Meetings, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations.
The Horsehair-weaving Industry: John Miners, 14th February 2017
The multi-coloured samples of woven horse hair that John Miners brought along to the Society's meeting on 14th February were a long way removed from the bits of stuffing that some of us recalled from the inside of old sofas and in his detailed and well-illustrated talk John took us through the processes that turned this natural protein fibre into a versatile and immensely durable fabric. John is now a freelance textile consultant who began his career as an apprentice at Courtaulds; as a school leaver, whose family lived opposite the factory, he reasoned that a job there would allow him to minimise the time between getting out of bed and clocking in for work - but he moved on!
John Boyd Ltd is the only remaining weaver of horse hair in the UK and is based in Castle Cary in Somerset. John Boyd was the son of a Scottish merchant and he came to England in his early 20s as a travelling draper. He started his horse hair weaving business in 1837 in a chapel yard and by 1841 he employed about 30 weavers. By 1851 his enterprise had grown to 30 women, 9 men and 34 children involved in various operations. The children fed the horse tails into the looms and this had to be done in single strands- and alternately, because the hair is thicker at the top end of the tail, to ensure an even weave. With the coming of the 1870 Education Act, which forbade the employment of children under 13, mechanical feed machines were devised. At this time most of the hair used came from the local area where horse breeding was popular for agriculture and transport. Later in the century hair had to be imported because of increased mechanisation and nowadays most of the raw material comes from Mongolia. Before any hair gets near a loom it has to be washed - and conditioned -and sorted by hand (a process called hackling) to remove short, discoloured or brittle pieces. Hair never wears out and can be dyed any colour and the woven product is much in demand by antique restorers as well as modern furniture manufacturers for hotels, restaurants, shoes etc. In the weaving the hair is the weft - the horizontal strand (maximum length 26") - and this is combined with cotton, usually, as the vertical warp.
John Boyd did much for the town building cottages and terraces for his workers; at the turn of the century the company employed about 200 people such was the popularity of horse hair fabric.
John was warmly thanked by Secretary Clare Mathieson for a most interesting talk which generated many questions from the 22 members and guests present.
It was noted that John Geddes - member and past Treasurer - was seriously ill in hospital and best wishes for his speedy recovery were expressed.
Clare reminded members that the next meeting would be the AGM on 14th March - 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall -with cheese and wine. Please bring wedding photographs (yours, your parents, your grandparents?) and be prepared to be anecdotal!
Clare also pointed out that there were seats available on the trip to Harwich on July 11th (guided tour of the historic centre and the Redoubt Fort) and anyone wishing to be included should contact her without delay.
Foxearth and District Local History Society Christmas Dinner: 13th Dec 2016
It has become traditional in the last few years to hold the annual dinner of the Foxearth and District Local History Society in the George at Cavendish and in 2016 the event took place on Tuesday 13th December. Twenty six members enjoyed their menu choices amidst paper hats and cracker "jokes" and furrowed their brows over a challenging history crossword and quiz. President Ashley Cooper complimented Secretary Clare Mathieson and the committee on its programme selection and particularly on the involvement of members at some meetings
Clare gave details of the programme of events for 2017 which would include talks on historical aspects of weaving and a weaver at Waterloo, histories of the Quay and the Sue Ryder Foundation, Pentlow Hall and Church, Constable and Gainsborough and Foxearth in the Great War. In July there will be a guided tour of Harwich and the Redoubt Fort. The first meeting of the new Year will be on 14th February at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when John Miners will talk about the history of weaving with horse hair (Horse tales!)
'Hev yer gotta loight boy', North Essex Ballads 11th October 2016
The dissolution of the monasteries in Suffolk: by Pip Wright 13th September 2016
The History of the Breeding of Budgerigars: 14th June 2016
We always knew that there was bird life in Pentlow but the full extent of it was only revealed to members of the District Society when they visited the home of Ghalib and Janice Al-Nasser in the village on 14th June. Ghalib and Janice are world renowned experts on the breeding and exhibition of budgerigars; a lifelong passion for them both which has earned them over 700 certificates and numerous awards and international recognition. A visit to their web site shows the extensive commitment and involvement they both have to their hobby and they hold many official positions in budgerigar clubs in the Home Counties and Midlands. Ghalib has lectured and judged in over 30 countries and is considered to be the world leading authority on colour mutation in the birds.
Ghalib gave a full account of the history of the bird from the time that John Gould (1804 to 1881) a British ornithologist brought a collection back from Australia where they were - and still are - prolific in the wild. There is thought to be about 5 million at present in the world of many colour variations. Their natural life span is between 5 and 8 years but in captivity they will usually survive a little longer. Being very social birds they exist in large flocks living - in the wild - on grass seed. When it comes to nesting they tunnel into trees, the hen laying usually about six eggs at two-day intervals making hatching and subsequent feeding a progressive business. In the 1950s budgerigars were the most popular pets in England - fascinating for their splendid mimicry (if one has the patience) but nowadays in third place after dogs and cats. At Woburn Abbey the Duke of Bedford kept a large aviary and deliberately released a number of budgerigars into the English countryside where some developed a homing instinct and returned to their cages.
At the end of this most interesting talk - and before some delicious refreshment - the 14 members present were shown around the enormous and impressive bird room. This houses about 400 budgerigars (very noisy!) at various levels of life from fairly newly-born chicks to birds being prepared for a Cambridge show at the coming weekend. All birds are tagged when just a few weeks old and recorded. Some are champions and others are being groomed for stardom. The hard work and devotion that the carers put in to this enterprise was evident and Ghalib and Janice were warmly thanked by Alan Fitch for a very special evening.
Next meeting: A visit to the mediaeval excavations at Goldingham Hall, Bulmer on Tuesday 12th July. Secretary Clare Mathieson will circulate details to members.
The Beefeater and the Tower of London in English History: 10th May 2016
About 28 members and guests of the District Local History Society were "sent to the Tower" on 10th May when Kevin Kitcher - Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London (and Borley resident) gave a fascinating talk about the role of the Beefeater and the prominent part the Tower has played in English history. As one of 37 Yeoman Warders, Kevin's job includes the guardianship of the Crown Jewels, the security of the premises (the daily Ceremony of the Keys) and taking part in various state occasions for which different uniforms may be worn. All of these functions are centuries old but nowadays Beefeaters also act significantly as tour guides for which extensive knowledge of the Tower is required - and this was amply demonstrated in Kevin's address.<
The buildings comprising this London landmark occupy an eighteen and a half acre site the main structure being the White tower erected in 1078 by William the Conqueror. As well as being a royal residence this served as a prison from 1100 of which the first occupant was Bishop Ranulf Flambard; he was also the first escapee as he got the guards drunk and made off using ropes which had been secreted in the wine barrels he was able to import. In the Tudor period many notables were imprisoned in the Tower including Elizabeth 1, Ann Boleyn, Guy Fawkes - and, within living memory, Rudolf Hess for a few days in 1941. The building became less of a royal residence and more a place of confinement, torture and death. It was also used for the manufacture and storage of gunpowder. There were three established categories of prisoner: close prisoners were those in close custody (Sir Thomas More and John Fisher, for example, both executed); the second category were liberty prisoners meaning those who had a right of access to the outer boundary of the complex; thirdly there were pledgemen being those who had given a pledge to return (or to provide a substitute!)
King Henry VII formed the Yeomen Warders in 1485 and the Tudor rose forms part of their badge. All Yeomen (there is, at present, one woman!) Warders are senior NCOs retired from the armed forces after at least 22 years experience and with good conduct and long service medals. It is a requirement that they live in one of the 43 tied houses on the site. One of the warders is designated as Ravenmaster to care for the birds which have been associated with the Tower - and its superstitions - or some centuries.
This was an extremely entertaining talk delivered with wit by Kevin and containing a great mass of facts, dates and anecdotes - but can we really believe some of the questions that American tourists are reputed ask of the tour guides! Alan Fitch thanked Kevin for his fine contribution and all present showed their warm appreciation.
Next meeting: 14th June 7.30pm in Pentlow at the kind invitation of Janice and Ghalib Al Nasser who will talk about The history of the Budgerigar