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Foxearth & District Local History Society Meeting 12th September 2017 – Report

The feelings and actions of a young weaver from Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, who served at Waterloo were dramatically portrayed by local historian, Anne Grimshaw, to members of the District Society on Tuesday 12th September. In costume of the period – which was subtly altered to reflect  different people – Anne appeared as mother Dolly, sister Sally and wife Phoebe to John Grimshaw (born 1789) ; no relation as far as Anne has been able to discover.

In 1806, very much against his parent’s wishes, John left his job as a hand loom weaver  and enlisted in the Coldstream Guards. His first letter home was from London which he described as “bigger than Blackburn”! Next he was in Spain “hotter than Lancashire” and then in Portugal which was said to have “flies everywhere” and “people sleeping in huts with their animals” In 1815, after Waterloo, he wrote again from London  about the “big fight” and mentioned that he had been injured. More about this came to light when he came limping home at Christmas 1818 giving a graphic account of how a surgeon had removed a musket ball – which had been flattened when it hit his hip. He was also injured in the right arm. Whilst recuperating he was given a carbine to shoot the rats that were around the hospital. On his arrival home he enquired whether another local lad, Thomas Pollard, whom he had met in 1811 in Portugal had been in touch. Dolly replied that he had – and he had married John’s sister Sally! John saw action in several other battles and after his army service he suffered from bad dreams and episodes of sleep screaming indicating that “battle fatigue ” is not a modern condition. He was discharged from the army in 1818 as unfit having received a number of medals and awarded a pension of 9d a day.

As “Sally” Anne described some of John’s expeience of Belgium where there was said to be a lot of fever and ague. John returned to work as a hand loom weaver and in 1828 married Phoebe Tomlinson, also a weaver, and these two became involved in the active unrest that workers started to show as they saw the introduction of machinery into weaving and steam looms as threatening their livelihood. “Phoebe” recounted her arrest, her appearance at the Assizes for rioting and her sentence of 12 months hard labour. John died in 1851 of asthma aged 61. His army record showed him to be older indicating that he may have been untruthful about his age when enlisting!

This “one woman show” demonstrated the deep level of research Anne had undertaken to compile this intriguing account in which, she said,  a few assumptions had been made on the basis of the evidence of the times. A carefully designed and interesting evening. Anne related how Thomas Pollard was quite a hero having received a campaign medal with 9 bars. The whereabouts of this decoration was unknown for some years but persistent enquiries by Anne had finally unearthed it and it now was held proudly in the regimental archives. Anne was warmly thanked on behalf on 17 members by Secretary Clare Mathieson.

Information was presented about the Society’s annual dinner on 12th December at the George, Cavendish and members should book their place with Clare as soon as possible. The next meeting will be on 10th October at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when Judy Ivy will talk about the artistic connections between John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough in the context of the Suffolk/Essex landscape.

Ken Nice

Foxearth and District Local History Society – Report on AGM held on 14th March 2017

 The Annual General Meeting of the Foxearth and District Local History Society was held on 14th March 2017 in Foxearth Village Hall with Mrs Lynda Rumbold in the Chair. There were 23 members present. A very warm welcome was expressed to former Treasurer John Geddes on his return from major surgery.

A financial report showed a satisfactory situation. An application to the Parish Council for a grant of £250 had been made for 2017/18 and it was agreed – since the Council requested predictive figures for future years – that this should be increased to £350 subsequently. It was also agreed that the annual membership subscription and the meetings fee for guests should remain at £10 and £2 respectively. Cheque signatories would continue for the present.

Preparation of the 2017 programme and the general running of the Society, had been in the hands of the Chairman and Secretary Clare Mathieson and thanks were conveyed for a job well done. It seemed quite unnecessary to extend the Committee beyond these two very capable and willing volunteers who were happy with the situation but who asked that members  provide their contact details if there was a sudden need for help.

The success of the web site was a tribute to the continuing diligent work of Andrew Clarke.

The President, Ashley Cooper, reminded members of the book fund which he had established several years ago and which existed to support publication of literature of local interest; the fund stood at just over £900.

In connection with local archaeology Corinne Cox asked that anyone interested in having a 1 metre square test pit being dug in their garden should contact her. The procedure would be carried out by volunteers who had already uncovered some ancient finds in the villages.

Members had been asked to bring along wedding photographs and after a refreshing cheese and wine break the anecdotes began to flow. We heard about how the happy day had been mildly disrupted by weather, football crowds, vehicle breakdowns, how money was still owed for a taxi fare and how courtship at a distance had thrived by the exchange of numerous letters which were still in the family archive. It was generally felt that the spontaneous response of members to the challenge of providing their own entertainment had been successful and enjoyable. One member suggested an evening devoted to the history of our houses and this was met with enthusiasm.

Next meeting: 11th April at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when Andrew Richardson will talk about the History of the Quay.

 

Ken Nice

Foxearth and District History Society – Meeting 14th Feb 2017

The multi-coloured samples of woven horse hair that John Miners brought along to the Society’s meeting on 14th February were a long way removed from the bits of stuffing that some of us  recalled from the inside of old sofas and in his detailed and well-illustrated talk John took us through the processes that turned this natural protein fibre  into a versatile and immensely durable fabric. John is now a freelance textile consultant who began his career as an apprentice at Courtaulds; as a school leaver, whose family lived opposite the factory, he reasoned that a job there would allow him to minimise the time between getting out of bed and clocking in for work – but he moved on!

John Boyd Ltd is the only remaining weaver of horse hair in the UK and is based in Castle Cary in Somerset. John Boyd was the son of a Scottish merchant and he came to England in his early 20s as a travelling draper. He started his horse hair weaving business in 1837 in a chapel yard and by 1841 he employed about 30 weavers. By 1851 his enterprise had grown to 30 women, 9 men and 34 children involved in various operations. The children fed the horse tails into the looms and this had to be done in single strands- and alternately, because the hair is thicker at the top end of the tail, to ensure an even weave. With the coming of the 1870 Education Act, which forbade the employment of children under 13, mechanical feed machines were devised. At this time most of the hair used came from the local area where horse breeding was popular for agriculture and transport. Later in the century hair had to be imported because of increased mechanisation and nowadays most of the raw material comes from Mongolia. Before any hair gets near a loom it has to be washed – and conditioned -and sorted by hand (a process called hackling) to remove  short, discoloured or brittle pieces. Hair never wears out and can be dyed any colour and the woven product is much in demand by antique restorers as well as modern furniture manufacturers for hotels, restaurants, shoes etc. In the weaving the hair is the weft – the horizontal strand (maximum  length 26″) – and this is combined with cotton, usually, as the vertical warp.

John Boyd did much for the town building cottages and terraces for his workers; at the turn of the century the company employed about 200 people such was the popularity of horse hair fabric.

John was warmly thanked by Secretary Clare Mathieson for a most interesting talk which generated many questions from the 22 members and guests present.

It was noted that John Geddes – member and past Treasurer – was seriously ill in hospital and best wishes for his speedy recovery were expressed.

Clare reminded members that the next meeting would be the AGM on 14th March – 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall -with cheese and wine. Please bring wedding photographs (yours, your parents, your grandparents?) and be prepared to be anecdotal! Clare also pointed out that there were seats available on the trip to Harwich on July 11th (guided tour of the historic centre and the Redoubt Fort) and anyone wishing to be included should contact her without delay.

Ken Nice