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Wakefield & District Family History Society

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Last Meeting

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.’
Captain Cook's Computer
On Saturday 3rd December Wendy Wales was our guest speaker. Last year her book ‘Captain Cook’s Computer’ published which is an account of the career of William Wales of Warmfield near Wakefield. Wales accompanied Captain Cook on his second voyage around the world was chosen because of his ability in mathematics and astronomy. Wendy talked about the resources she used to describe how a person of humble beginnings set off on foot for London in the 1750s who would later become a leading figure in the development in marine navigation. This was a period known as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ when great strides were being made in the new sciences. William’s education was apparently gained at Heath Academy at Warmfield and at the local grammar school. Once in London William found worked for a publishing firm, then spent some time as a teacher before going on to get a position at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Here he became familiar with the work of John Harrison of Wragby near Wakefield who was working on a chronometer in order to determine longitude at sea. What became increasingly clear to Wendy during her research was of the number of Yorkshire men, and in particular from the Wakefield area, who had also set off for London in order to further their careers. There was George Holdroyd who accompanied William to London. His father was a Wakefield clock maker but had become a plumber and was to work for the Royal family. Then there was Charles and Joshua Green related to William through marriage. Charles became an assistant to the Astronomy Royal while Joshua went was a co-founder for Leeds Pottery. John Smeaton of Leeds a civil engineer who developed a portable observatory for William Wales which was first used on a voyage to Canada to observe the transit of venus in 1769. William’s career eventually took him into education when he became a master at Christ’s Hospital School in London where his skills in maths, astronomy and navigation helped others in their careers such as his nephew John Wales who became a midshipman for the East India Company and later the first Marine Surveyor General for India. Wendy’s work on her book has meant a great deal of thorough research with many contacts made throughout the world not least with the valuable help from the Captain Cook Society. There will be no meeting in January but we resume February 4th when John Goodchild will talk on ‘ Slavery in the West Riding.’
Finding Uncle Harold
‘ Finding Uncle Harold.’ On Saturday 5th November we had the military historian Tim Lynch whose ancestor, Harold Wiseman from Keighley, fought and died in WW1in 1918. His records, like many others, were destroyed during the Blitz of WW11. Only a picture of him in the local newspaper survived along with a description of Harold’s background. Tim wanted to find out more. His talk showed how this could be done. Generally the WW1 medal indexes survived and these provide a regimental number. From this could be determined the battalion he served in. This can help in determining an action that such a battalion was involved in from the War Diaries that were written by a responsible officer involved in the action. Records of other casualties that were in the same battalion may have survived and would help to build up a picture of an action in which Harold and others were involved. Tim was particularly interested in the local background of these lads. What was the attitude taken locally and nationally towards men in the army; how men were allotted to a particular battalion based on status, education and occupation; at what age or even height and physical condition a recruit was that determine how or where he was allocated. Tim was also interested in their training and what happened to these young men when first sent to the Front. What he wanted was to become familiar with ‘his-story’ rather than just ‘history.’ Tim stressed the importance of the ‘archaeology ‘of war that is the use of imagination through more personal approach. The research led to the publication of his book ‘They did not grow old.’ This is a detailed account of the conditions that these men had to endure and written in such a way that the reader cannot fail to become emotionally involved. It also leaves one in no doubt of the thorough research undertaken and knowledge of the subject by Tim Lynch. Next meeting is December 3rd when Wendy Wales will talk on her book, ‘ Captain Cook’s Computer.’ This is an account of local man William Wales who accompanied Captain Cook on one of his voyages. Enquiries to Ron Pullan: ronaldpullan@hotmail’co.uk
Strawberries & Cream Cakes
Strawberries & Cream Cakes – Rationing in WW1 At the October meeting Dr Kathryn Hughes had carried out research which recorded how Bradford remembered food supplies 1914-18. With the aid of photographs of actual documents from the period she illustrated her talk with slides that showed what life was like for the inhabitants of Bradford. Panic buying of food occurred early in 1914 when it was rumoured that stores would soon run out and that prices would increase. In fact there were no shortages at the beginning of the war and the government realised that shop keepers were making an unfair profit. Therefore legal steps were taken to fix prices. However as the war progressed and German submarines began to take a toll on imports, shortages did occur. The government decided that rationing had to be introduced and emphasised the need for the public to play its part and to enter a period of ‘National Lent.’ Even the King made a proclamation and that people were encouraged to sign a pledge in which the public were given a badge to show their loyalty for ‘its bit to conserve stocks.’ The gravity of the situation was sometimes highlighted with humorous adverts that suggested that ice cream could be eaten without wafers as they were seen as a luxury. Keighley a few miles away attracted attention when a national survey was published that showed food consumption was well below the national average! By 1917 a number of consumable items were restricted. First was sugar then butter and margarine followed by meat. Even a ‘meatless Wednesday’ was tried. A potato shortage due to a failed crop led to every available bit of surplus land being dug up from road side verges to golf greens for the growing of vegetables. An incident involving strawberries occurred when a crop was harvested that was sent directly to a jam factory rather than be eaten fresh. The factory was closed so it was decided to sell them fresh but this was against government rules so the owner of the crop simply got rid of the strawberries which went to waste. By March 1919 and margarine, butter and meat were still rationed but were by now everyone was issued with one rationing book instead of separate cards. An incident at the Savoy Hotel in Bradford upset one particular customer who was outraged at the price of their cream tarts and accused the establishment of profiteering. Kathryn’s final photo was shown entitled ‘Don’t Grouse.’ It had listed foodstuffs in English diets dating back centuries such as sugar which was introduced in 13th century and potatoes in the 15th century. In other words be grateful for what you can get! Kathryn’s well researched book certainly ‘gave food for thought’ and people talk about the good old times! Next meeting is 5th November when Tim Lynch recounts what happened when he went in search of his uncle Harold with the latter’s involvement in WW1. Enquiries to: ronaldpullan@hotmail.co.uk
The History of the Thackray Medical Museum
On Saturday 3rd September Alan Humphries gave an account of the story behind the development of this museum in Leeds. Alan, a librarian at the museum, illustrated with a digital projector how a partnership between two Leeds men, Charles Thackray and Henry Wainwright, led to the growth of an international business. Charles was a pharmacist and Henry a chartered accountant. They agreed to buy a pharmacist shop on Great George Street close to the Leeds General Infirmary in 1902. At first the business dealt with the sale of remedies for various ailments but went on to develop surgical dressings for the infirmary and later on surgical instruments. This aspect of the business was given a boost when Berkeley Moynihan [ later Lord Moynihan ] a renown surgeon who specialised in abdominal surgery, asked Thackray to produce surgical instruments for his personal use in 1908. Apparently he had rather large hands! It was also Moynihan who introduced rubber gloves for surgical use these being recently invented in America. The business grew and larger premises was needed which was found in 1926 nearby on Park Street which had been the old Medical School. Continuing growth meant another move in the 1980s to Beeston in Leeds where the company is still in production of surgical instruments etc. but is now owned by DePuy. A museum tracing the history of medicine was promoted by a descendant of Charles Thackray which found a home in 1996 in a The Leeds Union Workhouse which opened in 1858. This was later used as a hospital before it became museum in 1996. The Thackray Museum has since become a popular tourist attraction. Alan, with the aid of still photographs, illustrated some of the exhibits on display. These include a reconstruction of a street in Leeds in a poor part of the city before Public Health Acts came into force and also waxwork figures are used to demonstrate surgery on a factory girl’s crushed leg! The Museum is justly proud of a rare collection of British Delftware Apothecary Jar display. Display cases include an historical collection of surgical instruments and equipment used in surgery.There is a reconstruction of pharmacist shop that once occupied a site in Victorian Leeds. There was much that was of interest for those in attendance with roughly a third who said they had made a visit to the Museum, many others said they would now make the effort to go. The next meeting is October 1st when Kathryn Hughes will talk on ‘ Strawberries & Cream Cakes – rationing in WW1.’ Enquiries to ronaldpullan@hotmail.co.uk

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