On Saturday 22nd January we had Myko Clelland as our guest speaker. Myko is a genealogist and regional licensing manager for Findmypast. Myko first set the scene in order for us to imagine the world of 1921. There had been the pandemic known as Spanish flu; industrial strife and the consequences and awful results for many people because of the War.
The census was supposed to have taken place in April but was delayed until June when many people would have been on holiday which also posed problems for the enumerators.
Myko’s saw his task to help family historians get to grips with researching family members on FMP which contains far more information than previous census returns.
The impact on society affected by the War was significant. There were more women than men in England; three quarters of patients in hospital were men; there were many families with fatherless children and there was more than 2 million disabled men.
The enumerator’s forms were filled in by the head of the household and some even added comments or even drew cartoons with perhaps a caustic comment.
The census can only be accessed online and there is a cost so Myko suggested that before ordering a record researchers be aware of the ‘preview hover’ button. However, it is possible to access the records if you are prepared to visit the TNA at Kew, the National Library of Wales or Manchester Central Library.
There are differences between the 1921 census and that of 1911. There is much more information such as the relationship, nationality, status, sex, birth place and even references to divorce. A couple of comments given when asked for nationality, ‘I’m a Yorkshireman’ another made was a reference to Divorce being ‘disgusting.’
References are also made to place of work, type of employment and even the name of an employer. There is also additional information provided if someone was staying in a hotel, prison, hospital or even a workhouse.
However, Myko strongly emphasized the need to be fully prepared before pressing any buttons when researching online. Tips such as the ‘advance search’ when looking for links to say, Election Registers and in particular the 1939 Election Register.
Myko’s in depth and very informative talk was concluded by leaving us with this thought – that this could be the last big genealogy event of a lifetime for England & Wales. [ Scotland and Northern Ireland are not covered].
This was a lively and intriguing talk packed with much useful information, advice and tips for the family historian.
Phil Judkins returned for our December meeting and took us through 300 years of a street that was, and still is, a street divided. Using slides to illustrate his talk Phil first gave an example of this showing a sketch of Westgate Bar where tolls were collected and that once stretched between today’s Unity Hall and the Theatre Royal., Running down either side of Westgate can still be seen a number of mansions once owned by princes of industry such as the houses of Milne and Naylor families etc but are now occupied by shops, pubs and banks.
While hidden from view were the many yards at right angle to Westgate. These were populated by people living in cramped conditions of which many served as workers in the textile mills owned by the families mentioned above. Phil’s meticulous research revealed the many stories that the inhabitants of this street had to tell.
In the 1850s the street had to succumb to more changes with the arrival of the railway. Milne’s mansion was partially destroyed in order to build a railway bridge that still spans Westgate. During this period the Corn Exchange was constructed in which great sums of money was involved between merchants and dealers. Wakefield was home to the greatest corn market in the North being well served by the Calder navigation. Huge warehouses had already been constructed for storing wool along Cheapside.
Pastimes for the farmers who came to attend sales included blood sports such as cock fighting which was accompanied by heavy drinking and often by arguments leading to fights among themselves. Mob rule wasn’t far from erupting especially at times of elections when supporters of the Tories clashed with Liberal supporters or on the occasion of Bonfire Night in 1849 when a mob clashed with police at Cross Square.
Many local people could have many stories to tell such as those who suffered at the hands of the law. Public whipping for women did not cease until 1774; a woman was sentenced to transportation for stealing a few rashers of bacon; women were often also seen as mere chattels and could be sold or even auctioned; laudanum was the preferred means of medication for the poor because it was also cheaper than gin which was sold at Gissing’s chemist shop in Thompson’s Yard.
The overcrowded conditions and poor sanitation in the yards often led to high rates of infant mortality and diseases such as cholera and typhoid were frequent occurrences. These were partially alleviated when new estates were built at Lupset and Flanshaw although many families did not want to move. Improvements did occur with the opening of a Cooperative store and availability of cheaper food; new places of worship such as the Unitarian Chapel which had as a minister one Goodwyn Barnby, a radical with left wing tendencies who first initiated the use of the word ‘communist’ into the English language. New places of entertainment were opened such as the Theatre Royal opened in 1894; a cinema in 1913; and dances in Unity Hall. Wakefield attracted a number of German migrants who specialized as butchers in the production of pork pies and sausages. These included the Hoffmans, Oesterleins, Hagenbachs and Zeiglers with Hoffmans still with us today.
Other stories, Phil touched on included the escape of a bear from the zoological garden to the rear of Milne’s house. The bear had to be shot and the mystery of the Green Door beneath the railway bridge. This actually led to an underground passage used as a shelter during WWII and perhaps as a means of a flight of stairs to gain access to the railway platform.
Today Westgate is still a busy thoroughfare with much evidence of its past as evident in the large buildings once inhabited by wealthy mill owners but are now perhaps showing their age and in some cases neglect. However, it is a street which offers fun, entertainment and a living for the many shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs.