Tuesday 28 September 2021

A Taste of History!

If you couldn't make our live cook-along event on zoom with theatre chef Leo Burtin that we ran on Heritage Open Day Saturday in September here is a taste of what we got up to ... 

Leo presented a fascinating mix of the history and significance of recipe writing and some interesting ingredients while cooking up a syrup and a stew. He was inspired by autumn and recipe and remedy books kept by Cheshire women over the centuries that are now treasured by the Archives.

Before the event people taking part received a box in the post with some of the harder to find ingredients. Opening the box was exciting and the smell of spices was amazing. I couldn't cook along on the day so had a go with the mushroom ‘ragoo' recipe in advance. It’s a dish that should definitely be eaten on a cold autumn night by the fire with some crusty bread on the side. I used a real mix of mushrooms to add even more flavour and a bit of fennel. The result got the thumbs up from my family. 

Thanks to Leo for developing  a great event, and sharing his recipe, you can find out more about his other Eat the Archives projects here

The event was made possible with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of our Cheshire archives: a story shared project - buy a lottery ticket if you can! (No such thing as a free lunch!)

To ragoo mushrooms (an autumnal stew)


3 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter

1 large onion

2 large carrots (and/or other seasonal root vegetable)

600g mixed mushrooms

1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pep­per

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 1/2 tablespoons plain flour

500 ml vegetable stock

1 dried bay leaf

1 teaspoon yeast extract


1. Dice the onion, peel and slice the carrots and roughly chop the mushrooms. Warm up the stock.

2. Gently heat the vegetable oil or butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and add the onion and a tsp of salt. Let the onion caramelise on low-medium heat for 5-10 minutes.

3. Add the carrots and mushrooms and mix well. Take care that the mushrooms do not stick to the bottom of the pan. You may need to add a little oil, wine or a little of the stock to prevent them from catching.

4. Let the mushroom soften for 5-10 minutes then add the spices, herbs and the flour. Stir to coat.

5. Pour the stock while stirring then melt in the yeast extract.

6. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the root vegetables have softened. Stir occasionally.

7. Add salt or cayenne pepper to taste. Let the stew rest and cool for five minutes before serving.

8. Serve with your choice of warm bread; pearl barley; buckwheat or rice.

Wednesday 22 September 2021

Bringing History To You!

Dan Edmonds is the Community Engagement Officer at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies - quite a challenging role to take on amidst 
Covid restrictions!  His post is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and this is a snapshot of the valuable work he has been doing as part of our ongoing 'Cheshire Archives: A Story Shared' project.

Since starting at Cheshire Archives six months ago, my work as Community Engagement Officer has been an interesting journey. This is my first job in the Cheshire region, having been based just across the border in sunny Manchester for the past decade. It’s been a great opportunity to learn about the different groups of people which call this historic region home, find out what they want from an archive, and to help introduce our service to new groups of people.

As readers may well be aware, we are currently in the midst of applying for funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We hope to use the project funding to set up two new history centres - one in Chester and another in Crewe - as well as to develop new ways of making the collections we hold accessible to more people across the region.

My role in all this has been to meet with community groups, arts and heritage organisations, and members of the public. The aim has been to find out what people know about our service already, what kind of events, educational programmes, and activities they would like to see us host, and to find out how we can support and work alongside other organisations doing valuable work in the region.

Some of this has involved running surveys, focus groups, and discussions with people we want to work with and reach out to. This hasn’t always been straightforward given the pandemic and the restrictions on meeting in person! Often when you run consultations like these, it’s best to attend meetings of other organisations and ask their thoughts face-to-face, but that simply hasn’t been an option for several months. Instead we’ve run a battery of focus groups and discussions on Teams and Zoom, asked culture, heritage, and community organisations to run online surveys with their members and service users, and talked with individuals who run these groups about their perspectives.

We’ve had some really positive discussions, learning about what people find interesting about their local area, the different ways we can use the arts to bring local heritage to life, and finding out how we can help local communities through heritage-based events and activities. We’re looking at how we can use Audio-Visual workshops to teach young people about the history of the River Weaver, how asylum records can throw light on how women’s mental health is talked about today, how our historic maps and naturalist collections can shine a light on historical and contemporary biodiversity, and how histories of migration in Cheshire can help us understand the importance of different communities in shaping the region, to name just a few!

We’ve also been learning about ongoing and exciting new initiatives that we can support – from services which partner volunteers to talk with isolated elder members of the community, to providing resources for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and BSL (British Sign Language) classes in the region. We’ve been looking at how we can work with voluntary organisations who train young people in cooking and cheffing, drawing on our collection of historic cookbooks and recipes. It’s been really interesting speaking to organisations which represent marginalised communities, and hearing from them how we can reshape our activities to ensure that we are as inclusive as possible.

We’ve also been running events, both to bring archival materials to new audiences, and to trial new ideas we have about how to make our collections relevant to larger numbers of people. We’ve headed down to Chester Market to talk to members of the public about what our new history centres and digital services should look like, we ran a drop-in ‘Document Repair Shop’ to demonstrate what the conservation process looks like in practice, and we’ve worked alongside staff from the University of Chester and Cheshire West and Chester Museums to set up a memory-gathering day and pop-up display about Brown’s of Chester. It was wonderful to speak with so many former employees and one of my personal highlights was to see impromptu reunions between members of staff who hadn’t seen each other in years!


Most recently I’ve been preparing for our online cookalong, hosted by theatre chef Leo Burtin, which drew on some of the recipes and remedies that we hold in our collections.  The Taste of History event was attended by around 30 people, with many cooking along on the day. We saw some truly impressive ‘ragoos’ and syrups being prepared, and heard about a whole host of family recipes and remedies which were important to people! It was wonderful to see how Cheshire’s culinary traditions could inspire people in so many different ways.  And I’m currently developing reports on our consultations that can go in our final bid to the Lottery Heritage Fund. It’s certainly a busy time, but also a very exciting and rewarding one!

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Wednesday 8 September 2021

Cheshire's Emergency Services

September 9th is Emergency Services Day (or 999 Day) in the UK, and one of its aims is "to promote the heroes who serve/have served". As we recognise the vital role the emergency services play in our communities, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies is looking back at first responders from times gone by. There is a proud tradition of people working for the emergency services in our county - read on for a glimpse of the records we hold about the fire, police and ambulance services of Cheshire’s past.


There are many records relating to the fire service, going back centuries. As early as 1570, the City of Chester Assembly’s minute book contains an order on the provision of fire buckets, with every member of the Assembly having to provide and maintain a certain number. Councilmen were each responsible for one, Sheriff Peers provided two and Aldermen four (ref: ZAB/1/123). But before too long this had changed: the minutes of 24th August record, 
“Whereas buckets provided against fire under a former order (Jan 20th 1570), are by now wearing out…all strangers admitted in future to the City, are to pay for the cost of providing two buckets.”
Several fires had apparently recently occurred. (ref: ZAB 1/258)

We have archives covering a range of fire services from across Cheshire: from records of Tarporley Fire Brigade from the start of the 20th century (ref: D 5156) or fire service-related material in archives of local councils like Lymm (ref: LUL/5) and Northwich (ref: D 7474/78), to how much it used to cost to fight fires (ref: DCH/GG/
37), medals commemorating firefighters’ service (ref: ZDF 9-13) and photographs of ceremonial occasions (ref: ZDF 32-62), among many more. But a significant number of our records are from Chester Fire Service, the origins of which date to the early 19th century.

These photos show an extract of the Schedule of Fires from 1925, which gives details of supposed causes of fires and how they were extinguished. And the annual reports of the Chief Fire Officer from 1955-60 are similar, but have further details relevant to the era such as recording how calls for the fire brigade were received (by ‘exchange telephone’, ‘private telephone’ or ‘caller at the station’, for instance). In both volumes, fires are attributed to children playing with matches. The Annual Report of 1957 notes a fall in some causes of fire over the previous year, but states: 
“causes traced to the carefree disposal of lighted cigarette ends and young children being allowed access to matches regrettably remains almost constant.” 


As well as the fire service, we also hold records of the Chester City Police Force from 1836 to 1945. Popular items in the collection include photographs of criminals charged and convicted in the 1860s and 1870s, for crimes like stealing an umbrella or a shawl, embezzlement or begging (ref: ZDPO/2). There are more modern records relating to the police too, such as archive material from the Gay Police Association, a police staff association that had members from all UK police forces and ran from 1990 to 2014. Document reference D 9081/245 is a 2003 training resource for ‘Policing Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Communities’.

Our Local Studies collection has a large range of books, pamphlets and articles related to the emergency services. Along with titles showing how the police service has developed over time, for example A Short History of the Macclesfield Borough Police Force (ref: 114735) or Peelers to Policemen (ref: 016802), one that gives a flavour of life as a police officer in times past is A Policeman’s Notebook by Thomas Smethurst (ref: 223013). It recreates the notes taken by a member of the Stalybridge Police Force in 1914 and is an account of incidents in the police “in the days when birching was a legitimate punishment, when playing games in the streets on Sundays and letting a chimney set on fire were offences, and when attempted suicide was punishable”.


Some archive material can come from unexpected sources. This image of an early ambulance is from the records of Mostyn House School in Parkgate. It is a postcard showing a British Red Cross ambulance car for the Italian Army in 1916 and, according to a note by the head teacher printed on the back, its £475 cost was partly funded by “the boys, old boys, parents and friends” of the school.

Also from the First World War, we have an application to Warrington Borough Council for a proposed ambulance station. The detailed drawing shows aspects of the building like a nurse’s room and treatment room - but also space for the ‘ambulance carriage’.

From the Second World War, several files of correspondence survive from 1940 about ambulances and first aid, such as detailed information about medical supplies in Bollington Urban District Council’s archives (ref: LUB 2638/1/8-9). St John’s Ambulance is also covered, for example with certificates for an Annie Rowe in ‘First Aid to the Injured’ and ‘Home Nursing’ gained in 1939 (ref: EMC 15/24/18,19), and later ambulance service-related records include the Ambulance Service Scheme within the 1946 National Health Service Act (ref: ZDDH/5/1), amongst others.

But as we mark Emergency Services Day, we are fortunate to have some images of first responders of the past. This c.1916 photograph from Cheshire Image Bank is an ambulance from the Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital in Bromborough – the ambulance driver is thought to be a surgeon.

This photograph shows the Northwich Police Force outside their police station during the 1910s.

And these are members of the City of Chester Fire Brigade, c.1920 - complete with their fire engine and dog mascot.

All of these records and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester, and our online catalogue can be searched here.