ADVERTS which cropped up in our old local papers fascinate me. Very often they are unique records of the various activities that took place in our part of the world.

Unlike major events of national and often international, importance you will rarely come across mention of them in any other source. So very often, it’s not what these ads tell us but what they don’t tell us that is often so interesting. And after you’ve skimmed them you will probably end up with more questions than answers. But that’s what makes delving back into our past so very fascinating.

One the reverse side of a press cutting from the West Cumberland Times from July 1881, I found a few of these. The subjects dealt with on the other side were smallpox and vaccination, affairs in Ireland, agriculture in Cumberland – and in Ireland – and a short letter by someone who was “surprised to learn, per your Wigton correspondent, that the nightingale had got so far north”. The writer was a southerner. The letter was signed “A Little Doubtful”. So did nightingales venture forth as far as Wigton back in the 19th century? Anyone know?

At the bottom of the page was a short note, from a correspondent in Egypt, which recorded that the Khedive was “quite prepared to decree the total abolition of slavery in his own dominion”.

Over the page we find an ad for St Bees Grammar School, “situated on the finest part of the Cumberland Coast and on the Furness Railway”. The then headmaster was the Rev N W Newbold. It advertised itself as a “First Grade, Classical and Mathematical School, on the Modern System”. No mention of any fees, but the advert for Croft House Academy, Brampton, stated that “Board and Tuition was 30 to 40 guineas a year, according to age”.

Over to Workington, where Mrs Smith’s School, Cross Hill, was to reopen on July 1881 – and Mr Smith’s School, Good Templars’ Hall, was to open on the same day.

At the top of the column was a short cryptic note: the Duties of Miss Smith’s school will commence…at Mrs Graves, Station Street, Cockermouth. Were they all related?

The ad from Ghyll Bank College, near Whitehaven, listed its impressive achievements and assured future customers that “the principals are always present at evening preparation, when backward boys and those reading for examinations have careful attention”.

A few of my friends attended boarding schools, some 50 or so years ago, and being gathered in a classroom for compulsory evening prep was something they loathed.

In the Public Notices section the usual “Warning to Trespassers” notices appear, as they did on most weeks.

On a happier note, Henry Chilton of Dearham was to play George Arnott of Broughton Moor at the Royal Hotel, Workington, at quoits. It’s a game I know nothing about, but the ad stated that the match was to be “18 yards and 61 up”. They were playing for a prize of £15 a side – a not inconsiderable sum of money back in 1881!

More quoits. On a couple of afternoons, the ad promised that “Mr W McGregor, the Champion” was to “perform his wonderful feat of 50 Ringers in 35 minutes” – again at the Royal Hotel.

A few questions here! What was his championship? And how do you play quoits? Something else to add to my TBR (To Be Researched) file!

George Mawson, “at the frequent request of his friends” decided to open his Museum of Natural History Objects to the public – in the Grecian Villa, Cockermouth. There was an entry fee: Ladies and Gentlemen one shilling and Working Men sixpence. An interesting social class distinction to be made by the doorkeeper!

The Ellenborough Brass Band was looking for engagements. All bookings were to be arranged with their secretary, Palmer Melville. I wonder if they were booked to play at the Grand Annual Picnic and Sports at Dovenby. The advert for this event promised that “an efficient Brass Band” had been engaged for the occasion.

A number of “handsome silver cups” were prizes for this occasion, including one for a handicap quoiting event, 18 yards, clay ends. I wonder if either Chilton or Arnott entered, as the cash prize was a mere 20 shillings...