Landor (Local History) Society

View of Rugeley from the A51 bypass showing St Joseph & St Etheldreda (R.C.) steeple and the towers of St Augustines (C. of E.) and the 'Old Chancel' churches.

RECENT MEETINGS

NOVEMBER 2023

 

“Local Democracy in the 18th Century” was the subject of the talk given to the Society by Steve Booth on the 15th November.

 

Steve explained that democracy as we know it was almost unrecognisable before the introduction of the secret ballot in 1872.  Voting was carried out in full view of the ‘interested’ parties therefore there were ample opportunities for corruption, blackmail and intimidation.  Those eligible to vote were  freeholders whose property was worth 40 shillings or more a year, therefore in this situation the wealthy were able to dominate political life.

 

The Tory landed gentry such as the Gower of Trentham had a great influence on political life locally.

Lord Granville Leveson Gower had rights over tolls on fairs and markets together with collection of rents.,which could be enforced or not depending on whether local 40 shilling freeholders voted for his parliamentary candidates,  Pretexts could be found for eviction if individuals persisted in voting the

‘wrong way’.

 

Voters who assembled at the hustings had their qualifications checked against Land Tax returns and even at that point candidates agents could object to the validity of these qualifications.  Once all this  completed procedure was completed, the voters would be allowed to announce their vote from the hustins, which would be recorded in a poll book by a clerk.  Even then a candidate could demand a ‘scrutiny’ of the votes.  This complicated procedure was only required to take place every seven years and contested elections were rare with only 29 between the years 1715 and 1831.

 

As can be seen this is far removed from the system we have today.

 

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OCTOBER 2023

 

On the 18th October members of the Society were pleased to welcome to the meeting, David Robbie. who gave his talk entitled: ‘Great Haywood, Past and Present, People and Places’.

David is currently awaiting publication of his book with the same title.

 

He told of how he first came to Rugeley in 1966 and spent two years as Head of History at Rugeley Grammar School and, once this became Fair Oak School, in the same position until his retirement.

 

Much of his talk focused on J.R.R. Tolkein who spent two years living with his wife Edith in Great Haywood during the First World War, where he recovered from his traumatic experiences at the Somme.  Here he created his mythological stories, in part inspired by his surroundings.  In his tale “The Sun and the Moon” Tavrobel is thought to be Great Haywood and Essex Bridge, the bridge where two rivers meet.  The gnome, Gilfanon, whose ancient house - the house of a hundred chimneys, stands nigh the bridge of Tavrobel, possibly refers two Shugborough Hall.

 

David has also written poetry to describe the surroundings of Great Haywood which will be included in his book, also the book will have many interesting illustrations.  Members look forward to its publication.

 

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AUGUST 2022

 

The Summer outings are coming to a close for this year and meetings will return to Sneydlands on 21st September, 7.30.

 

Trevor Warburton led a walk around the site of the Brindley Village on Cannock Chase in June.

In July members visited St. James Church at Longdon when John Shand gave a very interesting talk on the history of the church followed by refreshments.

 

The final visit of the Summer season was to St. Michael’s in Lichfield on 17th August.  Trevor James

welcomed 20 members and related a little of the history of the church.  The churchyard is very old and there is some evidence that it was used in Anglo Saxon Times and a crouched burial from an earlier period was found when the church was extended in the 1970s.    Trevor led a tour of the memorials and monuments in the churchyard, the first being the Saddleback grave, reputedly dating back to 1674, and making the grave one of the oldest monuments in the churchyard.  Beyond this is the Adie family grave from the nineteenth century.  Both these graves are scheduled ancient monuments.  Amongst many of the grave stones are the Larkin graves, including that of the parents of Phillip Larkin, the poet.. Another, the grave of John Louis Petit, a Victorian clergyman (1801-68) s a water colour artist , who travelled around England and Europe, painting churches as well as industrial and agricultural scenes. Petit will be the subject of a talk to be given to the Society in November.

 

The visit concluded with a walk around the church, where there were many points of historical interest, followed by refreshments provided by Trevor.

 

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MAY 2022

 

On the first outing for over three years 23 members and friends of the Society met at the magical Sinai Park House, at Shobnall where they were welcomed by owner, Kate Murphy.

 

Kate led the group outside to point out the moat, a scheduled ancient monument, which had been there during the 13th Century when there was a stone manor on the site.  The monks of Burton Abbey had used Sinai as a rest and recuperation retreat after bloodletting.  For accommodation, they brought two timber framed buildings to the site in 1400 and mashed them together to make the north east wing.  This practice is possibly the origin of the expression ‘to up sticks’.

 

During the reformation Henry VIII gifted Sinai to the Pagets who used it for a hunting lodge as it is located in a deer park.  The scenery and the grounds, driving up to the house are certainly spectacular.

 

The group were then invited inside the Eastern wing purchased in

1995 by Kate and subsequently renovated. In the beautiful dining hall there is a stone fireplace which dates back to the 1300.  Members were invited to walk around the remainder of the house followed by light refreshments and a chat sitting around the lovely dining table.  

 

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MAY 2019 

 

The first outing for the Society this season was a walk around Lichfield with Jono Oates.

Members met at the site of the old Franciscan Friary at the crossroads with Bird Street.

 

Jono explained that the Franciscan Friars were an order of monks founded by Francis of Assisi in 1209 and in 1237 a group came to Lichfield to set up home, becoming known as the Greyfriars because of the colour of their habits.  The Bishop of Lichfield at the time founded the Friary when he granted the friars certain free burgages in the town for them to set their house on.  A fire in 1291 destroyed the Friary but again they were treated generously and it was promptly rebuilt and eventually the simple timber structure became a large sandstone building within a site covdering 12 acres.  However, in 1534 Henry VIII having squandered most of his money targeted the church and dissolved all monastic houses and properties were sold to raise more income for the King.  Much of the friary was demolished with only the Bishops Lodging surviving and, incorporated in to the Friary Girls School built in 1921, this can still be seen today.  After much buying and selling of the site, the estate was sold in 1920 to Sir Richards Ashmole Cooper (MP for Walsall) who gave it to the city for the purpose of developing the area and laying out a new road currently know as the Friary.  The clock tower which stood on the site had to be removed to where it now stands today, on the Bowling Green Island.

 

Jono had many interesting facts to relate as the group moved on to Bird Street where some Georgian coaching inns are evident and in particular the George Hotel.  He pointed out the old library which now serves as a registry office, followed by a walk across to Beacon Park where amongst other statues is the one of Captain Smith, captain of the ill fated Titanic.

 

A picture was taken of the group outside Lichfield Cathedral, then onto Dam Street where there are many historical buildings, one in particular, now a private house but once an ale house called the Windsor Castle.  The backyard of the ale house ran along the back of the workshops of R. Bridgeman and Son,  the well known ecclesiastical sculptors and the story goes that some years ago, the carvers in, order to receive some liquid refreshment without leaving their work, removed some bricks from the wall that separated the shop so that the landlady of the ale house at the time could pass  through beer or stout.  This was foiled when Mr. Bridgeman brought visitors to the premises and the landlady seeing the bricks had not been removed called ‘Don’t you want your porter this morning.’  Mr. Bridgeman, realising what had been happening had the bricks cemented back immediately

 

A very enjoyable and informative walk, on a lovely sunny evening, concluded in Market Square alongside the imposing statue of Dr Johnson.  A photo of the group is shown below.

 

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JULY 2018

 

The destination of the July outing was to the Beamhurst Museum, Uttoxeter.

The museum was the brainchild of John Walton together with his wife Laura and daughter Bethany.  It comprises a collection of antiques and local memorabilia put together by the family over the years. There are over a 1000 items related to Uttoxeter alone plus a vast array of other memorabilia too numerous to mention. The family wished to share their collection so that people could enjoy it as much as they did.  They opened their museum for the first time in August 2010 and were overwhelmed by a visit of almost 600 people in three days. Since then the museum has gone from strength to strength. Since opening the Museum John has appeared on a number of antique programmes including, 'Antique Road Trip' and 'Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is'.

 

Members were enthralled, many saying they would visit again in order to take in what they had missed during the evening. Laura laid on delicious refreshments of home made cakes and tea or coffee and members were able to reflect on what they had seen whilst sitting around a vast display cabinet where they could see even more artefacts.  It is a visit to be highly recommended.

 

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MARCH 2018
 

The Society welcomed back, Steve Booth on 21st March 2018: this time his talk was about Chimney Sweeps’ climbing boys, in particular in Staffordshire, and the part played by Francis Wedgwood and others in ending the abuse.

 

Over many years in the 18th and 19th Centuries, young boys had been used throughout Britain to ascend complex, inter-connecting hearth and chimney structures of large houses, their job being to use metal scrapers and brushes to remove soot and tar deposits, and to collect it in sacks which became heavier as they climbed. Often the boys would be “bought” by the Master Sweep from the virtually anonymous parish children from workhouses and orphanages, much like Oliver Twist in the Dickens tale.

 

There were horrific tales of boys getting trapped in  the chimneys and perishing.  This resulted in attempts being made to restrict the use of climbing boys after 1788 and laws were passed in 1819, 1834, 1842 which had little effect.

 

In 1854  the Earl of Shaftesbury persuaded Parliament to pass a law by which any master sweep would be fined a maximum of ten pounds if he knowingly allowed anyone under the age of 21 to assist in the business of chimney sweeping.  This law was a step forward in that in North Staffordshire the 'Hanley and Shelton Chimney Sweeping Association' was formed in 1855, to regulate the workings of the new law.  At their first meeting they elected Francis Wedgewood, the grandson of Josiah I,  as their Chairman. Together with other members he was determined to eradicate the abuse of using climbing boys.  They purchased equipment for chimney sweeping and employed Peter Hall, an ex-sweep as their manager.  He employed six sweeps to use the equipment and his intention was to take the business away from those still using boys  He also employed paid agents to discover those  sweeps still using boys, and then fines were imposed on those breaking the law.

 

It was largely due to the Association’s efforts that the Earl of Shaftesbury was finally able to eradicate the abuse within the following fifteen years.  

 

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OCTOBER 2017

The Midland Zeppelin Outrage was the subject a talk given by Ian Bott to the Society in October.

Zeppelin’s, an invention by German Count, Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin, during the early part of the 20th Century, were airships built of a
rigid wooden construction and cloaked in canvas.  Inside were twenty airtight compartments made from cow’s intestines and filled with lighter than air hydrogen.  Beneath were attached two gondolas which accommodated the crew and ornadance.  This type of craft was used after the outbreak of the 1st World War.

On 31st January 1916 a squadron of heavily armed airships left German naval bases on course towards Britain.  They entered a country shrouded in dense fog which hindered their otherwise meticulously  planned objectives.  Each individual airship sought prime targets to unleash their missiles and steered their craft towards the industrial Midlands.  Lack of preparation for such an onslaught by the enemy,  led to death and destruction on an unprecedented scale.  It is stated that sixty-seven lives were lost on 31st January and in the ensuing weeks, but Ian, through thorough research, said he could confidently name seventy victims.  He related the stories of some of these in his talk.

Ian has written a book on the subject of this tragic night of a hundred years ago.

 

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SEPTEMBER 2017

Steve Dean, former County Archaeologist, gave a talk on further developments in Staffs Archaeology when he visited the Society on 20th
September.

One of the sites he spoke about was St John’s Hospital, Lichfield where 50 skeletons had been uncovered underneath the bowling green.  Some were juveniles of about 10 years of age and three out of the fifty were thought to be of African origin.

Steve related how a second hoard had been found by two detectorists in Staffordshire, this time in Leek.  Three Iron Age gold necklaces and a bracelet were found by detectorists in December 2016 and are believed to be about 2000 years old - making them a significant find.  They are now referred to as the 'Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs' and are a unique find of international importance.  The location is almost 50 miles away from where the £3m Anglo Saxon Staffordshire Hoard was discovered, also by a detectorist.  It is thought they are either family heirlooms or votive offering placed as treaties with their gods.

From the sites that Steve mentioned in his talk it seems that our area is steeped in interesting history.

 

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MARCH 2017
 

On Wednesday 15th March, the speaker for the evening was Steve Booth whose illustrated talk was entitled “Lidice 1942 – its destruction by the Nazis and the part played by the People of Staffordshire in its re-building”.

 

The area of the former Czechoslovakia had been occupied by Nazi Germany since April 1939 and Reinhard Heydrich had been acting Reichsprotektor.  There was some resistance to the occupation and on the morning of 27th May 1942 Heydrich was assassinated by Slovak and Czech solidiers Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis who were part of a team trained in Britain.  The reprisals from the Nazis were devastating as anyone thought to have aided the assassins were executed and any village known to have harboured the killers would be destroyed.  Lidice was chosen as one such village.  A total of 173 men were shot, 184 women were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where they were forced to work in appalling conditions. 88 children were separated from their mothers and, apart from seven who were considered suitable for Germanisation, were all gassed.  The village was then razed to the ground.

Nazi propaganda had proudly announced the events in Lidice as a deterrent to any further resistance.

 

The information was picked up by the Allied media.   Coal miners in Stoke on Trent, led by doctor and MP Barnett Stross, founded the  organisation 'Lidice Shall Live' to raise funds for its rebuilding after the war.  The new village lies below the original and holds a memorial to all the children killed by the Nazis.

This was a heartrending and thought provoking talk.
 

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FEBRUARY 2017

“Hednesford Buildings and its Characters” was the subject of the talk by Anthony Hunt speaker at the February meeting.

Until the coming of the railways in 1858 and the growth of mining in the area, Hednesford was a relatively small village that centred at the Cross Keys Inn reputed to the oldest building in the area.

John and Sarah Massey were the first owners and they ran stables, and trained race horses.  Rumour has it that a Grand National winner was trained here, however it seems this stems from the fact the jockey of the winner lodged at the Cross Keys. The inn underwent renovation during the 1930’s and 40’s when some of its best features were removed and underneath the floorboards were feathers indicating that cockfighting had taken place in the past.

Anglesey House was built in 1831 for Edmund Peel, brother to Prime Minister Robert Peel.  The building has not changed much over the years and is now Grade I listed.  After many occupants and being turned into a hotel, it is now a Weatherspoons public house.

The oldest building in Hednesford is Chase Farm which dates back to 1660.  It was eventually taken over by horse trainers and then became a farm.

One of the amusing personalities was John Wright from Rugeley who is known to have held races between men and horses. 
Although a drinker himself he would lecture people on the “evils of drink”.

For anyone interested in learning more about Hednesford, Anthony has written a book entitled “A History of Hednesford and Surrounding Villages” which examines the town from its earliest times.  It was a small agricultural village whose only claim to fame was the training of racehorses.  It mushroomed with the opening of the mines from a population of 500 in 1861 to 6,000 by 1881.
 

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OCTOBER 2016

 

Rachael Cooksey, from the Archive Service, was the speaker at the October meeting.  Her subject was  “Opening Access to the Mid-Staffs Military Appeal Tribunals 1916-1918.”

 

Rare archives that shed light on conscription during World War One, have been found in the collection of Staffordshire’s Archives service and with the help of HLF Funding and the work of 50 volunteers the records have been indexed and digitised.

 

As the War was only expected to last until the Christmas 1914 there was no conscription and recruiting was reliant on volunteers and the sense of nationalism that gripped the nation.  However, by 1916 there was a growing pressure for more soldiers resulting in the Military Service Act and the onset of conscription.  The age of conscripted soldier went up to 56  and height restrictions changed.  Some exemptions were considered such as hardships to family without a man, dependent children, workers in essential industry, and medical reasons.  In these cases the men were required to attend a Military Appeal Tribunal where exemption could be granted, but in most cases only for a short time requiring the men to appeal again.  As the war became more intense many cases were dismissed and the men were forced to go to war where many were killed.

 

The project, involving 4000 hours of help from the volunteers, has enabled the information, regarding these Tribunals,  to be published and made available online.


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SEPTEMBER 2016

 

Heather Brown was the guest speaker at the September meeting.  Her subject was “Ceramics in Armitage and Handsacre” and this was not only about the famous factory in the village, Armitage Shanks.

 

She talked about the presence of clay in the vicinity and that it was recorded that clay pipes were made at Armitage.  There were also a number of small brickworks in the village.  A small pottery company was in existence by 1817 and by 1851 this had begun to produce sanitary ware.  In 1867 Edward Johns, a congregational minister from Armitage, bought the business and founded the Edward Johns and Co Sanitary Pottery, later to become Armitage Ware, the internationally renowned company.   As many will know, this is why the toilet is known as the “John” in America.

 

Armitage Park,a mid 18th Century house built for Nathanial Lister in 1839,  was purchased by the widow of Josiah Spode III who lived there with her son Josiah IV who converted to Catholicism.  On his death he left the house to the Dominican Order who built a a chapel and priory, they named it Hawksyard Priory.  The house was used as a school and was known as Spode House.  Spode put a window in the church as a dedication to his mother.  Herbert Minton also tiled the aisle of Armitage Church.

 

The daughter of Cuthbert Bailey. Chairman of Royal Doulton, had entered a convent in the 1930’s.  In his desire that the convent should not entirely possess his daughter he encouraged her to design what was to become the “Bunnykins” range of pottery.  He had recognised in her a talent for drawing animals, especially rabbits.

 

The talk inspired lots of discussion with local members chatting about their own reminiscences of Armitage and Handsacre.

 

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AUGUST 2016

It was a sunny evening for the last of the outings for this summer, when members met at Kings Bromley Village Hall, for a walk around the village led by Alan Howard.

Inside the hall, Alan gave a brief history of the village which was anciently called Brom Legge. But derived its present name from being the property of the Crown for nearly two centuries after the Norman conquest.  Previously it had been distinguished as the residence of the Earls of Mercia, Leofric, the husband of Lady Godiva.  Henry III granted the manor to the Corbetts who, in the 16th Century sold it to Francis Agard of Ireland.  Charles Agard sold it to John Newton of the island of Barbados and in 1794 it was bequeathed to the Lane family who were related to Jane Lane who had helped Charles II escape to France after the Civil War.

The group then walked on to All Saints Church, a Gothic building originally of Norman style which has been enlarged and repaired in
various architectural styles.  It contains fine examples of stained glass and monuments to the Agard, Newton and Lane families. 

Various places of interest were pointed out by Alan during the walk such as the Alms Houses, a lodge house to the former Manor House, now long gone, and the wall which surrounded the house.

To complete a very enjoyable evening Alan and his wife Alison provided refreshments at their home.

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JULY 2016

Members met David Robbie on Essex Bridge, Great Haywood,  on July 20th for a walk around the area where J. R. R. Tolkein lived for a time.  He served in the First World War seeing action in the Somme in France, and after becoming victim to “trench fever” returned home to convalesce. 

He was recently married and he and his wife Edith took a cottage in Great Haywood which David pointed out was thought to have been “Rock Cottage”.  There he began to write his tales of mythical kingdoms.

The Tale of the Sun and the Moon in the Lost Tales makes reference to the village of Tavrobel which stands by a bridge where the rivers meet and this appears to be clear reference to Essex Bridge where the rivers Sow and Trent have their confluence.    There is also mention of an” ancient house – the house of a hundred chimneys which stands nigh the bridge of Tavrobel”.  This is supposed to refer to Shugborough which has 80 chimneys in all.  Perhaps on a misty day in 1916, with fires lit in the draughty rooms, the sight across the park could justify the title “The House of a Hundred Chimneys.”

David led the part across to the Roman Catholic Church of St John the Baptist where Tolkein and his wife received a nuptial blessing. Their wedding in Warwick in 1916 had occurred during Lent and only the Marriage Service and not the Nuptial Mass had been
performed.

This was a lovely sunny evening to enjoy David’s interesting talk about one of our popular novelists and some members concluded by taking refreshments at the Great Haywood Social Club.
 

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