Monday, 29 October 2012

Family History Through The Alphabet Challenge : Y is for...

In this, the second last week of the Alphabet Blog Challenge I'm currently recovering from a bad back so please bear with me if I type any nonsensical sentences. And we're off and racing. This week's topic: Y is for Yorkshire.

In the early days of my family tree research I narrow mindedly assumed that my ancestry was distinctly East Anglian (aside from my maternal grandmother who I knew, from childhood, hailed from London). As my research deepened however, I discovered that my father's side boasted ancestors from county Hampshire, Dorset & Somerset, and Cheshire. When I first found out my maternal grandfather's ancestors were from Yorkshire I was so delighted, I did a merry dance in front of everyone at the Genealogical Society!

To learn more about my ancestors' Yorkshire roots, I read Lettice Cooper's 1950 County Book: Yorkshire West Riding. There I found the following description of the village of Horbury, where my ancestors lived for well over a century, painting an idyllic picture of their lives: "Horbury was a characteristic village. Its narrow streets, climbing the hill between stone houses, were linked by narrower ginnels and snickets, paths just big enough for two people to walk almost enclosed by stone walls...Horbury is situated up the hill-side above the River Calder, about half way between Dewsbury and Wakefield."

The county of Yorkshire was so named as it is the Shire of the city of York. North Yorkshire is the biggest county in England, formed in part by the old North Riding of Yorkshire. The term 'riding' is of Viking origin and derives from Threthingr meaning a third part. Historically, there were three ridings in Yorkshire - the East Riding, West Riding and North Riding. Today Yorkshire is made up of South Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and East Riding of Yorkshire (after the introduction of the 1974 Local Government Act).

South Yorkshire has a population of around *1.34 million and consists of four metropolitan boroughs: Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield.
North Yorkshire covers over 8,000 square kilometres of non-metropolitan Dales and Moors, making up over 40% of Yorkshire's National Parks area. Local government districts consist of: Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate, Richmondshire, Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby.
West Yorkshire (where my ancestors hail from) has a population of around *2.2 million and has five metropolitan boroughs: City of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, City of Leeds and City of Wakefield.
East Riding is a ceremonial county of England which includes the city of Kingston upon Hull and the non-metropolitan county of Humberside.
*N.B. Population statistics as from 2011

North York Moors
Yorkshire Moors
Old Cote Cottages, Oxenhope
Horbury Town Hall and Library
Cusworth Hall, Doncaster

Things I personally associate with Yorkshire:
My Preston ancestors who lived in: Horbury : Thornton : Hull : Huddersfield : Wakefield : Dewsbury : Thornhill : Ossett
Yorkshire Terriers : Yorkshire pudding : Moors & Dales : The Bronte sisters (especially Wuthering Heights) : All Creatures Great and Small : Heartbeat : Emmerdale : Pulp

Yorkshire is definitely on my Bucket List


Monday, 22 October 2012

Family History Through The Alphabet Challenge : X is for...

I'm giving my Mum's partner full credit for this week's blog. He proved the theory that talking with somebody about a problem you're having can be seen by the other person with fresh eyes. I was truly stuck on what to write about for the letter X until he said, "What about Xmas?"

To be honest, there was a time (not so long ago) when I really loathed the expression Xmas because I mistakenly thought it was a form of blasphemy. According to Gerry Bowler's "The World Encyclopedia of Christmas" though, Xmas means thus:
"An abbreviation for Christmas derived from "X" (chi), the first letter of the Greek word for Christ. Though the term has a long and honourable history, some modern Christians have misunderstood it as a disrespectful kind of shorthand unsuitable for the solemn origin of the name."
Or Dr R Brasch's "Christmas Customs & Traditions" says:
In the Greek language, the letter "X" - shi - was the initial letter of Xristos, meaning Christ. Early scribes were busy people and parchment was costly. They often shortened words to save time and money, and that is how they came to use just the letter X.

So, what about my family's Christmas/Xmas traditions? I have many fond memories of Christmas, both as a child and as an adult. Thanks to my upbringing I have long honoured it as being a time for family, the chance to put aside grievances and worries and spend time with people who mean the most. My grandparents were perfect hosts at Christmas time, going all out with large quantities of festive food and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). My Mum has very fond memories of her parents preparing for Christmas, from her father carrying home a tree over his shoulder and her mother lighting candles on the tree before gathering around the tree with the whole family to sing carols and hymns. Every year my grandmother Lilian knitted jumpers for each of her four children and later, her many grandchildren. She gave out sugared mice, nuts and oranges to everybody on Christmas morning.

Another childhood memory my Mum has of Christmas with her parents was they would not allow their children outside to play on Christmas Day. They stayed indoors all day sitting by the hearth, sharing stories and singing. Boxing Day was a different story however, and my grandfather would race his children outside and build snowmen and instigate snowball fights with all the children on their street. My first year in Australia was mostly spent on the beach near Scarborough, and I remember that it was awfully hot. I was so sad that day because I missed the snow terribly and all the trimmings and traditions of a northern hemisphere Christmas. I vowed I would never again visit the beach on Christmas Day, and to this day I have kept that promise.

My grandmother Lilian at Christmas, 1982
The year before my grandmother Lilian passed away she was given a Teasmaid which all the family chipped in to buy her. She was so surprised when she opened her present, and squealed so loud we all had to politely block our ears. But, she was so thrilled and I remember that very special Christmas moment so clearly (and not just because it was captured on camera). It was her last Christmas with us all.

The last Christmas I remember spending with my grandmother Freda, was at my Dad's house. She loved to sit and watch all of us open our presents from each other, and listen to us all natter. She always got more joy from that than from opening her own gifts. She loved being a part of the family festivities at Christmas. As long as she was included, nothing else mattered and I've inherited that feeling. For me, it's not about the presents. It's about family, it's about providing a huge Christmas turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and it's about love.

My grandmother Freda, Christmas 1993

Monday, 15 October 2012

Family History Through The Alphabet Challenge : W is for...

I remember when I first dabbled in the land of Wills and Probate, Letters of Administration and Codicils. I was really nervous about delving into my ancestor's private (and sometimes, quirky) bequests and personal estate details. Even though they are long dead, it still made me feel like a right nosey parker. That was until I received my first very will in the post. Five pages later, I was hooked (and slightly dumbfounded).

It's fair to say that since those early days I have overcome my fear of being nosey. Mild curiosity has given way to blatant detective work. Thanks to some Wills I've received I have been able to uncover previously unknown siblings, offspring, even grandchildren and neighbours. Some Wills, if they are detailed enough, offer a tiny insight into their individual character.

For example, one will I received was quite specific (and lengthy) about who was bequeathed what, with individual persons stated in bequests with the term, "in the event of their death, it shall be passed to (----------) and not (----------). Lots of words like executors, messuages, trustees, exonerate, hereditaments, had me in a five-page tailspin. My 3 x great-grandfather was either very meticulous or just plain paranoid. It took almost 3 weeks transcribe it.

Image courtesy of National Archives

Another example, from a 3 x great-grandfather on my father's side:
"To the said (---------) my large Bible, To my son (-------) the case of Stuffed Birds and the bed bedding and furniture in the large bedroom To my said son (-------) the two pictures "Daniel" and "Jeremias" the oak chest in the living room the large chest of drawers now standing in the parlour and all the beds and bedding not hereinbefore bequeathed..."

Or this one from a 4 x great-grand uncle:
"I give and bequeath all my ready money, money in the Bank monies --- interest securities for money and all other monies whatsoever which may be due or become due to me at my decease together with all my household goods and furniture plate linen and china whatsoever and whensoever situate unto (--------)..."

The Will of my first cousin 3 x removed is rather concise but all the same, to me it is rather poignant. He was killed in action in 1918:
"I (---------) at present a Captain in His Majesty's Essex Regiment hereby declare this to be my last Will I give devise and bequeath all and singular the real and personal property of which I shall be possessed unto and to the use of my wife (--------)..."

Monday, 8 October 2012

Family History Through The Alphabet Challenge : V is for...

When I wrote out my alphabet plan on an index card over three months ago (has it really been that long?) I had no problem deciding what I would write for this week's letter. Be warned, dear readers, for this week's blog post is taking a religious slant as I present you with the humble Verger.

My great-grandfather Albert Waters was very active in the Methodist Church of Beccles from his youth until his dying breath. I only have vague memories of him (he passed away when I was six years old) but I remember him being present at Hungate Church when I attended the Sunday School next door. When I was little, my grandmother told me many family stories and one was the story of her father Albert joining the Methodist Church after a rather miserable time at home. Albert's father (my 2 x great-grandfather) liked a drink or six each day and when he wasn't working as a Municipal Superintendent at the Beccles Bathing Place (in Puddingmoor), he would be found next door at the Pickerel Inn.

In Albert's time there were two Methodist Churches in Beccles which he frequented and volunteered for, one in Hungate and the other in Station Road. After researching the duties of a verger I was quite humbled to think that my great-grandfather did these duties without pay and with little in the way of recognition. I also realised that my mother did the work of a verger, on top of her myriad clerical duties, at her local church in the Swan Valley up until last year when she retired.

Station Road, Beccles (Author postcard)
Methodist Church spires can be seen on the left
No longer exists today

Hungate Methodist Church, Beccles
Still exists today

The following extract is taken from the 7 March 1942 Beccles and Bungay Newspaper:

METHODISTS: A century ago the Wesleyans in Beccles were described as “lively and consistent Christians”. Their chapel was a neat building, and though small, yet it will contain about 200 persons. In front of the chapel is a schoolroom and yard so there is plenty of room for enlarging the chapel without the purchase of more ground. A resident minister in this place would soon make this a work of necessity. This building was the present Salvation Army Hall in Northgate. Originally the Methodists were connected with the Lowestoft circuit, remaining so until their services were discontinued in 1853 for a short time.
A few faithful friends were not satisfied, and still wished to remain Methodists, so they asked the Bungay circuit to take over Beccles. This was done, but in 1855 services were restarted at Northgate.After a few years two families removed from Loddon to Beccles and were dissatisfied with the hired chapel, so they set themselves to work for and provide a better building. Station Road was then being laid out, and on a site given by Mr John Crisp the present chapel was built in 1872, the schoolroom and vestries being added in 1887. Beccles was made head of a circuit in 1890, the Rev TE Sharp being the first superintendent, but there was return to the Lowestoft circuit in 1906.

The Methodist Church in Station Road was pulled down sometime during the early 1980s after the union of the Methodists and the Congregationalists, becoming the United Reformed Church. Now, sadly, there is private housing on this spot.

The Office of Verger is an ancient one and comes from the meaning ‘He who carries the Virge before the procession’. The ‘Verge’ is the rod of office (Latin - Virga; Old French-Vergier), and was used to ensure that the many processions were not impeded during worship. Duties of a Verger include/d:
  • Opening up and locking of Church premises
  • Preparation for various weekday services and Sunday services
  • Preparation for Weddings and Funerals
  • Setting out vestments
  • Changing altar frontals according to liturgical year
  • Care of linen and altar cloths
  • Cleaning of Chalice and Paten
  • Ensuring adequate supplies of Wine and Altar Bread
  • Ensuring supplies of Candles
  • Housekeeping, cleaning, polishing, floors and furniture
  • Keeping entrance to porch or entrance clean and tidy
  • Care of churchyard
  • Care and welcome of visitors
  • Preparation of Service Registers
I'm sure there are many more "behind the scenes" duties that a Verger once had. Sadly, today so many churches are closed to the public, except for special services, due to the lack of people willing to volunteer their time to undertake these weekly (and most often, daily) tasks. Men such as my great-grandfather did them out of love and duty to his Church and to his community.
Albert Waters, seen on the far right
With my grandparents, my aunt & uncle and
my three cousins at a Wedding at Hungate Church

Monday, 1 October 2012

Family History Through The Alphabet Challenge : U is for...

Given that I was born in the United Kingdom it would be only fitting to write about it in this week's Alphabet Challenge for the letter U. However, that would be too easy so I am doing it yet again. Writing about something completely different!

The last known address of my 3 x g/grandfather's "wife" was Usk Road in Battersea, in 1881 (I say "wife" because they were not legally married). The census shows us that Sarah Mary Ann (nee Spencer) was living at 35 Usk Road with her husband Thomas Shepherd and three children: William and Charlotte (from her previous relationship with my 3 x g/grandfather) and a three-year-old daughter Emily. I am yet to prove a theory that Sarah died in 1883, aged 36.

Usk Road was not far from where Sarah lived with my 3 x g/grandfather Richard Humphries. In 1871 they lived together with William and Charlotte, as well as Richard's three grown sons from his first marriage, in nearby Putney. On the other side of nearby Wandsworth lies the South West London town of Battersea. Famous for the Dog's Home and the Power Station, Battersea was once a large market garden area and lavender field well before industry took over.


I don't believe there was anything quite as romantic as the image above of boats on the River Thames at Battersea for Sarah Shepherd and her children. The whereabouts of my 3 x g/grandfather Richard Humphries (see my post about him) after 1871 continues to baffle me as the paper trail dies off at this time but for Sarah, who remained very much alive, it must have been a very difficult time. She was left with two small children (she had had three but one died in infancy in 1869) and no husband. It is not known how or when she met Thomas Shepherd and the first I knew of him was from the 1881 census. From there I worked back until I found a marriage between he and Sarah in June 1876. Sarah claimed she was a "spinster" which technically was true. Thomas Shepherd, son of Samuel Shepherd, worked in a Candle factory and could not write or sign his name on his marriage certificate.

Sarah Mary Ann Spencer was born in 1846 in Battersea. Records indicate she was the daughter of Christopher Spencer and Mary Ann Hosier. Christopher Spencer was born in Wandsworth about 1822. In 1851 the Spencer family lived in King Street, Battersea but the following census paints a very different picture. Christopher died in 1856 and Mary Ann, along with her four children, were living with George Temple in Red Lion Street, Wandsworth. Interestingly, Mary Ann had only aged three years between 1851 and 1861!

Battersea Power Station
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Battersea was heavily bombed in 1944/45 and Usk Road was the last recorded road to be hit by a V2 weapon (in the Battersea district) on 27 January 1945. It is recorded that at least seventeen people died that day and more than twenty houses were fully destroyed or damaged.

I wish I knew why Sarah Mary Ann Spencer/Humphries/Shepherd was left abandoned with two small children. It was certainly not common for a bachelor to take up with an unmarried woman with children so what sort of person was Thomas Shepherd to do that so willingly? Then Sarah had a child with him: Emily. What is more intriguing is that by 1881 Sarah gave the children she had with my 3 x g/grandfather her name, Spencer and had totally dropped the name Humphries. Did Thomas know anything at all about Richard Humphries? Surely, you would think that this would totally baffle and confuse any of their descendents. Anybody trying to trace the family tree for their Shepherd or Spencer ancestors would possibly not even know of the connection with the Humphries family and that three children were registered at birth as Humphries (later becoming Spencer). These children were:

William Spencer Humphries born 1868 in Fulham
1881 census: William Spencer, aged 12

Sarah Spencer Humphries born 1869 in Putney
Died in 1869, aged 4 months

Charlotte Amelia Spencer Humphries born 1871 in Putney
1881 census: Charlotte Spencer, aged 8
When Charlotte married in 1893 to William Tilley she gave her father's name as Thomas Spencer, not Thomas Shepherd (just to further confuse the issue!).

Aftermath of V2 bombing in Battersea
Image courtesy of Wikipedia