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Wakefield & District Family History Society

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Last Meeting

Communities of Resistance in the Great War 1914-18
On Saturday 6th June Cyril Pearce, our guest speaker, returned to bring his audience up to date with his research on perspectives of conscientious objectors from the Great War. He reminded us first of the part played by leading labour movement people from Huddersfield such as Wilfred Whitelely and Arthur Gardiner. Women were also involved such as Florence Shaw whose brother was the first CO. Because Cyril is from Huddersfield and had started his research looking at COs from that town, he decided to try and find out if there were other ‘ Huddersfields.’ To date he has built up a data base that contains well over 17000 names from around England. First he demonstrated with a map of Hertfordshire in which the largest town Watford had a CO index the same as Hitchin Rural District. By using a CO index it was demonstrated that a town in Hitchin, Letchworth, with a much smaller population, looked to have such a high CO index was because there was a greater number of radicals and alternative life style people who had been drawn to live in the new garden town of Letchworth and many of them were COs. Another example was shown from Lancashire. As expected the largest number of COs pro rata were in the largest cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. However using the CO index, Nelson, a much smaller place, came out strong on the CO index. In West Yorkshire Wakefield does not stand out particularly with regard to the number of COs whereas East Ardsley, not far away did. Cyril has yet to find out why this was so. He suspects that Wakefield had a large mining work force and such occupations were , along with ship building and steel industries, regarded by the War Office as essential and therefore were not called up for conscription by 1916. The fate of COs ranged from prison, to working on farms or in forestry to recruitment by the army at the Front in RAMC where stretcher bearers etc could be employed. Often religious members such as the Quakers fell into this latter category. However many COs were so badly treated that they succumbed and were forced to fight at the Front. This was a fascinating glimpse into the lives of war resistors and we were reminded that Cyril’s work is still far from complete. The next meeting 4th July is the AGM followed by an old favourite, Anne Batchelor, whose topic ‘ My name is Francis’ deals with a moving family story of Waifs and Boys’ Homes.’
Garderobes, Grime and Leeches
Garderobes, Grime and Leeches. The monthly meeting May 2nd had Maureen Taylor, dressed in mid-16th century clothes, ready to enlighten us on the health, hygiene and toilet habits of that period. We were reminded that our towns and cities were foul smelling places in which streets were little more than open sewers and disease was endemic. Such had been the case for hundreds of years and with only minor changes for the next two or three centuries. For the relatively well off the average life span was about forty seven years while the working poor it might be twenty seven years. Children played in streets that were infested with rats scavenging in the effluent, public toilets were non-existent except those on London bridge where excrement dropped straight into the river. Communal toilets, where they had survived from Roman times, might be used otherwise the wealthy used garderobes ie where a little room with a seat meant human waste ran through a hole in the wall into a moat, river or pit. Piss or chamber pots would be used and a cloth on a stick would be used to clean themselves. It was said that while groping for such you hoped ‘you didn’t get hold of the wrong end of the stick.’ The common poor would resort to bunches of grass, leaves or moss! Personal hygiene by today’s standards would be found wanting. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I only bathed once a month while Louis XIV of France bathed three times a year, while the common man maybe hardly at all! Clothes were rarely changed and by a working man hardly ever. Everyone had fleas as clothes were rarely washed and bathing too often was thought dangerous because it could weaken you or lead to colds or even worse ailments. Drinking the stuff was out of the question. Quenching your thirst meant drinking ‘small’ ale or wine. Diet was limited for the working classes consisting of root crops, little meat and bread made from rye or barley. The rich had a greater variety of meats and bread was made from refined flour. Sugar was a particular favourite of the wealthy which resulted in much tooth decay. Diseases were many ranging from small pox to scurvy. Many proved fatal. To deal with them the sick could resort to physicians , apothecaries, barber-surgeons, quacks but mostly to housewives. The latter would often have a good general knowledge of herbs that often proved successful and indeed some are still used today. Maureen also described the part played by the use of leeches, ‘cupping’ and even astrology in the quest to help the sick while a description of the many quack remedies made many of us wince. Her talk made us aware of how lucky we are to live in the twenty first century and in an age when we have recourse to the NHS. Next month June 2nd we welcome Cyril Peace who will continue his talk on ‘ Communities of Resistance.’ Enquiries to Ron Pullan 01924 373310 or ronaldpullan@hotmail.co.uk
History of Midland Railway: Techniques for Research
Our speakers for the meeting on 4th April were Chris and Judy Rouse from the “Wyvern” Ancestry, researchers into the history of the Midland Railway. They began by showing an advertising poster for Wakefield Regatta in 1875. Judy asked if anyone could suggest where such an event would be held. Other than “The River Calder” there were no suggestions. Chris and Judy then outlined the development of the Midland Railway from a multitude of small companies into the third largest, but richest railway company in the country. The Midland is perhaps best known for the Settle – Carlisle line, but it also built a number of Midland Hotels in various parts of the country including the famous St Pancras Station in London and ran a fleet of ships serving Ireland and the Isle of Man, before being amalgamated into the LMS in 1923. Chris and Judy are transcribing a host of records of the Company including staff records, accident registers, sick pay lists, Company Board meeting minutes etc. all of which can provide valuable information to help family historians to trace ancestors who worked for, or had connection with the Railway. Their index currently holds some 48,000 names. A complete set of Board of Trade Accident Reports, covering the Wakefield area is held at the National Railway Museum in York. Railway staff were moved from station to station around the network and their movements can often be traced from Census returns. The railway system in the Wakefield area developed from no fewer than nine separate companies, all of which sought to benefit from the heavy traffic in moving coal. Wakefield’s first station was at Oakenshaw. This was followed shortly afterwards by Kirkgate in 1840 and then Westgate. Chris and Judy offer access to their name index for a charge of £5 and they also offer an advice service on tracing railway employees. Contact them on rouse31@tiscali.co.uk .
Family History Research and The 1911 Census
Family History Research and the 1911 Census On Saturday March 7th Jackie Depelle , well known to our Society because of her skills as a tutor in genealogy research and organiser for family history fairs etc, stepped in at short notice to give her talk on using the census returns and on the 1911 census in particular. First she emphasised how the source for any research should be carefully noted as the research progresses. As the family tree begins to grow, why not have it printed on a background of a photo or illustration of a church or cemetery. Most family historians are familiar with websites such as ancestry. com and findmypast, however errors do occur and it is advisable to check with the actual enumerator’s entries. Also do not neglect to check for neighbours; description of the route taken by the enumerator for an area which is found at the beginning of a folio and also spelling errors. The latter can be a problem when the head of the household may not be sure of birth dates or even the spelling of a name. The enumerators’ handwriting can sometimes be suspect with the earlier census returns. When it comes to the 1911 census the head of household was allowed to fill in the entries for the family. Jackie went onto emphasise that all the pages relating to a particular family should be studied for that little extra information. One family, for example, which had an eleven month old baby was noted as being given condensed milk! Other searchable websites that are helpful include: www.freecen.org.uk - www.genuki.com – freebmd – The 1939 Register Service – the National Archives. There are also a number of books written by researchers that might prove helpful. An example of this was a number of women names were missing from the 1911 census, who being part of the Suffragette movement, refused to give their names as a form of protest. Jackie concluded her talk by posing the question, ‘ What is the most important aspect of the 1911 census? The answer is - Everything.’ The amount of interest shown by those in attendance was displayed by the great number of questions asked and by the number of observations made. Next meeting is April 4th when C& J Rouse will use the ‘ History of the West Midland Railway’ to highlight techniques used in family history. Enquiries to Ron Pullan 01924 373310 or ronaldpullan@hotmail.co.uk
Battleof the Somme 1916
Battle of the Somme 1916 Richard Wimpenny’s aim, as our guest speaker on Saturday 7th February, was to tell the story of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He wanted to explain why the casualty rate was unprecedented in the history of warfare. World War One was really the first ‘industrial war’ in which combatants numbered in the millions and that advances in technology led to greater devastation and killing power. With the aid of graphically detailed visual aids; extracts from recordings of voices from the ‘The Front’ and a clip from the television show, ‘Blackadder,’ Richard described the opening stages of the war and how the British Expeditionary Force was really inadequate for what was to follow. Lord Kitchener, unlike many politicians, felt that the war would not be over by Christmas. He encouraged the idea battalions being formed from volunteers from local communities. Lord Darby of Liverpool was one of the first to do this with volunteers forming a battalion from Liverpool. Other battalions, later dubbed the PALS, came from Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield and Barnsley. Many volunteers from Wakefield joined up with the Barnsley Pals. Early in the war miners from Wakefield and surrounding districts, had been encouraged by the West Yorkshire Coal Miners Association, to lend their skills as sappers i.e. excavating tunnels and laying mines. Lessons were learned from the Somme in which armies had become bogged down in a war of attrition and ‘trench warfare.’ However with advances in technology e.g. more effective artillery; improvements in tank warfare; increasing use of the RAFC and more sophisticated developments in trench defences, meant increasing success for the Allies. Then with the entry of USA in 1917 Germany’s defeat became inevitable. Richard Wimpenny’s interpretation of the War was extremely informative and enlightening in how the war was finally ended after so much loss of life and such devastation. The next meeting is 7th March when Kate Taylor will talk on Wakefield’s ‘Family Business of Joseph Rhodes.’ Enquiries to Ron Pullan 01924 373310

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