“Understanding yesterday, for the benefit of today and tomorrow”
Our speaker this month was Pat Thomas. Pat, who is a member of the Society, spoke about the life and works of Kibworth's gifted poet, Anna Laetitia Barbauld. Anna Laetitia Aikin was born in 1743 at the Old House in Kibworth Harcourt and lived her early life in the village. Both sides of Anna's family came from dissenting families and it was this that brought both to Leicestershire. Her father was head of the dissenting academy in the village while her maternal grandfather, the Reverend John Jennings, had been a dissenting minister at St Wilfrid's Church.
The eighteenth century brought about a flowering of interest in the arts in England and is known as the Age of Enlightenment. Pat explained that Anna was a gifted student whose parents encouraged her skill with words even though it was difficult for women to make a name for themselves in the literary world.
The family left Kibworth while Anna was quite young and moved to Yarmouth, where she married. In due course she moved to London and lived for many years in Stoke Newington, where a memorial plaque may still be seen in the church.
Anna's authorship was a mixture of poetry and prose. Much of her prose involved writing pamphlets, a genre that was popular in the days before newspapers were printed. Her poetry is generally considered to be superior to her prose but she is best remembered today for being the author of the first genuine children's book written during the late 1780s.
Pat concluded her talk by referring to the blue plaque that was recently unveiled on the wall beside the Old House.
“Secret Listeners of Beaumanor Park” was the title of Mike Coleman’s talk on 7th November. He had become interested in the code breaking work undertaken at Bletchley Park and Beaumanor Park during the second world war as a result of his time in the RAF when he was a radio operator. It was known that enemy messages were transmitted using a code system and it was obvious that much effort would be devoted to breaking the code. He explained that there were a number of secret listening stations round the country though most people have only heard of Bletchley Park. These were established in 1939 amidst the utmost secrecy. Men and women who worked at Bletchley or Beaumanor were told not to tell anyone, not even family members, the nature of their work.
The system was divided into two parts, one recording morse code messages, irrespective of whether or not they made any sense, which were then sent to Bletchley for interpretation. Beaumanor was one of the sites that recorded messages. It was originally opened as a training establishment in 1939 and then developed into a fully operational station. All information that had been recorded was sent to Bletchley daily by despatch rider, of which there were some four hundred.
Mike spoke about the work of Alan Turing, the mathematician who was largely responsible for breaking the Enigma Machine code. Enigma machines were used by many organisations such as banks and stock brokers as well as the military. He explained that the earliest work on the Enigma code was undertaken by Polish mathematicians who then arrived at Bletchley in 1940. This was a most interesting talk that shed some light on one of the wartime activities that were never reported.
Peter Cousins, Chairman of Leicestershire Family History Society was our speaker this month. The title of his talk was 'Christmas in the Trenches; myth or reality'.
Peter began by painting a picture of the lead up to war and the effort put in recruiting during the early days of the 1st World War. He told of the enthusiasm to enlist, many of those who did so being under age. He explained how the first battles commenced within days of its outbreak, with great numbers of casualties on both sides. Three large-
Peter then spoke about the truce that occurred at one part of the front at Christmas. While there has been some doubt whether the truce really did take place, Peter provided much information to confirm it did. Though there is considerable variation concerning the exact timing, it is generally agreed that there was no firing on either side between the evening of Christmas Eve and midnight on Christmas Day. There was considerable fraternisation between the two sides and he was able to give examples, in particular a sound recording made by BBC Radio Leicester in the 1960s of the recollections of one man who had been present.
The speaker for the March meeting was Jess Jenkins who spoke on the history of Women’s Suffrage in Leicester and Leicestershire. The Suffragette story is well-
Smeeton Westerby had its own suffragette in the person of Mary ‘Nellie’ Taylor, a respectable middle class wife and mother who was involved in window smashing in London in 1912 for which she was sent to Holloway prison. Undeterred she was arrested and imprisoned again in 1913 where she went on hunger strike. Leicestershire was also the scene of suffragette arson attacks – Blaby railway station was gutted in July 1914. The First World War saw the end of violent campaigning and in 1918 a half-
The final speaker for this season before our June Ouring was Cynthia Brown who told us about the history of the General Hospital or “The Palace on the Hill”, as it was called by the locals. When opened on 28th September 1905, it was called the North Evington Poor Law Infirmary and replaced a dilapidated building on Sparkenhoe Street, Leicester. It was built by Wm. Moss of Loughborough of red brick and Derbyshire stone and earned its nickname because of its elevated position and imposing appearance. The hospital was designed with a long (194 yards) central corridor and wards leading off and was able to look after 512 patients.
In 1914, the hospital was taken over by the War Office and the number of beds was increased to 1000 and renamed the North Evington War Hospital. It 1919, the War Office released control and it was renamed the North Evington Infirmary. Cynthia explained that there was considerable resistance to using Poor Law in the title because of the connection with the Work House.
A nurses’ home was opened in 1926 and the hospital’s name was changed again in 1930 to the City General Hospital. Certain wards were allocated during the Second War to nursing members of the armed forces. With creation of the National Health Service in 1948, the name was changed to Leicester General hospital. In 2000, it amalgamated with the Leicester Royal Infirmary and Glenfield Hospital under the University of Leicester Hospitals NHS Trust.
The hospital buildings today cover much of the area that originally was part of the farm and gardens but the central corridor and associated wards still remain. The original façade is now the hospital’s main reception area.