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
Dig into your collection of old family photos and you’ll probably unearth a few seaside promenade postcards – pictures taken ‘on spec’ by an entrepreneurial photographer who had installed himself in a prime position near the sea front. He’d snap all of the passers-by, hastily scratch a code number on the negative, and hopefully some of the punters would drop by the following day to buy their printed postcards.
These two examples, discovered in among our bundles of family photos, take us back to the 1920s. The locations and dates haven’t been jotted down on the back, so I’m left to speculate about the exact details. In any case, they evoke a sense of Edwardian dapperness.
Len and Alice Collis and their daughter Mona stride towards us around 1924-5. Alice in her dropped-waist dress, with dangling pendant and cloche hat, be-suited Len sporting a neat moustache, and young Mona neat in striped skirt and blazer. Only two passing young women detract from the family group. A couple of years later, possibly in Lowestoft, we see (below) Eric Barker, cane in hand, taking in the fresh sea air with his first sweetheart, Edith Ward. Everyday examples, nothing especially remarkable about them, yet they capture joyfully innocent holiday strolls.
We continue our series of occupational histories with a look at the long career of Thomas Norman, an elastic web weaver at Luke Turner & Co.
As family historians, it can be frustrating not to know where our ancestors worked. We uncover census returns and certificates listing their occupation as a framework knitter or a boot clicker, but which factory were they at? Workplace records rarely survive. A few years ago I had the good fortune to solve one such mystery in my own family, when a distant relative – Mike Ratcliff – sent me a newspaper snippet recording the retirement of our shared ancestor, Thomas Norman.
It’s 1938 and Thomas is retiring after 68 years’ service with elastic web weavers Luke Turner & Co. Dapper and surprisingly sprightly at 82, he “can still keep pace with the average weaver” according to his boss. It’s a remarkable achievement – from loom hand to pensioner with just one firm – and I’m keen to find out more.
This article looks at the development of elastic web – used to make braids, cords, garters, corsetry, bandages, drapery, and umbrellas – and takes a walk through Turner’s factory on Henshaw Street. Click to download: Thomas Norman, elastic web weaver