Thursday, 7 May 2015

The school books of Thomas Skaife

A month into Project Genesis and work has progressed from the horticultural records of James Russell to the Borthwick's ‘private deposits,’ a group of some fifty archives that range in date from the 11th to the 20th century and in subject from the manors of medieval Yorkshire to Colonial America and 1950s Nigeria. 
As you might imagine such a diverse group of archives contains more than a few gems, such as these exercise books used by Thomas Skaife while he was a student at ‘Mr A. Nesbit’s Academy, Manchester’ between 1822 and 1824.  
The title page of Thomas Skaife's copy book.

Such books are a rare survival among estate and family papers where you might more usually expect to find property deeds, household accounts and correspondence, making Thomas’  ‘Ciphering Book’ and beautifully penned copy books filled with mathematical tables, specimen problems and calligraphy all the more charming.
Specimen page from the copy book commemorating Admiral Nelson whose death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 was still within living memory.  The text reads 'To Heroes yet unborn shall Albion tell /How Nelson triumphed and how Nelson fell,' together with the famous signal sent from HMS Victory, 'England expects every Man to do his Duty.'
The Skaife family originated from Braisty Wood and Kirkby Malzeard in Yorkshire.  In the fifteenth century they had been keepers of the cattle for Fountains Abbey and the time of the Abbey’s dissolution in the sixteenth century Robert and William Skafe were the tenants of the Abbey’s lands in Braisty Wood.  In 1601 Thomas Skaife purchased a lease of Braisty Wood from Sir William Ingilby and the family settled there permanently, building a house there in 1656.  For the next nine generations the successive owners of the estate were named Thomas - presenting something of a challenge for the researcher – but it is possible the young Thomas Skaife who studied at Manchester was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Skaife who married in 1808.  Thomas Skaife the elder died at Manchester in 1855 and his son inherited the estate and later became a common councillor at Ripon.   The exercise books, together with other deeds and papers pertaining to the Skaife family, were donated to the Borthwick Institute in 1969.
Page from Thomas Skaife's 'Ciphering Book' showing specimen mathematical problems - in this case using measurements of wine and rum.
But what of the mysterious Mr A. Nesbit whose academy put such an emphasis on penmanship and practical arithmetic?  He was Mr Anthony Nesbit, the son of a Northumberland farmer who became a successful school teacher and was the author of several very popular textbooks on arithmetic, measurement and surveying in the nineteenth century.   His school, the ‘Classical, Commercial and Mathematical Academy’ opened in Oxford Street, Manchester around 1821 and remained there until 1841 when he moved the enterprise to London, establishing the ‘Classical, Commercial and Scientific Academy’ at Lower Kennington Lane in Lambeth.
Mr Nesbit died in 1859 but he was not the last of his family to make it into print.  His granddaughter Edith is still widely known today as the author of the bestselling novel ‘The Railway Children.’

Monday, 27 April 2015

'Who Do You Think You Are? Live!' 16-18 April 2015

Who Do You Think You Are? Live! (or WDYTYA, as it’s known) is the UKs biggest family history event. It’s estimated that over 10,000 visitors come each year to immerse themselves with everything that is on offer. For some, it’s pleasure, for others it’s a serious business. No visit is complete without a bag filled with handy leaflets, freebies and notes. Previously held at London’s Olympia until 2015, the show has been a staple of the family history calendar for some years now.

The show’s move this year to the NEC in Birmingham gave us a unique opportunity to take part. Sadly, for many archive services the costs of attending an event as large as WDYTYA are prohibitively expensive. With the event moving to Birmingham, we were able to team up with East Riding Archives and Local Studies, North Yorkshire County Record Office, West Yorkshire Archive Service and York Explore as the Consortium of Yorkshire Archives alongside and in partnership with the Yorkshire Group of Family History Societies.

The Consortium (as it became known) was able to offer leaflets, guides and general advice from each of the participating services. Staff from the Borthwick, East Riding and York Explore were able to come to the NEC and work on the stand - this would prove to be a fascinating experience, even if it was punishing on the feet!

If you haven’t been to WDYTYA, it’s hard to get a grasp of the size and scale of the show. Held in a vast hall in the NEC complex, it features stands from the major online family history providers; The National Archives, Imperial War Museum and countless local and family history societies, along with a multitude of other providers - anything from plastic wallets to full body massages seemed to be on offer.

Our home for the next three days...

I was able to be at the NEC to set up the stand and for the first two days of the event. Certainly, the setup session was unlike any other family history fair I’d seen - never have I had to dodge forklift trucks before, nor had a carpet hastily laid quite literally under my feet! After displaying our leaflets tastefully on our stand, it was time to go back to the hotel to rest up and prepare for the challenge ahead.

The walk to the hall the next morning was quite something  - note to future attendees, the NEC complex really is quite large. As the speakers boomed out that the show was open I began to get an idea of how busy the show was likely to be. Firstly, eager attendees with maps searching our particular groups they wanted to speak to; followed by others scoping out what was on offer. By 10:30am we were in full flow, a rush of friendly faces, questions and comments that didn’t seem to end until the show closed at 5:30pm

Day one!
The second day followed the same pattern as the first, though what really struck me was the variety of questions on offer. No two people were researching the same places and topics, though it was also fun to hear strangely similar queries - who knew Whitby had so many people wanting to research it? By the end of the three days, well over 1,000 people had visited the Consortium of Yorkshire Archives stand.

Thinking specifically about the Borthwick’s involvement, it was great to be there just to let people know about the amazing array of records we hold that can help them in their research. It was great to be able to highlight collections like our Parish records, Wills collection, and Cause Papers which could really enrich and flesh out the research that attendees were undertaking.

More to the point, it was just great to be able to meet so many people who were excited about the possibilities they could see in using our records, and who were just happy to see us there.

But, at the end of the third day, it was just great to have a sit down!

Next time....?