Ryde Social Heritage Group research the social history of the citizens of Ryde, Isle of Wight. Documenting their lives, businesses and burial transcriptions.
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Ryde Library Feb 2014
Ryde Library Feb 2014

Archive Day at Ryde Library on Saturday 22 February proved a terrific success. Even before the official opening time of 10am, visitors were already busy browsing through RSHG’s information folders on Ryde’s history. With subjects ranging from transport to sports, arts and music to schools there was much to learn about.

As part of RSHG’s ‘Changing Face of Ryde’ project, a number of new folders on specific streets or areas of the town were available with maps, street directories, photographs, house and family stories among the treasures inside. This is an ongoing project and some folders are much fatter than others! The Well Street folder, launched in November 2013 has almost doubled in size and has been travelling up and down the street to various families who’ve been adding more detail or finding out about who lived in their house and what jobs they did 100 years ago. Just a small snippet has triggered some interesting memories and added to the history. Ryde, like everywhere, was on the brink of war 100 years ago and would change dramatically. There would be restrictions on travel, a lack of visitors, foreigners sent home – no longer welcome in our town, public entertainments cancelled, and a mass recruiting campaign for the army. Many families would see husbands, brothers, sons and nephews volunteer to serve their country, many never to return.

Almost immediately war was declared, families began to receive the awful news their loved ones had been killed in action. Five folders of information has already been collected on the First World War which include an A – Z of people involved, not just those who went to the Front and were killed, but the survivors, their families and civilians who gave their time to work with the Red Cross Society setting up hospitals to treat the wounded or raising funds to help in the war effort. There is a folder of general information gathered from local papers, accounts from the Front either in the form of letters home or first hand reports from the wounded soldiers, both British and Belgian, treated at the hospitals in town.

Richard Smout, IW Heritage Manager, spent the morning with us and brought a mass of information from the record office including some newly discovered Register of Cases under the Military Service Act, 1916, when applications were made for exemptions from going to war. The register gives brief details of the man’s name, address, age and the outcome of the appeal but Richard was able to show how to connect this to other pieces of information available to complete the picture. Local newspapers often carried a full report of the application and Richard had examples on hand. He was very busy all morning and it was especially rewarding when a lady found her grandfather listed and by chance it was one of the newspaper reports Richard had selected to being along.
There are several other stories to mention from Saturday. We advertised that we could help anyone to trace a family member and Liz Black challenged us to do just that. she gave us the name of her ancestor who she thought had died in WW1. With Ann advising on the short cuts and Arthur searching on his tablet we traced her ancestor until he was lost with all 867 hands when HMS Black Prince was sunk at the battle of Jutland in 1916.

A lady asked Ann about some very faint words on the outside of her house in Nelson Street. She could just read “Prowse”. Although we didn’t have the information with us, by Saturday evening Ann had found lots of information about Mr Prowse who was a tailor and his family who lived in Ryde from 1853 till 1898. We sent her the lady details and she was very pleased indeed.

Several other enquiries are still being investigated and may take a little longer to answer as more research is needed at the record office.

The day seemed to go very quickly with a constant stream of people asking questions and telling the stories of their families and before we knew it was time to pack up and take the folders back to the Heritage and Learning Centre in Ryde Cemetery where they are available to browse at any time the centre is open together with the maps of the cemetery plots, nature and art studies, information for school studies and a computer suite for family and local history research. John, the new sexton, will be pleased to see visitors and is able to help locating graves and giving general information. He also makes an excellent cup of tea or coffee for a small donation! John normally works at Ryde Cemetery on Mondays to Thursdays (but please note he is on annual leave for the first two weeks of March 2014).

Our next major event will be ‘Ryde on the Brink of War’ with two Open Days in Ryde Cemetery on 24 and 25 May when we will have display boards, character walks and cemetery walks and much more research to see. We will also have a stand at the Isle of Wight Family History Society Conference at Northwood House, Cowes on Saturday 3 May. More details of the conference and exhibition can be found on the IWFHS website www.isle-of-wight-fhs.co.uk.

Thank you to Ryde Library staff for hosting our event, The Friends of Ryde Library for providing tea and cakes, RSHG members and volunteers and all our friends, old and new, who visited us and added to the history of Ryde.