Nutting, 1st & 2nd World War and the Victoria Cross, Post Office Savings, Hull’s Chief Constable, Lord Byron’s and Romilly’s diaries, Electrified Blackpool

In the past, 14 September was ‘Nutting Day’, the day when children would forage in the woods to collect hazelnuts. Why? – because this is when the nuts were supposed to be perfectly ripe. However, in some legends, young maidens who went out a-nutting were in danger of becoming pregnant without the benefit of marriage – I suspect this was less due to the fertility associations of nuts and more due to the fact that Nutting Day gave you a chance to be alone in the woods with your lover!
However, if you worked as a lace maker, Nutting Day had a special, different, significance. From this day, until Shrove Tuesday next spring, you could use a candle to light your work! Lace makers spent long hours working at their craft for little pay and, because of the precise nature of their job, their eyes were often tired and achy by the end of the day. They were advised to bathe their eyes in gin: it stung, but it refreshed them enough that they could work on for a few more hours.

Wednesday 14 Sept 1938: The name and comments of Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon have appeared more than once in these Blogs and, as the strains between Britain and Germany grow, his diary paints a picture of the times. Today he records that: ‘Towards the end of the Banquet came the news, the great world stirring news, that Neville [Chamberlain], on his own initiative, seeing war coming closer and closer, had telegraphed to Hitler that he wanted to see him, and asked him to name an immediate rendezvous. The German Government, surprised and flattered, had instantly accepted and so Neville, at the age of 69, for the first time in his life, gets into an aeroplane tomorrow morning and flies to Berchtesgaden! It is one of the finest, most inspiring acts of all history. The company rose to their feet electrified, as all the world must be, and drank his health. History must be ransacked to find a parallel. Of course a way out will now be found. Neville by his imagination, and practical good sense, has saved the world. I am staggered.’ We’ll see a little more of Sir Henry’s diary entries next week.

It’s back to a previous conflict now as Friday 15 September 1916 saw a different weapon on the battle fields of Europe. Douglas Haig – by now in command of the whole of the British forces – had finally decided to use a new weapon in the conflict, and had ordered 36 of Churchill’s armoured vehicles to be delivered to him. They had been sent to him by rail – each one covered in tarpaulins and recorded on the rail manifest as ‘tanks’. Anyone reading the manifest would assume this meant water tanks.
On this day the 36 ‘tanks’ joined twelve British divisions in a major assault north of the Somme. It turned out to be the most successful single days of the battle for the British to date and some substantial gains were made. However – the British cavalry had galloped through the gap in the German line and penetrated beyond the reach of artillery support but the infantry were slow in backing them up and a German counterattack overran the cavalry. By nightfall virtually all of the tanks had broken down mechanically. Had this been a good or a bad move by Field Marshall Haig? Some say he was too soon in using the tanks and should have waited until he had more at his disposal; others were annoyed that the sortie had given the enemy an early awareness of this new weapon. On the other hand, the tank attack was considered by many as having accomplished as much as two or three times their number would have done – and anyway – a breakthrough was probably impossible to achieve. Whatever the reality – a new weapon had entered the fray and battles would never be quite the same again.

Monday 16 September 1861 saw the opening of the first Post Office Savings Bank – in two small rooms inside the Post Office headquarters at St. Martins-le-Grand, London. The Savings Bank was set up to encourage ‘ordinary’ people to save money, safe in the knowledge that it was secured by the government. It also provided the government with a financial asset.
By 1863 the Bank had moved and now occupied a converted warehouse at 27 St Paul’s Churchyard and. With continuing growth, these premises also became too small and a new headquarters was built at 144 Queen Victoria Street.
Over time the Savings Bank would introduce a range of other services including Government Stocks and Bonds in 1880, War Savings in 1916 and Premium Savings Bonds in 1956 – but it all started in two small rooms in Victorian London.

Friday 17 September 1880 – Todays’ Hull Packet newspaper carried this interesting piece: ‘To-day one of the most valuable pieces of patronage in the power of the Corporation will be bestowed, and the energetic struggle which has been going on for the important position of Chief Constable of Hull will be brought to a close. We should not, however, wish to look upon the appointment merely as the bestowal of patronage. Rather should it be the fact that, casting aside all personal prejudices, all ideas of private friendship, and all the effect of outside influence, the Council will choose the gentleman who, out of six selected candidates, is in every respect best worthy of the office. It is a prevalent opinion that the majority of our representatives take a secret pleasure in the knowledge that they have the power to patronise. This being so – and there is no reason why it should not be accepted as true – they will, during the past few weeks, have experienced a glut of satisfaction. Prior to the final selection of six – and even after that partially decisive event – the lot of a member of the Corporation has, we can imagine, been no happy one. Pertinacity is only one of the characteristics of anxious seekers after public appointments, but it is the one which is most marked during such a campaign as that which closes to-day; and we can quite understand how, when the excitement of candidature is over, the contestants themselves will enjoy a quiet smile at the manner in which they waylaid a certain councillor, or diplomatically talked a vote out of a certain alderman. The merits of the six gentlemen whose names will be laid before the Council this afternoon, it is not our intention to discuss now. To say that the selection is a wise one, and that any one of the six would make an excellent Chief Constable, will be sufficient, from a public point of view, to urge. The police themselves, we believe, wish for a thoroughly efficient man who will combine kindness with strict discipline and, as the tone of the force is generally taken from its head, such a Chief will be an acquisition alike to the police and to the public officers of the town. It would also, perhaps, be somewhat apt to this occasion, to express a hope that the Chief Constable will always remember that he is the Chief Constable, and that the members of the Watch Sub-Committee are not appointed to take away quite all his power.’
We’ll see the outcome of all this next week – perhaps!

Wednesday 18th September 1816 Lord Byron was travelling in Switzerland and made the following observation in his dairy ‘Went to Chillon through scenery worthy of I know not whom; went over the Castle of Chillon again. On our return met an English party in a carriage; a lady in it fast asleep! – fast asleep in the most anti-narcotic spot in the world – excellent! I remember, at Chamouni, in the very eyes of Mont Blanc, hearing another woman, English also, exclaim to her party ‘did you ever see anything more rural?’ – as if it was Highgate, or Hampstead, or Brompton, or Hayes,Rural! quotha! – rocks, pines, torents, Glaciers, Clouds, and Summits of eternal snow far above them – and ‘Rural!’
[I was intrigued by the word ‘quotha’ so I went looking and discovered that it dates from the early 16th century: ‘quotha is an archaic expression of mild sarcasm, used in picking up a word or phrase used by someone else’]

Thursday 18th September 1879 – With the headline ‘THE FETE AT BLACKPOOL – GREAT ELECTRIC LIGHT DEMONSTRATION’ todays’ Manchester Courier reported ‘In the history of Blackpool there has not been such an excitement as there was seen on Thursday in every ramification of its thoroughfares. It is growing late in the autumn, but this favourite seaside resort was full to overflowing. Trains arriving from all quarters, not only from all parts of Lancashire but from the north, south, east and west of broad England, poured their copious freights into the town. The esplanade was populated by a mob of fashionable people with a considerable mixture of people who have no pretention to fashion at all. The piers throughout presented an appearance that might be compared without much exaggeration to a couple of bee-swarmings. Flags are flying from every coign of vantage; brass bands are blaring in the streets. On this Thursday night the illumination of the town of Blackpool by the electric light was inaugurated on a scale of splendour, and with the result of a success which cannot fail to influence the future of this famous bathing place. The essential fact to be stated in the foreground of our description is that it has been determined that Blackpool shall be lighted in future with the electric light, and on Thursday night the multitudes of visitors drawn thither by the announcement of the fact had an opportunity of judging the effect of this improvement.’
I think it is something that might catch on.

Tuesday 19th September 1843 – Born in 1791, Joseph Romilly was a clergyman who spent the whole of his active adult life as a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge. Elements of his diary have been published by the Cambridgeshire Records Society and, on reading it, a couple of this day’s entries caught my eye. The first was voicing concerns he had regarding the Fellowship examinations due for the coming Saturday. He records that he ‘Wrote in a great stew to Gosset’ about the examination. ‘The Evening Post brought Gosset’s instructions, so I wrote to him again.’ A great mail/messenger service – but one wonders why they did not meet somewhere in Cambridge or in their college to resolve the matter.
The other piece he describes thus: ‘At night read loud the new no. of Martin Chuzzlewit:- it is a coarse exaggeration of the faults of the Americans: – such publications from a popular writer are very wicked.’
Like many of Dickens’ novels, Martin Chuzzlewit was released to the public in monthly instalments. Early sales of the monthly parts had been disappointing, especially when compared to his previous works, so Dickens changed the plot and sent the title character to America. This allowed him to portray the United States – which he had visited in 1842 – satirically as a near wilderness with pockets of civilisation filled with deceptive and self-promoting hucksters! I think I’ll go and read that book again – sounds like it may be ‘fun’ – but it certainly upset the Rev. Romilly!

Wednesday 20th September 1854: The Victoria Cross was introduced in Great Britain on 29th January 1856 by Queen Victoria. Its ‘role’ was to reward acts of valour during the Crimean War. The VC takes precedence over all other Orders, Decorations and Medals and may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service and to civilians under military command. The first presentation ceremony was held on 26th June 1857 when Queen Victoria invested 62 of the 111 Crimean recipients in Hyde Park.
The Battle of the Alma took place just south of the River Alma and is usually considered the first battle of the Crimean War. It was on this day – 20th September 1854 – at that Battle, that Edward Bell & Luke O’Conner of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and John Knox, William Reynolds (the first private to be awarded the VC), James McKechnie & Robert Lindsay of the Scots Fusiliers Guards each earned their Victoria Cross. All survived the war.
63 years later, on Wednesday 20th September 1917 Second Lieutenant Hugh Colvin of the 9th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiments won his VC during an attack east of Ypres in Belgium. He took command of two companies and led them forward under very heavy machine gun fire. He then went to assist a neighbouring battalion. In the process he cleared and captured a series of ‘troublesome’ dugouts and machine-gun posts, some on his own and some with his men’s assistance. He personally killed several of the enemy and forced others – about fifty in all – to surrender. His Victoria Cross citation concludes ‘Later he consolidated his position with great skill, and personally wired his front under close-ranged sniping in broad daylight, when all others had failed to do so. The complete success of the attack in this part of the line was mainly due to Second Lieut. Colvin’s leadership and courage.’ Hugh Colvin survived the war and died on 16th September 1962.

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