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).

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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.

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There’ll always be an England (part 1)

This is the first of a series of posts detailing the paternal ancestry of my maternal grandfather Frederick England from the late 18th Century to the early 20th. This part will focus on the period from 1797 to around the 1850s.

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The England family name seems to have originated independently in a number of different places where Anglo-Saxon ‘Englishmen’ were historically a minority, including the borders of England and Scotland and the Scandinavian-dominated Danelaw in Yorkshire and the East Midlands. Given where his immediate family came from it seems likely that the earliest ancestors of Frederick England would have come from the second of these two areas, and indeed the earliest documentary evidence I have found featuring the name of one of his England ancestors appears in the parish registers of St. Martin’s Church in Alfreton, Derbyshire. There on 20 March 1797 the marriage of Samuel England (b. c. 1772 – bur. 28 January 1829) to Hannah Stendall (b. c. 1779 – bur. 15 June 1809, Alfreton, Derbyshire) took place, witnessed by Joseph and Elizabeth England. Given their surnames it seems likely these witnesses were members of Samuel’s family but their exact relationship is unknown. Between them Samuel and Hannah had four children, the last of whom, Frederick’s great-grandfather James England was baptised on 15 June 1809, the same day Hannah was buried suggesting she may have died in childbirth.

The next time we encounter James is in the parish registers of St Mary’s Church in Greasley, Nottinghamshire for his wedding to Alice Sisson (bp. 3 April 1820, Strelley, Nottinghamshire – bur. 18 August 1896, Swanwick, Derbyshire) on 23 May 1836. The following year, James and Alice had moved back to James’s home parish, and according to the birthplace of their first daughter Hannah (perhaps named for his late mother?) were living in the small community of Pye Bridge on the Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire border. This record also confirms that James was employed as a collier (coal miner) at the time, and aside from the 1841 census on which he is listed as an iron ore miner, James appears to have worked in the coal industry his entire life.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the East Midlands region which included Swanwick Colliery, James’s place of work, was one of the most heavily industrialised places in the world. At this time however mining was extremely dangerous work and poorly paid. Safety measures were almost non-existent and the living conditions of the workers were often cramped and overcrowded (by the time of the 1851 census James’s household included nine people). It was common for miners to start work before day break, spend all day underground and not emerge until after sunset. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that the area was an early hotbed of working class radicalism, with the Swanwick Miners’ Association organising an ill-fated strike as early as 1844, in which James England could well have participated.

Coal mining 1842
Mine conditions in 1842, taken from a contemporary report by the Children’s Employment Commission (via the British Library).

On 20 October 1851 when James was only forty two he was killed in an accident at Swanwick colliery. According to a subsequent inquest he had been “using a crow bar for the purpose of removing a prop, when the bar slipped and springing back caught him such a severe blow in the pitt [sic] of the stomach that it caused immediate death” (The Derby Mercury, 5 November 1851). He was buried on the 23rd of that month, leaving behind his wife and five surviving children.

James England's inquest
Coroner’s inquest following James England’s death. Source: The Derby Mercury, 5 November 1851, p. 3, col. 2 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

So what of the family James left behind? Between 1837 and 1850, he and Alice had had at least seven children, whose names were:

  • Hannah (bp. 21 May 1837, Pye Bridge, Derbyshire – bur. 14 June 1842, Pye Bridge, Derbyshire)
  • Ann (bp. 10 February 1839, Pye Bridge, Derbyshire – bur. 5 March 1879, Swanwick, Derbyshire)
  • George (b. c. April 1842, Pye Bridge, Derbyshire – d. c. November 1918, Derbyshire)
  • Samuel (b. 3 September 1844, Somercotes, Derbyshire – bur. 7 April 1845)
  • James (b. 4 April 1846, Sleet Moor, Derbyshire – d. 15 May 1933, Nuttall Street, Alfreton, Derbyshire)
  • Mary (b. 6 May 1848 Sleet Moor, Derbyshire – d. c. August 1945, Derbyshire)
  • Thomas (b. 26 May 1850, Sleet Moor, Derbyshire – d. 21 February 1918, Riddings, Derbyshire)

Just less than two years after James’s death, Alice remarried on 17 May 1853 to another coal miner, William Grice (b. c. 1823, Min, Leicestershire), with whom she had at least three more children:

  • Alice (b. 1 April 1855, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. c. August 1925, Derbyshire)
  • William (b. c. November 1856, Sleet Moor, Derbyshire)
  • Elizabeth (b. c. 1860, Sleet Moor, Derbyshire – d. c. May 1910, Derbyshire)

We of course cannot say whether Alice remarried for love, the need to support her children economically or a combination of the two, but in the years between the death of James and her second marriage she must have struggled to provide for her children, especially as her mother Ann was no longer around to help having died nine years earlier (Alice was the eldest of two two ‘illegitimate’ sisters, no father is named on her baptism record but on the record of her marriage to William Grice thirty three years later she gives her father’s name as Thomas Dewes). Tragically, only ten years into their marriage Alice’s second husband William died, like her first, in an accident at Swanwick Colliery on 15 November 1863. According to a report in The Derbyshire Times, two other men were seriously injured, and the accident had occurred in the same pit where two men had drowned the previous October.

William Grice's inquest
Coroner’s inquest following William Grice’s death. Source: The Derbyshire Times, 21 November 1863, p. 3, col. 2 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

The regularity of pit fatalities like those of James and William at this time is quite shocking. A search of the Coal Mining History Resource Centre’s database of Coalming Accidents and Deaths shows that between 1851 and 1919 there were thirty five incidents reported at Swanwick Colliery alone. According to this database James has the dubious honour of being the first man to die at Swanwick Colliery, but unfortunately many of his descendants also appear among the lists of dead and injured.

After Alice’s marriage to William the family never left the Sleet Moor area, the small semi-rural community located just south of Swanwick Colliery but North East of Swanwick village. Growing up in the shadow of the Palmer-Morewoods’ great pit it’s hardly surprising that all her children who survived infancy grew up to either work down the mine or marry a collier. Her eldest son George suffered bruising and a broken collar bone in a pit accident at the age of forty three (The Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 June 1885, p. 2, col. 6.) but survived to live another twenty six years. Alice and James’s youngest son Thomas, Frederick England’s grandfather, also met with an accident aged just fourteen. His resulting spinal injuries were so severe he was prevented from ever working down the mines again, but in his case this turned out to be something of a blessing as it led to a career as a clerk above ground. Later, despite his humble origins he would go on to hold an important managerial position in a local chemical works at a time when such social mobility was unusual, and became a councillor for the Somercotes and Riddings Urban District Ward, perhaps providing the origin of the England family’s later involvement in local politics. His story however will be explored in the next post.

Alfreton and surrounding area
Map of Alfreton and surrounding villages c. 1837. Swanwick is visible in the bottom left quarter, and the colliery were James worked is indicated near the centre of the map, about half way along the long East West road on the left-hand side (Sleet Moor is unmarked but would have been the area just south of here). Riddings and Pye Bridge can be seen in the bottom right-hand corner (via The British Library Online Gallery).