Wednesday 17 April 2013

Funeral of Britain's greatest 20th century peacetime prime minister

From The Times 12 October 1967
Clement Richard Attlee 1883-1967


There was little of the pomp usually associated with the passing of Prime Ministers at the funeral service for Lord Attlee in London yesterday. Fewer than 150 people attended the ceremony, which lasted 20 minutes, in the Temple Church.

There were no crowds, few policemen. Most of the congregation were either family or close friends.

Some of Lord Attlee's oldest colleagues were there: Emanuel Shinwell, who had been his Minister of Fuel and Power and Secretary of State for War, with George Wigg who had been his parliamentary private secretary, during both appointments, and James Griffiths, Minister of National Insurance during the postwar administration.

Veterans knew the words

Links with the past and present were established by the presence of Mr Alister MacDonald son of the first Labour Prime Minister of England [sic], and Mr Harold Wilson, the party's third Prime Minister.

The immediate family mourners were Lord Attlee's son, Lord Prestwood (now the second Lord Attlee), with his wife Anne, Lord Attlee's eldest daughter Lady Janet Skipton, now a United States citizen, and his other daughters Lady Felicity Harwood and Lady Alison Davis.

Two wreaths were all that lay on the small oak coffin during the service. One, inscribed 'To Daddy, with love, from all your children' was of red carnations and roses, yellow chrysanthemums and lilies. The other, a bunch of freesias, roses and lilies read: 'With much love, from grandchildren'.

The service was worthy of the old socialist, with the lesson taken from Revelation, St John's vision of 'The New Jerusalem', and one of the two hymns 'Jerusalem', sang at so many Labour gatherings. Many of the veterans present sang it without their pamphlets.

'Building one people'

The master of the Temple, Canon Milford, conducted the service. He was assisted by the Archdeacon of Westminster, Canon Edward Carpenter, who spoke the prayers and the eulogy. In this he referred to Lord Attlee as one who 'sustained a passionate concern to promote social justice, to break down barriers, and to build up among men one people'.

After the ceremony the chief mourners went in procession to the cremation ceremony at Putney Vale. On the leading car was a wreath from the Cabinet 'Flowers from the garden of Chequers, which he loved'. Lord Attlee's ashes are to be interred at a memorial service in Westminster Abbey early next month.

Some 30 people standing in one of the Temple squares watched the funeral procession of the man who had introduced the welfare state move off into the rain.


Tuesday 16 April 2013

Old Bailey Online - the Will Forgeries

Bank of England Rotunda
It was all over the papers in 1844, and places in the public gallery at the Old Bailey must have been highly sought-after but the Will Forgeries is now largely forgotten. It's an amazing story, though, and if it were fiction you'd say it was far-fetched. You really couldn't make it up.

It concerned an organised crime ring defrauding the Bank of England of large sums of money held in dormant accounts. It started with a perfectly legal activity, that of finding the people legally entitled to the money and helping them claim it - for a fee or commission, of course. These would be the next of kin of people who had died leaving sums in the Bank, much in the way that the firms we see on TV on 'Heir Hunters' contact the heirs of people who die intestate. Sometimes there is no heir to be found, and of course the same thing happened in the 1840s.

This is where one man, Joshua Fletcher, crossed the line into illegality. If he and his agents couldn't find an heir, then it was likely that no-one else could; so if he invented an heir and forged the supporting documentary proof, he and his gang could pocket the money. It took some planning, and involved the assuming of false identities, and even disguises, but it worked very well for a time, until the Bank of England became suspicious of the higher than usual number of dormant accounts that were springing back to life.

Although many accounts were involved, the charges finally brought at the Old Bailey were the ones where they had the strongest evidence, those of John Stewart who had died intestate with no heirs and Anne Slack who was a real person (and was still alive) for whom Fletcher and his accomplices had forged a will and obtained a fictitious death certificate. The forged will is in The National Archives, which I transcribed and wrote about in a blog post there last year Fraud, forgery and identity theft in the 1840s 

The defendants were all found guilty in the Anne Slack case, and two of them in the Stewart case. This was enough for Fletcher to be sentenced to transportation for life, along with William Henry Barber, the solicitor who carried out his legal work. But that was not the end of the story. Throughout the trial, all the way to Australia and while he was in the penal colony on Norfolk Island, Barber continually protested his innocence. He had been duped by Fletcher, and while he may have been guilty of naivety, he was not part of the criminal conspiracy. With astonishing persistence and single-mindedness he was finally vindicated, gaining first a conditional and then a full pardon. He made his way back to England, was granted £5000 in compensation from the government and even got back his licence to practice law. You really couldn't make it up.


Thursday 4 April 2013

Those places Thursday - Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire

Quarry Bank Mill and its chimney
Quarry Bank Mill is one of the most popular sites run by the National Trust and it is one of my favourites too. Much as I enjoy visiting the many 'stately homes' also run by the Trust, I love Quarry Bank Mill because it shows how ordinary people lived and worked (in places other than the kitchens - always a popular part of the stately home tour). You have probably seen the mill on TV, as its working machinery is often featured in documentaries on the Industrial Revolution. It is not just the buildings that are well-preserved, there are unusually good records of the Greg family who owned the mill, and even better, for the mill's apprentices and employees. The Unitarian Greg family were regarded as model employers who treated their staff much better than most other industrialists; all the same, when you look at the details the lives of the child apprentices were still very hard.

The mill is set to be a TV star again, not in a documentary this time, but in a Channel 4 costume drama based on real people and events in the mill's history. The working title is 'The Mill' and there is is no transmission date as yet, but it should be on our screens later this year. Sounds interesting, and I will certainly watch it. I hope it is a good production, but even if it isn't I can turn off the sound and enjoy looking at the locations.

As well as on its own page on the National Trust site, there is a lot of interesting background information on the mill and its history at Spinning the Web - the story of the cotton industry. That site is a wonderful resource for anyone whose ancestors were involved in the cotton industry, especially in north west England.

I have visited the mill many times, and it is where I actually joined the National Trust many years ago. There is always something new to see, and over the years I have seen many changes as many restoration projects have been undertaken. Back in the 1980s our family visits always included putting some coins in a box for the 'wheel appeal' to bring a mill wheel to the wheel chamber and restore it to working order - somewhere in my attic there is a teddy bear wearing an appeal sweatshirt that was bought for my younger son when he was four years old! Now they have developed an ingenious means of fundraising more suited to the 21st century; you can help to raise funds by playing online games through the Quarry Bank Appeal page. You can play play free of charge too, but obviously the Trust hope you will pay - seems like a better use for your money than buying coins or gold bars or magic crystals on Facebook games.


Wednesday 3 April 2013

'Everyone deserves to be recorded' - Dennis Brimhall, RootsTech 2013

No-one who witnessed Denis Brimhall's keynote session at Rootstech 2013 will ever forget the astonishing account of his father's escape from a burning plane during the Second And World War. If you missed it, you can catch the recording at Rootstech recap, it is well worth it. (Warning: the video starts up when you click on the link, so choose your time carefully). But it was a phrase from another part of his speech that stuck in my mind 'Everyone deserves to be recorded'. Once someone has passed from living memory, the only way that we know they ever existed is through a written record, a picture or a story that has been passed down through the generations. Once people stop passing on the story, then they are lost forever unless some documentary or picture evidence exists, and someone finds it, records it and puts it in place in the family or community. It is remarkable - and often shocking - how swiftly and easily this can happen.

Viewers of the British TV series 'Heir Hunters' will be very familiar with those cases where relatives of someone who died intestate are the surprised recipients of a sum of money from the relative they didn't know they had. This is often an old person with no children of their own, and if that person was also an only child, the heirs are often cousins once or twice removed. Often the heirs express regret that they never knew their unexpected benefactor while they were still alive, and then take steps to find out more about them, and contact people who knew them in their final years. Some of them become very interested in the wider family tree, and I'm sure some are inspired to take up genealogy as a serious pastime, and we all know where that can lead us! Better late than never. But just think about the people who remain 'lost' to any family because they die without leaving a sum of money that makes heir-hunting worthwhile. Only estates worth £5000 or more appear on the Bona Vacantia lists, and for probate firms like Fraser & Fraser, Hoopers or Celtic Research the cost of research means that only estates worth much more than this are worth pursuing. That leaves an awful lot of people who are recorded, in that they have a death certificate, but are otherwise forgotten because they are apparently unconnected to anyone else.

Dennis Brimhall's comment struck a particular chord with me because of some the earliest findings I made in my family research. Like everyone else I am pleased when I find an interesting or distinguished ancestor or relative; I was surprised and delighted to find a very distant cousin who won the Victoria Cross, and if anything I was even more excited to discover an extremely distant connection by marriage who was an Inspector of Registration for GRO Scotland! But the most affecting discoveries I made are the children who died very young, and who were forgotten in a remarkably short time. I knew that my father had a brother and a sister who died in childhood, because I grew up around the rest of the family who remembered them. But just a single generation before it was a different story. When I was about 13 I compiled my first pedigree charts, by asking my parents about their families. I figured that since I knew all of my aunts, uncles, cousins and  grandparents, my parents must know all about theirs too. My father, born when his parents were quite young, was particularly helpful because he had met a lot of his older relatives. He listed all of his father's siblings, including Mary, who had died very young. I wrote down all the details - and did nothing at all with them for another 20 years!

By the time I took up family history in my 30s (the descendants no longer requiring my attention 24/7, they were both at school) my father, his parents and a number of his older relatives had died, so I was glad that I had actually asked him those questions while he was still alive. On a research trip to Scotland I was staying with my uncle Tommy, Dad's younger brother and telling him what I had discovered so far about our family, including poor little Mary. This was news to him, he had never heard of her, and for a while he was convinced I had got it wrong. Aunt Margaret to the rescue 'I know who'll know all about the Collins family' she said, and mentioned my grandfather's younger cousin Lizzie whom I had met only once before. After a couple of attempts we got hold of her on the phone - for an elderly lady who got about only with the aid of two sticks she had a surprisingly busy social life! Good for her. She remembered Mary, and gave me a pretty good estimate of her dates of birth and death too. Then she said 'Didn't your dad tell you about Freddy?' I turned out that Freddy was another of my grandfather's siblings who had died in childhood, but before my dad was born, whereas he was 5 when Mary died at the age of 10, just a few days after his own baby brother, Henry. No wonder he remembered. Just imagine the effect that would have on a 5 year old.

Since then I have discovered that my maternal grandmother was not the middle one of three sisters, but the middle sister of five, and on the other side of the family both sets of great-grandparents lost four children in infancy. So that makes a total of 12 'forgotten' children in my grandparents' generation. So far I have identified nine of them, and I'm working on the other three - they are part of a Brown family in Glasgow so it's quite tricky. These were all the brothers and sisters of people that I knew well. I am lucky to have good memories of all of my grandparents, so I feel that as a tribute to them I should do what I can to record all of their families, not just the ones who have descendants of their own. Nowadays in the developed world if we have children we expect them all to live to adulthood, but it's a sobering thought that only two or three generations back this definitely was not the case.

The theme of this year's Rootstech was 'Find, Organize, Preserve, Share' and there was a strong emphasis on telling the stories of your family, and not just recording dates. We should remember that the children who never grew up are part of that story too.