Tag Archives: History

Scrap Book Project – Shackerstone and the Village Wheelwright

Shackerstone Church

Inside the Scrap Book is a cutting from the Leicester Advertiser of Saturday August 27th 1960 about the village of Shackerstone and he kept this because there was a family connection with the village because this is where his grandfather came from.

The Insley family lived in Shackerstone in South West Leicestershire.  Today Shackerstone is a pretty unspoiled rural village and in the mid nineteenth century the village was a successful self-supporting Victorian community that had four farms, two pubs, two shops, a bakery, a builder, a carpenter, brickworks, a post office, a coal merchant, a dressmaker, a shoemaker and a blacksmith.  Shackerstone Mill was situated by the River Sence and was operated by the Petcher family who owned Bridge Farm where there was a bake house.

It also was the home for a successful coach building business that was first established in the 1770s.  It was run by the Insley family, which provided employment for a coachbuilder, a wheelwright and up to thirty other employees and it took orders from London, Liverpool and all over the country. The coach works were situated in Insley’s Lane in the centre of the village and convenient for the railway station from where it supplied wagons and later on wheelbarrows throughout the country.

The invention of the wheel was arguably the most important ever and the skill of a wheelwright in building a wheel was considerable and this made the Insley’s very important and influential people in the village.

The hub, or nave, of a wheel was made from seasoned wych elm that would not split even with mortises cut in it for spokes.  It was barrel-shaped to accommodate two iron stock hoops that were shrunk to fit direct from the red-hot forge.  The hub was then set in a cradle and the spoke mortises marked, drilled and cut.  The mortises had to allow for a tapered fit and also for the angle of dishing of each spoke.  The hub was augered to receive a cast-iron ‘box’ or ‘metal’, which was driven in and was the bearing for the axle.  Finally, the top of the hub was cut away so that a cotter pin could be later inserted to retain the wheel onto an axle.

The spokes were usually made from oak, which had been seasoned for a minimum of four years.  They had square ‘feet’ that fitted into the hub and circular ‘tongues’ that fitted into the felloes.  Two spokes would fit into each felloe, which was made of ash or hickory.  The felloes would have preferably been grown curved so that when the wood was sawn using a template, less grain of the wood was cut resulting in a stronger component.  Felloes were joined together with an oak dowel.

The complete wheel was held together with a tyre made from iron.  The tyre would start life as an iron bar, perhaps four inches wide and three-eighths of an inch thick for a working cartwheel.  It would be shaped using a tyre-bending machine, which is a set of rollers operated by a handle that bent the bar into a perfect circle and after welding the two ends of the bar to form a ring the tyre was heated in a circular fire.  Meanwhile, the wheel was mounted on a tyring platform – usually a large stone or metal plate – using a clamp to hold the hub of the wheel.

When the tyre was ready it was carried from the fire with tongs, and placed over the rim of the wheel.  After hammering into position, water was poured onto the hot metal to cool it before the wood of the wheel became burnt.  As the metal contracted it crushed the joints of the wheel tight and so completed the job.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the traditional craft of the wheelwright faced increasing competition from the manufacturing industries and factory produced cast iron wheels and they had to diversify and find new business.  One way was to expand into the coach building business and by the 1901 census both Thomas and my great grandfather Joseph were recorded as ‘coach builders’.

From documentary evidence and first hand accounts we can be sure that the Insley coachbuilders manufactured a full range of carts and wagons for local farms and businesses including the nearby water mills.  Their catalogue included the ‘gig’ which was a light two-wheeled sprung cart pulled by one horse or a pony and a ‘dray’, a versatile four wheeled flat bed cart usually pulled by two horses but they were also well known for a specialist cart of East Anglian or Lincolnshire design called the ‘hermaphrodite’.

This was a unique type of two-wheeled cart that could be converted to a four wheel wagon when extra capacity was required in the fields at harvest time.  Although they were all rather similar and were based on the same overall design, each had their own distinct differences in regards to their place of manufacture and according to records the Insley design was quite unlike anything else made locally at the time.

For smaller farms that could not afford a barn full of expensive specialist vehicles the selling feature of the cart for was that it was a multi-purpose vehicle that could be used throughout the year.  For most of the time the top frames, raves and fore-carriage could be removed and the rear part was used as a conventional tip cart, whilst at harvest time an ingenious conversion provided a wagon with the large carrying platform and the additional length and the temporary advantage of four wheels converted it into a high capacity hay wagon.

This multi-purpose design explains the name hermaphrodite which is a term that derives from Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite in Greek mythology, who was fused with a nymph, Salmacis, resulting in one individual possessing physical traits of both sexes, i.e. it was interchangeable.  Locally the wagon was referred to as a wagonette, the morphy or the moffrey.

The drawing is of an Insley wagonette that was probably built in the 1920s for the farmer H S Forman of Stapleton, Leicestershire, about ten miles from Shackerstone.  The maker’s name, Insley, can be clearly seen on the front of the wagon on the front board of the tub. It was in regular use until about 1965 and was eventually transferred to a rural museum in Herefordshire for safe keeping.  The drawing is by the grandson of the owner M A Forman, himself a Leicestershire farmer.

Coach building was another trade that required enormous skill and to complete a single order could take as long as six months.  They were very successful at this as well but what they probably didn’t need was Henry Ford and the assembly line and the business ceased trading in 1935.

My Great Grandfather Joseh Insley, his wife Lilian and his four children, Dorothy (my grandmother), Arthur, Harold and Eric.

The Sound of Music

On 2nd March 1965 the film ‘Sound of Music’ starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer was premiered and nearly fifty years later people are still watching it.  It was based in Salzburg in Austria and in 2008 I visited the city with a group of friends.

On the first morning we explored the streets and made our way to the central square.  Just around the corner was a travel agency selling Sound of Music tours and I thought that this might appeal to the girls. The film is one of the most successful ever and is based on the story of the Von Trapp family. The Captain was a very successful Austrian naval captain during the First World War but found himself promptly unemployed after 1918. 

Now this won’t come as a great surprise to anyone who examines a map of post Great War Europe because being on the losing side Austria was stripped of its extensive empire and reduced to a land locked central European state with no access to the sea and presumably therefore without a requirement for naval commanders, however successful they might have been. 

The Captain had to find an alternative career and discovering that his children possessed a talent for music exploited this to create the Von Trapp singers.  When one of the children fell ill with scarlet fever he employed the novice nun Maria to care for her and the rest is history. 

I have grown to like the film but it takes a few historical liberties; for example the family actually didn’t hike from Salzburg to Switzerland to escape the Nazi’s but in reality simply took the train to Italy and then to Switzerland.  Now that must have been a whole lot easier and besides, if they had climbed all of the mountains between Salzburg and Switzerland they would have had to go through Nazi Germany and would have been extremely lucky to arrive, not to say completely knackered by the time they got there! 

The film is shown every night at eight o’clock on Austrian TV and the British Government has a copy ready to broadcast in the event of a really bad national emergency such as a David Cameron second term in office for example.

Decimilisation and the end of Pounds, Shillings and Pence

The pre-decimalisation British system of coinage was introduced by King Henry II. It was based on the troy system of weighing precious metals. The penny was literally one pennyweight of silver. A pound sterling thus weighed 240 pennyweights, or a pound of sterling silver.

On 15th February 1971, after five years of planning by the Decimal Currency Board, Britain abandoned this medieval currency system and converted to a much simpler decimal system based on pounds and new pence.

This was much simpler because in the years just prior to decimalisation, the circulating British coins were the half crown (2s 6d), two shillings or florin, shilling, known as a bob, sixpence (6d), the tanner, threepence (3d), thruppenny bit and my favourite pre decimal coin, penny (1d) and halfpenny (½d). The farthing (¼d) being practically worthless had been withdrawn as long ago as 1960.

Under the old currency the pound (denoted by the letter l for libra) was made up of 240 pence (denoted by the letter d for Latin denarius and now referred to as “old pence”), with 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings (denoted by s for Latin solidus) in a pound.

Amounts of money were written as l s d, for pounds, shillings and pence.  5s was 5 shillings, often just written as 5/-. And 5s 6d was 5 shillings and sixpence – and was often, instead, written as 5/6.  In spoken English, the “shilling” word was often missed out – so a shopkeeper might say, “that’ll be 5 and 6, please”, meaning 5 shillings and six pence.

In an era before widespread computer use, monetary calculation, such as adding up sums of money, was more complicated than with a decimal currency.  When I was at primary school between 1959 and 1966 I had to learn arithmetic based on this confusing system and in Mrs Bull’s class three it was time for adding up and taking away and we would sit and chant out the times tables over and over again until we knew them off by heart.  That was boring but useful because I have never forgotten them.  Doing sums was a lot harder then because we were still ten years away from decimalisation and had to add things up in pounds, shillings and pence and that was difficult let me tell you. Try adding this lot together and you will see what I mean:

                                     £4.12.06

                                    £1.15.11

                                    £   19.11½

                                    —————

After decimilisation there was a completely new set of coins to get familiar with.  The 50 pence coin had been introduced in 1969 to replace the paper 10 shilling note and in 1971 we had the 10 pence, 5 pence, 2 pence, 1 pence and ½ pence coins. Between 1969 and 1971 we used to take half crowns into the school metal work shop and file down the edges to convert them to 50 pence pieces in a crude attempt to quadruple their value and then try and pass them off in the sweet shop down the road where the shop keeper had poor eyesight.

To commemorate decimilisation the Royal Mint sold souvenir wallets with each of the new coins and a short explanation.  Mum and dad bought one for me and my sister but I just popped the coins out from the cardboard holder and spent them and then a few days later I spent my sister’s as well and I feel really bad about that now!

The 20 pence piece was introduced in 1982. The half penny was withdrawn from circulation in 1984.  A smaller, lighter 10 pence piece was circulated from 1993 and similar changes were made to the 50 pence in 1998.  In June 1998 the £2 coin came into general circulation.

The answer to the sum is seven pounds, eight shillings and fourpence ha’penny.  I told you it was hard!

Portugal and the Portuguese

On 13th February 1668 Spain finally recognised Portugal as a separate and independent state.

I have visited Portugal a number of times, in 1986 and 1994 to the Algarve, twice in 2008 to Viano de Castelo in the far north and twice again in 2009 to Porto.  Only on the final visit did it really occur to me that although it shares the Iberian peninsula with its larger neighbour, Portugal really isn’t Spain and on the flight home I was ashamed of my previous ignorance about the place.  I had always assumed that because of its geography that it must be a lot like Spain with a few minor differences but I had come to understand that Portugal, its people and its culture and heritage is very, very different indeed.

So what are the differences?  Observers point out that the Portuguese national character is more sentimental, ironic, mild, and even more melancholic and these characteristics are often held up as the opposite of Castilian culture.

Two scholars who have dealt with this question at length find both cultural and geographical factors at work. Pierre Birot put it this way:

‘Thus, the typical characteristics that so gracefully distinguish the Portuguese soul from its peninsular neighbours, were able to ripen in the shelter of frontiers which are the oldest in Europe. On one side, a proud and exalted people (the Spaniards), ready for all kinds of sacrifice and for all the violent acts that inspire them to be concerned with their dignity; on the other hand a more melancholy and indecisive people (the Portuguese), more sensitive to the charm of women and children, possessing a real humanity in which one can recognize one of the most precious treasures of our old Europe.’ (Le Portugal; Etude de Geographie Regionale, 1950).

Oliveira Martins, the dean of Portuguese historians assessed the difference like this:

There is in the Portuguese genius something of the vague and fugitive that contrasts with the Castilian categorical affirmative; there is in the Lusitanian heroism, a nobility that differs from the fury of our neighbours; there is in our writing and our thought a profound or sentimental ironic or meek note…. Always tragic and ardent, Spanish history differs from the Portuguese which is more authentically epic and the differences of history are translated into difference in character.’ (Historia da Civilizacão Ibérica, 1897)

Intense Spanish pressure and forced dynastic marriage compelled the Portuguese to follow the Spanish example of expelling the Jews in 1497, a step that deprived Portugal of many of its best merchants, diplomats, mathematicians, geographers, astronomers and cartographers. Feelings of resentment were aggravated by Spanish attempts to absorb Portugal, which temporarily succeeded from 1580-1640 (a period known as ‘The Spanish Captivity’). It was a political mistake that only encouraged a strong and proud reaction that cemented the identity of an independent Portuguese nation, a separate state and culture.

One major thing that separates them is sherry and port.  Sherry is from Spain and Port is from Portugal as we discovered on a visit to a Port Lodge in 2009.  We thought we were going to enjoy a personal tour and this looked most likely until just as it started a coach full of Australian holiday makers gate crashed our tour and we were caught up in an antipodean Saga adventure through the cellars.

We learned that under European Union guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labeled as Port and it is produced from grapes grown and processed in the Douro region. The wine produced is fortified with the addition of a Brandy in order to stop the fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine, and to boost the alcohol content. The wine is then aged in barrels and stored in caves, or cellars, before being bottled.

The wine received its name Port in the latter half of the seventeenth century from the city of Porto where the product was brought to market or for export to other countries in Europe from the Leixões docks. Actually there are no port lodges in Porto but an after dinner Vila Nova de Gaia doesn’t have the same ring to it.  The Douro valley where Port wine is produced was defined and established as a protected region or appellation in 1756, making it the third oldest defined and protected wine region in the world after Tokaji in Hungary and Chianti in Italy.

Every Picture Tells a Story – Mary Arden’s House

In 1930 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased a property in the village of Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon, made some improvements to it, added some authentic Tudor furniture and other contemporary everyday items and declared it to be the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden.  This belief was based on supposed historical evidence dating back to the 18th century, when a historian unearthed records of the Arden family in Wilmcote who made the connection with the property based on the rather flimsy fact that Mary’s father, Robert was a wealthy farmer who lived in the village.

For many years after that the Trust proudly showed thousands of tourists and school children around the beautiful half timbered house facing the road in leafy Wilmcote, telling people all about the time when Mary Arden lived there in the sixteenth century.  The image of the lovely house (top of page) was on chocolate box lids, tea towels and postcards and tourists bought dozens of mementoes of Mary Arden’s House to take home with them.  This for example was a jigsaw puzzle box lid from the 1940s:

 

My first visit to the house was on a school trip from the Hillmorton County School near Rugby, also in Warwickshire, on a day visiting Shakespeare’s town of Stratford sometime in the 1960s.  I don’t have any real recollection of that trip because it was over forty years ago but I do remember visiting with French town twinning guests from Evreux  in 1977 and later taking visitors there when I lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1986 to 1987 on every occasion sticking to the official Mary Arden Story.

On 12th February 1995 I took my ten year old daughter Sally to visit Stratford and naturally included a visit to Mary Arden’s House which by this time was also a countryside and agricultural heritage museum and inside the house Trust members were on hand to provide a comprehensive historical narrative.  A very comprehensive narrative indeed by an elderly gentleman and one that went on at great length about Tudor life and how Mary Arden had sat in front of the fire in the Great Hall, helped prepare food in the kitchen and had slept in one of the bedrooms on the first floor.  It was all very interesting information but it subsequently turned out to be a lot of old nonsense!

 

In 2000 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had a huge shock because during routine timber treatment, it was discovered that the wood used to construct the house was dated too late to be linked to Mary Arden’s early life and this couldn’t therefore be her house after all, she hadn’t sat in the Great Hall or helped out in the kitchen and further historical research revealed that the large house actually belonged to a family called Palmer, and had to be promptly re-named Palmer’s Farm.

For a while it was thought that Mary Arden’s family home was lost to history and the Trust had lost a valuable asset and tourist trap.  Lucky for them then that another small house on the estate which they had purchased in 1968 with a view of demolition and close to Palmer’s Farm, was also wood tested and technology was able to pin point the time the wood in this house was cut. The Birthplace Trust declared this to be the Spring of the year 1514, the dates tallied with Mary Arden and the members of the Trust breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.

This time the Trust carried out more thorough research and what the records revealed was that Shakespeare’s grandfather, Robert Arden, had bought the land in Wilmcote in 1514 and built the house that had sat next to Palmer’s Farm,  The house that for hundreds of years was largely overlooked and ignored because it was considerably less interesting than the farm house.  Mary Arden’s house had been there in Wilmcote all the time, smaller and more modest than anyone had thought.

The last time I visited Mary Arden’s house (the real one that is) was in 2010 and as I paid my admission charge I was minded to ask for a refund on all the previous visits on the basis that I had been seriously misled and provided with false information on several previous visits.  Sadly however, although the Birthplace Trust itself is now clear about which house belonged to who many other tourist web sites still show a picture of Palmer’s Farm instead of Mary Arden’s house because it is significantly more picturesque and interesting.

The Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights

Whilst the Wheelwright’s craft has been practiced for over four thousand years it was only in 1630 that the Wheelwrights’ of London, having become sufficiently wealthy to pay the costs and legal fees involved in incorporation, formed a committee to approach the City authorities.  Later that year the leading wheelwrights and coachbuilders came together and petitioned for incorporation as a single company.

In the next thirty years or so the City was preoccupied with minor matters including the Civil War, Life under the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, the Dutch War, the great plague and the fire of London.  On 3rd February 1670 the wheelwrights, independently of the coachbuilders, made a separate petition for incorporation and Charles II granted the wheelwrights a Charter.  The Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights became, in order of precedence, the sixty-eighth Livery Company of the City of London.

My great, great, great grandfather was Thomas Insley whose son Joseph married (Florence) Lillian Hill in or about 1908.  The Insley family lived in Shackerstone in South West Leicestershire.  Today Shackerstone is a pretty unspoiled rural village and in the mid nineteenth century the village was a successful self-supporting Victorian community that had four farms, two pubs, two shops, a bakery, a builder, a carpenter, brickworks, a post office, a coal merchant, a dressmaker, a shoemaker and a blacksmith.  Shackerstone Mill was situated by the River Sence and was operated by the Petcher family who owned Bridge Farm where there was a bake house.

It also was the home for a successful coach building business that was first established in the 1770s.  It was run by the Insley family, which provided employment for a coachbuilder, a wheelwright and up to thirty other employees and it took orders from London, Liverpool and all over the country. The coach works were situated in Insley’s Lane in the centre of the village and convenient for the railway station from where it supplied wagons and later on wheelbarrows throughout the country.

The invention of the wheel was arguably the most important ever and the skill of a wheelwright in building a wheel was considerable and this made the Insley’s very important and influential people in the village.

The hub, or nave, of a wheel was made from seasoned wych elm that would not split even with mortises cut in it for spokes.  It was barrel-shaped to accommodate two iron stock hoops that were shrunk to fit direct from the red-hot forge.  The hub was then set in a cradle and the spoke mortises marked, drilled and cut.  The mortises had to allow for a tapered fit and also for the angle of dishing of each spoke.  The hub was augered to receive a cast-iron ‘box’ or ‘metal’, which was driven in and was the bearing for the axle.  Finally, the top of the hub was cut away so that a cotter pin could be later inserted to retain the wheel onto an axle.

The spokes were usually made from oak, which had been seasoned for a minimum of four years.  They had square ‘feet’ that fitted into the hub and circular ‘tongues’ that fitted into the felloes.  Two spokes would fit into each felloe, which was made of ash or hickory.  The felloes would have preferably been grown curved so that when the wood was sawn using a template, less grain of the wood was cut resulting in a stronger component.  Felloes were joined together with an oak dowel.

The complete wheel was held together with a tyre made from iron.  The tyre would start life as an iron bar, perhaps four inches wide and three-eighths of an inch thick for a working cartwheel.  It would be shaped using a tyre-bending machine, which is a set of rollers operated by a handle that bent the bar into a perfect circle and after welding the two ends of the bar to form a ring the tyre was heated in a circular fire.  Meanwhile, the wheel was mounted on a tyring platform – usually a large stone or metal plate – using a clamp to hold the hub of the wheel.

When the tyre was ready it was carried from the fire with tongs, and placed over the rim of the wheel.  After hammering into position, water was poured onto the hot metal to cool it before the wood of the wheel became burnt.  As the metal contracted it crushed the joints of the wheel tight and so completed the job.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the traditional craft of the wheelwright faced increasing competition from the manufacturing industries and factory produced cast iron wheels and they had to diversify and find new business.  One way was to expand into the coach building business and by the 1901 census both Thomas and my great grandfather Joseph were recorded as ‘coach builders’.

From documentary evidence and first hand accounts we can be sure that the Insley coachbuilders manufactured a full range of carts and wagons for local farms and businesses including the nearby water mills.  Their catalogue included the ‘gig’ which was a light two-wheeled sprung cart pulled by one horse or a pony and a ‘dray’, a versatile four wheeled flat bed cart usually pulled by two horses but they were also well known for a specialist cart of East Anglian or Lincolnshire design called the ‘hermaphrodite’.

This was a unique type of two-wheeled cart that could be converted to a four wheel wagon when extra capacity was required in the fields at harvest time.  Although they were all rather similar and were based on the same overall design, each had their own distinct differences in regards to their place of manufacture and according to records the Insley design was quite unlike anything else made locally at the time.

For smaller farms that could not afford a barn full of expensive specialist vehicles the selling feature of the cart for was that it was a multi-purpose vehicle that could be used throughout the year.  For most of the time the top frames, raves and fore-carriage could be removed and the rear part was used as a conventional tip cart, whilst at harvest time an ingenious conversion provided a wagon with the large carrying platform and the additional length and the temporary advantage of four wheels converted it into a high capacity hay wagon.

This multi-purpose design explains the name hermaphrodite which is a term that derives from Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite in Greek mythology, who was fused with a nymph, Salmacis, resulting in one individual possessing physical traits of both sexes, i.e. it was interchangeable.  Locally the wagon was referred to as a wagonette, the morphy or the moffrey.

The drawing is of an Insley wagonette that was probably built in the 1920s for the farmer H S Forman of Stapleton, Leicestershire, about ten miles from Shackerstone.  The maker’s name, Insley, can be clearly seen on the front of the wagon on the front board of the tub. It was in regular use until about 1965 and was eventually transferred to a rural museum in Herefordshire for safe keeping.  The drawing is by the grandson of the owner M A Forman, himself a Leicestershire farmer.

Coach building was another trade that required enormous skill and to complete a single order could take as long as six months.  They were very successful at this as well but what they probably didn’t need was Henry Ford and the assembly line and the business ceased trading in 1935.

My Great Grandfather Joseh Insley, his wife Lilian and his four children, Dorothy (my grandmother), Arthur, Harold and Eric.

 http://www.witheridge-historical-archive.com/wheelwright.htm

An Edwardian Wedding

Edwardian Wedding

The picture was taken only fifty years or so before I was born in 1906 but in a Merchant Ivory sort of way reveals a completely different way of life to the 1950s separated as they are by two World Wars and a global economic depression.

Edward VII was King, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was the Liberal Prime Minister and Kier Hardy was leader of the Labour Party with only twenty-nine seats in the House of Commons.  Australia and Canada were Dominions of the British Empire, Theodore Roosevelt was President of the USA and across Europe Kings and Queens still ruled.

The happy couple are my great grandparents Joseph Insley and Florence Lillian Hill.  Joseph was a coachbuilder who was born in 1873, one of eight children to Thomas Insley, a wheelwright, and his wife Martha who lived in the village of Shackerstone, near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire.  Florence was one of seven children, the daughter of James and Emma Hill (nee. Marritt),  from the nearby village of Newbold Verdon.

This wasn’t the first time that an Insley had married a Hill because nearly a hundred years before this James Hill, born in 1786 in Shackerstone married Mary Insley who was born in 1799 and was also from Shackerstone.

Insley hermaphrodite Farm Wagon

This is a drawing of an Insley wagon.

By all accounts these were two rather important families in their respective villages, this would have been a rural society wedding and I think the photograph gives that away.  On the back row are some of the splendidly turned out brothers and sisters, Sidney Evelyn Hill and Constance Hill, Johnson Insley and then Mabel and Perceval Hill.  I can remember visiting Uncle Johnson when I was young but most of all I remember Aunty Mabel; she never married and lived with her Pekinese dog called Monty and had the rather irritating habit of continually repeating ‘yes, yes…yes, yes’ whenever anyone was speaking to her, my sister Lindsay and I used to call her ‘yes, yes Mabel’.  She loaned my parents the money to buy their own first house and we used to visit once a month for dad to make the agreed repayments.

On the far left, in the middle row the man with the weird beard is Thomas Insley and then Martha his wife doing her best Queen Victoria impression, the groom, Joseph, aged thirty-one and the bride, Florence (but known as Lillian), aged twenty-six and then her father, farmer James Hill and his wife Emma who was originally from Bromley in Kent. Strange to think that these people, born seventy-five years or so before me at a time when Benjamin Disraeli was the Prime Minister and the British Army were fighting the Zulus in South Africa were my great, great grandparents.

On the front row it looks like the bridesmaids, Louise Deacon and my great- grandmother’s youngest sister Dorothy who was born in 1895.

I never knew my great-grandfather Joseph because he died in 1949 but I knew my great grandmother well because she lived until 1975 (didn’t quite make it to 100).  We called her Nana and we lived with her for a while in her house in Una Avenue off the Narborough Road in Leicester.  It was a 1920s semi detached house with a front garden with a gate and a long back garden with fruit trees at the bottom.  Inside it was dark and moody and was of that time that was the last of the Edwardian era.  It was full of interesting ornaments and memorabilia, old photographs, brass ornaments, heavy velvet curtains to keep out the draughts and what I remember most, a second world war hand grenade (without any explosives of course) that used to be kept on the sideboard.

The picture below was taken in about 1910 and in the picture are Dorothy Hill on the left and my great grandmother Lillian on the right with a rather wild hairstyle and the little girl sitting on the wall of their farmhouse is my grandmother, also called Dorothy.

Lillian Insley 1910

This is the Insley family in 1924.  Joseph and Lillian are back right, the good looking young woman in the centre is my grandmother Dorothy and the three boys are her brothers, Arthur, Eric and Harold…

Insleys 1924

The final picture is from 1954 and is Lillian with her great grandson, Andrew…

Nana Insley, Una Avenue, 1955

The Death of Winston Churchill

I have mentioned before that, in his memory box, dad kept the front pages of three newspapers: 7th February 1958, the Munich air disaster, 23rd November 1963, the Kennedy assassination and finally the Daily Mail of 25th January 1965 which reported the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

I think that few would argue that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was probably the greatest Briton of all time.  I know that I can say this with some confidence because in 2002 the BBC conducted a nationwide poll to identify who the public thought this was.  The result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.  The BBC project first identified the top one hundred candidates and the final vote was between the top ten.  Second in the poll was the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who received nearly 25% of the votes.  These two I fully agreed with but in third place, and goodness knows what the public must have been thinking, was Princess Diana!

Now, the only thing that I can see that Princess Diana ever did was to whine a lot about having to live in Palaces, wear expensive jewellery and eat gourmet food and try to undermine and destroy the Royal Family.  Not so long ago you could have your head cut off for that sort of thing but by some bizarre twist the British have turned her into a heroine.  As low down as number twenty-seven was Emily Pankhurst who fought for women’s suffrage and much further down the list at number fifty-two was Florence Nightingale and in my opinion these two women’s personal legacy to the development of Great Britain as a nation is much, much greater than that of Princess Diana.

There were other anomalies on the list as well.  There were eleven Kings and Queens and eleven politicians, ten military heroes, eight inventors and seven scientists.  This is what I would expect but then there were eight pop musicians including Boy George!  Now, surely there must be dozens of people who could be more appropriately included on the list than that.  Even if you do accept that pop stars are great Britons what is even more unbelievable is that Boy George beat Sir Cliff Richard by seven places!  John, Paul and George were included in the eight but there was no place for Ringo, which doesn’t seem very fair.  Enoch Powell was one of the politicians and he was a raging racist.  Richard III is in but not Henry VII.  There is an issue of equality because of the one hundred only thirteen were women and I can’t help feeling that there must be more than that.  Here are some suggestions of mine; the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, the philanthroprist Octavia Hill, the pioneering aviator, Amy Johnson, the nineteenth century gardener, Gertrude Jeckyl and the very embodiment of Britishness, Britannia herself.  John Churchill the 1st Duke of Marlborough, military genius and ancestor of the great Sir Winston didn’t even make the list.

In fact Winston Churchill was so great that he was awarded a State Funeral and that doesn’t happen very often because this requires a motion or vote in Parliament and the personal approval of the Monarch.  A State Funeral consists of a military procession using a gun carriage from a private resting chapel to Westminster Hall, where the body usually lies in state for three days.  The honour of a State Funeral is usually reserved for the Sovereign as Head of State and the current or past Queen Consort.  Very few other people have had them:  Sir Philip Sydney in 1586, Horatio Nelson in 1806, the 1st Duke of Wellington, 1852, Viscount Palmerston in 1865, William Gladstone, 1898, the 1st Earl Roberts of Kandahar, 1914, Baron Carson in 1935 and Sir Winston Churchill.   So this is a very small list indeed although it might have included one more but Benjamin Disraeli, the Queen’s favourite Prime Minister, who was offered the honour of a State Funeral refused it in his will.  We might have to wait a very long time for the next one because I really can’t imagine that it is going to be Boy George.

Ivan Petcher March 1932 – October 2003

When I took possession of some personal possessions of my Dad I was intrigued to find details of a life that I had never known or appreciated. This really shouldn’t have come as a great surprise because there are many dimensions to a life but the only one that I was fully familiar with was in his role as my father. In what many would describe as an ordinary life this was a task that he excelled at I have to say!

But beyond the responsibility of being a parent I wonder what else he was like. I have been looking at his old employment records and these have revealed some interesting and important clues.

He was educated at Wellingborough Grammar School in Northamptonshire (Sir David Frost is a famous old boy) during the years of the Second World War and I can only imagine that this must have been a huge distraction for the country with a corresponding lack of attention paid to educational standards. This must have been good fun if you were a pupil then but it didn’t lead to a fistful of GCSEs to help you set out in life. The school in line with the custom of the time, was selective, which meant that an entrance examination had to be passed to get a place. Until 1945 the school charged fees for attendance but following R. A. Butler’s great Education Act of 1944, all places became free of charge. The eleven plus exam and secondary education obligations were also introduced in the Education Act.

According to school records, in summer 1947 Dad was in the fifth form remove (the school tried at this time to push the brightest boys for School Certificate in four years, Dad was clearly not in the bright boys form and took the usual five years). This extra time didn’t help a great deal because in summer 1948 he was in 5B (unexamined fifth form class) and sadly he didn’t manage to get the School Certificate. The School Certificate was not like GCSE but was a group certificate and you had to do well in five subjects, miss on one and tough, you got nothing, this is what must have happened to Dad because no school certificate is mentioned when he left in the Autumn of that year. The following term, he left to join his father’s business, a grocery store at 110 Higham Road, Rushden.

After Wellingborough Grammar School his own CV tells us that he did more studying at the South East London College of Commerce and the Leicester College of Art and Technology. None of these educational establishments exist any longer and although there is an interesting old boys web site for the Wellingborough Grammar School I can find nothing about the other two.

His first real job was as a Film Librarian working at Jessops in Leicester and then in June 1950 when he was eighteen years old he started his National Service in the Royal Air Force at the Air Ministry in London.  This sounds awfully exciting but I suspect that it probably wasn’t. From 1949, every healthy man between the ages of 18 and 26 was expected to serve in the armed forces for a minimum period of eighteen months. Men were exempt from National Service if they worked in three ‘essential services’, which were coal mining, farming and the merchant navy, so not film librarians then! I’d like to tell you that he was a fighter pilot or a commando or something thrilling but the plain fact is that he worked at the Air Ministry in London in the office as a clerk/typist whose job was ‘the compilation and maintenance of officers’ and airmens’ records and documents’. I can only imagine that this was exceedingly dull but it prepared him for life in the public service as a local government officer.

He must have enjoyed it however because he completed over two years and his discharge paper of 13th July 1952 says that his conduct was exceptional and his ability was very good, he was described as ‘smart’ on a scale of ‘very smart’, ‘smart’ or ‘untidy’ and he was summed up as ‘a very reliable and efficient clerk who has done good work and helped in the tuition of others’. I can understand that because he was always the most helpful person with lots of patience when dealing with other people, sadly I didn’t inherit that characteristic.

The records now reveal that he was doing a bit of moonlighting because if he was discharged on 13th July 1952 it is interesting that he started work with Lewisham Borough Council in South London two weeks earlier on 1st July 1952 as a general clerk. I think Mum’s Aunty Glad got him the job because she worked in the staff canteen and was good terms with some of the senior staff (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and she put a good word in for him! He stayed there for six months and when he left the Town Clerk, Alan Milner Smith, wrote of him “I found him to be an intelligent boy…and a thoroughly satisfactory officer”, I wonder how well he knew Aunty Glad.

He left Lewisham and a week before his twenty first birthday and took up a new appointment at Leicestershire County Council as a general clerk in the Common Services Section of the Education Department where he stayed until May 1957. In that time he got married, I was born, and he bought his first two houses. I think he must have been a sociable chap because he was enthusiastic in running the County Offices football and cricket teams and he kept meticulous records of games and performances from 1953 until 1956. From my own experience I know that he was a well liked man and the Supplies Officer F E Collis wrote in a reference in March 1957 “ he is very popular with the staff and an enthusiastic member of the office football team” he also said, in an old fashioned sort of way, “I have found Mr Petcher’s work perfectly satisfactory and he brings to it an enthusiasm which is all too often lacking in junior officers today”. I imagine F E Collis was about a hundred years old and remembered what administration was like in the days of Dickens and the Raj!

In May 1957 he left Leicestershire County Council and took a job at Hinckley Urban District Council as a Land Charges and General Clerk. He bought his third house, Lindsay, my sister, was born in October and he cycled to work and back every day, a distance of about ten miles, later he got a moped but I seem to recall that it wasn’t especially reliable and sometimes he had to push it all the way home so he went back to the push bike. This wasn’t sustainable of course so in 1959 they sold up and we sensibly moved to Hinckley to be close to his work. That didn’t last long either and he left Hinckley on 31st December 1960 and moved to Rugby Rural District Council and that’s how we came to move to Hillmorton. I especially like his reference from F J Warren the Deputy Clerk of the Council who described my dad as “a useful, promising and reliable member of staff… I cannot speak too highly of his integrity and desire to give satisfaction” and he added in a quaint sort of way that you would never find today “he is of pleasing appearance and courteous to all with whom he comes in contact”.

That’s how I remember him too!

‘Zulu’ and the defence of Rorke’s Drift

Zulu has to be one of my favourite ever movies because it was one of the first grown up films that I was ever taken to see at the cinema.  As I have explained elsewhere dad was fond of anything military or heroic and stories don’t come much more heroic or military than this.

These are the facts: On 22nd January 1879 the Imperial British army suffered one of its worst ever defeats when Zulu forces massacred one thousand five hundred of its troops at Isandlhwana in South Africa.  A short time after the main battle a Zulu force numbering over four thousand warriors advanced on a British hospital and supply garrison guarded by one hundred and thirty nine infantrymen at Rorke’s Drift.  The film tells the true story of the battle during which the British force gallantly defended the hospital and in doing so won eleven Victoria Crosses, which is the most ever awarded for one single engagement. The film takes a few historical liberties but it remains one of my favourites and of course I have a copy of it in my own DVD collection.

Talking about historical liberties what I find interesting is that if you buy the DVD now, Michael Caine is billed as the star but if you watch it Stanley Baker had top billing and he was the film’s producer as well, the film simply introduces Michael Caine in his first big film role.  That’s how easily history is rewritten.

I like battle films and perhaps could have chosen ‘Waterloo’ or ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ but the fact is that none of these comes close to the dramatic impact of ZULU!  Later that year dad bought the Zulu soundtrack LP for Christmas to play on our new record player. I’ve still got it but I don’t play it any more.  I’ve also got dad’s book on the Zulu wars and his favourite Royal Doulton water colour painting of the defence of Rorke’s Drift.