Not a grass roots movement

I decided to see if I could find out who the people mentioned in these newspaper reports were.   I did some “googling” and discovered two useful sources of information.  One was Wigan World, a website with all sorts of interesting stuff about Wigan and its history.  The other was the index of the Haigh Estate records held by Wigan Archives.

Thomas Fairhurst, the Hon. Secretary of the committee, was the schoolmaster of St John the Baptist School.  As I mentioned in an earlier post Rev. Bryan was the vicar of the parish of Haigh and Aspull.  The Rev. James was his curate at the time, in charge of the church in New Springs, one of the poorer parts of the parish.  Mr Hewlett, Mr W.H. Hewlett and Mr C.G. Jackson, the gentlemen who liberally subscribed to the society, were probably officials of Wigan Coal and Iron Company, the mining company owned by the Earl of Crawford.  Most of the people in New Springs would have worked for Wigan Coal and Iron Company either underground or on the surface or they would have relied on mining for their income.   So the people who financed the flower shows would have been their bosses.

(The interesting thing here was that the Earl and Countess in 1878,79 reports were different from the Earl and Countess in the 1882, 84 reports. Alexander William Crawford Lindsay, 25th Earl of Crawford, 8th Earl of Balcarres  died in 1880, the body was stolen, found some time later and a local poacher was convicted of grave-robbing.  His son, James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford, 9th Earl of Balcarres succeeded him.)

I had been imagining some of the ways in which the allotments might have come into being.  Each year Wigan holds the Diggers Festival, commemorating Gerard Winstanley, a social reformer and political activist in the 17th century, who was born in Wigan.  He started the group called the Diggers or True Levellers.  He organised people who had no land of their own to occupy common land to farm and grow crops.  This was seen as a threat by the landowners who violently put the movement down.  How cool would it have been if the NSHS had started in the tradition of Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers.  The nineteenth century was the peak period of coal production in Wigan, creating a lot of wealth for some people, but it was also a time of atrocious poverty for most people, with unrest, strikes, the beginning of the unions and of socialism.  Maybe the allotments were an offshoot of all that.  However it seems not.  It would appear that the allotment movement in New Springs was not a grass roots initiative by poor people who wanted to improve their own lives by growing vegetables.  It somehow evolved from a flower show organised for them by the clergy and funded by wealthy landowners and industrialists.

In the 1881 Aspull directory I found the people involved in the disagreement in 1882.  Mr Holker, who made the complaint was listed as Peter Holker, shopkeeper, 47 Liverpool street.  Edward Foy (presumably Mrs Foy was his wife) was a cart owner, 128 Cale Lane and William Crewdson was the manager of Albion Iron Works, 45 Ivy View, Bark Hill.   I wondered what the back story was between them.  Whatever it was – they were some of the better off people in New Springs.  I wonder if there had been any miners involved at all.

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