Tag Archives: 19th century

Talk: Wivenhoe’s epidemics


Just a quick note – I’m giving a talk for the Wivenhoe History Group at the William Loveless Hall in Wivenhoe on Wednesday 8th July at 7.30pm.

All are welcome and it’s free.

I’ll be taking you through Wivenhoe’s burial registers, which show that the village was visited by plague, small pox and possibly cholera, from 1603 to 1849.

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.

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

The Taylor family album


Somewhere on the West Somerset Railway steam line.

In July, I went to Somerset to visit my dad, and we ended up in the Smuggler’s Cave in Watchet. There’s all sorts of treasures to be found here – antiques, mid-20th century bits and bobs, from grand polished dining tables to boxes of bent cutlery. I was rummaging through some photos and 1950s receipts, when I struck up a conversation with the chap who runs the shop.

“If you like old photos,” he said, “You’ll love this old album I got the other day at a car-boot sale.”

Off he went and came back with a dark green album, which at the beginning was full of late Victorian and Edwardian family photos, with first names added. Family sat outside a house, a line of Edwardians strung together as they ascend an icy mountain, horse-riding in Ireland. Following these were page after page of very old postcards, mainly of churches and cathedrals. At the back, there were newspaper clippings from WW1 with photos of soldiers who had been killed – Thomas Eland Clatworthy and Harold Richard Taylor. Further on, there was a programme for an evening of genteel entertainment at Flook House in Taunton, and photos of someone in… India? All the photos have been glued in, so there’s no chance of peering behind to see what might have been written on their backs.

Continue reading

Inspector Whicher, Sergeant Cuff, Mr. Holmes, Monsieur Poirot

Yesterday1)I started to write this on Christie’s birthday, but this behemoth could not be completed in one day. was Agatha Christie’s 124th birthday, so it seems appropriate to carry on with Wilkie Collins and Sensation Novels – how they developed into what we recognise as detective fiction.

So polish your magnifying glass, button up your Ulster, wax your moustache, and we shall travel back to Road, Somerset in 1860, to the scene of a real crime.

(Needless to say, this contains multiple spoilers).

Continue reading

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I started to write this on Christie’s birthday, but this behemoth could not be completed in one day.

Jack the Ripper DNA test proves… not very much, really

My friend Anna asked me what I think about the DNA testing which apparently “proves” that Aaron Kosminski was the infamous Jack the Ripper. I posted a Facebook comment in reply, and it was such a long comment that I thought, do you know what, I think I may as well blog this. So here it is (slightly amended).

I should point out that Russell Edwards, a self-proclaimed armchair detective, says this is case-closed. I am a self-proclaimed chaise longue detective, who is usually more interested in the Essex arsenic panic, but I shall don my deerstalker anyway, and go for a gallop about the foggy backstreets of late 19th century Whitechapel… (a stone’s throw from where two of my great-grandparents were living at the time).



Continue reading

An airy thought….

There I was, opening another marriage register, ready to transcribe, when I spotted something, which took my mind far from the nuptials of the people of Essex, and off into the realms of literature.

Not that this is an unusual occurrence – some people have remarked to me that “we’re all related to each other anyway” and “it’s just a list of lots of names”, but what always fascinates me are the stories you can find in parish registers. There is so much material for authors of historical novels in them – strange deaths, attempted bigamy, bizarre choices for children’s names, I could go on…..

Sometimes, I come across things in registers which remind me of novels I have read. I studied English Literature at university, which is probably to blame. For instance, all those soldiers posted at Weeley from 1803, who married the local girls, reminded me straight away of the militia being billeted near the Bennets’ home in Pride and Prejudice. And my various wanderings in old churchyards bring to mind Wuthering Heights and (as mentioned when I went round St. Peter’s, Harborne) the ghost stories of M. R. James.1)Especially when something rather uncanny happened to me and my mum in the churchyard at High Ongar….

But on this particular occasion, where I paused in my transcribing, my thoughts derailed, it was because I had noticed a particular surname. It wasn’t the first time I had, but this time my thoughts coalesced adequately for me to to think… “Hang on! I wonder if…?”

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels. It has been since we read an abridged version of it when I was 11 at primary school; then, when I was 13 at senior school we read the full edition and were allowed to watch the 1983 adaptation with Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester.2)Watch out – I do love my costume dramas and adaptations, and will be writing about them in this blog. It is a novel at once so ordinary and yet so strange; humdrum life wrapped about with the uncanny, that I cannot prize it from my mind. So little wonder then, that, as I looked at the marriage register and for some reason I don’t know, looked at the instructions for vicars on how to fill out the entries, rather than the entries themselves, that I noticed, once again, that the name of the publisher was George Eyre:


George Eyre’s name appearing in a marriage register. His name also appears in baptism and burial registers from 1813 onwards. After 1831, the “King’s printers” became known as Eyre & Spottiswoode. The 1812 Act specifically states that the registers are to be “of good and durable Paper, to be provided by His Majesty’s Printer as Occasion may require”, which means that every baptism, marriages and burial register in the country was printed by Eyre & Strahan. A sample of 1813 registers that I have looked at are all printed by “His Majesty’s Printer”, but later registers, from the 1840s, are produced by a range of other companies.

George Eyre's name appearing at the front of a baptism register. The Act to use pre-printed registers was passed in 1812, to come into force at the beginning of 1813.

George Eyre’s name appearing at the front of a baptism register. The Act to use pre-printed registers was passed in 1812, to come into force at the beginning of 1813. Old-style, pre-printed registers were in use for marriages from 1754-1812 (although not published by Eyre & Strahan), and some parishes used pre-printed registers for baptisms and burials to keep track of the taxes to fund the war with France.

Continue reading

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Especially when something rather uncanny happened to me and my mum in the churchyard at High Ongar….
2. Watch out – I do love my costume dramas and adaptations, and will be writing about them in this blog.

Minors, cold feet and bigamists – the secrets of East Bergholt’s banns register


Banns registers aren’t usually considered that important for family history research – after all, we only need to look at marriage registers, because we’re interested in the successful marriages that produced our ancestors. Aren’t we?

The availability of banns registers isn’t as complete as marriage registers, perhaps for this very reason. For instance, Essex Record Office has only included banns in their scanning project where they have been entered in a marriage register (as you sometimes find between 1754-1837), or where a banns register has been bound with a marriage register. Banns registers on their own aren’t included.

Usually, they don’t tell you much. They give the names and sometimes the abodes, and sometimes the marital statuses of those wishing to marry, and the dates on which the banns were published in the church. They can be useful if you’re fairly sure someone got married and you want to know which parish it took place, or if the marriage register for the other parish has been irretrievably lost, so providing you with a rough date for their nuptials and the bride’s surname previous to her marriage.

Sometimes, however, you’ll find the banns for a marriage that never took place, and you’re left wondering what on earth happened. Who changed their mind? Did someone find a legal objection to their union? Most of the time, we’re left with no clue and have to scratch our heads in wonder (particularly if you find someone who serially gets to the second reading of the banns before bailing out!). However, the banns for East Bergholt, between 1783 and 1803, provide reasons for the cancelled marriages, and they give us an interesting insight into late eighteenth century lives, and attitudes towards marriage.

Continue reading