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The Topping Tooters of the Town
Our Christmas treat on Saturday 2nd December was a musical presentation by the Doncaster Waites. This was an assembly of five players dressed in early 17th century costume playing a medley of songs from the said period. The Waites were originally medieval ‘watchmen’ who patrolled towns during the night. However the musical tradition dates from the 15th century. Doncaster’s Waites provided music for dances, marriages and various civic occasions from 1557 until 1832. The players, three women and two men, described the instruments used which ranged from recorders and an early form of trombone to bagpipes and a hurdy gurdy! Their explanations were followed in turn by renaissance style music and song. For those who would like to find out if any ancestor was a member of a Waites group several suggestions were offered. Anyone with the name of Waite or any derivation of that name or the surname Piper, could provide a link. Also try searching for a will or look into various trades that an ancestor might have. The enjoyment provided was evident and also the amount of interest shown was highlighted by the many questions asked at the end. There is no meeting in January. We meet 3rd February when Claudia Sternberg’s talk is ‘WW1Internment camps in Lofthouse and Ruhleben.’
Life in a Victorian Workhouse
Life in a Victorian workhouse. On Saturday 4th November we had a welcome return of a very popular speaker, Ian Dewhirst. Ian is from Keighley and has made an in depth study of the Keighley workhouse using the excellent records held by the local library. He covered the period from when the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was passed when a Board of Guardians was set up to provide the ‘social security’ of the day for the poor which was in place until 1930. A new Union workhouse was begun in 1858 which would accommodate people not just from Keighley but also from Bingley and surrounding areas. Ian was concerned to point out that although conditions could be hard they did at least provide work, accommodation and a reasonable diet for those on hard times. Some inmates might only spend a short time there but there were cases of those who needed care for many years. Work was made hard from crushing granite for road building to grinding corn while women were employed with washing floors, clothes and bedding. The diet ranged from gruel and dry bread to several meals that might even contain meat and vegetables. Sleeping conditions were rudimentary ranging from bare wooden boards to iron bedsteads. The Board of Guardians consisted of local business men such as small mill owners, farmers and perhaps various artisans or craftsmen. The Master had to be married and received a salary, accommodation and food. There was some light relief such as at Christmas when a touring pantomime company visited and there was for some a trip to Morecombe for a week! Life was not always as grim as perhaps Charles Dickens portrayed in Oliver Twist as there was good community spirit shown in the care and humane approach by local people. Even a local business man might go bankrupt and have to rely on the Union workhouse. Ian’s talk while often having his audience in fits of laughter also reminded us of the detail provided in workhouse records and of the conditions some of our ancestors had to endure. Next month’s meeting 2nd December when the Doncaster Waites entertain as ‘The Topping Tooters of the Town.’
John Croft: The StoryPioneer of a Mormon
John Croft: The story of a Mormon Pioneer. The speaker on Saturday 7th October was Gaynor Haliday who recounted how she had researched her 4 times great uncle, John Croft. She described the epic journey he undertook with his new wife in 1860, from Manchester, England, to Salt Lake City. Born in 1837 near Bingley in Yorkshire, John’s family moved to Manchester. As a young man John, on reading the Millennial Star Newspaper a Mormon publication, and attended meetings organised by the Manchester Conference. This led to him being baptised in the Mormon faith. In 1860 he married Amelia Mitchell and soon after made preparations to emigrate to America. Gaynor quoted from a series of diaries, letters and using family photos, described the journey undertaken by John and his wife to Salt Lake City. The starting point was Liverpool where on boarding a ship along with about five hundred other Mormon passengers, they sailed to New York a journey of almost four weeks. From New York the journey was undertaken using river transport through the Great Lakes and finally by rail and river again to Florence in Nebraska. Here the last leg to Salt Lake City meant getting organised with oxen cart to carry their worldly goods but which also entailed a great deal of walking on a journey that took almost four months. Covering over 1000 miles the wagon train arrived in September and Amelia gave birth to a child in November! There were to be another seven children. John soon became immersed in pioneer life along with other Mormon settlers which meant not only becoming self sufficient in providing a home and food but was also involved in building the tabernacle in Salt Lake City, the building of the Union Pacific Railroad and liaising with Buffalo Bill Cody to obtain fresh bison meat for the rail workers. John died in 1909 and Amelia lived on to 1926. Gaynor emphasised the usefulness of the Brigham Young University website from which she had gained so much for her research. Next meeting is November 4th when the ever popular Ian Dewhirst will talk on ‘life in a Victorian Workhouse.’
Wakefield: The War at Home 1914-18
On Saturday September 2nd there was a welcome return for Tim Lynch who gave a talk referring not only to Wakefield but other towns and cities of Yorkshire. He began by asking us to consider how the early years of the 20th century quite often has parallels with the present. For example there were industrial strikes, problems with immigration, knife and gun crimes. Tim quoted an example when a Wakefield man on holiday in Blackpool was arrested for drunken behaviour and firing a gun! Drugs are a concern today but morphine and cocaine were often used in medicines to cure all kinds of ailments in early 1900. Prior to outbreak of war in 1914 the British public was often warned about the threat of invasion from Germany and in particular from zeppelins and their bomb carrying capacity. Many of us will be reminded of the threat posed during the Cold war period or even more recently with sabre rattling between North Korea and USA. Such were these fears in 1913 that the government organised uniformed guards to attend duty at bridges and railway tunnels. Wakefield was the first town in the north to organise armed scout guards. Special badges were made which bore the caption The City of Wakefield War Service. Volunteer guard groups were set up which eventually became known as The Home Guard. Another issue dealt with by Tim concerned how to deal with conscientious objectors. Some like the Quakers opted to join the RAMC and act as stretcher bearers others would rather spend time in prison. It was reported that one local conscientious objector attempted to ‘break into Wakefield prison in order to avoid an angry mob!’ Women were encouraged to take on the work done by men. Examples were in transport, ammunition factories and farm work. Many volunteered as nurses for the Front as well as at home. Wakefield has recently commemorated a local woman, Nellie Spindler, who was a nurse and killed by shrapnel while on duty at the Front. Tim also reminded us that as the war progressed there was an increasing threat of starvation because ships transporting food were being sunk at a formidable rate. The government warned the public not to waste food and that it was made illegal to even feed bread to ducks! Punishment could be six months in prison. Then there were threats made to anyone with a German sounding name which meant in Wakefield business’s such as Hagenbachs, a local bakers, were targets for local prejudice. In conclusion Tim wanted show how people at home were under threat in a way it had never been before. Everybody was affected and everybody was involved in the war effort. The next meeting October 7th will be ‘My Mormon Pioneers: Wilsden to Salt Lake City’ a talk by Gaynor Haliday.
West Yorkshire History Centre - Six Months On
West Yorkshire History Centre – Six Months On. At the meeting held 5th August we had archivist David Morris from the Centre to recount what was involved in the move from the old Registry of Deeds to the new site in Wakefield. First there was an introduction to remind us that there are five such centres in the West Yorkshire Archive Service which makes it the largest outside of London. The collection in Wakefield is of national importance. The reason for the move was that the old site, built in 1930s, lacked sufficient storage space and lacked the ability to control the temperature and humidity needed to preserve the documents, some are many centuries old. With the aid of a series of photos delivered on screen David showed us around the Centre. First the reception area and then nearby to a series of exhibition cases on display for the public. There is a general enquiry area which does not need an appointment to use. Then next is the secure area where documents can be ordered and an appointment made to view them. Organising the move and the actual transportation of over 100,000 storage boxes took nearly nine months. The arranging on the storage shelves was organised in such a way that by using a system of bar coding access would be more efficient. There are planned to have periodic exhibitions, workshops for schools, Talks and Tours, Volunteer projects and Open Days. David assured us that the popularity of the move has been borne out by the fact visitor numbers have doubled when compared with the old site. There was good turnout of about eighty five people many whom obviously enjoyed David’s presentation was further qualified by many people eager to ask questions. Next meeting is September 2nd when Tim Lynch will give a talk on ‘The Great War at Home.’

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