Tuesday 31 July 2012

Isles of Wonder - some connections

I don't know what other countries made of Friday's Olympic opening ceremony, but we Brits loved it (well, most of us did). It was full of surprises, it was funny, crazy, and very British. Naturally I was pleased that there was so much history in it, and I liked it when the tone was set by Ken Branagh (from Northern Ireland, but has an English accent) quoted Shakespeare (English, but set an awful lot of his plays in Italy) while dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel (a Great British Icon who was half French).

From The Girl's Own Paper 1894
 The ceremony celebrated, among other things, our National Health Service, of which we are very proud. In particular it featured Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) the world-famous hospital for sick children. Founded in 1852 is almost a century older than the National Health Service which dates only from 1948. It was the first hospital in the English-speaking world devoted entirely to the treatment of children, and its history is well-recorded, not least in its own museum and archive (open by appointment only) and The complete history of GOSH on its own website. Since 1929 it has benefited from the copyright of J M Barrie's 'Peter Pan', published in 1911 in book form and in 1926 as a play, donated to the hospital by the author during his lifetime.

According to the Hospital Records Database most of Great Ormond Street's records are held in its own Museum and archives services with a small number at the London Metropolitan Archives. However, for family historians the most useful records are the Admission and Discharge Registers which are online as part of the excellent Historic Hospitals Admission Records Project which also includes the records of the Evelina Hospital, the Alexandra Hospital for Children with Hip Disease (both in London), and Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow. This database is well worth searching, and if you register you can use a number of advanced search features. Best of all, it is completely FREE!


Sunday 22 July 2012

Those Places Thursday - The State of the Poor UPDATE

Yes, I know it's Sunday, but this is worth mentioning now rather than waiting another four days.

Berkshire: Reading Poorhouse
An eagle-eyed blog reader, Adrian Bruce, found The State of the Poor: Volume II on Google Books. This is the volume with the rest of the Parochial Reports, as follows:

Bedfordshire: Dunstable, Houghton Regis, Humbershoe, Houghton Regis
Berkshire: Reading, Streatley, Wallingford, Windsor
Buckinghamshire: Buckingham, Maid's Morton, Stony Stratford, Winslow
Cheshire: Chester, High Walton, Mickle Trafford
Cornwall: Gwennap, Kenwyn
Cumberland: Ainstable, Bromfield, Caldbeck, Carlisle, Castle Carrock, Croglin, Cumrew, Cumwhitton, Gilcrux, Harrington, Hesket, Kirkoswald, Nent Head, Sebergham, Warwick, Wetheral, Workington
Derbyshire: Chesterfield, Derby (St Alkmund, All Saints, St Michael, St Peter, St Werburgh), Wirksworth
Devon: Clyst St George, South Tawton, Tiverton
Dorsetshire: Blandford, Durweston
Durham: Durham (St Margaret, St Nicholas), Holy Island, Monk Wearmouth, South Shields, Stanhope, Sunderland, Tanfield
Essex: Colchester (All Saints, St Mary, St James)
Gloucestershire: Bristol, Rodmarton, Stapleton
Hampshire: Gosport, Hawksley, Newton Valence, Petersfield, Portsea, Portsmouth, Southampton, Isle of Wight
Herefordshire: Hereford (All Saints, St Nicholas)
Hertfordshire: St Albans, Chipping Barnet, Redbourn
Norfolk: Yarmouth 'A row'
Kent: Ashford, Chalk, Great Chart, Little Chart, Cobham, Hothfield, Meopham, Westwell
Lancashire: Bury, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Warrington
Leicestershire: Ashby de la Zouch, Carlton Curlieu, Kibworth Beauchamp, Leicester
Lincolnshire: Alford, Cockerington, Louth, Spilsby, Swineshead, Tattershall, Willoughby, Lincoln
Middlesex: Ealing, Hampton, St Martin's Westminster
Monmouthshire: Abergavenny, Monmouth
Norfolk: Downham, Gressinghall, Heckingham, Norwich, Yarmouth
Northamptonshire: Brixworth, Kettering, Northmapton (St Giles, St Peter), Rode, Yardley Goben
Northumberland: Newcastle, North Shields
Nottinghamshire: Newark, Nottingham, Overingham, Worksop
Oxford: Banbury, Deddington, Oxford
Rutland: Empingham, Luffenham
Shropshire: Bishops Castle, Ellesmere, Shrewsbury
Somersetshire: Frome, Minehead, Walcot (Bath)
Staffordshire: Litchfield, Wolverhampton
Suffolk: Bulcamp, Melton

Shropshire: Shrewsbury, Battlefield Road



Thursday 19 July 2012

Those Places Thursday - The State of the Poor

This isn't about a particular place, but about a very useful source for family and local history. I was completely unaware of this until the summer school I attended last week in Oxford.

 'The State of the Poor, or An History of the Labouring Classes in England, from the Conquest to the Present Period; in which are particularly considered, Their Domestic Economy, with respect to their Diet, Dress, Fuel and Habitation; And the Various Plans which, from time to time, have been Proposed and Adopted, for the Relief of the Poor'  by Sir Frederick Morton Eden was published in 1797, in three volumes. I have only been able to find Volume III on Google Books, but original and facsimile copies are widely available in libraries, according to Worldcat.

It is not a comprehensive survey of every parish in England (and Wales - despite the title it includes some Welsh places), but Sir Frederick selected a few parishes from each county for detailed examination. The counties and parishes in Volume III are:

Surrey: Epsom, Esher, Farnham, Reigate, Walton
Sussex: Burwash, Chailey, Peasmarsh, Winchelsea
Warwickshire: Alcester, Birmingham, Coventry, Mollington, Southam, Sutton Colefield (sic)
Westmoreland: Kendal, Kirkby Lonsdale, Orton, Underbarrow
Wiltshire: Bradford, Seend, Trowbridge
Worcestershire:  Evesham, Inkborough, Worcester
Yorkshire: Bradford, Burton, Ecclesfield, Great Driffield, Halifax, Kingston upon Hull, Leeds, Market Wrighton, Settle, Sheffield, Skipton, Southowram, Pocklington, Stokesley, Thornton

Denbighshire: Llanferras, Wrexham
Pembrokeshire: Narberth
Radnorshire: Knighton, Presteigne

Winchelsea, Sussex
Although most of the parochial reports are concerned with describing the occupations and incomes of the inhabitants, there are some lists of names, too. The entry for Kendal includes a list of the 'out-poor' in 1795, amounting to several dozen individuals and families, as well as the amounts they received. There is an even longer and more detailed list for Bradford in Wiltshire, Epsom and Halifax.


Saturday 14 July 2012

Shopping Saturday - Shetland House, Edinburgh

I haven't done a 'Shopping Saturday' post for a while; in fact my blogging has been a little erratic of late as I've been travelling a lot. I have just returned from a week in Oxford where I attended a summer school class on 19th Century Working Lives with the wonderful Dr Alan Crosby. He is a regular contributor to Who Do You Think You Are? magazine, and you can find him online on the magazine's Local history blog. This is marginally relevant to my shopping post, because while in Oxford I was on the look-out for second-hand books, as usual. This is harder than it used to be, since many booksellers no longer have shop premises, they trade online instead. Many of my Oxford favourites have disappeared in the last decade, but there is still the second-hand section of Blackwell's (an interesting shop in its own right), the Oxfam bookshops, and, on Thursdays, a couple of stalls in the market at Gloucester Green. This is where I found a few treasures this year - quite cheap, too. One was Black's Guide to West Kent (1906), which includes the Medway Towns, where I grew up; still not relevant to the subject in hand, but hold on, I'm getting there.

Post Office Edinburgh and Leith  Directory 1911-12
Like other books of its kind, the West Kent guide is full of advertisements, many of them illustrated, for places and services all over the British Isles. One which particularly caught my eye was the one above. Knowing that the National Library of Scotland has a big collection of online trade directories, I thought I would use these to see how long the business was in in existence, starting with the most recent online edition of the Post Office Directory for Edinburgh directory, 1911-12. When I clicked on the link to the title page for this directory, I was amazed to find not only an advertisement for the very same shop, but a picture of it, too! The actual directory entry reads 'Shetland House, John White & Co., Manufacturers of Shetland Shawls, Hosiery, Underclothing, Etc.' . Tracing back through the directory years, John White & Co were at 10 Frederick Street in 1891-92 described as 'successor to W B Mackenzie'. In fact, John White was the successor to W B Mackenzie all the way back to 1861! In 1858 12 Frederick Street was occupied by William White, woollen draper, men's mercer, and hatter. This turned out to be John's older brother. An assortment of census returns shows that they also had three sisters, and the family came from Crieff, Perthshire.

Shetland House at 32 Frederick Street is also listed in the Valuation Roll for 1915, still occupied by J White  & Co. The shop is still there, just off Princes Street in Edinburgh's New Town (ie the Georgian part) and the lease is even available, if you have £133,000 to spare for the rent.
'The property comprises a four storey, B-listed, stone building, with attic and basement, which was constructed 1786-92'


Thursday 12 July 2012

Those places Thursday - Britain from above

'Those places Thursday' is rather an appropriate day to feature the recent launch of the Britain from above website. This is a lottery-funded project and the result of a partnership between English Heritage, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru). 
'It features some of the oldest and most valuable images of the Aerofilms Collection, a unique and important archive of over 1 million aerial photographs taken between 1919 and 2006. 
The Aerofilms Collection embodies all that is exciting about aerial photography. Many shots were taken in the early days of aviation by ex-First World War pilots, from extremely low altitudes, a technique which was very dangerous. It shows just how far their pilots were willing to go for a great photograph. 
The photographs featuring on the website date from 1919 to 1953, and have gone through a painstaking process of conservation and cataloguing. Due to their age and fragility, many of the earliest plate glass negatives were close to being lost forever. 
The Britain from Above website features a high degree of interactivity and is designed to encourage wide public participation. Users can download images, customise their own themed photo galleries, share personal memories, and add information to enrich the understanding for each of the images. They are also invited to identity the locations of a number of “mystery” images that have left the experts stumped. 
The Aerofilms Collection was acquired for the nation in 2007 when the company was facing financial difficulties. With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Foyle Foundation, English Heritage and the Royal Commissions in Scotland and Wales embarked on a programme to conserve, catalogue and digitise the collection and make it freely available online. 
The number of images available to view on the website will continue to grow, and by 2014, some 95,000 images taken between 1919 and 1953 will be visible online.'
Some of the images already online are absolutely stunning, and as the extract above says, the site is interactive, and is actively seeking help with identifying some of the locations. Judging by the number of comments already added, people are taking to this very eagerly.

There is a good search engine, and you can join a discussion forum on a place or subject that is of interest to you - I notice that there is one my fine home city of Glasgow. As usual, I tested the search facility by looking for my current place of residence, which is a long way from Glasgow and very much smaller, Chesham in Buckinghamshire. I found 16 photographs, including one from 1928 where I can even see MY HOUSE!  Google Maps, eat your heart out. Go an have a look for yourself, you'l enjoy it, I promise.


Friday 6 July 2012

Those Places Thursday - 'Old' Brompton and Fort Amherst

Many thanks to my friend and blogmeister Chris Paton of British GENES for alerting me to an excellent new website Brompton - civilian life in a military village. Brompton is the area immediately outside the gates of Chatham Dockyard, and only became 'Old' Brompton with the growth of 'New' Brompton, which in turn became the town of Gillingham, so that 'Old' Brompton could become Brompton again.

If your ancestors had any connection with Chatham Dockyard, or any of the numerous military establishments in the area, this site could be of use to you - it's of more tha.assed through this area. The army, in particular the Royal Engineers, the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines all have long associations with Brompton. I have no ancestral connections, but I have a long-standing interest in both Gillingham and Chatham (grew up in the former, went to school in the latter) and the history of the Medway Towns in general.

There is a lot of good content on the Brompton website, including details of local pubs, schools and significant buildings. You can also comment on articles and add your own memories. There is a well-chosen page of links, one of which is to nearby Fort Amherst a series of tunnels in the chalk cliffs overlooking the dockyard. I used to pass this on the bus between Gillingham and Chatham hundreds of times without even realising it was there, but it has now been open to the public for a number of years. The website used to be rather cheesy and amateurish, but I'm pleased to say that it has been completely re-vamped and is greatly improved. As a tourist attraction it is overshadowed by Chatham's world-famous Historic Dockyard which is almost next door.


Tuesday 3 July 2012

Happy birthday, Civil Registration in England and Wales

Somerset House in 1834
The 175th anniversary of Civil Registration in England and Wales was actually Sunday 1 July, so this a bit late. On Sunday I managed to achieve the remarkable feat of staying in a Melbourne hotel with no wi-fi! Well, the way I see it, you had six weeks to register a birth, so a couple of days' delay in marking this birth shouldn't incur a fine either.

I thought this would be as good a time as any to say something about the early days, and throw in a few lesser-known facts. for one thing, the familiar certificate layout and information could have been very different; for example, the cause of death on death certificates was only added at a very late stage of the passage of the registration bill though parliament. It is also interesting to note that the statistical side of the GRO, which became so dominant, was not part of the original plan at all. Thomas Lister, the first Registrar General, planned three divisions for his new department, records, accounts and correspondence. It was not until 1838 that he asked for someone to abstract the causes of death. Another proposed amendment in 1836 was that the details collected on birth registrations should not include the child's name! We can count ourselves lucky that this one was defeated, I think.

I have collected a lot of information about the staff of the GRO, including all kinds of personal anecdotes, as well as the official record of their service. One of the earliest employees engaged was James Rose, the office keeper. He resigned abruptly in 1843 when the new Registrar General, George Graham, discovered that he had been claiming large sums of money for postage expenses, but only a fraction of the amount was actually being used for postage purposes. He was not prosecuted, to Graham's annoyance, as the ever cautious Treasury Solicitor was not confident that there was enough solid evidence. Mr Rose is believed to have fled to Australia. An odd little footnote to this tale is that one of the witnesses to the will of the first Registrar General, Thomas Lister, who died in 1842, was James Rose. The same man?

If, like me, you are interested in the background to registration (there may be one of you out there, for all I know) there are some essays on the subject on the wonderful HISTPOP site, along with all kinds of other wonderful resources. Happy reading


Monday 2 July 2012

If it's Friday, it must be Sydney

View from my balcony
I started writing this on Friday in the Paramatta RSL, coming towards the end of the first day seminar of the Unlock the Past tour. I wouldn't say that I'm jet-lagged, I'm not actually doing to badly, but I have absolutely no sense of what day or time it is. Suffice to say that I have managed to be awake when I need to be awake.

I touched down at Sydney's Kingsford-Smith airport early last Monday morning, then had a connecting flight to Brisbane, arriving at 10.30am. I gave my first talk at the Queensland Expo that afternoon, and another in the evening. The first talk was one that I know so well that I could do it in my sleep, and it did cross my mind that I might wake up to find my self doing exactly that, but it was fine! The weather in Brisbane was dull and drizzly on the first day, but for the other two days of the Expo the rain was hammering down! I felt right at home. It was a nice change, I suppose, to have the locals apologising for the weather, because that's what we Brits usually do.

Still, the company was good, people seemed to enjoy the talks, and approached me with lots of questions afterwards. I particularly enjoyed 'The Will Forgeries', a talk I gave for the first time on Wednesday. It was especially appropriate for an Australian audience. It was also the final talk of my tour, and I was very excited to find someone in the audience who had been researching the same story, though from a different angle. We have exchanged email addresses so I see a fruitful correspondence coming on!

Now that's what I call a meat pie!
Now it's Tuesday morning, and I am back in Sydney, after giving my 15th and final talk yesterday in Melbourne. It's been great fun travelling round and meeting some great people in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, but I'm looking forward to having a whole day and a bit to myself in Sydney before I fly home tomorrow afternoon. Everyone has been very welcoming, and I've been driven all over the place by an assortment of generous Australians, most of whom I had never met before. My good Geni-mate Jill Ball aka @geniaus and her lovely husband Robert were the most wonderful hosts for my time in Sydney last week: they not only put me up in their lovely home, but laid on the full tourist guide experience, culminating in dinner at the famous Doyle's restaurant. I just can't thank them enough.

Last night I arrived here at the Radisson in chauffeur-driven splendour, courtesy of Carole Riley and her husband, Keith. Fellow-blogger Carole has been my travelling companion for the last few days two, and she is great company, we found that we giggle at the same things; she and Jill have also patiently accompanied me to assorted gift shops in search of my essential travel trophies (a fridge magnet from every state I visit).  The lovely Radisson has upgraded me to a deluxe room, which is a lovely finale to my trip. I treated myself to a room service meal, and had a lovely long soak in the bathtub - there's even a shuttered window between the bathroom and the room so that you could lie in the tub and watch TV if you wanted to! Chateau Collins back in Chesham is going to be such an anti-climax when I get back, I'd better make the most of this decadence while I can.