Burntwood Family History Group
   Home      Journal 2016 07-09 Volume 24 Number 3
Extracts from Burntwood Family History Group Journal
 
 
 
 
 
July - September 2016
 
 
 
 
Vol 24.3
 
Contents of this issue.
 
From the Chair1
WWI – Tragedy on the Home Front
The Guild of One-Name Studies 5
Terrible Murder in Burntwood 6
Reviews of Guest Speakers' Talks 7
Catherine Compton's Diary 8
How we Lived Then 11
A History of Walsall 13
Stalemate on the Western Front 16
This Issue's Cover photo 19
World War Weird 19
Useful Addresses 20
Transcriptions of CD Available for Sale 21
Programme of Speakers - Back Cover


From the Chair

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m fair worn out after watching the Olympics, with all that running, jumping, lifting all those weights and leaping into water from great heights.

We’re now entering into the final third of the year and time to slow down, the nights are drawing in, with nothing on the telly as everyone says. It’s time to get down and do some research work again before starting your Christmas shopping!

As you will all be aware, it is the group’s AGM in September, so please try and attend. All of the present committee have agreed to stand again but, if you would like to stand for positions, please do not be shy – make your feelings known. Should there be anything you are not happy with, or think improvements should be made, please say so.

In this world of fast changing times, where technology moves on at a frightening pace, the group have a number of fiche readers which are not used any more. Should anyone wish to make a reasonable offer for any of them, please let us know. Walsall Local History Centre have expressed an interest in a couple of them. It seems that several groups are disposing of their readers, and even library books, too.

Next year’s events for the group are in their infancy but, even now, we are planning to visit The ‘Who Do You Think You Are Live Show’ again at The NEC in Birmingham, and a trip to the Battlefields of WWI. The battlefields tour will be over probably four or five days in the spring, and the dates will be decided by a majority decision on the members’ choice. Please express your interest in any of the trips should you wish to go. Approximate costs are available.

Good luck with your research. Steve Bailey, Chairman BFHG 2015–2016

WWI – Tragedy on the Home Front - by Pam Turner

Although most of the deaths in WWI were the results of action on the battlefields, there were also many deaths which occurred on home soil during those years. One hundred years ago this year, on 31st January, 1916, a Zeppelin raid took place over the Midlands, during which bombs were dropped on numerous places, including Walsall. The raid was totally unexpected, there was no blackout and no siren warning, so it took the area by complete surprise and in the process caused much damage and loss of life.

One of the casualties on that fateful January night was William Henry Haycock, the brother of my great grandfather Inspector Alfred Haycock. William died at his home in Bescot Street, Walsall, where he lived with his wife Annie. He was 50 years old.

William was a native of Rugeley, spending his formative years as the eldest of four sons living in Arch Street. Initially, William started his working life as a coal miner, the same as his father Frederick. However, by 1885, his occupation had changed to a farmer. It was also in this year that he got married to Annie Radford at St Michaels Church, Brereton, and the following year their first child Annie was born.

William Henry and his family moved to Walsall in 1887, after he joined the Walsall Police Force, settling at 28 Alexandra Street, which was in the Palfrey area of the town. Five years later, in 1892, my great grandfather Alfred followed suit, also joining Walsall Police Force, and I believe he lodged with his brother until he himself got married in 1894.

In 1901, it appears that William Henry was no longer a policeman, as the census lists him in this year as the publican at ‘The Greyhound’ in Upper Rushall Street, where he was living with Annie and three of their four children. Ten years later, in 1911, William, Annie and the children had moved yet again, this time to 53 Bescot Street in the Caldmore area of the town. William’s occupation was now listed as a ‘Club Steward’ By the end of 1915, it appears that all the children had left home; therefore, on the night of 31st January 1916, only William and Annie were at home in Bescot Street.

After William died, Annie made a statement to the Coroner, stating that he had been seriously ill for the previous 13 years with rheumatism, of which the last nine years had been spent confined to the bedroom unable to walk or get out of bed without assistance. This detail sort of throws doubt on the previous census record of him being a club steward in 1911. Annie also described her husband as an ex-policeman, omitting any mention of his other occupations, and also said that he had been attended by a Dr Riordan during the whole of his illness.

Annie’s statement continued, stating that on the Monday night in question, at about 8 pm, William had partaken of a good supper and was his usual self. At about 8.15 pm, there was a loud explosion of bombs, resulting in William becoming very upset and nervous. However, he did calm down and assured Annie that he would be all right as long as they (the bombs) did not come again. At around 12.30 am, she left William at his own request to go and see a sick person on the opposite side of the street, who she had been recently looking after, reiterating that William had particularly requested her to go and see how this neighbour was.

Soon after she left the house, another loud explosion occurred from another bomb, so she at once returned and called upstairs to William, but didn’t get any answer. Annie then decided to go upstairs, at which point she found her husband lying on the floor by the side of the bed.

After speaking to William but again getting no response, she then fetched a neighbour who, after going upstairs with her, declared that William had died, at which point the doctor was sent for. The conclusion regarding William’s death, which has been documented in numerous articles written on the Zeppelin raids, is that he died of shock caused by the explosions.

Across the Midlands, the total casualties of the raids on this night were 67 killed and 117 injured. The most noted death in Walsall was the Lady Mayoress, Mrs Slater, who was on a tramcar which had just reached Bradford Place when a bomb exploded in gardens close by. Mrs Slater was initially rushed to hospital with severe wounds, but died three weeks later on 20th February. It was noted that other people may have died as a result of the raid, but newspaper coverage of the incident was deliberately vague at the time, in order to avoid supplying intelligence to the enemy.

There were many near misses that night including a bomb which fell in the grounds of the General Hospital. This was swiftly dealt with by a police constable, for which he later received a medal. The success of the attacks was apparently down to the failure of Walsall to observe the lighting restrictions. The consensus had been that the Zeppelins would not be able to reach inland as far as the Midlands, so many streets had been fully lit. This, of course, was quickly reversed. Fortunately, no further attacks took place in Walsall, although some Zeppelins did pass quite close by at a later date. The full extent of the damage was estimated at cost of £6700.

William Henry Haycock was buried at Rycroft Cemetery in Walsall on 5th February 1916, leaving Annie a widow living on her own at the age of 50. However, Mabel, one of her daughters, did live near by at 92 Bescot Street, together with her husband and young son William Albert. Sadly though, before too long, tragedy was to strike the family again. A few months later, at the beginning of June 1916, Mabel’s son William Albert was badly scalded. The child was apparently playing with his father near the hearth when his hand caught a kettle of boiling water that had been sitting on the hob. The kettle tipped up and the boiling water went over the two-year-old boy. Although William Albert was admitted to hospital, he died two days later of shock caused by the burns, and a verdict of accidental death was recorded.

Although 1916 had been a tragic year for the Haycocks, it did end with a little happiness. On 31st December, just one month before the first anniversary of the Zeppelin raids, daughter Mabel gave birth to another son, Albert Edward, which must have given Annie some hope for the future. Unfortunately, tragedy did strike again before too long. In 1918, just as the war was ending, Mabel’s husband was killed whilst fighting in Italy.

Annie Haycock and her family obviously went through a very traumatic time during WWI, and I have no doubt the years immediate afterwards were a struggle as well. In 1927, daughter Mabel remarried; however, this new-found happiness was very short-lived as, the following year, Mabel died after giving birth to twin sons. Annie herself did live until the age of 73; she died in Walsall in 1938.

The Guild of One-Name Studies- by Chris Graddon

The Guild of One-Name Studies was established in 1979, and enables its members to share, exchange and publish information about a particular surname. The founders thought of its members as being akin to skilled craftsmen, but the memorable acronym ‘GOONS’ ensured that members would not take themselves too seriously. Every year, the Guild publishes a Register, in paper form, listing over 8,400 surnames and variants that have been or are currently being researched by members of the Guild. This Register is available as a searchable database on the Guild of One-Name Studies’ website http://one-name.org/.

The Guild of One-Name Studies may have been founded in the United Kingdom, but it now has over 2,600 members in 30 countries around the world. If you have a surname in your family tree that is being, or has been, studied by a Guild member, then he/she may be able to provide you with valuable information and insights about the name and, perhaps, your own connection with it. And if no-one has researched the surname you are interested in, and you are passionately interested in that surname, then you can join the Guild and register the surname yourself as a one-name study, and see whether others pick up on your interest and provide you with information to further your own research.

Family historians generally focus their efforts on researching their own family tree, collecting and analysing data in order to find as much detail as possible on every branch, twig or tiny leaf. Those who compile surname studies seek all occurrences, past and present, of a single surname, anywhere in the world. Some ‘one-namers’ restrict their research geographically, perhaps to a single country, but true ‘one-namers’ collect all occurrences worldwide. They do more than just collect data; their aim is to research the genealogy and family history of all persons with a given surname and its linked variants. In some cases, the aspiration is to identify a single original location for that surname, especially so if the name appears to derive from a particular location or place name. As a family historian, you may also find it interesting to find out how rare or common your surname really is, how it is distributed through the country in which you live or throughout the world.

Burntwood Family History Group member Ray Derry has uploaded his one-name study to the GOONS website and the Guild of One-Name Studies have kindly given us permission to include his research in a future edition of the Journal.

Terrible Murder in Burntwood- by Terry Jones

The events leading to my discovery started at the ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ show in 2015. I was walking past the National Library of Wales stand when I spotted one of our members (he can reveal himself if he so wishes!). He was talking to someone operating a large screen bearing the name ‘Nelson’. I was immediately intrigued, as my father was born there.

The thought that someone else from Burntwood, let alone a member of BfHG, shared an interest in a small Welsh village, had to be investigated. We did, of course, both turn out to be researching family in that area. He was able to put me in touch with a local librarian who might be able to help me in tracing the death of my paternal grandparents.

I knew that they had died within a few weeks of each other sometime in the mid-1950s. However, searching for the surname ‘Jones’, with the given names of ‘David’ and ‘Margaret’, in the registration district of East Glamorgan, could make tracing them a costly business. Fortunately, the registrar turned out to be a friend of the librarian, and a telephone call resulted in the correct certificates being quickly identified and obtained.

This information spurred me to investigate further my paternal grandfather’s side of the family. He was born in Llanycrwys, North Carmarthenshire, was the eldest of 12 children, and had been brought up by his maternal grandparents. They had moved to Nelson in the 1880s, but his parents and siblings had remained in Carmarthenshire.

The family name of his grandparents was Price, and it was in further pursuit of this, that, in 2016, I again went to the ‘WOYTYA’ show and the National Library of Wales [NLW] stand. I was soon became engrossed in talking about a mutual acquaintance – namely, a boyhood friend who had been a librarian at the NLW.

Talk then turned to Welsh newspapers, with my idea being to see if any family members had found their way into print. This seemed a good possibility, as they were a prominent family in a secluded farming community, with strong ‘Congregationalist’ ties.

However, as he was about to enter ‘Llanycrwys’ – the village I was interested in, he asked where I was living. On being told ‘Burntwood’, he expressed surprise, as the previous person he had spoken to was also from Burntwood. This person was enquiring about a murder that had taken place in Burntwood in the 1890s. And so, out of curiosity, he entered ‘Llanycrwys – Burntwood’.

Immediately, a Welsh language newspaper appeared with a report on the front page – in English – about a ‘Terrible murder in Burntwood’. He told me that it was not uncommon for items thought to be of wider interest to be taken wholesale out of regional newspapers in this way.

I subsequently found that this article had appeared in a number of Welsh newspapers at the time, so I think it likely that, given the Victorian interest in melodrama, it went nationwide –or, as we tend to say nowadays ‘it went viral’!

Below is a transcript of the article as it appeared at the time:

4th March 1899 – Terrible Murder near Burntwood

‘A terrible murder was committed at the small hamlet of Woodhouses, near Burntwood on the confines of the Cannock Chase, early on Tuesday morning. It is alleged that a man named Edward Green, a blacksmith, hacked his wife to death with a knife, and afterwards made off to Lichfield. Inquiries show that about 3 months ago the wife, Emily Green, obtained a separation from her husband, who was ordered to contribute 10s per week towards the maintenance of his wife and three children.

The man however, paid the money very irregularly, and further, is stated to have been in the habit of annoying and insulting the woman. She accordingly last week took proceedings against him for arrears and assault, and he was arrested at Polesworth on Saturday last.

On Monday he was brought before the Mayor at Lichfield, and remanded on his own recognisance, to Brownhills Petty sessions next week.

He seems to have returned to the neighbourhood of his home and to have slept out. About eight o’clock on Tuesday morning he went to his wife’s house, and an altercation took place, whereupon it is stated, the man seized a knife, with which he hacked the woman’s head until she was dead. He afterwards decamped, and an hour later gave himself up to the Lichfield police. In the meantime, the deceased’s eldest son had communicated with Burntwood police.

Death of the murderer

The unfortunate man died stated to the constable on duty that he was trying to die as quickly as he could. At thd the same night at the police station. Throughout Tuesday he was continually retching, and was visited by the police surgeon who prescribed for him. A constant watch on the prisoner moreover, was maintained, and on Tuesday night the accusee time he was lying on his back with his arms crossed on his chest, and within five minutes he had ceased to breathe. Green had previously attempted suicide by strangulation, and it is conjectured he either took poison or swallowed something to produce internal injuries.

A post mortem examination will be held.’

Reviews of Guest Speakers’ Talks- Reviewer: Sheila Clarke

May 2016: Richard Stone on ‘Catherine Compton’s Diary’

Members who were unable to come our Monday meeting in May missed an interesting, witty and informative talk given by Richard Stone from Ilkeston. It was gratifying to see a near-capacity attendance enjoy the account of his research.

Several years ago, Richard was contacted by a Weymouth woman who wondered if the Ilkeston Local History Society, of which he is a member, would like a diary which had come into her possession. It had been found in a box of papers and books bought by her husband from an auction. She had noted that the diary contained references to Ilkeston.

At first glance, Richard thought the diary boring and repetitive. It was obviously written by a woman and contained many references to buying hats, having friends to tea, and the births, illnesses and deaths of her children. The diary spanned 30, years from 1867 until the death of her husband in 1897. At no point in the diary did the woman mention her own name. However, Richard felt that maybe with a little detective work, an interesting story might come to light.

By listing the names mentioned in the diary and visiting the places mentioned, he was able to identify the author and piece together an intriguing story. The writer was Catherine Compton, who was married to George Compton (1823–1897), a member of the powerful Compton banking family and Chairman of The Stanton Iron Works from 1878 until his death in 1897. The works had been bought cheaply by the bank, as the previous owners were in debt. The Crompton Bank lent money to entrepreneurs of the time, including Sir Richard Arkwright and Jedidiah Strutt. It was the most important and influential bank in the area and even had its own banknotes. They absorbed many smaller banks but, in their turn, were taken over by NatWest, which is now part of The Royal Bank of Scotland.

On her marriage certificate, dated 1st August 1865, Catherine had been Catherine Mee prior to marriage; both her and George’s fathers were dead. She was 27 years old, he 42. The address of both bride and groom was the same house in Chelsea. The couple had 11 children during their marriage. Why did they marry in London when the census stated she was born in Flintham, Nottinghamshire and the Cromptons were a distinguished Derbyshire family? George and Catherine lived in London for the first 20 years of their marriage. Their son George William Crompton (1863–1946), was 20 months old at the time of his parent’s marriage, and their second child Florence was born 15 weeks after the wedding.

Richard visited London and took photographs of the church where they were married, and of the house they were leasing at the time. While in London, they changed houses several times, each property being in a better location than the previous, from Chelsea to Knightsbridge and then Kensington until, in 1869, they purchased a house in Maida Vale. Each of the properties they lived in are now worth in excess of a million pounds – some several million.

When Richard photographed the house in Maida Vale, he noticed a blue plaque on the house next door. At around the time the Compton family were there, this house was occupied by the famous surveyor Sir Joseph W. Bazalgette, who oversaw the design, construction and renewal of the London sewerage system, deemed necessary after ‘The Great Stink’ of 1858. By then, the Thames had become an open sewer, with sewage lining the banks at low tide – a situation worsening over the years as people poured into the city. Many thought the frequent outbreaks of cholera and other diseases were caused by the ‘miasma’, but the only subsequent outbreak of cholera after then was in an area not then connected to the new drains. This caused a major advocate of the miasma theory, Dr. William Farr (1819–1891), to recant and agree that the cause of cholera is a waterborne pathogen.

Richard illustrated his talk with visual material, including a photo of St. Mark’s Church, Maida Vale, where the children born after 1869 were baptised. Catherine’s diary records the births of the children, records when they were ill and when they were vaccinated. Most poignant of all, she records their last illnesses and the deaths of several. Of their 11 children, they buried five in early infancy; one, daughter Florence, for whom Catherine was often calling the doctor, died of tuberculosis aged 19 in 1884; and a son Arthur Edward died aged 30 in 1902. Of their surviving children, George William, their eldest, died in 1946 aged 82; daughter Alice Maud lived until 1930, and son Charles Robert died aged 83 in 1952.

Frequent visitors to their home were a Mrs. Bromehead and her daughter. Richard commented that they seemed to arrive just in time for tea! However, it transpired that Mrs Bromehead was George Crompton’s sister. Catherine frequently mentions seeing the Queen out in her carriage. She saw the opening by the Queen of the third bridge across the Thames, Blackfriars. Afterwards, they went for a Champagne breakfast at a fashionable restaurant. She also took the children on various holidays, and frequently visited the theatre. A dinner they attended at banker Sir Robert Carden’s house was marred for Catherine because Sir Robert spilled a glass of wine on her white silk dress. Sir Robert had been Lord Mayor of London in 1857.

Many people put furniture and valuables in storage when they went away. The London Pantechnicon, advertised as being safe and fireproof, was such a building. Unfortunately, although the building itself was fireproof, the contents were not and, in 1874, Catherine records that a dreadful fire had destroyed the belongings of many people. People were also under-insured, so could not claim for valuables they had not listed. Richard suggested that some may have stuffed the family jewels down the sofa!

On 10th October 1874, a terrific explosion shook the Maida Vale house. Two narrowboats on the Regent Canal had collided under a bridge and one, which carried a cargo of sugar, nuts, oil for gas lighting, and five tons of gunpowder, exploded. The bridge was blown to pieces, and two adults and a child were killed instantly. The explosion was heard 20 miles away. An inquiry was held, leading to the first piece of legislation on hazardous cargo. The bridge was hastily rebuilt using the original iron columns, albeit turned around, so that the grooves made over the years by horse ropes were put on the opposite side.

In 1885, the family moved to Stanton Hall in Derbyshire. Francis Gilbert Compton, the couple’s last baby, born in 1884, died in 1895, and lies buried in the churchyard at Hallam Fields, where George had laid the foundation stone. The foundry needed a greater workforce, so workers were enticed to the area from the Black Country with the promise of jobs and housing, which did not go down too well with the locals.

George had been suffering with ill health for some time before his death in 1897. He, too, was buried in the new graveyard. After his death, Catherine only wrote in the diary to record the tributes to her beloved George, including those from the workforce at the iron works, family and friends. At the time of the 1901 census, Catherine was living back in London at Clarence Terrace, overlooking Regents Park. She died in 1919 at 22 Prince Albert Road, Regents Park.

We were able to browse through the diary, and noted the beautiful handwriting. The diary itself is still in excellent condition and stoutly bound, the pages originally intended as a ledger. On most dates, the entries consist of just one or two sentences.

Catherine’s origins are still something of a mystery. Richard has no photograph of her. Who was she and how did she come to marry the son of one of the richest families in the Midlands? Richard has written to descendants, but they were unable to help. However, although no Catherine Mee was born in Flintham, Nottinghamshire, a girl of that name was born in nearby Scarrington in 1838, to a Frances Mee. No father was named on the birth certificate, though the baby’s name was recorded as Catherine Boyle Mee. The baby was raised by the maternal grandparents. Her grandfather, John Mee, was a Cordwainer.

On the 1861 census, George Crompton, a banker and unmarried, was living in New Square in Chesterfield. In his household was a servant, Catherine Mee. It is probable that George moved to London, and Catherine and he lived there as husband and wife, eventually marrying before the birth of their second child. The life of Catherine Crompton shows that it was possible for someone from humble beginnings to become part of what was ‘the establishment’. It was, after all, a time of great social upheaval and innovation.

June 2016: Mary Bodfish on ‘How We Lived Then’

The Group were pleased to welcome back Mary Bodfish, whose talks always entertain and inform. This time, she transported us back in her ‘time machine’ to the year 1685, to experience a day in the life of the people living in the house of a moderately well-off yeoman of the day. She was able to do this by looking closely at probate inventories, which list items in a household. Inventories can actually help us build a picture of the interior of the house at that time, including the animals, crops and implements used on the land, or belonging to a deceased craftsman or farmer.

Civil Probate began in 1858. Before then, administration of an estate was undertaken by the Church of England. The making of wills was encouraged as, this way, the Church was more likely to recover any outstanding tithes, or receive a gift from the estate. In 1529, Henry VIII had passed an act of Parliament which stated that a true and perfect inventory of goods and chattels (moveable belongings of the deceased) in an estate worth £5 or more had to be attached to the will. Craftsmen such as wheelwrights, blacksmiths, cordwainers, and farmers who had more than a couple of cows, as well as gentlemen, would have estates worth more than £5.

The inventory was instigated by the executors asking a neighbour or friend of the deceased who could write to undertake the appraisal. Sometimes a woman volunteered – a chance for a nosey parker perhaps? It was rare for a labourer to make a will, though it did sometimes occur. Mary found a poor man who left only 12d, but made a will so that this money would be used to provide for his young daughter. Most wills were made by men. Until 1882, married women were subservient in law to their husbands; only unmarried women and widows were able to make wills. Some inventories were rather sparse lists, while others, which Mary particularly likes, give a real view into each room of a house. Over the years, houses acquired more contents, making an inventory became onerous. By the mid-18th century, the practice had largely died out and was only done if a dispute was likely to occur.

Oak House, West Bromwich - The very detailed inventory that Mary projected was for a widow, Jane Lucock, showing her goods and chattels room by room. The house was Oak House, West Bromwich, a yeoman’s farmhouse, now a museum open to the public.

The main room of the house is called the hall house. In this room, we saw the master of the house, wearing his best wig and hat, entertaining two male visitors to a meal. The table was covered by what we would call a carpet. Carpets were too expensive and precious to put on the floor. The word was also used for any cloth covering a table or cupboard. The tableware was pewter. Also displayed were dishes and jugs of earthenware. One bowl, with lugs each side – a porringer could be lifted to drink broth from the bowl. The men sat on join stools, the joints made by pegs; screws had yet to be invented. The candlestick showed that this household could sometimes afford beeswax candles, expensive at the time. In poorer homes, and in other rooms of the house, tallow (animal fat) candles and tapers were used. These smelt vile, and when the shutters were up on winter evenings, the house would be dark, draughty and smelly.

Next we were transported to the parlour – a room which had probably been the master bedroom before the upper rooms were added. Here we could see the master with his friends at table, sitting in what was one of few chairs in the house. Chairs were very much a status symbol at the time. These were rush-bottomed or ‘sedgen’ chairs. Cushions were rare but becoming fashionable. On the table we saw a book, perhaps an account book. The men may have been discussing Church or farm accounts. Against another wall is a longcase clock in oak with a brass dial – cutting edge technology of the age. Most ordinary people had no need of the exact time.

In the fireplace we saw cobards or cobirons, iron racks with large spaces between that enabled logs to be placed to allow air to circulate and draw well. On a side table was a copy of the Bible. The whole household gathered together at least twice a day and the master read a passage from the Bible. If there was only one book in a house, it would be this book. At the window we saw a set of short curtains –a new fashion, supplementing or replacing wooden shutters.

We were then transported upstairs, where all the rooms were referred to as chambers. In the master bedroom was a headed bed (we call a four-poster) with a canopy and curtains. This bed, its mattress and linen would be given the highest value in an inventory. Mattresses were straw, flock or feathers. Under the bed was a truckle bed, used as a spare bed for visitors or children. In the second chamber was another bed with the mattress drawn back. A lattice of cords would have to be tightened, so that one could ‘sleep tight’. Here also was a wooden cradle. The third chamber was used as a cheese chamber, where the cheeses matured on shelves away from rats. No chamber pots were in the chambers during the day. These were cleaned and stored off the kitchen downstairs. We saw two spinning wheels here; one, with a large wheel, for spinning wool, and the one with a smaller wheel for flax.

Next we were shown the kitchen. Around the kitchen table we could see servants sitting on benches. No pewter ware was visible; instead, food was eaten from square wooden plates called trenchers, using horn spoons. In one corner of each plate was a small hollow, for the salt. Forks were not evident. The food was contained in earthenware pots, and soiled pots and trenchers were put in a basket at the side of the table. The fireplace had an iron back plate and a set of hand irons (roasting spit). We could see a clockwork Jack to turn the meat over the fire – perhaps the first labour-saving device found in kitchens. Dripping trays were placed under the meat. Cooking pots could be raised or lowered to boil or simmer.

Outside the house, we saw servants washing the pots and dishes; an arduous job without detergents, using sand to scour the pans. Mary commented that she hoped that the water was hot!

Next, in the dairy, butter and cheese were made both for the household and to sell at the market. The dairy maid was the highest paid servant. She had to be strong, because churning milk into butter took time and built up muscle. From the churn, the butter was patted into shapes and wrapped in cabbage leaves to keep cool. Nearby we could see a toddler in a wheeled cagement frame which allowed her little girl some freedom while preventing her from getting too near to dangerous implements or the open fire. Sides of beef and ham were hung from hooks in the rafters. In an inventory, these would be given a value as ‘meat in the roof’.

A trough held the bread dough while it was proving, but we had to return outside to find the bread oven, which was not enclosed and had to be covered in clay each time bread was baked. The loaves were drawn out of the oven on a ‘peel’ – an implement still used today by artisan bakers.

We saw some of the servants engaged in washing linen. Outer clothes were not washed, because of the variety and delicacy of the fabrics used. Soiled and stained linens were first soaked in urine to whiten, then put in tubs containing water, lye and potash. Soap was very expensive. Linens were rinsed many times, because lye would rot the fabric. The garments and linen were then draped over bushes to dry. Laundering did not take place very often – perhaps only a few times a year. Nearby we saw a man wearing headgear which looked familiar – a woollen knitted hat. These were called Monmouth caps, and made in Bewdley.

As dusk was falling, we saw the lady of the house sitting by the fading light, augmented by a taper, and using the time in some fine needlework. The master was talking to a servant, perhaps asking him to bring in a bottle of Geneva – ‘gin’.

Back in the present, we thanked Mary Bodfish for her entertaining talk. We now realise how looking at the inventories of our ancestors, although the language used is now archaic, can show us their lifestyle, and which possessions were valued at that time.

August 2016: Cliff Kirby-Tibbitts on ‘A History of Walsall’

Cliff Kirby-Tibbitt’s talk last year gave us a history of the leather trade, once one of Walsall’s major industries. Now he said he was going to show Walsall ‘warts and all’. He has delved into many books, local history and the internet to build up his knowledge of the development of Walsall and why, with all its resources, it did not become the major town in the region. He said, however, that the most telling piece of information came from hearing a comment from the late Fred Dibnah, who made a series of TV programmes on Britain’s industrial past.

The first mention of Walsall (the name meant valley of the Celts) was in 1002 AD, in the context of monks collecting taxes from those farming land in the area which was owned by the Church. There is no mention of Walsall at all in the Domesday Book, although Rushall was recorded as having limestone mines. In 1120, it was decided to build the Church of St. Matthew in Walsall on the area afterwards known as Church Hill. Excavations made in the area show that limestone mining was prevalent; in fact the whole hill on which the church is built consists of limestone. Limestone on the site was used in the construction of the church.

In 1250 the town was given a Royal Charter to hold a market. Books mention that the tanning of leather began in the 14th century, but Cliff believes that the leather trade would have begun earlier, to make use of the hides obtained from the cattle sold in the market. Tanners used limestone mixed with water to loosen the hair from the hide. Tanning required urine, oak bark, and dog faeces in the process. Water was obtained from a stream which eventually joins the river Tame. Effluent from the tanneries was returned to the stream, to be used for drinking and washing by people living downstream. Thus, as industry and mining grew, pollution became worse and life expectancy in the area became low.

Land in both Walsall and Birmingham was owned by wealthy families who expanded lands by marriage and exploited the mineral resources. In 1541, Walsall was described as an industrial town covered in smoke. Lord Paget had seven smelting plants on Cannock Chase. Between 1561 and 1563, 2,601 loads of iron ore were delivered to these plants along the only road. The wagons churned up the surface, causing a morass in wet weather. Other plant owners used the same route for their deliveries, causing congestion. At that time, Birmingham was still a village.

Why, then, did Walsall, with all its natural resources, become superseded by Birmingham as the major city in the region? Cliff put forward several reasons. Staffordshire, particularly Walsall, was hostile to Methodists, and riots occurred in the town when John Wesley preached there. No such riots occurred in Birmingham, and three manufactures who had become Methodists moved their factories there.

Canal builders approached many industrialists in large towns, asking if they could bring canals to them. Birmingham welcomed them, but Walsall’s decision- makers declined, citing that they felt that the canals would interfere with the mines and could cause flooding. The manufacturers of steam engines distributed their machines in kit form by canal, as their size and weight made it impossible to move them on the roads. The engines were reassembled on site.

Walsall’s mines began flooding in spite of there being no canals in the area. In 1780, the area had the worst roads in England, and the steep hills were dangerous in poor weather. The three public water pumps spaced down Church Hill made the surface slippery with ice. A steam engine could have driven a pump to remove water from a mine, but none could be brought in, so any water had to be removed manually.

The decision-makers had shot themselves in the foot! Birmingham trade progressed still further during the Napoleonic wars, being able to import supplies of raw materials regularly and easily along the canal system, while use of the new steam engines to power machinery speeded manufacturing industries. It was 1820 before Walsall had its canal, so until then they still relied on horses and carts on poor roads to carry goods.

In 1832 Thomas Newton, a loriner, expanded his business to include saddles – the beginning of the saddle industry in Walsall. His brother in California asked him to send out saddles for him to sell there. This was a successful business for him until the gold rush began, when he branched out into being an ‘explosives expert’. Unfortunately, this change of career was ill-advised, as he soon blew himself up.

The London to Birmingham Railway was fully opened in 1838, Birmingham always keen to be part of the railway network. Walsall turned down overtures from the railway companies, the landowners holding back to try to get a higher price for their land, giving the excuse was that they were trying to protect the saddle industry. However the landowners did have plans, and formed a railway company of their own. But their railway joined Walsall first to Rugeley, and then to Derby.

The saddle industry was going from strength to strength, and saddlers and ancillary trades moved to Walsall from as far afield as Scotland. Unfortunately, over the years, companies failed to communicate with each other, thus losing out on lucrative Government contracts by not bidding for less attractive parts, as this left the way open for manufacturers in Glasgow or Manchester to step in. In 1880, a meeting was convened, where it was decided to look at all tenders and make sure that all parts would be tendered for by two or three companies in the town (without, of course, disclosing their bid price).

The trade flourished during the Boer War and WWI, when skilled workers were called up, their places being taken by women and older men. Children nearing school leaving age worked in the evenings. Companies struggling to fulfil an order could call on another company for help. However, after the war, the companies reverted to their secretive ways. Cliff Kirby Tibbitts cannot understand this. There are no secrets to protect in such an old trade; even customer lists are widely known.

Most Walsall industry has now closed. Manufacturing has moved overseas, where labour costs are cheaper. In more recent times, Walsall council decided to make sure that any mines should be filled in, particularly under the Arboretum. An ex-mining engineer offered them a map which showed all the underground workings. However, the council thought that this would not be of use to them and refused. This seems indicative of the attitude of those who have control over the destiny of the town – an attitude Cliff feels has persisted over many years, causing short-sighted decisions to be made. This is in contrast to Birmingham, which, in the 18th and 19th centuries, grasped the importance of new technologies.

Stalemate on the Western Front- by Chris Graddon

My grandfather, Charles William Graddon, served his country as a career soldier for most of his life, steadily working his way up through the ranks. Last issue, an extract from the diaries he kept in the early days of the First World War described how the horrors of war could erupt at almost any time during the long, humdrum and repetitive days of army life on the Western Front. Here we take up his account in mid-August of 1915. The war had reached a stalemate at that time, with neither side making much headway, and there were no major battles in this period. However, my grandfather’s diary record paints a good picture of what everyday life was like on the front, even when there was no actual fighting.

{Entry in the 13th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps War Diary for the period 16–17 August 1915

Battalion Headquarters and the remaining half battalion marched to billets at Bailleul, 8 miles away, and continued the march on the following day via Nieppe to Ploegsteert, where they re-joined the digging party from Armentieres. The Battalion was attached to the 35th Infantry Brigade for instruction in trench warfare. The machine gun section lunched and went into the trenches.}

16 August 1915 (Monday)

A lovely morning, sun shining, a fresh breeze. The ration field quite dry, managed to load and off to billets. Just as I got to the Grand Place, the rain came on and so we have had it showery all day. In the afternoon I explored another direction of the town and examined another church, not so old nor so attractive as St. Vaast.

Have had orders to move to Ploegsteert in Belgium tomorrow, and I shall probably be at Doudou Farm, about a mile or so from the Regiment. The next consideration is about issuing the rations to the companies, however I suppose we shall manage. I also have a fresh refilling point tomorrow, through Nieppe and about 500 yards east of Rabbat. It is now 9.25 p.m. and I must turn in.

17 August 1915 (Tuesday)

We were up at 5.30 a.m., had breakfast, packed up and had baggage wagon loaded. It was a rough job getting off: first the horses and mules were late turning up, and there seemed to be a lack of system. Hope the transport will be better in future moves; however the Battalion had gone by quarter to eight. I waited till 9 o’clock and went off, leaving the baggage wagon on the Grand Place in charge of Clark. I called at the A.S.C. and found the horses for the wagon had gone, and then went off to the refilling point, which I found in due course. While there I saw the other half of the Battalion march by; the sun was shining beautifully but a change soon came; a violent thunderstorm came on and we just managed to get our rations covered up in time. It was no good waiting in the heavy rain so we started; the rain came down in sheets and we splashed along. I had my waterproof on, also a ground sheet, even then I got wet round the legs. One man had his sheet packed away so I lent him my saddle sheet. We reached some lanes and, after a tiring job, we reached Ploegsteert and found our Headquarters, also found the Colonel {Army Service Corps} {Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Chester Chester-Master}, Adjutant {Captain F. Fisher} and Major Charles Francis Simonds lunching with the officers of the Suffolk Regiment, the Colonel of which invited me to come, so I had a slice of cold ham and tongue and bread, and found it very acceptable, then made tracks for Doudou farm where we were to billet.

I do not know how to describe the village of Ploegsteert. The church took my eye. It has been shelled very much, portions of the wall had gone, (there was) no glass in the windows and very little roof was left. The only thing intact seemed to be the top of the spire. It was a wonder to me that people were living in the village at all, not a single house had escaped, and not a whole window remained, yet women and children were there as usual. Dug outs were made outside each cottage where the people took refuge during bombardment; one dugout in particular had a flower garden on the top of it, which looked very pretty. The roads were in holes from shells and full of water; mud and muddy soldiers were everywhere. Doudou Farm is about 1½ miles from the village and close to us are several concealed batteries of guns; there was plenty of firing going on and the shriek of the shells through the air was very impressive. On reaching Doudou Farm the prospects were not cheering; the whole yard was deep in mud and simply stank. Pigs, chickens, cows and calves were all over the place and where the men were to sleep was a mystery. It was here that I found kindness; the quartermaster of the Suffolk Regiment invited me in to his shanty, built of biscuit box lids etc., and very comfortable and acceptable I found it. The rations wanted some dividing, as the four companies are scattered, some in trenches, some in dugouts, however we got them all off in due course. The poor transport drivers had a rough time and did not finish till after nine o’clock. Norris {Lieutenant Gilbert Hume Norris, the Transport Officer} and I turned in about 9.20 p.m. after a splendid dinner. I seemed to drop off to sleep almost at once, thankful for a place out of the mud.

{Entry in the 13th Battalion K.R.R.C. War Diary for the period 18-19 August 1915

A Company and B Company went into the trenches at 9 a.m. under the supervision of the 5th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment and the 9th Battalion Essex Regiment respectively, from whom we received every assistance and courtesy. The other companies, C and D, were billeted and bivouacked near the village and underwent instruction by the officers of the 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment and 7th Battalion Suffolk Regiment. The mornings were spent in working parties on the subsidiary trenches under the supervision from the Royal Engineers. 13th Battalion Headquarters was sited at 97 Rue de Armentieres, with transport and supplies at Doudou farm, two miles in rear.

In the evening of 18 August, the 13th Battalion suffered its first casualty:

Crooks R3543, A Company, 13th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, of Warrington, Lancashire, was killed by a grenade. He was buried the next day in Ploegsteert Wood where a small cemetery was found.}

18 August 1915 (Wednesday)

Up early, thick fog, still plenty of mud. Woke up by hearing heavy rain on the canvas roof. The ground seemed very hard and I felt stiff but on the whole I slept fairly well. Had a good breakfast and then rode with the Quartermaster of the Suffolks to visit our companies; went first to La Chapelle Rompue to see D Company; along the road, which is bordered by high elm trees, I saw several large holes caused by shells, also dummy guns; the latter are often shelled by the Germans. I saw the Colonel and the Adjutant at D Company and discussed several things I wanted done; all my suggestions were agreed to. While there, some of our guns were firing quite close to us, and we remarked that we shall have replies from the Germans soon and, sure enough, two shells came quite close and burst with a terrific crash. As it happened, a party of men of the Suffolk Regiment was coming back to their billets from having a bath in an old brewery when the high explosive shell burst, killing four and wounding at least six others. I came on the scene immediately after and the sight was terrible. I hardly know how I felt but I thought how terrible war is. These lads no doubt have fathers and mothers thinking of them, and here, in a moment, from health and strength to death and wounds. One poor lad had the calf of his leg blown off and the blood soaked through the stretcher and ran in a stream down the path. The wounded were carried to the shelter of some houses and doctors and ambulances were on the scene in a very few minutes. One poor fellow was lying with his leg bleeding and evidently was wounded in the body, though as he lay I could see no trace of wound; he was evidently dying for he had the death dew and colour on his face. Oh, how sorry I felt for them and inwardly I prayed that they were safe.

We rode on but could not find our companies as the places they were at were unsafe and could not be approached. I visited B Company’s dugouts; the officers were staying in a deserted cottage which had been shelled and then had been prepared for a siege; the walls had been loop-holed and sandbags placed in position. Some of our officers’ baggage was there, so I wrote a note hoping they were well, and stuck it in the valise.

A dog pulling a cart with a Belgian machine gun in Northern France

We then made for home, passing through Ploegsteert, and rode fast past those parts of the road exposed to the German firing. During the ride I saw a cart going at a fast pace drawn by three dogs; dogs drawing carts is a common sight. Also saw a dog at the farm here inside a large wheel (about 10 foot high the wheel), turning by walking and so churning the butter. I thought it rather cruel as the dog was tied up; no doubt he was used to it and came in the daily rounds.

I got the rations distributed and sent off by carts by 9 p.m. I had a letter and photos from Rose, also a letter from Arthur. I went to the Engineer Officer close by and borrowed some uprights and felt to make a bivouac for Norris and I; I also filled a sack with hay to sleep on. I am sure I shall find it softer than last night. I must cover in the sides a bit and we shall be alright. Turned in at 10 p.m. but could not sleep for some time owing to the guns and rifle fire.

This Issue’s Cover Photograph- Bethel Methodist Chapel, Bridgtown. Photograph: Alan Betts

The first Church on the site in Union Street, dating from the latter half of the 19th century, was opened in 1879. This was the old building that stood to the rear of the present Church and later became the Sunday School. The ‘new’ Bethel Church, which is still in regular use, was built in 1909 and was sited nearer to the road.

Over the years it has seen many changes. The original pipe organ, which was initially pumped manually via the vestry, was removed in 1978, and the pulpit was re-sited to where the organ once stood. All the original pews have been replaced by chairs, and the church was subject to major repair and restoration work in 2010 due to damp problems.

Bethel celebrated its Centenary in 1979. It is the sole remaining bastion of organised religion on a village which once boasted no less than four places of worship.

World War Weird - Some more strange but little-known facts about the Second World War...

 Canada declared war on Japan before the US did after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

 HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, a Dutch warship, was covered with tree branches to disguise it as a tropical island.

 80% of all Soviet males born in 1923 died in World War II.

 Due to a metal shortage during the war, Oscar statuettes were made of painted plaster.

 
 
Journal          Index          Home