small banner
home page about us page activities page publications page Wakefield's history contacts page links page

Lecture notes 2018-2019

14th November: Some Other and Wider Destiny: Wakefield Grammar School Foundation and the Great War. 
Elaine Merckx, Archivist, Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and Neal Rigby, Former Head of History QEGS.

A sizeable audience joined us on 14th November, many of whom enjoyed a piece of Deborah’s homemade cake and a warm drink before the session.

By way of introduction to the subject Elaine Merckx, now full-time archivist for the Grammar School Foundation, traced the development of the book with the same title as this talk. Asked to supply statistics for a planned publication, ‘Public Schools in the Great War’ she began to unearth obituaries, school magazines, logbooks and other materials in which she found stories of QEGS boys in the Great War. Elaine enlisted the assistance of the retired head of History, Neil Rigby, and their research also began to include the home front experiences of girls from the other Foundation school, Wakefield Girls’ High School. The pair decided to apply for Lottery funding to publish their own book, which required them to plan a number of community activities such as displays and talks, the latter now available on the internet. Their book, the final outcome of this work, was reviewed by Phil Judkin in our January 2018 Newsletter. Elaine, who had previously known nothing about the process of writing and publishing a book, encouraged other researchers amongst us to follow their example.

Neil then began his talk by highlighted the appropriacy of time and place for his subject. Our meeting was held just three days after the centenary of the Armistice which ended the Great War, and in the first Wakefield Grammar School building. The influence of place was strong in his talk: a school hall, the walk to the school fields, Wakefield streets and family homes.

He outlined the many archival sources consulted: the Wakefield Express and other newspapers, the work of other researchers and online sources including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records. He acknowledged the kindness of many individuals who had lent letters or photographs. Above all there was the rich fund of school material. His plan was to follow a number of individuals such as William Appleyard, born in Lofthouse, the son of a joiner, who attended Lofthouse Junior School until he came to QEGS. He was an excellent all-round sportsman, Captain of the School First Fifteen, as well as a highly successful scholar.  He left in July 1913 to go to Clare College, Cambridge, but became a Captain in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) dying in the war in 1916. The Wakefield Battalion, 4th KOYLI had its Drill Hall in Bank Street.

Neil digressed to explain his preferred approach to his material by introducing the terms ‘lumper’ and ‘splitter’ devised by the twentieth century American historian, J.H. Hexter. Neil saw himself not as a ‘lumper’ who perhaps might tend to over-reaching generalizations, but as a ‘splitter’ who used the whole detail of what was happening, allowing it to feed into the wider picture. This included understanding the impact on families and others affected by the war, such as Constance Molly Sugden, whose brother Christopher died in May 1915, the first old boy casualty. Her responses as a young woman of the period are recorded in her poems. Those on the home front in Wakefield during the war, the survivors of war, and those who had lost family members are all part of the history of the war in terms of memory, of ‘carrying on’.

Neil reviewed briefly the type of wartime activities of some of the old girls from the High School such as the land work, nursing, driving and clerical work, but also the maintenance of businesses and family livelihoods; almost everything that women did was part of the war effort. One ex-pupil, Phyllis Lett, a famous contralto, returned to Wakefield to sing for the wounded in the High School building taken over as Wentworth Hospital. She and her sister Hilda gave concerts at home and in France and Flanders.
The school had a tradition of volunteering for military service so that sixteen former pupils had served in the 2nd Boer War, three being killed. Ten of those who survived fought in the Great War and one of these served in the Second World War too. In collecting the material Neil and Elaine identified 515 boys who had fought in the War, serving on all fronts and in all ranks, less than half having Commissions. The bulk of these boys had been at school from 1906-16. But for this talk Neil focused on a group of students who appeared on sixth form photos in 1909 with the second master, Charles Head. Many of these boys were also on a First Team photo for the season 1909-10.  Charles Head worked closely with this group, in particular in sport, and he co-founded the Old Savilians Club in 1898. In 1911 in the school’s original hall in Northgate, young men and boys met for Founder’s Day, at which William Appleyard did the reading, and then everyone walked to the school fields where two rugby matches were played involving the school team and three teams of old boys. Thirty of these men were to serve in the war. It was Mr Head, for many years the main link between present and past boys, who was to write the obituaries for the old boys who died in the war.

The impact on the school was part of a wider impact in the local community and beyond. At St John’s Church the memorial commemorates fifteen Grammar School old boys whose families were members of this congregation. Wakefield Rugby Club was closely connected to the Grammar School. Of 172 members of the club who served, 64 had attended the Grammar School. After the war a new ground at Outwood was given to the Wakefield Club in memory of a Kingswell brother, an old boy who had died in the war. Further afield a stained glass window in Swalecliffe, Kent commemorates Maurice Fletcher, one of Kitchener’s early volunteers and a member of the school staff. The Wakefield Cenotaph remembered ‘all the men of the city who had died in the great war.’ After the War the Grammar School and the old Savilians began to discuss their own memorial and in 1920 plans went ahead for a memorial in the school grounds designed by an old boy, Harold Watson. In 1921 82 names were carved and three have been added since. Recently another name has been discovered and will be added.

Finally Neil returned to the group of boys in the 1909 rugby team, a cohort of old friends, many of whom corresponded with each other during the war. One was Joseph Senior who attended St John’s School and won a Storey scholarship to QEGS. He went on to Clare College with an Open Scholarship in Classics. He was to gain a First Class Honours degree and was preparing for work in the Civil Service. He died in the flying corps in May 1917. He and William Appleyard, with whom Neil began this talk, are both commemorated on Clare College’s Memorial.

The questions included an enquiry about the flying corps which a number of the boys had joined during the war: Neil told us that it had 25% of the military budget by 1918. The Headmasters of the school at the time had been Mr Barton and then Mr Spillsbury, but it was Mr Head who was the staff member who featured most in the talk. Neil only found one possible case of conscientious objection. A final question was about the background of the pupils. Neil had mentioned the memories of John Wolfenden, who was a Junior School pupil during the period and had described the mixed backgrounds of the boys in his time: ‘academically we were more or less homogeneous: in other respects we were very different socially, financially and linguistically.’ Neil explained that as well as the paying places there were many types of local scholarship: West Riding Scholarships, Choristers’ scholarships, and Storey scholarships from the town, so that around 25% of the intake had free or supported places.

John Wolfenden became Lord Wolfendon. After leaving the Grammar School he studied at Oxford and became an Oxford don, and then a leading school headmaster and later a university vice-chancellor. After the Second World War he led several Government Committees and became Director of the British Museum for the last period of his working life.


10th October, The Circus: Past-Present-Future, by Steve Ward

Our October lecture, The Circus: Past-Present-Future by Steve Ward (who some may remember from his talk on Temple Newsam last February) was given to coincide with the 250th Anniversary of the modern circus.

Firstly, we heard about Steve’s background as a professional clown and acrobat. Physically strenuous performances were cut short by a serious accident and he retrained as a teacher. Now a researcher specialising in circus history, he uses his clowning skills for educational outreach being involved in the National Youth Circus. His interest in the subject began with a family trip to Billy Smart’s circus, when he was picked from the audience to participate in the act. Initially frightening, the experience of performing  gave him a lifelong love of the big top.

What is a circus? When asked the audience had similar ideas, product of a shared cultural heritage. Circus imagery is all around us and has been used in advertising and entertainment for decades. Images used on posters, postcards, stamps and storage tins are recognisable without explanatory text. Books and paintings use the circus as a backdrop. The phrases to juggle finances, clowning around, one trick pony, white elephant  are in common use.

Steve gave whistle-stop tour through the origins of individual acts from bull leapers in Minoan Greece, women jugglers and acrobats in Egypt and jesters and wandering minstrels from Roman/Greek times up to the Medieval period. Performers were often itinerant or supported by royal or aristocratic patrons. Jesters or fools are often seen to be wise. Women performers are particularly common (or commonly documented) in the 16th & 17th centuries, such as the well-known Jane the Fool, a jestress at Hampton Court. In Hungary, entertainers performed before battle.

Ideas spread between Britain and other countries due to the touring nature of performers. In the mid-17th century, Oliver Cromwell banned all popular entertainment, although he kept three fools for himself. Performers travelled elsewhere, including to the court of French king Charles II. After his death some returned bringing the idea of French-style pleasure gardens as performance space. Itinerant acts collected money from the audience in hats. In the early 18th there were 66 such gardens in London, including Vauxhall Gardens, Covent Gardens and Sadlers Wells. They spread to other towns and cities, including on Northgate in Wakefield.

The beginning  of the modern circus in 1768 is credited to Philip Astley. Born in 1742, he was an apprentice cabinet maker, but left to join the dragoons after a fight with his father. He remained a horseman becoming a Sergeant Major of Horse. On his return, in common with many other retired cavalrymen, he began giving riding demonstrations. Looking for a more permanent arrangement, he leased land at Halfpenny Hatch, now Waterloo, to perform for a paying audience, in what he called a ‘ride’, not yet a ‘ring’. He went on to build the first amphitheatre-style venue, opposite the Houses of Parliament, later adding a roof and stages for pantomime. During this time he married performer Hattie Astley and had a son who also became a performer. New licensing laws were brought in, forcing him to close his permanent site and tour the country, including Leeds in 1773 at Kings Charles Court, and onto France and Dublin where he built a new amphitheatre.

Charles Hughes, a former employee of Astley, made his own name in equestrianism. He left the troupe, taking performers with him and opened the ‘Royal Philharmonic Academy and Equestrian Circus’, using the word in this context for the first time. His success meant that on Astley’s return they became business rivals. Both men took their influences to and from different countries. Astley built the Franconi Theatre in France and another amphitheatre in America. Hughes travelled around Europe and on to Russia, where he performed for Catherine the Great. Individual acts, such as Madame Saqui who performed her tightwire act from an 80ft tower and had a hat named after her, were also popular and influential.

Menageries sprang up, both static and touring, including in Wakefield. The government of the day encouraged their educational value. Elephants were popular but hard to look after. Chuni the Elephant was killed by firing squad when he was old and ill, lacking a better alternative. People would continue to visit a corpse, in one case being advertised by Mr Atcroft of London as the ‘only dead elephant’ on display vs the ‘only live’ elephant owned by Mr Wombwell in Newcastle. Menageries were fiercely competitive and innovation was key. ‘Lion King’ Isaac von Ambergh was known for putting his head in a lion’s mouth, an act enjoyed by Queen Victoria. The ‘Lion Queen’ was Nelly Chapman, aka Pauline de Vere. She grudgingly stopped her particularly daring act after marrying less daring performer George Sanger. Safety legislation would later stop women performing after fellow animal trainer Nellie Bright was mauled to death.

Steve gave us a refresher on Pablo Fanque, the first black performer/owner of a circus, familiar to attendees of last year’s Christmas performance on the subject by Joe Williams and Deborah Sanderson. Fanque performed around the North of England, including Leeds, where he is buried at St George’s Cemetery and at Wood Street in Wakefield where he had a large semi-permanent structure.

Circuses started to develop in North and South America, and also Australia where convicts, previously itinerant performers as well as pickpockets, performed. Many circuses were built in the USA, including the first big top, the Appolonicon. The troupe toured Britain, including Leeds in 1857, bringing with it a wind-driven organ dragged by 40 horses (unsurprisingly it was so unwieldy that injury was caused to person and property). The Wild West Show was developed with a sharp shooting act and including ‘Dangerous Women’. Copyright trials were held between rival shows run by ‘The Honorable’ William Cody and George ‘Lord’ Sanger.

Women performers were prominent at this time. Sandwina, an Austrian strong women who challenged oncomers to wrestling matches and regularly lifted her husband over her head as part of her performance. She and Welsh strongwoman ‘Vulcana’ aka Kate Williams who performed with ‘Atlas’ aka William Roberts as brother and sister (in fact her romantic partner) campaigned for women’s emancipation. Rossa Richter or ‘Zazel’, originally an aerialist, became the first human cannon ball as a teenager.

The end of the 19th century marked a decline in the popularity of circuses. There was increased interest in music hall, cinemas and sporting events, families were less likely to visit places of entertainment together. Equestrian acts lacked horses after World War I. Many establishments closed, but some big names survived. In the 1930s horse breeder, Bertram Mills, built the Olympia, London. He toured Europe looking for acts and between his business skills and his influential supporters he was a great success. Mills, Chipperfield’s Circus and Billy Smart became known as the ‘Big Three’ and dominated the scene for several decades.

After another decline in the 1970s a different style circus emerged, using old skills such as acrobatics and juggling, but emphasising storytelling and music over animal acts. Examples include Archaos, Circus Oz; No Fit State Circus and Cirque du Soleil. In very recent times, some families having whetted their appetite on alternative acts come back to ‘traditional’ circuses.

Steve answered several questions on Pablo Fanque and his Wood Street site, circus culture across Europe where families still attend in large numbers and the European stage names of many 1950s British performers. He also told us about his meeting with Norman Barrett, ringmaster at Blackpool famous for his budgie acts who is still working at 86.

This was a very enjoyable talk packed with enough information for any two other talks and with a much larger scope than many of us would have thought. Steve will soon be producing a book on circus poster art using material from the Wakefield Local Studies collection which should prove interesting.

12 September 2018

The development of pit banners and trade unions in the mining industry, by Anne Bradley, Curator of Social and Oral History at the National Coal Mining Museum.

There was some relief when a good number of our members found their way to our new venue, the Elizabethan Gallery, for the first meeting of the season. A new departure for us was the offer of a warm drink on arrival.

Our speaker, Anne Bradley, the Curator of Social and Oral History at the Mining Museum of Great Britain, began by outlining the Museum’s history.  Based at the former Caphouse Colliery at Overton the Museum stands within an area of five miles radius which contains over 1,500 shafts and bell pits. In the nineteenth century the Lister Kaye family of Denby Grange ran the pit and it was Emma Lister Kaye who installed the twin-cylinder steam winding engine in 1876 which remained in use until 1974. In 1942 the pit was acquired by Lockwood and Elliott but was nationalised in 1947, closing in 1985. In 1988 it opened as the Yorkshire Mining Museum and ten years later it became the National Coal Mining Museum with a remit to collect, preserve, display, and interpret the history of the coal mining industry of England. The historic collections at the Museum include mining equipment, artefacts and memorabilia, oral histories, photographs and paintings. These remain quite Yorkshire heavy and the Museum is actively acquiring material from other areas.

Mining banners have been used as a symbol to express the pride and solidarity amongst miners in many different situations, for example when the men went back to work after the strike of 2004 or at funerals when they were draped over the coffin. Most commonly they have been used to head processions of miners from union or lodge at miners’ galas. The greatest of these is the Durham Miners’ Gala which has been held every year from 1871 to the present, and is the largest unofficial miners’ and trade union event. Other more local galas will be remembered, such as those at Wakefield or at Dodworth Lock Park near Barnsley. Recently interest in banners has increased and some communities are creating or recreate them. Former collieries now often group together to make a banner. Anne described a recent primary school heritage project in which the children designed their own banner. At the Durham Gala it was the first modern banner to be blessed there.

Historically the popularisation of banners was closely tied to the growth of trade unions which followed the repeal of the Combination Act in 1824, allowing unions a legal existence. At demonstrations or strikes, as in the dock strike of 1889, union members marched behind their banners. Conditions of work under different coal owners and in different parts of the country varied greatly and miners’ unions saw that working together could bring better conditions for all. Regional miners’ associations were founded in South Yorkshire in 1858, and in Durham in 1870. By the late 1880s local associations of mining unions across England, Wales and Scotland joined forces in order to represent and co-ordinate the affairs of all miners' unions. This was known as the Miner’s Federation of Great Britain, the forerunner of the NUM.

The first references to miners’ banners are from Jarrow and Merthyr in 1831. In the early days banners were homemade but from the 1830s banner-making companies expanded. As banners became more colourful demand grew. In 1837 George Tutill began his career in banner-making. He had begun his working life as as a fairground showman where he had acquired skills in large- scale, eye-catching decoration. His company was to manufacture three quarters of the trade union banners ever commercially made: other banner-makers in Leeds and Manchester worked on a smaller scale. In the 1850s Tutill set up a purpose-built workshop in London, employing silk weavers from the East End and many painters. His products were expensive but used pure silk or silk damask and he sold a complete package including fire insurance, and poles or frames on wheels. Anne showed images of the workshop where silk was stretched out on wooden frames under a roof of glass to maximise light. Tutill supplied banners to many other organisations too, such as Methodist Sunday schools, and temperance and friendly societies.

It was common to have a banner with a standard design on one side often depicting biblical scenes. On the other side a more expensive bespoke image would be created. The central panels used special paint patented by Tutill which was made with a solution of India rubber to give flexibility and durability. However this made the banners heavy and therefore more liable to tearing, especially when exposed to windy conditions on marches. At the Museum they have a specialist conservator and a banner store where the banners are repaired and kept rolled up in large tubes with temperature, humidity and pests carefully monitored. Often replicas are now made for marches.

Many of the Overton Museum’s banners are from the Yorkshire NUM which often used the symbol of a bundle of sticks to indicate union strength in numbers. The main images varied: Grimethorpe used an image of scales, and Barnsley Main showed an injured man in bed with an NUM official helping the family, Gascoigne Wood chose machines, and Wentworth Silkstone a beehive, a symbol of cooperative working. Kellingley, the largest pit in Europe, recently closed, had a banner showing the grim reaper. Colours too had meanings: blue signified loyalty, red courage and honour, black aggression, green hope new life, pink peace and prosperity, and white purity. Anne showed many images of banners in procession which provided a magnificent spectacle of these iconic pieces of visual art in their context.

Anne’s talk had stirred memories among those listeners who had worked in the industry or attended galas. There was a comment that in Derbyshire banners were not so prevalent as in Yorkshire, the North-East and Wales. The impact of the banners was described as like that of a standard in a battle ground - a rallying symbol for the men. We were reminded that banners and brass bands always went together at galas. There was discussion about banners which are in private hands and several which are held at Northern College near Barnsley. Anne pointed out that today it is the Friends of Durham Gala who organise this popular event.