Friday, 29 June 2012

Visitation of God

I found myself  looking at coroners records this week.  It is curious to see the variety of different ways in which people manage to die, both deliberately or accidentally.

One entry I found concerned Philadelphia Sherwood who died in 1816.  She was baptised in Fletching on the 14th April 1788 the daughter of John and Susanna Slarks and on the 16th September 1816 at the age of 28 years she married James Sherwood in Brighton.  She died suddenly only a few months later and was buried at St Nicholas on the 15th December 1816.  The cause of death was determined to be ‘visitation of God’.

This is not an unusual cause of death and can be understood to mean that the deceased was not expected to die and there was no obvious explanation for their death.  Centuries ago medical knowledge was more limited and doctors did not always understand why someone had died - they were largely limited to external symptoms and had little knowledge of what had happened internally.  Life was also much more spiritual so it made sense when someone had died with no external symptoms that it was explained in religious terms.

It became less acceptable as a cause of death in the mid nineteenth century; the death certificate introduced in 1837 had a column for cause of death which was initially optional but doctors were soon encouraged to give an accurate cause of death and if the Registrar-General was not happy with the cause of death entered on the certificate he could ask the doctor to provide a more accurate diagnosis.  You are less likely to find it as a cause of death from 1900 onwards.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Doctors, Dentists and Death

Doctors, Dentists and Deaths by Barrie Keech
This small book looks at the history of health in West Sussex as part of the West Sussex Heritage series.  The author has no expertise in the subject area, he admits he had little enthusiasm initially for the project and he also acknowledges that he is not an experienced writer.  However from this less than ideal start he has produced an interesting and informative account of the changes in medical practises in the last century and reminds us that not so long ago life was far more precarious - for example Keech tells us how Petworth had a poor supply of water; residents could collect water from public taps, two of which supplied good quality water but limited in quantity whilst the remainder supplied water which came from the nearby river Rother -  collected about half a mile below the spot where the town's sewage went into the river!  Not surprisingly Petworth had a higher rate of deaths than the rest of West Sussex.
This is a very readable account looking at the background to health issues in West Sussex, the work done by Dr Kelly, attitudes and treatment of mental illness, the devastating effect of epidemics and the introduction of vaccinations.  If you have ancestors in this area this book can provide some useful background information, if you don't have ancestors here it is still an eye opening account of the history of health.

Copies can be purchased from the West Sussex Record Office 


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Great British Story in Lewes

Events are being held in Lewes this weekend as part of the BBC series The Great British Story.  

The series shows history through the eyes of ordinary folk and there has been four episodes so far covering early history through to the effects of the black death and there are four more episodes to come (but not scheduled as yet).  The four episodes shown so far are available on i-Player but not for much longer.
Lots of events are planned around the country and on the 24th June it is the turn of Lewes.

There are several walks organised (booking required - 01273 486290)

11.30 & 2pm - 'Sussex past' a guided walk unravelling Sussex streets
1pm & 3pm - 'Battle of Lewes' a short guided walk around the castle precincts
1pm & 3pm - 'Historical Lewes' - walking tour of Lewes

There are events planned at the East Sussex Record Office (book at the record office on the day) including:
Behind the scenes tours - each tour is 45 minutes and must be booked in advance - 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3pm
Conservation workshops - learn about conserving old documents and photos - each session is 40 minutes long and must be booked in advance - 11am, 12 midday, 1pm and 3pm

Further events at All Saints Centre
11.30 - 'Lewes before Lewes' talk by Professor John Blair (fully booked)
1pm - BBC Great British Story videos and films on Tom Paine, The Lewes Flood of 2000 and the Phoenix Ironworks (no booking required)
2pm - 'History of street names and twittens of Lewes' talk by Kim Clark (fully booked)

Also at Westgate Chapel
Find out the history of the 'secret library' - open 12.30 to 3pm
Opposite the chapel you can learn about the history of printing with demonstrations of the Thomas Paine printing press

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

1840 US Federal Census

There has been a lot of publicity for the 1940 American Federal census which has just been made available (although not yet completely indexed) so I took a look to find someone who began their life in Sussex but had moved to America by 1940.
Charles John Coley married Sarah Ann Walder on the 23rd February 1879 in Brighton.  Quite how Charles earned his income is not clear as he is variously recorded as a huckster, engineer, sailor and steam yacht engine driver!  Charles and Sarah had a number of children including Amelia Hannah, Phillip Andrew, Attree John, Elsie Adelaide, Florence Minnie, Albert Kemp and Percy Maurice. 
We are interested in Elsie; she was baptised in Chailey (as Alsie Adeline) on the 31st August 1884 and by the time she 18 years old she was working as a housemaid at the Belvedere Hotel in Brighton which is probably how she met her husband.  On the 31st December 1908 Elsie married Theodor Nierhoff who was originally from Bochum in Germany and was now working as a waiter in England.  Their only child Edward Kemp Nierhoff was born on the 21st September 1909  in Southwark, London.
Being German and living in England at the time of the First World War would not have been easy so Theodore and Elsie left for America with their young son.  
I haven't traced Edward in the 1940 census yet but the 1930 census finds him with his parents in New York and working as a draughtsman.
By the time of the 1940 census Theodore and Elsie are living at 2213 East 18th Street in New York and next door to them is Elsie's sister Florence who is married to Robert Norman.  Theodor is still working as a waiter whilst Moving to America appears to have been a good move for Elsie and Theodor, they retired  to Clackamas in Oregon where  Elsie lived to be 84 years (she died on the 22nd June 1970) and Theodor was 87 years old when he died on the 29th January 1972.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Rudyard Kipling

Joseph Rudyard Kipling, author of the poem If and the Jungle Books amongst many others, was born in 1865 in Bombay but returned to England as a young child.  The 1881 census finds him aged 15 years at school in Devon but as he didn't prove academic enough for a scholarship to Oxford he took on the job of assistant editor of a local newspaper in Lahore, Punjab (now Pakistan).  He was soon writing stories for the newspaper and when he left in 1889 it was to return to London where he wrote his first novel.  By 1892 he was married to Carrie Balestier, an American (the bride was given away by Henry James) and the couple moved to Vermont where they intended to remain, but anti British feeling (due to political issues) and problems with Carrie's brother (as a result of his drinking problem) ruined their time there so they packed their bags and along with their two children returned to England.
Although they initially moved to Devon they soon found themselves living in Rottingdean in East Sussex but Kiplings fame had grown and they soon found the house was too accessible to gawpers and too full of memories of their eldest daughter who died in 1899.  In 1902 they bought a house in Burwash which "we have loved it ever since our first sight of it"  Batemans, as the house was called, had been built in 1634 for a Wealden ironmaster and at the time Kipling purchased it, it was run down with no bathroom, no running water upstairs and no electricity.

The Kiplings remained at Batemans and they created a beautiful home.  Kipling was very keen on technology and soon had a car beginning with a steam powered car before he acquired a Rolls Royce in 1911.  Within weeks of his arrival at Batemans he had altered the mill so that instead of grinding corn it drove a generator and provided electricity to the house (three hours worth of running the generator created enough electricity to power the lights for four hours an evening).
Kiplings life at Batemans was torn apart by the First World War; they had already lost their eldest daughter, now their only son John died just weeks after arriving in France - he was just 18 years old.  In addition to their grief Kipling had the guilt that he had used his connections to get John a commission when he had already been twice turned down due to his poor eyesight.  John Kiplings body was not identified in Kiplings life time and this may in part be the reason Kipling became involved with the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission).  He advised on inscriptions and is responsible for the phrase "Their Name Liveth For Evermore" and "Known unto God" used on larger war graves and for unknown soldiers graves respectively.
Kipling continued to write but less prolifically and less successfully.  He suffered with stomach ulcers and could eat only very simple and plain food.  He died of a perforated ucler on the 18th January 1936 whilst in London.  His ashes are buried in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey.  His wife remained at Batemans until her death in 1939 when the property and its 330 acres were given to the National Trust as a memorial to Kipling.  The house can been seen today much as it was in Kiplings time.  

Saturday, 2 June 2012

St Marys, Chithurst

The tiny and isolated 11th century church of St Marys in Chithurst has not been changed much since it was built so it retains an air of history and simplicity.  Fortunately it escaped much of the Victorian enthusiasm for 'improvements' with only some changes to the windows.    

Parish registers for St Mary's are held at West Sussex Record Office and start from 1628 for baptisms, burials and marriages whilst the bishops transcripts start a little earlier in 1618. There is coverage on the International Genealogical Index for the period 1615-1819.

Chithurst comes under the Midhurst registration district until 1935 and then it is part of Midhurst & Petworth.

The parish is now included with the parish of Trotton and larger benefice of Rogate with Terwick and Trotton with Chithurst.  There are services here just once a month.