Archive for the ‘Social History’ Category

Yeomanry occupying observation post (Walsall Local History Centre)


This article returns the Blog to the Cannock area and to the First World War period, but what turned out to be a straight-forward question actually, in my view, has opened the door on an interesting piece of general social history and has also offered a solution to a personal mystery on the Cannock war memorial… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/tracing-a-cannock-tommy-the-thomas-bradley-williams-story/

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Whispers From The Past is available from the Walsall Local History Centre – £8

Unable to promote or advertise it at the time, some months back I put into book form a collection of cases I had written-up from the records of the Walsall Coroner: Lost Leamore – Death at the Black Horse; Suffering in Silence – Harriet’s Story; A State of Mind – The Butts Murder; Run! – The Ryecroft Plane Crash; Finding N – The Pleck Canal Mystery and, perhaps the strangest of all, the Curious Death of Maud Minnie Mills.

The cases, which date between 1911-1917, are of course under-pinned by tragedy, but they have so much more to tell us about what life was like at the time: they not only show us the warming reaction of the community of Ryecroft to a grief-stricken family and help us understand the problems of the Walsall Police in an age of basic communications and forensic techniques, but also act as a warning by revisiting a world with no National Health Service, little understanding of mental health and no recourse to help through institutions like the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Reflections at Woodward’s Bridge: scene of the death of Harriet and a few yards from the discovery of ‘N’

The book costs £8. It is available from the Walsall Local History Centre, or through myself (contact me via the Blog’s Facebook/Twitter accounts).

The site of the workhouse on Sandford Street, as shown on Snape’s map of 1781. (Lichfield Record Office)


Part I dealt with the background to the poor-law both nationally and in Lichfield, as well as a little about James Wickins himself. This part will look at what Wickins actually proposed in 1775, and how that fitted into existing or influenced future practice within Lichfield… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/other-places/1775-james-wickins-and-the-lichfield-poor-part-ii/

Site of the Sandford St Workhouse, Lichfield.

I was rooting around in the loft the other day when I came across an old assignment that I wrote on the old poor-law in Lichfield, which took as its source a pamphlet written in 1775, which outlined the vision of a Mr. James Wickins on how the task could be more efficiently and economically undertaken within the city…https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/other-places/1775-james-wickens-and-the-lichfield-poor-part-i/

The Cross Keys, Hednesford, where Freddie attended the John Wesley lodge of the RAOB not long after the picture was taken. (HeathHaysHistory)

The title to this story is a little bit different and I am sure the mind is boggling as to just how a man, a war, a harp and a monkey could all fit together. Well, the first link is easy: the search for the man, Frederick George Wray, started with a bit of a mystery that arose from the war memorial in Hednesford. What happened then was that the mystery was partly solved through a moment of serendipity, however, the answer that moment of serendipity provided only served to take the story on – and to try to answer a question posed by a harp and a monkey! Confused? I will explain… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/a-man-a-war-a-harp-and-a-monkey-the-frederick-wray-story/

Acc1268/3/3/1 - Marjorie's notification of a job interview as a Tobacconist's Assistant with the Walsall Co-op. It sparked a debate with some school children at the Archives. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Acc1268/3/3/1 – Marjorie’s notification of a job interview as a Tobacconist’s Assistant with the Walsall Co-op. It sparked a debate with some school children at the Archives. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Every so often I pen a short article (500 words or so) for the Black Country Bugle – a weekly local history newspaper for those that don’t know it – on something of interest in the Walsall Local History Centre archives. Through the Walsall Co-operative, this one shows a little of how we have changed from 1938 to today…

One accusation I constantly hear is that members that attend the local history groups I give talks to are more interested in nostalgia, as in chatting about the period and memories of their own lives, than in ‘proper history’. There is some element of truth in this; most that put-up with my ramblings as a speaker are more mature in years and they do engage more if I talk about the WWI tank once of Reedswood Park – and how their dad talked of it – than the Russian cannon from the Crimea that were removed from the Bridge two generations before. Should we be surprised in that? No, of course not. In general, people love to talk about what they remember or know about.

The item I have chosen to briefly talk about today will appear to some as about a run-of-the-mill piece as you can imagine, yet I love it; to me it shows it shouldn’t be a case of nostalgia against history, but that one person’s nostalgia is another person’s history.

Acc 1268/3/3/1 is from the Jamieson family collection. Bill, wife Nellie, and their daughter Marjorie all worked at the Walsall Co-operative – Bill starting at the Caldmore branch in 1906, before going to the dizzy heights of the Highgate branch in 1911. After the war he managed at the Aldridge and Sutton branches. Nellie worked at the Leamore branch from 1916.

In January 1938 Marjorie, having left school, tried to obtain a position as a Tobacconist’s Assistant at the Co-op – and the item is a notification of her first interview. I used it for a display at the Centre and none of our more mature visitors asked anything about it as, I think, it fitted comfortably within their own nostalgia. It was in fact to be a couple of school aged kids that became quite fascinated by it – by how alien it seemed to them – and so they dissected it word for word while they quizzed me.

I remember the first question – which seemed a little naïve at first – about women not working back ‘in the old days’. Of course they did, but I did have to point out that, as did many employed women, her mother had in fact left the Co-op after her parents married in 1922.

I also pointed out Marjorie was 14-years old at this point – the school leaving age introduced in 1918. This led to two comments – the first being somewhat predictable – on her age and the suitability of the job. I pointed out that smoking was seen by some to be healthy at the time and the link to lung cancer was only suggested in medical journals in 1939 and studied seriously in the 1950s. It is interesting that while illegal to sell to under-16s even then, she was seen as able to work in that environment.

The second point struck me from left-field – which was about a perceived lack of consideration by the Co-op for Marjorie. Their point, and an interesting one to show social change, was why the ‘shop’ didn’t interview her during the day – after all, they were asking a 14-year old to attend a meeting at 6.30pm, which in January, is night-time. I smiled when one said something along the lines of ‘not sure my mom would have let me go’.

Marjorie didn’t get the job. A week or so later she was interviewed for a Draper’s Assistant position, which she did get. As for me, it was a fantastic day at work thanks to those guys.

Anonymous grave markers,  now divorced from their graves, at the Burntwood Asylum graveyard. 2016.

Anonymous grave markers, now divorced from their graves, at the Burntwood Asylum graveyard. 2016.

The first of a 3 part article on depression in WWI, with special emphasis on the Cannock Chase camps. Part 1 investigates how well mental health was understood back in World War One and the story of a local soldier Silas Sargent of Bloxwich and Cheslyn Hay… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/driven-to-dispair-the-dark-side-of-the-cannock-chase-camps-part-1/

A recruitment cartoon in the Advertiser, Sep 1914. (Cannock Library)

Mr Phillips and Don the Dog raising money for the Tommies, 1914. (Cannock Library)


This is the story of John Henry Degg from High Town, Hednesford. John Henry epitomises the opening day casualty of the Battle of the Somme – one of 19,240 dead – but I wanted to show that he was a person and not just a statistic. I have also used his family experience in order to give some local (Great Wyrley and Cheslyn to Cannock and Hednesford) and general military and political background not only to the battle, but the entire war… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/the-cannock-area-in-world-war-one-the-deggs-of-hednesford/

W Green's exquisite pencil drawing of a cat, Hednesford, 1903. (Walsall Local History Centre)

W Green’s exquisite pencil drawing of a cat, Hednesford, 1903. (Walsall Local History Centre)


Every so often something special turns up at the Walsall Archives; while I know it wont be the Domesday Book or Magna Carta, it will be something that is special to me. Such an item, in this case an ordinary looking Victorian/Edwardian autograph album, arrived from Sheffield Archives several years ago. What was clear, whoever the Emily was that owned it, it covered 25 years of her life at least – starting in December 1900. The book contained mementos of friends and family from the Hednesford, Cannock, Great Wyley, Bridgtown, Heath Hayes, Brownhills, Walsall, Willenhall and Pelsall areas amongst others… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/articles-other/emilys-autograph-album-a-local-tale-pt-1/

A food economy exhibition at the Temperance Hall during WWI (Walsall Local History Centre)

A food economy exhibition at the Temperance Hall during WWI (Walsall Local History Centre)


This is the tale of the unfortunately named John Thomas, who was charged in December 1917 with food hoarding by the Walsall Food Control Committee. Thomas’ house had been raided by the Walsall Police on 14 December and the Council decided to prosecute a few days later. Found guilty, Thomas was given leave to appeal and appeal he did. What seemed to be a tuppeny-ha’penny food hoarder from the back of beyond was to be defended at the Quarter Sessions by Sir Edward Marshall Hall, arguably the greatest barrister in the country at that time…
https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/walsall/edward-marshall-hall-and-the-case-of-the-walsall-food-hoarder-1918/