Mary Bodfish

Location: Smethwick, West Midlands
About me...

The world of the past has fascinated me from my earliest memories and exploring it continues to delight me in retirement.  My working life was spent firstly in bookselling and then in university administration, but days off frequently found me rummaging happily in record offices and libraries .  “How come I was landed with the name of Bodfish?”  is a question I began working on over 40 years ago.  Wanting to know “What went on in the past around where I live?” made me a founder member in 1984 of Smethwick Local History Society, of which I am currently chairman. I have taught local history research and palaeography for the University of Birmingham’s School of Continuing Studies.   Sharing my discoveries via my talks has been a delight to me for over 20 years.

About my talks...

All of my talks last 50 – 60 minutes and are illustrated with a Powerpoint presentation. I appreciate the provision of a screen and, if possible, a projector stand. I’m happy totravel within a 25 mile radius of Smethwick in the West Midlands and my standard fee is £30 (which is passed on to good causes).
I am available daytime and evenings.


£35 plus travelling expenses if I am travelling more than ten miles from my home in Smethwick



My Contact Details:


Section 1 - of General Historical Interest

“You Can’t Abdicate and Eat It”

So said the Duchess of Windsor, the former Wallis Simpson , for whom King Edward VIII gave up his throne to marry. This talk explores the background to this middle-aged couple, how their love affair caused a unique constitutional crisis in our history, and what resulted from it.

From Christmas Past to Christmas Present

Behind all the elements of the great annual festival of family, feasting and fun as we celebrate it today is a history that stretches back through the Victorians, the Tudors, the Romans all the way to our most remote pagan ancestors.


The Merry Monarchs – part I
If all those Williams, Henrys and Edwards are a medieval mystery to you, this whistle-stop journey will introduce you to the personalities, follies and foibles of our monarchs from William the Conqueror to Richard III.

The Merry Monarchs – part II
More personalities, follies and foibles; this time with the Tudors and Stuarts, who went for the “off with their head” approach to political problems with disconcerting frequency.


Easy as ABC
Every time we pick up a pen – or put finger to keyboard – we link back to the priest-kings of ancient Mesopotamia. A journey of over 5,000 years via Babylon, Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece and Rome shows how our writing system reached this country and how we have been using it since.

How We Lived Then
Probate inventories take us right into the homes of our forebears, enabling us to take a tour round the house of a late 17th-century yeoman and see in detail how his family cooked, dined, slept, cleaned, and clothed themselves.


Beer, Bets and Bull-Baiting
Our forebears revelled in bull-baitings, cockfighting, boxing matches and abominable drunkenness; especially in the Black Country. The boozy, bloody amusements of the working classes rose and fell – and something remains of them today.

Cavalier Dogs and Roundhead Rogues
The English Civil War brought much upheaval and damage to the area between Wolverhampton, Lichfield and Birmingham as people took sides and their forces engaged each other repeatedly. The voices of several of those involved shed light on a pivotal period of our history


The King's Loose Box

The King’s Loose Box – so contemporary wits named the seats at King Edward VII’s coronation specially reserved for his lady friends. Bored and frustrated as Prince of Wales, Edward enjoyed long-standing relationships with Lillie Langtree,  Daisy Warwick, Jennie Churchill and Alice Keppel – four women, remarkable in their own right, whose lives are highlighted in this

Darling Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, a familiar and well loved figure, scarcely needs an introduction; but this role occupied only the second half of her long life.  Here we look in detail at her earlier years through childhood to young aristocrat. How she became and fulfilled her life as a royal duchess, then unexpectedly, as Queen Consort to King George VI.

Richard III - The Monster, the Myth and the Man

For centuries he was a byword for murder and treachery – but was Richard III really the wicked tyrant depicted by Shakespeare?  Since the remarkable discovery of his remains in 2012, we can see a clearer picture of the real man caught up in the struggles of the Yorkists and Lancastrians for the throne of England.

FEATURED TALK - new for 2017

Lest We Forget

The stories behind the origins of the now familiar elements of Remembrance Day – the poppies and the war memorials, the Cenotaph and the Unknown Warrior – and how they gradually grew from the mingled anguish and pride of the losses of the First World War.

Section 2 - of Local Interest

The Theatre Royal Fire Tragedy
The worst peace time tragedy in Smethwick occurred in 1929 when 11 people died in a tenement fire. Grief led to anger when it was discovered how badly equipped and incompetent the borough fire brigade was and many changes were brought about.

The History of Smethwick
A surprisingly rich and varied history, describing how a mere Anglo-Saxon hamlet became a Victorian boom-town, through to its post-war modernisation.


Smethwick in the Second World War
The experiences of a town that made everything from Pepsi-Cola for the GI to gliders for the D-Day landings and was heavily targetted by the Luftwaffe.

The Mollett Family of Smethwick Grove
James Keir, central member of the Lunar Society and his daughter Amelia, who married a Swiss banker, both lived in Smethwick for a time. Amelia’s diary takes listeners right into the heart of genteel family life in the early 19th century.


Early Years at Soho
The how and the why of and the men who founded the Soho Foundry where Boulton & Watt made the steam engines that powered the Industrial Revalution

Skulduggery at Soho
James Watt’s letter-copying machine has preserved the remarkable story of what happened in 1826 when the Soho Foundry’s chief cashier was caught with his fingers in the till.


Mad Dogs and Marie Marten
Early 19th century local stories and the shock-horror sensations of the day, from Birmingham’s local newspaper

Strange Tales From Smethwick

Every locality has its stories of ghosts, murders,  mysterious tunnels, and connections to famous people.  The urban folklore of Smethwick includes a spooky grey lady,  a haunted fire station and not only Laurel & Hardy but Charlie Chaplin as well– and some of the stories do have a kernel of truth to them.

Section 3 - of Family History interest

The Baby in the Locket
My great-grandmother’s locket contains a tiny faded photograph of a baby, and solving the mystery of its identity was one of the links in a 250 year chain of family history through Wolverhampton, Derby and Yorkshire.

Singularities of Bodfish
Mine is a very ordinary English family, but in researching it I discovered, as well as the usual agricultural labourers, a village idiot, a prize-fighter, a jailbird, a gold prospector, a multi-millionaire – not to mention the whaling captains and the eskimos!

The Cottage by the Well
Between 1817 and 1865 the cottage by the well at Tadmarton was home to my 3 greats-grandmother, her daughter and her granddaughter. The first two made the same mistake in life – not so the third! This is the story of how I discovered their trials, tribulations and eventually triumphant survival in a world that was often hard and unforgiving.

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