Hidden Names: Indecisive and Tricky to Downright Confusing Ancestors

I remember well my husband and I spending hours pouring over a book of baby names throughout my pregnancy trying to decide on boy/girl options for the impending arrival of our little bundle of joy. OK, not so much him as me.

We were sure of our choices for a boy – William Patrick. Less so for a girl. Alice was the early favourite, although we were not entirely convinced. That was until our daughter arrived and within minutes we did a sudden about-turn to Amelia Grace. This was way before Amelia featured in the annual top 10 lists of baby names produced, so we were not swayed (or should that be put off?) by popular opinion. Then it was down to the Registry Office to make her official, like generations of parents before.  

My well-thumbed book of Babies Names

But it’s not always that straightforward. What happens if you change your mind after the official form filling? If you decide after all it wasn’t the right choice? Perhaps the parent doing the registering put down the wrong name, or an “unagreed” one. 

In my recent family history I’ve a couple of examples, with unofficial solutions. My grandma registered my dad’s birth. He has a Christian and middle name. Seemingly the Christian name was my grandma’s choice – her dad’s name, Patrick. My grandad wasn’t best pleased when he found out after the deed was done. As a compromise my dad has always gone by his middle name. Something that causes endless confusion when dealing with officialdom, the only time when he’s ever referred to as Patrick. But at least we know about it so it’s not an issue – though it might be for future family historians, seeking him under his every-day name! 

And there was a bit of pay-back for my grandma’s trickery. Her next son was born on St Patrick’s day – but she’d already used the name!

I also have a maternal aunt. Looking for her in the GRO indexes is problematical. My grandpa registered her under the wrong name, apparently the name of a former girlfriend. Imagine explaining that one away. Unsurprisingly she’s never used that name, although it is remarkably similar to the one she goes by . 

Mind you my grandpa has a tendency to mess up birth registration. To be honest I’m surprised my nana let him do it again after the example of my aunt. But she did. The result is my mum’s birth is registered on the wrong day – something she didn’t discover till getting a copy of her certificate when leaving school, much to her embarrassment. Now, like the queen, she has two birthdays. She chooses, from year to year, which is the most convenient date to celebrate.  

I suppose it’s sometimes all too easy to forget when researching your family tree that these are not one-dimensional, generational paper-trail figures. They were real people, with emotions and feelings and lives just as rich, rounded and complex as ours today. So although I shouldn’t have been, it was somewhat of a shock to find even earlier examples when I delved into my family tree and bought those all-important birth certificates. But these were examples where the families concerned actually did something about it through official channels. 

Permissible but unusual, you could change to the name registered for a child providing it was done within 12 months. There is a column on the birth certificate indicating “name entered after registration” catering for this eventuality. Normal procedure was that the Minister performing the baptism provided a certificate confirming the child’s baptismal name; if unbaptised, the mother or father signed a certificate. This had to be taken to the registrar or superintendant registrar and a fee paid. So not a light undertaking given the financial and time implications, not to say knowledge in the first place that this was an option. 

I’ve discovered two examples in my direct line ancestry. The first is for my 2x great grandmother Kezia(h) Clough. Born in Drighlington on 21 October 1850 she was the 6th, and youngest, daughter of William and Mary Clough (née Burnett). On 12 November 1850 Mary registered the baby’s birth, signing with her mark. Her daughter’s registered name was Emma. However, there is an entry in the name-change column. In this case it indicates the alteration to Kezia. No date as to when the amendment took place. The baptismal register at St Peter’s, Birstall, shows the child was baptised with the name Kezia on 29 December 1850. So the decision was made relatively quickly. 

I’ve no idea why the change of heart. Mary did have a sister named Keziah who died in 1837. But that was over 13 years before the birth of Emma/Kezia, and Mary had two other daughters born after her sister’s death. So ample opportunity to name a daughter after her sister, without an after-registration moment of enlightenment. The reason will forever be a mystery.  

Kezia Clough’s Birth Certificate

You might have observed that I’ve alluded to the fact there are variant spellings of Kezia on official documents. Sometimes the alternative Keziah is used. Something else to consider in that elusive ancestor hunt. 

The other example is my great grandad Jack Hill. Coincidentally he is the son of Kezia and her husband Joseph Hill. Jack was their second son. Born on on 10 December 1872, Joseph registered him on 13 December, under the name Herbert. The amendment column shows a post-registration change of name to John Herbert. Again nothing to indicate when the change was made. Some months after birth, on 25 May 1873, he was baptised John Herbert at Birstall St Peter’s. So another bit of naming confusion thrown into the ancestral search mix – the diminutive: Jack being a diminutive of John. 

Once more no clues as to why the change. Perhaps it was an afterthought nod towards Kezia’s brother John, who died in 1871. Or, the theory I’m leaning towards, is Herbert’s name was too close to the name of his older brother Albert (Bert & Bert), something hinted at in that May baptismal entry where “John Albert” is scored out and replaced by “John Herbert“.  

Jack Hill’s St Peter’s Birstall Baptismal Entry

So lots of creative Christian name considerations when on the trail of ancestors: 

  • Diminutives, some obvious such as Elizabeth/Lizzie/Betty and Joseph/Joe. Some less so such as John/Jack, Pauline/Polly, Sarah/Sally (yes I have those); 
  • Spelling variations; 
  • Christian names dropped, and possibly forgotten over time, in favour of middle names; and 
  • Names being used for no obvious reason at all, other than to frustrate family history researchers. For example Cissie used instead of the registered name of Sabina (yes, that’s one of mine too). 

Sources:

  • GRO birth certificates 
  • Baptismal register, St Peter’s Birstall 

 

Aveyard One-Name-Study: Update

As it’s a while since I announced the start of my Aveyard One-Name-Study it’s about time I gave a progress update. 

In late spring I undertook an online “Introduction to One-Name Studies” course with Pharos Tutors. I wanted to start my study off on the right track. This course was designed with input from the Guild of One-Name Studies so it seemed ideal. And so it proved to be. The five weeks confirmed I’d chosen a theoretically manageable surname. It also gave me lots of ideas for running my study, from data collection, analysis and software tools, to publication and preservation.  

I didn’t jump straight in to my study at the end of the course. I’m not rushing to get it all done in one go. It’s a long-term commitment. I wanted to assimilate all I’d learned. I also had holidays booked!  

But I’m pleased to say I’m finally cracking on with data collection. I did consider doing a big data-scraping exercise, but in the end I’ve decided to go down the slow, methodical, manual route for some core datasets.  

I’ve finished my FreeBMD and Commonwealth War Graves Commission collections. These were straightforward Excel downloads, then tidying up the data. Now I’m in the census phase of data collecting. And the relaxed pace is proving the right one for me here. I’m getting a real “feel” for my Aveyard families by going through the census with a critical eye. And transcribing the data myself from the censuses is hopefully overcoming some of those errors which occur when relying solely on Ancestry or FindMyPast transcriptions. 

I’ve opted to use Excel for my data input in the first instance. The time spent on the manual data collection process has helped here too, by giving my chance to properly consider layout and key field names. But as a result of the course and subsequent research I’m also going to invest in Custodian. I do like a paper option and love my family history index cards. However I’m rapidly running out of house-room and I don’t want my daughter to leave home so I can have her bedroom……..Real family comes first. 


I’m aiming to break the back of data-collection and entry by next spring-time. But as I said I’m in no rush. This is a hobby. It’s fun. I don’t want it to be like work or become some awful “oh no, not that today” chore. I won’t lose sleep over missing a self-imposed deadline. I’m fitting this one around me and my family. So there may be periods of intense activity. But there may be longer ones when I don’t get anything done. If so that’s OK.

But already I’m getting hooked on this new, broader family history angle. And hopefully I may gain more Aveyard ancestors and an insight into their origins and wider inter-connections along the way.  

Family History Research Tips 

Those who follow me on social media may know I had my 15 minutes of fame this week courtesy of the local paper, “The Huddersfield Daily Examiner”. They approached me to see if they could use my story about Annie Leonard, a Barnbow munitions worker of the Great War who died as a result of work-related poisoning in July 1916. Their article is here.

The paper also wanted to do a general genealogy feature. I really didn’t know what to expect from this, or what angle they’d run with. So the interview, which lasted well over one hour, was fairly wide ranging. The resulting article included my tips for genealogists. I must admit to being caught on the hop here. It was towards the end of the interview and, not being used to this, I was feeling pretty exhausted. These were the tips I came up with off the top of my head: 

  • Work backwards using birth, marriage and death certificates.
  • The National Archives is a good starting point and includes research guides. In hindsight I’d expand on this one, saying check out some general family history “how to” books to familiarise yourself with the basics. 
  • Parish registers are invaluable for records before July 1837 civil registration.
  • If you have an unusual name it will probably be easier to research than a common one – however, whatever the surname, be aware of surname spelling variations.
  • Migration from our country or part of the country to another is a complication. Persistence is key. Think outside the box. Look at wider family and other sources including newspapers, local history and transport links. 

However, having time to consider, I’d add the following for anyone just starting out on their exciting journey of family history discovery:

  • Join a Family History Society (FHS). I’m in a few based around the locations of my ancestors. The advice and tips from this army of experts can be invaluable both for those starting out as well as those more advanced in their journey. FHS members have a wealth of local knowledge. And the regular meetings, research facilities and drop-in sessions, besides being informative, provide a social aspect to what can often be a solitary pursuit. Get involved. 
  • Be methodical and organised right from the start. Note searches, including negative ones. Record source references. Include dates and search parameters. Record your findings as soon as possible. Yes it might sound a boring chore. But it can save time in the long run. You reduce the risk of doing unnecessary repeat searches; or you can see where it might be worth doing follow-up searches, for example where providers have expanded or added new data sets. 
  • If you plan subscribing to genealogy sites, research which are the best ones for you. There is lots of genealogy subscription comparison advice on the Internet. Consider a short-term subscription to test the waters and see if a year long one is going to be worth your while. See if your local library offers free access to Ancestry or FindMyPast. GenealogyInTime Magazine has a list of the top 100 sites.  
  • Talk to older relatives and record what they can remember. This is one of my huge regrets. 
  • Don’t rely transcriptions. Shock, horror – they may contain errors! Whenever possible check sources out yourself.  

There are so many more tips. But I’ve limited myself to 10. Feel free to add any others!  

Brothers-in-Arms 

Sometimes we overlook more recent family history, concentrating on the more distant past. Currently events of 100 years ago are dominating the news, with national commemoration events for Battles such as Jutland and The Somme, to more individual and personal remembrances for the centenary of the death of a family member.

But here I will focus on a more recent conflict, World War II. We are moving towards a time when this too will disappear from living memory. Sadly those in my family with direct knowledge of this tale are long gone.

This post concerns the fate of Albert Edward Hill, or Ned as he was known: My grandad’s cousin.

Finding out the circumstances surrounding death in conflict can be challenging: Which battle; location; precise cause of death; time; even date; and perhaps there is no known burial place. World War II in many ways presents a bigger challenge than its predecessor, with the public availability of records.

However in Ned’s case it’s all fairly straightforward. He is buried locally at St Paul’s churchyard, Hanging Heaton. His death is well documented. It was not caused by some battle injury. It was the result of a totally avoidably, foolishly tragic accident following a night out.

Ned was born on 2 February 1901, one of the seven children of Albert Hill and Sarah Ann Summerscales. These included Harry who died shortly after birth in 1890; Percy, Annie, Lilian, Doris and Arthur.

Ned never married. The 1939 Register, the population list compiled at on 29 September, as a result of the outbreak of war, shows him living at Wood Lane, Hanging Heaton. He is in the household of his brother-in-law Harry Robertshaw along with Harry’s two young sons. Harry’s wife, Ned’s sister Annie died that summer, her burial taking place at St Paul’s Hanging Heaton on 6 July 1939.

In the 1939 Register Ned is recorded as working as a willeyer in a woollen mill. This was someone who operated what was termed a willeying machine. Fibres were fed into this machine, which separated and combed them ready for carding. Newspaper reports at the time of his death, however, indicate prior to his army service he worked as a builder’s labourer, employed by Hanging Heaton-based building contactors George Kilburn and sons. 

I do suspect some confusion in the report though, and this occupation possibly applied to his brother Arthur. In the 1939 Register he was a public works contractor’s labourer. 

Whatever the true facts are war changed all this, and some two-and-a-half years before his death Ned joined the Army, as a Gunner.

Albert E Hill Batley News July 28 1945 8 (2)

Gunner Hill

His death came entirely out of the blue. Summer 1945, and war in Europe over, Ned returned home to Batley on leave. He finally managed to meet up with his younger brother Arthur, a driver with the RASC, similarly on leave. This was the first time they had seen each other since Ned’s military service. Arthur had been in the Army for four years at this point, serving in Germany, Belgium, France and Holland.

Things must have seemed hopeful. They had survived so far. All being well they would be home soon permanently. The past tragedy of the family would not repeat itself….

Little could they have envisaged that this meeting would be their last, and in three weeks Ned would be dead.

Leave over and Ned returned back to his Unit, the 397 Battery, 122 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, stationed at Walberswick, near Southwold in Suffolk. This was part of the network of coastal defences, established in response to the threat of German invasion from May 1940 after their rapid victory in Western Europe. That German threat was now gone.

On 20 July 1945 he and another soldier from the same unit, Gunner Leonard Lomax, had evening leave. They left camp at 6pm that Friday for a night out in Southwold. The ferryman took them over the River Blyth and said he would return for them at 10-30-11.00pm.

An interesting aside is the ferry service from Walberswick had featured in Parliament only weeks earlier on 8 June 1945. There had been a seam steam-driven chain ferry which was discontinued in World War II, and it seems a rowing boat service replaced it. The ferry was privately owned and there had been problems in maintaining a regular service. Suffolk County Council was negotiating to acquire the ferry rights to ensure an adequate service.

Walberswick Ferry circa early 1940s Postcard, F Jenkins, Southwold

Ned and Leonard visited three public houses in Southwold and consumed about six pints of mixed beer. They left town at 10.15pm for the return ferry but there was no sign of the man with the boat. As they were debating whether to return to Southwold to catch the liberty truck to camp, a boat containing two soldiers came from the Walberswick side of the river.

These two soldiers, Lance Bombardier Edward Davis and Bombardier George Rennie were from another Battery. They heard shouts from the Southwold side of the river and thought some men from their Company were stranded as it appeared the ferry service had stopped. Despite having consumed three pints, or maybe because of it, seeing a boat moored in the water they decided to cross to collect their companions, but when they arrived found they were strangers. Nevertheless they offered Ned and Leonard a lift back. 

They clambered in the small boat, which turned out to be a yacht’s dingy and using the home-made paddles which were aboard the boat, Edward and George set about rowing back. About halfway across Leonard became aware of his feet feeling wet, water sloshing over the top of his shoes.

George and Edward were now having difficulty controlling the craft and stood up to paddle. They were about eight yards from the Walberswick side when the boat got into trouble with the tide and started to drift back towards Southwold and then seawards. The boat was filling up with water, either the result of a leak or overloading.  At this point Ned grabbed a paddle from Edward and the boat turned over throwing all four men into the river.

Leonard and George managed to get hold of a step ladder running down the harbour wall and climb ashore. They could not see the other two men, so made their way to Southwold to inform the police.

Meanwhile Edward, realising that Ned could not swim, tried to keep him up despite not being a strong swimmer himself. He managed to get them both to the concrete wall where Ned grabbed some weeds. Unfortunately they broke away. Edward continued to hold onto Ned but eventually became too exhausted and he had to let him go. Edward then managed to get hold of the ladder and escape.

In summing up the Coroner censured the boat’s occupants. The accident, he said, was the result of four “landlubbers” knowing nothing whatever about boating. The two soldiers should never have taken Leonard and Ned aboard because they overloaded the boat. There must have been some movement with the result that the boat capsized.

He went onto say that he hoped the tragedy would be a warning to others not to take boats without leave, and not to go on a swift running river like this one unless they were experienced persons who know how many a boat would take. “It is difficult to blame anyone because it is pure ignorance” he added.

A verdict of “Death through drowning through the upsetting of a boat” was recorded.

The Commanding Officer of the Battery wrote to Ned’s sister Doris extending his and the Battery’s sympathies as follows:

On behalf of the ranks of this battery wish to express to you our horror at this tragedy. Gunner Hill was a grand soldier and a man well-known and loved by the men of this unit”.

Ned’s body was brought back to Batley and he was buried in the church yard at St Paul’s, Hanging Heaton, just weeks before VJ Day and the war effectively ending.

Arthur survived the war. But Ned’s fate echoed that of another brother in another conflict, Percy. He died almost 29 years earlier in The Great War, during the Battle of the Somme.

Memories too of the newspaper “Roll of Honour In Memoriam” notices which the Hill family, including the then teenager Ned, placed in the papers all those decades before, mourning the loss of Percy.

Batley News – 5 October 1918
Hill – In sad but loving memory of our dear son and brother, 1736 Sergt Percy Hill, 1st-4th KOYLI (Batley Territorials) who died from wounds at Warloy Baillon, West of Albert, France, September 30th, 1916, aged 24 years.

When last we met, and fondly parted
Our hopes were high, our faith was strong,
We trusted that the separation
Though hard to bear would not be long 

We often sit and think of him when we are
all alone
This memory is the only thing we can call
our own;
Like ivy on the withered oak, when other
things decay
Our love for him will ever live, and never
fade away 

Ever remembered by his sorrowing mother, father, sisters and brothers, 92, Back Bromley Street, Hanging Heaton 

A family which had now lost a brother in both World Wars.Albert and Percy Hill Headstones

Sources:

Death of a Barnbow Canary: WW1 Munitions Work

The past few weeks have focused on those who served and lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme. But what about those closer to home whose efforts may have gone largely unnoticed? 

In this blog post I’m turning my attention to another centenary. 21 July 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Barnbow munitions worker Ann (Annie) Leonard.

Ann Leonard

Annie Leonard

Annie was born in Morley in late 1891[1].  She was the eldest daughter of Leeds-born William and Emma Leonard (neé Dowd).  The couple married in 1890 and, including Annie, they had 10 children.  One child died in infancy but Annie’s other siblings included Edward (1894), Alice (1896), Walter (1897), Agnes (1900), Doris (1902), Ethel (1904), Elsie (1906) and Nellie (1908).  All but Annie and Edward were baptised at St Mary’s RC Church, Batley. 

In the 1891 census William and Emma lived at Springfield Lane, Morley. William was a coal miner.  In 1901 the couple had five children and were still living at Morley, but their address had changed to New Park Street.  William was now a coal miner deputy. This was the official employed in a supervisory capacity at the pit with responsibility for setting props and general safety matters.

By 1906 the family had moved to Batley and the 1911 census gives their address as North Bank Road, Cross Bank. This remained the family address when Annie died.  At the time of this census William still worked as a coal miner deputy below ground.  19-year-old Annie, in common with many other local women, had employment in a woollen mill working as a cloth weaver.

War changed all this. Within weeks of its outbreak Annie’s eldest brother Edward, a former Batley Grammar School pupil with a talent for art, enlisted with the Leeds Rifles. He went to France in April 1915.

Around the time Edward went overseas the “shell scandal” debate raged at home, with the shortage of high explosives being cited as the reason for failure in battles and loss of soldiers’ lives. The war was lasting longer than anticipated; the number of men in military service was adversely affecting industrial and manufacturing output, including munitions manufacture; and the quantity of shells required was outstripping that of any other previous conflict. For example in the first 35 minutes of the March 1915 attack at Neuve Chappelle  more shells were consumed than in the entire 2nd Boer War.  There was a countrywide cry for “shells, and still more shells”.

The Government response was the 1915 Munitions of War Act with far-reaching Government powers in production. National Shell and National Projectile Factories were established, and National Filling Factories set up to fill these shell casings with explosives and attach fuses.

For_King_and_Country_Art.IWMART6513 (2)

IWM Public Domain image by Edward F Skinner. See Wikimedia Commons footnote.

Interestingly, shortly after his arrival in France, Edward wrote a letter home to one of his sisters, possibly Annie. It is particularly noteworthy for his description of German shelling.

Taking things all round, we have had a very quiet week as far as shells, etc, go. We had about the busiest day yesterday when the enemy started sending us shells and trench mortars over…..You can hear them whistle over, but cannot tell to a few hundred yards where they are going to burst.  They “don’t half” make a row when they burst. 

But the trench mortars are the worst. You can see them coming in the daytime.  They look like bottles coming at about the speed a man throws a cricket ball.  When they drop they are about 10 seconds before they burst; but when they do they shake everything for a good distance away.  Personally, I think they are the most terrible things they send”.

Leeds had taken an initiative early in the war in setting up a shell production factory at the Leeds Forge Company, Armley. In August 1915 they took it a step further and oversaw the construction of the First National Shell Filling Factory at Barnbow, between Crossgates and Garforth.

Covering 313 acres at first, but eventually extending to 400, by December 1915 filling operations commenced with the employment initially of around 50 women. Operations were expanded with the Ministry of Munitons’ decision to install an Amatol filling factory at Barnbow in spring of 1916. Amatol was highly explosive, formed by mixing tri-nitro-tolene (TNT) and ammonium nitrate.

Barnbow was now responsible for filling and assembling QF artillery ammunition (13pdr, 18pdr and 4.5 inch), shrapnel and high explosive (HE). Output soon reached 6,000 shells a day.

Once the war ended and secrecy restrictions no longer applied, newspapers published the following statistics for Barnbow shell production:

  • 12,000 tons of TNT were mixed with 26,350 tons of ammonium nitrate producing 38,350 tons of amatol;
  • In the cartridge factory more than 61,000 tons of propellant (NCT and cordite) were made up into breech-loading cartridges, the highest record for one week being 938 tons. This material had to be carefully weighed on scales into ounces and drachms, giving an indication of labour intensivity and precision[2].
  • Over 36 million breach loading cartridges were charged;
  • Nearly 25 million shells were filled;
  • Over 19 million shells were completed with fuses and packed into boxes;
  • 566,000 tons of finished ammunition was dispatched overseas;
  • If laid end to end the 18-pounder shells alone measured a distance of 3,200 miles, equivalent to the distance from London to New York

By October 1916 the workforce totalled around 16,000, although numbers subsequently declined to around 9,000. 93 per cent of employees were women and girls, with a woman/man ratio of roughly 16:1. About one third of the employees came from Leeds. Others were from Castleford, Normanton, Pontefract, Wakefield, Harrogate, Knaresborough, York, Selby, Tadcaster, Wetherby and surrounding areas.

In addition to railway lines for transporting raw materials and finished products, the North Eastern Railway Company operated 38 “Barnbow Specials” a day. These trains transported the workers to and from the site. There were also 15 ordinary trains.  The workers had free work travel permits.

The Barnbow girls employed on shell-filling earned an average of around £3 a week. However, when the bonus scheme operated some girls could earn as much as £10-£12. Compare this to the wage of a domestic servant who earned as little as two shillings and six pence a week.

But the hours were long and the working conditions arduous, in part due to the nature of the explosive material the girls were working with. Nothing causing static and sparks was allowed: so rubber-soled shoes, smocks, caps only and no matches, cigarettes, combs or hairpins. Initially set up with two shifts a day, soon a three eight-hour round-the clock shift system came into operation. The girls normally worked six days a week with one in three Saturdays off. No holidays. No strikes.

But above all the work was dangerous. Not for nothing was the pay high (but not the equivalent of a man!) There was the very real risk of explosion, three occurring at the Barnbow factory during the war. But more insidiously, the women worked with toxic material, and were at high risk of poisoning.  The symptoms included nausea, vomiting, chest and abdominal pain, headaches, blurred vision, nose and throat problems. However the most obvious manifestation was the yellowing of the skin caused by toxic jaundice, earning the girls the nickname of “canaries”.  Newspapers regularly advertised a skin product called Ven-Yusa aimed at preserving the complexion, and the “munitionettes” were a specific target-market for this product.

image

Ven-Yusa advert – The Yorkshire Evening Post, 11 July 1916

 

Milk was also thought to counteract the yellowness. So besides its three canteens, Barnbow had its own farm with crops and animals. Its 120 cattle produced 300 gallons of milk a day. The workers were allowed to drink as much milk and barley water as they wanted.

Despite the hard toil and dangers there was no shortage of women willing to apply for this work. Recruitment of such a large workforce over such a short space of time meant the opening of a new office at Wellesley Barracks, Leeds specifically for the task. One of the early employees Mrs Edith Haigh in an interview with theYorkshire Evening Postin 1939 described her interview as follows: 

“When I applied for work a woman interviewer asked me if my nerves were good, and told me to breathe deeply so that she could see how my lungs were. “Are you afraid of shells?” she asked. “I don’t suppose I shall be,” I said. “You are willing to undertake it?” “Yes, I’ll take it, whatever it is.”

It was this working environment Annie entered. As well as patriotic duty, perhaps her brother’s service and letter about shells had some influence.

With preparations for the Battle of the Somme, increased shell production was imperative. Annie was employed as a filler and stemmer at the factory. Explosive powder was poured, or “stemmed,” into the shell casings. A mallet and wooden drift was then used to compact the powder.  Elsie McIntyre filled shells at Barnbow. She described the work as follows:

“We had to stem… when it first opened in the early part of the war, we had to stem the powder into shells with broom handles and mallets.  You see, you’d have your shell and the broom handle, your tin of powder. And you’d put a bit in, stem it down, put a bit more in, stem it down. It took you all your time to get it all in. It was very hard work”.

Annie had not been working there long, but on 25 June 1916 she returned home complaining of sickness. Her face took on the typical yellow hue associated with munitions work. The family called in Doctor Fox. They also consulted a specialist. All to no avail. Annie’s condition worsened and she died on the morning of 21 July 1916.

Within hours of Annie’s death, her grieving family received more tragic news, with a wire informing them  Edward had not been seen since heavy fighting on the 2 July. He was officially reported as missing.

Annie’s inquest was heard behind closed doors on 27 July. Her death was recorded as “Misadventure. Acute yellow atrophy of the liver contracted at her work at the factory at Barnbow near Garforth”.

image

Annie Leonard’s Death Certificate

At this very difficult time for the Leonard family, with their daughter’s death and their deep anxiety about Edward’s fate, they still took the trouble to publicly thank people for their support, writing to the “Batley News“. Their letter was published on 29 July 1916 as follows:

Mr and Mrs Leonard and family desire to take this opportunity to offer their deepest thanks, and express our most heartfelt gratitude to neighbours, friends and relations for their kindness and consideration, and most of all for the help and sympathy extended to us in this our hour of double trouble. We also send our thanks and sincere gratitude to the compatriots of our late daughter Annie working in the Barnbow Munition Factory, for the way in which they have shown their love for one who was only amongst them for such a brief time.

We earnestly desire our neighbours, who have shown such a love as is seldom found even in one’s own family, to accept these brief words of appreciation, in as much as it is impossible to express our deep feelings at such unassuming love, help and friendship shown by all. We therefore ask all to again accept our thanks.

Besides being such a wonderful tribute to friends and neighbours, it highlights the support and camaraderie of Annie’s fellow Barnbow workers.

In late September 1916 the Leonard family received a further War Office communication. This updated the previous earlier information that Edward was missing.  It was a bitter blow. He was now officially reported killed.  Directly and indirectly the Battle of the Somme had claimed the lives of two of William and Emma’s children. Their eldest son fighting; their eldest daughter producing the shells required in the conflict.

The government was aware of the dangers of poisoning resulting from munitions work before Annie’s death, yet tried to play it down. They were keen to ensure an adequate labour supply to work in the munitions factories. In May 1916 the work was categorised a dangerous trade, but initially little happened in the way of regulations.

Investigations into the poisoning risks continued and in August 1916 “The Lancet” published the work of two female doctors, Drs Agnes Livingstone-Learmouth and Barbara Martin Cunningham. They were medical officers in munitions factories who studied the phenomena for a number of months. They produced a raft of  recommendations including 21-40 age limits for TNT workers, provision of washing facilities, mandatory regular medical examinations, and moving workers elsewhere after 12 weeks.  Following this, regulations were established with full-time doctors appointed to all large factories and part-time ones to the smaller operatives.

The topic of TNT poisoning also grabbed Parliamentary attention. In October 1916 Mr Anderson asked whether the Home Secretary was aware that of the 472 cases of industrial poisoning reported during the nine months to September 1916, 120 occurred from toxic jaundice, and that of the 62 deaths 33 were attributable to this cause. He asked how many of these were due to TNT poisoning. Mr Brace, Under-Secretary at the Home Office said of these 95 of poisoning cases were a result of TNT, and the number of deaths was 28. He went on to say “Every step is being taken by my department, in concert with the Ministry of Munitions, to investigate and deal with this disease.”

In November 1916 Mr Brace was again obliged to state that 41 workers in the UK had died in the six months to 31 October 1916 from either TNT poisoning or inhaling poisonous fumes.

But criticism of the measures taken to safeguard health continued. Echoing the cause of death verdict reached in Annie Leonard’s inquest, on 11 November 1916 Gertrude Ford in wrote in “The Daily Herald”:

Since we last “observed” the world of women there has been another death from TNT poisoning; followed by another assurance from the Home Office that only some sort of “mistake” or “misadventure” was responsible. A properly administered Act, of course, leaves no loophole for “mistakes” that spell death to the workers affected by its operation. The accompanying assurance that everything will now be done to safeguard the health of the munitions-makers is an implied admission of the. If now, why not earlier?

Yet even in December 1916 the Government was asserting the danger from TNT poisoning “seems to be much exaggerated in the popular mind”.  However, the tighter regulations did begin to take effect and the death rates reduced. Nevertheless it is estimated that some 400 munitions workers died as a result of poisoning, a direct result from their work.

Annie is commemorated on the local Carlinghow memorial, at St John’s Church. She is one of 1,400 women whose names are inscribed on the oak screens of the National Women’s Memorial  at York Minister.  Her brother Edward, who has no known grave, is commemorated at Thiepval. There is a family burial plot at Batley cemetery, where both are remembered on the now broken headstone.

On 21 July I intend visiting the grave to pay my respects.

Batley Cemetery Leonard

Annie and Edward Leonard’s Headstone in Batley Cemetery by Jane Roberts

Sources:

[1] Birth registered in Q4 1891 Dewsbury 9b 580
[2] One-eighth of an ounce

Somme Centenary Commemorations – Thiepval, 1 July 2016

I’m still struggling to absorb the many levels of the amazing remembrance ceremony which took place on 1 July 2016. Still lost for words. Still unable to believe I attended the Somme centenary commemorations at Thiepval. It left me with a complex mix of feelings. It was a unique, emotional, exhausting, exhilarating and, strangely given the context, enjoyable experience. But above all it was an absolute privilege to be one of around 10,000 people present, to pay my respects and remember: from the great and the good, to those ordinary British, Irish and French citizens who were allocated tickets in the public ballot.

Somme Poppies

Somme Poppies – by Jane Roberts

I don’t have any family connections to any of the over 72,000 British and South African officers and men named on the Thiepval memorial, with no known grave. However I do have relatives of direct-line ancestors who died in the Battle of the Somme and have identified graves elsewhere. And the names of 11 men from my parish church, St Mary’s of the Angels RC Church, Batley are etched in the Thiepval Memorial stone: 11 men whose lives I researched:

  • Edward Barber: 18th (Service) Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)
  • Thomas W Chappell: 1st/4th Battalion, The King’s Own ( Yorkshire Light Infantry)
  • Thomas Finneran: 1st Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment)
  • Martin Gallagher: 6th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own ( Yorkshire Light Infantry)
  • James Garner: 10th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own ( Yorkshire Light Infantry)
  • Joseph Gavaghan: 17th (Service) Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)
  • Patrick Hopkins: 9th (Service) Battalion, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
  • Edward Leonard: 1st/8th Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)
  • John Lyons: 1st Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers
  • Thomas McNamara: 7th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)
  • Michael J O’Hara: 1st/4th Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

I applied for tickets in the public ballot last year, as did my husband, Chris. Neither of us were successful initially. However Chris received an e-mail in March informing him of a second chance of tickets if still interested. No question about it. He jumped at the opportunity.  To say we were thrilled was an understatement.

Although we have travelled several times to the area, this time rather than making independent arrangements we booked to go with Leger Holidays on their Somme Centenary Tour. That way we didn’t have the worry of sorting hotels and navigating the daunting exclusion zone which surrounded the area. We also had two full day’s organised tours of key areas of the Somme battlefield with a fabulously knowledgeable guide.

It also meant rather than being individuals we were able to experience the occasion as part of a group. That was, in my opinion, the best way to assimilate and process the emotions of the day: sharing with others who were there.

Somme Programme

Somme Centenary Programme Cover – by Jane Roberts

The commemoration was well organised, right from getting to and from the event, through to provision of food and drinks, even down to a goody bag with a poncho in case of rain. And goodness, was that needed at certain points during proceedings, especially given the umbrella ban. Torrential rain showers doesn’t adequately describe the day’s downpours.

And despite the heavy rain showers over a prolonged period in the lead up to the event the site looked perfect. The head gardener told us that planting preparations had commenced three years earlier.

All involved in organising such a complex and sensitive event in front and behind the scenes over many months deserve massive recognition and thanks: from planning, security, ticketing, staging, catering to those performing, showing guests to seats and tidying up afterwards. An incredible achievement.

The readings and music perfectly encapsulated the themes of honouring and remembering all those involved in the Battle of the Somme from the 1 July start date to 18 November end, reflecting a wide range of nations and roles.

It is difficult to pick any one highlight. If pushed for me it was the hauntingly beautiful Gaelic love song, “An Eala Bhàn”, (The White Swan). It was written during the Battle of the Somme by poet Donald MacDonald, serving with the 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders, to his sweetheart Maggie Macleod. Listening to those bleak words sung in the crystal clear tones of Julie Fowlis against the backdrop of the Thiepval Memorial sent shivers down the spine.

I came away from the commemoration with an immense sense of admiration and thankfulness for all those who served 100 years ago. But I was also left with a profound feeling of sadness at the immense loss of lives, youth, innocence; with individuals, families and communities changed forever.

As I mentioned, because we travelled with Leger Holidays we visited a number of other key Somme sites and points of interest during our stay. These included Lochnagar Crater, the result of the detonation of the Lochnagar Mine at 7.28am on 1 July 1916, two minutes before Zero Hour and the launch of the Somme offensive; Delville Wood and the South African Memorial; Devonshire Trench and the scene of the 9th Devons advance straight into ferocious, concentrated enfilading German machine gun fire on 1 July, leaving 160 dead; Sheffield Memorial Park, commemorating the Pals Battalions of the British Army’s 31st Division; Newfoundland Park Memorial at Beaumont Hamel, with its largely untouched ground revealing the scars of shell craters and trenches, as well as its cemeteries, preserved trenches and memorials. This includes the Caribou, one of five on the Western Front, commemorating the Newfoundland Regiment; the town of Albert with its iconic Golden Virgin statue; and Pozières with its Australian connections.

I experienced a couple of take-your-breath away moments. The first occurred at Sunken Lane, the scene of the famous Geoffrey Malins’ film of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers shortly before they went over the top on 1 July 1916. As we arrived a group of soldiers in Great War uniforms walked towards us, an eerie reminder of events 100 years ago.

Sunken Lane.JPG

Sunken Lane – by Jane Roberts

The second was at Ulster Tower. In the midst of another torrential downpour I heard pipe music and saw the top of flags coming towards me from the direction of Connaught Cemetery. The sun came out as the men marched in for a wreath-laying ceremony. As the pipes played “When Johnny comes marching home again” I admit I had a lump in my throat.

I’ll end with some stats. 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, left over 19,000 British dead. That was but one day in the 141 days of the Somme Offensive, which finally ended on 18 November 1916. By its end, out of the over 3.5million men who took part across all sides, there were well over one million casualties, dead, missing and wounded. It can however be easy to overlook the fact that the war dragged on for a further 723 days. And it lasted 1,568 days in total, from the first shots on 28 July 1914 to the 11 November 1918 Armistice.

img_3359

Pozieres British Cemetery and Memorial with Thiepval in the background – by Jane Roberts

 Sources:

  • All photos by Jane Roberts, except the poncho photo which is by Chris Roberts

Letters: Life, Love, Death & The Somme

Letter from Lance Corporal Herbert Booth, 9th  Battalion The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry) to his brother James shortly before 1 July 1916 – Published in the “Batley News” 12 August 1916
 “Well, old boy I do not know when I shall be able to write you another letter after this. In fact I will tell you the truth, it is like the song “It may be for years, or it may be for ever”; but never mind lad, whatever happens to me you can depend on me meeting it with a brave heart.  I will tell you this kid, it is going to be one of the biggest scraps that has ever been known, and I have not the slightest wish to withdraw.  If the worst happens, it is only death, and that comes to everybody at some time or another.  I understand by your letter that you have been rejected.  I know that you would like to have a smack at the Huns, but never mind, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you offered your services to your King, and that is what a lot of single young men have not had the pluck to do.  If things turn out right, and I have luck enough to come through this job safely I shall be able to tell you as much as anyone here can.  This is my tenth month out here and I have not been away from the battle area one month out of the ten.  Perhaps by the time you get this you have read all about this affair in your papers.  If I have the good luck to come out alive I will drop you a field card or a line of some sort at the earliest possible convenience, and let you know how I have gone on.”

WW1 Silk Postcard – my own collection

Letter from Lieut R.H. Ibbotson to Ellen Booth, Herbert’s wife – Published in the “Batley News” 12 and 19 August 1916
“I have received your inquiry about your husband, Lce-Corpl Herbert Booth, and am extremely distressed to have to tell you that the news I have to give you is of the very worst, and that your husband was killed in action on the 1st of July.  He took part in the magnificent advance made by this Battalion.  I am sorry I did not know your husband personally.  I have only just come to this Company to command it from the transport which I looked after during the attack.  None of the officers in “A” Company who took part in the attack are here now, they were all either killed or wounded.  Anything I can say in a letter to you cannot possibly help you, I am afraid, to bear this terrible blow, but I can honestly say that you have my deepest and absolute sincere sympathy”

Letter from Pte W H Fisher writing from Grovelands Hospital, Old South Gate, London – Published in the “Batley News” 26 August 1916
“Corporal Booth was one of my best pals. We went “over the top” on the morning of July 1st, like two brothers, and we had only got about 30 yards out when he was hit right through the temple.  I had to leave him and got about another 150 yards when I was wounded.  I spoke to him, but he never spoke”.

Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the “Batley News” 26 August 1916
Booth – Lce-Corpl Herbt. Booth, KOYLI, killed in action on July 1st

We little thought when we said good-bye
We parted forever and you were to die
But the unknown grave is the bitterest blow
None but aching hearts can know

From father, mother, sister and brother-in-law

Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the “Batley News” 7 July 1917
Booth – In loving memory of my dear husband, Lance Corporal Herbert Booth, who was Killed in Action, July 1st 1916.

We often sit and mourn for him,
But not with outward show,
For the heart that mourns sincerely
Mourns silently and low,
We think of him in silence,
His name we oft-times call,
But there is nothing left to answer
But his photo on the wall
RIP

From his wife and children, 6, Beck Lane, Carlinghow

Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the “Batley News” 6 July 1918
Booth – In loving remembrance of our dear brother, Lance-Corporal Herbert Booth, 9th Batt. KOYLI who was killed on the Somme, July 1st 1916.

Brother of ours on the grim field of Battle
Died fighting for honour, and all that is
True
Brother of ours, you’re a man and a hero.

From his brother and sister-in-law, James and Cissie, 3 Crow Nest, St James’ Street, Burnley

Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the “Batley News” 3 July 1920
Booth – In loving memory of a dear son and brother, Lance-Corporal Herbert Booth KOYLI, killed in action July 1st 1916

Only a wooden cross
Only a name and number
O God let angels guard the spot
Where our dear one doth slumber

From his dear mother and father, sister and brother-in-law, 13 Carlinghow Hill, Batley

Lance Corporal Herbert Booth
9th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry).
Born: 15 May 1885
Killed in Action: 1 July 1916
Age: 31
Buried: Gordon Dump Cemetery, Ovillers-La Boisselle
Husband of Ellen and father of James and Hilda

Sources:

  • Batley News – Various Dates
  • CWGC
  • Parish Registers – St John’s, Carlinghow (CofE) and St Mary of the Angels, Batley (RC)

Pigeon-Stealing in Batley

An entry dated 13 March 1908 in the Batley Borough Court records attracted my attention. On that day two 13-year-old boys and another aged 12 appeared before the Town Hall Magistrates charged with pigeon-stealing. They stood accused of taking four dark, dappled birds on 8 March from Back Cross Park Street.

image

Batley Town Hall – Photo by Jane Roberts

Juvenile crime was not uncommon in the Court listings. But two things attracted me to this one:

  • The sentencing notes were slightly unusual; and
  • I recognised the names of all three lads.

The Court Register entry combined with the newspaper report build up a fuller picture. It should be noted that the newspaper is, in some crucial areas, at variance with the Court record. The name of one of the lads is slightly different. And the ages are given as 12, 13 and 14.

The birds belonged to miner Robert Dewhirst. They were housed in a cote containing 15 pigeons. Robert locked it at around 5pm on Sunday teatime. When he checked it at around 5am the following morning he found the door swinging open, the padlock discarded on the floor and four birds missing. They had an estimated value of £2 according to the Court notes.

Later that day the birds were recovered. They were in the possession of Robert Clarkson, a Commercial Street fish and game dealer. He said he told the boys the pigeons were old and not worth more 6d. He also claimed to have told them to fetch the owner and he would pay for them. The boys never returned. The Court Register and papers are silent about any charges preferred against Robert, so it seems there were none.

The three youths, a school boy, errand boy and pony driver, were not so fortunate. Two pleaded guilty to the charge; the other put in a “not guilty” plea.  Despite this he was convicted of the crime, along with his two friends.

This is where the sentencing twist came into play. They were discharged on entering recognizances for 12 months. They were instructed as to their good behaviour during this time. During this period they were to be under the supervision of Mr Gladwin, the probation officer. He was to visit them and submit regular reports to the magistrates about their conduct. Alongside this a 20s surety applied.

The noteworthy facet of the sentencing: this was the first ever case for the local probation officer.

Pigeon Stealing

Newspaper Headline

This new service owed its origins in 1876 to Hertfordshire printer Frederic Rainer, a volunteer with the Church of England Temperance Society (CETS). Initially London-based, it worked with magistrates via the London Police Courts Mission (LPCM) to release offenders on condition they kept in touch and accepted guidance from the “missionaries”.  The system was extended countrywide with the 1886 Probation of First Time Offenders Act. With an emphasis on religious mission and temperance, this Act allowed courts to appoint similar missionaries if they wanted to. Few chose to do so.

The 1907 Probation of Offenders Act gave these missionaries official status as “officers of the court”.  Furthermore it was now possible for courts to appoint probation officers paid for by the local authority.  The Act allowed courts to suspend punishment and discharge offenders who entered into a recognisance of between one and three years. As part of the conditions of this suspension, the offender agreed to be supervised by a “probation officer”.

Durham-born James Gladwin was Batley’s Probation Officer. He had held the Town Missionary post for a number of years, being recorded as such from the 1901 census onwards[1]. However the three Batley lads, all from St Mary’s parish, were his first cases following the 1907 Probation Act.

The sentence was partially effective. Two of the lads did indeed steer clear of further trouble. Sadly, the youngest failed to do so. He appeared once more before the Magistrates on 7 December 1908. This time he was charged with stealing a pair of men’s moleskin trousers, valued at 2s 6d from Joseph Bennett’s Commercial Street pawnshop on 5 December. Bennett took the precaution of ticketing his shop contents. The lad failed to notice this. So when he then attempted to pawn them at another shop on Wellington Street, Bennett’s mark was recognised and the boy apprehended.

This was around nine months after the pigeon-stealing incident, which as a result now came into play. Mr Gladwin, his Probation Officer, gave his character opinion of the lad. He was sorry, but not surprised, to see him in trouble again. He was always on “the edge of it”, always promising to do better. Police Inspector Wright said the lad was a bad influence on the other boys in town. Despite pleadings from his father, he was now convicted of both the trouser and pigeon-stealing offences. To save him from a life of trouble he was sentenced to five years in a Reformatory.

The Reformatory system was established in 1854 for under-16s convicted of crime. With concern about the way children were treated in the criminal system, the Philanthropic Society was at the forefront of this change to the criminal system. Children sent to Reformatory schools spent between two to five years there. However, until 1899, those committed to such establishments still spent 14 days in an adult prison first. This was thankfully no longer the case by the time of this lad’s sentence.

As a Catholic he was sent to serve out his sentence at St William’s School for Training Catholic Boys, situated at Holme upon Spalding Moor, near Market Weighton in the East Riding. Founded in 1856 as the Yorkshire Catholic Reform School, this was in a remote, rural location. The work the boys undertook reflected its countryside locality, with a large proportion dividing their time between studies and farm labouring. Other trades included shoemakers, bricklayers, printers, tailors, bookbinders, laundry and horse boys.

At the time he entered the Reformatory, it was headed by Rev Charles Ottaway who took over in 1906. It was Father Ottaway who instigated the name-change to St William’s. He was still in charge in the 1911 census, where the boy is shown as an inmate dividing his time between schooling and working as a farm boy labourer.

Under Father Ottaway’s regime the boys wore a uniform of plain cord knickers and a tweed coat. However despite the uniform and name-change, the Reformatory under his tenure was noted for its poor discipline and too frequent punishments, as noted in highly critical inspection reports. The covering letter to a December 1911 inspection said:

Father Ottaway overloaded, boys have insufficient food, overwork and lack of recreation, stunted in growth and underweight, approved dietary scale not adhered to and substitutes inadequate, punishments not accurately recorded, carelessness, cells unfit for use…..

Another report in May 1912 by Brigdier Mark Sykes M.P., a member of the Reformatory Committtee, noted amongst other things improper cleaning; ill-shod boys in ragged, disreputable clothing; an unvaried, disgusting diet; too frequent and too trivial punishments; inadequate fire-safety and escape provisions and damnning indictments on various staff members. His report ended:

I consider that with the exception of Mr Hart it would be best to discharge the whole of the present staff and start afresh“.

In short the entire establishment lacked go and discipline. 

The declining numbers of boys being admitted during Father Ottaway’s tenure was a probable reflection of the lack of  care, schooling, work-training  and basic facilities such as toilets and washing on offer there. Nevertheless Batley Borough Court continued to use it for its “wayward” Catholic boys, including two sent there in March 1912 for stealing a box of biscuits. And Father Ottaway remained in charge until the summer of 1912.

Back to the pigeon and trouser-stealing boy though. The lad’s father had a maintenance order of 2s a week imposed by the Court, in order to provide for his son’s upkeep in this establishment. Parents had to contribute towards the costs, and this was means-tested based on the family income. As the newspaper noted the family had £2 10s coming into the household each week.

East Riding Archives hold extensive records for this particular Reformatory, including admission registers, report books and medical registers.[2] So well worth a visit for those with ancestors who spent time there, either working or as inmates.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned I recognised the names of all three lads charged with pigeon-stealing[3].  They are all connected with my parish church. And all three lads were dead just over eight years following the pigeon incident. All lost their lives in the Great War: One in 1914, the other 1915 and the final one in 1916. They are all on the church War Memorial.

I have deliberately not named any of the boys involved.

Sources:

[1] In 1891 his occupation was given as “home missionary”
[2] East Riding Archives Finding Reference DDSW, St William’s Community Home
[3] I have taken the Court Register names to be the correct ones. As I mentioned earlier in the post, the only newspaper report for this incident had a different Christian name and slightly different surname for one of the boys. However checking baptisms, births and censuses there is no-one matching the newspaper name.

“You’ve a Mother and a Father. That’s All You Need to Know” – Batley Borough Court Records: Part 3

I thought long and hard before writing this post, the third in my Batley Borough Court paternity proof series. The reason for the deliberation is it concerns family information not discussed for years, if at all in living memory. “You’ve a mother and a father. That’s all you need to know” is a phrase that springs to mind. But I wanted to know more than that. So on and off I ferreted away at records.

The deciding factors for me in going ahead in writing this are:

  • it relates to my family history;
  • those directly affected are no longer alive. Neither are immediate subsequent generations;
  • the events took place over 100 years ago;
  • the information is publicly available;
  • when researching my family history I want to be even-handed with all aspects, the good and the not so good; and
  • this post may give an indication of some of the sources that are available when looking into the issue of tracing fathers of illegitimate ancestors.

I was elated with the find. Here the Batley Borough Court records have solved one of my long-standing family mysteries, as outlined in an earlier post about Parish Registers. It relates to the paternity of my great grandmother Bridget Gavan’s second child, a daughter, born on 28 August 1893.

The parish priest at St Mary of the Angels, Batley, at the time of the child’s baptism the following month believed Bridget to be married. The baptismal entry in the parish register is under the name “Regan” and Bridget’s husband is named as Charles Regan. The only problem: Bridget was not married. So proof you cannot always take what is written in parish registers as 100% accurate.

A later priest realised the error. When the girl’s marriage took place, some decades later, he noted against her baptismal entry that she married under the name Gavin [sic]. Yes the priests were meticulous in the practice of annotating baptismal entries with later marriage details!

But, although the baptismal entry gave a potential lead into the child’s father, I could not definitively identify Charles Regan. Not until a search of the Batley Borough Court register.

On 5 February 1894 Bridget Gavan was the complainant in a bastardy case heard at Batley Town Hall against Charles Ragan (note the subtle spelling difference here). Charles was ordered to pay 3/ a week until the unnamed child reached the age of 13. As well as court costs he also had to pay birth expenses of £1:1:0. So this provides corroboration of the baptismal paternity information.

Charles Ragan features a further eight times in the Borough Court Register between 1894-1907[1]. Three of these relate to police charges of drunk and riotous behaviour in various areas of Batley. The other five are cases brought by Bridget for bastardy arrears. Full details are at Table 1.Charles Ragan BBC

It can be seen from the entries that Bridget gave Charles time to pay on two occasions. Some of the bastardy cases took place after Bridget’s marriage in November 1897. And some of the adjudications around the bastardy arrears involved straight custodial sentences, without the option of paying a fine.

This then led me to the collection of West Yorkshire Archives Prison Records on Ancestry.

Bingo! I was astounded to find 20 entries in the Wakefield Prison Records Nominal Registers relating to Charles for appearances before West Riding Courts at Wakefield and Dewsbury as well as Batley. They relate to the various bastardy cases heard at Batley, outlined above, as well as charges in all areas for drunkenness and non-payment of costs.

Wakefield Prison

Wakefield Prison Image from around 1916 shared by David Studdard on the Maggie Blanck Website – see Sources

It appears that even where Charles had the option of paying a fine he chose not to do so, or perhaps simply could not afford to, and the alternative custodial sentence was enforced.  This includes one of the instances where Bridget had allowed extra time: Hence the large numbers of entries for him in the Wakefield prison register.

For my research purposes these entries provide a basic description of Charles, his age, religion, occupation, education level and, crucially, a birthplace. Although the records are not consistent, particularly around education levels which range from “imperfect” to “read and write” through to Standards I-III[2], they give a general picture.

Charles was around 5’5” tall, with brown hair, had only a very basic level of education and his employment varied from colliery worker to miner to labourer, so manual work. His birthplace was given as Leeds and further narrowed in some of the register entries to the Beeston/Holbeck area.  And his date of birth was somewhere between 1869-1876. Despite the variations, they clearly all relate to the same man given the detail provided including the previous custodial reference number.

The entries are summarised in Tables 2a and 2bCharles Ragan 2a

Charles Ragan 2bLooking at the censuses with this fresh information, Charles Joseph Ragan, to give him his full name, was born in Holbeck in 1869. He was the son of Irish-born coal miner John Ragan and his wife Sarah Norfolk, a local girl from Hunslet. The couple married in 1866 and by the time of the 1871 census the family was recorded living in Holbeck. Besides Charles other children included six year-old Hannah Norfolk, three year-old Thomas and infant daughter Sarah.

The 1881 census reveals further siblings of Charles: George, age eight; six year-old John; Arthur, four; and Elizabeth, two. By this time Charles had employment as a dray-boy.

1891 shows a move to East Ardsley and two further additions John and Sarah’s family – Alice born in around 1882 and Walter in 1884. Charles now worked as a coal miner, like his father.

The work opportunities in the relatively new pits in East Ardsley probably initiated the move from the Leeds area. The town’s extensive collieries were owned by Robert Holliday and Sons, with East Ardsley Colliery being known as Holliday’s Pit. They started to sink two shafts here in 1872, on land leased from the Cardigan estate. A third shaft was sunk in 1877. By 1881 in excess of 300 East Ardsley men were employed in mining. In 1899 the colliery produced 200,000 tons annually, making it the 11th largest Yorkshire coalfield.

Returning to Charles’ brushes with the law, newspaper reports added a little more detail, but not much. For example in the March 1900 case around arrears, Bridget revealed that Charles had failed to make payments for their seven year-old daughter for three years. Possibly this corresponded with the time Bridget was involved with her soon-to-be husband, who she married in late 1897.

The reports also indicate Charles lived at Lawns in August 1897 and thereafter in East Ardsley. Did his forays from there into Batley indicate he remained in loose contact with his daughter?  Or were other family connections the draw? There were a number of Ragans living in Batley during this period.

In terms of character, Charles certainly seemed fond of a tipple, given the number of drink-related offences. One from the West Riding Police Court, Wakefield, involved the assault on William Forrest, the landlord of an East Ardsley pub, the “Bedford Arms“.  George Mullins was his partner in this crime. The report in the “Sheffield Daily Telegraph” of 24 August 1897 read:

…the defendants did not appear, it being stated they had left the district. On the afternoon of Friday, the 13th inst., the defendents went to the public-house, created a disturbance, refused to leave, and on being forcibly ejected, Mullins bit the landlord on one of his arms, both men struck and attacked him, and defendants re-entered the house and again assaulted the landlord“.

geograph-3204067-by-Betty-Longbottom

The Bedford Arms, East Ardsley

 So what became of Charles Ragan? By August 1906 he was free of his weekly payments for his daughter, she being 13. It appears he married 34 year-old widow Jane Worth (maiden name Sow(e)ry) on 24 December 1911 at St Mary the Virgin, Hunslet. A quick scan of GRO records reveals the birth of three children, all registered in the Hunslet District between 1913 and 1917.

Charles’ death is registered in Leeds North in Q4 1932. He was 63. He is buried in Hunslet Cemetry.

Bridget died in 1947. Their daughter died more than 45 years ago.

See here for Part 1 and Part 2 of my Batley Borough Court series of posts.

Sources:

[1] Up until the end of my search in 1916
[2] See The Victorian School website for a descriptor of the various levels as they applied from 1872 http://www.victorianschool.co.uk/school%20history%20lessons.html

Borough Court Records: Crime, Punishment & Bastardy in Batley – Part 2, “Kissing Cousins?”

This is the second part of my Batley Borough Court records series. Part 1 can be found here.

Mary Jennings was my 2x great grandmother’s sister, the daughter of Ann Hallas and Herod Jennings. She was born on 16 May 1858, probably in Hartshead, and baptised on 18 May 1859 at St Mary’s, Mirfield.

By the time of the 1881 census her father, Herod, was dead. She lived at Clark Green[1], Batley with her widowed mother Ann who headed the household, and brothers William and James.

Relation Frank Thornton, a 23 year-old coal miner from Hartshead, was also present that census night.  Ann’s sister Louisa Hallas and her husband George Thornton had a son, Franklin, born on the 31 January 1858. Baptised at St Mary’s, Mirfield, on the same day as Mary, his name was often shortened in records to Frank. I assumed this was the man in the Jennings household.

There was a final member of the household that 3 April night: A one-year-old girl named Sarah Ann. She is described on the form as daughter. However Ann at this stage was 56 and a widow for over three years.  Without a birth certificate I worked on the theory Sarah Ann was Ann’s granddaughter. Her birth was registered in Q2 1880, but it’s a case of another too costly certificate to satisfy idle curiosity. Subsequent censuses proved the theory though.

On 24 April 1890 Mary Jennings married 32 year-old mill hand William Blackwell at Batley Parish church. In the censuses of 1891 (Batley) and 1901 (Sherburn in Elmet), Sarah Ann is living in William and Mary’s home, described as “daughter”.

Batley Parish Church – photo by Jane Roberts

But I still did not know who Sarah Ann’s father was…..until I looked at the Batley Borough Court records. On 2 July 1880, shortly after Sarah Ann’s birth, Mary Jennings was named as the claimant and Frank Thornton the defendant in a bastardy case. The hearing was adjourned until 5 July when, in Frank’s absence, an order was made for him to pay 3s per week until the child reached 13 years of age. As well as court costs, he also had to pay £1 10s for the birth expenses.

There now followed a regular procession of non-payment cases. Newspaper reports and prison records flesh out the sorry story. The Batley Borough Court records made tracing these additional sources so much easier. The newspapers involved are not online, so no Optical Character Recognition (OCR) search help here. The prison records only provide the prisoner’s name, so that first court case name lead was crucial for searching these.

The first of the non-payment cases in response to the 5 July 1880 award occurred on 13 May 1881, just over a month after the census. Mary, according to a note in the register margins, was destitute. The upshot was a two month prison sentence for Frank. He served his sentence at Wakefield. The “Nominal Register” prison record provides a description. Frank had received no education and worked as a collier. He stood at s shade over 5’10” with brown hair. The entry also shows he had four previous convictions, with the reference given to his last prison register entry, enabling backtracking.

Another method of looking at convictions is via the “Index to [Nominal] Registers”.  These may span a number of years. It means you can track the references to all previous prison register entries in that time span in one go. They too provide a basic description and birthplace of the prisoner. The Index has not been catalogued in the Ancestry search, but I found it a useful complementary check because some of the “Nominal Registers” have missing volumes which the Index can help fill.

Anyway back to Mary and Frank. Clearly the prison sentence shock failed because he was in court again on 22 May 1882. By then he owed £10 6s in bastardy arrears and, in addition to costs, the court ordered him to pay £1 immediately and thereafter 8s a week to pay off the outstanding balance. It seems this was complied with. There is no record of a custodial imposition.

There was an interval of nearly four years before a very intense period of court activity adjudicating on the disputed domestic matters of Mary and Frank. On 8 January 1886 Frank owed 13 weeks-worth of payments. At 3s a week, this amounted to £1 19s according to the Court register. Another month’s jail sentence followed.

On 8 February 1886, within a couple of days of ending this January one-month prison sentence Frank appeared at the Borough Court once more. He needed to show cause why he should not be sent to prison in default of complying with the bastardy order. His arrears were recorded at £2 2s[2].  Frank said he had no means of paying.  A further 14 day committal followed for him, unless he could find a bondsman that day.  No bondsman was forthcoming, so it was back to Wakefield prison for Frank.

But that did not mark the end. Released from prison on Saturday 20 February, he was immediately apprehended on the same charge. He found himself bounced back into court again on Monday 22 February. Even the newspaper reports now referred to him in sympathetic tones as “the poor man“. Arrears were listed as £1 19s[3] so presumably he had managed to pay a small amount. Frank now promised to pay all the money. He faced a further one month jail sentence, but this was suspended for 28 days to allow him to fulfil his promise to make his payments. It seems he managed it, as there is no imprisonment record.

So who was Frank Thornton? Did the relation comment in the 1881 census refer to him being the nephew of Ann and cousin of Mary, as I initially thought? Was it a reference to Sarah Ann’s paternity? Or was it both? I’ve used censuses, GRO indexes, prison records and newspaper reports to try to pinpoint him.

Including the names Frank, Franklin and Francis in any searches there are a number of “possibles”. However in terms of Hartshead/Mirfield-born alternatives, the birthplace given in prison registers, other than cousin Frank, there appears to be just one. But there is a slight discrepancy with the year of birth (1860) of this alternative, and his occupation does not fit. So it can be discounted. Bringing me back to Mary’s cousin.

Ignoring the birthplace given in the prison records and extending beyond Hartshead/Mirfield does produce other options, but again the stumbling block is job description. There are no feasible coal-miners, although jobs could change. But even allowing for a career switch, why would I want to ignore the birthplace anyway? This is consistent in the prison records.

Extending the search to his other custodial sentences and newspaper coverage of them, including one in 1879 for assaulting a police officer, I still cannot definitively point to Frank being the son of George and Louisa Thornton. However, the evidence so far leads me to think that Sarah Ann’s father was indeed Mary’s cousin. But there is no absolute proof, certainly no reference in the newspapers.

It appears Frank married in Q2 of 1882 (another certificate on my long wish list). Maybe this was the reason behind the May 1882 non-payment. By the time of the 1886 sequence of court cases he had a young family, which again may have strained finances and resulted in him trying to avoid obligations for this first child. By the time of the 1891 census the Thornton family were living near Barnsley and by 1901 they had settled in the north east of England.

So once more the Batley Borough Court records have provided leads and a potential solution to a family paternity mystery, but with quite a different outcome from the previous case. If indeed the father of Mary’s child was her cousin, as it seems, one can only wonder at the strains this whole situation placed on wider family.

There is a third case, with yet another twist, here.

Sources:

  • Batley Borough Court Records – West Yorkshire Archives
  • Batley News” and “Batley Reporter” newspapers, various dates in February 1886
  • Parish Registers – Parish Churches of St Mary’s, Mirfield and All Saints, Batley – available online at http://home.ancestry.co.uk/
  • Censuses – 1861-1911
  • GRO Indexes
  • West Riding Prison Records, “Wakefield Index to [Nominal] Registers” and “Nominal Registers” – available online at http://home.ancestry.co.uk/

[1] The modern spelling is Clerk Green
[2] £2 6s reported in the newspapers
[3] £2 3s in the newspaper reports