Take a look at our latest Trading Stories, Working Lives story – Len Collis, a professional musician playing in the music halls, orchestras and his own dance band.
Every now and then in family history research, you have the good fortune to track down a colourful obituary, one that provides a real insight into your ancestor’s life. Such was the case when I traced my relative Len Collis, “a well-known Leicester musician”. Inspired by the snippets in his 1946 obituary in the Leicester Mercury, I set out to uncover more about his musical career.
Take a look at our latest Trading Stories, Working Lives story – in which we track the working life of publican John George Collis through a series of newspaper clippings.
How I’d love to step back to the late 1870s, nip into the Hinckley Road Brewery – seen here on the right – and request “A pint of your finest ale, Uncle George”. There amongst the tap-room hubbub, John George Collis – always known as George – would regale me with family stories, and maybe a song or two.
I can but dream. Uncle George has long gone, of course. And the Hinckley Road Brewery has also disappeared. But I’m still keen to get a sense of his working life as a licensed victualler in Victorian Leicester. In search of stories, I head for the British Newspaper Archive – a searchable resource, spanning virtually a century’s worth of Leicestershire’s day-to-day history. Who knows what might come to light?
Take a look at our latest Trading Stories, Working Lives article – John Collins, a woolcomber and taxidermist in Victorian Leicester.
I recall my joy at first finding this photograph in the Leicestershire archives. It was taken in the early 1870s – a sunny street scene, captured at a time when photography was still a novelty. It shows St Nicholas Square in central Leicester, with Thornton Lane forking off to the right.
Study it in closer detail and you’ll start to spot fascinating details. A woman stands with her hands in her dirtied apron. Teenage lads line up in serried ranks beside the row of shops. And on the cobbles of Thornton Lane, a man stands, grasping his coat lapels.
There’s no record of who these people are. It’s remotely possible that my relatives could be amongst them. But what really captures my interest is the sense of place it gives me for my ancestors, John and Catherine Collins who lived a couple of doors down on the left-hand side of Thornton Lane.
Inspired by this photo, I set out to find out more about John Collins and in particular his work as a woolcomber and later a taxidermist just off St Nicholas Square.
The working lives of our female ancestors can be tricky to pinpoint. “The census returns do not reveal the full story of female employment,” writes David Hey in Journeys in Family History. “The seasonal or part-time work of women was rarely recorded, especially as the home was the usual place of work, though in fact the earnings of the women… were essential to the well-being of working-class families.”
Keen to redress this skew in the historical record, Graham Barker – in his latest ‘Trading Stories, Working Lives’ article – takes a closer look at Naomi Cave (1830-1906), his 3 x great grandmother. At first glance, the details of her working life are scant; only her time working as a purse maker merits a mention in one census return. Yet some resourceful research helps broaden the picture of her working and domestic life.
With the centenary of the end of World War I on the horizon, Graham Barker reflects upon the war-time service of five Barker brothers and in-laws.
Drawing upon military records, family papers and published regimental accounts, he pieces together a picture of how the five men served – variously in the Leicestershire Regiment, Army Service Corps, Australian Light Horse, and the Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment, in France, East Africa and the Middle East.
As he explains, “Our family is not especially remarkable but – like many other family historians as we approach the centenary commemorations – I feel a flush of pride at realising quite how brave and honourable they were. Ted Barker, Arthur Billson, Roland Barker, Sid Barker and Walter Shimeld, I salute you.”
Were your ancestors Tories or Whigs? In our latest ‘Trading Stories, Working Lives’ article we trawl through over 60 years’ worth of poll books and newspaper reports – at a time when votes cast were in the public domain – trying to seek out any political patterns and affinities among members of the Cave family of St Mary’s, Leicester.
Along the way, there are tales of excessive election expenses, sleazy tactics and ‘fake news’. The techniques and technology may have changed over the past 200 years, but in many ways the controversies are still familiar today.
Two attempted murders – fifty years apart – add a dash of drama to the latest episode in our occupational history series: Trading Stories, Working Lives. This time we look at the Whittle family: rabbit warreners of Beamanor and yeoman farmers at Holywell Hall.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the revelation that the Whittle family might have given their surname to the hill upon which they worked as warreners for over two hundred years.
Take a look at our latest Trading Stories, Working Lives occupational history – Nathaniel Orringe, a miller and baker in 18th century Shepshed.
Over two centuries after it was written, I discover the will signed by my ancestor, Nathaniel Orringe, a miller and baker of Shepshed.
Nathaniel’s will is one of thousands of Leicestershire records recently scanned, indexed and uploaded to the Find My Past website. One phrase in it especially catches my interest: “All that Plot or Parcel of Ground with the Wind Mill and all other Buildings thereupon Erected… in the Lordship or Liberty of Sheepshead aforesaid and now in my own Possession.” Inspired by this glimpse – and the prospect of finding a windmill – I decide to investigate.
Take a look at our latest Trading Stories, Working Lives occupational history – Tom Crew, a football referee and broadcaster
It’s the afternoon of Thursday 10th April 1930. A stage-hand leads the way around the back corridors at the Adelphi Theatre on London’s Strand. With a brisk rat-tat-tat on the principal dressing room door, he announces “Miss Courtneidge, I have Mr Tom Crew to see you.”
Tom is ushered in to meet singer and comic actress, Cicely Courtneidge – she and her husband, Jack Hulbert are West End stars, soon to hit it big as film actors. And so it is that Tom Crew settles down to a chat over tea, during which the actress presents him with a silver referee’s whistle in readiness for the FA Cup final taking place two weeks later.
I’d known for some time that Tom Crew – a distant relative of mine – had been a football referee of note; he was mentioned in our passed-down family stories and there’s a small photo of him in his referee’s kit amongst our family papers. But could I find out more about his career on the football field, I wondered? I turn to the British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) in the hope that he merits a mention in the press. It proves to be a fruitful search.
Take a look at our latest Trading Stories, Working Lives occupational history – Samuel Taylor, the beadle of Loughborough.
Mention a ‘parish beadle’ and it conjures up images of Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist. Portly and bumptious, Bumble stands in the workhouse canteen overseeing the serving of slops of gruel to a seemingly endless queue of starving boys. “More?” he bellows, when little Oliver has the temerity to request a second helping.
Samuel Taylor would have cut a distinctive figure in the Loughborough streets – decked out in a dark blue coat trimmed with gold braid over a red waistcoat, sporting a bicorn hat worn ‘athwarts’ (side-to-side) and carrying his staff or mace. But what was involved in being the town beadle? Set aside images of serving gruel to Oliver Twist in the workhouse and instead click to download a more accurate depiction: Samuel Taylor, beadle of Loughborough