Our Speaker for the evening of 4th February 2020 was LillyAnn Dawes, who thrilled and entertained us all with her presentation of “What the Victorians Got Wrong”.

LillyAnn explained that the reign of the second longest reigning monarch, Victoria, was one of the most forward thinking, tumultuous and progressive times for this Country.  From the beginning of Victoria’s reign, when candlelight and carriages were the common place for all, and the end of her reign when we had steam trains; earliest washing/cleaning machines; national police force it certainly was an enlightening and progressive time.  

A picture depicting a typical street scene of early Victorian times, showed the overcrowded housing, people in the street selling food etc at the same time as children and people squashed into damp squalid housing.  The industrial revolution brought more people into towns with the transition from handmade to factory made goods.  Factories needed workers and they in turn needed houses. Overcrowding, rats, illnesses such as cholera and tuberculosis were rampant.  Another picture showed a prisoner inside a cell illustrating the terrible penal system we had – solitary confinement every day; incessant mind numbing non rewarding work, such as the Crank/ Treadmill, and having to wear face masks that prevented them from seeing others around them.

During the 19th century life was transformed by the Industrial Revolution.

The first steam engine, George Stephenson’s Rocket ran between Liverpool and Manchester in 1829. Ship building and Brunel’s innovative Great Eastern, made of iron, driven by propeller and powered by steam, was launched in 1858. The Great Exhibition of 1851 saw Britain at the height of its manufacturing boom. The vast British Empire provided a cheap supply of raw materials and a captive market for the sale of manufactured goods. But the Victorians also got things wrong!!!

6 Stories to illustrate things going wrong!

DALE DYKE DISASTER 1864 – unlike the Whaley Bridge Dam collapse last year, the water stored by the Dale Dyke dam was needed to power machinery and therefore was vital to the industry and people alike in this steep narrow valley area near Sheffield.  On the 11th March 1864 it overflowed and the local paper reported “the Dreadful Inundation” that devastated the area. At least 240 people died.  Henry Whittle a child found alive (1 out of 9 in the family that died); a woman found alive with her dog and cat on the kitchen table.  It was reported that an architect had noted some breeches earlier in the year – nothing done.  The press maintained that the problem lay with the materials used and the methods of construction which had previously been proved as totally unsuitable for such a project. Another collapse in February 1852, the Holmfirth collapse killing 81 people.  The dam's failure led to reforms in engineering practice, setting standards on specifics that needed to be met when constructing such large-scale structures.


The bridge was 2 miles long, over 100 feet high, built on 84 stone pillars and with 13 spans of iron girders. People had reported that they felt the bridge move in the centre even in the lightest of winds. On December 28, 1879, battered by a ferocious storm, the 13 high girders' of the rail bridge over the Tay estuary collapsed into the river below, carrying with them a train and all its passengers and crew. There were no survivors. The gale force storm hit the bridge as the train was on the centre span.  The cause sub standard iron used in construction.

VICTORIA HALL SUNDERLAND CALAMITY On 16 June 1883, a children's variety show was presented by travelling entertainers. No limit was made on how many children were allowed into the venue. At the end of the show, an announcement was made that children with certain numbered tickets would be presented with a prize upon exit. Worrying about missing out on the treats, many of the estimated 1100 children in the gallery surged toward the staircase leading downstairs. Those at the front became trapped and were crushed to death by the weight of the crowd behind them. 183 children (4 from one family) were killed, over 200 injured. No prosecution was made but did lead to new legislation on max capacity etc.

EXETER THEATRE ROYAL FIRE – 5th September 1887 fire killed 188. There were no safety curtains or clear exit signs, which later became mandatory by legislation. 

BRUNELS ATMOSPHERIC RAILWAY 1846. A transition system that in theory moved trains from Exeter to Plymouth by use of compressed air.  FAILED due to – rubber or leather pipes being sealed with tallow, that is, rendered animal fat. The local rats came for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Cost of over £430,000 at the time!

KILLER COAL THE OAKS MINING DISASTER – 13TH December 1866 explosions tapped and killed a number of miners over a 24-hour period.  The coal from Barnsley pit was always known as being “gassy” and likely to explode or catch fire.  On the morning of the 13th an explosion took place that blew the cage to the top of the windings head.  20 men were recovered but 14 died of injuries.  The next day a second explosion occurred, then a third around 4.30pm. 14 further explosions shook the shaft before it was finally closed. In total at least 361 men and boys perished.

6 things the Victorians got wrong!

The evening included a question and answer period and  a 20 minute refreshment session with much to chat about or alternatively browse through the many books, exhibits etc. on display.

Following the refreshment break our Chairman Alan Higgins spoke about his late Grandfather who moved from Staffordshire to Blidworth in 1926 with his wife, 3 young children, his mother and his brother. William Higgins lived on Dale Lane and worked 28 years at Blidworth Colliery. As a young man of 17 he served in the army and spent 3 years in South Africa during the Boer War. In 1914 he once again enlisted and served in France and Belgium during WW1. It was during this time that William along with 5 other men, under heavy shell and machine gun fire, retrieved the dead body of one of their young officers. All six men were mentioned in despatches and received a letter of congratulations and thanks from their commanding officer and from the young officer’s parents.


Forthcoming meeting dates, speakers and subjects as follows;

·         March 3rd             Peter Smith.       Rufford Abbey Gardens and our AGM.

·         April 7th               Bob Massey       Nottinghamshire Architect W.H.Higginbottom

Our members and guests are welcome to join us in the Function Room of the Blidworth Welfare. Doors are open at 6.45 pm and ample parking is available. New members are always welcome; just turn up on the night. There is a small charge on the door of £2 to cover refreshments.

Our book, 'Blidworth and the First World War' can be purchased from Blidworth Library or at 'Salon 68' Kirklington Road, Rainworth, or simply email us at: blidworthhistory@virginmedia.com