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Tuesday, 12 August 2014


One of the family items I now treasure which originally belonged to my grandparents is an old Collins' Atlas they purchased at some point during the Second World War 1939-1945.




My grandparents, Fred Richardson & Irene Jowett married in Nottingham in 1939, and spent their honeymoon on Jersey in the Channel Islands. ( I remember them mentioning seeing Amy Johnson land her plane at the Jersey airport.)  This was possibly the furthest they would have travelled at this time; from what I have seen of their early photos, they were most used to spending their holidays in Skegness, the closest seaside resort to Nottingham.

So when my grandfather joined the Royal Navy in November 1941 he realised he would be travelling great distances from his wife & daughter.  Although Fred was in the Royal Navy, after his training he was seconded to DEMS, or 'Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships' and travelled with the convoys of shipping, manning their guns.

Ship's crews were not allowed to mention their position in any letters home for security reasons and so to get round this Fred bought two copies of the Collins Atlas, taking one with him on his travels & leaving one at home with Irene.  He could then give her a page number & reference in a letter and she could work out roughly where he was or where he may be heading.



Once safely home, after the war, Fred marked and numbered all his voyages on the Atlas, so it's possible, with his service record, to work out how and where he spent his time in the Navy during the war.

So despite its battered appearance and the fact that it is decades out of date, I am very happy to have this in my care.


Wednesday, 6 August 2014


If you have traced your ancestors back to Nottingham in the census years of 1841 to 1911, it is highly likely that you will have come across lace making as an occupation.

My three main lace making families are the Oldhams, who worked in Calais during the 1860s as well as Nottingham, the Jowetts and the Bucknalls.

Looking through the census returns for these families, they did many different jobs within the lace industry, such as; 'mender', 'threader', 'draughtsman', 'clipper', 'manufacturer', 'winder', and 'warehouseman.' Not having any personal knowledge of the industry, I wasn't sure exactly what these different jobs entailed, so I was delighted to find a book of memoirs written by a local author, Mark Ashfield, who was employed in the lace industry.





I found it a very enjoyable read, with detailed description of life in a Nottingham lace factory - the hours, conditions, skills and works outings. It's available here both in paperback and for Kindle.









Another book which I've found really useful is Sheila Mason's 'Nottingham Lace 1760s - 1950s', my Oldhams even get a small mention!  It's available both via Amazon and Abebooks unfortunately at quite a price.  There may be reprinted copies available at the Nottingham branch of Waterstones, where I found my copy, for £25.






I think genealogy can be so much more than just gathering a list of names and dates.  If you can fill in the background, where they lived, how they worked, it can give you a much fuller picture of their lives.



Sunday, 4 May 2014


John and William Richardson sailed for Bermuda on 23rd April 1844 on the prison hulk Thames.  The voyage would have taken about a month and they would be joining other prison hulks already moored there.

Transportation to Bermuda began in 1824 with the arrival of the Antelope, followed by the Dromedary, Coromandel and Weymouth.  US independence in 1776-1783 meant that Britain had lost its maritime bases there and gave Bermuda strategic importance.  The first Royal Navy base was at St George's, but the building of another base at Ireland Island was begun to replace the Royal Navy Dockyard at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Transported convicts were an ideal source of cheap labour. 




The Thames was moored off St.George's Island and held around three hundred prisoners.  William and John would have worn a uniform with their name, number and origin printed on it along with the broad arrow usually associated with prison uniform.  Their day would have consisted of hard labour in chains, hacking out limestone, the glare of which caused eye problems, and hauling heavy wagons. The hot, humid conditions were hard during the day, but worse at night aboard the hulks where the convicts were sometimes left gasping for air.  This must have been a shock to the brothers who were used to the climate of North Yorkshire.



In total, around 9,000 convicts were transported to Bermuda, of which around 2,000 died.  This was mostly due to the dire conditions which encouraged the spread of disease.  There were several outbreaks of yellow fever during this time.

Unlike convicts sent to Australia there was no opportunity for parole for those in Bermuda; only in very exceptional circumstances was their sentence reduced.  Most convicts returned home at the end of their term as they were not allowed to settle in Bermuda.

Unfortunately, this is where William's and John's story ends.  I have yet to find their deaths, although there is a burial for a John Richardson of the right age at St Michael's in Liverton, North Yorkshire on the 31st March 1869.

To find out more means a trip to the National Archives in Kew.  They hold records relating to convicts in Bermuda such as:
Home Office: Convict Hulks, Convict Prisons and Criminal Lunatic Asylums: Quarterly Returns of Prisoners 1824-1876  HO 8
Convict Ship Medical Journals (c.1816-1856) ADM 101
Petitions For Mercy From Convicts & Their Relatives HO 17
Burials (1826-1848) ADM 6/434

For more information on Bermuda and its history of transportation try these links:
http://www.bermuda-online.org/rnd.htm




Picture Credit: http://www.greatdreams.com/bermuda.htm
Picture Credit: http://www.bermuda-online.org/rnd.htm
Sunday, 27 April 2014


The last time we met John & William Richardson, they had admitted their guilt to the York Assizes and were on their way to Millbank prison in London to await transportation for ten years.

Following their stay in Millbank they were moved to the prison hulk York moored off the Portsmouth coast. I found a record of them there on Ancestry:




The register notes they are men of 'good character' and also reveals that John was a joiner and William worked as a farmer and was married, which probably accounts for his distress on hearing his sentence. The register also records whether they were literate, but I can't quite decipher that.

HMS York was launched in 1807 in the middle of the Napoleonic wars and had been involved in the occupation of Madeira and the capture of Martinique.  In 1819 she was moored in Gosport harbour, where she was stripped of her masts and guns and converted to a prison ship.  Prison ships or hulks were introduced as a response to increasing numbers of criminal convictions in this period and as a 'holding pen' for those awaiting transportation.




On arrival William & John would have been shackled in irons, apparently to discourage any 'swimmers'.  They may have been put to work in the dockyards during the day, returning to the York every evening.  Conditions on board were dreadful. The York held up to five hundred prisoners in cold, cramped, dark and insanitary conditions.  Diseases such as typhoid and cholera were rife and it is thought that as many as one in three prisoners died.  In 1848 a serious rebellion broke out, resulting in the ringleaders being sent to land based prisons and the York being taken out of use and broken up in 1854.

However, according to the hulk register, the Richardson brothers had already left the York.  On 20th of April 1844, they had sailed for Bermuda on another prison hulk, HMS Thames.



Picture Credit: http://www.portcities.org.uk/london/server/show/conMediaFile.1206/Prison-ship-York-at-Portsmouth-Harbour.html Creator: Edward William Cooke  Date: 1807  Credit line: National Maritime Museum, London
Friday, 11 April 2014


The downside to discovering your ancestors........





Sunday, 30 March 2014


So John and William found themselves in York Castle prison, charged with two counts of sheep theft.  On 23rd of December 1843, the York Herald reported that they had pleaded guilty to both counts and William also admitted to having stolen a bay gelding from Robert Williamson the previous September.



Since 1742 theft of sheep and cattle had been a capital offence, but fortunately for the Richardson brothers by the 1840s capital punishment was reserved for only the most serious crimes of treason and murder.

At the York Winter Assizes, on 30th of December 1843, both brothers were sentenced to transportation for ten years.  The Herald noted that William was very distressed by this; and who could blame him?  It must have been a terrifying prospect.




At the end of January, William and John were taken to Millbank Prison, on the banks of the Thames in London, to await transportation.



Millbank Prison was the largest of the London prisons, and was frequently used as a 'holding pen' for those awaiting transportation.  Henry Mayhew, the social researcher, visited the prison in 1856 , and later published a vivid description of it:

Ahead is Vauxhall bridge, with its open iron work at the sides of the arches, and at its foot, at the back of the dismal Horseferry Road, lies the Milbank prison.
    This immense yellow-brown mass of brick-work is surrounded by a low wall of the same material, above which is seen a multitude of small squarish windows, and a series of diminutive roofs of slate, like low retreating foreheads. There is a systematic irregularity about the in-and-out aspect of the building, which gives it the appearance of a gigantic puzzle; and altogether the Millbank prison may be said to be one of the most successful realizations, on a large scale, of the ugly in architecture, being an ungainly combination of the mad-house with the fortress style of building, for it has a series of martello-like towers, one at each of its many angles, and was originally surrounded by a moat, whilst its long lines of embrasure-like windows are barred, after the fashion of Bedlam and St. Luke's.
    At night the prison is nothing but a dark, shapeless structure, the hugeness of which is made more apparent by the bright yellow specks which shine from the casements. The Thames then rolls by like a flood of ink, spangled with the reflections from the lights of Vauxhall bridge, and the deep red lamps from those of the Millbank pier, which dart downwards into the stream, like the luminous trails of a rocket reversed.

Mayhew was given a tour of the prison and the procedure for admitting new prisoners was explained to him.  this must be fairly close to what William and John were faced with when they arrived:

The governor, on learning the object of our visit, directed one of the principal warders to conduct us through the several wards, and explain to us the various details of the prison.
    "Millbank," he said, in answer to a question we put to him, "is the receptacle for all the convicts of England, Wales, and Scotland, but not for those of Ireland, which has a convict establishment of its own."
    Males and females of all ages are received here, the prison being the depot for "convicts" of every description. When a man is convicted, and sentenced either to transportation or penal servitude, he remains in the prison in which he was confined previous to his trial, until such time as the order of the Secretary of State is forwarded for his removal; and he is then transferred to us, his "caption papers" (in which are stated the nature of his offence, the date of his conviction, and the length of his sentence) being sent with him. From this prison he is, after a time, removed to some "probationary" prison (to undergo a certain term of separate confinement) such as that at Pentonville, or to some such establishment in the country; and thence he goes to the public works either at Portland, Portsmouth, or the Hulks, or else he is transported to Gibraltar, Bermuda, or Western Australia, where he remains till the completion of his sentence.
    On the arrival of the prisoners at Millbank, the governor informed us, they are examined by the surgeon, when, if pronounced free from contagious disease, they are placed in the reception ward, and afterwards distributed throughout the prison according to circumstances, having been previously bathed and examined, naked, as at Pentonville.
    "If a prisoner be ordered to be placed in association on medical grounds," added the governor, "the order is entered in the book in red ink, otherwise he is located in one of the various pentagons for six months, to undergo confinement in separate cell."
    On entering his cell, each prisoner's hair is cut, and the rules of the prison are read over to him, the latter process being repeated every week, and the hair cut as often as required.
Millbank Prison

This must have been daunting to the brothers who probably hadn't been out of Yorkshire before, but more was to follow....



Newspaper Credit: The York Herald, and General Advertiser (York, England), Saturday, December 23, 1843; pg. 6; Issue 3717. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II

Newspaper Credit: The York Herald, and General Advertiser (York, England), Saturday, January 06, 1844; pg. 3; Issue 3719. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.

Newspaper Credit: The York Herald, and General Advertiser (York, England), Saturday, February 03, 1844; pg. 6; Issue 3723. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.

THE CRIMINAL PRISONS OF LONDON AND SCENES OF LONDON LIFE BY HENRY MAYHEW and JOHN BINNY 
Griffin, Bohn and Co. London 1862 http://www.victorianlondon.org/index-2012.htm
Friday, 28 March 2014


I've recently spotted on Chris Matthews' excellent blog internetcurtains.blogspot.co.uk two new walking and cycling guides to Aspley and Bilborough; or should that be Aspleh & Bilbrah?



They are available for download from his website where you can also read a history of this area.  Well worth a look.