This year is Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, celebrating the richness of Scottish culture and its fascinating past. Here we investigate the evolution of Scotland’s distinctive plaids, kilts and tartans – a unique national dress recognised throughout the world.
Medieval Europe was sparsely populated; life expectancy was low by modern standards, with rates of infant mortality suggested at around 25% during the first year of life and half as many again dying before the child’s fifth birthday. If a person successfully survived childhood they could reasonably expect to live until their mid-forties, if they managed to avoid war and the dangers of childbirth. Those were big ifs, and they made the production of large families a necessity both in terms of continuity of line, title or land for those with assets to pass on (where success meant succession), and in providing additional hands to boost the family economy for others. With procreation taking on such importance – and being surrounded by such mystery – in this world, it was no wonder that so many beliefs and practices existed to encourage pregnancy.
Samuel Plimsoll, the Liberal MP remembered for the Plimsoll line on merchant ships, was born in Bristol on 10 February 1824. The son of Thomas Plimsoll, a supervisor of excise, and Priscilla Willing, his family moved to Penrith in Cumberland when he was very young and then to Sheffield. It was his concern for the ordinary seamen on overloaded vessels and his fight in Parliament that led to the adoption of the Plimsoll line, used on merchant ships to this day.
Popular in Britain since the 18th century, dolls’ houses were traditionally collectable items for adults rather than children’s toys. Originally the preserve of the wealthy, they were used for displaying valuable miniatures that were exact replicas of household objects, and were usually specially commissioned from some of the finest craftsmen. It was not until the Victorian era that they started to become playthings. Soon they were being mass produced, taking away their exclusivity and making them more widely accessible. Many dolls’ houses of the past have survived, giving us a detailed and accurate glimpse into our ancestors’ lives as they reflect the architectural styles, domestic lives and attitudes of the past.
TheGenealogist is adding to its Court & Criminal records by publishing online a new collection of Quarter Session rolls and books from Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Surrey and Middlesex covering dates from as far back as the 16th century and up to, in some cases, the Victorian period.
The skirt is almost the oldest garment known to mankind, second only to the loin cloth. Basic rectangles of woven fabric were worn by ancient civilisations such as the ancient Egyptians, by both men and women: indeed, skirts have sometimes represented male attire, as demonstrated in this month’s feature on kilts and tartan (see page four). Nonetheless, the skirt is considered chiefly a feminine article and even as recently as the 1910s, the words ‘skirt’ and ‘petticoat’ were shorthand for ‘woman’.
The trail that an ancestor leaves through the Victorian period and the 20th century is relatively easy to follow – the records are plentiful, accessible and commonly used. But how do you go back further, into the centuries before the central registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced in 1837, before the first detailed census records of 1841? How can you trace a family line back through the early modern period and perhaps into the Middle Ages? Jonathan Oates’s clearly written new handbook gives you all the background knowledge you need in order to go into this engrossing area of family history research. He starts by describing the administrative, religious and social structures in the medieval and early modern period and shows how these relate to the family historian. Then in a sequence of accessible chapters he describes the variety of sources the researcher can turn to, including church and parish registers, manorial and property records, and many more.
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