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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope you all have a peaceful Christmas with friends and family.
Image from the author's collection: 'The Ass'. The Affectionate Parent's Gift, and Good Child's Reward, T.Kelly, 1827

Thursday, 4 December 2014

'Doing Their Bit'

In some earlier blog posts, I've looked at the sacrifices my family made during WW1. While soldiers were away fighting the war, the women and children of Britain 'did their bit' for the war effort, too, and this was true in both world wars. Women took over many jobs traditionally done by men before that date - working on the railways and buses, and in munitions factories and the steelworks.
Boys and girls - Scouts and Guides - helped with war work such as running messages, or harvesting crops. Young lads served in the navy and mercantile marine, and many patriotic underage teenage lads wangled their way onto active service. My book Tracing Your Ancestor's Childhood has lots of info on how to find out about records for your ancestors' wartime service and in youth organizations, and my latest feature for Family Tree looks at the effect of both world wars on children, especially at Christmastime.

Images of women bus and tram conductors, and a mother and child hauling a canal boat along the Regent's Canal, from the Nigel Wilkes Collection: The Times History of the War, Vol. IV, 1915.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Austenprose Review of A Visitor's Guide To Jane Austen's England!

A wonderful review of my new book A Visitor's Guide To Jane Austen's England is now live on the Austenprose website. Laurel Ann's site is a treasure trove of info about all things Austen-related, so have fun exploring it!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Birmingham Brass Founders

Brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, is a wonder material. It’s highly malleable, does not rust when exposed to air, takes a high polish, and lcan be cast into any shape. Birmingham artisans made cutlery and iron tools since at least Tudor times, and in the 18th century the city was famous for its metal ‘toys’ (buttons, buckles, etc.). Matthew Boulton of Soho was a toy-manufacturer.

Brass casting.
Brass manufacture is said to have been introduced to Birmingham in 1740 by a Mr Turner, on Coleshill St. The growth of the city’s famous canal network made it easy to transport raw materials and finished goods. By the mid-19th century Birmingham’s brass bolts, wire, lamps and chandeliers, nails, cabinet and gas fittings were exported worldwide. Firms like Winfield’s capitalised on the increasing popularity of brass bedsteads.
Brass strip casting.
Winfield’s exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park.The royal commissioners and executive committee of the Exhibition visited Birmingham that summer: ‘At the factory of Mr Winfield, for brass-founding, a very touching scene took place...after being conducted around the interior, and having the different branches of the business explained to them...[the visitors] were ushered into a large school-room... A bell was sounded, and immediately all the work-people, male and female, came flocking into this apartment...all were dressed in their everyday attire – the paper apron and cap retained, and in most instances the shirt-sleeves turned up over the elbows. A choir was immediately formed, and a vocal performance commenced’.  A senior clerk of the firm, who gave a congratulatory address to its august visitors, had reportedly worked for Winfield’s for 25 years (Illustrated London News, 28 June 1851).
Making brass moulds.

A government investigator interviewed adults and children at Winfield’s Cambridge St works in the 1860s (3rd Report, Children’s Employment Commission).  Brass foundries were important employers for boys (girls worked in the packing rooms). Children started work around age 7, or more usually age 9 or 10. 
The choking, poisonous fumes in the founding and casting shops affected adult and child workers. The men making ‘yellow’ brass in particular suffered from lung diseases. Henry Peel (27), a brass-caster at Timothy Smith & Sons, said that ‘you get old’ at age forty: ‘I hope to live over 40’.

You can find out more about Birmingham brass manufacture, and how to trace ancestors who worked in the industry, in the December issue of Who Do YouThink You Are? magazine
Illustrations of brass strip casting, the brass workers' frieze, and the canals are from the English Illustrated Magazine, 1883. Making moulds and brass casting are from the Boys' Book of Trades, c.1890s. Author's collection. 

Friday, 21 November 2014


Saddle up and gallop over to the British Newspaper Archive blog to read my guest post on a true-life thrilling 19th century elopement which could have come straight out of one of Jane Austen's novels!
Illustration by Hugh Thomson, Coaching Days and Coaching Ways, (Macmillan & Co. Ltd, 1910).

Wednesday, 19 November 2014