Going through the Mills (part 4)

This is the fourth in a series of posts about my maternal grandmother’s family, the Millses. This installment follows the lives of her grandfather George Mills and his siblings. For information on the preceding generation see Going through the Mills (part 3).

* * *

Of the five children Reuben and Charlotte Mills had between 1862 and 1877, only three are known to have survived into adulthood. Their two daughters Ellen (b. c. 1865, Codnor, Derbyshire) and Elizabeth (b. c. 1870, Codnor, Derbyshire) appear on just one census each (1871 and 1881 respectively) suggesting they both died in childhood. Their second son however, William H. Mills (b. c. November 1866, Codnor, Derbyshire), appears in every census between 1871 and 1911, meaning we can say rather more about his life.

Aged fifteen William was recorded working as a farm servant at Ratcliffe-on-Soar in Nottinghamshire, the same occupation his father held as a young man. A report in The Grantham Journal however reveals that by 1888 William had moved to Saxby in Leicestershire, where he was employed as a cowman by a farmer named Mr. Rose (12 May 1888, p. 8, col. 8). The report in question was from the Melton Mowbray petty sessions, and recounted an incident where William was accused of stealing “two fronts and collars, and one shirt, valued 4 d, the property of John Ashwell, farm pupil” of the same household. During the trial it was argued there was no direct evidence of William’s guilt, and that there were in fact several others in the house who could have taken the items. In addition his parents Reuben and Charlotte said he “had been out to service eleven years, and had never been discharged from a situation…had always borne a good character and was a dutiful son”. Despite these protestations he was found guilty, fined “£1 and costs, or fourteen days’ imprisonment with hard labour”.

Whatever the truth behind the accusations, it is unsurprising to find that by the following census in 1891 William was recorded living back at home with his parents in Kegworth, Leicestershire, where he had taken on the slightly less prestigious role of an ‘agricultural labourer.’ By this time he also appears to have met and married his wife Elizabeth, but so far no marriage record has been uncovered and her original surname remains unknown. Ten years later, with his life seemingly back on track, the 1901 census shows William employed as a ‘stockman’ (cattle specialist) on a farm in Toton near Nottingham, where he and Elizabeth were living with their five children. By his final census appearance in 1911 however, he was back living in Kegworth and working as a plumber. The reasons for this rather abrupt career change in his forties may never be discerned but regardless, this is the final identifiable appearance of William in the historical record.

William’s younger brother John Thomas Mills (b. c. October 1877, Underwood, Nottinghamshire), Reuben and Charlotte’s youngest son, begun his working life as a ‘rod buffer’ in Kegworth according to the 1891 census. Quite what this occupation entailed is unclear, however it may have had something related to agricultural drainage. By 1901 however, John Thomas had found employment as a footman in the service of the wealthy Lancashire quarry and colliery owner William Brooks, Second Baron Crawshaw of Crawshaw Hall. As the household’s only footman he would have reported directly to the butler, and his work would have involved a mix of domestic duties such as waiting at table, attending the door, cleaning silver, and perhaps acting as a valet. A good contemporary description of a footman’s daily routine can be found in Mrs Beeton’sThe Book of Household Management(Beeton, 1907, 1764-1766).

Crawshaw Hall
Crawshaw Hall, Rawtenstall, c. 1880, where John Thomas Mills served as a footman to the wealthy quarry and colliery owner William Brooks in 1901 (via CrawshawHall.co.uk).

Valued highly as status symbols in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, footmen were often tall, good looking and athletic young men whose function was as ornamental as it was practical. Perhaps because of this, footmen were sometimes denied the respect they deserved. The master of the house would typically call all footmen by a generic name (e.g. ‘William’) to avoid having to learn a new name each time a man was hired. In addition, by the early 1900s domestic service was beginning to be seen as a somewhat ‘unmanly’ occupation due to the growing number of female household servants in the late Nineteenth Century (Lethbridge, 2013, 46-47). Despite this social stigma John Thomas continued working as a footman until at least 1911, when at the age of thirty four he was recorded living back in Kegworth in the employ of a local clergyman named Henry Major Stephenson.

The Rectory Kegworth
The Rectory at Kegworth, where John Thomas Mills was employed by the clergyman Henry Major Stephenson (via Fretwelliana).
Footman
Unidentified footman, c. 1905, wearing the distinctive livery of the period which indicated his status (via Servants’ Stories).

By the time he was thirty eight however, there is evidence John Thomas had left domestic service and had begun working as a labourer in Derby, where he lived at 97 Shaftesbury Crescent. This evidence comes from his army service record, which tells us that on 19 November 1915 he had enlisted as a private in the 16th Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment. The timing is especially poignant given that his mother Charlotte had died the previous day in Kegworth Union Workhouse, and his father Reuben, who he gave as his next-of-kin, would also be gone within four days.

His service record also attests that he was 5’5 1/2″ tall (average for the time, but relatively short for a footman), and that he had initially been relegated to the army reserve. On 19 March 1917 however he was mobilised and a week later was posted to Beaumarais in south-west Germany. Over next few months he was attached to a succession of different regiments, as the war’s rising death toll forced shrinking regiments to merge and reorganise. On 14 April he was transferred to the 25th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (7th Labour Battalion), then on 30 April to the 4th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment (L Company), and then the Labour Corps on 14 May. A few days later, on 25 May he returned to his original regiment, the 16th (transport workers) Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment, and on 16 June was transferred one last time to the 1st Battalion of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment.

The number and type of regiments to which John Thomas was assigned suggests he may have served mostly in non-combatant roles, providing labour to build and maintain the army’s transport and communications infrastructure when and wherever this was required. These roles, typically filled by older or less physically able recruits like John Thomas, were not without risks however. On 31 January 1918 he was diagnosed with ‘myalgia’, a form of chronic muscle pain, and was evacuated to England a few days later. According to his army pension record, his condition was attributed to his service, which entitled him to a 20% bonus to his weekly pension (total 5s 6d). His pension record also records his last known address as 3 Trenville Avenue, Fulham Road, Sparkhill, just south of Birmingham. He appears never to have married or had any children, and it is currently unknown when or where he died.

* * *

Like his younger brothers William and John Thomas, my great-great-grandfather George Mills was recorded in the 1881 census living at his parents’ home in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Nottinghamshire. As we saw in the previous post, he was born at Langar Lodge on 9 April 1862, and had moved with his parents to Codnor, then Underwood. In the 1881 census he was listed as a farm servant, but by 1884 was working as an agricultural labourer in the nearby village of Kegworth, just over the Leicestershire border. This we know from his marriage certificate, which tells us that at the age of twenty one, on 10 March that year he married a local eighteen year old dressmaker named Frances “Fanny” Hardy Oldershaw (b. Frances Hardy, 4 June 1863, Kegworth, Leicestershire).

Curiously, although both were living in Kegworth at the time, their wedding is said to have taken place over twenty miles away in Langar, George’s Nottinghamshire birthplace. This inconvenient choice of wedding venue cannot be explained purely by a sentimental attachment to George’s place of birth, which he would have been too young to even remember. More likely it was chosen because it was a discreet distance away from both George or Fanny’s families. As Fanny was under twenty one at the time the couple would have required her parents’ permission to marry, and perhaps this was an attempt to get around that.

Is it possible to guess why her parents may have refused to support the marriage? A birth certificate for a girl named Minnie Hardy Oldershaw registered the previous year may provide a clue. This certificate confirms that on 12 July 1883 Fanny had given birth to a baby girl in Kegworth, eight months before her marriage to George. Perhaps when her pregnancy became public knowledge her parents shunned her and refused to have anything to do with the baby? As Fanny was unmarried at the time, no father’s name was recorded on her daughter’s birth certificate, but when Minnie sadly passed away from measles and capillary bronchitis on 25 November 1886 her father was named as ‘George Oldershaw’. This appears to be a false name given by George Mills, the informant, in an attempt to pass off Minnie as his legitimate daughter. Whether or not he had also been her biological father all along we can only speculate.

Tragedy was to strike the family twice in late 1886, for not only did they lose Minnie but also their second daughter, one-year-old Ellen Elizabeth Mills. Ellen’s cause of death has not yet been ascertained but it seems plausible she could have been carried off by the same measles outbreak which took her older sister. George and Fanny’s third child John George “Jack” Mills would have been just a few months old at the time, but fortunately he is known to have survived to adulthood, as did all six of his younger brothers and sisters. The Mills children were all born in Kegworth and grew up in the same family home near the hermitage at 17 Loughborough Road (later called London Road). Their names were:

  • Ellen Elizabeth (b. c. February 1885, Kegworth, Leicestershire – d. c. November 1886, Kegworth, Leiecestershire)
  • John George “Jack” (b. c. August 1886, Kegworth, Leicestershire – d. September 1963, Leicestershire)
  • Alfred William “Fred” (b. c. February 1888, Kegworth, Leicestershire)
  • Harry (b. c. November 1889, Kegworth, Leicestershire – d. c. February 1968, Heanor, Derbyshire)
  • Edith Ellen “Nell” (b. 8 February 1891, Kegworth, Leicestershire – d. 27 April 1960, 51 Holly Street, Lincoln, Lincolnshire)
  • Alice (b. c. May 1893, Kegworth, Leicestershire – d. 3 February 1961, Long Eaton, Derbyshire)
  • Frances Harriet (b. 22 April 1895, Kegworth, Leicestershire – d. c. February 1982, Ilkeston, Derbyshire)
  • Elizabeth Ann “Lizzie” (b. 9 December 1899, Kegworth, Leicestershire – d. 8 January 1979, Bilborough, Nottinghamshire)

The two photographs below from around 1888 and 1894 show Fanny with some of her and George’s children. In the first, she is shown with Jack and Fred in black clothing, which could have been mourning attire for her daughters Minnie and Ellen. Rather poignantly, the dresses her sons are shown wearing had probably belonged to their older sisters before being handed down to them (the tradition of dressing of young boys in dresses had always been one borne of economic necessity, rather than a conscious fashion choice). It is a posed, studio photograph, perhaps taken to commemorate Fred’s christening. The second more informal photograph was probably taken outside the family home and shows her with Jack, Nell, Alice, Fred, and my great-grandfather Harry Mills.

Jack, Fanny and Fred Mills (sepia)
L-R: Jack, Fanny, and Fred Mills, c. 1888. Courtesy of R. Watkins and T. Lang.
John, Edith Ellen, Fanny, Alice, Alfred and Harry Mills
L-R: Jack, Nell, Fanny, Alice, Fred, and Harry Mills, Kegworth, c. 1894. Courtesy of R. Watkins and T. Lang.

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s George had continued supporting the family working as an agricultural labourer, but by 1901 he had found employment at a plaster and cement mill works, most likely the one owned by the Winser family which stood over the river at the bottom of Mill Lane. The map below shows its location on the eastern edge of the village, as well as the Millses’ home on London Road to the south.

Kegworth 3
1901 6″ OS map of Kegworth (via National Library of Scotland).

By 1911 George was once again working as a farm labourer. At around this time, according to one of his descendants, he is said to have had his picture featured in a local newspaper after preventing a bank robbery. He was apparently on his way to fetch Dr. Bedford for his daughter Lizzie when he saw two men attempting to break into Westminster Bank. He quickly went off to find a policeman who lived nearby and the robbery was stopped in time. After all their children left home George and Fanny moved into in a house opposite the cinema on Derby Road, where they lived until Fanny’s death at the age of sixty seven on 26 August 1930. The official cause of death was a carcinoma of the liver, and her daughter Elizabeth was the informant.

Fanny and George Mills (sharper)
L-R: Unknown, Fanny Mills, unknown, George Mills, c. 1930. Image courtesy of R. Watkins and T. Lang.

Following his wife’s death, George moved in with his daughter Alice and her husband Thomas Alfred “Alvy” Wilmot, who are recorded living at 220 Tamworth Road, Long Eaton in the 1939 register. He remained in Long Eaton for the rest of his life, and his last known address was 16 Hawthorne Avenue. Two days before Christmas 1950, at the age of eighty eight he died in Shardlow hospital of broncho-pneumonia, cerebral thrombosis and a carcinoma of the rectum. He was buried alongside his wife Fanny in Kegworth Parish churchyard.

Alfred Wilmot and George Mills (sharper)
L-R: Alfred WilImage and George Mills, c. 1930. Image courtesy of R. Watkins and T. Lang.
George and Fanny Mills memorial
Memorial headstone of Fanny and George Mills, their daughter Elizabeth Ann and her husband Frederick Steel, Kegworth, c. 2010. Image courtesy of R. Watkins and T. Lang.

In the fifth and final post in this series we will look at what happened to George and Fanny’s children, before focusing specifically on my great-grandfather Harry, his wife Ruth Spencer, and my grandmother Julia Mary Mills.

Sources

Beeton, Isabella. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of household management : a guide to cookery in all branches, daily duties, mistress & servant, hostess & guest, marketing, trussing and carving, menu making, home doctor, sick nursing, the nursery, home lawyer. London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1907

Lethbridge, Lucy. Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

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Going through the Mills (part 3)

This is the third in a series of posts about the Mills family, the direct male-line ancestors of my maternal grandmother Julia Mary Mills. In this part I trace the stories of her great-grandfather Reuben’s generation who lived during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

* * *

The children of John and Elizabeth Mills were among the first members of their family to abandon their ancestors’ rural way of life in search of work in the towns. In the previous post I speculated that this may have been a consequence of the Great Depression of British Agriculture which began in 1873, but the census shows that at least two of the Mills children left their parents’ home in Sutton Bonington in the 1860s, a time of relative prosperity. There could be a more local explanation however, as at around this time their landlord’s manor at West Leake had been put up sale (East Leake & District Local History Group, 2001, 8) and the threat of change would have led to a general unease among the agricultural workforce.

The first to leave was John and Elizabeth’s eldest son Thomas Mills (b. c. March 1830, West Leake, Nottinghamshire), who had already moved to Codnor in Derbyshire by 1861. That year’s census records him and his wife Elizabeth (née Hywood) living there with their two children George and Emma on Jessop Street, and Thomas’s occupation was given as ‘labourer on coal field’. Although the fact that Thomas’s wife hailed from Bolsover probably explains how the family ended up in Derbyshire, his occupation suggests the area’s well-established coal mining industry was another likely attraction.

So-called open-pit mining had been in operation at Codnor since at least the fifteenth century, but as Stuart Saint explains:

It wasn’t until the Butterley Company was established in 1790 that mining in the area began to get more advanced. The company invested huge amounts of money into mines that penetrated the coal and ironstone seams deeper than ever before. The local community grew from a small agricultural based workforce to a rapidly growing industrial one. The increasing population needed more housing and many of the streets in Codnor did not exist until the mid 1800s, when they were built to accommodate hundreds of workers needed for the many mines in the area.

One of these streets was Jessop Street, built in around 1860 and named for William Jessop, one of the Butterley Company’s founders, where Thomas and his family lived until at least 1881.

Sportsman2
Jessop Street, 1906 (via The Codnor & Disctrict Local History & Heritage Website).

By that year’s census Thomas was recorded as an ‘iron worker’, so it is likely he had begun working at the Butterley Company’s vast ironworks just north of Ripley. Although the company was one of the most distinguished engineering firms in the country, and had been responsible for such innovations as the great arched train shed at St Pancras Station, they would nonetheless face calls from their employees to improve pay and working conditions later in the century. These calls were initially fiercely resisted by the company, who fired eleven workers in 1874 for their role in a strike over pay, although no official charges were ever brought. Thomas was not among those who lost his job as a result of the strike, however given his union activity later in life (more of which later) it seems plausible he could have participated in it.

Codnor miners
Thomas Mills’s co-workers at the Butterley Company, who were refused work in 1874 for taking part in strike action (via Healey Hero).

Like any under-regulated nineteenth century workplace, the Butterley ironworks would also have been an incredibly dangerous place to earn a living, especially for men like Thomas who were forced to work well into old age. On Thursday 23 January 1890, Thomas, by then almost sixty, accidentally dropped a heavy iron plate he had been picking up, which fell and crushed one of his legs. Upon his arrival at Derby Infirmary the doctors were forced to amputate the smashed limb.

Codnor
‘Serious Accident at Butterley Ironworks’. Description of Thomas Mills’s accident which inaccurately gives his age as sixty eight. He is also said to be living on Nottingham Road by this point, the same address he would give in the next three censuses. Source: The Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 January 1890, p. 2, col. 6 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Fortunately Thomas survived the procedure, and the following year’s census shows he had already found work as a general labourer, one would hope with the assistance of a new wooden leg. Ten years later in 1901 he was recorded as a ‘head furnace weighman’ at the ironworks, a more prestigious but less physically demanding role better suited to a seventy one year old amputee. His work here would have involved leading the team who checked, weighed and recorded the coke and iron ore being charged into the blast furnace. A unique insight into the lives of the Butterley Company’s workforce at this time can be gained from this rare footage from 6 October 1900, which shows workers leaving the ironworks at the end of a long day’s work.

At some point before 1911 it appears Thomas returned to the coal mining industry, as in that year’s census his occupation was given as ‘colliery checkweighman (above ground) previously’ (i.e. recently retired). This job, while similar to what he had been doing at the ironworks, differed in that he would have been working not for the enrichment of the Butterley Company but for the benefit of his co-workers through their union, the Derbyshire Miners’ Association. At this time miners were paid by the amount of coal produced, so it was important the weights recorded were accurate. Two weighmen were therefore employed, one working on behalf of the company, and a trade union representative (a ‘checkweighman’) elected by the miners to verify his findings. The photograph below taken at Denby colliery in 1898 shows the type of weighing machine Thomas would have used on a daily basis. Note also the elderly one-legged man on the right. As Denby colliery was situated only about an hour’s walk from Thomas’s home on Nottingham Road, it is tempting to think the man in the picture could be him, even though the census suggests he was still working at the ironworks at the time.

00001tmp
A pit top weighing machine at Denby Colliery, Derbyshire, in 1898 (via Picture The Past).

It is interesting to compare Thomas’s story to that of Thomas England (see There’ll Always Be An England (Part 2)), whose grandson Frederick would go on to marry Thomas Mills’s great-grandniece, my grandmother Mary, in 1938. Not only did both men survive potentially fatal accidents at work, but as a result both ended up as  colliery weighmen instead of manual workers. Unlike Thomas England though, Thomas Mills’s accident happened near the end rather than at the beginning of his working life, which perhaps explains why his career did not benefit to quite the same extent. He died in the last quarter of 1914 at the age of eighty four.

It is unclear what happened to John and Elizabeth Mills’s second son Charles (b. c. 1833, Sutton Bonington, Nottinghamshire). Oddly, there is a baptism record for him from 8 June 1845 at Sutton Bonington, when he would have been around twelve, but after that we can only speculate. Charles’s baptism appears to have been a joint ceremony with his younger brothers Reuben (b. c. December 1835, West Leake, Nottinghamshire) and John Jr. (b. c. June 1845). Reuben we will return to shortly, but John Jr. is another son whose later life is a mystery.

We know a little more about their younger brother, John and Elizabeth’s last child Robert Mills (bp. 11 October 1849, Sutton Bonington, Nottinghamshire). Born almost twenty years after their eldest, by the time he was twenty one Robert was still living at his parents’ house but working as a labourer at an iron foundry. Six years later he married Charlotte Musson, another Derbyshire girl from Heanor, on 18 December 1877. The next census shows that by 1881 they had left Sutton Bonington and moved to Leake Road in nearby Normanton on Soar. It also shows that Robert had begun working as an agricultural labourer, an occupation he would still hold ten years later, and that Charlotte was employed as a hosiery seamer. The final census on which Robert appears records that by 1891 his family had moved back to Sutton Bonington where they lived at Rectory Farm, a short distance away from where he had grown up at Pit House. Robert died at the age of only forty nine and was buried on 1 September 1899 at West Leake. Over the course if their marriage he and Charlotte had twelve children together, and after Robert’s death many of them went with their mother when she returned to Heanor to work as a charwoman.

Rectory Farm
1901 25″ OS map showing the locations Pit House and Rectory Farm in Sutton Bonington, where Robert Mills lived in 1871 and 1891 respectively (via National Library of Scotland).

* * *

We return now finally to Rueben Mills, John and Elizabeth’s third son and my grandmother’s great-grandfather. Like his brothers, Reuben grew up at Pit House in Sutton Bonington, but by the time he was sixteen he was working as a farm servant for a  widow named Rebecca Oakley in Wilford. According to the 1851 census, Oakley’s farm covered thirty acres and employed three other servants (two domestics and a charwoman). Farm servants like Reuben differed from agricultural labourers in that they typically lived in the farmer’s house and received board as part of their pay. As a result, they were considered to be “just a little further up in the pecking order” according to Crawford MacKeand (2002):

If single, he “lived-in” and bed and board were part of the contract for hire, and if married, he was provided with a house or a cottage, with possibly some grazing rights or strip of land to use and some provisions for the family. Cash wages were maybe less than 40% of total income. Hiring could be a continuation of existing employment or a new contract established at a “hiring fair”, and was normally for a one year period, or at least six months.

[…]

In some areas the Farm Servant was also known as a “confined man” and this was a desirable status to be aimed at. He, almost always he, was skilled typically in horse or other livestock care…and was therefore employed continuously year round…The Agricultural Laborer on the other hand was paid day wages, hired on a short term as and when work was needed, and therefore much more characteristic of arable farming, for planting, hoeing, reaping etc. He or she was given no accommodation, often operated as part of a gang under a contractor, and received only wages.

It it may be hard for those familiar with Wilford as a Nottingham suburb to imagine it populated with farm servants and agricultural labourers, but in the mid-nineteenth century it still retained much of its original rural character. It is possible to get an idea of what the village looked like in Reuben’s day from the surprising number of Victorian oil paintings of it. Writing in 1914 Robert Mellors even noted that “Wilford has the honour of being the most painted, and best illustrated village in the county”, and that there were several paintings referring to it at the Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery:

There is a view of the Trent, shewing the church, ford, etc., painted by Thomas Barber, about 1840; a view at Wilford from the Trent, “Looking to the Castle,” by Benjamin Shipham; “Wilford Ferry” (The Cherry Eatings) about 1858, by John Holland, Junr, shows a boat being towed over, full of passengers, while a crowd of ladies wearing crinolines, and gentlemen top hats, are waiting their turn. The vendors of cherries are doing a busy trade.

The three paintings described by Mellors can be seen below, and more can be browsed via the Culture Grid website.

Reuben did not settle permanently in Wilford however. By April 1861 he had moved back in with his parents at Sutton Bonington, and that year’s census records his occupation as ‘agricultural labourer’, suggesting something of a downturn in his fortunes. This would prove to be a temporary state of affairs though, as by November he was once again working as a farm servant twenty two miles away at Langar Lodge. Soon after he would be joined there by his new wife Charlotte (née Wilcox), who he married on 25 November 1861 at St Helena’s church in West Leake.

Charlotte was the third daughter of an agricultural labourer named Thomas Wilcox (b. 1797, Beeston, Nottinghamshire – d. c. February 1872, Nottinghamshire) and his wife Mary Attawell (b. 27 June 1799, Bradmore, Nottinghamshire – d. 1862, Stanton On The Wolds, Nottinghamshire). She was born on 2 May 1840 in the village of Stanton On The Wolds, Nottinghamshire, and in 1861 had been working as a domestic servant for a farmer named Thomas Hardy on Main Street, West Leake. As Reuben would have been living only half a mile away at the time it is unsurprising that the two of them eventually crossed paths, they may have even shared the same employer. Whatever the circumstances of their first encounter, sometime around August 1861 Charlotte became pregnant with Reuben’s child, and six months after their wedding she gave birth at Langar Lodge on 9 April 1862. The boy who was christened George Mills on 11 May that year was my great-great-grandfather.

Langar Lodge
Langar Lodge, where Charlotte gave birth to her and Reuben’s son George in 1862 (via Little Langar Lodge).

Shortly after their son’s birth Reuben and Charlotte left Nottinghamshire and rural life altogether to settle in Codnor, where Reuben’s brother Thomas’s family had moved a few years earlier. The 1871 census records both families living on Jessop Street just eight houses apart, and like his brother Reuben’s first job here was at the local colliery. There he worked as a banksman, which involved directing the loading and unloading of the cage that carried men from the top of the pit down to the coal face below.

The family stayed in Codnor for at least six years, during which time they had the following three more children:

  • Ellen (b. c. 1865, Codnor, Derbyshire)
  • William H. (b. c. November 1866, Codnor, Derbyshire)
  • Elizabeth (b. c. 1870, Codnor, Derbyshire)

At some point before 1877 they moved back across the county border to Underwood in Nottinghamshire, another mining village, where they had their fifth and last child:

  • John Thomas (b. c. October 1877, Underwood, Nottinghamshire)

Unlike his brother Thomas however, Reuben would not stay in the coal industry for long. The 1881 census shows that by then he had returned to farming, and that his family had resettled in Ratcliffe-on-Soar near where he grew up. Of Reuben and Charlotte’s children, sadly only George, William, Elizabeth and John Thomas were living with them at this point, suggesting their eldest daughter Ellen may have died. Their oldest sons George and William, then eighteen and fourteen, had started work as farm servants, while Reuben was once again an agricultural labourer, an occupation he would continue to hold for the rest of his life.

Sometime before the next census in 1891 Reuben and Charlotte moved for the fourth and final time  to Kegworth in Leicestershire, where they lived on Nottingham Road. Their eldest son George had moved here a few years earlier, and many of their descendants would continue to live here well into the twentieth and even twenty first centuries. By this time all Reuben and Charlotte’s children except William and John Thomas had moved out, so they had been obliged to take in a lodger, a plumber and gas fitter named William Smart who was still living with them in 1901 and 1911.

Kegworth
Nottingham Road in Kegworth, where the Millses lived from the 1890s to the 1910s (via Kegworth Village).

Charlotte and Reuben died within just five days of each other on 18 and 23 November 1915 respectively. Charlotte’s cause of death at the age of seventy five was given as ‘old age [and] myocardial degeneration’, and Reuben apparently succumbed to ‘senile decay’ aged seventy nine. While Reuben died at the family home on London Road, sadly Charlotte’s last recorded address was the Shardlow Union Infirmary and Workhouse, suggesting she may have been unwell for some time.

The informant on Reuben Mills’s death certificate was his daughter-in-law Fanny Mills, who was also present at the death. Fanny was the wife of Reuben’s first son George and my great-great-grandmother, and I will be looking at this next generation of Millses in the next post.

 

Sources

East Leake & District Local History Group. 200 Years of Basketmaking in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, West Leake and East Leake, Nottinghamshire. East Leake: East Leake and District Local History Society, 2001.

MacKeand, Crawford. “Farm Servants and Agricultural Laborers”. The Wigtownshire Pages. 2002. Accessed 24 March, 2017. http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ainsty/articles/profession/aglab.html.

Mellors, Robert. “Wilford: Then and Now.” Nottinghamshire History. 2010. Accessed 26 March, 2017. http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/articles/mellorsarticles/wilford6.htm.

Saint, Stuart. “Mining.” Codnor & District Local History & Heritage Website. Accessed 9 March, 2017. http://www.codnor.info/mining.php.

Going through the Mills (part 2)

This is the second in a series of posts recounting the history of the Mills family, my maternal grandmother Julia Mary Mills’s direct male-line ancestors. This part largely concentrates on her great-great-grandparents John and Elizabeth, who lived in Nottinghamshire during the nineteenth century. To read about the family’s story so far see my previous post Going through the Mills (part 1).

* * *

My fourth great-grandfather John Mills was the second of Robert and Elizabeth Mills’s seven children, all of whom were born in West Leake in Nottinghamshire between 1806 and 1821. John’s three brothers, William, Thomas and Joseph all went on to work as agricultural labourers in West Leake or other nearby villages, including Greasley and Keyworth. Of his three younger sisters, little is known of Mary but Sarah married a labourer from Wysall named Charles Shaw, and Elizabeth, who had worked as a servant in her youth, married John Johnson Shaw, a lace worker who briefly served as a police constable in Eastwood during the 1850s. Her family later moved to Beeston just south of Nottingham where she worked as a laundress.

John, was baptised in Sutton Bonington on 12 December 1808. At the age of twenty he married Elizabeth Brown (b. c. 1809), the daughter of John Brown and Mary Monks, on 5 October 1829 in her home village of Bunny. The parish registers there show he had been living in nearby Long Whatton at the time, just over the Leicestershire border. The couple appear to have had at least five children together whose names were:

  • Thomas (b. c. March 1831, Sutton Bonington, Nottinghamshire, bp. 9 March 1830, Bunny, Nottinghamshire – d. c. November 1914, Derbyshire, England)
  • Charles (b. c. 1833, Nottinghamshire, bp. 8 June 1845, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • Reuben (b. c. December 1835, West Leake, Nottinghamshire, bp. 1 January 1836, Sutton Bonington, Nottinghamshire – d. 23 November 1915, London Road, Kegworth, Leicestershire)
  • John (b. c. June 1845, Sutton Bonington, Nottinghamshire, bp. 8 June 1845, West leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • Robert (b. c. October 1849, Sutton Bonington, Nottinghamshire, bp. 11 October 1849, Sutton Bonington, Nottinghamshire – bur. 1 September 1899, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)

Their birthplaces suggest the Millses settled in Sutton Bonington, which is where they were recorded in the first national census of 1841. This census shows that, like his father and brothers, John grew up to be an agricultural labourer and would have been in his twenties during the tumultuous 1830s when the Swing Riots were sweeping the English countryside. That year their sons Thomas, Charles and Reuben were all still living at home, but by the next census in 1851 all three had left to find work elsewhere and only their youngest boys, John and Robert, remained.

This latter census also reveals that the family’s modest income was being supplemented by their mother Elizabeth’s work as a ‘lace runner’, i.e. “a person who hand embroidered lengths of machine net with darning…or running stitches” (Textile Research Centre, 2016). In the early-to-mid-nineteenth century, Nottingham’s world famous lace industry employed thousands of women in similar roles across across the county, as Sheila Mason (2013) explains:

While the centre of Nottingham concentrated on lace finishing most lace making was carried on outside the town. Every town and village in the map [see below] accommodated lace machines at one time or another. Into the 1840s most lace machines were small and worked by the hand and feet of the operative, so that for nearly 100 years they could be located in houses or workshops.  It was only after the 1850s, that machines were generally worked by steam power, and moved into factories.

nottingham-lace-running
Nottinghamshire lace runners or embroiderers at work, c. 1843. Source: Charles Knight, The Pictorial Gallery of Arts. Volume 1 Useful Arts, 1843 (via Textile Research Centre).

The map below from Mason’s article indicates the presence of at least one ‘twist machine or plain net machine’ in both West Leake and Sutton Bonington where Elizabeth was working in the 1850s:

lace-making-locations
Known locations of lace machines from the 1770s to 1850s in Derbyshire, Leicestershire & Nottinghamshire (via The Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway).

By 1861 however, Nottinghamshire’s lace industry had shifted away from the kind of small-scale cottage industry which enabled women like Elizabeth to work from home to the more centralised factory system which survived well into the twentieth century. The Mills family would have faced a dilemma at this stage: either migrate to Nottingham where Elizabeth could perhaps retrain as a factory hand, or stay in Sutton Bonington and hope  John’s wages alone would be enough to sustain them. As a fifty three year old agricultural labourer John would have stood little chance of finding work in the city, therefore it is perhaps unsurprising that they chose the latter option. The 1861 census records that John was the only one still in paid employment, but by that time their twenty four year old son Reuben, also an agricultural labourer, had moved back home, and his wages would undoubtedly have helped with the family’s finances.

That year the family’s address was recorded as ‘5 Pitt House’, and in later census returns it appears as ‘Leake Pit House’ and ‘Leake Pit Cottages’. Although the building no longer exists it is possible to work out its location by examining contemporary Ordnance Survey maps of the area. The extract below from the 1883 edition clearly shows a small terrace or row of cottages with that name running parallel to Pithouse Lane, the road connecting Sutton Bonington with West Leake to the north. Its location on on the outskirts of both parishes could explain why some of the Mills boys were born in one parish but baptised in another.

pitt-house-map
1883 OS map showing of Pit House, as well as the Mills’s osier beds to the left of Pithouse Lane (via National Library of Scotland).

‘Pit House’, which was named after the cock pit it once incorporated, lives on as the name of the restaurant attached to the Star Inn. The Star is identified on the map above by the initials ‘P.H’ (public house) below and slightly to the right of the words ‘Pit House’. Today  it stands on the same site on the outskirts of West Leake and Sutton Bonington as it did when the Mills family lived just around the corner.

the-star
The Star Inn, home of the Pit House Restaurant named after the Millses’ former home (via The Star Inn West Leake).

Both John and Elizabeth lived surprisingly long lives given their humble socioeconomic backgrounds. Elizabeth was the first to go, finally succumbing to jaundice on 9 June 1885 aged seventy five. John followed six years later on 7 January 1892 at the age of eighty three. Although little is known of their final years, it seems likely the couple would have found life increasingly hard as a result of the Great Depression in British agriculture, which began in about 1873 and would continue well into the 1890s. Increased competition from America had led to a steep fall in the price of grain from which British farming has never truly recovered, and consequently this period saw both a fall in the living standards of rural workers and a wave of migration from to countryside into the towns and cities. Although John and Elizabeth were not part of this wave, a number of their children were. In the next post I will focus on this next generation of Millses, and in particular my grandmother’s great-grandfather, Reuben.

Sources

Mason, Sheila A. “Lace”. Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway. 2013. Accessed 9 December, 2016. http://www.nottsheritagegateway.org.uk/themes/lace.htm.

Textile Research Centre. “Lace Runner”. Textile Research Centre. 2016. Accessed 9 December, 2016. http://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/index.php/component/k2/item/10234-lace-runner.

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 it appears the couple had settled in the village of West Leake in Nottinghamshire by 1774, but beyond that we can be certain of little else. There is however some interesting potential evidence in 200 Years of Basketmaking in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, West Leake and East Leake, Nottinghamshire by the East Leake & District Local History Group (2001, 8):

In a newspaper interview of 1896 John Horace Mills said, “my grandfather’s great grandfather [he probably meant his grandfather’s father] lived in West Leake where he ran a public house called ‘The Basket'”. He also said that the osier beds there had served the family for 154 years. That dates them back to 1742. It seems possible the Mills of West Leake were rod merchants supplying the Withers of Ratcliffe on Soar with osiers, before they started as basket makers on their own.

Based on this account, the book goes on to speculate that it may have been Robert’s grandfather (possibly a Thomas Mills of West Leake) who first begun the family’s association with basket making.

Robert’s wife Mary died at the age of seventy and was buried in West Leake on 20 January 1822, while Robert himself was interred at the same place thirteen years later on 3 July 1835. All Robert and Mary’s surviving children found employment as agricultural labourers in nearby villages such as Gotham and Bunny, with the exception of their eldest son William, who continued the family’s involvement with basket making and also ran The Basket alehouse in West Leake. According to John Horace Mills (East Leake & District Local History Group, 2001, 9):

“William took the coach twice a year to London to collect payment for baskets ordered by the firm of Copestake & Moore”, which according to the Post Office Directory of 1846 were lace and sewed muslin manufacturers of 5 Bow Churchyard and 62 Bread Street. It was a very large firm with factories in Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Paris and New York, employing ninety clerks and over three hundred shopmen in their various establishments. Another customer was Parliament which placed orders for, ‘In and Out stationary baskets’.

Several of William’s children carried on their father’s basket making business and spread it to East Leake, where it evolved into the Beehive and Central Works.

The Basket
Plaque in West Leake commemorating The Basket, the Mills family’s alehouse and basket making workshop. Interestingly the plaque suggests it was originally opened by William’s younger brother Edward before William took it over sometime before the 1841 census (via Peter’s Pursuits).

* * *

Robert and Mary’s 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 (via 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.

 Sources

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

East Leake & District Local History Group. 200 Years of Basketmaking in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, West Leake and East Leake, Nottinghamshire. East Leake: East Leake and District Local History Society, 2001.

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?

 

Postscript

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.

 

Sources:

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.