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Earthquakes and revolutions

Archivist Catherine Clark from Whitehaven Record Office and Local Studies Library, talks about the amazing colour old records can provide

 MANY of the school pupils who have a class visit to the Record Office – and I suspect, a fair number of our adult researchers – have the belief that local life in by-gone times was one entirely of drudgery. Evidence for this is often that they only wore black and white clothes, and never smiled on photos!

Although, with a wealth of sources documenting the harshness of living and working conditions for many in the past, we are well aware of this aspect of life, we also come across snippets that point to the fact that there was also a brighter side of life, never mind the odd wonder to behold.

Newspapers here do a good job of telling of significant events, and advertising up-and-coming attractions but it’s the words recorded in old diaries and letters, reflecting on personal experiences of the writer, that can really bring the past alive.

John Bragg (1723-1795) was a Whitehaven shoemaker and a Quaker. His diary, held in our archive strongroom and also available as a printed booklet, is a fascinating account of 18th century provincial life. The entries refer to family weddings and events such as his children ‘flying the nest’, his spiritual musings, everyday life in Whitehaven, and developments abroad, particularly the American War of Independence. Included is a very low-key account of the raid on Whitehaven by John Paul Jones in 1778.

What did excite his, and our, attention were a number of spectacles, described below in his own words, which we too would still watch excitedly today:

  • ‘an Air Balloon let off in a yard in Catherine Street, arose an amazing height & came westward over our Houses & proceeded to the west as high as the clouds’ (June 3, 1784)
  • ‘Lord Lonsdalls grand fireworks exhibited & the Town illuminated in memory of the prince of Orange King William 3rd coming to England in 1688 – a Jubilee’ (November 4 and 5, 1788)
  • ‘about two o’clock this morning was most sensibly felt by my wife and a great many more a shock of an earthquake preceded with a rumbling noise – very quiet & calm air, very alarming to most of people & the same accounts appears from various places. Cockermouth, Egremont etc Millum Castle, the same, Kendale, Dublin, Isle of Man. We all rose & walked out into the street with many others.’ (November 8, 1786)

Finding out from first-hand accounts how people lived here in the past can often be really fascinating, and maybe it will tempt some of you just starting with your family history research to dig a bit deeper to find out what local life was really like for your ancestors.

Your local Archive: Cumbria Record Office and Local Studies Library, Scotch St, Whitehaven, CA28 7NL. www.cumbria.gov.uk/archives gives further details and opening hours.

By Colin Edgar
Published: March 17, 2011


Have your say

I have been searching the whitehaven news & the news and star for information regarding the Queens cinema in whitehaven ( specifically the date it was demolished ) , but have not been able to find the information... Can you help
Regards etc
C.B. Mccartney

Posted by Charles Mccartney on 30 April 2013 at 13:23

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