Friday 26 July 2019

June 1919 at the Sailors and Soldiers Rest

This blog post was written by our volunteer Susan Chambers. 

The visitors' book from the Sailors and Soldiers Rest at Crewe Station (D 4998) records over 1600 troops passing through in June 1919, many of them jotting down various comments alongside their names and service details. Some were travelling to and from various Army bases from all over Britain, (eg Sniggery, Lark Hill, Aisne Barracks) and many were returning from Europe and further afield: Dublin, Cologne, Mons, Constantinople, France, India, Mesopotamia, Salonica, Palestine, Eastern Turkey, Alexandria, North Russia to name a random few.

Sailors from HMS Caesar, Dauntless, Valkyrie, Erin, Caledon, Conqueror, Lion, HM Submarine L17, Minesweeper Buckie, were calling at the Rest, no doubt for the endless supply of mugs of tea!

Prices of essential items from the Rest's records. 

The visitors books are a fascinating source of information on the aftermath of the Great War, and the time it took to disperse the troops since the Armistice; and so many of them were off to deal with other problems in the world, such as Ireland, India and Russia.

A number of Canadian troops based at Kinmel Park Dispersal Camp (near Rhyl), were passing though the station after having had a brief  break before sailing home. Several soldiers had died in early March in a riot at Kinmel, prompted by their frustration at the slow progress in repatriating them, which entailed  a complex business of medical testing, clothing and equipment issue, and long administrative form-filling, after which they were sent on leave before returning to Kinmel ready to set off for Canada.  

However on their return to camp they often found that their allocated sailing was cancelled because of strikes or unavailability of a ship (or even preference given to Americans, it was suggested).  The incidents in March had stemmed from their bitter frustration.

Comments from the Canadians included:
‘another week to stop in British Isles’

‘me for that next boat to Canada’

‘Coming back off last eight days leave with Big head to be Demob.’

‘Big Head before Demob’ (Big Head -?hangover?)

‘Returning to “Gods Country” next sailing’

Some of the Canadians signed themselves as being from the ‘Little Black Devils’ (Royal Winnipeg Rifles).

Several men from the 3rd battalion North Staffs Regiment Band were heading for the Curragh Army Camp, County Kildare to assist with the Irish troubles;  

Gassed at Mons’  

'The above is a photo of an aeroplane out of sight’

‘I wish I was a Corporal’

On June 24th and 25th a total of twelve men of the 2nd Battalion of Seaforth Highlanders signed the book, recording that they had arrived from Fort George in Inverness and were on escort duty for German soldiers being taken from Scapa Flow to an interment camp near Oswestry. There was some confusion amongst the allies as to what would be done with the German fleet, but rather than hand it to the enemy the Germans had ‘scuttled’ their vessels (sunk them) on June 23rd:

‘Escort Duty. Taking Jerry from Scapa Flow to Oswestry, Wales (some job)’

 Many men were from Prees Heath, the huge Army camp near Whitchurch, and one from the Royal Army Pay Corps noted:

'Diddled out of breakfast this morn at Prees Heath Dispersal Station due to usual Army muddling. Very glad I was diddled after enjoying your excellent fare in this establishment’.

From two Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers: Get a new pen’ ; ‘Here Here a New Pen, yes’.  

And later the same day from an Australian: ‘Good…not the pen’ and from a Mons soldier ‘This is a fine place but a D….rotten pen’.

It’s interesting to note how often ‘civility’ is mentioned, as if the troops were not accustomed to it:

'First civility received since 1914’

'Civility, which is a lot’

'Respect & Civility at Crewe YMCA’  

‘It is a great pleasure to be in a civilised country’,  from a Corporal in the Royal Scots just returning from Russia, and from a Sergeant travelling with him ‘No Blockhouse, No Snow, No Bolos’ (a sort of machete much used in WW1)

A few random jottings:

‘Watching others get their ticket (official discharge) is good sport, some may say, but I don’t. You soon get stricken down with the latest disease “Dispersalitis”.

‘Dinkum, everything in tip-top order’ from a member of the Royal Australian Air Force Base in Queensland.

24th Battalion Machine Gun Corps ‘Badly Wants to get Home. London’

‘Good luck to the lady who gave us the dinner, her praises I shall sing for ever & ever’

‘Tired , hungry & broke but received a Hearty Welcome’

‘Demobbed today, plenty happy and glad’

‘Any volunteers for North Russia?’

‘A friend  in need after 36 hours. The Last lap’

‘Tray bonne’ ‘Tray bond’ ‘Dobra’ ‘On his way home Napoo’

‘Happy Though Married’  ‘Happy and not Married’ followed by ‘Lucky boy’

‘Going to see my girl’.

Thursday 18 July 2019

Many moons ago ...

Is it ambitious to attempt to celebrate the anniversary of the Moon landing using Cheshire’s collections? Not with Chester’s Bishop John Wilkins as inspiration.

A Discovery of a New World, or, a Discourse Tending to Prove, That 'tis Probable that There May be Another Habitable World in the Moon was written in 1638 when he was 24. In it he speculated that man in a ‘flying chariot’, perhaps propelled by gunpowder, could arrive at the moon, where he may discover a new world where the earth is perceived by any inhabitants up there as a moon. He would go on to propose a universal language and standard unit of measure over 100 years before the metric system, and was a founding member of the Royal Society while at Oxford. He became Bishop of Chester in 1668. By then his understanding of the gravitational pull of the earth had already been disproved, but the copy we hold of his book speculating on a space mission was reprinted in 1684 so clearly still had its attractions.

Povah family of Upton, Macclesfield collection D 4562

Two hundred years later, in Macclesfield, Charles and Frances Mary Povah are photographed in their observatory at Sunny Bank, with the equipment that helped them take a photograph of the moon that survives in their family papers. Charles Povah’s career was in insurance, he was also prominent in the North Western branch of the British Astronomical Society and spoke on a range of subjects to a variety of audiences, including to novices and children on the solar system.

Leicester-Warren family of Tabley collection DLT/B29

Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire Image Bank c06227

The Povahs were keeping up a tradition of fascination with astronomy on the east of the county. The prolific scholar Peter Leicester compiled a volume of knowledge about the universe at Tabley near Knutsford in the seventeenth century. And of course Jodrell Bank, also near Knutsford, was chosen as the site for the University of Manchester’s observatory and the radio telescope that played its part in monitoring the Luna and Apollo missions in the race to the moon.

What about the impact of the moon landing locally? Cheshire newspapers reported on the role of a Chester sub-postmaster, one of 12 amateur astronomers in the country tasked with keeping the moon under observation from the telescope mounted in his garden. In response to an urgent request from the astronauts for any information about unusual brightness they had seen, Mr Baum was able to telegram the Lunar International Network of Observers HQ with details of the transient lunar phenomenon that he had witnessed from Boughton on 20th July.  Meanwhile Cheshire Life magazine reflects on the moon landing in September and it is clear that ‘if we can get a man to the moon why can we not …?’ is already a common complaint. We also checked magazines in our school collections for 1969 expecting to find plenty of space inspired creative writing. In fact stories and poems are deeply reflective, trying to make sense of human achievements on the moon at a time when the scale of human misery inflicted by the famine in Biafra and the Vietnam war are teenagers’ main preoccupations. One impact of the space race on education would come later – Cheshire County Council supported Cheshire from Space an education pack complete with slides of satellite imagery of the county in the early 1980s.

One final Cheshire connection? When the points of a crescent moon are upwards … that’s a ‘Cheshire moon’!

Lewis Carroll collection LC3/ALI/7 1981

Tuesday 16 July 2019

A Week in the Archives - Work Experience

This blog post was written by work experience students Ben and Laura from Christleton High School. 

Repackaged Hartford Parish Council records. 

"On our first day at the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies office, we learnt how to properly package, catalogue and conserve documents of varying types and ages; for example, using linen wraps and non-acidic boxes to stop them from decaying so they will keep for longer, or how to properly handle old photographs. We spent most of the day cataloguing Hartford Parish Council records from 1833 to 1982, including minutes from a meeting discussing triangular fields and trees.

On the second day, we catalogued photographs from a man named George Haswell’s album, dating from around 1900-1909. This involved transferring them to protective sheets and trying to work out where the pictures had been taken. While the majority of photos included villages, churches and his family, others were more unusual, such as a shrunken head and melted metal statue. 

Items from the George Haswell collection. 

Donald Insall photograph. 
We also began transferring architectural photo slides to more protective plastic wallets so they would not be damaged. These photo slides were taken by Donald Insall when Chester was under refurbishment, and give a glimpse of what the city was like during the 1960s and 1970s.

On the third day, we finished transferring the slides to their new sleeves, and then began work on cataloguing duties on land values from Macclesfield and Sutton. We finished two of 32 folders in two and a half hours. Over the final two days of our placement, we finished cataloguing these documents, and transferred maps to more conservation friendly housing for use in another project.

In our final afternoon, we did some back ground research into William George Haswell, in order to understand who he was. We found out that he was one of many masons in his family that worked on the Chester Cathedral, and was a master mason. George was a member of the United Grand Lodge of England Freemasons, becoming initiated on 1st October 1891. 

Advert for William Haswell, Mason. 
He spent his life working on different architectural projects around the country, but stayed living in Chester, running his family’s business. George was also an active member of the community, serving on the Chester Town Council between 1900 and 1903 in Trinity Ward. 

As the head of “Haswell and Son architectural ecclesiastical craftsmen”, he assisted in the refurbishment of the Chester Cathedral in 1918-1932, and the Birkenhead Priory in 1897-98. 

He was born in 1862, and died in September 1938, after retiring in 1934. He married his wife Mary Elizabeth Haswell in 1888 and had a son called Frank Terrey Haswell in 1889. Frank was a sculptor and served in the Royal Navy Reserve during the First World War."

1911 census entry for William Haswell, his wife Mary Elizabeth and his son Frank.

Monday 1 July 2019

Rebellious, Radical and Remarkable: Remembering John Tomlinson Brunner

This blog post was written by our volunteer, Megan Grainger, to commemorate the centenary of the death of Sir John Brunner. Sir John Brunner was a British industrialist and co-founder of the chemical firm Brunner Mond and Company. He was Liberal M.P. for Northwich from 1885-1909 and was a Privy Councillor in 1906. 

“….a career of almost unexampled prosperity’

This statement made by the Western Daily Press provides the most apt introduction to Brunner. It defines his continued significance; the reason he remains embedded in the History of the Northwest and why a hundred years after his death we continue to commemorate the life of Sir John Tomlinson Brunner. 

The quote itself is a direct reference to the enormous financial successes of Brunner, Mond and Co, and it was through this success that Brunner was able to fund his own philanthropic agenda. In remembrance of the centenary of his death on the 1st July, this posts seeks to commemorate not simply the financial and political success of John Brunner but his character, and his dedication to his workmen, to his locality and to progressive reform, as it is this that remains his greatest legacy.

The perseverance and dedication that went into Brunner's endeavours is evident in the projection of his career. Brunner held a clerical post at Hutchinson’s alkali works in Widnes for a number of years, a position that was fundamental to the course of Brunner’s life. It provided him with invaluable business acumen and was the meeting point for his friendship with German chemist Ludwig Mond, a friendship that would become the catalyst for the company that transformed Brunner into a powerhouse of the British chemical industry. By 1873 the works at Winnington had been purchased and Brunner, Mond and co. was in its infancy. By 1888 a memorandum between E J. Milner and Brunner includes a letterhead identifying the expansion and success of the business, listing works at Winnington, Northwich, Betchton and Sandbach.

c11221 Brunner Mond & Co. arch.
The motto on the arch reads: "Northwich thanks best friend Sir John."

However what was truly remarkable about Brunner is best demonstrated through his condemnation of a compulsory pension subscription for the working classes. Written in November 1888 between Brunner and his colleague the letters highlight Brunner’s commitment to fairness, he states, ‘such a rule to me is hateful.’ He found the scheme to be coercive, obliging his workers to sign over a percentage of their hard earned wage to the company and instead proposed sacrifices on behalf of the company would be better channelled into facilities, such as, societies and places to bath.

This example of altruism is not singular and a Northwich Guardian from 1899 identifies further the many ways in which Brunner sought to support his workers. It outlines the introduction of a sick and burial club, free medical care for those in service, a week’s paid holiday and also details the pride of Brunner in taking even further the employer liability of Act of 1881 by providing compensation for any death or injury at work regardless of fault.

As Brunner, Mond and co. expanded so did Brunner’s ability to give back and he did not restrict his benevolence to those in his factories. Compelled by his Unitarian beliefs imparted to him by his father, Brunner championed education; he funded schools, a free library at Northwich and endowed the chairs of economics, physical chemistry and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool.

c08335 Portrait of Sir John Brunner in the foyer of the Brunner Library

The courage and conviction Brunner demonstrated in business was no less fervent in his politics. Elected liberal MP for Northwich in 1885 he carried his progressive approach all the way to Westminster, earning recognition for his commitment to liberalism in 1906 when he became a Privy Councillor. During his time in politics Brunner championed home rule in Ireland, trade unions and welfare reform, he even braced the scorn of supporting a conciliatory approach towards Germany after WW1, so embedded were his beliefs to what was just. He was described as aggressively liberal, and perceived as radical but never was he apathetic.

There is much to remember Brunner for and in the vein of remembrance it is pertinent to end with a quote from Brunner himself. One that defines his beliefs, his forthright character and the humour he retained even in his disdain for those that refused to keep up:

‘The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce is a bunch of old toffies. They drive out of commerce any man who shows signs of a reformer in any direction and I do not consider them deserving of help.’

This blog post was written using the following items from the Imperial Chemical Industries collection at Cheshire Archives:
  • DIC/BM7/11 Original letters and enclosures from John Brunner and his secretary Thomas Ellis, chiefly to Edward Milner, relating to affairs at Winnington and Sandbach works, and within the alkali industry in general. 22 Aug 1885-1815 Nov 1888
  • DIC/BM15/43 Miscellaneous correspondence and other papers compiled by A S Irvine, Manager, ICI Alkali Division Information Service, relating to the life of Sir John Brunner (1842-1919).
  • DIC/BM7/2 Chiefly comprises letters written by Ludwig Mond to John Brunner during a visit to Belgium and Germany Aug-Sep 1876. Relates to business and family affairs. 1876-1877
Images are from Cheshire Image Bank