An illustrated talk on 3rd August opened by Jane Ainsworth, author of several books based on her research of the Barnsley Pals and World War One. This was initially sparked off by discovering that a great uncle has died during the conflict and tracing her family tree had furthered her interest in in the part played by the Barnsley Pals during the war. Beginning with a memorial dedicated to the fallen that had once attended Barnsley Holgate Grammar School, Jane became interested at first with one particular family, the Potters. There were several reasons for this firstly Jane was born near Barnsley; she knew that there is a construction firm in the town named Potters; she discovered a wealth of archive material related to the Potters.
The Potters had been in business in Barnsley from the 1796. During WW1 the company was headed by Charles Dalton Potter. Two of his sons who joined the Barnsley Pals were subsequently killed while in action. Their names are inscribed on the Thiepval Monument in France along with over 73000 others whose bodies were never recovered.
Charles eldest daughter, Elsie, had kept all letters sent by her brothers, along with other army records that were collected and passed on through members of the family to the current holder, Ian Potter. This precious archive became the basis for Jane’s interest because of the wealth of detail of life at the Front. This, plus help from Ian Potter and access to records kept in the National Archives and School records etc. encouraged Jane to research further others who had attended the local grammar school and joined the Barnsley Pals and which led to the eventual publication of ‘ Keeping Their Beacons Alight,’ and ‘ The Barnsley Pals Colours.’
Ian continued with the family’s story mentioning also do that his father served during WW2 and that his mother was employed at Bletchley Park! Ian praised the work that Jane had meticulously researched.
.Following the formal procedure of the AGM on the 6th July 2019, a talk followed.
This was presented by David Scrimgeour who is no stranger to our meetings. David had previously carried our research into the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum and the results were published in 2015 under the title of ‘Proper People.’ He subsequently became interested in the photographs of inmates and in their appearance. Many of these he was able to access from the archives in the West Yorkshire History Centre in Wakefield.
Some of the early pioneers in the evolution of photography included were Dr. H. W. Diamond in Surrey and the work he did at the Bethlam Asylum in London during the 1850s.These occurred in the 1850s. Such photos led to a belief that the appearance of the subjects could reveal the type of person they were. In other words, the belief in physiognomy.
Then there was W. C. Mackintosh based in Edinburgh. In one of his photographs of seven siblings he ‘cut and pasted’ and created a montage all the better to make assumptions about their appearances. Another Scot, Dr. James Crichton-Brown, in Yorkshire at the West Riding Lunatic Pauper Asylum whose work drew the attention of Charles Darwin. The latter used photos sent by Crichton-Brown in his research.
In the 1870s David noticed that photos taken during this period were taken against similar backgrounds such as plants growing up a brick wall. Then there were those where there is a plain background. However the real interest was in the inmates appearance ie facial expression, body language and clothes worn. Eventually as techniques in photography changed and improved, more and more patients appear in portraitures and these were kept in albums for easier access by the medical profession.
For family historians who may have had an ancestor in an asylum, the chances of coming across a photo after 1895 is good Before that date it becomes increasingly difficult.
David’s talk was both intriguing and enjoyable but one that also reflects the hours of research he had put into his work.