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 the Millses moved for the fourth and final time  to the large village of Kegworth in Leicestershire, where they lived on Nottingham Road. Many of their descendants would continue to live here well into the twentieth and even twenty first centuries, some of whom will be introduced in future posts. 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.

Halls that echo still (part 2)

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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