Sunday, 19 January 2014

Loughborough, Luddites, Lace and much more!

Busy again! This week has seen me at a meeting of the Loughborough Archaeological and Historical Society, a meeting of the Friends of Charnwood Museum and a public meeting about a community hall!

The LAHS meeting was the members’ contribution meeting where, rather than having an external guest speaker, those members who are doing some interesting research present their findings to the group. And what a variety of research is going on! We were treated to some fascinating family history, from the Publicity/Secretary and Newsletter Editor, Alison Mott, who had discovered that one of her direct ancestors was one John Courtney, a Victorian playwright who wrote popular plays for the Victorian masses at a time when there was a huge demand for affordable entertainment. Although this ancestor is a recent discovery for Alison, it’s little wonder, then, that she has always felt she was meant to write!  

We also heard a fascinating tale from a member who was researching the history of the postal service in and around Loughborough. After briefly describing the evolution of our postal system there were lots of artefacts to handle, including painstakingly written information boards and photocopies of letters from / to local people which showed a fascinating insight into their personalities, which included a letter to Robert Bakewell.

If you live in the Leicestershire area you will know that the nearest National Trust properties are not in the county, so there is much interest in the National Trust’s acquisition of, and plans for the opening of Gimson’s house, Stoneywell. One of our members is now an NT volunteer guide for this house, having been a personal friend of the last owner of the house, Donald Gimson. The NT has plans to open the property during the summer of 2014,and you can follow the news related to Stoneywell on the blog.

We were also given an introduction to a proposed project which will create an online community archives hub for Loughborough and the surrounding areas. A grant has been given to the university, who hope to work in collaboration with local museums and heritage organisations to provide a one-stop-heritage-shop, a hub on the internet where you will be able to find out about all things heritage, rather like the one that has been developed in Hertfordshire. I’m really looking forwarding to supporting this initiative and the prospect of having all things heritage easily at my fingertips.

The tower of All Saints Church

Our final talk was about the WW1 project at All Saints Church which has been granted some heritage lottery funding to move the WW1 memorials from an obscure place in the church to somewhere more appropriate. I talked about this project in last week’s blogpost as this made the front page of the local paper. A public meeting is being held on Saturday February 8th at 7.30pm in the church - everyone welcome! 

Charnwood Museum

Wednesday evening saw a packed Charnwood Museum for the Friends of Charnwood Museum talk on Luddites and Lace-makers, delivered by Tony Jarram. Tony was involved in the 2007 discovery of the tunnels in Lantern House, the house on Leicester Road, which was owned by John Heathcoat, lace-maker, who developed a lace-making machine and established his factory in Loughborough.

Tony described the background to the development of lace making machines, and how Heathcoat came to be living and working in Loughborough. Once we’d heard this we were able to appreciate why Heathcoat’s factory on Malt Mill Lane (now Market Street, in the vicinity of the current Iceland shop and the Varsity Bar) was a target for a Luddite attack in 1816.

This building was once a needle-makers,
but was it also once a lace-making factory?

Same building from the side
The group known as the Luddites (possibly named after a disgruntled Leicestershire inhabitant, “Ned Ludd”) attacked factories up and down the country where they perceived that machines were taking over the jobs that were currently undertaken by them and their families, thus depriving them of much needed wages.

These wages were of course needed to provide necessities like food for working families, and lack of, or reduction in wages may well have led to some of the food riots of 1812, in places like Sheffield. 

Another building that might possibly
have been a lace-making factory

The same building from the back
According to Tony, Heathcoat’s factory was a prime target because of the efficiency of his machines and the size of his business; at one time he owned about one twelfth of all the lace-making machines in the country. He suggested that Heathcoat would have been aware of the various attacks that had already taken place in other parts of the country and the tunnels in his house on Leicester Road were purposefully built in order to provide him with a refuge in the event of an attack on his house. Perhaps because of the modest size of this house, this was not the target of an attack, the Luddites preferring to launch an assault on the lace-making factory itself.  

Directly before the attack on the factory on 28th June 1816, the Luddites drank in the Packe Horse Inn (now the Organ Grinder pub), broke windows in the Black Bull pub on High Street (now Vice Versa) on their way to the Seven Stars, a drinking house on Shakespeare Street. Fuelled by so much drinking, they took a hostage in Market Street and then attacked the guard at the factory before setting fire to it, thus destroying about 55 lace-making machines. 

The outcome of this event was that many of the protagonists were hung, a couple were sent off to Australia, and a couple escaped. Heathcoat was offered compensation on the proviso that he stayed in the town and continued with his business, but he declined this offer and transferred his business activity to Tiverton in Devon, taking with him many of his workers from Loughborough. Although many workers settled in Tiverton, many ventured further afield, some emigrating to Calais, others to Australia.    

One thing I haven’t mentioned is that Heathcoat had a partner in his Loughborough business, a man called John Boden. He followed Heathcoat to Tiverton, but the partnership was dissolved in 1821 when Heathcoat’s patent for the lace-making machine ran out. Boden then set up in Barnstaple with Heathcoat’s older brother, Thomas. And, here’s a picture of one of John Boden’s direct descendants at the exhibition in Charnwood Museum in 2007.   

I remember in 2007, going to a performance by the wonderful Mikron theatre group of a musical play about the Luddites, that took place in the Victoria Rooms in the Town Hall. This was unusual as whilst the company are performing they are based on the canals, and their usual Loughborough venue is the Swan in the Rushes. In 2012 they also created a play based on the Luddites and the cotton mills in Yorkshire. That play I didn’t see, but it’s interesting to hear that they created a song called "Nedd Ludd’s tune"!   And, just to finish off, here’s an article about Loughborough, the Luddites, the Charnwood Museum exhibition and the Mikron play!

This was a thrilling account of what was a notorious attack. And how fascinating to learn that Tony’s personal interest in Heathcoat came from being a direct descendant of John West, a Nottingham lace-makers who went to work in Calais, before returning to Loughborough!

Fearon Hall from Fearon Jitty

Finally, I spent a nice couple of hours at Fearon Hall, mingling with folk, with the aim of helping to come up with ideas for celebrating the hall’s 125th anniversary. This was a great afternoon, as although I don't use the hall myself, I re-acquainted myself with quite a number of people I have come to know over the years.

Fearon Hall

The hall was built in 1889 to celebrate the memory of Henry Fearon, Rector of All Saints, and Archdeacon of Leicester. He was a very popular character and it is him we have to thank for the first clean water to be supplied to the town, in about 1870. Archdeacon Fearon died in 1885, and Fearon Hall was built in his memory, from public subscription, and was extended in 1910.

During the 125 years of its existence, the hall has had a variety of uses -  Scout groups in the 1900s, patriotic entertainment during the WW1, a base for the Home Guard during the WW2, a base for Loughborough Art School during the 1960s, a home for Charnwood Theatre Group in the 1990s. Today, the hall is in regular use for amongst other things, exercise classes, a pre-school group, a lunch club, and a choir. Information on the running of the hall is available from the website, however, this is a little out-of-date. They also have a facebook page for you to follow.

I’d be misleading you if I said I had recently been on a trip on the Great Central Railway, but I did watch the Michael Portillo train journey programme this week when he went to Leicester, Syston and Loughborough, visiting the bellfoundry, and the Carillon! If you get a chance to watch it, it comes highly recommended! It’s probably on iplayer for a while!

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