Sep 072017

Secrets by Charles Joseph Frederick Soulacroix

One-place-studiers often find themselves as the central hub for knowledge about their place. Just as many of our correspondents will be sharing new snippets of information and photos with us as will be asking for our help. Sometimes that information may be more in the nature of family rumour or gossip, or something private and difficult to verify, but let's be honest, anything about our place's families, even if possibly untrue, is of interest to us.

Recently someone emailed me about their family, including the rumour one of their ancestors had a child fathered by one of the sons of the "big house". In the case of illegitimacy you might well find a record of the putative father, as if mother and baby were a burden to the parish, the parish had an incentive to pass the buck, literally. However, establishing the true paternity of any given child of a married woman was a bit more challenging back in the day - better to just officially assume the husband was indeed the father and get on with it! It doesn't mean there wasn't village gossip about whether that was actually the case though. From our vantage point today there is the potential that such a rumour might be able to be proven, if you were able to identify the child, and that child had descendants, and those living descendants were prepared to take a DNA test, and someone was prepared to put the work in on the triangulation front, and you got lucky. In this particular case, one bit of luck would be that unlike the rest of the village, the occupants of the big house were Jewish which is readily identifiable in DNA tests, so if you cleared all the other hurdles it could just be that the rumour could be proven.

What rumours, scandalous or otherwise, have you heard about your place?

Alex Coles

Aug 252017

Recently, a number of buildings were granted listed status to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which partially decriminalised male homosexuality. This was an extension of Historic England’s ‘Pride of Place’ initiative.

One of the buildings that is now Grade 2 listed is in my North Devon place of Bucks Mills. The building is known as ‘The Cabin’ and perches precariously on the cliff top, overlooking the rugged North Devon coastline. The cabin consists of two rooms, one up and one down. It is only comparatively recently that the rooms were connected by an internal staircase. Previously it was a case of going out of one door and walking up the hill to access the upper story. The building probably started life as a fisherman’s store; it is unclear whether it was ever a permanent home. In 1903 it was rented from the Walland Carey estate by F R Schmidt for £2 10s a year. It lay vacant for a short time before being taken over in 1907 by Arthur Thomas Braund. By 1909 the tenant was Mrs Lang. It is possible that Arthur Tom did actually live there as his fifth child claimed to have been born in The Cabin. How seven people could possibly have fitted in two rooms approximately twelve feet by ten (at a generous estimate) stretches the imagination, even allowing for the overcrowded living standards of the time.

Mrs E Ackland, a doctor’s wife from the nearby town of Bideford, took over the tenancy in 1913 and The Cabin became a holiday retreat for the family from then until the 1970s. As sitting tenants, they purchased The Cabin when it was sold by the estate in 1948. The Cabin’s principal association, leading to its LGBT connections, came through Mrs Ackland’s daughter Judith, who met her life partner Stella Mary Edwards at Regent Street Polytechnic in London. Judith was noted for creating figures from cotton wool, a technique known as Jackanda. Mary Stella Edwards was both an artist and a poet. The pair used The Cabin as a holiday home until Judith’s death in 1971, taking inspiration from the stunning landscape. The Cabin was then administered by a trust, who were bound to leave everything exactly as it had been in the time that the ladies owned it, even to the extent of maintaining the direction in which the cup handles pointed! The National Trust is now responsible for The Cabin and it is used as an artists’ and writers’ retreat. It is only when someone is in residence that the public can gain access to The Cabin, which is overseen by a National Trust volunteer.

Janet Few

Aug 182017

Like many places, my one-place studies place has a range of memorials to the departed and it is interesting to see how these have changed over time. So, in a totally non-scientifically researched manner...

Probably the most frequent type of memorial is the gravestone. Sadly the graveyard of the nearby Sion Baptist church was relaid when the old chapel was converted into flats and many stones were moved or covered over. The surviving stones range from simple stones with a name and date to ornate pillars with railings and table-tombs but unfortunately the original relationships of the stones is lost so we cannot tell who was near whom. One which did survive in its original place was that of William Spence of Springhill Farm, farmer, who is buried in the north east corner of the graveyard, approximately 20 yards from his former farmhouse where he lived for much of his adult life.

Some prominent individuals are commemorated within the church itself rather that outside in the cold and rain. John Ashworth, coal merchant and builder of Springhill House, is commemorated in the parish church of St Nicholas by a rather fine marble erected by his ‘surviving daughters’, being predeceased by a son. In the same church Charles Patrick, the husband of one of Ashworth’s ‘surviving daughters’ has erected a memorial to his mother who died in Ontario, Canada, and may well have never visited East Lancashire where she is remembered.

Not everyone was buried in consecrated ground and across the road from Springhill lies the tomb of James Ormerod, Innkeeper amongst a development of warden-controlled bungalows. Ormerod was said to be a local innkeeper and member of the congregation of Sion Baptist which is interesting given the influence of the temperance movement in Sion in the 19th century. There are three other known graves in non-consecrated ground in the local area, these are all baptist ministers in the 17th and 18th century.

Picture courtesy of Chris Lord/RHDA

A 19th century development of memorial was the introduction of ‘In memoriam’ cards which were printed and distributed to friends and relatives after death. They vary from the simple to the ornate to the twee. Charles Patrick’s memoriam card was in the possession of his maternal grandfather's family without their knowing how he fitted into the family tree.

Image courtesy of Charlotte Broadbent

Recent years has seen the rise of alternative forms of memoriam. Memorial benches in beauty spots are becoming commonplace, although there are none in the Springhill area or commemorating Springhill residents to my knowledge. Locally there are a number of charity-run memorial forests and Springhill residents Tony and Eileen Taylor are commemorated by separate trees in one forest a few miles away. Others have erected personal memorials in public places, locally these include examples of stone art in remote, hill top locations.

Picture Julia Barrow, stone art by Sharon Doolin

Picture Alastair Barrie, Stone art by Jan Czugalinski

Not all these memorials are for people and high on the hill above Springhill (and close to the stone art above) lies the grave of Lovely, the quarryman’s dog buried in a remote spot. The inscription reads:

"On the twelvth of May We laid away One that was loved by many, She hunted rats and was kind to cats, and birds she sought out many." Lovely was 18 years old when she passed away in 1873.

Janet Barrie

Jul 292017
I always enjoy when my OPS interacts with my daily life so I was intrigued to read of the death of a local lady in the Rossendale Free Press of 16 March 1916. The headline for this unfortunate lady was ‘Collapsed under Chloroform and as anaesthetics is my day job I had to read on.
The deceased was a Mrs Rose Ann Roberts of Waterfoot, about a mile from my OPS place, who had died whilst undergoing an operation at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. She was 36. She was undergoing the removal of her thyroid for goitre or swelling of the gland. There was an Infirmary in the local area since 1910 but this lady travelled 25 miles for surgery, no mean undertaking in 1916. I suspect the local hospital did not offer this kind of treatment at that time.
The report is of her inquest which was held in the Coroner’s court covering the Infirmary. The tradition of holding inquests in the pub seems to have died out by then. Having attended a couple of inquests, the pub seems a good idea… Unlike modern inquests this one was held the next day. Currently the coroners are working hard to get it down to 6 months.
The next interesting thing is that the anaesthetist is a doctor. Formal postgraduate training of medically qualified anaesthetists commenced in 1935 although the Royal Society of Medicine in London had a Section of Anaesthesia since 1906. Prior to that, no formal training was required. Mrs Rose received chloroform and ether, both standard anaesthetics at the time. Death was said to be due to heart failure, a known risk with chloroform but unusual in a lady who was only 36 years old. The coroner stated that the anaesthetic was properly carried out, doubtless a great relief to both the widower and the anaesthetist.
Chloroform was introduced in 1847 and its use became prominent after it was given to Queen Victoria for the birth of Prince Leopold in 1853 - chloroform a la reine. It is often stated that she was advised that this was too dangerous and is alleged to have replied ‘we are having the baby and we are having chloroform’. Anaesthetic safety has improved enormously since 1916!

Manchester Royal Infirmary (showing the old wing) by Paul Ashwin under Creative Commons Licence

In those days the coroner could be either a lawyer or a doctor. Today they are all legally qualified, often having worked as medical negligence solicitors. The coroner in this case is not named so we don’t know whether he was medical or not.
Unfortunately inquest records have not usually survived (although some may be in County Record Offices with solicitors’ papers and the like) and newspapers are often the best source of information. Be aware that the inquest may be a long time after the death (often up to 2 years) and the death will not be registered until after the inquest. The date of registration therefore may be some time after the death actually occurred. The funeral is usually before the inquest, but may it may be some time after death that the coroner releases the body.
Are there any interesting inquests in your place? Alternatively, are there any links between events in your place and your working lives?
Janet Barrie
Jul 092017

No matter what the size of a community, traditions will form over time. Some will last for centuries with little or no change, whereas others will be more recent (modern) additions. Traditions and customs create a sense of community.

In Holsworthy – the nearest town to my two one-place study villages of Tetcott and Luffincott – there has been an annual fair in existence for over 800 years! Granted by Royal Charter to the Lord of the Manor in around 1160, St Peter’s Fair was originally held over the feast day of St Peter (29 June). The fair has changed significantly from its origins of trading and bargaining for three days but, for the last 300 years, the opening of the Fair has remaining fairly constant. Standing beneath the boughs of the Great Tree of Holsworthy at 8am, the Town Crier (accompanied by Court Leet members) declared the Fair open for three days. The tree has sadly long since gone but the tradition continues around a brass plaque set into the road surface with officers of the Court proclaiming the event open.

The highlight of St Peter's Fair has always been the amusements and fairground rides. Historically, this took place in ‘Fair Park’ along North Road but now, they take pride of place in the Square.

The town of Calne where I now live, having moved here in 2011, is steeped in tradition. This year saw the 31st annual Duck Race. One Saturday in May, ducks are launched down the River Marden. Three thousand numbered bath ducks are sold door-to-door by Calne Lions before the event, along with business ducks and school ducks (which are decorated). The three events attract crowds of more than 3,000 people with craft, food and community stalls around the town.

There is also an annual Bike Meet which began back in 2000. The first year, I am told, started with a few bike clubs attending. That is hard to believe now, just seventeen years later as, each year, the town centre is literally full of bikes! The basic concept was to “put Calne on the map” and that aim has most certainly been fulfilled with vintage, classic and veteran bikes coming in large numbers from far and wide (even from the Continent!).

Have you discovered any interesting traditions in your place? …. any which stand out from the crowd?

Kirsty Gray