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REPORTS


JUNE 2018 Image
Dr Janet Few was the speaker for the Frome Family History Group at their June meeting. Janet alias Mistress Agnes and her partner, Master Christopher dressed for the occasion in Seventeenth Century costume and remained in character all through the presentation giving us an often hilarious account of life in those times.

Janet started by outlining sources of information available to us as family historians but warned that most sources including paintings, wills, letters and diaries would only be available for the wealthy. Those of us with more modest ancestors would face more of a challenge. She went on to outline the political scene at the time and explained that the poor would, in most situations, give their allegiance to whoever their master supported.

The rest of Janet's talk was covering everyday life in the seventeenth century, covering all aspects of domestic life including homes, food, clothes, customs, medicinal herbs and witchcraft.

Some delightful references were made to sayings still in everyday use that originated back then. For example being straight laced refers to the Puritan women who laced their bodice in straight lines instead of crossed like other women. The term upper crust refers to the fact bread was sliced length ways to avoid giving the master the slice that was covered in ash from the fire and the saying sleep tight is a reference to the cords that formed the base of a bed which had to be kept taut.

Despite it being a very warm evening our programme secretary, Sue Simpson, offered to put on all the clothes a seventeenth century woman would have worn. Clad in a shift, petticoat or skirt, bodice, an item for making her bottom look bigger and a hat we all thought about how it would feel to have to do all the physical work that a woman at that time would have undertaken. The shift was put on clean on a Sunday ready for church and then not taken off day or night until the next Sunday. A poor person would have had only one of each of the other garments so they were never washed!

Other fairly gruesome examples of life in the seventeenth century were explained. Toothpaste was made from a rat's scull ground down with lavender and mixed with urine, in fact urine seemed to be the most useful commodity, as it was also used for bleaching washing, tanning hides and colour dying. Janet, and her partner Master Christopher, were thanked for a most enjoyable talk and for all the effort they put into creating an authentic experience.

Chris Featherstone



MAY 2018 Image
The Frome Family History Group welcomed Ian Caskie, Talks and Programme Lecturer for the SS Great Britain Trust, to their May meeting. Ian began by outlining his personal interest in maritime affairs and how his retirement from education where he was a head teacher in a Bristol primary school allowed him to follow his passion and volunteer with the SS Great Britain Trust.

Built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Great Western Steam Company, the SS Great Britain was the largest ship in the world when she was launched in 1843 and was the first screw propelled, ocean going wrought iron ship. The ship was initially designed as a luxury passenger ship but her first few voyages were not a financial success and when she ran aground on the sands of Dundrum Bay in Northern Ireland she was sold on to Gibbs Bright and Co. Gibbs Bright and Co. took advantage of the increase in emigration to Australia as a result of the gold rush and converted the ship to sail although they retained her engines. They also increased her capacity allowing her to transport 750 passengers. The journey took about two months and the fare was the equivalent of £5000 for first class and £1500 for steerage. The passengers and crew enjoyed a very varied diet as live animals were taken to provide fresh meat, however, rats were an issue along with heat and sea sickness.

In the 1870's demand for emigration to Australia tailed off and the SS Great Britain was converted to a cargo ship and used to transport coal from Penarth near Cardiff to America. At this time she was converted to a three-masted sailing ship, however she was damaged going around Cape Horn and was sold to The Falklands for coal and wood storage. By 1937 the hull was no longer watertight and the SS Great Britain was beached at Sparrow Cove near Port Stanley and abandoned to the elements.

In the 1970 efforts were made to refloat her and she was towed back to Bristol to the dock where she was built to be greeted by over 100,000 spectators. Following yet another refit the SS Great Britain is now an important maritime museum with a newly opened museum dedicated to Brunel nearby.

Ian was thanked for an excellent talk and many questions were asked. Many of us intend to visit the SS Great Britain and the museum, Being Brunel, in the near future.

Chris Featherstone



APRIL 2018 Image
Ted Udall was the speaker at the April meeting of the Frome Family History Group. He is a familiar face at our meetings and always very popular, speaking this time on the Social History of Parish Registers.

Henry VIII issued an order that every parson, vicar or curate was to enter into a book every wedding christening and burial in his parish, however, where the clergyman obeyed, the entries were made on scraps of paper, supposedly on a Sunday in the presence of a church warden. Very few of these records survive. In 1558 Queen Elizabeth I passed another law requiring records to be kept and a few more of these survive but they are written in Latin and very difficult to read. They were required to be kept in the parish chest and were the property of the incumbent minister of the parish. By 1597 registers were to be made of parchment and annual reports of all entries were to be sent to the appropriate Bishop. These were known as Bishop's Transcripts.

The Burial in Woollen Acts of 1666- 80 required that all corpses except those that died of the plague should be buried in woollen shrouds but the wealthy ignored the requirement and paid a fine for burying their dead in linen. This was an attempt by Charles II to help the ailing woollen industry however; it was widely ignored particularly in the final fifty years and was repealed in 1814.

Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1754 required separate registers for marriages and they were recorded on printed forms for the first time. The act exempted only Quakers and Jews from being married in the Church of England, Catholics and other non-conformists all had to be married by a Church of England priest. Marriages were to be declared by banns on three successive Sundays or by license.

A statute of 1812 known as Rose's Act required parish incumbents to use specially printed registers with baptisms, marriages and burials to be recorded in separate books. Baptisms were permitted to be conducted at home usually if the child was too ill to be taken to church. Midwives were able to perform the ceremony.

Ted illustrated his account with many amusing stories of detail from the register often written in the margin by the priest. For example, one unfortunate couple were described as rogue and whore of this parish. Ted was thanked for a very informative and entertaining evening.

Chris Featherstone



MARCH 2018 Image
The March meeting of the Frome Family History Group welcomed Jenny Pope to give us an idea of How Manorial Records can help with our Family History Research.

The origin of manorial records is not defined but may have started as early as Roman times. An index to most records, The Manorial Documents Register, is held at the National Archives in Kew. The records themselves may be held in local record offices or in private hands; the MDR provides brief descriptions of documents and details of their locations.

Jenny described the two most common records to be found, the Court Baron and the Court Leet and view of Frankpledge. The main business of the Court Baron was the resolution of disputes involving a lord's free tenants within a single manor, to enforce the feudal services owed to the lord of the manor by his tenants, and to admit new tenants who had acquired copyholds by inheritance or purchase, for which they were obliged to pay a fine to the lord of the manor.

The Court Leet dealt with civil matters including to enquire regularly into the proper condition of watercourses, roads, paths, and ditches, to guard against all manner of encroachments upon the public rights, whether by unlawful enclosure or otherwise. It also sought to preserve landmarks, and overlook the common lands, to guard against the adulteration of food and to inspect weights and measures. Frankpledge was a system in medieval England under which all but the greatest men and their households were bound together by mutual responsibility to keep the peace. All men over 12 years of age were organised in the system for mutual surety.

Jenny described her involvement in the project by the Wiltshire Family History Society to summarise the manor records held at the Wiltshire Record Office and to make them available to more people. Many of us are not able to read Latin or old handwriting making a summary a useful tool in the quest to find information on our ancestors. The manorial court records team have completed their first two titles, for Hilmarton & Goatacre and Holt. Both are available as downloads through Genfair or in hard copy from WFHS.

Chris Featherstone



FEBRUARY 2018 Image
Frome Family History group welcomed author Wendy Worley to their February meeting. Wendy described how researching her family history uncovered several stories about her grandfather that she was unable to verify or explain further even after extensive research. Having admitted defeat she decided that the stories would be the basis of a novel.

The novel was published in 2017 with the title of Echoes of Friendship and is loosely based on letters her grandfather received from a German soldier and the story of a cousin of her grandfather, Piper Findlater, who won the Victoria Cross.

As a former school librarian Wendy wanted to write her novel from the perspective of a teenage boy called Andy who visits the World War One battlefields to learn more about his great-grandfather, Matthew. The World War One soldiers, Matthew and his cousin James, were affected differently by the story of Piper Findlater whom they met as children. Matthew hears the melody of the fearless piper. James wants to emulate his valiant bravery. When war comes James is quick to follow the hero's lead. Matthew, nicknamed Mac by his comrades, finds salvation through his friendship with a German POW, Hans. They discover a common bond that surpasses their country's enmity. Andy faces his own demons in the shape of the Squaddies, a gang of bullies who taunt him at school and on the school trip. The Anglo-German friendship echoes down the years when Andy befriends a German student, Sophe. He tells her the story of Mac's friendship with Hans.
Wendy was thanked for a most enjoyable evening.

Chris Featherstone



JANUARY 2018 Image
Following a short ABM our treasurer, Gerry Burdall, gave a very well received talk on the Loss of the Royal George in 1782. Gerry began by describing the building of this ship which was the most powerful vessel in the world. It took eight years to build and took 4,000 oaks. Some reclaimed timber was used from HMS St Andrew 1702 and The Royal Anne 1727. The Royal George was launched on the Thames in Woolwich in 1756 and travelled to Portsmouth where a crew of 850 joined her.

Gerry went on to describe the conditions on board for both officers and seamen. Whilst the conditions seemed hard for the seaman they were able to rely on three meals a day and not an inconsiderable amount of alcohol. The Royal George carried 100 42lbs guns and went on a number of successful trips. It was refitted in 1782 and joined the fleet in Portsmouth ready to go to Gibraltar. Shore leave had been cancelled and, as a result, wives and children were allowed on board accompanied by around 100 Portsmouth "ladies" making a total of around 1200 people.

A decision was made to repair a faulty inlet valve and the guns were moved to the other side of the ship causing a severe list. Water started to rush in where seamen were loading rum barrels and an officer was informed. The officer chose to ignore the warnings and the Royal George keeled over on its side and sank in 10 minutes. 255 people were saved but 900 drowned despite the ship being in comparatively shallow waters in Portsmouth. The mast was visible in water until the ship was blown up in the 1830's.

Gerry finished by explaining that as a child he was given a book on the Royal George by his father that was bound in wood salvaged from the ship. He still has that book.

Chris Featherstone

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