Shoe of the Month – On the Stage

On the Stage

These amazing black leather boots belonged to Kathleen Gregory, who in the late 1930s trained as a dancer with Betty Fox and Helena Lehmiski in her home town of Birmingham. Just after the outbreak of World War Two, at the age of sixteen, she began her stage career as a dancer and chorister in musical comedy, pantomimes, revues and variety shows.

It is unknown exactly when she acquired the Big Boots or when she learned and initially performed the special dance in them; however the photograph of Kathie wearing them can be dated 1939-1941.

She often referred to the boots as her Little Tich boots as there was an old variety music hall act by a man of that name. Throughout the war years Kathie performed in shows which toured the UK, the company moving en masse by train from one town to another.

Big Boots

Big Boots

The dancers and choristers were not named individually on the programmes, but acknowledged as The Lehmiski Ladies, John Tiller’s Girls and The Danetree Girls. The Flying Ballet was another speciality in which Kathie performed. Kathie performed in Northampton at The New Theatre in The Arcadians July 9th – 15th 1944 and The Desert Song April 8th – 14th and again 21st – 27th 1947. Kathie married in 1948 and continued to perform in shows in Birmingham and in South Wales until family life made it unfeasible.

 

The War Memorials of Northampton Town

The War Memorials of Northampton Town

Reflections of the talk by Angela Malin

I think everyone who attended, enjoyed the talk on the War Memorials and Rolls of Honour that can be found around the town.  Some are obvious such as the Cenotaph in All Saints’ churchyard but did you know that the side chapel at All Saints was also built as a memorial to those who served and died?

It was interesting to see in the newspapers that once the idea for a memorial was proposed, various architects came up with some rather grandiose schemes.. One even looked like the Admiralty Arch in the Mall in London, others involved the demolition of the top of Guildhall Road and part of St Giles Square!   I was also amazed at how quickly the funds within each church or parish were raised to pay for these memorials, especially as many of the veterans found it hard to regain employment after the war.

Abington Square War Memorial

Abington Square War Memorial

On a reflective note, it is humbling to see that all the memorials are well cared for and that 100 years on, the men who gave their lives for our freedom have not been forgotten: we have and will continue to remember them

Northampton Men Awarded a Gallantry Medal for Bravery.

Over the past few months I have unearthed the stories of 15 men from Northampton, awarded a gallantry medal for bravery. In several instances more than once during the First World War. While many were won on the Western Front in France and Belgium, for some we move to the more exotic climes of Jerusalem and Palestine.

An 18 year old lad from Jimmy’s End who drove his tank continuously for seventeen hours in the heat of battle. A ‘Mobbs Man’ from Colwyn Road, awarded a Military Medal when serving with a Special Company of the Royal Engineers. The grandson of the founder of one of Northampton’s most famous shoe manufacturers who led his men against a heavily fortified Turkish position at Gaza. In the same campaign, a man from Artizan Road who rescued four wounded men under heavy machine-gun fire during the capture of Jerusalem.

From the first Northampton man awarded a gallantry decoration, an Irish Guardsman from Perry Street in early November 1914. To the last, a conscripted soldier with a citation which reads like a Hollywood scene from a ‘John Wayne’ film, during the last few weeks of the war. The real tragic story of probably the bravest man of all from the town, awarded the Military Medal as an enlisted soldier and the Military Cross when he was later commissioned as an officer, only to be killed in a traffic accident when serving at home less than a month before the end of the war.

Gallantry Medals

Gallantry Medals

Although no award of the Victoria Cross was won by a Northampton man, I will be telling the story of a soldier with a close connection to the town who won the VC on the Somme in 1916. In addition to explaining the different types of gallantry medals awarded, I will present a summary of the awards conferred to the Northamptonshire Regiment. Also there will be a number of gallantry medal groups to the regiment on display.

David Folwell

If you’d like to come along to my talk on Thursday 6th August at 7pm do call the museum on 01604 837397 to book. Ticket cost £5 and are also available on the door.

 

 

Leading the Way: How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded.

Leading the Way:  How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded.

In 1914, the nation went to war.  In the fervour that followed the despatch of the British Expeditionary Force, young men signed up in their droves.  For many it was a jolly jape.  Most believed it would be over by Christmas.  Few gave thought to what laid ahead of them, whilst back at home, the authorities had to make plans to care for the wounded who would be sent back to Britain away from the theatre of war.  The Great War was the first war of its kind.  No one had any concept of the impact of this type of fighting or how many casualties would result from such a war.

Plans were being put in place, setting aside beds for the wounded heroes.  How many beds would they need?  How long would they be needed for?  Who was going to pay for it?  How much would it cost?  What would happen to the soldiers when their medical needs had been met?  What would be the psychological impact?  What happens next?

At the start of the war, these were among the questions that needed answers.  What wasn’t foreseen was the sheer volume of wounded that would require care.

As part of the Community and Conflict Project, it was decided that some research needed to be done into how the wounded soldiers of the Great War were cared for in the county of Northamptonshire.  The research revealed who was responsible for the care and how this was paid for, and who was responsible for the coordination of funding and care.  The research shows the complexities of such an operation and the logistical difficulties of the task ahead.

Wounded Soldiers

Wounded Soldiers

Come along to our Museum talk on Tuesday 22 September 2015 at 7pm to explore how Northampton and the county rose to the occasion, who was involved, and endeavours to show that Northampton did indeed, lead the way.

All talks £5, ring 01604 837397 to book. Tickets also available on the door.

Shoe of the Month – Beaded Boot

It’s all in the detail.

Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is always keen to collect footwear from new and contemporary shoe designers, and so was delighted to welcome  this stunning boot to its collection.

Laura Risbridger graduated from De Montford University in Leicester with a degree in Footwear Design (BA Hons). She has since gone on to work with designers and shoemakers  in the UK and in Germany working on handmade shoes.

This boot was designed as part of a small collection put together in 2010 that was inspired by a fascination for old Romanian gypsy culture and their love of decorative embellishment.

The boot has thousands of tiny glass and Swarovski beads that were all individually hand appliquéd on to the leather upper, which  took over 100 hours to complete.

Beaded Boot

Beaded Boot

Laura said: “This technique  is something I love to do, really bringing back the glamour and art of the old shoemakers who created one off, beautiful couture shoes. Keeping alive the craftsmanship of shoemakers before with modern techniques and design is both a privilege and a pleasure.”

 

The Finds of Roman Northamptonshire

A review of ‘The Finds of Roman Northamptonshire’. A talk by Julie Cassidy, Finds Liaison Officer for Northamptonshire

By Louise Hannam

Thursday 14th May 7.30pm

Coming from an Archaeology/ Egyptology background and holding an interest in local history, I was especially looking forward to attending ‘The Finds of Northamptonshire’ talk held at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. As I had discovered a further understanding of Northampton history whilst working at the museum, I felt that this was not an evening to be missed. I was proved right, as Julie Cassidy did not disappoint!

The talk began by explaining the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and the distribution of Roman finds throughout Northamptonshire. Important Roman towns were established throughout the county such as Towcester, Kettering, Duston and Irchester. Roman villas in Northamptonshire included Brackley, in which a villa and bath house were situated.

Map of Northamptonshire

Map of Northamptonshire

Image reproduced from ‘The Archaeology of Northamptonshire’ (2004) Northamptonshire Archaeology Society. Edited by Martin Tingle.

The mention of the bath house particularly interested me as I had previously excavated a Roman Bath house with the University of Sussex in Barcombe, East Sussex.  This experience thus enabled me to identify with the finds that Julie continued to show throughout the evening.

It was exciting to see an abundance of high quality, well preserved objects from this era, deriving from another county that I was now living in. It really brought home how this culture had spread, not only from Rome and across Europe, but across the country, as parallel objects and sites were to be found in the Midlands, as well as London and Southern England, of which I was already familiar with.

There were various finds that particularly stood out to me; the first was the head from a statue of Marcus Aurelius with pointed beard and intact glass eyes. It was found at Brackley and had since resided on a farmer’s mantel piece until being identified as an authentic Roman find.  Few Roman statues maintain their original glass eyes due to their value, so it is not surprising that the find is now on display in the Ashmolean Museum.

Statue Head of Marcus Aurelius

Statue Head of Marcus Aurelius

Portable Antiquities Scheme (BERK-E24C84)

The second object that I found extremely intriguing was the frog lamp fitting found in Wilby, near Wellingborough. The find consisted of a metal frog with a lion’s head attached but its use was unknown. Once the object was researched however, a parallel was found. This was a lamp from Pompeii dating to 79 CE, now displayed in Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in the University of Michigan.  The parallel revealed that the Wilby frog was also originally from a high status lamp, and not locally made, meaning it was a Roman object imported to Britain. This therefore demonstrates the importance of discovering such finds, as they can widen our understanding about the history of our local area.

Frog lamp fitting found Wliby

Frog lamp fitting found Wliby

Portable Antiquities Scheme(NARC-81E575)                

The final finds that should be mentioned, were the references to a ‘raven’ or ‘eagle’.  These were in the form of a bronze figure of a bird (use unknown), and a finger ring with a carved depiction of a bird and man running away from it. Although there is evidence to suggest that representations of eagles and ravens were present in the Roman British era (Durhama & Fulford 2013) (Serjeantson and Morris 2011), I couldn’t help thinking that the bird in fact represented a falcon, or a form of Horus; the ancient Egyptian god of kingship.

Bronze Figure of a Bird

Bronze Figure of a Bird

Portable Antiquities Scheme (NARC-BE3893)

Finger Ring

Finger Ring

Portable Antiquities Scheme (BUC-2D8DA5)

It was not uncommon for Egyptian Gods to be assimilated into Roman religion. The cult of Isis for example, spread through the Roman Empire and was worshipped at various sites within the Romano-British era. Horus was therefore incorporated into the Roman British religion in the form of Harpocrates; a human version of the deity (Potter 1997) also known as the god of silence (Aldhouse-Green 1983, 25).  However obscurer versions of the god were also portrayed within this era, such as the falcon form. An example of this was demonstrated by a figurine at Farley Heath in Surrey (Aldhouse-Green 1983, 26). Therefore, this could suggest that the bird representations on the finds shown by Julie were a form of Horus or Harpocrates, but further research would need to be undertaken in order to confirm this.

This entry is just an example of what can be taken away from archaeological finds that Julie comes across on a daily basis as Finds Liaison Officer. It must be a truly enthralling career to have, and this was certainly reflected by Julie’s enthusiastic manner throughout the talk. I thoroughly recommend attending similar talks in the future and I will be looking to become more involved within the Portable Antiquities Scheme myself, whether it be through volunteering to record finds or assist with the talks.

To find out more about the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Northamptonshire, visit www.finds.org.uk or email Julie Cassidy directly on: FLO@northamptonshire.gov.uk

Bibliography

Aldhouse-Green, M.J. 1983. The Gods of Roman Britain. Osprey Publishing.

Durhama, E.and Fulford, M. 2013, ‘Symbols of Power: The Silchester Bronze Eagle and Eagles in Roman Britain’, Archaeological Journal 170, (1) ,pp 78-105.

Potter, T.W. 1997. Roman Britain. 2nd Edition. London: British Museum Press.

Serjeantson, D. and Morris, J. 2011, ‘Ravens and crows in Iron Age and Roman Britain’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 30, (1), pp 85-107.

 

From Wives and Daughters to Citizens Talk

From Wives and Daughters to Citizens

Reflections of the talk  by John Buckell

Advertisment Adnitts Bros, The Drapery

Advertisement Adnitts Bros, The Drapery

Advertisement, Northampton Independent, 7th July 1917. Northamptonshire Records Office. Courtesy of Northamptonshire Newspapers.

A predominantly female audience listened to this talk on the work women did in  World War One, the opening up of opportunities for women, and the subsequent enlargement of their rights.

The talk covered work on the land, in boot and shoe factories and munitions factories, as well as other occupations, including teaching, nursing, in the army, police and postal service and on the trams. These were just a small fraction of the jobs that women took on. Other related topics addressed were trade unions, and food and fuel shortages at home which led to rationing in 1918. Finally, there was a brief look at women’s involvement in public life before, during and after the war, including the Northampton suffragists and suffragettes. It concluded with the introduction of parliamentary votes for women in 1918, on narrower terms than those for men, with a property qualification and higher age threshold. Nevertheless, the immediate post-war period saw a number of firsts for local women – as councillors, magistrates and mayors. In 1923, Northampton’s first female Member of Parliament, Margaret Bondfield, was elected, and political candidates were already addressing women’s concerns.

A number of interesting questions were raised, both in open forum and privately after the formal meeting. I present them below with possible answers.

  1. Was any childcare available for mothers who went out to work?
  2. Very little. The government prioritised munitions work, and provided funds for day care centres for munitions factories. There were about 100 in the country. I am not aware of one in Northampton. However, a charity day care centre, run by the Queen Victoria nurses, and attached to their maternity home, was in existence before and during the war, but it seems it mainly catered for poor mothers who had to go out to work. Most working mothers would have to depend for childcare on family members, friends or neighbours.
  3. Q. Was there any increase in industrial accidents as a result of inexperienced women coming into the workforce?
  4. I don’t know the answer to this. There were certainly occasional explosions at munitions factories, in which women workers died, sometimes in large numbers, but I’m not aware of any in Northampton. Most information about wartime accidents on the Internet relates to these explosions. However, with long hours, relatively short training periods (four weeks of evening classes for munitions workers, for example), and piece work, it would be surprising if accidents didn’t increase in both industry and farming. There was much less awareness of health and safety in that period, and it seems highly likely that many accidents went unrecorded. All of which simply increases admiration for workers on the home front, male and female.
  5. Why was the government so slow to introduce rationing?
  6. For the first three years of the war the government tried to control prices by a series of food orders. However, both the trade union movement (locally and nationally) and the Northampton Food Control Committee consistently called for compulsory rationing. No doubt rationing was seen as an unprecedented, and particularly autocratic measure, inconsistent with British liberal values, but an equally autocratic measure, conscription, was introduced when the government felt it was necessary. By early 1918 there was a severe meat shortage, and German unrestricted submarine warfare was having an effect. In World War Two, the government introduced both conscription and rationing from the start.

Other points of interest emerged in discussion. These included:

The important role women played on committees, for example the War Agricultural Committee, etc.

The large number of prominent women in public life who remained unmarried. Was this because they valued the independence they had achieved and did not wish to risk losing it? In the case of suffrage campaigners, particularly, the married ones all had sympathetic and supportive husbands.

How little women’s role in the war is written or talked about, compared with that of men, and the difficulty of finding records of the contributions of individual women.

I am grateful to everyone who attended my talk, and for the interesting questions raised and comments given.