Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Enjoy your Christmas Meal

As we did at Christmas 2012 and Christmas 2011 we are enjoying an Aylesbury Duck at lunch time today - and I am doing the cooking with a wide selection of extras.
 Enjoy your own Christmas celebrations 

Monday, December 23, 2013

A White Christmas at Watford in 1908

Cassio Hamlet, Watford, on Boxing Day 1906
I have just posted two views of Watford in the Snow, taken by Fred Downer, and issued as post cards.

The card of Cassio Hamlet, shown above, was posted to Sam Starkey, who was working in Pietermaritzburg as an engineer for the Natal Government Railway. In finding out who he was I also found that many of the Starkey Family of Watford also worked for the railways, and in several cases were involved with signalling.

And a Merry Christmas to You All

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Something for you to do over Christmas to raise money for charity.

P. B. Morgan
The beginning of the First World War will be remembered in 1914 and a lot of people in Hertfordshire are researching the soldiers remembered on local war memorials and in many cases the local soldiers who did return.

What is often forgotten is that many soldiers were based in Hertfordshire for training and civil defence purposes - or were patients in Hertfordshire hospitals and nursing homes. For many the only records of their stay in the county may be the photographs taken of them (as portraits or groups) or the post cards they sent home from their camps or billets.

So why not take advantage of the holiday break to look through your family records to see if there is someone with a connection with the War and Hertfordshire who ought to be remembered, and let me know (with reasonable resolution pictures if relevant) at 
Chris at

I would be particularly interested in pictures taken by Hertfordshire photographers of troops from elsewhere, hospital patients, camps, and training activities. Post cards and letters giving details of life while training, or recovering from injuries in the county would also be valuable. I will feature the most historically interesting items on this newsletter in the New Year and other information will be posted on the main web site and/or passed to the appropriate groups involved in the Herts at War project. I will also pass on any information to the project on any named Hertfordshire soldiers.
For each contribution (up to a maximum of 50) I will donate at least £2 to the Herts Mind Network - which provides support for people with mental health problems living in the community. 
You can also help (and get me to donate more) by identifying people in the many pictures of First World War Soldiers - including those in Napsbury Hospital or those by Harry Cull.

For those of you who don't have any information, why not try and identify the soldier in the picture and his unit. The picture was taken by Latchmore of Hitchin. A quick check of the census suggests there are several possible P. B. Morgan - and I have not had time to find out which one he is. I am not certain what regiments were billeted in the Hitchin area and I don't recognise the cap badge.

Finally, if you don't have any relevant First World War material you can share, you can still drop a donation in the site's charity collecting box

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Spot the Difference" - Ooops

When I posted the following I felt that I had to find an excuse to make no further postings over Christmas, in part to allow me to enjoy Christmas and in part because I was hoping to have some unrushed time to get used to a new computer. What I hadn't realised was that I was also heading towards an attack of the "dreaded lurgy" to be followed a couple of days later by my wife. It would seem that the lurgy was already gnawing at my mind when I posted this "Christmas Competition" and it was only when Peter sent an excellent high resolution photograph of the of Water End Girls and Infants School in North Mymms  taken around 1900 that I realised that the "significant differences" I has spotted were not real. 

I will post a full and corrected report in the New Year (I now need the break more than ever) but having said I would make a generous donation to sites charity collecting box for the Herts Mind Network I have now made such a donation. I am also posting a request for information relating to the First World War, which started 100 years ago next August, and to encourage you to help I will be making a further donation.

This picture of a school was taken in the late 1870s by a photographer, G. A. Nichols, who gave a Hitchin address on the back of the carte de visite.

It was posted on the web site some time ago when I asked about its identity. A few days ago my attention was drawn to a post card, published in about 1905, by a St Albans photographer. At a quick glance the two pictures appear to be the same school.

But are they?

Have a look at the larger images on the main web site and let me know what differences there are - and in each case indicate whether they are simply changes that could have happened between about 1875 and 1900 - or whether the differences indicate that the pictures are of two different schools.

For those of you who know parts of Hertfordshire well, or who have old pictures of Victorian schools in the county there are some additional questions - about the possible identity of the school(s).

Enjoy yourself over Christmas helping with some genuine research.
Due to the need for a break, a long list of social activities, and some time devoted to getting used to Windows 8, this will be the last post on this Newsletter until the first week in January, when a report on the results of the competition will be posted. There may be a similar delay in responding to any queries.

Three Victorian Photographers (Hertford, Hitchin & Ware)

I have just added examples of the work of three Victorian photographers linked to Hertfordshire, with short biographies of each.
Cabinet Card by Henry Newton

Henry Martinson appears to have been working as a photographer in Ware for a short time around 1890, moving away and apparently giving up photography as a profession after his marriage in 1892.

Henry Newton was a photographer working in Hertford between about 1891 and 1912, his business having been taken over by J M & C W Sneesby by 1914.

CDV by Nichols
George Albert Nichols seems to have moved around a bit but two carte de visite show he worked in Hertfordshire, apparently in the late 1870s. One is a portrait of an elderly gentleman which give an address in Wormley - which was surely to small a village to support a professional photographer. The other is a school group with a similar back and a Hitchin address.

Is this a Lyre-Guitar? (Watford circa 1900)

I am trying to get as wide a range of pictures by Frederick Downer, of Watford, to illustrate the various ways in ehich photographs were used in the late Victorian and Edwardian period. 

My latest addition shows a group of musicians holding various instruments from the mandolin family. Most look normal but is this a special kind of mandolin - or is it a lyre-guitar?. 

And of course there is the question of the identity of the group. Were there a group of mandolin players in the Watford Area in the late Victorian period - or was it a group which was performing in the  theatre? If (when) the Watford Observer goes on line in the British Newspaper Archive it may be easy to answer this question, but in the meantime can anyone help.
A Group of Mandolin players photographed by Fred Downer of Watford.
I have seen a 1895 reference which suggests that Fred Downer might have had connections with the Watford Conservative Club Dramatic and Musical Society. Might this have been one of their productions?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Manorial Documents Register

Manorial Document Register
The Manorial Courts were an important part of any rural community, and the records of the courts can be very useful in tracking back family lines at a time when parish registers were not available. The problem is that even when they have survived they may be held in many different depositories - or even be in private hands. I am afraid I have tended to ignore them on this site because I don't have easy access, but a recent announcement about the Manorial Document Register had alerted me to the need to publicise them.

I did a quick search for several Hertfordshire manors: 

Tring - 57 entries - Mostly at HALS, some in the National Archives, a few in Lambeth Palace Library
Tring Rectory - 18 entries - all at HALS
Betlow (a  tiny ancient manor in the old parish of Tring where some of my ancestors were Lord of the Manor in Victorian Times) - 10 entries - most at HALS, two at British Library - none after 1695
Sandridge (One when I have actually worked with some of the original records) - 43 entries - most at the Northampton Records Office, more at HALS, others in the British Library and National Archives.

Of course the record only tells you where you need to go to see the original documents, many of which will be full of names - but unindexed. In addition many of the earlier ones will be in Medieval Latin, and even those in English could be in clerical hand - which need practice to read well. So manorial records are definitely not for those of you who expect everything to be indexed online in clear text ...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Getting the Dates right between 1582 and 1752

Gregorian Calendar in the Holy Roan Empire
If you researching back before 1752 care needs to be taken in interpreting the dates on old documents - and even more so on modern documents referring to earlier dates which don't say how the date was originally recorded. It becomes even more complicated if your family research takes you across the English Channel into Europe, as the problems date back to 1582. There is a well-written article "Understanding Julian Calendars and Gregorian Calendars in Genealogy" in the online magazine GenealogyInTime.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Herts Imperial Yeomanry at Berkhamsted in 1906

Military Training Camp, Berkhamsted, May 1906

The above card, and its partner, show the Herts Imperial Yeomanry Training Camp, which was held at Berkhamsted in May 1906, and many on the men shown would undoubtedly been fighting in the First World War a few years later. However card had some other interesting features relevant to this site. Both were taking by Frederick Downer, a pioneering Watford photographer - and I have opened up a new page to bring together his military photographs.


In addition the cards carried hidden messages in mirror writing, so that they could not be so easily read in transit, and prove to be affectionate letters from Jessie Louisa Smith, and her husband to be Thomas Lance Simmons, a Watford hairdresser. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Why is your Museum or Local History Society "Missing"

You may have noticed that recently I have posted details of three publications related to Tring. This is partly a coincidence as they all appeared over a short period - but also I can only post messages about things I know about - and I live in Tring.

There is now so much information on the web that I cannot personally chase up every new item related to the history of the county and its people, and I definitely cannot afford the subscriptions to join them all. So if you can volunteer to let me know of any new Hertfordshire publications you discover (perhaps including specialist articles in magazines) your knowledge will help everyone. If you are a member of a local society why not help everyone (and publicize the society) by acting as a correspondent and sending me news about new publications, web pages, etc..

Thanking you for your kind help in advance.    Chris

The London to Birmingham Railway comes to Tring 1835-1846

by Ian Petticrew & Wendy Austin
This online book, which has just been published, is the kind of well-written local history I have come to expect from Ian Petticrew and Wendy Austin. It is a very detailed account of the building of the London and Birmingham Railway from Euston to Tring, with an emphasis of the Tring area. In addition to making extensive use of the readily accessible sources it also reprints the text written in about 1890 by Arthur MacDonald Brown (1861-1951, son of the Tring estate agent William Brown) for a book on the history of Tring which was never published. As a result it contains some useful detail of the building of the Harcourt Arms (later the Royal Hotel) at Tring Station by the Brown family.

Whitwell and Harpenden Breweries

In connection with the page on the Harpenden Brewery, Jim has told me that Frederick William Archer (born 1855), of Whitwell Brewery, apparently left England after his wife died in 1885 and died in  Sacramento in 1934.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Rural Relaxation: The Autumn Sun shines on Tring Parish Church

St Peter & St Paul, Tring
Well - not quite a rural relaxation, as the church is in the centre of the town, but at least twice a week my supposedly daily walk for fresh air passes the church. Most Friday mornings I will call in, drop off some tins in the local food bank and relax over a cup of coffee, before proceeding to the market for some fresh vegetables.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Medieval Hangover from Hemel Hempstead

Solomon Willis, Under Bailiff
I regularly prowl ebay looking for low priced items linked to Hertfordshire which I think will make a good story on this blog. A few days ago this cabinet card came on the market. I knew I would have something to say about it because the photographer was Julianna Dunn, one of the few Victorian female photographers in Hertfordshire, whose studio had been next door to the house where my mother lived as a child, and who trained with another of my relatives in Aylesbury, Samuel Glendenning Payne.

The truth was the subject intrigued me. Why was the man dressed up in that way, and why was he carrying a staff. A fancy dress ball came to mind - but if so who or what was he supposed to be. There was a name on the back "Simon Wallis" written in a shaky hand so there was a chance of finding out who he was.

No-one else was interested so I won the item for a virgin bid of £5.00 - which is more than I would usually pay, and a couple of days ago it dropped through my letterbox.

My first reaction was one of disappointment in that there was no sign of anyone called "Simon Willis" in the Hertfordshire area. However the shaky handwriting might have been that of an elderly person trying to identify some old photographs many years later - so I had another look at the census and found Solomon Wallis - whose occupation was an "Under Bailiff". 

Hemel Hempstead
Further investigation showed that he was an official of a Piedpowder Court and the first such courts, which originally operated in markets, started on the continent over a thousand years ago, and came to England with the Normans. Most such courts disappeared in the 17th century but one court almost made it to the 20th century thanks to Henry VIII. His charter to Hemel Hempstead provided it with a bailiff, elected by the jury of a Piepowder Court when most towns had a mayor elected by aldermen and burgers. And the bailiff (who was elected annually) would want a paid under bailiff to actually do the work.
Click here to find out more about Solomon Willis (who happened to be an exceptional cricketer) and his work.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Australian Studios at Watford, World War 1

Taken at the Australian Studios
Some years ago I posted this card, of young soldiers, undoubtedly in connection with the First World War, who had been photographed at the Australian Studios, Watford. I asked if anyone could identify the soldiers (from their cap badges) or the studios, which were not listed in the trade directories available to me.

I have now heard from John, from Australia, saying the photographer was a James Henry Lawre(a)nce who had gone to Australia and New Zealand in search of gold, and having been successful returned to England. Interestingly it would seem that in a period of ten years he operated from 4 different addresses, 3 in Watford and one in Fulman.

The four men were possibly friends from Watford who joined up at the same time - so can you help - if only to identify their regiment. Other pictures from the Australian Studios would also be of interest.

President George Washington's Tring Ancestry

by Murray Neil
Anyone interested in the ancestry of President George Washington should welcome this newly published booklet about the Washington family's brief stay in Tring in the mid 17th century. It explains the political difficulties of the time which led to Amphyllis Twigden Washington and her children living with her step-father at Frogmore End, Tring.  [MORE]

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Story behind a 1916 Christmas Card

The Military
In 1916 my great grandfather, Jacob Reynolds, was sent this personalised Christmas Card by his relative Frank Mardall. Frank was a relative (See Who is related to Who?) and sent out a number of such cards each year, although only a few have survived. It would seem that each one was based on events during the year relevant to the recipient - and of course in 1916 Britain was at war with Germany. To find out about the significance of the cow delivering milk, and to see another example of Frank's cards which suggests the Reynolds family were good at "bridgework", read on.

And remember, that old Christmas card, or other apparently worthless bit of ephemera that you ancestor decided to keep, may well open the door to an interesting story about their life and times.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas and the Mentally Ill

Christmas is a difficult time for those who are mentally ill, and the increasing number who are stressed to breaking point. In past years this site has raised the following sums to help the mentally ill in Hertfordshire
Thank You

  • 2009     £ 705.12
  • 2010     £ 523.86
  • 2011     £ 875.03
  • 2012     £ 720.00

The current economic situation has meant increasing numbers require help and many charities are finding they have less funds. With one month to go the amount raised has only reached a very disappointing £327 including some funds paid straight to the charity without going through the online collecting box. There seems to be a real danger I will not have raised a pound a day. If you have not yet made a donation this year you can make me very happy by doing it

Report on November 2013 activity

Ask Chris
Things have really been buzzing this end during the month. As a result of an entry on this newsletter the Folly Chapel War Memorial Windows that came from Harpenden have found a new home and will a feature in the First World War Exhibition at St Albans Museum next year. My answer to another question has suggested a possible provenance (including possible royal connections) for a valuable late 17th century mirror that came from Stocks, Aldbury, (previously owned by the Duncomb family) and which is now held in the Victoria and Museum. Bill, who is researching First World War Rifle Ranges, now knows where the Chalk Hill Range at St Albans was, thanks to help from the group researching the First World War in the St Albans Arch & Arch Society. As a result of messages from John, Linsay, Anthony and Sue I have a lot more information and pictures about Harpsfield Hall and its occupants, and now realise that I failed to spot that historically it was in the parish of St Peter's and not Hatfield. As a result the information page needs rewriting and this is a task being held over until December. There have also been very useful comments by Anthony (on the Newsletter) about the "missing patients" at Harpenden Hall LunaticAsylum - and the update of the main page is another pre-Christmas task. There were quite a few smaller family history activities - and in the case of the Horn Family of Handside Farm, Hatfield, I was one of the cousins who had an interest.

So what about progress in the 5 year plan? No work has been done on documenting material relating to William Brown, Estate Agent, of Tring and only a tiny amount of work has been done towards digitizing family records relevant to Sandridge900 (to appear online in a few days). However I have been thinking about the long term archiving of images on this web site and, as yet, have had no feedback on the post High definition images of old maps of Hertfordshire - perhaps no-one is interested and I should not waste my time. Clearly web sites such as Wikimedia provide  better support software for anyone wanting good quality images of maps, engravings, old photographs and post cards - and comments would be appreciated. Another possibility is that I might make high resolution images available to members of the Society of Genealogists (a charity I would wish to support) who are building a digital image archive.

My Current Selling List
Part of the plan was that I should be downsizing my library by selling some items on ebay,. In theory I said I should not buy anything for the site unless I have raised sufficient money in sales to pay for it. The problem is that having concentrated on buying items for use on this web site for years, paying out of my pension,  I can't stop myself. I am still very likely to bid for post cards and old photographs of Hertfordshire if they go for knock down prices and could form the basis of an interesting post - particularly if the message side makes an interesting family history style story.  Bearing in mind that I already have a major backlog I have just checked and discover to my horror that I have purchased about 50 post cards and carte de visite in November. Some have already been used - such as the post card of the Potters Bar Trade Fete of 1910, and a CDV by an interesting photographer, Laz Roberts, who may have developed a way of taking colour photographs at about the time he lived in St Albans - or perhaps it was all sales hype for hand-painted improvements. I am currently working on a page of post cards produced by the Alpha Trading Company of St Albans (see draft page) which was run by a genuine movie film making pioneer Arthur Melbourne-Cooper (another task I hope to finish in December). I can see a possible New Year's Resolution coming up.

Visitor activity in November has been satisfactory and the Newsletter recorded an average of about 220 page views a day, and there were 29 new posts. It has now passed the 125,000 page view mark.The main web site will reach the year's target of 250,000 visitors in a few days time, and there have already been more that 750,000 page views - an average of 3 per visit.

I have not yet acquired a new computer, and it may be that when I do (I may wait until the after Christmas sales) my genealogy activities will be the last applications to move. However I have started up a new correspondence folder which will make it easier to keep track of what I have been doing, where relevant information is held and what activities need a follow up. While it takes a little time it is already proving its worth - for instance in preparing this monthly report. I suspect some of you do not realise how much work is involved behind the scenes. It does not yet cover the whole of November's emails, newsletters from various organisations, routine work collecting and preparing material to go online, or yonks of ebay messages and post card images, but already it contains about 200 entries.