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Wakefield & District Family History Society

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John Croft: The StoryPioneer of a Mormon
John Croft: The story of a Mormon Pioneer. The speaker on Saturday 7th October was Gaynor Haliday who recounted how she had researched her 4 times great uncle, John Croft. She described the epic journey he undertook with his new wife in 1860, from Manchester, England, to Salt Lake City. Born in 1837 near Bingley in Yorkshire, John’s family moved to Manchester. As a young man John, on reading the Millennial Star Newspaper a Mormon publication, and attended meetings organised by the Manchester Conference. This led to him being baptised in the Mormon faith. In 1860 he married Amelia Mitchell and soon after made preparations to emigrate to America. Gaynor quoted from a series of diaries, letters and using family photos, described the journey undertaken by John and his wife to Salt Lake City. The starting point was Liverpool where on boarding a ship along with about five hundred other Mormon passengers, they sailed to New York a journey of almost four weeks. From New York the journey was undertaken using river transport through the Great Lakes and finally by rail and river again to Florence in Nebraska. Here the last leg to Salt Lake City meant getting organised with oxen cart to carry their worldly goods but which also entailed a great deal of walking on a journey that took almost four months. Covering over 1000 miles the wagon train arrived in September and Amelia gave birth to a child in November! There were to be another seven children. John soon became immersed in pioneer life along with other Mormon settlers which meant not only becoming self sufficient in providing a home and food but was also involved in building the tabernacle in Salt Lake City, the building of the Union Pacific Railroad and liaising with Buffalo Bill Cody to obtain fresh bison meat for the rail workers. John died in 1909 and Amelia lived on to 1926. Gaynor emphasised the usefulness of the Brigham Young University website from which she had gained so much for her research. Next meeting is November 4th when the ever popular Ian Dewhirst will talk on ‘life in a Victorian Workhouse.’
Wakefield: The War at Home 1914-18
On Saturday September 2nd there was a welcome return for Tim Lynch who gave a talk referring not only to Wakefield but other towns and cities of Yorkshire. He began by asking us to consider how the early years of the 20th century quite often has parallels with the present. For example there were industrial strikes, problems with immigration, knife and gun crimes. Tim quoted an example when a Wakefield man on holiday in Blackpool was arrested for drunken behaviour and firing a gun! Drugs are a concern today but morphine and cocaine were often used in medicines to cure all kinds of ailments in early 1900. Prior to outbreak of war in 1914 the British public was often warned about the threat of invasion from Germany and in particular from zeppelins and their bomb carrying capacity. Many of us will be reminded of the threat posed during the Cold war period or even more recently with sabre rattling between North Korea and USA. Such were these fears in 1913 that the government organised uniformed guards to attend duty at bridges and railway tunnels. Wakefield was the first town in the north to organise armed scout guards. Special badges were made which bore the caption The City of Wakefield War Service. Volunteer guard groups were set up which eventually became known as The Home Guard. Another issue dealt with by Tim concerned how to deal with conscientious objectors. Some like the Quakers opted to join the RAMC and act as stretcher bearers others would rather spend time in prison. It was reported that one local conscientious objector attempted to ‘break into Wakefield prison in order to avoid an angry mob!’ Women were encouraged to take on the work done by men. Examples were in transport, ammunition factories and farm work. Many volunteered as nurses for the Front as well as at home. Wakefield has recently commemorated a local woman, Nellie Spindler, who was a nurse and killed by shrapnel while on duty at the Front. Tim also reminded us that as the war progressed there was an increasing threat of starvation because ships transporting food were being sunk at a formidable rate. The government warned the public not to waste food and that it was made illegal to even feed bread to ducks! Punishment could be six months in prison. Then there were threats made to anyone with a German sounding name which meant in Wakefield business’s such as Hagenbachs, a local bakers, were targets for local prejudice. In conclusion Tim wanted show how people at home were under threat in a way it had never been before. Everybody was affected and everybody was involved in the war effort. The next meeting October 7th will be ‘My Mormon Pioneers: Wilsden to Salt Lake City’ a talk by Gaynor Haliday.
West Yorkshire History Centre - Six Months On
West Yorkshire History Centre – Six Months On. At the meeting held 5th August we had archivist David Morris from the Centre to recount what was involved in the move from the old Registry of Deeds to the new site in Wakefield. First there was an introduction to remind us that there are five such centres in the West Yorkshire Archive Service which makes it the largest outside of London. The collection in Wakefield is of national importance. The reason for the move was that the old site, built in 1930s, lacked sufficient storage space and lacked the ability to control the temperature and humidity needed to preserve the documents, some are many centuries old. With the aid of a series of photos delivered on screen David showed us around the Centre. First the reception area and then nearby to a series of exhibition cases on display for the public. There is a general enquiry area which does not need an appointment to use. Then next is the secure area where documents can be ordered and an appointment made to view them. Organising the move and the actual transportation of over 100,000 storage boxes took nearly nine months. The arranging on the storage shelves was organised in such a way that by using a system of bar coding access would be more efficient. There are planned to have periodic exhibitions, workshops for schools, Talks and Tours, Volunteer projects and Open Days. David assured us that the popularity of the move has been borne out by the fact visitor numbers have doubled when compared with the old site. There was good turnout of about eighty five people many whom obviously enjoyed David’s presentation was further qualified by many people eager to ask questions. Next meeting is September 2nd when Tim Lynch will give a talk on ‘The Great War at Home.’
The Working Life of the Railway Navvy
The Working Life of the Railway Navvy. After the formal part of the Society’s AGM was dealt with the meeting was handed over to Chris and Judy Rouse, our guest speakers. They work as a team in promoting research into railway worker’s ancestry. It was made clear that official records are not particularly helpful. However it much can be gleaned from newspapers, census returns and parish records. Chris began by explaining the term navvy. Men who worked in the fens of Lincolnshire digging ditches and banking for drainage purposes and in effect creating canals, were known as navvies. This was because such waterways were known as a means of navigation. This term stuck when many canals in the 18th century were being created to transport goods. The term continued to be used for the workers involved in the railway building mania of the 19th century. Chris went on to show how different groups of people became involved from business men who had to first to get a Bill passed by Parliament before work could begin. Then there was an army of contractors, engineers, agents, time keepers and finally the navvies. Judy explained how such men as these navvies lived, dressed and entertained themselves and the tools of their trade that they carried everywhere ie shovel, pick and barrow. They were often feared because of their lifestyle for they often let their hair down binge drinking, getting into fights and by appearing intimidating, being strong young men and roughly dressed. Life as a navvy was also often dangerous and severe injuries or even death could result from such work. These could be from rock falls, tunnels collapsing, misuse of explosives, faulty equipment and poor diet. Living conditions were spent amidst dirty water, poor or non- existent toilet facilities and extreme weather conditions. However many thousands of men were employed during the ‘railway mania’ building periods during the 19th century for wages were a great deal higher than those of factory workers or agricultural labourers. Later when the railway building work declined at beginning of 20th century many navvies could find work building reservoirs or other water works. Chris and Judy’s talk was brisk, informative and certainly entertaining. Next month’s talk will be August 5th when David Morris will present ‘West Yorkshire History Centre: Six months on.’
Classic Yorkshire Murders
On Saturday 3rd June our guest speaker was Martin Baggoley who was for many years a probation officer and has a masters degree in criminology. He has written several crime books with an emphasis on murder cases between 1750 to 1900 and his interest lies in the study of these crimes in the context of their social and cultural conditions. Martin gave an account of several cases which included the murder of Daniel Clark a shoemaker from near Knaresborough; the death at sea of a 14 year old apprentice,William Papper, who was claimed to have been washed overboard by the ship’s captain one Osmond Brand but who was subsequently found guilty of the boy’s murder. But the story that captured the attention most was that of Mary Bateman the Yorkshire witch. In early 19th century Leeds Mary, a petty thief and con artist, convinced many people that she had supernatural powers. She was a fortune teller who was eventually found guilty of murder in 1809. A Rebecca Perigo suffered from chest pains and with her husband William approached Mary in the hope that she could cure her. Over several months Mary fed Rebecca puddings laced with poison. During this period she was receiving payments from Rebecca’s husband. Eventually Rebecca died. Mary was found guilty of murder after a search of her home revealed the poison evidence. She was convicted of fraud and murder and although she claimed she was innocent she was subsequently executed at York. Such was Mary’s notoriety that people paid to view her body and even to buy tanned strips of her skin for charms Her skeleton was for many years on display at the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds. Next meeting is 1st July when our AGM will be followed by a talk by Chris & Judy Rouse on ‘The Railway Navvy.’ All enquiries to ronaldpullan@hotmail.co.uk

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