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Monday, 31 October 2011

Find My Past preview: Battle of Britain

This week's Find My Past programme is a 'must-see' for viewers with relatives who experienced the Battle of Britain. It looks at the stories of the relatives of musician Jamie Naden, Timothy Parsons, who lives and works in Kingston-upon-Thames, and keen cricketer Alex Sears.  So check it out this Thursday at 9pm on Yesterday if your ancestors were involved in WWII!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

C is for Coal

In the early nineteenth century, children as young as four years old (boys and girls) worked underground in Britain’s coal mines.  The working conditions for children and adults depended on how high (‘thick’) the seam was. In the Northumberland pits, ponies were used to drag along the tubs of coal, but even so, the children worked a fourteen hour day.
In the ‘thin’ seams in Lancashire, the West Riding, Derbyshire and North Wales, children dragged heavy tubs of coal on their hands and knees, using a belt and chain. Perhaps the worst conditions were in Scotland, where children and young women (bearers) carried loads of coal to the surface in baskets on their backs.
It was not until the Mines Act of 1842, thanks to Lord Shaftesbury, that all females, and boys under ten years old were banned from underground work.
Images: Coal mining (1,2) using pit ponies in north-east England. The boy helpers were called ‘foals’. In the Durham and Northumberland pits, females did not work below ground after about 1780. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts, Vol. I, c.1862.
Yorkshire children working in the mines, and Scottish coal bearers: 1842 Report on Mines.

Find My Past: Titanic preview

This week's Find My Past programme looks at the famous story of the ill-fated Titanic. In this week's episode, the relatives of a wireless operator, a passenger and a steward discover what happened to their ancestors on that night to remember in 1912.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Preview of new Findmypast TV series!

I'm extremely proud to present a special preview clip of the new Findmypast TV series! It will air tomorrow on Yesterday at 9pm. The series will feature people whose ancestors were caught up in exciting events in history.

The famous events that will feature in the series are The Battle of Britain, Mutiny on the Bounty, Jack the Ripper, Dunkirk, D Day, The Titanic, The Battle of the Somme, The Tay Bridge Disaster, A Victorian Royal Scandal and Emily Davison - the suffragette who threw herself under the King’s Horse.

It sounds like a real treat for history buffs as well as family historians!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Canal Boatwomen Guest Blog

Many thanks to the lovely Jen Newby for inviting me to write a guest post on canal boatwomen on her blog! Jen's fascinating book on Women's Lives will be published by Pen & Sword very soon.

Lead Miners’ Children

Compared with coal mining, relatively few children worked underground in the lead mines; most worked at washing and processing the ore, which was done outside in all weathers. Most of the ore washers were boys; only a few teenage girls were employed. They earned 4d a day. They got very cold and wet doing this job.

In the Alston Moor district, the 1842 Report on Mines found that 432 of the 5000 people employed in the area were children and ‘young persons’; only 7 child workers were under thirteen. Only 53 of the ‘bigger boys’ worked underground. In the winter months it got too cold to wash the ore. Boys usually went underground when they were fourteen years old; they earned 9d a day. The miners got ‘asthma’ from breathing in lead dust.
The children of lead miners were often far better educated than those of coal miners. Mining companies such as the London Lead Co. set up schools for the children.
I visited the Killhope Lead Mining Museum a couple of years ago, and went on an underground tour. It was a bitterly cold day, even underground, and it was easy to imagine the hardships which the miners and their children endured.
Images: Killhope Lead Mining Museum’s great waterwheel. The author kitted up ready to explore the mine (I’m more nervous than I look!). The mine entrance.

Photos © Nigel Wilkes.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Parish Apprentices’ Stories

For hundreds of years, orphans and poor children whose parents could not afford to feed them were cared for by the parish. They faced an uncertain future.

Parish overseers saved ratepayers’ money by apprenticing children into trades. This saved these children’s upkeep, and in theory, the children could earn a wage when grown up. In practice, the ‘skills’ they learnt were often useless for earning a living after they had served their time.
In general, children were apprenticed from around age ten, although there were reports of younger children being ‘bound’. Boys could be apprenticed until they were twenty-four (twenty-one after 1767); girls were apprenticed until they were twenty-one, or until they got married.
Parish overseers did not need parents’ consent for these apprenticeships. Children apprenticed far away from their home parish, for example, like those sent into the early textile mills, might not see their parents for many years. Families who objected had their parish relief stopped.
Children were apprenticed into many different trades: textiles, coal mining, farm labour, domestic service, the navy, etc. Some masters and mistresses treated the children well. Others treated them very cruelly, even ‘respectable’ members of society such as Mr and Mrs Sloane, who were prosecuted for their horrific treatment of parish apprentice Jane Wilbred.
You can find out more about the lives of parish apprentices and the stories of children and teenagers such as Jane Wilbred, Anne Naylor and Mary Anne Parson in The Children History Forgot. And my feature for this month’s Your Family History magazine has tips on how to use apprenticeship records to research your ancestors.

Images: The Apprentice House at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal. The Styal mill children were parish apprentices. They were treated more humanely at Styal than at many other cotton factories © Sue and Nigel Wilkes.

Police try to hold back an angry mob in Giltspur St, London, as George Sloane (accused of ‘frightful cruelty’ against his servant Jane Wilbred), is taken to appear before the magistrates. Illustrated London News, 4 January 1851. Author’s collection

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Children History Forgot Reviews and Press Comment

 'I read your books The Children History Forgot and Tracing Your Canal Ancestors.  They were fantastic... I loved both books.  I knew poor children had it rough but had no idea just how bad their conditions were, or the appalling way they were treated. It was certainly an eye-opener!' Mr Andrew Bell, Shetland.

‘Sue Wilkes’ latest book is an impressive account, both describing the exploitation of child labour at the very heart of British society, and the struggle for reform over the issue. The book starts with the collapse of the centuries-old apprenticeship system with the rapid developments of the Industrial Revolution, and shows how…children from as young as seven years old were increasingly forced to work as parish apprentices in factories, often on fifteen-hour days. Reformers such as Robert Owen in New Lanark tried to improve conditions… but progress was slow.

Wilkes skilfully describes the battles fought for reform on all fronts, in the mines, the agricultural sector, the factories and even the humble domestic chimney, in an attempt to allow children to right to simply be children once more. A powerful account recalling a forgotten workforce on which an empire was built’. Discover My Past England, September 2011.

'While we may often bemoan current health and safety regulation, just imagine what life would be like were there none... no laws regarding working with dangerous chemicals; no safety equipment... and no education, no hope of a better life but for a fortunate few. Yet this was the draconian reality of life for a silent majority... Wilkes' work is eminently fascinating, and is a necessary and valuable piece of research into an era that may have gone - at least on these shores - but should not be forgotten'. Your Family History, Issue 20.

'Sue Wilkes traces the human cost - in human and economic terms - of Britain's success... Wilkes gives graphic descriptions of the "fearful conditions" in which children worked... This book is meticulously researched with fascinating documentary evidence and excellent illustrations. It can be recommended as an informative and compelling work... it engages and educates from start to finish.' Parson Woodforde Society Quarterly Journal, Autumn 2011.

‘Sue Wilkes’ latest book tells the story of the long fight for… reform during the late Georgian and Victorian eras and takes a fascinating insight into the working lives of our ancestors’. Chester Chronicle, Flintshire Chronicle, 8 September 2011.

'The style is colloquial... this book... will... successfully appeal to its intended readership'.  Book reviews, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, Vol. 160, 2011.

Britain’s tiny chimney sweeps

This CBBC Horrible Histories video graphically illustrates the plight of Britain’s child chimney sweeps or ‘climbing boys’. Girls were used to clean chimneys as well as boys, but most of the child sweeps interviewed by the Children's Employment Commissions of Queen Victoria’s reign were boys.

As early as 1803, machines were invented for sweeping chimneys, and societies were set up to promote their use instead of children. Lord Shaftesbury (the 7th earl) spent many years trying to stamp out the use of child sweeps. But for decades, children died after becoming stuck in chimneys, or were burnt, or became ill from the soot, which was cancerous.
Although the Horrible Histories video mentions that using child chimney sweeps was banned in 1864, in fact this law was a ‘dead letter’ and was widely ignored. Shortly after the 1864 Act, in England there were still 2,000 climbing boys aged between five to ten years. It was not until 1875, when Lord Shaftesbury’s Act was passed, that police were given powers to properly regulate the chimney sweeping trade.
Now, humanitarians such as Jonas Hanway first tried to limit the use of child sweeps in 1788 – almost a century earlier. The Children History Forgot tells the shocking story of why it took so long for society to stop this shameful practice.

A child chimney sweep of the 1860s. John Leech, ‘Pictures of Life and Character’, Punch (Bradbury & Evans, 1863).
Oliver Twist narrowly escapes being apprenticed to a chimneysweep. Illustration by George Cruikshank, Charles Dickens’s The Adventures of Oliver Twist, (Chapman & Hall Ltd, and Henry Frowde, circa 1905).