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Joan Leach was a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.


Knutsford Winters Past

Joan Leach

I have recently collected my bonus heating allowance so am now ready for a cold spell! How did Knutsfordians manage to keep warm and fed in the past?

tatton park knutsfordThe Egertons as Lords of the Manor, principal landlords and employers were benevolent. Accounts from 1836 for twenty years record annually £30 for 'coals for the poor'. The Macclesfield Courier for December 1834 has:

''Wilbraham Egerton with his usual kind and bountiful feeling towards the poor of his neighbourhood distributed 1.700 lbs weight of bacon and pork, 800 lbs of beef, 2.400 lbs of bread, with bedding and clothing for 400 families'.

The same paper in February notes unusual weather conditions; did they have global warming then?

'We could fill a column with instances of precocious vegetation owing to the extreme mildness of the weather. Spring flowers are blooming in abundance in almost every garden. Gooseberries, hawthorn trees and fruit trees of several sorts are in considerable blossom. A corn dealer of Leek caught a beautiful butterfly. In a garden of Mr Twemlow of Sandbach are peas fully formed.'

100 Years Ago - the Year 1901

sessions house knutsfordThe Knutsford Guardian a hundred years ago was issued on Wednesdays and Saturdays on large, closely printed pages but most of the news was national rather than local and much space was devoted to the progress of the Boer War.

The Dawn of the New Century started with the church bells ringing and a vast concourse filled Northwich Bull ring singing patriotic songs. There were reports on the floods which had made hundreds homeless at Bath. Levels were 15 feet above normal, a foot less than the 1894 floods. Police distributed aid by boat and the Mayor had engaged Salvation Army Barracks and a disused schoolroom and started a relief fund.

Knutsford Quarter Sessions exemplified 'zero tolerance'. A 16 year old apprentice stonemason was sentenced to six months in prison for obtaining sixpence by false pretences. For stealing £1, a jacket and a pair of trousers the sentence was 5 years; this 53 year old man had already served terms of 5 years (twice) 7 years and 10 years but 'nothing seemed to do any good for him'. Three months was the sentence on a 21 year old for stealing a hen.

Rail travel then was a social experience. The 3rd annual dinner for the Travellers' Association was held at The Angel Inn for gentleman who travelled daily between Plumley, Knutsford and Manchester 'to promote good will, cement friendships and to make daily journeys more enjoyable.' No doubt the same carriage compartment, with 12 seats, would be occupied by a group each day.

knutsford grammar schoolKnutsford Literary Society lecture on 15th January was crowded for: 'The Paris Exhibition and its Lessons with lantern illustrations'. A fortnight later the talk was on Beetles.

The Grammar School commenced its term with a new headmaster on 22nd January. Fees were £2.6.8 for non-boarders. left: Knutsford Grammar School

At the Town Hall the Minnemara Minstrels entertainment, in aid of the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children had standing room only. Jokes about the Boer War were in vogue:

"Why does General Kruger prefer to walk on grass? He doesn't like Rhodes!" "What is the difference between a Galloway steam boiler and General Kruger?
 The first is a hollow cylinder, the second is a silly Hollander."

Galloways who occupied Thorneyholme had a son killed in the Boer War. below:Thorneyholme

thornyholme knutsfordPolice Courts dealt with petty offences. In Northwich a woman charged with using obscene language wished the officers a Happy New Year and pleaded to be let off. "You will have to go to Knutsford for 14 days". She replied "You have the blessings of an English heart. I thought I was going for a month!!!"

There was a regular column for cyclists - or wheelmen as they were often called. January's column debated the merits of cotton or wool clothing. Recommended gear was a short-sleeved woollen vest under "wool combinations from neck to heel; unlined Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, with medium thickness stockings."

Papers in the third week of the month carried news of Queen Victoria's illness, alarming enough to cause the German Emperor to hurry over to Britain. The bells of both Knutsford Churches announced the death of the Queen by tolling their bells and hundreds congregated in the streets as 'gloom pervaded every place'.