Calico and Silk by Christine Evans

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This is the final book in Christine Evans’s “Gorbydale” (Rochdale?  Or maybe Oldham?  Or somewhere in the Rossendale Valley?) trilogy – completed not long before the author’s tragic sudden death last January.  The Cotton Famine and the American Civil War are long over – although we see how the effects of an economic shutdown last for many years – and there’s not that much history in this final book; but it’s a very readable family saga.  And it’s interesting to see Elizabeth Blackwell and her sister Emily make appearances, and also to see disabled character Matt lead a fulfilling personal and professional life.

There are more daft names (Hadrian) and slightly daft plots (man thought to have been eaten by alligators comes back from the dead but then collapses and dies of alcohol poisoning in the street, wife accidentally kills husband with laudanum overdose).  The alligators are in Louisiana, BTW: there are no alligators in Rochdale.  At least, I hope there aren’t.  But it’s generally a good read.

If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, it might be rather confusing, especially as there are two different families involved, and two different branches (plus assorted relatives by marriage) of one of those.  But all three taken together aren’t bad, and there are so few books about the Cotton Famine (my dissertation topic) that I get very excited whenever I find one!   I was just so sorry to hear about Christine’s sudden death, and am glad that she was able to see her work, or at least the first two-thirds of it) published whilst she was alive.  I was also very sorry to hear about the recent death of Sharon Penman, one of my all time favourite authors.  Sad news.  But their books live on, at least.

Twist of the Thread by Christine Evans

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This is the sequel to Song of the Shuttle.  Much like that, it’s well-researched and quite entertaining, but a little far-fetched!  I’m not sure how realistic it is that a housemaid from a Lancashire mill town would persuade a former Confederate soldier to marry her, and then take over the running of his ruined plantation, insist on paying all the former slaves a fair wage, and become close friends with all the former slaves, giving everyone else in their district of Louisiana a salutary lesson in race relations and equality, during Reconstruction.  Nice idea, though!  The fictional town of Gorbydale doesn’t match up exactly to anywhere, but it’s probably closer to Rochdale than anywhere else, and Rochdale was particularly well-known for its anti-slavery stance.

Meanwhile, the dodgy husband tried to murder his wife’s ex-employer’s cousin, accidentally murdered her friend instead, spent a lot of time gambling on Mississippi riverboats, faked his own death, and then turned up in Liverpool.  As you do.  As I said, it wasn’t particularly realistic, but, apart from a quibble over the demography of Cheetham Hill, and possibly some confusion over the date of the opening of Strangeways (I’m not quite sure what year it was meant to be in the book by then), the actual history was fairly accurate.  And it was a good read.  I need distracting, at the moment.  I’m sure we all do.

This was meant to be a series, but, sadly, the author died suddenly.  She’d written the third book before her death, but obviously there won’t be any more.  There wasn’t as much history in this book as in the first one – that, despite the rather bonkers storyline, appealed to me because it was about the Cotton Famine, my dissertation topic, and the American Civil War, one of my great and long-term historical loves, but this one was more about the personal lives of the characters.  As well as the story of Dolly, the housemaid, we heard about Jessie, the main character in the first book, and how she coped with having a disabled child, and also about Jessie’s friend Honora (whom Dolly’s husband tried to murder!) and her medical studies in America.  It was all quite interesting, but a bit more about Gorbydale’s recovery from the Cotton Famine would have been nice.

During the Famine, of course, there was state assistance via the Public Works Acts, but there was also a huge privately-organised relief effort, with money being raised from all over the world, and local committees distributing it, and organising, for example, sewing schools, which feature in this book.  With Andy Burnham launching the OneGM fund today, and Marcus Rashford doing so much to raise money to provide meals for disadvantaged children, I’ve been thinking a lot about this.  And my house is built on the site of what was a Cotton Famine Public Works programme.  Anyway, that’s beside the point.  This isn’t the greatest book ever, but, as a 99p Kindle download, it was well worth reading!

 

Song of the Shuttle by Christine Evans

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This is local history month, and, in any case, I’m always on the lookout for books about the Cotton Famine, my university dissertation topic.  There aren’t many of them around, so I was very pleased to find this one.  The author had obviously done a huge amount of research into the subject: there was a lot of information in this, and a lot of lovely descriptive passages as well.  The storyline got rather far-fetched, with everyone whizzing backwards and forwards across the Atlantic in the middle of a war, and marrying people from different backgrounds, and there were a few other niggles too, but, overall, it was an entertaining read, for a 99p Kindle download.  My house is built on the site of an old reservoir, which was constructed as one of the Public Works projects which provided employment for people who were out of work as a result of the Cotton Famine.  That has got absolutely nothing to do with this book, but I like telling people about it 🙂 .

Our characters live in a town called “Gorbydale” (odd choice of fictional name!), somewhere on the moors near either Oldham or Rochdale.  There are a lot of references to an old Roman fort, and the only one I can think of round there is at Castleshaw, near Oldham; but the fact that it’s a weaving area rather than a spinning area, the use of “dale”, and the reference to an outing to Hollingworth Lake suggest that it’s more the Rochdale side.  And some of them live in “Doveton”, which I think’s meant to be more towards Oldham, maybe round the Delph area.

Whilst I’m not entirely convinced that a family of weavers would have been entertaining guests in the parlour and serving tea in the best china cups – although you never know, as wages in the cotton industry were pretty high in the 1850s, and this family was clearly meant to be relatively prosperous -, there were some excellent descriptions of the town, the mills, the homes, and Methodism which was (and is) quite big in the area.  Our heroine is Jessie, the daughter of the family.  Also featured are the family who own the local mills, which have glorious names like Invincible Mill and Endurance Mill.  Perseverance Mill was the more common one, but same general idea!  The millowners have got a handsome but idle son, Robert, and a spirited niece, Honora living with them.

There’s an unpleasant sub-plot in which an American business associate visits the millowners, and rapes their maid, who becomes pregnant.  The narrative makes out that it was all the maid’s fault.  Whilst that’s how people would probably have seen it at the time, I wasn’t very impressed that the narrative seemed to go along with that.  Another niggle was the mis-spelling of Fort Sumter as “Fort Sumpter”, but that can be forgiven.  The attitude towards Dolly the maid can’t.  One of Jessie’s brothers, Arden, is wrongly accused of being the father of Dolly’s baby … whereupon he takes off to America to fight for the Union, the war having begun by this point.

OK, there were certainly cases of men from Lancashire going to fight in the war.  So that was fair enough.  Less realistically, Robert, who’s got a bit involved with Jessie, then also takes off to America, to run the blockade and get himself to Louisiana, so that he can get some cotton and bring it back!   Twice.  This was where it started getting rather silly.  He then gets press-ganged into the Confederate army, is seriously injured, makes his way to the rapist business associate’s plantation, and is cared for by the slaves there.

Back in Gorbydale, it’s all rather more realistic – and very well-portrayed, with a lot of narrative about the problems caused by the infamous Surat cotton, and also about the establishment of sewing schools for unemployed women.  Jessie and Honora both get involved with a local sewing school and become friends.  They then head off to America, to look for Arden and Robert!   They just happen to find Arden.  Then they find the rapist business associate, who’s lurking around Washington as a spy, and help Allan Pinkerton to catch him.  And then they volunteer as Union nurses … despite the fact that Dorothea Dix was after women who were plain, over 30, and, presumably, American.  To be fair, it did mention that they didn’t exactly meet the requirements!  And who should somehow end up in their hospital but, you guessed it, Robert.

Robert recovers, and returns to England with Jessie (chaperoned by one of the former slaves, who then goes back to America.  There wasn’t half a lot of to-ing and fro-ing across the Atlantic, in the middle of a war!), everyone is apparently OK about him marrying a mill girl, and they get married.  Honora stays on in America to train as a doctor, as you do, and gets together with Arden.

By this time, it’d all got so far-fetched that I wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid if Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S Grant and Robert E Lee had all rolled up in Gorbydale, to be served tea in the best china cups in the parlour.  However, it was a nice enough read, and the information about the effects of the Cotton Famine, the damage that it did it to the regional economy and the efforts that were made to ameliorate them, had obviously been researched in a lot of detail.  It really isn’t easy to find novels set during the Cotton Famine, and, for 99p, this one was certainly worth a go.

 

 

The Co-operative Revolution: A Graphic Novel (Facebook group reading challenge)

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I have to admit that I don’t really understand the fashion for graphic novels and film adaptations of them.  They make me feel as if I’ve gone back to primary school and am reading “Mandy” or “Nikki”.  However, not wishing to shirk a reading challenge 🙂 , I decided to make it as appealing as possible by finding one about local history.  Well, at least, that’s what I was expecting.  In the end, only part of it was about the Rochdale Pioneers.  The rest of it was about, well, everything from jellyfish to Richard Dawkins to FC Barcelona … and how to change the world by making biscuits in Crumpsall, which is certainly an interesting idea.  And the prospect of a spaceship travelling from Rochdale to Mars, which is an even more interesting idea.  I suppose I did enjoy reading it, and it gets a big gold star for mentioning the Cotton Famine, but graphic novels just aren’t for me.  A page of pictures doesn’t say anything like as much as a page of words, and I didn’t feel like I’d read very much.  But, to be fair, I enjoyed what there was.

There were a few pages of cartoons (sorry, graphics) about the Rochdale Pioneers, and how they famously set up the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society in Toad Lane in 1844.  The author (author? artist?) got rather carried away with going on about the “corrupt, dictatorial” order, but I didn’t mind that because it meant that he went on about the Peterloo Massacre and the Chartists as well as the actual issues of dodgy shopkeepers ripping people off.  As everyone knows, I love to talk about the Peterloo Massacre and the Chartists … nearly as much as I love to talk about the Cotton Famine, which also got a mention.  Minor black mark for referring to Angel Meadow as “Angel Meadows”, but never mind.

However, it then went on about other co-operative movements, which I hadn’t really been expecting.  Some of this involved pictures.  Some of it involved things that were handwritten rather than typed: I’m not quite sure what the idea of that was. But it was quite interesting.  FC Barcelona.  Indian snake catchers.  Bees, of course.  And Portuguese men o’war, which are apparently made up of different parts which all work together as a co-operative … or something like that.  And a lot of comments about nature and Darwinism and Richard Dawkins, and how it’s better to operate as a co-operative than to work on the principle of the survival of the fittest.  I think it would have been better to have stuck to the Rochdale Pioneers, New Lanark, et al, TBH, but I think that people who are into graphic novels are probably more likely to be scientifically-minded than historically-minded.  Then there were more cartoons, this time showing a spaceship heading off from Rochdale to Mars to mark the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society.

By this point, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or just to put the book down – but then, hooray, at the back, there was a nice historical timeline.  No graphics, no spaceships, no jellyfish – just a proper historical timeline, including interesting facts such as the fact that the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) Factory in Crumpsall was the first biscuit factory in the UK to introduce an 8 hour day, and the first ship to sale the length of the Manchester Ship Canal was the CWS’s SS Pioneer.  I really enjoyed reading that bit, but it did rather prove that, with all due respect to the writers and readers of graphic novels, I am better with the ordinary printed word!

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

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It makes a refreshing change to read a book which treats the Pendle Witch Trials as what they were, the state-sponsored persecution of vulnerable people, resulting in the judicial killings of eight women and two men, rather than as some sort of Gothic romance or Disneyfied fairytale. I understand the desire to bring tourists into the Pendle area, but I could scream every time I hear the X43 bus route, linking Manchester to Colne and passing within a few hundred yards of my house, called “The Witch Way”, and see silly pictures of pointy hats and broomsticks on the sides of the vehicles. This book, whilst it features real people, is fictitious, but set against the background of the Lancashire Witch Trials of 1612, and ties the story of Alice Gray (or Grey), the only one of the accused to be acquitted, to that of Fleetwood Shuttleworth, the then mistress of Gawthorpe Hall near Burnley.

See what I mean!!

 

It’s the author’s first published novel, and that does show: it’s lacking a bit in style and polish, and some of the language is anachronistic … but very few people produce Gone With The Wind at the first attempt, and it’s a pretty creditable first effort. The author’s not a historian, but she’s clearly done a lot of research into this particular subject. Whilst most of the characters are real people – including the Shuttleworths, the people accused of witchcraft, Roger Nowell who was the magistrate presiding over the trials, and Thomas Potts who was the clerk of the court – the story is fictional, but Stacey Halls hasn’t really messed with the known facts, and has explained clearly in the afterword that this is a work of fiction. If only all authors would do that!

It’s very much a book about women, told in the first person with Fleetwood Shuttleworth as the narrator. In fact, none of the men come out of it well at all. Fleetwood’s husband Richard Shuttleworth is keeping a mistress (the character is Judith Thorpe, another real person, who did later become his second wife). Alice Gray’s father doesn’t care about her plight. Roger Nowell is more interested in furthering his own prospects than in seeing justice done, and will manipulate anyone and anything he can in order to get a result. It emerges late on that Fleetwood, as a child, was abused by a man her family planned for her to marry. And Fleetwood has a very low opinion of the king.

The question of motives in the Pendle Witch Trials is fascinating, especially as we can only guess at how people’s minds were working. Why did some of the “witches” confess? Were they genuinely convinced of their own powers, or were they tortured to a point where they’d have confessed to anything? Why did some of those involved denounce their neighbours and even members of their own families – were they settling old scores, or thinking that doing so might save their own skins, or, in superstitious times, did they genuinely believe what they were saying? To what extent was misogyny a factor? In witch trials everywhere, the majority of those accused were women. Even now, the word “witch” is often used as a term of abuse against women in positions of power, whereas “wizard” is used as a compliment.

Were Roger Nowell and others hoping to win favour by convicting people of witchcraft, knowing how strongly King James felt about the subject? How much was this about the authorities trying to impose control in what was then a fairly remote area? How much of it was motivated by anti-Catholic feeling? Catholicism remained strong in the Pendle area, as in many other parts of the North, long after the Reformation. And, as is so often the case in any form of state-sponsored persecution – the Spanish Inquisition’s probably the best historical example, and the anti-gay laws in Brunei prove that this is still an issue – religion, in this case Protestantism, was both a motivating factor and an excuse. And, once an idea’s taken hold, hysteria soon sets in, and the situation takes on a life of its own.

We don’t see much of the actual “witches” here, but Roger Nowell features prominently, and is very much shown as being out for himself, whilst other people are caught up in the panic and ready to believe that witchcraft is at work. We all struggle to accept that things can just happen: we want a reason, an explanation. In times when there was little scientific knowledge to provide that, if a family member suddenly died or suffered a life-changing illness, or a horse dropped dead, or a cow stopped producing milk, or a crop failed, it was all too easy and convenient to put the blame on a “witch”. It may have been to settle a personal score or it may have been genuinely believing, whilst distressed and grieving, that someone had done harm. And the reign of James I, and, later, the Civil War period, provided very fertile soil for that.

James I (of England, 1603-1625) and VI (of Scotland, 1567-1625), was in many ways an excellent king at a very difficult time, had a real bee in his bonnet about “witches”, apparently partly due to getting it into his head that witchcraft caused the storm which nearly sank the ship carrying him and his new wife Anne of Denmark from her home country to Scotland. There were witch trials in many places in the period from around 1450 to 1750, but James was particularly obsessive about the subject. In 1597, he published a book called “Daemonologie”, about witchcraft, and apparently he even personally supervised the torture of women accused of being witches. “Daemonologie” is mentioned several times in this book. It was hugely influential.

The Pendle Witch Trials of 1612, part of the Lancashire Witch Trials which also involved alleged witches from other parts of the county, became very well-known because so many people were involved, and because of the publication of the proceedings by Thomas Potts. “The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster” – copies available on Amazon for around a fiver, four centuries later! Then, in 1848/9, William Harrison Ainsworth wrote a “romance” based on the trials – not at all historically accurate, but very popular. And, just over a century later, Robert Neill wrote another one. Today, you can buy “witch” costumes and little models of “witches” from shops in the Pendle area, the Pendle tourist info office by the Boundary Mill car park near Colne will provide you with all manner of leaflets about “witch trails” in the local area, and, as I’ve already said, the X43 bus route linking the Pendle area with Manchester is called “The Witch Way”. I get the desire to bring in tourists to boost the local economy, but I find it to be in rather poor taste. Nine people were judicially murdered (and an tenth in a separate trial, and one died whilst awaiting trial). We’re not talking about Mildred Hubble and Miss Cackle.

So what did happen? The known facts are explained in this book, as part of the story. A young woman called Alizon Device, on her way to Trawden Forest (note to self, must get to Wycoller Country Park some time this spring), got into an argument with a pedlar called John Law, and cursed him. He suffered a stroke shortly afterwards, and his son accused Alizon Device of witchcraft. This opened a can of worms, much of which seems to have been due to a feud between two local families, the Demdike/Device family and the Chattox/Whittle family. Various allegations were made of harming and even murdering people by witchcraft, and then there was a meeting at Malkin Tower, the home of Alizon Device’s grandmother, on Good Friday 1612, which (may well have been a secret Catholic service, but) was alleged to have been a witches’ coven.

Twelve people were arrested. Family members, notably Alizon’s nine-year-old sister Jennet Device, gave evidence against each other, and some of the “witches” confessed. It really isn’t clear why they would have done that, although they may well have been genuinely convinced of their own powers. In a poor area, at a time when it was difficult to keep body and soul together, especially for women – and with the safety net of the convents long gone – being a “wise woman”, or even claiming to have magical powers, was a way of earning a living. Or maybe they were tortured to the point where they gave in and gave the inquisitors what they wanted.

The book suggests that Jennet Device may have hoped to be adopted by the Nowells. Her story’s particularly interesting: a nine-year-old child wouldn’t normally have been allowed to give evidence at a trial, but James I was so obsessed with witches that he allowed the normal rules of court to be suspended in cases of witchcraft trials. It would have been easy to depict her as a frightened little kid being manipulated by powerful authority figures, but that’s not how she comes across here, and she makes a fascinating character. It’s also suggested that the Devices made allegations against the Chattoxes to try to divert attention from their own family, which certainly seems realistic. However, whilst it’s generally accepted that Alizon Device, in particular, did genuinely believe herself guilty, it’s suggested here that those who confessed did so only because of torture. At the end of the day, we just don’t know: we can only surmise. But the account given does suggest that Alizon confessed in court when confronted by John Law – which doesn’t happen in this book, which shows Law as being so badly affected by his stroke that he was unable to speak clearly. Having said that, what’s in the account given by Thomas Potts may not be 100% accurate. It’s not thought to be wildly inaccurate, but it should be noted that both he and Roger Nowell did indeed do quite nicely careerwise out of it all.

The book doesn’t really go into the witch trials and what was going on with the Devices and Chattoxes in detail, though – the focus in terms of the accusations is on Alice Gray, the only one of the accused to be acquitted. Her name’s normally spelt Grey, but it’s spelt Gray in this book … but spellings of names do vary. More annoying, though, is the spelling of Westmorland as Westmoreland: the extra e does appear in some Georgian and Victorian documents, but it’s certainly not used now and it’s unlikely to have been used in the 17th century. I didn’t really need to see “now Cumbria” added to it, either, but that’s probably just me.

A few other things grate, as well. “Mr” and “Miss” were not used in the 17th century, a gentlewoman like Fleetwood Shuttleworth would not have used her first name when introducing herself to complete strangers of a lower class, “Mum” and “Dad” certainly sound far too contemporary, and there’s the odd bit of language in the narrative that sounds distinctly 21st century American – even though the author’s local. And some of the plot’s very far-fetched: the idea of the heavily pregnant teenage wife of a local squire roaming around remote parts of the countryside on her own, going into alehouses and threatening to shoot people has to be taken with an extremely large pinch of salt. But it is the author’s first published book, and it’s far better than a lot of books I’ve read by long-established authors.

There’s a definite touch of the Victorian Gothics about it, especially with the appearance of animals which we’re presumably meant to think could be “familiars”. A house is set on fire, and that made me wonder if the author had, consciously or unconsciously, been influenced by Charlotte Bronte, who’s known to have stayed at Gawthorpe Hall and to have based Ferndean Manor on nearby Wycoller Hall. Just a thought.

We don’t know why Alice Gray, accused alongside Katherine “Mouldheels” Hewitt of murdering a child, was acquitted. In this book, she’s shown as being a midwife, employed by Fleetwood Shuttleworth, the 17-year-old mistress of Gawthorpe Hall near Burnley. It now belongs to the National Trust, and is quite a nice place to visit. It’s got a painting of a meeting of the Cotton Famine Relief Committee, which I always get excited about! In 1612, the house did indeed belong to Richard Shuttleworth, later High Sheriff of Lancashire and then a Parliamentarian colonel and MP. His first wife was Fleetwood Barton, and we know that they had two sons, one born not long after the trials.
There’s no evidence to suggest any connection between the Shuttleworths and any of the Pendle “witches”, or even that Alice Gray was a midwife, but it’s a plausible idea. “Wise women” were often amongst those suggested of witchcraft, and having being spoken for by someone with influence in the area would explain Alice’s acquittal.

The story is that Fleetwood has suffered three miscarriages and has found a letter which she takes to mean that neither she nor her unborn child will survive her fourth pregnancy. She meets Alice by chance, whilst feeling unwell, and, when Alice gives her some infusions which make her feel better, becomes convinced that only Alice can bring her and her child through the pregnancy alive. When Alice is arrested, Fleetwood is determined to save her. The explanation given for the story behind Alice’s arrest is again, whilst entirely fictional, quite plausible – that she found John Law after his stroke and tried to help him, and that the child she was alleged to have murdered had died of what would now be recognised as an epileptic fit, but that the child’s widowed father, with whom she was romantically involved, had blamed her. It all gets completely melodramatic, with Fleetwood threatening to shoot the bereaved father and persuading him to give her a signed testament saying that Alice was innocent, collapsing on the way home, going into labour, and persuading her husband to read the testament out in court so that Alice would be freed and could come to save her life in childbirth!

As I said, it needs to be taken with a big pinch of salt. But I enjoyed it, I was very impressed by the fact that the author explained what was fact and what was fiction – I do wish all authors would do that – and, most of all, I was so pleased to see someone treating a romanticised episode in our county’s history, and our country’s history, as what it really was. The story of the Pendle witches isn’t about pointy hats and broomsticks, or black cats and cauldrons. It’s about persecution.

In some countries, this still goes on – there are still cases of women being put to death for alleged witchcraft. In many other countries, vulnerable groups of people are persecuted for a wide range of other reasons. It certainly isn’t romantic and it certainly isn’t funny. But the Pendle area is beautiful, and well worth visiting. And this book’s worth reading – not bad at all.

 

Edwardian Britain in Colour – Channel 5

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How good was this 🙂 ?  Working-class life in Edwardian Lancashire (and a bit of Cheshire and Yorkshire!), captured on film and enhanced by colour.  Cotton mills in Hollinwood, coal mines in Golborne, Wakes Weeks in Blackpool, brass bands in Accrington, the 1902 Preston Guild, hat-making in Stockport, pleasure gardens in Halifax and day trips to Mobberley.  Images of Edwardian Britain are usually of the great and the not-necessarily-good, on grand occasions; but this was all about ordinary life.  The presenters were all so cheerful and so clearly genuinely interested, as well, with no lecturing or moralising or pontificating.  And there’ll be more next week, when we’re getting trade union and suffragette marches.

I’m not sure whether these were the famous Mitchell and Kenyon films or not. I’d assume so, given that most of them were of Lancashire.  If so, where was the film of the Burnley v Newton Heath match?!  Oh well!

The colour was nice, but I think the films would have worked fine in black and white as well – the important thing was what the films were telling us about Edwardian life, and seeing the faces of the men, women and children in them and knowing that these were all real people, living real lives. Sad, too, seeing young lads and knowing that many of them must have lost their lives in the Great War.  There are a lot of paintings, and, for more recent times, photos, of royalty, and politicians, and other well-known people; but there aren’t many of ordinary people, and there certainly aren’t many of daily life.  By Edwardian times, plenty of ordinary people did have their photos taken, and a lot of us will have family photos from that time, but it was generally a case of going to a photographer’s studio for a special occasion such as a wedding, with everyone in their best clothes and formal poses, not photos of everyday life.  Even now, when everyone’s posting photos on Facebook and Instagram all the time, you don’t see many photos of people at work.  Not that anyone desperately wants to see photos of people at work 🙂 , but, for social history purposes, those sorts of images are incredibly important and informative.

The programme actually started with shots of Queen Victoria’s funeral, but soon moved on to a parade in Accrington, to mark Edward VII’s coronation. Led by a brass band!  As the programme said, there were so many parades in those days – political, religious, pro-temperance, etc.  We still have parades, and a lot of them are very lavish, but I don’t think there’s that community feel to them any more, because the days when everyone socialised with their neighbours, and often worked with them as well, have gone.  It was also interesting to hear a black historian speak about the fact that some of the people in the parade were wearing “blackface”, and, rather than doing the PC thing of yelling about racism, explaining that this was meant in an inclusive way, to show that people of all races were included in the British Empire and were a part of the celebration.

And those lovely banners!   There are quite a few of them at the People’s History Museum.  That idea goes way back, certainly to Peterloo and before.  Really beautiful, embroidered banners that a lot of work must have gone into – not like now, when people carry scruffy placards with slogans written on them in felt tip pen.

After that, we did get some shots of That London – the docks and the markets. So busy!   You don’t see that often, now – everyone hard at work, in the great outdoors, all those people and all those goods. Women working in the markets, all sat together, shelling vegetables.  Men carrying huge crates around.  Everyone busy busy busy, such a hive of activity.

Then back to Lancashire, with film of the collieries in Golborne – one of the Wigan pit villages, just off the East Lancs Road. I used to have a very nice client based there.  The boss once bought me a chocolate ice cream 🙂 .  And my dad used to have a pharmacy in another of the Wigan pit villages.  We actually saw shots of men working in the mines, in horrible conditions, and of the pit brow lasses working at the coal face; and it was brought to life even further with interviews with people whose relatives had worked there.  Fascinating stuff.

As was explained, in Lancashire it was the norm for women and older children to work, as well as men. I remember one of my old university lecturers once talking about the cultural differences between places where the traditional industries provided work for both men and women, and places where they didn’t.  Then he got off the point and started going on about how Middlesbrough was a real “man’s town” and that that explained a lot about Brian Clough; but never mind!  Anyway, in the Lancashire textile and coal towns, it was the norm for women to work.  And, without wishing to perpetuate stereotypes, those women were generally pretty tough cookies.  We saw shots of people coming out of the Alfred Butterworth Mill in Hollinwood, between Manchester city centre and Oldham – thousands of people, all employed at the same place.

It was interesting to see that the women all had their hair covered. The presenter compared that to wearing a hijab.  I think it was as much about keeping warm, and protecting the hair from dirt, as about it not being respectable for a woman to show her hair, but head coverings were certainly the norm for everyone then.  It’s something you really notice on photos from those times – everyone’s wearing some sort of hat/other head covering, whether it’s flat caps at football matches or top hats at Ascot (men’s hats/caps were a real sign of social class, as the presenter said).  Clogs and shawls … those days are gone.  Most people wear the same stuff all over the Western world these days!

It was also pointed out how highly-skilled a lot of the work done by women was, although they certainly wouldn’t have been paid in accordance with that. Whilst it would have been difficult to film inside a mill, with all the machines going, there were shots of a woman sewing, and you could see how intricate the work was – and also that she was nicely-dressed, and wearing a necklace, and certainly not some sort of downtrodden, dehumanised factory worker stereotype like the people Dickens wrote about in Hard Times (how I hate that book … although admittedly it was set far earlier than this).

Next up, hatters in Stockport, complete with an interview with a man who’d worked as a Stockport hatter. Stockport County, like Luton Town, are still known as “the Hatters” … as Northampton Town are known as “the Cobblers,” Stoke City as “the Potters”, Sheffield United as “the Blades” and so on.  Those nicknames aren’t used as much as they used to be, but they’re a reminder of the traditional industries of certain areas.  Again, it’s very skilled work.  And work associated with entire communities.

Then we moved on to film of children – all rather formally dressed, and many of them with jobs, some attending school in the mornings and working in the afternoons, and few staying on at school after the age of twelve. There was such a big class divide in children’s lives in Edwardian times: you think of the Mary Poppins books, for example, and contrast the lives of children like Jane and Michael Banks (yes, all right, I know they weren’t real!) with those of working-class children.  But, again, there wasn’t a sense of being oppressed, for lack of a better word – more of trying to get out there and earn money.  Obviously I’m not saying that that was a good thing, just that it was how it was.  As the presenter said, there wasn’t that sense then, at least not for the working classes, of adult responsibility not starting until at least the age of eighteen.

It has to be said that these films didn’t show the workhouses, or the worst inner-city “slum” areas, but the programme could only show what there was.

Everyone looked quite cheerful, really. The Edwardian era does have a very jolly image – “It’s grand to be an Englishman in 1910”! – the Golden Age between the repressive Victorian era (which actually wasn’t that repressive) and the horrors of the Great War.  But, as we keep being reminded in Great British Railway Journeys 🙂 , it was an era of social flux; and, as we know from the reports which brought about the welfare reforms of 1908-1911, it was also a time of severe poverty.  Yet everyone looked so full of life.  All these individual people, in all these communities.  Unless you live in a soap opera, very few of us now live in a world where we work with our friends and neighbours, and our friends and neighbours are the same people, and where everyone in the area works in the same industry, and goes on holiday to the same place, at the same time.  Times move on, and I can’t say I particularly want to work in a cotton mill, or see a load of people I know whilst I’m walking along Blackpool Prom; but seeing it all on film was fascinating.

I’m not trying to do a “They woz poor but they woz happy” thing, but some books do have such patronising passages about (depending on the time and place) “the peasants” or “the serfs” or “the industrial proletariat”, and lose sight of the fact that these were all individual human beings, living their lives.

And, by Edwardian times, those lives generally included time for leisure. The rest of the programme concentrated on leisure, rather than work.   Young children from Altrincham going on a day out to Mobberley, for a taste of country life.  I used to know someone who lived in a farm in Mobberley: I wonder what happened to her!   Altrincham’s quite a well-heeled area, and would have been so even then, but the idea seemed to be to get kids away from urban/suburban areas and into the countryside: we saw them running around in the fields, and having races.   You don’t really get that now.  School trips are all about being educational!

Then the next part … well, it wasn’t leisure as such, more of a celebration, and a tradition that goes back to the 12th century AD – the Preston Guild, held every twenty years.  Does the expression “once every Preston Guild” exist in the rest of the country, or is it something that people only say in Lancashire?!  Like we raise our glasses to “the Queen, Duke of Lancaster” whereas the rest of the country just says “the Queen”?!  Lovely pictures of the parade, and all the people, and the formal ceremonials as well.  This was in 1902.  The Guild’s meant to be held every 20 years, but, because of the Second World War, there was a 30 year gap after 1922, with the next one being held in 1952 … so the most recent was in 2012, and I actually went to that, because it does only take place … well, once every Preston Guild!

We also got some film coverage of people enjoying themselves at pleasure gardens. The ones on the film were, ahem, over the border in the West Riding, near Halifax.  They’ve gone now.  So many of the pleasure gardens have.  There’s a Metrolink stop called “Pomona”, and the name caused all sorts of confusion when the stop first opened, because most people had never heard of the Pomona Gardens, which closed back in the 1880s.  It’s a shame, because they were a great idea, and you could see how much people were enjoying themselves there.

Finally, the greatest seaside resort of them all – Blackpool!   If anything symbolises the growth of leisure in the later Victorian and Edwardian eras, it’s Blackpool Tower, built in 1891.  I still get excited when I get to the part of the M55 where you get your first glimpse of the Tower.  I actually get excited well before that, when I come off the M61 on to the M6, and know that I’m not that far from the junction with the M55.  I’m so used to the fact that Blackpool’s got three piers – I think the North Pier’s my favourite, but they’re all special – that I never really think about how unusual it is to have three piers in one resort, or even about the fact that seaside piers must have been a huge novelty when they were first built.  Times have changed, and we no longer have the great Wakes Weeks exoduses to Blackpool, with everyone from one town heading off their at once.  We don’t really even have Wakes Weeks any more: we still had “local holidays” in the ‘80s, when I was a kid, but deindustrialisation and the standardisation of school holidays have put paid to that.  But we still have Blackpool!

We take having a certain amount off work for granted now, but how exciting must it have been when people first started being given time off work, even though it was unpaid, and even more so when more and more people became able to go on trips to the seaside. We saw film coverage of the Winter Gardens, and the Blackpool Tower circus.  I’ve never seen elephants in the sea at Blackpool: that certainly doesn’t happen now!   And everyone was dressed up.  Even in the 1950s, on the photos of my mum and dad’s childhood holidays in Blackpool, everyone’s in their best clothes, because you made an effort when you were going to the seaside – it was a big thing.  So many people!  I always moan about there being too many people anywhere where I am, unless it’s a sporting event or a concert, but it looks exciting on film!

It was all exciting, in its way. The colour was great, but, as I’ve already said, it would have been fascinating in black and white too.  Films definitely capture something that the written word, however eloquent, can’t, and even paintings and photographs can’t – and these are some of the earliest films of ordinary life in our region, in our country.   I really did enjoy this programme.