What happened to Sarah Bryant?

What indeed!

I went to the Record Office with a list of things to look at, and the last item was to find out what happened to Sarah Bryant.  Or more specifically, “what happened to Sarah Bryant (née Backshell) and her daughter Georgiana after 1881?”

It wasn’t until after lunch that I made it that far down the list.  I was at The Keep in Brighton and had spent a fruitful morning taking advantage of access to FindMyPast.  But now for Sarah Bryant, my great great grandmother, who was in Newhaven at the time of the 1881 census with her 26 year old daughter Georgiana.  Her husband George had died five years earlier, aged only 50, and it seems that Sarah had moved from London back to Sussex, the county of her birth, to be nearer relatives.  I looked for her in 1891 to no avail.  Then I looked for Georgiana and found her in the household of William and Harriet Wise and family in Brighton where she was described as a niece.  Despite being now aged 36 she had no occupation.  In 1901 she was still with them in Pelham Street and again in 1911, this time in Kensington Place, now apparently 54 but single and with no occupation.  So next I needed to look for a death for Sarah and I quickly found a likely civil registration entry of March Quarter 1891, Lewes Registration District, aged 61.

Turning to the Sussex Family History Group database I thought I would look for Sarah’s burial.  I could find nothing.  I turned for help to the volunteers in the SFHG room.  With no likely matches on their database we tried Ancestry, and up popped an intriguing entry just below the civil registration details:  UK Lunacy Admissions.  Clicking through, it revealed a national list of Asylum Admissions records, with the information that Sarah A Bryant, female pauper, was admitted 14 June 1881 and died 11 March 1891.  Ok, that was progress – but admitted to where?  It didn’t say.  This time a member of The Keep staff came to my assistance, suggesting St Francis Hospital, Haywards Heath.  We looked at the online catalogue and found the relevant entry and ordered up the document.  He was quite excited about this too, producing a book on the history of the Sussex Lunatic Asylum called ‘Sweet Bells Jangled Out of Tune’ by James Gardner and telling me that the building is now luxury flats – the one his friend has just bought is where the toilets used to be!

Fifteen minutes later I was looking at the documents relating to Sarah’s time in the Asylum.  The first document was the Notice of Death, stating the apparent cause of death to be disease of the heart.  The next document was entitled Notice of Escape.  It seems that at 7.15pm on 20th July 1881 Sarah managed to escape; however her freedom was very shortlived as she was recaptured and brought back at 7.40pm the same evening.

The third document was the Notice of Admission.  She was certified to be “suffering from Mania” on her admission on 14th June 1881.  She was described as aged 51, a widow, abode Newhaven, religion Church of England.  Was this her first attack? Yes.  Duration?  About a fortnight.  Her next of kin was given as her son, Arthur Curtis Bryant of Chapel Place, Belgrave Square, London.

And then the Admission document got even more interesting.  Whether suicidal – “has threatened”, Dangerous to others – “yes”.  Oh dear, what indeed had happened to Sarah?

She was examined by a doctor at her home in Newhaven the previous day.  His comments make uncomfortable reading:  “she says that she has been poisoned and that she is on fire.  Is very excitable, talks in a rambling manner.  Seems lost and appears to have a dread of something”.  “Georgina Bryant her daughter says that she has threatened to cut off her head and to cut her own throat”.  Harriet Wise was also in attendance when the doctor examined Sarah and I wonder whether she will turn out to be a sister of Sarah.  Likewise a Frances Jeffrey was also present, described as a sister in law.  I need to work out the relationships there.

Poor Sarah and poor Georgiana.  It must have been a traumatic time for all of them.  I wonder whether Georgiana or any of the other relations visited Sarah during the almost 10 years that she was in the asylum?  I wonder how Sarah was treated and cared for?

And one more thing – I noticed on the Admissions document the entry ‘Supposed cause – hereditary’.  This leads me to wonder how they came to that conclusion.  Did a similar thing happen to either of her parents?  I’m now itching to discover what happened to James and Philadelphia Backshell, her father and mother…

Haywards Heath Asylum
St Francis Hospital (Asylum) Haywards Heath, Sussex

 

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Call the midwife

It’s lovely that the Call The Midwife series is back again!   We’re avid viewers.  At the start of this series they had reached the harsh winter of 1962/63.  I reckon the cold that winter explains why I was always cold as a child – I think I never properly thawed out!

I have mentioned before how I like to listen to podcasts, and recently I listed to one from The National Archives podcast series.  It was a talk given back in 2016 but is still available on their website at http://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/heidi-thomas-researching-call-midwife/ .    The talk was by Heidi Thomas, who is the producer of Call The Midwife.  In it she gives really interesting  background on how the popular series came about.  The original memoirs of Jennifer Worth gave enough material for the first one and a half series and subsequently they have continued in the same vein, but it is all  most carefully researched.  A practising midwife gives advice on the various delivery complications and medical conditions and is always close at hand when a newborn is on set.  They have prosthetic babies, bumps and umbilical cords in a variety of skin tones too!

There is also great attention to detail on the music played (it must match the year if apparently being played on the radio) and on the food that appears on the tables.  A large amount of viewer correspondence is generated by the china used at Nonnatus House – Royal Doulton Cascade.  Heidi Thomas relates how the Irish Traveller community helped with the episode which focussed on issues within their own community at that time so that it was a true representation and I wonder whether they had similar help from Jewish advisers in the episode the other week.

In Granny’s 1937 diary there are many references to neighbours and friends, but one person was referred to as ‘Rushie’.  It turns out that this was an affectionate name for Mrs Rush, the Community Midwife.  She delivered my Mum and no doubt her older sister too.  She had obviously become a dear friend by this stage:  “the children and I went to see Rushie”, “took Granny round to see Rushie”, “sent postcard to Rushie”.  But then on 8th September we read “dear Rushie passed Home”.  Looking on Freebmd I discovered that Mary Rush, aged 75, died in the September quarter of 1937 in Croydon, which would mean she was born around 1862.  Although there is a Midwives Roll 1904 – 1959 on Ancestry, I can’t find a likely entry for her and have not been able to identify her for certain in a census.  Unfortunately that may be all I can find out about Rushie for now, but, like the midwives in the series, she was obviously a cherished member of the local community.

 

A 1930s midwife

https://www.rcm.org.uk/oral-history-archive-images

 

 

 

Marmalade sandwich, anyone?

Along with countless others up and down the country, no doubt, we thoroughly enjoyed the Paddington 2 film.  As a child I loved the Michael Bond books and Paddington’s fondness for marmalade sandwiches,  though there was never marmalade-making on the scale seen in the prison kitchen in this latest film!

I have to admit that I have never made ‘proper’ marmalade – that is, chopping up Seville oranges and making it from scratch.  But I do enjoy the convenience of using the large tins of prepared fruit to make a batch every now and then.  It’s nice, but not quite as nice as my Mum’s home-made marmalade (“there’s nothing quite like Granny’s marmalade”, as my daughter put it the other day).

So January has come around and with it the Seville oranges on the market stalls.    Mum duly went off to buy some, but needed us to buy the jam sugar, which her local Co-op doesn’t stock.  I spoke to her on the phone earlier and I gather that she has already chopped the fruit and tomorrow’s project will be making the marmalade.  She doesn’t consume a huge amount herself, but it’s great that she still has the energy to continue making it, as her mother did before her.

In Granny’s 1937 diary the marmalade-making in Croydon seems to go on for days and days!  It started on Monday 18th:  “cut up oranges in the evening”.  The following day:  “made marmalade and cut up more oranges evening”.  Wednesday 20th:  “Dull and cold.  Made marmalade”.  Thursday 21st:  “cutting up oranges after tea”.  Friday 22nd:  “making marmalade and cakes morning…cut up more oranges after tea”.  Saturday 23rd:  “made marmalade”.  And then a two-day respite before Tuesday 26th:  “Did ironing, sitting room and shopping.  Cut up more oranges in evening”, and finally Wednesday 27th:  “very cold east wind.  Made marmalade”.  Phew!  I wonder how many jars she made and how long that lasted her family?  The 1938 diary, which I have just started transcribing, describes the marmalade-making in a similar vein and at much the same time.  Seville oranges are only available to buy in this country for a very short time, but apparently you can freeze them whole quite successfully, which would enable you to make marmalade at any time.

I suppose having risen to the challenge and successfully made my own Christmas cake for the first time there may well come a time when I might try my hand at ‘proper’ marmalade-making.  I think I should at some point…I might just need a week off work to do so!

Marmalade sandwich, anyone?

Orange tree in Cordoba, Spain

Seeing the old year out

I was intrigued by the entry in Granny’s diary for 31 December 1937:  “Alf and I saw the old year out.”  Intrigued, because these days we tend to talk about ‘seeing the New Year in’ rather than the ‘old year out’.

The turning of the year, however, has been celebrated since early times, with gifts being exchanged at New Year rather than at Christmas up until the nineteenth century.  In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the whole twelve days of Christmas (finishing on 6th January – Epiphany) were important, whereas today 6th January is fairly insignificant in this country, although in other countries the 6th January is the main day for the exchange of presents, mirroring the bringing of gifts by the Wise Men.  Although superstition has it that you must take your decorations down on or before 6th January, it seems that many people have done so a long time before that and seem to think you odd if you wish them a ‘happy Christmas’ after the 25th December!

Mum was recalling going to a New Year’s Eve function with my Dad at The Parrot pub in Guildford, possibly just before they were married.  Dad had a little Bubble Car in those days and she remembers it was very frosty when they came out.  Often we have either been to friends or had friends and family to us on New Year’s Eve.  At Christmas we were remembering the Millenium, just before my niece was born.  The long evening had all got a bit much for our 5 year old:  we woke her up at midnight so that she could see in the new millenium, but I’m not sure that she thought much of that idea at the time!

Unusually, this year we decided not to either see the old year out or the new year in, but we did enjoy the company of good friends who came to us for lunch on New Year’s Day, after we had watched the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna on the TV.  On the 1st January 1938 my grandparents also enjoyed the company of friends:  “Mary and Jack came to tea 5.30 and spent a jolly evening.  Rings and cribbage.  Left 11.45.”

I was curious to know how my grandparents spent New Year in other years, so decided to open a few more diaries.  At the end of 1938 I read  “Mary and Jack came to tea and saw the old year out with us”.  By that time the following year Britain was at war.  My Granny, Mum and Aunt stayed on in Cowfold following their summer holiday there, but returned to Croydon to spend Christmas.   “Saw the old year out together”.  By the end of 1941 the family had moved to Guildford, after the bombing became too much in Croydon.   “Alf and I sat up and saw old year out”.

I then picked up the 1975 diary.  Now aged 87, my Granny had been a widow for almost 3 years and earlier that year had had an operation to remove a cataract from one eye, which was not the routine procedure that it is nowadays.  I have to say that the entry for 31 December in this year brought a tear to my eye: “I left [Betty’s house] after a very happy Christmas holiday, with a thankful heart for all this past year had brought me…  Sat in my dressing gown and listened to a watch-night service, from Kingsbury London, and so saw the old year out and the new year in.  Thanks be to God”.

Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!

 

 

Christmas Past, Christmas Present

A few weeks ago we travelled up to London to visit a museum I had never come across before: the Geffrye Museum.  Reading about it in Family Tree magazine inspired me to visit, especially since it is closing in the new year for a substantial refurbishment.

The Geffrye is housed in Eighteenth century almshouses in Hoxton and is wonderful for a social historian, depicting as it does the changing styles of home interiors through a series of period room from the 16th to the 21st centuries.

The Geffrye Museum

Currently they have a ‘Christmas Past, Christmas Present’ exhibition running through the rooms. We were fascinated by the decorations used and the type of foods consumed.

Twelfth night scarcely features on a modern calendar, except for the few who go wassailing and perform mummer’s plays. But in former times it had a greater prominence and I was interested to read of ‘Twelfth cake’ – a fruit cake made with yeast.  Originally this contained a dried bean or pea and the person finding it was then elected King or Queen of the night.  I quite fancy making a Twelfth Cake, but I think I might omit the dried bean!

Moving on to rooms from the nineteenth century, items of furniture became reminiscent of those in grandparents’ houses and the increasing popularity of the Christmas tree also became evident. Mum still has a tree decoration which her mother remembered being on their tree during her childhood in the 1890s.  Mum was talking about Christmas trees the other day:  during the second world war they did not have a tree and in the subsequent few years, when the family were sharing a house, there was no space for one.  It was not until they were able to move to their own home when Mum was in her late teens that they were finally able to have a Christmas tree.

1870 period room

Despite the increased popularity of sending Christmas greetings by email, Messenger or WhatsApp, I don’t think we have received fewer cards in the post this year. The custom of sending cards dates from the 1860s and it’s certainly a tradition I’m keen to maintain.  Reading my Granny’s 1937 diary I am surprised how last minute the Christmas preparations were:  cards were being sent out only a couple of days before Christmas.  “Wednesday 22nd December – busy day writing and doing up packets, then to Waddon Post Office after school”.  I guess with several collections and deliveries a day there was no worry about cards not getting to people in time.

But we have many things in common with the celebration of Christmas in my Mum’s family 80 years ago: going to Church, having turkey, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake.  They listened to George VI’s Christmas message on their brand new wireless; we will watch the Queen on TV.

This year the Father Christmas figure, now 87 years old, has once again taken up his central position on Mum’s Christmas cake; the little paper lanterns I made with my daughter when she was a child have been blu-tacked in their habitual place and the small plastic tree I bought in Woolworths in 1987 has once more been found a position.

The Geffrye displays brought back memories for us of paper chains, wrapping paper and board games and was a great way of learning about Christmas Past. The museum closes on 7th January, but I definitely recommend a visit. https://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/ .

Happy Christmas!

1955-65 period room

Two problems solved

John George 1815 – 1901

Recently I read in Family Tree Magazine that the GRO are currently running a pilot scheme whereby you can order a pdf copy of birth and death records for certain periods. When an actual ‘certificate’ is not needed – just the information contained on it – then the vastly reduced price of £6 is quite an inducement to buy when normally a certificate costs £9.25.  Currently the records available in this format are births 1837 – 1916 and deaths 1837 – 1957.

I was aware of a couple of events on my George tree where the GRO information would be very useful: the actual death date of my Great Great Grandfather John George in 1901 and the birth of a William George who is recorded in censuses living with John’s parents David and Elizabeth and apparently a grandson.  I have not been able to place him properly, so information on his parentage would be very useful.

Finding the GRO references for both was very easy using the search facility on the ordering site https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/ and cross-checking with the Freebmd site for good measure.  Having set up an account I placed my order and exactly seven days later I got an email to say that the pdfs were ready to download!  I was impressed with the speed of the process but even more excited about the results.  It’s some years since I ordered a certificate by post, but the excitement (“what am I about to find out?”) was still the same.  I was not disappointed.

It turns out that William was born on the 25th of October 1838 to Mary George, the older sister of my G G Grandfather John.  Her illegitimate son was born in the workhouse at Gressenhall, Norfolk.  Now Mary was not a teenage mum – she was 30 when she had William.  Although I have not located her in 1841, subsequent censuses show her as a servant in various farming households in the area.  Her parents were obviously happy to take the boy in and bring him up – at some point I will see if I can find what happened to him in later life. Mary never married and lived to the grand age of 95, dying in Gressenhall and buried in the churchyard there.

As for John George, well he died on the 14th February 1901 of ‘senile decay’, apparently aged 89 years (although I think that should have been 85).  Where did he die?  In Gressenhall workhouse!  That was a surprise.  Poor John.  Perhaps when he developed what we might term dementia his wife Fanny was unable to cope with him at home, I thought.  Wondering what happened to Fanny, I did a bit of digging around and eventually realised that she died first – in 1894 – while visiting or even living with her daughter Martha in Fakenham.

Possibly, then, John was admitted to the Workhouse some years before he died and Fanny went to live with her daughter. Unfortunately the Admissions records for that period do not seem to have survived as far as I can tell so that is probably as far as I can get.  Except that a very helpful Volunteer Researcher at the Gressenhall Museum was able to tell me that the burial ground at the workhouse went out of use in 1900.  I will need to do a bit more hunting to find where he was actually buried.

This workhouse, unlike some others which have been turned into luxury appartments, survives and thrives as a museum and we visited it just the other year, little knowing then the personal connection I had with the place. https://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/gressenhall-farm-and-workhouse .

I think that was £12 well spent to have discovered the answers to those two outstanding questions. I wonder what other problems I can resolve while the pilot lasts?

Gressenhall Workhouse
The former workhouse at Gressenhall

Tanks at Cambrai

I am writing this blog on the 20th November, which happens to be the date of the centenary of the first British massed tank attack.  The Battle of Cambrai started on 20th November 1917 and the secret weapon which the British had been developing since 1915 came into its own in a major way.

A fascinating programme was shown on Channel 4 last night: ‘Guy Martin’s WW1 Tank’.  It follows the story of Guy’s ambitious plan to build a working replica of a Mark IV WW1 tank in time for the centenary of their use at Cambrai.

At the same time I have just read an article on the use of the tanks at Cambrai in November’s Family Tree Magazine by the war historian Keith Gregson www.family-tree.co.uk .  He writes regularly for the magazine and I had the pleasure of hearing him speak in person in September at the Family History Fair at Sandown Park.  Keith’s grandfather was involved in that first attack near Cambrai as the British attempted to break through the Hindenburg line.

Tanks had been used earlier in the war, but many had broken down or been lost in the mud of the Somme. The Great Uncle of a friend of mine, one Harry Leat,  took the very first tank into battle (a Mark I) at the Battle of Flers in September 1916.  He survived that battle but was killed the following spring.

However, the landscape chosen for their massed use in November of that year was very different. The ground was hard and undisturbed – much better going for the tanks.  In a visit to the Cambrai area, Guy Martin’s guide Philippe Gorczynski explained the terrain and the great swathe of No Man’s Land covered with three enormous belts of barbed wire between the British front link and that of the Germans.  The element of surprise was important:  in any official correspondence regarding the vehicles’ transportation, they were referred to as ‘water tanks’, and so that’s how they got the name ‘tanks’.  They were transported to the front line as quietly as possible.

On 20th November 1917 375 tanks, according to the TV programme, moved into action.  Philippe described it as a ‘tsunami’.  They moved swiftly over the ground, ploughing easily through the barbed wire defences, and advancing 5 miles .  This was a huge triumph for the tanks as the Hindenburg line was broken through.  Although 8,000 Germans were taken prisoner of war on that day, tragically the Allies were not prepared for success on that scale and the reinforcements were not in place to be able to consolidate the position.  The delay enabled the Germans to launch a counter attack ten days later, reclaiming much of the gained ground.

However, the Mark IV tank would then be used for the rest of war, seeing very successful action the following year at the Battle of Amiens.

With crucial assistance from JCB and using the latest technology, Guy Martin’s dream of building the 30 ton tank eventually became a reality. Though his initial plan to drive it through Lincoln on Remembrance Sunday was thwarted, the final plan of taking it to Cambrai itself for the anniversary was even better.  Those involved in the project obviously gained much knowledge of how the tank was built and worked and also an appreciation for the conditions that the soldiers endured inside the vehicle, not least with the heat and engine fumes.

This reconstructed tank is apparently now going to the Norfok Tank Museum. For lots more information on the use of the tanks at Cambrai see http://tank100.com/category/cambrai/

Reconstructed Mark IV tank at Cambrai