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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Secrets I never knew I had!

The benefit of revisiting old family history research notes is that you may discover a gem of information you never realised you had. Rather like the police re-examining the evidence in a cold case, glancing through files you've not seen in a while may yield something useful. You may have more information to hand since your last visit, helping to make sense of what you've discovered before or you may be that bit more knowledgeable. So something which previously passed you by may leap out at you this time around as being significant. This happened to me over the weekend.

In an effort to be better organised a while ago, I allocated a folder (real, not virtual) for the different surnames in my tree, into which I put information I come across, relevant BMD certificates recently purchased (before archiving them into binders), any notes I've made and my "what next?" prompts for for future research. (Although I also do this on my laptop, there's something satisfying about curling up on the sofa and physically sifting through actual pieces of paper!)

So while tidying away some documents, I found my notes on Ernest Ellisdon, my great-great uncle who was a police inspector in the Metropolitan Police in the late 19th century (more on this in my post, The Whitechapel murders - a family connection). Amongst them was a copy of an email I'd received a long time ago from a fellow Ellisdon descendant. As a writer, I'd homed in on his mention of a shared ancestor being a journalist and completely missed what he'd told me about Ernest, whom I'd not been researching at the time.

In my recent delve into Ernest's Met history, I'd learned that he had left the force briefly, only to rejoin again soon afterwards, but I'd not known why. So it piqued my interest to read in the email transcript that Ernest, then a sergeant, had been sacked,"for taking part in what was called the first Met police strike. He chaired various meetings of the sacked men leading to their reinstatement."

Intrigued, I did a search on the internet and it seems, while the most famous of the "police strikes" were in 1919, there was an incident in 1872, when a number of officers refused to go on duty in a dispute over conditions and pay. An article on the Open University website about the police and industrial unrest summarises events. Here's an extract:

"There was a serious situation in 1872 when over 3,000 constables and sergeants turned up for a meeting to discuss demands for a pay rise. Senior officers at Scotland Yard were so concerned that a pay rise was quickly granted. Yet the officer who acted as secretary coordinating officers across divisions, PC Henry Goodchild, was ordered to hand over material concerning his activities. He refused and was subsequently dismissed. In response 180 men from the 'D' (Marylebone), 'E' (Holborn) and 'T' (Kensington) Divisions refused to go on duty. They were all suspended, and 109 were sacked. Following complaints and dissatisfaction over this mass disciplinary action, the majority were reinstated but at a reduced rank, and some were fined a week's pay."

© Copyright The Open University and Metropolitan Police Authority 2009

Even more exciting was discovering the evidence of Ernest's involvement in a number of lists on the Open University website. Initially he was suspended, then sacked before being reinstated and fined, as shown below.

© Copyright The Open University and Metropolitan Police Authority 2009

What a great addition to Ernest's story! It obviously didn't do his career any harm as by 1888 he'd been promoted from sergeant to inspector.

So, the chance that you might stumble upon a valuable piece of information is a pretty good incentive for having a tidy up of your family history notes. Happy searching!


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