Search This Blog

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Win a free signed copy of The Children History Forgot!

For the next two weeks, I’m running a competition to win a copy of The Children History Forgot. The competition is free and open to all UK residents. All you need to do is answer the following:

Imagine you are a working-class child growing up in the 1830s. Your family needs your wages to make ends meet. Which of the following three jobs would you rather do, and why?

Choice A: Factory work

Choice B: Coal mining

Choice C: Chimney sweep

It’s very easy to enter: just type letter A, B or C, AND a very brief reason for your choice into the ‘comments’ section below. Or you can send me a direct message (DM) via Twitter @SueWilkesauthor.  The answer which I find most interesting will win a free signed copy of my book.
The competition ends at mid-day on Wednesday 14 March 2012. Good luck!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Canal Boat Registers

Canal boat or ‘health’ registers were a sanitary measure following George Smith of Coalville’s successful campaign for the statutory regulation of living conditions on board canal boats. Some canal boats, particularly the narrowboats of the midland canals, were extremely overcrowded. The Canal Boat Acts of 1877 and 1884 specified minimum standards for living space and accommodation. Systems of registration and inspection were set up by local sanitary authorities to ensure that the law was complied with. The registers, if they have survived, are a good source for finding out more about your canal ancestors.

For example, the Wigan Canal Boat Registers for the Wigan Urban Registration Authority from 1878 to 1951 have been transcribed and put online by the Wigan Archives Service in collaboration with the Waterways Archive.
The boat’s entry in the register gives the date when the boat was first registered, owner’s name and address, master’s name, place of registration and number, specified what type of boat it was (e.g. fly boat), the number of people it was permitted to carry, and the cabin dimensions. The inspectors' records like these (also transcribed from the Wigan Archives collection), may also contain useful information on your ancestors.
Images: George at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port. A 1910 Leeds and Liverpool short boat built for the Wigan Coal and Iron Co.; a rare survivor. The crew cabin is aft. © Sue Wilkes.
Facsimile of a requisition form for a master boatman’s registration certificate under the Canal Boats Act, 1877. Our Canal Population (London, 1879). Author’s collection.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

News for Family Historians

The Who Do You Think You Are Live Show will be held at Olympia London from 26-28 February.  If you are keen on exploring your family history, do try to make it to the show, as there will be lots of interesting talks and expert advice on tap.

The National Archives at Kew has just started up its own blog, which will highlight the archivists' work and tell stories from the archive collections, so you may wish to keep an eye on the blog just in case something relevant to your family history is posted.

I am very busy trying to finish my Tracing Your Lancashire Ancestors book for Pen and Sword, so I won't be able to update my blog for a few days. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Charles Dickens: Champion of the Poor

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on 7 February 1812, at Portsea, near Portsmouth. Lots of special events are planned for the bicentenary. Charles was the second child of John Dickens and Elizabeth Barrow, the daughter of a naval pay-officer. They married in 1809 and their first child, Frances (Fanny) was born the following year. A further six children were born after Charles; two died in early childhood.

John Dickens became overwhelmed by debt. Charles was heartbroken when his father was arrested for debt and jailed in the Marshalsea prison.
His parents could not afford to send him to school any more. They were very pleased, but Charles was horrified, when he was offered a job at Warren’s blacking warehouse, by Hungerford Stairs. Charles spent ten hours per day sealing and labelling pots of blacking (used for stoves); he earned six shillings a week. He felt ‘utterly neglected and hopeless’. But he ‘suffered in secret, and that I suffered exquisitely, no-one ever knew… I kept my own counsel, and I did my work’ (David Copperfield).
Charles never forgot the hardship of those years at the blacking factory. He became a fierce champion of poor and vulnerable people, especially children.
His first novel Oliver Twist (1837) told the story of workhouse orphan Oliver. To save money, ‘farmed out’ pauper children like Oliver to institutions like Mrs Mann’s house. The parishes gave these ‘baby farms’ money to care for each child. The less money the owners spent on food and clothes, the bigger profits they made. Parish overseers also apprenticed out poor children like Oliver to save money on their upkeep.
A decade after ‘Oliver Twist’ was published, a news story about pauper children made Dickens furious. Over 100 children, including 5 year old Bridget Quin, died from cholera at a ‘baby farm’ at Tooting during the winter of 1848-9.
The Tooting ‘baby farm,’ run by Mr Drouet, housed nearly 1400 children. Drouet was paid four shillings and sixpence (22½p) for each child. The children were dressed in rags. They didn’t get enough to eat. Their only vegetables were rotten potatoes. Some boys were so hungry they stole potato peelings from a bucket of pigswill used to feed pigs. Children slept three or four to a bed.
The Tooting children, already poorly from overcrowded beds, little food and not enough warm clothing, were easy victims for the killer disease of cholera. Dickens said the Tooting ‘farm’ was ‘brutally conducted’ and ‘vilely kept.’
In spite of Dickens’s efforts, when he died on 9 June 1870, many children lived in poverty (and still do). But without Dickens’s work, the social reforms of the Victorian age would have been even slower to arrive.

Images: Oliver Twist asks for more gruel in the workhouse.Illustration by George Cruikshank, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, (Chapman & Hall Ltd, and Henry Frowde, circa 1905).
Charles Dickens and autograph. Cassell’s Illustrated History of England Vol. IX, (Cassell, Petter and Galpin, c.1874). Author’s collection.