Sussex Family History Group Annual Conference

This year’s Annual Conference of the Sussex Family History Group happened to be on the first Saturday of my Easter holidays, meaning that for once I was free to attend.  Haywards Heath is over an hour’s drive away, but it was a beautiful morning for driving through the Sussex countryside and therefore a pleasurable journey.  Unfortunately the local Park Runners had done a take-over of the car park adjacent to Clair Hall, which meant getting my head around the rather hi-tec car park machine across the road.  However, that hurdle over, I made it in plenty of time for a coffee before proceedings commenced.

Well I can tell you that it was worth the long drive just to experience Andrew Thatham’s presentation.  If you ever get the chance to hear him or to see his exhibition, then grab the opportunity with both hands!  (You can find his website at www.groupphoto.co.uk).  His talk, entitled ‘A Group Photograph – Before, Now and In-Between’ was definitely more of an experience than a standard talk.  Basically he has spent over 20 years researching the lives of the 46 men depicted in one particular WW1 photograph.  The photo of officers of the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment was taken while they were training on Salisbury Plain in 1915, and included Andrew’s  great-grandfather, their commanding officer.  The material he collected resulted in an exhibition at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres in 2015, a book of his research and an extremely moving animated film.

We viewed the half hour film, which, without words, conveys the lives of the 46 men.  The concept is extremely clever.  There is a continually changing visual representation of the birth and death of the men and the growth of their families, with music clips throughout the period and photographs of them, their parents and then their children and grandchildren, together with constantly changing images of iconic news and happenings of each year.  It felt an immersive experience and I could feel myself relating the constantly rolling date counter to the lives of my own ancestors, hearing the music they heard, and wondering at the inventions that were news for them.  It was truly moving. An extaordinary achievement.

Later in the day we heard very good and comprehensive talks from Sue Reid on the British Newspaper Archive and from Chris Heather of TNA on records for Railway Ancestors.

I patronised the book stall and sought advice on the best way to conserve our various WW1 family documents.  I also found out about the SFHG My Tree project, where members are being encouraged to send in their trees, ideally in GEDCOM format.  This will definitely be added to my ‘to do’ list as it is another way of preserving for posterity the research I have undertaken.

Altogether a very worthwhile day out and well done to SFHG for their excellent organisation. http://sfhg.org.uk/

SFHG; Andrew Tatham
SFHG Conference

 

 

Surrey In The Great War

So I’m making progress with the New Year’s Resolutions!

Some weeks ago I uploaded the stories of brothers William and Jack Wakefield to the Surrey In the Great War website, and I am happy to say that they have now been moderated and are available to view online at www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk.  Click on ‘People’ and you can then search for both of them.  I didn’t find it the most intuitive of processes, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to upload any images for Jack at the time.

Surrey In The Great War

However, I had a lovely and very detailed email back from Dr Kirsty Bennett, Senior Project Officer.  She wanted, quite rightly, to check a number of sources with me and the ownership of the images I did send.  I have now sent her a photo of Jack Wakefield (my Grandad) and hope that this will appear as his profile photo in due course.

She also wondered whether I had digital images for the POW letters from my Grandad to his parents, written in 1918.  This led me to double-check what I already had images of and which I had merely transcribed.  Over the last couple of weeks I have photographed all the documents I could find:  the POW letters, the letters from the War Office and from the North Staffordshire Regiment subsequent to William’s death and many other family birth, marriage and death certificates that  I don’t think I’ve ever seen before (and at least a couple that I paid good money to get hold of from the GRO some years ago, not knowing that they were already in the family’s possession!  There’s a learning point there!).

Letter from William Wakefield while in training 1917

I am now in a position to send in a number of items for Surrey History Centre’s digital archive of WW1 material so that they are preserved for posterity.  Just a little more work to do there, and then I will perhaps pluck up courage to take another look at the IWM Lives of the First World War.  I uploaded information on Grandad’s WW1 service a couple of years ago https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/4574929, but I remember it being a tortuous process, with text boxes being not nearly big enough so that I had to break it all down into a number of sections.  I know I’ve been putting off tackling another submission – I wonder whether the process of uploading will have been streamlined at all?

The other ongoing question mark is over tracking down the grave of William and Jack’s parents in Brookwood Cemetery.  We found their burial numbers easily at Surrey History Centre back in February and went straight to the cemetery office, where a very helpful lady was able to identify broadly which plots they might be in but said that finding the precise location would take a little longer.  She took my email address to get back to me….and nothing has been forthcoming.  I have since emailed them twice, but no response whatsoever.  This is disappointing – so near and yet so far.  Never mind – onwards and upwards!

 

 

When West Grinstead Went To War

Over a year ago I wrote of what I knew of Bert Mitchell’s involvement in the WW1.

He was my great uncle, born on 1 Aug 1892 in West Grinstead, and I remember him as I was 7 when he died.  It was an interesting challenge to research him as his is one of many service records that has not survived.

His ‘On War Service 1915’ badge was probably issued for his Red Cross volunteer work during the early part of the war  and finding Bert’s regiment and service number on his medals enabled me to find the matching Medal Index Card. Bert enlisted as a Private in the Machine Gun Corps on 2 December 1915.  Although I do not know exactly where he served, I do know that he was overseas when he sustained a head injury and was evacuated back to England to the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, near Southampton, for treatment and recovery.

Following his discharge in 1918 Bert worked as a Red Cross orderly at the Royal Victoria Hospital, making and fitting artificial limbs. Photos in my Granny’s photo album are a tantalising glimpse of his work there.  Later he worked for Pedestros Limbs Department in Southampton and subsequently at Roehampton.  I was intrigued to watch a recent episode of Call the Midwife showing families of children affected by Thalidomide receiving help with artificial limbs at Roehampton.

Having discovered that the West Grinstead Local History Group were putting together a publication on the role of people from that parish in WW1, I submitted to them what I had researched of Bert Mitchell’s life.  This weekend I had the joy of attending the group’s exhibition to mark the launch of the book ‘When West Grinstead Went To War 1914 – 1918’.

An excellent display with photos and commentary was complemented by various WW1 artefacts.  All those mentioned in the book were plotted on a large map of the parish.  I enjoyed chatting with several members of the research group, showing them my tree and my Mitchell write-up.  I also discovered a link with a lady who had travelled all the way from Cumbria to be there.

When West Grinstead Went To War
Displays at the Exhibition ‘When West Grinstead Went To War’

 

 

 

 

 

 

As well as service outlines of the men from the parish who served, there are articles in the book on Aviation in West Sussex during the war period, on the 4th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and on Food and Agriculture.

Many congratulations to Dorothy, Norman, James, Colin, Mike and all those who brought the book to fruition – an amazing achievement!

Copies of the book can be ordered by contacting westgrinsteadlhg@gmail.com

 

 

Well there’s a coincidence!

I mentioned in my New Year blog that my intention, having packed up the George files temporarily, was to return to my Wakefield research and in particular to my Grandad, Jack Wakefield, and his brother William, both of whom fought in WW1.  I have had in mind to upload their stories onto the Surrey In the Great War website www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk.

In revisiting this website for the first time in a while, I discovered through my ‘person search’ for William Wakefield that not only does his name appear on the Woking Town War Memorial, but it is also on a board at the Maybury Centre (formerly Maybury School), commemorating ‘old boys’ who fell in the First World War.  Now this was news to me.  I looked up the location of the school and realised that it was a short walk from the family’s home in Church Street, Woking (the house now replaced by a multi storey car park).  I found the website for the Maybury Centre, which seems to be a thriving community centre, and wondered how I could get in there one day to see the board for myself.

And then one of those strange coincidences happened.  I checked my diary for the location of a workshop I was due to attend on early dance, and which I had booked onto some weeks previously.  You can probably guess what I’m about to say next.  Yes!  The workshop was to be held at the Maybury Centre in Woking!!

I went armed with my camera and, once inside, pushed open a few former classroom doors until I found the room with the war memorial board on the wall.  I was just so thrilled both to see it and to be inside the school that my Great Uncle attended and (I was now surmising) my Grandad and his siblings had probably also attended.

Maybury School
Maybury School
War Memorial inside Maybury School
War Memorial inside Maybury School

Would any records still exist for Maybury School?  The online catalogue for Surrey History Centre indicated a reference for a log book, so Half Term was then a great opportunity to visit to check it out.  The staff were really helpful and I was soon looking at the Boys’ School Log Book for 1880 to 1975 (reference 8101/2/2) whilst my husband got stuck into the Punishment Book for 1908 to 1975 (8101/2/5).  I reckoned that the Wakefields moved to Woking some time after 1907 and before 1910 (when the youngest child was born in Woking).

The log book was fascinating but there were unfortunately few names of pupils and no Admission Records.  Outbreaks of measles, mumps, chicken pox and scarlet fever were common occurrences. The school was regularly closed for Empire Day, Sunday School treats and the circus coming to town.  The oldest boys (perhaps those about to leave) had medical inspections and the County Nurse was also a frequent visitor to check for body lice, with boys often being sent home because of this.  Once the First World War started there were staffing issues as various teachers were called up and collections were taken both for the Red Cross and for the Surrey Prisoners of War Fund.  On 10 December 1919 the entry read “school closed this afternoon for the opening of the memorial to the old boys of the school who fell in the Great War”.

Maybury School
Old Boys of Maybury School who fell in the Great War

The Punishment book, however, was more fruitful in terms of names.  On 1 October 1912 a boy by the name of Wakefield in Standard 2 received “2 stripes” from Mr Painter for “continual inattention” and then on 16 November 1914 J Wakefield in Standard 3 received 2 stripes again, this time from the Headmaster, for “constant trouble”.  Well, I think that both of these refer to Grandad, Jack Wakefield.  He would have been aged 13 and 15 at the time and quite possibly felt he had outgrown school by this time.  His older brother William was working by the time of the 1911 census and no doubt Jack felt he wanted to be out in the world too.

After our visit to the History Centre we drove to Walton Road, to the location of the butcher’s shop where both brothers worked before the war.  Although the property has been replaced by a block of modern flats, many of the terraced houses from that period survive and give an indication of how Woking would have looked in the early twentieth century.

Oh, and if you get the chance to take part in a workshop on early dance (16th and 17th century), be warned that it’s quite energetic!

 

My mystery object

I mentioned in my New Year blog post that my recent write-up of the George family history had resulted in my Mum presenting me with a  small family-related artefact.

It was as a result of my discovery that Len Lansdowne, my Mum’s uncle, had worked for Dunn & Co in Croydon as a sales assistant in the early part of the 20th century.  She recalled, and promptly found, the item pictured here.   It is 2.5 inches/6 cm long, the lower part curves in both directions,  and it bears the inscription “Britain’s Best Bowlers by Dunn & Co”.  But what is it? I have to say, I am mystified!

I decided to post my query on the Norfolk Family History Society facebook page.  Family Historians are so helpful to each other and I was grateful and encouraged to receive a good number of comments and replies.  Suggestions have included a shoe horn (not big enough, and the two-way curve doesn’t work), a button hook (no hook), a ‘rounding jack’ for re-shaping a bowler hat (sounds plausible) or a smoking pipe ream (could also be possible). I googled ‘rounding jack’, but all the images are for a much larger implement.  Pipe reams seem to vary a lot in style, but I could see it might work in that function.

Someone else suggested contacting a hat museum, and lo and behold I found there is such a place in Stockport, so I have emailed them to see if they have any ideas.  The fact that it has the company’s name inscribed on it might suggest it was some sort of promotional item, but I do feel that the strange shape means it must have had a specific use.

I have also emailed the details to Family Tree magazine and gather that my query will appear in either the April or May edition, so I’m looking forward to any further suggestions that might generate.

Other than that I’m at a loss what to think about it, so if you have any bright ideas do leave a comment!  I continue to be intrigued by my mystery object.

Dunn & co mystery object
Dunn & Co mystery object

 

 

Of Buttons and Buckles

Being a firm believer in keeping things in case they one day come in useful, it is probably no surprise for you to learn that I have a considerable button collection.  I have the spare buttons in their clear little plastic packages, carefully saved from garments going back donkeys’ years.  I did have a phase of attempting to label them, so that I knew which garment the button belonged to, but the trouble is as the years go by you do wonder which particular pair of beige trousers this specific button belonged to.  Was it a pair that went to a charity shop a couple of decades ago? Quite possibly. And then there are the buttons that were cut off clothes before being thrown out altogether.

However, some of my buttons did indeed come in useful for a project I completed just before Christmas.  It was also a great opportunity to use up some of my equally large collection of fabric off-cuts.  I decided to make a ‘twiddle rug’ for my Dad for Christmas.  Now, I already had a knitting pattern for a ‘twiddle muff’, but I somehow didn’t think that would work for him.  But a bit of hunting around on the internet revealed designs of ‘twiddle rugs’ (sometimes also called ‘fiddle rugs’) – basically a lap rug with lots of things attached to fiddle with.  People with dementia and associated conditions (my Dad has Parkinson’s, so some days are more lucid than others) can often be seen fiddling with their clothing or bedclothes, so a twiddle rug gives them something else to play with and can offer stimulation.

Basically I made a patchwork of variously textured fabrics and backed it with a lightweight fleecy material, attaching buttons to fasten, buckles to slide, a zip, a pocket, a large popper and dog motif.  I also sewed on his initials.  It’s no great work of art but it was made with love for a dear father.

Twiddle Rug
Twiddle Rug

I already had the button tins that had belonged to my aunt (my Dad’s twin sister) and my cousin.  As I was on the lookout for particularly large buttons, Mum now also gave me my Nanny Wakefield’s button tin (my Dad’s mother – Lily Wakefield, nee Bryant).  I think it’s fascinating to look at some of these buttons and wonder what kind of garment they came from:  the obviously sixties buttons, the little shell buttons, toggles, covered buttons and downright ugly buttons.  What stories they could tell of the past! But they were all kept by someone in case they came in useful.

And come in useful they have.  I don’t know for how long Dad will be able to make use of the twiddle rug, but I enjoyed making it and allowing some of these old buttons and buckles to see the light of day once more.

Buttons and buckles from Nanny Wakefield's button tin
Buttons and buckles from Nanny Wakefield’s button tin

 

New Year’s resolutions

 

This time last year I decided that my New Year’s resolution would be to complete my George family write-up.  Well, I’m pleased to report that, despite the difficulties of the year, I did achieve this goal, and a number of family members received a copy for Christmas.

It documents the George family of East Dereham from my earliest proven ancestor David George, born around 1786, through two more generations born in East Dereham to my great grandfather (another David George) and his move south to Croydon and his marriage and family there.  I’ve included my hypothesis that John George and Ann Gallant were the parents of David George senior, but, despite many years of research, I have been unable to prove this.  I’ve also included as an appendix what I know of the family of Astey George, buried inside East Dereham church, but with whom I believe my own family has no connection.

George family of East Dereham

Although a family history is never finished, I do think that it is good to bring everything known so far together and to disseminate what is known among wider family members.  It has already produced a new snippet of information from my aunt and a small family-related artefact from my Mum.  I will also send a copy to Norfolk Family History Society at Kirby Hall in Norwich.  All of this will hopefully mean that, even though there are loose ends, what I have been researching for getting on for 40 years (I did start in my teens!) will not be entirely lost if something suddenly happens to me.

george-family-write-up-2

I was interested to read in this month’s Family Tree magazine www.family-tree.co.uk  of various contributors’ family history-related resolutions for the coming year.  It is heartening to know that even a professional researcher like David Annal has decades-worth of papers waiting to be organised!

This year, once I have finally tidied up the George papers and filed them away neatly, I plan to re-visit my Wakefield research.  In particulary I want to update my research on my grandfather Jack and his brother William, both from Woking, who were in Flanders in 1918 at the same time, though in different regiments.  One was killed and the other was captured, and I want to be able to upload their stories onto the Surrey In the Great War website www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk and also the IWM Lives of the First World War.  It would also be great if I could locate the graves of their parents in Brookwood Cemetery, and I gather there might be a finding aid at Surrey History Centre to help with this.

So that’s the plan.  No doubt I will get sidetracked along the way, but that’s the fun of family history, isn’t it?

Happy New Year!