Newsletter – September 2008

A successful summer

I’ve had a great summer attending shows in Stafford, Malvern, south Herefordshire, Oswestry, Burwarton, Shrewsbury, Newport and Church Stretton. Apart from the unceasing rain at the Stafford Show, the weather was kind and I met some lovely people, answered a lot of questions, heard some great stories and yes – took some orders. I love meeting people interested in the history of their houses and there are plenty of you out there.

A Cinderella quest

My favourite show encounter this year was someone asking whether I could find a property from a set of house keys. The enquirer had inherited the keys to a property owned by his late uncle, who had apparently bought the house under an assumed name and left no information about either his pseudonym or the location of the house. As my prospect was unwilling to pay me to try the key in the door of every house in the British Isles I was sadly unable to be of service, but if there’s a property near you which has been standing empty for a year or so, I’ll be along with the glass slipper to see if it fits.

Mining links

One of our recent research projects was for a Shropshire farmhouse with mining connections not far from the Stiperstones. The work involved my associate Sue investigating the architectural origins of the property while I researched its documentary history at Shropshire Archives.

We discovered that the house had been the home of the Lawrence family who were influential in the lead mining business and were the first in the area to introduce steam pumps to drain water from the mines. A collection of letters written from our client’s house revealed a story of the rise and fall of the family and included a plea to the local wine merchant when the going got tough, for ‘a quart of your best rum … to relieve a broken heart’. A later resident of the property had been involved in a drunken brawl over the sale of some barley which resulted in a challenge ‘to box with gloves to the finish’. The resulting prize fight was reported in the Shrewsbury Chronicle with glorious descriptions of the combatants’ inevitable injuries. There’s another tale from this project in our From the archives slot below.

A PR trio

We’ve appeared in the media at least three times in the last month. First, our long awaited article by journalist Dave Hancock was published in the July edition of Shropshire Life and featured the story of our client at Ercall Mill in Shropshire. Then Clare Ashford interviewed me at the Burwarton Show for her afternoon show broadcast live on BBC Radio Shropshire. And finally, I was featured in the Shrewsbury Chronicle on 21 August following an interview at the Shrewsbury Flower Show. We’ve got some great research projects coming up which should provide material for more interesting news stories.

Talk talk

Following invitations to speak at a number of groups in Shropshire and Herefordshire, I have written two history-based talks this summer and am taking bookings for this winter and next year. The talks are Pathway to the Past: Discovering the history of your house and The Three R’s: Life in a Victorian country school. Contact us if you would like me to speak to your group or event.

We have joined Facebook

Building Beginnings now has a page on Facebook where we hope to introduce house history to old and new friends. We’ve set up a discussion topic where you can share your house history stories. Find us here.

From the archives

If you think flash flooding and wet weather are recent phenomenons, here is an extract from a report in the Shrewsbury Chronicle about a storm which occurred on 27 May 1811. Twelve people died in the storm, livestock and many homes were lost, and over three thousand acres of farmland were deluged.  It began as a torrential cloudburst on the Stiperstones and this extract tells what happened when the resulting flood had passed through several villages and reached the edge of Shrewsbury:

‘The torrent following the course of Meole Brook reached Coleham at half-past ten o’clock at night with a tremendous roaring noise. The cellars and lower rooms belonging to the Seven Stars public house and all the houses adjoining were deluged and the street was inundated to the depth of nearly three feet by an instantaneous gush. At this time the noise of the current was inconceivably dreadful and the cries of ‘Help! Help! Drowning!’ contributed to the horror of the sounds. The force of this great body of water rushing into the Severn from Meole Brook actually turned the current of the river Severn which rose near the English Bridge four feet perpendicular in less than ten minutes.’

Here’s to a calmer and drier autumn.

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