Northumberland, NE46 3NP
Contact: John Parker
Meetings on 2nd Thursday in the month at 7.00 pm ( No meeting in August )
Visitors are always welcome
|Date||Subject of Talk||Speaker|
|14th December 2023||Xmas meeting – Christmas Quiz and Faith Supper (or meal out?||–|
|11th January 2024||Members’ Forum – Old Family items I have kept||–|
|8th February 2024||TBA||–|
|14th March 2024||AGM & Members’ Forum – Memories of Schoolday||–|
|11th April 2024||The Newbiggin by the Sea Genealogy Project||Hilton Dawson|
|9th May 2024||A Treasure of Memories – A glimpse of images from the Durham Advertiser newspaper 1934-61||Julian Harrop|
|13th June 2024||Members’ Forum – Why did they leave and where did they go?||–|
|11th July 2024||TBA||–|
Reports of meetings
Group meeting held on the 9 November 2023 was attended by 8 members. Members’ Forum – An Eccentric Ancestor or other family Member
What seemed, on the face of it, to be an interesting topic for discussion had actually proved to be quite a challenge since many of us did not have particularly eccentric ancestors. We agreed that eccentricity was something only the rich could indulge in : most working people had hard lives – working on the land, down mines, in foundries and factories – and had precious little time or money to indulge in anything other than survival for themselves and their families.
However, several members had identified recent ancestors whom they had known and who had been extremely superstitious. Their levels of superstition were extreme enough to make these people stand out as being “different”, so they could be described as eccentric. Subjects of superstitions ranged from not cutting one’s nails on a Friday (or a Sunday) or not putting new shoes on the table to an extreme aversion to the colour green or to birds – including pictures or ornaments featuring images of birds.
One member thought their great uncle was the nearest thing to an eccentric they could identify. He had been a miner living in Mickley who was also a talented footballer and who had moved to London to spend several years playing professional football for Millwall F.C.
Another member’s 8th Great Grandfather had been a settler in America who had travelled on the Mayflower, having previously been part of the failed Jamestown settlement. In the interim, he had been sentenced to death in Bermuda for a treasonable act, but had pleaded for clemency because he had a wife and children and was reprieved.
One member had brought a letter written to their grandfather by his older step-brother on the occasion of the former’s marriage in 1910. The author of the letter had left Middlesbrough to move to Ayr, where he had opened a stationery and art shop. The letter ran to several pages and the general tone was extremely disparaging of marriage as an institution and far from any notion of social niceties despite being written in a formal and erudite way.
Researching AncestryDNA matches had led another member to finding a family member who had left Helmsley in the 1830s to set up a farm in Ontario and another who had left his life as a brass founder in Birmingham in the early 1840s to embark on an overland trek to Utah as a farmer and a part of the Mormon community around Salt Lake City.
The meeting on the 12 October was attended by : 7 Members + Guest Speaker
Dr Christine Seal -The Poor in the 19th Century and the new Poor Law : a comparison of Urban and Rural Unions in the North East
Christine gave a talk about the way in which the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 changed the administration of public support to the poor and destitute. The system of the relief of poverty had been based on Parishes collecting money and food and giving it to the needy. The Workhouse system provided premises where those with no means of earning living could be supported by wider society
The regime for workhouse inmates typically consisted of bread and gruel for breakfast, soup for dinner, cheese and bread for supper. They were early to rise, early to bed, did a lot of communal praying, and were engaged in hard labour such as breaking rocks. Workhouses were administered by a Board of Guardians, which met weekly to decide who would get support (parish relief) and who would go into the workhouse
The Poor Law Amendment Act was enacted by Parliament in 1834 and the Unions defined in the legislation came to the North East in 1836. Hexham Poor Law Union consisted of 69 parishes and so it covered quite a wide geographical area. Christine reviewed the statistics for the North East Poor Law Unions, based on Census Data and Workhouse Registers, as well as newspaper reports and correspondence. She was able to highlight variations between the numbers of residents in different Union Workhouses over time. In Durham at the time, working people were relatively prosperous – particularly in the mining communities. Demand for relief under the Poor Laws was normally low, but rose when miners had to give up work due to occupational diseases or injuries, and also when major colliery disasters struck, leaving widows and orphans destitute. In 1844, there was also a surge in demand due to a protracted pitmen’s strike.
Long-term residents became institutionalised – quite a high proportion of these were labelled “idiots’ or “imbeciles” and did not receive any treatment for mental health issues, although some were transferred to lunatic asylums. Workhouses were normally run by a manager and a matron, who would usually be a husband and wife team. Two such couples ran Hexham Workhouse in the latter part of the 19th Century, both for long period of time : however, one was forced to resign and the other was dismissed, both because of allegations of financial impropriety on their part.
The social welfare reforms of the early 20th century saw the need for the Workhouses disappear, so by the 1930s they had all closed.
Meeting held on Thursday 10 August 2023 which was Attended by : 10 Members + One Guest + Guest Speaker
John Walker – Hexham Connections – a work in progress.
John – an NDFHS member who lives in Surrey – gave an interesting visual presentation supported by relevant books which had informed his research and by glass photographic negatives from the mid Nineteenth Century, some of which were reproduced in his presentation. He had first visited Hexham in 2012, visiting Warden Church and Fourstones Paper Mill in search of information about his ancestor David Brown, who had learned the paper making trade in Scotland and subsequently owned and managed Fourstones Paper Mill for many years. David Brown’s children included Margaret Charlton Brown, who married William Arthur Wilkinson, a railway worker in York. Their daughter Katherine, born in 1919, was the speaker’s mother.
Another family connection related to Joseph Bell and Mary Charlton, who lived at what is now known as Linnels Farm (formerly Linolds Farm). More recent members of this family include Roy B Charlton (a renowned expert on the breeding of Fell Ponies ) and Robert Charlton, whose children are still active in the Hexham area.
The speaker had inherited a needlework sampler produced by Mary Charlton at the age of 12 – a picture of which was included in the presentation. William Charlton (a miller by trade) and his wife Adah Nixon were also of interest.
Meeting held at 7pm on Thursday 13 July 2023 attended by : 13 Members. The speaker was Jo Bath talking about Medieval Ghosts
Jo explained that, from the 6th Century AD to the 16th Century there were two traditions which influenced people’s belief in how the dead could appear to the living. The Christian tradition was based on the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church which taught that the souls of the dead went to Heaven, to Hell or to Purgatory. The last of these was an interim destination from which the soul might be cast down to Hell or raised up to Heaven. The dead were able to come back to the physical world in order to describe the afterlife and to issue cautionary tales to the living and to seek help in their quest to be raised up to Heaven. The Church offered the means for souls to be absolved – either by saying Masses, by issuing Indulgences or by undertaking pilgrimages : all of these options provided significant income for the Church while reassuring those paying that their deceased loved ones would enjoy eternal bliss rather than damnation.
The Germanic/Viking tradition – particularly strong in Yorkshire and other parts of the former Danelaw – came into play by the 12th Century and saw ghosts as re-animated corpses. The tales from this tradition identify these revenants as violent beings who would physically emerge from their graves and eat enormous quantities of meat, including human flesh.
Byland Abbey in Yorkshire has a collection of “ghost stories” – written in Latin by a monk – which show that the Christian and Germanic traditions merged. In these tales, based on clerical investigations into reported ghostly incidents, an individual is confronted by a threatening physical dead person (as in the Germanic tradition) but is able to survive the situation by saying “ God forbid you shall harm me – what do you want?”. At this point, the ghost would follow the Christian tradition of asking for help in their search for spiritual peace.
After the Reformation, the Protestant Church did not have Purgatory as part of their belief system, so the notion of spirits seeking redemption by manifesting themselves on Earth became one of the unacceptable tenets of Roman Catholicism. Elements of both traditions have persisted, with ghost stories still being a feature of contemporary culture, along with zombies, the modern equivalent of the Germanic revenants.
Meeting held on Thursday 08 June 2023 which was attended by 11 Members
Members’ Forum – The ancestor I would most like to have known
All the members present contributed varied, interesting and sometimes poignant stories about the ancestors they had found of most interest in the course of their family tree researches. One common thread seemed to be that the various individuals concerned were in a position to solve a family mystery, or to explain why – or even how – certain past family members had re-located or radically changed their occupation and social status. Another reason for choosing a particular individual was that the member had some knowledge of that particular forebear but would like to be able to get to know the person behind the known facts and to understand how they lived and to gain a deeper appreciation of the social history of their time. Also, of course, the chosen ancestor tended to be one who could demolish a “brick wall” and potentially allow gaps or grey areas in the family tree to be resolved.
The meeting on the 11 May was attended by 7 members and one guest.
Any Other Business. As our guest for the evening, Peter Flinn from Dunkeld, VA, Australia was invited to summarise his family connections with Hexham and the North East. Peter’s grandfather had been a fitter in the Tyneside shipyards, had lived in Heaton and had 9 children including Peter’s father. They had emigrated to Australia in 1924 and Peter had been born and lived all his life in the State of Victoria.
Peter’s great-grandfather had been born John Tilley in Hexham in 1842, the son of Margaret Tilley, an unmarried woman. She married Walter Matthewson in 1846 and her son adopted the name John Matthewson for the rest of his life. However, no trace of his father’s name can be found. By 1851 Walter and Margaret Matthewson were living in Gateshead, while John (Tilley) Matthewson was living with his grandmother in Quatre Bras Hexham. He subsequently joined the army, married, had a family and eventually returned to Newcastle.
Members were able to offer some general suggestions, and some detail of the Quatre Bras are of Hexham, but nothing concrete.
John Parker – The Maltman Family : Scottish Fisher Folk
In the early 1980s, John’s great-aunt had told him a family story concerning her own great-uncle William Douglas, who had been a fisherman in Eyemouth. Many years later, in 2015, John had spent a weekend in Eyemouth and while there spent some time researching the background to the story. He was unable to confirm or deny the family tale that William Douglas had survived the Eyemouth Fishing Disaster of 1881, but learned a great deal about the tragedy which struck the fishing community of Eyemouth on 14 October 1881.
Subsequently, after reading Peter Aitchison’s book “Black Friday”, John had suspected there might be a stronger connection with his family than the William Douglas he had been told about. The surname “Maltman” cropped up quite frequently in the “Black Friday” book and this name occurred once in John’s family tree : Euphemia Maltman was the wife of James Lamb, a generation before William Douglas – she was the mother of William’s brother-in-law.
Extensive research spread out over several years eventually identified all of Euphemia’s siblings and their descendants, resulting in a branch of the family tree which by the time of 1881 Census included 101 adult males, of whom 81 were Fisherman living in Eyemouth.
The Eyemouth disaster took the lives of 29 of these members of Euphemia’s extended family. This left 14 widows. Three children were orphaned and another 28 dependent children lost their fathers : three babies were later born after the death of their fathers. The town of Eyemouth, which had a population of about 2,000, lost 129 of its menfolk in a single day : 26 vessels from the town’s fishing fleet were lost in the storm.
The research involved had been quite emotionally challenging, but rewarding from the point of view of gaining a deeper insight into an historic event, and also of identifying distant branches of the family whose descendants later moved to Ashington, North Shields, South Shields, Hull and Canada.
Group meeting held at 7pm on Thursday 13 April 2023
Attended by : 13 members and 4 guests, with 3 apologies.
Seb Littlewood – Joe the Quilter’s Cottage
Seb Littlewood is a senior keeper at Beamish Museum. He had been part of the team which originated the Remaking Beamish project. The first part of this project to be completed was the quilter’s cottage in the 1820s Landscape area of Beamish. The museum wanted to add an ordinary person’s dwelling from the Georgian era by way of a contrast to the relative opulence of Pockerley Farm.
“Joe the Quilter” was Joseph Hedley, a quilter living and working in a two-room, heather-thatched squatter’s cottage near Warden, not far from Hexham. What makes him particularly notable is that he was brutally murdered in early January 1862. Despite an intensive investigation and even the offer of a large reward from King George IV, the murderer(s) were never identified or brought to justice.
A detailed plan of the cottage was produced as part of the murder investigation, along with an inventory of Joe’s possessions. These documents provided a valuable source of information, as did a postcard produced at the time which reproduced an engraving which pictured the front elevation of the cottage in great detail.
Although the cottage itself had been demolished at some point, Beamish were able to design a very accurate facsimile from the available documents. An archaeological dig was carried out on the site, which corroborated many of the details and unearthed some of the original stonework and other artefacts. These stones were incorporated into the recreated cottage at Beamish : the rest of the structure was completed using traditional materials and methods, including the characteristically sharp-pitched heather thatched roof.
This was a fascinating, comprehensive and well-illustrated talk combining very local social history, a brutal and sensational crime and an insight into the thorough and rigorous methods used by heritage organisations such as Beamish Museum.
Date of Next Meeting : 11 May 2023 John Parker – The Maltman Family : Scottish Fisher Folk
Group meeting held at 7pm on Thursday 16 March 2023 which was attended by 12 members, with 5 apologies.
The formal proceedings of the AGM and the March Branch Meeting took up so much time that the scheduled Members’ Forum – Where is “home” for your family? – was deferred to a future meeting.
Meeting on Thursday 9 February was attended by 13 members.
Jo Bath – Medieval Ghosts. Unfortunately, the guest speaker had not arrived. [Later discovered to have been a satnav issue].
Members related their experiences of ghost hunting and living in or visiting supposedly haunted houses. None of those present seemed to be firmly convinced of the existence of ghosts, some had an open mind on the subject and the majority seemed to be either sceptical or firm disbelievers.
Date of Next Meeting : 09 March 2023 AGM and Members’ Forum – Where is “home” for your family?
The meeting on Thursday 12 January was attended by 14 members and 1 guest. This was a Members Forum ‘What made me explore my Family History’.
Some members had been interested in finding out about their forebears from childhood, while others only came to research their family histories later in life. More than one member had been involved in dealing with the effects of deceased relatives and had found, or been given, old photographs and papers – which led them to investigate the stories behind the images and documents. It was generally agreed that the best way of getting information was to talk to family members while you have the chance – too many of us ended up regretting not asking about family details, or not writing down stories we had been told, or not checking the “facts” we were given. Most members seemed to have instances of secrets and lies – or, at least, chinese whispers – within their families. There seemed to be general agreement that satisfying curiosity, solving puzzles and the actual process of research were all things we enjoy about family history, even when our research throws up evidence of illegitimacy, bigamy or criminality.
Meeting 8 December attended by 13 members.
By way of a change from the traditional December branch meeting format of a Christmas Quiz and Faith Supper, members had decided at the November meeting to have a meal together at Bouchon Bistro. We enjoyed good food, good company and informal conversations – many of which were about our family history research experiences and discoveries.
(Last updated 5th December 2023)