Changes in Working Class Leisure Patterns – Ludlow 1850-1950

On 18th October 2019 Dr Derek Beattie talked to Leintwardine History Society.

By 1850 the Industrial Revolution was well established and the rising Middle Classes exerted increasing influence on the town and its leisure activities. Employers needed their workforce to be sober and punctual on Monday mornings, so there were increasing attempts to regulate weekend activities enjoyed by the working classes, with a particular emphasis on reducing drunkenness and violence.

For example:

Shrove Tuesday.  Shops were boarded up in anticipation of violence from crowds of two thousand or more, who gathered to take part in a tug-of-war. The Four Wards divided into two teams for a series of 3 contests, each team vying to get their end of a 36ft rope into the River Teme. There were no rules and mayhem ensued, with numerous injuries. Spectators fuelled by alcohol were caught up in widespread brawling. After many complaints about ‘uncivilised behaviour’ the contest was banned in 1853.

The Beating of the Bounds The custom established by the Church in Norman times involved walking the parish boundaries, stopping at intervals to pray and bless the milestones, beating the ground with a birch. This had expanded to include general celebration and a contest on Ludford bridge, where two groups of youngsters fought with considerable violence for possession of a decorated birch. ‘Barbaric’ said the authorities, and stopped the festivities in 1849.

Guy Fawkes Day was a public holiday, with a (coal) fire in Castle Square to burn effigies, later moved to Whitcliff, with a procession and much drinking. Attempts by the Council to stop the practice in 1879 led to effigies of the Rector and Councillors being burned: assistance was needed from Hereford Police to control the situation. The custom revived, but with foreign, national enemies as guys.  It died out after the turn of the century, as the working classes themselves became more ‘respectable’. Then individual pubs took over and Bonfire Night celebrations.

May Day The welcoming of Spring invited much revelry and drunkenness, with dancing round a birch pole. The custom continued for many years in villages, but stopped in Ludlow in 1869 and then pubs took over the practice up to 1914.  Councillors encouraged the idea that this should be a celebration by children, dancing with ribbons – altogether more respectable.

An important example of change was the May Fair. This started, in the town centre, as a Hiring Fair for servants, labourers and tradesmen, with each category dressed accordingly. When hired, they were given a shilling (indicating they were hired for the year), which was promptly spent on entertainment. The ‘fun and frolic’ side of the occasion increased as the hiring aspect diminished in importance.

Since servants had very little time off and ‘courting’ was discouraged by employers, the May Fair became  an annual event of importance for finding a spouse. It co-incided with the six monthly pay day, and stalls, entertainers, cakes and sweets all invited customers.

Originally a 3 day event, the authorities employed various strategies to limit the festivities. First they banned the Fair on the Saturday – but it was simply set up in a field; then alcohol was allowed only from 1pm-4 pm – which led to increased consumption during those hours; then the churches and societies tried handing out temperance tracts – but were seen as provocative and ‘bringing religion into contempt’.  Eventually the May Fair was moved to ‘a more working class area’. It still survives.


The Christmas Waites. Originally the Council paid for a band and singers to go round the town. This proved expensive and was stopped. Large numbers of unemployed filled the gap, as a means of making money and this practice revived in the 1930s Depression, only finishing with WWII.

Skating the Teme froze over most years and skating was one of the few activities where all classes enjoyed themselves together

The Travelling Circus evolved from a chance to see exotic animals  to a huge spectacle on Smithfield (away from the pubs!).  Re-enactment of eg the Sudan War, was said to involve a cast of 1500 and an audience of 3000.  (Ticket pricing kept the strata of society suitably segregated) This continued to the 1960s

Music Hall. A theatre in Mill St had staged plays for the upper and middle classes and when these moved to the Assembly Rooms in the 1840s, the theatre turned to music hall entertainment, very popular with the working classes – and cheap . It closed in 1879 and Smithfield became  the venue for travelling players. Cinematographs developed .

Public Houses  The main enjoyment for the working classes was the daily visit to the pub. In 1850, there were 70 public houses in Ludlow.  A 1901 survey revealed that rooms and stabling were required and some (eg the Bull) had a club room a dining room.  Most were small, relying on singing (with an accordion)  and dancing (solo) as the main entertainment. Brawls often broke out and the noise level was such that one man was reported to have been dead for 2 hours before anyone noticed…

A series of actions were taken nationally and locally to control the problems:

1904 Compensation Fund legislation. If the Council closed a pub (eg as ‘unsanitary’) the Government would pay compensation.

WW1.Defence of the Realm Act reduced opening hours, increased tax on strong beer.

1921 Licensing Act banned afternoon opening. In Ludlow – pubs were required to close at 9pm.

By 1939 the number of pubs had reduced by 60% and drunkenness offences by 80%


Church organisations included the Boys Brigade, Guides and Scouts, though many could not afford the uniforms

From 1844 Sunday Schools promoted basic literacy, and after education became compulsory in 1870, they introduced outings and lantern shows: an annual party in the Castle grounds was  attended by over 1000 children. Christian respectability could also be enjoyable!

Team sports were much encouraged, with the emphasis on sportsmanship, but only football proved popular with the working classes. The middle classes ran the teams and players were paid.

Pub games were popular: skittles, bagatelle, ‘puff dart’, tippet.  Attempts were made to stop games if gambling was involved and there were prosecutions for playing ‘skittles with a pint’.

1900 – 1950

Many activities were added, especially those that required a middle class committee to organise them!

Evening Clubs were set up where games were played but coffee replaced alcohol.

Cinemas and Dance Halls prospered from the 1920s and this was the first time that women could take part in working class activities.

The Temperance Movement set up many societies, encouraging people to ‘Sign the Pledge’.

Smoking Concerts provided entertainment – recitation , songs, solo violin etc.

Boating and swimming in the Teme flourished in Edwardian times

Parades and Galas were attended by as many as 2000 or 3000 people

Pigeon Racing proved very successful and was organised by the working classes themselves

Gardening became a major activity, horticultural shows offering produce competitions, with different tents for the working classes and the upper classes.


  1. Up to 1880s, most beer was brewed by small local companies and individuals. Then large brewing companies began to take over
  2. The Assembly Rooms were initially built (1840) to hold assemblies and balls for the gentry. Balls began at 9pm – and huge quantities of rich food were consumed.

Dr Beattie provided an entertaining and comprehensive survey. His book, to be published in 2020, will be available at LHS meetings.

GMS 261019

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Heraldry in the Marches – Hugh Wood

Talk given on 18 September 2019

Hugh introduced himself modestly as an enthusiast but not an expert in Heraldry. He is a long-standing member and official of the Mortimer Society and always been fascinated by Heraldry. The title of the talk meant that he would give local examples but heraldry in this area is not significantly different from the norm elsewhere in the country.

He could not explore the origins and basic ideas of heraldry in one hour, but he would show us how much we can discern about individuals if we can read a coat of arms.

In medieval times there was no control over what individuals could display on their coats of arms, but in the 16th Century the College of Arms was established and all arms required the approval of this institution

The first part of the talk looked at general theme behind coats of arms and in the second he applied this to the coats of arms of a large local family.

Hugh had numerous images to illustrate his talk; he pointed out that some of the photographs were a bit unclear either because the subjects were a bit inaccessible, or because they had not been well looked after.

Hugh’s first image showed the difference between a Crest, which was a symbol over the helmet, worn in battle, to show who the warrior was, and a Coat of Arms. The Coat of Arms of a powerful individual (usually a male) was displayed in a variety of settings to identify the individual, their family, status, powerful connections, gender, position in the family and so on.

The diagram below is a fairly standard outline of a coat of arms.

Marshalling Arms

The first way in which nobles began to adapt their basic shield was to put their wife’s coat of arms, as well as their own, on their shield, to indicate their powerful connection through marriage. At first, they used dimidiation where they would simply divide the shield in two vertically and put one half shield on either side. But this proved very clumsy as it often produced unartistic overall designs and the practice died out. (Examples, Fitz Alan, Mortimer at Hope say).


When two coats of arms are impaled, they are both squeezed completely onto a shield. A Bishop might have his personal shield alongside the shield of his office.


Dexter Chief                                    Chief                                       Sinister Chief

Dexter                                        Base                                 Sinister


A woman’s coat of arms would be shown on a lozenge or sloping diamond shape. Her husband’s arms would be on the Dexter side and her family arms on the Sinister side. The father’s arms would be passed down to their descendants but the mother’s arms would be lost, unless she (the mother) was an heiress. As the father of an heiress had no male heir, the family’s arms would have to be passed on through her. When her father died her husband would place her arms “In Pretence” on an escutcheon on the middle of his arms and these maternal arms would then be passed on to their children, who would quarter their father’s arms with their mother’s.


There were a number of ways of displaying several arms on a shield or lozenge. The more heiresses in a family, the more need for quartering. The term quartering reflects the display in 4 quarters or more segments.

There were standards of how Quartering should be displayed.

  • A man could display as many or as few of his quarterings as he wanted.
  • There could be a different combination for different occasions BUT
  • The shield must include the Quartering of the heiress who brought it.


Only the head of the family and a female could display the undifference family arms. Adult sons have to show their position in the family in a different way.


Hugh showed a picture of a bronze effigy supposed to be of Edmund Mortimer, a younger brother of Roger Mortimer,4th Earl of March. This shows the Mortimer arms with a clear difference mark. There is much controversy over whether this could be a genuine.

Modern Cadency

From the 16th Century sons’ arms would display an extra badge depending on their place in the family.  This practice could lead to confusion, for instance a brother and an uncle might display the same badge, so it is less used today.

Eldest           Label – a line with legs       |——|——|-

Second         Crescent

3rd               Mullet

4th                Martlett – a bird

5th               Annulet – a circle

6th                Fleur de Lys

7th                Rose

Canting or Punning Arms

A design could pun on its owner’s name; for example, Sir Roger Fox’s shows a fox.


Baronets ranked below peers and above knights, excluding knights of the garter. They were allowed to display the Red Hand of Ulster.

(Hugh showed a slide with numerous quarters to show how often baronets’ coats of arms could be repeated on large shields, indicating a good rate of intermarriage amongst the baronetcy).

Peers of the realm had signs to indicate their rank such as coronets.

Funeral hatchments

When a person died, their coat of arms was often placed on a special funeral hatchment. These were displayed on the outside of their house and after a while many were moved to the local church. By learning how to read a hatchment one can see whether it belongs to a man or woman and whether their spouse predeceased them or not.

A Local Family

The Cornewall family were descended from King John.

Their arms had a field of ermine, a white background with black dots symbolising the tails of winter stoats. The Border was decorated with golden balls. A lion wore a golden crown.

Hugh described the different branches of the family which survived medieval times, residing at various parts of the county including Berrington, into the 18th Century. They also lived at Burford, Delbury and Moccas

A Heraldic Roll of c1576 containing 41 Coats of Arms associated with Ludlow Castle has recently been found, largely through the efforts of the Mortimer History Society. Several copies have been made and will be shown at a special event on October 5th in Ludlow.

Jane Brown

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The long C19 in Newtown, Powys



Mike Rix took us back in time to the long C19 on our tour of Newton.  Starting under an ancient black poplar tree, in a car park which we learnt was formerly the Severn riverbed, he told us about the evolution of the flannel trade in mid-Wales.  Newtown being known as the Leeds of Wales.

Newtown Tour 2019 - under the black poplar

We left the carpark for the Pryce Jones Royal Welsh warehouse.  Located close to the railway, Pryce Jones developed the world’s first successful mail order business.  The vast building has retained its fire doors and stained glass.  Outside it was decorated with roundels celebrating international exhibitions in which the firm had participated.

Newtown Tour 2019 - Pryce Jones Factory

We walked on to see a marker defining the town boundary and learnt of the conflict between the Reverend Evors of Newtown Hall, landlord and mill owner and local workers which culminated in a chartist riot put down by soldiers.

We saw evidence of blocks of weavers’ lofts flanked by a manager’s house in late C18 buildings and were regaled with theories about the origin of the street known as ‘The Frolic’.

Newtown Tour 2019 - Former workers houses and loft factories

We saw the layout of the earlier market town and the ruins of St Mary’s church. Here were the grand tomb of the influential social reformer, Robert Owen and a plaque to Thomas Powell, a leading chartist.

After the opportunity to review an historical map of the town over lunch, we crossed the river to the suburb of Penygloddfa. which was the main weaving district.  Here we visited the Textile Museum housed in a terrace of back to back houses with two large weaving floors running the length of the terrace.


This fascinating museum had working looms to demonstrate how the flannel was produced.  The nearby canal and later the railroad connected the production to the wider market through Shrewsbury and Oswestry.

We left with our eyes opened to the history of the town and other industrial heritage.  We strongly recommend visiting the museum.

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The reconstruction of medieval costumes at Pembridge

Our history society outing to Pembridge on 7th May gave us a fascinating insight into medieval dress.  We started by examining the effigies on the tombs of two generations of the Gour family, wealthy and well-connected civil servants. Unusually the men are depicted in civilian dress rather than in military knightly armour more usual at this period.  The clothing of both couples is beautifully detailed.

In 2015 a group of locals started a project to reproduce this clothing.  We were shown the results, displayed on four mannequins in a side chapel.  Two members of the group explained how they tackled the project: how they tried to reproduce the cloth of the period and the methods of construction. There was input from local knitting specialists, leather workers and jewellers.  While there were obviously some very experienced needle workers locally, one of our speakers, who had never previously threaded a needle, quickly learnt to design, cut and sew with great skill.

The group then decided to make a set of wedding garments such as would have been worn by Roger Mortimer and Joan de Geneville at their marriage in Pembridge church in 1301.  These garments were based on pictures and manuscripts of the period, with special reference to the list of clothing which Roger Mortimer was wearing when he was captured and imprisoned in 1330.

Jane H

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Francesca Bingham – Laundry in the Past

This short item followed on from the AGM and discussions. Members were seated in a circle and able to participate

Francesca introduced the taster to introduce members to a different way of researching social history. Normally we think that history is written following hours of research that have focused on ideas coming from contemporary documents such as letters or diaries.

Francesca worked at the laundry ‘department’ at Berrington Hall and found that visitors would tell her stories about how family members did their laundry. For example, a visitor would see the mangle exhibited and recount a personal story about their memories of how a mangle would be used in their family. Gathering together these random memories and thoughts that were prompted by one artefact or room could lead to a rich tapestry.

Francesca had a ‘lucky dip’ of quotes from some of these stories recounted by visitors and a few members took it in turns to ‘dip’

  • Two young girls were condemned to lives as laundry maids as their father was a criminal and nobody would marry them.
  • The hands of an elderly man were so cracked from washing that a threepenny bit could lodge in a crack
  • The story of Pop goes the weasel
  • A deaf woman nearly drowned her three year old child in a tub as she could not hear the child crying.

The archaeologist Leon Bracelin reminisced about laundrettes, and how he and others would go to the pub while waiting for their washing.

Francesca said one thread to these stories that she has pulled together centres on the memories of older men about when they were children and would help their mothers or other women with the mangling work. Laundry was women’s work but they were often asked to help with mangling and they spoke of a closeness and intimacy that they could have with their mothers through this.

Francesca read from a poem by Seamus Heaney that summarised this feeling – the fleeting closeness between a boy and his mother over the laundry work, despite their lives of unremitting work.

Francesca had a number of evocative pictures that she hung on a washing line; they showed icons and mementoes through the last 200 years. It is startling how little information there is about the actual mechanics of cleaning elegant and expensive clothing. Apart from Mrs Beeton who devoted a whole chapter to the matter, Francesca could not find any other manuals or accounts of how to do the laundry. It is thought that only underclothes were washed.

Members enjoyed this light-hearted but informative approach and look forward to another similar session.

Jane B

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A History of Insanity in 19th Century Britain


Kathryn Burtinshaw explained that her talk centred on how the Asylum System changed in Britain in the 19th Century. She concentrated on Herefordshire and surrounding counties and using medical records to provide insight into the lives of individuals locked away.

Before the 19th Century

Asylums were unregulated. The most well known was Bethlem or Bedlam in London based in a vast building begun in 1676.

Two expressive statues there showed the two faces of insanity as it was understood that time: Mania was shown as a manacled figure;  Melancholia was shown as figure without expression.

Crowds would visit out of morbid fascination, almost as entertainment. Interest increased during the time that George III was mentally ill in the late 18th Century.

The straitjacket was introduced or patients could be kept in a pen. There was little expectation of cure.

The 19th Century

In 1815 Parliament legislated to provide a better standard of care for the insane.

There was however no legal provision to deal with the criminally insane. However, in 1800 James Hadfield who had been injured in combat and wished to die, tried, without success, to assassinate the king. He was tried for high treason and acquitted on account of insanity; he was incarcerated for 40 years rather than executed. The subsequent Criminal Lunatics Act provided for indefinite detention for the insane criminal and the Asylums began to be crowded with criminals.

From the 1820s many new asylums were built and in 1845 it was decided that each county should have its own provision. Some smaller counties joined together to do this, for example 6 northern Welsh counties.

The asylums changed in character at this period. Chains largely disappeared and patients were provided with ‘moral therapy’, generally occupation to keep them busy in the asylum farms or workshops. Doctors began to try to understand the causes for patients’ conditions.

In the Welsh border area 4 counties including Herefordshire ran an asylum in Abergavenny for 350 patients; this was then enlarged. In 1868 a new asylum was built at the cost of £88,000 in Hereford. It seems to have been well run.

In 1863 Broadmoor in Berkshire was opened as a specialist institution for the criminally insane.

Kathryn showed us an example of a page from the 1871 census where the patients were categorised as either

  • Lunatic – mentally ill
  • Idiot – no ability to learn
  • Imbecile- people with an IQ of 26–50

Many children were said to be idiots or imbeciles. Kathryn showed us a picture of some of these children being entertained. The implication was that they were not treated unkindly.

Kathryn showed examples of records of individuals

The Oldfield Family from Cheshire.

Parents Amelia and John had 4 sons and 1 daughter.

 Amelia was a pauper patient from October 1883 to March 1885. She was described as suicidal and dangerous, with acute mania and intended to cut the throat of her child. She went on to have 4 more children and was never readmitted.

John had mania and could not perform his duties as a policeman. He was admitted to the asylum and became calmer.

Daughter Jane was aged 20 when she was sacked from her job as a servant after 2 epileptic seizures; she was said to be maniacal on admission and was said to suffer from ‘epileptic insanity’. (There was no understanding that epilepsy was a neurological condition).

Mrs Mullard was a patient who was apparently strangled in bed. Exhaustive enquiries could not find the culprit.

Martha Bacon was sent to an asylum for 4 months after the birth of her second child; after her release her children were murdered. She was arrested but insisted that the culprit was her husband. They stood trial together and the jury decided that Martha was guilty by reason of insanity and she was sent to Broadmoor for the rest of her life.

Kathryn answered a number of questions at the conclusion of her talk.

  • A number of records had photographs attached and this made the records very real. However, many patients were short term and photographs could not always be taken.
  • Dementia sufferers might often be taken to the workhouse rather than an asylum for reasons of public cost. Dangerous individuals would be taken to the asylum. The decisions would be made by doctors.
  • Families would often write to ask if they could take their relatives back home, especially if they were epileptic but if they were violent this was often refused.
  • There are not the statistics to allow comparison of the prevalence of mental illness in the 19th Century to that of recent or current times.
  • The children in asylums were mostly ‘idiots’ or ‘imbeciles’ and so education was rarely provided for them. Some children were epileptics.
  • Kathryn then explained she was especially interested in the treatment of epileptics because of her own experience of the illness. She was fascinated by explanations for epilepsy including ideas of witchcraft. Medication was not available until the late 1950s.


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How the London County Council could have stolen the River Towy.

On  17th March, Richard Rees spoke eloquently to explain how the late Victorian arrogance of the London County Council and its Chief Engineer Sir Alexander Richardson Binnie, (1839-1917), threatened to drown a vast area of mid and South Wales to provide water for London. This threat is now generally forgotten but Richard, an engineer and railway enthusiast based in Carmarthenshire, discovered a reference to a plan by London Water to divert the Central Wales Railway Line and curiosity about this this led to his discovery of the plan to flood Wales. His extensive research is documented in his volume ‘Everybody can have their own Bathwater’ (2015) and was the subject of his talk to the LHS. [1]

Binnie was appointed Chief Engineer to the London County Council in 1890 at a time when there was great concern about the future of water supply to London and in 1894, he was instructed to devise a plan to increase the capital’s water supply. His plan was published in 1898.

Binnie knew Wales from previous projects. The proposal was to dam valleys along tributaries of the 4 major river valleys of Breconshire and Radnorshire, to construct 11 reservoirs. The main reservoirs would be at Irfon , Edw and a large expansion of a large natural lake at Llangorse.  As Richard discovered this would necessitate moving a railway line and junction at Tal y Ilyn.

The main rivers to be tapped for London were the Towy, Irfon, Wye, Ithon and Edw.

Water from 43 rivers and streams would be sent to the proposed Llangorse Reservoir from the Usk watershed.

Other reservoirs would be built to provide compensation water to replenish the water to be lost to the main rivers, Doethie, Clywedog, Senni, Trewern and Usk.

An aqueduct 168 miles long would take the water to London. The outflows from the major reservoirs at Edw and Irfon would be brought together south of Builth Wells and then join the flow from Llangorse. At the confluence there was to be a vast treatment works and then the aqueduct would take the water across the Wye to Gloucestershire where it would divide into two branches; each branch would reach a giant storage reservoir outside London, Borehamwood to the North and Banstead to the south. The whole scheme depended not only on the vast amounts of natural rainfall in South and Mid Wales but also the gradient that in general was downhill from Wales to London.

The object of the scheme was to pump 415 million gallons of water to London, every day, but it is thought that the structure would be able to pump only 200 million gallons a day, half of what was needed.  It was envisaged that it would take until 1945 to complete the scheme in full and the estimate was £38.7 million.

Richard showed us detailed evidence and photographs to demonstrate the vast numbers of buildings, villages and farms that would be drowned.

He also described the various engineering techniques for supporting the aqueduct; the main ones were cut and cover conduits, tunnels and siphons.

Richard showed us maps illustrating the proposed sites of the reservoirs in Wales, with the huge areas of feeder rivers and streams, the proposed route for the diverted railway, and more detailed maps of the sites of the proposed dams. Richard described his research in London and he was able to show maps of the engineering proposals stamped ‘London County Council’, Water Supply, (engineers).

Other engineers produced other schemes. The LCC who backed Binnie commissioned the distinguished chemist Dibdin to test the water. In 1898 the LCC decided to support Binnie’s scheme and commissioned detailed survey work. Richard described how complex this was. The surveyors required structures to help them measure flows and survey the land, as well as accommodation. The LCC also required details of the property that would be affected in order to draw up schedules for compensation.

Binnie’s staff completed the plans including vast maps and Books of References. These documents have been preserved but are rarely seen. At this point Binnie changed his mind about the position of the Irfon dam at Garth.

The Government set up a Commission to investigate the proposal and report before Parliament could make a final decision. This delay worried the LCC.  There are some records of the debates and discussions amongst the numerous vested interests connected to such a vast project but it is imagined that much of this was not recorded.

Before the publication of the Commission’s report there was support for the plan in the House of Commons and the bill went to the Committee stage;

The Commission’s report was published on 30.12.1899. The Commission found against the plan. It was concerned that the estimate of £38 million could be a very significant underestimate, by as much as 100%.  It recommended that the responsibility for planning the future of London’s water be removed from the LCC. Welsh MPs were successful in ensuring that the Bill was defeated at the second reading and had to be withdrawn.

Thus, the threat of the destruction of a significant area of Wales affecting many thousands of people, over 40 years of construction work and inflating costs was avoided. The documentation has been preserved but apart from the older generation in the affected areas, the story is largely forgotten.

The society expressed great appreciation of this fascinating, detailed and witty talk, and some members of the audience shared anecdotes about the subject.





[1] Richard’s book on the subject is in the LHS Library

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