This is the third in a series of articles on lesser-known sources for British research. To illustrate the value of these sources, we are presenting a case study featuring the Heathwaite family. (Click here to read Part 2 or Part 1.)
While the Historic Hospital Admission Registers Project records I discussed in my last article gave some information about the Heathwaites’ life, in this article I would like to introduce a new source: British History Online (http://www.british-history.ac.uk). This free site has an excellent search engine, and provides possibly vital information found in gazetteers and numerous other records which brings our ancestors alive.
For example, the ordinance survey maps on British History Online show details of major British towns, detailing even streets and buildings! This site also accesses several transcribed primary sources, such as Calendars of Papal Registers, governmental and political records (some from Parliament), Feet of fines (a legal agreement transferring land ownership or ending legal action) from the 1100s, and ancient deeds. Feet of fines are some of the earliest legal transactions that name women.
Let’s see how the British History Online helps us learn more about the Heathwaites. In the 1891 census, John Heathwaite was a Commissionaire and Night Watchman for a place called Sandringham Buildings in London. Unsurprisingly, this sounds like a decent job because even now veterans are often employed in the security business.
Sandringham Buildings also sounds like a nice place to live, but British History Online reveals more than what could be implied from the census. The Metropolitan Board of Works built housing for the displaced laboring class in the London area including the Sandringham Buildings. According to FHW Sheppard’s Survey of London, the buildings were an “ugly repetition of…multi-story artisan’s buildings” and were completed by July 1884. John Heathwaite lived at number 221. It was an okay job, but not necessarily a good place to live. Subsidized housing as a general rule was overcrowded and had dirty water from poor sanitation. The Heathwaites’ moved before 1901 to 14 Bear Street. Was it to find a healthier location? Or had their circumstances been worsened as Bear Street is described as a place “to be feared… close and filthy, and sadly overcrowded.”
This information about the crowded alleys they lived in explains the deaths of the Heathwaite children. These conditions would have been hardest on the children and infants, who often couldn’t overcome their environment with their meager physical resources. But not all the information from British History Online is so bleak. In 1881, the Heathwaites are living at 77, East Street, East Stonehouse, in Devonshire. John’s occupation is Private in the Royal Marines. The entry from the Magna Britannia tells us that East Stonehouse is a traditional posting of Marines in the Plymouth division.
Take time to explore the British History Online site. I recommend that you start under the “Local History” tab. And join me again next week for the last installment of this series on lesser-known sources for British family history research.