Friday, 24 May 2019

The Month of May 1919 in the Sailors and Soldiers Rest

Crewe: Soldiers' Sailors' Rest, Nantwich Road (ref. c00801)

The signing of the Armistice in November 1918 ended the major part of the hostilities of the First World War. However, it took many more months to organise the return of the vast numbers of men scattered across the globe. 

One of our previous blog posts, “Crewe Station - the Heart of Britain’s Railways in World War I”, focuses on the Sailors and Soldiers Rest at Crewe Station and the two Rest visitors’ books held at Cheshire Archives.

These books give a fascinating glimpse into the experiences of the men that stayed at the Rest. Many called in at the Rest for a cup of tea, a meal, or a bed for the night, while others killed time between trains. 

Their comments often included grateful remarks about the hospitality, their relief at being demobilized, or regret at having more time to serve after a spell of leave.

A copy of a local news magazine published in March 1916 by Eardleys, the major printing company in Crewe, is pasted into one of the visitor books and states:

“The crude verses the men have written, the sometimes misapplied quotations, and the slang methods of expression, form an interesting study and throw a curious light upon the varied personality of the visitors.”

Battles were said to be fought over again, trench incidents recounted, and, according to Eardley, “…one has an excellent opportunity of studying the tranquil humanity which makes Tommy and Jack conspicuous among the fighting units of the world”.

In the month of May 1919 over 2,000 men passing through Crewe signed the book, well illustrating the world-wide nature of the Great War. Destinations included Cape Town, New York, Miami, Victoria BC, Adelaide, Nicaragua, Johannesburg, Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, and Arkinsaw, and of course many places in Britain including Chester. 

Journeys had started in Germany, Italy, Palestine, France, Bulgaria, Malta, naval bases from Scapa Flow to Plymouth, and  RAF airfields including Shotwick, (a few miles from Chester), and RAF Shawbury in Shropshire.  Many were travelling to and from Prees Heath, a massive army camp near Whitchurch.

A number of the troops, including many from the Royal Field Artillery, were heading for North Russia, via Crewe, as part of the Russian Relief Force. This was partly to keep the Bolsheviks back whilst the allies were evacuated and also for other plans that Winston Churchill was said to have devised.

Some other messages from the troops included:

“Fed up waiting at Crewe 5 ½ hours”

"Is the bacon still rationed? Once more unto the breach”

"Treated extremely well at Crewe”

“Always open when others are closed”

"Waiting for an airship”

“Cymry am byth”

“Tray Bon”

“Puggled to the wide” (said more than once!)

“I wish the pubs were open, I am dry”

“Here all night without a pint” (the Rest was established by the Church of England Mens Society in a Temperance Union mission room...)

And from a member of the Field Survey Battalion, Royal Engineers:

“If on earth there is some bliss, It is this – It is this – It is this!”

It is interesting to attempt to trace the details of some of the men who stayed at the Rest using online resources. For instance, Acting Lance Corporal Walter Shard, formerly a joiner of Towers Cottages, Poynton, joined up in September 1914. 

He was a hospital orderly in the Royal Army Medical Corps for 3 ½ years and in August 1918 he contracted Trench Fever, resulting in pains around his heart and shortness of breath.

He left the following heartfelt phrase in the Visitors' Book: 

“Happiest day of my life viz:- FINAL DEMOB”

This blog was written and researched by one of our volunteers, Susan Chambers. Susan will be blogging more about the Sailors and Soldiers Rest in the coming months - check back soon to hear more stories from Crewe!

Thursday, 2 May 2019

May Day!

Many of us will enjoy a bank holiday next week, but did you know that May Day celebrations have taken place for centuries?  The earliest, known as Floralia, dates back to Roman times - a festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers.  Festivities were banned in the UK during Puritan times, but traditions such as maypole dancing, crowning the May Queen and Morris dancing continue to the present day.  Cheshire Archives and Local Studies are fortunate to have some images and documents that show some of the many traditions and celebrations of this festival. 

A key May Day Festival in the Cheshire calendar takes place in Knutsford.  It was first held in 1864, and is known as Knutsford Royal May Day Festival after a visit in 1887 by the then Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra), who gave the organising committee permission to use the prefix ‘Royal’ from then on.  As well as the crowning of the May Queen, Knutsford has a unique custom of ‘sanding’, where coloured sand is laid in mottoes and patterns on the streets.  According to the Official Programme we have from 1955, the origin of sanding comes from King Canute (who reigned from 1016 to 1035).  He is said to have,
"forded a brook near Knutsford and sat down to shake the sand out of his shoes.  While he was doing this a bridal party passed by – he shook the sand in front of them and wished them joy, and as many children as there were grains of sand.  The Festival Committee were very proud of this local custom and ‘sanding’ is still kept up at the Royal May Day Festival”.
That programme lists all the May Queens and Crown Bearers back to 1864, and a portrait of the 1955 Queen appears on the front cover. 


We also hold another May Festival programme dating back even earlier – from Runcorn in 1908.  This includes a detailed account of the procession, the people taking part and the various dances and other entertainment at the event, as well as the charities that stood to benefit from the proceeds. 
Maypole dancing has been a popular May Day tradition since the Middle Ages, and there are several prints available on the Cheshire Image Bank that show maypoles from across Cheshire West and Cheshire East. 
This selection shows a maypole being decorated mid-dance in Winsford at the May Festival at Whitegate in the 1960s; children at Elworth School in Sandbach in the 1920s, and at Vernon School in Poynton between 1910 and 1919.

May Festivals culminate in the crowning of the May Queen.  Here is a selection of May Queens, Attendants and Crown Bearers from across Cheshire from the early 20th Century: at Knutsford between 1910 and 1919, at Chester Roodee Racecourse in 1926 and in Handbridge in the 1930s.

However you might be celebrating, we wish you a happy May Day 2019!


Monday, 1 April 2019

Crewe Station - the Heart of Britain’s Railways in World War I

Crewe Railway Station
(Cheshire Image Bank c10557)
Throughout the years of the Great War a vital role was played by Crewe Station in Britain’s battle to keep men and supplies moving to where they were needed, at home and abroad. The station was a scene of constant activity, bustling and busy, day and night.

Holyhead boat trains, Scottish expresses, the Irish Mail, the London, Plymouth and Dover trains, the Travelling Post Office, ambulance trains bringing the wounded to northern hospitals, all called at Crewe.  Navy men going north to the Fleet at Scapa Flow, Army men heading south towards the Front in France and Belgium, plus vast supplies of shells and armaments all went by rail. Around 300 trains a day used this vital link, being shunted, marshalled and watered, before they steamed out again.

Crewe: Soldiers' Sailors' Rest
(Cheshire Image Bank c00801)
At any one time hundreds of soldiers and sailors could be seen around the station, awaiting their connections, passing the time in ambling along the platforms, taking a nap in front of the waiting-room fires, and sometimes joining in a round of ‘Tipperary’ to an accordion accompaniment.

Book-stalls, telegraph offices and refreshment rooms were always open, and so, from spring 1915 was the famous Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Rest, next to the station, where a meal and a bed could be had anytime of the day or night. Later in the war a trolley service with urns was set up to visit the trains which were only stopping for a short time, and to provide the troops with a welcome mug of tea before they steamed off again to continue their vital journeys. The station rest and refreshment services for military personnel in transit were organised by CEMS, the Church of England Men’s Society.

Crewe: Soldiers' and; Sailors' Rest
(Cheshire Image Bank c00802)

In the photograph above, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Rest visitors’ book can be seen on a stand in the centre of the image.  Twelve visitors’ registers were signed by 130,000 men since April 1915; the final two registers, covering 1919, are lodged with us at Cheshire Record Office (reference D 4998). These are a fascinating record of a brief spell in the lives of thousands of men a hundred years ago, some being demobilised, some going on leave, and some back to their regiments, many on long journeys to far distant parts.

A sample index of over 1000 men adding their names to the visitors’ book in March-April 1919 has been compiled by our volunteers. We will be posting extracts from the book on Twitter over the coming weeks – follow us @CheshireRO to keep updated!

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Volunteers in Wonderland!

It’s the time of year for thinking about books: World Book Night in April is a great reason to re-read a classic, and in March children everywhere dress up to celebrate World Book Day.  Some of the most popular costume choices are characters from Alice in Wonderland, from the Queen of Hearts to the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat or Alice herself. 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, to give the book its full title, was first published in 1865 and has never been out of print since.  Its author Lewis Carroll – a pen name – was from Cheshire and lived here until the age of eleven.  He was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in 1832 in Daresbury, where his father was the local parson. 
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1902; Baptism register entry for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson; author portrait

Given this local connection, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies are fortunate to have a large Lewis Carroll collection which is about to be made available to the public at our search room in Chester.  This is thanks in part to a children’s literature enthusiast who generously donated close to four hundred books to us in 2017, but it is also thanks to the commitment of two volunteers that the collection will soon be accessible.

Volunteers play an important role at Cheshire Record Office, from assisting with conservation work to helping us make our records accessible online, and working with staff to sort through the many new deposits we receive each year.  Along with long-standing volunteer John Dixon, who sadly passed away earlier this year, our volunteer Marilyn Ainsworth has spent many hours on the Lewis Carroll project.  We asked Marilyn to explain how she became involved and tell us about the collection. 

Marilyn spent six years as an Archives Assistant at Cheshire Record Office before retiring in 2014, but knew she would eventually like to spend some time volunteering.  Given her interest in visual projects, our Local Studies department – with its donations of drawings, paintings, photographs, news flyers and books – was ideal and she started with the Lewis Carroll project in 2017.  The first task was to look through each of the 396 items that had been deposited with us, sorting them into categories and making notes such as the names of the publisher and illustrator, the publication date and a brief description of the content.  We have Alice books ranging from the nineteenth century to the present day and editions in over twenty languages, so Marilyn had to do some delving to identify them.  She described identifying the different languages (as varied as Japanese, Russian, Bulgarian, Latin, Esperanto, Afrikaans, Hebrew, Aboriginal and Manx, to name just some) as the most challenging part of the project and, whilst online translation tools have been helpful in identifying books with the Latin alphabet, we have some editions in Oriental languages that as yet remain unclassified. 


Translations in Hebrew, Japanese and Latin

The project has involved sorting through numerous copies not just of Alice in Wonderland, but also Alice Through the Looking Glass and other works by Lewis Carroll such as The Hunting of the Snark and the poem Jabberwocky.  The collection contains books with Alice as a character and many non-fiction titles, as well as biographies of Carroll and books of his journals, letters and photographs - including some of Alice Liddell, upon whom Carroll’s stories were based.  A couple of photos stood out for Marilyn: one that was taken of Alice later in life in America, and another taken by Lewis Carroll looking up at his future sister-in-law (another Alice) balancing on a first-floor window ledge – clearly taken in the days before health and safety! 

Alice Liddell, 1932

Marilyn told us that the most enjoyable part of her work was that every book is different, but when asked if she had a favourite edition, her response was any with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, the book’s original illustrator – these were the drawings in the Alice books she read as a child and they are how she thinks of Alice and the other characters.  She also found some of the more unusual books interesting, for instance funny versions like Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot, published in 2007. 

Illustration by Sir John Tenniel; selection of Alice books in different languages

There are many other books in the Lewis Carroll collection, from a facsimile of the original handwritten text, to early and most recent editions of the Alice stories featuring numerous different illustrators, elaborate pop-up versions and stage adaptations, to name just a few.  Although a small number of books were loaned to Chester’s Storyhouse for an exhibition to coincide with a production of Alice in Wonderland in 2017, the full collection is soon to be made available for public viewing for the first time.  Take a look at our online catalogue over the coming weeks and see exactly what the collection holds. 

Marilyn is continuing to volunteer with our Local Studies department, now helping to catalogue a large amount of photograph negatives.  We would like to thank Marilyn once more for all her work on the Lewis Carroll collection, and we also wish everyone a happy World Book Day and World Book Night!