On Saturday 2nd October Lesley Taylor and Shirley Levon of the Wakefield Historical Society gave a talk on the part played by a John Smeaton and the development of the Calder Navigation. John Smeaton from Austhorpe, east of Leeds, is now regarded as the father of civil engineering. With the aid of maps, photos and diagrams illustrating the project that was begun in 1760, Lesley and then Shirley explained that when they discovered Smeaton’s journal while conducting their own research on the Wakefield Waterfront, they decided to publish a book following their research. They transcribed the Journal which follows the day to day work up the Calder from Wakefield to Sowerby Bridge. Linking this to the accounts held by the National Archives and local archives they were able to they were able to research the background to the building of the navigation. The many problems that were faced and the opposition encountered by local landowners were not sufficient for Parliament to eventually pass an Act in 1758 that gave the ‘go-ahead’ to Smeaton which enabled the building of the navigation system.
Shirley described the busy scene that developed with masons, sawyers, smiths, quarrymen and carters and the setting up of workshops built for their purpose. The supplies of stone, wood and other materials, the equipment, engines and pumps that had been gathered at the waterfront were listed. Details about the actual workforce employed is sketchy but we do know that labourers, numbered in their hundreds. worked a twelve- hour day for 6 days a week. The project took 3 years to complete between 1760 and 1763.
The research carried out by Lesley and Shirley and the subsequent publication of their book is a tribute to hard work and dedication to the project.
On Saturday 4th September our guest speaker was Gillian Waters a Medievalist who has taught in schools, universities and museums for over twenty-five years. For Gillian this means the period between 410 AD and 1485 ie from when the Romans left Britain to the accession of Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth. However, as records are relatively scarce up to the 900s, Gillian emphasized that she would concentrate on the period from the 14th century onwards. Most family historians have relied on census records from the 19th century and parish records that really got started in the 16th century.
Gillian wanted to introduce us to the various websites available and to reveal the significance of heraldry and a family’s coat of arms. If a family historian can find an ancestor who owned a plot of land in the 17th century, it might be possible to research and make connection which could go further back into the Medieval period. It’s possible to track conveyance and criminal records and then on to heraldry and coat of arms. The latter was the prerogative of the monarch and it wasn’t only the knights who fought for the monarch or those aristocrats who held large country estates. A coat of arms could be bought by successful merchants in which could then be designed for them. These took the shape of shields for men and lozenges for women and have illustrations of beasts such as lions or leopards and various symbols such as arrow heads, crowns, initials and patterns referring to the surname of a family and so a means of identification. A coat of Arms could be on a shield, a banner or on items of clothing.
Gillian suggested that various websites such as ‘Visitations’ which can be found on archive.org, The Dictionary of British Arms, The Complete Guide to Heraldry, the Book of Crests and Mottos. Pemberley’s Dictionary of Heraldry was especially recommended along with www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk The last two websites can lead to all sorts of sources but Gillian emphasized that they should be used with care.
Gillian obviously knew her subject well and she delivered her talk with enthusiasm and often with humour.