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For family historians, enjoyment comes not just from seeing our ancestors’ names in print or learning about the worlds they inhabited, but in reading the very words they read.

Emma Jolly, in the article Historic Newspapers

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. Lessons in Nursing Care from the Early Years of the NHS

    The first series of Call The Midwife ended last night on BBC 1. The show was a huge ratings success, with its final episode being watched by 9 million viewers. Much of its appeal lies in the fairly accurate recreation of 1950s Poplar and of its realistic scenes of childbirth.

    Today, with UK healthcare under threat from the NHS bill, this portrayal of the Service’s successful early years may hold some clues as to how it could more simply be reformed. There have already been calls for the NHS to go ‘back to basics’, with the return of matrons and a focus on patients’ essential needs. Could a return to 1950s methods of nursing care, whilst retaining 21st century scientific and technological advancements, be the answer?

    Decades before the NHS was created the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, regarded open windows as the hallmark of a healthy hospital ward. Open windows were much in evidence on Call The Midwife, both in the hospital wards and in houses of the East End.

    This basic policy is supported by an article in today’s Independent, which reports on a microbiologist who believes air conditioning and an ultra-sterile environment are harming patients by contributing to infections. Jack Gilbert of Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago and head of the Earth Microbiome Project, explained the science behind his theory:

    Open windows let bacteria in from outside and you will either dilute out the pathogens, or you are not allowing the pathogens to establish themselves because there is too much competition for the nutrients and energy that the bacteria need to survive. . . There’s a good bacterial community living in hospitals and if you try to wipe out that good bacterial community with sterilisation agents and excessive antibiotic use, you actually lay waste to this green field of protective layer and these bad bacteria can just jump in and start causing hospital-borne infections.”

    Contemporary scientists are not alone in their praise of basic practice, as seen on Call The Midwife. My godmother, a retired chief midwife, was impressed by the authenticity of the breech birth scene in episode two. Mothers on the babycentre.co.uk webchat, agree. They believe that the 1950s method of covering the baby’s head with a towel, in order to keep it warm and prevent it taking a breath in the birth canal, was preferable to their experiences, which had resulted in lung pumps and incubators.

    Having been through childbirth twice, I agree that the birth scenes in this programme are the most realistic I’ve seen on any television drama. Happily, like mine, most of the births shown in the series ended successfully. However, one of the most tragic scenes was that in episode 4 where middle-aged headmaster David loses his beloved wife Margaret after she suffers eclampsia. Eclampsia and pre-eclampsia remain dangerous conditions. As now, good ante-natal care is key to identifying present and prospective complications. Sadly, Margaret was shown to have left her ante-natal appointment before being seen by the midwives.

    In the early 1970s, my mother saved the life of a farmer’s wife from a remote area who was admitted with pre-eclampsia:

    “We had to take her into a single room with the blinds down and keep her sedated. Suddenly she began fitting and her heart stopped. With no second to spare, I had to give heart massage until we felt a pulse. After this, she was given an emergency caesarean section, and both she and her premature baby survived.”

    mumnurse

    My mother, who began her training in 1963, warmly remembers the camaraderie of the early years:

    “There was much more of a family feel than there is in today’s nursing. There were many people aged 18, mostly young women, with very very few men in general nursing. We were all enthusiastic, really loved the patients and all the young ones felt we were in it together.”

    Like the midwives who lived together at Nonnatus House, my mother and her colleagues lived in a nurses’ home where hierarchy was much in evidence:

    “We were awe of the sisters, and the matron could sometimes be quite terrifying! We were issued with so many dresses, so many hats and so many aprons. There were the hospital laundries which did all the laundry and starched your hats. This helped keep infections down. The matron and sisters were very strict about hair being kept back, and absolutely no wearing of jewellery.”

    Community and personal relationships are seen as central to nursing care in the television series, and were very much key values for nurses of my mother’s generation:

    Everything was about caring for people, the care of the person. Especially as young nurses, we got to know the patients and their families. Great emphasis was put on nutrition – also the going out. The fluids in and the fluids out, as it were. Anyone who wasn’t up and about, we had their charts and went around making egg and milk drinks, making sure they were all well-nourished.

    I trained in a big hospital where we rarely saw the matron, but the assistant matrons did daily rounds. We had to make sure that we knew everything about our patients. The senior staff would walk round and ask any question at all. We had to be particularly alert with one, who asked the blood results of each patient, which we had to know without looking. Also, we looked after the whole ward so we knew every patient there.”

    This later changed, with nurses only being assigned a small number of patients on each ward.

    Some viewers have expressed relief that they do not have to give birth, drug-free, in a bug-infested slum in the bomb-shattered East End of post-war London. But many more are attracted to the positive experiences shown on Call The Midwife: the strong community, inexhaustible humour, and, above all, the patient-centred nursing care. On a day when so many are criticizing and heckling the Prime Minister and the Health Minister for their planned reforms, it seems appropriate to remember the value of high quality nursing in those early years of our National Health Service.

    The Guardian’s obituary of Jennifer Worth (Jenny Lee), who died shortly before the series was filmed, can be read at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jul/06/jennifer-worth-obituary

    For more on the local history aspect of Call The Midwife, see the The Sugar Girls’ blog: http://www.thesugargirls.com/call-the-midwife/ 

  2. Family History For Kids: New iPhone App

    As a genealogist and mother, I am keen to encourage my two boys, aged 6 and 8, to explore their ancestry in whatever way they can. So far, we have made family visits to exhibitions, living museums, and the former homes of ancestors. We watch history programmes on television, and period films. The 6 year old made a picture family tree chart by chopping up copies (I emphasize COPIES) of old photographs. And the 8 year old consulted census returns for a ‘family homes’ school project. But what they really, really like is playing with gadgets.

    Imagine their excitement when they were let loose on my usually prohibited iPhone to test a new app, Records Their Stories. This app is designed to aid family historians interview and record their relatives’ memories, using a list of over 100 suggested questions covering a range of topics.

    screen-shot-questions

    I gave the boys full control of the process. The 8 year old downloaded the app from iTunes http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/record-their-stories/id483574271?mt=8 He worked out how to select the questions he wanted to ask, and how to flip back to them during recording (press the question mark on the microphone). We found keeping all the questions on the phone easier and tidier than having loose papers everywhere. Once everything was downloaded and they had worked out what to press, the children found the app very easy to use. They could enter their own questions via ‘edit Questions’ but they were both happy with the range offered. Their grandfather also enjoyed the process, with the iPhone adding distraction and levity to the interview.

    screen-shot-recording

    Although the app contains its own editing device to cut out all the pauses, coughs and interruptions that are inevitable when children interview their grandparents, we opted for the professional editing service from the Record Their Stories team. The finished edit included a polished mix of the interview, and numerous additions, such as the soundtrack to their grandfather’s favourite film – Singin’ In The Rain – and a bicycle bell and crashing noise to highlight his most embarrassing moment. Our edited version was just over 2 minutes long, but we’d recorded for at least quarter of an hour. In order to make the most of the professional edit you will need to record for as long as you can with as many relatives as possible.

    When my grandmother was still alive, I tried recording an interview with her using a cheap cassette with sellotape over the holes. We gave up after a while, as she tired easily and became confused. Thinking back, I know I would have recorded more with her if I didn’t have to lug around a radio-cassette player. If I’d owned an iPhone then, I would definitely have used Record Their Stories to interview Grandma whenever I could. Even though I lived with her for 15 years, I’m beginning to forget the way she spoke and her many expressions that I never hear anyone use now – ‘Dolly Daydream’, ‘a five and twenty to six’ . . . My children have already backed up their interview with their grandfather, and plan to record interviews with other older relatives whenever they see them.

    After listening to the edited interview, I asked the 8 year old how he had found the process and what he thought of the App. He replied simply: ‘Awesome!’

    screen-shot-editing

    The Record Their Stories iPhone app is available to download now. Professionally produced bespoke CDs from the RTS team start at £90 per recording.

    Website: www.recordtheirstories.com 

    Demo Video: http://vimeo.com/32479136 

    Fresh Air Production is a team of award winning radio and audio producers, with clients including The BBC, UKTV, BMW and Channel 4.


  3. A British Christmas in India 1780

    Eliza Fay (1756-1816) is one of the best-known female chroniclers of European life in India during the late eighteenth century. Although she was no Jane Austen, Eliza’s writing was fresh and perceptive. What her letters lack in finesse, they make up in directness and humour. And, whilst she was not sophisticated, Eliza was adventurous and keen to learn about India, its cultures and people. Her enthusiasm is conveyed through the letters she wrote after her arrival in India with her lawyer husband in May 1780.

    More than a century later, it was this freshness and eye for detail that inspired EM Forster to arrange for the British publication of Eliza Fay’s letters in 1925.

    After their arrival in India, Eliza and her husband settled in Calcutta. It was there that she was living at the Christmas of that year. Eliza detailed her first Christmas in India in a letter to her sister on 27th January 1781 (Letter XVIII):

    My Dear Sister,— Since my last we have been engaged
    in a perpetual round of gaiety. Keeping Christmas, as it is
    called, though sinking into disuse at home, prevails here with
    all its ancient festivity. The external appearance of the
    English gentlemen’s houses on Christmas Day is really
    pleasing from its novelty. Large plantain trees are placed
    on each side of the principal entrances, and the gates and
    pillars, being ornamented with wreaths of flowers fancifully
    disposed, enliven the scene.

    All the servants, from the Banian down to the lowest menial,
    bring presents of fish and fruit ; for these, it is true, we are
    obliged in many instances to make a return perhaps beyond
    the real value, but still it is regarded as a compliment to our
    burrah din. A public dinner is given at Government House
    to the gentlemen of the Presidency, and the evening concludes
    with an elegant ball and supper for the ladies. These are
    repeated on New Year’s Day and on the King’s birthday. I
    should say have been, for that grand festival happening at the
    hottest season, and every one being obliged to appear full
    dressed, so much inconvenience resulted from the immense
    crowd, even in some cases severe fits of illness being the
    consequence, that it has been determined to change the day
    of celebration to the 8th of December which arrangement
    gives general satisfaction. I shall not attempt to describe
    these splendid entertainments further than by saying that they
    were in the highest style of magnificence. In fact such grand
    parties so much resemble each other that a particular detail
    would be unnecessary and even tiresome.

    Eliza then goes on to describe a social event of ‘some time ago’ giving further insight into the social mores of the Georgian British abroad:

    Mrs. Hastings was of the party. She came in late, and
    happened to place herself on the opposite side of the room,
    beyond a speaking distance: so strange to tell, I quite forgot
    she was there ! After some time had elapsed, my observant
    friend, Mrs. Jackson, who had been impatiently watching
    ‘ my looks, asked if I had paid my respects to the Lady
    Governess? I answered in the negative, having had no
    opportunity, as she had no chance to look towards me when
    I was prepared to do so. ” Oh !” replied the kind old lady,
    ” you must fix your eyes on her, and never take them off till
    she notices you. Miss C— dy has done this and so have I.
    It is absolutely necessary to avoid giving offence.” I followed
    her prudent advice, and was soon honoured with a complacent
    glance, which I returned, as became me, by a most respectful
    bend. Not long after, she walked over to our side, and
    conversed very affably with me, for we are now, through
    Mrs. Jackson’s interference, on good terms together.
    She also introduced me to Lady Coote and her inseparable
    friend, Miss Molly Barrett. It was agreed between them
    when they were both girls, whichever married first, the other
    was to live with her : and accordingly when Sir Eyre took his
    lady from St. Helena, of which place her father was
    Governor, Miss Molly, who is a native of the island, accom-
    panied them to England and from thence to India, where
    she has remained ever since. Thus giving a proof of steady
    attachment not often equalled and never perhaps excelled.

    A few months after this was written Eliza Fay and her husband separated. The split left her struggling to maintain her social status. She tried her hand at a number of dubious business investments, several of which required her to continue her travels. She was later to record journeys to England, New York and India.

    Sadly, after several bouts of bankruptcy, Eliza died insolvent on 9 September 1816 in Calcutta, where was buried the following day (British Library ref. IOR:N/1/9-10).

  4. Dickens and London

    … the great heart of London throbs in its Giant breast. Wealth and beggary,

     

    vice and virtue, guilt and innocence, repletion and the direst hunger, all treading

     

    on each other and crowding together, are gathered round it. Draw but a little

     

    circle above the clustering house-tops, and you shall have within its space,

    everything with its opposite extreme and contradiction, close beside.

    Master Humphrey’s Clock, 1841

    Portrait of Charles Dickens 19th century © Museum of London

    Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on 7 February 1812, but lived much of his life in London. Although he died in Kent, his remains lie in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey where he was buried on 14 June 1870. The city fed his imagination and Dickens spent decades reproducing London’s streets, sights, smells, sounds and people in his many written works.

    As part of the 2012 bicentennial celebrations mentioned in the previous blog, the Museum of London has created a stunning exhibition celebrating Dickens’ links with the capital. Exhibits are drawn not just from the Museum’s own extensive collections, but from museums and archives across Britain. There are also particularly notable items, such as Dickens’ writing desk, from private collections.

                  Copyright Museum of London

    From 1822, when the Dickens family settled in Camden, to 1860 when the author took permanent residence at his Kent home of Gad’s Hill Place, London was his home. He explored it by day and, often, by night. As he walked mile after mile he planned stories in his head. Visitors to the Museum can hear a reading of Night Works, Dickens’ description of London after dark, whilst watching William Raban’s 19 minute specially-commissioned film, The Houseless Shadow, made in October 2011.

    Throughout those four decades, Dickens’ life changed dramatically. He went from schoolboy and then impoverished son of a prison inmate to the greatest celebrity of his time. His peers changed from workhouse orphans working alongside him at the blacking factory by Hungerford Stairs to famous authors, millionaires and aristocrats from across Europe and the United States.

    Hungerford Stairs 1830 by John Harley. Copyright Museum of London

    Hungerford Market, 1830 by John Thomas Smith © Museum of London

    It is thus remarkable that the Dickens and London exhibition captures so much of his own varied life along with the lives of his characters. We see blacking pots, for example, like those Dickens’ worked with in his childhood employment, sitting not far from the author’s bank ledger – a reminder of his later riches. There are displays on the theatre, which Dickens adored, including a footlight from Wilton’s Music Hall. Also featured are themes of childhood, death, transport, wealth and poverty.

    Dickens London Map © Museum of London

    Copyright Museum of London

    The full geographical area of the capital is covered: there is ‘A copy of Verses from the Year 1835, humbly presented to all the worthy inhabitants of the Parish of St Pancras’ in the north to household items excavated in 1996 from Jacob’s Island in Rotherhithe in the south east. St Pancras parish included Camden where Dickens lived and which inspired scenes from David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities. Jacob’s Island is probably most associated with scenes from Oliver Twist, particularly that of the dramatic death of villainous Bill Sykes.

    Unlike in the British Library exhibition, the displays here are concerned with Dickens’ world – what many refer to as ‘Dickensian London’ – rather than a detailed focus on what he wrote. However, this does not detract from its success. And those who are interested in how Dickens wrote will delight in the presence of three original manuscripts: Dombey & Son (1847) and Bleak House (Nov 1851) from the Victoria & Albert Museum,

    Dickens's Manuscript for Bleak House © V&A images/Victroia and A

    Bleak House manuscript. Copyright V&A Images

    and Great Expectations (1861) lent by the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. Visitors can also experience Dickens’ work like its first readers by flicking through a replica copy of an instalment of Little Dorrit (Copyright V&A Images).

    Little Dorrit partwork © Museum of London

    I once researched a family who lived around the corner from Charles Dickens in Holborn. One of my first thoughts was did he ever know them or see them? Did they inspire any of the characters in his novels or short stories? Although it is almost impossible to find out, this reminded me that many of those who inspired Dickens are the ancestors of people living today. That specific family would have recognized a watchman’s box in the centre of the exhibition, that stood outside Dickens’ old home at Furnival’s Inn – the home that neighboured theirs.

    For family historians who have at least one ancestor who lived in London between 1820 and 1870, therefore, Dickens’ writing is a unparalleled source of relevant social and domestic detail. This exhibition provides an extension of that. The exhibits bring Dickensian London alive.

    Overall, for anyone with even a passing interest in either Dickens or the social history of Victorian London, this exhibition is not to be missed.

    Useful Links 

    www.Dickens2012.org

    http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/dickens

    http://www.dickensmuseum.com/

    http://charlesdickenspage.com/dickens_london.html

    http://charlesdickenspage.com/ruth_richardson-cleveland_street_workhouse.html

    http://www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/bfi_southbank/film_programme/january_seasons/dickens_on_screen

    http://twitter.com/Dickensbookclub

    Dickens and London tickets

    Adult £8 (£7 advance booking);Child/concession £6 (£5 advance booking);Under 5s FREE; Friends of the Museum FREE; Flexible family tickets are also available

  5. Not on ancestry: London parish registers #3 St Benet and All Saints Church

    st-benet-front

    This continues the description of Camden parishes not found on www.ancestry.co.ukTo help visualise where in London these are, take a look at the outline map of St Pancras parishes in 1903 at http://homepages.gold.ac.uk/genuki/MDX/StPancras/outline.htm

    Walk from St Mary Brookfield downhill into Kentish Town and you will find St Benet & All Saints in Lupton Street, towering over the backstreets. Like St Mary’s and St Anne’s Brookfield it is a High Victorian church with a High Anglican heritage. Situated at the north end of Kentish Town, bordering the modern borough of Islington, the church was originally part of the civil parish of St Pancras and the Pancras registration district. At the front of the church is a small raised garden, which is open for public use. The church is also referred to as St. Benet and All Saints Lady Margaret Road, Kentish Town. [1881/85] but it is not included in London Metropolitan Archives’ (LMA) records.

    The reason for the confused date of 1881/85 is that the parish has its origins in a mission church built on a small field given by St. John’s College, Cambridge “near a pond just off the Brecknock Road”. Father Frank Rowland opened the original church on 17th July 1881, but it was soon outgrown by its congregation. Eventually, this chapel became the church hall.

    The main church was designed by Joseph Peacock of Bloomsbury in 1884 and built quickly, with the foundation stone being laid on 13th June 1885. The saint’s name was chosen with reference to the Church of St. Benet’s, Paul’s Wharf, Queen Victoria Street – itself a corruption of St Benedict. The then vicar, Frank Oakley Rowland, consecrated the church only months later on All Saints’ Eve. Within a few years, the church’s hastily constructed foundations and a spring under the church, were creating several structural problems.

    In October 1908, the architects, Bodley and Hare, built a permanent chancel. But by 1925, the foundations of the whole were so unstable that the decision was made to take down the nave and rebuild it. London County Council condemned the old nave in November 1927. However, thanks to a legacy from a rich investor, Jeannette Elizabeth Crossthwaite (1845-1923), and “gifts of the faithful”, a new nave, with no aisles, was built in 1928 – again by Cecil G Hare. This was consecrated in November of that year by the Bishop of Willesden.  By the time of her death, Miss Crossthwaite was living at 51 St Charles Square, Notting Hill, but in 1871 she had been living at 106 Brecknock Road – not far from the site of St Benet.

    Today St Benet’s is the parish church of Kentish Town. Kentish Town CofE Primary School in Islip Street (originally Kentish Town National School) is connected, and there are some records relating to this school at LMA http://search.lma.gov.uk The parish registers for St Benet and All Saints continue to be retained by the church. The church’s own website http://www.saintbenets.org.uk/ contains further details.

    For more on the social classes of the parish in 1898-9, see the following page from Charles Booth’s Archive is at http://booth.lse.ac.uk/cgi-bin/do.pl?sub=view_booth_only&args=528970,185490,2,large,1

    Vicars:

    1881 Frank Oakley Rowland (perpetual curate)

    1887 Herbert Edward Hall

    1901 George Villiers Briscoe

    1906 Henry Tristram Valentine

    1913 Robert Caledon Ross

    1925 Harry Herbert Coleman Richardson

    1947 Cecil Eskholme Charlton

    Sources: the history section on http://www.saintbenets.org.uk/; Survey of London: volume 24: The parish of St Pancras part 4: King’s Cross Neighbourhood , Walter H. Godfrey and W. McB. Marcham (editors), 1952; John Richardson, A History of Camden: Hampstead, Holborn and St Pancras (Historical Publications Ltd, 1999); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin) 1998; Camden Listed Buildings website; http://www.londongardensonline.org.uk

     st-benet-plaque

    st-benet-side-2

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