Travelling with the Lings (part 2)

This is the second in a series of posts on the history of my grandfather Frederick England’s maternal ancestors the Lings, the first of which can be read here. This part mainly focuses on Frederick’s great-grandfather George Ling and covers the period between his birth in 1824 and the death of his widow in 1906.

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On 19 September 1824, a parish clerk in Hundon, Suffolk, recorded the baptism of a ‘base born’ (illegitimate) pauper’s son named George Ling. As we saw in the previous post, just three months later his mother Susan married an agricultural labourer named Samuel Mayes, the timing of which strongly suggests he may have been the boy’s father. Unlike his younger, legitimate brothers John and Thomas Mayes however, George did not share their father’s surname, so throughout his childhood his ‘bastard’ status would have been painfully self-evident to everyone in his community. Not only were illegitimate children subjected to one of the most pervasive and persistent social stigmas of the age (it was widely assumed they would share their parents’ ‘loose morals’), they faced economic discrimination too, as until the Twentieth Century they had no rights to inheritance. This perhaps explains why George had already left home by of the time of the 1841 census, when he would have been just sixteen, for the idea of starting a new life somewhere unburdened by his past must have been extremely attractive to anyone in his situation.

In 1841 George was working as a ‘male servant’ in the house of John Rutter of Bayments Farm in Stansfield, although his actual duties would probably have involved farm work rather than domestic service. By 1848 he had begun a relationship with a young woman from Keswick in Cumbria named Elizabeth Hartley (b. c. 1821), who on 28 February the following year gave birth to their first son, John. Although Elizabeth took the name Ling and is recorded on all later censuses as George’s wife, his will reveals that they had never actually been married, as in it he refers to their sons and daughters as “my illegitimate children familiarly known as…Ling”. After spending several years trying in vain to track down George and Elizabeth’s marriage certificate, this passing reference in his will had managed to solve one great mystery while simultaneously presenting another. Why, if they were living together as man and wife, sharing a surname and passing their children off as legitimate in public, did they not just get married? Even more confusingly, although no marriage certificate exists, there is a record of a couple in Kings Lynn with their names calling the banns in December 1846. I believe the most plausible explanation for all this is that one of them was already married, most likely Elizabeth who was older and came from further away, and that this was discovered before they could be wed.

This might explain why at the time of their son’s birth in 1849 they were living on Beckett Square in Barnsley, over a hundred miles from where either their families lived. Another explanation could be that George had been serving an apprenticeship there, as on John’s birth certificate he is recorded as an umbrella maker, a skilled trade which could have required several years’ training. Whatever the reason, they did not stay in Barnsley long, as the census of 1851 shows the family had moved to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire by then. Rather curiously they are shown running a large lodging house at 19 Chandlers Court, and George was no longer working as an umbrella maker but a bricklayer’s labourer. He and Elizabeth had one daughter there, Emily, before moving again to Alfreton in Derbyshire, where they would remain for the rest of their lives. They had eight children in total, whose names were:

  • John (b. 28 February 1849, Beckett Square, Barnsley, Yorkshire – d. 13 December 1894, 12 Silver Street, Doncaster, Yorkshire)
  • Emily (b. 8 April 1851, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire – d. 15 January 1925, Alfreton, Derbyshire)
  • William (bp. 2 October 1853, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. c. August 1926, Chesterfield, Derbyshire)
  • Elizabeth (bp. 2 December 1855, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. c. November 1925, Chesterfield, Derbyshire)
  • George (b. 13 July 1857, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. c. May 1940, Chesterfield, Derbyshire)
  • Susannah (b. 14 August 1859, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. 22 April 1936, Alfreton, Derbyshire)
  • Sophia (b. 8 July 1861, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. c. August 1932, Derbyshire)
  • Thomas (b. 25 July 1865, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. 27 April 1902, Chesterfield, Derbyshire)
Beckett Square, Barnsley
Beckett Square, Barnsley c. 1900, where John Ling was born in 1849 (via Yococo Image Database).
Umbrella maker
An umbrella maker at work, 1884 (via The Old Print Shop).

The baptism record for George and Elizabeth’s second son William from 1853 shows that George had initially continued working as a lodging house keeper after moving to Alfreton, but by their daughter Elizabeth’s baptism in 1855 he was giving his main occupation as ‘general dealer.’ Similarly, in the 1861 census his occupation is recorded as ‘marine store dealer,’ and it is worth taking a moment to look at exactly what was meant by these slightly misleading terms. A ‘general dealer’ usually referred to a hawker rather than a shopkeeper, and despite what their name suggests ‘marine store dealers’ did not necessarily sell mariners’ equipment, normally this was just a term for general junk or scrap dealers. Interestingly, these are both occupations which were traditionally associated with Travellers and Gypsies, as was umbrella making. It is also notable that the majority of George and Elizabeth’s descendants went on to work in typical traveller occupations (general dealers, china and earthenware dealers, hawkers, even fairground showmen), and many led nomadic lives in caravans. It is unclear where exactly this affinity for the travelling lifestyle came from, as George clearly hailed from a settled agricultural community. One possibility is that it it came from Elizabeth as we know nothing about her life before 1849, therefore it is possible she came from a Traveller or Gypsy family.

Mr Krook
Mr. Krook, a marine store dealer from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, as depicted by Boz, 1895 (via Wikimedia Commons).

Elizabeth died at the age of fifty on 12 January 1871 of phthisis, a wasting disease often caused by tuberculosis. Her funeral took place at St Martins Church in Alfreton three days later, though oddly her name is recorded in the parish registers as ‘Mary Elizabeth Ling.’ In her death certificate her husband George is said to have been present at her death, and his occupation is given as ‘inn keeper.’ Since about 1864 he had been running the Royal Oak Inn at 10 King Street in Alfreton, and over time this appears to have gradually replaced general dealing as his main source of income. After 1871 he consistently gave his occupation as ‘publican’ in the census but he never completely abandoned his earlier trade as a marine store dealer. His will mentions two such shops, one in Alfreton and one in Chesterfield, as well as a greengrocers, although he presumably employed others to run these on his behalf.

His possession of these three businesses at the time of his death demonstrates just how far George had come since leaving Hundon, and after his acquisition of the Royal Oak in the mid-1860s his name begins to appear in local news stories with increased frequency. Many of these articles relate to incidents involving other people which merely took place on his premises, but they nonetheless help build up a picture of what his day-to-day life must have been like. One such story was that of Joseph Yarnold, who was charged with stealing one of George’s cups to give to a woman but was found not guilty after the jury dismissed it as “the act of a half-witted man” (The Derby Mercury, 11 January 1865, p. 8, col. 6). A second describes the inquest following the death from starvation of a sixty year old man from Sheffield who had been refused entry at several lodging houses before finally being taken in at the Royal Oak (The Derby Mercury, 19 October 1870, p. 2, col. 4).

Other stories relate more directly to George, such as the report on a court case he brought against the Meadow Foundry Co., which he claimed had supplied him with burnt scrap iron (The Derbyshire Times, 17 December 1873, p. 3, col. 5). Another from the following year describes “a general meeting of the Licensed Victuallers‘ Society, held at the home of Mr. George Ling” at which the men pledged to support their local Conservative candidates at the forthcoming general election (The Derbyshire Times, 7 February 1874, p. 8, col. 6). This would have been only the second election at which George was eligible to vote, the first being that of 1868 which was held the year after the Reform Act enfranchised the vast majority of male householders. As the secret ballot was still two years away at this time we can see from the 1868 poll book that he was clearly a habitual Conservative supporter, and had voted for the unsuccessful (but wonderfully-named) Conservative candidates Gladwin Turbutt and William Overend that year.

Royal Oak
The Royal Oak Inn, c. 1907, 10 King Street, Alfreton (via Somercotes Local History Society).

In George’s final years he found companionship in a Yorkshire widow ten years his junior named Isabella Muff (née Brooks, b. 30 May 1834, Bradford, Yorkshire – d. c. February 1906, Middlesbrough, Yorkshire). They were married in Chesterfield parish church on 9 January 1873, and their marriage certificate (reproduced below) is notable for three reasons. Firstly there is the fact that it exists at all, which this tells us that there was no legal impediment to George getting married by this time. Presumably therefore it had been his late partner Elizabeth’s marriage to another man which had prevented her from marrying George, rather than any of his previous relationship of his. Secondly, it tells us that neither of them were literate because they both left ‘marks’ rather than signing their names. This is somewhat surprising given that George was already managing a number of businesses by then. Thirdly, it reveals that George had been attempting to conceal his illegitimacy, as he falsely gives his father’s name as ‘Samuel Ling,’ rather than ‘Samuel Mayes.’ There is further evidence for this cover up in the census returns for 1861 to 1901, which record George’s younger brother Thomas Mayes as ‘Thomas Ling.’ Thomas, by then a general labourer, had moved to Alfreton to live with George following their mother Susan’s death in 1859, and presumably took the Ling name in order to spare his brother any embarrassment. Interestingly, like George, Thomas also fudged the identity of his father on his marriage certificate from 1864, recording his name as ‘Samuel Mayse Ling’.

Ling-Muff marriage certificate
Marriage certificate of George Ling and Isabella Muff, 9 January 1873, Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

According to one of his descendants, Linda, who I met via Ancestry, George was apparently  known to ‘cut his corns’ with a knife, and on one occasion this led to a severe foot infection. In an age before penicillin this could be fatal, and upon visiting his doctor George was immediately advised to prepare his will. He died on 18 November 1884 at the age of sixty of gangrene and an abscess of the foot, but his death certificate also reveals that he had been suffering from acute diabetes. Two days later he was buried in St Martins churchyard in Alfreton. His £1,807 12s. 11d. estate was divided among his children and Isabella, however there is reason to believe his widow may have been unhappy with this settlement. According to another oral tradition I learned through Linda, one night, presumably after George had died but before his wealth had been distributed, Isabella had locked herself in their bedroom and emerged several hours later wearing a large coat, claiming she was going for a walk. She would never return however, having sewn as much of George’s money as she could into the coat’s lining. If true this story could explain why none of George and Elizabeth’s children are said to have liked her. Three years later she married her third husband Lister Rhodes before moving to Middlesbrough, where she died in 1906 at the age of seventy one.

* * *

Over subsequent generations some of George and Elizabeth’s descendants would completely assimilate into their local communities while others embraced travelling lifestyles, and it’s possible to trace the origins of both tendencies back to this rather unconventional couple. In the next post we will look at what became of their eight children, including Maud Ling’s father John.

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Travelling with the Lings (part 1)

Having previously looked into my grandfather Frederick’s paternal ancestors the Englands, in this new series of posts I will attempt to trace the history of his mother’s family, the Lings. This first part focuses on their origins in the village of Hundon and tracks their progress through the centuries up to the late 1850s.

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Although the medieval origins of the name ‘Ling’ hint at an even more ancient family connection to East Anglia, the earliest known ancestors of my grandfather Frederick England’s mother Maud can be traced back to a small collection of villages in Seventeenth Century Suffolk. The first of these whose names we know were Maud’s seven-times great-grandparents Abraham and Mary Linge, whose five children were all baptised in Hundon between 1665 and 1676. Given their children’s baptism dates, it seems likely Abraham and Mary would have been born in the 1640s at the height of the Civil War. This chaotic backdrop may explain why no baptism record can be found for either of them, as in many villages a breakdown in civil society combined with the religious upheavals of the time led to an extended gap in parish registration. According to Leonard Caton:

During the disquiet which led to the Civil War William Dowsing, who was born in Laxfield in Suffolk , came to [Hundon’s] All Saints Church in 1643 and his Puritanical beliefs led him and others to destroy 30 pictures and take down three popish inscriptions there as well as ordering the steps to be levelled. He did similar damage in over 150 Suffolk churches where he smashed stained glass windows, brasses or anything that he thought had Roman Catholic overtones. 

Puritans
Contemporary woodcut depicting puritan soldiers burning ‘Popish’ images (via Purse Caundle History, Dorset).

Little is known of Abraham and Mary’s lives during and after the Civil War, however an ‘Abram Longe’ is recorded in the Hundon Hearth tax returns of 1674 whose house apparently contained two fireplaces. In addition there is an inventory of goods belonging to John Pritches of Hundon in Suffolk Record Office (Ref. HD 1538/266/3) which was co-written by Abraham on 14 October 1681. Abraham died and was buried in Hundon on 22 July 1715, three years after the burial of a ‘Mary Ling,’ who may have been his wife, on 13 February 1712. While Abraham and Mary had grown up during arguably the most turbulent period in British history, by contrast their son Richard Linge (bp. 12 July 1674) and the majority of his descendants would probably have led far more tranquil lives working as thatchers, millers or agricultural labourers tilling their quiet corner of eastern England.

Hundon map 1783
Detail from Hodskinson’s 1783 map of Suffolk, centred on Hundon and showing the locations of several other nearby villages where members of the Ling family lived, including Barnardiston, Kedington and Poslingford (via St Edmundsbury Chronicle).

Richard and his wife Susan Linge appear to have had five children between 1695 and 1706, the eldest of whom, Thomas, was Maud Ling’s five-times great grandfather and the first in a line of four direct ancestors of hers to bear that name. Their details, as well as those of their wives, were as follows:

  • Thomas Ling (b. c. 1695, Hundon, Suffolk) and Mary Gilbert (bp. 9 May 1698, Hundon, Suffolk, m. 11 August, Hundon Suffolk)
  • Thomas Ling (bp. 20 March 1725, Hundon, Suffolk) and Grace Summers (bp. 18 January 1718, Hundon, Suffolk, m. 25 October 1748, Hundon, Suffolk)
  • Thomas Ling (bp. 4 December 1749, Hundon, Suffolk) and Ann Firman (b. c. 1750, m. 5 November 1772, Hundon, Suffolk)
  • Thomas Ling (b. c. 1776, Hundon, Suffolk, bp. 16 July 1780, Hundon, Suffolk – d. 1 May 1862, Hundon, Suffolk) and Mary Cuthmer (b. c. 1769, Poslingford, Suffolk, m. c. 1804 – d. c. 1856, Suffolk)

The fourth Thomas Ling listed above is the first for whom we have anything other than parish registers to rely on for biographical information. In the 1841 census he is listed as an agricultural labourer, however by 1851 both he and Mary were said to be paupers (i.e. supported through parish poor relief, the closest the Nineteenth century had to a welfare system) and had moved in with their son Joseph’s family on Clare Road. Mary appears to have died at some point the following decade, as by the time of the next census in 1861, Thomas, now eighty four, is the only one of Joseph’s parents still living with him. He died on 1 May the following year and was buried in the village churchyard. Between them he and Mary had had at least five children, whose names were:

  • Susan (bp. 5 April 1806, Poslingford, Suffolk – d. 21 May 1859, Hundon, Suffolk)
  • Thomas (b. abt 1809, Hundon, Suffolk – 24 September 1864, Toodyay, Western Australia)
  • Sophia (b. 5 April 1810, Hundon, Suffolk)
  • Sarah (b. 8 November 1812, Hundon, Suffolk)
  • Joseph (b. abt 1818, Poslingford, Suffolk)

Both Thomas Jr. and Joseph became agricultural labourers, although at the time of the 1841 census Joseph had been as a blacksmith. Thomas Jr. appears to have been in trouble with the law on numerous occasions, the first of which occurred in 1830 when he was sentenced to three months imprisonment for stealing “a quantity of potatoes, the property of David Potter” (The Ipswich Journal, 27 March 1830, p. 4, col. 5). Three years later he was imprisoned again for two months for stealing part of an elm tree (The Suffolk Chronicle; or Weekly General Advertiser & County Express, 5 October 1833, p. 4, col. 6), and in December 1844 he was arrested for night poaching, fittingly enough, in a place named ‘Ling Wood’ near Stoke with three other men (The Norfolk News, Eastern Counties Journal, and Norwich, Yarmouth, and Lynn Commercial Gazette, 5 April 1845, p. 4, col. 4). Although poaching was a widespread and even tacitly accepted means of supplementing the wages of rural labourers, the punishments inflicted were often harsh. After pleading guilty on 27 March the following year Thomas was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and hard labour at Bury Gaol.

bury-gaol
Bury St. Edmunds Gaol, c. 19th Century, where Thomas Ling was imprisoned in 1830, 1833 and 1845. Source: Acton Books.

It would be ten years before Thomas received his final and most serious conviction, when on 2 July 1855 he was sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation for sheep stealing (The Suffolk Chronicle; or Weekly General Advertiser & County Express, 14 July 1855, p. 4. col. 1), a crime which still carried the death penalty in certain cases. He set sail from London aboard the convict ship Clara on 19 March 1857, and arrived one hundred and six days later in Fremantle, the main port of Australia’s Swan River Penal Colony. According to his entry in the Convict Transportation Registers, Thomas had been 5’2″, dark and stout with brown hair and hazel eyes, semi-literate, a Protestant, and a father of five. He also was also recorded as having a number of tattoos, including a mermaid on his right arm, a cross and a ring on his right hand, plus a dog and hare and two birds on his left arm (Steve Smith, e-mail message to author, 11 September, 2016). Five years after his arrival he received a conditional pardon on 15 Decemeber 1862, but he would never return to England. He died just two years later.

fremantle
Panorma of the Swan River Settlement by Jane Eliza Currie, 1831. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

While it is unclear what happened to either Sophia or Sarah Ling, we know rather more about their eldest sister Susan, Maud Ling’s great-grandmother. In 1824, when Susan was eighteen, she was described as a pauper in the Hundon parish registers. As she is not recorded as suffering from any form of physical disability (e.g. blindness) in later census returns, to qualify for parish support at such a young age means her family must have been either unable or unwilling to help her financially. Given that her parents were themselves listed as paupers in the 1851 census it’s clear her family were far from wealthy, so the former is certainly possible. The latter scenario is perhaps equally plausible however, as the reason for her appearance in the parish registers of 1824 was because that year she gave birth to an illegitimate son, George Ling, who was baptised on 19 September. Taking into account the prevailing attitudes towards illegitimacy at the time we cannot rule out the possibility that she may have been disowned by her parents after becoming pregnant.

As was usually the case in these circumstances, the father’s name was not mentioned on George’s baptism record, however later events may provide a clue to his identity. Just a few months after George’s baptism, Susan married an agricultural labourer named Samuel Mayes on 7 January 1825. The closeness of this date to George’s baptism, plus Samuel’s apparent willingness to marry this young, presumably ‘disgraced’ single-mother, could be an indication that Susan was involved in an affair with him at the time George was born, or perhaps that he was pressured into the marriage by Susan’s parents. They had at least two sons in the decade after their marriage, John (bp. 17 May 1829, Keddington, Suffolk) and Thomas (bp. 12 August 1832, Keddington, Suffolk – d. abt November 1904, Alfreton, Derbyshire), however Samuel appears to have died at some point before the 1841 census, leaving Susan once again with no family support and in receipt of parish pay.

At around forty nine years of age Susan is said to have contracted scrofula (Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald, 3 May 1859, p. [2], col. 7), a disease usually caused by tuberculosis whose most noticeable symptoms are the development of chronic abscesses on the neck. In centuries past it had been known by the name the ‘King’s Evil,’ for it was believed only a royal touch could cure it. After apparently “suffering dreadfully” from the disease for four years she died at her home in Hundon on 21 May 1859 aged fifty three, although it’s not clear whether this was as a direct result of her condition. The sad details of her final hours can be found in the coroner’s inquest report below which was printed in the Bury and Norwich Post the following week.

Susan Ling's death
Report on the inquest following Susan Mayes’s death.  Source: Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald, 3 May 1859, p. [2], col. 7 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Susan’s youngest sons John and Thomas Mayes, both of whom she had been living with at Horn Row in 1851, went on to become agricultural labourers like their father Samuel. Her eldest son George however had already left Suffolk by 1851, and was beginning to set in motion the unlikely chain of events which would cause the Ling family name to become synonymous with travelling within just two generations. His story continues in the next post, where we’ll find him living in Barnsley with his wife Elizabeth and infant son John, Frederick England’s grandfather, in 1849.

Sources

Caton, L. ” A Brief History of Hundon”. The Village of Hundon, Sudbury, Suffolk. December 2007. Accessed 11 March, 2016. http://www.hundon-village.co.uk/hundonhistory.html.

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

Ghost sign hunting

Last week I visited Notting Hill’s wonderful Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising at their new home on Lancaster Road. For anyone who’s never been, it’s a lovingly-curated collection of posters, ephemera and everyday items in their original packaging from the Victorian era to the present day arranged in roughly chronological order. Although I had been once before it occurred to me on this second visit what a unique resource it is for family historians. I can think of no other place (with the exception of the equally fantastic Geffrye Museum) which succeeds in creating such a vivid, colourful picture of what our ancestors’ world must have actually looked like, from the adverts they would have passed on their way to work, to the contents of their larders or children’s toy chests. If you’re based near London I strongly recommend you go and see it for yourselves, and if not you can find out more in this interesting write-up from the Guardian website.

After my visit, I noticed the faded writing on the side of the building below while walking up Portobello Road.

IMG_1081
Ghost sign at 59A Portobello Road, London, 2016.

This, combined with what I’d just been looking at in the museum, reminded me of an evocative term I’d come across not too long ago: ‘ghost signs.’ This refers to the old, often barely legible traces of signs for long-departed businesses which one can occasionally still find gracing the sides of buildings. In many cases they can provide an interesting glimpse into a building’s history and the lives of its former occupants, as in the example below at the corner of Regent Square and Sidmouth Street.

IMG_1070
Ghost sign at 55 Sidmouth Street, London, 2016.

Although the original sign appears to have been painted over at least once and a large chunk of it has completely faded away, you can still make out phrases like:

Cures Wounds & Sores

And:

King’s citrate of magnesi[um]

Invented in 1844

The original safes[t]

& best

These fragments suggest the building was at one time a chemist’s shop, and according to blogger Sebastian Ardouin it had indeed been a branch of Bates & Co. of 1 Regent Square. Unlike the various soap boxes, cereal packets and ‘liquid beef’ posters which make up the Museum of Brands’ collections, these rare survivals of Nineteenth and Twentieth century advertising cannot be preserved indefinitely under glass, but perhaps some form of national photographic database could achieve the same effect. I initially thought this might be a good project for the Museum of Brands but it appears something similar is already under way courtesy of the History of Advertising Trust. Their archive of over eight hundred ghost signs can be browsed by subject (e.g. ‘Alcohol & Tobacco,’ ‘Tradesmen & DIY’) or searched by keyword (e.g. ‘Leeds,’ ‘Buckton’) and anyone can add their own photos.

Clearly this is a valuable tool for social historians, but perhaps, as the archive grows, it could be of use to family historians too. I love the idea that there might still be an old sign for my great-great-grandfather’s china shop on the side of some neglected Doncaster terrace, or for my great-great-grandmother’s pram business somewhere in Leeds, and maybe with the help of this database I’ll eventually be able to track one down. The closest I’ve come so far is my father’s discovery of his fifth great-uncle German Wheatcroft’s initials ‘GW’ scratched into the wall of a warehouse he’d worked at by the side of Cromford Canal.

German Wheatcroft initials
‘GW’ initials (German Wheatcroft?), the ‘Gothic’ Warehouse, Cromford, Derbyshire, 2015.

* * *

If, like me, you can’t get enough of this sort of amateur sleuthing I recommend this post from James Ward’s always-entertaining blog I Like Boring Things. In it he attempts to solve the mystery of a partially obscured 1980s poster at Waterloo Station using (among other things) a contemporary Pet Shop Boys video. Next week I’ll be returning to my own family history, specifically that of my grandfather Frederick England’s maternal family the Lings, but until then happy ghost sign hunting.

There’ll always be an England (part 3)

This is the third and (for now) last in a series of posts describing the paternal ancestry of my grandfather Frederick England, the first two of which can be found here and here. This part mainly focuses on his grandfather Thomas England’s children, including Frederick’s father Thomas England Jr. (1878-1944).

* * *

The funeral of Cllr. Thomas England at Swanwick Baptist Church on 24 February 1918 would have been one of the largest family gatherings the Englands had held for many years. The extensive list of mourners reported in The Derbyshire Courier (2 March 1918, p. 1, col. 5) gives some indication of the family’s size at this time, but also raises some puzzling questions. Among those present were his older brothers George and James, his older sister Mary and younger half-sisters Alice and Elizabeth, plus a fourth sister, ‘Mrs. Watson,’ who I have yet to identify. His two other known sisters, Hannah and Ann, had both died decades earlier, and while this Mrs. Watson could have been his half-brother William Grice’s widow Mary, I can find no proof that William died before 1918 nor that Mary later remarried and took the name ‘Watson.’ The identity of the second mystery mourner, ‘Mrs. T. England (widow),’ is even more obscure. Thomas’s wife Mary Ann had died in 1913 according to the same headstone beneath which Thomas was interred. This newspaper report is the only evidence I have ever found of him marrying for a second time between 1913 and 1918, and although it’s possible the they could have made a mistake I think this is unlikely given how detailed and comprehensive the rest of their account is. The idea of Thomas remarrying in his mid-sixties is perhaps surprising but at present I can think of no other explanation for this enigmatic widow’s presence at his graveside. Hopefully further research will reveal more in time.

Swanwick Baptist Church
Swanwick Baptist Church, c. 2010 (via Geograph). Thomas and Mary Ann’s headstone is the light grey cross-shaped one directly behind the darker one on the right.

Also present at the funeral were, of course, all of Thomas’s surviving children with the exception of one, to whom I will return later. His five daughters Lucy Ann, Emma Jane, Lottie, Nellie and Amy all attended with their husbands and families. The eldest, Lucy Ann, had married an electric crane driver from Northamptonshire named John George Smith with whom she’d had one daughter. John had died not long afterwards however, and by the time of her father’s funeral she was married to another man named Herbert Hoskin. Thomas’s second daughter Emma Jane had at least six children with Frederick James Fido, and Lottie, who was recorded as a dressmaker’s assistant in the 1911 census, had married George Whylde in 1913. Both husbands were local coal miners. Lottie’s death at the age of ninety two in 1987 makes her the longest lived of Thomas’s children, as well as the only one whose life overlaps with my own. Nellie, unmarried at the time of the funeral, went on to marry a lorry driver named Walter Syson three years later but it is unknown whether or not she had any children. Thomas’s youngest daughter Amy had four boys and two girls with Bertie Crownshaw, a baker from Sheffield, but sadly, as is the case with the rest of  Thomas’s daughters, little else is known about her. The only son of Thomas’s named in the list of mourners is his third, John James England. According to one of his descendants, John had been a boot boy at the Royal Alfred Hotel in Alfreton when he was ten before securing an apprenticeship as a sawyer’s labourer. By 1911 he was working at a chemical works (possibly Kempson & Co. of Pye Bridge, his father’s company) and had married Bertha Ellen Sparham, with whom he had five children. He is remembered fondly as a very “quiet, gentle man.”

So where were Thomas’s other sons? His eldest George William England had, like his father, been a coal miner since he was a boy, and by his early twenties was working as a hewer, one of the most dangerous occupations in an industry comprised largely of dangerous occupations. Hewers were responsible for loosening rock at the coalface with picks, working deep underground in sweltering conditions. By the time George started working in the 1890s there were still no restrictions on the number of hours a miner could be obliged to work per day, wages could be cut arbitrarily and safety measures were still minimal. But while the average miner’s working conditions could be said to have improved little since George’s grandfather’s fatal accident in 1850, the organised labour movement had grown in strength by then and was starting to demand a better deal.

In 1893 when George was sixteen the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain called a strike against a proposed 25% pay cut, in which George’s union, the Derbyshire Miners’ Association (according to The Derbyshire Courier, 10 July 1915, p. 5, col. 4), were participants. The strikers held out for many weeks, and eyewitnesses at Swanwick Colliery recalled seeing pit ponies, which perhaps had not seen daylight for years, grazing freely above ground (Stone, 1998). Unlike earlier strikes in the area though this one was a success, and the management agreed not to reduce any wages. Industrial action by miners would of course continue throughout the twentieth century, including the National Coal Strike of 1912 which began in Alfreton and soon spread across the country. Their core demands were expressed in a popular chant, which could be heard at pits from Kent to Clydeside:

Eight hours work, Eight hours play,
Eight hours sleep and
Eight bob a day

The miners’ victory that year led to the passing of the Coal Mines (Minimum Wage) Act 1912, one of the first minimum wage laws passed anywhere in the world and a huge milestone in the history of workers’ rights. Many of the basic freedoms we enjoy at work today owe a great deal to the efforts of people like George, his brothers, their wives and workmates.

At the time of the strike George had been working at Birchwood Colliery in Alfreton for about seven years, about thirty minutes away from where he lived at 118 Prospect Street with his wife Amy (née Kinnings) and four children. By 1915 he had been promoted to the position of colliery stallman, an overseer’s role which perhaps could have been the start of a promising career had disaster not struck later that year. On Thursday 17 June, George was working alongside fellow stallman Henry Jenkins when at around 12.30 midday they heard a crash. Henry, on hearing George cry out, ran to his aid only to discover that he had been almost completely buried under the fallen pit roof, fracturing his spine and inflicting several other internal injuries. He was quickly pulled out and conveyed to his house on Prospect Street but it was too late, he died of his injuries almost three weeks later on 5 July. The coroner’s inquest which followed returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’ but noted that a slight crack in one of the pit’s supporting posts had been detected before the accident and that nothing had been done about it. His funeral took place on Thursday 8 July at Alfreton Cemetery. At the following Monday’s meeting of Alfreton Council his father Thomas received a vote of condolence from the other councillors. He was, he said “passing through troubled waters, ” having lost his son-in-law (John George Smith), his wife and his son in such a short space of time (The Derbyshire Courier, 10 July 1915, p. 5, col. 4). Sadly, 1916 would see no reversal in the England family’s fortunes.

George William England
‘The late Mr. G.W. England’. Source: The Derbyshire Courier, 10 July 1915, p. 5, col. 4, via The British Newspaper Archive).

Edwin England, Thomas’s youngest son, was born on 8 November 1893. His three older brothers were all at least ten years older than him and had already started their first jobs by the time he came along. It therefore seems likely he would have been closer to his sisters growing up, all of whom were nearer to him in age. From the 1911 census we know Thomas and Mary Ann had a total of thirteen children together, but sadly only nine of them appear to have survived infancy. Of the four who died the only name we know is that of Ernest Edward England, who was born in early 1892 and died on 27 November that same year. Although infant mortality rates were much higher back then I believe the timing of Ernest’s death must have had an impact on how Edwin was raised, even his name sounds like it may have been intended as a tribute. Having gone through the experience of losing a son the year before would surely have made Edwin’s birth and survival feel even more special, and it’s easy to imagine him as the youngest boy in the family becoming something of a favourite. Unlike his older brothers, when Edwin started work his father would have been successful and influential enough to help him out, and perhaps it was Thomas’s recommendation which had secured him a clerk’s job at Birchwood Colliery by the time he was eighteen (The Derbyshire Courier, 4 November 1916, p. 1, col. 2).

While as a young man Edwin may have seemed poised to follow in his father’s footsteps, there was of course a key difference between him and his father. When Thomas had turned twenty one it had been 1871 and Britain was at peace. When Edwin reached the same age the year was 1914. On 4 August that year Britain declared war on Germany, and Edwin, as the only England brother not employed in a reserved occupation would have faced enormous social pressure to enlist in the army. On 9 June the following year he enrolled as a private in the 9th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters at Nottingham, and a month later he left Liverpool on a ship bound for the North Aegean. On 7 August he disembarked with his battalion at Sulva Bay, Gallipoli.

Men of the 9th Battalion
Men of the 9th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, refilling mess tins and bottles at a well. Gallipoli, August 1915 (via the Imperial War Museum).

The events of that famously ill-fated campaign to capture the Dardarnelle Straits from the Ottoman army hardly need repeating here, but the 9th Battalion are said to have “maintained stout hearts and a soldierly spirit” despite heavy losses. Edwin apparently escaped the battle “without a scratch” (The Derbyshire Courier, 4 November 1916, p. 1, col. 2) before his battalion were evacuated to Egypt via Crete in December. In July 1916 they were redeployed to France, and on 26 September 1916, at the Battle of Thiepval Bridge, the first large offensive of the Battle of the Somme, Edwin was killed in action near the village of Ovillers-la-Boisselle. He likely fell during the capture of the German Hessian and Zollern trenches however his body was never recovered. He was twenty two. His memory is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France, and on his parents’ headstone in the churchyard of Swanwick Baptist Church.

Edwin England
Edwin England, 1893-1916. Source: The Derbyshire Courier, 7 November 1916, p. 4, col. 3 (via The British Newspaper Archive).
A Pye Bridge Loss
‘A Pye Bridge Loss’. News of Edwin’s death reaches Derbyshire. Source: The Derbyshire Courier, 4 November 1916, p. 1, col. 2 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Unlike George and Edwin, Thomas England’s second son Thomas England Jr. would go on to outlive their father by several decades, however his name is conspicuously absent from the list of mourners at his funeral. Apparently, his wife Maud did attend (identified as “Mrs. T. England (daughter-in-law)” in The Derbyshire Courier, 2 March 1918, p. 1, col. 5), which makes Thomas’s unexplained absence even stranger. There are a number of possible explanations for this of course, but before exploring these let us first take a look at his early life. To avoid confusion with his father I will from this point on refer to Thomas Jr. as ‘Tom,’ as this is the form he used on two of his sons’ baptism records and therefore was probably the name by which he was best known.

Born on 28 July 1878, by the time he was thirteen Tom had already left school and was listed as an ‘errand boy’ in the 1891 census. He would likely have started down the mines not much later, as by 1901 he is recorded as a coal miner. It is unknown which pit he was based at then but he would probably have been working for the Babington Coal Company at Birchwood Colliery alongside his brothers George and Edwin. At around this time, just up the road from the England family home on Park Street was a china shop at number 16 King Street run by a widow named Mary Ann Ling, who lived above it with her daughters Maud and Olive. Maud (b. 17 April 1881, Ripley, Derbyshire – d. 22 July 1950, 119 Holbrook Street, Heanor, Derbyshire) would undoubtedly have helped her mother out from time to time at the shop, and it was perhaps here where Tom met her for the first time. It’s tempting imagine a romance blossoming between them over the counter during Tom’s frequent visits as an young errand boy, but that’s maybe a little fanciful. Their wedding, which took place on 16 November 1901 at Alfreton, has already been described elsewhere but I’ve reproduced their marriage certificate below which gives their names, their witnesses, and their fathers’ names and occupations.

Ling England wedding certificate
Thomas England and Maud Ling’s marriage certificate with missing left quarter, 1901, Alfreton, Derbyshire.

Tom and Maud appear to have left Alfreton shortly after getting married. They had one son there in 1902 but the rest of their children were all born in Langley in south Derbyshire, including my grandfather Frederick England. Their names were:

  • Albert (b. 6 September 1902, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. 17 October 1948, The City Hospital, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire)
  • Arthur (bp. 15 December 1904, Heanor, Derbyshire – d. c. May 1905, Derbyshire)
  • Harry (bp. 23 January 1908, Heanor, Derbyshire – d. 26 January 1958, 7 Grace Crescent, Heanor, Derbyshire)
  • Frederick England (b. 23 July 1912, Langley, Derbyshire – d. 24 September 1980, Codnor, Derbyshire)
  • Herbert Kenneth (b. 30 April 1915, Langley, Derbyshire – d. 27 March 1984, Derby, Derbyshire)
  • Norman (b. 23 April 1921, Langley, Derbyshire – d. c. May 1983, Nottinghamshire)

In the 1911 census the family were living in a three-room house at 15 ‘Odessa Yard’ in Langley. I initially had some difficulty locating the present-day site of this address but after checking the house numbers which came before and after the Englands in the census schedule I now believe they were actually based at 15 Laceyfields Road. Like his older brother George, Tom was a coal hewer, and we know from an article in The Nottingham Evening News (12 Nov 1910, p. [4], col. 4) that he was employed by the Butterley Company Ltd. at the New Langley Colliery (Thomas had been a witness to a recent pit fatality and was giving evidence during the inquiry). In 1912 he would most likely have participated in the National Coal Strike, as well as the General Strike of 1926. By then though he was no longer working as a hewer but an ‘onsetter’ (according to an application for a copy of his son Frederick’s birth certificate dated 4 August 1926). Onsetters were in charge of loading the cages at the bottom of the shaft which conveyed miners to the surface, as well as giving the appropriate signals to the winding engineman. Their equivalent above ground was known as a ‘banksman,’ which is the occupation Tom gave the following decade in both his son Frederick’s marriage certificate from 1938 and in the recently-released 1939 register.

Onsetter
An onsetter signals for the cage to be raised up the shaft, Denaby, Derbyshire, c. 1910 (Elliot, 2014, xii).

By this time he was sixty one years old and living at 98 Holbrook Street in Heanor with his wife Maud and their son Kenneth (Frederick and his wife Mary also stayed with them for a period in the late 1930s before moving across road to number 119). Tom died in 1944 while his sons Frederick and Norman were away fighting in Europe. Unusually for the time he chose for his remains to be cremated rather than buried, which was perhaps appropriate for a man who had already spent so much of his life below ground.

Although I know a great deal about my grandfather Frederick from my mother, and over time have managed to piece together almost as much about his grandfather Thomas England Sr., many of the details of Tom’s life are still shrouded in mystery. I have neither the wealth of anecdotal information about him which I have for his son, nor the extensive news coverage on his activities which I have for his father, and that has somehow always made him even more intriguing to me. This curiosity has been fed by the two major pieces of anecdotal information I do have about him: that he was an excellent fiddle player and a heavy drinker.

The former has always struck me as unusual. Given the time and place in which he grew up, if Tom was musically inclined one would probably have expected him to gravitate towards the local colliery brass band, or perhaps some form of sacred music (which I’m sure his father would have preferred). In contrast to these more traditional, community-based forms of music-making, to me playing the fiddle feels more individualistic, more romantic and possibly a little wilder. This image of him seems to fit well with the fact that he was also known to enjoy a drink. Although it was fairly common for miners to be heavy drinkers at this time, the very fact that this is one of the few pieces of information about him which has been passed down to me suggests his habit was somehow exceptional he may have suffered from alcoholism (Maud apparently had to hide money around the house to stop him spending it on drink). This is pure speculation, but based on the few details I have about him, Tom seems like very different character to his father Thomas England Sr., the respected town councillor, Freemason and deacon, so perhaps his absence from his father’s funeral was due to some kind of falling out? Alternatively Tom may just have been sick or unable to get out of work that day, and his drinking habit could have developed later (perhaps triggered by the deaths of his parents and two brothers in the space of five years). Like so much else about his life, the truth is now lost to us and we must make do with what have the faculty to imagine.

England family
Tom England (far right), with (L-R) his sister-in-law Ethel May England, mother-in-law Mary Ann Bestwick, c. 1935.
Harry England and Ethel Buxton's wedding
Tom England (far left) with Maud (seated) at his son Harry’s wedding to Ethel May Buxton, 1935.

* * *

Although I fully intend to return to Tom’s sons in future posts, because their stories are inextricably tied up with those of several living persons I am ending my in-depth history of the England family here in order to to preserve their privacy. In the posts to come I’ll be turning my attention to the family of my grandfather Frederick’s mother, the Lings, a family so different to the Englands with their deep roots in the Derbyshire coalfield it’s a surprise their paths ever crossed.

Sources:

Baker, Chris. “Sir Ian Hamilton’s Fourth Gallipoli Despatch.” The Long, Long Trail. Accessed 2 March, 2016. http://www.1914-1918.net/hamiltons_gallipoli_despatch_4.html.

Elliot, Brian. Tracing your coalmining ancestors: a guide for family historians. Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2014.

Stone, G. Strike action at Swanwick Colliery during the Nineteenth Century. Matlock: Derbyshire County Council, 1998.