Ruscoe Chronicles – vol. 03/1

January 2003 (original March 1996)

When I was working in London we used to have a joke about the Marketing department. Every so often they would produce a document that said "This is the first of a series of..." and we knew from experience that it was also probably the last. There was rarely a follow up. I hope that this is not going to be another example of the same good intentions. For some time I have been meaning to restart the Chronicles that were produced by Greg in times gone by.

I thought I would just start by making use of two articles that I had previously published, but you may not have seen.

The theory is that this is Volume 3 (2003) and issue 1 - we shall see how it progresses!

Best wishes, George Ruscoe minimus (about the sixth in my tree so far).


A Postcard Keeps in Touch

From George Ruscoe, as published in the Shropshire and Bedfordshire F.H. Journals

Over the past few years Family History has become a fast growing hobby, but in some areas it seems to be taking over. There are a dozen houses along one side of our suburban Bedford road, and from these there are three members of the local Family History Society. We live at alternate houses and between two of these is another enthusiast who has so much material in his attic inherited from an Aunt that he doesn't find time to join the society. Naturally, the three that do attend share car journeys in the interests of economy and the environment!

Harry CHARIE, who came from London, has pursued his own family name; and then turned his attention to his wife's equally rare surname of WILDBLOOD. This has taken him to the Potteries, where one branch owned a factory, and into North Shropshire, and this seems to be the home ground of most of the Wildbloods.

For myself, I have been interested in my Shropshire RUSCOE ancestors for many years, but after a long lapse resumed research, with encouragement from my neighbours, during the past 5 or 10 years. One spur was the discovery in the Radio Times of an article about Sybil Ruscoe of Radio 1 (now Radio 5 Live) which revealed that she came from Wem. Another was the material inherited from my father after his death. He was born at Prees in 1903, and spent his childhood there and at Marchamley, attending Hodnet School and Market Drayton Grammar School. When he was 80 he sat down and wrote his childhood memories, which make fascinating reading, and encouraged me to dig deeper.

Amongst the items in our loft were shoe-boxes of postcards from both my parents, but most of my Father's were probably collected by the women in his family, and passed on by his sister for safe keeping when she went to Africa. His grandmother was a formidable lady, Edith BUNDAY, born at Bosham in Sussex in 1851. She must have worked in Portsmouth, for there she met and married a sailor 14 years her senior - George Ruscoe (born 1837 at Prees) son of George (born Moreton Say 1803) and Ann. He ran away to sea when a lad, and joined the Royal Navy at the age of 25. When he eventually retired he brought his wife and two children back to Prees to settle. He died at 59, but she lived on until 1928 with her son George (born 1876) who had no desire to become a sailor despite a spell at the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich, but learned the trade of bricklayer.

This George married Polly THOMAS at Prees Primitive Methodist Chapel in 1902, and became a Local Preacher and enthusiastic Methodist, as well as a keen member of the Co-operative movement - his father had helped found the Prees Co-op. In 1910 he obtained a position on the Hawkstone estate, and moved to Yew Tree Cottage in Marchamley with his three children.

Gordon George (my father) was born in 1903; was he named from Gordon of Khartoum? His grandfather the sailor was present at the Bombardment of Alexandria in the Egyptian campaign. William Ewart (1906) was presumably named from Gladstone (his father was also a staunch Liberal in those days of two party politics). Edith (1909) was named after her Grandmother, who during her widowhood had become one of the first state registered midwives, and sometimes left home to stay with an expectant mother during her confinement. It may have been something of a relief for mother Polly, to have Granny Ruscoe out of the house for a while, as they were both strong minded women.

In 1916, when he was 40, father George volunteered to join the forces, and was sent first to Shrewsbury, and then on to Monmouth at the beginning of July to join the Royal Engineers. He was there for about a year before being sent off to France, and eventually to Salonika. How do we know this detail? Well he sent postcards home to his mother, wife and children, and they kept many of them. A recent project has been to go through these, dating them where the postmark is visible, or the date is written, and putting them into order, with the help of internal clues. Sadly someone has removed a lot of the stamps, taking the postmark as well, but a good many are datable and the little details give an insight into life at home and at Monmouth. The pictures also are of interest: comic cards including a set of silhouettes of army life, pastoral scenes, patriotic sentiments, illustrations of the war, and later on views of Salonika. This is a sample that I read up to the point when "the Link" appeared:

2 July 1916To his sons: Gordon and Ewart, ...I am sending this to let you know I am thinking of you all at home, so I hope you will all be good and go to Sunday School and Chapel sometimes although I am not with you. ...I may say that I was the only one to kneel down at night and morning to say my prayers at Shrewsbury the 2 nights I was there. Tell Mam I am sending her a card also. I will send Granny one sometime, Your loving father G Ruscoe.

He always signed himself the same, whether to his wife or mother, "your loving husband/son, G. Ruscoe" - never his first name!

16 July 1916 To his wife: Dear Polly, I went to Prayer meeting at Wesleyan Chapel on Tues night & had a grand time. Going to Christian Endeavour on Thursday night. Had a letter from Ada [his sister] on Monday & wrote straight back. The weather is very middling here now rain & showers all the time.

29 July 1916...hope you liked the Photos alright. I am going to tea today to Dr J LAW, Dentist. ...I should dearly like to see you all again, but never mind, I am doing my bit for God King & Country

August 1916 From his son Gordon: Dear Dad, We liked your photos very much, but everybody here likes the one with the hat off best. Mam and I have got half the pigsty full of sticks and a ruck in the bottom place out of the woods. We have got to finish tomorrow because of the birds. Ewart is writing on Saturday, Gordon.

The writing is clearly recognisable as my father's, at the age of 13, and remained unchanged for the next 70 years. I assume that the "birds" were the game, and the date just before the glorious 12th. My calendar program (on the computer) tells me that 12 Aug 1916 was a Saturday, so this was presumably written about the 10th. The postmark is blurred, although AUG 16 is readable.

The photographs survive, in fact there are several copies of some, taken in a studio in uniform, standing with and without a hat; and sitting in tropical kit. In some of his cards he expresses concern about others at home.

5 Aug 1916 To his younger son: Dear Ewart, Just another card for you, still anxiously waiting for your letter your mother told me you were going to send me... Tell Mam to remember me to PYEs & HUGHES & others will you thats a good lad. from your loving father GR now a soldier XX XX

19 Aug 1916 Dear Gordon ... I think Uncle Bill is very wise in working for a home service job if he can. I've thought several times of Jack CREWE whether he was gone or not. I am sending a badge for Mam & Edith tonight...

23 Aug 1916 ...Please send me date of Hospital Sunday at Prees for I shall have to apply for pass on Tuesday previous...

25 Aug 1916 From his daughter Edith: Dear Dad, Thanks for my badge, I shall wear it on Sundays. We have broken up for 3 weeks holiday. We got the post-cards. The date of Hospital Sunday is September 3rd. I shall be glad to see you if you can get leave to come. Gordon and Ewart went to the theatre last night. I shall go on Saturday, Your loving daughter Edith. XXXXXXXXXXXXX

30 Aug 1916 Dear Ewart,... Hope you will enjoy your holiday & help your Mam, and keep her company while I am away thats a good boy. God bless you. Sorry I cannot get leave but never mind, we shall see one another again sometime God willing. Its still raining very hard here...

1 Sep 1916 From Gordon: Friday Dear Dad, yesterday Mr THOMAS took Les and I to Wellington. When we came back he paid for us to go to the Theatre at Hodnet 1/- seats, to "Charlie's Aunt" We enjoyed ourselves very much... Gordon

An undated card showing the "Harvest of the golden grain" - a colourful pastoral scene: Dear Gordon, Hope you are alright and like this card. I have not heard how you got on at Wrockwardine Wood yet.

Another humorous card with a picture of scouts at camp: Dear Gordon, Hope you will like this card, I wonder sometimes whether you experienced anything like this at Wrockwardine Wood. I am getting on alright with my Musketry drill, I have been shooting at miniature range, did not do very good on that, but am doing better at big range 100 yrds, 200, 300 & 400 yrds We finish Musketry tomorrow Thursday. Inoculated on Friday, start Field Works on Mon

8 Sep 1916 From his wife: Friday Dear George, We went to Prees yesterday but did not get down to the village. Mother has been very poorly this week. Bert is over on his six days leave. He goes to France next Tuesday. Gordon is staying until tomorrow. The football boots fit him so shall go & see Mr THOMAS this afternoon. Joe HUNTBACH is getting married soon. Polly

14 Sep 1916 Dear Polly, It will be grand when we meet again, just fancy almost 3 months it will be when I see you, if I get leave. Do you ever hear of Jim WILDBLOOD or J LEIGH now. Remember me to PYEs & HUGHES & any others which may enquire after me.

Wait a minute - what's that about Jim Wildblood? When I first found this card I rushed down the road to Harry to see if he was interested. He returned the card a few days later with this note:

The Ruscoe/Wildblood Postcard.

Very many thanks for sharing this coincidence. I have gone into my research notes and think I have the link now. George WILDBLOOD (b. 1856 Bridgnorth) m. Hannah


Sarah Elizabeth b.1882 Wem, m. 1900 Wem Thomas BUTTERY

James (or John) Henry b. 1876 d. 1957, m(1) 1902 Wem Jane BUTTERY who died 1913; brother & sister married sister & brother.

Wm Alfred b. 1879 Wem

James & Jane had children registered in the Market Drayton area:

Harold 1902, Mary Ellen 1906, Phyllis May 1908, Beville Harry 1910, James Noel 1912

James m(2) 1918 Bristol Rosina HOWELL; 4 sons all born in Bristol

Phyllis was still alive in 1990 and wrote “Father was employed on the Hawkstone Hall Estate by Sir Beville STANIER[?]. In the 1914-1918 war he worked on camps and ports, going to Bristol.” There he re-married and raised 4 more sons. I don't know who looked after the children when Jane died in 1913.

It seems that George and Jim were of the same age, and both worked on the Hawkstone Estate. They were evidently work mates.’

So after 75 years, a postcard has brought together two different one-name studies from the village of Marchamley, Shropshire to the suburb of Putnoe in Bedford - and with families living as close as in the village. Later in the same year, Harry brought me another note - ‘I confirm that the credits to the ITV Ruth Rendell “George Wexford” detective story last night included Christine Ruscoe Designer’ - which set me on another trail; but that's a different story, leading not to friends, but to an old lady who lived to be 100, and a third cousin once removed!

I have a postscript to this article. Some few years ago Lesley and I stayed overnight at a farm just north of Wem – it was called Lowe Hall and Ann Jones offered bed and breakfast facilities. The house was interesting because it had once belonged to Judge Jeffreys who became Baron of Wem when the barony was sold by Daniel Wycherley in 1685. The old oak staircase is particularly impressive.

In conversation I mentioned that my father came from the area, and his father and great grandfather had worked on the Hawkstone estate. Mr Jones told us that they had been to a very interesting illustrated talk about Hawkstone, and indirectly put me in touch with Roger West of Lower Heath near Prees. We have since visited Roger and Mary several times – he is a retired builder and very keen on local history. He has several talks with sets of slides and was delighted to read my father's memories of childhood in the area before and during World War I, and also to include some of our family photographs of the area.

Just down the road from his house is the Lower Heath School – erected by Sir Richard Hill of Hawkstone, at the instigation of his wife, in 1799. Roger was active in the bicentenary celebrations, and has access to the contents of the school admissions book. After I told him about the Jim Wildblood postcard he checked up the register and found the following entries:

Name Abode Born Started Left Reason
James Wildblood Sandford 04/02/76 19/03/79 25/01/89
George Ruscoe Lower Heath 26/04/76 09/05/90 26/10/91 Greenwich R. Hosp

When my great grandfather retired from the Royal Navy in 1887 he worked for a time on the chain ferry across the harbour at Portsmouth. Then he moved back to Prees where he had been born, and settled at Lower Heath with his wife and two children who had all been born on the south coast and, so far as I know, had never been to Shropshire before. His son George, my grandfather, went back to school at Lower Heath and then was sent to the Greenwich Royal Hospital School for the sons of sailors who had been killed or injured in the service. He qualified because of injuries sustained, though I have not yet made the effort to go to the Public Record Office at Kew to find his records.

My grandfather used to say that he learnt more in his year at Lower Heath, with its well respected teacher Robert Taylor, than in his time at Greenwich, and these school records fit this statement, showing that he was there between the ages of 14 and 15½. However, it seems that although Jim Wildblood was only two months older they did not overlap at school but Wm Alfred and Sarah Elizabeth (Lizzie), the younger brother and sister of James, appear in the records and would have been there in 1890.

Evidently George was intended to follow his father in the navy, but he was not keen and at some point he left Greenwich and was apprenticed as a bricklayer with a local Prees firm. In 1897 his father died, and George and his mother remained in Prees – she lived with him after his marriage in 1902 until she died in 1928. It was not until after 1910 when George went to work on the Hawkstone estate that he would have met Jim Wildblood who was an estate carpenter.