Mark Carroll

Location: Epping, Essex
About Dr Mark Carroll

For 35 years I was a biochemistry lecturer in one of London’s premier medical schools. My talks on aspects of human biology are aimed at a non-specialist audience. My other passion is family history. I try to put my family’s ancestors into the historical context of their day – social, economic, geographic – so that they come alive. My interactive talks reflect that meaningful approach, which all of us can relate to – for we all have a family and our five senses.

About Dr Mark Carroll's talks...

My talks are about an hour long and are illustrated with PowerPoint slides. I have a data projector and laptop, though I’m quite happy to use the club’s equipment when available (in which case I like to email the PP file to the organiser in advance to check for compatibility).
I will require a screen or clear wall.


My standard fee is £48.00 for small clubs within 25 miles of my home in Epping, Essex. However, for clubs with more than 100 members and venues outside a 25 miles radius of Epping my fee is £80.00 plus travel expenses as follows:-
Anywhere in Greater London – for the Tube fare. Further afield – my travel expenses by car are 15p per mile.

My Contact Details:

01992 813014

0790 220 8028

1. DNA, surnames and family history

Will traditional methods of family history and genealogy research soon be replaced by DNA analysis? This talk is aimed at a non-specialist audience. In it I consider how conventional approaches to family history, with their emphasis on documentary evidence and surnames, can be complemented by genetics. Throughout, I use examples drawn from my own family history research and DNA analysis to illustrate the concepts involved.

2. Life and death in the workhouse

How should society deal with its most vulnerable members – the sick, the very young and the very old? This question has perplexed social reformers since Elizabethan times. In the 1830s workhouses were built up and down the country. However, having to go into the workhouse tended to be avoided at all costs in Victorian times, even by the poorest in society, for it carried a social stigma and conditions inside were invariably harsh. But what was life really like for those admitted to the workhouse? I will tackle this question by providing information gleaned from my research into some of these institutions in London, Essex and Suffolk, and illustrated by the examples of three of my ancestors who ended their days in a workhouse.

3. How our ancestors died

Through the centuries causes of death have varied enormously in line with the social conditions of the day. You can learn a lot about family circumstances in the past by studying death certificates and related documents, although the medical terms used can be perplexing. In this talk I conduct a historical survey of mortality and morbidity in relation to family history and social research, by drawing on examples taken from my own family. I also point to useful sources for studying these genealogical and related topics.

4. An intriguing Victorian family

How can letters inform family history research? The Burnside family were wealthy folk who were based in early Victorian times in Bloomsbury, central London, with branches in Scotland and Nottingham. They were inveterate letter writers, and I describe in this talk my research into a cache of 10 of their letters that recently came to light. They portray a family with extensive business interests, that had a strong interest in matters religious and literary, were well educated and musically talented. I describe the sources I used to put together a story of their lives: the usual birth/marriage/death and census indexes, wills, newspaper reports, London Gazette, and the specialised resources at the Society of Genealogists.

5. Baby farming in Victorian times

‘Baby farming’ is a pejorative term applied in the 19th century to women who offered to care for other people’s babies for a fee. However several ended up mistreating their young charges, or even murdering them in order to avoid the ongoing expense. On the face of it this looks like a simple case of financial greed and cruelty. I explain that the social conditions of the day meant that the baby farmers provided a potentially useful service, but one that was – until Edwardian times – not regulated and hence could be abused. In this talk I describe the practice of baby farming and my research into the lives of several notorious women who were put on trial for murdering babies in England, Wales and Scotland.

6. The real folk of Lark Rise and Candleford

The author Flora Thompson lived in a village in north Oxfordshire at the end of the 19th century. Her semi-autobiographical trilogy, including “Lark Rise to Candleford”, describes the way of life in a rural environment at a time of significant social and economic change. The characters in her books are based on real-life people whom she knew well. I have researched the families of Flora Thompson’s childhood, and in this talk I describe how they relate to the individuals that appear in the books and in the associated BBC television series.

7. The life and loves of Laurie Lee

Laurie Lee was an author, poet, artist and musician, but he is best known for his autobiographical book, “Cider with Rosie”, set in the Cotswolds in the early 20th century. But who was Rosie? I have researched Laurie Lee’s family, his neighbours, his associates and his lovers. This talk describes an at times complex interplay of characters, but what shines through is Laurie Lee’s love of his rural Gloucestershire birthplace, where he is also buried. In the process I also offer a possible identity for the elusive ‘Rosie’!

8. The five senses - vision

How does the retina of the eye convert the energy of light into electrical signals that are sent via nerves to specific regions of the brain? Somehow the brain converts the inverted two-dimensional image, focused by the lens onto the retina, into a three-dimensional world with all the attributes of the visual process, including perspective and movement and recognition. But do we all see the same? To illustrate some of the key concepts, I consider common visual defects and discuss future treatments for human blindness. Along the way I pose some questions (not too hard!) designed to make the audience think about something most of us take for granted – how we see the world.

9. The five senses - taste and smell

These two inter-linked sensory systems work together to process information that in the past no doubt had evolutionary survival value, but now is more significant for our perception of the flavours of food and drink. I describe how volatile and soluble chemicals interact with specific receptors in order to send messages to specialised parts of the brain where the taste or smell is identified. Related neural pathways connect with other parts of the brain that associate specific tastes or smells with memories and emotional responses. I address some questions relating to these two sensory systems, such as: when you have a cold, why can you not taste food properly? are there more than 5 basic tastes? can you be born with no sense of taste or smell? I also consider wine-tasting as an everyday example of the complex interplay between these two senses.

10. The five senses - hearing and balance

How does the complex anatomy of the ear convert the energy of sound waves into electrical signals that are sent via nerves to specific regions of the brain associated with hearing? The specialised cells involved allow humans to detect a wide range of frequencies and sound intensities, but other animals are even more adept than us. The inner ear is also the site of the sense of balance, which the brain integrates with inputs from other parts of the body. To illustrate some of the key concepts, I consider common defects of hearing and balance, and end with some speculation on current and future treatments for human deafness. Along the way I pose some questions (not too hard!) designed to make the audience think about something most of us take for granted – how we hear the world, and why we don’t fall over (most of the time!).

11. The five senses - touch and related senses

The skin is said to be the largest organ of the body, for which it serves as the interface with the external environment. It acts to convey a variety of sensations to the brain, not just touch in its various forms. Receptors in the skin send messages to the appropriate part of a ‘body map’ in the brain, where they are interpreted and integrated. Any of these nerve pathways can be damaged by a stroke or by injury to the spinal cord. Joints and muscle also have sensors, which help us to know where each part of our body is in 3-dimensional space. Pain normally has a protective function – except in some disease states – but how do ‘pain-killers’ work?

12. DNA and you

Most of us are familiar with the iconic double-helix structure of DNA. But what has been the research that has underpinned our explanations of human genetics and diseases such as inborn errors of metabolism? This talk takes you on a journey that will feature some of the key workers in the field of human genetics and its application to genealogy (family history research). In the process I address some controversies and some ethical issues: should we be creating babies whose DNA is derived not only from their parents but also a third person? are we the product more of nature or more of nurture? will genetics make genealogy a thing of the past? I hope to show you that DNA is a thread that runs through all our lives.

Mark Carroll Contact Details:

01992 813014

0790 220 8028

Send a message to Mark Carroll