Sunday, 23 February 2014

A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse ...

“A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse …”

And so said Richard III in Shakepeare’s play, after he is unhorsed and reaching the climax of the Battle of Bosworth. We all know what happened next, but this is not the subject of this blog post. Let’s turn instead to the topic of horses!

Horses have been in the local news a lot recently, when campaigners signed an online petition to have about 20 horses that were being kept in a field near Fosse Park, moved to somewhere more suitable.

Horses were also in the news back in 2011 when a film called “War Horse” was released. This film showed what life was like for horses during the first World War, and to be honest I hadn’t really given it much thought before that. I studied WW1 for my O level history, but I’ve got so used to thinking of war using tanks, guns, and bombs that I’d forgotten that horses would have played a huge part in WW1.

However, it wasn’t until about a year ago that I learned, courtesy of one of my guiding colleagues, that Loughborough had its very own warhorse, and that there was information on him in the Carillon Museum. Now, since that time I haven’t managed to make it into the Carillon, so I’ve been digging around in my local history books, and on the internet and managed to find the following interesting stuff about Songster. [Editor's note: I have, of course, since worked at the Carillon Tower and War Memorial!]

Songster appears to have been born in about 1900 and he was chestnut horse, which could mean he was anything from a very light brown colour to an almost black colour. Apparently, chestnut horses don’t have any black hairs, but their skin is black, and their eyes dark brown.

Despite originally not being accepted for war service because he was too old, in 1914, Songster was mobilised along with other horses, and assembled in the Market Place, along with members of the Leicestershire Yeomanry. From the look of the pictures I’ve seen, the event filled the Market Place with soldiers and horses, although it’s not possible to identify Songster specifically.

Luckily, he survived the war and came back to live at West Beacon Farm at Woodhouse Eaves, having been purchased at auction by Bert Main, the man who rode him during the war, thus narrowly missing being sold to a butcher, or as a beast of burden to the Middle East. Along with Songster, Bert Main also bought another war horse from the Leicestershire Yeomanry, Fenian, and the two horses lived together, until Fenian died. 

One of the stories about Songster that appeals to me most, is the one about him showing off and walking up the stairs in the Old Boot Hotel, parading round the room, and then walking back downstairs again. Apparently, his hoof marks were visible on the brass stair rods! What a pity the Old Boot  is no longer there. If I’ve got it right, it was next to Town Hall Passage, and is where Santander is, and where Jessops was (or Baker’s Oven if we’re going back a bit!).

Songster himself died in 1940 and was buried on the farm, along with his medals, and there is a small memorial to him. There is an obituary in The Times (you may have to prompt this link a little bit - didn’t seem to want to open properly on my pc, but it is definitely there).

Since then, in May 2013, the TA named one of their Land Rovers after Songster, and there’s a bit more explanation on the Leicester Mercury website.
For a bit more background on the use of horses during times of war there’s a good resource available.
Replica Songster in Loughborough Carillon

For a more detailed account of Songster’s life, have a look at the Carillon Museum’s facebook page, especially the article on Songster. Also, why not visit the museum and see what Songster may have looked like and what he would have faced during the war. The museum is situated in Queen’s Park, Loughborough, and is usually open from Good Friday, but is closed during the winter season.  
A full account of Songster’s life, with copious pictures, appears on the Leicestershire Yeomanry website.
There’s an article in the Leicester Mercury following the release of the film War Horse (the video isn’t showing on my pc, but there is some information further down the page).

PS Can you imagine my surprise yesterday, having written this blog post in advance, knowing that I wouldn’t have much time today, when I went to Southampton, to see "War Horse" on those AA signs! It seems that there was a touring National theatre production of War Horse taking place in the Mayflower Theatre! Rather coincidental since this was the topic of my blog post, and the touring play was only going to about half-a-dozen places!!

Anyway, it may also surprise you to learn that there is a local connection to a very famous horse called Fox Hunter, and that there is another local horse who is also famous. But, I must leave you now and hope to tell you about this in a later post!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Spotlight on: Unity House

Spotlight on: Unity House
Unity House, Fennel Street

You may have read in the local newspaper, or seen on facebook, that Unity House had an open morning this weekend. As I can’t resist a bit of local history, I popped in for a chat and a cuppa!

I no longer have a direct connection with the building, but the one I did have was fairly recent: A couple of years ago my children used to go to dancing lessons in the building, run by Mrs Janine Clarke. Lessons used to be in the St John’s Ambulance Station building on Packe Street, but having outgrown this, the dancing school moved to Unity House, before moving to its current premises on Limehurst Avenue.

Architect's drawing

Anyway, if you don’t know it, Unity House is on Fennel Street, previously a moderately busy road, which has now become the inner relief road. The building itself was built in about 1889, the architect being W. T. Hampton*. It was originally used for meetings by the Friendly societies, who provided financial, social and medical support to people, before the existence of the Welfare State. The medical support was rather important and there was a surgery at the back of the building and a pharmacy at the front. The Friendly societies held their meetings in the upstairs rooms and funded the services of a doctor and bought medicines for distribution to those who would otherwise have been unable to afford the costs.

The early building
Unity House then became the headquarters for the local labour party, being bought by Mont Follick in 1945 to act as the labour party Loughborough HQ. More recently Andy Reed was based here when he was a member of parliament, and some of the building has been leased out since then, including being a licensed club and a booksellers. It is still the Loughborough labour party HQ, but has space to let out to community groups.

The promise of a chat, a cuppa and a chance to look at some old documents meant that I had just had to go along and take a look.

On entering the building, I noticed the short corridor was filled with portraits and pictures of people who had had associations with the building. [I would put a photo here but they came out blurred!] These included:

John Desmond Cronin, MP for Loughborough 1955-1979. He visited Russia in 1962 and met with Kruschev. Apparently, during his meeting with Cronin, Kruschev took a telephone call from the Russian cosmonauts who had just landed back on earth.  

Dr Mont Follick, MP for Loughborough 1945-1955. Born in Cardiff. He started a language school in Regent Street, London and bequeathed money to create a professorial chair, which is at Manchester university. He wrote a number of books including “Facing facts” (published in 1935 with the interesting subtitle of: “a political survey for the average man”) in which he warned Europe about Germany and Japan invading China. 

There were also group pictures of James Callahan with his wife, Cronin and his wife, and local labour men Mike Shuker, Mike Jones, and Andy Reed. 

Oddfellows rules, 1904
Annual report
In the main downstairs room, which used to be the dance studio, along the outside wall, were tables laid out with loads of little booklets pertaining to groups who have used the building for their meetings over the years - groups like the Oddfellows, and other friendly societies – and leaflets and pictures about the labour party.
And there was a copy of “Facing facts”, one of the books written by Mont Follick.

Mont Follick's book on the far left

There were also current leaflets describing the events that currently take place at Unity House. Some of these are connected with the labour party, but there are many other activities, like yoga, WEA classes, and so on, that pay to use the building.
A view of Fennel Street

Warner's Corner on the corner of Fennel Street
Just to the right is Unity House
The construction of the social services building

Early deeds
There were even more treasures laid out on the tables in the middle of the room! Photographs of the building and the area probably taken in the 1960s brought back a few memories, and showed me a few things I didn’t know about, as well as an architects drawing of what the building was expected to look like (see above). Newspaper cuttings about the history of the building jostled with more pictures, but the best bits of all were the historical documents from the 1800s that listed previous documents relating to the various sales of the land and buildings, going back as far as the Earls of Huntingdon in the 1600s.

While I was there, I took the opportunity to talk to as many people as possible, and met some wonderful people with some interesting stories. Mr Sharpe had memories of Margaret Thatcher’s visit when she was the Education Secretary: She met with everyone upstairs in the Town Hall, whilst there was some kind of noisy children’s party going on downstairs (in the “corn exchange”). Apparently, she was lovely and made time to talk to every one of the people who had been gathered together to meet with her.
Married Women's Property Act and history of Unity House

Then there were the people from the Remember Loughborough facebook group: Lovely to put some names to faces I’ve seen only on that website! And not forgetting the lady making the tea, who told me quite a lot of the history of the building and Marion who has an allotment on the same plot as me, and the lady whose name I missed, but who introduced me to quite a few people, including the gentleman who knew all about the Married Women’s Property Act of 1833!

Quite an adventure!! One mystery that has been solved for me is the wording that appears above the doors. The door to the left says: “Exit” while the door to the right says: “Entrance” – not “Boys” and “Girls” as it is sometimes thought.

So, an interesting couple of hours, passed, a few little mysteries solved and a few little snippets to follow-up!

Perfect morning!

*Wondering if this is the same W. T. Hampton living in Toorak, City of Sonnington, Australia in 1927?

Postscript: The Medical Aid Centre was an early employer of women doctors: Gertrude Hutton was based here in the early 1900s.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Loughborough pubs

Loughborough public library
Just a short piece this week!

On National Libraries Day, I visited Loughborough public library - because I need my public library and can't afford to lose it. In truth, I mostly need the local studies collection, some of which is held in a dedicated room, some of which is kept in a more open area, and some of which is on the lending shelves (and I think some is kept behind the scenes as well!).

Since I started this blog, I've been disappearing into the library as often as possible, and each time I go I either have interesting conversations with the other people there, who are either using the collection or looking after it, or I get side-tracked by the fantastic exhibitions just outside the room. Other times I get so engrossed in my research that someone has to throw me out at closing time!!

The local studies collection isn't open at the weekend, so on National Libraries Day I popped into the library, really, just to say I had!! I took the other half with me, so I thought I'd show him the latest exhibition and I was really pleased to see that Bill Wells was there, tucked away in the corner between the exhibition stands!!

Bill's latest book

The exhibition currently on show is pictures from Bill's wonderful book on the pubs of Loughborough. I'm sure I've probably told you this before, but it's so good, it's worth mentioning again. It's on until March, so still time for you to pop along if you haven't already done so. 

Bill's original publication

Bill's latest book is based loosely on his first publication, an A4, spiral bound volume called: "Ye olde alehouses, beerhouses, hotels, inns, public houses, taverns and alcoholic anecdotes of Loughborough through the ages"! This was published in 2002, and since then Bill has done a whole lot more research, been provided with loads more anecdotes, and discovered more pubs and lots of photographs, so much so, that in 2013 he was able to publish the new title.

While I was chatting away to Bill he showed me his new gadget, a portable A4 scanner. When I first saw him hunched over the book he was reading, I thought he was using a magnifier, but no, it was a lovely little scanner!! I want one!!!

One side of the matchbox cover
Other side of the matchbox cover
More interestingly though, he also showed me a fascinating piece of local history in the form of a metal matchbox cover. This had been given to him by a mutual acquaintance, and it was a truly valuable piece of history. On one side the matchbox cover had a picture of a man, with the name of the pub - the Windmill Inn - and of the landlord - T. Dakin - and a crest on the other. On the spine was a description of the establishment - "Noted House for Beers, Wines and Spirits, and Cigars". 

The pub's business!

After a bit of research, Bill was able to date this remarkable piece to between 1913 and 1921. Absolutely fantastic that is has survived all this time! Goes to show you should never, ever throw anything away!!!
Anyway, profits from the sale of Bill's book are going to the Patients' Comfort Lounge in the Osborne building at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, and sales are going well. Bill has now started work on further books on pubs, covering the villages surrounding Loughborough, the first of which - Kegworth - is virtually complete, so look out for those!

If you want to buy a copy of the book, they are available from Waterstones in Loughborough, or, if you'd prefer you can get one directly from Bill, at a slightly reduced cost. His email address is


Sunday, 2 February 2014

WW1 and the Zeppelin raids


Before I tell you about the Zeppelin raids in Loughborough, a quick update on a number of things I’ve mentioned in the past.

The first of these is to report that according to the local newspaper, The Loughborough Echo, the local plan, or the “core strategy” as it is known, submitted by Charnwood District Council which outlines their proposed housing development plans, has not been accepted by the government planning inspector. The inspector has identified what he calls “significant issues” and he has asked for a hearing in March.

Next, I’m sure you’ll all be pleased to learn that Loughborough is, for the second time, representing the East Midlands, as a finalist in the “In Bloom” competition, in which we were chosen from over 1000 entrants. We are in the “small city” category and will be competing against seven other finalists, which includes Bath and Tamworth.

I think I may have mentioned before that the National Trust have bought Stoneywell Cottage, the former home of members of the Gimson family. The NT had fairly modest plans for the cottage and stables in order to open to the public, but they have just put in revised plans for work on the stables. I believe they are hoping to open to the public during the summer season this year.

The bid to the heritage Lottery Fund for moving the WW1 memorials in All Saints Church, to a more prominent position has now been submitted. Don’t forget, there is a community consultation meeting on Saturday 8th Feb, at 7.30 in the church, so do go along and share your views and ideas with the organisers.

Finally, I recently discovered the Carillon newsletter, appropriately named the Carillon Chimes, on the web and so got in touch with Mel Gould, the curator of the Carillon Museum, to ask if he could include me in his mailing list. Many thanks to him, because not only did he put me on the mailing list for the newsletter, but he also mentioned this blog in the latest issue.

Now, moving on …   

Zeppelin Walk

Being tour guides!
My good friend, and fellow tour guide, Bob, invited me along to his latest walk – a voyage of discovery of the sites in Loughborough that were bombed by the Zeppelin, on 31 January 1916. Twenty-four of us gathered inside the Carillon, which Mel had kindly opened for us, and had a look at some medals, photos and plaques, before we all, including Mel, headed off to look at the actual sites.
Side view of the old Crown and Cushion pub

We walked down Frederick Street, where Bob explained how Herbert Schofield installed an electrical generator in one of the college buildings, before walking down past the site of the former Crown and Cushion, now Peters, where the first Zeppelin bomb fell in the garden of a house in Orchard Street which backed onto the pub.

The granite cross in the middle of The Rushes
Then, we headed down Greenclose Lane, taking in the site of the former gas works on our left, and reached the Rushes. From the Rushes shopping centre side of the road we could see the wooden plaque on the shopfront where the brass memorial plaque, now in the Carillon Museum, was originally placed.
The granite cross in The Rushes
The wooden mounting board
It being a busy Saturday afternoon we decided not to risk our lives and go and stand in the middle of the road, so it was lucky that we were just about able, from the roadside, to make out the granite cross in the tarmac, which marks the actual spot where the bomb hit.

Medieval Loughborough

The site of the next Zeppelin bomb was quite some way away, so we passed through the old medieval town, down Nottingham Road, crossed over to Queen’s Road, before landing at Empress Road where Queen’s Road turns into Wharncliffe Road. The longish walk was an opportunity to chat to some of the other people on the walk, and I met some very interesting people, as well as people I’ve known for a long time, and other people I recognised.

When we reached Empress Road Bob explained that there had been warnings that Zeppelins were on their way, heading from the east coast. Leicester, Nottingham and Derby had gone into blackout mode, but, apparently, parts of Loughborough were of the thinking that raids had never come that far inland before, so probably wouldn’t today, and as a result, blackout guidelines were not much observed (except by the Brush) thereby making Loughborough a real target.

On the outside wall of what was the Herbert Morris factory (called the Empress Works, or the East Works) there was a plaque, commemorating the Zeppelin raid in Empress Road which killed a mother and her children - the original plaque is in the Carillon Museum – and there is a granite cross in the road, close to the pavement, which marks the spot at which the bomb fell.
No.83 next to corner house, door not visible
Number 83 Empress Road was so close to the bomb it’s surprising the house wasn’t damaged, but the only evidence of the attack was shrapnel marks in the side wall of the house.

A selection of views of the Empress Works

Whilst we were looking at the cross, the lady who lived in number 83 actually came out and regaled us with a few stories and memories of the event. She wasn’t old enough to have been around at the time, but had spoken of the event with older members of her family. Quite fascinating!

Leaving Empress Road, we made our way back to town and Queen’s Park, via the Great Central Railway, at which point I had to leave the walk as I had another event to attend.

Bob did a great job of showing us parts of Loughborough we were probably less familiar with, and of telling us stories about the day of the Zeppelin raid. I’m sure this is only the first of his WW1-themed walks, so if you missed this one, keep on eye on the local paper for news of his next one.