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I love a good ghost story, and more so the ones that are written about the area that I know well.
There’s lots of ghostly stories about Cambridgeshire – ranging from ghosts of Oliver Cromwell, to the beastly Black Shuck. I’ve even been shut in the pitch black of Peterborough Museum basement overnight with night vision cameras. I’m a complete sceptic, and one that doesn’t get scared.
On one of my many ventures into bookstores, I picked up ‘Ghosts & Legends of Cambridgeshire‘ by Polly Howat (1998, Countryside Books), and when I got to page 41, I found myself reaching for a pad, pencil, census returns and parish register transcripts.
Howat’s story is about a Jeremiah Newell of Ely, Cambridgeshire. This uncommon surname and the location fits perfectly with my Newell family tree.
According to her write-up, Jeremiah, or Jerry to the locals, liked a drink. And on one night he had been drinking in his local pub – The Royal Oak on the corner of Potter’s Lane and Back Hill.
He would have waved goodbye to (or been ejected by) landlord William Fenn, and made his way down the side of the pub towards his bed in Potter’s Lane. It appears to have been his last.
It’s safe to assume that Jeremiah was likely to be somewhat drunk as he staggered that short familiar few meters home.
The next morning, the residents discovered Jeremiah curled up, on top of a dung heap. Presumably, this would have seemed warm and comfy to a drunken Jeremiah, and perhaps he mistook it for his bed… but he had died during the night.
The Cambridge Chronicle of 17th November 1866 backs up the story – with a guess at what Jeremiah had slept in or on, and complete with quotes from two residents who witnessed Jeremiah’s return (one of whom appears to be quite the wordsmith).
The newspaper article suggests an exorcism was requested by residents, but it is not clear whether it ever took place (not sure where i’d find that information), or whether the drama of the story led the reporter or their contacts, to stray a little from reality.
The Stamford Mercury
The Stamford Mercury, which is not the local newspaper, and perhaps therefore has a different set of reporters, carries a very different story. I found a copy of this on FindMyPast. It’s dated from the day of Jeremiah’s funeral (2nd November 1866), and so doesn’t make reference to his ghostly return.
The Stamford Mercury claimed:
- Jeremiah Newell was found alive in a puddle by a gas man (the gas works were right nearby)
- Jeremiah Newell was escorted to The Black Swan pub – next to The Royal Oak (and just off to the left of the photo above).
- Jeremiah Newell was given beer, demanded gin, and then hit his head after dozing and falling over.
- Jeremiah Newell was laid outside in the sunshine but was found dead shortly after.
These events are completely different from the other two, and I’m tempted to believe that the report from the non-local Stamford Mercury may well be more accurate.
Finding the facts on Jeremiah Newell’s death
Believer or non-believer bit aside, how can I get closer to telling the proper version of this fun story on Halloween?
To try to help me resolve this, I ordered his death certificate (to find cause and location), and I contacted the team at Cambridgeshire Archives to attempt to locate a copy of the Inquest.
Sadly, floods in the 1960s decimated a lot of Ely records (including the 1861 census), and according to the Cambridgeshire Archives team, it seems that the inquest book covering this period was lost. This is a big shame for unpicking this story.
As for the death certificate, it revealed that he died on Halloween – precisely 148 years ago today.
In what is probably one of the fullest descriptions given in a ‘Cause of death’ column that I’ve yet seen:
“Congestion of the Brain occasioned by drunkenness, exposure to cold, and a fall whilst in a state of intoxication”
The informant box is equally crammed with writing:
“Information received from William Marshall Coroner for Isle of Ely, Ely. Inquest held 2nd November 1866 (P.[?].)”
So, it seems that Jeremiah died following The Stamford Mercury’s account of events.
Perhaps with his death taking place on 31st October 1866 – Halloween – the residents had taken the opportunity to dramatise his departure, when really he was just victim to his alcohol abuse.
I imagine that the Inquest may have specified any evidence of the gas man, and also which pub he died in, but that now remains a mystery.
Is Jeremiah Newell related?
He’s in the right place, at the right time, but linking him up has proved a little tricky.
Jeremiah was the second of three known children – John (b.c.1809), Jeremiah (b.c. 1814) and Mary (b.c. 1816). All were baptised at Holy Trinity, Ely, Cambridgeshire, as the children of John Newell and his wife Alice (née Block/Black).
Whilst it’s possible to see them together in 1841 and 1851, it’s the earlier records beyond Jeremiah’s Newell grandparents that are ambiguous with common names.
My Newell’s remain in Ely either side of the dates that I’ve found for Jeremiah, his parents, and his nieces and nephews. The connection remains elusive, but tantalisingly close. I guess this bit will haunt me a bit longer.
Jeremiah Newell’s timeline:
- Jeremiah Newell was baptised on 25th June 1814, at Holy Trinity church, Ely, Cambridgeshire.
- He was the second of three known children of John Newell (soldier) and his wife Alice (née Block).
- Jeremiah appears to have married widow Susannah Bidwell (née Pigeon) on 4th September 1858 at Ely.
- Jeremiah died on 31st October 1866, of injuries sustained whilst drunk, and in cold weather.
- Jeremiah was buried, aged 52yrs, on 2nd November 1866 at Ely cemetery.
- The burial register notes him as having lived on ‘Back Hill’ (which is the adjoining road).
- The Cambridge Chronicle reported the haunting on 17th November 1866.
- Polly Howat’s book, re-tells the story, 132 years after his death.
Does the ghost of Jeremiah Newell continue to wander Potter’s Lane?
I’ve previously wondered whether the dead could help solve genealogy puzzles, so perhaps I should pop along tonight to see if Jeremiah is willing to talk…. and clear up the confusion over what really did happen that fateful night in 1866.
He might even be stone-cold sober by now.
Happy Genealogy Halloween!
Yesterday saw the second Cambridgeshire Family History Fair take place – a free genealogy and local history event held in Girton’s Glebe School on the north side of Cambridge.
This year’s fair seemed much busier than last year, and although it seemed that there were fewer talks (one room, rather than two), this didn’t seem to affect the hustle and bustle in the main exhibition hall.
I went along for the whole day (10am-4pm), as I had my eye on 3 of the 4 expert talks, and also had a few genealogy hurdles that I wanted to try to resolve with the Suffolk Family History Society and the Norfolk Family History Society. I also hoped to bump into the postcard stall that I’d seen at last year’s fair… as I had a specific card to find.
Mike Petty MBE: Resources for Researching Cambridgeshire
My first talk of the day was the first time that I had attended a talk by Mike Petty MBE.
His fifty years of collectively working with the likes of The Cambridgeshire Collection, the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History (for which he is currently President), writing a weekly column for the Cambridge News, and being a seasoned lecturer and author for all things Cambridgeshire, has earned him an unrivalled knowledge of the history of the county, and the resources available to research it.
Mike admitted he’s not a genealogist – he’s a historian. This actually makes him a perfect speaker to genealogists, as his talk showed a full room how to get beyond the basics of censuses and BMDs, by digging out the more interesting information about Cambridgeshire that is tucked away in newspapers, in photographs, maps, and books.
As the audience were quickly scribbling down notes, Mike continued to show how to use online indexes to help make your next visit to a Cambridgeshire archives resource more time efficient. He spoke passionately about the vast card indexes that hold so many clues to resources, but which are themselves tucked away due to space limitations.
I’ll definitely make more effort to attend his talks in future – I feel like he could have talked for hours.
With a break between talks, I set myself off to see if I could find the Desira Postcards stall that I visited last year, and where I had bought one of two postcards of my Cross family’s bakery shop on Forehill, Ely.
Thankfully, the postcard I saw last year was still within their collection, so (ignoring the £8.50 price tag) I bought it, as it’s an example of how Frederick Thompson Cross was advertising his business. He died in 1911, after which his son Frederick Vernon Cross took over.
Carl Warner: Crowdsourcing History at IWM Duxford
Having enjoyed the collaborative crowdsourcing Lives Of The First World War project that IWM launched earlier this year, I was keen to see what Carl Warner (Imperial War Museum Duxford’s Research and Information Manager) was going to tell us about their Second World War project: American Air Museum.
This time, Carl explained that IWM has just launched a new website containing around 15,000 photographs of the USAAF, and that members of the public can register and then add their own, whilst also discuss other images – in a hope to bring names to faces and places, and record the memories of those who remember the presence of American Airmen in Cambridgeshire during WWII.
My own Grandmother remembers the American airmen near Mepal, Cambridgeshire, and like many of her generation, it’s pretty much a story about eating ‘candy’ given to them. Little could she understand then as a child, that when she waved them off as they flew away, that many would never return.
Kathy Chater: How To Write Up Family History
Ex-BBC Researcher, turned professional genealogist, historian and author, Kathy Chater was my third and final expert speaker to listen in to. Her career background, like that of Richard Benson, would give me the impetus and expert advice I need to decide on how best to write up some of my own family history stories beyond the realms of this blog, and a characterless list of names and dates.
Kathy’s advice on breaking down your mountain of research into chunks and focussing on telling each piece of one person’s life at a time, certainly felt to me like a much easier approach. She then suggested that you could then weave a few of these into a story – trying to bring in national, international, social and family events to flesh out the stories and set your ancestor into context.
I’ve certainly been looking at how national and world events may have impacted on my relatives – looking at trends in silk and cotton weaving, the impact of the railways, enclosure acts, Cambridgeshire drainage acts, and of course the horror of wars.
Like Mike Petty, Kathy recommended turning to newspapers – not just the stories, but the adverts and reviews too – all which would help you to understand the world in which your relatives lived.
It was refreshing to hear Kathy give a shot of reality with her comments on being realistic about the publishing of the book – recommending that you should probably just stick to publishing it yourself within your family, and not a publisher. She amplified a message that I’ve heard regularly – file a copy of your book with relevant archives and organisations.
Recharged with enthusiasm to get stuck in to what was the 5th of my 5 New Year Genealogy Resolutions for 2014, I hope to at least be able to decide whether I’m going to aim for a novelised or non-fiction approach.
Another great genealogy fair!
I’d like to say thank you to all of the speakers that I saw, and also to the hard work of the Cambridgeshire Family History Society team who organised the event. It’s great to see this growing, and I look forward to next year’s event.
In the meantime, The Big Family History Fair organised by the Huntingdonshire Family History Society returns in May 2015.
This week’s Surname Saturday themed post, takes a look at my Haylock family connection, living in Ely, Cambridgeshire, during the 18th and early 19th Centuries.
I’ve seen the Haylock family turn up amongst the branches of my relatives, but only recently have I stumbled across them in my ancestry.
The most recent ancestor to carry this name was my 6x Great Grandmother, Mary Haylock, wife of my 6x Great Grandfather, Francis Newell.
Mary was one of at least three (perhaps five) children of John Haylock and his wife Elizabeth (my 7x Great Grandparents). It seems that Elizabeth’s maiden name was Elizabeth Parson, but there is a bit of questioning here, as whilst a John and Elizabeth Haylock had two sons (both named John) in 1769 and 1770, the only marriage for a John Haylock and Elizabeth at any time around those dates, is actually in 1772 in a marriage at St Mary’s Church, Ely (right place) – after their baptisms (wrong time), and just before Mary’s (maybe not so wrong after all).
I’m therefore documenting it, but treading carefully with this option.
Therefore, the confirmed legitimate children were:
- Mary Haylock b.c.1773 d.Jul/Aug 1826 (my ancestor)
- Sarah Haylock b.c.1776 (and witness at Mary’s marriage to Francis Newell)
- Flanders Haylock b.c.1779 (son)
I’m related to ‘Little John’
Whilst the legend of Robin Hood may well have been a fabricated story, ‘Little John’ does indeed sit in my ancestry.
My 7x Great Grandfather John (mentioned above) is noted at the 1773 baptism of daughter (and my 6x Great Grandmother) Mary as ‘little John’.
I’m pretty sure we’re not talking height here, it’s far more likely to have related to his position in family hierarchy – and is probably the son or grandson of another still living John Haylock.
This is where my trail goes cold for now.
Variants of Haylock
In my research in just the St Mary’s parish register of Ely, Cambridgeshire, I have found six variants of Haylock. Those being:
Some of these variants interchange during the same year, an indication at just how volatile the spelling was, how low literacy was, or how thick the fenland accent was carried across. As this just represents one parish, I’m sure there will be other variants.
There’s even a memorial tablet from 1863, to a Charles Theodore Harlock who drowned aged 29. I’ve no idea if he might be related, but could no doubt determine his immediate ancestry through the records and available censuses.
Origins of Haylock
Ancestry.com suggests that the origin of the name Haylock comes from an old Anglo-Saxon personal name.
They also show that in 1891, Cambridgeshire was home to 23% of all of the UK’s Haylock name-bearers.
Today would have been my paternal grandfather’s 101st birthday.
In 1917, during the First World War, when he was only a little over 4yrs old, his father was killed in a train accident in Boulogne, France.
Percy appears to have gone to St Owen’s School on Third Drove of Little Downham Fen, alongside his Martin brothers and cousins.
The photograph above shows the four sons and their parents – within less than a year, his father was dead.
His widowed mother, now with four sons all under the age of 8yrs, eventually re-married in 1919, and had three further children – half-siblings to Percy.
Percy married my Grandmother Edna in 1937, and together they had four children, although they later divorced. Percy re-married to Irene.
He worked mostly for the Great Ouse River Authority in Cambridgeshire.
I was fortunate to know my grandfather for about 13 years (both grandfathers as it happens), and whilst it saddens me that I never really got to know him, and not at all as an adult, I’m pleased that we were able to spend a little time together.
Percy died on 9th September 1991 in Ely.
Happy 101st Birthday Grandad.
I’m very pleased to have spotted that The BIG Family History Fair is set to return on 2nd May 2015.
Returning to St Ives’ Burgess Hall, Cambridgeshire, after a 3 year break, The BIG Family History Fair will bring together experts, local genealogy and history societies, and companies with products to help you with your research.
2012’s show was busy – with expert talks full, and so this show will hopefully expand on that success, as well as prove to be just as successful.
More information can be found nearer the time at the Huntingdonshire Family History Society’s website.
With Who Do You Think You Are? Live scheduled just a few weeks before in Birmingham, this comes as a welcome treat.
See you there!
The new UK series of Who Do You Think You Are? is almost with us.
Actress and Novelist Julie Walters CBE will be leading this year’s celebrities, as the show celebrates its 10th year in the UK. The BBC One series begins on Thursday 7th August at 9pm.
Other celebrities going under the researcher’s spotlight are: Brian Blessed, Tamzin Outhwaite, Brendan O’Carroll (who has been rumoured since the last series by the Irish Independent), Sheridan Smith, Mary Berry, Martin Shaw, Reggie Yates, Twiggy, and Billy Connolly.
The series will be preceded by a special documentary about the series’ 10 years of genealogy, on 6th August at 10:35pm, that will look back on the outstanding moments from this award-winning series.
If you’re struggling to wait for the series to begin, and you’re in the UK with use of iPlayer, then check out The Secret History of Our Streets for a fascinating look at urban life in the UK.
It was wonderfully sunny on Sunday, so I went for a short drive to Little Downham – a village synonymous with my paternal ancestry – to re-tread my steps from years ago, and photograph the gravestones that match my ancestral surnames.
I always find it interesting to see how the headstones have changed in the preceding years too, some look much the same, other’s have become more lichen and mossed over.
This stone, which I don’t remember seeing before (perhaps I was yet to uncover my Harrison roots), stands on the West side of St Leonard’s church, against the perimeter wall. Whether this is it’s original place of standing, or whether it’s been moved, is a mystery, but having noticed that a lot of stones are around the edges, then I’d suspect this to be the case.
It’s a delight in colour, typography, and of course design. I just wish that the long piece of prose at the bottom of the stone had survived. The legible part reads:
IN MEMORY OF William Harrison who died Nov 8th 1819 Aged 73 years.
Also of Mary his wife who died Nov 3rd 1836 Aged 69 years.
Also of Sarah their daughter who died April 22nd 1828 Aged 24 years.
And, actually, as I write this blog article, a strange shape has caught my eye on the top left of the photo – is that a horseshoe resting on the top of the left corner of the stone, or a metal brace to keep this stone standing up? It was a fair few inches away from the wall… I’ll have to return and check!
As for the occupants of this gravestone, William Harrison was born circa 1746 to William Harrison and his wife Anne Leaford. He was baptised on 27th July 1746 at Little Downham. He married Mary (surname not discovered), and the couple had at least five children, with Sarah seemingly being the youngest born around 1802. She was baptised on 25th September 1803. She died aged 24 years, on 22nd April 1828, and was buried with her father (who had died in November 1819) 3 days later. Her mother joined them in November 1836.
At the moment, these Harrison family members seem to be eluding my own William Harrison branch, who seem to alternate between this family group in the Little Downham registers. It is pretty certain that these were ultimately the same family.
Research continues…. and i think i need to get my timeline/whiteboard out again to solve this puzzle.
A series of announcements via their Facebook Page, have revealed the following experts will be talking at the Fair on 25th October 2014.
- Author, and former BBC researcher, Kathy Chater will be talking about how to turn your family history research into a story.
- Author, well-known local historian, and President of the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History, Mike Petty MBE will be talking about the resources available to you when researching your Cambridgeshire ancestors.
- Social historian Tom Doig returns, this time to talk about identifying dates of Edwardian photographs and postcards.
- Carl Warner, Research and Information Manager at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, will be explaining how you can use the Museum’s vast image library to research and share your story.
The Fair returns to Girton Glebe Primary School, in Girton, on the North-west side of Cambridge. Parking and entry is free, and doors are open 10am-4pm.
For the latest information about the event, and to find out about the Society, take a look at their website.
I went to last year’s Fair History Fair, and really enjoyed it – attending Tom Doig’s lecture, and picked up a few special priced bargains.
See you there!
After quizzing a few stall holders at WDYTYA? Live 2014, I realised that they’d not been asked to return to Olympia in 2015, and that there were no ‘earlybird’ tickets for 2015’s show on sale.
After I checked, I found that Olympia’s diary was already full without the show. With Earls Court being demolished, and (thankfully) the show didn’t move to London Excel, rumours about Birmingham began to appear on social media.
It wasn’t until April, when my local Cambridgeshire Family History Society‘s newsletter announced the move, that all the rumours seemed to point in one direction – to Birmingham.
Today, in the announcement, along with the new venue confirmation, comes the offer of rail discount on Virgin trains.
There’s also another change – the dates have moved – 16th-18th April, rather than the usual February dates.
How does this change affect you? Will you have an easier journey? Does this now mean that you will be able to attend more than one day?
I still plan to attend all three again (I don’t know why I didn’t do that in previous years – it was so much more fun), but will need to work out the most efficient way to get there, as it may not be train.
See you there?