Sunday, 31 January 2016

Ex visitatione dei- Visitation by God Bromley Kent 1835

As I proceed to transcribe the sextons accounts of Bromley Saint Peter and Saint Paul I am reminded of questions asked by students and family historians over my years as a genealogist on this cause of death.
The early years of civil registration of death contain references to cause of death on death certificates and coroner's verdicts of Ex visitatione dei or Visitation by God as a recorded cause of death based upon medical opinion for the death.
On 6 March 1835 the burial of Edmund Neighbour of Bromley Common takes place in the Bromley parish churchyard. The Bromley Sexton in describing the burial in the south east part of the graveyard in a 7 foot deep grave also describes the circumstances of the discovery of his body dead in bed and the coroner's jury finding of death by visitation of God.
The duties of a Coroner include examining the circumstances of sudden or unexplained death as we see in this example. The Coroner first determines whether there are any suspicious circumstances and seeks evidence from medical opinion. The Coroner is concerned primarily in the detection of any crime or explanation of circumstances leading to death and likely to accept medical opinion as to other causes.
Of course any doctor called to a dead body is faced with a challenge; in a period when so little knowledge existed of many fatal conditions unless there was visible injury to the person or presence of fever,evidence of alcoholism or drinking alcohol prior to death or a history of epilepsy or "apoplexy" then the death could not be easily diagnosed. Indeed such natural causes would account for many deaths and the detail of this volume of sexton's accounts describe sudden death in shops,the Market Square and elsewhere in Bromley Kent over the years from 1809-1838. It was only in cases of poisoning or injury to the body that an autopsy would be called for. The medical practioner would rely on accounts of people who knew the deceased.
 Medical practice and the law had therefore devised the term Visitation of God to explain the death by natural causes. In more religious times it was supposed that God had determined it was time for the person to die and this cause of can be found in a variety of record sources from the 1600's onwards.
In 1836/7 the Registration of Births and Deaths Act  came into force but giving the cause of death on a death certificate remained optional, however in 1837 The Royal College of Physicians, The Royal College of Surgeons and the Society of Apothecaries circulated their joint view that accurate  registration of cause of death needed to be provided. The term "natural causes" came into medical practice on recording cause of death. It was open to the Registrar General to communicate with any medical practitioner if the cause of death on certification was considered unnaceptable in order to obtain a more accurate medical description. It was not until the Births and Deaths Act 1874 that it became compulsory to give the cause of death with penalty for failure to do so.
It is therefore possible to find death certificates between 1837 and 1874 with Visitation by God as cause of death. These frequently lead family historians to ask what did this cause of death mean?
Once again the detailed sextons account compiled by Edward Dunn the parish sexton has answers for 21st century searchers.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2016

Monday, 25 January 2016

Vertical burial in the churchyard at Downe Kent

The January 2016 meeting of Downe Local History group was held in the parish church of Saint Mary where Howard Cheswick a long time churchwarden gave a history of the church and it's main features.
Howard  referred to discovery that the oldest wall of the 1291 chapel with original lancet window was built without foundation. The church in its form with a steeple was built by 1552 because an inventory of 1552 refers to three bells (which still are rung). Two of these bells are made by William Daw of London (1385-1418) and the third has a date of 1511 but an unknown maker. The vestry and boiler room beneath were Victorian extensions to the church.
Howard then described some of the prominent early families of Downe including Manning and Verzelini.
The incumbency of Charles Ffinden in the 19th century coincided with many internal and external alterations including the raising of the nave floor and installation of the present pews. Previously the pews were box pews and there is one burial in the burial register which refers to burial "in his own pew". The "restoration" of the church during Ffinden's time left a the church with a legacy of repair for present church members to deal with.
In 1990 these became apparent and resulted in major structural defects in the floor and drainage being addressed. The boiler room had to be extended and the crypt burials had to be removed and reinstated with rededication of the burials. During building excavation to the north side of the church to provide a larger boiler room  beneath the vestry and human remains were discovered in a vertical burial.
The mystery was who had been buried in such a manner?
In my experience the north side of churches often contain those referred to as suicides or lunacy causing suicide. Because of the extension of the church to build the vestry it is likely that the excavation had entered the area of earlier century churchyard burials beyond the foundations of the vestry walls.
So what do the Downe Burial Transcripts which I undertook some years ago reveal?
It appears from Howard's description that the burial took place earlier than the 19th century and I take that to be in the two volumes of register Composite register 1539-1733 and burials 1697-1812 which are transcribed Kent Online Parish Clerks Downe Burials on a single page. There is a nineteenth century suicide in a later burial register but no indication of type of burial and I think this unlikely to fit the description of the vertical burial.
There are two burials which could solve the mystery:
On 28 September 1713 John Michell buried on the North side of the Church after he had drowned himself in the River Ravensbourne.
0n 13 July 1758 the spinster Elizabeth BROWN was "buried on the north side of the church but denied Christian burial because she hanged herself."
Vertical burial is not unknown on the North side of churchyards but the sheer physical effort of digging a vertical burial (far greater than a conventional plot) unless chosen and paid for by the deceased point to strong motivation to dig a deeper 3 foot square (traditionally) burial. It is of course possible to dig a deep conventional grave space and surround the corpse with material which can be easily ecavated to add additional vertical burials if necessary and a pragmatic sexton and gravedigger may have adopted this approach at Downe. In 1758 the burial entry points to a strong motivation and although not referred to in 1713 the same reasoning would have applied namely that a suicide was denied right of burial within the Anglican church.
Both these burials fall within the period of the Burials in Woolen Acts. I have blogged previously about these acts in relation to the Bromley Saints Peter and Saint Paul registers from introduction of the Act here. I have also blogged about coroners verdicts in case of suicide Felo de Se verdicts in the district near Downe.
We will never know whose burial was disturbed at Downe by the building excavation but as in all cases reinterment of remains is conducted with a service by clergy. Over 200 years after ending life one of these two suicides was treated with respect and dignity at the time of reinterment.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2016

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Mystery of a Guernsey Lady

My initial examination for transcription of the Bromley Union Workhouse Lunatics register for the year 1914 provides an intriguing mystery. Glued to the page of a November 1914 admission on Police Order for one overnight stay before transfer to The Kent County Asylum at Barming Heath under a different name is an unidenified newspaper clipping with "Woman's Lost Memory" and the headline of this blog.
I was able to trace the Metropolitan Police appeal to March 1915 when it appeared in the Sunday Mirror and Liverpool Echo amongst others through the syndication process of that time.
"The police are anxious to establish the identity and to discover the relatives of a well dressed young married lady who arrived in London from Lancress Guernsey about six weeks ago and who was discovered at Lewisham suffering from loss of memory. Despite exhaustive enquiries her indentity up to present remains a mystery."
The police description describes " about 32 a rather stout build five feet four inches fresh complexion light brown hair blue eyes wears powerful eyeglasses third finger of left hand missing". When found she was well dressed in a brown velvet costume and hat a new blouse and a light fawn coloured rainproof coat." She also carried a dress basket on which was a railway label "Passenger from Lancress to Paddington".
When found by Police from Lee police Station she gave the name of Dorothy Beshar and said that on reaching Paddington that day she had given all her money she had to Belgian Refugees. In 1914 Paddington Station had a large collection point for refugee donations and it is therefore possible that this was true.
She was wearing a wedding ring and police formed the impression from statements she made that her husband and brother recently left Guernsey to travel to France. The Lee Police took her to Lewisham Infirmary; the newspaper clipping then mentions transfer to another Institution.
L'Ancresse is within the parish of Vale Guernsey and it is intriguing to find travel from this parish to Paddington was possible in 1914.Given that the Metropolitan Police enquiries could not identify a well dressed young woman with a missing finger on her left hand and loss of memory was attributed to her destitute state in Lewisham it appears that the Metropolitan police then took her from Lewisham Infirmary to Bromley Union Workhouse.
"Loss of memory case" is often entered in the four Lunatic Registers I have transcribed in the preceding decade from 1914; all alledged Lunatics in this category are transferred to Kent County Asylum at Barming Heath. The Workhouse master Mister T Healey was sufficiently intrigued to discover the newspaper clipping that he comments in red ink that the Police Order on admission clearly gave the name as Rose Ogbourne.
On 26 November 1914 Metropolitan Police Sergeant A Kemp brings Rose Ogbourne to Bromley Union Workhouse under a police Order which authorises detention for up to 3 days until 29 November 1914. As part of the reception procedure for detention on the female Lunatic Ward of the Workhouse Rose alias Dorothy is examined by Doctor Price the deputy Workhouse Medical Officer. He records an amputation of the third finger of the left hand and as is usual in "loss of memory cases" which are relatively common in this Workhouse he arranges transfer to the Kent County Asylum. On the 27 November 1914 The Workhouse horse drawn Ambulance purchased some years earlier by the Board of Guardians from the London Asylums Board for such transfers is available for Mister Walter Banner Bromley Relieving Officer and Miss Cox Female lunatic Attendant to convey Rose on transfer to Barming Heath.
It appears that despite the best efforts of the Metropolitan Police to identify in Guernsey the identity of the young woman with an amputated finger and needing powerful lenses in her spectacles  the inhabitants of the small area of Guernsey were unable to identify her. Neither of the surnames offered appear to be present on Guernsey which would tend to have distinctly French origins. At that time islanders would probably have been bilingual;parish registers were maintained in French until 1939.
So the mystery appears to have partially resolved as Dorothy Beshar became Rose Ogbourne between November 1914 and the appeal to the public in March 1915.
The Mystery of a Guernsey Lady remains 100 years later.....

Friday, 1 January 2016

Saint Mark Aperfield Baptisms-the early years of Biggin Hill church history

I have thoroughly enjoyed transcribing the registers of the metal Church of Saint Mark's Aperfield a mission church to serve the spiritual needs of the "plotlands" development. I have previously blogged about the history of the church here.
Kent Online Parish Clerks has a Biggin Hill page and I have just completed transcription of the first register of baptisms. Since Kent OPC has a 100 year privacy limit to respect international privacy laws I have prepared the Baptisms for 1907-1916 for publication later this year on the Biggin Hill page Kent Online Parish Clerks Biggin Hill page.
As in other Mission Church records I have transcribed in the past the record in the first volume is included in a simple lined book which includes other information; indeed it feels as though the record began as something of an afterthought.
The volume is held at Bromley Archives reference P107B/1/1 and contains some early parish accounts and a section entitled Register of Church people of Saint Mark's District (Biggin Hill). The Mission District within the parish of Cudham initially was served by the curate of Cudham.
The alphabetic "Church people" was intended to list all those in the district but sadly like many new Year resolutions ended at the letter B!
Of greater use is the page which records "Person who take Communion in Saint Marks Easter day 1909"
In case of death within the district Saint Marks could be used to begin the funeral service and two deaths and such services are to be found. In November 1908 Amy Elizabeth Bushell who died at 7 a.m. on Monday 16 November 1908 was brought into the church for the first part of the burial service and the body taken to Cudham Churchyard for burial. Similarly Mary Ann Wicking who died 17 September 1910 at 3 30 pm was brought to Saint Marks on 22 September 1910 where the funeral commenced before interment at Cudham Churchyard.
There are also pages recording both the Ladies Work Party and Mothers Union (14 names) undated but likely to be 1909-1912 and the undated Gentlemans Theological Class with 6 members.
The recording of Baptisms is in the latter half of the book along with various financial accounts of expenditure. Saint Mark's in winter was heated by a single oil heater which needed only half a gallon of oil purchased each year! Two bottles of Communion wine were sufficient and sums for organist and choirboys are also recorded as well as a Vestry meeting to choose a churchwarden from the two sidesmen.
The volume is an interesting record of the life of the District prior to and during the First World War.
The raison d'etre for the Mission Church was to serve the needs of the development by Dougal of the Aperfield Court Estate in plotlands. Since the baptismal record describes the address of each parent it is possible to see that there are distinct groups of people who bring their children to be baptised.
The local farmers and farm workers, the local Gypsy seasonal fruit picking families and some "Plotland" occupants are the major groupings. The Gypsy families often occupy permanent housing in the district for winter use and my colleague Bob Cooper who researches Romany and Gypsy families at Bromley Archives has found the entries valuable in linking to other local families in Kent and Surrey.
Until I moved on to complete the volume transcription to 1924 for publication at a later date I had not realised the impact on the local community of the formation of the Royal Air Force. The volume includes RAF Flying Officer's families in settled residence not associated with the Aperfield Court Estate roads and researching these families will be a worthwhile research.
In 1909 Reverend Harold Augustus Curtis was vicar of Cudham and had as Curate Reverend W J Hamilton. It is Reverend Hamilton who begins the baptismal register; in 1913 H H Skinner is Curate in charge and maintains the register until his departure in 1915. The subsequent entries from January 1916 until 1918 are the work of two clergymen who are not of the Rochester Diocese;both travel some distance to carry out their duties according to Crockford's which does not mention any connection with Aperfield.
The Reverend J Mickley Randell resided in North West Lodon at Crowndale Road in the Diocese of London. Although a bus service from Westerham Hill ( whose driver and mechanic have children baptised) connected to Bromley by 1916 the impact of war appears to have depleted the clergy to the extent that he and in 1917 the Reverend T H Higgins from the Diocese of Lincoln are the clergy signing the register. I must admit that I had not realised the impact of war on the Church of England Clergy by 1916.
In 1918 Reverend Bryan O'Loughlin B.A. is recorded as vicar of Saint Mark's Aperfield and the Reverend H M Woodward is Curate in Charge Saint Marks Aperfield.Both sign the register until 1924.
As a footnote to Biggin Hill life is the arrangement for registering a birth or death. A Registrar from Bromley was available for one hour on two Thursday's a month between one and two pm at a cottage in Westerham Hill to register births and deaths. The alternative would be to travel to Bromley to visit the Town Hall.
The transcription of this volume has been a fascinating glimpse into Aperfield (Biggin Hill)'s early twentieth century history