Duncan makes his own rolls which prompts the expression ‘from Zowie Bowie to Zowie Rowie.’

    This is a real dip into book packed with information but as the reporter quoted at the top commented it isn’t an easy book to put down either.

    Lorna Corall Dey's new book A-Z of Aberdeen is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Horsham by Eddy Greenfield

    A-Z of Horsham is not just another book on Horsham. It is not a bland visitor guide to the town, nor is it a gazetteer of familiar landmarks. Instead, it is a journey of discovery of the people and events behind these landmarks – sometimes shocking, sometimes amusing, but always fascinating (I hope!). I have aimed to dig beneath the surface to find the hidden, long-forgotten and lesser-known aspects of Horsham's long and diverse past. In fact, I was determined that A-Z of Horsham was not going to just re-tell the same old stories about the same old places that can be found in innumerable books you may find on the shelf. I was aiming to write a book that would be of equal interest to those who are already quite familiar with Horsham,  as well as those who know little of its past.

    St Mary the Virgin Church. (A-Z of Horsham, Amberley Publishing)

    With stories from the prehistoric Horshamosaurus to the spate of earthquakes in 2018, it was of course impossible to produce a definitive history of the town, but a peek at the contents will quickly alert the reader that they will be taken on a journey across many eras and many subjects. Some familiar town landmarks are mentioned, but the book is by no means an A-Z street atlas of what can be found where – the anecdotes about each one is perhaps not what the reader may at first expect. The Anchor Hotel is certainly an historic and prominent building, but the book actually tells the unusual tale of how it was the centre of several marathon feats of human endurance. Similarly, St. Mary's Church is not full of dates and numbers, but draws the reader to notice some of the less obvious features of the building that can be seen such as the twisted spire, grotesque corbel table carvings and even a stuffed owl!

     

    An ornate gatehouse at Christ's Hospital School. (A-Z of Horsham, Amberley Publishing)

    Christ's Hospital can be found as the entry for E (for Education) and uncovers tales of incidents during the school's construction rather than re-telling the histories of its famous scholars. O covers the Old Town Hall, but you are more likely to learn of a Victorian prank involving a horse cart and paving slabs, or how there almost came to be no town hall at all, rather than the mundane activities that took place within its walls. The former King's Head is the subject of Y, but the reader will actually be introduced to a series of cruel public auctions of seized property held there as opposed to a mere listing of patrons and landlords over the centuries.

    The most difficult thing about writing A-Z of Horsham (aside from trying to get clear photos amongst the crowds – often having to wait a considerable amount of time to quickly snap a photo, and getting many strange looks from passers-by!) was deciding what to write about. Many letters could have had multiple entries, and so it became a matter of deciding what to include in the space provided. As I acknowledge in the introductory chapter, many of the entries are worthy of an entire book in their own right, but I have attempted to give as much detail as possible on each entry. In some ways, this aided in ensuring I kept a strict focus on writing only about the more unusual aspects. I also opted to give over more space to one or two subjects that I personally found particularly interesting, intriguing or shocking and that I had not come across in any other book I have read on Horsham over the years. I hope that I managed to strike the right balance overall.

    The infamous St Leonard's Dragon in Horsham Park. (A-Z of Horsham, Amberley Publishing)

    Among the many tales readers will come across in the book include the time Billingshurst villagers took matters into their own hands by ducking an abusive husband, how the Horsham town gaoler found himself accused of witchcraft, a smuggler accused of stealing his own horse, a Persian princess buried at St. Mary's Church, infamous prisoners held at the town's gaols, why the local Royal British Legion once had a swastika pennant, how the town struggled against the plague, the corruption that led to Horsham becoming a thoroughly rotten borough, an uprising of the town's poor in the 1830s, why children were forcibly taken under armed guard to Shipley, a plethora of notable visitors and foreign royals who visited Horsham, how Horsham seems to attract abnormally large hailstones, and several tales of the supernatural and UFO sightings.

    There are tales of plague and witchcraft, the famous and the infamous. Spies, internments and prison camps feature in several chapters. Weird weather, zany buildings and paranormal encounters are contrasted with political corruption, royal visits and wartime air raid incidents. With publication coinciding with the very first Horsham Year of Culture, there are stories that will surprise, shock and amuse, I hope that A-Z of Horsham will fascinate and intrigue the reader from start to end and perhaps lead to you start exploring what lies concealed behind the visible façade of this ancient town for yourself. One thing is for sure: once you have finished reading the book, you'll never look at Horsham the same way again!

    Eddy Greenfield's new book A-Z of Horsham is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Stratford-upon-Avon by Will Adams

    I was delighted to have the chance to contribute a Stratford-upon-Avon volume to Amberley’s ‘A-Z’ series, as the town and I go back a long way.

    ‘Swans of Avon’: the river and its swans and other waterfowl are central to Stratford and the iconography of Shakespeare. (A-Z of Stratford-upon-Avon, Amberley Publishing)

    I’m a ‘Coventry kid’, having lived in that city for the first 19 years of my life, so Stratford was only just down the road. My sister and I were lucky in that our parents were theatre-lovers, and we made frequent visits to the Memorial Theatre during the 1960s. In those days the theatre had a small apron stage, and on either side of the stage projection were a couple of very short rows of diagonally positioned seats, right under the edge of the apron. Because of their unconventional position, I guess they were relatively inexpensive; whatever, my parents, who didn’t have a lot of money to throw around, booked us into these seats, which meant that we were often really in the thick of the action! You had to crane your head up to see, and only got a sort of sideways view, but in battle scenes we were likely to have a cannon or a corpse rolled in front of us, and we were also in the direct line of fire of any of the ‘spitty’ actors of the day.

    Talking of the actors, my mother, then in her late thirties, was quite stage-struck, so she and I often found ourselves part of the gaggle of autograph hunters at the stage door after the performance. One actor we saw frequently, though nameless now, was a regular extra – third spear-carrier from the right and so on – and always went home on a bicycle; he became known to us as ‘the bloke on the bike’. At the other end of the acting scale, I see from my autograph book, which I still have, that in the mid-1960s I obtained signatures from such greats a Judi Dench, Marius Goring, Tony Britton, Diana Rigg, Ian Holm, Eric Porter and David Warner, all appearing with the RSC.

    Attending other events in the town – poetry readings and the like – I see that I also have the autographs of John Betjeman and Donald Pleasence.

    The Birthplace today, heavily restored in 1858 to what it looked like in a drawing of 1769. The 1960s Shakespeare Centre can be seen beyond. (A-Z of Stratford-upon-Avon, Amberley Publishing)

    We travelled to Stratford from Coventry in Dad’s Ford ‘Pop’, and generally managed to get a street parking place in Chapel Street, not far from the theatre – very unlikely these days, I would imagine. The car had no heater, so on the journey home my sister and I in the back had our knees covered by a tartan blanket, and were frequently called upon by Dad to ‘wipe the back window’ with a duster to remove the condensation – no heated rear screen either! The journey was traditionally broken by the purchase of four bags of chips from a fish and chip shop in Warwick – a welcome treat on a cold night!

    Another memory of Stratford in those days was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1964, when a large exhibition was mounted on the meadows beside the river. As a souvenir I bought a small china tray bearing the famous portrait of the playwright together with his signature. It’s still on display at home today, some 55 years later – thanks to the application of some glue…

     

     

    The chancel and spire of Holy Trinity Church viewed from the east bank of the Avon. (A-Z of Stratford-upon-Avon, Amberley Publishing)

    In later years, having moved away from Coventry, my wife and I would often have a day out with Mum and Dad in Stratford, enjoying its variety of shops – and tearooms. Sadly, as my parents became less mobile, so these occasional excursions inevitably became less frequent, so it was a great pleasure to have the excuse to re-acquaint myself with the town by researching the book – especially the non-Shakespeare-related aspects. For example, I didn’t know that John Profumo was the town’s MP at the time of the notorious 1963 scandal. The contributions to ‘Bardolotry’ by eccentric romantic novelist Marie Corelli, eminent actor David Garrick and the Flower brewing family produced fascinating insights. I also didn’t know that Stratford had a listed telephone kiosk, and was home to the Royal Label Factory, which produced many of the cast road signs and signposts that were so familiar in the 1960s.

    My wife and I spent a very enjoyable long weekend in June 2018, at the height of that summer’s heat wave, taking photographs for the book and exploring some of the town’s less familiar corners. While the whole placed is steeped in Shakespeare, it is worth bearing in mind that he spent much of his working career in London, and essentially very little is known about him, his life and death, and his family – which is perhaps what makes him so endlessly fascinating to theatre-goers and scholars alike. What is certain (unless you subscribe to the ‘they-were-all-written-by-someone-else’ conspiracy theory school!) is that when he died in 1616 he had written some 37 plays and 150 sonnets – and he was only 52 years old. Quite an output!

    Will Adams' new book A-Z of Stratford-upon-Avon is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of The Black Country by Andrew Homer

    The Workers’ Institute from Cradley Heath, locally known as the ‘Stute’, and now preserved at the Black Country Living Museum is remarkable not just for its Arts and Crafts style architecture but also for the people and stories associated with the building. Two such people are Mary Reid Macarthur and Thomas Sitch.

    The Cradley Heath lockout

    The Cradley Heath Workers' Institute. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    The Workers’ Institute is closely associated with the history of women’s trade unionism and in particular Mary Reid Macarthur. Mary was the daughter of a Glasgow draper and after leaving school worked for her father as a bookkeeper in the family business. She had ambitions to be a journalist and would attend local meetings and write them up for the local paper. One of these meetings was the Ayr branch of the Shop Assistants’ Union. Once Mary had become exposed to the ideas of trade unionism, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. After becoming secretary of the Ayr branch of the Shop Assistants’ Union Mary was invited by Margaret Bondfield (who would later become the first woman Cabinet minister) and Gertrude Tuckwell, President of the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL), to become the Secretary of the WTUL. In 1906 Mary founded the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW) which was a general national union for women.

    Emblem of the National Federation of Women Workers. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    The emblem of the National Federation of Women Workers, which appeared on both enamel badges and marching banners, symbolised very effectively the aims of the NFWW.

    The clasped hands are a common trade union motif and here the hand on the right clearly belongs to a woman with a lace sleeve representing the aim of unity between female and male trade unionists. This aim was eventually achieved in 1921 when the NFWW merged with the National Union of General Workers. The bundle of sticks running down the centre of the emblem has its origins in the Roman ‘fasces’, a symbol of power. However, Mary Macarthur often used the analogy of the bundle of sticks to represent the strength of the union. Writing in ‘The Woman Worker’ in 1907 she stated that:

    A trade union is like a bundle of sticks. The workers are bound together and have the strength of unity. No employer can do as he likes with them. They have the power of resistance. They can ask for an advance without fear. A worker who is not in a union is like a single stick. She can easily be broken or bent to the will of her employer. She has not the power to resist a reduction in wages. If she is fined she must pay without complaint. She dare not ask for a ‘rise’. If she does, she will be told, ‘Your place is outside the gate: there are plenty to take your place.’ An employer can do without one worker. He cannot do without all his workers.

    The bundle of sticks symbol can be seen displayed on the front of the Workers’ Institute building itself. The motto ‘To fight, to struggle, to right the wrong is taken from Tennyson’s poem ‘Wages’ and represents not just the fight for fair wages but also the poet’s stance on equality for men and women. The ‘wrong’ may also be a reference to sweated labour which frequently involved women such as the ladies engaged in domestic chain making in and around the Cradley Heath area of the Black Country.

    The ‘bundle of sticks’ motif displayed on The Workers' Institute building. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    In the same year Mary Macarthur was instrumental in helping to set up the National Anti-Sweating League along with George Cadbury, J. J. Mallon and others. This organisation put pressure on the Liberal government to do something about the so-called sweated industries. These industries were typified by very low pay, poor working conditions and long hours. Four trade boards were set up to cover chain making, box making, clothing and lace making, the first of which was the Chain Board. President of the Board of Trade at the time of creation was Winston Churchill who had introduced the Trades Boards Act in 1909. In 1910 this was successful in bringing in a minimum wage of 212d an hour for chainmakers who were mainly working from home in small chain shops and were being paid on piecework rates of approximately a 114d an hour. Chainmakers working in the factories were already above this minimum wage but not so the many women chainmakers working up to 55 hours a week from home earning between 4 and 5 shillings.

    The women chainmakers worked at forges either in small chain shops behind the squalid homes in which they lived or else would share a shed with other women from ‘across the blue paved yard’ or ‘fode’. Their homes were often overcrowded, damp and lacking even basic amenities. The rent on these homes would be approximately 4 shillings a week. As well as making chain for up to fifty-five hours per week, producing approximately 5000 links, the women would be looking after babies and younger children who would generally play amongst the sparks and constant noise of hammering in the chain shops. They would be making small link chain, sometimes called ‘hand hammered’ or ‘country work’ chain which was often used in agriculture, mining and by the army. They were at the mercy of an intermediary called the ‘fogger’ who delivered the lengths of iron and then paid for the completed chain. The women had little choice but to accept what little the fogger offered in payment for their hard work.

    Women chainmakers in a Cradley Heath domestic workshop. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    A handful of Black Country chain making companies paid the minimum wage immediately, but most made use of a clause that delayed payment until 17 August 1910. An unfortunate loophole in the law allowed companies to further delay payment for six months if the workers themselves opted out of the minimum wage. This loophole was exploited by the Chain Manufacturers’ Association (CMA), some 30 companies and 150 non-CMA middlemen. The employers came up with a complex worded document which the women were coerced into signing. Many could not read or write and simply did not comprehend what they were doing. Others who refused were threatened with no more work. In the meantime, companies stockpiled chain against the time they could no longer avoid paying the minimum wage. One of the intentions of this was to directly challenge the Trades Boards Act and the authority of the Chain Board to impose a minimum wage.

    The new rate was due to be paid from August 17 but in the event few employers complied with the Chain Board minimum wage. The situation escalated quickly. A meeting of 400 women at Grainger’s Lane School on 21 August effectively marked the start of what was to be a nearly ten-week lockout when they all agreed not to sign the opting out document. Things came to head on the 23 August 1910 when the NFWW insisted through a new agreement that the minimum wage should be paid straight away. This resulted in the chain making companies withdrawing raw materials and effectively putting the women out of work. Strike was now inevitable. The strike was called a lockout but it should be noted that as the women were working from home they were not actually locked out of anywhere. The women chainmakers were not just fighting for the minimum wage either as Mary Macarthur was well aware. The authority of the Trade Boards to address the plight of workers in the sweated industries was also now to be tested on a national stage.

    Mary Macarthur addressing the crowd at Cradley Heath in 1910. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    It was an incredibly brave thing for these women to down tools and go on strike. Although they didn’t earn very much the money was still essential to help put food on the table for their families. Secondly, having put down their hammers there was every chance they would never work again. The one thing that made it possible for so many to down tools, around 800 at the height of the strike, was the provision of a strike fund, the success of which was mainly down to the phenomenal publicity campaign orchestrated by Mary Macarthur. Whilst Mary concentrated mainly on national campaigning equally enthusiastic local organisation was provided by Julia Varley of the NFWW, Thomas Sitch who was General Secretary of the Chainmakers’ and Strikers’ Association and his son Charles Sitch who was the secretary of the hand-hammered chain branch of the NFWW.

    The publicity campaign mounted by Mary Macarthur was truly remarkable. She made use of all the available media at the time to publicise the plight of the women chainmakers. She had a group of the oldest lady chainmakers photographed with some of them wearing chains around their necks. The oldest was Patience Round who was 79 in 1910 and still a full time chainmaker who incredibly lived to be 103. Patience liked to talk about her life and her story appeared in the newspapers of the day. Pictures such as these appeared in the press including The Times together with headlines such as ‘Fetters of Fate’ and ‘Women Slaves of the Forge’. This was a clever move to deliberately make a connection between these women and slavery. However, this was not the first time such a connection had been made. Writing in 1897, Robert Sherard described the appalling conditions the sweated chainmakers of Cradley Heath endured in his book, The White Slaves of England.

    It was in 1910 that French filmmaker Charles Pathé came to England to introduce his Pathé Newsreel service to British cinema audiences. Mary convinced him to come and film a march in Cradley Heath. Not only that, the film included the conditions the women were working and living in. Although silent the manager of Pathé estimated that it could have been seen by up to 10 million people throughout the country. Mary undertook a national lecture tour to expose the chain making companies not paying the minimum wage as supporters of sweated labour. Locally there were regular rallies, marches and meetings to keep the impetus of the strike going.

    Mary Reid Macarthur. (Author's collection, A-Z of The Black Country, Amberley Publishing)

    The result of all these publicity efforts was that money poured in to the strike fund. There were collections on street corners and in factories. Poorer people contributed pennies and halfpennies and even the aristocracy and leading business families got involved. Amongst many others, the Countess of Warwick sent £25 with the promise of more if needed and Arthur Chaimberlain, of the influential Birmingham based Chamberlain family, contributed 50 guineas. Also in Birmingham, George Cadbury of the Bournville Quaker Cadbury family, made regular contributions of £10 on a weekly basis. Over the ten weeks of the strike it was hoped to raise £1000. In the event, nearly £4000 was raised, a very considerable amount of.

    A number of factors contributed to ending the strike in the women’s favour. The government, who of course had brought in the minimum wage through the Chain Board, agreed not to place any more contracts for chain with companies not paying the minimum wage. This was a serious issue for the CMA as such contracts, particularly for the army and navy, could be very lucrative. On the 2 September CMA member companies added their names to a list maintained by the Chain Board. This was known as the ‘White List’ and contained the names of companies paying the legal minimum wage. This was the turning point and gradually the names on the White List increased until the strike was finally over on the 22 October after the last remaining company had signed. The chain making women of Cradley Heath had won their minimum wage of 212d per hour, thanks mainly to Mary Macarthur and her unwavering belief in the justice of the cause.

    The strike fund had nearly £1500 pounds left in it when the strike ended. Mary Macarthur could have put that money in NFWW coffers but she didn’t. Instead, Mary proposed that the money be used for the construction of a Workers’ Institute. Not just for chainmakers but for all workers and families of Cradley Heath. It was to be both ‘a centre of social and industrial activity in the district’. Originally built on some wasteland where strike meetings had taken place it is now preserved at the Black Country Living Museum. It was opened in Cradley Heath by the Countess of Dudley on June 10, 1912. A lasting monument to the bravery of the chainmaking women who downed their hammers in 1910 and to Mary Reid Macarthur, their charismatic leader.

    Andrew Homer's new book A-Z of The Black Country is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Bath by Peter Kilby

    I first came to Bath in June of 1966 with my architectural students from the Southampton of College of Art to study first-hand the beauty of this City when, unlike today, all museums were entry free. At midday we had packed lunches on the lawns of Victoria Park in front of John Wood the Younger’s iconic Royal Crescent. At this time the Royal Charter of 1966 was granted for the Bath University of Technology; and work had just finished on the first teaching block, part of what was to become the University of Bath, built on 106 acres of land at Claverton Down. The first degree ceremonies took place in the Bath Assembly Rooms.

    Pedestrianised Abbey Church Yard. (A-Z of Bath, Amberley Publishing)

    The ‘A-Z of Bath’ is not a Gazetteer but an overview of interesting places, events and people who have contributed to its rich history. This book therefore is written by an outsider looking in and is a personal perspective seen against a background of history, with subjects in alphabetical order, although the chronology of events is set down in the introduction.

    The name of Jane Austen is inextricably linked with the area following the posthumous publication of her novel ‘Northanger Abbey’ in 1818, a year after her death; which gave a mirror image of the ‘Polite Society’ of Georgian Bath. Ralph Allen, a onetime postmaster of Bath, owned and developed quarries at Combe Down producing the famous honey coloured Bath Stone and granted stone ‘gratis’ for the construction of the Bath Mineral Water Hospital, designed by John Wood the Elder.

    Abbey Church Yard is the epicentre of historic Bath whereas the name suggests a medieval Bath Abbey. The Roman Baths stand nearby from where the alleged healing ‘magical waters’ emerge. The legendary King Bladud had found that warm springs emerging here had cured him of leprosy and a small statue of him is seen on the walls of the King’s Bath as viewed from the Pump Room.

    Aquae Sulis (the Waters of Sulis). (A-Z of Bath, Amberley Publishing)

    Thomas Baldwin rose from humble beginnings to hold the post of City Architect in Bath and was responsible for much of the Georgian architecture. Together with John Wood the Elder and his son John Wood the Younger, they would change the face of Bath forever. The Royal Circus was designed by John Wood the Elder, (and carried out by his son) and he was particularly famous for producing his ‘Map of Bath’ setting out plans for the redevelopment. Both members of the Wood family were not popular with the establishment and had endless opposition to their ground-breaking proposals and ideas. In summary, the Woods developed a scheme of joining five storey terrace houses, in such a way as to achieve an overall palatial effect, which otherwise would not have been individually affordable.

    The coming of the Great Western Railway, from Bristol and onward to London, designed by the brilliant engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel opened opportunities for ordinary people to travel elsewhere in this country and beyond, and was evidence of the influence of the ‘Industrial Revolution’ of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is recorded that Brunel personally surveyed the route of the railway from Bristol to Bath, travelling by boat on the River Avon accompanied by his solicitor, such was his attention to detail; matched by his confidence when he placed a wager of £1000 that he would be able to travel from Bristol to London in two hours on the new railway.

    John Wood the Elder’s map of 1735, which encapsulates his vision for the future development of Bath. (Reproduced courtesy of Bath Record Office, A-Z of Bath, Amberley Publishing)

    The Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel, in the iconic Paragon, were both designed by Thomas Warr Attwood (who was tragically killed later in a building site accident). The Chapel broke the mould of Georgian design and was presented in the neo gothic style for a Methodist Congregation. According to the listing description it was designed ‘to protect residents and visitors from the evils of Bath’s society’.

    Lansdown Crescent, another famous housing scheme, was made famous by its one-time resident the infamous William Beckford. He purchased both numbers 19 and 20 (part of a 20 house development) and in addition a further house in the next road which he interconnected with a bridge. He also built a tower in his garden nearby called Beckford’s Tower, as a retreat and treasury for his immensely valuable art collection, rescued from the forced sale of Fonthill, his former residence, described by Pevsner as ‘the most prodigious romantic folly in England’.

    The name ‘Richard Beau Nash’ epitomises the Georgian Polite Society. As Master of Ceremonies in the Assembly Rooms, he formulated a set of rules as a prerequisite of entry into the social elite and administered by an interview in the Pump Room of the Roman Baths.

    The Pulteney Bridge and Weir from Parade Gardens. (A-Z of Bath, Amberley Publishing)

    The Pulteney Bridge, probably the most famous building in Bath including a parade of shops on both sides, which interconnects central Bath with Bathwick on the other side of the River Avon. It was here that immensely rich Pulteney Family tried unsuccessfully to build a new town, which began and never came to fruition. A group of financiers called the ‘Pulteney Association’ did however purchase land, in NY State, USA after the American War of Independence, where a new town called ‘Bath’ was built.

    The medieval Vertue Brothers named Robert and William conceived and made the intricate fan vaulting to the Chancel of the present Abbey, comprising interlocking inverted cones, the crowning feature of today’s Parish Church. Without doubt these two men represent the pinnacle of design and craftsmanship in stone of the entire middle ages and have never been surpassed in absolute excellence.

    Richard I granted Charter No1 to the merchants and tradesmen of Bath giving the right to trade unimpeded, which was a turning point in the towns history, when trade became formalised and the Guildhall recognised as an instrument of local government. The economies of both Bath and its Abbey flourished afterwards in particular with the Wool Trade, immortalised by Chaucer’s Wife of Bath Tale in the’ Canterbury Tales’.

    Today Bath Abbey is undergoing significant changes under its ‘Footprint Project’ and we must wait and see the outcome.

    Peter Kilby's new book A-Z of Bath is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Derby by Maxwell Craven

    Derby, Lowell & Joseph Wright

    Derby has a long-established but little known connection with the American mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, stemming from the Derby family of Francis Boott. He was a market gardener, florist and seedsman with premises in Derby Market Place and a house in Queen Street. He died suddenly in middle life leaving seven children, amongst whom was Kirk Boott (1756-1817). In January 1783, the artist Joseph Wright’s elder brother John decided to accompany his life-long friend Kirk Boott to America too seek their fortune. They proceeded to London, where they appeared to have enjoyed two months enjoying the high life, before Boott took a ship to Boston, but leaving Wright behind. He arrived on 13th June 1783 and shortly afterwards married Mary Love, daughter of the Captain of the ship Rosamund on which he had crossed the Atlantic.

    Why John Wright stayed behind is something of a mystery, but the explanation probably lies in those two months socialising in London. It would now seem that he had been offered a job, and indeed, he became a banker, rising to a partnership in the concern of Messrs. Smith, Wright and Gray, Lombard Street. It is well known that he stayed in touch with Boott, for the latter named his eldest son John Wright Boott (born 1788) after him. Like the Derby Lunar Society luminary John Whitehurst FRS, whom he undoubtedly knew well, John Wright later corresponded with Benjamin Franklin. Indeed, Whitehurst may have arranged an introduction when Wright decided to remain in London. It is possible too that he was able to provide the finance for his friend Boott.

    Joseph Wright: The Indian Widow… (1785). (c. Derby Museums Trust)

    According to Brad Parker, Kirk sent enthusiastic letters back to John Wright and his sister, Mrs. Horrocks, from the time of his arrival, most of which appear to be lost but their contents is to some extent reflected in his journal. It also seems likely that he also sent artefacts in exchange for saleable goods. That some of the earliest letters may have well included the material that inspired Joseph Wright to paint The Indian Widow, completed by 1785, carries more conviction than the suggestions floated by Benedict Nicolson, and concur with his asseveration that some of the detail of the picture – tomahawk, knife, head-dress – may have been painted from life.

    In Boston, Boott established an import/export business, which included introducing the US elite to Derby Porcelain, compass dials (of which the latter could well have been products of Whitehurst’s Derby works) and many other mainly local products. He was naturalized a US citizen in November 1787 becoming very wealthy, leaving at his death in 1817 five sons and four daughters

     The most important outcome of this migration lay in the career of Boott’s third son, Kirk (1790-1837). Whilst the eldest son initially returned to London to run that end of the family business, Kirk II  was sent to England to be educated, going to school in Ashbourne and then Rugby and making numerous visits to family in Derby. After returning to study for three years at Harvard, he went back to Britain to join the army, seeing action in the Peninsula campaign 1812-1814 before getting a peacetime posting at Sheffield Garrison as a Captain in the 85th Regiment.

    He visited Derby frequently at this time, staying at St. Helen’s House with William Strutt, the Wrights, and his aunt, Mrs. John Horrocks. In 1818 he married Anne, a daughter of Alderman Dr. Thomas Haden, physician and protégé of Erasmus Darwin, who had been mayor of Derby in 1811 and 1819. Dr. Haden had been painted by Joseph Wright (as Edwin) when a child (and, as an adult, by Reinagle in 1813), and had been the junior partner and successor of Joseph’s second brother Richard in his medical practice in St. Alkmund’s Church Yard. Kirk Boott himself visited the local textile mills in 1817–18 as the guest of their co-proprietor, Strutt. Once married, however, he resigned his commission and returned to America. Anne and her sister Sarah Haden had been painted as children in 1796 by Joseph Wright, but Mary, Mrs. Francis Boott (née Tunaley of Derby, wife of Kirk Boott II’s elder brother) later had it copied by Wright’s friend John Holland of Ford in 1803 and from that had an engraving made. In 1954 the Ford copy was with Mrs. Robert Haydock of Dedham, Mass. a descendant and her kinsman, David Richardson of Charles River Mass., apparently owned the original.

    From 1821 Boott was co-founder with Francis Cabot Lowell, Nathan Appleton and Patrick T. Jackson of a new settlement at East Chelmsford, of the confluence of the Merrimack and Pawtucket rivers in Massa­chusetts. This was to be a cotton-spinning city, and Boott’s role was to set it up and run it. He had hoped to call it Derby, but the sudden death of Lowell led to its being given his name instead. Lowell himself had been the scion of a patrician family of Boston merchants and he had also visited Britain and originated the idea of a model textile industry in New England to rival Samuel Slater’s Pawtucket Mills, set up a little before using ideas pirated from the Strutts at Belper. Boott, on the other hand, had the support of the Strutts in his enterprise, which was an important difference.

    Kirk Boott of Lowell, unknown artist. (Collections of the Lowell Historical Society, A-Z of Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1824, Boott appointed Rev Theodore Edson as incumbent of his new settlement and personally designed St Anne’s Church, which he based on St. Michael’s, Derby, in which he had been married, whereas the dedication was in honour of his wife. It will come as no surprise that the Edgeworths (offspring and sister of the Lunar Society maverick Irish landowner Richard Lovel Edgeworth, who had extensive American property) kept William Strutt fully informed of Boott’s enter­prise, which appear to have continued to have Strutt’s blessing.

    Like Strutt, too, Boott was a competent architect, designing not only the church but workers’ housing, mills and municipal buildings, some of which survive. In the end, the City of Lowell was a great success.

    Francis, a son of the Boott’s eldest brother, who had returned to London, later married Kirk Boott’s daughter, Eliza Haden Boott, and their daughter Mary married her English cousin Charles Sydenham Haden, thus squaring the Derby circle yet again. One of the entrepreneurs attracted to the new city by Boott was George Washington Whistler, who set up a works to construct railway locomotives there in 1832. His son was the eminient London based impressionist painter James Abbott McNeil Whistler, later brother-in-law – and eventually, as with most of his friends, sworn enemy – of Boott’s nephew Sir Francis Seymour Haden, etcher and eminent surgeon. Boott himself was killed in a street accident in 1837, but his legacy – and posterity – continued.

    Exactly how much of Strutt’s own idealism and ingenuity went into Lowell and its extensive mills it is impossible to say, but the Derby intellectual revolution of the 18th century was a fundamental inspi­ration at Lowell and if it should prove to have been international in its consequences no one should be surprised. After all, had not Bostonian Benjamin Franklin been a friend of Darwin’s, a frequent guest of Whitehurst’s and eminence grise of the Lunar Society?

    Whilst Kirk Boott the elder imported and sold the products of William Duesbury’s Derby China factory, the two families seem to have remained in touch, for much later the under-rated William Duesbury III (invariably portrayed as a talentless ne’er-do-well by China enthusiasts) sold his interest in the china works in 1815 in order to set up a white paint factory at Bonsall using a new process of his own devising, omitting the toxic lead element. Indeed, Duesbury was a formidably talented chemist, but ahead of his time by about 150 years. The business at Bonsall failed, after which he went to America, following in the footsteps of his scallywag of an uncle, James Duesbury. Having known Boott from his Derby days, he settled in Lowell almost from its foundation as an industrial chemist working on dyes for the fabrics being manufactured there. He was a convinced Universalist also like Boott and William Strutt a competent architect, designing for his sect a fine chapel in Shattuck Street, Lowell. Once ensconced in the Massachusetts city he also married again – perhaps bigamously, for we do not know the fate of his first family in Derby. He duly fathered more children, before, tragically, doing away with himself for reasons that remain obscure, on 12 December 1845. Apparently, he was by no means the last migrant from Derby to settle at Lowell, the city’s textile mills attracting a significant proportion of their workforce from Derby and its region.

    Needless to say, this and many other well-known and not-so well-known aspects of Derby’s rich heritage are to be found in the pages of An A to Z of Derby.

    Maxwell Craven's new book A-Z of Derby is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Preston by Keith Johnson

    An Alphabetical Adventure

    The Preston curlers getting welcome practice in 1933. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Perhaps, like myself, you are fascinated with the history of your town or city that has been shaped by generations of local folk with their vision for the future, or been affected by events nationwide or global. I was delighted when Amberley asked me to compile this A-Z of Preston enabling me to bring together significant, or simply fascinating, features of Preston's past.

    This A-Z guide of Preston, Lancashire, is all about its people, places and past times. It is an opportunity to admire the progress from the days of poverty and pestilence to the city of today. If you glimpse the Index you will soon observe it is not a definitive guide to Preston in an alphabetical or content sense, but a journey from the deep past to the present day, in the place known as 'Proud Preston'.

    The Costume Ball at the Corn Exchange, 1862. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    Of course, A could have been for Arkwright or Avenham Park but it is not, although they both get a mention in the script. Likewise, C could have been for the cotton woven into Preston's history, instead that cherished industry is recalled within the letter L and the days of cotton lords, with C in my A-Z simply reserved for curling. Nor is F for Finney because Sir Tom is listed with the Knights, instead F is for the Fazackerleys who were a law unto themselves. Neither is H for Harris, but instead it is for Horology and the keeping of time in our city. R could have been for religion considering the number of churches, but instead I opted for our railways. Nor is Z for the Zoological Gardens that once graced Farringdon Park, but for the Zebra crossings we use every day.

     

     

     

    The clock of St Ignatius. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    This book is not confined to the traditional constraints of an A-Z merely listing everything and everybody from a place or time. It is an attempt to put together various historical elements, tales and anecdotes, being ever aware that many events and tales have been chronicled in my previous books, along with those books published by other local authors whom I much admire. In truth, it is a collection of features that I found fascinating to discover and I hope will entertain you.

    For each letter of the alphabet there were generally many options, but I hope you find the themes chosen as interesting, quirky, or indeed, as compelling as I did. Some of the folk are almost forgotten now, but their endeavours and adventures are well worth recalling. In many cases their achievements have been amazing and enthralling, contributing much to history's rich tapestry.

    There are people who left town to seek fame and fortune, and others who lingered or dwelt here a while and left a large footprint on our streets. Adventurers, historians, illustrators, entrepreneurs, knights, lords, politicians, preachers, lawyers, law makers and law breakers all left their mark and deserve a look into their lives. The footballer, the baseball player, the pugilist and the cyclist all added to the sporting splendour of the town that is now a city.  Many of the people recalled brought forth excitement, energy and enthusiasm and shrugged off disillusion, despair and dread.

     

    George Sharples - a pioneer in Preston. (A-Z of Preston, Amberley Publishing)

    There are features about famine and feast, telegrams and telephones, umbrellas and the weather, steam trains and railway tracks, electioneering and rioting, buildings and their clocks, not forgetting those temperance pioneers dubbed the 'Seven Men of Preston' who earned the admiration of many.

    Yes, there are dancing days and nights recalled, trips to the seaside and beyond, a tale of the gold rush days, cinemas and X rated offerings, the days when royalty thought us worthy of a visit to town and the times when novelist Charles Dickens came to town.

    To plot this A-Z path through Preston's history I have taken many twists and turns and I hope you feel that I had a worthwhile and nostalgic journey that is an alphabetic adventure. This historical reflection takes us through centuries of fascination, and loiters a while in the decades of the recent past. Hopefully, the book provides a few more of the missing pieces of the jigsaw of Preston life and makes the picture a little clearly. It is apparent that the day to day achievements of our ancestors left a rich legacy and, after all, we should remember that what we create today will be history tomorrow.

    Keith Johnson's new book A-Z of Preston is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Jarrow by Paul Perry

    In the Saxon word Gyrwe, long since corrupted into Jarrow, there is considerable historical as well as etymological significance. A translation loosely means marsh or fen, from which we may discern that Jarrow took its name from what we know as the 'slake', a body of water. It is probable this marshland covered a far larger area than it has done in more recent years. Twice it was used as a haven by the Romans who anchored their vessels at the mouth of the River Don, and by King Egfrid who sheltered the whole of his fleet, and afterwards the Viking longboats from two notorious invasions. The local history from these times is fragmentary, but what we do know is, the River Don, in ancient times was not the little waterway we know today, being large enough to accommodate the vessels of invaders. Jarrow also claims the honour of having been a former Roman station and village. This we can ascertain from the Roman inscriptions found during the rebuilding of the church in 1783, and the discovery of two square pavements of Roman stones. The station, allegedly built by Agricola who erected forts from the mouth of the Tyne to the Solway Firth in AD81. In AD681 King Egfrid gave to Abbott Benedict Biscop, a grant of land, upon which to build a monastery at Jarrow, and this was to commence the history of our town.

    Dedication stone at St Paul's Church. (A-Z of Jarrow, Amberley Publishing)

    The names carved on the stone dedicated to St Paul's church in AD685 and the king and priest whose names are recorded among them have been partially obliterated, over thirteen centuries. The words themselves may still be read on the stone located above the west arch of the tower. Much of the primitive structure of the church still survives, including the oldest example of stained glass in Europe, and is entitled to hold the honour of being one of the oldest buildings in the country. At the time of the churches' dedication when it, together with the monastery rose from the flat marshland, the winding River Don, then a crystal stream rippling past and opening into the swelling Tyne, must have been a matchless scene of tranquil solitude. Meanwhile growing up in the Abbey of St Peter at Wearmouth there was a child called Bede who had been devoted to the service of the Lord and was called by Him to greater things. Bede commenced his education at St Peter's and by the age of twelve was installed with the brothers at the monastery at Jarrow. The child whose whole life was spent within the cloisters and church at Jarrow, grew up to be a man of great knowledge, humility and piety, saint, scholar and a man of science. In his cell was the lamp of English learning which attracted scholars from all parts of England and Europe. Bede's own works are voluminous and varied, mastering all that was known to man. The forty five works he left behind, apart from the various theological pieces included music, philosophy, grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic and medicine. He was a whole encyclopaedia of knowledge. He was a skilled musician, he wrote and spoke Latin, and possessed the rare accomplishments of Greek and Hebrew, and an advocate of the English tongue, then in its infancy. He was the first English historian and his ' Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation' rapidly spread his reputation throughout Christian Europe.

    Bede's Well at Monkton. (A-Z of Jarrow, Amberley Publishing)

    From this little insignificant monastery on the edge of Christian civilisation, Bede dominated the intellectual brains of Europe for four centuries. His final work, the translation into English 'The Gospel of St John'. This was carried out under painful suffering and ailing health. This great man who toiled for the benefit of the English nation and his fellow brethren died from asthma on 26 May AD735, aged 62. He was buried in a porch at the church he cherished so dearly. Pilgrims flocked from all parts of England and Europe to pay homage at the tomb of the 'Father of English Learning'. Today, Bede's relics remain at Durham cathedral in a sepulchre befitting a man of such great wisdom and knowledge, who gained respect throughout the literary world.

    The names of the abbots of Jarrow, or Donmouth as it was often referred to, are recorded in the book, 'Lives of the Abbots of Jarrow', written after the monastery was plundered in Danish invasions, when the twin monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow were looted, Jarrow so severely it had to be abandoned and lay desolate for some 150 years. The Saxon Chronicle said of the invasions, the heathens ravaged amongst the Northumbrians and pillaged Ecgferths monastery at Donmouth, one of their leaders was slain, and some of their vessels wrecked by a great storm, resulting in severe loss of life. In the eleventh century, the Jarrow monastery was occupied by just a few brothers, when three monks from Durham, having fled from an army of William the Conqueror, sought shelter for themselves and the body of St Cuthbert. Aldwine, Ealfwin and Kinfrid were sent by William Walcher, Bishop of Durham in 1075, to restore the monastery but this was unsuccessful. As the centuries passed, further attempts were made to restore the crumbling cloisters, but by this time had suffered irreparable damage. Its Roman and Saxon ruins have lain undisturbed for centuries.

    Paul Perry's new book A-Z of Jarrow is available for purchase now.

Items 1 to 10 of 12 total

Page:
  1. 1
  2. 2