Sunday, 11 January 2015

Needlemaking and other Loughborough connections

This week the Loughborough Archaeological and Historical Society held their members event which sees members of the society give presentations on things they've been researching that would be of interest to others. This year, I decided to give it a go, and presented a short talk on archaeology - my kind, not the trench-digging, field-walking kind - with examples of artefacts I've found on my travels that have informed my research.

If you would like to see the presentation, I've uploaded the slides , and I've included the transcript below.

Archaeology and the fundamental interconnectedness of all things (with thanks to DA)

In late 2012, when I responded to an advert for members of the public who were interested in the history of Loughborough to enrol on a 6-month course in Leicester on learning how to lead a guided walk, little did I know what was actually in store for me!

At the first session of the course I felt like a complete interloper! Almost everyone else there was attached to a museum  - The Old Rectory, The Abbey Pumping Station, The Space Centre, The GCR, Newarke Houses etc. – so I attached myself to the unattached chap next to me and we got on like a house on fire, which was great as he was a retired fire officer!

As a daughter of the grim industrial areas of South Wales, what exactly did I think I had to offer to people who might be interested in the history of our little market town – and probably knew more about it than I did anyway!

Well, to cut a very long story short, I may have known very little about Loughborough at the start of the course, but many years of researching significant (that’s significant to me) areas of Wales, and endless hours of pouring over census returns and bmd records in a quest to complete the family tree, all held me in good stead. And maybe, just maybe, being a librarian by day was also a bit of help!

So, I passed the tour guiding course, and have shared some of my knowledge on guided walks. But when I read on Twitter about 18 months ago that some people viewed Loughborough as a rubbish town, I decided to try and do something to raise the profile of the town. Thus, the blog, lynneaboutloughborough was born. Each Sunday evening I write a piece about, or related to, our wonderful town, and share this on the internet for anyone to read.

Articles are prompted by my own interests, by things people have said to me, by events happening in and around the town, and by chance finds.

I know the Loughborough Archaeological and Historical Society started life as the Loughborough and District Archaeological Society, and although I was daunted at the prospect of joining such a prestigious group, I paid my subs and showed up at meetings. Now, I know nothing about archaeology except what I’ve seen on television programmes like Time Team, and in truth, I have a bit of an aversion to getting dirty, but I bit the bullet and went on a fieldwalking event, and thoroughly enjoyed walking through a recently ploughed field looking for bits of debris that might be a flint arrowhead, or some kind of pottery. Problem was though, having been brought up in South Wales I could easily recognise slate, and had there been any granite I would have recognised that too, from regular holidays in Cornwall. But, I didn’t find anything significant, and was really rather more interested in the 19th century horseshoe I spotted!

So, if digging trenches and walking ploughed fields isn’t quite my kind of archaeology then what is?

Well, antique and junk shops are! Charity shops are! 2nd hand bookshops are! The internet is!

So, I dig around all of these, looking for clues, usually about something specific, but equally often just picking up things that might be of interest. Everything I see of buy helps me to build up a picture of what I’ve been researching into and helps me to understand more about social history.  

Take this postcard. A picture of Leicester, sent to someone in Loughborough and bought over 100 years later from Lichfield. To me, this is all hugely significant: My journey from home to town takes me along Albert Street, and I’ve always been fascinated by the engineering factory on the corner. Research revealed that it had once been a needlemaking factory, one of the ones run by the Grudgings family, at least one of whom died during WW1, and at least one other who survived (and whose WW1 diary is tweeted via the Carillon Museum). And here I am holding a postcard sent to Flo Grudgings, an elementary school teacher and a member of that needlemaking family. The card was posted in 1903.

And then, of course, there’s the Lichfield connection. Wasn’t Lichfield Cathedral once the cathedral associated with our town? And at least some of the current bells were cast by Taylor’s Bell Founders in 1947. It was Taylor’s, of course, who cast the bells for our beautiful war memorial, which can still be heard on Sundays when the carillon is played.

I did a spot of volunteering at the Carillon Museum this year, just before my grandmother died. How strange then to learn at her funeral that a long lost uncle who emigrated to the States in the ‘60s, regularly plays the carillon in his home town of Morristown, New Jersey.

But, back to archaeology! Earlier, I said I could recognise slate and granite, but perhaps I should also add alabaster to that list. I first met Ray State in the local studies library about a week after I’d written an article on spar ornament makers of Loughborough, so it was a real pleasure to come along and hear him talk, just before Christmas. Curiously, also a couple of weeks before Christmas, we had a sale of unwanted goods at work: We’re trying to raise money to train a guide dog, and for the huge sum of 50p I bought this alabaster egg. I got the feeling people thought I was a bit mad, but I’m now so glad I did buy it! Needless to say, I have been scouring the shops for other alabaster ornaments, but I don’t think I’ll ever find any! But, who knows, I might yet be surprised …

… as I was on another recent shopping trip looking for suitable Christmas presents!

Imagine my total astonishment and excitement when I stumbled across this trunk! Ok, so it’s a steamer trunk, but not just any old steamer trunk! Fortuitously, the last luggage label had been left on: This trunk belonged to Charles Knight Deeming, he, latterly of One Ash House, the former owner of the current Odeon (aka The Empire, The New Empire, The Curzon, The Reel), and the now demolished Victory Cinema, which stood in Biggin Street on the site now occupied by a card shop, Games Workshop and Bonkers.  

Ironically, I’m a little bit interested in cinema and theatre and had been researching the family tree of Charles Deeming. Unfortunately, at £165 the trunk was too expensive for me to buy – so no prop to show you!

Finally, it was a visit to a 2nd hand bookshop in Warwickshire that led me to this publication,  Needlemaking, and the list of places to visit in the back. This included Forge Mill Needlemaking Museum in Redditch. This, of course, takes us back to the Grudgings family where we started, unless we want to explore these connections further, for Bordesley Abbey was on the same site as the needlemaking museum and there is a strong connection to Garendon Abbey and has been the subject of a community dig.

So, our archaeologies are fundamentally interconnected, but I must stop here, otherwise I could carry on connecting for a very long time!

Thanks for listening!

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