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Thursday, 16 September 2021

Three Bridges, Family Memories & Some Local History

This week's Sepia Saturday prompt photograph features a bridge.  Cue for me to tell the tale of three iconic bridges  with family memories plus a bit of local history. 

The Chain Bridge in Melrose in the Scottish Borders   - I  live six miles from the historic Border town of Melrose with its 12th century ruined abbey.   The town  nestles below the Eildon Hills, and flowing close by  is the famous salmon river of the Tweed.  The pedestrian bridge, made with iron  linked suspension  chains and a wooden deck was opened in 1826. 

 Conditions were imposed on  its use including the restraint that no more than eight people should be on it at any one time and  "no loitering, climbing or intentional swinging" permitted, Contravention of the rules was  punishable by a £2 fine (£135 in today's money) -  or imprisonment.  (Currency Converter)

Since it cost 1/2 penny to cross the bridge, walkers sometimes chose to go downstream and cross at a  ford used by horse drawn vehicles.  To help pedestrians on a safe crossing, journey,in high waters, stilts were provided at both ends of the ford.

The bridge is still in use today - at no charge! 

Ironbridge in Shropshire

My brother on the  ancestral trail in Ironbridge, c.2015

Ironbridge in Shropshire,is now famous as "the cradle  of England's industrial revolution" was the world's first ever cast iron bridge, with its 100 feet span, built in 1779  over the River Severn.  

My father  grew up in the village of Broseley, across the river from Ironbridge, Shropshire, Dad  had many happy memories of his childhood there and I persuaded him to write these down for me. He  sang in the church choir from the age of  7  and was vice-captain of the school football team. He remained an ardent football supporter all his life  and  was  proud to have known  local footballer Billy Wright from Ironbridge,  who was the first player in the world to be awarded 100 international caps. 

 Dad left school at the age of 14 "I went to work at the grocers, where still at school I had been an errand boy and also worked on Saturdays with time off for soccer.  The main assistant was 19 and one morning as I passed the shop,  he asked me if would help him move some bags of corn, I did and he gave me a bag of biscuits,  so that was my introduction.  I then went out with him delivering orders (we sold bags of corn 80 plus pounds).  The pony, a Welsh cob named Tommy, was inclined to be lazy.  After time,  I did the deliveries with Tommy and the trap.  At night time I rode him bareback to a field!     This was  a surprising memory as Dad never gave any indication later in life of having the slightest interest or affinity with horses!    Kelly' Directory of Broseley for 1926 listed the shop at 84 High Street  where Dad worked until the family left the town in 1929. 

The local historical society has been particularly helpful in my family history, supplying me with a photograph of Dad in the football team. Local newspaper transcriptions online  gave  a fascinating insight into the lives  of ordinary people  and included    district council and county council reports, court cases, concerts, dances, whist drives, activities of local clubs, church services and social events, fulsome details of marriages and funerals. etc. I used some   typical entries to illustrate what life was like in Broseley  in the 1920's when the Weston family was  living there,  although I found no specific mention of them personally. 

My grandfather worked at the power house at Coalbrookdale, which meant a 35 minute walk each way each day over the iron bridge.  According to my father,  he also played in the Coalbrookdale Brass Band, although I have been unable to verify this. 
The Ironbridge Gorge is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

To complete this trio of distinctive, a look at the Forth Rail Bridge, near Edinburgh.

Bridge, Railway, Scotland, Forth, River, Train 

 The Forth Bridge, Railway Bridge, Steel 

Photographs courtesy of Pixabay

The Forth Rail Bridge, crossing the Forth estuary   is a celebrated Scottish landmark, and a milestone in the development of railway civil engineering,  Built in the aftermath of one of the most infamous railway engineering failures  -the Tay Rail Bridge disaster in 1879, it was the first major structure in Britain to be made of steel and its construction resulted in a continuous East Coast railway route from London to Aberdeen.  The railway bridge, had the world's longest spans (541 m) when it opened in 1890.  At the height of constructive, it employed a workforce of 4600 with the loss of  57 lives.  It remains one of the greatest cantilever trussed bridges and continues to carry passengers and freight today. It now has been given   a World Heritage status.

In South Queensferry,  prior to the opening of the Forth Road Bridge in 1964, the only way traffic could cross  the  Forth Estuary was by car ferry. My father often travelled north on work, and left early to try and avoid the long queues for the morning ferries - a real bottleneck for everyone.

Here are my parents on the walkway of the newly opened Forth Road Bridge, spanning the Firth of Forth, with the historic Rail Bridge to the right,  In the early 1960's, it was my father's favourite Sunday outing to drive to South Queensferry to see how the new bridge was progressing.   It was opened  by the Queen in September 1964 and replaced the centuries-old ferry service.  When the new bridge opened,  it was the fourth biggest suspension bridge in the world and the longest outside the United States.  
Sepia Saturday gives an opportunity for genealogy bloggers  
to share their family history and memories through photographs
  Click HERE to see how other Sepia Saturday blogger have reflected 
this week's prompt photograph

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Remembering 9/11 - Memories from Scotland

As we mark the 20th anniversary of the devestatilng 9/11 attack on New York, I am repeating a post I first wrote on the first anniversary in 2012. 

11th September 2001 - I was working at Library Headquarters that day in the Local Studies Room when my daughter phoned to tell me that a plane had crashed into the twin towers in New York. I had visited the city many many years ago, long before the twin towers were built and I was a bit hazy about them, but my first reaction was "what an appalling accident".

 World Trade Center, Wtc, New York City
Photograph, courtesy of Pixabay.
I told colleagues of the disaster  and we logged onto the BBC website and saw the dreadful news of the second strike. There was an American visitor in the Study Room and we broke the news to him - he immediately went outside to phone friends and family. We then dashed to the Training Room where there was a television. Two work colleagues had daughters holidaying  in New York and had the agonizing wait of days, with communications down,  to hear that they were safe. 

Words cannot describe the horror. What struck in my mind most was the experience of those on the planes who had left Boston,  to discover they were flying to their death - yet whose thoughts were to phone family expressing their love.

A week later we were on holiday on the west coast of Scotland and took the ferry from Oban to sail to the Isle of Mull and then onto the Isle of Iona. It was the most perfect September day you could have asked for - sunny blue skies, a calm deep blue sea, a panorama of hills, lochs and sea, with  the seals bobbing around the ferry.    The atmosphere was strangely quiet and subdued. There were many American tourists on the boat, and   people were going up to them to shake their hands and extend their sympathies. 
Sailing  out of Oban with the hills of Mull in the distance.

The tiny island of Iona,  off the southwest coast of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, Is top of my list of favourite places.   It is only  1.5 miles wide by 3 miles long, with a population of around 120 permanent residents, but everyone talks about  the magical nature of this   seat of Scottish Christianity where St. Columba founded his Abbey in 563AD. Later it became a place of pilgrimage and learning,   and over 40 of Scotland's earliest kings were buried there.  It is amazing that even though the boat seemed busy, visitors spread out on the small island and it seems as if you have the place to yourself. 

 It was so peaceful - a beautiful haven in what suddenly seemed a very evil world. 


Monday, 9 August 2021

Great Grandfather John Matthews - A Man of Many Parts

My great grandfather John Matthews of Wolverhampton, Staffordshire was a man of many parts –  a third son in a large family; under hand roller, underhand shingler and hollow fireman  at an iron works;  a complete change of occupation to that of insurance agent and also shopkeeper; with his wife Matilda, parent to ten children,  and a prominent member of the local Methodist church where he was choir conductor.

Early Life - John Matthews was born in 1843 – his birthplace variously named in census returns  as Wolverley or Cookley, two adjacent villages, near Kiddirminster, Worcestershire. He was the  third of six brothers – Samuel, James, Charles, Richard and Arthur,  sons of James Matthews and Elizabeth Palmer. John's life  spanned the early death of his mother, a step mother with her two step siblings, and the birth  of a half sister. 

The 1851 Census saw the Matthews family at Horseley Row, Wolverley,  with father head James, a forgeman at an iron works, aged  34;  his wife Elizabeth was 32,  and sons Samuel at 13 already a forgeboy, young James 10, John 7, and Charles 8, with their grandfather, widower 75 year old James also in the household, along with a general servant aged 13  named Jane Palmer – was her surname a coincidence or was Jane some relation of Elizabeth?

Two more sons were born Richard in 1853 and Arthur  in 1857. But just a year after the birth of their youngest son, Elizabeth died in 1858 at the age of 41, leaving her young family motherless, with the boys ages ranging from a few months old to 20 years old – my great grandfather John just 14.  

 Within a year, the children’s father,  James  remarried in 1859  a  widow with two children Caroline Littlewood, nee Marsh, with her 7 year old son Wiliam Littewood, and 3 year old Kate Littlewood.  A half sister Caroline Matilda  was born to the Matthews family in 1860.   

The 1861 Census  saw a large household of 11 at Austcliffe Row, Wolverley  - James aged 46  now a refilner in an Iron works, with his second  wife Caroline aged 40, five sons living at home,     James 20, John 17, Charles 15 – all working in the iron industry, as an "under hand roller, under hand shingler" *, and labourer in tin works; young brothers Richard was 8 and Arthur 3;  plus their step brother and sister William aged 9 and Kate 6, and a half sister Caroline, 10 months – with a 15 year old general servant Mary White;  a large household of parents and eight children.   Only eldest son Samuel was no longer at home.  

 [ Cue to find out more about iron industry work - family history research can take you in all kinds of directions]

 A much depleted family was living there in 1871  - with no sign of my great grandfather John,  who was traced 15 miles away to the industrial hub of Bilston, Staffordshire where he was living in a lodging house on Salop Street and working as an assistant roller in an  iron works.

Marriage - A few months later in May 1871, John married Matilda (right ) in St. Andrew’s Church,Wolverhampton.  Matilda’s childhood was a complex one, - the youngest of three illegitimate daughters, with her father named on her  marriage certificate as William Simpson, but no record traced of an actual marriage – her life  told in the blog post Here.  

 Over the next twenty years, ten children were born to the marriage, listed in a weighty family bible which was passed down to me:  

  • 1872 - Alice Maud
  • 1874 - John Percy – also my father's Christian names.
  • 1876 - Mary Barbara born 1876 - my grandmother - research revealed her middle name probably came from her mother’s eldest sister.  
  • 1878 - Fanny Elizabeth
  • 1880 - Arthur William - his first name that of John’s youngest brother.
  • 1882 - Annie
  • 1884 - Samuel Albert, 1884 – his first name that of John’s eldest brother.
  • 1886 - Harry
  • 1888 – Charles – again the name of  one of John’s brother
  • 1892 - James Alfred -  the name of John’s father and brother. 


The 1881 Census saw  the young family of five children under nine years old,   living on Wood Street, Sedgeley, Wolverhampton,  with John aged 37 a hollow fireman. 

Ten years on the family, now with eight children,  was still living on Wood Street, at no. 37, with John having a change of occupation from heavy industry in an iron works to that of an insurance agent.  His wife Matilda was a shopkeeper general”  with 15 year old Mary Barbara helping in the shop.  Eldest daughter Alice Maud  was  a “plate polisher” and eldest son John Percy a “plate dipper”.

Kelly’s Directories of the period  listed, not Matilda, but her husband John  as Shopkeeper at Wood Lane, Lanesfield, Ettinghhall, Northampton

By the 1901 census the family had made short move to no. 1 Wood Street, with   seven children still  living at home.  My grandmother Mary Barbara, aged 25 was a barmaid in a cafĂ©;  Fanny Elizabeth, 22  a mother’s help;   son Arthur William, 21,  was a blacksmith;  Samuel  17, a boiler maker; and Harry at 15,  a pupil teacher. No occupation was listed for 18 year old Annie, and youngest son James Albert was just nine years old 

By 1911,  the  household still at 1 Wood Street was a much smaller one, with John 67, Matilda,62 , married 39 years.  John was described as an insurance agent with the Royal Liverpool Company; 25 year old Harry an assistant teacher with the local authority and youngest son James a booking clerk on the Railways. Completing the family group  was 15 year old granddaughter Leah M. Wooten – M for Matilda perhaps?

John and Matilda suffered the early loss of four of their children:

  • Charles did not survive infancy, dying in 1889,
  • Fanny Elizabeth died aged 33 in 1909, following a tragic  accident when a lighted candle set fire to her apron and she died of the burns.
  • John Percy died aged 36 in 1910 - his namesake, my father,  was born in 1912. 
  • Arthur William, aged 35, was killed in action at Gallipoli, leaving a widow and two young children - remembered on the Helles Memorial  in Turkey.

John as a Committed Methodist  - I always knew from my father that his maternal grandfather John Matthews was a staunch Methodist,  but had not delved further into researching this aspect.  Then as a result of my blog, I was amazed  to receive an e-mail from a Matthews connection through marriage;  moreover with  the wish to give family treasures to a direct descendant.  As a result I received a   silver trowel and baton presented to John in recognition of his service to the church. 

On the 8th April 1903, "The Wolverhampton Express & Star"  reported:

"A New Wesleyan Chapel for Ladymoor.   Fourteen memorial stones were laid  of a new chapel at Ladymoor, to take the place of the present one which has been wrecked by mining operations.  There was a large attendance  at the site  which occupies a very central position.  .......The stone layers were.......Mr. J. Matthews (on behalf of the choir).....Each was presented with a silver trowel...on behalf of the trustees."

 The inscription reads:   Ladymore Wesleyan Chapel Stonelaying Ceremony.   Presented to Mr. J. Matthews April 7th 1903.
Following the ceremony, a public meeting and service  was held in the Bilston Wesleyan Chapel. at which the musical portion was contributed by the Ladymore Wesleyan Choir, conducted by John Matthews.   

Below is the silver crested baton also presented to John Matthews in 1904 in his role as conductor of the choir. 

The tiny inscription reads:  Presented to John Matthews by the Choir and Congregation of Wesleyan Chapel, Ladymoor:  28.11.04.

To hold the baton used by my great grandfather was a delight to me, as the love of choral music  has continued down through the family.   (Of course my small granddaughter thought it was Harry Potter's wand!). 

John Matthews'Death  -  The family bible recorded that:  John Matthews, born 21st July 1843 at Cookley, Worcestershire, died 17th September 1918, aged 75 at Lanesfield  Parish in Sedgley, buried in the family grave at Sedgley.

 His "dearly beloved wife" Matilda survived him,  living to the  age of 81, with her death  on 9th July 1929 recorded in the "Wolverhampton Express & Star".

 Sadly the  Sedgley graveyard is very badly overgrown  with the gravestones obliterated by the vegetation, though a  group of volunteers is now working  hard to reclaim the site, 


With grateful acknowledgements  to my fellow Matthews descendants for their contributions to this post. 

  • Nicky & Jenny
  • Linda & Mike