During the Covid pandemic the group has moved online to Zoom and we now meet more frequently, joining up fortnightly on Monday afternoons rather than monthly as previously. We continue to explore aspects of the nineteenth century but rather than making one detailed presentation at a meeting, several members now give mini, ten minute, talks to stimulate discussion.
We can currently accommodate a couple of additional members for anyone wishing to join us.
The 2019 / 2020 programme of studies is
|October||The Tolpuddle Martyrs|
|November||Alfred Lord Tennyson|
|December||The Nottingham Silk Industry|
|January 2020||William and Anne Parr. The story of an ordinary family.|
|February||The development of electric communication systems|
|March||The American Civil War|
|Socials||Field trip, Summer Barbecue, Christmas meal.|
The following topics are amongst a wide range of subjects discussed at recent Zoom meetings
The ‘traditional’ Christmas dinner actually dates back only to Victorian times when Charles Dickens’ writings popularised turkey consumption through his novel, ‘A Christmas Carol’. Prior to this beef was the favoured Christmas meal in the north and goose in the south of England. Once turkeys became popular they were equipped with leather shoes and walked from Norfolk to London, a journey which took three months.
In October 1843, Charles Dickens began writing one of his most popular and best-loved books, “A Christmas Carol”. 6,000 copies were published six weeks later on 19th December and had sold out by Christmas Eve. It has never been out of print since. There were two factors which drove Dickens to write A Christmas Carol. The first was financial. In 1842 Dickens had spent much of his wealth on a tour of America. By mid 1843 sales of Martin Chuzzlewit were falling off, his wife Catherine, was pregnant with their fifth child, and his publishers threatened to reduce his monthly income. The second factor was anger. In early 1843 Dickens toured the Cornish tin mines where he was enraged by seeing children working in appalling conditions. The suffering he witnessed there was reinforced by a visit to the Field Lane Ragged School in London, one of several set up for the education of the capital’s half-starved, illiterate street children. On October 5, 1843, Dickens gave a speech in Manchester, at an event to raise money for the Manchester Athenaeum, an organization which brought education and culture to the working classes. Dickens shared the stage with Benjamin Disraeli. Following his speech he took a long walk, and while thinking of the plight of exploited children he conceived the idea for A Christmas Carol. In the early 19th century the celebration of Christmas was associated with the countryside and peasant revels, disconnected from increasing urbanisation. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens showed that Christmas was relevant in towns and cities. The modern observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday. Dickens captured the mood of the day. Dickens advocated a humanitarian focus on Christmas with family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and a festive generosity of spirit. He linked worship and feasting, within a context of reconciliation. The Gentleman’s Magazine (1844) attributed a rise in charitable giving to Dickens’s novella. After reading the book Robert Louis Stevenson vowed to give to those in need, and Thomas Carlyle hosted Christmas dinners. The author G. K. Chesterton wrote “The beauty and blessing of the story … lie in the great furnace of real happiness that glows through Scrooge and everything around him. … Whether the Christmas visions would or would not convert Scrooge, they convert us.” The phrase “Merry Christmas” had been around for many years – the earliest known written use is in a letter in 1534 – but Dickens’s use of the phrase popularised it among the Victorian public.The exclamation “Bah! Humbug!” entered popular use in the English language as a retort to anything sentimental or overly festive; the name “Scrooge” became used as a designation for a miser, and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary although not until 1982.
Having researched the history of Father Christmas, I am pleased to report that he is an Englishman. There have been reports that he has come to us from USA as Santa Claus but this man is an imposter.
He can be traced back to the 15th Century and until the 19th Century went by various names of ‘Captain Christmas’, ‘Prince Christmas’ or ‘The Christmas Lord’, presiding over feasting and entertainment in grand houses. Sometimes called the “Lord of misrule” and presiding over a lot of eating and drinking. In the 1640’s the puritans came to power and the celebration of Christmas in England was forbidden. Father Christmas kept his head down.
The 19th century saw the major revival of Father Christmas as the Victorian Christmas became a family celebration and Father Christmas was seen as a bringer of children’s presents. The traditions of coming down chimneys, reindeer and even the typical red suit were introduced from America in an article in 1858 . Since then the English Father Christmas and Santa Claus have merged.
Christmas crackers are a British tradition dating back to Victorian times in the early 1850’s.
Tom Smith worked and owned a bakery and confectionery business in London and after discovering the ‘bon bon’ during a visit to Paris decided to market them as Christmas treats in his shop during this short but very profitable season. He also thought how he might make them even more appealing to his customers. It is thought it was the crackle of a log in his fire one day that gave him the inspiration which eventually led to the cracker as we know it today. The crackle from a burning log gave Tom the idea to add the element of sound to his novel ‘bon bon’ product. It was now simply a matter of experimentation to find a mechanism which would produce a satisfactory ‘bang,’ or ‘crackle’ or ‘snap’.Smith made his big break in 1861 with a new product line called ‘Bangs of Expectation’. For the first time, these were recognisable Christmas crackers with a bang. You didn’t un-wrap them; you simply pulled them apart with a bangThe incorporation of the snap/bang lead to an immediate jump in sales and Tom’s business was snowed under with orders. He quickly renamed his new product dropping the ‘bon bon’ name and called them CrackersThe addition of gifts and hats gifts to the cracker encapsulated the Victorian passion for junk.Tom Smith sadly passed away on March 13 1869, at the age of 46; he left the business to his three sons, Tom, Henry and Walter who continued to expand the business.Tom Smith crackers merged with Caley Crackers in 1953.
The Cromford Steam Rally will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary (1970 - 2020) on 31st July and 1st August 2021.
A brief history of ‘traction engines’.
A traction engine is a steam-powered tractor used to move heavy loads on roads, plough ground or to provide power at a chosen location. The name derives from the Latin tractus, meaning ‘drawn’, since the prime function of any traction engine is to draw a load behind it. They are sometimes called road locomotives to distinguish them from railway locomotives – that is, steam engines that run on rails.
They became popular in industrialised countries from around 1850, when the first self-propelled portable steam engines for agricultural use were developed.
The traction engine, in the form recognisable today, was developed from an experiment in 1859 when Thomas Aveling modified a portable engine, which had to be hauled from job to job by horses, into a self-propelled one. Thomas Aveling is regarded as “the father of the traction engine”.  Other vehicles traction engines included Boydell engines manufactured by various companies and those developed for road haulage by Bray. The first half of the 1860s was a period of great experimentation but by the end of the decade the standard form of the traction engine had evolved and would change little over the next sixty years.
Traction engines tend to be large, robust and powerful, but also heavy, slow, and difficult to manoeuvre. Nevertheless, they revolutionized agriculture and road haulage at a time when the only alternative prime mover was the draught horse.
Production continued well into the early part of the 20th century, when competition from internal combustion engine-powered tractors saw them fall out of favour, although some continued in commercial use in the United Kingdom well into the 1950s and later.
This neo-renaissance style manor was built between 1874 and 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the Buckinghamshire countryside near Aylesbury. It was to be his weekend residence and was to house his collection of English C18th portraits, Sevres ceramics and Renaissance treasure. Baron de Rothschild bought the Waddesdon agricultural estate from the Duke of Marlborough with money inherited from his father. At the time of purchase the estate had no house, park or garden.
Baron Ferdinand wanted a house in the style of the chateaux of the Loire Valley but hidden from view were the most modern innovations of the late C19th. These included a steel frame, hot and cold running water, central heating and an electric bell system to summon servants.
Ferdinand’s house parties became so famous for the luxury service provided that Queen Victoria requested to pay a visit.
The house is now in the care of the National Trust.