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The first meeting of the new season of the Kibworth History Society began with a series of short talks.


A seaside memento of a lighthouse was the starting point for a talk about Grace Darling and the remarkable incident when she and her father (a lighthouse keeper), set out in an open boat in a storm to try to rescue survivors from a wrecked paddle-steamer, the Forfarshire, which had run aground off the Northumberland coast. While contemporary Victorian accounts over-dramatised the events, it was certainly a very brave action and deserved to be remembered. The rescue took place on 7 September 1838; the date of the meeting was 7 September - a fitting anniversary.


A doll was a father’s gift for his daughter following a trip to France in 1939, during the months before the outbreak of war. A photograph, also from 1939, was a reminder of days before the Second World War changed everything. The photograph was taken in a tea room in Wansford and showed a rather more formal approach to afternoon tea than is usual today: people had taken care to dress up for the occasion. Poignantly, the photograph was taken on 3rd September 1939, the day war was declared.


The discovery of papers and objects belonging to a much-loved grandfather was the focus for another talk. William Westhead was a pharmacist in Leicester at the People’s Dispensary in Bond Street and during World War Two he was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden. Among the objects was a tobacco tin, specially designed to fit a hip pocket, containing his official warden identity card: a very real connection to the role of civilians in the war. An indication of William Westhead’s life as a pharmacist in the years before World War Two was the discovery of several, hand-written sheets recording his recipes (or formulas) for the various items he dispensed.


The unchanging moral dilemmas which have affected people over centuries was another topic. A thimble belonging to a relative who had been entertaining a cousin and noticed that, as the visit continued, more and more of her treasures seemed to disappear. But in any close family accusations of theft could cause a major rift. Is it easier to lose a few treasures than jeopardise family harmony?


In the early 20th century, in the mining community near Radstock in the Somerset coalfield, the actions of a local headmistress in supporting families of miners and assisting them in their disputes with the coal mine owners were regarded as so helpful that when the headmistress married, the local miners arranged with Welsh miners to present her with a wedding ring made from Welsh gold. The headmistress’s daughter continued the work for social reform and the ring was passed between generations as a symbol of the constant need for social improvement.

Coal mining was the theme of another talk about a visit to an English deep coal mine in the early 1970s, recalling how important this now defunct industry was to the British economy: in the early 1970s, coal mining employed over 200,000 people and accounted for around 67% of all electricity production. The talk was a reminder that even in the early 1970s, a deep coal mine was a dirty and dangerous place to work, with narrow seams and noisy and dusty conditions. A few months before the visit in 1973, an accident in a Yorkshire pit had killed seven miners.


The final talk came from an American visitor to the History Society, Chris Iliff, in Kibworth to explore possible family connections, as the name Iliff has a long association with Kibworth. He told the story of James Iliff, the son of an early settler. In the American Revolutionary Wars of the 1770s, James remained loyal to the British Crown. He was captured by supporters of George Washington and sent to Washington’s HQ where he was tried for treason and executed. It is ironic that, by being loyal to the legitimate authority, he was condemned for treason against a country which didn’t legally exist. 


Visitors and new members are always welcome, see


Eric Whelan

Issue 395

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