My Ancestors Worked in Textile Mills

You might be pleased to know my latest book will be published by the Society of Genealogists in mid January 2020. I’m delighted! What a fabulous start to the New Year!

My books always take a year to research and write; a long all-consuming chunk out of a life. There are the inevitable ups and downs of research, writing and editing but I get to travel all around the country visiting libraries, museums, and parts of the country I would never normally think of visiting.

Writing non-fiction and finding a publisher is very different to writing fiction and getting a novel published. But all authors, whether fiction or non-fiction, before they get a contract, have to have a germ of the idea, a proposal, contact with an agent/publisher and endless negotiations…. I have written novels (a very long time ago) and, although they travelled a long way down the publication route, they’ve never seen the shelf of a bookshop. Like Dracula, the manuscripts rest ‘undead’ in my cellar.

Novelists insist fictional characters become friends and, like friends, lead a life of their own. I remember, when writing one of my ill-fated novels, the keyboard took over my fingers and a favourite character ended up under a lorry. Was she dead? Did I resurrect her? Non fiction is similar. With a 55,000 word count, there is a huge amount of culling and editing. What is relevant? What isn’t? Instead of characters, you have facts and themes – but for me, there are always stories within the hi-story. Whenever I conduct family history research, it’s the stories behind those dates, facts and place names that fascinate me and, whenever possible, I integrate them into my textbooks.

Chinese Soap Berry Tree

This October, I was in Taroko Gorge, Taiwan,  where I spotted a sapindus mukorossi tree.  What the heck?  I hear you ask.  Good question.   Used to wash clothes, dishes and hair, the Chinese Soap Berry was the equivalent of our soapwort (saponaria officinalis, also called wild sweet William), a poisonous plant found in parts of the UK countryside.  Because soapwort contains saponin, a natural toxin which, when shaken with water, makes foam, leaves and/or roots were boiled up by our ancestors for a free cleaning agent. Remember, from 1712-1853, soap in the UK was taxed.  Just imagine that!!!!    

Chinese Soap Berry tree, sapindus mukorossi, Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

For the Taiwanese, depending on the season, they used the skin of the berry or the bark, both of which contain saponin.  When berries were  available,  they used them to make soap bubbles but in winter, people used the bark.  Wrapped in cloth, it was squeezed to make those all-important bubbles. Of course, once chemical agents had been invented, the poor old soap berry tree went out of favour.  Who wanted the hard graft of fuddy duddy methods when it could be bought ready made?  Fashions change so recently Grandma’s more environmentally-friendly natural products have returned to favour.

Click here to learn more about the lives of our female ancestors.

What have white rabbits, 1st of the month and Alice in Wonderland got in common?

Answer; Beverley in Yorkshire’s  East Riding

Well Mr White Rabbit of St Mary’s Beverley. Why can’t I turn you upright like I did when I edited it… You are seriously relaxed!

I’ve just been to Beverley Yorkshire and it was wonderful; a mad mix of architectural eras (including a snug local pub still lit by gas), the enormous Beverley Minster, the race course and two markets – the Saturday and Wednesday markets higgledy piggedly in a very upmarket town centre. Whilst extolling its virtues to various friends nobody, just like me, had ever been there before and we are all missing a real treat.   In one way, it’s not so surprising I’d not been.   It is, after all, in the middle of nowhere.  To misquote Peter Pan, instead of following the second star to the left and fly right on until morning, for Beverley, you follow the M62 to the very end before vaguely turning left.

It’s also a little embarrassing I’ve never been before.  My father’s goddaughter, who lived there for years, kept inviting me.  It’s only after she’s moved to Salisbury do I finally get to go.  

The story has it that Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson), author of Alice in Wonderland , was staying at the Beverley Arms, just across the road from St Mary’s Church (now amongst my favourite churches and due to feature in one of my forthcoming articles)  when he spotted  a white rabbit carved in stone  on a pillar (photo courtesy my American friend, Robert, as my shots were out of focus).  As a writer, I’m well aware authors recycle everything –Charles was no exception.

Now it’s your turn to do something for me. 

When I was at school, attempting to ward off the inevitable hex (i.e. punch) on the first day of the month, we used to shout ‘white rabbits and no return.’    Now, if I remember correctly, there’s actually two other lines of doggerel which we omitted – ‘Pinch punch, first day of the month and no return.’    So; can anyone out there tell me how white rabbits became a mantra for warding off evil?  You will have my everlasting gratitude…

Hannah Winbolt nee Oldham, Stockport Suffragist 1851-1928

Hannah’s plaque in Stockport’s Suffragette Square

As part of my  toothless ‘words not deeds’ campaign to get Stockport’s Suffragette Square renamed Suffragist Square, I will recount a few stories I’ve unearthed from the British Newspaper Archive (BNA) relating to my new heroine Hannah Winbolt.  For over thirty years she lived in the same Stockport Street and her name is commemorated on a bench in Stockport.  Our Hannah was no suffragette. No indeed. She believed women were equal politically, socially, morally and intellectually with men and she fought her battle on the podium not with stones or bombs…

Unlike so many of her fellow suffragists, Hannah was working class. Daughter of a silk hand-loom weaver, she was a silk weaver herself.  She finished her mainstream education (as far as education went in the 1860s) aged 8 to work as a ‘nurse child.’  Now I’ve done a little research on what a ‘nurse child’ entailed and the internet is full of posts suggesting a type of wet nurse but, sceptic that I am, a 9 year old girl would never be expected to wet nurse someone else’s baby.  On the front page of the Windsor and Eton Express,  Saturday 12 November 1897, is an advert for a ‘child nurse’ specifically requesting a respectable person who has much experience with children, a CHILD TO NURSE, references will be given and required.  Hannah was sent to a family to work as a nurse. 

Stockport’s Suffragette Square should be changed to Suffragist Square!

By the following year she was a part-timer (half the day in school, half the day working) at a mill until she was eleven and the export of raw cotton was blockaded by the Unionists during the American Civil War.  The resulting Lancashire Cotton Famine 1861-1865 was a terrible time for Lancashire and parts of Cheshire.    By 15, she was teaching other children to read, eventually joining the Women’s Liberal Federation.  Under this umbrella, she promoted female franchise by travelling the country speaking at public meetings under her married name of Mrs John Winbolt.  They had married in 1874 and by 1881 the couple were living in Store Street, Great Moor, Stockport, both working in silk manufacturing.  Thirty years later, they were still living in the same road in a modest two-up two-down.

Yes, I appreciate this is a pretty dry biography but Hannah was an exceptional lady and never indulged in the terrorist tactics of full blown militant suffragettes of the Women’s Social and Political Union (Mrs Pankhurst’s mob). 

No.  Hannah believed ‘If a woman is not able to persuade her husband that her side of a question is the right one, she is not worthy to have a husband.’ (Heywood Advertiser 24 March 1893 P4) and introduced her address to the audience of this very meeting with the immortal words ‘Anyone who has come here expecting to listen to a grand grammatical speech has come to the wrong shop.’

Oh my goodness, Hannah, you are my sort of woman!

A dead highwayman murdered my ancestors

Two of my distant ancestors were murdered in their kitchen reputedly for the money in the teapot.  This was 1750 when William Spurret and his wife Elizabeth ran the local alehouse, Hobcroft’s Holt. Standing on the site today is the Holt Hotel, its sign depicting a highwayman said to haunt the hotel.

Now nobody wants to point a finger at friends and relatives but it was obviously an inside job so what did the authorities do?  Blame the atrocity on the local highwayman, a French chap called Claude Duval, who was hanged at Tyburn on the 21 January 1670 – 80 years earlier.   As you have probably guessed, I enjoy art galleries and not too long ago, I was delighted to find a painting of this very rascal hanging on the wall of Manchester Art Gallery – sadly replaced by a another painting a month or so ago.

There is obviously no way Claude could have been responsible for the beerhouse murders.  Apparently, he was a gallant rogue; when he stopped a stagecoach, if a pretty female passenger danced with him, she could keep her belongings.    

This painting, thank you Manchester Art Gallery Collections, is by William Powell Frith RA (1819-1909) donated in 1917 by the James Gresham Bequest.  Claude, in his scarlet jacket, is clearly expecting the lady in white to dance…. If you look closely just between the arms of the  two masked robbers to the left of the painting, you can see a tiny gibbet on the horizon whence dangles a convicted highwayman.

After his execution at Tyburn in London, legend has him buried in St Paul’s church, Covent Garden; the parish register records the burial of Peter Duval in January 1670.

A memorial in the church reads:

Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,

Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.

Much havoc has he made of both; for all

Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall

The second Conqueror of the Norman race,

Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.

Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,

Du Vall, the ladies’ joy; Du Vall, the ladies’ grief.

A gruesome description of the murder –not a whiff of Claude Duval – can be found here under  the title Murder at the Holt on Steeple Aston Village Archive website.

Resources for U3A lecture Buxton

Suggested resources other than censuses. Good luck.

  • Andy Alston’s Repository
  • Local archives, CROs/Mechanic Institutes – local
  • Court records
  • Unions/apprenticeship records
  • Cotton Famine (1861-1865); records includes
    • CROs – sewing schools
    • Minutes for the relief committees
    • Other relief work – including for men
  • Directories and trade directories
  • Bankruptcy courts;  The London Gazette etc
  • Newspapers, BNA
  • Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire
  • Family History Societies

1842 Mines Act and records online

My Ancestors worked in Textile Mills

Moorside worsted spinning mill built 1875 now Bradford Industrial Museum © Adèle Emm

Good news, this latest addition to my ‘oeuvres’ will be published in the near future by the Society of Genealogists.  I’m currently revising, proof reading and indexing – indexing is not a job I particularly like but someone has to do it.  Another of  my skillsets….

The book covers the history behind England’s wealth – in the Middle Ages…  I’m sure you’ve guessed by now…  wool!  Even today, the Lord Speaker in the House of Lords sits on a woolsack – its weight three times more than me.    My book explains the process of cloth production from pre-industrialisation through the industrial revolution and on.   If your ancestors lived in the North West, Yorkshire or Scotland from the 18th Century, I bet one of them worked in the textile industry.  My great great grandfather was an Oxfordshire baker who migrated northwards to Ashton under Lyne.  He never worked in the cotton mills – but all his children did.

Read about working conditions, what mill-workers actually did and how much they were paid.  Found great auntie Aggie working as a lapper or frame tenter and wondered exactly what she did?  Easy.  Read my book…    It’s due out towards the end of this year, perhaps the beginning of 2020.  I’ll keep you updated.   In the meantime, whet your appetite by reading Tracing your Trade and Craftsman Ancestors and Tracing your Female Ancestors,   both available now….

Miss Muriel Matters More…

I have just finished Dr Fern Riddell’s book  ‘Death in Ten Minutes‘ about forgotten suffragette   Kitty Marion.  Riddell’s book reinforced my  opinion that the action taken by some suffragettes was terrorism – I concede my argument is controversial.   She refers, briefly, to a bomb exploding in April 1913 in a train in Davenport Junction, near Stockport.  The modus operandi employed by militant suffragettes was to fill a metal canister with explosives and place it under the seat of a train carriage together with firelighters soaked in resin and oil  then soak seats and carriages with paraffin.  As reported in a contemporary newspaper, the  canister exploded when a London train was passing and according to the driver (I love this detail), ‘A piece of wood struck his engine and knocked off  his tea bottle.’

1913 was the height of the suffragettes ‘Deeds not Words’ militancy and I wondered where my Miss Muriel Matters was at the time – see my previous blog.  She had, after all, been in Manchester in 1908 so was vaguely familiar with the area.  However,  there’s no evidence Muriel, unlike Kitty, belonged to the active branch of the suffragettes especially as Muriel was a member of the Women’s Freedom League, a breakaway group from the control freakery of the Pankhursts.

A quick blast through the British Newspaper Archive took me to ‘The Common Cause,’ a suffragist journal first published in April 1909 as  a mouthpiece for the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Muriel was scheduled to deliver a series of speeches and talks in Scotland in late April 1913.  A former actress, she would have been brilliant addressing a crowd and, indeed, the Bexhill on Sea Observer described her in 1911 as speaking with eloquence, a ‘graceful figure in white‘ … ‘possessing a storehouse of knowledge which few young ladies of the movement could rival.’   Somewhat patronising, yes, but it sounds like the unnamed journalist was impressed with our Muriel.

As for Muriel being responsible for placing a bomb in suburban Stockport in 1913, I doubt it.  I’d far more likely place it at Kitty Marion’s feet…

Finally, a photo of Manchester’s 200th anniversary commemoration of the Peterloo Massacre.  Unlike 1819  when the 16th of August was a fabulously hot summer’s day, the 16th of August 2019 was not!  Holding an umbrella and camera was difficult…

Why have I hooked this on at the end of today’s blog?  Because of the many similarities between inequalities in the UK for 1819 and 2019….   A battle I am sure both Kitty Marion and Muriel Matters would have embraced.

Peterloo Commemoration, Manchester 16 August 2019 © Adèle Emm



Miss Muriel Matters -oh no she doesn’t- oh yes she does

In the current political turmoil, today’s topic is by-elections and concerns a previous resident of my South Manchester home, staunch Conservative voter Francis William Johnstone. Aged about 40 in 1908, he unexpectedly found himself swept up in feminist politics.

The Grille Incident

Miss Muriel Matters chained to the grille. from House of Commons Library, Illustrated London News.  Published 7 November 1908. Their copyright.

April 1908 and Manchester was holding a by-election.  Three candidates were in the race and their nominations meeting was held in Manchester Town Hall on the morning of 21st April.   You may have heard of Winston S Churchill (1874-1965) – he was standing as a Liberal.  His rivals; William Joynson-Hicks (Conservative/Unionist) and Dan Irving (Labour/Socialist).  Attending this meeting and supporting  Mr Joynson-Hicks and was my  Francis William.

Suddenly, two women, members of the Women’s Freedom League (founded 1907 as a breakaway from Emmeline Pankhurst’s WSPU) demanded to know if they could submit nomination papers for women. Of course Australian actress Miss Muriel Matters (1877-1969) and Mrs Manson were refused. Mrs Manson demanded why not.  Churchill ignored them.

When Francis William returned home, did he tell his wife about the interruption?  Was he furious or sympathetic to the cause?  I suspect not. Francis must have been reminded of his encounter just a few months later.

On 28th November, Muriel Matters and fellow conspirator Helen Fox hit the national headlines by chaining themselves to the grille in the Ladies Gallery of the Houses of Parliament.  Their confederate Violet Tillard lowered a banner down to the Chamber.  Unable to release the two women, they were carried – still attached to the grille –  to the committee room finally released by sawing through the chains.

I would love to know how his wife reacted.

DSC01929 (640x480)

Emmeline Pankhurst statue in St Peter’s Square, Manchester. As a suffragist not a suffragette, I am no fan of hers.  © Adèle Emm

Madabout History

Madabout magazine 1983. It cost £1

A hoarder? Me? Never!  That trunk in my cellar has only been there umpty um years and for umpty um years I believed it  locked and the key well and truly lost. Except today I glanced at it and realised the latch was hanging loose. …  to cut to the chase, I rummaged inside and found…

  • lots of ‘lost’ documents from when I first started researching the Emm surname.
  • all my research books for the TV programme ‘Madabout’ transmitted from Tyne Tees in Newcastle. I worked on the second series.
  • lots of other stuff including family photographs (yes please).  I need to go through  it all but the spores from the cellar are somewhat interesting so I will take my time …

However, I am sharing this rare memento from 1983.  The BFI and IMDB have very little record of this show even though one of the episodes for which I was responsible, Madabout Flying, was nominated for BAFTA.  Not that I was invited to the ceremony….

Matthew Kelly was the presenter.  Diane Campbell the producer.

If anyone out there has any memories of this series: you took part;  you worked on the crew; you were a fan of the show, I would love to hear from you!