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The Upper Reaches of the River Severn - Dec 2012'.

The December meeting of the History Group was given by Brian Draper and entitled 'The Upper Reaches of the River Severn'. It proved to be a very interesting and beautifully illustrated description of the Severn from its source in Plynlimon, the highest point in the Cambrian Mountains, to Bridgnorth.

From a boggy beginning marked by a post, the river passes through the Hafren Forest exiting at a narrow gorge as the highest waterfall in the area. At this point it starts to pick up tributaries and reaches the first town along its route, Llanidloes also known as Flannel Town because of its thriving industry making the cloth in the 18th and 19th centuries. At nearby Clywedog is the tallest concrete dam in UK which has a hollow construction. The resulting reservoir acts as a regulatory system for the river – filling with water in the winter and releasing it during the summer.

The course of the river continues through Llandinam, birthplace of industrialist David Davies, which became the first village to install electricity. The first large town is Newtown where the Robert Owen (founder of the Co-op) Museum can be found. Flood alleviation measures were put in place here back in 1970 as, before then, the town was well known for problems with flooding. Moving downstream, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust has established a nature reserve at Pwll Penarth where otters and migrating salmon can be seen. Hen Domen, which is Welsh for 'old mound', is the site of a medieval motte and bailey castle and has a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. It is also the site of the original stone Montgomery Castle built in the reign of Henry III. One of the next tributaries to join the Severn is the River Camlad as it moves towards Welshpool and the National Trust property, Powis Castle. The Camlad is notable for being the only river to cross from Wales to England and it does so twice. Near Welshpool is Pool Quay which, in the 1800s, was the head of navigation up the very busy Severn. Man-hauled boats were used to carry materials up and down the river. Passing through a vast flood plain the Severn is joined by a major tributary, the River Vyrnwy, above Shrewsbury. This is an historic town with many interesting medieval buildings and the Welsh and English bridges providing crossing points across the river.

Moving on towards Bridgnorth, the river passes Atcham, site of the only Celtic church in England, and Attingham Park where the River Tern joins the main course. From here it runs through the Ironbridge Gorge, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution where it can be crossed using the famous Iron Bridge built in 1779. The river eventually reaches Bridgnorth where it separates High and Low Town, the two linked by the famous funicular railway. From here the Severn carries on to the Bristol Channel, a total journey of 354 kilometres. We all look forward to the lower reaches of the Severn being the subject of a future talk.

Sue Skidmore

Black Country Burials - February 2013

Although entitled 'Black Country Burials', the February History Group meeting was a lively affair. The talk, given by Ian Bott, was interesting and very well illustrated. The speaker gave us a tour of burial sites in the Midlands describing many of the headstones he has come across while pursuing his interest.


The Andover Workhouse Scandal

The Local History Group talk in March was the intriguingly titled 'The Andover Workhouse Scandal' given by Andrew Harris. He described in great detail the workhouse in the 19th century. At that time there were deemed to be 3 types of poverty: the deserving poor who needed help because of age or illness, the undeserving poor who were able-bodied but unable to support their family and finally vagrants or travellers.

The poor tended to be looked after in the parish and the help provided was supported by the collection of taxes. Recipients of help could either go into the workhouse or could stay in their homes and receive 'out relief' although this proved expensive. The Royal Commission on the Poor Law was set up in 1832 and recommended a complete overhaul of the poor relief system, ruling that relief would be provided only in the workhouse. Conditions in the workhouse were meant to be so unpleasant that people would only apply for entry if they were desperate. Few rural areas had the resources to build workhouses and so grouped together to provide poor houses, the so-called Poor Law unions run by guardians. These were overseen centrally by the Poor Law Commission. It was decided that the allowance given to provide help led to a loss of self respect and really what was needed was self-help and better education to remove poverty.

A new system of running workhouses was introduced which had 7 classes of inmates: aged/infirm men, able-bodied men over 13 years of age, boys aged 7-13, the same 3 groups for women plus children under 7. These groups were all housed separately so that families were split up. The staff typically included a master and matron, schoolmaster, chaplain, porter, nurses (often inmates), medical officer and a clerk for the governors. Often there were few able-bodied men but those that were had to work and it was some of this work that led to the scandal mentioned in the title.

In 1845 at the Andover union, inmates were employed crushing slaughter-house bones to make fertilizer. It came to the attention of the guardian, Hugh Mundy, that men were so hungry that they were eating meat from the bones. This made headline news in The Times and led to a public enquiry. A long list of charges was brought against the master, Sergeant-Major McDougal who withdrew from his position. However, the enquiry became a more complicated investigation of the Poor Law Commission and dragged on until 1846. At this point Etwall, the local MP, critical of the Poor Law Commission, proposed that it be replaced with a body accountable to Parliament and so the Poor Law Board was set up.

For more information on workhouses go to www.workhouses.org.uk

Archaeological Finds in Worcestershire

The meeting in February was entitled 'Archaeological Finds in Worcestershire'. The speaker was Richard Henry who is a liaison officer based in the county (www.worcestershire.gov.uk/archaeology). He reported that there have been some prehistoric finds in the form of axe heads and later artefacts dating from the 'Iron Age' in Worcestershire.

Roman coins have also been found, particularly from the time of Emperor Probus (244-282 AD) who lifted restrictions on grain and wine growing to boost local economies and commerce. Burying hordes of coins has often been associated with times of strife such as the Civil War and the Viking and Norman conquests. However, hordes buried between 50-350AD are unusual in that this is known to have been a time of prosperity. Many of the coins found were buried 2 generations after the coins were minted and, based on a soldier's pay it has been estimated that one horde represented eleven weeks pay - so not a fortune. Although a number of coins have been found in Worcestershire, many more have been found south of the county. Around 3000 have been sorted and identified at the British Museum. Some do not have a mint mark and, as the numbers being made were enormous, many coins show evidence of mistakes in the design.

Findings from Early Medieval times include part of a stirrup, an Anglo-Saxon penny dating from the time of Ethelred the Unready and an annular brooch made of copper alloy from 1200-1400AD. There are also items associated with pilgrims such as lead ampulla designed to hold holy oil which can be traced to where they were made. Post Medieval findings include coins from the Civil War, usually found by metal detectorists although 2 coins, issued in the Napoleonic War, were found in mortar in the tower of Ombersley church, obviously placed there by masons working on the tower. A miniature toy cannon was found near Kidderminster and, although it could be fired, its purpose is unclear.

Important finds are still being made such as the Saxon Horde which is the subject of the Annual Lecture this year. More information can be found at the website above and at www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/24/contents which provides a definition of 'treasure'.

Nail-makers of Bromsgrove (Jan 2012)

Albert CraneThe topic of the January meeting was the 'Nail-makers of Bromsgrove' and the talk, given by Pat Tansell, was very well attended.

Pat explained that nail-making was widespread throughout the Black Country but was also associated with Bromsgrove particularly Sidemoor, Catshill, Wildmoor and Bournheath. The number of people employed in nailmaking increased after the production of rod iron by slitting mills began in the 17th century. Many varieties of nails could be  made with Bromsgrove specialising in small nails. The industry was in its heyday in the late 18th and 19th centuries but was already declining by the 1820s.

There are many valuable records, for example wills, inventories, apprenticeship documents, Poor Law records etc, which provide information of what life was like in these communities. Pat mentioned some resources available at Bromsgrove Library, including a rare transcript of the 1811 and 1821 census for the local area and a copy of a list showing payments made to the poor of the district in 1806. Pat described how nails were made and how the workers depended on the nail-masters both to provide rod iron and to buy the finished product. The docks apparently required huge numbers of nails for many years but a decline in the number of nails required, including those used for tea chests together with the introduction of overseas competition meant an eventual loss of work for the nail-makers. 1842 seems to have been a particularly bad year when there was a sharp downturn in trade followed by an associated reduction in wages. Around this time the living conditions of working families were being investigated and this led to the introduction of several laws such as the Poor Law Amendment Act and the Factories and Workplace Act. All members of the family were expected to play a part in the nail-making although often it was left to the women and children when the men went to find seasonal agricultural work. However, the passing of the Education Act in 1870 resulted in children having to fit in making nails around attendance at school which meant that they had to endure long, arduous days.

Pat described the 'truck' or 'fogger' system which consisted of middle men who paid in kind so that the workers were tied into one shop or alehouse for provisions. This was illegal as it bypassed the nail-masters although it did offer instant payment and was therefore attractive to the workers. The practice managed to survive even when informants were offered half of any resulting fine as an inducement - being an informant could be quite lucrative!

Nail-making continued in Bromsgrove on a small scale until just after the end of WW2. Rupert Rea, who had learnt the skills of the trade by watching his grandparents, is remembered by many who saw him demonstrate nailmaking at Avoncroft Museum until shortly before his death in 2005. Pat dedicated her talk to Rupert and also to Bill Kings and to Henry Ince who championed the cause of the nailers in the 1800s. Ince was a Methodist preacher who travelled many miles to deliver his sermons. Pat ended her talk with a song called 'Henry Ince' written and performed by Keith Judson, a local Baptist Minister and folk singer. There are many reminders of our nail-making heritage around Bromsgrove but Pat suggested a more permanent reminder, perhaps in the form of a plaque, would be a suitable tribute to those who worked in the trade.

Worcestershire Folklore and Folk Songs (Dec 11)

In December Richard Churchley gave an entertaining talk on 'Worcestershire Folklore and Folk Songs'. He gave the background to several Worcestershire/Warwickshire folk songs before performing some of the songs on a variety of instruments.

Over the years people have collected songs to try to ensure their survival. In Warwickshire many songs, some dating from Elizabethan times, were collected by Cecil Sharp. He interviewed, for example, farm labourers, at first writing down the music but eventually using wax cylinders to record the songs. A couple of the songs performed had connections with Bromsgrove and there were also the Worcestershire carols, not to be confused with Christmas carols, which tried to fill in everyday details of the life of Jesus. 'Whose pigs are these', a round originating from Broadway, was performed admirably by the audience accompanied by interesting sound effects.

Finally Richard included several tunes associated with Morris dancing pointing out that 'sides' varied according to where they were from. Around here a 'side' consisted of eight men who would black their faces whereas in the Cotswolds a 'side' was six men but with no black faces and no ribbons.

A Tour of Wribbenhall (Nov 2011)

At the History Group's November meeting, Heather Flack took us on a tour of Wribbenhall – in her opinion, an 'overlooked hamlet'.

Many of us will have passed through Wribbenhall on our way to Bewdley and beyond. However, we have probably been unaware that the settlement was mentioned in the Domesday Book and, although some have been demolished, it still has many fine half-timbered buildings. One of these dates back to the 14th century and another has preserved wall paintings from the 17th century. Until trade on the River Severn declined with the building of the canal at Stourport, the hamlet had several thriving businesses including one producing pewterware, a ropemakers and a wheelwright. All have now disappeared although work by the celebrated pewterer, John Duncumb, can be seen in Bewdley museum.

Heather promotes local history and is keen that the origins of the various settlements and hamlets are not forgotten, even when they are absorbed into larger, surrounding towns.



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