Whenever we watch any period drama on TV we see all the actors in the fine clothes of the day. But have you ever considered what this really meant for our ancestors.
It doesn’t really matter what class our ancestors are from the clothes they wore would be so much more uncomfortable than we’re used to. As I write this blog its 28o C outside and 25 inside. I like most of the country have shorts and a thin top on trying to keep cool, but how would our ancestors have coped.
Let’s start by considering the working class.
They would have been working in the factories, mills and farms whilst wearing a wool dress or suit with a hat. This must have been so hot. Imagine being in the fields with the sun blazing down on the tending the fields and the animal or being in the mills with the machinery running and all the heat they were producing. The men would probably be in shirt sleeves but the women would have had dresses, aprons and hats on which would probably be their only set of clothes which they had had for years. It would have been unbearable for them. It wasn’t just at work though. Women would be expected to carry out all daily tasks dressed like this. How on earth they scrubbed floors and washed clothes in these clothes is beyond me. In this weather it’s bad enough having to push the vacuum cleaner round or load the washer without having to wear heavy clothes. The only good thing going for them was the fact the clothing could be looser and less tight fitting so maybe they would get some air to them. I don’t know for certain but I would imagine it was much more dangerous working in the mills and factories on hot days. If the workers became overheated or dehydrated they could pass out and near machinery they could be fatal. What if they were weavers and got pulled under the machines and crushed. It wouldn’t have been much safer on the farm as they could pass out and get trampled by a heard of cows or the farm machinery.
Spare a though also for your ancestors who were in service. They would have been in starched uniforms having to do their job without fainting! It would have been even worse for the kitchen staff. Imagine having a range burning day in day out, it would only have been worse for the men who worked in the foundries.
As you rise up the classes it wouldn’t have been much better. They had to consider what they wore. Ladies and gentlemen must be seen in the latest fashions without exception. Society wouldn’t care if it was hot, full corsets and bustles must be worn with massive hats. They may get a parasol if outside. The men would be in full suit with hat and starched collars. The ladies passed out at the best of times from the corsets but in the summer it must have been unbearable. No wonder those who had country estates went to them to avoid the heat of the city, or was it so they could wear thinner clothes without their circle of friends and acquaintances finding out about the falling standards of their attire?
Let’s not forget the children. They would have been in formal clothes as well no matter if they were playing, doing school work or even enjoying a day at the beach.
So all in all I’m much happier being able to wear thin clothing suited to the weather outside and not having to be constricted by the constraints of what clothes our ancestors had or what society stated they should have to wear. I say denim short and t shirts all the way!
It’s the time of year when all the towns and villages start hosting their village shows. There’ll be tea and cake a plenty, tombola’s and competitions for the waggiest dog tail or the scruffiest mutt. I’m sure in one form or another most people have been to one be it the school fete or the church bazaar.
So how does this link into genealogy? Well your ancestors may have taken part in the show. They may have run a stall or they may have entered the produce show.
This is when the historic records can give you an insight into your ancestor’s lives. The newspaper archive combined with the census results can give you so much information on your ancestors, if you’re lucky.
Now before everyone gets excited this is going to be hit and miss and depend upon where your ancestors lived.
So how does this work. Well by using the census you can find out where your ancestors lived. If they lived in a more rural location such as the villages of the peak district or North Yorkshire (or anywhere similar) then there is a greater chance of your ancestors participating in a village show. From the information on where your ancestor lived you can search the newspaper archive for information on the show. Just type in your ancestors name and the search the local newspaper nearest to where they lived. Please don’t bother searching the national newspapers as they hardly ever carried information on such events.
So what can you find out? Well you may discover that they were a judge in the show and that they chose the winning onions in the produce show. You may also find out that they entered the produce or flower shows. Perhaps your great grandma won a prize for her sponge cake or your great, great Grandfather grew a massive marrow.
From here you can gain an insight into their everyday lives. If your ancestors were judges in an event then they were respected in the field they were judging or they were a respected within the community. For anyone who has ever read the James Herriot novels in the All Creatures Great and Small series may remember when James judged the produce show and the pressure it put on him especially when he knew nothing about judging vegetables. It didn’t help when the winner was the driver of one of his clients who was found of giving out expensive food hampers from her dog Trickey Woo!
It also can tell you about the living conditions of your ancestors. If they were able to enter the produce show, be it flowers or vegetables then they must have had a garden to be able to grow the produce in. Not many people would have had access to a garden in the towns unless they lived in places such as Saltaire or Bornville. Also it means they had the leisure time in which to tend and grow the produce. This means they were not just working and sleeping like those in some of the mills and factories. If they were able to enter a cake into a show then they must have had the spare income to be able to make a cake that wasn’t going to be used to feed the family.
Agricultural show results can also be a great source of information. We’ve all see the great agricultural shows such as the Great Yorkshire Show, Bakewell show the Royal Welsh Show. On many censuses if your ancestor was a farmer it may just say farmer and not what they farmed. So if your ancestor turns up in the show results with a prize winning cow then you know they had cattle and thus can learn more about what they life of a cattle farmer was like.
So the village show results in the newspaper can show you more about the lives of your ancestors than your perhaps thought, but even if you can’t find their names in the archive don’t be down heartened as if you know they lived in the village or area of the show then the chances were they were there and you can find out about what they experienced on that day.
I want to consider my favourite of King Henry VII wives today. Everyone’s heard of Anne of Cleves, King Henry VIII 4th wife, but probably you don’t know much about her.
Anne was born in Dusseldorf in the Duchy of Cleves in September 1515. She was the 2nd of 4 children born to Duke John III of Cleves, Julich and Berg and his wife Maria Duchess of Julich-Berg. When she was just 11 she was betrothed to 10 year old Francis of Lorraine the son of the Duke of Lorraine. This betrothal was later declared void due to Francis being so young.
After the death of Queen Jane in 1537 the king’s adviser Oliver Cromwell began to look for a new queen and looked to Cleves as the new Duke (Anne’s brother) was a protestant, although Anne was a Catholic like her devote mother. Hans Holbein the younger was despatched to paint portraits of Anne and her sister. It was from these pictures Henry decided on Anne. In October 1539 a treaty was drawn up between King Henry and Duke William for Henry to marry Anne.
Anne was described by contemporary sources as being tall, slim, fair haired and having a lovely face and being of a gentle and docile. She was not well educated although she could read and write in German. She was very skilled at needlework.
Anne arrived in England in December 1539 and she first met the King on 1st January 1540. Henry entered her chambers in disguise and embraced her. Anne was alarmed and thanked the man and then turned away. It is alleged that it was Katherine Howard who pointed out to Anne that it was the King. Henry was enraged and immediately demanded that a way be found to stop the wedding. Oliver Cromwell was all for the wedding taking place and persuaded the king to go through with the wedding as the alliance with another protestant nation was vital to the defence of the country against Spain, France and the Holy Roman Empire. In the end this decision cost Cromwell his life.
Anne and Henry were married by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cramner at the Palace of Placentia on the 6th January 1540. After the marriage Henry made many complaints about Anne from her being ugly and smelly to her being so undesirable that he could not consummate the marriage. Anne is believed to have believed the marriage was consummated as Henry slept beside her every night. The King decided he wanted out of the marriage and used the fact that she had been betrothed to Francis of Lorraine and the non consummation of the marriage as the main reasons. We all know he was besotted with Anne’s lady in waiting Katherine Howard and she was the main reason.
Anne was ordered to leave court in June 1540 and on the 6th July she was told the King wished to annul the marriage. Anne sensibly agreed to the annulment and thus probably saved her life. She inherited many houses as part of the annulment including Richmond Palace and Hever Castle. She was also given the title of Beloved Sister and she thus ranked higher than all ladies of the court except the Queen and the Kings daughters. She was a regular at court and had a strong friendship with Princess Mary and Elizabeth.
After the execution of Katherine Howard it is believed Anne’s brother Duke William of Cleves was pushing for Henry to remarry Anne. Whether Anne was for this or not is not really known as no evidence survives.
After Henry’s death Anne lived mainly away from court and was not seen much but she was by Queen Mary’s side along with Princess Elizabeth when Mary entered London to take the crown. Anne was also at Mary’s coronation in 1553. Anne converted back to Catholicism when Mary took the throne.
Anne came under scrutiny during the Wyatt rebellion against Queen Mary as Anne was very close to Princess Elizabeth who was protestant and was removed form court in 1554.
Anne lived at her estate for the rest of her life where she was a described as a good and kind mistress. Many say she suffered from periods of homesickness but she never left England after her arrival in 1539.
In June 1557 Anne became so unwell she wrote her will in which she asked Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth to look after her servants who she also left some money to. On the 16th July 1557 Anne of Cleves died at her home in Chelsea from cancer and was buried by the high alter in Westminster Abbey. She was the last of King Henry VIII wives to die.
Music has an impact on all our lives whether we like it or not but how did it affect the lives of our ancestors?
Well music has always been around in one form or another for thousands of years. In Germany a flute was found which using carbon dating was aged at between 42,000 and 43,000 years old. So music has really always been around even if just through the tweet of a bird or the roar of a dinosaur. Maybe the T-Rex’s had a roar band! Wonder if they sang we love to boogie, sorry.
Church organs would probably be the music most of our ancestors were most exposed to. Every Sunday since the first organs appeared since the 900’s they would have heard them played.
Most churches wouldn’t have had an organ on such a grand scale but most of the larger churches would have had one of some form. So our ancestors would have been mainly exposed to religious music. In later years the organists may have started playing no religious music as well. I have an article from the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent in 1867 which mentions a concert my Great Great Grandfather Frederick Staton and his brother William played a piano recital in. Frederick was 17 years old and went on to become the organist at Worksop Priory.
Over the years those of the higher classes or those who were servants would have been exposed to music from the lute and flute to drums and harp.
By the Victorian era most people would have had access to a music hall as most large towns had them. They would be vast halls where travelling groups would play. These music hall developed in the 19th century and soon the songs became more risky and there would have been more of a celebration/fun feel to them than in the previous years when you would have worn your Sunday best and sat quietly and listened.
Everything changed in 1877 when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph which meant people could have purchased music in their own home. They could buy a record and play what they wanted. It was still probably classical music, but at least you could stay at home. From here music when through a revolution. Musicians could be in one country but sell their music worldwide. Not only that but singers could record their songs and they could gain worldwide popularity. It was in 1895 when the Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba had her first recorded album.
Music stay either classical or easy listening until the 1950’s with the likes of Elvis Presley releasing his first hit Heartbreak hotel and by 1957 he had released Jailhouse Rock which was so different from anything that had be around before. Can you imagine what it was like for the different generations of our ancestors? The older family members would have been appalled at the music whereas the younger one would have been so relieved that a musical revolution was starting.
So from here the music changed drastically. There was the Beatles, the Who and the Rolling Stones in the 1960’s. The 1970’s gave use Black Sabbath, Bob Seager and Alice Cooper. The 1980’s gave use the best music ever with everything from Bryan Adams, Jonny Hates Jazz, Duran Duran and so many others and music has just kept on developing to where it is today.
It’s not all pop and rock though. Classical is still around but in different ways. Most films have fantastic music scores from the likes of the great John Williams with the Indian Jones film and Jurassic Park to John Barry with the theme to James Bond. Also pop groups use orchestras in their hits. One of my favourites is Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol. The use of the orchestra just lifts the song to another level.
So I’ll leave you with this comment from a member of my family to the younger members when they asked for Olly Murs to be played and the reply was “What is an Olly Murs?” So nothing changes, each generation feels their music is better than the one before, but all are relevant as they have had an impact on our ancestors and help you get a feel for what the heard and we can listen to the same music as they did.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!