Uphill Estuary Weston Bay Somerset A special place

A perfect morning as we look over the Axe Estuary from Uphill Nature Reserve. The path leads around to the boatyard from her at the Axe Estuary at the end of the beach at Weston Super Mare Somerset England. The land that gets the tidal flow over it is rich in wild flowers and especially sea lavender and teems with birds and wildlife. We have spotted around 50 different birds on the estuary and reserve. A very beautiful place.

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Panorama of Brean Down and Weston Bay to the Axe Estuary
Uphill Church from the Nature reserve
Very Low Tide on the Axe Estuary Weston Super Mare
Low tide at Axe Estuary near Uphill Somerset
View of Brean Down from the Axe Estuary Weston Super Mare Somerset
Brean Down Somerset from the beach at Weston Super Mare Somerset

– Enjoy a bottle of French wine today

Hôtel Restaurant les Templiers Collioure France

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Hotel restaurant Les Templiers Collioure France – Interior view of the artwork.

On this mild clear evening the sun is going down, the scene is enlightened by the lights of the harbour front cafés and bars and the spot lights focused on Collioure’s church, Notre-Dame-des-Anges, a former converted lighthouse. There is of course in this gorgeous setting the natural moonlight sparkling on the sea and reflected on the brightly coloured fishing boats that are such a feature of the harbour at Collioure. These small boats have inspired so many artists over the years being painted and photographed so often that they are synonymous with this beautiful harbour. In the full light of day we will see them at their best later in the week. Artists and artisans such as Andre Derain, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Charles Rennie Mackintosh along with many others have been inspired by the light and views on offer here in Collioure. Inside the Restaurant/Bar Templiers which has a particularly attractive terrace on Avenue Camille Pelleton there are copies or art works adorning the walls by Picasso, Matisse, Dali and others. The restaurant had the originals left to them by these famous artists but some of these were stolen years ago so very understandably no originals are to be seen on display today. On the quayside leading down the Avenue there are many modern day artists painting the very same scenes, some to very good effect, others perhaps are a little dubiously talented. It all makes for a lovely peaceful and atmospheric scene though. Along the front of the small half-moon shaped beach that has the church as its focal point there are many brightly lit cafés and most of these have a terrace spilling out right up to the beach, the clinking of glasses an ever present relaxing sound. The view from one of these tables is I feel as good as it gets and it is one that has to be savoured over a latte or a beer or a lovely chilled rosé wine.

Collioure Harbour
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Tour de France Tommy Simpson and a strange tale of Mont Ventoux

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Mont Ventoux from outside of the village of Bonnieux Provence France

From early in my life I always had a fascination about the career and death of the British cyclist Tommy Simpson. In my youth I was a keen cyclist but I never cycled competitively. I had one of those ‘can you remember where you were when JFK was shot’ moments in 1967 when Simpson died that July day during the Tour de France on his ascent of Mt Ventoux. I do remember exactly where I was when Kennedy died; I was in a Fish and Chip shop in Darwen, Lancashire, my home town.  I clearly remember my parents and everyone around being very shocked. I vividly recall that when Simpson passed away I was in Blackpool on one of our ubiquitous summer holidays. I was listening in my earpiece to a cricket commentary on my transistor radio when a newsflash interrupted this very English scene flowing around in my head.  I think importantly for me though it was that Simpsons death was the first one in my life that really registered on my consciousness. How could such an athlete just die?

Simpson it is true contributed to his demise due to his response to the extreme pressure to succeed that surrounds the Tour de France and continues to do so to this day. Sadly, it was ever thus, that ways were being found to enhance a rider’s performance in the Tour. It was concluded that he also had done so and this had made him go unknowingly beyond the limits of endurance. Due to having been quite debilitating ill in the previous days of the Tour a tragedy was the inevitable consequence. He was, despite joining in with the culture of the times in striving to be better at any cost a very popular figure and in England. He was revered as an athlete which was unusual for the somewhat minority spectator sport of cycling. What I am saying really is that he was not a Soccer playing superstar but through strength of character and that determination to win he had broken through the barrier into much wider popularity.  He certainly had with me and I had followed his career avidly and for that reason his death was a massive event in my life. The modern comparison for my son would be the death of Ayrton Senna.

When travelling in Provence I had always looked up at Mt Ventoux, you have to as you cannot miss it, thinking that I must go up there and pay my respects at Simpsons memorial. Constructed where he fell, it is just one kilometre from the summit on the route going up from the village of Malaucène. In 2005 I decided it was high time that I did and so we set out first of all for Malaucène.

It is a long way up there – Mont Ventoux

We did not go up Ventoux straightaway as there was a morning market on in the town and we spend an hour or so browsing around and as usual we were unable to resist the temptation to buy. After a coffee in the market square we finally set off up Ventoux via the route D974. The road is quite steep even in the early stages from Malaucène. You reach a service station looking like an Alps chalet but we past it by and pressed on towards the summit and our goal for the day.  Even early on in our climb up the mountain by car it is clear that to do this on a racing cycle must require a certain almost superhuman strength. Without condoning it you can see that many would resort to assistance from whatever source available to try to deal with this immense pressure placed by the Tour de France. I cannot comprehend how anyone can attempt this at all but on this day there are a few amateur cyclists, some equipped with oxygen, attempting to emulate their heroes from the Tour. I am not sure how sensible it is to try but try they must.

Our car is new, a Skoda Octavia top of the range diesel model with the larger engine and has never missed a beat in all the time I have owned it as a company car. It has taken us the nearly 1000 miles from the North of England with ease and for the last week we have toured around the area without it offering complaint. The car is in the very best of condition. We round some zig zag bends and bizarrely at a couple of points I have the sensation of going downhill. I have had this feeling occur also in the English Lakes at higher altitude when your car seems to be almost cruising with minimum power being applied. We carry on uphill quite slowly as I need to concentrate and we hesitantly reach somewhere around 4500 feet in altitude.

It is around this point on the climb and not very far from our objective of Tommy Simpson’s memorial that something very strange starts to happen with our vehicle. The car becomes very unresponsive and does not gain any further height with ease, becoming very sluggish. You sense that the engine has the signs of overheating and I half expect to see some smoke coming from under the bonnet. This is very much a quite disconcerting sensation, but worse follows in that it now appears to be most of the mechanics of the car that are starting to shut down and not responding to my control. This was quite scary as we were at a high altitude with serious drops going down from the side of the road and I did not feel I was in control of the vehicle even though I was only progressing the car at a very low speed. I decided to ease the car over to the mountain face side of the road and it did so very reluctantly. I was I have to admit shaking and extremely stressed by this as was Niamh.

There was definitely no possibility of me trying to continue up the mountain road as my nerves were completely shot at. It was essential in view of what was going on with the mechanics of the car that we try to get back down the mountain safely. Sadly, I would be thwarted in getting up to Simpsons memorial but discretion is as they say the better part of valour.

I told Niamh to get out of the car while I try to attempt to turn the car around to head back down the mountain road. I have visually checked the engine etc.. nothing seems on face value to be mechanically amiss with the vehicle. The car really does not want to move but eventually I do manage after about a twenty point turn to safely get it pointing in the opposite direction and Niamh reluctantly gets back in. We start to retrace our steps down Ventoux and come immediately to a sharp turn. I brake and there is absolutely no response from the pedals. Fortunately at this gentler part of the decent we are not going too fast and I negotiate the bend which then straightens out to a long steeper descent. Again I try the brakes and – nothing! I manically pull on the hand brake and point the car to the mountainside and eventually bring it to a stop in a small ditch by the side of the road. Our nerves have been through the wringer and back again.

At this point we both get out and now see our car as a demented enemy no longer the faithful friend that has served us so well this far. The only plan I can think of is that we bide our time and let the car completely cool down and then hesitantly and conservatively try again. This is what we do and when I am happy that we have left it long enough we get back inside. Heading cautiously down the descent the brakes are not perfect by any means but they seem as if they will get us back to Malaucène if I take considerable care. We slowly but surely do this and it was an incredible relief to get back down and park in the commune, get out and have a double expresso and mop each other’s brow. I had been thwarted in my plan for the day but worst of all we had got ourselves into a very serious position on that climb and had felt that it could easily, very easily have ended with a far worse result.

I have no explanation as to what occurred with the car on that mountain road. The altitude and the cars reaction to that height was the only thing that I could put it down to. What made it completely bizarre was that we got back in the car and travelled all the way back to Mazan where we were staying and the vehicle drove and responded perfectly as it always had done previously. I couldn’t take it to a garage as there was nothing to look at, it was fine. It drove perfectly for the rest of the week and the long journey back to England.

It was indeed time for a bottle of wine or two! I never got to Tommy Simpson’s memorial and reaching it is still on my ‘to do list’. I will get there, probably without Niamh, I will pay my respects to my childhood cycling hero but I will do it with great respect for this dangerous mountain and I will do it with care and talk kindly to my car on the way up.

Beautiful City of Wells Somerset

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Bishops Palace Wells Somerset

A medieval palace that has been the residence of the Bishops of Bath & Wells for over 800 years. The first bishop obtained a crown licence for constructing this grand home and deer park. Within the fortified Bishops Palace walls are the ruin of the Great Hall, the Bishop’s private chapel. There are also 14 acres of beautiful gardens, an arboretum, a community garden and a reflective garden. This uniquely moated palace boasts an imposing portcullis gatehouse with drawbridge. This gives the visitor an impression of entering a castle, but all is peaceful and tranquil when you tour the site.

View of the lawn inside the Bishop Palace walls

Built between 1175 and 1490 Wells Cathedral is described as “the most poetic of the English Cathedrals”. Wells is the earliest of all English Cathedral to be built in a Gothic style. The stain glass is as extensive a collection to be found in England and the Chapter House is a fascinating part of the building. Don’t miss the clock as you walk around the outside after visiting Vicars Close

Stain Glass inside Wells Cathedral to the side housing the ancient Clock

By the Cathedral is Vicars’ Close, believed to be the only complete medieval street still standing in England. This Wells landmark was designed to provide communal accommodation for the Vicars Choral, responsible to sing each day at worship within the Cathedral. This centuries-old tradition carry on today. It is a unique and valued part of Wells Cathedral. All the buildings are grade 1 listed. They are all occupied and as you walk up and down the street normal life goes on.

On Wednesday morning Wells hold a superb street market. We come for the food and most of it is produce local to the area and fish from Cornwall. Plenty of other stalls to browse including Jewellery, hand made crafts, books, clothes and much more.
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More Beautiful Suffolk Coast and Inland Photography

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Walberswick River Estuary Suffolk
Southwold from the coastal path to Walberswick
Boats on the beach at Aldeburgh Suffolk in Evening light
Fresh fish off the boats on the beach at Aldeburgh Suffolk
Alde estuary from the Sailing club at Aldeburgh Suffolk
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More Beautiful Suffolk Coast and Inland Photography

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Walberswick River Estuary Suffolk
Southwold from the coastal path to Walberswick
Boats on the beach at Aldeburgh Suffolk in Evening light
Fresh fish off the boats on the beach at Aldeburgh Suffolk
Alde estuary from the Sailing club at Aldeburgh Suffolk
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Springtime on the Canal Somerset England

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Boat House near to Maunsell Lock on the Bridgewater Canal

Good Friday brought the most perfect of spring days this year and for us coming out of the first stage of lockdown it was a joy to be out on the canal. The Bridgewater Taunton Canal from Maunsel Lock near North Petherton takes you through some beautiful scenery and the walk as far as Creech St Michael is around 3 miles. The area teems with birdlife and a heron was happy to stay by the canal side and give a few flying displays. The canal is well used with lots of canoes and kayaks as well as many paddleboarders. They have to make way occasionally for a barge of two coming down the canal. Fishermen line the bank and the canal contains lots of visible fish although most are quite small. Extra interest is added to this walk with the spaced out markers for the planets that give children an indication of the relative distances between them in the solar system. One feature you cannot avoid is the WW2 stop line of pill boxes running the length of the canal at regular intervals. These were constructed by General Edmund Ironside as a line of defence against German invasion. His plan was seen to be heavily flawed and he was retired gracefully on its completion. These pillboxes would have had limited effect to put it mildly and I think as you view them today that fact is very obvious. After a six mile walk the tea room at Maunsel lock is a fine way to end a lovely day.

All the photography was taken with an  Olympus OM-D E-M10 MkIII

Fishing on the Bridgewater Taunton Canal near Charlton
Tempting display of Home made Farm produce at Charlton on Bridgewater Canal
Penny Farthing Cycle on Bridgewater Taunton Canal
Apple Blossom trees near Charlton on the Bridgewater Canal
Maunsell Lock near North Petherton Somerset

Pont Alexandre III Bridge Paris France – great views on all sides

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Please check out my travel books on Amazon – enjoy France from your armchair until we can fully travel again. Looking forward to travelling again soon. Thank you and hope everyone keeps safe. – Merci Neal

The imposing Pont Alexandre bridge over the Seine in Paris France

One cannot fail to be impressed whether admiring from the banks of the Seine or walking over this wonderful bridge. Admire the view down both ways as you look over the river. You may be dazzled by the glint of gold on a hot sunny day. Look out for the occasional brocante market on the quayside below.

Family History – Conducting an Ancestry Search

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Today sees the compiling of the 2021 UK Census. I will publish a few of my own stories relating to my search for my ancestors stories over the years. The invaluable information on the census was a key part of what I was able to find. I hope you enjoy the stories and also this posting that will help you with researching a family history.

The slum dwellings of Water Street Darwen – the home of my family back in Victorian times with a descendant looking on

I eagerly tore apart the envelope from the Records Office as I knew the contents should be the key to opening up my search for my wife Lorna’s family line. Inside was the birth certificate of Alice Hatton, the daughter born to George Hatton and his wife in 1916. This is Lorna’s Grandmother. The name on the certificate that would actually cause me more extensive research than I could possibly imagine was of the mother of Alice – Lily Stanford. Up to this point I had been unable to find the name of George’s wife, no wedding certificate of marriage appeared to exist but it had been clear that all of his children were probably with this same woman. Within minutes I was online and searching for Lily. It would be a very long search.

After many years it reached the point when I could start to write about the family and publish a book – A Bullet for Life – that told the story of the family from a military perspective.

The Search

The only record I had up to then was the 1911 census and that named Lily Hatton as George’s wife and she was said to have been born in Preston, Lancashire. Searching now with the maiden surname it was clear that there was not a Lily or Lillian Stanford ever born in Preston. In the entire country there was only one Lily Stanford, a girl born in Barrow in Furness, Cumbria in 1888. I had nothing to link George with her but she was the only possibility – could I prove it to be correct?

Test Family Lore

I had already encountered problems with the line of George Hatton and this is a cautionary tale of not taking family information at face value but checking it out properly before embarking on extensive research. Initially I did not have the first name of George Hatton but family members recalled an Evelyn Hatton who was a daughter of George and therefore a sister of Alice, Lorna’s Grandmother.

When you are starting out on your research you need to take a step back and not be so keen and eager that you act on the first piece of information you find or are given. Evelyn Hatton I easily found as a child in the 1901 census and therefore my assumption was that this was the line and armed with the names of the parents I was off and running in search of the family line. In my eagerness I had not realized as I really should have done that this Evelyn Hatton was at least 10 or more years too old to have been Lorna’s Auntie Evelyn. I spent several weeks compiling the family tree from this 1901 census starting point and did it very successfully going back for around 100 years. The only snag was that it was the wrong Evelyn and therefore entirely the incorrect family line. I made an excellent job of tracing it all accurately on someone else’s behalf but it was all complete nonsense as far as Lorna’s line was concerned. Family genealogy can be very frustrating. By all means use family information but check it thoroughly before accepting it as fact.

Clear Deception

The frustration continued as I did eventually find what had to be the correct line with George Hatton as although I could take his line back I could not take it anywhere on his wife Lily’s side. She was a person that in the records did not exist.  Within a few weeks I had obtained the 1914-18 war records of George. They also contained reference to his service in the Boer War in South Africa. In the 1901 census George is on home leave, listing himself as a single man and a member of the West Yorkshire regiment, living with his father.

These war records would muddy the waters even further regarding George and Lily. In the records as a soldier he lists as he is obliged to do his marriage and children. He states, and in the event after more research this is correct, that he marries in Preston in 1897 and all the exact dates and witnesses to the event are given. His wife he claims is Mary Hannah Stanford, not Lily. As Lily would have been nine years old at the time of this marriage, George was clearly attempting to deceive.

George’s Regimental Badge

Retrieving the Marriage Records

It was now time to trace this part of George’s life. By searching the marriage records I found that George Hatton had married Mary Hannah Grime (a distant cousin) at that Preston church in 1897. I sent for the marriage certificate and if you are doing similar, quite involved research then these certificates are invaluable. They are also much cheaper and readily available now as you can have them available to download in a matter of days rather than obtaining a paper copy.

Cross Referencing

Going back to the war records it is obvious that George is trying to cover his tracks. As his next of kin he states this to be Lily Hatton but there is an attempt to blur that first name, perhaps his story to the officer is that Lily is a pet name of his for Mary Hannah – you can only speculate. The names of the children are correct but none are born prior to 1906 meaning that George had gone (on paper) nine years into the marriage before staring a family. As George and Lily had six children in a relatively short space of time this was unlikely. The marriage to Mary Hannah Grime was George’s only marriage, it was short and tragic as Mary Hannah did have a child while George was in South Africa but it was not his and the child died in infancy.  This information came from the online parish records at https://www.lan-opc.org.uk/ and these were invaluable in much of my family research. Similar records are available in most counties and many of these records are now available on Ancestry of Find My Past etc..  Also most counties have a family history society and these can be extremely helpful as I found particularly with the one in Cornwall based in Truro.

Following the Lily Trail

My assumption that Lily Stanford was one and the same person as the Lily from Barrow was difficult to prove. I was certain that this lady was the common law wife of George and they had not married legally, in fact it would have been bigamously if they had – something that did not stop Mary Hannah remarrying. George had stated that Lily was born in Preston. She was not, so I concentrated on the sister of the Cumbrian Lily, Evalena and tried to trace her. I found her quite easily in 1911 working in Cumbria as a servant and later discovered that an Eva Stanford had married in Preston but this was in 1934 to an Alfred Cant. 1934 would have seen her entering middle age so was this likely to be the correct Eva(lina) Stanford? It seemed unlikely but I had to pursue it.

By chance I had found a death of a man that could be this Lily and Eva’s father, a man that also had a very elusive and fractured family tree, one that even now I have not totally unravelled. This man that fitted the information I had so far was living in Shawforth, a small town close to Bacup, Lancashire. On an off chance I sent for this certificate and on opening there was the name of the informant – Eva Cant. To clinch that she was Lily’s sister I continued looking at George and Lily’s lives. I had no information from Lorna’s mother as these Grandparents had died before her birth and she herself had been put into care at around five years old so had no family history to pass on.

Case Solved?

Bearing in mind that George and Lily must have been together since 1905 I still thought it worthwhile in going farther on in time and looked at any possibility of a marriage and I found one in 1931 in Rochdale, a safe distance from Preston. They had left Preston for the event as this marriage was still bigamous as Mary Hannah, although bigamously married herself was still alive.  The reason why they finally married was that Lily was dying and her death followed two months later.  On the marriage certificate were the names of the witnesses and one was Eva Cant, Lily’s sister. The case was finally solved – well nearly.

I wanted to find out where George and Lily were buried. The Cant plot is in Bacup but Lily is not buried there. If you are trying to find a grave then do try the Cemetery offices as they are usually very helpful and now also there is the https://www.deceasedonline.com/  website which is excellent. I had to assume that they were buried in Preston as this was their last known address and so I turned up at the Cemetery office with I have to say quite muddled information but they were extremely patient and brought out the old record books and located very quickly the Hatton plot and there buried together were George and Lily. The grave itself is unmarked but coincidentally very near to a plot on my side of the family that also yielded much valuable information.

Take Your Time

That was my methodology for this puzzle so I do hope there are a few pointers as to the direction to take but the best advice with a problem like this is take your time and try if possible to have a confirming source. It was very difficult solving this one and probably took about two years in total but I have to say it was great fun doing it.

The Things I Have Learnt

When I set out on my search for all these previously unknown family members, and I now have over 900 relatives that I never knew existed, I initially thought that my side of the family in particular was pretty boring. Lorna’s side from day one was clearly not in the least uninteresting and with the research I have done I can certainly say that her line would make a better programme than any WDYTYA that I have ever seen.

Keep Digging

If you find from your initial research that there appears to be little reason to carry on digging into the lives of these people then try to dispel that thought. The first research will of course be based on the Census’ available and these will give you the family line and brief details regarding occupations etc… My suggestion from the research I have enjoyed is to go to the military records as a next step.

Military Records

Take some time and patience to check any possible people that could have been involved in conflict. For World War II you may have to try Google or check Member’s trees etc… on Ancestry. Newspapers also can be useful for 1939-45 but again will need patience. What you may uncover can be quite remarkable as in the case of my Grandfathers brother who died as a child and his tragic records were included in my G/Grandfathers war papers.

If you find that a relative has died in the war then almost certainly the newspapers will have a record and I found such fascinating details for Alan Atherton, Jonathan Walkden and Roger Orrell. Don’t stop at the easily obtainable records on Ancestry for instance. It can be worth contacting the regiment they served with and these can be most helpful in providing more details. Checking online by searching for their regiment or known actions can also be extremely rewarding and many people and regiments have blogs that provide accurate information about the circumstances your ancestor may have fought in and sadly died in.

Contact Other Researchers

I found also that contact with other researchers was invaluable. There are times when you reach a dead end and no amount of searching can unlock the path. Other people may have access to family records that give you the break you need and this happened quite a few times over my years of research. Some of the information provided by these distantly related contacts has been truly extensive and invaluable. It is always worth cultivating contacts although just very occasionally you may wish you hadn’t!

Local Newspapers

The area that needs patience and persistence is in trying to find extra information from local newspapers. In the cases of Thomas Ashburner, John Ashburner, Roger Orrell, James Atherton and Alan Atherton I was able to discover so much extra detail and find events that were buried deep in the past that turned their stories into something remarkable. This is where the past comes alive and an apparently boring and straightforward life turns out to be anything but and that was certainly the case with these men.

Newspapers also can provide photographs of ancestors and that is a thrilling piece of detail to find. The newspaper accounts that you uncover can also throw up more names and these can be interesting to follow up. In the case of Roger Orrell the first name of his ‘sweetheart’ was intriguing and elusive but still a case to follow up and try different angles. Again, these can often be solved by contacts through family trees that are on line. I hope it will prove to be so in this case. These newspaper articles can often give a portrait of a long gone family member.

Newspaper photo in a report that gave me more details about my relative Roger Orrell

Living Family Members

In Alan Atherton’s case I did have living family members who had known Alan but they provided precious little information and that can often be a problem when talking to family. They either genuinely cannot remember or they have reasons as to why they do not want to be forthcoming on a subject and I have had plenty of those. When that happens it actually spurs me on to find out the reason for their reticence and it can be very interesting to uncover family secrets. If I do I always am very cautious about sharing information that could be upsetting to others and I urge you to always take that approach. Not everyone wants to know about the past or more importantly events that they have chosen to forget or compartmentalise. Please take care and share your information with caution and tact.

You will also without doubt find that some information from family members is complete falsehood but again there is little point in telling them that what they believe is the truth is actually quite different. I have and still do let ‘sleeping dogs lie’ as regards some facts that impact on living family members. Using newspapers needs patience as you will find hundreds of references that initially seem to match but only a few will do. So if you want to go down this line I recommend using a subscription, if only for a month or so. Using a cost per click method will bankrupt you.

Criminal Records

Hopefully you have an upright law abiding family, but if you have not then the criminal records are a wonderful source of information and provide endless lines of research.  In my case there were plenty of instances to follow up but I am pleased to say that in living memory we have all behaved ourselves. James Atherton who features heavily in my story would probably not have drawn my attention had I not checked the criminal records for my family. If I had not done that research then this book would probably never have been written. James was not on the 1891 census for Darwen, Lancashire, the town where he should have been living. I carried on searching and eventually found him in HM Prison at Preston, Lancashire, detained at Queen Victoria’s pleasure. From there I checked out the criminal records and could put approximate dates to his offences. From there it was a trip to the library in Darwen where the newspaper records were held – unfortunately these are still not available on line. Patience was needed to search the microfilm rolls but I found the report of his case and it was shocking and fascinating.

Even The Inconsequential

This also helps you to build up a picture of the life and times of your ancestors. With James I needed to discover what had happened to him and that in his case meant looking at military records.  When you do that make sure that you study them in detail and even seemingly inconsequential notes and marks should not be discounted. For instance in James record there was a stamp on one of the papers that was a bit blurred and indistinct. I decided to try to make it out and after some time it gave to me the information that he had ended up in America and this was a British Consul stamp indicating that James was applying for his war pension. That opened up a whole new field of enquiry and also some other family contacts.

I hope these notes are useful and although I could have gone into greater detail about individual searches I trust these will suffice to assist anyone following similar lines of enquiry. Have fun searching and be careful what you wish for!

The full stories of my family history search regarding my ancestors involved in the military and their social backgrounds are contained in my book available on Amazon.

All my books are available on Kindle Unlimited

A true story of family survival against all the odds – it has a happy ending I promise

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Spanning the Generations back to Victorian Times – my Ancestry link to the past

As it is time for the 2021 UK census this weekend I will post some Family history stories and I hope you enjoy them and find inspiration to check out your family tree.

John Atherton b 1884 , Margaret Walkden/Ainsworth, My Parents, JR Parker b 1874

This is quite a photograph in the context of my family history research. It is also notable this week in that the central characters, my parents, celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary. In the current covid-19 situation it was not possible to travel north to see them but for them this was another happy milestone in their long marriage since the above photo was taken. I have not of course researched their personal history. One absolute rule I have taken in conducting my family history studies is that nothing I find should ever impact adversely on or indeed change perception for any living member of the family. I can be comfortable in offering a few thoughts on the others and how they are important links for me.

For me this photograph gives me a direct connection with Victorian England. The distinguished man on the right in stiff collars which even then were extremely unfashionable is my Great Grandfather on my mothers side John Richard Parker. I met him and remember him well. He was someone that in Lancastrian terms would have been described as ‘proper’. This gives me a direct link as far back as 1874 when he was born in Preston, Lancashire. He would have met people that I found in my family tree that would have been alive from around 1820. If only I had asked him some questions but family history was not a big topic for a 10 year old back then.

John Richard Parker was a man who had some standing in the Preston community. He avoided the usual mill work by being a mill manager like his father before him. He was an outstanding footballer at the end of the Victorian era and captained Chorley who were and still are a leading club in English non-league circles. Back then football was not on TV so to see it you had to attend. The demand was such that teams such as Preston North End could not accommodate everyone in the area nor could everyone travel so non-league sides such as Chorley were vital to the community and attracted very large crowds. From newspaper cuttings of the time John Parker was a local celebrity. He also was an active member of his local church and played his part in civic roles such as at the Preston Guild celebrations. The contrast with my Grand Parents on the left, my fathers side, could not have been more different.

John Atherton was born into poverty. Sheer, desperate poverty in the East Lancashire mill town of Darwen some 12 miles away. The street – Water Street, Darwen – where he was born is now demolished but probably should never have been built. undefinedIt served as a dormitory for the workers that were fed into the mill system in this Lancashire factory town. Water Street was a place of squalor, the worst of the many slum areas that these workers inhabited. It was a community of real poverty and suffering. John had a twin sister but she sadly died before reaching one year of age. That also of course meant my survival many years later. Such are the thin threads by which our lives are hanging. John’s father had a brother that also lived nearby. He and his wife had nine children – only one survived to adulthood. Water Street and the surrounding streets were places of petty crime, prostitution and drunkenness. John’s older brother was in prison for assaulting his cousin, an attack the five year old John witnessed. His attack on her tore the family apart as they were all living in the same cramped house. John came through all this and was instrumental in dragging the family out of poverty and into respectability. He was never well off materially but showed the family the way out of the desperate situation he was born into. I am grateful.

The World Wars did not impact on my mothers family. That was not the case for John Atherton. He was a lorry driver in the First World War which was surprising as he only stood slightly above five feet tall. He first of all lost his wife Sarah’s brother who died in a training incident in Ireland with his Irish regiment. I still have not discovered why he ended up in an Irish regiment but there must be a story there. Then another family member died at the Somme on July 22 1916 having survived the initial onslaught. However his greatest tragedy was in 1919 while he was still serving in the army. His seven year old son Roger was killed by a motor lorry as he crossed the busy main road in Darwen going home from school.

The school still stands but as you can see is now a motor accessories store. John had to return home to deal with this awful event.

Sadly, the unhappiness for John did not end there. He lost his wife Sarah and remarried in 1943 to a much younger woman. This I assume caused some issues in the family but they appear to live happily for another 30 or so years until John’s death. The wedding was marred by tragedy just days later when another of John’s sons was killed on the beaches of Salerno, Italy whilst taking part in the allied landings. He was just 19 years old.

I never met my Great Grandfather John. This I still cannot understand as during my research I discovered that I was 16 when he died and he was living just a mile away. As I said there must have been issues but any explanation has not been forthcoming but the important thing is to respect how the living view a situation. Maybe I will discover the reason but I can only feel it had something to do with his second marriage.

The lady next to John is Margaret Walkden, my Great Grandmother on my fathers, mothers side. I never met her. I have not found out one single interesting or controversial fact about her. Her three daughters were larger than life, happy people with wicked senses of humour. She would have lived a quiet unassuming life as a mother and a wife. She ruffled no feathers but she must have given her children a happy childhood and a good start in life. That is her achievement and no less worthy for that.

Their stories all lead off into more interesting ones either going back or sideways in time. They are a starting point for me in my research over the years and it has all been very enjoyable to find out.

John Richard Parker had a photographic album containing many studio portraits, cabinet cards, of his family that date back to the 1860’s. I now have them and they are a wonderful source of information and of great interest to look at and see what they reveal. The photo below is one of them and shows John in the Chorley soccer team in the year before he became captain. He is at 1 o’clock in the photo.

He left a mystery however in the album.

Loose in the album was this tiny portrait of a lady.

It was taken by the same photographer of the soccer team and he was only active for around three years as L.Berry. This was in Chorley some miles from John’s home in Preston. It has to have been taken at the same time as the football photographs of which I have three separate years. The lady is not his wife. The photo has obviously been well ‘thumbed’, perhaps having been in a wallet for many years. John was an upstanding pillar of the community, very conservative and conventional and a firm believer in the sanctity of the family life of the Parker’s. But did he have a secret? That could be so and it is one of the real fascinations with family research. You just never know what you will find – be careful what you wish for.

The expanded story of the family taken from a military perspective is in my Amazon Book

A true story of family survival against all the odds – it has a happy ending I promise
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