What a smashing day on all counts! A good turn out and convivial company, one of the best February days ever and a most interesting walk.

Hi Ho……. On the way to the Fox Clough coal mine. Attribution C. Rousseau Jones

Richard Matthews introduced us to what was an area heavily involved in coal mining going back to the 1600’s in places.   We had a good look around the Fox Clough coal mine pumping engine site and visited the Waterside and Carry Bridge areas of Colne and also the mining areas of Trawden. Ruins of the ‘pit head’ were seen however it won’t be long before they’re no longer there.   Richard has done a lot of work in uncovering what can now be seen. Amongst other interesting features, we also viewed the remains of round tunnels which were probably robbed out by local folk for building. We also had a bird’s eye view of bonny Colne and could see the mill where the coal would have been taken to, on tracks that are no longer visible…

Pumphouse. Fox Clough
Attribution: C. Rousseau Jones.

A most interesting feature was the forge in what would have been the ruins of the smithy.   A huge and solid oblong shape with the marks of the smith scored on the stone and the centre filled with ash.

Forge.Fox Clough
Attribution: C. Rousseau Jones

This outing provided us with a flavor of what life would have been like for the locals in past centuries, although the mine is very sheltered and indeed very hard to find without a guide, the workers would have been very exposed to the elements as they walked across the fields to work.

Attribution: C. Rousseau Jones

Along our journey we spied the diamond shaped scorings on gate stones guiding the people who could not read to work.   We saw and heard the first curlews and lapwings and saw our first Peacock Butterfly!

And what could be better than ending the day be a visit to the Admiral Lord Rodney!

Banner Image: Scored marks on the gate posts to guide miners who could not read, to the right mine. Attribution: C. Rousseau Jones

As Malcolm says ports were places that moved things, food, people, military equipmen, goods and acted as places for ship building.Barrow at the end of the longest cul de sac in the country had a population in the 1850’s of 500, small in comparison to nearby Ulverston at 5, 500.

Haverigg apparently had the richest iron ore found in England leading to a small steel works being founded at Millom and with nearby coal and limestone being readily available business was quick to take off, necessitating a larger steel works having to be built. Of course ship building needed steel and people flocked to the area which offered plenty of employment opportunities and Barrows’ population rose considerably.

At one mile long, Ulverston has the shortest canal in England which because it became uneconomical to run was sealed off and is now used for pleasure craft. Ulverston was seen as a good port to get in and out of. Boats were able to tie up at the quay or the promenade.

St George’s Quay, Lancaster, Courtesy of Malcolm Tranter

Storth and Arnside became the port for Milnthorpe . A customs house was built close to the quay in common with many ports, enabling the government to ‘get their cut’ via taxation.  When the railways arrived small ports like Storth were cut off.

Sunderland Point does not easily spring to mind as a port and was a tiny isolated community but survived at one point by transporting road stone to North Wales in a very small way. Warning – if you intend to visit this area check the tide times!

Richard Gillow a member of the famous family built the Custom House in Lancaster. If you visit Lancaster be sure to visit St. George’s Quay warehouses, grand buildings most probably converted to homes by now.   Some goods were kept in bonded warehouses for example spices, rum, pepper. Barrels were leak proof, the shape and size differed for identification. Hogs head barrels held 63 gallons.

Lancaster was involved in a ‘triangular trade’, ships took goods to ports on the west African coast, the profits bought slaves who were then transported to the USA and after collecting more profits, cotton was transported to Lancashire. People bought shares in this very profitable business but at the time could not have been aware of the appalling conditions on the middle leg of the journey.

During the fallow summer season fishermen supplemented their income by taking visitors on pleasure trips around Morecambe bay. The port of Glasson Dock is also worth a visit, it was built to accommodate ships that were bigger and deeper drafted and also had a small line in ship building. Some of the warehouses stored grain and some are still there today alongside pleasure craft. The five mile long canal here connects to the Lancaster canal. Goods were loaded from ships onto barges and travelled to Preston and Kendal.

Barrow Ship Launch, Courtesy of Malcolm Tranter

Heysham, Cockersands, Fleetwood, Wyre dock, Blackpool, Lytham, Preston, dredging, sifting, steam houses, pilots, tugs, lifeboats, ship breakers yards, wood pulp, asparto grass, china clay, 500 pits within five miles of Wigan college, coal, pit props, wood, phew! Reader I could go on, this was an extremely interesting talk on the decline of the fishing industry and ports along the coast of northwest Lancashire. Between the advent of the railways, the ‘Cod Wars’ and Roll off Roll on ferries and container ships the industry and these charming working ports saw their demise. However, some of them have very interesting museums and they are well worth a trip to inform yourselves further of their place in our Lancashire heritage.

Did you know that:

A convict ship was moored off the coast at Heysham to house felons, as at one point in time there were not enough ships to take them to their ‘new’ life in Australia.

Wyre dock later housed the Freeport shopping centre.

Arnside Loading Area,
Courtesy of Malcolm Tranter

At Fleetwood the lighthouse is in the middle of the town and was one of three lights that when they were visually lined up from out at sea, guided the boats home to the landing point.

Lytham was set up as an extra port for Preston when the sea traffic became too much to handle.

The river was ‘moved’ at Preston to build the docks.

It is ironic that Preston was asked to trial Roll on Roll off ferries and containers as this was a factor in a lot of small ports closing.

Preston docks of which there were six and a half miles, worked a 24 hour day in the 1960’s, sadly by 1981 the port had closed, it was totally uneconomic as 60% of the profits were spent on dredging.


Banner Image: Original Preston Quay, Courtesy of Malcolm Tranter

In our first talk of 2019 Harold Hoggarth returned to entertain and inform us with the tales of three local women, Selina Cooper, Katharine Glasier and Ethel Snowden who were involved in the fight for women’s suffrage.   

Emmeline Pankhurst with daughter Christobel and other sufferagette leaders at a meeting in Clements Inn, 1908

 All these women did remarkable work in addressing the social situation and conditions of their time, however, the principal of the three warriors could be said to be Selina Cooper. After moving ‘oop North after the death of her father she started work age thirteen, in the mills of Barnoldswick. She took courses in First Aid, laundry and hygiene and also became self educated. After joining the Women’s Co-operative Guild she became part of the North of England’s Society for Women’s Sufferage in 1900. As the movement grew she rubbed shoulders with Emmeline Pankhurst and with three other women presented the case for women’s sufferage to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. Her stance would have given local women the courage to stand up for their rights in a non violent way.

However it was her work in the local area that would also have impacted on the lives of the community which also still endears her to us today.  Selina became active in local social issues such as the Nelson Education, Health Insurance and Public Assistance Committees and became a JP.  She instigated and developed the first ever Maternity Centre in Nelson which will have helped good health to continue down the generations. Her life seems to have been a tireless example of service to others.

The picture on the right depicts Lancashire Suffragettes who marched from Manchester to London perhaps resting at a Girls High School in Stratford on Avon.  As it originally belonged to Selina Cooper JP she is probably in the photograph. From her daugher Miss M. Cooper.

Lancashire Marchers. June 17th 1911. Courtesy of Lancashire Archives

 Katharine Bruce Glasier of Earby achieved a Bachelor of Arts and after joining the Fabians was instrumental with others in founding the Independent Labour Party. Both she and her husband worked for social reform. Katharine became an author and the editor of the ILP newspaper alongside being a national organiser of the Labour Party. She died in 1950 leaving her home in Earby, Glen Cottage to the YHA. Amongher other achievements she was instrumental in instigating pit head baths and the setting up of the Margaret Macmillan Memorial College.

Ethel Annakin became Viscountess Snowden, after her marriage to labour activist Phillip Snowden and his achievement of Viscountcy.   Although from a middle class background she becam a socialist aligning with the Fabian Society and later the Independent Labour Party. She earned an income from lecturing in Britain and America.   Ethel was a leading campaigner for Womens’s suffrage and went on to found The Women’s Peace Crusade.   Her criticisms of the Soviet Union made her unpopular on the Left. In later years she became a Governor of the BBC and Director of the Royal Opera House. When enthusiastic about a subject she was said to disregard anything that stood in her way and it was said that “tact or discretion were foreign to her nature”.

Members of Women’s Social and Political Union campaigning in Kingsway

In her book “The Woman Socialist” in 1907 she advocated state control of marriage, joint title by women to the housekeeping money, and a state salary for mothers, she also wanted housekeeping organised collectively in each street and declared that under socialism women would have “no need to paint face and tint hair”.  Perhaps laying the foundation for the Child Allowance in later years to be paid to the mother not the father.

It could perhaps be said that these local warriors fulfilled  Jonathan Lockwood Huie‘s statement:  

  “To lead a great life: Dream, Take Action, Repeat”  Selina Cooper and her like did this ‘in spades’.

Banner Image: A cohort of local Sufferagettes and supporters. Selina Cooper is probably far right, front.  At the station on their way to a protest. Courtesy of Lancashire Archives.

These are other activities we got up to during November and December.

November 20th – another enjoyable Quiz night this years winners were Graham, Sue, Gillian, Iain and Pat.   Again kindly hosted by John and Anne Dodd and they are booked for this year’s Quiz on Lancashire Day too.

November 21st saw the last gardening session of the year.

By November 24th the Archaeology Group were doing post excavation work in the Green Room.

On December 8th the Friends enjoyed a lovely buffet followed by traditional games and Christmas Carols and a quiz organized again by Georgina and Mike and Pam.

This left us ready to be Spellbound on December 11th by film and music provided by Gordon and Anne Sharp. We started in Yorkshire where the tradition of the Wakeman in Ripon goes back to Saxon times in 886. Since 1124 tradition has it that not a night has passed without the Wakeman sounding his horn. Abbeys, rock formations and the oldest sweet shop in the county in Pateley Bridge followed. We then moved on to beguiling Arctic scenes with a wonderful musical accompaniment. Beluga and Humpback whales, walruses and Little Auks and the amazing Arctic Tundra.

Attributed Theresa from Mexico

The journey ended in Venice, originally built on piles of old trees which are still in existence after centuries of submersion. One of the highlights for tourists of course is the masked Carnival and we saw marvelous masks galore.   What a splendid show.

Banner Image: Venetian Mask. Attribution:gnukix

Stephen Caunce promised us a different perspective on the Industrial Revolution and that’s exactly what we got. Stephen started by asking us to look at the area from Preston in the West to Wakefield in the East as one area with hills in the middle. Missed by glacial changes as seen in the Yorkshire or Derbyshire Dales the land is poor, traditionally used for raising cattle in the West and sheep in the East.

Domestic Spinner. Courtesy S Caumce

Sparsely populated and without a true feudal system, the people were independent, eking a living from the land and from spinning and weaving wool. However, they did have plentiful streams and rivers with a regular flow thanks to the huge peat covered uplands acting as reservoirs to power the water mills.

With the invention of the steam engine, the huge reserves of coal provided abundant fuel to allow industry to develop mass production on a scale never seen before.

Factory Children. Courtesy S. Caunce

Populations grew and towns and villages covered the landscape where life was actually better, with regular employment, food grown by local farms and delivered fresh by local farmers. Life in the very few cities may have been inhuman in small pockets of slums but for many it would have been possible to turn around and see open countryside.

The rapid development of the railways together with new seaside resorts like Blackpool brought a new concept to the masses – annual holidays or Wakes Weeks.  A different viewpoint indeed.

A goodly group of people experienced the delights of the Record Office at the Lancashire Archives.

During a guided tour we delved into the past and saw many unexpected and interesting artefacts.

Records are kept in a secure, temperature controlled environment. Some collections are held here on a small deposit and are therefore not owned by the archives.

Euxton Market Charter, Permission of Lancashire Archives.
DP 405-1 Euxton market charter (003).jpg

A great many records are ecclesiastical in nature for example parish records, diocesan collections, tithe maps. Probate records number around 300 thousand, in addition wills and inventories are held. Poor Law records, apprenticeships and custody orders and also settlement and removal orders for Poor Law applicants.

The story of the ‘Wanderings of Martha Proctor’, an eight year old orphan tugs at the heart strings. She ‘tarried’ at Preston and was sent to walk round several towns in an attempt to find out who would take her in. After travelling alone she seems to have eventually arrived in Ormskirk. We could say that they at least they had the common decency to give her stout clogs for her journey. Of course only a cynic would say the clogs would help to remove her from being a charge on the Parish!

Public Records are many, hospitals, asylums , police records, Quarter Sessions, electoral registers, highways and byways. Criminal, Assize and Higher Court records reside here also. Official records of turnpike roads, schools, building plans and would you believe the records of Morecambe Beauty Competitions.

And did you know?

That by 1975 the archives were in possession of records going back for 900 years?

That the original of Thomas Potts, ‘The Wonderful Discovery of Witches in the County of Lancaster’ is in their possession and all books on witches in Lancashire flow from this book?.

That you can put in a request to see anything in the collection? We saw a wonderful gem – a 1450 Book of Hours, gorgeously illustrated. We were also able to touch one of the Rolls of the Honour of Clitheroe.

That inquests were seen as a social event?

That Indentures for example for apprenticeships were indented and therefore able to be paired up with the other half of the document.

That after the Gunpowder Plot on the 4th of November, people in Lancashire amazingly received news of this in a letter on the 6th November ?

That Lancashire had an international reach centuries ago, there are letters pertaining to the Opium Wars in China and India.

That there is a record of 1307 that mentions the “Mount of Pendle”?

Worston Moor forms the NW side of Pendle Hill. Attribution: Jon Royle

And finally, did you know that we saw the letter of Charlotte Bronte to the Shuttleworth’s of Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham, mentioning that “Old Pendle swells in every background”?.   Now if that doesn’t’ make your heart swell, you probably weren’t born within sight of this majestic hill.

We heartily recommend you to use your armchair and browse on line through their records and it is well worth a personal visit.


Banner Image:  Gunpowder Plot Conspirators by Crispin van de Passe the Elder. Public Domain.

The Friends had another excellent speaker in Dave Joy who excelled at unpicking the social history and changes in cowkeeping in Liverpool. As he said it was a play in three acts, firstly the shifting of the farmers from the Yorkshire Dales – Hebden, in the case of Dave’s family who re located in the mid 1800’s attracted by the booming mill towns.   Secondly there is the development of cowkeeping and the the milk industry and thirdly the mid 1900’s and the shifting of their roles to  suburban milkmen.

Dave’s family history is interwoven with all these stories.   The mass exodus from the dales not only led to Liverpool and other northern cities and towns but to new lives in parts of Europe, Africa, Canada and the US.   Populations grew exponentially in the mid to late 1800’s in these northern towns and especially in the busy port of Liverpool.  Although the railways brought in food, milk did not travel well and soured before reaching the customer.

Cow portrait. Norway. Attribution: Ernst Vikner

One bright Yorkshire spark had the idea of taking the cows to the city.  Six to eight cows in full lactation would be brought from the home farm in the dales and rotated or sold on for beef as and when necessary.  City herds were in a constant flux and were known as the ‘flying herds’.    Their home was a byre however this wasn’t at a traditional long house farm but at the end of the row of terraced houses.  The forms of some of these cow keeping  houses can still be seen today  for example ‘Battys Dairy’,  however town planners eventually realised that purpose built cow houses were needed.  People still remember the cows being driven on the highway to nearby fields and I can remember occasions when cows were herded through Burnley to the railway station.

Herding cows near Thoralby. Not quite Garston Liverpool. Attribution Malcolm Street

Dave recounted the work that the three generations of his family and others had to do to keep the cows in good condition and provide clean safe milk. In the dairy surfaces were cleaned and scrubbed, utensils sterilised. Cows were fed, watered, mucked out and then the milk had to be delivered. Before milk bottles, milk was dispensed from ‘kits’ straight into a jug also know as ‘kitting out’,  something my Nana was used to as an adult she would buy  ‘a quart o’ milk’.  Rounds were sometimes twice daily.

You might ask how did the cows survive as opportunities for good grazing were few and far between?.  There was access to fields for some cows however these canny Yorkshire farmers gleaned grass from the used grass cuttings in the park and verges.  The port warehouses and factories were useful for spent grain from the brewers, molasses from the sugar refineries and oilseed cake which provided proven.  The city saw mills were useful for sawdust for the byre floor and in the Old Haymarket, still there today, hay was exchanged for cow muck to the tune of £16K – in today’s money. Where there’s muck there’s brass indeed!   This would have been a welcome bonus for the cities cowkeeping families.

Cowkeeping became an established part of the city economy and as other towns did Liverpool developed its own Cowkeeper Association.  Social activities and outings for example to New Brighton beach meant that the next generation also married into similar farming families from the dales, which helped to keep the community alive.   Quite often when they returned to visit the dales they told their relatives to ‘get themselves to Liverpool’.

Apparently there were ‘Cow Friday’s’ from Lime St. Station as cows from the countryside were herded through the streets and sold off along the way to the cowkeepers.  It is to be imagined that if you were nearest the station you were able to select the choicest beasts. The railways also enabled competition to set up in the form of Corporate Dairies who collected milk from the countryside and were in direct competition with the cowkeepers. In 1881 37% of milk was corporate and there was dirty in-fighting, with the cowkeepers adopting marketing strategies such as “Fresh from the Cow”. Liverpool was the first place to develop ‘Cow keeping licences’ which their owners proudly displayed in their windows. They were keen to invite and welcome inspections by the public to demonstrate the quality of their milk.  ‘Inspection invited’ became a cowkeeping mantra.  At the annual shows there was fierce competition for the ‘Best kept dairy’, ‘Best kept Shippon’, Best Turn Out for Horse and Cart. Dave’s grandfather and father enjoyed turning out for these. The shows attracted thousands.

Dave recounted that the Joys came in two waves to Liverpool. First were Orlando, Hanna and George who stayed in the Penny Lane area.  Daniel arrived from the Devonshire Arms Inn after being left a widower with five young children to bring up after the tragic death of his young wife. The dales folk brought with them a rural skills and a way of life that would have been useful in dealing with shippons that contained 20-30 cows.    Garston became a useful place to live because of its proximity to the newly built canals.

The Joy’s celebrate 100 years in the Dairy Industry. Attribution: Dave Joy

World War 1 meant that the women were left to keep the cow keeping business running and they recruited help from their families in the dales. Business was affected as there was no good quality hay to be had. People had to adapt to survive and owners of any arable land including golf courses, parks, verges were asked to allow cows to graze or for the grass cuttings to be used for the cows.  In WW11 dairies were sometimes mistaken for factories by the Luftwaffe and suffered accordingly.

In the interwar years and despite the Depression the Joys were relatively prosperous. The whole business of producing, bottling and delivering milk ensured that the money stayed in the family. A succession of Anthony Joy’s meant that the name of the shop didn’t have to be changed.  Again a keen eye for a marketing opportunity led to one Joy advertising ‘Have you had the joy of Joy’s sausages?’.

Gradual changes, the building of housing estates which lessened opportunities for grazing and the introduction  refrigeration which extended the shelf life of milk especially on the road and the creation of the Milk Marketing Board led to the third chapter in the working life of the Joy’s.  They became suburban milkmen and after the last hay crop which meant that they had no horse and cart the business came to an end and so did the family involvement in cowkeeping, a way of life that had lasted from 1863 to 1963.  One of the last families to be involved in cowkeeping were the Capsticks who continued until 1975.

Dairy Crest Milk Float.
Attribution: Brian Snelson

We are grateful to Dave for his exceptionally  informative and enlightening talk without which many of us would have been totally unaware of the contribution of these families from the Dales to our great grandparents and grandparents daily life and health!   If you want to know more read his books Liverpool Cowkeepers and My Family and other Scousers.

The front cover of Cowkeepers. Attribution: Dave Joy

And did you know?

Liverpool was the first city to experience cowkeepers, it also had the highest number – 6K  and  the longest running cowkeeping industry in England.

Other cities also had cowkeepers and in large numbers too, Burnley had around 700.

If you are interested in reading more about cowkeeping see also:  http://www.johnhearfield.com/Cowkeeping/Cowkpr2.htm, http://www.johnhearfield.com/Cowkeeping/Cowkpr_Intro.htm

This was a most fascinating exhibition which was too late for some people who were the concubines and slaves of the early Chinese Emporers.  Unfortunately they were victims of ‘retainer sacrifice’ being put to death to serve their leader in the afterlife.

Part of the Terracotta Army. Word Museum Liverpool

The Emporer Qin Shi Huang must have thought he would have had no fear of being attacked by enemies when he buried a terracotta warrior army to accompany him in the afterlife.     The figures date from 210-209 BCE (Before Common Era) and vary in height according to their rank. Also included are chariots and horses. An estimated 8,000 soldiers 130 chariots and 670 horses are included in the pits, which also contain officials, musicians and acrobats.

It was also interesting to see from depictions and models how the army was created, of course the work force must have been enormous. Differentiation between the ranks and occupations eg swords man or use of bows and arrows was intriguing also.

Terracotta Army exhibition at Gydnia Poland 2006. Attribution: Tomasz Sienicki

The Project began when the Emperor ascended the throne at the age of thirteen and the work involved 700,000 workers.  Qin Shi Huang was also buried with wondrous objects and artefacts near land that was rich with gold and jade and a hundred flowing rivers of mercury. No health and safety there then……

After the visiting the exhibition some people visited other floors of the Museum and some people got as far as the Docks. Other people visited the Walker Art Gallery and a few of us visited St George’s Hall where the enormous stone slabs at the top of the steps do indeed look larger than the one outside the Town Hall in Colne. (Thankyou Kevin, however, we forgot to take the tape measure!)

Despite a few hiccups, coach breaking down on the way there and  traffic hold ups on the way back, we reached home safe and sound having enjoyed a good day out.


This was another excellent talk by Maggie Simms which again fascinated and enthralled the Friends at the start of the 2018/19 season.

Iraq is where the evidence for the worlds’ oldest cities lies.  A succession of groups of people have competed to own it and each has left its mark.   The ziggurat at Ur, of the Chaldeans, was built around four thousand years ago and surprisingly was recently ‘preserved’ by Saddam Hussein, he also instigated the use of a cable car at Babylon. It seems amazing that those last four words would ever appear in the same sentence.

Ziggarat at Ur Attibution: Maggie Simms

The land between the Tigris and Euphrates is also known as the ‘fertile crescent’ it is a vital piece of land that also glues the three continents of Africa, India and Europe together. As people shifted across the area there was also a shifting of ideas and practices.  In the reign of the Ottoman Empire this area became known as Mesopotamia.. (Meso – middle, potus – water horse). This vast landscape is covered in archaeology, the ruins and artefacts are a great legacy of the people who lived there over thousands of years.   Hill shaped mounds are sometimes evidence of a Tel, the Arabic word for hill. These were formed when the mud bricks crumbled and were stamped down in order for a rebuild to take place.

A looming question then and now is who owned the oil. It is indeed ‘black gold’, the Mesopotamians used bitumen, a product of oil. The pitch or tar held buildings together as reed mats were soaked in tar which would harden between the layer of bricks and it was also used in boat building.   Pitch was also highly valued in Mediaeval times by apothecaries. Some of us can remember that when the streets in Lancashire were repaired, coal tar was put between the cobbles and parents would urge children with coughs and colds to breathe in the fumes to ‘clear the lungs’. Do you also remember Coal Tar Soap?

One nugget that emerged was that the Persian city of Ctesiphon built over 2,000 years ago, was the largest city in the world in the sixth and seventh centuries and held the biggest brick built arched structure in the world until the middle ages, the arch of Chosroes in the royal palace. Miraculously and without the intervention of trained architects it is still standing today. Will we be able to say the same of todays contemporary structures?

Arch of Ctesiphon. Atrribution: Sgt Rebecca Schwab, 2nd Brigade. 10th Mountain Div. USD- C

Of course as Maggy reminded us, it is debatable when considering whose history is the right and proper history and whose past is the right and proper past. Isn’t it said that history is written by the victors?

Societies in the fertile crescent were based along rivers, marshes and coastal areas.   The reed boats they used for transport have not been found, however depictions of them on images and models do exist. They were leaf shaped boats that traversed the Persian Gulf.


Maggy revealed that it was due to the efforts of Austin Henry Leyard a British ‘toff’ that established that Nineveh existed, it is said to be one of the greatest and oldest cities in antiquity.   Leyard made friends with the locals and brought home cartloads of statues including dozens of carved slabs depicting the famed winged bulls and other sculputures. Some of which can be seen in the British Museum today in the fabulous galleries dedicated to Assyrian culture. ( An unmissable experience).

It would seem that the world also owes a debt to Geoffrey Smith, an autodidact, who worked for free for the British Museum and in 1872 transcribed the complex and hugely difficult Flood Tablet. This wedge shaped block written in cuneiform around 1800 BCE caused a sensation when transcribed, Smith ran round the British Library when he discovered the key! This discovery was apparently responsible for stimulating a surge of interest in the Middle East. It is very intriguing how the same  story  appears in the Jewish Bible – Old Testament in 800BCE.   The tablet, in the British Museum, which was excavated by Hormuzd Rassam is from the Library of Ashurbanipal II at Nineveh, northern Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq. It is apparently very small and innocuous looking for such a famed and far reaching story. Might it be the first written indication of climate change?.

Tablet X1 of the Epic of Gilmagesh AKA ‘The Flood Tablet’. Attribution: Osama Skukir Muhammed Amin.

Another fascinating nugget was the story of the reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon by German archaeologists. They seemed to be amongst the first archaeologists to take the job seriously, making site plans before excavating. Apparently they found that the cobalt blue tiles lay in heaps as the mud bricks which they faced had turned to dust. Their painstaking work resulted in the stunning architectural panels in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Another must see. See also the banner image.

Maggy informed us that Ur was occupied from 5,000 BCE until around 500 BCE. Obviously over these 4,000 years geological and natural forces of deposition have shifted the courses of rivers and pushed what were coastal areas sometimes as far as 7,300m inland.

Archaeologists also owe a debt to Leonard Woolley, when he was excavating at Ur he looked at the soil strata in the walls of the pits and discerned discoloration, he was one of the first to discover this, archaeologists routinely look for strata discoloration today. He is also famed for his discovery of the artefacts in the huge royal death pits. Puabi’s grave surrendered fabulously rich Sumerian headgear and necklaces that were fitted for a Queen. (Again in the BM and stunning to look at). A gruesome feature of these burials was the ‘retainer sacrifice’.   Skeletons of servants were posed after death, which may have been from blunt force trauma to the back of the skull, let’s hope they were sedated first! Ur also gave up what is known as the Standard of Ur, demonstrating peace and plenty on one side and warfare on the other side.

Found at Ur. Queen Puabi’s elaborate headdress. Leonard Woolley

This was a most illuminating evening with someone who is clearly in command of her subject and who transferred her enthusiasm and delight to her audience, the supporting visual imagery also helped us to envisage the area  and those times even further.

And did you know?

That there are still huge amounts of archaeological artefacts strewn over this vast landscape, thousands of years of history waiting to be picked up and identified…

That Elam an area in the Persian Gulf still retains the same name as in biblical times…

That the Epic of Gilmagesh is one of the worlds most continuous narrated stories, it was already ancient when it was written down as one of the Old Babylonian tablets as was the Flood (or Deluge) Story aforementioned which is part of the Epic.

That if you visit the Louvre you will be able to see the The Stele of the Vultures which among the first panels that depicts the first evidence of organized warfare along with the Royal Standard mentioned above.

Banner Image: Part of the Ishtar Gate, Pergamonn Museum, Berlin. Date approximately 575 BCE. The 8th of 8 gates of the Inner City of Babylon. Erected by Nebuchadrezzar 605-575 BCE. Attribution:Etrick.

Ee by gum, who would have thought that the Friends would be flying through the air, without the aid of a broomstick?  No need to panic, we were ascending on the Anderton Boat Lift near Northwich.  This is an amazing feat of ingenious engineering that lifts boats and barges from the River Weaver 50 feet up to the Trent and Mersey Canal or vice versa.  Of course as the public purse is in dire straits this is run by a charity the Canals and River Trust.

The Anderton Boat Lift.

The boat lift is known as the Cathedral of the Canals, well,  you are in a hollow structure with amazing iron struts and caissons and you do hear a medley of noises, however it isn’t angels calling or carols but the shuzz of the hydraulic systems transferring one boat up and the other down albeit in a relatively quiet way.

Of course it wouldn’t be an outing without coffee on arrival and lunch in the cafe before leaving or a cup of tea and a scone at the end of the afternoon after visiting Staircase House in Stockport.

Staircase House, Stockport

The innocuous frontage makes the house look like a shop and it is indeed next door but one to Blackshaws cafe and opposite the Victorian Market Hall.  It is however a hidden architectural mediaeval gem of a house.  It is the oldest town house in Stockport and is famous for its lovely and rare Jacobean newel- cage staircase.  One of three surviving in the country.

A fine example of a Newel Cage staircase. Staircase House

It’s an interesting study as it has been curated to reveal  how people used to live in the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. How people worked, slept, played and passed their time is illuminating.   Tallow room, Dowry room and Counting house, its all there to peruse.

The viewing gallery enables the viewer to see what the areas that haven’t been restored reveal to us today. Wattle and daub and brick infills with hand made bricks are evident, it paints an amazing picture of house construction. The oldest timber in this building dates from winter 1459/60 and the house although rebuilt at times and in places remained a dwelling until the 1940’s.  It underwent a long period of restoration after falling into disrepair, not helped by a fire.  Stockport Heritage Trust helped to secure funding from various sources.

There are excellent free audio guides.  It is very accessible – a good lift.

Both these places are well worth a visit, the mediaevalists among you will be delighted by Staircase House and for those of you who may not be keen on industrial history the boat lift is fascinating.    All in all a good time was had by all.


NB No Witches – North or Middle were harmed during the making of this trip.