Newsletter – February 2010

Bankrupt banker

Not a topical reference but an early 19th century Bridgnorth banker whose house I recently researched. This particular gentleman over-reached himself building a mansion on a large estate in Shropshire he had purchased to raise his county profile. He subsequently found himself in debt to the tune of £495,000 in today’s money and the house had to go – along with his reputation no doubt. A later owner, also a banker, spent over £1m on extensions, alterations and modernisation including the installation of a lift ‘with the means of being worked easily by a female servant’.

One couple who visited this property in 1897 were photographed on their tandem tricycle outside the front entrance. The gentleman of the party was in the saddle while his wife was perched on a dickey seat in front of the handlebars over the two front wheels. One can imagine the consequences of any sudden braking when the lady would have been tossed into the road and immediately run over by her husband. Not to mention his vision being obscured by the size of his wife’s hat. No wonder this particular design didn’t catch on.

If I had a hammer …

A day school I recently attended at Oxford University on the English Gentry was the setting for the discovery of a fascinating new research source. Thanks to the University of Birmingham and the College of Arms, some 17c records from the Court of Chivalry are now available online and document the proceedings of cases brought primarily for alleged defamation and ‘scandalous words provocative of a duel’. The Court was one aspect of James I’s anti-duelling campaign which made it an offence to publish any material relating to planned or actual duels.

Anyone with a passing interest in the history of insults will find plenty of fine examples presented to the Court. Calling someone ‘a jack and a stinkeinge beggarly base knave’ was as bad as questioning their parentage and, not surprisingly, two-thirds of offences were committed in an inn or alehouse. My personal favourite was the allegation that a Shrewsbury man ‘had hired shoemakers to perform rough music with ringing and beating of hammers against a gentleman and his bride’ as they passed through the town’s streets. www.court-of-chivalry.bham.ac.uk if you want to know more.

Public liability

Here’s a new twist on civic responsibility. In 1850 the entire population St Julian’s parish in Shrewsbury was indicted for failing to keep a section of the public highway in good repair. Difficult to see how that might have worked in practice, but nevertheless the parishioners were summoned to appear before the Assizes to answer for this Misdemeanour. I discovered this while researching a house in Shrewsbury whose owner was involved in organising a public meeting before the court hearing. As the outcome was not germane to my research I didn’t pursue it but would love to have seen the parish’s 3,716 inhabitants trying to squeeze into the dock.

A boy named Sue

It wasn’t only Johnny Cash who worried about having a girl’s name – the practice has been around a long time and I’ve found several examples during the course of my research. Some children were given their mother’s maiden name as either a first or second name. Thus we have The Reverend Holland Sandford who was named after his mother Frances Holland. So far, so good – distinguished even. Then there was John Lucy Scudamore of Kentchurch, Herefordshire, who inherited both his parents’ first names. Now I find Samuel Amy Severne who was named after his father and paternal grandmother and who liked the name Amy so much he gave it to one of his own sons. There’s fatherly love for you.

Show season starts in May

Following our great success at the Shrewsbury Flower Show last year we will be exhibiting at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show at the Three Counties Showground on 6-9 May. Four days will be a long show but we’re up for it and looking forward to meeting lots of new prospects. We’ve also signed up for our two favourite Shropshire shows – the Burwarton Show and Shrewsbury Flower Show – later in the year. Come and see us!

From the archives – ‘Cock-Crowing Competitions’

Extract from the Ludlow and Church Stretton Chronicle 25 February 1911:

‘A movement has been inaugurated in the Dunmow district of Essex for the encouragement of poultry keeping and egg production, and on the suggestion of Mr Robertson-Scott of Great Canfield, a series of cock-crowing matches is to be held. These competitions are common on the Continent, especially in Belgium, and Mr Scott, who has been present at some of these contests, describes them as having all the excitement of cock-fighting without the brutality.

It is held that such matches do an enormous amount of good in causing cockerels to be bred of first-class stamina. It has been noticed again and again that the young cockerels in a sitting which crow first are usually the strongest, and by using these strong birds the stamina of poultry can be augmented in a few seasons. It is intended to hold the first crowing competition shortly on a farm near Dunmow, it being a form of entertainment not possible in towns’ 

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