Updated 12 Dec 2008

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Elizabeth Wright's album 1888

    Photos taken from a Nowell-Usticke photo album, dated about 1888, sent in by Brenda Pearson, thanks Brenda.

    Brenda Pearson writes:
    "I discovered these photos I have sent you are from Elizabeth Nowell-Usticke nee Wright photo album. She named everything beautifully and now we are benefiting from her efforts.It has made my "job" much easier!
    Bye for now,
    Brenda Pearson nee Nowell-Usticke"

    Elizabeth Wright was a daughter of Charles Wright, who ran a wine and spirits business in Wirksworth. She married William Nowell-Ustike (a brewer from Glasgow) at Wirksworth in 1889. The photographs in her album were taken before her marriage.

01 Wirksworth, West End,1887 Looking East, down a hill towards the Market Place. On the left is probably 32 West End. On the left is written "Joe Brooks", on the right "Salo?"
02 Wirksworth, Market Place. A cart with horse stands under the gaslight. The buildings in the background are 9-11, Market Place, opposite the Town Hall. Could those be "swing boats" in the Market?

03 Wirksworth, St John Street, 1887. Celebrational Arch for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee on 20 June 1887. The arch reads: "Victoria Queen", "Ich Dien" and probably "1837-1887"

07 Wirksworth, North End 1887. Celebrational Arch for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee on 20 June 1887. The arch reads: "Our God and Queen and Country" and "Ich Dien"

11 Wirksworth, West End 1886, Several readers suggest the "things on sticks" are "Aunt Sallys", like a coconut shy without the coconut, the game has been around since the 13C. See what an enlargement reveals

05 Wirksworth, Market Place, 1886 The market, held every Tuesday, has been held in Wirksworth since 1306. Could the curious objects be toy windmills on sticks? Bird scarers? This photo joins photo 11.

08 High Peak Railway Locomotive and staff in snow at Manystones cutting, at the top of Hopton Incline. This is probably the very severe winter of 1919 when the drifts of 5ft to 8ft brought chaos for several days.

09 Wirksworth. Looking down on the town from a hill to the east called "The Gilkin".

04 Wirksworth, Tap Dressing, West End, 1886. In 1827 water in wooden pipes was brought from the Moor to taps in seven parts of the town. The taps were dressed at a Festival held on the Wednesday of Whit week. This may have been opposite the Wheatsheaf Inn. An umbrella may show it has started to rain.

10 Wirksworth, West End 1886 Three carts (minus horses) are parked next to a group of soldiers. This photo joins photo 04.

"Strange things on sticks"

Enlarging photos 05 and 11
"Strange things on sticks" at Wirksworth Market 1886
These seem to be two alleys of "Bladder Shyes", often found as sidestalls at funfairs and fetes in those days.
These were like coconut shyes, with bladders instead of coconuts.
In enlargements of photos 05 and 11
There seem to be two "alleys" separated by a line made of old rolls of cloth and boxes. Three kids and one adult are sat on the rolls, their body language showing they are in charge of the alleys.
Behind the far (active) alley, a large backcloth sheet is placed. A string can just be seen running from the far top corner of this sheet to the public end of the shy. Together with a stay pole and a short string to the nearby shop front, this helps support the sheet.

The nearside of this backcloth seems to be attached to a gaslight. A lower side sheet appears on the near side of this alley, supported by five 8 ft straight hazel poles cut from coppice stools.
The near (inactive) alley shows another backcloth wound round three such hazel poles.
The floor of both alleys seem to be lined by similar groundsheets, the crowd would keep off these.
Underneath these groundsheets, the large paving stones show that lined the Market place.
Each alley has about 20 three foot sticks stuck vertically at the far end of the alley, holding what looks like an inflated bladder tied to the high end. Could these be the proverbial pigs bladder, used by jesters for centuries?
Pig's bladders hold about 2 litres, and can be blown up and tied to a stick with string, and will "pop". They are used in Morris Dancing (the fool is called a "bladder-man"), and made early footballs, rugby balls, and water polo balls.

At the right (public) end of the shy, there is a pole keeping the public off the active shy. Next to it a table with an adult attendant.
The game may be played by a member of the public placing money on the table, taking some objects in exchange, which he throws at the bladders, attempting to burst them with a loud "pop". Usually he misses, or the missile bounces off the bladder. The little boys collect up the missiles, while the throwers friends jeer his poor throwing.
The missile might have been a short stick with a pointed end, difficult to throw without rotating, which would only burst the bladder if the point hit exactly right, perhaps 1 chance in (20°/360°)= 1 in 18!
The Anglo-Zulu Wars (1879) were still vivid in the memory, so perhaps "spears" of sharpened poles might have been used, offering more skill and less chance. Those five poles holding up a sidesheet seem to have sharpened points....!

Emails on the subject

Hello John,
I was fascinated by the images on your website of the coconut sheets at Wirksworth Fair. These are probably the earliest images I have seen of this attraction. The cocnut stands or pegs in this early version of the game are not surrounded by any type of stall as is the case later. By the 20th century there were London Sheets and Yorkshire Sheets. The London sheets were usually more open, whilst the Yorkshire Sheets were covered in canvas. Also the showmen usually stood 'duds' on the pegs. These were wooden and covered in coconut hair. the idea was that the goods won would not be damaged, although the authorities did not always see it that way!

I would love to be able to use these images in our quartely journal Platform of which I am editor. The Fairground Society is a non-profit making organisation. If it is possible to obtain copies of these two pictures for use in this way please contact me at steve.newera[at]btinternet.com
Stephen Smith
----------------------------- Dear John, For various reasons, I've recently been giving some more thought to the photographs on your site from "Elizabeth Wright's Album 1888": http://www.wirksworth.org.uk/B67-ALBM.htm As you are already aware, several travelling photographers were associated with fair grounds, and I am interested in the connections between these folk. I have returned to those photographs time and time again, hoping to find some clues as to how I could link these fair ground folk with the ones who showed up at the Morledge in Derby from time to time. The more I have read about them, the more I realise that they were a fairly tight-knit group who travelled throughout the Midlands, attending various fairs, market days and other occasions, obviously having a good knowledge of when these events were going to be held each year.

My attention was recently drawn to a painting by C.T. Moore dated 1882 in the Derby Museum collection which has been reproduced in the book, "Goodey's Derby," as well as on the web site http://www.picturethepast.org.uk. It is entitled "The Morledge in Fairtime, 1882: and includes several fair ground attractions which are similar to those in your photos. It also had a booth/tent for "cartes de visites," which of course pleased me no end. Also in the painting are some swings, very similar to those in one of your photos, and some sticks which could be the Aunt Sally/coconut shy

Tonight I went searching ... and came up with an article describing the tap dressing in The Derby Mercury of 23 June 1886, which I have attached. This includes the following:
"In the Market Place were assembled the usual contingent of shooting galleries, shows, &c."
One of the photos on your web page also refers to the tap dressings, so it appears to be the same occasion, which was "Whitsun-Wednesday." I think this may have been Wed 31 May, which was the first Wednesday after Whitsunday, Pentecost.

I would very much like to write up something on this topic for my web site, Photo-Sleuth, perhaps even a series of articles on travelling photographers & fairgrounds. I wonder if I might use your photos to illustrate this story, please? If you wouldn't mind, could I please have some detailed scans of the photographs which feature Market Place? I will, of course, email Brenda Pearson if you like, and would acknowledge the source of the photos as usual.

Regards and best wishes,

The Derby Mercury of 23 June 1886
Wirksworth Tap Dressings
This ancient festival, a popular gathering with Derby people as affording an opportunity for an agreeable holiday, took place as usual on Whitsun-Wednesday, The custom is one that springs from the Romans, who dressed their springs in adoration of the God of water, and its celebration appears to be peculiar to Derbyshire, as in no other county that we are aware of is the ceremony kept up. As far as more modern days are concerned the Wirksworth Tap Dressings is one of the oldest festivals on record. The celebrations were discontinued for some years, but about 18 years ago the custom was revived, and now forms one of the "red letter" days in the calendar of many Derbyshire people. Of course a great deal depends on the weather, and a cloudy and threatning sky after the many variable days we have lately experienced, prevented numbers of people from taking advantage of the reduced fares offered by the Midland Railway Company as an inducement to enjoy an outing, but in spite of that three or four long trains heavily laden, landed their living freight at Wirksworth, all from Derby. This was exclusive of excursions from Nottingham, Sheffield, and Burton, besides visitors from the neighbouring villages. On the whole, however, the number of visitors was put down as rather less than usual - wholly on account of the atmospheric conditions. A casual visitor, however, would be unable to draw these invidious comparisons. Crowds of visitors thronged the old-fashioned little town, and made it wear an animated appearnce, such as is only to be observed once a year. The inhabitants themselves appear to view the festival more as a matter of business, and everybody seems prepared to turn an honest penny in some form or other. Providing tea for visitors was the favourite mode, but this business was sadly overstocked, judging by the flaming red and yellow bills in the window of almost every other house setting forth that "accommodation for tea and hot water" was to be had within. The band of the E (Wirksworth) Company D.R.V., and the Wirksworth Brass Band, furnished music during the day, and conducted visitors round the town. The grounds at the Lees were kindly placed at the disposal of the committee by Mr Sealy Fisher, and there a gala was held, the amusements consisting of selections of music by the Wirksworth United Band, performances by a troupe of minstrels, known as the Black Diemond troupe, and dancing on the tennis court, to the music of Mr Hollins's (Derby) string band. This proved a great source of attraction to the vistors, nearly £30 being taken at the gates. In the Market Place were assembled the usual contingent of shooting galleries, shows, etc. With regard to the dressings, Mrs John Cooke, of the West End, again succeeded in carrying off premier honours, being awarded the first prize of £10 for an elaborate erection, of a much more pretentious character than any of the others. In the foreground was a small covered fountain, standing on a square base, having four pillars at th angles, each dressed in moss, with moulds of blue pansy petals, supporting four arches in daisy chaff. On the top of the arches lay a tablet in dark moss, on which was a vase with square base in moss, with stem in scarlet geranium petals and circular bowl in white daisy chaff. At the back was a large Gothic drinking fountain, consisting of right and left bays, with centre piece on which was worked an Oriental design, with a large stork in white daisy chaff, standing amongst herbage and foliage worked on a ground of scarlet geraniums. Over the centre might be seen the words - "Bless ye the Lord," in letters of red berries on a white ground, and in each bay a large vase in yellow everlastings, containing lilies and sunflowers worked on a green bay of parsley. Mr a Hawley, Dale Street, obtained second prize, £8, for a well-executed representaion of an Oriental fountain; Mr L Hardy, Tissington, was third with his North Street decoration, for which he received £6; and Mr John Clough fourth, £4,for a design in Coldwell Street. Prizes were also offered this year for the best street garland, and after a strong competition, the first and second prizes fell to J Yates, West End, and W MacDonald, Market Place......
James Masters writes
My instinctive reaction would not be Aunt Sally but a forerunner of the coconut shy sounds right. Aunt Sally always seems to be played singly. Also Aunt Sally was around at about this time, too, and the dolls were generally speaking dressed up to look like a woman whereas these are not. The popping thing sounds v. plausible because they don't look to be set up to be knocked off the pole.

I'd like to know your sources for the info. Re.The 13C reference; I suspect that may be a bit dubious. But where did you find this stuff on Bladder Shyes? I have lots of books but have never seen it, regrettably. I have done a search on the OED and could not find the term bladder shy (under any spelling of shy). The earliest reference to Coconut Shy in there is only 1902. I wonder if the game went by another name.

Also, do you have the enlargements you mention scanned in?; I'd love to see them. Surely there is some clue on there somewhere as to what the projectiles might be???

James Masters

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