Sunday, 26 January 2014

Loughborough six months on.

It’s been six months!

So, this blogpost marks an anniversary for me: I have now been blogging weekly about Loughborough for six months. And what a busy six months it’s been!

Before I started this blog, I’d been thinking about how to use the internet and how to share my amateur research with interested people, especially since the web pages I had from about 1996 to 2005, had been useful to all kinds of people. I used to get emails from people regarding the web pages, and was particularly chuffed to get an email from a former deputy university librarian saying that he’d found my family history web pages really useful when he first started doing research into his own family history.

I’d also previously tried setting up a wiki on Leicestershire, and although I did create something, I found that this didn’t really lend itself particularly well to what I wanted to do, and updating was quite cumbersome.

So, when I learned that Loughborough was in danger of being included in a 2nd edition of a book that listed the worst 50 towns in the UK, I realised I had to do my bit to improve the reputation of the town, and decided a blog would be a good vehicle for this. I chose the Blogger software because I was already using this for my work-related blog (which I did in my own time, and which has taken rather a backseat since I’ve been focussing on the Loughborough blog!) so I knew how to use it.

Originally, I had a plan for the blog, but let’s be honest, when does one ever stick to a plan? There were to be a series of posts each month: One a campaigning one; one an update on important initiatives in the town; one focussing on a Loughborough resident; and one focussing on a specific area of the town.

The first month did go according to plan, with an initial post giving my reasons for Loughborough being great and why it shouldn’t be included in a book about the 50 worst UK towns. The second post was about the magnificent In Bloom competition, which Loughborough has entered for the last few years. This was followed by the first spotlight which was on the beautiful Queen’s Park. The final post of the month was the first of a series of “Who was” posts, featuring Dr Eddowes [of course, I have subsequently found more information about the Drs Eddowes, and will post this sometime soon].

The second month started well, with a post outlining the importance of Loughborough’s world-renowned firms which, it was hoped, would help keep Loughborough out of that wretched book, and was followed by an update on the In Bloom competition. The next scheduled post should have been the second spotlight: Luckily, this went according to plan and the spotlight was on All Saints Church [with apologies for entitling this post All Saints Parish Church: I know it's not the parish church, but I also know that a lot of people call it that]. However, the next “Who was” was postponed, and its place filled with a feature on allotments.

William Clark was the focus of the next “Who was” post, which appeared after the allotment one. The next post described some of the “lost houses” that were featured in an exhibition at Loughborough Public Library, and was followed by an update on the results of the worst towns publication. The open air play in the park, the Charnwood Roots project, the Loughborough Archaeological Society meeting and a comedy show in the public library were the subject of the twelfth post.

Continuing the theme of Loughborough having a lot to offer, the next post comprised a list of places to visit and things to do in Loughborough. Ashby Road was featured as the next“Spotlight on” and proved to be quite a popular post with you. In case you thought Loughborough had nothing to offer in the way of culture, the next post aimed to put you right! By far the most popular post was the photographic record of Remembrance Day, 2013.

November sees the annual visit of the fair, and this was the topic of the next post “Spotlight on”, and some of the coincidences and experiences I had in Loughborough and Lichfield was the topic of the next post, by which time we were approaching Christmas and activities to mark the occasion were starting to happen.

The next meeting of the LAHS was the sole topic of my next post, as the life of John Bley was so fascinating, but it coming up to Christmastime meant that my own Christmas preparations featured in the next, a pictorial, postThe final post of 2013 focussed on the consequences of the burst water pipe at Kegworth for residents in Loughborough.

I wanted to ring in 2014 with my first post so I did a bit of research into the “bawble” makers of Loughborough, and followed this with some information about local initiatives and developments. Finally, those infamous Luddites and their Loughborough connection was the focus of my last post.
Along the way, I’ve discovered a lot of things! If a thing is worth doing it’s worth doing well, and if a thing is worth doing well it’ll take a long time to do!!! I haven’t read a novel in six months, but I’ve had my nose stuck in the local history books, I’ve spent hours in the local studies part of the library and I’ve been out and about in the most bizarre of places with my camera.

From the outset I decided I’d like to illustrate my words with my own pictures. Although I’m a librarian and I should know all about copyright law, I’m not sure I do, and so the only safe option was to take and use my own photographs. This proved to be difficult for a number of reasons: I’m not good at taking pictures; finding time to go out and about was tricky; whenever the weather was nice I was busy doing something else (mostly cooped up in a semi-basement office!); identifying and being able to take pictures of things I wanted pictures of! However, along the way I’ve learned a bit more about digital photographs and although I can’t “photoshop” them I can now put the blog address on them.

In reality, sourcing good, relevant photographs has proved difficult and has, in fact, been the reason why you’ve had to put up with lots of wordy posts, when I would have preferred to be a bit more visual. Actually, if the blog stats are anything to go by, it seems you prefer to see a few pictures as well! And talking of blog stats, I’m pleased that posts on the blog are averaging 55 visitors per post, although some have reached the dizzy heights of 325 views and lows of only 5! The remembrance page, which has had 325 views, consisted only of photographs, and the next most visited page was the walk down Ashby Road, which was also heavy on pictures. Those of you who didn’t read “Fun in Loughborough” (and there were a lot of you as this post was only viewed five times!) missed a treat – the open air play in Queen’s Park – a first for the town – the opportunity to get involved in the Charnwood Roots project and help document and remember the Loughborough area for posterity, and more! It’s still there if I’ve tickled your tastebuds!

If there’s something you’d like me to feature, do let me know either by commenting below, or contacting me directly at dyer dot lynne at google mail dot com.

I’m sure when you’ve been reading the posts, you will have noticed that there have been some false leads and promises. This was not intentional, but was simply because I set myself too much to do! The “Spotlight on” and the “Who was” features really take quite a lot of research, and I haven’t always got as much time as I would like to devote to this. So, I shall put my neck out and say, look out for future posts on a street in a quiet backwater, a Rector with a penchant for water, a bank manager, and some local houses. Oh dear, here I go again, promising too much!!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Loughborough, Luddites, Lace and much more!

Busy again! This week has seen me at a meeting of the Loughborough Archaeological and Historical Society, a meeting of the Friends of Charnwood Museum and a public meeting about a community hall!

The LAHS meeting was the members’ contribution meeting where, rather than having an external guest speaker, those members who are doing some interesting research present their findings to the group. And what a variety of research is going on! We were treated to some fascinating family history, from the Publicity/Secretary and Newsletter Editor, Alison Mott, who had discovered that one of her direct ancestors was one John Courtney, a Victorian playwright who wrote popular plays for the Victorian masses at a time when there was a huge demand for affordable entertainment. Although this ancestor is a recent discovery for Alison, it’s little wonder, then, that she has always felt she was meant to write!  

We also heard a fascinating tale from a member who was researching the history of the postal service in and around Loughborough. After briefly describing the evolution of our postal system there were lots of artefacts to handle, including painstakingly written information boards and photocopies of letters from / to local people which showed a fascinating insight into their personalities, which included a letter to Robert Bakewell.

If you live in the Leicestershire area you will know that the nearest National Trust properties are not in the county, so there is much interest in the National Trust’s acquisition of, and plans for the opening of Gimson’s house, Stoneywell. One of our members is now an NT volunteer guide for this house, having been a personal friend of the last owner of the house, Donald Gimson. The NT has plans to open the property during the summer of 2014,and you can follow the news related to Stoneywell on the blog.

We were also given an introduction to a proposed project which will create an online community archives hub for Loughborough and the surrounding areas. A grant has been given to the university, who hope to work in collaboration with local museums and heritage organisations to provide a one-stop-heritage-shop, a hub on the internet where you will be able to find out about all things heritage, rather like the one that has been developed in Hertfordshire. I’m really looking forwarding to supporting this initiative and the prospect of having all things heritage easily at my fingertips.

The tower of All Saints Church

Our final talk was about the WW1 project at All Saints Church which has been granted some heritage lottery funding to move the WW1 memorials from an obscure place in the church to somewhere more appropriate. I talked about this project in last week’s blogpost as this made the front page of the local paper. A public meeting is being held on Saturday February 8th at 7.30pm in the church - everyone welcome! 

Charnwood Museum

Wednesday evening saw a packed Charnwood Museum for the Friends of Charnwood Museum talk on Luddites and Lace-makers, delivered by Tony Jarram. Tony was involved in the 2007 discovery of the tunnels in Lantern House, the house on Leicester Road, which was owned by John Heathcoat, lace-maker, who developed a lace-making machine and established his factory in Loughborough.

Tony described the background to the development of lace making machines, and how Heathcoat came to be living and working in Loughborough. Once we’d heard this we were able to appreciate why Heathcoat’s factory on Malt Mill Lane (now Market Street, in the vicinity of the current Iceland shop and the Varsity Bar) was a target for a Luddite attack in 1816.

This building was once a needle-makers,
but was it also once a lace-making factory?

Same building from the side
The group known as the Luddites (possibly named after a disgruntled Leicestershire inhabitant, “Ned Ludd”) attacked factories up and down the country where they perceived that machines were taking over the jobs that were currently undertaken by them and their families, thus depriving them of much needed wages.

These wages were of course needed to provide necessities like food for working families, and lack of, or reduction in wages may well have led to some of the food riots of 1812, in places like Sheffield. 

Another building that might possibly
have been a lace-making factory

The same building from the back
According to Tony, Heathcoat’s factory was a prime target because of the efficiency of his machines and the size of his business; at one time he owned about one twelfth of all the lace-making machines in the country. He suggested that Heathcoat would have been aware of the various attacks that had already taken place in other parts of the country and the tunnels in his house on Leicester Road were purposefully built in order to provide him with a refuge in the event of an attack on his house. Perhaps because of the modest size of this house, this was not the target of an attack, the Luddites preferring to launch an assault on the lace-making factory itself.  

Directly before the attack on the factory on 28th June 1816, the Luddites drank in the Packe Horse Inn (now the Organ Grinder pub), broke windows in the Black Bull pub on High Street (now Vice Versa) on their way to the Seven Stars, a drinking house on Shakespeare Street. Fuelled by so much drinking, they took a hostage in Market Street and then attacked the guard at the factory before setting fire to it, thus destroying about 55 lace-making machines. 

The outcome of this event was that many of the protagonists were hung, a couple were sent off to Australia, and a couple escaped. Heathcoat was offered compensation on the proviso that he stayed in the town and continued with his business, but he declined this offer and transferred his business activity to Tiverton in Devon, taking with him many of his workers from Loughborough. Although many workers settled in Tiverton, many ventured further afield, some emigrating to Calais, others to Australia.    

One thing I haven’t mentioned is that Heathcoat had a partner in his Loughborough business, a man called John Boden. He followed Heathcoat to Tiverton, but the partnership was dissolved in 1821 when Heathcoat’s patent for the lace-making machine ran out. Boden then set up in Barnstaple with Heathcoat’s older brother, Thomas. And, here’s a picture of one of John Boden’s direct descendants at the exhibition in Charnwood Museum in 2007.   

I remember in 2007, going to a performance by the wonderful Mikron theatre group of a musical play about the Luddites, that took place in the Victoria Rooms in the Town Hall. This was unusual as whilst the company are performing they are based on the canals, and their usual Loughborough venue is the Swan in the Rushes. In 2012 they also created a play based on the Luddites and the cotton mills in Yorkshire. That play I didn’t see, but it’s interesting to hear that they created a song called "Nedd Ludd’s tune"!   And, just to finish off, here’s an article about Loughborough, the Luddites, the Charnwood Museum exhibition and the Mikron play!

This was a thrilling account of what was a notorious attack. And how fascinating to learn that Tony’s personal interest in Heathcoat came from being a direct descendant of John West, a Nottingham lace-makers who went to work in Calais, before returning to Loughborough!

Fearon Hall from Fearon Jitty

Finally, I spent a nice couple of hours at Fearon Hall, mingling with folk, with the aim of helping to come up with ideas for celebrating the hall’s 125th anniversary. This was a great afternoon, as although I don't use the hall myself, I re-acquainted myself with quite a number of people I have come to know over the years.

Fearon Hall

The hall was built in 1889 to celebrate the memory of Henry Fearon, Rector of All Saints, and Archdeacon of Leicester. He was a very popular character and it is him we have to thank for the first clean water to be supplied to the town, in about 1870. Archdeacon Fearon died in 1885, and Fearon Hall was built in his memory, from public subscription, and was extended in 1910.

During the 125 years of its existence, the hall has had a variety of uses -  Scout groups in the 1900s, patriotic entertainment during the WW1, a base for the Home Guard during the WW2, a base for Loughborough Art School during the 1960s, a home for Charnwood Theatre Group in the 1990s. Today, the hall is in regular use for amongst other things, exercise classes, a pre-school group, a lunch club, and a choir. Information on the running of the hall is available from the website, however, this is a little out-of-date. They also have a facebook page for you to follow.

I’d be misleading you if I said I had recently been on a trip on the Great Central Railway, but I did watch the Michael Portillo train journey programme this week when he went to Leicester, Syston and Loughborough, visiting the bellfoundry, and the Carillon! If you get a chance to watch it, it comes highly recommended! It’s probably on iplayer for a while!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

A veritable pot pourri!

The Leicestershire Green plaques scheme

You may have seen a recent news report about a new green plaque scheme that is being rolled out in Leicestershire. This scheme is like the blue plaque scheme run by English Heritage, where a plaque is attached to a building where either someone famous lived and worked, or a building that has some interesting heritage attached to it.

The scheme in Leicestershire will see about six green plaques erected in Leicestershire in the first year of the programme. Members of the public are being asked to nominate sites and people that they think are worthy of such an accolade. Closing date for these nominations is Friday 24th January, and once nominations have been submitted, the judging panel will make a shortlist of 12. Members of the public will then be able to vote, and 6 final choices will be made.

So, if you want to see that favourite person of yours honoured, or that building made special by a green plaque, send in your nomination! The nomination process is well-explained on the website, but in short, write up to 500 words in support of your nomination and send it in to the address listed on the website.

But hurry, time is running out!!!

I’m sure many of you will know that the proposed development of the Baxter Gate hospital has been approved and is likely to result in a new cinema for the town. I have my own views about this, which I won’t bore you with here. However, I will say that one of the benefits of this development is that it encompasses the former nurses’ home, a Grade II listed building, built in the late 19th century, that is currently crumbling before our eyes.

The worry now, is about the current cinema. If I remember rightly, I think the Odeon (previously The Reel, The Curzon, The New Empire, The Essoldo, and originally The Empire) has also been granted permission to extend and is to add a couple of coffee shops and expand into Asha House which is at the back to the cinema, on Southfields Road. Originally, built in 1914 as the Empire, the cinema was extended in 1929, and the art deco façade that we all know and love so much was added. In 1935 a new auditorium was created and in 1974-5 the cinema was twinned.

The big question is, of course, can Loughborough sustain two large cinemas? We have already seen the demolition of Warner Street School, the only stone building left in town, and a Locally Listed Building. The current Odeon is also Locally Listed: How safe is this much-loved institution?

Aumberry Gap

I recently found myself being thrown out of the local studies library – not for bad behaviour, but because it was closing time! – and found myself browsing through some local stock that I hadn’t previously come across. Ohhhh, lots of stuff of interest – bits of paper printed on someone’s dot matrix printer, faint, creased and filed in ring binders, huge volumes of type-written books, and loads of directories. Flicking through one or two of these resources, I happened upon some really useful stuff that added to what I had already researched for some earlier blogposts, and some new information that will inform future posts. Oh, and I got thrown out of the main library too!!

The one thing I wanted to mention today was a volume of burial registers. I knew that there were some burials under the car park of the Beauchief (previously known as The Britannia Inn), and that Aumberry* Gap was so named as it replaced Cemetery Road. I can’t remember exactly, but someone once told me that these burials were either non-conformist, or the Church of All Saints had run out of burial space, and the cemetery on Leicester Road hadn’t yet opened. Here in the library, I found all the names of the people buried in this place, and thought how sad it was that there is now an inner relief road being built on top of them.

*Aumbry – in a mediaeval church this was a cabinet in which the chalices were stored

WW1 and the Church of All Saints

Some Heritage Lottery Funding has been made available to move some war memorials that are currently situated in the parish church to a more visible location within the church. There is to be a public meeting, a Community Consultation, on Saturday February 8th in the church at 7.30pm to discuss the project, to which everyone is invited.

Fearon Hall

This year, 2014, Fearon Hall is celebrating its 125th birthday, and to celebrate, ideas from the public are being sought. There is going to be a meeting in the hall on Sunday 19th January, from 2pm-4pm and anyone with ideas or memories of the hall to share is welcome to come along.

Luddites and Lacemakers

The Friends of Charnwood Museum have invited a guest speaker along to talk about John Heathcote and the Luddite raids of 1816. This talk takes place on Wednesday 15 January in the museum cafe, at 7.30pm, and everyone is welcome. There is a small charge for entry.

New Year Honours

Finally, I would like to congratulate Dr Jassal of Bridge Street Medical Practice for the fantastic work he does at Rainbows, the local children’s hospice, which has earned him and MBE in this year's honours list. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014


Baubles, bawbles or spar ornaments!

Hopefully, by the time you read this all your festive food and drink will have been devoured, your Christmas presents used, worn and read! But more importantly you will have taken down your Christmas tree and your Christmas cards, and packed away your Christmas decorations.

Talking of Christmas decorations … When I was researching for last week’s blog post (which was going to be a "Who was ..." but mysteriously morphed into something else), I chanced upon a very interesting article that appeared in the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society’s Transactions of 1962-3. It was on the subject of “bawbles” [sic.], specifically, baubles that were made in Leicestershire, and referred to as spar ornaments. Here's a summary of the article, with a few extra additions from my own research.

Spar ornaments were made from alabaster (whether that was the gypsum type or the calcite type I’m not sure, but presumably the latter, as the gypsum type would be too soft?) Apparently, this alabaster was supplied from Chellaston in Derbyshire, and delivered particularly to the Whitwick / Swannington / Thringstone / Coleorton area of what is now North West Leicestershire. The alabaster would be made into an ornament by a local man, ornaments like candlesticks, watch stands, pots, bowls, grottos and ink wells. These ornaments were popular as souvenirs in coastal towns and seaside resorts, so the makers from Leicestershire would often travel to the coast to sell their wares. Other ornaments were sold to the local monastery as mementos, whilst still others were sent abroad, particularly to the US where they were very popular.

The heyday of the local spar manufacturing industry seems to have been around 1836-1900; the industry in the UK struggled around the turn of the century, as imports, particularly from Germany, became available more cheaply than ornaments could be produced in this country.

Those people active in the business in North West Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire included:

  • Joseph Ashton – active around 1870 – 1900 – Whitwick
  • James Peters and James Peters jnr. – active around 1846 - 1909 – Whitwick
  • George Peters (son of James and brother of James jnr.) - active around 1871 - 1891 - Griffydam 
  • John Tugby – active around 1846-1863 – Whitwick
  • Leonard Palmer – active around 1861 - 1900 – appears on the 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses as a spar manufacturer in Griffydam
  • John Goodacre – active around 1890-1900 – Zouch
  • Charles Platts - active around 1861 - 1900 - appears on the 1861, 1871 and 1881 census as firstly a plasterer, then as a spar manufacturer, and on the 1901 census as a retired bauble maker, Griffydam 
  • Oliver Farnsworth - active around 1881 - appears on the 1881 census as a spar manufacturer, Griffydam

You may be wondering what this has to do with Loughborough. Well …  although the Whitwick area was the main focus for such work, there were also a few spar ornament manufacturers in Loughborough itself. They included:

  • Thomas Spinks who was active around 1841-1846 and is listed in the 1841 Pigot’s Directory as a “spar ornament manufacturer” based on Pleasant Row.
  • Thomas Brook was active around 1849, being listed in the Post Office Directory of 1849 as working on Woodgate.
  • John Cunningham was first mentioned in the Post Office Directory of 1849 as a “spar manufacturer” based in Mill Street. In White’s Directory of 1863 he is listed as a “spar ornament manufacturer” working in Churchgate. In White’s Directory of 1877 John Cunningham is working at 7 Warner’s Lane, Churchgate, and is listed as a “spa ornament maker”.
  • Henry Moore appears on the 1851 census as a “maker of plaster ornaments” and is lodging, with his wife, in Wheatsheaf Yard, presumably the yard of the Wheatsheaf pub on Ward’s End, now the Orange Tree.
  • William Polkey is listed on the 1851 census as living on Fennell Street and being a “spar turner’s apprentice”.
A suggestion of another spar ornament maker who was either born in Loughborough and had moved away, or who was working in Loughborough has yet to be verified, but he is:

  • William Ford of Loughborough, spar ornament maker, listed on the 1841 census (although I have not been able to find the entry).

Other areas of the country were also involved in the manufacture of spar ornaments, but these are more often focused on material other than alabaster, so for example, Blue John is often called Derbyshire Spar, but it’s a semi-precious mineral, a form of fluorite has bands of blue, purple and yellow in it, and numerous products - ornaments and jewellery, for example - have been made from it. Much of the fashioning of Derbyshire Spar took place in areas like Matlock.

So, the British industry of spar making in Leicestershire ceased to be profitable at the beginning of the twentieth century and the craft thus died out.