Samuel Hird and Lancashire mill life


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Dr James Peters writes:


Samuel Hird (1878-1956), factory inspector

The Library has recently acquired the papers of Samuel Hird (1878-1956), a factory inspector in Manchester during the first half of the twentieth century.  This archive provides an original and illuminating perspective on industrial life and work, which complements the official (public) records of the Factory Inspectorate, held at The National Archives.

We are fortunate that this archive has survived. After Hird’s death in 1956, his papers were passed to family members, until they came to rest in the attic of his son’s home in Orpington, Kent. There they remained until 2015, when his granddaughters began to investigate the collection. Realising their significance, they very kindly offered to donate the archive to the Library.

Samuel Hird was a factory inspector  in Manchester from 1908 to 1941. At retirement he was the superintending inspector for the East Lancashire division, i.e. the senior factory inspector in the Greater Manchester region. Hird’s papers describe this working life. He was a reflective man, who wrote about his work throughout his professional life and retirement.  Hird was an acknowledged expert on the cotton industry, and witnessed the changes in that industry as it went from its Edwardian prime to the inter-war slump.

Perhaps the most important constituent of this archive is Hird’s unpublished memoir, a lengthy manuscript conceived “as an attempt to record the life and times in which I lived”.  This is an extremely informative document which describes Lancashire factory and mill life over several decades of change and upheaval. Hird describes not only the work of the factory inspector, but also offers his reflections about the economic, social and political contexts in which it was undertaken.


Extract from Samuel Hird’s memoir.

Hird’s memoir is perhaps most informative about the Lancashire cotton industry. He was deeply ambivalent about the industry; as a patriotic Lancastrian, he appreciated its global economic success, but he was critical of the human cost to the millworkers. This was something he knew from personal experience, having worked in his teens as a little piecer – the junior member of a mule-spinning team – in an Oldham mill.  Hird seems to have hated his time there, finding the environment alien and hostile: “Everybody was driving or being driven, and the machinery set the pace for all”.   Here he witnessed the short-cuts taken with safety: “there is no place like a cotton mill…for learning awareness of danger.” As visits from ‘T’Finer’ (as factory inspectors were known locally from their former powers to levy fines directly) were rare, employers paid scant attention to the Factory Acts.

By sheer hard work, Samuel Hird managed to escape the mill. He studied at night school in Oldham, and then at Owens College, where he took a degree in engineering. After a short period teaching, he became a factory inspector initially in the West Midlands, and then in the [South] East Lancashire Division, centred on Manchester, which was considered to be a particularly complex and challenging posting.

The Factory Inspectorate had been created by the Factory Act of 1833 to oversee enforcement of statutory factory regulations. The Factory Acts had initially focussed on the working conditions of children, but over time, inspectors became involved in wider issues of health and safety.

The memoir provides a wealth of information about how factory inspectors conducted their work through routine and special inspections, dealt with recalcitrant employers in the courts, and tried to educate both employers and workers in health and safety matters. Hird became the Inspectorate’s acknowledged expert on the cotton industry, and having experienced mill life he had few illusions about the industry: “the cotton trade was the one trade in which there was a deliberate intention to cheat operatives and to evade the most important provisions of the Factory Acts.” Inspectors spent much time in ensuring mill machinery was properly fenced off, and that workers were not subjected to “time cribbing” (the illegal use of time to operate and clean machinery).

The memoir notes the differences within the cotton industry in different localities, for example, between spinning firms in Bolton and Oldham. On balance, Hird  believed that some of the older family-run firms were better in complying with the Factory Acts than the “Oldham Limiteds”, believing standards at the latter were poor because of excessive competition between too many firms. However, he was also damning about the mediocrity of some second- and third-generation family firms, and welcomed the growing professionalism of management in some of the larger cotton combines, which saw greater compliance with safety regulations.

Looking back on his work at the end of his life, Hird  believed that factory inspectors had achieved their greatest successes through education and suasion, rather than prosecutions:  “the best results are achieved …by the quiet unobtrusive workings of a comparatively small number of people…teaching self help with competent and active guidance, and, above all, introducing and cultivating that spirit of good will through which alone reform is accomplished.”

Samuel Hird’s papers are an important addition to our existing collection of archives relating to industrial history, which include the records of cotton spinning trades unions and employers’ associations. They provide a vivid sense of what factory and mill life was like in this period, and of the struggle to make it more humane.

Incidences of Syphilis Amongst Jefferson’s Neurosurgery Patients


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There are a handful of incidents of syphilis, more specifically neurosyphilis, amongst Geoffrey Jefferson’s neurosurgery patient files. Given the prevalence of syphilis during the first half of the 20th century prior to the widespread introduction of penicillin in the 1940s this is hardly surprising. The onset of neurological symptoms can come at any point in the course of infection and can easily be mistaken for a number of other neurological manifestations, hence why these cases were referred to Jefferson. The diagnosis of syphilis was usually unknown when these patients were first sent to Jefferson, but knowing how common neurological symptoms as a result of syphilis were the majority of Jefferson’s patients were tested for the infection soon after their admission. Once it had been determined that they were not suffering from any form of brain tumour and so would not benefit from surgical treatment these patients would be transferred over to the medical wards where mercury was still employed as a treatment.

The detrimental effects of syphilis can be seen in many different types of medical archives, most notably 19th/20th century asylum records where patients were admitted suffering from ‘general paralysis’. Further reading of some of Jefferson’s cases can reveal the general symptoms associated with neurosyphilis, the very varied demographics of its sufferers, and in some cases the attitudes to such a diagnosis.

Case 1



Patient 1931/96 was an 11 year old boy admitted to the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) on 24 August 1931 presenting with recurrent watering from his eyes, sudden development of almost complete blindness, discharge from the ears, and headaches over his eyes. Originally a cerebellar tumour was suspected but x-rays showed no evidence of this and the Wassermann reaction (a test for syphilis) came back strongly positive. Once it was established there was nothing that could be done for the boy surgically he was transferred over to the medical wards with a diagnosis of syphilis of the central nervous system.

Case 2

Patient 1932/2, a 25 year old salesman, was admitted to the MRI on 16 January 1932 with a suspected cerebral tumour presenting with headaches, signs of aphasia, vomiting, and weakness in the right leg. Following a positive Wassermann reaction and confirmation of syphilitic meningitis Jefferson comments in the patient’s notes:

“Father told diagnosis – grieved and puzzled. [Patient] says he had intercourse only with friends of the family and sisters of his friends – plenty of them apparently! Can’t think which one infected him. (That’s his story).”

The patient was then discharged and treated for his condition at home.


Case 3



Patient 1934/238, was a 45 year old female shopkeeper admitted to the MRI in 1934. She did not present with the same psychological or neurological symptoms as some of the other patients but rather had developed large abscesses of the head and shoulder. A diagnosis of chronic syphilitic osteomyelitis (bone infection) of the skull was arrived and with consultation from the orthopaedic surgeon Sir Harry Platt her abscesses were aspirated.



The Jefferson case files are a fantastic source not only for the study of the manifestation of disease and the development of different treatments but also the various attitudes expressed by both medical staff and patients surrounding such issues as sexually transmitted diseases, fear of hospital treatment, and attitudes to women.

The Sons of C.P. Scott, and The Scott Trust


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This month’s blog post focuses upon Edward Taylor Scott, and John Russell Scott, sons of C.P. Scott, both of whom worked at the Manchester Guardian, E.T. Scott as a journalist, and J.R. Scott as business manager.

E.T. Scott succeeded his father as editor of the paper on C.P. Scott’s retirement in 1929, but his time in this role was to be short, owing to his unexpected death in 1932 in a boating accident on Lake Windermere, in the company of his son, Richard. He would outlive his father by less than 4 months.

The overriding intention of both E.T. Scott and J.R. Scott, following the death of their father, was to ensure that the Manchester Guardian continued to operate according to the ideals and standards set by C.P. Scott. It was a little poignant, therefore, to discover the last letter ever written by J.R. Scott to his brother, in 1932, and for that letter to relate to the Scott brothers’ last will and testaments, the appointment of executors, and the preparation of an agreement for the distribution of their shares in the Manchester Guardian.


Reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd

The envelope which contained the letter has also been included, and has been inscribed, in an unknown hand: ‘Letter written to E.T.S. on the day of his death and posted to him at Windermere – recovered unopened.’


Reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd

Following his brother’s death, in accordance with this proposed agreement, J.R. Scott bought all of his brother’s shares, becoming the sole holder of the ordinary shares in the paper. The death duties generated by E.T. Scott’s unexpected demise meant that J.R. Scott had to find a new solution for ensuring the future of the Manchester Guardian as the Liberal paper of international renown that his father had shaped.

J.R. Scott’s answer was the creation of The Scott Trust. He divested himself of all financial interest in the paper, transferring all of the ordinary shares to the trust, and appointed seven trustees, who would henceforth be responsible for the management of the paper. These seven trustees included J.R. Scott’s son, Lawrence Scott, his nephew, Evelyn Montague, and the editors of the Manchester Guardian and the Manchester Evening News, W.P. Crozier and Sir William Haley.

The core purpose of The Scott Trust is outlined as: ‘to secure the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity: as a quality national newspaper without party affiliation; remaining faithful to its liberal tradition; as a profit-seeking enterprise managed in an efficient and cost-effective manner.’

E.T. Scott’s son, Richard Scott, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a journalist, and also a member of the Scott Trust. Today, the Guardian continues to be owned and managed by The Scott Trust Ltd, and there is still a member of the Scott family on the board, Russell Scott. As a result of J.R. Scott’s unusually selfless action, he was able to achieve for perpetuity the pledge to the future of the Manchester Guardian that he and his brother made in 1932.


Researching the Macklin Bible (1800), by Dr Naomi Billingsley

Art History UoM Index

The John Rylands Research Institute is a diverse community of researchers, working in partnership with the John Rylands Library. I joined the Institute last month as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, and I am also affiliated with Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester. I was previously at Manchester for my PhD (2012-2015), which focused on William Blake’s depictions of Christ.

My new research project is about the Macklin Bible. Thomas Macklin (1752/3-1800) was a publisher and dealer of pictures, based in London in the late eighteenth century. In 1788 he opened a ‘Poet’s Gallery’ to exhibit and reproduce in engravings paintings by eminent British artists of great works of English poetry. The following year, Macklin announced that he would add scripture pictures to the exhibition, which would be reproduced in an ambitious illustrated Bible. Biblical paintings were included in Macklin’s exhibitions in the years 1790-93, and the printed…

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Celebrating Robert Angus Smith, ‘Father of Acid Rain’, born 200 years ago today


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Robert Angus Smith (1817-84). Copyright The Royal Society of Chemistry.

15 February 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Robert Angus Smith, chemist and environmental scientist, popularly known as the ‘Father of Acid Rain’.

Smith was born in Pollokshaws near Glasgow, on 15 February 1817, and attended Glasgow University, though he left without a degree after only one year. He later obtained a PhD in Germany under Justus von Liebig.

In 1843 Smith was appointed as assistant to Lyon Playfair, professor of chemistry at the Manchester Royal Institution. Although Playfair moved to London in 1845, Smith remained in Manchester for the next twenty years, working as an analytical chemist. He investigated and campaigned against the appalling sanitary conditions in Manchester and the surrounding towns, where industrial pollution was a major health hazard. He was appointed the first chief inspector under the Alkali Act of 1863.

Smith graphically described the effects of Manchester’s polluted atmosphere, in a letter to the Manchester Guardian published on 2 November 1844:

Coming in from the country last week on a beautiful morning, when the air was unusually clear and fresh, I was surprised to find Manchester was enjoying the atmosphere of a dark December day… Those who would defend such evils, who would remain careless as long as any probable cause is unremoved, must surely be devoid not only of mercy, but of clear perception and of good taste. The gloominess of uncleanness is everywhere around us.

Smith studied the effects of pollution on the atmosphere, which resulted in the formation of carbonic acid, or ‘acid rain’ – a term he coined. In 1872 he published his seminal analysis of the acidity of rainwater in Britain, Air and Rain: The Beginning of a Chemical Climatology. In many ways he was a forerunner of today’s environmentalists, although it would take another hundred years before governments heeded his warnings about acid rain.


Rainwater crystals, from Robert Angus Smith, Air and Rain: The Beginnings of a Chemical Climatology (London: Longmans, Green, 1872). This copy was presented by Smith to the physicist James Prescott Joule. Pressmark: J200011.

The Library holds the Smith Memorial Collection of books on chemistry and physics, which was formed by Smith and donated after his death to Owens College (forerunner of The University of Manchester) in 1885.

Jeff Nuttall oral history project


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Imogen Durant writes:

Did you know Jeff Nuttall? We are working on an exciting new oral history project and want to get in touch with anyone who knew or worked with Jeff. The project aims to capture and record memories of people who knew Jeff, both personally and professionally. These recordings will make up a digital sound archive which will supplement our written collection of Jeff Nuttall’s papers in the Special Collections of  the University of Manchester Library.


Jeff Nuttall. Photograph courtesy of Christine Bank.

Jeff was a Lancashire-born poet, artist, jazz musician, novelist, social commentator, critic and teacher who was at the centre of the 1960s international underground and has been the subject of the Off Beat exhibition currently on display at the John Rylands Library. This exhibition closes on 5th March so make sure you visit in the next three weeks to avoid disappointment! A great opportunity to visit would be on Thursday 16th February, when the Library will be hosting Rip It Up: A Celebration of the Counter-Culture. Follow this link for more information.

If you knew, or are in contact with anyone who knew Jeff, and think that your memories could contribute to Jeff’s archive, we want to hear from you. Please contact Imogen Durant and George Bickers: and


80th Birthday Celebrations for Delia Derbyshire


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Janette Martin writes:

Special Collections holds several literary and artistic collections which document the avant-garde culture of the post-war era.  One of the most fascinating concerns the life and work of Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001), composer and pioneer of British electronic music.

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We are delighted to be working with the music charity Delia Derbyshire Day (DD Day) to celebrate what would have been Delia’s eightieth birthday year in 2017. DD Day has been awarded funding from the Heritage National Fund for its “Delia Derbyshire 80th birthday electronic music heritage project”, a programme of activities and events that will run from February 2017 to January 2018. This initiative aims to increase the awareness of and engagement with the heritage of the Delia Derbyshire Archive held here at The John Rylands Library. The project is led by Caro Churchill, a Manchester-based electronic musician and co-founder (with Ailis Ni Riain and Naomi Kashiwagi) of Delia Derbyshire Day.

Activities will include a DD Day in Manchester with some very special guests, a “Deliaphonic Soundbank” interactive web platform, two short films about Delia and her archive, a DD Day event at Full of Noises Festival in Barrow-in-Furness exploring Delia’s Cumbrian connections, an education project in two primary schools in Manchester, and a symposium in partnership with Digital Women’s Archive North (DWAN).

Project partners include the Delia Derbyshire Estate, the John Rylands Library, the University of Manchester, One Education Music, Full of Noises Festival, Digital Women’s Archive North, and Band on the Wall.

Nathan Lee, Head of HLF North West commented: “We’re delighted to support this project to shine a light, not only the pioneering impact of Delia Derbyshire’s work, but also on this significant and fascinating part of the John Rylands Library. Thanks to National Lottery players, DD Day can share the musical roots of electronic music to a new generation.”

Key dates & project outputs:

5 May 2017 – Delia’s 80th Birthday – launch of new website, short film about the DD Archive, and “Deliaphonic Soundbank” (an interactive web platform) public engagement activity.

10 June 2017 – DD Day 2017 MCR at Band on the Wall – electronic music-making workshops for families and an evening music/arts event with archive sharing, expert panel discussion/Q&A, live music/visual art performances.

5 Aug 2017 – DD Day touring event at the Full Of Noises (FON) Festival in Barrow-in-Furness, participatory workshops for families and evening cultural heritage event with archive sharing, panel discussion/Q&A, live music/visual art performances.

Sept-Nov 2017 – 8-week education project in 2 schools in Manchester including production of a short film about the DD Archive by the young participants.

5 Dec 2017 – DD Day and Digital Women’s Archive North (DWAN) symposium at the Anthony Burgess Foundation.

For further information visit

Follow this link to find out more about the Delia Derbyshire Collection held at the University of Manchester.

Archives and Records Association NW Photographic Day


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Until recently our collection of photography here at The John Rylands Library was un-curated and in large parts unknown.  This means that we haven’t actively managed the material, developed, interpreted or used it to support our engagement activity, either with our academic or public audiences. However, since the creation of the Visual Collections Department in 2013, this has gradually begun to change and we are attempting to better understand our photography collection, and in some cases actually discovering what we have, and then trying to work out ways that our audiences can have better access to it.

On the 25th. January we got the opportunity to share some of our photographic collections with a group of Archivists from the North West at a workshop looking at the identification and interpretation of photographs.  This was especially exciting as it was the inaugural outing of our newly donated handling collection, which had been given to us by Prof Roger Taylor.  This collection contains examples of many different forms of photography, including Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes,  Carte de Visite, Cabinet Cards as well as an exciting array of photographic paraphernalia.

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The session started with an exercise in forensically examining a series of photographs to find out how and what we can tell from the image. Could the participants ‘read’ the pictures and have an attempt at telling the story without any previous knowledge of the subject. It’s amazing what you can tell once you start articulating what it is you’re looking at: the groups looked at the people, their clothing and the setting.

For the next exercise each group was given a tray with 4 or 5 photographs on to try and determine what type of photograph they were.  Here the handling collection came into its own as the participants were able to hold, wobble and interrogate the items as much lively debate ensued. It’s quite unusual for these items to be out on the table for people to handle, even when wearing our special luminous gloves, due to the delicate nature of photographs; so we’re thrilled to be able to utilize Prof Taylor’s generous gift in this way.

Behind the Scenes of an Exhibition: Show and Tell!


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The last couple of months have been a flurry of activity as we prepare the information to accompany the objects which will be displayed in the exhibition.  The group has been working closely with a team of designers to come up with a design concept to support the objects.  This would be a unifying look for the panels, labels, leaflets and other promotional materials we need.

Queen Victoria's Glove

Queen Victoria’s Glove

We thought it was difficult choosing the themes and objects to use, but this proved easy in comparison to deciding which design concept to go with.  Decisions included which typography, font, colour palette and lay out to use.  The objects we chose provoked such an emotional response that it was often difficult to keep within the word limits for each panel.  There was also debate about the clarity of the language we used in describing the objects and the need to be aware of any ‘technical’ words and phrases that might alienate some audience members.

The Marketing Team came to the fore just before Christmas as they began to implement their Marketing and Communication Plan.  Some members of the Working Group were recorded sharing their thoughts about the objects and their emotional connection to them.  These recordings will be uploaded to the microsite for the exhibition nearer to the launch date.

Filming for the Exhibition

Filming for the Exhibition

The role of the Marketing Team is to drive attendance at the exhibition from our target audiences and encourage engagement with the content.  While the curators’ involvement is mainly practical it is our colleagues in marketing that add an extra dimension to the process by getting the message out there.  Their plans include using social media, print advertising and creating a micro-site for the exhibition.

The exhibition is not just about ‘show and tell’, the group hope that it will elicit an emotional response from the audience, which they will share with us.  At the moment we are looking at ways to record and share this feedback.

Karen Jacques & Clare Baker