Isn’t it funny how some people find certain things attractive, yet to somebody else, the exact same thing doesn’t do anything for them. Beauty, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder.
For example, some people would look at a growling, floppy-jowled, saliva-dripping bulldog flashing fangs as sharp as razorblades and would think it’s as cute as a new-born kitten.
But there are some people who would run away extremely fast because they believe they’ve just come across an evil beast from the deepest pit of doom.
I shall let you guess which category I fall into, but here’s a clue: I’m not a fan of dog dribble.
It’s the same with virtually anything – art, movies, sport, food. You name anything and someone will like it just as passionately as the next person dislikes it.
Spaghetti Bolognese for example. Some people’s eyes pop out of their heads with glee when they see it on a menu in a café or restaurant, whilst others cannot stand the awkwardly stringy, overly floppy, sauce-flinging laces of pasta that will just not stay on the blasted fork, spoon, chopsticks, fingers or whatever implement is chosen, without permanently staining everything within a half mile radius with the sauce of shame.
I shall let you guess which category I fall into, but here’s a clue: if you see a spag bol in front of me, it would be wise to give me half a mile of clearance.
There is one particular thing that I find rather good to look at that not many other people do though (although I’ve never really asked, so maybe people do?) and it’s this: a page of text.
I can still remember my mum’s first attempt at a chilli con carne – I must have been about 11 or 12 years old, so this would be in the early 1970s. Chilli powder was definitely new in our household and mum measured it in tablespoons instead of teaspoons – so we couldn’t actually eat the results. It put us all off for years.
British people have long had a reputation for extreme conservatism and caution when it comes to food, and certainly when I was growing up in the 1970s, our diet could best be described as ‘bland’. Shepherd’s pie, fish fingers – that type of thing. What people today might shudderingly call ‘beige food’. My dad worked for Bird’s, so we had a lot of Angel Delight as well.
We did have home-made mince pies and Christmas cake and I’m pretty sure mum had a little cannister of mixed spice for this purpose, which lasted for many, many years. I recently started looking for references to spices here in Gloucestershire Archives – and I must admit I was amazed to see several references to cinnamon, cumin and ginger being used to pay rent in Mediaeval times. The earliest record I found was this one from 1225:
William de Pudiford to Phillip Bonseriaunt. Bargain and sale of ground on which his granary stood in the village of Fromtun. Rent- 1 root of ginger at Christmas, consideration 7 shillings. Witnesses: Henry de Clifford, Walter de Salle, Hel de Cantle, Reginald de Wudhend, Ruard de Hereford.
But there may well be even earlier examples.
I suppose I knew a (very) little bit about the Spice Routes, but I’d never really thought about spices being traded and valued in this way quite so far back in time. And not just in London, but here in Gloucestershire too.
People back then (those who could afford them, of course), must have loved the warmth and complexity which spices bring as much as we do today. I’ve read that some uses were medicinal and some for the preservation of food – or at least to hide the taste if it wasn’t too fresh – but even so there’s plenty of evidence for culinary use.
Spicy food is now of course available to everyone, and there can’t be too many modern households which have never had an Indian or a Chinese takeaway. Spices were effectively democratised around the 1960s – and our appetite for them grew so fast that Chicken Tikka Masala (spiced, if not actually spicy) was named as one of our favourite national dishes in 2001.
Most towns now boast a wide array of food outlets, and my hometown of Newent is certainly no exception: with a population of around 10,000 people we have 2 Chinese takeaways, 2 Indian takeaways and a kebab shop, in addition to our original ‘Tudor’ (ahem) Fish and Chip shop. Not to mention the pizzas, Japanese and Mexican foods which can be delivered to anyone within minutes.
It’s odd to think that even though spices were bought and traded here for hundreds of years, new arrivals to the UK from Asian and African countries and from the Caribbean in the 50s 60s and 70s often struggled to source the familiar flavours they loved. They began to open shops, originally to serve their own communities. Then restaurants and takeaways, which we cautious, conservative types gradually started to frequent and then quickly to love. Perhaps this is fanciful, but I like to think that love of spice was always lying dormant, just waiting to be reawakened.
People are sometimes surprised to find that we keep fliers and menus from restaurants and takeaways in our Local Studies collections, but they are a wonderful indicator of new communities arriving and, by offering exciting and unfamiliar food, broadening people’s food horizons.
I haven’t been able to find the date or name of the first Indian and Chinese restaurants in Gloucestershire – but I’d love to know…Anybody?
In May 1942, six months before Churchill made his famous “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” speech at the Lord Mayor’s luncheon at Mansion House, officials in Gloucestershire County Council’s planning department were already thinking about post-WW2 reconstruction.
On the 5th December 1628 George Beard made his way to Gloucester from his home in Whaddon. A dispute had arisen concerning the will of his friend John Copp and he was going to give his testimony at the Bishop’s Court. There he was asked how old he was and he told them that he was 90. Yes, 90! Just think about that for a minute. He had lived through the reigns of six monarchs from Henry VIII to Charles 1. He was alive when the Spanish Armada threatened England. He was in his sixties when Guy Fawkes and his gang had tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. And now he was mentally and physically fit enough to give evidence in court. So much for the notion that no-one lived past sixty in “olden times”.
Recently we received an inventory relating to the White Swan, a pub in Westgate Street, Gloucester (reference D15916). When we came to log details into our online catalogue, we realised we were missing an important detail- precisely where was it? This pub no longer exists, and we have only 3 other records in the archives that mention it, GBR/L20/2/1914/52, D3117/4568 and D3117/4158A.
So, where to start?
Well, one of the first places to look for lost buildings is old maps. This is only really useful if you have a vague idea of where the building was, and luckily we know this pub was in Westgate street. For many locals who know the city, Westgate street is actually quite a big place to start looking. So, to pinpoint whereabouts we then looked at the other documents, to see if they gave any clues. D3117/4158A mentions a right of way dispute that involved the Old Spa House, hinting the buildings must have been very close. A quick search for ‘old spa house’ in our catalogue comes up with a lot more hits than the pub. D3117/4156 lists number 95 Westgate Street, known as Old Spa House in the description. We have a number! What next?
Rather than search through huge and delicate rolled up maps, we use a fantastic online resource called ‘Know your place’, here: http://www.kypwest.org.uk/
This website was developed in Bristol and now covers other counties, including Gloucestershire. It holds digital copies of some of the maps we keep, and it’s a great place to start looking. After setting the base map to 2019, we started going through the comparison maps and scrolled up and down Westgate Street looking for our pub. All we had so far was the name ‘White Swan Inn’, ‘Old Spa House’ and the number 95 for a rough location. Unfortunately, numbers of buildings changed over time as they were built on, over, divided up etc. especially after World War II.
After 10 minutes or so – bingo! On a map from 1852 made for the local board of health, we found it! It’s on the extreme western end of Westgate street, which in 1852 was on White Swan Lane and is now swallowed up by Westgate Street parking. Where the building itself stood is now a block of flats. You can see two buildings along is numbered 95, which in 1852 was named ‘The Newfoundland’.
All subsequent maps on Know Your Place have the building shown, but just the letters ‘P.H’ written, which mean ‘public house’. So we know a pub was still here in 1947, but was gone by the end of the 1960s when development plans in the city turned it into a car park.
Well, the inventory discovered gives us a very vivid picture of a pub in early 20th Century Britain. It is dated 1933, so in the inter-war period. Everything is listed, every chair and table, what state it was in, what room it was in. Take the bar for example, arguably the most important room in a pub. You might have sat down with a metal mug, at a mahogany pembroke table, on a Windsor chair. You might have played with dice to pass the time, or perhaps chess or a game of quoit. The décor included a stuffed drake, dog and squirrel, a stag’s head and antlers, and a framed picture of Tom Sayers the famous boxer. A rubber stamp and pad is listed ‘for glasses stolen from the Swan’. Some traditions never die!
More details are given about the taps, the linoleum floor, hooks on the door and every basin, jug and pewter measures are listed. Anyone wishing to create an accurate film set for the time period has their research done for them! Inventories tells us not only what the trends were, but sometimes mention a local business that there remains no other trace of. We know in the bar they used a Gledhills patent cash till, which was a business at the time in Halifax. Further down, the staircase has a clock listed by ‘Mollinews, Painswick’ which doesn’t come up with any immediate hits online. Local names appear, such as in the private sitting room which has a portrait of ‘Mr Clutterbuck’.
What came in as a small booklet on a chance find turned out to give us a wealth of information about pub life in 20th century Gloucester.
So- now it’s your turn. What can you discover?
UPDATE 25/01/2022: One of our search room team was able to look up the demolition date of the pub in an index, which tells us it was demolished finally in 1972.
As Remembrance Day approaches, I thought I would share my findings in the Gloucester Borough Records (GBR/L6/23/B5018), on how the names of World War Two fallen on the Gloucester City War Memorial, in Gloucester Park, were collected by the Council using official sources and a public appeal.
My name is Natasha Young and I am a Digital Archive Trainee taking part in the 2021 cohort of Bridging the Digital Gap trainees. The traineeship is run by The National Archives and I have been seconded to Gloucestershire Archives to get hands-on archiving experience. I have had the privilege of learning traditional archiving skills from professional archivists and digital preservation experts in an active archive setting. As well as learning whilst working, The National Archives have also set up an online training program that teaches us how to be archivists and how to approach the various considerations for digital archiving and preservation.
I was appointed as a Gloucestershire Archives trainee in January 2021 under the National Archives “Bridging the Digital Gap” scheme. My post has an emphasis on digital and technical skills and one of my tasks has focussed on the Cotswold Roundabout collection (D6112). This wonderful sound archive consists of programmes compiled and edited by the Cotswold Tape Recording Society from around 1960 to 1976. Originally called Hospital Roundabout, the programmes were designed to provide comfort and entertainment to hospital patients. The scope then widened to reach the elderly, the blind and the disabled, through clubs, homes and societies. .Despite being an amateur endeavour, the recordings were made in a professional manner and the quality of the audio is high. The content is extremely varied, showcasing the talents of local people and “characters”, from singing and stand up comedy to telling spooky tales. It also includes people’s reminiscences and unvarnished interviews about local trends.
I’m everyone’s volunteer. In normal times I would be dashing between Gloucester Cathedral, Berkeley Castle, Cheltenham College, Cobalt and of course Gloucestershire Archives. I like to use my brain to do something potentially useful, I like learning new things, meeting people with the same interests and chatting to fellow volunteers, friends I have made over the years. All that stopped with lockdown.
Sitting in fourteen boxes in a refrigerated strong room at Gloucestershire Archives, Stanley Gardiner’s collection of over 5,500 old images of views, events and people in and around Stroud’s Five Valleys was an obvious goldmine for anyone interested in local history. The problem was that the collection was uncatalogued. The wrong choice of box number might bring you traction engines, not images of Rodborough, and heaven help you if you were just hoping for something on Edwardian farming!