Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Christmas in Sussex

The appropriately named Richard Christmas was baptised on Christmas Day 1838 in Chiddingly.

Christmas is one of the rarer surnames (it is ranked 26,344th in the world) but it is not so unusual in Sussex.  It may have its origins with a 12th century Cristemass family although it is often thought to be a surname given to those involved in organising Christmas celebrations or to someone born at Christmastime.

Richard Christmas’s family were sometimes recorded as Christmas but more frequently their surname was spelled Chrismas.

Richard's father was Treyton Chrismas who was born around 1810, possibly the son of James and Sarah Chrismas of Wartling.  Treyton married Mary Ann Sargeant on the 22nd September 1833 in Ticehurst (this made his wife Mary Christmas and the marriage was witnessed by Henry Cole aka Old King!).  

Treyton and Mary had a large family beginning with Frances baptised in Ninfield in 1834 and followed by Orpah (1835), Benjamin (1837) and Richard; all baptised in Chiddingly.  The family then moved to Battle where Treyton farmed at Beech Farm and the family grew with the addition of Mary (1840), Tilden (1841), Jane (1843), Trayton (1844), Thomas (1847), Charles (1848), Sarah Elizabeth (1850) and Frederick George (1851).
Jane doesn’t appear in the 1851 census with the family so it’s probable she died in infancy despite the lack of burial record and there is no baptism record for Thomas but he appears with the family in 1851.  Treyton junior died in 1846 but all other children appear to survive to adulthood.  The 1851 census entry refers to a daughter named Charlotte but this appears to be an enumerator error as Charlotte was actually Charles.

Treyton and Mary’s youngest son was born posthumously after his father died on the 3rd May 1851 aged just 43 years.  His will is straightforward and leaves everything to his wife who moved to Hastings where she continued to bring up their young family.

Richard, according to the 1861 census, trained as a blacksmith and by 1861 was working just down the road from his mother’s house.  He married Mahalath Dabney in 1860 when he was just 21 years old and she was only 18 years.  A year later their daughter Mahalath Jane was baptised in St Leonards church on the 7th April 1861.

Mahalath was to remain an only child, Richard sadly died just a few years later at the age of only 25 years.  By 1871 Mahalath was living with her maternal grandparents, William and Sarah Dabney, in Hastings her mother had probably remarried but this cannot be confirmed at present.  In about 1880 Mahalath met Constantine Maguire who was working at a drapery shop in Hastings high street.  They soon found themselves having to marry and just a few weeks later their eldest son Horace was baptised.  Horace was followed by May Frances in 1883 and after moving to Newhaven they also had Hubert Joseph in 1888.

Like her father Richard, and her grandfather Treyton, Mahalath died young.  She was only 28 years old when she died in Lewes.  Constantine and their three children moved in with his parents.  Constantine never remarried, by 1901 he was working in an iron foundry as a foreman in Lewes but by 1911 he was a house painter in Eastbourne.  He may have died in 1924 in London.

Richard’s grandchildren were slightly longer lived than their mother, grandfather and great grandfather.  Horace began working as a footman in Kensington before setting up his own business as a newsagent in Pimlico.  He married Rosa Blatchford in 1912 and they had three children Anthony (1914) and twins Mary and Winifred (1917).  He died in 1963 at the age of about 73 years.  His sister May never appears to have married. She worked as a school nurse in Lewes for a while and died in Somerset at the age of 83 years.  Their younger brother, Hubert, began by following the same career path as Horace as the 1911 census shows him working as a footman in Marylebone.  He married Jane Leachman in 1915 in Lincolnshire and they had two children Albert (1918) and Alaric (1924).  Hubert was the first of the three siblings to die - he died in 1947 at the age of 58 years.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The oldest occupation

Our female ancestors did not have particularly easy lives, they were effectively second class citizens, answerable to their fathers and then their husbands, with little freedom to make their own way in life.
Most women worked hard too.  Unless they belonged to the upper class with lots of servants at their beck and call then they would be kept busy taking care of their children and home without the benefit of modern conveniences.  Many women had employment too; in the towns many worked in millinery, teaching and in retail.  
One occupation which gave women a bit of independence, although at a high price, was prostitution.  As prostitutes women had more choice, they could to some extent choose when and where to work, they control over their income and a freedom from the social restrictions which governed other women.  It was not always an employment option that the women wanted to take but often one they were left with little choice but to take.

It is not easy to identify prostitutes in the census but concentrating on the 1881 census I was able to identify a few with links to Sussex.

Margaret Robinson was resident in Ypres Castle Prison in Rye in 1881, she was 26 years old and had lived in Rye all her life.  Her occupation was recorded as prostitute but this had been crossed out and replaced with ‘no occupation’.  

Fanny Smith was living in Derby Place in Brighton where she worked as a prostitute.  She was born around 1848 in Sussex and is recorded as being married although there is no husband living with her.

Kate Coombs and Frederica Grigson probably never knew each other but in 1881 their lives had brought them to a similar outcome.  Both were born in Brighton in around 1862 and in 1881 both were in prison for prostitution, Kate in Dorchester and Frederica in Westminster.

Two Sussex women were suffering the unpleasant consequences of their occupation; Ann Leggett was born in Petworth in about 1859 whilst Annie Petersfield was born in Brighton in about 1847 but by 1881 both were resident in lock hospitals.  Lock hospitals were hospitals which specialised in venereal disease. Annie was in an Aldershot lock hospital whilst Ann was in one in Paddington.

Sarah Pipman, born in Brighton in around 1859, was living in London in 1881 where she lodged with the Painter family whilst she worked as a prostitute.

Most women did not want to be labelled as prostitutes in the census.  Most of the women above were in circumstances which did not give them control over how they were presented in the census.  Often women would record their occupation as anything but prostitute, seamstress is a common alternative occupation and in many cases the women may have had two jobs, working a regular job and earning a bit extra on the side.

Sometimes it is possible to identify women who probably worked as prostitutes even though they are not listed as doing so in the census.  Carrie Wood says she was born in Brighton in 1831 but by 1881 she is living in Mint Street in Southwark, an area noted by Charles Booth for its prostitutes.  None of the women lodging along with Carrie are listed as prostitutes but of the 23 residents only one is a man and one is a child of 23 days.  The ages of the women vary from 18 years to 64 years and their occupations vary from ironers to seamstresses to laundresses and a variety of other low income jobs.  Carrie and another women are listed as ‘unfortunate’.  The likelihood is that this is either a brothel or a lodging house where the majority of the residents earn their income from prostitution.  It is also likely that few of them gave their real names as there are 2 Browns, 2 Smiths and 6 Jones within the group.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it is hard to locate these women in other censuses. Margaret Robinson and Ann Leggett can be located in earlier censuses but I have yet to find the other women in the earlier censuses and have found none of them in later censuses nor can I identify any obvious marriages or burials.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Miser of Mayfield

William Luck was buried in Mayfield in 1704 and as his burial record shows he was worth a bit more than expected - especially as he was getting handouts from the parish in order to get by:

13 [Dec 1704] Willm Luck had Releife of ye Parish Dyed with Eighty pounds by him

According to Measuring Worth ( his £80 is equivalent of between £11,000 (based on standard of living value) to more than £1 million (based on economic value).

The discovery of that money must have had the parish officials gnashing their teeth!  

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

One thousands years of criminal justice

Yesterday the Keep held one of its lunch time talks; this one was given by Christopher Wittick and was looking a thousand years of criminal justice in Sussex.

Chris looked at the history of our justice system from trial by battle in the post Conquest period through to Henry II's Assize of Clarendon which saw the start of trial by jury and eventually the development of the Quarter Sessions and the Assizes.

It was only a short talk so there was little time to go into any detail but it was interesting  for me to see that early on crime was seen as affecting only the person against whom the crime was committed (and his/her immediate family), it was only in the 12th century that people began to feel that crime affected all of society.  

As always it is the gruesome details which stick in one's memory; hanging was always the more generally accepted method of execution but in the Cinque Ports, including Hastings, they had a far more locality based method - they threw people off the cliff!  Also for a short period in the 16th century poisoners could be executed by boiling - apparently it was first used in 1531 after the Bishop of Rochester was served poisoned porridge!

It was an excellent talk and I look forward to their next one.  None appear to be scheduled at present but keep an eye on their events website.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

A woman's place

I have just signed the petition to have mothers names included on marriage certificates, something I feel very strongly about.  In this day and age it is ludicrous that mothers are not included - not just to help the family historians of the future but far more importantly to recognise we are just as significant as our spouses - and in many cases it is the mothers who are primary carers in their children's lives.

Having done that I was then reading the Sussex Advertiser from the 8th July 1851 and came across the following entry:

Distressing case:- At the termination of the magisterial proceedings, a poor
woman named Martin appealed to the Bench under the following 
circumstances - She stated for months past she had been a martyr
to the ill-treatment of her husband.  She had been married for 15 years
had had several children and yet he not only refused to contribute
to their support but would frequently beat her in the most unmerciful
manner; the last time had had done so having been on Friday week.  Her
object was to preserve herself from his ruffianly attacks and she therefore
sought the advice of the Bench.  Mr Deane said that the proper course
would have been to have obtained a summons against the man after
the assault on the day mentioned by the woman.  So long a time had
now elapsed that the only suggestion he could make was that she had
better let him do it again (laughter).

Unbelievable!  Well, they were only 'ruffianly attacks', that doesn't sound too bad at all. At least once the Bench had stopped laughing and enjoying themselves they did agree to bring her husband in front of them to answer for his conduct.

I guess Mr Deane would not be in favour of mother's being given equal billing on the marriage licence!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

All Saints Church in Buncton has to be one of the prettiest churches I have visited and it is certainly one of the most photogenic.  It also has one of the nicest approaches - there is a rather muddy path (there is no road access) down the side of a small valley, over the bridge and up the other side, with almost no sound except for the birds singing away in the trees , then around a corner you'll find the church in one of the counties most tranquil and peaceful locations.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Pipewell Gate, Winchelsea

The Pipewell or Ferry Gate was built in the early 14th century along with three others to allow access into the new town of Winchelsea.  The road from this gate led down to the ferry across the river Brede.  The gate was destroyed in 1380 during a French raid but rebuilt in around 1404.  

Sunday, 30 March 2014

1939 National Register

Researching our ancestors over the last 100 years can sometimes be much harder than researching them 200 years ago.  

The last available census is the 1911, when the 1921 census is released in 2022 that will be it until the 1951 census is released in 2052 (by which time I will, no doubt, be with my ancestors!) as the Second World War saw the destruction of the 1931 census and prevented the taking of the 1941 census.

But now Findmypast is working with the National Archives to digitise and make available the 1939 Register which was taken towards the end of that year in preparation for the issuing of identity cards and ration books.  It will be invaluable resource to help to fill in those 30 years between 1921 and 1951.

To learn more see Findmypast

To be kept up to date on progress

If you don't want to wait two years you can, in some circumstances, apply for the information now from here

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Mass Observation

                                                                        The Mass Observation collection is part of the archives at the Keep and it is very different type of record to those I am more familiar with as a genealogist.

Mass Observation started because there were several events of national importance around 1936/7 such as the abdication of Edward VIII which were endlessly discussed by politicians and in the newspapers but the voice of the man in the street was unheard.  The idea behind the Mass Observation was to find out what was happening with the everyday folk.  It was to some extent a middle class study of the working class but the result is an amazing collection of records, diaries, images and documents that would not have survived if  a small group of young men had not decided to undertake an anthropological study of 'ourselves'.

Mass Observation ended in the 1950's as its focus moved more towards consumer behaviour and away from social study but in the 1970s its collection of material came to Sussex University where it was made available to researchers.  A lot of books have been published as a result of this information, and even a film - Housewife, 49 - which Victoria Wood wrote and starred in based on the diaries kept for the Mass Observation by Nella Last.

Interest in Mass Observation was revived in the 1981 and there is now a panel of nearly 500 people who are asked to write on a variety of topics.  That the information is always provided anonymously is thought to encourage the panel to write truthfully and to give details that they might not normally admit to.

12th May 2014If you would like to add to the archive you get the chance in a few months time - in 1937 everyone was invited to write a diary on the 12th May (which turned out to be the coronation of George VI) and this is being repeated this year - everyone who wants to can write a diary of their day from the moment they get up until they go to bed that night.  Whilst it is unlikely to be as eventful a day as 12th May 1936 turned out to be, it is the very ordinariness which provides the insights into our daily life's which we can leave for our descendants to look at and be amazed.  After all if it was not for the Mass Observation Project we wouldn't know that in 1943 liking your spouse was thought to be more important (61%) to loving them (21%) if you wanted a happy marriage or that real coffee (as opposed to instant) came into our lives in Christmas 1986.

Monday, 17 February 2014

A little too large!

As the librarian for the Sussex Family History Group I am currently sorting through a lots of boxes which haven't been opened for some time.  The latest box included a transcript of a press cutting of the burial of William Agate in Horsham in 1827.

According to this report, when William Agate died he was 'very corpulent' and weighed 126 stone.  Some internet research suggests that 126 stone was probably an exaggeration as even in our obese world people weighing 100+ stone are rare although obesity is not a problem limited to our century, it existed in 18th centuries onwards amongst the wealthy and middle classes who had access to foods in excess.

William was actually described as being 126 stone 'horsemans weight'.  This does not mean William was the right weight to ride a horse (if he did weigh 126 stone he would have been the same weight as a fairly large horse!) instead it is to do with how the value of a stone was calculated.

Back in the Middle Ages there was no standardised 'stone' weight and each community would use a rock or stone of about the right weight to measure out each sale but with the growth of international trade a stone was fixed at a specific weight - but at a different weight depending on the item.  A stone of wool was 14lbs, whilst a stone of wax was 12lbs and a stone of sugar weighed 8lbs. 

A horsemans weight meant that a stone weighed 14lbs (as it does now) so according to the London Express of the 19th July 1827 William Agate weighed 126 stone or 1,764lbs (800kgs).

If his weight was exaggerated then hopefully the size of his coffin was too as the article says it was 17ft by 13ft and 12ft deep.  The General Baptist church graveyard in Horsham is not the biggest and a coffin this size would have required the most of the graveyard to be dug up to make a hole big enough for it!!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Keep

As I was predisposed to like the Keep, the new archive in East Sussex, this  might not be the most unbiased review.

I have two roles within the Keep; one as a researcher whilst the other is as the librarian for the Sussex Family History Society (SFHG) who are a tenant partner of the Keep.  The SFHG have a room at the Keep which houses our library and because of this I have spent a lot of time at the Keep, particularly before they opened.  

I also do a lot of research at the Kent History and Library Centre, the new Kent archive which opened two years ago so it is interesting to make a comparison between these two very different archives.

To begin with, as you might have guessed, I do like the Keep, a lot.  There is without doubt lots that can be done to improve it but many of the problems are inevitable with a new archive which is made up of three different repositories all now working as one (East Sussex record office, Brighton History Centre and the Special Collections of the Sussex University).

The Keep bears no relation to the previous home of the East Sussex record office (ESRO) at the Maltings.  Previously researchers worked in cramped conditions in the attic at the Maltings whilst documents were stored in various locations around Sussex - none of them ideal for old and vulnerable documents.  Now all the records, and those of the Brighton History Centre (BHC) and Mass Observation collection are housed in National Archive standard conditions in the repository block.  There is a reference room (into which you could fit the old ESRO research room in three or four times over) plus a similarly sized reading room.  The reference room contains the library, the computers and the microfilm readers, whilst original documents can be viewed in the reading room.  Staff have better facilities too, there is a digitization suite and a conservation suite (which slightly resembles a torture chamber with its presses and giant guillotine).  There are three multifunction rooms which can be used as one single space, giving room for exhibitions, school visits, lectures and meeting rooms.

Many of the problems with the Keep are in the process of being resolved.  An initial problem was that the new document order system asked you to reserve your original documents for either a morning or afternoon session.  If you ordered it for the morning but got side tracked with other research you would find the document had been returned to the depository by the time you went to view it.  A temporary fix allowed you to order documents for both sessions but now the system has been amended so researchers just select the day they want to view a document.  

Staff are another issue.  Staff from both ESRO and BHC are working together, both have different specialities and training. There is also a lot of new equipment and it does appear that there has been little training on how to use it.  There is also a lack of staff, I'm not sure if it is because staff have left or because more staff are needed but there is a high percentage of temporary staff who seem to have little or no expertise in family history or local studies research but they have been put in charge of helping in the reference room.  Again, this appears to be addressed as the temporary staff do appear to have been relocated to the reception desk and other areas where less expertise is needed and a longer term solution is underway as jobs are now being advertised to increase the number of staff.

As much as I like the Keep, I dislike the Kent History and Library Centre (KLHC).   The Keep is a quiet environment with plenty of space, the KHLC is a library, unless you need to view original documents you share the space with children attending rhyme time, youths checking on their Facebook page and pensioners collecting their large print books - nothing wrong with any of that, but not an ideal environment for historical research.

I spend a lot of time looking at parish registers most of which are stored on microfilm, at both archives.  At KHLC they have a few of the old style microfilm readers and some new modern ones which are connected to a computer so that the image is displayed on the screen giving a far better image than the older microfilm readers.  The problem with these new machines is they are clunky, clumsy and virtually unusable.  Staff don't know how to use the machines so you are to a large extent on your own with them.  Another issue is that although you can enlarge the microfilm on the screen you can only print out the original page as an A4 document - no enlargement.  Having had experience and not been impressed by the machines at KHLC I approached the new ones at the Keep with trepidation, they are also connected to the computer and its fair to say the staff aren't expert with them but unlike the ones in Kent these are a joy to use!  They do require some computer savvy to use as you'd expect but once you get the hang of it and the touchscreen controls you have a good quality image which can be printed or saved to a usb drive.  If you don't like using the microfilm readers then the Keep has another benefit - digital images of all the microfilmed parish registers.  One day these will be available on all the computers but at present they are limited to two standalone pc's.

The role of the Sussex Family History Group is varied.  We are there to provide a service for our members with our library (accessed from the reference room) and computer resources - it is important to remember that the SFHG covers all of Sussex, both West and East Sussex, so although we are based in the Keep we have a lot by way of West Sussex resources.  We also provide a service for non members although non members who visit more than once are gently encouraged to join us.  (Given that membership is just £11 a year which gives access to a fantastic baptism & burial index and much more it is a bargain!)  At the Keep we are also there to help the researchers in the Keep with their research, after all not everyone knows what they are doing, how to find what they need - at present we have volunteers there most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays as well as some Saturdays - if Brighton aren't playing at home (the Keep is just down the road from the new Brighton stadium).  The SFHG have been made to feel very welcome by the staff and we hope we add some value to those visiting the Keep.

Sadly the Keep does not have any late night opening but it does now open every Saturday and there is no longer any need to book in advance - there are seats in abundance.  Several people have commented that the Keep looks like a prison building, but whilst I am not a fan of modern architecture I find the building quite striking.  Internally there is a lot of space, a lot of white walls mixed in with some images.  I'll finish with a final contrast with the Kent archive - without doubt my most disliked feature of the KHLC are the communal toilets (really Kent, what were you thinking - in a library!!), but the Keep has nice, modern toilets with a separate ladies and gents & snazzy hand dryers, what more could you want!!