Wednesday
Feb022011

"The Privilege of a Citizen"

I spotted on twitter today - with thanks to @ThatLauraKnox and @WomensLibrary - a link to a spoiled 1911 census page displayed on the BBC website (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/31_01_11_census.pdf).

It is not known just how many women refused to fill in the 1911 census schedules, but it is possible that thousands of women joined the ‘No Vote No Census’ boycott. Some simply refused to fill in the form or ensured their husbands or brothers listed only male members of the household; others deliberately slept out in the open on census night so as not to be recorded as resident at a dwelling. The Police were supposed to enumerate everyone who slept in the open, but with so many involved in the boycott, that was nigh on impossible.

The link above got me thinking about a census record I uncovered while researching my own family tree which I found particularly thought provoking. I post about it here for interest’s sake and also in case anybody can tell me more about the individuals concerned.

Ada Jane Bumstead was born in Bramford, a village in Suffolk, in 1880. She was the daughter of Charles Bumstead, a flour miller, and Jane Harvey Fulcher, his wife. Ada was my Great Grandmother Kitty Larter's second cousin, and we share a couple of common ancestors: John Harvey (1801, Stoke Ash?) and Sarah Blomfield (1796, Brundish) - my 4x Great Grandparents.

In 1911, Ada appears in Colne Engaine, Earl's Colne, Essex, working as a housemaid. There is nothing unusual about this - thousands and thousands of women up and down the country were in service at the time. What is a little unusual however is the form she appears on, and in particular, the additions made by the head of the household, one Miss Katherine Mina Courtauld.

Miss Courtauld was 54 in 1911 and working as a farmer. 30 years before, the 1881 census shows Katherine at home with her father at 'Cut Hedge Mansion'. Evidently, Katherine was a lady of some influence and it seems that influence was to grow - some 22 years later, the Kelly’s Directory of Essex for 1933 gives credit to her for both the erection of the Village Hall in 1921 (in memory of her father) and the restoration of the church tower in 1928 (at a cost of £800 – perhaps £24,000 in today’s money according to the National Archives’ currency coverter). On describing the village of Colne Engaine, the Directory also notes:

 "Miss Katherine Mina Courtauld and George F Brown esq. are the principal landowners".

Although the household schedule has been filled in - unlike so many others which were spoiled - Katherine has used red pen to write at the bottom of the form:

"As a householder and rate payer I deeply resent being denied the privilege of a citizen in the exercise of the Parliamentary franchise".

Further research finds her mentioned on the online catalogue for the Essex Record Office within the Minutes for the Halstead Literary and Mechanics' Institute January 1908 to January 1916 (see http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/result_details.asp?DocID=818565).

Katherine’s half sister Dorothy is mentioned first. She is evidently also concerned with politics as the minute books include a refusal of a request from Miss Dorothy Courtauld to display notices regarding the National Service League [a pressure group proposing national service for men between 18 and 30] in January 1911.

Having looked up Dorothy’s 1911 census record I found her own schedule was not spoiled  - perhaps because it was filled in by her father? Or did Dorothy not support Katherine’s views? Dorothy, her father and another sister share eight servants at Cut Hedge.

Later in the minute books, there is an ‘eventual acceptance of a donation by Miss K. M. Courtauld of “The Common Cause”’ in the latter half of 1911. [The Common Cause was a magazine supporting the Policies of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Socieities first published in 1909]. Katherine was evidently not keeping her views to herself!

Dorothy and Katherine’s father, George Courtauld, justice of the peace, was president of the said Institute.

So much about Katherine, but Ada and Katherine were not alone in the house on census night.

Mary Gladstone, also 54 and unmarried, is listed as ‘joint occupier’ on the record and described as living on ‘private means’. The descriptive of ’joint occupier’ itself is a little unusual as the 1911 census instructions included the terms ‘visitor’ or ‘boarder’ only for non family members/staff. Perhaps this was a deliberate attempt to show that the household did not conform to such an old fashioned hierarchical order as the census would normally require. Looking back at previous census transcripts, Mary had been living with Katherine for at least thirty years.

A visitor, Alice Geraldine Cooke, also features on the return. Alice is 43 and describes herself as a ‘Women’s Suffrage Organiser’ connected to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society. I would like to know more about Alice, who was born near Birmingham.

I hope somebody reading this will be able to tell me whether Alice was more commonly known by her middle name. A Geraldine Cooke is noted as providing regular speeches around the West Midlands at around the same time supporting the suffragette movement, and the National Archives holds a circular sent by Geraldine Cooke, a secretary of the NUWSS, on behalf of the Parliamentary War Savings Committee in 1915 (ref M50/7/2/1-16).

Finally, the household is completed by two other domestic servants, Elizabeth Hale (cook) and Alice Wakeling (parlourmaid).

As with so many of my blogs, I can for now only wonder what Ada might have thought about the other members of the household. Did she agree with their views? Did she know much about their political interests? Did she perhaps even get involved? Was she, as an acquaintance suggested, completely overlooked by the other women?

To finish in the realms of the unknown, and almost certainly my own wishful thinking, I cannot help but wonder: In 1920, could her first born son’s name (‘Victor’) relate in any way to the suffrage campaign? 

Tuesday
Jan252011

"Historic Market Town? Not us, we're a Hanseatic Town!"

Many, many times on entering King's Lynn I have pondered just how many people, local or otherwise, know why King's Lynn's urban gateways are proudly branded "King's Lynn - A Hanseatic Town".

Recently, King's Lynn has had a somewhat unfair reputation in my own humble opinion. As a 'west area officer' for several years I grew to appreciate the fantastic contrasts in the west of Norfolk, stark beaches, fabulous architecture, 'big skies', rolling hills (yes, Norfolk has some hills!) and gorgeous villages. Look below the surface and the town of King's Lynn itself is packed with heritage, history and culture. One particular part of this heritage hitting the local press today is Hanse House, the only surviving Hansa building in the UK.

Between the 13th and 17th centuries the so called 'Hanseatic League' united cities and their guilds in Northern Europe trading largely along the northern coasts of modern Europe, but stretching as far as the Baltic and the North Sea. These cities enjoyed their own legal systems and protection and provided each other with mutual aid.

In addition to the major 'Kontors' (trading posts) individual ports had their own warehouses and merchant representatives. There were several of these 'subsidiary settlements' in the UK, including Ipswich, Bristol, Boston, Hull, Norwich, Yarmouth and York. Bishop's Lynn (now King's Lynn, since King Henry VIII took control of the town in 1537) was one of the latter, and celebrates it's connections in various ways - in 2009 with it's first Hanse Festival.

The town is now also part of the modern Hanse, and since 2005 has been actively linking with other historic Hanseatic league settlements in order to promote cross border working and strengthen social, economic and social connections.

The reason that the town's Hanse House has hit the local headlines is because of a campaign to 'save' the building. Dating from 1475, the warehouse was in use by the Hanseatic League until 1751, after which it moved into private possession. In 1970 the building was restored and is currently the home of a County Council register office. Following relocation of the register office in the relatively near future, it has been proposed that the building is sold off. Prince Charles' visit today will no doubt keep the building's fate in the news. Time will tell how far the cuts bite into our local heritage. 

I hope that somehow the building is retained for local peoples' use and enjoyment. It is after all a relic of a different King's Lynn, where even the name of the town was dissimilar. Despite the passage of time however, the town is not completely removed from it's roots. The docks are still central to the town and many of the landmarks remain in the (dare I say it) 'historic' town centre.

I would encourage anyone to take a wander around the town, or even better run around it in the annual Grand East Anglia Run, to discover hidden gems that even many local people are unaware of.

The more we recognise where we've come from, the more ideas we can have for the future.

 

Tuesday
Jan182011

The lives and loves of occupants of Rattle Row, Wymondham

A row of weavers' cottages in Wymondham was demolished in the late 1970s following a public enquiry in 1977. The cottages were replaced by retirement bungalows which remain to this day. While the street name has lingered, the houses are certainly very different to those they replaced.

The cottages made up 'Rattle Row' named after the racket of the handlooms operated by the inhabitants. 

In 1851, a household of ten lived in one of the cottages, headed by my 5xGreat Grandparents, James Gooch and Agatha Fisher. Seven of their children (Lucy (my 4x Great Grandmother), Maria, Rebecca, George, James, Mary Ann and Providence) shared their home, together with their three month old grandson, William Coman Gooch, the illegitimate son of daughter Lucy.

I have seen some weavers' cottages of Wymondham described as 'ruinous hovels'. Certainly, the family was poor - Agatha was noted as a pauper in 1851, while James, Lucy and Maria are all recorded as weavers, an industry which, by then, was in serious decline. George, at 13, was already labouring in the fields. Rebecca, otherwise old enough to work, is noted on the census as blind.

A hundred years before, according to Mr Cremer's Census of 1747, almost a quarter of families in the town were headed by a weaver - 155 of 686. By the late 1700s however, competition from the cotton producing north and loss of trade to America and France was having a negative effect on the Norfolk woolen industry.

By the time of the 1841 census the handloom industry was 'in crisis' but the industry still employed a sixth of the male population. The Wymondham Heritage Society's wonderful "Wymondham: History of a Norfolk Market Town" (2006) quotes the following from a local weaver:

"A parent tries to get his boy to anything rather than weaving. There are no boys learning to weave now, nor have been for some time past. Anything is better than weaving. Some boys have taken to agricultural employment"

This certainly fits for my own family - as we have seen, only the girls and their father were in the weaving industry in 1851, while George was employed on the land.

White's Trade Directory notes that there were less than 60 looms in Wymondham in 1845, while ten years earlier there had been 600. 

Twelve households are recorded on Rattle Row in 1851, two of whom are Coman households. The sharp-eyed among you may remember little William Coman Gooch mentioned earlier. Sure enough, William's father, also William, is living just five doors away from Lucy in 1851. William is also a weaver, this time in silk, as are all the other occupants of his home over 11 years old - just five of the 336 weavers recorded in the census that year in the town. The couple married on Boxing Day of the same year at Wymondham Abbey. 

Lucy and William had five more children, the last in 1865. Around the same time the family moved to Norwich, possibly as the weaving industry collapsed around them - 132 weavers remained in Wymondham in 1871 and just 23 in 1881.

It seems the hard life wasn't over for Lucy because by 1871 she is recorded as head of the household, scraping a living as a washer woman to support six children in the yards of Pockthorpe in North Norwich. It is not clear whether William accompanied them to Norwich or not. He disappeared between 1861 and 1871 - I hope one day to discover whether he died, emigrated or started a new life elsewhere, or whether he was imprisoned, transported....the possibilities are almost endless.

Lucy died in 1913 at the age of 82, working as a charwoman and laundress in Norwich almost up until her death. Sadly, she outlived her eldest son William, who died at Norwich Lunatic Asylum in 1905. 

My Great Great Great Grandmother Eliza's life mirrored her mother's to a certain extent. Like Lucy, she gave birth to a son before marriage, and lived next door to her son's father, who she later married, during 1881. This time, rather than Rattle Row, history played out on 'Sidney's Row' now somewhere underneath Sewell Park College's playing field.

Two years ago I moved to Wymondham -150 years after Lucy left with Eliza and her other children. No member of my direct line lived here in the intervening century and a half but in many ways I feel like I belong.

I cannot help but wonder, every time I pass Rattle Row, what life must have been like then. Were she and William happy together, or were they forced to marry? Where did he go? Did she choose to leave for the city? Although only a few miles distant, she could hardly have jumped on the number 13 bus back again if it didn't work out.

Depending on her memories of the place, perhaps most of all, I wonder whether she would have celebrated the demolition of the cottages or mourned their loss....

 

 

If you have connections to Rattle Row, or the Gooch and Coman families of Wymondham, please do get in touch.

Friday
Jan142011

“That which we call a Rhoda, by any other name would smell as sweet”

Perhaps the quote is taking it a little far, but given that the meaning of ‘Rhoda’ is ‘Rose’ it is not completely far fetched.

While researching today I came to ponder the usage of the name 'Rhoda'.

How many have you ever met?

I have made the acquaintance of two. One, a lovely colleague; the other, an elderly Great Great Great Aunt. The latter was in fact christened ‘Lilian Rhoda’ but was known by her middle name. I only remember meeting her once – a very sharp old lady I recall - and she died, at the respectable age of 101, when I was only eight. I can trace my love of family history back to her as she spent many years tracing the ‘Walne’ family line long before I was thought of. She inspired my father to investigate our heritage, who in turn inspired me.

Still, back to the topic of the blog.

Rhoda (or Rhodeia, Rhodia, Rhodie, Rhody, Roda, Rodi, Rodie, Rodina). According to thinkbabynames.com, of Greek origin and meaning ‘Rose’ or ‘woman from Rhodes’ (‘Rhodes’ was also derived from the Greek for ‘rose’).

A quick search on my own family tree reveals three women on my direct line with the first name ‘Rhoda’ since 1800 – about 10% of my Grandmothers after that date. Hardly as common as ‘Elizabeth’ (over a third of them, without counting those with Elizabeth as a second name – to think my parents didn’t think it was a family name when they christened me…!) but prominent no less.

In 1880 the name featured in the top 200 girls’ names. Perhaps for its biblical connotations I wonder? Rhoda was noted as a servant girl in Acts 12:12-15.

By 1930 however its popularity dropped to about 300th most common name. By 1940 it had fallen to approximately 500th and by 1960 had crashed to around 900th. Since then it has likely fallen even further.

A quick search of Wikipedia reveals a 1970s sitcom of the same name - but I admit I’ve never seen it. There is also a brief smattering of ‘famous’ Rhodas and a couple of prominent female characters in books of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

I imagine, as so many other things, the name simply fell out of fashion. Still, with names such as ‘Stanley’ and ‘Florence’ resurging in popularity over the last couple of years, perhaps it is only a matter of time before the name reappears.

“Rhoda?” 

“Here, Miss.”

Tuesday
Jan112011

Just starting out? Here are my top ten tips for uncovering your family's history...

When considering how to start this blog I decided it was only logical to begin at the beginning. There is something very special about uncovering your history for yourself, and here are my pearls of wisdom to help you along the way...

1. Start with yourself and work backwards.

This might sound silly but a lot of people end up trying to research the wrong way around. While you might think your family has links to famous (or infamous!) individuals, it is always best to start with what you know rather than try to prove a distant connection from the other end. You never know, you might find something much more exciting closer to home anyway!

2. Talk to people.

Your elderly spinster aunt, your Grandma’s old next-door neighbour (known as your ‘Auntie Ethel’ when you were little), your Grandad’s accountant and the man that used to trim your Great Uncle’s rose bushes; they could all help you make sense of family connections and give insights into the quirks and intricacies of your ancestors’ lives. Don’t forget those closer to home either – it’s surprising how little many of us know about the lives of even our parents and grandparents before we came along. 

3. Explore sources already in your possession, or that of your siblings and parents.

Photographs, letters, bibles, newspaper articles, old paperwork and heir looms all contribute to your family story. Make a note of the names of people in old photographs while there are people around to tell you who they are. These items are invaluable for transforming your research from lists of names and dates to a more colourful understanding of those that came before you. Dates and names you discover in the process can be useful starting points for your research - but beware! Documents might raise more questions than they answer and can contain inaccuracies or fail to mention a key family member altogether. Times have changed over the period most people conduct family history research and I’ve even seen family Bibles where dates have been ‘massaged’ to cover up children born out of wedlock, whether filled in by somebody that didn’t know the truth or deliberately misrecorded the dates to uphold the family’s honour.

4. Don’t trust everything you read.

It might be tempting to copy and paste information from trees available online, but always check other peoples’ conclusions. The internet can be an incredible resource but it also enables quick replication of faulty research. For example, I frequently spot individuals on publicly available trees that apparently continued having children many years after death! Records online have often been transcribed on multiple occasions before they get to a database, and even the original record may have been incorrect. With every new transcription comes the opportunity for error – take into account hand writing, regional accents, low literacy rates and even deliberate lies to enumerators on the part of our ancestors and it is hardly surprising that dates, birthplaces and spellings are often not as we might have expected. Wherever possible try and view the original record.

5. Have patience.

If you put a name and year of birth into a search box don’t expect the top result to always (or even usually!) be the record you’re looking for. As already mentioned, there are several reasons why names, birthplaces and ages are recorded ‘incorrectly’. Add a year or two either side of the individual’s likely birth year, search for a County rather than a village and use wildcards in names and places (for example, searching for ‘Bl*mfield’ will include records for ‘Blomfield’, ‘Bloomfield’, ‘Blumfield’ etc). Some sites allow you to search for keywords instead of names – I once finally found an ancestor by searching for ‘William Pancras Smith’ when his surname (‘Garner’) was transcribed from the census as ‘Bower’ on two popular websites. Keep in mind that first names like ‘William’ and ‘Thomas’ are often recorded as ‘Wm’ and ‘Thos’ and that sons named after their fathers may be known by a middle name or nick name to prevent confusion.

6. Be prepared for inconsistencies.

Ages might be rounded up or down and census dates were different from decade to decade - particularly look out for this on the 1841 census where most adult ages were rounded to the nearest five. Birthplaces might be recorded differently from census to census too. An individual born in Badingham might start recording their birth as Framlingham, Woodbridge or Ipswich for example if they left the immediate area of their birth – imagine trying to explain some of our more interesting Norfolk and Suffolk place names to an enumerator in newly industrialising London. Children may appear under different surnames to that expected, particularly if a couple’s first born arrived before the couple married. In this case the child may appear with their mother’s maiden name on baptism and marriage records but under their father’s surname in the census.

7. Online records are not the be all and end all.

In recent times an enormous amount of family history researchers have begun their family trees online and many have never ventured away from their computer screens. Despite massive leaps forward, and an undeniable wealth of electronic information, the majority of resources are still not available digitally. County record offices and other archives are well worth a visit and the help of staff can be invaluable when hunting down records. Parish registers, wills, bastardy orders, estate, school, commercial and criminal records for example may all be at your fingertips. There is something magical about seeing your ancestor’s real handwriting on an original record. Don’t write off record offices, archives, family history societies etc as scary or stuffy – you might be surprised at the gems you can uncover. Visiting the places mentioned in your research can also be eye opening. In Norfolk and Suffolk we are very lucky to have a huge amount of heritage on our doorsteps. You can stand at the alter where your ancestors said their vows, find old gravestones and in many cases view village and town centres almost as centuries-ago inhabitants might have seen them (save for electricity cables and motor cars perhaps!)

8. Share queries and information.

Estimates vary but the population of the UK is probably ten times as large now (or even more) as it was in 1700. The further back you go, the more descendants of a given ancestor there might be. Family history research now being so popular, you are probably not the only one researching many people on your tree. Modern technology is making the world smaller and you can interact with distant relatives from even far flung corners of the globe through email, online forums, family history societies and social media with comparative ease compared to a few years ago. Sharing information can provide mutual assistance and uncover new stories and family members. At over £9 per birth, marriage and death certificate, sharing information could also help you financially. Who knows, you might even discover ancestors with a wife either side of the Atlantic!

9. Be organised.

Speaking from experience, it is very easy to get carried away when researching a new line of your tree. A bundle of papers can quickly escalate into reams of sheets full of scribbles which make sense at the time but are difficult to decipher later. Try and keep your research logically and safely and record where you found each piece of information in case you need to revisit it. Also note where you’ve looked and failed to find anything so that you don’t forget and look up the same thing all over again. When visiting a record office or churchyard take a bound notepad and pencil to keep all your information together and in order – using a pencil means you can make corrections easily. Go with a game plan to make sure you don’t stray too far from what you originally intended to look for and end up confusing yourself. This is very easily done where several generations of your family are named ‘John Miller’ and born in Sprowston…

10. Never give up!

There comes a point in every person’s research where a ‘brick wall’ appears. For a while it may seem there is no way to break down this wall. However, new information is becoming available all the time, new contacts are constantly appearing on the horizon and new places to look are continually becoming accessible. It might take you years to find, but a small piece of information could suddenly click everything into place. I finally found an 8x grandfather of mine through a combination of his son’s military record (recently digitised) and marriage certificate together with a parish register transcription from a small village in Lancashire (recently made available online by volunteers). Suddenly my Norwich pub landlord was revealed as the son of a Lancastrian husbandman who travelled the world as part of the 9th Regiment of Foot before settling behind the bar at the Yarn Factory Tavern!

 

You may of course completely disagree with my top ten but I hope you have gained something of interest from the above - I would be interested to hear your own suggestions too!

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