Wednesday 14 December 2022

The Journey of a Local Studies Donation

Earlier this year we received a fantastic collection of photographs of Crewe in the 1890s, kindly donated to us by one of our volunteers, Susan. We thought this blog would be a great opportunity to showcase the collection, as well as thank Susan for her donation, and to highlight all the staff and volunteers involved with the donation and cataloguing process.

First a bit more about the photographs, and why Susan decided to donate it to us. Richard Baxter Booth was a Crewe dental surgeon, and this photograph collection was compiled by him in the 1890s.

Susan says “I found the album for sale on eBay, and Baxter Booth’s granddaughter has been shown the images; her father, Walter (Baxter Booth’s son) was also a dentist and keen photographer. This is album number two; number one is lost unfortunately. Baxter Booth’s dental surgery was in the row of buildings on Crewe Market Square that was replaced by Marks & Spencer, it was the last one on the left on the corner of what is now Queensway. After his marriage he lived at Oaklands in Haslington; he was an active member of the Crewe Cycling Club, the Crewe Alexandra Cricket Club, and Crewe Golf Club. All the images are 'Kodak no. 2' prints”. Baxter Booth had previously lived at Fields Farm, Haslington, rented from the Crewe Estate.

Once we had received the collection and Susan had completed our donation form, the photographs were passed to one of our conservators, Angela.

Angela says, “The original binding had completely failed, so the loose album pages were cleaned with a plastic eraser and placed into custom made polyester sleeves and then put into an acid free folder. These preservation measures will protect the album pages and photographs when they are being handled and also protect them from dust and any fluctuating environmental conditions they may encounter.”

Next, the collection was looked at in more detail by our Local Studies Librarian, Heather. She tells us, “The collection was added to CALM, our collections management system, so that it could be found by staff, researchers, and members of the public online. CALM generated a unique 6-digit reference code for the item, 231804. It was also given a class number of VPH96, which helps to locate the item in our visual collection. Here I am storing the collection away in one of our strongrooms, in an archive box, and where temperature and humidity levels are monitored.”

Another of our volunteers, Helen, was tasked with looking at each individual photograph and indexing it onto a spreadsheet.

Helen says “I am currently a volunteer working on the photographic archives at Duke Street, finding out any extra information about the subjects of the photographs and then entering all the information onto a spreadsheet. These spreadsheets, such as the one I worked on for the Richard Baxter Booth collection, will allow the public to access the information online, widening public access to the contents of the archives.”

This should help any researcher interested in the collection to find the exact photograph most useful to them. Helped by Susan’s knowledge of the area at the time, and of the photographer Richard Baxter Booth, this task is now complete. Please speak to a member of staff if viewing this spreadsheet would be helpful to your research.

We have not yet digitised the whole collection, but a selection of our favourites are featured below. The album contains scenes and events in Crewe, such as the Crewe Flower Show and a football match, as well as buildings (the Mechanics Institute, Town Hall, pubs, churches), and also features the residences of other doctors/medical men in Crewe such as Dr Atkinson’s residence “Mirion House” on Earle Street. The photographer also used his friends, family, and pets as his subjects.

The next step will be to have more of this fantastic album digitised and available on the Cheshire Image Bank website. 

If this blog has inspired you to consider donating an item or collection to us, then we would love to hear from you. Please do contact us first, as we can then check that the item fits with our collection policy and is not something we already have. You can get in touch with us via our website, telephone 01244 972574 or email  

All of these photographs and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester.

Friday 2 December 2022

How did Cheshire care for people with learning disabilities years ago?

A story from our collections that starts and finishes in the Knutsford area over the course of three hundred years. It is an important part of the story of how communities have tried to care for people with learning disabilities through the centuries.

In 1647 William Barlow from Cranage presented a petition, not the kind with hundreds of signatures, but in effect a request to the county court held at Knutsford for a decision on who should care for his nephew. The document below tells us that William Barlow was a poor man and could no longer maintain the eight-year-old boy with disabilities who had been left in a shippon (an old word for an animal shed), in Sandbach after the death of his father. The decision at the bottom of the court record is tricky to read but instructs ‘The parish to keep the child’. This is the 'old' poor law in action, in 1601 local communities had become officially responsible for people who couldn't support themselves.

As populations grew and moved around for work and economic and social conditions changed people who couldn’t look after themselves had no choice but to enter the institutions that were the solution offered by the new poor law – workhouses. In the census record for Knutsford Workhouse in 1881 which is just a snapshot of who was there on one night, out of 159 inmates 15 are identified as people with learning disabilities, the majority from birth, they are men and women of all ages, none with usual occupations, so perhaps unlikely to leave.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Victorians were looking to solve society’s problems with the same zeal for science that they had applied elsewhere. Darwin’s theory of natural selection led to the thoughts behind the failed so-called science of eugenics, named from the Greek words that mean ‘good birth’, and in 1913 an Act was passed to separate people with learning disabilities out of other institutions and society and into colonies.

In Cheshire the first home in England for the permanent care of children with learning disabilities, the Sandlebridge Colony, was opened at Warford near Alderley Edge in 1908. It was later renamed the Mary Dendy Home after its founder. Mary Dendy had observed children with learning disabilities excluded from education and on the streets of Manchester. Her record-keeping survives with us and suggests that she certainly considered what conditions might be inherited and had the intention of keeping young men and women permanently apart for life. But realistically could she have raised the funds to open the home without embracing the solution that had captured the popular imagination? And what of the people she wanted to look after – before medical treatment or therapies that would have helped some, was a safe place in the Cheshire countryside with meaningful activities around food production and looking after each other not a better outcome than the alternative? It is impossible to put ourselves entirely in other people's shoes from the past, but what we can do is voice people's stories who are talked about in the records to try and understand more.

The All Our Stories project has researched the lives of some of the children who Mary Dendy kept records about, including boys who ran away to serve in the First World War, and one of these is Harry Hetherington. He arrived at Sandlebridge from Salford in 1906 after the death of his mother and younger brother, he ran away and enlisted to fight in the First World War and was discharged with a gunshot wound to his right wrist, in 1922 he had found work as an attendant at Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester. He later married and died aged 76. Of course, not all stories are so hopeful, there is a moving account of what it is like to encounter these records on the Warford history site.

In the spirit of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 2022 we hope that the stories told in the archives in a hundred years' time about today are a departure from the past and demonstrate 'the active participation of persons with disabilities in their full diversity, and their full inclusion in all decision-making processes.' António Guterres, United Nations