Monday 6 May 2019

An Introduction to Cockermouth and my family connection to the town

I submitted the fifth and final module essay for my MA in the History of Britain and the First World War a couple of days ago. Only the Dissertation Preparation essay (4k words) and the Dissertation itself (15k words) to go now.  I have been really enjoying the course and getting to know a group of new people (in safe surroundings) played a great part in that. It has meant that my Barnsley War Memorial studies and my Family History have been mostly put on the back burner for the past two years though. 

The first deficit is about to be addressed, and this will come as no surprise to those of you who have read other 'episodes' of my blog; the title of my MA Dissertation is to be "Who Wanted War Memorials? A study of community and politics around Remembrance and Commemoration in Barnsley during and immediately after the First World War".  You might remember that this was the topic of a talk I gave at Experience Barnsley back in November 2014 (and it can be found in two parts on YouTube!)

As far as family history goes I have taken the opportunity over the past few weeks, when too tired or poorly to put together academic standard writing, to review the Cumberland branches of my family tree and start to put together an itinerary for myself and the OH for our holiday in Cockermouth later this year.
Sepia print of mountains, river, trees, town in distance
Cockermouth by Thomas Allom circa 1832 (from Antique Maps & Prints)
Cockermouth offers lots of scenery (ruined castle, hills, nearby lakes), is the birth place of my 2x great grandfather Joseph Moderate and has a brewery - so perfect for a Hutton-Croft holiday!  We visited the Lake District on our honeymoon and that will soon be fifteen years ago, so a return visit seems overdue. 

I have a guide book from 1988 which describes Cockermouth as a 'fine attractive market town' and another from 1991 which waxes lyrical about Jennings Brewery.  Both books mention the castle and various coaching inns - I look forward (with some trepidation) to seeing how the pubs have survived the past 30 years.  Jennings was taken over by Marstons in 2005 and it was only when I checked this information on the brewery website that I discovered it was started by members of the family in the 1840s in Lorton, a village about six miles from Cockermouth.  I had to rush back to my family tree at that point because I suddenly remembered establishing a link to a distant branch of my Musgrave family over the past few days - and one of them married a lady called Grace Jennings, in Lorton, in 1802.  I wonder if I am connected to yet another brewery!

WhatPub, CAMRA's online pub guide site, lists 15 real ale pubs in the centre of Cockermouth, which should keep the OH busy for a few days and another 20 within six miles, well within his easy walking distance.  The local library has no information about any family history resources being available, but one of the four Cumbria Archive Centres, the Whitehaven branch, is only 14 miles away (less than the distance from Barnsley to Sheffield), and if we go on the bus (which is free for me with my disability pass) then that opens up another chunk of real ale pubs for the OH to explore whilst I've got my head in a microfilm reader.  Yes, I've checked, it does hold the records for Cockermouth and Lorton on film, but I will make sure I take the necessary proofs of ID for a CARN card in case I need to ask for any original documents - ah, except by following the links on Cumbria's info page I see that the CARN system is about to be replaced by a new online system from April 2019 ... hmmm!  I will have to keep an eye on that as currently it seems the roll out has been delayed until August 2019. Why am I not surprised?

A selection of relevant books (and a map) from my shelves
On our previous visit I bought a selection of booklets by the Cockermouth and District Civic Trust - they are facsimiles of hand-written notes and illustrations by Bernard Bradbury - and I have just four out of the 11 that were then available. The definitive history, Bradbury's History of Cockermouth, was out of print for years but revised and reprinted in 2006 (after our honeymoon) by the Civic Trust, so I have just bought a copy from Abe Books (after I had promised the OH my book buying bill would reduce now I am approaching the end of my MA, sorry).  In the picture above the most recent book is Exploring Cumbrian History, a coffee table book with lots of colour photos, from 2009. Sadly it has no chapter about Cockermouth - despite the castle - which worries me a bit, although as it has no index I might be overlooking a brief mention. 
My 2x great grandfather Joseph Moderate's parents and grandparents (click image to enlarge)
This snip from my family tree shows Joseph Moderate born in Cockermouth in 1840 and his direct ancestors. Joseph's parents moved to Carlisle between 1843 and 1845 (based on the birthplaces of their children), Joseph married in 1863 and moved his family to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. My great grandmother, born in Carlisle in 1865, was their last child to be born in Cumberland.  I wrote a blog post about the Moderate family in 2013.

Prior to my current bout of research I had not investigated the Musgrave side of my family tree very much at all.  Things have moved on in family history in the past 30 years and the GRO's index to births and deaths is particularly useful when trying to sort out multiple families with the same forenames as well as surnames.  Until I had access to this resource, which gives mother's maiden names for births right back to 1837, I was struggling to make sense of a host of Musgraves in and around Cockermouth in the 19th century census returns.

In the past week I have added over 80 new names to my tree in this branch and discovered some interesting stories along the way.  I feel I have to defend myself from criticism at this point - I am not the kind of person who 'borrows' pieces of other people's trees from Ancestry and Family Search, although I do refer to them (frequently bashing my head on the desk in despair at some people's poor research). To be added to my tree a person must be referenced in at least one (and preferably more) kind of primary source - a birth, death, marriage, baptism or burial, census return or newspaper report - which links them with a high degree of certainty to my pre-existing research.  I have linked in a branch this week which fits for time, location and naming strategies (and pre civil registration that is probably the best I can do online) but I reserve the right to remove it once I have seen the actual records in Whitehaven later this year.  Happily that branch doesn't include all the great stories I've found - just the ones connected to large houses and lots of money!

I will finish this today with just one example that illustrates how everything links up in the world of family, local and military history and how my branching out into the latter is not a desertion of the first two, but a way of giving myself a better grounding in understanding different aspects of my family history.
Snip of the Find A Grave entry for Edward McGill
The soldier in this snip, Sergeant Edward McGill, killed on the Somme in September 1916, and remembered on the Thiepval Memorial there, would not strike me, at first glance, as having any chance of being connected to my family.  I am really sad that I didn't find him before Lives of the First World War was frozen as I have very few documented First World War servicemen (or women) in my family, compared to the OH for example.  Edward McGill was my 3rd cousin twice removed (according to my Family Historian software).  His great grandfather was the elder brother of my 3x great grandmother Mary Musgrave (shown in the snip above, born 1808 in Cockermouth).  His mother, Elizabeth Agnes Musgrave, had married a Master Mariner in Cockermouth in 1888, and this maritime connection is presumably why the family later lived in Birkenhead.  His brother John Philip McGill also served and there is a story in the Old Boys' newsletter for the school they both attended which states that they were together when Edward was killed and that John buried his brother in a shell hole on the battlefield before himself returning to the British trenches at nightfall.

Without my studies of the First World World War since 2012 I would not have known to check every man in my tree in the 1870 to 1905 age cohort for war service. As there was conscription from 1916 onwards most men between 18 (and less if they lied about their age on enlistment) and 50 served in some way unless they had a really good claim to exemption. I would not have known about Soldiers' Effects records which state a man's next of kin (a very good way to tie down exactly who he was) and in this case even gives his brother's Regimental Number, or how to find records of lists of names on war memorials - often with photos.  Edward McGill is remembered on the Birkenhead War Memorial and on the Old Boys memorial at the the Birkenhead Institute, a 'Public High School' opened in 1889 to provide a 'course of instruction to fit pupils for Commerical Life, the Civil Service, the various professions ... and the various branches of industry requiring Technical Education.'

The only thing that does surprise me about Edward McGill (whose Service Records have survived) is that he had served in the Territorial Force before the war and his occupation was given Architecture and Surveying in 1909.  In the 1911 census he was an Architect's Articled Pupil aged 20.  His educational level and previous military experience would have made him a prime candidate for commissioning as an officer - but he was killed in September 1916 as Sergeant in the 1st/6th Battalion of the King's Liverpool Regiment, the same battalion he originally joined in June 1909 aged 18.  His brother, who became a Chartered Accountant,  remained in the same regiment reaching the rank of Sergeant shortly before his demobilisation.  I feel I should go back and read one of my MA books again which actually directly covers the 1st/6th KLR and see if I can find out why the brothers were not commissioned despite their background. (Citizen Soldiers: The Liverpool Territorials in the First World War  by Helen B. McCartney)

Edit 7 May 2019: Three chapters into McCartney's book (which I last read for an essay so it is bristling with post-it tags near references to maintaining morale!) it has become very obvious that the reason the McGill brothers were non-commissioned officers in 1916 was that the 1st/6th battalion had a pre-war tradition of recruiting middle-class men. After the severe losses at the Somme the battalion was reinforced with a wider range of social classes, but even in 1918 the proportions of middle-class men to working-class men in the battalion did not match the proportions in the general population. There continued to be a bias towards the middle-classes. McCartney also notes that the clerks, accountants and men from similar occupational groups had the necessary educational skills to be good sergeants, coping well with written orders, returns and battlefield accounts. So the McGill brothers were just two amongst many from very similar social and occupational backgrounds.

I must buckle down to writing my diss prep essay soon, which is due in on 8 July, but at the moment that feels like long enough off to allow me to continue some forays into family history on my less well days, so you might see some more stories from me in the next few weeks.

Thanks for reading.