The History Group
Thursday 27th February 2020. The Orient Express
Our talk this month was given by one of our own U3A members, and surpassed many a presentation we have had in the past. Bill Devitt took us through the history of the Orient Express, a project he had been instrumental in re-creating some years ago.
With humour and colourful visual aids he took us on a journey from the beginning of this kind of luxury train travel, and its use as a hotel on wheels, with all the lavish comfort it's passengers could imagine.
From the early Pullman coaches to the Orient Express used today, whilst also including the reasons for their popularity and the various heads of state and other famous faces who used them over the centuries. We were spell bound, and those who might have thought it was a niche interest confessed themselves completely wrong.
Thank you Bill!
Sunday 24th August 2014. 'Voices of Calke' - Roy Adams
Roy gave a talk illustrated by old photos and the recorded voices of some of the people who remembered the last few families who had owned Calke.
Calke began its decline on the death of Sir John Harpur Crewe in 1886, then eventually began to emerge again in 1985 when the National Trust took over its care.
Sir John was an eccentric countryman who loved hunting and taxidermy. He preferred to stay within the bounds of his estate rather than have a public life. Although hunting was an important pastime, if Sir John came across magpies as he went out to shoot, he called off the outing, being very superstitious.
On Sir John's death his son, Vauncey, took over the estate. It's not known whether from Vauncey's choice or his father's, but all farming equipment and livestock - other than the Portland sheep, which Sir John said must always remain at Calke - were sold in a 2-day fair before the old man's death.
We heard from Mrs Bradshaw, a cook at the Hall and Lucy Pegg, the daughter of the gamekeeper, a close and trusted friend of Sir Vauncey, about life around this time. Sir Vauncey,like his father, was interested in the countryside, his passion being birds. He shot and bought so many examples that by his death in 1924 he owned the second largest collection in England. One of the duties of the staff was to make sure all 37 fires in the house were lit and kept alight, to protect his taxidermy!
Vauncey was not in favour of visitors, nor of allowing the new-fangled motor car to cross his boundaries, preferring to send a horse and carriage to the gates! He was kind to his staff but strict with his children.
As Sir Vauncey's son, Richard, predeceased his father, the estate passed to the eldest daughter, Hilda, who was married to Colonel Godfrey Mosley. Thus the Harpur Crewe name passed from use.
In order to pay off huge death duties Hilda was forced to sell a huge part of the collection of birds and books and to cut her staff from 26 to 6. She cared for the staff she had, even taking a basket of vegetables to them -to be collected from her carriage _ if there was illness in the family. Mrs Wain, the wife of a historian and naturalist, said Lady Mosley treated her like a sister, taking her on her visits around the estate and the village of Ticknall.
World War 1 had no effect on Calke, but during World War 2, for nine months, there were some evacuees there - possibly the short stay reflecting the state of the house!
Hilda and her husband had no children, therefore the estate passed to her nephew, Charles Jenney - who changed his name to Harpur Crewe. Despite realising that her nephews and niece would probably inherit, Hilda had not trained them in any way for this future. Charles attempted to farm the land but preferred the quiet life, though he served as High Sheriff for some years. He put electricity into the house in 1963, making life slightly easier for those who were running the farm. Gradually the flocks were increased, cattle reintroduced and some of the grounds made more accessible, but the house remained mainly untouched.
When Charles died- whilst setting mole traps- in 1981, his brother Henry once again faced huge death duties, therefore he offered the house and contents and most of the estate to the Treasury, who turned it over to the National Trust. Henry enjoyed the public life which came with this move - being photographed on the balcony of Buckinham Palace with the Queen Mother, and shaking hands with Nancy Reagan, both of which events were connected with the publicity of the Chinese bed hangings.
The staff gave other anecdotes about the families, but space doesn't permit to include them all. Suffice to say, Roy and his Calke voices gave us a very good afternoon!
Thursday 26th May 2011. Fossil Ashby Project
The Domesday book(1086) refers to Ashby de la Zouch as 'Ascebi'
and is placed about Wood Street roughly where the Castle, St Helen's
Church and the Manor house is now. This earlier town centre conformed
to pre-Norman field shapes.
In 1219, Roger. la Zouch decided to establish a Market. He applied for a warrant or statute for an annual fair and fixed market.
There was a road from Tamworth to Nottingham probably going through Ashby which was about a half days ride from each place.
Burgage plots. (1837 map: Picture) Generally plots granted to freedmen as Burgesses. Often tradesmen in towns. In the very earliest chartered foundations, predating the Norman Conquest the burgage plots were simply the ploughland strips of pre-existing agrarian settlements.
The detective work!
The question is: what happened between 1086 and 1219 (about 130 years) to give us Market Street etc.?.
We can assume that the road through Ashby was quite wide for driving animals and birds like geese with grass verges and then fields beyond the grass verges. The fields were in strips at right angles to the road.
The fields had access to both ends of the strips. These plots ran right back to what were called Back Streets, but became North and South Streets. These were for access to the plots without encroaching on the controlled environment of the Market. These plots seem to be generally close to 5.5 yards (or multiple) in width which is equivalent to the old 'Perch' unit used as a measure for plough furrow widths.
The original Market was effectively closed off at the bottom where a bridge crossed the brook, and at the top, where a 'chicane' was created at the junction with Wood Street. Old maps and building information show that the entrance to Lower Church Street stuck out into this 'chicane' much further than it does today. The intention would have been for the Lord of the manor to control who went in and out of the Market, and to levy taxes etc as he saw fit.
So, in summary, it seems most likely that the layout of the town, both around Wood Street and along Market Street, derives from earlier patterns of land usage, some unrecorded, but none the less dominant in the formation of the street plan.
This process continues on to this day in the persistence of vanished features in the alignment of houses and shops.
Thursday 24th March 2011. Visit Ashby Castle.
Two people brought information about the Ashby Castle.
The weather was glorious and we followed the two master guides around each room. We noted The number of probables in the guides and discovered from the custodian that not much written information about the castle exists or if it does it is well hidden. Some of the party investigated the secret passage which is not paricularly secret. These days it is well lit all the way through.
A few intrepid explorers climbed the Hastings Tower which gives one of the best views of Ashby.