Monday, September 18, 2017

A monumental mistake

I quite like my christian name - it's reasonably unusual without being weird. As a small child I was called Franny, which was shortened to Fran as I grew older, but the one thing that drives me absolutely crazy is that no one ever spells it correctly, always choosing the male spelling of Francis.

I was named Frances after my dad's much loved elder sister who died at the age of 14. She was named after her father's youngest sister, who was only ever called Babs as she was the youngest in a family of five children, such are the vagaries of known names in family history.

I've often wondered if any Francis' out there get the same misspelt treatment and then last week while walking through Radnor Street Cemetery I caught sight of the following headstone inscription, which definitely needed proof reading.

In loving memory of
The beloved son of
William and Mary Ann Eyre
who died August 11, 1890
aged 29 years

Not lost but gone before


Frances William Eyre
Father of the above
who died Decr. 21st 1899
aged 71 years

Also Mary Ann,
Wife of the above
who died Decr. 21st 1906
aged 80 years

Perhaps the monumental mason who completed the inscription on this headstone was having an off day.

The first part of the inscription following the burial of James Eyre names his parents as William and Mary Ann Eyre.

However, the person who completed the inscription, presumably nine years later following the death of William, not only reversed William's two christian names, but misspelt Francis, using the female version of the name.

William Francis Eyre was born in Ashbourne, Derby in 1828. By 1871 he had moved to Wiltshire and a job in the GWR Works as a Coach Body Maker. William first lived in London Street, Wroughton with Mary Ann and five of their children.

William's last home was at 11 Exmouth Street, where he died on December 21, 1899. A search of the burial registers revealed that even here his name had been spelt incorrectly and the letter i is heavily written over.

Looks like not only the stonemason but the burial clerk should have gone to Specsavers!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An old photograph and a bit of detective work

The Old Town Autumn Fayre took place on September 9 in Christ Church and the Community Centre where I joined the Swindon Society team last weekend. The group had a display of Swindon images selected from their archive of more than 8,000 photographs, including a slideshow projected on a screen suspended above the nave altar.

It was while I was watching the slideshow that a photograph appeared of two girls taken in a cemetery or churchyard. By the style of the girls' dresses I guessed the photograph dated from the Edwardian period.

There was no description on the photograph and Andy wondered if it might have been taken in Holy Rood churchyard before the headstones were re-positioned around the perimeter wall. But there was something very familiar about the headstones where one of the girls stood and I thought the scene was possibly just a few yards from where we were standing in Christ Church.

With crowds gathered around the stalls in the churchyard it was difficult to get into the same position where the photographer had stood more than a hundred years ago. And something else confused me; the headstone for Clara Hartley, which stood in the foreground of the photo, wasn't there. In fact quite a few of the headstones pictured in the old photograph were missing. I convinced myself I must be mistaken and the photograph was obviously taken in a completely different churchyard.

All week long that image haunted me and yesterday I returned to Christ Church and had another look at the headstones.

Without all the stalls and visitors I was able to stand in the perfect position and now there was no doubt that this was the scene of the old black and white photograph and now I could study the names on the headstones where the girls were standing.

The girl on the right of the photograph is standing next to headstone dedicated to Sarah, daughter of John and Fanny Jefferies, who died September 1, 1864 aged 44.

The girl on the left of the photograph stands behind a small cross (sadly, now broken). This memorial is to two children, Frederick James Hall who died age 6 years in 1864 the son of William and Martha Hall and little Ethel Mary Hall who died age 19 months on May 24, 1890, the daughter of John Jefferies and Mary Hall.

To the left of the girl is a headstone dedicated to Mary, daughter of John and Fanny Jefferies who died on January 24, 1862 age 47.

A compelling conclusion at which to arrive is that these two girls are related to the people whose graves they stand next to, so let me explain who they all are.

Mary and Sarah Jefferies and Martha Hall were sisters, the daughters of John and Fanny Jefferies.
Mary and Sarah never married but Martha married William Hall with whom she is buried in a grave nearer the church. It is their son, Frederick James Hall who is buried beneath the cross. Ethel Mary Hall, the baby buried in the same grave, is the daughter of another son John Jefferies Hall and his wife Mary, so William and Martha's granddaughter.

Mary, Martha's sister, is buried in a neighbouring grave. This headstone has been removed and is now placed alongside the wall beneath the new Community Centre. The National Probate Calender (Index of Wills and Aministrations) states that Mary left effects valued under £200 and that Letters of Administration of the Personal estate were granted to John Jefferies of Swindon Baker and the Father of the Deceased.

The headstone to the right of the other girl is dedicated to Sarah Jefferies. She died on September 1, 1864 age 44 years at the Fairford Retreat, a private asylum where she had been admitted just a few weeks earlier on August 10.

These three sisters were the aunts of naturalist and novelist Richard Jefferies who was born at Coate Farm where his former home is now a thriving museum. Visit the website for information about the many events and activities that take place there.

It is seldom we are fortunate enough to discover old photographs of the churchyard and cemeteries we visit, so this one is a fantastic find. We wonder if any readers of this blog or followers of Radnor Street Cemetery have any photographs and stories they would like to share?

Our next and final walk of the season will take place at Radnor Street Cemetery on October 8, meet at the chapel for 2 pm. Over the winter months we will be planning events for next season. There will be fewer walks at Radnor Street Cemetery where we plan to include the occasional evening and Saturday walk. However, we will be extending our programme of walks to Christ Church, possibly Holy Rood and I will be conducting the occasional walk at St Mary's, Lydiard Park.

The same view today

The grave of James Frederick and Ethel Mary Hall

Mary Jefferies headstone 

Sarah Jefferies headstone

William and Martha Hall (nee Jefferies) in old age

Richard Jefferies

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Radnor Street Cemetery Walk

Fantastic turnout for our guided walk at Radnor Street Cemetery on Sunday - 50 people! With the grass almost as high as an elephant's eye we kept mainly to the paths. Andy had three new stories to tell, including that of Town Crier John Hiscock, a direct ancestor of one of his best mates.
We look forward to seeing you all next month, September 10, when we are joining forces with the folks from Eastcott Community Organisation during the Open Heritage Days with an Eastcott centric walk followed by tea and cakes at the Savernake Street Social Hall.
Thank you to everyone who joined us today, and especially to the person who bought a copy of my book!

Someone enjoying a bird's eye view

Friday, August 11, 2017

Join the Cemetery Club

Andy and I will be conducting a guided walk at Radnor Street Cemetery this Sunday, August 13, meet at the Chapel for 2 pm. We both have some cracking new stories to bring to the party, plus a couple of favourites I have told before, but I can confidently predict, neither of us will be singing.


Can I recommend that you check in with the Cemetery Club co founded in 2013 by Sheldon Goodman and Christina Owen? Today the blogposts and guided cemetery walks are more often led by Sheldon and Sam Perrin (read more about them and other contributors here). Sheldon and Sam’s stomping ground includes the Magnificent Seven London cemeteries, although you’re likely to find them practically anywhere.

So, what’s all this about singing? 

On a guided walk in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park made in December 2016 Sheldon introduced Cemetery Club followers to Alec Hurley, the second husband of Marie Lloyd and, well sang. (Visit the Cemetery Club facebook page and scroll down to 10 December - Cockney singalong).

We have discovered some interesting characters in Radnor Street, but so far, no lyricists although one of our monuments has starred in a video. The Miles family guardian angel monument featured in an XTC music video to accompany their song ‘In Loving Memory of a Name’ filmed in the cemetery in the 1980s.

If you would like to know more about this and a few other stories you might like to read my e book Radnor Street Cemetery: A Selected History of a People’s Museum.

My thanks go to Sheldon who first coined the phrase ‘a people’s museum’ the perfect description of a cemetery. I hope he’ll forgive me for borrowing his words (and without permission). I did explain that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

The Cemetery Club publishes new blogposts every Monday. You can also follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

And don’t forget our walk on Sunday, August 13.

The Miles family monument

XTC - back in the day!

William Hooper view of the cemetery published courtesy of Paul Williams

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Radnor Street Cemetery: A Selected History of a People’s Museum

Written for Radnor Street Cemetery followers and anyone who has an interest in the history of cemeteries and the people who lie in them, this e book is available now via Amazon.

Howses Coppice and Swindon’s Cemetery
We Will Remember Them
Funeral Fashions
James Hinton – Entrepreneur
Henry Smith – Planter
Albert Edward Wentworth and Matthew Henry Bissell
Levi Lapper Morse – Mr Retail
Herbert Marfleet
Esther Swinford – Murdered in the Ship Hotel
Horder Bros – Drapers, Milliners, Mantle Makers and Costumiers
George and Elizabeth House – Social Workers
Charles Haggard – Prisoner of War
Edith Gay Little
William Chambers – builder and funeral director
George and Emma Alley and their seven amazing daughters
Alfred and George Birks
Arthur Joseph Rye – Ironmonger
Elia Isaac Webb – Sign Writer and Artist
Frederick Charles and Marcia Kiddle
James (Raggy) Powell – one of nature’s princes
James Fairbairn – Engine Erector
Plot B2899
Frederick Gee – Plate Layer
Doreen Ind
Charles Normandale and Alfred Hughes – Brothers in Arms
George and Mary Hemsley – a co-operative family
Elizabeth Ann Jefferies – first wife
George Boucher
Harold Morley Starr – Battle of Britain hero
George Adams – Master Pawnbroker
The Butlin family
Celia Morkot – first woman employed in the Swindon Railway Works
Martha Hale
Richard Strange – farmer
Little Freddy Whitby
Samuel Limmex – Ironmonger
James William Price
Joah and Albert Sykes – first settlers in Swindon
James Shopland – another Swindon hero
Robert Laxon – coppersmith
Jason Johnson – homegrown railwayman
Ellis Herbert Pritchett – architect
Charles and William Bond
Charlotte Wilsdon (Andrews) Crimean Nurse
Chiseldon Camp Disaster
William and Henry Wall
William Henry and Susannah Read
William James Pitt
Frederick O’Conor – Secretary of the Mechanics’ Institute Council
Friday Frederick Roberts
William Miles and the XTC Angel
Samuel Chappell – Minister of the Gospel
William Dorling Bavin – Swindon’s War Record
Reuben George – forgotten political hero
Stanley William Ashton – Pilot Officer
Thomas and Susannah Hughes
Walter William Palmer
Thomas Trafford Shipman
Samuel Carlton – Manager of the Locomotive Department
William Medcalf Packer – unfit to serve
William Graham Little – generous benefactor
Preater family – the sacrifice
Richard James Leighfield – builder
James Henry Thomas
William and Georgiana Ormond
Lost Memorials -

'But now it is time to come for a walk with me. The best time to appreciate the beauty of Radnor Street Cemetery is to take a gentle walk in early Spring when the snowdrops spear the cold earth and the view across Swindon is visible through the bare trees.

But come again in early summer when Forget Me Knots and Morning Glory appear and Bluebells peek above the invading horsetail grass. Animal tracks weave through the gravestones and magpies chatter and scream as squirrels jump from tree to tree.

In Autumn the cemetery palette is yellow and red and gold and as the season ends leaves are tugged from the trees and the wind soughs through the creaking branches.

November mist and December frost and occasionally a fall of snow in January complete the changing cemetery panorama.

So, come, take a virtual walk among the memorials of Radnor Street Cemetery with me as your guide. I shall don my raincoat and carry an umbrella as the weather forecast is not good, but you can put the kettle on, make a cup of tea and join me from the comfort of your home.'

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

TRIP - a magnificent part of Swindon's rich railway heritage and culture

As Swindon schools prepare to begin the summer holiday at the end of this week, the debate continues about the validity of a long six week break at the end of the school year.

The tradition harks back to our agricultural past when children were required to work in the fields, earning a much needed additional income for their family. Today things are a little different and the long summer break is said by some educationalists to disadvantage children and set back their learning. School holidays are an expensive time to travel but parents potentially face fines for taking their children out of school during term time. Perhaps there is an argument for readjusting how we do things.

While firms such as Honda still shut down for a fixed number of holidays across the year, nothing compares to TRIP when the mighty railway works closed for its annual break.

'Swindon changed its ways and adapted itself to accommodate TRIP, so significant was it for the town's economy and social well being. The council called special meetings, the shopkeepers changed their half day closing, the local paper even closed its offices and did not print an edition on TRIP day, the schools started summer holidays early, local employers adapted their holiday arrangements in keeping with TRIP. The impact on the town was huge', Rosa Matheson writes in her book TRIP - The Annual Holiday of GWR's Swindon Works.

The origin of TRIP began in 1848 when some 500 men, women and children enjoyed a day trip to Oxford where they were escorted on a tour of the colleges and other places of interest by members of the British Association.

By 1892 TRIP had evolved into a nine day unpaid break, beginning on the first Friday in July. By then the number of men employed in the works was about 10,000 and the population of New Swindon was more than 27,000. In that year 18,248 people took off on their annual holiday. The town emptied.

The Works closed on March 26, 1986 bringing the end of an era. 'The Great Western Railway Co., Swindon Works and TRIP are a magnificent part of Swindon's rich railway heritage and culture,' writes Rosa. 'While they are gone, they still live on in the memories of Swindonians, especially in the hearts of ex-Works railway families.'

Rosa's book is a treasure trove of memories and family photographs from another age and is packed full of fascinating facts and figures.

TRIP - The Annual Holiday of GWR's Swindon Works by Rosa Matheson published by Tempus.

Photographs courtesy of William Hooper and Local Studies, Swindon Central Library.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Emmeline Pankhurst

Today marks the anniversary of Emmeline Pankhurst's birthday, although the date is still up for debate. Emmeline always celebrated her birthday on July 14 aligning her arrival with that other revolutionary happening Bastille Day. It is more generally accepted that she was born in Manchester on July 15, 1858, the second of Robert and Jane Goulden's ten children.

Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline's involvement in socialist politics began in the 1890s when she joined the fledgling Independent Labour Park with her husband Richard Pankhurst. Her conviction that the only way women could improve their situation, still very much one of subordination to men across every stratum of society, was to campaign for the parliament vote.

In 1903 the widowed Emmeline and her daughter Christabel founded the Women's Social and Political Union in Manchester and three years later moved their organisation down to headquarters in London.

Mrs Pankhurst under police escort

On May 19, 1906 the first Women's Suffrage Demonstration was held in Trafalgar Square. Among the speakers was Keir Hardie Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil and in the crowd was a Swindon schoolteacher, Edith New.

Edith began her career as a pupil teacher at Queenstown Infants, one of the first schools built in 1880 by the new Swindon School Board.  Following two years spent in London studying for her teacher's certificate, Edith returned to Swindon but in 1901 she took up a teaching post at Calvert Road School in East Greenwich.  When Charles Booth conducted his Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the People of London he identified this area as largely poor where the average income was between 18 and 21 shillings a week.

Edith New

Edith joined the Women' Social and Political Union and in March 1907 she was sentenced to two weeks in Holloway Gaol for attempting to get into the House of Commons. In 1908 Edith left teaching and became a paid organiser for the WSPU. She travelled the length and breadth of the country, organising by-election campaigns and addressing meetings and demonstrations. She served several terms of imprisonment, most famously for breaking windows at 10 Downing Street.

Edith New (right)  and Mary Leigh following their release from Holloway

On July 14, 1913 Emmeline Pankhurst celebrated her 55th birthday during a brief respite from Holloway Gaol. In April she had been sentenced to three years penal servitude for being an accessory before the fact in the attempted burning of a house at Walton Heath. She was released on June 16th under the terms of the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge of Ill Health) Act. More commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act, suffragist prisoners weakened by hunger strikes and forcible feeding, were temporarily released when their health gave prison officials cause for concern. Released on licence, once deemed sufficiently recovered, they were rearrested to continue their sentence.

Both Mrs Pankhurst and Annie Kenney had ignored the terms of their licence and on July 14 they turned up at the London Pavilion for the weekly WSPU meeting. Mrs Pankhurst received a rapturous welcome from the audience, however, the police were also present and ready to arrest the two women.

They turned their attention first to Annie while Emmeline was said to have walked through the crowd and out into a waiting taxi cab.

Annie Kenney

"A struggle followed, the detectives and uniformed policemen rushing into the mass with their heads down to protect their faces from the possibility of attacks by hatpins, and striking out in all directions," the Times reported the following day. "Detectives attempted to encircle Miss Kenney, but women pressing out from the entrance to the Pavilion rushed to the rescue. Two detectives put their prisoner into a taxicab and took her to Holloway. Standing on the pavement were women with their hair down their backs, their hats off, and clothes torn while the detectives had suffered equally, their coats being in some cases almost torn from their backs and their hats broken in."

Mrs Pankhurst spent the following week in a flat on Great Smith Road, Westminster with a police guard on duty outside. An attempted escape using a 'double' to lure police away from her door failed, but a week later supporters managed to smuggle her out of the flat and into the London Pavilion yet again. A week after her birthday Mrs Pankhurst was rearrested as she attempted to take the stage for the WSPU meeting.

Emmeline Pankhurst's memorial in Brompton Cemetery

Emmeline Pankhurst died on June 14, 1928, just one month before her 70th birthday and shortly after the Representation of the People Act extended the vote to all women over the age of 21. On March 6, 1930 a monument to the suffragist leader was erected in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the House of Parliament and unveiled by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Edith New died on January 2, 1951 in Polperro, Cornwall. Recognition in her home town for her achievements in the Votes for Women Campaign would take another 60 years to be put in place, thanks to an appeal made by Greendown Community School pupils. In 2011 a street on Nightingale Rise, Moredon was named Edith New Close.

Edith was buried with her much loved sister Ellen