More fun at the fair

This time last year I had a very fruitful trip to the West Surrey Family History Society Open Day, held at Woking Leisure Centre, so on 5 November I went to it again, and this time my husband was able to come along too.

It’s such a big event:  many neighbouring family history societies have stalls as well as local history groups, plus there are organisations selling archival storage products, maps, postcards, books and charts.

West Surrey FHS www.wsfhs.co.uk/pages/index.php had their research resources available and I was most interested to look at a map from the A – Z of Victorian London, showing the area where my Bryant ancestors worked as saddlers and harness makers in Belgravia.

I have been enjoying finding out more about the life and works of Flora Thompson this year.  John Owen Smith, local historian and author of ‘On the trail of Flora Thompson’ (among his many published works) was there with his own stall www.johnowensmith.co.uk.  We had a lovely conversation with him about the local connections of Grayshott and Liphook and bought a book of ‘Walks from the railway’.

We also found out from the folk on the Brookwood Cemetery Society stall www.tbcs.org.uk how to go about tracking down the grave of my Wakefield great grandparents, who I know are buried there.  This is definitely something to follow up.

“Don’t turn round, but I’m sure that’s Eve McLaughlin on the stall behind you”.  And it was!  There she was staffing the Buckinghamshire Family History Society stall www.bucksfhs.org.uk. When we lived in Milton Keynes in the late eighties we were members of Bucks FHS and frequently used to go over to Aylesbury on a Saturday afternoon to attend the meetings.  Eve was so energetic and inspirational, and of course she is a prolific author of family history booklets:  ‘Annals of the Poor’, ‘Reading old handwriting’, ‘Quarter Sessions’ etc.  (This year I had the forethought to make a list of the family history-related books that I own in advance of going to the fair, to minimise the risk of buying a book I already have!).  We had a lovely chat with Eve and bought two of her books to add to the collection: ‘Nonconformist ancestors’ and ‘What does it mean – words in wills, inventories, deeds and documents’.

My husband bought a couple of useful-looking Cassini maps of Norfolk, but we looked in vain for ‘My ancestor was a Quaker’.  I think it may currently be out of print.

At the Surrey History Centre stall, the archivist and I agreed that we would both very much like to be able to afford to give up work and spend our time indexing and doing family history!  What a lovely job to have, though.  She had brought with her a beautiful Victorian/Edwardian photograph album of unknown provenance, which had come from a house clearance.  How sad that these are someone’s ancestors and are unnamed.

Imogen on the Surrey in the Great War stall was just as enthusiastic as she had been when I spoke to her last year, but sadly never received the information I sent her then on the Wakefield brothers.  I will resend it to her.

By midday we were glad of a chance to sit down for a bit, and were in for a treat attending the talk given by Myko Clelland on using Findmypast.  His enthusiasm was infectious and I was particularly interested to learn more about the 1939 Register, which I have to admit I have not investigated up till now.

Overall, it was a lovely morning spent with fellow enthusiasts, with the chance to buy products and network with useful organisations and people.  Thank you WSFHS!

West Surrey Family History Society
WSFHS Fair 2016

 

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Remember remember

Bonfire Night is a big date in the UK cultural calendar.  The Fifth of November this year falling on a Saturday, almost all the firework displays round here are happening tonight.

Whilst a big part of me is appalled that so much money quite literally goes up in smoke on Bonfire Night, still it’s an altogether much happier event than the worrying growth of Halloween and its associated commercialism.  Except, of course, that the event it commemorates – the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 – was hardly a happy event for those involved.  So why on earth do we continue to commemorate it? Maybe we’re really no longer remembering anything, but just taking the opportunity to enjoy bonfires, fireworks and funfairs at a time of year that is otherwise dark and chilly.

As a child, my recollection is that fireworks were only ever let off on 5th November.  Nowadays there are fireworks after music concerts and at birthday parties, not to mention New Year’s Eve.  Bonfire Night brings back memories of, unsurprisingly, a bonfire of garden prunings in the back garden, needing to keep the cat indoors, and retreating inside for bangers and mash.  Local lads (mostly lads, I think) would position themselves with their homemade ‘guy’ outside the local shops, to ask for “a penny for the guy”, or would sometimes wheel it from house to house in a wheelbarrow.  Presumably this was to fund fireworks.

I don’t remember ever going to a an organised firework display as a child, but you could buy fireworks singly at the newsagents for a small backgarden display.  There was the ‘Witch’s Cauldron’, a conical shaped firework, and the ‘Roman Candle’.  Occasionally we had a rocket, which was placed in a milkbottle prior to lighting.  My favourite firework was the ‘Catherine Wheel’, which Dad would nail onto the wooden rose arch.  The trick was to nail it securely enough that it didn’t fly off, but loosely enough that it actually span round and round once lit.  Often it didn’t, but it was lovely to watch when it worked.  And then there were the sparklers – always packets of sparklers – and we would have fun trying to write our names in the darkness, as my own children subsequently enjoyed doing.

In 1605 Roman Catholics wanted freedom to practise their religion after years of persecution.  Thankfully today we enjoy religious freedom in this country – a blessing not everyone in this world shares – so maybe if we should be remembering anything this Bonfire Night, it should be the fact that some in this world are still persecuted because of their faith.

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November” – enjoy your Bonfire Night!

Bonfire night