Collections volunteer Tony Bucknall reveals how online resources can shed light on the lives of individuals.
Lois Nettlefold was John and Margaret Nettlefold’s sixth child. She led an interesting life, and I’ve chosen to focus on Lois to illustrate the range of resources that are available when exploring the lives of individuals. My starting point for collecting information about Lois was to add her to ‘Ancestry’ as a daughter of John and Margaret, and the birth index provided a year of birth of 1903 which was confirmed by the 1911 Census.
Marriage banns showed that she married Alexander White on 23 April 1927, and later married George Ingle in 1938 whilst Alexander was still alive. The 1939 register showed her living in Cheshire and her date of birth as 18 April 1903. Then the probate record showed her name as Lois Steyn when she died in 1965, indicating that she had married a third time.
I next turned to the British Newspaper Archive. Records revealed that Lois was a bridesmaid at the wedding of John Chamberlain a few days before her 4th birthday, and in 1914 (aged 10) she was at Edgbaston High School for Girls, was awarded a scholarship and won a Royal Drawing Society prize. When Lois married Alexander White she wore a dress of medieval silver brocade with a Brussels lace train and a veil of old lace. She had 4 bridesmaids dressed in blue silk with Italian flower embroidery.
Seven years later in March 1934, the Ancestry records show that Lois and her husband left for a 1-month cruise to Bermuda. It was just two years later that Lois and Alexander divorced. A visit to the National Archives in Kew to view the divorce papers revealed that it was Alexander who petitioned for divorce. Lois then married George Ingle in Cheshire.
Newspaper archives provided information about Lois’s interests. She was a clever embroiderer, and inaugurated the Junior Cheshire Embroidery Guild which met once a week with the object of encouraging young people to study the art and craft of embroidery. This was probably a skill picked up from her mother, as Margaret Nettlefold was a keen embroiderer. Winterbourne has an example of her work on display.
The newspaper archives turned up a fascinating wartime detail. In February 1942 Lois was fined 10 shillings (a significant sum in those days) for refusing to immobilise her car and give up the parts to help the war effort.
I next turned once again to ‘Ancestry’. The Newspaper’s Index Cards contain marriage details, and in 1951 we find Lois’s daughter, Helena, marrying the actor Nigel Davenport. Lois was now Mrs. Steyn and living at Ol Donyo Mara in Kenya. I searched Google for Mrs. Steyn, and via Google Books I could access the Kenya Gazette. This picked up Lois and Peter Steyn as farmers on the Ol Donyo Mara estate which is now a game reserve. Unfortunately, Lois’s son, David, was killed by the Mau Mau in 1953 whilst serving with the local militia.
These searches also revealed that Lois was a member of the East Africa Women’s League and had been involved in an embroidery project to produce an embroidery panel for each region of Kenya colonised by its members. Lois created the epigraph. These tapestry panels were exhibited at the Commonwealth Institute in London in 1961 and now reside in the Kenyan Government Buildings. Further searches led to the discovery of a book which describes the tapestry project and contains reproductions of all the panels including Lois’s. Winterbourne purchased a copy of this book, which is now very rare, and it’s now part of the permanent collection.
In 1963 Kenya was granted independence. Records at the National Archives revealed that the Steyn’s farm in Kenya went into liquidation and was to be sold to a Kenyan collective as part of the Kenya Land Transfer Programme. Two years later, on 4th May 1965, Lois died in tragic circumstances. While travelling by ferry to Scotland to visit her daughter, she fell overboard into the Irish Sea.
I shall continue to search for more information about Lois, and to find out more about her life and her death.