Needles and Pins

Another month has passed and plans for my Spring 2012 walk are slowly taking shape. I’ve decided to leave London on foot and follow the Thames Path on a journey west. John Parsons suggested I leave the Thames Path at Reading and follow the Kennet and Avon Canal to Bath and then carry on to Bristol. It’s a great idea and likely the route I will take. I say likely because I’ve uncovered some new family history info that might prompt a change to my itinerary.

If you followed my LEJOG blog last year you will know I dedicated it to the memory of my great-grandfather Herbert Clifford. He disappeared in 1920 and I’ve spent the last 15 years trying to unravel the mystery. A few years ago I discovered that after he returned to Britain he joined the Cheshire Regiment and served until 1924. When he returned to civilan life he gave an address of Neston Road in Willaston. That is where the trail went cold and finding new clues has been like searching for a needle in a haystack … but if you look long enough you might just find that needle.

Last weekend I decided to search for my great-grandfather in the London Gazette, something I’ve done before, but this time I found a reference to a Herbert Clifford joining the Post Office in 1928. They gave the address as Heswall Hill, Liverpool. I knew that Liverpool was very close to Willaston but when I checked Google Maps I found out that Heswall Hill was only a few miles from Neston Road!

I then found more records that showed he worked for the Post Office for at least 10 years and that by 1938 he had moved to Windsor. I can’t be sure if this Herbert Clifford is my great-grandfather but my intuition tells me it is, and so a visit to The British Postal Museum &  Archive in London has now been added to my itinerary. Feeling I was on a bit of a roll I decided to concentrate my search in Merseyside and northern Wales and in doing so I found a death record for a Herbert Clifford in Denbighshire in 1942.  It’s possible Herbert returned here when war broke out.  I’ve ordered the death certificate and by this time next week I’ll be watching my mailbox closely.

Something else that I’ve been spending a lot of time on lately is a fantastic new website called Historypin. If you love history, and especially if you love old photographs, you must check it out.  It was developed by a UK non-profit company called WeAreWhatWeDo in conjunction with Google.  The idea is to provide a home where people from different generations and backgrounds can share photos and build stories about their communities.  The site launched in July and already has over 60,000 photographs with hundreds being added every day by archives, community groups and local history geeks like me. But historians beware! Historypin is the antiquarian’s equivalent of crack cocaine.

Photographs are pinned to a map in the location they were taken and can be filtered by year, from 1840 to present day.  If the photo was taken at street level then it can be superimposed over the current Google Streetview image and faded in and out using a slide tool.  I have yet to demo this to anyone who hasn’t thought it was very cool.  But Historypin isn’t just a cool way to view old photos, it has much loftier aims. Here’s an excerpt from an excellent Q&A with CEO Nick Stanhope on (but I suggest you read the whole article):

We talk a lot about there being a difference between “bonding” social capital and “bridging” social capital—bonding being between similar social, economic or cultural groups and bridging being across different groups. Something like Facebook is great for the social capital between people that know each other and have a connection, but it doesn’t make links beyond that. We have a very long way to go, but the aim of Historypin is to start conversations about something that is shared between people who didn’t necessarily think that they had something in common.

I’ve been pinning a lot of photos, mostly of Victoria BC, and you’ll find a gallery of them on my Historypin Profile page.  I’ve also created a few collections, including one  dedicated to an RCAF Flight Sergeant who died in Vancouver in 1944.  This time last week I had never heard of Richard Lyford.  Now I have the photo album that tells the story of the last 6 years of his life … a story that will be shared and not buried in an attic somewhere.  I encourage you to get on board too. Autumn’s shorter days and longer nights are a perfect time to dig out those old photos and postcards, fire up that scanner and start pinning!

Last but not least a hearty congratulations to Ken Klug who completed his 89 day LEJOG and to James Aukett for his 6 day bus journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats!

2 thoughts on “Needles and Pins

  1. Hi, lets hope you walk the K&A canal. I live about 2miles from the canal and would love to buy you a pint in one of the many canal pubs along the way. A good camping place for you would be at the ‘Three Magpies’ pub at Sells Green near to devizes, the pubs good also – quite often has entertainment there. I hope the link works for you.

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