SUES FORUM 9: 07/2020


As the Forum has in the current situation replaced the newsletter, which was our main means of keeping you up-to-date, this is now the appropriate place to provide important information. The AGM has been held, albeit in an unusual format and the minutes are the first item in this edition. The bad news is that we are still not in a position to offer face-to-face courses and meetings; the good is that we are extending your membership for another twelve months without requiring payment of a subscription.

The Committee would love to announce a programme for the coming year but for the moment we can go little beyond ‘wait and see’. We would like to resume courses as soon as it is safe to do so. The large hall at All Saints may be a more promising venue than our usual small one. It seems unlikely that we will be able to run a weekly course until the new year but three possible activities are under consideration for October to December 2020.

  1. A re-arranged visit to Scarisbrick Hall
  2. Single lectures
  3. Online activities specifically for members

As a first step, we are hoping that a socially distanced, outdoor committee meeting will be possible so that we can discuss our future programme. Any suggestions from members will be welcomed.

We are grateful for another article by Hazel Fort. Her subject, ‘Humour’, seems an appropriate recipe for survival in these difficult times. This is followed by a piece on local history by Martin Perry and Roger Mitchell. It concludes with some questions: do contact us if you can help.

Finally, we thought it appropriate to bring you news of how the Continuing Education Department of the University of Liverpool is hoping to progress in the coming year.

As always, we are looking for contributions. Any topic is possible, the only criterion being that it should an item expected to interest our members.

Minutes of Annual General Meeting on Friday 31st July 2020

The Coronavirus Pandemic ensured that this meeting was unlike any of the previous AGMs of the Society. It was not possible to have a physical gathering, but all members were provided with full information either by post or by email. More than a dozen members took an active role by appointing the chairman as their proxy and expressing their wishes on the agenda items. There was unanimous support for all 4 items and a number of members expressed their appreciation of the continuing efforts of the committee to maintain the activities of the society.

  1. The minutes of the 2019 AGM were accepted.
  2. The Chairman’s Report was accepted.
  3. The Treasurer’s Report was accepted.
  4. Officers and Committee were elected.

Chairman: Hazel Fort
Treasurer: Bob Neate
Secretary: Roger Mitchell
Membership Secretary: John Sharp
Other Committee Members: Peter Firth and Alan Potter

The reports of Chairman and Treasurer showed that the society was in good health before the pandemic struck. Membership was buoyant, attendance was excellent, the financial position was strong and a fruitful partnership with Liverpool University Continuing Education was developing. All this is now on hold but we continue to work with the University and we maintain contact with members through frequent editions of Forum – 9 so far. The continuing uncertainty has led us to extend current membership through to 2021 without the need for any additional subscription.

Roger Mitchell
31st July 2020


Have you heard the one about…?

What did the magician say to the fisherman? Take a cod. Any cod.

Did you laugh?


Dismiss it out of hand as being too corny?

Think it not clever enough?

Humour is such an individual preference. It can cross the boundaries between nations or cause unforgivable divisions. I don’t think that nineteenth century Englishmen ever forgave Bonaparte for disparaging us as ‘a nation of shopkeepers’. You wouldn’t be amused had you been one of our aristocracy who were very disparaging about those whose origins were from ‘trade’. I don’t think it amused the factory and farm workers, either! I’m not sure I am happy about being called, ‘rost bif’ – but that’s the French for you.

Last year, I visited the Holy Land and had the privilege of meeting Jacob, who was our guide. He was a cheerful soul and a committed Christian who had a story for every occasion. As we travelled down towards Jerusalem, we noted the geographical changes from lush areas around the River Jordan to absolute desert areas near Magdala. On one of our stops, we were fascinated by the yellow hills: they seemed like the sand dunes around Southport only hundreds of feet bigger.

‘You know, ladies and gentlemen, there was once a king in the Old Testament,’ Jacob reminisced, ‘who lived up that mountain there,’ pointing to a large hill on the horizon, ‘and he married a beautiful woman. He built a gorgeous summer palace for her on that hill. The air there was sweet and cool: the views were entrancing. He left her in that palace whilst he travelled the realm on business. When he returned from one of these trips, he was met by his servants who told him terrible tales of his wife. While he had been away, she had plotted against him with her son and her lover. He was furious. He ordered the son to be put to death immediately and the boy was tortured terribly until he died. But his wife? He could not bear the thought of defiling such beauty. But she had betrayed him. What to do? The king called for one of the large water jars from the court yard and had it filled with honey then sealed his wife in the jar. Every so often, afterwards, he would sit and stare wistfully at the jar, murmuring,

‘Ah, honey!’ So, ladies, be very careful if your loved one looks at you and says, ‘Ah! Honey!’.

I don’t know whether we laughed at the story or at Jacob’s lugubrious face, eyes twinkling with mischief. As I say humour is very individual.

In the Middle Ages, humour was used to describe a bodily fluid believed to govern health and temperament. By the 1500s, humour had come to mean a mood or a feeling leading to ‘comical’ in the 1600s.The meaning then expanded in the 1700s to mean, ‘the ability to enjoy a joke.’

Be it written or spoken, humour has transcended every boundary. In today’s trend for economy of words, the initials GSOH have become an essential description on social media sites. To have a dry sense of humour favours understated jokes. ‘I have a dry sense of humour so I drink moisturiser.’

Someone who enjoys profane and jokes containing sexual content is said to have a dirty sense of humour whilst a dark sense of humour describes someone who can see comedy in tragedy – most clowns are tragi-comedy figures. The comment, ‘He’s got no sense of humour’, indicates a person who is either too serious or too sensitive… poor thing! Comedy programmes are a rich source of entertainment: think of ‘Are you being served?’ or ‘Allo! Allo!’. As a nation, we have chuckled our way through many a crisis. Our sense of humour has proved our safety valve against the enemies of depression, aggression and suppression. If you know someone with a good sense of humour, a conversation with them can put you on top of the world.

We laughed our way through the bad times with that tragi-comic little man, Charlie Chaplin. We howled with glee at the antics of the Keystone Cops. Morecambe and Wise mingled slap stick comedy with moments of pure genius. Do we all remember the duo making breakfast to the strains of ‘The Stripper’? ‘The Young Ones’ made fun of anarchy. ‘Spitting image’ mocked many politicians. In recent times, politicians have discovered the power of using humour: think Boris Johnson’s quip about Keir Starmer having more briefs than Calvin Klein. What about cartoon strips? Comics when we were young? L’il Abner versus Desperate Dan.

All literature has humour: from drama to poetry to novels: think Shakespeare, Edward Lear and Dickens. The wit is there in the characters, in the situations or the dialogue – something for us all; from Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ to the Artful Dodger; translated to the screen, humour becomes very vivid; from childhood – did you ever go to the Christmas Panto? See Charlie Carolli? – through to adulthood; think Malvolio or Mr Micawber, both tragic, sweet characters.

Personally speaking, I prefer one liner jokes:

Why did the horse sneeze? It got hay fever.

What lies at the bottom of the ocean and shivers? A nervous wreck.

What’s yellow and highly dangerous? Shark infested custard.

Juvenile, I know. But they make me laugh.

Humour is a god-given saviour. It has been said that there is no humour in the Bible. Not true! It is there, you just have to search for it. God had a very subtle sense of humour – He must have; He created us!

In these times of tragedy, bone tiring hard work or just sheer frustration, we have had to depend on humour to see us through. Be it stand-up, one liners or situation, intellectual or pure corn we depended on a GSOH to see us through. So, here’s one last joke.

‘How does a mouse feel after a bath? Squeaky clean!’

Hazel Fort

A New Song from Aughton

This piece of ‘Printed Ephemera’ is from Martin Perry’s collection and we hope that you will read it through (preferably aloud) and enjoy a rather fine piece of doggerel. It should, of course, be sung rather than read but the only ‘google’ references to a Sour Apple Tree tune come from Civil War America and does not seem to fit the words.

Martin acquired the broadsheet from the Heskeths, which is particularly appropriate. It may well be a unique survivor. Only when you have read it and tried to decipher it, should you turn to the notes at the end, which report on what we have been able to find out so far. We hope that you will be able to cast a bit more light.

What is it all about?

  1. It dates from the Georgian period, 1714 – 1830. Paper and print are of that period and there is a reference to King George, our Royal King. It is not clear which of the four Georges this is.
  1. The reference to Sir William Stanley ought to be helpful. It certainly confirms that the song refers to Aughton in West Lancashire rather than one of the other Aughtons. These are in North Lancashire, in Yorkshire (2) and in Wiltshire. However, finding a Sir William Stanley in 18th century Lancashire is not as easy as one might expect. None of the five Stanley Baronets of Bickerstaffe was called William and we have to go to the Cheshire branch of the family – The Stanleys of Hooton – to find a couple of 18th century baronets called William. There is an Aughton connection, because in 1731 Moor Hall, now the restaurant, and its estate passed by inheritance to Sir William Stanley of Hooton. He was 3rd Baronet and died in 1740. His grandson, the 5th baronet was also a William and held the title from 1761 to 1792. Moor Hall remained in Stanley ownership until the 19th century.
  1. The second and third verses bring in the ‘Plumbe Tree’, which represents ‘a great Divine’ who is ‘Shepherd o’er some flocks of sheep’ and so we need to find a clergyman called Plum or something similar. We have not one but two to choose from – Thomas Plumbe was Rector of Aughton from 1739 to his death in 1769. His nephew, William Plumbe then held the position until 1786.
  1. Who were the Plumbes and why did they need to resort to law (Verse 4)? The Plumbe family had acquired their wealth through the law and the subsequent purchase of land. John Plumbe who died in 1761 was a successful Liverpool lawyer who purchased Wavertree Hall and lived there. In 1718, he purchased the estates of the Aughton branch of the Hesketh family. The sale was disputed by members of the Hesketh family and the legal case was not settled until 1745. However, there is no mention of the Heskeths in the song and the legal case seems to involve a group rather than an individual.
  1. Light is shed on this by an article in the Journal of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire in 1986 by Audrey Coney on Aughton Enclosures (freely available online). She describes the long battle over the unenclosed land in Aughton parish, especially the areas of Aughton Moss and Clieves Hills. The freeholders resisted attempts by the Plumbe family to control and, if possible, enclose this land. It was not until the second decade of the 19th century that enclosure took place under an act of parliament of 1813. Our song almost certainly arises from that conflict and comments on it in a manner supportive to the freeholders rather than he Plumbe family.
  1. Can we suggest a date? It needs to be a time when there was a Sir William Stanley and when a member of the Plumbe family was rector of Aughton. Any year between 1761 when William Stanley became 5th Baronet and 1786 when William Plumbe, Rector of Aughton died would meet these criteria. The later 1760s would fit well, because Thomas Plumbe would have been well established as rector, but after his father’s death in 1761, he might have taken a more important role in the legal disputes.

There are lots of references that we still do not understand. Any thoughts (however speculative) will be gratefully received.

Why the ‘Heads’ of Aughton Town?

Who are ‘Turnpike Rip’ and Paddy from York and who is lawyer Wa___ce?

Most obscure of all, we want to know more about those lads with ‘Hatbands made of Hay’.

The Past is a foreign country and we can never know it fully, but any thoughts and speculations would be much appreciated.

Roger Mitchell
Martin Perry

News from the University

We continue to work with Continuing Education at Liverpool University and it is good to hear about their plans for Courses this autumn. A summary is shown below, but full details are on their website. Here is your opportunity to try out a professionally developed online course.

Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool

We are delighted to announce a programme of short courses and lectures that you can enrol upon from 5pm on Friday 14 August. This programme will be fully online, allowing you to access the things you enjoy the most from a CE course safely from home during the current circumstances,  and we have a varied collection of exciting courses for you to choose from. Our online programmes are fully interactive and you will be still be studying as part of a group. Courses will be led by some of our favourite long-standing tutors and we are also welcoming new ones to the team.

Dr Alan Sennett gives us Britain and Empire: Origins and Growth c1500-1850, Michael Tunnicliffe will discuss Rome and its Enemies: Advance and Dr Kate O’Leary returns with How to Read a Poem 1. Our programme includes brand new topics as diverse as Introduction to Coptic, Journey Up the Nile: Into Nubia, British Figurative Art in the 1940s and 1950s and Time and the City: Photographing Liverpool 1851-65.

Our commitment to online delivery provides us with the certainty that we can deliver a full programme of courses with little disruption should the situation change at all – and all our lecturers are committed to ensuring that each course encourages engagement and provides a sense of community whilst you are learning from home.


Chair: Alan Potter
07713 428670

Secretary: Roger Mitchell
01695 423594 (Texts preferred to calls)

Membership Secretary and Forum Editor: Chris Nelson
07960 117719


See our archive for previous editions of the SUES Forum!

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