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Wakefield & District Family History Society

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Last Meeting

Bretton Hall
Wakefield & District Family History Society At our meeting on 1st March Cyril Pearce, who had lectured at Bretton Hall training college for over 30 years, gave us the story of the families who had lived at the Hall during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Bretton estate, in existence since the Middle Ages, reached its greatest extent in the 1820s when it covered over 30,000 acres. Cyril’s history began with Sir William Wentworth, who had made his fortune dealing with antiquities from Italy. Sir William married Diana Blackett from a wealthy Northumberland family and thereby inherited another fortune based on coal and shipping. In 1720 Sir William built a new Hall, the basis of the existing building, and Bretton Chapel. When Sir William died his son, Sir Thomas, inherited Bretton together with the Blackett estates from Northumberland, which by this time included very profitable lead and silver mines. Sir Thomas used his considerable wealth to extend the Hall and transform the grounds into a contemporary open landscape design. He also became famous, or infamous, locally for holding vast parties at the Hall. His lifestyle can best be described as “colourful”. Sir Thomas’ daughter, Diana, married Colonel Thomas Beaumont and they were amongst the richest commoners in the country. The estate remained in the Beaumont family until it was sold off in the 1950s.
Liviing and Dying in a Victorian city.
‘ Living and Dying in a Victorian city’ Alun Pugh, our guest speaker, is passionate about Beckett Street Cemetery opposite Jimmy’s [ St James Hospital ] in Leeds. Named after a banking family in the city it was opened in 1845 in order to cope with the demand for extra burial grounds in a rapidly growing industrial city. He was able to show how the cemetery, in which mainly working class citizens were buried, told a story through its headstones of the varied background of those buried there. The city council provided land for burial for all religions and classes with the cemetery divided into two sections to accommodate Anglicans on the one side and Dissenters in the unconsecrated section on the other side. A levy was collected through the rates to support payment of burials for the first time in the country. The first burial was an infant the nine month old Thomas Hirst who was followed one year later by his mother. These were the first of nearly 200,000 burials in some 28,000 plots before the cemetery was closed for business in 1992. Among some of the unusual headstones are those of the ‘ Guinea Graves’ in which a plot could hold a number of unrelated bodies for a subscription of £1.10 in today’s money. The name of the deceased, date of death and age was inscribed on the headstone. There are some prominent people interred such as Revd. Jabez Tunnicliff founder of the Temperance Movement in Leeds. There is John Barron, textile entrepreneur, who employed Michael Marks for a time before the latter went onto open his Penny Bazaar in Leeds market and who eventually went into partnership with Tom Spencer which gave birth to the well known chain stores of Marks & Spencer. Local characters include Lupton Whitelock founder of the Turk’s Head pub off Briggate and one of the oldest such establishments in the city. Then there is the grave of Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, better known as Woodbine Willie who was a priest and social activist who gave spiritual comfort to soldiers on the Western Front during WW1. He gave handfuls of Woodbine cigarettes to those injured or dying as well as prayer and words of comfort. However there are many headstones that indicate the careers of many such as a plumber, stone mason, steeplejack , a tailor and eighty dedicated to inn keepers! There are many War Commission graves of servicemen who died during both World Wars and others who are remembered in inscriptions on family grave headstones. Alun’s talk was highly entertaining and often very amusing. He obviously loves his subject and paid tribute to Sylvia Barnard and her book ‘ To prove I’m not forgot’ which is all about the cemetery. The next meeting is March 1st when Cyril Pearce will give a talk on Bretton Hall. All enquiries to Ron Pullan, Secretary, 01924 373310
Thanks for the Memory
Wakefield & District Family History Society On Saturday 7th December Michael Duncombe took us down ‘Memory Lane’ with reflections on his childhood in the 1940’s and his time as a Youth Club leader in West and South Yorkshire. Memories of playground activities while at infant and junior school included games of marbles, hopscotch, conkers, whipping tops and skipping for the girls. Lots of nodding in agreement from members in the audience. Then you may also have been a monitor which included giving out pencils, filling ink pots or even carrying school fund money to the local bank twice a week! Then onto technical school with the usual academic subjects and in Michael’s case, engineering. His favourite teacher was his musical teacher who not only taught pupils how to sing sea shanties but would occasionally have his lessons interrupted by miscreants sent to him for caning. Being interested in sports, and in particular cricket and football, Michael recounted the times when he met John Hampshire who played for Yorkshire and when he had a run in with Brian Close. However his career as a Youth Leader although very rewarding had its trying times. When on a camping weekend with children with disabilities he was entertained by a boy who recounted scene by scene his favourite film ‘Rocky.’ This took an hour and was then told there were also Rocky II, III, and IV! Michaels’s highly entertaining anecdotes were highlighted with music from some of his favourite recording artists which included Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Eartha Kitt and Eddie Fisher. With mince pies, Christmas cake and cheese available, those present had a very enjoyable session. There will be no meeting in January but February 1st we will have Alan Pugh and a talk on ‘The Blue Badge Guide.’Leeds Beckett St Cemetery.
Evacuation of British Children in WWII

                           Wakefield & District Family History Society

On Saturday 2nd November we had James Roffey as our guest speaker. His topic was

‘ Evacuation of British Children in WWII.’  He spoke from first hand experience when at the tender age of seven he, along with his brother and sister, were among thousands of children who were evacuated from London in 1939. But first James explained how in 1938 the government, fearing the worst, organised the country into designated areas for billeting evacuees. Officials visited houses in these designated areas in order to determine if evacuees could be housed during the period of war.

James being from Camberwell in south London and attending an infant school was given a brown envelope one day along with other pupils which had to be taken home.  Instructions were listed of items that were to be made ready for each child in readiness for evacuation. Parents had to provide basic clothing while London County Council provided a brown suitcase, gas mask and a label to be worn indicating name, school and local authority. Parents were not told where their children were being sent to.

Then the day came when the children were marched off to a local railway station and although parents were not allowed to escort their children some did and James remembers a scuffle breaking out in which the police escort prevented some parents from snatching their children back. Finally a special train arrived and the children boarded and eventually arrived at their destination which was Pulborough in West Sussex. On arriving at the local school the children were given a cursory medical examination which also included a comb being dragged through their hair by a rather severe looking lady who we might now know as the ‘ nit nurse.’ The billeting officer arrived to escort the children to their various foster parents. James was split from his brother and sister and taken to a cottage in the countryside which he remembered as rather neglected and the garden over grown with weeds and nettles. The owner initially refused to take in James but the billeting officer made  his presence felt and threatened the owner with legal proceedings.

James was eventually re-billeted where he spent the next four years attending the local school and helping out his foster parents in their sweet and tea shop and also helping with their allotment and collecting eggs from their chickens.

Pulborough was only 12 miles from the coast and James remembers seeing the

aerial dogfights taking place over head during the Battle of Britain and views from the South Downs he saw the red glow over distant London as the city suffered during the Blitz.

He did receive the occasional visits from his parents and James was allowed to write to them too. It was a rather exciting period of his life and one that helped to turn him from a city boy to a country one.  Because this was a personal tale and one recounted with much humour made for a very enjoyable talk.

The next meeting is 7th December when there will be a special Christmas treat of mince pies and cake with music and Christmas reminiscences from Michael Duncombe All enquiries to Ron Pullan 01924 373310.

Research/Open Day



The Society held its Research/Open morning on Saturday 5th October. The use of lap tops, microfiche readers, publications and information desks were available for family history research. Further help and interest was provided by representatives from West Yorkshire Archives and Wakefield Public Libraries. Ian Laidler brought his display of military medals while David Clayton had an array of historical photos. Christine Ellis had samples of  18th century accessories for ladies and our own Tony Banks provided a slide show of photos of Wakefield Then and Now.

Kathy Wattie , Vice Chairman, asked all volunteers present to attend a meeting in order to give thanks for all the help given and to emphasize how much their work is appreciated. Other matters were briefly discussed about the Societys future but she also asked for suggestions on how to encourage more people to volunteer. There is a constant need to inject new blood into any organization that relies on people giving up some of their free time to help in any way possible.

Next meeting is 2nd November when our guest speaker will be James Roffey Evacuation of British Children in WWII. All enquiries to Ron Pullan 01924 373310

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