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My Oxford Family                           Speaker: Judith Kinnison Bourke

When the canal was opened it was soon obvious that trading by cargo boats was far easier than transfers of goods by land.  The Duke of Bridgewater started to send coal from the nearby pits to the south of the country with the canal boats returning with other items so the canal system grew, and with it the number of families who worked on the boats and lived in the very confined space allowed them.

Long hours were worked in those days and in 1876 registration of the barges was started together with inspections to see how many people lived on board.  Increasing opportunities for children to have some schooling were made and a Chapel Boat toured the canal.  Illnesses were looked after by mooring the barges and seeking someone on land nearby while births of babies were managed by women from other barges who acted as midwives.

As on a previous occasion Judith gave us an entertaining and informative talk.  She had dressed for that of a member of a canal family in her “Sunday best” outfit in 1805 with an apron over her skirt, a long sleeved white blouse, and her head covered with a bonnet and lace over her shoulders.  To become another, younger, member she merely took off her hat and put a shawl over her shoulders.

The Oxford Canal near which her family lived and on which some of her family worked, linked Coventry and London and was about 20 miles long.  James Brindley had been asked to design it and although work on the canal had been started in 1769 it was not completed until 1789.  Land owners were not helpful fearing it would take away water which they needed for their farms.  Many men, often from Ireland, came to lift out the soil to make the bed of the canal, build the locks, the bridges, and the paths alongside and earned the name of Navvies.

When Judith became interested in finding her Family Tree she found that two surnames were frequently to be found in the records.  They were Gibbons and Seymore and these two enabled her to compose her story.

A vote of thanks for an entertaining afternoon was led by Jean White.  Also our thanks go to Ferring Conservation Society for the loan of their PA system.

Marjorie Semmens

Photos by Anthony Hobden

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