The 1931 Census

The National Archives are currently working on plans to digitise the 1921 census. Sadly there will be no such scheme for the following census, which was burnt to a cinder in 1942. This wasn’t as a result of enemy action, could it have been arson?

The National Archives (RG 20/109) contains the following letter from W A Derrick of the General Register Office to F T Stobart, Central National Registration Office, Southport dated 22 December 1942, commenting on the fate of the 1931 census. 

You will regret to hear that in a fire last Saturday evening which gutted the Office of Works store containing our Census records at Hayes, the whole of the 1931 schedules, enumeration books, plans of division and miscellaneous material stored in cupboards etc were completely destroyed. Mr Farrow and I went down to inspect the remains yesterday and we are both satisfied that it would be useless to attempt any sort of salvage operation; we are leaving the Office of Works to clear and dispose of the debris in any way they think desirable.

The fire was not occasioned by enemy action and how it achieved such dimensions in a store in which special hydrants had been fitted and said to have been in charge of a fire guard of 6 paid watchers, is a mystery which will need investigation. It is hardly possible to imagine a more complete state of devastation than the scene presented to us in which it was impossible to see where some of the racks had stood and where the remains were nothing more than shapeless mounds of paper rubbish dragged outside the building by the firemen who tackled the fire and where even the least damaged sheets that were recognizable were charred to the depth of two or three inches on all edges.

Miss Constance Franklin, Chorister

A beautifully bound choral score has recently been found in a Herne Bay jumble sale, and the finder has asked me to find out more details about the original owner, a Miss Constance Franklin. Constance was presented with the score after performing the solos in ‘The Creation’ on March 10th 1915. Her singing ‘evoked the sincere admiration’ of her fellow members of the Stanford le Hope Choral Society in Essex, many of whom have signed the frontispiece.

Who was Constance? 

So far, I have discovered that she was one of five children, born in Hackney on 1 August 1894. Like so many women of her generation, she never married. She worked as a bank clerk and died in Cambridge in 1969.

How did her book find its way to Kent?

I will be doing more research into Constance and her siblings, and will let you know what I find out. If anyone knows anything about her please get in touch.

P.S. Since I wrote the rest of this story I have found that one of Constance’s sisters outlived her, dying in Herne Bay. Presumably many of her possessions found themselves in local charity shops or house clearers, including the beautiful book.






Illiteracy and Midlands accents in London can cause confusion

If, like me, you use the GRO website a lot, to find the mother’s maiden name in the birth regsiters, you will know that although it is an excellent feature there can be difficulties. Today I was looking for the birth of a child, Minnie, born in Shoreditch in 1864 to parents who hailed from Walsall in Staffordshire. I knew the mother’s maiden name should be Simmonds but no entries were found. Eventually I found the child listed as Eleanor Minnie, and the mother’s maiden name as Semmence. The clerk had written the surname down as he had heard it, and as the mother was illiterate she could not correct him. 

Later babies were listed with the mother’s name as Simmonds  – had the Walsall accent toned down after a couple of years in London I wonder, or did she just have a bad cold when she registered the birth in 1864?

Medway Archives

Medway Archives has moved! No longer at the Clocktower building, it is now at 32 Bryant Road in Strood (the old Strood Library). 

Photo of outside of Medway Archives Centre

As their website says, “Medway Archives Centre is the place to visit for anyone researching their family history, or the history, geography and people of Medway, or who would like to know more about the writer Charles Dickens. We cover Rochester, Strood, Chatham, Gillingham, Rainham and surrounding villages and communities, including the Isle of Grain.

Access to original archive material at the Medway Archives Centre is by appointment only and requires a County Archive Research Network (CARN) reader’s ticket. Contact us for more information

Local studies material, such as printed books and maps, is available to view without appointment. Some resources, such as film readers and computers, require advance booking.”

Opening Times

Monday: 9:00-17:00
Tuesday: 9:00-17:00
Thursday: 9:00-17:00
Friday: 9:00-17:00
Saturday: 9:00-16:00
Closed Wednesday and Sunday.

The history of weddings

I have just completed the research for my latest talk on ‘The History of Weddings’. As I am sure that many of you will know, the paperwork has changed a fair bit over the years. Prior to the introduction of proper marriage registers, the local vicars could add as much (or little) detail as they liked. I am particularly taken by the mad old Vicar of Seasalter, who was very forthright in his description of two of his parishioners who chose to marry in 1744. The groom was described as a ‘young gape-mouthed lazy fellow’ whilst the bride was ‘an old toothless wriggling hagg’. Hopefully John Housden and Hannah Matthews were illiterate and never knew what had been written about them on their wedding day.

The Kent Family History Society

Great minds think alike; I have only just updated my website and I find that the KFHS has too! It has lots of useful information for anyone with Kent ancestry, and also includes details of upcoming talks at various local branches of the Society. I would thoroughly recommend Peter Ewart’s talk, ‘Some Mother’s Son’, all about a photograph album found in an antique shop and the story of the family whose photographs it included. A real tearjerker! Also don’t miss Lee Ault’s talk about ‘Rationed Fashion’, I have heard several of her talks, complete with many examples of clothing from the era, and they are always very engaging.

Happy New Year

I would like to wish everyone a very happy and healthy New Year.

Perhaps you have been in touch with lots of family members over Christmas and talked about your family history? If you have unanswered questions about your family, why not get in touch with me and make 2018 the year you finally discover more about your ancestors!

Slept in a shed

This post is for anyone who feels that their house isn’t big enough, or their furnishings need updating, or is generally unhappy with where they live. I came across this entry in the 1871 census for Nonington yesterday:


‘Slept in Shed’ was the address for the Gatehouse family, with two young children, AND Mrs Gatehouse was pregnant AND they had a lodger! In a shed! Well done to the census enumerator though, good work.

Farage found Guilty of Theft at Old Bailey

A search in the Old Bailey court records ( shows that one Daniel Farage, a 15 year old apprentice, was found guilty of stealing two pairs of boots and 14 pairs of shoes at a trial on 11 September 1822. He was sentenced to a whipping for his crime. Daniel Farage was baptised on 23 August 1807 at Mitcham in Surrey. He was the son of Edward and Maria Farage, and appears to be the great-great-great uncle of a certain Nigel P. Farage.