The Centenary of the Minnie Pit Disaster - 15th October 2018
The October meeting of the Society was held on Monday the 15th of October 2018 when the speakers were Messrs. Lloyd Boardman and Jim Worgan with a talk about the tragic loss of life in “The Minnie Pit Disaster” of January 12th, 1918.
Mr. Boardman explained that the talk was prepared for the Centenary of the Minnie Pit Disaster by Mr. Boardman, Mr. John Burston, Mr. Worgan and Mr. Andy Bennett (Curator of the Apedale Heritage Centre). Mr. Bennett also brought a display of photographs and mining equipment to the meeting, including a miner’s lamp which when lit gave off the minimum of illumination, being an eerie reminder of the conditions to be found underground in the North Staffordshire coalfield.
The presentation started with Mr. Worgan who outlined the early history of the Minnie Pit and then Mr. Boardman used a series of slides to illustrate the mining methods and working conditions in the mine at the time of the disaster. This is an excellent talk describing the conditions and bravery of the Staffordshire Coal Miners. As Mr. Worgan said: “A Staffordshire Pit Man can work in any mine in the world, they are intelligent and resilient men.”
Saturday the 12th January, 1918: The Minnie Pit near Halmer End, Staffordshire.
“News of the Battle of Passchendaele, which had reached its third phase on the 6th November, 1917, had filtered through to the people of the small mining village. Its name was to become synonymous to the British nation with the mud, blood, horror and terrible human loss of trench warfare. The British Expeditionary Force which included Canadian, Australian and New Zealand troops had sustained over 275,000 casualties. The weather turned miserably cold and the troops on the Western Front waited for the spring when the German armies would begin their final push.
[Photograph: Minnie Pit] “Early on this cold snowy Saturday morning about 250 miners prepared to descend the Minnie Pit. The Friday night shift had returned to their homes and Ernest Jones [aged 43] the overman who was responsible for the Saturday morning shift was talking to Charles Plant [aged 35]. Charles was a responsible for looking after all the different kinds of ropes used in a colliery. The most important of these were the winding ropes that pulled the cages up and down the shaft, and those for underground haulage, which dragged the tubs along underground. Ernest and Charles knew their wives would be preparing an annual old folks’ party in the Primitive Methodist schoolroom.
“When Thomas Sherratt [aged 65] who was the ostler or horse fettler got to the foot of the shaft he prepared the ponies for their working day. The ponies wouldn’t get a break from their work until the summer holiday. Fred Tipper [aged 47] was one of six firemen on duty, a pit deputy who holds a certificate to fire shots, and he joined Bernard Holland [aged 23] who was a loader, who load coal into the tubs, and they joined the other colliers as they walked toward the Podmore shaft which due to the local geology was up to 2 in 1 slope. After half a mile they all turned left towards the districts where the coal was being worked, which were still a good mile away.
“James Johnson and Albert Kirkham were both aged 14 and with William Kesteven [aged 15] worked in Haulage. They and their friends were happy enough, it was pay-day, a short shift, football in the afternoon, and last but not least, the prospect of a long and restful weekend. As they walked along they would peel off from the main group and station themselves next to the doors which separated all the shafts. They performed an important job in controlling the flow of air pulled up the Podmore shaft with Minnie Pit acting as the down shaft. The fan at Podmore could pull 60,000 cu. ft. of air from the pit but the pit was large and there had always been problems with firedamp - was this flow enough? Some of young men continued with the colliers as they would be pulling the tubs of coal at the coal face.
“After another half mile some of the miners said goodbye as they turned right to another part of the Bullhurst Seam. Fred Tipper spoke briefly to fellow fireman Charles Greatbatch who was working the “Rearers.” There were two principal pits, the Minnie and Podmore Hall and situated at Miles Green, an older shaft, which though nearly a mile from the colliery was connected to the Minnie and Podmore by a labyrinth of underground workings. Sunk in 1830 its official name was “The Bullhurst Rearers” but it was known locally as the “Bursted Onion,” a place where the seams were folded to such an extent that they were at 80° and ”rears“ abruptly back to the surface, through a mass of strata.
“The majority continued on, joined by Daniel Jones [aged 26] was a roadman who ensure that the track for the tubs was maintained and George Bailey [aged 51] who was a shifter, who repaired the horse-ways and other passages in the mine, and kept them free from obstructions. Alfred [aged 27] and Frank [aged 16] Comes were both masons and they went to the end of the colliery with the rest of the miners to a system of ‘pillar and stall’ workings in 4 districts almost under Halmer End. The miners were cutting coal from the sides of the pillars on this shift and perhaps creating more coal dust in the roadways than usual.
“Some 600 tons of excellent coal reached the Minnie pit bottom. Strong and imposing pitch-pine headgear stood astride the shaft, while an extensive platform surrounding the pithead, which came level with the Audley branch of the North Staffordshire Railway.”
All the men mentioned, but one, in this imagined diary entry would die in the explosion.
[Photograph : Podmore Colliery] Colliery manager, Joseph Smith, was the intermediary between the owners, ‘The Midland Coal, Coke, and Iron Co. Ltd’ and the miners, he was in his office in the shadow of the Podmore headgears. At around 9.45 a.m. hearing shouts from surface workers he looked through his office window. Smoke, soot and dust peppered with sparks were issuing from the Podmore shaft and the fan chimney and coiling upwards into the sky to form a black acrid canopy over the colliery. An explosion had occurred.
Smith immediately contacted the fan attendant, who informed him that the ventilation process had been reversed for some minutes. They tried to contact Enos Daniels [aged 38] a pump man who operated, repaired and look after pumps used in pumping water but there was no reply.
Simultaneously frantic phone calls from the Minnie pit bottom declared that the haulage lads wanted to ascend the shaft. They had been alarmed by a tremor that had shaken their working places, followed by a cloud of dust, soot and small coal.
He immediately ordered his under manager, C. H. Weaver, to descend the shaft to investigate, while he himself remained on the surface to marshal his rescue teams, medical units, to isolate the colliery and to notify the owners.
Weaver found the pit bottom more horrifying than he had anticipated. There was utter confusion. No one seemed to know what had happened. No one gave orders. Everything was coated with thick oily black dust. It clogged nostrils affected breathing and made the eyes smart. An experienced mining official, Weaver knew the signs, a methane gas explosion had taken place. He was about to proceed further when out of the smoke and gloom emerged a grimy Frank Halfpenny, who was carrying a badly injured boy. Both Weaver and Halfpenny agreed that a big explosion had occurred beyond the Banbury dip and fully trained men wearing breathing apparatus could only accomplish that rescue work. Sections of the dip had collapsed, ventilation doors had been smashed and men were lying dead in the darkness. There was also a lot of poisonous gas in the air.
The first rescue team to go into the pit was the Minnie’s own brigade. They were told to repair the broken doors so that air could circulate again and allow a full-scale rescue operation to be mounted. The team returned to the surface after an hour, bringing with them about a dozen survivors who were joyfully received by relatives. The captain of the rescue team reported that the explosion had “ripped the guts out of the Banbury and Bullhurst seams”.
He was pessimistic about finding many more survivors and distressing scenes soon followed at the pithead as the first body, that of a 16-year-old boy, was brought to the surface around 1.30 p.m. Even then, however, a colliery fireman named Charles Greatbatch was leading a party of 47 men and boys to safety up the steep grades of the Bullhurst Rearers towards the old “Bursted Onion” drift and safety.
As the black smoke continued to hang over the pithead there were heart-rending scenes among the families waiting in the terribly cold weather to learn the fate of loves ones, some no more than lads. Eleven miners were killed when the explosion took place at the pit in Halmer End, near Audley, with a further 144 perishing because of carbon monoxide poisoning. The final death toll included 20 boys aged 14; 13 aged 15; and, 11 aged 16. On the Monday morning, the Minnie Pit claimed yet another victim when the captain of the Birchenwood Colliery rescue team, Hugh Doorbar, lost his life tragically through faulty breathing apparatus.
A week after the explosion it was believed that 127 bodies still remained to be recovered. By the end of February the methane in the pit was so bad that operations were suspended because of fears of another explosion. In January and February 1918 funerals became almost an everyday occurrence in Halmer End and surrounding villages.
[Photograph: Monument at Halmer End Methodist Chapel]
Sixty-one victims were buried in this period immediately after the tragedy. It was not until halfway through the following year that the grim job of recovering all the dead was completed. The last body was brought to the surface on August 19, 1919, 20 months after the disaster. On August 31, 1919, a memorial service held in the churchyard at Audley was attended by a congregation of 3,000.
Investigation: A formal investigation of the causes and circumstances of the disaster was launched under section 83 of the Coal Mines Act 1911. You can read part of the report here.
Minnie Pit Casualties: A list of casualties can be found here.
Minnie Pit Casualties by Trade:
The disaster placed a huge strain on the mining community at Halmer End and its neighbouring villages because their livelihoods depended on the colliery and it related industries. With the First World War entering its fourth year, many families had now lost men at home and on the Western Front. The Miners Federation of Great Britain established a relief fund, 6s. and 3d. a week were collected from miners and boys at other pits around the country. Financial assistance came from other relief efforts and the Podmore Company paid out compensation to bereaved families. Nevertheless, many families were forced into poverty due to loss of their main wage earners.
In April 1930, the Minnie Pit along with the Podmore Hall Colliery closed at the start of the Great Depression. The company also shut down its foundry, railway and iron-making plant.
“Victims of the Minnie Pit Disaster 1918” Produced by the Audley Family History Society. A tribute to the miners who lost their lives in the Minnie Pit disaster in Halmer End.
The book contains information on every victim and their immediate families, giving dates of birth, marriage and death, along with details of the occupations of the miners in the pit, recovery of bodies and burials. The information has been extracted from parish registers, census records, electoral registers, birth, marriage and death indexes, newspapers, the Minnie Pit Disaster Official Report and Sentinel Minnie Pit Relief Fund documents. Photographs of more than 90 of the victims are included along with photographs of memorials in local churchyards and cemeteries, and copies of various documents relating to many of the victims. [Book size A4, 187 pages.]
The next meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 19th of November 2018 when the Speaker will be Mr. Roland Machin with “An Update on the Biddulph Valley Railway. ” It is twelve years since Mr. Roland Machin talked to the BDGHS about the Biddulph Valley Railway. This talk will bring the members up to date with the latest information. The Meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in Biddulph Library, Tunstall Road, Biddulph.
Other Notices: On Friday the 9th of November 2018 at 7 p.m. “Home By Christmas:”, The Kingsfield Singers will reprise a selection of songs from and readings about the First World War entitled “Keep the Home Fires Burning” and then Mr. Bill Ridgway’s play “Till The Boys Come Home” will be performed in Biddulph Town Hall as part of the First World War Commemorations [Admission free - tickets from Biddulph Town Hall].
Biddulph Grange Gardens - An On-going Restoration - 17th September 2018
The first meeting of the 2018/2019 season of the Society was held on Monday the 17th of September when Mr. Paul Walton, Garden Manager at Biddulph Grange Gardens, gave a talk entitled “An On-going Restoration.”
Mr. Walton began his talk by showing the restoration of the many areas of the Grange Gardens using a series of historical and current photographs. As well as the early restoration in the years 1988 - 1991; the slides included the Parterres with their wonderful mosaic patterns; the Bowling Green with its sunken wheel barrow; the Long Walk with trees grown from seed at the Grange greenhouse; the Italian Garden; the Dahlia Walk with neat hedges: Egypt; the Arboretum Pool; the China Wall recently restored for visitors; the Watchtower; the Lake where the gardeners in wet suits tackle the giant waterlilies; and, the Stumpery where the oak tree roots come from an estate in Wales.
Painstaking work by many gardeners over the years has restored the gardens as closely as they can be to Mr. Bateman’s original plan. This has been in spite of the changes brought about the fire; conversion to a hospital and back; and, the addition of a small estate of houses next to the Grange. This reclamation work was carried out when the only means of moving soil, stones, plants and trees was the wheelbarrow or a relay of wheelbarrows. This is a picture taken in 1994 of the gardeners at the Grange Gardens.
Gardeners in 1994 [from left to right]: David (volunteer unknown surname), Mr. Paul Hughes, Mr. Richard Mosson, Mr. Robert Hudson, Mr. Eric Bowers, Mr. Bill Malecki, Mr. Basil Rogers and Mr. Paul Walton.
One of the current aims of the Grange Gardens is to increase the number of visitors to increase the pool of money to make further improvements. The Grange Gardens will be open all-year round and the current gardeners will make use of many more mechanical ways of keeping the gardens in such good condition. Small tractors and diggers, leaf blowers and collectors, grass cutters and mowers, large hedge trimmers are all available to them. It is still however hard work, for example, popping up in the middle of a bush or hedge, some up to 12 feet wide to cut the tops level. Listening to Mr. Walton’s talk you are struck by his enthusiasm and knowledge of the Grange Gardens from a man who obviously enjoys his job. Biddulph Grange Gardens are fortunate to have him as Garden Manager.
Gardeners in 2018 [from left to right]: Mr. Robert Hudson, Mr. Jonathan Duncan and Mr. Paul Walton. They are ably assisted by the following volunteers Paul, “King of the grass-cutters”; Elaine, who propagates plants and updates the plant record database; and, Ray, the kitchen gardener.
The final section of Mr. Walton’s talk was to deal with current projects and challenges going forwards:
1. Sirrococcus blight has been found in the garden and is a reportable tree disease. It is caused by a fungus and is mainly associated with cedars but has also been recorded on hemlocks. Samples from trees affected by Sirococcus blight were first received by Forest Research in late 2013 and by RHS Gardening Advice Centre in June 2016. It causes shoot tip blight, characterised by a pinkish needle discolouration, first visible from spring but later turning a browner colour, which can be seen from a distance. So far one tree at the Grange Gardens has been removed and a couple of adjacent branches have been affected.
2. To make a return walk from the Eastern Avenue to the Geological Gallery. Since the Gallery has been restored it is now possible to put a version of the return path in place (the original was a victim of the new houses).
3. When funding is available there is a plan to extend the car park and plans have been drawn up to add extra spaces to the west of the current one.
4. A major problem in the garden is flooding and there are plans to renew the main drains around the main paths of the Grange Garden. The aim is to stop the flood water washing soil and chippings down the paths, which is back-breaking and tedious work to put right. As much of the water enters the garden from Biddulph Grange Country Park a barrier has been built to deflect it from the Grange Gardens however this is only a partial solution.
5. There is a plan to have 20,000 tulips in the spring of 2019 for the visitors to enjoy.
Mr. Walton finished his talk by showing a recently acquired picture of a part of the garden, taken in 1968, which shows a long beech hedge. Mr Walton admitted that he had planted a small beech hedge in a very similar place (great minds thinking alike) but could now incorporate the hedge windows and subsequent views in a taller hedge for visitors in the future.
Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Walton for an excellent evening which by the use of a pictorial views and the addition of facts and anecdotes brought the Grange Gardens to life. A number of questions and pieces of information were shared by an appreciative audience before the meeting broke for the customary tea and biscuits. The next meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 15th of October 2018 when the speakers will be Messrs. Lloyd Boardman and Jim Worgan who will talk on “The Minnie Pit Disaster” the centenary of which was on the 12th of January this year.
Advanced notice of two forth-coming events:
1. Saturday the 27th of October 2018 there will be a book launch, a re-print of Mr. George Barber’s “From Workhouse to Lord Mayor”, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Biddulph Methodist Church and The Victoria Centre, Station Rd, Biddulph, ST8 6BJ [The book will be on sale at £7.50].
2. Friday the 9th of November 2018 at 7 p.m. - Mr. Bill Ridgway’s play “Home By Christmas“ will be performed in Biddulph Town Hall as part of the World War One Commemorations [Admission free].
James Brindley - The Man and the Myth - 18th June 2018
The June meeting of the Society was held on Monday the 18th of June 2018 at 7 p.m. in Biddulph Library when Mr. Peter Lead gave a talk entitled “James Brindley: The Man and the Myth.” As a testament to the interest in the subject all the seats were taken despite the talk beginning as England kicked off in the World Cup against Tunisia. Mr. Roland Machin, Chairman of the Society, introduced Mr. Lead an authority on local canals after many years of patient research, and this was reflected in the wide ranging talk which followed. This write up will only concentrate on a small sample of the interesting literature, maps and photographs presented to the meeting.
Mr. Lead began by explaining that his interest in James Brindley began when he was working on his book on the Caldon Canal when a proposal was made in 1963 to restore a wharf at Consall Forge as a memorial.
Left: Photograph of Consall Wharf.
However, as Brindley had nothing to do with the Caldon Canal and then having looked at other claims about his legacy there seemed to be a lot of myths about his work. These are reflected in the write up in James Brindley’s life in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
“James Brindley, (born in 1716 at Tunstead, near Buxton, Derbyshire and died on the 30th of September 1772 at Turnhurst, in Staffordshire), pioneer canal builder, who constructed the first English canal of major economic importance.
Beginning as a millwright, Brindley designed and built an engine for draining coal pits at Clifton, Lancashire, in 1752. In 1759 the Duke of Bridgewater hired him to build a 10-mile (16-kilometre) canal to transport coal from the duke’s mines at Worsley to the textile-manufacturing centre at Manchester. Brindley’s solution to the problem included a subterranean channel, extending from the barge basin at the head of the canal into the mines, and the Barton Aqueduct, which carried the canal over the River Irwell.
The success of that canal encouraged similar projects: the Grand Trunk Canal, penetrating the central ridge of England by the Harecastle Tunnel, and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire, the Coventry, the Oxford, the old Birmingham, and the Chesterfield canals, all designed and, with one exception, executed by Brindley. In all, he was responsible for a network of canals totalling about 360 miles. The improvement in communications helped to hasten the Industrial Revolution. Brindley, a self-made engineer, undertook all his works without written calculations or drawings, leaving no records except the works themselves.”
Mr. Lead explained the involvement of Brindley in the development of canals and his role in the construction of the Duke of Bridgwater’s Canal and the Trent and Mersey Canal (T&M). He also explained the circle of men that were also involved and the pressure groups which were proposing to build a cheaper network to transfer cargoes between Liverpool, Manchester and the Potteries. The Duke of Bridgwater did employ Brindley to survey a route for his canal to take coal from his coal mines at Worsley to Manchester which included a bridge called the Barton Aquaduct. This is one of the canal features which always appear in the literature, and on a stamp, which is synonymous with the name Brindley but there doesn’t appear to be any real evidence it was exclusively Brindley’s work.
James Brindley did move in the circles of society that were interested in canal transport and he was employed to survey a proposed canal and buy the necessary land to complete them. It is unlikely that he did the plans and drawings which had to be presented to Parliament to aid the passage of an Act these are often the work of Hugh Henshall. Looking at just one canal the Trent and Mersey there are important names which are involved when researching in its early history. John Hardman, MP for Liverpool organised the 1755 survey on behalf of the port’s merchants. The early proposal was supported by Thomas Gilbert, MP (1720-1798) and John Gilbert (1724- 1795). In 1758-1760 Brindley surveyed a canal from Longport to the Trent with the cost to be met by Earl Gower, Lord Anson, Thomas Broade and Thomas Whieldon. The Staffordshire Potteries group included Thomas Whieldon, Josiah Wedgwood, John Brindley and Thomas Broade. Before building the canal the consultant John Smeaton (1724 -1792) was brought in to check Brindley’s 1758 survey as he had more experience having worked on the Yorkshire navigations. Another notable group of names are the members of the Goldenhill Partnership of 1760 which purchased the Goldenhill estate in four equal shares by Hugh Henshall, John Brindley, Robert Williamson and John and Thomas Gilbert. Brindley was related or had business dealings with many of the above, some through his marriage to Ann Henshall at Wolstanton on 8th December 1765. (He was nearly 50 and Anne was 18). They rented Turnhurst Hall from this date and had an interest in the Goldenhill estate from 1760 and went into partnership with his brother John Brindley who was potter at Longport.
Right: Photograph of the Brindley Statue on the Coventry Canal
So how did Brindley fit into this circle? Mr. Lead outlined the levels of economic and social mobility in 18th century society which spans from Labourers; Tenants; Skilled workers (including millwrights.); Yeoman farmers; Petty gentry (Farmers); Professions (Land Agents); Gentry or Gentleman Farmers; Professions (Land Agents); and, the Aristocracy. You can place James Brindley on this continuum according to his birth and profession. He was born to a family of yeoman farmers and then can be described after his apprenticeship as a millwright. In various letters from Josiah Wedgwood Brindley is described as an engineer (January 1765) and later the Duke of Bridgewater’s Engineer (March 1765). On his marriage in 1765 he is described as an Engineer of Leek. Brinley is described as the Surveyor General to T&M at £200 per annum (Wedgwood, June 1766). In October 1768 Brindley is described as the Consultant Visiting Engineer earning £500 per year from the T&M.
In 1767 Brindley had many river and canal consultancies and Wedgwood observed that “Mr Brindley, the great, the fortunate, money getting Brindley, was an object of pity and a real sufferer for the good of the Public.” This was quite appropriate as within five years, Brindley fell ill at the “Old Red Lion” at Ipstones. There are very few portraits of James Brindley and on 18th September 1772 whilst surveying yet another canal, Josiah Wedgwood writing in 1772 to Thomas Bentley (as Brindley lay on his death bed at Turnhurst): “I have been to see Mrs. Brindley this morning by her desire & she had a particular favour to beg of you. Mr. Parsons you know took Mr. Brindley’s portrait which he was to have had, but they had a little fracas about the terms. Mr Parsons demanded 60 guineas for the piece and frame. Mr. Brindley meant to make Mr Parsons a handsome present for the picture, but did not like the mode of demanding so much from him and in short told him he would not have it. Mrs. Brindley always wished to have the picture and she begs you would be so good to see Mr Parsons and tell him so and that now she is at liberty, she readily complies with his terms and hopes that he will not refuse her the picture, if not already disposed of.”
A letter dated 26th December 1772 reports: “Mr Brindley’s picture is come” and you will find this rare portrait on the cover of Christine Richardson’s book (see below).
Right: Cover of Peter Lead’s book on the Caldon Canal
Books that are recommended for further information:
1. Samuel Smiles (1862) – Lives of the Engineers – Volume 1
2. Dr. Hugh Malet (1st Edition 1961 and 2nd Edition 1977) – The Canal Duke and Bridgwater The Canal Duke 1736 - 1803
3. Dr. Cyril T. G. Boucher (1968) – James Brindley Engineer 1716 – 1772
4. Peter Lead (1990) - The Caldon Canal and Tramways
5. Kathleen Evans (1997) – James Brindley Canal Engineer A New Perspective
6. Christine Richardson (2004) – James Brindley Canal Pioneer
7. Victoria Owens – James Brindley’s Notebooks (2013) and James Brindley and the Duke of Bridgwater Canal Visionaries (2015)
So this self-made engineer, who undertook all his works without written calculations or drawings and who left no records except the works themselves, can be viewed as an enigma. Mr. Lead stated he admired Brindley but feels there is more to be written about his life and work including some corrections and additions to his legacy which explained the title of this talk. Watch this space….
Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Lead for a thought-provoking evening and which like all talks backed by good research it left the audience with a large amount of information to digest but with their own decisions to make in answering the questions about James Brindley’s life and work.
The Society now takes its summer break and the next meeting of the Society will be on Monday the 17th of September when the Speaker will be Mr. Paul Walton, Garden Manager at Biddulph Grange Gardens “The Gardening Year.”
Reading the Bastille – The Workhouse at Chell - 21st May 2018
The May meeting of the Society was held on Monday the 21st of May 2018 at 7 p.m. in Biddulph Library when Dr. Catherine Burgass gave a talk entitled “Reading the Bastille – The Workhouse at Chell”.
Mr Roland Machin, Chairman of the Society, first gave a few notices relating to the next meeting in June and the open days for the Biddulph Old Hall this summer. He then asked Geraldine Outhwaite to relay a message asking for volunteers to perform in a reprise of Mr. Bill Ridgway’s play Till the Boys Come Home which will take place in November in Biddulph Town Hall (please see notice 1 on the Index page).
Mr. Machin then introduced the evening’s speaker, Dr. Burgass, who is a Lecturer in English and Honorary Research Fellow at Keele and Staffordshire Universities. Dr. Burgass started by stating that her talk would explore the representation of the Wolstanton and Burslem Workhouse, from its creation in response to the 1834 Poor Law to its current incarnation as a retirement village, focusing on the accounts of the ‘Bastille’ by Charles Shaw, Arnold Bennett and Arthur Berry and address this question – What can literature offer the historian?
Dr. Burgass explored the way in which Stoke-on-Trent was portrayed in literature looking at one particular institution the Workhouse at Chell. This building, built in 1839 following the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, was known by local people as the Bastille. The whole early history of provision for the poor was a competition between two ideologies. Firstly, those who believed that the poor should be kept in workhouse at the cost of a local parish council, which would localise the problem and give the poor some paid work, and, secondly the provision of outdoor relief - here the assistance was in the form of money, food, clothing or goods, given without the requirement that the recipient enter an institution. The 1834 Act was proposed by the first group and was designed to reduce the cost of looking after the poor by only making payments in exceptional circumstances and being dependent on them entering a workhouse. The Poor Laws many believed were passed to reduce vagrancy and contain the undeserving poor. Workhouses followed a number of model designs according to The History of the Workhouse by Peter Higginbotham – you can find much more information at the website www.workhouses.org.uk.
Picture: Plaque on Chell Workhouse.
By 1840 there were a number of reports of unbridled cruelty against those sent to the workhouse mentioned in the local press. This was the same press which argued against the vast amount of money being spent on housing and feeding the poor. Charles Shaw in his book When I Was a Child described the punishment of a boy which is later used by Arnold Bennet in Clayhanger (almost word for word) during a visit Darius makes to Chell when he realises he will never live down his short stay in the institution. Whilst Shaw is against the spending of money at the workhouse he was also morally outraged by the cruelty and inedible gruel meted out to the boys. This “bumbledom“ is an echo of Oliver Twist; or, the Parish Boy's Progress by Charles Dickens, which was his second novel first published as a serial in 1837- 39.
Charles Shaw When I Was a Child: A short extract. “Now, however, the governor was in the room, and his presence seemed to fill it with an awful shadow. We were duly informed by him what was to take place, the bad qualities of the runaway were ponderously and slowly described, and we were exhorted in menacing tones to take warning by his "awful example." This homily was enough of itself to make us shiver, and shiver most of us did with fear of those present and fear of the sight we were about to witness. When the solemn harangue was finished, the poor boy was pushed into the room like a sheep for the slaughter. He had a wild, eager look. His eyes flashed, and searched the room and all present with rapid glances. His body was stripped down to his waist, and in the yellow and sickly candlelight of the room his heart could be seen beating rapidly against his poor thin ribs…… The lad struggled and screamed. Swish went the pickled birch on his back, administered by the schoolmaster, who was too flinty to show any emotion. Thin red stripes were seen across the poor lad's back after the first stroke. They then increased in number and thickness as blow after blow fell on his back. Then there were seen tiny red tricklings following the course of the stripes, and ultimately his back was a red inflamed surface, contrasting strongly with the skin on his sides. How long the flogging went on I cannot say, but screaming became less and less piercing, and at last the boy was taken out, giving vent only to heavy sobs at intervals.”
A longer extract can be found by clicking here.
Charles Shaw was born in August 1832 at Piccadilly Street, Tunstall. the sixth of eight children of Enoch Shaw, painter and gilder, and Ann nee Mawdesley. He attended a dame school run by Betty Wedgwood in Tunstall, then began work as a mould runner to an apprentice muffin maker earning a shilling a week. When he was eight, he moved to another factory as a handle maker.
Arnold Bennett Clayhanger: A short extract. “The governor made a speech about the crime of running away from the Bastille, and when he had spoken for a fair time, the clergyman talked in the same sense; and then a captured tiger, dressed like a boy, with darting fierce eyes, was dragged in by two men, and laid face down on the square table, and four boys were commanded to step forward and hold tightly the four members of this tiger. And, his clothes having previously been removed as far as his waist, his breeches were next pulled down his legs. Then the rod was raised and it descended swishing, and blood began to flow; but far more startling than the blood were the shrill screams of the tiger; they were so loud and deafening that the spectators could safely converse under their shelter. The boys in charge of the victim had to cling hard and grind their teeth in the effort to keep him prone. As the blows succeeded each other, Darius became more and more ashamed. The physical spectacle did not sicken nor horrify him, for he was a man of wide experience; but he had never before seen flogging by lawful authority. Flogging in the workshop was different, a private if sanguinary affair between free human beings. This ritualistic and cold-blooded torture was infinitely more appalling in its humiliation. The screaming grew feebler, then ceased; then the blows ceased, and the unconscious infant (cured of being a tiger) was carried away leaving a trail of red drops along the floor. ”
A longer extract can be found by clicking here.
Shaw found the workhouses a moral outrage and his tirades against them were probably shaped by his own experience, being sent to the Bastille briefly when in 1842 his father lost his job after participating in a strike and for a few weeks the family were forced into Wolstanton & Burslem Union Workhouse at Chell. In 1834 when the Poor Law Commissioners were appointed the aim had been to reduce the cost of looking after the poor, to take beggars off the streets and encourage poor people to work hard to support themselves. They tried to ensure that the poor were housed in workhouses, clothed and fed and that children who entered the workhouse would receive some schooling. In return for this care, all workhouse paupers would have to work for several hours each day. In 1847 the Commission was replaced with a Poor Law Board. By 1867 the Reform Act led to an increase in welfare legislation and eventually this Board was replaced with a Local Government Board in 1871. The Local Government Board led a crusade against outdoor relief, the pendulum having swung again, believing handouts destroyed the self-reliance of the poor and this led to an increase of people in the work house by 12-15%.
Map of the Workhouse and Hospital at Chell.
County Councils were formed in 1888 and the District Councils in 1894, and this meant that public housing, unlike health and income maintenance, could develop outside the scope of the Poor Law. The policy changed due in part to the cost of mixed workhouses and as attitudes changed towards the causes and nature of poverty with the treatment of the elderly, the sick and mentally ill, and children becoming more humane. In 1905 a Royal Commission was set up to investigate what changes could be made to the Poor Law. The Commission produced two conflicting reports but both investigations were largely ignored by the then Liberal government when implementing their own scheme of welfare legislation. The welfare reforms they made included the provision of social services, including old age pensions and National Insurance. From 1911, the term “Workhouse” was replaced by “Poor Law Institution” and a mean test was developed during the inter-war period to offer relief that was not affected by the stigma of pauperism.
Workhouses were officially abolished by the Local Government Act 1929, followed by the Poor Law Guardians, the “workhouse test&lrdquo; and the term “pauper” disappeared. The Unemployment Assistance Board was set up in 1934 to deal with those not covered by the earlier 1911 National Insurance Act passed by the Liberals, and by 1937 the able-bodied poor had been absorbed into this scheme. By 1936 only 13% of people were still receiving poor relief in some form of institution. In 1948 the Poor Law system was finally abolished with the introduction of the modern welfare state and the passing of the National Assistance Act. The National Health Service Act 1946 created the modern day National Health Service and in 1948 the workhouse became a home for the destitute.
Locally, in 1922 the Wolstanton and Burslem Union and Stoke-upon-Trent Unions merged to create a new Stoke and Wolstanton Poor Law Union. After 1930, the workhouse buildings were taken over by Stoke Corporation and subsequently became the Westcliffe Institution, then the Westcliffe Home for the Aged and Infirm, then part of the Westcliffe Hospital.
A series of photographs of the workhouse at Chell included one showing a very tidy garden with the manager and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Budden, standing on a manicured lawn with flower beds (see photograph) and another the tea tables set in readiness for a Christmas party but in neither was there evidence of ‘inmates’. These contrast with the views of the artist Arthur Berry in his book A Three & Sevenpence Halfpenny Man published in 1964 who visited his uncle at Chell workhouse before the Second World War. He states: “It was like a big boarding house for the hopeless and hapless, the centre for epidemics where no one drank from the same cup and where were many old men dressed in grey suits inhabited a long ward which smelt like a pigsty. ”
Dr. Burgass then talked about the conversion of the Westfield Hospital site into the Maple West Home for the over 65’s and wondered if a parallel with the workhouse could be inferred. Did the architecture of the new block mirror the old workhouse and hospital blocks?
In an interesting question and answer session one other important source of local history – the spoken word – was demonstrated when stories of the exploits at a fire practice and role of the farmer in residence with the market gardens and the path to the pigs and horses being the family memories of two of the audience.
Mr. Machin thanked Dr. Burgass for an interesting and thought-provoking evening and many discussions continued around the Library and particularly Mike Dawson’s book stall.
The next meeting of the Society will be on the 18th of June when Mr. Peter Lead with present a talk entitled “James Brindley – Man or Myth. ”
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
These web pages are hosted by 1and1, and the site was originally
created by the late Mr. David Moore
Last updated: On the 28th of December 2017 by DJO