Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing . . .

It’s one of the big ‘what ifs’ of British history.

Lost_Portrait_of_Charles_Edward_StuartHow would Britain as a nation and British society have evolved had the 1745-46 Jacobite Rising of the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie (or, to give him his full name: Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart, born 31 December 1720, died 31 January 1788) been successful. Would there still be a Union? But he wasn’t successful, and this uprising ended with the last battle fought on British soil at Culloden in 1746. It had a long-lasting impact on Scotland, particularly in the Highlands.

He raised his standard at Glenfinnan on the west coast of Scotland on 19 August 1745 in a bid to reclaim the throne for his father (The Old Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart, son of deposed King James II, and accepted by many as the rightful heir) from the ‘usurper Hanoverians’.

During our recent road trip round Scotland we came across a number of sites associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 1745. Having made our trip counter-clockwise, we reached Glenfinnan on the penultimate day of our holiday. The weather was atrocious: driving rain and strong winds. In fact I had wanted to make the 15 mile or so detour west of Fort William to see the Glenfinnan viaduct on the railway connecting Fort William and Mallaig. For all you Harry Potter fans, the steam train that runs on this West Highland line featured as The Hogwarts Express in several films.

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The Glenfinnan Monument.

When we arrived at the Glenfinnan visitor centre, I realized that I had seen the Glenfinnan Monument (that commemorates the raising of the standard) on a couple of previous occasions, but never in such weather. We did get tickets to climb the monument—maximum four people at a time plus the guide. It’s an extremely steep and tight stone spiral staircase up the monument, and you have to almost limbo dance to squeeze out through the manhole, that couldn’t have been more than 18 inches square. I did manage my photo of the viaduct from there, and just as we walked back to the Visitor Centre, we heard the steam train puffing its way through the station, where we had been no more than 20 minutes previously. No-one had cared to advise us that the steam train was expected imminently!

During the 1745 uprising, the Jacobites marched south into England, reaching Derby by early December. And it was at this point that they effectively lost their campaign. Some historians believe that the Hanoverian government forces could have been defeated at that time, but Charles Edward Stuart turned round and led his forces back into Scotland, where they were caught and defeated at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746. The battle site is just east of Inverness, managed by the National Trust for Scotland property, and seemingly the site for pilgrimage by people of Scots ancestry from all over the world. The displays and explanations of the battle in the visitors centre are excellent.

1746 Culloden battlefield, east of Inverness.

Site of the Battle of Culloden, east of Inverness, on 16 April 1746

In South Uist we passed by the birthplace of Flora MacDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape into exile after Culloden, and also near where she is buried in the north of Skye.

While compiling information for this blog post, I’ve discovered a ‘personal’ link to Bonnie Prince Charlie. My home town is Leek in North Staffordshire: The Queen of the Moorlands. The Jacobite army passed through Leek in December 1745 on its way south. After turning round at Derby, it passed through Leek once again and there is anecdotal evidence that Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed the night in a small house at the top of the Market Place, just across the road from where I used to live, and next to the vicarage of the Church of St Edward the Confessor (where Jacobite soldiers sharpened their swords on a stone cross in the churchyard).

Yesterday, however, I read another account that states that the Prince did not stay in this house after all, but lodged instead in a much finer house, one built in the late 17th century, and located about 200 m east on Stockwell Street. Now a listed building, ‘Greystones’, was once divided into two apartments and rented by the local authority. From 1976 until the mid-1980s, my parents resided in the apartment on the upper two floors. I never had the least inkling whenever I visited them there that this just might have been the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie lay his weary head and dreamed on what might have been.


‘Greystones’ is a late 17th century listed building on Stockwell Street in Leek. It stands in front of the local library, art gallery and museum, the Nicholson Institute, the tower of which can be seen behind. ‘Greystones’ was once occupied by silk manufacturer Joshua Nicholson, who built the Institute in 1884.

With a little help from my friends . . .

These days, I feel I can easily remember things that happened decades ago during my childhood. Ask me what I did yesterday or at least during the past few days and I often struggle to remember the details.

But recently I’ve been reminded of things that did happen 50 or more years ago that I had most definitely forgotten. And through the power of the Internet, and most probably Google, I have reconnected with a couple of childhood friends who I had not been in contact with for more than 50 years.

When I started this blog more than two years ago I never expected that long-lost friends would be in contact with me.

Almost two years ago, on 5 April 2012, I posted a story about the Beatles and my childhood love of skiffle music. I included this photo, and mentioned that the boy and little girl listening to me and my brother Ed were my best friend in Leek, Geoff Sharratt, and his sister Susan. A few months later I was contacted by Susan who had been doing some genealogy research and came across my blog. I’ve been in touch with Geoff on a regular basis since then, and posted another story in November 2012 about us renewing our friendship. We certainly had a lot to catch up on.


The Jackson Duo strutting their stuff, watched by their mother and friends Geoff and Susan Sharratt

5. Geoff, Sue and Mike Jackson above Rudyard Lake

Geoff, Susan and Mike in the late 50s, overlooking Rudyard Lake near Leek

Geoff and Sue

Geoff and Sue

Then in the middle of February, out of the blue I received a message from Alan Brennan, my first and best friend when I was growing up in Congleton. Alan has certainly filled in some gaps in my memories. I left Congleton in April 1956 when I was seven; Alan is 13 months younger than me. Although we lived just a few doors away from each other we didn’t go to the same school. But whenever we were home it seems to me that we were inseparable and got into some scrapes.

That’s me in the center of the photo below, partially dressed as a native American (sans war bonnet) and carrying a stick. Alan is to my right, the little boy looking rather shy in short trousers in front of the pirate, my elder brother Ed.

Coronation Day 1953


Alan has continued to live in Congleton, and like me has now retired. Here are a couple of photos he sent me recently. In the 1955 photo we were having a picnic at Rocky Pool near Timbersbrook, just east of Congleton. Alan’s parents are standing, a family friend is seated. In the background is the Brennan’s car – a Vauxhall Wyvern. I mentioned to Alan in one of our emails that I did indeed remember the car and thought it was a Wyvern, which he confirmed. The old memory was certainly working on that detail!


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May Day celebrations, pre-1956. That’s me on the left, and my brother Ed on the right. I’m not sure if that’s Alan standing on my left. Looks like Alan’s Dad’s car in the top left corner.


Alan with his wife Lyn

Alan with his wife Lyn

Leek – Queen of the Moorlands (updated 2014-04-28)

April 1956. Did my world fall apart? I probably thought so at the time.

We moved from Congleton in Cheshire (where I was born seven years earlier) to the small market town of Leek in north Staffordshire. Less than 12 miles away, but it could have been another planet for all I was concerned.

New town, new home, new school, and new friends.

When I say ‘small market town’ I always was under the impression that Leek had a population of about 20,000 when we moved there in 1956. So I was quite surprised to note in the 2001 census that the population was a smidgen under 19,000. It seems the population has changed very little over the past century.

I’m not sure that I could say that Leek is a picturesque town, but it’s certainly a very interesting one, with some remarkable features and history (the link gives a pretty comprehensive account). And it’s surrounded by some of the most glorious landscapes in the country, the Staffordshire moorlands on the southern edge of the Peak District (the UK’s first national park). Although I was not born there, and actually only lived there for a little over a decade before moving away to university (and moving on) I still think of Leek as my home-town – and proudly so!

In the 1960s panorama below, taken from the top of Ladderedge (on the southwest of the town, besides the main road linking Leek with Stoke-on-Trent – the Potteries) looking towards the northeast, you can see many of the distinctive features of the Leek skyline.

1-13 Leek

Just to left of center is the square tower of the 13th century Anglican Church of St Edward the Confessor (although there is some evidence for a pre-Norman church in the vicinity), and to the right of center, the tall spire of the Roman Catholic church, St Mary’s (which we attended), built in 1887, although there had been earlier churches.

Church of St Edward the Confessor

To the right of St Mary’s spire is the white clock tower of Leek’s impressive war memorial, the Nicholson War Memorial, commonly known as The Monument (at the eastern end of the main shopping Derby Street), and to the right of that another Anglican church, St Luke’s, with a square tower and a small spire to one side.

The Nicholson War Memorial (the Monument), photographed in April 2012. The roundabout has now disappeared – a great local controversy – as part of road ‘improvements’ to ease the flow of traffic.

This video below (linked to the Nicholson Memorial web site) shows the dedication of the Monument in 1925 (it can be slow to load sometimes).

And in the middle of the panorama rises the impressive green copper dome (no longer green) of the Nicholson Institute, housing the public library and art gallery (including a facsimile of the Bayeux Tapestry) and (in the past at least when I was growing up) a celebration of much of Leek’s wealth that was built on the silk weaving industry. Indeed, textile manufacturing and dyeing were among the main industrial endeavours in Leek, and quite a few of the mills and their chimneys can be seen on the Leek skyline. In the mid-60s a couple of these were destroyed by fire within the space of just one week – very dramatic happenings in a small town. William Morris, a prominent member of the Arts and Crafts Movement, may have resided in Leek for several years.

The central area of Leek is bounded by five streets: St Edward Street on the west, Stockwell Street on the north, Brook Street/Hayward Street on the south, and Ball Haye Street on the east. And these are through routes connecting Leek with Buxton to the northeast, Macclesfield to the north-west, the Potteries to the southwest, and Ashbourne to the east.

We lived in a couple of properties in St Edward Street where my father established his photographic retail business between our arrival in Leek in 1956 until 1962.

Then my father was able to purchase a prime site in the Market Place, which he kept until his retirement in 1976. I’ve recently discovered that 19 Market Place is now a shop selling home-made jewellery – Little Gem. That’s quite interesting since my wife’s main hobby is making bead jewellery. We must visit next time we are in Leek. But I digress . . .

Leek was granted a charter to hold a market on Wednesdays during the reign of King John at the beginning of the 13th century. And that market thrives today. In the valley of the River Churnet, and on the north-west of the town lie the rather depleted ruins of a Cistercian abbey, Dieulacres; many of the stones were used in local building after Henry VIII’s men had done their business, and particularly in the Abbey Inn that is found close by.

Leek was connected to the growing canal system in 1801, with a branch of the Caldon Canal. It closed in the mid-1940s, and was eventually filled in (now part of an industrial estate on the southeast side of the town). Famous 18th century canal engineer James Brindley lived in Leek for many years. Until the 1960s Leek was served with rail connections, but after these ended, the station was demolished in 1973. The last steam trains from Leek in 1965 are shown in the video below.

I read recently of plans to try and reopen the mothballed railway link between Leek and Stoke. The web site has some stunning photos of steam locomotives near Cauldon Lowe.

Close by the Monument is the bus station, opened in the 60s on the site of the former cattle market (that moved afterwards close to the site of the old railway station. Thanks to my old friend Geoff Sharratt for sharing these two photos with me.

We never talked politics at home. I suspect my parents voted Conservative, but I do not know for sure. When we lived in Congleton my father was elected to the local council – Congleton was a borough with a mayor. Not long after we moved to Leek my father sought election to the Leek Urban District Council – as an Independent since he strongly believed that national political affiliations had little or no place in local government. In 1968 he became Chairman of the Leek Urban District Council.

In the 1950s and 60s as I was growing up in Leek the annual Club Day, a 200 year-old tradition, held in mid-July was (and still is, apparently) a very important event in the town’s calendar. Held on a Saturday afternoon, it brought together churches and Sunday schools of all denominations in an ecumenical celebration, held in the Market Place. It was a riot of colour and best outfits, banners and bands, with the children and their parents and friends processing from the individual churches to the Market Place, and afterwards around the town.

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Today it seems that Club Day in Leek is rather a different celebration altogether. My elder brother Ed and I took part for a number of years with the St Mary’s 5th Leek Cub (cub scout) Pack. Here we are in our Cub uniforms.

Me with my brother Ed (r) in our Cub uniforms in the late 1950s.

Me with my brother Ed (r) in our Cub uniforms in the late 1950s.

After my parents retired in 1976 they took up residence in a first floor apartment in Greystones, a 17th century town house on Stockwell Street, just in front of the Nicholson Institute. After my mother (and the lady on the ground floor) moved out in the mid-80s, the property became a tea room.

Greystones, with the Nicholson Institute behind.

Greystones, with the Nicholson Institute behind.

But in many ways it’s the location of Leek that is one of its best assets, nestling as it does in the shadow of the Staffordshire Moorlands, with close access to the Peak District National Park, and particularly the Roaches, Dovedale, and the Manifold Valley to mention just a few special places, and the famous ‘double sunset‘ that figures in the old coat of arms (two suns).

Here’s a video I found recently on YouTube (2014-04-25) about the Staffordshire Peak District – all within a 10 mile or so radius of Leek:

I visit Leek rather rarely now, but when I do walk around the town, and look at how it has changed over the decades, my mind fills with good memories of a happy childhood. It was good growing up in Leek. And it seems that many around the world also hold fond memories of Leek, as comments on the Visitors’ Book at Leekonline show.

And finally, here are some recent photos of Leek that I have put together in a short video.

The Beatles, blogs, and long-lost friends . . .

Since I started this blog in February, I’ve had more than 8200 views, an average of almost 30 per day; these come from 127 countries, with only 15% of these representing a single view.

I’ve now published 87 stories. It’s interesting to see which ones have attracted most attention. The stories about potatoes and Norman Borlaug are up there, and early on, my post about Fred Astaire had many hits. In terms of searches, one of the most commonly searched terms concerns attending an investiture at Buckingham Palace. Before my investiture in February I had also ‘agonized’ over what to wear. It seems there are quite a few folks out there having the same worries.

I have my blog set up such that spam comments are automatically blocked by the site, and I can review them, but all legitimate comments are not posted until I’ve had chance to review and approve them. I haven’t had that many comments added to my posts, but there was one recently (at the end of October) that certainly caught my attention – but not in relation to the actual post to which it was linked (about running the IRRI genebank). It came from someone who I have not seen for over 50 years, and who had been directed to my blog while researching her family history.

Earlier this year I posted a story about skiffle music, and how a photograph of my elder brother Ed and me had been used in The Beatles Story in Liverpool  Here’s my great-nephew Sammy standing in front of the exhibit.

Sammy at The Beatles Story exhibition in Liverpool. That’s Ed on guitar, and me on tea chest bass.

Watching in that photo are my mother (she must have been about 50 or so when the photo was taken in the late 50s; she passed away in 1992), and beside her is my best friend at that time, Geoff Sharratt. Sitting on my Mum’s knee is Geoff’s sister Susan, who must have been about three or four. And it was Susan who commented on my rice genebank post!

Well, I was – to say the least – quite gob-smacked. Imagine, after more than 50 years. I contacted Sue by email, and through her I have now been in contact with Geoff, and we have been able to exchange quite a few memories and photographs of growing up in Leek during the 1950s. Geoff and Susan’s parents, Geoff Snr. and Rene, were the licensees of the Quiet Woman pub in St Edward Street, just a few doors down from No 65 where my father had opened a photographic retail business in April 1956 when we moved from Congleton, a small Cheshire town just over 10 miles northwest of Leek.

The Quiet Woman pub in St Edward Street, Leek. Our home, No 65, is just to the left of the photo.

Approaching the St Edward Street crossroads and traffic lights, near the Quiet Woman pub. Our home, No 65 is just to the left of the photo.

However, Geoff was not the first person of my age I met when we moved in. That was Philip Porter and his sister Jill who lived next to us – their father was a tailor. But quickly I got to know Geoff and Sue, and with Philip, and young David Philips who lived across the street, we formed ‘the Army Gang’, and often went out on manoeuvres to the local Brough Park, where we’d play all day long – weather permitting – especially in a large clump of rhododendron bushes that made an excellent hideout.

The ‘Army Gang’, l to r: Sue, Geoff, me, Philip Porter, David Philips, taken in about 1958.

And if the weather wasn’t so good, we always had access to the lofts and other rooms at the pub, especially those used by the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (RAOB) – the Buffs – a ‘fraternal organization’ (I guess a bit like the Free Masons). Well, these rooms were magic – lots of chairs and high benches to play around, and hide in. Geoff had an attic bedroom that had a door leading into a loft, and he recently reminded me of some of the mischief we got up to – like melting lead soldiers to make new ones, playing with mercury, testing the ‘courage’ of his sister who wanted to join our gang, so we apparently tied a rope round her waist and lowered her from a first floor window!

Playing in a tributary of the River Dane at Quarnford, near Flash, the highest village in England; with Rene Sharratt.


Beside Rudyard Lake, with Mike on the right, and Geoff and Sue on the left. We have no idea who the other little girl is, next to Mike.

Beside Rudyard Lake, with Mike on the right, and Geoff and Sue on the left. We have no idea who the other little girl is, next to Mike.

On one occasion, my brother Ed, Geoff and me went trap bottle fishing (today kids use old plastic Coke bottles; we used a wine bottle with the bottom ‘dimple’ opened) in the River Churnet where it crossed the Newcastle Road in Leek at the bottom of Ladderedge, just over a mile from home. Well, silly me, I leaned over too far to retrieve one of my traps, and tumbled into the water, base over apex – and at that time (it must have been 1958 or 1959) I couldn’t swim. And although beside the bank, I was certainly out of my depth. Geoff raised the alarm to Ed (so it was reported in the local newspaper, the Leek Post & Times), and he came running along the bank and dived in after me. Meanwhile, as the drama unfolded, the golfers at Westwood Golf Club on the opposite bank stood and watched. But one kindly gentleman did come to our aid, and soaking wet, drove us home. Both Ed and I remember that our mother (who I recall was not well at that time, and in bed) was not best pleased when she saw a couple of rather bedraggled urchins dripping water all over her kitchen floor.

In 1960 I moved on to a Catholic grammar school in Stoke-on-Trent, a 12 mile or so daily journey. Geoff attended school in Leek, and gradually our paths diverged. I hadn’t realized until he told me recently that his parents left the Quiet Woman in 1960, and by 1963 had moved to Rocester, about 17 miles away (and quite close to the area of Staffordshire-Derbyshire where my Jackson-Bull ancestors come from) to manage another pub. By 1963, we had also moved away from St Edward Street into Leek’s Market Place where my father bought a property and transferred his photographic business there until his retirement in 1976.

And until that comment on my blog from Susan a month ago, I’d had no contact with her or Geoff since about 1961 – and I’d often wondered what had happened to them. And what a pleasure it is to be in contact with them once again. Ah, the power of the Internet!

And here’s the difference that 50+ years make.

Ed on guitar, Mike on bass, and being watched by Sue (on my Mum’s knee) and Geoff.

Ed in 2011.

Mike in October 2012.

Geoff and Sue at the wedding of Sue’s daughter.

As for the other members of  ‘the Army Gang’, neither Geoff nor I know anything about Philip Porter’s whereabouts. But I am in contact now and again with David Philips through Facebook – he now lives part of each year in Florida and the rest of the year in Leek. His father Jimmy was a painter and decorator whose parents were the licensees of The Wilkes Head pub at the very top of St Edward Street. David’s mother Gwen was a ladies’ hairdresser and did my Mum’s hair every week.