Friday, 19 September 2014

WDYTYA? - Martin Shaw

So, yesterday was Martin Shaw's chance to get the Who Do You Think You Are? 2014 treatment. He was interested in his father's family - primarily his grandfather, who he never knew due to the fact that his grandparents had been separated.

His grandfather's tale was one of soldiering and bombing. It really brought home the effects that bombing had on the rest of the UK outside London during WW2. Birmingham and bomb damage seem, for a period of time, to have gone together hand-in-hand.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

The other tale of this episode was one of Birmingham's industrial past, and the success that could be found within the city for an enterprising ancestor by the name of Edmund Eaborn. Unfortunately, the rampant disease of the Victorian period - TB (also known as Phthisis or Consumption) - put an early end to Edmund's ambitions. He died of the disease at the age of about 39.

To end the episode, and bring it full circle, we returned to the story of Martin's grandfather, and the revelation that he had another child, still living - Martin's half-aunt. The response (in letter form) of this aunt about what happened between her father and his first wife (Martin's grandmother,) was very different from what he had been told - and he, understandably, found it difficult to merge these two stories into a narrative. I believe the truth was probably somewhere in the middle - a pinch in one story, a pinch in the other; as is often the way with these things. Whatever happened, it's difficult to say, and difficult to judge - but at least each spouse found happiness in re-marriage.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Last date for Christmas orders

Hi everyone,
I still have some space left for Christmas orders, but the very last date at which I can accept them is 21st November 2014 - so order early if you can to avoid disappointment! My website has all the details of my services - and my contact details. Please feel free to get in touch and give someone (or yourself) an extra special Christmas present.

Friday, 12 September 2014

WDYTYA? - Mary Berry

So, Mary Berry, that's an interesting family! Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of Mary's ancestors - Robert Houghton - was a baker. Perhaps more surprisingly, he lived in a street in Norwich known as 'blood and guts alley!'

Robert Houghton, as well as working as baker, also worked as a builder, and was on the parish council. He worked hard - no-one can deny that, over seven hundred loaves of bread with only 3 helpers per day is hard by anyone's standards - and fulfilled his contract to provide bread to the workhouse and the out-of-workhouse parish/poor law union relief. Unfortunately, what with margins being tight, most people who supplied bread to the 'paupers' of the Victorian period tended to stretch out the ingredients more than a little - with such scrummy ingredients as sawdust and bone. There were indeed complaints about the quality of Robert Houghton's bread, though nothing was ever proved.

On another side of the family, it was the story of another Mary Berry that caught Mary's attention. Mary (the ancestral Mary) had three or four children - none of which ever had a father recorded on a baptism or birth record. Poor Mary (the current Mary) didn't quite know what the explanation for the lack of a father was - celebrities can be more than a little na├»ve when it comes to illegitimacy. Mary (the ancestral Mary) would like have had a difficult relationship with her own father - Christopher Berry, a printer who had gone bankrupt, had in all probability abandoned his wife and six of his eight children, who ended up in the workhouse - it's not certain what happened to the other two in this period, but he probably kept them on as apprentices, or they found work elsewhere.

I really felt for Mary (the current Mary) when she found out what became of several of the children who were admitted to the workhouse - she was almost in tears when she saw their burial records at such young ages. Unfortunately this was likely to have brought up memories of losing one of her own children - William - when he was nineteen. She truly empathised with Mary (the ancestral Mary) who lost siblings as well as one or two of her children, as well as Mary's mother, whose children never left the workhouse.

There was a happy ending for Mary (the ancestral Mary) however, becoming a staymaker (posh definition: a maker of corsetry; practical definition: she made undies,) and earning enough to keep her small family afloat.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Queen's Lover?

The Victorians were prim, proper, and moral to the point of insanity, right? Maybe not. There's always been a question or two hovering over that most famous of Victorian ladies, Queen Victoria herself, and her Scottish servant John Brown.

This fascinating article from the New York Times explores the relationship - one of certainly confidante levels of intimacy (she referred to him as her 'best friend') which would have been seen as quite unseemly between a man of his class and the widowed Queen.

One doctor of Queen Victoria, Sir James Reid, referred to one instance of intimacy which involved some skirt (and kilt) lifting - though this may have been fairly innocent by today's standards, at the very least there would have been some showing of leg, unthinkable in the Victorian period. Completely scandalous between unmarried individuals of any class - a Queen and her servant being quite so flirtatious would have been atrociously sinful! And is there truth to the secret instructions to place the wedding ring of John Brown's mother onto the Queen's finger after her death? She certainly couldn't marry him in life! A servant! How dreadful!

So maybe, then, there was less of the prude to the Queen than there at first would seem. Maybe she too, displayed the behind-closed-doors hypocrisy partaken in by so many.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Jack the Ripper strikes again

Another Jack the Ripper story - smacks slightly of the anti-Semitism that hampered the original investigation, and given that the oldest profession was involved, there was more than one way for the DNA to get on Ms Eddowes' shawl. Still, what do you think?
'Jack the Ripper was Polish barber called Aaron Kosminski', new book claims

Friday, 5 September 2014

WDYTYA? - Sheridan Smith

OK, so last night was the turn of Sheridan Smith - the bubbly Northern actress. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ms Smith has show business in the blood. Her family have been musicians and singers since the late Victorian period, and played some very distinguished performances. Their (musical) weapon of choice was the banjo.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/
The banjo, in the late Victorian period, was enjoying something of a fashionable phase - it was becoming acceptable to have a banjo concert for a middle-class audience, and all the rage to have a banjo player play a private session for yourself and your guests in your drawing room. So, Sheridan's ancestor, Benjamin Doubleday, a boy born in a workhouse, was playing for the high-and-mighty; as was pointed out, the moment he spoke, it would have been clear that this was a working-class boy. Luckily for him, he was also a heck of a banjo player.

But there was the downside. One wrong step and suddenly the family was in desperate straits, so much so that Benjamin tried to set fire to their pub - with himself in it. There was also the undercurrent that perhaps drink had been a recurring problem for Benjamin.

It's a fun episode over all though, interesting and enjoyable - and I have to say, I'm really jealous of Sheridan's ability to pick up an instrument and learn to play so quickly, much as she protests how bad she is. Some people are just annoyingly good at music!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Don't miss out

Hi, remember everyone, my £5 off offer expires 5th September - so that's £5 off the prices on (excluding my 'leaves' hourly rate,) if you order before this Friday 5th September