Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Troops in Abbots Langley area - London Scottish casualty identified


One of the reasons I have a lot of photographs of WW1 troops on my web site is so that they can be remembered 100 years later. This photograph, one of a number on my "London Scottish" page, had been provisionally been dated to August/September 1914.

I have just had the following letter from Andrew Waterston, who writes: The young man in the coveralls sitting on the bucket at the front of your picture is my Great Uncle, 1847 Pte George Alexander Waterston.  He joined the London Scottish in 1913 and was posted to G Company.  He had grown up around army horses as his father had been awarded the DCM serving in the Royal Horse Guards and had gone on to run the canteen above Horse Guards in Whitehall, so the coveralls suggest he may have been employed looking after the officers' chargers - or he may have just been a messy eater!

Yours is the last photograph we have of him. He transferred to D Company and was killed less than 3 months later on the night of 31st October 1914 in the attack on the burning Windmill at Messines.  He was 20 years old.  His elder brother, Will was killed at Festubert in May 1915, unaware that his younger brother was already dead.

The London Scottish were the first territorial battalion, from those who trained in Hertfordshire, to see action. Some senior officers in the 2nd London Division felt that they had insufficient training and after the high casualties on 31st October (undoubtedly involving other as yet unidentified soldiers in the picture) most of the other battalions did not go to France until March 1915.
Many people in Hertfordshire are researching Hertfordshire men who fought and died in the war. Let us not forget the many others who came to Hertfordshire to train or to recover from their wounds. Any postcards (as digital images) and other information about these "forgotten" heroes would be welcome - as every extra clue could help identify both the military units and individual soldiers.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Old Public Houses in London Colney

London Colney
Beer & Brewing
Arlene has provided an excellent picture of Thomas Wright sitting outside his pub, the Swan at London Colney, in 1904/5 to add to the already detailed history of The Swan. At the same time as adding this picture I have updated the London Colney page with a picture of the main road and a list of the many pubic houses identified in Craven's 1854 directory.  Interestingly the Bell, the Bull, the Golden Lion, the Green Dragon, the Kings Head, the White Horse (later called the Pear and Partridge) and the White Lion were still open in 1995. (Can someone bring the list up-to-date, possibly with name changes and closures, in a comment?)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

An important Hertfordshire Directory from 1854

Craven's 1854 Directory
Between 1846 and 1937 a regular series of Post Office/Kelly's directories were published for Hertfordshire at about 4 year intervals. I have access to digital copies of most of them and use them regularly in my research.  A tiny number of competitors entered the market, without much success, and I was delighted when I was able to acquire a pretty good copy of the hard to find Craven and Co's Commercial Directory of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire published in 1854. 

St Albans
I had not seen a copy before and found that it was organised in a different way to, for example, the 1851 Post Office Directory. I was worried when I found that at least some of the place descriptions were little more than a cut and paste rewrite of the 1851 directory. However when I looked at the directory listings I was delighted. The early Post Office Directory were very selective on who they included and it was clear that that the Craven directory was significantly more informative. A quick check of the first 20 "Trades" entries for St Albans included many entries which would have been not important enough to be included in the P O Directory for 1851 - including Eliza Allen (matron of the Goal), John Scott Allen (head turnkey of the Goal) and David Arnold (Town Hall Keeper). Charles Arnold was at "The Goat" which was not named in the P O Directory  and the entry for William Bennett, builder, included the additional information "and brick, tile and lime manufacturer."  

To estimate the amount of extra information in the directory I have transcribed the entry for the village of Sandridge - highlighting the extra information. In addition there are a large number of interesting adverts at the back of the directory and I have added the following to the main web site:

You will undoubtedly be hearing more of the "goodies" in this valuable directory.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sandridge Exhibition in St Albans Museum now open

Declaring the Exhibition open
Yesterday evening I attended the opening of the special exhibition to celebrate 900 years of records relating to the parish church of Sandridge, being held in the St Albans Museum over the next five weeks. Exhibits go back to the Iron Age and as one might expect there is a lot about the church. What made me feel old was that there was quite a lot on areas such as Jersey Far, which is now part of St Albans, and which had not been developed when my parents left Sandridge 75 years ago!

The Sandridge 900 Team
See Sandridge900 for the exhibition dates and other events, including a re-enactment of the 2nd Battle of St Albans in May.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Victorian Country Houses for London Businessmen - Haydon Hill, Bushey

Haydon Hill House

With the coming of the railways it became far easier to live in Hertfordshire and commute to London, and in the latter part of Victoria's reign many medium sized houses (big enough for a family, plus half a dozen resident staff) were built. One of these was Haydon Hill House, Bushey.

Robert Attenborough was a pawnbroker who married in 1874 and had moved to Haydon House, Bushey by 1877, and his widow was still living there in 1937. Shortly after they move in a mother and daughter photograph was taken by Frederick Downer

In 1907 post cards of the house were taken by James Thomas Wilden, of Bushey. James appears to have been employed as a photographic operator (developing wet and dry plates) but also seems to have produced some post cards in his own name.

The messages on the two post cards throw some light on the life of young women in service. They were sent by Mabel Constance Bird in 1907/8 when she was working in Haydon Hill House. One requested some music and an instruction book for mandolins, and one wonders whether the domestic staff were encouraged to provide entertainment! The cards went to her younger sister Florence Elizabeth Bird, who was apparently still at home in Denmark Hill, London. By the 1911 census Mabel was a parlour maid in another house in nearby Aldenham while Florence was at a school at Stanmore. A large number of other cards, apparently from Florence's post card album, were on sale on ebay and a spot check suggest that in about April 1912 she went to work at the White House Cottage, Shiplake, Oxon, and was still there in 1917. However there were a number between 1912-1917 to other addresses and it may be that she was employed as a lady's maid and traveled with her employer. 

I had problems in trying to trace Mabel and Florence Bird's earlier history, but a very confusing family tree on Ancestry suggested that they were born in Herne Hill (near Denmark Hill) under the surname as Bugg. However as this does not involve Hertfordshire I have not followed this further.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Some newly acquired post cards

I have added a varied batch of new Hertfordshire views(all with higher resolution images) as follows:

A View of Batchwood Camp, St Albans, taken by L. L. Christmas in September 1915. It  shows the North Staffordshire Lines, and was in the St Albans area at about the same time as Briton's Camp (location unknown) was in existence.

I have created a page for four early 20th century pictures of New Birklands School, St Albans, two of the exterior, one of the dining room, and one of the garden. Three were taken by a London firm of photographers, Elliott & Fry, who had photographic works in Barnet. The other was taken by Montiville Evans, of St Albans. I have added details of the schoolthen just called Birklands, in the late 20th century, but have not yet researched it foundation.

Marsworth is on the Grand Union Canal on the birder with Hertfordshire, and close to Tring, so of interest despite being in Buckinghamshire. About a dozen post cards (possibly mostly amateur snapshots from about 1905) appeared recently on ebay and I purchased a number - some of which are good enough to justify high resolution scanning. As it is always a pity when a contemporary collection like this gets dispersed I have also included reduced sized thumbs to record those I did not win. 

Also included in the update were two pictures of Chorleywood, a picture of Radlett parish church before the wider nave was added, and a picture of  Nether Hall, at Widford.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Video of Napsbury Hospital (Military & Mental Health)

Some years ago I provided the above picture of first world war patients in Napsbury Military Hospital for a TV program - and I am not sure I ever saw the result. John, whose parents worked at Napsbury when it had reverted to it original role as a mental hospital, has drawn my attention to the fact that rge program is now available online on the Who do you think you are pages on Youtube - for Julian Clary. Part 2 of the video relates to Julian's grandfather working with planes in the First World War, followed by information relating to his grandfather's mental illness which resulted in his being a patient between 1936 and 1938. There are pictures of the hospital when it was a military hospital, when it was a mental hospital, and of some of the buildings after it had been closed.

[I have more information to post on Napsbury Hospital during the First World War which I will post when I have time.]

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Victorian Photographers in Hertfordshire

Victorian Photographers

I have introduced a new menu, for Victorian Photographers, starting with those where I have carte de visite examples of their work. All the following photographer pages are either completely new, or include new examples of their work:

Barnard, St Albans
Coles, Watford
Dighton of St Albans
Downer of Watford
Dunn of Hemel Hempstead
Elsden, Hertford
Forscutt, Hertford
Garrood of Hertford
Goodfellow of Ware
Hockett of New Barnet
Lane of Hemel Hempstead
Martindale, Watford
Maxwell, Hadley Green & Barnet
Norman of Tring
Roberts, St Albans & High Wycombe
Sills of Berkhamsted

All the new images provide an enlarged portrait and it planned to add examples of cabinet cards in many cases. If you can provide examples of other Victorian Hertfordshire photographers, or datable images for those already online, I would love to here from you.

More about The problems at Find My Past

I have not been very active over the last week or so - basically I have asthma and a cold had gone to my chest - nothing too serious - but rather than hit the computer I have actually spent whole days dozing in a chair watching the TV. However if someone sends me a message I have been endevouring to answer it - and this has been an opportunity to test out the FindMyPast new interface on real problems, although the answers to the questions which triggered this search will not appear online until I feel better.

As far as the Newspaper interface is concerned there has been definite improvements. The interface is a lot better once you have got to grips with it, and you can get results in date order and select individual years - but not specific dates with a year.  There is one silly design error. When you do a search there is a box saying the items have been selected in terms of "relevance"  but you can select a from a drop-down list choosing between "relevance" and "Date Order". If you select "Date Order" it gives you the oldest first - but if you reclick the drop down list now includes an additional option of oldest first. Who but an system designer idiot - given a three way choice implements this as a two stage process starting with a two item list - forcing the customer to have to call down another list .... Several other limitations of have not been addressed but these may be related to limitations on the British Newspaper archive.

As to the census search the position is even worse than I thought. The immediately obvious fault is selecting the year range for the date which (at least when using Google Chrome) produces nonsensical dropdown lists presumably because the boxes should be bigger. However the real problem is with the "Where" line - where you enter the place name. My first search was for a name in the town of Aylesbury, Bucks, and the system insisted in giving me all the names in the much larger Aylesbury Union - which includes many villages of no interest to me. I could find no way of restricting the search to the town of Aylesbury only.

I then tried the town of Thame, Oxfordshire and not only got people living in the town or Thame, the villages around Thame (some in Buckinghamshire) but also people living in Kingston on Thames, (Surrey), Walton on Thames (Surrey), Thames Ditton (Surrey), Henley on Thames (Oxfordshire) and for reasons that I didn't investigate Oxford St Aldgate (Oxfordshire), South Shields (County Durham) and St Dunstan in the East (City of London). Only 3 people on the first page actually lived in Thame and try as I might I could find no way of listing people who were living in the town of Thame.

I then did a search for people living at Buckland - as there are villages in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire with just the name with no additions, part of the former parish only being about a mile from where I live. I searched the first 10 pages and the majority of responses were people listed as living in Portsmouth but in addition I found Buckland Brewer (Devon), Shoreditch (London), Dover (Kent), Buckland Monachorum (Devon), West Buckland (Devon), Hatford (Berkshire), Stanford in the Vale (Berkshire), Filleigh (Devon), West Buckland (Somerset), Hinton Waldrist (Berkshire), Buckland Brewer (Devon), Buckland Tout Saints (Devon), Shellingford (Berkshire), Uffington (Berkshire), Ashburton (Devon), Kingston Lisle (Berkshire), Egg Buckland (Devon), Longworth (Berkshire), Buckland Winchcombe (Gloucestershire), Therfield (Hertfordshire), Buckland Farringdon (Berkshire), Buckland (Buckinghamshire PAGE 9), Buckland (Hertfordshire PAGE 10).

This result is devastatingly bad with the first relevant Buckinghamshire and Hertfortdshire entries on page 9 and 10. The reference to Therfield is also interesting because the census form had no reference to Buckland whatsoever but Buckland is a parish next to Therfield, and several of the other entries, for instance those in Berkshire, refer to parishes near one called Buckland. So it would appear that FindMyPast were trying to be helpful and provide a facility that would extend the search to adjacent parishes - except

  1. The matching routine does not allow for the fact that many parishes across the country have similar or identical names and as a result the search routine frequently "match" with parishes hundreds of miles away!
  2. The badly designed (but useful if it worked) matching routine has not been provided as an option but instead used as the main search routine. Was this deliberate or is there a proper unsophisticated search routine in the code and software simply has a wrong link. However if it was a simple software bug there have been complaints for a couple of weeks and it would only be a matter of minutes to correct it.
  3. It is far from clear that any thought has been given to the problem of Poor Law Unions -which were a problem in the simple old search, but which you could work your way around using the old advanced search.
If FindMyPast had a default search for the town/village name (NOT the Union Name), a search for the Union name (which includes nearby places not always in the same county) and as another option a WORKING version of their nearby parishes search they would have a killer. The present facility - which only provides a seriously flawed version of a nearby parishes search is totally unfit for purpose if you have a place name which matches with places in different parts of the country. It can also be unsuitable when you want to search a small village (population a few hundred) immediately adjacent to a large town (population say 10,000). The changes in this area totally ignore the fact that many people (like me) use the site for local history studies and when we are searching for a name (person name or places name) we want the option to search for a place name like "Thame" without the computer extending the search to include "Thames". (This "computer being too clever by half" is also a major problem with the Newspaper search.)

If you want to comment on this direct to FindMyPast, and vote for a change the appropriate place is http://feedback.findmypast.co.uk/forums/222583-ideas-and-improvements/suggestions/5734185-exact-place-search-on-census 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Change in URL

Google have decided that it is easier for them to apply the censorship rules of governments who do not believe in free speech if they unilaterally relocate blogs to the "country of origin". As a result this newsletter is now at

although the old URL will still find it. Needless to say I got no prior notification - and I have already had one report that the change has altered the user interface when making a comment. If anyone has any problems please let me know.

In theory this could be an "improvement" as after I started using the .com address I discovered that I was stuck with an American English spell checker. As far as I can seen the blogger now records me as "English (United Kingdom)" but the spelling checker still prefers color to colour! 

 The change also affects my other blog, which is now at:

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Ford at Water End, Sandridge/Wheathampstead

I recently came across two pictures taken at the ford on the River Lea, I would guess about 1960. Since then the ford has been bridged over so that it is dry when the river is low, and the bridge has been replaced. Can anyone date the photographs and possibly identify the people?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

FindMyPast have put their foot in it ...

I have been so busy recently I haven't had time to do much online searching - so this morning I visited the reformatted FindMyPast web site. I decided to try out a few things and superficially the site looks better, and gives the impression of being more friendly. I carried out a number of searches and definitely one of my deliberately "awkward" searches was much better. My first impression of the newspaper searching was that while the search algorithms were exactly the same the user interface was better.

Some of the other search interfaces were easier to use for noddy queries - but as soon as I started to ask real questions serious drawbacks emerged, and the number of messages pointing out what is a serious redesign error suggest that many people will not be renewing their subscription. I have posted the following message on their forum under "SEARCHING"

First let me say that the old site needed a face-lift - and on the technical side there have been some real improvements. Of course many people will not like change - even if it is for the better - and at least some of the comments I have seen fall into this category.

I started using computers for family history research in 1977 and gave a talk at the first ever meeting of the Computer Group of the Society of Genealogists. However I switched to local history studies (often linked to the family) when I retired. Before I retired I actually taught Human-Computer Interaction techniques, and you appear to have fallen into a common trap of thinking that the key to a good computer system is technical expertise. Too many people think that employing computer geeks who know all there is about scripting web sites is vitally important. (Most computer geeks are what they are because the are better at interacting with computers than with fellow human beings.) In reality what you really need when you are (re)designing a system is someone who really understands users and what they want to do and if you give them what they want they don't really care about all the bells and whistles ...

I currently use your system regularly for local history studies - I am interested in the people who live in an area, what they do, and how they interact. For instance I am currently looking at the Victorian Photographers in Hertfordshire and I am not only interested in family relationships but also business links - such as where a particular photographer learnt their skills - perhaps as an assistant for another photographer - or perhaps their father, or a close relative, was a portrait painter. ... ...

The apparent failure to be able to search for census occupations in the new system is an absolute disaster. In addition the loss of a complete transcription listing of a household seems to have no technical justification (presumably some computer geek thought it would be tidier) but means that people will have to waste more of their own time and your computer's resources repeatedly asking questions about other members of the household.which could have been provided in less than a milisecond. (I am well aware that in some cases it may be necessary to restrict questions to optimise load on a very busy computer - bit this is not one of those cases.)

In any case, if you want to encourage people to research their ancestors - or local history - providing the whole household can excite people to ask more interesting questions - because they see detail of the other people in the house and ask "I wonder why ....?"  Perhaps the change was made because you were trying to ape a competitor's site - when in fact the other site was worse than yours - and people were using your site because the way you did it in the past was more helpful. Definitely that was the main reason I normally use FindMy Past for census searching.

The problems the new site demonstrate suggest that you did not have a well chosen and varied panel of genuine uses at the early design stage.  Maybe you made the changes because of complaints - failing to realise that these exclude the views of the majority of satisfied customers - or perhaps you ran a market survey with inappropriate questions. Viewing the storm the changes have caused you need such a panel PDQ.

I am sure they will be making more changes - and I will reassess the site later in the year to see if they have improved. I am almost certain to continue my subscription because the site has the Hertfordshire parish registers which are not available elsewhere, and one also has access to the British Newspaper Archive.

Comments on you own experiences of the changes would be welcome.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Some recent publications and dates for your diary

In March I received three publication which I normally report on - but was too busy to do so at the time - So here is a quick summary

Hertfordshire People, March 2014 (Journal of the Herts FHS)

  • Members and former members will find tributes to Beryl Crawley, who has been with the Society from the beginning, together with an account of how the Society came to be formed.
  • Organised Violence in Rural Hertfordshire - I was interested to see the account of the death of "Brighton Bill" the prize fighter who was buried at Barkway in 1838 under his real name of William Phelps.
  • The article about George Beecroft included extracts from the sanitary Committee serving Walkern in 1856-1859.  - which reminded me of my own discovery, some years ago, of when one of my ancestors had his first water closet installed which raised the question of whether the closet, once installed was the property of the tenant or the landlord!
  • It should be noted that the AGM is to be held on May 3rd (and not at the end of April) and the speaker will talk about the Luton Hoo Estate in the 1800s.
  • The issue contains much else, including details of the latest activities at HALS, and an index of the articles and surnames in the 2013 issues.
Herts Past & Present, Spring 2014 (Herts Association of Local History)

Contents List
  • Brief Guide to Sources: Poll Books
  • John & William Hollingworth, 18th century Hertfordshire Land Surveyors
  • Care of the poor in early 18th century Ashwell
  • Welwyn and Willian (Suggestion that some of the references to 'Welwyn' in the Domesday book actually refer to Willian)
  • 'Missing in Action' The Toms family of Croxley Green and the First World War
  • The Manor of Mawedelyn, Hertfordshire (Was it in Welwyn or Berkhamsted?)
  • Beryl Crawley - A Tribute
  • Public Health in Hitchin & Hertford in the mid-19th century
  • Book Reviews
The Spring Meeting & AGM will be at Redbourn on 10th May - the talk being "Unmarried mothers and the new poor law in Hertfordshire".  The Annual Garden Party on the 6th June will be at Copped Hall, in Essex. The Annual Symposium will be at Hatfield on 8th November, the subject being "Power in the Parish".

Genealogists' Magazine March 2014 (Society of Genealogists)

This contains the usual selection of excellent articles but I will just mention matters relevant to Hertfordshire or of general interest.
  • Settlement Examinations, Settlement Certificates and Removal Orders - This lists the holding of the society- and for Hertfordshire they hold the Herts FHS publications plus typescripts relating to East Barnet and Wheathampstead. Because such documents can relate to people moving across county boundaries their holdings for Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and London/Middlesex will also be relevant.
  • Catholic Registers in the National Archives (No explicit Herts reference - but highlights a useful source)
  • The many books reviewed included Granny was a Brothel Keeper - 50 Family History Traps - which is described as a useful guide to what can go wrong. 
  • Library additions include Kelly's Hertfordshire Directory for 1937, Hertfordshire's Icknield Way and Notes on Chipping Barnet memorial inscriptions.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A busy March - but a quiet April is predicted

While things may look OK up front with 25 posts, over 7200 page views on the newsletter, over 23,000 visitors to the main web site, and some useful activity @HertsGenealogy - behind the scenes things haven't gone as I planned. My office is still as untidy as before - I have made little progress transferring files to my new computer - I have not slept well, and have put on about 3kg when I was meant to be loosing it. The last of these problems is because I have spent more time snacking at the computer and less time on country walks, etc.  I am clearly showing signs of stress and need to unwind. 

... So don't expect a lot of activity in April - as this site will have to have a low priority. I will concentrate on news items, and finishing off a few mini-projects where 90% of the work has already been done - plus perhaps one or two rural relaxation posts. I will still answer quick questions and comments but anything new involving significant research will have to wait. I must avoid too much time at the keyboard so I also plan to get out and about more - starting with going to London at the end of the week for the Leo Computers Society Diamond Reunion, and including the opening of the St Albans Museum "Discover Sandridge" exhibition associated with Sandridge900 later the month. 

Points from the Post

Hertfordshire Memories: If you have memories of the last 100 years which should go on record the most appropriate place is probably http://www.hertsmemories.org.uk/ unless they are very specifically relevant to pages already on this web site. This site concentrates on the period up to the end of the First World War, and I can always link through to later material on other sites.

Local Germans in 1914: Jon drew my attention to a blog (Sausage Dogs Persecuted - the Fall of Dachshund during WW1) which mentions that according to Graham Greene (son of the headmaster at Berkhamsted School) dachshunds were stoned at Berkhamsted. This reminded me of Joseph Kimich of Hemel Hempstead, son of a German watchmaker, who committed suicide shortly after a newspaper article referred to the possibility of the sons of Germans being interned. 

Robert Clark of Royston: As far as I know his first post card views were published in 1904, and most were of Hertfordshire and adjoining parts of Cambridgeshire. A query from Shirley means it would be interesting to know if there are examples of his views earlier than 1904, either a straight photographs, or as post cards with undivided backs.

There were about half a dozen other items which would have qualified for a brief mention .. but I don't have time to report everything.