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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Find My Past Preview: Firing Squad


This week’s Find My Past programme, which airs on Yesterday at 9pm on Thursday, traces the desperately sad story of a WW1 soldier shot for desertion, and the stories of the people and their families involved. Over three hundred men were shot for desertion, even though many of them may have suffered from shell shock owing to the horrors of trench warfare. There’s a memorial in Staffordshire dedicated to these soldiers – some of whom were only teenagers.

Images supplied courtesy of Find My Past.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Was your ancestor a child worker in a factory?

In my latest feature for the December issue of Family History Monthly, I investigate nineteenth century child workers and how to research them for your family tree.

For many centuries, the children of the poor entered the workplace from an early age. It was considered part of growing up. They helped with their parents' work at home, in workshops or on the land. Child workers played a vital role in the nation’s economy. They were employed in textile factories, down the mines, in metal manufactures, potteries, glass manufacture, on canal boats, in domestic service, as chimney sweeps: the list is almost endless.
When news broke about abuses in the early factories, this led to a reform movement in the nineteenth century to limit children’s working hours. Lord Ashley (1801–1885), later the seventh earl of Shaftesbury, helped to push factory legislation through parliament.
Parliament vetoed Lord Ashley’s proposal for a ten hour day, but the government passed the Factory Act of 1833, which children under nine years old from working in textile factories, except silk mills. Children aged nine to thirteen were limited to a eight hour working day; teenagers no more than twelve hours. Night work was banned. Children had to attend school for two hours each day. Factory inspectors were appointed to enforce the law.
The age at which children began full-time work gradually increased, thanks to Lord Shaftesbury and other reformers gradually succeeded in their fight to limit children's working hours in factories, workshops and in agriculture. The Factory Act of 1891 increased the age of beginning full-time work to eleven years.
Your local record office may have registers of children exempted from school under the factory and workshop acts in school attendance records. The factory acts said that firms must keep statutory records of children and young persons, and your ancestor’s name could be listed there.

Images from author’s collection: Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury. Engraving by unknown artist, Rev. Edward Lightwood’s The Good Earl, (London, 1886).

The factory chimneys of cotton town Manchester, 1870s. Nationally, over 43,200 children under thirteen were employed in the cotton industry alone in 1871. Cassell’s Illustrated History of England Vol. 7, (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, c.1873).

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Find My Past Preview: Jack the Ripper


I thought last week's Find My Past programme about the Mutiny on the Bounty was the most interesting of the series so far! This Thursday's programme on Yesterday is about the horrific murders committed in Victorian London by Jack the Ripper, so tune in at 9pm if you want to find out more about the family trees of three people whose ancestors were caught up in these terrible tragedies.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Reviews of Tracing Your Canal Ancestors


'Tracing Your Canal Ancestors was not only a great historical read, but the information and references for tracing your canal ancestors can be applied to other research, making it a great research reference book. It will certainly help my research for my own ideas!' Mr Andrew Bell, Shetland. 

'An excellent practical guide...' Towpath Talk, August 2012.

'This is an extremely useful, interesting and well written book which should be in the collection of anyone interested in workers on Britain's waterways... This is a commercial and social history of the people who lived and worked on the waterways... A thorough and practical guide'. Bristol and Avon FHS.

'Essential reading for those new to the subject'. Railway and Canal Historical Society.

'A practical guide that aims to help ancestors who worked on the canals, or for a canal company, to explore these roots... There is a wealth of rich information about archives, further reading, websites and relevant societies'. Your Family Tree, April 2012.

‘This book is an excellent guide for those who have traced their family back to someone who worked on the boats or for canal companies. The first half is a resumĂ© of canal history, but from the rather different perspective of the individuals involved with them: in their construction, maintenance and operation. It offers the human history of canals… It explains not only how people might have been associated with canals, but also gives ideas for sources of where information about them might be held. Even for those not involved with genealogy, it offers a different approach to canal history…
There is a short general chapter on conventional genealogical research, but it is the specific waterway sources that will be valuable… Even the seasoned canal historian will learn from the extensive catalogue of regional archive holdings… Interspersed with the practical information is a series of case studies… Although obviously of direct interest to genealogists, this is also informative reading for the more general canal historian’. Hugh Potter, Waterways World, February 2012.

‘… A clear, atmospheric history of canals and the people who built and worked them… Tracing Your Canal Ancestors is both an inspiring read and a good starting point for your investigation into your canal-faring forebears.’ BBC Who Do You Think You Are?, January 2012.

‘Social historian Sue Wilkes’ new book, Tracing Your Canal Ancestors, is an authoritative guide for those with connections to Britain’s waterways.  A mixture of socio-industrial history with clear advice on how to find out more about ancestors who played a part in British canal history, Sue Wilkes’ book will be an invaluable addition to many family historians’ bookshelves’. Your Family History, Dec 2011.

‘Canal living as it was in the late 19th century is dissected here in great detail, with regular case studies, illustrations and … colourful anecdotes… Wilkes provides an in-depth practical guide to researching your own boatmen ancestors, with vast amounts of information on archives, websites and societies that could help further your genealogical research. This guide is not just for those with boatmen in their trees – it also provides often overlooked information on people who relied on the canal trade for a living, such as lock-keepers, toll collectors and canal company clerks.
The book is an excellent manual for family historians, and comes with lots of ideas about where to find further details about the personal lives of those that worked the waterways’. Family History Monthly, December 2011.


'The book is well written in a lively style; the information is comprehensive and more than enough to give a researcher a good start in their quest for a canal ancestor...The book is in two broadly equal parts. The first 100 pages are a description of the canal network, its history and development, and the lives of the people who lived and worked afloat. The second half is a series of appendices, designed to guide the researcher through the tracing process. The author addresses the basic nuts-and-bolts of family history – general registration, parish registers and censuses, underlining the particular difficulties census enumerators may have had with – literally – a floating population...The book is well indexed and has a comprehensive bibliography. Sources are cited.
The book is well illustrated with photographs, contemporary drawings, maps and copies of relevant documents that the researcher may encounter. The illustrations are a significant strength of the book. The author is an enthusiast without being an anorak; I enjoyed this book and found myself wishing I had canal ancestors, so that I could delve deeper into their long-gone world'. Federation of Family History Societies, December 2011.


‘Fresh on the heels of Sue Wilkes’s recent The Children History Forgot comes an equally superb offering on a completely different theme – the canal heritage of the British Isles. From the first truly artificial waterway in Ireland (the Newry Canal) to the massive network subsequently carved out in Britain, the author details not only the construction of the network, but the careers that depended on it. There were the navvies who built them, the lockkeepers and canal companies who operated the infrastructure, and the companies who depended on the resource to make a living. Amongst that are the classes often overlooked – families who lived their entire lives from birth to death on the waterways.

... The book is in two main parts – the first detailing the history and the second how to uncover it using key resources and archives. Whether you do or do not have a connection to the waterways, this work is an absorbing and enlightening read’. Discover My Past Scotland, January 2012.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty: Find My Past preview




This week's latest offering from Find My Past, which airs on Yesterday on Thursday at 9 pm, looks at the amazing story of the mutiny on the Bounty on 28 April 1789. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian against the commanding officer, William Bligh. According to many accounts, the sailors were attracted to the idyllic life on the Pacific island of Tahiti and repelled by the harsh treatment of their captain. Eighteen mutineers set Lieutenant Bligh and 18 of the 22 crew loyal to him afloat in a small boat. Mutineers then settled on Pitcairn Island or in Tahiti. The Bounty was subsequently burned off Pitcairn Island to avoid detection and to prevent desertion. Descendants of some of the mutineers and Tahitians still live on Pitcairn island. The programme charts the stories of three people whose ancestors were involved in the mutiny.  This could be the most interesting programme yet!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Right Path

During Georgian times, many people in the upper and middle classes regarded ‘the poor’ as a problem that society was lumbered with permanently, as ordained by heaven. The work ethic was all-important; idleness was frowned on. The devil ‘found work for idle hands to do.’  Families who did not use every means to support themselves, for example by making their children work, were considered improvident and a burden on the poor rates.
Educational writers such as Sarah Trimmer (1741-1810) and Hannah More (1745-1833) advocated work for young children as a good way of preventing them falling into lazy habits. Trimmer thought that schools of industry, such as the one at Lewisham (1796) which taught knitting and spinning, were a good way of setting poor children on the right path.  People were more willing to take children on as apprentices if they already had some training.
This idea continued into Victorian times; often workhouses had industrial schools attached to them where children learnt skills to help them earn a living. Many charity schools, such as the ragged schools, like the Westminster Juvenile Refuge and School of Industry gave homeless children food, a safe place to sleep and training in skills such as shoe-making, tailoring, leather-gilding, wood-turning or French-polishing.

Images: Hannah More, who opened several Sunday schools in Somerset. Lady’s Monthly Museum, July 1798.
Sarah Trimmer, a keen supporter of charity and Sunday schools. Lady’s Monthly Museum, November 1798.
The Lambeth Ragged School which opened on 5 March 1851Illustrated London News, 8 March 1851. All images from author's collection.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Desperate (Victorian) housewives - by Jen Newby

I'm very proud to welcome the fabulous Jen Newby, editor of Family History Monthly, to my blog this week! I've often written about how hard life was for working class women, but what was life like if you couldn't earn your own living, and were doomed to a life of cosy domesticity? 

Jen takes up the thread of their lives:

"If I could travel back in time to the 19th century I would rather have been anything but a middle class woman – chimney sweep, scullery maid or even a factory worker. While researching Women’s Lives, my new book on women’s social history during the 19th and early 20th century, I discovered that many relatively well-off women lived lives of quiet desperation, boredom and, frustration.

While female educational opportunities were gradually improving, and their peers were heading off to become teachers, doctors and political activists, ordinarily young ladies were stuck at home with some needlework or improving reading, waiting for marriage and the chance to escape to a house of their own. The conventional view was that women should aspire to marriage and motherhood. Even as late as 1895, novelist Grant Allen got away with writing, ‘A woman ought to be ashamed to say that she has no desire to become a wife and mother’.
So throughout the long 19th century, thousands of carefully-dressed young ladies vegetated on chaise longue. ‘Women’s business’, as novelist Sarah Stephens described in, Passages From the Life of a Daughter at Home, in 1845, was finding ‘something to pass the time…in drawing or in music or literature or worsted work…reading aloud’. Every Girl’s Book (1860) lists uninspiring entertainments open to young middle-class girls: spillikins, fancy work, embroidery, silk work, making wax flowers. For older women there were card games, bridge and sewing.
Lacking suitors and balls, jaded young women devoured romantic novels of adventure and excitement, like Edwardian bestsellers, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Blue Lagoon. The market for women’s magazines rocketed during the second half of the 19th century, with Isabella Beeton and her husband churning out The Queen and The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.
Not all meekly accepted a life of flower arranging and trips to church. Remembering her youth, Florence Nightingale complained: ‘Oh, weary days – Oh evenings that never seem to end – for how many years have I watched that drawing room clock and thought it would never reach the ten’. Some were pushed by their comfortable, stultifying upbringings to aspire to something more, escaping into the world to make their mark. Their stories are still capable of inspiring women today".

Jen’s wonderful new book, Women’s Lives: researching women’s social history 1800–1939 is published by Pen & Sword. You can find out more about Jen's books here.

All images from Jen Newby's collection.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Find My Past preview: D-Day



I'm very pleased to present another preview for the Find My Past family history programme. This week's episode, which airs on Yesterday this Thursday at 9pm, follows three people who are related to those that piloted an elite glider force that spearheaded the D-Day invasion, capturing and holding Pegasus Bridge in Normandy.


Monday, 7 November 2011

Canal Ancestors

The canals were once the lifeblood of Britain’s trade. Ireland’s Newry Canal, built in 1742, was perhaps the first truly artificial waterway in Britain. Engineer Thomas Steers (1672–1750), a Lancashire man, helped to construct it.

Britain’s canal success story really began when the pioneering Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgwater (1736-1803) proved he could make a profit transporting coal by canal.
The Bridgewater Canal, which opened in 1761, brought immense wealth to the ‘Canal Duke.’‘Canal mania’ gripped the nation, and a great network of canals was cut through the British countryside by the first canal workers: the navvies and engineers like James Brindley who transformed our landscape.
Canal boats were mostly owned by big carrying companies; only a few canal boatmen could afford to own their own boat: the ‘Number Ones’. Speedy ‘fly’ boats carried time-dependent cargoes, and these boats had four-man crews.
The ‘slow’ narrow-boats on the narrow canals of the Midlands were crewed by men or by families. The big ‘scows’ and ‘lighters’ on the Scottish and Irish canals were worked by men.
Writer John Hollingshead said the boatmen wore: ‘short fustian trousers, heavy boots, red plush jackets, waistcoats with pearl buttons and fustian sleeves, and gay silk handkerchiefs … round their necks’ (Odd Journeys In and Out of London, (1860)).
My new book Tracing Your Canal Ancestors for Pen & Sword explores the history of the canals and the boatmen’s way of life, and explains how to trace canal workers, whether they worked on the waterways or on the land.

Images: Canal engineer James Brindley (1716 – 1772). Lives of the Engineers: Brindley and the Early Engineers, (John Murray, 1874.)

A Fellows, Morton and Clayton boat, and a canal boat family in the 1920s: Cassell’s Book of Knowledge (Waverley Book Co., no date, c.1924).
‘Neptune’s Staircase’: Thomas Telford’s impressive series of eight locks at Banavie on the Caledonian Canal. Mountain Moor and Loch Illustrated by Pen and Pencil, (Sir Joseph Causton & Sons, 1894).


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Advent of Sunday Schools

The birth of the Sunday School movement is the subject of my latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World.

Robert Raikes is often considered the ‘founder’ of Sunday schools for working class children, but there are several candidates for the title. Almost a century earlier, the Revd. Joseph Alleine held classes at Taunton, and there are more instances recorded elsewhere: in Pennsylvania (USA) during the 1740s, at Catterick (Yorkshire) in the 1760s, and at Macclesfield in Cheshire in 1778.
Many of the pin-makers of Gloucester were small children. One day in 1780, Raikes was ‘struck with concern at seeing a groupe [sic] of children, wretchedly ragged, at play in the street’. The children worked all week; Sunday was their only day off. Raikes was worried they would turn to crime unless they were taught right from wrong.
In July 1780, Raikes and the Rev. Thomas Stock, headmaster of Gloucester Cathedral school, set up Sunday schools for the children. This initiative was immensely popular, and spread like wildfire in Britain.
You can find out more about the lives of working children, and their schools, in The Children History Forgot.



Images: Robert Raikes’ house at Gloucester, now a pub.
Memorial statue of Rev. Thomas Charles (1755–1814) at Bala. Charles founded day schools for Welsh children, promoted Sunday Schools in Wales, and was one of the founders of the British and Foreign Bible Society. © Sue Wilkes.