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Friday, 28 May 2010

Douglas! Douglas!

I am really looking forward to my visit to Waterstone's in Chester tomorrow to sign copies of Regency Cheshire - I just hope the weather stays as sunny as it is today.
My feature on the story of the famous Douglas Clan has just been published in Discover My Past Scotland, so check it out if you need some tips on finding your Douglas ancestors.

Image: The legendary Catherine Douglas. She tried to bar the door against the ruthless assassins hunting James I. Catherine was one of Queen Joan’s maids of honour. The King died from many wounds, but Catherine survived, although her arm was broken. It’s said Catherine was afterwards known as Barlass (from ‘bar the door, lass’). Unknown artist, Pictorial Record of Remarkable Events, Frederick Warne & Co., 1896.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Silk ancestors

My latest feature on researching your ancestors in the silk industry has just been published in the July issue of Family History Monthly. When I was doing the research for Regency Cheshire, I was struck by the long hours children worked in the silk industry. All raw silk was imported into this country, so changes in import tariffs badly affected the silk towns of Macclesfield and Congleton; many workers suffered hardship in the late 1820s when new legislation opened the floodgates to cheap foreign silks.  Changes in fashion could also have a huge impact on silk workers' livelihoods.
Image: London Promenade Dress with a ‘robe of one of the new mourning silks’.Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music and Romance, Vol. XII, 1837.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Beautiful Blossom

Just a little update on what I've been up to recently. We had a walk around the Arboretum at Jodrell Bank on Saturday - I have visited it several times before, but this is the first time during springtime, and the trees were all in blossom: everything from deepest pink to foaming white flowers, absolutely gorgeous. A new visitor centre is planned at Jodrell, so it will be very interesting to see how the site develops.
I am not getting much time for 'fun' reading at the moment as I am deep in the research for Stolen Childhoods, but at bedtime I am wading through Ian Kelly's 'Beau Brummell', and if I get a moment will post a review later.
TV-wise, I am greatly enjoying BBC2's Story of Science - a well researched and well presented programme, and mercifully with no 'dumbing down'.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Brave Cheshire Soldiers

The Cheshire Yeomanry’s role in Peterloo was highly controversial, but they had a very difficult role to play as an unofficial police force in the county. They were used by the authorities against their fellow countrymen, breaking up riots and civil unrest, but when they joined as volunteers, it was to defend their country if Napoleon invaded.

Many yeomanry cavalry fought very bravely in the Napoleonic wars, including Captain Barra, who commanded the Stockport Troop. He served with the 16th Lancers in Spain and Portugal. Many members of the Cheshire Yeomanry were Waterloo veterans, such as William Tomkinson (1790-1872) of Dorfold Hall, a Lt. Colonel in the 16th Light Dragoons. Tomkinson was badly hurt in 1809 during Wellington’s crossing of the Douro. Major Clement Swetenham (1787-1852) of Somerford Booths saw action in the Peninsular Wars and Waterloo. Another war veteran was Richard Egerton (youngest brother of Sir John Grey Egerton of Oulton). Sir Stapleton Cotton served under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the 1st Duke of Wellington) at the battle of Talavera (1809), and his equestrian statue guards the entrance to Chester Castle.

The 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment saw a great deal of action abroad at this time. (The 22nd Regiment was first raised at Chester in 1689. The regiment served in the American War of Independence (1775) and saw action at Bunkers Hill. It was renamed the ‘Cheshire’ by George III in 1782). The Regiment, after a tour in Ireland in 1790, served in the West Indies, South Africa, India, and Mauritius in 1810. One of the bravest of its brave soldiers was the legendary Lt. John Shipp (c.1784-1834). He led three ‘Forlorn Hopes’ at the siege of Bhurtpore in 1805. The siege failed, but two decades later, Sir Stapleton Cotton (now Lord Combermere) succeeded in breaching the walls of this stubborn fort.
Image: Lt John Shipp of the Cheshire Regiment. Engraving by unknown artist, Memoirs of the Military Career of John Shipp, (T. Fisher Unwin, 1890.) Author’s collection.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

They died for you.

Today is voting day for the general election and council seats. Please take a moment to go to the polling booths and cast your vote. I feel really strongly about this. Our ancestors laid down their lives so ordinary people could vote instead of a privileged few. My feature for Jane Austen's Regency World this month is on the Peterloo massacre. On that fateful day, innocent people demonstrating for parliamentary reform in Manchester died when the yeomanry cavalry charged the peaceful crowd. In Regency times, campaigners for parliamentary reform concentrated on winning universal male suffrage. Female suffrage was considered a downright outlandish idea, and women reformers (there was a group in Stockport) were often ridiculed in the press.  Women did not gain the vote in Britain until 1918, after years of protest, (some violent) and sacrifices by women campaigners. So please, please, go and vote - it won't take long!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Knutsford ‘Royal’ May Day

On Saturday I finally got the chance to see the May Day festivities at Knutsford. There was a wonderful procession with all the local schoolchildren, morris men and ladies, horses and carriages, and a sedan chair. At one time Knutsford had three sedan chairs which the local ladies used to go to balls and assemblies. (Cranford fans will remember one makes an appearance in Mrs Gaskell’s novel, and was used for a very funny scene in the BBC TV series). The sedan chair which graces the Knutsford May Day procession was a present to the ladies of the town from Lady Jane Stanley of Brook House

A very pretty custom which (so far as I know – do tell me if you know of any other towns where this takes place) belongs to Knutsford alone, is that on special occasions such as weddings, the streets were cleaned and decorated with beautiful patterns of coloured sand.
The pavements were sanded when George III celebrated his Jubilee in October 1809. The yeomanry cavalry (‘a fine troop’) and infantry of the Knutsford Legion marched behind Sunday School children to the church, where they listened to an ‘excellent sermon’ followed by ‘God Save the King.’ After the service, the Legion was reviewed by its commander, Lt. Col. Sir John Fleming Leicester. A feast at local inns was followed by a ‘grand display of fireworks’ and bonfire on the Heath. The evening was rounded off with: ‘an elegant and well attended ball at the George Inn. A liberal subscription was made for the poorer inhabitants. To each man, woman and child, two pounds of prime beef were given, with a proportion of good ale.’ (John Corry.)
Photos © Sue Wilkes:
The Knutsford ‘Royal’ May Queen Saskia Pinnington, the sedan chair, an example of a coloured sand picture, and part of the procession with the Warrington Brass Band and ‘Jack in the Green’ or the ‘Green Man’.