The sad end of Lucy Danks…

I have been doing some more family research and this is the rather depressing tale about one of the Bytheway branch of my family that lived around Dudley in the Black Country.

Joseph Danks married Lucy Bailey, the daughter of William Bailey and Esther Bytheway (my great-great-great-grandaunt),  in 1890. Between then and 1910 they had seven children. Joseph was a chain maker, a hugely physical job but a very common occupation in the area around Netherton / Woodside. One of the local companies made the anchor chains for the Titanic.

The video below describes chain making in the area.

Things seemed normal in Joseph and Lucy’s marriage for thirty years until things suddenly seemed to go very wrong at the end of 1920 and into 1921.

In late 1920, Joseph lost his job. Maybe this triggered some kind of downward spiral of behaviour; we’ll never know.

But, on 23rd May 1921, Joseph was arrested for “maliciously wounding” his wife and on 1st June pleaded guilty to the offense and was sentenced to be “Bound over for 12 months in his own recognizance in £25 to come up for judgment when called”.

However, just two months later, the body of his wife, Lucy, was pulled out of the Dudley Canal on 14th August 1921 after Joseph had reported the previous night that she had fallen into the canal while they were on their way home from drinking in a couple of pubs, the Royal Exchange in Stourbridge and the Turk’s Head in Brierley Hill.

Injuries on the body led the jury at the coroner’s inquest to conclude she had been attacked and thrown into the canal. Joseph was arrested and committed to trial for murder. The trial was held on 22nd October that year before Mr Justice Roche at Worcester Assizes.

Joseph was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years penal servitude. I haven’t been able to track down yet where he served his sentence but it was probably Birmingham Prison at Winson Green, built in 1849.

Winson Green Prison, Birmingham

Having served his time, Joseph was released and in the census of 1939 was recorded as still living in the local area, on Queen Street in Brierley Hill.

Joseph Owen – Putting a face to a name…

Some time ago I posted a short article about my great-great-grandfather, Joseph Owen, who was born in the early 1850s and lived and worked on narrow boats plying their trade on the Grand Union Canal. In his twenties he fell foul of the law and was sentenced to five years hard labour for assault in 1877.

Now, from recently digitised images of inmates of Pentonville Prison, I can put a face to the name and here is Joseph, (thanks to my cousin Jenny who found the pic):

According to his prison discharge record he was just 5 feet and a quarter inch tall, very short even for the time. But then again, of the ten people on the same page as Joseph’s discharge record just one is taller than 5 feet 4 inches. Generations of malnourishment throughout the early industrial revolution is known to have had a detrimental effect on the physique and average life-span of working class people so I guess his height shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

In the picture you’ll notice his hands are raised, holding the front of his prison uniform. This was a standard pose, adopted so that any tattoos on the backs of hands could be recorded.

When this photograph was made, Joseph was just two months into his sentence but when he was released, it was into the supervision of the RSADP, according to his discharge record. The RSADP was the Royal Society for the Assistance of Discharged Prisoners and was a charitable organisation set up to help reduce recidivism. They would assist ex-cons to find work and accommodation and help them manage what little money they left prison with. It would seem that Joseph was one of their successes as there is no record of him re-offending and he went on to become master of his own narrow boat on the Grand Union Canal.

John Edward Hubsdell… a life of hardship and pain…

It should come as no surprise to me that a family with such humble origins as mine (ok, poor) should comprise ancestors who spent time in “the workhouse”. One such was a younger brother of my great grandmother, a certain John Edward Hubsdell, born in 1865 in the Alverstoke district of Gosport in Hampshire.

The census of 1881 has him listed as a painter, renting a room in the Black Dog pub in Alverstoke but thereafter he disappears off the census record for reasons that are unclear, although the same can also be said for several relatives during the same period. So, perhaps the records for the area in which they lived have been lost.

John Hubsdell next shows up in 1905, by which time he had relocated to London but apparently fallen on hard times. In November of that year he was admitted into the Whitechapel Infirmary, formerly the Whitechapel Union Workhouse but redesignated in 1872 as an infirmary.

He was listed as “homeless” in the admission record and admitted suffering from rheumatism, a chronic complaint that seemed to dog him for much of his life. His stay was short, just 5 days, which was common enough; 90% of the people admitted with him were discharged before the end of the month. I get the feeling that as much as anything, being admitted to the infirmary was a chance to get some respite from living on the street.

A photo titled 'For An Hour We Stood Quietly In This Packed Courtyard' in the groundbreaking book 'People of the Abyss' 1902
Poor being given handouts by the Salvation Army – 1902. I imagine John Hubsdell’s plight to be something similar.

It would seem John’s fortunes failed to improve as he got older because the next record of him is being admitted to Fulham Workhouse on 16th November 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War 1. Again, his stay was short, just 5 days, with him being discharged at his own request on 21st November. While the workhouses weren’t as horrific as they had been 50 to 60 years earlier there was still significant stigma attached to them so resorting to admission would be a last resort.

Eighteen months later John joined the army, volunteering for the Forage Section of the Army Service Corps in April 1916, somehow passing the medical, but lasting just 10 months in service in England before being discharged in April 1917, his service no longer being required.

Two more years pass before John again appears in the records. With the war recently over the army were desperate for men to volunteer for an appallingly gruesome job… grave exhumation.

Army Graves Registration Unit at work on one of the old Western Front  battlefields, 1920 | World war one, World war, War
Army graves registration unit at work – Western Front

Early in 1919 they were undertaking the gargantuan task of moving the remains of hastily buried soldiers to organised cemeteries. Presumably desperate for work, John Hubsdell volunteered for this and was duly recruited into the Labour Corps in May 1919, arriving in France the following month. He did this horrific job for 4 months until again he was discharged as being unfit due to his rheumatism.

He left the army in November 1919 and just three weeks later he is recorded being admitted into St Luke’s Workhouse in Islington. His admission record shows him being placed on the “Infirm” diet “Class 2” which was reserved for men too infirm to work. However, twelve days later he was discharged at his own request again, once more to fend for himself.

Once again he disappears from the record for fifteen years when, in 1935, back in his home town of Gosport he has been admitted to Gosport Public Assistance Institution (formerly the Alverstoke Workhouse) where he was to see out his days, dying there in late 1939.

Herbert Rogers… Discharged Dead!

My grand father’s elder sister, Bertha Sarah May Swatton, married a career sailor in 1912, a chap called Herbert Rogers, hence my great uncle by marriage. He was born on 28th November 1888 on Jersey in the Channel Islands and had served in the Royal Navy since 1908 when he was 18, when he stood a manly 4ft 11 and a half inches tall!

His service record card still exists, below,  and there were two obvious items that stood out that I thought deserved a bit more investigation.

The first was the abbreviation “DD” on the last line of his service which I quickly discovered is the standard code used by the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines for being killed in service, the charming “Discharged Dead”. But I will come to that later.

The second was the note at the bottom of the page, “Rendered meritorious service at wreck of “Delhi” Dec 11”. It turns out this was a well-documented shipwreck because the SS Delhi was carrying royalty, Princesses Alexandra and Maud, granddaughters of King Edward VII. Again, I will return to that later but I will start with going back to the beginning of  Herbert’s service and catalogue the ships in which he served.

HMS Hercules – 28 Mar 1904 to 8 July 1904

Launched in 1868, by the time Herbert joined her, the Hercules was an elderly ship serving as a depot ship on the south coast. Here, Herbert would have done his basic training.

HMS Caesar – 9 July 1904 to 6 March 1905

Herbert’s first real posting was to an altogether different kind of ship. HMS Caesar, commissioned in 1898, was a pre-Dreadnought battleship and was flagship of the Channel Fleet.

HMS Frequent – 7 Mar 1905 to 18 March 1905

It would appear Herbert hitched a brief ride on HMS Frequent to get to his next posting which would take him rather further afield.

HMS Powerful – 19 March 1905 to 21 Jan 1907

HMS Powerful, was a large cruiser, commissioned in 1897 and, by August 1905, five months after Herbert joined her, she was flagship of the Australia Station based at Freemantle Western Australia. During his service aboard Powerful, Herbert was promoted Ordinary Seaman.

HMS King Alfred – 22 Jan 1907 to 15 Jan 1908

Herbert’s next posting was to HMS King Alfred, an armoured cruiser commissioned in 1903, which was serving as flagship on the China Station. During his service aboard King Alfred, Herbert was promoted Able Seaman.

HMS Hawke – 16 Jan 1908 to 13 March 1908

It isn’t clear but I suspect the relatively short stay on HMS Hawke was for Herbert’s passage home from China because his next posting was at a shore station in England.

HMS Victory I & Vernon – 14 March 1908 to 19 Feb 1909

This was a training and education establishment which specialised in training naval staff in the management and deployment of mines and torpedoes. The accommodation and classroom facilities were housed in the hulls of three old 19th century warships, each connected to the next via wooden walkways.

HMS Enchantress – 20 Feb 1909 to 24 Feb 1910

Herbert’s next posting seems a little odd, because after spending a year at an establishment specialising in the technical training for mines and torpedoes, he was assigned to the steam yacht HMS Enchantress, the vessel made available for the personal use of the First Lord of the Admiralty.

At the time, the First Lord was Reginald McKenna and it was he who launched the Dreadnought arms race with Germany prior to World War 1.

HMS Albermarle – 25 Feb 1910 to 14 Dec 1910

After a year on what was essentially a glorified pleasure cruiser Herbert joined HMS Albermarle, a pre-Dreadnought battleship attached to the Channel Fleet and based in Portsmouth.

HMS Prince of Wales – 15 Dec 1910 to 2 Nov 1912

When Herbert transferred to the Prince of Wales she had just finished repairs after an explosion in one of her stokeholds in July of that year. Just as Herbert joined the ship, her command was taken over by Rear Admiral John Jellicoe, later commander of the Grand Fleet and First Sea Lord. Shortly after, she set sail for Gibraltar and in the spring of 1911 undertook a major refit there. She was still on the Gibraltar station when she responded to the distress calls of the P&O steam ship Delhi. The Delhi was en route to Bombay (Mumbai) carrying 100 passengers including the Duke and Duchess of Fife and their daughters Princesses Alexandra and Maud, granddaughters of King Edward VII. At about 1am on the morning of 13th Dec 1911 in thick fog and heavy seas the ship ran aground two miles south of Cape Spartel, just west of Tangier near the Strait of Gibraltar.

Princesses Alexandra (left)…
…and Maud

Three warships responded to the Delhi’s wireless distress calls, the French cruiser Friant, first on the scene, and HMS Duke of Edinburgh and HMS Prince of Wales.

Three crew of the Friant were drowned when their boat capsized as they tried to rescue passengers from the wreck.

When the Duke of Edinburgh arrived, its commanding officer Admiral Cradock took one of its lifeboats alongside the Delhi and attempted to take the royal party to shore but the small boat capsized in the heavy sea and the bedraggled royals were hauled from the sea by some of the sixty or so sailors sent on shore to assist the rescues.

Further attempts to take passengers off by boat were abandoned in favour of a breeches buoy, anchored at one end on the beach and fired by rocket across to the ship.

The accident was big news in the press at the time, I suspect solely because of the royal involvement, and the chance it offered to the press to describe princesses escaping from the sea half naked – even the press in 1911 couldn’t resist a bit of lurid titillation!

I think it’s great though that the press reported that “owing to having left the vessel with few clothes” the princesses were “confined to their beds, awaiting the arrival of luggages”… because they couldn’t possibly have borrowed some clothes! Obviously there is no account of a lowly seaman like Herbert but in order for him to have his “meritorious service” recorded I would guess he was one of the shore party that assisted in the rescues. Maybe he was even one of those who pulled a drowned rat princess or two from the sea.

The wreck of the SS Delhi shortly after the incident.

HMS Vernon – 3 Nov 1912 to 13 Feb 1913

After two years with HMS Prince of Wales, Herbert was posted back to shore station HMS Vernon for more training. It was during his posting to Vernon that he married Bertha Swatton on Boxing Day 1912.

HMS Good Hope – 14 Feb 1913 to 30 June 1913

Two months after his wedding he was posted again, this time to HMS Good Hope, an armoured cruiser identical to the King Alfred on which he had served six years earlier. But his stay aboard was short, before he was transferred to a specialist minelayer ship where presumably he was to use his training at Vernon.

HMS Latona – 1 July 1913 to 8 March 1915

HMS Latona, launched in 1890 as a cruiser, was reclassified as a specialist mine-layer in 1910. In 1913 it was part of the mine-layer squadron attached to Second Fleet.

Aboard Latona, Herbert was promoted to Leading Seaman and then transferred for the last time.

HMS Princess Irene – 9 March 1915 to 27 May 1915

HMS Princess Irene was an ocean liner built in 1914 or the Canadian Pacific Railway and requisitioned by the Royal Navy on completion and converted to an auxiliary minelayer.

In May 1915, Princess Irene was moored on the Medway Estuary in Kent near Sheerness, being loaded with mines in preparation for deployment on a minelaying mission. At 11:14 GMT on 27 May, Princess Irene exploded and disintegrated. A column of smoke hung over the spot where Princess Irene had been, reaching to 1,200 feet (400 m). A total of 352 people were killed, including 273 officers and men, and 76 dockyard workers who were on board Princess Irene.

Wreckage was flung up to 20 miles (32 km) away, with people near Sittingbourne, 10 miles away, being injured by flying débris, and the Isle of Grain the other side of the Thames estuary being showered with body parts.

The official record of the disaster stated it was an accident probably due to faulty mines.

No part of Herbert’s body was ever found but his name is included on the naval memorial in Porstmouth.

In typical blunt fashion, his service record ends simply with “DD”… Discharged Dead.

Generations on the Grand Union Canal…

Fred Owen, pictured in the early 1950s, was born in 1882 in Paddington at the southern end of the Grand Union Canal

My grandmother on my father’s side was Lottie Owen. Her father, Frederick and at least five generations of the Owen line before him were brought up on narrow boats, working up and down the Grand Union Canal between London and Birmingham in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Those five generations were born in Brinklow, Aylesbury, Harefield and Paddington – all stops on the Grand Union Canal.

The first working narrow boats played a key part in the economic changes accompanying the British Industrial Revolution. They were wooden boats drawn by a horse walking on the canal towpath led by a crew member, often a child. Narrowboats were chiefly designed for carrying cargo, though there were some packet boats, carrying passengers, letters, and parcels.

Boatmen’s families originally lived ashore, but in the 1830s as canals started to feel competition from the new railways, families started to take up home afloat. This was partly because they could no longer afford rents, partly to provide extra hands to work the boats harder, faster and further, and partly to keep families together.

A typical scene on the canal at the end of the 19th century

The rear portion of the boat became the cosy “boatman’s cabin”, familiar from picture postcards and museums, famous for its space-saving ingenuity and for its interior made attractive by a warm stove, a steaming kettle, gleaming brass, fancy lace, painted housewares, and decorated plates. Such descriptions though rarely consider the actual comfort and day-to-day living conditions of a large family working an extremely hard and long day, and sleeping in the one tiny cabin. Nonetheless it was impossible for such mobile families to send their children to school, and most boat people remained illiterate and ostracised by those living ‘on the bank’.

In the late 19th century there was estimated around 18,000 families working and living on canal boats.
The transportation of goods was very much a family affair, with even the children growing up on the boats learning to help. As soon as the children were old enough they were expected to help out, there was no room for passengers on these trips and everyone had to pull their weight. Children soon learned how to operate the locks and lead the horses, playing an active part in working life. The work was hard and tough with some days lasting a gruelling 17 hours because the boat was paid on completion of a trip so the quicker the trip could be completed the sooner the boat was paid.

Many early boaters couldn’t read or write due to a lack of education – when Joseph Owen was married in 1851, he could sign his name (quite surprisingly) but neither his wife nor the two witnesses could and signed the certificate with their mark, an “x”.

The families’ place of work was also their home and with a lack of space, overcrowding, poor hygiene and limited conditions being just a few of the issues families faced every day on the boat. Life could be tough for all on-board. The boats cabin could be freezing in winter and boiling in the summer making their living accommodation anything but ideal.

The boating families made up a very strong community, having their own culture and way of life but this wasn’t necessarily any advantage. The Victorians grew suspicious of the boaters who rarely left the towpath and branded them; drinkers, criminals, scruffy and violent people – not unlike how the traveller communities today are viewed. Some of these labels were warranted as they did drink and their appearance wasn’t the cleanest due to the work and living conditions they were subjected too. Fights would sometimes break out, giving them the reputation of being violent people.

The story of Joseph Owen, my great-great-great grandfather serving five years in Pentonville for assault is perhaps an example of this… where there’s smoke, there’s fire and all that!

Tom Oxley – WW1 PoW…

This short piece of family research concerns Tom Oxley, the father of my aunt Milly (wife of my father’s elder brother), born in Rotherham in 1889. His father variously worked in local foundries and steel works and Tom became a coal miner as so many did in that part of Yorkshire.

However, by the time he was 18 he was in trouble with the police and in January 1908 he was convicted for minor assault and given 14 days hard labour in HM Prison Wakefield.

After his release and sometime before the beginning of World War 1 he apparently joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. The RNVR was created in 1903 and was the Navy’s equivalent of the Territorial Army and was open to civilians with no prior naval experience. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to trace his enlistment records and am assuming they were part of the many thousands that were destroyed when the archive was hit during the Blitz in WW2.

Harriet Wootten

After the assassination of Crown Price Franz Ferdinand at the end of June 1914, people could see war approaching and Tom made another big change in his life, getting married in July of that year to Harriet Wootten.

And the following month war broke out, in August 1914.

On mobilisation, the popularity of the Navy and the strength of its reserves resulted in a large surplus of manpower, far more than were needed to adequately man the Fleet.

It was then that Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, intervened in not one of his finest moments. He decided that the surplus men should be formed into infantry units – the Royal Naval Division. Not one to waste time, he duly sent a memo to the Secretary of the Admiralty and the First Sea Lord giving them a week to start making it happen!

By the end of the month a tented camp for 1st Brigade had been established at Walmer Downs near Dover comprising four battalions, each named after famous British Admirals – Drake, Hawke, Benbow and Collingwood.

Tom was assigned to 2nd (Hawke) Battalion.

There were over 7000 men in all, comprising men from the RNVR, ex-regulars from the Royal Naval Reserve and recalled retired officers and men.

I can’t help but think they were less than impressed being issued with rifles and being made into infantry rather than serving in the Fleet.

As it was, in the worst tradition of British military improvisation (yes, bungling), the only rifles available were outdated Lee-Metfords from the Boer War and as khaki was in short supply most men wore normal naval blue uniform. Eighty percent of the troops went to war without even basic equipment such as packs, mess tins or water bottles and the division had no artillery, Field Ambulances or other ancillary units.

Tom Oxley in uniform

After five weeks of basic training this improvised and still working-up division was sent to Belgium to join the Royal Marines already stationed there as the situation on the continent was fast deteriorating. The two Royal Naval Division brigades arrived to join the Marines around Antwerp on 6th October, taking positions interspersed between the semi-circle of eight old brick-built forts that surrounded the city.

At dawn, 8th October, the German infantry began a fresh assault on the old fortress line. Their 305mm and 420mm mortars had been moved up, and opened fire on the old brick forts. Even before dawn Forts 1, 2 and 4 were reported to have fallen.

The Royal Naval Division, positioned on the old fort line between Forts 2 and 7, were right in the middle of the German fire.

During the evening, the brigades of the Royal Naval Division were ordered to withdraw. Not all of the units received the orders, and there was wholesale confusion. One of the problems was the incredible congestion on the few roads heading north-west, as thousands of refugees moved in the same direction. It was impossible even for signal runners to move back and forth between headquarters and front line units. The 1st Naval Brigade suffered badly from confused orders and the chaotic condition of the roads.

As a result, the following day, 9th October, over 2400 men from Hawke, Benbow and Collingwood battalions were lost after being outflanked by the advancing Germans and cut off. 1479 troops managed to march north into neutral Holland where they were interned for the remainder of the war and 936 were captured by the Germans and would remain as prisoners of war until the end of hostilities.

Tom Oxley was one of these men.

His service record in the National Archives was unclear (literally), the lines referring to his capture virtually unreadable (second section below, dated 3.12.14 Officially reported prisoner of war):

But after some experts on a WW1 internet forum gave me some pointers, I managed to find Tom’s record with the International Red Cross who maintained a catalogue of all prisoners of war. This provided some more details:

It confirmed his capture on 9th Oct 1914 and interestingly identified the PoW Camp in which he was held – Lager Döberitz, which turned out to be north-west of Potsdam, near Berlin.

Tom Oxley was to spend the rest of the war in this camp, over 4 years.

The prisoners tried to make the best of things while they were held. Between their daily work schedules when they were often marched out of camp to undertake manual labour, they tried to entertain themselves as best they could. They had an orchestra, various sports teams, theatre and concert troupes and they produced a regular magazine – the Döberitz Gazette.

Work detail setting off for the day

I guess for the PoWs the end of the war couldn’t come soon enough but it wasn’t until 13th December 1918 that Tom was repatriated.

The photograph below is of the last PoWs to leave Döberitz. The quality isn’t good enough to tell if one of those in navy uniform is Tom but it’s nice to think that it may be, and it shows they hadn’t lost their sense of humour, despite years of incarceration.

Joseph Owen – banged up barge-man…

It has been a while since I posted anything on my family history but I have started doing more research recently and have something new to share.

Joseph Owen, born in 1853, was my great-great-great-grandfather. In his twenties he was a short man, just five feet and a quarter of an inch tall with a slender build, round face, fair complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes. But by that time he had picked up a fair few injuries, having scars on the side of his head, left eyelid, bottom of his back, right hip and the back of his left hand.

How can I know such detail? Well, from his prison discharge record when he was released from Pentonville Prison on 28th September 1881 and catalogued in the Metropolitan Police Record of Habitual Criminals!
Joseph grew up on the Grand Union canal, his father and his father before him being masters of horse-drawn barges plying the route from London to Birmingham.

The events that led him to be incarcerated we know from his trial record which survives in the Old Bailey archives.

In September 1877 his barge was probably moored in Paddington Basin because on the night of Saturday 29th September he was in the Running Horse pub on the Harrow Road, just round the corner from the canal basin. At about 8.15pm he got into a drunken quarrel outside the pub with a dustman called James Whitmill.
A passer-by, George Turner, intervened to break them up, whereupon Joseph turned on him and attacked him, biting a chunk out of his nose and cheek. Fortunately for George Turner, a policeman was nearby, a PC Higgins, who broke up the fight and arrested Joseph Owen. He took him to the local police station where he was charged with being drunk and disorderly, charges which were increased in severity once the injuries to George Turner were better understood and had been treated at St. Mary’s Hospital.

Joseph was ultimately tried at the Old Bailey on 22nd October 1877 for “Feloniously cutting and wounding George Turner, with intent to disfigure him, also to do him some grievous bodily harm”.
It was an open and shut case for the prosecution and defendants who had no means were denied legal representation anyway. In the official transcript, the prisoner’s defence was solely: “I did not know what I was doing.”

He was duly found guilty and sentenced to five years’ Penal Servitude, prison with hard labour in layman’s terms, which he served in Pentonville Prison in Islington.

So what would a sentence of penal servitude in Pentonville have entailed?

Pentonville operated the “separate” system, designed to keep prisoners apart and in isolation as much as possible. The idea was to prevent “contamination” of more vulnerable prisoners by the hardened criminals in an attempt to reduce likelihood of re-offending – the actual result however was an increase in mental health issues.

The cells were 13” long by 7” wide by 9” high with a small window set high on the end wall which was not possible to look out of without standing on something (which was a punishable offense). The cells were reportedly intensely cold in winter. Prisoners under the age of 50 were not allowed a mattress for their bed but instead had bare planks. Oscar Wilde recalled that the plank bed “caused him to shiver all night long and that, as a consequence of its rigors, he had become an insomniac.”

The prisoners’ day began at 6.30am when they rose and for most of the day those sentenced to hard labour could look forward to seven and a half hours walking the dreaded treadmill.

The picture here is of the treadmill at Pentonville in 1895. Each treadmill had twenty-four steps, set 8ins apart. You did ten minutes on and five off, for eight hours, climbing the equivalent of over 8,000 feet in the process – that’s the equivalent of walking up the steps to the top of the Eiffel Tower three times one after the other.

Prison food was kept deliberately poor, consisting mainly of a potato-based gruel and bread. After work and dinner, all prisoners were returned to their cells when they had two hours of solitary “contemplation” time to sit and reflect on their situation or to read the Bible… not much use to Joseph as he seems not to have been much of a scholar.

Each prisoner was allowed a single visitor every six months.

And it was this regime that Joseph would have endured for his stupid, drunken crime.

When he was released in 1882 there is no evidence that he re-offended but returned to working on the narrow boats up and down the Grand Union Canal. On the year of his release he married the daughter of another boatman, Charlotte Bullock, with whom he went on to have four children.

By 1891 he was master of the barge “Thrifty and George” and continued working on the canal until his death in 1918.

Richard Bytheway – Just Another Pointless Death in a Pointless Sideshow

Richard Bytheway, born in 1892, was a younger brother of my great grandmother, hence my great-great-uncle. He was the second youngest of 8 children, all born and brought up in a tiny, 3-roomed miner’s cottage tied to Seymour Colliery just outside Staveley in Derbyshire.

The 1911 census has him still living in the Seymour cottage but shortly after that he must have moved away because when he enlisted in the army in late August or early September 1914, no doubt responding to Kitchener’s famous appeal for volunteers, his residence was listed as Rotherham in Yorkshire.

He was duly enlisted as 14663 Private Bytheway of the York and Lancaster Regiment (known more colloquially as the Yorks and Lancs).

After basic training Richard’s battalion embarked not for France or Belgium but were assigned to what has commonly been labelled an infamous “sideshow” – they were bound for Gallipoli.

At the end of July 1915 the battalion arrived at Mudros on the island of Limnos, the common staging point for troops before crossing the final stretch of Aegean to Gallipoli itself.

It would seem that it was there that Richard Bytheway, with others, was transferred to the 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers who were under-strength. The war diary of the Connaughts records reinforcements joining on 4th August when they too were at Mudros and I am guessing Richard may well have been part of that contingent. Anyway, he definitely became 3157 Private Bytheway of the Connaught Rangers.


Connaught Rangers moving up into position

Two days later, on 6th August, the battalion embarked on HMS Clacton at 3am and sailed from Limnos to ANZAC Cove where they disembarked at 4pm that afternoon, taking positions in the aptly named Shrapnel Gully before moving up to the front line the following week.

Here, their introduction must have been horrific as they spent the next couple of days retrieving and burying corpses from Aghyl Dere Gully which was full of bodies after an earlier attack. Remember that this was in the middle of summer in Turkey where the heat was stifling and the stench must have been appalling.

A week of back-breaking trench improvement followed this before the Connaughts were assigned to support a major attack by the ANZACs on Hill 60, scheduled for 21st August. The Connaughts’ role was to attack the wells at Kabak Kuyu on the flank.

anzac cove

ANZAC Cove with Hill 60 on the horizon

On the evening of 20th August the battalion moved up to a position behind the 4th Battalion South Wales Borderers. They remained there until the afternoon of the following day when the attack was launched.

I will let the unusually effusive war dairy entries take over the story from there:
connaught diary 1
Transcript: “Kabak Kuyu 3.40pm: The first Company (C) dashed forward with a cheer through the gap and with great dash made for the well and trenches at Kabak Kuyu. They were followed by D Company, who followed close by and in successive lines at 4 paces distance and all cheering with fixed bayonets but no firing was allowed until the line was won. The two leading companie,s as soon as they had rushed the trenches, wheeled to the right and engaged the enemy along the Sunken Road and the Communication Trench. One platoon under 2nd Lt. G R Bennett bombed and blocked the Communication Trench and forced the Turks to leave this trench.
4.20pm: A Company was sent up in support and dashed forward to reinforce the left of the line. The reserve (B Coy) moved up the Sunken Road with two platoons and supported the right of the line and got up communication with the New Zealanders who had captured a trench on Hill 60.”
connaught rangers diary 2
6.55pm: The O.C. 5th Bn the Connaught Rangers now began to consolidate the line won and when the 5th Ghurkhas came up on the left of the line night came on rapidly and as the sun went down the men of the Rangers began to dig and make their position capable of resisting any attack. A Platoon of the Rangers had been sent forward and were actually in the New Zealanders trenches and although losing their officer and many men remained there until relieved the next day (22nd Aug). The charge was most brilliantly and gallantly carried out and although the losses were severe (3 Officers killed, 9 wounded; Other Ranks killed 43, wounded 158, missing 47. Total 260; together with losses up to date, 15 killed and 119 wounded and 7 Officers = 401 casualties exclusive of sick) the Battalion held on gallantly throughout the night of the 21st-22nd August (strangely enough the anniversary of its formation) and the next evening were relieved with the exception of 1 Officer and 50 men and marched back to the bivouac of two nights ago behind the SWB entrenchments. They had done splendid work in digging saps to the New Zealand trenches and to the Well, and the position was secure when they left it.”

“Secure” it may well have been but at the cost of nearly half the battalion’s effective strength and one of those killed was Richard Bytheway.

His body was not recovered and his final resting place remains unknown so his name is just one of the 20,956 names on the Helles Memorial commemorating Commonwealth service personnel with no known grave.
helles memorial
Oddly, because he was serving in an Irish regiment when he was killed, Richard also appears in the memorial record created after the war to commemorate the “Irishmen who fell in the Great European War”:

irish dead memorial

A Fishy Tale…

My partner, Vinnie, has never really known much about her family history so I have been doing some digging and, going back to the mid 1800s, a fishy story begins to emerge.

Vinnie’s great-great-great-great-grandfather was a chap named John Brewer who was born in Hackney in East London and, coincidentally, was baptised in a church in 1812 just round the corner from where she is currently working.

John Brewer married Martha Rumer, a local woman, in August 1835 in East Ham who had a bit of a scary adventure the following year. Together with a certain Martha Martin, Martha Brewer was committed to trial at the Essex Assizes on 17th May 1836 for “Larceny from the person”, legal-speak for pick-pocketing. Luckily for her the judge threw out the case, the outcome logged in the court record as “No Bill” which was a specific order from the judge if he was satisfied that the depositions or committal statements did not justify putting the accused on trial.

With the brush with the law behind them, by the time of the first census in 1841 John and Martha Brewer are recorded as living on Barking High Street with John’s profession listed as fisherman.


Barking Dock in the early 1800s

It may seem difficult to believe now but in the mid 1800s Barking was home to the largest fishing fleet in the world. There had been a tradition of fishing there on a small scale since the 1300s but the dramatic escalation of the trade based out of Barking in the 1800s was down to one entrepreneurial family – the Hewetts – who established The Short Blue Fleet (named after the short blue emblem they flew at their mastheads).

By 1850 they had grown their business to become the largest fishing fleet in the world with over 220 boats.

Before the 1820s, fish caught off the boats were either killed and salted immediately or kept alive, in large, on-board tanks until they reached port.

Samuel Hewett felt this was not a cost-effective system because the boats, which would often sail as far as Iceland, would be forced to make frequent trips back to Barking to unload the catch. This, he believed, was wasting time that could have been spent fishing. So Samuel decided to introduce a system called fleeting.

The fish were now caught, killed, then preserved in ice, before being collected by fast boats, called cutters, and taken back to London. Every time the cutters returned to the fishing grounds they would bring more ice and provisions for the sailors, which meant the fishing vessels could stay at sea continuously for three to six months at a time.

trunkingThe picture shows “trunking” when trunks full of fish were transported from the fishing trawlers to a cutter for delivery back to base.

The new fishing system was extremely successful and helped the Hewett fleet grow substantially.

short blue fleet1

The Short Blue Fleet at sea

But the industry was savagely dangerous. We think of 19th century mining as dangerous, and it was horribly so, but for every miner killed in Britain, seven seamen were lost in the fishing industry.

By the mid 1850s John Brewer had been made master of one of the boats in the Short Blue Fleet, the Tartar, purchased by the fleet in 1852 which was one of the fast cutters that used to race back and forth between Barking and the fishing grounds.

By the mid 1800s almost every family in Barking was involved in the fishing industry in some form or other. But as the town headed into the second half of the century Barking’s fishing fortunes were to change dramatically.

In 1862 Samuel relocated his fleet head-quarters to Gorleston, Suffolk, which was at least 120 miles closer to the fishing grounds. And three years later Barking effectively lost any advantage it once had when a cheap and fast rail link was built from London to Gorleston. Many families followed the Short Blue fleet to Suffolk, while others headed to Grimsby, attracted by a newly opened dock.

John Brewer was one of those who ended up in Grimsby after the Short Blue Fleet sold off the Tartar in 1863. (Another coincidence as Grimsby is where I grew up.)

In the census of 1871 he is still listed as a fisherman, now living at the charmingly named (but probably not very charming to live in) 8 Foot Road.

John Brewer died in 1874 and was buried at St Andrew’s Church on Freeman Street which sadly was lost many years ago. The picture below is from about 1911 and shows the church as it was.

st andrews freeman street

The year before John’s boat, the Tartar, was sold off, his daughter Esther who had been born in 1844 married an Essex man called Edward Cornell, another fisherman.

grimsby docks 19th c

Grimsby Docks in the late 1800s

When her parents moved north to Grimsby, Esther and Edward elected to stay in London and were recorded as living in Bermondsey in the 1871 census. But either later that year or early in 1872 they too moved up to Grimsby like many of the London-based fishermen, a port that was fast becoming the busiest fishing port in the world.


Indeed, the Cornell’s ordered their own boat in 1872, a Dandy-rigged ketch of 60 tons which they named the “Edward and Esther”, the shipping order listing their address as 28 Orwell Street, Grimsby.

SBFT6-Little-Wave-1024x905There are no images of the Edward and Esther but she would have looked almost the same as this Dandy-rigged ketch, photographed in the 1890s. We know that she had a crew of 5 including Edward as skipper; an experienced first mate and three younger men working as deck hands. I’m guessing they would have looked a little like this crew from another Grimsby trawler, taken in the 1890s.


It shows the thoroughness of the exercise of conducting a national census that boat crews were included if they were in port near enough to the census date. In the case of the Edward and Esther for the census of 1881, Edward completed the forms for his boat when docked in Grimsby Fish Dock on the 30th March. For the actual date of the census (3 April) he listed his location listed as the “Dogger Bank, No Sea“… not the most common address for a census.

edward and esther censusSadly Esther died young in 1888.

Edward did not re-marry but sailed on, spending his whole working life as a mariner until he retired and spent the last years of his life living with his daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law, George Bevers.

Edward died in April 1919.

John Mansbridge Swatton – Plod of the Met

My great-grandfather’s older brother was named John Mansbridge Swatton, Mansbridge being the maiden name of his mother, and he was born in Kings Somborne, a small village in rural Hampshire on 16th April 1847.

His father was a bricklayer and the family moved to Gosport in the 1850s when the massive fortress complex there was begun which must have drawn in building labour from all over the region.

Indeed, in the 1861 census John, then aged 13, is described as a public works labourer so I would guess he was working on one of the forts with his father at that time.

However, John must have decided relatively early on that following his father’s example and being a brickie wasn’t for him. In 1866 he had seen his younger brother leave home to join the Royal Navy and the following year John packed his bags and moved to London where, just a week before his 20th birthday he enlisted as a constable in the Metropolitan Police; Warrant No: 48283.

John Mansbridge Swatton

John Mansbridge Swatton

Following training, of the 19 regional divisions within the Met, he was assigned to “V” Division; Wandsworth. As per the instructions given to police officers, he was expected to live in the vicinity of his division and in the 1871 census he was living at 16 Blesborough Place, Pimlico – just over the river from Wandsworth, not far from Vauxhall Bridge and the Tate Gallery.

He was to remain a police constable in Wandsworth for the next 26 years.
During his time on the force, the police and criminal system in general would see many changes.

It was only the year after John joined the Met that Britain witnessed its last public executions.

In April 1868, Frances Kidder was the last woman to be hanged in public, outside Maidstone jail for the murder of her step-daughter. The following month saw the final public hanging in Britain when Fenian Michael Barrett was executed outside Newgate Prison for mass murder, having been found guilty of participating in the Clerkenwell Outrage, an explosion that killed 12 people outside Clerkenwell jail the previous year.
It was in the same year, 1868, that the policy of transportation to Australia was finally abolished which resulted in the incarceration of many more convicted criminals at home. One such place they were housed was Wandsworth Prison, in John’s Division, which was built in 1851 on the “Panopticon” design to enable the “separate system” to be used for 700 prisoners in individual cells, each with toilet facilities. The main part of the prison, having four wings radiating from the centre, was for male prisoners with a smaller separate building for females. From 1870, conditions at Wandsworth deteriorated when the toilets were removed from the cells to make room for extra prisoners and the practice of “slopping out” introduced which was to remain in force until 1996.

Considering what the daily routine would have been like for a “bobby” on the beat in the 1870s and 80s I guess it could be characterised as a mix of tedium and violence. Police constables had prescribed “beats” that they walked every day at a prescribed pace with their behaviour and performance carefully monitored – it must have been a pretty boring routine. But that seems to have been regularly broken up by violence.

We think of London being a relatively violent city – it is indeed difficult to get away from the outrage and the horror presented on the news all the time about rising levels of violent crime in the city. But in reality, Victorian London was a MUCH more violent society. And the assaults on the police are a good indication of the level of that violence.
In 2017, police officers in the Met (a force numbering 31,000 officers) reported just over 2000 assaults on them, most of which resulted in no injury. In 1868, in a force that numbered under 8900 officers there were 1130 assaults leading to injury from what the wonderfully descriptive commissioner’s report described as “criminals of the most desperate and abandoned character”.

met police pc 1870It is not without reason that standard issue for officers patroling some of the rougher beats in London was a sword!

John resigned from the Metropolitan Police on 10 May 1893 whereupon it seems he chose to move back to Gosport. Once there he took over a pub, The Alma on Forton Road, with his son, George, working with him as a barman and living in the pub.

Finally, George took over the pub when John retired but John is still recorded in the census of 1911 as living at The Alma.

John died in Gosport in June 1915.

Sadly The Alma is with us no longer either. It ceased to be a pub in the 1990s and has since been demolished.