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Thursday, 24 February 2011

Oxfordshire Museums

We had a quick trip to Oxford last weekend and visited some great museums. The Oxfordshire Museum has fascinating displays on social history and a dinosaur garden.  On Sunday we went to the Didoot Railway Centre - it was a 'steam day' and we had several rides on steam trains.  This is a very interesting site - it was part of the Great Western Railway and has a broad gauge section of track and a replica broad gauge engine, the 'Firefly'.  There's a relic of Brunel's ill-fated atmospheric railway, and a small museum with memorabilia of railway workers.
Images: Dinosaur garden at the Oxfordshire Museum.  GWR engine 'Trojan' at the Didcot Railway Centre.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Coming Soon!

The proofs for The Children History Forgot arrived yesterday for checking, so I will be very busy for the next few days.  I'll do a big blog update later this week, hopefully, when I need a breather.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Nowhere To Go

News broke last week that Manchester City Council is axing all but one of its public toilets and reducing bin collections. The council pleads it has no option owing to the savage government cuts. Now the cleanliness ofour public streets in not just a matter of civic pride, but of public health. Before the 1850s, when the first public loos appeared in Britain, city streets were ‘temples of pollution’, as the Victorians coyly put it. Granted that cuts have to be made, are there really no other areas which can be slashed without inconveniencing the elderly, infirm and people with young children? Or, if they are expensive to run, why not charge more for using them? When we go on holiday to Scotland, there is a small charge to use the public toilets, but they are usually immaculate.

Also, the north-west of England, with its important history and heritage, is marketed as a tourist destination. It’s not a great way of welcoming foreign visitors to Manchester, is it? If tourists don’t understand they can make use of café facilities, they will have nowhere to go.

Images: A corporation dustcart and the arms of Manchester. Manchester Old and New Vol.I, Cassell & Co, c.1894.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

I’ve really enjoyed watching Channel 4’s Rome Wasn't Built in a Day. For those of you who’ve missed it, English Heritage commissioned a Roman villa to be built at Wroxeter, home to some spectacular Roman remains. The catch was that the builders were only allowed to use techniques familiar to the Romans, so that the villa would be as authentic as possible. The builders are all great characters, and their wit and wisdom have made this a funny series as well as compulsive viewing for history buffs. It’s many years since I visited Wroxeter, but I must make a visit down there this summer and see the new villa in all its glory.

Images: Villa Otrang and Roman mosaic at Fliessem, Germany. © Sue Wilkes

Friday, 11 February 2011

Save Our Libraries 2

Check out the brilliant spoof Hitler video on the Use Libraries and Learn Stuff blog. Alan Gibbons is running a Campaign for the Book here.  The Public Libraries News site is also very interesting and has updates on proposed library closures.  Fortunately for us locally, apparently Cheshire West and Chester Council has no plans currently to close libraries.

Protecting Our Historic Sites

Britain's historic sites are not just at risk from vandalism or neglect, but are being stripped of any valuable materials they contain. Some people have no pride in or respect for our heritage. I can't help wondering whether this is owing to a lack of education - the history curriculum nowadays seems far more narrow in scope than when I went to school.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Most Dangerous Job in the World?

I researched some really unhealthy jobs done by adults and children for The Children History Forgot, such as coal-mining, but this looks shockingly dangerous.

World Book Day countdown

World Book Day is coming soon. School age children will be given a £1 book token, which can be used to buy some specially published £1-priced books, or use it to get money off a more expensive book.  It's never been more important to celebrate the world of books and reading, now our libraries are facing the axe, so do check out your local library to see if they have any special events planned.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Children History Forgot

Once upon a time, Britain forged a mighty industrial empire: built with the blood, sweat and tears of society’s most vulnerable members. The Children History Forgot explores young people’s working lives during the late Georgian and Victorian eras, when boys and girls created almost every item in our ancestors’ homes: bricks, glass, cutlery, candles, lace, cotton and more.

All over Britain, from the coal mines of Wales to the flax mills of Ireland, children toiled in factories and workshops, underground and on the land. A chosen few like Samuel Slater began new lives in America but thousands of others have been forgotten by history: killed by unguarded machinery or poisoned by metal or pottery dust. Many of these were conscript workers: pauper apprentices trapped by their poverty.
My book tells the story of the long, heartbreaking fight for reform. The story of men like Lord Shaftesbury, Richard Oastler and the tireless factory inspectors who battled, not only to improve youngsters’ working conditions and opportunities for education, but also to change society’s attitudes towards childhood. The Children History Forgot takes a fresh look at the true cost of Britain’s industrial success story.

You can pre-order The Children History Forgot at Amazon UK here, or here if living in the US.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Save Our Libraries!

When I was growing up, my local library was a real treasure trove. Books opened up a whole new world of possibilities and introduced me to the wonderful world of literature and many authors I might not otherwise  have read. Now it seems libraries are seen as a soft target for councils desperate to save cash owing to the government cuts. Saturday was Save Our Libraries Day.Some argue that keeping library services means that services for vulnerable persons will suffer as a result, but are councils searching hard enough to make savings elsewhere?
Libraries are not just about being able to borrow books - they are a hub for local communities as well as a cultural haven. Parents who want to teach their children how to read find them an invaluable resource, especially if funds are tight. Once libraries in rural areas have been axed, it is most unlikely they will ever re-open.
In Cheshire, millions of pounds were wasted dismantling Cheshire County Council so it could be split up and and rebranded as two separate councils - that money could have been put to far better use for maintaining front-line services.
If you want to help keep your local libraries, there's a campaign by the Bookseller magazine supported by many eminent authors including Philip Pullman. You can also visit the Voices for the Library blog here.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Competition for Jane Austen fans!

There's a fun competition to win a copy of Jane Odiwe's wonderful new novel Mr Darcy's Secret here! Jane's novel is a sequel to Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Hurry, because there are less than two weeks left to enter!

Schools for working-class children

We’d hoped to see the Civil War re-enactment at Nantwich on Saturday (Holly Holy Day), but we mistook the date, so we’ll have to wait until next year for that treat. Instead we had a walk around the Styal estate, home to Quarry Bank Mill. In Regency Cheshire I looked at the Greg family business and the workers there. Nearly three quarters of the workers at Quarry Bank Mill in 1790 were parish apprentices. Greg was considered a humane employer by the standards of the time – the children ‘only’ worked six days a week from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m., with an hour and a half for meal breaks. The children were given a varied diet and had a doctor to look after them.

By contrast, children such as Robert Blincoe, who was apprenticed to Ellice Needham’s Litton Mill in Derbyshire, were sadly mistreated.

Samuel Greg also built a school for his child workers and the adult workers' children at Styal. In towns such as London, Manchester and Birmingham, there was a woeful lack of schools for working class children, and the Ragged School movement, which owed a great deal to Lord Shaftesbury’s support, helped fund schools for them. My forthcoming book The Children History Forgot will explore the horrors of the parish apprenticeship system and look at the birth of our modern education system.

Images: Styal primary school, founded by the Greg family. © Sue Wilkes.

Charter St Ragged School and Working Girls’ Home. The school was built in the Angel Meadow district in 1866 and extended in 1891. © Sue Wilkes.