The Suffolk Archives statement on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its services is available to read here.

Charles Partridge Pedigrees

Charles Stanley Partridge, who died on 21 December 1955 at Stowmarket, at the age of 83, was a scholar, colonial officer, anthropologist, author, local historian and genealogist. During his lifetime he collected a wealth of artefacts, photographs, books and papers and was meticulous in arranging for their disposal, both before his death and in his will, proved on 27 January 1956.

Amongst the many books and papers left to the Ipswich Public Library were 387 files and 28 foolscap volumes of, what Partridge himself described as, “very rough Suffolk pedigrees and notes”. Over the years they were transferred to the Suffolk Record Office at Ipswich, forming part of the Local Studies collection. Stored as originally arranged – by family surname – boxed, then indexed on cards, very simply without a Dewey classification number, only the most determined researcher could access the files they needed.

Recently, they have been transferred to the archive collection, given the reference number HD4084, and catalogued onto the CALM catalogue database. The exercise has provided the opportunity to examine the collection as a whole, perhaps for the first time, to reveal the extent of Partridge’s researches and his network of contacts. It demonstrates, too, the way a genealogist had to operate in the days before the main sources, such as parish registers, were held in record offices and, of course, more recently, their increasing availability on the internet.

Each file, of varying size, represents work done on one family (and, often, other families with which it was inter-related) and consists of loose papers, in all shapes and sizes, often scrappy and probably not in their original order after the passage of time. They are Partridge’s working papers, added to, and sometimes amended, over the years as additional information came to light.

Most are in his bold, distinctive handwriting, but many are the contributions of family, friends and professional researchers who he engaged to help him. There are lists of entries from parish registers, probate and taxation records, marriage licences, churchyard and monumental inscriptions, obituaries, newspaper cuttings and notes, each the result of a personal visit to a church, library or institution. From these, Partridge compiled detailed pedigree charts which are included in the files.

A life-long obsession with his own family history provides the backbone of the collection and these pedigrees appear to be the first that he tackled.

The 28 scrapbook volumes, HD 4084/355-386, were started at least as early as 1891, before he went up to Christ’s College, Cambridge, to read theology, and at the front of each volume Partridge has drawn a pedigree showing direct descent back from himself.

An exercise book (HD4084/353) has a “list of a collection of notes for pedigrees of families from which I am descended”. There are 92 families in all; those from the Partridge side marked with a “P”, and those from the Hewitt side, (his mother’s), marked with an “H”. They are, in the main, well-to-do families, most connected with the land as farmers or tenant farmers, but also engaged in trade and industry, in public service, the church and the law.

His own family files are also some of the bulkiest; Partridge’s “researches as to the ancestors of my maternal grandfather”, William Robert Hewitt of Stowmarket, 1806-1887, require a whole box (HD4084/354) and contain, in addition to the usual sources, original wills, photographs, sale catalogues and news cuttings. There are also letters and papers of family members, including a small bundle marked “Letters to me” from a favourite aunt, Fanny Hewitt, who died in 1952 aged 101.

The Hewitt and Paul family papers (HD4084/370) compiled between 1891 and 1935, also include photographs, family letters, funeral and memorial cards, obituaries and news cuttings.

He was proud of his family’s place in the well-to-do yeoman ranks of society; in his will he describes his occupation as “former political officer, Southern Nigeria” but in the three codicils he replaces that with “of Yeoman Rank”. In 1926, a birth brief, submitted to the Society of Genealogists, shows, in tabular form, five generations going back to his great great grand-parents, all, but one, born in Suffolk and all connected with the land.

In 1901 Partridge founded, and was first editor of, the East Anglian Miscellany, a journal of genealogy and local history. Many of the files contain research for that publication, including copies of the articles as they appeared.

Others were compiled “to be of service for my weekly article in E.A.D.T. [East Anglian Daily Times], 1919-1927, signed “Silly Suffolk” (see image below).

As his reputation spread, enquiries were to come from the public, as well as other researchers, wanting help. He was generous with his time and quick to respond. Most files contain the correspondence connected with his research and, often written over the course of many years, it can be as interesting and useful as the notes.

Partridge had an extensive network of people who worked with, and for, him. In addition to using family and friends, he engaged and paid other professional genealogists from East Anglia, London and elsewhere. He had a close association with Lilian Redstone, Joint Archivist at Ipswich and East Suffolk Record Office, who frequently did work for him. There are letters from Nina Layard, archaeologist and antiquarian, 1901-1927, (HD4084/192) regarding her ancestry.  Those from Harold R Lingwood, genealogist and keen transcriber of Churchyard Inscriptions (HD4084/197), provide a good example of topics which go beyond the subject of genealogy. His letters are colourful and chatty and, after asking Partridge to “leave a few churchyards for me, please!”, he writes of his experience of military action in France during WW1, cycling, and many descriptions of the natural world.

Occasionally, Partridge advertised for help when all else failed – in April 1932 he offered a £1 reward to anyone who could supply the details of two 18th century Miller marriages (HD4084/374).

An unexpected outcome of looking closely at the papers has been the discovery that Partridge was a compulsive re-cycler.

He never threw a piece of paper away if it could be reused, with the result that his notes are usually written on the back of something else. There are letters and application forms from the Nigerian Dinner Club, the Society of Antiquities, the Eugenics Education Society, election posters, war bonds and shares and hotel bills. In 1919, an invoice from Everett & Sons, Ipswich, colonial outfitters, shows Lieut. Partridge had purchased 1 stiff felt, 1 tweed cap and ½ gr cash name tapes.

One notebook, compiled when District Commissioner in Nigeria, and containing a list of goods in the market at Ikot and extracts from a diary, was later re-used for genealogical notes. For anyone interested in the character and interests of Charles Partridge, these scraps of ephemera can provide some clues.

An anonymous friend wrote an obituary of Charles Partridge which appeared in The Times on 10 Jan 1856, and observed: “perhaps one of his chief contributions to the recording of knowledge was the survey he made of all the tombstones, in all the churchyards of Suffolk. I believe that he had failed to decipher only about 1 per cent of the inscriptions. Sometimes, he said, he had found after rain, in a particular slanting light, that he could at last make out a line which had hitherto baffled him.” His attention to detail did not stop there; he occasionally paid for the repair of family gravestones. Surviving stonemasons’ bills show that he paid 15 shillings for rebuilding brickwork, and setting head and footstones of Sheldrake graves at Stonham Aspal. The restoration of the Noller gravestone at Saxmundham in 1929 cost 12/6d. It has been these small details which have made the task of cataloguing this collection so rewarding.

By Sally Looker, Record Office volunteer