Bob Smith’s

It must have been a combination of Diane Lindsay’s talk at Family Tree Live and then watching Gardener’s World in the evening which led to the stirring of distant memories overnight.

I was thrilled to hear Diane Lindsay in person on Friday 26th April at Alexandra Palace:  I have long been a fan of her regular column in Family Tree Magazine and enjoy her style of writing.  Her talk was entitled “Telling Your Family Story in Column Inches” and by way of encouraging the audience that everyone has something to write about, she shared a number of anecdotes.  One was a snatched, half-remembered memory of shelling peas with her grandma.  I’m sure we all have those sort of recollections:  we can’t quite place them in time, but there is a sudden vivid memory where sights, smells and sounds long-gone are suddenly re-kindled.

And then later in the day we were watching Gardener’s World and there was a chap doing his bit to reduce plastic use at his nursery by selling plants in cardboard ‘noodle’ pots and selling other materials loose, weighing with old-fashioned scales.

As I say, it must have been a combination of the two which brought to my mind a memory of visiting a nursery with my Grandad Wakefield, back in the 1960s.  We didn’t really have garden centres back then as we know them today, did we?  Grandad Wakefield (Jack) really loved his garden.  Perhaps it was when he was able to buy his own home in 1936, a semi with a decent sized garden, that he really got into gardening.  By the time he retired from his billposting job he was both growing vegetables and producing a reliably stunning floral display in the front garden.  My memory is particularly of the standard fuchsias, but the colourful bedding was immaculate.  Mum tells me he used to propagate plants and sell to friends and neighbours too.

Grandad’s front garden

But for his plant requirements his go-to nursery was Bob Smith’s at Mayford near Woking.  My snatched memory is of going there with Grandad and probably Dad too and of Bob Smith finding the plants Grandad required. Bob Smith had an intriguingly high-pitched voice and I picture him with a round, rosy, friendly face, calling Grandad ‘Mr Wakefield’.  They did Customer Service in those days!

I couldn’t remember where Bob Smith’s nursery was, but Mum was able to tell me that it was in Saunders Lane.  She remembered that in addition to the greenhouses there was also a shed where you could buy your compost, fertilisers and pest control products.  I suppose that’s how the garden centres began.

Well I googled the nursery, and lo and behold it is still there and still operating, albeit in a more limited way!  It would appear that the family business is still going, trading under the name of Briarwood Nurseries, and selling bedding plants for a short period from around now till they sell out in early June.  The nursery’s website says that Mr Smith developed the retail business after the Second World War, so maybe Grandad was a customer from very early days.  Interestingly, I found a George Smith on the 1939 register at Briarwood, Saunders Lane, a nurseryman – own account. Perhaps he was a father or grandfather of Bob.

Well there we are – a snatched memory that sprang seemingly from nowhere.  Maybe those early horticultural encounters helped to nurture my own love of gardening.  But certainly Diane Lindsay is right – let’s not underestimate those slightly hazy snapshot memories for telling our family stories.

PS you can find handouts from Diane Lindsay’s talk at  

Jack Wakefield in his greenhouse


All Is True

It was while driving home one day last week that my interest was caught by an item on the local radio station.  The ‘Drive at Five’ presenter was interviewing someone about the forthcoming ‘Shoreham Wordfest – Shakespeare Celebration 2019’, which happens during 25th – 28th April.  Of course, it ties in with the anniversaries of Shakespeare’s birth and also death this coming Tuesday.  The celebration includes talks and practical song and drama workshops as well as live theatre.

The interviewer was asking his guest about the relevance of Shakespeare to a modern audience; I think you’ve only got to look at the myriad outdoor productions of Shakespearean plays which are put on across the country, at National Trust properties and many other locations, to see that the popularity of the enduring tales of love and loss still have great appeal.  And let’s not get started here on the many words and phrases, first used by Shakespeare, which have found their way into our modern vocabulary!

But the interview also reminded me of the wonderful film ‘All Is True’ which I saw a couple of months ago.  If you haven’t already seen the film – do!  It very cleverly meshes known biographical facts of Shakespeare and his family with imagined backstories:  why had daughter Judith not married by the time Shakespeare retired?  What did his son Hamnet die of?  Why did Shakespeare leave his wife his second best bed in his will?

The title of the film is the alternative title given to the play Henry VIII, which was the final play performed at the Globe theatre before it burned down in 1613.  It was after this event that Shakespeare is portrayed in the film returning to Stratford and picking up the threads of his domestic life.  He has to re-establish relationships with his close family, but the film looks in particular at how he finally comes to terms with the death of his son Hamnet 17 years previously.

Having visited all of the houses associated with Shakespeare’s life in the Stratford area I had learned something of his background along the way, and this was a help in seeing All Is True.  I thought that the weaving of fact and conjecture was very clever.  As a family historian, however, the stand-out moment for me was when Shakespeare went to the church to examine the burial records.  He reads for himself the entry for his son Hamnet.  His wife Anne tells him that Hamnet died of the plague.  But, as Shakespeare points out, the plague did not take isolated victims:  plague in the town would have led to many deaths.  The burial register tells a different story, and this leads Shakespeare to his discovery of the truth (at least in the film’s narrative) surrounding Hamnet’s death.  Very clever family history detective work on the part of Shakespeare and excellent research and writing on the part of Ben Elton.

How fortunate for Shakespeare that the burial had indeed been recorded in the register!  Not for him the great gaps in registers which all too frequently lead us to a seemingly impassable brick wall.  I have been re-visiting one of my major brickwalls this week in preparation for a short booked consultation with an AGRA member at the forthcoming Family Tree Live event at Alexandra Palace next weekend .  In this case it’s a missing baptism which has been my stumbling block for many years (specifically that of David George in East Dereham, Norfolk,  around 1786).  However, I must say that re-examining the evidence after some months pursuing other family lines does enable you to see things afresh.  I am hoping that perhaps another pair of (expert) eyes might see something that I have not or suggest a record set which I have not so far thought of.  I’ll let you know how I get on!  I’m sure I am equally guilty, but how I wish that other trees which you see online always had their sources clearly explained – All Is True (and all is written down) – how I wish it were!!

PS – this is my 100th blog!  I do hope you enjoy reading them!

The dressmaker’s apprentice

It was reading that the cost of ordering a pdf civil registration certificate was going up on 16 February to £7 which spurred me into action.  Ok, so only by £1, but even so, now was a good time to order any certificates that had been on my mind to get but hadn’t quite got around to.  You know how it is.  And one of those was for Feodore Sarah Bryant, youngest sister of my great grandfather Herbert Bryant and daughter of Sarah Bryant who I wrote about last time.

The poor child was only 6 years old when her father George died in Bethnal Green Asylum.  The 1881 census records her, now aged 11, with her mother and her older sister (by 15 years) Georgiana in Newhaven.  Quite possibly her mother Sarah was already displaying symptoms of mental illness as it was only 2 months later that she was sent to the asylum at Haywards Heath.  How did Feodore cope with a mother who threatened violence towards herself and her children? Georgiana reported that she had threatened to cut her throat and cut off her children’s heads.

Whether or not both sisters then moved back to London is unclear, but certainly by 1891 Georgiana was living with William and Harriet Wise in Brighton, at 9 Pelham Street.   She is described as their niece, but I have so far failed to work out this relationship.

However, researching what happened to Feodore revealed a death entry for her in the December Quarter 1885, Pancras Registration District, aged just 15, so I was curious to know what brought about her early death.

When I downloaded the certificate it revealed that she died of Cerebral Meningitis on 16 October 1885 at 134 Leighton Road.  Her brother Arthur registered her death. This was over 5 years before her mother’s death – I wonder whether Sarah was told the fate of her younger daughter?

The Leighton Road address was not familiar to me as having been the residence of either Arthur or Herbert.  But fortunately The Genealogist has a unique tool whereby you can search censuses by an address.  I therefore looked it up in both the 1881 and 1891 censuses and found that the house was occupied during this period by Harry and Margaret Goodbody.  Margaret was a ‘court dressmaker’ and in 1881 had 3 other Assistant Dressmakers working for her and another 2 apprentices, aged 15 and 16.

So my guess is that at the time of her death in 1885, Feodore was working and living at this address as an apprentice dressmaker, making high end clothes for those mixing in upper class circles.  A bit of internet research indicated that a ‘court dressmaker’ was probably not making dresses for the royal family but for those who would be appearing at court or at formal occasions when royalty might be present.  Harry Goodbody’s occupation was given as ‘habit maker’.  Now this immediately conjured up in my mind images of clothing for monks, but again looking on the internet revealed that this was more likely to be riding costumes or ‘habits’ – specialist coats, skirts and waistcoats.

134 Leighton Road on Google Street View looks quite a sizeable property, so even considering the number of people living and working there I do hope that the living conditions for Feodore were tolerable before she contracted the disease that would prove fatal.

And what of the unusual first name of Feodore?  Although Feodore Bryant’s death was registered in this name, I have been unable to find a birth registration in this name and have so far not found a baptism record for her. The 1871 census records her just as ‘Sarah Bryant’, so did she somehow ‘acquire’ the name Feodore between then and 1881 when that is how she was enumerated? I’ve certainly not come across any other ancestors with this name. told me that Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter Princess Beatrice (born 1857) had Feodore as one of her middle names.  This name was in reference to Princess Feodora of Leiningen, who was Queen Victoria’s older half sister (and who has coincidentally just made an appearance in the latest TV series ‘Victoria’).  Well, it somehow seems quite apt that this young girl who was named after royalty should be making dresses to be seen by royalty; but what a short and hard life she had.

The Fashion House 1885

Life at the asylum

A year ago I made the surprise discovery that my great great grandmother Sarah Bryant died in March 1891 at St Francis Hospital, Haywards Heath, Sussex.

Though it was not exactly joyous reading, I was excited to find so much detail in the Admissions Records for this institution at The Keep in Brighton.  51 year old Sarah was certified to be “suffering from Mania” on her admission on 14th June 1881.  The doctor who had attended her at home declared that she had threatened suicide, was suffering from delusions and was deemed to be a danger both to herself and to others, notably her two daughters living with her.

The ‘Supposed cause – hereditary’ made me wonder what had happened to her own parents. but unfortunately I had had no joy discovering what became of James and Philadelphia Backshell.  However, the fact that Sarah’s husband George had died only 5 years prior to her admission to the asylum did make me wonder whether this had contributed to her mental state.

I looked again at the Civil Registration death indexes.  With the middle name ‘Curtis’, that was definitely him listed in the June Quarter 1876.  But Bethnal Green?  When he had been living in Fulham?

The book I had consulted at The Keep on the history of the Sussex Lunatic Asylum called ‘Sweet Bells Jangled Out of Tune’ by James Gardner looked so interesting that I found and bought a copy online so that I could read the background to this institution.  I learnt that the 1845 Lunatics Asylums Acts required every county to provide adequate accommodation for all pauper lunatics within three years.  The Sussex Asylum opened on 25 July 1859, with 240 patients being transferred there from other asylums, many arriving in a poor condition.  What I read next raised alarm bells regarding George:  the Medical Superintendant wrote: “the male patients last removed from Bethnal Green are the most violent, filthy and neglected lot of patients I have ever met with in all my experiences…and they showed long years of neglect.” 

Bethnal Green!  I wonder….  Returning to Ancestry and the UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, there he was at the top of the page, admitted 19 May 1876, asylum ‘Bethnal’.  And it recorded that he died there less than a month later on 27 June. There is no clue as to the reason for admission, and a post on the Rootschat site says that there are unfortunately no surviving records for that Asylum.  However, I could still apply for the death certificate.  This gave me the information that the cause of death was “effusion on the brain”, which I supect might be a brain haemorrage.

George Curtis Bryant
UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers on Ancestry

So no real clue as to what had tipped George over the edge in 1876 and I certainly hope that the conditions there had improved from those found in 1859.  I do wonder whether these circumstances contributed to Sarah’s illness.  The doctor reported that she “seems lost and appears to have a dread of something”.  Poor woman.   Looking again at what might have happened to Sarah’s mother, this time I found Philadelphia Backshell on someone else’s tree on Ancestry with the details that she died on 28 February 1853 at Union House, East Grinstead.  In other words, the dreaded workhouse.  She was only 50 years old, so was she ‘just’ poor and incapable of looking after herself (her husband was still alive) or was she, too, suffering from mental illness?  Maybe the assertion that Sarah’s illness was ‘hereditary’ was to some extent true.

However, I was heartened to read in ‘Sweet Bells Jangled Out of Tune’ of the conditions at The Sussex Asylum (St Francis hospital).  By 1886 it was considered to be one of the best in the country.  The ethos was that of trying to cure patients rather than just lock them up. Regular walks were organized, contact with the outside world was considered important and sports were encouraged.  Visiting day was Wednesday and patients were encouraged to write letters to their families.  There were education classes and patients were encouraged to do farm work, laundry and needlework.  There was an asylum band and concerts and patients had access to books and newspapers.   Attention was given to a decent diet.  Wards had pictures, plants and simple ornaments to make them a little more homely.

The care of those with mental illnesses has in many respects come a long way since 1881, though today the funding of treatment, especially for young people, is woefully inadequate.  I do hope that Sarah was well cared for in these surroundings.

St Francis Hospital

Photograph taken 28 November 2003 © Norman Wigg. Source Historic England Archive ref: 303024

The fastest milkman in the west

So it turns out that my 3 x great grandfather was a milkman!

I have to say that I was quite excited to make this discovery during our visit to Berkshire Record Office, since it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of my ancestors were ‘ag labs’.

The baptism register for New Windsor records the baptisms of four children to William and Mary Hunt between 1808 and 1815.  Two of these were the twins William and Mary, baptized in May 1808.  The church forms for recording baptisms after 1813 helpfully included space for recording the father’s occupation, and so when John Hunt was baptized in 1813 his father was described as a ‘labourer’.  But in 1815, when he took daughter Ann to church, William described himself as a ‘milkman’.

Now I’m afraid that this did initially conjure up in my mind images of Benny Hill’s legendary Ernie, who drove the fastest milkcart in the west (younger readers may need to google this), but it led me to wonder just what the job of a milkman in 1815 would have been like.

For all the lists of historic occupations available online, I could actually find very little information on the milkman.  One of the most helpful sources of information, however, was ‘the Working Man’s Friend and Family Instructor 1852’ available on Google Books. Although this was written almost 40 years after William Hunt was operating in Windsor, it did give me a valuable insight:  “the milkman may be seen trudging along with his can from house to house…with his not unmelodious cry”.  Unlike the modern milkman (and there are still some around), this individual is likely to have produced the milk he sold.  He probably had a small plot on which he kept his cows and then took the milk around door to door using a measuring jug to decant the required amount into the customer’s own container.  With the lack of refrigeration he may even have done this more than once a day.

“Was this more of an urban than rural occupation?” I wondered, as I posted my query about the occupation on a family history society facebook forum.  The family history fraternity is amazingly supportive and helpful and a number of fellow members posted replies, concurring with me that quite possibly at this period those in the countryside had a more ready access to their own milk supply.  One contributor suggested that William was perhaps “an entrepreneur who found a new market in an expanding city”.  I think he is probably right:  the growth of towns in the early nineteenth century must have inevitably led to opportunities in different trades and if William had the means to set up this venture he may have developed quite a reasonable business.

Reasonable enough that his daughter Mary Ann was accepted as a pupil at the Charity School.  The book ‘Windsor and Eton Express 1812 – 1830’ says of the Royal Free School (aka Charity School) “Charity children were carefully chosen by the trustees from respectable working class families” and in 1813 the children had to contribute one penny a week.  A Bible, still held within the family, is inscribed “The gift of the Trustees of the Charity School New Windsor, Berks, to Mary Ann Hunt Aug 13th 1822”.  She would then have been 14, so perhaps that was when she left the school.  She was very fortunate to gain an education at that early stage.

But to return to the milkman occupation, in my hunting for information one other intriguing reference was in the image of JMW Turner’s painting ‘Dartmouth on the River Dart’.  Executed in 1822 (so only 7 years after I know William Hunt was working in Windsor) it shows “the figure of the milkman on his rounds at the right”, according to the Tate Britain information.  If you google the image you can, indeed, make out the figure of the milkman.

No sign of any horse and cart.  I will never know how William conveyed his milk, but without the help of Trigger I guess he was unlikely to have been the fastest milkman in the west – or even in Windsor.

p 24 of the Working Man’s Friend and Family Instructor 1852

Lives of the First World War deadline

It was reading that the deadline for submissions to the Lives of the First World War project is fast approaching that spurred me on to at least make one New Year’s Resolution.

Launched in 2014, Lives of the First World War is a centenary project of the Imperial War Museum.  Its aim is to capture facts and life stories of the 8 million plus men and women who were involved in that war with a view to preserving them as a permanent digital memorial which will be free to access.  So far over 130,000 members of the public have contributed information with over 7 million ‘life stories’ added.  But the deadline for submissions is 18 March this year, so time is running out.

My resolution is therefore to upload the war records of all those I have researched before the deadline.

Quite early on in the project I uploaded details of my Grandad Jack Wakefield and his brother William, but despite researching the war records of a number of other relatives I had not so far got round to contributing to their records on this site.  So I made a list of those who were outstanding and decided that last Saturday I really would sit down and make a start.

I remembered finding the uploading a bit tricky before, so I read the instructions before attempting to do anything else (always a good plan!).  Basically, having searched for and found the person you wish to commemorate, you then need to upload or create a link to ‘evidence’ about them before you can add facts.  Though it feels a bit long-winded, I do appreciate that they need water-tight proof of the facts that are being claimed.  You do need to create a free account before you can upload anything.

Finding the right person is a challenge in itself, but is greatly helped if you have the soldier’s regimental number to hand.  I started with William Sayers, who I wrote about here in December.  I discovered that I needed to put # in front of the service number.  Once you have found the right person, it helps to click on the large ‘Remembering’ button near the top straight away.  That way, the individual will be added to your ‘dashboard’ making it easy to go back and add more later.

Clicking on the ‘Evidence’ tab enables you to get started with adding information.  I found myself mostly using the ‘Add External Reference’ button.  With Ancestry open on another tab I was able to go to a previously found service record, medal index card or census return, copy the web link and paste that in together with other information about the evidence.  You can also upload an image in this section (photo or scanned images of letters, for example).

Once you have uploaded the evidence you can then click on it to ‘Add facts from this evidence’.  You now have to think carefully about what that particular piece of evidence really tells you.  For example, a census image does not give a date of birth, but does indicate an age on a given date.  Having added all the facts you can, you then might want to visit the ‘Add to Life Story’ tab and choose to ‘Share a story’.  This is where you can write what you want of family anecdotes or research findings.  You can write up to 5000 characters, but there is the option of adding another ‘story’ if that is not enough.

It did take me most of the morning to upload everything, but I feel that, for the chance to record these family details for posterity, it is worth it.  Later that day I uploaded information for Frank Bookham, the husband of Grandad’s older sister Annie Wakefield.  There are two more I particularly want to do:  Edmund Greenhill and Bert Mitchell, both of whom I have blogged about previously, so I definitely need to schedule some time very soon to do them.

The weblink, if you would like to make your own submissions, is  But don’t forget the deadline of 18 March.

Jack Wakefield
War Memorial Church Leigh
War Memorial Leigh
Alfred George
Frank Bookham
Frank Bookham
Bert Mitchell
Bert Mitchell
William Neighbour Wakefield

It’s twins!

As I suspected, 2nd January was not the most popular day of the year for visitors to Berkshire Record Office, but that was a plus point as far as we were concerned for our first visit to that establishment.  Despite having had very little sleep due to continually coughing at night, we set off for Reading bright and early and had a straightforward journey.  No doubt the car park gets a lot busier on more popular days, but it was definitely a plus to be able to park on site.  Once inside the modern premises we found the usual lockers and friendly receptionist.

I had realised some time ago that a trip to Reading would be needed in order to make any progress with the Hunt family of Windsor since those parish records did not seem to have made an appearance online anywhere.  And which Windsor was also a question to be answered, since there is both Old and New Windsor.

My Great Great Grandmother Mary Ann Hunt had married James Mayne in Old Windsor on 25 Aug 1839 and her father was William.  This much I had already established.  I also had strong reason to believe that she had a brother called William – her eldest son Thomas Mayne (the French Polisher, of whom I have already written) was staying/living with an Esther Hunt and family in Hackney in 1861 and described as a nephew.

After extensive research on the Hackney Hunt family, I have now been able to establish that William and Elizabeth Hunt baptized their son William Edmund in Islington on 16 Jan 1842.  Elizabeth had died by the time of the 1851 census, leaving the Williams father and son living alone with William senior working as a ‘messenger at money order office’ and helpfully giving Windsor as his place of birth.  He then subsequently married Esther (a possible marriage in March Q 1852), moved to Holly Street Hackney, and they had daughters Mary, Martha Edith and Esther Louiza before William died in Sept 1868.  The Probate Index describes him as a ‘Superannuated Messenger in Her Majesty’s Post Office’.  For a long time I searched for William in 1861, since he was not at home in Hackney on census night, before eventually tracking him down with a brother John Hunt (shopkeeper and beerseller, born Windsor) in Wraysbury.

Now Mary Ann Hunt and James Mayne had 4 sons and two daughters Elizabeth and Charlotte.  Elizabeth is my great grandmother.  I knew that Charlotte had also married a Hunt, and it turns out this was her cousin William Edmund.  The marriage entry in 1875 gives her father as ‘William Hunt, deceased, Civil Servant’. Together with their growing family, they lived with Esther Hunt in Holly Street after she was widowed.

So….that’s the background.  Back to Berkshire Record Office where they had returned to work after their Christmas break to find the heating not working, so portable heaters were wheeled into the research area!

We set to work with the transcriptions.  It looked as though both Mary Ann and brother William could have been born around 1808 judging by the census information.  No luck with Saints Peter and Andrew Old Windsor.  But New Windsor came up trumps:  22 May 1808 Mary Ann Hunt daughter of William and Mary.  And an identical date entry for William.  Now this is not conclusive, but a similar entry of siblings gave the actual dates of birth, so, coupled with the ages deduced from censuses, this does rather point to Mary Ann and William being twins.

The microfiche of the actual baptism entry added no new information, but two more siblings were found – John Hunt in May 1813 (date ties in nicely with the John in Wraysbury) and Ann in Aug 1815.

At this point don’t you just pray that you have a family who stuck around in one place to be able to trace them further back?  But no, not in this case it seems.  We drew a blank on a marriage for parents William and Mary either in Windsor or in surrounding parishes and were unable to find either a marriage or a burial for Ann.  Burials for William and Mary were not very conclusive either, so all of that needs more work another time.  The fact that Windsor is so close to both the Buckinghamshire and Surrey borders does make it more problematic!

Now what I didn’t say earlier was that Mary Ann and James’ daughters Elizabeth and Charlotte were also twins.  Well I never!  So Mary Ann had twin daughters and she herself was probably a twin.  But there’s more!  Elizabeth, my great grandmother, had not one but two sets of twins!!  She married David George in 1873 and, following the birth of their daughter Mary in 1875, she had my granddad Alfred and his twin sister Alice in 1878 and then Robert and twin sister Kate in 1882.  However did she manage?!

Elizabeth (left) and Charlotte (right) Mayne, twins born 1845









So do twins run in families?  Well this rather points to it.  Some googling of this question has led me to the information that having fraternal twins in a mother’s family (ie non identical twins) may double the chances of conceiving fraternal twins.  Fraternal twins are from two separate eggs whereas identical twins are from one egg.  A particular gene predisposes some women to “hyperovulation,” or releasing more than one egg during a menstrual cycle .

The run of twins in my family stopped at that point, but I’m rather proud of the new-found information that my grandfather, his mother and his grandmother were all twins!

Happy New Year!

Alfred, Alice and Robert George, taken in 1962







PS  In looking for the above photo of my granddad I read again the accompanying article from the Croydon Advertiser.  It just goes to show that you need to make careful note of the information you already have – the final sentence of the article reads “Their mother was a twin and so was her mother”.