Thursday, 18 October 2018

Cheshire Libraries - Part Two

Last week, Part One of our blog on Cheshire Libraries looked at the job of Librarian and at people's appreciation of their local library.  In Part Two we look at how libraries have changed over the years - and you can check how well your local library was doing compared to others in Cheshire!

All librarians have to contend with the occasional late return of their library's books and this was clearly the case in days gone by as well.  Library rules found on the back of a 1930s application for Neston Library states quite fiercely that,
"All books must be returned within 15 days...under a FINE OF ONE PENNY FOR EACH DAY THEY ARE RETAINED BEYOND THAT DATE."
Most libraries today have embraced technology and have self-service machines to issue and return books, but many of us still remember library tickets such as these 'new' borrowers tickets issued to Bollington Library at the time of its reorganisation in 1934.

Another big change is how family-friendly most libraries are these days, with Rhyme Times, the Summer Reading Challenge and a host of other activities for children on offer across Cheshire Libraries. Compare this with number 18 of Neston Library's rules in 1934:

"Borrowers' Tickets will not be issued to persons under the age of 11 years."
Documents held at Cheshire Archives show how meticulous librarians were at keeping records, with issues big and small noted in many different library committee books.  Some kept records not only of which books were borrowed, but also categorised who their borrowers were.  Going back to the Librarian's Report Book of Middlewich Library, the first annual report of 1891 recorded the occupations of their borrowers which included seven butchers, 15 milliners and dressmakers and 137 scholars - as well as 180 people categorised as Wives and Daughters!

It also recorded the year's most popular books, or books with largest circulation.  In the 'Light Literature' section A Life's Secret by Mrs Henry Wood was borrowed 40 times and for Juvenile Literature the Julia Donaldson of the day was a writer called Hesba Stretton - her book No Place Like Home was issued 43 times, and she also had two other books in the top ten.

What is evident across our records is how the reach and popularity of libraries grew over time.  This annex to the Report of the County Librarian from 1933-34 shows how many books Cheshire's Libraries held and how many books they issued.  Alderley Edge, Bollington, Handforth and Sandbach all issued over 4,000 books but bigger libraries like Alsager and Wilmslow issued over 10,000 and 18,000 books a year.

Can you find your local library on the list?  We wish you a long and happy membership of your Cheshire Library!

All of these items and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Cheshire Libraries - Part One

Libraries Week takes place each October to celebrate the nation's much-loved libraries.  Here is a flavour of some of the archives held at Cheshire Record Office showing how libraries have changed over the years, and how they have been bringing communities together for centuries in a love of books and reading.

We have an account of how pleased people were to have the Free Public Library opened in Macclesfield. Published in 1888 and gathered from coverage in the Macclesfield Courier and Herald newspaper, A Walk Through the Public Institutions of Macclesfield (ref: 010285) states that,
"Through the munificence of Mr. David Chadwick, formerly M.P. for the borough, Macclesfield possesses a free library and reading room quite commensurate to the wants of the inhabitants."
On the day the library ownership passed to the town,

  "A procession was formed and thereafter proceeded from the Town Hall to Park-green, where Mr Chadwick handed a gold key to the mayor in token of possession of the building...the library was opened amid loud huzzahs."

People's appreciation of their local library can be seen in the care they took of its books.  In 1896 the librarian at Middlewich recorded that,
"The Result of Stock-taking this year is highly satisfactory.  Though the library has been in existence for more than seven years, not a single volume remains unaccounted for, and less damage has been done to the books this year than during any previous year."
However all libraries will occasionally have borrowers who do not take as much care.  Nantwich Library's Committee (ref. LUN 5/6) dealt with this in 1930 when it resolved that,
"Printed notices threatening the prosecution of persons cutting and defacing papers and magazines, be obtained and exhibited in the Reading Room."
 Three years later damage had moved on to theft, when the Committee decided to have
"A notice exhibited in the Library offering a reward for information leading to the apprehension of persons removing books and papers from the Reading Room."
At Knutsford, the Library Committee (ref. LUK 4906/2) decided in 1908 to restrict lending to people who didn't take care of their books:
"In the case of books being returned in a damaged condition the Librarian should report at once to the Committee, and refuse further books to the borrower." 
At that time, libraries had to consider the health of their borrowers as well as the books.  Neston Library's rules (ref. LUNe 4797/9) note in bold type that,
"Books will not be lent to Borrowers for houses in which there is any Infectious Disease, and in the event of the occurrence of Infectious Disease, must not be returned without the Librarian being notified."

We are lucky to have better medical treatments available nowadays, and also to have fairer conditions at work.  The records from Knutsford Library's Committee book shows - in the days before anti-discrimination laws - that the resignation of a Miss Darlington as Librarian was discussed at the meeting of March 30th 1908.  Less than two weeks later an advert appeared in the Knutsford Guardian: "WANTED - LIBRARIAN. The Council invite applications from Men for the post of LIBRARIAN."
A committee meeting at Nantwich in November 1933 noted the Librarian vacancy caused by a Miss Price's resignation but the next meeting resolved,
"That the Committee be recommended to advertise for applications for the position of Librarian (male or female) at a salary of £120 per annum, out of which the Librarian must provide and pay all assistance he or she may require in carrying out the duties of the office other than the cleaning of the premises...The hours of duty be 9am to 8pm."
With these terms and conditions, perhaps the Committee was asking quite a lot!

In Part Two next week we will look at how libraries have changed over the years, and you can see how well your local library was doing compared to others in Cheshire.  For now, we wish you a Happy Libraries Week!

All these documents and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester.  

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Travel Plans

As the summer holiday season draws to a close, at Cheshire Record Office we've been looking through our travel-related archives and thinking about travel plans from yesteryear.

Holiday planning in 2018 often starts with an internet search for ideas of where to visit, but of course this was not an option for our ancestors.  An 1878 catalogue of travel literature from the Chester Free Public Library may have provided some inspiration.  The Voyages, Travels and Adventures section covered all the continents of the world, but also included trips not too far from Chester such as Dr Samuel Johnson's Diary of a Journey into North Wales, in the year 1744, or Rev. Richard Warner's Tour through the Northern Counties of England and the Borders of Scotland.  For something further afield, readers could have looked at Lady Grosvenor's Yacht Voyage to the Mediterranean and those thinking of travelling east may have been interested in Narrative of a Three Month's Voyage in India.  The author was 'The wife of an Officer in the 16th Foot' - her actual name was sadly not recorded!

Once the destination has been decided on, it's always worth checking your travel documents. Anyone who has endured the nail-biting wait for a passport renewal in time for a last-minute booking will know this well!  We have some beautiful examples of passports granted to travellers in centuries past, such as 'English Gentlemen' Samuel Hill and Daniel Lombard whowished to travel to Savoy in France in 1711, or one for another 'Gentilhomme Anglais', a Mr Hallowes, whose passport was signed at Downing Street in 1824 decorated with a large detailed drawing of a crest.

France is an ever-popular holiday destination for British people, and with Eurostar, Eurotunnel and hour-long ferry crossings we are spoiled for choice on how to get there.  Compare this with the slower experience of a traveller in 1719, whose journal begins:
After a four Dayes waiting at Dover for a wind, we at last found a favourable one that brought us in 5 Hours thence to Calais.

Cheshire Record Office holds countless other documents about travellers' journeys.  The journals and letters of Francis Dicken Brocklehurst of Macclesfield include a lyrical account of his voyage across the Pacific Ocean, from California to Australia, Ceylon, China, Japan and India in 1860.  11th February 1860 seemed to start well:
The wind continues good.  We are on the same latitude with the Sandwich Islands about one thousand miles east of the same.

But later in the day conditions changed:
7 o'clock p.m. Strong wind blowing, black angry clouds drifting swiftly across the heavens, a few stars glimmering fitfully here and there, the ship heeling uncomfortably over on the starboard side as she ploughs her way steadily through the heaving and surging billows which roar with a threatening and somewhat onimous sound that almost drowns the thin but plaintive tones of a concertina, which the first mate is playing forward on deck somewhere.
When Mr Brocklehurst arrived at Melbourne the following month however, anyone who has ever been disappointed with their hotel or been tormented by tropical insects will understand his feelings.  He notes on 28th March that,
the hotels are scarecely third rate and infested with mosquitos,
and goes on to complain the day after that,
the beds in all the Hotels in Town are infested with bugs. Had to sleep on the floor in my travelling blankets last night in consequence.
By 2nd April he finally admits defeat:
the Bugs and Mosquitos have fairly driven me from the Criterion Hotel and I have now located myself at the Prince of Wales.
If we're holidaying abroad, currency exchange rates can make it tricky to keep track of spending money.  Lord Egerton of Tatton was careful to keep an eye on what he spent and made notes in the back of his travel journal for hotel, rail and luggage expenses, but also the cost of tea, how much he tipped the porter and more than one purchase of Eau de Cologne! We have also found an early reference to currency exchange rates in a diary printed in 1871An Average Value in English Currency was given for 'foreign money' including the French Franc and Sou and Austrian Florin and Ducat, as well as the interesting-sounding Spanish Hard Dollar and Doubloon and Turkish Gold Sequin.

At the end of our holidays we all like to look back on our holiday snaps but before we all had cameras on our mobile phones, travellers and holidaymakers had to be a little more creative.  The notebooks of Lord Egerton feature sketches as varied as cathedral stained glass windows, a statue of Buddha and local characters such as one captioned the Landlord of the Trierscher Hof, waiting at Table d'Hote. 

Drawings and even paintings feature in the Brocklehurst family papers.  Examples from T.U. Brocklehurst's travels include a painting of Mont Blanc and a picturesque view of Mexico City.


There is also a detailed painting of something he saw in a Mexican museum in 1881, captioned:

Teoyamaqui, Aztec Goddess of Death, found at Puebla, 3 feet 10 inches high.  It is a stone idol and has been painted.  The holes around the head were originally filled with hair.  Her skirt is made of plaited snakes and the hands are disproportionately large to indicate her power.

As far as we know, it wasn't brought home as a souvenir!

All of these items and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester. 

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.