Pte Fred Waters

By June Parkin, volunteer

Fred Waters is listed in the 1918 Absent Voters List for Lynesack & Softley as Pte. 205127 of the Northumberland Fusiliers. He is an example of the many men who served and survived and this is all we know about them.

The search for more begins with the problem of his first name; neither Fred nor Frederick produces any useful results in a search using the ‘Ancestry’ website. But an Albert Waters was born in Barnard Castle and baptised at St.Mary’s on the 10th February 1888. In the 1891 Census he is aged 3 and he and his mother, Annie Waters, are inmates of the Teesdale Union Workhouse in Barnard Castle. Annie, aged 40, and born in Startforth, is described as a General Servant (Domestic) and is unmarried. The workhouse was on the site of the Richardson Hospital and the original infirmary building survives.

But then Alfred disappears from the census records. The reason is that his mother marries and he changes his name. Annie married William Elliott in 1892 and in the 1901 Census they are living at the Edge in Lynesack. William is 59 and a Coal Hewer and has two daughters from a previous marriage. Albert, now aged 13, is declared as his son with the surname Elliott. Incidentally, Annie is 54 – perhaps she has added an extra 4 years so that she is closer to her husband’s age, or it may be that she reduced her age in the 1891 Census because of her illegitimate child.

By the 1911 Census the family are at Lane Head, Copley. William has retired and Albert, now 23, is a Coke Drawer and still single. Annie declares that she has been married 24 years (5 years more than the truth) to hide Albert’s illegitimacy.

And there, for the moment, our story ends. ‘Ancestry’ has no military records for an Albert or Fred Waters or Elliott. It is likely that Fred used the name Waters in official records because that was the name on his birth certificate. There is an Auckland Registration District marriage record for an Alfred Waters to Alice Lowes in 1916. Did he marry while at home on leave? Do you have any of these people in your family tree or any information that can help us to know more about Fred?

Please contact the project at the Bowes Museum if you have any information about WW1 people in Teesdale ( or telephone 01833 690606).

So many names, so many lives of service, so many unknowns.

The Village with no M, N or O

By Judith Phillips


The 44 townships that Owen Scott originally contacted for roll of Honour information included several places south of the River Tees in North Yorkshire but in the Teesdale Poor Law Union.  There is a list of the townships on the project website – click on the link on the home page on  When the North East War memorials Project kindly gave us the details of their holdings for Teesdale, this did not include places south of the Tees.  So we are gradually collecting information from war memorials and from families about people from these places who were involved in the First World War.  We’d love to hear from you if you have information about people from these places or would be interested in helping us look for them.

There is a beautiful hand-written Roll of Honour book in Cotherstone parish church and we are very grateful to have been given a digital copy.  The book lists men who died in the war on a page that is bordered with in red and then lists the men who served and survived on six pages with a green border.  When I came to look at the names more closely, I was surprised to see that there are no names between Lynd and Parkinson in the list of those who had served but not died.  I thought, perhaps, a page had been missed out in our copy but, when I had it checked, that’s what is in the original book.  I was then intrigued to discover that there are no names between Howard and Parkin in the list of those who died.

So, Cotherstone in the early 20th century might not have had any families – or, at least, any families with men of an age to serve – with surnames beginning with M, N or O.  That’s quite surprising, given that M in particular usually produces several entries in most lists of surnames.  We’ll be keeping an eye open for these elusive surnames as we check the 1911 census returns, parish registers, school records, absent voters list and any other records we find for Cotherstone. 

Upcoming Talk – Material Memories – The North East’s First World War Trench Art

By Andrew Marriott

World War 1 trench art comprises souvenir artefacts made from recycled munitions and other war-related materiel.   Research at Newcastle University is assessing how much trench art still exists in the North East of England and how people’s engagement with these war pieces has changed with each passing generation.  

Oral histories are being collected and, combined with archival research, the life-stories of trench art pieces are being uncovered. Research on selected regional pieces is underway in order to establish provenance and develop, where possible, a putative early biography for each item as it was being converted from war materiel to an agent of memory. Such research will facilitate an exploration of the changing nature of collective memories of the War across the North East.

With Beamish Museum as a collaborative partner, and the active support of museums across the region, the project will also stimulate better understanding of past and current curatorial strategies of museums with the aim of informing future work in this area.

Andrew Marriott, a former infantry officer and now a PhD candidate at Newcastle University, is conducting research on the region’s First World War trench art.  He is the next speaker in a series of events organized as part of The Bowes Museum’s First World War Commemorative project.  This talk will present early findings from what is the first detailed analysis of a broad and numerous range of trench art artefacts.  Some examples of trench art will be on display.

Tickets for the talk at 2.30 p.m. on Sunday 15th October cost £3.00 including light refreshments (FREE with admission ticket to the Museum and for Friends).  You can book  tickets by telephoning the museum on 01833 690606.

Book group review September 2016

The following books were suggested by our Reading Group members at the September meeting held at The Bowes Museum.

“Brushes and Bayonets” by Lucinda Gosling

A look at the First World War through the eyes and creativity of various illustrators, artists and cartoonists of the time. Ranging through all aspects of the war from troop recruitment to the Armistice, the book includes many beautiful illustrations of adverts, posters and postcards. They encouraged pathos from the readers of the many publications, magazines and journals of the day, employing the tactics of satire, humour, sadness to convey their message

“Parades End” by Ford Madox Ford

A book set in England and the Western Front, it depicts the effect of the First World War on a group of characters and their social, moral, personal and political experiences. Written by an author who himself served as an officer in the Army, it captures the essence of the pre-war build up and post war period as well as documenting the conflict itself and the impact on the lives of his characters. The novel was dramatized by the BBC in 2012, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall.

“A Study in Murder” by Robert Ryan

A book billed as a thriller, the author uses the device of ‘fiction within fiction’ by taking as his central character one Dr Watson, more regularly featured as the fictional investigative partner to Sherlock Holmes. The book builds around Dr Watson’s experiences in a POW camp in Germany and involve the murder of a fellow POW, escape plots and investigations by Watson to find out the truth.

“Forgotten Victory – First World War Myths and Realities” by Gary Sheffield

Military historian, Gary Sheffield, places many of the myths surrounding the First World War in the true historical context of the conflict. Classed as a revisionist book, it de-bunks some of the myths about the conflict, able to take advantage of more archive material coming to light to give different perspectives on long-established views.

“The Poppy” by Nicholas Saunders

Looking at the symbolism of the poppy in Egyptian times through to the opium poppy struggles during the Afghanistan conflict, this book looks at the history of the poppy. Poppies influenced art and culture, medical remedies and poetry as well as being taken as the most popular symbol of Remembrance after the end of the First World War. The parts played by American Moina Michael and French woman Anna Guerin in the use of the poppy as a remembrance symbol are covered in detail, and through the book, we read how the poppy has been ever present in history as both decorative symbol, narcotic, and remembrance token.

We look forward to meeting again on Tuesday 18th October at 2.30pm and would welcome any new readers to join us.

Absent voters lists

By Judith Phillips

I was planning on writing a short article about the Absent Voters lists even before our Ancestry subscription arrived, so this is very opportune.  Every year a list of people eligible to vote in elections was published (electoral roll).  Many electoral rolls included a section of ‘Absent Voters’, that is, people who had a right to vote in a place (probably as house owner) but lived elsewhere.

The last election before war broke out was in 1910, and the following year, the maximum length of a parliament was fixed at 5 years.  After war broke out, the election due by 1915 was deferred.  The Representation of the People Act, passed in 1918, gave the vote to women over the age of 30 and to all men aged 21.  New electoral rolls were compiled and published to include about 2 million men and 8.4 million women (and remove men who had died during the war).  Men and women who were serving abroad or away from their home in Great Britain went into the absent voters lists.  Because of the huge numbers, the absent voters lists were published separately  (or as a supplement) to the main electoral roll.

For WWI researchers, they can be a goldmine.  People are listed alphabetically under the town or village they usually lived in but the entries give so much more  information:

  • First name and surname
  • Usual address
  • Military number
  • Service unit
  • Rank

A quick glance at the Absent Voters list for Barnard Castle in 1918, for example, showed that the Carter sisters were both serving with the St. John’s Ambulance Service in the Voluntary aid detachment (VAD).  You will find their story here on the project website under Stories.

So we’re hoping to find plenty more stories as we work through the Absent Voters lists and check the information in the sources we now have available through Ancestry.

Ancestry has arrived!

The WWI project now has access to Ancestry Library Edition to help us research men and women from Teesdale during WWI.  Over the next few weeks we’ll be running a series of workshops for anyone who’s interested in learning how to use ancestry.  We’ll be concentrating on the military records now available on Ancestry to find out more about Teesdale men we know were in the armed forces – especially checking the large numbers of people who appear in the Absent voters lists (for more information see the article about these lists in this newsletter).  We’ll also be looking carefully at the 1911 census returns to identify men who would have been old enough to be conscripted.  No doubt we’ll have a few dead ends but I’m looking forward to plenty of successes.  So, keep an eye on the newsletter and website for further information.