Category Archives: History

What is Champing? It’s History and Fun Rolled into One

Where to go for our silver wedding anniversary?  A beach holiday perhaps? Possibly a city break or even a cruise? They were all considered and discounted. 

How about spending the night in an ancient church? That sounded more like it. The perfect, quirky way to celebrate our special day. No heating, no lighting, no running water, no conventional toilet. Instead old oak pews, stained glass windows, war memorials, effigies, tranquility, peace, spirituality and a sense of closeness to history (and, for those of faith, God).

The Churches Conservation Trust offer this unique opportunity. It’s called Champing. The 2017 season runs from 31 March to 30 September. They have 12 participating churches, dotted in beautiful locations countrywide.

We’ve never been to Shropshire. Chris’ ancestors were from that county. So we plumped for St Andrew’s, Wroxeter. No ancestral connections there so far, but near enough to places associated with Chris’ history. We even met up with some of Chris’relatives for the first time ever on our visit, and it was wonderful to delve into the Haynes family history and shared family characteristics. Note to self – I must progress my Shropshire research! Back to our Champing experience though.

On 9 May, the morning of our anniversary, Chris, Snowflake (yes, well-behaved dogs are allowed) and I loaded up the car and set off on our adventure. What greeted us was a stunningly characterful church, and everything waiting ready for our arrival. Well almost everything, but more of that later.

St Andrew’s: Let the Champing Begin – Photos by Jane & Chris Roberts

Parts of St Andrew’s pre-date the Domesday Book of 1086. It also stands on the site of Britain’s fourth largest Roman town. In its heydey Viroconium, as it was known, was almost as big as Pompeii, a place we visited on our honeymoon. It provided a link with our wedding all those years ago. In fact parts of the church include Roman masonry, including the base of the baptismal font. So a very early form of recycling.

Baptismal Font, made from the Base of a Roman Column. The 14th century parish chest is behind to the right of the font and also the Stained Glass Window and War Memorial – Photo by Jane Roberts

What’s left of Viroconium is a five minute walk away from the church, and cared for by English Heritage. The remains are not extensive, certainly not on the scale of Pompeii. But Wroxeter Roman City, as it is known, is worth a visit. The weather was positively Italian when we went, with cloudless blue skies and warm sun. Other nearby locations included Attingham Park (National Trust) with a deer park and lots of wonderful walks for Snowflake; and to the Roman theme once more, we even had a vineyard on our doorstep. 

English Heritage’s Wroxeter Roman City – Photo by Jane Roberts

Back to the church. Inside was crammed full with centuries of parish history, spanning pre and post Reformation Christianity. We felt so privileged to stay in such a wonderful building, with such a central connection to the life of a community down the ages. This thread of life, through multiple generations, was visible all around us: From the 14th century parish chest, to the 16th and 17th century tomb chests;

Tomb Chests of Sir Thomas (d1555) and Mabel Bromley; Sir Richard Newport (d1570) and wife Margaret (d1578) and John Berker (d1618) and wife Margaret, bathed in Stained Glass Light – Photos by Jane Roberts

To the ledger stones on the floor, the earliest dating from 1684, to the various wall plaques, the earliest commemorating the 1627 death of Thomas Alcock founder of Wroxeter Grammar School; to the benefactions board recording gifts made to the church from 1773-1837, to the War Memorial commemorating those parishioners whose lives were cut short in the service of their country in the two World Wars.

Benefactions Board and a Jenkins Family Floor Ledger Stone – Photos by Jane Roberts

The names on the Memorial are unclear on my photo. I’d used my iPhone for my main photos, in what in hindsight was a huge mistake. Whether the cold proved too much for technology, but by morning my phone would no longer switch on. To attempt to remedy the blurry image, these are the names:

1914-1918

  • W. Beech
  • J. Everall
  • R.J. Farmer
  • A. Feltus
  • H. Feltus
  • G.C. Ford
  • T.J. Frank
  • J. Harris
  • C.E. Bailey
  • J.E. Haycox
  • W. Holden
  • W. Leake
  • R.H.W. Mainwaring
  • W. Page
  • H. Thomas
  • W.H. Williams
  • C.W. Wolseley-Jenkins
  • J. Lewis

1939-1945

  • E. Cooke
  • A.R. Fear
  • G.J. Parry
  • H. Williams
  • R.G. Williams

War Memorial and Thomas Alcock’s Brass Monument – Photos by Jane Roberts

Above all you could not fail to notice the glorious stained glass windows, with others containing 15th century glass fragments, as well as the impressive Elizabethan and Jacobean panelling of the choir stalls, pulpit and pews. It is a beautiful church, absolutely no doubt.

Stained Glass East Window and Window Depicting Saints George and Andrew, above the War Memorial – Photos by Jane Roberts

The church was so redolent with echoes of the past I could imagine the parishioners sitting in those solid oak seats. So much so that I compiled a list from the Parish Register (digitised on FindMyPast) of those baptisms, marriages and burials which took place on the anniversary of our anniversary, 9 May, over the centuries.

St Andrew’s Wroxeter 9 May Marriages, Baptisms and Burials – Source: FindMyPast

St Andrew’s closed in 1980 and its care passed to The Churches Conservation Trust in 1987. More information about this historic church can be found on their website, with a downloadable leaflet detailing its rich history.

So what are the Champing basics? We booked camp beds and sleeping bags, so they were all set up under the organ loft by the time we got there. But you can bring your own.

Our Beds for the Night – Photo by Jane Roberts

Chairs were provided too. The church is very cold – it’s an old, unheated, cavernous space, so plenty of warm layers are a must. As for illumination, we relied on battery-operated candles and lanterns (supplied), supplemented by torches when the sun set. There was lighting but I forgot to mention it to Chris. Funnily enough to he failed to question why the church had light bulbs. Oops!

There is no running water, so forget your make-up, as you can’t wash it off. But we had tea and coffee making facilities and an Aquaid water cooler. We also pre-ordered a continental breakfast which we collected from the neighbouring hotel upon arrival – no need to worry about a fridge….brrrrrr. We had our picnic hamper too stocked with goodies from Apley Farm Shop, so no danger of hunger pangs.

The one glitch, I pre-ordered a bottle of champagne (yes alcohol is allowed). A lengthy game of church “hunt the champagne bottle” ensued, otherwise known as “Champers seeking champers“. We even checked to see if we had to collect from the hotel. All to no avail. We couldn’t check with the Champing team, as the phone lines shut at 4pm (my phone was operating at this stage). So Chris drove to the outskirts of Shrewsbury to purchase a celebratory bottle. No major drama, in fact it meant we investigated the church more fully; and the Champing team have been fantastic in resolving the issue since our return home.

Breakfast is Served – Photo by Jane Roberts

St Andrew’s was all ours between  6pm-10am. In the intervening period it was open to visitors. One very bemused couple did turn up at 6pm – we hadn’t got round to locking the door. They were very confused to see us preparing to take up residence. Perhaps we were squatters? Or had we bought the church to convert to a house,  and lived there during the renovation work? They had never heard of Champing, and were fascinated to have stumbled upon a pair of aged Champers. They even joined us on our champagne hunt. So all a bit of a laugh.

And as for the very basics, a dry toilet was in the vestry. So all equipped and survivable for even less adventurous souls for one night.

It was actually a very peaceful, comfortable and cosy night. Envelopped in my thermals, onesie, dressing gown and slanket as well as the sleeping bag I was extremely toasty! Chris, resplendent in woolly hat, had an equally restful night.

Early Morning Proof of Sleep – Secret Snap by Jane Roberts

These are consecrated churches, and some may find it a tad difficult to get their heads round the concept of hiring these sacred  buildings out for what essentially are short holidays. But I think you need to break out beyond that mindset. I am religious attending weekly mass in my Catholic Church so I understand the religious sensibilities. But these ancient parishes and old churches go way beyond the religious element. They were integral components of the community; they were secular, as well as religious, units of administration; they were part of the daily life fabric of our ancestors.

What would become of these churches, no longer used as regular places of worship through demographic movement, population shifts, and changes in religious practices? Yes they could be retained as places to visit, and The Churches Conservation Trust facilitate this. But would you also end up with many others being converted into houses, original features removed, and lost to the wider community forever as a result? 

I believe Champing is an inspired way of preserving and generating interest in Britain’s rich heritage. It’s a totally different way to connect to history. It certainly made me look into the history of St Andrew’s, including all the architectural, fabric and furnishing aspects, which is something I never considered previously when going into a church. There could also be a potential link-up with local Family History Societies and Ancestral Tourism opportunities (this could equally embrace non-Champing churches too). 

On a practical level the venture also generates much needed money to help conserve church heritage. It means people are in the building overnight at various points in the year, providing a measure of security. And the churches are being loved, appreciated, used and introduced to a whole new generation. If your locality has a Champing church, it is something to be welcomed, embraced and promoted.

St Andrew’s, Wroxeter – Photos by Jane Roberts

For those contemplating a holiday with a difference, if you’ve a love of archaeology, history and family history, and want a totally different experience in a wonderful tranquil setting which simply oozes the atmosphere of centuries of tradition, I can certainly recommend Champing. Would we do it again? In a heartbeat. 

The Inspiration for our Champing Adventure, Our Wedding Anniversary – photo by John Plachcinski

More information about this unique experience can be found here.

Sources:

Every Man Remembered – London’s Hull Brothers

One of my Christmas presents last year was a poppy lapel pin. It is made from British shell fuses fired during the Battle of the Somme. It also includes finely ground earth from places inextricably linked with those months which, for many, define the Great War: Gommecourt, Hebuterne, Serre, Beaumont Hamel, Thiepval, Ovillers, La Boiselle, Fricourt and Mametz. Places which are still etched in the minds over a century later.

Importantly for me the poppy was accompanied by a certificate commemorating the life of a soldier who fell during the second to the 141st (and final) day of the Battle. My wish was to research his life and record it on the “Every Man Remembered” site. It did not work out quite as anticipated. I researched more than one life, in what proved to be a series of deaths which in a matter of months devastated a London family. But this family’s story is similar to stories repeated up and down the country.

The name on the certificate was Pte W Hull, 19930, of the East Yorkshire Regiment who died on 16 July 1916. He is buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt l’Abbe, located 10 kilometres south west of Albert. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website indicate he served with the 1st Battalion, but give no family details.

Certificate for Pte W Hull – Photo by Jane Roberts

The cemetery was the scene of intense activity during the Battle of the Somme, as indicated by the multiple burials marked by many of the headstones. Begun in May 1916, it provided the base for a number of Casualty Clearing Stations. From April 1916 the 36th Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) was located there. In May the 38th CCS joined them, followed in July by the 2/2nd London CCS.

William Henry Hull’s birth was registered in Holborn, in the first quarter of 1895. His parents, William George Hull and Ann King (known as Annie), married on 28 October 1894 at St Peter’s Saffron Hill, Holborn. They went on to have four other children: Albert Edward, registered in 1897, Robert George in 1900, Annie Lydia in 1903 (born 2 February) and Charles Frederick in 1907 (born 22 September). Their address in the 1901 census onwards is 17, Northampton Road, Clerkenwell. The family are still recorded there in the 1939 Register.

This was a subdivided property typical of the area, characterised by densely populated high occupancy houses, interspersed with areas of model dwellings, the latter an attempt to provide decent working class accommodation.

A manufacturing area characterised by a high working class presence, Clerkenwell had a significant number of artisan metal-based crafts emanating from its early watchmaking traditions. Although watchmaking in the area suffered a decline by the end of the 19th century in the face of cheap and foreign competition, other offshoots such as scientific and surgical instrument making and barometer and chronometer manufacture had a presence. The other significant industry was printing. This strengthened its grip in the period the Hull family lived in the area. It was, in the main, centred around the printing of small periodicals, engravings, maps, books and pamphlets rather than national or London-wide daily press. And with his printing industry earnings, as a compositor setting the type ready for printing, William (senior) supported his family. William and Albert’s early jobs, as indicated in the 1911 census, were as errand boys at a photographers and barometer works respectively.

By the time he joined the Colours, William worked as a liftman. He enlisted in Clerkenwell on 18 September 1915. On the 19 September he went to join his regiment. Appropriately, given his surname, he was assigned to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, East Riding Regiment, a training unit based at Beverley. Standing at 5’ 4 ½” and weighing 126lbs (9 stones), he had a scar on his forehead and his right upper lip, he also had “I love Jessie James” inked on his left upper arm. And he did, for he married her at Holborn Registry Office on 20 February 1916. She went on to live at 17 Northampton Road whilst William resumed his training.

It was not until 14 June 1916 that he embarked to serve with either the 7th or 8th Battalion East Riding Regiment – his papers are ambiguous. However on 9 July he was posted to the 1st Battalion and joined them in the field on 10 July 1916. The Unit War Diary of the 1st East Yorkshires records it was a fine day, and notes the arrival of two drafts of men from the West and East Yorkshire Regiments, whilst they were en route to Ville via Corbie.

They arrived at Ville on 11 July, in readiness for their next offensive – an attempt to break through the German second position on the line from Longueval to Bazentin-le-Petit. This was the successful Battle of Bazentin Ridge. Launched in the early hours of 14 July 1916 it lasted until 17 July by which time the German second position was captured on a front of 6,000 yards. For a while it even looked as if High Wood lay open, but delays in getting cavalry forward meant the moment was lost.

The Unit War Diary of the 1st East Yorkshires records their part in events. On 13 July they received orders that they were to be attached to the 110th Brigade and left Ville:

….at 3.30pm marching to Carcaillot Farm in the E. border of Meulte arriving about 5pm where rested (tea was provided) until 9pm when we moved to Fricourt (Rose Cottage) arriving at 10.30pm. Hot tea was served to the Btn and tools and grenades were issued. At 12.25am Btn moved to position in reserve at the S.E. corner of Mametz wood arriving about 2.30am where they dug themselves in. Enemy shelled borders of wood and vicinity large numbers of lachrymatory shells being used. Only one casualty in march was incurred”.

The East Yorkshires remained in reserve until 9.30am of the morning of 14 July, when they received orders to urgently reinforce the 7th Leicesters on the north edge of Bazentin-le-Petit Wood. Two companies, A and B, were despatched. A further two, C and D, were sent to the wood reporting as reinforcements to Lt-Col Challenor of the 6th Leicesters. Both advances were made under heavy shell fire, with the enemy barrage in the south edge of the wood and the intervening space between it and Mametz Wood being particularly heavy. The companies in Bazentin-le-Petit Wood were scattered, but C Company’s advance to the north east was made with little resistance and a German counter attack repelled. The Diary reports at this time:

“……an unfortunate incident occurred, our own artillery shelling us from the rear at the same time as the enemy were barraging the N edge of the wood and many casualties occurred”.

It was on 14 July, his first foray into action and with a new unit, that William Hull sustained gunshot wounds (this covered shrapnel injuries as well as those sustained by bullets) to his shoulder and buttocks. Initially treated by the 64th West Lancashire Field Ambulance he was transferred via motor ambulance convoy to the 38th Casualty Clearing Station on 16 July where he died of his wounds that day. Their Unit War Diary records a phenomenal number of casualties each day. On 1 July they numbered 1,767. By 16 July they recorded the admission of 21 officers and 490 other ranks wounded; the evacuation of 23 wounded officers, 408 wounded and one sick from amongst the other ranks; three officers and 13 other ranks died; 12 wounded officers, 404 wounded other ranks and three sick remained. It also records:

No 2278 Sergeant Gillbee RAMC placed under arrest for drunkenness”.

Gillbee was a pre-war regular, who in 1913 received his dispensing qualification. His Medal Index Card records a Field General Court Martial reduction to the ranks on 1 July 1917 as a result of drunkenness.

The 1st East Yorkshire Unit War Diary records total casualties for their operations between 13-17 July as: no officers killed and six wounded, but one of those only slightly so was able to return to duty; 36 other ranks killed, 186 wounded and 126 missing.

William served for 303 days, but only four of those with the 1st East Yorkshire Regiment before his wounds. He was awarded the Victory and British War Medal. His childless widow, Jessie, still living at 17 Northampton Road in 1919, received a pension of 10 shillings a week, with effect from 26 February 1917.

William’s younger brother Albert Edward was serving in the Ploegsteert Wood area of Belgium, as a Rifleman with “A” Company of the 21st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (Yeoman Rifles) (KRRC) when his brother died.

Albert enlisted before his elder brother, at Kingsway Recruiting Office, Middlesex on 17 April 1915. At the time he worked as a warehouseman. He stood at 5’ 5” tall, with blue eyes, fair hair and a fresh complexion. For some reason he gave his father’s name as William Henry Hull, but CWGC information as well as other family and address details provided in surviving documentation confirms it was William George Hull.

Albert served initially with the 6th KRRC, the training unit based at Sheerness, before transferring to the 21st Battalion, setting off to France aboard the “SS Golden Eagle” on 31 May 1916. He joined his new Battalion in the field on 21 June 1916. At this time they were based in and around the Ploegsteert Wood area of Belgium, not moving down to France until late August 1916.

The 21st KRRC’s first significant action on the Somme occurred on 15 September when they participated in the opening stages of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, at the start of the third phase of the Battle of the Somme. The battle is particularly noteworthy as the new British weapon, tanks, were unleashed in battle for the first time. Despite a number of early successes, including at last the clearing of High Wood, the capture of Flers, Courcelette and Martinpuich, there was no decisive breakthrough and the battle ground to a virtual halt by the 17 September due to a combination of bad weather and German reinforcements, before finally ending on 22 September.

The 21st KRRC Unit War Diary records events on the 15 September.

The Battalion took part in an attack on the enemy lines in front of Delville Wood. The 124th Brigade advanced on a line which passed between the villages of FLERS on the left and Guedecourt on the right. The Battalion was on the left of the first line with the 10th Queens on the right & the 26th & 32nd Royal Fusiliers in support. The 122nd Brigade was on the left & the 14th Division on the right”.

At 6.30am they commenced their attack, quickly taking without difficulty their first objective, the Switch Trench. They also took their second objective, the Flers Trench, capturing a few prisoners who showed little inclination to fight. They did incur casualties though, by getting too close to their own barrage. Lack of support on the flanks also halted their advance, so they focused on consolidating their gains. Lt Col Charles William Reginald Duncombe, the 2nd Earl of Feversham, of the 21st KRRC and Lt Col Richard Oakley of the 10th Queens (Royal West Surrey) Regiment gathered together some men to try to take the third and fourth objectives in front of Guedecourt village. They did manage to take their third objective and withstood a German counter attack, but the Earl of Feversham was killed. They were eventually forced to retreat and consolidated about 400 yards in front of the second objective, where the remnants of the Battalion remained until relieved at about 3am the following morning, 16 September.

The War Diary records the following casualties for the 15 September: 4 officers and 54 other ranks killed; 10 officers and 256 other ranks wounded and 74 other ranks missing. Interestingly the initials of the officer responsible for the diary from September 1916 are “RAE” – 2nd Lt (Robert) Anthony Eden, who was appointed Acting Adjutant on 19 September. He is better known as the Prime Minister between 1955-1957, in charge at the time of the Suez Crisis.

Albert Hull was amongst the wounded. His casualty form indicates 15/17 September, but from the diary it appears all casualties were incurred on the 15 September. He sustained gun shot wounds and fractures to the legs. He was transferred down the line, admitted to 1 General Hospital at Etretat, before evacuation to England on board the “Asturias” and transfer to the 5th Northern General Hospital in Leicester.

5th Northern General Hospital, Leicester from unpublished book by R Wallace Henry held at the University of Leicester, used in accordance with http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/uk/ (edited, cropped)

This is now part of the University of Leicester. From 1837-1908 it operated as the Leicestershire Lunatic Asylum until the construction of a new Asylum in 1907. In 1911 the now empty building was earmarked as a potential military hospital. Once war broke out it became the base for the 5th Northern General Hospital. New buildings were constructed and as the war progressed it expanded to become a local network of hospitals at more than 60 locations. In total there were beds in Leicestershire for 111 officers and 2,487 other ranks, through which passed more than 95,000 casualties. 514 of these died.

One was Albert. His arrival in September coincided with the opening of the first 101 bed ward of a new five ward extension to the hospital. His final notes from Leicester make reference to the gun shot wound to his left leg, as well as a secondary haemorrhage in France and amputation. There is also a telegram dated 26 September 1916 from 5 Northern General Hospital to the 21st KRRC records office at Winchester stating:

….R11808 Rifleman a Hull a Coy. 21 KRR died in this hospital of his wounds this morning and next of kin advised”.

Albert was buried on 30 September 1916 at Islington Cemetery in a public, shared grave.

Within weeks the family were burying another son in the same cemetery. This time their third child, 16-year-old Robert.

The cause of death was acute suppurative otitis media and septicaemia. In other words an ear infection. More common in children than adults, this particular infection has a number of causes, including upper respiratory infection, sinusitis, smoking (including passive), craniofacial abnormalities and allergies. Additionally, in children (usually between 3-7 years old) their developing ear structure can leave them prone to infection there when food is regurgitated. Poor sanitation, over-crowding and malnutrition are all risk factors too. Symptoms include pain, fever and earache. In Robert’s case, in this pre-antibiotic era, complications did ensue, resulting in hospitalisation and death. He succumbed to septicaemia on 18 November 1916 at St Bartholomew’s Hospital (Barts), London. He was buried at Islington Cemetery on 25 November 1916.

Extract from GRO death register entry for Robert George Hull: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance

Whilst coping with the aftermath of the death of three sons in quick succession, the family also faced an ongoing struggle with military authorities to retrieve the personal effects of Albert. The family enlisted the help of a Alice Maunder of 25, Chelsea Gardens, Sloane Square. On 19 January 1917 she wrote to the Rifles Office asking that Albert’s effects be sent to his mother without any more delay. She ended her missive with:

Perhaps you would finally look into the matter and see that the things are sent as soon as possible”.

They were finally sent to the family on 21 March 1917. His were the few typical possessions of an ordinary soldier, providing memories of home, a nod to God’s protection, a little bit of cheer and an indication of his Regiment. They comprised of a linen bag, two gospels (Mark and John), a match box holder, a packet of cigarettes, a cap comforter (a knitted woollen tube pulled cap-like over the head, ideal for keeping warm or whilst on trench raids), shoulder title, cap badge (broken), letters and photographs.

Albert was awarded the British War and Victory Medals. His father did query this in June 1921, asking why his son did not receive a “Star” as he joined the Colours in April 1915. He was informed he was ineligible. Albert did not actually go overseas until May 1916. The 1914/15 Star was awarded to those who who served in a theatre of war before 31 December 1915 and had not qualified for the earlier 1914 Star.

So what became of the rest of the Hull family? William George died at the same hospital as his son Robert in 1925 and was buried at Islington Cemetery 27 August. The 1939 Register shows widowed Annie working as an office cleaner and living with her two unmarried children, Annie (a book binder’s assistant) and Charles (a school porter), still at 17 Northampton Road. Charles eventually married in 1941 and died on 3 January 1973, in Huntingdon. Daughter Annie never married. She died in 1974. I have not found a definitive death for Annie herself, but suspect it was 1960. I have not traced what became of Jessie, William’s widow.

Sources:

Picture Credits:

  • 5th Northern General Hospital, Leicester taken from an unpublished book “Fifth Northern General Hospital” by R Wallace Henry, held by the University of Leicester. Edited (cropped) and used in accordance with the license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/uk/
  • Extract from GRO death register entry for Robert George Hull: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance

Batman – My Family History SuperHero 

Just when I thought I’d reached the limits of what I realistically could hope to find out about my great grandad in the Great War, family history threw another curveball.

Last year I wrote about the 16 December 1914 German naval bombardment of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool prompting my 46-year-old ex-Army great grandfather, Patrick Cassidy, to enlist on my grandma’s sixth birthday. He was discharged from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry the following month as unlikely to become an efficient soldier. 

Undeterred by this knock-back, by the summer of 1915 he returned to his original regiment, the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment. In the Electoral Register of 1918 he is shown as an absent voter due to military service. No Medal Index Card exists for him, so it appeared he must have seen the war out on home shores. I did keep an open mind about which regiment, but if I’m being honest, my assumption was the Duke of Wellingtons.

Wrong. 

This month, idly looking at Find My Past’s military records, I saw the familiar name of Patrick Cassidy. But not in the Army records. Instead it was the AIR 79 Series, British Royal Air Force (RAF) Airmen’s Service Records. It is definitely him. His Hume Street address in Batley, his birthplace (County Mayo), his marriage and children’s details are all correct (except eldest daughter Ellen is written as Helen). So no doubt whatsoever.

He attested on 12 July 1918, and his service number 267675 fits in with June/July intake of civilians. Clearly Patrick had not lasted the duration of the war with the Duke of Wellingtons. A tribute to his persistence, he was now trying his hand with the fledgling RAF arm of the military.

The RAF was born out of the difficulties arising from the competing supply needs, including men, of the Army-operated Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and its naval counterpart, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). As a consequence design, technology, tactics and training were not being managed cost-effectively.  From 1916, ideas of unification surfaced, with an Air Board being created to attempt to resolve the issues of purchasing and supply. 

But the problems continued and increased. Alongside the competition for aeroplanes and aircrew, concerns arose around supplying air support to the Army on the Western Front, dealing with the U-Boat menace at sea and improving the inadequate air defences at home. The latter was initially highlighted by Zeppelin raids. However by late May of 1917 huge German Gotha bomber aircraft began a bombing campaign, particularly targetting London, causing hundreds of deaths. 

As an interesting aside to these raids, the accompanying fresh wave of anti-German sentiment engendered by them, with the name of the Gotha aircraft now on lips countrywide, finally prompted the Royal Family name change.  George V by royal proclamation on 17 July 1917, announced the dropping of the  German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, to be replaced by the English Windsor.

In the wake of all this General Jan Smuts, a member of the War Cabinet, was tasked to look at air defence and broader air organisation. The South African Boer war opponent of the British, military leader and politician, who after the World War became South Africa’s second Prime Minister, recommended the creation of a united Air Force. On 29 November 1917 an Act of Parliament establishing an Air Force and an Air Council received the Royal Assent. The Royal Air Force came into existence on 1 April 1918. 

RAF Badge and Motto – photo by Jane Roberts

Recruitment for this new branch of the Armed Forces now began in earnest, desperately required to fuel its rapid manpower expansion. Posters, adverts, newspaper articles and local recruitment rallies appeared appealing to 18-50 year olds, offering attractive pay rates and the promise of no compulsory transfer to the Army or Navy. 

© IWM (Art.IWM PST 5277) – free to reuse for non-commercial purposes under the IWM Non Commercial Licence

From June 1918 onwards the recruitment tempo increased, as eligibility criteria was correspondingly decreased. The drive also played on the fact that lower grade men would be serving in comparative safety. For example, this from “The Midland Daily Telegraph” of 6 June 1918:

Opportunity is now offered during the months of June for enlistment in the Royal Air Force of men who are suitable as employment as clerks (in pay offices and stores as shorthand typists), as cooks, as hospital orderlies, as store men and as bat men. The men recruited must be over 35 years of age if in Grade II, or of any age from 18 if in Grade III.

Specially strong men are required as labourers for airship landing parties and for thr Mediterranean Balloon Section. Grade I men over 40, Grade II men over 30 and Grade III men of any age are required. General labourers are also required in Grade II over 30, or Grade III any age“.

And, more locally, the pronouncement of the Chairman of an Ormskirk Tribunal was reported in “The Yorkshire Evening Post” of 10 June. Grade III men were now required for the Air Force because:

…instructions had been received from the Ministry of National Service that owing to the urgent necessity of maintaining all aerial craft, men of all ages and grades were required for the Royal Air Force. Certain branches of this work are being done and must be done by Grade 3 men. Higher grade men were needed for the fighting line.

In the national interest, tribunals must consider the absolute necessity of Grade 3 men for the Air Force“.

These pleas obviously appealed to my great grandfather, whose records show his occupation as one of those much in-demand labourers. His RAF attestation papers describe him standing at 5’3 1/2”, with grey eyes, a sallow complexion and dark grey hair. The grey hair is unsurprising. He was no spring chicken. His stated age is 49 and he gives his date of birth as 24 May 1869. This, yet again, is a false declaration. But not as wildly out as his 1914 attempts to get in the Army. He was in fact born in March 1868. He had shaved a year off in order to meet the age criteria for enlistment. His papers also show his Grade III category, able to serve at home.

His rank was Private 2nd Class, so a service role. He was assigned by the RAF Reserve Depot (Blandford) to No.1 (Observer) School of Aerial Gunnery at Hythe, in Kent, as a batman: in other words a personal servant to a commissioned officer. Is this the man my grandma remembers coming to the house seeking my grandad, as recounted in my earlier post

His service record goes on to show his character as “very good” and his degree of proficiency “satisfactory“. However, on 6 November 1918, days before the Armistice, he was recategorised as Grade E. In other words permenantly unfit for service. He was finally discharged on 22 January 1919. 

His record also shows that he apparently received a modest pension for his service, but the writing is extremely faint. And on 1 May 1919 he was awarded a Silver War Badge, 7162. 

Silver War Badge (not my great grandad’s) – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Silver War Badge (SWB) was instituted in September 1916. British and Empire service personnel honourably discharged due to old age, wounds or sickness received or contracted at home or overseas, received this medal. To qualify, the recipient had to have served for at least seven days between 4 August 1914 and 31 December 1919. Therefore those discharged before the badge’s institution date received the honour retrospectively. 

The badge was worn on the right lapel of civilian clothes, an indication of the recipient’s loyal war service. This visible display aimed to put a stop to men discharged as no longer fit, but without any obvious physical injuries, being publicly humiliated, harassed and accused of cowardice and refusal to serve. 

The rolls for the SWB generally record the man’s date of enlistment and discharge, and whether he was discharged as the result of being wounded or through age or “sickness”. RAF men’s badge numbers bore the prefix “RAF“, with over 10,000 issued.

These SWB rolls are at The National Archives and also available on commercial websites. Often, where service records no longer exist, these are the only indication that a man who did not go overseas served in the First World War. The bad news for me is my great grandad’s is not there. According to The National Archives, the only true RAF record relating to the SWB is in AIR 2/197/C33296. So, unless your RAF ancestor was a RFC recipient (WO 329/3244) or RNAS (ADM 171/173-87), you’re likely to draw a blank. This is something not made clear in the description on the commercial sites.

Similarly, although RAF personnel did receive campaign medals, there are no medal rolls in The National Archives for men who joined after the formation of the RAF on 1 April 1918, unless they transferred from the RFC or RNAS. For direct RAF entrants you are reliant on service records for medal entitlement including, in the most part, for their SWBs. 

I’m immensely proud of my great grandad on a number of levels:

  • His steadfast determination to do his duty despite his age;
  • His refusal to let age hold him back;
  • His never-give-up attitude, in the face of repeated rejection; and 
  • His willingness to embrace modernisation and progress, taking a leap into the future by joining the newly created RAF.

I’ve also delighted in being able to tell my dad he wasn’t the first member of his family to join the RAF. The story has also reminded me of my own happy work-days in RAF contracts and, later, aero-engine supply management. Also the frightening march of time: I think most of the aircraft I dealt with are now obsolete, including Phantom, Buccaneer, Nimrod, Hunter, Harrier, Sea Harrier, Victor and  Jaguar. I think the Hercules, Tucano and Hawk are the only ones left. But I’m a bit out of touch with aircraft now, so don’t take my word for that.

From a family history angle, the moral of this story is don’t rule out the improbable in researching family history. Ancestors were real people and, as such, often made the unlikeliest of choices. 

Sources:

Mother-in-Law Murderer – Unlucky Friday 13th

Friday 13 June 1794 proved an unfortunate day for both mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Both ultimately paid with their lives. One suffered a slow, agonising death. The other’s head was subsequently placed in a noose. Mary and Ann Scalberd are names long since forgotten, but in the summer of 1794 they must have been the talk of Batley and Dewsbury, if not Yorkshire.

The unusual name “Scalberd” has a number of spelling variations in the records, including Scalbird, Scalbirt and Scalbert. But, to avoid confusion, I will stick with “Scalberd”.

On 6 April 1760 Benjamin Scalberd, from Batley, married Mary Milnes at Dewsbury Parish Church. It appears clothier Benjamin and Mary had four children – John baptised on 16 January 1761, Mary on 21 March 1762 and Moses on 7 October 1764; there is also a burial for a second daughter, Sarah, on 4 May 1772, but I have not traced her baptism. All these events took place at Batley Parish Church. The same church hosted the marriage on 22 January 1787 of their son Moses to Nancy Oldroyd, daughter of Joseph Oldroyd. Like his father, Moses worked as a clothier.

Seven years later his wife faced accusations of murdering his mother.

Batley Parish Church – by Jane Roberts

Coroner Richard Linnecar heard evidence of the circumstances surrounding Mary’s death at the Batley Carr inquest on 21 June 1794. Witnesses included Mary’s son John and unmarried daughter Mary, along with Sarah Newsham, two surgeons and two employees of a third surgeon. Although none of the witnesses actually saw the incident, the dying woman told several of them what occurred.

Witnesses stated Mary Scalberd was very well on the morning of 13 June. That afternoon Ann, known to the family as Nance, begged Mary to come to her house to look after her children whilst she went out on an errand. Batley parish church records show the baptism of one child to Moses and Ann, a daughter Sally, born on 23 May 1793. However the statements imply the couple had at least one other child.

When Ann returned from her outing she insisted Mary eat some warm milk and sops she had prepared for the children. Initially Mary refused, saying the children needed it more. Ann continued to press her until eventually Mary gave in. When she reached the bottom of the pot containing the concoction she noticed a gritty substance. Challenged by Mary as to what it was, Ann claimed perhaps some lime had fallen into the container. One witness, John, stated his mother told him when she accused Ann of poisoning her, Ann left the room without uttering a word.

Within half an hour of having the milk Mary was taken ill. Her daughter, who lived in Batley Carr, and confusingly also called Mary, told the inquest she saw her mother later that afternoon by which time her now swollen body was wracked by violent bouts of sickness and diarrhoea. Her mother accused Ann of poisoning her. Mary stayed with her throughout these final agonising days, during which her mother suffered “the utmost misery and pain”.

The horror of her decline is unimaginable, both for Mary and those witnessing the scene. No indoor flushing toilets, plentiful clean water and disinfectants. Instead sparsely furnished, basic houses with few rooms and comforts, possibly not even a bed per person. And all the time unremitting episodes of vomiting and diarrhoea, with no treatment other than possibly pain relief.

Other visitors to the sickbed included Sarah Newsham, a married woman from Batley Carr. According to her, the rapidly declining Mary “constantly said that Nance Scalberd had poisoned her and if she died at that time she ought to be hanged”.

Son John Scalberd, residing in the Chapel Fold area of Batley, gave similar evidence. He saw his seriously ill mother on 15 June and her condition, combined with her allegations, caused him so much concern he immediately sent for a Dewsbury surgeon, George Swinton. The circumstances and her symptoms, including the uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhoea, led the experienced doctor to suspect ingestion of arsenic.

Arsenic was cheap and readily available during this period. Used around the house for vermin control, it was also popular with those owning sheep as a sheep scab treatment. In the 18th century this involved applying hand washes containing lime, mercury, nicotine, turpentine or arsenic. As a poison, it resulted in an excruciating death over a number of days. The symptoms included fluid accumulation, nausea, constant vomiting, diarrhoea which was often blood-streaked, excessive thirst, a feeling of pressure and swelling in the stomach, intense pain and distressingly, up until the end stages, the victim remained lucid. However many of these symptoms could equally apply to common illnesses such as English cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea. This, combined with the lack of a definitive test and rudimentary medical expertise about poisoning, resulted in only a small number of trials and convictions in this period.

The doctor was unable to do anything to save Mary. She endured agonising suffering for six days, before she finally died on 19 June. However, his suspicions meant he referred the case. Another eminent local surgeon was sent for, Benjamin Sykes of Gomersal. Both he and Dr Swinton opened up Mary for the inquest on 21 June. They concluded her death was the result of arsenic.

Collection: Wellcome Images Library reference no.: Science Museum A600213 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The final two inquest witnesses worked in the shop of Dewsbury surgeon Robert Rockley Batty. They claimed that on, or just before 13 June, Ann Scalberd attempted to buy a penny-worth of white mercury (the name by which arsenic was known in Yorkshire) from the surgeon’s assistant, Henry Hudson. She claimed she wanted it for sheep. Hudson explained that they never sold it. His evidence was backed up by Peter Cannings, a book-keeper for the surgeon. Was this the errand Ann did whilst her mother-in-law looked after the children? To buy the poison with which to commit murder.

Mary was buried the day after the inquest, on 22 June, at Batley Parish Church. As a result of the inquest Ann Scalberd was committed to York Castle, charged with the wilful murder of Mary Scalberd. She would appear at the York Summer Assizes at the beginning of August. They took place in front of Sir Giles Rooke and Sir Soulden Lawrence.

Ann’s trial contained a very curious incident, subsequently cited in case law. During examination of one of the first witnesses a juror, Thomas Davison, fell down in a fit. The trial was halted and the juror carried off to a public house to recover. He failed to return and eventually another juror, accompanied by a bailiff, were dispatched to enquire as to his health. The juror duly reported back. Mr Davison would not be well enough to continue. Justice Lawrence discharged the jury and ordered the swearing in of another. This comprised the initial 11 well jurors plus another. The trial continued.

In the face of overwhelming evidence, including that Ann visited several shops attempting to procure the poison, the jury had no hesitation in delivering a guilty verdict to an impassive Ann. She was sentenced to death.

A second trial twist then occurred. Ann “pleaded the belly”. In other words she declared she was pregnant, knowing this could be a chance to evade the death penalty. The authorities would not execute a pregnant woman, as this would take an innocent life. If a woman was deemed “quick with child”, that is the foetus could be felt to move which was deemed the point when the unborn child had a soul, the execution would be delayed till after birth. Inevitably this meant it would not take place at all, the sentence probably commuted to imprisonment.

In order to establish the validity of this, a jury of matrons was convened. It comprised 12 older women, pulled together from those within the court room, with experience of pregnancy. They adjourned to a private room to conduct the examination.

Ann’s last-minute ploy failed. The women reported back – Ann was not pregnant.  She would face the death penalty. One newspaper, the “Leeds Intelligencer” stated she now confessed her guilt. However the motive for murder remains shrouded in mystery.

Between 1735-1799, 703 death sentences were passed at York Assizes, resulting in 217 executions. Ann’s execution took place on 12 August 1794 at Tyburn, south of the city and the Knavesmire area which now forms part of York racecourse. This is the spot where highwayman Dick Turpin met the same fate in 1739. Ann was one of only three people hung there in 1794, and her execution is a rare occurrence of a woman receiving the death penalty. Her body was given to surgeons for dissection. Her husband Moses died within months and was buried on 7 December 1794 at Batley.

Site of York Gallows – Jeremy Howat. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

This is my final post about Batley in my March focus on local history.

Sources:  

  • The National Archives, Northern & North-Eastern Assize Papers, Reference ASSI 45/38/2/84B-84C – Ann Scalbird (Depositions) – Thanks to Carole Steers
  • Batley All Saints Parish Registers
  • Dewsbury All Saints Parish Registers
  • Newspapers via the British Newspaper Archive, FindMyPast – Bury & Norwich Post 6 August 1794, Derby Mercury 14 & 21 August 1794, Kentish Weekly Post & Canterbury Journal 17 August 1794 and Leeds Intelligencer 30 June & 18 August 1794
  • Poisoned Lives – Katherine Watson
  • Capital Punishment UK – http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/
  • British Executions – http://www.britishexecutions.co.uk/
  • The New and Complete Newgate Calendar: Or Villany Displayed in All its Branches, Vol 6
  • Cases in Crown Law, Vol 2 (1815)
  • A Short History of Sheep Scab – J D Bezuidenhout
  • Wellcome Images, Library reference no.: Science Museum A600213, Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
  • Wikimedia Commons – site of York Gallows by Jeremy Howat

The Priest Who Predicted His Death?

When Fr Thomas Bruno Rigby preached his last sermon at his beloved church of St Mary of the Angels on Sunday evening of St Patrick’s Day 1872, he prophetically exhorted the congregation to be prepared for death, observing there were so many unforeseen accidents that either he, or any of them, might be suddenly called away at any moment. Little did he know how true it was to prove for him. 

The following morning he set off from Leeds to Lancaster to attend the funeral later that day of Ripon priest, and old college friend, Rev Wilson. By the evening he was dead, the result of a horrific train incident.

When Fr Rigby came to Batley in September 1867, the town’s growing Catholic community did not have a church in which to worship, this despite the first priest arriving in 1853 and land being purchased to build one in 1863. A letter dated 7 December 1863 in “The Irishman”, from the then incumbent Rev P Lynch, confirmed the land purchase, and indicated that the 1,500 Catholics were using a former rag and shoddy warehouse accommodating just 150 as an interim chapel. The letter was an appeal for donations from Ireland. The hope was to lay a foundation stone for a new church on 17 March 1864. But this still had not materialised when Fr Rigby took up post.

The newly arrived Fr Rigby felt it his bounden duty to remedy this. He immediately set about helping with raising money and putting plans into motion for a permanent place of worship for his flock. He quickly achieved his goal, assisted by generous donations from woollen manufacturing brothers Capt W.H and Simeon Colbeck (a convert to Catholicism).  

On 17 May 1869, the Diocesan Bishop of Beverley, Rt Rev Dr Robert Cornthwaite, laid the foundation stone, Beverley being the diocese under which Batley fell during this period. On 15 December 1870 the church of St Mary of the Angels at Cross Bank, Batley finally opened its doors to parishioners. Not only that, with his passion for education, Fr Rigby also established a Day School for the community’s children.  

But less than 16 months later, on 18 March 1872, 38-year-old Fr Rigby lost his life in particularly horrific circumstances. 

Thomas Rigby, son of James and Ann Rigby, was born in the Ellesmere district of Manchester in 1834. His family had a very strong Catholic pedigree. His mother’s cousin Dr John Briggs was the first Bishop of Beverley, and Bishop Cornthwaite’s predecessor.  

With a fondness for books and learning, Thomas also determined to become a priest and went to the English Catholic Benedictine school at Douai, in northern France between 1849-1856. From there he moved on to the English College in Rome where he spent a further four years, being ordained in 1860. 

Described as “always good”, not tempted by the splendour and art on offer in Rome, and according to the testimony of one “never late for morning prayers”, the impression given is of an unassuming, quiet, very studious individual, totally devoted to his learning and vocation. He excelled at mathematics, travelled extensively, was linguistically adept in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Italian and German and had friends worldwide. 

Returning to England, he moved parishes frequently in the early days of his ministry. Posted initially to Burton Constable, Hull in 1860 he went on to serve at Bradford in 1861, North Kilvington 1862, Goole in 1864, Sheffield in 1865, St Patrick’s, Leeds in 1866 before finally coming to Batley to assist Rev. Patrick Lynch in September 1867. Soon after his arrival Fr Lynch died whilst in Ireland, and Fr Rigby succeeded him. 

It is particularly ironic that only weeks before his death Fr Rigby informed his friend and fellow-priest Fr. McCarten, that after all his earlier moves he felt at home in the town. He wanted to work there for the remainder of his life, so he might leave the church unencumbered by debt and lead the people he loved so much further advanced in their knowledge of Almighty God. 

His efforts have indeed had a lasting impact on generations of Batley Catholics, in the shape of the wonderful Grade II listed building where countless services, baptisms, marriages and funerals have taken place. 

Designed by John Kelly of Leeds-based architects Messrs Adams and Kelly, at a cost of around £2,364, the church was constructed in a Gothic Revival style, using stone from neighbouring quarries. Seating 650 on wooden benches, the internal walls were plastered and painted in a salmon tint, and the majority of the roof between the rafters in grey. I mention this, because these colours were maintained in the last refurbishment, several years ago. 

There are plans underway for another internal refurbishment, following major work on the roof. Back in December 1870 this slated roof, with a red earthenware ridge, was constructed by Messrs Pyecroft of Leeds. The apex of the apse roof was finished with leaded finial and a wrought iron cross; the copings of the gables with stone crosses. 

Of the other main contractors, according to newspaper reports, only one Batley firm – that of Mr J.W. Hey, plasterer – was involved. Alterations to the church took place in 1884 and 1929, but the building is essentially the same as in 1870. 

St Mary of the Angels Church, Batley – by Jane Roberts

Many dignitaries attended the opening High Mass at 11 o’clock on Thursday 15 December. Diocesan Bishop and foundation stone layer, Robert Cornthwaite, returned to officiate, aided by clergymen from throughout Yorkshire. Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, Archbishop of Westminster, gave the sermon, along with a subsequent one at 6.30pm Evening Vespers, honouring a promise made to Fr Rigby that whenever he opened a church he would come to preach not once but twice. In between services, they repaired to the Station Hotel for a formal lunch. 

So, with a magnificent new church to house the congregation, Fr Rigby continued his ministry in the town. His enthusiasm for education shone through, urging the poorer members of his congregation not to neglect their children’s schooling because they could not afford the fees. Such was the value he placed on learning, he even paid out of his own pocket for a number of poorer children to attend the Catholic school. This in the wake of the 1870 Education Act, when parents paid schooling fees. 

He did not take part in broader local affairs to any great extent, but one of his last forays on the wider Batley arena was in connection with education, in particular that of the poor. The whole experience left him very bruised and disillusioned, with a feeling he had been unfairly treated and he had not been listened to in the same way other speakers were. A proud Englishman, his friends detected as a result of the encounter, he was beginning to realise the way in which Catholic priests were actually regarded by some compatriots.

The meeting of the Batley School Board and ratepayers took place at the Town Hall on the evening of 20 February 1872 and lasted until 10.30pm. Described as a largely attended and excited meeting, it was called by the Mayor to discuss the contentious decision of the School Board to pay the fees of children whose parents could not afford them, at the local school of their choice rather than Board Schools – in other words public money potentially going to Established Church and Catholic denominational schools. Essentially ratepayers would be funding an element of religious education. The alternative, to restrict them to Board Schools, risked poor parents not sending children to school for reasons of conscience. The Board itself was divided on the issue, which they passed with the slimmest of margins.  

Batley was a mixed religious town, with a significant Dissenting population, alongside the Established Church and Catholics. The acrimonious debate, peppered with raucous cries from the ratepayers, saw Catholic Fr Rigby and J Wilberforce Cassels, vicar of St Thomas’ presenting a united front when speaking from the platform, much to the sarcastic amusement of those opposed to denominational schools. Mr Marriott’s jibe of “This man (addressing Rev Cassels and pointing to Fr Rigby), consigns you to eternal damnation as a schismatic – and you, I believe send him to a very warm place” typifies the comments. 

The heated debate ranged from objections to paying fees for children whose parents by their dissolute habits had brought themselves to a paupered condition, to freedom of choice and persecution; from accusations of seeking to use public money for their own religious purposes, to arguments about time spent on religious teaching detracting from education in reading, writing and arithmetic. Over 140 years later and nothing changes! 

Fr Rigby came in for particularly harsh treatment as illustrated from this account of proceedings in the “Dewsbury Reporter” 

Mr Wormald Waring [from the secular camp] and the Rev T.B. Rigby, Roman Catholic priest, now rose together to address the meeting, and while the former was received with applause by a majority of those present, the latter was assailed with a storm of howls. The denominational party however cheered him”. 

The meeting concluded with a vote against the decision of the School Board and a warning that if the bye-law was enacted “it will produce the same animosity and irritation which was produced by the enforced payment of church rates”. 

The events weighed heavily on the mind of Fr Rigby, touching upon his religion, the possibility that one man could force another man’s child into a place against his conscience, and his strongly held belief in education of the poor. He wrote to Fr McCarten on the subject. 

We then come to the fateful evening of 18 March 1872. Fr Rigby was making his way back from that Lancaster funeral, held in the city’s St Peter’s church. Rather than returning direct to Batley, he and Fr Thomas Loughran of Leyburn made a life-ending choice. They decided to take the 7pm train from Lancaster’s Green Ayre station to Morecambe, to visit a friend. Some reports refer to it as Green Area, replicating the error in railway timetables up to around 1870.  

They arrived shortly before departure time. Fr Rigby stopped to talk to two ladies, whilst Fr Loughran enquired of porter William Walker how long they had before the train left. Upon being told it would go in a minute or so, they decided they would have time to go to the toilet. 

Fr Loughran made it back to the train in the nick of time, the whistle blew, the doors closed, the guard gave the signal and train set off, driven by John Winter (who hailed from Hunslet, Yorkshire). Before getting into the brake van, Northamptonshire-born guard Thomas Sturman noticed Fr Rigby and warned him not to attempt to board. 

The platform was brightly lit, well maintained and, as William Walker oddly described it, there were no pieces of orange peel lying around. The short-sighted Fr Rigby was still seemingly trying to ascertain his companion’s carriage. He spotted Fr Loughran and made an attempt to reach him. Another Northamptonshire-born man, foreman porter Edward Garley (some reports incorrectly say Richard Gorley) saw Fr Rigby walking sharply down the platform as the train set off and cautioned him twice to keep back. He and labourer George Allen saw the priest miss his step and stumble between the platform and moving carriages. Gorley, only a yard away, tried unsuccesfully to catch him. He immediately called out for the station officials to switch the signals to stop the train, which quickly drew to a halt. But it was too late. A carriage had passed over the priest’s chest and arms. By the time William Walker reached him, he was dead. 

His body was conveyed back to the presbytery at St Peter’s, where the inquest headed by coroner Mr Holden returned a verdict of “Accidental Death”. 

On the evening of Thursday 21 March his remains arrived back in Batley by train. Several hundred people processed from Cross Bank Batley to join the crowds already waiting at the station. Shops closed their shutters as a mark of respect and thousands lined the route as the hearse containing Fr Rigby made its way back to church, where his oak, flower-strewn coffin was placed on a bier in front of the black draped wooden altar. The church was full. Those unable to get in were allowed walk through the church, past the coffin and out via the sacristy. 

Fr Rigby’s Headstone in Batley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

The church was similarly filled to overflowing for the funeral, held the following morning at 11 o’clock. Over 30 priests attended, and long-time friend Fr McCarten preached the sermon during which almost all the congregation shed tears. He expressed gladness, in the midst of sorrow, hearing it was in the exercise of charity, attending the funeral of another priest, he had met his death. He went on to say he had built his parishioners a church “where they would have consolation administered, and where they would be carried at last”. 

More information about the St Mary of the Angels roof fund is here

Sources:

A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town 

Imagine the following street scenes. 

A crowd of “…..30 to 40 people waiting for water around the public well. The most they get at a time was ….about three gallons, and for this …..the poor people had to go to the well as late as 11 o’clock at night, and as early as 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning”. 

It is a common practice for the people to excavate cesspools in the rock to receive the house refuse, which would otherwise be thrown on the surface of the streets”.   

In some parts of the town he believed there was not more than one privy to 20 houses, all of which were probably densely overcrowded”. 

The entrance into the fold or yard in which this [large common] privy was situated was blocked up with offensive matter, and the smell was quite overpowering”. 

And houses with “…as many as four families were found herding together in one small room”. 

This was Batley in 1852, as described to an official inquiry looking at the state of the town’s sewerage, drainage, water supply and sanitary condition. What on the surface seems a fairly dull, uninspiring document proves to be anything but. The report is packed with evidence from Batley residents and officials detailing the town’s appalling sanitation and water provisions.  

The investigation in to the state of Batley’s sanitation resulted directly from the 1848 Public Health Act. The purpose of this Act was to promote the public’s health and to ensure “more effective provision … for improving sanitary conditions of towns and populace places in England and Wales”. 

Prompted by social reformer Edwin Chadwick, one of the 1834 Poor Law architects, he argued that improving the health of the poor by reducing illness and deaths from infectious diseases would reduce the numbers seeking poor relief. The money saved by reducing the burden of relief would outweigh the costs of public health measures, such as improved drainage and sewerage, provision of clean drinking water and refuse removal. It took the 1848 cholera outbreak to force the Government’s hand. The Act was introduced, making public health a local responsibility, establishing a structure to deal with public health issues and paving the way for future public health developments. 

Under the 1848 Public Health Act provisions, 218 out of Batley’s 1,934 ratepayers, (elsewhere the document mentions  1,935 ratepayers), requested a preliminary inquiry which was held at the Wilton Arms before William Ranger, Superintending Inspector to the General Board of Health. His written findings were delivered in August 1852.

There is a wealth of information in the report, ranging from the growth of the town, mortality and burial charges to daily life and conditions, changing demography and attitudes to the Irish.  

The impression given in Ranger’s report is of a rapidly expanding manufacturing cluster comprising of six townships in 17 square miles, all facing similar water and sanitation problems. These townships , Batley, Heckmondwike, Dewsbury, Liversedge, Gomersal and Cleckheaton, had a combined population of 50,000 but the largest of them on its own totalled a little over than 14,000. As such, they lacked the individual resources in terms of population numbers and finances, to forge independent solutions. Dewsbury was first to apply the Public Health Act, Batley and Heckmondwike followed suit, starting with this inquiry. 

The shortage of water provided a recurring theme in the report. The drought of late 1851, which continued into the spring of 1852, aggravated the situation. But the main issues were the town’s population growth combined with its industries. The sinking of colliery shafts cut supplies to the town’s wells draining them of water, and in any case this water was too hard for cooking and cleaning. The waste and refuse from the burgeoning textile mills, combined with sewage and refuse from houses accommodating a rapidly expanding population, polluted its streams.  

The problem affected all areas of the township, from Carlinghow to Healey. People queued often two to three hours throughout the day and night at public wells to fill three-gallon containers, known locally as kits. Many chose to go at night for shorter queues. Some, like Mr Stubley and Mr E. Taylor, kept children at home specifically for the task of water collection. Others, with no family, had to fit water collection in around long working days. People collected rain water to supplement meagre supplies. Those with money attempted to sink wells, often costly and unsuccesful.

The poor water quality caused disease. According to Rev. Andrew Cassels, vicar at Batley Parish Church, the beck in Batley was in an extremely bad state. A few years previously, mortality of those living near it was so high, as a result of fever, that entire families were wiped out. Mr H. Ingram stated his wife had suffered from incapacitating diarrhoea for a considerable time due to the impure water. Mr J Willans said cattle refused to drink from the beck at Carlinghow; whilst others trailed their livestock for several miles to get drinkable water. As a result milk yields decreased.  

Batley Beck – Photos by Jane Roberts

But, whatever means they employed to collect drinkable water, it still proved insufficient. People resorted to paying water carriers ½d for three gallons of better quality water from a well in neighbouring Morley. Most spent at least 2d to 4d a week for this water, a not insubstantial sum for the poor.  Some paid more – for instance J.T. Marriott paid 2s a week. John Jubb said the normal range was between 3d and 1s 6d. It all depended on the size of family and their finances.

The other issue was lack of sewerage, drains and toilets. Descriptions abounded of areas with no sewers, or ones choked up to the point of overflowing. In other areas houses springing up to accommodate the growing population did not have connections to the main sewers or access to privies. Where privies existed, multiple households shared them, and consequently they became so blocked as to be unusable. Liquid refuse collected outside houses. Rubbish, including the euphemistically named night-soil (human faeces), was thrown in the street or placed in privately-dug street cesspools, from which it then leaked. Animal waste provided another health hazard. For instance horse transport in towns, and the accompanying manure, compounded the issue. Houses were poorly ventilated. The stench was overpowering.  

The Irish came in for particular criticism in the report. The Great Famine, and ensuing mass emigration, commenced in 1845. The famine was only just abating by 1852, by which time Batley had seen a huge influx of Irish, mainly from County Mayo. Medical man George Allbutt said “There had been a considerable immigration of Irish into Batley and neighbouring townships during the last few years, and these people were most filthy in their habits”. John Jubb went even further in his condemnation stating “The immigration of Irish into the district had made it more filthy and unwholesome than it would otherwise have been. These people were in fact demoralizing [sic] the whole town”. One amusing conclusion, hinting at the rivalry between Batley and Dewsbury, read “It is right to say, that many of the Irish, formerly residents in Dewsbury, are now living in Batley, but their habits in no way improved”. What is clear though, the Irish lived in the worst ventilated, overcrowded accommodation and were consequently extremely hard-hit by contagious diseases. 

During the cholera epidemic the largest number of fatal cases occurred in a cellar occupied by Irish people. In 1847 typhus was rife in the Irish enclave at Brown-Hill. However disease was not confined to the Irish. Typhus regularly affected Healey, not an area typically associated with that comunity. Saying that, it is particularly striking that the Healey Lane area of the village/hamlet, which was occupied by the Irish, suffered disproportionally. 

Other areas noteworthy for typhus included Carlinghow (until the beck was covered), New Street, Chapel Fold and Burnley’s Fold. In the September and October 1851 typhus fever outbreak, scarcely a household in Newsome’s Fold, which adjoined a large privy, was unaffected by the disease. 

Henry Brearley, Batley District Registrar, reported 438 death between 1 August 1850-6 July 1852. Epidemic, endemic and contagious diseases accounted for 65 of these, including 21 from measles, 12 from scarlatina, nine from typhus fever and five from smallpox. In fact there was an outbreak of the latter disease at Parson’s Fold, at the exact time William Ranger conducted his inspection. 

Given the connection between health and those receiving poor relief, 119 men, women and children under 16 in Batley received maintenance in the six months to 25 March 1852 , the overwhelming majority outdoor rather than in the workhouse. The total cost for expenditure on the poor in the period exceeded £439, and ranged from officers’ salaries, to medical bills, the maintenance of lunatics in asylum and burials of paupers dying in the workhouse. 

But the problems did not end with death. The burial ground was another source of health concerns. This in an era before the establishment of Batley’s public cemetery, which was not laid out until 1865. Situated in the Old Churchyard at All Saints Batley Parish Church, the Rev Cassels testified the burial ground was so overcrowded “it was difficult to make a fresh grave without disturbing some of those already existing”. Others, like J.M. Marriott thought the old burial ground should be closed because “the extreme wetness of the soil rendered it an unfit place for interments”. There was the imminent prospect of a further plot of churchyard burial land following the Earl of Wilton’s donation of an extra portion of adjoining ground. Nevertheless it was all very worrying, with a rapidly expanding population and the increasing awareness of having burial grounds in town centres. Just think about the water run-off, diseased, decomposing bodies and resulting contaminated water supplies . 

The report gives a year-by-year breakdown of burials in the ten-year period from 1842/3. A total of 1,408 burials took place. 1849/50 saw the highest number, 254. This was almost 100 more than the next highest year, 1848/9. These years coincided with the British cholera epidemic. The report also provides a breakdown of burial costs, including 1s for the clergyman, 8d for the clerk, 1-8s for the sexton depending on grave depth, varying costs depending on headstone type and 4d or 6d for mounding the grave up following interment. 

Other fascinating insights included street lighting. In today’s light-polluted environment where stars cannot be seen, it is hard to imagine Batley as a place where pitch-black darkness descended many areas at nightfall. Complaints of no gas lamps from ½-1 mile of homes were commonplace, despite paying gas lighting rates, and this in places like Carlinghow Lane. Imagine having to make your way in the dark, through refuse-filled streets, to and from the well to collect three gallons of water.

One final snippet of particular interest to me with my Healey origins, is a year ending 25 March 1849 highways entry. It shows the princely sum of over a £1 paid for young trees when widening Healey Lane. I wonder if any of these trees stand today? I will look at them with new eyes now. 

As a result of the inquiry and Ranger’s report, a Batley District Local Board of Health was established in 1853. Batley, along with the local boards of Dewsbury and Heckmondwike, obtained an Act of Parliament in 1854 for supplying the three districts with water. The White’s 1858 Directory stated the waterworks were approaching completion, supplied from large reservoirs excavated in the moorland dells near Dunford Bridge, 17 miles south-west of Dewsbury. The water was intended to be conveyed in open culverts and large cast-iron pipes to service reservoirs at Boothroyd and Staincliffe. The former was to supply Dewsbury and the latter Batley and Heckmondwike. Both this Directory, and the 1857 Post Office Directory of Yorkshire, named Thomas Dean as the clerk for Batley. By 1860 water was coming through.

However the amalgamation of Batley, Dewsbury and Heckmondwike was never going to work, such was the rivalry between the towns. The joint Water Board scheme was doomed for failure right from the start, with reservoir leaks, water shortages and friction about rights to excess water, if a town failed to use its right to a third of the supplies: Dewsbury seemingly preferring to sell its surplus to areas other than partner Batley, even when Batley was short and willing to pay. 

By 1870 Batley had had enough of the politicking and inadequate water supply. With the town’s industrial growth the Corporation felt they could now go it alone. Accordingly they obtained an Acts of Parliament in 1871 and 1878 to build their own waterworks. The works were situated on the eastern slopes of the Pennine chain, between Holmfirth and Dunford Bridge. It included three reservoirs, Yateholme (work commencing 1874), Riding Wood (work starting in 1874) and Ramsden (with an 1881 building start date). Their combined capacity was around 231,000,000 gallons of water. This was conveyed by means of a large main to the service reservoir at Staincliffe, and from there distributed throughout Batley. Construction work on the Staincliffe service reservoir finally commenced in 1875. These works were erected at a cost of £360,000.

Staincliffe Reservoir – Photo by Jane Roberts

For those with Batley ancestors, the male-exclusive group mentioned in the 1852 report include: 

  • Henry Akeroyd
  • George Allbutt, Esq
  • William Bailey
  • J(ohn) Blackburn, a resident
  • Henry Brearley, Registrar
  • Rev Andrew Cassels, Vicar of Batley
  • Joseph Chadwick, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Mr (Robert) Clapham, sub-agent to the Earl of Wilton
  • B Clay
  • John Day
  • Thomas Dean, Esq, residing at Healey, on the Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852,
  • Benjamin Exley
  • D Fox
  • S Fox
  • John Gledhill, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Richard Greenwood, clothier
  • W(illiam) Hall, assistant overseer
  • Mr Hampson, head agent for the Earl of Wilton
  • J Hepworth
  • Mr Ibbetson, a ratepayer
  • Mr A Ibbetson (possibly Mr Ibbetson, above)
  • H Ingram
  • John Jubb, a resident ratepayer (there is also a John Jubb, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852, so possibly the same man)
  • J Jubb (possibly John or Joseph Jubb)
  • Joseph Jubb, jun, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Samuel Jubb
  • W(illiam) Knowles Esq, Surgeon
  • J.T. Marriott
  • Mr Porritt, sexton
  • Mr Shackleton
  • Mr (John) Sharp
  • Mr Spedding
  • Mr Stubley, a resident ratepayer
  • E Taylor
  • George Thornton
  • A(braham) Walker, Carlinghow Lane
  • John Whitaker
  • Mr (Thomas) Wilby, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • J Willans
  • Mr (David) Wilson, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852

Names in brackets are where a name appears in the report as a surname only in one place, with a full Christian name elsewhere. So possibly the same man.

Sources:

  • Report to the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the Sewerage, Drainage, and the Supply of Water, and the Sanitary Condition of the Inhabitants of the Township of Batley” – William Ranger Esq, 16 August 1852
  • Post Office Directory of Yorkshire – 1857
  • William White’s Directory and Topography of the Boroughs of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, and Wakefield; Dewsbury, Heckmondwike etc – 1858
  • The History of Batley” – Malcolm H Haigh
  • Kelly’s Directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire – 1927
  • Borough of Batley Year Book 1959-60 (courtesy of Wendy Storey)

The Early History of Batley Carnegie Library – Providing World Book Day for Thousands of Days and Multiple Generations

In my last post, in response to the latest Kirklees Council budget threat to our library service, I wrote about the value of libraries. In this post I look at the early days of my local library, Batley, the services it offered to the local community and their reading habits between 19 October 1908-March 1915.  

Batley library’s establishment epitomises the enlightened thinking of late Victorian/early Edwardian Corporations, industrialists and philanthropists. They had the vision to see the immense benefits libraries provided for education, the economy and wider society. From access to books and knowledge for all, irrespective of background and finances; to the realisation that an educated workforce could contribute to industry and the country’s wealth; from the morally and self-improving leisure opportunities they afforded; to the social benefits this offered in terms of crime reduction. These may seem old-fashioned concepts, but they are relevant still today.

The 1850 Public Libraries Act established the principle of free public libraries. A subsequent amendment in 1855 Act allowed boroughs to charge an increased rate of 1d rate to fund the provision. It proved insufficient, with by 1869 only 35 places opening public libraries. This is where philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie stepped in. 

The son of a Dunfermline weaver, the Carnegie family emigrated to America in 1848 when he was 13, settling in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Starting off as a bobbin boy, he was fortunate to have access to books as a result of the generosity of a local man who made his library available to local working boys. Self-taught from these books, Carnegie progressed from the bobbin mill, to become a messenger at a telegraph company, then a telegraph operator, eventually moving to the Pennsylvania Railroad where he rose to become a superintendent, age 24. From there his investment and business interests developed, resulting in his steel company. Carnegie’s experience instilled in him the belief anyone with access to books, and the desire to learn, could educate themselves and improve their position in society. Free libraries provided such educational opportunities for those without financial advantage. 

In 1901 he sold his company to J.P. Morgan for $480m and was free to devote himself totally to his philanthropic works. His personal experience of the benefits books provided, led him to donate money for the building of 2,509 Carnegie libraries between 1883-1929. 660 of these are in the UK.  

In providing funds to establish libraries, Carnegie required the local government to: 

  • demonstrate the need for a public library;
  • provide the building site;
  • pay to staff and maintain the library;
  • draw from public funds to run the library—not use only private donations; and,
  • provide free service to all.

By doing this he felt his grants would inspire communities to take ownership for their libraries and be responsible for looking after them going forward.

Batley did have a couple of libraries: Batley Cooperative Society and Batley Working Men’s Club & Institute, lending around 700 books per week between them. However, neither were free to the general public. Accordingly Batley Corporation approached Carnegie. Lauded as a progressive community, in January 1903 the Corporation received confirmation he was prepared to donate £6,000 subject to the normal rules, including providing a site and adopting the Free Libraries Act and under this raising £400 per year for its maintenance via the maximum 1d rate. He subsequently provided an additional £988 for the clock tower. A transfer from gas rates added another £1,914 16s 6d. Batley’s achievement was a cause of envy for neighbours, and rivals, Dewsbury.

Sketch of Batley library – “Batley News”, 18 October 1907

The Ackroyd Trust provided land specifically for a library and the Foundation Stone for the iconic market place building was laid on 18 July 1905. Designed by Messrs. Walter Hanstock & Son, at a cost of £8,902 16s 6d,, Batley’s Carnegie library officially opened on 19 October 1907 with an initial stock of 7,260 volumes. It offered lending and reference libraries, a librarian’s room, news and reading rooms and a ladies’ room. The first book borrowed, by the Mayor, W. J. Ineson, J.P., was the Bible.

Annual Report Cover

The early days of the library are portrayed in its annual reports. In the early years these reports ran from 19 October – 18 October, the 12 month period from the library opening. This changed in 1911. That report ran until 31 March 1913, 17.5 months. Thereafter the year fell within traditional 1 April – 31 March patterns. 

The library had a staff of five. The 2nd annual report for the year 19 October 1908-18 October 1909 shows these comprised of librarian Alfred Errington, assistants James H Shaw and Alfred North, and caretaker Alfred Moody. Later staff in the period included assistants Annie E. Newsome, Winifred M. Peel and Evelyn M. Walker and caretakers Nelson Howard and Arthur F Garner. Their hours were long – the reading rooms opened from 8.30am-9.30pm; the work painstakingly labour intensive with many hours spent on tasks such as producing a catalogue of holdings, or repairing books. In the year ending 1914/1915 they installed a small binding plant to allow staff to do more of this repair work in-house, but the librarians had so little spare time it did not receive much use that year!

These reports provide a fascinating insight into the early days of the library. The Table below shows some figures illustrating its development.

A few things struck me. Firstly the somewhat bizarre ladies’ lavatory income. In 1908/9 it raised £2 7s 8d, rising to £4 11s 5d in 1914/15, by which time men were presumably being charged to use the facilities, as the “ladies’” element was dropped and the money raised had almost doubled. The library staff were also extremely efficient in chasing up book returns and fines, with personal visits made to those unresponsive to postal reminders. The 1d rate increase was implemented, despite some early dissenters. By 1914/15 this raised £567 towards the running costs of the library. Finally, on the surface to modern eyes, how little things cost. For example a £58 5s 9d payment to Mr W.H. Sykes of Batley in summer of 1913, for cleaning and redecorating, the first refurbishment since the library’s opening. In 1914/15 annual salaries and wages stood at just over £280; electricity, gas and fittings a shade over £40; rates, water and water rents £21 8s; and, reflecting the fuel supplies and industrial heritage, a shade over £16 was spent on coal. At today’s values fuel prices of £56 would equate to just over £4,000.

A common theme of the early reports is the initiatives taken to increase the popularity of the library. The number of borrowers, talks attended, books issued, their range and number attracted much attention. Adaptation, development and improvement featured in those early days, as much as today. The key difference appears to be the store those local government officials put on the value of a library providing a levelling opportunity for all, a theme much in evidence right from the opening ceremony. Maybe that’s the difference between then and now. Back then folk had to really dig in and fight for the basics; today things are taken for granted and consequently undervalued. 

Special Student Tickets, introduced in 1908/09, allowed readers an extra ticket for non fiction works. The reference library boasted a substantial body of coal mining books; textile trade volumes were materially extended in the period 1911-13, all relevant to the predominant local industries, in the hope of attracting Technical School students.

A winter season of half-hour library talks and lectures commenced in January 1908 to attract people to the library. These covered literature, science, art, music and travel, some accompanied by lantern shows. The themes ranged from “A Talk on Elementary Astronomy” and “The Norse Mythology, an influence on the Development of Anglo-Saxon Character”, to “John Milton“, “Individual Responsibility and Social Reform”, “What and How to Read”, and “The Story the Brontës”. Children were catered for too, with Walter Bagshaw giving talks on subjects such as “Peeps into Sunny Italy” and “Reason and Instinct, or, Do Animals Think?” One speaker was Rev Fr John O’Connor from Heckmondwike, a great friend of G.K. Chesterton. “Fr. Brown” in the Fr. Brown novels is based on him. Appropriately one of his talks was entitled “Belloc and Chesterton”. By the end of the 1914/15 season 77 talks has been given. That season saw the highest average attendance, 97. 1914/15 also saw the commencement of talks by the local branch of The Workers’ Educational Association.

Reading circles were established and adapted, moving away from subjects such as Shakespeare’s Henry V to more populist contemporary subjects such as Kipling, to boost participation. Photography, travel and water colour exhibitions also took place, the latter featuring originals by J.M.W. Turner and attended by over 5,000.

In 1909/10, the substantial increase in loans of juvenile fiction led Mr Errington to urge the library committee to extend the privilege to borrow books to under 14s. April 1912 marked the launch of a School Library scheme in partnership with the Education Committee. Initially six local schools participated: Hanging Heaton, Brownhill and Staincliffe CofE, Carlinghow Boys, Warwick Road Boys, Healey Mixed. Each school received 50 books on rotation, and by 31 March 1913 over 8,000 volumes had circulated. By 31 March 1914 four further schools joined the scheme: Mill Lane, Gregory Street Girls, Purlwell Boys and Warwick Road Girls. In the three years to 31 March 1915, 33,287 volumes were issued via the school scheme and a further 37,226 by the Juvenile Section of the lending library. 20 per cent of these were non fiction issues. More schools were applying to join, and head teachers reported the beneficial educational impact of access to good books. However, a formal, dedicated Young People’s Department did not open in the library until 1928.

Another 1912 development was the August introduction of the Open Access system, where borrowers could browse the library. Prior to this they had to ask if a book was available, and wait for the librarian to fetch it. Theoretically the closed system reduced book theft, but did little to encourage reading. By 1915 Mr Errington proudly announced that of 160,000 volumes issued under Open Access, not a single volume had been lost.

The library reports give a wonderful snapshot into the times and community. From the weather, the exceptionally fine summer of 1910 blamed for a decline in the number of books issued; to war, with the average number of books issued per day declining from 221 in 1913/14 (library open 269.5 days) to 219 in 1914/15 (open 280.5 days), due to the numbers in H.M. Forces and overtime in the mills. Noticeably, enrolled women borrowers shaded men. And war saw reading choices shifting to lighter options with loans of fiction, literature, music and juvenile works increasing. The only other category seeing an upturn was sociology, because it included army and navy books.   The array of over 20 railway timetables testified to the importance of this mode of transport. The wide range of newspapers and magazines, numbering in excess of 100, in the reading rooms demonstrated the importance of the print media in these pre-wireless and TV days. Their titles illustrated the interests of the time and the local industries, including “Fur and Feather”, “Farm, Field and Fireside”, “Sons of Temperance”, “Weldon’s Ladies’ Journal”, “Colliery Guardian”, “Textile Recorder” and “Waste Trade World”. The library reading rooms for a short time even boasted “Die Woche”, reflecting the area’s textile manufacturing links with Germany. Unsurprisingly, this publication disappeared from the shelves by 1914/15.

And what does this have to do with family history? Well, besides the plethora of family history resources offered by libraries today including local history reference resources (not online), newspapers (not on the British Newspaper Archive/FindMyPast), access to subscription sites like Ancestry, and local censuses and parish registers on microfilm/fiche there is the actual library history. The development and history of a local library itself adds context to the lives and times of ancestors. The annual library reports are name-rich sources. Not only of the great and the good, those on the Committee and those who donated or gave talks. But also the library staff. This is an extract from the report for year ending 18 October 1910 WW1: “James H. Shaw, the Senior Assistant, resigned in June to take up duties in the office of the Borough Accountant…..Mr A. Moody, who held the post of Caretaker since October 1908….had to relinquish his post on account of ill health”. James H. Shaw is one of the Healey residents identified for the Healey Great War project.

For me the library reflects my ancestors’ community, their hopes, aspirations, dreams and lives. I imagine them using Batley library right from its inception. And I thank those enlightened people of the early 20th century. What a great gift to the town.

I’ve timed this post to mark World Book Day 2017, to acknowledge the important role local libraries have played in opening the world of books to many generations. The poster below shows events at Batley library on Saturday 4 March.

Sources:

A Short Life Remembered: Death by Dentition

This is another in my “Short Lives Remembered” series. It is another child discovered as a direct result of the General Register Office (GRO) birth and death index search facilities introduced in 2016. I’ve not found any baptism details for this child. She was born and died in between censuses. Her burial gives no family details. So tracing her relied on civil registration and mother’s maiden name in the new search options. 

What I find most shocking about this child is the cause of death, which is put down to an ordinary, if painful and occasionally distressing, right of passage for babies and toddlers today. 

Ann Jennings was born on 12 February 1869 at Carlinghow Lane, Batley. The daughter of coal miner Herod Jennings and his wife Ann Hallas, she had 10 older siblings. All were still living by the time of Ann’s birth. This was no mean feat in an era of high infant mortality, when the most seemingly trivial illness or incident could extinguish life. Poverty, locality, environment, housing, sanitation, medical care, public health and class all played a part. The 34th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1871) illustrates the perilous nature of early years survival. Looking at the under 5 age-group, between 1838-1871 out of every 1,000 girls, 62.7 died. The corresponding figure for boys was 72.6. In the five years 1866-1870 the figures were 63.4 and 73. And looking only at 1870, 64.4 per 1,000 girls under 5 and 75.0 of boys died. 

Ann Jennings was one of the girls in 1870. She died on 15 January 1870 at Spring Mill Yard. Cause of death was dentition. In other words teething. This seemed incredible, that something so innocuous resulted in death.  

Yes, it can be an unpleasant time. I remember my daughter’s intermittent episodes of irritability, sleeplessness, drooling, flushed cheeks and raised temperatures. Calpol and Bonjela became medicine cupboard staples during this period. Teething rings, some special cooling ones, were added to her array of toys. But that’s as far as it went. I never realised it could be a cause of death. So I investigated further – and became more astounded at how common it was.

A bit of background first. As with many childhood development milestones there are no hard and fast dates for the emergence of that first set of baby teeth. It normally starts at around the six to nine months stage, with each of the 20 teeth taking about eight days to emerge. The whole process lasts for around two years.

Back to the Annual Report of the Registrar General. This time I looked at the 33rd report covering the 1870 statistics, the year of Ann’s death. In the West Riding of Yorkshire 232 female deaths and 287 male deaths were attributed to teething. In total 4,183 deaths registered in England had teething as the cause.

In 1783 Frenchman Jean Baptiste Timothée Baumes wrote “A Treatise on First Dentition and The Frequently Serious Disorders Which Depend on It”. In it he claimed teething “….may often be be found the cause of death of a great number of infants”. The view was still prevalent almost a century later. According to the 35th Annual Report of the Registrar General, looking at 1872 statistics: “Teething is one of the first marked steps in development after birth, and by inducing convulsions and other irritative reflex diseases, it is chargeable with a certain number of deaths”.

The conclusion reached by medical professionals of the time was because the teething coincided process with the ages of high mortality, it was actually responsible for infant illness and death. According to accepted medical wisdom teething led to a number of afflictions and displayed a variety of symptoms including convulsions, diarrhoea, bronchitis, croup, vomiting, neck abscesses, insanity and meningitis. The teething phase was perceived as fraught with risk, a process to be dreaded.

Added to misdiagnosis, teething treatments could in themselves prove fatal. Even today there are stories of homeopathic teething tablets causing death. Back in the 19th century treatments ranged from dangerous to downright barbaric, with some treatments a combination of the two.   

What could you do to make the passage of teeth through gum easier? Well, the obvious answer was to lance the gum, making a deep incision to facilitate the emergence of the offending tooth. This in a pre-anaesthetic, pre-sterilisation era carried it’s own risks. Leeches applied to the gums provided another solution.

Gum Lancing for Teething – “Cassell’s Household Guide”

And what could you do to relieve the pain, reduce excitement, regulate the bowels and induce sleep in the restless teething babe? Newspapers were full of the answers, with adverts for soothing remedies which parents, fearful of the dangers of dentition, were induced to purchase. In this unregulated, uncontrolled period of medicine druggists and pharmacists made their own propriety and patented concoctions with no details of ingredients. But these included opium, cocaine, mercury, morphine and alcohol, with rubbing whisky in gums of teething children even touted in more recent times. All of these could lead to addiction and death. The risk was not unknown. Cassell’s Household Guide of 1884 for instance acknowledged the danger of giving narcotics to children – but reassured parents that it was acceptable if such remedies were recognised as teething powders. So by trying to do the right thing and following advice, parents were in fact endangering their babies.

“Dewsbury Reporter” advert, 9 November 1872

In fact in 1869 a 9-month old girl from Gravesend, Catherine Sarah Cobham, was poisoned as a result of a chemist dispensing strychnine instead of powdered sugar as a teething remedy. Incredible too that sugar was touted for teething – presumably leading to tooth decay later if the baby survived! 

So who knows if Ann really did die as a result of teething. Was it actually a case of misdiagnosis, or even a teething remedy gone wrong. We will never know. So she is just another statistic, amongst thousands of others, whose death was attributed to dentition. Her funeral took place on 17 January 1870 at Batley Parish Church. 

Others who feature in this series of “Short Lives Remembered” posts are: 

Sources:

  • GRO Birth and Death entries for Ann Jennings
  • 33rd Annual Report of the Registrar General (1870) 
  • 34th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1871) 
  • 35th Annual Report of the Registrar General (1872) 
  • A Treatise on First Dentition and The Frequently Serious Disorders Which Depend on It” by Jean Baptiste Timothée Baumes (1783) – Google Books 
  • Cassell’s Household Guide to Every Department of Practical Life: Being a Complete Encyclopaedia of Domestic and Social Economy Vol 1” (1884) – Internet Archive 
  • Dewsbury Reporter” – 9 November 1872 
  • Treatments for Children: Teething – https://www.rpharms.com/museum-pdfs/g-teethingtreatments.pdf
  • Parish Register – Batley (All Saints) Parish Church  

 

Is Family History “Proper” History?

This is my 100th blog post, and my first as an ex-civil servant. So to mark this milestone I’ve decided look at family history as a subject, and give my perspective on its place in the overall discipline of history. Does it actually deserve to be classed as history? 

Perhaps some do look down on it, thinking its a kind of “dumbed down” version of history. After all there’s nothing to collecting the names of a bunch of ancestors and tagging them with a few vital event dates. But that’s missing the whole point. Family history isn’t only about creating a tree full of connected names.

For me family history is a specific strand of history and is as valid a discipline as studying the Tudor period, or being an expert in the English Civil War. My history degree covered what are probably regarded as “traditional” history topics such as the origins of the Great War, the Russian Revolution, Latin American Independence Wars and politics, the Enlightenment and history of ideas or the foreign policy of the Chamberlain government. However, other elements had a definite family and social history slant. These included children in British society, parish registers, censuses, and various Factory and Education Acts.  

In fact family history encompasses a far broader time sweep than many specialist areas, with their comparatively narrow timeframes. More than that, it covers a wide breadth of elements. It requires a knowledge of international, national, local, economic, industrial, religious, medical, agricultural, demographic, political, judicial, legislative and social history – to name but a few areas. 

This broader historical perspective in turn leads to an understanding of when individual records so vital for family history were created and why, and crucially what is consequently available to further research. For instance parish registers and poor law developments down to the impact of the Civil War and Commonweath through to voting rights. 

At the same time geographical knowledge plays a part, from parish and administrative boundaries to the development of towns, transport links and migration routes and patterns. A bit of Latin and the ability to decipher handwriting akin to the meandering of a spider who has paddled in an ink puddle also helps.Family history therefore goes way beyond parish register and census hopping to create a list of names. It’s way more exciting.

To me family history ranges from contextualising the lives and times of my ancestors within events such as the Industrial Revolution, the English Civil War, or the First World War; it also drills down to putting specific life-changing decisions or events into the framework of national and international events, like the shelling of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool and my great grandad’s decision to enlist. Or the Irish Famine, its impact in County Mayo and the decisions made by my ancestors to remain or leave. 

Furthermore family history has enhanced my historical knowledge, drawing me to investigate areas that broader history would not touch upon. Lesser known events such as miners strikes in specific localities, such as Drighlington, and the impact it had on ancestral lives, leading onto coal mining communities and occupations generally; or the growth or decline of towns and villages, or industries and occupations and the associated migration patterns or job switches. It has also led me to conducting greater in-depth investigation into factors affecting their lives such as judicial changes, the Poor Law, various Factory Acts or diseases such as TB, diabetes and smallpox along with accompanying medical advances; without my family history hat on, for me these events would be looked at in a high-level generalised way and not considered in detail or applied to individuals who are my flesh and blood. Examining them in relation to my family makes them more real. And by extension it leads to communicating finds to other family members and hopefully making history more accessible, relevant and real to them.

And, as that’s the case, for me family history is truly one other strand of the various disciplines falling under the generic umbrella of history.  So done properly, and not a paper-chase exercise of populating a tree with thousands of names, the answer to those who cast doubts on its merits is an unequivocal yes: Family history is truly “proper” history.

Happy Birthday and Farewell: A Father’s Love

16 December 1914 marked a momentous day for my family. My grandma celebrated her sixth birthday. But not any old ordinary birthday in Batley for her, spent with her mum, dad and seven year old sister Nellie. This birthday was unlike any other.

Astonishingly, I discovered this of all days was the day her 46 year-old father, my great-grandfather Patrick Cassidy, chose to enlist with the local regiment, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI). Patrick, born in 1868 in Hagfield, County Mayo, even knocked several years off his age to ensure he would be accepted. His attestation papers show he claimed to be 35 years and 11 months.

I knew my great-grandfather had been in the Army. My grandma told a tale of a motor vehicle turning up at their Hume Street home containing someone to see her dad. The story goes that the officer inside was the one he’d acted as batman for. I had no date for this event, but given my grandma remembered it, I’d guessed in sometime after 1912.

However, because of his age, I’d discounted him seeing his military service during the Great War. Combined with his age, his uniform in one of the family photos, with its three point-up chevrons on the lower left sleeve indicating 12 years good conduct, indicated pre-war service. I’d marked it as pre-1904, as he’d first turned up in Batley in January of that year. And by then he was a labourer. That was also his occupation when he married Ann Loftus in 1906. And also in the 1911 census.

Patrick Cassidy

As it happens his attestation papers backed up this earlier service theory. He confirmed to the attesting officer he had previous time-expired service with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding). He described it as 33rd and 76th West Riding, harking back to 1881 and the Cardwell Reforms when the Halifax depot 33rd and 76th Regiments of Foot merged.

One thing I found amusing from these papers: My grandma, who adored her father, always gave the impression of him being a tall man. According to his army forms he stood at the incredible height of…….5’ 3.5”. Just goes to show, don’t take all oral family history as gospel!

Anyway, back to the lie over his age. As an ex-soldier, by this stage of the war, the age limit was 45, not 38 as for other volunteers. So he really did go overboard with his age reduction. In fact, with his precise 35 years and 11 months, it seemed he was still working to the end of August 1914 rule change for volunteers without previous service, when the upper age limit was increased from 30 to 35. He really was determined to do his bit.

Still, I couldn’t get my head round it. Not the fact he chose to sign up. Not even the fact he lied about his age to do so. But why on earth would he do it on his young daughter’s birthday? Why not wait till a few days later? In fact, why not wait till after Christmas? Had there been some major family row that prompted it? Or had a close family member or friend, as yet unidentified by me, died whilst serving? Was my great grandfather out to avenge their death? Those were the only explanations I could come up with.

His papers offered no clues whatsoever as to why he would act in this way and leave his wife, children and labouring job in Batley to take this huge risk. Or did they?

Several months later, whilst doing some general research, I realised the papers did contain the answer. The key was in the date. I’d been looking at it in narrow family terms, my grandma’s birthday. I’d not looked at any wider historical events. Besides being my grandma’s sixth birthday, Wednesday the 16 December 1914 marked the day German Imperial Navy ships Seydiltz, Moltke, Blücher, Derfflinger and Von Der Tann bombarded the east coast towns of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool with a final toll of over 130 killed and almost 600 injured. 

The attacks occurred from around 8am to 9.30am that morning. In the immediate aftermath, in scenes reminiscent of Belgium and France, refugees fled their homes seeking safety inland. Distressed residents from the stricken towns, some still in slippers and nightdresses, disembarked in local railway stations with tales of terror and destruction and reports of “scarcely a building left standing.” The historic landmarks of Whitby Abbey and Scarborough Castle suffered damage. Famous seaside hotels, like Scarborough’s Grand Hotel, bore shell scars.

The Grand Hotel, Scarborough

From 16 December onwards newspapers the length and breadth of the country carried the stories of this exodus, along with tales of death, injury and destruction wreaked. This from “The Yorkshire Evening Post” of 16 December reporting of arrivals in Leeds at 11 o’clock “One woman who arrived was wearing her bedroom slippers; in her arms was a two-year-old son in her nightdress and an outer garment lent by someone on the train.”

Another refugee was Mrs Knaggs, who lived in the vicinity of Scarborough’s damaged Grand Hotel. She arrived in Leeds on the 1 o’clock train into Leeds with her eight-year-old daughter and a few hastily packed groceries. She recalled meeting “…scores of women and children. All seemed unconsciously making for the railway station. Some were half dressed, and carried with them all manner of household articles. Another refugee had a child of a fortnight old in her arms, and with her was another partly-dressed girl of fourteen…..The streets of Scarborough were filled with women. These refugees were without food, money and very scantily clothed.”

Whitby resident Mrs Hogg was another Leeds arrival. Her house was struck by a shell. She recounted: “Outside shells were flying about, tearing up the pavement and damaging houses….In the fields in the outskirts of town big holes were torn in the ground and all the telegraph wires were down. People were hurrying along, some with a few belongings they had managed to get together. One man was carrying a parrot and two bird-cages. My little boy had run out of the house in his slippers. He lost his slippers on the way, and had to walk in his stocking feet.

The German navy were dubbed the baby-killers of Scarborough, a reference to one of the victims, 14 month old John Shields Ryalls. In a letter to the Mayor of Scarborough on 20 December 1914 Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty wrote: “Whatever fears of arms the German Navy hereafter perform, the stigma of ‘Baby-Killers of Scarborough’ will brand its officers and men while sailors sail the seas.” 

Baby Ryall’s picture along with another victim, 15 year-old boy scout George Harland Taylor, featured prominently in the press with inflammatory headings like “Slain by Germans” and “Killed by the Raiders.” Others included 28 year-old Miss Ada Crow, due to be married to her army fiancé, Sergeant G.R. Sturdy, on what turned out to be the day of her funeral.

Some were of the opinion that the attack was the best thing that could have happened – it would give a boost to recruitment, now waning after the initial rush following the declaration of war. Battalions would be filled on the back of the attack.

By 18 December newspapers were reporting a material increase in numbers coming forward to recruiting offices, particularly in the areas affected by the bombardment. And from 18 December a new recruitment poster made its appearance:

AVENGE SCARBOROUGH 
Up and at ‘em now!
The wholesale murder of innocent women and children demands vengeance.
Men of England, the innocent victims of German brutality call upon you to avenge them. Show the German barbarians that Britain’s shores cannot be bombarded with impunity. Duty calls you now.
Go to-day to the nearest recruiting depot and offer your services for your King, home, and country.

This theme was echoed in subsequent recruitment poster campaigns. This included a depiction of the ruins of 2 Wykeham Street, Scarborough where four died: Johanna Bennett (58), her son Albert Featherstone Bennett (22) a driver in the RFA, and two young boys John Christopher Ward (9 according to newspapers, although GRO entry gives his age as 10) and George James Barnes (5).

My great-grandfather didn’t wait for these rallying call to arms. He went to the recruiting office on the very day of the attack. Though I can’t be 100 percent sure, it looks like he enlisted because he wanted to protect his family. The bombardment of east coast town, with the huge loss of life and the streams of refugees which followed, brought the war so much closer to home. The Yorkshire seaside resorts of Whitby and Scarborough were particularly popular local holiday destinations. In fact when war was declared only four months earlier the local Territorials, 1/4th KOYLI, were on their summer camp in Whitby. No longer was it a distant war affecting civilians – women and children – in foreign lands. It was now in Yorkshire. His family were now under threat. He couldn’t stand aside any longer.

So what became of him? The attestation papers indicated his resurrected army career with the KOYLI proved short-lived. On 15 January 1915 he was discharged as unlikely to become an efficient soldier. Unsurprising given his age. But the discharge setback did not deter him. It wasn’t the end of his military service.

By pure chance I found an entry in the “Batley Reporter and Guardian” of 27 August 1915. Private Patrick Cassidy of Hume Street appeared in Batley Borough Court charged with being absent without leave from the 3/4th battalion Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, who were stationed at Halifax. So he’d gone back to his old regiment. The Batley Borough Court records gave the offence date as 24 Aug 1915. He pleaded guilty and was remanded to await a military escort.  I wonder if this has any link to the vehicle my grandma recalled?

The 3/4th Duke of Wellington’s was formed in March 1915 so it seems Patrick may have remained a civilian for as little as a couple of months after leaving the KOYLI. The battalion remained in England throughout the war, stationed at Clipstone Camp, Rugeley Camp, Bromeswell (Woodbridge) and Southend, training and supplying drafts for overseas service. I’ve traced no Medal Index Card for Patrick so it seems he remained on home shores. However he did see the war out. In the Batley Electoral Register of 1918 he is listed as being absent as a naval or military voter.  Unfortunately the detailed Absent Voter List for Batley does not appear to have survived. This would potentially have confirmed his service number and regiment.

So this tale goes to show that when researching family history you need to look at wider historical events be it local, national or international. They too have an impact on the lives and decisions made by ancestors and can help you see your family history in a new light.

Sources:  

  • Batley Borough Court Records – West Yorkshire Archives
  • Batley Register of Electors – 1918
  • GRO Indexes
  • Imperial War Museum Poster from 1915: “Men of Britain! Will You Stand This?” © IWM (Art.IWM PST 5119). Shared and re-used under the terms of the IWM Non Commercial Licence
  • Newspapers including:
  1. Batley Reporter and Guardian – 27 August 1915.
  2. Leeds Mercury – 17 December 1914
  3. Yorkshire Evening Post – 16 and 18 December 1914
  4. The Leeds Mercury – 21 December 1914
  • WO 364 -Soldiers’ Documents from Pension Claims, First World War