Finding London Ancestors’ Death Records- Spar Field Burial Ground

I mentioned in a former blog that I have been researching my London ancestors in recent months and found most of them were not buried in churchyards, but in the many private burial grounds scattered throughout London.

One branch of my family was buried in the Spar Fields Burial Ground at Islington. I found putting together a history of this burial ground has helped to not only understand the history of this family but has given me clues, where to search for other records to move my research on.

The Spar Field Burial Ground

Originally part of the fen and moorlands at Clerkenwell Fields, Islington, the area has an interesting history. It is the termination point of the New River which was built to bring fresh drinking water to the city in the early 17th Century.

The New River is an artificial waterway opened in 1613 to supply fresh drinking water to London. Water was taken from the River Lee in Hertfordshire and supplemented from springs and wells along its course to Clerkenwell, Islington, (near where Sadler Wells Theatre is today).

The design and construction of the New River were first proposed in 1602 by Edmund Colhurst and he was able to obtain a charter from King James I in 1604 to begin the construction. After surveying the route and excavating the first two miles of canal, Colhurst found himself in financial difficulties. There was some delay before the work was carried on by Sir Hugh Myddleton, and the project was completed in 1613 with a grand official opening ceremony on 29th September. The King himself invested heavily in the project as the river crossed the King’s estate of Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire. In order to give the project a firmer financial and legal structure, the New River Company was incorporated in 1619 by Royal Charter. With the involvement of Sir John Backhouse, the Company’s first reservoir was built on his land at Islington.

There were a great expense and engineering challenges with the project as it relied on gravity to allow the water to flow. The project also faced opposition from many landowners who were concerned that it would reduce their land value because of flooding and the creation of marshy areas that would trap stock. However, with the strong support of the King, the project was completed.

In the countryside, the canal was above ground,  with sections being carried across valleys in wooden aqueducts lined with lead, supported by brick piers. Improvements in canal construction in the 18th Century led to many of these sections being replaced by clay banked canals. In some areas, the New River went through underground tunnels.

New laws were passed making it an offense to throw rubbish or carrion into the river, while anyone washing clothes, planting sallow, willow or elm trees within five yards of the canal would incur the ‘King’s displeasure’.

Part of the canal tunnel emptied into a reservoir on Sir John Backhouse’s estate and it wasn’t long before it attracted much bird life and in fact, it soon became known for the summer sport of duck-hunting.

A public entertainment house called the Pantheon was erected nearby in Exmouth Street, for the popular sports of bull-baiting and prizefighting.

By the early 18th Century the New River Company had become a significant landowner in the Clerkenwell and Islington and had laid out streets and squares which took their name from people and other associations with the Company. They are still there today as is the New River.

Spar Fields Cemetery and Enviroments

This area of Georgian London was growing at a rapid rate and all the churchyards were full, and the Bunhill Burial Ground was some distance away.

The house and gardens of the Pantheon were sold to the New River Company and was closed.

It was re-opened as a chapel of the ever-growing parish of St James, Clerkenwell. When the new St James Burial Ground opened this chapel was sold to the Countess of Huntingdon, who turned it into a Dissenting Chapel in 1779.

Shortly afterward a group of private speculators led by the Marquess of Northampton leased two acres of the gardens behind the chapel for a cemetery.

Originally this private cemetery was designed to hold approximately three thousand bodies, but the call for burial space in London was great, and it wasn’t long before the Spar Field Burial Ground was taking more than a thousand bodies a year. Since it was not in the financial interest of the speculators to stop the burials, it soon became notorious for its overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

Many of the early burial services were held in the Countess of Huntingdon Chapel.

Lady Selina Shirley, the second daughter of Washington Shirley, the 2nd Earl Ferrers, was born 24 August 1707 in Leicestershire. She married Theophilus Hastings, 9th Earl of Huntingdon on 3 June 1728. In 1739 she joined the first Methodist Society in London and then in 1746, after the death of her husband she became involved in the Calvinistic movement with John Wesley and George Whitfield. Under the influence of these two men, she founded sixty-four chapels throughout England including several in London, one being at Spar Field, Clerkenwell.

This chapel was demolished in the late 19th Century and the Church of our Most Holy Redeemer was built on the site in 1888. This church is still there today near the London Metropolitan Archives. The cemetery has been converted to a park.

Spar Fields Today

I found several members of my family had their burial service in the Countess of Huntingdon Chapel and were buried in the nearby Spar Field Burial Ground.

The burial registers of Spar Fields Chapel of the Countess of Huntingdon Connexion are held at the London Metropolitan Archives. They have been digitized and can be found online through the websites of The Genealogist, Findmypast and Deceased Online. There are some 114,000 records in cramped and ink splattered handwriting but well worth the search to find the final resting place of one’s ancestors and related families in this part of London.

Good ancestor hunting to you all.

 

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Agnes Willis Cairns and the 4X Great-Granddaughters’ Gift

 

This year we have three granddaughters who are in Fourth Grade at school. This is the year they are introduced to early European Settlement in Australia, the First Fleet, and the ‘convict era’. They were all given research projects along the way.

They are well aware of their grandmother’s passion, so it was not long before they contacted me for help.

I could tell them they were descended from First Fleeters, Second Fleeters, and various other convicts. In fact, they have at least fifteen ancestors, who came to Australia as convicts.

Once I could show them where they all slotted into our large ‘family tree’ they were ready to research these convict ancestors.

All are very proficient in the use of ‘Google’ and the Internet, so were quickly able to bring to light a lot of information on their convict ancestors, which was a lot of fun for us all.

As part of learning about the convict experience, the girls have been reading fiction stories written about convict children of nine to twelve years of age. Most were convicted of stealing and sentenced to transportation. The stories may be fiction, but they are based on facts and give good details, so the children can understand and relate to the lives of the convict children of the early 19th Century.

We do not have any ‘child’ convicts in our family history, but I was able to tell the girls their 4X Great Grandmother, Agnes Cairns had arrived in Tasmania in 1829 at 10 years of age. That is the same age as the granddaughters are this year. Agnes was a  free person but had traveled half-way around the world on a convict ship, to the small colonial outpost of Hobart. She accompanied her mother, Elizabeth Merry, who was a convict.

 

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from Google Images- 30 August 2018

 

The granddaughters were keen to put Agnes’s name into Google and convict websites. They were so disappointed, as found no records with her name on them, although they did find her mother.

As I could show all the pertinent records from the girls own birth certificates, back through the generations to their 4X Great-Grandmother Agnes Cairns, they could understand where Agnes and her mother Elizabeth fitted into the family tree. They were at a loss of how they could find out about this ancestor. I suggested they write her a letter asking the questions they wanted to know about.

This is the letter.

Dear 4X Great-Grandma Agnes,

We have been learning about children in the early 19th Century.

Our grandmother has told us you came to Tasmania when you were ten years old. The same age as we are now. She said your mother was a convict.

Can you please write and tell us where you lived in Scotland?

Did you have any brothers or sisters?

How did you come to Australia?

What was it like living in Hobart when you first arrived?

Where did you and your mother live and what did you eat?

When and where did you marry?

Where did you live with your sixteen children? You must have had a very large house.

Lots of love

From your 4X Great-Granddaughters……Mary, Jane, and Ann (not their real names)

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From Google Images – 30 August 2018

 

Now that will be an interesting history project for one devoted grandmother.

My plan is to write Agnes’s story in about fifty pages, answering in some detail the questions about where and how she lived, from her birth in Kilmarnock, Scotland to her death in Victoria, Australia, aged 89 years. There are no known pictures of Agnes, but I will add appropriate illustrations where I can.

Yes, the girls do know that their 4X Great-Grandmother is dead, and they know it will be their own grandmother, who will research and write the story. But, can you imagine how exciting it will be for these girls to get a ‘personal’ reply from an ancestor? Wouldn’t we all love and treasure such a gift, no matter how old we are? Wouldn’t it be a possession we would keep and pass down to our children and then down the line, keeping our Family History alive for the generations to come?

Harriet Hodgett’s Journeys by Sea- Part 1

I have been researching and writing Harriet’s story for some time now. I knew it would not be easy, but the more I do, the more I need to do, to actually to do justice to the project. I have tried to ‘block- out’ the story, and arrange research to build the story in chunks.

In recent weeks I have been concentrating on researching and writing about Harriett’s sea voyages. Progress has been slow, but rewarding.

To my knowledge, in a time-span of thirty years, Harriet made four journeys by sea.

  • The first, London to Port Jackson in 1790 as a ‘free’ woman on the convict ship Neptune with a voyage of nearly 7 months.
  • The second, from Sydney to Norfolk Island in 1800, a voyage of several days.
  • The third, from Norfolk Island back to Sydney in 1805, also taking several days.
  • The fourth, from Sydney to Port Dalrymple in northern Tasmania in 1819, also taking about two weeks.

Each of these voyages would have been a very different experience for Harriet. I need to take many things into account, as I ponder and write her story.

For instance, let us take the first voyage. I believe it is not enough to just say she got on board in London in 1789 and arrived in Port Jackson, several months later on 28 June 1790. There are no documents with Harriet’s name on it. In fact, there are very few surviving documents about the voyage of the Second Fleet, even official ones.

How can I write up her ‘experience’ of the voyage itself? It may be fiction, but it needs to be credible fiction.

From the few scant reports of the voyage at the time, we know it was a horrendous journey, which led to much death and sickness.

When the news finally filtered back to authorities in England, the captains and ship’s officers were blamed for the carnage. However was this really the case, or was there much more to the story?

To answer some of these questions  I need to track down every one of those surviving documents. I need to study the providence and assess the motivation for the creating of such documents.

I also need to consider, if there may have been documents, that for some reason have not survived. What might these reasons be?

Firstly, I needed to research the ships and boats of the era. How they were made, the parts thereof, and how the ‘systems’ on board worked, involving the officers and crew.

Life on board ships was by necessity, very ordered. Everyone was under strict instructions and a rigid routine. It was not a holiday in any sense of the word, even for those ‘free’ passengers.

The Neptune was a large very crowded ship of nearly 800 tons. It has been difficult to clearly establish how many people were on-board when she left England, but it is believed it totaled about six hundred and twenty. There was also a large number of stores, both for the voyage, as well as for the colony.

Thomas Gilbert had been appointed the captain, as he had had experience, being captain of the Charlotte in the First Fleet. However, after the Macarthur fiasco, he was replaced by Donald Trail. Trail an experienced navy captain, and later in transporting slaves, had originally been appointed to the Surprize.

John Marshall was captain of the Scarborough. He had also been her master on the voyage of the First Fleet.

How was the voyage in the Second Fleet, so different to cause so much trouble, with horrendous consequences?

How did Harriet get that free passage in the first place? Where did she sleep on board and who were her friends?

It takes a lot of work to put together a possible story. Who, how, when, where, and why are always the questions I need to ask before setting down my thoughts.

I then need to visualize each section of the story as I put it down on paper. Here is a little taste of the first draft of the story, as Harriet sets out on her sea voyage in 1790.

Harriet lay awkwardly in the narrow bunk and watched the gimbal swing gently to and fro, making ghoulish shadows on the wall. She felt the slight warmth of the child huddled beside her, as it convulsed with heartbreaking sobs, even as it drifted off to a troubled sleep.

It had been a long and exhausting day and now stretched into a cold and numbing night, but sleep would not come to Harriet.

All around her there were unseen souls, coughing, snoring, groaning and crying, but it was difficult to place sounds in the shadowy darkness. Then there were the ship’s groans and creaks as it rocked on the rising tide. The occasional bell and muffled cry, somewhere out there in the moonless night.

Harriet still stared at the wall. Was it really little more than a day, since she had prepared for her daring adventure? As she contemplated what may lay ahead, her heart quickened and she began to feel fear rising in her stomach. Were fear and regret now stealing her heart as had been foretold?

She shut her eyes tight, covered her ears and willed herself to feel the warm sunshine, smell the scented meadows, and hear the twittering birds, with her beloved Tom beside her, in the Staffordshire countryside, far away. She was successful for just a brief moment, and then her fears engulfed her again. What if her ruse was discovered, her dreams dashed, and worst of all, actual imprisonment.

She clenched her jaw and pushed away those dark thoughts again. She finally began to relax and calm herself.

She gently stroked the brow of the sleeping child beside her and thought of the many times she had comforted the little ones, as terrifying nightmares had overtaken them while they slept in their tiny attic room. Someone else would have that duty now.

Her heart started to pound again as her thoughts drifted back to the daring plan Elizabeth and Ann had convinced her could be achieved.

On the docks this morning the damp sea air had smelt of salt and freedom, but tonight in the ship, it only smelt of fetid breath, coal tar, cheap wine, and other more complicated smells.

There was still time to turn back. Tomorrow she could leave the ship and return to John, Ann, and the little ones. They would be angry with her, but she could go back to her former life. A miserable life with no promise. A lonely existence, with her Tom, long gone to the other side of the world. With such difficult times, she now had no prospects of marriage. Only a slow creeping imprisonment, by family and society, in cold dark London.

She had had a home, true, but for how long? John and Ann, who were kin, had reluctantly taken her into their household some years ago, to help with their young children. It was just after her Tom had been sentenced to death. She could still recall in stark detail, that horrible day in the Staffordshire Court.

His sentence had later been changed to transportation and he had been sent to the hulks in Portsmouth Harbour. He had been working as a blacksmith on the harbour works. There had been some hope that he would complete his sentence on the hulks, and then return home. She could wait. However his petitions had been pushed aside, and he was to be transported to New South Wales. He was innocent, but that made no difference to those Judges! He was to be gone!

She looked across at the indistinct mound in the berth opposite, where Elizabeth lay with her youngest child. Was she having doubts too? No, thought Harriet, Elizabeth was resigned to her fate long ago. To go with her husband to faraway New South Wales. Harriet’s dream was only hours old, and still very fragile.

Harriet’s story is a different kind of writing to what I have done before in writing up our family history. Certainly, a challenge and a steep learning curve, if I’m to be anyway successful. I still have to have an outline of facts to base the story on but have to know so much more about the life of those far-off times, to put together the story.  I still have a long way to go, but day by day, I progress slowly.

 

Family History and the Organizing Game- Scrapbook Albums (2)

In my last blog, I wrote about scrapbooking the past for our family histories. This blog I am writing about ‘scrap-booking the present’.

I am doing Scrapbooks for all our grandchildren, eight in all. It is not their birth, first tooth, first steps, kind of scrapbook, but rather the story of our relationship with them.  From our first meeting -usually in the hospital when they were a few hours old, to their birthday parties we attended, school award days, dancing recitals, sporting fixtures, school holiday fun together and family gatherings. Along with suitable photographs and memorabilia, I add some labels and journaling. They are usually a double spread with who, where, when and sometimes why included somewhere on the pages. A few random pages below. Still more to do on these pages, when I get the time. However, if I don’t, they are adequate.

IMG_6319

from Tayla Mackey, Scrap-book

I do a few pages each year, for each child, as our lives progress along. This will be a gift to them after we are no longer here, or perhaps moved to a Nursing Home and can no longer care for ourselves.

IMG_6317

from Paige Mackey, Scrap-book

I have made other gifts for each of the grandchildren too. These were rugs, quilts, clothes, and toys when they were babies, but there are also other special items they themselves requested.

For example -Our youngest grandson asked me to make him a Super Hero cover for his bed. We sat down together to talk about what he wanted in size, colours, and design and I drew up a rough sketch. When he was happy with it, I then worked out how to accomplish the project. It was part of his birthday gift last year.

Mackey Archives-Photographs

From Sebastian Gartside, Scrap-book

Another granddaughter saw a picture of a mermaid- tail rug on Pinterest and asked if I would make her one. It took me a couple of months to work out the design, and get it done. Four years later it is still her favourite thing to snuggle into to watch TV in the Winter. I made it large enough so she wouldn’t grow out of it. The dogs love to snuggle into it too if she leaves it on the floor.

Photographs of these items are scrap-booked into the albums along with scraps of textiles, wool, ribbon and other materials I might have used in making the item.

All the family knows I’m doing these albums, and often like to have a peek at them while visiting, but they know they cannot have them yet. I also know they are all looking forward to their special gift in the future. Another way I’m saving our family history.

Annual Cousin’s Day for Baxter Family

Last weekend was the first weekend in March. For several years now the ‘cousins’ connected to my mother’s paternal family of Baxter, have gathered at Murwillumbah for their annual reunion.

Last year’s blog about this special day is here.

Baxter Family Reunion

 

Although it was an unseasonably hot day, and many could not come due to ill health and work commitments, it was still a very successful day. There were close to 40 attendees present, spread over four generations. The oldest aged 97 years, and the youngest, 2 years. The 97 year old lady has attended all our gatherings, and so has the 2 year old, although on different branches of the family.

We were also treated to a lovely impromptu recital on the mouth-organ from a well-loved aunt, who delighted us all with some of the most popular World War II songs of her youth. Some of us (with her family’s permission) videoed her playing. It will be great for the family archives, especially when she is no longer with us.

We know that the homeward journey is always quiet as we talk and laugh so much, we have not only ‘lost our voices’, we all have plenty to think about, having caught up on all the family news.

The ancestral couple featured this year was “Thomas and Harriet Mary Baxter (nee Mather).

Thomas Baxter was a sixteen-year-old convict who arrived in Sydney in 1834. Some of his story is told in former blogs- Convict Cousins in my Baxter Family, posted 11 November 2015, found here and Lost in the City of London-the Baxter Family, posted on 7 May 2012, found here.

Although our next gathering is nearly a whole year away on 3 March 2019, planning has already begun.

A Life Cut Short- Elizabeth Bell, Mereworth, Kent 

 

In a former blog, I wrote about the puzzle of John Billinghurst or Bell, born in 1800 at Mereworth, Kent, England. He was the illegitimate son of Sarah Billinghurst. In this blog I am continuing the story of the family of Josiah Bell and Sarah Billinghurst who married in 1801, in St Lawrence, Church of England, Mereworth after the above mentioned John Billinghurst, alias Bell was born.

Josiah Bell was the third child of Josiah and Mary Bell (nee Carpenter) and was baptized at St Lawrence, Mereworth on 17 March 1754. He married in the same church, on 9 November 1801, Sarah Billinghurst. She was the daughter of John and Sarah Billinghurst and was also baptized at Mereworth on 16 September 1764.

Elizabeth Bell, the eldest child of Josiah and Sarah Bell (nee Billinghurst)
was baptized at Mereworth on 29 May 1803. When Elizabeth was born her mother was 39 years of age.
Elizabeth Bell grew up in Mereworth. She was thirteen years of age when her father, Josiah Bell died in 1816. His death impacted greatly on the family.
Elizabeth remained single and died at 18 years of age. She was buried at Mereworth on 2 December 1822.

We can gauge very little on the life of this young woman with the bare dates of her baptism and burial. However, in the Mereworth Parish Chest, there is a list of medicines and medical expenses the parish overseers paid, for the care of their poorest parishioners.

In the list for 1822, we find many entries for members of our Bell families. In particular, we find numerous mention of medicines for ‘E Bell’. She may have always been in poor health, but we can gather she became very ill several months before her death and that every medical assistance was given her by the parish overseers.

I have extracted the following from the parish accounts.

July 27- E Bell Diuretic mixture 2/6
Aug 4- E Bell Mixture repeated 2/6
Aug 6- E Bell Eight powders 2/6
Aug 14 – E Bell Diuretic mixture 2/6
Aug 19 – E Bell Two blisters to the legs 3/-
Aug 24 – E Bell Large tonic mixture 3/-
Aug 28 – E Bell Large box ointment 9d
Aug 31 – E Bell Two blisters to the feet 2/6
Sep 3 – E Bell Large box ointment 9d
Sep 7 – E Bell A tonic 2/6
Sep 10 – E Bell Box of ointment 9d
Oct 14 – E Bell Box of ointment 9d
Nov 6 – E Bell Box of ointment 1/-

We do not know the cause of death of Elizabeth Bell, but it appears from the above entries it must have been a blessed release.
One can only imagine what her mother, Sarah, must have endured. She survived another six years before her own death in 1828, leaving a sorrowing son of 22 years.

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St Lawrence, Mereworth, 2004- Copyright, Nola Mackey

More on the Alias of John Bell, Mereworth, Kent

In this blog, I try to answer the question concerning the alias used by John Bell or Billinghurst of Mereworth in the blog “The Story of an Alias- John Bell, Mereworth, Kent.”
I had struck this problem of interchanging of surnames and the use of an alias in earlier Bell research.
One theory I had concerning ‘aliases’ was that perhaps a girl had an illegitimate child, who was baptized in her maiden name and when the girl later marries, the child then takes the surname of the new husband or attaches it as an ‘alias’. An ‘alias’ means that he or she is also known by another name.
If my theory was right in this case I would be looking about 1800 for a female “Billinghurst’ who had later married a man with the surname Bell.

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St Lawrence, Mereworth, 2004. Image Copyright- Nola Mackey

I found in the Mereworth Parish Marriage Register, on 9 November 1801, Sarah Billinghurst married Josiah Bell.

A further search of the Mereworth Baptism Register found John, the illegitimate son of Sarah Billinghurst, baptized on 2 November 1800.
Perhaps it should be noted that John is believed to have been Sarah’s first child. She would have been between 35 and 36 years of age at the time.

As there were no records in the Parish Chest Accounts concerning the birth and care of John Billinghurst it may be that Josiah Bell was his father, but he didn’t claim him at his baptism. Whatever the case he certainly took responsibility for him.

After John Billinghurst died in 1860, all his children in subsequent Census Returns, Marriage and Burial Registers are recorded with the Surname of ‘Bell’.

In the 1861 Census Returns for Mereworth, are Thomas Bell aged 26 years, his wife Mary, and daughter Matilda. Also living in the same household are Thomas Bell’s brothers, George, Alexander, Josiah, Henry and Alfred Bell, and his sister Fanny Bell.

In later Census Returns the children are all married and are scattered throughout the village with their own families under the surname ‘Bell’.