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‘Quiet Please I am Working.’

What is it about a library or an archive these days which seems to give people the idea that they have to talk very loudly.
Yesterday I planned a day in a local library to do some work. First I was moved because the room was to be used for an hour by a Reading Group. Last time I had to endure a whole morning of a knit and natter group and who knows what it will be next time, probably a cookery demonstration. Anyway I happily moved next door and got on with my work with the distant buzz of chatter about a Victoria Hislop book.
After lunch I went on working and in walked someone I knew. ‘I haven’t come to work, I’ve just come to sort my shopping out,’ she said breezily. Sometimes I wish the libraries were less welcoming to the casual dropper-in. The over-familiar user can be an absolute pain in the backside. They see the shelves as theirs and the study areas as their front room in which they can hold forth at length on any subject guaranteed to distract others from what they have come there to do.
The woman with the shopping bag was unstoppable. She babbled on about what he told her and she told him and how she was the best employee they had ever had. Eventually she declared that she was writing a book but it was very slow because she had to handwrite it. I sensed that this was my moment, ‘Why don’t you get a computer,’ I asked, ‘Oh, I haven’t time for all that!’ was the reply. And then her phone rang. Of course she answered as she was sitting in the library and made sure everyone heard the conversation. ‘Yes, we are going to work for Mr Smith, he asked for us particularly. He didn’t know who we were until we went to see him and then he recognised me. No, they won’t have anyone else.’ I could take no more. I packed my bags and left.
In the good old days when there were signs up in libraries saying, ‘Please be Quiet,’ there was a strict silence rule. Libraries could be quiet scary places until you got used to them, then you started to feel at home in this peculiar, silent world. People floated around trying to make as little noise as possible and any speech louder than a whisper was greeted with a black look from staff or a sharp word. It was, in short, a place where you went to choose your reading matter or to work. Silence reigned supreme.
Now, it is mayhem. Staff chirrup away between themselves and the constant din in some libraries makes it impossible to work. In one local archives department it is the staff who are the problem. Because they talk they give permission for everyone else to do the same. The work one does requires great concentration and I resent others slowing the work down or causing me to make mistakes. I need a big sign to put in front of me, saying,

‘Quiet Please I am Working.’


Elections in the 1830s

As we move towards an election in the UK on the 7th May it is interesting to reflect on past elections and to look back to a time when most people couldn’t vote. Expression of any sort of opinion by the disenfranchised could be met by repercussions. This is the story of elections in 1833 and 1835 in Wolverhampton.
In 1832 the Reform Bill was enacted by Parliament and by this Act Wolverhampton could send two representatives to Parliament for the first time. Voting rights were limited to households having at least £10 so most people did not have the right to vote. The four candidates were Mr Wolryche Whitmore, Mr Fryer, Mr Holyoake (part of the banking fraternity) and a Mr John Nicholson, a tea dealer from London who stood as a representative of the working man. Those who couldn’t vote, loudly supported those who could, and stones were thrown at supporters of Whitmore and Holyoake. G. B. Thorneycroft and others were badly injured by the stones and getting to a polling station at all was a frightening experience. The main polling station was at Tudor’s coach works on the Cleveland Road and a crowd of colliers and ironworkers gathered there. The military were called in and Sir John Wrottesley read the Riot Act. Polling continued fairly peacefully but afterwards a crowd gathered in the Market Place and an attack was made on the Swan Inn, breaking several windows. Squire Gifford was injured by a flying stone which kept him in bed for some days.
The next election was in 1835 when the tussle was between Colonel Anson and Sir F. Goodricke. Anson was in favour of enfranchising more of the people, only 4,000 out of a population of 130,000 could vote, but it was Goodricke who was returned. You can imagine the effect on the crowd. To say they weren’t happy was an understatement and what enraged them was a defiant attitude amongst Goodricke’s supporters who stood on the balcony of the Swan Hotel taunting them. The Rev. Clare, Vicar of Wednesfield and Bushbury, was urged to read the Riot Act but he thought the crowd was peaceable (as it was) and was in favour of walking amongst them and talking to the people. This might have worked had he not been accompanied by red-coated dragoons and the Vicar and his protectors had to beat a hasty retreat to the Swan Inn. The Rev. Clare then went on the balcony of the Swan to read the Riot Act and Captain Manning and the soldiers started to clear the crowd. The soldiers drew their swords and charged at the crowd. People fled in all directions with the soldiers galloping after them, swords being brandished to left and right. The soldiers started shooting with live ammunition, badly injuring four people. A boy of eleven, called Barton, was shot through the leg while he stood in the porch at St Peter’s, Adam Keay, a youth, was shot in the heel, Pinson, aged 20, was hit on his arm and Marriott was shot through the knee, requiring immediate amputation to save his life. After nightfall the soldiers continued to ride around threatening people and some were fired at in their own homes.
James Marriott, a hinge maker, aged 70, living on the Wednesfield Road, was interviewed by the Chronicle in 1888, to share his memories of a day that changed his life.
“ Oh, ah, I remember it well enough; I’ve cause to. It were about nine o’clock on the Wednesday night, May 27th 1835. I had taken no part in’t disturbances, not I. I were an apprentice lad then, about 17 years of age. I was apprenticed to the late Obadiah Westwood, i’ Brickkiln Street and he had sent me to Tarrett’s warehouse in’t Townwell Fold to see if it were open so that we might tak in a lot o’ work we had finished up the shop. Well, when I got to Townwell Fold there was a row on, and I heeard a shout as to how the sojers were coming down Cock Street. I stood still, we about eighteen more, just to have a peep at ’em, and just at that moment tow on ’em galloped past. They went straight on at first, driving the people before ’em and just at that moment tow on ’em galloped past. They went straight at first, driving the people before ’em, but I suppose seeing us standing together one on ’em turned his horse back and without saying a word he pointed his carbine straight at us and fired and I was down on my back in a jiffy. I felt stunned like in my right leg, and I hobbled up as well as I could on to my other, and sot me down on a big stone that were in front of that Blacksmith’s shop at the top o’ what they call Skinner Street. I then hitched my breeches up and saw a great hole right through my knee as I could have put my finger in, an’t blood was spurting out like water from a tap. Some on ’em around took me into a house near, and then they fetched Dr Coleman. As soon as he had looked at my knee he said he should have it off, too, afore midnight. The people had been hissin’ and groanin’ at t’ soldiers, there’s no doubt, and stonin’ on ’em as well, but I’d now’t to do wi’ that. Thank God! I got well over it and takin in all I’ve had very good health and good luck till now as well tho’ trade’s bin bad this last year or two.”
The affair caused a considerable stir not only in the immediate area but throughout the country. Two MPs, Villiers and Thornley raised the matter in the House of Commons and demanded a public enquiry to which Sir F. J. Wrottesley gave his support. The upshot was that Bow Street Magistrates came down from London to carry out an enquiry. At first this was behind closed doors and the Press were excluded. A letter was sent to the Home Secretary asking that the enquiry be held in public and Lord John Russell agreed. This was an enquiry of national interest and The Times and other major newspapers sent their reporters. Witnesses for the soldiers spoke, Captain Manning defended his decision to use live ammunition instead of blanks as had been done previously and said that the soldiers deliberately aimed low, as shown by the wounds of those injured. On the other hand there were credible witnesses of high standing, who spoke against their actions. T. M. Phillips, ( the Coroner I assume) said he was in Dudley Street, and saw the soldiers brandishing their sabres to the left and right. He saw one man fall and people flying in all directions. Certainly one or two victims suffered wounds to their heads. Richard Fryer Junior said that soldiers chased him to his door in Lichfield Street and one pointed a gun at him and threatened to “let the daylight into him if he didn’t go inside.”
The House of Commons judged that the soldiers had acted properly and shown, “commendable forbearance,” and the matter was dropped. Rather wisely, perhaps, Goodricke decided not to stand at the election two years later and Colonel Anson, Liberal MP, was returned.
Wolverhampton Chronicle 1888

Christmas – Handle With Care

Christmas time is a time of expectation, experience and reflection. That formula is always the same, how it works out in practice one never knows. My Christmas, like everyone else’s was full of promise, my son was coming for Christmas and we would be enjoying time together. Christmas Day over the last few years has settled into a routine of Church in the morning, followed by a long walk and a meal in the evening. This year there was a new addition to the events of the day, a game of tennis. If the sun didn’t shine on us as we walked back from Church, it certainly should have done, because we were as happy as we could be.
At home we were just getting ready to head off for our walk when the phone rang. At this point I need to explain the rules of giving and receiving gifts for those who don’t know them.
Gift-giving is an ancient tradition of sealing a relationship for some purpose. It may be political, it may even verge on bribery, but in the case of giving gifts at Christmas there is one purpose and one only, to express my appreciation of you. OK, it sounds overly sentimental but isn’t that the essence of what we are doing? I am giving a gift which has been chosen by me for you, selected with care because I believe and hope this is something you will treasure. The gift itself is a vehicle for conveying these sentiments and, they, more than the parcel itself, need handling with care.
The expectation continues, the present may sit under the Christmas tree still wrapped. This period is often delicious. We may stare at the gift for some days before Christmas Day and wonder what is hidden inside that paper. Will our dreams be fulfilled? Would it be better not to open the gift at all, then we still have the hope of what might be? But that is not the deal. We must unwrap the paper and see what is inside.
It’s our turn now to respond. How do we feel about what is in our hands, does it match our expectations? Are we disappointed, elated or indifferent? I may hold in my hands a pair of socks which I could have gone out and bought, but these are no ordinary socks. These socks are transformed because you thought enough about me  to choose something which you thought I would like. Part of you is wrapped in this gift. Now that is a big thing to respond to. How we feel about the socks or whatever matters not a jot compared with how we handle this part of the deal.
As a child I was taught always to thank someone for their gift. It was a terrible chore to write letters of thanks to aged aunts (probably in their forties) but it had to be done. ‘Thank you so much for the lovely gift you gave me. It was just what I wanted,’ was written over and over again, until the letters were written. It was irrelevant whether the gift was what I wanted or not.  I learned that there were rules in this game of give and take which had to be followed or people would get hurt. Grumble I might but thanks were given.
You may well have guessed the phone call which I had on Christmas morning. My gift to a friend had been rejected. She was not just indifferent she was angry. She felt tainted by the book, which, as she put it, was all about people with cancer. She hoped I wasn’t suggesting she had cancer. On and on it went until I put the phone down. What was the gift? Daisy Goodwin’s ‘100 Poems to Get You Through.’  I thought it was a great anthology to help you through any bad times, the recipient clearly did not. For this lady there will be other gifts, other Christmases, I hope, but I will not be part of them. Failure to play the game has consequences beyond Christmas.

‘Fragile, Handle With Care,’ should be stamped on every Christmas gift. Gift giving is a risky business. I hope you will enjoy my gift to you but I can’t guarantee that and if you don’t, I hope you are kind to me. If not, we are in dangerous territory. Like the soldiers in No-Mans Land on Christmas Day in 1914, we hope no-one will lob a grenade into the middle of the festivities. When someone does, as happened to me on Christmas Day, it makes for a very reflective Christmas.Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 09.24.08

Women and Public Speaking

You will think I have been very lazy in not putting any posts up recently but I have been preparing for a history exhibition at Worfield on June 14th and 15th and since Christmas have been able to think of little else. Incidentally, have you noticed how ‘so’ has begun to preface many people’s statements at the moment? I was tempted to start this post in the same way but tongue in cheek. These over-used words and phrases (another is ‘going forward,’) drive me nearly as bonkers as the upward inflexion at the end of a sentence which is not a question. Sometimes that makes what the person is saying totally unintelligible.

This post was inspired by a talk given by Mary Beard about whether there is something hard-wired into men which makes them less likely to listen to what a woman says. What she was talking about was speech and not the written word and it is an interesting question. Mary Beard referred to a brilliant Punch cartoon in which five men and a woman are in a meeting. The chairman says ‘That’s an excellent suggestion Miss Triggs, I wonder if one of the men would like to make it?’

As I reflected. I was wondering if this had been my experience, too. I think the answer is complicated by age, ethnicity, where one lives and many other factors besides, but this is my experience. When I was in my twenties it felt almost a positive advantage to be a woman. Employers wanted to be seen to be doing the right thing in terms of equal opportunities but industry was very much a man’s world and I was an outsider and treated as such. One managing director said to me,”You have to understand that you are not as intelligent as the men.” At a meeting  I was asked to talk through a project so that everyone knew the progress towards the deadline, I could think of nothing to say and stumbled and stuttered my way through the calendar. My abysmal performance was laughed about for weeks. Proof that I couldn’t speak in public and was pretty stupid, too!

As I have got older my confidence has increased, for a lot of this is to do with confidence, but a male audience still seems to have that immediate response of being patronising at best and downright rude at the worst. Recently I did a talk at a local historical society and after my talk, the cheque (for £25) was almost thrown at me. It might not have been my finest hour but it certainly didn’t deserve that. I determined there and then that I would never do another talk.

Last year I contacted a man to see if he could help me put right some of the issues I was having with a big project. As the client I did not expect the response I got. It was in email form but after tearing apart what I had done (all of which I knew,) he wrote, ‘Have I made you cry yet?’ The next question was ‘Still want to talk?’ Not to you, certainly, I thought. Feedback is one thing ,insulting comments about making me cry are simply not acceptable. So why do they still happen? Would this man have written that to another man? I doubt it. What did I do? Ignored the email and moved on, but each time I get more and more wary of exposing myself to male feedback.

Two years ago I was invited to take part in a selection process for start-up support for a new company. I spent about three months preparing for this to make sure that I didn’t fail. As I had been invited to take part I assumed I had a fair chance of success if I did my homework. About five minutes into the interview, one of the six people solemnly declared that my project was like collecting underpants in South Park. Everyone laughed heartily and the man glowed with pride at his coup. The decision was made. I had failed and lost a golden opportunity to present my business because a man made an insulting joke. I could have crawled under the door.  What did I do? I came out  and sobbed my heart out. Humiliation isn’t nice.

But the response that Mary Beard was talking about, that male default setting, is apparent in informal speech as well as formal situations and this is what makes the process so insidious, pervasive and hard to tackle. A male friend was telling me on the phone about his daughter and I responded by offering my thoughts on her problems. Immediately there was laughter, not the laughter in which one can join in but a jeering laughter which doesn’t convey the message, ‘That is the funniest thing I have heard,’ but ‘That is the most stupid thing I have heard.’ How did I respond? This was before I heard Mary Beard but I picked up the message clearly and said. ‘You think I am stupid but I am not.’ Was that the right response on my part? For the purposes of self preservation, yes, for the purposes of communication between men and women, no,. There have been no further conversations.

I have many good friends who are male and whose default settings are definitely not that women are stupid but I do believe that men need to be much more careful how they deal with women in business and life in general. Kid gloves we don’t want or need but a level playing field, surely that is not too much to ask for.


The Battle for Our Food

Church leaders in the UK have yesterday had a go at the UK Government about the contribution of the welfare system to the hunger of a large number of people. ‘They can’t afford to eat,’ is the message. The Church concentrates on one half of the problem, money to buy food but the other half which is just as important is the supply of food at affordable prices. For most people buying food means shopping at a supermarket.

Supermarkets have got the monopoly of food retailing and they have got it by destroying the opposition, the markets and the small independent shops. The fear when a supermarket comes to town is that the opposition will be swept away and the poorest who shop there will have to pay more. Without markets and small shops, wholesale markets will close and farmers will have nowhere to sell their produce. At the same time, the supermarkets will be banging the drum and telling you how much better off you are now than when you used to shop at the market or local shop.

What have the supermarkets done wrong? Absolutely nothing in business terms absolutely everything in terms of supplying food. Food is a need and not a want yet they have treated it merely as a commodity to carve out huge profits. They have created monopolies based on selling food,  turned food into a designer item and have changed our farming landscape, wiping out vast acres of fruit orchards, for instance. Market gardens which once supplied towns and villages with local produce are gone in favour of huge farms and long journeys from farm to supermarket shelf are the result. We have choice, all right, but it is the supermarket’s choice, not a free choice.

Supermarkets have a stranglehold on the Nation’s food and I don’t think it is right or healthy. The battle over food is between people who want to eat it and supermarkets who want to make money out of it. Throwing more money at the Welfare system may not be the solution. Let’s hope supermarkets don’t take over water as well as food or the taps in our homes may be turned off in favour of a trip to a warehouse to pick it up in large containers.Image

VAD Hospitals in World War 1

Contingency plans for war were being made at least five years before the First World War actually started. In 1909 the War Office in England was wrestling with the possibility of England being invaded from Europe. The Territorial Force was our last line of home defence but how would the sick and wounded be cared for in the event of such an invasion? The War Office’s solution was the ‘Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid in England and Wales.’ This was to be set up as part of the Territorial Force but to operate under the British Red Cross Society with the help of the St John’s Ambulance Service. The word ‘aid’ today has connotations of food and supporting the poor, but at the beginning of the twentieth century it meant first aid.

County by county across the country people responded to the call to attend first aid classes. True, this was an order from the government but its adoption was greatly helped by the upper echelons of society being in charge of the organisations involved, namely the Territorial Force, the Red Cross and the County. In Staffordshire, for example, Lord Dartmouth was the Lord Lieutenant of the County and his wife was the President of the Staffordshire Red Cross Society. So when Lord Dartmouth introduced the Voluntary Aid scheme, his wife was almost bound to support it and where the upper classes led, their staff and tenants followed.

The VAD scheme, as one newspaper reported in 1909 was a formidable one, but the success in recruiting volunteers was astonishing. By 1911, 24,000 people had joined the VAD. The groups took their work seriously and trained hard. They also encouraged others to join them by giving demonstrations, for example at Trentham Park in 1912. They held competitions and even enacted possible local battles. One such battle was imagined to have taken place between Apley and Linley in June 1911. The casualties were to be taken to various locations including Worfield 42 which was at Norton under the supervision of Helen Corbett of Stableford Hall, near Worfield. It would be just four years later that real casualties would be arriving to be cared for by Miss Corbett’s team, not at Norton, but at the newly built Worfield Recreation Room.

Eleven casualties arrived from the Front in February 1915 and by October the convalescent hospital in the Recreation Room had its full quota of patients, whatever that was. Local people were requested to donate gifts of food and tobacco (all the funds were raised by the British Red Cross.) The grounds of the local Halls, Davenport and Wyken were made available for the men’s pleasure and car rides were provided.

It is hard to imagine how hospitals would have coped with the influx of wounded from the Continent of Europe without these VAD hopsitals. Thank goodness for a contingency plan being put in place which could be implemented relatively quickly. For the men involved it must have seemed like heaven being transported to a place like Worfield, compared with the ghastly experiences they had recently suffered. The decision to set up a series of what were, in effect, convalescent hospitals across the country was one of the good decisions of the War and one which was replicated in the Second World War.

On June 14th and 15th there will be an exhibition of Worfield’s history in the Garden Room at Lower Hall, Worfield. There will also be a display of vintage/steam driven vehicles and the gardens of Lower Hall will be open. Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 12.02.22Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 06.43.14

Parish Registers

I am in the middle of a very long, painstaking job, to put the Parish Registers for Worfield Parish into a spreadsheet and then put it online for people to use. It will, of course, go online at and  a copy will be available in the Church for people to peruse.
I have wanted to do this for a very long time. Many years ago when doing a thesis on the Parish, I looked in the censuses 1841-1901 for people employed in craft-type occupations, basket weavers and the like. I found some blacksmiths and wheelwrights and nothing else, everyone else, apart from a few millers, seemed to be agricultural labourers. The pattern was disappointing and dull. The answer, of course, was that the craft occupations had long gone, but when I looked at the Parish Registers from 1562 there they were and some of them were surprising. Everyone loves surprises and Parish Registers are full of them. Take a look at a few of these.

Elenor Moore (base born) mother Mary, father not known, delivered in the open street at Newton
1609 Ismael Tirry ( base born), mother Elizabeth, delivered by the way.
1574 James (base born) surname and forenames of parents not known, delivered to a wayfaring woman.
1615 Theophilus Barney “born in ye Chapell of Lefeith,”

There are lots of things which interest me about this, not least the hardship of these women giving birth in the open. How did people survive? Yet they thought it was important to have the child baptised, even with the shame of not divulging who the father might be. In the case of the wayfaring woman, she didn’t give her names (perhaps she really didn’t have any,) but she thought it important enough to give her child a name. Assuming James survived one wonders what surname he gave himself as he grew up.

Surnames are a subject in their own right. Lucky the person who can trace his family without coming across aliases (what were they for,) or names changed for a reason at the time. My favourite is a man whose name was changed to Sing because he led the singing in Church. I know I have mentioned this before, but it always makes me smile.

Then there are the craft occupations I had looked for in the nineteenth century. There is a corser (a horse dealer), fishermen, weavers, basket makers, shearmen, tanners, glovers, carpenters, thatchers, sayers (woodcutters), tailors,  baggers, plasterer,cobbler, clothier, cowpers (barrel makers.) There is even (1607), one Francis Rowley, a merchant venturer. The agricultural labourers fall into two categories. They are either husbandmen or daylabourers which begs the question, how did the daylabourers survive when there was no casual work?

Quite often the father has already died when the child is born and the wife, if she has moved away, comes back to Worfield. So it was with Richard Tranter who was born in 1607. His father had been killed in a Broseley ‘cole pit.’ So, too, presumably with Susannah Lloyd, widow of John Lloyd ‘of Mahunclith in the County of Montgomery.’

The villages mentioned are interesting. They are several with the suffix ‘riddings,’ meaning that the land has been cleared and enclosed eg Bromley Riddings. Then there villages mentioned which no longer exist. As I do more work we will come to a time when there will be a last entry for these places and new villages will appear.

Spelling can give you an indication of how a word was pronounced. The Armitage is so much more evocative than The Hermitage as it is today. Hallon, no-one has ever been able to come to a definite view of the meaning of the place-name. The early spelling were Hawlonde, Hanlond as well as Hallon. So what was the ‘correct’ spelling. Is Hallon a shortening of Hawlonde/Hanlond?

And so I could witter on like this for a very long time. A tedious job it may be but the results justify the effort I believe.