Remarkable Women: Following the Drum. Biddy Skiddy – Hannah Scuse

I became interested in the Peninsular War period through the TV series “Sharpe”. This is predominately a male tale of derring-do but when visiting the National Army Museum in London ( I discovered the women who followed the drum. I remember my excitement when I first saw the tableau depicting the heroic and immensely strong Biddy Skiddy who went to the war in the Peninsula with her soldier husband. When he was injured in the fighting she hoisted her man onto her back and carried him from the battlefield. I have since been fascinated by these incredible women who followed the colours.

Then I found one of our own “Peninsula women”.  Hannah Skuse, who was born at Fishponds, Bristol followed the drum when her husband Samuel went to war against Napoleon. 

She was one of the very few lucky ones, if you can call it luck, for perhaps only about six out of every hundred wives were chosen to accompany their husbands overseas. Selections were made at the drum head resulting in piteous scenes when families were split up. Richard Holmes in “Redcoat” describes one tragic wife, unsuccessful in the ballot, who followed her man to the quayside but died there with their new born child. The soldier was not allowed time to bury them and rarely spoke again. He died in the Peninsula. (

These ‘lucky’ wives helped with camp chores – lighting fires, cooking, milking, washing, repairing, sewing and caring for the sick, children, casualties and their husbands, even carrying supplies to the gunners. The women received half rations and endured more than their share of privations. Although few were killed in action, hundreds died and many were taken prisoner on the desperate retreat to Corunna in 1808. Many were inured to the fortunes of war: the wife of Sergeant Dunn (68th Regt.) married another sergeant following her husband’s death at the Battle of Salamanca. Her case was not unusual.

In her diary, a Peninsular army wife, Catherine Exley, tells of the births and deaths of children and the hardships she and her husband suffered during his military service, including a period when they both wrongly thought that the other had died. The conditions were harsh, cold, hunger, filthy conditions, and the horror of the aftermaths of battles.

 (See  “I’ll be Reet” – “Follow the Drum –  Women’s Stories from the Regiment’ at Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life. and “Following the Drum: British Women in the Peninsular War”,  Sheila Simonson, 1981; Catherine Exley’s  Diary: the life and times of an army wife in the Peninsular War. Kenilworth: Takeway (Publishing). ISBN 978-0-9563847-9-9. Richard Woodhead, Rebecca Probert, 2014;

Hannah Scuse’s exact date of birth is not known, but she lived in Bristol after Samuel left the army and we know she served with  him in the Peninsula from her newspaper obituary. (Cheltenham Mercury, 18 May 1867):

Where and when she and Samuel Skuse were married is also unknown.

Nothing survives to record Samuel’s army career except for confirmation of his service, except for the award of a medal for his part in the Battle of Sahagun, Spain, 21 December 1808,  in a cavalry charge during the Peninsular War against Napoleon.

Sahagun was occupied by a French cavalry force. On a bitterly cold December night, Lord Paget ordered the 10th Hussars to move through the town of whilst he made a sweep around the perimeter with the 15th Hussars, (which included Samuel Scuse), to trap the French inside.

Unfortunately  General John Slade was tardy in moving off with the 10th Hussars under his command and the French became aware the British were near. Accordingly they withdrew from Sahagun to the east and left unmolested.

In the dawn light the French regiments, caught sight of the 15th Hussars to the south and formed up in two lines with the 1st Provisional Chasseurs in front and the 8th Dragoons at the back. The French cavalry received the charge of the British Hussars whilst stationary and tried to halt them with carbine fire.

The 15th Hussars charged, over about 400 yards (370 m) of snowy, frozen ground, shouting “Emsdorf and Victory!” It was so cold they wore their pelisses, (the fur-trimmed coat which generally slung over one shoulder, mostly for show.)  

Eyewitnesses spoke of numbed hands hardly able to grasp reins and sabres. The impact when the Hussars met the Chasseurs was terrible, as one British officer recorded:

“Horses and men were overthrown and a shriek of terror, intermixed with oaths, groans and prayers for mercy issued from the whole extent of their front.”

The impetus of the British Hussars carried them through the ranks of the Chasseurs and into those of the Dragoons behind. The French force was broken, and withdrew eastwards with the British in pursuit. Many French cavalrymen (though the Chasseurs were largely of German origin) were taken prisoner at very little cost to the 15th Hussars.  Two French lieutenant colonels were captured and the Chasseurs, which lost many men, killed and captured, ceased to exist as a viable regiment. The 10th Hussars arrived during the pursuit, but in the melee were initially mistaken for French cavalry. This caused the 15th Hussars to break off their pursuit to re-form, ending the action.

With the end of the war against Napoleon,Samuel,  like many soldiers, Samuel was discharged by the army as “surplus to requirement”.

He set up in Bristol as Horse Breaker and Riding Instructor, and advertised his new venture in the Bristol Mirror of 17 May 1817 with a reference from an old comrade, Captain De Franck, riding master of the 15th Hussars

“ I certify that SAMUEL SKUSE late corporal and rough rider of the 15th King’s Hussars has borne a most excellent Character during the time he has served with the above regijment having always dconducted himself with the utmost propriety , honesty and sobriety and upon all occasions given the utmost stisfaction. His discharge was due to a reducion in the Corps.”

We know that Samuel and Hannah were in Bristol by 1817 (see above advertisement) but the first record of them having a child, is when their son George was christened on 15 July 1821. His brother Aaron is recorded for 13 November 1825. There were also had two daughters, Mary Ann, at St George 3 August 1823 in 1823 and  Sarah at St Philip & St Jacob, 4 May 1828 sged three weeks.

Whether Hannah had given birth to previous children who were born and died during the war is not known. A child , a young girl, is depicted walking behind her parents in the Biddy Skiddy tableau.

The family appears on Bristol censuses every decade from 1841.

Few people knew their exact date of birth but when the census collector called Hannah was fairly consistent.

1841: Birthdate ca 1785-1791. In 1841 living at Gibbs Yard, Lawrence Hill, Bristol, she was “aged 50”, born “in this county” – i.e. Gloucestershire, with husband Samuel, “aged 60”, and children,  Mary, 18 (1823), Aaron, 16 (1825), George, 15, (1826) and Sarah, 14, (1827).

This suggests that Hannah was born about 1791 – but  for this census a peculiar system was adopted: Census takers were instructed to give the exact ages of children but to round the ages of those older than 15 down to a lower multiple of 5. For example, a 59-year-old person would be listed as 55. This caused confusion of course, but we may assume from later evidence that Hannah was born between 1785 and 1791.  It seems likely that the discrepancy between the ages given for George Skuse is down to this bizarre census system.

1851: Birthdate 1786. In 1851, the Batch, Lawrence Hill. Hannah was 65, “a fishwoman” and Sam, 69, “a pauper, formerly labourer”, so much for a grateful country.  Two adult children were at home, Aaron, a 25 year old labourer, and Sarah, aged 22.

Hannah was widowed in 1856 when Samuel Skuse, the old soldier, was  buried aged 73 on 29 July 1856 at Holy Trinity, St Philips, Bristol.  I have found no newspaper obituary for him.  After Sam’s death Hannah lived with her daughter Sarah who was married a year after the census (in Bristol in 1852) to Jonathan W. Brown.  (NB: Sarah is listed as “Shute” on “Find my Past” .)

1861: Birthdate 1785: at Wellesley Street, St Philip & St Jacobs with her son-in-law Jonathan William Brown, a brassfounder, (born St Philips in 1829), his wife Sarah and five children. Hannah is listed as “Ann” Skuse, aged 76, mother-in-law, widow, born Fishponds. Her stories must have entertained and enthralled the Brown children!

1867: Birthdate 1783. Hannah’s death registered at Clifton aged 84, showing the same consistency of date but the newspaper obituary  in the Cheltenham  Mercury of 18 May 1867, see above, “May 5th at her son-in-law’s, Mr Jonathan BROWN, Wellesley Street, Lawrence Hill, in her 88th year, Hannah, widow of Mr Samuel Skuse of the 15th Hussars. She was with her husband through the Peninsular War and served under Sir John Moore at Corunna.”


NB. This marriage in 1792 at St James Church in Bristol  belongs to an earlier couple. 

What happened to Agnes Dunlop?

With ref to Post 31 March 2013

I have just come across your article “Matthew Dunlop and Samuel Frost: Two Bristol gentlemen and their families”. From my point of view there is one unfortunate omission – namely what happened to Agnes Dunlop. I do know a little about her since she is my maternal great grandmother. She married Thomas Hunter Thoms who was born in Scotland. They moved around the country eventually settling in Clevedon. They had six children – one son, George, and five daughters. One of the daughters died young and remaining four lived together as spinsters in Clevedon until they died in their 70’s and 80’s. Both the parents and the four ladies are buried in the graveyard in Clevedon (overlooking the Bristol channel). George Thoms, my grandfather, married Mabel Bunn and they had two daughters – sadly he died relatively young on his way out to India for work. Do you have any other information, particularly with regard to Agnes’s marriage and the burial of the youngest daughter Helen Maud – a family bible suggests that she is buried in October 1877. Thank you.

JP Hedges.

KILLED IN A COALPIT: Lives of the Kingswood Colliers

by D. P. Lindegaard (with technical assistance from Steve Grudgings)

Hard back      272 pages        234 x 156 mm (about 9in x 6in)

Including about 100 photos, drawings, diagrams and newspaper articles

£15.00 (+£3.50 p&p)   (postage on request if ordering more than one book.) 

Though the main theme of this hardback book concerns the accidents, fatal (and otherwise) which befell the coalminers who worked in the historic Kingswood (South Gloucestershire) Coalfield it is hoped that through these tragic events readers will have a real insight into the lives of the miners and their families and the conditions they endured.

The first edition of ‘Killed in a Coalpit’, a catalogue of all the information then available, was self-published as a photocopy by D.P. Lindegaard in the 1980s. The present volume, considerably enlarged and updated, (and professionally published) is the direct result of a chance visit the author made to Oldwood Pits on a Heritage Open Day some years ago. She was surprised when the archaeologists of the South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group who were running the show had actually heard of ‘Killed in a Coalpit’ saying of the book “no-one had ever done this before!” “It is an enormous understatement to state that I was thrilled with this reception,” she says and credits the encouragement she received then and since from SGMRG members which has enabled ‘Killed in a Coalpit’ to be rescued from oblivion and updated. 

Selected chapter headings: The Underground Men, Collyers, Coleminers & Colecarryers; Development of Mining Technology in the Bristol Coalfield; Killed in a Coalpit; Some Lucky Escapes? Heroes; Children’s Employment Commission – 1841; A trip down the Pit – Easton Colliery – 1883; Colliers’ Tales; Survivors. There is an index plus a list of sources and abbreviations. The whole book contains over 2000 miners’ names.

See and

Please make cheques payable to SGMRG.  Payment can also be made direct to :

Lloyds TSB Bank

Sort Code: 30-12-04

Account Number: 01633869

A/c name: South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group

Bristol Steam: Sappho & her Sisters

I wrote the above book, “Sappho & her Sisters” following a chance discovery of the seamen belonging to Bristol Steam Navigation Company’s ship “Sappho” who had the misfortune to be “Bottled Up” in Hamburg after a routine Channel crossing on the day war broke out in August 1914. Their ship was impounded and they spent the rest of the Great War as Civilian POWs at Ruhleben near Berlin. Among their companions in the prison camp were Bristol men from many other ships and a smattering of unlucky tourists who were also interned. I have included these others in the story.

Part 2 of the book concerns many Bristol seamen who sailed on BSNC’s series of ships called “Sappho” and her sister ships, all of which had classical names, plus a few others, and covers a period from Victorian times until World War II and beyond.

The Epilogue includes the reminiscences, of a few “old mariners” from the 1950s and 1960s, who recall a way of life now almost forgotten.

If you sailed on any of these ships, are interested in the subject, or would like to purchase a copy of my book, please email me at I am about to invest in a print run, and it would be helpful to know how many copies might be required.

Calling the Flew family

Message from George Flew:

My great great grandfather was George Flew, born in Long Ashton in 1830. He married Mary Ann Martin from Arundel born in 1828. They emigrated to the US in the mid to late 1860s. His brother, William Flew, b. 1826 in Long Ashton, married Anna Maria "A. M." Cook b. 1833 in Bedminster. She stayed in touch with her US kin until her death in Bristol in 1914.
My research indicates that George’s father was William, b 1796 in Long Ashton who married Sarah Watkins, b. 1795 in Tralick, Wales. William’s father was William b. 1752 in Long Ashton married to Ann Davies, b. 1764 in Bristol. His father was also William, b 1730 in Somerset. Possibly he was involved with some tales of sorcery around Mangotsfield and the Lamb Inn incident of 1762.
In addition to Flews, I am also related, through marriage, to Days and Hooks.
I would like to contact anyone that might be related or have information regarding the Flew line. Particularly, a link to the Flews around Portland and in the Devon area.
Thanks in advance,
George Flew
Knoxville, TN, USA

If anybody can help, I will connect with George.

Another Flower Descendant

From Nick Clarke:

I am also descended from a Lamrock Flower, he married Mary Francis in 1777. The family lived in the manor house next to the church in Saltford. There seems to have been a Lamorock in each generation going back quite a long way.
His daughter Honour married Coster Thompson in 1802 and they are my 3xgreat grandparents. There are a number of Lamrock/Lamorock Thompsons including their son, my 2xgreat grandfather!
Honour was the sister of the (in-)famous Rebecca.

I imagine all you Flower descendants out there are aware of Penny Deverill’s book “Until She Be Dead”, the trial and execution of Rebecca Worlock, nee Flower, for the murder of her husband. Husband murder was considered treason: it was High Treason if committed against the state, Petty Treason if against one’s Lord & Master!  It did not apply if the reverse occurred.

TS Lotus with Lotus Bud


In my youth I was a member of an Organisation called the Girls’ Nautical Training Corps (GNTC), years later amalgamated with the Sea Cadets. We were often mistaken for bona-fide WRNS! We met in Charles Hill’s Dockyard, Bristol,  where our “Ship” was called TS “Lotus”.  We went on parade, learned knots and messed about in boats. I spent a never to be forgotten week on the old training ship “Foudroyant” in Portsmouth Harbour, 1956, when I slept in a hammock.  The little rowing boat pictured here was purchased with funds the Unit raised through jumble sales and the like. Nobody had thought of sponsored walks in those days…… Our CO, Mrs Champion is on the left in the photo. I am in the front, right, on the left side of the gentleman. Was he someone from Hill’s or a Councillor? My name was Doreen Pillinger then. Do you recognise anybody? I can’t remember any of the names. There was another GNTC Unit at Avonmouth with which we joined on occasions, particularly a memorable “Crossing the Line Ceremony” we put on at a fete, where I played “Aphritite, Queen of the Sea, in green seaweed like robes, and everybody got very wet.   Happy Days.


Jack Pillinger and the Gas Company Hole.



This photo was taken by Mr John Uren the chemist in Downend. My Dad, Jack Pillinger, is the one on the right. Can anybody name the other two? The names Frank and Bill come to mind, but this could be incorrect. Although the press cutting from the Evening Post is dated 1981, the photo is much earlier, in the 1960s I believe. Note the lack of traffic!  Can anyone else remember the Gas Company Hole? Did Mr Uren take any other photos of the Gas Company men who dug it up and filled it again over the years?



I see you have a section regarding the Blatchley family. We are collecting all available information about the Blatchley’s in England in order to update/revise and publish a second book about our lineage. If you could pass on anything you have (if any more) and possibly put me in contact with Mr Guy Hirst (if he is still around), I would be grateful.
Thank you very much!