Aug 252016

Image thanks to Professor J.J.N. Palmer and George Slater. This image may only be reused under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence.

Our latest Hangout-on-air, led by Kim Baldacchino, was full of suggestions, encouraging us to look at the earlier history of our places. Unfortunately the sound quality was not brilliant, especially at the beginning but Kim’s slides were very detailed so hopefully viewers managed to follow along.

We cannot expect the name-rich plethora of resources that are available for the nineteenth century, as we reach back in to the sixteenth century and earlier but early research can still be rewarding. Here are just some of Kim’s many ideas:-

  • Immerse your self in the history of the Medieval period, so that you understand the context and such things as manors or the feudal system.
  • Look for printed sources such as Victoria County Histories or publications of Record Societies; this helps with the problems of handwriting and Latin.
  • Search the National Archives Discovery catalogue for your place name and a date range before 1600. Unless your place name contains a  common word, even an internet search for the place name and ‘Medieval’ may be fruitful.
  • Even if you cannot cope with the handwriting/language archives’ catalogue entries can be informative.
  • Consider getting interested parties together  to help fund digitisation/transcription/translation of early documents.
  • Look for the results of archaeological surveys of your area
  • Look at maps or the landscape for ancient features, such as Iron Age Forts. Place and field names may hint at Anglo-Saxon origins.
  • Look for architectural features, such as churches, that pre date 1600.
  • Churches often list early clergymen of the parish, compare this with the Church of England Clergy Database
  • Available records may include:-

Early parish registers

Probate material

Court records

Manorial rolls

Tax lists


Muster Rolls

Lay subsidies


  • See also:

Medieval Genealogy

E179 Database

Some of our places don’t date back this far as settlements but if they do, we really should be considering their early history as well as more recent times.

You can view this hangout on our YouTube Channel.

As you may be aware, Google+ is changing its system for Hangouts-on-air. We are in the process of going through the learning curve that will enable us to present our next hangout without technical hitches. We hope to see you there.

Aug 122016

We hope to see you at our monthly Hangout on Air on Friday 19 August at 8p.m BST. The topic is ‘Exploring Medieval Sources’, where you’re invited to share the pre-1600 sources, or sources about that time, that you’ve found helpful to your studies.

Following an introduction to some of the major record sets, the rest of the hour will be spent discussing what the group has found. It might be records and documents, or maybe you’ve found physical evidence like inscriptions in churches or maybe you’ve discovered some good books on what your place was like in the medieval period. It’s not the easiest time to research but hopefully we can pool our experiences and make some progress together.

Those who wish to participate in the room or watch at the time should follow this link to our Google+ page. It will also be possible to watch afterwards via our YouTube Channel.

Hope you can join us.

Kim Baldacchino

Aug 052016
This is one of a series of blog posts about servicemen from our places who lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Rifleman, R/9916, 8th Btn King's Royal Rifle Regiment d 24/08/1916 age 21. Commemorated Pier and Face 13A and 13B, Thiepval. ‘Killed in action’
Address 1911 22 Dobbin Lane, cotton weaver, single, two older sisters at home.
Born Cloughfold
He left 'all I have to my mother'.
CWGC records 'son of Thomas and Mary Jane Dawson of Springhill Lodge'.
Soldiers killed in great war has ‘killed in action’, France and Flanders which doesn’t narrow it down much. His medal card shows that he received the victory medal, the British Medal and the 1915 star. It also states theatre of war ‘France’, and qualifying date of 14/8/15. Looks like he got his pip, squeak and Wilfred then. Or rather his family did, as the medal card also records ‘K in A’ which is a little more subtle than that of my great uncle Gunner Tom Watkins whose medal card states rather bluntly ‘dead’.
The regiment’s war diaries for 14/8/15 suggest that the main concern was that telephone communications were bad all day. The battalion had seen fierce fighting with the loss of some ground and life on 30 July and the entry for 12 August records that they will soon receive reinforcements, which duly arrived on 15/8 . Presumably Harry was one of these.
I love the matter of fact nature of these diaries. The sound of the bombardments on 5 Sept 1915 was described as ‘somewhat unpleasant’. mmm. “Trenches very wet - knee deep in mud and water’. Lovely.
Approximately 180 men died from 8 Btn King’s Royal Rifles died in operations on 24 July 1816. RIP gentlemen.
It doesn’t help research that there were two Harry Dawsons b 1895 in the King’s Royal Rifle, the other chap being b Bingley and in 6th btn. (British Army service records 1914-1920 transcription WO 363, 62855) and was discharged in 1916.
This also shows the value in exploring a number of sources to determine who lived in Springhill. He wasn’t there at census time and his family aren’t named on any deeds I’ve seen, but his parents’ address is given on his CWGC record.
Jul 292016

This is one of a series of blog posts about servicemen from our places who lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

William Shaxon d. 1 July 1916

According to the 1891 and the 1901 censuses, William Shaxon was born around 1888 in Northam, Devon although there wasn’t a birth registered in that name anywhere in the country. Consequently we don’t know who William’s parents were. We do know that he was the nephew of William Shaxon (1826 - 1902) and that William’s daughter, Elizabeth, was named as William’s cousin and next of kin in his Army attestation papers.

In 1901 William was working as a cow boy at Frains Farm in Buckland Brewer, for Robert Harris. When he joined the Army in 1905 he was 18 years old, just under 5’ 6”, weighed 123 lbs, had a fresh complexion, hazel eyes and dark brown hair. More information gleaned from his attestation papers was that he had previously applied to join the Royal Marines but had been unfit due to his eyesight. He also said he had been employed by Mr Steer of Bideford as a farm labourer. William joined the 4th Battalion Devon Regiment for six years.

By 1911, he was a Lance Corporal with the 2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment and stationed in Malta. His regimental number was 8029.

The 2nd Devons were stationed in Malta from 1910 - 1912 and then moved to Egypt. While in Egypt, William married Hannah Chadburn in 1914; a daughter, Joan Elizabeth, was born to them in 1915 in Bulwell, Nottinghamshire.

The 2nd Devons returned to England in 1914 for war service.

On the 1st July 1916, the Battle of the Somme commenced and the 2nd Devons were north of La Boiselle; the aim was to reach Pozieres. At 6.35am a tremendous bombardment opened which lasted for an hour. This bombardment was meant to destroy the enemy lines which were less than half a mile away. At 7.30am the soldiers went “over the top” to be met with a hail of fire. William, who had by now gained the rank of Sergeant, was lost, presumed dead. We don’t know when his body was recovered but it was recovered and buried at Ovillers Military Cemetery. On 28 July 1917 Sergeant William Shaxon was awarded the Military Medal.

HIs wife and daughter were living at Alverstone, Mead Road, Cranleigh, Surrey in 1938. Joan was a teacher. In 1939 they emigrated on board the Queen Mary to America and then on to Canada. They must have returned to the UK, as we find them crossing the Atlantic again in 1949.

Joan does not appear to have married, so it is unlikely that William has any descendants. She is intriguing as she  lived in Yukon, Canada and is described on her gravestone in Grey Mountain Cemetery, Whitehorse, as an “adventurer, teacher and artist”. She endowed a bursary through the Yukon Foundation for a Canadian university student from Yukon “pursuing studies in  fine arts, art history, museum studies, or arts administration.” Her artistic works appear to have been watercolours but we have yet to discover how she qualified as an “adventurer”.

Gill Willett and Janet Few

Jul 222016

This is one of a series of blog posts about servicemen from our places who lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.


Arthur William Bowles, courtesy of M Jordan

Private Arthur William Bowles was born in Fairford, Gloucestershire in 1892, the son of gardener Albert Bowles and his wife Elizabeth Ireland. He came to the parish of Bratton Clovelly, Devon to take on a fine job as a young man, gamekeeper on the 1100-acre Domesday manor farm at Eversfield, and he settled well into the community in the three years that he worked at the farm. The lord of the manor Major Gill, also Recruiting Officer for Exeter, ensured that his workers were well-supported in answering the call.

Like most of the other soldiers of the parish, Arthur joined the Devonshire Regiment or ‘Bloody Eleventh’. He was part of the 9th Battalion, twinned with the 8th Battalion throughout World War I. From the time these battalions deployed to the Western front in 1915, they were engaged in fierce battles beginning with the Battle of Loos. There, they suffered over 1000 casualties and Arthur must have been one of the new recruits needed to replenish the force when he arrived in April of 1916 only two months before the ‘Big Push’.

Arthur lost his life on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. That morning, the 9th Devons led the attack at Mansel Copse near Mametz, France. Although the German line had been heavily bombarded preceding the attack, the Battalion’s war diaries tell the story of the harrowing conditions under which the men left the trenches. Only six men from the first company made it to the German line. After the 9th had been cut down, two more companies of the 8th were sent to the same fate. Finally, the Commander of the last company of the 8th, Eric Savill, realised what was happening and found another route for his men, enabling them to occupy the German trench. With French artillery support, the remaining 8th Devons were able to capture Mametz, one of the few British units to achieve their objective that day. The cost was the loss of 160 men from the two battalions, including Arthur, along with hundreds more wounded.

Picture1The men were buried in their old front line trench and remain there today, in the place named the ‘Devonshire Cemetery’. On the 4th of July 1916, the Padre of the 8th Devons, Captain Crosse, led the burial ceremony and erected a wooden cross which simply said:

‘The  Devonshires held this trench. The Devonshires hold it still.’

Although this cross disappeared after the War, it was replaced by a stone plaque in 1986 and the cemetery remains one of the most visited cemeteries on the Somme.

Remarkably, in a recent visit to Mary Palmer Jordan, a resident of the parish whose family had run the Post Office since the mid-1800s, she found an autograph book of Edith May Palmer who had been a teenager at the outbreak of the War. This small book captured the story of the home front where, on the inside of the back cover, there was a sketch of a young man placing a ring on the finger of his girlfriend. The sketch was signed ‘A Bowles’. There had also been a photograph of Arthur inserted in the book, the reverse side reading:

  1. Pte A. W. Bowles, 9 Batt, Devon Regiment. Killed in Action on July 1st 1916 & was buried at Mansell Copse. The Officiating Clergyman being the Rev E. C. Crosse, Chaplain of the Battalion.

Gone from amongst us, oh how we miss him,

Loving him dearly his memory we’ll keep,

Never till death ends shall we forget him,

Dear to our hearts is the grave where he sleeps.

Oh why was he taken so young & so fair,

When earth held so many it could better spare,

Hard, Hard was the blow, that compelled us to part,

With one so near and dear, to our hearts.

Edith also lost her brother, Private Nicholas Palmer, buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery in 1917. She never married.

Kim Baldacchino   Bratton Clovelly One-place Study