Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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Aug 2012

Vindolanda and Cragside Weekend 25/26 August 2012

A group of 30 members and friends left Chorley early on Saturday for a trip to Northumberland.
First stop was Vindolanda, the site of impressive Roman excavations close to Hadrian’s Wall. We arrived just in time for the 11.15 tour of the site, run by the Vindolanda Trust. Our group joined other visitors on a tour conducted by an enthusiastic, entertaining, South African guide called Neill who moved at quite a pace around the site.

Neill took us on a rapid 45 minute sweep around the excavations of the village, bath house and the fort itself, ending up at the informative museum, visitors’ centre and a well needed coffee shop.
After lunch, we were left to explore the site and the museum which holds an impressive collection of finds. In particular is a selection of Roman writing tablets loaned to the Trust by the British Museum. When the excavations started in the late 1940s it was thought to be finished in 30 years. But as the years have passed and the size of the site increased it is now thought that it could take up to around 200 years.
We left Vindolanda at 3.00 for the hour’s drive to the Jurys hotel in central Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This gave an opportunity for anyone to explore the city centre and sample the Geordie capital. After a pleasantly spent night, save for an early morning fire alarm evacuation, which was, thankfully, a false alarm and it didn’t rain.

Vindolanda Bath House


A reasonable early start saw us make the 35 mile journey north west to Cragside, near Rothbury.
This National Trust property is described as “The Palace of a Modern Magician” It was home to (Lord) William Armstrong (1810-1900), who was a scientist and technical innovator and made his wealth from the arms industry. Cragside, set in acres of wooded landscapes, is, not surprisingly, set at the foot of a crag. Electricity, generated by water power, powered all sorts of gadgets. No doubt to impress visitors but also aided the servants in their daily tasks. For example a hydraulic lift and an early type of dish washer. In fact, the library was the first room in the world to be lit with a newly invented filament light bulb, a type that is still working today.
We had 5 hours to explore the house along with the formal gardens and woodland walks. The formal gardens include an impressive flower bed laid out to represent the Olympics and the flowers were in full summer bloom. The main lake even had fountains of water coming out of it, which danced to music at frequent intervals during our time there.

Cragside House

The numbers of visitors there showed what a popular place Cragside is to visit with its many attractions. Fortunately we avoided the worst of the weather, which added to the pleasure of the visit.
Unfortunately, our time to depart came all too quickly but Andrew, our driver, took us through some stunning Northumberland countryside to round off an excellent weekend.
Big thanks must go to Christine Harrison for her time and effort in arranging a full and varied weekend.

Peter Robinson


Sylvia O’Malley – on Lord Leverhulme
Tue 14 Aug 2012

Sylvia, a Blue Badge tourist guide for north west England, specialises in Merseyside subjects, which includes Port Sunlight and Lord Leverhulme.

William Hesketh Lever was born in Wood Street, Bolton, a son of a wholesale greengrocer. He was apprenticed as a soap cutter in the family business but left that at the age of 16 to become a salesman within the trade. He had been given a book, entitled ‘Self Help’ by Samuel Smiles, which served as his inspiration to better himself.

It served him well as he became very successful and moved from the selling of soap to its production and to facilitate this he needed a factory and land to build it on.

Sylvia O’Malley

He purchased land at Bromborough on the Wirral and proceeded to build his factory to produce soap and get people to work in it. He never forgot his roots and the bad conditions of the working people in the towns and cities of Lancashire. He aspired to give his workforce better living and working conditions providing them with a purpose built village close to the factory for them and called it Port Sunlight.

Innovations such as paid holidays for his workers and the encouragement of sports participation for them were introduced. A more contented workforce was a profitable one.


William Hesketh Lever

Indeed, his business empire grew so much that he became fabulously wealthy. He became a collector of the finest works of English craftsmen, in particular ceramics. With his wealth he also gained a title, Lord Lever. To house a particular large painting he built a gallery to house it, the Lady Lever Art Gallery, named after his wife, Elizabeth Helen Hulme, a childhood sweetheart.

The Lady Lever Art Gallery was originally
built to house this painting as it was so big.


Lord Leverhulme was responsible for many household products.

He was a religious man, a patriot, a great self publicist and whatever he designed, built or bought reflected this. It was only after his wife’s death in 1913 that he gained the title of Viscount Lord Leverhulme of Bolton in the Moor.

Not only did he build Port Sunlight but he also bought the nearby village of Thornton Hough. The buildings he built there included a fine church and a cottage hospital. He lived at a former shipping magnate’s mansion in the parish. Once open to the public but now an exclusive country house hotel.

He built up a huge art collection that, at the time of his death, filled 8 houses, much of it now housed in the art gallery. He also bought land and properties, not just in Britain but overseas as well. His name lives on in, for example, Zaire in a town called Leverville but also much closer to home in the parkland he created at Rivington.

Sylvia showed a wide variety of slides and gave an enthusiastic audience a fresh perspective to a well known historic figure.

Peter Robinson