Sunday, December 18, 2016

Oh, Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding

The old song, 'We wish you a Merry Christmas" is familiar to most, and sung often at holiday gatherings. It dates back to the 16th century in the West Country of England, growing out of the tradition of the wealthier members of the community giving rich fruit-and-nut puddings to carolers who came to their door. ("Figgy" in this context means not literally figs, but any dried fruit, like raisins and plum prunes.)  
Children caroling on a Victorian Christmas card
We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year.
Ref. Good tidings we bring
To you and your kin;
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year.
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
And bring it right here.
Refrain
We won't go till we get some,
We won't go till we get some,
we won't go till we get some,
So bring it right here.
Refrain.
We all like our figgy pudding,
We all like our figgy pudding,
we all like our figgy pudding,
With all its good cheers
Refrain
Hear the carol sung here:
 
 By the late 18th century both the carol and the pudding had become holiday staples throughout Britain. From Charles Dickens to Blackadder, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas in England without Christmas pudding.
A servant carries a flaming Christmas pudding to the table. The clothes and furniture suggest early 19th century.
For the Busch family, Christmas was defined by several customs: trimming the tree, the singing of carols, midnight church service on Christmas Eve, opening presents on Christmas morning,  and eating plum pudding at Christmas dinner. 

But the Busch plum pudding wasn't just any old plum pudding. It was made from a recipe dating back to Victorian England and prepared in the kitchen of St. John's Lutheran Church (now SS Mark-John Church) in Homestead. My Uncle Jack Breakwell, husband of my father's sister Frances, contributed his family recipe for the church pudding-making. Uncle Jack was from Barrow-in-Furness, England--a town from which, according to Breakwell family lore, they could see the Isle of Man on a clear day.
St. John's in 1976. Photo by Ed Busch
I fondly remember going with my father in early December to check on the pudding production at St. John's. In the kitchen, my grandfather and Uncle Jack would be busy cracking walnuts and passing them on to the cooks--Grandma Busch, Aunt Frances, and other church women, who in turn would be mixing up the batter and pouring it into coffee cans. The cans were placed into gigantic kettles of boiling water to be steamed. The whole church was filled with the spicy fragrance of the steaming puddings.
Plum pudding batter mixed and ready to be steamed.
After the steaming was complete, the cans were cooled and placed on tables for people to pick up. People from all over the Homestead area reserved a pudding from St. John's for their Christmas feast. It was a tasty holiday fundraiser for the congregation.

For me, the best part was eating the pudding on Christmas Day--or on other days after Christmas when we had dinner with relatives. The pudding was usually served with lemon sauce, although the traditional British version is buttery hard sauce. I prefer lemon sauce, as it makes a nice, tart contrast with the rich, sweet pudding. Some people light brandy aflame on the pudding as they bring it to the table, but my grandparents and father, being teetotalers, did not.
A plum pudding I made.
My cousin Elsiemae, daughter of Frances and Jack Breakwell, passed on her family's plum pudding recipe to my daughter Ceridwen in a handwritten letter. In the 1880s they sold coffee in cans, but you may have trouble getting these cans today. However, you can use a metal mold or other suitable container. Most plum puddings are made with suet or, in more modern times, with butter. This one is different from the traditional version in that it has neither suet nor another animal fat, in effect, vegetarian plum pudding.
                                 
                                              1880's English Plum Pudding
Original recipe from Grandmother Hannah Breakwell, Barrow-in-Furness
1 c. white sugar                              1 t. cinnamon
1 c. flour                                         1 t. cloves
1 t. baking powder                          1 c. chopped apples
1 t. baking soda                               1 c. chopped walnuts
1/2 t. salt
1 cup bread crumbs (cubed)
can evaporated milk 

Mix dry ingredients. Add milk and mix together. Add fruit and walnuts. Mix.
Place mixture in 1 pound coffee can, 3/4 full. Cover with aluminum foil. Place can with mixture into bottom of double boiler or pot with water halfway up. Boil for three hours, making sure that enough water is always in boiler.  To serve, spoon out and serve with lemon or hard sauce.
--Elsiemae Breakwell Simmers
The Nativity Window in St. John's, made in Germany, 1917.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Damn the Torpedoes!


Deck officers on the USS Susquehanna, 1864. Source: Civil War Talk web site
When I was teaching, as an end-of-semester "fun" writing assignment, I'd have my students collect a story and retell it in their own words. By far the greatest number turned out to be family immigration stories--stories passed down from several generations as well as stories fresh in the memories of those who experienced it. Just about every single one, even if badly told, was fascinating. For example: the Swedish immigrant who walked from Willmar to Minneapolis (95 miles) carrying two heavy sacks of flour to sell because he couldn't afford to pay for transportation. Or the Vietnamese man who was on a boat that was sunk as they were fleeing the country, drowning half of the people on board.

But today, Veteran's Day, I'd like to tell one of my own family immigration stories, the tale of how Johann Paulus Pösch, citizen of Bavaria, became John Paul Busch, citizen of the U.S.A.
The old portrait of John Paul that used to hang in my grandfather's house, surrounded by Busch family photos (left) and beer steins from his native Weißenstadt (below).

The year was 1863, and the U.S. was embroiled in the some of the darkest days of the Civil War. In Europe, Prussian Chancellor Bismarck was in a territorial dispute with Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein, accompanied by sabre-rattling. Twenty-three-year-old Johann Paulus Pösch of Weißenstadt, near the border with Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), trained as a tanner, decided to pack up and emigrate to the United States. When he arrived in the port of Philadelphia, immigration officials asked him if he'd like to become a U.S. citizen on the spot. His answer, of course, was "Ja."

The kicker was that he then had to serve in the U.S. military. As John Paul Busch he joined a U.S.Army division consisting of German immigrants like himself, where officers asked him about skills that might be applied to his service. Apparently there was zero need for tanners in the Army, but when he told them that he had learned how to fire boilers making beer in the civic brewery back in Weißenstadt, he got their attention. He was whisked off straightaway to become a member of the U.S.Navy.

John Paul served as a fireman--a skilled job involving firing the boiler of the engine driving the ship--on two gunboats. The gunboats were part of the blockade of Confederate ports, trying to choke off supplies and trade from Europe. In the summer of 1864 the second of these, the USS E.G. Hale, was assigned to serve under Rear Admiral David G. Farragut in the Gulf coast off Mobile, Alabana. At that time Mobile was the Confederacy's last large port open on the Gulf, and to protect it, they had placed hundreds of tethered naval mines (then called "torpedoes") in the bay.
USS Water Witch, a gunboat that served with the USS Hale
Source:  US Navy Historical and Heritage Command 
 Farragut aimed to shut down the port of Mobile. In coordination with the Army, he assembled a force of 5,500 men on 12 wooden ships, four ironclad monitors, and two gunboats (one of them the Hale), and on August 5, 1864, Farragut ordered his fleet to charge the bay. But when the monitor USS Tecumseh struck a mine and sank, the others began to withdraw.

Suffering from an attack of vertigo during the assault, Farragut was lashed to the rigging of his flagship the USS Hartford. Seeing the ships of his fleet hesitating, Farragut shouted through a trumpet to a neighboring vessel, "What's the trouble?" "Torpedoes," its captain yelled back. "Damn the torpedoes!" shouted Farragut, "Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead. Jouett, full speed."

"The Battle of Mobile Bay" by Louis Prang (1884) Library of Congress Archives At lower left the two US gunboats are shown doing battle with the Confederate ironclad.

In this daring assault, the bulk of the U.S. fleet succeeded in passing through the mine field, thus avoiding the guns of the three forts guarding Mobile Bay. The last remaining Confederate ironclad vessel, the CSS Tennessee, fought valiantly, but was eventually reduced to a motionless hulk, and the crew surrendered. With no Navy to support them, the three Confederate forts also surrendered within days. Complete control of lower Mobile Bay thus passed to the Union forces, and the blockade of the Confederacy was complete.

Busy firing the gunboat's boiler, John Paul probably saw nothing of the battle itself.  But I'm sure he must have heard the explosions and chaos going on around the Hale in Mobile Bay. At the end of the war, the Navy presented John Paul with a Bible for his service. My dad's sister Irene, knowing how much I am into family history, gave this Bible--or rather, what's left of it--to me.

The back pages of the now-tattered King James Bible presented to John Paul by the US Navy

Every Veteran's Day I think of Great-Grandfather John Paul Busch, who became an instant citizen and instant service member back in the terrible days of the Civil War. John Paul, I salute you and all the other veterans who have served to keep our country united, strong, and safe.

Veterans, here's to you.

The crew of the gunboat USS Hunchback that served on the James River in Virginia, 1864-1865. Note that about a fifth of the crew is African-American. Source: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hard Times Cotton Mill Girls

Yorkshire has recently got a lot of publicity out of PBS's soapy series, "Downton Abbey", allegedly set there. What many people don't realize, however, is that the stately home used for the filming, Highclere Castle, is many miles away in posh Hampshire in the south of England. You'd never know from watching "Downton Abbey" that Yorkshire, in the north of the country, is historically best known for its moors, mills, mines, and religious reformers.
1820's workers row houses in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.

I recently traveled to Yorkshire to visit Knaresborough, the native town of a Minneapolis master builder (See  "Henry Ingham's Yorkshire."). Being interested in industrial history, I hired a guide, Keith Britton, to take me around to relevant sites in the county, the largest in England. We concentrated on the West and North sections where many of the industrial centers are located. Cities in West Yorkshire developed during the industrial revolution include Bradford (textiles), Leeds (transportation, textiles), and Wakefield (coal mining).

Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. The old linen mill was located on the River Nidd below the railroad viaduct.
What I found was a curious and sad incongruity between the quality of technology vs. the quality of the workers' lives.  Technological advancement and engineering marvels of nineteenth-century Britain are indeed impressive--as were the dangers to life, limb, and health of the workforce.

Let's start with mining. We visited the National Coal Mining Museum for England in West Yorkshire and got a tour of what was a working mine not too long ago. We heard the stories of the darkness, cramped and hot working conditions, dangerous machinery, rats, the stench, child labor, explosive gases, and deadly flooding. I've also visited the Big Pit mine in Wales and mines in Pennsylvania, where the stories are similar.
Headstock of the Capshaw Colliery, now part of the coal mining museum
The more recent the mining machinery, the more dangerous--big and fast. Most of the shaft/pit coal mines in Britain and America are now closed, replaced by strip mining. Nevertheless, an estimated 12,000 workers are still killed annually worldwide in the coal mining industry (BBC News, 2010).
The Clydesdale draft horse playing "pit pony" at the museum contemplates lunch. He has a much better life than the real pit ponies, who worked and died in the darkness and filth of the coal mine.
We visited two 19th century textile mills, which offered glimpses into what life was like for the workers 150 years ago. Saltaire Village near Bradford is named after Sir Titus Salt who in 1853 built a textile mill on the River Aire. When completed, Salts Mill was the largest industrial building in the world by total floor area. Salt also constructed a town, Saltaire Village on the site for his workers, a project that's been heralded for its enlightened urban planning. In mid-century Britain, this owner-built town was far better workers' housing than offered in the slums of nearby Bradford.
Part of the huge Salts Mill complex
 The Saltaire site is interesting because it has been saved as a commercial property instead of as a museum. In 1986 the woolen mill closed, and the next year entrepreneur Jonathan Silver took up the daunting task of redeveloping the complex. Thanks to his efforts, Saltaire today is a successful shopping and arts center. The sturdy brick workers' houses have been rehabbed and sold to private individuals.  In 2001, Saltaire was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Windows installed in a former mill room in the arts wing of Saltaire.
My guide Keith enjoying a tea break at the Saltaire cafe.
The large bookstore in Saltaire. The complex also houses a wonderful housewares store.
The mill exterior by the canal. Nineteenth century mills were often dependent on water power.
On seeing Saltaire, I immediately thought of the textile mills in Massachusetts, which I wrote about last year ("Remaking Industrial America"). As it turns out, there is a strong connection between the textile mills in Bradford and those in Lawrence, Massachusetts. (Read the details here.)
Between the mill buildings at Saltaire.

Despite the successes of the paternalistic ethos of Salt and other mill owners, friction between the textile industrialists and their workers inevitably escalated. Among other cost-saving measures, mill owners constantly tried to replace male workers with cheaper female ones. But unlike in the U.S., in Bradford trade unionism was notoriously weak. In the 1870s the owners of Salts Mill broke a strike by using the strategy of a lockout (sound familiar?).

In contrast to the privately developed Saltaire complex is the Quarry Bank Mill in nearby Cheshire, a National Trust property that predates Salts Mill by seven decades. In 1783, Irish-born Samuel Greg found the perfect spot for his new cotton mill on the River Bollin, harnessing the flow of the river to power the mill. Like Salt, Greg built on-site housing for his workers, carrying on the paternalistic tradition found in textile mill owners on both sides of the Atlantic.
Quarry Bank Mill 

What's fascinating about Quarry Bank Mill is the assortment of working textile manufacturing machinery on display. The museum takes visitors through the historic process of spinning and weaving cotton fabric, from hand-spinning and weaving to power looms. When the machinery is running, it becomes very obvious why workers usually lost most of their hearing within a year.

1926 spinning mules in operation:

                                                
                                      1790's water power loom weaving shirting material:
 

 The first mills were powered by water wheels on fast-moving streams. Here's a video of water flowing from a holding pond onto an 1840's overshot wheel powering an old flour mill in Wales:


 
But to power a mill as large as Quarry Bank, a huge wheel was required. The "Great Wheel" installed at the mill in 1818 was 21 feet wide and 32 feet in diameter. The wheel was an undershot wheel, with the water pouring in from the back near the bottom of the wheel. This gives a definite mechanical advantage over the older overshot wheels. From 1810 on, steam turbines generated additional power for the mill.
The water wheel currently powering the mill is 25 feet in diameter. It is of similar design to the Great Wheel and was brought from a mill in North Yorkshire.
As in coal mining, airborne particles generated by the textile mills' operation caused a number of disabling and often fatal lung diseases, including "brown lung" and COPD. And as in other industries, accidents involving large, fast-moving machinery caused many deaths and horrible injuries. Long working hours with few breaks contributed to hazards for exhausted workers--often children and women.

"Yorkshire, West Riding"--Photo by B. Hobson, 1921. Which was worse, the air inside or outside?
Whether coal, textiles, or steel industries, life for workers during the 19th century was often nasty, brutish, and short. I find it one of the great ironies of Andrew Carnegie's career that his family emigrated to the U.S from Scotland in 1848 because his father, a handloom weaver, was put out of work by the textile mills. While Carnegie was quite bitter about his family's exit from the old country as paupers, he apparently had few concerns about the hand workers and artisans forced to find work in his mills. Carnegie aimed to settle the score by buying a castle in Scotland, where he could lord it over his former countrymen--a castle where he was staying during the summer of 1892, far from the squalor and violence in Pittsburgh.

The history of the industrial revolution has many, many chapters, most of them not pretty. Still, the lives of fantasy English aristocrats don't interest me nearly as much as the lives of the millions of industrial workers in Britain and North America. For many of us from Pennsylvania, as with many from Yorkshire and all the other industrial places of the world, these stories are our family stories.

The song and old photos are American, but the experience of these textile workers is universal:

 "Hard Times Cotton Mill Girls"
Power loom at Quarry Bank Mill

Suggested reading, Social Novels:
Sybil, or the Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli (1848). Deals with the conditions of the working classes.
Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (1849). Set in Yorkshire during the Luddite uprisings.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855). Based on Gaskell's experiences in industrial Manchester. Adapted for television in 1975 and 2004.
Suggested viewing.
Detective series set in the North of England.
Vera. ITV. Set in contemporary Northumberland.
Inspector George Gently. BBC One. Set in 1960s North East England (Newcastle, County Durham)
Film.
Brassed Off (1996). Comedy-drama about coal miners in a North England town where the colliery may be closed.
Cambrian Woollen Mill just north of Llanwrtyd Wells is one of the few remaining operational woolen mills in Wales.The brick mill building dates from the 1820s. In the 1990s I bought a Welsh tapestry coverlet here. Today their production is limited to smaller items such as tartan scarves.

--Except where noted, all photos were taken by Trilby Busch. Please credit if you reuse.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Braddock's Defeat, 1980

In 1980 when I was writing an opinion piece on preservation for the Minneapolis Star, I decided to take some photos of Braddock, the mill town across the Monongahela from Homestead. The idea was to have something for illustrator Craig Macintosh to use with the piece.

On a dreary winter day during a visit, I put black/white film in my Nikon and went over to Braddock. I started at the bottom of the hill and wound my way to the cemetery at the top. Here are the photos I took, roughly in chronological order. They show a town that has pretty much lost hope. In that year the U.S. Census counted 5,634 inhabitants, down 35.9% from 1970, the biggest population drop in a decade in Braddock history.

Note: For those unfamiliar with the history of the area, Braddock was named after British General Edward Braddock. On July 9, 1755, British and British colonial troops under Braddock's command were ambushed and defeated by French and Indian forces in an engagement  near the present town. Three days later, Braddock died of wounds suffered during the battle. His body was allegedly buried on the banks of the Monongahela, and wanting to keep his grave secret, the British rode their horses and wagons over the site. This failed military expedition that attempted to wrest Fort Duquesne (later Fort Pitt) at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers from French control, is known as "Braddock's Defeat."

Double houses
"Economic Crisis. . .Great Depression. . .Proletariat"
Burned out house.
Burned workers' houses.

Shuttered stores on Braddock Avenue
Political graffiti
An inhabited block
Old U.S. Post Office
By the mill
 Edgar Thompson Works
By the railroad tracks
Library Street at Parker Avenue
The Carnegie Free Library, the FIRST Carnegie Library, built 1888, a National Historic Landmark, then shuttered.
The Frank Vittor statue, "Winged Victory", a WWI memorial. It was this photo that Macintosh chose for his illustration.
A cemetery monument
It would be interesting to walk around Braddock today and try to find the places shown in these photos. Perhaps on my next visit to Pittsburgh, I will do just that.


Today, after decades of decline, thanks to Mayor John Fetterman, Braddock is looking better. Since 2005, Fetterman and the citizens of Braddock have worked tirelessly to attract new residents, especially those from the arts community. The mayor also initiated various rehabilitation efforts that have aided in Braddock's renewal. Fetterman is currently a candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. https://johnfetterman.com/

Braddock was in defeat, but now, three decades later, is finally getting on its feet and standing proud.