The Society meets at 19:30 on the fourth Thursday of each month (except August and December) at St Peter's Church Hall in Wisbech unless otherwise stated. There is a map of the centre of Wisbech to show the location of the hall.
We have a full programme, including speakers, members' evenings and outings. An archive of reports of previous year's meetings is available.

Current Meeting Programme


22 January 2015
Researching your ancestors
Steve Manning

26 February 2015
Writing you Family History
Alan Johnson

26 March 2015
Members Meeting - Members Family Stories + The Ward Family of Wisbech by
Judi Upton

23 April 2015
WW11 Plus
Mike Petty

28 May 2015
Keep It Clean
Anne Barnes

25 June 2015
Annual Outing to a place of Interest

23 July 2015
To be announced
Liz Carter

August 2015
No Meeting

25 September 2015
AGM + Our President
Rev Wim Zwalf

22 October 2015
To be announced
Robert Parker

26 November 2015
Brick Walls
Festive Member Meeting

December 2015
No Meeting

Summaries of Past Meetings

January 2014

What Grandma Didnít Want Me To Know!

The Speaker at our January meeting was Steve Manning, Chairman of the Peterborough & District F.H.S. His talk was entitled "What Grandmother didn't want me to know, and other family stories."

He talk included lots of pictures to accompany his many interesting stories, two of which I have included below.

A Canadian cousin mentioned in one email that her mum had an older sister who didn’t live with the family. Already aware of the parents’ marriage date and the birth dates of the previously known children, Steve realised there was something ‘a little wrong’ with this new piece of information. He eventually tracked down the older sister - who was in reality a half-sister – alive and well in Queensland, Australia!

It was Steve’s Great Uncle Ernest who was to blame for the title of his talk. On one occasion, some 40+ years ago, his uncle told of a relative who killed a man for molesting his wife in a pub. But he either didn’t know – or wouldn’t reveal – anything about the person involved. All Ern did say was the victim was his brother-in-law! Steve was very excited by this little bit of scandal and couldn’t wait to tell his Grandmother all about it. But she was not amused and responded angrily, 'What did he want to tell you that for?' Suffice to say, Steve was now ‘hooked’ on Family History - although he didn’t discover the sad truth about the real story for many, many years!

[Malcolm Bailey]

February 2014

Historical Account of Outwell

The speaker at the February meeting was William Smith, and his talk was a 'Pictorial views of Outwell'.

This report is unfortunately brief; due to the fact the talk was pictorial.

William talk took us on a trip of the village of outwell. The first slide compared views from the top of the church tower, towards the mill, at two different dates I was surprised at how little it had changed. During the talk we visited the canal, pubs, shops and houses, often comparing now and then pictures. We also met people and some families, of the village - many who were related to people attending the meeting.

As our summer visit we will be visiting Outwell church on June 26th 2014.

The talk created lots of reminiscing during the drinks after.

[Malcolm Bailey]

March 2014

QUACKS & QUACKERY –but no ducks! Dr Eric Somerville

A good attendance listened to Eric’s illustrated & light hearted talk on the progress of healing the sick over the ages,

The dictionary says that a quack is a ‘scoundrel, a charlatan’, a person who dishonestly claims to have a special knowledge in some field, typically medicine. Eric said the origin of the word possibly came from ‘quacksalver’, meaning a person who sold potions or nostrums at Fairs and similar gatherings, claiming they would cure all illnesses!

Nothing was known about Anatomy /Physiology, disease or cures. People would send for the wise woman or midwife of the village for any help with illness. Surgery stemmed from the local barber & later from the military field. Any person could call themselves doctor & over the years many have offered ‘cures’ for various ailments.

From a long list of quacks Eric showed the ‘special ‘treatments – quackery – of each ‘Dr.’

These ranged from hot & cold - bathing, manipulation of the spine, phrenology, poultices. sitting in blue light & the administrations of various nostrums such as arsenic, mercury & herbs. It was known that druggists made radium water for people to drink. & some religious groups believe that lust & libido was the cause of illness & had to be suppressed ! Several old recipes are still available today especially in the USA. Herbal remedies were written down by monks who would care for the sick. Nothing was known of infection & many died from shock & blood loss.

It has to be said that most of the potions caused vomiting & purging. The ‘cure’ was often more deadly than the disease. The Greeks were known to use enemas to cure disease.

In the time of Leonardo da Vinci the Pope allowed dissection of the dead & the artistic skills of da Vinci displayed the most accurate details of the body, from which the understanding of Anatomy & Physiology comes. It is said that they match the accuracy of MRI scans today.

It was not until 1858 that any recognised medical training was available at Oxford & Cambridge Edinburgh. & Doctors were registered & took the Oath of Hippocrates.

In the 17c Culpepper’s treatments were herbal & astrological & Cocaine, Opium & Alcohol were used. Some quacks trained to be an Apothecary leading to the registered chemist & pharmacist of today.

Infection was being understood & medical practise moved to what it is today.

So we must be thankful for the modern Doctors & drugs. We can only wonder what the future will hold It is already understood that in the not too distant future a patients treatment & drugs will be ‘tailored ‘ specifically for him only. Questions followed a very interesting talk.

The April meeting is by Brian Jones, the last he will give as he is retiring. His talk will be Me & My Family Tree.

[Barbara Holmes]

June 2014

Visit to St Clement's Church, Outwell

As the Rose Fair preparations prevent us using St Peters Hall we visited the parish church at Outwell. Our Chairman gave us an illustrated talk and pointed out some of the newly discovered treasures.

Two years ago Dr Clare Daunton visited the church to look at the mediaeval stained glass including the only known representation of Balthazar and some highly coloured images of saints. Whilst looking round Clare notice some unusual double carvings at the bases of the hammer beams. There are twelve carvings each with two figures; the smaller figures at the front are identifiable as apostles and saints but the larger figures which tower over them are intriguingly “normal” people although they have claws for hands. There are recognisable characters: a monk, a merchant, a lady and others. The carvings are covered in a black, Victorian wood preservative and nobody knows how Clare managed to see them. As a result the Friends of St Clements has been set up and a grant from English Heritage/National Lottery has been agreed to restore the roof and preserve the carvings.

Not only are there these unusual carvings, there are more than two hundred carved angels, some are red with gold wings, some are carved oak and there are carved symbols and decorations along the roof edges in the aisles and in the side chapels. The Beaupré Chapel contains a monument that is carved with a detailed family history ensuring that the daughter of the last man to bear the surname Beaupré can prove her lineage.

There is a fifteenth century wooden chest with seven locks that was originally made in Prussia before being used to transport goods to the Hanseatic Port of Kings Lynn – there are about a hundred of these chests known, nearly all of them in churches or colleges in the eastern counties. The iron work was added as security so that several key holders needed to be present before the chest could be opened.

The lectern is an eagle made of latten and is also from the fifteenth century and there is a seventeenth century collection box made of wood on a pillar – there are carved faces on three of the box sides: one boy, one girl and twins. There has been a lot of debate as to whether it was to be used by families or mothers on the occasion of the churching service six weeks after birth or is it just an elaborate alms box?

The church is a treasure house and many of its features have survived changes in doctrine and liturgy that saw images being destroyed wholesale.

The evening concluded with members looking round the church and having coffee and cake in the Beaupré Chapel.

[Brian Jones]

July 2014


We had visitors from Canada & Doncaster at our well attended July meeting.

Tom Doig the well known social historian demonstrated how to date photographs. His introduction told us how the first ‘photos’ were found in caves & were outline images of human hands . The hand was placed on the cave wall & ‘drawn’ around.

In 1810 images were produced by a person’s head, in profile, being lit to create a shadow. & creating a silhouette which was often cut out in black card.

Niépce, a Frenchman discovered a way of getting a picture onto paper, his first was of a roof top & the exposure time was 12 hours.

De Querre in about 1828 invented the daquerreotype process of photography, when the exposure time was less but the pictures faded very quickly .

Dating photos therefore can only be assessed when photos were mounted on glass & put into frames. As time passed the frame design went through changes.

In about 1850 the frames, oblong & mostly leather with infill fillets of ‘gold metal ‘ had side hinges which held a leather cover to protect the glass. Later these frames became more elaborate & the fillets were thicker & machined tooled. Still with leather covers, the inside of which was covered in crushed velvet & had a hook on the outside on which a watch could be hung. In 1859 the photos were surrounded by a plainer oval fillet & the edge of the frame was printed with a geometric design .

The photos remained in the negative form being stuck onto glass & the application of black mastic applied caused the optical illusion & created the positive picture. In 1856 new photo covers were made out of coal dust, milk & sulphuric acid which when mixed & dried created a ‘plastic’ like material which could be decorated by putting through a press containing plates of designs.

Occasionally dates can be worked out by the fashions of the day & Tom told us of several aids used to hold the client immobile for the long exposure times. & props & backcloths the photographers used.

Photography progressed with ‘cartes visite’, these were very small photos often taken with a four lens camera.

About 1865 photos as we know them were dated on the back with the photo number & photographer’s advertisement, some very elaborate

Tom suggested we should look at old photos much more closely as there is often a lot of information in them. As we enjoyed refreshments Tom was kept busy answering questions .

Tom will be at our Family history day on September 27th at St Peters Church hall Wisbech where he will be pleased to look at any of our old family pictures & give advice on them

Our AGM is on September 25th followed by a talk from our President Wim Zwalf on his unusual surname.

[Barbara Holmes]

Sep 2014

AGM & Talk by Wim Zwalf

Our AGM was conducted by our President Wim Zwalf who afterwards gave a talk on his rare & unusual surname. His father was Dutch & records started in 1811 showed three generations registered with their religions noted.

These records were destroyed during the war to prevent the Germans from finding people belonging to the Jewish faith. Several of Wim’s family were sent to concentration camps. The survivors, including his parents, were hidden by various people in many different places.

In 1960 as a student at King’s College London reading theology, he came across the surname over a jewellers shop. Having never met anyone with the surname Zwalf before he went inside and found that although the jeweller, Herman Zwalf also had a Dutch father, Wim could make no family connection.

This started Wim on his search for other Zwalfs. The origin of the name is thought to be Arabic with the name pronounced differently & translating in the middle east to mean the name for wigs or the long side curls worn by Jewish men, or to mean side burns or from North Africa, long plaits.

Wim has traced a possible ancestor to Hartog Zwalf in 1810 & his search has been worldwide. He found 3rd & 4th cousins now deceased. Despite this, there appears to be only nine male Zwalfs these being Wim’s own family. & his search continues..

At our October meeting Geoff Sewell will give a talk on the Great War.

[Barbara Holmes]

Sep 2014


Sunshine welcomed people to our family history day & the various visiting societies soon had their stalls up & running in the large hall.

People were welcomed at the door by Chris & Leanne & Karen directed people to the various venues available for help & advice. We were pleased to hear that the attendance was slightly higher than last year, including three canine friends!

We again had Martin Edwards & Peter Hunter in the nearby Wisbech Library helping people with their military enquiries. The library staff gave talks on what was available there to assist people with the family research. In the Wisbech Museum Judi & Bridget were able to show visitors what was available there.

In the small room at the hall our Society members Anita, Barbara, Janet & Judy had lap tops & fiche readers available & people to give advice. A gentleman of 86 years wanted to know of his family & we were pleased to say that we could help him.

At the other end of the scale a school boy came with his mother, for help with his family research as part of a school project.

Ron, Jane & Pat attended our Memorial Inscriptions books & registers table and these were very well used.

Pauline & Terry manned our book stall & also gave advice.

Linda & Susannah kept us very well supplied with drinks, Ploughman’s lunches & lovely cakes.

A few people do a lot of hard work to make this day successful and a big thank you must go to Malcolm who moved the tables & chairs & helped Bridget with the planning for the day.

Thank you to our visitors for coming, we hope you found the help you wanted & will come again next year & thanks to all the Fenland Family History members & helpers for their time & assistance.

[Barbara Holmes]

Oct 2014

THE GREAT WAR - Geoff Sewell

The Speaker at the October meeting was Geoff Sewell, with a talk entitled 'The Great War'.

The evening began in the picturesque village of Eltisley, with tree lined routes to the centre. But the 100 year old trees along the edge of the green are also a memorial to the men of the village who died during WW1, including 3 pairs of brothers.

We were introduced to his grandfather Ben, and learned about his time in the trenches during the Great War. We learned about the gas attacks used including tear gas, chlorine gas and mustard gas and Ben's time at Ypres. At the end of the talk a lot of time was spent looking at replica gas hoods and masks, including one with a plastic screen sewn into it, which was totally ineffective and at flechette - pointed steel projectile, with a vanned tail for stable flight, these where thrown from aircraft flying over the enemy.

Geoff also brought a lot of other artefacts with him including an Enfield gun, gas masks and letter openers, crafted from various different types of ordnance.

[Malcolm Bailey ]

Dec 2014

No meeting

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