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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A peek into Cheshire's salty past

What a wet, miserable day it's been! The rotten weather doesn't seem to be holding back the Lion Salt Works restoration, though. You can watch a time-lapse video of the scaffolding being erected on Youtube.
In August 1850, a reporter for the Illustrated London News visited the Northwich rock salt mines and open pan salt works. The effects of unregulated brine pumping were only too apparent in the town: '‘Some of the houses leaned fearfully to one side, as if from the effect of an earthquake. There was a general air… as of drunkenness about the place.’ I'll be discussing what life was like for Cheshire salt workers, and discussing the cut-throat world of the salt industry, in Regency Cheshire.
Image: Open pan salt making, Illustrated London News, 24 August 1850.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Peterloo Massacre

Today is the 190th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre at St Peter’s Field. On 16 August 1819, Manchester magistrates used cavalry to disperse a crowd of peaceful protestors. The people, waving banners inscribed with ‘Universal Suffrage’ and ‘Vote by Ballot’ and other dangerously inflammatory messages, were waiting to hear speeches on political reform by speaker Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, a noted radical. The tightly packed crowd (around 80,000 people – contemporary estimates vary hugely) included women and children (even babes in arms). They were crammed together and unable to get out of the way of the yeomanry’s horses.

Samuel Bamford witnessed the havoc as the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry charged the crowd: “…their sabres were plied to hew a way through naked held-up hands, and defenceless heads; and then chopped limbs, and wound-gaping skulls were seen; and groans and cries were mingled with the din of that horrid confusion.” Several people were killed and hundreds injured.

The Cheshire Yeomanry were also present on that fateful day. I will be discussing their controversial role at Peterloo, and sifting the contradictory witness evidence, in Regency Cheshire. You can also visit a very good museum in Chester where you can explore the Cheshire Yeomanry’s long and distinguished history.

Image: Peterloo Memorial Plaque on the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. Image © Sue Wilkes.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Restoration begins

Work has begun at last on the restoration of the Lion Salt Works, Cheshire's last remaining open pan salt works. As the site and vegetation is being cleared, some intriguing finds have already been unearthed. It will be very interesting to see what discoveries are made as work progresses. You can follow the restoration at this new website. I'll be looking at the history of Cheshire salt and its workers, and the surprisingly cut-throat world of the salt industry, in Regency Cheshire

Image: Lion Salt Works, copyright Sue Wilkes.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Redcoat Rampage!

I’ve just returned from a lovely holiday in Scotland. This year we had a week in the Dunbar area, followed by a week in Grantown on Spey, one of our favourite places. The time just flew by as my family and I explored Scotland’s fantastic scenery and history.
On our way home we passed the stark ruins of Ruthven Barracks. After Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeat at Culloden in 1746, the shattered remnants of Jacobite force gathered here. But they waited in vain for their leader; the prince never came. You can find out more about the aftermath of Culloden and ‘Butcher’ Cumberland’s ruthless repression of Highland folk in ‘Redcoat Rampage,’ my latest feature for family history magazine Discover My Past Scotland.
Image: Ruthven Barracks. © Sue and Nigel Wilkes.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Was your ancestor a canal boatman?

The canals were once the lifeblood of Britain’s trade. Their success story began when the pioneering Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgwater (1736-1803) proved it was faster and more profitable to transport coal by canal than on land. The Bridgewater Canal, which opened in 1761, brought huge wealth to the ‘Canal Duke.’
Life on the canals during the Industrial Revolution was never as idyllic - it was hard work. Hours were long, sanitation primitive, and it was very difficult for canal boat people to obtain medical attention, or get an education.
You can find out more about the lives of canal boat people, and tips for finding your canal ancestors, in my latest feature for Ancestors magazine. As readers of this blog will know, I am really looking forward to doing the research for my forthcoming book on Tracing Your Canal Ancestors for Pen and Sword.
In the meantime you can explore how the Lancashire canal network evolved, and read the stories of the people living on the boats, in my book Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives.
And coming soon: Regency Cheshire, scheduled for publication in late October, will discuss 'canal mania' in the county during Georgian times, and what it was like to travel by packet boat on the canals and by sea.

Image: The young Duke of Bridgewater, with Barton Aqueduct behind him. From Lives of the Engineers: Brindley and the Early Engineers, Samuel Smiles, (John Murray, 1874.)

Update November 2011; Sadly, Ancestors magazine is now defunct, but my book Tracing Your Canal Ancestors has now been published, and you can buy a copy here.