APRIL 2024 Image

And my family's involvement over many years


Philip spoke of the History of Frome Cheese Show from 1861.
He began his talk with a brief look at agriculture from medieval times including the expansion of the wool trade and the development of the dairy industry. With an expanding population there was a need to feed the community and cows are a good provider. Milk and cheese became more important especially after the coming of the railway which meant that surplus food could be transported to where it could be sold.

In 1861 the Frome Cheese Show was established by a local agricultural society. The farmers were mostly tenants but they were supported by their landlords who were keen to increase the value of the farms so that they could charge more rent. In the early years of the show between 2,000 and 3,000 people attended.

Philip illustrated his talk with fascinating slides of farming in the early twentieth century and compared the work with modern methods. A typical heard of 40 cows would need 5 people to milk them twice a day. The milk was put into churns and left at the side of the road for collection or moved to the cheese room for processing.

Next we heard about the building of the Market Hall and the development of the showground in the town centre. As time went on more and more land was acquired but ultimately the show outgrew its premises and the committee bought land at Bunns Lane where the show is held now. Some people were disappointed by the relocation of the show out of the town centre but parking had become an insurmountable problem.

The Cary family's involvement with the show goes back several generations with Philip's nephew now the chair of the committee. Philip's great-great grandfather bought land at Buckland Dinham where he built a house. The family still live there today.

The fascinated audience asked many questions on this popular subject.

Chris Featherstone

MARCH 2024 Image


Adding character and depth to our understanding of our family histories, there are plenty of stories to uncover


Local author Wendy Worley was our speaker at the March meeting of Frome Family History Group.
Wendy's talk concentrated on stories from her ancestors, some told to her first hand, others she has discovered through her research.
Her first story was about her grandmother Mabel who was living in Windsor during the reign of Queen Victoria. The Queen held a party at Windsor Castle for the children of those soldiers who were away fighting in the Boer War. Mabel, her sister and mother were duly invited to the castle where they were given tea and received a present from Queen Victoria herself. The Queen was seated in a bath chair escorted by her Indian servant and when Mabel was asked what she would like she pointed to a green glass bauble at the top of the tree. Queen Victoria dispatched her servant to get a ladder and Mabel was given the bauble along with a toy horse and cart. These items together with their story are on display in Windsor Museum.

Another relation worthy of note was Piper Findlater. Sergeant George Findlater 1872-1942 was a Scottish soldier in the British Army who was awarded the Victoria Cross. In 1897 Findlater, a junior piper in the Gordon Highlanders was shot in the ankles at the Battle for the Dargai Heights. Unable to walk, and exposed to enemy fire, he continued playing to encourage the battalions to advance. Findlater was considered to be a public hero.

The third example of Wendy's research was Violet Piercy 1889-1972. Violet was a marathon pioneer being the first woman to record a time for running a marathon. In 1927 she set a record at the British games for a ten-mile run which she completed in 1 hour 13 minutes. At the time the prevailing thought was that women were too fragile to run more than a few hundred feet. Violet died in relative obscurity in 1972.

The audience asked many questions and Wendy was warmly thanked.

Chris Featherstone

FEBRUARY 2024 Image

Some findings of the "Family Names of the UK" project hosted at UWE

Professor Richard Coates was our speaker for the February meeting of the Frome Family History Group. He described the University of West of England project, Family Names of the United Kingdom known as FaNUCK. FaNUCK's advantage over previous studies is that it is evidence based and used digital resources, improving connections between medieval and modern times.

Richard began by outlining the project and mentioning some of the people involved together with their contribution. The project is supported by the Arts and Humanities Council and published by Oxford University Press. The main aims of the project include research into the history of language and dialects and the geographical and social distribution of surnames. The psychology of surnames was also discussed such as why women change their names upon marriage or not as the case may be. The social advantage of having a surname beginning with a letter earlier in the alphabet compared to the end of the alphabet was intriguing.

Some of the sources used for the project were discussed. These include the Reaney and Wilson Dictionary of English Surnames which was discovered to be 50% inaccurate as well as Government documents such as the Patent Rolls, the database of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Guild of One Name Studies. We moved on to the scope of the project which is the most ambitious in Great Britain with 45,602 names being researched between 1881-2011. Of these 27,000 were variants for example Smith, Smyth and Smythe.

Richard then moved on to describe the four main types of names, such as relationship, for example Richard, Richards and Richardson. We then have nicknames, Witty, Proud, Toogood and Shakelady. Occupational names come next with Fisher and Latimer being good examples and finally status names such as Butler, Marshall, Bishop and King.

Finally, we discussed the topographical distribution of surnames including the most common Somerset surnames, Ackland, Bartlett, Dando and Kingsbury.

Professor Coates was thanked by a very appreciative audience who were keen to apply their new found knowledge to their own family research.

Chris Featherstone

JANUARY 2024 Image

A brief history of postage stamps and the events surrounding the issue of commemorative stamps

Frome Family History Group began 2024 with a short annual business meeting followed by a talk entitled "commemorative stamps and my family" by Gerald Burdall.

The business started with a short report from the chair thanking the committee and in particular the programme secretary, Sue Simpson, who, after many years, has handed the task on to Sue Leather. Our treasurer, Gerald Burdall also stepped down and we welcomed Marilyn McCullough who has kindly agreed to take over from Gerry. For his final treasurer's report Gerry announced that we had a healthy total of over £700 in the bank.

Our speaker for the evening was Gerry Burdall who was giving his last speech having retired due to his advancing years. The subject, commemorative stamps and my family was an insight into the history of the postal service and to the years where commemorative stamps were issued. Gerry tied each year to information about his family history and what they were doing at the time.
With some stunning illustrations of stamps and fascinating facts about both the stamps and his family we found out that the first stamp issued to commemorate an event was for the British Empire Exhibition in 1924. In 1950 Thomas Burdall, Gerry's father, was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to trade unions.

Many other beautiful stamps were shown including the one for the Olympic Games in 1948. Gerry remembers being taken by his father to see the Olympic flame on its journey to Wembley Stadium. The stamp remembering the Pilgrim Fathers in 1999 and the sinking of the Titanic reminded Gerry of family involvements in these events.
The evening finished with four beautiful stamps portraying photographs of Queen Elizabeth II which were issued in 2022, the same year as the birth of his great granddaughter, Daisy.

Chris Featherstone

OCTOBER 2023 Image

Some men and one woman who have represented Frome in Parliament

Our former MP David Heath attracted a large audience when he spoke to Frome Family History Group on the subject of "More or Less Idle People" at our October meeting. The title comes from a quote by Walter Bagehot "A Parliament is nothing less than a big meeting of more or less idle people".

David began with the early history of parliament in Anglo-Saxon times, including King Ethelred in 934 AD who was the only king to be buried in Frome as well as some of the arguably evil men who shaped our government. One of the most important of these was Simon de Montfort who some regard to this day as one of the progenitors of modern parliamentary democracy. But he had a very dark side - as Earl of Leicester, he expelled Jews from the city and cancelled debts owed to Jews through the violent seizures of records, thereby ruining their livelihoods.

Edward III came to the throne in 1327, and from that point the representatives of the counties (knights of the shire) and of the towns (burgesses) became a permanent part of Parliament. After 1332 they sat together in one chamber and were known as the House of Commons. After 1341 these Commons deliberated separately from the King and his nobles.

David continued by describing some those members of parliament who represented Frome starting with Sir Thomas Hungerford who was the first person to be named as Speaker. He served as a Member of Parliament for Somerset in 1378, 1382, 1388, and 1390 and was knighted in February 1375. He was closely associated with John of Gaunt and acted for some time as steward of Gaunt's household.

Our next candidate was Richard Cheddar. Cheddar was a violent and lawless man. In November 1405, he was required to undertake not to break the peace towards Richard Metford, Bishop of Salisbury, his ministers and servants. Later, he became implicated in the ill-considered dealings of his half-brother, Thomas Brooke.

The Reform Act of 1832 introduced major changes to the electoral system of England and Wales. It reapportioned constituencies to address the unequal distribution of seats and expanded franchise by broadening and standardising the property qualifications to vote. Only qualifying men were able to vote. Our MP at that time was Thomas Sheppard. A grandson of the wealthy clothier, William Sheppard 1709-1759, he was elected at the 1832 General Election as the Member of Parliament for the newly enfranchised borough of Frome in Somerset, standing as a Whig against Sir Thomas Champneys. He was re-elected in 1835 as a Conservative, and held the seat until he stood down from the House of Commons at the 1847 General Election. Frome was given the right to elect its own member of Parliament and Sheppard was considered to be one of the good guys. This Act removed rotten boroughs like Old Sarum (with 3 houses and 7 voters to elect 2 MPs) and included for the first time new electors such as small landowners, tenant farmers and shopkeepers. Voters were defined as male persons, so women were formally excluded.

Another claim to fame for Frome was the literary giant, Thomas Hughes who wrote Tom Brown's Schooldays but only served one term as MP for Frome. He was considered to be a good MP but not a popular character.

David's next MP was the amazing Mavis Tate who served as MP for Frome between 1935 and 1945. Her interests included farming, women's rights and teachers' pay. She was an avid campaigner for women to belong to the Home Guard and worked tirelessly for many other causes. She was defeated by the Labour candidate in 1945 and very sadly died by suicide in 1954.

The audience thoroughly enjoyed this amazing insight into our parliamentary history and David was warmly thanked.

Chris Featherstone

SEPTEMBER 2023 Image

Stories from the Alan Godfrey Maps

On September 26th Frome Family History Group welcomed a return visit from Tony Painter with a talk entitled 'West Country Myths and Legends from the Alan Godfrey Map Series'.
Tony replaced our advertised speaker, Elisa Amor, who was unable to come.

Tony began by explaining what the Godfrey maps covered. Most of the maps are highly detailed, taken from the 1/2500 plans and reprinted at about 14 inches to the mile. According to their website they cover towns in great detail, showing individual houses, railway tracks, factories, churches, mills, canals, tramways and even minutiae such as dockside cranes, fountains, signal posts, pathways, sheds, wells, etc. Each map includes historical notes on the area concerned. They also publish a series of smaller scale Inch to the Mile maps.

There were several examples of myths and legends covered by the historical notes from the maps, some of which Tony had researched and written himself for Godfrey maps. One such example was the war time activities of Box Hill. It is understood that a secret store of steam engines was kept there in case of a nuclear attack when other fuels may not be available. We also heard about the underground war time facility at Corsham known by several different names, one of those was Burlington. This was the Central Government War Headquarters.

We learned of ancient myths including the Somerset tsunami. An event in 1606 where 22 people drowned. Was it a tsunami or just a storm surge? Tony thinks the latter. Our next example was John Hampden from Swindon who believed the earth was flat. He was so convinced that he placed a bet with scientist Alfred Russell Wallace that he could prove his theory. Wallace won the bet but Hampden refused to pay up. A long-term feud ensued.

Tony was thanked for a remarkable talk much enjoyed by the audience.

Chris Featherstone