52 Weeks – Heirloom

Wooden lasts

Many of the heirlooms I have are a bit of a mystery to me. I discovered a number of family items in the attic when I cleared the house after my Mum died. These included items belonging to my paternal Grandma, who lived with us for a number of years until she died. Identifying who heirlooms belonged to is a puzzle, largely based on which box I found the item in and what else was in the box!

These shoemakers’ lasts came from a box belonging to my Grandma. So, despite the fact I know there are shoemakers and cordwainers on my Mum’s side – mostly following the military around (who always need boots!), I must deduce they belong to her side of the family.

Who does my heirloom belong to?

Wandering back up Grandma’s family tree I can only find a couple of Shoemakers and Bootmakers in the census records. My 3x Great Grandfather Thomas Wood and his son Thomas. I guess they are his!

The elder Thomas Wood was born in Chevening, Kent in 1798 and after he married Sophia Bowles in 1822 he moved about 10 miles to Farningham, in Kent where he stayed for the rest of his life. It appears that Farningham was a thriving community with up to 6 stagecoaches passing through each day, so I guess there were enough people to provide a shoemaker with a living. His 4th child, Jane was my 2xGreat Grandmother.

The unanswered question this leaves me with is “Are these lasts actually old enough to be his?” There is very little wear on them and internet searching has not revealed much to help me date them.

So, what can I tell?

  • The lasts are small and narrow compared to modern shoes and are shaped, so you can tell the right foot from the left.
    • This shaping of lasts came in from the mid C19.
  • They have L & R stamped on them in a serif font that is consistent with the time.
  • If I look more closely at how they were made they do seem to straddle that boundary between machine manufacture and handmade items.
    • The screw mechanism is machined, the slot for the metal bar is hand chiselled. The handle for the screw was turned on a lathe.
    • This is consistent with the late C19 when industrialisation was on the rise.

I will continue to search for more information about shoemaking at the end of the C19 but, for the moment, I am satisfied that these lasts belonged to GGG Grandad Thomas Wood!


52 Weeks – In the Census

There have been 8 censuses released in the UK.  These show the population every 10 years from the earliest in 1841 to the most recent release in 1911.

It is fascinating to see how the amount of information gathered by the enumerator has grown over the decades.

Basic at First

The earliest one, in 1841, was the simplest. It contained a person’s address,  name, gender, age, occupation and whether they were born in the locality.  As the years progressed the government realised the opportunity to gather more information and started to gather the relationships between people in a household and where they were born.

This information is a treasure trove for people looking for their family history. (Like me!)  The combination and age, place of birth, relationship to others in the household and occupation helps us confirm that we are identifying the same people census to census. It’s not foolproof of course. People forget how old they are, or where they were born. Or lie….. But you can track households down the years with a fair amount of confidence.

And the Children?

One piece of information that we love to pick up from the census is the children in the family. But one of the things that you are never quite sure of is whether you have them all. If a child was born and died between censuses then they don’t show up and you don’t know if you need to try and track anyone down.

The 1911 census added significantly more information to the form, including the number of years a couple had been married, the number of children born to a couple, and the number still living. This is so helpful when trying to identify the number of children in a family, but does highlight the high infant mortality rate, even at the beginning the 20th century.

This snippet here from the 1911 record of my 3x great Uncle John Mercer shows that he and his wife Emma had had 9 children in their 44 years of marriage, but only 5 were still living. 4 of their sons died before the age of 4. I cannot imagine how hard that was for them.

52 Weeks – Favourite Photo

Grandparents and map

Oh, what a dilemma! Out of all of the photos I have which one is my favourite?

OK, I know which one it is!

And now I’ve decided, where is it??

<Comes back two days later having finally found the correct box. I really must organise these photos somehow…>

Here is it! Well, it’s not one photo, it’s two photos, but they are a matching pair. And it’s left me with a quandary.

Should I even share this?

Favourite Photo of Grandparents


That’s quite shocking these days, isn’t it? Could someone take it seriously?

But, it is what it is, a window into the past. Let me tell you about it.

It is of my grandparents, Mick and Babs Mercer in about 1934. Not a studio picture, but a couple of snaps that they took themselves. It is my favourite as it shows both my Grandma’s wry and dry sense of humour and the fun she and Grandad had together when they were young and courting.

This pair of photos is them in their cycling gear and Grandma labelled it “Heil Hitler”.  The title is in mockery, not admiration and refers to the similarity of what they are wearing to the uniform of the Hitler Youth Movement. It is before the start of WWII and the later atrocities.

As a photo of its time, it is interesting to me that the rise of Fascism in Germany was newsworthy enough for it to be part of popular culture. It gives an insight into what mattered to them in their world.

When they were courting, and after they were married they used to have days out and holidays by tandem – hence the cycling gear. Here is a corner of a cloth map of the S.W. London Area that they used to plan their trips. The red lines show footpaths. I wonder how many still exist.

Map of S W London 1934