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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Dressing to Impress in the 19th Century

Eileen Baker’s talk and demonstration -20 February 2019

Members of the History Society arrived to find the front of the hall crowded with tables and mannequins festooned with all types of feminine garments in many colours and shapes. At the back of the hall was a display of books open at coloured plates.  Members were also given a very detailed handout.

Eileen spoke without notes and with the help of her husband, Tom she showed us many of the individual garments providing details of their purpose and provenance.

Eileen explained that she wanted to talk primarily about how, during the 19th Century, middle class women chose clothes that would impress others in their society and display the woman’s ideas of herself as an individual.

She told us that, until the 1850s, women learned all the skills necessary to make and repair clothes at home but later prosperous women could take advantage of innovations and developments such as shops, mail order catalogues, sewing machines, and then manufacturers developing from couture houses in Paris. Machine knitted stockings were also introduced.

Victorian women were seriously constrained by their clothing and accessories. A Victorian costume could weigh 14 lbs, and if they were to stay away from home for a night, they had to take a heavy dressing case. They needed numerous accessories, long kid gloves, silk stockings, reticules, fans, shoes as well as shawls to keep themselves warm.


Dress accessories


The illustration above charts the changes of shape from 1789 to 1914.

During the period following the French Revolution (c1789) and then the Napoleonic Wars, British women dressed in high waisted, soft, simple, modest, ankle length dresses. Many French women showed more flesh including their cleavage.

Then the economy recovered and as the British middle classes grew prosperous women began to display considerable luxury and embellishment in order to ‘impress’ and display their family’s wealth.

Around 1835 the profile was that of wider shoulders that often sloped downwards. The waistlines were lower as were the hems.  These trends continued and the crinoline was introduced to support wide skirts.

Eileen and Tom showed us a crinoline, a petticoat stitched onto several wide hoops. By 1865 the crinoline enabled women to display very wide skirts using masses of material. The overskirt would have a profile that was flat in the front and gathered into a bustle at the back. Eileen and Tom demonstrated how the bustle, a pillow like contraption, was tied to one of the hoops of the crinoline.

Eileen showed us a tiered dress in printed cotton voile, to be worn over a crinoline. She explained that the dye used in the printing was so primitive that she doubted it could be washed at all.

IMG_0407 b

Eileen showed us a fabulous wide deep blue silk organza skirt from 1860 to be worn over a crinoline.

By this time the skirt would reach almost to the ground. Eileen pointed out that the shape and length of the skirt seriously hindered movement. The crinoline was so impracticable that it was a relatively short-lived fashion.

She showed us several other garments, especially little jackets that were so lavishly embellished with fringes, buttons, tassels and beads that there was hardly any material showing. Equally however, many garments had been patched over and over again. These jackets could be very short, ending at the waist, and thus not likely to keep the wearer warm.


Detail from a Spencer Jacket

Eileen showed us that, by 1885, the bustle had disappeared and there was a trend to straighter outfits with a peplum. By the end of the century, the skirts were plainer and narrower but the sleeves were very elaborate. They were often puffed up and very wide at the top, narrow and plain from elbow to wrist. Some women might have detachable sleeves.


After the turn of the century the shape became narrower with a tight waist. Many Edwardian women adopted the uniform of narrow skirt, (including the hobble skirt which made walking very difficult), and blouse. The hourglass shapes often demanded a corset. Eileen pointed out that corsets had to be the province of the wealthy woman. Not only was their construction very labour intensive with their long lines of hooks and eyes, but the wearer would need help to get laced into it.

The ‘long’ 19th Century ended in 1914 as many women then had to begin to adapt their clothing to more active lives. (Eileen mentioned the Amelia Bloomer’s mid-19th century ideas to help women become more active.)

Eileen spent some time discussing the mysteries of the practicalities of life for these well to do women who chose to wear garments that displayed their wealth but limited their ability to move about. She demonstrated some evening dresses which were so heavily embellished that the wearer would have trouble sitting down as well as a straight cut white silk and lace dress so fine it could not be washed.

Eileen had brought her collection of underwear. Going to the toilet, sanitary protection and dressing while heavily pregnant were never discussed in public and we have very little information about these matters. Mending was evident, but how these delicate fabrics were cleaned and pressed was not.

Eileen answered a number of questions.

In answer to a query as to what was meant by the ‘long’ 19th Century she said the period covered the period from the French Revolution to the First World War, 1789 to 1914. Before the French Revolution the upper classes dressed ‘ridiculously’ and Eileen referred us to the exhibition of 18th Century waistcoats recently seen at Berrington Hall.

A number of questions from the membership focused on practical matters for Victorian women especially hygiene and laundry, and how women dealt with the changes in seasons. They tended to wear the same clothes all year round, covering themselves up against the cold but again Eileen said that she did not know the answers to many questions about these practicalities.

In answer to another question, Eileen talked about how she had assembled her wonderful collection of clothes from many sources from jumble sales to auctions. She told us she had always been fascinated by fabric rather than aesthetics, and by how different cultures had approached making garments from fabric, which is of course always flat and generally rectangular.

She was asked about a bonnet which is she told us incredibly fragile.

It was agreed that she has material for more sessions based on her collections of accessories, hats, shoes, bags, stoles.

The applause for Eileen and Tom was long and heartfelt and many stayed on to handle the clothes and look at the pictures in the books as well as speak individually to Eileen.

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Minerals, Mining & Quarrying on Clee Hill: A Brief History

16 Jan. 2019

Presented by Prof. Brian Wilkinson to about 50 members and guests

Brian opened by noting that the Titterstone Clee & Clee were closely adjacent hills and had common features. At 533m above sea level Titterstone Clee is a distinctive local landmark. It is the third highest hill in Shropshire. He noted that it was the only hill in England shown on the 14C Mappa Mundi held in Hereford Cathedral. He did not know why this was but speculated that this may have been due to the wide range of minerals & rocks available from both Titterstone & Clee Hills: coal, ironstone, limestone, clays, building stone.


Brian considered that to understand the way in which these rocks had been exploited it was helpful to have a basic understanding of the geology. He described this briefly using a simplified geological cross section through the hills – shown below.

clee hill

The hills form what geologists call an ‘outlier’ [an island of younger rocks of the Carboniferous period – 359 to 299 million years old] resting on older rocks [mostly red Devonian sandstones and marls – often referred to as Old Red Sandstone. The mineral resources are found in the Upper Carboniferous rocks. There are no rocks younger than the Carboniferous strata on either of the hills. The hills were not covered by the thick ice sheet during the last glaciation, which ended 12-13000 years ago, but the effects of frost action can be seen in the major screes lying towards the base of the hills.


There is archaeological evidence of Bronze Age burial cairns on both hills and a major Iron Age rock wall enclosure – 1.4 miles long- surrounding the top of Titterstone Clee. This is the largest Iron Age structure of its type in Shropshire.


The lowest Carboniferous stratum is the Oreton Limestone. Brian described how this had been extensively worked for building stone and as a source of lime. The lime was used on the fields and in mortar for building. There are numerous old lime kilns; the last one probably ended operating in the 1920s. The limestone was quarried where it outcropped on the surface, particularly at Oreton and Studley, but it was also extracted by tunnelling into the hillside near Studley.

Coal Measures

Moving to a higher level up the hillsides there are a series of Carboniferous sandstones above which are the Coal Measures. Brian described how these were formed by the growth, then collapse, of large trees and other vegetation into swamps. These were then compressed by deposits of sand and clay sediments over them. These formed the sandstones and shales. This process was repeated a number of times over tens of thousands of years as the land surface rose and fell. Brian showed the record of a 1920 borehole drilled from the top of Clee Hill to a depth of about 450ft. At about 350ft coal was found. There were 4 to 5 principal coal seams ranging between 3 to 5 ft in thickness.

Around the periphery of the hills the coal could be reached by shallow workings called bell pits. These were used in the 13C and evidence of the shaft depressions and the surrounding circular spoil heaps can be seen in their hundreds to this day.

Deeper coal mining, which began in the 1700s, involved sinking substantial shafts on Clee Hill to about 500ft. The shafts had to penetrate about 200ft of hard igneous rock before reaching the coal-bearing strata. 40 shafts were sunk. The Barn Pit employed about 80 men. Mining conditions, working in candlelight and with water ingress, must have been terrible. Coal mining ceased in the 1920s and the shafts were capped in the 1940s.

Iron Ore

The 1920s borehole log which Brian showed indicated iron-rich layers in the sandstones and ironstone nodules in the strata between the coal seams. As coal, limestone and fireclay were locally available for use in smelting a number of iron smelting hearths were established around the Clee hills.

Dhustone [Olivine Dolorite]

At the top of Titterstone Clee & Clee Hill there is a hard, igneous, rock known locally as Dhustone. Brian described how this was formed by molten lava from depth forcing its way to the surface and splitting the Carboniferous coal measures open to form a horizontal 60m layer of rock on cooling. Geologists call this type of structure a ‘sill’. It is characterised by strong vertical joints formed as the lava shrinks as it cools.

Commercial quarrying of this hard rock began in the 18C. It was widely distributed as a building stone [e.g. Cardiff docks], stone sets and aggregates. The stone from Titterstone Clee was transported by wagons down an impressive incline to the village of Bitterley, from where a rail link carried the stone to Ludlow. From the car park at the top of Titterstone Clee many of the old quarries can be seen, together with the remains of the old concrete crushing and grading structures. It is also possible to walk down the old wagon incline, now grassed over.

In the early 20C quarrying activity moved on to Clee Hill. From here [e.g. Magpie Quarry] the stone was transported by overhead cableway to a railhead near Cleobury Mortimer.

In the 1860s 2000 men worked in the quarries and in 1910 400 000 tons of rock were extracted.

The Dhustone is still quarried. There is a good observation point with information boards on Clee Hill. This can be reached from a path leading to the east from the Titterstone Clee access road.


The chair, Jonathan Hopkinson thanked Prof. Wilkinson for his talk which was enhanced by many images. This was followed by a lively discussion. The audience’s attention was drawn to Benson’s Brook which flows off Titterstone Clee towards Bitterley. There is a reservoir on the brook which was a source of water for a hydro-electric station [now disused] near Bitterley. Being built in 1885 this must be one of the earliest hydro-electric schemes in the UK.

Further Information

Brian gave a number of information sources on Titterstone Clee and Clee Hill, in particular he noted:

Jenkinson.  1983    Titterstone Clee Hills

Wilkinson, G. Wilkinson. and Rosenbaum,M.S.  2005     A Walk on Titterstone Clee and Clee Hill

Cleobury Mortimer Footpath Association  Web site


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