Sometimes Stellar Storyteller Six Word Story Challenge

This is one of my favourite blogs. Can you write a story in just six words? A writing challenge with a new prompt every week.

Sometimes Stellar Storyteller

Challenge open Saturday 28th January2017 – Friday 3rd February 2017

Welcome to the Sometimes Stellar StorytellerSix Word Story Challenge.

For those who have never dropped by before a new prompt is posted every Saturday morning at 9am GMT.

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Please mind the gap.

annie-jones

Its frustrating when we spend a long time researching an ancestor but are never able to ‘finish’.  Sometimes we have a date for the birth but no death, or a death but no baptism. We might have the family on the 1851 census but nothing more til 1891.

We try spelling the surname differently, searching by first name and place of birth, by nicknames, other family members and even by neighbours on other censuses. When all else fails we check prisons, asylums, workhouses and cemeteries.

But sometimes that elusive person wants to remain, well, elusive.

But by  nature we are curious (why else did we choose this pastime) and we want to know. No actually, we NEED to know. Really. We put the ancestor away, but revisit him often. Did I check that newspaper? did he go abroad? did I check that? and so on.

I have an ancestor called Louisa, I can’t tell you the hours I have spent looking for her in 1911. I have her in 1901 and I have her on the 1939 register. But what about those years in between? where was she in 1911? who was she with? was she OK? I just don’t know.

Sometimes we just can’t find out. However annoying it is.

I have a postcard from 1909 I wanted to research. It was sent by  an Annie to a Miss Gwen Jones of Vesta Road Brockley, south east London. Annie sent it on New Years Eve from St Ives in Cornwall.

So I have a name and an address as well as a date. What can I find out?

I checked the 1911 census and found the family. 55 year old Croydon born widow Annie Jones was head of the house, and living with her are her three adult children – Annie Gwendoline (28), Lily Gladys (28 twins?) and William JC Jones (26). Annie is a lodging house keeper and is renting rooms out to 4 people. I think this is why she has signed her postcard ‘Annie’ rather than ‘Mother’. It also explains that daughter Annie is known by her middle name so not to confuse everyone.

The three children were all born in Melbourne, Australia.

Now the research becomes a bit harder. First of all Jones is a fairly common surname and Annie is a widow so I don’t have her husbands name so can’t pinpoint a marriage for her.

However luck is on my side because Annie is also on the 1901 UK census and not only that she is living with her parents in 1891! Thank you Annie ☺

So now I have a maiden name for her – Cheverton, as well as her parents and some siblings.

I can’t find a marriage for Annie Cheverton and a ? Jones but I know that she has lived in Melbourne so I search for her leaving England. And I find her sailing from Plymouth on-board the Orient liner Garonne in November 1880. After a horrendous sailing through storms and bad weather the ship arrived in Melbourne on New Years Day 1881.

Next I look for her marriage. Annie Cheverton married Hugh Gwilym Jones on the 25th of January 1881 at St Saviours, Collingwood, Melbourne. Perhaps Hugh had gone ahead to set up home for the couple? It would have been a whirlwind romance otherwise! The couple put a notice in the paper declaring their marriage and one the following year for the birth of daughter Annie (April 7th 1882) and again in 1883 (13th March) for daughter Lily. So not twins but only 11 months apart.

Now what about Hugh? He arrived in Melbourne in  April 1880 having sailed on the Steamer Chimborazo. Now we know Annie suffered a stormy crossing but poor Hugh must have feared for his life. His ship met with a terrible accident and had to return to England for repairs. The Chimborazo had met with a sudden rough sea and part of it had been swept away along with 30 passengers.

Hugh arrived in Australia as a labourer. It was a great time to emigrate. Australia was the ‘Land Of Promise’ said F W Hetherington, a London based Emigration Agent who regularly advertised his services in the national newspapers. Land was cheap, jobs were plentiful and the prospects for hard workers were excellent.

Hugh and Annie must have been doing well, they moved house a couple of times and I found Hugh advertising his Drapery business in the local street directories. Their  son William John Cheverton  Jones arrived in 1884 and life seemed good.

For a while.

I found only two more entries in the Australian newspapers for the family.  Both on the same day Wednesday 2nd November 1887.

They appear one below the other in The Argus. The first informing its readers of the death of 37 year old Hugh G Jones, who died at his residence Claremont, Barkly Street, St Kilda and details of his funeral. The second entry asks for Hugh’s fellow members of the Cambrian Victoria Society* to attend his funeral.

*One of many societies set up at the time (and in many cases still running) to support newly emigrated people to find friendship, work, homes etc in their new lives.

I was able to find a record of Hugh’s death, it just gave the names of his parents William Jones and Elizabeth Hughs of Liverpool, England. And a note of what is written on Hugh’s headstone -Hugh Gwilym Jones son of Wm Jones of Liverpool, England. 31. October 1887. With no mention of his wife or children we must assume his father paid for his headstone.

So now Annie is far from home with 3 small children.  Did she try to carry on supporting her children or sell the business (or her husbands tools of the trade) straight away to return to her family?

I couldn’t find them sailing back to England and believe me I looked. For hours. I knew they had travelled sometime between late 1887 and being enumerated on the 1891 UK census.  Even I gave up at the point of having to search manually through thousands of families on ships leaving Melbourne.

We don’t know what happened to Annie during those three years. We can’t even make an educated guess. All we know is at some point she came back to England, but how she managed to live will have to remain a mystery for now.

Annie remained a widow at least til 1912 which is the last I have of her, on the Electoral register at Vesta Road. Her daughters never married ( I have their deaths) although her son did.

I haven’t even found Annie’s death (yet, yes I’ll keep looking…) it’s a bit like looking for a, well you get the picture.

Mary Wilkins.

mary-wilkins

In the days before online genealogy research was so easy, we researchers had to leave our homes and travel – by horse and carriage – to local (and not so local) archives and trawl through reels and reels of microfilm for little snippets of information to add to our family and other trees.

You had to scribble everything down in pencil, if you were lucky you could photocopy a page from the microfilm reader to save time. No laptops, tablets or cameras allowed then. And I’m not talking decades ago either.

My mum and I visited archives all over London and the southeast of England to track down baptisms and burials, and sometimes we got lucky and found them and sometimes we didn’t (yes Francis Shearley I’m talking about you! Again!)

As a consequence of all that scribbling I have quite a few bits of paper covered in partially illegible writing. Well it was probably 5 minutes to closing time and I would have been frantically getting as much information down as I could. It would have been weeks until my next visit!

So… I was browsing through one of my old notebooks recently and found an odd burial that I had made a note of, alongside a burial I had been looking for (and managed to find!). The burial was for a little girl, no forename had been added and it had obviously intrigued me at the time.

The entry in the burial register reads…

The daughter of Hubert and MaryAnn Wilkins. 8 hours. Buried 31st March 1899. Uckfield, East Sussex.

It mentions that the burial was certified under the Burial Laws amendment Act 1880. We’ll look at that in more detail later.

With a little bit of research using freebmd.uk.org I found that the most likely child was Mary Wilkins whose birth and death were registered in Uckfield during the first quarter (January to March) of 1899. So now we have a name for this little girl.

MaryAnn was born in Uckfield and was the daughter of local coal merchant Arthur Jeffrey. Before her marriage she had been a live-in domestic servant to a family living close to the Palace in Brighton.

Hubert had been born some distance away in Westbourne, West Sussex. After Hubert left school he worked as a carter, transporting goods.

I checked the 1901 census for Hubert and his wife MaryAnn and found them living in Uckfield. The couple had married in early in 1897, shortly after Hubert had taken up the post of luggage porter at Uckfield railway station, he obviously liked working with wheels. They had a house close to Hubert’s work and were parents to 10 month old Hubert Jr.

At this point I thought it would be nice to go and visit Marys grave in Uckfield, so I made contact with the civic centre who hold the cemetery records and located the grave. I also learnt that Hubert and MaryAnn had already lost a child before their daughter Mary.

Edith Annie was buried on the 12th of September 1898 aged just 19 days. She was probably named after MaryAnn’s sister Edith. Now by my reckoning that means that daughter Mary must have been a couple of months premature. How sad for the couple to have lost their first children. MaryAnn would have been just 21.

Childbirth could be a dangerous time, and a perfectly healthy mother could suddenly become ill and die leaving a husband to cope with older children and perhaps a new baby. There was of course no way of knowing how healthy the growing bump was or any real way of foreseeing any difficulties during labour until the moment arrived. A child born days or weeks early had very little, if any, chance of survival.

This was the reality of the life our ancestors lived.

However happier times lay ahead, three healthy babies born in quick succession, followed by another death – a son this time who died aged 6 weeks. Finally a last daughter for the couple in 1906.

The baby girls were buried together and their tiny brother was laid to rest beside them in 1906. None of the graves are marked.

When I checked the 1911 census I noticed that Hubert had written that he and MaryAnn had only 6 children, with 4 of them surviving. I wonder which one he had forgotten.

Lets go back to the Burial Laws amendment Act of 1880. I’ll be honest this made my head hurt. I think I have it right…

This law was added to allow ‘dissenter’ burials to lawfully take place in a Church of England churchyard. This meant that people practicing other religions (Baptists and Methodists for example) were able to be buried in their parish church with a service performed by the leader of their own religion, or a few words said over the grave by a family member. A certificate had to be presented to the Vicar stating that such a burial was going to take place, and the ceremony was performed at the graveside.

Shortly after the law was implemented there were all kinds of demonstrations at funerals by parishioners who were horrified by it. Meetings were held at the graveside about who was allowed to do what while mourners stood by waiting to bury a loved one.

In Marys case we don’t know why she didn’t have a Church of England ceremony. It may have been because of her parents beliefs or it may have been because she had died unbaptised. She was only 8 hours old so perhaps the family were unable to have a christening performed at such short notice.

One last thought, these children would not have appeared on a census and would have remained unknown except by chance – which reminds us to search for the births and deaths of other offspring a couple of years either side of known children when researching our family trees. Just in case.

Many thanks to Linda for her help in finding the Wilkins burials.

A stitch in time

sampler

I recently spent a lovely afternoon (yes, of course it rained) at Michelham Priory near Eastbourne in Sussex.  It really is a lovely tranquil place, sitting in the middle of seven acres of land. In fact I would almost go as far as saying rain only adds to its loveliness. Almost.

After wandering round the gardens, the playground and feeding the ducks (3 times, my daughter thought they were the best bit of the day..)  we explored the house. Its a fantastic old building, full of wooden panels and leaded windows. And there are even costumes to dress up in! (somewhat unsuccessfully if you get the wrong size and your mum takes a photo..)

The priory began life in 1229 as a monastery, but was disbanded as part of the dissolution during the reign of King Henry VIII. It then  took on a new life as a country home passing through several families over the following centuries. Over the years some of the buildings and the church itself were destroyed, but as you walk around you still get a sense of its previous life.

So, in one of the rooms upstairs I noticed a couple of old samplers and some sepia photographs on one of the walls. I particularly liked the one above and, well obviously, that was it for me. I couldn’t wait to get home and start researching.

Samplers were just that, samples of sewing. They could be examples of patterns and colours to be shown to prospective customers, Domestically they were used to practice stitches, try out small sections of embroidery before attempting much bigger projects and, later on, girls would sew them at home or school perhaps with a poem, or long biblical verses on or like the one picture above the alphabet.

Catharine Child was eight years old when she completed her sampler.

Eight years old!

I couldn’t believe it either. She had in fact celebrated her 8th birthday just over a week before, hopefully not by sewing though.

Catharine was born on the 4th of March 1837, the seventh child of Thomas and Elizabeth. There would be a further three siblings born after her.

Three months after Catharine was born Victoria became Queen, and a month after that on the 1st of July (a date burnt into the memory of all genealogists) the General Register Office began to record  births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales. Yay!

By the time Thomas and his growing family lived at Michelham it was a working farm with a watermill to grind flour. Thomas would have probably grown his own wheat to mill but would also have milled other peoples grain for a fee.

Thomas was also proud to have a huge herd of Sussex Bred cows and calves all descended from one particular cow called ‘Lilley’ since 1804. He frequently won prizes for his cows. Thomas regularly visited the big cattle market at Lewes to sell his surplus cattle, and in 1818 he was one of many farmers who signed a petition to change market day from a Saturday to a more convenient Tuesday.

Thomas passed away in 1854 at the relatively young age of 61. It seems that some effort was made to continue farming at Michelham but in September 1861 a great auction with no reserve was set up on the premises as the family were ‘wholly disinclined to farming’.

Travellers from far and wide were met by carriages at the local railway station to complete their journey to the farm and by the end of the day horses, ewes, cows and calves were all gone along with all the farm equipment.

Maybe the Child family knew what was to come, because in 1865 ‘cattle plague’ wiped out a great deal of cattle at Michelham Farm, much to the distress of the new farmer there.

The widowed Elizabeth (now of independent means) moved to Lewes with a handful of her adult children although her eldest son, Francis remained close to his childhood home and moved to another farm. He was also the local registrar of births, deaths and marriages as well as being a relieving officer.

It would have been his job to record hatches, matches and dispatches as well as visiting the homes of people in need of financial assistance due to illness, infirmity or unemployment and then report back his findings to the local board of guardians who would have decided whether or not to help. Some families would have received ‘out-relief’ a weekly sum of money to help with rent and food for a few weeks, some would have been sent to the workhouse and the rest would have had no help. At all.

I was surprised to learn that of the 6 Child daughters, despite all living beyond a marriageable age, only one married. Eldest daughter Susannah left the family in 1865, marrying Benjamin Morris and remaining in Lewes close to her mother.

But what about Catharine?  Around about the time the family moved to Lewes, she found work as a housekeeper to the Hollis family. Her mother died in 1873 and some of the sisters stayed living together (again with a private income) until gradually they diminished in number.  By 1881 Catharine had become the Hollis children’s governess and was living in London with the family. She stayed with them until the mid 1880s when death was to change her future again.

In 1884 brother Francis (who we had left farming up there ↑↑↑ ) lost his wife, Jane. She left behind three young children in want of a mother. So Catherine left her charges in London and returned to her family and in effect became a now unpaid housekeeper receiving board and lodging in exchange for running the household. Hopefully she enjoyed her new life.

Francis died in 1902 and Catharine became redundant, her nieces were in their 20’s and had moved away to pursue their own careers. Catharine needed to find new employment and a new home. She may have lived for a while with her last remaining sister, Caroline, but by 1911 she was living with a poorly cousin, Mary Lambe, and employed once again as a live-in housekeeper. She was 74 years old.

Mary died in December 1916 from complications of influenza and I can’t find Catharine again until her death in 1921.

After a life time of caring for others Catharine passed away aged 84.

Thank you to Michelham Priory for allowing me to photograph the sampler.

Long overdue.

Thomas Foord Waldron

 

 

 

 

 

Long before the fortnightly collection, humans used to dispose of their own rubbish mostly by burying it. It wasn’t much more than the burnt remains of the fire until far more recently.

In the 19th century and before there was no plastic to dispose of and no old microwaves or tumble driers to get rid of. Things were used and re-used until they couldn’t be used anymore. Then they were burnt and buried or maybe collected by people who would sort through the ash for usable items to sell on themselves. Bits of bone, buttons etc.

As time went on and the household rubbish began to contain things that wouldn’t burn well, tin  and glass for example, local authorities had to do something constructive about it and a more local organised collection began to emerge.

However sometimes people continued to use the old rubbish pit that they had dug in their garden many years before and then decades later people like my mum would be digging a hole in a border in the garden and then randomly find half a broken plate or a glass bottle stopper just where they were about to plant a tulip bulb.

I have to assume that litter bins were few and far between in the more rural areas at that time, because I am always finding bits of old Victorian crockery and such, sticking up out of the ground in woods and old trackways. It seems our ancestors were litterbugs too.

And as a result we have a nice little collection of cod bottles at home, pretty little blue poison bottles and stoneware bottles that we have discovered whilst out walking. We’ve got some lovely beer bottles, gin bottles and lemonade bottles. A Marmite jar, a few decorative milk bottles and a couple of Sainsbury’s pate pots. Even an old Bovril jar or 10.

And just for a little while, this very tactile mineral water bottle ‘lent’ to us by Mr T Foord. But he actually wanted this rubbish back. Yesterday.

I found Mr Foords bottle laying face down after a walk in the countryside with my children. After carefully retrieving it from its muddy tomb and cleaning it up (evicting the bugs!)  we could clearly read….

‘This bottle is lent by T Foord of Waldron and must be returned’

Oops.

Thomas Foord was born in Heathfield, East Sussex sometime around January 1841. He was the only child of George Foord, an agriculturial labourer and Eliza (possibly nee Knight). By 1851 the family had moved just along the road to the edge of the small village of Waldron, taking Georges widowed father, Jesse, with them.

Thomas grew up following his fathers occupation and then married local girl Philadelphia Stevens in May 1865, the bride had just turned 19 and the groom was 24. Their first child, Jesse – named after Thomas’ grandad, was born soon after. The couple would have 13 children in total.

Now something quite exciting happened around this time. I’m not quite sure how it happened but George Foord suddenly became his own boss, a farmer of 5 acres.

And his son Thomas started a business.

Family history says that Philadelphia Foord was a dab hand at brewing ginger beer, and Thomas saw the potential in this. Before long Thomas was selling his own bottled mineral water, ginger beer, potash and lemonade. Thomas became quite famous in the locality for his delicious drinks.  As his children grew some of them entered the family business too and eventually son Walter took over from his father, continuing to trade until the second world war when Foords was bought by a much larger mineral company, Hooper Struave from Brighton.

Thomas pops up frequently in the Sussex newspapers, he obviously took a keen interest in his local community. He had various hobbies and interests, he was at one time a bellringer, a member of a slate club and involved in the local bonfire society. What I particularly liked about him though is he seems to have ended pretty much every meeting he attended by performing a jolly or comical song!

I dragged persuaded the family to go for a drive over to Waldron churchyard to see if we could find any family graves. We found a couple but sadly not George and Eliza or Thomas and Philadelphia’s, we did however find Thomas’ and Philadelphia’s house still standing. I wonder how many bottles are waiting to be found there. Or if they pop up frequently  whilst the owners are gardening….

But what about Philadelphia who seems to have started the cottage industry? She was a farmers daughter and one of five surviving children. Her mother Ann is likely to have been the only daughter of Philadelphia Ashby of nearby Rotherfield.   This Philadelphia spent a large part of her life working as a live-in housekeeper on a farm. It would be interesting to delve further back into this maternal line to see if the brewing skill was passed down to Ann.

I contacted Sheila, who is a descendant of Thomas and Philadelphia, and she was kind enough to supply some of this information and this photo of Thomas.

Thomas Foord

He does look like a jolly chap doesn’t he?

I was really pleased to be able to return Mr Foords bottle to his family. And even more pleased it reached Sheila in one piece!

Now, anyone want a Bovril jar?

 

‘Goodbye Ada!’

Pond

Imagine, for a moment if you will, that you are walking along a quiet, leafy country lane on the outskirts of a small English village. The road is dry and dusty underfoot, the air is filled with the ‘perfume’ of a nearby farm.  The evening is drawing in and the warmth of the June day is beginning to fade. It’s a time before cars were common and planes were just used by carpenters, so there is no modern noise to interrupt your thoughts as you make your way home. Unless we include the baa-ing of the sheep on that farm, if that is that a modern noise?

Sorry, I have spoilt your concentration. Lets get baa-ack to the quiet leafy lane.

Suddenly, as you round a bend, a young boy appears and runs unseeingly past you. He is the first person you have seen for a while and, in this fading light, he has quite unnerved you.  Take a moment to catch your breath and then please continue on your way .

Just a little way ahead, you can see a small crowd of people gathered around the edge of a large pond just to the side of the road.  As you draw closer you can tell something is very wrong.

Lying beside the pond is the lifeless body of a young woman, her dishevelled hair is soaked and full of weeds and mud.  Someone is lifting her arms above her head and then bringing them back to her chest in an attempt to revive her.  More people arrive breathlessly from behind you. Maybe they are her family, perhaps the boy who ran past you was going to fetch them.  Whoever they are, they are too late…

June 2nd 1881

Martha Styles was just 17 when she left her parents home for the last time. She told them she was going to catch the evening train from the station a mile or so away, back to the townhouse where she worked a few miles away. She said her goodbyes to her parents and siblings and made her way out of the house.

She took her youngest sister, 3 year old Ada, out to the garden gate and asked her to walk a little way with her, but their mother overheard and called out that it was far too late for the little girl to be out. Martha said goodbye to Ada and walked away. It was just after 8pm

But she didn’t go to the station. She walked the opposite way, towards a large pond about half a mile away. She stood by the water, took her hat and scarf off and then laid them on the grass nearby.

At about half past 8, Martha was discovered struggling in the pond by a couple of small boys who tried to help her. They fetched help and eventually she was dragged from the deep muddy water. When it became obvious there was nothing more to be done, her body was removed to a nearby  pub, where it was stored in an outbuilding until the inquest could be arranged a couple of days later.

This was quite common for the time. Public houses usually had room for a large table where the body could be viewed, plenty of space for the Coroner, and any other interested parties and of course it would be able to provide refreshments.  Hopefully not served from that large table during proceedings though.

At the inquest her mother, Ann, told the coroner that Martha had returned home from the local town in the hope of getting a position closer to her family but had missed out on it. She had moved away a couple of months earlier, telling her family she had employment in the household of a family a few miles away.

Ann had no explanation for her daughters actions, and was only able to add that Martha had suffered from fits as a child, ‘dropping down as if she was dead’ and the doctor had often been called to attend to her.

One of the boys who had tried to get Martha out of the pond said that she seemed to just struggle and take no notice of their pleas for her to grab the stick they held out for her to grab. The doctor who performed the ‘mechanical breathing’ to try and revive her said her face was discoloured as if she had been fitting in the water.

The court was told that she had worn some boots belonging to her mistress and had been caught with them, the mistress demanded 18 shillings for said boots of which poor Martha had only managed to pay 2.

Being unable to find the money to pay for the boots, she had been sacked a week or so before her death. Her parents had been unaware of this and thought their girl was still at her place, but looking for another one. Her father only learned of her dismissal when he had gone to the employers house to ask for his daughters things back. They were being kept, he was told by a servant there, until the rest of the shillings were paid.

Her father, Stephen, said he had been told by another servant at the house that Martha may have been with child, but he didn’t know if this was true. Martha hadn’t told them she was on her last visit home.

Her mother then told the court that when Martha had returned home she appeared to be as happy and cheerful as ever, only noticing her daughter seemed unable to enjoy reading as she used to. There was no unpleasantness at home at all, both of her parents would have been happy for her to remain at home.

So what had happened to Martha? Did she kill herself or was it a tragic accident? Why had she decided to walk to the pond instead of going to catch her train? She had no job to return to at that point but she had felt unable to speak to her family about her troubles. Had she simply gone for a walk to think over what to do and decided to paddle in the pond, taking her hat and scarf off first before becoming ill and falling in?

Whatever had happened, the verdict at the inquest was suicide. Martha was buried on the 6th of June, which oddly enough was exactly 135 years ago as I write this.

But that is not the end.

Martha was the 6th of 13 children, and at the time of her death only her younger siblings remained at home. The family probably lived in a small ‘two up two down’ type cottage, close to the farm where her father worked.

These cottages were so called because they had 2 bedrooms upstairs and a large kitchen and small sitting or ‘best’ room downstairs. The toilet would have been outside. It would have been a squeeze to fit everyone in and this is why children tended to leave home at a young age (especially girls) and live and work at the home of the employer.

One of the problems of having a large family in a small home was how rapidly illness could spread. In the days before many effective medications had been discovered even a minor cut could cause blood poisoning and death.

At the end of July, 9 year old Emma Ann Styles became ill. At first it was just a sore throat, but then a rash and a high temperature followed. It must have been quite serious as the doctor was called from his home just across the road.

It was Scarlet Fever. With no antibiotics and little in the way of painkillers there wasn’t much to be done except hope and pray for a quick recovery. Complications were common – kidney failure, septicemia, heart problems and secondary fever amongst other things were all killers –  a family could lose several children to an illness like this in a very short period of time. And there was nothing to be done but hope the patient got better.

Emma died on the 7th of august and was buried on the 9th close to Martha.

But this is still not the end.

Shortly before she died Emma passed the illness on to her sister 11 year old Phoebe.

Phoebe to succumbed to the terrible illness and was buried alongside Emma on the 13th of August.

With 5 children still in the home, including a young baby, Ann and Stephen must have been at their wits end.

On the 10th of August as Phoebe lay breathing her last, the doctor again called at the house, and confirmed to the grieving couple that their youngest daughter, little Ada, had also become infected.

Ada was very poorly but held on for 2 weeks. She died on the 24th of August and  was buried swiftly the next day close, to her sisters.

Four daughters dead and buried in the space of 3 months. How quiet that once crowded, noisy house must have been.

Greater love hath no man…

Dockside     Drawing by Jack.

A few weeks ago I purchased an old drawing book which belonged to Jack Valentine Gardner*. It has taken me a while to find him in the records but I have managed to find a little bit about him and his family. His book is full pencil sketches of boats and ships, the sea and lighthouses. It also has this drawing of the rather grand churchlike building.  I haven’t been able to identify any of the places Jack drew nor can I give them an exact date. He certainly loved his drawing though, as you can tell by the detail he has put in to these two pictures.

*I have found the family name varies between Gardner/Gardener/Gardiner depending on source checked.

I first found the family in 1901. They were living beside the River Thames at Limehouse, a poor area at that time, next door to the Richard Cobden pub.  They had one floor of 32 Repton Street, the other being occupied by a couple and their three sons, the youngest  just 1 week old.

Many of the houses in this (and lots  of other) areas were divided in to two or more dwellings, rooms within these dwellings were sometimes sublet to other families. It would have been a noisy, crowded life.

Mary, who is a 35 year old widow, gave her occupation as a worker in a draper shop, where she spent her time selling lengths of material. She was born  in Limehouse though her children, Jack and Dorothy, were both born in West Ham about 4 miles away.

Jack and his little sister Dorothy wandered along to Dagleish Street School every day, it was just a five minute walk from home. Perhaps Mary was at home waiting for them when they arrived after school, although more likely Jack took Dorothy home and found her some bread and jam to eat while they waited for mum to finish her days work. Perhaps they played in the street with the neighbourhood children, or wandered around the docks looking for treasures to take home.

The school admissions book notes Jack’s birthday as 14th February 1893 (hence Valentine) and Dorothy’s as 12th November 1895. Dorothy began school on the 13th February 1899 aged just 3 years and 3 months, young but fairly standard then. Mary is listed as their parent, but with no fathers name given we can assume he was no longer with his family after January 1899 when Jack began at this school. The family may have lived elsewhere prior to this as Jack probably attended another school. Perhaps Mary moved back to Limehouse to be closer to friends or family after the death of her husband.

I have nothing to tell you of the Gardners over the next ten years, except that Jack left the school in July 1900 and Dorothy in July 1901. They were both far short of the leaving age of 12. They must have continued their education….but where?

By 1911 the family had moved onwards and literally upwardish, 70 miles northeast to Suffolk. They were now living in Bridewell Lane, Bury St Edmunds. Just how and why they have moved must remain a mystery unless some kind soul can put us out of our misery and tell us.

Mary (who has carelessly lost 3 years from her age..) was now working from home as a self-employed Needlewoman, Dorothy was a live-out domestic servant and Jack was serving out an apprenticeship with the local Blacksmith as a Striker – using a sledgehammer to strike larger pieces of metal working alongside his master.

There is a new member of the household, 13 year old Londoner Nelly May Wood, who was living with the family as a ‘nurse child’.  This usually meant a child who was being cared for by someone in their home for payment from the birth mother, father or- where a child had resided in the workhouse – the Parish from which the child was born in paid a weekly sum to the foster carer.

Some forward thinking people believed that city workhouses were no place for  young children and it was better for them to be bought up in the good clean country air until they became of an age ready to be trained up for useful work. Sometimes the child would have been adopted by the ‘someone’ or perhaps returned home if or when the situation which had caused the child to be removed was remedied. ‘Parish’ children would be returned to the workhouse until a place could be found for them to learn a trade.

And so life went on quietly, except perhaps for Jacks incessant hammering, until war was declared on Germany in 1914. Jack signed up and joined the 7th Suffolk Regiment. He and a new pal Arthur Hicks did their training together and went off to fight in Belgium and then to France in June 1917 to fight in the trenches, side by side. They swapped photos and really were good mates looking out for each other.

Early in October 1915 Mary received a long letter from Arthur, which was reproduced in the local paper the Bury Free Press. He had written to tell her that Jack had been killed on the front line, and he wanted her to know what had happened before she received the official telegram from the war office. Arthur wrote to Mary explaining how it had happened, to let her and her daughters know how brave her son was and how proud he was to have been his friend. He knew how distressed she would be but she must bear up as best she could, knowing her only son died a true British soldier trying to save his comrades. He told her how the pair had just moved forward into a new trench after walking for some days onto newly won ground. That night a terrific shelling began and some of the men in the trench were buried under rubble. Arthur, Jack and some other soldiers had rushed over with shovels to dig them out and save them from further injury when they suffered a direct hit and Jack, along with two other men, died instantly.

Arthur continues to tell Mary how he and Jack thought of each other as brothers, and he had written so she knew he didn’t suffer. He wrote ‘Greater love hath no man but this, that he lay down his life for his friends’.  It must have been a difficult letter to write, sitting in a muddy cold trench in France. He signs himself Private A S Hicks 14197 7th Suffolk Regiment.

The article finishes by mentioning that Jack had previously worked for Messers T.H Nice and Co Engineers in the Buttermarket, Bury St Edmunds. The Buttermarket was badly damaged in during a raid from a Zeppelin in April 1915.

Jack Valentine Gardner was killed in action on the 1st of October 1915. He is commemorated at Loos in France.

Arthur Sydney Hicks was killed in action on the 14th of August 1917. He is commemorated at Ypres in Belgium.

As for what became of Mary, Dorothy and Nelly, I am sorry to say I don’t know. The trail goes cold in 1915.

Chapel on the hill.

Ebony Chapel Hill St Marys

One of our hobbies as a family is to occasionally go Geocaching. A couple of years ago we visited a cache with the intriguing name ‘The church that moved’ in Reading Street near Tenterden in Kent, it is so named because the church was moved to its present location in 1858 from about a mile away. We decided this week to return to the area and find the cache placed on the outer edge of where the church had previously stood on Chapel Bank and, of course, visit the churchyard and its inhabitants that were left behind.

By the beginning of 1858 it had become apparent to the villagers that something must be done about their chapel. Sited at the top of a hill, a good walk away from the village and with no road or pathway upon which to reach it, the aging damp building was fast becoming ‘useless’ to them. Bad weather prevented children and the older generation attending at all during winter time and it had been damaged some years before by fire and was by now in a bad state of repair.

A well attended meeting was called by the Churchwarden, Overseer and Vicar and it was decided to remove the chapel from the hill and re-erect it closer to the centre of the small community, on land donated by a local gentleman. A list of subscribers was printed in newspapers all over Kent and beyond and a plan of action was drawn up. It certainly would have been a major undertaking especially in the days before lorries and heavy machinery.

The Kentish Advertiser reports in the 31st of August 1858 edition that the first stones of the new church in Ebony had been laid. A small time capsule with some coins of the time and a note of explanation had been buried at the same time and apparently the excited parishioners were given plenty of cake and wine to celebrate. Well it was a very special day, even the Archbishop of Canterbury was there!

And no doubt everyone was rightly pleased with their wonderfully restored church and its new Sunday School (excepting maybe some of the children..!) on its completion late that year. So much more conveniently situated for young and old to attend and join the congregation once more.

I wonder how they felt though about leaving their loved ones behind up on that hill. I can’t imagine they visited any less than before to tend their graves.

As we walked from the road towards the top of the hill I could see the 1858 villagers point of view. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the churchyard on foot. It was a cold windy day and we were quite chilly despite the exercise. We were lucky we had a concrete path to follow for some of the journey and a well worn path along the edge of the field after.

It was well worth the walk though. There were headstones everywhere! Peeping out from overgrown grass, hiding behind tree trunks, some clustered together and some standing alone. Sadly many of the inscriptions are beyond reading now*, exposure to the weather has worn them away. I was able to find some legible stones though.

I found Robert Walker who died in 1842 leaving his wife Sarah to eke out an existence as a laundress to support her children and sometimes receive some help from the church when work dried up 😉  Sarah joined Robert in 1881 closely followed by their son William. Their grave is pictured above.

Parish clerk and Postmaster William Catt has a grave, which he shares with his wife Philadelphia, enclosed by an old wrought iron fence. Close by is Stephen Weller, a shepherd, who along with his wife Susannah can gaze out over the Kentish countryside he once worked on. Just a few steps away is their daughter Rhoda who died in 1930 leaving a husband and a large family behind.

Innkeeper George Thomas Paine who died in 1877 aged 66 lies alongside his wife Ann who survived him by 2 years. George and Ann were married in 1840 and raised several children. After the death of Ann, the ‘White Hart and Lamb Inn’ was put up for auction. The listing for it tells us it had a bar, bar-palour, parlour, kitchen, washhouse, scullery, dairy, cellar, 2 attics, 7 bedrooms, a wool room, stables, cow lodge, sorry 2 cow lodges, a cart lodge, orchard, paddocks and a large garden. It must have been a coaching inn used as a stopover for long journeys.

The churchyard is far from forgotten, it is on a public footpath and so apart from occasional geocachers,  walkers, wildlife enthusiasts and tombstone tourists, an annual church pilgrimage is organised, a service is read and with a picnic to follow it sounds like an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours on a warm, lazy Sunday afternoon.

Chapel Bank is a peaceful, albeit lonely place with a spectacular 360°  view.  If you are ever in the area do have a wander up there. We enjoyed our visit, its just a shame we didn’t find that cache!

*The website http://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk is an invaluable source of information including memorial inscriptions for many Kent villages -including Ebony- recorded many years ago when they were far more legible.

Shearley you can’t be serious?

Beatrice

Sometimes genealogy can be a disappointing hobby. Take this week for instance. My mum and I have been researching our family tree for many years, and one particular branch has us stumped.  No sooner do we think we have got somewhere when our ancestors laugh in our faces (possibly stick two fingers up at us too) and then do that annoying Ha-ha just like Nelson from the Simpsons.

First of all my mum received a Will she had ordered, it had mentioned the Executor as being one of our family. We could see no reason for this but of course on reading the Will all would be revealed and we would be able to work out everything that eluded us so far about this family. Oh we were excited, the Will would give us a clue that would lead us to the real baptism of great x many Grandad Francis Shearley.  And there his dad would be waving to us outside the church beckoning us in to join the family for the baptism and learn all kinds of names and dates to add to the family tree.

Not.

What a let-down that Will was. It told us nothing we didn’t already know. And to add insult to injury Francis and his wife Maria didn’t even get left anything in it. And it cost my mum a tenner! – looking closer  his dad obviously wasn’t ‘waving’ at us from outside the church. Ha-ha.

While waiting for this wonderful Will to arrive my mum found us a little diversion to keep us occupied.

My mums Grandma, Edith Shearley, had an older brother Frederick who, amongst his many children had a son named William.

William was born in Greenwich, London in 1889 and when he left school he started work at nearby Deptford Bridge Station as a parcel porter.

Every night after work he would return home to his parents house near Blackheath Common. Meanwhile a few minutes walk away lived Nellie Crowe a young woman from Tonbridge in Kent, who was working as a cook in a private house.

At some point in 1911 William and Nellie met and decided to get married. They were married in Lewisham in the spring of 1912 and errr, fairly soon after, their daughter Beatrice (named after Williams sister) was born. All good so far. However poor William died in 1915 leaving Nellie and Beatrice to fend for themselves. Nellie decided to move closer to home, and we next found her in Sevenoaks, Kent working at the station as a ticket collector.

Now all we really knew of Beatrice was that she died in 1917. We had to know why. We just had to.  My mum scoured the newspapers of the time and found an obituary  for the little girl.

Beatrice had lived in the Hip Hospital close to her home for a year and a half before her death. She was suffering from what was called ‘hip disease’. This was a very painful condition which caused inflamed joints, abscesses and could even dislocate bones. It is now believed to have possibly been a complication caused by tuberculosis. Many children died from hip disease and autopsies did show that some of them had TB deposits in their lungs.

After 16 months at the hospital Beatrice went home. It had become obvious that she didn’t have long to live and perhaps Nellie decided it would be for the best to take her daughter home and care for her there.

Beatrice was buried at the (then) fairly new cemetery near her home and as it is only about an hours drive away – via Marks & Sparks – we decided to go and find her. We were sure we would find her headstone and maybe it would help further our research.

Our outing was quite unusual, I managed to drive to the cemetery without getting too lost, we arrived to find not only was the cemetery office open but a kind soul was there to find the burial in the register and even walk us to the spot. My mum had forgotten her notebook and pen but not to worry I had my camera and …..

…..oh bugger, no headstone. Just a patch of grass, squished between two unrelated memorials. It must be the wrong place. Surely little Beatrice had a headstone? we walked around checking but no it was the right place. We stood there looking down at the grass, just where Nellie must have stood with her brother Percy and sister Alice beside her.  Some of the nurses from the hospital had attended the funeral too so there would have been quite a crowd there.

It has left us with more unanswered questions. Beatrice seems to have no family buried close to her.  None of her Shearley relatives attended her funeral.  She has no memorial to mark her last resting place and yet someone purchased the grave for her. Arghhh!

So yes, it is sometimes a disappointing hobby, but then it is one that gives us great satisfaction when things do eventually slot into place.

In the meantime if you ever find a Francis Shearley please do tell him we are looking for him, and give him a little ‘wave’ from us won’t you.

Return visit to beatrice

In memory of Beatrice Shearley aged 5.

It could all be rubbish.

I can only apologise to anyone who has been waiting for a new post. I have an excuse or 2 though. I have several new and exciting projects on the go… a couple don’t even have anything to do with dead people!

One of the projects is de-cluttering the house and doing a bit of decorating.

Soooo last Sunday I packed the car full of old junk and headed over to the local tip. I had a lot of old boxes to put in the cardboard recycling skip, so I climbed up the horrible metal steps in my sensible shoes (I have been known to get a boot heel stuck in the grills of those steps before…) and threw them in to the almost full bin. Then I spotted a pile of books sitting  near the edge of the container. Books! In the skip!!

One of the books looked quite old and I just couldn’t resist flicking the cover open to have a little nosy…

Edith Price

The inscription inside was almost illegible but the  year was still clearly visible, written in ink it said 1878.  I was pretty confident I could find something out about the Victorian owner of the book so I asked one of the staff if I could take the book home.

Printed in 1833, the book has the rather grand title ‘The Students Manual, An Etymological And Explanatory Vocabulary Of Words Derived From The Greek’ by R. Harrison Black, LL.D. According to its author it was originally compiled for the use of a young female relative and was then ‘published with the hope of it being generally useful more especially to young ladies – whose mode of education precludes them from an acquaintance with Greek.’ Thoughtful chap.

Now I won’t fib, this one has been a toughie. But I do not give up on dead people easily. Unless they specifically ask me to.

So I began by studying the inscription.  I have it as ‘from M.Blackstone to Edith M K Price. 1878’.  We can tell from the photo that the M.Blackstone has been written long before the rest of the dedication, it is in a steadier hand and the ink is of a slightly different colour. The book has been given to Edith by M long after M initially owned it.

I can only find one likely recipient, Edith Mary Karslake Price born in Scotland circa 1857, making her 21 when she was given the book.

Next job was to find Edith as close to 1878 as possible. In both 1871 and 1881 she was living in Rottingdean, on the outskirts of Brighton, with her mother and siblings including  younger brother Salisbury who later in life would become a Vicar.

Now I had to try and locate an M Blackstone.

A mile away in Ovingdean, living a quiet life next door to the local Vicar was an elderly spinster, Miss Margaret Blackstone. Born in 1799 in Wymering, Hampshire, Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Bigg-Withers and the Rev. Charles Blackstone. The ‘Materials for a history of the Wither family’ located on archive.org has some great information on the Bigg-Wither family including some letters written by them.

The Bigg-Withers family owned Manydown Park, Hampshire and were neighbours of the famous Austens and one of them, Harris, proposed to Jane. She apparently accepted his proposal briefly, changing her mind the next day.

Charles Blackstone died in 1804 and his widow Margaret spent much of her time at her childhood home with her also widowed sister and their combined collection of  small children.

Margaret the younger lived with her mother until Margaret Snr died in 1842. Then she gradually moved her way towards Brighton during the next few decades.

Could Margaret have been the mysterious M? We have no real way of telling. I think M was probably a woman, and had a love of learning. Both owners of the book came from families of wealth and property, were fortunate to be in a position where they could have a good education, and both had Clergymen in their immediate family.

Perhaps the women met socially as they only lived a few minutes walk apart, Margaret discovering their shared love of learning giving her book to Edith for her birthday. Could it have been a gesture to show the shared frustration felt by women who were limited in their studies by the age they lived in?

Maybe Margaret isn’t the correct M.Blackstone after all.  We’ll never know.

Margaret and Edith lived on their private incomes during their lifetimes and remained  unmarried. They died in 1885 and 1943 respectively.

Now I am sure I must have one project that doesn’t involve the dearly departed somewhere.