It was the custom, particularly in Victorian times, to acquire a "Family" Bible. Often quite massive affairs, large and heavy, with thick, elaborately embossed leather bindings embellished with gilding and intricate metal clasps, these bibles were far more than just a religious tome. They became treasured heirlooms, handed down from generation to generation and inscribed with the births, marriages, deaths and other events concerning members of the family. However, over the years many of these bibles have been lost, destroyed, lain forgotten in the attic or separated from the family, although some have eventually turned up in the most unusual places. One such bible is that of the Grove family of Rowley Regis. This had become parted from the family and seems to have had an eventful passage through the years.
Our tale starts with the clearance of a house in the Cradley Heath area, after the occupier had moved to a nursing home. The Grove family bible was found in the loft. It was in a terrible state: the covers were split off, the spine was missing, and the first fifty or so pages had become detached. Along with a number of associated memorial cards, the bible was sent to a charity shop in Old Hill, where it remained languishing on a shelf for a number of years.
Presumably, because of its poor condition, the bible did not sell, and in order to make way for more recent items the charity shop decided to have a clear out. Mrs Willetts, who worked there, could not bear to see the bible, with all its memorabilia, thrown out as rubbish, so she took it home instead. Surely, someone would want it! Her son, Alan, was a member of a Koi Club and knew that the wife of another member was interested in family history. He enquired whether she might like it, and thus it passed to Carol Fullelove of Kidderminster. Carol then contemplated what she should do with it and in particular, as to how to determine if there were any members of the Grove family still alive who would be interested in it.
Carol's enquiries, as well as an entry in the journal of the Birmingham and Midland Society for Genealogy and Heraldry, made little progress in identifying any surviving family members. She then enquired of her brother, Jack Gilbert of Hagley, as to whether his friend, Dr. Peter Bloore of Middlefield Lane in Hagley, had any contacts that might help in the matter.
By coincidence, Peter is also interested in bookbinding, but the repair of this rather battered bible seemed to be a major undertaking. It measures some thirteen inches by eleven, is three and a half inches thick, and weighs in at a mighty ten pounds! However, over a period of time and with guidance from Carol Kirk of the Leather and Bookbinding Department of the Walsall College of Arts and Technology, the bible has been beautifully restored, with one exception. The book has an orate brass edging and had two elaborate clasps, but unfortunately, one of the clasps was missing.
That is the history of the book over the past decade or so, but what of before? For this, we turn to the bible itself. Inside, there is a section entitled "Family Register". On the first page, this records the parents' names as Albert Grove, born 3rd February 1878, and Annie Davis, born on 13th September 1878, and that they were married 10th November 1902 at the Providence chapel in Rowley Regis by the Pastor, Alfred Dye. The witnesses to the marriage are given as Annie Grove and Jessie Davis.
In the section "Children's Names" only one is given, that of Lily Grove, who was born on 20th January 1904. A section in the "Sacred in the Memory of" includes the deaths of Mrs Nicholls, Caroline Grove, Samuel Grove, Hannah Davis, William Davis, Samuel Sturman and William Crump, all of whom died in the period between 1891 and 1923.
The bible also contains miniature photographs of Sarah Grove (although this shows presumably a mother and daughter), Jesse Davis, John Whitehouse and John "Westly". There are also two small regimental badges stuck in the bible, one of the North Royal Lancashire Regiment and the other "Lanchester". However, it is the entries under "Events" that are particularly interesting:
"Albert had scarlet fever, Sept. 24th 1904. The barber's rash June 1907. Lily had bronchitis and whooping cough October 1907. Great shortness of employment from 1903 to 1906. Old age pensions paid to those 70 years old, 5/- a week, on Jan. 1st 1909. Mr and Mrs Albert Grove opened a draper's shop at 7 Malt Mill Lane on Feb. 1st 1912. G. War with Germany commenced Aug. 2nd 1914. Coombswood supply shells. Zeppelins have come over many times, destroyed tremendous lot of property and lives. Mrs Groves had her eyes tested for glasses Sept. 28th 1916. War over after four years - Nov. 11th 1918 Armistice signed".
Also loose in the bible were a number of pieces of memorabilia. In particular, there were two detached pages that appear to have come from the family bible of Albert Grove's parents. The entries, with their idiosyncratic spelling, read:
"Thomas Grove, bourne in May 1862.
Phoebe Grove, bourn on Nov. 24th '79.
Albert Grove, brue [?] on Feb. 3/78.
Ernest Grove, bru on Feb. 28th /84".
In addition, there were a number of memorial cards: "For our dear Mother, Caroline Grove, died 1 April, aged 72 years"; "Samuel Sturman, died 22 September 1916"; "Jason George, the son of Jason George and Martha Law of Blackheath, who died 31 March 1910 aged 16 years"; and "Annie Foulkes, daughter of Mrs Sturman (of Hope Villa, Waterfall Lane, Blackheath) died 4th November 1918, aged 33 years," with a hand-written note: "Died sudden, Flue & Phea - only ill a week. Very quiet girl". Annie was evidently a victim of the great influenza epidemic that struck Europe towards the end of the Great War.
Like the marriage of Albert and Annie Grove, all of the memorial cards relate to burials at the Providence Chapel, Rowley Regis. This is a Strict Baptist Church, in Bell End in Rowley Regis, which is still going strong to this day. Its origins stretch back to 1828, and the Alfred Dye who married the Groves had a long tenure as Pastor there from 1888 to 1923.
From all of this information, supplemented with other sources, it is possible to reconstruct the Grove family tree. The owners of the bible were Albert and Annie Grove, Albert being the son of Samuel Grove, born in 1840 at Rowley Regis, and his wife Caroline (nee Foulkes), born in 1841 in Halesowen. Samuel and Caroline had at least eight children, and at the time of the 1881 census they were living in Long Lane, The Hill, Halesowen. In turn, it would appear that Samuel Grove was the son of William Grove and Phoebe (nee Brain), who married at Dudley's parish church in 1832. This brings together many of the family names mentioned in the bible, with puzzling exceptions such as Law, Whitehouse and Westly, whom they could have possibly known through their church.
For Peter Bloore, the perfect end to all his hard detective work would be to find the descendants of the Groves and reunite them with their family bible. Peter can be contacted at 35 Middlefield Lane, Hagley, Stourbridge, DY9 0YP - if you have the missing clasp, he has your bible!