Monday, April 29, 2013

Rural Relaxation - The Water levels are up

Startops Reservoir, near Tring, March 2013
A year ago  this view showed medieval ridge and furrow markings

I am keeping up my walking - with frequent visits to College Lake - and around the district. Compared with a year ago the water levels are very high, The above picture shows that Startops Reservoir is full, and no sign of the Medieval ridge and furrow areas I photographed from this point last year. I wonder how many years it will be before the water level is low enough to show them clearly again.
All that is left of Big Paddy, College Lake, near Tring, April 2013
The water level rise at College Lake Nature Reserve is far more serious. When I first visited the reserve over 20 years ago the main lake area was still a working quarry, with active pumping to keep the water levels low. Someone estimated how far the water levels would rise when quarrying stopped, allowing for drainage through the chalk. Several unquarried areas were left to act as islands for the birds to nest on - but the calculations were wrong and the islands disappeared under the rising water. Some years later bulldozers were used to build two more islands in the main lake area. The work was done by a couple of Irishmen - so the islands were called Little Paddy and Big Paddy.  The waters have continued to rise. Little Paddy has already disappeared and the above picture shows all that is left of Big Paddy a few days ago.

Flooded Track at College Lake Nature Reserve, near Tring. March 2013
In addition the water has risen to cover one of the main low level paths at the reserve, which is now only passable if you are wearing wellingtons (or shorts and flip-flops when the weather is warmer). While the water can be expected to drop if we have a dry summer the chances of the water level dropping to clear the path completely are low unless some way is found to pump a large quantity of water from the lake into the nearby Grand Union Canal

Saturday, April 27, 2013

More about Aldbury and the Waikato War in New Zealand in 1873

A Battle in the Waikato War, 1873

Last month I pointed out that Things aren't always what the census appears to be telling you. Dale has now contacted me from New Zealand to say she was the descendant of Henry Price Meredith. The young Henry was living with Sir William Ball at a posh London address in the 1841 and 1851 censuses and became a surgeon, before emigrating to New Zealand. However New Zealand records make it quite clear that he was the son of Michael Meredith, who was a railway porter living in railway cottages at Tring Station Aldbury in 1841 and 1851.

Dale has provided some additional information about Michael Meredith at the start of the Waikato War, and while he may have been the first English civilian to die, the British Army had already taken the first steps towards trying to evict Maoris from land where Europeans wished to settle. [The British Empire was built on such "honourable" intentions]

For more information see MEREDITH, Tring Station, Aldbury, mid-19th century - In  addition to the above I have added dates for the Aldbury family from parish registers which have recently become available online.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Some Hertfordshire Books in the HathiTrust Digital Library

Herts Books

The HathiTrust Digital Library is a digital preservation repository and highly functional access platform. It provides long-term preservation and access services for public domain and in copyright content from a variety of sources. Some of the Hertfordshire books I found in full text were:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Are your old family photographs safe for future generations?

Did you know that in the clear up after the Japanese tsunami special efforts were made to rescue items which could be of particular historical interest, such as old photograph albums. How safe are your old photographs? It is well worth reading the National Trust's Weekly Witter: Saving the Family Album if you have anything that needs preserving for the benefit of your descendants.

More about Buntingford

Jackson, Butchers, Buntingford
Last October I added a page to the main site about the Jackson family of butchers from Buntingford based on some old invoices, as an example of how interesting ephemera can be when it has survived (which rarely happens). Alison recently wrote to tell me that the invoices (and much more beside) had all been kept by a Jeffery Smith, of Buntingford and I have added details to the Jackson page.
Old News

Alison also drew my attention to the Facebook site on which she is posting news items from the Buntingford and North East Herts Gazette from 1923 to 1940. She says: Not only does it give a fascinating insight into how the town was run with accounts of how the various prominent local citizens (who often served on half a dozen or more committees) gave selflessly of their time to serve on various committees like the Poor Union, the Rural District Council, the various church councils, the burial ground committee, assorted fundraising committees particularly for the Royston Hospital, the Nursing Fund and so on, but it also gives details of funerals and who attended (most useful for genealogical research) sports results, types of entertainment, advertisements for local businesses, Petty Sessions. It takes me some time to do the uploading because I read every word! But it paints an intimate picture of life in the town at that time.

A Query about Brickfields near Ware

Help Desk
Regular visitors to my site will know that I am interested in brickmaking in the St Albans area of Hertfordshire, but occasionally answer questions about other parts of the county -such as Jane's question about Bricklayers & Builders of Ware, Early 19th Century in 2009.

Wendy has just sent me the following query, which is really more appropriate to the web site Our Hertford and Ware (associated with Hertfordshire Memories) but some of you may know the area around Ware better than I do and be able to help. She says:

I wonder if you can help me?  As a child I lived on the banks of the River Lea in a couple of old gypsy caravans.  This was about 1944.  I think the area was called the Brickfields.  I don't remember any evidence of bricks, but it had certainly been a rubbish dump - probably during Victorian times, as our chickens were always unearthing clay pipe-stems and bowls, and tiny china dolls-heads and legs.   We were living there during the 1946/47(?) winter which was very cold and the river froze over.                 
Last year I returned to England and made a fleeting visit to Ware to try to find the whereabouts of the site of my caravan home.  Without success.  Although we walked alongside the river from the lock, past the playing fields, and on, nothing served to jog my memory.  
Can you throw any light on the possible site? It was quite a walk from Ware, across a few little bridges and streams, as I recall.      We were beyond a pig farm, owned I think by a Mr. Stanyon, which had a never-to-be-forgotten odour as the pigs were fed on lorry-loads of pea-shucks from the Fropax(?) canning factory.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Latest Issue of Herts Past & Present

Hertfordshire Association
 for Local History
The Spring 2013 Issue of Herts Past and Present has now been published and the articles in this issue are

  • Brief Guide to Sources: Vestry Minutes - by David Short
  • King Aethelred's land grant of 1 hide at Flamstead to St Albans monastry, 1005: Bounds centred upon Lybury Lane, Redbourn, by Victor S. White
  • Traditional Woodland Management in South-East Hertfordshire, by Peter Austin
  • The Role of the St Albans City Military Service Tribunal in the First World War, by Jonathan Mein and Anne Wares
  • Golf in Hertfordshire, 1890-1912, by Julie Moore

Rural Relaxation - Bookham Common

Mother and two recently hatched Coot on Upper Pond, Bookham Common
Marsh Marigold
Today I went to Bookham, in Surrey, for a pleasant family meal, and in the afternoon I visited the Common and walked across The Plain to the Ponds.

In recent years there have been significant changes to make the ponds (which had been neglected and were silting up) far more attractive to wild life. The Isle of Wight pond was in the process of being restored, with the trees round the edge cut back and the island cleared of trees. Looked very untidy but in a few years it will be a great improvement.

Some more Post Cards

I have added a number of old post cards from early 20th century St Albans, including some more comic cards by Karaktus of the Crown Publishing Co. Two of the cards carry the titles of popular songs of 1909.

Alice Des Clayes pictures of Berkhamsted

Berkhamsted High Street
Alice Des Clayes studied at the Bushey School of Art before moving to Canada. I have posted three of her paintings of Berkhamsted. These were published as postcards by Suttley and Silverlock, a London publishing firm established in 1915, who also published a series of post cards of Chorleywood by Maud Huntsman.

Charles Lamb and Hertfordshire

Charles Lamb in 1825
Books on
Charles Lamb, who with his sister Mary, wrote Lamb's Tales from Shakespere had many connections with Hertfordshire. The Hitchin historian, Reginald Hine, wrote an very readable book Charles Lamb and His Hertfordshire which includes plates and many line drawings - a significant number being views of Hertfordshire. I have added a sample text and a brief review of the book, and also details of Button Snap, Cherry Green, Westmill, near Buntingford, where he lived for a time.

The book was first published in 1949, and republished in 1973 - so there a plenty of secondhand copies available online at reasonable prices.

[I have used the opportunity of this review to update the pages on Westmill (including details of the farm at Wakeley) and Reginald Hine.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Brief Personal Note ...

Many thanks to all of you that have responded to my post Future Plans for this Site - and if you still haven't commented yet please do so NOW. Every comment helps - as it gives me a better idea of who has been using the site - and what they get out of it. It is clear that in the long term I am going to downsize my commitment and that for the next few months I need to concentrate on a backlog of other activities. For instance, as I write this blog the sun is shining - and a climbing plant at the back of the house needs urgent attention - before it decides it is too heavy and pulls away from the wall!

So for the time being I am restricting myself to one day a week on "genealog key bashing" so that I can sort other things out. I will be back next weekend as during the past week the problem I had with updating the web site has been rectified, and there are other updates in the pipeline - but they are not quite ready so they will have to wait until next weekend.

Getting started on your family history

Help Desk
St Albans
The "Ask Chris" facility is really designed for people who have already carried out some research on their family and are familiar with the online census returns, civil registration and parish registers - and have hit a brick wall. However I occasionally get queries from people who appear to be just starting out, and in some cases their "Brick wall" is between them and the local library or bookshop - and they haven't yet discovered an elementary guide on the subject.   If I have time (and I often do not), I will quickly check out the key online records (to ensure that the the information can be found) and then point them in the right direction, including a few details to encourage them to look for themselves. If you are a beginner and want to know the kind of answer you are likely to get why not see what I have said to James, whose main query centered on a marriage that took place at Sandridge in 1833 between William Thompson and Elizabeth Woollatt - the couple then living in St Albans for the rest of their lives. 

The point is that if you let other people do all the easy stuff for you, you will never learn how to do it for yourself. As a result you will come to a dead halt as soon as the way forward is not immediately obvious. This is why the motto of the main web site is:
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.
Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime

Researching a Public House - When did the Tyrant's Arms become the Alford Arms - and why

Help Desk
Lewis is interested in the history of the Alford Arms and I was able to fill in some details from the 1841-1861 census and some newspaper accounts on the British Newspaper Archive - see Alford Arms, Frithsden, mid 19th century for full details. However I was unable to find out why it was called the Tyrant's Arms in 1851 (and possibly for long before that) or who the tyrant was.  In addition I was unable to date the fire that apparently led to a rebuild in Victorian times. Can any of you help by commeting below.

The Alford Arms is buried in the countryside behind Berkhamsted, and I have heard the food is excellent. The hamlets of Frithsden, and nearby Nettleden, are harder to research than many places because of the parish and former county boundaries. Even if the pub you are researching is somewhere else my answer to Lewis may give you some ideas as to where information may turn up.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The house and hospitals on Oster Hills, St Albans

Help Desk
Normally I do not answer questions relating to people and events after the end of the First World War, but this question, from Roger, relates to a building, Oster House, which is already mentioned on my web site, and I am also interested because of my mental health work, which meant I helped inspect a temporary mental health ward that was on the site in the 1990s. The relevant part of Roger's question reads:

My great grandfather George Henry Webb practiced dentistry in St Albans and also at a free hospital in St Pancras. After he died in 1932 Annie Fensome continued to live at 58 Lattimer Road and used the name Webb. She died in Oster House Hospital on 28 February 1946. Presumably this was not regarded as a Work House as probate shows she left the sum of £2,453 2s 9d to someone called Lizzie Smith wife of a John Smith London.

The medical history of Oster House, and the adjoining Oster Hills Workhouse site, is complex, and I can only highlight a few key events:

Was your ancestor in a Benefit Club?

Benefit clubs, which became common in Victorian times, were a way that working class families could put a few pennies away for use in a rainy day. Philip Wray has posted an excellent article on his Preston website - which is a very interesting read - even if your ancestor did not come from Preston, Herts.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Rural Relaxation - A Jack Snipe at College Lake

A Jack Snipe at College Lake Nature Reserve, near Tring
(at least that is what I was told by another bird watcher at the time
Can anyone confirm this?)
Over the Easter period I have been very busy with family and other matters - which have kept me away from the computer. The activities have included two visits to College Lake with my Canon Powershot SX40 HS which allowed me to take some wonderful bird photographs no that I am getting used to it. (I still haven't found time to read the manual to try out the manual features - which in some cases should allow me to get even better shots.)
Chaffinch drinking at the "Window in the Wood" hide, College Lake
While the SX40 is fine for my more serious outdoor shots my older Powershot SX120 IS camera has been repaired and because it has the advantage of slipping into my pocket is more practical for more casual everyday use - such as the family photographs (including a short video of my granddaughter dancing in a ballet) I took over Easter.