conference season

Being an introvert I sometimes find rooms of strangers somewhat daunting so it was with a degree of trepidation that I booked not one but two history conferences within 10 days. I needn’t have worried as one place studies people and community historians are a friendly and welcoming lot.

The first trip out was to Chorley for the Community Archives and Heritage Group North West Regional conference. After a warm welcome from His Worship we settled down to an enticing series of presentations outlining the help available from the Record Office and Museum conservation service and similar bodies. This was much more extensive than I appreciated and if anyone needs to borrow an eagle owl or hedgehog (stuffed) to illustrate their displays then the Museum is happy to oblige. There are even rumours of the availability of a polar bear but getting him a genuine Springhill connection may be tricky.

There was rapt attention for the lady who was explaining how to get money out of the heritage lottery fund. Interestingly the number of people who had applied for cash greatly outweighed those who had ever played the lottery to help put the money in...

My second jaunt was today to the Society of One-Place Studies inaugural conference. This had a focus on WW1 - local resources, local impact, local remembrances and involving local people in researching. There was an emphasis on lesser known resources and on asking questions beyond the obvious. The construction and siting of war memorials involved much more politics than I had previously appreciated and I will have to do a bit of poking around to look as some of the who’s and why’s behind some of the memorials in this area. Lots of interesting snippets with no known local relevance but still fun, like the 44,000 war horses sold to the French for meat and the image of soldiers writing to members of a knitting guild to thank them for the socks like children writing Christmas letters.

The common message from both events was the importance of preserving and sharing records and involving future generations.

One problem now - so many ideas and so little time...

why did it start here?

I was browsing around on histpop tonight looking for anything of interest and clicked on the supplement to the Registrar-General’s 81st report. As you do. This was a supplement reporting on the mortality from influenza in England and Wales in 1918-19, the ‘Spanish flu’ epidemic.

What I hadn’t realised before this was that amongst the earliest reports of flu related mortality were those from Bacup and Rawtenstall. The R-G does say that they cannot be certain that flu started its UK epidemic in these places as there were sporadic outbreaks roughly simultaneously indifferent parts of the country. What is clear however is that of the week ending June 29 1918 the highest mortality was returned from Bacup (33/1000) and the third highest from Rawtenstall (half as bad as Bacup at 18/1000) with Bacup in particular being miles ahead of anywhere else.

flu mortality thumbnail

Bacup is 5 miles east of Springhill and Rawtenstall just less than a mile to the west, to this area was going to be affected, if only by fear. Interestingly whilst Bacup and Rawtenstall were severely affected, Whitworth and Haslingden, adjacent towns, escaped relatively lightly.

Spanish flu came in three waves; Bacup and Rawtenstall were relatively little affected by these subsequent waves. Presumably everyone had either died or become immune with sufficient herd immunity to prevent the virus from re-establishing itself.

Spanish flu is caused by H1N1 flu virus, more recently of swine flu fame. Like swine flu it was more severe in young adults rather than most flu which tends to affect the elderly more severely. There have been a variety of theories as to why this was the case in 1918, with many suggesting that mixing of peoples during WW1 lead to easier spread whilst the stresses of war reduced soldiers’ immunity. It is estimated that 5x more people died in the endemic than died in WW1.

But why here? Sure there were a large number of soldiers, but not more than many places. They did not predominantly join a single regiment or ‘Pals’ brigade. There is no port (40 miles from the sea!) or airport and minimal tourism or business travel. There was poverty and overcrowding, but again no worse than many industrial areas. And why were adjacent areas relatively unaffected?

Am going to have to do some thinking and reading here, and to revise my long-forgotten immunology.

Obituaries of some of the Bacup soldiers to die can be found in these extracts from the Bacup Times.

the blindingly obvious

We know that there are obligations on landowners to inform people about things which may affect their safety or wellbeing, but sometimes it can lead to their stating the blindingly obvious...

mud on road thumbnail

same sex marriage

Same sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in 2014 so it was a bit of a surprise when a well known genealogy database reported that Thomas Ormerod married one of these people in q3 1899:

Elijah Taylor
Annie Harker
Annie Corrie

Sadly, as I knew he married an Annie, that didn’t much help.

But Elijah Taylor? Really?

marriage thomas ormerod

grave matters

The Springhill area has a long association with nonconformity, being home to at least one Baptist and two Unitarian ministers, the possibility that Polefield Cottage and Lodge Fold Cottage were early dissenters meeting places and the Friends’ burial ground on Chapel Hill. Sion Baptist Church, which dates back to 1672, is next to Springhill and it has long been one of my ambitions to transcribe its burial ground.

This summer I managed it. The results are on the Sion - gravestones page.

It started with a chance meeting with the assistant Pastor in Costa one morning. Permission granted, off I trot with coffee, notebook and camera and get going.

That’s when the problems start and decisions have to be made.

Firstly, worship in the church building ceased in the 1970s with the congregation meeting since then in the Sunday School building, a veritable palace of a place. The church fell into decay and in 1986 was demolished with the stone being used for sheltered housing flats. As part of this process the graveyard was tidied up with headstones being moved to the perimeter of the graveyard and other stones being grassed over. It is thought that a few of the stones were damaged in the process and the arrangement around the edges is completely arbitrary. No assumptions can be made about people named on adjacent stones as their original position was unknown.

graveyard 13 right wall back thumbnail

I decided not to go in for gardening. I did push back ivy to read the underlying stone but did not feel comfortable exposing those parts of stones which were underground of covered by moss or grass. I was always conscious of being a guest at someone else’s burial place and in someone else’s garden. Being in someone else’s garden led to a few interesting conversations with the residents of the flats and picked up a number of OPS snippets that way.

Secondly, the renovations meant that the arrangement of the stones appeared random with only the major monuments remaining in situ. The first job was to draw up a plan, but the numbering was somewhat arbitrary, being vaguely clockwise from the left of the gate.

Thirdly, work and family meant that the main opportunities to visit were late Sunday afternoons. I know the theory about both transcription and photography: visit at different times of day under different lighting conditions, take a mirror or lightbox and the like. The reality is not that simple and the north facing stones are in shadow whatever time of day as the light is blocked by adjacent buildings.

However, it is done. And I learned a lot of interesting OPS stuff in the process:
  • how far some of the places named are from Springhill. Jersey? Germany?
  • how many people retired to St Annes on Sea. I was aware of the strong connection between Rossendale and St Annes but it seemed like an awful lot of them
  • that there are some very sad stories there which warrant further study. I would love to know the details of the obstetric disaster which befell poor Tattersall family.
  • money didn’t protect, with some very rich people losing children
  • William Spence of Springhill Farm being buried almost in his front garden - about 12 feet away.

Being intrinsically ‘share friendly’, I have made the data available to the local FH society and hope it is useful to others as well. Still lots of work to do to tease out all the ramifications which will keep me quiet over the long winter months.