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Thursday, 8 November 2012

Tutorial - Session 3

Census Returns 1871 to 1841

1871 Census

The 1871 Census was taken on Sunday 2 April 1871. This was the first census which recorded whether a person had a disability (imbecile, idiot or lunatic - not exactly politically correct by today's standards!).

Marks Family Tree


For Mark, this census proved to be particularly important. His great grandfather Ephraim was aged 11 and was living with his mother, Ellen and his siblings at The Fields, Rushmere St Andrew. His father appears to have died as his mother's marital status is widow. Ellen is supporting her 8 children although it appears that they may be supporting her, the eldest son living with her, James, is working as an Export Clothier's Porter, the eldest daughter, Eliza, is a Domestic Servant, although currently unemployed, Walter aged 18 is a Export Clothier's Warehouseman and Thomas, aged 14, and Ephraim aged 11 are Agricultural Labourers the remaining 3 aged 9, 7 and 4, are at school.

So, this census gives us Ephraim's mother's name and a year and place of birth, and the names of some, if not all, of his siblings - all this information can now be added to the family tree.

1861 Census

The 1861 Census was taken on Sunday 7 April 1861.  The information collected was the same as that collected in the 1851 Census.

Mark's Family Tree

Up until now, everything has been quite easy, however, after searching for Ephraim in the 1861 Census the four results which came up did not fit with the information we already had. The mother's and the sibling's names were all different, and the place was also incorrect.

We then repeated the search using his mother, Ellen's information; putting her details in the search engine instead of Ephraim.

Fantastic! We had found our family! They were living at Head From Home (very unusual!) in Rushmere, the same village as in the 1871 census, and all the details seemed correct - names and ages.  Ellen was married to Ephraim and the one year old son who we thought would be called Ephraim was actually called Ambrose! We now had the name of Ephraim's father, also Ephraim, his place and date of birth and another child. Ephraim's (senior) occupation was an Agricultural Labourer, and all the children were at school.

More information to add to the family tree.

1851 Census

The 1851 Census was taken on Sunday 31 March 1851.  There was far more information contained in this census compared to the previous census for 1841: relationship to head of household, marital status, place of birth, whether (blind, deaf or dumb) and this time the ages were not rounded up to the nearest 5 years.

Mark's Family Tree

Mark could no longer look for Ephraim, his great grandfather, since, in 1851 he had not been born.  The search now diverted to his father, Ephraim, born in 1823.  This information was input into the search engine of the website where he was searching for the census records.

Ephraim was found with Ellen at Rushmere House, Rushmere with their two children James aged 2 and Mary aged 2 months.

1841 Census

The 1841 census, taken on Sunday 6 June 1841, gives the least information of all the census returns.  Ages are rounded up to the nearest 5 years, except for children under 15. The occupation was included and whether they were born in the same county as they were this year, elsewhere in the country or in foreign parts.

Mark's Family Tree

Mark now had to search for his great grandfather Ephraim in Suffolk who was born around 1826. Mark had previously used + and - 2 years but on this occasion that brought nothing up.  He widened his search to 5 years + or - and a likely family was found.

Mark was lucky as Ephraim was not a common name, he was also lucky that Ephraim had not moved from the place he was born. Remember that the ages in the 1841 census are rounded up to the nearest 5 years for people under 15 and you can see here that Ephrain and his brother Nathan were both marked as being born in 1826.  To double check this, if you are unsure whether this would be your relative, you could look up the parents and siblings and make sure there is not another Ephraim living in the village or with his parents and siblings.  Mark found his great great grandfather and great great grandmother thereby taking his family back to around 1791 by using this census and was able to add this information to his family tree.

Mark decided that he would like to carry on with census data for all lines of his family to see how far he can get back.  After he has done this, we'll come back to filling in information on the relatives we have already found.

Mark has already found that he needs to combine census records with birth and marriage indexes in order to confirm surnames and dates of birth. This would be a sensible way to continue, rather then relying on just census records.

Conclusion Part 2 (carried on from Tutorial 2)

6. The 1841 census rounds up ages, so be sure to remember this when searching for your relatives.
7. Each form given to a householder when completed was then given to an enumerator who transcribed the details into government lists, these lists are the records we see as census returns. Therefore, if the original details were written carelessly this information could have been written incorrectly on the census returns.  The enumerator could also have made mistakes.
8. You can check on a family's movements by looking at the birthplaces of children and the dates they were born.
9. When using website's transcriptions, be sure to look at the originals in case mistakes were made when transcribing - this is quite common.

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Mob Goes Wild in Ipswich in 1867

Guy Fawkes Day in Ipswich, 1867

I came across this surprising article taken from the Ipswich Journal in 1867 when looking for something to add to my page on Facebook to mark the 5th of November, the day known for some as: Fireworks Day, Bonfire Day or Guy Fawkes Day:

This day of national commemoration, the observation of which which had actually been made an Act of Parliament in January 1605/06, called for a public thanksgiving for the failure of the plot to kill King James I, the Head of State. 

The article begins by reporting on the working class local community and their lack of producing quality 'Guys' to celebrate this National day.  The journalist reports that there were very few 'guys' and those that were made were poor quality.

"The few that appeared were of an unusually squalid character, and two 'guys' (in every sense of the word) on a donkey cart were the only ones which attracted any great amount of attention.  The 'guys' were made up in various forms. The attendants, however, were all agreed on one point - in wanting coppers - and if the public would but withhold their pence there would soon be an end to this stupid custom". 

I think the writer would be interested to know that only recently is this practise going out of our custom,  probably being due to the ever increasing popularity of Halloween just a few days prior.

The events happening within Great Britain as a whole should be addressed in order to understand the state of working class life in Ipswich and the events which followed at that time. The day originally marked as anti-Catholic (Guy Fawkes was a Catholic) over the years had taken on a new meaning.  It was regarded as a day where violence would erupt by the lower classes as a chance to 'pit disorder against order, a pretext for violence and uncontrolled revelry'. Due to this social unrest steps were taken by the authorities and The Anniversary Days Observance Act repealed the original 1606 Act to observe this day and the sale of fireworks was restricted.

Ipswich 1867 


Around his time there were various incidences of social unrest due to the increase in food prices, the most famous being the Swing Riots of 1830.  The people of Ipswich, it appears (like those in Exeter in the same evening) incensed by rising food prices and banned from firing their customary bonfires and fireworks, congregated at the Cornhill.

It should be noted that the better class of schools in Ipswich provided bonfires and fireworks for their boys whilst the poorer boys had to make do with letting off crackers and other fireworks in the streets (illegally!). Whether this was another reason for the later actions of the evening we do not know.

However, it appears that matters escalated during the evening.  The number of people congregating at the Cornhill grew to 500 at it's peak, the writer does not give any indication of events before, but retells the evening from the call of  'Now for Fison's Mill!'.

"Large numbers proceeded at great speed down Queen Street, St Nicholas Street, to Stoke Bridge, where they stationed themselves [at Fison's Mill] and commenced throwing stones at the windows".

Stoke Bridge from an old postcard

Apparently all through the day there were rumours that the mill would be attacked because of the increase in the price of flour but it was treated as an idle threat and nothing was done by the authorities in preparation.

Unfortunately, if this was an organised riot about food prices, the message the mob were trying to deliver fell on deaf ears, it was reported that:

"The roughs in all probability had no intention at first of making an onslaught upon the mill, but having congregated the rumour suggested the cry 'Now for the Mill' which was forthwith acted upon. The mob evidently had no defined purpose but that of doing mischief, for the damage was not confined to the mill."

The result of the actions of the mob that night were far less damaging than it could have been.  There were a few windows broken by the mob along the route to the Mill and about 50 windows were broken on the mill itself, mostly due to a new road being laid and missiles being readily available. The authorities were hampered by onlookers (wittingly or unwittingly) acting as a shield preventing the police from making many apprehensions. The next night, the reporter mentions a similar scene of events with a mob this time being thwarted by the local constabulary at the mill, who then made a cry, this time for the Convent. It appears that any damage done this day was also minimal.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Freston Tower and Woolverstone Hall, Suffolk

Ipswich Heritage Open Days 2012

Freston Tower

The first weekend of September once again marked the heritage weekend in Ipswich and the surrounding area, where many of the buildings we take for granted all year round or just don't know exist, open their doors for us to have nose around. You may have seen my blog from last year when we spent the day in the town centre.  As we were so busy this year, we decided that we could only spend a short time, a Sunday afternoon, exploring and decided on visiting Freston Tower and Woolverstone Hall which are both just outside the county town and down the River Orwell.

View of Freston Tower from the River

Through dendochronology it has been found that Freston Tower was built between 1578 and 1579 by a local merchant Thomas Gooding.  The purpose of the building is unclear although there are many theories including; a leisure house for his daughter, where she could participate in six different pass times (one for each floor) including astronomy from the top floor, a lookout tower against pirates, part of a pleasure garden and also, that it was built especially for the visit of Queen Elizabeth I's visit to Ipswich in 1579.  However, the most likely purpose for the building was that it was a folly (built entirely for decoration and no specific purpose), if so, it would have been one of the first in the country.

There were quite a few visitors, so we had to wait to enter as it is quite a small building with many stairs but there were volunteers on the ground floor who explained the history of the building and answered questions while we were waiting. Unfortunately, I can't remember the order of the floors as I had to take a quick snap when there was no-one around, which was quite difficult, but here are some pictures in random order.

 The Master Bedroom

 The Stairs

 The Guest Bedroom

    View from the Top looking towards Felixstowe
    View from the Top looking towards Ipswich

 The Cosy Living Room

The Tower has been restored by the Landmark Trust and is available to let for holidays. It really is a charming, quaint and unusual place to stay, as you can see, is it has everything you need for a holiday.

Woolverstone Hall


Woolverstone Hall

Woolverstone Hall was built in 1776 for William Berners, a property developer from London, who requested it be built in a modern Palladian design. The house passed down to his son upon his death who built an obelisk in honour of his father.  The obelisk was burnt down by fire in 1943 and was so badly damaged that it was demolished using explosives.

The building remained in the possession of the Berners family until was taken over by Oxford University in 1937 and where it stayed empty until the War Office took it over in 1939. After the war, London County Council leased the Hall in order to re-house the London Nautical School which became Woolverstone Boys Boarding School in 1959 and which closed in 1990.

Ipswich High School was relocated to Woolverstone Hall in 1992 and is still situated there today.

The Beautiful Ceiling in the Study

We were a little concerned to find this message on the door to the entrance to the underground passageways.  It reads: 
It's a cruel, cruel world to face on your own, 
Flesh turns to dust, as to dust turns bone, 
Was it really that wise to come here ALONE?

Err yes! And it was rather spooky!

 There were lots of tunnels and rooms down there

 View from the first floor window

Another beautiful ceiling

One of the most remarkable things that we saw was the weather vane, not unusual in itself, as you can see here, until you see other part of the feature.

Downstairs in one of the rooms, which is now used as an office, is this dial which shows you the wind direction without you having to go outside. It may be totally unique. Fascinating!

Incidentally, Freston Tower was once owned by the Berners Estate.

Butt and Oyster Inn, Pin Mill

We ended our tour with a visit to the popular and famous 'Butt and Oyster' and a pint of real ale.  It's a lovely old building with lots of history and it's always very busy, but very pleasant for a drink or some food.

 A view of the Pub from the river (the cream building on the left)

 I had a quick play with the black and white and sepia buttons on my camera...

Monday, 15 October 2012

Tutorial - Session 2

Census Returns 1911 to 1881

A census has been carried out every ten years in England and Wales since 1801, except in 1941 when it was taken in very few places because of the war. Between 1801 and 1831 the government took the census to learn about the population rather than individuals so only statistics were sent to the central authorities and most of these have been destroyed. Since the 1841 census more information was included in the records collected, this information included names, sex and some other information and has gradually improved up until the latest available census which is the one taken in 1911. Any later census returns are confidential and unavailable to the public.

Census records can be accessed through all the major genealogy websites (findmypast, ancestry etc.).

For best results combine using the census records with birth records as discussed in Tutorial - Session 1.

1911 Census 

The 1911 census was taken on Sunday 2 April 1911 and records the best information for family historians compared to other census returns. It gives you; the address, the names of everyone living in the house, their ages, their marital status, occupations, whether they were an employer or employed, and where they were all born. For me, some of the most interesting and useful information on the 1911 census return is the marriage state.  This lists how many years the present marriage has lasted, how many children had been born alive during the course of this marriage, how many were still alive and how many had died. Also, the 1911 census return differs in that the whole page, rather than a few lines, is devoted to one dwelling and you can see the signature of your ancestor.

Mark's Family Tree

As I said previously, you should always go backwards, so the most recent available census records are those for 1911. Mark was lucky that I already have subscriptions to some of the well known genealogy websites, so he was able to look this up straight away at no extra cost.

1911 Census Return for Ephraim King and family

We found Ephraim, and his children; Edward, Flossie, Alice, Daisy, Charles and of course Gertrude living in Orwell Road, Ipswich. Sadly, Ephraim's marital status was a widower. Ephraim had completed the marriage state incorrectly as his wife had died, but I'm very glad he did because we found that they had been married for 30 years (this gives us a marriage date to add to our information) and that he and Matilda had had 10 children but 1 had died. We were able to find out Ephraim's occupation, a coal carter and that his eldest son John was a coal porter.  The difference between these occupations is not entirely clear but the best we have found is that the Carter drove the horse and cart to deliver the coal and the Porter carried the sacks to and from the cart. The three daughters were all Daily Domestics which meant that they were living at home and doing domestic work during the day, and just the youngest son, Charles, was at school.

This census also tells us where the children were born which also places the parents at points in time.


1901 Census

The 1901 Census Return was taken on Sunday 31 March 1901. Apart from the usual; name, address, marital status, the number of rooms occupied if less than five, occupation, where born and any disabilities, this census tells us: the number of rooms in the dwelling, whether an employee, employer or working on one's own account, whether working at home or not.

Mark's Family Tree

1901 Census Return for Ephraim King and family

In this census we can see that Matilda was still alive, they were living near Park Farm at Nacton, a village a short way from Ipswich, and they had 8 children living with them.  Ephraim's occupation was a Milk Seller (presumably from the farm that they were living near) and it appears that their son Thomas, aged 13 was working with his father as a Milkboy. Their son Edward, who was 19, was working as a Seaman and his place of birth is stated as Dovercourt, Essex (we now know where to look for them in the 1881 Census). Flossy was aged 10 and born in Ipswich (so we know where to look for the family in the 1891 census. Matilda said that she was born in 1858 in Bradfield, Essex, so we know where and when to look for her birth record.


1891 Census

The usual information is given in the 1881 Census, taken on Sunday 5 April, as well as; whether an employer, employee or neither and number of rooms occupied if less than 5.

Mark's Family Tree

 1891 Census Return for Ephraim King and family

The 1891 Census Return shows that Ephraim and Matilda were living in the centre of Ipswich in 1891. The place of birth for Matilda and Edward was now stated as Harwich and Ephraim's place of birth was now Ipswich and not Rushmere as stated in the 1901 census. Ephraim was working as a Carman, which is another name for a Carter (a man in charge of a horse and cart) and John aged 15, the eldest son, was a Doctor's Groom.



1881 Census

The 1881, taken on Sunday 3 April 1881, gives the same information as in the 1871 census.

Mark's Family Tree

1881 Census Return for Ephraim King and family

This particular document was particularly interesting but posed some more questions for future research. As was expected from the 1891 census, they were living in Dovercourt, Essex, but quite unexpectedly, it appears that John, born in 1876, was noted as the Step-son of Ephraim and had a completely different surname - Bergen. Obviously, John was not Ephraim's son.

The birth certificate of Gertrude (Mark's grandmother) as referred to in the previous post, stated that there were two other surnames for her other than her married name, and upon checking the middle name in the list, it was confirmed as Bergin (although a variation in spelling).

Mark's family tree so far including all the family members found from the census records

We will carry on with census returns in Session 3



1. Add all relevant information which appears in the census and use that information as clues to finding other information (i.e. where they were 10 years earlier in the previous census).
2. Names change over time, so look for any variations including spelling in surnames.
3. People used their second names instead of their first names quite regularly so be aware of this when searching. Double check your information by using the names of other family members.
4. The census isn't always accurate.  People often got confused with birth year and place because birthdays were not celebrated as they are now.
5. Look for other people living with your family, they may give you clues as to other branches of the family and new surnames.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Tutorial - Session 1

I have been doing my own family history for many years and so after all this time talking about it and pointing out the value and fascination of doing your family history, my husband has finally been worn down and has decided that he would like to do his - HIMSELF! I had started his tree about ten years ago, but lack of interest from him resulted in a lack of enthusiasm from me and I gave up. I decided to leave it until a time when my children were old enough to be interested in it. The only thing I can remember from my previous research was finding that part of the family were living in 'The Cold Dunghills!'.

I thought that there may be others who would like to start their family tree and who may be wondering where to begin. Or perhaps there may be some people who have come to brick wall with their research or are unsure of where to go next, so I thought it would be a good idea to keep a record, in the form of a blog, to help them along. So here we go...

I hope you find it interesting and helpful. I would be pleased to hear from anyone who would like to make any comments or suggestions or who would like to ask any questions which could possibly be included as a tutorial within this blog.

Making a Start

First things first! You really do need to start at the beginning and, for best results, family history is always done backwards, therefore begin by making a diagram or a list of you and your immediate family.  From there go back as far as you can by memory and by asking relatives about your grandparents and great-grandparents and their families, keep a record of all the information you collect and where the information came from. Collect together any documents you may have such as birth, marriage or death certificates, old family bibles and anything else relating to your ancestors which can give you information.

It would be really useful to use a computer program to record all your information as this does make things much easier especially when your family members get into the hundreds.  The standard software for family historians is called Gedcom (GEnealogical Data COMmunication) and it is an open file specification for exchanging genealogical data. This means that your research can easily be shared with others easily and shared on genealogical websites such as GenesReunited, Ancestry and FindMyPast. There are some open source versions of this software such as GRAMPS which you can download from the internet for free. Websites, such as those mentioned above, replicate many features from these programs which you can use online instead of having it on your own computer, however, your information would be inaccessible should you find that you can't connect to the internet.

If using software, be sure to start with yourself as the 'root' person. Always input female relatives with their maiden names. Always cite your sources, in other words keep a record of where you got your information.

Mark's Family Tree

Mark began by entering his family into genealogy software, he is using Family Historian 5 which costs about £45.  He added his parents, siblings and grandparents and input all the information he knew about them (birth/marriage/death, addresses, occupations etc.).

The beginnings of Mark's Tree

Mark already had the birth certificates of two of his grandparents, so we began with one of these, his paternal grandmother Gertrude Laura King.

Gertrude Laura King's Birth Certificate

From the birth certificate we were able to find her parents names, when and where she was born, where her parents were living at the time of her birth, her father's occupation and her mother's maiden name.  Her mother's maiden name was not clear, it appears that there are two other names as well as her married name King.  This will need investigation further down the line when we look further into Matilda's family, as Mark was keen to follow just one line to begin with, his great grandfather, Gertrude's father, Ephraim Ambrose King.

Civil Registration

A registration system for recording births, marriages and deaths was introduced in England and Wales in 1837.  This system is vital to family historians and enables us to find out when and where a person was born, who their parents were to whom they married and where they married, and when and where they died.

How to Order Birth certificates 

You will need to find the birth record you are searching for in the General Register Office Indexes to be able to order the birth certificate. When you search on one of the genealogy websites for a birth, a record or multiple records will appear.  Choose the one which is most likely to be your ancestor and click on the record to view the index. Cross reference the information you already have in order to make the right choice when selecting the record. A transcript will appear which gives you the details needed to order the certificate, see below the transcription for Gertrude Laura King which enabled the above certificate to be ordered.

You will see the name, the registration district, county, year, quarter, mothers maiden name (available after) the volume number and page number. The registration district is usually named after the nearest town or an area so do not take this information too literally.
Indexes were kept on a quarterly basis so the date of birth could be within that quarter or before. The volume also relates to the area as Registration districts were bound together in volumes. The page number is where the entry may be found in the volume.

You can order birth, marriage and death certificates through most of the genealogy websites or through this link directly from the General Register Office. use the information found from the index to fill in the online order form. All certificates are currently priced at £9.25.


1. Collect as much information as possible.
2. Ask relatives what they know.
3. Don't believe everything you are told, however, there may be some truth to it!
4. Use software if possible - it makes your research easier in the long run.
5. Always start at the end - go backwards!
6. Use civil registration certificates (birth/marriage/death) if you have them, to gain more information about your ancestors. You may want to consider ordering them if not.
7. Be sure to add all the information any new source gives you to your genealogy software (a birth certificate gives you more then date of birth and parents names).
8. Back up your research.
9. Most important of all - KEEP GOOD RECORDS!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Phyllis Dixey - The Queen of Striptease

I first came across Phyllis Dixey while transcribing a WW2 war diary. The diarist wrote of his appreciation of  witnessing Phyllis' famous 'Confessions of a Fan Dancer' Act which broke the monotony of mechanic's training while stationed in London and waiting to serve his country on foreign shores. On 29 July 1941, he wrote: 'At Theatre Royal, saw Phyllis Dixie doing fan dance, hottest show I have seen.'

If you move - It's rude!

In the years leading up to WW2, shows displaying nudity were only legal if the performer remained still - 'If you move, It's rude' was the rule. A conference was held in St James Palace in April 1940 on 'Suggestive Nudity and Impropriety of Gesture and Speech'. The Birmingham Mail reported...

'The Lord Chamberlain did not long ago find a means of banning from theatres and music halls that decadent and vulgar importation from the United States known as 'strip tease'... where, at the conference; 'The point was made that indecent shows have tended to increase since the outbreak of war.  This is something which must not be allowed to develop by a nation which is fighting above all things for the moral standards implicit in the Christian code; and which cannot afford to flirt with the forces of decadence...'

Police were sent to investigate Phyllis's 'Confessions of a Fan Dancer' show which was promptly stopped for being in breach of public decency, however, a personal visit to the Lord Chancellor by Phyllis resulted in approval being granted. The show was the first of its kind in the area,  a dedicated striptease show, and was an instant success. (Apparently, Phyllis was not the first to perform a fan dance in Britain, that honour goes to Denise Vane, contortionist, although I haven't yet found any evidence of this).

'Blue' Plaque

At the time of writing, there is currently a row going on between English Heritage and the British Music Hall Society on one side, and members of Phyllis' family together with the occupants of an Art-Deco mansion block in upmarket Surbiton, on the other.  The problem is that English Heritage want to install a blue plaque in Phyllis' honour but they can't agree on the wording.  The occupants have taken exception to the wording 'Striptease Artiste' and would prefer 'Burlesque Dancer',  'Fan Dancer' or 'Actress', all of which, the Blue Plaque Panel at English Heritage argue, does not describe her career accurately.

At a meeting of The Blue Plaque panel in November (which includes Stephen Fry) it was agreed that:  "Having revisited the various options, the team remained confident that the original proposed inscription offered the most accurate description of Dixey's occupation and should be retained."

A Very Reserved Lady

Surprisingly as it may seem, Phyllis was 'a very reserved lady', 'a very private woman, much preferring to hone her act and live a quiet life off stage'.  She grew up with impeccable manners which were never forgotten.  She treated the girls in her troupe with protection and discipline insisting that there be no frivolous behaviour or alcohol and she would clear the back stage when her girls were to appear naked.  She was also very kind, on one occasion she paid for all the seats for her show 'Piccadilly to Dixie' and dedicated them to an entire audience of servicemen. However, this may also have been to her advantage as she also became a pin-up during the war.

Sadly, the years after the war became less successful for Phyllis, her shows waned when audiences began requiring more graphic routines, possibly in an attempt to keep up with demand, she was fined for indecency and around this time too, her husband and business partner began an affair with one of the showgirls.  She started a career as an actress, but was not particularly talented and her acting career was quite brief. By 1958, the couple were bankrupt and working as a cook and handyman but she still carried herself with great dignity.  Phyllis died in 1964 at the age of 50 after a battle with breast cancer.

Let's hope she gets her blue plaque soon...

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Gnomes of Wroclaw

You may have heard of the dwarves or gnomes of Wroclaw if you watch 'Coach Trip'. I remember seeing them in an episode last year, so spending a day seeking them out was near the top of my 'to-do' list while visiting Wroclaw.

The locals refer to them as dwarves, but in Britain we would call them gnomes since they very much resemble the little chaps sitting round Grandad's garden pond. Young people may have never heard of them since they're not particularly popular with anyone under the age of 65!

The Background of the Gnomes

As the guidebook states, 'they [the gnomes] are everywhere in Wroclaw. Like a miniature invading army, they dot the city's doorways, alleys and street corners.' Although the mythical dwarve-like creatures were common in medieval Polish Folklore, the reason for their presence in the city is much more recent. Poland, as you are probably aware, was a communist country and any anti-establishment graffiti or public art was promptly painted over by the militia.

A local art history student decided that his underground protest movement, the 'Orange Alternative Movement' would handle political issues in a peaceful way using nonsense and buffoonery to get their message across. They began to repaint over the militia's 'paint jobs' with gnomes, which not only became the symbol of the Orange Alternative Movement, but was favoured by the local community. Gnomes became the mascots of the city, and on Children's day in 1988, dozens of the people of Wroclaw dressed up as gnomes and smurfs.

In remembrance of the Orange Alternative Movement, the first gnome, Papa Krasnal, above, was placed where the Orange Alternative Movement used to have their demonstrations.  The town council then commissioned a local artist to make five more.

The Current Gnomes

Local businesses began commissioning their own gnomes, and at the last count, the number of gnomes in the city was more than 180. Here are a few of my favourites...

Gourmet Gnome
He's eaten too much and his trousers have split. Possibly because he's situated outside Pizza Hut!

Motorcyclist Gnome

He sits on the front steps of the Church of Mary Magdalene on his motorcycle waving at fellow motorcylists.

Prisoner Gnome

Poor little fellow sits on the window sill outide the old prison, complete with ball and chain.

The ATM Gnome

He stands outside the bank waiting for his money.
Could be a long wait.

Monday, 12 March 2012

My Visit to Wroclaw

The Market Square March 2012

Wroclaw (pronounced Rockslarv) is a city in Western Poland in the region of Silesia. It is a city of islands situated on the Odra or Oder River and is sometimes referred to as 'The Venice of the North'.  It also boasts the largest medieval market square in Europe although most of the buildings have been rebuilt after the bombings of WW2. Throughout it's history it has been part of Bohemia, Austria, Prussia, Germany and Poland.

Interesting Facts About Wroclaw

  • There are over 90 bridges in Wroclaw
  • Wroclaw used to be Breslau, a German territory until 1945 when the Lower Silesia region became part of Poland
  • In World War II Wroclaw became Festung Breslau, a closed fortress occupied by the Nazi's which was bombarded by the Russians
  • The Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen was born in Wroclaw
  • There are over 180 (at last count) dwarves or gnomes cast in bronze scattered throughout the city (I will be writing a separate blog on these little chaps).

The Market Square or Rynek

The Town Hall in March 2012

The Town Hall after the WW2 bombings. 
Please see bottom for details on this picture

The Market Square is beautiful and looks very old but many of the buildings were levelled during the Second World War when it was occupied by the Nazis and bombed by the Russians, so, most of the buildings date from 20th century rather than the medieval period. However, it still a remarkably beautiful place full of cafes, bars and restaurants and whose hosts give an exceptionally warm welcome and serve fabulous food.

The University

This amazing building (inside and out) was founded in 1670. It's two main attractions are the ceremonial hall (Aula Leopoldina) and the mathematical tower. The university was visited by Charles Darwin and past professors included Alois Alzheimer (Alzheimer's disease) and Robert Bunsen (apparently he didn't invent it but improved the bunsen burner).

The Ceremonial Hall

View from the Mathematical Tower

Tumski Bridge

We came across Tumski Bridge on our way to Ostrow Tumski, the Cathedral Island (actually, it's not an island any more as constant flooding forced the town planners to fill in part of the river in 1810). From the university area of the old city you first pass through Sand Island, also dominated by a huge church and a library, and enter Ostrow Tumski via this lovely iron bridge dating from 1889.  You'll soon notice that it is covered with padlocks placed on the bridge by newlyweds who fasten the padlock and then throw the key into the river as a symbol of their unbreakable bond... how romantic!

Ostrow Tomski

This is the oldest part of the city, the oldest surviving beam was dated as being cut down in 985 and the guidebook tells that a silver cross from the area dates back to the same period. In the Island's middle stands the Cathedral of St John the Baptist an impressive and imposing building dominating the nearby landscape.

Cathedral Island from ul. Jadwigi

Front of Cathedral of St John the Baptist

The Back of the Cathedral

Raclawice Panorama

A visit to Wroclaw wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Raclawice Panorama.  It is 140 meter long, 360 degree, painting depicting a battle scene from 1794.  It is an amazing work of art and set in a rotunda enabling you to view the scene as if you were there.  You get a 30 minute commentary in the form of hand held set explaining the painting and its history.