The Rev. James Hesselgrave “Tommy Two-sticks” Thompson, vicar at St. Peter's from 1856-1889, kept two notebooks recording his own unofficial “census” of Cradley in 1857 and 1863, complete with coded references to his flock's drinking habits and illict co-habitations.

In yet another extraordinary work, Margaret Bradley and Barry Blunt have transcribed both notebooks, which have been published by Cradley Then and Now.

It may not surprise people who know that Cradley is a special place, that between 1851 and 1863, Cradley had no less than five censuses.

There were, of course, the two censuses in 1851 and 1861 that everyone else in the country had, and also the 1851 religious census, the first and only national census of church and chapel attendance. However, the local vicar of the day, the Reverend James Hesselgrave Thompson, known also as "Tommy Two Sticks", carried out two further "censuses" for himself. Instead of enumeration books he kept notebooks of the people of Cradley, all with the intention of assisting him in his work of bringing people to the church. And in many ways the notebooks are far more useful and interesting than the government's records of the population.

Margaret Bradley and Barry Blunt describe their title "A Mirror to the Flock" as a free translation from the original Latin, "Speculum Gregis" used by the Reverend Thompson. Neither Thompson's title, nor the notebooks themselves, were an entirely original idea. In 1841, the Reverend Francis Fulford, Rector of Croydon-cum-Clopton in Cambridgeshire who went on to become the first Bishop of Montreal in Canada, had compiled a list of inhabitants adding their ages, occupations, literacy and church attendance as well as some 'off the cuff' comments. He called his notebook a "Speculum Gregis" - or Mirror of his Flock (see Speculum Gregis for Croydon 1843-1848).

Cover of "A Mirror to the Flock"
Click to open enlarged image (338 x 467 pixels) in new window
 Cover of "A Mirror to the Flock" 
We have seven people to thank for the publication of Cradley's 1857 and 1863 "censuses". They are the Reverend Thompson himself, of course, for making the notes in the first place; local historian, the late Norman Bird who was given the notebooks by a lady clearing out some old cottages when he happened to be passing as a small boy on his way to school; his daughter Norma who kept them safe for another half century; Jill Guest and Pat Harris, two members of the Cradley Then and Now group, through whose efforts they were recently "re-discovered"; and the incomparable Margaret Bradley and Barry Blunt who have painstakingly transcribed and checked the original notes, handwritten in English and Greek. What a team!

"A Mirror to the Flock" names the inhabitants of Cradley, by household, street by street, in census fashion. This would be useful enough, to know who was living where, and with whom, at two dates between government censuses. However, the usual census information as to occupation is often supplemented by where people worked, and the religious affiliations and frequency of attendance at church or chapel - or not, as the case may be - are also carefully recorded. Even more interesting is the cross referencing of people, so that in addition to the familiar census information of mother, father and children, occasionally extended by a visiting or resident family member of another generation, the vicar's notebooks often tell us that such-and-such is the brother or sister or son or daughter of someone else, living at another address.

We will illustrate the value of these snippetts of information to family historians. This writer has long known that one set of my 3 x great grandparents were William and Rosanna Rabold. They are in the 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses of Cradley and the writer is descended from their daughter Mary, whose two sons Alfred and John took their mother's maiden name. But that is another story.

We have also long known that Rosanna's maiden name was Hingley, or Ingley. This is clear from the birth certificates of four of their children, born between 1840 and 1852. Unfortunately, Rosanna's various census returns giver her year of birth as either 1805 or 1810 and her place of birth as either Rowley or Cradley. Moreover, we have reached the conclusion that they probably never married, or if they did there is no surviving record of the event. Just to complicate matters further, there is a Rosanna Ingley christened at St. Giles, Rowley Regis on 9 December 1804, the daughter of Isaac Ingley and Esther, and a Roshannah Ingley christened at Cradley Chapel on 24 June 1810, daughter of Josiah Ingley and Sarah (Attwood). For more than 5 years we have had no way of knowing which one is the great, great, great grandmother, or perhaps neither of them.

The vicar's notebook solves the dilemma at a stroke, beyond all reasonable doubt. It tells us not only that Rosanna Rabold of High Town (the 10 Dwellings, Homer's Row) "sometimes attends evening Church services" but also that she is "Sister of 418A". This is the vicar's reference number for Isaac Hingley, who lived a short distance away in Colley Lane. We have easily checked the christening records to confirm that only one of the two known Rosannas had a brother Isaac, and so we are now sure that her parents were Josiah and Sarah. Of course, there are at least two candidates for Josiah, but that will have to wait for another time.

Another dilemma is that the author has long suspected that a certain John Rabold in Cradley is the son of William and Rosanna. There is a son John at home with them in the 1841 and 1851 censuses, and there is no record known to us of his marriage, nor yet of his death. In the 1861 census a John Rabold of about the right age living in Cradley is apparently married to a Zipporah, with no children. However, we have had no means of proving or disproving that he is the grown up son. At another stroke, the vicar's notebook tells me that: "He is son of 389", the Reverend's reference number for William and Rosanna. Another mystery solved.

At risk of testing the patience of you the readers with yet another example from the writer's own family, we will mention a delightful observation that the Reverend recorded and that Margaret and Barry have brought to us. This is that another great, great grandmothers, Sarah Jones (later Sally Jones the drover), aged 7 years in 1857, "reads with zeal". How else we would ever else have known this?

The Revd. James Hesselgrave Thompson
Click to open enlarged image (385 x 450 pixels) in new window
 The Revd. James Hesselgrave Thompson 
Needless to say, we are sure there are many such discoveries to be made and more mysteries to be revealed by reference to this book.

The Reverend Thompson wrote many of his notes in Greek, whereby he kept coded messages that were probably understandable to no-one else in Cradley at the time. These notes refer to his observations of people's drinking habits, illict co-habitations, children born out of wedlock, and at least one phrase the translation of which eludes even Bradley and Blunt. Perhaps someone will come to their assistance ...

"Notebook One - 1857" and "Notebook Two - 1863" come complete with an informative introduction and an invaluable index of surnames.

These books are the latest in the works of Margaret Bradley and Barry Blunt on The History of Cradley. Once again, we owe them a huge debt.



Pages from the original notebook - the Revd. James Hesselgrave Thompson records the inhabitants of Stourbridge Road, Cradley, in 1857
Click to open enlarged image (1359 x 1046 pixels) in new window
 Pages from the original notebook - the Revd. James Hesselgrave Thompson records the inhabitants of Stourbridge Road, Cradley, in 1857 

From "A Mirror to the Flock" - Birmingham Road (North Side) in 1863 - transcribed by Margaret Bradley and Barry Blunt
Click to open enlarged image (1414 x 952 pixels) in new window
 From "A Mirror to the Flock" - Birmingham Road (North Side) in 1863 - transcribed by Margaret Bradley and Barry Blunt 

"A Mirror to the Flock"" is printed and published by Cradley Then and Now. For ordering information, see How and where to purchase Cradley books.

printer friendly