Going through the Mills (part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts on the Mills family, the paternal ancestors of my maternal grandmother Julia Mary Mills. This  part focuses on the years between 1750 and 1879 and the generations who lived through this period.

* * *

Since at least the mid-Eighteenth Century, the Mills family had lived in and around the cluster of small parishes between the East Midlands market towns of Nottingham, Derby and Loughborough. Here in the valley of the river Soar near where the borders of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire converge, they toiled in the fields for centuries, rarely venturing far from their ancestral homeland and quietly passing on their skills and knowledge from one generation to the next. Their story, unlike that of Frederick England’s ancestors, is one which retained a predominantly rural character until quite recently, and it therefore provides a glimpse of a different way of life to any I have looked at so far.

Nottinghamshire map
‘Mills Country’. Detail from J. and C. Walker’s 1836 map of Nottinghamshire showing Bunny, East Leake, Gotham, Kegworth, Sutton Bonington, West Leake, and other villages where the Mills family lived. Source: Nottinghamshire History.

My earliest identifiable Mills ancestor was my sixth great-grandfather Robert (b. c. 1750), who married Mary Clayton in Prestwold, Leicestershire on 23 May 1774. While Robert Mills’s family background is unknown, his wife Mary (the eldest daughter of William and Elizabeth Clayton) had been baptised on 26 October 1752 in Long Clawson. At the time of their wedding both were said to be living in ‘Burton’, which was likely a reference to the village of Burton-On-The Wolds just south of Prestwold. They appear to have had at least six sons, whose names were:

  • William (bp. 21 November 1774, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – bur. 8 May 1853, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • Edward (bp. 17 November 1782, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – 23 October, Bunny, Nottinghamshire)
  • Robert (b. 2 April 1784, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. 16 December 1863, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • Thomas (b. 8 April 1787, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. bef. 1793)
  • Thomas (b. 19 February 1793, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – bur. 4 November 1878, Gotham, Nottinghamshire)
  • Joseph (b. 23 July 1797 – bur. 13 Feb 1859, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)

From their sons’ baptism records we can tell the couple had settled in the village of West Leake in Nottinghamshire by late 1774, but beyond that little else is known about them. With the exception of their eldest son William, who went on to become a basket maker and publican, all their children found employment as agricultural labourers in nearby villages such as Gotham and Bunny. Mary died at the age of seventy and was buried in West Leake on 20 January 1822. Her husband Robert was interred at the same place thirteen years later on 3 July 1835.

St Helena West Leake
St Helena’s church in West Leake, where many members of the Mills family were baptised, married and buried. Source: Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project.

Their third son Robert Mills Jr. is my first Mills ancestor whose life can be traced in any detail, as unlike his father he survived long enough to be recorded in the census. At the age of twenty one he married a woman named Elizabeth Milner (b. c. 1783) on 17 November 1805 in her home village of East Leake, and over the next two decades they had the following seven children together:

  • William (bap. 1 June 1806, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. 1 May 1887, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • John (b. c. December 1808, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. 7 January 1892, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • Mary (b. c. 1811)
  • Sarah (b. c. 1813, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. aft. 1891)
  • Thomas (b. c. 1815, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • Joseph (b. c. 1818, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. 22 May 1894, Keyworth, Nottinghamshire)
  • Elizabeth (b. c. 1821, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)

In the censuses of 1841-1861 Robert Jr. and Elizabeth were shown living in West Leake, and in all of them Robert was listed as an agricultural labourer. Although this is the earliest available evidence of what Robert Jr. did for a living, a brief reference to him in the local press tells us he had been doing this almost all his working life. On 17 October 1856 the Loughborough Agricultural Association held their annual meeting at the King’s Head Inn, and among the prizes awarded was one for “the labourer who has been for the longest time a member of any benefit or sick club, and of good character” (Leicester Journal, 24 October 1856, p. 6, col. 6). Robert, then seventy two, won second prize in the husbandry category for having been a member of the East Leake Old Sick Club for fifty years and eight months, meaning he must have been an agricultural labourer since at least 1806.

Agricultural labourers
Agricultural workers c. 1814, from George Walker’s The Costume of Yorkshire. Source: MaggieBlanck.com.

Agricultural labourers in early Nineteenth Century were the poorest class of working people in England, with average wages even lower than those of urban factory workers, and the toil they endured was just as exhausting and dangerous. Writing in 1956 the folklorist and oral historian George Ewart Evans warned against viewing pre-industrial rural life as in any way ‘colourful or romantic’, as the first-hand accounts of elderly farm workers he interviewed revealed a very different story. The language used by one old agricultural labourer from Suffolk is particularly striking (1965, 96):

He was paid the rate of 3s. a coomb for threshing; and he had no two thoughts about it: ‘Threshing was real, downright slavery.’

Like their fellow workers in the towns and cities, agricultural labourers in the early Nineteenth Century saw their livelihoods threatened by the introduction of new technologies such as the threshing machine, which together with low wages was one of the causes of the Swing Riots of 1830, a widespread uprising of agricultural labourers which started in the south of England but spread as far north as the Mills’ home county of Nottinghamshire. Elsewhere agricultural labourers attempted to improve their lot by forming trade unions, but the draconian labour laws of the time made such activities highly risky. The most famous victims in this regard were undoubtedly Dorset’s Tolpuddle Martyrs, three labourers who were sentenced with transportation to Australia for ‘swearing a secret oath’ as members of a Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers in 1838. Sick clubs like the one Robert Mills Jr. joined in 1806 were in many ways a precursor to the modern trade union movement, and because they involved working people organising and helping one another outside the structures of the church and state they were fiercely opposed by the establishment, as one former labourer Joseph Arch recalled (Arch, 1898, 10-35):

When they [the agricultural labourers] did start a sick benefit fund … the parson, the farmers, and the leading men of the parish did their very best to put it down, to stamp it out with their despotic heels. The parson refused point blank to preach a sermon in aid of funds for it… That a labourer, who had fallen out of work through illness, should be supported, even for a time, from a common fund over which the rectory had no direct control, was gall and wormwood to the parson. Worse still, the labourer’s wife would not be so ready to come to the rectory back-door, humbly begging for help. Worse and worse still, she and the children might slip out of the yoke of Church attendance altogether, if rectory charity were no longer a necessity. No; this sick club was the thin end of a bad wedge, and it must be pulled out and broken up without delay.

Robert Mills Jr. died of ‘natural decay’ aged seventy nine on 16 December 1863. Sixteen years later his widow Elizabeth died from the same cause on 31 July 1879 at the age of ninety three. On both their death certificates the informant was their daughter-in-law Sarah Mills (née Topley), wife of their eldest son William. In the next post I’ll be looking more closely at this younger generation of Millses, including Robert Jr. and Elizabeth’s second son John, my fourth great-grandfather.


Arch, Joseph. The Life of Joseph Arch. London: Hutchinson & Co, 1898.

Evans, George Ewart. Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay. London: Faber and Faber, 1965.

End of the line?

Having spent the first part of this year concentrating on my maternal grandfather Frederick England’s family, including the Englands, Lings, Halls and Buxtons, in the next few posts I’ll be be turning my attention to his wife, my maternal grandmother Julia Mary Mills, and her ancestors. Like her husband, my grandmother was born in Derbyshire, but her family came mostly from Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire, and whereas Fred’s ancestors were largely miners, travelling hawkers or small business owners, hers were mainly argricultural labourers, framework knitters and rural craftsmen. I will be returning to Grandpa Fred at some point to write about, among other things, his experiences during the Second World War, but as I’ve now looked at all the major branches of his family tree it felt like the right time to move on.

Thank you for all the kind comments and messages I’ve received so far. More stories to follow.

Julia Mary Mills
Julia Mary Mills, c. 1935.

The gifts of sound and vision (update)

Two months ago I wrote a post on the use of online image, sound and film archives for family history research (see The gifts of sound and vision, published 6 May 2016). In it I described how I’d found a number of photographs of my great-great-grandmother Emma Sillers’s pram and mail carts shops using websites like Leodis and The Card Index, and how these in turn led to the discovery of a piece of film footage showing one of them in 1898.

In response to this, a few weeks later I received a message from someone who’d come across my blog while researching an Edwardian wheelchair he’d rescued from a care home two years ago. The chair, he claimed, appeared to bear the name ‘Sillers’ on the side, and although my blog hadn’t mentioned anything about my ancestor’s firm manufacturing wheelchairs he’d wondered whether whether this could have been a sideline of theirs. After exchanging a few more messages he sent me the two photographs below, which left  little doubt as to its maker.

Sillers invalid chair
Sillers ‘invalid chair’, made in Leeds c. 1910. Photographed 2016.
Sillers Vicar Lane Leeds
Detail from the above, reads ‘Sillers, Vicar Lane, Leeds’. Photographed 2016.

The second photograph quite clearly shows the Sillers name, as well as (rather less clearly) their trading address at Vicar Lane in Leeds. I’d previously had no idea Sillers made wheelchairs in addition to mail carts and prams, which was an interesting enough revelation in itself, but it was also a treat to be able to examine my ancestors’ handiwork so close up. In addition, I know another of my great-great-grandparents, Hollan Horsfall, had used an ‘invalid chair’ since he was about forty, and I’m now wondering whether this could explain how his family came into contact with the Sillers clan (his daughter Dorothy had married Emma’s son Clarence in 1919). Hopefully I’ll know more by the time I get around to telling their story.

Halls that echo still (part 3)

This is the much-delayed, third and last installment in my series of posts on the Halls, the maternal ancestors of my grandfather Frederick England’s mother Maud Ling. In it I will be focusing on the children of Charles Buxton (1826-1903) and Miriam Hall (1833-1910) of Alfreton, including William, John Samuel, Emma Elizabeth, Rose Ellen, Frederick Charles, George Henry and Alfred Buxton, as well as Maud Ling’s mother Mary Ann Hall. For the history of the Hall and Buxton families up to this point see Halls that echo still parts one and two.

* * *

By the time Charles and Miriam Buxton died in 1903 and 1910 respectively, their surviving children had all established careers and families of their own. Although the Devonshire Arms inn passed out of the family’s hands shortly after Charles’s death (by 1911 it was under the management of Joseph Shearman), a number of his children appear to have followed him into the fish, fruit and grocery trade. The first to do so was his eldest son William Buxton (b. 24 September 1856, Alfreton, Derbyshire), who by 1881 had opened a fruiterer’s shop at 27 King Street, a few minutes up the road from the Devonshire Arms. That year’s census records him living with his wife Eliza (née Bent), with whom he went on to have seven children before her death in 1899. On later censuses William was shown working as a ‘fruit hawker’ in Brampton in 1891, and then at Chesterfield ten years later, where he was living with five of his children at 117 Chatsworth Road.

London, Vintage photo of a barrow boy or fruit hawker
‘A Fruit Hawker’, c. 1900, London (via Old Photos UK).

The dates and locations may be significant here, for as we saw in Travelling with the Lings (part 3), several members of the Ling family were also working as hawkers in Brampton and Chesterfield in those same census years. William would undoubtedly have known the Lings through his older sister Mary Ann, who had married John Ling in 1871, but his proximity to them over such a long period suggests there may have been a history of personal and business connections between the two families which the census only hints at. It is possible this Buxton-Ling relationship predated even John and Mary Ann’s marriage, as John’s father George Ling was an innkeeper and publican based on King Street (see Travelling with the Lings (part 2)), just like Charles Buxton. George and Charles could have been old friends or business contacts who wanted to cement a profitable partnership through the marriage, or perhaps they had been rivals who saw it as a means of ending a feud.

Whatever its origin, it is clear this relationship between the Lings and the Buxtons remained strong over at least two generations. For example, Charles and Miriam’s second son John Samuel Buxton (b. 8 July 1859, Alfreton, Derbyshire) was for a time guardian to one of John and Mary Ann Ling’s daughters (a point I will return to shortly). In addition, Samuel, as he was commonly known, appears to have been cut from similar cloth to his brothers and sisters-in-law on the Ling side, as like them he was no stranger to physical altercations and occasionally found himself in trouble with the authorities.

Aged twenty one he had married a woman from Somercotes named Mary Stanton, and shortly afterwards moved with her to Skegby in north Nottinghamshire where he worked as a coal miner. By the time his first son was born in 1884 however they had moved back to Alfreton and Samuel and was employed as a county court bailiff. That same year he was named in the local press in connection with an illegal raffle which took place at the Queen’s Head inn without the landlord’s knowledge (The Derbyshire Times, 15 October 1884, p. 3, col. 5). A clock belonging to Samuel had been the main prize. A somewhat more serious allegation came the following year when he was charged with making an affray alongside Samuel College of Wessington at Oakerthorpe. Both men were bound over in the sum of £5 to keep the peace for three months (Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal, 26 June 1885, p. 6, col. 6).

As a county court bailiff, charged with recovering debts by forcibly entering people’s homes and seizing their property, Samuel would undoubtedly have had made a few enemies over the years, so violent exchanges like the one described above are hardly surprising. Bailiffs were widely resented by the working classes for whom they represented an iniquitous system which favoured the rich, as Kruse describes in The Victorian Bailiff: Conflict and Change (2012, Preface):

Distress [debt collection through property siezure] was compared to the bastinado used to oppress farmers in the East, an “injurious grievance” which resulted in the cottages of the poor being ransacked. These attacks developed into a full blown campaign for abolition of distress late in the [Nineteenth] century, but the bailiff in all these instances suffered for no fault of his own and was condemned however blameless his actions.

From the story below, taken from the Heanor petty sessions, it is clear Samuel occasionally found himself on the receiving end of this widespread popular anger:

Assault upon bailiffs
‘Assault on bailiffs’. Source: The Derby Mercury, 19 December 1888, p. 3, col. 4 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Another story published nine years later reveals Samuel was also accused of “wilful and corrupt perjury” by a local farmer, who alleged that £1 in rent arrears had been wrongfully seized before it was due (The Derbyshire Times, 23 January 1897, p. 3, cols. 3-4). The charges were dropped after five hours’ deliberation, but together with his earlier assault the story clearly illustrates the thankless nature of his work and the hostility he would have faced on an almost daily basis. The engravings below from The Illustrated Police News depict similarly fraught encounters between bailiffs and tenants which would have proved popular with contemporary readers.

The bailiff and the collier
‘The Bailiff and the Collier’. Source: The Illustrated Police News, 13 September 1879, p. 1 (via The British Newspaper Archive).
Bailiffs assaulted
‘Bailiffs Assaulted’. Source: The Illustrated Police News, 25 June 1881, p. 1 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Samuel appears to have left his regular employer Messrs W. Watson & Son shortly after this incident, and sued them for £10 2s. 9d. in overdue wages (The Derbyshire Times, 30 April 1898, p. 6, col. 6). The firm issued a counter-claim of £5 18s. 5d., alleging he had been drunk on duty and had left a repossessed house unguarded. A lively scene ensued at Alfreton County Court when upon hearing these allegations Samuel called his accuser a rogue, and said he would rather leave the court than stay and listen to their falsehoods. According to the report, “Buxton was then removed from the Court room to an ante-room, where he was kept until the business had been transacted”. Despite his protestations, a string of witnesses came forward to corroborate the firm’s claims, saying “he was drunk all the time”. The judge let him off with a warning but said he should not have been so foolish as to act in the manner he did, especially as he had been serving as a representative of the court.

It is possible Samuel’s drinking and erratic behaviour had been triggered by his wife Mary’s death two years earlier. There is a record of him auctioning off his household furniture and general effects on 19 September 1896, shortly after relinquishing his property at 27 King Street (The Derbyshire Times, 16 September 1896, p. 2, col. 6), and by the following census in 1901 he had moved back in with his mother and father at the Devonshire Arms. His occupation was recorded as ‘labourer’. Over the following decade however his fortunes appear to have steadily improved, as by 1911 he had married again to a woman named Elizabeth. That year’s census shows them living together with their children at 151 King Street, and records his new occupation as a furniture dealer.

Before moving on to Charles and Miriam Buxton’s other sons and daughters, a few words on Samuel’s children. Although it’s not entirely clear from the censuses, from looking at the local parish registers he appears to have had a total of nine children, four with his first wife Mary and five with Elizabeth. A tenth child, ‘Maud Buxton’ is shown living with him and his family at 27 King Street in 1891, however after a thorough search I have been unable to find any other mention of this child, and it is my belief that this is actually Maud Ling, my great-grandmother and Samuel’s niece by his sister Mary Ann. Why Maud would be living with her aunt and uncle at this time instead of with her brothers and sisters in Doncaster is unclear, as is the reason why she was incorrectly recorded as Samuel’s daughter. Whatever the reason it is notable that while her siblings all went on to embrace travelling lifestyles under the influence of their itinerant pot dealer father John Ling, Maud, under Samuel’s guardianship, remained in Alfreton and married local miner Tom England. We will return to Maud and her family at the end of this post.

* * *

Charles and Miriam’s next child after Samuel was Emma Elizabeth Buxton, who was born in Alfreton on 15 February 1863. The censuses of 1881 and 1891 show her assisting her parents at the Devonshire Arms inn (perhaps as a cook or bairmaid), but sadly she died prematurely at the age of thirty two. Her younger sister Rose Ellen was born four years later on 18 March 1867, and married a greengrocer from Coventry named William Henry Beresford. She had one daughter with the unusual Old Testament name Mahalah. Like many of her siblings Rose spent most of her life on King Street, first at the Devonshire Arms and then at number 122 in 1891, when she was recorded as a dressmaker, and at number 46 in 1911. Her last known address was the Midland Hotel in Ripley where she died on 28 August 1925.

According to her probate record, in the year Rose died her effects were valued at £295. There is a stark contrast here with her younger brother Frederick Charles Buxton (b. 11 Mar 1870), Charles and Miriam’s third son, whose estate was worth £8,337 2s. 7d. by the time he died. Like his older brother William, Frederick was a fruiterer and greengrocer but also sold fish and game from his shop at the junction of Alfreton High Street and Bonsall Lane. The photograph below from Around Alfreton shows Frederick’s shop at around the turn of the century. The figures in the foreground are almost certainly Frederick himself and his daughter Lucy Buxton (b. 8 February 1899, Alfreton, Derbyshire).

Buxton's fishmongers and fruiterer
Buxton’s fishmonger’s and fruiterer’s shop, c. 1904, Bonsall Lane, Alfreton (Alfreton and District Heritage Trust, 1994, 68).

Lucy was one of two children by Frederick’s first wife Lucy Matilda Thomas, who he had married at the age of twenty one in her home parish of St. Cuthbert’s in Wells, Somerset. Lucy Matilda died in early 1899, possibly while giving birth to her daughter, but within a year Frederick had already remarried. His second wedding to Scottish-born Mary Ann Taylor took place on 31 January 1900 and they went on to have three sons together. Further details from Frederick’s life can be found in his obituary in the The Derbyshire Times, which described him as one of Alfreton’s best-known residents.

Mr. F.C. Buxton
‘Mr. F.C. Buxton: An Alfreton Tradesman’s Death’. Source: The Derbyshire Times, 6 August 1937, p. 13, col. 4 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Given the respect and status Frederick seems to have enjoyed in the local community it is highly likely his nephew Charles Frederick Ling was named after him. My grandfather Frederick England was in turn probably named after one or both of these men (his great-uncle and maternal uncle respectively) and I got my middle name from him. Therefore, through the transmission of this one name it is possible to trace the legacy of an individual born in 1870 across four generations, four families, and four individuals separated by more than a century.

* * *

Charles and Miriam’s fourth son George Henry Buxton was born three years after Frederick on 14 April 1873. Like his older sister Emma, George started out assisting his parents at the Devonshire Arms before working as bricklayer’s labourer and coal hewer. In 1899 he had married a Nottinghamshire woman named Alice Morton with whom he had four children. The 1901 census records him living next to his brother Frederick’s shop on Bonsall Lane, but by 1911 he was living just off King Street at 5 Independent Hill. His probate record from 1953 shows he was still living there when he died at the age of eighty, and his effects were valued at £593 5s. 11d.

Unlike some of his siblings, George’s name does not appear much in local newspapers, and therefore we know little of his personal life beyond what was included in the census and other official records. The only significant story to mention George (reproduced below) recounts an incident at the King’s Head inn when he and his younger brother Alfred were fined for refusing to leave the premises after mocking a female singer (The Derbyshire Times, 7 June 1899, p. 3, col. 4):

A Lady Singer And Her Audience
‘A Lady Singer And Her Audience: Unappreciative Alfreton Men Get Into Trouble’. Source: The Derbyshire Times, 7 June 1899, p. 3, col. 4 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Although this seems to have been George’s first and only brush with the law, this was not the case for Charles and Miriam’s youngest son Alfred. Born on 2 March 1877, at the age of fifteen he had already been fined £1 4s. 2d. for “using obscene language to the annoyance of passengers on the street” alongside two other boys. All three had received cautions before (The Derbyshire Courier, 27 December 1892, p. 3, col. 4). Shortly after his assault charge at the King’s Head in 1899 however he appears to have put such youthful misdemeanors behind him, and following his marriage to Harriet Jackson on 21 December that year there were no further stories like this in the press. The couple lived at West Street in South Normanton for a time, where the 1901 census recorded Alfred as a sawyer, before moving to 14 Amber Row in Wessington. Here Alfred worked as a labourer at the local coal mine before being promoted to colliery banksman.

Unusually for a thirty seven year old man in a reserved occupation, on 21 January 1915 Alfred enlisted for military service in the Great War and was appointed to the Royal Field Artillery. According to his service record he was posted to the No. 6 Depot at Glasgow on 23 April as part of the 31st Reserve Battery, where he would have served in a remount training unit preparing horses for the frontline. On 13 March the following year he was transferred to the 5th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers for two months before being discharged with pay on 2 May. There is a brief note in his service record where his commanding officer described his character as “Very Good, Sober, Thoroughly Trustworthy”.

At A Remount School
‘A frisky horse tries to do the foxtrot’. Source: The Daily Mirror, 12 February 1916, p. 6 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

In light of these commendations the events of four years later come as an even greater shock. On 25 June 1920 Alfred and his wife Harriet were questioned by a coroner following the ‘discovery’ of a stillborn infant’s body buried in their garden (The Belper News, 2 July 1920, p. 8, col. 4). The couple were accused of concealing the birth, a crime which carried a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment, and a trial was held to determine their fates. A witness statement recorded in the local press gives a detailed and moving account of the incident and how the police came to learn of it (The Belper News, 6 August 1920, p. 8, col. 3):

Alfred Buxton trial
‘Alleged Concealment Of Birth: Alfreton Couple Committed For Trial’. Source: The Belper News, 6 August 1920, p. 8, col. 3 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Following a special magisterial sitting the couple were acquitted, as there was no evidence they had ever attempted to conceal the birth (The Nottingham Evening Post, 8 November 1920, p. 2, col. 1), but having a private tragedy like this play out on such a public stage for several months must have made their victory a bittersweet one at best.

The unnamed stillborn infant at the centre of this case would have been Alfred and Harriet’s seventeenth child since their marriage. By the time of their trial the family had moved back to Alfreton and were living at Outseats Terrace, and this was still Alfred’s address when he died at the age of sixty nine on 12 June 1946. His probate record from the following year gave the value of his personal effects as £619 4s. 7d. Although no photographs of Alfred have surfaced yet, the picture below shows his eldest daughter, Ada Spencer (née Buxton), with two of his grandchildren.

Ada Buxton
Alfred Buxton’s daughter Ada (right) with her children c. 1935. The man on the poster Jack Lees was the Labour MP for Belper between 1928 and 1931. Courtesy of D. Bowbanks.

* * *

Having looked at Charles Buxton and Miriam Hall’s seven legitimate children, let us return now to Miriam’s first child, Mary Ann Hall. Born in Alfreton on 29 November 1851, Mary Ann’s first five years were spent living with her mother’s family in Carlton, Nottinghamshire. Following her mother’s marriage to Charles in 1856 however it appears she quietly dropped the Hall name and was thereafter known as Mary Ann Buxton. The question of her paternity was discussed at length in the previous post, and the reasons for my conclusions will not be repeated here, but it seems quite possible that Charles himself had been her biological father all along. This would certainly explain why he appears to have been so ready to bestow his family name on her, and why he is explicitly recorded as her father in both the 1861 census and in Mary Ann’s marriage certificate from 21 March 1871.

Mary Ann’s marriage to the general dealer John Ling and her children by that union were described in Travelling with the Lings (part 3), but here follows a summarised account of their years together. After their marriage they lived at 135 King Street in Alfreton for around six years, during which time Mary Ann gave birth to three children, before moving to Ripley High Street in about 1877. Here Mary Ann had two more children, including my great-grandmother Maud Ling (b. 17 April 1881), and from the 1881 census we can see that both she and her husband John had begun specialising as earthenware dealers by then.

At some point before the birth of her sixth child in 1888 the family (minus Maud) relocated to Doncaster, possibly via Brampton, where they continued to trade as glass and china dealers at number 34 Silver Street. Interestingly, in the 1893 West Riding edition of Kelly’s Directory only Mary Ann’s name is recorded, suggesting she had taken over the day-to-day running of the business. One possible explanation for this could be that her husband’s health had already begun to fail by this point, as on 13 December the following year he died of lung congestion at the family home at 12 Silver Street, just three months after the birth of their last child, Olive Emma Ling.

By 1901 Mary Ann had moved the family’s china business back to Alfreton and was living with her daughters Maud and Olive above their shop at 16 King Street. That year’s census shows them sharing their home with a thirty eight year old lodger from Poland named Louis Goodman, a travelling draper and hawker. The pictures below show their former home on King Street as it appears today.

For an idea of what Mary Ann’s shop might have looked like at the time, this photograph of Arthur Smith’s china and general goods shop at 134 King Street circa 1911 may provide some insight.

King Street china shop
A. Smith’s china shop at 135 King Street, Alfreton, c. 1911 (Alfreton and District Heritage Trust, 1994).

It is even possible Smith’s business was a continuation of Mary Ann’s, considering its location and the type of goods they sold. Indeed it would have made sense for her to sell her business at around this time, as on 9 November 1910 Mary Ann had married her second husband Thomas Bestwick, the recently widowed publican at Alfreton’s Railway Hotel, at the United Methodist Chapel in Somercotes. The 1911 census shows her and Thomas running the pub together at 105 King Street alongside her youngest daughter Olive and three-year-old step-son Melville Bestwick. Her age is recorded as fifty eight, however we know from her birth certificate Mary Ann was actually fifty nine at the time, a rather scandalous eleven years older than her new husband.

Railway Hotel
The Railway Hotel at 105 King Street, Alfreton in 1987 (via Picture The Past).

As this is the last census currently open to the public, Mary Ann’s movements after this date become harder to trace. We know her husband Thomas died on 1 February 1929, and that according to his probate record  his last address had been ‘Holly House’ on South Moor Lane in Birmington, near Chesterfield. Presumably Mary Ann had been living with him at the time. Ten years later the sale of this house was recorded in a local newspaper:

Holly House
The sale of Thomas Bestwick’s home Holly House in Brimington. Source: The Derbyshire Times, 10 February 1939, p. 11, col. 5 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Sadly we know from her death certificate that Mary Ann’s final days were spent at Storthes Hall Mental Hospital near Huddersfield, where she was admitted on 19 April 1938, three months before she passed away on 30 July. The cause of death was identified as lobar pneumonia, and she was said to be eighty eight years old, although she was in fact only eighty six. Perhaps the most intriguing detail on her death certificate however is the entry in the ‘Rank or Profession’ column, which reads “of Caravan, Toll Gate Hotel Yard, Old Mill, Barnsley U.D”. This was both her last known address and that of her travelling showman son, Charles Frederick Ling, her next of kin in the hospital’s admittance records. According to one researcher, Mary Ann had been travelling ever since her husband’s death in 1929 (Steve Smith, e-mail message to author, 11 September, 2016), but even before this she and Thomas had apparently been operating automatic machines at fairs throughout the Nineteen Twenties. Despite having also been a Hall, a Buxton and a Bestwick in her time, perhaps Mary Ann had always felt most at home travelling with the Lings?



The influence of the Hall and Buxton families on the Lings and Englands can be seen in their shared network of personal and business connections, as well as the names they passed on to their children, but perhaps most of all in the long shadow cast by a persistent rumour concerning Mary Ann’s missing fortune. Growing up my mother remembers her father Frederick England claiming there was “money in probate” on numerous occasions, and a series of letters from the Belper Register Office seems show how this elusive wealth was connected in his family’s mind with Mary Ann. Two of these from September 1949 refer to searches for her death certificate, as well as those of her parents Charles and  Miriam, which they presumably needed in order to find the corresponding entries in the National Probate Index. It is not clear how far they got but the value of Mary Ann’s effects at the time of her death was just £280 12s. 2d. Even when one adds the £123 left by her father and her mother’s £985 17s. 1d. the sum total hardly justifies the legendary status it acquired. It is possible the rumour’s origins lay with Mary Ann’s second husband Thomas Bestwick, who left behind a personal fortune worth £3,833 3s. (approximately £128,100 in today’s money), but then again it could also just have been wishful thinking on my family’s part. The search continues.



Baker, Chris. “Royal Artillery depots, training and home defence units”. The Long, Long Trail. Accessed 17 July, 2016. http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-royal-artillery-in-the-first-world-war/royal-artillery-depots-training-and-home-defence-units/.

Alfreton and District Heritage Trust. Around Alfreton. Bath: Chalford, 1994.

Kruse, John. The Victorian Bailiff: Conflict and Change. [s.l.]: Bailiff Studies Centre, 2012.

Halls that echo still (part 2)

This is the second in a series of posts on the Hall family, the maternal ancestors of my great-grandmother Maud Ling (my maternal grandfather Frederick England’s mother), the first of which can be found here. This part will focus primarily on Maud’s grandparents Miriam Hall and Charles Buxton.

* * *

Miriam Hall was born in Lambley, Nottinghamshire in 1833. Her baptism record from 30 June that year gives her parents’ names as John and Ann Hall, however as was mentioned in the previous post, unlike her brothers, John Jr., Thomas and William, she was not present at their house on the night of the 1841 census. It’s possible her name was simply missed off the schedule, or she may have been staying with relatives, but whatever the reason her whereabouts that year remain unknown. Her earliest confirmed appearance in the census would not come till 1851, by which time she was eighteen and living with her parents in Alfreton, Derbyshire.

One fact which the census did not record however, and which was perhaps unknown even to Miriam at this point, was that by then she would have been about four weeks pregnant. On 29 November 1851, almost eight months to the day after census night, Miriam gave birth to a little girl named Mary Ann. Unsurprisingly for a child born outside marriage in the 1850s, no father was mentioned by name on either her birth certificate or her baptism record from 4 January the following year.

Mary Ann Hall birth certificate
Mary Ann Hall’s birth certificate, registered 21 December 1851, Alfreton, Derbyshire. Note the scored out fifth and seventh columns where the father’s name and occupation would usually be.

As has been shown in earlier posts regarding George and Susannah Ling, Nineteenth Century attitudes towards illegitimate children and their mothers were often unswervingly condemnatory. We of course don’t know how sympathetic Miriam’s family were to her situation, but we do know that five years after her daughter’s birth she was living in Carlton, Nottinghamshire, only three miles from where she had been born in Lambley. Perhaps once the signs of her pregnancy began to show it was decided, mutually or otherwise, that it would be better for Miriam to stay with relatives for a few years to avoid a scandal?

Ironically, the only reason we know about Miriam’s move to Carlton is because by 1856 she had become pregnant once again. We know this because on 24 September that year she gave birth to a son, William, exactly six months after her marriage to a man named Charles Buxton at All Hallows church in nearby Gedling. From their marriage certificate we can see that Miriam had been working as a dressmaker, and that, interestingly, her two witnesses were James and Harriet Burton, both first cousins by her maternal uncle Benjamin Burton. According to the 1861 census, Benjamin and his family were living in Carlton at around this time, so it seems likely he was the relative who took Miriam in following her first pregnancy five years earlier.

Charles Buxton and Miriam Hall's marriage certificate
Charles Buxton and Miriam Gall’s marriage certificate, 24 March 1856, Gedling, Nottinghamshire.

So what of Charles, the man she married? Their certificate states that he was a twenty nine year old tailor, the son of a ‘messenger’ (postman) named William Buxton, and that like Miriam he had been living in Carlton before the wedding. Further research into his past reveals that he had been born in Alfreton on 26 September 1826, and that by 1841 he was working as a servant in a house on Leeming Street in Mansfield. Shortly afterwards he must have secured an apprenticeship as by 1851 he was already working as a tailor back in Alfreton, just a few doors away from Miriam and her family. Given their proximity it’s not impossible that Charles was the father of Miriam’s first child, Mary Ann, who was born later that year. While only a DNA test could prove this definitively, a pre-existing relationship with Miriam would certainly explain Charles’s presence in Carlton in 1856.

Once they were married Charles and Miriam moved back to Alfreton, perhaps because their new status as husband and wife enabled them to pass off Mary Ann as legitimate. Here they went on to have seven children together over the next eleven years, whose names were:

  • William (b. 24 September 1856, Alfreton, Derbyshire)
  • John Samuel (b. 8 July 1859, Alfreton, Derbyshire)
  • Emma Elizabeth (b. 15 February 1863, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. c. May 1895, Alfreton, Derbyshire)
  • Rose Ellen (b. 19 March 1867, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. 28 August 1925, Ripley, Derbyshire)
  • Frederick Charles (b. 11 March 1870, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. 3 August 1937, Alfreton, Derbyshire)
  • George Henry (b. 14 April 1873, Alfreton, Derbyshire – 5 September 1953, Alfreton, Derbyshire)
  • Alfred (b. 2 March 1877, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. 12 Jul 1946, Alfreton, Derbyshire)

As late as 1857 Charles was still working as a tailor (according to that year’s edition of White’s Directory), but was recorded as a postman in the 1861 census. Unlike his father William, who had started working for the Post Office on 9 1848, Charles’s name does not appear in the British Postal Service appointment books. This suggests he may have been employed on a fairly casual basis, perhaps helping out his sixty seven year old father with his daily rounds. William’s route according to the appointment books was between Alfreton and the nearby village of Pinxton so it seems likely Charles would have travelled this same way. Each day he would have set off from his home on Derby Road, picking up the mail from postmaster Thomas Tomlinson Cutler’s house on New Street before making his deliveries on foot or by horse and cart.

Victorian postman
British postman in uniform, c. 1850s (via Auntie Mabel: Inspiring Family Histories).

By 1870, according to his son Frederick’s baptism record, Charles had changed careers again and was working as an innkeeper at the Devonshire Arms on King Street. It’s not exactly clear how this came about, however his father’s will written the following year mentions a piece of land on Lincoln Street “now used as a garden and in the occupation of son Charles Buxton”, which is presumably a reference to the Devonshire Arms’s beer garden. Although Charles is the only member of the family explicitly mentioned as running the Devonshire Arms in the census returns, it is likely the whole family including Miriam would have helped out in one way or another, serving drinks, cooking meals or preparing guests’ rooms.

Devonshire Arms
The Devonshire Arms, 2011, Alfreton, where many members of the Buxton family lived and worked.
Charles Buxton
An elderly man stood outside the Devonshire Arms, Alfreton, c. 1900, believed by the owner to be his ancestor Charles Buxton. Courtesy of D. Bowbanks.

The need to provide meals for his guests in addition to drinks, accommodation and stabling may explain why from at least 1873 Charles also appears to have worked as a greengrocer, fruiterer and fishmonger. Inevitably ordering large quantities of food for the Devonshire Arms would have left him with a certain amount of  surplus stock, and therefore a stall at Alfreton market place would have seemed like a profitable way of selling on some of it. Although clearly an enterprising man, a newspaper report from 1878 suggests he may not always have been overly fastidious in his work, as that year he was fined £1 and costs for having several incorrect weights on his stall on 25 January, despite his protestations that he had had them adjusted four times in the past year (The Derbyshire Times, 27 February 1878, p. 3, col. 4).

Charles also appears to have branched out into farming, as around this time he had been renting “a large field which runs parallel to the railway at [South] Wingfield” (The Derbyshire Times, 26 January 1876, p. 3, cols. 4-5). Charles was mentioned in the local newspaper when two of his horses from this field wandered onto the railway lines on 24 January 1876 and caused an enormous collision. They had apparently been able to reach the tracks due to two unlocked gates which separated Charles’s field from some waste ground used by the Midland Railway Company and the railway itself. Fortunately the horses were the only casualties, however there was a great deal of property damage, including to South Wingfield Station itself. According to The Derbyshire Times:

The shock of the concussion was such that many of the trucks were thrown into the six-foot, and one of them was lifted right onto the platform, where both it and its contents were so thickly strewn as to impede the free passage of the platform. This train was wholly loaded with beer and grains, and for some distance the line was covered with splintered waggons, ironwork twisted into the most fantastic shapes, and bulged-in beer casks.

Before the track could be cleared a “heavily-laden mineral train dashed up at a high rate of speed”:

The result can only be imagined. The engine dashed into those portions of the trucks which were fouling the down-line, and so violent was the impact that the engine was greatly damaged, and a large number of trucks were thrown off the line, which was strewn with coals. With the exception of twelve yards the whole of the platform at Wingfield station was torn up, the large coping being smashed like cardboard. The rails were torn up, and the sleepers wrenched from their positions, the line being completely wrecked.

Later that year Charles attempted to claim £45 in damages from the Company for the loss of the two animals (The Derbyshire Times, 24 June 1876, p. 3, col. 4). Several years later another news story described a strikingly similar incident, when Charles was charged with “allowing three cows and a calf to stray on the highway at South Wingfield, on August 31st” (The Derbyshire Times, 4 October 1893, p. 3, col. 7) after the villagers at Highfield “had complained about the cattle getting into their gardens and eating their vegetables.” Charles’s defence was that his field was overrun with people and he could not keep the gate shut, but in the end he was fined 12s. and costs.

By 1903 Charles, now seventy six, had been largely confined to his bed for several months due to general ill-health. After leaving his bed at around 4.30 pm on Thursday 19 March his shirt accidentally caught flame from the bedroom fireplace. Miriam, who had been preparing his tea, rushed upstairs after hearing his screams, but was too late to prevent his burns to the head, neck, arm and sides. He died the following evening on 20 March, and later a jury gave the cause of death as shock from the burns (The Derbyshire Times, 28 March 1903, p. 5, col. 4). In his will he left Miriam £123. Miriam herself died seven years later on 30 March 1910, also aged seventy six, and in her will she is said to have left behind the not inconsiderable sum of £985 17s. 1d., presumably the full value of The Devonshire Arms, which still stands on King Street today.

In the next and final installment of this series I will be be looking at the children of Miriam Hall and Charles Buxton, including my great-great-grandmother, Miriam’s illegitimate daughter Mary Ann Hall. In it we will see how her marriage to John Ling brought together two of the most prominent families in Alfreton, and how her influence profoundly shaped the lives of her descendants.

Mary Ann Hall, Isabella C. Hobson, Annie E. Ling, Mary A. Buxton
L-R: Miriam Buxton (nee Hall) in mourning wear, her great-granddaughter Isabella Cicely Hobson, granddaughter Annie Elizabeth Hobson (nee Ling) and daughter Mary Ann Ling (formerly ‘Buxton’, nee Hall), c. 1907. Courtesy of the National Fairground Archives.


Halls that echo still (part 1)

Before moving on to my maternal grandmother Julia Mary Mills, there is one more family among her husband Frederick England’s ancestors whose story I’d like to tell. In previous posts I have looked at the direct male-line ancestors of both his father Thomas England and his mother Maud Ling, but so far have not considered either of his parents’ female lines. In this series I will be talking about the ancestors of Maud Ling’s mother Mary Ann.

* * *

Over the course of her life, Frederick England’s maternal grandmother went by a confusingly large number of names. Her death certificate from 1938 records her as ‘Mary Ann Bestwick’ (see First steps in family history (part 2)), the name she adopted following her second marriage in 1910, but prior to that she had been ‘Mary Ann Ling’ since marrying Maud Ling’s father John in 1871. Her maiden name according to her marriage certificate from that year was ‘Buxton’, but both her birth and baptism records confirm she had actually been christened ‘Mary Ann Hall’. How and why this name change came about will be explored later, but let us look first at the origins of the Hall family whose name she inherited.

Mary Ann’s earliest known ancestor on the Hall side was her grandfather, John Hall, who was born in about 1794 in Long Eaton in south east Derbyshire. At around twenty three years of age he married Ann Burton (bp. 3 January 1797, Lambley, Nottinghamshire) on 25 September 1817 in Ann’s home parish of Lambley, a remote, sleepy village in rural Nottinghamshire whose most notable geographical features include ‘The Dumbles’ and ‘The Pingle’. Ann’s parents,  John Burton and Amy Charlesworth, had roots in both Lambley and the slightly larger market town of Arnold further west, and including Ann they appear to have had at least thirteen children.

Undated photograph of Lambley featuring Holy Trinity church, where John Hall and Ann Burton were married in 1817 (via Picture the Past).

John and Ann Hall’s whereabouts in the years immediately following their marriage are unclear. The 1841 census shows them living with three boys born between 1826 and 1836 who were almost certainly their sons, but as that year’s census did not state the relationships between members of the same household it’s impossible to say for sure. Their names were:

  • John Hall (b. c. 1826, England)
  • Thomas Hall (b. c. 1831, England)
  • William Hall (b. c. 1836, England)

We have no way of knowing where the family were living when they were born as unfortunately the census only records that they were born outside their current county of residence (Derbyshire). This together with their suspiciously ’rounded-down’ ages (15, 10 and 5) has made locating their baptism records extremely difficult. To date the only child of John and Ann Hall’s whose baptism record I have found is that of their daughter, Miriam, who was christened in Lambley on 30 June 1833. The date and place suggest the Halls may have stayed in Ann’s home village after they were married until at least the early 1830s, but without further evidence it’s difficult to get an accurate timeline.

What is certain is that by 1841 the family had moved to Queen’s Head Yard in Alfreton, Derbyshire, and the reason for their move may have had something to do with John’s occupation as a cotton framework knitter. At this time hosiery was still an important part of Alfreton’s economy, and the town would have been an attractive destination for unemployed framework knitters seeking work. While less hazardous than coal mining, which gradually supplanted framework knitting as the area’s main industry later in the Nineteenth Century, the life of a ‘stockinger’ was far from easy, as Denise Amos writes:

 Framework knitting was a domestic industry. William Gibson, a manufacturer, gave evidence that many of his workers worked together and that it was an entirely domestic manufacture. The whole family worked in the industry.  The men normally did the knitting, the women spun the yarn and finished the hose, which required needlework skills for seaming and embroidery. The work was given out through a middle person and the knitters had to accept the wage or go without work. For many they lived in abject poverty and wretchedness. The children would begin to help as soon as they were able. Ben Glover, a knitter said that the reason the children stayed in the industry was because their families were poverty-stricken; they were born to it, they remained in it and they died there! There was also the problem of unionisation which did not exist in the knitting industry. The knitters could not stop other redundant hands coming into the trade and therefore the price of labour was kept low.

Framework knitters
A Nineteenth Century family of framework knitters (via The Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway).

Although only John and his oldest son John Jr. were recorded as framework knitters in the 1841 census, it is likely the whole family would have been involved in some capacity. Indeed by 1861 John’s wife Ann was also listed as a framework knitter at their new Derby Road address, even though as Amos notes above, this was traditionally a male occupation. This may have been because, for reasons unknown, her husband was absent on census night that year and she was simply  filling in for him while he was away, but the fact that she was even capable of doing so suggests a more flexible division of labour than the one Amos suggests.

In addition to to their work as stockingers, John and Ann were by this time supplementing their modest income by renting out their children’s empty rooms to a series of lodgers. In 1861 these included two Leicestershire coal miners, Thomas Adkin and William Linsley, and in 1871, following their move to 15 Malthouse Row on King Street, two fellow stockingers named Thomas Beresford and Samuel Fletcher. Astonishingly, John was still listed as a framework knitter in 1871 despite the fact that he was by then seventy seven years old, but within four years both he an Ann would be dead. Ann was the first to go aged seventy six. She was buried in the grounds of St. Martin’s Church in Alfreton on 25 August 1873. John followed soon after in around May 1874 at the grand age of eighty one.

Types Of Old-Time Stockingers
‘Types of old-time stockingers’, c. 1890s. Original caption reads: “This illustration shows an old stockinger and his wife, who for many years worked together in hand-stocking frames”.Source: Framework knitting and hosiery manufacture, volume 1 by Quilter and Chamberlain (1911) (via Picture The Past).

* * *

The fates of John and Ann’s three sons, John Jr., Thomas and William after 1841 are unknown, as that is the last census on which any of them can be found. We know rather more about their daughter Miriam however, who was not living with her parents in 1841 and did not show up in Alfreton until the following decade. Miriam was Mary Ann Hall’s mother and Maud Ling’s maternal grandmother. In the next post I will be focusing on her story as well as that of her husband, the tailor, postman, greengrocer and publican of the Devonshire Arms, Charles Buxton.

“…for people and things that went before”

I made a small but enjoyable discovery last night upon taking out my copy of the Beatles’ Revolver. Tucked inside the sleeve for safe keeping were four record tokens which my uncle Ron, the original owner, had been diligently stockpiling, but which he’d evidently forgotten about before spending. The tokens were for ‘Keith Freer’ of 259 Cotmanhay Road in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, and each was worth just one twelfth of a 45 rpm single.

Record token for ‘Keith Freer’ of 259 Cotmanhay Road, Ilkeston.

As far as I can make out, Keith Freer was an electrical shop which opened in Ilkeston close to when Revolver was released in the late-1960s. From looking at my uncle’s copy it appears to have been from the original 5 August 1966 pressing, as among other distinguishing features it contains a mispelling of the track ‘Doctor Robert’ on the label (it’s abbreviated here to ‘Dr. Robert’). Unsurprisingly, Revolver was a big seller and a second pressing went into production later that year. This makes me think Ron probably bought his copy shortly after it first went on sale, and that the tokens inside were therefore likely acquired at around the same time.

My uncle died in 2013, which is why it was nice to find this remnant of a forgotten moment from his life fifty years ago, undisturbed and previously undiscovered. It also served as a reminder of the enormous technological and cultural changes which have taken place since Revolver was released in 1966, as today when virtually any piece of recorded music can be accessed freely and instantaneously, the idea of someone saving up tokens to hear just two sides of music feels curiously quaint. Similarly, when I play the record itself I am conscious of the passage of decades through the intermittent pops and crackles caused by repeated plays.

At the same time however the music it contains, like many albums produced in that transformative year, defies and transcends its aging physical medium through its deathless, shattering modernity. Perhaps uniquely among ‘family history sources’ therefore, a piece of vinyl passed from one generation to another is valuable as both a record of that relative’s time with the object, but also a means of inducing some of the same feelings they must have felt when they first encountered it.

‘R. Eaton’, my uncle Ron’s proprietory inscription on the record’s top right-hand corner.