April 21, 2017

Tanner or Barker

Samples of leather
The Anorak made a recent trip to a wonderful museum in the West Midands town of Walsall, dedicated to one of its traditional trades - leather making. There's a fascinating display there about the surnames that have developed from various skills involved in producing and using leather. Were any of your ancestors employed in leather making and use?

1 Leather production
There are lots of processes required in the production of leather and each one has resulted in surnames to identify the jobs. Such as:
Skinner - who skins the beasts
Tanner - who tans leather
Barker - another word for tanner
Currier - a leather dresser

2 Boots and shoes
Footwear is probably one of the commonest uses for leather, even today. It's given rise to a few names too.
Boot - one who made boots
Chaucer - a shoe maker: from the French word chaussure, meaning shoe

3 Other leather goods
And there are lots of other leather goods that all had their own specialist skills. For example:
Glover - who made gloves
Gant or Gaunt - another name for a glover, from the French gant
Bracegirdle - a belt maker
Purser - who made purses
Badger - a bag maker (and nothing to do with black and white animals at all!)

4 Saddlery
Making saddles and associated horse harness and tack was a very skilled job with lots of different styles for racing, hunting, and even side-saddles for the ladies.
Sadler - obviously one who made saddles
Burrell - less obviously a saddler, from the French bourrelier
Sellers - also from the French, sellier, or saddler

5 Associated metalwork
And to hold all the leather harness bits together you need lots of specially shaped metalwork, collectively known as lorinery. Walsall had plenty of associated lorinery factories that supplied the leather workers. Their skills also gave us some associated surnames.
Lorimer - a maker or dealer in lorinery
Buckler - made buckles
Sperrin - made spurs

And there you have it. Lots of hidden information in your name!  Now go across to Tricky's FAST blog to see other fives this Friday.

April 14, 2017

Shell Grotto

As promised last week we're paying another visit to Margate Shell Grotto. Here are five photos of the mysterious structure.
A view down the tunnel
There are a number of shell-decorated follies and grottoes in the UK but, unlike the majority, the grotto in Margate was created using native species - mainly mussels, cockles, whelks, limpets, scallops and oysters. Only four shells among the 4.6 million are exotic: two Caribbean queen conches and two Pacific giant clams.

This is just one of the weird things about the 104 feet long tunnel in Grotto Hill. The grotto takes the form of a winding passage that splits into two, forming a circle, then ending with a square space called the altar room. At the point where the path splits the ceiling rises to a dome with a gap at the top that allows some natural light to enter.

Looking up into the dome
The shells form a series of panels along the walls, each with complicated designs incorporating symbols and  pictograms that have been interpreted in several ways. Some people see little but attractive patterns, others have identified astrological signs, representations of ancient gods, phallic designs, and other mystical themes.

Detail from the Aries panel

According to local legend the grotto was discovered in 1835 when local landowner James Newlove decided to dig a duck pond. His son Joshua found a strange hole in the ground and James lowered him through it to see what lay beneath. The boy reported seeing pictures and a cave.  Estimates of its age vary from several thousand years, to Victorian folly.

Part of the 'skeleton' panel

Other ideas have included the suggestion that the site was prehistoric; it might have been a Templar Chapel; or Newlove built the tunnels himself. Whatever the truth, the grotto became a tourist attraction within a couple of years, earning Newlove a considerable income.

Detail of a pattern - with old graffiti!

It's been open to the public ever since, and it recently underwent a programme of restoration to prevent water damage. A new project was launched in 2012 to replace missing 'roundels'. Some parts of the patterns were created by fixing them to circles of slate, which have since fallen away. Those slates are now being repaired.

Now drop by Tricky's FAST blog to see other Five on Friday posts.

April 10, 2017


It's April, and the month began with such beautiful weather that I couldn't help but remember Robert Browning's poem Home Thoughts from Abroad:

O, to be in England
Now that April 's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

Our recent trip south also reminded me of something my Dad used to say - that the seasons march up and down the country at approximate walking speed. The apple trees of the Kent orchards were all in beautiful blossom whereas here in the Midlands the buds had yet to break. On our return our local trees are catching up.

Of course, April's also the month in which the cuckoo is known to arrive and traditionally across England there used to be Cuckoo Fairs to mark the season change and the arrival of Spring. Many involved releasing a cuckoo from a basket, though in Marsden in West Yorkshire they used to build a fence around a cuckoo's nest to try to make it stay longer.

April 07, 2017

Margate 5

Sorry for a very brief Five this week. We've been away for my birthday.  Where?  Margate. (It's in Kent.) So here's five things from there.

The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea.  Hundreds of men and women up and down the country risk their lives regularly in rough and hazardous seas to go to the help of others. There's a rescue boat near the harbour arm in Margate.

This clock is on the tower of the tourist information office, known as the Droit House, a building which used to act as the customs house and also the place where ships paid fees to enter the harbour.

The artist JMW Turner said Margate had the finest skies in all of Europe.  And I have to admit they've been pretty good this week.

Turner was a bit of a rogue and in later life lived in Margate with a Mrs Booth - seaside landlady. While there he was known as Mr Booth, even though he had a wife and children back home in London.  There's a sculpture on the harbour arm that's called Mrs Booth, and it's shaped like a souvenir shell lady - except it's MUCH bigger.

And finally - hidden in a back street away from the town centre is a mysterious cave. 104 feet long and decorated with 4.6 million shells. No-one knows who made it, when or why, but it was discovered in the 1830s and opened as a tourist attraction very shortly after. It deserves a post of its own - so watch out for more about it later.

This has been a very bitty Five on Friday post. Now head over to Tricky's FAST blog to see others that have been put together with much more care than mine!

March 31, 2017

Leicester Five

A few weeks ago I had to visit Leicester for a meeting and on my way back to my car I passed the city art gallery in New Walk. I had a spare 20 minutes so I nipped in for a quick look. Here's a selection of what I found. Sorry about the quality of the photos - I took them with my phone.

The Bowman, oil on board, painted about 1825-30. It's by William Etty, (1787 - 1849) who was known for his landscapes featuring nudes. There's a larger version of this in York City Art Gallery, that shows more of the landscape, but still doesn't identify what he's aiming at. Etty was born in York and the gallery has a number of Etty's paintings.

The Sluggard by Frederick, Lord Leighton. Bronze, cast in 1890. Leighton (1830-1896) was a painter and sculptor who became president of the Royal Academy in 1878. This bronze was a small version of a life-sized work that now stands in Tate Britain.

Head of an Arab, oil on canvas, painted 1857. Believed to be a preparatory work, designed to perfect the head before including it in a larger work. Also by Lord Leighton.

Vulcan - no, it's nothing to do with Mr Spock - a bronze by Tiziano Aspetti (1565 - 1607). Aspetti worked mainly in his native Padua, and Venice. The small figure shows the Roman god of blacksmithing, fire and volcanoes, hence his powerful build and strong arms.

And for something different, I found a small exhibition of works by the artist William De Morgan (1839 - 1917), a lifelong friend of designer William Morris.  These hand-painted, ceramic tiles are believed to have been designed as part of a commission for P&O Ships for interior decor.

Now off you go to Tricky's FAST blog to see what other Five on Friday posts there are.

March 24, 2017

Swarkestone Bridge

This week is the first time of hosting Five on Friday by Tricky at FAST blog. So to welcome him and start things well, here's five views of a rather impressive structure close to where I live. Sorry about the photos. It's not the easier thing to capture on film. (Don't forget to visit Tricky's blog to see what other people have written.)

The Grade I listed Swarkestone Bridge and Causeway, at almost a mile in length, is the longest stone bridge in England. At one time a bridge chapel and toll house stood on the causeway but there is little sign of them now. The structure crosses the River Trent flood plain between Swarkestone and Stanton-by-Bridge and is still a significant crossing for travellers passing from Derby to Melbourne.

It carries a bus route and it's quite creative driving when you meet one coming the other way. As you can see, it's narrow, and the photo shows one of the wider bits!

Built in the 13th century, the causeway is reputed to be the work of two local sisters whose lovers drowned while trying to cross the flood plain in high water. The horrified sisters saw the men swept away by the river and vowed that no-one else would suffer the same fate.  They spent the rest of their lives building and maintaining the causeway and bridge and so were penniless when they died.

March 17, 2017

More Place Names

Roman remains in Wall.

Yes, I know I've done place names before but I've had a particularly hectic week and I'm pushed for time. I wanted to take part in Five on Friday this week because it's the last one to be hosted by Amy at Love Made My home. I wanted to say thank you to her for looking after us for so long and being such a welcoming host. It's been fun, and I've learned lots from my fellow Fivers.

But please bear with me if this is short and sweet.  I've chosen five places that have meant something to me for some reason, either that I've lived close to them, or passed through them regularly.

Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire. First recorded in 780 as Yrtlingaburg, which means "fortified manor belonging to the ploughmen" in Old English. The Domesday Book* (1086) called it Erdinburne, These days the locals call it Artleknock. I have no idea why!

Margate, Kent. First recorded as Meregate in 1254. From the Old English meaning "gap leading to the sea".  Now known as the original seaside. (Though Northern coastal folk would disagree!)

Meriden, West Midlands. First mentioned in 1230. It means "pleasant valley" or "where merrymaking takes place" in Old English. In spite of what some people believe, its nothing to do with 'meridian' and absolutely not related to the fact that the village is as close to the centre of England as makes no difference.

Wall, Staffordshire. Originally listed as Wal in manorial documents from 1166. Want to guess what's there?  Correct - it's a wall. In fact it's several walls dating from the Roman era when Letocetum was an important place on Watling Street.  The old Roman road still runs through the village but its 'modern' replacement (The A5, brought 'up to date' by Thomas Telford in the 1820s.) runs past the village now.

Wetwang, North Yorkshire
Mentioned in the Domesday Book* (1086).  From the Old Scandinavian for "a place for trial of legal actions". We go past this place regularly on the way to see Mr Anorak's mother.  We always laugh at the sound of it.

*The Domesday Book (pronounced 'doomsday') was a record of the settlements in England after its defeat by the Normans in 1066.  One of the first things William ordered was an extensive survey of what he now owned, and it was published 20 years later.  It's a valuable historic source for researchers.

Much of the information in this post has been gathered from the Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names, (1998 Past Times edition)