Travelling with the Lings (part 4)

This is the fourth post in my series on the Lings, the maternal ancestors of my grandfather Frederick England. In this final installment I will be looking at the children of John Ling (1849-1894), including Frederick’s mother Maud. To read the family’s story so far see parts one, two and three.

* * *

Until the mid-Nineteenth Century, few members of the Ling family appear to have ventured far from their ancestral homeland in rural Suffolk. This all changed when George Ling (1824-1884) arrived in Alfreton in the 1850s, and over the next hundred years his descendants would carry his name far and wide across much of the North and East Midlands. One particularly well-travelled group were the sons and daughters of his eldest child John (1849-1894), who were briefly introduced in the previous post. Their names were Annie, Isabella, George, Maud, Bertha, Charles and Olive, and their story will take us up and down the highways and byways of England before eventually leading back to Alfreton, and an encounter with a local family we have already met.

By the time their father died in 1894, the majority of John and Mary Ann Ling’s children were still living in the family home at 34 Silver Street in Doncaster. Their eldest however, Annie Elizabeth Ling (b. 16 July 1862, Alfreton Derbyshire – d. 11 March 1940, Ardsley, Yorkshire), had already been married for two years to a local bricklayer named Benjamin Hobson. The 1901 census shows them living just down the road from Annie’s former home at 12 Silver Street, along with their three children and a domestic servant. By this time Benjamin was working as a glass dealer, suggesting that he and Annie had taken over her late father’s business after his death.

Annie Elizabeth Ling
Annie Elizabeth Ling, c. 1892, Doncaster. Courtesy of the National Fairground Archive.

By 1911 however, things looked very different indeed. Not only was Benjamin recorded as a ‘travelling showman’ but the family were also now living in a ‘van on wheels’ in ‘a paddock off Wrawly St, [Glanford] Brigg.’ Although generally travelling showpeople were a closed community into which one had to born, there would have been a degree of cultural overlap between them and itinerant dealers like the Lings and Hobsons due to their shared nomadic lifestyles. This could partially explain how Benjamin Hobson managed to establish himself as a showman despite not coming from a fairground family himself, but as we shall see below, he also had a brother-in-law who probably influenced his career-change. Annie and Benjamin had two more children together before Benjamin’s death on 22 February 1934, by which time he had been serving as President of the Showman’s Guild of Great Britain and Ireland for three years. Their descendents continued to work in the travelling fairgrounds industry until at least the early 2000s.

Annie and Benjamin’s introduction to the world of travelling fairgrounds almost certainly  came through Annie’s younger sister Isabella Ling (b. 1 October 1874, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. 9 November 1941, Fairground, Central Avenue, Worksop, Nottinghamshire), and in particular her husband Enoch Clifford Farrar, “a rugged Yorkshire showman” from Wakefield (Ling,  1992, p. 1). Enoch appears to have been involved with fairs since at least 1891, when  he was recorded living at 33 Silver Street in Doncaster, next to the Lings’ home at 34. His occupation is difficult to make out in that year’s census but appears to read ‘Attends fairs, hawker.’ He and Isabella were married two years later later on 31 January 1893 and went on to have six children together, however only two sons survived infancy.

Isabella Ling
Isabella ‘Bella’ Ling, c. 1892, Doncaster. Courtesy of the National Fairground Archive.

The Farrars have so far proved difficult to trace on later censuses, possibly because of their travelling lifestyle, however the fact that they went on to become one of the most prominent show families in England is well-documented elsewhere. The following description is taken from the National Fairground Archive’s website (The University of Sheffield, 2007):

One famous show family associated with Sheffield is of course the Farrars. Enoch Farrar, the founder of the firm, provided a mirror show and a fine art gallery. The latter was a kind of peep show which had a carved front with Sleeping Beauty featured in a glass case on the front. In 1905 Enoch Farrar broke new ground when he acquired his first cinematograph show later to be replaced by another show which by 1912 was one of the largest travelling the countryside. Other rides associated with Enoch include the Dragon Scenic Railway built by Orton and Spooner of Burton on Trent. So proud were the family of the new ride that a special opening ceremony was performed on the ride and Mrs Farrar gave a short speech and broke a bottle of champagne to christen it. Mr Enoch Farrar died in the 1930s but his sons carried on the business, always keeping up-to-date with new attractions: Dodgems, Noah’s Arks, Waltzers, Mont Blancs and Moonrocket by the outbreak of the Second World War.

A selection of these attractions can be seen in the photographs below, including Enoch Farrar’s original ‘fine art gallery’ (a travelling open-air cinema with an organ and a stage in front), also known as a ‘peep show’ or ‘bioscope show‘, and his ‘scenic railway’ (a contoured wooden merry-go-round), shown at its opening in 1910. Hundreds more are held by the National Fairground Archive and are available to browse via their NFA Digital catalogue.

As showmen’s wives Annie and Isabella Ling would have played a pivotal role in running the fairs. As well as looking after children, cleaning their living wagons and providing meals for the family and its employees, they  would also have served as “secretary, accountant, worker and business partner” (Dallas, 1971, 68). While showmen of Enoch  Farrar and Ben Hobson’s generation were often virtually illiterate, their wives tended to be better educated and therefore handled the majority of correspondence and paperwork. For this same reason they would also most likely have been in charge of keeping the accounts, paying bills and counting the weekly cash takings, but according to Duncan Dallas (1971, 73) not all of their work would have been behind the scenes:

The type of work that [a showman’s wife] does will vary according to the nature of her husband’s holdings, but she will always work long hours…If the family own a show it is more than likely that the wife will be taking part, especially if it is an illusion which requires a girl to lie in one position for as long as the show may be open. Through mirrors, or under special lighting, she may be exhibited as the ‘Living Mummy’ or ‘Girl under Water’, or ‘Woman with the Body of a Bat’…The wife is involved in every show to the extent that she must design and make the costumes. She will also have to help with the spiel on the parade in front of the show. At the very least she will have to sit in the pay-box and take the money. The wife of the ride-owner is not involved in building up or maintaining the rides, but she usually sits in the cash-box and takes charge of one ride. This is a somewhat greater responsibility than just taking the money at a show, where it passes straight from the customer to the showman.

When Isabella died in 1943 the business and her £1,671 0s. 4d. fortune were passed on to her two sons, and the Farrar name’s association with travelling fairgrounds continues to this day. As we saw in the previous post however, there was a third boy who had been bought up by the Farrar family, Joseph William Ling, the son of Isabella’s uncle William. Like his adopted brothers, Joe and his descendants went on to become a highly successful showmen, making Enoch and Isabella responsible for not one but two great fairground dynasties. According to his son John (Ling, 1992, p. 2):

To begin with my father worked for Enoch Farrar on his shows, and here he met Annie Elizabeth Julien, who joined the Farrars at Maltby, working as a wagon maid for Mrs. Farrar. Later she worked as a parader on the front of the Cinematograph Show [see photograph above]. Girls were employed to dance on the front of the shows to attract crowds, and with as many as half a dozen shows at the big fairs such as Hull, competition was stiff.

[…]

When my father married, Mr. Farrar gave him his first stall to travel and from this he moved on to shows. His first was “The Great American Bear Pit”, for the craze in 1910 was for Teddy Bears. This featured “the finest collection of live teddy bears ever exhibited”.

Despite the cuddly-sounding description these ‘live teddy bears’ would in fact have been real bears, chained and trained for the audience’s amusement. The 1911 census shows the family at around this time staying in a caravan at the Blue Ram Inn’s yard in Grantham, where Joe is recorded as a ‘showman (stall holder)’. It is unclear exactly what kind of stall he would have been running at this time as his son seems to imply the Teddy Bear ‘craze’ was confined to 1910, but a reference to Joe in a local news item shows that he had previously been in charge of a coconut shy. According to the report he had fined 39s. in 1908 for using 14 lb balls of iron covered in fibres in place of real coconuts (The Cornishman, 7 May 1908, p. 2, col. 2), suggesting his later success may have had as much to do with a certain wiliness as it did with any natural charisma or business skills he possessed.

Later Joe began travelling his own Cinematograph Show, but this was not to be the last of his acquisitions according to the National Fairground Archive (The University of Sheffield, 2007):

After the war he had a set of Steam Yachts, along with a Hoop-la, coconut sheet, spinner and later the famous Chicken Joe stall run with Joe Barak. Later came the Ben Hur Speedway, Moonrocket, Dodgems and Autodrome.

As with the Farrars, the NFA’s website features many fascinating photographs of Joe Ling’s rides, living wagons and family members, of which the four below are only a tiny selection. Another tantalising glimpse into the Lings’ world can be found in 1912’s Easter on Shipley Glen, a rare example of early fairgrounds on film.

Following Joe Ling’s death in 1953 the family continued the business under the name Ling’s Family Amusements, and today one can still find amusement arcades in northern seaside towns like Skegness and Bridlington which bear their name. Remarkably, even some of Joe Ling’s oldest rides are still travelling the roads, albeit following extensive restorations. I know this for a fact because two years ago at Carter’s Steam Fair, I came across this:

Joe Ling's Steam Yachts 2014 2
Carter’s Excelsior Steam Yachts (built for Joe Ling in 1921), 2014, London.
Joe Ling's Steam Yachts 2014
Detail from above describing the ride’s history, 2014, London.

Naturally my partner and I treated ourselves to a ride, and I’m pleased to say for a ninety three-year-old attraction my cousin Joe’s steam yachts are still providing good value for money. That said, we were wise enough not to try our luck at the coconut shy.

* * *

This talk of coconut shies brings us neatly to George Ling (bp. 11 November 1877, Ripley, Derbyshire – d. 16 May 1933, Sheffield, Yorkshire), John and Mary Ann’s third child and oldest son. After living with his family at Silver Street in Doncaster, the next record we have of George is that of his marriage to Agnes Amy Hunt in Lincoln on 9 February 1899. The 1901 census shows them two years on living with their infant daughter (the first of eight they had together) in a caravan in Holbeck (Leeds), where his occupation is given as ‘cocoa nut [sic] stall proprietor’. Before discovering the Lings’ fairground connections I had assumed this meant he ran a market stall selling coconuts, but of course it would in fact have been a coconut shy. His children’s baptism records reveal that while in 1901 he was still working some of the time as a general dealer, by 1905 he had established himself as a showman. According to Joe Ling’s son John (1992, p. [i]):

George Ling travelled a Theatrescope and a Peep Show, or Fine Art Gallery as they were euphemistically known. These travelled widely as early as 1906, attending fairs in Accrington, Sheffield, Goole and Hull, as well as appearing at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, for Christmas and New Year in 1907-08. The Peep Show had a splendid carved front with paintings, and a barrel organ, powered by a small vertical steam engine.

From this description it sounds like George may have been working alongside his brother-in-law Enoch Farrar and cousin Joe Ling, who were also travelling ‘fine art galleries’ at around this time. The 1911 census seems to support this conclusion, as even though his family were recorded living in a caravan at a fairground in Goole, he gives their main address as 28 North Parade in Grantham, the same town where Joe Ling was staying in 1911.

Also present in Grantham that year was George’s younger brother, Charles Frederick Ling (bp. 19 August 1888, Doncaster, Yorkshire – d. 20 February 1940, Fairground, Alveston, Derbyshire), John and Mary Ann’s sixth child, after whom my grandfather Frederick England was probably named. As Charles’s life appears to have been closely linked to that of his cousin Joe and brother George it makes sense to introduce him in this section before returning to John and Mary Ann’s fourth and fifth children, Maud and Bertha.

As a boy Charles had been apprenticed to his glass dealer brother-in-law Ben Hobson, and the 1901 census records them living together in the same house at 12 Silver Street along with his older sister Annie. Like Ben however, by 1911 he had moved into the travelling fairground industry, and in that year’s census is shown lodging in a house in Grantham together with four other fairground workers: an electric light worker, two labourers and a singer/dancer. Charles’s occupation is given as ‘Operator (Cinematograph)’, which together with his location strongly suggests he was working for either his cousin Joe or brother George at the time.

In 1913 Charles married Victoria Williams, the daughter of yet another travelling showman and cinematograph proprietor named Robert Williams of Warrington, and they appear to have had at least five children together. Just seven days after the birth of their first son however Britain declared war on Germany, and on 12 December the following year Charles enlisted as a Private in the 3/4 Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. From his service record (serial numbers 30343 and M322972) we can see that by 1915 he was working as a showman, like his older brother George, and was temporarily staying at the Greyhound Yard on Fisher Gate in Doncaster. He is described as 5’4″ with a chest measurement of 37″ when expanded.

Charles remained in the Army Reserve until he was mobilised at Pontefract on 1 June 1916 and posted to France the following day, most likely in preparation for the Somme Offensive. He returned home on 1 February 1917, possibly as a result of a gun shot wound to his shoulder which was mentioned in his discharge papers. After convalescing back in England he qualified as a steam lorry driver for the Army Service Corps, a role for which he would have been well-suited given his background transporting heavy fairground rides across the country via road locomotives. He spent the remainder of the war at a variety of locations on the home front, including Balby and Chesterfield, and on 29 June 1918 was promoted to Acting Corporal of “V” Company. He was formally discharged on 1 May 1919 on account of being no longer physically fit for war service, but was granted an army pension of 6s. per week. After the war he appears to have returned to his former occupation as a showman, as when he died in Alveston, Derbyshire at the age of fifty one, his place of death was recorded as ‘fairground.’

Foden Steam Wagon
A Foden steam wagon, perhaps similar to the one driven by Charles Frederick Ling, 24 September 1917, near Zillebeke, West-Vlaanderen, © IWM (Q 6014).

* * *

I will return to John and Mary Ann Ling’s fourth child Maud at the end of this post after looking at their two youngest daughters, Bertha (b. c. November 1884, Ripley, Derbyshire – d. 17 October 1963, Etwall Hospital, Etwall, Derbyshire) and Olive Emma Ling (b. 19 August 1894, Doncaster, Yorkshire – d. December 1988, Weston Super Mare, Somerset). Both women went on to marry members of the Hall of Belper who (perhaps unsurprisingly) worked in the fairgrounds and amusements industry.

Bertha’s husband Harry Hall, who she married in 1905, was the son of a publican, confectioner and former painter from Belper who by the 1911 census was working as a ‘Roundabout Proprietor’ in Derby (see photograph below). Although Harry, Bertha and their three children are shown living in caravans, they do not appear to have been travelling with Bertha’s brothers and cousin Joe, who were all in Grantham Fair at the time. From the number of photographs bearing his name in the NFA’s online catalogue, Harry seems to have acquired many more rides over the following decades, and for a time traded under the name Hall & Proctor alongside his sister’s brother. By the time he died in 1954 he had accumulated a personal fortune worth £19,771 16s. 8d., and the family business was carried on by his son Harry Jr. who later opened ‘Harry Hall’s Amusements’ at Matlock Bath.

Bertha died nine years later at Etwall Hospital in Derbyshire, by which time the family’s wealth had dwindled to just £521. Despite the lengthy intervening period between their deaths, both their probate records give their address as 85 Mansfield Road, Derby, suggesting that despite their travelling lifestyle they had a fixed base from which they operated. According to members of her extended family, their home served as a gathering place at Christmas time, and apparently included a cellar, snooker room, and barn, as well as a showman’s yard at the back  where Bertha’s sister Olive and her husband kept their living wagon.

Harry Hall's gallopers
Harry Hall’s gallopers, c. 1903, Derby Fair. Courtesy of the National Fairground Archive.

Olive Emma Ling, the youngest of her seven siblings by some distance, married William Henry Hall in Chesterfield in 1921. Like her sister Bertha’s husband Harry, William was the son of a publican from Belper, however his family also appears to have spent some time as “van dwellers” according the the 1901 census. From the photograph below featuring an engine belonging to ‘W.H. Hall & Sons Amusements’ it appears that William’s father, William Henry Hall Sr., had become involved with travelling fairgrounds at some point before about 1920. This would certainly explain how he and Olive came to meet, and according to her descendants Olive continued travelling until around 1970 when she settled in Bristol after her husband’s death. Olive lived to the grand age of ninety four, and died peacefully at her home in Backwell, Somerset in December 1988. She and William Henry had three children together, and some of their descendants can still be found travelling today.

* * *

We come now, at last, to my mother’s paternal grandmother Maud Ling, who was born in Ripley on 17 April 1881 but not baptised until 3 July in Alfreton. For some reason she is not recorded living with the rest of her family in Doncaster at the time of the 1891 census and her whereabouts that year are currently unknown. It’s possible the enumerator just missed her name of the schedule, or alternatively she may have been staying with relatives [Edit: see Halls that echo still (part 3) for my latest theory!]. By 1901 however she was back living in Alfreton with her younger sister Olive and mother Mary Ann, who had recently taken over her late husband’s china dealership and was managing her own shop on King Street. The family lived in the flat above at number 16, and although it is not explicitly stated in the census it seems highly likely that Maud and Olive would have been helping their mother with the day-to-day running of the business. Also at around this time Maud is said to have been working as a nanny for the vicar of Moorwood Moor near South Wingfield, and apparently used to walk the four mile journey there and back every day.

King Street 2
King Street, Alfreton, 2011. Maud, Olive and Mary Ann would have lived above their china shop at number 16 which today is home to Broadbents Solicitors.

I have speculated that Maud may have met her future husband Tom England while working in her mother’s shop on King Street, and the details of their marriage, the sons they had together and their subsequent move to Langley have been covered in my previous post There’ll Always be an England (part 3). While that post focused mainly on Tom and the challenges he would have endured as a coal miner in the early Twentieth Century, Maud’s role as a wife and mother running a household with six working-age men in it should not be underestimated. In addition to her ‘unpaid domestic duties’ (her occupation recorded in the 1939 register) such as cooking, cleaning and managing the family budget, she must also have provided a much needed source of stability if and when Tom’s drinking threatened to become disruptive. Outside the home Maud is also said to have been quite political, and was closely involved in the local co-operative movement (most likely the Langley Mill and Aldercarr Co-operative Society). This would undoubtedly have influenced her son Harry’s decision to stand as a Labour candidate for Heanor Urban District council, which he was elected to in 1936. She is remembered as a lovely person by those who knew her.

Maud died in my grandfather Frederick’s house at 119 Holbrook Street, Heanor, on 22 July 1950, and like her husband she chose to be cremated rather than buried. Her effects were valued at £915 17s. 11d. Looking at Maud’s life it is perhaps remarkable how very different it looks to those of her siblings, who without exception all became involved with travelling fairgrounds. For whatever reason, Maud preferred to remain in and around Heanor for close to fifty years, dedicating herself to her family and the local community, but neither she nor her children ever tried to hide their traveller connections. Her sons stayed in touch with ‘the cousins’ for many years, some of them even working on their fairs for a time, and they remained Lings every bit as much as much as they were Englands.

England family group photograph
Left to right: my grandfather Frederick England, my grandmother Julia Mary England (nee Mills), great-uncle Norman England, Maud England (nee Ling), my aunt Gillian Maureen England, and great-uncle Albert England, c. 1940, 7 Grace Crescent, Heanor, Derbyshire.
Maud England
Maud England (nee Ling), 1881-1950.

Sources:

Dallas, Duncan. The Travelling People. London: Macmillan, 1971.

Ling, John. John Ling’s Memories of a Travelling Life. Newcastle under Lyme: Fairground Association of Great Britain, 1992.

“Showmen’s Guild: Yorkshire Section.” The University of Sheffield. 2007. Accessed 14 April, 2016. https://web.archive.org/web/20140922135506/http://www.nfa.dept.shef.ac.uk/history/showmens_guild/yorkshire.html.

Weedon, Geoff, and Richard Ward. Fairground Art. London: New Cavendish, 2002.

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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.