‘First in France 1914’ Event @ Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre

On Saturday 2 August, Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre, in partnership with the Royal Air Force and Western Front Association, will celebrate the role of the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War.

Montrose Air Station was the first operational military aerodrome in Britain. It was opened in 1913, where it was the base for No.2 Squadron RFC, under the command of Major C. J. Burke. On 3 August 1914, the Royal Flying Corps left Montrose to enter the war. The BE2 aircraft was flown from Montrose to France by Lt Harvey-Kelly. It was the first British aircraft to land in France.

Flying BE2 with 2 MF.7 aircraft in foreground – Montrose Air Station, Broomfield (1914). The photograph is in the public domain.









To commemorate Harvey-Kelly’s flight into France, Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre is holding a special day of events. This includes a vintage aircraft rally and a range of new exhibits displaying our First World War material. The day will conclude with a flying display of First World War replica aircraft.  Museum staff will be on hand to provide advice on how to research your military ancestors. The museum will be open free to the public. For more information and a full itinerary of the day’s events click HERE.

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Engravings from Davis’ History of Luton (1855)

I often seek out books and articles to garner some background detail for my family history research. Most recently, I came across Frederick Davis’ The History of Luton with Its Hamlets etc (1855). It has been fully digitised by Google Books. I had a brief read through the work, which deals with eminent local names, and includes chapters on schooling, local religion and descriptions of public buildings. There is even a chapter describing indigenous plants and animals.  A revised edition titled Luton, Past and Present: Its History and Antiquities appeared in 1874, and includes photographs.

The engravings extracted below include one of the Wesleyan Chapel in Luton (A). The chapel underwent a few incarnations before being rebuilt in 1852, and was extended in the 1880’s. The Wesleyan Day School started in 1853, and existed until the new school board was created in 1877. Other engravings include a depiction of the market in 1835 (B), and views of St Mary Parish Church (C). St Mary’s was situated only a few streets from where my ancestors lived. wesleyanchapelfromfrederickdavis (A)

lutonmarketfromfrederickdavis(enlarged) (B)

lutonstmaryfromfrederickdavis (C)

Davis describes late-eighteenth century Luton as so narrow that there were few places in which two carts could pass each other. By the time of Davis’ writing, many of the older houses had been rebuilt, with new houses erected and new streets created. After the Public Health Act (1848) was implemented in the 1850’s, a number of civic improvements were made. The first houses in New Town Street (where some of my ancestors would later live) were built in the 1830’s.

Davis’ work is known to contain some errors; much of it is a triumphant description of improvements made to the town by public munificence and an account of its grandees. The work is arranged like a typical nineteenth-century history which narrates the history of Luton from antiquity to its commercial rise. But I found Davis interesting to read. His anecdotes give the work some character and it contains topographical descriptions of Luton’s surrounding hamlets, as well as some mention of local custom.

Viewing the topography of nineteenth-century Luton is fascinating as it gives an impression of various aspects of my ancestors’ everyday life such as places of education, leisure and work. The proximity of the narrow streets surrounding St Mary’s Church, shows the small area occupied by most of the people of Luton. Unsurprisingly, many of my relatives are recorded as living only a few streets apart from who they would later marry. My ancestors migrated to Luton from its rural surroundings during its mid-century commercial growth; the majority becoming workers in the booming Straw Hat industry. Luton’s expansion was boosted by the arrival of the railway. This comes into focus near the end of the work, which details local proposals for a new railway line.


* Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service, ‘Chapel Street Wesleyan Church Luton’, http://www.bedfordshire.gov.uk/CommunityAndLiving/ArchivesAndRecordOffice/CommunityArchives/Luton/NonconformityinLuton/ChapelStreetWesleyanChurchLuton.aspx, Accessed 26/12/2013.

* Frederick Davis, The History of Luton with Its Hamlets etc(1855). [The work was printed for the author by J. Wiseman of George Street.]

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Lucas Family of Rotherhithe

My 3x great grandfather was Richard Lucas, born around 1810 in Rotherhithe, Surrey. Richard worked as a Sail maker on the docks. He married Mary Ann Young on 23 November 1834 at St James, Bermondsey.


Map of Rotherhithe from 1848, showing Paradise Row. 

The Lucas family appeared on Paradise Row on two census entries. The street was apparently the principal one in Rotherhithe. Henry Mayhew noted sail makers at the docks and “their windows stowed with ropes and lines smelling of tar”, in his work London Labour and the London Poor (1851). Paradise Row was later renamed “Union Road” and they lived there in 1871. By 1881, the family had moved to Rolt Street, Deptford.

I am fascinated by researching maps as part of my family history research. As cities and streets evolve and sometimes disappear, it may not always be possible to understand how an ancestor’s house or street once looked. By referring to maps, you can imagine the streets and the sights they encountered in their daily lives. This can then be compared to contemporary sources to complete a more vivid picture.


Port Cities

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Davis’ Map of Luton (1855)

Frederick Davis’s History of Luton (1855) contains a map of Luton. The map shows the few streets in which many of my ancestors lived.

Park Street was where my 3x great grandmother, Mary Kate Evans was born on 13 October 1863. Her husband Samuel Fensome was born in nearby Chobham Street on 22 October 1861. My 4x great grandmother, Susan Lines lived in Park Street at the time of her marriage, on Xmas Day 1861. The Punter and Hawkins families lived in and around Langley Road and New Town Street, which lie perpendicular to each other. It is interesting to note the layout of the back-to-back houses they would have lived in, and to get a sense of the local topography. Luton is very different now to how it appears on the map.

The map key denotes some sites of interest to the family historian. For example, it shows the location of various schools – the National School, British School, Infant School and Wesleyan Day School. Considering the various religious predilections of Luton residents, the map shows various chapels and meeting houses. See elsewhere on my blog for more images from Davis’ work.

Certainly if you have ancestors who lived in Luton, it is worth consulting the records of the various schools, if they survive.


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