Saturday, 29 December 2012


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:


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



“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 equally 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. My problem is the almost permanent presence of two very obese 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.

There is 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, but now, as the cost of living is continuing to rise, we bird lovers are not untouched by the consequences of the fact that wild-bird food and peanuts have become increasingly expensive of late.  So, imagine my chagrin and frustration - even 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.  It is not only the grand-theft and greediness of these two grey, tuneless birds which has caused me a problem, but the aggravating fact that fewer and fewer of the smaller (and dare I whisper, prettier?) birds now visit to share in the spoils, they being threatened and frightened out of their lives by the bullying antics.  My cat Ollie is such a fat fella himself that there was no way in which he was going to frighten these marauders away for his patch, all of the smaller birds are aware of this already and they just ignore him! In truth, he tends to scarper when the pigeons arrive so, what to do?


Well, I confess that I did toy with the idea of a small catapult, but I feared that this might suggest a personal - even criminal - bias and a hatred of a particular species, which, if I was discovered, might perhaps cause serious disharmony in the neighbourhood; I wonder if George Orwell would have 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 and retired to my observation post with a certain amount of pride, anticipation and not just a little  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:  my smugness knew no bounds as the pair seemed to have conceded to defeat by my wicked hand.  But it was not to be!

I lose the battle, but win the war. - I think!

After departing temporarily bruised for what was probably a rest-break or perchance, a moment to feast at some other local 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 adjourned to tuck in to the spoils.

Having now conceded to their willingness to defy me and rather than to deny all of the other little birds the offer of some winter nourishment, I have now adopted 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 may 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 and much easier for Pete and Pat to access.

And now, for the true enthusiasts ...

Darwin's theory of evolution.

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.

          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.
(Copied from 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin, hopefully, with his authority)

Thursday, 20 December 2012



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 any doubt or argument there was only one true form of popular entertainment for her subjects.  Without the cinema or television to entertain them during their precious hours away from work, attending at  bare-knuckle boxing or perhaps a few hours of cock-fighting, followed by some bull baiting, the great majority - especially the males but certainly not only -  took their pleasure from the liberal consumption of alcohol in all of its guises and from wherever they could locate it.  Suffice to say that the local pub was the place to be to consume this 'nectar' when work was over for the day, away from the prying eyes of the wife and kids and the constant demand for money to buy the children food.  We should all understand and appreciate today what the Women's temperance movements were all about.

Scrupulous and fairly rigid control of this popular and socially destabilising habit was levied by Statute from national government which was to ensure in turn that local government bodies were tasked to ensure that the police properly kept a strict control of its distribution in any locality.  At each fiscal year's end, the police were required to report to the relevant committees to place on record the fruits of their annual dealings or otherwise and so it was that in each final week of December the official report was unveiled. In the December of the final week the century, 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 John 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’ beer house, 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!