Tuesday 14 December 2021

Planes, Trains and Automobiles!

We’ve had lots of interest in photographs of old vehicles in some of our recent exhibitions and blogs, so we’re dedicating this blog to early vehicles and transport in Cheshire. Read on for images of planes, trains and automobiles – and more! 


This striking photograph is from 1911 and shows an aeroplane flying over the Widnes Transporter Bridge. It was taken during the Round Britain Air Race and the pilot was a James Valentine, who landed briefly in Widnes. He was one of only four pilots to finish the race, and later served in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. 

Cheshire Image Bank also contains a postcard of the first arrival of an aeroplane in Northwich, in 1912 (above right). The pilot, pioneering British aviator Gustav Hamel, can be seen standing next to his plane. Demonstration flights were apparently given on nearby Leftwich Green!  

We hold archive images from Hooton Park Airfield, including this one from 1944 of an early helicopter, the Sikorsky ‘Hoverfly’, designed by helicopter pioneer Igor Sikorsky. Also photographed at Hooton is the iconic Spitfire aeroplane. 


Our Local Studies collection contains many dozens of books, pamphlets and articles about trains and railways of Cheshire, as well as the images on the Cheshire Image Bank. This photograph of an unusual-looking locomotive was deposited at Cheshire Record Office with the information "Silver Jubilee, taken at Wrenbury Station, 1936" inscribed on it.  The Silver Jubilee was a streamlined train designed to travel at exceptionally high speeds - although we have since been informed that this locomotive may in fact be a Coronation Scot, introduced in 1937. 

Railway records also feature in our Archives, including the Basil Jeuda photographic collection (ref: D 7386) - an extensive railway-related collection of photographs from the 1860s to the 1980s. Many trains have been captured, such as this one at Prestbury Station in the 1880s below left, and the image of the ‘Ludwig Mond’ engine taken at Brunner Mond works in Winnington in 1912. 


We hold vehicle licensing records for Cheshire and Warrington going back to 1903, and regularly fulfil requests for copies from vehicle enthusiasts wishing to re-license restored cars. We have some images of very early cars, such as this one of motorised vehicles on the High Street at Winsford, taken in the early 1900s. 

The image below left shows the Mayor of Winsford pictured in his first official car – it also dates from the first decade of the 20th century. And from the 1910s, we have an image of Tom Booth’s Cycle and Motor Depot on Main Street, Frodsham (below right). Pictured in the car is a Mr Philbin, who was apparently the chauffeur to the local bank manager. 

This early advert for car hire is taken from the Nantwich Almanack and Directory of 1916.  And from our Archive collections, one of our favourite images is from a 1930s scrapbook of the Royal Chester Rowing Club: an early roof rack! Captioned ‘Henley 1937’, sadly we don’t know if the car was photographed at the Henley Regatta, or driven there like this from Chester.  

Another popular search and copying request at Cheshire Record Office is of the records of Fodens commercial vehicle manufacturers of Elworth, Sandbach. They started producing agricultural engines in the 1870s and became a leading manufacturer of steam engines and later of diesel trucks - we hold production records, technical drawings, photographs and more covering over 100 years (collection ref: DFO). Though made in Cheshire, the vehicles went far and wide – the one below to a famous company from Nottingham! 

Whilst they haven’t been seen on the roads for the past hundred years, we do have some images of charabancs, an early type of open-topped motor coach. The name comes from the French char à bancs ('carriage with benches') and was popular for sightseeing or ‘works outings’. These images relate to just that: the first (below left) is of a Helsby Ladies charabanc outing circa 1920 and the second is a 1919 outing from Lynch’s Garage in Northwich. 

This is an image of a Daimler charabanc, taken in Northwich during the 1910s – with the young boy stood next to it, we wonder whether this could have been an early school bus?

There are plenty of images and information about buses in both our Archives and Local Studies collections. The photograph below left is captioned ‘first bus in Widnes’ and was taken between 1900 and 1909. And on the right is a Nantwich and Crewe motor bus, photographed around 1910.  


With Cheshire having a significant canal network, we hold many items related to the canals and barges of the county – as well as rivers and boats. The image below left is of a barge stranded in a semi-dry canal after the famous canal burst at Kerridge near Macclesfield in February 1912. And below right is a picture of salt being loaded onto a canal barge for transport, taken at Middlewich in the early 1900s. 


Do you consider bicycles to be vehicles? If so, we have some lovely early examples, such as these two, including a penny farthing, photographed in Alderley Edge in the 1880s.  And on the right, these enthusiasts are members of the West Cheshire Bicycle Club, photographed in 1884. 


Moving on to motorcycles, this image is from the 1910s, and shows an early motorcycle outside the shop of Fred Wakefield, a cycle agent in Sandbach. 

Also from the 1910s is this image of plumber Frank Turner and storekeeper Fred Basnett, pictured at Castle Park in Frodsham with a motorcycle and side car – and, on the subject of side cars, this Bollington butcher has a novel way of transporting livestock! 

With all these vehicles, we will end on a note of safety. This image is undated, but comes from Simms Cross School in Widnes, and shows children taking part in a Road Safety campaign. We wish them happy driving! 

All these images and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester. For images of early fire engines and ambulances, see our recent blog on Cheshire’s Emergency Services here.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Explore Your Archive: Archive Extremes!

Explore Your Archive is an annual celebration of archives and the collections held in them. This year’s event runs from 20th to 28th November, with themes for each day including ‘small’ and ‘big’. Inspired by this, here are some contenders for not just the smallest and biggest items held at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, but also the oldest, heaviest, longest, brightest and oddest!


Some of our smallest items are diaries from the Swindells of Bollington collection. These three on the right, belonging to mill owner Frederick Swindells, have pages measuring less than 9cm x 6cm and are full of tiny writing giving an account of each day. In collection D8714 we have some miniature notebooks by Chester artist and illustrator Randolph Caldecott, dating from 1855, that are full of practice sketches.  And in the Baker-Wilbraham family collection, there is a wooden box measuring 9cm x 7cm x 4cm, full of small deeds dating from the 13th to 18th centuries, some complete with seals.


Our oldest royal charter is almost 850 years old, dating from around 1175. It is a City of Chester Charter (ref: ZCH 1) relating to matters outside the city, in which King Henry II “re-affirmed trading rights enjoyed by the burgesses of Chester in Dublin since the time of Henry I”, and still has its seal. 

Amongst several centuries worth of deeds in our oldest family and estate collections, are even older documents from the early 1100s. They usually don't include a date - this can be narrowed down based on what we know about the transaction and the people involved.

Our Local Studies department holds many collections of photographs, including some taken by pioneering Cheshire photographers Thomas Davies and W.H. Hanmer, dating from the 1850s. This early photograph from a Hanmer album is of children at a school in Wincham run by Charles Hanmer, presumed to be the photographer’s father. And on the right is a self-portrait of Thomas Davies – a very early selfie! They are not the oldest items in our collections, but they are our oldest photographs.


Many of our maps are on the large side. To give an idea of the scale, this one measures around 9 feet or 2.7m on its shortest side and was photographed on the floor next to our staff member Heather - she is just under 5 feet 2 inches tall, or 1.56m. We tried taking the photo standing up, but our ceiling was too low! 

One of the longest maps we hold is a 1721 map of the River Weaver from Frodsham Bridge to Winsford Bridge, which measures 75cm x 3.35m. The image below left has been stitched together digitally from the 10 individual images we had to take to capture the whole map. This 1564 pedigree (below right) is even longer than the River Weaver map, and measures around 55cm x 4.2m. It shows three generations issuing from the marriage of Sir Randle Brereton of Malpas, who died in 1530, to Eleanor Dutton of Hatton. 


Our archives are stored carefully in seven large strong rooms at Cheshire Record Office in Chester, and also offsite at a salt mine storage facility in Winsford. Until we open a box, folder or roll, we don’t know what the item inside will look like, and we’re often taken aback at how vibrant some very old documents still look. The pedigree above is a good example of how well the colours have lasted, but this one, of the Eyton family of Denbighshire dates from 1674 and the colours, including the touches of gold paint, look as bright as a much newer document. It is also over 5m long!


We thought a contender for the heaviest item would be a City of Chester Assembly Minute book, ref: ZAB 1. It is frequently requested in our search room, and is very large and heavy to handle. But its 11kg weight and 43x32x14 cm dimensions pale in comparison to this wages and holiday pay book from Brunner Mond & Co Ltd’s Lostock works, from 1913 (DIC 9026/1). Measuring 58x50x12cm, it weighs in at a whopping 25kg. 

Just a couple of kilos lighter is our Thomas Hughes collection of copper engraving plates, dating from c.1810 to c.1860. The 44 plates in the collection weigh a total of 23kg - this one features an engraving of the Dee Bridge railway disaster.


We certainly have some unusual items in our collections – from some coffin plates removed from a vault in Malpas church (DCH/WW/24), to a lady’s single riding glove containing a calling card from 1680 (D5154/30), and a single brick that arrived with our collection from Foden (DFO) commercial vehicle manufacturers. 

But arguably the most unusual, or oddest, are locks of people’s hair. There are several – including one within a collection of late 17th century correspondence of the Arderne family of Alvanley (DAR/A/89) - but the one pictured below is from the collection of Colonel Hugh Robert Hibbert of Macclesfield, who served in the Crimean war. It is contained in a small envelope inscribed ‘Hugh’s hair, April 4th, 1854. Cut off at Manchester the evening before he left’ for the Crimea. 
So these are some of our Archive Extremes – the smallest, oldest, biggest, brightest, heaviest and oddest in our collections. Can you think of any others we should add? 

We’re featuring the themes of Explore Your Archive on our social media – check out @CheshireRO on Twitter and cheshire_archives on Instagram to see more. All these items are available to view at Cheshire Record Office – information about visiting can be found here.

Tuesday 9 November 2021

Cheshire's Forgotten Playwright

29th March, 1729. Men and women tumble out of the Little Theatre at Haymarket, London. There is a strange atmosphere in the air: delight, confusion, anger. The audience don’t know what to make of it – have they just witnessed a comedy, tragedy, satire, opera, or baffling mix of them all? Almost 300 years later and Hurlothrumbo still refuses to be pigeon-holed.

However hard to describe, audiences loved it, and the play was performed 29 times that season – a very considerable run for the time. So popular was it that a Hurlothrumbo society was formed and references to it were made in many other plays of the period such as Henry Fielding’s ‘Tom Jones’. The saying “Mere Hurlothrumbo” became an acceptable term for anything remotely inconsistent in the 18th century.

Hurlo was penned by Cheshire’s Samuel Johnson in the 1720s, notorious for performing in his own production – dancing, playing the fiddle and walking on stilts. His witticisms were so desired that he made a living going from one wealthy family to another and being hired to entertain guests at their parties. 

The story goes as follows:

Three noblemen and the King’s general, Hurlothrumbo, plot to overthrow the kingdom by shooting guns from their rooftops to incite a riot. They succeed and the King is captured but swaps clothes with his brother-in-law Theorbeo in prison and escapes back to his troops. The rebels are defeated by the King’s forces and an assortment of supernatural beings. All the rebels are generously pardoned but Hurlothrumbo is condemned to wear Harlequin’s clothes as a reminder of his foolishness. Meanwhile romantic intrigues abound between Lord Flame (played by Johnson), the rebels, Princess Cademore and other ladies at court.

Hurlo opened doors for Johnson and made him some powerful friends. Only a few weeks after opening night was it published with the financial backing of 112 people, many of whom were distinguished Cheshire names. We are lucky enough to have a copy of Hurlo in the historic county, at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. Although liberally stamped at some point with ‘Chester Public Library’ in blue ink and suffering a little foxing (brown spots), it is still in remarkable condition. Beautiful wood block illustrations of flowers, cherubs and birds appear at the beginning and end of each Act. A pastoral scene adorns the dedication to Johnson’s patron, the Lady Delves of Doddington Hall near Nantwich.

Very little is known about Johnson’s early life but the Biographia Dramatica of 1767 provides this contemporary clue: “Mr Johnson is a native of Cheshire, and was bred to and followed the profession of a dancing master". After his career on the stage and as a ‘jester for hire’ dwindled, he retired to Gawsworth and died there in 1773 at age 82. 

Cheshire Archives hold the original parish record of his funeral. He was buried in woods near Gawsworth New Hall where he resided for the last 30 years of his life. It was the local villagers that nicknamed him ‘Old Maggoty’ due his unusually advanced age, and it is unfortunate that this name is now most associated with the eccentric but talented playwright whose Lord Flame burned brightly but all too briefly.”

Hurlothrumbo may have been a one hit wonder but, as the Manchester poet John Byrom wrote in the epilogue, “So true a Stage, so fair a Play for Laughter, / There never was before nor ever will come after”.

Friday 22 October 2021

Archive Horrors!

It’s nearly Halloween, and here at Cheshire Record Office we have lots of archives and local studies material about witches and ghosts. But spooks and ghouls are not the only things to beware of – there is plenty in the day job of looking after archives that can give us nightmares. Read on to see seven scary scenarios! 


The search room at Cheshire Record Office is strictly Pencil Only, to avoid accidental damage to our archives and local studies material. Even neat pen marks will bleed through paper over time - this can be seen on a heavily marked notebook from the 1630s, where red pen was used to make notes. Ink is difficult to remove - sometimes impossible - so pens must stay locked away! 

Sticky tape 

Sticky tape doesn’t age well – it can discolour and degrade paper. Our Conservators removed a huge amount of tape from these newly deposited documents before storing them. It will help prevent future damage so the documents can be preserved for longer. 

Dust and Dirt 

Some of our collections have been stored in less-than-ideal conditions before reaching us. You certainly need a pair of gloves sometimes – to protect your hands, as well as the documents! This Sheriffs' File from the 18th century is covered in sooty surface dirt and is in very poor condition. Removing the dust and dirt is an important first step in conservation: it not only makes the documents difficult to read but can also be abrasive and acidic, and cause damage to the paper. Worse still, it can be a source of food for insects and encourage mould growth. Yikes! The documents below were similar, but have had a visit to our conservation studio where they've been cleaned and repaired. 


All our documents are carefully packaged before being stored, and environmental conditions in our strong rooms are monitored regularly. But before arriving at Cheshire Record Office, these documents were damaged when a heavy downpour caused a drain to fail, resulting in a basement flood. Parchment and water do not mix. You can see below that extensive flood damage has caused the parchment - which is made from animal skin and mostly formed of gelatine - to turn glue-like when wet, and as it has dried the pages have stuck together. They were unfortunately beyond repair. 

Destruction of documents 

Many people have a fear of mice and rats, but our furry friends (or enemies!) are definitely frightening for archivists and conservators. Centuries-old paper must make a tasty snack or nest-lining, and rodents can have a devastating effect on archives if they get hold of them. 

The damage to this 1882 Rate Book was caused by water after a flood in a basement, the perfect environment for mould to grow. But if mould damage wasn’t bad enough, some little critters, thought to have been mice, have gorged on the paper and it is now sadly beyond repair. (NB – the damage occurred before the document arrived at Cheshire Archives!) If not treated promptly, mould spores can spread and wreak havoc on old documents. And other little pests like bookworms, silverfish and booklice can cause plenty of damage too.  It may look cute, but the '
bookworm' (actually the larvae of the Varied Carpet Beetle, known as the Woolly Bear) is responsible for the patterns on the pages here.

Missing documents

Storing archives carefully isn’t just to protect them from animals and environmental damage. Imagine what would happen if you took out a document but didn’t put it back properly? If we take an item out of storage (and remember our documents are stored on around 11 kilometres of shelving!) we use a strict tracking system to look after it. Triple carbon slips are filled in with the document reference number, its location, and when and by whom it has been moved. 

The pink layer must stay with the document, whether it is going to our search room to be viewed by a member of the public; used by a staff member for research or copying; or being treated in our conservation studio. The yellow layer remains in the storage box, and the white copy can be taken away by the person using it. When the item is returned, the pink and yellow slips must match, and are put back together and recorded. Accuracy is paramount, and only very occasionally do we get the shock of finding a yellow slip in a box instead of a document. 

Rest assured that at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, we take extremely good care of the documents entrusted to us. Our strict tracking system means missing documents are very rare. 

Techniques from the past 

Our Archivists and Conservators do an excellent job of preserving and conserving the documents in our care. But archives trends and techniques have changed over time, and what is seen as best practice now can be quite different from what used to happen. Two sets of documents sadly spring to mind to illustrate this. 

The first is a pamphlet from the English Civil War, dated 1642, but it’s covered in 20th century ink stamps from the library where it used to be kept. It is obviously important to catalogue and label archives material but nowadays a soft pencil is used instead. 

This is an original letter from King Charles I to the Mayor of Chester, also written in 1642 (ref: DCC 47/41). The letters and other records in this collection have all been glued onto mounts – aargh! This happened in the 1950s and it certainly wouldn’t be stored in this way today. 

And whilst we’re sure whoever laminated these asylum records intended to preserve them, these days the documents would be stored differently. They’d be kept acid-free folders and, if additional protection was needed, they’d only ever be sleeved in non-plastic removable pockets. They’d never be sealed in. You can see from this image that laminated documents are difficult to photograph too! 

These are our seven scariest scenarios when working with archives. If you’d like to read about the witches, ghosts and Halloween customs of Cheshire – even a story of mummification – click here to read our 2019 blog: Happy Halloween!