Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Apprentice

By making his mark at the bottom of this indenture 16-year-old Matthew Thornley of Sutton, near Macclesfield took the first step in what he hoped would be a successful career, becoming apprentice to one Abraham Bury, earthen-  and blackware manufacturer.

The deal was struck in February 1867 between Matthew and his father, beer house keeper James Slack, on the one part and Abraham on the other. Under the agreement Matthew and James swear that, until Matthew reaches the age of 21, he will:

his said master faithfully serve, …. his said master’s secrets keep, his lawful commands duly obey and execute … he shall do no damage to his said master nor suffer it to be done by others but to his power shall and will prevent the same … the goods of his said master he shall not waste, embezzle or destroy nor give or lend the same to any person or persons …. Neither shall he absent himself from the service of his master during all or any part of the said term without his said master’s consent. But in all things and upon all occasions shall and will behave and demean himself as a good and honest apprentice ought.

As well as this James promised to find and provide ‘good and sufficient meat, drink and lodgings and appropriate clothing of all sorts’ for Matthew, as well as ‘washing and medicine in case of sickness’, for the full term of the apprenticeship.

In return for all this Abraham pledged to ‘well and truly teach and instruct … the apprentice in the art and trade or business of an Earthenware Manufacturer and thrower of Earthen or Blackware’. He would pay Matthew ‘the sum of eight shillings weekly and every week’ for a year, and then ten shillings a week until the final year of the apprenticeship, when Matthew could look forward to fourteen shillings a week - about £30 today.

Before all this, the 1861 census shows that Matthew was living with his parents, James and Ann Slack on Byron’s Lane in Sutton. Again, James is given as a beer house keeper (the local would be the King’s Head but this isn’t stated), and Matthew is shown as a labourer at a silk works. He’s living with siblings James, Martha and William Thornley and Thomas and Mary Slack; so presumably this was Ann’s second marriage.

Matthew’s change of career came courtesey of one of his neighbours: Abraham Bury operated from premises further down Byron’s Lane, and was best known for tile and brick-making. A successful businessman, he became Mayor of Macclesfield in 1870-71, dying in 1873.

Matthew seems to have done well with his apprenticeship and he stayed in the trade. Come the 1881 census he is working as a potter, supporting a wife and two children on Old Mill Lane.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Shepley Spitfire

August 1940, and the Battle of Britain was entering its second month.

Among the pilots of 152 (Hyderabad) Squadron, defending the south coast - including the vitally important Portland naval base - was 22-year-old Douglas Shepley of Holmesfield, Derbyshire, who had married his fiancée only weeks before.

Douglas had already been credited with shooting down two German Me 109s, on 8th and 11th of August, when on the 12th 152 Squadron was sent to engage a German unit which had just bombed a radar station on the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately, two Spitfires never returned from the fray: P9456, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Withall, and Douglas’s K9999, both believed to have been shot down somewhere near the Needles.

For Douglas’s family this was the third devastating loss in less than a year. His sister Jeanne, a nurse in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, had been killed in October 1939 when the liner on which she was returning to England was sunk by a U boat near Gibraltar. Then, in May 1940, his elder brother, George Rex Shepley was shot down while dropping supplies to a garrison in Calais (for which he was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross).

In the face of this latest tragedy Douglas’s mother, Emily, and his widow, Frances, decided to commemorate Douglas and all he meant to them by buying a Spitfire for the RAF in his name.

The idea of military vehicles and weapons being gifted to the Forces was not new. During the First World War the government had encouraged people to donate money towards the purchase of tanks, ambulances, guns and other equipment, a strategy which had proved very successful and attracted funds from around the world. Indeed, 152 Squadron itself was named after the Nizam of Hyderabad, whose donation was big enough to buy a fleet of DH9As.  (The then Indian Territories provided many such ‘gift squadrons’, their origins being reflected in their names and in the design of their badges; 152’s badge depicted the Nizam’s head-dress and the words ‘Faithful ally’.)

Having proved so successful earlier, the ‘gifting’ campaign was revived during the Second War, in particular by Lord Beaverbrook when he ran the newly created Ministry of Aircraft Production. A list drawn up by the Ministry costed a single-engine aircraft (usually a Spitfire but sometimes a Hurricane) at £5,700, rising to £20,000 for a twin- and £40,000 for a four-engined plane.

Having set their sights on a Spitfire, Emily and Frances set to work raising public awareness about Douglas, organising event after event – dances, tea parties, whist tournaments and jumble sales, installing collection boxes in theatres and pubs. The people of Derbyshire and neighbouring south Yorkshire somehow found money to help: Bolsover miners donated a percentage of their earnings to the fund and Sheffield ARP held collections at all their posts. In just 15 weeks the family had raised enough to buy the Shepley Spitfire.

The aircraft chosen was W3649, built by Vickers Armstrong in 1941. The name Shepley was painted in yellow below the cockpit. After its inauguration flight in August, a little over a year since Douglas’s death, it became part of 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron, before serving with 303 (Polish) Squadron and then 485 (New Zealand) Squadron.  There, Shepley was requisitioned by Group Captain Francis Beamish, who used it as his personal plane, flown by him alone. Beamish survived several engagements in the Shepley Spitfire, but finally went down in the English Channel during a battle with 40 enemy aircraft on 28th March 1942.

As you would expect Douglas Shepley is commemorated on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede, in honour of those with no known graves, but a reminder of his and his family’s courage stands closer to home. When the brewer Hardy’s & Hanson’s built a new pub in Totley, near Holmesfield, it ran a competition to decide a name. Seymour Shepley, Douglas’s only surviving brother, nominated ‘The Shepley Spitfire’, and the brewery agreed. Seymour pulled the first pint at the pub commemorating his remarkable family in the winter of 1979.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Some new additions

Mow Cop
Photo: Tony Grist
We were sent a collection of newspaper clippings from the 1920s and 30s this week – someone who didn’t want them but didn’t think they should be thrown away (quite right too!). They’re mostly photographs, captioned by hand in writing that puts us to shame. (We think the writer was twelve at the time, to make things worse.) The photos are from right round Europe, but of most interest to us were a 1925 photo of Mow Cop folly captioned ‘…long famous as a landmark which it is now proposed to demolish’ (thank goodness that didn’t go ahead – we knew there was a long-running dispute over the land in the 1920s but didn’t realise demolition was ever on the cards); and a later one of the not-so-lucky Hooton Hall near Chester being demolished to make way for new houses. The collection also includes a number of politicians, including Mrs Mercer, the ‘first Lady Mayor of Birkenhead’ (1924/5) – hard to imagine anyone wanting to keep a picture of a modern-day MP in their scrapbook.

We’ve also added more local documents to our collection. We have several letters written by John Sneyd of the Staffordshire landowning family (Ralph Sneyd went to court in the 1850s to claim Mow Cop belonged to him; in the end he had to share ownership with Randle Wilbraham), and also more legal documents from the Challinor archive, detailing wills, indentures, loans and court cases, mostly from the Leek area. (This seems to have been a massive archive – we know quite a few people who have items from it and we believe the William Salt Library also has a large collection.) We also have some letters written from Liverpool in the 1790s: addressed to ‘Mr Cooke, of the Upper Pool near Hereford’ and ‘Mrs Edwards in the marketplace, Westbury’, they give you an idea of the size of the population at the time!

Our favourite, though, is a loan agreement made in 1766 between two Macclesfield men: Humphrey Goodwin, twister and button dyer, and Edward Bennett, hatbandmaker. Humphrey borrowed seventy-two pounds off Edward, around £8,500 today, to be repaid along with thirty-six pounds’ interest. We’ve found Humphrey in the records –  he was born in 1742 and christened at King Edward Street Presbyterian chapel; he married Hannah and had at least four daughters. Edward is proving more elusive so we’ll have to dig a bit deeper for him. What we really want to know, though, is what Humphrey did with the money …

Bond between Humphrey Goodwin and Edward Bennett, 1766 
(click to enlarge)

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Ferry 'cross the Mersey?

This tranquil scene, of what could be a father and son fishing, was sketched near Seacombe, Wirral in September 1811 – completely unrecognisable as the busy ferry port of today.