“First class West End harness at prices one half their original charge”


“First class West End harness at prices one half their original charge” – Sporting Chronicle – Saturday 22 October 1864

Originally it was spotting a mention of the elusive David George of East Dereham which drew my attention to the British Newspaper Archive .  I could see that it was a death announcement, so I decided to sign up for a month’s subscription to see what more this notice might reveal. Well the Norfolk News of Sat 3 May 1851 did tell me that he died “very suddenly”, that he was “much beloved and respected by all who knew him” and that he was “leaving a large family to lament their loss”.  It would have been really nice if it had said “son of the late xxxxx of xxxxxxxx” – but it didn’t, so David George’s origins remain a mystery.  Ah well – worth a try.

George; East Dereham

Norfolk News – Saturday 03 May 1851


But having got a month’s subscription, what else can I find?

Loads of really interesting and often random things!

Three months before his father’s death, on Saturday 1st February, Francis George was mugged in Swaffham!  (What was he doing there?  Did he often go there?).  Charles Wales stole two calico bags, a piece of dumpling, an ounce of bread, an ounce of meat, and a frock coat from Francis.  The perpetrator got a month’s imprisonment.

Meanwhile, twelve years earlier in Oxfordshire, Caleb Buckingham, my stonemason ancestor, was convicted of “unlawfully assaulting and kicking” his apprentice!  He got a hefty fine of 17 shillings – I should think so, too.  What was he thinking of?

Still in Oxfordshire, my Neighbour ancestors in Lewknor were not playing ‘happy families’ in 1847:  the Overseers brought a case against twin brothers Richard and Robert Neighbour for refusing to support their father, who was residing in the workhouse.  However, it turns out that the brothers considered their father quite capable of doing a day’s work and claimed that he had “left a good place of work to go to the workhouse”.  The case was dismissed as the magistrates “possessed no power to compel children to support their parents when they were able to earn their own living”.  What was going on there, then?

Neighbour; Lewknor

Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette – Saturday 06 February 1847


In 1870 William Pitcher (of the Horse and Groom, Swaffham, see blog post number 10 ) was the victim of a theft from the pub kitchen – John Forster stole a steel from him, for which he was committed for seven days’ hard labour.

In the 1860s business was booming for George Bryant in Chapel Place Mews, Belgravia.  His frequent adverts in the Sporting Chronicle indicate that he sold new and second-hand saddlery and harness as well as rugs and horse clothing.  And (thank you very much, George) it tells me that the business was established in 1837 (that would have been by his father John, according to the 1841 census).  We located Chapel Place Mews the other year – it’s pretty near Buckingham Palace.  Great job on the marketing, George!


Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle – Saturday 08 February 1868



Well, I’m going to keep going during my month’s subscription to see what other gems I can find!


The West Surrey Family History Society Fair

West Surrey Family History Society
Photo from the WSFHS facebook page

I hadn’t been to a Family History Fair for some time.  Despite not particularly having Surrey ancestors, the Fair being organised by West Surrey Family History Society at the end of October promised to be the biggest in the South , so I thought I’d go along.

It was a grand day out and very worthwhile.  The ‘Ask an Expert’ tables were a good idea, and I queued to speak to someone regarding dating an old photograph.  He was able to give me some ideas to pursue.

Two of the three family history societies that I belong to were there (Sussex and Oxfordshire), so it was good to have a chat with them and peruse their publications.  I was pleased to be able to buy a copy of the CD of the first 40 years of Sussex Family Historian, the journal of the Sussex Family History Group.  Dipping into that should keep me out of mischief for a while!

On the Oxfordshire stall I found a booklet ‘Abandoned, Apprenticed and Boarded Out’, containing details of Neighbour ancestors from Lewknor.

I was most interested to chat with the very enthusiastic people on the ‘Surrey in the Great War’ stand and will definitely be following its progress and sending them the information on the two Woking brothers (see the last two posts).

I spoke to the people at the Guild of One Name Studies and at the British Association for Local History, before heading to the talk entitled ‘Breaking down brick walls’.

This talk turned out to be less about breaking down brick walls than about getting the most out of The Genealogist program, but it was useful nonetheless.  Mark Bayley definitely knows his stuff and was very clear in his delivery and I made a note of a number of things to follow up.

I would quite like to have known about the car parking charges beforehand and I do think that WSFHS missed a trick in not being more proactive about promoting membership of their society to the many visitors to the fair, but I came away with a number of purchases as well as new lines of enquiry. A grand day out – thank you WSFHS!

Two Woking brothers go to war – part 2


“Do your best to send me a parcel as soon as you can”

On the day that his brother died (see last week’s post), Jack was probably digging a support line somewhere south east of Hazebrouck in France, near the Belgian border, having experienced heavy enemy attack all day.

My Granddad, John Henry Wakefield, known as Jack, was born on 18 February 1899 in Brixton.  He would have been about 9 when the family moved out of London to Woking, and his first job was minding bikes at Woking station.

At the outbreak of the First World War Jack was keen to be in on the action like his older brother William.  He joined the Royal Sussex Regiment in October 1915 (aged 16!),  but was discovered to be underage and was discharged seven days later in Chichester, his  papers stating that he was “well conducted during his seven days service”.

John (Jack) Wakefield and his father William

Less than 18 months later he successfully re-enlisted to the 21st Training Reserve.  He also served in the 51st Battalion Royal West Surreys (Queens) before joining the Royal Fusiliers.

The Medal Rolls indicate Grandad’s rank as Private GS/75946 2nd London Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers, and this was part of the 86th Brigade, 29th Division.

In the spring of 1918 the unit war diaries indicate that the battalion moved from Hazebrouck across the Belgian border  to Brandhoek –  “Billets good”. Whilst in Brandhoek blankets and great coats were disinfected.  The weather was fine and warm and there was a football match and voluntary Church parade.

Towards the middle of March they marched via Ypres to a line east of Passchendale. This area was shelled with gas on the 18th and 19th, with the Battalion returning to California Camp on the 20th “after much enemy action”.

California Camp was itself shelled the following day, early in the morning, and one man was killed.  In spite of this, here the men were able to have baths.  On the 22nd all the companies were working on the Gravenstafel defence line, which is just south west of Passchendale, very near the Tyne Cot cemetery.

By the 29th the weather had turned cold and wet and the following day they moved to Brandhoek by train, where they were supplied with hot tea. Here the War Diary notes:  “weather fine…rifle inspections.  An enemy aeroplane flew over the camp and was shot down…Battalion deloused and bathed at Laiterie”.

On 4th April the Battalion relieved the 4/Kings Liverpool Regiment near Zonnebeke.  The instructions noted “rations will be carried on the man, including one Tommies cooker.  8 tins of water per company.  All water bottles to be filled before leaving camp.  Blankets rolled in bundles of ten and labelled with company label, packs and great coats.  Tea and rum will be issued before leaving camp.”  The instructions also included a note on Trench Feet:  “dirty socks can be exchanged at Divisional Baths Vlahertihghe.  Powder can be obtained from the foot baths at Irish Farm.”

After a few days on the front the Battalion was relieved and returned to Brandhoek.  Just as the situation was becoming critical for brother William on the front at Messines, just a few miles away, Jack’s regiment was moved south, across the French border, to the Merville area.  They saw the Battle of Estaires and the Battle of Hazebrouck. The casualties were heavy:  the 13th April saw 23 other ranks killed, 156 wounded and 145 missing.

Following a retreat, a composite Brigade was formed of the survivors.  Lewis gun classes were held on the 16th and the following day the Battalion moved forward to reserve positions at Le Peuplier (west of Caestre) and on the 19th April they moved to billets around Hondeghem, the Brigade being “under half an hour’s notice to move by day, and one hour’s notice by night”.

The next three days were spent trench-digging and wiring.  On the 24th April, 12 days after his brother William’s death, Jack was captured by the Germans.  The Battalion seems to have spent the day on trench construction and there is no mention in the diary of soldiers missing, nor in the subsequent few days, though on the 28th one man was missing after a reconnoitring patrol unexpectedly came upon an enemy outpost and had to retire, leaving one Lewis Gun behind.

Less than a month later he was able to write a letter home from his POW camp The letter is marked ‘Gustrow’, but by this stage of the war many POWs were actually held much closer to the frontline.  Gustrow may have been the ‘parent’ camp, but Jack may not have actually been held there.

18 year old Jack writes:  “don’t worry about me for I shall look after my-self while here”.  It must have been painful for his family to read “all I hope is that Will is safe”, since by then they knew that his brother had been killed in action.  He goes on to say “I should like something to eat, you know a good big cake and some tobacco” and tells his mum that she can find out what to put in a parcel at the post office.  However, the letter must have taken at least 2 months to reach home (the postmark is 10th July), before which he had written again.  He is still hopeful of a parcel (“do your best to send me a parcel as soon as you can”) and still hopeful of a good big cake.  This letter is also postmarked 10th July.  We have a postcard written at the end of September where he says he has not been able to write for the last two months because he has been in hospital, but is “much better now”.  “Please don’t forget the parcels”.  This card was postmarked 30th October.

A letter postmarked 14th November reads “it would be nice to get a line from dear old Woking.  I have not had a word since I was taken prisoner 6 months now.”  Whether letters and parcels were indeed sent from home or not, we shall never know, but Jack obviously did not receive anything, possibly because he was not actually being held at Gustrow, or possibly because the situation in Germany was by this stage of the war so chaotic.

“The war seems as though it won’t be long before it is all over”, he writes.  The date he wrote this is missing, but of course by the time of the postmark it was indeed all over.  A postcard postmarked ‘Dover 22 November 1918 5.30pm’ is of Balatre – La Place.  L’Ecole des Filles, and Grandad writes “this is my last internment camp”.  “Dear Mother, Just a few lines to let you know that I am in dover and shall be home Saturday do not no (sic) what time.  Get plenty of grub in for I been starved.”

Grandad was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.

Wakefield; Woking
Jack and William reported missing in the Woking News & Mail














Two Woking brothers go to war – part 1

William Neighbour Wakefield

” I received the parcel safe and ain’t it a good one too?”

This is what William Wakefield wrote home to his mother just before Christmas 1917, whilst stationed at Wallsend near Newcastle.  He’d just had his 21st birthday, but was worried about being short of cash over Christmas and wrote that he intended to ask his sister Nell for a loan!  Barely a month later shortage of cash would be the least of his troubles in the trenches of France and in less than four months he would have given the supreme sacrifice on the battlefields of Belgium.

William Neighbour Wakefield was given his mother’s maiden name as his middle name and was born in Brixton on 17 November 1896, the eldest son of William and Annie Wakefield and destined to be the last of 4 generations of William Wakefields.

When he was about 12 the family moved out of London to Woking, Surrey.  His father worked as a billposter and the 1911 census shows the 9 surviving children living with their parents with 14 year old William  working, possibly in his first job, as an errand boy for a printers.

By 1914 he was working as a butcher,  this being the information he gave on 2 January that year when he voluntarily enlisted for the Surrey Brigade Company of the Army Service Corps, a territorial force.  He was certified fit on 27 January and in June he was requested to join for ‘training in camp’ and was referred to as a ‘driver’.

In September 1917 William was compulsorily transferred to the 8th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment,  whilst stationed at Wallsend (Newcastle).  On 21 December 1917 William wrote to his mother: “I daresay you will be glad to know that our Indian draught has been cancelled and now I have got to do my firing course.  I shall be in England for about another 2 months yet”.    He speaks of having some leave after his firing course,

William Wakefield with his mother Annie

His service record indicates that he joined the British Expeditionary Force on 21 January 1918, in other words going to France somewhat earlier than he had anticipated in his letter.  The 8th Battalion North Staffordshire Regt was at that point part of the 57th Infantry Brigade.  I have transcribed entries from the unit war diary from February 1918, at which point they were in the frontline trenches near Bapaume .

The diary records marches and train movements to different parts of the front, Church Parade, training, reconnaissance and (strangely) “Christmas festivities – sports and dinner for men” (in February!).

Towards the end of March they seem to have been involved in the Battle of St Quentin, having moved to Bertincourt, and then the Battle of Bapaume.

Having been in the areas of Albert and Bapaume for around 2 months, on the 29th March the Division received orders to proceed to the 2nd Army, which meant a long journey to Belgium.  The Battalion marched to Candas boarding a train there to take them through the night to Caestre on the Belgian border.

They then transferred to Lindenhoek by lorry (south of Ypres, on the road to Kemmel) and by the 31st they were at Wulverghem.  A draft of around 200 Other Ranks joined them in the first few days of April and they spent some time training and “cleaning up”.

The situation was hotting up:  “about 4am news came through that the enemy was attacking on our front and Battalion was ordered to stand by awaiting further orders.  About 8.30am 57th Brigade issued orders for two of our companies to move up at once and occupy the Corps front and Support lines in front of Messines and A and B Coys moved off to do so.”

On the 11th April the unit war diary reads:  “During the morning enemy attacked 25th Division on our right and made progress towards Hill 63.  The left was secure.  In the afternoon a heavy barrage was put down on our front and enemy attacked from right of Messines but was repulsed.  The pressure on the right however was increasing and orders were issued that a withdrawal was probable and the Bttn was to concentrate at Spy Farm.”

Commencing at 1am on 12th April the  Battalion moved via Wulverghem, Daylight Corner to Lindenhoek receiving en route the orders that they were to hold the army line north of Lindenhoek and not Spy Farm.

William Wakefield was killed in action on 12th April at Messines during a successful counter-attack.  The war diary entries give a flavour of the movements of his unit and the confusion which must have reigned.   A handwritten letter from the front on 22nd April conveyed the news to the family:  “he was killed during an attack on the 9th in Flanders and his death is felt keenly by all ranks because he always showed himself a loyal comrade and a good soldier.  He was buried by his friends after the action near the scene of his death”.  On 6th May the family received this from Lichfield:  “It is my painful duty to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office notifying the death of 48852 Private Wm N Wakefield 8th North Staffs Regt which occurred “in the field” on the 12th April 1918 “killed in action””.

War Office Form E1
War Office Form E1

It would seem that sister Annie, on behalf of the family, wrote back straight away asking for further information as a letter written on 11th May refers to her letter on 7th.  In this letter we learn of the counter-attack at Messines, but “it is regretted that no further information is available”.  A subsequent letter sent from Captain A E Gore on 20th May also stated that his death was on 9th April and the exact date was not clarified until a letter from the War Office in July stated “the report that he was killed in action on the 12th April 1918 is confirmed.  The Battalion was not in action on the 9th April 1918”.

In August the family received notification that they would receive ten pounds, nineteen shillings and five pence, being the balance of pay due to William.  Small compensation for the loss of a much-loved son and brother.

Thiepval Memorial

Just to add to the confusion, William is commemorated, not on the Menin Gate in Ypres as one might expect for someone with no known grave killed in Belgium, but on the Thiepval Memorial near Albert in France.  This appears to be because the Commonwealth War Graves Commission made a mistake and recorded his death as 12th March, at which stage the unit was, indeed, in France.  Following our visit to Thiepval in the summer of 2009, I sent a copy of the War Office letter to the CWGC and the entry has now been amended on their website.  I also sent information about William which is now on the database held at the visitor centre at Thiepval.  His name can be found on Pier and Face 14B and 14C.

William’s name on the Thiepval Memorial

William received the Territorial War Medal, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal – these and  the scroll of commemoration, a dog tag and his spurs are still held by the family.  It would seem that William rode horses.  Possibly they were pulling artillery or other equipment and supplies.

William’s name appears on the Woking Town War Memorial.

William Wakefield in training