Sunday 25 April 2010

Staffordshire Ghosts

Recently I made an appeal for personal ghostly experiences in the county of Staffordshire. The response was so good I am going to repeat my appeal and provide a small sample of what may well be found in the forthcoming publication. As previously stated if anyone wishes to remain anonymousthen rest assured your name will not appear in print - indeed I will let you give some suggestions should you wish to be known by a pseudonym. I look forward to hearing from you.

Woodhouses Road, near Burntwood
Born in 1922, Ivan was just twelve years old when an innocent game of hide and seek was to turn into the most chilling experience of his life.
Light was failing and it was getting late. So the group broke up and Ivan and his friend headed off towards their respective homes. Suddenly the pair noticed a tall dark man accompanied by a large black dog emerge from a dense hedge not ten yards away from them. Frozen to the spot the two watched in terror as both figures walked past them and vanished. Both later noted how during the brief encounter not a sound could be heard, either from the man walking past nor normal background sounds.
Within the next few days, when the thought of the experience still making the hair on the back of his neck bristle, he discussed the encounter with a trusted uncle. Amazingly the uncle not only believed him but stated he had seen the same figure himself and on several occasions when he was a younger man. The first time the uncle met the dark figure he was so scared he instinctively lashed out with a stick he was carrying. He certainly did not miss his intended target, but the stick passed right through him.
There have been other witnesses who have reported the same thing, although all these have reported the figure as appearing quite solid. Most often this is seen appearing out of the same hedge as witnessed by Ivan, when it walks across to the field and promptly disappears.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Researching On Foot

As part of a future project, and also in an attempt to regain something of my old fitness, this week I travelled to the Monsal trail in Derbyshire and the Peak District. There are numerous photographs online of the trail, I can particularly recommend those taken of Monsal Dale from Monsal Head.
The Monsal Trail is just under 9 miles in length running from the Coombs Road viaduct, about a mile south of Bakewell to Blackwell Mill junction, 3 miles or so from Buxton. The trail runs along the course of the old Midland Railway The line was completed in 1863 through the very heart of the Peak District. The Peak Park authority bought the line and opened it as the Monsal Trail in 1980 after carrying out essential safety work. Numerous tunnelled sections of the line have simply been closed off for safety. Footpaths connect the sections closed by tunnels, cyclists need to link the sections by road.
The Duke of Devonshire had a station built at Hassop, which is now the highly successful Country Bookstore. It is planned to expand this venture, the bookstore will not only be serving those who travel the route from the cafeteria but will are also to offer cycle hire.
Monsal Head, standing high above the dale, affords the best viewpoint for admiring Monsal Dale. This is a good starting point for a variety of walks. Refreshments are available from the pub or tea shop. Parking is Pay and Display behind the pub (the car park in front of the pub is small and for short stays only).
Monsal Dale is steeped in industrial history. Litton Mill lies downstream from Millers Dale station and is notorious for the uncompromising treatment of orphans by Ellis Needham, some as young as 9 years old, from London and other major cities. These provided a source of cheap labour with no-one to show any concern. The graves of many of these child labourers are found in nearby churchyards. Despite its dark past, the mill is an interesting building which is now in the process of conversion into luxury apartments.
Further downstream still lies Cressbrook Mill, which was opened in 1783 by William Newton. Previously the site had been a herb distillery. Richard Arkwright supplemented his Cromford Mills through the use of Cressbrook. As happened to several of the Mills, the original one burnt down. The subsequent mill was in use until the mid 1960’s. The mill has now been converted in luxury flats. Both Litton and Cressbrook mills were water powered.
There are plans to reopen the tunnels and provide the chance to cover the whole route along the line of the railway bed, a £3.85 million plan which will extend the route for cyclists and enable walkers to cover the real route without deviations. These tunnels were specially opened for Julia Bradbury when she filmed this walk for the series Railway Walks, however Ms Bradbury and her camerman and sound man would have had the BBC transport waiting for them at the end of their walk. This walker had to turn around and retrace his footsteps back to the car park!

Sunday 11 April 2010

Somerset Place Names

This week saw the publication of Somerset Place Names - a bit of a landmark as it is the twelfth book I have had published in the last twelve months. Among those twelve was Nottinghamshire Place Names, which has just been chosen as the 'Local History Book of the Month' by a local newspaper - not exactly the Oscars, but every little helps!

I thought I would produce an excerpt from Somerset Place Names and have chosen the coastal town of Watchet.


The earliest surviving record is from 962 as Waecet and later as Wacet in Domesday. The origins are uncertain but likely to refer to a Celtic ced and tells of 'the lower wood'.
Here customers at the Valiant Soldier Inn, a term which is most often used to describe those who fought in the English Civil War, but could equally describe anyone who fought at the front. The Clipper Inn remembers the sailing ships which were the pinnacle of design, the fastest thing on the sea until steam power became more efficient.
Alongside the harbour at Watchet stand two statues, the largest marks the time spent in the coastal town by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, where he was said to have been inspired to write The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. While the fictional mariner has his back to the sea, the smaller statue quite rightly faces out toward the Irish Sea. This is John Short, better known as Yankee Jack, who was born here in 1839. He joined his father in trading along the coast at the age of 14 but four years later headed out on his own to explore the ocean proper and travelled the world, he saw the Mediterranean, Australia, Canada, and Bombay sailing east indiamen, schooners and even steam-assisted vessels, while during the American Civil War he was aboard North American vessels which earned him the soubriquet Yankee Jack.
He is best remembered as a shantyman, his art developed with shantying which was not what we know today prior to the late 19th century. In 1914 he retired from his voyages to return to Watchet and care for his ailing wife. It was here he met Cecil Sharp who already had a reputation for collecting English folk songs. John Short gave him fifty shanties, forming a large part of the published collection, featuring any theme which would produce a pace to which the seamen could pull and heave. This covered cotton workers, tales from the heart, lust, storytelling, myths and reputations, anything was considered fair game for John Short, the shantyman. Sir Richard Terry later visited the man who had also seen life as the Town Crier and leading the local fire brigade. Without John Short and his two author friends many of the sea shanties would have been lost - maybe we would never have known Rio Grande, Shenandoah, Blow The Man Down, A Roving or Spanish Ladies.
This son of Watchet was a favourite of the local historian, author, and former curator of the museum Ben Norman and this statue was his project. Sadly Ben died two months before the statue was unveiled by his widow Margaret. The statue is as much a monument to Ben Norman as to Yankee Jack, who died at the grand old age of 94.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Talking Drivel

While we all expect to hear Joe Public make mistakes in everyday speech (and Jo Public too, to be politically correct), one does not expect to hear it on the television. However recently I have noted several mistakes by experienced presenters and even newsreaders.

Emphasised on a morning show by who was trying to say 'should have' quite clearly emphasised 'SHOULD OF'!

ITN newsreader, with decades of experience, reading a report on the sentencing of a criminal found guilty for burglary, was heard to say 'BURGLE-REE' and not 'BURG-LE-REE' not once but twice!

A well-known Scotsman, who has served Sky Sports as a football pundit for far too long after his playing career ended, will insist on using the word 'plenty' in every other sentence, yet never follows it with 'of' - hence we get 'plenty players' and 'plenty time' instead of 'plenty of players' and 'plenty of time'.

And on the subject of former players as football pundits, when did footballer start to be pronounced 'FUTBLER'?

Innumerable broadcasters will insist on treating mass names (team, herd, couple, pair, quartet, etc) as singular - ie 'the the newly married couple IS leaving for their honeymoon'.

Some irritating woman on Channel 4 was heard to say a couple were getting married at a REGISTRY OFFICE when clearly written behind her was the sign stating it was a REGISTER OFFICE.

I recall being constantly irritated by a woman who would insist on telling me to 'have a relax'.

On a related topic I had to laugh at the look of confusion on the face of a young woman (she shall remain nameless) who had clearly only ever heard the word 'ISSUE' used as a synonym for 'PROBLEM' when she was told that a particular person had died 'without issue'!

And of course there are the place names which are mispronounced. Which will be addressed another time.