Cambridgeshire Family History Fair 2014

A look back at the Cambridgeshire Family History Fair, which took place on October 25th 2014 at Girton, Cambridge.

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.

The Main Hall at the Cambridgeshire Family History Fair 2014.
The main Exhibition Hall at the Cambridgeshire Family History Fair 2014.

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.

Postcard hunting

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.

Advertising postcard for Frederick Thompson Cross' tea rooms on Forehill, Ely, prior to 1911.
Advertising postcard for Frederick Thompson Cross’ tea rooms on Forehill, Ely, prior to 1911.

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.

IWM American Air Museum
The IWM American Air Museum website has launched.

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.

Exhibitors at The Cambridgeshire Family History Fair 2014.
Exhibitors at The Cambridgeshire Family History Fair 2014.

In the meantime, The Big Family History Fair organised by the Huntingdonshire Family History Society returns in May 2015.

Cambridgeshire Family History Society Fair 2013

Blogging from The Cambridgeshire Family History Society Fair 2013, held in Girton (North Cambridge) on 26th October 2013.

Last Saturday I attended The Cambridgeshire Family History Society Fair.

I think this was the first time that the Fair had taken place, and I was really impressed to see the variety of lectures and stands.

The venue – Girton Glebe School was easy to find and there was plenty of parking for those out-of-towners like me, and with bus stops for those more local. I had a strange flashback of my own primary school, when I found myself sitting on a small red plastic chair in one of the classrooms (although it seemed odd to be doing so whilst drinking a cup of tea).

I didn’t get to take many photos, as the venue was smaller and felt more condensed than other shows I’ve been to, so instead, check out these great photos from the Society’s Facebook Page.

Above: The Cambridgeshire Family History Society stand stood in the entrance with a warm welcome for all visitors. I picked up a couple of cdroms of the Society’s register transcriptions (non-conformists – which have already yielded some great info, and a Quarter Sessions transcript – which i’m yet to explore).

As someone who has been to Who Do You Think You Are? Live a few times, and other Fairs, this one follows a similar style (why fix it, if it isn’t broken?), with a hall with supplier stands, and then ticketed lecture sessions in smaller rooms.

A view of some of the trade stands at the Cambridgeshire Family History Society Fair, 2013
A view of some of the trade stands at the Cambridgeshire Family History Society Fair, 2013

At the stand in the photograph above, I was lucky to find two postcards from Ely – both showing the shop that my Cross family owned and ran in Forehill (I recently referred to it in my blog and newspaper article about the Brown and Co (Ely) Ltd Shop). I chose one (£6!) and I’ve now added it to my collection. Part of me wishes I’d also bought the other one (£8.50!) as it was more of an advertisement card.

A postcard advertising the Cross' bakery on Forehill, Ely
A postcard advertising the Cross’ bakery on Forehill, Ely

Last year, the Huntingdonshire Family History Society held The Big Family History Fair in St Ives, but the Society later confirmed to me that it would not be taking place again this year. Hopefully it will be back for 2014!

I was fortunate to get to talk with the Huntingdonshire Family History Society, at their stand, where they kindly looked up my Franks family. Sadly we couldn’t quite find them, but it seems that the parish that absorbed the now near-abandoned Coppingford village, may have retained the records. One day…. ONE DAY!

I found it a little odd for there to be no Suffolk Family History Society, given that they represent the neighbouring county. I overheard a couple of others talking about this too.

I was pleased to catch social historian (and self-confessed non-family-historian) Tom Doig‘s lecture on identifying Victorian photographs. His approach to this topic sounded odd to start with when he stated that you should never try to date photographs via the clothing seen in the photo. He shared with us his knowledge of the history of photography itself (something that I once studied with the Open University) – and explained the importance of looking at the style of the frames and mounts, and also the composition of a photograph as a method of dating it.

Freshly plied with data CDs, a monumental inscription joke from Carol Noble on the CFHS stall, my Cross postcard, and Tom’s advice on photography, I returned home and instantly began searching through my records and photos again.

An enjoyable time, and one that I hope to repeat again soon.

Brown & Co (Ely) Ltd shop frontage re-appears on Forehill

An old shop sign re-emmerges on Forehill, Ely, right nextdoor to the former bakery of my Cross relatives. But what’s the history?

On Sunday, I was enjoying strolling in the sunshine in Ely, when I stumbled across this piece of work-in-progress on Forehill. Intrigued, I couldn’t resist a rummage in the records…

A close-up of the elaborate painted shopfront and proud historical signage.

Fortunately for me, immediately next door, is The Royal Standard pub, which was once two properties – the upper-hill part (and nearest to this shop, and shown in yellow below) was the bakery of Frederick Thompson Cross (my Great Grandmother’s second cousin, twice removed), and later his son Vernon Cross, both relatives of mine.

The shopfront of Brown & Co. (Ely) Ltd uncovered on Forehill, with the elaborate door on the right. The yellow painted building was home to the Cross family bakery.


The 1901 census reveals that Forehill was home to a range of businesses – including confectioner, publican, watchmaker, baker (my family), a boarding house, and a clothier.

The sole clothier on the street, and so likeliest candidate for this shop was Alfred Hammence, aged 51 in 1901, from Ely. With his wife Hannah, they were immediately before the Cross family on the census return.

Alfred and Hannah were joined by their daughters Lilian Mary (22) and Ellen Eugene (20), and Edward Spelman, a 25 year old assistant clothier.


Ten years earlier in 1891, Alfred and Hannah are at the same address, and this time, the location is clearer, with the census naming ‘The Royal Standard’ pub on the other side of the Cross’ bakery. Alfred and Hannah are joined by six children, a boarder, and a servant.

1891 Census for Forehill, Ely
Alfred Hamence, and neighbours the Cross family, on Forehill, Ely, in 1891. Click to see census on


Ten years earlier still, Alfred, now aged 31, is living at the property with his wife Hannah and their three sons Bertram (5), Hubert (3), and Ernest (1), and two daughters Lillian (2), and Ellen (2 weeks old). Also with them is William Malthouse, a 21 year old ‘clothier’s assistant’ from Hull, Yorkshire, nurse Lucy Mann (55) from Exning, Suffolk, and servant Elizabeth Lofts (17) from Little Downham.

Next door, in what was yet to become the Cross’ bakery, lives John G Benson, a baker from Norfolk. Frederick Cross at this time was living at home a few streets away in Waterside, where he’s noted as a ‘baker’.


Stepping further back, in 1871, a 21 year old Alfred Hamence is noted is now an Assistant at the same shop – the shop itself being managed by Benjamin Bagg (30), who is noted as ‘head’ of the household, and as a ‘Tailor’s foreman and manager’ from Bethnal Green, Middlesex. Along with Benjamin and Alfred are, Benjamin’s wife Caroline (30), their son Ernest (2), daughter Minnie (8 months), Benjamin’s sister Sarah (35), and William Dobson Carr (14), a ‘clothier’s apprentice’ from Whetherby, Yorkshire.

Again, what was to become the Cross’ bakery, was a bakery already, but it is now run by John Moore, a 41 year old ‘miller and baker’ from Mendham, Suffolk.

Sadly, the 1861 census for Ely was lost in a flood, so my view further back is obscured.


Coming forward again to 1911, Alfred, now 61 years old, remained at the address, as an ‘outfitters manager’, but he is joined by his wife of four years, Agnes Ellen, who at 44 years old, is 17 years younger than her husband. The couple live only with another assistant, Russell George Jude – a 24 year old ‘outfitters shop assistant’ from Mildenhall, Suffolk.

Ornate Evidence

Whilst the ornately decorated sign claims that ‘this clothing shop was opened in 1810′, I don’t have evidence to support that, not least because I don’t have access to any trade directories, or deeds, and of course the useful censuses don’t stretch far enough back, but there seems to be some essence of truth to the business’ longevity here.

Quite who ‘Brown’ was, and going by the suggestion of the shop sign, where the rest of his shops were – that’s all currently beyond the records I can search right now.

I have photographs of my Cross’ bakery nextdoor from 1892, 1896, 1906 and 1960 (as published in Vernon Cross’ autobiography ‘Cross Words’, but all give only about a 1 brick width insight into the style of Mr Hamence’s shop front.

What next for Alfred Hamence’s shop?

I’m hoping that whoever is carrying out this restoration, isn’t about to apply a layer of gloss over this terrific, and historical, signage, and that it will once again be boarded over and preserved, in hiding, for another generation to stumble across on a sunny Sunday.

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Crossing the Royal Standard

Taking a trip back in time to Mr Cross’ tea shop on Forehill.

Cross Advert 07-11-1930, originally uploaded by familytreeuk.

The other weekend, amidst the constant drizzle of a wet Sunday in Ely, I decided that it was about time that I went to The Royal Standard pub on Forehill.

I’m tee-total, but my reason for going in there was not so much to warm up over a nice cup of tea or their incredible sunday lunch (check it out)… it was actually to step back in time and visit the very location where my Cross relatives opened Ely’s first tea shop.

My mother has always wanted a tea shop herself, so when I discovered that the Cross family had kept one, she was excited by the news.

The shop, based in a 16th century building about halfway down Forehill (now the right hand side of The Royal Standard), was opened by Frederick Thompson Cross in about 1892. He originally intended the shop to be a picture framing business but after adding a side-business of a bakery, it was clear what Ely wanted most.

The bakery expanded, selling fine cakes and sweets and Mr Cross reaped the rewards.

In his spare time, with his son Frederick Vernon Cross (F. Vernon Cross), he would search places like Roswell Pits, in search of antiquities like fossils. His son, Vernon, was also a keen performer and he traveled the country performing magic tricks and ventriloquist acts (his father made the dummies – and they have been preserved in Ely Museum).

I went on to find a copy of F. Vernon Cross’ autobiography “Crosswords” on eBay (only to find further copies for sale at Ely Museum – but we’ll come to that bit in a moment)…

With the bakery taking off, and their collection of historic items growing too, Vernon began to blend the two together after his father’s death and combined a small museum and bakery.

Upon Vernon’s death, his collection was donated to the Ely Museum, where it forms an important part of their exhibitions. They have even named a function room after him.

I was pleased to recently find the above advert on the top right front page of the Ely Standard, dated 7th November 1930. It seems that Vernon ran several consecutive advertising campaigns on the newspaper header. The cake certainly sounds very appetising.

It was a nice feeling when I saw that The Royal Standard, although under new ownership, still had the “Frederick Thompson Cross” wooden shop sign and a framed photograph on the wall. I didn’t mention my connection but instead tucked into a huge Sunday roast on a plate that was almost too big for the table – another satisfied customer!

I have yet to establish where his Cambridge shop was located.