Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor…

Well it’s that time of year again when the A Level students are submitting their university applications.   Psychology, Sports Science, Marketing, Chinese with Economics, Film Production, Linguistics, Aeronautical Engineering – you name it, you can do it at university these days.  Shall I  be a journalist or an Events Manager?  Should I go into digital marketing or nanotechnology?  For the most part these are choices our ancestors just did not have.  And whatever you apply for, whether a degree course or one of the increasing number of higher or degree level apprenticeships, the application process can be increasingly complex.

Back in my day, you applied for university on a paper application form written in black ink. I suppose we must have written a personal statement, but I really can’t remember doing that.  The choice of courses and universities was not vast.  Going to open days in advance of applying was definitely not a thing – you were invited for an interview and if you were lucky you might get to see some accommodation while you were there.  Today, of course, all the universities are after the same, currently small, pool of students and open days are big business.  If you applied for an apprenticeship forty-odd years ago you would almost certainly not have had to do a psychometric test or attend an assessment centre and would definitely not have had to do an interview by phone or skype as part of the selection process.

If I look through my family trees at ancestral occupations I can see that ‘agricultural labourer’ is far and away the most common. In rural areas the choice was limited – your father was an ‘ag lab’ so that’s what you went into too.  Not much family wealth, not much education, not much choice.

Ag labs

There are some more diverse occupations that occur on my family trees: stonemasons in Oxfordshire, bricklayers in north London and dyers in Derbyshire.  Creating a report through RootsMagic on my George family also reveals a French Polisher, a brushmaker, a blacksmith, a Police Constable and a gardener’s labourer.  (No tinkers or tailors).  Of course that’s just the men.  What about the women?  That same report shows a laundress and a Headmistress.  In other family groups there are women basically supporting their husband’s business, whether that was running a pub or shoemaking, but basically following marriage it was assumed a woman had occupation enough with running a home and raising a family.  And of course for women in some occupations (like teaching in the early days) it was forbidden to continue once you were married.

Mum was looking through her 1947 diary recently. She applied for teacher training and made a note in her diary that she received a letter from Furzedown College near Streatham on a Friday, inviting her for interview the following Monday!  Not much time for preparation.  She noted the timings of her fairly lengthy journey there on the Monday and reckoned the interview can’t have lasted more than a quarter of an hour judging by the time of the return train!  Certainly times have changed – nowadays a Primary Education application involves passing skills tests in English and Maths and the interview day may well include a written task, a presentation, a group exercise as well as an individual interview.

Mum’s diary also notes that her father’s cousin Edith (who is the Headmistress referred to above and whose village of Leigh in Staffordshire we visited earlier this year) came to visit that year and gave Mum 10 shillings! I wonder if she passed on any teaching tips?!

Tinker, tailor……. The choice of occupations is greater for today’s school leavers, but so are the hoops they have to jump through to get there.




Getting to know you

Deciding that it was high time I turned my attention to the correct storage of my old books, papers and artefacts, I recently ordered myself a nice big archival storage box and some acid free tissue paper.

I have had in my possession for some time some old books of my Granny’s, such as her illustrated Bible, a copy of On The Imitation of Christ, and various notebooks where she recorded notes from sermons. I have carefully extracted these from the drawer where they have lived for many years, wrapped them in tissue paper, labelled them and placed them in the new box.

One book which I had completely forgotten I had is a small (4” x 3”) book entitled ‘The Keepsake Scripture Text Book’, which had belonged to my Granny’s brother, Uncle Bert Mitchell. Unfortunately I cannot now remember how I come to have this little book, but it is quite possible that it was given to me after the death of his daughter Mary.  Inside the front cover is inscribed “Albert Mitchell – a present from his loving sister Carrie”.  There is no date, but the writing is certainly that of a child.  The book cost 1 shilling.  On each double-page spread through the book there are Bible verses one one side and dates through the year on the other – three to a page.  Uncle Bert used this book primarily as a Birthday Book, but also recorded the dates of family deaths and weddings.  It seems to have been used by him throughout his lifetime:  the earliest date is a death in 1897 and the latest a birth in 1962.  Some of the later entries are, I am sure, written in a different hand, possibly that of my Aunty Mary.  Since Bert was born in 1892 I suspect that the 1897 death was entered in retrospect, but there are a number around 1903/4, so he may well have been given this book around the age of 10 or 11.

The Keepsake Scripture Text Book

In addition to the family events it is interesting to see what else is recorded. There are names of the local gentry and clergy (eg the birthday of Miss Joan Burrell, daughter of Sir Merrick Burrell of West Grinstead).  Other names may be neighbours or friends from the area (Miss Parvin, Mrs Blotting, Mr A Mason, Miss Bacon) and others may be schoolfriends (Willie Myram, Tommy Botting).  When I have nothing better to do, it would be really interesting to try to find some of these names on a census and establish who they might be.

However, other entries record ‘Jan 18 Knepp Castle burnt down 1904’, ‘March 10 King’s Wedding day’, ‘May 22 York Minster 1926’, ‘Aug 4 European War 1914’, ‘Sept 3 II World War 1939’. It is fascinating to see what is included.

Some entries are tantalising: ‘April 15 Uncle Amos died 1900’.  Amos?  Doesn’t ring a bell.  I go to my Mitchell tree on Ancestry, but no Amos. Ok, so which other family?  I try the Philpott tree – yes, there he is, Amos Sayers born 1842, an uncle of Bert’s mother’s, and therefore his great-uncle.  Bert’s maternal grandmother was Eliza Sayers.  This discovery leads me on an interesting path of discovery.  I knew that Amos was born in Ifield, Sussex, near Crawley.  I found him there in the 1851 and 1861 censuses (‘son’ and ‘watchmaker – servant’) before his marriage in 1868.  Subsequently he appears on the 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses, all in Ifield, where his occupation is given as ‘post messenger’, ‘post messenger and watchmaker’, and ‘postman’ respectively.  It looks as though he may have served an apprenticeship as a watchmaker and then continued to practise that trade whilst also earning a wage as a postman latterly.  I haven’t found his burial, but the Probate calendar confirms his date of death as 15 April 1900.

Entry for Uncle Amos

What I find quite interesting is that a number of Sayers names appear in the book, which indicates to me that these were uncles, aunts and cousins of Bert’s mother’s with whom she stayed in touch. I already knew that the extensive Mitchell family kept in close contact, despite emigrations to the USA and Canada, but now I know that the this was also true of the Sayers family.  I feel that through this lovely little book I am getting to know my Granny’s family and the relationships that were important to them.

I also realise that I have a lot of blanks to fill in on the Sayers tree, so that might be a nice little winter project….when I’m not looking up all those other friends and neighbours from the book….


Sir Hugh Shot

I’ve just been given some rather important documents (for me, at least).

I have very gratefully inherited an old suitcase containing the diaries that my Granny kept between 1937 and her death in 1984. I have known of their existence for very many years and have been anxious for their preservation, but a few weeks ago the time became right for them to pass to me.

Since starting at the very beginning is a very good place to start, I have begun transcribing the diary for 1937. Most entries primarily describe daily and weekly domestic life:  shopping, washing, mending, children being fetched from school, spring cleaning, going to Church, meeting friends, Sunday afternoon walks.  Every day without fail starts with a weather report.  Two things have struck me so far above all – the distances that the family regularly walked (including children of 7 and 9 years) and the frequency of letters and postcards being sent to and received from family and friends.  Communication and keeping in touch with loved ones was obviously very important and the means of doing this very different from the hastily written Text and WhatsApp messages that I tend to send and receive!  I am finding out a great deal about what was important to my grandparents and I feel that I am getting to know them afresh.

Very very occasionally there is a reference in the diary to something of wider or national importance. One such instance caught my attention recently, at the very end of the entry for Thursday 26 August. Granny and family were staying with her brother in Guildford, and they had a day trip down to Southsea by bus.  “Warm but very misty. Left Bellfields 9am for Southsea.  Lovely ride thro’ Godalming, Hindhead, Grayshott, Horndean etc arriving at 11.15am.  Had lunch on the Beach.  Children paddled, then walked along to South Pier.  B & B rode in miniature Train”. And then unexpectedly at the end “Sir Hugh shot”.

Sir Hugh? Shot?  What was this all about then?  Hurrah for Google.  I put in the date and ‘Sir Hugh Shot’ and was rewarded by a number of items revealing that this was Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, Ambassador to China, who was seriously injured by machine gun fire from a Japanese plane which targetted the car in which he was travelling to Shanghai.  And if you regularly read my blogs you will recognise the surname!  Sir Hughe was the second son of Reverend Reginald Bridges Knatchbull-Hugessen, Vicar of West Grinstead from 1889 to 1908. Hughe was just two years older than Granny, so doubtless she remembered seeing him at Church when they were young, even if he did then go off to be educated at Eton.

How did Granny learn of this occurrence? From a newspaper?  From a letter from family in Sussex?  I don’t know.  But it would appear that the Knatchbull-Hugessen family were held in some esteem for that entry to have appeared in the diary.

Diary entry 26 Aug 1937

The postscript to this is that I had related the finding to my Mum, who has been shedding light on some of the people and places which appear in the diary. When we visited her last weekend, she proudly produced a newspaper cutting found within an old book of poetry.  The cutting is an obituary of Sir Hughe, with the date 21 March 1971 handwritten at the top – the date of his death.

Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen
Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen obituary


Isaac’s Tea Trail

During my weekly trips to the gym I like to listen to Radio 4 podcasts on my mp3.  Probably my favourite programme to listen to is Ramblings, with Clare Balding.  I love how she meets and chats to so many ordinary people, with amazingly different reasons for walking and I enjoy hearing about different parts of the country.  Last week I was particularly captivated as I listened to an episode broadcast back in March, entitled ‘Isaac’s Tea Trail’.

This is a long distance circular path of 36 miles in Northumberland, and it starts and finishes in Allendale.  During the walk Clare found out more about who the Isaac was who inspired the creation of the walk.

Isaac Holden was born around 1805 in Allendale.  In addition to his grocery business he used to sell tea door to door, visiting the households spread out across the moors.  On his travels, moreover, he also invited donations for worthy community causes, and sold his poems, becoming quite a local philanthropist.  He raised money for a fresh water well to help combat cholera; he set up a clothes store to help the local poor; he founded a savings bank and he also raised money for a horse drawn hearse so that the poor could be taken to their funerals in dignity.  His charitable work was inspired by his strong Methodist roots, and the programme describes how the oldest Methodist chapel in continuous use – Keeley – is near to Allendale.

I was inspired by the programme to see what else I could find out about Isaac.  The first record to come up on The Genealogist was the 1851 census, where Isaac is in Allendale aged 47 with wife Ann and daughter Maria – his occupation given as ‘Grocer and tea dealer’.  A little more delving revealed a marriage to Ann Teailford in December 1834, and then an 1841 census entry for the family with a second daughter, Mary.  By the time of the 1861 census wife Ann was a widow, still living in Allendale with daughter Maria.

I was also able to discover that Isaac had a younger brother Jonathan, who was a witness at his wedding, and who was a lead ore miner.  His brother unfortunately died in 1852.

Switching to Ancestry, I found a death date for Isaac through the link to the Find a Grave site https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=157024233&PIpi=134321589 .  He died on 12 November 1857, aged only 51.  There is a photo of the headstone in St Cuthbert’s graveyard, which also records the deaths of his wife Ann in 1872, his daughter Mary Ann in 1846 (aged just 7) and his daughter Maria Forster in 1871 and her two infant sons, named after their grandfather.

If I had a subscription to the British Newspaper Archive I could find yet more about Isaac.  There is a tantalizing snippet in the Newcastle Courant for 22 April 1853, where Isaac had put an advertisement:  “I intend publisling my begging speech and this little poem, and giving the profits to some good cause. If any is wishful to have a copy, at twopence each, I shall feel happy to supply them”.

On the Methodist Heritage site I found a very informative leaflet about the Tea Trail http://www.methodistheritage.org.uk/isaacs-tea-trail-270814.pdf . This indicates that there is a memorial to Isaac in Allendale and that the well and savings bank are still in existence.

Finally The North Penines Virtual Museum at http://www.npvm.org.uk/objects/58/index.htm  was particularly useful with further detail on Isaac.  Apparently over 600 people contributed to his memorial after his death.   This site reveals that a Mr Pruddah took his photo in 1853, which Isaac then sold for 6d a copy to raise funds for the hearse project – quite a new way at this time of marketing his cause.  This was obviously a man with a strong community spirit and sense of purpose who was determined to make a difference in his local area.

This episode of Ramblings also mentioned that Isaac had written a tract on the principles of fundraising, but of that I could find no trace during my evening of searching the internet.  Pity – it might have come in useful!

Isaac Holden
Isaac Holden


Back to Norfolk

Is there some unwritten law that says that you are bound to make your most interesting discovery at any archival repository in the last few minutes before closing time?  Is that your experience too?

We do like Norfolk, and this year’s summer holiday there was a chilled mixture of family history and touristy things.  Staying just outside Norwich made accessing the city centre easy, but was also a great base from which to travel to the North Norfolk coast.  And on the one day when it was properly hot I did indeed swim in the sea.

Early in the holiday we spent a day at Kirby Hall, the research base of the Norfolk Family History Society.  This time I systematically looked at monumental inscriptions (MIs) and graveyard plans for some of the villages surrounding East Dereham:  Yaxham, Scarning, East Bilney, Gressenhall, Wendling, Swaffham, Ovington, Watton, Carbrooke and Shipdham.

For most of these there was no one with the surname George at all, but I was pleased to find an MI for Eliza George, the wife of Francis, at Gressenhall, who died in 1898, though it was strange that there was no mention of Francis himself, nor of his older sister Mary.  There were a few Georges at Wendling, who turn out to have hailed from Great Massingham, so they’re not mine.  I was surprised to find none at Ovington, but the name did crop up in Watton and Carbrooke.

Looking at a number of Parish Register transcripts enabled me to see that there were loads of George baptisms, marriages and burials at Watton.  I was particularly interested to find the marriage of David George and Ann Tennant (of West Bradenham) on 9 March 1717.  This is a David George I’ve not come across before and as the Christian name David does not seem that common, it’s an entry I will endeavour to follow up.

The Carbrooke parish register transcript is not indexed, but it contains masses of entries for George.  I ran out of time, so I just hope they are on NORS!

You never know who you will meet at these places, and a fellow researcher at Kirby Hall, on enquiring of my line of research,  told me that a Douggie George used to keep the Duke of Wellington pub in Dereham.  I’ll file that bit of information away for future reference!

Following our visit to Kirby Hall we were able to do a village tour to take photos and look for graves.  We were lucky at Carbrooke that cleaning was taking place, so we were able to see inside the lovely church.  Others were all shut up with no clue as to when they might be open or how to obtain a key (Ovington, Watton and  Wendling).  At Gressenhall there was a notice to say the key could be obtained from the shop in the village. Scarning Church is open on Fridays, so we timed that just right.  Eliza George’s grave at Gressenhall was interesting as the headstone quite clearly showed the name of Francis’ sister Mary as well, who died in 1897, so I’m not sure how that had been missed in the transcription.

Grave of Eliza George at Gressenhall Church

The staff at Norfolk Record Office were pleasant and helpful, as they had been two years previously.  I have been well and truly stuck at the top of my George tree for some years now, since I have failed to find a baptism for David George, who was probably born around 1786 in East Dereham.  That being the case, I wanted to broaden the type of documents I looked at, in an attempt to find other mention of the surname.  The Vestry Minutes 1778 – 1806 and 1837 – 1863 were not particularly name-rich.  The Alphabetical Account of Proprietors and tenements 1765 for East Dereham did not yield any Georges, and neither did the East Dereham Apprenticehsip papers 1705 – 1851; unfortunately the records of Scarning School were predominantly of a much later date.  The East Dereham Rate Books were more fruitful than the title had suggested:  In July 1856 James, David, Widow, Ann and Frederick George were all mentioned, with the owner of the property, its location and the rate payment collected.  This appears to be an Assessment for the Relief of the Poor.  In 1822 David, John senior and John George were all mentioned and two John Georges in 1819.  None of this was massively helpful, but at this stage of the research anything is worth a try!  My George research is fast becoming a bit of a mid Norfolk One Name Study.

So why is it, I wonder, that there appears to be some law that you make your most interesting discovery in the last few minutes before closing time?  In this instance I stumbled upon the Archdeacon’s copies of the East Dereham parish records.  Are these the same as Bishop’s Trancripts?  I’m not sure, to be honest.  But what was interesting was that there seems to be a gap in the recorded baptisms between 1777 and 1789.  Is this the same in the original set? If so, it could well explain the missing baptism of David George.  But, alas, I was out of time to check this out.

Which can only mean one thing.  We’ll just have to go back to Norfolk.  It’s a tough life.

Inside Scarning Church



A visit to Brookwood

Another visit to Brookwood had  been on the cards for a while.  Back in the early Spring I had made enquiries of the staff at the Brookwood Cemetery office regarding the location of my great grandparents’ grave, that of William and Annie Wakefield.  Annie had died first, in 1929 and then William in 1941 and I have burial numbers for both.  However, it seems that any record of the location is harder to track down than one might imagine for relatively recent burials and all that they were able to tell me was that the grave was likely to be in Woking Ground 1.

And then, going through some papers at the family home I came across a cemetery map, with an ‘x marks the spot’!  Brilliant.

Armed with the new information we headed over to Brookwood and to the Woking Ground marked on the map.  As we drew to a halt, we could see the name ‘Wakefield’ on a headstone!  And there it was:  “In loving memory of Francis Wakefield, died 4 February 1927 aged 88”.  Francis???  Not exactly what I was expecting.  But no, there were no additional names on the headstone and no other Wakefield graves nearby either.  What a disappointment.  How we came to have a map with that grave location marked on it is a mystery – maybe on a previous occasion of someone enquiring about the grave that was the only Wakefield one they could find.  I don’t know, but Francis is definitely not on my family tree.

Francis Wakefield

Ah well.  The second objective of the day was to head to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Centenary Exhibition.  Never having been to the Military Cemetery before, it took us some time to find the entrance, which is actually off the A324.  However, once we entered the cemetery and parked by the Canadian building we could see that the scale of the cemetery was vast.  As with all the other CWGC sites we have visited abroad, this is immaculately kept, with beautiful landscaping and planting.

The Centenary Exhibition, though not huge, is well put together and informative.  It gives interesting background on how the CWGC was set up and the people involved, including of course Edwin Lutyens, who designed the Thiepval Memorial in France and Rudyard Kipling, who advised on inscriptions.

Visitors are invited to take a postcard on which is the name of a soldier buried at Brookwood, and to find the grave, photograph it and upload it to Twitter using the hashtag #CWGC100.  We did this for Signalman Harold William Rupert Parkyn of the Royal Corps of Signals, who died in March 1944, aged just 18.

Volunteers take guided tours of the cemetery twice a day.  Being a bit tight of time we opted to just wander around and take in the sheer scale of the cemetery, including as it does both WW1 and WW2 graves and with a large US section and French, Italian and Polish memorials, among others.

The Centenary Exhibition is on until 19 November and is open every day.  I would recommend a visit.   http://blog.cwgc.org/brookwood-exhibition

Brookwood Military Cemetery

Brookwood Military Cemetery

Brookwood Military Cemetery


Do you have a Jane Austen connection?

This was the title of an article in the July edition of Family Tree magazine www.family-tree.co.uk and I was pretty certain that the answer for me was a resounding “no!”.

I’ve been enjoying the Jane Austen 200 events:  We went to a very interesting exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre and made pilgrimage to the house in Winchester where she died in July 1817.  The exhibition included the five known portraits of the author as well as her silk pelisse coat and purse.  It made us realise how tiny she was!

Then a week ago we attended ‘An Afternoon of Music, Dance and Song for Jane Austen’,  given by The Madding Crowd at the Basingstoke Discovery Centre.  This was most enjoyable and included music from Jane Austen’s own music collection, so it was lovely to hear music she would have been familiar with.  (This concert is to be repeated in Southampton at the end of September http://janeausten200.co.uk/event/stinking-fish-southampton-madding-crowd-singing-and-music-workshop-1 ).

Madding Crowd
Madding Crowd

A walk around Steventon, Jane Austen’s birthplace, has also been devised and can be found at www.destinationbasingstoke.co.uk .  We enjoyed this six mile circular walk last Sunday.  Starting from Steventon Church itself, it passes the field where the Rectory once stood (the site of the well is about all that remains) and you could imagine Jane walking up the lane to church and seeing the yew tree which (currently estimated to be 600 years old) would have been old then.  Apparently her father kept the church key hidden in its hollow trunk!

Steventon Church
Steventon Church

The walk also takes in Deane, where Jane’s parents lived before Steventon, and Ashe where Jane’s friends the Lefroys lived.

But a family connection to Jane Austen?  I don’t think so!  Charlotte Soares, writing in Family Tree, found her connection was the hill near Godmersham Park in Kent, home of Jane Austen’s brother Edward, whom she frequently visited.  She mentions in her article some of the surnames connected with the Austen family and imagines the ordinary people Jane might have met and known, from the servants in her brother’s house, to the villagers of Steventon and Chawton.

However, it was the mention of the surname Knatchbull-Hugessen which brought me up sharp.  I’ve seen that surname before!  Charlotte says that Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen was the son of Jane Austen’s niece Fanny Knight.

Well I have in my possession a Bible presented to my grandmother Emily Mitchell in 1904 by V Knatchbull-Hugessen.  So what’s the connection?

www.thepeerage.com gave me the answer:  Edward, First Baron Brabourne and Liberal politician, was the eldest son of Sir Edward Knatchbull and his second wife Fanny Knight.  The second son was Reginald Bridges who became Rector of the Parish of West Grinstead, where my grandmother lived.  Revd R B Knatchbull-Hugessen’s second daughter was Violet, born in 1869.   It was almost certainly she, the 35 year old unmarried Rector’s daughter, who presented the Bible to my Granny.

So there is my (somewhat tenuous) connection!  I have a Bible given to my Granny by the granddaughter of Fanny Knight – Jane Austen’s niece.  Voila!

Bookbench at Steventon
Granny’s Bible