Water, fire and fever: The trials of Thomas Atcherley

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To Mr. George Hilditch:

The above words were reproduced in John William Bythell’s anthology Salopia, The news-room, and other poems, published in 1841. They were followed by this verse:

Can ought that Admiration would bestow,
Superior grace ’round virtuous courage throw?
The rarest gem Golconda might afford,
Were a poor off’ring for a life restor’d!
Oh! light is all we tender or express,
Weigh’d with HIS thanks, who LIVES thy name to bless;
Yet may this Tribute of a lauding throng,
The mem’ry, Hilditch, of thy deed prolong.

Naturally, on discovering this tribute to the heroic George Hilditch, I was more than interested in finding out which Thomas Atcherley he had spared from a watery grave. There were two contenders, first cousins who shared the same name. One was baptised at Ruyton XI Towns on 14 June 1819, son of farmer Edward Atcherley and his wife Mary (nee Morris). The baptisms of the three youngest children of Edward and Mary show that the family had moved to Stanwardine in the Fields – not far from the River Perry – by the mid-1820s, and they were still there at the time of the 1841 census.

Also living at Stanwardine in 1841 was the other Thomas Atcherley, son of Richard and his wife Mary (nee Jones). Baptised at Baschurch All Saints on 26 September 1811, this Thomas Atcherley was born at Weston Lullingfields. Again though, the parish baptism register shows a move by his family to Stanwardine, by 1816.

Ordnance Survey map showing area around Platt Mills, 1833

The North Wales Chronicle of 16 July 1839, in a report headlined Preservation from Drowning, provides more information about the incident in which Thomas Atcherley nearly lost his life. The text below follows that of the newspaper article, save for the correction of one spelling error and the breaking down of one, long paragraph into three:

On Friday last, Mr. C. R. Wace and Mr. Thomas Atcherley, two of a party of friends spending the evening at Mr. Hiles’s, of the Platt Mills, went to enjoy the pleasure of bathing in the River Perry, whilst some of their companions were amusing themselves with a game at quoits. Shortly after they entered the river, Mr. Wace, who is unfortunately rather deaf, took a swim down it to some distance, and whilst he was doing so an outcry was heard by others of the party, who on running to the spot found Mr. Atcherley had got out of his depth and sunk.

Mr. George Hilditch, of Eaton Mascott, so well known to our agricultural friends, with great intrepidity and presence of mind, divested himself of his coat, boots, and watch, and immediately plunged into the stream, but not knowing the exact spot in which Mr. Atcherley had gone down, several minutes elapsed, though he was constantly diving, before he could discover the body, which was almost in a kneeling posture; but as soon as he did, he grasped it and brought it apparently lifeless to the shore, himself almost exhausted by his noble and humane exertions.

Blankets, and everything requisite to restore animation, were immediately resorted to, Mr. Higgins, assistant to Mr. Croft, surgeon, being fortunately one of the party, and very quickly afterwards Mr. Broughton, surgeon, Ruyton, arrived, and the united exertions of the assembled friends, aided and directed by these gentlemen, ultimately restored Mr. Atcherley to life, though his recollection was not, we believe, perfectly recovered until two or three o’clock the next morning.

From this report we learn more precisely where Thomas Atcherley’s brush with death took place: near the Platt Mills (or, as the contemporary Ordnance Survey map show above names it, Plat Mill). And while there are no additional details regarding the identity of Thomas Atcherley, the identities of his friends do provide some clues.

George Hilditch of Eaton Mascott, a farmer, had married Hannah Bickerton, a farmer’s daughter from Ruyton Park, on 28 May 1838. The 1851 census shows that he was born around 1801 at Middle. Mr Hiles of Platt Mills was Richard Hiles, who was living in the township of Boreatton, Baschurch, in 1841. That year’s census, along with the next one in 1851 (by which time “Richard Hiles, late of the Platt Mills” was residing at Stanwardine), confirm that he was born around 1811 in Shropshire.

Thomas Atcherley’s “rather deaf” swimming companion was Charles Richard Wace, born 18 May 1807 in Shrewsbury and baptised there (at the church of St Chad) on 12 June 1807. Mr (John) Higgins, the surgeon’s assistant, appeared with his master John Croft on the 1841 census at Baschurch, his age (rounded down to 25) indicating that he was born between 1811 and 1816 or thereabouts.

Based on the ages of his companions, I think it is most likely that the Thomas Atcherley who was saved from drowning in the River Perry near Platt Mills in 1839 was the son of Richard and Mary. He was their first-born son and therefore stood to take over the family farm at Stanwardine. Richard Atcherley, who was “respected by all who knew him”, died at the age of 61 on 4 November 1834 and was buried at Baschurch four days later. Thus the 1841 census found Thomas Atcherley farming at Stanwardine with his widowed mother Mary.

Cardington St James, Shropshire.

On 13 December 1847, Thomas Atcherley married Jane, daughter of farmer Samuel Eaton, at Cardington St James in south Shropshire. Although the Eaton family home was at Plaish House in Cardington, some distance from Stanwardine, Jane was in fact a Baschurch girl. She had been baptised at All Saints church in that parish on 31 May 1819. She was also an heiress under the terms of her father’s will of 1840, one of the witnesses to which was John Croft, the surgeon of Baschurch whose assistant John Higgins had helped to save Thomas Atcherley’s life.

Thomas and Jane’s marriage in 1847 was followed by the birth of the couple’s first child, Mary Jane Atcherley, who was baptised at Baschurch on 13 October 1848. Then, in 1849, Thomas once more faced a potentially disastrous situation. This time however, water from the River Perry was to be his saviour. The following report, originally printed in the Shropshire Conservative, is taken from the front page of the London Standard of 7 August 1849:

FIRE AT STANWARDINE.—Yesterday morning, about half-past 11 o’clock, a messenger arrived at the Old Salop Fire-office, with information that a fire had broken out on the premises of Mr. Atcherley, a farmer, residing at Stanwardine, in this county, about 10 miles from Shrewsbury. An engine stationed at Platt Mills, the property of this office, was soon in attendance, and the engine from Shrewsbury reached the scene of devastation about a quarter-past 12. The Shropshire and North Wales engine was also in attendance shortly after.

A long range of cowhouse, with other outbuildings, were totally destroyed; and a bull, which was tied up, was so much burnt as to make it advisable to destroy him. Three calves were rescued from the flames. A servant girl states that she was hanging out some clothes about ten o’clock, when she saw a man, who appeared to be a tramp, in one of the cow-bins. She went and told her mistress, and subsequently went into the hayloft, where she discovered the same man. She returned to the house, and in about ten minutes afterwards they discovered the building on fire, smoke issuing from the hayloft and through the slating. There was a description of the man given, but no policemen could be found near the spot. The man, whoever he was, escaped. The damage must exceed 70l.

Although there had been great damage to property, the Atcherley family, their farmhouse and their 100 acres of farmland had survived intact. Thomas and Jane went on to have four more children at Stanwardine: Sarah (baptised 16 January 1850 and shown with her sister and parents on the 1851 census), Roger (born 21 June 1851 and baptised 30 July), Lucy (baptised 30 September 1853) and Alice (baptised 12 July 1855). Alice’s birth, unfortunately, was followed very quickly by Jane Atcherley’s death. “The Affectionate and Beloved wife of Thomas Atcherley of Stanwardine in the Fields,” aged 26, passed away on 16 September 1855 and was buried at Baschurch on the 21st  of that month.

The Atcherley family was dealt another blow within four years of Jane’s demise. Having survived trials of water (in 1839) and fire (in 1849), Thomas was killed on 13 June 1859 by a low fever of “Typhoid character” which he had suffered for three days. He was 47 and, by that time, the only Atcherley left farming at Stanwardine. His death not only left the future of the Atcherley farm hanging in the balance, it also left his five children, whose ages ranged from 10 to about four, as orphans.

Extract from GRO death certificate for Thomas Atcherley (click to view at Flickr)

Picture credits. Ordnance Survey map showing area around Platt Mills, 1833: This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth. It is used under a Creative Commons licence. St James, Cardington, Shropshire: Public domain image (by Welkinridge), taken from Wikimedia Commons and adapted for use on this website. Extract from GRO death certificate for Thomas Atcherley: Image posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance.


[1] John William Bythell (1841), Salopia, The news-room, and other poems. Page 77. Copies viewed at Google Books and at the Hathi Trust website.
[2] Ruyton XI Towns, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1819. Entry for Thomas Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C00659-2, Film 503518 (with surname incorrectly given as Atcherby and mother’s name incorrectly given as Sarah).
[3] Baschurch, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1824. Entry dated 25 July: Richard son of | Edward and Mary | Atcherley | Stanwardine in the fields | Farmer. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-2, Film 502911.
[4] 1841 census of England and Wales. Piece 918, book 1, folio 12, page 17.
[5] Baschurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1811. Entry for baptism of Thomas Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Transcript viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-1, Film 510651.
[6] Baschurch, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1816. Entry dated 5 May: Ann daughter of | Richard and Mary | Acherley | Stanwardine in the fields | Yeoman. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-2, Film 502911.
[7] North Wales Chronicle, 16 Jul 1839, page 4. Preservation from Drowning. Copy viewed at The British Newspaper Archive.
[8] West Felton, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1838. Entry for George Hilditch and Hannah Bickerton. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Shropshire marriages.
[9] 1851 census of England and Wales. Piece 1993, folio 387, page 1. Treflach Hall, Treflach, Shropshire. Head: George Hilditch, 50, farmer and auctioneer, born Middle. Wife: Hannh Hilditch, 36, farmer’s wife, born West Felton. Thomas Hilditch, 35, unmarried, farmer’s brother, born Condover. Plus 4 house servants.
[10] 1841 census of England and Wales. Piece 918, book 1, folio 11, page 14. Boreatton Township, Baschurch, Shropshire. Richard Hiles, 30, farmer, born in county. Mary Hiles, 25, born in county. Plus 4 servants.
[11] Shropshire Archives item XP234/V/1/5 dated 29 Sep 1851 (Transfer of Mortgage). Indexed at Heritage Heroes website.
[12] 1851 census of England and Wales. Piece 1994, folio 495, page 12. Stanwardine, Baschurch, Shropshire. Head: Richd Hiles, married, 40, farmer of 200 acres, born Salop. Plus wife, children and servants.
[13] FamilySearch shows baptism of Chas. Richard Wace, born 18 May 1807, parents Richd. Wace and Mary, at St Chad, Shrewsbury, on 12 Jun 1807. Batch P01575-3, Film 908236.
[14] 1841 census of England and Wales. Piece 918, book 1, folio 9, page 10. Baschurch, Shropshire. John Croft, 45, surgeon, not born in county. John Higgins, 25, surgeon asst, born in county. Plus a farming bailiff, 3 ag labs, 2 male servants, 2 female servants.
[15] Hereford Journal, 12 Nov 1834, page 3. (Death notice, Mr. Rd. Atcherley.)
[16] MIs at Baschurch All Saints (4).
[17] Baschurch, Shropshire, burial register covering 1834. Entry for Richard Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Burials.
[18] Cardington, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1847. Entry for Thomas Atcherley and Jane Eaton. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Marriages. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch M05856-2, Film 918055.
[19] Marriage of Thomas Atcherley and Jane Eaton registered at Church Stretton, December quarter 1847; volume 18, page 49.
[20] 1841 Census of England and Wales. Piece 912, book 8, folio 21, page 3. Plaish House, Cardington, Shropshire. Sarah Eaton, 45, farmer, born in county. Jane Eaton, 21, born in county. Saml. Eaton, 20, born in county. Isaac Eaton, 18, born in county. Elizth. Eaton, 17, born in county. Mary Eaton, 15, born in county. Plus 6 agricultural labourers and a female servant.
[21] Baschurch, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1819. Entry for Jane Eaton. Copy viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-2, Film 502911.
[22] The National Archives, Kew, item ref PROB 11/1951/144: Will of Samuel Eaton, Farmer of Cardington, Shropshire. Proved 22 Sep 1841. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue.
[23] Birth of Mary Jane Atcherley registered at Ellesmere, December quarter 1848; volume 18, page 53.
[24] Baschurch, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1848. Entry for Mary Jane Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-2, Film 502911.
[25] The Standard (London), issue 7795, 7 Aug 1849, page 1.
[26] Birth of Sarah Atcherley registered at Ellesmere, March quarter 1850; volume 18, page 57.
[27] Baschurch, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1850. Entry for Sarah Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-2, Film 502911.
[28] 1851 census of England and Wales. Piece 1994, folio 495, page 13.
[29] Birth of Roger Atcherley registered at Ellesmere, September quarter 1851; volume 18, page 65.
[30] Date of birth for Roger Atcherley provided by Barbara Lang. Original source presumed to be copy of entry in register of births.
[31] Baschurch, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1851. Entry for Roger Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-2, Film 502911.
[32] Birth of Lucy Atcherley registered at Ellesmere, September quarter 1853; volume 6a, page 594.
[33] Baschurch, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1853. Entry for Lucy Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-2, Film 502911.
[34] Birth of Alice Atcherley registered at Ellesmere, September quarter 1855; volume 6a, page 589.
[35] Baschurch, Shropshire, baptism register covering 1855. Entry for Alice Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Baptisms. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-2, Film 502911.
[36] Death of Jane Atcherley registered at Ellesmere, September quarter 1855; volume 6a, page 403.
[37] Baschurch, Shropshire, burial register covering 1855. Entry for Jane Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Burials.
[38] Death of Thomas Atcherley registered at Ellesmere, June quarter 1859; volume 6a, page 481. Copy of entry in death register obtained from GRO.
[39] Principal Probate Registry: Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration (Administrations, 1859). Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966.
[40] Baschurch, Shropshire, burial register covering 1859. Entry for Thomas Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast – Shropshire Burials.

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Who Do You Think You Are? Live, 2015 (Part 1)

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One of my 10 Genealogy Goals for 2015 was to attend the “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” show, held at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre from Thursday 16 to Saturday 18 April. That goal has now been achieved – I attended all three days and immersed myself in the full WDYTYA? experience!

Note that larger versions of all the photos in my report below can viewed by clicking on them.


It is the celebrities who draw so many people to watch WDYTYA? on TV, and they are not missing from WDYTYA? Live. Each day of the show features one of the stars from WDYTYA? in conversation with Sarah Williams, editor of the WDYTYA? magazine, the chat being interspersed with clips from the TV programme.

This series of talks kicked off with DJ Reggie Yates, whose exploration of his mixed English and Ghanaian heritage was one of my favourite episodes of 2014. A memorable part of the programme was when Reggie met tribal chief Nana Kobina Nketsia V. Reggie first had to speak to the chief’s spokesperson. Although that spokesperson was dressed in the customary robes and spoke the local language, Reggie revealed during his talk that the man had actually been living in the USA for some 30 years. When filming stopped, the spokesperson went over to Reggie and said “Yo, my man!” before chatting to him about the hip hop music scene!

Friday’s special guest was impressionist Alistair McGowan (pictured left with Sarah Williams), who was featured on the TV show back in 2009.

Alistair knew all about his maternal ancestors, a long line of Worcestershire farmers, but the mystery of his father’s ‘Anglo Indian’ roots was the story he and the production team wanted to follow. And what a story it turned out to be.

Talking about his experience and how it had affected him, Alistair said that after the TV programme aired he told someone he felt as though his whole right side had come alive – and that when he later asked his sister what she thought, she came out with exactly the same expression. We got an impression too, when Alistair mimicked his 24 Hours in the Past co-star Colin Jackson! “I’m just showing off now,” he said afterwards.

Saturday’s star was actor Tamzin Outhwaite, of Eastenders and New Tricks fame. We got to hear a lot more about the Italian influences on Tamzin’s upbringing: Christmas dinner for example consisted of seven courses, starting with antipasto.

We also learned that, although we didn’t see it on the TV programme, Tamzin did get to meet relatives – lots of them! –  when she travelled to Italy to find out more about her ancestors there. None of them spoke English however, and even with the help of an interpreter it was difficult to establish exactly how Tamzin was related to the people she met.

Tamzin herself was lovely, she didn’t disappear immediately after her talk but stayed a while so that fans could grab autographs or photos. In most cases Tamzin offered to be pictured with the would-be photographers, then took the phone or tablet and snapped  a celebrity selfie!

Another well-known TV personality at WDYTYA? Live was Sir Tony Robinson, who attended on all three days on behalf of a certain large genealogy company….


Commercial vendors of genealogy products and services dominate the front section of the hall at WDYTYA Live, and none more so than show sponsor Ancestry. which had a huge stand facing attendees as they entered. As usual, Ancestry had set up computers providing free access their many records, with staff on hand to provide assistance. A substantial discount on the cost of an annual Ancestry subscription is also on offer and after years of paying monthly to spread the cost of my World membership, I signed up and saved a small fortune!

The big push from Ancestry this year was for their AncestryDNA product, which has only recently launched in the UK. This was the subject of Tony Robinson’s talks, at which he was joined by Ancestry’s Catherine Ball and Brad Argent. As I tweeted at the time, “The word ‘spit ‘ is being used a lot. There is a secure spit repository. No, really.” In a nutshell, spit in a tube, send it to Ancestry, and they will unravel the secrets of your DNA. Those secrets include estimates of your ethnicity and, hopefully, genetic matches with others who have taken the test and who share one or more ancestors with you. Those matches, over time, should increase as more saliva samples get the Ancestry treatment. “Please stay excited about this,” said Sir Tony at the end of his presentation. His cunning plan worked – after a chat with Brian at the Ancestry stand I came away from WDYTYA Live on Friday with an AncestryDNA kit of my own. I’ll keep you posted on developments – particularly any which tie in with my Atcherley ancestry!

Another major vendor with a presence at WDYTYA Live was Findmypast. They too provided free access to their records via computers on their main stand, and a discount code for saving money on annual subscriptions. A series of presentations was also given each day on a range of genealogy topics which highlighted FMP’s growing collection of records (videos of these will be added soon to The Findmypast Video Library). My picture shows Dave Annal talking about civil registration in Britain and why ancestors may be missing – or appear to be missing – from BMD records. Another presentation, by Debra Chatfield, looked at records added since the previous WDYTYA Live (290 million of them, with 90 million images, in 400 record sets) and what is coming up. Here is a summary of some of what I gleaned from Debra and from a conversation with FMP’s Myko Clelland (a.k.a. The Dapper Historian).

There are 21 different digitisation / transcription projects on the go at present. Some of these projects, due to the sheer volume of records involved, can take several years to complete (Staffordshire parish registers, for example, are still being digitised and transcribed and will eventually join those scanned from microfilm and released in 2014).Fans of the school registers which have been added to FMP will be pleased to know that the next batch is due online around September 2015. The release of trade union registers last year however was very much a pilot – FMP is monitoring the usage of those records to see whether further additions can be justified.

Another major project which take some time to complete is the digitisation of Prisoner of War records held at The National Archives. These extend from the Jacobite Rebellion, through the Boer Wars and World War One, up to World War Two (including Stalag Luft RAF and Far East POWs). More releases from TNA’s crime, prisons and punishment records, spanning 1782 to 1857, are also in the pipeline and will include prison registers, petitions for clemency, and returns from criminal lunatic asylums. The British Library’s collection of electoral registers (which occupies 2.5 miles of shelving!) is slated for release this year. The registers start from 1832 and although the date to which those put online will run to has yet to be agreed, it looks like they will extend well beyond WW1.

In addition, there are more parish records on the way (I believe I heard Leicestershire mentioned, and Yorkshire is a definite) through partnerships with archives and local family history societies. Quaker (Society of Friends) births, marriages and burials are coming very soon too. And the current selection of countries which can be selected from the drop-down when searching across record sets at FMP is also set to increase as records from places not currently represented are added. All good news for my Atcherley research, and there’s more besides!

A forthcoming record set which FMP promoted through its 1939 Tea Rooms is the 1939 register, which will fill the gap between the UK’s census of 1921 (to become available in 2022) and the 1951 census. (The census of 1931 was destroyed during WW2 and no census was taken in 1941.) It is hoped that these records (with details of persons either living or likely to be living being redacted) will be online by the end of the year.

Changes to take place at Findmypast go beyond the release of new records, with enhanced website functionality. I was very pleased to learn that FMP’s rather limited search options for British Newspapers 1710-1953 will be upgraded to match those available at the British Newspaper Archives website. (Currently, I often use the BNA site to search, then copy and paste the two lines of text from the result into the ‘What Else?’ box on FMP’s British Newspapers search page.)

Many more developments for FMP Family Trees are also in the works. Hints will gradually be extended to cover more record sets (census record hints went live on the day WDYTYA? Live opened) making it possible to use the family tree to search FMP’s records. The ability to share trees will also be added, with privacy options that allow users to define what they want to be ‘public’ or ‘private’ (rather than having to make that choice for the whole tree).

One of the smaller vendors with a stand at WDYTYA? Live, with an ever-growing number of cemetery records, was Deceased Online. The company’s launch of the first tranche of its records from Sandwell in the West Midlands coincided with the show. Records from many more Local Authority areas are on the way too, with some projects well advanced and others at the negotiation stage. We can look forward to seeing burial information from more of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries around London, from burial grounds in the Manchester area and more besides. I have already obtained some useful information on Atcherley burials from Deceased Online (see for example Brompton Cemetery on my London MIs page), and I look forward to finding more in the future!

There were of course many other companies at WDYTYA? Live. I will look at some of them in my next article.

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