A Day in the Life of a Volunteer: David Ford, Research Volunteer

Our fantastic research volunteer, David Ford has kindly given an insight into his research with us here at Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust. Have a read below to find out more about the brilliant work that he does and get a glimpse into some of his fascinating discoveries!

About me

I was born in Woodsetton, but grew up in Tipton at the family home in Castle Road just a short ‘legging’ distance across the road from the Canal Trust.

I have always had an interest in our local history, an interest I shared with my father. Indeed it was with my father that I took my first trip through the Dudley Tunnel. In the 60’s there were no Health and Safety laws, no hard hats, and no restrictions on the number of passengers. We were told not to put our hands over the side if we still wanted our fingers when we got off. It was a memorable trip enjoyed by all, and better still with fingers still attached where they should be.

My working career has always been in design in it’s various guises, covering such things as promoting personal appearances of sports personalities, shop interior design, working with professional photographers,  promoting under 18’s International Football Tournaments, to designing exhibitions at the NEC. For my last job I was a graphic designer working for the UK’s largest distributor of garden and leisure products.

I have many interests including photography, music, reading, painting and art. I also belong to a meet-up group which helps foreign students and workers improve their English language skills. Then last year I took over an allotment plot in Tipton which last year produced a variety of fruit, vegetables and flowers. It takes up a lot of time to keep it maintained but it’s well worth the effort.

Following retirement, and still with an interest in our local history, for the last two years I have been working on research projects for DCTT.

A Day in the Life

To write a blog about a Day in the Life’, and in my case of a Research Volunteer, would not be very interesting for the reader, as a typical research day could well be spent in Dudley Archives with a sharpened pencil (you are not allowed pens), plenty of paper, and surrounded by reference books, maps, historical documents or the odd newspaper cutting. And that would be it, my day…. Not very interesting!

So to make it just a little more interesting I thought that I would give you an idea what sort of things I have researched and a bit about that research.

When I started my volunteer work two years ago I was given a list of people who were instrumental in surveying, building and constructing not only the tunnel but the canals at the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century. It was one of the names on that list that appealed to me, and that was Abiathar Hawkes. This is a potted version of that research.

After lengthy searches through Dudley Library and Archives, I found out that Abiathar’s background was in glassmaking. He was the son of Thomas and Sara Hawkes, and baptised on the 6th February 1749 at St Thomas’s Church, Dudley. He grew up working in the family business, Dudley Flint Glass Works. They specialised in enamelled ornamental quality ware and coloured glass. In October 1774, at the age of 25, he married Mary Wright at St Mary’s church in Stafford, in which Abiathar is described as a ‘Gentleman of Dudley’. He became involved in the promotion of the Dudley canal and tunnel about this time, and over the next 20 years he played a major part alongside Lord Ward in financing the tunnel and canal enterprise. Abiathar resigned as treasurer in 1796 for health reasons with grateful thanks for his ‘liberal assistance’ in lending money to enable the work to continue.

It’s always sad when you have spent a number of weeks researching into the life of an individual knowing that they are coming to the end of their life, and so on the 17th January, 1800, he died at the age of 50 after a long illness and was buried ten days later on 27th January, 1800, at St Thomas’s Church Dudley. There is a memorial to him on the south wall of the chancel in St Edmunds Church, Dudley.

I try to find out something ‘extra’ about people that I research. In Abiather’s case some of you may remember Dudley Council re-developed Stone Street car park, and during these excavations uncovered the remains of a glassworks. This was owned and built by Abiathar in 1766. It was demolished in 1886 and is the reason behind the restaurant on the site being called The Glasshouse.

Other titles that I have researched include: John Ward, The Second Viscount Dudley and Ward (see image below), The Dudley Fêtes, Black Country Brickyards, Dudley’s limekilns and limestone mines, and by far the most difficult and time consuming being the canals during the Second World War, again because so little is written about it. I’ve also enjoyed researching landscape artist J M W Turner’s visits to Dudley, and in particular where he was when he painted Dudley Castle. Incidentally this research was passed on to an Oxford based television company for use in a programme on Turner they are making.

Occasionally members of the public write in with questions which I have helped to find the answer to. For example, an elderly lady who as a child thought there was one of the tunnel air shafts in her garden. Apparently she used to throw bricks on the passing boats as they legged through! Another lady wanted to know if there was a tunnel under her house and there was a tunnel but 50 yards down the road.

While researching you may come across something of interest, a news cutting from the Birmingham Aris Gazette told of a ‘mischievous person or persons throwing coping stones off the bridge and into the canal at Monmore Green’. A reward of ten guineas was offered for a conviction. The sentence – seven years transportation!

Thank you for reading about my research. It is very time consuming, requires a lot of reading, long hours at a computer, and a lot of dedication, but above all it is very rewarding when the final document is finally complete.

See images below:

David Ford

John Ward, The Second Viscount Dudley and Ward and his daughter, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.