July 4, 2013, 100 Years since they left the Old Country…Leicester, England to Edmonton, Canada

4 Jul New Home in Canada!
The Empress of Britain

The Empress of Britain

This July 4th will mark the 100th Anniversary of the arrival of my Perkins family in Canada….and believe it or not, my Grandmother, Sarah Jane Perkins, did not travel lightly….her Piano, Parlor Sofa and Chair, Grandfather Clock, pictures, china, Sideboard and China Cabinet, as well as  family clothing and bedding in a number of steamer trunks, arrived with her.

They sailed from Liverpool, England aboard the Empress of Britain on June 27, 1913 and arrived in Montreal on July 4, 1913. There they boarded a train for Edmonton, Alberta. The next phase of their journey likely took 7 or 8 days as they crossed the great country of Canada by CPR train.

John Thomas Perkins, his wife Sarah Jane and son Tertius Bernard at house in Ritchie. c. 1930

John Thomas Perkins, his wife Sarah Jane and son Tertius Bernard at house in Ritchie. c. 1930

What circumstances existed in Britain that caused a 50 year old man to move his family, lock stock and barrel to a new country, I will never know. They certainly must not have been good, for him to make that decision at such a late stage in life. Perhaps he felt that it would be the only thing he could do for his son who was 9 at the time. His brother-in-law Jack Sleath, had moved his family to Canada in 1906 and was intending to homestead. Unfortunately only 2 years after his arrival, his wife Clara died of Tuberculosis, leaving him with 2 small girls to raise. This would not be done on a homestead and he stayed on in Red Deer.

Correspondence, that came into my hands several years ago, that Jack had written to his wife’s brother back in England, gave an indication that the Perkins family might have been intending the same thing, but with changed circumstances they altered their plans and didn’t arrive until 7 years later. They bypassed Red Deer to settle in Edmonton.

New Home in Canada!

New Home in Canada!

Edmonton in 1913 was a bustling place. The new Strathcona Library was opened as was Holy Trinity Anglican Church. Both were to play important roles in my life. My grandfather got a job at Ribchester’s as a Blacksmith. Later on he joined the Hudson Bay Store in their Hardware Department as a clerk. My dad started school at the newly opened Ritchie School.

Tertius Perkins and his class at Ritchie School 1914.

Tertius Perkins and his class at Ritchie School 1914.

100 years later, I still live in the house my grandfather purchased in 1920. When they first arrived they rented a house on 97 Street and 76 Avenue. After the war, they purchased the house across from the school from Emma Richardson. I doubt my grandfather knew how  fortunate it was for him to have made this decision to emigrate and that many years later, his descendant would be so grateful to him for doing so.

A Dragon Boat Caper in China!

11 May

As a child, I had always dreamed of going to China. It was that “Mysterious East” that I had read about in books that intrigued me. I had read “The Good Earth”,  one of my Mom’s Book of the Month Club books. It was  a novel written by Pearl S. Buck and published in 1931. It was the story of a farming village in China prior to WW1. I had also scanned the World Book of Knowledge that belonged to my Dad, for maps and pictures of that part of the world as well as Life Magazines. I loved the images of The Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, The Great Wall and streets full of people riding bicycles. I had read about the Manchurians and the Mongolians, the Han Chinese, the Ming and the Qing Dynasties. In school we studied Mao Zedong, who founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and his attempts to modernize China’s economy by focusing on agriculture and industry.  Mao died in 1976.GoodEarthNovel

Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People. Line-up is for Mao's Mausoleum.

Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People. Line-up is for Mao’s Mausoleum.

I watched on TV as the Student Protests unfolded in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where on June 4,  troops with assault rifles and tanks inflicted thousands of casualties on unarmed civilians trying to block the military’s advance on the square  which had been occupied for 7 weeks. This event became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.


While attending Home Coming at the University of Alberta in the fall of 2011, I picked up a brochure from AHI Travel and noticed a tour, “China and the Yangtze for October 2012.” I was hooked! I booked the tour, obtained my visa, got my shots and exchanged my money.

October 17, 2013 saw me standing in Tiananmen Square on my first day in Beijing.  And no, the bright Alberta like Sky is not Photo Shopped. It was a glorious morning, about 15C, and the clear sky was the result of a big rainstorm the day before which had cleared the air. The huge Flower Basket was left over from the Public Holiday, National Day on October 1 to commemorate the Founding.

Next day I was at the Great Wall. Those pictures that I had seen in Life Magazine so  long ago, were now real. What an amazing sight. This section of the wall at Badaling was used by the Chinese to protect their land and had many guards to defend China’s capital Beijing. Made of stone and bricks from the hills, this portion of the Great Wall is 7.8 meters (26 ft) high and 5 meters (16 ft) wide. The day I visited hundreds of school children on field trips were scurrying up and down the steep steps.

DSCF1158One of the things I most wanted to see on my trip were the Terra Cotta Warriors at Xian. This is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of  the first Emperor of China. It is a form of Funerary Art buried with the emperor in 210 BC. Its purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. The burial site was discovered in 1974 by some local farmers. Pit one is truly an overwhelming site with 6000 figures representing the Emperor’s Army along with  their horses. One of the advantages of this tour was an opportunity to visit sites not open to regular tours. We were able to visit the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology to view artifacts not yet made available to the public.

Pit One - The Army to protect the Emperor in the afterlife

Pit One – The Army to protect the Emperor in the afterlife

Our tour now headed south to Guilin  in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It sits on the west bank of the Li River and the name means “forest of sweet Osmanthus” owing to the large number of fragrant Sweet Osmanthus trees located in the city. China has 55 minorities and many live in this area. The city has long been renowned for its unique scenery  of Karst topography. If you have ever looked at Chinese Paintings and wondered about the “lumpy mountains” …..well they are for real as a tour down the Li River showed me. In geographic terms, Karst Topography is a landscape shaped by the dissolution of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock, usually carbonate rock such as limestone or dolomite. South China is a major Karst area in the world, and Guilin is a rare example in terms of its scale and uniqueness.

Li River Cruise

Li River Cruise

China is a land of contrasts. I really had no expectations for my visit, but I was not to be disappointed in any way. The street scenes fascinated me. Whether is was  parents and grandparents giving the children a ride to school on scooters, the ladies selling flowers in the Street Market at Chengdong or the markets at the relocation village on the Yangtze River, every turn brought new images. Food stalls provided a never-ending source of delight. Some of the wiring outside of buildings made me question our wiring codes…..thank goodness we have them! Traffic was everywhere and each day thousands of new drivers take to the road. Cars big and expensive flooded the roads.

Wiring in Xi'an

Wiring in Xi’an

Our Breakfast on the dock....Kidding!

Our Breakfast on the dock….Kidding!

Scooter ride to School

Scooter ride to School

Shanghai at night

Shanghai at night

One of my favorite stops was at a farming village near Xian. We went there on a rainy  Sunday and the first to greet us was a group of preschoolers. They must have been 3 or 4 years old and language was not a barrier to these kids. Our host at the village was an artist who has been sent to the countryside during Mao’s time as Chairman. During The Cultural Revolution, he had declared certain privileged urban youth would be sent to mountainous areas or farming villages in order to learn from the workers and farmers there.

Pre-schoolers in the farming village

Pre-schoolers in the farming village

We were entertained by a local group with a Dragon Boat Dance. Fernando and I were encourage to take our turn “paddling the boat”. Fernando was the oldest member of our tour group and his energy was amazing for a man well into his eighties.

The Dragon Boat Caper

The Dragon Boat Caper

Later in the day we were taken to Mr. Zhang’s  Studio where he gave us a lesson in Chinese Brush Painting. Of course we could also purchase his Folk Art and most of us came away with several pieces all of mine featuring pandas.


Mr. Zhang and his Peasant Folk Painting


This came home with me!

I had seen the real thing when we visited the zoo at Chengdong. Er Shun was getting ready for her big move to Canada. She was going to spend 5 years each at the Toronto and Calgary Zoos. I am not sure how impressed Er Shun was with the prospect of this trip, as the behavior she displayed when she heard Canadian voices was very explicit. Judge for yourself in the pictures (right of Bottom). I hope she will be in a better frame of mind when she lives  in Toronto. I will visit her again once she gets to Calgary in 2018!

Eating my bamboo leaves!

Eating my bamboo leaves!

Er Shun sat up and did his business......

Er Shun sat up and did her business……

Then fell back to continue her nap!

Then fell back to continue his nap!

We took a three-day Yangtze River  Cruise, the highlight of which was the  trip through the locks of the Three Gorges Dam. This dam which is 2 km across and 600 feet high,  provides a significant amount of China’s energy.Building it and the 400 mile long reservoir, meant that there was flooding a of a very large area, causing destruction to a number of villages and cultural sites. Millions of people had to be relocated.   We went through the locks at night and it took several hours….a fascinating experience. Next day we visited the museum which explains the complete story of the dam and its construction.

From the museum looking back towards the locks

From the museum looking back towards the locks

Size of a lock is hard to comprehend

Size of a lock is hard to comprehend

This farm is now at river level but was 575 feet up the mountain at pre-flood level.

This farm is now at river level but was 575 feet up the mountain at pre-flood level.

Beijing and Shanghai are fabulous cities. For me, Beijing seemed a little too sanitized, the result of the demolition and construction it did in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics. We visited the “Bird’s Nest”, the Olympic stadium and I was certainly impressed with its size. Overall the city was very clean and there was construction going on everywhere…….roads, sewers, buildings!

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Interior of the Olympic Stadium

Interior of the Olympic Stadium

Shanghai was definitely my favorite city.  It had such a vibrancy to it…whether it was in the morning with people doing exercises in the park or at night when all the lights came on.

Shanghai...a city of contrasts

Shanghai…a city of contrasts

Jing Temple in Shanghai

Jing Temple in Shanghai

For centuries it was an administrative, shipping and trading city. It grew in importance in the 19th century due to the European recognition of its Port location. It was opened to Foreign Trade following the British Victory over China in the First Opium War and the subsequent Treaty of Nanking in 1842 which allowed the establishment of the Shanghai International Settlement.

View from the Bund across the River to Pudong

View from the Bund across the River to Pudong

Along the BUND!

Along the BUND!

Today you can see its growth everywhere, yet there still remains remnants of the British, French and American influence.  The Bund was at onetime the heart of Colonial Shanghai. Many of these buildings remain, but now serve other purposes. Next to London, Shanghai is my second favorite World City and I can’t wait to return!

Soldiers of the Queen in India…..A Jewel In the Crown!

2 May

Richard Sleath (4)Richard  Edward Sleath was my Great Uncle. I had seen pictures of this man in my Grannie’s steamer trunk, which also stored my Mother’s Christmas Decorations and which was hauled out annually in mid-December.  Being that he and others, whose pictures I came across, had been dead for years, no one really mentioned who they were. They were just pictures in a trunk.

He seemed especially interesting to a young girl as his picture was taken in the Punjab, India. Now I did know that my grannie, Sarah Jane Sleath Perkins was the only girl in the family. I knew almost nothing about the rest of her family, except for a brother, Jack Sleath, who had lived and died in Red Deer, Alberta long before I was born. It would be many years later when I began my Family History Research that I would learn all about these individuals.

Richard Sleath was only 18 years 6 months when he joined the  King’s Royal Rifle Corp (86267) at Winchester on September 23, 1889. He had been serving with the 4Bn North Staffordshire Regiment as a militiaman. He was posted to the Royal Horse Artillery Aug 8, 1891 in the Dublin District  and appointed Bombardier (a non-commissioned Officer)  May 26, 1892. He went to India  Sept  29, 1893 to fight on the  Northwest Frontier.

“The North-West Frontier region of British India was the most difficult area to conquer in the Indian subcontinent, strategically and militarily. It remains the western frontier of present-day Pakistan, extending from the Pamir Knot in the north to the Koh-i-Malik Siah in the west and separating the present-day Pakistani frontier regions of North-West Frontier Province (renamed as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), FATA and Balochistan to the east from neighbouring Afghanistan in the west. The borderline in between is officially known as the Durand Line and divides Pashtun inhabitants of these provinces from their kinsmen in Afghanistan.




The two main gateways on the North West Frontier are the Khyber and Bolan Pass. Since ancient times, the Indian subcontinent has been repeatedly invaded through these northwestern routes. With the expansion of the Russian Empire into Central Asia in the twentieth century, stability of the Frontier and control of Afghanistan became cornerstones of defensive strategy for British India. Between 1849 and 1947 the military history of the frontier was a succession of punitive expeditions against offending Pashtun (or Pathan) tribes, punctuated by three wars against Afghanistan.”  ( Info taken from Wikipedia )DSCF1926

For many years suspicion had persisted in India that Russia would attempt to invade India  from Afghanistan. Russia dominated the approaches to the country  from the west and could not be allowed to extend its influence  in the capital, Kabul, in order to develop the infrastructure  required for a military invasion of India across tribal territory.   Afghan and Pathan tribesmen were fiercely independent, warriors  first and last, skilled in ambush, exceptionally courageous and       hardy, able to assemble in a few hours and disperse as quickly.

There was no international frontier with the Punjab until 1894 when the Durand Line was demarcated across tribal territory. Within it the tribesmen were deemed to be protected persons subject to British law. There were police, roads and schools, and revenues were collected. British political officers maintained contact       with the tribesmen who were subsidized as long as their conduct remained within bounds. When it did not, military operations were mounted to restore order and apply punishment.  As I read this info and see names familiar to me from present day wars and events, I see that little has changed in this region in the 120 years since Richard Sleath arrived with the British Army. His time there and the battles in which he fought are a story for another time after I do the required research.

Richard was discharged at the East India Railway station at Allahabad on the  September 29, 1901.

Richard Sleath on an outing with friends. Looks like Gwyndon is there as well.

Richard Sleath on an outing with friends. Looks like Gwyndon is there as well.

Where and how he met and married Gwyndon is unknown. The photo appears to show him and friends on an outing. Gwyndon is in the picture. She would have only been 16 or 17 when they met.

Richard Sleath and Gwyndon Ophelia Mathias

Richard Sleath and Gwyndon Ophelia Mathias

On September 25, 1902 he married Gwyndon Ophelia Mathias at Khaogole, Bengal, India .She was 17 years old. His death was reported in the newspaper in 1907. He died at College Hospital in Calcutta on  February 24, 1907  (of the Rajmehal EI Railway)  aged 35 years. I have no information save for a few pictures(no names) that were in my Grannie’s trunk.What was his life like and why did he die at such a young age?

Gwyndon Sleath married William Frederick Perris in  Dinapur, Bengal on May 12, 1908. He was born in Bareilly, Bengal on September 22, 1879, the son of Frederic and Amelia Perris. They had a son, William Mathias Perris on March 29, 1909.

Gwyndon's Mother Ophelia, possible sister or other relative and Father John Mathias.

Gwyndon’s Mother Ophelia, possible sister or other relative and Father John Mathias.

Of late I have been thinking that one of my next trips should be to India. AMA has a great tour this fall but I am already committed to going to England  to do  more research. Oh well, at least I am still a  Genealogist who Goes Wandering! India will just have to wait!  Doubt though, I will be visiting the Northwest Frontier region given the situation there today.

The Search for Benjamin Sleeth and Mary Quinton

12 Apr St. Edith's at Church Eaton, Staffordshire

I’m stuck! For the past 8 years I have been trying to trace my Sleath Family and it hasn’t been easy. They of course couldn’t be consistent in the spelling of their surname, and this is only the first of many issues.  I started out by tracing my Grandmother, Sarah Jane Sleath, born 13 Aug 1869 in The Outwoods, Shropshire.  Things seemed to be going well and I located her father, George Sleath born in Hinstock, Shropshire in 1830.  His father John Sleith, I found in Church Eaton, Staffordshire. John Sleith (note first change of spelling for name) was christened 17 Mar 1805, the son of William Sleith of Church Eaton. I knew this was the right connection as St. Editha’s Church Cemetery is the burial place for a number of  my Sleith’s. Richard Sleath, George’s brother,  was born in 1843 in Sydney, Shropshire and buried at St Editha’s. I took the photos in 1979 on my first trip to England, long before I got into searching my family history. Oh how I wish I would have asked those “oh so important questions” when I was there and my relatives were still alive.

Ann and Richard Sleath

Ann and Richard Sleath

William is christened as William Sleeth (2nd change of name) 22 Mar 1769 at Church Eaton, Staffordshire,  the son of Benjamin and Mary Sleeth. I thought how well I was doing until I started to trace Benjamin Sleeth. This is where the problems arose.  I have been able to find in the Parish Records for Abbotts Bromley a marriage for Benjamin Sleeth and Mary Quinton on 14 Feb 1753. There are no other Sleeth or Quinton names  in those parish records so likely the couple was from elsewhere. William(1769) is the only birth I have been able to locate for parents Benjamin and Mary  Sleeth under various spellings. Benjamin Sleeth is buried in Bloxwich, Staffordshire in 1798 (NBI) and Mary Quinton Sleeth is buried there as well in 1788(NBI). I have not found a baptismal record for either person.Where was this couple in the years following their 1753 marriage to 1769 when William is christened at Church Eaton? Did they have other living Children? Did earlier children die? Is William really their Child? Did they not baptize their children? Are the records simply not yet on the internet or are they lost in transcription errors?

I wasn’t quite correct when I said that I found no more births for Ben and Mary Sleeth. In 1772, at the British Lying in Hospital (for “poor and distressed married women”) in Endell Street, St Giles in the Field in London, I found a record for  male child born to Benjamin and Mary Sleeth. I would have discarded this as a possibility as I know there are many Sleeth’s/Sleith’s/Sleath’s born in the London area, however they listed their Parish of Abode as Rugeley, Staffordshire (6 miles from Abbotts Bromley) and he was a Gentleman’s Servant. Another record for the same birth date, lists a girl Jane as being born to Benjamin and Mary Sleith.  Maybe Benjamin had been hired in Staffordshire and came to London with his Gentleman. Did his gentleman live in London with a country house in Staffordshire or did his Gentleman live in Staffordshire with another house in London? I kept looking in that area and discovered a Richard born to Benjamin and Mary Sleith in Wandsworth, Surrey in 1767. Wandsworth in those days was rural and agricultural. Was this the same Ben and Mary? Did the Gentleman have a home in this area?

Was talking to someone recently and she suggested that perhaps as Ben and Mary had not been able to have children in the first 16 years of marriage, they adopted a child whose mother died in childbirth or who had given away an illegitimate child and called him William. Adoptions weren’t formalized in those days. Or perhaps, one of their Sleeth family had an illegitimate child and they took him in as their own. Another possibility is the family was NonConformists and the births were not recorded or they haven’t yet shown up in the NonConformist Records.

Haven’t found a birth for either Benjamin or Mary. There is a  Sleeth who is having children in the early 1700′s right for the time of Benjamin being born  but they do not christen a Ben at the Great Presbyterian Meeting House in Leicester where their other children are christened. He is a Baker. Also a Benjamin and Mary Sleath have children in Husband’s Bosworth, LEI up to 1711 for recorded births, but no Ben. Husband’s Bosworth is only 45 miles from Rugeley. There are Sleeth’s having  children in Walsall, Stafffordshire but no Benjamin’s. SO I’M STUCK AT THIS POINT…… where do I g0 next?  Well perhaps it’s time to take a look at the manors in the area and who owned them. Maybe I can locate Benjamin’s Gentleman!

Claybrooke Magna: The Village Blacksmith

16 Mar

My Ancestors were Blacksmiths      

The most thorough transformation of England relative to the period, probably took place during the reign of Queen Victoria. In 1837, when she came to the throne, the nation was primarily rural and 66% of the population lived in the countryside. By 1851, those living in rural areas had been  reduced to 50% and by 1901, to just 25% of the population.

The appearance of the village reflected the character of the land, for they were built with the materials that could be obtained locally, stone where there were quarries, bricks where there was clay, and timber where wood was available. In the 19th Century, country folk were dependent on the land for their living  and the village for its services.

John Thomas Perkins Blacksmith

Thomas Hardy wrote that “villages, in addition to the agricultural inhabitants, contained an interesting and better informed class ranking above the others – the Blacksmiths, the Carpenters, the Wheelwrights and a wide range of  other individuals that were required to maintain the village and keep it generally self-sufficient. The “Prince of the Tradesmen” was the BLACKSMITH.

My immediate ancestors came from the small Midland villages,  Claybrooke Magna, Burbage and Withybrook in the border area between Leicestershire and Warwickshire. My grandfather John Perkins and his two sons, John Thomas and Walter Joseph, were Blacksmiths in the village of Claybrooke Magna from 1861 to at least 1916 and possibly longer, though I will have to wait for the 1921 Census to find out. Blacksmiths not only shod horses, but made wrought iron works of every kind, made and repaired tools, implements, parts of gates and ornamental iron work – all these things were produced on the hearth of the smithy to the accompaniment of the roar of the bellows and the ring of the hammer. Blacksmithing was a trade carried out by the same family over generations.

1891 Perkins & Nixon stables (1)

The metalwork on the stableblock (shown in the picture) of W. Nixon, the builder in 1891 was done by “J. Perkins Claybrook”. Whether this was the work of father or son, I don’t know.

On the 1851 Census, John Perkins, my great grandfather, was listed as an Apprentice Blacksmith. He was 19 years old and living in Withybrook with his widowed Mother Ann on his Uncle John Mason’s Farm. I don’t know how he came to this trade as his father Joseph was a Butcher.  Joseph however, had died when John was only 7, so someone else, possibly his uncle,  had arranged this apprenticeship for him, likely when he was around 14. In Historical Directories, I discovered that he was apprenticed to William Holyoak of Claybrooke Magna. William was one of three brothers, the others in Burbage, who were all Blacksmiths. By the 1861 Census, John had married Clara Benford and  was living in Claybrooke Magna and had become a Master Blacksmith. His 2 sons followed in the trade, my Grandfather John Thomas in Claybrooke Magna and his brother Walter Joseph in Rugby.

Master Blacksmith

Master Blacksmith

John Perkins died in 1896. The Leicester Chronicle headed his Obituary “Death of a Tradesman” and goes on to say “By the death of Mr. John Perkins, Blacksmith, at the age of 62, this village loses one of its best known and most highly respected tradesmen”. It would appear that not only was he a Master Tradesman, he was a volunteer in many community activities. He held various “public and parochial offices, including those of Assistant Parish Overseer, Parish Constable, and Clerk to the Burial Board, the later he held up to his decease, as well as taking a prominent part in the management of the various Village Sick Clubs.” He was buried at St. Peter’s Church Cemetery in Claybrooke Parva, LEI.

St Peter's Church

John Perkins of Claybrooke Magna

1851  Census   John Perkins (19)  apprentice Blacksmith  to William Holyoak (Master)

1861   Census   John Perkins (29)        Blacksmith in Claybrooke Magna

Apprentices  George Cramp 15, William Bird 19

Interestingly, John’s wife Clara Benford  had a younger sister who married William Bird when he finished his apprenticeship.  Often relatives of tradesmen, would marry tradesmen and the Benford’s were Carpenters in the village.

1871   Census   John Perkins (39)   Blacksmith (Master) Claybrooke Magna

Apprentice   Thomas Knight 19

1881  Census  John Perkins  (49)   Blacksmith (Master)

1891  Census  John Perkins (59)    Blacksmith

KELLY’S DIRECTORIES shows John Perkins for the following years : 1877   Black & Shoeing Smith, agricultural implement maker & machinist 1884  Blacksmith & machine & implement maker 1891  Blacksmith & Clerk to Burial Board 1896  Blacksmith, implement maker & Clerk to Burial Board


The Statute of Labor and Apprentices 1563 was the framework on which the career of most young men were based. It was the legal duty of a father to get his son apprenticed to a trade, at 14 or before and generally they aimed to get the best trade  they could afford, not necessarily one selected by the lad. Men involved in  craft trades had to serve  an apprenticeship of 7 years from the age of 14 to 21. This involved a payment  from the father to the Master. Once this term of service was met, the second stage was to work as a Journeyman. He was paid by the day while he worked for a Master. Usually a new Master tradesman had to wait for 5 years after the apprenticeship before he himself  could take on an apprentice.


1881 Census        John Thomas Perkins (17)  Smith and machinist

1891  Census       John Thomas Perkins (27) Blacksmith  Claybrooke  Magna

Walter Joseph Perkins (26) Blacksmith  Rugby

1901   Census      John Thomas Perkins (37) Blacksmith Claybrooke Magna

Walter Joseph  Perkins (36) Blacksmith  Rugby

1916       Walter Joseph Perkins still village Blacksmith

 JohnThomas Perkins moved his family into Leicester after his mother, Clara Benford Perkins died in 1910. He lived at #51 Walton Street and worked at an Iron Foundry as a Blacksmith. When his father-in-law, George Sleath, died in 1912, John Thomas was free to emigrate to Canada at age 49. This would have been a difficult decision but things in England were difficult and he felt that there would be more opportunity for him and his son in Canada. They arrived in  July 1913 and settled in the Ritchie District of Edmonton, Alberta. John Thomas first worked as a Blacksmith for Ribchester’s and then for the Hudson Bay Company as a clerk. I suspect he was employed in the Hardware Department. John Thomas, his wifr Sarah Jane and son Tertius in Canada circa 1929

The photo shows John Thomas, his wife Sarah Jane and son Tertius Bernard outside their home in Ritchie. circa 1929. Tertius was working for the CPR Telegraphs and obviously earned enough to buy himself a car.

John Thomas Perkins died in 1936 and was buried in Red Deer, Alberta, along side his Brother and Sister-in-law, Jack and Clara Sleath.

Like Father……Like Daughter!

6 Mar
Showing off his new car to his parents outside the house in Ritchie!

Showing off his new car to his parents outside the house in Ritchie!

“Like Father…..Like Daughter”……. I had never realized how true this saying was until I caught myself telling a friend about “my cave” in the basement of my house. We have had a very long winter which began in late October and is still ongoing. The message on my phone says something about “not being available as I have gone into my cave until spring”. Well it isn’t really a cave, it is the cellar in my house. It has a cement floor and walls and you can barely stand up without banging your noggan on the floor beams, but it does have a furnace and is very warm and cozy in the winter. I  have spent considerable time down there the past few months. I have all my Genealogy Research Material, books, maps, stacks of notes  and binders spread out over many surfaces. I never have to put anything away. No one else except the cat ventures down there.  I  take my laptop down with me and turn on the TV for additional stimulation. I can lose myself for hours doing my research.

The connection with my dad goes way back. On those long winter nights, after he got home from work, he would go down to the cellar to listen to his ham radio and police scanner. I would go down to play with my toys and listen in to his conversations. My friends would also come over and we would play 78′s on an old RCA Record Player. Great entertainment in the 50′s and 60′s before all the other types of entertainment developed. I remember being excited when the mailman would bring cards confirming a contact he had made. His call letters were VE6 IR and he too would send these card to those he had connected with on his ham radio.

I often think how little I knew of my Dad. I was 33 years old when he died and to that point I guess I wasn’t all that interested in him as a person. He was just My Dad!

Tertius Bernard and his Dad, the Claybrooke Village Blacksmith (1906)

Tertius Bernard and his Dad, the Claybrooke Village Blacksmith (1906)

He was born in 1904 in Claybrooke Magna, a small village in the midlands of England just outside the city of Leicester. This city has made headlines in the past few months due to the discovery of the bones of Richard III under a car park in the city centre. On the site once stood the Grey Friars Priory. Something like this would really have raised his interest. I watched a CBC documentary last evening titled “The King in the CarPark” which told the story of finding the skeleton and thought, if he were alive, he too would have been watching. I do know that my Dad loved to read and learn new things. He loved doing math problems just for the sheer enjoyment of solving them. He tutored many of my friends for their Grade 12 Departmental Exams. I would often go with him to the Library to get books for myself. When I had read all the books in the Children’s’ Library,  I would use his card to get books in the Adult Library. In those days, I think you had to be 12 to borrow books from there, but you could use an adult’s card if you had their permission.

My Dad was 9 when he emigrated to Canada with his parents, John Thomas and Sarah Jane Perkins. They settled in the Ritchie area and he was one of the first students to go to Ritchie School when it opened in 1913. By age 16, he was delivering Telegrams for the Canadian Pacific Railway, a company that he was to work for his entire life. He wasn’t very athletic, but we did go for bicycle rides out to the country and at one time, I remember him going to wrestling matches when Gene Kiniski was fighting. He had a stamp collection, but was not very organized and the stamps were mostly loose in a box. I must have inherited this trait as my Genealogy Research is mostly loose papers in piles. Someday I will get organized……just not sure when! We were also at the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Planetarium in 1960, a first for Western Canada, and oddly enough, I now volunteer at the Telus World of Science just across the park from the Planetarium which has long been closed. It has the Margaret Zeidlar Star Theatre which offers a full dome immersive video experience. The Telus World of Science Edmonton was the first planetarium and science centre in Canada to showcase this new technology for domed theatres. (2008)

Dad retired in 1968 and by the next fall he had enrolled at NAIT, the local Technical Institute to take the Radio and TV Service Program. Guess he figured he would fix TV’s in his spare time or maybe he just wanted a chance to go to school to get a Diploma, something that he hadn’t been able to do as a young person. He probably knew more than all the instructors put together, but he had a great 2 years, socializing with the other students and likely doing some tutoring on the side.

Dad died in 1980 at age 76, way too young by today’s standards. I know he would have loved computers and the internet and would have been one of the first to embrace any new technology. For an Old Ham Radio Operator…… texting and tweeting would have been second nature.

My Grandmother’s Wedding Shoes

19 Sep

A Victorian Woman

My Grandmother’s Wedding Shoes!

Sarah Jane Sleath was the only girl in a family of six boys including twins. She was born at Outwoods, Staffordshire in 1869. She lived with us when I was growing up in Edmonton. All I really remember was a tiny, old woman in a bed, and I was taken in to visit her once a day. By the time I was four, she had been moved to a long term care hospital. My Dad and I visited her at the hospital, but on one visit, after my dad let a nurse carry me off to a ward, thinking I was a new admission, I was never allowed to go again. Who knows what my dad was thinking that day? My mother was very angry with him.  I vividly remember a long room with beds along both sides filled with children. Then my dad and another nurse came rushing up to retrieve me!

Sarah Jane died in 1954 and I recall seeing her coffin in the boxcar on the train while we waited at the CPR station. We were going to Red Deer for her funeral and burial in the cemetery next to her husband John Thomas Perkins. Not sure why they were buried there. Her brother, Jack Sleath and his wife Clara Annie Shotton, were buried there as well, but they had lived there.

Over the years, I heard comments from different people. They all recalled that Sarah Jane had quite the temper and wondered how my grandfather dealt with it. She was a little bit of a thing, standing about 4 feet 10 inches, at least that’s what she looked like in pictures. Some say I look like her. Perhaps my temper is justly inherited.

Who was this woman I barely knew? While searching some of the trunks kept in our cellar, I came across a beautifully decorated box. In it were white shoes and a wedding veil. I had seen pictures of my grandparents wedding and knew they must belong to Sarah Jane. She married John Thomas Perkins May 5, 1901 at St. Peter’s Church, Claybrooke Magna, Leicestershire, England. Prior to that she had worked as a Parlor Maid at Claybrooke Hall.  Her employer was Miss Simpson. I often wondered what life was like for domestic help in Victorian times.

The 1901 Census shows the following:

Louise Simpson 78       Born Foston, York

Charlotte Hillyar 71     Born Stoke Bramel, Devon        Companion

Bessie Tyers 47              Born Shenstone, Staffordshire   Nurse Attendant

Sarah Jane Sleath 30   Born Outwoods, Staffordshire   Parlor Maid

Sarah Heywood 24       Born Chilcote Lei                              House Maid

Ethel Crisp 17                 Born Claybrooke, Lei                     Kitchen Maid

Janet Taylor 32              Born Blackfordy, Lei                       Nurse

Hetty Williams 32          Born Greenwich, London              Cook

What would she have done as a parlourmaid? Quoting from “Women’s Lives” a book on social history from 1800 – 1930 by Jennifer Newby , “parlour and housemaids’ duties were often interchangeable. The main division was that parlourmaids answered the door, served tea and did the lighter cleaning. Housemaids undertook the heavier work, rising at dawn to light the kitchen fire, heating water, beating rugs and other heavy cleaning.”   Both types of  Maids would also make beds, clean rooms, do sewing and mending and keep the fires going  throughout the day. Days off were few and far between, but Sarah Jane managed to meet JohnThomas Perkins the village Blacksmith. Perhaps it was at church, as servants often accompanied their employers to services and in this instance, St. Peter’s Church was just across the road from The Hall.

In Sarah’s wedding photo, Bessie Tyers is pictured with the family, so I assume that Sarah and Bessie had developed a relationship while working long hours at The Hall. There is  one unidentified woman who could also be from The Hall, perhaps Janet Taylor, the nurse.

My grandmother’s life would  change when she married. In just a few short years, she, her husband John Thomas and son Tertius, would leave England to make a better life for themselves in Canada. The city she moved to was just getting its start in 1913 and was rough and rugged. Her house in the Ritchie District had a barn for her cows and chickens and a big garden to grow vegetables. She had brought all her furniture including a piano and a grandfather clock, fine china, pictures and a mangle. Container shipping isn’t a new thing!

Sarah Jane had seen dramatic changes in her lifetime. Wish I had been able to hear her story firsthand.


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