I mentioned last time that I would be away on the Unlock the Past Baltic cruise in July. I also spent some time with my mother and brother in England before and after the cruise. Having now arrived home, it’s time to start catching up. Of all the things floating around in my mind I had to decide on the topic for this blog post. I have put aside my first attempt and decided to take a walk down memory lane.
Before I went away I managed to cobble together a fairly basic family history for my mother’s 90th birthday; this included lots of charts showing the varied lines of her family tree. I didn’t find time to include all the contextual information that I had gathered together, nor go into too much detail about individual family members. What took up my time before I went away was a wish to fill in a few gaps in my mother’s direct ancestry and provide a framework for asking more questions about people, places and events. This was a partially successful strategy and I came away with several interesting pieces of information, some of which may never be able to be proved.
My mother was born in Liverpool in the north-west of England. When she married my father, she moved to Swadlincote in South Derbyshire in the middle of England and she’s lived there ever since. We had numerous conversations about Swad (the generally used abbreviation for the place) and how it had changed over the years. Swad thrived on the coalmining and pottery industries, although both of these are now gone; areas not taken up by these two industries were dedicated to farming. Myriad small villages and townships straddled the Derbyshire/Leicestershire county boundaries, but nowadays it’s hard to distinguish them as separate entities as most of the fields have given way to housing. Whereas walking and cycling were typical modes of transport even in my childhood, Swad is now clogged with cars and serves as a dormitory area for those working in larger places such as Birmingham and Derby.
Even though Swad wasn’t initially the largest settlement in the area, by the 1900s it had become the business, transport and commerce centre. High Street was full of shops and was the go-to place for everything from groceries, to furniture, to clothing, to banking, to pubs, etc. As well, there was a weekly market in the Market Hall. A walk down High Street provided an opportunity to meet and greet neighbours, friends and relatives, overhear snippets of conversations, find out the latest gossip – in essence be a part of the local community. This situation prevailed until the increasing numbers of cars made shopping for major purchases in nearby Burton-on-Trent an easy trip, and the advent of large supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Morrisons eased out individual traders.
Swadlincote Town Hall – clock inscription reads “Time the Avenger”
I was delighted to find two books published by The Magic Attic Archives, a local archives based in Sharpe’s Pottery Museum. A century of shopping in Swadlincote by John and Penny Redfern, and Salt Bros 1895-1982 by John Radford, celebrate the way that life used to be. Both of these books are full of photos, copies of ads by local businesses, large scale maps showing individual areas being discussed, as well as the text. Looking through these books evoked many memories of life in this South Derbyshire town.
So, while I had planned to elicit stories about my mum’s childhood in Liverpool, I ended up learning more about my dad’s, and my, home town in South Derbyshire. This just goes to show that family history can take you into many different directions; one lesson I take away from this is to gather all the information you can – it all helps to put flesh on the bones of a family tree.