Friday, 19 May 2017

Votes for Women!

Over the weekend of 20th and 21st May, Chester will play host to their very own Women of the World (WOW) Festival. Based at Storyhouse, WOW will feature a line-up of talks, performances, panel discussions and workshops dedicated to celebrating women and girls worldwide. The festival hopes to bring women and men together to examine the obstacles still faced today and how they can be overcome.Thanks to WOW, I was intrigued to delve into Chester’s past to discover how women of Chester have strived to make the world a fairer, more equal place.

Little is known about Chester’s connection to the ‘Votes for Women’ movement, however the discovery of an article written in 1939 to celebrate the 21st anniversary of women’s enfranchisement, sheds considerable light on the activities and organisations in Chester dedicated to achieving votes for women.
‘Chester saw some of the activities of the suffragettes who worked for the cause with energy and enthusiasm, and were careful, as a rule, to keep within constitutional bounds.’
(Cheshire Observer, March 25th 1939, MF 225/74)

This sparked an idea! Given that newspapers were the principle means of communicating to a mass audience and the most widespread media form in the Edwardian age, I wondered whether it would be possible to piece together Chester’s suffrage past using old editions of local newspapers held on microfilm at the Record Office.I discovered a number of local newspaper reports detailing the peaceful activities of organisations that had set up branches in Chester, particularly the Chester Women’s Suffrage Society, the Women’s Freedom League and the National Union of Women’s Suffragist Societies (NUWSS). An article written by a ‘Lady Correspondent’ remarks that all branches of the NUWSS, including the Chester branch, stood for the ‘enfranchisement of women worked for on peaceful and law-abiding lines, and that the recourse to violence is destructive.’ (Chester Chronicle, 18th July 1914, MF 204/38).Unlike more militant organisations such as the Women’s Social and Political Union, evidence suggests that organisations in Chester concentrated on legal and peaceful means of drawing attention to their cause by arranging speeches, events and the sale of merchandise to raise funds. The Women’s Freedom League even opened a Suffrage shop at 45 St. Werburgh’s Street where they sold merchandise such as badges. 
Chester Chronicle, 13th January 1912, MF 204/36

Chester Chronicle, 16th February 1918, MF 204/268

Despite the preference for legal and peaceful means of protest in Chester, Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the more militant WSPU, visited the city in January 1912. Despite the Hall not being filled, reports indicate that Mrs. Pankhurst received a ‘good reception’. Speaking with ‘great clearness and… putting her points with telling effect’, Mrs. Pankhurst declared that she wanted ‘every human being, if possible, to have some control over the spending of taxation and the making of laws’. Mrs. Pankhurst also spent time defending militancy commenting that ‘it was not the reasonable patient person who ever got anything’ and posing the question ‘Were the women of Chester prepared to help?’
Chester Chronicle, 13th January 1912, MF 204/36

The article I first found in the Cheshire Observer dated 1939 reveals that there was one particular incident that saw the events in Chester make widespread national news.
‘There was a notable incident however, when their zeal outran their discretion and they brought themselves in conflict with the law. It occurred in the summer of 1912, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, was the victim of their violence.’
(Cheshire Observer, March 25th 1939, MF 225/74)
On his return from Dublin, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith paid a visit to Chester. Arriving at Chester Station on Saturday 20th July 1912, the Prime Minister made his way to the Town Hall to meet the gathered crowds.
‘About twenty past two there was a commotion among the crowd… The Prime Minister had arrived… The fleet of cars sailed into the Square almost noiselessly, and the third car, decorated with blue ribbons, contained the Prime Minister.’(Chester Chronicle, 20th July 1912, MF 207/36)

‘There was a spasm of violent excitement among the crowd as it stopped. Something had happened which not everybody could see, but everybody could see a stalwart policeman pounce on a protesting young woman and forcibly haul her off to the lock-up. She was a suffragette, a bag of flour had been thrown (it was said) at the Prime Minister’s car, and she had been arrested for it’.
Chester Chronicle, 20th July 1912, MF 207/36
A report from the Cheshire Observer dated July 27th 1912 harked at the ‘Exciting and alarming incident’, describing how the ‘excited lady’ appeared to ‘rush out of the crowd and hurl something at the car’.
‘Instantly, P.C. Baker secured the lady, and at almost the same moment another lady was heard shouting and pushing through the crowd. P.C. Wakelin pushed her back… As the lady in custody was taken past his car on her way to the Police Office, she jeered at him, and the crowd returned the compliment to her.’ (Cheshire Observer, 27th July 1912 MF 225/35)

Reporting on the aftermath of ‘The Chester Incident’, the Cheshire Observer recounted events at the Police Court. Charged with the assault of Frank Clark who had been driving the car that was hit by flour, the assailant was identified as Mary Phillips, a journalist from Cornwall. Giving evidence, the Chief Constable asked ‘the Bench to make an example of the defendant.’ (Cheshire Observer, 27th July 1912 MF 225/35)
‘There was no doubt that the missile was intended for the Prime Minster. If Cabinet Ministers could not travel about the country without attempts being made to assault them, then the country must be coming to state of anarchy.’ (Cheshire Observer, 27th July 1912, MF 225/35). Despite denying the charge of assault and protesting that if she had intended to injure the Prime Minister or damage the car she would have used a more dangerous missile, Mary Phillips was found guilty. She had the choice to pay 5s. in fines and additional costs, or receive seven days imprisonment in the second division. She refused to pay the fine, but it was later paid by a ‘prominent Chester Liberal’ whose identity remains unknown still.

Cheshire Observer, 27th July 1912, MF 225/35

By piecing together the newspaper articles above, we can come to understand that the women of Chester were engaged with the political campaign to give women the vote and furthermore, that the streets of Chester did witness militant action to advance this aim. 2018 marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918 gave the vote to around 8.4 million  women over the age of 30 who met certain conditions, including owning a property. It took a further decade for women to receive the vote on the same terms as men with the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 extending the vote to all women over the age of 21.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Some Theatrical Entertainments in Chester in the18th and 19th Centuries

Here in Chester, in 2017, a new theatre opens its doors on Northgate Street.  The first production on the Storyhouse stage is a new adaptation of ‘The Beggar’s Opera’.  Go back nearly 250 years, to a time when ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ was a very popular hit show, and the New Theatre on Northgate Street is welcoming the Venetian’s Company of Performers, from Sadler’s Wells, London.  The Chester Courant of October 1768 carries an advertisement for the show, highlighting the entertaining delights of ‘Stiff Rope Dancing’, ‘Lofty Tumbling’, the ‘diverting tricks’ of Monsieur de Monkeyro, Miss Wilkinson and Signior Georgi on the ‘Musical Glasses’ and a Pantomime.

What was then known as the New Theatre started life as the Chapel of St Nicholas in 1280 and had a variety of uses over the years before becoming a theatre.  In 1777 an Act to Licence a Theatre (ref. acts/b/51) saw it converted into the Theatre Royal.  With the premises now being officially licensed, the players could perform without the risk of being raided by the city magistrates, halting the performance.  In the mid-19th century it became a concert hall and its last incarnation as an entertainment venue was as a cinema, which closed its doors in 1961.  Nowadays it is better known to residents and visitors as Superdrug.
I was interested to see what other theatrical entertainments were on offer years ago, and though we don’t have an extensive theatrical collection, it does have its moments!  For example, looking at the 19th century playbills we hold, you can see that the touring companies that visited the city set up their shows in a range of places, not just the Theatre Royal.  ‘Thiodon’s Mechanical & Picturesque Theatre of the Arts’ was playing in the Royal Hotel Assembly Room, offering the eager public the delights of mechanical figures depicting the ‘Birth of Venus’ and ‘Buonaparte Crossing The Alps’ with his army of 30,000 men, ‘announced by an extraordinary instrument consisting of sixteen trumpets’.  The evening’s entertainment concluding with a ’Storm at Sea’ complete with ‘agitation of the waves … Lightning, Thunder etc’!  Other companies performed at the Royal Britannia Theatre near the Bowling Green Inn, the Pantheon on Grosvenor Street and at Latimer’s Theatre, where you could see ‘The Bohemian Girl! Or the Deformed of Notre Dame!’  The venues and performances may have varied greatly in quality, but all seemed to finish off the evening’s entertainment with, at the very least, a dance and a comic song but more often, a Farce - ‘How To Settle Accounts With Your Laundress’ being a notable example.

The posters not only outlined tempting teasers for the unfolding drama, but were full of spoilers.  The audiences for ‘Ambrose Gwinett or A Seaside Story’ could be lured into the theatre with the prospect of a ‘Press Gang’, a ‘Bloody Handkerchief’, an ‘Ugly Postman’ (always suspect!) and an ‘Unwelcome Guest’!  With the promised peril of an accusation of ‘Murder’ and our hero sentenced to be ‘Hung In Chains’, you might think the audience felt they simply had to attend to discover the outcome, but no such thing!  The poster reassures us that we will see ‘Innocence Triumphant’ and the play will culminate with the ‘Death of the Guilty’!  Hurrah!  Presumably, 19th century audiences preferred to know exactly what they were committing to on a night out.

Over on Northgate Street, the Theatre Royal was playing host to Signor Stanislaus, ‘The Wonderful and Unrivalled Fire King!’  During the first half of the evening he showed off his strength - raising a table with his teeth, on which stood a soldier, lifting a variety of heavy weights - backwards, and having a stone weighing 300lbs broken over his head with a sledge hammer!  The second half of the show saw him perform even more amazing feats – holding red hot iron in his hands and mouth, even biting off several pieces (!?) swallowing blazing pitch and finally, the ‘Polish Salamander Will Stand Bare-footed in a Large Fire of Blazing Charcoal!!!’  To bring the audience back to its senses and send them home happy, the evening ended with the usual Farce.

However, not all theatrical events ended happily. One performance, in a building on Watergate Street in 1772, ended in tragedy. Our Local Studies collection has a poem which was ‘Occasioned by the late dreadful Explosion of Gunpowder, on the Fifth Day of November, 1772 … whereby a Company assembled at a Puppet-Show … were blown up, and many killed and wounded.’ (ref. 014203) After describing the event, the poem continues with prolonged moral ‘Reflections, Expostulations and Exhortations …The whole designed as a Terror to evil doers, and an Alarm to those that are asleep.’ There is an article in the November 1979 edition of Cheshire Life, written by John Bridge, which tells the story of the night’s events. The Puppet Theatre was held in Eaton’s Room, part of a multi-storied building on Watergate Street. The room below it was a warehouse where 800lbs of gunpowder were stored! The building was almost completely destroyed and, given the date and the contents of the warehouse, it would be a very funny Bonfire Night story, if it were not for the great loss of life. Nineteen died in the explosion and fifty-seven people were admitted to hospital, four of whom subsequently died, and a further thirty had minor injuries.

But to end with something jollier – no, not a Farce, but a Circus! Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal!

On seeing these posters, one of our volunteers remarked ‘Like in Sgt Pepper? Mr Kite?’ and indeed he was.  A quick search of the internet revealed that the song ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite’ was inspired by an old poster for a performance of Pablo Fanque’s circus as a fund raiser for a fellow artiste, Mr Kite.  Pablo Fanque was an English equestrian performer and circus proprietor and the first non-white British circus owner in Britain.  Circuses  were extremely popular in Victorian Britain, and his topped the list for nearly thirty years.  He was famed for his dancing horses, most likely what we would now call dressage, and the London Illustrated News reported that ‘…the steed dances to the air, and the band has not to accommodate itself to the action of the horse, as in previous performances of this kind.’  However extraordinary the dressage skills of his horses may have been, the poster illustration of waltzing horses does seem a little generous!  Alas, the only Cheshire connection, apart from his Circus performances in Chester, is that he died in Stockport on 4th May 1871.  He was buried with his wife, in Leeds.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

T.A. Coward and the origins of ‘jizz’?

You know that moment when you bump into something which you thought only you had the vaguest interest in, and suddenly it all makes just a little bit more sense?  Well, that moment…

I was looking through some of our Local Studies collection relating to Birding and Ornithology when I fell upon a book by the Cheshire Naturalist T.A. Coward entitled Bird Haunts and Nature Memories (Reference 200289) from 1922. This is a handsome volume published by Frederick Warne, a collection of sometimes revised articles, many of which we are told originally appeared in the Manchester Guardian, Scotsman, Daily Despatch and Westminster Review.  Sadly which pieces appeared in which publication, and when, is not disclosed.  Many, but not all, of the articles have local interest and are focussed on Cheshire (or what was Cheshire) and the Wirral, with others relating to the North Wales Coastline.  I was initially fascinated by a lovely chapter on A Cheshire Bird (the Great Crested Grebe) as well as the rather poetic Memories of a Cheshire Moor which relates to Carrington Moss and proceeds from 1884 through 1894, 1904, 1914, ending in 1921, finishing with the somewhat unsettling sentence “Perhaps Carrington Moss was a better place forty years ago.” 

There’s also a fantastic piece (with photographs) entitled An Old Cheshire Wild-Fowler which describes the life of such an individual on the frozen Dee marshes near Sealand.  Much of this writing is very much of a different time.  In this article, Coward (a lifelong Ornithologist) resolutely defends the ‘sport’ (as he sees it) of Wildfowling.  The article even describes (in passing) the hunting of Spoonbills, which recent visitors to RSPB Burton Mere and elsewhere wouldn’t be very happy about
in 2017, I’m sure.

Anyway, we must eventually proceed to the real subject of this blog.  As a (very bad) birder with an ability to easily forget the name of something I had pointed out to me only the day before, I’ve always been interested in the birding concept of ‘jizz’.  This is a term much used on “Introduction to Birding” type courses, and in many identification books.  I’ve always understood it to mean that comprehension of the identity of a bird without having fully captured it in clear sight.  An example might be that you’re digging at the allotment and ‘sense’ a little bird hopping around waiting for you to disturb a worm.  Somehow you ‘know’ without looking at it that it’s a Robin.  That ‘knowing’ – in effect being aware of the little bird’s ‘Robin-ness’ is its ‘jizz’.  You don’t have to clearly see it to know it’s a Robin. In the early 90s (around the time Rob Hume’s Birds by Character – a Field Guide to Jizz Identification was published) I remember asking a (much better and far more knowledgeable) birding friend where the term came from (the book, which is actually really good, is very vague in defining the term’s history).  There followed lots of shrugging of shoulders and mumbling.  Nobody seemed to know.  As I went online in the mid 90s I remember looking on various forums.  The general consensus then seemed to be that it might have something to do with GISS (General Impression of Size and Shape) which is a term in use by aeroplane spotters and dates back to at least WWII.  Others argued (less convincingly to me, anyway) that it was a corruption of gestalt, a German word which roughly translates as ‘form and shape’.

Imagine my surprise and delight then when I open up this wonderful book in our Local Studies collection to find on pages 141-144 a chapter entitled ‘Jizz’.  As I read it, it clearly defines the concept, if not the origin (which Coward states only as coming from ‘A West Coast Irishman’), of the birding term: “That mental picture recorded through the eye is accurate in proportion to our familiarity with the species; the more familiar we are the less we note except the jizz.  The passing curlew may have a long curved bill, a pale lower back, a strong distinctive flight; we knew these characters were present, but we did not actually see them; we saw a curlew.  Curlew flashed into the brain without pause for mental analysis, for we noted the jizz.”  Ignoring the fact that the origin of the word is so uncorroborated (and there is little evidence from anywhere I can see that this is indeed an Irish word) these four pages provide the perfect definition of the term as it is used today proving that the word has been around for much longer than previously thought.  As I rush to the computer to announce my findings to a no doubt expectant world, it becomes apparent that I’m not the first to realise this.  Coward’s book was not a massive seller, but he was a well-known Ornithologist and Naturalist of the time, and some of his titles did sell in high numbers, although I’m unaware if he used the term in any of these other books. But others have seen this title and found this chapter.  The earliest written reference I can find to Coward’s use of the term is in David McDonald’s The Etymology of Jizz (published in Canberra Bird Notes Vol 21 No.1 1996).  The Oxford English Dictionary has updated its entry to reflect it.  Both, I think, very much underplay the way in which Coward exactly defines how the word is used today. 

As for my interest in the term, I’m not really sure if this marks the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning.  Perhaps I’ll just forget all about it for another twenty years or so.  Maybe if I could just find the original newspaper publication (if indeed there was one)…
And, finally, if you do have an interest in Ornithology, do please have a look at our catalogue and see what you can spot.  As well as our varied Local Studies collection of published material, we also have some fascinating Archive items that might interest.  One of my favourites is D4643/1 which is a notebook belonging to an Arthur Lewis of 28 Arkles Lane, Liverpool (literally just around the corner from Anfield, on the edge of Stanley Park).  This is a fascinating nature notebook from the first decade of the Twentieth Century in which young Arthur records his birding finds both in Liverpool and out on jaunts to the Wirral, and into both Cheshire and Wales.  This is the kind of thing he recorded:

According to a note in the front of the book, Arthur later lived (and died) in Watergate Street, Chester.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Buzzing about books

I spent around a year working on the rare book collection as a volunteer for Cheshire Archives & Local Studies. The aim of the project was to describe all the items in detail so they could be catalogued and made available to anybody who wants to look at them.  The books themselves are varied to say the least.  There are of course a large amount of books that relate to the county of Cheshire, and so many about Chester that if you read them all you could be considered the number one expert! 

Some unusual things have also found their way into the exclusive club that is the rare book collection.  I came across ‘Clog Shop Chronicles’ by John Ackworth, containing stories about life in a fictional Lancashire village and written in 19th century Bolton dialect. My favourite book, however, has to be ‘Buzz a Buzz, or The Bees’ by W. C. Cotton (Vicar of Frodsham), complete with gorgeous illustrations and a humorous story. I admit I forgot my volunteering duties and spent a good thirty minutes reading it!

The Queen Bee                                                        Ref: 014097

It was wonderful to volunteer for such a fantastic project and getting to touch and browse the marvelous array of materials is something that I don’t have the opportunity to do normally.  However it was so much more than looking at pretty pictures, stunning maps and reading interesting facts - it was the chance to acquire new skills.  By giving up four hours of my time every fortnight I had the opportunity to acquire cataloguing skills and experience, which will help me in my future career as a librarian.

I would encourage anyone to browse the local studies catalogue for rare books and see what wonderful gems pop up that might be useful for your research, or to simply while away an afternoon reading.
by Jennifer Davies (CALS Volunteer)

Many thanks to our volunteers Jen Davies, Susan Jones, and Kathy Jones for preparing and listing over 600 items in the Rare Books Collection. The work of our volunteers is invaluable to projects like this and greatly appreciated!

The collection includes published material about Cheshire between the 16th and 20th Centuries, as well as early works by Cheshire authors such as:
             Ranulph Higden  Polycronycon (1527, 3rd edition)
John Speed  The historie of Great Britaine under the conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans (1632, 3rd edition)
John Gerard  The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes (1633, 2nd edition)
Daniel King  The Vale-Royall of England or the County Palatine of Chester  (1656)
Peter Leycester  Historical antiquities in two books… (1673)
Randle Holme  Academy of armory and blazon (1688)
John Broster  History of the siege of Chester during the Civil Wars in the time of King Charles I (1790)
J. H. Hanshall  History of the County Palatine of Chester. Parts 1-22 (1817-1823)

                                                                                                                       Ref: 227941

Friday, 9 December 2016

Discovering Deeds...and the Magic of PowerPoint for animation!

Miranda Lennon is working on a one year traineeship as part of The National Archives Transforming Archives scheme. In this blog she gives an update of her experience so far.

For the past few weeks I have been working on Cheshire Archives and Local Studies’ ‘Explore Your Archive’ campaign…my labour of love!

This project has been a big learning curve for me. It has been a real pleasure to have the creative freedom to express my ideas, and I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to utilise and develop my existing skills in art, design and I.T.  

The project brief was to create a campaign to promote Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, with a focus on the medieval deeds collection. The campaign needed to appeal to a wide audience and its purpose was to ‘Bring archives alive, inspire others’. One particular sentence in the brief stood out to me; ‘Build a story or a picture in their mind, evoke a sense of journey’.  When reading this my immediate thoughts were that there was potential to make a creative visual impact. I wanted to contribute my creative design skills to create something unique and inspiring.

The next step in the project was to gather my thoughts and to come up with some possible outcomes for the campaign. After much deliberation I decided to run with the idea of making a creative animation (at this point I hadn’t the faintest idea how to create an animation!).  I wanted to relish the opportunity to learn as much as I could, whilst making the most of the creative freedom which I had been granted!

I began by creating a rough idea for a story and then breaking this down into a storyboard for each scene. 

Storyboard showing rough slide ideas, created on PowerPoint

I pondered methods I could use for creating the animation. I was thinking that I would quite like to do something with old fashioned charm, inspired by the enchanting charm captured in many of the original stop motion animations; by pioneers like Lotte Reiniger (many of her animations are available on YouTube and the BFI Player).

I decided I would use PowerPoint due to the limited software available to me, and I ascertained that using PowerPoint software would be less time consuming than the more traditional stop motion methods involving using a camera.

I began the process by hand drawing images for my animation. I scanned the images and edited them in Photoshop to ensure the lines were visible and defined. I also used some existing images, which I edited in Photoshop.

Scan of original sketch

I used the ‘Quick Selection Tool’ followed by ‘Refine Edge’ in Photoshop to cut out the images. I then saved the images into a ‘Save for Web’ format which deletes any white background by isolating the image. 

I inserted the images into PowerPoint slides and added animation effects to each image. I experimented with the selection of animation effects available, including ‘Entrance’, ‘Exit’, ‘Emphasis’ and ‘Motion’ effects. It is all about experimentation and timing when working in PowerPoint! You can also layer up different effects; for example I layered a slow ‘Teeter’ and ‘Fly In’ to make the characters ‘wobble’ into each scene. I used the ‘Brush Colour’ effect at a slow speed to make the text appear gradually, as if the hand was writing it. 

PowerPoint work in progress showing 'Animation Pane'

The PowerPoint possibilities are endless..!

My animation ‘Discovering Deeds’ is now available on YouTube for your viewing pleasure!

I sincerely hope it fulfills its purpose by educating, entertaining and inspiring! 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Herons and Heronries (and a deceased Marten)

As I was walking to work alongside the canal in Chester earlier this year, just about parallel with the Shot Tower, I was surprised to see a Heron staring indifferently at me from the canal edge and this exceptional encounter made me wonder whereabouts it might normally reside? Not being a local, the only Heronry I know personally is the large one at the RSPB reserve Burton Mere on the Wirral, which now seems to house almost as many Little Egrets as it does Herons, a sign perhaps of things to come.

I thought I’d take a look and see what I could find on the birds in the Archives & Local Studies collections.  A look at the catalogue shows only three items catalogued under ‘Heronries’ (there are others, but the problem with searching for ‘Heron’ is that one also brings up all the records for individuals with that surname), but they are very interesting nonetheless.  The oldest, and definitely most fascinating, is a bound copy of a talk given by R. Newstead (the founder of the Grosvenor Museum in Chester) in 1890 and then published three years later in the Proceedings of the Chester Society of Natural Science and Literature.  It is entitled The Heron & Heronries of Cheshire and North Wales (Ref. 200315).  This idiosyncratic little book covers everything from the anatomy of the Heron’s gullet (with illustrations) to tales of Mr Stretch of Ledsham who (we never quite get to understand why, unfortunately) had a pet bird, originally procured from the Hooton Heronry, which was well on its way to swallowing a second ‘Russian Kitten’ before it was stopped.  Sadly this bird had a heavy price to pay as it was eventually killed by two of Mr Stretch’s dogs in the midst of an interrupted rat chase (I’m not making this up).  

In another section, Mr Newstead gives us some folk names of the bird including “Varn or more often Yarn” from Cheshire.  Another local, Welsh, name is given by two local (one Cheshire, one Welsh) correspondents – “Crydd Glas, or Grey Shoemaker” as the book states (This is a little odd, as I’m fairly certain ‘Glas’ is actually ‘Blue’ in Welsh?).  The reason given by one correspondent is “that the bird lost its money for a pair of boots in the brook, and has been looking for it ever since”, whilst the other states that this name arises “from the loud smacking noise that these birds make with their beaks at feeding time, which is produced by bringing together the two mandibles with terrific force – similar to that of the owl – and which closely resembles the cobbler at work with his lapstone.”
Towards the end of the book, Mr Newstead produces (from another paper delivered to the same society, this time in 1887) “A Preliminary List of the Mammals of Cheshire and North Wales.”  This includes Otter (“Common on the banks of the Dee.”), Polecat, and even a Marten (described as a ‘British Marten’ or ‘Marten Cat’).  One of these, presented by His Grace The Duke of Westminster in 1891 was shot at Eaton.  Mr Garland (Head Keeper) writes “I send you a Marten Cat which was killed here yesterday morning, coming to the Pheasants’ Field.  It is the first I have seen in Cheshire.”
There are also two rather nice Cheshire Life articles about Heronries, the bound volumes of which are available in the search room.  In the first of these, from 1942 (Ref: 012427) Sydney Moorhouse talks about some of the largest heronries in the County.  His very readable and enjoyable account also includes a description of the sounds that can emanate from the nesting Herons – “I have heard sounds like the mewing of a cat, the bark of a dog, the grunt of an old sow, and the squeal of a young porker all coming from those platforms of twigs in the trees of a heronry”.   In a discussion of the heron’s diet, A. W. Boyd – later author of A Country Parish and, incidentally, subject of an earlier blog – is quoted as reporting the Combermere herons as living mainly on “frogs, coarse fish, and newts” whilst “in the same year a young bird was seen at Eaton Hall with an eel of 21 inches, partly digested, sticking out of its beak.”  No clue is given as to how this measurement was verified. 

In the other article, from 1957, Norman F. Ellison writes about the Heron in his Naturalist’s Notebook series (Ref: 013710).  This is particularly interesting as it illustrates the enormous cost of the harsh winter of early 1947 to the breed. Two large local Heronries had the number of nests almost exactly halved between the breeding seasons of 1946 and 1947 (Tabley 57 to 29, and Eaton Hall 59 to 27).

If one is wanting more up to date ornithological data, don’t despair…the Local Studies collection holds many local items including local Annual Bird Reports and the excellent Birds in Cheshire and Wirral: A Breeding and Wintering Atlas by David Norman (Ref: 222309) from 2008.  So, the next time you see an unlikely looking creature as you wander around the County, and you fancy finding out a bit more about it, please don’t forget to check us out – you never know what we might hold here in the Record Office.  Which reminds me, I must try and find out why Heron’s Way, in Chester Business Park is so named…

Images by Charles Tunnicliffe reproduced in Tunnicliffe’s Countryside by Ian Niall (Ref: 218908)

Addendum (May 2017) Just to let you know that the Chester canal Heron is back for the 2017 season.  It was spotted on Saturday evening at about 19:00 just 100m or so down from Waitrose on the other side of the canal, and luckily I had my camera with me.  I have to report that there were definitely ducklings hiding in those reeds - and the heron looked particularly patient.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Deeds Indeed

Miranda Lennon is working on a one year traineeship as part of The National Archives Transforming Archives scheme. In this blog she gives an update of her experience so far.

As my third week draws to a close I can reflect that the past five days have been very productive indeed.

I have adopted the role of ‘deeds detective’ by beginning work on my first project, to explore and digitise medieval deeds, including helping to trace a number of deeds back to their original locations. I have been discovering and learning more information about the deeds collection, focusing specifically on a number of deeds concerning the village of Bunbury, Cheshire. I find I am enticed by the mystery and antiquity of the documents and it fascinates me to consider the journey that they have endured over eight centuries, prior to being deposited at Cheshire Archives and Local studies. 

The deeds are indeed things of great beauty. They are inscribed with intricate Latin and French calligraphy on delicate parchment, and often have attached a splendid wax seal with a unique imprint. A number of deeds have a wavy or zag-zag indenture edge, which adds to the aesthetic appeal of these historic artifacts. 

Example of a medieval deed from the collection 
Example of one of the larger wax seals from the collection 
A lot of my week was spent familiarising myself with the reprographics equipment by photographing, editing and uploading the first selection of deeds. This has helped me to understand some of the practical and technical methods for digitising archival material, as well as giving me more of an insight into the project specifics.  I feel my previous IT and photography skills in Fashion Communication have come in handy during this first digitisation task, and I have so far enjoyed utilizing these skills within a new context. 

Another of my tasks was to link the medieval deeds project to ‘Explore Your Archive’, an annual campaign to promote archives across the UK. I have been wracking my brains to come up with an innovative and creative idea to promote the project to a wider audience, and ways in which I can use my creative background in design and fashion to contribute something fresh and different. I had a few inspirational eureka moments and all shall be revealed for the Explore Your Archives campaign launch in late November (I fear I have given myself a lot work to do!), but for the moment it is a secret I intend to keep! 

Please follow the links below to enjoy browsing Explore Your Archives and Cheshire Archives and Local Study’s Twitter and website to find out more and to keep updated about the launch week!