The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Thursday, 25 February 2016

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.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Mad, bad and dangerous to know

Byron's bed at Newstead Abbey
The poet Byron was born in London in 1788. He was lame, born with a club foot. Much of his early childhood was spent in Scotland where he was tended by a nurse whose encouragement of physical affection was reputedly one of the factors in his later attitude to women.

He moved to Nottinghamshire at the age of 10 when he inherited the family home, Newstead Abbey, on the death of his great uncle. He was privately educated in Nottingham and later sent to Harrow before gaining a place at Trinity College, Cambridge. He spent just a term there (although he returned to complete his studies later) before moving to London and spending much of the family money on entertainment, leaving him in serious debt. That was one of the driving forces behind his decision to publish his writings.

Newstead was unfit for living at the time Byron inherited and it was not until 1809 that he was finally able to move in. It soon became the base for many of Byron's notorious wild exploits. In the Great Hall, for example, all the fittings had been stripped (including the fireplace) by the previous Lord Byron in a bid to pay off his debts. George (the poet) Byron could not afford to restore them so he used the room for pistol practice.

Byron was a notorious womaniser, surrounded by scandal for much of his early life. His affairs were widely known, one of the most public being that with Lady Caroline Lamb. Her intense fixation with him, even after he had tired of her, was such an embarrassment that her family had her shipped off to Ireland to get her away from him. Among the tricks she tried to entice him back to her bed was to send him her pubic hair! It was she who dubbed the poet "mad, bad and dangerous to know" in one of her diaries.

In a bid to overcome the notoriety of his many affairs Byron married in 1815 and within a year the association had produced a daughter, Augusta Ada. But the marriage was doomed and in 1816 Byron moved permanently abroad. His womanising continued in Europe. In Italy he had a love affair with a married woman, the Countess Teresa Guicciolo. Her husband summoned her home and Byron followed, eventually becoming a friend of her family.

Later he developed an interest in the Greek war of independence against the Turks and raised a private army with a donation of £4,000 aid the fight. While in Messolonghi, Greece in 1824 he caught a fever, which killed him. His body was returned to England and he is buried next to his daughter in St Mary Magdalene Church, Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Old Scarlett

You see Old Scarletts picture stand on hie
But at your feete tere doth his body lye.
His gravestone doth his age and death time show
His office by theis tokens you may know.
Second to none for strength and sturdye limm
A scarbabe mighty voice with visage grim.
Hee had interd two queenes within this place
And this townes house holders in his lives space
Twice over: but at length his one turne came
What hee for others did for him the same
Was done: No doubt his soule doth live for aye
In Heaven: though here his body clad in clay

Gravedigger Robert Scarlett served the city of Peterborough for most of his life, working at the Cathedral. He died in 1594, by which time he had buried two generations of residents. The average life expectancy at the time was around 45, but his outdoor work and regular exercise clearly did him good. He was 98 when his turn finally came.

His portrait is painted on the Cathedral wall and below it is the poem given above. The two "queenes" it mentions were Katherine of Aragon and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Thursday, 11 February 2016


Back in the 1930s there was a passion for sport fishing for the Atlantic bluefin tuna, or "tunny". The fish were caught from small boats with rod and line.

It was a sport favoured by the rich and famous, who founded the British Tunny Club near the harbour in Scarborough. (These days its a fish and chip shop.) Among the famous names who took part were newspaper baron Lord Astor, actor Charles Laughton (a Scarborough native), author Zane Grey, and flyboy Tommy Sopwith, of Sopwith Camel fame. 

The fish back then were huge - the British record was set at 851 pounds - and possibly the strongest in the world, so catching them offered the same kind of challenge as is seen these days in marlin  fishing.

Sadly, over-fishing led to a serious demise in the species's health and the sport faded out of favour in the 1950s.

Today there's a monument to the fad that stands near the old toll bar. Sculptor Ray Lonsdale's work The Tunny shows a fish on a line. An inscription reads: "Big fish little boat, just a rod, a line, a man. The days when the Tunny were here in the sea not just in a ringpull can."

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Museum memory jogger

Not everything in museum displays is memorable for the right reasons. Take this view from Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield, representing a work bench from a cutlery factory. I'm sure the bits and pieces tell a fascinating story about South Yorkshire industry, but it was the Ostermilk tin that caught my eye.

*Ostermilk was a powdered milk baby food manufactured by Glaxo from 1924, becoming a market leader by the mid-1960s, and withdrawn from sale in 1985 following a salmonella scare. Ostermilk number 2 was a full-cream, follow-on formula introdcued in 1932. The powders were distributed in cylindrical tins with tight-fitting lids that, once empty, were used for all manner of purposes. In this case it kept the odds and ends from the workbench tidy.

But seeing this one took me straight back to a shelf in my mother's pantry and her cake icing paraphernalia!

*Hudson, Briony. When mother's milk is not enough. Pharmaceutical Journal (2011) Volume 287 pp 739-740.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Eat up, it's good for you!

Close to the fish pier on Scarborough's foreshore is Alonzi's Harbour Bar, a bright yellow, plastic and chrome confection that reflects the style of the ice creams it serves.

The Alonzi family moved to Scarborough from Southern Italy at the end of the nineteenth century and opened an ice cream business that ran a fleet of barrows serving day trippers and holidaymakers on the beach. In creative business style they charged a penny a portion to customers near the harbour (where the poor people went) but tuppence a scoop to the ones near the Spa (the 'posh' end of town!).

After WW2 the family opened The Harbour Bar, right on the foreshore, close to the lighthouse and fish piers, and near the penny arcades. In the 1950s the shop was refitted as a 'milk bar' style cafe, which is still its look today.

There's plenty to show its origins, not least the back-lit plastic panels exhorting customers to eat ice cream regularly for the good of their health. These were different times, and such claims as 'nutritious' could be made without any evidence at all. (Even cigarettes were advertised as 'recommended by your dentist' back then.)

Something not found in any of the other seafront cafes is a tower of bottled fruit, a reminder of the days when fresh fruit was hard to find, and an ice cream sundae was one of the few ways to get one of your 'five a day'. Perhaps the health claims were not so far-fetched after all.

The current owner is the third generation of the Alonzi family to run the business. According to the company website he was born in the flat over the cafe.