Reading through historic newspapers and court records, it’s hard to believe sometimes that there was anyone living in England in the 19th century who wasn’t committing bigamy. When divorce cost money, and could only be granted for specific reasons, it was often easier when a marriage broke down to end it informally – to separate or simply move on with other people. Although this was easier for men than women to do (wives often having the complication of children to maintain, leading to cases of desertion where women had to try and track their husbands down to pay maintenance), both parties could end up living with new partners when their previous spouse was still alive, or even going through a marriage ceremony. In some cases, the bigamous partner might insist that they thought their previous partner had died, and that therefore they could legally marry again. This was not as outlandish an idea as it might seem; communications, although good in the 19th century, were not as quick or easy as our own, and it was fairly common for an individual to be able to seemingly disappear, having moved to a different area, or even different country, to start a new life. Yet communication was also good enough for many a bigamous man or woman to find themselves tracked down and made to account for their actions.
Searching within records that contain our ancestors’ details can often indicate whether they worked for years at one job or changed occupations several times throughout their lives. We may find that they started out doing one thing and then over the years gravitated to another, altogether different occupation. I remember being excited when I started out researching to find that my ancestor had been a worker in H.M. Dockyard at Portsmouth. They had begun in their home town as a ropemaker, took this skill with them to the naval port, learned maritime competency and ended up back at home in charge of the then modern steam-powered railway ferry.
It is very poignant to discover that you have an ancestor who committed suicide. Even if it occurred centuries ago, we can still empathise with the desolation or pain that must have prompted this most extreme of decisions. In the past, suicide or felo de se was rated as unique among crimes as the 18th century solicitor general, William Blackstone, explained
The Family History Show Online – organised in association with Discover Your Ancestors and sponsored by TheGenealogist, is returning this month so that once more you can enjoy all the features of a physical family history show, but from the comfort of your own home. The show will take place on Saturday 19th February.
TheGenealogist has released records of 72,663 individuals so that researchers will be able to discover useful details about ancestors’ homes from the following London areas in 1910: Albany, Belsize, Camden Town, Chalk Farm, Euston, Grays Inn Road, Highgate East, Highgate West, Kilburn, Priory and Adelaide Parish (Hampstead), St Andrew East, St Andrew West, St Giles East, St Giles North, St Giles South, Saffron Hill, Somers Town and Tottenham Court Road.
Grown, processed and worn exclusively in hot climates for millennia, by c.1200 small quantities of cotton were being imported from Venice to England and from the 1510s Levantine cotton reached Britain directly, being used for stuffing, quilting and yarn for candlewicks. The production of cotton goods within Britain was first recorded in the late 1500s and by the mid-1600s Lancashire had become a significant fustian-producing region, manufacturing much of the 40,000 lengths of fustian (cotton and linen mixes) produced in England annually, mainly using raw cotton from Cyprus and Smyrna (Turkey).
It is often when a resource is becoming scarce that the need to preserve some of it is considered. In the 19th century, open land which was accessible by all inhabitants of an urban area was such a resource. The unbridled growth of the factory economy from the end of the 18th century, and the sprawling, unplanned slums which sprang up as accommodation for factory workers in the emerging industrial towns in the North, the Midlands and in the East End of London, rapidly deprived poorer people of access to open space in the scant hours when they were free to amuse themselves.
What springs to mind when you think of British Victorian men and women? – manners, manners and more manners. Behaviour that was as rigid and constricted as the corsets women wore. From iron-knicker sexual prudery to men so uptight they furtively released their pent up emotions in opium dens and prostitute hot spots. All, of course, exaggerated clichés worthy of a Victorian melodrama
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