Tag Archives: haywards heath

Making the News: “An extraordinary double tragedy”

26 Nov

A couple of weeks ago I decided to follow up one of the mysteries that I uncovered in the National Probate Calendar, and it turned out to be one of the most heart-breaking stories that I have uncovered whilst researching my family history.

Whilst searching the probate calendar I came across the entries for a pair of GASSONs from Haywards Heath, Sussex. I wrote about my discovery and a few thoughts about what might have happened here. I suggested that their deaths might have been as a result of enemy bombing during the Second World War, but the truth is that although it could be attributed to the war, the story was far more tragic.

I will let the newspaper report from the Sussex Daily News dated Thursday 17th October 1940 tell the story:

COUPLE DIE IN DUG-OUT

HAYWARDS HEATH TRAGEDY

An extraordinary double tragedy which occurred at Haywards Heath was discovered on Tuesday afternoon at about 1.15, and the inquiry into it was held the same afternoon by East Sussex Coroner, Dr. E. F. Hoare.

Deceased were William Edward Gasson and his wife, Dorothy Gasson, of 3 North-road. They had been found dead in the dug-out in their garden.

In the dug-out was a brazier with coal ashes in it and an oil stove. The latter had not been used. There was also a candle.

Deceased were found in a sitting posture. Everything went to show that the previous night they had gone to their dug-out and had lighted the fire in the brazier, and that while they were sitting there the fumes had overcome them.

A neighbour made investigations on Tuesday on finding that the morning milk had not been taken in.

Evidence was given at the inquiry by the neighbour, Jesse Laker, and by the son, William Ernest Gasson, who did not live at the house.

The Coroner found death was due to carbon monoxide poisoning and recorded a verdict of “Death by misadventure.”

I have read some pretty sad stories in the course of my research, but this really touched a nerve and I was almost in tears as I read the article. I don’t know quite why it touched me so, they are not particularly close relations, but regardless of that it is still a really sad story.

The couple had only recently married (the son was from William’s first marriage) and to die in such an unnecessary and avoidable way when people were dying as a result enemy bombing (from which the GASSONs were trying to escape) seems desperately unlucky.

Interesting puzzle in the National Probate Calendar

18 Aug

During my rather haphazard searches of the National Probate Calendar last week I came across an interesting pair of entries that I felt warranted further investigation. Unfortunately the people concerned are pretty distant relations, but at least they are related.

The first entry I discovered was for Dorothy GASSON:

GASSON Dorothy of 3 North-road Haywards Heath Sussex widow who was last seen alive on 13 October 1940 and whose dead body was found on 15 October 1940 Administration (limited) Lewes 31 December to Robert George Richards public assistance officer. Effects £143 1s. 11d.

This seemed rather unusual, but presumably no-one knew the exact date that she had died, and I assumed that the “public assistance officer” was acting as executor in the absence of any other appointed executor or next of kin.

Further down the page was an entry for another GASSON also living at the same address:

GASSON William Edward of 3 North-road Haywards Heath Sussex died 15 October 1940 Probate Lewes 6 January to Percy William Woodland postman and Jessie Mary Woodland (wife of the said Percy William Woodland). Effects £280 16s. 8d.

The mystery deepens, my first thought was “why was the postman acting as executor?” but I guess there is probably some family connection. William died on the same day as Dorothy’s body was discovered, had someone seen William the day before so they knew he had died on the 15th October, but couldn’t be certain about Dorothy.

Several other questions came to mind, what was the relationship between Dorothy and William? How did they both die? Why was the postman not acting as executor for Dorothy as well as William?

The first question is probably the easiest to answer, according to the GRO Marriage Index William Edward GASSON married Dorothy BACKSHALL in Q2 1939 in the Cuckfield Registration District. This has got to be them, so they must be husband and wife, but had only been married for about a year when they died. Given the date, the most likely cause of death is probably as a result of their house being bombed during the Second World War

I checked the GRO Death Indexes for both Dorothy and William, and that just made matters worse, perhaps they weren’t husband and wife after all. Dorothy’s age was given as 41 years and William’s as 71 years. Perhaps Dorothy was a daughter from an earlier marriage or a niece, but for a 40 year old woman to marry a 70 year old man in 1939 seems unusual.

Now I have the question of whether to follow up the story further. Like I said earlier they are pretty distant relations, but I just can’t resist a mystery like this. I need to know what was going on. The problem is that I can’t afford two death certificates, probably a marriage certificate, a copy of a will and a grant of administration. Although it is an interesting puzzle I have more important things to spend my genealogy budget on. Instead I will add another item to my to-do list, to check the local newspapers for the time to see if any mention is made of their deaths.

The National Probate Calendar is certainly proving to be a very rich source of information, every time I find one of my relations it always seems to lead to new information and more research, without even going as far as ordering a copy of the will.

SFHG Annual Conference and AGM

20 Mar

Today was the Annual Conference and AGM of the Sussex Family History Group (SFHG) at Clair Hall, Haywards Heath, West Sussex. Like last year it was an excellent conference, enjoyable, informative, well organised and well attended.

Before the three talks we heard the latest on The Keep (the new archive centre for East Sussex, Brighton and the University of Sussex). Although things have been a bit quiet lately, plans are progressing and we were shown drawings and impressions of the centre and told we could expect to see a planning application and consultations this summer. If all goes well doors are expected to open early 2013.

The first talk was by Derek Stidder who spoke on Mills and Millers of Sussex. This was especially interesting to me because of my ancestral connections with a couple of watermills in Sussex. There were some really great images of various types of mill across Sussex, as was pointed out, it is a huge subject area as virtually every village had its own mill at some time.

Next up was Dr Colin Chapman (originator of the Chapman County Code) speaking on Pre-1841 Censuses & Population Listings. Dr Chapman showed that a great deal of useful genealogical material can be found in population listings before the start of the decennial census in 1801 and even those censuses before 1841 are not as useless as many people would have you think.

After lunch the next speaker was Dr Janet Pennington whose talk was entitled Inns, Alehouses and Taverns of Sussex. Again this is another subject close to my heart, and this talk was wonderfully illustrated and informative. It also demonstrated the wealth of information contained in probate inventories.

So another great conference, three excellent speakers, along with a couple of stands (none of the major players). I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved for their hard work in making this conference such an excellent experience, and who make the SFHG such a wonderful organisation.

The hidden art of Hellingly Hospital

15 Dec

An interesting set of photos has turned up on the BBC website, showing the current state of Hellingly Hospital in East Sussex.

My interest in Hellingly Hospital, or the East Sussex County Asylum as it was originally known, comes from the fact that my 2x great-grandfather was a resident there for nearly twenty years (see My Lunatic Ancestor).

There is no shortage of photos (and video) of Hellingly Asylum on the internet, but it is nice to see some of them getting an airing on the BBC website.

The sadness of course is the state of decay that has developed and the fact that the site is soon to be redeveloped, although it sounds as if some of the original buildings may be retained.

It is hard to relate these current photos with what my 2x great-grandfather would have experienced. Which were original features and which were later additions? I can only hope that one day a detailed history of the asylum will be written.

More maps for my collection

30 Oct

These are my latest finds from my local Oxfam shop. Three Ordnance Survey maps of Sussex dating from around 1948-9. Not particularly old or in top condition, but they were real bargains, or at least I think so, at £1.99 each

Three maps

The scale of all three is the same,  1:25,000 (about 2½ inches to one mile), which is detailed enough to show the locations and outlines of larger buildings and farms. Most of the farms are named as are many of the country roads.

The one on the left is of the Haywards Heath area. Not so many places of ancestral interest here, apart from the asylum and the village of Cuckfield.

The middle one covers an area from Washington and Thakeham in the west to Bramber and Partridge Green. This includes part of Henfield, where the TROWER family were, Ashurst (home to the HAYBITTLES) and part of West Grinstead, showing some of the places where the FAIRS family lived.

The one on the right covers many ancestral villages: Cowfold, Twineham (showing the location of Ridden’s Farm, believed to be home to my WELLER ancestors), Bolney, Slaugham and Warninglid.

Whilst I don’t expect to actually discover much new information from these maps, there is always a chance of finding the location of a previously unidentified family home, that has since been demolished or changed its name.

The real interest comes from studying the maps and comparing with the present-day maps, seeing how things have changed. For example, one thing that immediately stood out was the number of trig points on these old maps, and how few of them survive today.

They had a few others in the shop, from the same series, if they are still there on Monday I may well get another couple, although these were the only ones of real family interest for me. Although I think I need to make a list of the ones I already have because I am starting to build up quite a collection.

Picture Postcard Parade: The Asylum, Haywards Heath

26 Oct

This postcard fits in well with the Madness Monday theme, as it shows the entrance to the Lunatic Asylum at Haywards Heath, Sussex.

The Asylum, Haywards Heath (front)

The card is not in the best of condition, it was published by Mezzotint Co. of Brighton, probably around 1903-04 and is unused. The writing up the left hand side reads “MEZZOTINT COMPANY YORK HILL LONDON ROAD BRIGHTON”.

It is a shame the postcard was not in colour, then you would see the striking red and yellow brickwork. Even so it does illustrate the thought and effort that went into building the asylum, which could just have easily been a drab and plain building.

If you look very closely, and it is not even clear on the original, there is what looks like a young boy standing in front of the right-hand gate post.

The family connection is through my 2x great grandfather George Thomas GASSON (see My Lunatic Ancestor), who was an inmate here from 1898 to 1903 when he was transferred to newly built asylum at Hellingly, Sussex.

Picture Postcard Parade: Ockley Manor, Keymer, Sussex

9 Oct

Hidden underneath all the ivy (or whatever it is climbing up the walls) is the house where my grandmother Dorothy Annie TROWER lived and worked before her marriage to my grandfather in December 1936 at Keymer parish church.

Ockley Manor, Keymer, Sussex

Ockley Manor, Keymer, Sussex

I know nothing about this place other than what is recorded on the marriage register entry, and in the newspaper report of the marriage (which I wrote about here).

The newspaper cutting records that she was employed by Mr Randall G. Davidson of Ockley Manor, Hassocks. On the marriage register her occupation is recorded as a domestic and her address as Ockley Manor, Keymer.

I don’t know whether my grandmother continued working at Ockley Manor after her marriage, I doubt it very much because she would very soon be raising a family and the newspaper cutting records that my grandparents were going to live at Rose Cottage, Ruckford Farm, Hurst[pierpoint] after their marriage.

The postcard itself was published by A.H. Homewood, a prolific postcard publisher from nearby Burgess Hill. This particular card was sent from Brighton to an address in Lewes on the 18th August 1904.

I first saw this card a few months ago on eBay, but I missed out then, I left it to the last minute to bid and then forgot. Since then I have not seen a copy until last Saturday at Haywards Heath, when I actually found three copies of this card.

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