Looking for our ancestors who led the lives of good citizens and followed trades and professions is hard enough, but trying to shine a torch into the dark corridors of prisons in British history presents a number of problems, not the least of which is the lack of coherent and reliable records. In the 1990s this situation was not helped by the fact that prison governors were given the option of destroying some categories of records or sending them to county record offices. Some – not all, thankfully – were perhaps not advised by historians regarding which papers to save.
While in these unprecedented times we are not going to be able to meet as usual at York in June for our customary Family History Show at the racecourse, the good news is that we are still going to be able to safely enjoy access to many of the usual features of the show. The Family History Show will be coming to you as an online event on 20 June, featuring a wide range of virtual stalls from family history societies to archives and genealogical suppliers, as well as Discover Your Ancestors itself!
It is nice to be considered an ‘expert’ (even if, as a good friend reminds me, an ‘ex’ is a has-been and a ‘spurt’ is ‘a long drip of water’). Keeping this description soberly in mind, I am still pleased to have served as an ‘expert’ at the Family History Shows held on an annual basis in York, Bristol and London. If my calculations are accurate (and I am by no means a mathematical ‘expert’) I have taken part in eight such shows over the past few years and have enjoyed the experience in every case. In light of this, I thought now might prove a good time to share some of these experiences with others.
I am sure that most of us have dusty old books tucked away in our attics, cupboards or garages that once belonged to our parents, grandparents or distant relatives. What we might not realise, however, is just how useful these books can be when carrying out genealogical research. Not only can these inscriptions provide us with the names and addresses of unknown ancestors, but they can also offer personal information not found elsewhere about their daily lives and hobbies.
Class meant a lot in Victorian England. It defined you, and it defined other people’s perceptions of you. Time and time again, in trial coverage and crime reports, you can detect class bias in how the press perceived criminals and victims, and how magistrates, judges and juries may also have been swayed by the class of those who came before them.
Trade thrives when sellers can display their wares so that customers can choose what to buy. Some of Britain’s oldest settlements sealed their prosperity when a designated outdoor trading area was established, either by custom or by an official charter. A market cross often advertised the mercantile status. A few small shops often established themselves in the market square, and on specified days the town sprang to life as other vendors piled into the market place and set up temporary stalls or hawked their wares from baskets.
Many of our ancestors did back-breaking manual labour, or were skilled construction workers. The term ‘navvy’ (from ‘navigator’) originally denoted labourers excavating canals for inland navigation in the late 1700s, but later extended to builders of railways and roads. Georgian navvies, discarding jackets, worked in knee breeches, shirts, waistcoats and various headwear, linen or cotton shirts often worn loose, like short smocks. During the Victorian era trousers of corduroy, moleskin and other robust fabrics became popular outdoor workwear, worn with stout hobnailed leather boots. Shirt sleeves were rolled up and neckerchiefs, waistcoats (when worn) and fitted plain or striped woollen ‘brewers’ caps’ or ‘stocking caps’ were often brightly coloured. Eventually picturesque items disappeared and by the late 1800s dress was more sombre: cloth caps, dark waistcoats and trousers tied below the knees.
Leicester’s history dates back to an Iron Age settlement clustered along the east bank of the Soar above its confluence with the Trent. It became a Roman town, and remains of baths can still be seen today. Following the Saxon invasion of Britain, Leicester was occupied by the Middle Angles and subsequently administered by the kingdom of Mercia. It was elevated to a bishopric. In the 9th century, Leicester was captured by Danish Vikings. Leicester did not become a bishopric again until the Church of St Martin became Leicester Cathedral in 1927. </p> <p>Following the Norman conquest, Leicester was recorded in the Domesday Book as Ledecestre, and noted as a city, but lost this status in the 11th century and did not become a legal city again until 1919.
Killed in WW2 My immediate family were from Hull, all the male members were seamen working on deep sea trawlers. My grandfather and three of his sons, my uncles, were killed during the war and my father was badly injured – I remember him being covered in plaster of paris across his chest and arms.
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