Sunday, September 30, 2012

High resolution modern photographs of Flamstead

As part of my assessment of my new Canon Powershot SX40 HS Camera I took a number of photographs of St Leonard's Church, Flamstead, and the nearby village. These have now been uploaded onto the Geograph web site (with higher resolution options) and linking thumb pictures have been posted on the Flamstead home page, and also on the St Leonard's Church page.
Some Modern Views of Flamstead

Spotted Dog

Three Blackbirds

Village Hall

Chris Watts, Genealogist

I have just learnt of the death of Chris Watts at the beginning of August, and I suspect that many of you will have meet him, or read one of the book he wrote jointly with his brother. He was for a time the chair of the Society of Genealogists and worked at the Nation Archives at Kew - both as an employee and more recently as a volunteer with their Friends organisation. He also gave talks on genealogy subjects, both in England and overseas.

I last met him almost exactly two years ago, when he was giving a lecture on the High Court of Justice records at Kew. We first met when we worked together on a major military computer system called Linesman over 40 years ago, in the middle of the Cold War and while there are a number of obituaries relating to his genealogical work I feel a story on a different aspect of his life is appropriate.

The Linesman hardware was already archaic when we were working on it and the computer complex was huge by present day standards. When a parliamentary question asked how big the computer was the answer was "Half an acre" (= 2000 sq.m.). The computer room had originally been built to hold 32 computers each of which consisted of 18 cabinets - and the effective processing power was probably not much more that the 1980s BBC computer (an early personal computer designed for school use). 

We were both working for Plessey and for a time there were six of us working together as a systems design team in an office at Stoke Poges. Someone had put a note on the door "Chemistry Department - Ph.Ds must be shown" Both Chris and I had Ph.D.s in chemistry and everyone one else either had a chemistry degree or a Ph.D. (If this seems strange, the British Universities had been turning out more chemistry graduates than were needed to do chemistry related research and development - but industry was crying out for managers with a good science background, particularly in the rapidly expanding computer industry.)

Many aspects of the Linesman project were deemed to be "Top Secret" and Chris found it frustrating trying to design a system when key aspects were so hush hush that the systems designers were not allowed to know them. One morning he came in with a great big smile on his face, and told us he was about to phone one of his RAF contacts to ask a "forbidden" question - which was how many Russian bombers were flying over the North Sea on a typical day. When his contact refused to give an answer Chris then asked "Can I use the number given in the Panorama programme which was broadcast on the BBC last night?" - Later that day his contact phoned back and sheepishly said "Yes".

If you have any memories of Chris why not add them as a comment here.

Some more about Halton

Halton is just over the county boundary into Buckinghamshire, and paid an important role in the First World War as it hosted a military camp which trained pilots - and the camp is now RAF Halton. I have now added two new post cards. The first shows the Wendover arm of the Grand Union Canal  at Halton which records the fact that Lord Kitchener's New Army is based on Alfred Rothschild's estate - so must have been published circa 1915. 

The second is a view of part of Wendover Woods (where I regularly used to take my dog Franci for a walk) in which some of the camp huts can be seen between the trees.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Alfred Russel Wallace's connection with Hertford

A. R. Wallace (1823-1913) is best known because his theory of evolution by natural selection was drafted before Charles Darwin's had finished writing On the Origin of Species. Because of my interest in evolution (see posts on my other blog, Trapped by the Box) I was interested to see that Wallace's works are now available online.

However his mother came from an established Hertford family (her grandfather William Greenell was twice mayor of Hertford), and Alfred was educated at Hertford Grammar School.

While Alfred's book My Life is well known because of his scientific work it is also a very useful source about Hertford in the 1830s with vivid descriptions of the town and what is was like to be a pupil in a small school such as  Hertford Grammar School. For this reason I have written a review on this aspect of the book.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Some Middlesex Parish Registers - and why you should check old family trees

Earlier this year I reported that FindMyPast were planning to computerize some Hertfordshire Parish Registers. There is not sign of them yet but they have just announced that a number of Middlesex registers are now available online, and the following could be of interest to any of you who are researching across the county boundary.

Edmonton, Frien Barnet, Harefield, Little Stanmore, Monken Hadley

I don't have any relatives in these parishes but over 30 years ago I researched the Phipson family in depth. To test the facility I decided to see if any of them were recorded in any of the Middlesex registers that are now online. I found four children of a Joseph and Mary Phipson who were baptised at St James, Picadilly, between 1706 and 1718 that I had not known about. In addition a Sarah, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Phipson was baptised at St Martin in the Fields in 1735, and I had picked this one up in my original researches in the Society of Genealogists' Library using a microfiche of the International Genealogical Index (IGI). If Sarah's father is the Thomas baptised  in 1718 at St James my original family tree is wrong!  A peek at the Burials also suggests errors.

There is a lesson here. Old family trees were researched at a time when to get any information at all you had to tramp around records offices (and before that individual churches) and very little of the material was indexed.  It was therefore very easy to miss records, especially when your ancestors moved about so you didn't know which were the relevant parishes - and so errors could easily creep in. Modern research tools make it far easier to track people down - and to identify the errors in earlier research. So if you cone across an old family tree the first thing you should do is to look at the modern online indexes and documents to see if it is correct. 

The History of the Parish of Barkway

I have reformatted the pages for the parish of  Barkway and the hamlet of Nuthampstead in North East Hertfordshire. Updates included a comprehensive menu, new pictures and links, separate pages for the parish church and Newsells (with detailed architectural descriptions from 1910), and historically oriented descriptions of the village from 1880 and 1931.

If you are interested in a particular village or hamlet which has not yet been reformatted and updated just let me know (mentioning why you are interested) and I will put it on my "to do" list. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pickpockets at the Tring Agricultural Show in 1897

I have added a news item about the arrest of an elderly pick pocket who gave his name as John Edwards to add to the collection of old Tring News already online.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Buchanan card of St Mary's Convent, Bishops Stortford

Yet another Hertfordshire school for my collection of post cards published by P. A. Buchanan. This one is of St Mary's Convent, Windhill, Bishops Stortford and appear to have been sent by "Mildred" sometime around 1913 (unfortunately the post mark date is unreadable), but the number and publisher address sugests a publication date of around 1910.

If you can add to my list of " Buchanan" schools in Hertfordshire - particularly if the cards can be dated or have a reference number, I will be delighted to have details and this all helps to construct a time line for dating other school photographs by him.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Leverstock Green, Hemel Hempstead

I have just added this post card showing the village pond at Leverstock Green, which was posted in 1913 bu "E. A. W." who had just moved into No.1. Belconey Cottages. The card was published by H. W. Flatt, of Boxmoor. At the same time I have restructured the Leverstock Green pages to include an improved menu, and additional links to additional material.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Major update of the Flamstead Pages

Earlier this month I visited Flamstead, in part to get more practice using my new camera, and took a series of pictures which will soon be going online. However before I could do this the Flamstead page was in danger of getting too large and needed a major  update, which has now been done:

  • The Flamstead "home" page now has a comprehensive menu (shared with the other Flamstead pages) and a description of the village written in 1807. More external links are included in the menu. The old material on the church and Beechwood Park have been moved out and replaced with thumbnail picture links, and a list of answers linking to people connected with Flamstead is given.
  • The new St Leonard's page contains the previously displayed pictures and text, plus a description of the church from 1880 and some new links.
  • An additional page with high resolution illustrations of St Leonard's church circa 1902, plus the text of a letter describing the urgently needed repairs, after part of an arch fell onto the pulpit!
  • The new Beechwood Park page includes the previously displayed picture, plus a description written in 1880 and some relevant links.
  • The Flamstead in 1746 page was left unchanged.
  • The pages for the books  Flamstead - its church and history A New History of Flamstead and Flamstead - The Listed Buildings were updated and reformatted.
  • All the answer pages relating to Flamstead were checked and the older answers were reformatted and linked to the Flamstead "home" page.
The current plan is to load high resolution modern images of Flamstead (including the church) onto Geograph, with brief descriptions associated with each, and when this is done place selected smaller images and links on the relevant pages on this site - with an announcement on this newsletter.

I am also considering posting information about the Burchmore family and their extensive grave plot in the churchyard including the grave of my ancestor Thomas Burchmore (1729/30-1806) - but this will have to join the queue of other significant updates.

Friday, September 21, 2012

World War One Casualties at Napsbury Hospital, 1916

Nick has kindly sent a picture which shows this uncle in Napsbury Hospital, taken by Riccardo Studios, St Albans, in the final months on 1916. For a much larger image (which may help you to identify other soldiers) see the Napsbury page.

Major Update of Ardeley Pages

Terry sent me some modern pictures of Ardeley Bury and I have used this as an excuse for an update to the Ardeley pages.

  • The "Home" page has now a proper menu, with extensive links to both relevant internal and external pages.
  • There is a new page for St Lawrence Church, including a description from 1880.
  • There is a new page for Ardeley Bury (which was the come of the famous Hertfordshire historian, Sir Henry Chauncy). There is now a old post card image from the early 20th century, a history and description from 1880, a list of some of the owners/occupiers from trade directories, an external link to a description of the moat, and of course Terry's photographs.
  • The page for the hamlet of Cromer (famous for its windmill) is now properly part of the village pages.

Display of Pictures by Tring Photographers at Tring Local History Museum

This morning I called into the Tring Local History Museum to discover a brand new temporary display of old photographs by local photographers such as C. A. Howlett, such as this one of Goldfield Windmill. I gather that they are likely to be on display for perhaps a couple of months - so if you happen to be in Tring on a Friday or Saturday why not drop in and have a look.

This web site has a draft index of Tring Photographers & post card publishers which needs some updating. 

A Topiary Runner carries the Olympic Torch through Wilstone

For a larger image see Geograph.
I came out of the Half Moon pub at Wilstone the other day and rubbed my eyes in disbelief. I doubt that the creeper was originally grown specifically for this purpose - but it has been trimmed into the shape of a runner carrying an olympic torch - and even a gold medal has been added!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Abe Mitchell - The Golfer on the Ryder Cup

Abe Mitchell was a professional golfer who came to work for Samuel Ryder in St Albans in 1925, dying there in 1947. He was the model for the golfer on the top of the Ryder Cup. Val is looking for more information about him - especially for a photograph of his wedding in 1920. Can you help? See  Abe MITCHEL (Golfer), St Albans, 1925-1947 for more details.

If I'm a bit slow in seeing your email in my inbox for a couple of days ....

Well - As I said earlier this month I was expecting a few interruptions to normal service in September and early October - and this is one of the reasons.

I'm feeling very cheerful about it - as it was all planned. I had the cataract in my left eye removed this morning and replaced with a plastic lens. This should help me to see a bit better - although for other reasons my left eye will still be weaker than my right eye - which had a cataract removed earlier in the year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

World War One pictures of Troops on Bernards Heath, St Albans

Just a brief note to say I have added four pictures, originally published in the Watford Illustrated in September 1914, of troops of what must have been the 2nd London Division (Territorial Force) in the Sandridge Road area of Bernards Heath.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Special Trees & Woods of the Chilterns

As some of you may know there is a page on this web site with pictures of Hertfordshire Trees which were considered notable 100 years ago. There is also another page with old pictures of Tombs with Trees in Hertfordshire Churchyards. In connection with these trees I was in touch with Rachael Sanderson several years ago about a project to record interesting old trees in the Chiltern Hills.

Today I attended the Chilterns Countryside and Food Festival at Ashridge and discovered a book, Special Trees & Woods of the Chilterns, was been published in 2010. It is an attractive volume which deals with trees and woods in Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire (the vast majority are here), Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire. The Hertfordshire section deals with:
  • Woods of the Whippendell Valley
  • Ashridge
  • War Wounds
  • Hockeridge and Pancake Woods
  • Abbey Pagoda
  • Domesday Oak
  • Croxley Green Commerative Trees

Hertfordshire People, September 2012 Issue

This is the Journal of the Hertfordshire Family History Society and has just arrived and I noted the following items - which might tempt you to become a member and get your own copy!

  • To save postage there is an question about whether a pdf version of the Journal would be viable. Clearly this would be of particular interest to overseas members (and prospective members) as it would ensure quick delivery and greatly reduce postal cost.
  • There is a competition (members only) for a piece "My Favourite Ancestor"
  • Whats new at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) includes a list of interesting records that are now available in the online name search facility.
  • There is a review of the book St Albans through Time
  • There is an item about Aerofilms - a company whose air photographs are currently going online from 1919 to 1959 at Sounds very interesting and I will be reviewing the site here soon.
  • There are articles on The Pattern family of Barley and the Cotton family of Hitchin
Future meetings (see Society Web Site for details):
Sept 29: Poverty & Madness from Stepney to Colney Hatch
Oct 27: Looking for Lillian (Correcting a Family Myth)
Nov 24: The Streets of London
Dec 15: Livery Companies of the City of London

Second Impressions of my new Canon Powershot SX40 Camera

Kingfisher at College Lake
Click for full sized picture

Yesterday we took our Australian friend for a walk round the College Lake Nature reserve, near Tring, and I took my camera with me for what could be considered a normal day out and the "routine" pictures were all very satisfactory - but didn't need such a powerful camera.

However as we approached Castle Hide we jocularly suggested that Janet should visit the hide as this time she might be lucky and see a kingfisher. Much to our delight there was one fishing about 40 m away and I took a whole series of pictures of it at maximum optical zoom (x33) plus maximum digital zoom (x4) and have then cropped the pictures (equivalent to another x3 zoom).

The only difficulty was that I didn't have a tripod with me so I used the jamb of the hide opening, plus my left hand, to provide a firm base from which to aim the camera. For amateur wild life snapshots, taken for fun, for display on a computer rather than very high definition prints,  these results taken at the extreme zoom are good enough for me, and I am delighted with the result.

Red Kite at College Lake
However I had problems trying to photograph a red kite at College Lake which were due to a combination of extreme inexperience and the limited eye level viewfinder. Even when the bird was flying above the sky line I could not spot it in the view finder as a dot over the top of the trees, when with a good single lens reflex I would have easily been able to do so. (Of course a single lens reflex with a suitable zoom would have been very much heavier and difficult to control). The kite suddenly swept closer, and not having time to decide what to do I shot blind at full optical zoom and consider myself extremely lucky to get this rather blurred shot (full frame shown, resolution reduced with slight image enhancement).

If you don't know College Lake visit Geograph  for some pictures I took earlier on less powerful Powershot models. You may also like to see my first impressions of the SX40 camera.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Postings will be irregular for the next month or so.

Some of you will have noticed a three day gap in postings over the weekend - which was due in part to getting a new camera, and a number of visits to churches, etc, to take photographs when they were open because of the Bike & Hike event. There are likely to be further similar breaks over the next month. The biggest distraction will be a nine day visit by a friend we made in Australia over 20 years ago (preceded by a house spring clean - including a trip to the dump later today). Next comes .... ...

I am booked for two different day surgery operations which will almost certainly mean taking it easy for a few days after each. In addition I will almost certainly want to spend some time getting to know my new camera better - and may combine this with the need to get more exercise on country walks as otherwise my doctor will be complaining I have stopped loosing weight! As part of the plans to get my library of Hertfordshire books, post cards, etc.,  into better shape I will be weeding out duplicate and unwanted material to sell on ebay.  Finally I have been neglecting my other blog Trapped by the Box and am supposed to be starting to prepare a talk on human evolution for our local U3A Science & Technology group.

Despite all this I still very much welcome comments, news items, requests for information, updates on queries I have previously answered, etc. Such items will be given priority over normal updates, and cheer me up as they remind me that at least some people find the site useful, especially at times when there has been few recent charitable donations.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Hertfordshire Countryside Index and sales on ebay.

I have now decided I must slim down my library and sell off unneeded and duplicate items on ebay - which I am doing under the name chris_from_hertfordshire. I have also made a rule that I should not buy any more items to use on this site until I have raised enough money to pay for them!  I had this policy some years ago, and ended up with the large library which now provides significant information for this web site. In recent years I have done very little selling and too much buying and as a result I have been heavily subsidizing this site from my pension.

In addition to selling off surplus and duplicate books I will be trying to reduce a pile of duplicate copies of Hertfordshire Countryside. To sell a copy I will need to include some details of the contents list in the advert and its seems silly to waste the effort. Some years ago I started to index early issues so that you would know about the interesting articles they contained (and as I have copies you know you can ask me about the articles). I plan to add the contents lists of items I am selling online and as a result I have now added the contents lists of Summer 1951, Autumn 1952 and Summer 1963 - and more will be appearing as sales hopefully continue.
My current items for sale

Monday, September 10, 2012

My first impressions of the Canon Powershot SX40 HS Camera

When I visited Flog It at Ashridge I had an accident with my camera (a pocket-sized Canon Powershot SX120) which for some reason objected to being bounced on the floor! While it may be repairable I decided that initially I would upgrade to a rather larger “bridge camera” and purchased a Powershot SX40 IS. I purchased this on Friday, taking some photographs in Aylesbury and spent Saturday touring round with a view to visiting the Early 19th Century Exhibition at St Albans, and some of the Bike & Hike open churches. I also went for a short walk on the Sunday and took some more pictures - all in the auto mode.

Perhaps the first photographs I took illustrate some of the power of the system. I left the shop and went to St Mary's Church, Aylesbury. I sat at a table in the little cafe at the west end, unpacked the camera, and without reading the introductory guide took these two pictures.
The first shot was taken with the default setting and shows the Nave with the Chancel beyond. The second was taken from the same spot by selecting the maximum optical zoom (x33) plus some additional digital zoom.  It shows the crucifix at the top of the middle window at the east end of the church, and the detail gives some idea of the resolution. (It might have been even better if I had read the manual and used a tripod!). Compared with the comparatively simple 100% manual fixed focal length camera, with 120 black and white film I had at school some 60 years ago the power of this camera is mind-blowing.

This later test shot is the weather vane on the spire of Ivinghoe Church taken from Pitstone Windmill - a distance of about 450m. In fact I really wanted the camera to take wild life photographs involving real birds rather than a metal one. So far I have only taken one wild bird shot - showing two swans, several lesser black backed gulls, and some black-headed gulls at a distance of perhaps 500m. It was not perfect (perhaps because it was hand held) but was good enough to allowed me to identify the birds. 

Tortoiseshell Butteryfly 
A more demanding test was to film a butterfly visiting some flowers from perhaps 4 to 5m. The electronic viewfinder (not present in most smaller cameras) proved useful in tracking the insect's movements when I took this (cropped) picture. However the viewfinder image quality is poor by single lens reflex camera standards.

St Mary's, Aylesbury.
This view between the trees is only possible as a wide angled shot 
On the Saturday I spent most of the day visiting the St Albans area, and visited a number of open churches - and some of the pictures will be displayed on this site later. However I discovered an advantage which had not been on my original shopping list. The bigger zoom includes wider angled shots - which are useful in photographing the nave of a church, where you can get a good general view including the high ceilings.  The same thing applies in trying to get photographs of churches and other old buildings in narrow streets.

The chief snag, compared with the Powershot SX120, is its size. The body, excluding the lens, is only a little bigger, but the large lens means it will not slip into a pocket, although it is very much smaller than a SLR camera - and does not require interchangeable lenses. The extra power and facilities (which I have yet to explore) compared with my previous camera will be very useful for taking nature pictures on my country walks, and in photographing historic buildings for this web site. However for more everyday use such as family events and holidays a pocket sized camera which you can forget about will be more practical - and I may see if I can get the SX120 camera repaired for everyday use.

See also Second Impressions - where I take pictures of a Kingfisher and a Red Kite.

Did your ancestor go to a private boarding school?

I have just had an question about the school that Paul's ancestor George FitzGeorge went to in 1851. He is uncertain about George's father and ideally he would like to find school records relating to his admission. Unfortunately the school was typical of the large number of preparatory boys boarding schools where there are no surviving school records. If you have a similar problem to Paul have a look at Rev. TUCK's School, Welwyn, Little Wymondley & Northaw, c1840-c1930 to see the factors I considered in trying to find more.

It is important to realize that it is likely that many of the pupils who went to the school went there because of personal recommendation - and might be relatives of the headmaster, or linked in some way to his family. For this reason I investigated the headmaster's family (including search online local newspapers) and also investigated a bit of the social background of the other pupils at the school in case there are any obvious contacts. The history of the school could also be relevant - as key documents may have been been kept when/if the school changed location or management. In this case the school may have been a continuation of an earlier boarding school  that was at Welwyn in 1839. In 1851/2 it moved from Welwyn to Little Wymondley. The school continued under a new schoolmaster and then moved to Northaw and the management changed again.Unfortunately the paper trail that school records might have followed goes cold in about 1935.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Page Upgrades: Furneaux Pelham & the Wymondleys

As part of the slow but steady program of updating some of the older pages changes have been made as follows:

Furneaux Pelham: Page restructured to include a menu with extra external links, and two new pictures of the St Mary the Virgin on a dedicated new page

Furneaux Pelham Church
Great Wymondley: Page restructured to include a menu with extra external links, and an account of the village in 1903.

Little Wymondley : Page restructured to include a menu with extra external links, and some minor corrections to an account of the village in 1903