Burntwood Family History Group
   Home      Journal 2011 07-09 Volume 19 Number 4
Extracts from Burntwood Family History Group Journal
July - Sep 2011
Vol. 19 No. 4
Contents of this issue.
From the Chair....
News from the Secretary
25 Years On – Part 1
Church Newsletter Howlers
Blue Boy
Reviews of Guest Speakers
Pleasant Memories
The House with Twelve and a Half Chimneys
Never Give Up Hoping
A Magic Moment
From the Chair...
Hi everybody. I hope your year is going well and that you are enjoying the Monday talks so far. Jane Leake has taken over the duties of Meetings Secretary, so please let her know if there is anything you would like to hear about, or if you have come across an interesting speaker. The Kew trip was a success again this year, with 22 Group members and friends and 16 from the Garden Guild. The Open Day at Burntwood Library was a little disappointing, though, as we were hoping for a few more visitors. Thanks however to those of you who helped ‘man’ the day. Group polo shirts have now been designed and are available if anyone would like to purchase one. Please see a committee member. The cost will be £16.00. Everyone has a tale to tell, so please let us have your family history stories and we will include them in the Journal. Also, if you have come across an interesting website, or one that has proved particularly helpful to you, please let u know about that, too. Sealing an idea from the ‘Family History’ magazine, I would like to include a ‘magic moment’ section in our Journal, and as an example have included one of my own in this issue, regarding a murderer in the family, which you can find on page 20. Everyone has these ‘Eureka’ moments from time to time, so please share with us the excitement you felt when a metaphorical brick wall collapsed in your search. Good hunting. Carole Jones
News from the Secretary
Membership - Two new members have joined the Group since the previous issue and our membership now stands at 104, of which eight are ‘family’ – so in total we have 112 Members. About half of our membership is based in or around the Burntwood area and the remainder in various parts of Great Britain. Two of our overseas members, both in Canada, have not renewed this year so we now only have one overseas member – in Australia. Membership renewal is due on 1st August 2011 so, because of the slightly late publication of this edition, membership renewal forms have been sent out separately. This year’s renewal form asks for an update of your details so that we can maintain contact with you all by telephone, email or post, whichever is most appropriate. Thank you for supplying this updated information.
Recent and future events - We had a successful coach trip to the National Archives at Kew, held an open day at Burntwood Library and had a display stand at the Great Wyrley History Society’s open day, but we were not at the Chase Wakes event this year due to difficulties in resolving public liability insurance issues. On 10th September, however, we shall be at the Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society Event at the Mining Historical Museum at Hednesford. The Annual General Meeting will take place on Monday 12th September at the Old Mining College Centre in Chasetown as one of our regular Monday meeting dates. Please try to attend as we often have poor representation of the general membership at the AGM and it would be good to see as many people there as attend the regular Monday meetings. Geoff Sorrell
25 years On (Part 1) - by Geoff Sorrell
This edition of the Journal marks the 25th Anniversary of the formation of the Burntwood Family History Group. So, for the benefit of members who have joined within the last five years, and any non-members who, we hope, see a copy of this Journal, the following is a brief history of the Group’s development since 1986.
The Beginnings: 1986–1992 - The first steps in founding the Burntwood Family History Group were taken by a number of schoolteachers in the Burntwood area who had found a common interest in researching their family history. An article in the local press was published, inviting people with similar interests to attend a meeting at the home of Pam Woodburn. As a result, Pam’s home was taken over by more than 40 people who turned up to see what it was all about. The decision was taken to start a formal organisation, and a committee was elected to take the first steps. The first meetings of the Group were held at the Chasetown Methodist Church, and were attended by an average of 12 people on a monthly basis. A chairman, secretary and treasurer were elected and plans were laid to acquire some research materials for people to consult – books in the first instance – and to contact people who might be prepared to come and talk to the Group at our meetings. Quite soon it became obvious that (there being no such thing as the World Wide Web at the time) it would be beneficial to arrange coach trips to London, where people could visit St. Catherine’s House, Somerset House and the Public Records Office in Portugal Street. Since those early days, coach trips have been organised on a regular basis to the various London record repositories. St. Catherine’s became The Family Records Centre, Myddleton Street; Portugal Street became the Public Record Office, Kew; and Somerset House became redundant for most family history research purposes. The Society of Genealogists (SOG) was also included in our itinerary from time to time.
Expansion: 1992–1996 - The church meeting room very soon became too small for group meetings, and when the church decided to extend and rebuild at Lawnswood Avenue, we decided to move to the new Library at Sankey’s Corner, Chase Terrace, where a modern and spacious meeting room was available. A number of second-hand fiche readers were acquired and the Group began to collect microfiches for members’ use, some by purchase from the County Record Office and others by donation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) when they updated their collection. These resources were also made available to members between meetings so that they could do their research at home. The group’s library was continually being added to and updated when books were purchased from the Family Records Centre, The SOG and through magazines such as Family Tree. The first Newsletter (predecessor of the Journal) was published in 1988 and consisted of three A4 sheets – including the cover and two blank pages! Interesting information from that Newsletter is that the committee was reelected and consisted of seven people, of which two are now deceased and three are still committee members! Pam Woodburn was chairperson, Jane Leake was in charge of the raffle and book sales, while I was in charge of speaker Bookings. Issue No. 4 carried a report by Tony Wallington, sadly no longer with us, on the Christmas coach trip to St. Catherine’s House. Issue No. 5 was slightly bigger, with a cover, four pages of content and two pages of information – single-sided and printed on a Gestetner machine. It is an unusual copy which I have in my collection, insofar as the first article from my pen appears in it (in my copy, the page with my bit on it has accidentally been included twice, so it is a rarity that might have considerable value at an antiques auction!). I was surprised to learn that in 1989 I had already traced my ancestors back to 1836 (father’s side) and 1630 (mother’s side). Over the subsequent 22 years I have managed to progress back only a further 75 years.
Issue 7 is the first to have a date on it – August 1990. It was still in A4 format, with a cover and eight pages. Jane Leake was in the chair for her second time, Christine Elson (another sad loss to our ranks a few years later) was secretary and Journal editor, Eileen Liehfooghe (another of our early members since deceased) was treasurer and there were nine committee members, including Margaret Ford as vice-chair. In May 1991, the Newsletter was reminding people to renew their subscriptions in June and the rates quoted were £5.00 for an individual, £7.50 for a married couple or £2.00 for a student or an OAP. We were not very PC in those days, were we? However, I think our current subscription rates are very comparable, apart from the fact that we discontinued the £2.00 rate due to the fact that most members were pensioners and hardly any were students. We now have family memberships, although almost all of them are ‘married couples’ anyway. From August 1991 to June 1992 the Newsletter was published quarterly, so there were four issues and each one contained seven pages of content. The Group was meeting regularly on the first Tuesday in each month and extra meetings were being held purely for research purposes on the third Tuesday, except in July and August. The AGM was in September and the December meeting was a Christmas Social. In January 1993, the first issue of Volume 2 featured the redesigned cover, which was the winner of a competition within the Group to give the Newsletter an update coinciding with the Group’s move to the new Burntwood Library. The cover now featured a Staffordshire Knot encircling facsimiles of birth, marriage and death certificates, with the title in antique script forming a tree. The title was changed from ‘Newsletter’ to ‘Journal’ at this time. Christine Elson had relinquished the editorship due to her failing health, and Jennie Lee and Mary Dowd were joint editors, with Roland Watson helping with the printing. Jane Leake had remained as chair in spite of efforts to find someone else to take on the job and commented in her letter on the success of the new venue for our meetings. The facilities at the Library were much more congenial than those at Lawnswood Avenue, and eight new members were recruited at the first meeting there. This was from a total attendance of 42 – far in excess of any previous attendances and quite a few more than we often get nowadays. By this time, Harold Haywood had become honorary treasurer – a position which he was to hold until 2010. During Harold’s time as treasurer, there was a doubling of the membership and a considerable increase in the financial management of the Group due to fundraising activities and grants from national and local funds. Harold was made an honorary life member on his retirement as treasurer and is still a committee member. To be concluded in the next issue of the Journal.
Church Newsletter Howlers
Oh, oh, must be a bit of space to fill at the bottom of this page, because here they come again – those ever-popular ecclesiastical cock-ups...
Hymn 326: ‘Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus!’ (Congregation seated)
The music for today’s service was all composed by George Friedrich Handel in celebration of the 300th anniversary of his birth.
Today’s Sermon: ‘How Much Can A Man Drink?’ with hymns from a full choir.
Blue Boy - by Alan Betts
When I was a youngster in the 1950s, I lived with my folks and my younger sister in a middle terraced house, a two-up and two-down job. In the back yard, next to the coal house, was our outside toilet. It had sacking tied around the pipes to stop them freezing, a high rise flush and newspaper squares on the hook. We had no bathroom, but we did have a tin bath that the family bathed in. Dad was a coal miner and had a coal allowance, so we always had an open fire in the back room and hot water. Once a week in the winter, the tin bath was placed in front of the open fire and filled with hot water. The carbolic soap and a scrubbing brush were placed next to it. Dad would bathe first, followed by my Mom, me next and then my younger sister. In the summer, the tin bath was put out in the back yard, which was pretty well sheltered, and the same procedure would apply. It was filled with hot water; Dad would bath first, Mom followed, then me, then my sister. One day, one summer, I had been outside playing and got quite grubby, as I usually did. When I came home and through the back gate, there in the back yard was the tin bath, three parts full of dirty water. I couldn’t see my folks about and, as the water was dirty, I thought it was my turn for the bath. Being the good boy that I was, I stripped off and jumped in the tin bath. I was a bit of a scrawny kid then, a few pounds lighter than I am now. I had only been in the bath a few seconds when Mom came into the back yard and started screaming at me. I thought I was being a good boy, using my initiative and having my bath without being told to do so. Mom was waving her arms and shouted at me, “Get out, get out”. I jumped out of the bath a bit smartish and just stood there, waiting to hear what I had done wrong. She pointed at me and shouted “Just look at you”. I looked down and I could see that from my armpits to my toes, I was dripping royal blue water! From the ‘plimsoll line’ up, my chest, shoulders and head were OK. Besides being used for bathing, our tin bath had many uses. One was for dyeing white clothes that had yellowed, to give them a new lease of life. It wasn’t my turn for the bath after all, but I had two that day – another one to clean me up. I hurt all over after being scrubbed down with the scrubbing brush and I smelled of carbolic for a week. I never got in the tin bath again without being told to!
Reviews of Guest Speakers’ Talks
April 2011: Ruth Taylor on ‘Tools and skills of past times’ - Reviewer: John Catliff
The subject of Ruth Taylor’s fascinating talk was the flat iron and the skills used around it. In the back-to-backs of Manchester where Ruth grew up – a legacy of the Victorian era – there seemed to be a pecking order whereby the senior, or sometimes the longest-lived in the block, would be first in line to carry out the Monday washday chores. General opinion was that in the industrial towns, the furnaces had been left to die down during the weekend, so Monday was the ideal day to do the washing. There would have been no smut in the morning air prior to the factories relighting the fires and kilns. Quite often, the local washerwoman would come in to carry out the washday duties. Ruth said Mrs Swinger, a rather portly figure, would arrive at 8.30 am prompt, pinny on, hair tied up and sleeves rolled up, showing her muscular arms, ready for duty. The fire was already glowing in the washhouse, the soapy water already hot in the dolly tub and the pungent odour of soda and Reckitt’s Blue in the air. After the actual wash, the handle of the old mangle was turned and the washing was laboriously threaded through its wooden rollers until every last drop of water had disappeared from the clothing, so by 12 o’clock the washing was hanging on the line tied to an old apple tree in the orchard during the summer. In the winter months, the washing would have to be placed on a clothes horse, or clothes maid as some people knew it. By 2.00 pm and as regular as clockwork, Mrs Swinger, who probably had as many as nine children of her own to feed, would commence the ironing. The clothes basket would be balanced on her hips, full of dresses, shirts, undergarments, blankets and whatever else had been washed during that morning. Various flat irons sat on the range at the ready. Who would have thought what those irons from bygone days would be used for now? Doorstops and paperweights were common, but probably the most unusual suggestion Ruth had heard was that two tied together made an excellent anchor for a small boat! What followed was a huge collection of flat irons collected by Ruth over the years, each of which was passed around the room for all to see and feel. She gave a colourful description of each and its history.
One small iron from the early 1920s, Ruth had christened ‘Edna’s iron’. She had given a similar talk and a little old lady by the name of Edna came to her and said, “You can have my old iron – it’s one I used as a child.” Ruth visualised it would be one used for hankies, but Edna said no: as a seven-year-old child, she had to iron the butcher’s aprons. A few weeks passed and a brown paper parcel arrived. Inside was, as promised, Edna’s iron. Ruth’s collection included an iron which was reputed to have come from a concentration camp; what stories that could tell! Others included a polishing iron or stiff iron for collars and cuffs, a hand-made French iron which looked rather like a weasel, and curling tongs or ‘goffering tongs’, which were used to iron the cuffs and high collars that the lady of the house would have worn. Then there was an ironing stand or trivet, probably hand made by the local smithy to show off his skills, an egg iron, which would have been clamped to the table and used with hot water and starch, and a European box iron with a lovely fruit wood handle. It was interesting to note that the latter had steel weights which would have been heated up and a steel flap lifted to allow them to be placed inside the iron, an idea which had been patented in 1738. When the iron was used, the weights would have moved inside the iron and a loud clicking sound could be heard. Next was a ‘Sad iron’, which weighed over six pounds (because of health and safety this iron stayed on the table!) and what can only be thought of the ‘gadget of the day’ – a top loader made by W Siddons of West Bromwich about 1893. Other interesting items included a chimney iron Number 7 which was anufactured in Halifax, Yorkshire, complete with a chimney at the rear of the handle, a cap iron used for the maids’ caps and similar garments, a very unusual Italian iron shaped like a poker, which would have been used on velvet and ribbons and bows for hats, and a milliner’s tally iron. Ruth had bought along some other unusual items, which included, a block of hard soap, How many children had that rubbed in their mouths for saying something they later regretted? Others included finger pegs, dolly pegs and soapwort detergent. Last but not least, a pair of lady’s drawers, circa 1840, complete with draw string! We would like to thank Ruth for the very interesting talk she gave us, and for giving us the chance to see and feel these interesting items.
May 2011: Stephen Booth on ‘The golden age of stagecoaching' - Reviewer: Sheila Clarke
Stephen Booth became interested in the era of the stagecoach when he was investigating his own family tree. He discovered that one of his ancestors, named George Booth, had been postmaster at the Crown Inn in Stone between 1828 and 1834, when stage coach travel was in its heyday. The Chester Road (now the A51) where the inn stood was one of the six main roads in Britain, stretching from London to Chester and beyond to Conway where boats left for Anglesey, and then to Holyhead, for ships to Ireland. Stephen concentrated his talk on this particular road, telling its story from its origins in Roman times, to its decline after the dissolution of the monasteries. By the mid-18th century, roads were in an appalling state with ruts and holes, some as much as four feet deep and full of water. In 1555 an Act was passed making it the responsibility of each parish to maintain roads in their area, but many tried to avoid this unpaid work and the standard of repair was poor. The impact of poor roads on coach passengers was severe. Springs were introduced, but the swaying of the coach caused nausea akin to seasickness. When the Turnpike System was introduced, two of the first three Turnpike Acts were for the Chester Road. Tollhouses were built, the road would be gated and a list of charges for the various users, including coaches, carts, walkers, horsemen, and animals, would be displayed. Each traveller would be issued with a ticket so that a tally of users could be made. Each Turnpike Trust looked for reliable road engineers to build and maintain their turnpike. Thomas Telford was a perfectionist. His roads were excellent, but he was deemed to be too expensive, so most trusts chose John Macadam. By 1825, 25,000 miles of Macadam roads had been built, including the Chester Road. Vehicles gradually went faster, and more people wanted to travel by road. Highwaymen were a problem, as there were long, lonely sections of road where they could lie in wait. Prime targets were the post boys used to carry important dcuments, including money orders. If caught, a highwayman would be hanged, and worse, body parts would be hung on a gibbet as a deterrent. Many street names today echo their grisly past, such as Gallows Tree Lane off the Cannock Rugeley road. Near Sandon, the Red Lion pub was known as the highwayman’s tavern. It is a myth that highwaymen were chivalrous, although when Henry Hunt was robbed by two highwaymen near Sutton Coldfield he begged that they should return some of his money lest he starve. They returned six of his silver shillings, but then went on to rob someone else in full view of their first victim. When travel increased, the problem became worse. It was decided that post boys should travel by coach, with a guard carrying a blunderbuss for protection. The guard was advised that if attacked he should ‘fire at the waist’.
New, improved stage coaches were used on the Chester Road by 1786. The leaf spring had been developed, which gave a much smoother ride. Early coaches only carried five passengers and were pulled by four fast-trotting Cleveland horses. The coachman sat on the right hand side, while the postillion sometimes rode the ‘cock horse’ – an extra horse used for steep hills. The driver had to be in tune with the horses, although they were changed at each stage, each had a different temperament and some were actually blind. Coachmen wore a frock coat a scarlet cape called a Benjamin, a cocked hat and white gloves. Stages were fifteen miles apart and the maximum speed was 10 mph. Any faster and the horses might be injured. Coaches were robustly made of strong wood, with up to 50 layers of paint to withstand stone chips. Royal Mail Coaches were black with the monarch’s insignia in gold, and the door painted maroon. The guard sat on the ‘dickey seat’ at the back, with his feet over the trap door of the compartment for mail. Along with his blunderbuss, he had a hook and a horn to warn the tollkeepers to open their gates in advance as the mail coach did not have to pay a toll. If the mail coach broke down the guard still had to get the mail through, so he would use one of the horses. Guards also carried a clock, as mail coaches were on a strict timetable. Many guards became adept musicians and blew a different fanfare for each situation, such as getting the post ready, food ready, and opening the toll gate. The hook was used to scoop up the mail from postmasters where the coach did not stop, such as The Talbot Arms in Rugeley. If the mail was late for more than two stages the guard could be replaced, hence the clock. Before time had been standardised throughout the country maths too had to be used as every town reached tended to use a different ‘standard’ time! The guard carried tools and skid breaks as a precaution against breakdowns. Eventually postillions were no longer used, and rich travellers would pay extra to sit next to the driver. Two passengers would sit on top and three inside. The Swan Hotel and The George in Lichfield were important coaching inns along the Chester road. The Crown at Stone became the main post office as this road was the main arterial route up this side of England. At the height of the golden age of coaching, 302 coaches a day passed the Roebuck (later called the Wolseley Arms) near Rugeley. Ordinary stage coaches carried more passengers than the Royal Mail coaches and were often overweight. There were some horrific accidents; on October 8th,1799, a very wet day with the river in flood, the bridge over the Trent at Darlaston had been swept away. The driver of the Liverpool to Stone coach failed to see this and the coach plunged into the raging torrent. Six passengers were inside and three outside. Three were rescued and six passengers drowned. We were thoroughly entertained by Stephen Booth’s talk, and agree with him that it is a pity that many of the artefacts connected with this part of our history have been lost, and that towns along the stage coach routes have not made more of this important time and their part in it.
July 2011: Alan Lewis on ‘King Charles II and the legacy of the oak’ - Reviewer: Jane Leake.
From the beginning, Alan Lewis captured our interest as he led us through the escape of the Charles II after the Battle of Worcester on September 3rd, 1651. King Charles I had been executed in January, 1649 leaving his son, who was in exile in France, to attempt to secure his rightful heritage. The younger Charles made his attempt landed in Scotland in 1651 and raised a Scottish army to help him. The number of men who volunteered was less than he expected but, hoping that his English supporters would join him on the march south, they set off. Oliver Cromwell was well aware of the route they were taking, but he chose to march to cut them off by first heading north and then swinging to the east. The two armies met at Worcester, and it was soon evident that the young king’s army was no match for Cromwell’s Ironsides. As evening approached, some of the king’s supporters decided he must be spirited away if he were to live to fight another day. Their plan was to ride into Wales, then head south to cross the River Severn and take a boat back to France from Bristol. However, this was not easily accomplished. Charles was unusually tall and not dressed appropriately to make escape without attracting attention. On the way through Shropshire they stopped at Whiteladies Priory, a known Catholic house, and there the King was given a set of labourer’s clothes to disguise him. However, shoes proved to be a problem as he had large feet and they could not find any to fit him. Consequently this caused him to have a very uncomfortable journey when the horses were abandoned, and they set off to walk about 70 miles. The countryside was thick with Roundhead soldiers searching for him, so they had to double back and headed for Moseley Old Hall, where Charles was able to rest for a few hours. The party accompanying him was by now very small, so as not to attract any more attention than they could help. He met several people on te way who risked their lives to try to help him. The most famous family was the Penderel brothers, five of them, who kept watch on the surrounding countryside and made contact with supporters who could hide him and plan for his onward journey. By this time, the king and his supporters were exhausted and footsore, not being used to walking any distance. A short distance away was Boscobel House (Italian for beautiful trees), another house owned by a Catholic family. The fugitives were relieved to arrive there, but this was short-lived as it was decided that it was much too dangerous to have the king in the house in case enemy soldiers arrived to search the premises. Imagine Charles’s face when he was informed that the safest place for him to hide would be high in an oak tree!
However, he and a Royalist soldier, Colonel William Careless, agreed and spent an uncomfortable day. Careless was a particularly gallant soldier who had fought to the end of the Battle of Worcester before escaping to find the king and offer his help. Charles must have been very scared when enemy soldiers arrived soon after and searched the woodland around them for the fugitive. The family in the house opened all the doors and invited the search party in to search the house where, of course they found nothing to make them suspicious and moved on. The king and Colonel Careless were at last helped down and taken into the house for food and rest. Charles declared that he would sleep in a bed whatever the consequences. Luckily there was a priest hole in the attic, into which the king was helped when danger threatened – but in fact no further searches were made of the house. Meanwhile, the Penderel brothers were making plans and seeking out people who would be willing to help the king on the next stage of his journey to the south coast. It took him several weeks and narrow escapes before he was able to set sail for France and safety. He was destined to remain in exile until 1660, when he was invited to return and reclaim his kingdom. Many public houses carry the name of The Royal Oak in memory of this event and the day the king returned to England. May 31st, 1651, was called Oak Apple Day. People would wear oak leaves in their buttonholes or stuck into their hats to commemorate the saving of the King from his enemies by the tree. Charles II proved to be a popular king, much loved by his subjects, who were always ready to forgive him his shortcomings. He took many mistresses, the most famous being Nell Gwynne, and is thought to have fathered at least 14 illegitimate children. Sadly, he was not able to produce a legitimate heir. He was fascinated by science and founded the Royal Society and the Royal Observatory. He did not forget the soldiers who had served him and endowed the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, for old soldiers – we are all familiar with their red uniforms. Several regiments of the British Army also came into being at this time, and Charles was a supporter of the Navy and added the word ‘Royal’ to its title. To finish off the story, we heard that the Penderel brothers and a few others who helped the king to escape were rewarded with pensions, some of which are still paid to their descendents today. Alan led us through this fascinating story with great ease of delivery and the use of his computer and we were sorry when it came to an end. We hope to invite him to make a return visit next year.
Pleasant Memories - by Beryl Eadon
In a previous issue of the Journal, it was suggested that the low number of members visiting The National Archives at Kew might be due to the use of computers and the Internet making such journeys unnecessary. However, I have many pleasant memories of visits to St. Catherine’s House personally and others may have similar recollections. A short distance from St. Catherine’s was Somerset House, where wills were available for search, and also Chancery Lane, where other documents could be researched. Ten minutes’ walk and you were at the PRO in Portugal Street, where census returns could be viewed – sometimes after a queue on the staircase before placing your order. In the opposite direction, one could walk past several theatres and arrive at Covent Garden to shop or visit the Transport Museum. Who remembers brass rubbing and cups of coffee in the crypt of St. Martin’s Church? After a busy day in the Record Offices, when they closed at 5.00 pm there was always an enjoyable hour spent in the cafe just up the road from St. Catherine’s, having a meal and a chat with others about the successes and failures of the day, until the time came for the coach to arrive and take us back home. The journey back took us through streets with Christmas lights – particularly the hotels in Park Lane, where the trees outside the Ritz Hotel were festooned in lights. At Marble Arch we would pick up the people who had been shopping in Oxford Street and Regent Street at the sales, before making our way home to Burntwood. These are pleasant memories – and yes, I did also find time for doing some research!
The House with Twelve and a Half Chimneys - by M.F. Jennings
My mother’s father’s family originated from Hereford in the early 1800s. My great-grandfather, Frederick Alfred Pritchard, was born in 1831 at Birch in Herefordshire and was a musician. In 1867 he married Harriet Whittaker, who was born in 1846 at Rushcombe, Stroud, Gloucestershire. They settled in Herefordshire, bringing up a family of nine children – six boys and three girls. My grandfather was the youngest of the children, being born in 1883, the year before his father died. He joined the Great Western Railway Company and worked in their offices in Hereford. His eldest brother, William, also worked for the GWR, another brother worked as an Engineer in Birmingham and the third brother was a School Attendance Officer in Sussex. One of the sisters married a police officer and lived in Liverpool, where some of their children worked at the Hornby/Meccano factory in Binn’s Road. Another sister worked as a nanny and spent many years in South Africa. She told me stories of the life she lived out there and all the animals they saw. She married a former army medical orderly who later worked in Winson Green Prison. He had served in South Africa and India and had a clasp of eight medals. It is surprising how most families have at least one unusual story woven into their family history. I am fortunate in having several, some of which I have already talked about to the Family History Group in the past. This story is about another of my grandfather’s sisters, Gerty. In the Great Western Railway company, many of the employees had to move about the country in order to have a chance of promotion. In the 1901 Census, a GWR driver named Tom Symons, originally from Penzance, was found in Hereford, having been promoted and transferred there. He was reputed to have driven the GWR Pacific locomotive ‘The Great Bear’ when he was based in Bristol on loan. He lodged with the Pritchard family in Hereford and eventually married Gerty. After Tom’s death in 1919, Gerty moved to Penzance. There were no children of the marriage, but Gerty helped some of the other Symons families. My grandfather married Laura May Arnold in 1905. Her family were living next door to the Pritchards and she was a secretary to one of the Lever brothers at the Port Sunlight factory. There were three. children from this marriage, my mother being the eldest.
Laura died in 1923 and the children were split up amongst the family. My mother stayed in Hereford, her sister went to Penzance and her brother to Birmingham. Charles remarried to Flo Unit in 1928. Flo was the neighbour’s daughter on the other side of the Pritchard household. When Gerty Symons returned to Penzance, the Symons and Pritchard families were always travelling between Hereford and Penzance because of the free or cheap travel available to railway employees. Many years later, in the early 1950s, I remember being taken down to Penzance and meeting some members of the Symons family. One of them was called Reg, and he was introduced to me as one of my mother’s cousins who lived in a large house (compared to the one where I lived). I was fascinated by this as a small child; I had never been inside such a big house before and it was full of treasures! Over the following years, we continued to visit them and, when I was a bit older, I was able to stay there. The house was called Treneere Manor, and over many years I was able to work out the family connection and how the house came to be owned by a Symons relative by marriage. My research established that the house was completed in 1768 and is a small Georgian manor house built close to the site of an earlier Tudor house. It was set in formal gardens and farm land. It has two chimney stacks with distinctive sets of six and six and a half tall pots on each stack! In its later history, the house was bought in 1876 by Joseph Polglaze, who made his fortune from gold mining in California. Joseph had four daughters, only one of whom married. She had eloped to marry but had no children. The other sisters befriended Reg Symons when, as a young boy, he delivered milk to the house. Reg eventually became the estate manager of the property and, when the last of the Polglaze sisters died, the whole estate was left to him. The house was a ‘time warp’ of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. I often looked after Reg in his later years, when his housekeeper was on holiday or ill, until he died in 2006 aged 95. The house was subsequently sold in 2008 and is now part of Truro and Penwith College, so I am still able to go and see it. Its use is now very different, but it does keep the Cornish connections to the Symons family and the house alive. It is surprising what twists there are to be found in our families, and how years ago they were able to move around this country and the world through their work and marriages.
Never Give Up Hoping - by Chris Graddon
Mission Impossible? It certainly seemed like it when I began the search, but in the end it came together in a wonderful and totally unexpected conclusion. However, I am getting ahead of my story... Back in September 2009, my wife’s sister asked if I would try to find out what happened to her husband’s father, Andrew Robertson. At the time I had been investigating my own family tree for about a year and I had managed to use the various internet sites to put together a reasonable number of connections, but I still considered myself a novice so did not rate my chances of success. I knew how much it meant to Andrew’s son Allan, the husband of my sister in law, so I said I would do whatever I could. However, I warned them that it was most unlikely I’d get anywhere as there was so little information to go on. Allan’s parents divorced acrimoniously in 1957. After a period in a children’s home, Allan and his sister were brought up in Sussex by his mother after she married for the second time. Living with a stepfather resulted in a change of surname for Allan and his sister and, as we discovered subsequently, this led to Andrew’s family losing contact with them. Allan had always wanted to know what happened to his father, and hoped against hope that he might still be alive or that he might have had a new family. Andrew Robertson had returned to live in Scotland prior to the divorce, which was so bitter that Allan’s mother severed all ties with him. As they grew up, she refused to provide any information about their father to Allan and his sister, so their link to him was broken completely. All I had was the name Andrew Robertson but no date of birth – a vital fact in searching family history. Andrew had done his military service in the Worthing area with the Scots Greys, but Allan and his wife had already explored that route and had been told that without a date of birth or address there was nothing that could be done – there were just too many Robertsons in the Scottish regiments. We had the marriage date for Andrew and his wife in Worthing, but that led nowhere. Allan himself had been born in Worthing, but his sister’s birth certificate showed that she was born in Scotland four years after Allan, in Duddingston Camp. This was one of the camps in Edinburgh, following the end of World War II, that provided temporary housing for those homeless families who were not eligible for council housing. Inevitably, this clue also led nowhere.
Primarily, because of an unusual combination of forenames, I managed to make relatively quick progress with the other branches of Allan’s family tree, but I knew that would be little consolation for him, however interested he was in the details. So over the next year, I kept coming back to Andrew Robertson, trying various things but not really getting anywhere. Then, in 2010, I joined Burntwood Family History Group. For my first ‘clinic’, I took along the three intransigent problems that were frustrating me, one being Andrew Robertson. I hoped their collective expertise would give the search fresh impetus because I had pretty well run out of ideas. The ‘wise heads’ at BFHG were sympathetic but not optimistic. However, they did suggest I look at the website ‘Scotlands People’ [sic!], which I had not explored before. So I searched for Robertsons in the Newington/Portobello areas of Edinburgh, the vicinity of the Duddingston Camp, using the approximate date of birth 1922–1923 given by the marriage certificate. Inevitably there were a lot of Robertsons, and narrowing down to Andrew Robertsons still left far too many possibilities. However, from the Scotlands People website I discovered that the National Archives of Scotland hold divorce papers for cases that are at least 25 years old, dating as far back as 1563. Contrast this with The National Archives in London, where case files are destroyed 20 years after the divorce (although a few are kept from earlier times as examples of how the courts then operated). To my great surprise, I found that the National Archives of Scotland lists divorce cases in an electronic catalogue, so I started searching using the unusual combination of forenames for Allan’s mother. Excitement and anticipation turned to disappointment when I found nothing for the years when I anticipated the divorce proceedings must have taken place. However, I came back to it a couple of days later, widened the time search and eventually located the case file number. Tentatively, my wife and I told Allan that we had made some significant progress, though we emphasised that he should not get his hopes up just yet. We paid the necessary fees and sent off for a copy of the divorce papers, confidently expecting that legal papers of that type would include Andrew’s missing date of birth. A few weeks went by, and then a large brown envelope appeared in the letterbox. Once again, excitement and anticipation quickly disappeared as the four parts to the divorce documents – including those pertaining to the welfare of Allan and his sister – failed to provide Andrew’s date of birth. However, they did provide the name of Allan’s grandfather – Andrew Robertson senior – and his address back in 1957, this being the address used to serve the divorce papers on Andrew junior, whose address had not been known by the court. Even so, it looked like another dead end.
However, it was the only lead we had, so I decided to investigate the electoral registers for that Edinburgh address for the years just before and after 1957, in the hope that I would find out more about the family. That meant a visit either to Edinburgh or to the British Library at St Pancras in London. As my two sons live and work in London, I chose the latter. I contacted the Social Science Reading Room at the British Library and requested the electoral registers for the period 1954–1960 for the address on the divorce papers. You can only order six at a time and they have to come from their store in Boston Spa in West Yorkshire. The staff in the reading room were extremely helpful, finding out for me the correct electoral registration district back in 1957, boundary changes having changed the constituency for that address. Having secured a reader’s pass (it saves a lot of time if you register provisionally online and complete the process when you make your first visit to the British Library), I made my way to the British Library, wondering what information – if any – I would uncover. The 1954 register showed Andrew Robertson Senior and his wife Margaret living at that address but, by looking at a sequence of later years, I found other Robertsons appearing on the register, whom I took to be their children reaching voting age (then 21) – first Mary B. Robertson in 1955, then Ronald R. Robertson in 1960. Armed with that information, I started searching Scotland’s People, looking for their births. When you find them, Scottish records are far more informative than English ones, making follow-up searches more straightforward. Mary Burns Robertson (b. 1932) and Ronald Reid Robertson (b. 1938) were located, leading to a possible marriage between Andrew Robertson Senior and Margaret Lockhart Reid in September 1921. This was followed by a likely elder sister, Margaret Reid Robertson, born in 1926. Most significantly of all, because the birth certificates listed the addresses, we were able at last to locate Andrew Robertson himself, the eldest child of Andrew Robertson Senior and Margaret Lockhart Reid, born 15 August 1923. You can imagine our excitement! But the question still remained – what had happened to him, was there any chance that he was still alive (he’d be 87 at least), and did he have another family north of the border? I also unearthed a Jean Reid Robertson, born in 1945, and wondered whether, despite the age difference, she could also be a member of the family.
The certificates for the deaths of Andrew Robertson senior in 1974, and for his wife Margaret in 1983, gave Ronald and Jean as witnesses. The 1983 address for Jean was the same as the one on the divorce papers – so was there any chance that she might still be living there in 2011? It seemed a long shot, but worth a try. We hit the online telephone directories and found a Jean Walker living there. On Scotland’s People, I found Jean Reid Robertson had married Charles Walker in 1979, so at last I had high hopes that she could be ‘our’ Jean. After discussing the delicacies of the situation with Allan and his wife, I wrote to Jean, outlining what I had discovered and my strong feeling that she was Andrew Robertson’s sister and therefore Allan’s aunt. I gave her my telephone number and email address and we waited nervously for a reply, not sure of the reaction my letter would have in Edinburgh. Days – albeit only a few – went by without contact, but it was agony knowing that we were so close. Then the day came. I was down at the National Archives in London and had finally managed to locate the information that my father had always sought, showing that his grandfather had indeed fought with the Heavy Brigade at the Siege of Sebastopol in the Crimean War. I was excited (it, too, had been a long and frustrating search), so I decided to contact my wife at home to tell her the good news. However, I couldn’t get a word in edgeways! She told me with great excitement that we had had a letter back from Jean to say that she was, indeed, Andrew’s sister and Allan’s aunt. She was thrilled to hear from us and gave a telephone number, which my wife had already passed on to Allan. Well, you can guess the rest. Allan now speaks regularly to his Auntie Jean and to his Uncle Ronnie, who is also still alive. Sadly, Andrew died back in 1990 and had no family north of the border. Apparently, Jean and Ron tried to find Allan and his sister when their father died but couldn’t locate them, because their surname had been changed by then. Now Allan and his sister are on their way to Edinburgh for Easter to meet up with Jean and Ron and the rest of the family, and all concerned are extremely excited. The happy end to this search has been wonderful and heartwarming, far more that we ever expected – and as for Allan, you can hear in his voice how much it means to him. So... mission impossible? Well, not quite, although we certainly needed and had a lot of luck along the way. But it proves, if nothing else, that you should never give up hoping.
A Magic Moment - by Carole Jones
Every so often we get that Eureka! flash, and mine came in March 2009. My grandmother told me when I was about ten years old that there was a murderer in the family. The man had killed his wife by beating her; he was the strongest man in the West Country and used to wrestle all comers. Unfortunately, grandma knew nothing else – not even a name or date. I thought about this from time to time while growing up, wondering if it was just a story or if there were some truth in the tale. I didn’t think I would never discover the answer. Some 55 years later, I received a copy of the Gloucester Family History Journal and there was a little snippet to say a lady in New Zealand had transcribed all the Gloucester inquests from 1722 to 1838. I immediately keyed in all the family names with no luck, so I keyed in ‘Forest of Dean’, thinking I may find some miscreant neighbours as I still have family still living in the Forest. The name William Sailwell (alias Sully) jumped out at me; he had murdered his wife Sarah in May 1829 and was hanged in September the same year.
I had already found a death entry for Sarah when she was ‘about 40’ but thought she had just died young, maybe in childbirth. I now have the newspaper report, witness statements and William’s last statement before the hanging, a report of the hanging and the fact that his body was given  up for dissection. Another magic moment occurred just a couple of weeks ago. I received more information – a detailed description of William. He was 33 years of age, had dark hair, very dark eyes, eyebrows, eye lashes, whiskers and beard; a dark complexion, long face, long nose, two scars on his forehead, a scar on the right side of his upper lip, large scar on his right eyebrow, a scar on the small of each arm, a scar on the right shin, four scars on back of left shoulder. He was five feet three inches tall and a collier. He could read a little. His manner was indifferent. So, one never knows when or how a brick wall may fall. Sarah and William were my 3x great-grandparents. I wonder if William really was the strongest man in the West Country?
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