Category Archives: History

The Shame of a Workhouse – An Infant Down the Pit

The publication in 1842 of Children’s Employment Commission’s investigation into the condition and treatment of children in the mines and collieries of the United Kingdom made for particularly shameful reading in Batley. It shone a very unwelcome spotlight on the treatment of workhouse children across the whole of the Dewsbury Poor Law Union in general, with the Batley at the epicentre of the scandal.

To be fair, the investigation highlighted a catalogue of shocking examples countrywide with children, girls as well as boys, working in the pits from very early ages. So horrific were some examples that newspapers compared the practice of children employed underground to a form of slavery.

Sub-Commissioner Jelinger C. Symons, who investigated the West Riding mines (excluding Leeds, Bradford and Halifax) stated:

There are well attested instances of children being taken into coal-pits as early as five years of age. These are very extreme cases; but many begin as trapdoor-keepers, and even as hurriers, as early as seven. Eight is as nearly as I can ascertain the usual age at which children begin to work in coal-pits, except in thin seams when they often come earlier [1].

Trapdoor-keepers, otherwise known as trappers, were employed directly by mine owners. They opened the doors in the mine allowing the coal corves (the tubs used for transporting the coal) to pass through. They also ensured the doors closed afterwards removing any blockages, such as spilled coal, which would prevent this. Often a 12-hour day, it was a responsible job too. This process of opening and closing doors provided ventilation essential to prevent a build-up of dangerous methane gas. It was a lonely job, undertaken in damp, ill-ventilated, drafty conditions and often in total darkness, unless on the occasions when “a good-natured collier will bestow a little bit of candle on them as a treat.[2]

Hurriers, employed by miners themselves, conveyed the coal from where it was hewn to the shaft by means of corves. These oblong small-wheeled wagons were pushed or pulled through the low, narrow passages. Symons wrote:

There is something very oppressive at first sight in the employment of children hurrying all day in passages under 30 inches in height, and altogether not much above the size of an ordinary drain….. [3]

Hurriers and Thrusters with Corves full of Coal – 1842 [4]

The weights of the corves varied. Symons, in his West Riding report, stated that when full these vehicles carried between 2 to 10 cwt of coal, with the corves themselves weighing around 2 to 2.5 cwt. The number of journeys made and distance travelled also varied between pits. Examples cited in Symons’ report ranged from 16 to 24 full corves transported a day and anything between over two miles to nine miles travelled, depending on factors such as weight of the corves, distance to the shaft, the height and incline and whether the hurriers could hand over the final pull to horses, which some pits used. The very youngest hurriers could work in pairs, with those pushing also known as thrusters. The hurrier would also help the miner load the coal onto the corves, including riddling the coal. They were sometimes left alone to finish the task of loading if their hewer knocked off early.

The physical and moral conditions of the children and young persons employed in mines and manufactures. London: HMSO, John W. Parker, 1843. Folding plate showing children transporting coal in mines and collieries. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

It was noted that in mining communities, miners with large, young families had a tendency to take their children to work in the mine at an earlier age than better off miners who already had several older children working in the pits and contributing to the family income.

However, the case which was an embarrassment to the local authorities in the parishes which formed the Dewsbury Poor Law Union involved a pauper child, Thomas Townend [5].

In the care of the workhouse authorities, the youngster was ‘apprenticed’ out in contravention of the minimum age allowed for such children. This had been seven under the Parish Apprentices Act of 1698, but increased to not under nine in the Parish Apprentices Act of 1816. These pauper apprenticeships were usually not into skilled trades, but as farm labourers or servants. The industrial revolution opened up factories and mines as an option too. Apprenticeships for these children were largely seen as a form of cheap labour rather than teaching a skilled trade. They also provided an opportunity to offload the responsibility and, more importantly, cost of supporting a pauper child from the authorities. The child’s parents (if living) had no legal rights in the matter.

The example, involving a boy in Batley workhouse, was described by Symons as “A very gross case of the unduly early employment of a workhouse child….” apprenticed to a collier in Thornhill before he was even five years old! [6]

The witness statements about the incident in the Appendix documents make for damning reading. I’ve reproduced the relevant passages in full.

No. 180. – Thomas Rayner, Esq., Surgeon, Birstall, wrote as follows. Dec. 26, 1840:
In mines where children are employed, in one coal-pit they will work perhaps 8 hours a-day, and in others 12 hours a-day. It is customary in some districts for miners to take six or seven apprentices; and I am now going to relate what has taken place in my own presence frequently during the past year.
I am guardian for the township of Gomersall [sic], in the Dewsbury Union. When I first attended the Board meetings, I was surprised to find so many applications from miners for apprentices from the Union Workhouse, the answer was, “Go to the house and select for yourself, and we will bind [7] you the one you select.” In some cases children (boys) have been selected at 7 and 8 years of age, because they were strong and healthy. Upon inquiry, I found no question had been asked as to age; and if in a few months the man found the boy was not strong enough (without reference to his age), he brings him back. One instance occurred only on the 24th December, last Thursday, and the boy is again in the Union Workhouse, only 7 years of age. I remonstrated with the other guardians on the enormity of binding a boy so young: they told me they had not bound him, nor should they do until he was 9 years of age; but is not this the same as binding? This boy’s master had five or six in the same way. I am the only surgeon who has ever been a member of the Dewsbury Board of Guardians and the other members do not like to be interfered with. Now, in such a case if the child must have had a certificate of fitness before being sent, he never would have been sent. I was astonished that such things could be…..[8]

No. 181. – Mrs. Lee, Matron of the Workhouse at Batley. Examined May 5, [1841] at Batley Poorhouse, near Birstall: –
The boy Thomas Townend, went on trial to a colliery at Thornhill, belonging to Mr. Ingham; he went on the 19th March, 1840, and came back again in the 6th April, 1840. He is entered in my book as being born in 1836. The reason he was sent back was, that he was pilfering into a neighbour’s house. He went to a collier, who employed him. It is the practice of the colliers or masters who want children to go to the Board-room, and they get an order to take a child, after they have picked them out at the workhouse. They inquire what the age is; they are not bound before 10, but they go on trial before that. Joseph Booth was born in 1833; he was discharged from here 12th March, 1840; he went to Robert Lumb, a collier, but an uncle interfered and took the child away, because he was not he thought, sufficiently fed. He went to his uncle, and remained at uncle’s till he was re-admitted on December 24th at this house. George Booth, a brother of Joseph Booth, is now at Dewsbury poorhouse. I am quite sure that Townend was not hurt in health by going to the pit. I believe there was a mistake made by the Board about his age. [9]

No. 182. – Joseph Booth, examined May 5, [1841] at the same workhouse, aged 8 years: –
I remember being in the pit; I used to hurry with another; I used to like being in the pit. Please they gave me plenty to eat. We used to go in at 5 in the morning, and they came out at 5. We had a bit of bread to eat in the pit, and stopped to eat it; we used to sit down to have it. There were four boys and six girls. The work did not tire me much. [10]

No. 183. – Thomas Townend (stated to be born in 1836). Examined at the said Workhouse: –
I remember being in the pit. I liked it; but they would not let me stay. [11]

No. 268. – Thomas Rayner, Esq., Surgeon, of Birstall. Examined May 26, 1841, at Birstall:-
….The Board of Guardians at Batley apprentice children without due care to ascertain their age. The boy Thomas Townend, aged 5 years, would not have been brought back to the workhouse had not the grandfather interfered and demanded it. We threatened to acquaint Mr. Chadwick and the Commissioners with it….. [12]

Another witness, Joseph Ellison, Esq., of Birkenshaw, a former Guardian , claimed it was notorious that when colliers needed hurriers they applied to Poor Law Guardians for pauper children because “They cannot get them elsewhere, on account of the severity of the labour and treatment hurriers experience; and which makes parents prefer any other sort of employment for their children.[13]

Essentially, the Dewsbury Poor Law Union was deliberately circumventing the rules around pauper apprentices by using such words as ‘trial’, thus claiming the children were not officially bound until they were of the correct age.

The case of Thomas Townend drew special attention from the Poor Law Commissioners. This was the national body providing Parliament with operational information around the Poor Law, and having responsibility for collating statistics and formulating regulations and procedures. As a result of the investigations of the Employment Commission, on 27 June 1842 a letter was sent from the Poor Law Commission to the Guardians of the Dewsbury Union [14] asking about the practice of sending children from the Union Workhouses to work in mines. They requested a return showing details of every child under the age of 16 apprenticed to work in a coal mine from 1840 to 1842. A similar missive went to the Halifax Union Board of Guardians, among others.

The Dewsbury Union return of 9 July 1842 is below. A bigger version can be found here.

In addition, William Carr, Clerk of Dewsbury Union, addressed specifically the case of Thomas Townend stating:

With regard to Thomas Townend, who was sent out of the workhouse to a coal miner on trial at five years old, I have to remark, that he, at that time, appeared by the workhouse books to be upwards of seven years of age. The child had been removed, along with other paupers, from one of the township workhouses to the union workhouse; and as the master of the township workhouse kept no account of the ages of the inmates, the union officers were obliged to get the ages of the paupers from the paupers themselves and their friends; and in this way Thomas Townend was put down seven instead of five. As soon as the error was discovered, which was in a few days after the child was sent out of the workhouse, he was sent back to the workhouse. [15]

Absolutely no mention that it was the intervention of his grandfather, and the threat of reporting the case to Edwin Chadwick and the Poor Law Commissioners that prompted his return to the workhouse, as indicated by Thomas Rayner in his deposition to Symons.

The Poor Law Commissioners were keen to have further information about the boy, writing to the Dewsbury Union Clerk on 14 July 1842 asking:

In reference to the case of one of the children, Thomas Townend, I am to request that the Commissioners may be informed what has become of the boy since he was returned to the workhouse, and whether he is in the workhouse still. [16]

Carr fired a reply back on 16 July 1842 informing the Poor Law Commission that since his return on trial (the Guardians still at pains to stress this was no apprenticeship) with William Bradshaw he had remained in the Union Workhouse at Batley. [17] The location of this workhouse is shown on the map below. Anyone familiar with the White Lee Road/Carlinghow Lane area of town will recognise the spot, which is now housing.

Extract of Six-inch OS Map Surveyed 1847 to 1851, Published 1854 Showing location of Batley Workhouse – Adapted

I have traced Thomas Townend in Batley workhouse in the 6 June 1841 census [18], but nothing definite subsequent to his mention in the July 1842 letter. Unfortunately, of the few remaining records left, the Board of Guardian Minutes, held by West Yorkshire Archive Services do not survive beyond 1842.

As a result of the report of the Children’s Employment Commission, the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 was passed. Crucially, from 1 March 1843, it was made illegal to employ women or girls of whatever age underground in any mine or colliery in Britain. Boys under the age of 10 were no longer permitted to work below ground either.

As for pauper apprentices, the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1844 banned the binding of children under nine years of age, and of children who could not read or write their name.

Notes:

[1] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842 – out of copyright, accessed via The Internet Archive
[5] In most documents his name is Townend. However, in the Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines the spelling is Townsend.
[6] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[7] Put out to apprenticeship.
[8] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[9] Ibid
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid
[12] Ibid
[13] Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842
[14] The Board of Guardians oversaw the operations of the particular Poor Law Union, in this case Dewsbury Union. The Guardians were drawn from all the constituent parishes of the Union. At this stage Batley had two Guardians on the Board of 23. Other parishes represented were Heckmondwike, Lower Whitley and Thornhill (one each); Liversedge, Morley, Ossett and Soothill (two each); Gomersal and Mirfield (three each); and Dewsbury (four). Source http://www.workhouses.org.uk/
[15] Parliamentary Papers Volume 1842:v.35. London: H.M.S.O., 1842.
[16] Ibid
[17] Ibid
[18] Thomas Townend, 1841 Census. Accessed via Findmypast, Reference HO107/1267/67/2

Sources:

  • Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
  • Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842. Accessed via Google Books
  • Parliamentary Papers Volume 1842:v.35. London: H.M.S.O., 1842. Accessed via Google Books
  • The Condition and Treatment of the Children Employed in the Mines and Collieries of the United Kingdom. London: W. Strange, 1842. Accessed via The Internet Archive
  • Higginbotham, Peter. “The History of the Workhouse by Peter Higginbotham.” Accessed July 31, 2019. http://www.workhouses.org.uk/.
  • Lake, Fiona, and Rosemary Preece. Voices from the Dark: Women and Children in Yorkshire Coal Mines. Place of Publication Not Identified: Overton, 1992.
  • Raymond, Stuart A. My Ancestor Was an Apprentice, How Can I Find out More about Him? London: Society of Genealogists Enterprises, 2010.
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • Wellcome Library https://wellcomelibrary.org/

With special thanks to the staff at the Leeds Local and Family History library for their help in locating a copy of the Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners.

The Mystery of the Body Dumped in Batley

It was 4.30am on 30 May 1881. 14-year-old Peter Kelly, a hurrier at West End Colliery, was making his way to work. As he approached Mary Wrigglesworth’s [1] house and butcher’s shop, a short distance from his home, he noticed a shape crouched in the doorway. Curiosity piqued, he investigated further. A bare arm poked out from under a sack. This was tied loosely round the body with a clothes line. The feet were also bound. There was no movement from the figure, no response to Peter’s enquiries. Life was extinct.

Peter called the attention of another miner, Joss Lee, who was also on his way to work. Joss stood watch over the body whilst Peter returned home to fetch his father William, who untied the cord to reveal a semi-naked body. The police were hastily summoned. They bundled the corpse onto a handcart, and removed it to Joseph Kemp’s Victoria Hotel, Carlinghow.  Dr Myles William O’Reilly of Batley Carr, the district Medical Officer for the West Riding Constabulary, was called to examine the body.

The Victoria, Carlinghow – Photograph by Jane Roberts

The combined police and preliminary medical examination revealed the body was bound by its legs, arms and torso in a strange sitting position, and covered with a potato sack. Clothed in only trousers with braces hanging loose, elastic-side boots and grey stockings, around its neck was a paper collar with a button still attached and embedded in the swollen neck. This appeared to indicate a shirt had possibly been ripped or cut away. By the side of the body was a coat and vest, and on top of the sack was a billycock hat [2]

On checking the pockets no money was found, only some old letters from 1880, business cards for a Bradford Westgate eatery, keys, a knife, a purse containing spectacles and some old bills, the most recent dated 26 May 1881. There were also three cartes de visite style photographs taken some time ago. One was of two women, whilst another was of the victim with a woman. One of the images, according to reports in The York Herald, was identified as Miss Wrigglesworth [3], the person in whose doorstep the body had been dumped. All this documentation enabled quick identification of the body, despite the dark, swollen appearance of the face.

As Monday 30 May 1881 dawned, 43-year-old bachelor John Critchley, second son of prominent local Batley coal mine proprietor and J.P. James Critchley, became the centre of a potential murder enquiry. And it soon became clear the location where his body was discovered held particular significance – John Critchley and Mary Wrigglesworth had been on intimate terms, according to some reports, for almost 20 years, although his family objected to the relationship and she, it seemed, “had not regarded him with particular favour[4]. Nevertheless, he was well-known in the neighbourhood, with some sections of the press reporting him as being a frequent visitor to Mary’s shop.

When the police roused her to break the news that her former sweetheart had been found dead on her doorstep, she fainted. Revived with smelling salts, she informed them they had broken up some time ago, she had last seen John before Christmas and she had heard only vague rumours of his whereabouts and mode of life.

The Huddersfield Chronicle paints a vivid picture of High Street, where the body was found, describing it as a narrow street:

….partially filled with houses and small shops, built in a straggling manner; and directly opposite the butcher’s shop in question, where Miss Wrigglesworth resided and carried on business, there is a respectable-looking cottage house, one storey high. Nearly opposite is the Lord Nelson beerhouse [this, according to police evidence, had closed promptly at 10pm on Sunday night] and some cottages, evidently occupied by colliers or mill workers. Above the butcher’s shop are some newly-erected ones, used for various purposes. The main point of interest is a small shop which has been erected close to the gable of the house, which forms one of a row of three – two-storied old cottages – and in the one at the end nearest the road lived Miss Wrigglesworth…. [5] 

You can almost picture the narrow dirt road that night, no more than seven yards [6] at its widest, with its higgledy-piggledy houses, all quiet but for the occasional trot of horses and rumble of cart wheels. Unlit by street lights, somewhere in the vicinity are persons unknown, alert and watchful, awaiting the chance to dispose of the body of John Critchley.

Extract of Six-inch OS Map Surveyed 1888 -1892, Published 1895 Showing location of High Street and the Victoria Hotel – Adapted

The District Coroner Thomas Taylor Esq, who had three inquests over in Dewsbury that day, was hastily contacted. An early inquest and post mortem to determine the cause of death were deemed vital – decomposition was already well-advanced and a lid needed to be quickly put on the wild local and even national speculation, with theories that this was a brutal murder rapidly gaining ground. Large groups of people were already congregating around the Victoria Hotel to discuss the sensational situation and speculating about potential murder methods. The most popular theories included John Critchley had been shot or kicked to death [7] with his body immersed in water for several days after [8].

That very same evening, at 9pm, John Critchley’s inquest formally opened at the Victoria Hotel. The jury was sworn in and accountant Joseph Fenton elected foreman. This first meeting only covered the formalities of identification, and once these preliminaries were complete it adjourned.

Walter Critchley, coal proprietor of Grosvenor Terrace, confirmed the body downstairs was that of his brother. From his evidence it transpired his brother lived a somewhat unconventional life. 

Born on 4 August 1837 and baptised on 25 August that year at Dewsbury All Saints [9], John was the second son of James and Sarah Jane Critchley (née Illingworth). Their other children included Robert Illingworth (1835) Thomas (1840, died 1850), Charles James (1843), Jane Elizabeth (1848), Mary (born and died 1850), Walter (1853), William Henry (1855) and Mary Ellen (1857).

James and Sarah Jane married in Dewsbury All Saints church on 8 January 1835 [10]. James, born in Warley near Halifax, was described as a card maker [11], but he had his fingers in many business pies. In the 1841 census the family lived at Market Place in Dewsbury with James described as a publican [12]. In 1851 whilst John was at boarding school in Pontefract [13] his parents are recorded at 615 Market Place, Dewsbury with the multiplicity of James’ interests becoming obvious – coal dealer, card maker and inn keeper all listed in the census occupation column [14]. In 1861, and living at the Top of Batley Carr, James’ occupation had crystallised, now described as a coal owner employing 4 boys and 100 men. John was back with his family in this census, his occupation being a farmer of 130 acres employing six men, three smiths, three agents, six cart men and eight labourers [15]. In 1871 [16] and 1881 [17] James was a coal proprietor and now the Critchleys lived at the magnificently imposing Batley Hall. But in neither of these censuses can John be found. 

From the inquest evidence John’s failure to put down any roots came into sharp focus. Walter revealed at one point his brother worked as a cardmaker for older brother Robert Illingworth Critchley, but could not settle to business. As a result, at the time of his death, he had no fixed occupation. His base, when in the area, was his parents’ Batley Hall home. But he frequently left home for weeks at a time, with minimal contact with his family who often had no idea of his whereabouts. Walter revealed he last saw his brother in November and he had last been in touch via a letter at Christmas when John’s address was lodgings at 24 James Street, Bradford. After that, no contact with his family is recorded [18]. Neither is John at that location in the 1881 census.

However, despite his failure to keep in touch with his family since Christmas, he had visited the area relatively recently as the newspapers soon established. About a month prior to the discovery of his body, Miss Wrigglesworth’s sister had seen him in Batley Carr, but not to speak to. And an acquaintance had spoken to him in Dewsbury towards the end of March, when he had been very chatty [19].

The post-mortem was carried out at the Victoria Hotel at 4am on the morning of 31 May by Dr O’Reilly, assisted by the Critchley family doctor, Mr Stockwell. The early hour was chosen because of the rapidness of decomposition, but also no doubt in an effort to minimise the chance of large, excitable crowds gathering. Although the location, a public house, might seem odd to us today, post mortems could still be carried out in public houses and even private homes in this period. Only six years had passed since the 1875 Public Health Act which had legislated for local authorities to provide public mortuaries and dedicated suitable places to conduct post mortems. And only in January and February 1881 was the Victoria Hotel the location for a series of very high-profile inquests relating to a major boiler explosion at a Carlinghow mill, an explosion which resulted in the deaths of 16 workers. 

The post mortem results were not revealed until the inquest reopened on 2 June, but essentially no marks of violence were found on the body. There was no evidence of immersion in water. Decomposition was suggestive of death taking place at least 48 hours before O’Reilly first saw the body. The only visible cause which could account for death was fatty degeneration of the heart [20]. However, given the odd nature of the case, O’Reilly arranged for various organs and tissue samples to be sent for further analysis to Thomas Scattergood, eminent Leeds surgeon and lecturer on Forensic Medicine and Toxicology at the Leeds School of Medicine.

Post mortem formalities complete, Critchley’s body was placed in a leaden coffin and soldered firmly shut. It was then lowered in an oak cask and taken to Batley Hall, the family home.

Batley Hall – Photograph by Jane Roberts

Shortly after 11am the following morning, 1 June 1881, the hearse, three mourning coaches and a number of mostly empty private carriages left the Hall for the private burial ceremony in Batley Cemetery.

The massive wreath-strewn, polished oak coffin was adorned with brass fittings and the plate bore the inscription “In Memory of John Critchley, of Batley Hall, aged 43 years.” The coffin was carried by a number of Messrs. Critchley workmen, and many employees attended the service. Chief mourners were John’s parents Mr and Mrs James Critchley, brothers Robert Illingworth Critchley and his wife, Charles James Critchley, Walter Critchley and his wife, brother Willie Critchley, sister Mary Ellen and her husband Arthur Jubb, and aunt Ann Critchley. Rev. T. G. Davies, vicar of Batley, conducted the service, which was not without incident. Policemen were stationed around the cemetery perimeter to keep back the large crowds congregated outside. During the ceremony, an unseemly struggle broke out, which resulted in the storming of the cemetery gates and a considerable number of female factory workers gaining entry.

Critchley Family Headstone at Batley Cemetery – Photograph by Jane Roberts

Whispers from the post mortem now started to seep out, and the mood shifted slightly. Newspapers started to point out that the deceased was of medium height and very stout and “what the medical fraternity would regard as an apoplectic subject…[21]. Others stated:

The impression that the deceased has not been murdered appears to be gaining ground in the district….The supposition…that the unhappy man had probably died amongst the companions of his wretchedness, and that they, to clear themselves of possible odium, got rid of the body in the most ingenious manner they could hit upon, seems to be regarded as the most probable theory [22].

So, whilst maybe not murder, they believed his lifestyle and the company he kept materially contributed to his demise. 

All this speculation was proving extremely distressing to his family, a fact which the Critchley family solicitor, Mr Scholefield, was at pains to point out when the inquest reopened at the Victoria Hotel on 2 June. This undoubtedly influenced The Dewsbury Reporter’s assessment of John, in which they played down any hint of a debauched lifestyle:

…when he returned [home] he always came back healthy and in good condition, and seldom if ever appeared to have been drinking to excess. He was not a drunkard, though fond of what is called a social glass. He was a generous-hearted man, always ready to help a friend, full of good humour, chatty and agreeable, and not at all the man against whom a person might be supposed to cherish a grudge and desire to do him bodily harm.[23]

This second phase of the inquest, on 2 June 1881, saw a parade of witnesses [24]. These included Robert Hammerton, the proprietor of a Bradford eating house whose business cards were found on John Critchley’s body. The deceased was a regular visitor to Hammerton’s establishment, which was located just around the corner from his last known address. He confirmed Critchley last visited on the afternoon of 26 May and ate a meal of lamb, new potatoes, steeped peas and mint sauce. Hammerton described Critchley as being “merry” and apparently affected by drink, but also added this was the worse state of intoxication he had seen him in. Critchley had briefly fallen asleep, and finally left at around 3pm. This was the last recorded sighting of John Critchley alive. 

Other witnesses included Peter Kelly, William Kelly, William Jenkinson (a card fettler living at High Street), George Addy (a Sergeant with the West Riding Constabulary), Myles William O’Reilly, John Dyson (a West Riding Police Constable), and Zillah Susan Booth (wife of stonemason William Booth and another High Street resident). 

Of particular interest in these testimonies were the reports by William Jenkinson, John Dyson and Zillah Booth. The former, a close neighbour of Mary Wrigglesworth, had been out around midnight and noticed nothing. Around 1.45am he was awoken by a trap passing in the direction of his neighbour’s shop. His house was separated from Mary Wrigglesworth’s by an entrance to a Yard. Going at a quick trot, he was not aware of the trap stopping. 

Zillah Booth also reported hearing a trap going towards Miss Wrigglesworth’s shop at around 1.35am. She stated two people, one a woman, walked ahead of it. She heard no voices, only footsteps. Within five minutes the trap returned, at a quicker pace accompanied by the walkers. The female carried on down the road whilst the trap turned off down Beck Lane. The trap had a distinctive sound, as if the wheels had been muffled [25]. She had heard the same vehicle, a light cart, the previous night at 2.10am when it had travelled in the direction of Miss Wriggleswoth’s shop, a 100 yards from the Booth residence, again rapidly returning within minutes. 

John Dyson was the policeman whose beat covered High Street for the key period. A clear night, between 9pm on Sunday and 3am on Monday he patrolled the street five times. He last passed Miss Wrigglesworth’s shop at around 2.35am as day was breaking but noticed nothing unusual. Corroboration that he had not shirked his duty came from the watchman from Messrs. J and R Talbot’s Bullrush Mill, who accompanied PC Dyson on his last sweep of High Street. 

According to the notes made by Coroner Thomas Taylor, the only vehicle PC Dyson saw whilst on duty was a dogcart (a light horse-drawn vehicle) going towards Carlinghow, down High Street and through Cross Bank at 11pm, containing four people. However, newspaper reports of the inquest also note the policeman saw a conveyance used for carrying dead horses between 11.30pm and midnight. It was opposite Bullrush Mill and it passed Victoria Street going towards Dewsbury. He never saw or heard the trap just before 2am which the two High Street residents reported.

The inquest adjourned once more to await the results of tissue and organ tests, and allow for further police enquiries in Leeds and Bradford ad well as locally.  It resumed at the Victoria Hotel on Thursday 9 June 1881 [26]. The principal witness was Leeds Surgeon Thomas Scattergood who presented his findings: There was no evidence that John Critchley’s death was the result of poisoning. 

Superintendent Airton, of the West Riding Constabulary, offered no further evidence. Despite extensive enquiries there were no reported sightings of John Critchley between leaving Mr Hammerton’s refreshment room on the afternoon of Thursday 26 May and the estimated time of death at midnight on Friday 27 May. Airton did suggest presenting a further witness, a woman, who had seen John Critchley enter and shortly afterwards leave Mary Wrigglrsworth’s shop, this only two weeks prior to his death. The jury following guidance from the Coroner, who pointed out that as this was a fortnight before Critchley’s death it would probably not help determine cause of death, decided against calling her. 

After some deliberation, and with the overwhelming evidence of the two medical men that no poison was evident and that fatty degeneration of the heart was the cause of death, the jury delivered its verdict: “That John Critchley was found dead on a doorstep in Carlinghow on 30th May, 1881, and the jury are unanimous in their verdict, based on medical evidence, that the deceased died from natural causes.

The jury urged the police to continue their investigations as to the place of death and how the body ended up on a Carlinghow doorstep. But in effect that was it. Whether John Critchley’s body was clandestinely transported to Miss Wrigglesworth’s abode by persons wishing to avoid the unwelcome scrutiny his death might have caused them, or even his family, was not discovered. But it is clear they were not strangers to him, given the location they chose to dispose of his body. 

By the time of the 1891 census Mary Wrigglesworth, now described as a general shopkeeper, resided at Wood Hill, Dewsbury [27]. Her former butcher’s shop and house, street name now changed from High Street to Cross Bank Street, was listed on the 1891 census but annotated to say no-one “slept in the place[28]. Subsequent censuses, and it is the more familiar name of Cross Bank Road which appears. I wonder if it is possible the shop later became Millman butchers? The location, opposite the Nelson would fit. These buildings have long since gone in the Batley clearances.

The imposing Critchley family headstone marking their Batley cemetery burial plot, in its prestigious location in front of the twin chapels alongside the graves of other local dignitaries and businessmen, makes for interesting reading once you know the story of John. Exact dates mark the passing of his parents and other family members. John’s simply reads “Died May 1881” for a reason – the exact date is not known.

Inscriptions on the Critchley Headstone – Photograph by Jane Roberts

And next time you have a drink in the Victoria public house, pause and think. You are privileged to be drinking in a place steeped in Batley’s hidden and long-forgotten history! 

Notes:
[1] In many reports, including Thomas Taylor’s inquest notes, she is referred to as Mary Wrigglesworth. In census documents and her 16 April 1837 baptism entry in Birstall parish register she is Wigglesworth. For consistency I have used the Wrigglesworth spelling used by the Coroner.
[2] Bowler hat.
[3] The York Herald, 1 June 1881.
[4] The York Herald, 1 June 1881.
[5] The Huddersfield Chronicle, 4 June 1881
[6] Thomas Taylor’s inquest notes of PC John Dyson’s 2 June 1881 evidence states 7 yards wide, whilst The Dewsbury Reporter of 4 June 1881 states PC Dyson said 5 yards.
[7] The Manchester Evening News, 31 May 1881.
[8] The Manchester Evening News, 1 June 1881. 
[9] Dewsbury All Saints Baptism Register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archive Service Reference WDP9/11.
[10] Dewsbury All Saints Marriage Register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archive Service Reference WDP9/22.
[11] Manufacturing the combs and implements for combing (carding) wool.[12] 1841 Census, Reference HO107/1268/45/19, accessed via Findmypast.[13] 1851 Census, Reference HO107/2330/108/3, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk.
[14] 1851 Census, Reference HO107/2324/325/28, accessed via Findmypast.[15] 1861 Census, Reference RG09/3399/96/36, accessed via Findmypast.
[16] 1871 Census, Reference RG10/4583/22/37.
[17] 1881 Census, Reference RG11/4546/152/24.
[18] 30 May 1881 John Critchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142.
[19] The Dewsbury Reporter, 4 June 1881.
[20] 2 June 1881 John Critchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142.
[21] The Manchester Evening News, 31 May 1881.
[22] The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 1 June 1881.
[23] The Dewsbury Reporter, 4 June 1881.
[24] 2 June 1881 John Critchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142
[25] Huddersfield Chronicle, 4 June 1881.
[26] 9 June 1881 John Critchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142.
[27] 1891 Census, Reference RG12/3735/57/7, accessed via Findmypast.
[28] 1891 Census, Reference RG12/3721/30/28, accessed via Findmypast.

OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html under a Creative Commons licence.

The Confessions of a Blogger: Review of 2018

I’ll start with an admission: My 2018 blogging year was not as prolific as usual. In fact it was nowhere near the efforts of previous years. But I’m far from downhearted. In fact I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you have too.

Here are the details.

The Statistics. My blog saw a noticeable decline in output, with 25 posts during the year, down from 33 in 2017 and in excess of 60 in 2016. This was entirely due to other commitments such as completing my genealogy studies and publishing a book. Neither was it unexpected – I did forecast this in my 2017 blogging review post. And it is pretty much in line with what I promised: two posts a month.

However onto the positives. Despite the downturn in posts, my blog has grown from strength to strength numerically. Views increased from 20,649 in 2017 to well in excess of 21,000 in 2018. Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read my random family and local history outpourings.

My blog has now well and truly developed its character with core themes of my family history, interspersed with local history tales from Yorkshire, alongside news from – and my musings on – the genealogy world’s latest developments.

Most Popular Times? Monday proved my most popular blogging day, with 21% of views. And my golden hour shifted to the slightly earlier time of 6 pm. I suspect this shift is as much a result my blog posting times as anything more profound.

How Did They Find You? Search Engines took over as the key engagement route accounting for around 7,000 views.

Where Did They Come From? The global reach of WordPress never fails to amaze me. Going on for 100 countries are represented in my list of views. The UK accounted for well over 10,000 of these which was almost double the number of my next most popular country, the United States. Australia came third with over 1,000. But all corners of the globe feature with readers extending to Cambodia, Tonga, Peru and Tunisia. A huge thank you to you all! You’re what makes it worthwhile researching and writing these posts.

And it’s fantastic to receive so many comments either indirectly via Facebook and Twitter, or directly on my blog site. They’ve added new information, context and connections. Thank you for getting in touch.

Top Five Posts of 2018: Other than general home pages, archives and my ‘about’ page, these were:

General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free. This was actually posted in 2016 but, as in 2017, it continued to perform well in 2018 . This post was about a new free source for searching the GRO birth and death indexes (note not marriages) for certain years, one which gives additional search options. It also covered the initial £6 PDF trial, an alternative and cheaper source than buying a birth or death certificate. Note the PDF option, a copy of the register entry rather than a certificate, still continues. However the cost will rise to £7 on 16 February 2019. The cost of a certificate increases from £9.25 to £11.

Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was. This was another 2017 post which continued to prove popular. It is testimony to the importance with which genetic genealogy is now seen. lt dealt with my shocking DNA results. I’m 100% from Great Britain and Ireland. No drama there. But it indicated that I’m not entirely the Yorkshire lass I thought – the ethnicity pointed to some genetic material from the dark side of the Pennines. I reckon this could be linked to a potential 5x great grandmother from Colne. I really do need to push on with my Abraham Marshall New Year’s Resolution.

Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder. Yet another 2017 offering, and in last year’s “one that got away” category as being one of my favourite posts which failed to reach the Top 5 that year. Well it proved immensely popular in 2018. It dealt with the unsolved murder in Huddersfield of a Dewsbury woman of ‘ill-repute’ whose tragic life and abusive relationships ultimately resulted in her death.

“Historical Vandalism” as more Archive Services Come Under Threat. Published in December 2018 its appearance in the Top 5 for the year shows the importance with which any threat to these vital services are seen. It covered some recent swingeing funding cuts to archives and corresponding proposed (and actual) major reductions to these services across the country. Some of the consultations, Surrey (4 January 2019) and Kent (29 January 2019), close imminently. So I would urge you to have your say.

Tripe Tales – Food Nostalgia. My childhood memories of food led me to focus on this particular northern ‘delicacy’, which was very popular when I was growing up. It covered some early 20th century local tripe stories including theft, death and prodigious eating feats, as well as recipes to try. I was also inundated via social media with suggestions of where I could still buy it. I’ve yet to confront once more this culinary challenge.

So yet again this was a mixed bag of popular posts, ranging from topical family history issues, to DNA and general history and local history tales – which sums up my blog perfectly.

The Ones that Got Away: These are a few of my favourite posts which didn’t make the top five:

Fur Coats Can Prevent Flu – The 1918/19 Pandemic looked at how to use various information sources to build up a picture of the impact of the Spanish Flu “plague” on local communities. In my example I focused on Batley.

How the Western Front Association WW1 Pension Ledgers May Have Solved another Family History Mystery. I used this newly available online record source to prove a family tale and discover more about my great uncle.

Irish DNA Breakthrough and Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue covered how DNA led to the demolition of one of my family history brick walls and helped me find out more about two of my Irish grandpa’s sisters who emigrated to the United States.

A Family Historian on Holiday: A Whitby Cemetery and WW1 Shipwreck was about the sinking of the Hospital Ship Rohilla off the Whitby coast in 1914. With links to the Titanic, heroic rescue attempts and a disputed will it illustrates how a family and local historian is never off duty, even on holiday!

Finally there was Published: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of The Northern Union. This marked my greatest achievement of 2018 and the culmination of around two years’ work, the publication of my book co-authored with husband Chris. It has been described as the definitive book about those Rugby League players who fell in the Great War.

What Does 2019 Promise? Well, as in 2018, I aim to do two posts a month. These will be on the same type of themes as usual – family and local history tales, plus topical genealogy offerings when anything big hits the headlines. I will also be including some Aveyard One-Name Study stories.

I anticipate my major challenge this coming year, as ever, will be time. I also have the added concern of keeping things fresh and relevant. I now have two other writing roles to add to my blog. At the end of 2018 I took on the role of editor as the Huddersfield and District Family History Society quarterly Journal, the first edition of which came out in January. And I now write a regular family history column in Yorkshire nostalgia magazine “Down Your Way.” So clearly I want to ensure my blog posts are separate and distinct from my other writing commitments. However, my head is buzzing with ideas so I don’t think that will be too much of a creative dilemma.

But whatever direction my blogging year takes, thank you for reading, engaging and supporting.

Wishing you a happy, peaceful 2019 filled with family history fun!

Fur Coats Can Prevent Flu – The 1918/19 Pandemic

A century ago England, along with most of the world, was gripped by the flu pandemic. As far as I’m aware none of my immediate ancestors, or their families, died as a result of it. But the mortality rate was the tip of the iceberg as whole communities struggled to cope with the infection and its effects.

In this blog post I will give a national overview, before looking at its effects locally on Batley to try give a feel for the impact on the day to day lives of my ancestors. The sources I will use can be adapted to look at the effect of the pandemic on other localities in England.

In 1920 the government published a Supplement to the Registrar-General’s 81st Annual Report on Births, Deaths and Marriages in England and Wales. It covered mortality from influenza during the 1918/19 epidemic in these two countries. Its severity is starkly conveyed in the myriad of statistics contained within the report. It stated in 1918 influenza accounted for 112,329 deaths split between 53,883 males and 58,446 females. 7,591 of the male deaths were non-civilians. So, in total, 104,738 influenza deaths were amongst the civilian population. This corresponded to a death rate of 3,129 per million civilian population. The report continued:

No such mortality as this has ever before been recorded for any epidemic in this country since registration commenced, except in the case of the cholera epidemic of 1849, when the mortality from that cause rose to 3,033 per million population.

It was recognised this was not representative of total mortality as a result of influenza, as other causes of death could also have an underlying influenza link. These causes included other respiratory diseases, chiefly pneumonia and bronchitis. Phthisis and heart disease were also cited as other possibilities where influenza may have impacted. Attempts to quantify influenza-linked mortality from these were made, but the results varied depending on methodology and were acknowledged to be unsatisfactory. One estimate put it at around 200,000 deaths from influenza and influenza-linked illnesses. As many as a quarter of the population caught the disease.

One other factor which skewed results when looking at the influenza statistics was the depletion of the male population due to war service. One way to deal with it was to look at the female population in isolation. This methodology was notably used to examine the age distribution of mortality due influenza and comparing it to the age distribution normally expected of influenza. It was here the difference between the 1918/19 flu strain and previous epidemics was most notable.

Deaths at [ages] 0-15 and especially at [ages] 15-35, which had formed since 1889 a fairly uniform proportion of the whole number, with a tendency of late years to decrease in relative importance, suddenly increased from 7-11 per cent. at [ages] 0-15 to 25 per cent., and from 8-10 per cent. at [ages] 15-35 to 45 per cent. In middle age, [ages] 35-55, the proportion was comparatively little affected, but shows some increase over the years immediately preceding. At [ages] 55-75 and at ages over 75, which together had for many years provided 60-70 per cent. of the total deaths registered, the proportion fell to 10 per cent. at [ages] 55-75, and 2 per cent. at 75 and upwards.

The report then went on to look at the course and local distribution of the epidemic in England and Wales. Three definite waves were identified:

  • Wave 1: Week ending 29 June 1918 to week ending 17 August 1918;
  • Wave 2: Week ending 12 October 1918 to week ending 14 December 1918; and
  • Wave 3: Week ending 1 February 1919 to week ending 12 April 1919.

The weekly death rate was examined in various localities, including regions, county boroughs, and other towns with populations greater than 20,000. This was extrapolated to give a corresponding annual death rate per 1,000 of the living population using the 1911 census as a population baseline. Batley fell into the category of towns with a population over 20,000. The peak mortality weeks for Batley in each wave were:

  • Wave 1: Week ending 13 July 1918 – 19.3 annual mortality per 1,000 living;
  • Wave 2: Week ending 23 November 1918 – 33.7 annual mortality per 1,000 living; and
  • Wave 3: Week ending 8 March 1919 – 33.7 annual mortality per 1,000 living.

Other statistics included ranking areas according to numbers of deaths. There were 161 towns who were not county boroughs falling into the over 20,000 population category. Batley over the complete period of the epidemic was ranked the 18th most affected. In terms of the individual waves it was 27th in Wave 1, 71st in Wave 2 and 8th in Wave 3.

Looking at county boroughs close to Batley, Dewsbury ranked the 11th most affected of the 82 county boroughs (in terms of the individual waves it was 15th in the first, 17th in the second and 15th in the third). Huddersfield was 65th, (2nd, 82nd and 21st in the respective waves).

The West Riding of Yorkshire was over the course of the epidemic the 5th worse affected of the 61 counties (position in the respective waves 4th, 11th and 8th).

Local level reports were also compiled. In Batley the Medical Officer, G.H. Pearce, submitted a full report to the Town Council in January 1919 about the incidence of the disease locally and the steps taken to combat it. His 1919 Annual Report also covered the epidemic locally.

These Annual Reports by the Medical Officer give a useful overview of the town. The 1919 report includes the following description:

PHYSICAL FEATURES AND GENERAL CHARACTER OF THR DISTRICT. – Batley is a municipal borough constituted by Royal Charter, December 8th, 1868, consisting of four wards and governed by a Mayor, seven Aldermen and twenty Councillors. The borough has a separate Commission of the Peace. Geologically Batley is situated mostly upon clay, under which is sandstone through which is various beds of coal. The situation is hilly, the highest point being 475 feet above sea level and the lowest 150. Batley is entirely an industrial town the chief occupation of the inhabitants being the manufacture of heavy woollen goods, shoddy and mungo. The Rag trade also employs a large proportion of the inhabitants. The majority of the population not working in the numerous mills earn their living in the coal mines, at ironworks, on the railway, as teamers, general labourers, etc. More females than males are employed in the textile mills…..As rags from all parts of the world are brought into the town it would be reasonable to expect that risk of infection would be likely to arise therefrom, but practical experience does not prove such to be the case. Apart from the dust in connection with this and similar trades, also the risk of contracting anthrax, run by workers in wool, there appears to be no particular occupation in Batley exercising an exceptionally adverse influence on the public health.

Batley’s population growth from 1851 is illustrated in Table 1 below. The 1911 population of 36,395 compared to the 3,227 acres for the town gives a population per square mile of 7,218. Mortality in any district is adversely affected when there are more than 400 people to each square mile.

Table 1Flu Batley Population Census

The Registrar-General also made an estimate of Batley’s 1919 population, which was included in the Medical Officer’s report. Based on the birth rate he put it at 36,593 and death rate resulted in a figure of 35,128. An analysis of mortality and the annual death rate per 1,000 of civilian population for 1919 gave a figure of 16.1 for Batley, higher than the national England and Wales figure of 13.8.

Table 2 shows the causes of death in Batley between 1912 and 1919 attributed to influenza, as identified in Batley’s Medical Officer’s report. I have also included those causes which may have influenza as an underlying issue, as identified in the Registrar-General’s Supplementary Report.

Table 2Flu Batley Death Causes

Influenza was the direct cause of 104 deaths in Batley during 1918, with a further 83 deaths in 1919 attributed to it. In 1920, according to the following year’s Batley Medical Officer’s report, influenza was certified as the cause of 7 deaths.

So how did all this impact on everyday life in Batley? I decided to focus on the newspapers for the period. From July onwards the Batley News began to carry local reports, including Council updates. Batley Borough Council minutes are therefore an alternative source of information. Bound yearbook copies are at Batley Library (as are the Medical Officer reports), with original Batley Borough documentation held at West Yorkshire Archives (Kirklees Office) in collection Reference KMT1.

One huge factor in reporting the epidemic was censorship. When flu struck Britain, the Great War was still far from won and censorship was in full force. Reporting of anything which may impact on morale and signify any form of weakness to the enemy or difficulties in pursuing the conflict was banned. Reporting restrictions similarly applied in other combatant nations. This was why the pandemic was incorrectly attributed to Spain. As a neutral country the same press restrictions did not apply and news of the epidemic there was freely reported from May 1918. It meant that this country was wrongly assumed to be the origin of the illness – not the likely source country, the United States. The first reference to the ‘Spanish disease’ was in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in August 1918, and ‘Spanish Flu’ was what it became commonly known as. The same reporting restrictions therefore mean that newspaper reports may have underplayed the full impact of the illness.

First mentions of influenza locally noticeably began to appear in early July 1918 with the 6 July edition of the Batley News reporting a Council exchange that it was hoped the schools would remain open as although a number of teachers were ‘down’ with influenza there had been no serious report from any one school.

The 13 July edition of the newspaper, when reporting the death of Harry Boyes, Royal Field Artillery, at Staincliffe Hospital indicated that Colonel Russell believed the pneumonia which has stricken him after his initial injury had been caused by influenza “of which the Hospital is full.

This edition of the newspaper coincided with the peak week for the first wave of the flu epidemic in Batley. The newspaper reflected this. Despite the optimism of the previous week, Batley schools were closed on 10 and 11 July; with 1,900 absences on reopening on the 12 July they were once more shut on the 13 July. The paper published the advice of Dr. Pearce, Batley’s Medical Officer as follows:

Influenza is caused by a minute bacillus found in the sputum and nasal discharge of persons suffering from the disease. It is conveyed by the breath. The disease is highly contagious. One attack does not confer immunity from another. The onset, after exposure to infection, may be as short as a few hours, and is characterised by a sudden rise of temperature, severe headache, pains in the back of the eyes, muscular aching and pains in muscles of both arms, legs, back, and other parts of the body, rapid pulse, much thirst, furred tongue, redness of inside of throat, which may or may not be sore. The skin is generally dry, but sometimes there is perspiration. The temperature generally falls in 24, 36, or even 48 hours as rapidly as it rose. The pains in the limbs continue longer, together with a sense of prostration for several days. There may be a relapse.

Influenza is rarely fatal, excepting through one of its inflammatory complications such as pneumonia.

The Medical Officer went on to advise that those stricken should at once have a hot bath, go straight to bed and send for the doctor. They should be isolated to prevent, as far as possible, the spread of the disease. The best way to escape infection was to avoid badly ventilated places such as picture palaces and theatres, and public meetings. Those displaying symptoms of bad colds should similarly be avoided.

Regular life, with the avoidance of all excess, plenty of fresh air and sunlight, with free ventilation of  rooms, together with open air exercise and a proper number of hours in bed, is advised.

Despite the Medical Officer’s assertion that the disease was rarely fatal, the number of deaths reported in that week’s newspaper must have given readers pause for thought. These deaths included what was believed to be the first one locally from “the mysterious influenza epidemic,” that of 34-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Driver, wife of Sam Wiloughby Driver, a warehouseman, of 12 Calder Bank Road, Dewsbury. She died on Sunday 8 July 1918, after being taken ill suddenly the day before. By Sunday, when spitting what appeared to be blood, her husband went to see Dr. Pritchard who refused to visit the patient on a Sunday, saying he had hundreds of cases of this complaint [influenza] lately, and not one had caused him anxiety or worry. Despite Mr Driver saying he would not have come had he thought it not serious, Dr. Pritchard sent him away with some medicine. By 6pm that evening Sam Driver returned to Dr. Pritchard’s, but the doctor was out. Before he was able to call another doctor, Sarah Elizabeth died. Dr. R. Beattie, who undertook the post mortem, thought Mrs Driver may have recovered if she had received prompt medical aid. But he also added doctors were so busy at the moment with the influenza outbreak they did not “know which way to turn.” The inquest verdict was she “Died from acute influenza and heart failure.

By  20 July 1918 the town was still dealing with the effects of influenza, with interments in Batley cemetery for the week numbering around 20, double the normal average. However the illness itself was on the decline with far fewer local death reports featuring in that week’s edition of the paper, which quoted:

…..a prominent local practitioner yesterday stated that so far as his experience goes the disease is rapidly declining. Where he used to have a score of patients he has now about two.

The 27 July 1918 paper declared the influenza epidemic practically over, although the occasional death report continued to appear, including that of Mr George Richard Whiteley or Purlwell, age 30, described as a champion Batley swimmer. His death on 29 July, from double pneumonia and pleurisy following influenza, was reported in the 3 August edition of the paper.

The respite was short-lived. By the end of October 1918 flu was once more hitting the local headlines. The 26 October 1918 edition of the Batley News, whilst admitting not too many local victims as yet, was not complacent:

Influenza, which in some parts of the country is raging in virulent epidemic form, has not many victims in this locality. In view, however, of the remarkable rapidity with which whole districts are affected, and of the large percentage of deaths reported from pneumonia following influenza, it is wise that everybody should take simple precautions against contracting the disease and to avoid communicating it to others. These precautions are precisely the same as against catching cold, and the most important are warm clothing and plenty of fresh air. “Weak persons and those suffering from colds should,” says one of the Medical Officers of the Local Government Board, “avoid badly ventilated buildings and overcrowded assemblies. A person who has contracted a severe cold should keep away from work, if he is employed with others, for the first three or four days, as it is during this stage that the complaint is most infectious. If people did that and were less neglectful of personal hygiene and more careful not to cough or sneeze without covering the mouth, there would be far fewer colds and far less spread of influenza.”

The warning about how quickly the illness could assume epidemic proportions was proved correct. By 2 November 1918 it had returned once more to the town with the Batley News reporting four deaths, many school children affected and the Medical Officer deeming it necessary to close all but four schools. Those shut included Purlwell, St Mary’s R.C., Carlinghow (all deparments); Gregory Street (both departments); Mill Lane Mixed, Warwick Road Girls’ and Infants’, Park Road Girls’ and Infants, Hanging Heaton C.E. Mixed and Infants’ and Field Lane Infants’.

At the same time notices were issued to all places of amusement in Batley that, until the 11 November, the period during which the majority of schools were to be closed, no children under fourteen must be allowed to attend. Parents were warned about “gossiping from house to house” and told not to let their children go to households were members were stricken by the illness. With the 11 November Armistice, it was particularly difficult to heed this advice about public gatherings and gossiping with neighbours. The crowds celebrating the Armistice clearly exacerbated the spread of the disease by bringing large groups of people into close proximity.

And whilst mentioning the Armistice it is worth noting the effects of influenza on the local men serving in the military. I know from my St Mary of the Angels, Batley, War Memorial research five of the 76 men (6.5 per cent) died as a result of influenza-related illnesses. Tony Dunlop of Project Bugle, the Batley and Birstall First World War Commemoration Project, estimates around 75 per cent of those who died and were buried locally in the last three months of 1918 were flu or pneumonia related deaths; of the others overseas, flu and pneumonia accounted for possibly around 30 per cent. These epidemic victims included Gunner Edward Chadwick, Sergeant Fred Greenwood and Deck Hand Harold Gaunt.

Centenary Wreath Laying Ceremony for Harold Gaunt – Photo by Jane Roberts

But back to the education situation. The school closures continued, despite attempts to re-open. On the days when schools did open, attendances proved thin because some children were themselves stricken with the illness, or their parents kept well children at home for fear of contagion. At the end of November Batley’s Medical Officer once more decreed schools would remain shut until 9 December.

At the end of November 1918 the Local Government Board, the national body which oversaw Local Authorities who at this time were largely responsible for health care, issued a special regulation. It meant if any public elementary school was temporarily shut because of influenza, no children were to be allowed to visit cinemas or places of public entertainment. Another regulation stipulated that no public entertainment was to be carried on for more than four hours consecutively, and an interval of not less than thirty minutes between entertainments must be observed during which time the venue was to be effectively ventilated. The penalty for any breach was £100.

But, seemingly at odds with the general discouragement of public gatherings, the 30 November Batley News announced that Batley’s Medical Officer had arranged for the showing in local picture halls of “Dr. Wise on Influenza” telling people what to do, or avoid, in the current epidemic! The film, commissioned by the Local Government Board and described as hard-hitting, can be viewed here.

Bored children not occupied by school did find other ways to amuse themselves, some not entirely legal. In February 1919 three boys appeared in court for stealing indiarubber piping from heating apparatus at St John’s Sunday School, as well as six cart lamps. Described as being from respectable families, a mother of one of the boys voiced the opinion that the lads got into mischief whilst the schools were closed for influenza. Courts were affected in other ways too with cases adjourned due to illness . For example in March 1919 a case about alleged breaches of the Rationing Order was halted as two of the defendants, Robert Spedding senior (butcher, of Clark Green) and Grace Reid (milk dealer of Purlwell), were unable to attend Batley Police Court

School closures also had a financial impact. Around 890 schools governed by the West Riding County Council (so not Batley Borough) were closed on average three times during 1918 as a result of the influenza epidemic, involving a loss of grants of around £16,000. The Council also paid over £100,000 to teachers when they were not teaching because of school closures.

It also impacted on those wishing to leave school to take up employment – in March 1919 it was reported that 147 children in Batley failed to attend school the requisite number of days to obtain Labour Certificates. Some Councillors felt that these children were entitled to special consideration given the circumstances. However, the Board of Education forbade them to take into consideration any possible attendances the children may have made if the schools had not been closed on account of the influenza epidemic. This was particularly vexing for some because at this point in time when a child reached the age of 13 and had made 350 attendances for each of five years they could apply for a Labour Certificate, allowing them total or partial exemption from school in order to work. The 1918 Education Act changed the law – from 1 April 1919 all children remained in school until the next holiday after their 14th birthday and Labour Certificates for leaving school before this age were abolished.

The week ending 23 November 1918 saw the peak of the second wave in Batley. By now the illness was impacting on medical services, and the end of the war provided a possible solution.  In view of its prevalence in Batley at the end of  November, the local Council made an application for the return of two local doctors serving in the Forces. However, the problems with doctors unable to meet the demands placed on them was still evident well into February 1919, as indicated in another inquest where two doctors failed to attend the victim, Mrs. Ann Elizabeth Senior (46) of Earlsheaton. Again this was in the neighbouring town of Dewsbury, and it was Dr. Beattie who once more conducted the post-mortem, saying if she had been seen her life may have been saved.

Proposals to treat influenza patients in isolation hospitals such as the one at Oakwell proved tricky due to the difficult staffing situation – by the end of January the hospital only had six nurses to keep five wards operational, and obtaining extra staff was proving impossible. The pressure on Oakwell to change policy increased though when, from 1 March 1919, the Local Government Board made primary pneumonia and pneumonia following influenza notifiable diseases. The aim was now to treat such cases in isolation hospitals if arrangements could be made, as this would save lives. Finally Oakwell was made available for pneumonia cases at the end of March 1919 for those patients where suitable nursing and accommodation was not available at home. These suitable cases were decided by the Medical Officer.

Remedies for influenza proliferated and included gargling morning and night with a solution of potassium permanganate and salt in water. It was also recommended that the solution be inhaled. Adverts appeared in the papers too, including for Crosby’s Cough Elixir, Lifebuoy Soap and, in March 1919, the claim from Ward’s (a clothing store) that you could protect yourself against flu by wearing a fur coat! This presumably based on the wear warm clothing advice.

img_0598

Because of the heavy death toll throughout November 1918, (54 due to influenza and 13 to pneumonia) gravediggers were in short supply.  In the five weeks to 30 November there were 95 funerals at Batley Cemetery, compared to 39 in the same period in 1917. The Registrar and cemetery staff came under particular pressure, resulting in distressing delays to burials. As a consequence the Council secured the services of four privates from a Labour Battalion to work in Batley Cemetery to try alleviate the problems.

By the end of December the second wave was over. The Medical Officer reported of the 62 Batley deaths that month, 16 were from influenza, seven were from bronchitis and four due to pneumonia. But once more it was only a temporary lull.

By the end of February  the influenza scourge was back again in Batley – the third wave of the disease. That month Dr. Pearce, the Medical Officer for Batley, reported 26 deaths from influenza, 20 from bronchitis and 8 from pneumonia. The Batley News of 1 March 1919 reported its comeback, but stated it was of a milder type with elementary school closures unnecessary and only six deaths attributed to it the previous week.

That same edition shone a spotlight on Batley’s housing conditions. Dr. J H Wood, J.P., whilst giving a talk to the Batley District Nursing Service ‘musical’ afternoon, touched on the three severe influenza epidemics over the previous eight months. Describing the disease as a plague, he claimed that although fresh air and face masks were all well and good, the problem was people attempting to fight the disease instead of going to bed and making the best of things. He then turned to the acute housing problem in Batley. He knew of one house consisting of one room downstairs and two bedrooms occupied by 12 people, one of whom was a chronic invalid. This was not an isolated case. Some of the housing conditions were a menace to public health, yet the health authorities were helpless to resolve them.

It was certainly true that overcrowding posed a public health problem. Influenza affected multiple family members during the epidemic, and true isolation from the rest of the household proved impossible when space was so limited. The newspapers are full of examples of multiple stricken family members – the same edition as reported overcrowding also mentioned five members of a Mount Top family in Birstall affected by influenza. Other examples included Mrs Senior, referred to earlier, who was one of six in her household to be laid low by the flu. The inquest into the death of Lewis Gomersall (47), a coal miner from Hanging Heaton who died on 21 February 1919, heard that four or five other members of his family were afflicted. One report which struck me was in the 30 November 1918 Batley News as follows:

Healey

Two Deaths in One Family from Influenza

Deep sympathy will be felt for Mr. John Edward Barber, rag merchant, 6, Mortimer Avenue, Healey, whose wife and daughter [Cecilia (60) died on 24 November and Nellie (26) died on 28 November]…..have this week died from influenza. Five members of the family have been attacked by the complaint, and Alice, another daughter, has been at death’s door and has not yet heard of the loss of her mother and sister. A double funeral takes place at Batley Cemetery tomorrow.

It is the street on which I grew up.

However, arguably the most ‘famous’ family in the town to be affected by the flu, and one that did not come into the class of overcrowded households, was that of Mr Theodore Cooke Taylor, J.P., of Sunny Bank, Batley. He was the head of the woollen manufacturing and profit-sharing firm of Messrs. J. T. and J. Taylor Ltd. He too suffered a double blow, but at a time when the epidemic was finally waning. He contracted flu along with his wife and daughter in early April 1919.  Whilst he recovered, his daughter, Evelyn Sara Taylor (43), died on 27 April 1919 from bronchial pneumonia complications; his wife Sara Jane (67) died two days later on 29 April 1919. Their burial took place in Batley Cemetery on 1 May 1919.

By the end of May 1919 Batley and District Insurance Committee were able to declare that the pneumonia plague, arising from influenza, was finally subsiding.  But it was at a cost of almost 200 lives directly attributed to influenza, not to mention those who succumbed to the subsequent respiratory complications.

Sources:

  • Supplement to the Eighty-First Annual Report of the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages in England and Wales, Report on the Mortality from Influenza in England and Wales During the Epidemic of 1918-1919
  • Borough of Batley Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health 1919 – G.H. Pearce M.D. (Durh.), D.P.H. (Camb.) Of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-Law
  • Borough of Batley Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health 1920 – G.H. Pearce M.D. (Durh.), D.P.H. (Camb.) Of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-Law
  • Various editions of the Batley News, June1918 to June 1919
  • Project Bugle – http://www.projectbugle.org.uk/
  • The Flu That Wasn’t Spanish – https://history.blog.gov.uk/2018/09/13/the-flu-that-wasnt-spanish/

A Week to Remember

It has been a hectic week or so since the publication of The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union about those professional rugby league players killed in the Great War. It has also been far more tiring and emotionally draining than anticipated. I’m more used to being closeted away in archives or working on my laptop at home ferreting through records and writing research reports with only my trusty four-legged friend to keep me company.

Dealing with media interviews and attending high-profile launch events isn’t normally on my to-do list. So I’ve found it exhausting.

Imperial War Museum North, Poppy Wave – by Jane Roberts

But it was a huge honour and privilege to go to The Imperial War Museum North to attend the unveiling of the England Rugby League commemorative jersey. This shirt will be worn on 11 November 2018 in the Third Test in the series against New Zealand. It will also raise funds for the Royal British Legion as part of their ‘Thank You’ movement, recognising all the First World War generation who served, sacrificed and changed our world, be it those lost their lives, those who returned and those on the Home Front.

More details of the shirt launch, including where to buy one, can be found here. Details of the ‘Thank You‘ campaign are here.

Chris and I with Tom and George Burgess in the England Commemorative Shirt

As part of the launch Jamie Peacock, former England and Great Britain captain, along with Yorkshire-born South Sydney players Tom and George Burgess were presented with copies of our book. The book will also be used to provide context to the England Rugby League team’s visit to the Western Front on 20 October 2018.

Chris presenting Tom and George Burgess with copies of The Greatest Sacrifice

In between there have been media interviews with national and local radio, plus TV and press.

I have copies of The Greatest Sacrifice, which can be signed and dedicated if required. I can also drop off locally around Batley and Dewsbury areas. If so the cost is £13.50. Post within the UK increases the cost to £14.50. Payment can either be via cheque (UK) or bank transfer. My contact email is pasttopresentgenealogy@btinternet.com.

The book is also available from Scratching Shed Publishing at £14.99.

Published: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union

On Saturday I saw my book for the first time. The finished product looks amazing.

As the publisher said:

What began as an idea in the press box at Huddersfield is now one of the definitive history books about rugby league. Scratching Shed Publishing is honoured to publish a tribute to the 69 men who fell in WWI by Chris & Jane Roberts….

Chris and I echo these sentiments. It has been a real privilege to be able to research the lives of these men.

The publishers have done a fantastic job, supporting us throughout the process of writing this long overdue and important rugby league history book. But above all this is more than a rugby league book, a sporting history book, or a World War One book. It is the story of the impact of war on individual men and their families from across Great Britain.

I hope we’ve done them justice.

The book is available from Scratching Shed Publishing at £14.99.

I also have copies for sale, which can be signed if required. I can also drop off locally. If so the cost is £13.50. Post within the UK increases the cost to £14.50. Payment can either be via cheque (UK) or bank transfer. My contact email is pasttopresentgenealogy@btinternet.com.

The book will also shortly be available from the usual book retailers.

If any family history, rugby league or local history groups would like Chris and I to do a talk, please contact me on the above email address.

Z Day Minus 6 Months: Book Update

This is the latest update about progress on my Great War Rugby League book. And it is positive. The admin logjam of January has been broken. There are still issues, but not on last month’s scale.

As January drew to a close, I called a temporary halt on player research. Instead, as planned, during February I once more concentrated on a mixture of family history research for others and Pharos Advanced Certificate coursework. I still have about 15 men left to research for the book. This work is now scheduled for late March/early April.

That’s not to say my book work was shelved entirely. February included three notable book-related pieces of work.

The major event was a mid-month visit to London, which included time at The National Archives. As you can see from the picture, on my days there I didn’t leave until late. But even here, my visit was a combination of book research, coursework and research for others. Chris accompanied me, and he focused on the officers’ records. I chipped in as and when required. And yes, the list was drawn up in advance and the appropriate files pre-ordered.

I was also keen to look at the records associated with the HMS Osmanieh, torpedoed off Alexandria on 31 December 1917, with in the loss of almost 200 troops, sailors and nurses. One of those to loose his life was a player we are researching.

I’ve also been busy helping source photographs. I’ve had a lovely response from families linked with the men. I’ve also had fantastic help from those with no personal connection, but who are simply keen to ensure those men whose lives were cut so tragically short a century ago are still remembered today.

The final notable event was a talk at the Huddersfield RL Heritage Group to gauge what people felt about the direction we were taking. The response was extremely positive and confirmed we were doing the right thing in embarking on this project.

Z Day Minus 7 Months: Book Update

Our Rugby League Great War book is due to be published in the summer. So each month, until publication, I’m doing a brief update. This is the January review.

First off: I’ve learned my working style is a total contrast to that of my co-author and husband. One year on and my inner civil servant is still alive and kicking. Administration, organisation, project planning, milestones. Red/amber/green traffic lights. A need for proper, documented information so anyone picking the work up knows exactly what’s been done and what needs doing.

Then there’s Chris. Laid back to permanently snoring sums it up. As long as he’s writing and chatting he’s happy.

I’d blocked January off for book research, based on the numbers of remaining men he’d given me. Only for him to reveal early in the month that he’d underestimated. Significantly. The number remaining was almost double what he’d told me before Christmas. To him, this was but a minor issue, of absolutely no consequence. For me January proved a period of mild panic.

And as January drew to a close, with over 30 men completed in the month, I find I’ve still 16 more men to research. The panic ratchets up a further notch. Hence the dearth of blog posts. In fact a lack of anything else, including social life and leisure time. Meanwhile my co-author feels it’s all going swimmingly.

I’m doing the research. Chris is doing the administration, co-ordination and writing. Except, ever the journalist, he’s focussed on writing. Anything else doesn’t matter.

If only I could step back from research, I’d take over all but the writing. As it is, I simply don’t have time….because of the numbers miscalculation.

Every week I go over the same “to-do” list with him, which consists of:

  • a list of officers which we need for our visit to The National Archives (based on my research);
  • a list of newspapers to consult at the British Library, again based on and extracted from my documented research;
  • a list of photographs to take on our next battlefield visit, or player-related ones left to source. Once more it’s all in my notes, which he has and needs to pull together; and
  • playing career start and end dates to aid my research.

Every week he tells me he’s done it. Then I realise he hasn’t done it. Then he says he meant to do it, but got distracted. Then I say it needs doing. And so it continues in ever decreasing circles.

The upside: he’s a fantastic writer and his love, enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject shines through. Today though is his admin day, or so he’s promising. The photo below is the evidence.Do Not Disturb - Chris at Work.

Maybe it’s a false dawn though and I can save myself a blog post, as my end of February update will be the same.

Permission to scream requested and granted.

2018 Family History New Year’s Resolutions (Otherwise Known as Rewarding Challenges)

Well it’s that time of year again. In my penultimate post of last year I assessed how my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions went. In my final post of the year I set out some general family history related suggestions for 2018 for those seeking ideas. So now to look forward and set my own goals for the New Year.

I’m sticking to just five ‘challenges‘ once more. They are a balance of personal, professional and wider family history objectives. And they do, in part, link to some of the suggestions I posted yesterday.

Work on my Aveyard One-Name Study (ONS): Yes, that hardy perennial which had very stunted growth in 2017. I will spend more time on it in 2018, says I through gritted teeth. It’s not that I don’t like doing the work, it’s just I never get time. And because it’s a relaxed, gentle-paced kind of hobby, it’s the one which is easier to knock on the head when other areas of life and work pick up speed. So in an effort to kick-start it, I may in part combine it in part with Resolution Number Two.

Complete my Pharos Tutors Family History Skills and Strategies (Advanced) Course: I’m now into Year Two of the eight module course. This year I have my final three modules and assignments. I also must undertake a pre-19th century Project. I’m currently finalising my research proposal, and I’m hoping to frame it in such a way to fulfil some personal family history research, or link it to my ONS. Either way the course will provide me with an excuse to do some of my own research for a change, whilst at the same time being part of my Continuing Professional Development.

Finish my Book Research: This was a ‘bolt from the blue‘ piece of work which hit me in 2017. Alongside my husband I have wandered into a publishing contract. The book is due out later in 2018 and my research is well underway. I aim to complete the bulk of the remaining research by early March. I’ve already set aside January to focus on it, in between my Pharos Medieval Genealogy module. After that, it’s just dotting ‘i’s’ and crossing ‘t’s’ for me. Luckily for me the writing part is down to the other half.

Personal Research: Some ancestors are sent to test us. One of my trials is my 4x great grandfather Abraham Marshall. He’s an hiding-in-plain view type of chap. One of those ancestors I put aside as I couldn’t find an obvious family for him. In theory he should be straightforward. I just need to put in some effort, something I’ve never found time to do. It may involve an element of family reconstitution and lateral thinking. So 2018 is the year in which I will put in that effort and marshal my Marshalls, so to speak. We’ll see how it goes.

Attend a mixture of Conferences, Lectures, Family and Local History Fairs and Talks: The demise of ‘Who Do You Think You Are? Live’ leaves a major gap in the genealogy calendar. But there is so much more out there. It is an opportunity to connect with other events, including those organised by that backbone of grassroots genealogy, the Family History Society. I’m going to commit to attending a minimum of six events over the course of 2018. I’ve already signed up for a major genealogy event, the Secret Lives conference. Organised by the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA), The Guild of One Name Studies, the Halsted Trust and the Society of Genealogists, it runs over three days in late summer. But I will also mix it up with smaller scale local events and talks. Family history can so often be a solitary interest, where you find yourself either tucked away in a local archive or at home behind the computer screen. Often, in pursuing our family history goals, we overlook the value of connecting with others who share our passion. And in doing so we overlook the value of our local Family History Societies. So I’m making 2018 my year of championing the work of local history groups and Family History Societies. Starting with the Huddersfield and District Family History Society January sale: Parish Register index booklets for £1, CDs at £5 and census CDs £5 too, plus p&p. That’s my kind of sale!

So just five New Year’s Resolutions for 2018. But I’m pretty relaxed about them as, from the experiences of this year, life can throw the unexpected at you. What you want to achieve evolves and changes as the year progresses. Some new opportunity may mean a shift in priorities. And family history is meant to be fun, not some rigid tick-box exercise.

Whatever your family history aims and hopes are for 2018, I wish you have a rewarding and interesting New Year. But above all I’m wishing you peace, health and happiness, because that’s what really counts.

Word Tree by Jane Roberts using http://www.wordclouds.com

What is Champing? It’s History and Fun Rolled into One

Where to go for our silver wedding anniversary?  A beach holiday perhaps? Possibly a city break or even a cruise? They were all considered and discounted. 

How about spending the night in an ancient church? That sounded more like it. The perfect, quirky way to celebrate our special day. No heating, no lighting, no running water, no conventional toilet. Instead old oak pews, stained glass windows, war memorials, effigies, tranquility, peace, spirituality and a sense of closeness to history (and, for those of faith, God).

The Churches Conservation Trust offer this unique opportunity. It’s called Champing. The 2017 season runs from 31 March to 30 September. They have 12 participating churches, dotted in beautiful locations countrywide.

We’ve never been to Shropshire. Chris’ ancestors were from that county. So we plumped for St Andrew’s, Wroxeter. No ancestral connections there so far, but near enough to places associated with Chris’ history. We even met up with some of Chris’relatives for the first time ever on our visit, and it was wonderful to delve into the Haynes family history and shared family characteristics. Note to self – I must progress my Shropshire research! Back to our Champing experience though.

On 9 May, the morning of our anniversary, Chris, Snowflake (yes, well-behaved dogs are allowed) and I loaded up the car and set off on our adventure. What greeted us was a stunningly characterful church, and everything waiting ready for our arrival. Well almost everything, but more of that later.

St Andrew’s: Let the Champing Begin – Photos by Jane & Chris Roberts

Parts of St Andrew’s pre-date the Domesday Book of 1086. It also stands on the site of Britain’s fourth largest Roman town. In its heydey Viroconium, as it was known, was almost as big as Pompeii, a place we visited on our honeymoon. It provided a link with our wedding all those years ago. In fact parts of the church include Roman masonry, including the base of the baptismal font. So a very early form of recycling.

Baptismal Font, made from the Base of a Roman Column. The 14th century parish chest is behind to the right of the font and also the Stained Glass Window and War Memorial – Photo by Jane Roberts

What’s left of Viroconium is a five minute walk away from the church, and cared for by English Heritage. The remains are not extensive, certainly not on the scale of Pompeii. But Wroxeter Roman City, as it is known, is worth a visit. The weather was positively Italian when we went, with cloudless blue skies and warm sun. Other nearby locations included Attingham Park (National Trust) with a deer park and lots of wonderful walks for Snowflake; and to the Roman theme once more, we even had a vineyard on our doorstep. 

English Heritage’s Wroxeter Roman City – Photo by Jane Roberts

Back to the church. Inside was crammed full with centuries of parish history, spanning pre and post Reformation Christianity. We felt so privileged to stay in such a wonderful building, with such a central connection to the life of a community down the ages. This thread of life, through multiple generations, was visible all around us: From the 14th century parish chest, to the 16th and 17th century tomb chests;

Tomb Chests of Sir Thomas (d1555) and Mabel Bromley; Sir Richard Newport (d1570) and wife Margaret (d1578) and John Berker (d1618) and wife Margaret, bathed in Stained Glass Light – Photos by Jane Roberts

To the ledger stones on the floor, the earliest dating from 1684, to the various wall plaques, the earliest commemorating the 1627 death of Thomas Alcock founder of Wroxeter Grammar School; to the benefactions board recording gifts made to the church from 1773-1837, to the War Memorial commemorating those parishioners whose lives were cut short in the service of their country in the two World Wars.

Benefactions Board and a Jenkins Family Floor Ledger Stone – Photos by Jane Roberts

The names on the Memorial are unclear on my photo. I’d used my iPhone for my main photos, in what in hindsight was a huge mistake. Whether the cold proved too much for technology, but by morning my phone would no longer switch on. To attempt to remedy the blurry image, these are the names:

1914-1918

  • W. Beech
  • J. Everall
  • R.J. Farmer
  • A. Feltus
  • H. Feltus
  • G.C. Ford
  • T.J. Frank
  • J. Harris
  • C.E. Bailey
  • J.E. Haycox
  • W. Holden
  • W. Leake
  • R.H.W. Mainwaring
  • W. Page
  • H. Thomas
  • W.H. Williams
  • C.W. Wolseley-Jenkins
  • J. Lewis

1939-1945

  • E. Cooke
  • A.R. Fear
  • G.J. Parry
  • H. Williams
  • R.G. Williams

War Memorial and Thomas Alcock’s Brass Monument – Photos by Jane Roberts

Above all you could not fail to notice the glorious stained glass windows, with others containing 15th century glass fragments, as well as the impressive Elizabethan and Jacobean panelling of the choir stalls, pulpit and pews. It is a beautiful church, absolutely no doubt.

Stained Glass East Window and Window Depicting Saints George and Andrew, above the War Memorial – Photos by Jane Roberts

The church was so redolent with echoes of the past I could imagine the parishioners sitting in those solid oak seats. So much so that I compiled a list from the Parish Register (digitised on FindMyPast) of those baptisms, marriages and burials which took place on the anniversary of our anniversary, 9 May, over the centuries.

St Andrew’s Wroxeter 9 May Marriages, Baptisms and Burials – Source: FindMyPast

St Andrew’s closed in 1980 and its care passed to The Churches Conservation Trust in 1987. More information about this historic church can be found on their website, with a downloadable leaflet detailing its rich history.

So what are the Champing basics? We booked camp beds and sleeping bags, so they were all set up under the organ loft by the time we got there. But you can bring your own.

Our Beds for the Night – Photo by Jane Roberts

Chairs were provided too. The church is very cold – it’s an old, unheated, cavernous space, so plenty of warm layers are a must. As for illumination, we relied on battery-operated candles and lanterns (supplied), supplemented by torches when the sun set. There was lighting but I forgot to mention it to Chris. Funnily enough to he failed to question why the church had light bulbs. Oops!

There is no running water, so forget your make-up, as you can’t wash it off. But we had tea and coffee making facilities and an Aquaid water cooler. We also pre-ordered a continental breakfast which we collected from the neighbouring hotel upon arrival – no need to worry about a fridge….brrrrrr. We had our picnic hamper too stocked with goodies from Apley Farm Shop, so no danger of hunger pangs.

The one glitch, I pre-ordered a bottle of champagne (yes alcohol is allowed). A lengthy game of church “hunt the champagne bottle” ensued, otherwise known as “Champers seeking champers“. We even checked to see if we had to collect from the hotel. All to no avail. We couldn’t check with the Champing team, as the phone lines shut at 4pm (my phone was operating at this stage). So Chris drove to the outskirts of Shrewsbury to purchase a celebratory bottle. No major drama, in fact it meant we investigated the church more fully; and the Champing team have been fantastic in resolving the issue since our return home.

Breakfast is Served – Photo by Jane Roberts

St Andrew’s was all ours between  6pm-10am. In the intervening period it was open to visitors. One very bemused couple did turn up at 6pm – we hadn’t got round to locking the door. They were very confused to see us preparing to take up residence. Perhaps we were squatters? Or had we bought the church to convert to a house,  and lived there during the renovation work? They had never heard of Champing, and were fascinated to have stumbled upon a pair of aged Champers. They even joined us on our champagne hunt. So all a bit of a laugh.

And as for the very basics, a dry toilet was in the vestry. So all equipped and survivable for even less adventurous souls for one night.

It was actually a very peaceful, comfortable and cosy night. Envelopped in my thermals, onesie, dressing gown and slanket as well as the sleeping bag I was extremely toasty! Chris, resplendent in woolly hat, had an equally restful night.

Early Morning Proof of Sleep – Secret Snap by Jane Roberts

These are consecrated churches, and some may find it a tad difficult to get their heads round the concept of hiring these sacred  buildings out for what essentially are short holidays. But I think you need to break out beyond that mindset. I am religious attending weekly mass in my Catholic Church so I understand the religious sensibilities. But these ancient parishes and old churches go way beyond the religious element. They were integral components of the community; they were secular, as well as religious, units of administration; they were part of the daily life fabric of our ancestors.

What would become of these churches, no longer used as regular places of worship through demographic movement, population shifts, and changes in religious practices? Yes they could be retained as places to visit, and The Churches Conservation Trust facilitate this. But would you also end up with many others being converted into houses, original features removed, and lost to the wider community forever as a result? 

I believe Champing is an inspired way of preserving and generating interest in Britain’s rich heritage. It’s a totally different way to connect to history. It certainly made me look into the history of St Andrew’s, including all the architectural, fabric and furnishing aspects, which is something I never considered previously when going into a church. There could also be a potential link-up with local Family History Societies and Ancestral Tourism opportunities (this could equally embrace non-Champing churches too). 

On a practical level the venture also generates much needed money to help conserve church heritage. It means people are in the building overnight at various points in the year, providing a measure of security. And the churches are being loved, appreciated, used and introduced to a whole new generation. If your locality has a Champing church, it is something to be welcomed, embraced and promoted.

St Andrew’s, Wroxeter – Photos by Jane Roberts

For those contemplating a holiday with a difference, if you’ve a love of archaeology, history and family history, and want a totally different experience in a wonderful tranquil setting which simply oozes the atmosphere of centuries of tradition, I can certainly recommend Champing. Would we do it again? In a heartbeat. 

The Inspiration for our Champing Adventure, Our Wedding Anniversary – photo by John Plachcinski

More information about this unique experience can be found here.

Sources: