Thursday 26 November 2015

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary part 9

Frank Simpson (1863-1942) was a prominent figure within his native city of Chester. During the First World War he was Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers formed for home defence in 1914. One of our volunteers has begun to serialise his diaries. Our ninth installment recounts an incident that appears in the guard room diary.

Saturday, July 15, 1916
At 3.a.m Saturday, July 15th Private S. H. Bengon arrested 2 deserters from the South Lancashire Regt (T. F) and after reposting the matter to the Sergeant of the guard, he escorted them to the local hall and handed them over to the police. It appears that as a foods train was preceding along the line, furthest away from the sentry, on its way to Chester the sentry noticed two men in uniform running along just in rear of the train. He challenged them, and blew his whistle for the guard, who quickly arrived on the scene and took the men in custody, removing them to the guardroom. The men said they were looking for their camp, but shortly afterwards acknowledged they had deserted from the camp at Oswestry. They asked the guard if the rifles were loaded. The men seemed famished and some of the guard gave them food they had bought for refreshment during the night. While this was going on a Sergeant and constable of the police enquired from no 2 sentry (at the Curzon park end of the footbridge) what the whistle had been blown for and they were informed that no 4 sentry had arrested two men on the lines. They then asked if they might cross the bridge and visit the guard-room; they were allowed to do so. The Sergeant then questioned the prisoners and they acknowledged to having deserted from the military camp at Oswestry, had got to Wrexham from where they walked to Chester and to avoid passing through the city they proceeded through Curzon Park and got on to the Railway. The police then asked if the guard would hand them over so that they might be taken to the police office by doing so it would save time as they could phone Oswestry and get an escort to take them back to the camp to be dealt with by the O.C. this was agreed to. The (two) sentries which had been placed at the entrance to the guardroom with fixed bayonets were then withdrawn and the sentry who first challenged them accompanied the police and prisoners to the police office. They were young men, one having served in France where he was wounded. Strange to say these men belonged to the same regiment (Territorial) as the guard the Chester Volunteers had replaced on two days before. The men were brought before the magistrates at 11 am the same day.

Friday 20 November 2015

Archive animals

Here at Cheshire archives and local studies, our photographic collection is a collection we want to try and share with everyone. For this reason, I have been tasked with cataloguing and digitising a large portion of our slide and glass negative collection. I have recently stated working for The National Archives under their ‘Transforming Archives’ scheme, with my full time placement being here at Cheshire Archives. Over the next year I will learn a range of digitisation and archive skills and hopefully add a lot of images to Cheshire Image Bank for you the public, to view. I have now been here for a month and have come across a great number of interesting images. As today is #archiveanimals day, as part of #explorearchives week it only seemed right to share some dog images with everyone.

My favourite series of images so far have been dogs in mine cars. Amongst boxes and boxes of slides relating to Cheshire Lines Railway Company are a handful of images of a boy and his dog riding on the mine tracks. The boy appears to be dressed very elegantly for a day in the mine and the white dog looks spotless, so perhaps this is just a day out for the pair?

Looking at the images, you will notice that one of them is circular whilst the others are not. The circular image could be the result of a Kodak 1. The Kodak 1 was a small box camera which came pre-loaded with enough roll film to produce 100 images. After all 100 had been taken, the whole camera was sent to Kodak for processing and re-loading. As these cameras were in production between the late 1880s and mid 1890s it gives a rough date for the images.

These images were in a box of railway slides, mainly in the Styal and surrounding area. If you have a more specific idea of where this duo are or even who they are it would be a great addition to the archives and give us some more information on this interesting photo story.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

A Day in the Life of an Archives Assistant

I started work at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies at the tail end of June. I’ve come from a public library background (in Lancashire) where I spent a lot of time in a busy Community History department. I was therefore looking forward to the similarities (and, if I’m completely honest, to not being threatened with having to incompetently sing nursery rhymes to restless two year olds if I stepped out of line), but in truth I had little idea of exactly what to expect. The first thing I quickly learnt is that there isn’t one ‘Archives Assistant’ role, but four different, if very interconnected, ones. The four of us – Joy, Siobhán, Samantha and myself, David - are timetabled every day to be on either Reception, Enquiries, Production or Reprographics. I’ll take these roles in turn.

The Reception role involves sitting by the entrance, welcoming visitors and talking them through the way things work, producing CARN and temporary tickets, answering the phone, undertaking basic administrative tasks, signposting users – in fact just about everything you’d expect from a reception desk in a public setting. As the first port of call for visitors and enquirers, this is a role where no two days are ever the same – it all literally depends on who walks through the door and what they want to achieve from their visit.

Enquiries is somewhat similar in this regard. There is always a Duty Archivist in the search room, but the Archives Assistant is there to answer basic queries received by phone, email or letter and to be able to assist users when the Archivist is already dealing with a query. It’s enjoyable because one is able to get one’s teeth stuck into some real queries.

Production is our way of describing the role which produces documents for our visitors (and for other staff to answer queries with). We ‘produce’ them from the strong rooms for customers. It sounds exciting and it often is, but it is also very physically and mentally demanding. The physical side is more obvious – we have seven strong rooms over four floors here in Duke Street and that involves a lot of walking. But mentally as well it can be a big challenge, especially when there are many users in, all looking at lots of documents. These come in all shapes, sizes, and weights, of course - and trolleys, lifts, sore feet and aching backs (and sometimes heads) are often a feature of a production day.

Reprographics is where we are copying documents for users. This is technically the hardest part of the job, and can sometimes be very repetitive but can also be very rewarding. We copy everything, from one page of a book, through photocopied sixteenth century wills (which we’ll only copy three times in order not to damage them unnecessarily – after which we take copies of a copy) to high quality A1 photographic reproductions. No job is too big or too small. And wherever possible we’ll copy everything within 10 working days, and usually considerably quicker than that.

If we are working in the search room we are generally on site by 08:30 at the latest when we have to turn on all the lights and computers, plug in all the microfilm readers, get the float money ready for the till, and ensure all the relevant documents are ready for that day’s visitors. If one is on reception you obviously can’t leave until after the last customer has gone at 17:00. We then have to ensure everything is securely locked away in the strong rooms, balance the till, and lock and shut up shop ready for another day. Hopefully, this gives you just a little taste of what a fairly average day in the life of an Archives Assistant might just look like. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Monday 9 November 2015

Life of a nineteenth century student

Autumn sees students returning to Chester after a long summer break and graduation ceremonies begin to start taking place in the city. One of our volunteers, James, is a student at Chester University. In his latest blog post James takes a look at some correspondence of John Upton Gaskell writing home to his parents as a student at Oxford University in 1804 and compares it to modern student life. 

John Upton Gaskell, born 11th August 1804, was an undergraduate studying at Oxford. This collection of letters (DDX 462/1-13) was sent to his parents throughout his course at Oxford detailing a variety of day to day goings on back in the early 1800s.Throughout the entirety of the collection, references to living costs are frequent. The numbers that were stated in the letters, for example:
 “A gentleman an old school fellow at Dr Davies’s school called upon me this morning to have a walk with him, we went a walking he has been at college 2 years or upwards therefore he knows all about it, I took the liberty of asking him how much a young man could live upon at Oxford, he said first the same as Frank Newbold said that a man could not live respectable as a gentleman under £300 a year”
Today this seems like a foreign number to university students such as myself; we now pay roughly £14000 per year to live at university, admittedly when inflation and a change in currency is taken into account, that £300 now would likely be yet another huge sum of money, I still find it quite interesting to compare the numbers of then to now.

In the letter (dated November 17th 1824) John makes mention of a dinner party arranged by his principal and he states
“it was a select party of the men of this Hall we were 13 of us with Mr James and a very good dinner we had.” 
In modern universities, the likelihood of being invited to a dinner party by a lecturer or dean of the university is extraordinarily slim; apart from the subject balls and one on one time with lecturers, a student will spend relatively little time with them, let alone go for walks with them like John seems to have done on numerous occasions.
One event that I found rather interesting was John’s travels to Brussels over his summer break. It seems then as now; students were still enthused at the idea of travelling and seeing the continent,
“For it will be a very great disappointment to me if I do not go on the Continent, this summer, after having long promised myself that pleasure”. 
Though on this trip the significance of visiting the battlefield at Waterloo seemed to be the main focal point of his trip, whereas now I highly doubt many students, even those that are historians, would go and visit the site at Waterloo.
Part way through the collection (October 15th 1827), there is an interesting insight into the lives of a young man in the 19th Century. John speaks of how he wishes his father to convey Hockerley estate to him; at this point in time John would be about 23 years old, yet the amount of responsibility he is asking of himself by having an estate given to him, is for me, inconceivable with the amount of work that is required by a degree level course.

Overall, there seems to be many differences when it came to day to day life of a student in the 19th Century compared to those of a 21st Century student. The pass times of the student’s, when not at university, seem to have remained relatively similar as has the final goal to get the best degree you can possibly attain with the possibility of doing a masters after graduation; it is merely the fundamentals of society that seem to have changed the most, very rarely now would students concern themselves with the matter of grand estates or interacting with the landed elites of society “hunting him with the Duke of Beaufort’s fox hounds”.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Sounding off

 “I dislike arguments of any kind.  They are always vulgar, and often convincing.”
Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

Most of us would prefer the arguments we’ve had over the years, vulgar or otherwise, to be forgotten. The majority will be, but sometimes (especially, I’m guessing in the era of electronic communication) we leave a trail of evidence behind us.  It’s something that has been going on since the dawn of time, and there are plenty of records here at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies which gives us a brief window into these minor contretemps (and greater disputes) over the centuries.

Step back 140 years and we find (DLT 5524/27/19) John Wallis, British Consul in Cairo intervening by letter in a dispute regarding a piece of engraving undertaken on Lord de Tabley's behalf.  The letter explains that Lord de Tabley had complained to Mr Borg that the cost of the job was too high, but the engraver refused to lower his price. Mr Borg suggested they have the value of the work estimated by four leading engravers in Cairo to which the engraver consented. This was done and each agreed that the price, four pounds was a fair one. In the end on being offered three pounds the engraver accepted.  Sometimes it seems an argument can be a cost effective way of doing business.

Elsewhere (DSS 1/3/263) we possess lengthy correspondence and papers from 1713-14 relating to the collection and payment to Sir Streynsham Master of certain outstanding rents and profits from the Somerford estate with Peter Shakerley.  It’s not always the riveting disputes of our time which survive two centuries and more.

ACAS may not have existed in the 17th century, but thankfully there were still people willing to step in and help. One record we have (DLT A/8/96) from 1639 states that:
 “Peter Maynwaringe of Smalwoode announces that he was apptd arbiter in the quarrel between Peter Leicester of Tabley & Thomas Wood of Netherpever concerning suit at Peters half manor of Netherpever, due from Thomas Wood and for the rent of a pair of white gloves due from him.  Judgement in favour of Peter Leicester.  Signed Peter Waynwaring.”
The local Quarter Sessions records are a fine source of legal undertakings.  In 1607 (ZQSF/55) we find an “Examination of John Cotton of Huntington, Cheshire, gent, concerning the quarrel between Ralph Jemson and Robert Foord and Anne his wife, the said Anne being the daughter of the said Ralph, concerning a cow claimed by the said Robert from the said Ralph.”  Enough said.

Finally, for this little summary of antagonism and mistrust at least, I stumbled upon (DLT 5524/28/4/3) two letters from Peter Legh in 1794 to the estates department concerning giving notice to the chapel organist, Mr Bond as a result of ‘bad behaviour’ on his part.  There is also a letter from George Leicester concerning this affair which includes a copy of a letter between Mr Legh and George Leicester.  The incident involves an altercation between Bond and Legh over Bond’s wife.  Bond apparently did not satisfactorily apologise and was therefore sacked.  If the tabloids had existed then, a two page spread with interviews and a picture or two would surely have arisen.

Thursday 8 October 2015

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary part 8

Frank Simpson (1863-1942) was a prominent figure within his native city of Chester. During the First World War he was Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers formed for home defence in 1914. One of our volunteers has begun to serialise his diaries. Our eighth installment fast forwards to June 1916, at which point Simpson has become Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers.


Thursday, June 22, 1916

The men on parade this evening were asked to undertake ‘guard duty’ to which there was a good response. Particulars of the duties to be performed will be settled in a few days time. Twenty-two men took the oath and enrolled as volunteers. Nine Youths, between the ages of 16 and 18, were enrolled as volunteers and received brassards and coat badges.

Tuesday, June 23, 1916

Met the Adjutant, the Hon: secretaries and platoon commander J. E. Bennett at Old Bank Buildings. It was agreed to find a permanent guard for the Railway Bridge (Roodee) as requested at Headquarters, Stockport; the party went to the bridge where they were met by Lieutenant C. Smith who explained the duties. The Headquarters ask for 18 men- that is for the three shifts of six men who with an N.C.O would each be on duty for eight hours, but this will be arranged during the next day or two.

The Adjutant (Major Wilberaham) at the request of the Quartermaster instructed him to procure fifteen pouches for ammunition, the same to be charged to the Battalion. He also requested the Quartermaster to have the Rifles examined by the gunsmith as to their safety with ball cartridge. Each man on duty to receive a pocket of ten cartridges but not to break the package unless strictly necessary.

The ammunition to be handed over to the successive guard.

Corporal Edgar Williams was appointed acting company Quartermaster Sergeant of the Chester Company.

It was also decided that the Quartermaster should make enquiries as to the insurance of volunteers.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

The Papers of A W Boyd

I have only been working (as an Archives Assistant) at Cheshire Archives for two months but in that brief time, I have seen (and carried!) a lot of Electoral Registers, municipal minute books, great civic treasures, parish records, tithe maps – the list goes on and on. However, what I want to focus on here is the breadth of material from personal collections also held in the Archive. In another life, as a book collector and natural historian I am a fan of the Collins New Naturalist collection of books. I was therefore thrilled to find that the personal collection of Arnold Whitworth (A.W.) Boyd was housed here (Ref D 5154). Boyd wrote “A Country Parish” in 1951, one of the most personal and idiosyncratic of the early titles which is an in depth study of his local parish of Great Budworth in Cheshire.

Upon consulting the catalogue a wealth of material presents itself. As this states, “Boyd was a naturalist and antiquarian with interests in local history, folklore, dialect and conservation.” This is very well illustrated within the papers and ephemera at the Record Office. Much of the collection relates to his wife’s extended family (the Conybeare and Markland lines). Outside of that, in itself fascinating, material, it’s like stepping into the mind (and desk) of a man with hugely varied interests. Don’t believe me? Then how about an “Autographed drawing by Edward Lear. Inscribed ‘He called and had no card in his pocket’.” (D 5154/8). Look again and there is a “Lady’s Riding Glove. Contains calling card of Miss Irene Conybeare claiming a date of 1680 for glove, which contains tag marked ‘Markland’.” (D 5154/30).

Elsewhere the collection includes early photographs of the Halton Soulcakers (D 5154/124) along with “Letters and notes relating to folklore, folk music and dialect” (D 5154/103), a personal scrapbook containing newspaper cuttings relating to cricket from when A.W. Boyd was 12 in 1897 (D 5154/95), and last but by no means least some “Photographic prints and negatives relating to ventilation features in farm buildings and the feeding of calves” from the 1930s (D 5154/125).
If your appetite isn’t sated after looking at this little lot, and you want to investigate A.W. Boyd himself a little deeper, the Archive also holds copies of his published works, along with several articles (many in Cheshire Life, bound copies of which are held on the open shelves in the searchroom) about the man himself and the observatory erected as a memorial to him at Rostherne Mere, and a “postcard from A.W. Boyd, Northwich to Dr H Terry, Bunbury concerning the different spellings of ‘Eddisbury’ and ‘Bunbury’ “(D 3277/11) .

One thing leads on to another, and then another, and then something else entirely. And that’s the point. As well as everything else we hold, we are full of treats and treasures like, but not really like at all, this fascinating and very personal collection. The problem is just where to begin.

The full catalogue of the collection can be viewed on our online catalogue

Thursday 9 July 2015

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary part 7

Frank Simpson (1863-1942) was a prominent figure within his native city of Chester. During the First World War he was Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers formed for home defence in 1914. One of our volunteers has begun to serialise his diaries. Our seventh installment looks at the fall out from the recruitment incident we learnt about in part 6. 

September, Saturday 5, 1914

I met, during the day, inspector Wymme, and he informed me that he had made a report to the Chief-Constable (of what took place last night) and that the chief had informed the Major, who had communicated with General McKinnon, and had also forwarded a copy to Lord Kitchener. During the day arrangements had been made so that the recruits that night would have the use of the Northgate skating rink, which they did. This skating rink, not being used, should have been requisitioned earlier; this would have saved much unpleasantness. 

The City magistrates having passed an order that all public houses and hotels close at 9pm and not open before 9am. It was enforced for the first time this Saturday evening. The various clubs are included in this order as far as intoxicating drunks are concerned. Colonel Neville, now in charge at the castle, has issued an order that any publican supplying drink to a soldier in uniform before 12 noon, or after 9pm the house will be put out of bounds.

September, Monday  7, 1914

Today Monday 1300 men headed by two bands came by rail to Chester and marched through the streets to the castle where they all enlisted in Kitchener’s army. The men came from Port Sunlight, Wallasey, and Ellesmere Port. Sir William Lever, and Mr Gershom Stewart, M.P. for Wirral, led the contingent. General Mackinnon addressed the men upon their arrival in the castle square.
(Side note – “These men eventually became the 13th Battalion”).

Friday 3 July 2015

The beautiful game

With the conclusion of the Women’s World Cup upon us, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a look at our county’s relationship with football over the years. How long have people being playing football in the area? Was there always such enthusiasm for the sport as we see in more recent times? Our research has revealed that Chester especially has a longstanding connection to the game, but we do see other references being made to it across the county over the years.

Football in Cheshire, and indeed the whole of the UK, is clearly very popular and a sport enjoyed and engaged in by many. In Chester today, the sport is thriving and even though the name of the club may have changed over the years, ‘The Blues’ or ‘Chester FC’ continue to draw in the crowds on match days. Interest and involvement in the sport is not a modern occurrence, although as we shall see, the purpose for playing the game may have altered somewhat over time.

The earliest mention of football being played in the city is in 1540, with sure suggestions that it was being played much earlier than this as part of the Shrovetide celebrations. The Chester shoemakers guild are recorded as delivering to the drapers guild ‘one bale of Lether caulyd a fout baule’ at the cross of the Roodee. A game of ‘football’ was then played between the Roodee and the Commonhall in the city. The mayor Henry Gee is recorded as suggesting more appropriate forms of recreation to celebrate Shrove Tuesday, such as foot races and shooting in long bows. Why would football need to be replaced you might ask? Did the mayor have a personal preference towards these alternative forms of recreation? Or had the game taken on a level of disruption or violence which made it an unsatisfactory way to celebrate Shrovetide in the city? We cannot answer this here with any certainty, but we can get more of a feel of how football was played by looking at later documents.


Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, ZAB 1

It is later in 1608 that we start to find football mentioned in other contexts and it’s fair to say the circumstances in which it is mentioned are not always good! For example, we see a particular problem in Dodleston where two cases are being read before the consistory courts of football being played in the churchyard. Perhaps the activity of playing football itself was not the root of the problem, but rather the ‘brawling and chiding in an unchristianlike manner’ of the people playing it! Clearly, the church disagreed with such activities, especially within the church grounds!



 Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, EDC 5/1608/69 and 70

We encounter another displeasing situation, this time in Crosthwaite churchyard in 1640 and again heard before the consistory courts. This time, the vicar of the church, Richard Routh, is being accused of ‘...drawing blood,, sitting drinking all night and playing at football abusing the players and laying violent hands on them’! Violence and improper behaviour seem to be a recurring theme so far when football is mentioned, but we can’t help but feel as though the game is getting a bad press. The evidence is not clear that violence and poor behaviour are a result of playing the game, but rather that these behaviours are occurring at the same time as it is being played. Certainly in this case, there is only one person being abusive and violent, not all of those taking part!


 Cheshire Archives and Local Studies EDC 5/1640/71

In 1617, we find an examination in the Quarter Sessions files of a Richard Rodes who is witness to a game of football being played in Tattenhall. Here, he saw a ‘...John Calley breake Tho. Bruse his head...’. The text then goes on to state ‘...but what the occation of there quarrell was he knoweth not...’. Hoorah! Football is redeemed! We can rest assured that in this instance, playing the game wasn’t necessarily the cause of such poor behaviour and resulting injuries.

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, QJF 46/2/43


Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, QJF 46/2/45

This feeling of redemption is shortlived however, since in around 1671 we get a detailed account of the rules of the game of football played to honour the Shrovetide celebrations and behaviours displayed during it. This is a retrospective account originally captured in approximately 1595. The account unfortunately gives another negative slant on the playing of football when it describes how ‘...some haueinge theire bodies brused & crushed, some theire, armes, heades and legges broken and some otherwise mayemed or in perrill of theire liffe’. And there we were thinking that the evidence that football was a violent activity was circumstantial!

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, DCC 19

Further references for the playing of football in Cheshire continue up until the modern day. Indeed, we hold collections with references to various football clubs and associations and numerous articles written on the subject. Although direct references to the game provide us with a somewhat negative outlook, it is difficult to see that this was the only context in which it was played. Did the game itself promote violent behaviour? Or was it subject to violent behaviour because of the context in which it was played? Everyone will draw their own conclusions. What is clear however is that Cheshire, and specifically the city of Chester, has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with the game and no doubt will continue to do so for many years to come.

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary part 6

Frank Simpson (1863-1942) was a prominent figure within his native city of Chester. During the First World War he was Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers formed for home defence in 1914. One of our volunteers has begun to serialise his diaries. Our sixth installment looks at the huge number of men that turned out to sign up.

September, Friday 4, 1914

About 10:30 this evening, Grosvenor Street was crowded with recruits waiting for the clock to strike eleven when they fall in on the castle square so that they may be billeted at the various public houses in the city. From 11pm until 12:30am, Saturday morning, the crowd of recruits numbering about twelve hundred stood on the square singing various patriotic songs, during this time various detachments were sent to their respective billets. Upwards of 1000 were marched out to the various billets; the acting Sergeant Major then told the others they sleep on the square, this caused friction, some, as the castle gates were closed, climbed over the railing and jumped into the castle ditch on the south-west side of the castle, known to old Cestrians as “Peter Hughes’s field”. Others tried to argue with the Sergeant Major and his subordinates, without effect: they then sprang forward pushed aside the military men at the gates – opened them, and came out. About 1am, an officer came forward (I believe it was Captain Hussey) he spoke to the men and asked if they had come for feather beds or to fight for the King. One man replied “we have come to fight for the King, not to remain here; I left a good home, and a good place, I have left my wife and five children to fight for the King, I slept on this square last night; I have been here two days and had nothing”. A voice cried out “let’s mob them”. Then inspector Wymme of the police force stepped forward and said “who said that”, no one replied, I spoke to several, the man who said it was evidently ashamed, as the whole lot of them stood still, and there was no disorder – many saying come on lets go in, and a lot did so. It was unfortunate that this should happen, but as a matter of fact, everybody was tired out. The staff was not large enough to cope with the work, no-one dreamed that the recruits would come in such great numbers.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

‘The giddy young Damsel’

Next we move on to another unusual marriage. A reader was working their way through microfilms of the Chester Courant newspapers and stumbled across an article which caught their attention. They rushed to inform us of what they had found and again, we were unable to resist looking into the story behind it.

The article was a transcription and entitled ‘161 Years Ago’. As we do not have copies of the Courant dating back to 1753, we relied on the article from 1914 to inform us for the next part of research. It detailed how a marriage took place between a ‘Mr Robert Allen, an eminent Pawnbroker, aged 75, to Miss Catherine Powell, of about 17...’ at Chester St Bridget’s parish church. It goes on to compliment Catherine on her stellar qualities and remarks that it is these qualities ‘...which will render the Marriage state very happy...’.


This information then allowed us to find Robert and Catherine’s marriage using the Cheshire Collection on Find My Past. The couple were married at Chester St Bridget’s parish church on 28th August 1753. The entry in the marriage register gives nothing away as to the age of the couple, so without our prior knowledge from the newspaper article, the marriage wouldn’t have appeared unusual at all!


Although the marriage entry did not state that the couple were married by licence, it seemed like it was worth looking into because of the age difference. By simply entering Roberts name and marriage year into the section for Cheshire marriage bonds and allegations on the Cheshire Collection, we were able to see straight away that Robert and Catherine were indeed married by licence. This was issued on 22nd August 1753, 6 days before they were to be married. The sum to be paid if the marriage did not meet the requirements set by law was £100 which is a substantial £8,500 in today’s money!

The marriage bond itself has its own quirks and adds to the exceptional nature of this marriage. First of all, Robert is listed as a Surgeon, whereas the newspaper article states he is ‘an eminent Pawnbroker’. Quite different professions we are sure you will agree!
Secondly, the licence states that Robert is aged ‘fifty years and upwards’. Exact ages were not always given on marriage bonds, or in marriage registers for that matter. However, the more common phrases tend to be ’over 21 years of age’ or ’21 years and over’ owing to the fact that minors engaging in marriage without proper consent was an issue. Still, even the figure of ‘fifty years and upwards’ does seem to be stretching the description of Roberts age somewhat! Furthermore, Catherine is described as being ‘…of about 17…’ in the newspaper article we have already seen but as ‘the age of twenty’ on the marriage licence. Neither the marriage register nor the bishops’ transcript give an exact age for Catherine, so we can only assume that she is aged between 17 and 20 when she marries. Even so, three years difference does seem more accurate than the twenty five given for Robert!



It is quite clear from all documentation, especially the marriage bond, that Robert was of the parish of St John in the city, rather than St Bridget’s, which was his bride’s parish, and where they had their marriage ceremony. It seemed likely that Robert was going to succumb not long after his marriage due to his advancing years. A quick search on the parish burials section of the ‘Cheshire Collection’ revealed that sure enough, Robert was buried in St John’s churchyard on 14th July 1755. It doesn’t include his age, but, considering the century this happens in, and the pattern already in use in the burial register, this is not unusual.



We then went on to run a search on the section dedicated to wills and probate records on the Cheshire Collection. We were able to find a will for Robert written 7th July 1755, seven days before he was buried. In the will, Robert is described as being ‘Sick and Weak in Body but of sound mind…’. It then goes on to detail how he is distributing his estate. He leaves his wife Catherine £5, which is just over £400 in today money. This is a fair amount you may think? It is not until you carry on reading the full text that this amount comes into question. Robert leaves £20 to his grandson, £10 to his daughter and all of the remaining estate to his son, also named Robert. So perhaps Katherine did get a raw deal?

Our knowledge of Catherine stops at this point, but many questions are still to be asked. Did she bear any children? Did she re marry after Roberts death? How long did she live for and where was she buried? These questions will remain unanswered for now, but the temptation to look for her is there…

Wednesday 10 June 2015

BEHOLD! A peculiar marriage!!

The parish registers in our collections are amongst some of the most heavily used records here and have been made even more accessible through the introduction of the ‘Cheshire Collection’ on Find My Past . This accessibility has brought with it increased exposure to the records and the wealth of information within them. One marriage in particular sparked some interest and we could not resist looking into it further.

The marriage was stumbled across by a researcher in the marriage register for Mottram in Longdendale St Michael. It jumped out from the page thanks to its enticing title. It read ‘Behold! N:B: A peculiar Marriage!’ So what makes this marriage so peculiar? Perhaps it was because the marriage took place between a couple with a considerable age gap; one was aged 23 and the other 83! Some 60 years difference. What is all the more remarkable is that the groom, Daniel Broadbent, is the younger of the two. His spouse is named Martha Cheetham, aged 83 and they were married by licence on 9th March 1780 at the parish church in Mottram in Longdendale.

The couple had their marriage licence issued on the same day and the resulting bond survives in our collections. The fact that a licence was issued for the marriage to take place, as opposed to reading of banns in the church three Sundays before the wedding, is not unusual considering the age difference between the two. It details how a sum of £200, a staggering £15,000 in today’s money, was to be forfeit if the marriage was deemed unlawful.
The surprises carried on coming when we discovered that one half of the couple died the following year. ‘What’s so surprising?’ you might ask. Martha was 83 when she married and 83 is a grand old age, especially in 1780. But think again. It is not Martha who passes away, but Daniel! His burial is entered into the Mottram in Longdendale burial register on 30th May 1781.
We think you will agree that this is indeed an unusual marriage to have come across. The search for more continues...

Thursday 28 May 2015

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary part 5

Frank Simpson (1863-1942) was a prominent figure within his native city of Chester. During the First World War he was Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers formed for home defence in 1914. One of our volunteers has begun to serialise his diaries. Our fifth installment looks at the logistics of recruitment in the city.

September, Wednesday 2, 1914

About 2,600 recruits are now at the Castle waiting orders to proceed to Salisbury Plains for training.

September, Thursday 3, 1914

A unique sight presented itself to view in Grosvenor Street last night, where, between 10pm and 11pm hundreds of recruits were lying on the parapet on either side of the street, in some places they were three deep. On the stroke of eleven the castle gates were opened and the men made their way into the castle-yard where they fell in two deep, about 2,000 were lined up in this way 1,000 of which had to be billeted out at the various public houses in the city. They were formed in various detachments and sent on to the allotted billets. Some of the larger Public houses having to put up as many as 60 or 70. The latter number was billeted at the Albion. The bear and Billet; and the White Bear each took in 60. Beds are out of the question. The men sleep on the floor or in the stables. This work of billeting continues night after night commencing at 11pm and continues until about 1am. Today, Thursday 1,150 were drafted off to Birkenhead (150) and the other to Tidworth, Salisbury Plain. The acting Sergeant Major informed me this midnight that they had 2,400 recruits on the Roodee this morning. Although so many had been sent away during the day, the sleeping accommodation at the castle is fully occupied and 900 had to be billeted out. Whilst looking on at the castle, as I did from 10:45pm to 12:40, it was specially noticeable how tactful the soldiers were with the large and mixed assembly of recruits, how when getting them onto the castle yard they called out “now lads come along those who want beds”, one soldier held out a little further inducement by calling out, “now my lads those who want to sleep on a feather bed and have ham and eggs for breakfast in the morning come this way. First come first served and so receive the best billets”, but a voice from the crowd cried out “feather beds and ham and eggs – I don’t think”. It is quite evident that the recruiting staff are quite unable to deal with the large number of men enlisting, but for all that everyone appears to take it in good part and as they march out of the yard on to their billets they sing away as if it was all part of the game. The most popular song being, “It’s a long way to Tipperary”. Another mixed ditty is, “Are we down hearted no no no” this they sing to the tune of a well known hymn – “Sum of my soul”.

Saturday 16 May 2015

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary part 4

Frank Simpson (1863-1942) was a prominent figure within his native city of Chester. During the First World War he was Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers formed for home defence in 1914. One of our volunteers has begun to serialise his diaries. Our fourth instalment looks at the formation of the Civic Guard.

August, Tuesday 25, 1914

A number of gentlemen interested in the formation of a civic guard, or Civilian National Reserve, or whatever name it may eventually be known by, met at the Holborn Restaurant this evening at 8 O’clock. Dr Young, Medical Officer of Health for the county, explained that the executive committee had communicated through general Mackinnon , with the War Office and were waiting its reply. That it was in no way intended to interfere with Lord Kitchener’s plans in regard to recruiting for the Territorial’s; and that it was intended that a detachment might be formed of men who were not eligible to serve in any army Lord Kitchener now or in the future may desire to raise. It was suggested that no member be accepted for this corp, under the age of thirty five. The gentlemen present, about forty, then went through a course of drill, under the instruction of Mr Rushton.

August, Wednesday 26, 1914

A number of gentlemen who have joined the Civic guard met at Upton-sand-pits this Wednesday afternoon for target-practice, each firing five rounds. Some of the members also indulged in Pistol practice. In the evening the company met at the Holborn for military drill under Mr J. A. Bennett. There was a good number present and considerable progress was made.

August, Monday 31, 1914

Recruiting goes on apace at the Castle. This morning a batch came in from Winsford, headed by the Winsford Band and a banner attached to two poles on which was painted 150 recruits from Winsford. During the evening the recruits; 1500 strong, headed by the band of the Church-Lads-Brigade paraded the streets of the city, and many young men on the line of march were persuaded to enlist; about 800 enlisted during the day.

September, Tuesday 1, 1914

Recruits still continue to come in about 500 were enrolled today. The Civic force attended at the Holborn Restaurant; Forgate St, this evening for Physical drill. During the evening Dr. Young stated that the Mayor, John Frost, had consented to become President of the association which it had been decided at a committee meeting held this evening, should be named ‘the Chester Civilian Association’; its object being to assist the civic, or military, powers in any way they possibly could. It was also decided that no person under 35 years of age be admitted to membership. The committee are forming rules and a rifle range is in course of construction.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary part 3

Frank Simpson (1863-1942) was a prominent figure within his native city of Chester. During the First World War he was Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers formed for home defence in 1914. One of our volunteers has begun to serialise his diaries. Our third instalment describes when the colours of the 3rd Battalion the Cheshire Regiment were deposited in the Cathedral.

August, Tuesday 18, 1914

A semi private meeting was held this evening at Mr. David Hughes office, old bank buildings to consider the matter of forming a civic guard for the city. A deputation waited upon the General (Brig. Gen. McKinnon) at Watergate House, yesterday. He informed the deputation (Mr Pelham Elphick, and Mr Owen Roberts) that he could give no official confirmation to the suggested Corp but if it was continued he would be glad to hear what was going on. It appears unfortunate that the military staff at Watergate House was approached especially so as Lord Kitchener, at the War Office, is against these guards being formed at the present time, as it may interfere with young men under 35 joining the Territorial force.

August, Saturday 22, 1914

At a special service held this afternoon in the south transept of the Cathedral. The colours of the 3rd Battalion the Cheshire Regiment were deposited in the Cathedral for safe keeping during its absence at the seat of war. As two young officers carried the colours, guarded by two colour Sergeants with fixed bayonets, up Bridge Street, the Welsh Border Brigade mounted on their horses came along on their way to the camp at Eaton; upon seeing the colours, they presented arms. On went the officers and Sergeants with their sacred emblems to deposit them in the house of God. They proceeded along Eastgate Street and St Werburgh Street to the south-west entrance of the Cathedral where they were received by the Dean, Canon Bethell Jones, the Presenter (Harold Weight) and Junior Canon Baxter, along with the choir. Headed by a youth carrying the cross, the choristers and clergy led the way to the military chapel dedicated to the Cheshire Regiment. The colours and their guard followed immediately behind was a military looking civilian and a lady, and the writer. Arriving at the Chapel, the two officers, Lieutenant H. W. Harrington, and Lieutenant H.G. Watkin; stood at attention, and the Dean (Darley) addressed them in a trembling voice- and tears welling down his cheeks – saying
“On behalf of this Cathedral church we receive the colours of your Battalion for safe custody during the period of your active service; we deem it an honour to be put in charge of these emblems which are so dear to you. Your Battalion will remember these are now placed for the present in the sanctuary of God and they will dearly remind us to pray to God to protect your Regiment. We trust that we may return them to your charge when you come back in peace and with a noble record of services willingly rendered to your King and Country”.

The officers then handed over the colours to the Dean (at 3:58 p.m.) he handed them to the presenter, and minor Canon Baxter; and they were placed in either corner of the military chapel. The Dean read a prayer in which he especially asked God’s blessing on the Cheshire Regiment. The national anthem was sung-in which the congregation joined- with many a trembling voice, and tears rolling down their cheeks; not from fear of this World War, the greatest war the world will ever see, all through the ambition of a despot, his heir, and the unbearable military spirit of the German nation, but the unnecessary sacrifice of thousands of human lives, their families, and dependants. After the service I, at the request of the presenter, accompanied him to the chapter house, where the colours were taken, for the time being, and where the Dean was resting for a few moments prior to the ordinary afternoon service, at 4:15. The Dean shook hands, and informed me that the colours would be placed in the slots for their reception in the Cheshire chapel and that they would remain in their cases as delivered to the Dean and Chapter. Colour-Sergeants Wilkie, and Jones, formed guard for the colours. The former introduced me to the two officers. I informed them I would follow, very carefully, the career of the Regiment throughout the war. And when it was over I felt sure, it would return with increased honour and glory equalling if possible that gained at Meeanee, and Hyderabad, feats which have never been excelled by any other Regiment of the line.
Colour-Sergeant Wilkes informed me that, the Sergeant Major, and all the colour Sergeants had been offered commissions. The Sergeant Major (Murphy) had accepted, but the Colour Sergeants had refused, as circumstances would not allow them to accept. He also informed me that Captain Clark, Captain of Quartermaster Ryan, some others officers, and hon: Commissioned officers were stationed at Birkenhead and would remain there for some time drilling recruits. They have turned Gamlin’s works into a barracks. He begged me to go over and see them and have a chat with the boys-which I promised to do before they leave for the front.

Thursday 9 April 2015

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary part 2

Frank Simpson (1863-1942) was a prominent figure within his native city of Chester. During the First World War he was Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers formed for home defence in 1914. One of our volunteers has begun to serialise his diaries. Our second instalment describes some of the changes in Chester following the outbreak of war.

August, Thursday 6, 1914
Mobilisation is in full progress men are arriving from all parts of the county, and elsewhere, to the call of arms. At the castle and government house they are working day and night.
August, Friday 7, 1914
The banks opened this morning and paper money is prominent so that gold may be protected for the nation’s use . One pound notes are being issued and postal orders are now to be used as current coin, they are procurable at the post offices free of charge. The Roodee has been closed to the public and is now used for military purposes. Horses are being commandeered and brought in by the score. They are taken to the Roodee, examined, and those suitable branded. It is no use trying to bargain over the sale of a horse. The military offer anything up to £40, you can take it or leave it but they keep the horse.
August, Sunday 9, 1914
The artillery (mounted) marched out of Chester this Sunday morning, and well they looked with arms; they proceed to Shrewsbury. These are no bands this time, little cheering, every man’s face bears the impression of business. The Emperor of Germany has menaced the peace of the world long enough; he must be thrashed, that is the opinion of every person one meets. Everyone is eager to fight or take some part in the struggle.
August, Monday 10, 1914
A special war edition of the Cheshire Observer was published this Monday evening, and sold at a halfpenny per copy. This is the first occasion during the existence of this newspaper that a special edition has been issued other than on the usual days of publication –Friday evening, or Saturday.
August, Friday 14, 1914
Notice has been given to persons who hold contracts on the north Wales line to Chester that from tomorrow, Saturday morning, the lines from Holyhead to London, will be held over for at least forty-eight hours for the transportation of troops and that it may continue until Tuesday.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary

Frank Simpson (1863-1942) was a prominent figure within his native city of Chester. On his twenty first birthday, he was made a freeman, and from then on spent a large proportion of his time studying the history of the local guilds. He would eventually go on to write several works on the Cheshire Regiment and its headquarters, and in 1913 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries as a reward for his service. He was also a key member of the Chester Archaeological Society holding a variety of positions throughout his life. He was an avid photographer and his albums and journals survive at Cheshire Archives.

During the First World War Frank Simpson was Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers formed for home defence in 1914. One of our volunteers has begun to serialise his diaries. Our first instalment describes life in the city at the outbreak of war.

August, Tuesday 4, 1914

War declared by England against Germany. The war office issued an order for mobilisation; notices were placed under the City gates and at the castle the notices were pasted up at the latter at 6:30; by 7:30 pm Territorials and Reservists were flocking to the castle to report themselves. At midnight crowds of people were congregated at the castle gates.

August, Wednesday 5, 1914

Chester was early astir this morning, the streets are crowded with men and soldiers. The Territorials are answering to the nation's call in a patriotic manner. Wagon loads of war equipment are passing through the streets to the various destinations.

The banks are all closed but are to re-open on Friday when one pound, and ten shilling notes will be issued to the public. This is to protect the gold supply. All kinds of food stuff has gone up in price this owing to certain people making raids on the grocers shops etc to lay in a supply. Big crowds of people gather round the doorways, and in many cases the shops have had to be closed in the faces of would be customers. This is not due to a shortage of supplies but to the assistants not being able to cope with the demand owing to the Territorial’s having to report for duty the firms are very short handed. Unfortunately some well-to-do people have land in such stocks they removed it in their motor cars. One person asking for 16 hams, flitches of bacon, sacks of flour, etc. There will be no saving in this as the grocer tells me it will not keep. The only result being that various articles of food have gone up in price and the poor will have difficulty in procuring the necessities of life. Sugar which was at 2 ½ d lb last week is now sixpence, and moist sugars in proportion, meat one penny per pound, butter from 1 shilling 2 pence to 1 shilling 6 pence.

Sunday 8 March 2015

A Desperate Dan of a Giblet Pie

A search on our catalogue for 'pie' suggested two young men were corresponding with recipes in the early nineteenth century. Intriguing. On closer inspection, the friends were busy arranging meeting up at the Golden Lion in Wrexham, and at some point someone else had needed a scrap of paper to copy out a couple of recipes. Our catalogue has been amended!

Clean two pair of giblets well, and put all but the livers into a saucepan, 
with two quarts of water, twenty corns of whole pepper, three blades of 
mace, a bundle of sweet-herbs, and a large onion; cover them close, 
and let them stew very gently till they are tender. Have a good 
crust ready, cover your dish, lay at the bottom a fine rump 
stake, seasoned with pepper and salt, put in your giblets, with 
the livers, and strain the liquor they were stewed in; then 
season it with salt, and pour it into your pie; put on the lid, 
and bake it a hour and a half.

A quick google to understand the 'pair of giblets' a little better, and the origin of the recipe is revealed. The recipe is almost identical to Hannah Glasse's published in 1747 in her groundbreaking 'The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy'.

Thank you to James, our work experience student last week, for an excellent piece of transcription work.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

A very public service

Our 'local authority' collections date back centuries and the minute books are the first place to look to establish who decided what and when as local towns and services develop - but here is a much more personal insight into the workings of local government in Winsford.

In 1925 J H Cooke, Solicitor and Clerk to Winsford Urban District Council wrote a letter to the new Chairman - his version of events reminiscing on 50 years of progress in the town. A few things stand out in particular. When residents in 2015 are about to have the opportunity to vote for local councillors to represent them it is hard to imagine that one individual could ever veto the provision of street lighting. We have celebrated in another blog post the coming of a water supply to Congleton, the same achievement for Winsford is detailed here. Not to mention the purchase of a steam roller that paid for itself on loan to neighbouring authorities – an early shared service. Meanwhile just two sentences offer a glimpse of a fascinating episode – the day the town wondered if the elephant would make it across the wooden bridge ...

Mr Cooke transcribes the minutes from 7 September 1875 detailing his appointment and then continues …
"The reason for the formation of a Local Board was that the Northwich Rural Sanitary Authority proposed to purchase a House then Known as Breeze Hill (now known as Holly Hurst) situate in Geneva Road [that] should be utilized as an Isolation Hospital. The Town thought this a very unfavourable position; the Town wished to have a good water supply because to a large extent the People of Over were dependent upon a well situate at the High Street end of Well Street which was not then in existence. The foot paths in the Town were not very favourable & there were a lot of dirty holes so that people had to walk carefully. Of course the Town was not lighted because Mr H J Falk then residing at Meadow Bank always opposed the lighting of the District. Of course there was no system of sewerage. I remember the roads at that time principally High St. were covered with 2 inch macadam & as we had no steam roller the macadam was laid bare & horse guards were placed along the roads to Direct the traffic from one side of the road to the other. As soon as the Board was formed the members began to look out for Water Supply (& principally through the effort of the late Mr Jno Stubbs) the present springs were found at Little Budworth. Ultimately we bought the springs from the late Lord Shrewsbury for £1500. And none of the Streets known as Dean St. John St. & Well St. were then in existence. They were simply pasture fields. The Bridge at Winsford consisted of a stone Bridge with one or two arches & when these arches began to subside a temporary wooden bridge had to be erected a short distance away from the present bridge I remember at that time Wombwells Menagerie was coming to Winsford & the big Elephant had to cross the temporary wooden bridge. We all wondered whether it would get safely across but it did so. I have known the Market Place sink 20 ft in 20 years. This was at the time about 1881 when the trade was manufacturing an enormous quantity of salt & the brine was drawn from places close to. You will know how the Town has improved since. We bought a steam roller for £400 & although there was much objection to the purchase, we received in income from the Loan of it to other authorities, as much as we had paid for it in one year besides doing our own work. The Asiatic Cholera was rampant on Victoria Terrace. The town was full of Cesspools. Mr Bancroft C. E. of Manchester was appointed Engineer to the Water Works. The first meeting of the old Local Board was held in the ante-room of the then Town Hall. I very well remember complaints being made of the Gas Company charging 6/- for a 1000 cubic ft. for gas supplied. I see from the Minutes that the rate levied for the first half year was 9d in the £. I was admitted a Solicitor Michaelmas Term 1870 so that I have been on the role for 55 years. I was born at the Bank House now occupied by Mrs Ivison on the 11 Oct. 1848 so that next month I shall be 77 years of age. My only inclination is to resign but I am quite agreeable to whatever the Council may decide. I have always been on good terms with the Board & the Council I feel that my age & the infirmity of my hearing does not entitle me to continue to impose my services on the Council. I am not a rich man because I have a large family to maintain. I have spent all my salary & profits from my profession in the Town."

How and when towns and communities obtained running water is being explored by the Big History Project run by Water Aid UK to celebrate 150 years of the modern sewer system. We can help you research the history of the water supply in your Cheshire town for you to submit your findings to the project map!