Burntwood Family History Group
   Home      Journal 2007 07 Volume 15 Number 4
 
 
Extracts from Burntwood Family History Group Journal
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
July 2007     
 
 
 
 
 
 
     Vol. 15 No. 4
 
  Contents of this issue.
 
From the Chair
2008 Family History Diary
News from the Secretary
Changes at the FRC
Using Local BMD Registers
Reviews of Guest Speakers’ Talks
1911 Census News
Inherited Loss
Transcribing the Pelsall Registers
Church Newsletters
Memorable Events
Jessie’s Story Part 2
 
 
From the Chair

Dear Friends, I am pleased to be able to report to you that our trip to The National Archives at Kew was a great success. Apart from a slight hiccup at the beginning when the driver misunderstood where the first pick-up point was and mistakenly waited at the Swan Island instead of Sankey’s Corner, everything went very smoothly! There were no hold-ups and we arrived at Kew in good time.

Those of us who had filled in forms in advance to renew our readers’ tickets were quickly ushered through to get our photographs taken and were then presented with our cards. As we were a fairly large group, we were divided into two for the tour. This proved to be most useful as, even if it was not your first visit, things had changed and it did help to get oneself orientated. The staff were very helpful and answered all our questions patiently.

It is an exciting place to visit, but can seem to be overwhelming at first. However, most of us soon got the hang of finding the right section for our research and were able to order documents on the computer terminals. Of course, some people had ordered them in advance on their own computers, so their documents were ready and waiting to be collected. Some members made exciting discoveries and a few had no luck at all, but all seemed keen to make a return visit.
 
The quiz on the coach was well received, as was the raffle. As the event was well supported, we were able to make a good profit to boost our funds, so the treasurer will be a happy man! Those people who went along to visit Kew Gardens had the perfect weather for it and returned to the coach feeling tired but having enjoyed the trip immensely. Quite a lot of people said they would support another visit next year, so if you didn’t manage to make it this time, there may be another opportunity in 2008.

As the Family Records Centre will close in April 2008, we wondered if there would be enough support for one last trip. We could offer the opportunity to go into Central London in order to fill up the coach. Watch out for more information towards the end of the summer.

Lastly, many thanks to Jenny Lee for the work she did to organise the day and to all who made it a successful venture. Jane Leake

 
2008 Family History Diary

The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies is pleased to announce the publication of the 2008 Family History Diary. Set in navy blue with gold block lettering and a hard-back leatherette cover, the diary contains not only all you would wish to find in your diary for reference throughout the year, but a wealth of information for the family historian and genealogist. It is useful to both beginner and expert alike and includes: a diary of genealogical events throughout the year; useful addresses; important historical notes from 1066; details of family history societies; UK road maps; and many other items of interest. The diary remains at the handy pocket/bag size of 17cm x 8cm. Please note that the start date for the diary section is now November rather than September as in some previous years.

The 2008 diary will be available from September 2007 at £4.95 plus a self-addressed A5 envelope stamped 55p for each diary order. Overseas orders should add £1.95 p&p airmail or £1.10 surface mail. Please allow 28 days for delivery. Please send a cheque payable to ‘Trustees IHGS’, or your credit card details, to IHGS, 79-82 Northgate, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 1BA, or order online at www.ihgs.ac.uk
 
 
News from the Secretary
 
Members’ Interests List
 
Apologies for an error in the last Journal. The recently joined members were list without their membership numbers and this led to Member No. 428 being omitted and the incorrect interest being attached to Mrs L Taylor. The correct numbers for the four new members listed are as follows:
 
Mrs. P. Matthews – 426
Mrs L Taylor – 427 (these two ladies are sisters and share the same interests)
Mr G Walker – 429
Mrs P Longden – 430

The ‘interests’ for Mrs. Taylor on the published list are actually those for 428 (Mr V Harper, 138, Birmingham Road, Lichfield. WS14 9BW). Sorry for any inconvenience caused to either Mrs Taylor or Mr Harper as a result of this error.

Recently joined members

431: Mr W. Barry Ebdon, 9, Westbourne Crescent, Burntwood, WS7 9AJ. Ebdon (Durham, Weardale); Stokell (Durham, Stockton); Elliott (Northumberland, Newcastle-on-Tyne); Westgarth (Durham, Consett) – any dates for all of these.

432: Mrs Susan Barratt, 14, Mountnessing Road, Billericay, Essex, CM12 9EU. Bowdler (Montgomeryshire, Forden, Guilsfield), pre-1845; Bowdler (Staffordshire, Wednesfield), after 1845; Bowdler (Staffordshire, Burntwood), after 1875; Ayre (Staffordshire, Alrewas), 1790-1850; Ayre (Staffordshire, Hammerwich), after 1845.

2007-8 Members’ Interest List

The new Members’ Interests List will be published as soon as all membership renewals are in my hands. A renewal form is enclosed with your Journal, which must be completed and sent with the appropriate remittance to arrive in the honorary treasurer’s hands before the August 13th meeting.

The form is less complicated than last year’s as we now have a database of all existing members which, if everyone has notified me accordingly, will have been amended during the year to take account of changes of name, title, address, telephone number, email address, interests, etc. Please use the back of the form to note any changes which you require to be made and which you have not previously notified to me.

It has been mentioned before that our group’s insurance cover, which is effected through the Federation of Family History Societies, is effective only for members of the group. A member is defined as someone who has paid the required membership subscription on or before the date on which any event organised by the group which is deemed to be part of the group’s activities, takes place. The effect of this is that, should your subscription not have been paid before or at the 13th August meeting, you will not be covered by our insurance at any meeting or event after that date until such time as the subscription has been paid and under those circumstances it will not been possible to admit you to our meetings. The honorary treasurer has asked me to request that subscriptions should not be paid by cash if it is at all possible to pay by other means – whether sent through the post or handed over to him at a meeting. Postal orders are acceptable, but unfortunately we do not have the facility to accept credit or debit cards.

April 2007 Journal

Several members and advertisers have commented favourably on the new style and format of the Journal. Unfortunately, the proprietor of the printing firm which produces the body of the Journal from our editors’ master disc went off on holiday just before I handed the April Journal masters to them. Although we have been giving them the work to do since the Special Edition in the same format, the staff who were responsible whilst the ‘boss’ was away decided that they knew better and sent the whole job off to a sub-contractor with instructions to print all of the Journal (including a cover page like the one we used for the Special). As a result, when I collected it from them I received 150 copies with no inside front, inside back or advertisement pages and an expensive glossy cover. together with an invoice for three times as much as I was expecting!

As they were already a few days late in delivering it, I accepted it but only paid for the job that they should have done. I then had to unstaple 150 copies, re-print the cover and inside cover pages, plus the advertisement insert, and then re-staple all 150 copies. Please accept my apologies, firstly for the Journal not appearing until the middle of May and secondly for the untidy page edges and double staple holes. Not my fault, but I hope that you still managed to enjoy reading it.

Annual General Meeting 2007

There will be no visiting speaker on Monday 10th September as this will be our AGM night. It would be nice to have a better attendance than is usual for the AGM – we have a management committee of ten and several non-committee members who help out with other functions of the group. The AGM is usually attended by these people and about 10-12 other members. If you are a local member, please try to come along take part in the proceedings. Once the formal business of the AGM is taken care of, you will be well entertained by some short contributions from members on subjects relating to their own family history or an aspect of research which they have developed a particular interest in. Geoff Sorrell, Honorary Secretary

 

Changes at the FRC

The National Archives (TNA) and the General Register Office (GRO) are planning to leave the Family Records Centre (FRC) building in early 2008, and are discussing how services now provided at the FRC will be continued after this.

TNA has confirmed that rebuilding works in the reading rooms at Kew, aimed at accommodating additional visitors and incorporating the best aspects of the FRC, will be completed on target. This will enable visitors to Kew to consult under one roof all TNA’s experts on census, military, naval and other records – plus, of course, the records themselves.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is planning for most searches of the GRO indexes to births, marriages and deaths to be possible online by April 2008, and almost all the rest by 2009. It will transfer to Kew only those indexes which have not been made available online. Microfiche copies of all the indexes, and other online versions of them, will continue to be accessible at many libraries, record offices and other centres throughout the UK. Index books transferred to Kew from the FRC will be made available only where microfiche or online versions are inadequate, and only until the information is available electronically from ONS.

TNA will not be issuing birth, marriage and death certificates, which will continue to be supplied by ONS. Both TNA and ONS remain committed to providing a high level of service to customers and delivering more of our resources online so that everyone, wherever they live, can access them easily.

Kew coach party bookings

The relocation means that, from January 2008, TNA Kew is effectively adopting the FRC model relating to access and coach parties.

The new procedures are:

Pre-booking will no longer be required for coach parties. Instead, groups need to notify Kew when they intend visiting. This will then be publicised both on site and on the website so that other group organisers can plan ahead.

By April 2008, TNA will streamline access by allowing visitors to use the general research areas without having to get a reader ticket. A reader ticket will be required only for those who wish to consult original documents, with the tickets being issued in the reading rooms themselves, subject to the usual identification procedures.

Full details of the new arrangements can be found on The National Archives website at: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/kew2008.htm

 

Using local BMD registers

This article is based on one which originally appeared on the UK BMD website. Its author, Tony Foster, was specifically talking about the LancashireBMD site, but the information he gave applies just as well to any local BMD site, so in editing it we have taken the liberty of giving it a more general slant.

Local BMD websites enable users to undertake a free search of the birth, marriage and death indexes held in the local register offices within a particular historic county (e.g. Staffordshire, Lancashire, etc). On finding the required entry it is then possible to print off an application form containing the office’s local reference. Providing this local reference number, rather than the General Register Office (GRO) reference, will enable them to quickly locate the certificate and return it much more speedily than the ONS at Southport.

Not too long ago, the only way to locate a BMD certificate was to search the GRO indexes, which are presently housed in the Family Records Centre, to which they were moved in 1997. The indexes became more accessible once microform copies of them became available in local repositories, and more recently the indexes have become available on the Internet on various websites. However, the GRO indexes are based upon the copied certificates supplied on a quarterly bases from the Superintendent Registrars. Producing these copies were not without problems, and there was no provision in the legislation to ensure accuracy. Even if any checks were undertaken, it is unclear as to how effective it may have been. This can account for some of the errors in the indexes.

There is no documentation explaining how the GRO carried out indexing and sorting procedures in the 19th century. Nor is it known when various parts of the handwritten indexes were typed. The first step in indexing must have been for a clerk to copy out the names, together with the district name, volume and page numbers. These would then have been sorted into alphabetical order based on the names. In the absence of mechanical means of sorting, it would have been logical to sort each volume separately and then merge the volumes into a total index as the final step. There would be no room in such a process for checking on errors.

The indexing procedure was a very labour-intensive activity and, therefore, it is little wonder that the Records Department of GRO had the largest staff. In 1840, it accounted for 29 staff out of a total of 50, and by 1921 this had increased to 114 out of a total of 172.

From the above description it will be clear that there were at least two copying processes and this was in addition to the copying already involved in making the quarterly returns. Little wonder there are errors in the GRO indexes!

The Registration Service is fully aware of these errors, and the types of errors have been highlighted by Mike Foster, who undertook a partial check of a one per cent sample of the marriage material. The types Mike identified included:

Between 50,000 and 350,000 marriages omitted from quarterly returns
At least 15,000 marriages missed in the indexing
Around 20,000 individual entries could be missing from the index
Variant/duplicate indexing could amount to 250,000 to 500,000 names
Errors in names as indexed are many and could rival the variant names
Errors of indexing (in volume/page numbers and district names), both in original indexing and through later typing, could range from 50,000 to 200,000

There are many other errors in great variety, such as witnesses indexed, fathers indexed instead of sons, brides indexed with new names. The estimates may well be conservative. A million errors in the 1837/99 period are very probable.

Clearly, all sources based on the GRO indexes will be reproducing these errors. No matter how carefully the transcriptions are carried out and checking procedures are performed, it will not overcome any problems between the original certificates in the local offices and copied at the GRO.

However, by transcribing local indexes rather than national ones, and checking them against the original entries in registers held in each Register Office, local BMD projects are able to overcome many of the above problems. In this way it is possible to produce a more reliable index. This has enabled many users to locate entries that do not appear in the GRO indexes.

Local BMD websites have other advantages over the GRO indexes, too. For instance, the GRO indexes only give the Registration District in which the event was registered. With marriages, local websites state the church in which the event took place. Prior to 1899, the registrar has to attend all nonconformist marriages and the website records these as civil marriages. Births and deaths were registered in the sub-district in which the event took place and therefore the website contains this information.

These local BMD websites, which form part of the UKBMD Project, are clearly then a valuable resource for family historians which overcome many of the problems associated with the GRO indexes.

(For more information on Mike Foster’s research, see Michael Whitfield Foster, A Comedy of Errors or The Marriage Records of England and Wales 1837-1899. (Wellington, 1998)).


Reviews of Monthly Talks

May 2007: Geoff Sorrell on ‘Surnames and their origins’ - Reviewer: Jan Green

Geoff Sorrell began his fascinating talk on the provenance of surnames by warning us that if someone says ‘my ancestors came over with the Conqueror’, they are almost certainly wrong, as the majority of surnames can only be traced back as far as the late sixteenth century. However, the historical progress of the English surname did begin with the Norman Conquest of 1066.

Geoff was once a market research interviewer and would often try to trace the origins of interviewees’ surnames. Quite often, someone would produce a document obtained from a genealogy publisher which ended with the statement that the recipient’s ancestor arrived in 1066 with William the Conqueror. Another might even present a coat of arms as so-called proof of a noble ancestry. These may be attractive, but can rarely be justified as evidence of origination in 1066, because it wasn’t until the thirteenth century that English surnames really got off the ground.

Outlining how surnames have developed over time, Geoff began with the Battle Abbey Roll, popularly supposed to have been a list of William the Conqueror’s companions. However, finding your surname on it does not provide proof of authenticity, as only about 24 of the names connected with William the Conqueror’s expeditionary service can actually be verified.

Many present-day noble families can find their names in the Domesday Book, but Geoff warned that when utilising such early records, one must bear in mind that hereditary surnames came into common use in England only gradually in the centuries following the Norman conquest. Although some hereditary surnames, such as Bigod, de Warenne and de Vere, do occur in the Domesday Book, they are the exception rather than the rule, even among feudal tenants.

To complicate things further, foreign names were often considerably altered or anglicised over time, such as the French names Beauchamp becoming Beecham and Moyon evolving into Moon etc.

Between the 11th and 12th centuries, there was a gradual adoption of a second name to further identify an individual, added to the name by which he was known within his own circle. Geoff enlightened us as to the variety of sources from which our surnames sprang; they can be patronymic, matronymic, topographic, occupational, descriptive or relationship-based.
 

In the mid-sixteenth century the first parish registers were produced, and by this time nearly everyone had a surname. The original name from which it was derived would by now have changed almost totally, but it could still probably be recognised by its sound or construction.

In fact, most names found today were not originally as we now know them, but have been corrupted by usage to something quite different. It is thus very difficult for the man in the street to prove his origins by way of his surname, as Geoff made clear.

June 2007: Vic Vayro on ‘Postcards from Chasetown’ - Rviewer: Brian Asbury

In the absence of our scheduled June speaker, Vic Vayro, one of the founding members of the BFHG, stepped in to give us an entertaining talk and slide show based on views of Chasetown past and present.

Despite Vic’s grandmother being born in a mining village, she was surprisingly well-travelled in her youth and was a lifelong avid collector of postcards. Although she had died over 30 years ago, it wasn’t until her house was vacated in the 90s that her huge collection of cards was discovered, and to Vic it was a real treasure trove. From the writing on them, he was able to put together a lot of family history.

The collection is many and varied, but for our benefit Vic decided to concentrate exclusively on those showing views of Chasetown. Although these perhaps did not have quite as much nostalgia value for those of us less familiar with the area, it was nevertheless fascinating to see the contrast between the old pictures and modern-day photographs, and to see how much some places had changed and how little others had. For example, a view of Queen Street from around 1930 shows our meeting-place, the Old Mining College, looking much as it does now – but hardly anything else is remotely recognisable!

Card after card gave us a remarkable study of life at various times in the 20th century, from a group photograph with the 1912 local football team proudly showing off the trophy they had just won, to scenes of the Chase Wakes (mostly showing acrobats for some reason), to wounded Belgian soldiers at Hammerwich Hospital in 1914.

There were some poignant food-for-thought moments such as when Vic showed a view of the park’s lych gate in 1932, open to all, and contrasted it with a more recent photo showing the gate chained shut against vandals.

There were also fascinating facts thrown out as asides, such as the fact that St. Anne’s Church may have been the first in Britain to be lit by electricity, or that the Queen’s Hotel was once kept by the grandparents of Coronation Street star Sue Nicholls, or that one of Vic’s grandmother’s earliest jobs was making Chasetown rock – that’s right, with ‘Chasetown’ written all the way through it!

It’s interesting to note, too, that many of these photographs were taken at a time when Chasetown, Chase Terrace, Gentleshaw and so on were all very much separate and discrete villages, not running into one another as they do now to such a degree that it’s impossible to know where they begin and end.

And finally, throughout his talk, Vic had us keeping a tally of how many pubs and other watering holes we saw on the photos. There were 17 in all – quite a pub crawl! Cheers!
 

1911 Census News

The National Archives is delighted to announce that ScotlandOnline will partner the UK government’s official archive in the forthcoming project to put the 1911 census for England and Wales online.

The 1911 census (document references RG 14 and RG 78) is huge, and currently occupies two kilometres of shelving at Kew. Comprising over 8,000,000 household schedules and a further 38,000 enumerators’ summary books, it details information relating to approximately 35 million people then living in England and Wales.

Once digitised the census will take up an equally large half a petabyte of computer memory or, physically, 800 data tapes. The digital scanning alone in preparation for digitisation will create 18 million images – 14 times the number of images created in advance of the 1901 census being launched online in 2002.

From 2009 there will be a phased release of the information in the 1911 census, starting with the major conurbations. This will include images and transcription data, but with sensitive data redacted in line with the Information Commissioner’s recent ruling. From 3 January 2012 the public will have full access to the entire 1911 census, including the information not accessible in 2009. Researchers anywhere in the world will be able to search across the fields of the census by name, address or TNA reference, and download high-resolution digital images.

Inherited Loss by Jan Green
 
The relics her mother had left for her
my maiden aunt passed down to me;
an 1890 certificate of birth,
a young son’s sketches of siblings,
snapshots of an amateur thespian,
studio photos of a rookie soldier,
censor-spoiled letters, silk postcards
and that final War Office sword-in-the-heart.
Killed in action. Remains not found.
This letter, stained with tears.
For Francis Reginald Hooker, 21st April 1890 – September 20th 1917

Transcribing the Pelsall Registers - Geoff Sorrell

As a group project, the Burntwood FHG has done complete transcriptions of most of the parish registers within the Burntwood, Cannock and Lichfield area. The project started in the latter years of the 20th century and was expanded as a result of the Millennium ‘Awards for All’ grant from the National Lottery in 2000. I had done quite a lot of transcribing and checking for the group, but my interests were not in the Burntwood area at all, so I made the decision to undertake the transcription and indexing of the Pelsall registers on my own. I might not have made that decision if I had known what was ahead of me.

In my research into my family history, the original information from my mother was that her family came from Pelsall. This was true, but not strictly accurate and, once I uncovered from the 1871 Census the fact that my great-grandfather was born in Cannock, I moved away from Pelsall and into the western part of north Staffordshire. However, once my main line of descent was established, I returned to Pelsall for further information on the ancestors of my four great-grandparents who were in Pelsall by the end of the 19th century.

The surnames of these four ancestors were Hague, Goode, Lockley and Burgess, and I wanted to know more about them and their antecedents, siblings and marriage partners. Doing the research for this information, I became fascinated by the fact that so many of the names were recurring in the registers of the Parish church. The Pelsall registers were transcribed and indexed by the Staffordshire Parish Registers Society up to the year 1813 and a printed book of this transcription is in the Stafford Record Office library, but this threw little light on the more recent years, as Pelsall developed very rapidly during the middle of the 19th century with its coal and iron industries.

Realising that searching for ancestors in Pelsall would be much simpler with the aid of an up-to-date transcription and index, I contacted Stafford Record Office and established that, under certain conditions, I could purchase the microfiches of the parish registers of St. Michael and all the Angels, Pelsall from them. I ordered the complete set of fiches and, when they arrived, I immediately started to make a computer database using the database program in Microsoft Works 4.0 – starting with the Baptism Register.

Setting up the database for baptisms was comparatively easy and was done using the column headings of the standard form of register in use in 1813. The first column in the register contained two facts – Reg. No. and date – requiring two fields in the database. Next was the child’s forename, followed by the parents’ forenames, the family surname, the abode, the trade, profession or occupation of a parent, and lastly the name of the officiating minister. These details were condensed to: Reg. No.; Date; Given name; Parents’ names; Surname; Abode; Occupation; and Minister. A final data field was added at the end of the entry for ‘Notes’. There were many notes made by the minister which were recorded in the register, and I also included some notes of my own where explanation was necessary. The latter were indicated by a ‘?’ after the note.

The first difficulty I encountered was that the fiches were photographed in such a way that they could only be read on my fiche reader from bottom to top instead of from left to right! Some fiche readers, such as the Agfa Copex, have a double-sized fiche carrier which enables the fiche to be placed in the carrier the correct way round, but at the time I had no access to this type of reader. The problem was solved initially by the drastic step of cutting the fiches into two pieces and reading them in the correct position, but this meant that each time the mid-point of a fiche was reached, it was necessary to remove it and put in the second half in order to maintain the sequence of entries. I subsequently realised that:

a) I could have just carried on so long as I put in the register number for each entry, as the computer’s ‘sort’ program would have put them all in correct order at an appropriate time;

b) that by removing the top half of the fiche carriage and replacing it with a piece of plain glass, it was possible to push the fiche through to the rear of the machine and thereby view every image on it without cutting it in two!
 
Once the initial problems were solved I started to look for shortcuts that would reduce the amount of typing that had to be done. One of these involved the use of a facility in the program which would:

a) enable the name of the officiating minister to be repeated by using the ‘Fill down’ command; and

b) using the ‘Fill Series’ command to input the register number for the whole of that register at 1, specifying a three or four digit number, and the ‘Fill series’ command would then, at a single click of the mouse button, insert all numbers from 1-999 or 1-9999. There were a few anomalies in the registers which occasionally would mean that the name of the minister was different and had to be typed in for that entry (but that did not affect the subsequent entries), or that the ‘Insert record’ command would have to be used to duplicate a register number when two baptisms were recorded in one entry line.

At the start of the project, my intention was to produce the finished transcription in printed form as a series of A5 booklets similar to those being produced by the BFHG, but it soon became apparent to me that this was going to make it very expensive and time-consuming. So, although I did produce some of the baptisms in A5 booklet form and kept a personal copy of all the print-outs for my own use in A4 format, by the time the baptism registers were completed it had become obvious that the way ahead lay in some form of digital storage disc. At that time, the medium available was the 3.5" floppy disc and I decided that I would only produce the finished transcriptions in that form. By the time the marriage registers were completed, things had moved on again and it had been suggested that, in order to complete the project, it would be necessary to transcribe the burial registers also. As the medium available by then would be the ‘up and coming’ CD-ROM, it was decided to delay publishing until the burials were completed so that the whole transcription would be able to be put on one disc.

I am hoping that 2007 will see the project completed as I am currently transcribing the early registers which cover the period from 1756 to 1813 and which were transcribed by the SPRS as mentioned earlier. The addition of these early records to the project will mean that researchers will be able to utilise one CD to search all the records for Pelsall St. Michael and all Angels from one database. The finished article will be made available to members of the BFHG and all our local record offices and family history libraries, and will be offered for sale through the BFHG on similar terms to their own transcription project CDs.

I have received a considerable amount of help from other members of the group in checking my transcription, and Bernard Daniels has converted my crude database into a format similar to that which he designed for the group’s CDs. Searching the finished article will be very user friendly and will enable all details of each baptism, burial or marriage to be viewed, provided the event took place 100 years ago or more. More recent events will be indexed and details of where the whole entry can be seen will be given. It will be possible to update the master program each year to maintain the ‘100 years’ embargo. I am intending to pursue this with the record office and the diocesan authorities to see if it is possible to make all the information fully available on the CD, as some of the records transcribed go up to 1935.

Church Newsletters

Yet another brace of extracts from church newsletters and bulletins which really should have been checked beforehand!

… At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What Is Hell?’ Come early, and listen to our choir practice.

… During the absence of our pastor, we enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing a good sermon when A. B. Doe supplied our pulpit.
 

Memorable Events - by Brian Asbury

Most entries in parish registers make for pretty dry reading, comprising mostly matter-of-fact records of christenings, marriages and burials – and often lacking in some of the most basic details (e.g. a wife or mother’s maiden name). But occasionally ... just occasionally ... it’s possible to come across something that makes it all worthwhile, when a maverick vicar, rector or whoever decides to record something a little out of the ordinary. Take the following two entries, extracted from the parish register of Seighford, near Stafford, in the early 18th century...

(Dated 19 Mar 1718-9)

‘Memor: yt ye 19 about 8 att night, ye evening very calm and bright, an unusuall and very surprizing Meteor appeard in yt part of ye Heavens, yt seemed to us under the body of ye Moon like a globe of fire, as large as ye Moon att full, and shott in a large body of fire to ye S.W. without any rays or sparkling, and vanisht in about a minutes space, onely a small brightness in ye place where itt began and a shining where itt ended continued visible about two minutes longer. Ye light was great, and the consternation noe less, some persons affrm they felt the warmth of itt – twas seen in France and Spain and as far as Constantinople.’

(Dated 03 Jul 1719-20)

‘The Air was thick and cloudy, ye sun and its rays of a deep red colour like blood. On Friday ye morning was hot and clear but about two o’clock ye clouds began to rise in ye West, and thunder; after a small shower, a storm came out of ye North, which soon overspread ye skye and a little past four ended in a most dreadfull tempest of Haile, of on immense size, vast numbers 5 and 6 Inches in Girth, and severall 9, 10 and 11 of all shapes and figures, ye large ones seeming to be pieces of some large Cylindricall body of jagged Ice, broken in ye fall, itt fell from Wheaten Aston upon Bradeley, part of Haughton and Coton Clanford and the Grange farm. Bridgford Field, Whitgreve Aston, Walton, Stoke, Spott, Cotwalton, Hilderston, Fulford, Dilhorn and Coven, ye Damage in ye whole – soe ye Brief – seven or eight thousand pounds, ye grass and Corn in many places being entirely destroyed, and windows broke all in pieces, tho itt was seldom above a mile in breadth and ye damage not above a quarter. Tho. Loxdale.’

Don’t you just wish that all parish registers contained gems like these?

Jessie’s Story: 1887-1959 by Eric Evans - Part Two

My mother Jessie told me many stories about when she was a young girl and the changes that she lived through in her lifetime. She was born at Hednesford Rd, Brownhills West, in 1886, and her father, Edward Chapman, worked as a coal miner in the village of Pontesbury, in Shropshire, before he moved to Brownhills in about 1868. By the time Jessie was born, Edward had bought some land which he and his family worked as a small farm. He also kept his job at Norton Green Colliery and ran a small business transporting the miners to work at the coal mine.

By the turn of the century, Jessie and her sisters were growing up into young women, so were more involved in the running of the house and work about the smallholding. They were now interested in sewing and fashion, and Jessie often talked about the dresses and coats which she wore. One of the places where they could meet their friends, both girls and young men, was at the annual fair held at Chasetown, known as the Chase Wakes. It was the biggest event in the area and people came to it from all the surrounding villages. There was a flower show, sports, pony-trotting races, brass band competitions and a fair with sideshows, swings and roundabouts. It was at the Chase Wakes that Jessie first met the young man who was later to become my father.

The young man’s name was Harry Evans. He came from Chase Terrace, about three miles away, and that weekend he was celebrating his 21st birthday. He lived with his mother and younger sister. His mother Ada was a teacher at the local school at Chase Terrace and he worked at one of the mines in the area.

My father never spoke much about his early life or about his family, and all I ever knew about them was from what Jessie had told me. Ada’s family were fairly well off and lived in a large house at Tettenhall, Wolverhampton. She was quite young when she married Harry’s father William, and they parted after the birth of their third child. She then moved with her children to Chase Terrace to take up her teaching career, which she had given up when she married.

After the meeting at the Chase Wakes Jessie and Harry agreed to meet again, and so began their life together. In the spring of 1909 they were married at Chasetown, in a church decorated with daffodils. After the wedding they moved into their new home. It was at Jacob’s Hall Lane, Great Wyrley, and was one of a number of houses which had been specially built for employees of the new mine which had opened there (Wyrley Sinking). Harry had recently obtained his shot firing certificate, which was the first step on the ladder of promotion, so he had a steady job with good prospects.

During the first years spent living at Wyrley, things in the area were changing. The roads were improving and trams and buses were now starting to run, making travelling into the towns easier. Journeys to the nearby towns of Walsall and Cannock for shopping and visiting the theatre or the music halls were now possible. One of my childhood memories is of the old music hall songs which they used to sing to me, and both of my own daughters still remember the words of songs sung to them by their granddad, when they were little.

In 1912 my eldest brother was born. He was called Harry, after his father, and his parents’ lives appeared to be complete: Jessie had a house and family to look after and Harry was studying for his mine manager’s certificate by attending night classes at the mining college at Chasetown. When the First World War began, Jessie told me how everyone went to the railway station to wave off the local Territorial Army volunteers, and how everyone was smiling and waving and believing it would all be over by Christmas. No one could have foreseen what was going to happen, or the shock of reading the casualty lists a few weeks later, to find that so many of the men would not be coming back again.

She talked about the food shortages and the soup kitchens set up to feed the children in the towns and cities, about the wounded soldiers coming home on leave, and about the casualties and the sadness throughout the country. She also told me about sheltering under the stairs, with baby Harry wrapped in a blanket, when the German Zeppelins went over to bomb Walsall and the Black Country, and about the terrific noise they made. This was an experience which was repeated again during the Second World War, when she sat under the stairs with me at our house at Rugeley Road, Chase Terrace as German bombers flew overhead, using Norton Pool as a landmark to plot their bombing raids over Birmingham and Coventry.

Early in 1916 they lost little Harry as a result of a tragic accident. Whilst playing outside, he slipped on some ice and hit his head. He died at home within a few days from a brain haemorrhage. How they lived through the next few months we shall never know, both in deep shock and unable to give comfort to one another. After the funeral, Jessie would not return to the house and Harry burnt all his books and gave up his studies, declaring that he should have spent more time with his son.
 
Maybe Jessie’s mother was no longer alive (her father lived to the age of 89), but Jessie and Harry didn’t return to her parents’ home. They went to stay with Harry’s mother at Rugeley Road, Chase Terrace. Whether it was a temporary arrangement at the time I don’t know, but they continued to live first at no. 80 then at no. 82 Rugeley Road until the end of their days.

During the next ten years they had three more children – Toby (Lillian), my sister, was born in 1917, my brother Jack in 1922, and I was born in 1927. But Jessie never ever came to terms with the loss of ‘Little Harry’. As time went by she began to make a new life for herself, becoming an active member of the Ladies’ Guild and making many friends. She loved dancing, and with Dad went to many of the local dances, which in those days were held in village halls.

During the 1920s, Dad bought his first motorcycle and sidecar, and the family would go out for days at the weekends. Some of these were to Pontesbury, to meet old friends and relatives, and Jessie would walk up the hill to see the cottage where she used to stay as a child. By now it was deserted and the garden overgrown. Some of this took place before I can remember, but I can still recall some of the holidays which I spent there staying with Mr and Mrs Thomas at their cottage in the village. I remember being taken to the top of the church tower and looking down over the village, and also going to the top of the hill to see where a beacon had been lit to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. I remember walking to Minsterly to watch pony trotting races and stopping for lemonade on the way back.

Another annual venue was the Shrewsbury Flower Show, which Mother and Dad went to every year. This was another chance to meet old friends. The last time that Jessie visited Pontesbury was after the Second World War. They now had a car and petrol was available again. I was married and we had a young daughter. We went to visit Mr and Mrs Thomas, who had now moved house and lived at the other end of the village. We all went for a walk up the lane to where the cottage had stood, but all that remained were a few moss-covered stones. Conifer trees had been planted where the garden had once been and the whole area was overgrown. Jessie gathered some roots of wild gooseberry bushes that were growing in the hedgerow and took them home to plant in her own garden. None of the family has returned there since that day.

On the top shelf of the cabinet where my wife keeps our china and glassware is an old Welsh Copper Lustre jug, about six inches high. The glaze is cracked and the copper lustre is faded, but it has great sentimental value to me because it was given to me by my father after my mother died, 47 years ago. It had stood throughout my childhood on her sideboard, and many times I had listened to the

story of how it was given to her by her grandmother as a ‘keepsake’. Grandma had said that it had been given to her when she was young, and that she wanted Jessie to have it to remember her by. It is now well over 100 years since it was first given to Jessie and I think that it is a fitting reminder of her.

She lived during the reigns of six different sovereigns from Victoria to Elizabeth. She could remember the end of the Boer War and had lived through two world wars. She had seen the progress from horse-drawn carts to jet aircraft, candles and oil lamps to electric light and from music halls to wireless and then television. She had looked after her family and watched them grow up and marry, and she had enjoyed having her grandchildren around her – but to the end of her life she still remained the little girl who rode on the back of a donkey down the side of Pontesford Hill.

Jessie died in 1959 aged 72 years, with all her family around her. Harry followed her in 1962, aged 77 years.
 

This Issue’s Cover Photograph

Fulfen Cottage was known to exist before 1775 and probably dates from the turn of the 17th Century. It is notable for its thatched roof and the squirrel sitting on the apex of the gable end. A Heritage Group Blue Plaque is on the wall fronting Church Road. As the cottage predates Christchurch, Burntwood, any reference to it in old documents will not locate it in Church Road. There was a lane from Elder Corner leading to Woodhouses and Abnalls Lane on an early 19th Century map.