Is it a snicket?

Snicket
Back when I was a young Anorak there was a short cut from our street to the centre of my village. It was a paved gap between two sets of houses and we always referred to it as “the snicket”. I grew up in North Yorkshire, close to the east coast, but the word was my mother’s, and she came from West Yorkshire; altogether closer to the spine of England. According to my recent research, snicket is actually a north western word, originating from the Lake District.

Ginnel/Jennel
My part of the world is apparently more likely to call such an alleyway a ginnel*, although it’s not a word I heard until I moved to South Yorkshire. A friend who now lives in Sheffield (South Yorkshire) but is originally from Derbyshire, calls them jennels, which is clearly from the same source.
* Pronounced like give, not like gin.

Ten-foot
In East Yorkshire, and more specifically the city of Kingston upon Hull, they’re called ten-foots. I have no idea why, and neither does anyone else I’ve asked. It could be something to do with the width – but I’ve never measured one! Oh, and it is ten-foots, not ten-feet.

Twitchel
I currently live in the East Midlands where, I’m reliably informed by the OED, that the term for a passage between houses is a twitchel. Its earliest recorded use was from the 15th century in Nottingham, and it’s believed to be a variant of the Old English word twichen, which was used in Anglo Saxon charters for a place where two roads met.

Chare
Back up north in Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne they call them chares, and evidence comes from a 13th century map of Gateshead that included the street Potter’s Chare. However, if you head south to Oxfordshire you’ll find the obviously related words tchure, chure and chewer. They’re all probably corruptions of the Old English cierr, meaning turning.

Wynd
And that brings us to Scotland, where they spoke a completely different language for many years and still sound as if they do in some parts of the country. Way up there alleyways are called wynds – pronounced like whined – and the origin might be similar to that of the word wind (as in to twist). Incidentally, narrow boat people talk about ‘winding’ when they turn a boat around. It’s pronounced like the North Wind (doth blow, and we shall have snow, etc) and it takes a bit of getting used to when you first hear it regularly. But that’s yet another glory of the English language!

Tastes of death

At a time when the world is in the grip of a fatal pandemic it might seem a little strange that the Anorak took the one chance a day to go out for exercise and chose a cemetery for a stroll. But think about it. Graveyards are just about the only places where Joe and Josephine Public have the opportunity to leave an enduring mark; some record of their existence. This is written history, albeit rather selective.

Back in the Victorian past headstones were often sombre things – huge, but sombre – but it seems nowadays pretty much anything goes. While a few souls RIP next to a subtle symbol of their lives, others can be distinctly showy. Apparently some people can also be pretty jealous about their space, even after death. Let’s take a stroll around to see what we can discover.

Take this view, for example. Regimented row of headstones, but just look half-way down. Spot the daffodils? And the extra flower vases, inset plaques and bouquets? That’s as sure a way as any of saying “this is my space, keep off”. Of course we have to remember that it’s not the dead doing this. The occupant of the site isn’t getting much say in it. No, what it actually says is: “Don’t walk on my granny!”

Before we go much further it’s worth noting that, as far as possible, recognisable surnames have been obliterated in all these photos. First names have been left in, because these are all people that we’re talking about. But as pointed out above, it’s those left behind who care about such things and they might not like us discussing their friends and family. That’s why we’re not identifying the cemetery either, though a little judicious research might lead you in the right direction.

So the next stop is at this gent’s tomb. Clearly he’s of oriental descent because of the writing, but without more information it’s not clear which country his ancestors were from. As some Chinese families put their surnames first, both have been covered up in this photo. But note the pebble on top of the headstone. That’s generally a Jewish tradition, but mourners from many cultures are known to do it as a way to show they have visited the grave and that they care. Maybe he had a Jewish visitor. We don’t know, but someone said hello. The two statues are interesting.They look like garden ornaments. Perhaps he was a gardener.

We can tell very little about sadly missed Robert except he was only 55 when he died. We know he was a dear husband and son, but there’s no mention of being a father. He was a Derby County fan, however, as the drawing of ‘Rammy’ shows. How big a fan must he have been to want that on his headstone?

 

The name and the inscribed Celtic cross on 57-year-old Kieran’s grave suggest he probably has Irish ancestry. Behind him lies Geoffrey, whose family chose an unusual inscription. Lord of the Dance is, of course, one way to refer to god in some denominations. But it might also mean that Geoffrey was himself a dancer of some renown. Who knows?

This family clearly want to make an impression. All the graves here share the same surname so it’s a fair bet they’re related. One of the headstones has a romanticised version of a gipsy caravan on it, which implies the family might be travellers.

 

 

 

Another stone nearby has elephants on it, so they could even be circus folk. Collin’s surname is different though.

Clearly there are tastes in how the dead are remembered and over the years there have been trends. Graves from earlier dates tend to be more subtle than more modern plots. Shapes have altered, perhaps as the craft of stonemasonry has developed. (Although medieval stonemasons were pretty skilled!) Photographs of the deceased have appeared. Poems fill the stone available. Decorations have become more ornate; less serious. It makes you wonder what’s next. Have you thought about what you want on your own tombstone?

The Brontë family

Interior view of Brontë Parsonage
Interior view of Brontë Parsonage

The Rev. Patrick Brontë was appointed vicar of St Michael’s and All Angels’ Church in Haworth, West Yorkshire in 1815. He and his family lived in the  Parsonage, which is now a museum to them and their writing.

Sisters, Charlotte (1816–1855), Emily (1818–1848), and Anne (1820–1849) are well known as writers ad poets. Their brother Branwell (1817–1848) was an artist and poet.

In line with the times, the girls originally wrote under assumed names to keep their identities – and their genders – secret. They were known as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.

Haworth was not a luxurious place to live and the cold, draughty Parsonage was not a healthy environment. Its water supply is believed to have been infected by runoff from the adjoining graveyard.

Self portrait by Branwell Brontë
Self portrait by Branwell Brontë

In addition, Branwell drank heavily and was addicted to opiates. He died in 1848 at the age of only 31. Within 10 months Emily and Anne followed him to their graves.

Charlotte married Haworth curate the Rev. Arthur Bell Nichols in 1854 and the two were reportedly happy, but she died from complications of pregnancy less than a year later.

Charlotte’s novels
Jane Eyre, published in 1847
Shirley, published in 1849
Villette, published in 1853
The Professor, written before Jane Eyre, was first submitted together with Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë. Subsequently, The Professor was resubmitted separately, and rejected by many publishing houses. It was published posthumously in 1857.

Emily’s novel
Wuthering Heights published in 1847.

Anne’s novels
Agnes Grey, published in 1847.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall published in 1848.

Brighton Pavilion

In the 1780s architect Henry Holland converted an old farmhouse near the sea front in Brighton to be a pleasure villa. That building was altered, on the instructions of George (Prince Regent, later George IV) to become a glorious folly in which he could entertain guests. Work began in 1815 under the instructions of John Nash, but it was not until 1823 that the final flourishes were added to the building.

The site already had a domed structure in the form of the Stables, created in the early 1800s in the then fashionable “Hindoo” style. The design bore little or no resemblance to true Indian architecture and was rather more a dream of what England thought India was like – or should be like. In 1809 the fiirst Indian restaurant opened in London but it was never a huge success and closed three years later. All things Indian and “Hindoo” were therefore already falling from fashion when George gave the style his support.

While the exterior of the building is based on Indian influences, even if loosely, the interior is decidedly Chinese. Once again, however, the artists and craftsmen involved in its production knew very little about the country and the overall result is a dream of how they believed it was, rather than reality. Lots of dragons and bamboo but very little restraint. Overall the result is the architectural equivalent of a wedding cake – over dressed on the outside and extremely cloying on the inside. However, it is typical of Brighton, the home of Aubrey Beardsley.

In his BBC2 series Abroad Again in Britain historian Jonathan Meades pointed out that the building was never at the height of fashion and was certainly nothing like the commonly-accepted Regency style. He also called it an “ode to excess” and said: “It’s so rich it’s almost emetic”. That is probably true. It is, however, typical of George – Prince of Wales, Regent and dandy – overblown and extravagant.

Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial is one of the best known monuments of the Victorian Age. Architect George Gilbert Scott wanted to set up something similar to a Medieval shrine and is believed to have been influenced by the Eleanor Crosses set up by King Edward I after the death of his Queen. Those crosses were built at all the places her coffin rested on her funeral procession. Few remain but there is a fine example at Geddington in Northamptonshire.

The memorial to Albert, Victoria’s Prince Consort, has 169 carved figures on a frieze as well as sculptural groups at each corner representing Agriculture, Commerce, Engineering and Manufacture. Other groups represent Africa, America, Asia and Europe. The figure of Albert himself, sculpted by John Foley, is seated at the centre and is covered in gold. The enormous edifice is highly ornate and typical of the overblown High Victorian design of its time. The whole thing is more than 170 feet tall.

Materials used in the construction include glass, stone, cast iron, lead and bronze as well as the gilding on Albert himself. The statue was re-gilded as part of a major overhaul of the monument in the 1990s and was officially reopened in October 1998.

Moira Furnace

In 1792 a plan was launched to build a canal near Ashby de La Zouch, although the cut never actually reached the town. In 1800 the local land was enclosed and the mineral rights granted to Francis Rawdon Hastings, 2nd Earl Moira. Four years later he sank the first coal mine on his land and built a lime kiln. Work began on constructing a blast furnace. The combination was the ideal way of using all the local minerals, ironstone, limestone and coal.

However, the furnace was never a success and worked for only a total of a few months before being finally closed in 1811 after a disastrous fire that reached temperatures high enough to melt the brickwork. The associated iron foundry was a huge success on the other hand and remained in operation producing smallware until the 1850s.

The lime kilns were also a commercial success, producing quicklime for the building industry and agriculture until the 1850s. Coal mining continued in the area until the 1980s.

Moira had a brief spell as a spa in 1812 when it was decided to exploit the salt water from down the mines but the site proved unpopular so the water was later shipped to the Ivanhoe Baths in Ashby by canal and tramway.
Moira Furnace is now a listed building and preserved as a museum at the centre of a heritage park in the National Forest.

Crich Tramway Museum

Crich Tramway Village in Derbyshire is a working museum where it is possible to ride round on trams all day and see a slice of life in “the olden days”. Although there is no specific date given at the museum some visitors can remember catching trams to go to work when they were young. That probably puts it around 45 to 50 years ago. The village is quite small by comparison with others of its type (Black Country Living Museum, Blists Hill, for example) but it has a few fascinating details to discover as well as having an authentic “bygone” atmosphere with its tiled Red Lion pub, cobbled streets and enamel advertising signs. One nice touch is that visitors are given an old penny with which to buy an all-day ticket to ride on the trams.

The Tramway Museum Society has also rescued a few buildings, notably the old Derby Assembly Rooms, which once stood on a city square but now grace the Town End tram terminus that marks the start of many of the rides. Other structures rescued from around the country include a number of old Birmingham tram shelters, a horse trough and a drinking fountain. There are workshops where the tram enthusiasts repair and restore the old machines or just haul them in for a wash when they start to look grubby from their trips up and down the hill.

Even if antique transport is not for you there is still plenty to see with an old mine at the other end of the tramlines as well as a woodland walk and sculpture trail. The museum has an exhibition “Tracks in Time” with a reconstructed street scene that has plenty of historic information hidden among the replica shop fronts. Near the centre of the site is a reconstructed 1844 cast iron bridge that used to stand on the Bowes-Lyon estate at Stagenhoe Park at Ware in Hertfordshire.

Black Country Living Museum

The Black Country Living Museum is a 26 acre site on the edge of Dudley, West Midlands that houses a collection of buildings and structures from around the Black Country.

Where is the Black Country? Well, experts have failed to agree on exactly what its boundaries are in spite of generations of arguments. Some say it is the area that used to be coloured black on geological maps of the Midlands, indicating the presence of coal. Others say it was the traditional iron working area to the north west of Birmingham. Perhaps the best definition is that it is certainly NOT Birmingham but is wherever a Black Country person says it is. For the purposes of this site it is the four boroughs of Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell and Dudley.

The museum has a fascinating collection of items that were manufactured in the Black Country, now housed in a building that used to be a swimming baths. Each small town and village in the area was famous for its own trade. There were leatherworkers in Walsall, brickmakers in Aldridge, enamellers in Bilston, glassmakers in Stourbridge, chain makers in Netherton, the list is huge. The museum also has an open-air section that takes the form of an early 20th century industrial village, with a picture house, a chip shop, a pub, chapel, cake shop, sweet shop, lots of workshops and all the other necessaries of living.

During a visit to the museum the Anorak decided to take a different view of the site and explore it with one material in mind – iron. It was mostly cast iron, though forges of various kinds can be found there. And it is amazing how much of life involved cast iron in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That picture above left, for example is the inside of the exhibition hall, the former Rolfe Street Baths building. The roof trusses, or supports,  are made of cast iron. But a look around the site showed that humankind has never really left the Iron Age.

On the Streets, for example, cast iron could be found everywhere. Lamp posts were made from it, as were the traditional red pillar boxes. Roadsigns were also made from cast iron. Even the window frames were iron.

Bridge parapets and boundary fences were also made from the ubiquitous material. It was simple to create elaborate designs by making a mould in sand with a former or pattern. Molten iron was then poured into the mould and left to cool. Repeating patterns could be made in modular form then fixed together.

Everyday items were all made from iron. The bootjack by the door that helped a miner take off his dirty footwear before he went into the house was made of cast iron. The one on the left is shown still in its sand former after manufacture. Chimney pots on top of houses, guttering and down-pipes were made of iron. Even the straps around the barrel that helped to make it waterproof were iron bands.

Hinges to work the gate, latches to open the door, almost everything was made of iron. And even after it had served its original purpose, some iron found a new lease of life. A discarded horse shoe was nailed over a cottage door to bring luck. Sometimes even the houses themselves were made from iron.

In the 1920s, when bricks were in short supply, Dudley Council tried an experimental form of construction as a way to clear old slum housing quickly. The walls consisted of 600 plates that were bolted together to make pairs of semi-detached houses. Only a very few were built because the cost proved prohibitive, but two are preserved at the museum.

Avoncroft Museum

Avoncroft is a collection of old buildings that have been rescued from demolition and decay then transported to a site near Bromsgrove in Worcestershire. It contains structures from all over the West Midlands and from seven centuries.

There’s housing, agricultural and industrial buildings, a toll office, chapel, windmill, 1940s prefab and even a fibreglass church spire.

Working life is represented with workshops from Black Country chain making and nail making. These are not the huge manufacturing units of the late Industrial Revolution but the small, household workshops where every member of the family was expected to contribute to the work – including women and children.

The Museum was founded in 1964 following an unsuccessful attempt to preserve a listed Tudor house in Bromsgrove from demolition. Campaigners managed to save only the timbers but the Merchant’s House became the first exhibit to be restored and reconstructed on site.

As well as buildings it is possible to see old skills and industries recreated at the museum. There are also regular costumed re-enactment days. And for the communications enthusiast the museum houses the national collection of telephone boxes – including a Tardis!

 

A view of heritage

cow shaped cream jugs
A collection of cow creamers at Stoke Potteries Museum

Extract from Three Men in a Boat (1889)

Why, all our art treasures of today are only the dug-up commonplaces of three or four hundred years ago. I wonder if there is any real intrinsic beauty in the old soup-plates, beer-mugs, and candle-snuffers that we prize so now, or if it is only the halo of age glowing around them that gives them their charms in our eyes. The ‘old blue’ that we hang about our walls as ornaments were the common, everyday utensils of a few centuries ago; and the pink shepherds and the yellow shepherdesses that we hand round now for our friends to gush over, and pretend they understand, were the unvalued mantel-ornaments that the mother of the eighteenth century would have given the baby to suck when he cried.

Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized treasures of today always be the cheap trifles of the day before? Will rows of willow pattern dinner-plates be ranged above the chimney-pieces of the great in the years 2000 and odd? Will the white cups with the gold rim and the beautiful flower inside (species unknown), that our Sarah Janes now break in sheer light-heartedness of spirit, be carefully mended, and stood upon a bracket, and dusted only by the lady of the house?

That china dog that ornaments the bedroom of my furnished lodgings. It is a white dog. Its eyes are blue. Its nose is a delicate red, with black spots. Its head is painfully erect, and its expression is amiability carried to the verge of imbecility. I do not admire it myself. Considered as a work of art, I may say it irritates me. Thoughtless friends jeer at it, and even my landlady herself has no admiration for it, and excuses its presence by the circumstance that her aunt gave it to her.

But in 200 years’ time it is more than probable that that dog will be dug up from somewhere or other, minus its legs, and with its tail broken, and will be sold for old china, and put in a glass cabinet. And people will pass it round and admire it. They will be struck by the wonderful depth of the colour on its nose, and speculate as to how beautiful the bit of the tail that is lost no doubt was. In 2088 people will gush over it. The making of such dogs will have become a lost art. Our descendents will wonder how we did it, and say how clever we were. We shall be referred to lovingly as ‘those grand old artists that flourished in the nineteenth century, and produced those china dogs’.

The ‘sampler’ that the eldest daughter did at school will be spoken of as ‘tapestry of the Victorian era’, and be almost priceless. The blue-and-white mugs of the present-day roadside inn will be hunted up, all cracked and chipped, and sold for claret cups; and travellers from Japan will buy up the ‘Presents from Ramsgate’, and ‘Souvenirs of Margate’, that may have escaped destruction, and take them back to Jedo as ancient English curios.

Jerome K Jerome