Burntwood Family History Group
   Home      Journal 2012 01-03 Volume 20 Number 2
Extracts from Burntwood Family History Group Journal
Jan - Mar 2012
Vol. 20 No. 2
Contents of this issue.
From the Chair....
I Bet You Didn’t Know That
News From the Secretary
What a Mistaker to Make-a!
Arising from Coal Dust – Part 17
’Til a Quick Sale Do Us Part
Reviews of Guest Speakers
Slogans for Genealogists
A Plethora of Names
This Issue’s Cover Photograph
From the Chair...
Hi everybody. A belated Happy New Year to you and I hope you all had a good Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day and so on. Hasn’t this winter been unusually mild? Alan and I sat out on New Year’s Eve with the chimney blazing, a nice whisky to warm us, and we set off a few fireworks to welcome 2012. We have again received a Grant from Burntwood Town Council for £100 towards our WWI Project. The project is going well, with several minibiographies already published on our website. Pam Woodburn, however, is looking for further volunteers to assist with this project as we have a list of names waiting. We have some great speakers lined up for you again this year, so I look forward to seeing you all at our Monday meetings. Attendance at the Thursday research meetings has dwindled of late and I trust this is due to the dark winter evenings. Several experienced members are on hand to assist and give advice. Sometimes another perspective can help break down that brick wall. Hopefully, a visit to Kew can be arranged again this year – probably in May. Please show your interest to Jenny Lee so that we can get an idea of numbers. The St Mary’s Parish Records project is now complete and in the final stages of being checked. A CD should be available shortly. Because this project was so large, the next will be a small one to enable everyone to recover, so Armitage has been selected. All volunteers are welcome, either to transcribe or to check. Please see Jane Leake. We have arranged a ‘Members Evening’ for our March meeting, giving everyone an opportunity to bring questions and queries along, and hopefully one of the more experience researchers may have suggestions that will assist. Don’t forget to keep the articles coming for the Journal. Good hunting. Carole Jones
I Bet You Didn’t Know That...
Back in the 1500s, almost all houses had thatched roofs comprised of thick straw, piled high with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, these roofs became slippery, and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off into the room below. Hence the saying, ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’. With no ceilings, there was nothing to stop other things from falling into the house, either. This posed a real problem in the bedroom, where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how four-poster canopy beds came into existence. The floors of most houses were simply dirt. Only the wealthy could afford something better – hence the saying, ‘dirt poor’. The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they (or rather, their servants) would add more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way to provide a better footing. Hence: a thresh hold. You’ve got to admit, you’re getting quite an education from this Journal, aren’t you?
News from the Secretary
A rather belated Happy New Year to all our members. May 2012 bring success in all your endeavours, good health and contentment. The Journal is now into its 20th volume and this is issue no. 2. You may remember that last year we had difficulty in keeping to the old timetable of publication and, because of this the No.1 issue of Vol. 20 was designated ‘Oct to Dec’, this one will be ‘Jan to Mar’, followed by ‘Apr to Jun’, and then No. 4 will be ‘Jul to Sep’. For the first time, we will then have a 5th issue – a second ‘Oct to Dec’ – so that Vol. 21 will more closely match the calendar year and begin at ‘Jan to Mar’ 2013. Hopefully, you will receive each issue in the middle month of each period, but we will have more flexibility to cope with unexpected publication difficulties in the future. The Group is financially secure at the present time and there is no need to increase our subscription rates. Because of this favourable financial position, the Committee has decided that the next subscription year will commence on 1st January 2013. This should make it much easier for everyone to remember the renewal date and to renew their membership before the commencement of the next period. Reminders will be sent out in good time with the Journal, which will be No. 4 of the current volume.
Membership There is a correction to the New Members list that was printed in the previous edition of the Journal. Please note that Member No. 504 should be Mr. Bruce Littley – not Graham.
What a Mistaker to Make-a! by Brian Asbury
Last year, the Beckhams were back in the news again, with their new baby Harper Seven raising a few eyebrows, mostly due to the weird name she’s been saddled with. But it’s not just modern celebrities who pick bizarre new names – it was happening over a century ago, too. For example, in 1857, one set of parents living in Merthyr Tydfil named their unfortunate boy Mistaker! As if being a mistake was bad enough, did the kid really need to be reminded of it every day? The poor child, Mistaker Greenway, was one of around 1,000 tots whose first names were unique, according to the published results of a trawl through 750 million birth registrations by Genesreunited.co.uk. The study reveals that other one-offs thought of by, shall we say, parents with a taste for the unusual, include Egremont for boys and Arcissadella for girls. Other parents who registered children between 1841 and 1911 showed equally surprising imagination (if little regard for their children’s dignity), with boys called Roxley and Rollon and girls named Tomilo and Nanis. All share the distinction of being the only person in Britain with that particular first name. There was even one 19th century boy christened Oreal (because he was worth it, presumably...). The list includes one-off variations of popular girls’ names, such s Marymolly and Genabee, and there were boys who had to go through life being alled Urvin or Koko, Narcisso or Ramous. All of these facts were taken from census data between 1841 and 1911, when the most popular (i.e. normal!) names were John and Mary. Ancestry’s boss, the only slightly unusually named Rhoda Breakell, said: “I feel very sorry for the child named Mistaker. There could be many reasons for these unique names, from misspelling them when they are recorded to naming their child after the place they were conceived.” But they’ve still got a bit of catching up to do to be as wacky as those chosen by modern-day celebs. Anyone fancy naming their child Apple (as did Gwyneth Paltrow), Diva Thin Muffin (like Frank Zappa) or Kal-El (yes, Nicolas Cage named his child after Superman!)? No, thought not... but even they pale into insignificance compared to the top three weird celebrity baby names according to website Cracked.com – Moxie Crimefighter (child of magician Penn Gillette, owner of a pretty weird name himself), Tu Morrow (spawn of actor Rob Morrow) and Jermajesty (scion of Jermaine Jackson). It makes a boy named Sue seem almost normal...
Arising from Coal Dust by Alan Brookes - Part 17: Getting ‘buzzed’
A very audible reminder of the presence of Cannock Chase No.3 Colliery at Chase Terrace used to be the Colliery ‘klaxon’ or ‘buzzer’. No one who lived at Chase Terrace or the surrounding villages could escape its long, moaning, low-pitched monotone, which reverberated for miles around the whole district. The Colliery buzzer never became a nuisance, however – it was always there and part of everyday life in a mining village. The buzzer governed people’s lives. Who needed an alarm clock or a watch when the buzzer was so meticulously sounded? I remember on many occasions my granddad reaching into his waistcoat pocket for his silver pocket watch, which he kept on a fob and chain, and clicking open the convex case to verify his very own personal timepiece against the sounding of the Colliery buzzer. I suppose the buzzer institutionalised people. Each time it sounded was a reminder that the Colliery was the ‘mother’ of everyone – the provider of employment, of wages, and ultimately of food and shelter. It became comforting, in a way, that as long as the buzzer regularly sounded, the coal mine was working. Coal was being extracted, men would be paid their wages, and everything would be all right and life would continue as normal. The Colliery signal to its workers was analogous to a church bell sounding to its parishioners, or a Muslim chanter bellowing discords from a mosque minaret. The buzzer normally sounded four times a day:
• At 5.00 am, the first buzzer of the day sounded an alarm call to get the miners out of bed. This really signified the end of the previous night’s shift.
• The next buzzer was at 6.00 am, to announce the start of the miners’ day shift.
• A welcome buzzer was howled at 2.00 pm. This marked the end of the day shift and the miners would soon be on their way home.
• And finally, if miners heard the 10.00 pm buzzer while on their way to the colliery, then they knew would be late, for this signalled the start of the night shift.
Other times when the Colliery buzzer was sounded was at midnight on New Year’s Eve, on Christmas Day, and in emergencies when an accident occurred underground. The passing of King George VI in 1952 was similarly recognised in symbolic affection and respect. I remember being in Chase Terrace Primary School and being summoned to an extraordinary assembly to be told about the passing of King George. The background solemn music to the dramatic announcement was the Colliery’s constant sounding buzzer. A typical scenario for the start of a miner’s working week in Chase Terrace was the 5.00 am buzzer sounding on a dark and wet Monday morning. The whole household would awaken – not just the miners. About fifteen minutes later, I would hear the trudge, trudge of miners’ pit boots scuffing their steel toecaps along the Rugeley Road.
A most depressing panorama met me as I looked out of my bedroom window: row upon row of miners, fully togged out in their boots, helmets, and dirty clothes, would be shuffling begrudgingly back to the Colliery after a weekend’s respite from their daily toil. Slung over their shoulders were their knapsacks containing a bottle of water or cold tea and their ‘snap tin’. This tin contained sandwiches and, sometimes, tasty snacks left over from Sunday dinner. The miners called their daily meal break ‘snap time’. They kept their food in a tin, because the Colliery’s mice and rats would eat it otherwise. Dad used to say he preferred drinking cold tea at snap time, because it washed the coal dust out of his throat better than plain water.
Very occasionally, he would oversleep and not hear the Colliery buzzer. We would all then be awoken by his working mate Tommy Craig throwing small stones at Mom and Dad’s bedroom window to wake him up. Within five minutes, he would be gone, joining Tommy, who usually waited outside for him. Extremely rarely, when I went downstairs at about 8.00 am to get myself ready for school, Dad would be sitting by the fireside, having a cup of tea and eating his ‘snap’. “Don’t pester your Dad, son”, Mom would say. “He’s annoyed because he was buzzed this morning.” That meant he had not heard the Colliery buzzer or the knocking of his mate. The consequence of this was that he would be too late to get to the Colliery on time to board the last ‘man-riding’ cage to descend the mineshaft. After 6.00 am and until 2.00 pm, the shafts would be used to bring only coal out of the mine, not for transporting miners. Dad would be particularly annoyed because, in those days, if a miner didn’t go to work, he received no pay. It was no use ringing in with today’s typical, pathetic ‘lame duck’ excuses to say you had a cold, a stomach ache or ‘stress’. In any case, nobody in Chase Terrace had telephones back then. There was no sick pay scheme for workers, so an idle miner would bring harder times than usual for himself and his family. Years later, long after Dad left the mining industry he would still sometimes say, “What’s for snap today?” meaning what was there for dinner, or, “I was buzzed this morning,” meaning he got up late.
Your Journal needs YOU!
The Journal is always in need of contributions from members to fill its pages. So, here’s a quick summary of the kind of material we need:
1. Book, magazine or website reviews: Read any good books on family history lately, or found an interesting website that’s helped you in your researches? Or how about the many magazines on the subject that are around? Why not tell the membership about it?
2. Problems with computers: Most of us use computers, but not everyone is an expert. If you’ve got a problem (e.g. your virus checker program blocking access to genealogy websites), tell us about it and we’ll try and find an answer. Or, if you’ve solved a problem yourself and feel it would be helpful to others, again tell us.
3. Questions generally about any aspect of genealogy research: Again, if you’re stuck somewhere, why not appeal for help from Journal readers. If an answer can't be found before publication, it can be posted up in the journal for readers to supply possible answers for the next issue.
4. Fillers: And finally, we can always use short items to fill up those awkward spaces when articles don’t run to a whole number of spaces. Poems, anecdotes, snippets of genealogical lore, or ‘Murphy’s Law in Genealogy’ items are always welcome. Brian Asbury, Journal Editor
’Til a Quick Sale Do Us Part... by Geoff Sorrell
In the last issue of the Journal you will have read the strange report of a man selling his wife at Walsall market. I can now report on further information about this incident. Firstly, though, some the background to the source of this information. We have a group member, Ray Derry, who has collected thousands of names of people who are related to him by their ancestry over the past 400 years as part of a ‘one name study’. Our Hon. Secretary is related by marriage to the Bradburys, who figure significantly in the Derry family tree, and Geoff has written an article in this issue about the connections by marriage of many other surnames which appear in the Bradbury line of descent. Another surname which is linked to the Derry family is Hitchenson – the name of the man who sold his wife at Walsall in 1837. Elizabeth Benetti, a descendant of Hitchenson, wrote to Ray from New South Wales, Australia, with much more information on the ‘wife selling’ incident, and this found its way to us.
Unfortunately Alan Betts, our website manager, who contributed the earlier article in the Journal, is unable to continue the story due to health reasons (of a temporary nature), so this is being written by ‘proxy’ on his behalf. Alan, we all wish you a speedy recovery and good health in the future. Your contribution to the Group’s activities via the website is invaluable and much appreciated. First, a few statistics. George Hitchenson was baptised in 1796 at Elmhurst, Burntwood. An agricultural labourer, he married Elizabeth Derry (baptised 1808), in 1827 at Burntwood. Elizabeth died in 1842 and was buried at Christchurch, Burntwood. George died 2 October, 1872 in Burntwood. Elizabeth Benetti wrote as follows:
The ‘lady’ in question ‘sold’ at Walsall Market was a distant Derry cousin of mine, i.e. Elizabeth Derry, born 1808, Burntwood. She can be found living with Thomas Snape on the 1841 Census, where she appears to have her Hitchenson children living with her. Estranged husband George can be found living a short way away from the ‘happy couple’ with his aged parents. Elizabeth did not enjoy her new found connubial bliss for too long, though; she died in 1842 and is buried at Christchurch, Burntwood.
he Wolverhampton Chronicle reported on the case in November 1837 as follows: A strange and unwonted exhibition took place at Walsall market on Tuesday last. A man named George Hitchinson [sic] brought his wife Elizabeth Hitchinson from Burntwood, for sale, a distance of eight or nine miles. They came into the market between ten and 11 o’clock in the morning, the woman being led by a halter, which was fastened, round her neck and the middle of her body. In a few minutes after their arrival she was sold to a man of the name of Thomas Snape, a nailer, also from Burntwood. There were not many people in the market at the time. The purchase price was two shillings and sixpence, and all the parties seemed satisfied with the bargain. The husband was glad to get rid of his frail rib, who, it seems, had been living with Snape for three years, at any time erroneously imagining that because he had brought her through a turnpike gate in a halter, and publicly sold her in a market before witnesses, that he is thereby freed from all responsibility and liability with regard to her future maintenance and support.
Further research seems to have produced the following summary of the practice of ‘wife selling’: Wife selling had been looked at as an alternative way to end a marriage other than by divorce. In most cases, he said, the wife knew and had a relationship with the man to whom, by mutual agreement, she was going. By this unofficial folk custom marriage could end by mutual consent with a wife sale. The procedure was based on the way cattle were sold. It was part of an old order in which a wife had been seen as the property of her husband. This old order was winning social disapproval by the early 19th century. In Staffordshire, for example, the custom of wife selling followed a fairly rigid pattern. A man in search of freedom took his wife to market, with a length of rope attached to her neck. He paid a toll that gave him the right to sell merchandise, then paraded her around the market extolling her virtues. Interested males would then bid for her in a general auction. Once a bid was accepted the husband would hand over the toll ticket as proof of ownership and the trio would then retire to the Inn and seal the deal with a beer or two. Despite the lowly position of the wives in these transactions, most accepted the custom as a satisfactory way of ending an unhappy marriage. In many instances the sale was agreed by mutual consent before the auction commenced. However, it was accepted practice that the formality of the market place auction would always be conducted.
It is a fact that divorce was a near-impossible legal process for all but the rich upper classes until much later in British history, due to its expense. But bigamy was an offence in law for which serious sanctions in the courts could be imposed. Therefore, the working classes, with their usual ingenuity, concocted the ‘wife selling’ practice in order to avoid the wrath of the courts. As with many practices which came to be in common use and acceptance by the majority of the population, it was not frowned up by the law, although subsequent legal enactments regulated the means by which a divorce might be obtained at reasonable cost. [Note: I was typing this article while an episode of ‘Find my Past’ was running on television, which was about the Suffragette movement and how it resulted in the emancipation of and voting rights of women being progressively established from the early part of the 20th century.]
Apart from the question of ending the marriage, it would appear that, after the auction, Thomas Snape not only took Elizabeth back home with him, but also took on her children as a part of the arrangement. George Hitchenson went back to live with his parents and lived on until 1872, while Thomas Snape had but a short life with Elizabeth as she died just five years after Thomas acquired her. However, Thomas continued to look after the Hitchenson children and the two youngest were still with him in the 1851 Census. No legal process existed for deciding custody or financial support. As Thomas Snape was a ‘nailer’, could it be that he got a good bargain for his two shillings and sixpence by acquiring cheap labour for his business. There may be more to this particular ‘wife sale’ than we first thought! Finally, because these events took place in the Burntwood area (apart from the sale at Walsall), it could be that someone reading this article can throw light on the subsequent history of the Hitchenson children and their stepfather, Thomas Snape. If you can add anything, please let us have the details for a future article in the Journal. Acknowledgements: Ray Derry – for his research; Elizabeth Benetti, for providing much of the material in this article; The Wolverhampton Chronicle for its report on the wife sale; Alan Betts, for picking up the original story.
Slogans for Genealogists
A few more suggestions for mottos to hang above a genealogist’s desk:
* Genealogy: A haystack full of needles
* If only people came with pull-down menus and online help...
After 30 days, unclaimed ancestors will be adopted
Gene-Allergy. It’s a contagious disease, but I love it
Reviews of Guest Speakers’ Talks - Reviewer: Sheila Clarke
November 2011: Danny Wells on ‘The Victorians and the Christmas Season’
Danny Wells pointed out that before Queen Victoria came to the throne, the celebration of Christmas had been declining to a point where it had become soulless. This was partly due to the Industrial Revolution, where people had flocked to the towns to find work. Customs which had been followed in the countryside died out. There was little family togetherness, and even Christmas as celebrated by the rich simply consisted of a few dinner parties. Towns had rapidly increased in size, causing deterioration in living conditions. The gap between rich and poor had become wider than ever, and there was a fear that civil unrest would cause a revolution as it had in France. Philanthropists felt that the gap should be bridged between rich and poor. What better than to promote the Christmas season as something the whole country could celebrate? Over time, the Victorians reshaped Christmas, picking those customs which had been followed in the past and which they particularly liked. By the end of the 1840s, all the essential elements we see today had been resurrected or introduced: the strong family ties, expenditure, consumption, charity; and Christmas trees, Christmas pudding, cards, and crackers. Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their young children were the perfect advocates of a family to aspire to.
Prince Albert picked up the tradition of the Christmas tree and presented trees to schools and army barracks, so their popularity soon spread. A popular picture, emphasising family values, showed the Royal Family gathered round a Christmas tree. A year later, the same picture, but with the queen’s tiara and the prince’s moustache and sash removed, was published in a women’s magazine in America with the title, ‘A typical American family gathered round the festive tree’. Christmas was promoted as a very English festival and discussions ensued as to what was the essence of ‘Englishness’. The Illustrated London News publicised Christmas throughout the century; life in the countryside was promoted, and it became the norm for landowners to return to their estates for the festive season instead of staying in London. Outdoor activities were encouraged to try to improve the health of town dwellers, and the wealthy became aware of their responsibilities to the ‘deserving poor’, at least at this time of year! Open hospitality was followed by some, renewing a tradition from Elizabethan times. The influence of Charles Dickens in publicising the parlous plight of the poor was enormous, and A Christmas Carol had an immense influence on the development of the Victorian Christmas, with its emphasis on giving and goodwill. 150,000 copies were sold in the first year, and nine theatres staged the play in the following year.
The idea of English families sitting by the fire and listening to ghost stories spread throughout the world. Other authors, including Thackeray and Hans Christian Andersen, also wrote Christmas stories. In 1870, Queen Victoria abolished Twelfth Night celebrations in her household and suggested celebrating with coffee and chestnuts instead, as being ‘within the bands of sensible thrift’. Visits to the sick, needy, and the workhouse, became popular, particularly on Boxing Day. Paintings such as that of 1891 entitled ‘Delivering the Christmas Pudding to the Lighthouse Keeper’ depicted the mood of the time, as did George Sims’s poem, ‘Christmas Day in the Workhouse’. The poem, later parodied by music hall comedians, actually showed the hypocrisy of some do-gooders. Instead of the star or angel we to put at the top of our Christmas trees now, the Victorians often put up the Union Jack. Patriotism was very strong, and never more so than at Christmas; even pantomime was used as a patriotic vehicle. The Victorians loved the costumes and elaborate scene changes. Carol singing had originally been a French import. Antiquarians worried that the old carols would be lost and had been collecting them.
Many old carols were resurrected, not always with the original lyrics, or old lyrics were married with new music. Many came from the 16th century. ‘Good King Wenceslas’ was from Scandinavia; ‘Silent Night’ from Austria; ‘It came upon the Midnight Clear’ and ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ from the USA; and ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ is a Victorian carol written in the UK. Beef was a favourite Christmas meat in the north of England, while the south favoured goose. The Royal Family began a fashion for turkey, but this was too expensive for most. Many people also had a joint of ham. Towards the end of the century it was common to see rows of Christmas birds in butchers’ shops, each trying to attract custom with the best display. Christmas was becoming commercial. Mince pies originally contained a variety of sweet and savoury fillings but, by the end of the century, they had morphed into what we would recognise today. ‘Stir up Sunday’ was the last Sunday before Advent, when a wish was made while stirring the pudding. The giving of presents on Christmas day began, though Victoria and Albert only gave ‘improving’ gifts. Sir Henry Cole began manufacturing Christmas cards in 1843, and 1,000 were printed in the first year and sold at 1s each – expensive at the time.
Tom Smith began the manufacture of crackers in 1847, though it took another 13 years to introduce the snap, after which sales multiplied. Holly became a favourite decoration, taking over from the former favourite, rosemary. Mistletoe, though a pagan symbol, was still liked by the Victorians. Father Christmas was originally someone you gave gifts to, based on the jovial Lord of Misrule. Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus came via Turkey, Holland and the USA, helped by the poem ‘The night before Christmas’. He was first depicted in a variety of different costumes, until 1930, when a Coca-Cola advert depicted him in the outfit we recognise today. Washington Irving helped idealise the ‘British Christmas’ in the USA as a season of snowy landscapes, with stage coaches and people wearing clothes of a bygone era. Most British Victorians, with their thoughts on invention, enterprise and industrialisation, would not recognise that world. Danny Wells’ entertaining talk showed us what a comparatively modern invention our Christmas is, with the glorifying of the child, the celebration of home and family, and the provision of good cheer.
October 2011: Alan Lewis on ‘Sapper Norman’ ably assisted on the computer by his wife Joy Lewis
Alan told us about his father, Norman, whose own father had been a regular soldier. He had joined the Bedfordshire Regiment when he was 15 in 1904, and had risen to the rank of sergeant by the time the war broke out in 1914. Wounded, he became a prisoner of war, but was repatriated in 1917. After the war it was hoped that Britain would become a ‘land fit for heroes’. This did not happen. In the early 1920s, Norman’s family emigrated to Canada, where Norman enjoyed a wonderful childhood. His father worked for GEC there. The family returned to England in 1933, to Stoke on Trent. Norman became an apprentice carpenter and joiner. War seemed ever closer, so Norman decided to join up. He wanted to join the RAF, but was rejected after the recruiting officer decided his joiner’s trade would be more useful to the army. Norman joined the Stoke Territorial Army, and then went into the Royal Engineers as a Sapper, equivalent to the rank of Private. Training took two hours per day, three days a week, and consisted of drill, Bren gun practice and combat engineering, which meant learning how to blow things up.
In August he attended a two week battle training camp. In October 1939, 19 year old Sapper Norman’s company embarked for France as part of 212 Army Troop, British Expeditionary Force. The German invasion of Belgium and Northern France triggered the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk, of which Norman and his company were unaware. On June 23rd they were sent by lorry to blow up a bridge. They set the charge in darkness, and the order was to blow up the bridge at 0400.Then an officer gave orders to delay the explosion until 0700 to allow more refugees to cross over the bridge. The time was then put back to 0800. Finally, they were ordered to wait until the Germans appeared. At mid-day, three tanks appeared but it was unclear whether they were British or German, until a soldier left a tank for a smoke. Suddenly, after the soldier returned to his tank, the company’s lorry blew up. The British realised that they had fallen into a trap, and the ‘officer’ had probably been nothing of the sort. They tried to detonate the charge under the bridge, but the wire had been cut. While the other men hid, the sergeant crept under the bridge to detonate the short fuse – successfully, but blowing himself up in the process.
At that moment, Norman felt a gun at his back and a German, speaking perfect English, said, “For you the war is over.” Norman and his fellow prisoners were taken to a nearby field and left in the open, without food drink or shelter until the following day, a Saturday, when they were taken to join other prisoners. The following day the long column of prisoners set off north on a journey of 1,000 miles, mostly on foot. The prisoners marched five days, still without food. On Wednesday, Norman collapsed. Fortunately they were near a hospital, and when Norman had food and drink he soon recovered and was able to help on the ward. When he was again fit, he was ordered to join another prisoner column. Once the prisoners reached Holland, they were loaded onto barges on the Rhine, packed so tightly that they were unable to move. After an awful journey into Germany, they disembarked and there was another three-day march to reach a railhead. There, prisoners were loaded into cattle trucks and travelled for three days until they reached Thorn in Poland, (today called Torren).
Their destination was Stalag XXA, an old, decrepit fort in which the prisoners were first housed. Prisoners were given one pair of trousers, a shirt, a coat and clogs, together with a cap and a blanket. Their heads were shaved and they had to wear a metal dog tag at all times. There were no heating, toilet or washing facilities. Lice found homes in the seams of their clothes. Conditions were so bad that some prisoners threw themselves from the walls of the fort, committing suicide. There was nothing to do and no organisation, so morale was low. In May 1941, Norman’s parents received a letter from the War office informing them that Norman was now a prisoner of war, and in July a letter from Norman himself arrived for his parents, asking them to tell Alice (his girlfriend) that he was well. Alice did not wait for him. Prisoners were then given the task of building their own camp. The huts were light and airy, especially in the winter, as there was no heating at first, and later only a single stove. The camp was surrounded by a double barbed wire fence, and a few feet inside the inner fence ran a trip wire, which, if triggered by a prisoner, would be a signal for the guards to shoot him. Around the outer perimeter were watch towers. Guards patrolled the camp with dogs.
Inside the huts there were three tiers of bunks. The prize was to have a top bunk, because lice and fleas fell through the planks onto the men below. Norman had a bunk in the middle tier. Washing took place outside in all weathers, and toilet facilities consisted of planks suspended over a pit. Morale was still low, although there had been some work in a sugar beet factory. Depression was rife, and arguments and fights were commonplace. The commandant called in a British sergeant major, who rallied the sergeants in the camp. The men were reminded that they were still British soldiers, and drill was reinstated. This improved morale a little. Meals consisted of black coffee for breakfast, swede soup for lunch, and bread for supper. Malnutrition ensued, alleviated by Red Cross parcels, each one of which gave balanced nutrition for a week. Unfortunately, they were sometimes opened by the camp guards and the contents just piled up in a heap. Walking to the beet factory, the prisoners passed a duck pond. On passing the ducks the prisoners would take a handful of the ducks’ food to eat. This resulted in them being ordered not to take the food, because the ducks were starving! The prisoners were able to take informal photos in the camp, some of which we were shown.
Altogether there were 20,000 prisoners, of which 16,000 were British. Roll call could be taken at any time day or night, and took a long time because of the number of prisoners involved. During this, other guards would be turning over the huts leaving the prisoners to tidy up – which, at night, had to be accomplished in the dark. The prisoners devised games to pass the time. One was to approach a guard with a smile on the face and say something derogatory about Hitler. Unfortunately, when Norman did this, the guard understood English and smashed Norman’s front teeth. This resulted in a trip to the dentist in the town. Norman had no money, so the buxom receptionist said that the dentist would only be able to take out the broken teeth without anaesthetic. Fortunately, the dentist was also a buxom woman, so Norman was very willing for the teeth to be taken out while his head was cradled in the bosom of the receptionist! Later, Norman traded a Red Cross parcel to get false teeth made. These teeth lasted until 1990, and survived Norman dropping them into the hut toilet bucket.
During one winter, Norman had a food parcel containing a tin of syrup. When he opened the tin he found that the syrup was frozen solid. Returning the lid he placed the tin on the top of the stove. Pressure built up inside the tin and it exploded, depositing sticky syrup all over the hut. A cat passed the door of a hut, and then disappeared. That night, there was an impromptu meal of ‘rabbit’. The guards would find almost anything hidden away, so the prisoners devised strategies to hide things in the open. For example, the aerial for a clandestine radio was ‘hidden’ as a washing line. If they wanted to bring back vegetables from the fields, they would each bring a single item so that at least some would get through. One day, Norman had a loaf of bread in his coat pocket. Two guards stopped him and he had to think quickly. He took off the coat and gave it to one guard to hold while he held out his arms for the other to search him. Finding nothing, they gave Norman his coat back and he put it back on. One day a farmer came to the camp and asked if they had a ‘stellmacher’, who could come and work for him. Norman thought this word meant ‘carpenter’, so he volunteered. Unfortunately the farmer wanted a wheelwright, so he was not pleased when he realised that Norman knew nothing about making wheels. The farmer made Norman clean out the cows, and then the pigsty and the stables – jobs which had been left for too long. At first the farmer gave Norman only the minimum amount of food but after time, he realised that if Norman would work harder if better fed – which he did.
In January 1945, the prisoners were told that they would soon be taken on a forced march into Germany because the Russian Army were closing in. Events happened quicker than expected and the march did not take place. The farmer asked the men working there to go with him back to Germany, but they refused, so he locked them in the cellar. After a couple of days, they were released by a group of Polish workers. When the Russians came, the ex-prisoners made the mistake of speaking to them in German, which led to them to being interrogated and nearly being shot until the Polish workers convinced the Russians that the men were British. They were given a pass and told to go to Warsaw, travelling first by sledge and then trudging through the snow until they reached a busy main road. However much they put their thumbs up, nothing stopped to pick them up, until they were told that ‘thumbs down’ was the signal to get a lift! From Warsaw, Norman travelled a distance of 10,000 miles, and took three months to reach home via Odessa, Port Said and Gibraltar, and from there, home to England. On 13th March, his parents received a telegram, which they left unopened on the table for a long time. When they at last opened it, they realised it was good news and their son was coming home.
Norman arrived at the station in Stoke at night, and had a five mile walk. He arrived home at 4.00 am and banged at the door. A window opened above him and a voice shouted ‘Who’s there?’ ‘It’s me, dad’, Norman replied. His father rushed down the stairs and was in floods of tears as he embraced Norman. He was closely followed by Norman’s mother. Norman was given two weeks leave, and then this was extended until his discharge from the army. He returned to his trade as a joiner. The following year he married Dorothy, the girl next door, and they have now been married for 65 years. We were pleased that both Norman and his wife attended our meeting. He told me he is 93 years old. I said that he looked much younger, and Alan Lewis said that he looked younger because he is only 92! Norman said that he would have liked to have continued farming, as that was one thing he enjoyed in Poland, but the opportunity did not present itself. However, he did change his job and worked for Creda, the white goods manufacturer, for many years, until his retirement. He has never returned to Poland, but he has visited Dunkirk. He still has the dog tags. We were very fortunate that Norman’s story has been recorded by his son, but lan feels that his father has more to tell about those times.
Famous Last Words
Some genuine final utterances said by the famous and the not-so-famous.
During the French Revolution, a condemned aristocrat was offered a last drink on the scaffold. He refused, saying: “I lose all sense of direction when I’m drunk.”
The notorious Rugeley poisoner William Palmer killed his friend John Cook and was suspected of several other poisonings, but he was eventually caught, convicted and sentenced to hang. About to step on the scaffold, he enquired, “Are you sure it’s safe?”
American criminal James W Rodgers was found guilty of murdering a miner in Utah and was sentenced to die by a firing squad. When asked whether he had a last request, he replied: “Why, yes – a bullet-proof vest!”
A Plethora of Names by Geoff Sorrell
Raymond Derry has been a member of our Group for a number of years and is also custodian of a ‘Derry’ one-name study. Because I have a connection to the Derry family through my daughter’s marriage, Ray and I have had lots of correspondence about the Burntwood branches of his family and mine. As a result of this, Ray has produced a family tree dating back to the late 16th century, from which I have been able to extend my knowledge of the Bradbury family by four generations. It recently occurred to me that, whilst my interest has been only in the Bradbury history, Ray’s tree contains information on descendants of the female members of the Bradbury line and, in many cases, it gives the name of their spouse. I have extracted all these ‘married names’ from the tree and listed them below. If you wish to have more details of the events listed below, please email me, telephone or write to the address given in the Journal. I shall eventually extract all the surnames from Ray’s tree and will pass them on to our readers, but for the moment I shall be interested to see if theses names are of any assistance to our members who have ancestors in the local area.
Forename Surname Year Place of Marriage
Magdalen Clarke 1656 St. Mary’s, Lichfield
Elizabeth Brian 1676 St. Mary’s, Lichfield
Hannah More 1682 St. Mary’s, Lichfield
John Sandland 1691 Lichfield?
Mary Ashmore 1699 St. Mary’s, Lichfield
Sarah Evens 1707 St. Mary’s, Lichfield
John Nevil 1718 Lichfield Cathedral
Gilbert Marklew 1724 St. Mary’s, Lichfield
William Owen 1726 St. Luke’s, Cannock
Eliza Meek 1727 St. Luke’s, Cannock
An Fowler 1760 St. Luke’s, Cannock
William Bell 1763 St. Luke’s, Cannock
Sarah Howl 1763 St. Luke’s, Cannock
Diana Berrisford 1770 St. Mary’s, Lichfield
Thomas Swinchurch 1771 St. Luke’s, Cannock?
Sarah Hackwood 1789 St. Michael’s, Lichfield
Jonah Hackwood 1791 St. Michael’s, Lichfield
Lucy Wootton 1791 St. Luke’s, Cannock?
William Worsey 1791 St. Luke’s, Cannock?
Mary Dabbs 1796 St. Luke’s, Cannock?
Jane Woollaston 1805 St. Michael’s, Lichfield
Jane Craddock 1833 St. Michael’s, Lichfield
Eliza Wadcock 1839 St. Michael’s, Lichfield
Charles Martin 1840 St. Michael’s, Lichfield?
John Turner 1848 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Augusta Benton 1855 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
William Brindley 1857 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Sarah Richards 1857 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
William A. Chiswell 1860 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
John West 1862 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Fanny Baker 1866 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Jane Birch 1868 St. James, Longdon
Margaret` Derry 1870 St. James, Longdon
Jane Harding 1875 St. James, Longdon.
Alice Birch 1876 St. James, Longdon
Elizabeth Tonks 1877 Christchurch, Burntwood
Annie Arnott 1877 Christchurch, Burntwood
Rose E. Jackson 1885 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Emily J. Beck 1887 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Susan Eccles 1887 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Mary D. Kennersley 1893 ?
Philip Meachem 1896 St. James, Longdon
Jessice Grant 1898 ?
Ann Derry 1899 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
James Sanders 1899 St. James, Longdon
Clara Wheeler 1900 ?
Edwin Craddock 1902 St. James, Longdon
Mary E. Godwin 1903 St. James, Longdon
Edith Hickman 1903 St. James, Longdon
Archie W. Hill 1903 St. James, Longdon
Matthew Lindsay 1903 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Gertrude Littler 1904 Christchurch, Burntwood
George Rowe 1904 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Margaret W. Freeman 1907 St. Bartholomew, Farewell
Mary J. Downes 1909 Christchurch, Burntwood
Francis Proverbs 1912 ?
Louisa A.M. Derry 1911 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Maria Dolman 1914 Christchurch, Burntwood
Mark Stokes 1915 ?
Winifred A. Salt 1916 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Edward J. Marston 1920 Christchurch, Burntwood
Sarah J. Instone 1922 Christchurch, Burntwood
Frederick N. Price 1922 ?
James Wright 1923 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Florence S.M. Plant 1933 St. Michael’s, Lichfield?
Amelia Fitch 1936 St. James, Longdon
William A. Tunnicliffe 1937 St. James, Longdon
Doris Hames 1939 Christchurch, Burntwood
John Jukes 1940 St. Michael’s, Lichfield?
Margaret E. Booth 1943 St. James, Longdon
Irene Silvester 1944 Christchurch, Burntwood
Charles J. Derry 1944 St. Michael’s, Lichfield
Irene Silvester 1944 Christchurch, Burntwood
David W. Whitehouse 1962 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Stuart G. Rushworth 1970 St. James, Longdon
Elaine Egerton 1983 ?
Pamela Holden 1972 ?
David Chaplin 1977 Christchurch, Burntwood?
Angela M. Walls 1977 Christchurch, Gentleshaw
Janine P. Sorrell (Walker) 1995 Lichfield Registry Office
Sandra E. Thomas 1999 ?
This Issue’s Cover Photograph - Miner Statue, Brownhills (Photo by Alan Betts)
Erected in 2006, Brownhills’s arguably most prominent landmark is a 46 feet tall stainless steel sculpture of a coal miner, which stands on a roundabout at one end of the High Street. Sculpted by John McKenna, ARBS, the statue commemorates the town’s mining traditions. Arms outstretched, the giant statue holds a lamp in one hand and a pick in the other, and is depicted wearing 19th century worker’s clothing and stands as a memorial to the miners who worked in the town across the three centuries before the last Brownhills pit closed. Coal mining was part of the fabric of the town and its people, and was its principal industry during the 18th and 19th centuries, with up to ten pits active in the area at any one time.
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