On Saturday 3rd September members of the Society were entertained by Sally Clamp as she recalled events from her sixteen years as Superintendent Registrar dealing with the registration of births, marriages and deaths in Wakefield.
For family historians the registers kept at the office in Northgate are the source of certificates which we all need for our researches, but they also provide a fascinating insight into the changes in society over the years since the introduction of registration in 1837.
Birth certificates remind us of famous citizens of Wakefield, such as Barbara Hepworth, Squire Waterton and the Pilkingtons of Chevet as well as the ordinary people. One of Sally’s favourite entries relates to the birth of twins in an inn in December 1855, there is no reference to a father and the mother died in childbirth. The children were named Mary and Joseph.
Marriage ceremonies show perhaps the greatest degree of social change. Nowadays the Registrar has to make many more detailed checks on prospective brides and grooms to prevent someone gaining residence rights illegally by a bogus marriage. The Registrar’s workload has been increased by changes such as; the right to be married in a building other than a church, the introduction of Civil Partnerships, non-statutory ceremonies like non-religious naming, renewal of vows and citizenship, but these have also made the job more interesting. Sally recalled the instance of one citizenship ceremony where the 24 participants were from 19 different countries, a real indication of how the world is getting smaller. She reminded us that details of proposed marriages, other than those to be performed in an Anglican church, have to be posted on the notice board at the Northgate office for 15 days. She recommended this as a source of interesting reading.
Other, less well-known, functions of a Registrar include the performance of “death-bed” marriages, for which the Registrar is on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and marriages in prison. At one ceremony where Sally was officiating one of the proposed witnesses was not allowed in because he could not get past the drug “sniffer dogs”.
The records of death registrations show a less happy side of a Registrar’s work, events like the death of a husband ten days after his wife was burned to death through standing too close to the fire. There is the case of the 12 year old boy in 1856 who died of a diseased hip joint, his occupation was “Hurrier in a Coal Pit”. The records from the Stanley sub-district include the old lunatic asylum, where the master seems to have waited to get enough deaths to warrant a trip to the register office. In one month in 1853 24 deaths were recorded together.
In response to questions Sally explained that “not certified” added to a cause of death means that no qualified doctor was able to certify the cause, something which could not happen today. She also confirmed that only very rarely was there a valid response to the question, “Does anyone know any reason why this man and this woman should not be joined in marriage ?”
Our next meeting, on 1st October, is a research morning where you can search our records and seek advice to help you with your researches. The meeting will start at 9.30 and finish at 1.00 pm.
Wakefield & District Family History Society Carol Sklinar, our newly elected Chairman, opened proceedings by introducing herself and briefly explained how she had become involved in a number of aspects of work within the Society. Then she introduced our guest speaker Susan Deal whose topic was ‘The Workhouse.’ Through researching her family history and discovering that her great grandmother had been an inmate of such an institution, Susan’s interest was stimulated to find out more about them. Susan reminded us that our image of workhouses today was mainly derived from that of the Victorian age but that they had existed in one form or another for several centuries. The family had usually been the first place that provided help for those who had fallen on hard times. But various religious houses, such as monasteries, had also given succour to the poor or unemployed. Then the local parish became more involved when the dissolution of the monasteries occurred in the 16th century and growing numbers needed help because of growing unemployment due to changes in agriculture such as land enclosures. The Poor Law Act of 1834 was a political move to try and address the above problems and also by those created by changes in industry and increasing urbanisation. Parishes grouped to form a Union Workhouse and Boards of Guardians were set up such as the one on George St in Wakefield which was later superceded by Park Lodge Lane Workhouse. Entrance was gained by first having a medical, then a bath and being supplied with a uniform. Families were separated, most possessions were confiscated, work was allocated eg cleaning duties, cooking child minding for women. Oakum picking, stone breaking and maintenance work on the building was for men. Discipline was strict, Sunday church services were conducted where men and women were separated by a partition and food was a monotonous diet mainly composed of carbohydrates. These harsh conditions were created so that entering a workhouse was not seen as easy option. Improvements occurred slowly over the second half of the century and into the 20th century. Married couples were able to have separate rooms, medical treatment improved with addition of hospitals and asylums that could accommodate those with mental health problems. By the 1930’s and with increasing enlightenment, and pensions, most workhouses had closed down and converted to hospitals or care homes. Family historians can gain access to workhouse records, where they survive, at the CRO. These records are usually in the form of minutes from meetings, medical and punishment records and admission records. Susan Deal closed with the reminder that there will always be some sections of society that will need a mix of government and private help but that it was not always easy to get the balance right. Her talk was extremely detailed and very interesting and many in attendance will have left with much food for thought. The next meeting is 3rd Sept. when Sally Clamp will talk on ‘ A Day in the Life of a Registrar.’ All enquiries to Ron Pullan 01924 373310
AGM and 'Other People's Correspondence'
Wakefield & District Family History Society On Saturday 2nd June we held our Annual General meeting. The Chairman, Chris Welch, declared he was to stand down after eight years service. He said that lots of changes had occurred since the Society was founded in 1997. These included the internet and the digital revolution. However the purpose of the Society had not changed. Chris paid a tribute to the Committee , key helpers, those that put out chairs and tables and manned the tea bar plus the many volunteers who transcribed original records Tribute was also made by Maureen Hambrecht , Education Officer and Assistant Editor, to Chris and to his wife Joan for the many years of good work. Then followed a report from Gordon Mackenzie, on the work done on Monumental Inscriptions and then by Elsie Walton who gave the Editor’s report. The formal part of the AGM then took place with one difference. An election was held between two candidates for the post of chairman which saw Carol Sklinar elected. The nomination of Vice Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary and members of the Committee were voted in unopposed. Elsie Walton, our vice chairman and editor, then treated us to an interesting and often amusing tale on ‘ Other people‘s Correspondence.’ She began by reminding us that once we had been a nation of letter writers but with advent of the internet and email and text message on mobile phones, letter writing had greatly diminished. With reference to correspondence saved over many years, Elsie proceeded to show how useful letter writing could be for family historians. One such letter was from a lady on the Isle of Skye who had replied to Elsie regarding an offer of a holiday cottage. Another, with tongue in cheek, made reference to Henry Hepworth [ ie Henry Moore ] and the work he produced in miniature form before creating the finished article. Another letter, again with tongue in cheek, showed how Elsie could use her blood group to determine the route taken by her ancestors over 75000 years ago, from Africa to England! Her final collection of letters concerned the linking of the Strawbenzee family with Wakefield to Spennithorpe, a village in North Yorkshire. The entertaining talk was greatly appreciated and at the same time a salutary lesson was given to the importance of letter writing. The next meeting is on the 6th August when Susan Deal will give a talk on “ The Workhouse.” All enquiries to the secretary, Ron Pullan 01924 373310
Local History Around Leeds
Local History Around Leeds Our guest speaker, John Gilleghan, was born and bred in Leeds and his pride and knowledge of that city was very evident. Raised in Halton which is to the east of the city, John’s parents ran a pharmacist shop, which had been the traditional occupation of his family for several generations. One such shop was on Woodhouse Lane near to the Leeds University. It was unique in that it was kept in its Victorian style until the 1970’s when it was removed lock, stock and barrel to the Wilberforce House Museum in Hull. [ Leeds City Museum had turned down the original offer!] John had been a teacher at Leeds Grammar School and his love of the city had resulted in a deep understanding and knowledge of its history. He has been involved in local history on Radio Leeds and now writes articles on churches in Yorkshire for the magazine “ Down Your Way.” John took us through a potted history of the city from its beginnings as a settlement about two thousand years ago roughly in the area of the looming bulk of the Department of Social Services building is located and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Quickly dealing with its Saxon and then Norman influences Leeds began to really develop after 1207 when the Lord of the Manor laid out the plots or burgages alongside what became Briggate, now the principle street in the city’s shopping area. We learnt of the development of education in the town through its Grammar School; of the growth of churches; of its part in the woollen industry and then engineering; of some of its personalities in the shape of John Harrison, Joseph Priestly and the Reverend Walter Hook. John could have gone on for much longer such was the interest and amusement for those in attendance. John’s delivery was spiced with a great deal of humour and a comic’s sense of good timing. Next meeting is 2nd July when we have the AGM followed by a talk by Elsie Walton on ‘Other People’s Correspondence.’ Any enquiries to Ron Pullan 01924 373310.