Category Archives: Parish Registers

The Hanging Heaton Vicar Scandal – How Newspaper Reports Can Supplement Family and Local History

Passions were running high in Hanging Heaton in the summer of 1851. The vicar, Stephen Mathews, was attacked by a number of parishioners. Amongst the mob were Jane Halliwell who struck him several times with a coal basket, and James Scargill who hurled stones at him. As he beat a retreat the mob cried “Stone him! Stone him!

The case came before Dewsbury Magistrates at the end of July resulting in fines for Jane Halliwell, James Scargill, George and David Walker. This was the first of three connected cases to come before Dewsbury judiciary in less than two months. Events escalated further, culminating in the Bishop of Ripon ordering an official church inquiry in front of commissioners appointed by him under an Act for Better Enforcing Church Discipline. This was held over between 18 – 24 October 1851 at the Royal Hotel, Dewsbury.

The catalyst for these events was the birth of a boy on 27 May 1851, to unmarried 16-year-old Mary Halliwell of Soothill. Baptised on 29 July 1851 at Holy and Undivided Trinity church, Ossett cum Gawthorpe, he was named Stephen Mathews Halliwell…with the girl identifying the vicar as the child’s father. Jane Halliwell (née Scargill) was the girl’s mother, James Scargill her cousin.

Stephen Britannicus Mathews, the son of surgeon Stephen Mathews and his wife Anne, was born on 8 December 1790 in Calcutta. He was admitted to Cambridge University in 1807 and, after achieving his BA in 1812, he was ordained as a Deacon in Norwich in June 1812 and a priest in December that year. On 14 October 1813 he married Marian Ingle at St James Westminster. The marriage was by licence, Marian being a minor, with consent given by her widowed mother, Susanna.

The couple had one daughter, Helen, in around 1826. Between 1832 to 1837 Rev. Mathews was vicar at Knockholt in Kent. He arrived as incumbent at Hanging Heaton in 1840. The 1841 census saw him living along with Marian, Helen and two servants Amy Collins (35 in this age rounded down census) and local girl Achsah Day (15). By 1851 it was only him and Amy Collins, his wife and daughter having left him around a year ago.

The rebuilt St Paul’s Church, Hanging Heaton. Photo by Jane Roberts

In contrast to the vicar’s travels, Mary Halliwell’s life had been confined to Yorkshire. Her parents, Thomas Halliwell and Soothill-born Jane Scargill, married on 19 July 1834 at St Mary’s church in Prestwich, Lancashire. Mary’s baptism is recorded on 24 November 1834 at St Mary’s, Woodkirk. The family lived on Soothill Lane, with Thomas working as a shopkeeper.

By 1841 their circumstances had changed. Jane and Mary are recorded living at Soothill along with stone masons William (50), Thomas (30) and George (25) Scargill and seven-year-old James Scargill. Woodkirk baptism registers point to William being Jane’s father. The 1851 census shows 41-year-old stone mason Thomas now as head, with widow Jane (39) confirmed as his sister. She is officially listed as a housekeeper. But other sources show she also taught and undertook needlework, including sewing for the wife of the vicar of Woodkirk. Mary, age 16, is recorded as a scholar. Other household members included Thomas’ nephew James (17) and niece Harriet (1). The 1851 census, taken a just under two months away from the birth of Mary’s baby, hides the turmoil.

Mary was ailing, her body swelling. Later it was revealed she knew “she was in the family way” but the vicar had ordered her not to say anything. Her mother, despite the heavy hints and promptings of Batley Carr Surgeon William Rhodes, believed her daughter was suffering from dropsy – an illness already experienced in the family, and which had proved fatal. Dr Rhodes called in a favour and arranged for Mary to see a Leeds-based colleague, Dr Teale, in April. He confirmed Rhodes’ opinion: Mary was pregnant.

It was this pregnancy which led to the stoning of the vicar in late July. The newspapers indicated as much, with The Leeds Intelligencer report of the 2 August stating:

It appears some charge has been made or is about to be made against the rev. gentleman affecting the paternity of an illegitimate child.

The affiliation case came before Dewsbury Magistrates (J.B. Greenwood, J Hague, B. Wheatley and F. Wormald) on the 25 August. The densely crowded court listened to the evidence presented for the complainant. At 9pm Mr. William Watts, acting on behalf of the Rev. Mathews, announced he would not be calling any witnesses at this late hour. He felt assured the magistrates would not see anything in the prosecution evidence which would cause them to find his client guilty. He was correct. Mr Greenwood dismissed the case on the basis of insufficient evidence. At this point press coverage only merited a few paragraphs.

However the verdict created an outcry, with a feeling that justice had not been served. So much so that a rehearing was called for in mid-September. It took place in a court house “crowded to suffocation“, and lasted from 12 noon until 10pm. The magistrates included Hague and Wormald from the previous hearing, but also Rev. Allbut (vicar of Dewsbury), Rev. Milner [Miller] of Woodkirk, Rev. Collins of Ossett and Rev. Payne of Dewsbury Moor.

Mary was described in The Huddersfield Chronicle as:

…small of stature and possesses interesting features, though her general appearance is that of premature womanhood; and the suffererings which she must have undergone have left behind an apparent exhaustion and weakness.

It is clear from this newspaper’s report where their sympathies lie, describing her demeanour as quiet and unassuming, and giving evidence with great propriety.

The packed court heard how Mary, a scholar for nine years and latterly a paid teacher at Rev. Matthews’ school, had been subject to the vicar’s advances since September 1848 when she was just 14, although ‘connexion‘ did not take place until 25 August 1849. Assignations mainly took place in the schoolroom. She received a catalogue of presents, including trinkets, clothes and a portrait of the vicar as a young man. All these were listed in the various accounts of the hearing.Child welfare: Ragged School, Whitechapel, 19thC. (part of). Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

A note was also produced, written by the vicar on 3 September 1849 when he was ill with cholera. It read:

MY POOR LITTLE MARY. If anything should happen to me remember there is a cheque in my desk, made payable to you only, and is duly signed, to authorise you to draw on the West Riding Bank for a sum of money which I have placed there for you, and it is yours alone. Remember this as the gift from your faithful and unchanging friend.

There were claims that in January 1850 Mary told the vicar she was pregnant (enciente was the delicate French term used by The Huddersfield Chronicle of 20 September 1851, mindful of Victorian sensibilities around such matters). As a result he procured three bottles of medicine for her which resulted in a miscarriage. Once she recovered, their relationship resumed. Her solicitor, Mr Scholes, even claimed that the vicar’s wife and daughter had left him as a result of the attention he paid to Mary.

Witnesses gave evidence as to him often being seen in the girl’s company. Her school monitor pay of 3s 6d a week continued even whilst her duties were reduced in order to hide her pregnancy. They heard how, when her pregnancy was confirmed, Rev. Mathews confessed to Mary’s mother he was the father.

Arrangements were hastily made to remove her to relatives, Mary and Rachel Spence, at Denshaw Beck in Woodkirk parish, in order to conceal the pregnancy. The Rev. Mathews involved himself in the finer details, including arrangements for transport and provision of a Morley doctor to attend her during her labour (apparently William Rhodes refused). He even gave Mary a purse containing 4s 6d when she departed for her safe-house. However, Mary stayed only five days before returning home. In a later hearing her mother said this was because both she and her brother thought it:

…wicked of us both to send her there to conceal the birth of a child when she was only a child herself. I did not know that she would ever come back alive, and I never could sleep until she came back again.

Mr Watts once more acted for Rev. Mathews. In cross-examining witnesses he suggested Mary had been involved with a 60-year-old shopkeeper, Benny Scargill, and a youth named William Wainwright. He also called into question the family sleeping arrangements, all sharing the same bedroom – with her uncle and nephew sleeping in one bed and Mary and her mother in another. It was in fact later revealed that this was the room in which Mary gave birth to her child, by which stage a modesty screen had been placed down the middle.

Describing Mary as a “wretched, depraved, lying girl” he claimed she, her mother and uncle had concocted the story to extort money from the vicar. He said there was no other evidence against his client, other than that presented by them. This was uncorroborated evidence, he asserted, which did not satisfy the requirement of the Act of Parliament dealing with these cases.

This Act, as explained in The Huddersfield Chronicle of 27 September 1851, stated that:

If the evidence of the mother [in an affiliation case] be corroborated in some material particular by other testimony, to the satisfaction of the said justices, they may adjudge the man to be the putative father of any such bastard child.

Once again Mr Watts declined to call any witnesses, although the justices insisted he call the Rev. Thomas Allbut, vicar of Dewsbury. His evidence included the fact that on 23 April 1851 Thomas Scargill, Mary’s uncle, had informed him that Mary was pregnant and Mr. Mathews was the father. As a result he interviewed Mary, and she too confirmed the vicar was father of her unborn child. Rev. Allbut admitted he thought the 3 September 1849 letter was a suspicious document, but when he interviewed the girl she said Mr Mathews was ill and she was a poor girl who had lost her character. Rev. Allbut informed them that the case had been referred to the Bishop of Ripon to consider.

Yet again Rev. Mathews gave no statement.

After 30 minutes deliberation the magistrates once more declined to make a maintenance order against the Rev. Matthews. The crowd showed their dissatisfaction with loud hisses which then gave way to:

a general utterance of merciless epithets upon Mr Mathews, the parsons, the church and state.

The case was now making national news. The Huddersfield Chronicle of 27 September entitled ‘Justices’ Justice‘ quoting from the London Examiner. The piece said the Rev. Mathews:

…is described as popular with the magistrates and gentry of the neighbourhood; and two clergymen, whose names occur in evidence, sat on the bench during the hearing of the case…..

It concluded:

As we are writing this article, we see that the case thus dismissed at the first hearing has again during the past week been brought on before the same bench of magistrates, with additional corroborative testimony. The magistrates again declined to make an order upon Mr. Matthews, [sic] stating that “the new evidence adduced had not materially strengthened the case.” We do not wonder at that. Short of evidence which should be of the most direct kind and not simply corroborative, we do not see how it would easily be possible to add strength to a case established so completely by so many witnesses, who stood up to swear one after another, and stood down again, in almost every instance unquestioned.

It was announced after the hearing that the case would probably be carried before another and more competent tribunal. Certainly it cannot rest as it stands. The interests of the church and society are not distinct; and it cannot be supposed that the exposure and punishment of clerical offenders brings a scandal which might be avoided by the church continuing to hold the worst kind of cruelty, vice, and hypocrisy, protected in her bosom.

Mary’s solicitor, describing her as the daughter of a poor widow woman, now publicly appealed for voluntary contributions to enable the bringing of a case of seduction against the Rev. Mathews at the next assizes.

It appeared the growing scandal now forced the Bishop of Ripon into action, leading to the final official inquiry lasting from 18 – 24 October in front of church-appointed commissioners. Mary attended dressed in mourning clothes. Within days of the end of the second hearing, her infant son died. His 19 September 1851 burial is recorded in the parish register of Ossett cum Gawthorpe.

The evidence in the church case was more lurid. The commissioners even proceeded to the home of Batley Carr surgeon William Rhodes who gave evidence from his sickbed. His testimony included further information about about Mary’s earlier miscarriage. It also included the declaration by her solicitor, Mr Scholes, that he could prove the vicar:

…had two bastard children by a girl called Mary Whitehead when he was a minister at Knock Holt, near Seven Oaks, in Kent, and that the girl was a Sunday scholar.

Prior to this hearing, anonymous letters had been sent to several local residents. These praised the virtues of Rev. Mathews, called Mary a common prostitute, claimed her mother Jane was never married (she produced her wedding certificate at this hearing), asserted all Jane’s sisters had lost their character and labelled the entire family as notorious. Witnesses testified the handwriting belonged to none other than the Rev. Matthews.

We have a further physical description of Mary given by Richard Green, superintendent of the Dewsbury district police. He said she was slight, at 5′ 1″ to 5′ 2″, and less than average strength. The vicar stood at 6′ 1″ or above.

Evidence on behalf of the vicar included children claiming he often gave them gifts by way of prizes at school. Some said this included the portrait of him as a young man…which Mary had chosen from a selection.

The proceedings closed on 24 October with the Commissioners declaring that sufficient prima facie grounds existed for further proceedings.

Yet again there had been one notable absentee from proceedings. Throughout the full hearing the Rev. Mathews, suspended from his duties at Hanging Heaton, failed to make any personal appearance to give his side of the story. His defence was subsequently given in the form of an open letter, published in The Leeds Intelligencer on 1 November 1851.

He said he had been compelled to keep back his evidence due to the further threats of action by Mary’s solicitor: basically he was wary of laying all his cards on the table. He denied all the charges, his natural kindness had been deliberately twisted by malign people. Throughout, his sole intention had been to protect Mary from inappropriate relationships and help her escape a life of sin and guilt, only to find himself duped. Mary was a friendless outcast in the parish, but he was determined to help her. He was never alone with her. He said he provided gifts, including clothing, not just to Mary, but to all the poorest children in school. She was not signalled out for special treatment. He also claimed the medicine he gave her was not to procure a miscarriage, but to treat her for scarlet fever which had also affected 30 other children in the parish. And some of these he visited more frequently than he did Mary. When, in September 1849, he was seized with the cholera outbreak prevalent in his parish, he gave her the note authorising the payment of £3 in the event of his death so that her mother could afford to place her in service, or some other suitable occupation. Similarly, the 4s 6d he gave her when she left for Denshaw Beck was because she professed to be penniless. He only reduced her lessons because he believed her to be ill with dropsy and wished to spare her any unnecessary exertion. And he continued to pay her because, as long as he could afford it, he never stopped paying salaries to those he employed, even when they were ill.

However, it failed to sway the church authorities. In March 1852 the Bishop of Ripon deprived the Rev. Stephen Mathews of the incumbency of Hanging Heaton for the “foul crime” of adultery with one of his parishioners, Mary Halliwell.

In June 1860, a couple of weeks after the death of Mary’s mother, the Bishop of Salisbury appointed the Rev. Mathews to the curacy of Zeals in Wiltshire. He died on 3 November 1868 at Saffron Walden.

Mary’s marriage to Emmanuel Halstead was registered in Dewsbury in the first quarter of 1866. The couple settled in Keighley. Their children included Jane, Alice Mary, Lillia, Samuel, Herbert Scargill and Sarah. Mary died on 13 January 1905. She is buried in Utley Cemetery, Keighley.

The case is not one I expected to discover locally, and in this period. The scandal and fall-out this shocking case must have caused in this small, close-knit community is unimaginable. The judicial advantage social standing or religious positions gives is nothing new. But looking at it from a purely factual standpoint, the thing that struck me above all else was the depth of social, historical and local information provided in the extensive reporting of this case – evidence not necessarily picked up elsewhere; information valuable even if your family is not among those named.

The parade of witnesses provide an insight into community relationships, occupations and employers. This includes details of women’s work such as washing and needlework, not necessarily shown in official records. It even includes the number of looms operated by individual families. There is information about when individual children began and ended their education. Physical descriptions are given too. We have corroborating evidence for Jane Scargill’s pre-civil registration marriage in another county. There are local features described such as the quarry, the tenter fields and the position of buildings in relation to others in the village. Disease outbreaks are identified. There is even reference to sleeping arrangements. Yes, the defendant’s solicitor may have used it to try to make some negative comment about Mary’s family – but was this representative of the realities of life for the poorest? And actually it resonates with the tale in my last blog post about my great grandma a century later – and she at one point lived in Hanging Heaton.

Yorkshire 232 Six Inch OS Map Extract, Surveyed 1847-1851, Published 1851. Adapted

The press reporting was eye-opening too, particularly the critical pieces such as appeared in The Huddersfield Chronicle. The reports point to Victorian sensibilities and long since gone language, with use of phrases such as ‘in the family way‘ or ‘enciente‘ and the distinctions made between ‘taking liberties‘ and ‘connexion‘. Yet, despite the tiptoeing around the sexual aspects, the condemnation of the verdicts, although couched, was unequivocal.

There are mentions of chip shops – but not our modern day understanding. This in the context of wood chips to light fires. There’s reference to a Mary visiting a planet reader in Leeds: a quaint term for a fortune teller.

And the contemporary descriptions of the day-to-day facilities and operation of this mid-19th century school are priceless. This includes information about the weekly attendance payment of 2d fixed due to the poverty of his parishioners, with this being insufficient to pay the salary of a master leading to the vicar personally training two female teachers. The monitorial system is described, with pupils being appointed as paid monitors with salaries dependent on age and experience. Their duties are described right down to cleaning and dusting the school and church after school and on Saturdays. There are even details about the school buildings (the quarry school was the one heavily featured in this tale), their fabric and furnishings.

In short it is a wonderful peak into the community.

For those with mid-nineteenth century Hanging Heaton ancestry I’ve included a list of those residents who gave evidence in the various cases and inquiries.

  • Thomas Albutt – Vicar, Dewsbury and rural dean of the district;
  • George Brearey – Clothier, Hanging Heaton, worked with Joseph Stansfield and occasionally Eliza Stansfield;
  • George Bromley – Clothier, Hanging Heaton;
  • Alfred Day – Hanging Heaton, 11;
  • Abraham Day – owned tenter field with two tenters. A tenter was a wooden frame on which cloth is stretched during the manufacturing process to retain its shape whilst drying;
  • Emma Day – Hanging Heaton;
  • Hephzibah Day – Former Sunday School Scholar and sister-in-law to Sarah. Age 22. Also the sister of Achsah, servant to the Mathews family in 1841;
  • Sarah Day – Wife of Henry Day, Manufacturer. Four children at Rev Mathews’ School
  • Sarah Jane Day – Hanging Heaton, 13;
  • George Gamble – Clothier, Hanging Heaton (some reports say Weaver, Batley). Employed by Abraham Day to tenter and teem;
  • Joseph Oldroyd Gill – confirmed school plan;
  • Richard Green – Superintendent of Police Dewsbury district;
  • Jane Halliwell – Widow, Soothill. Mother of Mary. Married Thomas in Prestwich. Did needlework for wife of George Dempster Miller;
  • Theophilius Hastings Ingham – Collector of Rates, Hanging Heaton. Brother-in-law of William Wainwright;
  • George Dempster Miller – Incumbent of Woodkirk;
  • Mary Mitchell – Chidswell, 11;
  • Charles Oldroyd – Weaver, Hanging Heaton;
  • Hannah Oldroyd – Hanging Heaton, sister of Charles;
  • Rachel Oldroyd – Earlsheaton, 14;
  • John Redfearn – Weaver, Hanging Heaton. Employed by Abraham Day to tenter and teem;
  • William Rhodes – Surgeon, Batley Carr;
  • Jane Richardson – Common Side, Hanging Heaton.15 last August. Went to Jane Halliwell for sewing instruction;
  • Hannah Rylah – Chidswell, 14 next New Year’s Day;
  • Benjamin Scargill – Shopkeeper, Chidswell, age about 60;
  • James Scargill – amongst those who attacked the Vicar, fined and bound over to keep the peace towards him. A James Scargill was nephew of Thomas;
  • Thomas Scargill – Stone Mason, Soothill. Uncle of Mary Halliwell;
  • Benjamin Shaw – Clothier, Shaw Cross;
  • Peter Senior – Clothier, Hanging Heaton. Employed by Abraham Day to tenter and teem;
  • Mary Spence – Husband of Joseph Spence, farmer. Daughter [in-law] of Rachel and living with her at Denshaw Beck. Washed for Rev Dempster Miller;
  • Rachel Spence – Widow, Denshaw Beck. Related to Jane and Mary Halliwell;
  • Eliza Stansfield – Hanging Heaton, wife of Joseph and occasionally worked with him and George Brearey;
  • Joseph Stansfield – Clothier, Hanging Heaton, works with George Brearey;
  • Mark Terry – Clothier, Chidswell;
  • Sarah Terry (Née Marshall) – Chidswell, former teacher, wife of Mark;
  • Esther Tolson – Teacher, Soothill, 24;
  • William Wainwright – organist, Sunday School teacher, carpenter who worked in uncle Charles Wainwright’s chip shop;
  • David Walker – son of sexton, John. Refused to attend Church Commissioners investigation unless expenses paid. Clothier, Shaw Cross. 26. A David Walker was among those who attacked the Vicar, fined and bound over to keep the peace towards him;
  • George Walker – among those who attacked the Vicar, fined and bound over to keep the peace towards him;
  • John Walker – Sexton, father of David. Refused to attend Commission unless transport provided to Dewsbury;
  • Thomas Ward – Rag Dealer, Hanging Heaton; and
  • Benjamin Wilson – no details.

Sources:

  • 1841-1901 censuses, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast;
  • Burial Registers: Holy and Undivided Trinity, Ossett cum Gawthorpe; Batley All Saints. Both accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • Death Date and Burial of Mary Halstead (née Halliwell), via Find A Grave Ancestry.com. UK and Ireland, Find A Grave Index, 1300s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Find A Grave. Find A Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi.
  • Baptism Registers: Ossett cum Gawthorpe; Woodkirk St Mary’s; Both accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • British India Office Ecclesiastical Returns – Parish Register Transcripts from the Presidency of Bengal, accessed via Findmypast;
  • Marriage Registers: St James, Picaddilly, Westminster; Prestwich St. Mary’s. Both accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • GRO indexes for marriage of Mary Halliwell, accessed via Findmypast;
  • England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995, entry for Stephen Britannicus Mathews, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Alumni Cantabrigienses, accessed via GoogleBooks;
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • Newspapers including: Carlisle Journal – 5 September 1851; The Huddersfield Chronicle – 20 September 1851, 27 September 1851; The Leeds Intelligencer – 2 August 1851, 30 August 1851, 18 October 1851, 25 October 1851, 1 November 1851; The Leeds Mercury – 6 March 1852; The Leeds Times – 30 August 1851, 20 September 1851, 25 October 1851; Liverpool Mercury – 2 September 1851. All accessed via Findmypast
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Don’t Let Parish Register Indexes and Online Searches Lead You Down the Family History Garden Path

It’s so easy to rely on online parish register searches or transcripts and indexes for family history. But by putting absolute faith in them you could be missing out on so much more. Hopefully this post illustrate why you should also invest time in looking at the register itself, or digitised images, and not simply place all your faith in the easier options.

Family History Society transcripts and indexes include the health warning to check against the original register, and it is sound advice. Even if they are accurate, information in the original register may by omitted due to space constraints or because they do not neatly fit in the templates. The same caveats also apply to search results from online providers of family history records.

I finally decided to write about the issue after recently going through baptisms in the Wakefield All Saints register for the 1750s and 1760s and comparing against online search results.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Here are some of the problems associated with not looking at the original registers, and benefits which may be gained from putting in the effort.

  • Registers can be damaged making entries illegible. It may be just for the odd entry, but it could involve weeks, months or even years. There may be periods where the register does not survive, or was never kept. Whole pages may have been omitted during the digitisation process. This may be the reason why the entry you are seeking does not come up in a search or appear in an index, or why if it does there may be transcription errors. Without checking the actual register, or images, you may never know. And by not knowing you may end up with incorrect family history information or be missing out on work rounds like failing to check Bishop’s Transcripts (BT) copies.
  • If you are relying on searches and indexes to find an entry, do not confine your to check the digitised or original parish register image for the entry concerned. Look at the surrounding ones too to get a feel for the register. These checks should include ensuring the parish or church matches against the one identified on the finding aid. This can be a particular issue if a parish church has associated chapelries. Birstall Parish for example had a Chapel of Ease, White Chapel, which had baptism and, eventually, burial rights. This subtle difference is not necessarily picked up if the register itself is not checked.
  • Mistakes in transcribing and indexing. Recently I’ve seen the surname “Wright” mistakenly indexed as “Might“. Doing an online search for the surname, including any of the usual variants just won’t find it.
  • Similarly Christian names can be totally wrong – James instead of Sam[ue]l is one that springs to mind in one of my family baptism searches. Without checking the register I would be led down the garden path for any future references to the child.
  • On this theme, parish register amendments are not necessarily picked up in any searches. Two examples here. An 1816 baptism at Whitkirk. Ancestry has this indexed in searches as “William Illegitimate Pennington” son of Grace. This is wrong. The child was not illegitimate and the entry should be William Hill. There is a note at the bottom of the page of the baptism register stating it is erroneous and Grace was lawfully married to Francis Hill. Ancestry have not picked this up. And there is a similar theme for Wakefield All Saints when William son of William Jennings was baptised on 8 November 1764. The register has an annotation indicating three competent witnesses testified the child was actually called Thomas. Granted a search for Thomas Jennings on Ancestry.co.uk will fetch “William Jennings” in the results, but you need to drill down to find out the full details.
  • The Wakefield All Saints register which promoted this search had several entries in the early 1760s for the birth of illegitimate children with the register noting the name of the father. Some indicate the child was “basely begot not declaring the father.” Others indicate the father in general terms like “a French Man” or “a French prisoner” (and those entries lead to a whole new set of questions). But others will name the putative father, including some with occupations (plenty soldiers) and some even giving his abode. The father is not shown in online searches, you need to view the entry. And if your ancestor was the father you possibly would not know without going through the register.
  • Burials throw up the issue whereby some online searches give no surname for married women and children. Try Ancestry’s collection of West Yorkshire Church of England Burial Registers 1813-1985. In the early decades of this collection this surname omission is rife. Imagine the problem if your ancestor was an Ann, Mary or Elizabeth!
  • Problems with dates. There are numerous examples of this. The wrong number for the day, month, or even the wrong year given. A particular issue is around the pre and post 1752 calendar change from Julian to Gregorian. Many parishes continued with the old style calendar way beyond 1752 in their registers, with the New Year still starting on 25 March. Without checking the parish register you may end up attributing a birth to the wrong year.
  • Going through the registers yourself improves your transcription skills. You start to get your eye in for reading older documents, which only benefits your wider family history research.
  • And finally by going through the register you start to get a feel for the community of your ancestors, the status of various parishioners, occupations in the locality, indications of disease outbreaks, maybe even weather updates and wider events. The Wakefield register is a perfect example of the snippets you can pick up. Between 1760 and 1764, using baptisms alone, there’s an abandoned child, the three children born to different women by a French man/French prisoner. On 13 August 1763 there is the baptism of Richard Brown, a black man from Carolina. And on 4 October 1764 “John Vernon a Black from Antiga [sic] ab[ou]t 22 y[ea]rs old.

Published indexes and online family history database providers are fabulous finding aids and have opened up family history to a much wider audience. But they should be treated as that – finding aids. Using different sources may help overcome the issue. For example a Family History Society booklet may give different information to an Ancestry, FamilySearch or FindMyPast search, some of which may use the BT rather than the parish register. And that is another issue. What is the source used by the online provider or Family History Society? Is it the parish register or is it a BT? It might seem a minor detail, but this too can impact on search results.

So if at all possible check the original register, or digitised images, for yourself. It may surprise you – and could save you a lot of time in the long run.

Transcription Tuesday 2019 – Your Chance to Give Something Back to Family History

A date for your diary: 5 February 2019 is Transcription Tuesday.

This annual event, launched by Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine in 2017, promises to be the biggest yet and it’s your chance to be part of it.

As Sarah Williams, the magazine’s editor, says:

The internet has transformed family history but the documents that are going online need to be transcribed or indexed to make them searchable, and for many projects the only way that is going to happen is with the help of volunteers……We hope to see hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers from across the world join together and give something back to family history.

Three projects, covering three distinct record sets, form this year’s event:

  • Transcribing a book covering railway worker accidents between 1901-1907 in just 24 hours. This Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants volume, the forerunner of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), records accidents and legal cases involving its members. It is a strand of the Railway Work, Life and Death project, and is being carried out in conjunction with the University of Portsmouth, the Modern Records Centre based at the University of Warwick and the National Railway Museum (NRM). The tome will make a potential 2,150 railway worker records widely available.

Sample page from the railway accidents book that volunteers will transcribe on Transcription Tuesday 2019 CREDIT: Modern Records Centre

  • Warwickshire witness statements from the county’s quarter sessions. This is a part of Warwickshire County Record Office’s Warwickshire Bytes project encouraging volunteer participation in indexing records held by the archive; and
  • A range of parish registers in association with FamilySearch.

There are so many reasons to take part in Transcription Tuesday. It is your moment to be part of something big; it is an opportunity to give something back to the wider family history community; it is a chance to make more accessible to families the lives of thousands of ancestors; it could help you improve one of the core skills of a family historians – reading and transcribing original documents; and you never know, if you have a railway ancestor, Warwickshire roots or the parish records relate to your ancestral homelands you may be lucky enough to find yourself uncovering part of your family history!

To find out more about the day, the projects and how to get involved visit: http://www.whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com/transcriptiontuesday

And please spread the word to help make this year’s Transcription Tuesday the biggest so far.

Triplets and Two Sets of Twins – Combining Newspapers and Parish Registers

In 1834 Susan Gibson (née Rylah) made the news across England. The Leeds Times of 20 October 1834 typified reporting when it wrote:

RARE NEWS FOR MALTHUS!! – A woman named Susan Gibson, of Earlsheaton, was brought to bed of three children on Wednesday last, who with mother are all doing well – she has born twins twice before.

The children, Joseph, Rachel and Leah, arrived in the world on 17 September 1834. Their father was clothier Thomas Gibson. Soothill was the family abode given in the parish register, though Susan (sometimes referred to as Susy or Susannah) was born in Earlsheaton and the family did eventually move there.

The infant newsmakers were baptised at All Saints Dewsbury Parish Church on 12 October 1834, along with December 1831-born sister, Elizabeth. This was the same church in which their parents married on 22 July 1821.

‘Triplets, shown in the uterus: illustration showing the position of the foetuses in a plural position. Colour lithograph, 1850/1910?’ . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

The headline’s Malthus referred to the influential, but controversial, English economist Thomas Malthus. His population growth theories centred round the argument that increases in population would diminish the ability of the world to feed itself and there would be insufficient land for crops. Citing Malthus was a recurring theme in reporting unusual birth stories during this period.

Interestingly, at the same time as the press reported the birth of the Gibson trio, they were also reporting the birth of Bridlington’s Thompson triplets. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were the sons of Bridlington Quay stone mason Robert Thompson and his wife Ann. They were described as being ‘all well and likely to live’. The Bridlington St Mary (Priory) parish register recorded the baptism of Robert Thompson’s ‘thrine sons‘ on 22 September 1834, all under the same entry (No 649) in the baptism register, rather than under their own individual entries.

Neither set of triplets added to the population pressure though. Despite the hopeful press outlook at the time of their birth they all failed to thrive. The Thompson trio lingered longest. Jacob was buried on 16 November 1834; Abraham 22 January 1835; and finally Isaac on 17 March 1835.

The demise of the Gibson babies was far swifter. Less than three weeks after their baptism all were dead. A 12-day period in late October/early November 1834 saw a series of Gibson funerals at the parish church. Rachael (as her name was recorded in the burial register) was buried first, on 26 October. Before the month was out Leah died too, her burial taking place on 31 October. The final triplet, Joseph, was interred on 6 November.

As it is pre-July 1837, there is no civil registration. We’re relying on parish registers, and it is not possible from these entries to identify the earlier sets of twins born to Susan. Birth dates are an exception in the baptism register. It’s usually just a baptism date which is given. And, as indicated when the triplets were baptised alongside their almost three-year-old sister, the family were not always prompt in initiating their offspring into the church. It appears some of the Gibson children died before baptism. But burials are inconclusive too. These give father’s name – but there are three clothiers named Thomas Gibson in the Soothill area to muddy the burial entries. And some of the entries simply indicate S.B.C. (abbreviation for stillborn child) or an unbaptized [sic] child with the name of a parent (father, unless illegitimate). So without the newspaper reports we may never have known about Susan’s tendency towards multiple births.

The census provides no clues. In 1841 the family lived at Town Green, Soothill and in addition to Thomas and Susan the household includes Sarah (20), Martha (15), Elizabeth (9), Jane (5), William (3) and Ann (1) – but bear in mind the age of those over 15 was supposed to be rounded down to the nearest multiple of five, and relationship details are absent in this census. However it is clear there are no common ages.

Similarly the 1851 census has no indication of multiple births either. In terms of the couple’s children, Jane (15), William (incorrectly entered as 18 – he was born in 1837) and Ellen (9) are recorded. However, it appears from the GRO Birth Indexes that Ellen was a twin too. Her birth is registered in the same quarter at Dewsbury as an Eliza Gibson, mother’s maiden name Rylah.

Eliza Gibson’s burial is recorded on 21 February 1842 at Dewsbury All Saints, father Thomas.

And Susan Gibson comes nowhere near earning the accolade of most prolific mother ever. That dubious honour goes to the wife of a Russian peasant, as detailed by Guinness World Records:

The greatest officially recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the wife of Feodor Vassilyev (b. 1707–c.1782), a peasant from Shuya, Russia. In 27 confinements she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets

Sources:

  • Leeds Times. 20 October 1834 via FindMyPast
  • John Bull. 13 October 1834 via FindMyPast
  • Dewsbury All Saints Baptism Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/11, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Dewsbury All Saints Burial Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/50, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Ibid, Reference WDP9/51
  • Dewsbury All Saints Marriage Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/21, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Bridlington St Mary (Priory), Parish Register of Baptisms 1830-1847. East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, Reference PE153/11
  • Bridlington St Mary (Priory), Parish Register of Baptisms 1813-1838. East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, Reference PE153/38
  • 1841 Census. TNA, Reference HO107/1268/14/7/7, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • 1851 Census. TNA. Reference HO107/2325/133/11, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • GRO Birth Indexes, William Gibson. December Quarter 1837, Dewsbury, Vol 22, Page 52 via the General Register Office website, https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/
  • GRO Birth Indexes, Ellen and Eliza Gibson. March Quarter 1842, Dewsbury, Vol 22, Page 55 via the General Register Office Website, https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/
  • Most Prolific Mother Ever. Guinness World Records. http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-prolific-mother-ever

All websites accessed 26 September 2018

Churching, Mortuaries and Baptism Fees: A Woodkirk Terrier

A series of five terriers dating between July 1770 and 1825 for the Parish of Woodkirk in West Ardsley provided a fascinating peek into the the the fees charged for various parish services. Terriers were a form of inventory drawn up for Bishop’s visitations. They provide detail about the funding of the benefice ranging from church-owned lands, fabric and furnishings (in Woodkirk’s case invariably described as handsome) to tithes, fees and customary payments. I was particularly interested in the latter two as I wanted to know what my Woodkirk parish ancestors paid to get married, baptised and buried.

St Mary’s Church, Woodkirk – by Jane Roberts

Surplice fees payable to the incumbent for various services and ceremonies performed were as follows:

  • A Marriage by Publication: Two shillings;
  • A Marriage by Licence: Ten shillings;
  • A Certificate of Publication of Banns: Six pence if the man lives in the Parish, but if the woman lives in the Parish two shillings and six pence;
  • A Churching: Eight pence;
  • A Funeral: Eight pence;
  • A Certificate from the Register: One shilling; and
  • A Mortuary: Ten shillings when a person is worth 40 pounds, when a person is worth 30 pounds six shillings and Eight pence, when a person dies worth 10 pounds three shillings and four pence

These fees were constant throughout. The only change was an increase from six pence to one shilling in the 22 June 1825 terrier for certificate of publication of banns if the man lived in the parish.

Fees payable to the Parish Clerk were:

  • Easter: Each house two pence, each plough four pence;
  • A Marriage by Publication: one shilling;
  • A Marriage by Licence: Five shillings;
  • A Churching: Four pence;
  • A Publication by Banns: One shilling;
  • A Funeral: Eight pence;
  • Searching the Register: Four pence; and
  • The Churchwardens for the time being annually pay one pound to the Parish Clerk.

Mortuaries were a hang-over from feudal times. The Lord of the Manor had the right to chose the best beast of a deceased tenant. This payment was known as a heriot. The vicar was able to choose the second best beast (or comparable possession) to compensate for any personal tithes the deceased failed to pay when alive. This payment was called a mortuary. Payment of mortuaries were very unpopular and in 1529 a Statute restricted their use with the value fixed, based on the wealth of the deceased, as set out in the Woodkirk terriers. Parishes which did not have this custom could not introduce the fee. It all had the effect of reducing opposition to them because the poor were exempt and, with the passage of time, the set value of them meant their real terms worth declined.

No fee for baptism is mentioned in the Woodkirk terrier. However other parishes did seem to have them. But such fees were a controversial issue. Although slightly later than the Woodkirk terrier, an 1841 extract from The British Magazine and Monthly Register of Religious and Ecclesiastical Information Vol 19 discussing baptisms in London illustrates the concerns:

…..Of it’s illegality there can be no doubt. No fee, it is well understood, is payable for the administration of a sacrament, and the flimsy pretext that it is due for registering the baptism, is at once destroyed by the words of an act of parliament, which do not leave the clergyman who administers the sacrament of baptism an option in the matter, as he is bound to register the names of all whom he baptises.

I would therefore most respectfully call the attention of the incumbents of London parishes, and of those in the immediate neighbourhood, to the fact they are, by demanding a fee for baptism, guilty of an illegal act, and an act highly injurious to the spiritual welfare of their parishioners…….

Your correspondent, “A Curate,” states the fee to be 1s. 6d. In many city parishes it is 2s. 6d., and I have even heard, still more.

And it is clear the controversial charges applied beyond London. As the Leeds Times of 5 October 1844 reported:

THE BAPTISMAL FEE – The Bishop of Ripon, in his charge to the clergy of his dioceses a few days since, declared that demanding of a fee on baptism was illegal. His lordship added, “The practice, perhaps, originated in the performance of the office for Churching of the woman at the period of the admission of the child into the Church of Christ; and the fee lawfully due for the former. And at first clearly miscalled the baptismal fee, has afterwards been demanded where the parent did not present herself to return thanks for her safe delivery.”

Ripon Diocese, formed in 1836, from Yorkshire part of Archdeaconry of Richmond (formerly Diocese of Chester) and part of Diocese of York, covered Woodkirk. Churching, which did appear in the earlier Woodkirk terriers, was a purification ritual for a women after childbirth, giving thanks for her recovery, cleansing her from the stain of childbirth and marking her re-entry to the church. Although a distinct ceremony it is easy to see how it could be conflated with a baptism fee.

Baptisms did at one point incur a state charge though, and the period covered by the Woodkirk terriers coincided with it. This was the highly unpopular Stamp Duty Act of 1783 which remained in force until 1794. Paupers were exempt, but for all others a duty of 3d was levied on each baptism, marriage and burial recorded in the parish register. I have not undertaken a comparative check on the Woodkirk register, but countrywide the number of pauper entries in registers increased and, in the case of baptisms, some parents waited until the tax ended before having children baptised. There was also an earlier Marriage Duty Act of 1695, repealed in 1706, which similarly imposed a sliding scale tax on on births (using parish register baptisms as a proxy), marriages and burials.

But as for church imposed fees, the controversy of baptisms continued to rumble in the 19th century until the Baptismal Fees Abolition Act of 1872. This Act made it unlawful to demand any

Fee or Reward for the Celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, or the Registry thereof.

It stated:

That from and after the passing of this Act, it shall not be lawful for the minister, clerk in orders, parish clerk, vestry clerk, warden, or any other person to demand any fee or reward for the celebration of the sacrament of baptism, or for the registry thereof: Provided always, that this Act shall not apply to the present holder of any office who may at the present time be entitled by any Act of Parliament to demand such fees.

Finding your Brontë links

One of my Christmas holiday viewing highlights was “To Walk Invisible.” Sally Wainwright’s drama focused on the years between 1845-1848, with the four surviving Brontë siblings and their father all together in Haworth. It portrayed Charlotte, Emily and Anne’s journey to become published authors, set against the backdrop of their increasingly bitter brother Branwell’s spiralling alcohol-fuelled (possibly with a touch of opium thrown in) decline and the bleak, isolation of their Haworth home. The Rev Patrick Brontë is shown as a distant but gentle figure, struggling with his failing eyesight and vainly trying to halt his beloved only son’s self-destruction. 

It is a story that has fascinated me. Haworth is on my doorstep, a short drive away, and a place I’ve visited frequently ever since childhood. The Parsonage Museum, the church of St Michael’s and wandering round its overcrowded Victorian graveyard, and a walk to Brontë Falls and onwards to Top Withens (Wuthering Heights) all feature on my things I like to do list. Although I have to be in an energetic mood for the latter. If not, a mooch up and down the cobbled Main Street, including the Black Bull frequented by Branwell is an alternative. Last year I, along with many others, walked from Haworth village to Penistone Hill to see the film set recreation of the Parsonage. 

Haworth Parsonage and the Recreated Film Set Parsonage – Photos by Jane Roberts

But even within minutes of my home there are a host of Brontë connections. The Rydings in Birstall was the early home of Ellen Nussey, Charlotte’s close friend who witnessed her marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls in June 1854. The Rydings is believed to be the basis of Thornfield Hall in arguably Charlotte’s best known novel, “Jane Eyre”. Although not accessible to the general public, I was lucky enough to visit a few years ago on a Malcolm Haigh History Walk. Oakwell Hall, also in Birstall, right on my doorstep and a jewel in the crown of Kirklees Council, is the inspiration for Fieldhead in Charlotte’s novel “Shirley.” I have attached the link to a leaflet about local Brontë connections. Sadly Kirklees Council in its 2016 cut-backs permanently closed Red House Museum in Gomersal, home of another of Charlotte’s friends, Mary Taylor, and Briarmans in “Shirley.” 

The Rydings and Oakwell Hall, Birstall – Photos by Jane Roberts

The leaflet also highlights several local churches. Patrick Brontë was ordained into the Church of England as a deacon in 1806 and priest in 1807. He is most associated with Haworth, being appointed Perpetual Curate of Haworth, Stanbury and Oxenhope in 1820, and remaining there until is death in 1861. However, prior to this appointment he held curacies at a number of other churches. The places associated with him are: 

  • Wethersfield, Essex (1806-1809), Parish Registers for St Mary Magdalene are available on Essex Archives Online 
  • Wellington, Shropshire (1809). Parish Registers on FindMyPast 
  • Dewsbury, Yorkshire (1809-1811), Parish Registers on Ancestry.co.uk and Bishop’s Transcipts (BTs) of them on FindMyPast 
  • Hartshead-cum-Clifton, Yorkshire (1811-1815). Maria Brontë’s baptism took place here. She was the eldest of the Brontë children and died in 1825. BTs are on FindMyPast. 
  • Thornton, Yorkshire (1815-1820). This is where Charlotte, (Patrick) Branwell, Emily and Anne were baptised, along with sister Elizabeth who died in 1825. The BTs of the registers, including these Brontë baptisms, are on FindMyPast. 

So if you have ancestors who were baptised, married or buried in these places, check the parish registers for the name of the minister. See if it was Patrick Brontë (or the early variant Brunty which appears in the Hartshead BTs). One word of caution. Pre-1813 registers were not standardised, so naming the person performing the ceremony prior to that date may only extend to marriages. From 1 January 1813, following Rose’s Act of 1812, printed paper registers with a standardised format included details of the person officiating, so this includes for baptisms and burials as well as marriages.

I did check, having ancestors in Hartshead, Dewsbury and Thornton. But unfortunately they are fractionally either side of the relevant dates for Patrick Brontë. One lot were, in any case,nonconformists. So I was unsuccessful in finding that hoped-for Brontë family connection to add family history colour.

However you may be luckier. You never know, you might find the officiating minister was Patrick Brontë, father of these literary legends. So you might have your very own (tenuous) Brontë link in your family history story. 

Sources:  

Grim Times for an 18th Century Coal Mining Family 

The most common occupation in my family tree is “coal miner”. Unsurprising given my paternal and maternal West Riding roots. As a result I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching the history of coal mining: the social and political aspects as well as the general occupation and its development through time.

This research could form the basis of many posts. The aspect I’m focusing on this time is the perilous nature of the work. “Poldark” brought this to mind. Different type of mining, but the death of Francis highlighted the dangers of underground work in the late 18th century and made me think once again about my coal mining forefathers. However grim I think my job is, I only have to think about my ancestors, men, women and children, who worked down the coal mine to realise how lucky I am. 

Even in more recent times coal mining was a hazardous, unhealthy occupation. But in terms of my 18th and 19th century family history, these were days before today’s stringent health and safety regulations. Indeed in the early days of my ancestors the working was totally unregulated. 

The cramped, damp conditions and physical exertion led to chronic muscular-skeletal problems and back pain as well as rheumatism and inflammation of the joints. Many suffered from loss of appetite, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting and liver troubles. Most colliers became asthmatic by the time they reached 30, and many had tuberculosis. And all this would have led to days off sick without income to support the family. 

Then there were the accidents. No-one knows how many deaths there were in the first half of the 19th century, let alone earlier. An unreliable estimate in 1834-5 of the number of lives lost in coal mines in the previous 25 years gave the number of deaths in the West Riding as 346 and the evidence is the high proportion were children. According to the appendices of the Mines Inspectors Report’s 1850-1914 some 70,700 miners died or sustained injures in the mines of Great Britain from 1850 to 1908. However even this is not reliable, because the number of non-fatal accidents taking place between 1850-1881 is unknown. It was no-ones job to collect the information. 

It is true that miners themselves took risks, failing to set timber supports, propping air doors open and working with candles when it was dangerous to do so even after the invention of the Davy lamp. But colliery officials and managers also cut corners and costs leading to dangerous conditions, for example failing to replace candles with lamps, not supplying sufficient timbers, not ensuring adequate ventilation, using defective colliery shafts which were not bricked or boarded and contained no guide rods, as well as drawing uncaged corves (the small tubs/baskets for carrying hewn coal from the pit face) direct from the pits which resulted in falls of coal and people down the shaft. It was not until 1872 that every mine manager was required to hold a certificate of competence. 

Whilst explosions exacted a heavy toll and made headlines, it was the individual deaths and injuries sustained over weeks, months and years by falls of coal and roof which were responsible for most accidents, fatal or otherwise. 

One of the earliest mining ancestors I’ve traced is my 6x great grandfather Joseph Womack, born in around 1738. And his is the earliest family mining fatality. 

Joseph married Grace Hartley on 11 February 1760 in the parish church of St Mary’s Whitkirk. It is the oldest medieval church in Leeds and a church probably existed on the site at the time of the Domesday Book. The name “Whitkirk” or “Whitechurch” is first recorded in the 12th Century in a charter of Henry de Lacey, founder of Kirkstall Abbey, confirming the land of Newsam, Colton and the “Witechurche” to the Knights Templars. The present building dates from 1448-9 but underwent substantial restoration in 1856. So it is essentially the building in which my 6x great grandparents married. 

Whitkirk Parish Church

The man known as the father of civil engineering, John Smeaton, is buried just behind the main altar. Perhaps Smeaton’s most famous work is the 3rd Eddystone Lighthouse, completed in 1759 just the year before Joseph and Grace’s marriage. His other works included the Forth & Clyde Canal, Ramsgate Harbour, Perth Bridge, over 60 mills and more than 10 steam engines. 

Joseph signed the register in a wonderfully neat hand. It’s always a thrill when I see the signatures of my ancestors. And especially those who worked in manual jobs not associated with literacy.  

The marriage entry indicated Joseph and Grace were both residents of the parish. The location was pinpointed to Halton with the baptism of their first child, Joseph, on 22 October 1760. This location was confirmed in each of their subsequent children’s baptismal entries. Halton was about three miles east of Leeds in Temple Newsam township with Whitkirk parish. 

Another son, Richard, was baptised on 27 June 1762 followed by their first daughter Mary, my 5x great grandmother, on 12 February 1765. Four other Womack children’s baptisms are subsequently recorded – William on 21 January 1770; Henry on 24 September 1772; Thomas on 6 August 1775; and Grace on 14 February 1779. This final baptism is more detailed, giving Grace’s date of birth as 31 December 1778 and stating that her father, Joseph, worked as a collier. 

The Womacks, Joseph and his sons, were a coal mining family working at the local Seacroft colliery. Joseph and his eldest sons Joseph and Richard were there one day in May 1781 when tragedy struck in the form of an explosion. The events reached papers nationally as well as locally. The coverage is typified by this paragraph in the “Leeds Intelligencer” of Tuesday 22 May 1781. According to the newspaper the explosion took place on a Thursday, which would make it 17 May. However this may be inaccurate. I will return to this later. Typically for the time no names are given. 

In the era before the 1815 invention of the Davy Lamp, candles were the only form of light in the mine. But the risk of explosions with naked flames from these candles igniting methane gas was high, even in well ventilated pits. Firedamp was the name given to an inflammable gas, whose chief component was methane. This was released from the seam and roof during working. And on this fateful May day the Womack father and sons were caught in its ignition. 
We turn to the Whitkirk burial register for the details of how this newspaper snippet linked to the Womacks. The register gives the following burial details on 18 May 1781: 

Joseph Womack collier slain by the firedamp at Seacroft also his son Richard Womack who was slain at the same time. The father was aged 43 the son 19 years”  

Slightly later era, but illustration of a pit top after an explosion

Joseph (junior) was one of those hurt in the incident. This is shown by an entry in the same register, dated 2 June 1781: sadly another burial. It is Joseph’s. He lingered for several days before succumbing to his injuries, described as “bruises”. The entry states that his injuries were the result of the same incident in which his father and brother were killed.

Besides being emotionally devastating for the family, with the death of two members on the same day and a third receiving injuries in the same incident leading to his protracted death two weeks later, it would have been economically crippling. The three main breadwinners wiped out in a single stroke. Grace was left to bring up several children – the eldest 16 years old, the youngest just two. 

Less than two years after the death of his father and brothers Thomas died, aged eight, as a result of a fever. This is a notoriously vague catch-all description for the period indicating, yet again, that in these times the precise source of illnesses were often not known but which clearly suggests some kind of infection. There are no other clues or hints. Checking the burial register for the period around Thomas’ death reveals nothing, for example an epidemic or outbreak of common illnesses in the area. He was buried on 25 April 1783 in the parish. 

Surprisingly the family do not appear in the list of recipients receiving parish dole money. Neither are they mentioned in the parish churchwardens and overseers accounts or vestry minutes, but there is very little poor law related material in these specific Whitkirk documents. It is very possible that they were supported by the parish via this mechanism, but these records have not survived, or else I’ve not yet discovered them in my visit to the Leeds branch of West Yorkshire Archives.  

But the two information sources, newspaper and parish register, give an indication of the devastating effect a pit explosion could have on a family at a time when fathers, brothers and sons (and prior to the 1842 Mines Act women plus girls and boys under 10) worked side by side underground. 

A sad footnote to this post concerns the anonymity of those killed. In addition to Joseph senior and Richard, there were two others who lost their lives in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, as reported in the “Leeds Intelligencer” 0f 22 May. Given the date of the article, Joseph junior couldn’t have been one. Their names didn’t appear in any reports I found. I do wonder who they were though, these people who worked and died with my ancestors.

There is nothing to indicate any other Whitkirk burials of the period applied to these victims. Parishes adjoining Whitkirk were Leeds, Swillington, Rothwell and Barwick in Elmet.  Leeds St Peter’s parish church provides a cause of death for all burial entries for the period. Sadly I drew a blank in this search. Likewise for Swillington St Mary’s and Holy Trinity at Rothwell. However, Barwick in Elmet All Saints register records the burial on 17 May 1781 of 33 year old Christopher Dickinson from Lowmoor. He died on 16 May 1781, “kild in Seacroft coalpitts“. So was this the same incident? If so it indicates the inaccuracy of the newspaper date which implied a 17 May accident date. 

Providing the newspaper got the numbers right, the other individual remains a mystery. The only possibility so far is a cryptic and inconclusive 17 May 1781 entry in the nearby parish of Garforth St Mary’s “Thos son of Mathew Limbord colier aged 23 years” No cause of death. And really it’s not clear if it was Thomas or his father who worked as a collier.

The “UK Coal Mining Accidents and Death Index 1700-1950” doesn’t offer a solution either. This was on the now obsolete “Coal Mining History and Resource Centre” website, which I wrote about in my previous post. As indicated in that post, the index is now available on Ancestry.co.uk – but this accident is not recorded. I may never know who the fourth person was. And it makes me think how many other mining deaths are similarly lost.

 Sources:

  • St Mary’s Whitkirk Parish Register and records 
  • Leeds Intelligencer” 
  • National Coal Mining Museum: http://www.ncm.org.uk
  • The North of England Mining Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers: http://www.mininginstitute.org.uk
  • The Durham Mining Museum: http://www.dmm.org.uk
  • Voices from the Dark – Women and Children in Yorkshire Coal Mines” – Fiona Lake and Rosemary Preece 
  • “Working Conditions in Collieries around Huddersfield 1800-1870” – Alan Brooke 
  • My Ancestor was a Coalminer” – David Tonks 
  • British Coalminers in the 19th Century” – John Benson 
  • The Yorkshire Miners: A History – Volume I” – Frank Machin 
  • The history of the Yorkshire Miners 1881-1918” – Carolyn Baylies 
  • Tracing your Coalmining Ancestors” – Brian A Elliott 

What a Difference a Year Can Make – Calendar Confusion

I spent last week recording data on my Family Historian software, ticking off another of my genealogy New Year Resolutions. It included a raft of 18th century parish register entries. Entering the information I was reminded of one of my early family history basic errors which I need to re-visit in my family tree file.  I recorded a swathe of entries under the wrong year.

In my first enthusiastic rush into ancestral research I totally failed to appreciate the calendar change of 1752, the amended start to the year and the implications of this. In fact in those early days I probably didn’t even know a calendar change occurred.

I couldn’t understand why some dates didn’t fit, with babies being baptised at the beginning of March 1747 to couples who married in April 1747. I thought I’d unearthed a family scandal, but there was no hint of illegitimacy in the normally brutally censorious registers.

I assumed the calendar back then was the same one in operation today, with 1 January marking the start of the year. How mistaken I was.

I subsequently discovered from around the 12th century in England the year started on 25 March, Lady Day. So, for example, the day after 24 March 1747 was 25 March 1748.

Not until 1752 did the year start on 1 January, as a result of the 1750 Calendar Act and the 1751 amended Act. Also known as Chesterfield’s Act, it brought the start of the new year into line with England’s European neighbours and ones even closer to home: Scotland adopted 1 January as the official start of the year from 1600.img_0595

It meant that in England 1751 was a short year to take account of the change. It started on 25 March and ended on 31 December.

1752 also had a reduced number of days, as this Act moved England from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar used by many European countries. It meant September 1752 was reduced to 19 days, with 2nd September being followed by 14th September. These lost 11 days were a result of a correction to an anomaly in the Julian calendar.

Chesterfield’s Calendar Act Extract

The Christian world throughout the Middle Ages used the Julian calendar. Based on a 365 day year with an extra day every fourth year it was devised to to ensure seasonal stability in an agrarian society.

But here’s the simplified scientific bit. The 365 ¼ days of the Julian calendar cycle did not accurately reflect the time taken by the earth to rotate the sun. It was too slow. Only fractionally. Less than 11 minutes annually. But it made the calendar too long. Another way of looking at it is there were too many Leap Years. However the cumulative effect of this discrepancy meant by the 16th century the year was 10 days ahead of where it should have been relative to the earth’s cycle. Significantly, apart from any agricultural seasonal impacts and the affect on navigation, for the Catholic Church there were implications for Easter.

Corrective action was needed. Enter Pope Gregory XIII who in 1582 enacted a papal bull introducing the new calendar, named the Gregorian calendar. This omitted 10 days to bring things back into line with the earth’s solar cycle. It also included a mechanism around Leap Years to account for the actual length of a year in future. From now on Leap Years only occurred in the last year of the century if their first two digits could be divided by four (ie/ only in 1600 and 2000).

Religious politics now came into play. Catholic states generally fell into line using the new calendar. Protestant countries such as Britain and Ireland and its colonies (such as the USA) resisted – they did not wish to follow any Papal edict. But gradually, given its obvious agricultural, commercial, legal and international relationship benefits (for instance by the 18th century what was 20 June in France would be 9 June in England), uptake increased.

By the time England came round to accepting that the benefits of the Gregorian calendar outweighed any religious reluctance, it was 11 days out of sync. Hence the missing 11 September days in 1752.

img_0596

But even with the 1751 Act things aren’t straightforward as far as the New Year is concerned. I’ll use some West Yorkshire parishes associated with my family history to illustrate this.

Leeds Parish Church complied with the Act and entries on 1 January displayed the New Style year of 1752. This also applied to Kirkburton All Hallows and Mirfield St Mary’s.

However it wasn’t universal. Some parishes were behind the pace.

One such example is St Peter’s Birstall. The combined baptism, marriage and burial register acknowledged the September change. An entry at the beginning of September 1752 stated:

September hath 19 days this year

Then, after a baptism entry on 2 September:

According to an Act of Parliament passed in 24th year of his Majesty’s Reign in the year of our Lord 1751 the Old Style ceases here and the new takes place and consequently the next Day which in the old account would have been the 3rd is now to be called the 14th so that all the intermediate Days from the 2nd to the 14th are omitted or rather annihilated this year and the month contains no more than 19th Days as the Title at the Head expresses”.

Birstall St Peter’s Parish Register Explanation for September 1752 Calendar Changes

No similar note mentioning the New Style calendar affected the start date of the year. This part of the Act wasn’t implemented on 1 January 1752 in Birstall. The New Year in this parish register did not start until Lady Day in March. In other words no difference.

1 January 1753 came and there was a tiny entry, a mere nod at the change. Almost imperceptibly tucked away in miniscule script. Certainly no fanfare announcement along the lines of the September change.

Birstall St Peter’s Parish Register Low-Key Entry for January 1753

Contrast that with the shouty heading marking the first post-Lady Day christening of 1753. By 1754 though they were fully towing the line.

Birstall St Peter’s Parish Register Fanfare Entry Post-Lady Day 1753

The neighbouring Parish of Batley similarly adopted the New Style from 1 January 1753 rather than 1752. The register does briefly explain the September 1752 issue, but without the pointed remarks about “annihilation” of days.

So some parishes implemented the Act with the year starting on 1 January from 1752. And from my unscientific example others didn’t adopt the change until 1 January 1753, seemingly grudgingly. Others, however, even went beyond this.

Wakefield All Saints’ register retained the Old Style up up to and including 1755, with the change only made from 1756. There may be examples of other variations if I delve deeper. And there may even be instances of it pre-January 1752, as acknowledgement of the difference did occur in documents prior to the official change.

To sum up even knowing the year change was supposed to take place on 1 January 1752, it still pays to check the register if at all possible to ensure the switch did indeed take place on the prescribed date. And accurately record the year to indicate whether the date is Old Style (O.S.) pre-calendar change or New Style (N.S.) post-change. I use a “double dating” format for those 1 January to 24 March days prior to the calendar change. So, for example, I record 23 March 1747 O.S. as  23 March 1747/48. This indicates the event took place in 1747 according to the O.S. calendar, but 1748 in the N.S.

After all that year could make a big difference to your family tree and subsequent research.

Sadly (?) I don’t think I’ll progress my family history to pre-12th century to concern myself with any calendar in use then.

Footnote:
I’m not going as far as adding in the “annihilated” 11 days to my Family Historian package à la George Washington’s Birthday though! Born on 11 February 1731 according to the then-used Julian calendar, with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar the corrected date celebrated is 22 February 1732. But that this may have happened is worth noting too.

Obsolete Mayo Family History Website: Way Back Machine to the Rescue

In a couple of my blog posts (My County Mayo Family and The National Library of Ireland Catholic Parish Registers Website and Parish Registers: Brick Wall Breakers and Mystery Creators) I’ve referred to one of my much loved, and missed, websites. It was a County Mayo baptism and marriage transcript site, EastMayo.org, launched in 2005. Mainly using LDS films, it’s aim was to provide a free facility to researchers of family history in East Mayo. It concentrated on “that area of County Mayo encompassed by the Roscommon border and the towns of Charlestown, Boholo, Swinford, Kiltimagh, Knock, Claremorris and Ballindine”.  

 The transcripts included:

  • Aghamore 1864-1883 and Knock 1869-1905 Baptisms; 
  • Aghamore Marriages 1864-1882; 
  • Claremorris Civil Registrations 1872-1875; 
  • Claremorris Marriages 1806-1890 and Baptisms 1835-1912; 
  • Kilconduff Marriages 1846-1878; 
  • Kilmovee Baptisms 1854-1910 and 1881-1913; 
  • Kilmovee Marriages; 
  • Kilmovee Marriages Out of Parish; 
  • Knock Marriages 1883-1943 

With generations of my family from the Catholic Parish of Kilmovee, this site was a Godsend. I was disappointed when it disappeared. Although in 2015 the National Library of Ireland launched its free Catholic Parish Register website plugging some of the gap, the EastMayo.org had a broader date range for its limited number of Parishes.   

And there were some extras such as the fabulous “Kilmovee Marriages Out of Parish” transcriptions. Basically, if someone married out of Parish, the priest in the Parish the marriage took place contacted the priest in the person’s baptismal Parish informing them. 

I’ve seen something similar in the Batley St Mary’s registers. These contained such letters slipped between the pages. Indeed in this Parish, the priests went so far as to annotate the person’s baptismal entry with their subsequent marriage details, whether the marriage took place in or out of Parish.  

The Kilmovee transcripts covered marriages in the first part of the 20th Century, with marriages taking place within Ireland and beyond. Although only a snapshot of around 30 years, the Batley marriages of my grandpa (John Callaghan) and his brother (Martin Callaghan) are captured in them. 

An example of the global range of these marriages is seen in the initial transcriptions. They included former Kilmovee parishioners marrying as far afield as Glasgow, Batley, Orange – New York, Stockport, Congleton, Manchester, Doncaster, Accrington, Huddersfield, Charlestown, St Helens, Jersey City – USA and Silver Falls, Canada.  

Information on these Out of Parish marriages varied, but could contain: 

  • spouse; 
  • baptismal date (a bit of creativity here – most of the dates given seem to be approximate); 
  • parental details, with sometimes the mother’s maiden name; 
  • date and place of marriage (church and location);
  • witnesses; 
  • officiating priest; 
  • age; and  
  • if the person is widowed. 

The information provided linked your ancestor to a Parish. It also enabled you to track back further, for example by looking at the baptism transcripts.  

Yes, there were acknowledged transcription difficulties, but it was a wonderful resource.  

An updated EastMayo.org site domain name still exists with links to Irish-related websites, though it is not the original site with all that wonderfully name-rich information. But all is not lost. The original, as it stood between 2006-2011, can still be accessed via the Internet Archive Way Back Machine. 

And I’ll end with another really useful County Mayo website, which can be found here. Besides current day information, including where to stay and things to do, there is information about the area’s history, geography and culture generally as well as that of individual towns and villages. There is also a message board which may be helpful for those with Mayo roots.

January Sale: Huddersfield & District Family History Society Publications

A proper January sale for me. Not clothes or household goods. But Parish Register index booklets.

Many of my ancestors are from the area of West Yorkshire covered by the Huddersfield & District Family History Society (FHS). So naturally this is one of the societies I’m a member of. This month they are reducing the price of their Register Transcription booklets to £1.00 and CDs to £5.00. Here is their Publication Page link.

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A Selection of my HDFHS Index Booklets

Although the Ancestry West Riding Parish Register collection is wonderful, and nothing can beat a visit to the local Archives, I must admit to a strong attachment to these index booklets and the hard work of all the FHS transcribers they represent. So in part this post is a shout out for all the fantastic work they do.

Yes, I do check my ancestral finds against the Registers for the rare, but inevitable, transcription error. And I do enjoy  looking through the Registers. But I still love the physical comfort and solidity of a book(let), not to mention the eye-relief especially when browsing generally.

And despite the big push by genealogy companies and the impression they sometimes give, not everything is available on the Internet…including some of the Parishes covered by these indexes.

I’m fortunate to live in the same area of many of my ancestors, so I can easily visit West Yorkshire Archives, local studies libraries and the excellent local libraries, including the one in my hometown of Batley. Others do not have this luxury. These indexes are excellent finding aids and another gateway to the Registers, providing a complementary, alternative source of information.

So whilst my husband was out at work on New Year’s Day, I spent part of it perusing the several hundred booklets produced by the FHS, checking against my list of previous purchases, and placing my (large) order.