Heigh-Ho! Heigh-Ho! It’s Off to Bow I Go….

“Look to the past to see what the future holds.” I like this quote from the author Celia Conrad in Wilful Murder, the second of her Alicia Allen Investigates.

I find myself looking to the past on most days at the moment for if I’m not in search of an elusive ancestor for a client or trawling through the 1911 Census for a few of my pesky relatives who still appear reluctant to reveal themselves some 104 years later; I could either be immersed in the year 1815 as the work on my Lord Byron abode continues or otherwise curled up in a quiet corner somewhere with Lady Byron and Her Daughters; and before you ask, it is the title of a new biography about His Lordship’s much maligned spouse!

However, one rainy weekend and in the company of my genealogical assistant, I literally took a walk in the past during my visit to London for as I trekked up and down Fairfield Road in Bow which is not only the road that my family live near but also the road that Hargrave Potter, the son of my 4 x Great Grandfather was trekking along on that very weekend an incredible 128 years earlier!

The History Sleuth’s Companion Pauses Before the Spot Where Number 36 Fairfield Road Had Once Stood Some 128 Years Earlier…

I have only recently acquainted myself with Hewitson Potter, my 4 x Great Grandfather who was born in Scarborough in 1815 and with the blessing of an unusual first name (a boon for any genealogist, however well experienced!) and an illustrious career as a Master Mariner; Hewitson was also the patriarch of an impressive number of off-spring.

However in 1865 with Hewitson’s early death in Nova Scotia, little Hargrave along with his mother Susannah and siblings Mary and John would make their home in Scarborough with his older sister Ann Stephenson and her husband John Edeson.

And there Hargrave was to remain living alongside his sister’s family and his many cousins (including my 2 x Great Grandfather Charles Edward) in their cozy home on Seamer Road until after his eighteenth birthday in 1881 and when shortly after as a skilled carpenter, he would make his way to London and make the acquaintance of one Mary Jane Duffus, who despite sharing the same birthplace as Hargrave, was to spend her childhood with her family in Mile End

November 13 1887 is a date infamous with London’s long and troubled history and known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ when over 30,000 protesters including the playwright George Bernard Shaw marched around Trafalgar Square in a demonstration against rising unemployment, the poor living wage and the British government Coercion Acts that gave rise to the suspension of a number of civil rights including imprisonment without trial.

Despite the violent clashes that took place between the police and the protesters with over 400 arrests and many badly injured, the demonstrations were to continue until February 1888 when the political landscape began to eventually change for the better.

Sunday November 13 1887 also witnessed the betrothal of Hargrave and Mary Jane at the Parish Church of Holy Trinity in Mile End.

And despite the inauspicious date of their union as man and wife and the early death of their first-born James Hewitson Potter before his second birthday in 1889; history indicates that their marriage was of some duration and Hargrave lived until his 76th year.

However, I think that a return to the present is now called for as I’m off to search for those chocolate biscuits that I have hidden somewhere…

For an interesting read about ‘Bloody Sunday’, why not pay a visit to TURBULENT LONDON The Historical Geography of Protests, Riots and General Mischief in London… Enjoy



Blood Sweeps the Land in November as the History Sleuth Remembers the Death of a Soldier…

As November 11 is Armistice Day, I thought it would be nice to share the story of just one soldier of the 11 million other military personnel who perished in the First World War…

For it was on a cold and very rainy day that I found myself in the shadow of the magnificent Tower of London, for although I had been determined to see the display of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red in the tower moat since it had begun; my first visit was to be the Friday after Armistice Day and although many of the ceramic poppies had been removed; the sight that remained was still a very humbling experience for me.

As I watched the volunteers plucking the ceramic poppies from the muddy ground and then placing them in their cardboard nest, I recalled my feelings of disappointment that I had been unable to buy one of these poppies for myself.

Many moments passed in the chill of the November air looking at this sea of poppies and as I thought about what a glorious sight 888,246 of them must have looked like; I knew that one of these ceramic tributes had been created in honour of Wilfred Jowitt who gave his ‘Today’ 97 years ago on November 29 1917 at the tender age of 21 while on active service in France.

When you go home, tell them of us and say

For their tomorrow, we gave our today…

My interest in Wilf began many years ago with the gift of the ‘Loving Cards’ that he had sent to my great-grandmother Ellen Edeson during WW1 which she had secretly cherished until her death over fifty years later and the genealogist in me has been researching the life of this young man ever since.

Went the day well?

We died and never knew.

But, well or ill,

Freedom, we died for you.

John Maxwell Edmonds

Born in Warmfield-cum-Heath, West Yorkshire in 1896, he was the eldest child and only son of Ernest Jowitt, a coal miner and his childhood was spent in a little house in Frobisher Row which has long since disappeared.

He was introduced to Ellen through his sister Dorothy while working at Rowntrees, the famous chocolate factory in York and their courtship began in earnest; however at the onset of WW1 in 1914, Wilf enlisted as Private 242067 in the Prince of Wales North Staffordshire Regiment and was stationed at Normanton.

He returned home from his first tour of duty in 1916, safe from harm and delighted to be reunited with his beloved Ellen and before his second tour of duty began in early 1917 he begged Ellen for her hand in marriage and having refused him, her lasting memory was of Wilf was of him “crying like a baby” as he prepared for a return to the front line.

While stationed in France, he was to pen several ‘Loving Cards’ to Ellen with his honest sentiments expressed in his neatest handwriting that always included lots of kisses.

His final ‘Loving Card’ was dated September 1917.

Wilf died on Thursday November 29 1917 as a casualty of war and although he has no known grave, he is remembered with honour at the Cambrai Memorial in Louverval and his name appears on the War Memorial of Warmfield-cum-Heath in Wakefield.

His ‘Loving cards’ are all that now remain of a young life cut tragically short and after Ellen’s death they were discovered by my grandmother who kept them until they were gifted to me some thirty years later.

It would have been wonderful to have received the poppy that had been lovingly created in memory of Wilf as a lasting tribute to the sacrifice he had freely borne at such a tender age; alas it was not to be…

 May he rest in peace.

 Bye for now..