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Friday, 14 February 2020

Absent Voters' Project—Katherine's rare and unusual ranks

After running for the past six years, with 1000's of hours of work put into it, we have finally completed an amazing project and are ready to share the results with you. The Cheshire First World War Servicemen's Index Spring 1919 Absent Voter's Lists online (or Absent Voter's Project for short) is now complete! The 1918 and 1919 Absent Voters' lists are an invaluable resource for anyone seeking ancestors serving in the First World War. Absent Voters' lists give names and addresses, details of individuals' service, service number, unit or ship. With the help of volunteers, these lists have been transcribed and are fully searchable.
You can find the site here and a walk through of how to use the site is on our YouTube channel here. These coming blogs are written by our volunteers who made this possible and give an insight into what they enjoyed about the project.

Working on the Absent Voters Lists for 1919 has immersed the volunteers in the world of the men and a few women, who were registered to vote during the First World War but who were not at home to do so. The database records names, addresses, ranks, regimental numbers and units for members of all the forces. This means that it should also be possible to search not just for the family member you are researching but other force members in their household at the time. Some families I transcribed sent three or four sons to war.


A section of the absent voters list showing three males from the same family in the military.
Three of the same family sent to war

Between the Cheshire Archive volunteers thousands of entries have been transcribed. Some of the most common ranks in Cheshire feature Private, Corporal, Lieutenant, Able Seaman, Air Mechanic and Gunner whilst the rarer ones are Artist, Writer and Bandsman. Some of the common units feature the Cheshire Regiment, Royal Engineers, Royal Field Artillery, Royal Garrison Artillery, Royal Army Medical Corps, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. The less common ones that I transcribed were the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, a camel corps and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The women, numbering less than five, that I transcribed, were nurses or matrons in the Royal Army Medical Corps. An overview of the Cheshire lists shows the enormous range of ranks and units from every corner, offering insight into the enormous contribution made by our county.  


A screenshot of the absent voters' website showing the details of a nurse serving in the war.
A nurse's details are listed


Being part of the Absent Voters project has been fascinating. Hopefully the newly transcribed records will provide vital information for anyone interested in researching a family member who served a hundred years ago, in the Great War.   


This project was funded by Cheshire East Reflects.

Absent Voters' Project— Mike and Military History

After running for the past six years, with 1000's of hours of work put into it, we have finally completed an amazing project and are ready to share the results with you. The Cheshire First World War Servicemen's Index Spring 1919 Absent Voter's Lists online (or Absent Voter's Project for short) is now complete! The 1918 and 1919 Absent Voters' lists are an invaluable resource for anyone seeking ancestors serving in the First World War. Absent Voters' lists give names and addresses, details of individuals' service, service number, unit or ship. With the help of volunteers, these lists have been transcribed and are fully searchable.
You can find the site here and a walk through of how to use the site is on our YouTube channel here. These coming blogs are written by our volunteers who made this possible and give an insight into what they enjoyed about the project.

LOOKING FOR A FIRST WORLD WAR SERVICEMAN'S RECORD?

When you first start to researching your ancestors military history during WWI, why is it so difficult to obtain their official service records? The conflict took place just over one hundred years ago; so surely these documents would be the most detailed set of records of an individual that you will find anywhere! Unfortunately even the resources of the modern internet do not provide this facility. The truth is that most soldiers’ service records dating from the First World War were sadly destroyed by Luftwaffe raids on the old Public Record Office during the London blitz. Only a few records survived the bombing and fire damage caused to the record office. Consequently information on ordinary servicemen’s files is very limited.

A section of an absent voters page, showing printed info and extra annotations
A sample of the extra information you can find in the lists

 
My Grandfather served as a soldier during the Great War of 1914 - 1918, but I had no information to start with; apart from his known address. I began my search with the Absent Voters List (AVL) at the Cheshire Record Office, and this document provided me with his rank, service number, unit and division in which he served. Eureka! This was the start of an unimaginable story of a hero. That is why I volunteered to help with transcribing the Absent Voters List.

Teaming up with other distance transcribers working on this project unlocks priceless data for both amateur and professionals alike. In the pursuit of military, family, and local history studies it has become a valuable asset as an online research tool.

A photo of Mike
Mike


Mike
Distance Transcriber.


This project was funded by Cheshire East Reflects.

Absent Voters' Project— Tina's Experience

After running for the past six years, with 1000's of hours of work put into it, we have finally completed an amazing project and are ready to share the results with you. The Cheshire First World War Servicemen's Index Spring 1919 Absent Voter's Lists online (or Absent Voter's Project for short) is now complete! The 1918 and 1919 Absent Voters' lists are an invaluable resource for anyone seeking ancestors serving in the First World War. Absent Voters' lists give names and addresses, details of individuals' service, service number, unit or ship. With the help of volunteers, these lists have been transcribed and are fully searchable.
You can find the site here and a walk through of how to use the site is on our YouTube channel here. These coming blogs are written by our volunteers who made this possible and give an insight into what they enjoyed about the project.

My name is Tina and I have been volunteering on the Absent Voters project for 2 years. As a qualified archivist I always get involved in as many projects as I can but I also have a keen interest in history of the World Wars and have volunteered on projects such as the Merchant Navy Crew List transcription project and Operation War Diaries, so this project really appealed to me.

A photo of Tina
Tina

I have submitted entries for mostly the Wirral parishes, starting with Irby, where I live. I was struck by the socio-economic information the pages offer for their parish. For example, Thurstaston had very few entries and there were several Officers, compared with larger towns where there many more entries with a wide variety of ranks, but a lot of Privates and Labourers

It was interesting spotting a few women included in the list serving in nursing roles such as Laura Ellen Tuson of Silverdale Road, Lower Bebington who was serving in an auxiliary hospital in Myrtle Street Liverpool, and Violet Baxter of Thornburn Road, New Ferry, who was serving at 1st Southern General Hospital, Birmingham.

I've enjoyed learning all of the units and regiments and ranks/roles in the British Armed Forces and seeing the wide variety of units Wirral and Cheshire men entered.

Cecil Arbuthnot St George Moore's absent voter entry
Cecil Arbuthnot St. George Moore


There were also some fantastic names. Cecil Arbuthnot St. George Moore, a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, was just one that I couldn't help researching further.


This project was funded by Cheshire East Reflects.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Game, set and match!

With the Australian Open Tennis Championships in full swing and Six Nations Rugby about to begin, we’ve been inspired to look at sport-related items at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.  We are fortunate to hold archive material from sports clubs across the county, featuring items from athletics to yachting (we don’t have any sports beginning with Z!)  This includes photographs of people taking part in everything from tennis and rugby to early examples of gymnastics and even roller-hockey.  In addition, Cheshire Image Bank is a collection of over 30,000 digital images of Cheshire people, places and events from anywhere that lies, or once lay, within the county boundary.  It can be viewed and searched online at www.cheshireimagebank.org.uk and the web site is a treasure trove for images of sport.

  As tennis and rugby have prompted us to look through our sporting records, here are some Cheshire Image Bank photographs of each of those sports.  They show members of the Alexandrea Park Tennis Club in Hoole, Chester, during the 1930s (reference: P1620) and an early picture of Runcorn Rugby Football Club in the 1890s (ref: C02914).

Football is recognised as this country’s most popular sport, and many people remember photos of their school football team - this one from the Image Bank will surely prompt some memories.  It is of Blacon Junior School football team in Chester, from 1954 (ref: CH 9243).  There are many different football teams featured on the Image Bank and in our archives, but this one comes from Birkenhead Police, taken in 1923 (ref: D 7271).



We hold a much earlier record relating to football as well.  This document (ref: EDC 5/1608/70) is from Consistory Court papers of 1608, and concerns a libel case brought against a John Loram and a John Howell for playing at football in the churchyard at Dodleston on Easter Monday with brawling and fighting.




For those who don’t read seventeenth century English, it is just possible to make out the words football, Dodleston, quarrel and brawl! 

 

 
It could be argued that cricket is the UK’s national sport.  As well as items such as team photographs and fixture lists, our cricket-related collections include these rules from Shrigley Vale Cricket Club in 1872 (ref: D 6265/37). We like rule number five which declares “that no fielder be allowed to lie down, or smoke during a game” as well as rule 10, “that any member swearing, using coarse language, or making himself disagreeable by his conduct on the field, shall be fined sixpence”.  Similar rules and etiquette can be found in some of our golfing records: this handbook from Prestbury and Upton Golf Club in the 1950s recommends the strict observance of a list of “unwritten laws” which “marks the finished Golfer and adds to the pleasure of one and all on the Links” (ref: 229413).



            


Athletics seems to have been popular for many years.  This 1899 programme from the Alexandra Athletics Club of Crewe celebrates their twenty-third annual athletic festival, and shows that the club was founded in 1866 (ref: 221494). We have various photographs of athletes: this early 20th century one is of Middlewich Athletics team - the number of medals some of the members are wearing suggests they were quite successful! (ref: D 7164) 

 
Other team photographs include these from a scrapbook of the Royal Chester Rowing Club (ZCR 419/3).  The one on the left is the club's 2nd VIII taking part in the North of England Head of the River Race in March 1957, on the River Dee.  We also like the one on the right, an old car loaded with a canoe captioned 'Henley 1937'.  Members of the rowing club certainly took part in the Henley Regatta - but whether that car was driven there from Chester, we do not know!
Amongst the records of the Knutsford Gas and Waterworks Company there is archive material related to horse racing at Knutsford.  This race card, giving details of the horses in each race and the jockey colours, is from 1854 (ref: D 4222/25) - and the photograph featuring the racecourse grandstand dates from the 1870s (ref: D 4222/26).
We also have photographs of some more unusual sports.  This is the Neston Quoits Team, photographed in 1895 (ref: D 6278/1).  And the impressive displays on the right (ref: CH1720) are by the Gymnastic Group of the Cheshire Regiment, photographed in 1902.
Along with many early photographs of men’s sports, we were pleased to find some of women’s teams as well.  A favourite is this one taken in 1915, of Widnes Ladies' Swimming Club (ref: C00344).



And finally, this picture taken between 1900 and 1909 is of the ladies roller-skating hockey team at the Empire Rink in Widnes (ref: C00342).  Roller-skating in those Edwardian dresses must have been quite a challenge!



Records relating to a range of sports can be searched in the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies catalogue on our web site at http://catalogue.cheshirearchives.org.uk/calmview/ and can be viewed in our search room in Chester.  And for any local football fans, there will soon be a new exhibition in our search room display case.  From 4th February 2020, it will feature archive material from Chester City Football Club going back to the 19th century.  Why not come in and take a look?

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Homes fit for Heroes


It is one hundred years since an Act of Parliament transformed housing in the UK. There was a significant housing shortage at the end of 1918 - 600,000 homes were needed in England and Wales alone - and many soldiers returning from the First World War were having to share accommodation or live in poor conditions.  Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised “habitations fit for the heroes who have won the war” – which became the slogan ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ in the general election he called the day after the 1918 Armistice. 

The government based their post-war housing policy on a report of a committee chaired by MP (and architect) Sir John Tudor Walters, set up to consider ‘Provision of Dwellings for the Working Classes’.  It included recommendations on minimum standards in the design of houses and the layout of housing estates – low-density garden suburbs, rather than the overcrowded narrow terraces of the past - and formed the basis of the 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act.  This became known as the Addison Act, after Dr Christopher Addison MP, who was influential in its creation and implementation as Minister of Health. 

The Addison Act was ground-breaking because it made housing a national responsibility for the first time, recognising that private companies would not be able to provide the quantity or quality of homes needed for working people at affordable rents.  It promised Government subsidies to help construct half a million houses within three years. Providing uncrowded, well-build homes on secure tenancies at reasonable rents to primarily working class people represented a significant change in social policy and to the future lives of these people. 

As the economy grew weaker in the 1920s, cuts had to be made and fewer than half of the planned homes were completed under the provisions of the Addison Act.  However further housing legislation through the 1920s and beyond extended the duties of local councils to make social housing (‘subsidy houses’) available – initially using land acquired following the Addison Act - and under the provisions of the inter-war Housing Acts, local councils built 1.1 million homes. 

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies hold a wide range of records relating to council housing, from the earliest houses outlined in the Addison Act.  Our collections include large numbers of plans and correspondence relating to the construction of council houses across the county, minutes of Housing Committees dealing with construction and management, records related to slum-clearance that took place nationally following the 1930 Housing Act, and Local Studies publications and images which can be viewed on the Cheshire Image Bank. 

Addison housing is mentioned by name in the minutes of Crewe Borough Council’s Housing Committee (document reference: LBCr 2407/10/2).  The images below, taken from a meeting in August 1925, refer to a report on contracts for Addison housing.  The minutes record details such as the builders doing the construction and the costs of the work, and also give an insight into the people who would be living in the new houses.  Their circumstances were typical of those the Addison Act was designed for: of 36 new tenants, ten were labourers and five worked on the railway as porters, goods porters, shunters or firemen.  Three were listed as shift foremen, and other professions included a machinist, blacksmith, motor driver and postman.  All the tenants had families, ranging from two to seven children, and for five of them, “an addition to the family is stated to be expected shortly”.  Almost 60% of this group (21 out of 36) were ex-servicemen, and all but one family were living in lodgings or with parents.  For three of the prospective tenants, the men’s wives and families were living separately in other towns. 
                           
Having been granted an affordable Addison house, there was an expectation the tenants should look after them – and it seems this included the garden.  The image below shows the minutes of a Committee meeting that took place on the Gresty Road Housing Site in Crewe where members viewed “with considerable distress” the state of some tenants’ gardens, and privet hedges that were “not properly trimmed”.  They resolved to send tenants a strongly worded letter – unless their gardens were properly cultivated, the Committee would “seriously consider” terminating their tenancy! 
Further north east in Cheshire, the records of Macclesfield Rural District Council show the varying levels of rent paid by tenants for different types of houses.  In its Register of Houses Provided by the Local Authority (ref: LRM 4993) two columns show the “appropriate normal rent per week” and a lower “rent charged per week” – for example what could have cost ten shillings and sixpence in rent per week for a three bedroom parlour house cost eight shillings and sixpence for council tenants.

As for the construction of the houses, Cheshire Archives holds building plans and associated correspondence from across the county.  Addison houses were divided into five main designs, known as Types A to E, although individual councils were permitted to adapt them.  The simplest had a living room where most of the cooking would be done and scullery where you would wash, others would have most of the cooking done in the scullery but had a separate bathroom, and the most luxurious had an upstairs bathroom.  A superior version of each type would have an additional parlour - around 40% of immediate post-war local authority homes had them.  Most Addison houses had three bedrooms – only 15% did not, in contrast with 60% of pre-war houses that had only two bedrooms – and all had indoor toilets and covered coal stores, which had not been the norm in working class homes before.

This 1924 application for a subsidy house in Hungerford Road, Crewe (ref: LBCr 6492/57/43) is one of many bundles of contracts, correspondence and plans we hold for individual tenants. It is a three-bedroom parlour home.

                                

And though they are almost a hundred years old, these Runcorn Rural District Council plans and blueprints for Type A houses in Frodsham  Lordship are still bright and clear.  The technical drawings of external elevations and internal floorplans clearly show the layout of the three-bedroom non-parlour house, with living room and scullery. (ref: LRR 27/64 and LRR 27/30).  
                  
Designs for Type B and C houses are illustrated by these plans from Lache in Chester.  They date from 1931 but the designs include both parlour and non-parlour semi-detached homes, and a short terrace, in a style in-keeping with the Addison Act.
                       
                             
In terms of layout of estates, local Council planners were clearly adhering to the standards of the Tudor Walters report in their proposed housing in Helsby in 1929 (ref: LRR 27/51). Spacing between and in front of houses, good-sized gardens and a mixture of different styles of houses were used in the same area, to avoid the uniform and overcrowded feel of working class homes of the past. 
                            
The Addison Act was the catalyst for an extensive council house building programme one hundred years ago, but this important housing continued ­to be provided after the 1920s, including in Cheshire.  The building work mentioned above at the Lache estate in Chester was not completed until after the Second World War, for instance, and building started at Blacon, also in Chester, in 1946 and continued until it was one of the largest council estates in Europe by the 1970s.  At the end of that decade, a third of the British population lived in social housing.  What began ­­with the Addison Act and Homes Fit for Heroes had a lasting effect on the lives of working class people and their families for most of the 20th century. 


All these documents and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester.




Thursday, 24 October 2019

Happy Halloween!

With 31st October fast approaching, we have unearthed some Halloween-related records from Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.  From accounts of witches, ghosts and mummification to old Halloween customs, here are just a few examples of spooky goings-on from Cheshire’s past.

One of Cheshire’s most famous witches was Bridget Bostock who became known as ‘The White Witch of Coppenhall’ in the 1740s.  She was known to cure ills and cast out devils by a combination of prayer and magic – the latter effectively being the use of her own saliva!  Reports of her healing abilities made the London press, and many people’s accounts of her activities feature in our Local Studies collection, such as this extract from a letter to the Whitehall Evening Post in 1748:

"Old Bridget Bostock…hath, in her life-time, made it her business to cure the country-folks, her neighbours, of sore legs, and other disorders; but her reputation now seems so wonderfully to increase, that people come to her from far and near…She cures the blind, the deaf, the lame of all sorts, the rheumatic, King’s evil [scrofula], histeric fits, falling fits, shortness of breath, dropsy, palsy, leprosy, cancers, and, in short, almost every things, except the French disease [syphilis], which she will not meddle with, and all the means she uses for cure is, only stroking with her fasting spittle, and praying for them.” 
The letter claimed that between six and seven hundred people a day were seen by her; “some people grow well while in the house, others on the road home; and, it is said, none miss”.


We also have accounts of witches who were said to have done evil, with examples of prosecutions of so-called witches contained in church court records.  The Consistory Court was responsible for the moral welfare of citizens and was held in Chester Cathedral.  Our Consistory Court archives include a 1627 Tarporley libel case of an Emma Mosse being accused of “practising witch craft and making potions” (reference EDC 5/1627/62); another case where a John Ramsden of Newchurch claimed a witch “did witch my cow to death” (ref: EDC 5/1613/66); and at Nantwich in 1662, an Anna Wright was accused of killing a child by witchcraft, with the rather gruesome description that "her eyes hanged over her cheeks and sometimes would play on her forehead and sometimes up and down on her face like two bladders." (ref: EDC 5/1662/63). 


Cheshire Archives holds coroners’ inquest files dating back to the fifteenth century, and includes one relating to Elizabeth Powell, a widow.  She died from various ailments after a long period of detention: she spent the last six years of her life a prisoner in Northgate, Chester, on a charge of witchcraft. 


Back in the seventeenth century, those convicted of witchcraft could be subject to capital punishment, and a register from St Mary on the Hill Church records the burial of ‘three witches’ executed at the Michaelmas Assizes in Chester in 1656.  According to a book in our Local Studies collection, (Death in Chester by Roy Wilding, ref: 217345) Ellen Beech and Anne Osboston of Rainow, and Anne Thornton of Eaton, all pleaded not guilty, but were sentenced to be hanged by the neck.  St Mary’s was close to Chester Castle, only separated by a deep ditch, so it was used as the burial place of prisoners condemned to death at assizes held at the castle.  The burial register also records some other gruesome deaths, such as those caused by the torture of ‘pressing’.

Some executed prisoners are said to be amongst Chester’s many ghosts, reputedly haunting everywhere from the city’s streets to houses, churches to pubs - but our Local Studies collection covers tales of ghosts, witches, myths and legends from all across the county.  You can read about The Congleton Cannibal, The Seven Sisters Curse and The Headless Woman of Tarvin, to name only a few! (In Myths and Legends of Cheshire by Paula Manley, ref: 228056)


There are several books about Cheshire customs, including traditional ‘Mummers’ Plays’ which have taken place across the UK and beyond for centuries.  In Cheshire they were known as ‘Soul-Caking Plays’ and took place on All Souls Day, just after Halloween.  We have many archive items on this subject, such as play scrips and numerous photographs of soul-cakers in Halton around 1885 (ref: D5154/124), and in Antrobus from the 1920s to the 1950s (ref: D5154/119), but this photograph - complete with masked man and headless woman – shows a scene from a pageant play written by the Vicar of Tarvin, the Rev. Maurice Hill Ridgway, in the 1930s. 


Our collection of his papers also includes a newspaper clipping of this scene marked ‘Echo’ (possibly the Cheshire Echo newspaper) with the caption “Mrs Bracegirdle fainting into the arms of Mr Ebenezer Bracegirdle on seeing the ghost of the headless woman – a scene in the pageant-play, ‘The Haunted House – Perhaps!’, written by the Vicar of Tarvin, the Rev. M. H. Ridgway, and which is based on a local ghost legend.”  

Not all of our gruesome stories are myths, however.  We hold a large collection of newspapers, some going back centuries, in which there are many unusual stories such as reports of a mummification in the 1920s.  Under the headline “Amazing Discovery at Nantwich”, the Chester Chronicle of 27 March 1926 reported that a Crewe auctioneer, acting under a county court bankruptcy order, had to force entry into the house of a mother and three daughters after all other means of gaining access had failed.  The mother was last seen years earlier, and the daughters lived as recluses.  The auctioneer discovered a skeleton wrapped in paper and old rags, and a table set out with food.  He was told, “that is God’s table, and is for mother” and warned not to enter another room as there was “fire and brimstone” inside.  All rooms apart from the kitchen were locked up, and the sisters said that they lived in the kitchen with their deceased mother.  They were reported to have been “certified insane”, believed to be suffering from a religious mania, and taken to the county asylum in Chester.  A doctor at the inquest stated that Mrs Nixon’s body was found in a sitting position on a tilted chair, tied with a cloth belt.  It was completely mummified.  

Finally, on a happier note, we have an account of a Cheshire man’s experience of Halloween customs in America.  Cheshire Record Office holds the papers of Frederick William Latham from Crewe, the son of a railway clerk who was put through college in the USA by a wealth uncle based in Mexico.  The letters he sent home to his parents include the following description from November 1927 of Halloween activities in the USA:
“they celebrate Halloween here with a great procession and everyone wears fancy dress and carries coloured flares – the ‘do’ is at night…it was a lovely sight and a lot of people buy pumpkins, scoop the inside out, and then cut eyes, nose and mouth in it and put a candle inside; they get some weird effects.” 

We wish you a Happy Halloween!




All of these items and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester.