Monday, 21 December 2015

Panto time!

As I have mentioned before in a previous post (see Strictly Music Hall) my grandmother, Winifred Griffiths was a professional singer. Her talent as a soprano was spotted at a young age and she toured with the Carl Rosa Opera Company.

But after a few years, she left opera behind to follow a different career path, performing in variety acts at repertory theatres all over the country, including pantomimes.

Here she is as the Fairy Queen, both panto and date unknown.

She appears in the photograph below in a production of Babes in the Wood, performed at the Hippodrome in Birkenhead in 1927. (I have another newspaper cutting of an almost identical curtain-call scene from the same year, but this time in Belfast.)

Babes in the Wood, Birkenhead Hippodrome, 1927

But I could do with your help here. The column accompanying the photograph reads, "Another gifted singer is Miss Winifred Griffiths, who makes a demure Maid Marion."  Maid Marion? Call me a traditionalist, but there looks to be way too many flashy head-dresses and posh frocks amongst the outfits for her to be dressed in a modest shift and wimple, as one might expect, so I have no idea which one is her! Any suggestions as to a likely Maid Marion?

Having recently subscribed to The British Newspaper Archive I've been on the search for mentions of Wyn (as she was generally known) in the press so I was delighted to find a review of her performance playing the squire's daughter in Little Red Riding Hood at The Hippodrome, Preston in 1931., "a decided asset to the musical side".

In a report in the entertainment industry's The Era, during the same panto season, she's described as "lovable and sweet".

I also found mention of my grandfather, Herbert Henry Coules Colley, in his guise as "theatrical artiste" under his stage name, Ken Barton. (I wonder whether she called him Bert or Ken?)

Ken's speciality was comedy and regularly played the part of the pantomime dame.

In a clipping my gran had cut out of the Dorset Echo, in 1931, his appearance in Little Red Riding Hood in Weymouth earned the comment, " one in the company could have been better chosen to impersonate Granny Matilda than Ken Barton, whose clever make-up deceived a good many."

But, as usual, I'm left with a mystery. According to The Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette, Wyn is quoted as saying that she had once been the principle soprano with another opera company in additional to Carl Rosa, alleging that she played in The Bohemian Girl with the O'Mara Company, which I understand was a well-known Irish Opera Company. (Ironically they were running an advertisement in the very paper in which I read Wyn's interview.)

Courtesy of British Newspaper Archives
Her stay at Carl Rosa was legendary in the family but I don't remember her or anyone ever mentioning the O'Mara company before. Why would that be?

Either I've just discovered something new about my grandmother's career or... it's a case of not believing everything you read in the papers!

So, as ever, there's more research to do to establish the true facts...

Finally, a big thanks to all of you who have dropped in on my blog during the year and added your comments. I look forward to welcoming you again in 2016. Until then...

Have a very  

Merry Christmas 
 Happy New Year

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Mystery and scandal

I was intrigued a few months ago when I came across the probate record of Thomas Banner Viner,
the brother of my husband's great-grandmother, who died in 1941 aged 67. Thomas, it seemed, had left all his worldly goods to a spinster called May (surname omitted to protect the innocent!), who was 20 years his junior.

The mystery deepened when I realised his wife Alice was still very much alive, as were his two sons, Harold and Cecil, and his three daughters, Gladys, Doris and Mabel. So was this a case of cherchez la femme? 

St Mary Abbot's Hospital

His death certificate revealed that he'd died in St Mary Abbots Hospital on 19th November 1941, of stomach cancer and "senility."

His address is recorded as 39a Paddington Street, Marylebone, the same address as the informant, who was none other than his lady friend May. The entry beside her name reads, causing the body to be buried. 

Opinions on the meaning of this phrase vary but the usual interpretation is that the deceased has no close family members to arrange the funeral. But as we know, Thomas did have family, which suggests that at the time of his death they were estranged.

I sent for a copy of Thomas's will. It was dated the year before his death and I was puzzled to read the opening paragraph which said, "This is the last Will of Mr Thomas Banner Viner, the husband of Alice Viner..."  It seems bizarre to highlight that he was married to Alice and then promptly declare everything is to go to May! Was he trying to make a point? Was it Alice who had rejected him? I can't quite decipher the actual wording but there's no question of his intentions. Dear Alice doesn't get a look-in.

Doris's marriage certificate showing Thomas's signature
(courtesy of Surrey History Centre)
Browsing through the records of his family, it appears that there was no rift at the time of his
daughter Doris's marriage to Thomas Newnham, in 1934, as the register clearly shows Thomas's signature.

Thomas had strong ties with Marylebone, where he'd apparently lived with May, as he'd been baptised in St Mary's church in 1874. He'd married Alice at St Luke's church and all his children had been born in Paddington.

In later years, however, he'd moved away from this area of London, appearing on the electoral register as living in Harrow along with Alice, as late as 1938. So whatever happened between them must have occurred in those two years between 1938 and writing his will in 1940.

Whether of any relevance or not, it's interesting to note that his elder son, Cecil, emigrated to Australia in January of 1941.

Not a photo of May but
an example of a fox fur.
(I recall my Gran having one.)
Not one to resist a good mystery, I was keen to know more, so I contacted May's family through Ancestry and asked if they knew of any link between her and Thomas Viner.

I had a friendly email from one of her descendants in New Zealand who promised to ask his 90 year old cousin, the only member of the family still living who he thought might remember May well.

And remember her she did, recalling that May was a kind and generous lady who never forgot Christmas and birthdays. My contact's own vague recollections were also confirmed - that May was a large lady who wore fox furs over her shoulders, the sort with a snap-clasp in the fox's mouth which closed over the tail (see photo left of something similar)!

As for her relationship with Thomas Viner, the old lady said that May had "man-friends with whom she lived at different times" and this was frowned upon by certain members of in the family, some even refusing to allow her in the house!

It was known that May had received an inheritance from one of her men-friends and was thought to have been the "other woman" in the case. She used the money to buy herself a house in Wembley where she lived with another gentleman, her final "man-friend" called Basil. He wasn't liked by the family and it seems they might have had a point, as after May died he cleared out the house and promptly disappeared. Perhaps he already knew that May had not remembered him in her will but had left her estate to her brother.

As for why Thomas turned to May for his home comforts, I guess we'll never know, but it's an intriguing story nonetheless and it's been brilliant being able to find out as much as I have.

And it's certainly inspired my mystery writer's brain - I wouldn't be at all surprised if something of a similar nature finds its way into the plot of Esme's next story (wink, wink)!

Friday, 30 October 2015

Top of my mystery list

While I'm deeply immersed in mysteries of the fictional kind, as I beaver away writing the next Esme Quentin novel, I'm stacking up a few real mysteries of a family history nature which I plan to investigate once this first draft is in the bag.

I'm sure this young woman has a tale to tell. I can see by the initials on her epaulettes that she was a member of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in World War I. I know her name is Nora from the signature in the corner but there after it gets tricky.

The notes accompanying the photo say she was the daughter of Hilary and Alice Griffiths but according to the records I have, their daughter was called Edna and was born in 1910, making her only 8 years old when this photo was taken. So, some significant detective work required there before I even start!

Another mystery on my long term hit list is that of my great aunt, Mary Ann Diggory or Annie, as she was called.

Annie walked out of the family home in 1904 when she was only 16 (shortly after the photograph on the right was taken).

No one heard from her again. Until, in her 90s, shortly before she died, she contacted her younger sister Edith, my grandmother.

I know Annie became a nurse and that she trained at Redhill hospital in Surrey before returning closer to home and living in Shrewsbury. But what was she up to in the intervening years?

The flamboyant Herbert Henry Coules Colley, my grandfather, born in 1871, known by his stage name as Ken Barton, has always been something of an enigma.

According to family lore, he joined Robson's Theatrical Company and travelled to South Africa. The story goes that he became ill and had to stay behind in Johannesburg when the company went on tour. He ended up, as naturally you might if you were a theatrical artiste and performer, as... an officer in a private mounted police force! Really? Now that's something I must get to the bottom of!

image courtesy of
And finally, having written about the Purle family (see Purles of Wisdom, Part 1) and their association with toxophily (i.e. archery), I was contacted by a present day manufacturer of archery equipment who, as an admirer of Harry Purle, the subject of my second post on the Purles (see Searching for Harry), had engaged a genealogist to research the family.

It seems that the name Purle may well be derived from the Purlewents, a well-to-do Somerset family prominent in the 17th century.

A quick check on Somerset's County Records catalogue threw up some interesting hits, so a trip to Taunton for a dig around in the archives looks to be the next stage of that particular journey.

But all that's for another time. For now, I must get back to my fictional secrets and writing the next Esme mystery!

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Wedding Photo Quiz

With a family wedding earlier this month, it seemed a good time to dig around in our own archives and look at some of the old wedding photos we're lucky enough to have.

1. The first couple to star are my husband's grandparents, Albert Joseph Saunders, born in 1884 in London and Caroline Matilda Long, born in 1885.

Caroline was born and grew up in the beautiful historic village of Lavenham in Suffolk.  They were married in... well, perhaps you can guess? Answers on a postcard.. no, just joking. Answer is at the bottom of the page.

 Albert was a cabinet maker and made a lot of their furniture, mainly in mahogany. His apprentice piece was a small stool with a drawer in it and remains in the family.

2. I love this next photograph! It's of my own grandparents, Ernest George Shelley, known as George, and Edith Alice Diggory. George was born in Claverley in Shropshire in 1897, and Edith a year later, in 1898. She was grew up in the lodge house of Park Hall, Sedgeley, Staffordshire, where her father worked as a groom. Her brother, Thomas, worked in the house as a footman before the First World War. Park Hall is now a hotel. Love the hats, don't you?

3. Couple number three are my great uncle George Diggory and his bride Ethel Price. George was a twin. He and his sister Hannah were born in 1896, in the same lodge house as my grandmother.

4. Moving on now, with my husband's parents, Dennis Percival and Eunice Irene Saunders, both born in 1914.

Dennis was a school teacher and a physicist. He built the family's first TV in his garden shed so that they and the neighbours could watch the Queen's coronation in 1953.

5. And then there's my parents, John Shelley and Patricia Barton, bless 'em, a decade or so later.

6. And finally, another of those mystery weddings. It's a picture from that bundle I mention in The Mystery of 138 photographs. I believe it's that of Mabel Maud Talbot and John Herniman Ben Mowels,  a conclusion arrived at due to a note on a scrap of paper I found in the same pouch as the photograph.

Interestingly, having studied it (with a magnifying glass - it's quite small) I think I can see Mabel's sister Nellie (Helena) peering out from behind the groom, wearing her signature Alice band. What do you think?


Dates to photos - were you right?

1. 1913 2. 1921 3. 1921 4. 1940 5. 1956 6. 1918

Friday, 28 August 2015

Anniversary favourites

This month is the second anniversary of my Family History Secrets blog so I thought I'd celebrate by choosing three of my favourite posts from the last two years.

The first of my choices concerns my husband's grandfather, Alfred Joseph Saunders. Alfred died before my husband was born, at the relatively young age of 45. Compiling the post was like putting together a jigsaw without the box lid and I can recall the shock I felt when all the pieces were in place and the emotional story hit home.

Many of jigsaw pieces were in the form of postcards Alfred had written to his daughter during  and just after World War I and reading them brought a lump to my throat.

Read Alfred's poignant story HERE.

My second choice is the post entitled The Mystery of 138 photographs.

I love old photographs and this bundle was intriguing. I found them in a bulging leatherette pouch and at first glance I didn't think I knew anything about any of them.

When I wrote the post, for instance, I had no idea of the identity of the lady who appeared in several of the pictures but with a little detective work and while on the search for another elusive ancestor, I discovered who she was.

You can read the original post by clicking on the title above and find out who Nellie was by clicking HERE.

And finally, after watching BBC's Countryfile programme the other week about the Welsh sea-side town of Llandudno, I was reminded of another post I'd written about my grandmother, Winifred Griffiths.

Wyn was a professional singer and often performed in Llandudno's famous Happy Valley on the Great Orme during the 1930s.

Read more about her singing career from being discovered as a teenager, touring with a well known opera company and her time in Llandudno, on my post Strictly Music Hall.

I look forward to many more years of sharing the secrets I uncover about my family history and hope that you enjoy reading about them too.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Wedding photo mystery solved... or is it?

When Jayne Shrimpton responded to my plea on Twitter as to a possible date for this wonderful wedding photograph, I was delighted. At last I could finally get an answer to a question which has always remained a mystery.
Those of you who have read this blog before might recall that in a previous post about the above picture, I reported that my aunt hadn't been sure if the bride and groom were my great-grandparents John Griffiths and Sarah Eliza "Lizzie" Baugh or John's younger brother Arthur and his bride Lily Clay.
The two weddings took place almost a decade apart, in 1894 and 1903 respectively, but my limited knowledge of late 19th century and early 20th century fashions left me floundering over which of the two this could be.
Jayne offered to analyse the photograph on Family Tree magazine's Q & A page and in the August issue, the picture duly appeared having been scrutinised by Jayne's expert eye.
This was her verdict...
She conceded that late-Victorian and early-Edwardian scenes can look similar at first glance. "They often convey an ornate effect, even an air of grandeur," she says, "mainly due to the elaborate female fashions of the 1890s and early 1900s." 
She continues, "We see the bride dressed in the white ensemble which was becoming fashionable throughout society by the early-1900s." 

 She goes on explain the subtle differences in more detail, pointing out that female fashions were more distinctive than men's and changed more rapidly. At the time of both weddings ladies wore one-piece dresses, or more usually a separate bodice and skirt, tailored to fit closely at the waist and then flaring out towards the hemline. "A soft feminine style," writes Jayne, "that expressed the prevailing art nouveau aesthetic lines of the whole era."

But it's the styling of the upper garments, particularly the sleeves, which help differentiate between the two dates. In the 1890s, the puffed, leg 'o mutton style of sleeve would have been in evidence but, as we can see from the bridesmaid (pictured above), they are narrow in the upper arm, widening below the elbow and flaring at the wrist where they are gathered with a tight cuff.
Hats too are a clue, as unlike during the 1890s when they would have been plate-like, sitting horizontally on the head, in the early 1900s they were worn on a slant, with upturned brims and decorated with flamboyant ostrich plumes, as they are here.

I'm extremely grateful to Jayne for her analysis and for the opportunity to learn a little of the fashion of the time.
However, there's one small fly in the ointment. As I mentioned on my previous blog, I have my doubts as to the groom being Arthur, having compared another photograph of him with that of the groom.

Looking at the two pictures side-by-side, I'm not convinced they're the same man. It may be the angle at which the photograph was taken but it seems to me that Arthur's chin is longer that that of the groom's, and that his nose is shorter.
So if it's not Arthur, then who could it be?
John and Arthur weren't the only Griffiths brothers. There was also Thomas, Boaz, Jabez and Hillary. Who's to say that this wedding wasn't one of theirs?
A quick check through the records shows that Thomas never married, and that Boaz and Jabez married in 1898 and 1910 respectively. Hillary's wedding, on the other hand, when he married Alice Jane Lowndes, took place only one year after Arthur's, in 1904.
So using Jayne's assertion that the fashion features are closely dateable to c1901-1905, it seems Hillary could be a credible alternative candidate. Now all I need to do is to find a photograph of Hillary to compare to the groom pictured here to confirm my theory!
To find out more about photo dating, you'll find lots of help in Jayne Shrimpton's book, Family Photographs and how to date them.
Or why not send in your own conundrums, photograph related or otherwise, to Family Tree? You can contact them via Facebook, email or Twitter or for a quick response, visit their forum at to ask the experts or readers of the magazine for their advice.


Sunday, 28 June 2015

Purles of wisdom... Part 2: Searching for Harry

My previous post, Purles of Wisdom... part 1, told of the early stages of my investigation in to the Purles, the family my husband's ancestor, Eliza Mott Viner married into in 1844.

Meeting of the Royal British Bowmen, 1822
 image courtesy of
As manufacturers of archery equipment, the Purle family appear to have been well known in archery circles of the time, their bows and arrows being considered of the highest quality.

Arthur Credland, the editor of the Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries, confirmed this with a quote from experienced bow and arrow maker, James Duff (1870-1935) : "During all the many years I was in London, the finest arrow maker known to me was Harry Purle."

Having learnt that Eliza and William did have a son called Harry - Harry Richard Purle - born in Leamington, in 1855, it seemed possible that this was the Harry in question. But my hopes were dashed when I discovered the record of his death 1881, aged only 26. 

At first I wondered if something archery related had been the cause of his demise. Had he speared himself while crafting one of his famed arrows? But sadly, when his death certificate plopped on to my door-mat, I read that the poor young man had died of 'phthisis', a condition common during in Victorian times and better known now as consumption or TB.

Besides, it seems his occupation was not a maker of archery equipment, but a commercial clerk, though I suppose he could have been working within the family business, albeit not as one of the craftsmen.

However other Purle family members were involved in archery manufacture, so I decided to dig a little deeper in my "Harry Hunt".

I started by going back to James Purle, William's father, born in 1795. On the first census (the first of real use to the family historian, anyway) in 1841, he's recorded as being a bowyer (bow maker) born in London. William, his eldest son and Eliza Mott Viner's future husband, is 20 years old, but his occupation isn't recorded. William's younger brothers are, Henry aged 15, Charles 9 and Robert 7.

By 1851, the picture becomes a little complicated (doesn't it always?) as James now claims to have been born in "Somersetshire", his name is listed as "Jas" William Purle and the transcriber has suggested his middle name is not William but Wilson! That made me wonder if I'd got the right James Purle (despite there being a Bath/Somerset connection), especially as this time his occupation isn't recorded so I couldn't confirm the archery connection.

But his sons Henry, Charles and Robert are all present, though none claim here to be employed in the archery trade. William has by now, of course, left home having married my husband's ancestor, Eliza, in 1844, and we already know (see Part 1) he's trading as an archery manufacturer then.

By 1859, however, it seems that two of William's brothers, Charles and Robert, have joined the family trade as when both marry that year they cite their respective occupations as 'Bowyer' on the documentation.

Sadly, though, Robert dies a few short months after his wedding, no children follow and neither have I found any children for Charles.
Henry, meanwhile, having declared his occupation as a carpenter at his (second) marriage in 1852, pops up on the 1881 census as an "archery bow maker". Perhaps now that his carpentry skills are honed, he's now able to apply them appropriately and join the team!

The same census reveals that William's eldest son Frederick, born in 1846 who was an apprentice
"manufacturer of archery" in Bath in 1861, (see Part 1) is still a bowyer
 and his children are listed, the eldest of whom is called... Harry! Will this young scholar go into the family firm? Could this be the famous Harry Purle, so praised by James Duff?

Fast forward to 1911. We now have Henry, William's brother who's now a "retired" archery manufacturer. His son, also called Henry, has followed in his father's footsteps and also become an archery manufacturer, (the word "wood" is helpfully filled in alongside) but at 57 and unmarried, Henry junior has no sons to continue the trade.

But our Harry is also there  on the 1911 census and he's making archery equipment. I'm sure now that this must be the legendary Harry Purle. The time-scale certainly seems to fit in with James Duff's working years.

As to how much longer the Purle family continued to make archery equipment, I've yet to find out. There doesn't seem to be much "out there" about the trade itself and I was reminded by current traditional longbow manufacturer, Pip Bickerstaffe, that the trade guild's were very secretive about their craft back in the day, and little was widely known outside the workshops. But perhaps there's a chance more can be learned if records exist and I'm still pursuing leads in that direction.

Finally, I have one pressing, and potentially sad, mystery to solve - what became of James Purle, born in 1795 in either London or "Somersetshire". While browsing records on Ancestry I came across an entry for a James Purle in The City Road Workhouse in Holborn, 1873. Was this "our" James? Was this where he died? You can be sure I'm on the case!


There are some excellent websites listing old medical terms for causes of death you may come across on death certificates and giving explanations. Rootsweb has a fairly comprehensive glossary. A good source of alternative 'medical/diseases' list sites are on Cyndi's List.

Peter Higginbotham is an authority on the history of workhouses and has an excellent website worthy of a read

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Purles of wisdom... Part 1

One thing I especially like about family history, is what else you learn along the way about other aspects of history, particularly on subjects you'd not ordinarily go out of your way to research.

     Richard Mott Viner, born 1809      
           Eliza's eldest brother     
This was the case with an ancestor of my husband's, Eliza Mott Viner, born in 1824 in Bath. The "Mott" part of her name dates back to a maiden name from the previous century in a place called Ogbourne St Andrew, in Wiltshire and continues to pop up as a middle name in different branches of the family for the next 150 years, which has often been extremely useful for making connections.

But I digress. The Mott trail is a different story altogether. This one centres on the family into which Eliza marries, and their connection with bows and arrows, and all things archery or, if you prefer, toxophily - a new word on me and the start of my education on the subject.

Sadly, I don't have a photograph of Eliza, only of her eldest brother Richard, taken in 1875, aged 66.

Eliza married William Frederick Purle, in Bath in 1844. William, born in 1821, was a "manufacturer of archery", as was his father, James Purle.

William and Eliza appear on the 1861 census, living at 4 Somerset Buildings in Walcot, Bath,

along with their children, Frederick aged 15, Alice 11, Laura 9, Harry 6 and Walter 3. William's occupation is recorded there also as a manufacturer of archery and it looks as though 15 year old Frederick is apprenticed to the trade.

William is also listed in the 1860-1865 Bath Post Office Directory as one of the city's archery dealers, at the same address as in the census, along with others: John Fare, S.C. Silverstone and Joseph Somerton, all trading in different parts of the city. It's noted that both our William and Mr Fare, as well as dealers, were also manufacturers and teachers.

An advertisement for his wares appear in the Bath Chronicle & Weekly Gazette, during 1864 and 1865, as well as in the Western Daily Press, Bristol, in 1865.

But it appears that William Purle only traded in Bath for a relatively short period in the 1860s.

During my initial research about the Purle family as archery manufacturers, I came across a mention of a particular arrow being made by "Purle of London". Indeed records suggest that William and Eliza left Bath for London immediately after their marriage, as their eldest son, Frederick was born in Marylebone a year later, in 1845, and their daughter Alice's birth was also registered there in 1850.

At this point, however, things begin to get confusing.

Despite William citing his birthplace on the 1861 census as "Somerset, Bath", he appears on the 1841 census, aged 20, living in London, with his father James and mother Elizabeth, and being born in the county of Middlesex. James is also apparently Middlesex born, though Elizabeth is not. William's occupation isn't given but his father James is recorded as a "bowyer" which is backed up by an entry in the 1841 edition of The London Post Office Directory as being "Purle James, bow and arrow maker" at 15 Stephen Street, off Tottenham Court Road.

There is a baptism record of a William, parents James and Elizabeth Purle in St Anne's, Westminster in 1821 which would seem to confirm his birthplace is London and not Somerset, but this James is recorded as being a coachman, rather than a bowyer. Is that because he'd not yet begun his career as an archery manufacturer or is this a different James? A James "Wilson" (possibly William?) Purle of around the same age, shows up on the 1851 census in Marylebone, Middlesex as being born in "Somersetshire", with wife Elizabeth (born 1801 in Herefordshire), and with sons Henry, Charles and Robert. Frustratingly, James's occupation is not noted. Henry is a carpenter, Charles is a coach trimmer and Robert is learning the same trade. Of course by now, their elder son William (if this is indeed our William's parents) is married to Eliza Mott Viner by now and living in.... where? Probably London, seeing as Alice was born there in 1850, though I haven't yet found the family recorded. The 1851 London census does have gaps, so perhaps this is the reason I've failed to track them down.

As to William's assertion in the 1861 census that he was Bath born, while it's not impossible that he was born in Bath and baptised in London, it may be that he felt that as he was trading in the city, it was commercially prudent to present himself as being a local!

So was William and Eliza's return to Bath an attempt to expand the trade beyond London? Was it something to do with Eliza's family, the Viners? It's worth noting here that it was around the 1860s that Eliza's brother, Richard Mott Viner (pictured above) moved to London with his family along with his parents Richard and Mary Ann Viner. Richard was a carpenter and Richard Mott was a tailor. Exact dates as to when they relocated are difficult to establish because both the 1851 and 1861 census lists seem to be missing many of the relevant Viners and Purles!

And so back to London once more, it seems, (for the moment, anyway) and evidence that the Purle's reputation in the archery trade was flourishing. Arthur Credland, the editor of the Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries, tells me that a certain James Duff (1870-1935) who had nearly fifty years' experience in archery, making longbows and arrows with the famous makers of the 19th century, said in his book on the subject: "During all the many years I was in London, the finest arrow maker known to me was Harry Purle."

It so happens that Eliza and William did have a son called Harry - Harry Richard Purle, to be exact, born in Leamington, in 1855. In fact there appears to be a key link back to Leamington - the two younger sons of William and Eliza's were born there.

Interestingly, in September 1860, there was a "group" baptism of all the Purle children except for Frederick (whose baptism had already taken place in Marylebone), in Leamington Priors (see left). So why here? Was archery big in Leamington and they'd moved there for the trade? There's certainly a street called Archery Street and I also came across an illustration of an Archery Competition in 1852 which took place in Jephson Gardens, a location renowned for entertainment of all sorts.

On contacting the Leamington History Group, their secretary kindly replied to inform me that, yes, Leamington was a major centre for Archery in the mid-Victorian period and for many years the National Championships were held there.

So did the Purle family supply the famous toxophilites of Leamington? Did they move there only for commercial reasons or did they have other links to the town? And another critical question came to light just as I thought that Eliza and William's son must be the famous Harry Purle, mentioned in James Duff's book, when I stumbled upon the death of Harry Richard Purle in 1881, aged only 26. What happened to him - did he have a nasty accident with a bow an arrow?

I'm afraid you'll have to wait for Part 2 to find out, as for now my investigations continue...

If you want to look up ancestors who had a trade, a selection of Trade Directories of several areas of the country can be accessed online at Leicester University's Special Collection 


Regular readers of this blog know that the distinguished Mr C J Vincent, pictured left, is a mystery man in the centre of my search-n-find radar.

The good news is that thanks to an online Q&A session with Ancestry Hour a couple of weeks ago, Tom of Forces War Records, identified (from his cap-badge in the photograph) that our man served in WW1's Tank Corps. This
has given me an exciting new line of enquiry, though, as ever, it's slow progress.

But as soon as there's something worth reporting, you'll be the first to know!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Mystery unravelling... slowly

Isn't often the way when you're looking for something, you'll find something else you'd been hunting for previously.

So was the case recently while I was snatching a few minutes on my latest challenge - trying to unmask the identity of this distinguished young man, which, I have to confess, has become a bit of an obsession lately.

The note on the back of the photograph scribbled by my late aunt, tells me he was Vincent Talbot but such a person appears not to exist - I certainly haven't been able to find him on my family tree.

When I posted the picture on Twitter, an eagle-eyed "Tweeter" noticed that the signature on the front seemed to suggest that his name was not Vincent Something but Something Vincent - perhaps C J Vincent?

If I had any military knowledge, I might be able to narrow things down a little by identifying his regiment by his uniform (to an untrained eye, his long boots suggest a cavalry connection?), particularly by his cap badge.

But although I've scanned in the photo at the highest resolution I can, there's a limit to the clarity I can achieve for comparing it against cap badge images online, though I suspect an expert would probably recognise it easily.

Meanwhile I continue to trawl whenever I can, on the off-chance I'll stumble across its like eventually.

So what's this about finding something I wasn't looking for while on the "Vincent" case, I hear you ask?

Well, it was while studying the confusing note on the back of the photograph that something occurred to me about another unsolved family mystery.

My aunt had originally written that "Vincent" was "Nell Booth's brother" but this had been crossed out in favour of "Polly's son" and then under a piece of added sticky label, I could make out "Minnie's cousin", followed by another suggestion, "Nell's son", amended to read "Polly's son... I think." (Is it any wonder I'm confused!)

Polly would have been Polly Benbow Baugh, pictured here on the right,  the younger sister of my great-grandmother Sarah Eliza Baugh.

Polly married George Augustus Talbot in 1894 and they had two daughters: Mabel Maud in 1895 and Anna Helena in 1896. I've failed to find the family on the 1901 census but George was born in Capetown in South Africa perhaps they'd been abroad visiting family during the census.

Notes on the back of the photograph on the left suggests this is Polly pictured with her "young son". Was this "Vincent" as a baby?

The problem is that I've only managed to find the births of the two girls and not of a son, though as the family had South African connections, perhaps he was born overseas.

Besides, I'm inclined to agree with my fellow Tweeter that Vincent is a surname and as such could well have no connection with my family at all!

It was then I homed in on the name Nell. Who was Nell? And where had I seen that name before?

Another ferret through my photograph collection unearthed a young woman in a wedding dress, on the reverse of which was written, "Nell, Polly's daughter."

Another conundrum. Polly's daughters were called Mabel Maud and Anna Helena... but maybe...

A quick check in my trusty Oxford dictionary of names, told me that Nell can be a shortened version of Helen or Helena. So this young woman known as Nell surely has to be Anna Helena Talbot.

That's when the penny dropped through the proverbial treacle.

If you've read this blog before, you might recall the post The Mystery of 138 photographs, in which I begin with a photograph of an unknown young woman called Nellie, taken in 1918. If you look closely at the photo on the right and compare it to the one of Nellie below, from that blog post, I think you'll agree it's the same person.

Anna Helena "Nell" Talbot married Herbert Booth in 1918, a few months after this photograph was taken, in Nantwich, Cheshire.

So, one mystery solved, at least! Now back to Mr Vincent...

Monday, 9 March 2015

A brush with death

With 2015 being 70 years since the end of the Second World War, this month sees a particularly poignant anniversary - that of the last Nazi bomb attack responsible for civilian deaths. On 27th March 1945 a V2 rocket (the world's first guided ballistic missile) hit London's East End, killing 135 people, the second worst V2 strike on London, in terms of lives lost. One final V2 would fall later that day in Orpington, Kent killing one person.

London, of course, had already suffered the horrifying effects of mass incendiary bombs at the start of the infamous 'Blitz' (a word derived from the German for 'lightning war') and many other British cities would be targeted, including Coventry, a city not so far from Wednesfield, near Wolverhampton where my mother lived with her family during the war.

The devastation in Coventry in 1940
Although bombing raids on Wolverhampton were nowhere as frequent as in Coventry and Birmingham, the risk was considered great enough to install anti-aircraft guns on the edge of the city after the horrific and infamous attack on Coventry in November 1940, and provision had already been made for air-raid shelters.

My mum used to talk about the warning sirens and the drills at school, diving under their desks and the carrying of gas masks. Under the family's house in Wednesfield was a cellar – a small, damp and dingy space at the bottom of a flight of brick steps which ran underneath the stairs – which served as their own air-raid shelter. But on the day disaster struck, no one was using it.

Why Mum and the family were not in the cellar at the time isn't clear. As Wolverhampton appeared
My mum (right) and her sister
not to be a target in the same way as neighbouring cities, perhaps the adults had become jaded about disrupting their sleep to sit in a cold hole in the ground for no apparent benefit.

But whatever the reason, at some point in the evening, with Mum fast asleep in bed and the adults still downstairs, the house took a hit from a rogue incendiary bomb.

My grandmother, Wyn, rushed upstairs into my mum's bedroom which was at the back of the house above the living room. The bomb had come through the roof and landed at the bottom of Mum's bed, setting the floor alight. Having pulled Mum out of bed, Gran dragged the heavy feather mattress on to the burning floor-boards to smother the flames before scooping Mum up and carrying her downstairs.

Mum's wartime ID card
The fire would eventually burn its way through to the ground floor and land on the piano below but not before Gran was able to bustle Mum into the kitchen at the end of a corridor to the rear of the house. She dumped her on a chair and wrapped her in the old mac used for visiting the outside privy in the rain.

By now Mum could hear shouting as help arrived and very quickly the fire was extinguished before it could take hold, aided, no doubt, by Gran's quick thinking with the feather bed. Another house in the street had been similarly attacked and the assumption was that a German bomber had jettisoned what was left of its load as it headed for home.

As children, my sister and I loved to hear this story, particularly when visiting my Gran's house, as the heart-shaped repair in the plaster where the bomb had come through the ceiling was still clearly visible.

Mum said that the overwhelming memory of that night was shivering at the unwelcome chill of the cold mac Gran had draped around her to keep her warm, as she sat in the kitchen in her nightdress. But I'm sure, rather than the mac, it was the shock of the incident which caused her to shiver!



An excellent and detailed account can be found of Coventry's blitz (including other aspects of the city's history) on the Historic Coventry website.

Images of the London Blitz,  "Germany's Campaign of Terror over London", can be viewed on the All website.