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Last Meeting

The Working Life of the Railway Navvy
The Working Life of the Railway Navvy. After the formal part of the Society’s AGM was dealt with the meeting was handed over to Chris and Judy Rouse, our guest speakers. They work as a team in promoting research into railway worker’s ancestry. It was made clear that official records are not particularly helpful. However it much can be gleaned from newspapers, census returns and parish records. Chris began by explaining the term navvy. Men who worked in the fens of Lincolnshire digging ditches and banking for drainage purposes and in effect creating canals, were known as navvies. This was because such waterways were known as a means of navigation. This term stuck when many canals in the 18th century were being created to transport goods. The term continued to be used for the workers involved in the railway building mania of the 19th century. Chris went on to show how different groups of people became involved from business men who had to first to get a Bill passed by Parliament before work could begin. Then there was an army of contractors, engineers, agents, time keepers and finally the navvies. Judy explained how such men as these navvies lived, dressed and entertained themselves and the tools of their trade that they carried everywhere ie shovel, pick and barrow. They were often feared because of their lifestyle for they often let their hair down binge drinking, getting into fights and by appearing intimidating, being strong young men and roughly dressed. Life as a navvy was also often dangerous and severe injuries or even death could result from such work. These could be from rock falls, tunnels collapsing, misuse of explosives, faulty equipment and poor diet. Living conditions were spent amidst dirty water, poor or non- existent toilet facilities and extreme weather conditions. However many thousands of men were employed during the ‘railway mania’ building periods during the 19th century for wages were a great deal higher than those of factory workers or agricultural labourers. Later when the railway building work declined at beginning of 20th century many navvies could find work building reservoirs or other water works. Chris and Judy’s talk was brisk, informative and certainly entertaining. Next month’s talk will be August 5th when David Morris will present ‘West Yorkshire History Centre: Six months on.’
Classic Yorkshire Murders
On Saturday 3rd June our guest speaker was Martin Baggoley who was for many years a probation officer and has a masters degree in criminology. He has written several crime books with an emphasis on murder cases between 1750 to 1900 and his interest lies in the study of these crimes in the context of their social and cultural conditions. Martin gave an account of several cases which included the murder of Daniel Clark a shoemaker from near Knaresborough; the death at sea of a 14 year old apprentice,William Papper, who was claimed to have been washed overboard by the ship’s captain one Osmond Brand but who was subsequently found guilty of the boy’s murder. But the story that captured the attention most was that of Mary Bateman the Yorkshire witch. In early 19th century Leeds Mary, a petty thief and con artist, convinced many people that she had supernatural powers. She was a fortune teller who was eventually found guilty of murder in 1809. A Rebecca Perigo suffered from chest pains and with her husband William approached Mary in the hope that she could cure her. Over several months Mary fed Rebecca puddings laced with poison. During this period she was receiving payments from Rebecca’s husband. Eventually Rebecca died. Mary was found guilty of murder after a search of her home revealed the poison evidence. She was convicted of fraud and murder and although she claimed she was innocent she was subsequently executed at York. Such was Mary’s notoriety that people paid to view her body and even to buy tanned strips of her skin for charms Her skeleton was for many years on display at the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds. Next meeting is 1st July when our AGM will be followed by a talk by Chris & Judy Rouse on ‘The Railway Navvy.’ All enquiries to
Children's Homes
On Saturday 6th May our guest speaker was Peter Higginbotham. He showed how the concern for abandoned children in London, for whatever reason, began to be addressed in the 18th century when a working school for orphans was founded in Hampstead. Societies that became involved in providing children’s homes ranged from National Charities to the Church of England and from industrial schools to borstals. There were also many homes provided by religious groups from different denominations. Doctor Barnado’s in the 19th century was perhaps the best known although there were a number of well placed individuals who also founded homes for orphans, waifs and strays and children who were simply abandoned. A local example was Crossley and Porter. Crossley was an industrialist who manufactured carpets in Halifax. Homes were developed from large villa type houses to purpose built industrial schools and later self contained villages. An example of the latter was to be found at Bramhope near Leeds. In the Wakefield area there was Bede Home an early 18th century house bought by the Church of England for boys, Sandal Grange and another home in Teal Street. Some homes were provided for the physically unfit or even for orphans of police officers such as one in Harrogate. The Poor Law System often had industrial schools for orphans such as the one in Leeds. The building still exists and is now part of St James Hospital. By 1930 local councils began to take more responsibility. While the 1948 Children’s Act increased the role of the local council which would see to fostering, adoption or residential care. By 1990 charitable homes were gone. This was due to increasing costs, shortages of staff and changing social attitudes. The emphasis today is for more home support while any residential care is dominated by the private sector. There are a number of websites that can help where records have survived for particular institutions while Peter has his own website He has also written a book ‘ Children’s Homes.’ Next meeting is June 3rd when Martin Baggoley will talk on ‘Classic Yorkshire Murders.’
Maps for local and family history
On Saturday 1st April our guest speaker was Chris Makepeace. Chris is a local historian and librarian who is a familiar figure at many family history fairs. He views maps not only as items that are aesthetically pleasing but as valuable resources. The latter is particularly important when modern development is taking place. Checking old maps first can often highlight problems such as old mining works, wells and springs. However, it is with regard to study of old maps that Chris believes can enhance the research done by family historians. From county and town maps from the sixteenth century to ordnance survey maps of the nineteenth century a picture can be built up of how and where our ancestors lived. The scale of these maps could range from sixty to one inch to the mile. But it is the Godfrey Edition OS maps of the late nineteenth century that Chris wanted to highlight. These are 15 inches to the mile and they show not just the streets but also individual houses; the complete track layout of railways and tramways, factories, docks and even trees are shown. These maps can produce a complete record of the places where our ancestors lived and worked. In addition the Godfrey maps are accompanied by extracts from trade directories that provide names of schools, pubs and other businesses along with the names of owners and a description of trades and associated skills. It was agreed that maps are indeed a valuable tool for genealogists. Next meeting is May 6th when Peter Higginbotham will give a talk on ‘ Children’s Homes.’
Using the 1901 census online
On Saturday 4th March Edgar Holdroyd-Doveton explained how family historians could enhance their research. Census returns provide rich detail about occupational structures, migration patterns and information about the community in which our ancestors lived. An overview showed how the information in census returns from 1801 to 1901 provided an increased amount of detail. To illustrate this the village of Meltham in West Yorkshire was taken as an example. Through the nineteenth century this village was dominated by mills that produced cotton and silk thread. Edgar took one such mill run by Jonas Brook who had houses built for his employees. Using photos and ordnance survey maps for the period plus data from the census a picture emerged of the people living in a particular street. Thus average family size could be calculated, age range of children assessed and the kind of work individuals might have done from skilled operatives to white collar workers, such as office clerks. Reference was also made to the industrial aristocracy by looking at what the census provided from one of the grand houses of a mill owner. There was a retinue of domestic staff ranging from maids to coachmen which prompted the question, were they local people or incomers? Edgar suggested that the data collected could be illustrated by means of graphs and stored using XL files from Microsoft Office on a computer. Basically what Edgar was suggesting that the more that could be learned about our ancestors’ community and its environment the more interest could be generated for the researcher rather than just concentrating on the immediate family tree. The next meeting is April 1st when Chris Makepeace will talk on ‘ Maps for local and family history.’

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