Celebrity genealogy series. Bee Gee Robin Gibb discovers a tale of poverty as he finds out how his great-grandfather overcame the odds to become a decorated soldier.
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The chemistry and the ingredients between my brothers was absolutely essential.
And if I had to do it all over again, it would only be with Barry and Maurice.
MUSIC: "Night Fever"
Robin Gibb, with his brothers Barry and Maurice made up the legendary band The Bee Gees.
They've sold over 200 million records and their music has made them multi-millionaires.
We had a huge song catalogue and been very successful,
but we've never really become Hollywood-ised.
I like being a down-to-earth kind of guy.
I've always loved history.
Ever since I was a child, it was my favourite subject at school.
I'm looking forward to finding out about my family history intensely.
I think the traits that run through the, er, Gibb family is this need not to conform.
That spirit of saying, yes, to everybody's no and,
and not being like everyone else.
I think I'd like to find out where that actually began.
I think a lot of people worry about well, maybe somebody was mad.
I don't worry about finding out if someone's crazy or not cos I'm already mad!
Robin lives on a 20-acre estate in Oxfordshire,
in a converted medieval monastery that he shares with his wife Dwina and son RJ.
He came from modest beginnings.
He and his twin brother Maurice were born in 1949 into a working-class family on the Isle of Man.
I know that... I know this is me and Maurice here in this, in the pram here.
Whereabouts is it? Do you know where it is?
-Yeah, Isle of Man.
-Yeah, but do you know whereabouts on it?
-Some back alley!
No, I can always remember my mother as she was pushing this pram
-saying, "If you don't behave, I'm going to give you away."
To sell me to the woman next door, that was it, yeah.
Anyway, it silenced us.
Robin lost his twin brother eight years ago,
when Maurice died suddenly from complications arising from surgery.
He was more than a brother, he was a soul mate.
There are times when I can't believe that he's not in the world any more.
But Maurice will always be in our lives because he's part of us.
My favourite picture of my dad, it's got to be this one,
where he's on the drums, because he did have a band on the Isle of Man
for about, you know, ten years.
I don't know much about my ancestry, but there's this military thread that runs through.
This one I think is Matthew, it says on the back.
He's my grandfather's father and he died...
-What did he do?
-..in his 70s. Mathew was a military man.
I think I'd like to know more about him
because my father never really spoke much about him.
-And yet he must have met him.
Robin's keen to find out more about Matthew Gibb's Army career.
He's arranged a meeting in London with his cousin Anne Bracegirdle,
Matthew's last surviving grandchild.
I'm meeting Anne, er, who is the granddaughter of Matthew Gibb
who was my great-grandfather.
So, in essence it's quite interesting because having just an old
photograph to go by, I know very little.
-Good morning, Madame, how are you today?
-Thank you. Very well, thank you.
-Let me help you.
-Thank you very much.
Hi, Robin. Pleased to meet you.
-Hello. Are you Anne?
-Yes. After all these years!
-Lovely to see you.
-Can you believe it?!
You've got some photographs here.
Oh, yes, but they're pretty ancient and not terribly good.
This is a photograph of your great-grandfather.
Yeah. That's Matthew.
And Matthew's wife Mary James - and that's my father.
That's Charles, is it?
Yes, that's Charles.
-So you want to know some more about your great-grandfather.
Um, my cousin got this from the Scottish Records Office.
I understand that he was from Paisley in Scotland.
-He enlisted in 1867, so I worked out he'd be 18, wouldn't he?
When he enlisted he was at home first of all and then he went to
India in 1867 and then to Afghanistan, 1881.
He got around a bit, didn't he?
-He did. He was abroad for, er, virtually 15 years.
He did get some medals.
See, he's got a Long Service and Good Conduct medal and, um,
that medal there, for Afghanistan.
Oh, that's wonderful.
So, obviously he was good soldier.
But also, an amusing anecdote is the fact that in 1874,
when he was serving in India, he was arrested for drunkenness,
tried and reduced in rank from corporal back to private.
It fascinates me that because three of his sons,
Uncle Matt, Uncle Willie and my father, were all teetotal.
Yeah. I'd like to know more about the situation that got, caused him
to be demoted, because it's hard to believe just being drunk alone.
There must have been something else. I'm not saying something ghastly.
He may not have been a heavy drinker. It may have just been...
-No. A one-off!
-..a one-off situation.
It appears out of character because when you see a photograph of him,
he looks quite stern and, um, you know, rigid.
Robin's going to Winchester to see what he can find out at
the headquarters of Matthew's regiment, the 60th Rifles.
Military historian Andy Robertshaw has a acquired a copy of Matthew's
service record, which details every stage of his Army career.
That page there is actually his Attestation Paper.
That's filled in when he joins the Army on the 1st July, 1867.
And below it then is everything that there is that tells you where he leaves the Army.
Actually, it tells you more about his age.
This one, where he is in the world -
home, India, Afghanistan, Mari County, India generally,
South Africa, then back home.
So his first port of call, he was actually sent to India?
That's right. So he's part of the garrison of India,
he's what's called a BOR, British Other Rank in an army
that's very largely recruited from Indian soldiers,
and he's part of that small minority of white soldiers who are in the cantonments
all over India, waiting to be called in case there's a campaign.
When Matthew began his tour of duty in 1867, India was the largest
and most important colonial territory in the British Empire.
The Army acted as a vast Imperial Police Force,
maintaining British interests in the region.
Matthew was one of over 60,000 British soldiers living and
working alongside the Indian Army in military stations or cantonments.
It was an uneventful routine.
His battalion was moved around from station to station,
carrying out peacekeeping duties and training exercises,
ready to be called upon if trouble broke out.
When he got to India he's promoted fairly quickly
to a lance corporal, which is actually, it's not really a rank, it's an appointment.
-See how you're going to do.
He obviously does a good job there, then he's made a corporal,
that means he gets more privileges, he gets more pay.
Obviously, looking to the future, his pension's going to be better.
So, was there any action to be dealt with at that time or were we having a peaceful time in India?
There's constant little battles, little skirmishes, I should say really,
but for him, much of his career is spent training, living in the cantonments.
Basically, you get up, you parade,
there might be an inspection,
and apart from guard duties, that's virtually it. And that's one of the problems.
For many of these soldiers there is nothing to do during the day other than go to the wet canteen, drink,
and they drink rum and local spirits, Arak.
And they then also gamble.
And it's really this round of losing your money and drinking too much,
and then getting up again and doing it all over again.
-Was that a major problem at the time?
You often get things outside pubs that said "no Redcoats or dogs",
because they know they'll drink to excess.
-So if you're a Redcoat walking your dog, you weren't allowed in.
-It'd be a double whammy, wouldn't it?
Alcohol had long been a part of army life.
It was a long-held belief
that it helped the troops withstand the heat, and was healthier to drink
than the water in India.
But by the 1860s, there was growing concern about the effects of alcohol
on discipline and wellbeing.
Soldiers were encouraged to join army temperance groups,
and severe punishments were meted out to anyone found drunk on duty.
Apparently, a lot of his sons, his offspring, were teetotallers.
-Do you think this was a one-off experience,
that he had just a slip?
Because it seems such a, you know, a much ado about nothing
to be demoted from where he was...
Yeah. In 1874, in the January, as you say, he is found to be drunk.
The problem with that is, we're not talking about somebody
who's had just a couple of drinks too many.
He is so drunk,
he's actually taken before his commanding officer.
He is then given two weeks of basically solitary confinement.
Here we've got it.
"Arrest, Corporal, 17th January 1874".
And then "Tried and reduced for drink on the 31st January."
That's the end of his promotion.
-It must have been a crushing blow, having done so well.
-It must have been traumatic.
I've looked in the service records, but the other thing that then happens which is really interesting
is that, having been demoted in the January, by the December he's got
what's called the Army Certificate of Education, Second Class.
Basically, he's gone to the school teachers and said,
"Teach me to read and write, I want to know my three Rs",
and he gets it within 11 months.
How long did it take him to get back to where he wanted to be?
We've got to go right the way down the page,
all the way down here to actually 30th January 1882,
before he again is promoted to Corporal once again.
So it takes him another eight years to get back to where he was.
So having moved up quickly,
he's blotted his copy book to such an extent,
he's got to drag himself back,
possibly giving up drink,
but certainly getting an educational qualification to say,
"Look, I can be a corporal and I can keep on that rank. I can keep it."
He was certainly determined,
with another eight years before he got promoted again.
Absolutely. This guy is a really, really determined bloke.
And he eventually ends up actually being a staff sergeant.
So he does really, really well.
He's a Warrant Officer. He has done everything you might have expected
and more, actually, in what turns out to be a career of 37 years.
-It's a long, long career.
Matthew's dedication to the army was rewarded with decorations
for long service, good conduct and for combat in Afghanistan.
By the end of his career, he'd risen up the ranks
to become a staff sergeant, retiring on an officer's pension in 1905.
I admire him because he seems to be a man of great character, and tough.
To me, that's great qualities to have.
Robin now knows that Matthew started out as a raw recruit,
with little education.
So he wants to find out more about Matthew's upbringing.
The obvious route for me to take now is
to go north to Scotland to find out where the trail begins.
To find out more of a personal history of the man,
to see what we can uncover.
I don't know anything about his childhood.
According to Robin's cousin, Anne, Matthew was born in 1849
in Paisley in Scotland.
Census. This is 1851.
Here we go.
That's obviously two years old, that's Matthew Gibb.
His father, William, obviously head of family, married.
Agnes, obviously his wife.
There's Jean and a Janet.
It's describing William Gibb as a hand-loom weaver
and the daughter,
who was ten years old,
is a hand-loom weaver's assistant,
which would make sense, considering her age.
Do the search.
So...I'm looking at the 1861 census.
In 1861, Matthew Gibb would have been about 12 years old.
Here we go.
Matthew Gibb, 12.
Reading the address now - Road, Street...
It's East Lane Ragged School. Why wouldn't it mention the parents?
Matthew's parents were William and Agnes, and he had five siblings.
In 1851, the family were living together in Paisley.
So why does the 1861 census
show Matthew living away from his family
at an address listed as the Ragged School?
I'm very curious to find out what happened to the family,
because they slipped through the cracks.
What were the circumstances that split them up? It's a mystery.
Robin's come to Edinburgh and the National Library of Scotland
to find out more about the Paisley Ragged School.
He's meeting local historian Andrew Eadie.
I'm trying to find out information about
the life of my ancestor, Matthew Gibb.
-And he was in an establishment called a Ragged School.
So tell me, what is a Ragged School?
It was really for...
if we look at the, you know, street directory for Paisley,
it's called Ragged or Industrial School for Destitute Children.
The idea was, the Ragged School was really for orphaned children
or where the children couldn't be looked after by the parents
for any reason.
What do they do there?
Well, the idea was really to give them a good education
and three square meals a day.
And did they do any work there?
Yes, the boys had lessons in the trade of shoe making, tailoring,
to teach them discipline
and sort of a work ethos.
The Ragged School in Paisley was part of a nationwide movement.
One of the earliest ragged schools was started in 1818
by a Portsmouth cobbler who took in a group of boys
to teach them his trade.
Various philanthropists, churches and charities followed suit.
And by the middle of the century,
there were nearly 700 ragged schools across Britain,
providing a home, a basic education
and a trade for society's poorest children.
-This is a...
-..taken in the late 19th Century.
-This would have been the Ragged School?
This bit here is the Ragged School.
-So that was almost certainly the place he went?
-And do you think that building's still there?
-No, no. Unfortunately,
-the waste ground, that's where the Ragged School was.
So what can we tell about Matthew Gibb's personal circumstances
that puts him in the Ragged School?
There's no records relating to the Ragged School itself,
but almost certainly, Matthew had been sent because his family
were in very straitened times
and there was nobody there to support him.
Because of the limited number of places,
the Ragged School in Paisley had a strict admissions policy.
Only children from the margins of society were selected,
particularly those begging on the street
or in danger of falling into crime.
The Paisley Ragged School
was inspired by the work of Thomas Guthrie, an evangelical minister
who was so appalled
by the numbers of children he saw living on the street
that he decided to take action.
This is Ragged Schools.
-This was written by the Reverend Thomas Guthrie.
The Reverend Thomas Guthrie was really important
-relating to the spread of ragged schools throughout Scotland.
It was actually first printed
just about a month before they had the first meeting in Paisley
-about forming a ragged school in Paisley.
Guthrie's book was written
to drum up financial support for ragged schools,
which were funded largely by private benefactors.
It was also an impassioned plea on behalf of street children,
who he believed should be treated with kindness and compassion.
"Poor fellow. It's a bitter day, and he has neither shoes nor stockings.
"His naked feet are red, swollen, cracked, ulcerated with the cold.
"He's a master in posture - lying, begging, stealing.
"Small blame to him, but much for those who have neglected him."
"He had otherwise pined and perished."
-Yes. Very, very, very hard times.
Robin still has many questions about Matthew's family,
so he's heading to Paisley,
seven miles west of Glasgow,
to try and find some answers.
Here was Matthew at the Ragged school.
What was the family doing?
All I know about William, his father,
is that he was a hand-loom weaver.
He's the guy I've got to shed more light on, William.
Paisley was at the centre of the weaving trade,
and the town's museum has a huge collection relating to the industry.
-Hello. How do you do?
-Good to see you.
Dan Coughlin has spent 20 years researching the history
and technology of the Paisley weavers.
I know that my great-great-grandfather, William,
was a hand-loom weaver.
-I think one of his daughters was also an assistant.
-Is that right?
What exactly would that entail?
Well, at that time, if he was in Paisley,
he was probably a shawl weaver.
I have some shawls here which I can show you,
just to show you what they were producing,
which is quite impressive.
Gosh. That's great.
This would have been a typical product of the looms
at the time your ancestor was here.
How long would it take to make one of those?
Well, it was broken up into maybe 12 or 13 different trades -
the dyer, the warper, the beamer, lots of different trades. The weaver was highly skilled.
You can see yourself, it's a very, very fine fabric.
What was so special about Paisley being at the centre of this?
Weaving during that period was probably the biggest industry in Britain,
and you had areas which specialised in particular fabrics.
So you had, for instance, Dunfermline specialised in damask.
Paisley specialised in the Paisley shawl.
So you had a very highly trained,
highly skilled body of weavers in Paisley.
So if there was any special fabric to be produced,
this is where it would be produced.
The famous Paisley pattern people speak of all over the world originated here?
It takes its name from Paisley.
It was originally called an imitation Indian, because it was an imitation of the cashmere shawl.
But Paisley produced them in such abundance
and the trade lasted for so long
that it became known as the Paisley pattern.
In the 1851 census, William's daughter Jean
was listed as a hand-loom weaver's assistant.
The fact that there was a girl helping him suggests
that he was probably working on a drawloom, and the young boy or girl,
which was called a draw boy or a draw girl,
had to draw the strings here,
and that raised the warped threads for the weaver.
So it was a two-person loom. It does look very complicated.
It's getting tangled up that I would worry about.
I can show how the loom works if you want.
That would be lovely, yes.
This is the Jacquard Loom here,
and the pattern is actually encoded into these cards here.
So when I press my foot on the treadle,
it activates the Jacquard head up there.
-Doing this is very, obviously, time-consuming.
-It is indeed, yeah.
And this one here, it's 100 threads per inch.
But if you were doing it in a Paisley shawl
and you had 100 threads per inch, you'd have to multiply that
by seven or eight or how many colours you were using. So it could be several hundred per inch.
You had different cards, you could put different cards in?
-There's a different card for every colour.
Weavers worked in small groups for an agent,
who decided on the designs and yarns and negotiated prices.
The patterns were lavish and intricate,
and the Paisley shawl was a high-fashion garment,
worn by wealthy women and popularised by Queen Victoria.
At the height of the trade,
the Paisley weavers were amongst the highest-paid artisans in Britain.
At one time, weaving was a very prosperous trade to be in.
They call it the golden age of hand weaving.
The weavers were very well paid.
So in 1851, William, who was 38 years old by the time,
was a full-time weaver and probably at the peak of his powers.
Where was the situation in Paisley as far as weaving went?
They were almost exclusively weaving shawls at that time,
and that was just about the peak of the shawl trade.
-So that was the best?
What I've learnt is that it was a very prestigious profession
when it was at its height in Paisley.
My problem is, there's so many things left unanswered.
Here we have William.
We know him by name and we know what he did.
But I think maybe something went dramatically wrong within the family.
There was some kind of crisis that actually affected the whole family to a critical point.
To find out what it was that caused the family breakdown,
Robin's come to Paisley Library
to search the archives with librarian David Weir.
One of the things to understand about the weaving trade is that it had severe fluctuations.
So one year you could be earning top dollar,
and next year be out of work.
The newspapers date from 1850 and '51.
So look, we've got an article here.
State of trade, and this is for 1850.
It says, "There is no improvement in the condition of trade,
"so far as the working population are concerned.
"Large numbers are still out of employment,
"and have been so for many weeks past".
..if I can look... state of trade, that one there.
So this is state of trade.
"Paisley has suffered very severely in the general dullness
"prevalent throughout the country."
We've got a month later.
This is another article on similar lines,
and it's there, state of trade.
So it says here, "State of trade.
"We are very happy to state that the trade of the town,
"which has been very dull for several months past,
"has now generally improved."
I think what the articles in these papers
illustrate is just how volatile the trade was.
But from this period on,
the volatility continues
and really, there's a general decline in the number of weavers
employed in hand-loom weaving.
Despite the popularity of Paisley shawls in the early 1850s,
the trade was under threat.
Britain was in the midst of a revolution.
Mechanised power looms were taking over from the hand-loom weavers.
And when they worked harder to compete,
they succeeded only in flooding the market and driving down prices.
The power loom could never weave a pattern as complex as a Paisley,
but the mass production of cheap printed shawls
drove down demand for the real thing.
For the town's weaving community, the results were disastrous.
Now these documents here are statements
from the Paisley Poorhouse.
This system was the equivalent of today's Social Security or Unemployment Benefit.
This is William Gibb, Matthew's father.
4th November, that is 1854.
Applicant's name, married -
of course it has him married in Paisley to Agnes...
..and of course here she died on 12th July last.
-So she died in 1854, in July of that year.
That's very sad.
"On the 16th November, 1854, William Gibb left his family destitute...
"..and said that he was going in search of work."
He said he was going in search of work.
"As he had nothing to do in Paisley,"
so there was no work for him in Paisley.
-Clearly his wife...
-His wife had died.
..his wife had died, and probably he just wasn't able
to cope with five children.
According to the records, William was away for two years.
He travelled round Scotland looking for work,
leaving his children to be cared for by the parish.
"4th September, 1856,
"William Gibb never returned to receive his children.
"All his children are away from him."
It's almost as if he abandoned them, abandoned the family.
While William was absent, his children,
aged from four to 17, were fending for themselves.
12th November, 1857 again...
"Matthew in Ragged School..."
And Agnes was with...
..with a person in service.
Right, so she was in service, obviously she as a maid or something.
Janet and Bell...
..in New Street, so he's not looking after any of his children.
By 1860, nearly 750 of the 800 weavers
registered in Paisley were unemployed.
Three years later, William Gibb reappeared in the records.
"On the 31st of June is certified by...
-"To be weak from destitution."
His physical state has really deteriorated to the extent
where he doesn't feel he can go on, I think.
You know, by that period, really,
the weaving trade was well in decline, and you know,
William Gibb wouldn't have been the only person
to have ended up destitute.
"January 30th, 1863, William Gibb."
It says, "Depression of spirits and...
-"leading to insanity."
Mm, not a very happy life.
Not very happy reading either, is it?
No, I'm afraid there's not a lot of fun in the poor lot.
I mean, I've no doubt, if I was him, I'd be depressed as well.
I mean it would be hard for anybody
to actually feel good in his situation.
By the 1870s, demand for the Paisley shawl had disappeared.
The hand-weaving industry - once the life blood of the town -
had all but died.
The final record for William appears in 1874 -
20 years after his first application for Poor Relief.
"The 18th March..."
"William Gibb died in Poorhouse today."
So, on March 18th, he died in the Poorhouse.
Not a very happy ending, is it?
No. No, it's very unfortunate.
Sad life and an unhappy ending.
A sad life and a miserable end, I would have thought.
It's a very sad story, actually, because...
you feel helpless, because when you read
about the situation, the conditions,
you feel like you want to reach out and help from this point of history.
But that's the problem - you can't and it did happen,
and there's no real redeeming factors here.
That's the sadness.
There's a black cloud appears over William's life
that affects the whole family, and it stays there till the very end,
until he dies in the Poorhouse.
Robin's final stop in Scotland is the site of the Paisley Ragged School.
Matthew actually had the best option of going to the Ragged School.
It turned out that it wasn't such a bad idea
because after that he did go into the Army and he had
a very solid and long career, and obviously a successful career.
And perhaps we owe our progress in our family
down to Matthew's decisions.
Back in Oxfordshire, Robin's starting a new search -
this time into his maternal line.
He wants to find out about his grandmother Nora's family.
I loved my grandmother.
She was a lovely, lovely person.
I'm glad I got to know her as an adult.
She was a lovely lady, and she lived well into her 90s.
Now, I know that her mother was called Lynch.
There are no photographs and very little information
in the family about Robin's great-grandmother, Cecilia Lynch.
I know nothing about her life at all, except she was midwife.
Very important job, I suppose, to have, you know, delivering babies,
and very few went to hospital.
It would be very interesting to find out more about that.
I'm actually trying to trace back now my mother's side,
the maternal line, and see what that comes up with.
Here we go, we've got the 1911 census up now.
There's my grandmother, Nora, anyway,
and then we've got Lawrence, Eileen, daughter, age two.
Head of the family, James Lynch.
And then it's got Cecilia - she's crossed out.
Why? Why is she crossed out?
Do you think that she might have been out and about,
as her job would have taken her?
The fact that Cecilia's name is crossed out suggests
that she was out of the house when the census was taken.
She's listed on the census as a certified midwife.
Robin's searching the website of the National Archives
to see if she was registered with a professional body.
Well, we have scope and content.
Here we have Lynch, Cecilia.
So what we've got here, this is the reference DV5,
this is the Central Midwives Board, which is the penal board case files.
"These files contain correspondence and papers concerning
"the prosecution of midwives by the Central Midwives Board."
Prosecution of midwives?!
Are we looking at some kind of criminal act here, or is it...
"Access condi... Closed for 75 years,
"record opening date will be the 1st January, 2013."
It's just got, "Legal status - Not Public Record."
I mean, I don't know. Why is it closed?
And not open till 1st January, 2013?
This is not a very pleasant discovery.
This is something...something dark about this.
It would be very interesting to find out,
because it just doesn't make sense to me.
The Central Midwives Board which brought the prosecution
against Cecilia, is now called the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Robin's come to their headquarters in London
to meet Education and Research Officer Sue Macdonald.
-Hi Robin, good to meet you.
Pleased to meet you, I'm Robin.
'Cecilia Lynch, er...'
was prosecuted by the Central Midwife Penal Board.
I don't know what that entails, because it's closed for 75 years,
and I wonder if you could shed any light on that?
I mean the reason why, for the length of time would be
if the case involved a mother or a child...
..it would be to protect that mother or child.
That's what I felt, but then there must be a reason
why it came about in the first place.
It could be many things, because at that time midwives
had to follow very prescribed rules, very prescribed ways of life.
And if they did anything that was considered of bad character,
they could be referred to the Board.
If they did anything wrong in practice, they could be referred to the Board.
And if you look at these old rules, everything is very prescribed,
even what you wear,
the way you have to wash your hands before you see a woman and her baby.
Every part of your professional life is prescribed in these rules.
Up until the early 1900s, there were no national standards in midwifery,
and midwives needed no formal training.
Because they sometimes performed other roles -
like laying out the dead and providing abortions -
some midwives were regarded with suspicion.
One newspaper from 1896 called them 'drunk and disreputable old women'.
But, in 1902, the Midwives Act was passed,
which required every midwife to be properly trained and registered.
Cecilia was one of this new breed of professionals,
qualifying in 1910.
I notice in the Register, though, of the Midwives,
because she's down here as Cecilia
and she will have achieved the CMB examination.
She came in directly as a professional midwife,
having undertaken the Central Midwives Board examination.
So, she was highly qualified.
For that time, absolutely, absolutely.
And obviously years of experience behind her by 1937.
She must have been, yeah.
So getting back to the actual job of being midwives,
what would have been my great-grandmother's day-to-day?
Was it actually a very busy job?
She would have had quite a busy time.
She'd have had her own patch,
and it says in this book that she was in Worsley in Manchester.
And the women and the families would have known her.
But of course, some midwives would have had, in their patch,
might have had very poor women who didn't have the money
to pay for the midwife, and certainly didn't have the money
to pay for a doctor,
and so midwives were quite often not very well off,
depending on how many poor women they had in their patch.
In the early part of the 20th century,
the majority of babies were born at home, and independent midwives,
like Cecilia, would have been on call day and night.
They dealt with around 100 - 150 births a year
and would be paid by the expectant mother to attend the delivery
and for a month of post-natal care.
They would have encountered anything from premature babies to stillbirths.
And, of course, there weren't the methods of pain relief
to lessen the pain during childbirth as we have today,
so it must have been quite traumatic.
There's a lot that your great-grandmother was doing
for women that would have taken a lot of internal strength.
-She would have been a very strong woman...
..and tremendously admired and respected for that,
because she'd get women through
what was sometimes quite a dangerous time.
I did notice that the records could not be opened.
There's no way of finding out until the 1st January, 2013.
Is there any way of finding out before then?
Well, unless you apply to the Nursing Midwifery Council
-for them to open the records early, that might be a possibility.
Very interesting getting the background
on what midwives had to do,
but it still didn't shed any light on the circumstances
surrounding that Penal Board, which is the Prosecution Board.
I have made a request to the Council to see
if I can get access to that information before 2013,
to see if I can get it opened and have a look,
because it's something I really sincerely want to get to the bottom of.
While Robin waits to hear back
about his Freedom of Information request,
he's contacting De Partu, a group of researchers
studying the history of childbirth and midwifery.
Going to type the message in asking if there's anybody
that knew her or has any record of the babies
that she might have delivered, or anything else they might know of.
So, let's see what we can come up with.
The next step of Robin's journey takes him north.
I'm hoping that, going to Manchester, the trail might turn up something,
because, after all, that's where she lived,
that's where she came from, and I'm hoping that there may be some
nugget that I can actually grab hold of and find some reason in this.
Cecilia lived in Worsley Road in Manchester for three decades.
This was a working-class neighbourhood,
with higher-than-average levels of infant mortality
and poor maternal health.
She would have been well known in the community.
Before the advent of contraception,
the average woman experienced five to 12 pregnancies in her life,
and a single street could keep a midwife busy all year.
On his arrival in Worsley Road,
Robin gets a response from his online post.
It says here, "I am in touch with a lady
"who qualified as a midwife in 1947.
"She also was delivered by Cecilia Lynch,
"and has some memories of her and where she lived."
This is more than I expected, really.
Five miles away in Irlam,
Robin's arranged to meet 90-year-old Mary Cherry.
My name's Robin Gibb.
-I'm very pleased to meet you.
-Pleased to meet you.
-My name's Mary Cherry.
-This is my sister, Margaret. This is Robin.
-How do you do?
-Pleased to meet you.
-Please, sit down.
Yes, where, where can I... Shall I sit here?
So, Mary, did you know Cecilia Lynch?
My mother's midwife was called Lynch,
and Nurse Lynch brought me into the world.
So, there we have it.
And she also brought my brother into the world,
and then she brought my dear sister, Margaret, into the world.
She had a nice, smiling face, and she had white hair.
And she wore brown uniform.
Now this is my little sister, Margaret, who is two,
this is Fred, who is two years younger than me,
and these are Nurse Lynch's babies.
This is me when I knew Nurse Lynch.
This is me at school, I was seven,
and when I came home Nurse Lynch had brought me my little sister.
She used to let me watch her bath my little sister in a bowl.
We had an old-fashioned hand stand,
and we had a jug and bowl on there,
and my little sister fitted in that bowl.
So, Mary, did you know your mum was pregnant?
My mum wore a mac.
-Oh, she hid it?
You didn't go about like you do today,
letting everybody see, "Hooray, I'm pregnant."
We didn't know we're having a baby.
-So you didn't know till...
-We didn't know till we got you.
I came home from school and there she was.
And I was so fascinated by Nurse Lynch
that I wanted to be like her.
So I brought babies into the world.
Following in Cecilia's footsteps,
Mary became a certified midwife in 1947
and worked in Manchester's Hope Hospital.
I went on a computer, online, and I found
the Central Midwives Board penal report
actually regarding Cecilia Lynch.
What would be the most important things to look out for
that could actually, um, get a midwife into trouble?
She could be called to anything to cope with.
And there were a lot of sick children then,
because things were so poor.
But as far as Nurse Lynch, I do know that
she was such a woman that she would do the right thing.
-A very competent woman.
A competent midwife.
-That's what comes out, very kind and loving.
Thank you very much, Mary, it was lovely.
You're very welcome, I'm glad to have helped you.
-I hope I have.
-I'm awfully glad to meet you.
In 1937, the year she was prosecuted,
Cecilia was 58 and had almost three decades of experience behind her.
What I don't understand is, I mean,
I know that from all accounts she was a dedicated, passionate, particular
and self-sacrificing midwife, and the only thing I can think about
is that it was just something that today wouldn't have meant very much.
And my job now is, of course, to try
and get access to that information as soon as I can, somehow.
Robin's heard back about his Freedom of Information request.
He's been sent the case notes relating to Cecilia's prosecution.
They've been edited to protect the identity of the family involved.
Well, what I have found is what I hoped it would be,
and it was actually, um...
She was doing the right thing, she was just going against the rules.
She was looking after a...
The way I see it, she was looking after a baby who had a problem
almost, I would say, from birth, but sounded like conjunctivitis to me,
something that they could cure with penicillin today.
She was doing the best thing and she was attending the child every day.
Um, but apparently, the rules were that you have to call the doctor in
when you're dealing with the child's eyes, bathing it every day.
She was looking after the child, she just didn't call the doctor, and that was her big mistake.
To help him interpret the document,
Robin's come to the University of Salford to meet Jeanne Lythgoe,
a supervisor of midwives and lecturer in midwifery.
-How are you?
The first impressions I get from this report is that, um...
she was guilty of some kind of neglect,
and my view was that her only real neglect was that she didn't inform the doctor.
She was, you know, very concerned, bathing the child's eyes,
and I just wondered what your take on it is?
I mean, I think you're right, you know, you are right that she
did pay, um, good attention to the baby's eyes.
I think the problem for Cecilia was that as a midwife,
-she was working under certain rules that were set.
And the reason for that was because
some conditions of the eyes discharging could be as a result
of a very serious condition called ophthalmia neonatorum.
And that was a result of infection
from the mum having gonorrhoea, having suffered from gonorrhoea.
And the baby's eyes get infected as the baby
comes down the birth canal.
And Cecilia would have known that she was to notify the Medical Officer for Health
if she came across or had any suspicions
of this actual condition.
When the case was brought against Cecilia in 1937,
gonorrhoea was a major public health problem.
Because of the stigma attached to the disease,
and the difficulty of diagnosing and treating it, many cases went unreported.
This led to a nationwide sexual-health campaign,
and midwives were under strict instructions to report
any suspected cases in infants to a doctor.
There are probably about 60,000 new infections each year.
If untreated in the expectant mother,
it may infect the eyes of the infant at birth, causing blindness.
On, I think it's about the fourth or fifth day after the baby was born,
a doctor came to see the lady.
He says he wasn't there to actually look at the baby's eyes, he was...
he'd visited the mum for a previous condition.
But he looked at the baby's eyes and he said that he'd advise
the mum to contact him if the eyes got worse.
Now Cecilia obviously felt that because those eyes had been seen by a doctor,
that actually she had abided by the rules and she had notified a doctor.
Maybe she thought by seeing the doctor already
that she'd got the green light to look after this child
and give it the follow-up care she needed.
I... I don't doubt in my mind she wouldn't have done something wittingly.
Cecilia continued to follow the doctor's instructions,
bathing the eyes daily.
When a health visitor paid a routine visit six days later,
she noticed the condition of the eyes had deteriorated.
The baby was sent to hospital.
The outcomes for a lot of the babies were maybe sight problems
or maybe the loss of sight in one eye.
But unfortunately in this particular instance,
the baby's eyes were severely both affected, and the child was blind.
It is very sad, but it must have been tremendously distressing,
and that's probably putting it mildly.
I'm sure the baby being blind as a result
would probably also have really upset Cecilia
and affected, you know, affected the way she approached her practice in the future.
Cecilia was reported to the Central Midwives Board by the local authority,
because it was she who was officially in charge of the case.
She had to go to a hearing there,
and had to stand in front of a large number of people,
a lot of them dignitaries, lords and people with MBEs.
How do you think she would have been able to deal with this,
mentally, I mean?
Um, I think it's really to her credit
that she seems to conduct herself well within this investigation.
I think that comes through really well within her writing.
She's almost defiant that she is innocent and she wants to prove that.
She could have easily decided, no, I'm not going to face that,
I will retire and, you know, I won't continue.
I think it was an injustice.
I think she was blamed unnecessarily, considering the reputation that she had
and the amount of people that she delivered into the world.
But unfortunately, the Central Midwives Board,
it was a very punitive type of organisation...
And it was really developed by doctors.
So the rules were actually developed by doctors.
So what was the outcome for Cecilia?
Was there any punishment?
Well, what happened was, they actually looked at the case
and they found her guilty of breaking, breaching that rule,
because she didn't notify.
But then they actually looked at all the supporting evidence,
and in that instance they then decided they would just give her a caution.
And she was able to continue as a midwife.
It must have been a blow to her, though.
Yeah. I don't think we can underestimate the stress and upset that that would have caused her.
I certainly think that it must have been really traumatic for her.
The case notes include character references for Cecilia
written by some of the doctors who worked with her.
So it was written in April '37.
"I have known Nurse Lynch for almost three years,
"and during that time always found her to be highly efficient
"and conscientious in her work and good to her patients.
"And as far as I'm concerned she's the best midwife with whom
"I have ever worked."
And that's just an example of the many good letters of support that she had.
Robin's final stop is the local history library in Salford.
He wants to find out if Cecilia was able to restore her good name.
She died in 1939, just two years after the case,
and only three days before she was due to retire.
Robin's searching the local papers for an obituary.
The local news, Eccles, Swinton, Urmston.
Ah, here we are.
This is Chat and Comment.
Nurse Lynch, Death of Popular Winton Midwife.
"Yesterday Nurse Cecilia Lynch, of Worsley Road, Winston,
"should have retired from her practice and started to take things easy
"after a life of hard work.
"Today her remains will be interred at the Peel Green Cemetery,
"and her many acquaintances will be left with
"but a memory of one of the most popular figures in the district.
"She had attended numerous patients
"and assisted in bringing hundreds of babies into the world.
"Throughout the area she served, she was respected and admired by all with whom she came into contact."
I think that's a great dedication to her. I don't think you can get much better than that.
She did do great things.
To bring thousands of people into this world, safely.
I feel now that I know someone in my not-too-distant past
that I'd like to have known when they were alive.
I feel richer for knowing.
The fact is that you can affect people's lives in many different ways.
And what I've found so far is, on my father's side
and on my mother's side, is two heroes.
The world is different because they lived.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Bee Gees star Robin Gibb discovers a tale of poverty and grit as he finds out how his paternal great-grandfather overcame the odds to become a decorated soldier. The trail leads back to Paisley, the famous centre of Scottish weaving, as Robin attempts to solve the mystery of a family breakdown.
On his mother's side, Robin wants to find out more about his great-grandmother Cecilia Lynch, who was a midwife. As Robin follows the document trail, he is shocked to discover that his great-grandmother was hauled before the Midwives Penal Board in a tragic case involving one of the babies she had delivered. What happened - and was Cecilia at fault?