Category Archives: Events

REVIEW – Mike Leigh’s Peterloo

© Photograph: Simon Mein, Courtesy of Amazon Studios

On 16th August 1819, 60,000-80,000 men, women and children gathered together in St. Petersfield in Manchaster for a peaceful protest and to hear the orator and political reformer Henry Hunt.

The local magistrates concerned by the gathering issued a warrant for the arrest of Hunt (and others.) In the execution of this warrant the Yeomanry and 15th Hussars charged into the crowd, but coming from different directions left no route for the gathered throng to disperse.

In the chaos, 15 people were killed and 400-700 seriously injured.

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Remember, Remember.

Our historical customs, or customs which owe their origin to events in the history of our country, are not very numerous. Besides Royal Oak Day, which has already been described, we have the famous commemoration of the discovery of Gunpowder Plot on November 5th. This is a very popular festival, when bonfires are lighted everywhere, and “guys” — a perpetual memorial of the famous Guy Fawkes— are burnt with much accompaniment of squibs and crackers.

Probably few of those who take part in these functions recall to mind that November 5th was instituted by the House of Commons as “a holiday for ever in thankfulness to God for our deliverance and detestation of the Papists;” but this ignorance does not prevent them from keeping up the custom and enjoying the excitement of the bonfire and fireworks.

The usual rhyme which the youths repeat when they carry round the guy and collect fuel for their bonfires or largess for themselves is as follows: —

“Please to remember the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot”

A common variation of the last two lines is —

“When the king and his train had nearly been slain,
Therefore it shall not be forgot”

The Berkshire boys used to add the words: —

“Our king’s a valiant soldier
With his blunderbuss on his shoulder;
Cocks his pistol, draws his rapier;
Pray give us something for his sake here.
A stick and a stake, for our good king’s sake. I
f you won’t give one, I’ll take two;
The better for me, the worse for you.

Chorus —
Holloa, boys, holloa, boys, make the bells ring;
Holloa, boys, holloa, boys, God save the Queen.”

“King” is evidently the correct rhyme for “ring” but on the accession of her Majesty Queen Victoria the correctness of the poetry was sacrificed to the appropriateness of the address to the reigning sovereign. Some of the rhymes tell us of the nefarious deeds of wicked Guy Fawkes, and the following, we believe, is still extant: —

“Guy Fawkes and his companions did contrive
To blow the House of Parliament up alive
With threescore barrels of powder down below,
To prove Old England’s wicked overthrow;
But by God’s mercy all of them got catched,
With their dark lantern and their lighted match.
Ladies and gentlemen sitting by the fire,
Please put hands in pockets and give us our desire;
While you can drink one glass, we can drink two,
The better for we, and none the worse for you.”
Riunour, rumour, pump a derry,
Prick his heart and burn his body.
And send his soul to Purgatory.”

From Beckley, Oxon, we have the following rhyme, which is still said by the youths when collecting wood for their fire: —

“Don’t you know ’tis the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder Plot? We’ve come to beg
A stick or a stake.
For King George’s sake.
If you don’t give us one.
We’ll take two;
Then ricket a racket,
Your door shall go.”

At Headington, in the same county, the boys sing the following verses: —

“Remember, remember,
The Fifth of November,
Bonfire night;
We want a faggot
To make it alight
Hatchets and duckets.
Beetles and wedges,
If you don’t give us some
We’ll pull your old hedges;
If you don’t give us one.
We’ll take two;
The better for us.
And the worse for you.”

A slight menace is very common in these Gunpowder Plot ditties. At several places at the present time it is customary to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with much elaborate ceremonial, torchlight processions, composed of people in very fancy dress costume. The display of fireworks in many towns is very grand and elaborate. At Hampstead very elaborate preparations are made; several bonfire clubs combine in making the display effective, and the procession is usually very picturesque and imposing. One car at the last celebration, representing the British Isles and the Colonies, with attendant beefeaters and pages, was sent by Sir Augustus Harris.

On the South Coast these observances are usual in several towns. At Rye the “Borough Bonfire Boys” organise a procession, light bonfires, and burn effigies. At Folkstone the procession consists of carts and waggons, gaily decorated, and containing tableaux vivants, contributed by the Friendly Society. The Ancient Order of Druids send a party representing the Ancient Britons. A blacksmith’s forge, a butcher’s car, fire brigades, and other shows, make up the procession, and torches and Chinese lanterns, and bands of music, add brightness to the festival. At Marylebone and Bermondsey the bonfire clubs are much in evidence. Political guys are not unknown, and at the last occasion the Sultan of Turkey thrashing a poor Armenian was one of the representations. In the old Middlesex suburban town of Enfield a huge fancy-dress procession is formed on the evening of Guy Fawkes Day; thousands of people throng the streets, and fires of all colours blaze along the line of route. Groups allegorical of local traditions associated with the old Enfield chase, Colonel Somerset’s stag-hounds, the Herts Yeomanry, fire brigades, and schools, form interesting features in the long procession. Money is collected for the Cottage Hospital, and a monster bonfire is lighted on the green and the traditional guy burned.

The almost universal observance of the day, and the similarity of the modes of commemorating the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, obviate the necessity of recording the manners and customs of the English people on this occasion.

Extract from Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time – P. H. Ditchfield, M.A., F.S.A. (1896)

 

Edward ‘Squire’ Higgins, Knutsford’s Gentleman Highwayman

Cann Office - Home of Higgins the HighwaymanWhen Edward Higgins arrived in Knutsford in 1756 he took possession of a large house known as the Cann Office. To the local populace he appeared to be a man of high standing. He took to renovating the house and stables and bringing several fine horses, taking on two local youths as apprentices to his groom.

Attending the local hunts, with his skill on horseback and affable manner he was soon welcomed by the local gentry as one of their own. His regular excursions outside the area were assumed to be the actions of a conscientious land owner collecting the rents which funded his extravagant lifestyle.

The following year he married Katherine Birtles, a spinster from a respectable local family and they became closely entwined within local society often dining at their neighbour’s houses and hosting lavish events themselves.

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Rochdale Town Hall Fire

 

Rochdale Town Hall before the fire

Rochdale Town Hall prior to the fire of 1883

Rochdale Town Hall, is a fine example of gothic revival architecture and home to some of the best modern stained glass in the world. The grandeur of this building was such that according to local legend, Hitler had plans to take the building stone by stone back to Germany if he won the war. This is also supposedly the reason why Rochdale, despite it’s industry, escaped pretty much unscathed during the German bombings.

A competition was held to produce a design for the building which was won by William Henry Crossland. Work started in 1866 on the site of an abandoned 17th Century mansion and was completed five years later at a cost of £160,000 (eight times the original budget, and a remarkable sum for a town the size of Rochdale.) the work was so costly that to this day some of the internal decoration remains unfinished.

But what visitors to the town may not know is that the building you see today is different from the original.

The original clock tower was 134 feet high and had a 106 foot wooden spire richly gilded and surmounted by figures of Saint George and the Dragon.

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Rush-bearing

The Uppermill Rush-Cart 1880

The Uppermill Rush-Cart 1880

During the middle-ages it was common for the floors of buildings to be no more than compacted earth. To stop the floor getting muddy in wet weather and to insulate the rooms, rushes or hay were put down (sometimes mixed with herbs and flowers to freshen the air). This floor-covering was known as thresh and a piece of wood or stone put across the bottom of a doorway to keep the thresh inside was known as a threshold.

Seats were not provided in church until the 15th century and even if the floors were flagged the excessive cold after long standing and the kneeling required during devotions necessitated the floor being covered.

The renewal of the rushes at the church commonly coincided with the Saint’s Day to which the church was dedicated and the corresponding “Wake,” the custom quickly developed into a part of the religious festival.

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The Man They Couldn’t Hang – Babbacombe Lee

Babbicombe TragedyOn the morning of 15th November 1884, 68 year-old Emma Ann Whitehead Keyse was found dead at her home, “The Glen,” at Babbacombe Bay near Torquay by her servants who had been roused by the smell of smoke in the property.

According to the post mortem her skull was fractured in two places and her throat had been cut so severely that all the main arteries were severed and even the parietal bone was notched.

An attempt had also been made to burn the body and several rooms of the house. A strong odour of paraffin oil still evident on her clothes several hours later.

With no sign of forced entry into the house, John Lee, half-brother to the cook, Elizabeth Harris, and the only man known to be in the house at the time of the murder was soon arrested.

At his trial, the jury reached a unanimous guilty verdict.

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