This month's blog is the continuation of the story of the Barnes Bridge Murder of 1879, which was first broadcast on EGH Radio on the 25th October 2017. This time the focus is on the information contained in the records of the Old Bailey. Links to the audio recording and a full transcript are below.
Here is the link to the audio file:
Transcript of recording:
Court and Criminal records are a valuable resource for family and local historians. The transcript of the evidence given by numerous witnesses at the trial of Kate Webster in 1879 is no exception. This mid Victorian period experienced continuing social change, with many folks finding themselves upwardly mobile. As a result some either invented a suitable past to reflect their new position, or were deliberately hazy about the details. The evidence of John Church, the landlord of the Rising Sun is a prime example and led to the discovery of a fascinating backstory. Church had previously been in the army and admitted having lied about his occupation in his attestation papers. Having been implicated by Kate Webster of Mrs Thomas’s murder he had been arrested. Although subsequently cleared of any wrong doing his appearance in court sparked a serious bout of amnesia.
My name was Church before I enlisted—I believe my father's name was Church; it was as far as I know—my mother's maiden name was Body—I might have been in a situation in a public-house before I entered the Army—I might have been in a situation as barman—when I come to think may have been; I cannot say where exactly; it was in London—I was in London when I enlisted—I might have been in a situation as barman; I cannot recollect now—Q Do you mean, upon your oath, to say before the gentlemen of the Jury that you do not recollect?—A. I might have been—I might have been in a public-house before I was in the service, but cannot say where …
Many thanks to local historian Jim Herbert of Berwick Time Lines for that fantastic bit of theatre. So, who was John Church? In the 1871 census he gave his place of birth as Chalfont St Peter in Buckinghamshire, and whilst there is a body of bodies in Bucks, no birth of a Church was registered there with a mother’s maiden name of Body. There was, however, an illegitimate birth of a John Boddy in 1838, whose mother Martha married a wheelwright named Job Church on 30th November 1840. Job Church it transpires, was convicted at the Buckinghamshire assizes in 1843 for an unspeakable crime, resulting in transportation to Australia for life! The criminal records associated with this case describe Church as married with one child. However, this child was not John, but a Job Church junior born in 1841. This implies that Church was not John’s father at all and whose identity remains as yet unknown. By 1851 the remaining family the family are destitute and living as paupers in the Watford Union Workhouse. A valid reason perhaps to run off to the army and be hazy about his past.
I just haven’t had time to research for a blog this month so am doing spot of recycling!. Some of you may know about my foray into Radio, but may not have heard the actual broadcasts. To this end I will be publishing the clips that aired in October last year (on EGH Radio) concerning the Barnes Bridge Murder in 1879. The head of the victim was found in David Attenborough’s garden in 2011 and my subsequent digging about has turned up some interesting snippets of information. Below is Part 1 – forgive the sound quality, it was before I had a decent microphone and had grasped the basics of mixing! The link will take you to the file which is stored in the ether. If you are having problems accessing it do let me know
The transcript is available below, but I would be most interested to hear whether you like the idea of ‘listening’ to history as well as reading it! So, please do let me know, good, bad or indifferent.
Hannah Clive had us all enthralled in the chat room last week with the grisly story of the discovery of a skull in what is now David Attenborough’s garden in 2011. An inquiry subsequently proved the skull to be that of Julia Martha Thomas who was brutally murdered, dismembered and then boiled by her maid Kate Webster in March 1879. Body parts were scattered about London with a foot being found in Tottenham, but the majority of what was left of Mrs Thomas was unceremoniously boxed and dumped in the Thames.
Well, being a general nosey parker as well as a genealogist more digging was required. I was not disappointed – the papers of the day covered the story extensively and often graphically, such was the Victorian taste for the macabre. The lengthy transcript of her trial at the Old Bailey on the 30th June that same year is also available online.
It transpires that Kate Webster was born Catherine Lawler in Ireland in 1850. She left a veritable trail of crime in her wake and served several prison sentences for theft between 1864 & 79 using several different aliases. The case in question, however, appears to be her first and last foray into murder. Perhaps she may have evaded capture if she had not left a note with her uncle’s address in Ireland at the crime scene. It was to her uncle that she fled with her five year old son and where she was apprehended on the 29th March. As a direct descendant of a gentleman who danced the hangman’s jig in 1816 I was intrigued to know more about her young son. Fearing the worst I set off to find out.
A child named John Webster aged about 6 years was admitted here on March 29th. His mother was charged with the murder of a woman named 'Thomas' in London. The boy was sent to the Workhouse with an order from W Ryan R.M. to have him admitted pending inquiry being made as to his reception into an Industrial School
That was narrated by my colleague Michelle Leonard @genealogylass reading from the Poor Law Guardians minutes held in Wexford County Archives. So - the uncle washed his hands of his nephew the same day his mother was arrested. Under the Habitual Criminals Act of 1869 made provision for children under 14 of women twice convicted of ‘crime’ to be sent to such Schools. As such the result is not unexpected. John Webster’s trail has run cold for the moment, and the lack of surviving census records in Ireland isn’t helping. If the normal pattern of events unfolded John Webster would have been returned to the parish of his birth, allegedly Kingston upon Thames, or they at least would have been responsible for his costs. A little more research may be required this side of the Irish Sea.
As 2018 marks the centenary of the end of WW1, this months post is one that first appeared back in August 2015 in the 'Bitesize' section. It concerned a soldier by the name of Lancelot Hedley of Dudley who also formed a small part of the story of The Spowart Family of Backworth which appeared in September. I was contacted recently by Neil Hodgson whose research on behalf of the Northumbria World War One project has significantly enhanced what is known about Lancelot and his family. As the Easter holidays will afford many folks with the opportunity to dig into their family history it seemed a great opportunity to revisit some of the wonderful resources that are to help. Before explaining where they, and Lancelot's updated information can be found, below is a reminder of his story so far:
LANCELOT HEDLEY - POW & SWISS INTERNEE OF WW1
It is not every day that you get to spend the morning in the beautiful Swiss Alps. However, today was an exception as I was hot on the heels of a British POW by the name of Lancelot Hedley. What caught my eye was the date and place of death – 1917 in Switzerland. It is well known that the Country remained neutral for the entire duration of the conflict, so how had he come to be there?
Lancelot was born in 1881, in Seghill near Morpeth in Northumberland and is a bit of a mystery man, as to date I have been unable to pin point his parentage, but it was believed he was the illegitimate son of a Jane Hedley. In the 1891 Census he is living with his grandparents John Hedley, a coal miner, and Ann Atherton his wife, at number 11 Chapel Row, Seghill, where there is no sign of his mother.
Lancelot then proved a little hard to find in the 1901 Census but I believe I may have found him as a garden boy at Springbank Hall in Durham, before making his way North soon afterwards and before 1906 when he appears to have enlisted with the Tynemouth Royal Garrison Artillery, a territorial force, where his occupation is now listed as coal miner for the Seghill Coal Company. He was living at No 34 Jubilee Terrace, Annitsford (demolished in 1969). It must have been here that he met and married his wife Margaret Robinson, a Coal Miners daughter, in 1908.
His full military service is a little difficult to put together as the documents that have survived are badly damaged. His discharge papers from the territorials were dated 1911 and at that time he had given five years and 102 days service. At the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, he initially enlisted with the Northumberland Fusiliers but was soon transferred to the East Yorkshire Regiment, where he reached the rank of corporal in January 1915. In September the same year he was reported missing in action with the 8th Brigade on active service in France. From his service record it would appear that he was initially held in POW camp at Münster.
What happened next is little talked about or made reference to in the context of WW1 and the prisoners of war of both sides ~ and that is the means by which prisoner exchanges could be arranged, and repatriation effected through Switzerland. Below is a quote from http://www.switzerland1914-1918.net/prisoners-of-war-interned-in-switzerland.html an extremely informative site that goes into much more details than I am able to reproduce in this short article:
“At the suggestion of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss government, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and Belgium signed an agreement in 1914 regarding prisoners of war (PoWs). The agreement stated that captured military and naval personnel who were too seriously wounded or sick to be able to continue in military service could be repatriated through Switzerland, with the assistance of the Swiss Red Cross. The first repatriations were made in March 1915, and by November 1916 some 8,700 French and 2,300 German soldiers had been repatriated”
Lancelot Hedley fell into this category. His International Red Cross record shows that he was suffering from a ‘herzleiden’ or heart condition, severe enough to be eligible for the scheme in February 1917. He was transferred to Konstanz where he would have been medically assessed, before onward again to Mürren in Switzerland, where he sadly passed away due to “sickness” on the 26th March 1917.
Having been transferred to Mürren he was no longer classified as a prisoner of war, but rather as an internee and still subject to military control, in this case the Swiss Army. The camp sat high in the Swiss Alps and during the harsh winter months was only accessible by cable car. However this did not deter visitors, and indeed many internees were reunited with their families whilst in residence thanks to the Red Cross.
“Mothers and Wives were allowed to visit their menfolk in Switzerland and every few weeks under the direction of the Red Cross, a party of women would leave London for the Swiss camps”.
As this heart-warming account bears testimony:
Following his death, Lancelot was initially interred in Unterseen before being moved to the military cemetery that had been created at St Martins in Vevey. He is one of 66 British Soldiers who did not live to be repatriated and one of only 88 to pass away in Switzerland before 1923.
Whilst I am not entirely sure this gentleman is the one and the same Lancelot Hedley who was living with his grandparents in 1891, I felt compelled to tell his story. It is so easy to focus on the horrors endured by the fighting men of WW1 so it is good to read and hear about the humanitarian aspects, brought about largely by the endeavours of the International Red Cross that saw many thousands of men from all the nations that had signed the original agreement in 1914, repatriated through Switzerland by the end of the War.
Through the endeavours of Neil Hodgson and another relative of the Hedley family, Lancelot's mother Jane has been traced, as have his children. However, I shall not spoil the story but rather encourage you to explore the fantastic interactive database on the website for yourselves.
The project which began in 2015, covers the men of North Tyneside known to have been killed or died in military service, the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets during WW1. It is estimated by the time of its completion in Summer 2018 there will be in excess of 4,000 casualties entered in the database. Not only that, but the site encompasses the DOMINION GEORDIES, men of the North East who fought in the land forces of Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and Canada, in which I found a pertinent record for another family case I am currently working on. Then, if that still isn't enough there are the GEORDIE DOUGHBOYS representing;
'the Hundreds of ‘GI Geordies’ (former natives of North East England) were among the American Expeditionary Force that came to Europe in 1917–18, Tyneside dockyards repaired and maintained US Navy ships operating in the Eastern Atlantic and North Atlantic, and in 1918 a US Aero Squadron was based in Newcastle. By researching the relationships that developed between individuals, communities, and industries in the North East and US armed forces, this project will help to foster understanding in the region of this historic aspect of the ‘special relationship’.
Whilst this section does not feature an interactive database it does provide an interesting insight into America's role within the WW1 with particular emphasis again on the North East of England.
There is also an impressive animated casualty map, plotting casualties, street by street, house by house, family by family and a blog packed with interesting stories and information. I think this is enough from me, I shall leave you to go and explore the website for yourselves! Remember too that if your ancestor was a Prisoner of War, their database which can be found at http://grandeguerre.icrc.org/. For other UK wide military records and covering many other conflicts Forces War Records is a great place to start. Plus this Easter weekend to celebrate 100 years since the formation of the RAF Forces War Records is offering you HALF PRICE membership off monthly and yearly packages. – less than £25.00 for the year, or less than £5.00 for a month* (use code EASTER50). Dont hang about though, as this offer expires on the 2nd April 2018!
This post is a continuation from last month which looked at a letter written in 1796 between two young unmarried women, sisters Mary and Jane Thompson. The letter sparked speculation as to the meaning behind her comment ‘you often said you would never dow as Dolly had done’. Whilst the context of the statement infers some sort of disappointment in love, this post hopes to add some historical background to the period during which the letter was written. In particular those events involving women.
1796, the year young Mary Thompson put pen to paper, was an interesting year for Britain. It was coming towards the end of the First Coalitionary War with France and in April general Napoleon Bonaparte had begun his campaign in Italy which would result in the eviction of Hapsburg forces from the Italian peninsula. The French Revolution begun in 1789, which some historians state ‘profoundly altered the course of modern history’ marking the decline of absolute monarchies, still raged on. Indeed Britain had lost sovereignty of its colonies in North America in 1783. In August 1796 Spain and France formed an alliance against Great Britain and on 5th October Spain declared war.
1794 to 1796 was also the time of poor domestic harvests, particularly relevant to our band of farming siblings, which when combined with ‘the war against revolutionary France disrupted European trade and the market balance derived from importing grain when necessary was impeded’. Furthermore ‘for 30 years Britain had been on balance an importer of wheat, though on a small scale. Customs duties kept out foreign corn in years of adequate home supplies, but could be suspended when imports were needed’. The harvest of 1794 was one fifth below the national ten year average, with 1795 even worse ‘due to frost and flood’ yielding just 15 bushels per acre ‘when 24 was considered average’. The price of a bushel of wheat rose from an average of circa 6s 4d in 1794 to a peak of 12s 6d in March 1796 which led to nationwide crisis and ‘Bread Riots’. Albeit the west and south of the country were worst affected appeals for emergency supplies were made to the Privy Council by Newcastle and Sunderland in July 1795, the same month a ‘riot’ was led by women and colliers in Berwick upon Tweed.
This led to a ‘’Reading of the Riot Act’:
The Riot Act (1714) (1 Geo.1 St.2 c.5) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain that authorized local authorities to declare any group of twelve or more people to be unlawfully assembled, and thus have to disperse or face punitive action. The act, whose long title was "An Act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters", came into force on 1 August 1715. It was repealed for England and Wales by section 10(2) of, and Part III of Schedule 3 to, the Criminal Law Act 1967.
It is interesting to note that many of these riots were ‘allegedly’ instigated by women. Author John Hostedt published an informative article on ‘Gender, Household and Community Politics: Women in English Riots 1790 – 1810, for ‘The Past and Present Society’ in 1988 (pp.88 -122)'. In it he argues that the significant roles played by women has been somewhat misinterpreted. On the one hand he refers to the view of historian E P Thompson in 1971, that ‘women were the most involved in face to face marketing, most sensitive to price significancies, [and] most experienced in detecting short weight or inferior quality’. On the other the view of Robert Southey who in 1814 said ‘Women are more disposed to be mutinous; they stand in less fear of the law, partly from ignorance, partly because they presume upon the privilege of their sex, and therefore in all public tumults they are foremost in violence and ferocity’. This difference in these opinions nearly 150 years apart is certainly curious and reflects a marked change in attitude towards the ability of the fairer sex, but like Hostedt I suspect the truth of the matter is something rather more complex altogether. There are further snippets hinting at the financial hardships endured by both the farming and wider community in the post Napoleonic period in another piece of family correspondence dated 1828. It is written from Fireburn Mill near Coldstream by Mary’s youngest sister Anne, (born 1793) by then Mrs John Mole. There will be more on this and 'Aunt Mole' to come in later posts.
From her letter in 1796, Mary gives the distinct impression that she is both fashionable and conscious of her physical appearance. In 1797 a rather bizarre tax was introduced by prime minister William Pitt the younger, which, as it applied to many members of society, their families and indeed their servants can be a useful resource for family historians. The ‘Hair Powder Tax’ was effected through the purchasing of a certificate which was then entered in the local Quarter Session court records.
It is interesting to note that women were included amongst Mr Guy’s deputies.
The information included in the list will provide a date, a parish, a list of names and a description being usually the relationship to the head of the household or another role such as servant. So, like a census return, it is possible to piece together some familial relationships.
It is not known if Mary and her family favoured the fashion of powdering their hair or wigs, but a remark on a family tree noting that Mary’s son born after her marriage in 1801 ‘was a dandy’ implies she maintained her sense of fashion and indeed passed it on to her family.
The more I read Mary’s letter the more I feel certain at the time of writing she is in the Alnwick area. The biggest clue being ‘… there is a Whail come in at Howick I expect Miss Betty will let me go home with Miss Pallister on saturday to see it and come back on the sunday night’. After a bit of digging I believe Miss Pallister to be a daughter of William Pallister, described at his marriage to Margaret Brown in Howick in 1763 as a ‘yeoman’. The couple had two daughters Margaret b.1775 and Mary b. 1779, one of which appears to have been a particular friend of the letter writer. There is also perhaps the possibility of a distant familial relationship as a John Pallister had married an Anne Swan at Longhorsley in 1792. The Pallister sisters had a brother John who had been baptised at Howick in 1771. With three inter-marriages between the families in the immediate ‘vicinity’ it is a possibility, whilst not confirmed, that cannot be ruled out.
The first Swan connection was through the second marriage of Mary Thompson’s grandfather William Grey, who on the death of Jane Heron his first wife in 1757, married Isabel Swan with whom, from evidence in his will, he had at least two children; Isabel b. circa 1759 and Robert b circa 1762. In 1779 Isabel married a John Swan at Mitford. From his first marriage William’s daughter Jane had married a Matthew Swan in 1773.
To add to this, but rather more distantly William Grey (Mary’s grandfather) had a cousin (also called William Grey) of Horsley Bricks who, with his wife Ann Young had a daughter they also called Jane. Jane at the time of her death in 1839, was the widow of a John Swan of Earsdon Hill, although from the bequests in their respective wills this union was childless. Instead the primary beneficiaries were John’s Swan siblings, the Aynsley family at Shothaugh and the Liddle family at Snitter, nieces and nephews by marriage.
An effort to establish connections between these Swan families has thus far proved inconclusive, but will no doubt unravel in time. Equally, the magic of DNA may come to the rescue, as it has with other descendants in the Thompson and other associated lines.
As a note to end this instalment – I did go looking for a mention of a beached whale at Howick in the newspapers. Alas, of the whale there is no mention, but a report in 1770 certainly caught my eye in the form of an enormous pie!
There is yet more to come on the various players in this letter tableau as the story of Mary and her six sisters begins to unravel. Remember to drop by next month.
References and Links
 Michael T. Davis, Bread riots, Britain, 1795, The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Emmanuel Ness (ed) 2009.
 Walter M. Stern, The Bread Crisis in Britain, 1795-96 Economica, New Series, Vol. 31, No. 122 (May, 1964), pp.168-187.
 Robert Southey, Letters from England, ii London 1814 p.47
 Sarah Murden, Hair Powder Tax, https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/hair-powder-tax/ 2013
"you often said you would never dow as Dolly had done"
Old documents can be very revealing windows into the past. The structure, form and language is as informative as the contents. Nowhere is this truer for the family historian than in personal correspondence, which often on initial inspection seems to talk about ‘nowt nor somat’. The letter that forms the basis of this blog on first inspection appears to be the idle prattlings between two sisters, highly resonant of the Bennet sisters in Pride & Prejudice. However, it does contain snippets of information that reflect the fashions and social customs of the time. The letter forms part of our personal family archive which we are extremely lucky to have and has provided the basis of much research and speculation undertaken by my predecessors. It is perhaps more remarkable in that it is the exchange between two women at a time when basic education of men let alone the fairer sex was often neglected. Forster’s Education Act which gave all children a right to some form of education between the ages of 5 and 13 was not introduced until 1870, some 76 years later.
The letter can be accurately dated to sometime before December 1796, possibly that September from the subsequent marriages of some of those persons mentioned within the text. Furthermore, September 30th 1796 was a Friday and as the letter is finished on Saturday at 2 pm it would fit. It is written in a fair italic hand but the spelling is phonetic in places and punctuation none existent. Whilst this is still typical of the period spellings and punctuation were now becoming far more standardised. The form of the letter is therefore possibly the product of a young woman with far more exciting things to do than indulge in meaningful correspondence.
So who was the writer? Her name was Mary Thompson, born at Overshiels Farm (Shieldykes) near Alnwick 1777 making her of an age with Jane Austen herself who was born 1775. Mary was the third of seven sisters and and one son to survive into adulthood born to John Thompson of Overshiels and Todstead and his wife Ann Grey. Thus, Mary was one the many grandchildren of William Grey of Burgham and Jane Heron in the maternal line along with descendants of her mother’s sisters the Bolton and Swans. A pedigree that placed her on the edge of ‘county society’ but not necessarily in it. Her letter contains evocative echoes of the youngest of the Bennet sisters, Lydia, with all her talk of fashion, outings and romantic intrigues. Hold this thought as you read on…
Indeed reading between the lines the letters main purpose is to ensure she receives her clean clothes in better time and to impart strict instructions to her sister on the way to iron the skirt of her dress as well as catch up on romantic gossip! I find it quite touching she forgives her sister for not responding as the family are busy with the harvest. Altogether far less glamorous!
Unlike Lydia Bennet, Mary appears to be working in an upmarket dressmaking establishment. Where exactly is not known, but an educated guess would be Alnwick. An earlier blog Kissing Cousins under the section of Music and the Mantua identified Nicholson & Wornum (nee Elizabeth Robson) members of other trees in the family coppice from Longhoughton running a Mantua making business in London at a similar time. That connections were being maintained is evidenced in the news paper cutting of 1803 recording the death of her daughter in Alnwick.
Furthermore, two further female relatives Harriet Nicholson Stamp and her sister Mary of Alnwick had joined the dressmaking business operating out of Wigmore Street, by the middle of the 19th century. Is it conceivably possible that the ‘Miss Betty’ is in fact Elizabeth Wornum nee Robson?
The Georgian era of the 1790’s was a time that witnessed a radical change in women’s fashion as it headed toward the Regency, noted for its elegance and achievements in the fine arts and architecture. Out went the nipped in corseted waists and in came the empire line that flowed freely in an almost elfin Grecian style from below the bust – again think Jane Austen.
Perhaps Mary is eluding to her desire to be more on trend when she describes the skirt on her white gown as round, and the apparent aversion to her petticoats. Whether the ‘dificionies’ are with the petticoats or those she perceives with her figure is unknown.
The ‘uneform for a lady’ sounds quite intriguing and an altogether more formal affair. I am no expert on either fashion or textiles but have come across this reference to an ‘open robe’ from circa 1795.
Mary certainly liked to get out and about and she appears to have had a good deal of freedom to be able to do so. In her letter you can sense her eager anticipation of ‘mickilmiss’. Although it ceased to be marked in the eighteenth century, Michaelmas was a significant date in the agricultural calendar. It marked the end of the harvest, an event which historically would have involved whole communities labouring in the fields in the days before mechanisation. For many farmers it was also the day the rent was payable, and was closely followed by the autumn agricultural ‘Hiring Fairs’. Michaelmas Day was traditionally celebrated on 29 September but when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752 and eleven days dropped from that year, events associated with the end of the harvest moved eleven days later to 10 October.
However, Michaelmas Sunday is still of some importance to Mary. Perhaps her family marked the date with a traditional feast of goose fattened on the corn stubbles? Was this then followed by a blackberry pie? Folklore holds that Michaelmas is the day that Satan was cast out of Heaven by St Michael. He apparently landed in a blackberry bush and being incensed by the thorns he ‘breathed his fiery breath upon the fruit and urinated on them’ – thus blackberries picked after this date will taste sour!
However they marked the occasion in 1796 the previous year had been spent at the ‘Weldon Gardens’ the exact location of which I have been unable to conclude in my limited research time. As the farm of Todstead lies adjacent to Weldon, it was presumably in the same vicinity, or possibly at Weldon Hall which stood to the West of what is now the A697.
This instalment has, I hope, given you food for thought as to the type of information that can be gleaned from old correspondence, and at least given this letter some historical context. If you take the time to read Mary’s letter out loud, you will perhaps also detect a Northumbrian twang! As to her romantic match making notions, to possibly find out what Dolly did and discover to whom the letter was written pop back at the end of February for the who’s who of the characters mentioned in this little tableau …
For those of you with a passion for sewing and vintage clothing, or perhaps would like to get going - I thoroughly recommend Cathy Hay's website and blog. http://thepeacockdress.com/
Old Maps are available online at http://www.oldmapsonline.org/
If you would like to learn more about the customs surrounding Michaelmas then this is the blog for you
‘Identity’ has certainly been the buzzword of 2017 and was even the focus of Her Majesty the Queen’s Christmas Speech to the Commonwealth. It is also highly topical in the face of the exponential growth in the number of DNA testing kits that have been sold – with folks looking to discover their ancestral heritage. However, these tests for what Ancestry spuriously call ‘ethnicity estimates’ should really be taken as broad indicators only, the pool of genetic information from which their conclusions are drawn are simply too small to act as a scientific basis on which to base our sense of ‘identity’. They do, nonetheless, illustrate the concept of migration of peoples, tribes and races to create a diverse and interlinked global heritage. Below is my ‘ethnicity estimate’ from Ancestry which whilst a talking point - only a very small proportion of the 66% Western European can realistically be substantiated.
What DNA testing is great for is ‘cousin matching’ which helps trace family trees through matching to other descendants of common ancestors. This can be especially helpful when the paper trail has run cold or is not readily ‘accessible’ either geographically, or, if records are written in an unfamiliar language. In order for this to work effectively it is necessary to broaden family trees to include the siblings of direct ancestors and their descendants. Almost putting the family tree in reverse so to speak, by as well as going back in time, going to the side and heading forwards towards the present. To give this December’s blog a ‘festive feel’ that touches on a few of the issues above, I have revisited the family of my Dutch great grandmother Grace Elizabeth (Tissie) Meijer who was born on Christmas Day 1867.
Back in February Dutch genealogist John Boeren of Antecedentia, helped get me going in the right direction and shared some of his top tips with us in the blog Going Dutch. Needless to say I have been bending his ear again for this post, and as always he has been an enormous help. Previous research had established that Tissie’s father Hendrikus Petrus van Castel Meijer (HPvCM) had been born at 79 Oude Ebbingstraat, Groningen on the 11th November 1833 to parents Hendrik Lofvers Meijer, a school master, and Elizabeth Houwerzijl his wife. HPvCM was the third of five sons born to the couple and the only one to marry and have any family. The only other family member that followed the matrimonial route was their sister Margaretha Magdalena Elizabeth Meijer born in 1842 and the second of that name, the first having died in March 1839 aged just 6 months.
A document called a ‘Memorie van Successie’ was found for the deceased child on the AlleGroningers website relating to her death. ‘A statement of succession is an overview of the income and expenses of an inheritance. This has been made since 1818 because tax on inheritance had to be paid by the heirs’. As such these documents contain the names of all potential heirs, any property, its location, its value and as such can be a useful source of information for family historians. In this instance it showed that HPvCM had a half-brother called Willem Fockens Lofvers Meijer born in 1822 to their father’s first wife Maria Nix who died 4 days after his birth. Willem was a lawyer in Groningen and also unmarried at the time of his death in April 1851.
Armed with this information the only potential circa 4th cousins I may have out there will be the descendants of HPvCM’s surviving sister Margaretha who married widower Arend Martens Prins at Groningen in May 1873 and their three daughters. The marriage certificate described Arend as a ‘merchant’ and previous research had shown indications they were involved in shipping and emigration. Arend Prins was the principal partner of the firm of Prins & Zwanenburg which was founded in 1867. It acted as a freight forwarding and immigration agent, recruiting labourers for American railway companies. The company grew to have offices through Europe and the United States. In 1884 Arend’s son by his first marriage Marten W Prins in joint partnership with Theodore F Koch (exporter of Holstein Friesian Cattle) and Nils Frederiksen purchase 34,000 acres of land in Minnesota for $4 an acre which they sold in lots to Dutch and German settlers.
Frederiksen was bought out and Marten Prins died in 1886 leaving Theodore Koch as the company’s chief agent. In the ensuing 20 years Koch brokered the sale of over a million acres of land in Minnesota, ‘acting either as Prins and Zwanenberg’s agent or fronting for German investors from the Ruhr valley’. It was quoted by Professor Robert P. Swierenga in his paper of 1997 that ‘The extensive activities of Prins & Zwanenburg in the Netherlands and on the American frontier are only dimly perceived and merit a detailed investigation’ and there are now several informative articles written by Robert Schoone-Jongen including this from the Minnesota Historical Society and ‘Dutch and Dutch Americans’ in the book Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaptation, and Integration, Volume 1 from page 333 for those interested in finding out more, including studies into early Dutch ‘identity’ in the United States.
However, as Marten Prins and his descendants are not my ‘blood’ relatives, although an interesting diversion, the above does not further my quest for potential DNA matches at 4th cousin level! For that I need to return to the daughters of Arend Prins and Margaretha Meijer, and as Reiniera is an enduring family name, their youngest daughter Reiniera Margaretha Arendina Prins born in Groningen in March 1884 was the line I followed first. In July 1906 she married Albert Herman Thiadens from Utrecht and where the couples’ three sons were born, the eldest Hendrik Arend in June 1907. Another very useful website for Dutch surnames is Nederlandse Familienamenbank which gives the occurrence and geographical spread of surnames in 1947 and 2007 respectively. In 1947 the total number of results for Thiadens was 26 and in 2007 just 58 giving a good indication that the families I was searching could be found. Furthermore, the 1947 return has been allocated to regions, which showed just three for Utrecht, with the remainder mostly clustered in the Northern regions of Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland.
It was here that my research took a bit of a sad turn – Hendrik Arend Thiadens (my grandmother’s 2nd cousin) hadn’t made the return having died in Enschede in April 1945. Further searching amongst Dutch War Graves records recorded him as both a Neurologist and a member of the resistance. His memorial reads:
The surname database also came up trumps for the surname Lofvers, with the added benefit of a documentary summary that reached back into the mists of time and the origins of the name. Of the 35 results returned for the 1947 survey 21 were located in the province of Groningen. The summary reads:
The ancestor Pieter Jochems Lofvers (Groningen 1712-1788) was first mentioned with this family name in 1748 as a witness at the wedding of his sister, who also had this family name on this occasion. At the time, a family of Loofvers from Switzerland was living in the area (Hoogkerk), but there is no kinship. The name Loofvers is an adaptation of the name Lauffers, who carried this family in Switzerland. It is possible that the name Lofvers has the same origin and in Groningen it was still not used by Peter Jochems' parents and grandparents in the usual patronymic system [GW Nanninga, 'The Groninger painter family Lofvers', in: Gruoninga 1973, p 121-124].
The usual patronymic system in the extract refers to the use of surnames in the period prior to 1811 ‘where the father's first name became the first son's last name, and the other kids got the left over names from the grandfather, great grandfather and so on’. Standardisation of surnames began in the 1600s but from 1811 onwards it was a statutory requirement. Thus Pieter Jochems Lofver’s father was actually called ‘Jochum Pieters’. Confused – this light hearted article might help!
The MEB Collections at the CBG in addition to family announcements in the newspapers also hold other resources including family files and photos. They currently hold two such dossiers for the Lofvers family including one for Lofvers Meijer within the Prins family papers. These can be viewed within the reading room of the National Archives in The Hague and if the request is submitted before 12 midday they will be available for consultation the next business day. Although, as these documents will be in Dutch, I shall once again be requiring the services of Dutch colleague John Boeren! For more information on the types of document sources available through CBG see here http://cbgverzamelingen.nl/
Reference to the ‘The Groninger painter family Lofvers’ was too tempting not to investigate further and it seems the family’s biography appears in an almanac similar to the ODNB of which I have only been able to find extracts written in English. Pieter Jochems Lofvers (1712 – 1788) and Hendrik Lofvers (1739 – 1806) of whom a self - portrait hangs in the Groninger Museum were direct Dutch ancestors – 6th and 5th great grandfathers respectively. Both it would seem were artists of some note with Pieter best known for his seascapes and depiction of Whalers. Dutch Old Master Paintings in the New Bedford Whaling Museum which contains examples of his work describes Pieter as:
Lofvers lived in the inland town of Groningen, the provincial agricultural marketplace of Friesland, connected to the sea by canals and by long-standing commercial traditions as a Hanseatic port since 1284. But Lofvers himself is not known ever to have been to sea, or ever even to have seen salt water — as three of these paintings reveal through a surfeit of imaginative speculation. However, his depiction on a shoreside tryworks was likely painted from firsthand observation.
The ‘tryworks’ referred to in the extract are the whale oil refineries which were land based at that time. Hendrik his son by contrast was known for his landscape painting and portraits, which are valued for their historical depiction of the landscapes of Drenthe and Groningen as ‘they abound with noteworthy details: bridges, cows, rubbing-posts for the cattle made of whale jaws, and pedlars with their carts’.
Hendrik was not the only son of Pieter to follow an artistic career, brothers Otto, and Sicco are also mentioned in ‘The Netherlands Institute for Art History’ or RKD listings for artists, along with other members of the family. However, their work also encompassed, sculpture, furniture lacquering, gilding, (apparently they re-gilded the organ in the Martinikerk), teaching, carriage painting, and possibly glass staining, which I suspect may have involved another brother Jacob who is described as a dyer and glassmaker. What perhaps interests me most is the reference to an early patent for the manufacture of wallpaper which was granted in 1738, one of the earliest to be granted by the city of Groningen. Whilst this is not early in terms of wallpaper usage and manufacture - the earliest example in Britain is dated circa 1509 and appears on the reverse of a proclamation made by Henry VIII - I am curious as to the design and format of that produced by the Lofvers' family. Documents and other records are again available for consultation in the RKD Reading Room in The Hague.
Once again I have deviated from my original course of action which was to work methodically back through the generations from 4th cousin onwards! Any DNA matches I may have to Pieter or Hendrick Lofvers will be distant – at 6th or 7th cousin level, and I therefore do not recommend that you follow this particular example. However, as anyone who has tested will be aware these distant matches make up the bulk of our results. Armed with the information provided by the surname database and the low number of results for Lofvers, there is a strong possibility that people on the ground today are connected to the first known bearer of the surname. To test the theory I randomly chose the name of a Lofvers death in 1963 and traced it back seven generations when, sure enough, it arrived at Pieter Jochems Lofvers (1712 – 1788) through his son Jacob. Now to add the branches that have descended from the female members of the line, which will of course, bring in a whole new network of surnames, some of which may be lurking within my distant DNA matches. For now research will return to the original plan and methodology, together with planning a trip to The Hague and Groningen in the spring to indulge in a spot of my own #AncestralTourism.
NB. If anyone is interested in the family tree of the Thiadens, Prins, Lofvers, Meijer and other connected families that has been compiled as a result of this research - or in indeed they would like to add to it, please do not hesitate to contact me! I would love to hear from you.
John Boeren - Dutch Genealogist & Family Historian at Antecedentia https://www.findmydutchancestors.com/
WieWasWie - Database of Vital events in the Netherlands. Now also available through Ancestry.
AlleGroningers - Database provided by the Groningen Archives http://www.allegroningers.nl/introductie
CBG - Netherlands Center for Family History Research http://cbg.nl/
Collections at the CBG - http://cbg.nl/bronnen/cbg-verzamelingen/
NB. If using Google Translate it changes CBG to MEB
Dutch Family Database - http://www.cbgfamilienamen.nl/nfb/
The Netherlands Institute for Art History - RKD - https://rkd.nl/nl/
Map & Images of the City of Groningen 1700 - 1861
Last month (October) saw film crews descend upon Berwick upon Tweed filming scenes from the first of what is outlined to be a ‘trilogy’ into ‘A true David v Goliath story of how the great 14th Century Scottish 'Outlaw King' Robert The Bruce used cunning and bravery to defeat and repel the much larger and better equipped occupying English army’. Great and popular viewing it will no doubt prove to be, but please don’t be fooled into taking it as a History Lesson. Take ‘Braveheart’ for example, riveting cinema - but with ‘18 historical inaccuracies in the first two and half minutes’ spotted by Dr Sharon Krossa, who likened it to a ‘fantasy’, these productions from an historical point of view, really should be taken with a large shovel of sodium chloride.
Needless to say in the case of Berwick and 'The Outlaw King' I was not the only one tempted to reach for my soapbox to set the matter straight before a new visual history becomes 'lore', but as local historian Jim Herbert of Berwick Time Lines is far better versed in the subject than I, here is his recent article which explains all.
And so the Hollywood/Netflix circus has been in town to film The Outlaw King, starring Chris Pine, Florence Pugh, and James Cosmo among others. One star that sadly may not, for many, shine as brightly is Berwick-upon-Tweed. Yes, its great fun watching the filming this week and we hope that it will bring some much needed extra income to the town, but the filming locations—the Quayside and the Old Bridge—are the stunt doubles for Glasgow and London Bridge. This is a great shame as Bruce had an important part in Berwick’s medieval past. Let us examine his role.
One of many misconceptions is that the Bruce family were Scottish. They started off, like so many of the nobility in Britain as Norman; the name comes from Brix in Normandy. They acquired, and fortified, Hartlepool after the Norman Conquest but were later grated Annandale (in modern Dumfries and Galloway) by King David I of Scotland in 1124.
The story starts in 1286 with the death of King Alexander III and the ensuing Great Cause of 1291. Of the noblemen claiming the Scottish throne there were only two real contenders, John Balliol and Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale. (As with so many families, the first names are handed down through the generations which can be confusing. This Robert Bruce was the grandfather of our Robert the Bruce and future King Robert I, who was born in 1274.) The Balliols, who were allied to the Comyns, and Bruces had been spoiling for a fight for some time; John II “Black” Comyn had been a third possible contender for the Scottish throne. In 1295 after members of the Scottish nobility refused to pay homage to Edward I, among them, the Bruces. Following Edward’s demands of the Scots for military assistance, the Scots formed what became known as the Auld Alliance with France. The burgesses of Berwick, the principal Scottish Royal Burgh, latterly signed up to this alliance.
Watch out Bruce - He's Comyn For You
Meanwhile, Edward was attending to “diplomatic discussions” in France which were proving awkward to say the least. While away, the Scots kept their side of the Alliance and made incursions into the north of England. Annandale was attacked by King John (Balliol) and given to John Comyn, Earl of Buchan; the Bruces, evicted from their estates in south-west Scotland sought the safety of England and sided with Edward I. Sensing trouble ahead, Edward I appointed Robert the Bruce’s father, another Robert de Brus, 6th Lord of Annandale, as governor of Carlisle Castle. On 26 March 1296, Easter Monday, seven Scottish earls led by Comyn attacked Carlisle. This was to be the first act of aggression in the first Wars of Scottish Independence. However, it was not so much an attack on the English than the Comyn family taking on the Bruces. It was the last straw, however, and led to Edward returning to England and commanding his army muster in Newcastle and marching north. Edward laid waste to Berwick on Good Friday 30th March. Balliol was deposed as King of Scotland.
And so to William Wallace. After his Battle of Stirling Bridge on the 11th September 1297, Wallace was appointed Guardian of Scotland, the first to hold the post during the second interregnum. His men harried the north of England down to Hexham. The English basically abandoned Berwick and one of Wallace’s men, Haliburton, took Berwick and kept it until Wallace returned north in early 1298 after trashing Northumberland. In turn, the Scots abandoned the town by the next Spring pre-empting Edward’s wrath. Wallace was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 and resigned as Guardian. Bruce and John III “Red” Comyn were appointed joint Guardians of Scotland in his place but Bruce resigned in 1300. He, in turn was replaced by Sir Ingram de Umfraville and William de Lamberton.
In 1301, Edward launched his sixth invasion of Scotland after which in 1302 many of the Scottish nobility, including Bruce, swore fealty to him. In 1303, Edward launched yet another attack north of the border reaching as far north as Aberdeen. Now, all of Scottish nobility surrendered to Edward, save Wallace, who was eventually captured near Glasgow in 1305 and met a very sticky end. Both Comyn and Bruce still held dearly their claims to the Scottish throne and it was at a meeting between them on 10 February 1306 at the Chapel of the Greyfriars Monastery in Dumfries that Bruce accused the Red Comyn of treachery and murdered him. Bruce then began his claim to the throne through aggression with a successful attack on the English garrison at Dumfries Castle, after which his long time ally Robert Wishart, the Bishop of Glasgow granted him absolution. Nevertheless, he was excommunicated. Some English records suggest that the murder was premeditated and that Edward wrote to the Pope asking for Bruce’s excommunication.
Six weeks later, Bruce was crowned at Scone near Perth by Bishop Lamberton. Bishop Wishart who had hidden the Scottish regalia was amongst those in attendance. It was traditional that MacDuff, the Earl of Fife performed the ceremony. In the absence of any of the male MacDuffs, Isabella MacDuff claimed the right to perform the ceremony. She arrived at Scone a day late and so a second ceremony was performed.
Edward moved north yet again. He defeated Bruce on 19th June 1306 at the Battle of Methven. Bruce’s wife and other ladies of the court were sent to his brother’s castle at Kildrummy for protection. Bruce and his few followers fled. Alas, there was no safety to be had at Kildrummy. Bruce’s wife Elizabeth, his sisters Christina and Mary, and Isabella MacDuff were captured; his brother, like Wallace before, was hanged, drawn and quartered. It was for her part in the crowning of Bruce that Isabella was held prisoner at Berwick Castle. Bruce was declared an outlaw.
The Bruce Comes to Berwick
Edward I died in 1307. His heir, Edward II was a weak ruler, from whom Bruce allegedly said it was easier to gain a kingdom than a foot of land from his father. On 6th December 1313, Bruce made his first attempt to take Berwick. It is described in the Lanercost Chronicle:
“In the night, coming unexpectedly to the castle, he placed ladders against the wall and began to ascend. Unless the loud barking of a dog had made known the arrival of the Scots, he would quickly have taken the castle as well as the town. The ladders, curiously made for the purpose of scaling, were left here, and our men have hung them over the pillory as a public show. So this dog saved Berwick as formerly the cackling of the geese saved Rome.”
By this time Bruce had recaptured most castles from the English. Edward II’s response was to assemble a vast army, complete with provisions for the campaign, at Berwick. This army is said to have consisted of 60,000 foot and 40,000 horse; 3,000 of the latter are said to have been horsemen in complete armour. The King met the army here. Never had such a vast number been mustered in Berwick before of since, but numbers alone do not always bring victory; rather, it ended in a crushing defeat at Bannockburn from whence Edward returned to Berwick alone.
Emboldened, by his success, Bruce attempted another assault on Berwick. The Lanercost Chronicle again:
“Within the octaves of the Epiphany, 15th January, 1316, the King of Scotland, with a great army, came secretly to Berwick, and under brilliant moonlight made an attack by land and by sea in skiffs, hoping to have entered the town on the river side between the Bridge House and the Castle, where the walls were not yet built. But by means of watchmen and others through the noise of those attacking they were repulsed, and a certain Scotch soldier, Sir J. de Landels, was killed, and Sir James Douglas with difficulty escaped in a small skiff. And thus the whole army was put to confusion…”
The victory against the Scots was a Pyrrhic one. The town was in dire straits, as was all of Northern Europe, gripped by the Great Famine. Poor harvests due to cold, rainy summers were taking their toll. Letters of the day from the Warden, Maurice de Berkeley give a vivid impression of life in the town for the English garrison:
“Tells [Sir William Ingge] no town was ever in such distress as Berwick short of being taken or surrendered. The garrison are deserting daily, and there are none left in the town, save only such of the garrison of the castle as are not slain or dead of hunger. If the town is lost, the blame will rest on him as one of the King’s chief councillors. Whenever a horse dies in the town the men-at-arms carry off the flesh and boil and eat it, not letting the foot touch it till they have had what they will. Pity to see Christians leading such a life. If he would save the town, prays him to send assistance quickly.”
To the king:
“The burghers are deep in debt, and his men are dying of hunger on the walls. He has supplied them out of his own means while he had any. The town was never in such a state, as he has often told the King; but he sees clearly that no order of the latter is obeyed. Whatever his ministers may say to the contrary, there has not come to Berwick, either in money or provisions, since he arrived there, more than £4000, and there are ten weeks short of the year. Of the 300 men-at-arms enrolled, only 50 can be mustered mounted and armed, the rest of the horses being dead, and the arms at pledge for the owners sustenance. He has not had a penny of his own pay since Michaelmas. Begs him to take thought for them and the town, for if he loses it, he will lose all the north, and they their lives. Begs another warden may be appointed, as his term expires a month after Easter, and he will remain no longer. Thinks no attention has been paid to his former letters.”
The mayor, bailiffs and community of Berwick to the King. Tell him that the town is in great danger, as there are only provisions for one month… Sir Robert de Bruys will be at Melrose before Ascension Day with all his force, and do his utmost, they fear, to annoy them by treason or otherwise…”
The town was in disarray with a power struggle between the burgesses and the garrison. The Mayor, Walter de Goswik, had “been very much harassed by the keepers of the town appointed by the King”. James Douglas, one of Bruce’s new allies and whom had been part of the unsuccessful 1316 raid, gained intelligence of this confusion. He and Bruce amassed a new army.
Contemporary records tell us that Douglas believed he could gain the trust of one of the garrison and bribe him to assist the Scottish cause. That man was Peter de Spalding. The Scottish poet Barbour records that Spalding:
“…was annoyed at the Governor’s ill-will to the Scotch in the town, and covenanted with Bruce through Marshal Keith to deliver up the town to him if he drew to it during night, and at the Cowgate when it was his turn to watch.”
This he did. Douglas and his men scaled the walls and hid overnight; remember, at this time the Parade/Ravensdowne area had no buildings on it, save for some stores—the King’s Garners—and the old Parish Church. In the morning, all hell broke loose as the Scots plundered the town. After a siege of six days, the castle too capitulated and King Robert strolled into the town. As for Peter de Spalding? His reward for assisting the Scots was not the promised £800 (something in the order of £300K–£400K today) but execution. The following year, Edward attempted to retake the castle but was thwarted by the efforts of the Flemish pirate-cum-siege engineer, John Crabbe. In retrospect, this was a last hurrah for the Scots. The town finally fell after the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 bringing to an end the last time the Scots held Berwick for any great length of time. However, the one last thing that Bruce gave to Berwick before his death in 1329 was the completion of the medieval walls begun by Edward I in 1296.
Since the filming began, I have been asked one or two questions regarding the mythology that surrounds 'The Bruce'. One story in particular that I was asked about was one that the correspondent’s teacher had passed on years ago; that Bruce’s heart had been buried in Berwick.
Bruce died in 1329 near Dumbarton, possibly of leprosy. Robert’s final wish reflected conventional piety, and was perhaps intended to perpetuate his memory. His last regret was not partaking in any crusade. After his death his heart was removed, placed in a silver casket, and taken by Sir James Douglas on a crusade to help Spain regain Granada from the Moors. Sir James and most of the Scottish contingent were killed but his body and the casket were recovered and returned to Scotland. The casket was buried at Melrose Abbey. It was discovered in 1920 and then rediscovered in 1996 when it was forensically examined and deemed to have held human tissue of the correct age. It was reinterred in 1998. Nothing to do with Berwick.
However, Robert did arrange for perpetual soul masses to be funded at the chapel of Saint Serf, at Ayr and at the Dominican friary in Berwick (near the Bell Tower), as well as at Dunfermline Abbey.
It is ironic that arguably the one accurate thing the 1995 Mel Gibson film Braveheart portrayed (the “Braveheart” in question being Bruce’s and has nothing to do with Wallace) was Bruce’s ambivalence, siding with the English against Wallace.
Now, I’m no historian of Glasgow and I stand to be corrected, but some quick research reinforces my original thoughts regarding Berwick Quayside portraying the Port of Glasgow: would there have been a port in Glasgow in the early 14th century?
It was (and remains) my understanding that no port on the west coast of Britain became particularly important until the “discovery” of, and eventual trade with, the Americas. Looking at an academic paper which gives tables of economic activity in all the British nations, Glasgow is very important regarding the activity of ecclesiastic houses, but the only port on that coast that gets any mention is Ayr; and the tax returns are minuscule compared to the 30% of all Scottish port customs which is from Berwick. Glasgow became a (non-Royal) Burgh in 1214, 90 years after Berwick became King David’s first Royal Burgh. Glasgow itself wasn’t easily navigable till much later. The original port may have been at Newark which became Port Glasgow. But prior to 1668, Newark was a herring fishing village, centred around Newark Castle which was built in 1478 by George Maxwell of Pollok when he inherited the Barony of Finlanstone. So how the film makers justify this eminence, I have no idea. Let us be charitable and say that its a good looking bit of artistic license for Bruce to meet up with Bishop Wishart. It is an irony that the most important port in Scotland is playing the part of a non-entity! *sighs*
Another old chestnut reflected in The Outlaw King is the story of what happened to the body parts of the quartered William Wallace which leads me to a criticism of the film. This is a really silly thing about the whole saga. Popular tradition says it was Wallace’s left upper quarter displayed at Berwick, probably on the bridge. The film shows the left arm of Wallace on a merket cross (improbably located on the Quayside. So 9/10 for accuracy if the port is Berwick, but it’s -10/10 if it’s meant to be Glasgow: no body part was displayed there. The other quarters were displayed at Newcastle, Stirling and Perth.
Finally, let me just reassert for the 94th time that Wallace Green has nothing to do with William Wallace—it’s a corruption of the name given to the area which James Douglas and his men would have, in 1318, been hiding out in—the Walls Green!
Anyway, I join everyone’s pleasure in the entertainment (and money) we have been given by the cast and crew and look forward to seeing the film before posting why comments on the “goofs” section of the IMDb!
** Ends **
If this article has sparked your interest and you would like to learn more about Medieval Berwick why not contact Jim who leads entertaining and informative tours (and more) on all aspects of Berwick's fascinating history.
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It was my intention to write this month’s blog about the contents of Mary Thompson’s letter of 1796 and it was whilst sorting out ‘who was who’ in order to add to Philip Aynsley-Smith’s notes that I disappeared down a rabbit hole. The cause was initially the mention of a Mrs Elder – was this her 1st cousin Jane Bolton who had married James Elder of Alnwick, at Whittingham in July 1786? Jane Bolton’s Mother was Mary Grey, sister to Ann Grey, the mother of Mary the letter writer. Looking at the Bolton pedigree as compiled by George Aynsley – Smith (1866-1942, hereafter referred to as GAS to save confusion), the research of which, it is stated, formed the basis of a published pedigree some 30 years after his death.
"The Bolton Family from Northumberland and its Connections. A record of Kinship" , by A. R. C. Bolton dated 28th February 1971 is stored at the Society of Genealogists in London. A typed manuscript of 24 pages, (reference number : Family History Tracts Vol 112,) the author writes that his knowledge of the Bolton pedigree came from the work of G. Aynsley Smith....
Needless to say the pedigree that was attached has long since disappeared, hence the requirement to reconstruct the pedigree as drafted by GAS. I wonder if A R C Bolton corresponded with George’s son Philip? If so then it will undoubtedly have survived and may shed some light on the issue which saw the rabbit hole I had fallen down, rapidly become a warren.
In the pedigree GAS has attributed the parentage of George Bolton to a William Bolton of Blackpool and his wife Elizabeth, not to Robert Bolton and Elizabeth Davison as recorded in several other well researched family trees. He notes George Bolton (son of Robert) as buried at Longhorsley 24th January 1740. However, a quick search brings this record up as a baptism not a burial at all! Is this then an error on the part of George Aynsley – Smith or, is it a burial that has been entered incorrectly under baptisms in the Longhorsely register? Without sight of the original register I am unable to tell – the Bishop's Transcripts alas do not extend that far back.
On the basis that there is usually more than one way ‘to skin a cat’ a little lateral thought was required. In the pedigree George Bolton of Blackpool had a sister Mary who married Robert Woodman of Herons Close at Hebron in 1757. Hodgson’s History of Northumberland states she was ‘of Blackpool’ but alas does not cite the source of this information.
The online trees have attributed a baptism in Morpeth on 11th October 1739 to the Mary Bolton who married Robert Woodman, which I suspect may be incorrect. Although this Mary would be old enough (18), from other baptisms in the Morpeth register she may also possibly be the Mary born to a Robert Bolton that was baptised in Morpeth in 1734. There was certainly more than one Robert Bolton baptising children in Morpeth at this time. One was a Robert Bolton and Margaret Thomson who married at Mitford in 1724:
Who it appears may have been previously married to an Elizabeth Sanderson in 1712
With Robert Bolton who Married Elizabeth Davison at Hebron in 1730 added to the mix as other potential parents of:
The two baptisms which do appear in the Longhorsley register are definitely children of a Robert Bolton, but is it the Robert Bolton who married Elizabeth Davison at Hebron in 1730?
Furthermore, is this George, the George Bolton of Blackpool? Knowing the vageries of the old parish registers combined with the fact that Longhorsley was a hotbed of recusancy and jacobitism in the early eighteenth century I still have doubts. Particularly as the Bolton family had known associations with such families as the Carnabys for whom few records have survived for this very reason. There were obviously several Bolton families in and around Longhorsley and Morpeth at this time and to unpick them all will take a bit of time. My inclination, as yet unproven, is that many of these Robert Boltons’ descend from the Fenrother (in the chapelry of Hebburn aka Hebron) branch, and a Robert Bolton who died there and left a will in 1612/13. This would in some way account for the marriages at Hebron in the eighteenth century, which in turn casts doubt over Hodgson’s uncited reference to Mary Bolton, and her designation as ‘of Blackpool’ and a sister of George Bolton. However, for the Bolton family linked to Mrs Elder in the letter the one constant and common denominator throughout IS Blackpool Farm.
A John Bolton bought Blackpool Farm from John Ogle on 28th July 1600.
‘...after which is passed through several generations of the Bolton family until Charles William Bigge purchased it in 1823 … George Bolton who owned the farm in 1664 was one of Longhorsley’s more substantial landowners …Unfortunately the current farmstead is nineteenth century in date and so does not provide physical evidence that might determine its origins. It is a substantial farm and has ornamental aspects, as its hedgerows contain sycamores, which are unknown elsewhere in Longhorsley’
I suspect the will of 1688 is that of the above mentioned George Bolton of Longhorsley, the owner in 1664 and either a son or grandson of the original purchaser. In his will he names his eldest son as George, thus following the traditional naming pattern. His second son is John who inherited Hedley Wood and then James and then William. There is no mention of his wife who had presumably predeceased him and certainly no mention of a Robert.
It is likely that the George Bolton buried in Longhorsley churchyard in 1749 (aged 101 years of age giving a birthdate of circa 1648) in what once was an upmarket table tomb, but is now very weathered and decayed, is the son of the owner in 1664. Buried with him is his son William described in the register as ‘of Blackpool’, who was interred there on 19 May 1754. It is to this William that George Aynsley-Smith has attributed parentage of George Bolton of Blackpool, the father of Mrs Elder mentioned in the letter. Further evidence to support this parentage is that George Bolton names his eldest and only son William, rather than Robert. William in turn does not name any of his five sons Robert either, but rather names his eldest son Thomas for his wife’s father Thomas Vardy and his second son George for his father. His remaining sons he named William James and John.
The Militia Lists for Longhorsley parish in 1762 further supports this theory. They list all able bodied men between the ages of 18 and 50. At Blackpool George Bolton is listed as the freeholder, presumably having inherited it from his father William in 1754, but alas there is no will to prove this.
Futhermore, in the same Miltia List recorded under Todburn is listed one William Bolton servant to James Carnaby (1731 – 1803) the son of Ralph Carnaby and Ann Dobson that farmed there. This James Carnaby is named within the will of George Bolton of Blackpool and Mountain in Whittingham in 1791. It is unclear exactly when the Bolton family association with the farm of Mountain began, but the burial of George Bolton son of John on 11th February 1761 and John himself (brother to William of Blackpool) on 17 May 1764, would indicate it was of some longevity.
As for William Bolton servant to the Carnabys, it appears he remained with the family following their move from Todburn to Shawdon Woodhouse, Whittingham where he died in February 1815. His age at death (76) would indicate a birth date of 1739 and there is baptism in the Longhorsley register for the 19th March that year father’s name George Bolton. Ugh!, which one I ask you?
Whilst the above account is as speculative as the online trees may be deemed circumstantial, the total lack of the name Robert in subsequent generations of the Blackpool line gives me cause for concern. Hopefully it will open up discussion and perhaps encourage any descendants of George Bolton and Mary Grey to get spitting and put their DNA in the pot. Although highly speculative as it is so far back, the most recent common ancestors would be William Grey of Birgham and his wife Jane Heron (my 6 times great grandparents), it may still be worth a shot. There is more to tell of this Bolton family including well documented 'defamation' in 1606 where Thomas Bolton of Longhorsley was accused of murdering his first wife and planning the murder of his second! In the meantime I look forward to a lively debate.
It was whilst thinking I really need a holiday and realising that September has evaporated without me taking my hoped for break, that I realised I was craving somewhat warmer climes and sunshine. My thoughts drifted to Salerno on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, and someone else who needed a holiday in September 1944! As it happens the villa ‘borrowed from the man who own[ed] it’ is still available to rent for holidays today – La Smeraldina in Ravello.
The holiday turned out to be a mere four days, and even they did not go according to plan! However, the issues that arose were not War related, but rather of a haphazard domestic nature. Stephen Burgess Hewitt was Town Major of Salerno at the time, and was made an Honorary Citizen on 17th March 1944 in recognition of the work he carried out which helped to ‘alleviate the pain and to hasten the return of the life of the town to the normality of its pace’.
Although the language used is of a ‘time’ his letters home talk of the lighter moments he experienced as well as his official duties. When combined, the information the letters contain sheds some light on civilian life at the time and are a useful and sometimes amusing social history resource. More potent perhaps as the experiences are his own and not an interpretation or account of events around him.
Stephen’s journey to Salerno began in September 1940 when as a Captain of 27 years of age he was sent with the Royal Tank Regiment to join the 7th Armoured Division the ‘Desert Rats’ in Egypt. He served in Abyssinia from August to September 1941 and was ‘mentioned in Despatches that December. He then served with the Eighth Army in North Africa until transferred to Italy in 1943. A photograph in the family’s possession with Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Montgomery suggests he was also present at the victory march in Tripoli on the 4th February 1943. He was promoted to Town Major in April 1943 and a letter dated 26th July contains the first rather ambiguous hints that a change is 'a foot'.
I am awaiting my job it may turn up any time but as the Brig has put me in for something else I may change it quite soon. He says that if I get it I shall be paid about three times my present rate. But as I told Mother, I am not counting any chicks yet!
Interestingly, in the same letter a paragraph later, he recounts hearing of the resignation of Mussolini.
I have just heard that Musso has resigned for (the German radio tells us) health reasons. Presumably he has had ill health thrust upon him!
This sentence provides evidence that the knowledge of Mussolini’s resignation was known, at least by some, just the day after it happened. It also holds clues as to his sense of humour!
Monty, the Eighth Army, which included the 7th Armoured Division arrived in Salerno on the 15th September 1943, some 6 days after the amphibious Operation Avalanche launched the allied invasion of mainland Italy on the 9th. It is unclear if Stephen was with them, or if he had been sent ahead as other written evidence suggests his having arrived on the 8th. This may account for the ‘remember you are now “so and so” and you come with us’, again written in the July letter. The war diary of Harry Blood tells of his own arrival at Salerno with ‘B’ Advance Stationery Depot. They arrived in Salerno on the 26th where ‘… a lot of activity this afternoon – too much for comfort!’ was recorded by Harry, and amusingly that:
‘On arrival our Captain went to the Town Major to report that 862 Advanced Stationery Depot had arrived. He said to the Captain, ‘Paper is the last thing we want at the moment’. The Captain’s comment was, ‘It’s OK, we haven’t got any!’
The next letter home from Stephen written on the 12th December gives an idea of his role:
I am still very busy, no job is outside my scope, at the moment my area covers about eighty square miles, with many towns and villages. I am really responsible for housing all the troops in such places, in addition here, I have collected two clubs an Officers Leave and Transit Camp, Town Guard Room and a civilian housing committee which has had to house about 35,000 people. I have also managed to get started a civilian Transit Camp because it was quite common for me to have a family of twenty just come and squat in my Office at about nine o'clock at night, so that I organised that one to save myself some bother.
In February 1944 we hear the he is still working ‘hammer and tongs’ having had no day off for four and a half months. He was also not taking kindly to the cold weather.
He also describes his house, which sounds lovely and am only sad I have as yet been unable to discover where it was.
The little house I am living in now would just about suit you and Dorothy, at the moment it suits me!, it has a kitchen a dining room, a sitting room, two large bedrooms, two small bedrooms, a servants room and usual things like a bathroom. It has also a great attraction for the kids, a small pool and fountain, the pool has two or three gold fish in it. The garden is very small and very suburban but quite pleasant and in spite of the cold at the moment there is quite a nice show of Mimosa.
In March his attention has been turned to issues of sanitation with the anticipation of warmer weather, although there has recently been another fall of snow.
In the next letter of April 1944 Stephen complains of getting fat and gives an amusing account of a run in with a nun.
… However, I have taken great pains to listen to these people here and help where I can, I have also taken great pains to always to carry out a promise, even if I haven't promised a great deal since I have been here. I am glad to say that they appear to trust my office implicitly and are unfortunately inclined to credit me with the most extensive powers, such as being to release all their relations from prison, in fact there are so many peculiar ways they think I can operate, that I might appear to have the powers of the late lamented Musso. Most of their requirements are very closely linked with the individual making the requests.
On the 25th September 1944 a year after his arrival Stephen is trying to enjoy the well-earned aforementioned break at the villa La Smeraldina. He writes to his brother:
At the time of writing I am sitting in the little white and green villa right at the edge of the sea, some way above it but I am able to throw my cigarettes into it from my bedroom window. It has three bedrooms, a large lounge cum dining room, a kitchen, bath etc. but it is very new and clean, with the most modern things, all the lighting for example is concealed and it is fully furnished with wireless sets and so forth. The rooms are decorated and designed to look like a grotto and all beautifully clean. I have borrowed it from the man who owns it and for these four days I have imported my own staff, i.e. my batman, chef and maid of all work.
His November letter to his sister contains further glimpses of his social life:
Last night I went out to have dinner with the man who painted my portrait. He is the strangest little chap, quite young but so excitable and friendly. He seizes your hand between both of his and bows so low, that I sometimes think he will fall over. I then have to say ‘good evening’ to his wife, his two small children, the sister and a friend who rush at you and smile, as my Italian is still limited, most of the conversation consists in smiling fatuously at one another.
The above is not intended to trivialise the Italian campaign which was particularly savage and heavy losses were sustained by both sides and civilians as described in this Italian article extract:
The bombings before, the fighting then: the price paid to the war from Salerno and its province was very high: 400 dead, thousands injured. Material damage was enormous: 15,000 destroyed rooms, over 100 damaged bridges, one fifth of industrial buildings lost. Eating, housing and transporting points of greatest pain.
The above is rather trying to focus on the impact of war on the civilian population and the role of the military in helping to repair at least some of the devastation it caused, together with snippets of human interest. This was also an interesting period in Italy’s own national history as between 11th February and August 1944 Salerno acted as the administrative Capital of Italy.
The seats of the Badoglio Government in Salerno:
The city also played host to Victor Emmanuel III, the King of Italy and Salerno during this short period must have been a colourful and vibrant place, full of an eclectic mix of people. This is briefly described in the article Kingdom of the South translated from Italian - as is the Salernitans’ evident pride in this period of their history.
The city of Salerno has played the role of Capital for only a little more than five months, yet in that short, but convulsive and dramatic time, it formed a government that was the cell, the first support of the new Italian state, the beginning of the history of our rebirth as a people, as democracy, as a government
Genealogical records are not perfect… As a result genealogists work with a trail of imperfect and inconsistent breadcrumbs, and we use these traces to recreate the lives of our ancestors. Sometimes we do a good job, sometimes we do a poor job, and sometimes we may not know the difference. Trapped within [our] DNA, however, are the stories of [our] ancestors. (Blaine Bettinger)
Before piling back into client work after a pretty hectic couple of months, I treated myself to some time on my own family records. Here, I must acknowledge the fantastic genealogical work undertaken by George Aynsley-Smith, (1866-1942) my great Grandfather’s brother, and subsequently his son Philip. It was after all, the family tree given to me as a young teenager by Philip that set me off on the quest for ancestral knowledge. It was not until October 2015, (very foggy if I remember), that I first had sight of the true extent of George’s research, and the huge collection of family documents he had amassed. My extravagance was to re-read a collection of letters, that due to other commitments had really only been skim read before.
What struck me first is that most of the letter writers are women – not prissy women mind you, but women who are at times dealing with serious business, finance and sadly death. It was whilst reading the letter written circa 1798 by my 4th great grandmother Mary Thompson that two further thoughts came to me. The first was that the contents of these letters extend way beyond my own family and are a rich source of local and family history for others, and the second had me wondering whether I have inherited any of the DNA from the letter writers.
Therefore, I fully intend to pull the letters and research together, cross reference the people and events that were being written about and present it in a searchable format. This exercise may also help to address the significant number of online trees that are frankly rubbish, full of circumstantial evidence and no relation to these lines at all. Furthermore, whilst George and Philip’s research has contributed to many published works, it has never been publicly recognised in its own right. This will be quite an undertaking, but has already been helped enormously by Philip and my Aynsley-Smith cousins - not least by deciphering some of George’s handwritten trees! Philip had started the process of identifying our relations in the letters, and he too did an excellent job with our family genealogy, but the letters have more still to give above and beyond his carefully researched notes. In 1986 Philip wrote his foreword to the collection:
A BOOK OF FAMILY DOCUMENTS
Below is a transcription of letter No12 relating to Christian Trotter’s fatal illness, and the treatment of her husband’s failing eyesight with fumes of Prussic Acid or Hydrogen Cyanide! As the main ingredient of what would become known as ‘Zyklon B’ it is little wonder the poor chap felt both faint and ill afterwards!
Letter from Agnes Smith (1803 - 1871) to her sister Jane Smith (1807 - 1885)
Updated Notes to the Letter
Sadly my [3x] great grandmother died two days after the letter was written on the 15th September 1842. The letter certainly conveys Christian’s character as someone who was not going to take her last illness quietly. The refusal to take her medicine and her vociferous protests displays an obstinate mule like quality which I fear may have been passed on in her genes. It also suggests the terror she may have felt at the prospect of going the same way as her brother Rev Ninian who died in the Cholera Epidemic of 1832.
Of Dr Moffat I can find little, but the reference to his ‘lodgings’ may suggest he was from out of town. My friend and colleague Fergus Smith of Old Scottish, whose knowledge of records and antiquarian books is just immense, passed me this reference to a publication concerning amongst other things, the treatment of ‘Amaurosis’, or blindness without visible lesions to the eye, with the aforementioned ‘prussic acid’.
The following extracts are taken from case No. 13 on pages 43 & 44:
Dr Cahill on the other hand was an eminent physician, Alderman of Berwick upon Tweed and the town’s Mayor in 1841. Having treated cholera patients in the 1832 epidemic, he was instrumental in establishing the town’s subsequent policy of cholera prevention and treatment.
Cahill, part of that nexus of civic leaders in Berwick, had been a medical attendant or doctor at the Berwick Dispensary and Infirmary since 1815, and was its secretary in 1818-1829. This charitable institution, at 18 Quay Walls, benefited the ‘sick poor’ and industrious sick within a twelve-mile radius, and treating around 140 persons a year between 1814 and 1854. (The Local Historian, May 2007 p110.)
Mrs Trotter was Margaret (also nee) Trotter, the widow of James Trotter of Newton, Abercorn, West Lothian. James (1765-1829) was Christian’s brother thus making Margaret aunt to the girls by marriage. Margaret was, however, also Christian’s half cousin, sharing a mutual grandfather in James Trotter (1695-1786) of Kerchesters, Sprouston. At the time the letter was written Margaret was living at East House, Cheswick with three of her daughters. It is through this line and the marriage of her daughter Agnes to George Cargey at Dalmeny in 1853, that we have known living relatives.
‘P’ was almost certainly Phyllis Smith, another sister. Helen, was Helen Young, at the time about six years old. She was the step-daughter of their brother George Smith (of Ancroft) and his wife Grace Ann White by her first husband David Young of Ladykirk. Helen who married Thomas Pinkerton in 1856, was thus a half-sister to the Ancroft Smiths. Sister Jane was neither at home nor with the Trotter family at Cheswick in the 1841 census. Her exact whereabouts in 1841 have yet to be determined but I can guarantee she was not married to a Thomas Slater as 10 online family trees would have you believe! The fact that the letter was written on the 13th of September which was a Tuesday, and not expected to arrive until the Friday, would suggest that Jane was not in the immediate vicinity. Interestingly, brother John who was still unmarried at that time, is also away from home on the night of the 1841 census. By the time the census came around again in 1851, they are both back with the family who are on longer living at Loanend, but most likely at West House, or West Croft within Norham Village. It should be noted that they were both still very ‘unmarried’. John did not marry (for the 1st time) until 1858, and Jane never married at all!!
The above is a brief example of the information that potentially lies beneath the surface of many of these letters. One reason why this particular example was chosen is that is actually mentions very few people, and of those that are, most are already familiar to me. Many of the other letters are not quite so straightforward and will require more time to research in any depth. Time, which for this month at least, has somewhat evaporated once again.
As regards Philip’s comments re some of the letters not being real family at all, I have to strongly disagree. The Whitham family to whom he makes particular reference, are indeed blood relatives. Our common ancestors, John Thompson (1745-1810) of Overshiels (Shieldykes) and Todstead and his wife Ann Grey (1747-1812), just one generation further back, were in fact my 5th great grandparents twice over - due to first cousin marriages they are the parents of two sets of 4th greats. However, in Philip’s defence, who would have thought that DNA would come to play such a prominent role in family history research of ordinary folk. So, for the purpose of proving ancestral heritage, Whitham descendants as blood relatives from this line are most definitely family and potential DNA matches. I say potential, as there is no guarantee that I will have inherited the same genes as my Whitham counterparts, and the Thompson/Grey DNA may have been lost to natural wastage at each subsequent generation. This is best illustrated in a diagram:
Here, I am figuratively represented by the circle at centre of the base. Each ring represents a generation, with the grey cells representing DNA inherited, and the white cells DNA which has been lost. From this it is easy to see that whilst I should have inherited DNA from all my 2nd gt grandparents, I may only have inherited DNA from 22 of my 32 3rd gt grandparents and so on. In this way our genetic tree can be very different to our pedigree on paper.
As DNA can now tell you that a third cousin shares zero DNA with you - do you feel less related to them at that point? Or what about the third cousin who shares more than normal with you? Is there now a difference in how you view your relation to both of those?’
This is a question being raised by Michelle Leonard of ‘Genes and Genealogy’ in her forthcoming talk in Adare, Ireland. A fascinating topic and am looking forward to hearing her feedback. In the meantime do let me know if you have any thoughts on the matter, or indeed would be interested in helping me identify the DNA I may or may not have inherited from this side of the family.