Thursday 14 February 2019

Archives advice

To find archives material

Our records are spread over two catalogues, both of which should be searched.
1. National Archives’ Discovery catalogue: (Tip: If you filter your search results by: Lewisham, you will limit your search to records we hold).

2. Local archives records on the Lewisham Council website at:

Tip: Control + F pops up a searchable textbox on the screen. Enter simple keyword then click Next to move through the pdf file contents. Your keyword is highlighted each time it appears in the file.

We understand that searching catalogues is not always easy, so please contact us if you need help.

To order archive material

All archive material must be ordered in advance. Please email us a list of the archive references of the items you wish to consult. We require ten standard working days’ notice (not Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday) to retrieve archive documents for viewing, and we generally set a limit of twenty items per visit (depending on their size). Once we have processed your request, we will contact you again to make an appointment at a mutually convenient time. Please note that we do not make appointments until we have retrieved the material. If there is a problem or delay, we will contact you.

Thursday 7 February 2019

Comrade Kath – a brief life of Kath Duncan

Kath Duncan, communist political activist in 1920s and 30s Deptford, is the subject of a new play Liberty and a biography The #Last Queen of Scotland by Ray Barron Woolford. Red Blouse Theatre, a local radical theatre company first formed in the 1930s and newly re-formed for the Deptford Heritage Festival, will stage the play in February 2019.

Katherine Sinclair Duncan (nee MacColl) was born in 1888 Argyllshire, Scotland. She became a teacher and joined the National Union of Teachers (NUT). After a marriage of convenience to Alexander “Sandy” Duncan in 1923, the couple moved to Hackney. They joined the Hackney Labour Dramatic Group, part of the Workers Theatre Movement, a revolutionary, left-wing theatre movement which had it’s origins in the Russian revolution of 1917. After a time in the Independent Labour Party, she joined the Communist Party of Great Britain because of the UK General Strike of 1926.

In 1929 she was elected to the party’s central committee, but stood down a year later when she moved to Deptford. During the 1931 General Election she hit the local headlines as the communist party candidate for Greenwich where she received over 2,000 votes.

A powerful public speaker at demonstrations, town hall deputations and street meetings, she championed the National Unemployed Workers Movement and other working class causes such as opposing the Means Test, defending the rights of Lewisham street-traders, supporting the hunger marchers and the South London gas charges protest (“The great Gas Fight”) of 1936.

Kath Duncan addressing a crowd during the great Gas Fight.

In 1932, local dockers demonstrated against ships sending arms to Japan which had just invaded Manchuria, China. Opposed to fascism and war, Kath spoke at a demonstration in Woolwich and was hospitalised after the police charged the crowd. Demonstrating the next day in what became “The Battle of Deptford Broadway”, Kath was charged with disturbing the peace. She refused to be bound over and so spent a month in Holloway Prison.

After her release the London County Council tried to remove her name from the teachers list. Helped by a 5,700 strong petition and letters of support from many Deptford trade unions, Kath soon won this battle and went on to stand unsuccessfully for the L.C.C (London County Council) in 1934.

Arrested again in 1935 for refusing to stop speaking outside a New Cross employment exchange in Nynehead Street, she was charged and convicted of willfully obstructing a police inspector in the execution of his duty. The National Council for Civil Liberties took up her case, the first time they had done so. The appeal was dismissed but Duncan v Jones [1936] became a landmark case. It established that free speech was allowed unless likely to cause a disturbance. The case has been cited in the courts in defence of the rights of animal rights protesters, Stonehenge campaigners and demonstrations at an RAF air base. Red Blouse Theatre, a local radical theatre company first formed in the 1930s and newly re-formed for the Deptford Heritage Festival, will stage Liberty.

Later, Kath spent much of her time opposing fascism. She was involved in the Battle of Cable Street and an active member of the Aid to Spain Movement, interviewing volunteers for the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.

During the 1945 election, she worked for the Labour Party addressing envelopes in Deptford Labour Committee rooms even though she had arthritis in her hands.

After her death, the London District Committee of the Communist Party published a pamphlet “Deptford’s Tribute to Kath Duncan” which is available on reference in Lewisham Local History and Archive Centre. Kath Duncan died in Scotland 1954, but she lives on in the popular memory in Deptford.

Julie Robinson, Local Studies Librarian, Lewisham Libraries

Monday 4 February 2019

Clemence Dane’s ‘Regiment of Women’

Clemence Dane, pen name of Winifred Ashton (1887-1965), was a successful screen writer, playwright and novelist. She was famous (infamous?) for her novel ‘Regiment of Women’ which claimed to be a study of lesbian relationships in a school setting. But did you know that she was born in Blackheath and went to Sydenham High School? She also lived in Sydenham from 1913-1919.
After the WWI she took up teaching in a girls school. She took the pseudonym ‘Clemence Dane’ from the church, St Clement Danes on the Strand, London.

‘Regiment of Women’ was published in 1917 and was widely influential in terms of social attitudes. The novel may have inspired Radclyffe Hall to write The Well of Loneliness, but it has since has been criticised for its negative portrayal of lesbian sexuality even though Clemence Dane was almost certainly a lesbian herself.

Clemence Dane

According to Britannia’s Glory: A History of Twentieth Century LesbiansClemence Dane was probably a lesbian who went to great lengths to keep her private life private. Using documentary evidence including Dane’s will, author Diane Hamer suggests that Dane had been in a long-term relationship with Elsie Arnold who lived with her. She also writes that the relationship came to an end and that Dane then became romantically involved with another woman-Olwen Bowen-Davies.

Dane’s other writing credits include the screen play for Anna Karenina for Greta Garbo and A Bill of Divorcement staring Katherine Hepburn.

Her play Enter Sir John was adapted into a film called Murder by Alfred Hitchcock with Sir John Gielgud.

By the time she died in 1965 she had written over 30 plays and 16 novels.

Regiment of Women (Clemence Dane) and The Well of Loneliness (Radclyffe Hall) are both available from Lewisham libraries. You might also be interested in Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando which presents a different, more positive, presentation of sexuality and gender identities although written about the same time.

Julie Robinson, Local Studies Librarian.

In the navy: women serving as men in the Royal Navy

We know that women served as sailors in the Royal Navy as early as 1650. Unfortunately what is we know about these women is not first hand. Few sailors (men or women) knew how to write. As a result, there exists no first-hand, autobiographical accounts, with three exceptions.

Three women, “The Lady Tars”, have left memoirs of their experiences serving as men in the Royal Navy. They are Hanna Snell (1723-1792), Mary Lacy (1740-1773+) and Mary Ann Talbot (1778-1808). Mary Lacy had strong Deptford links.

Hanna Snell

Originally joined the army but deserted over an unfair punishment to which she was subject. She then joined the marines and was wounded several times in the Battle of Pondicherry. She later worked on stage where she would wear her uniform, do military drills and sing patriotic songs.

Hannah Snell in uniform.

Mary Ann Talbot

Started her military career in the army disguised as a boy servant to an officer. After his death at the Battle of Valenciennes, she deserted and was pressed into the Royal Navy. She served as a cabin boy, and fought at the Battle of the Glorious First of June where she was wounded.

Engraving of Mary Anne Talbot

Mary Lacy (c. 1740 – 1801)

A British sailor who became a shipwright. She is the only known, fully credentialed female shipwright of the era for which she later received a pension.

Lacy ran away from home dressed as a boy at the age of nineteen in 1759, and worked as a servant for a ship's carpenter of the British navy under the name William Chandler until 1763. She then studied as an apprentice to be a shipwright. In 1770, she took her exam as a shipwright, arguably the first woman to have done so. In 1771, however, she was forced to stop working because of her rheumatism, and applied for a pension from the admiralty under her legal name, Mary Lacy, which was granted.

On 25 October 1772, at St Mary Abbots, Kensington, Mary Lacy married Josias Slade, a shipwright, of Deptford, Kent.

In 1773,she published her memoirs The Female Shipwright or Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Mary Lacy.

That same year, Mary gave birth to her first child, Margaret Lacey Slade, who was baptized at St Nicholas, Deptford, Kent, on 29 August. Their other children were Josias Slade (1775–1777), Mary Slade (1777–1777), Josias Slade (1778–1781), Elizabeth Slade (1780–1780), and John Slade (born 1784).

In 1775 Mary petitioned for her husband to be granted a servant because of his 16 years' service as a shipwright. She had also applied unsuccessfully before Lord Sandwich for her husband to succeed Thomas Boyles, who lined the stuff for the Sawyers at the dockyard.

Mary died in 1801 and was buried at St Paul, Deptford, Kent, on 3 May 1801. Her husband, Josias Slade, died in 1814 and was also buried at St Paul, Deptford, Kent, on 13 February 1814. In his will and codicil, he only mentions his son, John Slade, and daughter, Margaret, now wife of Joseph Ward (Margaret Lacey Ward died the following year and was buried at St Paul, Deptford, Kent, on 23 April 1815).

Opening page from Mary Lacy's autobiography first edition.

Further reading

Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot.The Lady Tars: the autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot (2008). Contains all the three memoirs. (Available at Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre-reference only).

Peter Guillery. The Further Adventures of Mary Lacy: 'Seaman', Shipwright, Builder. History Workshop Journal, Volume 2000, Issue 49, 1 January 2000, Pages 212–219.(Not available from Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre).

Saturday 2 February 2019

Irish Family History Online

Over the past decade the Irish authorities have made many Irish family history resources freely available online. Ireland is now a world leader in the field. Most of the records are in English so lack of knowledge of the Irish language should not be a problem for the most part.

Getting started

Excellent starter online article from the Irish Timeswith links to lots of useful resources.

A good, free pdf booklet is available from the National Library of Ireland (NLI).

Useful quick tips but get the NLI guide download as well.

Good questions for you to ask.

Useful FREE publicly funded websites:

Home to the historic records of Births, Marriages and Deaths of the General Register Office since 1864. State registration of all non-Catholic marriages began in 1845. In 1864, civil registration of all births, marriages and deaths began.

• Census Records for 1901 and 1911, Census survivals for 1821-51, Census Search forms for 1841-51.
• The Tithe Applotment Books from 1823 to 1837.
• Soldiers’ Wills from 1914 to 1917
• Calendars of Wills and Administrations from 1858 to 1922.
More is being added on an ongoing basis. and the Cultural Heritage Project is an initiative of public libraries together with local museums and archives in the digitisation and online publication of the original, the unusual and the unique material from their local studies' collections to create a national Internet resource for culture.

Links to Griffiths Valuation. The Primary Valuation was the first full-scale valuation of property in Ireland. Overseen by Richard Griffith, it was published between 1847-1964. It is one of the most important surviving 19th century sources.

Try doing a keyword search in the Libraries search box to find a range of information on many topics.

The website brings together a number of databases produced by the Libraries and Archive Service. Most of the original records from which the databases are created are held by Dublin City Library & Archive. Includes Dublin Directories 1647-19708 , Dublin Electoral Registers (1908-1915) and more.

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is the official archive for Northern Ireland. PRONI is the main archive for Northern Ireland and holds millions of documents, covering a period from 1600 to the present day. These include valuable genealogical sources such as church registers, landed estates records, court records and wills.

The National Library Ireland site contains Catholic Church Parish registers for the whole of Ireland. Religious denomination is important in determining which records are relevant to your research.

Catholic Parish Registers are also available on Ancestry and Find My Past

Julie Robinson, Local Studies Librarian, February 2019

Facing the music with Cecil Coles

Behind the lines-original bloodstained manuscript.
Cecil Coles (1888-1918) was a Scottish composer killed near the end of the First World War. 
He studied at the Royal College of Music and moved to London. He lived in Lewisham where he married Phoebe Relton in 1912. At this time, he worked at Morley College where he met composer Gustav Holst.

In 1915 he signed for overseas service in the 9th London Regiment, Queen Victoria Rifles. Stationed in France, he served as a bandmaster and stretcher bearer which involved picking up wounded soldiers, often under gunfire.

During the war, his wartime address was 11 Vancouver Road, Catford.

Image result for cecil coles
Photograph of Cecil Coles in uniform
Throughout, he composed music. His wartime work was sent to Holst, including a bloodstained manuscript of “Cortege”. This was the intended third movement of a four movement suite “Behind the Lines.“

His music remained almost unknown until 2002 when his daughter rediscovered his music. Recordings and performances followed. His work is included in “Music from behind the Lines.” Cortege became the theme tune to the Channel 4 documentary series the First World War.


Friday 1 February 2019

Parish Records

Prior to civil registration in 1837, most births, marriages, deaths as well as burials, baptisms and banns, were recorded in the Church of England church or parish register (irrespective of religious belief). We normally turn to parish registers when we have gone as far back as we can through General Registration records and census returns. These will indicate which parish you need to search.
Ancestry does have many of these records online. Try searching directly on these records by selecting UK Parish Baptism, Marriage and Burial Records.

Parish registers in Local History and Archives Centres

These will usually be the records for the area that they cover. But many London and Kent area records are held by the London Metropolitan Archives. As well as original registers, many registers are available on microfilm or transcripts (written out in book form). The same register in a different format may well be housed in different archives. 

How to identify the parish register you need

You will need to identify where the individuals lived and which church holds their records. This is not always easy as there will be several churches in any given area, so you may have to look through several church registers to find what you are looking for.

To find out if Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre has the register you want to see

 Please email with the following details:

• type of register (e.g. marriages, baptisms, burials)
• dates (e.g. 1826-1842)
• full name of Church (e.g. St Paul, Deptford; St Paul’s Lewisham, Forrest Hill)

We will check our records and then get back to you to arrange an appointment or invite you to a drop in day. If we do not hold the register(s) you seek, we will try and identify who does hold them for you and let you know. If you drop in without checking with us first, please note that we may not have the register you wish to see or it may be in the archives (not produced on demand). 

Parish registers on the Internet

Family Search


Parish Registers Online

The Genealogist


Julie Robinson, Local Studies Librarian