New season underway!

The new season got off to a great start on Monday 11 September with our AGM and an excellent paper from Dr Rachel Winchcombe.

img_1957Dr Winchcombe began with anecdote about John Chiltern’s ‘near miss’ with a group of cannibalistic Mexicans. He escaped being earten because he was lean so they thought he had the pox!

This story was one of many which appeared in English print.  Many continental stories of canabalism attempted to justify the imperialistic ambitions of the Europeans. English representations, however, were more multi-faceted. Some legitimised colonialism, others critiqued other powers’ colonies,  while a few even legitimised abandoning colonies.

The first image of cannibalism appeared in 1520.  It symbolised savagery – the utter depraviy with cannibalism being most explicit example of savagery that there could be.

By the second  half of sixteenth century the key concern of the English in the Americas was to find the north west passage.  Two accounts of these expeditions were published. Both authors disliked region, especially the eating habits of the Inuit whose diet included raw and spoiled meat. George Best claimed that the natives were cannibalistic, even though he never suggested that he’d seen any cannabalism. He just based his claim on the fact that the previous voyage had disappeared.

Nevetherless, the English explained that this unsatisfactory diet of the Inuit was a result of desperation not choice, because the Alaskan conditions were so harsh. This contrasted with depictions from other European countries, who claimed that it was a result of the natives’ choices. But if the British suggested it wasn’t through choice, then it had an impact on understanding the English colonisation project – Alaska was too harsh to settle and therefore if the natives were forced to eat human flesh, then the English were going to have even bigger problems.  It helped to explain the decision to abandon their colonisation project.
Dr Winchcombe pointed out that it was Columbus who had been the first to divide the native Americans into peace-loving or man-eaters. This approach would then allow them to get rid of the violent Caribs, while the continued presence of Spain would protect the peaceful Arawak.  The English writer Peckham was keen to stress that the native Americans would be protected in the same way.  Their neighbour was depicted in the same way as Columbus’s cannibale, even though Peckham was much further north on the mainland. The cannibale was no longer a speicifc group from a single place.

Later the cannibal was used by the English to critique Spanish rule.  Mexicans apparently ate any Christians they passed, illustrating the failure of Spanish control.
In Roanoke, by contrast, the Americans were shown as peaceful by Hariot, but this was in order to promote the English colony to potential settlers.  It also provided a pointed comparison with the Spanish settlements.

Dr Winchcombe concluded that the image of the native American cannibal didn’t always say the same thing because it was being used for different purposes: political, practical  as well as ideological.


New Season Starts Soon

Next Monday evening, 11 September, we hold the first meeting of our new season at Bolton School Girls’ Division.  The AGM will start at 7.30pm, but don’t let that put you off! We keep the formal business as short as we can: it’s your chance to find out what we’ve been up to over the past twelve months and what we’re planning for the coming season. It’s also your big opportunity to air your views and shape our future programmes.

Rachel-300x225Following the AGM, we will enjoy a short paper from Dr Rachel Winchcombe, who recently completed her PhD at Manchester University. Her talk is entitled ‘Ravenous, bloudye, and Man eating people’: The Cannibalistic Amerindian in the Early English Colonial Imagination. There will be a chance to ask your own questions, both formally at the end of the paper and informally over refreshments.

As always, we are looking for new material for our bring and buy history book sale, so if you have any history books that you no longer need or you would like to share with others, please bring them along on Monday evening.

We look forward to seeing you there – bring a friend!

Family history workshops this Autumn 

Always wanted to trace your family tree? Not sure how to start?Why not purchase an early Christmas/birthday present for a loved one?


There will be a new set of family history workshops for the autumn for four weeks commencing Saturday 18 November 2017 10am-12.30 held in Bolton Central Library.

The cost of the workshops is £25 with all family history materials and refreshments included.

Please note free parking is currently available in the Octagon car park, Great Moor Street at weekends and bank holidays.

Message from the Kingfisher Trail

Next Saturday (9th) we will be holding the final Kingfisher Trail Festival of this year at Moses Gate Country Park in Bolton for which we have roped in many of our friends from along the route to highlight the work they do. Bigger and better than last years the day will include chainsaw carvers, costumed storytelling, animal handling, pond dipping, whittling, guided walks, scavenger hunts, heritage information, wildlife surveys, a special display on Nob End SSSI, some fantastic folk music and a whole lot more! Even better it is all free (apart from the food). The day will also see the long awaited release of the new Kingfisher Trail guide leaflet which we are very excited about! 

To join in simply turn up on the day between 11am and 4pm. We’ll be on the field next to the Rock Hall.


We would also be very grateful to any wildlife enthusiasts (which you should all be! J) who are able to record a list of species seen on the day. The wonderful Greater Manchester Ecology Unit will be on hand to collate the results and provide guidance so it doesn’t matter whether you are an expert entomologist or a birding beginner, we still need your help! Simply turn up and seek out GMEU’s stall.


The following day (Sunday 10th) our pals at the Friends of Seven Acres will be running ‘Edible Seven Acres’. The walk will be led by Alun Morris and will be a gentle stroll around the site discussing it’s many edible plant species and the uses that they can be put to. The group have led this walk for a number of years now and it is always fascinating! If you are a keen forager then we would also love to hear some of your recipes along the way. To join in simply turn up outside the Environmental Resource Centre, 499-511 Bury Rd, Bolton, BL2 6DH ready to start at 10am. The walk will last until around 12pm and is free. Please wear clothing suitable for (slightly) muddy paths.


Thanks everyone, hoping to see you in the sunshine!


Stephen Cartwright,

Industrial Wildlife Project Officer,

Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside.

New Season Approaches

Historical Association Bolton Branch
Annual General Meeting 2017
7.30pm, Bolton School Girls’ Division
Monday 11th September 2017

1. Apologies
2. Minutes of the AGM held on Monday 12th September 2016 and Matters Arising
3. Chairman’s Report and Presentation of the 2017-18 Programme
4. Treasurer’s Report
5. Secretary’s Report
6. Election of Officers and Committee for 2017-18
Chairman – M. Shipley
Vice President – G. Redworth; M Shipley
Treasurer – M. Taylor
Secretary – J. Hyde
Committee Members – G. Berry, J. Ball; D. Johnson; C. Owen; F. Wood.
7. A.O.B.

The formal business of the AGM will be followed by a 20 minute paper from Dr Rachel Winchcombe on ‘Ravenous, bloudye, and Man eating people’: The Cannibalistic Amerindian in the Early English Colonial Imagination.

Secretary’s Report 2016-17

The Bolton Branch had another strong season in 2016-17.  The average attendance at our lectures was 35, of whom 8 were full members.  We have a total of 27 branch members.  We remain grateful for the help and support of Bolton School Girls’ Division; we have found the Sutcliffe Suite to be a congenial meeting place.  We thank the 6th form girls for their assistance with the refreshments and have made our President’s Award of Studentzone membership to those who have supplied lecture notes for our branch website.

Following our AGM in September, Ms Keri Nicholson of Lancashire Archives told us ‘Stories from the Hulton Archive’.  We were particularly pleased to have Ms Nicholson speak for us, since the branch made a donation towards the cataloguing of this important local archive.  The first full length lecture of the season was given by Dr Kevin Bean, who returned to the branch to talk about the Easter Rising.  Our November lecturer had to pull out at very short notice, so the branch secretary, Dr Jenni Hyde, stepped in to talk (and sing) about Tudor ballads and news.

In December, Dr Fiona Pogson gave us an insight into the life of an early Stuart vicereine, then we started the new year with a photographic tour of the Manchester, Bury and Bolton canal from Dr Paul Hindle.  Our February lecture from Dr Jonathan Hogg on the changing public reception of nuclear rhetoric during the Cold War gave us plenty of food for thought, and we finished our normal lecture season with a fascinating insight into the Lancashire cotton famine from Dr David Brown.

In response to a suggestion by HA President Prof Justin Champion, we have undertaken a new venture this season in partnership with Bolton Museum. Following a public lecture by Dr Henry Miller at the Museum, we hosted a hands-on session with items from the archive’s collection of satirical cartoons. The response was rather disappointing, as turnout was very small despite promotion at meetings, via email and our website, on Twitter, via Bolton Museum and even a promotional interview on the community radio station, Bolton FM.  We are currently seeking a social media secretary to take over this aspect of our marketing.

The monthly second-hand book sale continues to bring in welcome funds, and we are pleased to have found an assistant treasurer who will take over the full role next season. Finally, to round off a successful year, the branch had a stand at the Historical Association Conference in Manchester.

H.A. Outreach

The Bolton Branch recognises that not everyone who is interested in history is able to come along to branch lectures, so we have put together a list of speakers who are willing to provide talks on their own area of expertise for other groups in the Bolton area.

Dr Jenni Hyde: Tudor and Stuart history, English ballads, the Spanish conquest of the Americas.

Print Lecture at Bolton Museum

On Wednesday 24th May 2017, the Bolton Branch held a special event at Bolton Museum, with Dr Henry Miller of Durham University talking about ‘Political caricature and satirical prints in Britain, 1700-1840’, with particular reference to the Museum’s collection of satirical cartoons.  This was followed by hands-on workshop in the museum.

A radical reformist cartoon of 1831, from the Bolton Museum collection.

Political cartoons are an important form of historical evidence.  There are several major collections, for example, those at the British Library and the Library of Congress.  There is also a collection in Bolton.  They are often seen as one of the most widespread forms of political comment, but how far they reach a wide audience is debated by historians.

The history of the political cartoon goes back hundreds of years. Anti-Catholic woodcuts were a feature of the Reformation.  Further images from the Civil Wars are included in other documents rather than being a single sheet publication. Then from 1700 they appear as single sheets.  They are emblematic images where individuals are not named but identified by visual puns or allusions, in order to avoid libel.  For this reason, they are often quite difficult to read, and they are also often anonymous. Freedom of the press was only just emerging and the state was still very sensitive even though censorship had ended in 1695.  These cartoons had more lurid themes than those which had gone before, mocking public figures for their private vices and scandals.  This was a change from attacking these people for their public failings.  They were hand coloured etchings rather than black and white woodcuts.

The visual pun was often based on contrast, for example, Britannia with Magna Carta and a ship to illustrate our dominance of the seas pitched against French Liberty, portrayed as a bloodthirsty demon with blood and dead bodies. Portrait caricatures were also very popular, though individuals often not named so we, like the audiences at the time, have to guess who they are.  Most scholarship focuses on the prints themselves, but it is just as important that we ask ourselves how many people saw them: we know, for example, that they were referenced in letters and diaries but it’s difficult to know how representative such documents were. In fact, there is no evidence of the size of print runs and only limited evidence of their reach.  Nevertheless, it was still a visual culture, with only limited literacy, so has been assumed they were popular and everyone could understand them.  But Dr Miller argued that they perhaps weren’t as popular as we’ve thought.

Dr Henry Miller talks to audience members about the cartoons

In fact they were quite expensive.  One of the interesting paradoxes is that the people satirised were the same sort of people who bought them (although many more people could see them in print shops without buying them). Woodcuts cost only one or half a penny, but coloured engravings could be several shillings.  Until the 1820s they had only small print runs, because copper is a soft metal; although it was useful for detailed prints it also deteriorated quickly.  Where a copper engraving was used, there was a maximum of 2000 impressions.  Woodcuts, on the other hand, could produce hundreds of thousands of copies.

The size of the audience was also limited by their geography.  The prints were sold in London to an aristocratic clientele and dealt with London season (though people did buy them when they visited London for the season and then took them home).  Furthermore, they really only dealt with London issues, so, for example, although factory regulation was a political hot potato, it is hardly visible in the cartoons of the period.  The cartoons also assumed that you knew and understood the context, so Dr Miller argued that they might have been aimed at the political elite rather than the general public.  He suggested that historians should use a more sophisticated approach to understanding cartoons: we need a greater degree of differentiation. Those that are simpler were more accessible.  Likewise, some have larger print runs and therefore a greater reach.

Members of the audience looking at items from Bolton Museum’s collection of satirical prints

Dr Miller also pointed out that political cartoons are often thought to be important in forming a sense of national identity, for example, during the 1793-1815 wars with France.  The French Revolution was initially welcomed by the English liberals. The cartoonist Gillray often pointed out that the British were better off than the French even if they didn’t apparently have the same rights.  Many crude themes appear during the 1790s, in cartoons which were often very patriotic, anti-French and anti-domestic reform.   But they were not uniformly conformist as some do criticise.  John Bull began to appear at this time, representing the people and often criticising the government over taxation even though he’s patriotic. He symbolised public opinion and public suffering as a result of a long period of war.

Between 1815 and 1832, cartoons symbolised a period of radicalism and reform. After the war there were new technologies that allowed caricatures to reach a larger potential audience.  These lithograph prints were much cheaper and therefore more popular and popularly available.  They required less pre-existing knowledge as images become more naturalistic.  A radical, political, reform movement emerged and was repressed after the Peterloo massacre.  It wished to widen the franchise. The belief was that if places like Manchester and Bolton were represented politically, the voice for reform would be much stronger. This also meant that it was in the system’s interest to keep things as they were.  All reform opposed until 1830 by conservatives.  The caricature of this period was much more critical of the government, representing all the key themes of the reformers. The old state was portrayed as corrupt, reaping the rewards of taxation while the people suffered.  The use of irony became commonplace, for example, Cruickshank’s cartoon ‘The System that Works so Well’.  Earl Grey reformed the franchise after the fall of the Tory government in 1830. The removal of rotten boroughs helped to rebalance the system and also made it more representative of the people.  This led to a huge increase in prints in 1830-31. They portray reform of the political system as a way of improving life for a lot of people.  Often, they showed rotten boroughs/boroughmongers being supported by a Tory such as Wellington or Peel and being brought down by Earl Grey. Anti-reformists were often portrayed as vermin, especially rats, or as thieves picking the pockets of John Bull.  They were frequently carried off to hell by the devil.  Reform was always portrayed as a good thing, but there was no image in the caricatures of who the new voters would be.  Instead, it was largely about breaking the power of the vested interests in order to open the way for lower taxes which would benefit everyone: a generalised idea of “better things”.  When the Reform Bill was passed these hopes were dashed as the hated taxes remained.

Members of the audience looking at items from Bolton Museum’s collection of satirical prints

Dr Miller’s lecture was fascinating, using many examples from the Museum’s archive collection of political cartoons, and it was particularly interesting to hear how they related to local history.  Following the lecture, we were able to see some of the very cartoons that he had talked about up close.  This was our first attempt to link up with a local archive to give this sort of hands-on experience to our members and the public alike, and those who were there really appreciated the opportunity to experience these materials at close quarters.  The turnout, however, was a little disappointing, and we hope that more people will join us if we run a similar event next year.

New Worktown Anthology Project

We have received the following information about a Worktown observation project running through August:

Are you interested in joining a writing project with a difference during August? Live from Worktown, the Bolton-based community arts organisation, is looking for people who would like to walk in the footsteps of one the town’s most successful authors, Bill Naughton.

Bill, who died 25 years ago, is known for his classic short stories, stage plays and film scripts including ‘Spring and Port Wine’ and ‘Alfie’, but developed his writing skills as an observer for the Mass Observation project which took place in the town between 1938 and 1940. Observers discretely recorded the behaviour and language of everyday Boltonians in everyday places, from work place, sports field, chip shops, pubs, chapels, and union meetings. A major collection of their writing is held by Bolton Library and Museums Service. Now Live from Worktown is looking to work with two groups of modern day observers over four weeks in August  with the aim to get some of their modern observations in the new Live from Worktown anthology to be published in November. Dave Morgan, of Live from Worktown’ said ‘we are looking for a group of eight young people in their teens, who will work through the Xpress Urself Youth Project at Commerce House, and a group of eight older residents who will meet at the Fusion Centre in Tonge Moor’. Meetings will be held each Thursday in August; the youth group will meet from

10.30-12.30 and the older group will meet from 1.30-3.30. The tutor for both groups will be Julie McKiernan. At the end of the four weeks both groups will meet and share their observations. Selected pieces will go in the new anthology. There is no charge for the project thanks to support from Bolton at Home and Bolton Library and Museum Service.

For more information contact Ryan O’Sullivan of Xpress Urself (07763056234 or or Dave Morgan (07954996826 or