Archive for March, 2010

Lunchtime pint…or is it?

In the museum there is a gallery called the ‘Skill and Labour Gallery’. It exhibits Blackburn’s history and prominant figures. In this gallery there is a huge banner from Mrs Lewis’ temperance mission. Mrs Lewis was very proactive in her campaigns and was involved with different council boards to try and stop the amount of alcohol being consumed in Blackburn. It is worth remembering that this was during a time of heavy industry when cotton was king. The working class man (and woman) would be at work before dawn and would come home when it was dark. After such a long and extremely tiring day many men would head to the pub to relax.

The banner is not the subject of the blog. It just so happens that I noticed it on a monday morning after I had visited a beer festival at the weekend. The banner tries to convince of the evils of alcohol with the words ‘strong drink is raging’ and the word ‘Death’ under a barrel. So, what were your options if you were part of the temperance movement? The answer is a temperance bar. These bars, while not as popular as pubs, would serve a wide range of herbal beers and soft drinks such as dandelion and burdock and sarsparilla. Considering the popularity of my previous historical roadtest with the clogs I decided to do another one and headed to Blackburn Market for a glass of sarsparilla. Walsh’s, the store that sells them, is a family run business dating back to 1835. The store brews its own mixture and pours the glass from a proper pump.

Me with Keeper of Social History, Nick Harling, ready to enjoy a glass

Me with Keeper of Social History, Nick Harling, ready to have a glass

So what is sarsparilla? It is a herb beer which contains no alcohol. The big question is…What does it taste like? Having heard stories of it being not particularly nice I found it to be a very enjoyable drink. The texture was lighter than the impression the dark colour gives. It tastes fruity like a stout or a mild would but the flavour is not overpowering.

It was that tasty I finished it in one go!

Did I like it? Yes and I would suggest anyone in Blackburn’s 3 day market stop for a glass as well.

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Show me the money

At the shops. It’s Saturday lunchtime. In my arms are jeans, a hoodie and a pair of clogs (it could happen!). After the eternal wait to get to the counter I hand over my card, type in my pin number and am on my way home.

The odd thing about the above scenario is not the fact I might buy a pair of clogs, but no actual money was exchanged. Throughout history money or services have always been exchanged for other goods or services. Before the invention of coinage, bartering was the most common way of doing this. In some cultures, little cowry shells were used as a form of currency.

It is only recently that we use a piece of plastic to pay for things and Blackburn Museum has some examples of early credit cards.

Variations of credit cards have existed since the 1920’s but only worked on a small scale. It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that the first ‘modern’ credit cards sprung up in America. ‘Diners Club’ was the first major credit card and this image shows an early British version.

The first British credit card was introduced in 1967 by Barclays and the sample below was sent to customers and stores to show what the new card would look like. 

Credit cards became very popular in a short space of time and boomed during the economic highs of the 1980’s. Modern day credit cards can come with a variety of designs and use ‘chip and pin’. When you look at the old credit cards though, you realise they haven’t really changed at all.

The Clog Blog

The Clog. Symbolic in towns like Blackburn as the footwear of the working class. It was the shoe of the people. At the crack of dawn the sound of thousands of workers with wooden shoes trudging through the cobbled streets to the mills would boom around the town.

The typical Lancashire clog is different to a Dutch clog in that it only has a wooden base. These clogs would have leather uppers and depending on the type of work the person was doing they could have a protective area around the toes. Clogs were used for all occasions and even became synonomous with dancing and fighting. It is believed clog dancing began in the mills with workers tapping their feet to the rhythm of looms. Clog fighting on the other hand was rather more vicious. This involved the participants undressing to nothing but their underwear and clogs and continually kicking each other’s shins until one person gave up.

Working in a museum can be a little strange as you are surrounded by all this history but very rarely do you get to live it. This is why I have chosen to do a historical roadtest, wearing a pair of clogs for a full day. I decided to go for a little walk around the town centre to see what they were like.

You wouldn't find a pair of these in here!

It's hard work testing clogs

I chose to do the roadtest in a style of clogs which would have been used by a mill worker. These shoes were not made for fashion but had practical uses in mind. Having never worn clogs before I found they were surprisingly comfortable although a little noisy! 

Would I swap my trainers for a pair of clogs? Probably not. Although I’m sure I could find room in my wardrobe for a pair.

Pearly Whites

When I was younger I would eat anything. I’m sure many of you were the same. If it came near my mouth I would eat it. On more than one occasion I would throw something into my piehole only to find it was extremely hard and end up in pain. Rather than learning a lesson from these incidents I vowed that one day I would have metal teeth and I would never encounter this problem again. (I also liked the idea that rather than using toothpaste you could clean your teeth with WD40). As I grew older the thought of looking like a Bond villain turned me completely against the idea.

I tell you this because my featured object today is a little payment booklet from a dentist on Preston New Road, Blackburn from the 1910’s.

Teeth Payment Book

The patient, Mrs Robinson, had some High Class Artificial Teeth fitted. Nothing uunusual about that except for the fact they cost £4.13.0 and it took her over 4 years to pay for them in installments. Considering this was done during the Great War, a huge influenza outbreak, a worldwide economic depression and when the average life expectancy was 55, it is a serious investment.

Is it really that much of a surprise though? Vanity has existed in almost every historical era, why should this one be different? In fact, some of the most important beauty products found in a womans handbag originated from this decade, including mascara. The first touch up powders were also introduced and Max Factor and Maybelline released their first products. Not all beauty treatments were succesful however. Women had started to tattoo their lips to remove the need for lipstick. Unsurprisingly, this fad didn’t last long.

Anyway, the point of this blog was teeth. Throughout history a range of materials had been used to make false teeth including ivory, porcelain, mother of pearl and even donated human teeth. Which got me thinking, maybe a mouthful of metal gnashers isn’t such a bad idea after all.


Blackburn Museum can be found in Blackburn, Lancashire. It houses objects documenting Blackburn's industrial past as well as a world class collection of Fine Art, Japanese prints, Icons, Numismatics and Manuscripts. Come and visit us to find out more.

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