Having established as much as possible from the printed information in books, the next step is to use information left in books from previous owners. This is most commonly from ownership inscriptions, bookplates, gift inscriptions or prize and award labels. But rather than just focusing this step on the book itself, particularly on the dating of a book, I like to follow up with an investigation on who, exactly, the previous owner was. Where and when did they live? What was the circumstance of their acquisition of the book? As examples of my approach, we will return to the three editions of Mansfield Park that I examined in part 2 of this blog.
Where to look for ownership information
Normally, we look at the blank pages bound into the front of the book or sometimes the back of the book for evidence of previous owners. We call the pages bound in before the text block the preliminaries, often abbreviated as “prelims”. The first page, which is glued down to the front board of the binding is called the “paste down end paper”, although it is now more frequently called the “front paste-down” The next blank page is called the “free front end paper”, often abbreviated as “ffep“. At the back of the book, the equivalent pages are called the “rear paste down” and the rear free end paper”. The other places where inscriptions commonly occur are on the title page, on the half-title page, if present, or on the recto page which has the frontispiece on the verso. The half-title page is found between the ffep and frontispiece and the title page and usually has the title of the book printed on it and sometimes the name of the series that the book forms a part of, is such is the case. Half titles were very common in the 19th century and less common in the 20th century. Sometimes, prelim pages may be missing from the book. This is often because a previous owner has wanted to remove the name or inscription from a earlier owner. This desire also can result to a small piece being cut from the prelim page, generally the ffep, to remove the name of a previous owner. I strongly disapprove of this practice and of the removal of bookplates!
If we examine the Routledge “The Ruby Series” copy of Mansfield Park from 1876 shown in the left panel above, we find that there is a ffep, a half-title page which reads MANSFIELD PARK, a frontispiece and a title page, shown in the previous blog. However, there are no inscriptions, bookplates or labels, so we really can not find out anything about previous owners. One should note that the end papers are a dark brown colour, which would not carry a legible inscription unless it were written in a very light colour or in white.
The Routledge Mansfield Park in the central panel, which was shown to be a reprint of Gilson E62 from 1903-1906 in the previous blog, has white end-papers, no half-title, a frontispiece and a title page. However, it also has a hand written gift inscription on the front paste down Figure 2.
The inscription reads “Presented by The Managers of the M.N.C. Sunday School Westwoodside to George Henry Maw May 20 – 1906.”
This inscription is almost ideal in terms of investigating the provenance of the book. Firstly, the date is precise, 20th May 1906. This means that the book must have been printed and published prior to this date. This confirms the idea that the book was published between 1903 and 1906. It is also interesting to note that 20th May 1906 was a Sunday. (You can look this up on an online perpetual calendar.) This is not surprising as the book was presented by a Sunday School.
The other two things that occurred to me when I first saw this inscription was that the place identified, Westwoodside, is unambiguous and, perhaps, an unusual place name. Secondly, George Henry Maw is a precise, full name and Maw is an unusual family name. It is much harder to trace the provenance of a book that is inscribed ” To Fred from his favourite Auntie” – I do possess a book with exactly this inscription.
Typing “Westwoodside” into Google returns the Wikipedia entry for Westwoodside as the first item listed. It reveals that “Westwoodside is a small village in North Lincolnshire, England. It is situated within the Isle of Axholme and 7 miles (11 km) north-west from Gainsborough.” In the map of the Isle of Axholme below (Figure 3), it can be seen that the “Isle” is in fact a tract of low lying farmland that sits between the River Don to the west (not shown) and the Trent to the east. In fact, the Isle of Axholme can best be thought as occupying a triangle defined by Doncaster (Yorkshire), Scunthorpe and Gainsborough (both in Lincolnshire).
What is the M.N.C. Sunday School?
The book was presented by the “M.N.C. Sunday School Westwoodside.” Typing this phrase into Google returns an article on Alexander Kilham and Epworth. The first sentence of the article states “Alexander Kilham the founder of the METHODIST NEW CONNEXION was born in Epworth in 1762, and the family business was sackcloth weaving.” You can see Epworth on the map above, a few km to the north-east of Westwoodside. M.N.C. is clearly Methodist New Connextion, a breakaway form of Methodism that spread from Epworth to nearby villages like Westwoodside. The article also has two pictures. The second one, shown below in Figure 4, shows the M.N.C. chapel at Westwoodside, together with its congregation in 1905! The image was from a contemporary postcard which has survived.
Could one of the men or boys in this picture be George Henry Maw?
I have found a second picture of the Westwoodside MNC chapel on another postcard, undated but clearly of the same period (Figure 5).
George Henry Maw
Approaches to Family History Research
In order to find out more about George Henry Maw, we need to enter the realm of family history research. I use several of the commercial websites for this, including The Genealogist, Findmypast.com and Ancestry.com, as well as the free site Family Search which is run by The Church of the Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). All of these sites are easily found online.
My preference is Ancestry.com which I have been using for more than a decade to research my own family history. It also proves to be an invaluable tool in researching authors and previous owners of books. It does involve an annual subscription, but you can often also access it if you join a local genealogical or family history society.
To start the search, you enter what you know. I entered that George Henry Maw was male, alive in 1906 and living in Westwoodside, Lincolnshire, UK. I guessed an approximate birth date of 1890 plus or minus 10 years, selected the UK data set and hit the search button. Unfortunately I had erroneously typed MAY instead of MAW in the family name box, so I found a whole lot of George Mays! This shows that you need to be precise to get the search to work properly.
Once I had succeeded in entering MAW, the search immediately found George H Maw in the 1901 UK census. He was a thirteen year old, living in Westwoodside with his parents Gervase W and Mary J Maw and his younger siblings Frances A Maw aged 11 and Horace W Maw aged 3. The family was living in Nethergate, Westwoodside in the Parish of Haxey.
The same family was still all living in Westwoodside in the 1911 census, where the names are given fully as Gervase William and Mary Jane Maw with their children George Henry 23, Frances Alice 21 and Horace William 14. George Henry Maw is described as a House Joiner. In the 1891 census, the family were reported to be living in the hamlet of Graizelound, about 1 km south-east of Westwoodside and 500 metres south of Haxey. In this census, George was 3 and had an older sister, Bertha, aged 5. Further online research, which took me about 2-3 hours to complete, revealed a fairly complete view of the life of George Henry Maw. I summarise the main points below.
George Henry Maw was born on 22nd August 1887 in the parish of Haxey, Lincolnshire to parents Gervase William Maw (1863 – 1947) and Mary Jane Maw nee Hather (1867 -1935). He was at least the fourth generation of his farming family to be born in that area, starting with his great grandfather, another Gervase William Maw (1792 – 1847). George Henry Maw’s marriage to Lillie Oates, the daughter of David and Emma Oates, a farmer and his wife living in Westwoodside, was registered in the 2nd quarter of 1913 in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. They had two children, Albert Horace Maw, born 1st February 1915 and Elsie Maw born 3rd December 1917. In 1939, George and his family were still living in the Isle of Axholme rural district, where George was described as a farmer and grocer. George Henry Maw died on 18th October 1972. His wife Lillie Maw nee Oates, who had been born on 8th June 1883, died on 1st May 1977. They both appeared to have lived their whole lives together in Westwoodside and are buried together near there (Figure 6).
George Henry Maw’s two children both married in Lincolnshire; Albert Horace Maw (1915-1998) to Sara H Campion and Elsie Maw to a Mr. Williamson. I have been unable to tell if either of these couples had children.
If we back to look at the picture of the MNC chapel and community in 1905, there are five or six young men who could be the then 18 year old George Henry Maw. Unless an authenticated photograph of him can be discovered, I do not expect to be able to identify him in the group picture.
Two other interesting things occurred to me. Firstly, he was presented with the book at the age of 18 or 19, which seems a little bit old to be a Sunday School pupil. Secondly, I can find no record of any military service in the first world war for him. He would have been 26 years old in 1914 and would have been expected to join the forces. However, he may have become a farmer following his marriage in 1913 to the daughter of a farmer, noting that he was reported to be a farmer in 1939. Farming was a reserved occupation in the 1914-1918 period. That may have saved his life.
Another thing that I don’t know is when the book left the Maw family. Was it at the death of George or his wife? Did the book pass on to one of his two children? What I do know is that I bought the book in 2010 from a well known dealer, who specialises in editions of Jane Austen. He works from Northampton in England, which is about 100 miles (160 km) to the south of Westwoodside.