A dead highwayman murdered my ancestors

Two of my distant ancestors were murdered in their kitchen reputedly for the money in the teapot.  This was 1750 when William Spurret and his wife Elizabeth ran the local alehouse, Hobcroft’s Holt. Standing on the site today is the Holt Hotel, its sign depicting a highwayman said to haunt the hotel.

Now nobody wants to point a finger at friends and relatives but it was obviously an inside job so what did the authorities do?  Blame the atrocity on the local highwayman, a French chap called Claude Duval, who was hanged at Tyburn on the 21 January 1670 – 80 years earlier.   As you have probably guessed, I enjoy art galleries and not too long ago, I was delighted to find a painting of this very rascal hanging on the wall of Manchester Art Gallery – sadly replaced by a another painting a month or so ago.

There is obviously no way Claude could have been responsible for the beerhouse murders.  Apparently, he was a gallant rogue; when he stopped a stagecoach, if a pretty female passenger danced with him, she could keep her belongings.    

This painting, thank you Manchester Art Gallery Collections, is by William Powell Frith RA (1819-1909) donated in 1917 by the James Gresham Bequest.  Claude, in his scarlet jacket, is clearly expecting the lady in white to dance…. If you look closely just between the arms of the  two masked robbers to the left of the painting, you can see a tiny gibbet on the horizon whence dangles a convicted highwayman.

After his execution at Tyburn in London, legend has him buried in St Paul’s church, Covent Garden; the parish register records the burial of Peter Duval in January 1670.

A memorial in the church reads:

Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,

Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.

Much havoc has he made of both; for all

Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall

The second Conqueror of the Norman race,

Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.

Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,

Du Vall, the ladies’ joy; Du Vall, the ladies’ grief.

A gruesome description of the murder –not a whiff of Claude Duval – can be found here under  the title Murder at the Holt on Steeple Aston Village Archive website.

Resources for U3A lecture Buxton

Suggested resources other than censuses. Good luck.

  • Andy Alston’s Repository www.andrewalston.co.uk/cottonindustryjobs.html
  • Local archives, CROs/Mechanic Institutes – local
  • Court records
  • Unions/apprenticeship records
  • Cotton Famine (1861-1865); records includes
    • CROs – sewing schools
    • Minutes for the relief committees
    • Other relief work – including for men
  • Directories and trade directories
  • Bankruptcy courts;  The London Gazette etc www.thegazette.co.uk
  • Newspapers, BNA
  • Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire
  • Family History Societies

1842 Mines Act and records online

My Ancestors worked in Textile Mills

Moorside worsted spinning mill built 1875 now Bradford Industrial Museum © Adèle Emm

Good news, this latest addition to my ‘oeuvres’ will be published in the near future by the Society of Genealogists.  I’m currently revising, proof reading and indexing – indexing is not a job I particularly like but someone has to do it.  Another of  my skillsets….

The book covers the history behind England’s wealth – in the Middle Ages…  I’m sure you’ve guessed by now…  wool!  Even today, the Lord Speaker in the House of Lords sits on a woolsack – its weight three times more than me.    My book explains the process of cloth production from pre-industrialisation through the industrial revolution and on.   If your ancestors lived in the North West, Yorkshire or Scotland from the 18th Century, I bet one of them worked in the textile industry.  My great great grandfather was an Oxfordshire baker who migrated northwards to Ashton under Lyne.  He never worked in the cotton mills – but all his children did.

Read about working conditions, what mill-workers actually did and how much they were paid.  Found great auntie Aggie working as a lapper or frame tenter and wondered exactly what she did?  Easy.  Read my book…    It’s due out towards the end of this year, perhaps the beginning of 2020.  I’ll keep you updated.   In the meantime, whet your appetite by reading Tracing your Trade and Craftsman Ancestors and Tracing your Female Ancestors,   both available now….

Miss Muriel Matters More…

I have just finished Dr Fern Riddell’s book  ‘Death in Ten Minutes‘ about forgotten suffragette   Kitty Marion.  Riddell’s book reinforced my  opinion that the action taken by some suffragettes was terrorism – I concede my argument is controversial.   She refers, briefly, to a bomb exploding in April 1913 in a train in Davenport Junction, near Stockport.  The modus operandi employed by militant suffragettes was to fill a metal canister with explosives and place it under the seat of a train carriage together with firelighters soaked in resin and oil  then soak seats and carriages with paraffin.  As reported in a contemporary newspaper, the  canister exploded when a London train was passing and according to the driver (I love this detail), ‘A piece of wood struck his engine and knocked off  his tea bottle.’

1913 was the height of the suffragettes ‘Deeds not Words’ militancy and I wondered where my Miss Muriel Matters was at the time – see my previous blog.  She had, after all, been in Manchester in 1908 so was vaguely familiar with the area.  However,  there’s no evidence Muriel, unlike Kitty, belonged to the active branch of the suffragettes especially as Muriel was a member of the Women’s Freedom League, a breakaway group from the control freakery of the Pankhursts.

A quick blast through the British Newspaper Archive took me to ‘The Common Cause,’ a suffragist journal first published in April 1909 as  a mouthpiece for the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Muriel was scheduled to deliver a series of speeches and talks in Scotland in late April 1913.  A former actress, she would have been brilliant addressing a crowd and, indeed, the Bexhill on Sea Observer described her in 1911 as speaking with eloquence, a ‘graceful figure in white‘ … ‘possessing a storehouse of knowledge which few young ladies of the movement could rival.’   Somewhat patronising, yes, but it sounds like the unnamed journalist was impressed with our Muriel.

As for Muriel being responsible for placing a bomb in suburban Stockport in 1913, I doubt it.  I’d far more likely place it at Kitty Marion’s feet…

Finally, a photo of Manchester’s 200th anniversary commemoration of the Peterloo Massacre.  Unlike 1819  when the 16th of August was a fabulously hot summer’s day, the 16th of August 2019 was not!  Holding an umbrella and camera was difficult…

Why have I hooked this on at the end of today’s blog?  Because of the many similarities between inequalities in the UK for 1819 and 2019….   A battle I am sure both Kitty Marion and Muriel Matters would have embraced.

Peterloo Commemoration, Manchester 16 August 2019 © Adèle Emm



Miss Muriel Matters -oh no she doesn’t- oh yes she does

In the current political turmoil, today’s topic is by-elections and concerns a previous resident of my South Manchester home, staunch Conservative voter Francis William Johnstone. Aged about 40 in 1908, he unexpectedly found himself swept up in feminist politics.

The Grille Incident

Miss Muriel Matters chained to the grille. from House of Commons Library, Illustrated London News.  Published 7 November 1908. Their copyright.

April 1908 and Manchester was holding a by-election.  Three candidates were in the race and their nominations meeting was held in Manchester Town Hall on the morning of 21st April.   You may have heard of Winston S Churchill (1874-1965) – he was standing as a Liberal.  His rivals; William Joynson-Hicks (Conservative/Unionist) and Dan Irving (Labour/Socialist).  Attending this meeting and supporting  Mr Joynson-Hicks and was my  Francis William.

Suddenly, two women, members of the Women’s Freedom League (founded 1907 as a breakaway from Emmeline Pankhurst’s WSPU) demanded to know if they could submit nomination papers for women. Of course Australian actress Miss Muriel Matters (1877-1969) and Mrs Manson were refused. Mrs Manson demanded why not.  Churchill ignored them.

When Francis William returned home, did he tell his wife about the interruption?  Was he furious or sympathetic to the cause?  I suspect not. Francis must have been reminded of his encounter just a few months later.

On 28th November, Muriel Matters and fellow conspirator Helen Fox hit the national headlines by chaining themselves to the grille in the Ladies Gallery of the Houses of Parliament.  Their confederate Violet Tillard lowered a banner down to the Chamber.  Unable to release the two women, they were carried – still attached to the grille –  to the committee room finally released by sawing through the chains.

I would love to know how his wife reacted.

DSC01929 (640x480)

Emmeline Pankhurst statue in St Peter’s Square, Manchester. As a suffragist not a suffragette, I am no fan of hers.  © Adèle Emm

Madabout History

Madabout magazine 1983. It cost £1

A hoarder? Me? Never!  That trunk in my cellar has only been there umpty um years and for umpty um years I believed it  locked and the key well and truly lost. Except today I glanced at it and realised the latch was hanging loose. …  to cut to the chase, I rummaged inside and found…

  • lots of ‘lost’ documents from when I first started researching the Emm surname.
  • all my research books for the TV programme ‘Madabout’ transmitted from Tyne Tees in Newcastle. I worked on the second series.
  • lots of other stuff including family photographs (yes please).  I need to go through  it all but the spores from the cellar are somewhat interesting so I will take my time …

However, I am sharing this rare memento from 1983.  The BFI and IMDB have very little record of this show even though one of the episodes for which I was responsible, Madabout Flying, was nominated for BAFTA.  Not that I was invited to the ceremony….

Matthew Kelly was the presenter.  Diane Campbell the producer.

If anyone out there has any memories of this series: you took part;  you worked on the crew; you were a fan of the show, I would love to hear from you!

6th Emmposium 25 and 26th May 2019

Our New Zealand cousins standing outside a house in Bratton, Wiltshire, owned by Benjamin and Grace Emm in 1795

Well, what a weekend!  Thanks to everyone who turned up over two days at Bratton and Broad    Chalke, both Wiltshire.  As I keep reminding everyone, John Emm who married the Widow Rhysse was born around 1482 which makes our family as old as the New World.  Four Emms, my 6th cousins, joined us from the even younger new world, flying nearly 12,000 miles from New Zealand to be with us.  Here are David and Colin plus partners outside a house in Bratton owned by their 4th x great grandparents, Benjamin Emm and Grace nee Dew.

Jubilee Hall, Bratton. Some Emm trees.

First – an apology.  The main hall in Jubilee Hall, Bratton, is 25 yards long.  Our main tree didn’t fit into it.

John Emm who married the Widow Rhysse has 986 named descendants.   If I’d printed the tree starting with him,  the tree would have been 820 pages and over 4,647 metres long.  When Usain Bolt was the fastest man in the world, it would have taken 4.45 seconds to run!

I didn’t have the time or patience to join up all these sheets.   The tree in this photo  is 580 pages and over 41 meters long (46 yards).   We cut it in half but placing it along the other side of the hall meant no one could use the lavatories unless they jumped over the tree.  Not a good idea when several Emmses were over 90.     As there are other Emm trees which don’t yet fit in, John Emm has many more descendants…

Emms Lane, Bratton, is named after James Emm (1768-1833) who owned the farm at the top of the lane.   Here  are some of us  correcting the punctuation in our lane.

Sunday’s venue, Broad Chalke, is where Emms have lived for nearly 300 years.   Although one of my cousins goes back several generations,  there is a gravestone in the  Unitarian Church graveyard for someone he cannot  identify. Petty Officer  AJ Emm, served on HMS Jamaica and died, aged 22, on the 19th September 1946.   As a member of the Guild of One Name Studies, I am duty bound to research this tragic young man.

Petty Offficer Albert James Emm. Gravestone in Broad Chalke

Checking  www.freebmd.org.uk I find Albert J Emm’s death registered in Dartford, Kent.   Albert James was a local boy, his birth registered in Wilton in December 1923. He’s my 5th cousin once removed.   In Knighton, Broad Chalke,  heart broken parents  Albert John Emm and Daisy Eliza nee Holmes brought him home to be buried.  Should I pay for his death certificate and find out what happened to him?

Finally, my latest book, Tracing your Female Ancestors, has arrived in bookshops.   You can buy it via  Pen and Sword  or Amazon.   Within the book are several references to Emm and other ancestors. The ladies on the front cover are all mine. ..    Not the mermaid, of course!

6th Emmposium – facts and statistics

Bratton, the genealogical home of many an Emm

The 6th Emmposium is taking place in Wiltshire this weekend so, anyone with the surname Emm, married to an Emm, married out of an Emm or with Emm grandparents and ancestors,  please contact me for details…

In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here are some Emmstatistics about this weekend’s event.

  • the main Emm tree consists of 580 pages.
  • It took 4 rolls of sellotape to stick together
  • It’s  roughly 46 yards long – (41 meters) consisting of
  • 4 rows of 145 A4 pages
  • Usain Bolt  would take 3.82 seconds to run the length of it
  • the London Walter Thomas Emm  tree is now 75 pages as is
  • the Betty Emm married Thomas  Emm tree

The Saturday event displays the trees – a logistical conundrum in itself plus spreadsheet of every Emm who appears in the 1939 Register unless they are still  a ‘closed record.’  I shall be giving a very short talk about the life of agricultural labourers and the reasons for families moving to different Wiltshire villages throughout the censuses and why they moved out of the area.

Sunday, is as always, a Sunday walk in Broad Chalke, Wiltshire.

So please contact me to join us.

Coping through – commemorating the craft of dry stone wallers

Dry stone wall near Howarth, Yorkshire © Adèle Emm

Another eclectic post. Sorry!  I had the most fabulous day in Yorkshire yesterday: sun, sky and dry stone walls, the iconic feature ooop in t’north...   Who would have thought there were so many styles of walls  all built without mortar?

Such walls, often constructed hundreds of years ago, were constructed to contain  sheep – England, of course,  amassed vast amounts of money through the wool trade but subsistence farmers up in such inhospitable terrain had little money;  they needed to protect what livestock they had.  Drovers’ roads were walled to prevent sheep straying onto another man’s lands. These walls provide shelter for ewes and their lambs when the weather – as so frequently does up here – suddenly turns nasty.  The walls also act as firebreaks (wooden fencing is merely more tinder, fire fodder for flames) and, when Lyme Park has just lost acres of vegetation just this week, Ilkley Moor is still burning at the time of writing and Saddleworth Moor  similarly and disastrously affected last year, such firebreaks are indispensable.

The golden age of professional dry stone wallers was the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when fields were expanded to  encompass  larger mechanised agricultural machinery developed, by necessity, during the population explosion of the industrial revolution.  Today,  few people want this job.  It’s generally poorly paid, hard physical work often under  appalling weather conditions.   Dry stone labourers were itinerant,  travelling through remote areas lodging when and where they could.   Take 70 year old Lancashire born William Angus.   In the 1851 census, living with his family at 38 Craven Street, Bradford, Yorkshire, he was enumerated as dry stone waller. The visible work of such men is a testament to their skill although their names are forgotten.   Marvel at their results.

Dry stone wall near Haworth, Yorkshire, clearly showing copestones at the top and throughstones in the middle. © Adèle Emm

Let’s name some  more Yorkshire dry stone wallers as enumerated in the 1851 census.

  • William Brook, 55, living at 32 Rantnor Street, Bradford; born Settle, Yorkshire
  • James Schofield, 54, at Waterstalls in Todmorden, Yorkshire, born Lancashire
  • John Howarth, 29, of Frenches, Saddleworth, born Bolton, Lancashire
  • Yorkshire born John, 54, and son Thomas Sunderland, 23, living at 12 Delph Terrace, Leeds

They are forgotten no more…

yet another dry stone wall near Haworth, Yorkshire.  © Adèle Emm


For more information about dry stone walling, visit the Dry Stone Walling Association or the National Trust which has volunteering schemes.

Passing through…

The Cockaynes lived here in 1939

A few months ago, I wrote of a young man who lived in my house in 1911 and died aged 17 in World War 1.  This year marks the centenary of the start of WW2 so it seemed fitting to look into the life of someone else who lived in my road but in September 1939.  Preferably a happier story!

War was declared on the 3rd September and on the 29th, a register taken of everyone in the country exempting those already in military service. There were two purposes; to issue National Identity cards and subsequent ration books.  In 1948, three years after the war ended, the number on the ID card became their National Health Service number.  However,  records were amended right into the 1950s; so, should a woman marry, her new name was superscribed over her maiden name – really useful for family historians.    Access to the 1939 Register is via subscription sites Ancestry and FindMyPast.

In 1939, the residents in my leafy suburban Stockport street included a retired umbrella factory manager (it’s always raining in the North West), a retired head postmaster and a barrister at law.  Considering the proximity of the local station, it’s not surprising several commercial travellers also resided here and in neighbouring roads. Three minutes’ walk and the rail network could transport them countrywide.  Several households had live-in servants, somewhat of a feat considering how difficult it was to retain them after the social upheaval of WW1.

As befitting the start of a war, there were two ARPs (Air Raid Precautions i.e. wardens) in the road; one full time and the other working in ‘control’ in Manchester.  It’s the story of the full-time ARP I’m writing about today.  Just another ordinary chap from an ordinary family in an ordinary suburban street.    Or was he?

The head of the Cockayne family was Thomas Strafford  (also recorded as Stafford and Stratford) Cockayne, the aforementioned retired head postmaster.  He lived in an Edwardian semi with wife Christine and their 32 year old unmarried son Leslie, a solicitor’s clerk, our ARP.

Checking daddy in the 1881 census, 14 year old Thomas lived with his parents, lowly lodgers in Stockport Road, Gorton, a far earthier working class area than their 1939 home.  Thomas’ father was a master tailor born in Glossop, Derbyshire, employing three men and a boy.  A decade earlier and this family, with 4 year old Thomas in tow, lived in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester – even grittier than Gorton.   His father, a jobbing tailor, provided for wife, several children, his wife’s mother and her sister.  Digging into the archives a little more, Thomas’ grandfather was a silk weaver.  Now these were highly skilled craftsmen but by the middle of 19th century industrialisation, their livelihood was increasingly threatened.

In 1901, Thomas was living with his in-laws and their unmarried daughters two roads from his future 1939 home.  He describes himself as a ‘civil servant,’  a world away  from the son of a tailor albeit a master.   Upwardly mobile, he’d married the daughter of a print agent.  Eight years later, and he is living in his own house, 11 Harley Street, Victoria Park, Manchester, a swish address though less so today.   He’s a government overseer and son Leslie is two years old.   The 1911 census records them still there;   he and his wife had had two children but only Leslie survived.   Was Thomas aspiring to relocate to that leafy suburb where he’d lived just ten years earlier?

Fast forward to Thomas’ death in November 1952.  He died in Shaw Heath in the former workhouse now hospital,  his home address the same as in 1939, and he bequeaths over £2,799 to solicitor son Leslie.  What a success!  A jobbing tailor’s son rises to a high level job in the Post Office, one of the most prestigious employers of the day.

I can’t find records of Leslie marrying but he dies in Stockport Infirmary in 1963 having lived in the same house since the start of the WW2.  He left over £2,852.

I’ve long believed  that we don’t own our house.  We just pass through.  This sentiment is endorsed in the second BBC series of the fabulous A House Through Time  presented by David Olusoga.  My Edwardian street is testament to this.