Searching for Cavers references in the British Newspaper Archive

I’ve often posted articles found in old newspapers. Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive these are some of the easiest sources to check quickly online, at least for Scotland and the UK. As I write the British Newspaper Archive already holds over 35 million pages from old British newspapers. Now to be fair the archive doesn’t contain all old British newspapers, though it certainly has a lot, and is adding more all the time. And there were few local newspapers, including in the Scottish Borders homeland of the Cavers surname, before the early 1800s. However the archive already has good coverage for Hawick. As well as many years of the Hawick News (started 1882) and the Hawick Express (started 1870), it includes a number of surrounding area papers, as well as many years of the Borders-wide paper the Southern Reporter (started 1855). Elsewhere the archive has good coverage of newspapers in Edinburgh and Fife, as well as in many parts of England.

Having said all that, searching for surname Cavers can be somewhat fraught. Searches are by keyword, not specifically surname, and the word “Cavers” can match both the surname and the parish of Cavers near Hawick that gave rise to the surname. Usually parish references predominate by far. Adding a forename can narrow it down, e.g. searching for “James Cavers”, “Francis Cavers” etc. Another tactic is to restrict the place of publication (an option in the search results form) to just Hawick published papers. Though even then you still have to wade through lots of Cavers parish results.

The quality of the OCR automated character recognition used in the archive text searches is not perfect, and there are often mistranscriptions. This does mean you may miss sought articles when searching by text keyword. But often the search does lead to something you want, the transcript (even with faults), can be good enough to judge an article’s relevance, and you can then click through to read the original newspaper page directly. Note it is also possible to browse newspaper issues directly, without using a keyword search, if you want to access the archive that way. Keyword searches, however, make searching the mass of pages quickly practical, that would be impractical to read fully.

The newspaper references I am posting online in the opening months of 2020 were found by searching for pages added to the online archive in the last 30 days – another handy search option available. This found old Cavers newspaper articles new for me, and hopefully of interest to the blog’s readers.

I love the variety of references that turn up. Obviously reports of births, marriages and deaths. But also advertisements from businessmen, court cases and crime reports, school prize lists and so much more. The content evolves over time, to be more varied and less about elite people later. It is always worth me checking the archive for interesting new Cavers content.

If you are interested in trying the British Newspaper Archive do check out their site. It is a subscription site, but you can subscribe for as short a period as a month, as well as longer. Alternatively the newspaper archive’s database is included in many FindMyPast subscription packages, alongside the other datasets FindMyPast provides access to.

London Poor Law school registers regularly adds new datasets, usually with indexes, transcripts and often linked images. I keep an eye on the new additions, and check any that might be promising for Cavers references. Usually that would need something Scottish based or UK wide. But when I spotted London Poor Law School Records I was hopeful, given the London Cavers family, which pops up in the poor relief records as well as records reflecting better times.

The new records online are the Poor Law School District Registers for 1852-1918, held by the London Metropolitan Archives. Only two Cavers names appear in the registers: brothers Edwin George Cavers (b. 1858) and Ernest Frederick Cavers (b. 1859). Note the older brother here is recorded in the school register as “George Edward Cavers”.

I’d found the brothers before in the Cleveland Street Workhouse in 1869 with their parents William and Sarah as well as younger siblings. The new school admission records date from the same period. Both brothers were admitted to Edmonton Schools on 27th March 1869. The admission register noted that neither had been in a workhouse school before, but both had been in another school or schools.

By the time of the 1871 census this large Cavers family were living at 4 Market Street, St Anne’s parish, Westminster. William was again noted as a gun maker, and together with his wife Sarah nine children were living in the household. This included Edwin Cavers, aged 14, and Ernest, aged 13.

I haven’t properly traced the brothers forward in time, but Ernest shows up in the 1939 Register, taken on the outbreak of war, a “Printer – Press” living in Great Percy Street, Finsbury, London, with a birth date noted as 7th October 1859. Noted as unmarried.

It is likely that other Cavers children in the nineteenth century received some form of poor relief, still to be uncovered.

A mystery Cavers girl from Selkirk

While browsing through the Scottish birth, marriage and death certificates again I looked at the 1861 marriage of “Isabella Scott or Cavers”, a 21-year old mender in a wool hosiery factory, living at 4 Fore Row, Hawick, daughter of Barbara Moyes maiden name Scott. Isabella married wool sorter William Spalding, also aged 21, of Wilton Place, Hawick. Very sadly Isabella died just over a week after her wedding. Her death certificate names just her mother again, no father noted. Who was he?

My working presumption is that he was a Cavers man, hence the two surnames that unmarried Isabella used when she married. Looking in the census finds her mother Barbara (who died in 1869 aged 51) was born at Selkirk. And a bit more digging finds mother and daughter together in the 1841 Selkirk census, living at Edinburgh Road, Selkirk, in the large household of Alexander and Jane Scott. Sadly the 1841 Scottish census doesn’t record relationships, but from their ages (44 and 40) this couple are likely to have been Barbara’s parents, with others in the house her younger siblings. Alexander was a stocking maker and Barbara a woollen factory worker. Barbara’s daughter was recorded as “Isabel Cavers” in this census, aged 1, born Selkirkshire.

Barbara Scott next appears in the 1851 census, by now wife of James Moise, stocking weaver and keeping of a lodging house, and living at Back Row, Selkirk with their children and some members of her Scott family. No sign of Isabel Cavers. By 1861 the “Moyse” family appear in Hawick, living at Mill Port, Hawick, James a wool framework knitter. In both 1851 and 1861 census returns Barbara is noted as born Selkirk. Again no sign of Isabel or Isabella Cavers living with her.

And then it gets very strange! Because the only possible glimpse of Isabella Cavers in the 1861 census is the 21-year-old “Isobella Cavers”, wool hosiery warehouse girl, living with her granny Helen Scott or Cavers at Roadhead, Hawick. Helen Scott was the widow of Thomas Cavers, and my gggg-granny! I’ve never known who this granddaughter Isobella was. She’s born in Selkirk per this census. Might she be Barbara Scott/Moyes’ daughter, and the illegitimate child of one of the sons of Helen Scott/Cavers? There’s also a mysterious 10-year-old Isabella Cavers living with the same Helen Scott/Cavers at Burnfoot, Wilton in 1851. Supposedly born Selkirkshire, and Helen’s daughter, but could that again be a granddaughter really born in Selkirk?

Helen Scott had 5 Cavers sons: Francis, James, John, Thomas and William. Francis Cavers was probably the most likely of these sons to have been Isabella’s father, close in age to Barbara, and I know that he gardened for a time in Selkirkshire. A paternity case might prove it, whether in the courts or the kirk session minutes. But for now I have one final clue. Guess who shows up as a witness at Isabella’s 1861 marriage per the certificate. Francis Cavers, almost certainly this same man. So I think this mystery is now pretty much solved, barring final 100% confirmation. And to think when I first looked at Isabella’s marriage certificate earlier I had absolutely no idea who she was …

A large cabbage

The British Newspaper Archive has recently been adding more pages from the Hawick Express newspaper. Here is a Cavers reference from there, from the 14 October 1876 issue. George Cavers was born at Hawick in 1848, son of John Cavers or Irvine and Janet Graham. George married Janet Bruce in 1886. He died at Hawick in 1912.

LARGE CABBAGE – Mr George Cavers, green-grocer, &c., received yesterday a very large cabbage, measuring 57 1/2 inches in circumference, and weighing 38 lbs. It is now exhibiting in his window, 30 High Street.