Thursday, 29 September 2011

Falling for Autumn: Or is it St Martin's Summer?

Reality check: is this an Indian Summer? - Polly Curtis in today's "The Guardian" online
I reckon many of us have been debating this. Is this or isn't it what we used to call an "Indian Summer"?

The UK Meteorological Office has slapped our wrists several times in recent days.

We can't call this an Indian Summer they say.

Indian Summers can't happen in September, we learned to our surprise. They have to occur after the first frosts near the end of October or early November.

 This, in spite of having spent our lives in blissful ignorance of the fact we needed permission to celebrate an autumn warm spell in whatever way we chose, under whatever name, whenever we noticed it. After all, surely it's the public's own words and traditions that put any concept into the culture in the first place? This delightful phenomenon was called an Indian Summer long before the Met Office, or the Governments who fund it, had us in a headlock over semantics!

The Guardian's Polly Curtis in the article linked above, quotes one of the earliest uses of the term, from Frenchman John de Crevecoeur, in 1778: 

'Sometimes the rain is followed by an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer; its characteristics are a tranquil atmosphere and general smokiness. Up to this epoch the approaches of winter are doubtful; it arrives about the middle of November, although snows and brief freezes often occur long before that date.'

It's been suggested the phrase is rather a disparaging reference to Native Americans perpetrated by the incoming European settlers, who branded the native dwellers as untrustworthy for breaking "treaties" with the invaders of their territories. Hence the unseasonal warm spell was deemed to be similarly breaking the settled pattern of the weather getting colder as the winter solstice approached.
 I, for one, wouldn't be comfortable to use any term, whether deemed "non-PC" or not that could cause offence to those with a reason to feel aggrieved by certain loaded phrases. But it seems far from clear that this is the origin of the name for this meteorological phenomenon. The jury seems to be out. Or not to have realised they had been convened.

Wikipedia confidently states here:

Depending on latitude and elevation, the phenomenon can occur in the Northern Hemisphere between late September and mid November. 

In many ways, the Wiki is the modern voice of popular cultural understanding, for all its limitations. So late September doesn't seem disqualified here! Wherever the Met Office has arbitrarily decided to draw a line in the sand.

Hoar Frost - St. Martin's Summer (Indian Summer) by British painter Alfred Sisley 1874 (Oil on Canvas. Private Collection)

Here in England, an autumnal warm snap was formerly called a "St Martin's Summer", until gradually by the 20th century, along with "OK" and  unfamiliar spellings and pronunciations of the English language picked up from GIs and Hollywood talkies, the phrase "Indian Summer" overtook older traditional expressions.

Looking at the numerous different names for the phenomenon from round the globe shows there's a huge collection of terms we can choose from. Some maybe less than flattering, many just sublime:

Little Summer of the Quince, Old Ladies' Summer, Summer of Old Ladies, Crone's Summer (non-PC for self-respecting modern women!), Gypsy Summer, Gypsy Christmas, St Theresa's Summer, All Hallown Summer, Return of Summer, Flashback of Summer, or the Chinese phrase meaning "a tiger in autumn", humankind has always wanted to speak about it and celebrate it!

Whatever it should be called, it's a joy when it happens, in my book. Because it's here, it's hot, it's glorious! Beautiful soft, golden days, melting frigid  dawns and evenings after the tilt of the autumnal equinox. Lighting up the dying leaves and showing off their twilight splendour. Giving us hope that it's not so very long, after all, till spring.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Walking into the Silence: Suicide and Secrecy in Victorian Yorkshire Part 1

This image from the 1851 census is a snapshot frozen in time.

It shows the occupants of a farm next to the Manor House in the little village of Barlby in Yorkshire, England. The head of household and his wife are my 5x great grandparents, Thomas Turner Snr,  farmer of 166 acres and Nancy, nee Pattrick, a waterman's youngest daughter from Thorne near Doncaster.

Also at the farm that night are Joseph Vollans, who studied farming and husbandry with Thomas and married his youngest daughter Charlotte. Their children are Mary Ann, Thomas and baby Elizabeth, not yet a year old.

This splendid photo shows Joseph in old age, long after the tragic events that tore the family apart just five years after this census was taken, which he almost certainly witnessed.

Joseph Vollans 1822-1901 my great great great granduncle
The other occupants include Charlotte Barrass, my great great grandma aged 15. Her mother, Hannah, was the Turner's fourth child and had married my 3x great grandfather, keelman Samuel Barrass. Life on the keel and waterways affected Hannah's fragile lungs and she died aged just 28 on Christmas Eve 1843, when Charlotte was just 7 and her two brothers even younger. While the boys could survive onboard the boat, Charlotte came to live on her grandparents' farm instead.

The census also shows local born farm servants George Baxter and John Wilson and the house servant, an Irish lass called Mary Wolder.

Next door, Thomas Turner Jr is farming alongside his father. The eldest son William and his wife Helen were farming back in Hatfield Woodhouse near Doncaster, looking after his father's other property. The family had moved north from Hatfield to Barlby when Thomas and Nancy inherited some money around 1829. Most of the household would be forced to return there when tragedy overtook them.

Thomas Jr's wife Mary Ann, nee Sampson, was a sloop owner's daughter from Hull. Her younger sister Charlotte, also living with them on census night, would later marry her brother in law when Mary Ann died young in 1853. Thomas and Mary Ann's children, George, Charlotte, William and Thomas complete the happy family circle gathered round the table in the farmhouse kitchen.

Modern map of Barlby, often flooded by the River Ouse
That veneer of happiness and prosperity wasn't to last.

My Dad could not even remember his grandparents' names. There seemed to have been a split in time somewhere. Roots had been rubbed out, stories left untold. Even Dad's oldest living cousins seemed only to have vague memories of my great grandfather Thomas Barrass, a farmer, Charlotte's illegitimate son, born in 1857.

He had never told his children anything of his past. At first I wondered why this settled domestic idyll was something he would be reluctant to recount. Even his own birth, 'out of wedlock' as the saying went, before his parents' marriage, didn't seem fully to account for the information vacuum.

Brambles and briars in a corner of Barlby churchyard

On a bleak midwinter Sunday, 27th January 1856, Nancy, aged 66 took a blade and slit her throat.

When I first set eyes on her death certificate, expecting to see she had died quietly in her bed, a shock wave reverberated through every cell of my body. Slowly, as I pieced the truth together, everything began to fall into place.

Since that awful day, the family began to fall apart. They seem to have spent generations moving away from the horror of Nancy's choice and burying the past under layers of silence, like ripples moving out from a deadly stone dropped without warning.

No inquest exists. I still hope one day to uncover some account in a newspaper from the time.

Chillingly, the death certificate was not issued until two months later, in late March. Suicide was a crime and shrouded in shame and superstition back then.

Were widower Thomas and the family under suspicion? Was she found right away? How, where and when was she buried? She was deemed to be "insane in mind". That was the conclusion for almost every suicide. To take your own life was thought to indicate a want of all reason.

No grave exists. Suicides could not be buried in consecrated ground. Back in history, superstition and fear would have them buried at a crossroads with a stake through their heart to prevent the troubled soul's return. The family had to carry this with them all the days of their lives. No wonder they left the village and the pitying, questioning eyes of their neighbours.

All Saints Church at Barlby - but where is Nancy buried?
Joseph Vollans' wife Charlotte died shortly afterwards after months of disabling diarrhoea. One of their children ended his days as a young man in Rotherham Workhouse, labelled an imbecile. Other grandchildren emigrated. Those who were left tried to forget and move on as the silence that I inherited deepened with the years.

I've returned to Barlby in recent years and left a circle of white Yorkshire roses around a stone font in the churchyard there. It was my way of trying to show how our family's love and my celebration of Nancy's place in my genes and genealogy is precious and still means the world to me. I think our backs had been turned in shock and grief for a century long enough.

A postscript to this is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in all the course of tracing my roots. I was invited to go with a local Women's group to Laughton-en-le-Morthen church one summer evening. There was to be talk about the church architecture, all flying buttresses and Green Men. I had no connection to Laughton, so I thought. But I took my digital camera. Light was failing when we arrived. On a whim, the only grave I snapped belonged to Matthew Pearson, of Selby, born in 1784. I took it solely because I knew Selby was close to Barlby where the Turners farmed, and because Matthew Pearson had been born around the same year as Thomas Turner. 

Grave of Matthew Pearson of Selby, the Coroner who attended after Nancy's suicide, unbeknown to me when I took this photo miles away at Laughton-en-le-Morthen near Rotherham
I thought no more of it. Until a month or so later, when I opened the envelope from the General Record Office containing Nancy's death certificate. I had already been searching for it for years with no luck.

After the shock of the cause of death, the name of the Coroner who investigated the tragedy was what struck me most deeply. It was this very Matthew Pearson, the Selby coroner, whose grave I had captured on film for no reason I could ever have explained till then.

Rest in peace, Nancy. The choices you made, your marriage, your children, even the last sad decision, have helped shape my own story. If I could turn back the clock and the calendar, run back into history, perhaps I would gently try to tell you that tomorrow is another day and help you hope in your own happiness. Tell you it would all turn out right in the end. Perhaps as I left you, I'd whisper in the ears of the rest of the family, to please, please, hide all the knives and razors. But I know and believe you're at peace and your agony long past and healed by love and forgiveness.

You and yours will never be forgotten.

Extracts from my 5x great grandfather Thomas Turner's will:

I respectfully request that my landlords will permit my said son Thomas Turner to continue to occupy the farm which I now rent and occupy of them situate at Barlby aforesaid or in that immediate neighbourhood.

I charge all my real estate situate at Thorne in the said county of York with the payment of the annual sum of five pounds to my granddaughter Charlotte Barrass during her life and I direct that the same shall be paid to her quarterly, the first quarterly payment to be made at the expiration of three months after my decease and I also give and bequeath unto my said granddaughter Charlotte Barrass the whole of my household furniture plate linen and china which may be in my house at Woodhouse at the time of my death for her own absolute use and benefit.

I give and bequeath unto my said son Thomas Turner the whole of my farming stock, implements in Husbandry and valuation in upon and about the said farm which I now occupy at Barlby aforesaid, for his own absolute use and benefit subject nevertheless to the payment of the legacy or sum of one hundred and fifty pounds to my son William Turner which I direct shall be paid by my son Thomas Turner out of my personal estate hereinbefore devised to him and which I direct shall be paid to my said son William Turner within six months after my decease.

Marriage certificate of Thomas & Nancy's youngest daughter Charlotte to Joseph Vollans

...and to my five grandchildren the children of my late daughter Charlotte the wife of Joseph Vollans the legacy or sum of fifty pounds each and I direct that in case any of the said legatees shall happen to die before they shall become entitled to the bequests hereinbefore made to them having any child or children then I declare it to be my will and mind that the child or children of any of the said legatees so dying as aforesaid shall take the share or shares of its parent so dying in equal shares and proportions on their severally attaining the age of twenty one years and I direct that in case any of my said legatees or any of the children of the said legatees so dying as aforesaid shall not have attained their said age of twenty one years at the time the bequest hereinbefore made shall become payable to them.

Thomas Turner's death certificate. The witness was a relative of his daughter Elizabeth, who had married George Chester, a village butcher in Finningley, but predeceased her parents. I cannot find Thomas's grave, either, and wonder if he chose to be buried wherever Nancy was secretly laid to rest?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Painted Ponies and Steam Horses: Victorian Fairground Folks

Botton Brothers' Gallopers, no date (National Fairground Archive)
 Having such fun with my family history digging this week!

My 4x Great Grandmother, Mary Booth (1791-1849), first wife of Samuel Barrass, one of my long line of canal mariners and keelmen, had a younger brother called Thomas.

Thomas was the lockman at Eastwood Top Lock in Rotherham in the middle of the 19th century. But for once, it's not my watermen and sailors that are in focus this week!

Rotherham Fair April 1962 (National Fairground Archive Image Database)
Thomas's youngest daughter, Sarah Ann Booth, was born in the Lock House at Eastwood on the 20th May 1843. She wasn't destined for a life under sail like so many of our clan. She married William Heeson, son of a Rotherham blacksmith in 1863. William left his father's forge after his marriage to Sarah, to go travelling around the fairgrounds of Yorkshire with the travelling showmen bringing fun and entertainment to the children and locals of Victorian times.

W. H. Marshall's Fowler engine - number 10318 Sunny Boy II - photographed 1940 (National Fairground Archive)

By 1871, with their eldest children William and Maria in tow, the couple were living in Rotherham's College Inn Yard, dealing from their travelling caravan. I don't know what William was selling, but it wasn't long before the new steam powered amusements, powered by steam engines and painted all the colours of the rainbow, had him hooked. These early attractions were spreading through the land, catching everyone's imaginations on fire!

Morley Brothers' Steam Swings photographed Easter 1938. (National Fairground Archive)

The eldest son William sometimes told the census man he was born in plain old Eastwood. At the turn of the century he served a term in Stafford Jail. But in 1891, working as a lighterman in Hull, he clearly told the census enumerator an extraordinary tale. The census says he was born in "Eton Forest (in the actual forest)"!

Now, I have ancestors born on keels, ancestors born at sea, but never in an "actual" forest! What makes this twice as fascinating, is that there's no such forest with that name anywhere near Rotherham or anywhere else in Yorkshire or England, as far as I can discover. I'm hoping one of you dear friends reading this might be able to help me with this, if you've any ideas?

W. H. Marshall's Burrell engine - number 3945 Prince of Wales - photographed 24 August 1935 (National Fairground Archive)
 What's certain is, he would have been born in the family caravan, off the beaten track, somewhere on the Fairground circuit in the North of England. I've got such a lot of exciting discoveries to make about this. If you can help, please don't be shy and wade right in!

In 1881, the Heeson's travelling caravan was parked on census night in Barnsley, in Hoyland Common Market Place. William is listed as a licensed hawker, and there is another daughter, Jane. She was born in Aston, in Sheffield. No settled village life for this branch of the family!

F. Walker's Rollicking Jeep photographed September 1947 (National Fairground Archive)
 In 1891, census night finds the Heesons' caravan parked a little further south, in the yard attached to the Rose and Crown public house in Barlborough, Derbyshire. I have pictures in my head of the routes travelled around the villages by the travelling shows. So romantic and exciting, as colourful and free as our lives on the inland shipping, but greeted with more of a tingle of anticipation by children, I'll bet!

Youngest son Edward, who seems to have inherited his father and mother's passion for the painted ponies, steam horses and swings, was born in Riddings, Derbyshire as they passed that way in the summer of 1884. Now they weren't just "hawkers", but were listed as having "steam horses" in tow with the caravan!

W. H. Church's Fair photographed October 1937 (National Fairground Archive)
 In 1901, with a few of Sarah's nephews and nieces on board, the family were still on the road, doing the rounds of the fairgrounds. William is on the census as "Steam Horse and Swing Owner", in his travelling van in Queen's Road, Barnsley. Edward is his steam horse driver, making the carousel go round.

Tragically, aged just 60, William was to die a few weeks after this census was taken, leaving the travelling gear to his widow, my distant cousin Sarah. She carried on the Heeson family business, assisted by her son Edward.

There was an inquest into the death of William by the West Yorkshire Coronor. His death certificate reveals that he died in an horrific accident, being knocked down and crushed under his own traction engine in Scissett near Huddersfield. There is a story that he was in the habit of leaving his shoe laces and buttons undone. This may have contributed to his tripping and coming to this tragic and grisley end.

In 1911 it is Sarah who is "Amusement Caterer", as the fairground folks are still called today, living by then in Gorton Terrace, Kinsley near Pontefract. How she ever felt quite the same about the "fun" aspect of the job is left to our imaginations.
General view from flats of Pontefract Fair, November 1985. (National Fairground Archive)

Edward became her "Assistant Amusement Caterer", and by 1911 had been married for the past five years to Emma Musgrave. Their household is noisily full of Edward and Emma's children as well as several nieces, nephews and grandchildren, including the intriguingly named "Sir Edward Heeson Hallford" and "Richard Eduard Thomas Birks Heeson".

Looking through the Fairground Archives online, and message boards, I see the Heeson name still connected to the amusement trade in Yorkshire even today. I would love to know more. Can you help me?

My next stop will be researching deeper through two wonderful UK fairground resources:

UK Fairground Ancestors

National Fairground Archive

Actor Larry Lamb explores his own Fairground Ancestry on BBC1s Who Do You Think You Are? 

Looking forward to hearing from anybody else who has an interest in their fairground folks from the past!

T. Whyatt's Living Wagon, no date (National Fairground Archive)
(All images are copyright of The National Fairground Archive housed at the University of Sheffield on the link above)

Monday, 19 September 2011

TMBG's new Cloisonné video: Suits Me!

Oh boy!

This is so worth the wait.

TMBG haven't made an official music video showing all of them, faces and instruments and all their lovely selves since 2001. That was for their Grammy winning Malcolm in the Middle theme song "Boss Of Me" which depicted them becoming the disposable playthings of the kids in the show.

In that video they got pelted by paint balls and Flans was dumped in the trash. Could have put them off making videos featuring themselves for the rest of their natural lives!

We're blessed that they're back with a vengeance. In smart and sexy suits, too, looking and sounding the absolute bees knees!

They've re-recorded Cloisonné, one of the finest, if not THE finest song ever to emerge from Mr Flansburgh's creative imagination, in the key of D. So instead of just the familiar version from new album "Join Us", we get a fabulous brand new recorded version to enjoy.

What's a sleestak? If you don't know by now, treat yourself to an education courtesy of the lovely Johns!

Friday, 16 September 2011


My cell spells
he as if
as if
he wasn't sure

Spells uncomfy vocoder
found I'd tap typed wrong

Switch to manual imput
Don't troll lol 
Cos Twitter's down

My cell spells
me of
of me a fumbling pixel of unspeak
muttered autocorrect 

My cell doesn't even know my name
me me
I thought I was
gone viral
till the screen went blank

Friday, 9 September 2011

Chatsworth's "Revelation" Fountain: The Rhythm of Life is A Powerful Beat!

A couple of posts ago I was rambling about Blanche's Vase at Chatsworth.

Chatsworth House has other hidden corners just as restful but a bit more modern. The Revelation Water Sculpture is a hypnotic and stunning fountain, designed by sculptor Angela Connor, installed at Chatsworth in 1999.

The most famous water feature at Chatsworth is definitely the Cascade, 300 years old, a picturesque liquid ribbon flowing down 24 stone steps cut into the landscape above the House.

The Cascade in the grounds of Chatsworth House originally completed in 1696 and fed by four lakes
The 'Revelation' is less well known, but is a piece of simple modern engineering that will stay in your heart forever. Like a well oiled piece of organic clockwork, it sets its own rhythm. As you stand or sit to watch its elegant, unhurried cycle, perhaps it has something to teach us about the pace of our own lives.

Its in the form of a flower bud opening and closing its petals. Its motion is down to the pressure of water flowing from the sculpture. These photos I took show the stages of its dance:

Closed bud with water flowing over its shiny surfaces
Gradually the weight of water within causes the petals to unfold outwards...

...revealing the golden heart within.
As the flower fully opens, the water drains back into the surrounding lake
Letting the flower close again
Ready to start the cycle again, drawing visitors away from the rush of life to share the healing heartbeat of nature

Chatsworth's sculptures blend with the natural landscape beyond
Water and stone in harmony

Chatsworth's formal and natural gardens and buildings set in the splendour of the Derbyshire Peak District
Pseudoacacia Robinia 'Frisia', an Australasian visitor holds its own special sunshine at Chatsworth

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Switch off, Emley Moor, your analogue time is up!

Does just what it says on the box
 Today's the long awaited analogue signal switch off day in my area. That means the telly signal from the Emley Moor transmitter is switched off and only digital signals remain.

Emley Moor transmitter, Yorkshire, England UK
 Most of us have long since switched to digital, to Freeview, but not all.

My elderly neighbour's set had lost her analogue BBC1 this morning by the time I went round, as promised, to retune her set.

Marvellous modern TVs are so sophisticated at tuning themselves in at the touch of a couple of pokes of the remote. We all look like techies to technophobic folks who are scared of computers, remotes, answering machines, mobiles/cell phones etc. I really don't count myself as in any way an expert!

 I fumbled about with her remote for a few minutes, looking for the obvious, and managed to get her set to do a complete set-up scan and get itself tuned to the digital channels. No probs. I was an instant hero!

Then I got back home to my own TV.

Couldn't for the life of me recall how to set my "favourites" after the big re-tune!
(I did work it out eventually!)

 My neighbour noticed the digital reception was better than her old analogue signal. She was just so grateful she didn't end up with a "snowy" picture! Those were the days! Or were they? I reckon none of us feels much nostalgia for the days a decade or so ago when tuning your TV meant hours of random twiddling knobs backwards and forwards to get the best picture and sound. 

The old Test Card - lines and squiggles to tell you if you'd tuned it right
 Some of us born in the sixties or further back still remember the old test card that came on when there were no more programmes to show at the end of the day. Days when you could count the number of channels on one hand. 

Rediffusion television showroom, very like the one from which my parents rented our first black and white set c 1964
 When my parents first got a telly in the early 60s, we had a set rented from the UK company "Rediffusion". There was one of their television showrooms in the local town. Our telly had a coin box on the back into which you had to feed old two shilling coins. When the money had run out, the set would switch itself off curtly till you'd paid up. It was a bit like playing a one-armed bandit on a day trip to the seaside arcades! 

The guy from Rediffusion had to come and empty the box at the back of the TV every so often, or it would risk getting so full there'd be no room for more coins to keep the unit operational!

When the TV was first turned off, the picture plinked off to a line before the line disappeared. Equally, you had to let the TV "warm up" when you first switched it on. You were always aware of the "tube" inside which could "go" when it wore out. You always unplugged the set when there was a thunderstorm.

This was the age of the cathode ray...
 Aerials weren't always too powerful, affected by wind and all sorts of weather. The picture would indeed go "snowy" and you'd have to walk round the room if you had an internal or set-top aerial to fix it in the place with the best signal. Figures on the screen would often have a "ghost" or blur when the reception was short of crystal clear.

"Snowy" pictures weren't only in winter
 No. I've little nostalgia for the actual nuts and bolts of those analogue days. 

I'm just grateful my TV seems to know exactly what it's doing, even if I don't! It doesn't show me so many programmes worth the license fee these days. But it can turn me into a local hero of technological wizardry on my block! 

Now, where did I leave my Tardis?