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Delving into Deeds!

If any of you are lucky enough to get your family history back before 1800 (and I’m sure that many of you are!) then at some point you will have to face the challenge of reading and trying to understand a range of documents which often seem slightly alien in concept!

When someone mentions deeds, our first thoughts are probably our mortgages! However, I’ve mentioned before just how useful deeds and property documents can be for the family historian – if you can both decipher and understand them!

When I was studying for my professional qualifications, I approached the section on palaeography with all the enthusiasm of someone anticipating root canal work. However, as I’ve mentioned before with this type of research, facing your fears is the first step in conquering them and now, with the help of some lovely friends and colleagues here at the History Centre, I actually enjoy this type of research!

I also had another very useful helpmate and that was the University of Nottingham. There is a wonderful section on their website entitled Manuscripts and Special Collections Research Guidance which is a fabulous resource. In addition to explaining and defining what types of documents you might find in various archives around the country, it also describes what they do and how they are worded. There are also sections on dating documents, what type of information we can find from them, how to care for them and, most importantly, how to read them. The Introduction to Deeds guide contains an invaluable Glossary and you can even have a go at the online quiz (no, I will not tell you how I got on but suffice it to say, I’m improving all the time!!).

If you are a bit nervous about tackling research into pre-1800 documents – this is the website for you! It has a very common-sense and practical approach and in no time you will be confident enough to have a go at reading most documents. Now the evenings are drawing in, what better way to see us through the winter than polishing up our paleography skills.

Keep safe and well and Happy Researching

Food for Thought

Is anyone else addicted to Bake Off? Now that it has started again, there has been the yearly rash of recipe exchanges among the staff here, some of which have been gleaned recently but many of which are family favourites, handed down through the years.

I have a wonderful recipe for Bakewell tart (which I will share with you) which contains absolutely no almonds! Now, before the good people of Bakewell rise up and accuse me of heresy, I should point out that this is (we believe) one of my mother’s famous wartime recipes. Having said that, it’s delicious and I urge you to suspend your disbelief and try it for yourself.

It was when I was passing this recipe on to one of my colleagues here at the History Centre that it made me think just how important recipes can be in our shared family history. The Bakewell Tart recipe along with a rather nice Ginger Cake recipe are shared by my whole family and frequently appear at family functions – in fact, they are almost obligatory.  Anyone who has attended family history fairs with us will also know this ginger cake as it is made in vast quantities and shared among our fellow stallholders!

I have an old note book which is battered, stained and held together with bits of stamp paper (a family precursor to Sellotape) which belonged to my mother and which contains a wealth of inherited recipes, some of which are delightfully dated such as the Lamb Curry (basically lamb mince with a couple of teaspoons of curry powder, a handful of sultanas and some chopped apple), Corned Beef Hotpot and Bacon Pudding. Trust me, the latter is guaranteed to get your arteries hardening! Interestingly, my friend Jill’s mum also made a similar curry – and her Dad insisted on having potatoes as well! Her mother has compiled a recipe book of all the family favourites for posterity.

Julian Pooley, the History Centre manager remembers that “…a great favourite chez Pooley when I was in short trousers was ‘Cuckoo Spit’. I never liked jelly or blancmange and detested Carnation Milk, but briskly whipped together, red jelly and Carnation Milk produced the most heavenly fluorescent pink foam. Not sure that that our name for it was correct, but the texture was just the same as the foamy spittle hanging from bushes in the garden.

More traditional and a perennial favourite was Granny Botting’s rabbit casserole. Grandad taught me how to snare, skin and ‘pull’ and prepare them, Granny showed me what happened in the kitchen, when the joined rabbit was cooked slowly with belly pork, onions, carrots, sage and the sauce thickened with breadcrumbs.

That took about an hour and a half on a low heat. Even longer, but equally worth waiting for was her bacon pudding, when suet was rolled out to about half an inch on a board, layered with sliced shallots, bacon and lots of sage, rolled up like Swiss roll, wrapped and tied up in muslin (looking a bit like a body bag by now) and steamed for about 2 or 3 hours. Sliced up and served with boiled new potatoes and spring cabbage and accompanied by Granny’s elderflower wine, it made the finest lunch of the long summer holidays.”

Granny Botting’s bacon roll was very similar to my Grandma Fox’s recipe, although hers was always served with parsley sauce! I never liked the sauce but the pudding was delicious!

Archivist Isabel Sullivan has her mother’s handwritten version of a Katie Stewart chocolate pudding along with a lovely photograph of her children licking the pudding bowl after eating it. Those of us who remember Katie Stewart will know that she was the ‘Delia’ of her day.

Phil Cooper who manages the Exploring Surrey’s Past website (and this blog!) remembers enjoying Paddywhack stew. He describes it as “Neck of lamb with pearl barley and suet dumplings”. Intrigued by the name, he Googled it (thinking it was a name his mother had made up) and discovered that Wikipedia “Paddywhack (also spelled paddywack) or nuchal ligament (Latin: ligamentum nuchae), is a strong elastic ligament in the midline of the neck of sheep or cattle which relieves the animal of the weight of its head. It’s high in protein (78%). A cheap and nourishing stew of the period (Phil reckons it took so long to extract the meat from the bones that the time it took to eat added to its filling qualities!), but please do not confuse it with the dried Paddywhack which is commonly packaged and sold as a dog treat! Woof!

Of course, it can work the other way. A friend of mine here at the History Centre has a husband who refuses to eat Cottage Pie because of the awful memories he has of his mother’s version. Rather unfortunate since it’s one of his wife’s favourites!

Of course, over the years, many different religious practices influenced the diets of our ancestors and even within living memory. My Roman Catholic family never ate meat or sweets on a Friday; my college friend Rachel and her family, although not strictly Orthodox Jews, never cooked on a Saturday. Growing up in Wales I was surprised that instead of roasts on a Sunday many of my friends had stews as Chapel three times a day rather limited what one could cook.

Eating is central to family life and in the past, even in the smallest one room cottage, the hearth and cooking forms a central point for that family. I love hearing the stories behind old recipes and this includes the Bake Off contestants. Over the last few months many of us have used our time at home to start baking again and resurrecting some of those old recipes handed down from generation to generation. Some have been discovering for the first time just how nurturing baking and cooking can be (if not a little calorific!) and, of course, sharing something you have made yourself makes everyone feel better. I wonder if anyone has discovered any long forgotten family recipes that have transported us back to our childhood again?

Keep safe and well and Happy Researching!



Shortcrust pastry
8oz SR Flour
2oz vegetable shortening (my mother always used lard but vegetable shortening is a little more ‘artery friendly’)
2oz margarine

3oz margarine
1 cup semolina
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons almond essence
1 egg
3-4 tablespoons raspberry jam

To make the pastry, rub together the pastry and flour using fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add just enough water to bring it together into a dough, roll out on a floured surface and use to line a 20cm flan tin. There will be enough pastry to line two tins so you can freeze the other half or why not make a second coconut tart (see below).

Melt the margarine in a saucepan. Add the semolina and sugar and stir until well mixed. Cool slightly (but not too long or it will set like concrete!) and beat in the almond essence and the egg. Be careful as if the mixture is too warm you will have a sugary goo with scrambled egg – not good!

Smooth the jam over the bottom of the pastry case and pour the mixture over the top. Bake for approximately 30 minutes at 180⁰C (this really does depend on your oven; mum’s used to take about 45 minutes but mine takes 25-30) until crusty on the top.

If you are making mini-Bakewells, simply line a bun tin with pastry circles, add a small dollop of jam in each, and top with the mixture. Bake 20-25 minutes.

For coconut tart, substitute desiccated coconut for the semolina and omit the almond essence.


It always annoys me when I find a really useful website – and then it becomes obsolete, is taken down or as in the case of the Hosprec Database archived.

Image of the Hosprec home page from the National Archive websiteHowever, archived or not, Hosprec is still one of my absolutely ‘Go To’ websites for any information on hospitals.  Anyone who has tried to find a hospital or, more likely, to try and find its records will know that it can be a bit of a nightmare.  Surrey History Centre has a wonderful collection of hospital records (particularly mental hospital records) but some records for Surrey hospitals are held elsewhere.  A classic example of this are the records for Banstead Asylum.  Yes, it was situated in Banstead in Surrey but since it was administered by the (then) London County Council, the surviving patient records are now held in the London Metropolitan Archives.

Surrey is not unique in this; hospital records are often scattered all over the place and many don’t survive.  That’s why the Hosprec Database is so great.  It was produced by the National Archives in conjunction with the Wellcome Trust and although it was last updated in 2012 it is still a fantastic resource.  You can search either by place or hospital name (and don’t forget, it seems as though hospitals change their names constantly) and the database will usually tell you what type of hospital it is, what type and quantity of records survive and more importantly, where you can find them.   It also very helpfully gives you contact details for all the various repositories, and even lets you click on links to take you to their websites.  Thank you, TNA – this is a great resource!

Keep safe and well and Happy Researching!

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PS:  There is a another really useful resource for hospitals in London called Lost Hospitals of London.  In addition to everything you need to know about London hospitals it contains information on quite a lot of hospitals in the current administrative county of Surrey!


Image of the Earth from space with a face mask superimposed on itI was chatting to a friend the other day while she bemoaned the fact that the only thing anyone ever talks about these days is Covid-19 and how it is affecting us. She has a point but as I remarked, it’s probably because we’ve had to completely change how we live and work in order to keep ourselves and others as safe as possible, and also, we’re only just starting to do other things that we can talk about! Never in my lifetime (or at least that I can remember) has a health concern impacted on my life as much as Covid-19 and I suspect I’m not alone.

This got me thinking about how our ancestors dealt with epidemics and how we can find out a bit more about them.
Without getting a death certificate, it’s often difficult to know what our ancestors died of. Even then, without a medical degree it can be a challenge (hooray for the internet!) and even the expert medical diagnosis of the day can add to the confusion.

For example, I was searching for the death of an Irish ancestor the other day and ploughing through the death certificates for 1880 on During my search I came across causes of death such as Old Age, Decline, Spasms, Worms, Irish Cholera (not sure how this different from any other form of Cholera) and Infantile Wasting, to name but a few. Some of these are not particularly helpful and some seem to us today to be bizarre – could you die of worms in 1880? Obviously, doctors at the time thought you could!

Image of All Saints Headley Burial Register

All Saints Headley Burial Register SHC Ref HED/4/3

Very occasionally an incumbent will note a cause of death in a burial register. The ever vigilant Reverend Laverty of Headley parish (of whom I have spoken before and you can find out more about him and his parish at noted many causes of death in his registers such as a child who had died of a Teething Fit, a man who had died of Kidneys Etc (not sure what the ‘Etc’ meant) and one tragic entry for an 18 month little boy “During temporary absence of mother, the child got hold of a lighted candle and having on a flannelette nightdress, was so severely burnt that it died in a couple of days”.

Quite often parish registers will note if there is an epidemic and record the cause of deaths. Laverty makes a note of children who had died of measles and whooping cough and I’ve seen this elsewhere in other burial registers.

Newspapers are a good source for discovering epidemics in specific areas and if you find that you have two or three family members (particularly children) dying within days of each other, check newspapers to see if any epidemics were rife in the area – particularly in more urban areas. Sanitary Authority records often contain Medical Officer’s reports which include details of infectious disease outbreaks by area. Cholera was a terrifying prospect in the 19th century as before the pioneering Dr Snow discovered that it was a water-borne disease, no-one knew how it appeared. It could act with terrifying speed so that a victim could be feeling mildly unwell in the morning and be dead by the next day.
Finally, once source you may not always think of are school log books. They often record large absences of children due to various epidemics of childhood diseases which today often only warrant a few days away from school (Scarlet Fever, for instance) but which could be fatal to our 19th century ancestors.

Portrait of John Snow, traced the source of a cholera outbreak in London, in 1854

John Snow, traced the source of a cholera outbreak in London, in 1854. Originally from en.wikipedia;

So how worried were our forebears about epidemics and infections? Well, the cholera outbreak of 1832, which killed over 55,000 people in the UK, caused riots in some areas and local authorities were quick to try and contain the disease, although sadly without knowing how it was spread and often to little effect. The Morning Post of 25 August 1832 quotes terrifying mortality rates which included 53% of children under 5 and 62% under 20 years of age in Leeds, with Bradford, Beeston and Holbeck not much better. The south was somewhat better, with London at 38% of children under 5 and 46% under 20 and Rutland 29% under 5 and 37.5% under 20. The dense overcrowding and factory conditions in the north obviously took their toll.

Newspapers of the day are full of various potions and notions designed to prevent and /or cure cholera, ranging from bicarbonate of soda to castor oil and we all have first-hand knowledge of just how stressful and scary it was for our ancestors having to try and live through this epidemic.

Although smallpox was not the scourge it once was in the 18th century, outbreaks still occurred and in 1853 authorities felt sufficiently justified to make smallpox vaccination compulsory in England and Wales. Incidentally, if you are visiting a record office it’s worth seeing if their Poor Law Union records contain vaccination records. These were compiled from local birth certificates and give dates of births for children and occasionally (although sadly not always) the mother’s maiden name.

So our concerns today are not new. As we all strive to get back to some semblance of normality, while coping with the stresses and strains imposed upon us by this awful virus, we should also remember how terrifying it was for our ancestors, who didn’t have the drugs, care and support of our amazing National Health Service.

Well, I hope I haven’t made everyone thoroughly depressed but these are the sort of things which we are dwelling on just now. However, as Jane Austin so succinctly put it “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery…” – Surrey History Centre is now re-opened for the time being and we’re doing a roaring trade! It’s great to see both our regulars and first time visitors in the building and we thank you all for your support and lovely comments throughout these strange and difficult times. We don’t know what the next few weeks hold in store but we will keep working hard to make sure that you and our collectons are kept safe.

Find out about Surrey Poor Law Union vaccination registers 1872 to 1909 and links to indexes to the registers.

Here’s to a Covid-Free future!

Keep safe and well and Happy Researching!

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TNA Research Guides

There are many different types of family history website out there and quite a few of them, both commercial and private, fee-paying and free, include indexes and transcriptions.  These are great and can be an absolute boon for genealogists.

Image of the front entrance of The National Archives

The front entrance of The National Archives

However, in our enthusiasm for finding all those websites which encourage us to simply “type in our name…” etc, let’s not forget the vast number of websites out there which provide us with detailed information on sources, how to find them and how to get the best from them.

For me, one of my absolute ‘Go To’ sites for providing information is The National Archives (TNA) website.

I first started using the TNA website when I needed to know about military sources.  While I’m certainly not a military historian (any of the military historians here at the History Centre will certainly attest to that!) I do want to know what military records survive, where they are and what they are.  Have you ever found something on a website, such as Ancestry or Find My Past, and been thrilled to bits to find an ancestor but then realise that you don’t know what you’re looking at?  Well that happens to me quite often, particularly with military records but with other things too.

The National Archives logoThat’s when I turn to the TNA Guides  to help me understand what I’m looking at.  Their ‘key word’ search is really useful.  I used it to search for anything to do with Marines and up popped 46 possible research guides!  Everything from Royal Marine Commandoes to the Royal Society of Marine Artists (who knew?!).  Helpfully, when you click on the particular guide you are interested in, it also flags up other guides which might be relevant to your research.

The guides not only contain many ‘how tos’ but they also have links to indexes (be warned, some of these are commercial sites), other record repositories but most importantly of all, the relevant catalogue numbers.  I’ll be writing about using archive catalogues next week but be sure to explore all the catalogue and see how it is broken down into sections.

The guides are not a step by step ‘how to find your ancestor’ but they are great signposts.  So next time you find a reference to something online and you don’t know what it is, see if the TNA guides can help.

Keep safe and well and Happy Researching!

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If you don’t want to know…

As you may know if you read this blog regularly, I work with a fantastic bunch of people who have a depth and breadth of knowledge and passion for their work which never fails to impress me.

Photograph of Di Stiff: Collections Development Archivist, Surrey History Centre

Di Stiff: Collections Development Archivist

My colleague Di Stiff is our Collections Development Archivist and has worked at Surrey History Centre for nearly 22 years. She particularly focuses on raising awareness of Surrey’s diverse communities and developing under-represented areas of the collections.  Di has, like many of us, been somewhat ‘confined to barracks’ over the last few months.  Of course, that has not stopped her taking daily exercise and again, like a lot of us, discovering things in our neighbourhoods that we had perhaps overlooked before.  Here are her experiences of researching a cause dear to her heart and finding a wonderful story on her own doorstep!

A couple of weeks ago while strolling through Dorking Cemetery, I stumbled across the grave of John Henry Lance, a Dorking abolitionist, who died at Holmwood 12 Jan 1878. The grave stone states that he was ‘Commissary judge for the suppression of the slave trade in Surinam’.  After the exclamations of ‘who knew?!’ and ‘where is Surinam?’, I ploughed through the usual online genealogy sites and found enough for me to be able to compile a feature for our Exploring Surrey’s Past ‘Abolitionists in Surrey’ page (coming soon).

Photograph of John Henry Lance's Grave, Dorking Cemetery

John Henry Lance’s Grave, Dorking Cemetery

However, I did a more rigorous search online and more interestingly, I happened upon a somewhat unusual website called ‘Slaves and Highlanders’ – unusual in that being descended from a slave owner may not be something one might readily know, admit, or want to pursue.  However, it is exactly the type of ‘skeleton in the closet’ that many family historians may have been confronted by and perhaps have been conflicted about.

 That aside, this website is a fantastic resource for anyone with Scottish ancestry, especially the Clans, as it includes indexes of families and individuals who owned, or were involved in the slave trade, and more incredibly, features information about the enslaved themselves  Lance features on the website because in 1823 he had cause to report on one Adam Cameron, of the clan Cameron of Lochaber, a planter in Surinam, who had two children with a free woman of colour but also married a Dutch widow (Surinam being a Dutch colony).  

 Lance is just one Abolitionist with Surrey connections. October’s Marvel of the Month features others, including Dr Stephen Lushington, whose name appears on the 1866 memorial to emancipation in Westminster, alongside those of William Wilberforce and Thomas Fowell Buxton.

 It made me ponder whether some family historians might want to steer clear of this unpleasant area of their family history but that actually, family history should be ‘warts and all’, so it is just as valid as any other area of our ancestors’ lives to research.  

 Asking the question ‘why did they own slaves?’ is an important one and can both lead to useful research sources to pursue and a greater understanding of the context and the plight of the enslaved.  And this is exactly the area of research which is opening up now with the growing awareness around making British Black History accessible and highlighting the treatment of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the past and present.  

Image of The Anti-Slavery Society Convention 1840 feat. Lushington, Buxton, Byron

The Anti-Slavery Society Convention 1840 feat. Lushington, Buxton, Byron. NPG permission

 Another website that is key for this area of research is the ‘Legacies of British Slave-ownership’ project at University College London,  The project has created a database collating information about slave owners, their estates and the compensation they were allocated from the Office of Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission, following abolition in 1833.  It is a phenomenal family history resource and has identified thousands of estates, owners and employees, and has initiated a wealth of research, with accompanying maps, sources list, research guidance, blogs and newsletters.  We used the resource for a deeper interrogation of events, sources and legacy behind some of Surrey’s slave owners, see

 So, how would you feel if you discovered your ancestors were enslaved?  How would you feel if your ancestor owned enslaved people?  One response, which many may remember, is that of TV chef and personality, Ainsley Harriott, who through the BBC’s WDYTYA programme in 2008 discovered not only that his ancestors were enslaved Africans but also that he was descended from a white sugar plantation owner who had recognised a child of an enslaved woman as his own and handed on the family name of Harriott.  Ainsley’s reaction was a genuine moment of horror but since that programme he has become the patron of the Thomas Fowell Buxton Society, established to commemorate Buxton’s achievements in abolishing the slave trade.  On the excellent website, Ainsley writes “Thank you for bringing important history to people’s attention…we still all need to know”.

Image of a Slave Register 1832

Slave Register 1832. Reproduced by kind permission of

I agree with Di – we can’t really pick and choose among our ancestors and I suspect that there are few family trees which don’t contain something which either shocked appalled the compiler.  It has certainly been the case with me.

So how do we deal with these things?  I think the most important thing to remember is that we are the product of many different strands of DNA from a huge gene pool.  Therefore we are NOT our ancestors.  We do not share their thoughts, their values or their manners, good or bad, and despite what the adverts for family history sites might say, they do not always shape who we are.  Many of our ancestors were the product of their times and the customs of their environments and while in hindsight we might see the hypocrisies in their beliefs, we have to remember that they often could not.

So my advice is that if you find something nasty in the woodshed of your family tree, take it on the chin, record it and perhaps record your thoughts on the matter (this will be valuable to future generations) and move on.  That is a family tree ‘warts and all’.

Keep safe and well and let’s hope for ‘happy’ researching!

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Black History Month

I do love to discover new and interesting websites for either local or family history, and for me the two are inevitably intertwined!

Jamaican Family History logoMy friend and colleague Di Stiff (who you will be meeting on this blog next week!) has introduced me to an amazing website for anyone researching their Caribbean family history, the wonderful Jamaican Family History website.

This is a fantastic site created by a lady named Patricia Jackson who has put together a fascinating collection of helpful research guides, including a ‘How Do I Begin’ page, along with a history of Jamaica, a glossary, a bibliography and a guide to where to find records. If this wasn’t enough, there are also several transcribed records such as the 1878 Kingston City Directory. Some pages are reserved for members (which I think is fair enough) but it’s an amazing resource and one that I have really enjoyed exploring.

Screen shot from the website on the National Archives websiteIncidentally, there’s another great website on a similar subject called Moving Here. Although this website is now archived by the National Archives, it’s still a brilliant resource with some amazing migration stories.

While we celebrate Black History month every year, perhaps in light of recent events this is a time to reflect on why we celebrate and concentrate on the history of one part of our vibrant and gloriously diverse community. The stories behind Black History in this country don’t always make easy reading for anyone of any background. However, if nothing else they remind us that we are an island made up of many origins, colours and cultures, all of which make us a wonderful sum of its parts.

As faBlack History 365 logomily historians, we should all celebrate our unique and special heritage and remind ourselves that while everyone has their own story to tell, our home is the bond that ties us all together. Perhaps we should take guidance from Jamaica’s wonderful motto “Out of Many, One People”. I think that says it all, don’t you?

Keep safe and well and Happy Researching!

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One wife too many …!

Image of Edith Wood c1910

My grandmother, c1910

Whenever I want to cause a stir at cocktail parties I like to announce that my grandmother was a bigamist. This is a little unfair of me as it was not intentional. Grandma had assumed that when the War Office told her that her first husband (the two had separated some years previously when he emigrated to Australia) was missing in action, she was free to marry again, which she did to my grandfather in 1916. Cue husband number one appearing back on the scene. Sadly her first husband was seriously injured and died shortly afterwards, when she quickly re-married just in time for my aunt to make her appearance on the scene.

Now you may think that my grandmother was perhaps not the most sparkly star in the ancestral firmament but in her defence, she was no different to many women who had been brought up at the time to blindly trust both in Authorities and in men in general.

From my research experience it would seem that bigamy was pretty rife in the UK before they relaxed the divorce laws by varying degrees in the 20th century. It would be difficult to check if someone was a multiple offender and most of the bigamy cases seem to have been brought before the authorities by chance rather than any dedicated detective work.

Image of Birmingham Gaol c.1920

Birmingham Gaol c.1920. By Unknown – Taken from a postcard in – the Glenn Christodoulou Collection, PD-US,

Take the case of Edmund Lewis, who while in prison in a Birmingham gaol in 1882 had the misfortune to be visited by his two wives on the same day.  It would seem that Edmund married his second wife, a Liverpool barmaid named Jane, whilst his first wife, Catherine was alive and well and presumably living in Cardiff where they married in 1865.  Despite feigning madness (he ate vast quantities of soap to produce foaming at the mouth and only gave up his ‘shamming’ after being subjected to “repeated galvanic shocks” to cure his affliction) he was sent to trail at Warwickshire Assizes. Although he wrote a pleading letter to his second wife imploring her not to prosecute, and reminding her of a visit which they paid to the Liverpool Assizes, and how wretched the prisoners looked, he appeared on 11 February 1892 and received 12 months[1].

And Edmund wasn’t the only one with a certain amount of chutzpah. I loved this example reported in the Norfolk News of 19 March 1870:

Experienced Bigamy: A curious bigamy case has been tried at Maidstone. Mr Richard Foster of the ripe age of 70, was indicted for having married one lady of the name of Jane Smith in 1842, and with espousing another Smith, a Mary Anne in 1869, whilst Jane was still alive. The veteran bigamist confessed the soft impeachment. But he argued that his marriage to Jane in 1842 was illegal because he had been married once before, in 1828, to Maria Frazer. Now this lady was alive in 1842, so that the marriage with Jane was void, but she was not alive in 1869, and therefore the marriage with Mary Ann was good. The jury acquitted him. The judge, however, pointed out that if he did not commit bigamy in 1869, he did, on his own confession, err in 1842. He must, therefore, exchange the frying-pan for the fire, and remain in custody.

Whilst it appears to have been far more common for men to have had multiple wives rather than women multiple husbands, it did occasionally happen.  Many newspapers around the UK picked up the story of Eliza Hathaway/Bradley, perhaps for the curious and frankly bizarre stories she told to the authorities.

Silhouette of a wedding coupleIn 1881 Eliza married Thomas Bradley at the parish church, Kidderminster, and she described herself on the marriage certificate as being a widow. This was despite her husband Edwin Hathaway, who she had married in the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Brierley Hill in 1870, being alive and well and living barely 10 miles away. The 1871 census shows the couple living in Stourbridge and they have a 5 month old daughter named Louisa[1]. Edwin was over twice her age and a widower himself so perhaps Eliza tired of the marriage and sought out someone a little more exciting and nearer her age.  Ten years later the 1881 census shows Eliza and Thomas Bradley living with Eliza’s daughter Sophia [Louisa?] Hathaway aged 10.

However, her sins caught up with her.  The Worcestershire Chronicle of 20 May 1882 tells of her being caught out but also reports on her ‘story’.

It states that shortly after her marriage, Eliza left her husband to seek her own fortune and went on to marry Thomas Bradley, after which her story starts to get a little involved. She stated that she had visited the Salvation Hall, became a zealous soldier, and “harangued meetings”. Her passion attracted the attention of the commanding officers of the Army and she was promoted to a captain. Her husband, Bradley, did not agree with her making visits to the hall and eventually she left him and was sent on behalf of the Salvation Army to open a campaign at Hafferton [probably Nafferton] in Yorkshire. Her success was so great that she was employed to open another campaign at Goole. At the latter place her “exhortations were also highly successful”, perhaps so successful that the work became too hard and she returned to her friends at Stourbridge.

So far so good – or was it?

In the same newspaper, the following statement was given:

The Daily Chronicle is asked to state that Eliza Hathaway, arrested at Stourbridge on a charge of bigamy at Kidderminster, never was a member let alone a “captain” of the Army, and that the Army has never held a service at either Haffleton (sic), Nafferton or Goole in Yorkshire where she was id to have conducted very successful campaigns in connection with the Army.

It would appear that Eliza was something of a fantasist and perhaps even displayed some mental health issues.  Certainly the judge was fairly lenient with her sentence, committing her to only 14 days in the common gaol on 5th July 1882[1].

Image of a broken heartSo, was bigamy a sort of ‘poor man’s divorce’?  I’m inclined to think it was. In my grandmother’s case, her first marriage had basically fallen apart and her desire to remarry had rather eclipsed any thoughts of ensuring she was free to do so. Eliza was young, possibly a bit flighty and regretted her marriage to a man old enough to be her father. Edmund Lewis and Richard Foster may be classed as ‘cads and rotters’ but perhaps they were simply lively young men who made wrong decisions.  True, it was a man’s world in that a deserted woman had a much tougher time of it than a deserted man and you could argue that Edmund and Richmond were not particularly honourable in their behaviour – but then again, neither was Eliza and my grandmother was uncommonly foolish and easily persuaded.

Newspapers are a great source for finding cases of bigamy and court records are another useful resource. We hold both these resources for Surrey here at the History Centre and they make fascinating reading.

I’m sure that there are dozens of cases of bigamy in the last 200 years or so that have never been discovered (or at least, not at the time!) and I wonder just how many second marriages or relationships were simply an alternative to a divorce. What do you think?

Keep safe and well and Happy Researching!

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[1] Worcestershire Chronicle 11 February 1882[2] 1871 Census: TNA Reference RG10; Piece: 3022; Folio: 56; Page: 12.

[3] England and Wales Criminal Registers, 1791-1892.  TNA Ref HO 27; Piece 193; Page 218.

October is Black History Month!

Black History Month 2020

Black History Month logos
Surrey Heritage LogoSurrey Heritage has supported this international awareness campaign for nearly twenty years now, acknowledging the need to preserve the history of Black lives in the county and raise awareness through our collections and outreach. However, the seismic impact of the Black Lives Matters movement this year reinforces the importance to not only celebrate the lives and achievements of Surrey’s Black people but to reveal and acknowledge how these people were treated in the past.

Our unique archive and library collections are a powerful tool in the fight against discrimination and inequality. Through education comes understanding and tolerance and we present these important life stories, some of them uncomfortable to read, using historical material from the collections and with context. We welcome any new information which helps us to develop our collections and expand the dialogue about Surrey’s Black History connections. Please contact us at [email protected].

Lucean Arthur Headen – Q&A podcast

For Black History Month we were due to host a talk by American academic Dr Jill D Snider about the extraordinary life of Lucean Arthur Headen, an early Black American aviator, who lived in Frimley and became a leading industrialist in 1930s Camberley. Whilst her talk had to be postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, not to be deterred, Jill has kindly recorded a fantastic Q&A session with us which can be viewed in our latest podcast

Do you have reminiscences of Camberley, Frimley Green, and Frimley in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s? Would you like to ask Jill a question about any aspect of Headen’s life or work? Why not get in touch with her at [email protected].

Image of Lucean Arthur Headen’s British National identity Card, 1931 (Courtesy of Lucean Arthur Headen Jr.)

Lucean Arthur Headen’s British National identity Card, 1931
(Courtesy of Lucean Arthur Headen Jr.)

Marvel of the Month – Surrey’s road to Abolition

By the later eighteenth century there was growing opposition to the injustice and barbarism of the slave trade from within Britain. These vocal critics were called Abolitionists, and each had their own unique perspective, be it religious, political or philanthropic. For October’s Marvel of the Month we take a look at the Abolitionist movement in Surrey, which includes Dr Stephen Lushington, Surrey Quaker Meetings and Guildford Anti-Slavery Committee

Portrait of The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society Convention of 1840, painted by Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1841, featuring Stephen Lushington of Ockham Park (left side of painting, 2nd row down from top, seated 2nd right), Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (seated to the left of Lushington), and Lady Noel-Byron, of Esher (right side of painting, 2nd row up from front, seated 3rd left). (Copyright National Portrait Gallery)

Portrait of The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society Convention of 1840, painted by Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1841, featuring Stephen Lushington of Ockham Park (left side of painting, 2nd row down from top, seated 2nd right), Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (seated to the left of Lushington), and Lady Noel-Byron, of Esher (right side of painting, 2nd row up from front, seated 3rd left). (Copyright National Portrait Gallery)

Read our article with Surrey Live about four Abolitionists in Surrey everyone should know about

Discover more about Black History in Surrey

Black people have moved to Surrey from all over the world for centuries and become part of the county’s amazing diversity. As a result they appear in the county’s historical records from the sixteenth century onwards from which we can glean an important insight into their lives. Discover some of Surrey’s inspirational Black History stories at

GoSurrey online magazine are featuring the story of Lucean Arthur Headen this month along with the Exploring Surrey’s Past Black History pages at

Surrey Life Magazine are featuring some of our amazing local Black History stories, including Lucean Arthur Headen, John Springfield and Phillis Wheatley, in the October magazine

Image of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773 (SHC ref 1487/118)

Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773 (SHC ref 1487/118)

Joseph Marryat of Wimbledon House, MP, was chairman of Lloyds of London and a merchant with many interests in the West Indies. His family feature prominently in UCL’s database of Legacies of British Slave Ownership. For Black History Month you can discover more about Wimbledon’s links to the slave trade with this blog from our friends at Summerstown182 Project

Tracing Black family history?

From World War One to Windrush, tracing black ancestors can be challenging but more sources are now available online than ever before and there is an exciting new awareness of British black cultural history. Read our guide to sources at

Image of John Springfield of Guildford, cobbler and lay preacher, c.1880s (SHC ref 1714/1)

John Springfield of Guildford, cobbler and lay preacher, c.1880s (SHC ref 1714/1)

Follow our Seeking Surrey Ancestors blog which for October reviews a key Black genealogy website (2 Oct) and reveals unexpected local Black History links in Dorking (6 October), and explores how we might feel having slave owning ancestors.

Read more about what’s going on for Black History Month with Surrey County Council in the October edition of Surrey Matters magazine.

Watch out for Surrey Heritage Black History Month social media posts throughout October on Facebook and Twitter

Surrey Libraries

Discover inspiring literature with the Surrey Libraries Black History virtual reading lists:

Surrey Arts

The Orchestra of Unlimited Potential (UP!)
Launching on 3rd October as part of Black History Month, this term UP! Orchestra will be focussing on Music of Black Origin (MOBO).

Each week this award winning ensemble will be looking at a different music genre, its cultural origin and paying special attention and appreciation to how music of black origin remains the beating heart in the myriad of music genres that continue to shape our lives and the world around us. Find out how to join the UP! Orchestra at

Find out more about the Black History Month campaign at

Croeso! The National Library of Wales

Image of the Welsh flagSadly, I am not blessed with Welsh ancestors but I did grow up in North Wales and can delight in my Welsh upbringing. Although I have always struggled with the language, I embrace the music, the poetry, the scenery and above all, the history.

Wales has had an extraordinary history for such a small country, and fiercely defends its independence, not so much economically, but historically and culturally. If you’ve never been to Wales, I urge you to go – it’s quite simply fascinating and beautiful in equal measures.

However, enough of the Tourist Board Talk and on to the important stuff. Where can I find records for my Welsh ancestors?  Well, a good place to start is the National Library of Wales. Based in Aberystwyth it’s a lovely place to visit but equally, they’ve got a great website.

Image of Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle

You can search tithe maps free of charge – and it’s great fun! I found out who owned and occupied the house I grew up in along with the farm next door, and it was interesting to see that the small quarry pit I played in as a child was there in the 1840s. There is also a very useful Place Names of Wales section in the tithe map search which is very well laid out. Just as there are fewer surnames in Wales, you will also find that there are quite a few towns and villages with the same name and this facility can be invaluable if you are not sure of the geography of the area. You’ll have hours of fun with this one.

There is a fantastic index to pre-1858 wills and marriage bonds (you can obtain copies of the documents if you wish) and a wonderful collection of Welsh newspapers (in English too!). There are also some great information pages for family historians and online access to over 450 journals comprising of academic and literary publications to popular magazines. I sometimes forget just how useful local history journals can be for finding out details of specific areas where my ancestors lived. They can be invaluable for discovering more about contemporary local industries or local landowners.

Google translate image

Google Translate

One last thing; if you do find something in Welsh and if, like me, you have only a passing knowledge of this beautiful language, don’t forget Google Translate (or similar). Welsh is a very logical language and, as such, translates pretty well with online resources. It’s not infallible but a lot better than for some other languages. For example, the newspaper Gwalia (Wales) commenting on the various activities in and around Conwy in September 1902 reported that:

YR HEDDLYS.—Mewn heddlys arbenig, ddydd Mawrth, dirwywyd Thomas Owen, asied-ydd, Llandudno Junction, i 58 a’r oostau am fod yn feddw ac afreolus.

and the English translation via Google Translate reads:

THE POLICE. — On special rulings, on Tuesday, Thomas Owen, agent, Llandudno Junction, was fined 58 and costs for being drunk and disorderly.

I simply ‘cut and pasted’ from the transcribed paper and occasonally there are issues with newspapers and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) but although I had to go back and see that he was fined 58 shillings, that’s not bad, is it? You can usually get the gist of something and often the local papers publish pretty impressive obituaries, some even including photographs.

In conjunction with Find My Past, the NLW has placed it’s wonderful collection of parish registers online and if you are using this resource, I would recommend using it in conjunction with all these wonderful resources at the National Library of Wales.

Keep safe and well and Happy Researching!

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