Current Meeting Reports - 2018
Mr. Roland Machin "Tom Coleman - Railway Engineer" - 16th April 2018
The Annual General Meeting - 19th March 2018
Mr. Chris Barber "The Family That Created Barber's Picture Houses" - 19th February 2018
Dr. Andrew Fear "Blood and Sand: Gladiators in the Roman Empire" - 15th January 2018
Tom Coleman - Railway Engineer - 16th April 2018
The latest meeting of the Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society of 2018 was held at 7 p.m. on the 16th April in Biddulph Library when Mr. Roland Machin, the Society’s Chairman, gave a talk entitled “Tom Coleman - Railway Engineer”.
Mr. Machin began by apologising for the absence of Mr. Paul Walton who due to unforeseen circumstances was unable to give his talk on “The Gardening Year” and that the talk will be re-arranged hopefully in June of this year. He began his talk on Tom Coleman by showing a short film “The Naming of the ‘City of Stoke-on-Trent’ by Arthur Rogers”. It features the locomotive No. 6254 at Stoke-on-Trent station on Thursday the 19th of September 1946.
Above: A still picture from the Staffordshire Archive Film showing the Lord Mayor (Percy Williams) unveiling the name plaque and later giving the engine driver a commemorative cup and saucer.
This was one of the locomotives that Mr. Tom F. Coleman (28th August 1885 - 27th May 1958) who lived at Endon in North Staffordshire helped to design. Tom Coleman was born in Horton, Gloucestershire where his father Tom (Haywood) Coleman was a school master and his mother was Helena Frances Alberta Coleman, née Merrett. The family also lived at Shere in Surrey the 1891 census records but in 1901 they are living at ‘Beauville’, Orford Road, Endon. Tom Coleman married Harriet Ethel Scarratt on the 2nd of January 1911 and they had two children Helena Marion Coleman born on the 2nd of May 1911 and Reginald George Merrett Coleman who was born on the 13th of May 1913. Tom Coleman’s wife, Harriet, died in 1936 three years before her daughter married George A. Lemon (son of F. A. Lemon) in 1939. His son Reginald died at Bradford only aged 34 years. Tom himself lived for ten more years and died in Bridgnorth in Shropshire aged 72.
Before beginning his illustrious career as a railway engineer Tom Coleman was a football player who first appeared for Port Vale reserves in the 1906-1907 season, before moving to Hanley Swifts and Endon. He re-joined Port Vale in summer of 1908 and made his first team debut at right-back in a 5-0 home defeat by Hanley Swifts in a North Staffordshire & District League match on 1st September 1908. He was a regular in the team in the next three campaigns and scored in a 3-2 win against Chillington Rangers in the final of the Staffordshire Junior Cup on 5 March 1910, but was released in the summer of 1911. He then moved on to Leek United, Hanley Swifts and Audley.
Right: Photograph of Tom Coleman at his desk.
Tom Coleman served his engineering apprenticeship at the Kerr Stuart California works in Stoke on Trent from 1899. The company were Light Railway Engineers who manufactured locomotives, wagons, points & crossings, turntables, & all railway requirements. Other notable employees, who were all Premium Apprentices, were: R. J. Mitchell, later to design the Supermarine Spitfire aircraft; L. T. C. Rolt, later to be an author and canal/railway preservation pioneer; and, T. F. Coleman, later Chief Locomotive Draftsman of the London Midland & Scottish Railway during the 1930s.
Tom Coleman was employed as draughtsman at the North Staffordshire Railway works at Stoke-on-Trent from 1905. He moved to Horwich near Bolton when the Stoke works were closed in 1926. In 1933 he was at Crewe as a Chief Draughtsman and was at the Derby works in 1935 working for the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS). He retired in 1949 when working for British Railways.
Above: One of hundreds, if not thousands, of engineering drawings produced by Tom Coleman for the various firms that he worked for in his long career as a railway locomotive draughtsman.
His influence on LMS locomotive design can be seen in 1936. The Princess Royal class had provided the LMS with powerful locomotives for the main line between London Euston and Glasgow Central, however, the board of directors were persuaded to approve the introduction of a new non-stop service between those cities, designated the Coronation Scot. Initially, the Chief Mechanical Engineer, William Stanier (27 May 1876 – 27 September 1965), planned to build five more Princess Royals, but the Chief Technical Assistant and Chief Draughtsman at the LMS Derby Works, Tom Coleman, argued that it would be preferable to design a new class of locomotive that was more powerful, more reliable and easier to maintain. Stanier was convinced and the drawing office commenced designing the new class. When Stanier was called on to perform an assignment in India, Coleman became responsible for most of the detailed design in his absence.
Ernest Stewart Cox, another important railway man at the time, said of Tom Coleman’s transfer to Derby in 1936: “A man of gargoyle like features, his blunt and craggy manner made short work of the remaining independence of Crewe, Derby and Horwich, and henceforth design knew its master who wielded undisputed sway in the former temples of disharmony”. Sir William Arthur Stanier FRS, also wrote in 1963 that he “would not have succeeded on the LMS without Coleman”.
Mr. Machin’s contention was that Coleman, like Mitchell, were uniquely gifted and talented as a result of their training, possessing similar innate abilities to visualize and develop complex engineering solutions that were both functional and aesthetically correct.
Below is a painting by John Austin GRA of the Duchess Class 4-6-2 46254 ‘City of Stoke-on-Trent’ which is a fitting tribute to a design and drawing genius.
The next meeting of the Society will be on Monday the 21st of May 2018 at 7 p.m. in Biddulph Library when Catherine Burgass will give a talk entitled “Reading the Bastille – The Workhouse at Chell”.
Annual General Meeting - 19th March 2018
The Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society (BDGHS) AGM was held on Monday the 19th of March at 7 p.m. in Biddulph Library. Mr. Roland Machin welcomed the members to the Annual General Meeting and started the evening by presenting the Chairman’s report.
Mr. Machin began by welcoming the members of the Society who had come out on such a cold night to pay their annual subscriptions, they and the hard work of the members of the Society’s committee had made the previous year a very interesting and successful one. Mr. Machin then reminded the members of the well-attended circular town walk which concluded the last season of talks when Elaine Heathcote described the High Street; before passing the baton to Michael Turnock who described Duke of York Square and the Mills of Station Road; and, Mr. Machin walked the group up the Biddulph Valley Railway; before returning to The Bradley Green for refreshments. The speakers for this season began in September with Michael Salt, an artist from Biddulph. October’s meeting was an intriguing insight into the life of Millicent Duchess of Sutherland by Mr. Levision Wood Senior. Mr. Bill Ridgway returned in November with a detailed account of the History of Biddulph Moor Church. In December Mr. Frank Harris talked about the team who have organised the Biddulph Festival for more than twenty years. Dr. Andy Fear, Professor of Classics at Manchester University gave a memorable talk in January on the Gladiators of the Roman Empire. February’s talk by Mr. Chris Barber was a biographical account of his forbears who were pioneers of cinematography locally.
The Secretary then outlined the busy year of changes to the website and new publications. In the last twelve months all the pages of the website have been updated with a consistent colour scheme and new menus. The First World War pages have a new font and features, for example, a table to show the Fallen in alphabetical order as the life stories are in chronological order. Two new sections have been added – firstly, Margaret Brodie and Joseph Varley Roberts. Margaret was the daughter of David Brodie the vicar of Biddulph and includes her writings and photographs of journeys to Florence, Zermatt and Eygpt in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Secondly, the Parish Registers of St. Lawrence’s Church from 1813 -1835 have been added. This was the work of a number of members of the Society led by Elaine Heathcote in 2003. This is a searchable database by surname of everyone baptised, married or buried between 1813 and 1935 at St. Lawrence’s Church, Biddulph.
This leads to new books printed in the year: in May 2017 a new 116 page reprint of the Parish Registers 1813 – 1836 was produced. May was a busy month as both Michael Turnock’s Duke of York Square and Phillip Wheeler’s A Biography of Peter Biddulph were also published.
In October Michael Turnock’s Always Doing His Duty was updated and republished in time for the centenary celebrations surrounding the death of John Harold Rhodes VC. In December, Transaction No 12 Ada - Love at Jerusalem, the work of Mr Harry Page’s daughter Christine Jesson was published. Christine added her father’s notes to a book by Henry Francis Gordon which is partly based in Middulph and Mypersley. (Obviously disguised names for Biddulph and Knypersley)
On Saturday the 24th of March there weill be a Book Launch when a book about Biddulph Grange Gardens – based on articles in the Garden’s Chronicle’ loaned to the Society by Mr. Richard Dean will be on sale. Then on the 7th of April Gordon and Pam Lomas will be in Biddulph Library in the morning to sign copies of their updated book on Cowlishaw Walker.
Since last October the monthly book sales in the Library on Saturday mornings have been popular and 219 of the Society’s books have been sold. This excludes copies of books sold directly by Michael Turnock who has a hidden talent for selling, and those sold by our book man Mike Dawson.
The Treasurers report was not ready for circulation by the Treasurer, Kath Walton, but it does confirm that the society was in good health and the Treasurer announced that there were to be no changes in the charge for non-members at £2 per meeting and that membership would remain at £5 annually. The sale of publications has increased the Society’s funds substantially in the last twelve months.
The Archivist, Elaine Heathcote, had to announce that the Border History Society had closed and the remaining funds had been given to the friends of the Chester and Stok-on-Trent Archives. Elaine also outlined a number of new books and a collection of local photographs which have been donated to the Society.
The current members of the Committee are Derek Wheelhouse, Roland Machin, David Outhwaite, Kath Walton, Elaine Heathcote, Mike Turncock, Madelaine Lovatt, Brian Lear and Gerald Worland. Mr. Machin announced that they had all expressed their willingness to continue as committee members.
The Election of Officers of the Society followed with Derek Wheelhouse remaining as the Honorary President. Mr. Machin sought and received a proposer and seconder for: Chair Roland Machin, Secretary David Outhwaite and Treasurer Kath Walton and they were duly re-elected.
Peter Durnall then showed his recent film which is a guided tour of James Brindley’s Mill at Leek. The film was an excellent guide to this mid eighteenth-century working corn mill, the work of James Brindley, millwright and canal engineer renowned as the pioneer of the canal system in Great Britain. Dating from 1752 the mill has been restored from a derelict state by the Brindley Mill Preservation Trust and is the only known corn mill attributable as the work of James Brindley. The mill building houses a museum which illustrates the life and work of James Brindley and the history of milling, while preserving the atmosphere of a working corn mill. The film explained the milling process; featured all the sights and sounds of a moving waterwheel powering machinery and millstones; the genius of the millwright; and, the skills of the miller in this fascinating building.
This year the mill hopes to open each Sunday and Bank Holiday from Easter to the end of September from 2p.m. and closes at 5p.m. (last admission 4.30pm). In July and August it will be open on Saturdays and Wednesdays during the school summer holidays. You can find more information on the website http://www.brindleysmill.co.uk/
There are some special events this season:
- National Mills Weekend: May 12th and 13th. Free admission both days.
- Children’s Day: 15th August. Activities for children at the mill. Free admission for children when accompanied by a paying adult.
- Heritage Open Days: 13th to 16th September. Free admission each day.
After a break for tea Mr. Machin showed some more of Mr. George Plant’s photographs, the slides were identified and led to a lot of discussion. Other members visited Mike Dawson who had his customary book stall and a table of displays from the archive with Elaine Heathcote and John Sherrat including maps and photographs.
A Family Business – the Family that Created Barber's Picture Houses - 19th February 2018
The latest meeting of the Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society of 2018 was held at 7 p.m. on the 19th February in Biddulph Library. Mr. Roland Machin, the Society’s Chairman, introduced Mr. Chris Barber who gave a talk entitled “A Family Business – the Family that Created Barber’s Picture Houses”.
Mr. Chris Barber began by explaining that he had parents, grand-parents and great grand-parents of which he was immensely proud. Mr. Barber was born in 1945 and his first memory, living at a house opposite the clock tower in Tunstall, was that “Bradman was out” and he believes he must have been two and a half at the time. A second memory was at Porter Street School when his class were following the trip of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip plotting the movements on the world map. When the King died and brought an end to the tour death had to be explained to him. One story which he isn’t sure of the truth of is said to have happened in 1925 when an earlier King and Queen attended a sumptuous luncheon to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the creation of the Five Towns. The tale goes that Alderman Barber leant across Queen Mary at the dining table and retrieved at piece of meat that she was leaving at the side of her plate saying “Ere, Your Majesty, if thee dustna want that luvly fat. Ill eat it!”
It was, however, true that if you glanced at a list of City of Stoke-on-Trent Councillors for the period between 1936 and 1942 you’d see something rather unique. For there, on the benches of the council chamber, you’d find a father, his son and his grandson sitting side by side; an exceptional case of political ancestry. Starting with Mr. Barber’s great grandfather, who Mr. Barber knew as Papa, George H. Barber was Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent from 1929-30 and the Labour Party’s first Lord Mayor.
George Herbert (1860-1946) was sent to Chell workhouse when he was seven following his mother’s death and his father’s incapacity through illness. In his autobiography ’From Workhouse to Lord Mayor’ George Herbert recalls distressing memories while assisting the miner’s families of them “begging for food which almost broke my spirit.” At nine years old he got a job at a farm being paid £2 a year on Christmas Day. Being short of money he got a job down the pit at Newchapel Colliery as a ’Dans Boy’, dragging a 2 foot square box along the mine galleries to the shaft. He was paid 17 shillings a week at the age of fifteen years. He saved and bought a concertina which he played in the evenings for dancing classes and moved to lodgings in Milton.
By 1881 he was married with a young son with his father living with them. The pits were hit by a miner’s strike and he managed to pester the manager at Josiah Hardman Chemical Works meeting him every morning at 5.30 a.m. until he gave him a job. The manufacturing process involved extracting benzol from gas and he was paid 35 shillings a week. In 1886 he was transferred to being in charge of the acid plant and here he engineered a solution to a problem which had involved the employment of thirteen men (seven on days and six on nights) to keep the process running. He was involved in an attempt by the Chairman of the company to steal the patent on this process but was tipped off by a friend and put the patent in himself.
He left the company and began work as the Secretary of a Building Fund. He was interested in politics and as a Sunday School Superintendent in 1900 he saw drunkenness as an ally of poverty and became a vigorous campaigner for the temperance movement giving lantern lectures on the perils of drink. Fascinated by the advent of moving pictures George Herbert opened Tunstall’s first ’Barbers Picture Palace’. As the number of new cinemas opening increased and with the inherent danger of fire then an Act of Parliament was passed in 1909 to regulate the industry. He decided to build a new picture house on land off Station Road but ran out of money. Even though he offered 10% interest on loans he couldn’t find extra money and decided to have live entertainment, slide shows and musical entertainment to raise the money.
This first ‘Picture Palace’ was the first purpose-built cinema in the Potteries. On the opening night Barber held up a bicycle lamp so the pianist could see her keyboard. Three years later, he converted a neighbouring skating rink into a modern cinema, which opened as Barber’s Station Road Picture Palace in 1912. It featured a large stage and an electronically-driven organ. Over the next few years he built five cinemas in the area and five in Buckinghamshire which he perceived had a shortage of picture houses. When opening the new cinemas he flew over the area and scattered leaflets from a plane.
George Herbert’s son was Ernest Albert, Mr. Barber’s grandfather, and he was employed as a tram driver who pursued this career working in Sheffield and Blackpool. In 1914 he signed up and was involved in one of the bloodiest battlefields of the war at Gallipoli. The Gallipoli campaign (April 1915–January 1916) was a costly failure for the Allies, with an estimated 44,150 troops killed and 97,397 wounded. The Ottoman Empire paid a heavy price for their victory with an estimated 86,692 troops were killed and 164,617 wounded. Of his regiment only 21 men returned and he was a casualty having been shot through the mouth. He was greatly affected by his experiences and used alcohol to help him forget, sometimes going on what the family called “benders”.
Eventually he recovered enough to help in the cinemas, and at one time there were three members of the Barber family working at the cinema. A resourceful charity worker he raised considerable funds for North Staffs Royal Infirmary and particularly for building the new Haywood Hospital. Like his own father he was known to give money to people who were in need. In one case he helped a family living in an unfurnished room above the Burton Shop in Tunstall to gain a house. He became a general manager of the family’s cinema business, and as an active socialist followed ‘Papa’ onto the council in 1930.
George Leonard ‘Len’ Barber, Mr. Barber’s father, missed a lot of schooling as his younger brother hated school and Len would be late everyday as his brother would anchor himself to every fence on the way. Leaving school he worked setting up the film projectors at the family cinemas and also teaching roller skating. When he became a City Councillor in 1936, as the Chairman of one of the committees he promoted the idea of building an airport at the former RAF station at Meir.
Picture on the right: Alderman George Leonard Barber Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent (1952-53) who died on the 2nd of May 2008 aged 103 years father of Brian, Alan, Chris and Phil.
During the Second World War George Leonard joined the Home Guard as a Training Officer. During a training session in Chester another recruit failed to throw his live Mills bomb over a safety wall, Len bravely stepped forward and threw it over the grenade exploding as it went over. He played a major role in the management of the stable of Barber’s Picture Palaces. Len, as he was popularly known, became a councillor in 1936. He loved cricket and Len was a player and later President of Chell Cricket club at a time when clubs would employ overseas players. One was Roy Gilchrist the West Indian fast bowler who bowled with speed and hostility. Port Vale was his football team; Len was a director, President and Chaplain at the club. Mr. Barber remembered going to see a match in 1950 when with Vale winning 4-0 the match was abandoned much to his own consternation.
Interested in education he was amongst the councillors who worked for the establishment of Colleges of Further Education at Cauldon and Moorland Road. He played a leading role in creating Polytechnics, Six Form Colleges, Pendrell Hall College of Residential Adult Education in Staffordshire and the Wedgwood Memorial College. He was also the Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor of Keele University when Princess Margaret was the Vice-Chancellor (1962 – 1986). Len was Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent in 1952. Mr. Barber remembers being driven on holiday by a chauffeur they called “red neck” in a Rolls Royce when he was about eleven years old.
Left: Picture on the cover of the Picture Palace DVD.
Mr. Barber finished his talk by reminiscing about his father, starting when he worked for as a boy having to make ‘lucky bags’ or took the takings to the bank. Later at a time when he could be working from nine in the morning to eleven at night six days a week he would go to Church on the Sunday. On one occasion he was called to the cinema after a reported break-in. Having been scared by a cat they found a man hidden in cupboard and his father shouted at the intruder volubly. He remembered the family finding it difficult not to laugh when his father fell in the river at the Stepping Stones. This was especially true as his father squelched into the driving seat of the family car.
Although Len was a Labour supporter he was offered a Knighthood if he changed allegiances. Len met the Queen a number of times Mr. Barber has a photograph of his father shaking her hand; her sister Princess Margaret at Keele; and, worked for a charity with Isobel Barnett’s husband. On one trip to London he ended up in Soho being propositioned by the ladies of the night. His father died aged 103 and suffered from a family trait in losing his sight.
There is a Staffordshire Film Archive DVD entitled “George Barber’s Picture Palace” a history of the first film shows in the Potteries. Featuring the restoration of the Barber Picture Palace in Wolverton; films made by George Barber; interviews with his grandson Len Barber, great grandson Brian Barber (Mr. Barber’s brother); and the people who worked at the Picture Palace and The Regent, Tunstall (later the ‘Golden Torch nightclub’).
Mr. Barber answered a number of questions before Mr Machin thanked him for a biography of four generations of a local family which had thoroughly entertained the meeting with interesting readings, memories and humorous anecdotes. The meeting broke up for tea and biscuits and many reminisced about being customers at the Biddulph Palace Cinema – see picture on the right - which was on the corner of King Street (where the TSB is sited now).
The next meeting of the Society will be on Monday the 19th of March 2018 at 7 p.m. in Biddulph Library when the AGM will be followed by a short film on the Brindley Water Mill in Leek by Mr. Peter Durnall; Mr. Roland Machin will be showing some more of George Plant’s photographs as a discussion forum with the members; some of the Library computers will set to the BDGHS website for non-PC owning members to take a look and if they wish do family history research; and Mike Dawson will be there with his book stall.
Blood and Sand: Gladiators in the Roman Empire - 15th January 2018
The first meeting of the Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society of 2018 was held at 7 p.m. on the 15th January in Biddulph Library. Mr. Roland Machin, the Society’s Chairman, introduced Dr. Andrew Fear who gave a talk entitled “Blood and Sand - Gladiators in the Roman Empire”.
Dr. Fear explained as lecturer in Classics at the University of Manchester he is primarily interested in Roman history. His talk about gladiators was a comprehensive look at the subject and this write up can only present a skeleton view of a subject he fleshed out with copious amounts of information, numerous photographs and anecdotes. The talk also included a look at the effect that the games had on the establishment and politics of the Roman Empire.
An imposing figure Dr. Fear began his talk holding his only prop - a Roman short sword and his audience, particularly on the front row, sat up and listened. The word to describe the nature of the Roman games that followed was ‘bloodthirsty,’ defined as “eager to shed blood” or “enjoying or encouraging bloodshed or violence, especially as a spectator or clamorous partisan”. Dr. Fear in the next hour explained:
- who was involved in the games, both in organising and running them.
- what would happen at the “games” including a timetable of the day’s events and the types of gladiators employed.
- where the games took place took place, often starting in the butchers quarters or Shambles, before later moving to the amphitheatre‘s of the whole Roman world.
- when the gladiators were first employed, trained and joined training schools and became paid professionals.
The French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme painted this picture known as ‘Pollice Verso’ in 1872 featuring the widely recognised Roman thumbs down directed to the winning gladiator at the Colosseum. The gesture is given by the Vestals to the victorious murmillo, awaiting the decision on whether the beaten retiarius should live or die. The painting inspired the 2000 film Gladiator, where Commodus holds out a raised thumb to spare Maximus. The producers of Gladiator showed Ridley Scott a reproduction of the painting before he read the film script. “That image spoke to me of the Roman Empire in all its glory and wickedness. I knew right then and there I was hooked”, said Scott. However it was found that the secutor’s armour is not properly assembled and according to Dr. Fear much more besides is open to question.
So what were the Roman Games really like? They began, according to Dr. Fear’s research in a small way as a way of honouring the dead; the sons of Brutus, for example, held one in Rome at the Forum Boarium (cattle market) in 212 BC. There seems to be an Etruscan connection as lanista (originally a gladiator but later a man who purchased and looked after gladiators) comes from laniare or butcher as they ‘rip bodies apart’. A lanista could gain considerable wealth in renting or selling gladiators, particularly to small, local games. Newly-bought gladiators were formed into troupes called ‘Familia gladiatorium’. The games expanded in various ways into a show of wealth and a way of gaining political favour for local dignitaries, politicians and priests who would finance them. Aemilius Celer of Pompeii organised a five day event where gladiators fought ‘Twenty pairs paid for by Decimus Lucretius Valens, son of Satirus, priest in perpetuity of Nero Caesar Augustus’s son, and ten pairs paid for by his son Decimus Lucretius Valens with proper beast baiting (venatio) and awnings over the arena’.
The popularity of the games increases and local politicians across the Empire, which probably stretches across the entire known world at the time, continue to invest heavily in the games. In Tunisia where the city of Carthage developed under Julius Caesar (44 BC) and continued under Augustus (63 BC - 14 AD) as the new capital of Africa Province, there are numerous Roman remains including large mosaic tiled floors which show the sponsor of the games, the cost to the sponsor and order of fights that took place. If you see a Roman gladiatorial mosaic the lemniscate (mathematical symbol for infinity) represents 1,000 sesterces and habet (Phoenician letter Teth) indicates a gladiator who died (also, usually they are depicted with an open wound and lying in a pool of blood). So much is being spent on the games that Emperor Marcus Aurelius (around 160 A.D.) tries to cap the costs.
The Games become more organised with a timetable of events and schools of gladiators fighting each other. In Rome the Colosseum is built on the site of the much disliked Nero’s Palace as a place to hold the games. The sponsor of the games leaves the organising of them to an Editor. They are free but the crowd is organised in that everyone has a place, for example, the rows of married men sit in front of unmarried men in front of the women. The day will start with a hunt – wild animals are released and hunted; at midday the executions of felons take place and in the afternoon the gladiators fight. So who are the gladiators? They are mainly slaves, prisoners of war and criminals but also volunteers as the schools provide food and accommodation, extremely good medical (some of Rome’s best known doctors start at the schools). Successful gladiators are valuable and are also popular with women.
The gladiators have a range of skills: the Retiarius fights with a net; the Murmillo or fish man with a sword, shield and fancy helmet; the Secutor or chaser with sword and shield with plain helmet with small eyeholes (Dr. Fear likened them to cybermen); the Thraex or Thracian with short curved sword, shield and ornate helmet; the Equites who start on horses carrying a spear; the Andabata with one or two swords but no eye holes in the helmet; and, the Scissor who is armed with an implement like a lawn edger. The fights continue to the death unless one of the gladiators surrenders, which is the same hand gesture as a cricket umpire giving a batsman out, holding the first finger vertically.
There are referees dressed in white tunics with two coloured stripes down the front who oversee the games. The decision whether the gladiator should live or die if they lose fight is given by a thumb gesture. Whether it is a thumbs up or down gesture that is used to save or condemn seems to be in some doubt. Quintillian wrote “there is a gesture in which the head is put on the right shoulder, the arm stretched out from the ear, and the hand extended with a hostile thumb”. As Dr. Fear demonstrated it is difficult to do this and turn your thumb down. Pliny wrote “The proverb tells us that when we favour someone we should keep our thumbs hidden”. There is little hope, however, if you turn to run away from your opponent. You will be despatched quickly by a single sword blow, then a man with a long handled mallet makes sure and drags the gladiator from the arena through the small doorway labelled ‘pubia Libitinensis’ or ‘gate of death’.
Chester was mentioned by Dr. Fear; in Roman times it was known as Castra Deva, meaning the military camp on the River Dee and which was home to the 20th Legion (Valeria Victrix) for about 200 years. Chester's geographical position made it one of the finest strategic outposts of the Roman Empire. The River Dee was an important trade route for raw minerals, such as lead and copper from mines in nearby North Wales. So if you want to visit a Roman amphitheatre where gladiators fought there is increasing evidence, according to the Telegraph newspaper article of the 17th of February 2007 quoting archaeologists Dan Garner at Chester City Council and Tony Wilmott of English Heritage, that Chester had proper seating for about 10,000 spectators on two storeys which was similar to the Colosseum in Rome and the amphitheatre of El Djem, once again in Tunisia. It also states that ‘finds at the excavation of the arena provide the most conclusive proof yet that it played host to grisly fights to the death for public entertainment, and reinforce the view of the town's importance in the Roman Empire’.
Dr. Fear answered a number of questions before Mr Machin thanked him for a wonderful talk which had thoroughly entertained the meeting with facts, photographs and humour. As the meeting broke up for tea and biscuits quite a few were grateful that they lived now and not at the height of the Roman Empire.
The next meeting of the Society will be on Monday the 19th of February 2018 at 7 p.m. in Biddulph Library when the Speaker will be Mr. Chris Barber who will give a talk entitled “Biddulph Palace Cinema”.
Local and Family History for the Biddulph area
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Last updated: On the 28th of December 2017 by DJO