Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Kent Library and History Centre

Last week I visited the new Kent Library and History Centre for the first time.  Whilst most of my research is based in Sussex our ancestors were never that obliging and often strayed over the border.  Research in Kent has never been straight forward as some of Kent is covered by London archives, the Medway district is covered by the Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre in Strood whilst the remainder is split between what was the Centre for Kentish Studies in Maidstone and the Canterbury Cathedral Archives.  For much of this year research has been a non starter as the Centre for Kentish Studies closed last year and the Canterbury Cathedral Archives is currently closed for structural repairs.
The Centre for Kentish Studies has been replaced by the Kent Library and History Centre which opened its doors for the first time at the end of April.  The idea behind the combined library and archive is to make the archives more accessible to the people of Kent.  This is a great idea but it is one which hasn't been received too well by professionals and experienced researchers and I do wonder that if someone found the Centre for Kentish Studies too off-putting to visit, how will they cope with their first original document!

The new archive is wonderfully clean, light and airy but unless you are working with original documents you are effectively working in a library along with a myriad of other library users resulting in the complete opposite of a quiet working environment.  I was lucky enough to be given a computer in the archive room which apart from the lift with its constant announcements of 'doors opening', 'doors closing' and keeping everyone informed as to which floor it was on was much quieter.
During the closure period the staff have been working to digitise the parish registers and I am told that whilst they have started with those in the Rochester diocese they now have permission to include those in the Canterbury diocese.  This means that digitized parish registers can be viewed on a computer in the library and are far easier to read than on a microfilm or fiche reader although there seemed to be no controls for changing light balance or tone.  The disadvantage is that you find yourself on a computer working between someone doing their homework and someone else looking for a job or checking on their Facebook page.  Nothing wrong with that but when you are working on behalf of a client you want to be able to offer your best; the noise, distractions and having to ask to have your computer access extended every hour doesn't help.
To summarise the new Library and History Centre seems to be an attempt to make records more accessible to everyone but to the more cynical it seems to be an attempt to reduce costs.  The move to digital records is good especially if coverage extends to all of Kent but it is balanced out by a much poorer working environment.  Finally staff were helpful and friendly but lacking in answers as they are also adapting to a new system and learning how it works themselves.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Hanging in Horsham

Horsham gaol hung a soldier by the name of Edward Broadbent on the 11th August 1819.  He had shot a sergeant who had apparently been fairly tough on him and his fellow soldiers.  He reportedly said "there comrades, I did it for your benefit and I know my doom".
He knew he would be hung but he might have thought twice about committing the murder if he had known how badly his hanging was going to go.
The executioner decided to let his apprentice undertake the hanging and he was too slow leading to Broadbent taking matters into his own hands and jumping, but the rope was slightly too long so his feet ended up touching the ground.  Rather than start again with a longer rope it was decided the best solution was to dig away the ground under his feet until Broadbent was dead!!

Friday, 11 May 2012

West Grinstead National School 1873

The Forster Act of 1870 required schools to be set up in areas not already serviced by a school whilst the Elementary Education Act of the same year made attendance for children between the ages of 5 and 10 compulsory.  Education was not free and in rural areas parents often needed the help of their children at busy times, even if they could afford to send them to school.
West Grinstead National School was opened on the 13th January 1873 with Mr Charles Banbury as the master.

The log book illustrates the issues facing the school and its master as these excerpts from the school's first year show.

January 31st - The progress made in the school so far has been quite good as I could expect.  There is still a great dislike to home lessons of any kind.
February 7th - The most common excuse for not being regular at School is having to mind the baby.  This is also given as a reason for not learning  Home Lessons.
March 6th - Walter Dancy was punished today for refusing to come to school when requested by his mother.  He was fetched by two of the older boys.
March 26th - Alfred Ford punished to-day for refusing to do his home-lessons.
March 31st - James Tullet, after an absence of 9 weeks returned to school today
April 8th - 63 children present this afternoon being the highest number since the school opened.
April 28th - William Worsfold punished to-day, in the presence of his father for playing truant 3 days last week.
May 2nd - The reading of the children is not at all satisfactory.  They read in such a singing tone and this has got such fast hold upon them that it will be a very difficult task to improve it.  It is peculiar to the district, the people talk & learn in this tone, when in coversation &c.
June 6th - The School has been thin the whole of this week.  Several boys at work including one (Henry Mitchell) not over 8 years old.
June 17th - No singing to-day, the master having a bad head ache.
June 20th - The final Class very thin, hay-making having commenced.
July 16th - I still experience Great opposition to home Lessons, messages are continually brought which show there is a determination to get rid of them if possible.  E.g. Louise Comber brought word to school this morning that she should leave it if she had lessons to learn.  She has learnt them till the last fortnight.  The only excuse is "mother says I shall not learn them".
July 18th - One boy in the 2nd class is still unable to do simple Addition notwithstanding I have given more personal attention to him than any other viz. James Hillman.
July 22nd - Received a note from Mrs Comber threatening to take her step-daughter Louisa away from the school unless the "home lessons are discontinued".
September 12th - Annie Bacon left to go to service.
September 17th - Annie Bacon not going to service and returned to school.
September 29th - School thin today, some excused for gathering fruit.  The most probable cause is a cricket match on the common.
October 13th  - The attendance is thin to-day being wet.
December 8th  - There has not been any school since November 25th.  The master was taken ill that evening but has commenced again today.
January 9th  - The Attendance is not so good as was the week previous to Xmas.  We complete the first year, since the school was opened to-day.  The progress of those children who have attended well, during the year is to my satisfaction with very few exceptions.  As a rule I find those who pay an extra fee attend very badly.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

James Fairminer - a census puzzle

Tracing someone in the census can prove very frustrating at times, some people just do not want to be found! 
 I came across James Charles Fairminer whilst researching someone else and tracing him proved a challenge on its own. He appears in the 1881 census living in East Meon in Hampshire as a lodger with the Hobbs family. James is 22 years old and an agricultural labourer, he is with his wife Kate who is 25 years old, 6 year old Sarah Hobbs (who is described as an illegitimate daughter) and 8 month old Ann Fairminer.  Sarah is the daughter of Kate but it is unlikely that James is the father given he would only have been around 16 years old when she was born. As Sarah's surname is Hobbs it suggests that Kate was a Hobbs prior to her marriage and that she is therefore related to the family they are living with. 
As it turns out, James Charles Fairminer had married Kate Hobbs in 1880 and around six months later their daughter Ann was born in East Meon in Hampshire. Kate was the daughter of Mark and Mary Hobbs, she was born in 1855 in Steep just outside Petersfield. Both James and Kate can be traced back through the censuses to the 1861 census when James was 2 years old and living in Cheam with his parents James and Ann Fairminer, whilst a 5 year old Kate was with Mark and Mary Hobbs and her many siblings all living in Steep.
 Something must have happened during the next ten years as the 1891 census finds Kate still living in East Meon but as Kate Hobbs not Kate Fairminer. With her is Sarah who is now 17 years old and working as a domestic servant. There is no sign of James Fairminer. Searching all subsequent censuses finds no entries for James Fairminer and a search of deaths registered finds no evidence for his death either. Ann Fairminer daughter of James and Kate is also absent from the census but as it turns out she died shortly after her first birthday. 
There are many reasons someone can be appear to be missing from the census such as indexing errors and misspelt surnames but I did eventually find James Fairminer because the one detail which he was fairly consistent with in all his other censuses was that he was born in Cheam in 1859. I found James C Bridger in the 1891 census with his wife Elizabeth and two children; James aged 3 years and William aged 1 year. He is clearly entered as Bridger and not Fairminer so appears to simply share the same year and place of birth as James Fairminer except for the fact that he is living next door to a George Fairminer. A further search confirms that George Fairminer is a brother to James Fairminer and that Bridger is the maiden name of James and George's mother. So it appears that when James Fairminer's marriage to Kate Hobbs broke down Kate resumed her single life and James Charles Fairminer reinvented himself as James Charles Bridger. And as James Bridger he (bigamously) married Elizabeth Benham in 1885 and brought up his new large family - all as Bridgers. 
Divorce became more accessible in 1857 but it still offered only limited options; you could not divorce simply because you no longer wanted to be married to each other. So many couples continued as they had done in the past to separate and move away resuming a single life, just as Kate Hobbs and James Fairminer/Bridger did. 
Hopefully any Bridgers tracing their family back to James Bridger will be able to bridge the gap to James Fairminer.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Praise the Lord in Herstmonceux

The story behind this cottage in Herstmonceux is that the property was owned by two elderly ladies who were possibly Methodists but certainly were anti alcohol.  When the property over the road to them opened as the Brewers Arms they were not amused and planted an cotoneaster which was clipped into shape to read Praise the Lord and to make all aware of their dislike of a drinking establishment so close to their home.
Like many stories that get passed down I am not sure which parts are correct and which parts have been ebellished; the Brewers Arms has been around since the 15th century (or so it claims) so either the Methodist ladies were very very old or it was already a pub when they moved into the property.
Regardless of this it became well known throughout Sussex and coach tours would deviate to show the it to the tourists and the cottage became known as Praise the Lord Cottage.  It was like that for many years but eventually the house sold in 1957 and the new owners found that the plant had died and had it removed.  The granddaughter of the previous owners apparently was so unhappy about this that she placed a curse on the new owners!!   The curse seems to have had little effect on the new owners who lived their until the 1980s and renamed the property as Cotoneaster Cottage.  

The cottage even had a poem written about it which begins:

Down in Sussex, green and sweet,
In village quaint of Gardner Street,Stands a dwelling, clean and neat.
" Praise the Lord."

The property is still there although it looks very different now, in the last few decades it has been a bakery, a tearoom, an estate agents, a home interiors shop and is currently a hairdressers.