Saturday, 29 December 2012

WHO ATE ALL THE PORK PIES?

Maybe it was Santa Claus?


As the twelve festive days of Christmas now fade away into memory and we start once again to work on our extended waistlines whilst wondering where we will spend our next holiday in the sun, let us spare a moments thought for the cash-strapped residents of a Melton Mowbray of more than a century ago who worked as hard as they were able at this changing time of year to provide some form of extra income to invest in a little happiness for their families, maybe on the train to the East Coast?

In December of the year 1900, many people would hove been employed locally at the business of hand-raising the traditional and local delicacy of the ubiquitous Melton Mowbray pork-pie. It would certainly have been a case of 'all hands to the pump' as efforts were traditionally increased during that month to assist in the process of manufacturing these popular food favourites, a great number of which would have been required not just locally, but to export to all areas of this country and other far-flung corners of the world. This was especially so in the case of the military fighting in foreign lands for good Queen Victoria. But each and every pie produced in the town would need to be made individually by hand, the cases crafted on a bench with a wooden former and these packed with the correct ingredients, which then included the best meat taken from the legs of the hundreds of poor porkers who always, like the turkeys, dreaded the arrival of the festive season.  Packed with a form of gelatine so that the contents would stand up to their many miles of travel, they were then cooked and suitably packed according to the length of its proposed journey. I am assured that many of these workers would hardly have been able to afford themselves the luxury of purchasing any the products of their hard labour, as this commodity was considered to be the treat of the better-off in a country approaching hard times. But I'm sure that 'special' arrangements were made for the pies to end up in most of the workers homes on Christmas day along the Stilton cheese and mince pies.

Located in the east midlands county of Leicestershire, the small market town of Melton Mowbray and it's environs was, at the dawn of the 20th century, a beehive of food and drink production which was mainly due to its interconnection with a plentiful supply of comfortable hostelry or club accommodation resorted to by an ever-increasing presence of the mostly very wealthy hunting set during the winter season, with the result that the town was a little better off than most in the county. With many small cottage bakeries and butchers shops were by now into the business of providing these little gems that were as welcome sliced up on a grand dining table, or roughly wrapped in a napkin and popped a saddlebag in a rain-soaked countryside. There were probably a dozen or more pie makers around at the turn of that century, some of them being small family set ups, producing from the family kitchen, or others like Messrs. Dickinson and Morris, Mr Evans or Mr Crosher, (who was the originator of the well-known Tuxford and Tebbutt factory of today). Not for them the sprawling purpose-built, state-of-the-art pie factories which we see now in our cities, churning out vast quantities of their product almost unseen on rolling belts and untouched by man around the clock.

Who needs Scrooge?

Anyway, this is not intended to be a historical trip into the history of the Melton pork pie, more a moment I would like to share with you relating to a small snippet which I chanced to read in the Melton Times of Friday Jan 11th 1901 which demonstrates a way of life in another age when the above mentioned Mr Crosher stood in the public dock to face his 'superiors', accused of a 'grave' exploitation of his casual Christmas workers. I reproduce the piece, 'as published', to provide an true perception of the place and time. It reads:

MELTON MOWBRAY PETTY SESSIONS. 
_________ 
 WORKING OVERTIME.



Tuesday --- Before Mr C. W. Chaplin (in the chair), Colonel Baldock, Rev. P. F. Gorst, and Mr. Andrew Shipman.
John Thorpe Crosher, pork-pie manufacturer Melton, was charged by Mr. Sedgwick, factory Inspector, with illegally employing three women, viz, Emma Taylor, Mary E. Irons, and Catherine Pettifer, overtime, at Melton, on the 19th December. --- In opening the case, Mr. Sedgwick said the complaints were made under section[s] 10 and 12 of the Factorie's Act of 1878. In the course of his duties he visited the premises occupied by the defendant on the 19th December last year, and on making enquiry of the females who were working on the place he found out that they had been employed from 6 a.m. until 12 at night, except for 3 1/2 hours allowed for meals and recreation. The legal period for employment was from seven o'clock in the morning until seven at night, with 1 1/2 hours for meals. In the case of pork-pie manufacturers, however, there were special arrangements in the Act whereby women might work from seven o'clock in the morning until nine at night, but not more than three nights in one week, and not more than 30 times in one year. As he had before stated, however, he found that the women had been employed from six o'clock in the morning until twelve at night, so they would see that a grave irregularity and contravention of the Act had taken place. He was aware that Christmas time was an exceptionally busy one, but the Act had provided that women could work two hours extra, and if that was not sufficient time for the work to be completed, then the employer ought to obtain extra help. By working the women after nine o'clock at night employers were liable to a fine not exceeding £3 in each case. Although he had only taken three cases out, yet he found other women on the place who had been working overtime. --- Defendant said that they were all aware that the week before Christmas was a very heavy one, and it so happened that on the day prior to the Inspectors visit they had a large order come in, and they had to work overtime to supply it. He might say the women did not in the least mind working overtime, and two of the women mentioned in the charge-sheet were not regularly employed by the firm. --- In answer to a question from the Bench, defendant said that the women were paid 3d an hour extra for overtime.
---Defendant, who pleaded guilty, was fined £1 in each case, including costs.

For information and at no extra cost, in 1900 £1 was equivalent to £101.15 today and 3d (old pence) would be worth today, £1.26

I also discovered from the same newspaper that Queen Victoria's extended reign came to an abrupt end that same week with her sad passing and that on the Monday morning after his Court appearance,  John Crosher was to be rudely awakened to discover that his small bakery was under about three feet of floodwater as, overnight, the local River Eye had burst its banks with devastating effect - the iconic town flood of 1901 - filling the centre of the town with much water. 

___________________________________________________


Sunday, 23 December 2012

PIGEON PIE ANYONE?


A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE



“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

(George Orwell, 'Animal Farm')



As a concerned and conscientious senior citizen and local bird-lover to boot, I like to think that I perhaps do apportion my proper share towards supporting the avian population of my town during these increasingly cold winter days, but recently I have been grappling with a resolution of conscience as to whether I really do believe that all of our feathered friends are as lovely - and as welcome - in my garden as each other. As a caring human being I was brought up to love my fellow man and not to differentiate, favour or show other bias, but recent occurrences at home have led me to think otherwise. The problem, is the almost permanent presence of two very fat pigeons - Pete and Pat(ricia), I sometimes call them - which are fairly recent incomers to the otherwise tranquil surroundings of my bird table upon which I spy quite regularly from my kitchen window.


Shock Troops

There's a crisis looming


For a couple of years now I have gladly and freely placed out peanuts and other delicacies on a purpose built bird table which has regularly attracted a fairly substantial gathering at times of up to a dozen different species of wild birds. Now as the cost of living is continuing to rise, we bird lovers are not untouched by the consequences of the realisation that wild bird food and peanuts have become increasingly expensive of late so imagine my chagrin and frustration - sometimes great anger - when I place out a good handful of peanuts and then have to watch as they are devoured voraciously and swiftly by P and P. But it is not only the grand theft and greediness of these two grey birds which has caused me a problem, but the fact that fewer and fewer of the smaller (and dare I whisper, prettier?) birds now come round to share in the spoils, they being threatened and frightened out of their lives by the bullying antics. By the way, pictured left is Ollie who is such a fat  cat that this is about as far as he can reach. The smaller birds are aware of this and they just ignore him! in truth, he tends to run away when the pigeons arrive. So, what to do?




Thwarted! - Pete and Pat are sorted.


Thwarted


Well, I confess that I did toy with the idea of a small catapult, but I feared that this might suggest a personal bias and possibly, a hatred of a particular species which, if I was discovered, might perhaps cause serious disharmony in the neighbourhood; nor perhaps, would George Orwell have neccesarily approved. So with a small dose of guile and a certain amount of do-it-yourself fervour, I attached four strips of split cane with tiny panel pins to the outside of the table (see picture right.) and retired to my observation post with a certain amount of pride and not just a small dose of smugness. It was not long before the deadly duo arrived in tandem and immediately made a close examination of my handiwork, behind which they could see the tempting vision of a newly placed pile of fresh peanuts sitting right in the middle of the table. Within a very short time, after much flapping of wings and tenuous scrambling about, just managing to hang on by their claws and beaks, a scattering of dislodged feathers lay on the ground. For a moment my smugness knew no heights as the two seemed to have conceded to defeat by my wicked arrangement; but oh dear, it was not to be!

I concede, but win the day.


After departing temporarily for what was probably a rest-break or perchance, a moment to feast at some other nearby table, Pete and Patricia duly returned and I'm sure that I noticed a certain look of defiant malevolence in those dark black eyes. In an instant and before I could change into my outdoor shoes, one of them then gripped on to the side of the table and the same movement, swooshed its wing under the barrier sweeping just about every peanut and all in its path to the ground below to where each defiantly alighted to tuck in to the spoils.

I have now conceded to their willingness to defy me and rather than deny all of the other little birds the offer of some winter nourishment, I now use the hang-bag method and place only old bread or waste products on the open table. Perhaps I should have done this in the first place! Though somehow, I think I have unwittingly provided a useful service to the general public and to the Environmental Department of the local council, as I now notice that the pigeons are far more likely to clean up the rejected chips and discarded meat pies which remain strewn over the pavement at the front of my house on most mornings, the detritus of the night before.

Darwin's theory


Who couldn't but just love this dear little chap?
Belittling and disparaging as I might appear to be in my struggles with the common pigeon - which, lets face it, is not the most popular of man's feathered friends - it is a fact that the species holds a very important place in the natural history of homo sapiens. Watching the antics of Columba Livia - the common pigeon - with its strange habits and often eccentric behaviour in  many parts of the world, was to fire a spark within the mind of a young Charles Darwin and to start him questioning the doctrine of Creation as against the idea that species tended to evolve over time. His ever-contentious views and 'unholy' theories are readily readable today in most democratic societies, apart that is, from some places in the western world where his postulations are still fiercely concealed from younger minds. Let me quote but one paragraph which might lead you to seek further enlightenment as to the theory, in which he outlines the degree of variance amongst species even of the same group.


          (Copied from 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin)
On the Breeds of the Domestic pigeon. 
Believing that it is always best to study some special group, I have, after deliberation, taken up domestic pigeons. I have kept every breed which I could purchase or obtain, and have been most kindly favoured with skins from several quarters of the world, more especially by the Hon. W. Elliot from India, and by the Hon. C. Murray from Persia. Many treatises in different languages have been published on pigeons, and some of them are very important, as being of considerably antiquity. I have associated with several eminent fanciers, and have been permitted to join two of the London Pigeon Clubs. The diversity of the breeds is something astonishing. Compare the English carrier and the short-faced tumbler, and see the wonderful difference in their beaks, entailing corresponding differences in their skulls. The carrier, more especially the male bird, is also remarkable from the wonderful development of the carunculated skin about the head, and this is accompanied by greatly elongated eyelids, very large external orifices to the nostrils, and a wide gape of mouth. The short-faced tumbler has a beak in outline almost like that of a finch; and the common tumbler has the singular and strictly inherited habit of flying at a great height in a compact flock, and tumbling in the air head over heels. The runt is a bird of great size, with long, massive beak and large feet; some of the sub-breeds of runts have very long necks, others very long wings and tails, others singularly short tails. The barb is allied to the carrier, but, instead of a very long beak, has a very short and very broad one. The pouter has a much elongated body, wings, and legs; and its enormously developed crop, which it glories in inflating, may well excite astonishment and even laughter. The turbit has a very short and conical beak, with a line of reversed feathers down the breast; and it has the habit of continually expanding slightly the upper part of the oesophagus. The Jacobin has the feathers so much reversed along the back of the neck that they form a hood, and it has, proportionally to its size, much elongated wing and tail feathers. The trumpeter and laugher, as their names express, utter a very different coo from the other breeds. The fantail has thirty or even forty tail-feathers, instead of twelve or fourteen, the normal number in all members of the great pigeon family; and these feathers are kept expanded, and are carried so erect that in good birds the head and tail touch; the oil-gland is quite aborted. Several other less distinct breeds might have been specified.

And now, for the true enthusiasts ...





N.B. It is the 'vent region' as depicted above, which creates a rigid intolerance within my dear wife at home, especially on wash days!






Thursday, 20 December 2012

ALL FOR THE LOVE OF A FAIR LADY


'Google' problems have caused me the loss of illustrations to this post.  I am currently doing a re-write and renovation job for the near future.



PART I - THE BALDOCKS OF CRAVEN LODGE


An Unwelcome Visitor to the Lodge!
As you might well be aware by now, the rejuvenated Craven Lodge which sits opposite my window in all its glory and now re-branded 'Craven Court', is currently one of my very favourite subjects and while this warmth remains I have been digging out some related stories of the past which you might wish to share. The rich history of this residence and its owners has been well documented of late and since local doctor, Mr Keal, first had the foundations laid as long ago as 1827 there have been nine further owners of the property. Each of these incumbents seem to have been of interesting character and perhaps are all worthy of having their personal stories told, but I recently came across a newspaper article that started me off on yet another merry chase to discover all I could about the lives and times of one of those families in particular. In 1884 Mr William Younger of the famous brewing family of Scotland sold his interest in the Lodge after a residency of some ten years with his young family. His particular tenure is probably best remembered for the moment when, in 1877, he received an overnight visit from probably one of the most notorious and feared members of the Victorian underworld when the scary Mr Charles Peace, known countrywide in the popular press of the day as the 'King of Thieves and Murderers', entered, uninvited via a ground floor window. He is reported to have escaped with a great amount of jewellery before attempting a similar forced entry at Wicklow Lodge just further up the road. The bulk of the jewellery was later recovered and not long after this unwanted visit, Peace was arrested and eventually hanged for his many atrocious crimes, which indeed included three murders. But that is another fascinating story for another day as my present interest is focussed on the man to whom  Mr Younger handed over the keys. The sixth occupant of Craven Lodge was the recently married Colonel Edward Holmes Baldock, a long time lover of Melton Mowbray with its sporting life and everything else that it stood for, who brought his new wife and his baby daughter to the big house where he was to remain ensconced from 1884 for the next 3 decades.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A MOMENT IN TIME - Temperance

Brewster Sessions


Rural life was fairly uncomplicated in the final years of Queen Victoria's long reign and without doubt there was only really one form of popular entertainment for her subjects. Without the cinema or television to entertain them during their precious hours away from work, the great majority took their pleasure from the liberal consumption of alcohol in all of its guises, and where better to consume this liquid treat, why, in the pub, away from the wife and kids ,in the bosom of their pals. Scrupulous control of this popular habit was levied by statute which ensured in turn that that local bodies were to verify that the police properly kept a strict control of its distribution in the locality.  At each year's end, the police would need to report to the relevant committees to place on record the fruits of their success or otherwise and so it was that in the last week of December of the year 1900, Superintendent Mantle duly submitted only the second annual report to the Melton Mowbray Brewster Sessions.   At that first licensing meeting of the Petty Sessional Division in the new century, Mr Fast took the chair and sat with fellow members, Major Sterling, Mr James Pacey and Mr Andrew Shipman:   The Superintendent told the meeting:

“Gentlemen, I beg to submit for your information my second annual report under the intoxicating liquor laws.   There are 103 persons licensed to sell in this division, viz. 85 licensed victuallers, eight to sell beer on premises, three to sell beer off premises,, one refreshment, six wines, total 103.   The population at the last census was 19,917, which is a license to every 193 persons.   Drunkenness: Persons proceeded against under the above heading, viz.. Drunk and disorderly on the highway 23, drunk in charge of horses two, simple drunkenness 19, refusing to quit licensed premises three, total 47.   Forty-four were convicted and three discharged, being an increase of nine as compared with last year.   Five full licenses, one beer off and one wine off, have been transferred during the year.   One licensed victualler has been summoned and convicted under the Food and Drugs Act.   Nineteen persons have music licenses.   The renewal of the Railway Inn will not be applied for, it being pulled down for alterations at the railway crossing, Burton-end.   Thomas Clifton who keeps the ‘Dog and Gun’ beerhouse, Melton Mowbray (at present a six days’ license) is applying for a seven days’ license, which will be brought before you to-day.   There is [are] no applications for any new licenses.   All the alterations which the magistrates suggested when they visited the Marquis of Granby Inn, Red Lion, Duke of Rutland, Three Crowns, Boat, Royal Oak, and Dog and Gun, have been carried out.   I have no complaint to urge against any of the license holders."


And that was that for another year!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

METAMORPHOSIS!

Simon Johnson and Peter Burrows at Craven Court,
 PHOTO: Tim Williams (Melton Times)
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS

A year has already passed since I last waxed lyrically about the ongoing rescue and timely regeneration of Craven Lodge, the beautiful old house on Burton Road which was pretty well consigned to the fate of the demolition gang only two or three years ago. Thank goodness for the foresight of developer Peter Burrows of Rochford Homes who was to arrive from out of town equipped with the required will and business acumen to confront and eventually rebuff all complaints of and obstructions by, a combination of 'angry local residents' who were ably supported by a stuffy and 'apprehensive' Council committee, to heroically rescue this historic jewel of the town for future generations to admire. As I have previously stated, I live as close to this building as anyone else in the town and have always supported the project with a passion. Now, as the months have passed by, venture to ask the opinion of those who now live opposite this grand pile and you will almost certainly receive a 99% satisfaction response - we are in fact very proud of our new landmark which has emerged from the undergrowth of half a century of neglect to enhance the whole area. (I know who the one-percent are and I wish them luck with their house move!)

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

LONG TO 'RAIN' OVER US!


PATRIOTS WE.

I wondered recently, if our beloved nonegenarian Queen Elizabeth was aware of the 100 or so almost frozen souls who were ensconced under leaky tents or the sagging canvas sheets which had been painstakingly erected on the empty spaces of the little track which services the rear of our gardens here in our little part of Melton Mowbray? The memorable occasion was the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty's  accession to the throne following the untimely death in 1952 of her beloved father, King George.  Dutiful and royalist citizens that we were that day - and remain so of course - ensured that close to a 100% uptake of those invited to the bash from the houses linked to the track by the residents of Ankle Hill and Burton Road, arrived in good time and gritted teeth humour to assist in setting up the plastic barricades against the relentless heavy rain which showed great promise of remaining for the rest of the day.


In a hastily thrown together area nearby which comprised of rapidly emptied garages and temporarily abandoned parking spaces, barbecues hi-jacked from patios and gardens nearby were being hopefully fired up, only to resonate to a constant mixture of hot fire and the hissing clouds of steam from the persistent rain, altogether blending the sausages of all nations, chicken parts and whatever meats had been brought. Refreshing drinks - mostly alcholic - were organised, supplied and readily consumed by a merry and increasingly merrier band of volunteer hands who were mainly in that section were of the male variety. Of course the quality of the merchandise needed to be tested before the general distribution! 

All of this patriotic fervour had been the brain-child of a small group of people resident to 'the lane', who some months ago canvassed us for an indication of general interest and most importantly, uptake for such an event bearing in mind several other distractions then occurring in the area. I am told that agreement and the eventual acceptance was high  and the very tiny sum of £2 pp was accepted and duly gathered in with no defaulters. Those people who were available, assisted with the preparations during the morning and by midday people began to arrive with the majority complying with the basic requirement to wear something red white and blue. But this display of Royal obeisance wasn't always clearly apparent as many of us were more persuaded to wear our oilskins, sou'westers and even some parkas were spotted throughout the remainder of that summer's afternoon.

Security was necessarily tight at the event as the country was still in a security state of 'Orange' preparedness and the youngsters - girls and boys - took it in turns to patrol the rain-spattered area, but as events turned out Mother Nature was to overrule and the weather was to put an end to any hope of the three-legged and egg and spoon competitions which were officially cancelled. The very young attendees seemed quite satisfied with the alternative game of jumping up and down in the muddy puddles and attempting to dam the increasingly growing streams of rainwater which was by mid afternoon, threatening to wash us all away and to remain trendy to the fashion of the day, there were those who opted for a bit of ankle-tapping with their state-of-the art scooters for which the slimy conditions proved ideal.

All in all, notwithstanding the cruel efforts of the weather, a great time was had by all those who attended and there were no fights (as far as I am aware).  In the evening, as the younger children slowly disappeared from the scene and the older ones moved on to more teenage pursuits, the late afternoon sun (which did eventually arrive) slipped way to create a mature event for the older generation, which included a lot of drink, chatter and even argument around a large log fire.   I left about 1am, but I am informed that the hardier residents of Burton Road and Ankle Hill remained until a very early hour in the Sunday morning.






Tuesday, 30 October 2012

AN AMERICAN IN MELTON MOWBRAY


FOREWORD

People of a certain age in the market town of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire will occasionally speak of a ‘murder’ which occurred in their town during the last war when a local and popular tailor was brutally attacked and robbed of his earnings at his place of work. Although the victim was left to fend for himself in a battered and unconscious state, the occurrence fortunately did not end up as a murder though it could well have done if different circumstances had prevailed. This is re-telling of that incident which happened during those anxious ‘blackout’ days of World War 2 during which this small market town in the East Midlands of England had remained largely untouched by any aggressive war situations or the usual and expected going-ons common to the the larger cities nearby. Melton was in those dark days, home to an increasingly eclectic mixture of armed forces personnel and civilian 'Dad's Armies' who were currently grouped in great numbers across the country, engaged in a combined show of strength to deter the would-be aggressors who had threatened to invade these ever inviolate shores. American soldiers, including units of black G.I.s who were based in at least two nearby villages, were a novelty for the locals to observe in their comings and goings and at the nearby village of Old Dalby, a depot manned by Canadian personnel was wholeheartedly providing logistical and moral support to the home country’s armed forces. On the whole, it is on the record that Melton Mowbray did manage to pass through the days of conflict pretty well unscathed, apart from the occasional and expected human frailties of the few, most of whom were tolerated whilst surviving for the long five years in a mad world being torn apart in the quest of global control. This little tale looks back to the time of the passing of this watershed moment in world history and provides a small insight into how a small town coped with the general upheaval which resulted.