Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A poignant Christmas list

Merry Christmas 1948
According to the small pocket diary my mum kept in 1948, when she was 13 years old, her Christmas presents were a handbag, a film book, a pair of fur gloves, a paint box, the novel 'Little Women', six hankies and two brooches.

(Most 13 year olds these days would be baffled as to why receiving six paper tissues constituted a Christmas present!)

The paint box in the list reminds me of a story Mum told of when she entered a painting competition (perhaps using this very box of paints). Having carefully completed her work of art, she was mortified when she knocked over the water pot and it flooded the picture. One of the adults came to her rescue (she lived with her mother, grandparents and an aunt) and managed to mop up the worst, creating an interesting effect across the sky. When she won the competition, she was convinced the disastrous flood had actually improved the painting!

It was no surprise to see 'film book' on the list. Mum was an avid cinema goer. Her diary is littered with names of the films she'd been to see. Sometimes with a comment added, other times with no indication as to whether she'd enjoyed it or not. For Great Expectations, though, which she'd seen earlier that year, she's shared her thoughts. Very frightening, she'd written. Not keen. I know which bit frightened her as she told me about it years later - it was when the convict emerged from behind a gravestone in the churchyard, grabbed young Pip and demanded food, having escaped from one of the rotting hulks moored in the Thames, waiting to be transported to Australia.

Mum's father, Herbert Colley, or Kendal Barton as he was more commonly known (his stage name), was a theatre actor. He often played the part of The Dame during the panto season.

My aunt, Mum's elder sister, recalled him making a puppet theatre for the girls from a box on its side, with cut-out characters glued on to long strips of cardboard. These characters would enter 'stage right' and 'stage left' by sliding them through a gap in the box sides to play out a panto story to an invited audience.

It was something that, in turn, my mum did with my sister and I, and we would spend hours making the theatre and the players associated with whatever pantomime we'd chosen to enact. As I recall, the joy was as much in the making as the performance.

Whatever your Christmas presents contain this year, and whether or not you'll be enjoying a pantomime, either visited or created, do have a very

Happy Christmas
and a successful 2015 in your family history searching.

I look forward to sharing more of my stories with you in the coming year.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

More questions than answers

My grandfather, (Ernest) George Shelley

With Armistice Day upon us, it seemed appropriate to dig out the bundle of my grandfather's WW1 service records. As most WW1 service records were lost in bombings during WW2, I know I'm fortunate in having what documents and photographs that I do.

Soldier's little brown Pay Book
One of the most treasured items is his original Soldiers' Service and Pay Book. A small brown notebook with a hard cover, it has a pocket in the back in which I found various slips of paper relating to demob clothes, ID certificates and pay allowances. In the front of the book is his name (Ernest George Shelley, always known as George), his trade (blacksmiths striker) and his unit (Sherwood Foresters).

I also have several group photographs of him with his unit, including this of him and colleagues in full uniform...

Granddad is standing on the far right

 ...and in shirt sleeves with bayonetted rifles on display...

Seated, far right, middle row.

... as well as portraits of him in uniform, seated as well as standing.

I also have a collection of postcards my granddad had written home. They were all dated 1918 and postmarked Newcastle upon Tyne. Some were addressed to his mother and others to my grandmother (they weren't yet married and didn't do so until 1921). Many show views of Whitley Bay but others depict a place called Backworth.

In his correspondence he talks of receiving (or more often, not receiving!) letters or parcels and says he'll learn more soon about where he is to be sent.

But having imagined that with all this information it would be easy to piece together his role in the war, I realised on closer inspection that what was there only told a patchy story.

First of all I noticed in his service book that the date of enlistment was given as April 1918. Surely he'd joined up before then? Yes, he had. A ragged postcard, dated 11th December 1915, stated that he'd been 'attested' (enlisted) and transferred to the army reserve until required for service. So what had happened then? And why hadn't it been recorded  in his service book?

As I studied the photographs of my granddad in uniform, I realised that the cap badges weren't all the same. I scoured through the remaining paperwork and discovered his demob certificate, which confirmed that while he had indeed been in the 1st Battalion Notts and Derby regiment (also known as the Sherwood Foresters) when he'd originally joined up, he'd been in the South Staffordshire regiment.

Now this is where it gets complicated. According to the Staffordshire Regiment's website, the South Staffs had only two battalions, 1st and 2nd. But on further investigation, it seems there was a plethora of other battalions within the regular army, plus the territorials and the 'new armies', as well as other service, reserve and labour battalions.

The 3rd (reserve) ended up in November 1916 in Forest Hall, Newcastle - the post mark on my granddad's postcards - and at least one battalion of The Sherwood Foresters also ended up in Newcastle. Did he transfer there? Were the regiments merged? As I'm no aficionado on the British Army and its structure, I suspect it will take me while to unravel the implications of this confusing information!

However I can leave you with one final snippet of intrigue.

When I returned to my granddad's service book, I noticed the name 'Boesinghe' (a village north of Ypes where battles had taken place earlier in the war) and the words '284 P.O.W. Company'. This suggested to me that my granddad could have been guarding prisoners of war.

However when I posted a photograph of him (with his service details) on the Postcard Photos of the Notts & Derbyshire Regiment's Facebook Page  a kind contributor confirmed the 284 P.O.W. Company information I'd read in his records, but added that my granddad was in 'B' company and would have been posted to Abancourt, France.

A browse on the internet suggests that Abancourt did have a prison, but that it was a military prison, holding soldiers charged with insubordination, mutiny and desertion - which would include those poor unfortunates awaiting execution for "cowardice".

Was this where my grandfather was posted? I think I need the assistance of a military expert! 
My search for information continues...


If you'd like to research your own WW1 ancestors, a good place to start is the Tracing World War 1 Family History page of The Great War 1914-1918 website,, which lists the places where you might find the information you need (nothwithstanding that large gap in records I mention at the start of this post).

The National Archives also has information on the relevant records it holds on its WW1 page.

If you have ancestors who were in The Sherwood Foresters, you might like  also to check out the Postcard Photos of the Notts & Derbyshire Regiment's Facebook Page.

The BBC have set up an interactive page 'I wonder about WW1' taking you through various routes to uncover information about your WW1 ancestor.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Lace Lady Mystery Solved

Mrs. Percival

Those who have read my blog before may recall  my stumbling upon a photograph of a Mrs Percival, taken in the 1950s, making Coggeshall lace. The post told the story of Coggeshall lace and can be read here.

But who was she? And was she a relation of my husband's?

I enquired at the museum at Coggeshall and received an enthusiastic reply but after browsing all through their information there was little more they could add. As I was busy with other projects at the time, the query was shelved, until I mentioned it to "Percival Family Expert" John Priestly (with whom my husband shares a twice great grandfather), who recalled seeing the photograph himself when he visited another of the Percival clan, Evelyn Beard, nee Percival.

Evelyn (sadly no longer with us) told him more about lace-making in the district as her grandmother, Emma Percival (nee Mann) was also a lace maker, as was her aunt Rosa.

The custom was for the lace makers in nearby Great Tey to deliver their finished work to a Miss Surridge in Coggeshall. The job was given to a boy in the family and Evelyn knew that when her father, Albert, was a lad he had the job of taking the lace to Coggeshall on Saturday mornings. It was a walk of about three miles there, and three back and he earned a small fee which he used to buy himself a custard tart for the journey home.

Evelyn presumed that he wasn't alone in this task, that there would be a small army of boys also making the journey delivering lace on behalf of their respective families. John (perhaps thinking back to his own days as a small boy!) speculated, "A party of small boys in a remote country lane must have found a few adventures as they progressed, but we can imagine that dropping the precious cargo in the mud was something they dared not risk and any skylarking was confined to the return journey!"

Coggshall lace
Evelyn said that her "Aunt Rose" (Rosa Louisa Thorp, nee Percival) was particularly skilled in her craft and it's said in family circles that some articles she made ended up in royal households. She even won an award for her work as far away as Belgium, though was unable to go and receive it until after the end of WW1.

As far as our mystery lady goes, Evelyn identified her as Mrs "Percy" Percival, who lived in Chappel Road, in Great Tey and she assumed there must be a family connection. However, the records list several Percy Percivals, so there's some sifting to do yet before our mystery is completely solved.

But, as I mentioned in my previous post, there's another family connection here, not necessarily with Mrs Percy Percival, the lace lady, although that's quite feasible, but with Evelyn herself and my previous post.

As I said above, Evelyn's father was Albert Percival, born in Great Tey in 1880, the son of Walter and grandson of Alfred, who was born around 1830.

 Alfred was the elder son of Hannah Rayner and our old friend, the transported convict Moses Percival, making Evelyn Moses' great-great granddaughter!

John didn't reveal whether the old lady had any qualms about being related to a convicted felon...


If you have relatives in the Coggeshall area, there's a wealth of information and some useful links to other family history sources on the Coggeshall Museum website.

Happy hunting!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Convict mystery - the full story

My second Esme Quentin novel, The Indelible Stain, published on 26th September, was inspired by reading an article about researching convict ancestry.
The Indelible Stain
So it seemed appropriate in this post to write about the Percival black sheep and transported felon, to whom I dedicated the book - Moses Percival.

I am indebted to John Priestley, with whom my husband shares a great-great-grandfather, William Percival, as it was he who passed on Moses’ story. William's father James was Moses' elder brother.
Moses’ story starts ordinarily enough. He was born in 1802 in Great Tey, Essex, to parents Edward and Susannah Percival, one of 13 children. He started at the village school at the age of six, learning at least to  write his name, for in 1826 when he married Hannah Rayner he was able to sign the register.
Moses was recorded as being a ploughman and likely came from a family of agricultural workers. By 1831 he and Hannah had baptized three children and it was at this point that Moses disappeared from the parish records. When Hannah remarried in 1844, the assumption was that Moses had died, though there was no record of his burial.
It wasn't until some time later we discovered the truth, that in 1831, Moses was convicted of the theft of a sack of barley. The Chelmsford assizes records of 7th March make particular note of his crime as being the theft of barley… and a sack. Perhaps, I mused, if he’d have brought his own sack along to steal the grain the punishment wouldn’t have been so harsh!

However it turns out that, according to the records in Kew, that the sack had been stolen on a separate occasion, after the barley! So, it being a 'second offence', may explain why Moses was sentenced to fourteen years exile to Van Diemans Land, present day Tasmania.

image courtesy of

Moses spent the first three months of his sentence on board the hulk ship, Cumberland before being shipped across the world on 11th June on the convict ship the Larkins, arriving in Hobart on 19th October.

An example of a 'hulk' ship
image courtesy of

His description is recorded (for identification purposes, should he abscond) as 5ft 5½ inches tall, brown complexion (possibly tanned from sailing through the tropics on the voyage), small head, brown hair and eyes, small whiskers, a large mouth, thick lips, a long chin and a mole on his cheek.

The book in which Moses' description is recorded
image courtesy of Archive Office of Tasmania

Unless convicted of a violent crime, most convicts were put to work rather than being incarcerated and Moses is recorded as working for Mr Andrew Tolnie or Tolmey. He was granted a free pardon on 31st May 1838, having served only half of his sentence. No doubt his willingness to work hard, coupled with good behaviour were contributory factors in his early release.

Moses continued in the employ of Mr Tolmey after his pardon, as a horseman. His name appears in The Hobart Town Courier newspaper later that year, announcing his rounding up of stray cattle at the public pound in a place called Jerusalem and declaring they would be sold by him if not claimed by their owners.

Business was going well and soon Moses had made enough money to buy 50 acres of land and a quantity of stock.

But sadly, he had little time to enjoy his freedom, as a few months later in early 1839, he was injured when a tree fell on him and crushed his leg. The leg became gangrenous and he died.

Mr Tolmey, clearly an honest man and, it would seem, aware of Moses' family back in England, wrote to Moses' wife Hannah to tell her not only of the death of her husband, but to inform her that she'd inherited the value of the land Moses had bought, worth between £200 and £300. Quite a considerable sum at that time to someone of her modest means.

I wonder whether, had Moses lived, the family planned to join him for a new life in Van Diemans Land. I guess we'll never know.


There’s a postscript to this story which links neatly with the photograph of the "Mystery Mrs Percival", photographed making Coggeshall lace in the 1950s, the subject of an earlier post. But more on that next time.
A useful starting point for researching your own convict ancestors, including those transported to America as well as Australia, is The National Archives website  where you can read various helpful research guides on the subject. 
For information on crime and punishment or to read the details of past trials, go to Old Bailey Online which holds some fascinating stories.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Bottom Knockers and death in the Ironbridge Gorge

Blists Hill Victorian Village

Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire is a world heritage site. Here you'll find a collection of award winning museums, including Blists Hill Victorian Village (left), which tell the story of the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

Having always been a huge fan of Ironbridge, I was delighted to discover I had ancestors who lived and worked in the area.

My three-times great-grandfather, Malcolm Sinclair BENBOW was born in 1807 in Broseley, Shropshire, a short distance away.

In the latter part of the eighteenth century it was Broseley which was known for producing fine porcelain, with blue and white decoration. But in the 1790s a new pottery was set up in Coalport. The original factory was dismantled in 1821 and re-used at Coalport, and became the Coalport China Works.

Yours truly sitting beside the river at Coalport

The 1851 census lists my ancestor Malcolm Benbow working as a warehouseman. Although not stated, it would have been at the Coalport China factory. His wife, Eliza (nee Jones) is listed as a warehousewoman and his eldest daughter, Henrietta, aged 19, is a china burnisher. The two younger children, Sarah Ann (my great-great grandmother), aged 12, and Daniel, aged 8, attended school. Many of their immediate neighbours' occupations were also in the pottery trade - from factory labourers to potters and china painters. There was also a china guilder and china turner.

As its name suggests, the china guilder applied gold to pottery ware A china turner's job was to turn the clay ware to the required outline before it was fired. A china burnisher would polish the outside of a pot, using a stone or metal piece, to improve the finish and reduce its porosity.

Amongst other occupations I saw listed was the wonderfully named 'Saggar Makers Bottom Knocker'! It was an occupation which apparently appeared on the 1950's TV game programme, What's My Line. A saggar is the clay container which holds the items to be fired. The maker of said saggar is called (unsurprisingly) the Saggar Maker. Although it was a skilled job to fashion the saggar itself, it seems that the bottom of these containers could be knocked into shape by the Saggar Maker's assistant, usually a young lad - thereby acquiring the name, Bottom Knocker.

The census of 1861 finds Malcolm still working at the china works, still a warehouseman, and Eliza again as a warehousewoman, but now Sarah Ann is employed as a china burnisher and her brother (now called John D, rather than Daniel) is a china turner. With no mention of Sarah Ann's elder sister Henrietta, I assumed that she must be living elsewhere as a married woman, perhaps with a family of her own.

But on further investigation I came across a record of her death in 1854, aged just 23. I sent for her death certificate and while waiting for its arrival, I read about the health issues associated with the potteries and wondered if her death was connected to her work.

John Thomas Arlidge was the first person study the health of the pottery workers and published his findings in 1864. The average age of death of male potters in Stoke was nine and a half years earlier than the general population. As for the cause of death, he found 60% died of diseases of the lung and consumption.

Henrietta's death certificate arrived and confirmed my suspicions. She'd died of consumption.


An enquiry conducted by the General Board of Health, 2 years after Henrietta's death, concluded that the worst cases of bronchitis "were found amongst young women employed in scouring china, who did not live many years after entering that employment."

My great-great grandmother, Sarah Ann, was lucky enough to leave the industry in the same year as Arlidge's report was published, when she married and moved to Wolverhampton. She went on to have six children and died in 1912, aged 72.


The blog comestepbackintime has an interesting article on Coalport china and its history.

You can find out more at The Coalport China Museum, which is one of the Ironbridge Gorge
Museums mentioned above.

Further information on the history of Coalport Porcelain can be found here.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Dairy of a 14 year-old, 1948

Reading Virginia Nicholson's, Millions Like Us, (see my other blog, Engage Write Brain), about life in WW2 and the years immediately afterwards, prompted me to look out my mum's teenage diaries of 1948-1952.

A sample page of Mum's diary.

Although they don't have the detail of a journal, being only a small pocket diary, the brief entries still manage to give a flavour of life for a fourteen-year-old at that time.

My mum, Patricia Barton, aged 14

One February entry in 1948 reads: ...went with mom and dad to old folks concert where mom sang and dad played piano. My grandmother, Wyn, had been a professional singer before the war (there's more about her on my post, Strictly Music Hall) and 'Dad' is my mother's step-father, Bill Garland, a semi-professional piano player whom my gran married in 1946.

Other entries which caught my eye were:

  • Went to pictures tonight to see 'West of the Pecos' and 'If you knew Susie'. It was smashing. The list of films she saw is impressive. She went to the cinema virtually every week, sometimes twice. I recognised one favourite amongst the many, Random Harvest, which we watched with her years later on many occasion. Based on James Hilton's novel of the same name, it tells the story of 'Smithy' (played by Ronald Coleman) who is suffering amnesia after being shell-shocked in WW1. He begins a new life by marrying Paula (Greer Garson) until one day while visiting the city he's knocked over in the street. His memory is restored but in doing so, he forgets everything about his new wife and baby waiting at home. A tear-jerker which my gran loved, writing to the BBC regularly when we were children, begging them to screen it on TV.
  • Tonight mom had a quarrel with Grandpa. Mum, her sister and my gran had lived with my great-grandparents since the start of the war. There's nothing to say what the quarrel was about but a regular argument during wartime concerned Grandpa's habit of going into the yard to light his pipe during the black-out. The women were convinced the German bombers would see the light and that they'd be targeted. Eventually the worst happened and an incendiary was dropped on their house, but not, as far as I'm aware, while he was lighting up!
  • 14th March 1949. CLOTHES COUPON END TONIGHT. Clearly written with feeling as it's recorded in capital letters!
  • 1950. I visited London with the guides from school. We went for a week. The photo was taken in Trafalgar Square. On the back are listed the names of the guides, though sadly no surnames. Where are you - Miss Blanks, Miss Richards, Pauline, Brenda, Barbara, Mary, Vera, Joyce B, Joyce N, Irene and Edna?
Girl Guides, probably a Wednesfield group.

  • January 1951. Granddad not well. Pay day £6-6-10 monthly. By now Mum was working as a student nursery nurse at Woodlands Nursery (she would later move to Elston Hall Nursery School for 9 months training). She began work with the toddlers which she declared in her diary, was boring. A few months later she was moved to the baby section which she loved.

  • 1st February. Granddad not improved. Had doctor.
  • Granddad worse. Aunty Hilda coming. My great aunt.
And a few days later -
  • Stayed in. Granddad in deep sleep.
  • Thursday 8th February. Grandpa at the age of 90 passed away on his birthday. A couple of weeks later she admits, it seems strange without grandpa. 'Grandpa' was Jack Griffiths. In his younger days he'd played for Wolves football club, which I wrote about on a post Family Footballers
A poignant note on which to end, particularly because of the date of this post. Mum died 25 years ago today, at the untimely age of 54. I still miss her.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Memories with a Box Brownie

Reading Cathy Murray's Writing a Family History blog last month about days out and holiday snaps, I was reminded of this picture of me trying to get to grips with my granddad's Box Brownie. He'd bought the camera in 1922, apparently, which says something for the durability of technology in those days as I was born over thirty years later!

Box Brownie Camera similar to
my grandfather's.

 What I didn't realise until I looked up the history of the camera, was that marketing for it by the manufacturers Eastman Kodak, was based on the principle that it was so simple to operate, even a child could use it. In the first year it was introduced, in 1900, it sold over 250,000 due to its affordable price.

Cathy Murray's post showed photographs of her family taken in Blackpool in 1945 and 1946. It prompted me to dig around to see what early holiday snaps I had in our photograph archives and I discovered several. The theme of days-out continues with this picture of a whole community waiting for the train to arrive for a day out to Rhyl.

Waiting on Tettenhall Station, circa 1932

My granddad, Ernest George Shelley, is in the centre carrying my father (love the hat, Dad!) next to him is my great-grandfather, 'Granddad Digg' (Thomas Diggory) and on the far right hand side is my Great Aunt Hannah (Diggory).

From the opposite side of the family, there's this photograph of my grandmother, Winifred Griffiths with my mum taken around 1937. I'm not sure where it is (any ideas, anyone?) but you can see what look like beach huts in the distance to the left, and another building in the centre which might be selling teas, ice-creams or even the place where you rent deck chairs. The houses along the periphery are very close to the beach.

The picture below is my mum again, but years later with her aunt, Hilda Griffiths. 

This time, though, I'm fairly sure the photograph was taken at Llandudno, a place we often went as children. My grandmother Winifred, used to sing to holiday makers at The Happy Valley on the Great Orme. You can read about her on my post Strictly Music Hall.

We all know the frustration of finding unidentifiable old photographs but are we any better than our ancestors? What about those hundreds of photographs stored on computers and memory cards, labelled with nothing more revealing than P26488674... etc.? Now there's a nice engrossing task for a wet day!



The second Esme Quentin novel, The Indelible Stain,  is coming soon!

Sign up HERE to keep up to date with the latest news on the launch and sneak previews.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Out of the Woodwork and on to the Tree

I discovered an ancestor I didn't know I had a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I know all the ancestors we 'discover' are generally unknown before we find them! But this was a branch of the family I thought I already knew well.

My paternal grandfather, Ernest George Shelley, was born in 1897 and his birth was registered in Worfield, near Bridgenorth. The 1901 census specified his birthplace as the village of Claverley, nearby.

Claverley, Shropshire

George (as my grandfather was generally known) was one of the very first family members I investigated at the start of  my family history journey. His father was also George and had also been born in Claverley.

George Shelley

I visited the Shropshire Records Office in Shrewsbury and checked out the parish records. George had been baptised in the village church. His mother was recorded as Emma Shelley and his father was recorded as "unknown".  This was a surprise! I was delighted to have found my first 'out of wedlock' ancestor so early!

The 1871 census listed Emma as living with her parents Thomas and Bessey Shelley, at Sutton Mill, Claverley along with George then aged 1, who was recorded as being Thomas's grandson.

By 1881, however, although George, now aged 11, was still living with his grandfather (Bessey had died earlier that year) his relationship to the head of the household was now cited as son. There was no mention of Emma and I couldn't find her anywhere.

In fact it wasn't until a few years later when I began another search for her that I discovered that she'd married a widower, George Wenlock, in 1876 and went on to have other children. It seemed that Mr Wenlock had not been prepared to take on Emma's illegitimate son.

So far, so straight forward... until browsing on recently, I came across another family tree showing Emma, her parents Thomas and Bessey, her marriage to George Wenlock and the Wenlock children. However my great-grandfather George Shelley was missing.

Now this might not be so very surprising if the existence of George was an embarrassment and the decision had been taken to exclude him from Emma's family tree, were it not for the fact that there was a different illegitimate child listed, called Charles. And it wasn't a case of there being a muddle over names. Charles was another child, born to Emma in 1874, again at Sutton Mill, where George had been born a few years before.

Correspondence between me and my 'counterpart' ensued! Neither family had been aware of the existence of the other half-brother and we shared information about each, swapping photographs and documents.

Was it true that neither boy had been completely unaware of one other? George would have been barely three when Charles was born. He may have had been too young to recall the event, particularly as a family living in one of the labourers' cottages at Sutton Mill at the time adopted Charles, possibly soon after he was born. By 1881 the family had moved away from the area taking Charles with them. Charles may never have been told that George was his brother and visa versa. Did Charles even know the identity of his mother?

It was an interesting surprise for my dad and my counterpart's mum to gain a previously unknown 'half ' great-uncle!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Sad Case of Thomas Diggory of the Gloucester Hussars

Almost eight million men (ref PCS) were left disabled after WW1 and my Great Uncle Tom was one of them.

I never met Tom, or Thomas James Diggory to give him his full name, as he died before I was born but I knew he'd served in the war and had been injured. His photograph took pride of place on the mantelpiece in my grandmother's dining room. Tom was her older brother.

Tom was born in 1894 in Sedgley in Staffordshire where the family lived in the lodge of Park Hall, now a hotel. Tom is in the centre of the photograph, standing behind his little sister, my grandmother, Edith Alice.

Before the war, Tom worked in service, as a footman, as seen here in his uniform (he's the one on the left).

Tom joined the 7th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment opting to become a cavalryman in the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, and serving in Gallapoli in 1915.

According to the account on the "Glosters" website, The Royal Gloucestershire Hussars arrived in Alexandria, Egypt in April 1915, a mounted force of 537 men. In August, after a period of training, they landed in Gallapoli where the rest of the 7th battalion had already sustained heavy losses. 

Ordered to leave their horses behind, they spent the next six weeks in battle around Chocolate Hill and the trenches around Cator House. By 17th October, with casualties and, more significantly, disease, having taken a severe toll, they were down to an effective strength of only 95. Tom had been badly injured in the leg, having stepped on an explosive.

Tom wearing his "hospital blues", the uniform that injured servicemen were required to wear during WW1, 
a practice first introduced during the Crimean War.

Tom remained in hospital for some considerable time, and I have yet to establish where, though it's been suggested it may have been in Birmingham. But Tom failed to thrive and continued to have problems with his injured leg.

 In 1932 he married Beatrice Wood (Betty). You can just make out his walking sticks in the photograph below, taken at their wedding. He was aged 38 by now and you can see from the photo that he doesn't look a well man.

A short time after this photograph was taken, Tom's injury became troublesome again, the wound refusing to heal, leaving a gaping hole in the flesh. 

But despite medical advice, and the support and encouragement of his family, Tom refused to agree to the offending leg being amputated.  "I came into this world with two legs," he's reported to have said, "and I shall leave it with two legs."

He remained bed-ridden, nursed by his wife Betty, until his death in 1954, aged 60.


Post update February 2017

I received a comment on this post explaining that Thomas was not in the Hussars, as my grandmother, Thomas's sister always maintained, but in the Infantry. 

Unfortunately, as he/she commented anonymously and left no contact details, I wasn't able to go back to them to clarify matters (I'm confused that Thomas is sitting on a horse in the photo above but allegedly was in the Infantry – I'd love an explanation!).

But if anyone else can unpick the information below and get in touch, I'd be delighted to hear from you!

Sorry to say that Thomas was not one of ours, Gloucestershire Yeomanry, but Gloucesters (Infantry) 7th and 8th Battalions

He was at Gallipoli with the Infantry at the same time as his County cousins in the dismounted Yeomanry.

Name: Thomas James Diggory 
Military Year: 1914-1920 
Rank: Lance Corporal 
Medal Awarded: British War Medal and Victory Medal 
Regiment or Corps: Gloucestershire Regiment 
Regimental Number: 22240 
Previous Units: 7th Glouc. Regt. 22240 Pte., 8th Glouc. R. 22240 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Mystery motorbike

The photo of a woman on a motorcycle amongst the mystery 138 photographs has generated some speculation as to the make of bike.

My dad said he thought that someone on the side of the family from where we believe the photographs came, used to work for Sunbeam and he wondered if that was a clue. 

Sunbeam started out making bicycles but when they did begin to manufacture motorcycles, they gained a reputation for quality and did well in the famous TT races on the Isle of Man. 

Another proposal was that the bike was a James, dating from around 1921- 27, because of its chain drive and not the earlier belt drive. It was suggested that this actual bike might have been modified in some way.

To settle the matter I contacted the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham to ask for their thoughts. James Hewing very kindly responded to my email and identified the bike as an Royal Enfield 500c, from around 1927.

Interestingly, while watching the new BBC drama, The Crimson Field, about a field hospital in WW1, one of the characters arrived on a motorcycle which looked suspiciously like the one above with its distinct box-like petrol tank. Whoever chose the 'props' obviously did their homework. Apparently Enfield supplied the British War Department with a large number of motorcycles in 1914.

But having identified the bike, I'm still no further on in identifying the lady sitting astride it. Any suggestions? 

(For the background read the original post here.)

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The school cat?

This school photograph of my husband's mother, Eunice Irene Saunders is one of my favourites from our photo collection.

Eunice is the fourth from the right, on the front row. (I love the little mop cap of the girl two places away from her and the big bows in the hair of others!)

Eunice was born in 1914 and lived in Langthorne Street, Fulham. We think she's about 6 or 7 years old in this photograph which would date it at around 1920.

There are several schools near Langthorne Street but the closest, and likely to be the one Eunice attended, is Queens Manor Primary School. 

An imposing three storey brick building, Queen's Manor School was built in 1903-4 as a 'board' school. School boards were set up nationally, following the Education Act 1870 to provide primary education, although it would be another ten years before school would become compulsory across the whole country. 

The School Board of London, responsible for Queen's Manor Primary was the very first board to come into existence. By the Edwardian period, many schools in the Queen Anne style of Queen's Manor had been built across London and although there was some criticism of the expense lavished on the build, the board's supporters were unapologetic, seeing their schools as beacons to the vision of education for all.

So was the photograph above of Eunice and her class mates taken for a special occasion? Is the cat in the arms of the older girl standing against the partition (we think she's too young to be the teacher) an official "school cat" or just visiting? 

Perhaps one of your ancestors attended Queen's Manor School. They might even be in this photograph. 

If so, I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

From Hall to Hovel

One interesting part of family history is discovering the places where our ancestors lived, using the census records.

A few years ago a family historian visited our village researching his Devon family who had lived in our cottage during the 19th century. He was delighted to discover the present inhabitants were fellow enthusiasts and we were similarly intrigued to hear about his family. He left copies of the census returns of our house with us, listing the people who'd lived there and he was able to take away a contemporary photograph of the 'old family home' for his records. Later he sent us a photo of our cottage taken in the 1890s, with the family dressed in their Sunday best standing outside.

One of my favourite old family photographs is this one of my great-grandparents, Thomas and Eliza (nee Roberts) Diggory in front of their home, with my grandmother, Edith Alice, aged about 14 years old. The architecture of the house has always interested me, as it's very industrial in style. So where is it?

The Wergs, near Wolverhampton?

On the 1911 census, which would be about the time this photograph was taken (if that wonderful hat of my great-grandmother's is any guide!), the family were living at The Wergs, near Wolverhampton. According to information I've come across online, it was an area which apparently attracted wealthy Black Country industrialists who made their homes there. Could it be this association which influenced the building style?

Another house, photographed below, again with my great-grandmother standing outside might be Nursery Walk, in Tettenhall, where she lived some years later. But the number on the door is 39, and her address was number 19. So where's this? The house next door has the word BREMALL carved into the lintel above the front door, though the photograph cuts off the word after it, which might have helped in its identification.

I've been lucky when visiting places where ancestors have lived to find many of them relatively unchanged, making it easier to imagine what it was like in their time. These have included a variety of housing from the lodge of big country house (Park Hall, now a hotel), to tiny workers cottages, rambling farms, a mill, a flat above old stables, a terraced house in a London street, a house in Bath and almshouses in a Suffolk village.

But whether the brick built house with the industrial style windows still exists, I haven't yet discovered. Is it, or was it, in The Wergs? Anyone recognise it? Suggestions please!

Monday, 24 February 2014

The mystery of 138 photographs

Meet Nellie, photo dated 9th June 1918. Unfortunately I have no idea who Nellie is. I found her photograph, along with another 137 others, crammed inside a small leatherette pouch (see below), which my sister had once passed on to me along with some family history notes she'd made. Neither of us were really sure from which side of the family they'd come.

The photographs were a motley collection, from tiny proofs to studio portraits like the one of Nellie above. Many were faded to the point of obscurity, several light damaged or torn, or of people so far in the distance it was impossible to discern their features.

On the reverse of some were places, dates (ranging from 1916 to 1918) and sometimes names. Most, however, merely had comments such as "What do you think of this one? Afraid the scenery is not very picturesque."  and "I look as though I've seen a ghost. Taken in the dining room. The book I have in my hand is the album I have got your snaps in."

On the back of one (again, of Nellie) is written "To dear old Frankie with heaps of love from Nellie, June 15th 1916" and another, "My cousin Ted. No doubt you remember him". If only! 

Some of the places were familiar to me from holidays or family connections. Colwyn Bay, Crewe and The Great Orme in Llandudno. Then on the back of one, "Rapparee beach" in a handwriting I'd seen before. I realised it had been written by my great aunt, Hilda Victoria Griffiths. The beach she referred to is a cove on the north Devon coast, not far from where I live today and a little further along from Minehead, where I knew Hilda had spent many holidays. When I studied the photograph more closely, I could see the picture was of her.

So where did all the other people fit in? Were they friends or family? With a bit of detective work, there must be some way of establishing whether there was a family connection .

I assumed the photograph of four women taken "outside the office" would be work colleagues, listed left to right as: Erica Thomas, Dorothy Baid, Gladys Peacock and Rita Thomas.

But what about the people mentioned on the back of other photos, Chris, Mabel, Dolly ("and her small brother"), Rose, Gracie, Rita, Olga, Vera.  

Some names recorded included surnames, Gladys Osborn, Else Steadman, Dorothy "Jane" Breide, Colonel Thistlewaite, Mrs J & Col J, Mabel Talbot.

The last name triggered something. Didn't we have a Talbot in the family tree a generation or two back? Before I could check, I discovered a significant piece of the jigsaw. A tatty piece of paper, tucked in between the photographs mentioning a wedding, between Mabel Talbot and J Herminan Mowels.

 Was it the wedding depicted on this faded and tatty photograph?

A search through the marriage indexes on gave me the official details. John Herniman Ben Mowels married Mabel Maud Talbot in Sussex on May 27th 1918.

A systematic search of on my maternal family found that my Great-grandmother's sister  Polly Benbow Baugh had married a George Talbot. Their eldest daughter was Mabel Maud. At last, a connection. Mabel and my great aunt Hilda had been first cousins.

Of course, I'm still none the wiser as to the identity of Nellie. My search will continue...

Some of the other photos in the collection:


If you have any information to add, do please get in touch.