Friday, 21 December 2012

Daddy Long Legs

Daddy Long Legs, or as it was properly known Pioneer, was the oddest pier ever to have existed.  It was built as an extension to the electric railway which ran along the Brighton coast from the Aquarium to the Chain Pier; it was difficult to  continue the line along the coast so Magnus Volk, the designer, decided to run it though the sea.  So in November 1896 it became possible to board the Pioneer at Paston Place and travel along a railway line through the sea to a pier at Rottingdean.
Pioneer sat on 24ft pier-like legs, could carry a maximum of 150 people at a time but travelled at just 8 mph when the weather was good meaning it took an hour and a half to travel to Rottingdean and back.  It was a effectively a slow moving section of pier.

The line was plagued with problems - just a week after it opened Pioneer and the pier at Paston Place were badly damaged in the same storm which destroyed the Chain Pier, the service did not restart until July the following year.  The rebuilt Pioneer was now 26ft high but  breakdowns were frequent and it could not operate in bad weather.  Not only was it expensive to build and maintain it was also expensive to ride costing 6d each way so it was only our better off ancestors who could afford to take a ride on it.  Despite that the crowds came to try out this unique and unusual method of travel.
In 1900 the service was suspended whilst work was undertaken to prevent further erosion of the cliffs but the new groynes extended out beyond the route of the railway so the line was closed.  There were plans for a new route further out but the cost was prohibitive and instead the inshore railway was extended to Black Rock.

Volks railway is the oldest electric railway and it is still in operation during the summer months.  For more details see the website.
For more information on the railway line and Daddy Long Legs see the Volks Electric Railway Association website.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

"Lewes through Time"

Lewes Through Time by Bob Cairns
published by Amberley Publishing - available from all good bookshops from £14.99

Books comprised of old photographs of towns and villages are very popular but this one of Lewes has not only the old photograph but the modern equivalent, which serves to show how much this individual and pretty town has changed over the last hundred years.

Some buildings have stood the test of time, the prison and Priory Crescent appear little changed whilst others are clearly the same although their function may have changed such as the Maltings which was part of a brewery and is now the record office or the Lewes Infirmary which is now the NatWest bank.  Other buildings have gone completely, in some cases whole streets have disappeared in the name of progress, half of Little East Street was demolished to make way for a dual carriageway and much of North Street has gone although some of that is a result of bombing during World War 2.

This is a useful book for anyone with ancestors who lived in Lewes and for anyone who has lived in the area themselves, reminding us as it does of a time now largely forgotten.  

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Keep

The Keep is the name of the new East Sussex archive which is currently being built near Falmer, just outside Brighton.  It will replace the current record office which is at the Maltings in Lewes.  It won't be open for another year (at the earliest) but I got to see around it earlier this week and its looking good!

The main entrance (hidden by scaffolding)

Shelving in the repository - there will be 6 miles of shelving in total!

More shelving - this time for maps

and much more shelving

The walls of the repository are thick to help maintain the temperature inside in order to protect the documents.

The hallway - the entrance to the search room is on the right.

There should be seating here so that you can eat lunch and have a drink. 

This will be the searchroom - to the left of the photo is the same space again separated by glass to make a more secure search area for viewing original documents.

There is a lot of shiny stuff which will run the building, helping to keep the repository at optimum temperature - there is also a separate building with a bio mass boiler.

This is the room which is of particular interest for me.  This is where the library for the Sussex Family History Group will be located, just off the search room.
(apologies for the photo quality)

For more information on The Keep see the East Sussex Record Office website.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Charles John Burchett 1892-1919

The war memorial in Herstmonceux church lists the men of Herstmonceux who died  fighting in the First World War.  It is an alphabetical list but at the bottom another name was added - that of C J Burchett of the Royal Sussex Regiment.

Charles John Burchett was born on the 20th April 1892 in Herstmonceux, one of the children born to David  Robert Burchett and Harriet (nee Hunnisett).  His family can be traced back in Herstmonceux for many generations and he was a cousin of William Henry Burchett who is also listed on the war memorial (Charles's father was a brother of William's mother).  He attended the local school and then worked as a gardener before he began making trugs (a local industry Herstmonceux is well known for).

Colonel Lowther of Herstmonceux Castle got permission, soon after the start of the First World War, to raise a battalion of local men; over a thousand men signed up in the first few days including Charles Burchett and his cousin William Henry Burchett.  Having joined the Southdowns Battalion Charles was transferred to the Royal West Kent, although when and why is unknown.  His cousin William was killed on the 3rd September 1916 on the Somme and is buried at Ancre British Cemetery and is also remembered on his parents gravestone in Herstmonceux graveyard.

Charles survived the fighting and returned home to Herstmonceux where his mother had been widowed two years previously.  He took up work as a trug maker but died on the 21st December 1919 from pulmonary tuberculosis (TB), little more than year after the end of the war.  TB is an infectious disease which had only been recognised as a contagious illness in the late 19th century and as an airbourne disease it passed quickly amongst soldiers living in close proximity whose immune systems were already weakened as a result of living in trenches in less than sanitary conditions.

Charles was buried in Herstmonceux graveyard on Christmas eve 1919, the parish magazine of February 1920 reported that "Mrs Burchett wishes to thank all kind friends for their sympathy in her bereavement and also for the beautiful flowers which were sent to her".

Charles John Burchett may not be one of those who officially died in the First World War but there can be little doubt that he died as a direct result of the war.

With thanks to David Lester - see his website for more information on the Southdown Batallions

Friday, 2 November 2012

Bonfire night in Sussex

Bonfire night is something which is taken quite seriously in Sussex especially in Lewes which is known as the bonfire capital of the world.

Bonfire night is the night the country celebrates the failure of Guy Fawkes and his companions to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1606, although after 400 years it has evolved into more of a social occasion with a fireworks display.

In Sussex bonfire night also commemorates events nearly a hundred years earlier during the reign of Queen Mary.  Henry VIII had set in motion the change from the Catholic religion to a Protestant one, his son Edward VI had taken the reforms further so that when he died in 1553 we were no longer a Catholic country.  Edward's sister Mary who now became queen, however, was Catholic, and she set about returning the country to that religion.   In her attempt to do that she executed, mostly by burning, about 283 Protestants including bishops and the archbishop of Canterbury.  This action only made Protestants more stubborn and fed their dislike and distrust of Catholics; those who were executed became martyrs.

Seventeen of those martyrs were burnt on the High Street in Lewes  outside the Star Inn (now the Town Hall) so bonfire night doesn't just celebrate the failure of another Catholic plot it also remembers those seventeen martyrs and there is still an anti-Catholic feeling to the event with the annual burning of the pope (the pope of 1605 rather than the current pope) and Cliffe Bonfire Societies "No Popery" banner.  A burning cross for each of the martyrs is carried through Lewes on the night of the 5th November.   The Mayfield bonfire night commemorates two local residents who were burnt in Lewes and another four who were executed in the village itself.

Initially events were random and unorganised but in the 19th century Bonfire Societies were set up in many towns in Sussex; Lewes currently has six Bonfire Societies and there are 30 others around the county.  Because of the large number of societies it is not possible for them all to hold their events on the 5th November so the bonfire season begins in September in Uckfield and ends late in November in Robertsbridge and Barcombe.  The parades through towns tend to be very noisy and colourful, with torches, traditional costumes and fancy dress, bangers, bands and burning tar barrels, all of the Bonfire Societies attend each other's parade and the events can go on until late in the night.  Quite why bonfire night has become as important as it has in Lewes and Sussex is not clear but there is a lot of history involved as well as current issues which usually influence the effigies burnt on the night and often cause controversy - George Bush and British Transport Police were burnt in 2006, 'fat cat' bankers in 2009, Firle burnt an effigy a gypsy caravan complete with occupants in 2003 (arrests were made for inciting racism), Cliffe Bonfire Society had an effigy of a seagull in 2007 (objecting to the building of the new Brighton & Hove football stadium on land designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty) and others burnt include Osama bin Laden, Condoleezza Rice, Ulrika Jonsson, Steve Irwin, Tony Blair and Saddam Hussein.

This is a description of bonfire night in Forest Row in 1912(1):

Bonfire Carnival - The village of Forest
Row was en fete on Wednesday on the occasion of
the Bonfire Carnival.  Crowds of people from East
Grinstead and the surrounding district flocked to
the village to enjoy the revelries and the pro-
cedings were of a boisterous, good humoured
nature.  A procession was formed outside the
Brambletye Hotel and consisted of a very motley
throng.  A Chinaman led the way, followed by a
cowboy, Dick Turpin and what was evidently
intended to be a foreign officer of some description,
each on horseback.  Then came the Forest Row
Band, while in its wake followed soldiers, police-
men, clowns, cowboys, Indians and other characters
galore.  There were several original dresses
including "Black and White Whiskey", "Bass",
"Winter Billards", "Father time" &c.  The route
taken was to the Vicarage and past the church,
along the Hartfield road and from thence back to
the Brambletye.  The procession, lighted by torches
and coloured fire, presented a very pretty appear-
ance, although the rather heavy atmosphere caused
a considerable amount of pungent smoke to
accumulate.  Despite the presence of a number of
local policemen, fireworks were surreptitiously
discharged in the streets.  On the return of the
processionists to the Brambletye Hotel the fancy
costunes were judged the Mrs McGuiness...
A large bonfire was afterwards lighted
at the rear of the Brambletye Hotel, while a
splendid firework display was also given, including
the sending up of four fire balloons.

 Images from the procession in Mayfield in 2010

(1) Horsham Times and West Sussex Courier - 9th November 1912

Friday, 26 October 2012

A Halloween tale

With Halloween fast approaching the time seems right for a spooky tale.

Lewes Castle was built soon after the Norman Conquest by William de Warenne, it is associated with many ghost stories and this is one of the best known.

Many many years ago, probably during the Norman period, the lord of Pevensey Castle took an army to attack the Earl of Warenne at Lewes Castle; the two armies met at Mount Caburn just outside of Lewes where battle began.  But watching from the castle at Lewes was the wife of the Earl of Warenne who was holding their new born baby.  It seemed as if the lord of Pevensey was going to take honours and with his sword raised he moved in for the kill but the Lady de Warenne loved her husband and she prayed to St Nicholas, who protected those in danger, and promised that their son would not marry until he had been to Byzantium and offered up treasure to the tomb of St Mary.  St Nicholas obviously liked this plan and intervened in the battle, Lord Pevensey lost his balance, his sword missed de Warenne and without a wife to offer up their own child on his behalf he was killed and the battle was over.

Lewes castle today
Life went on, each year the de Warenne's celebrated their win over Lord Pevensey and the young baby grew up to be a fine young man.  As young men tend to, he fell in love and was soon going to marry the Lady Edona.  The  two  were dancing at the anniversary of the battle when suddenly, an icy wind swept through the hall and the room was plunged into dark as the candles and lamps were extinguished.  Now the room was lit by images of the battle which were played onto the walls and just as Lord Pevensey again went to strike Earl de Warenne everything was suddenly silent and quiet.

The de Warennes took this as an omen and soon their son found himself on a ship to Byzantium.  One year later, on the 17th May, his ship was spotted off the coast of Worthing and the de Warenne family along with the Lady Edona rushed to meet the returning hero.  They gathered along the coast near the church of St Nicholas in Brighhelmstone singing songs of joy as the ship grew closer.  Suddenly the ship hit rocks near Shoreham and sank almost instantly, it was too much for Lady Edona who dropped dead on the spot.  The Earl of Warenne had a new church built for St Nicholas on the same place were they had stood and Lady Edona was buried when she had fallen.

On the 17th May each year it is said if you stand on the hill next to the church of St Nicholas you too can watch the doomed ship trying to make its way home.

Of course given the change in the coast line and modern commercial development you'll have little chance of seeing anything but doomed shops sinking without a trace in the recession!

Friday, 19 October 2012

An early bonfire night in 1899

The Union workhouse in Westhampnett came to a sad but dramatic end on the 3rd November 1899.  It was a stormy night with gale force winds raging but all seemed calm when the master of the workhouse, Mr Moore, made his final inspection of the evening.  All 115 inmates were in bed and the staff had retired to their rooms for the night.  An hour or so later the Moores were woken by the sound of a crash and on inspection they found the attics were on fire and the ceiling to the cooks bedroom, which was fortunately unoccupied, had fallen in.  They woke the three nurses who quickly dressed and began removing the inmates including the mother and her newborn child from the lying in ward and a ten year old boy ill with typhoid who was carried out by another inmate.  Many of the inmates were elderly or infirm, they were confused by the chaos and had to be carried or coaxed out of the burning building into the howling gale and torrential rain, the staff were helped by some of the able bodied inmates such as William Waller and Joseph Frampton.  The newly constructed iron staircases at each of the building enabled quick evacuation of the building.

Meanwhile in nearby Chichester there had been a dinner held for the Corporation of St Pancras which included senior members of the fire brigade.  Their evening was interrupted by the arrival of a cab driver who had seen the fire at Westhampnett and driven at speed back to Chichester to raise the alarm.  The firemen, Captain Budden and Lieut. Gambling, commandeered the cab drivers horse and harnessed him to the fire engine, they rang the fire bell and the remainder of the fire brigade arrived promptly and they were soon at the scene of the conflagration.

The workhouse alarm bell was rung but the raging storm limited its effectiveness to such an extent that labourers asleep in neighbouring cottages slept on unaware of the drama until woken by others banging on their doors.  Dr Bostick did hear the alarm but by the time he arrived the inmates had already been removed from the building.  He got the workhouse's own fire engines out but found that the lengths of hose would not connect together rendering them useless.  The fire brigade also faced problems - this time the lack of water.  Although connecting the workhouse to the water mains had been discussed a year earlier it had been decided it was too expensive to undertake the work but it now cost them the workhouse as the water from the well was soon exhausted and little could be done to save the main building.
Westhampnett workhouse after the fire
Once everyone was out there was an attempt made to retrieve as many goods as possible from the ground floor which was still clear of the fire whilst Moore ran back in to turn off the boiler fearing an explosion when the fire reached it.  The fire was allowed to burn itself out which it finally did at 8am the following morning.  All the inmates had been safely removed although one of them, Thomas Gilbert, died shortly afterwards from shock and fright.  Overnight, whilst the fire still burned, inmates were collected by other nearby workhouses and hospitals who offered to rehome them.  It was fortunate that the workhouse, which had a capacity of 569 inmates, had only 115 at the time of the fire and even more fortunate that the fire escapes had been installed as there was little doubt at the time that if they had had to rely on the internal central staircase they would not have been able to get everyone out in time  However if the workhouse had been connected to the mains water supply it might also have been possible to save the building which had originally been Westhampnett Place and had ancient and grand origins before its conversion in 1835 to the workhouse.

Source: The Observer and West Sussex Recorder - November 8th 1899 (page 5)

Monday, 15 October 2012

Marriage and our ancestors

How old were they when they married?

The average age for marriage nowadays is 36 years for men and 33 years for women, a figure which includes first and subsequent marriages.  Most couples marry now for the first time between their 25th and 29th birthday. 

We tend to think that our ancestors married at a younger age than us but how much younger were they?

Peter Laslett's study of marriage licences applied for at Canterbury for couples marrying for the first time between 1619 and 1660 found that the average age for grooms was 26 years and for brides was 23 years, although when he limited the marriage licences to those of the gentry he found the age dropped to 24 years for grooms and 19 years for the brides.  He did find the occasional marriages with particularly young brides including one 13 year old and four 15 year olds.

I did a similar study of marriage licences issued at the Archdeaconry of Lewes between 1772 and 1837 (based on 250 marriage licences), and found that the average age for marriages at this time was 25 years for men and 23 years for women.

 There are some limitations to using marriage licences to determine the average age for marriage.  Marrying by licence was more expensive than marrying by banns so it tended be the gentry, those who aspired to better status and those who needed to marry quickly who used marriage licences.  The wording on the marriage licence says "aged x years and upwards"  we are only given their youngest possible age and given the increasing number of couples who married in the 1830s where both were 21 years and upwards it is unlikely that they were all 21 years old when they married. 

George Battcock and Mary Patterson Paine married on the 25th March 1813 in Brighton and according to their licence both were 21 years old and upwards.  George was baptised in Storrington on the 19th October 1784 so he was actually 29 years old when he married Mary whilst she was baptised in Brighton on the 10th May 1787 which meant she was 26 years old.

Richard Bannister married Ann Roots on the 2nd April 1778 in Framfield and again their marriage licence gives both their ages as 21 years and upwards. Based on their age when they died they were born in 1739 and 1745 so they were actually 39 years and 33 years old when they married.

It seems more likely that the age given is more accurate when the couple were younger than 21 years.  Anyone marrying under the age of 21 years needed parental (or other responsible adult) permission and their details should be included on the licence.    John Avis married Ann Ovenden on the 17th November 1776 in Withyham, according to their marriage licence they were "20 years or thereabouts" but they were actually about 16 and 15 years old.  The minimum age for marriages since 1753 had been 14 years for men and 12 years for women but it was unusual for couples to marry that young.  John and Ann's daughter was baptised the month after their marriage so it would seem that they 'had' to get married.

William Bean married Ann Farncomb on the 1st October 1778 in Wivelsfield when they were 19 years and 28 years old, the marriage licence gave their ages as 19 years (William had the permission of his father, William) and Ann's as 25 years plus.

The 17th century average age of marriage is 26 years for grooms and 23 for brides whilst I found the average in the late 18th/early 19th century to be the same.  Looking at specific examples I found they were generally older than the age given in the marriage licence which would raise the average age for the latter period.  Rather than being much younger when they married it seems that in most cases couples married at a similar age as we do today.

The World we have Lost Further Explored Laslett, Peter   Routledge 1983
Sussex Record Society Volume 25 Marriage Licences at Lewes 1772-1837 A-L

Friday, 5 October 2012

Firle and the spitfire

West Firle Poor Law Union formed in 1835 providing a workhouse for the people of West Firle and nearby parishes.  The workhouse could house 180 inmates but it was closed after 1898 when the union merged with Chailey and Lewes unions.

The building was converted into a row of private houses known as Stanford Buildings but they were badly damaged on the afternoon of the 22nd May 1942.  Two Spitfire pilots left the airfield at Redhill in Surrey for a practise flight when they came across low cloud over Firle.  Flt Lt Barrett climbed above the cloud and returned to Redhill but Sgt Harold Ernest Barton went below the cloud which was lower than expected.  He hit the end of the row of houses destroying part of it and injuring one of the residents.  Barton was killed; the end of Stanford buildings was badly damaged both by the impact and the resulting fire.

The fire was reported in the local papers but not the cause so as not to affect morale.  The Sussex Daily News emphasised the work done by the National Fire Service from Lewes "effective work by NFS personnel from Lewes greatly minimised damage to property when they attended a fire at Stanford-buildings Firle".  The Sussex Express mentioned that it was caused by a plane crash but gave no details concentrating on the rescue of Mrs Hughes from the house by another resident of Stanford Buildings  "Mrs Hughes's husband told the story to an 'Express Herald' representative and extended his grateful thanks to Mr Mitchell for the manner in which, under great danger to himself, he carried out the rescue".

The official report on the crash was short and too the point "Cause of crash not known.  Hit buildings and burnt out.  Sgt  H E Barton of 602 Squadron Redhill.  One civilian injured. 25 people evacuated from buildings"  Any further official documents are closed subject to the 100 year rule.

Sussex Daily News - Monday May 25th 1942
Sussex Express & County Herald - Friday June 5th 1942
East Sussex Record Office: SPA 2/21/45 Crashed & forced landings of British and German aircraft in East Sussex 1939-1945

Friday, 28 September 2012

Work and working class women

According to the 1881 census only 42% of women worked, but that doesn't mean that the other 58% were sitting around with their feet up.  It simply reflects that women's employment was seen as unimportant and negligible.  This is because it was often seasonal, part time, poorly paid or a support role for their father or husbands own work.

Many women worked in a domestic environment, taking care of their own home or other peoples.  Elizabeth Burtenshaw was typical, she was born in 1866 in Albourne to John Burtenshaw, an agricultural labourer but by the age of 15 years she was working as a servant for Simeon Gumbrill.  For blacksmith Simeon employing a servant was a step towards middle class status. 

Many women in Sussex would have worked on the land, taking care of their own vegetable patch, working alongside their husbands or fathers or as seasonal help.  Ruth Gutsell worked as dairy maid in Upper Dicker (Arlington) before she married but whilst the 1871 census entry suggests she is no longer working it is highly likely that she is still working. 

The industrial revolution gave women a new work opportunity.  Sussex was not at the heart of industrial growth but it was not unaffected.  There were many new developing industries along with pre-existing industries.  Women of all ages could work in a factory and it was a work opportunity that was available to many married women as well as single women.  The paper factory in Stedham employed many local women including Ann Burns, a 35 year old widow and Jane Simmonds was still working there at the age of 65 years.

Outwork was another employment option for married women, working from home could be fitted in around caring for their children.   Outwork was considered socially acceptable for women; factory work gave women an independence that worried society, farm work was too coarse and domestic work took women until other people's houses making them possible prey to immoral employers.  Many women working as dressmakers and milliners would have been working at home such as 14 year old Elizabeth Deeks in Brighton and 73 year old Ann Longhurst of Angmering.

There were many other jobs women undertook, many without the recognition that they were working.  A search of the census shows many families taking in lodgers to supplement the family income and it was the women who took care of the extra work involved.  Maria Collis of Westhampnett earned an income as a charwomen and rented a room to a lodger whilst the five daughters of Richard Geere, a builder in Brighton, all earned an income as teachers.  Some women would have earned a less than salubrious income from prostitution, it is estimated that 7% of the population of Victorian London were prostitutes (possibly as much as 15% of the female population).  Whilst prostitute was generally listed in the census under occupation there might be clues to the real occupation of such women as Alex Kingston found out on a recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

Some women broke the mould, taken on what was usually seen as men's work.  Sarah and Elizabeth Ray followed their father Daniel into the family silversmithing business in Battle whilst Caroline Burkenshaw worked as a carrier in West Itchenor.

It is reasonable to think, regardless of whether the census showed an occupation or not, that our working class female ancestors were hard workers and they contributed to the family income.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Step back in time...

Step back in time.... to when our parents, grandparents and so on came down to Sussex and Kent to spend their summer holiday hop picking.

The Kent & East Sussex Railway are holding a hop picking weekend on the 8th & 9th September giving visitors the chance to strip hops and experience a way of life which has long since vanished.

For more information see the Kent & East Sussex Railway website

In addition to the hop picking experience there is the steam railway line which runs between Bodiam & Tenterden, whilst close to Bodiam station is Bodiam Castle.

Step back in the 1940s and celebrations of the Battle of Britain.  On Sunday 9th September Newhaven Fort have military vehicles, living history displays and a variety of 1940s music from bands such as the Seaford Silver Band, the Brighton Boogie Dancers and the Swingtime Sweethearts.

Still in the 1940s the Fort will be turned into a wartime fair and dancehall on the 22nd September for a ticketed evening event.  Local memories and local writers have combined to tell a story inspired by the Dieppe Raid of 1942.  Forget sitting in a theatre - for this performance you are outside and the scenery doesn't move - you do!

For more information see the Newhaven Fort website

Friday, 31 August 2012


St Mary the Virgin, Apuldram

Apuldram or Appledram is a small parish with no village.

During the Roman period it was an important harbour providing easy access to Chichester and a bustling village.  However the harbour silted up so a new harbour, Dell Quay, was built but eventually this too silted up and Apuldram lost its main business.  There is little evidence of the medieval village which had grown up around the church and two of the roads which once carried goods and people to Chichester now survive only as footpaths.  Dell Quay is still a harbour but to small pleasure boats and yachts.

The church was built as a chapel of ease for the villagers who were too far from the parent church at Bosham.  The current church dates from the 12th century and until it was built the bodies of those who died in Apuldram would be taken by boat across the harbour to Holy Trinity in Bosham.

The spelling of the village name varies and use of the modern spelling Appledram has been known to upset locals, the Appledram Cider, based at Pump Bottom Farm had vandals repaint the name as Apuldram in 2007.  To be on the safe side the civic records refer the the parish as both Appledram and Apuldram.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The value of the vestry

Parish records are much more than baptism, marriage and burial registers.  Up until the mid 19th century the parish was responsible for the organisation, administration and care of the parish and its parishioners - the result of this was a lot of paperwork, some of which (where it has survived) is very valuable to the genealogist.
One example of documents which can provide all sorts of useful information are the vestry minutes.  Those involved in running the parish were known as the vestry because traditionally they met in the vestry room of the church.  Here they would appoint the officials needed to run the parish such as the overseers, the surveyor and the constable.  Many of these roles were undertaken on a rotational basis for a year.
For vestry minutes to be useful they have to have survived, a search of a selection of Sussex parishes finds that the parishes of Polegate, Etchingham and Southease have no surviving vestry records whilst those for Heathfield only survive from 1820, those for St Mary in the Castle, Hastings (known as Castle parish) survive for the period 1753 through to 1908 whilst those for St Nicholas Brighton survive as early as 1683 through to 1856.
In addition to surviving they also have to contain useful information for genealogists.  The vestry records for the Castle parish in Hastings between 1774 and 1794 only record the accounts submitted by the overseers but later records for the period 1823 to 1851 provide far more detailed information.  The records for Brighton between 1789-1799 include the decisions made at each meeting but don't list all the applications which were turned down.  The vestry book for West Grinstead 1833 to 1842 is a record of the myriad of applications for relief.

In a time before  pensions and the NHS each parish took care of its elderly population:
Mrs Gallop the wife of William applies for some more relief, her husband being incapable of doing anything being imbecile.  Ordered that she be allowed 7s 6d per week.  [1st December 1825 - Hastings]
old George Laker wants Relief Ill Lost 11 Days [work - given]  6 shillings  [15th October 1833 - West Grinstead] 

The vestry also provided healthcare (such as it was):
Ordered that Application be immediately made to get Lucy Ovett into St Lukes or Bedlam   [27th Mar 1793 - Brighton]
Ordered that Mrs Brand be paid fourteen Shillings for nursing the man that dyed at Mr Hobdens   [16th May 1796 - Brighton]
Reuben Eason applied for a nurse for his wife.  Allowed   [14th April 1825 - Hastings]
Edward Dinage wants Relief has had the Misfortune to be run over with A very heavy Load of Coals, near Billingshurst Street, has not been Able to do any Work since, Doctor Evershed attends him   [20th August 1833 - West Grinstead]
The wife of George Ransom Tailor applies for a nurse to be allowed her in her approaching confinement and also a pair of Blankets.  Allowed  [2nd Oct 1833 - Hastings]

The vestry might help to find work for those in need of employment, this benefited the parish as people were less likely to need help from the vestry if they were working:
At this Parish Mr Benjamin Lingham agrees to take James Hook and Charles Chapman two poor Boys for the year ensuring upon the parish finding them in Clothes   [29th March 1824 - Hastings]
Ordered that Thomas Wellsted a poor Boy of this Parish be put apprentice to Mr John Russell of the Parish of Saint Clement in this Town, Baker  [14th April 1825 - Hastings]
John Gates has got A place [job] for his Girl at Brighton wants the Parish to give her som Clothes, Sarah Gates Age 14    [1st October 1833 - West Grinstead]

Much of the work of the parish would be taken up with care of the poor, often supplementing their income in times of need  or finding ways to move them elsewhere:
Ordered that Jane Brand (wife of Richard Brand now serving in the Sussex Militia for the Parish of Saint Michaels Lewes) be allowed one Pair of Sheets one Blanket and one Rug   [23rd Oct 1797 - Brighton]
Ordered that Mr James Pounse be requested to enquire what will be the expense of repairing James Shrivells Boat    [12th Feb 1798  - Brighton, presumably if his boat is repaired James Shrivell will be able to support himself again]
John King of Rye applies for relief [–] ordered to be allowed two Shillings a week for himself and his wife   [16th June 1831 - Hastings]
Ordered that provided James Holt is willing to go to America with his wife and child he shall be allowed the sum of £7 and that their passage and victualling on board shall be paid by the parish and a decent suit of clothes shall be provided for himself and wife.  [28th March 1833 - Hastings]

The administration of the poor law was considerable, especially when the person living in the parish belonged to another parish and vice versa:
Ordered that the Parish Officers of Godstone be wrote to concerning Pullens Daughter now with child  [30th Jan 1793 - Brighton]
Ordered that the Parish Officers of Clapham near Arundell Sussex be written to and acquainted that Mrs Wiseman has become chargeable and desire their Answer what Steps the Officers should persue as they are under Certificate    [13th June 1796 -  Brighton]
Edward Gallop now living at Newhaven applies for assistance to bring his family home to Hastings.  Ordered that it be left to the Overseers to manage as they can with him   [28th March 1827 - Hastings]
Eliza Smith [living in] Brighton wants Som Clothes Age 16   [1st April 1834 - West Grinstead]

Bastardy was a big issue, illegitimate children and their mothers often became the responsibility of the parish so the vestry were keen to offset the costs by identifying the father.  Parents who ran off and left their children were not popular either:
Ordered that William Warburton Newman be advertized for running away and leaving his wife and Children chargeable  [20th Mar 1797 bri]
Ordered that the overseers shall take such course as they may consider most adviseable to apprehend James Stilwell for bastardy with Ann Kemp  [23rd May 1832 - Hastings]

But of course the vestry was not always helpful to its residents:
Sarah Shoesmith a little Girl 12 years old applied for some Clothes.  Not allowed    [4th August 1825 - Hastings]
John Gates wants Work [to which the response was] Go in the [work]House    [13th October 1833 - West Grinstead]

East Sussex Record Office: Brighton St Nicholas HOW 34/17 Minutes of Vestries 1789-1799
East Sussex Record Office: Hastings St Mary in the Castle PAR369 12/2 Vestry notes 1774-1794
East Sussex Record Office: Hastings St Mary in the Castle PAR369 12/3 Vestry notes 1823-1851
West Sussex Record Office: West Grinstead PAR95 12/1 Vestry minute book 1833-1842

Friday, 17 August 2012

Who Do You Think You Are?

The new series of Who Do You Think You Are? started this week with Samantha Womack nee Janus, who is well known for her recent role in Eastenders.

Samantha Zoe Janus was born in Brighton in 1972, the only child of Noel Robert Janus and Diane O'Hanlon.  Her parents relationship broke down when she was about six years old and her parents separated, Samantha moving away with her mother.

Samantha's father remained in Sussex and according to newspaper reports had a difficult relationship with his daughter.  Noel Janus was born in 1949 in Kensington, the son of  Robert William Bough Janes and Doris Cunningham Ryan and he was half brother of Angie Best (wife of George Best).  He continued to live in Brighton but suffering from depression, he committed suicide in 2009.

Noel's mother and Samantha's grandmother Doris still lives in Brighton but this line of the family were newcomers to Sussex and tracing her father's ancestry back you soon find yourself in Scotland, France and Dublin.

The episode was the usual well put together programme but as always it skipped over anything that was inconclusive, too complicated or unknown.

One thing that this episode did show was how names can vary, causing so many problems for researchers.  You don't have to go far back in Samantha's family history to find name complications - her birth was registered as Samantha Zoe Janus, daughter of Noel Janus but Noel's birth was registered as Noel Robert Janes.  Presumably Noel amended his surname to make it more distinctive
Noel Robert Janes aka Janus
(he was a singer songwriter).  Then there is Samantha's great grandmother who was known to the family as Beatrice Ryan nee Garraud - Gerraud is an unusual surname which has advantages but being unusual it is more likely to be misspelt.  No birth record can be found for Beatrice Gerraud, not because the surname was misspelt,  but because, as the programme shows, she was originally named Berthe Marie Garraud.  Her father was French which explains the choice of name, possibly it was Anglicized (as was her father's name from Pierre to Peter) or the orphanage may have felt Beatrice was a more 'suitable' name.  Later when Beatrice went to America with her mother she was recorded as Beatrice Finkle; her mother's new surname, so any searches for Beatrice have to take into account her different forenames and changing surnames.

As mentioned above the programme does gloss over some details which would stop the story flowing so smoothly.  We are told how Anthony and Beatrice were found in the 1901 census to be living in orphanages, an assumption was made that their mother Jessie had abandoned the children to go to America after her husband's death but of course she could have gone to America leaving them in the care of her husband who may have then died after she left.  That is, if he died at all.  I can't trace a record of his death even taking in to account the various versions of his name.  As there was no mention of when he died in the programme I doubt WDYTYA? found it either.

A bigger niggle is the relationship of Beatrice Garraud to Alexander Cunningham Ryan - WDYTYA? referred to Beatrice as the partner of Alexander and it is quite likely that they never married although this was never mentioned.  Alexander Ryan's attestation papers in 1914 shows his wife was Beatrice Winifred Pickford, they had married in 1908 in Plymouth.  This Beatrice was ignored by the programme

Alexander Ryan's unexplained wife
so we have no idea what happened to her.  There is an interesting family trend here - Samantha's parents were not married, her paternal grandparents were not married and it seems that her maternal great grandparents were not married either.  Unlike many modern families which break with tradition by not getting married, Samantha Janus broke family tradition when she did get married.

BBC Who Do You Think You Are? broadcast 16th August 2012 
GRO Birth Index -
Daily Mail - 25th August 2009
Argus - 7th September 2009

Friday, 3 August 2012

The importance of sources

When I started this blog I chose not to include my sources of information as I felt it would spoil the appearance of each entry and was unnecessary as I would be happy to pass on the sources to any interested parties.  Several things have happened recently which have reminded me how important it is to always provide sources for data.

I wrote earlier this month about the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar; I got interested in the subject having overheard a conversation where someone recounted the tale of people rioting because of their lost 11 days.  So far as I am aware this is an myth and I have searched the internet for any reference to somewhere where there was actual rioting without success but I did find many sites which recounted this event as fact without providing sources (if anyone knows of somewhere please let me know).

Since writing about Hannah Russell I have found a lot of references to her and the events of 1826 but again most of what I have found fails to give sources.

Of course, like me, the authors of these websites might have the sources and would be happy to provide them but a website or a blog survives for a long time.  The authors move on to new projects, paperwork is lost along with the references.   Websites can outlive the authors leaving no way to verify the work they have done without redoing it from the beginning.

Even if you have no intention of ever publishing your work it is still important to keep full and complete records of your searches - even those with negative results - as you may need to defend your connections later on and don't want to have to repeat searches.  I started my family history research when I was 12 years old and rushed in recording births, deaths and marriages without keeping much record by way of sources.  Now when I go back to those early records I have to re-do the research to confirm where I got the data from in the first place.

So I have learnt my lesson and will always quote my sources in the future!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

An alternative use for the census

Apparently censuses are used for other things than researching ancestry.  The 2011 England and Wales census has shown that the population has now reached the staggering figure of 56 million! There is a neat little animation on the BBC website which shows how our population has changed census to census.  

Friday, 27 July 2012

If only all gravestones were this helpful

I came across this very informative grave in the churchyard of All Hallows, Woolbeding.

Behind all that very useful information - I wish all graves included such detail - there is a sad story. 

Trevor Aston's father had a mental breakdown in 1929 and the family moved to Sussex where his mother got work in an orphanage in Woolbeding. Trevor was clever enough to get a place at Oxford and after graduating in 1949 with a first in modern history he became a tutor at Corpus Christi and he was to remain at Oxford for the remainder of his life. He was very active in the university especially in the library as his gravestone indicates but he suffered from manic behaviour with its highs and lows. His extreme behaviour had ended his first marriage and was in the process of finishing his second, he was an alcoholic, had alienated his colleagues and he was about to lose his job when he took an overdose of drugs on the 17th October 1985.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The Times Newspaper 2nd December 1985 / 26th November 1994

Friday, 20 July 2012

Murder most foul

Benjamin Russell was a smuggler and thief.  He was, however, a very small cog in a very big business.  He lived in Burwash and to supplement his income - he was probably a general labourer by day - he ran a small bar in his cellar selling the rum and beer that he was able to acquire via the smuggling trade.  His part of the smuggling trade saw him involved in activities which had to be undertaken late at night just as he did on a moonless night in May 1826.  He and his partner in crime, 19 year old Daniel Leney, set off at midnight to a nearby farm where they stole a large bag of grain.  To make life easier they separated the bag into two sacks and taking one each they set off for home.  Leney soon found he was some way ahead of Russell so he returned to find Russell struggling with the weight of the larger sack.  They swapped sacks and carried on but again Leney found himself ahead of Russell.  This time, however when he returned he found Russell's body lying on the ground.  He was dead.

Leney hid the sacks of grain and ran to Russell's house where he woke Russell's wife Hannah.  She in turn ran to her father in laws house and woke him.  It was 1am on Wednesday morning and all three were aware that if Benjamin Russell's body was found where it was everyone would know he had been up to no good and more importantly the farmer would know who had stolen his grain.  So Leney and Russell senior moved the body to a nearby wood and they concocted a tale which had Leney spending the night with the Russells before leaving with Benjamin Russell in the morning.

They hadn't thought it through however and people soon grew suspicious.  Where were you going at that time?  Why were you in the woods?  Why were you not with Russell when he died if you went out together?  Unfortunately peoples suspicions were not that Russell and Leney had been out stealing grain (that was probably common knowledge) but that Hannah, his wife, had done away with him.  After all they had argued a few weeks earlier, Hannah had claimed that he had another woman and she had been heard to say she wished him dead.  There was no doubt in the minds of the local population - it was murder most foul.

Hannah Russell and Daniel Leney were arrested.  Hannah for the murder of her husband and Leney for aiding & abetting her.  Although details of the smuggling came out at their trial it made no difference, the evidence from Russell's post mortem sealed their fate - a large amount of white powder had been found in his stomach which had been identified as arsenic.

Due to a technical issue their hangings were delayed but on the 3rd August 1826 at midday Daniel Leney was hung.  Hannah would no doubt have been hung soon after but for the intervention of Dr Gideon Mantell, the doctor, geologist & palaeontologist.  He had been present at the trial and had had doubts about the medical evidence given, even sending a note to the defence lawyer suggesting some lines of questioning - advice which had not been used.  Having not been present for the remainder of the trial he had assumed that there was other evidence which had lead to their conviction so when he found it was only the medical evidence and some circumstantial details he came forward and spoke to the High Sheriff.  He could prove it was not arsenic found in Benjamin Russell's stomach which along with other evidence that showed Russell had been having heart problems for several months prior to his death made it clear Russell had died a natural death resulting from a heart condition made worse by the exertion of carrying the sacks of grain.

Hannah was given a royal pardon and released from gaol.  Her compensation was enough money to get her home.  There was not much that could be done for Leney.