Burntwood Family History Group
   Home      Journal 2007 10 Volume 16 Number 1
Extracts from Burntwood Family History Group Journal
October 2007     
     Vol. 16 No. 1
  Contents of this issue.
Chairman’s Annual Report
Have You Read?
News from the Secretary
Research in London
Reviews of Guest Speaker’s Talk
The Power of the Internet
Getting Home from Dunkirk
Pity the Poor Ass
A ‘Notable’ in the Family – Of Sorts
Request for Genealogical Help
Terrace Talk
Church Newsletters

Chairman’s Annual Report

2008 has been another successful year for Burntwood Family History Group. The level of membership has been maintained and the Monday meetings have, on the whole, been very well attended. We continue to offer help and research facilities at the Thursday meetings, but the level of use varies tremendously and we may have to reconsider how often we continue to open for this meeting. The fees for hire of the room have increased, so we cannot continue to open if we do not get enough support from our members.

Alan Betts continues to maintain the group’s website, and we have gained new members as a result of them discovering it. Alan is always on the lookout for new links to add to the site and welcomes any suggestions. Please accept our continued thanks for the work you have done, Alan.

Work on our transcription project is now in its 12th year. We now sell mainly CD-ROMs, but some floppy discs are still available. The latest disc contains the parish registers for St Chad’s Church, Lichfield, and others produced this year include Brownhills St James with Ogley Hay. A member of St James’ Church wrote a short history of the church to include on the CD. A few photographs of the church or area are included to give extra interest. Due to rising costs, we have increased the price of the CDs to £3 for members and £4 for others. None of this work would be possible without Bernard, who spends many hours in front of his computer, so I would like to thank him on your behalf and also the people who transcribe and check the information. Jeff Wilson continues to fulfil the orders for discs placed via the Internet or by post. Thank you, Jeff.
Most of you are aware that we have been purchasing census CDs for the Midlands counties to enable our members to borrow them on short-term loans to aid their own research. John and Jenny Hodgson, who look after this aspect of our service to members, have found that the demand for the discs has decreased this year and it is now only infrequently that anyone wishes to borrow a disc. I think that this is probably because it is now so easy to access indexed census information via the Internet, thus saving many hours of searching records page by page. As a result, we discussed this at a committee meeting and decided not to purchase any more census discs. Our thanks go to John and Jenny Hodgson for their efforts, which are much appreciated by our members. However, all good things come to an end and they would like to pass on the care of the machines, discs and fiche to someone else in September 2008. If you could offer a home to our valuable equipment, we should be very grateful.
Harold Haywood has, as usual, kept his meticulous financial records on our behalf, to ensure that the committee know exactly where we stand in financial terms. Many thanks, Harold, for all your work.
Geoff Colverson continues to look after our library, which we should like to improve, but at present this is restricted due to us having nowhere to store more books. If anyone can offer help in this area we should be most grateful. Thank you, Geoff, for your time and help.
While our speakers this year have again been interesting and informative, I have been given a few headaches, as on three occasions we have had cancellations. They all let me know in advance and we were lucky to have two members, Geoff Sorrell and Vic Vayro, willing to step in at short notice. The bookings for next year are now complete, and hopefully I can provide a list of names and topics ready for the next meeting. The Christmas social was well attended and, thanks to Jenny Lee who made the arrangements, we had an enjoyable evening at The Terrace.
We have had just one trip to London this year, but it was a great success due to the hard work of Jenny Lee. Jenny made the bookings and arrangements that ensured people who needed to obtain or update Readers’ Cards were given the forms, which Jenny forwarded to the National Archives in good time. This saved a lot of time when we arrived. The coach was almost full, mainly due to an article that Jenny sent to the Mercury, which resulted in lots of bookings by non-members. The whole day was very enjoyable, so many thanks to Jenny for all her hard work.
Our Honorary Secretary continues to work hard in supporting all aspects of running the group, and once again I would like to express our thanks to Geoff. Thanks must also go to Maureen Hemmingsley for her work as Minutes Secretary, making sure we are all furnished with agendas and minutes as well as contributing new ideas.
Many thanks also to Brian Asbury and Jan Green for their work in producing our quarterly Journal. This year more colour has been used, and the cover is a better quality, making the journal look very attractive. Please keep the articles coming, to make their work easier. Thanks also go to Geoff Sorrell for the time he gives to securing advertisers and getting the Journal printed and distributed. It is all very time-consuming, and these people are extremely generous in giving so much of their time.
Jan Green volunteered to write précis of the contents of the talks given at each meeting, and these then go into the Journal for the members who were unable to attend the meeting. This is much appreciated, but we do need a volunteer to stand in for Jan on the occasions she is unable to be present.
Thanks to the people who have helped sell raffle tickets at the meetings to pay for the hire of the room, particularly, of course, Eric Grimshaw. If anyone would like to donate prizes for the raffle, Eric would be delighted to receive them.
The provision of tea and coffee at the meetings is appreciated, but people do not want to volunteer to make it on a regular basis. A new system, devised to make sure no one gets landed with the job too often, has worked quite well, so thanks to everyone who has taken their turn this year. Thanks also to Jenny Lee, who does the shopping, and to Diane Ladds, who puts out the cups, etc. for meetings.
We have continued to run a drop-in session at Lichfield Library once a month, and this has been very popular. Volunteers have been kept very busy offering help and advice. There was a drop in attendance figures in June and July, but I think this was due to people being busy with summer activities, and we hope it will take off again when we recommence in September. The group meetings at the St Mary’s Centre in Lichfield once a week continue to prosper, thanks to Bob Houghton, who gives a lot of time. Help for Lichfield Records Office has been more difficult to arrange, as they usually do not know when help will be needed. Obviously people don’t want to spend a morning just sitting waiting to help, so this will need to be reviewed. The Mormon Church has appreciated our help in the past, but fewer people are asking to consult their records, so they have cut their opening times and have enough volunteers from members of their church to run these sessions.
We have now arranged to run a family history surgery on a monthly basis at Burntwood Library, Sankey’s Corner, on the first Tuesday of each month starting on 2nd October from 1.30 pm to 3.30 pm. We would like to have some volunteers to help run it on a rota basis – contact Pam Woodburn as soon as possible.
To end with, I would like to thank the committee and all the members for the support they have given to me. I hope the Group will continue to go from strength to strength in the coming year. Jane Leake, Chairman

Have You Read...?  (part 2) - by Jenny Lee

Apparently WH Smith reports a big boom in book sales as a result of our dreary ‘summer’. Well, some time ago I recommended some books about families which I’d enjoyed, so here are three more which you may wish to try.

You may have seen, as part of a TV series about adoption, the one hosted by Nicky Campbell in which he explains his research into the family history of his adoptive parents. He has also written a book about his attempt to trace his birth mother and father – Blue-eyed Son, published in paperback by Pan.

Nicky was 30 years old when he traced his mother; she was in Ireland, though he was actually born in Scotland. His adoptive parents, of whom he writes with love and gratitude, were Scottish and his childhood was spent in Edinburgh. It was not until about 20 years later that he began to search for his birth father. He writes tellingly of all the emotions involved in the research over so many years, and which eventually led to the discovery of more than one sibling.

A book which I’ve recently found interesting is Mother Country, by Jeremy Harding, published in paperback by Faber & Faber. This tells in a very different way how Jeremy traced his natural parents, providing details of the actual searches he made, the difficulties he encountered and instances of pure luck he experienced along the way. It also shows how he found out more about his adoptive parents, about life in Britain in the 50s and 60s and, inevitably, about himself. Who knows? You or I may have stood next to him at St Catherine’s House, while turning over the pages of those heavy indexes!

And now for something totally different – a novel. The Family Tree, by Carole Cadwallader, is very light-hearted and comic in places. Her story tells us about three generations of the Monroe family and of the times in which they lived, while at the same time often posing the question of which has the greatest influence on all of us during our early lives – nature or nurture.

Of course, it doesn’t give us the answer. Who could?

News from the Secretary

As Honorary Secretary of the group, my responsibilities now consist of maintaining the membership database, dealing with members’ correspondence, organising the production and distribution of the quarterly Journal and producing and distributing the Members’ Interests List. Throughout the past year, most of these have proceeded without serious difficulties occurring and hopefully everyone has been reasonably satisfied with the results of my efforts.

Following on from the Special Edition Journal, the editors and I have tried to make the Journal a more attractive and readable publication. Thanks to everyone who has expressed their appreciation and approval of the new format. The Journal is one of the few benefits that our out-of-town members receive in return for their subscription, and several of them have told me how much they enjoy the articles that you contribute and the reviews of the speakers’ talks. Please keep your contributions coming, as without them we could not produce such an acceptable publication. Also, to our distant friends, please send articles for the Journal to me whenever you come across something in your area affecting our hobby of family history research. Snippets from your local press, things you read in FH magazines, hear on the radio or see on TV, anything which has relevance to family history. Our editors are very good at their jobs and will see that what you send in is checked, corrected and reduced or expanded as required, before publication.

The Members’ Interests List will be published towards the end of 2007 and may be in a slightly different format. Our website is very well used, and the information you give me for the printed list also goes on to the website where you can, if you have given consent, have responses directed to your email address. As with all our publications, we do try not to make mistakes, but occasionally they do occur. If you let us know about any errors, we will do our best to correct them as soon as possible.

Our membership database contains all the information submitted on your application or renewal forms. Each year the database is updated about one month after the deadline date for subscriptions to be paid. Most of our members do follow the correct procedures and I am able to update the membership database easily. Unfortunately some ‘lose’ their renewal forms or cannot be bothered to return them to me or the Hon Treasurer, and this increases the possibility of errors occurring. I am sure that most organisations do expect some sort of form to accompany renewal applications, but a number of our members have paid their subscription this year without handing a form either to me or the Treasurer. It may seem a bit draconian, but unless a subscription has been paid, all details of the member are deleted and no further journals will be sent or details included in the Members’ Interests List. Not returning the renewal form with your payment creates extra work which we can do without.
The Honorary Treasurer and I are very grateful for the degree of cooperation shown by our members in keeping to the deadline for subscriptions to be paid. The new system has worked quite well, and at the time of writing we have a paid membership of 94, compared with a total membership of 129 at the end of July. If these figures don’t add up it is because some memberships are ‘Family’, but recorded as a single subscription, whereas others are ‘Family’ but recorded as two individuals. Unfortunately there will be former members who will not receive their Journal in October and who will also be debarred from attending meetings (including this AGM) until such time as they renew their subscription. This condition is in our Constitution, which covers the terms of membership of the group and specifies the date from which subscriptions run as being 1st August in any calendar year.

The Honorary Treasurer reported to your committee in 2007 that he had received from the FFHS a form for completion in order to ensure that the group is covered for Third Party Liability for its members. This cover is only available to subscribed members and honorary members (including life members), as stated in the Constitution. The legal effect of this is that any former member who has not paid their annual subscription on or before the first of August of that year is not covered, has to be registered on entry to the meeting room as an honorary member and may be asked to pay a fee of £1.00, or the appropriate annual membership fee. This stipulation also applies to non-member visitors and visiting speakers. Honorary members are not entitled to receive the benefits of full membership. In the event of an accident occurring and s subsequent claim being made, the group would not have insurance cover for a person not registered as a member.

I know that this all sounds very forbidding and technical, but we live in a very litigious society and are compelled to protect ourselves against such occurrences.

I do not want to end on such a gloomy note, because basically our group is a thriving, happy and sociable one to which everyone contributes in some way or other – even it is only volunteering to make the tea and coffee every now and again. So far, every year of our 21 has seen progress and improvement in the accessibility of facilities for family history research. Although in many ways this has led to there being less demand for groups such as ours, sitting at a computer and surfing the internet will never be quite the same as having a chat to friends in a convivial atmosphere.

I am once again making myself available for the Committee and the office of Honorary Secretary. However, the group and I have to consider the fact that at some stage in the future I shall have to hand over the secretarial responsibilities to someone younger, who will be able to contribute the degree of continuity to the running of our organisation that I have been able to give for a long time. Although it is not complicated or excessively time-consuming, the job of Honorary Secretary requires a certain amount of background knowledge of the group and its method of operation. It would be preferable for me to be able to familiarise one of our younger members with the workings of our operations for a while, before handing over full responsibility in due course. Without making a firm commitment at this moment, if there is anyone who might be prepared to see me and talk it over at some time in the near future, I would be quite happy to do so.

Recently joined members

434 Mrs Margaret Thompson, 14, Ferrand Road, Littleborough, Lancashire, OL15 9ED. Harrison (Staffs, Tixall), 1700-1800; Hilbert Staffs, Tixall), before 1822.

435. Ms Janet Atkins, 126, Damson Lane, Solihull, West Midlands, B92 9JS. Atkins (Staffs, Burntwood), 1700s to 1814.

Research in London - by Jenny Lee

Over the years, our group has made many visits to London, before the days when we could use the Internet to pursue our hobby. We have visited Myddleton Place, St Catherine’s house, Somerset House, Chancery Lane and Kew. Those of us who remember with a mixture of fondness and pain how we stood all day, lifting heavy ledgers from shelves and returning them a few minutes later, jostling for space on the sloping desks – and finally those ‘Eureka’ moments when we found some information – will be sorry to learn that the days of using the actual indexes are over.

Sadly the births, marriages and death indexes are to be moved from the Family Records Centre this October and will be digitised. This means that in the future you will not be able to search the original ledgers, but will only be able to search them on computer or microfiche.

On a brighter note, we are hoping to re-visit Kew again in May next year (Thursday 21st May 2008). There we shall find a few changes. Readers’ tickets will no longer be necessary unless you wish to search original documents. In addition, the layout of the reading rooms is to be altered to make it more user-friendly. Similarly the check-in procedure, particularly for coach parties, will be streamlined to alleviate any bottleneck at the reception area. So put the date in your (new) diary now!

Review of Guest Speaker’s Talk - August 2007: Thea Randall on ‘Source for the goose’ - Reviewer: Jan Green

In her intriguing talk, Thea revealed how the minutiae of women’s lives over the centuries can be discovered via archive materials in the Staffordshire collections, and her slides displayed examples of various types of record available to researchers.

She explained how women’s work was constrained by social convention, legal arrangements and economic conditions, well into the 20th century. Marriage was regarded as women’s main purpose in life. The wealthier a woman’s family, the more her marriage became a business transaction; until the end of the 19th century, her property became her husband’s, so a ‘marriage settlement’ would be established to ensure she had an allowance. Thea showed us one such document.

A ‘good marriage’ could bring considerable wealth into someone’s estate. We were shown the certificate relating to Elizabeth Gordon’s marriage in 1785 to George Granville-Leveson-Gower, a union which led to the formation of the largest 19th century landed estate in the country.

Not all women were rich, and a page from an 1864 standard marriage register showed women as apparently having no paid occupation, because a woman’s work was always considered inferior to her husband’s. We saw a 1763 agreement to sell a wife to her new husband for two shillings, arranged by a soldier whose bigamous wife had remarried in his absence because she had been told he was dead.

Single women and widows often left wills, which are revealing of their social status. They were often running not just households but also businesses. One, belonging to a female apothecary, usefully listed all of her shop’s stock in trade.

Many young poor girls were put out as domestic servants. In a 1802 Apprenticeship Indenture from Hamstall Ridware, the girl involved was only 10 years old. A page from an 1832 wages book listed domestic servants in a big house. This could offer a substantial level of security, because long-term service could lead to provision being made for a servant after retirement.

As England became more industrialised, so grew the demand for cheap labour. A form from a silk mill in Leek in 1840 revealed the employment of children – the youngest listed was 6, the oldest 10 – for ten hours a day and up to 59½ hours a week. Such documents are available because, following the passing of the Factories Act, millers had to make returns about the hours children worked.
We saw the rule book for Willenhall Female Friendly Society in 1803. Such societies had to be registered with the county authorities and they existed to provide money for members in financial difficulty.

Teaching, from the 18th century onwards, was a common form of employment for women. From the 1860s, school log books provide a record of what a teacher’s life was like, and we saw an 1879 log book page from a school in Hints. Until the 20th century, women were expected to give up teaching if they married.

Many documents relating to female crime exist. Among the court papers can be found disposition statements giving descriptions of what happened and how police tracked down stolen property. A most common female crime was ‘defamation of character’, usually when drunk. Unmarried mothers were harshly treated, and we saw the Colwich record of an examination of a witness in about 1750. It described how parish officials engaged people to carry over a woman in labour from one parish to another, so her child should not become a charge on their parish.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, societies were established to ‘rescue fallen women’. Homes were built for them and we were shown the rules for one in the Potteries, where the regime was not always kind. In 1896 the Inebriates Act was passed; the county was then able to set up ‘A Home for the Reform of Inebriate Women’, with rules setting different levels of accommodation for inmates depending upon the amounts they could afford to pay.

For the 19th century there are more examples of female political activity. We saw an account of a Wolverhampton Suffragette who was taken to Stafford Gaol, where she suffered humiliating treatment at the hands of a female warder.

Some of the best sources of information show how women coped during WWI, when their social role changed dramatically. There are many examples of women nursing injured soldiers, and we were shown a photograph of King George V & Queen Mary meeting patients and staff at a field hospital in Belgium.

WI records are some of the best for the 20th century. Records of society members’ activities in England from the 1920s onwards reveal social attitudes as to what women could be involved in at the time.

There is therefore much to be pulled out of the SRO records about perceptions of women and their activities over the centuries. In Thea’s view, however, there is no such thing as ‘women’s history’. These sources can be used to explore society as a whole; it just depends what you are looking for.

The Power of the Internet - by Pam Woodburn

When I met my husband, over 40 years ago, it was a first for several reasons, but the most important of these was learning he was brought up in an orphanage. In my ignorance, the word ‘orphanage’ conjured mental pictures of Oliver Twist, Victorian England and deprivation. I was obviously on a steep learning curve!

His parents weren’t dead, but had divorced when he was quite young. He had lived with his father until WWII, when his father went into the army. An aunt and uncle kindly gave him a home, but he was rather a handful and they found that they couldn’t cope both with him and their own son. He was taken to Fegan’s Boy’s Home at Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire, a children’s home run by a Christian foundation, when he was nine years old. There he stayed until he was moved to the senior section at Goudhurst in Kent at the age of 14, where he was taught farming.

Over the years I have learned a little of his life at Fegan’s. However, he was not inclined to talk about his time there and some things he did mention were shocking and conveyed a disturbing sense of abandonment and utter loneliness. Things like:

The first Christmas he received parcels from his family, but after that everyone seemed to have forgotten him.

How the boys were forced to scrub the floor and carry out menial tasks.

If they were deemed to have misbehaved, they were fed on bread and water and ate this standing.

How he only left the orphanage building three times in five years.

As someone who came from a large close-knit family, I found it very strange that he seemed to almost enjoy his isolation. He showed very little interest in family life or in other members of his immediate family. He did however, display a great love of the Lake District, where he was born, and that was the only place he showed any real interest in visiting for holidays. He always insisted on visiting Biscay Howe, overlooking Lake Windermere, which was his boyhood play area, and he pointed out three houses in a nearby road which his grandfather had owned.

About 25 years ago I got interested in family history and found it enthralling to track back through time and identify ancestors and distant relations. In the course of my research, I discovered two distant relatives who ended up in workhouses, one in Newton Abbot and one in Cardiff. I was intrigued by the one in Newton Abbot, who gave birth to three illegitimate children, of which only one survived. She did not survive the birth of the third child, Minnie Maud, who puzzled me for years, because she seemed to have just disappeared. And this is where the story really starts!

One evening recently I was sitting at my computer, searching the Internet for information on workhouses, looking for clues about Minnie Maud, when the name ‘Fegan’s Home’ leapt out and caught my eye. Apparently, there was a website.

I clicked onto it and found myself reading about the publication of Syd Sharpe’s book, Black Boots and Short Trousers. I printed out some relevant pages and took them downstairs for him to read. He was interested but not madly keen. I asked him if he would like a copy of the book and when he said he would, I ordered it from Amazon. Two days later, the package arrived through our letterbox.

Neil is not a great book reader, but from when he started to read the book until it was finished, he hardly put it down. I started to read it, too, and was amazed at the story it revealed. Some points that I noticed when reading included the facts that the boys were beaten on a regular basis for any minor wrongdoing and their heads were shaved as further punishment; they had no underclothes; and they were given numbers and these were often used instead of their names.

From time to time after we had finished reading the book, we would talk about it. I was particularly interested in the photographs it contained because we hadn’t got a single photo of Neil when he was a child. He told me he was not in any of them, but I still had a good look with my magnifying sheet to see if I could spot a boy who resembled either of our sons. I drew a complete blank but it niggled me and I mentioned once or twice how I wished there had been a photo of Neil in it.

Eventually the niggling became too much to bear and I decided to write to the address given inside the book to see if there might be more photos in existence.

Almost by return came a letter from the Fegan’s office saying that they had passed my request on to Syd Sharpe, who had written the book, and they enclosed his address. I wrote straight away, telling him how much we had enjoyed the book and once again explaining about having no photos.
Again, almost by return of post, came a letter from the author! He said that he was delighted to be able to help us and mentioned annual reunions that were held every year for ex-Fegan’s boys. He also said that he had been in touch with someone who remembered Neil from those days – Roy Sheldrake, who was currently living in Northern Ireland! Best yet, it contained two photos which had been removed from an album and still bore traces of the old fashioned thick black paper that photo albums used to have as pages!

The first showed Neil aged about 14 or 15 in football gear when he was part of the Fegan’s team. The second showed him in a dark suit with long trousers, so it was obvious that he had moved to Goudhurst by then and must have been about 15 or so. Syd said we could keep the photos, and I scanned them into my computer and printed out enlarged versions. That same day Neil went into Lichfield, and by evening both photos were framed and hanging on the wall!

After this, everyone who came to our house had to be shown the photos and told their story. Neil also decided that he would like be put on Fegan’s mailing list to receive their newsletter. Not long afterwards, the newsletter announced that the 2007 reunion was to be held on May 14th at Stony Stratford. Neil announced that he thought he’d like to go to it and I wrote to let them know we were coming.

The day of the reunion dawned and we left home early to drive down to Stony Stratford. As we drew nearer, Neil started to recognise landmarks and eventually we found ourselves in the town itself. The reunion was being held in a Baptist church, in a large room filled with people who can best be described as past the first flush of their youth. We were welcomed by Syd Sharpe, who called across the room to Roy Sheldrake, who had been waiting for us to arrive.

He came across and gave us a warm welcome. Almost his first words were “We’re all one family here”, and I slowly realised that he was absolutely right. All the elderly men present had been Fegan’s boys, and the warmth between them was exactly what you would find between brothers in a large family. Neil didn’t at first remember Roy, but it appeared that for five years they had shared a double desk in the schoolroom. How can you forget that? Roy was very good at prompting him by recalling stories from their youth, and he told us that while Neil was fighting in Korea with the Army, he was in the Navy shelling the country and praying that none of the shells would fall on his friend. The coincidence of them both being there together was incredible.

Soon it was time to start on the day’s planned events. The proceedings got under way with a short service. (Fegan’s is now run as a Christian Charity in child and family care). I stood between Neil and Roy and Roy whispered to me “Can you sing?” I whispered back, “Only out of tune,” and he whispered “Good. Me, too.”
The service was quite emotional for me. It was quite moving to hear all these men singing the hymns that they had been forced to sing as children. They didn’t need to look at the words. I freely admit that there was a lump in my throat.

After the service there was a good buffet lunch. More socialising took place while we ate and there were also piles of old photos for people to look through.

Next was a short walk to see the Orphanage itself. This is what I really wanted to do. We went off in small groups and soon came upon it. Many tales were recalled, such as having to brush the yard several times a day, tennis balls being stuck in gutters 30 feet above the ground and boys climbing up to get them, and one horrific memory of a boy falling from the roof and somehow escaping with barely a scratch. The Orphanage building itself is now converted into offices, but we were allowed to go in to see what had been the schoolroom. What had been the chapel was now converted into an Indian restaurant, but the owners were happy for us to go in. They had somehow managed to preserve the feeling of the chapel and some of the decoration was the original.

Back to the Baptist Church for a very entertaining slide show given by Syd Sharpe, who was an eloquent mine of information. All too soon it was time to leave and there was plenty to think about on the drive home.

I found several parts of the day very emotional. I wasn’t personally involved myself, but you couldn’t help getting a huge surge of maternal feelings for those lonely little boys. I wanted to do something to make it better for them! I was greatly impressed by the warmth of the welcome and the family feeling that really did exist.

We do appreciate being in touch with Roy Sheldrake again too. It’s almost like having another brother! He reminded Neil of the time at Goudhurst when he decided to run away. Apparently this was not unusual, and boys made breaks for freedom all the time. Most of them headed for London and were recaptured and brought back the same day, but in Neil’s case he ran in the opposite direction and headed for the woods, where he built himself a shelter. With the help of admiring boys smuggling food to him, he managed to stay in his shelter for three weeks!

Next year the Reunion is being held at Goudhurst in Kent. Strangely enough, shortly after Neil and I met, I told him that I’d never been to Kent and he promised to take me there. Forty odd years later, I’m still waiting. Will 2008 be the big year?

Getting Home from Dunkirk
This following is a letter  written by Gill Jacks of the Royal Engineers, in 1940, to his wife Phyllis. He survived the war and eventually lived to the great age of 86. Ruth Ottey, one of our newer members, is his daughter and kindly gave permission for it to appear in our Journal...
1910418 Sapper F.L.C. Jacks
661. General Construction Comp. Sect.3
Royal Engineers BEF

My Darling Phyllis

I hope by now you have received those few lines telling you I was alive and kicking.

I arrived in England Tues. 28th crossing from France in a little tug, a sort of fishing smack thing. Well, dear, I have had, with many thousands, a very lucky escape of death. I do not suppose you have heard from me since I left home, if you had it would be those field cards. I sent one when I got in a place called Sherburgh. It took me five solid days from leaving London to find our company, going from one place to another in France until I finally reached them in a place eight miles the other side of Armentiers.

Well, I do not know whether you have read your papers or listened to the wireless, but like a good many companies we got trapped with the rotten Jerries either side of us. When I got to my destination with the boys I went to fetch my letters, and to my surprise there was a parcel from the Burton Daily Mail, 300 cigs  from Sam Owens and two postal orders from Harry and Olive. We had not been at this place very long when we had to do a bunk and the lorries took as many of us as they could towards the coast, then fetch the chaps that had been left after.

We were absolutely bombed and bombed every move we made. Eventually, after hiding where we could in old barns and cowsheds, making our way to the coast we reached a place about four miles from Dunkirk, where we stopped for four days. It was wicked to see the people evacuating, thousands of women and children walking miles with a blanket wrapped on them, sleeping wherever they could. One of our drivers took 40 children evacuees to somewhere and we have never seen him since.
Well at this place we stopped just outside Dunkirk, we lived on biscuits and bully and a few tinned beans – it was a job to get any rations at all. Everyday we kept waiting for orders to be sent to the shore to meet a boat, but the Jerries were blowing hell out of Dunkirk. We sat in the field every day watching planes coming over, a dozen and more at a time bombing this town to the ground, and what made things worse, we had got to go through it to get to the boat. Without a word of a lie, they started raiding this town a week before we reached it, continually bombing at periods of 20 minutes.

Well, it came to the time we had to move as Jerry was moving up to us every minute. We were all called together and told we were going back to England, but we had got to walk four miles to this town and get through the best we could. Well, like rats in groups of eight, we marched near the hedges along the road, ready to dive whenever he came over bombing, into the ditches or in any hole we found or was near. We got in the town OK and, dodging from cellar to cellar for eight hours, we finally got onto the sands. Not a single window was left in the windows, hundreds of houses blown down to the ground, churches on fire and the pier bombed to hell. One of our lads got hit as soon as we got into town. He was not badly hurt fortunately. The last cellar we darted from, No.1 section got eight men wounded with shrapnel, but we managed to get them down to the sands.

It was then every man for himself and so we all got split up as we darted towards the first lot of sands. I was on my own, losing everybody I knew in our company, when they bombed again. I darted in a shell hole with two strange soldiers. Having luck with me all the time, I did not get hit. While they had gone to fetch another load of bombs I managed to get to the canal bank, but I had not been there long when another dozen planes came over and emptied their load again. Making my way along a bank, I found some of my mates, so we kept together and crept along the bank, making our way to a bridge we had to cross. Well, we were all lucky again, getting across the bridge while Jerry was away, and made another run for a few trees.

At last we got to the sands and were grouped up in fifties to be ready to crawl across to the water and get in the boats. We started to crawl at seven o’clock across towards the water, and it took me until two o’clock the next morning to get on board. You ought to have seen us moving a few yards and then lying face downwards an hour at a time in between each move. There were about five thousand men on the beach being gradually rowed out to small boats and destroyers. The reason we had to go this way was because Jerry was bombing the place where the boats and ships should have picked us up, and this way was our only hope of escape.

Well, I got to the water’s edge and made a rush for the boat, up to my belly in water. I scrambled in the boat and as we rowed out to the little steamer, the Jerries were dropping bombs around the ships. I thought it was my end, I can tell you, but I kept my pecker up and was thinking of you all the time I got on board. What a relief it was to know I had the luck to get the boat that was bringing us back to England. One of the boats got hit coming across, killing two men and injuring two of our boys. They all managed to get to another ship before this one sunk.

Well dear, we reached England OK and as I told you, I am at Aldershot, but am only with a few of our company. When they have us sorted out when we move to this other place, I do not know where we are going. I shall be with the company. I shall be coming home for a few days very soon after we have been fitted up again. We had to leave everything behind us, throw it away and just look after ourselves – rifles, ammunition, kit bags and everything we had to leave behind or throw into the sea.

We are being looked after well here, good food and sleeping under canvas tents. Well dear, I hope I haven’t worried you too much. Remember your fortune teller, so I hope you are well and I will be seeing you soon. I will write again when we move to our depot.

Cheerio for now dear, keep your pecker up. With all my love and always thinking of you. From your loving husband, Gill.

Pity the Poor Ass! - Found in the Staffordshire Assizes Calendar, 1842-1843:

‘Jonathan Brindley, 31. Feloniously and carnally knowing an ass, on the 2nd October, 1841, at the parish of Stoke-upon-Trent.’

Four more instances of the same offence occurred in Staffordshire during the first six months of that year. The case nearest to Burntwood involved an Aldridge man.

Such a shame for all those poor asses that there was no RSPCA in those days! Jan Green

A ‘Notable’ in the Family – of Sorts - by Roger Smethers

I’m sure that we all hope to find someone of note in our family’s past: a titled person, perhaps; or one of some standing in the community; or, hopefully, one of some wealth. If you have, you are very lucky. I haven’t been so fortunate. My forebears seem to have been of the very ordinary sort. ‘Ag-labs’, of course, were plentiful, as were miners, factory workers, servants and the like. A few were actually modest farmers and some skilled artisans, but these were comparatively few. Unfortunately almost all are little more than names to me, with dates, occupations and places where they lived.

Of their lives and characters I know very, very little. Finding one to try to make something of an in-depth study of did not present itself until I came across Herbert Choyce, in the 1881 census.

Herbert Choyce was a 3 x great-uncle of mine, born in 1829 at Dunston, near Stafford. Initially, I did not find his 1881 Census entry (there was no Ancestry.com at the time), but I did find that of his wife, Zillah, and the other occupants of their cottage in Dunston. I could not help but smile at the innocence, honesty, or brazenness of what she told the census enumerator.

Zillah was recorded as the head of household; 46, married. Her occupation she gave as ‘Husband in jail’. Unusual, you must admit, but she gave more. Her 15-year-old son Albert’s occupation she gave as ‘Poacher’. A non-relative in the house was a 15 year-old youth named George Lakin. He, too, was a ‘Poacher’. Clearly the home was a hotbed of rural crime – which merited further investigation.

The 1881 Census listed the staff and prisoners present in Stafford Gaol on the night of April 3rd. There were 593 persons in all; 45 staff and family members, 85 women prisoners, 458 men prisoners and five young boys and girls, listed as ‘scholars’. Herbert Choyce was there, as had been divulged by Zillah, but all it told me was that he was a ‘prisoner, 51 years, a general labourer, married and from Dunston’. Why he was in prison, and for how long, I wanted to find out.

At the Stafford County Records Office I consulted the Quarter Sessions’ records. Herbert, I found, had appeared before the magistrates on a number of occasions, spread over no less than 27 years. Prison appears to have provided no deterrent for Herbert or his son Albert. Some of the entries I was able to find were just mentions of previous convictions, while others gave more detail. For instance...
On April 6th, 1880 he appeared before E Mayne Esq., magistrate, charged with, ‘Stealing on February 13th, 1880’, and was received into custody on the same day. The charge read, ‘Stealing at Bradley 14 fowls, the property of John Wheaval.’ He was tried before Thomas Fletcher Tremlow on April 7th together with his son, Albert (14), who was on the same charge. Surprisingly, since Herbert had eight previous convictions and Albert two, the verdict for both was ‘Not guilty of larceny’. I could not find, or just missed, why he was specifically in prison at the time of the 1881 census; though his next appearance in court probably indicates why.

At the July 1881 Quarter Sessions he appeared again, just a few weeks after being released from gaol, together with Albert. Both had been arrested on June 2nd and charged with ‘unlawfully entering certain land in the occupation of Frederick Charles Perry by night on 2nd June at Dunston, with a dog and a certain net for the purpose of taking and destroying game, having twice been convicted of the like offence within the space of twelve calendar months’. They were tried with both being found guilty. It must have been one of those two recent ‘like offences’ that had resulted in Herbert being in gaol on April 3rd.

It was at this point that the previous convictions of both were revealed. They were, for Herbert:

10-01-1854  Trespass. One month

21-07-1854  Trespass. Two months

16-12-1861  Offence against gaming laws. One month.

07-12-1863 Stealing a rabbit trap. Seven days.

There must have been numerous offences in this twenty-year period, but I could not find them at the time of my visit. Later I found:

05-07-1873 Assault. 14 days.

16-02-1878 Offence against the Highways Act. 14 days. (The mind boggles at this)

28-07-1879 Night poaching. Three months and sureties.

21-06-1880          Night poaching. One month and sureties.

Albert’s convictions were:

23-04-1877 Stealing a rail (species of water bird). Seven days

28-07-1879 Night poaching. One month and sureties.

Herbert was sentenced to ‘imprisonment with hard labour for twelve months in the House of Correction at Stafford’. Albert received a two-month sentence without hard labour.
Most of these offences would now be described as petty or low-level crime and would receive no more than a caution. Throughout much of the period when Herbert was trying to supplement (as he would probably have seen it) his meagre farm labourer’s wage, British agriculture was in a period of depression with growing unemployment amongst farm workers and depressed wages. By the time of the 1901 Census, many of Herbert’s relations and their descendants were no longer to be found living in Dunston, Coppenhall or Penkridge, but had joined the exodus to the coalfields, the Potteries and the Black Country factories.

Herbert Choyce was, certainly, far from being a ‘notable’, but he is unique for me as the one whom I know more about than any other of my 19th Century family.

He died in 1908, age 78, in the hamlet where he was born, and was buried at Penkridge.

Request for Genealogical Help

Rosemary Westwood (r_a_westwood@hotmail.com) writes:

I understand that you had a talk about Sarah Westwood a few weeks ago.  I have been wondering if anyone knows what happened to Samuel Phillips? I have been looking and I can’t find him after the 1841 Census, when he was 35 years old. The only S. Phillips I can find was 10 years younger, born 1815 in Hammerwich to a John and Hannah Phillips.

His older brother married an Ann Westwood. Mary Ann Westwood, daughter of Robert Westwood, John’s brother, married a Henry Phillips of Hammerwich – I think, maybe, a cousin of the Samuel I found.

Samuel married a Hannah North in 1845 in Lichfield. She died in 1884, and he married a Sarah Ann Jones in Burntwood. The witnesses were Thomas and Emma Westwood, so there seems to be a strong connection between the Westwood and the Phillips families. I married into the family in 1963. I would love to hear from any of your members who might have an interest in this.

Terrace Talk - by Alan Brookes

A a’er kid wot yo’ bin up t’ t’day

Tekkin out pairpers no time t’ play

On me rode round ‘r fun a jed spug

Its yed w’ smoshed it w’ a strug

Ar’ yo’ cumin t’ flix lairter on

‘r car’ ‘cos alt me dosh’s gone

Yome skint cos yo’ spent it on suck

Ne’er mind mom said ‘eres tanner me duck

Th’ babbie w’ blartin’ ‘n mekkin a din

Splotherin’ snot like yove ne’er sin

More than likely its nappie is full

Gee th’ babbie ‘ere will y’? ar ‘r wull

Wot d’ yo’ do wi’ y’ time all day

Yove bin skivin an there’s hell to pay

Yo car cum in ‘ere w’ them mucky shoes

mek y’sen useful ‘n fetch me sum booze

Arm all baumed up after gamuckin ‘bout

No snaptime f yo’, yole get nowt

Yove bin naggin an chobblin an cribben agen

Biggest chelper sin r doe no wen

Arl get buzzed if yo’ doe hurry up a’er wench

If r doe goo now art be on th’ bench

Worro me luv art see yo lairter on

Art wummit as soon as me gaffer’s gone.

Church Newsletters

Well, no Journal would be complete without a few choice examples of cringe-making bloopers from those church newsletters and bulletins, would it?

… This afternoon there will be a meeting in the South and North ends of the church. Children will be baptised at both ends.

… This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Lewis to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.

… Bertha Belch, a missionary from Africa, will be speaking tonight at Calvary Methodist. Come hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa.

This Issue’s Cover Photograph

This issue’s cover photograph shows Hammerwich Church as seen from the main road through the village. The present church dates from the 1870s and replaced the former church, which was on the same site and had stone walls and a timber bell turret. The old font is now in Burntwood Christchurch and is dated 1715. Originally a chapelry of Lichfield St. Michael, Hammerwich was described as a Parish by 1854. Hammerwich is the oldest of the hamlets which now are collectively called Burntwood and it dates back to the 12th century.