Category Archives: History

An epidemic in Brightlingsea, 1803

A group of physicians bow down to a yellow, thin figure representing "influenza"

Physicians expressing their thanks to influenza, 1803. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

I’m finishing off the transcription of Brightlingsea‘s burials, in a register covering 1765-1812. It’s not a very interesting register, and is frustrating for genealogists because it rarely gives any information other than a name and the date of burial. There’s hardly any ages, and very rarely does it give the dead’s relationship, so no “son of” or “wife of” as we often see. Although there are some occupations given – as this is Brightlingsea, it’s no surprise that there’s some dredgers among the dead.

Each year, Brightlingsea produced between 20 to 40 dead:

1800: 21 burials
1801: 38 burials
1802: 38 burials

Then, in 1803, the number of burials leapt, more than doubling to 86 in just one year.

There was an influenza epidemic in 1803, and the spike in deaths that we see in the register is likely to have been caused by it. Looking at the burials by month, comparing those of the three years before, gives us an idea of when the epidemic was at its worst.

Continue reading

Interview: John Broom, author of “Fight the Good Fight”

fight-the-good-fight

With the First World War 100th anniversary commemorations ongoing, I’m welcoming John Broom, author of Fight the Good Fight: Voice of Faith from the First World War to Essex & Suffolk Surnames. His book examines the way that faith and war combine – how one person’s faith might prompt them to seek after peace, whilst another’s inspires gung-ho nationalism. John looks at the experiences of people from many countries involved with the First World War, and uncovers previously untold stories of belief and bravery in the face of unparalleled destruction and despair.

His second book, about faith and the Second World War, will be out in April 2016.

So I asked him a few questions…..

Continue reading

Workers’ Memorial Day – “Remember the dead, fight for the living.”

Wivenhoe builders

Wivenhoe builders

There was a terrible accident at the ropery on Wivenhoe High Street on 19th February 1855, when a boiler exploded. It killed three lads – Henry Browne (aged 14), John Jerrett (19) and William Southgate (14).1)These three boys appear in the burial register for Wivenhoe, 1813-1859. Henry was the son of William Browne, who owned the business. John and William were employed by Captain Jerrett of Liverpool (in fact, John was his son), and they were on the premises because they were assisting in the fitting of some rigging on Jerrett’s ship. It is thought the lads were standing by the boiler for warmth. The explosion caused a huge amount of damage. Poor John Jerrett was, as the newspaper report of the inquest said, “completely dismembered” and Henry and William were carried through the roof.2)Essex Standard, 23rd February 1855. The jury recorded a verdict of accidental death, the steam pipe having frozen and the boiler being empty of water – a faulty “float” had shown it to contain water when it did not. They made recommendations about boilers having gauges fitted, “precautions which they earnestly recommended all owners of steam-engines to adopt, with a view to the safety of those in their employ.”3)Essex Standard, 23rd February 1855

Although this accidents happened in the past, we still hear about tragedies in the workplace even today. The most horrifying, perhaps, was the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh, which killed over 1,000 workers and injured about 2,500.

So, on Workers’ Memorial Day, spare a thought for those who died just doing their jobs. And think about your own workplace – do you think there are dangers there which could be addressed to improve your safety? Are there areas which you think pose a danger to your health and those around you? It is thought that across the world, each year over two million men and women die due to workplace accidents and illnesses.

Find out more about Workers’ Memorial Day from the Trades Union Congress.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. These three boys appear in the burial register for Wivenhoe, 1813-1859.
2, 3. Essex Standard, 23rd February 1855

A witchfinder, an admiral, P. G. Wodehouse, the Boleyns and me

Strange things start to happen if you can trace your family back far enough, and if you can find a thread which is, let’s be honest… posh.

John Cardinall's arms in Tendring - he's related to all these people too. By Roger W. Haworth.

John Cardinall’s arms in Tendring – he’s related to all these people too. By Roger W. Haworth.

In trying to work out the family of my 6 x gt-grandmother, Elizabeth Cardinall (1741-1803), I’ve been studying the Cardinall family. I think her father was William Cardinall of Arlesford, which makes her a descendant of Charles Cardinall (?-1624) and his father, William Cardinall (1509-1568). I’ve been putting together the various strands of this family, and it means that, through Elizabeth, I’m connected to Sir Thomas Bowes, Admiral Nelson, P. G. Wodehouse, the Walpoles… shall I go on?  What’s amusing about this is that because Elizabeth Cardinall is the ancestor of vast numbers of quite ordinary people who can trace themselves back to villages on the River Colne, such as Fingringhoe, Rowhedge and Wivenhoe, it means that a huge number of people are, in fact, related to some rather grand people who, if you’re a wheelwright, builder or a librarian or an accountant or a plumber or a gamekeeper, may come as a rather enormous surprise. So let’s start with….

Continue reading

Interview with Janice Preston, historical romance author

Detail from fashion plate "London fashions as worn December 1806"

The first book by Janice Preston, historical romance novelist, was published this summer. Mary and the Marquis tells the tale of a widow, who finds an injured man in the woods whilst travelling with her children – he just happens to be a rather handsome but grumpy and troubled marquis, fallen on hard times. There follows the discovery of their mutual love, with plenty of misunderstandings, passionate clinches, and even attempted sheep-stealing along the way! I was very impressed by Janice’s convincing historical setting, while she told a gripping tale of love and adventure with well-drawn, engaging characters. I caught up with Janice to find out more.

Continue reading

Lawshall: of private baptisms and misgotten infants

hogarth-tristram-shandy-baptismHogarth’s depiction of Tristram Shandy’s home baptism.

The other week, I started to transcribe the parish registers for Lawshall in Suffolk, starting from the earliest date available – baptisms in 1563. Some rather intriguing things have appeared in them, and I thought I’d share them with you because they shine a light on the ordinary lives of people in the past.

Continue reading