Friday, 29 June 2018

Manorial Documents Project: Suspicion and Bonfires in Historic Nether Knutsford!

Lots of our collections include records of the manor courts dating from the 1300s right up to the early 1900s. They provide the earliest history we have of local administration with details of court proceedings, names, local rules and land transactions often in long runs of consecutive years. In addition to this, manorial records can also include maps and surveys, providing material for geographical research. The aim of this one year project is to establish a definitive list of Cheshire's manorial records, and share the stories they can tell us along the way.

The 1643-1827 court book for Nether Knutsford is at first glance, unassuming. It has a hard, brown cover with some faint decoration on the border and the hand written title ‘Nether Knutsford’. As with many manorial records, it isn’t until you start to read the book that you discover the wealth of information held within. Spanning a date range of 184 years, the book contains court proceedings, including rules and jury lists, as well as lists of donations to the poor. This particular volume is unusual as it also contains at the back a hand written index.

The index is only two pages long and not extensive, but it is a rare find in a book like this. I was a little sceptical at first, but did check the entries and they are correct! The index notes some orders relating to named individuals, orders relating to swine and for ringing the market bell among others – a useful find for anyone researching these areas. In my previous blog entry, I noted that many of the orders found in court books and rolls for Cheshire relate to the maintenance of watercourses and livestock. In this court book, however, they are quite varied. To give some examples, in the entry made on 21st October 1791 notice is given that:

'…if any vagrant or other suspicious person who is not able to give a good account of himself shall be found in this town he will be immediately taken up and prosecuted according to the law.’

It is unclear what warrants being seen as a ‘suspicious person’ at this time, but needless to say, it was not tolerated in Nether Knutsford! This same entry also includes the order:

‘…we further order and direct that the constables do for the future suppress all burnfires usually made on each fifth of November because it is considered as dangerous to the buildings and property of the inhabitants…’

‘Burnfire’ being another word for bonfire, it sounds like the celebrations would be subdued for that years’ bonfire night. This is the only year that I have found mention of supressing bonfires so it can be assumed that it was either just for this year or perhaps an alternative was found in future years – this unfortunately can’t be solved by reading this volume but it is interesting to consider. Travelling back a hundred years to an entry made in October 1690, the orders are more in line with maintenance and livestock:

‘…all persons whatsoever that keep hogs sows or pigs, shall keep them forty yards from the corn markett upon the market day upon the penalty of one shilling...’

A volume of this length is also interesting to observe the changes in handwriting and format over a period of time. Looking at the following two images, the first is an entry from the 1670s, and the second image shows an entry from 1823.

They clearly show a change from an earlier handwriting, known as ‘secretary hand’ to the later form of ‘italic’ handwriting. The entries also become longer and have fewer paragraphs. The orders and rules become more repetitive, so the same rules are repeated in each year in the later entries, showing a slightly clearer and perhaps more stable set of rules. This blog only highlights a small portion of the wealth of information which can be gathered by reading manorial court books. Even without a specific topic of research in mind, a general read through this book provides a detailed view of the changing administration in Nether Knutsford between the dates of 1643-1827. If you're interested in taking a look at this volume, you just need to visit the searchroom at Cheshire Record Office and ask for document reference DET/3244/14. In addition to this volume, we also hold court books and rolls for many of the Cheshire manors, each full of their own interesting rules and customs and each worth considering when researching the history of your home town. Keep an eye on this blog for further stories about Cheshire’s manorial documents.

The list of Cheshire Manorial documents will be made available on the Manorial Documents Register at the end of this year, to find out more about the national project, please follow this link.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

From Prejudice to Pride - Cheshire's LGBT Past

In October 2017 Cheshire Archives and Local Studies embarked upon an exciting new heritage lottery-funded project, ‘From Prejudice to Pride’, in collaboration with the LGBT group Silver Rainbows and the sexual health charity Body Positive Cheshire and North Wales. The aim of the project is to preserve the rich and varied LGBT+ history of Cheshire.

Over the last few months we have been eagerly researching our collections in order to identify items with an LGBT+ connection. We hope that by uncovering the wealth of records in our collections that reflect LGBT+ lives, histories and culture, we can help to make Cheshire’s LGBT history more widely known and accessible.

QJB 4/83. Quarter Sessions Book. March 1952.

Male homosexuality was illegal until the 1960s and there are plenty of criminal records to use in researching this subject. For example, we hold various records relating to the famous trial of Alan Turing and Arnold Murray in 1952.

We found that local newspapers were an excellent source of information for pinpointing other trials and criminal cases. For instance, we were able to learn about the shocking incident in Warrington in 1806, whereby a group of twenty-four men were arrested for homosexual offences, nine of whom were eventually tried and two of whom were hanged.

Chester Courant - Tuesday 07 October 1806 

Records relating to male homosexuality are not limited to court records. Before the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act many blackmail attempts involved a threat to expose a man as a homosexual, whether or not he were in fact gay. In one of solicitor’s collections we discovered the letters, photographs and other personal effects belonging to a gentleman in Warrington. One of the letters, written in French and sent prior to the outbreak of the First World War, seems to be an attempt to blackmail the recipient into paying for medical treatment.

The author of the letter suggests “you know well what happened to me at your house” and demands a payment of 200 francs. He ends by threatening “if you don’t do it, I shall have justice.”

Unfortunately, many records relating to LGBT history are hidden within collections and can be challenging to find. It can be particularly tricky to find records of female homosexuality, as this was never officially criminalised. However, even in the short time we have spent working on this project this hidden history has revealed some surprising and inspiring stories!

There are many historical cases of women who cross-dressed or passed as men in order to live with their female partners, but in some extraordinary cases it seems that these relationships were not concealed at all. This incredible record shows the marriage of Hannah Wright and Anne Gaskill at Taxal Parish Church in 1707. Again, in 1750 Sarah Richardson, “commonly known as Peter”, and Maria Sproston were married by publication at St Michael & All Angels, Middlewich.

Unfortunately we can’t know for sure the circumstances surrounding these marriages, but this does not make them any less captivating.

Marriage of Anne Gaskill and Hannah Wright at Taxal St James, Prestbury, 04 September 1707 (P 233/1/2)

Cheshire also has a rich history of LGBT activism. The Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) was a democratic voluntary organisation founded in 1964 with the aim achieving full legal and social equality for LGBT people in England and Wales. At one time the Chester group has over 240 members and was the biggest in the country. Meetings were held at various venues across Chester, including the Blossoms Hotel and the Bear & Billet.

The records of the Chester Campaign for Homosexual Equality group are currently held at the London School of Economics Library, but we hope that this project will encourage local residents to donate their collections of CHE records to Cheshire Archives.

The following article from a 1975 copy of the Cheshire Observer gives a fascinating insight into life within Chester CHE.

Cheshire Observer 21/11/1975 Gay Liberation article

These are just some of the fascinating records that we have discovered over the last few months – we plan to produce a new comprehensive collections guide to Cheshire’s LGBT records towards the end of the project, and of course much more LGBT history remains still hidden in the Archives.

If you have information relating to the LGBT community in Cheshire, or relevant material to add to the collections, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please telephone 01244 972574 or email for more information.

Some of the items mentioned in this article will be on display in our searchroom from 29th May to the 1st June, along with a series of banners telling key stories from Cheshire’s LGBT history.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Manorial documents project: Don't forget to fender your fender!

Lots of our collections include records of the manor courts dating from the 1300s right up to the early 1900s. They provide the earliest history we have of local administration with details of court proceedings, names, local rules and land transactions often in long runs of consecutive years. In addition to this, manorial records can also include maps and surveys, providing material for geographical research. The aim of this one year project is to establish a definitive list of Cheshire's manorial records, and share the stories they can tell us along the way.

On opening my first box of manorial documents at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, I was faced with a particularly interesting excerpt of Orders for Bidston, Moreton and Saughall Massie from the early 1800s. Not least because the first note of fines related to escaped pigs: ‘all persons suffering their pigs to wander or go abroad or astray within the said Manor’ were charged two shillings for the offence. More notable is the inclusion of the word ‘fender’ from the second paragraph onwards. It was a word which I hadn’t come across before in this context and as such, took me a small while to ensure that it wasn’t simply a long ‘s’ beginning the word.

According to Brownbill’s ‘History of the Old Parish of Bidston, Cheshire’ the act of ‘fending’ was to clear watercourses or fenders, suggesting that a fender was a sort of drainage channel. 

‘We present Ellen Wharton to fender her fender from
Arthur Godwin’s Car to James Pover Black Meadow or pay
to the Lord of the Manor 1s6d per rood for each rood not done by
the first of June next.’

Ms Wharton was not the only individual charged with fendering her fender; there is even a court order requiring people to place boundary stones along fender road to make clear which part they are liable to fix – the charge for not doing this was five shillings per offence. Other orders include instructions to ‘ditch a ditch’ and to build a bridge, the latter of which would face by far the largest fine of one pound and 19 shillings if not completed in the given time frame.

The document highlights the importance of maintaining manorial lands at this period, in this case with particular emphasis on the watercourses. This document refers largely to Bidston, which is situated in the Wirral Peninsula. Given that the land in Bidston is sandy, low-lying and mostly flat, this would account for the need for strict rules on maintaining fenders and may explain the emphasis in this document. In any case, it’s clear that the fines for not maintaining fenders and ditches could be particularly costly, especially for those with large areas of land.

What is interesting to note in this document is that each offence is charged the same regardless of the gender of the individual. The order for each offence simply mentions the individual charged and the amount that they will be liable to pay if the order is not completed. Considering that at this point in time, women were unable to vote and that the Married Women’s Property Act, which granted women the right to own land wasn’t passed until 1870, it is very interesting to note how ‘matter of fact’ the orders are when relating to women. It seems at least, in the obligations of local manor courts, men and women were treated equally. The sums are high for not abiding by the rules, which also suggests that women had access to decent sums of money if they were expected to meet these fines.

The list of Cheshire Manorial documents will be made available on the Manorial Documents Register at the end of this year, to find out more about the national project,
please follow this link.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Volunteer Stories: Wandering and wondering about Warrington

Kath and Joan didn't know each other when they began volunteering here, they are now a crack team and firm friends, having worked their way through 2,764 (and counting) Warrington Borough Council building plans - removing old acidic envelopes, repackaging, inspecting and cataloguing - making them searchable and accessible for the first time. Here they reflect on their experience ...

It usually seems that the rich and powerful leave the better preserved records and artefacts. This is not always the case in the drawings for planning permissions granted by Warrington Borough Council in the early 1880s. It is the less well-off doing their own drawings on rougher quality paper whose records are usually better preserved. The architects used tracing paper for the block plans, ground plans, elevations and sections for the better off clients. Unfortunately, as Angela, one of the conservators here explains ‘Transparent papers do not age well and are often found in poorer physical condition than non-transparent papers of the same age. They were exposed to acids, impregnated with oils or manufactured with over-beaten fibres to give them their transparent qualities. Oxidation and acid hydrolysis will cause discolouration and cause the paper to become brittle and prone to cracking.’ Fortunately, the main architects of Warrington, William Owen, Robert Curran, and Pierpoint & Adams, usually write an accompanying letter which contain the salient facts - where, what and for whom. A glimpse of social mobility is provided during this period when John Wright from his letterheads moves from being a builder to an architect in the town.

Planning permission provides a fascinating snapshot of the development of Warrington in the late 19th century. There are applications to build new streets of terraced houses which have to be built in accordance with the local bye-laws, brick built, slate roofed and with drainage to sewers as well as with closets in the yards. 'To be drained as shown with glazed socket drain tiles laid with proper fall and clay puddled joints into the present nine inch sewer in Porter Street' (1882, Mr William Hewitt). Bathrooms and indoor closets are the preserve of the rich in the borough. Yet James Parkinson wants to convert a kitchen and lumber room to a photographic studio complete with dressing room, preparing room and darkroom and an indoor closet in 1883. The names of the developers and landowners are a fascinating mix of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ men of Warrington: a map drawn up in 1882 of the land owned by the Honourable Leopold W H Powys shows numerous new streets with no names available for leasing to builders in Little Sankey. The names of the developers including John Appleton and William Porter keep on reoccurring.

Applications for planning permissions not only provide information about the architects, builders, and the landowners but also reveal how the borough was developing otherwise. Schools are being built or altered; some include a house for the teacher as well as the separate girls’ and boys’ entrances, classrooms and playgrounds. Is it a case of desperate measures in a very last-minute application to build two closets at Bank Street School before the “schools open again on Monday next.”?

Entertainment is also provided for: an application was received from Mr Harmston for a temporary erection of a circus tent in 1881 complete with side elevations and a ground plan showing the seating, an orchestra pit and stabling (above). In 1883 Mr Brinsley Sheridan applied to construct a new theatre on Scotland Road (below).

Commercial premises also reflect new standards, when in 1883 a new fish warehouse had to comply with the standards laid down by the Local Board of Health. Even the man who converted his front room and bedroom above to a temporary stable and hayloft had to make sure that there was no direct access to these new features from the rest of his house.

Talking of stables, there is no greater contrast between the rich Captain Sylvanus Reynolds’ substantial architect-designed brick built stable house with accommodation for the coach man and four horses and the distinctly less wealthy Mr W Owen wood shippon stable for four horses to be built on waste land off Ellesmere Street as shown on the rough sketch drawn by him which comprises his planning application.

There is also evidence of the growing wealth of women, who owned property and were active in its development or alteration at a time when married women’s possession (and they themselves) were the property of their husbands. Mrs Ann Jackson applies for permission to build a slaughter house and stable in Church Street, and Mrs Harriet Woods owns houses on Church Street and a druggist shop on the corner of Church Street and Orchard Street and more cottages on Orchard Street and wants to build a warehouse between the druggist and the cottages.

Finally, just to prove that there is nothing new in the current fashion for artisan coffee, Mr Geddes wants to build a new warehouse at the junction of Peter Street and Market Street for his coffee roasting room and shop.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Volunteer Stories: Connecting with a collection

In 2016, Sandbach High School student Zia Duncan first began examining our collection relating to the Knutsford Ordination Test School (collection reference D 3917). She had this very personal and emotional response to the material ...

It has been just over a century since the beginning of World War One in 1914, a war that lasted four years but took millions of lives away from families across the world. But for the ones that survived, they came back to a home that was very different. Boys who were pulled out of having an education at fifteen or sixteen came back as men who lacked the knowledge and training for future careers as the years that were supposed to be spent in school had been replaced by living in a trench. Their prospects seemed dim, especially for the poorer classes who could not afford the cost of re-learning all their missed years.

Using newspaper articles, photographs and written histories related to the school I was able to research the incredible story of the men who had had the courage and bravery to fight but now wanted to build a future for themselves. The building chosen to house this school was originally Knutsford Gaol, which had been occupied by German prisoners during the war. Due to the housing shortage it was one of the few remaining buildings left that could house the number of men, although it was grim, dirty and out-dated. After enduring the trenches, there were initially some doubts as to how the men would take the news, but fortunately they rose to the occasion. The students arrived at their new school on the 26th March 1919. The advance party, which was aided by a few local well-wishers, had worked very hard to get it ready in time (which meant cleaning up the mess of the German prisoners). Men would now enter their first term at Knutsford with “gallant and high-hearted happiness”.

Despite the obstacles that the residents of the Test School had to face, many of them completed their education in the subjects of History, Natural Science, English Literature and Greek (or Latin) to Test Examination standard and set themselves on the road for higher ambitions. For example, by the end of the Summer term in 1920, 155 men left for further education, 111 for universities and 44 for theological colleges. Through the dedication of the local people and the well-wishers who helped transform the dirty Gaol into a school, the former soldiers of a dreadful world war had managed to set themselves up for a bright, well-deserved future.

Volunteer Katherine Treacher has continued working on the collection as we anticipate there may well be interest in this remarkable institution in its centenary year in 2019. The collection has inspired her to visit sites connected with the School, including St John's in Knutsford where the men went to church. She continues the story ...

The primary aim of the Knutsford Ordination Test School was to educate young men from all backgrounds returning from the First World War having missed out on higher education, with a view to them following their vocation to become priests. The school spent two years equipping the men with an education that would give them access to theological college or university to progress on to ordination. The ‘test’ part of the school’s ethos referred to the testing of each student’s commitment and suitability for clerical life. One well-known figure involved in the teaching at the School was the Reverend Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton of the Toc H movement.

By 1922 the Church of England had stopped funding the school and it became a voluntary organisation. With this came the necessity for the School to raise all its own funds and provide student bursaries with limited outside support. From then on the School’s existence seems to have been dogged by struggles to raise enough money to stay open.

The archive contains many interesting documents including Annual Reports that chart the progress of the School from its early beginnings until the early 1940s when funding became extremely challenging. They record the progress of the school from Knutsford Gaol, now the site of Booths supermarket, to the Hawarden Old Rectory, now the Flintshire Record Office. The School had moved briefly in the early 1920s to a large house near Knutsford Common but struggled to operate in cramped conditions. In 1925, the Gladstone family gifted the Old Rectory at Hawarden (new) Castle and £3000 for building works to enable the creation of a new, spacious school in grounds of nearly eight acres.

The Annual Reports also record the wide variety of activities, giving an impression of a lively and vibrant community involving sporting events, fĂȘtes, festivals, musical concerts, plays, lectures, lantern shows and Quiet Days led by local bishops and other religious visitors. As the number of ordained old boys from the school grew, so subscriptions and donations from their parishes grew, helping to make the heyday of the school the late 1920s. The archive also includes copies of the School magazine Ducdame and magazines of the Knutsford Fellowship dating until the early 1970s.

There is also a card index which contains what appear to be the records of all the students who attended the School and notes about their nature, attendance and later careers. Comments such as ‘fond of girls…sacked!’ and ‘chief interest cars and films,’ are amongst the more colourful. This information might be of particular interest to researchers interested in tracing an ancestor who attended the School. Amongst other items that might be of interest are playbills, copies of exams, minutes, letters, Knutsford Fellowship directories and numerous photographs of the men. A number of photographs have names on the back or are early, signed studio portraits, but many more of these are not named. However, the spirit of School is apparent in the numerous group shots which emit happiness and pride.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Volunteer stories: Record Office staff get cooking

For our popular 'Cooking the Books' event staff at the Record Office volunteered their time and culinary skills to recreate recipes from the archives ... here is a modern take on the 18th century cook and businesswoman Elizabeth Raffald's herb pie!

Just nine lines of recipe but how to translate into a modern pie? I began with groats … any grain with the husk still on. Thought about going a bit Yotam with freekeh which I think would work nicely with the other flavours but settled on pot barley to remain authentic local.

I decided early on that I wouldn’t be adding a pound of butter at the end but would cook with butter throughout – I wondered if the reasoning behind boiling all the ingredients and then adding such a large quantity of butter was to do with how tricky it may have been to control the heat on domestic fires and ranges so risk burning it, but how vital it would have been for flavour and calories during Lent? The fact that Elizabeth mentions the option of a raised crust made me opt for hot water crust pastry.

Serves 4-6

For the filling
75g unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
200g pot barley
1 large leek, sliced
beetroot tops or chard
baby leaf spinach
2 apples, sliced

For the pastry
300g plain flour
75g butter
75g lard
135 ml hot water
1 egg

Take a large saucepan. Gently cook the onion in 25g of the butter, stir in the barley to coat and add enough boiling water to cover. Leave to simmer for around 40 minutes, topping up with boiling water as necessary. Test the barley can be bitten, turn off the heat and leave to cool with the lid on, any remaining liquid should be absorbed.

Make the hot water crust pastry. Rub the butter into the flour until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. In a small pan on a gentle heat melt the lard in the hot water, then pour onto the flour mixture. Mix with a knife and bring it together into a ball. Leave to cool until room temperature and finish making the filling.

Take a deep frying pan and gently fry the leeks in the remaining butter. Roughly chop enough lettuce, parsley and beetroot tops or chard to match the quantity of leeks and add them to the frying pan with the same quantity of baby spinach leaves. (If using chard add the chopped thicker stalks at the same time as the leeks). Cook until the leaves have collapsed and stir in the sliced apple and groats. Season well with salt and pepper to taste.

Roll out two thirds of the pastry and line a ten inch square baking tin. Add the filling and top with a lid rolled from the remaining pastry. Press the edges together and beat the egg with a pinch of salt and brush onto the pie.

Place in the middle of the oven preheated to 180 degrees centigrade and bake for about an hour, the pastry will be golden brown.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Volunteer Stories: Records of the Ridge

A ‘stray item from the archives of Merriman, Porter and Long, solicitors of Marlborough’ arrived on the archivist’s desk, transferred to Cheshire Archives from the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. The same archivist who, a few months earlier, had run a training session for volunteers embarking on a project to research and locate documentary and physical evidence of quarrying on Cheshire’s Sandstone Ridge. There were quarries marked on this map of Manley – the archivist alerted the group to the new arrival … David Joyce, volunteer with the Ridge, Rocks and Springs project completes the story …

“A tin case containing some old plans of lands seemingly of no use” reads the faded, discoloured, remnant of the original wrapper inside Cheshire Record Office folder D8835. How wrong this was.

The staff at the Record Office had kindly directed us to this treasure and it provides a fascinating insight into the Manor of Manley. The accession contains four maps of Manley. The separate sections are marked north, south, east and west quarters and include instructions how to overlap them to make the complete manor. The heading of the maps is “A Plan of the Manor of Manley belonging to Jocelyn Deane Esq 1777 taken from an original plan for Robert Davies Esq 1722.”

We have been researching Manley as part of the Sandstone Ridge Trust ‘The Ridge Rocks and Springs’ project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project is looking at quarries, ancient water supplies and historic graffiti along Cheshire’s sandstone ridge.

Previous research suggests that Manley quarry has been in use since Roman times but there are two main quarries in the parish and it is often difficult to distinguish between them when reference is being made to ‘the quarry’. One is usually known as Manley Quarry, and the other one is on Simmonds Hill. These maps clearly show Manley quarry but at that date, the quarry on Simmonds Hill was not marked. There is a sketch of Simon’s Hill (now Simmonds Hill) but no quarry is shown and the area is simply labelled ‘Commons’. In contrast, Manley Quarry is sketched showing the workings and buildings.

But - what was the windmill used for shown next to ‘Croft by the house – tenant Alice Frodsham’? The ‘Moss’ has clear sketch markings but which are hard to interpret –possibly peat cutting? The spelling of many places varies, such as Molesworth Common (now Moldsworth) and the Forest of Dalamere (not Delamere). Lords Well is documented but not Swans Well which was an important landmark on a map of Delamere Forest dated 1813.

As usual with historical research the documents throw up as many questions as answers!

The project has now published its findings online and in a booklet.