20th January 2020
A late change of speaker did nothing to detract from the enjoyment of our first meeting of 2020. Ann Featherstone travelled from Derbyshire to entertain us with her talk entitled “The Victorian Fair – Freaks and Fisticuffs” covering the history of ‘Fairs’ and the side shows with their mix of showmen. Her initial interest in the subject grew out her childhood adventures at her ‘home’ fair and looking forward to the annual Ilkeston Fair. These, often, annual events exist for a reason and many date back centuries. Ann explained they were often initially trading fairs with a follow on of entertainment, but over the years the onus altered as trade was done elsewhere and the fair remained as largely for fun and entertainment. Some were spontaneous like the Thames ‘Frost Fair’ when the river froze with 2-4 feet of ice which would support all the tents and man people with their horses and carts. The earliest recorded fair date was 1150, and regularly held into the 1650’s. The last Frost fair was in 1814 (maybe that’s when global warming began).
Her talk included a huge amount of information like the Charter Fairs, granted by the Monarch for trade from onions, to sheep, grain, and geese. Then there were the hiring fairs [see our own lectern on Top Street] and must have had specific days and places. Fairs celebrated parish boundaries, industrial holidays, northern wakes, food for Christmas and a number of other origins. She illustrated her talk with an extensive collection of slides from drawings, paintings, postcards and photographs. To name just a few Boston May Sheep Fair, Birmingham Onion Fair, Loughborough Backend Mop Fair, Portsmouth Free mart, Kings Norton Mop fair, last held in 1963 and Nottingham Goose Fair. Most were big local events opened by the town mayor or village dignitary with all the regalia of maces and ceremonial swords etc. There was even a ‘Runaway Fair’ held one week after a hiring fair which favoured the employer as he could obtain a different employee. The entertainment part, often the third day after the business had been done was a hotbed of pickpockets, drunken and licentious behaviour to a backdrop of sideshows featuring animals and freaks, including the tallest or shortest man as well as the ugliest woman or fattest boy. Theatrical family businesses toured the fairs with their shows as well as rope walkers and boxing booths, dancing dogs as well as the flying pieman. He sold a very grey pastry coffin filled with questionable meat, and carried a jug of gravy which he poured into the top of his pies after making a hole in the pastry cover with his finger!! Ann educated and amused us for over an hour with her stories and pictures.
18th November 2019
On November 18th our speaker was Dave Valentine, who had received ‘A Tip from FamilySearch’ just over 12 months ago. That snippet of information, just a single name, was the basis for his talk. He started with an explanation of FamilySearch, probably the oldest genealogical society in the world, as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. The name was William Stewart a cousin of his great grandmother. In c 1840 he had joined the Mormon Church, which at the time was a clandestine group meeting secretly in member’s house. With his wife, Mary Ann, two young daughters and William’s sister, they became part of a migration of almost 100,000 to establish new settlements in virgin territories of America. Their journey include sailing across the Atlantic, being almost shipwrecked off Florida, being towed into New Orleans and then journeying up the Mississippi to St Louis. Times were so hard he had to sell his watch to pay for the last part of that journey. After overwintering in St Louis and plying his trade as a shoemaker, earning enough to survive and then undertake the next part of their migration. They became part of a small wagon train and whilst crossing the great plains encountered everything from native Indians, and stampeding buffalo, to fording across the Rio Grande and near starvation. After 17 weeks and more than 1000 miles of dust and mountain passes they arrived in Salt Lake to join other struggling Mormon migrants. William’s sister Elizabeth had stayed behind for a time in St Louis and married Mary Ann’s brother John Marriott. They too made the same journey across the plains and set up home in Utah. Many of the towns are now named after those early settlers, Brigham City, Layton, Ogden and even Marriott bear testament to the early Mormons. The story went on to include the building of their first homes, some as log cabins, some cut into of rock caves and others built of turf sods. In 1853 they even dismantled their cabin and moved it into a fort as protection from armed forces. They were friendly with the Shoshoni Indians and learnt many survival skills from them.
The Mormons practiced polygamy openly from the early arrivals until around 1890. William had just two wives and a total of 12 children. John Marriott took five wives, Elizabeth being the second, and between them all, they produced 15 sons and 20 daughters [25 of them survived to adulthood]. All were listed in Dave’s talk, but he followed the line of just one son, Hyrum Willard. He in turn produced eight children including John Willard Marriott, who with his wife Alice set up a small ‘Root Beer’ bar with just 10 stools and 6 tables in 1927. Their business prospered and over the years became the Marriott Hotel Group which now has 1.3 million rooms in 131 countries – but Dave although a fourth cousin has yet to introduce himself or get a ‘freebie’!
16th September 2019
At our September meeting we welcomed Mick Rawle who had researched his grandmother’s activities in the early 1900’s. His talk went way beyond the summary we have space for here.
Mary Ann was born in Lancashire in 1878, becoming a cotton mill worker at the age of ten. In 1900, she married Francis Rawle, an iron turner, with whom she had two children. The poverty and harsh working conditions of her own life and those of the people around her drove her to political activism, which started with local politics and led to her becoming a member of her local branch of the Independent Labour Party at Ashton-Under-Lyme.
By 1906, she was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), and was part of a deputation of 400 women textile workers who went to the prime minister on 19 May. At that event, she came into contact with Teresa Billington-Greig, Annie and Jessie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst. She took on more of a role within her local WSPU and attended the second Women’s Parliament in March 1907, dressed in shawl and clogs. She was arrested in London and sentenced to two weeks in Holloway Prison.
While she was in prison, she kept a diary, with a passionate appeal for why women should be granted the vote: ‘The women of the Union are prepared to make any sacrifice even liberty itself to get the franchise.’ She wrote about how the vote would get them better wages and it would secure them better rights. Mary wrote about the injustices that existed against women, such as having no rights over their children and that a man could divorce his wife but ordinary women would find it impossible to divorce an unfaithful husband.
She finished part of her plea with the statement, ‘Give them [women] the chance and you will see that you as well as they will profit by it.’ In 1907, she joined the Women’s Freedom League and became the secretary of its Ashton-Under-Lyne branch. By 1910, she had moved to Grantham and became involved with the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies there in 1913. She would later stand as a Labour candidate in the Grantham municipal elections and was chair of her branch of the Women’s Co- operative Guild for 17 years. The 1918 Representation of the People Act failed to grant her the vote and she would have to wait until the 1928 Act to see her dream come true. Mary continued to be a campaigner as she got older, and in 1945 she was chair of the Grantham branch of the Old Age Pensions Association.
15th July 2019
On Monday July 15th a sizeable audience were educated and entertained by Jane Price. Jane is the wife of Wadworth’s Clergyman and as such is involved in a variety of roles assisting her husband.
Her talk entitled “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Crematorium” was both informative and humorous. She started by telling the tale of the family who chose a certain hymn only to leave Jane herself as the only person singing it when the day came! She had views on the ‘National’ versus ‘Local Independent’ undertakers and explained the fors / againsts. Her description of one crematorium with it’s different shades of pink – she thought looked more like a Dulux colour chart than place for the last journey! Another mourner had taken the flowers home to decorate the house rather than the crematorium having paid out £83 for them. Jane explained her views on religious and non-religious along with some of her experiences of different types of coffin – including KNITTED ones. Involving children in the ceremonies and the intake of breath as two young children sat on the side of the grave cut dangling their feet over the coffin below as if they were on the side of a swimming pool! Some of us were surprised to see the pictures Jane brought along of the different types of hearses – she had not only a traditional black limo, and horse drawn carriages but also VW camper Van, Morris Traveller, Range Rover, Motorbike with sidecar ‘platform’, and even an extended three wheel motorbike. There was the tale of the person who said the burial taking place was in the wrong grave [should have been with his mother], only to find that he had been placing flowers on someone else's grave for years. Jane had so many different tales that we were nearly into ‘overtime’ before the morning ended!