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Test 13 July Schedule

Fri, 13/07/2018 - 09:40


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Wedded Bliss!

Fri, 13/07/2018 - 00:02

I read somewhere recently that the average cost of a wedding in the UK is £27,000. I nearly fell off my perch when I read this and thanked whoever was listening that I hadn’t got any children – if I had, they certainly wouldn’t have got £27,000 from me, or even assuming only a half payment, £13,500! Yes, call me mean but this is a deposit for a house! I mean, come on!!!

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about weddings recently as I’ve been enjoying searching through a recent collection we have acquired by a Woking photographer, Sidney Francis (I mentioned this before regarding a family called Varndell some weeks ago) which features a huge selection of wedding photographs.

Well, I’ve got involved in another interesting story which was brought about by two of these photographs which, while not especially glamorous, were certainly very interesting – and I bet they didn’t cost the couple and their family their life savings.

This is (we believe) a picture of one Isaiah Dighton, age 24 (b 19 May 1905) who married Georgina Deacon, 23 (b 23 Sep 1906) on 21 Apr 1930 at St Paul’s Church in Woking. The marriage register records both their addresses as 127a Courtenay Road, which was also the address of Georgina’s parents James and Louisa from 1929 to 1931. Both fathers were named as dealers and Isaiah himself also described himself as a dealer, although we don’t know what he dealt in. We believe the yard in the photograph is probably 127a Courtenay Road although if anyone knows different, please let us know.

Isaiah had a Romany background and his parents wedding was a rather romantic affair. In April 1889 in an Eastbourne Magistrates’ Court, a young man named Andrew Dighton described as ‘a gipsy’ was summoned by the father of one Caroline Smith and accused of abducting his daughter. It would seem that young Caroline, only 18 years of age, had taken an instant passion to Andrew and persuaded him to elope with her. Although the couple escaped with only a tent and their love to keep them warm, they were eventually caught by Caroline’s father and the police, who took Andrew into custody and thus to trial. He was, however, acquitted and he was discharged as he claimed not to have known that the girl was only 18. However, love is all powerful and to quote a report in The Croydon Chronicle and East Surrey Advertiser of 4 May 1889:

Miss Smith did not allow her adventures to rest even with the termination of the case, for a scene in the streets followed the discharge of the gipsy. The girl struggled violently to free herself from her father’s grasp, and loudly appealed to be allowed to join Dighton at his tent. The girl’s excitement and appeals created much sympathy amongst the crowd that witnessed the incident.

Newspapers can be such a wonderful source for family history research and don’t forget, if you have a Surrey Library Card this gives you free access at home to The Times online and 19th Century Newspapers online. In addition, you can have free access to the British Newspaper Archive at any Surrey library – and unlimited time on a computer at Surrey History Centre. Take a look at all the FREE family history resources at the History Centre on our website!

Love, it would seem, conquers all and Andrew and Caroline married in March quarter of 1893 in Ticehurst registration district and went on to have 10 children, of whom Isaiah was number 7!

Georgina was the daughter of a flower seller, one James Deacon originally from Hampshire, and she was born in Ashford in Middlesex. She had at least one brother, Hiram Deacon who was born in Horsell in March 1912. By 1939 Hiram was working as a lorry driver (as was his brother-in-law Isaiah!) living with his parents next door to the Dightons. In May 1939 (Derby Day) the Surrey Advertiser reports that he was disqualified for a year for drunk driving the said lorry. Sadly, he did not make old bones and died in December 1954 aged just 42 years.

So weddings! The group – particularly at the back with the accordion player – look as though they might like to party (and possibly this second photograph shows that the groom had partied quite a lot!) so obviously they didn’t need expensive trappings to enjoy their wedding day. I have to say that if I was the bride, I would have wanted somewhere a leetle bit more attractive to cut my cake, but love is blind, the bride is lovely, the groom is merry and it really does look like a nice cake!

If anyone can tell us a little bit more about this family, we’d love to hear from you. Until then,


Happy Researching!






PS:  Do try and visit the wonderful exhibition of Sidney Francis photographs at The Lightbox in Woking (http://www.thelightbox.org.uk/sidney-francis-photographs-of-woking).  It starts on 14 July and runs until 7 October.  You are in for a real treat!


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Suffrage in Egham

Tue, 03/07/2018 - 15:01

Amy Stone

Guest blog: Amy Stone, Cultural Engagement Officer (Suffrage in Egham Project), Egham Museum


The ‘Suffrage in Egham’ project aimed to uncover the local impact of the suffrage movement and the affect it had on ordinary people in Egham over 100 years ago. Royal Holloway, University of London and Egham Town Team have partnered on this varied and community-focussed project.

The research, completed by an intern and a team of volunteers, has been the basis for the co-curated exhibition held at the United Church, Egham from Monday 11th June until Saturday 16th June which can now be found at the Egham Museum until November.

Our research was focussed around local newspapers and key individuals. We also wanted to highlight the difference between Suffragists, who were campaigning for women’s rights and their more militant (and much more well-known) counterparts, the Suffragettes. Although Egham did see some Suffragette action, most notably an arson at a house in Englefield Green, it was also home to two branches of the NUWSS (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) or Suffragists.

This research then fed directly into our ‘History Through the Arts’ programme which aimed to engage local people in the history of the suffrage movement through varied arts and craft activities aimed at visitors of all ages.

‘Suffrage Moves!’ in progress

Some highlights of the programme have been ‘Suffrage Moves!’ which was part of the international drawing festival the “Big Draw”. The theme was Living Lines so we hosted a digital animation workshop where children created their own short film. The outcome was a short stop-motion film about the life of Isabel Cowe, a lady who was arrested in Egham for riding her bicycle on the pavement while taking part in a national Suffragist pilgrimage. This Suffrage Moves film can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0NIMFLGrdk&t.

For the adults, we have taken part in the “Museums at Night” initiative and hosted art workshops in the evening for people to learn new skills. So far we have held lino printing and screen printing; stay tuned to our website eghammuseum.org for our next workshops which will be held in October 2018.

Participants work on their screen prints with artist Nicole Line

As well as the suffrage-themed events which were open to the public, we worked closely with local Girl Guiding groups. From suffrage-inspired bunting to museum sleepovers and debates, we held a variety of sessions with local young people.

The finished textiles piece by Paula Doyle

Another aspect of the project has been our partnership with Royal Holloway University of London, working on three artistic commissions. One of the commissioned artists, Paula Doyle, has produced three textiles panels depicting the life of Emily Wilding Davison. A well-known Suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison, who attended Royal Holloway, became a martyr for the cause after being hit by the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. These panels will be displayed in the Emily Wilding Davison library at Royal Holloway as a legacy of the project. We also hosted some of the Royal Holloway “Play Festival” participants who performed during our exhibition week, as part of the second commission. Our final commission is Samantha Fernando, who has been working on a music piece inspired by the suffrage movement. This will be performed by the Royal Holloway Symphony Orchestra in December 2018.

Emilio Casco Centeno performs “Mexican Echoes of Social Equality” at the Suffrage in Egham Exhibition

We have also launched a brand new “Visit Egham” website which will bring together all of the activities and events happening in Egham in one place. The site is now live at http://visit-egham.uk/

Our Suffrage in Egham website (suffrage.eghammuseum.org) is to be a lasting legacy of the project and hosts useful information about the suffrage movement in Egham, links, images, films, resources and inspiration for your own Suffrage-related events to mark the centenary as we move through the year.

The Exhibition is now up in the Egham Museum until November. We are open Tuesday and Thursday 10.00 – 4.30 and Saturday 10.30-12.30.

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Test Scheduled Blog

Fri, 29/06/2018 - 11:00

Testing scheduling

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Brick Walls – and why I don’t like them!

Fri, 29/06/2018 - 00:02

The term ‘Brick Wall’ has crept into the language of family history research and seems set to stay.  You can’t pick up a book or a magazine article which doesn’t offer advice on how to break one down, climb over one, battle through one –any day now I’m expecting an article on how to pole vault over one or tunnel underneath!

Personally, I don’t think you can label anything to do with family history with absolutes, and I think that the term ‘Brick Wall’ sounds much too pessimistic for someone with a fairly up-beat view of family history research.  I have two reasons for this, which I will bore you with now.

Firstly, the phrase ‘Brick Wall’ is a very off-putting term with rather negative connotations.  It implies that there is something unpleasant to be dealt with rather than an inspiring challenge which, let’s face it, is something that taps the inner detective in most family historians.

Secondly, it rather suggests an inevitable.  When people say “Oh, I’ve hit a brick wall” I’m never quite sure whether they are issuing a statement of failure or a challenge.  I do hope it’s the latter but often it seems to be that people assume that it is somehow their fault that they can’t find anything else.  They assume that it must be something they are doing wrong, or that they have failed to identify the perfect source which will answer all their questions, plus the meaning of life.  I feel honour bound to say, that source does not exist.

Edinburgh from Carlton Hill

It’s a sad fact but there are several reasons why your research might stall mid-way.  One of these is the survival (or not) of records, which in some cases can be a real handicap.  I have family in Scotland who I’ve managed to trace back to 1780 but unfortunately, the earlier church records for the parish where they lived were destroyed in a fire so I’ve no way of tracing their baptisms, marriages and burials.  Anyone researching their family history in Ireland is faced with the possibility that the answer to their many questions might also have gone up in flames in the fires of the Dublin Four Courts in 1922.  Finding that our great-great grandmother was born illegitimately and that no father is mentioned on the birth certificate is a particular blow to tracing that particular line on the family tree.

Another problem we may have is that our ancestors were not always honest about their backgrounds and had a happy knack of ‘reinventing’ themselves when the need arose.  I’m working on a particularly intriguing story at the moment where it appears that a woman from a ‘trade’ background married someone who came into quite a lot of money.  In addition to lying about her age on the census (not uncommon) she appears to have changed her name from Frances to the more glamourous Cecilie and changed the names of her brothers!  More about this intriguing family in a later blog.  In my own family, my great-grandfather seems to have rather enjoyed cocking a snook at authority by listing all his children on the 1901 census by their second names and swapping their birth dates around.  On the other side of the family, my Irish lot seem to have lived with the name Tomb until the 1850s and then changed it to Tombe (well, you would, wouldn’t you?) and don’t even get me started on some of my Scottish lot and their dates of birth.

All this goes to show that brick walls are not brick walls – they are natural and inevitable halts.  They may be simply temporary halts until perseverance and crafty research reveal answers.  For example, if there is no father’s name on a birth certificate, there might be a mention in the magistrates court records of him paying maintenance, or (for earlier examples) a bastardy bond.

1st Family Historian: Of course, our family came over with the Conquerer
2nd Family Historian: Really? Our family have always regarded the Normans as rather Nouveau Riche!

However, we must accept that occasionally, when all avenues have been exhausted, it is time to admit that there may be ancestors who are going to be permanently elusive and we may never be able to trace their backgrounds.  This is no-one’s fault (although I suspect that some of our ancestors made sure that we wouldn’t be able to find out much about them, so technically it is their fault) and it doesn’t mean that we are failures for not being able to trace our lineage on that particular line back to 1066!  Sometimes, the odds are stacked to many against us and it simply won’t work.  Accept, put to once side, and move on to another branch of the family – at least for the time being.

Is there a solution to these natural ‘halts’?  Well, I think the best thing to do is to talk to other family historians.  Everyone will be able to supply a “have you tried …” suggestion and the experience of others is worth rubies.  Make a list of all the likely sources you can think of that you haven’t tried and where you can access them.  Prioritise these and make a plan of action to visit record offices, write to organisations or access online resources.  Also, do make sure you document all the sources you have tried so that you don’t spend hours re-doing research, which will just make you more depressed if you keep not finding things.

Also, don’t forget that a negative result can often supply a positive outcome along the lines of “Well, I definitely know that he didn’t die in Scunthorpe in 1901”.

Consider Arthur Conan Doyle’s suggestion, through the words of his famous detective Sherlock Holmes “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth”. Hmmm, tempting but might be dangerous!  What do you think?

Happy Researching!





PS:  Ancestry.com have added Aberdeen and Fife Electoral Registers to their website.  I shall have fun searching through these!!

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Being Friendly

Fri, 15/06/2018 - 00:02

As anyone following this blog will know, I’ve just returned from a wonderful genealogical jaunt in Scotland where I enjoyed tracing my ancestors and walking in their footsteps.  We family historians have a slightly morbid interest in graves and headstones and as such, my friend (and partner in all things genealogical) and I spent several hours rooting around some rather splendid graveyards, peeling back lichen and generally getting a very grubby but with a lot of satisfaction.

Kilmartin & Kilbride Cemetery

One graveyard we visited, Kilmartin and Kilbride, has now been de-commissioned and for many years lay in a state of neglect.  It was purchased several years ago by a dedicated and committed local historian Liam Griffin, who along with his wife and volunteers, has spent hundreds of hours restoring and caring for the graves and monuments long left to moulder away into oblivion.  You can read all about their story at http://www.friendsofkilbride.scot/.

While visiting the graveyard and being conducted around the graveyard and shown the graves of my ancestors (and also being royally entertained by Liam and his wife!) I decided that I would become a friend of the graveyard.  Sadly, I can’t get up there and help clean the graves or clear the vegetation which seems determined to re-claim the site, but for a few pounds a year I feel that I’m helping perhaps in another way.  This graveyard, and the Friends group that supports and cares for it, is personal to me and I like to contribute.  Isn’t that a lot of what being a family historian is about?  It’s nice to find information but it’s also nice to contribute in some way, as perhaps a small memorial to our ancestors?

We can all do this in small ways.  Yes, practically it’s a great idea to join ‘Friends’ of various groups (and our own ‘friends’ group, the Surrey History Trust does wonderful work in raising money to support the archives and also to raise awareness of who we are and what we do) and subscriptions are often quite reasonable.  However, perhaps if money is a bit tight, we might also think of other ways of contributing.

I use the website Find A Grave.com quite a lot and have found many of many ancestors there.  I’ve got into the habit of whenever I visit a graveyard, just snapping a few photographs of random graves so that I can upload them onto this wonderful (and free to use) website in the hope that someone else will benefit from my visit, just as I have benefitted in the past.

I also upload a family tree onto Ancestry.com and although it is a private tree, I’m happy to share information if it is requested.  This has led to several interesting contacts over the years and I have benefitted by receiving copies of photographs of my ancestors from a very nice and distantly related lady in Florida, while being able to copy some legal documents that I hold for a similarly distant relative in Ohio.

Many people join family history societies such as the West Surrey Family History Society and the East Surrey Family History Society.  Often members reach out to other members living in different parts of the country and offer to conduct research on their behalf.  I’ve done this for my family history with a northern family history group.  I’ve looked up information for a lady in Preston and she has traced some of my family in the Lancashire Record Office.  I also know all about her husband’s triple by-pass and she knows my continuing battle with mice on the allotment.  We’ve become old-fashioned pen-friends!!  Family history societies also run lots of events and trips and can be a wonderful way to learn more about genealogy and also take part in events and workshops throughout the year – often for a very minimal contribution – and also help others by sharing your experiences with the group.

Liam Griffin made our visit to the cemetery very special. Thank you!

There are lots of different opinions about sharing research and putting family trees online and I have to say, I can agree with all sides of the arguments.  Yes, its irritating when people ‘hoover up’ information that we have taken the time to gather and randomly attach it to their trees but equally, I have found some really good information on other people’s trees which has provided me with some much needed clues to tracing my own family.  We should always be cautious how we share information but that shouldn’t stop us from reaching out to give something back.  I would welcome your experiences and comments on this!

Happy researching!





PS:  If you think that our struggles with family history are a recent phenomenon, just take a look at this extract from the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1796.  Julian Pooley, Surrey History Centre’s manager is overseeing a grand project to index the Surrey connections in this wonderful publication and found this lovely piece which he thought we family historians might enjoy!  https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=BhFEAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA986&lpg=PA986&dq=%22Tracing+genealogies%22+Gentleman’s+magazine+1796&source=bl&ots=Was4sHPLW-&sig=Tls_GqhGhLCo9LBZqfoisaQ85Ec&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjG163urcHbAhVHxxQKHYreDmkQ6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q=%22Tracing%20genealogies%22%20Gentleman’s%20magazine%201796&f=false

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Magic, Witches and Evil: An Unexpected Find in Staines Part two

Tue, 12/06/2018 - 14:24

Throughout archaeological or building work we regularly find hidden objects such as single shoes and sealed bottles containing personal items, other sorts of dead animals, broken and bent pins and nails, and even hair clippings and textiles, as well as strange markings and carvings. Collectively they’re known as “Apotropaic” features – ones which keep out or ward off evil.

Witches bottle found in Leatherhead. Copyright Martin Higgins, Senior Historic Buildings Officer

We don’t fully understand the significance of all of these, particularly since many aren’t overtly religious or biblical in nature. They tended not to be written about, with their origins in folklore and knowledge of their efficacy being passed from one generation to another, and they exist primarily as physical items rather than being described in detail in the historical record, which means some of the objects’ meanings are now lost to us. Shoes are common: they’re interesting as they’re always worn and never new so it is supposed that they somehow carry the “essence” of the depositor and therefore more supernatural power, and shoes themselves can still be thought to be of considerable symbolic or ritual significance in a number of cultures across the world, even today. Sealed bottles containing votive offerings of things like pins, herbs, nail and hair clippings and urine (yes you read that right) can also be explained as acting as a barrier when placed in a certain location, with whatever magic encased within unable to dissipate so therefore of perpetual power. These are also relatively common and known as “Witch Bottles”, as keeping those particular miscreants out was their primary function. Hide one up the chimney or under a door threshold (where these objects are most commonly found) and a witch couldn’t get into your house that way. They are also relatively late in date, appearing from around the seventeenth century onwards.

Shoes found in building from Farnham area. Copyright Martin Higgins, Senior Historic Buildings Officer.

Bent and broken pins and nails sometimes appear in these bottles, but can also be found in other contexts and are a little harder for us to explain. This phenomenon appears to be related to another aspect of activity which we commonly find on sites of magical significance, where objects are “ritually killed” or rendered unfit for purpose, prior to being deposited. Many finds of weapons from rivers are thought to be ritual offerings, and a majority of these will be broken, bent or damaged – obviously deliberately so – prior to deposition. The same can be said of bent pilgrims’ badges and coins that are common finds in such contexts, and it’s a tradition that is recorded across Britain and Europe from the Bronze Age right through to the post-medieval period. It is posited that some of the weapons might be damaged in ceremonies or funerals, but there must also be some significance to the metal itself having been bent, or the practice wouldn’t extend to smaller objects such as coins and pins. There might also be some significance in the type of metal as well – Iron is known to have been a material once considered to have magical qualities for example, in the same way as is salt – but this doesn’t explain the bent coins. It’s simply something we don’t fully understand. Similarly obscure, recent studies of peculiar burn marks on certain timbers in historic buildings is suggesting burning tapers were specifically placed there – possibly to ward off evil spirits. Our own County Historic Buildings’ Officer has been recording instances of these burn marks within certain Surrey historic properties for some time.

Taper burns from Bletchingley. Copyright Martin Higgins, Senior Historic Buildings Officer

They were likely part of a widespread domestic ritual designed to keep witches out, but we don’t fully understand how this practice was supposed to actually “work” and there are no known mentions of it in the historical record. Later on, taper burns seem to have fulfilled a more practical form of protection, possibly against fire or explosion. Corn flour dust is highly combustible when suspended in air for example, and some 19th century mills have burn marks, as does the HMS Victory where they are visible along the gunpowder locker even though naked flames were forbidden on naval ships. However if this was the case, this practice is similarly unrecorded, and the more practical application of burning tapers in these examples doesn’t explain the earlier instances.


Superstition is all around us, it is deep-seated and ancient and we all practice it in some form or another, whether we’re conscious of it or not. How many people reading this article will refuse to walk under a ladder, or perhaps threw salt over their left shoulder the last time they spilled some? Most of us might not actually fear that a witch might be creeping down the chimney in our sleep anytime soon, or feel the need for a dead cat in the floorboards to ward off verminous supernatural intruders, but other practices persist and they’re all part of the same wider cultural tradition. Our desiccated cat in Staines is a small find, made on a large and in archaeological terms a fairly modern and unspectacular site, but it is a find which sheds light on how our understanding and perception of the world was different even in relatively recent times, and one which contributes to our understanding of ourselves. Its discovery (amongst the other information obtained from the recording work) also demonstrates the value in considering the need for archaeological recording of even relatively recent buildings.

All the examples of UK and European countermagical finds and features referenced in this article: Witch Bottles, votive shoes, taper burn marks and ritually killed objects, have been found and recorded in Surrey.

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A Family History ‘Staycation’!

Thu, 07/06/2018 - 16:23

This isn’t a blog, it’s a quick reminder about some family history courses we are running during the summer!

Anyone new to family history research (or simply wanting to make sure that they’ve covered all the basics) might like to join our Beginning Your Family History workshop which is being run on Saturday 7th July.  This is Who Do You Think You Are! for everyone and will cover all the basics and include lots of time-saving (and possibly money!) tips and techniques.  It’s also a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and to share ideas and experiences.  At the end of the session, there is an option to see some original records on display in the searchroom and if anyone wants to stay on to conduct research in the afternoon, or to use Ancestry.com, FindMyPast or any of our other online resources, my colleagues and I will be on hand to offer help and advice.

If you research your family history online or are thinking of subscribing to one of the online genealogical websites, why not join us for Family History Online on Saturday 4th August.  In addition to offering tips and techniques on using the many and varied resources online, we will focus on getting the best from Ancestry.com and Find My Past and also the many wonderful free websites such as FamilySearch.  Don’t forget, along with the British Newspaper Archive you have free access to Ancestry.com and Find My Past here at the History Centre and again, why not bring a packed lunch and stay on for some research in the afternoon and some ‘hands on’ practice with these resources.

There are so many of us out there with Irish ancestry! The Researching Your Irish Family History workshop runs on Saturday 18th August and is devoted to exploring sources and resources for tracking down our Irish forebears.  There has been so much made available online in the last few years that there is an almost dizzying array of information.  Hopefully this workshop will help you steer your way through the waves of resources and explore and discuss how to get the best out of both the commercial and free websites dedicated to Irish family history research.

So, why not enjoy a bit of a ‘staycation’ and indulge your hobby while learning some new skills and perhaps even making new friends?  All the above courses can be booked on line on the Surrey History Centre Events page at https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/heritage-culture-and-recreation/archives-and-history/surrey-history-centre/heritage-events.

We look forward to seeing you!

Happy Researching!

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Women’s Suffrage and Royal Holloway College

Tue, 05/06/2018 - 12:27

Harriet Costelloe

Guest blog: Harriet Costelloe, College Archivist, Royal Holloway, University of London


As a result of being an early women’s higher education college, Royal Holloway College in Egham has many illustrious female alumnae, including some who took an active role in the suffrage movement after leaving College and many who interacted with the issues surrounding women’s rights and suffrage whilst completing their studies. The College had both an Old Students’ Women’s Suffrage Society and a current student’s Women’s Suffrage Society, and both invited speakers to talk at College on suffrage, including the founder of the Women’s Freedom League Charlotte Despard who came in 1909.

Winifred Seville was a student at Royal Holloway between 1906 and 1910. She kept a detailed diary during this time, now kept in our archives. The diary provides an insight into how the suffrage movement was received at College. In November 1906 Seville recorded in her diary that she had been to Political Society where the debate surrounding the for- and against-women’s suffrage positions had become so heated that time had to be extended. The final vote was 109 for and 40 against, of which she was one, demonstrating that the enfranchisement of women divided opinion at Royal Holloway.

In May 1908 Seville records that the chief item to discuss at the Student’s Meeting was whether a Holloway contingent should go up to the Women’s Suffrage procession in London. The passing resolution forbid the use of the name Holloway in the matter at all. This characterises how the College approached the movement: they encouraged intellectual debate and engagement but discouraged active demonstration and protest.

In April 1913 Royal Holloway College’s Picture Gallery’s curator, Charles William Carey, reported that the Picture Gallery would be closed to the public until further notice ‘in consequence of the Suffragette disturbances’. This is likely in response to attacks by suffragettes on property in nearby Englefield Green and Walton-on-the-Hill and makes evident that the College felt that they may be targeted.

Archives, Royal Holloway, University of London RHC AR/500/228/2 Royal Holloway College Picture Gallery closure notice

The term ‘suffragette’ refers to militant campaigners whose radical acts sometimes broke the law. The suffragette Emily Wilding Davison joined Royal Holloway College in January 1892 but had to leave after only 5 terms because her family could no longer afford her education after her father’s death in July 1893.

Education was clearly important to Davison – after she had left, she worked as a governess to support herself and saved the money to finish her higher education at St Hugh’s College in Oxford. Despite passing her course she was unable to fully graduate as women were not able to take full degrees at Oxford until 1920. She later gained a degree from London University – which granted women degrees from 1878 onwards – as an external student in 1908.

Archives, Royal Holloway, University of London RHC AR/200/1 Emily Wilding Davison’s entry in the first Royal Holloway College Student Register

From 1906 Davison became very active in the suffrage movement, joining the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She was arrested nine times, went on hunger strike seven times and was force-fed on forty-nine occasions. She died after being hit by King George V’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby, having walked onto the track in a demonstration during the race.

Another suffragette and Royal Holloway alumna, Rose Lamartine Yates wrote a tribute to Davison in the commemorative issue of The Suffragette newspaper the WSPU produced after Davison died. In it she refers to Davison as her ‘old college friend’. This term of endearment is interesting because Davison and Yates were not at Royal Holloway College at the same time. Despite this, Yates wanted to share an affinity with Davison and chose to do this through relating their relationship to both their time at Royal Holloway.

Archives, Royal Holloway, University of London 324.342 SUF FOLIO The Suffragette 13 June 1913

When the Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918, the Royal Holloway College Women’s Suffrage Society stated that the Bill had to a ‘certain extent’ changed the ‘character’ of the Suffrage Societies since their objective had been partially realised. However there was still a need to ‘extend franchise’ and to supply women with ‘a political education which will enable them to make a more intelligent use of their vote’. It was only with the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women gained equal voting rights to men.

Royal Holloway Archives and Special Collections holds the institutional records of two early higher education colleges for women, Bedford College and Royal Holloway College, as well as editions of the Votes for Women and The Suffragette newspapers and pamphlets disseminated during the suffrage movement. To find out more or arrange a time to visit us, please email archives@rhul.ac.uk or call 01784 443814.


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Scottish Research

Fri, 01/06/2018 - 00:02

Sunset at Loch Eil, Fort William

Hello – I’m back! What an amazing holiday I had in Scotland tracing my ancestors with my wonderful friend Jill, who was invaluable in helping me soak up so much information on my Scottish forebears.

Visiting the Scotland’s People Centre and the National Records of Scotland was certainly one of the highlights of the trip but I have to confess being a little underwhelmed by the former. Working as I do in Surrey History Centre, which is a pretty fair example of a county record office (we like to think we’re the best but I suspect that so do all the others!!!) I was rather expecting the same experience at Scotland’s People but this is not really the case.

First of all, you have to pay to use the Centre (although not, to be clear, the archives) and at the time of writing this was £15 per day. This payment gives you access to all the pay-per-view material available on the website, mainly parish records, civil records of births, marriages and deaths and wills. However, you don’t have access to any more than this so don’t expect to be able to stroll about the room looking at local directories, maps, etc as they are not there. You need to go to either the archive upstairs OR the National Library of Scotland which is a short walk away.

Staff were delightful and very helpful but I was a little disappointed that you couldn’t easily ‘browse’ the parish records or census (or maybe you could and I just couldn’t work out how – but nor could the member of staff I spoke to) which would have been helpful. Luckily I am fairly experienced using the website and was able to work around this a little, but not as much as I would have liked. Also, there was no other internet access there, which meant that I couldn’t access information on Ancestry.com or look at my family tree except using 4G on my ‘phone; not ideal and it would have been nice to access FamilySearch whilst using the system. Lastly, and possibly the biggest bug-bear, is that you can no longer download images free of charge onto memory sticks. I understand the reasoning for this as some people come in and ‘hoover up’ information and possibly sell it commercially. However, for some reason which I find incomprehensible, it is cheaper to print out copies of documents than to save them to your Scotland’s People account. To my mind, this is a shocking waste of paper and printer ink and since I will be scanning the documents anyway, fairly pointless. Of course, I could have taken the moral high ground and saved the documents anyway, but I was being frugal with my credits and saved quite a lot by printing. Am I being a bit snippy? I would welcome your thoughts!

Search Room at General Register House. Reproduced with kind permission from Scott Main, Search Room Supervisor NRS

Being too tight to pay for an extra day at Scotland’s People, I jammed all my research there into one day and the next day visited the National Record Centre. This was absolutely free and allowed free photography (with some provisos; like any archive, do remember that some documents need prior permission from the owners before you are allowed to photograph them and some can only be photographed by the conservation staff).

Everyone there was very helpful and the research room, as you can see, is a beautiful working space. The building is actually the oldest purpose built archive in the UK and possibly internationally. The catalogue indexes are very easy to use and comprehensive but do be aware that some records are held off site and will need 48 hours notice to make them available. If you are planning a visit, it is well worth searching the catalogue online beforehand and ordering up documents if necessary. I had pre-ordered several documents (you can order up to 12) which were waiting for me when I arrived. Also, the staff were very prompt at replying to my emailed enquiries and even suggested other collections I might have missed.

I will be going back! I had such a wonderful time in the archive and there are other collections of letters and land records which I simply didn’t have time to search. Therefore I am frantically saving my air miles and look forward to another visit when I have ploughed through the material that my amazing friend photographed for me (over 250 images – goodness me, but that’s a few bottles of prosecco I owe her!) and the books I bought, and the notes I took … and, and, and … yep! Might be a while yet!

Happy Researching!






PS: There are so many Scottish newspapers available now on the British Newspaper Archive and you can access this resource free of charge here at Surrey History Centre.

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Suffrage and the Museums

Thu, 24/05/2018 - 10:49

Project Officer Holly at Watts Gallery

Hello, Holly here, Project Officer for ‘March of the Women: Surrey’s Road to the Vote’. My background is in museums and galleries so it has made sense for me to lead on one of the integral parts of the project, the suffrage collection audit of our five partner museums.

If you have been following our twitter @MarchoftheWomen, then you will have seen our multiple tweets and the occasional #museumselfie at the places we have been. We have now visited all of the museums directly involved with the project and it seems like a perfect moment to share some of the objects that we have learnt about to whet your appetites ready for the online resource.

Close up of one of the suffragette stockings, Chertsey Museum

The first museum we visited was Chertsey Museum where we saw their ‘Votes for Women’ display, which is part of the Freedom and Fashion exhibition examining the changes in female clothing from the 1840s to the 1980s. As part of the display they have a pair of black stockings that are embroidered with ‘Votes for Women’ flags and ribbons in the suffragette colours white, purple and green. The stockings are a unique item that the museum purchased to add to their significant textile and costume collection.

Watts Gallery – Artists Village was our next location, the former home of suffragist and Vice-President of The Healthy and Artistic Dress Union, Mary Watts. Mary kept diaries in which she expressed her views on women’s rights. Although she stopped writing her diary in 1904 following the death of her husband, George Frederic Watts, it is possible to get an idea of her early views which led her to become a suffragist.

Godalming Museum have the largest suffrage object we have encountered on our travels by way of a red, white and green suffragist banner. The banner was created and embroidered by famous Surrey gardener, artist and suffragist, Gertrude Jekyll, and was carried during a suffrage march through Guildford in July 1913. Unfortunately the banner is now too weak to be hung up. However the museum have it displayed in a specially designed case supporting the fragile fabric.

Photograph of suffragist march, Haslemere Educational Museum

Haslemere Educational Museum have a large and varied collection. Their local history collection includes an image of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies march, walking through Haslemere High Street with several banners, in 1912. Although the banners have been lost, the image is vital evidence for the local marches and how they compared to the much larger London ones.

Finally we visited Bourne Hall Museum, Ewell. The museum is the closest to Epsom Racecourse so they have a number of items relating to Emily Wilding Davison. The museum also hold an invitation card for a garden meeting of the League for Opposing Women Suffrage, on the 21st of July, unfortunately no date is on the card.

Invitation to an anti-suffrage garden meeting, Bourne Hall Museum.

Overall, the five project partner museums have a range of objects covering all sides of the arguments for and against women’s suffrage which are being collated, possibly for the first time, as part of our centenary project. The final online resource will include the full lists of objects and any related texts held by the museums, along with details of how they can be viewed, which will help researchers to discover locally held collections and increase their accessibility and use.

We have an exciting and busy schedule coming up, including presenting at conferences at Royal Holloway University of London, University of Surrey and University of Portsmouth, plus Woking’s Party in the Park on the 7th July 2018 where we will be promoting the project and offering family activities, and our project finale community day on 24th November 2018.

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Magic, Witches and Evil: An Unexpected Find in Staines Part one

Fri, 18/05/2018 - 16:02


Staines-upon-Thames town centre has been undergoing a programme of regeneration in recent years, leading to a number of important discoveries relating to its Roman past. The eagle-eyed visitor will note signs commemorating this past in the form of modern artwork in the newer parts of the High Street. The latest round of redevelopment – at the top end of the High Street on the site of a new retail store and Premier Inn, revealed something a little different however.

An Unexpected Discovery

The site of 90-106 High Street was formerly occupied by a series of individual nineteenth century buildings, some built towards the start of the century, with others appearing towards the end. Although recognisably Victorian in character at first floor level, the properties were much altered and the casual observer would’ve been hard-pressed to find much of overt heritage interest or visual appeal along the ground floor street frontage. The decision to demolish them all and clear the site wholesale is one that some might view as contentious or perhaps as a considerable loss of heritage fabric to the town centre, but in truth the passing of time had already damaged the character and significance of the buildings past the point of reasonable salvation: sometimes it’s time to let go and embrace the opportunity for a change. This isn’t to say however that such structures are entirely devoid of heritage interest, or cannot contribute still to our understanding of the development of Staines as a settlement, and it was to record what was left and make that information available to the public that lay behind the Heritage Conservation Team’s request that an archaeological building recording condition be added to the planning permission.

These types of recording works involve archaeologists and buildings’ specialists photographing, drawing and describing a structure as it is cleared and demolished. As it is stripped of its superficial fixtures, fittings and decoration and is finally deconstructed there can be much that is revealed about a building’s past, ranging from the discovery of wall paintings or decorative schemes, past uses of the site, details of construction methods or even information about previous buildings. This is all recorded so we can add the information to our understanding of the development of the town

During the soft strip of number 96 High Street – most recently a shoe shop – whilst removing fixtures and fittings and reusable materials, demolition contractors discovered something a little unusual, in the form of the remains of a mummified cat, hidden within the structure of the first floor, under the floorboards. Cats are inquisitive and get everywhere of course – the first thought that comes to mind is that this poor unfortunate animal must’ve wandered into an opening by mistake, become trapped and died, remaining entombed within the building ever since. But this case was nothing of the sort: this particular cat was found to have had its innards purposefully removed (a common feature of the mummification process to prevent decomposition) and was deliberately posed in an “attack” position. Who would do such a thing, and why? And what was it doing under the floorboards of a nondescript Victorian property in Staines High Street? The answer lies back in our superstitious past, and such finds are more common than you might think.

Cat as found under the floor boards. Image Copyright of Pre-Construct Archaeology

 Our ancestors firmly believed that Evil surrounded us, and was waiting for opportunities to pounce and carry our souls away or to make mischief with our lives. The Devil may make mischievous work for idle hands, but for the rest of you he and his familiars had altogether more malevolent designs, and in order to carry them out they were looking for a way to get into your house. You needed to be vigilant and adequately protected to keep them out, which could involve the use of any number of specialist charms, prayers, markings and objects. That our uneducated prehistoric and medieval forebears were superstitious and God-Fearing folk is perhaps unsurprising, but such traditions also continue well into more modern periods and it’s certainly not unusual to find strange ritual objects or signs when stripping out or renovating buildings of dates up to and including those from the twentieth century. Mummified cats are one aspect of this – placed in our building in Staines most likely to guard in perpetuity against vermin and evil spirits (hence the “attack” posture).  

Cat following recovery from Staines. Image: Copyright of Pre-Construct Archaeology

Following its discovery, the remains of the cat were removed from the site by the archaeologists and the building – now presumably free to be overrun by supernatural rats and other spirits – was demolished. A record of the structures at numbers 90-106 High Street and the features of heritage significance which remained was made prior to this however, and a report forwarded to the County Historic Environment Record where it will be held as part of the permanent database which catalogues Surrey’s historic past. The cat itself is currently stored at the offices of the archaeological contractor, but eventually will be placed, along with the rest of the records made during this project, in the archives of Spelthorne Museum.  

In part two we will discuss further the superstitions and significance of other objects used to ward off or keep out evil.

The author would like to acknowledge the kind assistance of Pre-Construct Archaeology in supplying the images for this article.


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Hello from Scotland!

Fri, 18/05/2018 - 00:02

When you read this blog I shall be conducting a little ancestral tourism in Scotland! Although I shall be ferreting away in the Scotland’s People centre and the National Records of Scotland, the main reason is to actually see where my ancestors lived and worked and walk a little way in their footsteps.

Like similar trips before, I’m really not sure what to expect. I’ve a whole list of records and documents to explore, including many wills. Realistically, you never quite know what you’ll find when you turn over a stone and never more so than with ancestral stones. If we take the analogy even further, wills can often prove to be the corner stones to our research as they can introduce ancestors we’ve never come across before, trash the connections we thought we did know and give some lovely little insights into contemporary family politics.

They can also be quite revealing! I was rummaging around Cliff Webb’s wonderful transcripts of Surrey wills (which, incidentally, are available to view on Find My Past) and found a wonderful entry for a John Sherlocke of Alfold who wrote his will of 1623. He left most of his worldly wealth to his Kinsman, Henry Sherlocke, but there was an additional sum left of £14 to discharge a bond of £14 to the overseers of Alfold for “…keeping a bastard of Margery Stennte which Henry begot”. What a useful piece of information to anyone trying to find the father of Margery’s child. I wonder if I’ll find anything as interesting in my Scottish wills?
I shall regale you with my tales of all things tartan, teashops and possibly genealogy(!) on my return. In the meantime, Happy Researching!




PS: Don’t forget, along with Ancestry.com and the British Newspaper Archive, you can access Find My Past free of charge at Surrey History Centre

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A Great Story!

Fri, 04/05/2018 - 00:02

SHC Ref 9524/906

I do love a good story and if you are lucky enough to work in an archive as I do, you can find great stories in practically every document you look through.  A friend and colleague here at Surrey History Centre has been working with volunteers to catalogue a wonderful collection of photographs donated by a Chertsey photographer, Sidney Frances.  These are a glorious picture of ordinary working families in the Chertsey area in the 1920s and 30s and form yet another jewel in our tiara of wonderful illustrations and photographs that we hold here.

This splendid looking man with wooden leg and a definite twinkle in his eye rather caught our fancy.  There is no name or date on this photograph but he does crop up in another photograph dated 1926, through which we learn that he is E A Varndell, Sawdust dealer of Chobham.

Of course, sawdust was quite a valuable commodity (as it still is) for use in pubs, butchers shops, fishmongers, anywhere where there might be a slippery floor.

SHC Ref: 9524/675

The photographs along with the added bonus of a name (which as we know, is always a particular joy when dealing with old photographs) excited our curiosity about this splendid looking man and we decided to try and find out a little more about him.

It would seem that the production of sawdust had not always been Edward Varndell’s occupation.  A glance at the 1911 census showed that Edward Andrew Varndell was born in 1857 in Wokingham, Berkshire and at that time was living in High Street, Chobham but working as a hairdresser.  He describes himself as married but there is no sign of a wife, although he is living with a widowed housekeeper, Mary Harding, and four of her five children.  So where was his wife?

A search on the 1901 census showed Edward again living in Chobham, working as a hairdresser and yes, you guessed it, living with Mary Harding.  Hmmmm …. anyone else think there might be something a bit interesting in this?

The 1891 census shows Edward living with his wife Amy in Chobham although this time he is working as a bootmaker and described as having a cork leg.  The indexes to marriages showed us that Edward Varndell had married an Amey Hawkings in Sonning in Berkshire in October 1881 but as far as we can tell, the couple had no children.  By 1901, Amy is living by herself back in Wokingham – possibly in a cottage owned or managed by Edward Varndell’s father (there was an advertisement in the Reading Mercury back in 1871 for cottages in the area managed by Edward Varndell Senior).

Sadly, it would seem that this marriage didn’t work out and when we looked at the baptism for Mary Harding’s daughter Georgina in 1901, we saw that there was no father listed.  However, when Georgina married in 1920, she gave her father’s name as Edward Andrew Varndell, wood merchant.  I don’t think we need a DNA test to work this one out!!

SHC Ref: 9524/496

Amy died in 1922 and Edward married his long term partner Mary in 1923.  We hold another photograph in the collection showing Edward Varndell at a wedding in the 1920s.  We speculated that the woman in velvet dress might be his wife and it could even be (perhaps) their daughter Georgina’s wedding?  It would be nice to think so!

We hear so little about the breakdown of relationships and are inclined to think of this as a modern phenomenon but sadly this was not so.  With divorce being an expensive procedure limited to those with means, those without had to make do with living separate lives and illicit relationships.  It would be interesting to know how Edward and Mary were received among the community in Chobham.  Did the rest of the village know they weren’t married?  Certainly the vicar did!  And if they did, were they shunned or was their position accepted as simply an unfortunate circumstance?

Of his other children, two died in infancy but a third (Frederick) went on to marry a Dorothy Berry in 1928.  He also used the named Varndell when he married.

Edward may have had a few career changes in his life but he started out by joining the army.  According to the British Army Service Records 1760-1915 available on FindMyPast, he enlisted with the Royal Engineers as a sapper at Aldershot Camp on 8 July 1876 – although not for long.  His occupation at the time of his enlistment was given as groom and he was 19 years of age, 5ft 4½in tall.  His record refers to an accident he had prior to enlistment (1872), the result of which the use of his arm was seriously impaired rendering him unfit for military duty. The disability was considered permanent but he would be able to earn a livelihood. On 2 Aug 1877, Edward was brought before the Invaliding Board at Aldershot and found unfit for further service. He was discharged on 30 Aug 1877.

Edward died in 1935 and was buried the churchyard of St Lawrence, Chobham on 31 August 1935.

We have found out so much but, like so many of us family historians, we are now greedy for more information!  We would love to know where and how and when did he lose his leg?  Could it have been in the army or was it the result of an accident in Chobham?  If he was a groom, did he work with horses and perhaps get kicked by a horse and then it turned to sepsis?  Who knows!  I wonder if it affected his daily life – it didn’t seem to but how will we know?  Well, perhaps there is someone out there who can tell us – please!!

Happy Resarching!





PS:  Do visit the Sidney Francis Project Page on Exploring Surrey’s Past at http://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/people/photographers/sidney-francis-1891-1973/.  It’s a fascinating project and will tie in nicely to the exhibition at the Lightbox in Woking which will be commencing in July.  See https://www.thelightbox.org.uk/photographs-around-woking-sidney-francis-in-the-1920s-and-1930s for further details!


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Suffrage in Surrey: Mary and George Watts

Thu, 26/04/2018 - 14:17

Dr Lucy Ella Rose

Guest blog: Dr Lucy Ella Rose, Lecturer in Victorian Literature at University of Surrey


The suffrage centenary this year calls for a remembrance of the founders and roots of feminism. The lives of artists Mary and George Watts coincided with the rise of the women’s movement, from its embryonic stage in the mid-nineteenth century to the later phase of militant suffragism preceding the First World War. Mary saw the franchise extended to some women in 1918 and lived to see citizenship rights granted to women on the same terms as men in 1928. Witnessing such advances inevitably impacted the Wattses’ lives and works. For my new book Suffragist Artists in Partnership: Gender, Word and Image (Edinburgh University Press 2017), I conducted extensive research into the Wattses’ relation to early feminism. An exploration of archival materials, artworks and newspaper articles reveals the couple’s little-known contribution to the women’s suffrage campaign, and there seems no better time to celebrate it than now.

Self-Portrait, Mary Seton Fraser Tytler, 1882, © Watts Gallery Trust

Mary Watts was a pioneering Surrey suffragist and a figurehead of non-militant feminism in her community. She was a reformist rather than a radical, and believed in evolution rather than revolution. The women’s suffrage campaign was the calling of her later life. She was made President of the Godalming Branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1909 after writing a letter expressing her support for the movement. She not only attended high-profile suffrage meetings but also held them at her Surrey studio-home, where she gave an impassioned newspaper-worthy speech on votes for women, declaring ‘a vote meant a voice’. She was cited in the national press as a prominent participant in suffrage marches and demonstrations, including the ‘Great Suffragist Pilgrimage’ of 1913, which travelled through Guildford and Godalming to London. In the same year she offered her husband’s famous allegorical painting Faith (1896) to be reproduced on the cover of the main suffragist journal The Common Cause.

Mary became Honorary President of the Women’s Guild of Arts, comprised of many suffrage artists, and Vice President of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union, standing against restrictive feminine fashions such as the corset. Her support for female empowerment and emancipation is registered in her creation of powerful mother figures, models of strong female saints (including Joan of Arc, the patron saint of the suffragettes), and banners featuring angels rising above the words ‘justice’, ‘liberty’ and ‘unity’. Mary played a central role in local suffragist networks but was also part of a much wider women’s movement – in creative practice, petition and procession.

Mary and G F Watts, Reproduced Photograph, c1900, © Watts Gallery Trust

George Watts painted the portraits of male suffragists George Meredith (1893), Walter Crane (1891) and John Stuart Mill (1873) – who presented the first suffrage petition to Parliament in 1866. His symbolist art appealed to feminist campaigners. Militant suffragette artist Olive Hockin, who like Mary Watts trained at the Slade, kept a print of George’s Love and Death in her Kensington studio; and suffragette Lettice Floyd used a print of George’s She Shall Be Called Woman to decorate a WSPU shop in Newcastle. Nonetheless, in 1913 three of George’s paintings were attacked at Manchester Art Gallery by militant suffragettes. These included Prayer (1867), which may have been interpreted as female deference to patriarchal religion. Leading suffragettes lived in the Surrey Hills, where they sourced flints for their window-smashing campaign. Peaslake was home to the Brackenbury sisters, artists who painted Emmeline Pankhurst’s portrait and led the pantechnicon raid on Parliament in 1908; the Slade-trained artist and militant suffragette Marion Wallace Dunlop, first of the hunger-strikers; and Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence who started the publication Votes for Women.

The Wattses became celebrities over the course of their lifetimes, and were part of a growing late-Victorian creative feminist community. They formed close friendships with women’s suffrage supporters and social reformers like Evelyn and William De Morgan, Josephine Butler, Gertrude Jekyll and Lady Isabel Henry Somerset. Although the Victorian era is often associated with conventionalism and prudishness, it is important to remember that this period gave birth to feminism. Researching the lives and works of historically neglected figures like Mary Watts helps us to reflect on the relationship between this period and the ongoing fight for gender equality and women’s rights today – in the wake of Trump’s inauguration, the #MeToo campaign, and the BBC pay gap controversy.

Find out more:

To hear more from Dr Lucy Ella Rose, you can join us for our free public event ‘Surrey, Suffrage & the Arts: Past and Present’ on Saturday 19th May, 10am-12.30pm, at Surrey History Centre where she will be telling us more about artist, diarist and suffragist Mary Watts, drawing on her new book Suffragist Artists in Partnership: Gender, Word and Image. Booking information can be found at: https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/heritage-culture-and-recreation/archives-and-history/surrey-history-centre/heritage-events.

Suffragist Artists in Partnership by Lucy Ella Rose

You can also visit a new display on ‘Mary Watts: Pioneering Suffragist’ at Watts Gallery Artists’ Village. Visiting information can be found at https://www.wattsgallery.org.uk/. We are delighted to count Watts Gallery as one of our project partners. Over the next few months we will be carrying out an audit to identify material relating to the suffrage movement in the county held by our five local partner museums. Details of these collections and how you can access them will be made available on our Exploring Surrey’s Past website in due course and key items will featured in our travelling exhibition at the end of the project. Watch this space for further details as the project progresses and we continue to piece together Surrey’s suffrage story.

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A Night To Remember

Fri, 13/04/2018 - 11:14

On the  15th April 1912 an event occurred that shocked the world, played out in the early hours of the morning.  On her maiden voyage across the Atlantic the RMS Titanic of the White Star Line sank following a collision with an iceberg with a large loss of life amongst its passengers and crew

In this edition of the Surrey Historic Environment Record Blog we look at a memorial to a member of the Titanic’s crew. Situated in Godalming, The Phillips Memorial Cloister dedicated to John George (Jack) Phillips, Chief Wireless  Telegraphist Officer, RMS Titanic.

Painting of John George (Jack) Phillips by Ellis Martin from a photograph taken by Jennie Stedman of Farncombe. Godalming Museum and Godalming Town Council Collection ref B004.34

Jack was born in Godalming in 1887 and grew up within the town. Leaving school in 1902 he worked for the local post office as a Telegraphist,  where he learned morse code. Leaving this post in 1906, Jack joined the Marconi Company’s Wireless Telegraphy Training School. Upon completion of his course in August 1906 he joined the White Star Line as Junior Wireless Officer on the Teutonic. Over the next few years he would serve on a number of Ocean Liners as well as Marconi’s own land based transmitting stations (Godalming Museum 2012).

On the fateful night of the Titanic sinking, Jack and his assistant Harold Bride were transmitting personal messages within their roles with Marconi from the liner. Following the order from Captain Smith they were responsible for sending first the CQD message requesting assistant from any vessels within the area, followed by the fateful SOS once it was realised the Titanic was sinking.

Following the change to the SOS signal, Jack stayed at the transmitter, sending out the distress call and position of the Titanic. Both Jack and Harold stayed at their posts until Captain Smith gave the “every man for himself” order and personally thanked them both. Jack then sent Harold to save himself, whilst he stayed and continued transmitting. It was this act of bravery and devotion to duty which would cost him his life. Jack’s last message was received by the Virginia at 2:20am on the 15th April 1912.  (Godalming Museum 2012) It was at this time the Titanic slipped beneath the waves after entering her final moments and splitting in half.

The Phillips Memorial

Phillips Memorial Plaque
Photograph taken by A Dearlove

The Phillips Memorial Cloister on Borough Road opened on the 2nd anniversary of the sinking in 1914. Designed by H Thackeray Turner it consisted of an 80 ft square cloister with arcades and a central pond. The memorial has undergone alterations in c.1965 and 1986.  A Planting scheme for the memorial was created by Gertrude Jekyll which included her favourite iris Siberica, bergenias, hostas, iris, ferns and London pride. Sadly in 1990 the garden had fallen into disrepair but was restored in 1993 for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jekyll. Today the memorial is part of the National Heritage List for England as a Grade II listed building and has two records on the HER: SHHER 3408 and 16655.

In association with the Philips memorial park adjacent to the site, this is the largest Titanic memorial by area in England. (Coltman 2017)

Phillips Memorial towards pond
Photograph Taken by A Dearlove

Phillips Memorial
Photograph Taken by A Dearlove



Godalming Museum 2012 http://www.godalmingmuseum.org.uk/index.php?page=jack-phillips-and-the-titanic accessed 13/04/2018

Richard Coltman 2017 Philips Memorial Park  http://www.titanicmemorials.co.uk/post/memorial/phillips+memorial+park+godalming/ accessed 13/04/2018

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New and Exciting Acquisitions!

Fri, 13/04/2018 - 10:30

Just a quick word to advise on some new acquisitions in the last couple of months.

Fetcham Church 1822 SHC Ref 4348/2/97/3

On the parish front, we have taken in some more parish registers from Ottershaw, Headley (Hampshire), Shalford, Fetcham, Merton, and Nork.  We’ve also acquired Nonconformist records from Wey Valley and Kingston upon Thames Methodist Circuits and we also now hold further parish records for St Mary’s, Fetcham, including PCC minutes.

Parish magazines can be a wonderful resource for the family historian and you might like to explore the parish magazines for St Nicholas’ church, Godstone, 1867-1966 or browse the service registers for St Stephen’s church, Godstone and St John the Evangelist, Blindley Heath.

We have been given some papers belonging to Richard Lucock Wilson of West End, Woking which include diaries, books, maps, papers and photographs (c.1915-2017).  We have also acquired copies of records for the Duffell and Chandler families of Rowledge including photographs of family members including at Wood Cottage and Yew Cottage, Rowledge, and other locations around the village, 1893-1969 along with family members’ graves, nd [2018] and family history research papers, 2018.

We also received hospital records relating to Farnham Isolation Hospital, St Luke’s Hospital for the Clergy and Brookwood

Military records include papers belonging to Private William Worsfold Banks (1887-1943), of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment; a photograph of the Machine Gun Section of 2/21st London Regiment (First Surrey Rifles), 1914, and a letter relating to Private Ralph Henry Bennett, 7th Battalion, Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, 1918.

LGBT additions from Outline and GIRES were placed with us, as were records for a number of residents associations, and local interest charities.

We have less film deposited with is these days so it was great to receive archive film footage of War Weapons Week, Dorking, 1941.

Finally, we received a fascinating collection relation to Jewish Polish refugee Edward Henrik Hartry and his wife

Teresa Krystyna Hartry, architects of Woking, who built their house, ‘Pipidowek’, in Maybury.

These records form just part of our wonderful collections and you can access our catalogue from our website.  If you think you might like to deposit any records with us for safety, either temporarily or permanently, do visit the page on our website for Donating and Loaning to Surrey History Centre.

Happy Researching!





PS:  I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, keep checking to see what the family history sites have added to their collections (ie, Ancestry.com, FindMyPast etc).  They add and update their records regularly and don’t forget, you have FREE access to both Ancestry and FindMy Past here at Surrey History Centre, along with so much more!




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Netting a Good Catch!

Fri, 30/03/2018 - 00:02

I’m a great believer in always checking original sources and never relying on transcripts or indexes.  However, just occasionally I found that it is better to let an expert in on the act.  This came home to me recently when I was researching some of my Lincolnshire fishing ancestors.

Now, as someone who feels slightly queasy going over Waterloo Bridge I should explain that I know next to nothing about anything nautical.  Also, with the exception of deciding whether to have tartare sauce or ketchup with my fish and chips, I have never really had to think much about the fishing industry and the administration behind same.

I discovered through newspapers that my Great Grandfather was the skipper on a trawler which sailed out of Grimsby.  From Simon Will’s book Tracing Your Seafaring Ancestors (ISBN: 9781473834330. RRP £14.99, paperback. Pen & Sword Family History) I learned about how to look at Master’s Tickets and how to apply for records relating to his fishing career.

My Great Grandfather was a bit of a family aberration since his father was not a fisherman and although one of his sons went into the fish trade, as far as I can tell, none of his children made it their career.  Since he was very much a ‘one off’ I decided that instead of going to North East Lincolnshire Record Office in Grimsby, where the records were held, I would pay for some research to be conducted by one of the staff there.  Compared with the cost of travelling to Grimsby and staying overnight, etc, their fee of £25.70 for an hour’s research seemed pretty reasonable.  Oh was I glad I did this!

Am I the only family historian who, from time to time, has been presented with a document which made absolutely no sense at all?  I hope not!!  Fishing records are fascinating IF (and note the capital letters!) you can understand them.  There may well be fisher folk out there who understand all the terms used to describe the various jobs undertaken aboard a trawler.   There may also be people who can untangle the Byzantine formulas for sharing out the catches and apportioning payment, and I suspect that there are people out there who know the difference between a wrass and a gurnard, and can judge the importance of a smelt over a pilchard, but  sadly I’m not one of these elite.

However, the lovely staff at the Record Office not only made copies of the documents but also explained everything for me, suggested some further reading to expand my knowledge and also answered the puzzling question of why my great-grandfather and his family de-camped to Holland for a year or so (big strike among the fishing community in Grimsby – see Rod Collin’s online article about the Grimsby Riot of 1901 at http://www.rodcollins.com/wordpress/the-grimsby-riot-of-1901-history-images if you are interested) and so much more.

Sometimes it is good to let the experts conduct research on your behalf, particularly if you are going to be spending a huge sum of money on visiting an archive at the other end of the country.  Also, while there are plenty of independent researchers who are expertly qualified to conduct research, it is always worth approaching the relevant archive first as they often have their own ‘in house’ research service, just as we have here at the History Centre.  The advantage of using an archive research service is that the staff tend to know their holdings very well, and can be quicker at extracting information than someone less experienced with that particular collection.  In addition, there are no travel on-costs and if the archive concerned is like us, they have a vast amount of ‘local knowledge’ which is invaluable.

So, I’m going back to my Grimsby records now and I’ll let you know if I find anything fishy about my ancestors! (Groans).

Happy Researching – and Happy Easter!





PS:  On the subject of our Research Service, did you know you can buy gift vouchers for research at Surrey History Centre?  Nice present for a genealogist!


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Celebrating Dame Ethel Smyth

Thu, 29/03/2018 - 17:00

Ethel Smyth, 1913 (SHC ref 9180/9/2/17)

An accomplished composer, militant suffragette and avid golfer – Dame Ethel Smyth, DBE, DMus (1858-1944) is one of those characters in history who never fails to intrigue us. She lived in Surrey for most of her life – firstly at the family home ‘Frimhurst’ in Frimley Green, and finally at ‘Coign’ (now renamed Brettanby Cottage) at Hook Heath in Woking. After meeting Emmeline Pankhurst, Ethel put her successful career as a composer on hold for two years to dedicate herself full-time to the suffragette cause. She composed the suffragette anthem, The March of the Women (adopted as our project title), and is said to have practiced throwing stones on Woking Golf Course in preparation for the window-smashing campaign. There is a popular anecdote that when imprisoned in Holloway for a window smashing incident, she conducted her fellow prisoners through her cell window with a toothbrush, as they marched around the exercise compound singing The March of the Women!

The Suffragette, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) publication edited by Christabel Pankhurst, remarks of Ethel’s work: ‘this music is brave music. In this its strength lies. It would rouse rebellion in a sheep’ (The Suffragette, Friday 27 June 1913, p. 612, British Newspaper Archive).

Woking Choral Society marching in Woking town centre, 26th April 2008

My first talk for the project was delivered to the Woking branch of Soroptimist International, at Gorse Hill Conference Centre, a stone’s throw (no pun intended!) from Woking Golf Club and Ethel’s former residence. At this meeting I was delighted to meet a member of Woking Choral Society (WCS). Ten years ago next month, on 26th April 2008, Woking Choral Society marched through Woking town centre, where celebrations were held for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ethel Smyth. The group sang The March of the Women, conducted with a toothbrush in honour of Ethel!

Here at Surrey History Centre we hold the records of the Woking Choral Society (WCS). ‘Tutti’ the Society’s newsletter reads ‘On Saturday 26 April the ladies will march and sing; maybe the men will come and cheer us on’ (Spring 2008, SHC ref. 8890/6/3). You can look back on the celebrations that took place here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/surrey/7370044.stm.

The March of the Women music score, c.1911 Lewis Orchard Collection (SHC ref. 9180/5)

It is particularly fitting that Woking Choral Society (founded in 1896) should have chosen to commemorate Ethel Smyth in this way as she guest-conducted WCS in a concert of her own works in 1922. Next month we will be able to celebrate the 160th anniversary of Ethel’s birth in the centenary year of some women gaining the right to vote.

Surrey History Centre also holds the research papers of Ethel Smyth expert, Lewis Orchard, which cover many areas of her life and works (SHC ref. 9180). Lewis is volunteering with our project and is now working on her suffrage memoirs and the Smyth family tree. His papers include the front cover of The March of the Women music score. A number of the pupils who took part in our school workshops in the early phase of the project were learning to read music at the time and they enjoyed having a go at singing along to this undeniably catchy marching anthem!

Recently, we have kindly been sent copies of Ethel Smyth’s correspondence held in the archives of University of St Andrew’s. Ethel received an honorary degree from St Andrew’s in June 1928, and in the visitor book, which survives in the archive, she signed her name with a bar of music from The March of the Women. Of all the musical compositions that she could have chosen to illustrate her signature it speaks volumes that she chose to use this one. You can read more about this, with accompanying pictures, on the St Andrew’s blog about Ethel written in celebration of International Women’s Day: https://standrewsrarebooks.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/international-womens-day-dame-ethel-mary-smyth/.

A poster for ‘Ethel Smyth: Grasp the Nettle’, a play at Rhoda McGaw Theatre, Woking, 11th March 2018

Today, Woking continues to celebrate its famous former resident and this centenary year has seen a number of focused events. Earlier this month, Ethel was the subject of a play called ‘Grasp the Nettle’ at the Rhona McGraw theatre in Woking, and we enjoyed a fantastic talk at The Lightbox by Dr Chris Wiley of the University of Surrey which gave us an insight into her achievements as a female composer.

Ethel is someone who continually attracts interest and fascination as a pioneering woman of her time, and yet at the same time, she doesn’t quite have the public attention she deserves – I’m told that contestants on a recent episode of University Challenge were stumped when presented with a picture of Ethel. But the tide is turning as interest in this extraordinary woman reawakens -enabled by this centenary year. In February, we celebrated Ethel at our LGBT coffee evening, in celebration of LGBT history month. Her eventful life, including her love for Emmeline Pankhurst and, later, Virginia Woolf, continues to intrigue and inspire, and leaves us wanting to know more. Later this year Celebrate Woking’s Party in the Park event on 7th July will celebrate Ethel Smyth and we will be there to share our project, with craft activities to introduce young learners to a local heroine. We hope to see you there – and don’t forget your toothbrush!


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