My Watson family ancestors have had me somewhat perplexed, hence to date I have not written of them before. As a researcher I have witnessed many oddities and irregularities, but I have never had an ancestor rise from the dead before! Could it be that a simple error of name in a register of deaths has been the brick wall for so many years?
Before now the earliest point of absolute certainty with my Watsons is the marriage after banns of a John Watson to Emma Barber on the 8th January 1870 at St Georges, Camden Hill, in London. John, aged 26 is recorded as a groom and living in Dorset Cottage, and gives his father’s name as James, occupation Farmer. Emma, aged 28, of no occupation was living at 7 Stanley Crescent and gave her father’s name as William, a Coachman. They were both a long way from home with Emma having been born in the December quarter of 1841 in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and John in 1844 in Crawfordjohn, Lanarkshire. That Emma is my 2x great grandmother is beyond doubt as all the DNA testers in this line of my family have inherited a generous dollop of Barber blood with several strong matches to descendants of her siblings. The same is not the case with the Watsons, with matches to known descendants of John and Emma being way too small for given their relationships casting doubt over John Watson’s paternity of certainly one of her children, that is until now. A new match has appeared suggesting that John Watson is both my 2x great grandfather and 2x great uncle through a bigamous marriage to Caroline Smith at Cheltenham in 1866. Even though John is a bit of a slippery fish I don’t believe this to be the case, the match of only 8 cMs is just way too small to be any closer than 3rd cousin. If I had not seen the link to Crawfordjohn a tiny place in Lanarkshire, I would probably have written the match off as an error in the tree.
Emma, who suffered a similar rollercoaster of fortunes akin to Thackeray’s Becky Sharpe, was clearly not in a position to be living on her own means at 7 Stanley Crescent. It is possible she followed her brother Oliver to London, where he was studying to become a surgeon at University College and living in lodgings in Camden Town in the 1871 census, or her brother William a Grenadier Guard and a patient in Rochester Row military hospital the same year. Indeed all the Barber children forged careers and marriages that would appear to have been somewhat above the station for offspring of a Coachman! Emma appears to have been the Black Sheep. Following her marriage to John the couple moved to Newcastle and in 1871 can be found at Seaton Burn House, with their first child James born in December 1870. John is now Coachman to Joseph Snowball and although he and Emma have a further seven children, it is the last we see of him. In the 1881 census he has been replaced as the Snowball's coachman by a Thomas Robson and Emma is living with her children in a tenement block in Longbenton, a coachman’s wife and married. Of John there is no sign but he appears to have died in the subsequent inter-census period as by 1891 Emma and her family are living at 22 Gainsborough Grove and she is described as a widow. John’s death has not been found to date as there are simply too many possibilities. Emma is last sighted running letting apartments in Cambridge Avenue on her ‘own account’ in Whitley Bay in 1911. No date or place of death has been found for her either, as it would appear to have taken place outside of Newcastle and district.
John Watson was born on the 24th of July 1844 and baptised at Crawfordjohn to parents James Watson and his wife Janet Martin. This has now been confirmed through DNA matches to descendants of Janet Martin's siblings, and others from Janet's maternal Ewart line. I believe that John Watson husband of Caroline Smith was born in Crawfordjohn in March 1845 to parents John Watson and Jane/Jean Newbigging. The DNA match would indicate that the two Johns may have been related, the question is how.
In 1851 James and Janet are farming 10 acres at Meadowbank, Crawfordjohn. Between 1851 and 1861 they had moved to Castle Eden in Durham. Births of subsequent children proved the mother’s maiden name to be Martin whom James had married in February 1844 when obviously pregnant with John. In 1861, his father James is described as a Countryman and son John a Coachman. James and Janet had moved to Cullercoats by 1871 with the last known address for James being Coxlodge, Gosforth in 1891. In the 1851 Scottish census James aged 29 gives his place of birth as Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire but no corresponding baptism can be found for him there for the corresponding period. However, all the children of a John Watson and Mary Renton of Abington were entered in the Crawfordjohn Parish Register en-masse with dates for births but no date or place of baptism is given.
This particular family of Watsons had interests in various places in both Lanarkshire, Dumfriesshire and Dalry, Kirkcudbright, so it is highly possible that James was born at Thornhill near Sanquhar in November 1821. A fact happily supported by the 1841 census for Crawfordjohn which shows James and his mother Mary as not born in the county.
This family is easily identifiable due to twin daughters Elizabeth and Lillias. However, there is no John, the potential father in law of Caroline Smith! By 1851 John and Mary had moved to Millmark Farm near Kirkcudbright. Living next door are John and Jean Watson with a John junior born Crawfordjohn in 1845 and siblings Robert and Mary. This is the family to which I believe my DNA match’s ancestors descend. The various family entries for John and Mary dominate over a page, but their son James is not present. Well he wouldn’t be if he was at Meadowbank in Crawfordjohn, right? Here comes a double ended spanner:
On the 24th of February 1852 James Watson son of John Watson farmer of Millmark died!
The family grave in Wandell and Lamington although the name is no longer legible gives his age as 26. There is something all wrong about this record as the potential birth year of 1825/26 is five years out. James, son of John and Mary was born in 1821, yet no other James or John Watson can be found at Millmark in the 1851 census. Furthermore, the stones which all lie together in Wandell and Lamington Kirk Yard, indicating it is one family, are obviously badly weathered making many of the details unreadable or incorrect.
1852 was a bad year for the Watsons in addition to the possible record for James above, John and Mary’s son Thomas died too and was interred at Lamington just 5 days later . Should the Dalry register have read Thomas and not James? Given his birth date of 10 March 1825, Thomas would have been aged 26 at the time of his death, which would agree with the age given on the headstone.
John and Mary’s brother in law James and nephew William were also interred together at Lamington in June of the same year:
Consumption (Tuberculosis) was sadly rife in this family! It took Welshy a daughter of James Watson and his wife Welsh (also nee Watson) in 1858 and their remaining sons John and James in 1862 and 1868 respectively.
At the other end of the spanner, James, son of John Watson and Mary Renton of Milbank seems to have made a remarkable recovery from his fatal infliction as he appears as clear as day in his father’s will which was written in 1864!
As the will also has a codicil added slightly later if some oversight had occurred it would have been rectified there, but it does not. As it happens it was Alexander Carmichael Watson who predeceased his father by only a few weeks. Alexander’s wife Priscilla Bell was a native of Brancepeth in County Durham some 14 miles from Castle Eden, home to John Watson and Janet Martin in 1861. Alexander and Priscilla had married at Durham in 1862. Is it possible that they met through his brother James or married sister Lillias who by 1861 was living in Tow Law? It certainly seems a plausible explanation. Mary Renton died at Walworth Terrace, Glasgow in 1872. From the valuation rolls it appears the farm was vacated by 1875 in accordance with John’s last wishes and Priscilla and her boys had returned to her family home in Brancepeth by 1881. Hoping that David Watson who graduated from Glasgow University as a surgeon in 1863 would hold some further clues, I was frustrated to find he had emigrated to New Zealand in 1870 and his trail has gone cold for now.
In John Watson’s death record of 1871 his parents are named as James Watson and Elizabeth Barclay, which ties in with the family graves in Wandell and Lamington, the earliest of which belongs to William Watson (1717-1790) and Lillias Simpson (1721 - 1795). Elizabeth Barclay died in 1835 and husband James Watson in 1843 - he too left a detailed will. At the time of his death he was residing at Southwood, a farm also associated with William Watson above. In it he refers to houses and yards in Linton, Peeblesshire (possessed by son John), a house in Thornhill, Dumfriesshire, (possessed by his daughter Alison McCaig) and names his other children as Welshie Watson wife of James Watson of Abington, Lillias Watson wife of Louden Cranstoun in Abington and his youngest son James with whom he is joint tenant of the farms of Castlemain of Crawford and Southwood. Finally, James makes a bequest of £200 to a grandson James Hunter, the son of his deceased daughter Elizabeth.
So, 1600 words on and the mystery of the connection between the two John Watsons that sparked this blog has still not been determined. He cannot be descended from James of Castlemain and Southwood as he died unmarried in 1847. The most likely candidate is John Watson b. 1759 son of William Watson and Lillias Simpson whose name does not appear on the family headstones at Lamington, but as this line has not yet been traced it is still speculative. Of course it could be that the small amount of DNA shared with my new match may be in another line altogether and the Watson connection is nothing more than a coincidence and a total red herring. I sense not but you never know …
(As a footnote to the above, subsequent research has proved the families buried together at Lamington are indeed connected. Working on the theory that the Christian name Welsh or Welshie when given to a Watson was likely to be connected with the family above has also born fruit. It first appeared against a burial in the family plot of a Welsh Wilson Watson d.1785 the son of William Watson and Lillias Simpson. To date this theory has proved correct, with all lines leading back to this very couple. It last appeared in a 1924 marriage of a Welsh Watson to a daughter of Janet Watson Dallas nee Newbigging! This line still needs to be resolved, but may yet prove to be the 'missing link' to the DNA match. It is also interesting to note potential Watson links to the family of Lamington members.ozemail.com.au/~msafier/watson/watson_lamington.html but this too will have to wait until another day!)
Last month when writing of the Newcastle Hostmen, who also had a strangle hold on coals shipped from Sunderland until the mid 18th century, my mind was drawn back to my own family and their lives on the waters of Wearside. I touched on their story in a previous post ‘My DNA and the Ancestor that Dropped By’ and the murderous John Greig of Monkwearmouth Shore who danced the hangman’s jig from the Durham gibbet back in 1816 for fatally shooting a woman named Elizabeth Stonehouse. At the time of his death he left a widow Mary nee Bulmer and six children Grace b. 1808, Eleanor b. 1809, Jane & Mary b. 1813, William b. 1814 and Frances born born just two months before her fathers demise 1816. At the time of writing the original post a few rudimentary facts had been established in that Mary and her family had remained settled in the area, but little beyond. Interested to know more about how Mary and her children fared after what must have been a traumatic and potentially stigmatising event I have found the time to do a bit more digging. In addition, stepping back a generation into the family of Mary Bulmer, John Greig’s wife, has uncovered a few more interesting facts. Spurred on by DNA matches to descendants of John and Mary Greig's daughter Frances, (43cMs) and two of Mary’s siblings, Frances Bulmer(17.5cMs) & (18cMs) & Richard Bulmer(12cMs) it was also time to find out more about the Bulmer family and their various family connections.
Mary was born in 12 August 1786 and baptised at St Peters Monkwearmouth on 29 Jan 1792 she was the eldest daughter and first child of eight children born to Richard Bulmer (a tailor) & Eleanor Johnson of Monkwearmouth Shore. Brothers William, Robert, and Richard are all described as ‘shipwrights’. This is not unsurprising as between the years 1846 – 1854 a third of all ships built in the UK were from Wearside, with 76 shipbuilding yards gracing the shores of the River Wear in 1840.
‘By the time of the 1851 census Sunderland Borough encompassed the whole of Sunderland, Monkwearmouth and Bishopwearmouth and was home to 63,897 people. Of the trades and professions represented in the town, seamen were the biggest group with 3,060 sailors resident in the town. Shipwrights (shipbuilders) were the next biggest group with 2,025 employed in this trade.'
Mary’s brother George Johnson Bulmer is described as a mariner. Mary’s sister Jane married William Embleton, formerly a farmer at Boldon, but latterly a Clerk living in Crow Tree Road, Bishopwearmouth. Sister Frances married a hairdresser by the name of John Collin by whom she had a veritable tribe of at least 10 children. Sister Eleanor did not marry and indeed she is the key to establishing the various family relationships and a bit of background to the family’s social history.
Eleanor died in 1852 at her home in Derwent Street, Bishopwearmouth and was the only sibling to have left a detailed will in the pre 1858 period. The first family member to be mentioned in the will is her niece Grace Dixon nee Greig (widow, daughter of her sister Mary) to whom she bequeaths the freehold interest of a house on the ‘east side of Walton’s Lane otherwise Birds Lane in Sunderland’. She next leaves to her great niece Jane Eleanor Ranson (granddaughter of her sister Jane Embleton) ‘all the remainder of my silver plate together with my work box and writing desk’ having left her ‘silver cup’ to John Douglas an unmarried ships broker of Sunderland. We are clearly dealing with a woman who is of some means and apparently literate – why else would she possess a writing desk? She then mentions her three surviving brothers, William, Richard and George Johnson Bulmer to whom she leaves the sum of £19 19 shillings each.
Next to be mentioned is her sister Mary (widow of John Greig) who is described as Mary Elliott. From this it appears that Mary remarried and there is a possible candidate in John Elliott a shipwright who married a Mary Greig in Monkwearmouth in 1821. As Mary would have been 35 at the time and very much capable of having further children, this should be born in mind in future research. Mary was clearly alive at the time Eleanor wrote her will but no Mary Elliott has been identified in either the 1841 or 51 census. A Mary Elliott died in Society Lane, Monkwearmouth Shore in 1859 aged 73 and although not proven, this is believed to be her. (It most certainly is not Mary Greig who died 1860 in Sunderland as she was the infant daughter of unknown Greig with a mothers maiden name of Cooke. The Mary Greig who died in 1864 is at least approximately the right age at 78, but as she died in Dock Street she is believed to be the wife of Robert Greig, a baker there born in Perthshire, a potential (but unproven) sister in law to the hanged man).
Eleanor made further bequests of £50 each to nieces Elizabeth Carter, (daughter of her sister Jane), Eleanor Brown, (possibly the daughter of her sister Mary as Eleanor daughter of sister Frances was married to a mariner by the name of King, and Eleanor daughter of brother Richard was as yet unmarried) Mary Ann Ranson (daughter of sister Jane) and Mary Collin (daughter of her sister Frances). Lastly, Eleanor left £5 each to Hannah Scouler, widow of Deptford Sunderland and her daughter Grace Blackett of Deptford, Kent for whom no familial connection has yet been firmly established. However, from her marriage to William Scouler in 1815 it becomes apparent that Hannah’s maiden name was Greig, and a possible baptism in 1789 would indicate she was a sister to John, of the stray Mackem bullet.
The strangest bequest, however, was the first. Eleanor gifted the freehold of her house on the ‘north side of Derwent Street’ to Emma, Elizabeth, and Thomas Paterson children of Emma Paterson (deceased) late of Alnwick, the sister of the late John Coull Carr’. What on earth was the connection here to warrant leaving the freehold of her house to three apparently unrelated children – and just who was John Coull Carr? My interest was further piqued by a court document from 1836 that stated ‘Misdemeanour sending a challenge to fight a duel’ with pistols, for which offence he and a Mr Alexander Kirkaldy were sentenced to 3 months imprisonment.
It transpired the cause of the challenge amounted to little more than a slanging match between between the two ‘gentlemen’. In January of that year Mr Carr had been elected a Councillor for Bridge Ward Sunderland, he was a timber merchant in his own right and also acted as a coal agent for the Earl of Durham. Durham was none other than John Lambton, nicknamed ‘Radical Jack’ who in his capacity as Lord Privy Seal helped draft the Reform Bill of 1832. Carr’s support for Durham had previously got him in hot water when he accused the Newcastle Journal of slander in 1833. The case which became known as the ‘Durham Libels’ was caused by a difference in political opinion.
Further rummaging through wills turned up the testament of the aforesaid ‘gentleman’ who having been declared bankrupt in 1842 died in 1847. His will was written in February 1845 in which he bequeathed his entire ‘real and personal estate, household furniture, plate, linen outstanding debts money securities and all other personal estate and effects whatsoever and wheresoever’ to ‘Eleanor Bulmer spinster of Bishopwearmouth’ whom he also appointed his sole executor. He must have experienced a remarkable turn around in fortune as he was in possession of an estate worth £800 at the time of his death. Was this how Eleanor Bulmer came into her property? The answer is inconclusive as Mr Carr cannot be traced in association with either of the properties mentioned in her Will. In the 1851 census Eleanor is described as an ‘Annuitant’ living at No 9 Derwent Street, next door to her niece the widowed Grace Dixon, who is running a lodging house with children Isabel and Joseph. To date Eleanor Bulmer remains a bit of an enigma but she does appear to have been an intelligent and generous woman from her bequests to apparently unrelated persons. What exactly was her relationship with the infamous Mr Carr?
If like me you have few Ancestry DNA matches at 4th cousin or closer, tracing potential matches as far back as 4th and 5th great grandparents can be a tricky business. Firstly there is no guarantee that we will have inherited any DNA from ancestors beyond our 3rd great grandparents and secondly, Ancestry does not show mutual matches beyond 4th cousin. Here I would recommend transferring your raw DNA into other databases such as My Heritage, Family Tree DNA, and GEDmatch, all of which can be done for free. Another obstacle is that many folks simply don’t know their ancestry that far back, meaning the potential most recent common ancestor (MRCA) is absent from their tree. Worse still are trees full of incorrect information thus obscuring the family you potentially match with – an all too common problem! To help overcome this I would recommend you figure out the collateral lines of ancestors and add them into your own tree – if someone speculative is added, attach a note to the individual in question, to remind you how and why you think they might be related as an aide memoire to future research. Another approach is to work the ancestral lines of DNA matches yourself, a laborious process perhaps, but worth the effort, particularly if you are suspicious where the match occurs.
As a note to end this month's blog with all the connections to Wearside I can't help but wonder if another enigmatic filly 'The Mackem Bullet' by Society Rock, trained by Brian Ellison is worth a speculative flutter for next year's 1,000 Guineas
Some Useful and Interesting Sources
For those interested in the industrial history of Sunderland, David Simpson’s of England’s North East has an analysis of the 1851 census and findings make interesting reading, as do many of his other posts on his website http://englandsnortheast.co.uk/sunderland-industries/
Street Maps of Sunderland in 1860 http://www.durham-images.org/public/ms/spin.html
Sunderland: A History of the Town, Port, Trade and Commerce
Personal recollections written by Taylor Potts of Sunderland in 1892
Looking for Durham Ancestors? I thoroughly recommend using Durham Records Online as their records contain full transcripts which often yield far more information than other online indexes.
 Englands North East http://englandsnortheast.co.uk/sunderland-industries/
Something a bit different for Borders Ancestry readers this month. As some of you may be aware I am a bit of a Flodden ‘geek’ but far from the military tactics, political backdrop and the auspicious persons that took part in the Battle of 1513, my interest lies more in the logistics of feeding the English army of circa 20,000 men, their followers and the impact on the lives of ordinary local people. As part of local, rather than family history research the latest rabbit hole I have disappeared down concerns corn and corn production in the early sixteenth century in the area of the English Border with Scotland. Historians seem to be particularly fond of saying ‘The northern Marches were obviously incapable of meeting a sudden demand for the feeding of 20,000 men’. Needless to say this ‘incapability’ is often blamed on the Anglo Scottish Wars and the nefarious activities of raiding parties from both sides of the Border. However, studies to date tend to focus on the macro issues of victualling a peripatetic army during either the period of the Anglo Scottish Wars 1297 – 1603 or the Tudor period from the accession of Henry VII in 1485 rather than the micro level at the time of the Battle. Whilst these ‘raids’ undoubtedly had a significant impact on the local communities, were there alternative reasons that would restrict corn production in the Border Region in the early sixteenth century, if indeed it was restricted at all? The type of farming practised, crops grown, topography and climate perhaps? Furthermore, Flodden took place after a period of relative calm in the Border region following the signing of the ‘Treaty of Ayton’ in 1497 and ‘Treaty of Perpetual Peace’ in 1502. It was not until Henry VIII declared his intention to invade France that rumblings of disquiet once again threatened ‘international’ relations along the Border in 1512. Has the ‘historians’ fondness of portraying the North as a barren and inhospitable landscape occupied by lawless barbarous people been somewhat over exaggerated?
The type of forays practised in times of ‘war’ were in the manner of retaliatory Chevauches or ‘short sharp shocks’ which were high localised. They generally involved the destruction of crops and stores by fire and the leading away of booty in the form of livestock and other household goods. After isolated incidences of burning (if they did indeed burn standing crops) the land itself would recover quite quickly, indeed, until it was banned in the UK in 1993, the residual corn stubbles were often burned as it ; quickly clears the field and is cheap, kills weeds, kills slugs and other pests and can reduce nitrogen tie-up.
The full transcription of 24 folios (pages) and analysis of the contents of Richard Gough’s account for corn shipments from Hull to Newcastle and Berwick in 1513 forms the basis of my dissertation and matters arising from it my hypothesis. To date this document remains the only complete set of accounts identified to date for;
vitayles to be p[ro]vyded northewarde as Whete malt
beanys & peson taward[es] the vytayling of late
Thomas Erle of Surrey Tresorer of englande
grete Capteyn And deputie to owre saide Sov[er]ayn
lorde & hys hoost in hys warres northwarde A
ganyst the king of Scott[es] & hys subjett[es]
Other oddments appear elsewhere which include a payment of £81 to the Mayor of Newcastle (John Brandling) for food ‘spoyled stolen and destroyed’ and a note of debts to Allen Harding of Newcastle and Richard Gough again in 1514. This indicates the potential commercial interests of the merchants, guilds and the Corporation of Newcastle, which suggests they may have had far more involvement in the supply of corn to Surrey’s army than previously discussed in published works.
In search of evidence of an earlier corn trade between Hull and Newcastle, the city’s Chamberlain’s Accounts between 1508 and 1511 which was been transcribed in full by Dr C M Fraser in 1987, copies of which can be bought quite reasonably from the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries. This has been analysed and the figures for corn imports extracted and entered into a database. These are the earliest known surviving record of Newcastle’s municipal records and deals with both revenue and expenditure. Whilst I have to admit that scouring each page line by line over the entire 240 pages of entries has probably been the most tedious part of the research process, the results have been most enlightening. However, they come with the caveat that as the Chamberlains Accounts record the levies and tolls payable by the captains of all non Newcastle ships they are an indication rather than a measure of trade. Indeed it was the ‘measurage’ and ‘portage’ at 4 old pence per chalder payable at Newcastle recorded in the Gough accounts of 1513 that helped identify the weight of a Newcastle Chalder (for corn at least) as approximately 4 quarters. I don’t intend to bore readers with the statistical details of corn imports, which came mainly from the domestic east coasts ports of, unsurprisingly, East Anglia and Lincolnshire and whether or not they support my theory. Instead it is to the wealth of other information contained in Chamberlains Accounts and their potential value to researchers of the life and times of the people of Newcastle and its hinterland in the early 16th century which is covered here.
The shipments that appear in accounts are primarily concerned with the export of coal, grindstones together with the odd ‘dicker’ (packs or bundles of ten) hides. Whenever this occurred the name of an ‘ost’ is recorded in the left margin above the names of the Chamberlains who signed for the receipt of the monies. The ‘ost’ refers to the Hostman – a group of middle men who enjoyed a monopoly on the sale of coal and grindstones and through whom non ‘free men’ of Newcastle were forced to trade:
The hostmen, who were often also the Burgesses of Newcastle and the coal owners, exploited a custom often used in other cities of 'foreign bought and foreign sold'. This custom provided that any goods brought into the town by a foreigner (either an Englishman or an alien) who was not a freeman, could be bought only by a freeman, and similarly any goods purchased must be bought from a freeman. Thus, in every case of a purchase or a sale, one of the parties must be a freeman.
The records are name rich, and amongst their number many will be familiar such as Brandling, Bell, Carr, Ellison, Robson, Ridell, Sanderson, Southern and Thomson. The Master of the ship and port to which he belonged is also recorded which illustrates the extent and pattern of both domestic and international trade of ships entering Newcastle for coal. Inbound cargoes from the Netherlands included apples, wine, herrings, potash, soap, tar, pitch with tiles from Antwerp and onions from Amsterdam to name but a few. From France came nuts, prunes, salt, glass, iron and the occasional loads of corn but the overwhelming incoming cargo and indeed that which dominates the accounts both foreign and domestic is stones! By far the majority of the ships entered Newcastle either ‘empty’ (carrying goods which attracted no levies and therefore not recorded) in ballast or carrying stones. This potentially highlights the importance of the outbound cargos rather than the import of corn and other goods.
Although no purpose is ever stated for the incoming stones the prodigious number of entries under expenses paid to the Paviour (John Dun) and Masons (numerous) must surely be significant. Maintenance of the roads and bridges was clearly a priority. In the latter entries there are also frequent references to the building of a ‘newhous’. These expenditure accounts are also name rich with many more lowly labourers, messengers, and city gate keepers – William Smith the keeper at Sandgate, Ralph Smith for keeping Westgate – are also mentioned by name no matter how small the service they rendered. Women too appear amongst their number, sometimes listed as ‘wife of’ and others such as Dame Hebbron at White Friars, Wilkinson’s wife in the Cloth Market named as keepers of kilns and bakehouse ovens, and Proffett’s wife for ringing the bell in the Big Market. Gutter cleaning, snow clearing, ‘dightyng ramell fro Pylgramstrett pantt’ (clearing rubbish from Pilgrim St pant) the giving of alms, even to inmates of Newgate Prison, and what appears to be the occasional burial all get a mention.
The Feast Day of St John the Baptist on 24th June which was celebrated the night before with dancing and copious amounts of wine. In June 1509 the Guild gave a hoghead of wine (63 imperial gallons) to the town (in 1500 estimated to equate to circa 5,000 inhabitants) at a cost of 20 shillings, which does not include the 3 gallons of wine supplied to the major himself at a cost of a further 2 shillings. It appears the dancing ‘affor the mair’ was done by ‘schippmen’ or sailors at a reward of 2 shillings – were these perhaps the colourful keel boat men who ferried the coal from the shore to the ships moored in various streches of the river? There is evidence from the seventeenth century that these ‘Keelers’ were largely comprised of Scots but whether this was the case during the sixteenth century is not known.
There is also evidence that St George’s Day was observed when in April 1510 materials and labour was expended on constructing and painting a dragon. As the accounts span the death of one monarch and therefore the coronation of another it was somewhat odd to find no reflection of this within the accounts, other than the movement of the ‘great guns’ and ‘clearing the hill’ on the 28th April 1509, a week after the death of Henry VII. Had the guns been taken to a high point such as the Town Moor and fired to let the townsfolk know they had a new monarch? Another occasion when copious amounts of wine was consumed was recorded on 20th February 1511 to toast the ‘triumph of the prince’. If this was a celebration of the birth of Henry VIII’s first son Henry, Duke of Cornwall, born on New Year’s day, it was late - if it was to mark his death it was two days early!
What is also interesting to note, is the language in which the accounts are written. It is a definite hybrid of Scots and English, typified by the use of the ‘qw’ in place of a ‘wh’ in ‘wheat’ and ‘white’, the Anglo Saxon yogh ƺ in place of a consonant ‘y’ (the letter ‘y’ was also used as an alternative for the vowel ‘i’ at this time) so the surname ‘Young’ appears as ‘ƺong’. The endings of plural nouns in ‘is’ as in ‘collis’ and ‘dayis’, whereas the English documents favour the single ‘s’ ‘es’ or the equivalent contraction mark, and past tense verbs ending in ‘it’ instead of ‘ed’ e.g. departit instead of ‘departed’ reflect the influence of Latin which is typical of Scot’s documents of this period. In contrast there is no use of ‘and’, typically a Scots ending of the English form of the present particle ending ‘ing’.
Extract from the original document, courtesy of Tyne and Wear Archives.
'It[e]m paid to John yest[er] (note the yogh in place of the consonant 'y') ffor iij dayis (note the 'is' ending) d[imi] s[er]vying (note the yng ending where the y is used in place of the vowel 'i') the masons 10d ob (10 old pence halfpenny)'
The Chamberlains Accounts of such an early period might not be at the top of everyone’s reading list, but for the history and customs of the town at the beginning of the sixteenth century it makes rich pickings and is well worth a read. As for the other evidence for corn production in Northumberland and North Durham at this time, other records such as manorial records, corn tithe information, rent payments, correspondence (usually complaints) and inventories attached to wills need to be consulted. However, these can be rather dry when compared to the accounts of the Newcastle Chamberlains. Examples of some early wills and inventories have been transcribed by the Surtees Society and are available online but be warned the early examples are written in Latin. In the words from the film ‘Meet Joe Black’ there is nothing ‘as certain as death and taxes’ but these are records where the information I seek can be found.
 Victuals meaning food or provisions of any kind. ‘Occasionally applied to food for animals, but more commonly restricted to that of persons’.
Oxford English Dictionary http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/223242?rskey=osF6WP&result=1#eid
 ‘Peson’ is the archaic word for peas.
 Peter D Wright, Life on the Tyne: Water Trades on the Lower River Tyne in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, a Reappraisal, Abingdon, 2016, p4.
Three centuries of English Crop Yields 1211-1491 Crop Yields Database
This month I am delighted to host a guest blog written by Rachel Bellerby who first became interested in family history at the age of ten, after spotting a family tree chart in a Yorkshire mill shop. She says of herself:
‘For as long as I can remember I’ve loved sharing history, and through my work editing History Scotland Magazine and as web editor on Family Tree, I’m lucky enough to be able to share this passion with a wide audience. Outside the history world I spend lots of time exploring the Yorkshire countryside and finding out about the women of years gone by – whether famous or known only to their friends and family, all had their own story to tell.’
Rachel is also the author of 'Tracing Your Yorkshire Ancestors', 'Tracing Your Leeds Ancestors', 'Chasing the Sixpence' and the forthcoming 'Struggle & Suffrage: Women of Bradford, 1850-1950'. She is also, I am delighted to say, the newest member of the team behind #AncestryHour, which was established by myself back in January 2015, to bring together the world of professional and amateur family history. For an hour every Tuesday between 7 and 8 pm, Rachel, myself and other team members, Sylvia Valentine, Michelle Leonard, Fergus Smith, John Boeren and Tara Frugalone host an hour of quick fire ‘questions and answers’ on Twitter, where we (and many other leading professionals) pop in to share our expertise for free. Since it launched #Ancestry Hour has been quoted as ‘… the most valuable #hashtag on the internet for #familyhistory and #genealogy …’ Long may it continue – if you haven’t already joined in the chat why not give it a go!
Rachel’s blog is about ways to give back to the hobby you love, which is very much the ethos behind #AncestryHour. It is also most timely given this is the time of year when archives and family history societies are planning their ‘Heritage Open Days’ and on the lookout for volunteers. Events such as these provide a fantastic opportunity to get involved and connect with fellow history enthusiasts in your area. Volunteering can be a very rewarding experience, and many of the projects instigated by local archives also provide the opportunity to learn a new skill for free. In this respect I am a perfect example, the Flodden 500 Project gave me first taste of the art of palaeography. The Heritage Lottery funded document transcription project led by Linda Bankier of Berwick Archive Office, was the inspiration for me signing up to the MLitt post graduate degree course with Dundee University in September 2015. Document transcription is now one of my specialist skills, and yes, a document dating from 1513 relating to the Battle of Flodden forms the basis of my ongoing dissertation. Who knows where giving up a bit of free time could lead you!
Anyway, without further ado, here are Rachel’s top ten tips on how you can get involved – even if you live outside the UK.
LET GENEALOGY THRIVE! TEN WAYS TO GIVE BACK TO THE HOBBY YOU LOVE - Rachel Bellerby
As anyone who has even dipped their toe into the world of family history knows, tracing your ancestors can be very addictive. Rachel Bellerby of Family Tree magazine has ten tips to help you share your skills and knowledge so that even more people can enjoy family history.
1. Volunteer at your local family history society
Family history societies are the lifeblood of the family tree scene and are run by volunteers who give up their time to help researchers tracing ancestors in a certain geographical area. There are lots of ways you could give your time to your local society, including helping to produce the newsletter or magazine, recruiting speakers for meetings, getting involved in one of the society’s projects, or that all-important job of helping with refreshments at society get-togethers.
2. Offer your services as a document transcriber
If you’d prefer your work to be home-based, why not volunteer your time as a document transcriber? Usually you’ll just need a PC, e-mail and internet access. Free UK Genealogy (which is a registered charity) currently has volunteer opportunities or you could contact your local family history society.
3. Take a DNA test
DNA is becoming an increasingly mainstream branch of family history and the more people who test, the better for anyone who’s taken, or is considering taking, a DNA test for family history. If you do take a test, you can help both yourself and your potential DNA matches if you’ve uploaded a family tree to your chosen family history site, so that both you and your DNA cousins can work out how ( or even if) you’re related.
4. Join a DNA project
Once you’ve had your test results back, you’re free to upload your raw DNA data, whether to a DNA project run by your test provider, or to another organisation which accepts data from your test provider. How do these projects help the world of family history? Well, your DNA could provide vital data to projects based on a particular surname, ethnic group, geographical area, or even a particular type of haplogroup. And of course it’s always interesting to follow the progress of such projects and find out how you fit in.
5. Start a one-name study
If you have a particular interest in one of the surnames in your family tree and you’re up for a long-term challenge, why not start a one-name study? After registering the surname with the Guild of One-Name Studies (for UK names) you can work at your own pace, collecting instances of your surname where it occurs, responding to enquiries from people researching that surname, and making your research available to other genealogists.
6. Help out at a family history event
A great way to meet other family historians is to volunteer your services at a family history event. Up and down the UK, there are hundreds of family history events, ranging from society meetings to genealogy fairs, most of which are run thanks to the hard work of volunteers. You could help man a stand at a fair, offer your expertise as a speaker, or help welcome visitors to events both large and small.
7. Be a genealogy look-up
If your research often takes you out and about, consider offering your services to your local family history society. Many society members live far from the area where their ancestors once dwelled and would welcome the opportunity to have a photograph of an ancestor’s grave, or a quick look-up in one of the records held by your society; and you’ll be helping build the society’s coffers, as most people making these requests offer a donation to the society in question.
8. Join a help desk
Continuing the above theme, many family history societies run a help desk, either at their premises or at a local library or archives. Both new and experienced researchers will use this service and so if you have a good knowledge of the history of your local area, your insight could be invaluable.
9. Help someone break through a brick wall
Most of the large genealogy websites allow you to register the fact that you’re willing to take enquiries from others researching the same family. Helping other people tracing the same line not only benefits others, but may also provide you with valuable information about other ancestors or distant cousins you haven’t yet found.
10. Be open and honest with your research
Many of us lead busy lives and your opportunities to volunteer your time and knowledge at the might be limited at the present time. However there’s one way we can all benefit the family history world and that’s by trying our best to keep our family tree notes and findings organised, and being honest about any information which is open to interpretation, or not yet fully verified. Both your fellow researchers and your own descendants will thank you for a well-organised and carefully researched tree!
This month's blog is the continuation of the story of the Barnes Bridge Murder of 1879, which was first broadcast on EGH Radio on the 25th October 2017. This time the focus is on the information contained in the records of the Old Bailey. Links to the audio recording and a full transcript are below.
Here is the link to the audio file:
Transcript of recording:
Court and Criminal records are a valuable resource for family and local historians. The transcript of the evidence given by numerous witnesses at the trial of Kate Webster in 1879 is no exception. This mid Victorian period experienced continuing social change, with many folks finding themselves upwardly mobile. As a result some either invented a suitable past to reflect their new position, or were deliberately hazy about the details. The evidence of John Church, the landlord of the Rising Sun is a prime example and led to the discovery of a fascinating backstory. Church had previously been in the army and admitted having lied about his occupation in his attestation papers. Having been implicated by Kate Webster of Mrs Thomas’s murder he had been arrested. Although subsequently cleared of any wrong doing his appearance in court sparked a serious bout of amnesia.
My name was Church before I enlisted—I believe my father's name was Church; it was as far as I know—my mother's maiden name was Body—I might have been in a situation in a public-house before I entered the Army—I might have been in a situation as barman—when I come to think may have been; I cannot say where exactly; it was in London—I was in London when I enlisted—I might have been in a situation as barman; I cannot recollect now—Q Do you mean, upon your oath, to say before the gentlemen of the Jury that you do not recollect?—A. I might have been—I might have been in a public-house before I was in the service, but cannot say where …
Many thanks to local historian Jim Herbert of Berwick Time Lines for that fantastic bit of theatre. So, who was John Church? In the 1871 census he gave his place of birth as Chalfont St Peter in Buckinghamshire, and whilst there is a body of bodies in Bucks, no birth of a Church was registered there with a mother’s maiden name of Body. There was, however, an illegitimate birth of a John Boddy in 1838, whose mother Martha married a wheelwright named Job Church on 30th November 1840. Job Church it transpires, was convicted at the Buckinghamshire assizes in 1843 for an unspeakable crime, resulting in transportation to Australia for life! The criminal records associated with this case describe Church as married with one child. However, this child was not John, but a Job Church junior born in 1841. This implies that Church was not John’s father at all and whose identity remains as yet unknown. By 1851 the remaining family the family are destitute and living as paupers in the Watford Union Workhouse. A valid reason perhaps to run off to the army and be hazy about his past.
I just haven’t had time to research for a blog this month so am doing spot of recycling!. Some of you may know about my foray into Radio, but may not have heard the actual broadcasts. To this end I will be publishing the clips that aired in October last year (on EGH Radio) concerning the Barnes Bridge Murder in 1879. The head of the victim was found in David Attenborough’s garden in 2011 and my subsequent digging about has turned up some interesting snippets of information. Below is Part 1 – forgive the sound quality, it was before I had a decent microphone and had grasped the basics of mixing! The link will take you to the file which is stored in the ether. If you are having problems accessing it do let me know
The transcript is available below, but I would be most interested to hear whether you like the idea of ‘listening’ to history as well as reading it! So, please do let me know, good, bad or indifferent.
Hannah Clive had us all enthralled in the chat room last week with the grisly story of the discovery of a skull in what is now David Attenborough’s garden in 2011. An inquiry subsequently proved the skull to be that of Julia Martha Thomas who was brutally murdered, dismembered and then boiled by her maid Kate Webster in March 1879. Body parts were scattered about London with a foot being found in Tottenham, but the majority of what was left of Mrs Thomas was unceremoniously boxed and dumped in the Thames.
Well, being a general nosey parker as well as a genealogist more digging was required. I was not disappointed – the papers of the day covered the story extensively and often graphically, such was the Victorian taste for the macabre. The lengthy transcript of her trial at the Old Bailey on the 30th June that same year is also available online.
It transpires that Kate Webster was born Catherine Lawler in Ireland in 1850. She left a veritable trail of crime in her wake and served several prison sentences for theft between 1864 & 79 using several different aliases. The case in question, however, appears to be her first and last foray into murder. Perhaps she may have evaded capture if she had not left a note with her uncle’s address in Ireland at the crime scene. It was to her uncle that she fled with her five year old son and where she was apprehended on the 29th March. As a direct descendant of a gentleman who danced the hangman’s jig in 1816 I was intrigued to know more about her young son. Fearing the worst I set off to find out.
A child named John Webster aged about 6 years was admitted here on March 29th. His mother was charged with the murder of a woman named 'Thomas' in London. The boy was sent to the Workhouse with an order from W Ryan R.M. to have him admitted pending inquiry being made as to his reception into an Industrial School
That was narrated by my colleague Michelle Leonard @genealogylass reading from the Poor Law Guardians minutes held in Wexford County Archives. So - the uncle washed his hands of his nephew the same day his mother was arrested. Under the Habitual Criminals Act of 1869 made provision for children under 14 of women twice convicted of ‘crime’ to be sent to such Schools. As such the result is not unexpected. John Webster’s trail has run cold for the moment, and the lack of surviving census records in Ireland isn’t helping. If the normal pattern of events unfolded John Webster would have been returned to the parish of his birth, allegedly Kingston upon Thames, or they at least would have been responsible for his costs. A little more research may be required this side of the Irish Sea.
As 2018 marks the centenary of the end of WW1, this months post is one that first appeared back in August 2015 in the 'Bitesize' section. It concerned a soldier by the name of Lancelot Hedley of Dudley who also formed a small part of the story of The Spowart Family of Backworth which appeared in September. I was contacted recently by Neil Hodgson whose research on behalf of the Northumbria World War One project has significantly enhanced what is known about Lancelot and his family. As the Easter holidays will afford many folks with the opportunity to dig into their family history it seemed a great opportunity to revisit some of the wonderful resources that are to help. Before explaining where they, and Lancelot's updated information can be found, below is a reminder of his story so far:
LANCELOT HEDLEY - POW & SWISS INTERNEE OF WW1
It is not every day that you get to spend the morning in the beautiful Swiss Alps. However, today was an exception as I was hot on the heels of a British POW by the name of Lancelot Hedley. What caught my eye was the date and place of death – 1917 in Switzerland. It is well known that the Country remained neutral for the entire duration of the conflict, so how had he come to be there?
Lancelot was born in 1881, in Seghill near Morpeth in Northumberland and is a bit of a mystery man, as to date I have been unable to pin point his parentage, but it was believed he was the illegitimate son of a Jane Hedley. In the 1891 Census he is living with his grandparents John Hedley, a coal miner, and Ann Atherton his wife, at number 11 Chapel Row, Seghill, where there is no sign of his mother.
Lancelot then proved a little hard to find in the 1901 Census but I believe I may have found him as a garden boy at Springbank Hall in Durham, before making his way North soon afterwards and before 1906 when he appears to have enlisted with the Tynemouth Royal Garrison Artillery, a territorial force, where his occupation is now listed as coal miner for the Seghill Coal Company. He was living at No 34 Jubilee Terrace, Annitsford (demolished in 1969). It must have been here that he met and married his wife Margaret Robinson, a Coal Miners daughter, in 1908.
His full military service is a little difficult to put together as the documents that have survived are badly damaged. His discharge papers from the territorials were dated 1911 and at that time he had given five years and 102 days service. At the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, he initially enlisted with the Northumberland Fusiliers but was soon transferred to the East Yorkshire Regiment, where he reached the rank of corporal in January 1915. In September the same year he was reported missing in action with the 8th Brigade on active service in France. From his service record it would appear that he was initially held in POW camp at Münster.
What happened next is little talked about or made reference to in the context of WW1 and the prisoners of war of both sides ~ and that is the means by which prisoner exchanges could be arranged, and repatriation effected through Switzerland. Below is a quote from http://www.switzerland1914-1918.net/prisoners-of-war-interned-in-switzerland.html an extremely informative site that goes into much more details than I am able to reproduce in this short article:
“At the suggestion of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss government, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and Belgium signed an agreement in 1914 regarding prisoners of war (PoWs). The agreement stated that captured military and naval personnel who were too seriously wounded or sick to be able to continue in military service could be repatriated through Switzerland, with the assistance of the Swiss Red Cross. The first repatriations were made in March 1915, and by November 1916 some 8,700 French and 2,300 German soldiers had been repatriated”
Lancelot Hedley fell into this category. His International Red Cross record shows that he was suffering from a ‘herzleiden’ or heart condition, severe enough to be eligible for the scheme in February 1917. He was transferred to Konstanz where he would have been medically assessed, before onward again to Mürren in Switzerland, where he sadly passed away due to “sickness” on the 26th March 1917.
Having been transferred to Mürren he was no longer classified as a prisoner of war, but rather as an internee and still subject to military control, in this case the Swiss Army. The camp sat high in the Swiss Alps and during the harsh winter months was only accessible by cable car. However this did not deter visitors, and indeed many internees were reunited with their families whilst in residence thanks to the Red Cross.
“Mothers and Wives were allowed to visit their menfolk in Switzerland and every few weeks under the direction of the Red Cross, a party of women would leave London for the Swiss camps”.
As this heart-warming account bears testimony:
Following his death, Lancelot was initially interred in Unterseen before being moved to the military cemetery that had been created at St Martins in Vevey. He is one of 66 British Soldiers who did not live to be repatriated and one of only 88 to pass away in Switzerland before 1923.
Whilst I am not entirely sure this gentleman is the one and the same Lancelot Hedley who was living with his grandparents in 1891, I felt compelled to tell his story. It is so easy to focus on the horrors endured by the fighting men of WW1 so it is good to read and hear about the humanitarian aspects, brought about largely by the endeavours of the International Red Cross that saw many thousands of men from all the nations that had signed the original agreement in 1914, repatriated through Switzerland by the end of the War.
Through the endeavours of Neil Hodgson and another relative of the Hedley family, Lancelot's mother Jane has been traced, as have his children. However, I shall not spoil the story but rather encourage you to explore the fantastic interactive database on the website for yourselves.
The project which began in 2015, covers the men of North Tyneside known to have been killed or died in military service, the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets during WW1. It is estimated by the time of its completion in Summer 2018 there will be in excess of 4,000 casualties entered in the database. Not only that, but the site encompasses the DOMINION GEORDIES, men of the North East who fought in the land forces of Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and Canada, in which I found a pertinent record for another family case I am currently working on. Then, if that still isn't enough there are the GEORDIE DOUGHBOYS representing;
'the Hundreds of ‘GI Geordies’ (former natives of North East England) were among the American Expeditionary Force that came to Europe in 1917–18, Tyneside dockyards repaired and maintained US Navy ships operating in the Eastern Atlantic and North Atlantic, and in 1918 a US Aero Squadron was based in Newcastle. By researching the relationships that developed between individuals, communities, and industries in the North East and US armed forces, this project will help to foster understanding in the region of this historic aspect of the ‘special relationship’.
Whilst this section does not feature an interactive database it does provide an interesting insight into America's role within the WW1 with particular emphasis again on the North East of England.
There is also an impressive animated casualty map, plotting casualties, street by street, house by house, family by family and a blog packed with interesting stories and information. I think this is enough from me, I shall leave you to go and explore the website for yourselves! Remember too that if your ancestor was a Prisoner of War, their database which can be found at http://grandeguerre.icrc.org/. For other UK wide military records and covering many other conflicts Forces War Records is a great place to start. Plus this Easter weekend to celebrate 100 years since the formation of the RAF Forces War Records is offering you HALF PRICE membership off monthly and yearly packages. – less than £25.00 for the year, or less than £5.00 for a month* (use code EASTER50). Dont hang about though, as this offer expires on the 2nd April 2018!
This post is a continuation from last month which looked at a letter written in 1796 between two young unmarried women, sisters Mary and Jane Thompson. The letter sparked speculation as to the meaning behind her comment ‘you often said you would never dow as Dolly had done’. Whilst the context of the statement infers some sort of disappointment in love, this post hopes to add some historical background to the period during which the letter was written. In particular those events involving women.
1796, the year young Mary Thompson put pen to paper, was an interesting year for Britain. It was coming towards the end of the First Coalitionary War with France and in April general Napoleon Bonaparte had begun his campaign in Italy which would result in the eviction of Hapsburg forces from the Italian peninsula. The French Revolution begun in 1789, which some historians state ‘profoundly altered the course of modern history’ marking the decline of absolute monarchies, still raged on. Indeed Britain had lost sovereignty of its colonies in North America in 1783. In August 1796 Spain and France formed an alliance against Great Britain and on 5th October Spain declared war.
1794 to 1796 was also the time of poor domestic harvests, particularly relevant to our band of farming siblings, which when combined with ‘the war against revolutionary France disrupted European trade and the market balance derived from importing grain when necessary was impeded’. Furthermore ‘for 30 years Britain had been on balance an importer of wheat, though on a small scale. Customs duties kept out foreign corn in years of adequate home supplies, but could be suspended when imports were needed’. The harvest of 1794 was one fifth below the national ten year average, with 1795 even worse ‘due to frost and flood’ yielding just 15 bushels per acre ‘when 24 was considered average’. The price of a bushel of wheat rose from an average of circa 6s 4d in 1794 to a peak of 12s 6d in March 1796 which led to nationwide crisis and ‘Bread Riots’. Albeit the west and south of the country were worst affected appeals for emergency supplies were made to the Privy Council by Newcastle and Sunderland in July 1795, the same month a ‘riot’ was led by women and colliers in Berwick upon Tweed.
This led to a ‘’Reading of the Riot Act’:
The Riot Act (1714) (1 Geo.1 St.2 c.5) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain that authorized local authorities to declare any group of twelve or more people to be unlawfully assembled, and thus have to disperse or face punitive action. The act, whose long title was "An Act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters", came into force on 1 August 1715. It was repealed for England and Wales by section 10(2) of, and Part III of Schedule 3 to, the Criminal Law Act 1967.
It is interesting to note that many of these riots were ‘allegedly’ instigated by women. Author John Hostedt published an informative article on ‘Gender, Household and Community Politics: Women in English Riots 1790 – 1810, for ‘The Past and Present Society’ in 1988 (pp.88 -122)'. In it he argues that the significant roles played by women has been somewhat misinterpreted. On the one hand he refers to the view of historian E P Thompson in 1971, that ‘women were the most involved in face to face marketing, most sensitive to price significancies, [and] most experienced in detecting short weight or inferior quality’. On the other the view of Robert Southey who in 1814 said ‘Women are more disposed to be mutinous; they stand in less fear of the law, partly from ignorance, partly because they presume upon the privilege of their sex, and therefore in all public tumults they are foremost in violence and ferocity’. This difference in these opinions nearly 150 years apart is certainly curious and reflects a marked change in attitude towards the ability of the fairer sex, but like Hostedt I suspect the truth of the matter is something rather more complex altogether. There are further snippets hinting at the financial hardships endured by both the farming and wider community in the post Napoleonic period in another piece of family correspondence dated 1828. It is written from Fireburn Mill near Coldstream by Mary’s youngest sister Anne, (born 1793) by then Mrs John Mole. There will be more on this and 'Aunt Mole' to come in later posts.
From her letter in 1796, Mary gives the distinct impression that she is both fashionable and conscious of her physical appearance. In 1797 a rather bizarre tax was introduced by prime minister William Pitt the younger, which, as it applied to many members of society, their families and indeed their servants can be a useful resource for family historians. The ‘Hair Powder Tax’ was effected through the purchasing of a certificate which was then entered in the local Quarter Session court records.
It is interesting to note that women were included amongst Mr Guy’s deputies.
The information included in the list will provide a date, a parish, a list of names and a description being usually the relationship to the head of the household or another role such as servant. So, like a census return, it is possible to piece together some familial relationships.
It is not known if Mary and her family favoured the fashion of powdering their hair or wigs, but a remark on a family tree noting that Mary’s son born after her marriage in 1801 ‘was a dandy’ implies she maintained her sense of fashion and indeed passed it on to her family.
The more I read Mary’s letter the more I feel certain at the time of writing she is in the Alnwick area. The biggest clue being ‘… there is a Whail come in at Howick I expect Miss Betty will let me go home with Miss Pallister on saturday to see it and come back on the sunday night’. After a bit of digging I believe Miss Pallister to be a daughter of William Pallister, described at his marriage to Margaret Brown in Howick in 1763 as a ‘yeoman’. The couple had two daughters Margaret b.1775 and Mary b. 1779, one of which appears to have been a particular friend of the letter writer. There is also perhaps the possibility of a distant familial relationship as a John Pallister had married an Anne Swan at Longhorsley in 1792. The Pallister sisters had a brother John who had been baptised at Howick in 1771. With three inter-marriages between the families in the immediate ‘vicinity’ it is a possibility, whilst not confirmed, that cannot be ruled out.
The first Swan connection was through the second marriage of Mary Thompson’s grandfather William Grey, who on the death of Jane Heron his first wife in 1757, married Isabel Swan with whom, from evidence in his will, he had at least two children; Isabel b. circa 1759 and Robert b circa 1762. In 1779 Isabel married a John Swan at Mitford. From his first marriage William’s daughter Jane had married a Matthew Swan in 1773.
To add to this, but rather more distantly William Grey (Mary’s grandfather) had a cousin (also called William Grey) of Horsley Bricks who, with his wife Ann Young had a daughter they also called Jane. Jane at the time of her death in 1839, was the widow of a John Swan of Earsdon Hill, although from the bequests in their respective wills this union was childless. Instead the primary beneficiaries were John’s Swan siblings, the Aynsley family at Shothaugh and the Liddle family at Snitter, nieces and nephews by marriage.
An effort to establish connections between these Swan families has thus far proved inconclusive, but will no doubt unravel in time. Equally, the magic of DNA may come to the rescue, as it has with other descendants in the Thompson and other associated lines.
As a note to end this instalment – I did go looking for a mention of a beached whale at Howick in the newspapers. Alas, of the whale there is no mention, but a report in 1770 certainly caught my eye in the form of an enormous pie!
There is yet more to come on the various players in this letter tableau as the story of Mary and her six sisters begins to unravel. Remember to drop by next month.
References and Links
 Michael T. Davis, Bread riots, Britain, 1795, The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Emmanuel Ness (ed) 2009.
 Walter M. Stern, The Bread Crisis in Britain, 1795-96 Economica, New Series, Vol. 31, No. 122 (May, 1964), pp.168-187.
 Robert Southey, Letters from England, ii London 1814 p.47
 Sarah Murden, Hair Powder Tax, https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/hair-powder-tax/ 2013
"you often said you would never dow as Dolly had done"
Old documents can be very revealing windows into the past. The structure, form and language is as informative as the contents. Nowhere is this truer for the family historian than in personal correspondence, which often on initial inspection seems to talk about ‘nowt nor somat’. The letter that forms the basis of this blog on first inspection appears to be the idle prattlings between two sisters, highly resonant of the Bennet sisters in Pride & Prejudice. However, it does contain snippets of information that reflect the fashions and social customs of the time. The letter forms part of our personal family archive which we are extremely lucky to have and has provided the basis of much research and speculation undertaken by my predecessors. It is perhaps more remarkable in that it is the exchange between two women at a time when basic education of men let alone the fairer sex was often neglected. Forster’s Education Act which gave all children a right to some form of education between the ages of 5 and 13 was not introduced until 1870, some 76 years later.
The letter can be accurately dated to sometime before December 1796, possibly that September from the subsequent marriages of some of those persons mentioned within the text. Furthermore, September 30th 1796 was a Friday and as the letter is finished on Saturday at 2 pm it would fit. It is written in a fair italic hand but the spelling is phonetic in places and punctuation none existent. Whilst this is still typical of the period spellings and punctuation were now becoming far more standardised. The form of the letter is therefore possibly the product of a young woman with far more exciting things to do than indulge in meaningful correspondence.
So who was the writer? Her name was Mary Thompson, born at Overshiels Farm (Shieldykes) near Alnwick 1777 making her of an age with Jane Austen herself who was born 1775. Mary was the third of seven sisters and and one son to survive into adulthood born to John Thompson of Overshiels and Todstead and his wife Ann Grey. Thus, Mary was one the many grandchildren of William Grey of Burgham and Jane Heron in the maternal line along with descendants of her mother’s sisters the Bolton and Swans. A pedigree that placed her on the edge of ‘county society’ but not necessarily in it. Her letter contains evocative echoes of the youngest of the Bennet sisters, Lydia, with all her talk of fashion, outings and romantic intrigues. Hold this thought as you read on…
Indeed reading between the lines the letters main purpose is to ensure she receives her clean clothes in better time and to impart strict instructions to her sister on the way to iron the skirt of her dress as well as catch up on romantic gossip! I find it quite touching she forgives her sister for not responding as the family are busy with the harvest. Altogether far less glamorous!
Unlike Lydia Bennet, Mary appears to be working in an upmarket dressmaking establishment. Where exactly is not known, but an educated guess would be Alnwick. An earlier blog Kissing Cousins under the section of Music and the Mantua identified Nicholson & Wornum (nee Elizabeth Robson) members of other trees in the family coppice from Longhoughton running a Mantua making business in London at a similar time. That connections were being maintained is evidenced in the news paper cutting of 1803 recording the death of her daughter in Alnwick.
Furthermore, two further female relatives Harriet Nicholson Stamp and her sister Mary of Alnwick had joined the dressmaking business operating out of Wigmore Street, by the middle of the 19th century. Is it conceivably possible that the ‘Miss Betty’ is in fact Elizabeth Wornum nee Robson?
The Georgian era of the 1790’s was a time that witnessed a radical change in women’s fashion as it headed toward the Regency, noted for its elegance and achievements in the fine arts and architecture. Out went the nipped in corseted waists and in came the empire line that flowed freely in an almost elfin Grecian style from below the bust – again think Jane Austen.
Perhaps Mary is eluding to her desire to be more on trend when she describes the skirt on her white gown as round, and the apparent aversion to her petticoats. Whether the ‘dificionies’ are with the petticoats or those she perceives with her figure is unknown.
The ‘uneform for a lady’ sounds quite intriguing and an altogether more formal affair. I am no expert on either fashion or textiles but have come across this reference to an ‘open robe’ from circa 1795.
Mary certainly liked to get out and about and she appears to have had a good deal of freedom to be able to do so. In her letter you can sense her eager anticipation of ‘mickilmiss’. Although it ceased to be marked in the eighteenth century, Michaelmas was a significant date in the agricultural calendar. It marked the end of the harvest, an event which historically would have involved whole communities labouring in the fields in the days before mechanisation. For many farmers it was also the day the rent was payable, and was closely followed by the autumn agricultural ‘Hiring Fairs’. Michaelmas Day was traditionally celebrated on 29 September but when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752 and eleven days dropped from that year, events associated with the end of the harvest moved eleven days later to 10 October.
However, Michaelmas Sunday is still of some importance to Mary. Perhaps her family marked the date with a traditional feast of goose fattened on the corn stubbles? Was this then followed by a blackberry pie? Folklore holds that Michaelmas is the day that Satan was cast out of Heaven by St Michael. He apparently landed in a blackberry bush and being incensed by the thorns he ‘breathed his fiery breath upon the fruit and urinated on them’ – thus blackberries picked after this date will taste sour!
However they marked the occasion in 1796 the previous year had been spent at the ‘Weldon Gardens’ the exact location of which I have been unable to conclude in my limited research time. As the farm of Todstead lies adjacent to Weldon, it was presumably in the same vicinity, or possibly at Weldon Hall which stood to the West of what is now the A697.
This instalment has, I hope, given you food for thought as to the type of information that can be gleaned from old correspondence, and at least given this letter some historical context. If you take the time to read Mary’s letter out loud, you will perhaps also detect a Northumbrian twang! As to her romantic match making notions, to possibly find out what Dolly did and discover to whom the letter was written pop back at the end of February for the who’s who of the characters mentioned in this little tableau …
For those of you with a passion for sewing and vintage clothing, or perhaps would like to get going - I thoroughly recommend Cathy Hay's website and blog. http://thepeacockdress.com/
Old Maps are available online at http://www.oldmapsonline.org/
If you would like to learn more about the customs surrounding Michaelmas then this is the blog for you
‘Identity’ has certainly been the buzzword of 2017 and was even the focus of Her Majesty the Queen’s Christmas Speech to the Commonwealth. It is also highly topical in the face of the exponential growth in the number of DNA testing kits that have been sold – with folks looking to discover their ancestral heritage. However, these tests for what Ancestry spuriously call ‘ethnicity estimates’ should really be taken as broad indicators only, the pool of genetic information from which their conclusions are drawn are simply too small to act as a scientific basis on which to base our sense of ‘identity’. They do, nonetheless, illustrate the concept of migration of peoples, tribes and races to create a diverse and interlinked global heritage. Below is my ‘ethnicity estimate’ from Ancestry which whilst a talking point - only a very small proportion of the 66% Western European can realistically be substantiated.
What DNA testing is great for is ‘cousin matching’ which helps trace family trees through matching to other descendants of common ancestors. This can be especially helpful when the paper trail has run cold or is not readily ‘accessible’ either geographically, or, if records are written in an unfamiliar language. In order for this to work effectively it is necessary to broaden family trees to include the siblings of direct ancestors and their descendants. Almost putting the family tree in reverse so to speak, by as well as going back in time, going to the side and heading forwards towards the present. To give this December’s blog a ‘festive feel’ that touches on a few of the issues above, I have revisited the family of my Dutch great grandmother Grace Elizabeth (Tissie) Meijer who was born on Christmas Day 1867.
Back in February Dutch genealogist John Boeren of Antecedentia, helped get me going in the right direction and shared some of his top tips with us in the blog Going Dutch. Needless to say I have been bending his ear again for this post, and as always he has been an enormous help. Previous research had established that Tissie’s father Hendrikus Petrus van Castel Meijer (HPvCM) had been born at 79 Oude Ebbingstraat, Groningen on the 11th November 1833 to parents Hendrik Lofvers Meijer, a school master, and Elizabeth Houwerzijl his wife. HPvCM was the third of five sons born to the couple and the only one to marry and have any family. The only other family member that followed the matrimonial route was their sister Margaretha Magdalena Elizabeth Meijer born in 1842 and the second of that name, the first having died in March 1839 aged just 6 months.
A document called a ‘Memorie van Successie’ was found for the deceased child on the AlleGroningers website relating to her death. ‘A statement of succession is an overview of the income and expenses of an inheritance. This has been made since 1818 because tax on inheritance had to be paid by the heirs’. As such these documents contain the names of all potential heirs, any property, its location, its value and as such can be a useful source of information for family historians. In this instance it showed that HPvCM had a half-brother called Willem Fockens Lofvers Meijer born in 1822 to their father’s first wife Maria Nix who died 4 days after his birth. Willem was a lawyer in Groningen and also unmarried at the time of his death in April 1851.
Armed with this information the only potential circa 4th cousins I may have out there will be the descendants of HPvCM’s surviving sister Margaretha who married widower Arend Martens Prins at Groningen in May 1873 and their three daughters. The marriage certificate described Arend as a ‘merchant’ and previous research had shown indications they were involved in shipping and emigration. Arend Prins was the principal partner of the firm of Prins & Zwanenburg which was founded in 1867. It acted as a freight forwarding and immigration agent, recruiting labourers for American railway companies. The company grew to have offices through Europe and the United States. In 1884 Arend’s son by his first marriage Marten W Prins in joint partnership with Theodore F Koch (exporter of Holstein Friesian Cattle) and Nils Frederiksen purchase 34,000 acres of land in Minnesota for $4 an acre which they sold in lots to Dutch and German settlers.
Frederiksen was bought out and Marten Prins died in 1886 leaving Theodore Koch as the company’s chief agent. In the ensuing 20 years Koch brokered the sale of over a million acres of land in Minnesota, ‘acting either as Prins and Zwanenberg’s agent or fronting for German investors from the Ruhr valley’. It was quoted by Professor Robert P. Swierenga in his paper of 1997 that ‘The extensive activities of Prins & Zwanenburg in the Netherlands and on the American frontier are only dimly perceived and merit a detailed investigation’ and there are now several informative articles written by Robert Schoone-Jongen including this from the Minnesota Historical Society and ‘Dutch and Dutch Americans’ in the book Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaptation, and Integration, Volume 1 from page 333 for those interested in finding out more, including studies into early Dutch ‘identity’ in the United States.
However, as Marten Prins and his descendants are not my ‘blood’ relatives, although an interesting diversion, the above does not further my quest for potential DNA matches at 4th cousin level! For that I need to return to the daughters of Arend Prins and Margaretha Meijer, and as Reiniera is an enduring family name, their youngest daughter Reiniera Margaretha Arendina Prins born in Groningen in March 1884 was the line I followed first. In July 1906 she married Albert Herman Thiadens from Utrecht and where the couples’ three sons were born, the eldest Hendrik Arend in June 1907. Another very useful website for Dutch surnames is Nederlandse Familienamenbank which gives the occurrence and geographical spread of surnames in 1947 and 2007 respectively. In 1947 the total number of results for Thiadens was 26 and in 2007 just 58 giving a good indication that the families I was searching could be found. Furthermore, the 1947 return has been allocated to regions, which showed just three for Utrecht, with the remainder mostly clustered in the Northern regions of Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland.
It was here that my research took a bit of a sad turn – Hendrik Arend Thiadens (my grandmother’s 2nd cousin) hadn’t made the return having died in Enschede in April 1945. Further searching amongst Dutch War Graves records recorded him as both a Neurologist and a member of the resistance. His memorial reads:
The surname database also came up trumps for the surname Lofvers, with the added benefit of a documentary summary that reached back into the mists of time and the origins of the name. Of the 35 results returned for the 1947 survey 21 were located in the province of Groningen. The summary reads:
The ancestor Pieter Jochems Lofvers (Groningen 1712-1788) was first mentioned with this family name in 1748 as a witness at the wedding of his sister, who also had this family name on this occasion. At the time, a family of Loofvers from Switzerland was living in the area (Hoogkerk), but there is no kinship. The name Loofvers is an adaptation of the name Lauffers, who carried this family in Switzerland. It is possible that the name Lofvers has the same origin and in Groningen it was still not used by Peter Jochems' parents and grandparents in the usual patronymic system [GW Nanninga, 'The Groninger painter family Lofvers', in: Gruoninga 1973, p 121-124].
The usual patronymic system in the extract refers to the use of surnames in the period prior to 1811 ‘where the father's first name became the first son's last name, and the other kids got the left over names from the grandfather, great grandfather and so on’. Standardisation of surnames began in the 1600s but from 1811 onwards it was a statutory requirement. Thus Pieter Jochems Lofver’s father was actually called ‘Jochum Pieters’. Confused – this light hearted article might help!
The MEB Collections at the CBG in addition to family announcements in the newspapers also hold other resources including family files and photos. They currently hold two such dossiers for the Lofvers family including one for Lofvers Meijer within the Prins family papers. These can be viewed within the reading room of the National Archives in The Hague and if the request is submitted before 12 midday they will be available for consultation the next business day. Although, as these documents will be in Dutch, I shall once again be requiring the services of Dutch colleague John Boeren! For more information on the types of document sources available through CBG see here http://cbgverzamelingen.nl/
Reference to the ‘The Groninger painter family Lofvers’ was too tempting not to investigate further and it seems the family’s biography appears in an almanac similar to the ODNB of which I have only been able to find extracts written in English. Pieter Jochems Lofvers (1712 – 1788) and Hendrik Lofvers (1739 – 1806) of whom a self - portrait hangs in the Groninger Museum were direct Dutch ancestors – 6th and 5th great grandfathers respectively. Both it would seem were artists of some note with Pieter best known for his seascapes and depiction of Whalers. Dutch Old Master Paintings in the New Bedford Whaling Museum which contains examples of his work describes Pieter as:
Lofvers lived in the inland town of Groningen, the provincial agricultural marketplace of Friesland, connected to the sea by canals and by long-standing commercial traditions as a Hanseatic port since 1284. But Lofvers himself is not known ever to have been to sea, or ever even to have seen salt water — as three of these paintings reveal through a surfeit of imaginative speculation. However, his depiction on a shoreside tryworks was likely painted from firsthand observation.
The ‘tryworks’ referred to in the extract are the whale oil refineries which were land based at that time. Hendrik his son by contrast was known for his landscape painting and portraits, which are valued for their historical depiction of the landscapes of Drenthe and Groningen as ‘they abound with noteworthy details: bridges, cows, rubbing-posts for the cattle made of whale jaws, and pedlars with their carts’.
Hendrik was not the only son of Pieter to follow an artistic career, brothers Otto, and Sicco are also mentioned in ‘The Netherlands Institute for Art History’ or RKD listings for artists, along with other members of the family. However, their work also encompassed, sculpture, furniture lacquering, gilding, (apparently they re-gilded the organ in the Martinikerk), teaching, carriage painting, and possibly glass staining, which I suspect may have involved another brother Jacob who is described as a dyer and glassmaker. What perhaps interests me most is the reference to an early patent for the manufacture of wallpaper which was granted in 1738, one of the earliest to be granted by the city of Groningen. Whilst this is not early in terms of wallpaper usage and manufacture - the earliest example in Britain is dated circa 1509 and appears on the reverse of a proclamation made by Henry VIII - I am curious as to the design and format of that produced by the Lofvers' family. Documents and other records are again available for consultation in the RKD Reading Room in The Hague.
Once again I have deviated from my original course of action which was to work methodically back through the generations from 4th cousin onwards! Any DNA matches I may have to Pieter or Hendrick Lofvers will be distant – at 6th or 7th cousin level, and I therefore do not recommend that you follow this particular example. However, as anyone who has tested will be aware these distant matches make up the bulk of our results. Armed with the information provided by the surname database and the low number of results for Lofvers, there is a strong possibility that people on the ground today are connected to the first known bearer of the surname. To test the theory I randomly chose the name of a Lofvers death in 1963 and traced it back seven generations when, sure enough, it arrived at Pieter Jochems Lofvers (1712 – 1788) through his son Jacob. Now to add the branches that have descended from the female members of the line, which will of course, bring in a whole new network of surnames, some of which may be lurking within my distant DNA matches. For now research will return to the original plan and methodology, together with planning a trip to The Hague and Groningen in the spring to indulge in a spot of my own #AncestralTourism.
NB. If anyone is interested in the family tree of the Thiadens, Prins, Lofvers, Meijer and other connected families that has been compiled as a result of this research - or in indeed they would like to add to it, please do not hesitate to contact me! I would love to hear from you.
John Boeren - Dutch Genealogist & Family Historian at Antecedentia https://www.findmydutchancestors.com/
WieWasWie - Database of Vital events in the Netherlands. Now also available through Ancestry.
AlleGroningers - Database provided by the Groningen Archives http://www.allegroningers.nl/introductie
CBG - Netherlands Center for Family History Research http://cbg.nl/
Collections at the CBG - http://cbg.nl/bronnen/cbg-verzamelingen/
NB. If using Google Translate it changes CBG to MEB
Dutch Family Database - http://www.cbgfamilienamen.nl/nfb/
The Netherlands Institute for Art History - RKD - https://rkd.nl/nl/
Map & Images of the City of Groningen 1700 - 1861