Category Archives: Elsewhere (not Essex or Suffolk)

Whose body? A Plymouth Quaker mystery

Dr. Johnson reading “The Vicar of Wakefield”, from Illustrated Exhibitor & Magazine of Art, 1851. Drawn by Gilbert, engraved by J. Linton

Imagine how annoyed you’d be if the graveyard you were buried in was repurposed as a car park? Everyone else who had laid beside you for over a hundred years was disinterred, but because you had been buried deeper than all the others, your body was missed. The car park was built over you, and still you laid there, silent, uncomplaining and forgotten, as for sixty years cars drove over where you lay.

Now imagine your body is discovered, and you’re misidentified.

This has happened to a lady called Elizabeth Cookworthy, who was buried in the Quaker burial ground in Plymouth in 1833. I was curious about this story partly because my father was an undertaker so I find strange burials interesting, and partly because as a genealogist, I was intrigued by the headlines which said she’d been identified. How had this been done?

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Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017

Who Do You Think You Are? Live logo

It’s a week until Britain’s biggest family history fair, Who Do You Think You Are? Live, kicks off at Birmingham’s NEC.

There’s a wealth of family history societies, genealogy companies, and DNA-testing businesses hoping to catch your eye, and there lots of talks and workshops and goodness knows what else for you to sample.

If you’re planning to seek out some help with the trickier corners of your family tree, make sure you bring print-outs or even original documents.

I’ll be there on two days.

Friday 7th April

  • 2.20pm – 3pm: I will be giving two “Ask an Expert” sessions. My areas are old handwriting, wills and (no surprises here) Essex!
  • (And when not doing that I’ll be buying archival storage materials and checking out the CDs that the family history societies have to offer)

Saturday 8th April

  • 11.15am-12pm: my workshop session Turn your family tree surprises into a book will be taking place in Theatre 2. I’ll be talking about resources you can use to enrich your research, and the many way there are to share your writing.
  • 12pm-2.30pm: I’ll be at the Pen & Sword stall (number 290), where you can ask questions about my talk, and… well… let’s just say there’s books available to buy. Lots of them.
  • 3pm-4pm: I’ll be giving three “Ask an Expert” sessions.

Sunday 9th April

  • Collapse into an exhausted heap.


The Strawbridges: a 1930s motorcycling family


Last year, I wrote about the headstones¬†in St. George’s, Harborne, and mentioned the unusual monument to Freda Strawbridge, a young woman who died in a motorbike accident in 1936.

I’ve recently been contacted by a couple of people from the Strawbridge family – Pam, Freda’s niece, whose father was Freda’s brother. He himself was a motorbike fan too, and was injured in an accident a year before his sister’s fatal crash. Pam explained that her family really loved their motorbikes, and she sent me some wonderful photographs of the Strawbridges (see below the fold).

And not long after Pam contacted me, another Strawbridge – Karl – got in touch. Karl’s father was Freda’s cousin, and he keeps an eye on Freda’s resting place and her unusual memorial.

It’s nice to have an update – thank you, Strawbridges!

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Review: 24 Hours in the Past


Tyger Drew-Honey, Miquita Oliver, Ann Widdecombe, Alistair McGowan, Colin Jackson and Zoe Lucker

Rather like I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here crossed with Tony Robinsons’ The Worst Jobs in History, this four-episode living history series took six celebrities back to the 1840s. It wasn’t chaise longues and afternoon tea for them, no – they were to experience the harsh lives of the early Victorian working class.

Starting with a dust yard (at the Black Country Living Museum, which you sometimes see in the background in Peaky Blinders) and collecting ‘pure’ and night soil (poo, in other words), it was grim and grimy all the way. The second episode saw them at a coaching inn, where the women did domestic chores while the men worked as ostlers and as a pot-boy. The third episode took them to the potteries, where they experienced the unfair way in which the workers were paid, which led to the positively surreal sight of former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe form a union and go on strike. And after losing their jobs at the potteries, the fourth episode saw them suffer the inhumanely punitive conditions of the workhouse.

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Review: The Game


I’ve lived in Birmingham for several years, long enough to get confused sometimes when my brain forgets what the new Bull Ring shopping centre looks like when I round the corner at the end of New Street. “Where did this all come from?” it wonders for a split-second, before the buildings in front of me coalesce and I remember where I am. I still call House of Fraser by it’s old name: Rackhams. And I just can’t get used to the new Library of Birmingham (not surprising as it’s hardly open due to budget cuts).

So there I was, sitting down to watch BBC Two’s new Cold War thriller The Game. After much joshing ‘The Game is afoot! Well, nearly, iPlayer is still buffering!’ I found myself in 1970s London. Well, it’s supposed to be, but I immediately recognised Birmingham. Specifically, MI5’s headquarters, which is brutalist masterpiece Central Library. Loved and loathed, the haters are winning because the Library of Birmingham was built a year or two ago to replace it and poor old Central Library, John Madin’s concrete masterpiece, is, as I speak, being pulled down.

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A soldier’s photos from 1945

The day after VE day.

The day after VE Day.

The 70th anniversary of VE Day seemed like a good time to blog about my grandad’s soldier photos from WW2 – mainly because, although there’s no photo of him on VE Day itself, the one above, where he’s wearing a large smile, and leans casually against a gate, relief on his face, was taken the day after.

My grandad, Bert Nunn, was meticulous with his photographs, never failing to write on the back of them to identify where he was and who he was with. Perhaps he did this with his photos from 1945 because he knew that the end of hostilities were nigh, and soon he and his comrades would head home once more and might never see each other again.

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The Cigarmaker’s Gift

My great-great-grandfather, James Thomas Ashworth (1849-1890) was a cigarmaker, who lived in Bermondsey. There’s no surviving photos of him, as far as I know, but what he has left behind him (other than umpteen descendants) is this lovely handmade miniature chest of drawers, which he crafted from cigar boxes as a gift for his wife, Elizabeth.

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