Current Meeting Reports - 2019
A play by Bill Ridgway "Schemers and Dreamers" - 21st October 2019
Mr. Shane Kelleher "Tales From a Career in Ruins!" - 16th September 2019
Mr. Philip Leese "The Future for Local History" - 17th June 2019
Mr. Mike Tingle "The Lion, the Wych and the Waller" - 20th May 2019
Mr. Danny Wells "The Art of the Garden - Gardens in British Art from 1850 to 1950" - 15th April 2019
The Annual General Meeting and Mr. Peter Durnall "The Manifold Valley and Other Films" - 18th March 2019
Mr. Peter Shreyhane "A Lifetime in Education" - 18th February 2019
Mr. Frank Harris "Sutton Hoo and links to Staffordshire" - 21st January 2019
Schemers and Dreamers - A play by Bill Ridgway - 21st October 2019
The October meeting of the Biddulph and District Genealogy and Historical Society was held at 7.30 p.m. on the 21st of October in the Victoria Centre / Methodist Chapel on Station Road in Biddulph. It was a Charity Event the proceeds from the Evening will go to Local Groups including the Christ Church Hall, Biddulph Moor ‘Makeover Appeal.’
The Bill Ridgway Players performed Mr. Ridgway’s New Play ‘Schemers and Dreamers.’ The play charts the rise of industrialisation, as seen through the eyes of Josiah Wedgwood, James Brindley, Ann Brindley, Erasmus Darwin and Robert Williamson. Mr. Roland Machin introduced Mr. Bill Ridgway who gave a short background to the writing of the play before he introduced the Players: Frank Harris as Josiah Wedgwood, Philip Leese as James Brindley, Geraldine Outhwaite as Ann Brindley, Bill Ridgway as Erasmus Darwin, Philip Leese as Robert Williamson and Terry Williams as The Folk Singer.
The play began with an introduction from Ann Brindley who recounts the stories of those involved in early industrialisation and the building of canals with the main narrative beginning with her marriage to James Brindley. Ann Henshall was born in 1747 and married James Brindley on 8th December 1765 when she was 19 and he was 49. The couple had two daughters, Anne and Susannah. Anne’s brother, Hugh Henshall, was involved in canal construction himself, on the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal.
James Brindley (right) was an English engineer. He was born in Derbyshire, and lived much of his early life in Leek, Staffordshire, becoming one of the most notable engineers of the 18th century. [James Brindley was born in 1716 at Tunstead, Derbyshire; died on the 27th September 1772, Turnhurst; and, was buried on the 30th September 1772 at St. James Church, Newchapel] As Ann says in the play: “James was driven from the start, rushing around building water mills, then being called to help the Duke of Bridgewater make the Manchester canal. From then it was nothing but water. In the seven years we were married, I doubt we spent more than a score of nights in the same bed.”
We then meet Josiah Wedgwood (left) who had been to school with Ann’s brother, Hugh. Josiah Wedgwood was an English potter and entrepreneur. He is credited with the industrialisation of the manufacture of pottery. He was to build his new pottery at Etruria on the side of the new canal in the style of Mr. Boulton’s Soho Works in Birmingham. [Josiah Wedgwood was born on the 12th of July 1730 in Burslem; died on the 3rd of January 1795 at Etruria; he was married in 1764 to Sarah and had four children Susannah, Thomas, Josiah II and John].
Erasmus Darwin (right) was an English physician and treated both Josiah Wedgwood and James Brindley. One of the key thinkers of the Midlands Enlightenment, he was also a natural philosopher, physiologist, slave-trade abolitionist, inventor and poet. [Erasmus Darwin was born on the 12th of December 1731 at Elston Hall near Newark, and died on the 18th of April 1802 at Breadsall Priory in Derbyshire. He was married a number of times and had seven sons and four daughters, including Robert Waring Darwin (father of Charles Darwin)]. Ann recalls: “They were all members of this Lunar Society, with Erasmus a leading light. They called themselves Lunaticks. James never joined. Nothing interested him ‘less it came with a tow-rope attached, though he was amiable enough in their company. Like Josiah, he became one of Erasmus’ patients.”
James Brindley died at Turnhurst within sight of the unfinished Harecastle Tunnel on 27 September 1772. Ann was to remarry in 1775 to Robert Williamson and lived until 1824 when she was 77 years old. Although there was a portrait of Ann mentioned in correspondence no copy seems to have survived.
Her second husband Robert came to Staffordshire and built a pottery works at Longport 1773 when he was only aged 23 years. He was very wealthy, a coal and iron master, along with his brother Hugh Henshall Williamson. The Goldenhill Colliery, in Colclough Lane, excavating coal and ironstone, was owned by Robert Williamson in the mid-19th century. They had a large family and lived at Turnhurst Hall and the family included Hugh Henshall Williamson [1785-1867] who with his brother Robert had interests in the Goldendale Ironworks and its associated collieries, the Falls Colliery, Biddulph and Astbury Limestone Works.
At the end of the play Ann sums up her life “I‘m not far off eighty. God’s smiled on me. All those voices I shan’t hear again, all those faces. James, Robert, Hugh, and that old wencher Erasmus ….. James Watt and Joe Priestley, all gone along with that Lunar Society they were so smitten by. ‘When the gods see fit to choose, who shall win and who shall lose, the greatest and the best of them will go down with all the rest of them.’ That’s my way of looking at things. And now Tom Telford's digging another tunnel under Harecastle Hill with room for a horse. It's taken fifty years leggin’ to do what should have been done at the start. What would James have said? He'd probably tell ’em to puddle it. He'd say that even if you asked after the weather.”
“Robert left me well provided for, and Hugh willed Greenway Bank to my daughter Ann as long as she didn't marry. When she died it went to my son Hugh Henshall Williamson. Our other son Robert lives down Ramsdell Hall on the far side of Mow.”
“I wonder how long it’ll be before the cuts are filled in and there's railways instead. The engines are already chugging around some pits up north.”
“James, Robert and Hugh, all at rest in Newchapel with space for me between. It’ll be like family.”
Intermittently throughout the play there were twelve verses from a folk song written by Mr. Ridgway and sung by Terry Williams which began:
- In the reign o' George and Charlotte lived a tribe o’ noble men,
- Who changed the shape o' history, t’ were ne’er the same again,
- They schemed and dreamed and plotted, for a future they had planned,
- And it all happened here in England.
David Outhwaite, Secretary of the Society who organised the play reading, would like to thank all the members and guests that attended as the evening raised over £350 for the local charities. The Secretary must also thank the writer and performers for giving so generously of their time and Ann Gadsden and Sheila Watson, members of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor, who prepared the refreshments at the end of the evening.
The next meeting will be held on Monday the 18th of November 2019 when Mr Levison Wood Senior will talk on the life of King Richard III. Remember the meeting will be held in Biddulph Library at the usual meeting time of 7 p.m.
The Most Extraordinary District in the World - Tales from a career in ruins! - 16th September 2019
The latest meeting of the Society was held at 7 p.m. on Monday the 16th of September in Biddulph Library and Mr. Shane Kelleher, Staffordshire County Archaeologist, presented a talk entitled “From ‘The Most Extraordinary District in the World’ to ‘not all the World but a very poor bit of the fag end of it’. Archaeology at the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site and other tales from a career in ruins!”
Mr. Kelleher joined Staffordshire County Council as County Archaeologist in January 2018 having been the Archaeology and Monuments Officer / Museum Archaeologist at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust for eight years [Nov 2010 - Jan 2018].
His first slide was this painting of ‘Coalbrookdale by Night’ of 1801 by Philip James de Loutherbourg. The painting depicts the Madeley Wood (or Bedlam) Furnaces, which belonged to the Coalbrookdale Company from 1776 to 1796. The picture has come to symbolize the birth of the Industrial Revolution in the Ironbridge Gorge of Shropshire [Collection of the Science Museum in London].
Mr. Kelleher explained the title of the talk came from two observations about Coalbrookedale. ‘The Most Extraordinary District in the World’ is a quote from Charles Hulbert in 1837 and the latter from Henry Powell Dunnill in 1870 when he described Jackfield is ‘not all the world but a very poor bit of the fag end of it - made up of old pit shafts, pit mounds, rubbish heaps, brick ends, broken drains, roof and paving tiles, dilapidated houses, sloughy lanes and miry roads.’
Charles Hulbert was born in Manchester on 18 February 1778, and educated at the grammar school at Halton, Cheshire. After learning cotton-weaving he became manager, at the age of twenty-two, of large print works at Middleton. In 1803 he married Annie, daughter of Thomas Wood, the founder of the Shrewsbury Chronicle newspaper and moved to Shrewsbury and started in business at Coleham.
Henry Dunhill’s description of Jackfield didn’t stop him founding Craven Dunnill & Co. Ltd there in 1872. The purpose-built tile factory was at the forefront of technology, designed by Charles Lynam, an architect from Staffordshire who specialised in the design of industrial buildings. Craven Dunnill became renowned throughout the Empire, for its ceramic floor and wall tiles, in particular its encaustic floor tiles and highly decorative wall tiles including those at the Mysore Palace, in the Indian State of Karnataka. In the 1950’s Craven Dunnill & Co. moved to its current headquarters in Bridgnorth and the original Craven Dunnill factory was acquired by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, becoming one of their main Museum sites.
Mr. Kelleher detailed his early career having been born in Southern Ireland and starting with a BA (Joint Hons) degree at University College Cork in Archaeology and Geography [1998 - 2001]. This was followed by an MA in Archaeology in Cork [2002 - 2003] and a further MA in the Archaeology of Buildings at the University of York [2004 - 2005]. His first appointment was at the University of Birmingham where he was a Project Manager for Built Heritage and Conservation Specialist and Archaeology [May 2006 - Nov 2010].
Painting of the Ironbridge by Michael Rooker of 1782 which shows the paint work to be a red colour - one area of research at the bridge undertaken by Mr. Kelleher. Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker ARA [1743 - March 1801] was an English oil and watercolour painter of architecture and landscapes and also the chief scene-painter at the Haymarket Theatre in London
Archaeology of Buildings - Mr. Kelleher’s passion for recording buildings was obvious to the audience as he had numerous slides of the work he had done for both Birmingham University and the Ironbridge Trust. These detailed photographs and drawings of the built environment could be used to help in the long term preservation of the building structure; as a record before proposed demolition; and, in some cases to allow the transfer of a building brick by brick to a new location.
As County Archaeologist for Staffordshire Mr. Kelleher helped to complete ‘The Chase Through Time’ project. This project explored the history of Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Chase includes one of the best-preserved First World War landscapes in England but much is hidden under woodland and heath. Historic England worked with Staffordshire County Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund and used airborne laser scanning (lidar) to see beneath the trees and bushes. Volunteers helped to assess the remains of the camps where up to 500,000 men trained before they went to the front line. Search on line for more information on this project and view the first and second reports - the information and photographs available are stunning.
A Lidar picture of Brocton Camp on Cannock Chase showing the buildings hidden by the tree cover. Airborne Lidar (light detection and ranging) measures the height of the ground surface and other features in large areas of landscape with a very high resolution and accuracy.
One of Mr. Kelleher’s current projects is named ‘Transforming the Trent Valley’ which aims to turn people’s outlook back to the river and floodplain, raise their level of appreciation for the local heritage, and engage in constructive and informed decision-making about the future use and management of the landscape.
The project focuses on the surviving military heritage within the Trent Valley area including the many pill boxes forming part of Stop Line No.5. Volunteers are required to help to better understand the condition and significance of the military heritage of the Trent Valley. The project aims to aid in conservation and conversion works; improved interpretation (by producing leaflets, exhibitions, panels); and, provide guidance for future conversion works.
This was a tour de force presentation and this report gives only a skeleton outline of the information and pictorial evidence presented to the meeting. Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Kelleher for his talk, enthusiasm for the subject and stated he believes Staffordshire’s Archaeology is in ‘safe hands’.
The next meeting of the BDGHS will be a Charity Event and the proceeds from the evening will go to Local Groups including the Christ Church Hall, Biddulph Moor ‘Makeover Appeal.’ It will be held on Monday the 21st of October 2019 at 7.30 p.m. in the Biddulph Victoria Centre. The Bill Ridgway Players will perform Mr. Ridgway’s New Play “Schemers and Dreamers.” The play charts the rise of industrialisation, as seen through the eyes of Josiah Wedgwood, James Brindley, Ann Brindley, Erasmus Darwin and Robert Williamson. The Play Reading will begin at 7.30 p.m. in the Victoria Centre / Chapel, Station Road, Biddulph. Please Note: Admission will be £5 but free for Members of the Society (Donations welcome). Refreshments will be served at the end of the evening.
The Future for Local History - 17th June 2018
The latest meeting of the Society was held at 7 p.m. on Monday the 17th of June in Biddulph Library and Mr. Philip Leese presented a talk entitled “The Future for Local History.”
Mr. Leese (pictured on the left) started with this quotation “There is nothing constant in the world except change.” A statement attributed to Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher who maintained that change is the only reality in nature. This change is what the historian records; be at club, local, regional, national or world level. Mr. Leese explained that when the Secretary of the Society asked him if he would like to do a talk he was in the process of research for Chapters 27 and 28 of a book he is writing on the History of Kidsgrove. These chapters, Mr. Leese said deal with the 1970’s and 80’s and he had been puzzling and getting desperate in imagining the events of the 1980’s that are important. In fact wondering what changes had occurred and if they had been recorded, reminded him of a subject on which he had been thinking of doing a talk - the recording of local history.
One thing that doesn’t change, Mr. Leese stated, is human nature and the fact is that “If we can get it wrong we do.” So was human nature different in responding to change over the centuries? When early man was a hunter gatherer then individuals fared better in groups sharing the work of collecting seeds and berries and trapping large animals. When man became reliant on agriculture then people growing crops needed to defend land and water supply and became more territorial.
Many years later this could be interpreted as leading to a sense of local pride in the house, street or village where you lived. Where we were born became important and people rarely moved from an area unless a large scale tragedy - man made perhaps by wars or climatic - drought or flooding occurred. In the quiet corner of North Staffordshire the area around Biddulph was probably just used for hunting. By the Middle Ages as the land was enclosed and the system of serfdom spread villages emerged in the Valley. Later in the 1780’s the Poor Laws placed you in a particular village and set the cost of your upkeep on the local community. When the canal system in the 1800’s and railway network in the 1850’s began to connect towns together some people would move to work further away - perhaps in Manchester. By the 1900’s people would emigrate to Australia, America and Canada to start a new life. Although in fairly modern times, say the 1950’s, some people still in Biddulph hadn’t travelled as far as Hanley; by the 1970’s they may have holidayed in Rhyl.
Left: Heraclitus of Ephesus
Mr. Leese mentioned the works of Henry David Thoreau who is best known for his book ‘Walden’, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings in Concord, Massachusetts. Henry Thoreau also wrote eighteen volumes of notes on his walks around the town noting minor changes in the neighbourhood or new faces. A great believer in staying in your home town Thoreau wrote on visiting Canada “I haven’t much to say, I got a cold.”
The changes in the lifetime of today’s octogenarians have come thick and fast. In their lifetime the idea that a career lasted a lifetime, with a clock on retirement, has been replaced by the need to retrain and re-skill and move where the work is. This is greatly assisted by the mass ownership of cars and this has changed the way in which many people choose the place they live. For other than work and shopping there is no need to be involved with a town at all. The old groupings of people around a Church or Chapel have declined but people find new groups like joining the U3A. For example, the town of Alsager is now three times the size it was at the turn of the century but will the incomers have the time or inclination to join Societies and record the changes and memories of the 20th century? Modern houses reflect the changes from terraces to hardly detached and semi-detached housing, with plants and fencing from the garden centres to isolate the family even more. A home is the place where you park your car and working from home by computer is increasingly a norm.
As the world becomes more global how does all this change affect the recording of local history? Does it become as important, less important or irrelevant? Mr. Leese pictured an old farmhouse sitting in the middle of a new housing estate or a large derelict, industrial chimney in a wood and wondered if local history should record these changes to answer future questions. As an example Mr. Leese cited the case of a memorial garden in Kidsgrove to the man Jack Beech. Mr. Beech was an energetic local councillor in Kidsgrove who did good works for the people of the town. He died in 1997 and people began to ask in 2019 why does Jack Beech have a garden in his name? Without the garden then Mr. Beech will revert to being a nonentity and victim of local history Alzheimer’s.
Author’s note: There are three references on the Internet relating to Jack Beech: 1). A photograph of the garden in 2016 - photograph on the right; 2). Council gardeners are planting begonias and petunias in the flower bed at the Jack Beech Memorial Garden opposite Kidsgrove Town Hall (2018); and, 3.) a memorial bench on Liverpool Road.
Mr Leese then turned to look at the sources for local historians. Cut-backs in the Library service mean there are fewer paper sources - copies of the local council minutes or back issues of the local papers will be thrown in the skip. The Government or Council who make these cuts will say we all have the Internet, with the British Newspaper indexes on line, but, Mr. Leese stated you won’t find copies of the Kidsgrove Times. If you do search the Internet for items about Kidsgrove they are more likely to be in the Lichfield Mercury or Liverpool Echo and be match reports for a local football team. In doing research on the changes in Kidsgrove one major piece of information that is missing is a set of dependable maps to use as source material.
There are similar problems with using ‘authoritative’ books, for example, the “Victoria County History, Staffordshire XI”(First Published: Mar 2013) which sells at £90, this can be useful but is full of information gleaned from earlier versions and other sources. Author’s note: The Society recently published a set of the Trade Directories for the Biddulph Area from 1900 to 1950 and though they were printed by different publishers they all relied on the same historical description of the Town with a few minor recent adjustments.
A question and answer session followed when some of these issues were debated; this discussion continued into the break for tea and biscuits. Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Leese for his interesting, thought-provoking look at local history.
This is the final meeting of the Society before the summer break and the first meeting of the next season will be on the 16th of September when the Staffordshire County Archaeologist, Mr. Shane Kelleher will be our guest.
As this is our summer break the next Sale of Books will be on Saturday the 20th of September in Biddulph Library between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Copies of all the Society’s publication will be available, including Mr. Michael Turnock’s book “All in a Day” the story of Mr. George Gerard Booth DFM.
The Lion, the Wych and the Waller - The Lion Salt Works at Marston - 20th May 2018
The latest meeting of the Society was held on at 7 p.m. on Monday the 20th of May in Biddulph Library. The Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin introduced Mr. Mike Tingle with a talk entitled “The Lion, the Wych and the Waller - The Lion Salt Works at Marston.”
Mr. Tingle explained that when Lion Salt Works closed down in 1986, it had been, for many years, the last operational open-pan salt works in the UK. It was important as a heritage site, so it was saved from demolition, gradually restored, and eventually opened to the public in June 2015. By the October of that year there had been over ten thousand visitors and last September  the museum won the National Lottery Award for the Best Heritage Project.
This report of the Mr. Tingle’s talk will only deal with the history of salt production in Cheshire and a short history of the family that ran the salt works.
History of Salt Production - In the British Isles, prehistoric man will have made his salt from sea water or from the few places where inland brine springs had been discovered. These included the Cheshire area, where the salt deposits were laid down as an inland sea formed at the Eastern end of the Celtic Sea Basin. Early evidence of Iron Age salt-making in Britain has been largely based on the discovery of remnants of coarse pottery vessels known as briquetage found in Lincolnshire, the East Anglia Fenlands and the Essex coastline. Although there is little evidence of such pottery in Cheshire it appears that finished salt was distributed in this way to Iron Age settlements over a wide area of Wales and western England as clay dug between Middlewich and Nantwich has been found there.
Lead salt pans, of the same dimensions as those used on the coast, were used by the Roman salt-making settlements at Middlewich, Nantwich and Northwich. Roman soldiers were partly paid in salt and the words soldier (saldare) ‘to give salt’ and salary (salarium) came from this scarce and expensive commodity.
The Roman army advanced to the North reaching Cheshire by around 60 AD. Chester became a supply port and a convenient military base from which to gain control of North Wales with its lead and silver mines. A fort was built at Middlewich by the River Dane and salt works where established near the site of the existing Celtic salt making settlement and on other green field sites which were later abandoned and returned to agriculture.
Map of the Cheshire Salt Area
These long established sites were in time to become the medieval ‘wyches’; the Wych in the title of the talk, with the Lion being the name of the Company. Production methods remained unchanged for a thousand years after the Roman occupation. Until the 19th century, the main use for salt was to preserve food for the winter months.
Another problem facing the Cheshire salt industry was the growing shortage of coppiced timber to fuel the fires for salt making. By about the 1620’s the cost of wood for firing the pans had become too expensive and they were forced to change to cheaper coal, now readily obtainable from mines in Lancashire, East Cheshire and North Staffordshire.
However, using coal with the traditional method of salt making in lead pans frequently melted the lead. At Northwich in 1669 a salt works was established with three large iron pans with salt was stockpiled in the loft above the hot houses. By the 1690’s, there were several rock pits in the area and the brown rock salt was refined to white salt by re-crystallisation from water. The impact of the chemical revolution on the salt industry was enormous bringing improvements to the extraction and refinement process and the discovery of new uses of salt. Inland white salt making in the 18th century grew with rising home demand and the expanding export market stimulated by Bristol’s and Liverpool’s involvement with the slave trade.
The Salt Office Commissioner’s Report of 1733 records that the white salt trade at Middlewich had 26 pans and that Northwich had 17 pans. Changes to the Weaver Navigation benefited the salt works at Northwich and the opening of the Trent and Mersey Canal in 1777 created a direct route to the Mersey ports. One other major change was the introduction of the brine pump which pumped to the surface and because the brine was sitting on the aquafer it avoided the need to dig the salt and separate the impurities.
By the 19th century most works used one of two pan types, the fine pan and the common pan, which were both were a standard 24 to 25 feet width to allow the 12 foot handled salt rakes to draw the salt from the centre of the pan. The salt was removed and stacked against the walls by the ‘Wallers.’ Fine pans were about 40 feet in length and worked with fast fires so that the heat of the flue gases rapidly boiled the brine and also heated the adjoining hothouses where the salt made into lumps was dried before being crushed and milled to form a fine crystalline drysalt suitable for dairy and domestic uses. Common pans were at least double the length of the fine pan. They were without an adjacent hothouse so that the flue gases only heated the pan before reaching the chimney. Often three common pans would share one chimney. The common pan fires were banked with slack so that the pans worked at simmering temperatures and yielded large crystals. Industrial salt for the alkali makers was drawn from the pans after one or two days but longer periods yielded larger crystals and salt for tanneries or fishery use and could have been a one, two or three-weeks. The crystals were drawn from the pan and heaped to drain along the sides of the pan. The drained salt was then moved by handcart either to the warehouse or direct to a boat or railway wagon.
Vacuum salt was not to completely replace open pan salt until the second half of the 20th century since its fine uniform crystals were unsuitable for certain uses such as the salt cake manufacturers and fisheries. Open pans yielded a wide range of crystal size and although much less thermally efficient, they represented a much lower plant construction cost and remained viable while there was a specific market demand for open pan type salt.
The 1890’s and first quarter of the 20th century saw the establishment of several independent salt companies with new open pan installations at Middlewich, Wincham, Sandbach, Stafford, Lymm and on Teesside, all in competition with the Salt Union. By the late 1930s it was becoming apparent that the days of the open pan were numbered. Many of the uses which required open pan salt (and for which vacuum salt was unsuitable) had disappeared due to technical innovation such as refrigeration. Two markets which vacuum salt could not supply were the Salt Cake process and the export of low bulk density factory-filled salt to West Africa, which was still considerable.
In 1937 the Salt Union was taken over by ICI and became the ICI Salt Division. Research started on modifications to the vacuum process that would enable the economic production of a salt that would meet these demands. ICI’s search for a low bulk density vacuum salt studied the growth of crystals with a non-cubic defect or dendritic structure. This work resulted in the trace addition of sodium ferrocyanide in order to produce a low bulk density dendritic salt. These developments enabled ICI’s Salt Division to close down all its Winsford open pan operations by the mid 1950’s. The immediate post war years saw a gradual decline of open pan operation and the erection of new and second generation vacuum evaporators, as part of a general expansion of the chemical industry.
All open pan operations in Middlewich had closed down by 1970 and the last major works to close was that of Palmer Mann at Sandbach which ceased operations in 1971.
The New Cheshire Salt Works Ltd remained until 2006 as a third vacuum white salt maker at Wincham. Their small, triple effect Svenson evaporator, enabled them to corner the market for high purity special salts not previously viable on the two major plants.
The Thompson Family - Six generations of the Thompson family were involved with the salt industry, at the site of the Lion Salt Works. John Thompson Senior (1799–1867) was originally a joiner, timber merchant and brickyard owner in Northwich. He entered the salt trade in 1842 when he started a shipping and lighting business along the River Weaver to the ports in Liverpool and Birkenhead. Initially this was in partnership with other salt proprietors but by 1846 he had entered a partnership with his son John Thompson Junior (1824–1899), called Thompson and Son that operated until 1889.
They began to sink salt mines and start salt works including Platt’s Hill Mine, Wincham; the Dunkirk Works, Witton-cum-Twambrooks; Marston; Wincham; and, Winsford. After the death of John Thompson Senior in 1867, the business was split between John Thompson Junior and his brother Jabez Thompson but, Jabez Thompson went on to run the successful family terracotta and brickworks on London Road, Northwich. John Thompson Junior continued to run the salt business with his sons Henry Ingram (1851–1937) and Alfred Jabez (1857–1965) but in 1888 the majority of the business was sold to the Salt Union.
The Lion Salt Works was built in 1894 when John Thompson Junior and Henry Ingram Thompson purchased the site of the Red Lion Hotel, adjacent to the bridge on the Ollershaw Lane in Marston. John Thompson Junior retired shortly afterward to Eddisbury Hall in Macclesfield. Henry Ingram Thompson sunk a brine shaft, built a brine tank and engine house and built the first pan and stove house (number 1) on site around the Red Lion Hotel. By 1899 the Red Lion Hotel had been demolished and two cottages converted to the Red Lion Inn. This allowed them to build two further pan and stove houses (2 and 3). On-site there were also two butter pans and two fishery pans. A Manager's House and Smithy were built at the south-west of the site. By 1906 a mineral railway had been built that extended to the south of the site. Henry Ingram Thompson ran the site with his sons Jack Thompson and Alan Kinsey Thompson. The salt works exported salt to Canada, North America and West Africa. The domestic market saw salt sold to Cheshire, Manchester and Liverpool.
John Thompson in his Office [Salt Museum Archive]
Both of Henry Ingram’s sons, Jack (1875–1966) and Alan Kinsey (1883–1964) joined him to work at the Lion Salt Works and the shipping office in Liverpool. After his death in 1937, his sons ran the business as a partnership. Alan Kinsey's son, Henry Lloyd Thompson (1925–2013) joined the business in 1947 and Jack Thompson’s grandson Jonathan joined the business in 1962. They ran the Lion Salt Works until its closure in 1986.
Between the first and the second world wars, the salt works saw little change. New markets were opened up with salt sold to Denmark for salting bacon. In 1937 Henry Ingram Thompson died but his sons Jack Thompson and Alan Kinsey Thompson ran the business and dug a new brine borehole and pump. Henry Lloyd Thompson joined the firm in 1947 after the Second World War having served in the Royal Navy. He was to run the salt works for the next forty years. After demolishing the butter and fishery pans, he built two more pans and stove house (numbers 4 and 5) in 1954 and 1965. In the 1950s, 90% of the salt produced was exported to West Africa. It was exported via firms including Paterson Zochonis, John Holt and ICI to ports on the West African coast including Calabar, Lagos and Port Harcourt in Nigeria, Monrovia in Liberia, Conakry in Guinea, and Freetown, Sierra Leone. The West African market continued to be successful despite open-pan salt being more expensive because it produced a light, flaky grained salt known as ‘Lagos Salt’. This was preferred in the West African market because it withstood the high temperatures and very high humidity of the tropics.
Henry Lloyd Thompson was joined by his second cousin Jonathan in the early 1960s. They sought to diversify and modernize the salt works. New techniques were introduced including an automated pan and converting the works to run on reclaimed oil. The Thompson’s produced their own brand salt from the late 1960s in an attempt to create new markets. They eventually opened the Lion Salt Works as a working museum between 1980 and 1986.
The Salt Museum is at Ollershaw Lane, Marston, Northwich CW9 6ES and it is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30 a.m. — 5 p.m. (Last museum admission 4 p.m.). Closed all Mondays except Bank Holiday Mondays and the admission fee is £5.50.
Mr. Machin thanked Mike for a talk which had covered a vast amount of information and many of the modules in the key curriculums used in secondary education. The question and answer session was followed the customary tea or coffee and biscuits.
The next meeting of the Society will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday the 17th of June 2019 when Mr. Philip Leese will speak on “The Future for Local History.”
The Art of the Garden - One Hundred Years of Gardens in British Art c. 1850-1950 - 15th April 2018
The latest meeting of the Society was held on at 7 p.m. on Monday the 15th of April in Biddulph Library. The Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin introduced Mr. Danny Wells with a talk entitled “The Art of the Garden - One Hundred Years of Gardens in British Art c. 1850-1950.” Mr. Wells explained that British gardens have proved to be a rich source of inspiration for artists and he showed a lavish collection of paintings to illustrate this point. His talk was a celebration and appreciation of some paintings of gardens in the Victorian age and first half of the 20th century. The symbolism explored within the paintings raised issues about society, culture and style.
The talk began with a painting from 1856 by Arthur Hughes entitled “April Love” and Mr Wells explained the symbolism of the various elements that were included in the subject. The young woman is standing in an arbour possibly awaiting an illicit meeting with a lover. The main colours of the picture are purple, green and white those of the suffragette movement. The ivy which is climbing around the tree trunk on the left of the painting is an evergreen plant, which represents eternity, fidelity, and strong affectionate attachment, such as wedded love and friendship. The ivy plant is also a strong evergreen plant which can grow in the hardest environment and is associated with perennial life and immortality. The pink rose which is a symbol of perfect happiness is losing its petals and there is a strange black object behind the young woman which together may symbolise unrequited love or a failed relationship.
There followed a riveting look at the art of the next ninety four years and here is a list a list of some of the paintings that were introduced and explained to the audience.
If you hear of a lecture by Mr. Wells locally then don’t hesitate to go along.
To help explain the symbolism of Victorian Art you can look at a table of flowers by clicking here.
Here are some examples of paintings featuring flowers:
Apple Blossom: Apple blossom could mean good fortune, the promise of better things ahead, or preference.
Painting: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “A Vision of Fiammetta” (1878). [Collection of Lord Lloyd-Webber]
Daises: When John Everett Millais painted the doomed Ophelia of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he gave her all the flowers of the original text in the lush scene of death. Included are daisies for innocence, which could also symbolize purity and even “farewell.”
Painting: John Everett Millais, “Ophelia” (1851). [Tate Britain]
Daffodils: Daffodils, with their sunny hues, could mean unrequited love and chivalry.
Painting: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Veronica Veronese” (1872). [Delaware Art Museum]
Hawthorn: Hawthorn was used to symbolize hope, and also could be used as a charm against magic and here Merlin is tangled in its branches.
Painting: Edward Burne-Jones, “The Beguiling of Merlin” (1874). [Lady Lever Art Gallery]
Monkshood: Poisonous monkshood, its blue flowers representing that the viewer should beware of a danger that might be ahead, rests at the foot of this harp topped with the beguiling honeysuckle and roses in Rossetti’s painting.
Painting: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “La Ghirlandata” (1873). [Guildhall Art Gallery]
Primrose: The primrose’s meaning changed with its colour, but yellow symbolized youth and young love.
Painting: Edwin Long, “The Daughters of Our Empire. England: The Primrose” (1887). [Yale Centre for British Art]
Red Poppy: Seen in the bottom right corner of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Lady Lilith” (1867) - which is crowded with symbolic flowers - the red poppy often meant imagination and eternal sleep, but also pleasure.
Painting: Dante Gabriel Rossetti & Henry Treffry Dunn, “Lady Lilith” (1867). [The Rogers Fund (1908), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]
Violet: Violets are a symbol of modesty and faithfulness. Here in a portrait of his wife Emma Hill, Ford Madox Brown gives his beloved ravaged by alcoholism the redeeming bouquet of the wilted flowers. He wrote: “Now that she is lying in bed thinned with the fever she looks very pictorial and young as ever again.”
Painting: Ford Madox Brown, “Convalescent, Portrait of the Artist’s Wife” (1872). [The Rogers Fund (1909), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]
These examples are based on an article by Allison Meier written on May the 30th, 2014 and pulished on the Internet by Hyperallergic which was founded in Brooklyn, New York in 2009.
The next meeting of the Society will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday the 20th of May 2019 when Mr. Mike Tingle will speak on “The Lion Salt Works at Marston.” The Lion Salt Works was the last remaining open pan salt works. It closed in 1986 and is now preserved as a museum.
Annual General Meeting and Peter Durnall Film Show - 18th March 2018
The latest meeting of the Society was held on at 7 p.m. on Monday the 18th of March in Biddulph Library. The Chairman, Mr. Roland Machin, began the AGM with his report on the current state of the Society at the end of the financial year. He stated that the “BDGHS continues to thrive, a result of the splendid commitment, cooperation and goodwill we receive from the Committee of the Society: Elaine Heathcote, Brian Lear, Madelaine Lovatt, David Outhwaite, Mike Turncock, Kath Walton, Derek Wheelhouse and Gerald Worland.” Mr. Lear is retiring this year and Mr. Machin paid tribute to the good contribution Brian has made to the work and planning of the society. He also said the Society is grateful for the regular attendance of so many people and the large number who have committed to membership.”
Mr. Machin then outlined the winter programme of meetings which began last September when Mr. Paul Walton talked about the ongoing restoration of Biddulph Grange Gardens. Then in October Jim Worgan and Lloyd Boardman’s presentation was about the Minnie Pit Disaster marking the centenary of the event. November’s meeting allowed Mr. Machin to ‘Revisit the Biddulph Valley Railway’ by presenting his latest research and images. John Sherratt returned in December with his unique approach to research of local history and like the late Ken Dodd his audience were held captive, informed and entertained prior to the seasonal mince pies and celebration! The January meeting was a memorable and carefully prepared account of Sutton Hoo and links to the Staffordshire Hoard by Frank Harris. Peter Shreyhane gave an account of Biddulph Schools and Schooling in February that enabled many in the audience to reflect upon their time at school in a different era.
The Secretary’s report from David Outhwaite then followed and he detailed the ten new books that had been produced last year. He then outlined the new books and areas of research which are taking place and which will be published this year:
1. The Biddulph Trade Directories 1818 – 1940 will be launched at the March Sale of Books in Biddulph Library on Saturday the 23rd of March and will cost £5.00.
2. Goowin dine th’grayn the Society’s book on the Biddulph High Street has been revised by Elaine Heathcote and will be available soon at £12.99.
3. The Greenway Bank Sale Document of 1871 will be available to buy this year.
4. Madeline Lovatt and Michael Turnock have been meeting with George Gerard Booth and a book about this WW2 tail gunner from RAF Squadron 51 is being prepared.
5. The Buses of Biddulph Adrian Lawton is writing an updated version of a study of Biddulph Bus and Coach Services with the help of the other members of the Bus Group (Mr. John Dixon and Mr. Peter Smith).
6. John Hancock and Roland Machin are updating the study of the Biddulph Valley Railway which will be available later this year.
Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Outhwaite for his work in preparing the books for printing; encouraging the publication of member’s research; maintaining and updating the website; preparing the Committee Meeting minutes; and, writing the meeting reports for the Chronicle.
He then invited the Treasurer, Kath Walton, to present the annual accounts. Kath confirmed that the Society was in good health with an increase in new membership and visitors at the meetings and its income from publishing. So much so that there will be no changes in fees, with annual membership remaining at £5 and with non-members paying £2 per meeting.
Elaine Heathcote, the Society’s Archivist, outlined a number of document collections added to list – including new documents on Cowlishaw Walker from Gordon and Pam Lomas and some of the papers of John Sherratt.
Michael Turnock was then invited to give details of the proposed midweek trip in June following our last meeting of the season. The trip will be to the Lion Salt Works and the Anderton Boat Lift near Nantwich. The interest shown at the AGM and April’s meeting will decide if the numbers justify the excursion. The cost will be around £30 including the costs of tours and a boat trip and a deposit at the next meeting will secure a place.
The meeting then turned to the Election of Officers: Derek Wheelhouse remains the honorary President and the meeting was asked to vote for the current Chair Roland Machin, Secretary David Outhwaite and the Treasurer Kath Walton who had all expressed their willingness to continue and they were all duly elected.
Mr. Machin then introduced Mr. Peter Durnall, to show the latest in a long line of award winning films. starting with a beautifully shot look at a year in the Manifold Valley. Stunning wild life, including fledgling dippers and woodpeckers and a lonely male peregrine falcon; the historical footage of the Manifold Valley Light Railway; and, film of the changing seasons were included in a tour de force look at the history and natural history of this local scenic treasure.
Photographs of Thor's Cave and the River Manifold reappearing near Ilam Hall.
There were photographs and film of the stations on the Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway at Hulme End, Ecton, Butterton, Wetton Mill, Redhurst Halt, Thor’s Cave, Grindon, Beeston Tor, Sparrowlee and Waterhouses. The narrow gauge railway began operating in 1904 and finished in 1934. The main use of the railway was the transport of milk and the closure of the Express Dairies Creamery at Ecton creamery signalled its end. Whilst filming the Manifold Way the rivers Manifold and Hamps are never far away. Many small packhorse bridges cross the river with some built to transport copper from the mines at Ecton. The river which disappears underground in the summer down a sink hole near Wetton Mill then reappears some miles distance way near Ilam Hall.
The next short film was from the Staffordshire Film Archive and showed the Prince of Wales visiting the Potteries in 1929 including his meeting with the son of John Harold Rhodes wearing with his father’s medals including the Victoria Cross. Believed to have been filmed by George H. Barber, the local cinema owner, it also showed the huge crowds at Burslem; the H & R Johnson Tile Works; and, the children’s choir assembled for the visit.
The next short film was from the Staffordshire Film Archive documentary on the working day of a miner at the Wolstanton and Victory Collieries. The Society decided to show the film as a tribute to Mr. Eric Whalley who died four days short of his seventy eighth birthday just before Christmas. Eric was a lifelong member of the Society, in its many forms, and will be missed as he was a source of all sorts of local and W(h)alley knowledge. His wife Betty and son took the time to attend the meeting and watch the film with us.
Miners at the End of the Shift in 1969
Mr. Durnall then showed his own film of the History of the Chatterley Whitfield Colliery from working coal mine, through its use as a museum and the current slow decline awaiting a proper rejuvenation. The film includes photographs provided by the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield and it was following their invitation to film that Peter has brought a local landmark to life.
Finally, Peter showed an interesting film of the Bell Tower at St. Lawrence’s Church by John Hazeldine who is the Biddulph Church Tower Master. This film is available to view on http://www.biddulphchurch.org.uk/tower-clock-and-bells/ and on You Tube.
Mr. Machin thanked Peter for showing the films and displaying once again the talent that Biddulph has to offer in the field of cinematography.
The next meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 15th of April 2019 when Mr. Danny Wells will speak on the garden as a feature of British Art in a talk entitled “The Art of the Garden.”
“A Lifetime in Education - 18th February 2018”
The latest meeting of the Society was held on Monday the 18th of February when the Speaker was Mr. Peter Shreyhane with a talk entitled “A Lifetime in Education.” The talk charted the changes in education some of which Peter witnessed in his lifetime career as a teacher which he continues in voluntary capacity to this day. Mr. Shreyhane started with the approach to education by the Greeks, Romans, and later the Venerable Bede. The first Universities were founded in Oxford (1096 - 1167) and Cambridge (1209) when education was reserved for a rich elite. In fact even in the Thirteenth Century only 5% of the population were literate.
The industrial revolution and especially the work of the Quaker and other entrepreneurs spread more general education. An example was John Fothergill’s Quaker School which was founded in Pontefract in 1779 along with schools in towns like Birmingham, Nottingham, Saltaire and York. Many schools also developed from the work of Sunday Schools but one of the first schools in this area was the Rushton Spencer School built by public subscription in 1772. The Royal School for the Blind in Liverpool was founded in 1791 and is the oldest specialist school of its kind.
Locally, James Bateman introduced schools including the Red Cross School at Knypersley in 1850 (see plaque on the right) and Biddulph Moor (four years before the Church in 1862).
One of the reasons Mr. Shreyhane believes education was eventually provided by the State was the increase in the country‘s population from the early C. 19th. For centuries the population had been around one million. Biddulph’s population, for example, in 1841 was 2,214 rose to 4,700 in 1947 and by 1950 had risen to 11,000.
Mr. Shreyhane explained that the Education Act of 1880 Act made it compulsory for children to attend school until the age of ten. It was supported by the National Education League which promoted elementary education for all children. The Act placed the provision of education in the control of Local Authorities using byelaws to control the attendance of Children at School. This led to the development of the Board Schools which included Biddulph North in 1874. Under the Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act 1893 increased the leaving age to 11 and the right to education was extended to deaf and blind children. In 1899 the leaving age was increased again to 13 years and the County was tasked with providing education.
Between 1900 and the First World War new schools were opened in Biddulph, Biddulph Moor (1908) and Knypersley (1911). An interesting log book exist which was kept by one head teacher, a Mr. Lowe who recorded all the details of staff and pupils, but it is barred from publication for one hundred years.
The next change was the 1917 Act which raised the school leaving age to 14 and a year later the Royal Institute for Blind founded the first Residential School for deprived and blind children. In 1923 the Labour Party included “Secondary Education for All” in its party policy. Locally, the 1920’s saw the building of grammar schools Wolstanton in 1928, Brownhills Girl’s in 1931 and Mr. Shreyhane’s school St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic “Holy Joe’s. ” The 1936 Education Act proposed the raising of the school leaving age to 15 from September 1939 but this was overtaken by World events.
Mr. Shreyhane explained that in 1938 80% of children left school at 14 having attended an Elementary School and less than 1 in 100 made it to University. The Conservative politician ‘Rab’ Butler was put in charge of Education in 1941. With cross party support and a deal with Anglican and Catholic Churches the Education Act of 1944 Act led to pupils transferred from Primary and Secondary school at eleven years and introduced the 11 Plus. The idea, at the time, had been to create three types of school Grammar, Technical and Secondary Modern School with adequate funding which Mr Shreyhane believes was never achieved.
It also led to the introduction of free school milk, in one third of a pint bottles, and the important role of milk monitor plus the provision of free school meals.
Mr Shreyhane took the meeting through the building of Biddulph Grammar School. Briefly, in 1960 there were 59 children enrolled to the school which wasn’t ready so the pupils attended two other schools locally. The first headmaster appointed in 1961 was Mr. Kelly from the Isle of Man, he and all the other candidates where all from outside the area. In 1961 the school was also looking for lodgings for teachers and the school finally opened on the 23rd of May 1962. Mr. Shreyhane remembers attending an inter school cross country race started by local business man Mr. George Rhodes. He also related his attempts to avoid taking part in cross country races with the result that the strap was administered by the staff of ”Holy Joe’s. “
One problem with the 11 plus was that fluctuations in the population and the availability of places could skew the places available and this happened in Biddulph when the new Grammar School opened.
In 1970 women finally got equal pay as teacher and the next major change was in 1974 when the First, Middle and Higher Schools system was introduced. New schools at Oxhey, Squirrel Hays and English Martyrs were built and then in 2010 another large shake-up occurred with the introduction of the first Academy’s funded outside of the control of the Local Authorities. Essentially, Academies have more freedom than other state schools over their finances, the curriculum, and teachers’ pay and conditions. There are also Foundation Schools which are supported by a charitable foundation or trust, an example is the Coop Academy which was formerly Brownhills Grammar, and they appoint governors to the school’s governing body. Many of the local schools have formed into groups which combine to cover pupils from 4 to 18 years of age.
This talk was full of anecdotes and information which the audience could readily relate to and brought back many memories and stories. An attempt to appear in a long full school photograph twice by running along the back of serried rank of pupils was much appreciated. Mr. Shreyhane finished by outlining what a lifetime in education had taught him: that the vast majority of parent’s love their children; that we all remember our favourite teacher or do better in that subject; and, although glad the strap has gone pupils even now pupils appreciate a teacher who is firm, fair and with has sense of humour.
Mr. Shreyhane’s favourite teacher was Mrs. Gallagher who when he had completed your work allowed you to sew on buttons – a skill he has to this day.
Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Shreyhane who has spent most of his working career in the North East for an interesting talk full of local knowledge about the schools of Biddulph that most of his audience had attended.
The next meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 18th of March 2019 when the Society’s Annual General Meeting will be followed by a ‘film show’ featuring two short films by local filmmaker Peter Durnall “The Manifold Valley – Its History and Natural History” and “The Old Mine – Chatterley Whitfield from closure to the Present Day.” There will also be two short films given to the Society by Professor Ray Johnson “The Prince of Wales Visits Tunstall 1924” and the Society is showing “Victoria Colliery in 1969” in memory of Mr. Eric Whalley.
Note: There will be a Book Launch of a new 88 page book “The Biddulph Trade Directories 1818 – 1940” which has been collated by David Outhwaite which will be on sale at £5 and the Monthly Sale of Society Books between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday the 23rd of March 2019 in Biddulph Library.
“Sutton Hoo and links to Staffordshire - 21st January 2019”
The first meeting of the Society in 2019 was held on Monday the 21st of January when the Speaker was Mr. Frank Harris with a talk on “Sutton Hoo and links to Staffordshire.” The Chairman of the Society, Mr. Roland Machin, introduced Mr. Harris who was surrounded by two tables of books and posters describing both the Sutton Hoo and Staffordshire Hoard finds. There was also an Anglo Saxon helmet, shield and sword which the audience were invited to try on at the end of the meeting.
Mr. Harris began by admitting to a passionate attachment to the Anglo Saxon culture and that the two finds, the Hoard and the Hoo, were pivotal in looking at this time in English history. He described the finding of the Staffordshire Hoard in 2009 when Terry Herbert, a recently retired coffin maker, found a large collection of Anglo Saxon artefacts on the land of farmer Fred Johnson at Hammerwich. Having been declared treasure trove the pair shared £3.5 million pounds but they have subsequently had a falling out. The numerous items found, especially the gold and garnet sword parts, initially convinced Mr. Harris that the finding of the Hoard must be related to the earlier find at Sutton Hoo.
There is quite a lot of information about the Hoard and we are fortunate to be able to visit part of it at the Hanley Museum so here is a brief description of the finding of Sutton Hoo treasures. If you travel north from Ipswich on the A12 toward Lowestoft and just after Martlesham turn onto the B1083 Melton to Bawdsey and follow the signs you arrive at the White House on the Hoo.
Map of the area showing the site next to Ipswich and Colchester [Google Maps].
Built in 1910, Tranmer House was originally known as Sutton Hoo House and was designed by John Corder, a local architect from Ipswich and built for artist and gentleman of independent means John Chadwick Lomax. After their marriage in 1926, Mrs Edith Pretty and Lt Colonel Frank Pretty chose to make this house their home. When Edith passed away in 1942, the house passed to their only son, Robert Pretty. He was only 12 at the time and moved to live with his aunt in Eton. He would never return to live in Tranmer House himself. The house instead moved fulltime into the ownership of the War Office, already having provided a home to the Land Army girls – who quite literally left their mark on the house. If you look carefully, you can still see the graffiti they carved into the stone fireplace and the ring of tiny holes in the wooden wall panelling, around where their dartboard would have hung. It is presently being refurbished by the National Trust and will reopen in the Spring of this year.
Photograph of Tranmer or Sutton Hoo House [National Trust].
This description misses one important feature found on the estate when Mrs Edith May Pretty J.P. [photograph on the right] lived in Sutton Hoo House and owned the estate. She had moved there with her husband in 1926, but he died in 1934 leaving her with a young son. They had often wondered what the strange, rabbit-infested mounds were which they could see from the house. In around 1900 an elderly resident of Woodbridge had spoken of ‘untold gold’ in the Sutton Hoo mounds, and Mrs Pretty’s nephew, a dowser, repeatedly identified signals of buried gold from what is now known to be the ship-mound. Mrs Pretty became interested in Spiritualism, and was further encouraged by friends who claimed to see figures at the mounds. By popular account she had a vivid dream of the funeral procession and treasures.
Through the Ipswich Museum, in 1938 she obtained the services of Basil Brown, [photograph below left] a Suffolk man whose smallholding had failed four years earlier, and who had taken up full-time archaeology on Roman sites for the museum. Mrs Pretty took Mr Brown to the site, and suggested that he start digging at Mound 1, one of the largest. The mound had obviously been disturbed, and in consultation with Ipswich Museum Brown decided instead to open three smaller mounds during 1938 with the help of three estate labourers. These did reveal interesting treasures, but only in fragments as the mounds had been robbed. We are fortunate that Mr. Brown was a meticulous man as he recorded carefully all of his work on the site. Later at the Staffordshire Hoard Mr. Jenkins too had been careful in marking and bagging each item he found.
In early 1939 Mr Brown unearthed an astonishing Anglo-Saxon ship burial in Woodbridge, Suffolk; astonishing both for the state of preservation of the objects within the tomb, but also astonishing for the sheer rich quality of the artefacts. The burial goods from Sutton Hoo are remarkable - gold weapons and armour, inlaid ornaments, silver and tableware. Also found within the ship was a purse containing 37 gold Merovingian (Gaulish) gold coins dating from the 620’s AD. No body was found, leading to a theory that the ship burial was intended as a cenotaph, but recent analysis has revealed that the body had simply been destroyed by the acidic soil.
This was the first ‘Saxon Hoard’ and led to a new understanding of Saxon culture in Britain but many questions and revisions of the development of their influence in the first thousand years AD are still unanswered.
Sutton Hoo Ship: an artists impression of the largest Anglo-Saxon ship ever discovered which was about 90 feet long and 14 feet wide, with a high bow and stern.
In the ship were Saxon weapons made in the Swedish style and the burial itself follows a Nordic one as there are many similar Viking sites in Denmark and Sweden. There was also a large silver dish made in Byzantium about 500 AD and a set of 10 silver bowls from the Mediterranean. Which Mr. Harris included amongst his myriad of slides of the items found at both sites.
Who was buried at Sutton Hoo? Who was so powerful in his lifetime to be interred with ceremony in a ship surrounded by so much golden splendour? According to the Venerable Bede in his "Ecclesiastical History", Raedwald, a Saxon "bretwalda", or king, ruled East Anglia in 616, although his power may have stretched as far north as the Humber. Interestingly Raedwald was the first East Anglian king to pay any heed to Christianity. Could this be the man?
Right: The famous Sutton Hoo helmet which along with many other original items is in the British Museum.
The site is now protected and a visitor centre allows people a glimpse into the past; the richness of the find; and, the incredible craftsmanship of the Saxon era. This skill is obviously in evidence in the Staffordshire Hoard and one feature of both sites is the presence of a helmet which with today’s technology can be shaped from small fragments.
The importance of Sutton Hoo is that the grave goods tell us a lot about the pattern of life in this darkest part of the Dark Ages in Britain. The style of the craftsmanship lets us draw conclusions about how strong were Saxon connections with rest of Europe both a strong Norse influence in East Anglia and trade ties to Gaul and the Mediterranean. The importance of the Staffordshire hoard is still being researched but it does include the largest number of military artefacts from this period ever found including parts of a helmet which are stunning.
The Saxon Helmet in Hanley Museum based on the findings at Hammerwich.
Mr. Harris described the craftsmanship of the items found at both sites and had to admit that his original theory for connecting the two sites may be mistaken. There are at least three theories which have been put forward as to the source of the Staffordshire Hoard. Firstly, that it was as the result of grave-robbing from Sutton Hoo. A robber pit dug in the 16th century had been sunk at the apparent centre, missing the real centre and the burial deposit by a narrow margin. Could the hoard have been stolen by digging up a number of mounds and hidden on the way to Wales? Mr. Harris believes there are too many ornate parts of swords for this to be the case.
Secondly, the hoard could be a collection of items recovered from a battlefield by the victorious side which were being stripped down ready to fashion new items. The workmanship is of the highest quality and no item would have been wasted. It is obvious from the find that the artisan skills were of the highest quality, so why dump the Hoard here - many miles from a village which had a workshop or community of craftsmen?
Thirdly, the Hoard was found on open scrubby heathland not far from a Roman road on what had been the border between the Danes in the East and the Mercians in the West. Could the hoard have been collected together to make a payment to the Danes to stop them harassing the Mercians? Could it be that it never arrived as the escort was attacked and the treasure abandoned to avoid its capture.
Mr. Harris explained that he intended to continue his research and find answers to this problem and other questions:
1. How the jewelled objects were made and on the skills required to produce them.
2. Where the raw material came from.
3. Whose body was buried in the ship at Sutton Hoo.
4. What was the truth about the Saxon invasion.
Unfortunately this would have to keep for another meeting and having answering a number of questions from the audience Mr. Machin thanked Mr. Harris for an enthralling and educational talk. The meeting then broke for tea and biscuits and many became Saxon warriors, trying on the helmet, lifting the heavy shield and brandishing the sword.
The Next Meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 18th of February 2019 when the Speaker will be Mr. Peter Shreyhane with a talk on “ Biddulph Schools - a Lifetime of Education.”
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