Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Could this 1915 photo help locate Briton's Camp, St Albans?

During the Summer of 1915 a large tented military camp was established in fields in the St Albans area but its location is uncertain. A great many pictures exist but apart from showing the soldiers, the tents and open fields there had been an absence of identifiable landmarks. ... until now ...

Chris Bailey is researching the Lincolnshire Regiment and has also been puzzling where the 2nd/5th Lincs spent the summer of 1915. He has provided seven pictures taken when they were based in the St Albans area, which I have added to the end of the Briton's Camp page. Two of the pictures of the camp include distant images of a number of buildings (possibly set along a road) including one which could be a factory with a large chimney. This suggests that the camp was close to a built up area.

Other pictures, all believed to be of the St Albans area, contain identifiable features. One shows a line of railway carriages and a different factory. Another shows the troops in procession in a built up area.

I assume the "Baths in the Roman Trenches" is at Beech Bottom.

If anyone can identify the location of any of the pictures Chris would be love to know and I will also label the pictures accordingly.

Either comment below or use "Ask Chris" on the main web site.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Email Problems

Yesterday my software diverted an email into my spam box - nothing unusual about that as it happens several times a day. However it seemed at a quick glance to be a genuine request for help on a family history problem (surname may have been CHILD). So I clicked on the "not spam" button and it vanished - and I can't find it anywhere on my computer or on the server. So apologies, whoever you, were but I am not able to reply.

This may also be a good time to remind you that if you send me an emailed request and want a reply make sure that your system will accept my reply. So systems seem to be set up to treat as spam anything they don't recognize and I know at least one recent message I sent didn't get to the questioner for this reason. 

The Census Enumerator strike back

19th November

The Enumerator Strikes Back
(A look at the census enumerator's work)
by David Annal

Talk starts 3 pm at the Woolmer Green Village Hall

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Improved Facilities for Birth and Death Certificates

The General Registry Office ( has now launched a new search (and order) facility for historic birth and death certificates based on what is actually on the certificate rather than the old indexes. In addition the birth index from 1837 now gives the mother's maiden name while the death index gives the age at death.

I decided to test it out using information from the Phipson One Name Study I carried out in the 1980s = which involved manhandling hundreds of heavy Victorian indexes when they were in St Catherine's House, in London. There indexes were later used to produce the online FreeBMD. For details of my tests see below:

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Don't Forget the Midwife ... Some useful Sources

Nurse Elizabeth Phillips
Where a village like Preston is well covered by a local historian with an excellent web site such as A History of Preston in Hertfordshire I am delighted as I can relax as there is no point in duplicating what is already online and I can simply point the visitor to the appropriate URL., and pass on useful updates via this newsletter.
Philip has just posted an interesting account of Preston's first midwife which makes interesting reading - and includes some interesting general information on childbirth and midwifery. It also highlights two useful sources of information I had not considered.
The first is that Ancestry have now included some information on midwives to add to there collection of useful sources.
The second relates to the Hertfordshire Cohort Study - which is a major clinical research study based on the finding of records of births and early infancy for children born in Hertfordshire between 1911 and 1939. Records were kept of child's name, data and weight at birth, together with weight at one year, vaccination history and first school at five, and some other detail, and this can now be related to what happened (and in many cases is still happening) later in life. Similar records were probably kept elsewhere but have not survived, while most, but not all for Hertfordshire have survived. I remember, many years ago, there was a news article in the Hemel Hempstead Gazette about the discovery of a book of old maternity records which had been saved from ending up in a skip and how useful they would prove to be. However I had not realized how important they were.
None of my immediate family are part of the study as my mother was born in Hemel Hempstead in 1908 and while I was born in St Albans in 1938 the St Albans records have not survived - and in any case would not have included information on my weight at one year, etc, because my parents moved to SOmerset when I was 11 months old.
Of course the files contain medical information on living people so the detailed information, such as whether a child was breast-fed, is not yet available to genealogists but there are some interesting statistical findings.

Quite by chance the question of birth came up at the recent St Albans History Conference. Roger (who has previously corresponded with this site) asked a question, relating to Bernards Heath. I happened to mention I was born on the other side of the road, and he commented that he had been born at "Hazeldene" at about the same time. ... As it happens my son was born in a nursing home in Exeter but both my daughters were born at home in Tring, with midwife care and grandma (a trained nurse) available to help as necessary.

 So do you know whether your ancestors were born at home - or in a nursing home, or in a hospital, or did they go to their mother's house for the actual birth?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

What lies underneath Bernards Heath, St Albans

The area of the Fontmell Close as it was in about 1900
I gave my talk "Brick Pits and other old holes" to the St Albans & District Local History Network Annual Conference yesterday, discribing the reasons people had duh holes in Bernards Heath  and the talk is now online at "HOLES"

Some of the slides have details supplementary notes and I had planned to add more today - but have picked up a cold which has gone to my chest (I have asthma) so I decided that plenty of fresh air was better for me than spending hours at the computer. I hope to add the missing notes over the next week or so.

Following a note from Roger I have looked at my records of William Bennett, who made bricks on the site now occupied by Fontmell Close. William also had brickworks at Harpenden and Hemel Hempstead - and there appears to have been a chalk mine on site at Harpenden and a deep well on site at Hemel Hempstead. As he had lime kilns on Bernards Heath je almost certainly had a similar chalk mine and/or deep well. Failure of the capping of a shaft into a significant chalk mine could easily explain the rather large hole in the road. I have added details to the relevant page of the online text of the talk.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Watford Poisoning Case

Watford Poisoning Case. 
 The Servant Confesses that She Put Belladonna in the Rice Pudding. 
The medical practitioners who were called by the police to attend to Mr. Henry Crawley, a Watford tradesman, and his family, who were poisoned on Friday last whilst having dinner, have decided that the poison used was belladonna. 
From inquiries made, it appears that this poison had been placed in a rice padding which had been prepared for dinner that day Mrs. Crawley. Just before it was placed on the table one of the children tasted it, and called the attention his mother to an extreme bitterness in the custard. Thinking that bitterness was due to absence of sugar, Mrs. Crawley went into the shop, to get some, and subsequently mixed it in the pudding. The family, all partook of the pudding, and were soon afterwards seized with violent pains, and showed symptoms of poisoning. Owing to the exertions of the doctors the family were soon oat of danger, but are still very weak. 
On Sunday the servant girl confessed to having put some belladonna, which was used by Mr. Crawley for his eyes, into the rice pudding. She was arrested at once and taken the Watford Police Station.
The bottle of belladonna was kept on a high shelf in Mr. Crawley’s bedroom. Only he and Mrs. Crawley and the servant knew where it was. The doctor had warned his patient as to the dangerous nature of the contents, and it is said that the servant was present at the time. After Friday’s dinner Mr. Crawley noticed that the contents of the bottle were materially reduced. 
The servant, whose name Leonora Ann Melinda Florence Robinson, and who is only fifteen, was charged at Watford Court on Monday. Formal evidence of ### having been given, accused was remanded.

Whenever the British Newspaper Archive announces that it has digitized an unusual newspaper I dive in to see what Hertfordshire news it contains. The above story comes from the Illustrated Police Budget of 18th February, 1899.

The 1899 Kelly's directory lists a Henry Crawley, furniture dealer, of 139 Queen Street, Watford.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

On Saturday I will be talking about a hole in the road !

The St Albans & District Local History Network Annual Conference is to be held in the Verulamium Museum next Saturday (22nd October) and and for your information the programme contains the following presentations:
Kate Harwood - Historic Town GardensRosemary Ross & Alison Macfarlane - Marianne Sherman's dance manuscripts: a glimpse into gentry life in Harpenden at the time of Jane AustenChris Reynolds - Brick Pits & Other Old Holes on Bernards HeathKate Morris - St Peter’s Grange or the Grange in St Peter’sSarah Keeling - How to Care For Small ArchivesJon Mein - 'St Albans: Life on the Home Front 1914 to 1918'Hertfordshire’s Hidden Heroines
If you haven't already booked a place I gather you are too late as all places are taken - but in case you are interested I will be posting my talk on the main web site on Sunday. However if you feel the County roads are in a bad condition, and want to know why a hole in the road is of particular interest look below the fold.

Who was "F S" and did he work in St Albans with "Karaktus"?

Sometimes when you are doing research you get carried away with a side issue - and my recent investigation into the identity of a post card artist signing himself  "F S" is a good example.

Card by Karaktus
Some years ago I discovered some unusual comic cards published around 1908  by the short-lived Crown Publishing Company of St Albans and drawn by "Karaktus." As a result I have so far identified almost all his designs (I have details and in most cases copies, of 28 out of 30 different cards) However I made no progress in discovering the identity of "Karaktus."

Card by "F S"
In my research I discovered that the Crown Publishing Company also produced cards in the "Crown Series" some of which were signed "F S" and it seemed likely "F S" and "Karaktus" knew each other (unless they  were the same artist using two different pen names,) Perhaps, I thought that if I could identify "F S" (who I now realized has some links with the St Albans company) it would lead me to "Karaktus".

"FS" card from USA
My first online searches showed that the majority of post card sellers made no attempt to identity "F S," while those who did came up with either "F Stone" (who signed a small number of cards published in about 1906) or "Fred Spurgin." (a very well known post card artist whose cards started to appear in about 1910, including many produced in the First World War). However the work of these two artists were stylistically quite different to that of "F S."  In addition "F S" cards involved many different named publishers (or none), and were not always signed - although in some cases the same card was issued, with  or without signature, by a different publisher. In many cases the cards were not used (so no postal date), and often the publisher information on the back was not immediately available.

What was going on? I started a comprehensive search over a number of months and have now identified well over 100 different images - and I am still no wiser as to who he is - except that based on style of artwork and subject treatment I think "F S" is unlikely to be "Fred Spurgin".

Unsigned card probably by "F S"
What I guess happened is the "F S" was a freelance artist, who started to produce comic postcards for the London View Company in 1906 - shortly before the company closed down. Following the closure of LVC he was probably involved in setting up the short lived Crown Publishing Company in St Albans in 1908-9. By about 1910 some of his cards were being published in the USA and the same images also turned up in the UK at about the same time - often with no publisher name..
For more Information see
A summary of "F S" post cards. (link from above)
Unsigned - by F S ?
If you have any information which would help me identify "F S" or "Karaktus" or the subjects, publishers and earliest postal dates of their cards I will be grateful. If there is sufficient interest when I have time I will add a catalogue of card series, individual card titles, publishers and dates, for the benefit of other collectors.

Note on images: Many of the images come directly from the web (particularly auction sites) and I have deliberately reduced the image size to thumbs 250 pixels wide. (If I already own a copy clicking a blue edged image will give a much larger image). For cards currently on sale you could start by searching ebay collectibles using:
postcard ("F S", "F Stone", "Fred Stone") (comic, artist, social) 
At the time of posting this search identified 22 "F S" cards with a typical price of about £4.00