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Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Regency Cheshire on Amazon Kindle!

I'm thrilled to announce that my book Regency Cheshire is now available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle!

The late Georgian period was an age of unique style and elegance - the era of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Regency Cheshire explores the scandals, sports and pastimes of the great county families such as the Grosvenors of Eaton Hall. Their glittering lifestyle is contrasted with conditions for humble farmers and factory workers. The gentry and mill owners created elegant new villas and beautiful gardens while workers huddled together in slums with inadequate sanitation.

The Prince Regent and his cronies danced and feasted while cotton and silk workers starved. In my book, I explore the county’s transport system and main industries: silk, cotton, salt and cheese. Stage coaches rattled through the streets, and packet boats and barges sailed down the canals.
Lyme Hall, Cheshire.

But reform and revolution threatened the old social order. Blood was spilt on city streets during election fever and in the struggle for democracy. Balls and bear-baiting; highwaymen and hangings; riots and reform: Regency Cheshire tells the story of everyday life during the age of Beau Brummell, Walter Scott and Jane Austen.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Manchester Cathedral

The earliest written record of Manchester’s churches may be the two mentioned in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book of 1086. St Mary’s and St Michael’s held a ‘carucate’ of land (about 120 acres). St Mary’s may have been located on or near the site of the modern Cathedral. St Michael’s may have been at Ashton-under-Lyne.
In 1421 Thomas La Warre, the lord of the manor, founded a ‘college’ of a warden and eight fellows to care for Manchester parish. The ‘collegiate church’ was endowed with lands, and a brand new building was built. Local worthies and merchants like the Stanley family beautified the new church.
Collegiate Church interior.

If your ancestor lived in Manchester parish before the 1850s, they were most likely baptized or married at the Collegiate Church (later the Cathedral). This is because for historical reasons, when a person was baptised or married at any church within the parish, the family paid two fees, one to the incumbent of their church of choice – and one fee to the Collegiate Church. But if people held the ceremony at the Collegiate Church, they only paid one fee. Mass baptisms and weddings were a regular sight at the Collegiate Church, so you should check those registers first if you are looking for a Manchester ancestor.

In 1847 the diocese of Manchester was created, and the Collegiate Church became a cathedral, dedicated to St Mary, St Denys and St George. The best way to access the Cathedral registers is via (free on Manchester library PCs) or on microfilm at Manchester Central Library. The Lancashire Online Parish Clerks website has some free transcripts of the Cathedral and Collegiate Church parish registers. My book also has more information on the history of the Cathedral and its records.

The Cathedral suffered greatly from bomb damage during WWII, but was painstakingly rebuilt. The modern day Cathedral has a visitor centre, which is open daily.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Manchester Suffragettes and Suffragists

Lydia Ernestine Becker, suffragist.
Today a statue of Millicent Garrett Fawcett was unveiled near Parliament. My latest feature for Discover Your Ancestors online magazine explores the fight for women's rights by Manchester suffragettes and suffragists during the late nineteen and early twentieth centuries.

In the mid-to-late 1860s, Manchester committees to campaign for women’s property and voting rights were founded by Elizabeth Wolstenholme (later Elmy), Lydia Ernestine Becker, Emily Davies, Alice Scatcherd and others.

‘Suffragists’ like Lydia Becker and Margaret Ashton argued that voting reform should be fought for using only peaceful, constitutional means. The suffragists scored a major victory in 1869 when property-owning women were given the right to vote in local government elections and act as Poor Law Guardians.

But women (and working-class men) still could not vote in national elections. Sheer frustration at successive governments' refusal to give women the vote led 'suffragettes' like Manchester-born Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters to take direct action. However, it was not until 1928 that all women over the age 21 of were given the vote, and put on an equal footing with men.
The Pankhurst Centre, Manchester

My book Tracing Your Manchester and Salford Ancestors has several tips for researching suffragette and suffragist sources in Manchester libraries and specialist archives. I also thoroughly recommend visiting Emmeline Pankhurst’s home at 62 Nelson St, Manchester, which is now a museum and heritage centre, if you wish to find out more about the suffragettes' story.

Lydia Ernestine Becker (1827–1890), an early campaigner for women’s political rights and founder member of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1867. Manchester Faces and Places Vol. 1, J. G. Hammond & Co., c. 1895. Author’s collection.

62 Nelson St, Manchester, now the Pankhurst Centre. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters lived here from 1897–1907. © Sue Wilkes.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Jane Austen and Landscapes

Dr Syntax 'drawing after Nature'.
This year it's the bicentenary of the death of landscape gardener Humphry Repton. Gallop over to my Jane Austen blog to read more about Austen and her landscapes! You can also read my special feature on Austen and gardens here at Pride and Possibilities, published last year in the e-zine for the Jane Austen Literary Foundation.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Bath Abbey
My latest feature for the 2018 Discover Your Ancestors bookazine (order here) is on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. This landmark novel was published 200 years ago (Arizona University has a celebratory project here). Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus electrified the reading public when it first appeared. The story of hapless experimenter Frankenstein, his Creature’s torment, and the fearful revenge It wreaked on his creator, is now embedded in our cultural mindscape. 

The Shelley Frankenstein Festival is planning more events to commemorate Frankenstein, including a theatre production of a re-imagined version of Frankenstein, at the Shelley Theatre, Boscombe in May.

West front of Bath Abbey, Penny Magazine, 13 July 1833.  During the autumn of 1816, Mary worked on ‘Frankenstein’ while she, Shelley and Claire Claremont stayed in lodgings near the Abbey. Author’s collection.
The Galvanic apparatus.Coloured engraving, 1804, by J. Pass, after H. Lascelles. Courtesy the Wellcome Library, no. 47529i.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Radio Chat

Crown Hotel, Nantwich. 
I was thrilled to be asked to appear on Redshift Community Radio last week (it's based in the Nantwich area). I really enjoyed chatting to Liz Southall about life in Cheshire in Jane Austen's day, plus tips for tracing your family tree. If you missed it, you can listen the Scarlet Ladies show here on Soundcloud.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Full Steam Ahead! Made in Manchester

Ancoats mills at dinnertime.
The earliest factories were water-powered, so they were built by fast-flowing streams. The advent of steam power meant that factories could now be built wherever coal was plentiful, so Manchester and Salford were prime spots for industry.

One of the first manufacturers to use steam to power his mill machinery was Peter Drinkwater, who built a cotton-spinning mill in Manchester in 1789. Drinkwater’s mill had the first Boulton and Watt steam engine in the city. Around this time, James Bateman and William Sherratt set up a factory in Salford which made mill machinery components, and a pirated version of Boulton and Watt’s rotary steam engine.

Cotton factories and their contents were highly combustible, and Philips and Lee built the first ‘fireproof’ mill in the area (with cast-iron beams) in 1801.This mill, on Chapel Street in Salford, was also the first factory in Britain lit by gas.

By 1816, Manchester contained forty-three working mills; the largest employer was McConnel & Kennedy, with over 1,000 workers. These early factories ran day and night, which was very hard on their child workers.

The Manchester Statistical Society reported in 1837–8 that Manchester had 5,272 cotton spinning and weaving mills powered by steam; Salford had 761 steam-powered cotton mills. Manchester had 756 bleaching, dyeing and print-works powered by steam, and Salford had 521 steam-powered factories. Foundries, silk mills, breweries, saw-mills, collieries and chemical works in the area were also steam-powered.
Nasmyth's factory flat at Manchester. 

Scotsman James Nasmyth (1808–90), one of the most famous engineers of his day, set up his own business at Dale Street in Manchester in the 1830s.

He later founded the Bridgewater Foundry at Patricroft, Eccles, and the first steam hammer in Britain was forged there.

Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803–87)’s Chorlton Street works in Manchester made machine tools, guns and cannon. William Fairbairn had a huge works on Canal Street in Ancoats which made boilers and bridges. Platt Brothers made textile machinery at Oldham; this firm also had its own forges, rolling-mills and brick-works. Sharp, Roberts & Co.’s world-famous Atlas Works, founded in the late 1820s in Manchester, made locomotive engines.

As Victoria’s reign advanced, Manchester’s industries continued to thrive. At Gorton, Beyer-Peacock began manufacturing locomotives in the 1850s, the Ashbury Railway Carriage Company made railway carriages and waggons, and Crossley Brothers made engines and pumps.

The steam-engine galleries at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry often have the engines in steam, and you can get a real sense of their sound and energy when they are busy working!

Nasmyth’s restored steam hammer on display near Eccles. Copyright Sue Wilkes.
Nasmyth’s Dale Street factory.
A steamer passing Trafford Swing Bridge. Illustration by H. E. Tidmarsh, Manchester Old and New Vol. III., Cassell & Co., c.1894.
James Watt’s first rotary steam engine.
Ancoats mills at dinnertime, Manchester. Illustration by H. E. Tidmarsh, Manchester Old and New Vol. II, (Cassell & Co., c. 1894).