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Wakefield & District Family History Society

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Last Meeting

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
Children's Homes
On Saturday 6th May our guest speaker was Peter Higginbotham. He showed how the concern for abandoned children in London, for whatever reason, began to be addressed in the 18th century when a working school for orphans was founded in Hampstead. Societies that became involved in providing children’s homes ranged from National Charities to the Church of England and from industrial schools to borstals. There were also many homes provided by religious groups from different denominations. Doctor Barnado’s in the 19th century was perhaps the best known although there were a number of well placed individuals who also founded homes for orphans, waifs and strays and children who were simply abandoned. A local example was Crossley and Porter. Crossley was an industrialist who manufactured carpets in Halifax. Homes were developed from large villa type houses to purpose built industrial schools and later self contained villages. An example of the latter was to be found at Bramhope near Leeds. In the Wakefield area there was Bede Home an early 18th century house bought by the Church of England for boys, Sandal Grange and another home in Teal Street. Some homes were provided for the physically unfit or even for orphans of police officers such as one in Harrogate. The Poor Law System often had industrial schools for orphans such as the one in Leeds. The building still exists and is now part of St James Hospital. By 1930 local councils began to take more responsibility. While the 1948 Children’s Act increased the role of the local council which would see to fostering, adoption or residential care. By 1990 charitable homes were gone. This was due to increasing costs, shortages of staff and changing social attitudes. The emphasis today is for more home support while any residential care is dominated by the private sector. There are a number of websites that can help where records have survived for particular institutions while Peter has his own website www.childrenshomes.org.uk He has also written a book ‘ Children’s Homes.’ Next meeting is June 3rd when Martin Baggoley will talk on ‘Classic Yorkshire Murders.’
Maps for local and family history
On Saturday 1st April our guest speaker was Chris Makepeace. Chris is a local historian and librarian who is a familiar figure at many family history fairs. He views maps not only as items that are aesthetically pleasing but as valuable resources. The latter is particularly important when modern development is taking place. Checking old maps first can often highlight problems such as old mining works, wells and springs. However, it is with regard to study of old maps that Chris believes can enhance the research done by family historians. From county and town maps from the sixteenth century to ordnance survey maps of the nineteenth century a picture can be built up of how and where our ancestors lived. The scale of these maps could range from sixty to one inch to the mile. But it is the Godfrey Edition OS maps of the late nineteenth century that Chris wanted to highlight. These are 15 inches to the mile and they show not just the streets but also individual houses; the complete track layout of railways and tramways, factories, docks and even trees are shown. These maps can produce a complete record of the places where our ancestors lived and worked. In addition the Godfrey maps are accompanied by extracts from trade directories that provide names of schools, pubs and other businesses along with the names of owners and a description of trades and associated skills. It was agreed that maps are indeed a valuable tool for genealogists. Next meeting is May 6th when Peter Higginbotham will give a talk on ‘ Children’s Homes.’
Using the 1901 census online
On Saturday 4th March Edgar Holdroyd-Doveton explained how family historians could enhance their research. Census returns provide rich detail about occupational structures, migration patterns and information about the community in which our ancestors lived. An overview showed how the information in census returns from 1801 to 1901 provided an increased amount of detail. To illustrate this the village of Meltham in West Yorkshire was taken as an example. Through the nineteenth century this village was dominated by mills that produced cotton and silk thread. Edgar took one such mill run by Jonas Brook who had houses built for his employees. Using photos and ordnance survey maps for the period plus data from the census a picture emerged of the people living in a particular street. Thus average family size could be calculated, age range of children assessed and the kind of work individuals might have done from skilled operatives to white collar workers, such as office clerks. Reference was also made to the industrial aristocracy by looking at what the census provided from one of the grand houses of a mill owner. There was a retinue of domestic staff ranging from maids to coachmen which prompted the question, were they local people or incomers? Edgar suggested that the data collected could be illustrated by means of graphs and stored using XL files from Microsoft Office on a computer. Basically what Edgar was suggesting that the more that could be learned about our ancestors’ community and its environment the more interest could be generated for the researcher rather than just concentrating on the immediate family tree. The next meeting is April 1st when Chris Makepeace will talk on ‘ Maps for local and family history.’
Rural Life and Labour
In February , our first meeting of 2017,our guest speaker was David Scriven. The premise was that most family historians will have had some agricultural labourers in their family tree. David wanted to highlight their working and living conditions and in education, leisure, pay and religious affiliations. They were part of a social structure that was hierarchical with the landowner, usually of the gentry or aristocracy down to labourers who could be women and children as well as men. The work in nineteenth century England was dictated by the seasons from sowing to harvesting and hay making. The progress from using hand tools like scythes gave way to use of horse then steam powered machinery. This plus increasing enclosure of land led to a reduction in the demand for labour. However as the century progressed the lure of the growing towns would often take up the surplus labour. A variety of skills were employed from ditch or hedge cutters to simple labour. These would determine the wages or whether single workers ‘lived in’ or were allocated tied cottages. However conditions were often overcrowded which in turn led to dirty or unsanitary conditions. Diet was also poor although the average life expectancy was often higher for rural workers than those who had left for work in the towns. National Schools were provided in which a basic education was available but were really there to make sure that social order was maintained. Church attendance was often higher in the country than in towns and the Church of England would reflect the social hierarchy in that a person must know their place. To counter this attendance at non-conformity chapels were often more popular for they were regarded as more egalitarian. Leisure activities that developed through the century were team sports such as cricket and football but there were also fairs especially at the end of the harvesting period. Then there were pubs and ale houses and then perhaps the most popular pastime would be poaching. A large number of game keepers were employed and these were to be feared. The penalty for poaching could be very severe with transportation to hanging! There was often social unrest which led to arson, riots, damage to farm machinery and maiming of cattle. These were due to poor pay prospects and living conditions. Unionisation of farm workers did not always help and although wages did improve in some parts of the country elsewhere they could be‘locked out’or even transported to Australia as in the case of the Tolpuddle Martys in Dorset. David’s talk did end on an optimistic note in that as the twentieth century progressed conditions in Poor Law Houses improved as did wages and the introduction of pensions while a small number of labourers were fortunate in obtaining their own small-holding. Next month meeting is March 4th when Edgar Holdroyd-Doveton’s talk is ‘ Using the 1901 census online.’

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