Going through the Mills (part 2)

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Halls that echo still (part 3)

This is the much-delayed, third and last installment in my series of posts on the Halls, the maternal ancestors of my grandfather Frederick England’s mother Maud Ling. In it I will be focusing on the children of Charles Buxton (1826-1903) and Miriam Hall (1833-1910) of Alfreton, including William, John Samuel, Emma Elizabeth, Rose Ellen, Frederick Charles, George Henry and Alfred Buxton, as well as Maud Ling’s mother Mary Ann Hall. For the history of the Hall and Buxton families up to this point see Halls that echo still parts one and two.

* * *

By the time Charles and Miriam Buxton died in 1903 and 1910 respectively, their surviving children had all established careers and families of their own. Although the Devonshire Arms inn passed out of the family’s hands shortly after Charles’s death (by 1911 it was under the management of Joseph Shearman), a number of his children appear to have followed him into the fish, fruit and grocery trade. The first to do so was his eldest son William Buxton (b. 24 September 1856, Alfreton, Derbyshire), who by 1881 had opened a fruiterer’s shop at 27 King Street, a few minutes up the road from the Devonshire Arms. That year’s census records him living with his wife Eliza (née Bent), with whom he went on to have seven children before her death in 1899. On later censuses William was shown working as a ‘fruit hawker’ in Brampton in 1891, and then at Chesterfield ten years later, where he was living with five of his children at 117 Chatsworth Road.

London, Vintage photo of a barrow boy or fruit hawker
‘A Fruit Hawker’, c. 1900, London (via Old Photos UK).

The dates and locations may be significant here, for as we saw in Travelling with the Lings (part 3), several members of the Ling family were also working as hawkers in Brampton and Chesterfield in those same census years. William would undoubtedly have known the Lings through his older sister Mary Ann, who had married John Ling in 1871, but his proximity to them over such a long period suggests there may have been a history of personal and business connections between the two families which the census only hints at. It is possible this Buxton-Ling relationship predated even John and Mary Ann’s marriage, as John’s father George Ling was an innkeeper and publican based on King Street (see Travelling with the Lings (part 2)), just like Charles Buxton. George and Charles could have been old friends or business contacts who wanted to cement a profitable partnership through the marriage, or perhaps they had been rivals who saw it as a means of ending a feud.

Whatever its origin, it is clear this relationship between the Lings and the Buxtons remained strong over at least two generations. For example, Charles and Miriam’s second son John Samuel Buxton (b. 8 July 1859, Alfreton, Derbyshire) was for a time guardian to one of John and Mary Ann Ling’s daughters (a point I will return to shortly). In addition, Samuel, as he was commonly known, appears to have been cut from similar cloth to his brothers and sisters-in-law on the Ling side, as like them he was no stranger to physical altercations and occasionally found himself in trouble with the authorities.

Aged twenty one he had married a woman from Somercotes named Mary Stanton, and shortly afterwards moved with her to Skegby in north Nottinghamshire where he worked as a coal miner. By the time his first son was born in 1884 however they had moved back to Alfreton and Samuel and was employed as a county court bailiff. That same year he was named in the local press in connection with an illegal raffle which took place at the Queen’s Head inn without the landlord’s knowledge (The Derbyshire Times, 15 October 1884, p. 3, col. 5). A clock belonging to Samuel had been the main prize. A somewhat more serious allegation came the following year when he was charged with making an affray alongside Samuel College of Wessington at Oakerthorpe. Both men were bound over in the sum of £5 to keep the peace for three months (Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal, 26 June 1885, p. 6, col. 6).

As a county court bailiff, charged with recovering debts by forcibly entering people’s homes and seizing their property, Samuel would undoubtedly have had made a few enemies over the years, so violent exchanges like the one described above are hardly surprising. Bailiffs were widely resented by the working classes for whom they represented an iniquitous system which favoured the rich, as Kruse describes in The Victorian Bailiff: Conflict and Change (2012, Preface):

Distress [debt collection through property siezure] was compared to the bastinado used to oppress farmers in the East, an “injurious grievance” which resulted in the cottages of the poor being ransacked. These attacks developed into a full blown campaign for abolition of distress late in the [Nineteenth] century, but the bailiff in all these instances suffered for no fault of his own and was condemned however blameless his actions.

From the story below, taken from the Heanor petty sessions, it is clear Samuel occasionally found himself on the receiving end of this widespread popular anger:

Assault upon bailiffs
‘Assault on bailiffs’. Source: The Derby Mercury, 19 December 1888, p. 3, col. 4 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Another story published nine years later reveals Samuel was also accused of “wilful and corrupt perjury” by a local farmer, who alleged that £1 in rent arrears had been wrongfully seized before it was due (The Derbyshire Times, 23 January 1897, p. 3, cols. 3-4). The charges were dropped after five hours’ deliberation, but together with his earlier assault the story clearly illustrates the thankless nature of his work and the hostility he would have faced on an almost daily basis. The engravings below from The Illustrated Police News depict similarly fraught encounters between bailiffs and tenants which would have proved popular with contemporary readers.

The bailiff and the collier
‘The Bailiff and the Collier’. Source: The Illustrated Police News, 13 September 1879, p. 1 (via The British Newspaper Archive).
Bailiffs assaulted
‘Bailiffs Assaulted’. Source: The Illustrated Police News, 25 June 1881, p. 1 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Samuel appears to have left his regular employer Messrs W. Watson & Son shortly after this incident, and sued them for £10 2s. 9d. in overdue wages (The Derbyshire Times, 30 April 1898, p. 6, col. 6). The firm issued a counter-claim of £5 18s. 5d., alleging he had been drunk on duty and had left a repossessed house unguarded. A lively scene ensued at Alfreton County Court when upon hearing these allegations Samuel called his accuser a rogue, and said he would rather leave the court than stay and listen to their falsehoods. According to the report, “Buxton was then removed from the Court room to an ante-room, where he was kept until the business had been transacted”. Despite his protestations, a string of witnesses came forward to corroborate the firm’s claims, saying “he was drunk all the time”. The judge let him off with a warning but said he should not have been so foolish as to act in the manner he did, especially as he had been serving as a representative of the court.

It is possible Samuel’s drinking and erratic behaviour had been triggered by his wife Mary’s death two years earlier. There is a record of him auctioning off his household furniture and general effects on 19 September 1896, shortly after relinquishing his property at 27 King Street (The Derbyshire Times, 16 September 1896, p. 2, col. 6), and by the following census in 1901 he had moved back in with his mother and father at the Devonshire Arms. His occupation was recorded as ‘labourer’. Over the following decade however his fortunes appear to have steadily improved, as by 1911 he had married again to a woman named Elizabeth. That year’s census shows them living together with their children at 151 King Street, and records his new occupation as a furniture dealer.

Before moving on to Charles and Miriam Buxton’s other sons and daughters, a few words on Samuel’s children. Although it’s not entirely clear from the censuses, from looking at the local parish registers he appears to have had a total of nine children, four with his first wife Mary and five with Elizabeth. A tenth child, ‘Maud Buxton’ is shown living with him and his family at 27 King Street in 1891, however after a thorough search I have been unable to find any other mention of this child, and it is my belief that this is actually Maud Ling, my great-grandmother and Samuel’s niece by his sister Mary Ann. Why Maud would be living with her aunt and uncle at this time instead of with her brothers and sisters in Doncaster is unclear, as is the reason why she was incorrectly recorded as Samuel’s daughter. Whatever the reason it is notable that while her siblings all went on to embrace travelling lifestyles under the influence of their itinerant pot dealer father John Ling, Maud, under Samuel’s guardianship, remained in Alfreton and married local miner Tom England. We will return to Maud and her family at the end of this post.

* * *

Charles and Miriam’s next child after Samuel was Emma Elizabeth Buxton, who was born in Alfreton on 15 February 1863. The censuses of 1881 and 1891 show her assisting her parents at the Devonshire Arms inn (perhaps as a cook or bairmaid), but sadly she died prematurely at the age of thirty two. Her younger sister Rose Ellen was born four years later on 18 March 1867, and married a greengrocer from Coventry named William Henry Beresford. She had one daughter with the unusual Old Testament name Mahalah. Like many of her siblings Rose spent most of her life on King Street, first at the Devonshire Arms and then at number 122 in 1891, when she was recorded as a dressmaker, and at number 46 in 1911. Her last known address was the Midland Hotel in Ripley where she died on 28 August 1925.

According to her probate record, in the year Rose died her effects were valued at £295. There is a stark contrast here with her younger brother Frederick Charles Buxton (b. 11 Mar 1870), Charles and Miriam’s third son, whose estate was worth £8,337 2s. 7d. by the time he died. Like his older brother William, Frederick was a fruiterer and greengrocer but also sold fish and game from his shop at the junction of Alfreton High Street and Bonsall Lane. The photograph below from Around Alfreton shows Frederick’s shop at around the turn of the century. The figures in the foreground are almost certainly Frederick himself and his daughter Lucy Buxton (b. 8 February 1899, Alfreton, Derbyshire).

Buxton's fishmongers and fruiterer
Buxton’s fishmonger’s and fruiterer’s shop, c. 1904, Bonsall Lane, Alfreton (Alfreton and District Heritage Trust, 1994, 68).

Lucy was one of two children by Frederick’s first wife Lucy Matilda Thomas, who he had married at the age of twenty one in her home parish of St. Cuthbert’s in Wells, Somerset. Lucy Matilda died in early 1899, possibly while giving birth to her daughter, but within a year Frederick had already remarried. His second wedding to Scottish-born Mary Ann Taylor took place on 31 January 1900 and they went on to have three sons together. Further details from Frederick’s life can be found in his obituary in the The Derbyshire Times, which described him as one of Alfreton’s best-known residents.

Mr. F.C. Buxton
‘Mr. F.C. Buxton: An Alfreton Tradesman’s Death’. Source: The Derbyshire Times, 6 August 1937, p. 13, col. 4 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Given the respect and status Frederick seems to have enjoyed in the local community it is highly likely his nephew Charles Frederick Ling was named after him. My grandfather Frederick England was in turn probably named after one or both of these men (his great-uncle and maternal uncle respectively) and I got my middle name from him. Therefore, through the transmission of this one name it is possible to trace the legacy of an individual born in 1870 across four generations, four families, and four individuals separated by more than a century.

* * *

Charles and Miriam’s fourth son George Henry Buxton was born three years after Frederick on 14 April 1873. Like his older sister Emma, George started out assisting his parents at the Devonshire Arms before working as bricklayer’s labourer and coal hewer. In 1899 he had married a Nottinghamshire woman named Alice Morton with whom he had four children. The 1901 census records him living next to his brother Frederick’s shop on Bonsall Lane, but by 1911 he was living just off King Street at 5 Independent Hill. His probate record from 1953 shows he was still living there when he died at the age of eighty, and his effects were valued at £593 5s. 11d.

Unlike some of his siblings, George’s name does not appear much in local newspapers, and therefore we know little of his personal life beyond what was included in the census and other official records. The only significant story to mention George (reproduced below) recounts an incident at the King’s Head inn when he and his younger brother Alfred were fined for refusing to leave the premises after mocking a female singer (The Derbyshire Times, 7 June 1899, p. 3, col. 4):

A Lady Singer And Her Audience
‘A Lady Singer And Her Audience: Unappreciative Alfreton Men Get Into Trouble’. Source: The Derbyshire Times, 7 June 1899, p. 3, col. 4 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Although this seems to have been George’s first and only brush with the law, this was not the case for Charles and Miriam’s youngest son Alfred. Born on 2 March 1877, at the age of fifteen he had already been fined £1 4s. 2d. for “using obscene language to the annoyance of passengers on the street” alongside two other boys. All three had received cautions before (The Derbyshire Courier, 27 December 1892, p. 3, col. 4). Shortly after his assault charge at the King’s Head in 1899 however he appears to have put such youthful misdemeanors behind him, and following his marriage to Harriet Jackson on 21 December that year there were no further stories like this in the press. The couple lived at West Street in South Normanton for a time, where the 1901 census recorded Alfred as a sawyer, before moving to 14 Amber Row in Wessington. Here Alfred worked as a labourer at the local coal mine before being promoted to colliery banksman.

Unusually for a thirty seven year old man in a reserved occupation, on 21 January 1915 Alfred enlisted for military service in the Great War and was appointed to the Royal Field Artillery. According to his service record he was posted to the No. 6 Depot at Glasgow on 23 April as part of the 31st Reserve Battery, where he would have served in a remount training unit preparing horses for the frontline. On 13 March the following year he was transferred to the 5th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers for two months before being discharged with pay on 2 May. There is a brief note in his service record where his commanding officer described his character as “Very Good, Sober, Thoroughly Trustworthy”.

At A Remount School
‘A frisky horse tries to do the foxtrot’. Source: The Daily Mirror, 12 February 1916, p. 6 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

In light of these commendations the events of four years later come as an even greater shock. On 25 June 1920 Alfred and his wife Harriet were questioned by a coroner following the ‘discovery’ of a stillborn infant’s body buried in their garden (The Belper News, 2 July 1920, p. 8, col. 4). The couple were accused of concealing the birth, a crime which carried a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment, and a trial was held to determine their fates. A witness statement recorded in the local press gives a detailed and moving account of the incident and how the police came to learn of it (The Belper News, 6 August 1920, p. 8, col. 3):

Alfred Buxton trial
‘Alleged Concealment Of Birth: Alfreton Couple Committed For Trial’. Source: The Belper News, 6 August 1920, p. 8, col. 3 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Following a special magisterial sitting the couple were acquitted, as there was no evidence they had ever attempted to conceal the birth (The Nottingham Evening Post, 8 November 1920, p. 2, col. 1), but having a private tragedy like this play out on such a public stage for several months must have made their victory a bittersweet one at best.

The unnamed stillborn infant at the centre of this case would have been Alfred and Harriet’s seventeenth child since their marriage. By the time of their trial the family had moved back to Alfreton and were living at Outseats Terrace, and this was still Alfred’s address when he died at the age of sixty nine on 12 June 1946. His probate record from the following year gave the value of his personal effects as £619 4s. 7d. Although no photographs of Alfred have surfaced yet, the picture below shows his eldest daughter, Ada Spencer (née Buxton), with two of his grandchildren.

Ada Buxton
Alfred Buxton’s daughter Ada (right) with her children c. 1935. The man on the poster Jack Lees was the Labour MP for Belper between 1928 and 1931. Courtesy of D. Bowbanks.

* * *

Having looked at Charles Buxton and Miriam Hall’s seven legitimate children, let us return now to Miriam’s first child, Mary Ann Hall. Born in Alfreton on 29 November 1851, Mary Ann’s first five years were spent living with her mother’s family in Carlton, Nottinghamshire. Following her mother’s marriage to Charles in 1856 however it appears she quietly dropped the Hall name and was thereafter known as Mary Ann Buxton. The question of her paternity was discussed at length in the previous post, and the reasons for my conclusions will not be repeated here, but it seems quite possible that Charles himself had been her biological father all along. This would certainly explain why he appears to have been so ready to bestow his family name on her, and why he is explicitly recorded as her father in both the 1861 census and in Mary Ann’s marriage certificate from 21 March 1871.

Mary Ann’s marriage to the general dealer John Ling and her children by that union were described in Travelling with the Lings (part 3), but here follows a summarised account of their years together. After their marriage they lived at 135 King Street in Alfreton for around six years, during which time Mary Ann gave birth to three children, before moving to Ripley High Street in about 1877. Here Mary Ann had two more children, including my great-grandmother Maud Ling (b. 17 April 1881), and from the 1881 census we can see that both she and her husband John had begun specialising as earthenware dealers by then.

At some point before the birth of her sixth child in 1888 the family (minus Maud) relocated to Doncaster, possibly via Brampton, where they continued to trade as glass and china dealers at number 34 Silver Street. Interestingly, in the 1893 West Riding edition of Kelly’s Directory only Mary Ann’s name is recorded, suggesting she had taken over the day-to-day running of the business. One possible explanation for this could be that her husband’s health had already begun to fail by this point, as on 13 December the following year he died of lung congestion at the family home at 12 Silver Street, just three months after the birth of their last child, Olive Emma Ling.

By 1901 Mary Ann had moved the family’s china business back to Alfreton and was living with her daughters Maud and Olive above their shop at 16 King Street. That year’s census shows them sharing their home with a thirty eight year old lodger from Poland named Louis Goodman, a travelling draper and hawker. The pictures below show their former home on King Street as it appears today.

For an idea of what Mary Ann’s shop might have looked like at the time, this photograph of Arthur Smith’s china and general goods shop at 134 King Street circa 1911 may provide some insight.

King Street china shop
A. Smith’s china shop at 135 King Street, Alfreton, c. 1911 (Alfreton and District Heritage Trust, 1994).

It is even possible Smith’s business was a continuation of Mary Ann’s, considering its location and the type of goods they sold. Indeed it would have made sense for her to sell her business at around this time, as on 9 November 1910 Mary Ann had married her second husband Thomas Bestwick, the recently widowed publican at Alfreton’s Railway Hotel, at the United Methodist Chapel in Somercotes. The 1911 census shows her and Thomas running the pub together at 105 King Street alongside her youngest daughter Olive and three-year-old step-son Melville Bestwick. Her age is recorded as fifty eight, however we know from her birth certificate Mary Ann was actually fifty nine at the time, a rather scandalous eleven years older than her new husband.

Railway Hotel
The Railway Hotel at 105 King Street, Alfreton in 1987 (via Picture The Past).

As this is the last census currently open to the public, Mary Ann’s movements after this date become harder to trace. We know her husband Thomas died on 1 February 1929, and that according to his probate record  his last address had been ‘Holly House’ on South Moor Lane in Birmington, near Chesterfield. Presumably Mary Ann had been living with him at the time. Ten years later the sale of this house was recorded in a local newspaper:

Holly House
The sale of Thomas Bestwick’s home Holly House in Brimington. Source: The Derbyshire Times, 10 February 1939, p. 11, col. 5 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Sadly we know from her death certificate that Mary Ann’s final days were spent at Storthes Hall Mental Hospital near Huddersfield, where she was admitted on 19 April 1938, three months before she passed away on 30 July. The cause of death was identified as lobar pneumonia, and she was said to be eighty eight years old, although she was in fact only eighty six. Perhaps the most intriguing detail on her death certificate however is the entry in the ‘Rank or Profession’ column, which reads “of Caravan, Toll Gate Hotel Yard, Old Mill, Barnsley U.D”. This was both her last known address and that of her travelling showman son, Charles Frederick Ling, her next of kin in the hospital’s admittance records. According to one researcher, Mary Ann had been travelling ever since her husband’s death in 1929 (Steve Smith, e-mail message to author, 11 September, 2016), but even before this she and Thomas had apparently been operating automatic machines at fairs throughout the Nineteen Twenties. Despite having also been a Hall, a Buxton and a Bestwick in her time, perhaps Mary Ann had always felt most at home travelling with the Lings?

 

Postscript

The influence of the Hall and Buxton families on the Lings and Englands can be seen in their shared network of personal and business connections, as well as the names they passed on to their children, but perhaps most of all in the long shadow cast by a persistent rumour concerning Mary Ann’s missing fortune. Growing up my mother remembers her father Frederick England claiming there was “money in probate” on numerous occasions, and a series of letters from the Belper Register Office seems show how this elusive wealth was connected in his family’s mind with Mary Ann. Two of these from September 1949 refer to searches for her death certificate, as well as those of her parents Charles and  Miriam, which they presumably needed in order to find the corresponding entries in the National Probate Index. It is not clear how far they got but the value of Mary Ann’s effects at the time of her death was just £280 12s. 2d. Even when one adds the £123 left by her father and her mother’s £985 17s. 1d. the sum total hardly justifies the legendary status it acquired. It is possible the rumour’s origins lay with Mary Ann’s second husband Thomas Bestwick, who left behind a personal fortune worth £3,833 3s. (approximately £128,100 in today’s money), but then again it could also just have been wishful thinking on my family’s part. The search continues.

 

Sources:

Baker, Chris. “Royal Artillery depots, training and home defence units”. The Long, Long Trail. Accessed 17 July, 2016. http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-royal-artillery-in-the-first-world-war/royal-artillery-depots-training-and-home-defence-units/.

Alfreton and District Heritage Trust. Around Alfreton. Bath: Chalford, 1994.

Kruse, John. The Victorian Bailiff: Conflict and Change. [s.l.]: Bailiff Studies Centre, 2012.

Halls that echo still (part 1)

Before moving on to my maternal grandmother Julia Mary Mills, there is one more family among her husband Frederick England’s ancestors whose story I’d like to tell. In previous posts I have looked at the direct male-line ancestors of both his father Thomas England and his mother Maud Ling, but so far have not considered either of his parents’ female lines. In this series I will be talking about the ancestors of Maud Ling’s mother Mary Ann.

* * *

Over the course of her life, Frederick England’s maternal grandmother went by a confusingly large number of names. Her death certificate from 1938 records her as ‘Mary Ann Bestwick’ (see First steps in family history (part 2)), the name she adopted following her second marriage in 1910, but prior to that she had been ‘Mary Ann Ling’ since marrying Maud Ling’s father John in 1871. Her maiden name according to her marriage certificate from that year was ‘Buxton’, but both her birth and baptism records confirm she had actually been christened ‘Mary Ann Hall’. How and why this name change came about will be explored later, but let us look first at the origins of the Hall family whose name she inherited.

Mary Ann’s earliest known ancestor on the Hall side was her grandfather, John Hall, who was born in about 1794 in Long Eaton in south east Derbyshire. At around twenty three years of age he married Ann Burton (bp. 3 January 1797, Lambley, Nottinghamshire) on 25 September 1817 in Ann’s home parish of Lambley, a remote, sleepy village in rural Nottinghamshire whose most notable geographical features include ‘The Dumbles’ and ‘The Pingle’. Ann’s parents,  John Burton and Amy Charlesworth, had roots in both Lambley and the slightly larger market town of Arnold further west, and including Ann they appear to have had at least thirteen children.

Lambley
Undated photograph of Lambley featuring Holy Trinity church, where John Hall and Ann Burton were married in 1817 (via Picture the Past).

John and Ann Hall’s whereabouts in the years immediately following their marriage are unclear. The 1841 census shows them living with three boys born between 1826 and 1836 who were almost certainly their sons, but as that year’s census did not state the relationships between members of the same household it’s impossible to say for sure. Their names were:

  • John Hall (b. c. 1826, England)
  • Thomas Hall (b. c. 1831, England)
  • William Hall (b. c. 1836, England)

We have no way of knowing where the family were living when they were born as unfortunately the census only records that they were born outside their current county of residence (Derbyshire). This together with their suspiciously ’rounded-down’ ages (15, 10 and 5) has made locating their baptism records extremely difficult. To date the only child of John and Ann Hall’s whose baptism record I have found is that of their daughter, Miriam, who was christened in Lambley on 30 June 1833. The date and place suggest the Halls may have stayed in Ann’s home village after they were married until at least the early 1830s, but without further evidence it’s difficult to get an accurate timeline.

What is certain is that by 1841 the family had moved to Queen’s Head Yard in Alfreton, Derbyshire, and the reason for their move may have had something to do with John’s occupation as a cotton framework knitter. At this time hosiery was still an important part of Alfreton’s economy, and the town would have been an attractive destination for unemployed framework knitters seeking work. While less hazardous than coal mining, which gradually supplanted framework knitting as the area’s main industry later in the Nineteenth Century, the life of a ‘stockinger’ was far from easy, as Denise Amos writes:

 Framework knitting was a domestic industry. William Gibson, a manufacturer, gave evidence that many of his workers worked together and that it was an entirely domestic manufacture. The whole family worked in the industry.  The men normally did the knitting, the women spun the yarn and finished the hose, which required needlework skills for seaming and embroidery. The work was given out through a middle person and the knitters had to accept the wage or go without work. For many they lived in abject poverty and wretchedness. The children would begin to help as soon as they were able. Ben Glover, a knitter said that the reason the children stayed in the industry was because their families were poverty-stricken; they were born to it, they remained in it and they died there! There was also the problem of unionisation which did not exist in the knitting industry. The knitters could not stop other redundant hands coming into the trade and therefore the price of labour was kept low.

Framework knitters
A Nineteenth Century family of framework knitters (via The Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway).

Although only John and his oldest son John Jr. were recorded as framework knitters in the 1841 census, it is likely the whole family would have been involved in some capacity. Indeed by 1861 John’s wife Ann was also listed as a framework knitter at their new Derby Road address, even though as Amos notes above, this was traditionally a male occupation. This may have been because, for reasons unknown, her husband was absent on census night that year and she was simply  filling in for him while he was away, but the fact that she was even capable of doing so suggests a more flexible division of labour than the one Amos suggests.

In addition to to their work as stockingers, John and Ann were by this time supplementing their modest income by renting out their children’s empty rooms to a series of lodgers. In 1861 these included two Leicestershire coal miners, Thomas Adkin and William Linsley, and in 1871, following their move to 15 Malthouse Row on King Street, two fellow stockingers named Thomas Beresford and Samuel Fletcher. Astonishingly, John was still listed as a framework knitter in 1871 despite the fact that he was by then seventy seven years old, but within four years both he an Ann would be dead. Ann was the first to go aged seventy six. She was buried in the grounds of St. Martin’s Church in Alfreton on 25 August 1873. John followed soon after in around May 1874 at the grand age of eighty one.

Types Of Old-Time Stockingers
‘Types of old-time stockingers’, c. 1890s. Original caption reads: “This illustration shows an old stockinger and his wife, who for many years worked together in hand-stocking frames”.Source: Framework knitting and hosiery manufacture, volume 1 by Quilter and Chamberlain (1911) (via Picture The Past).

* * *

The fates of John and Ann’s three sons, John Jr., Thomas and William after 1841 are unknown, as that is the last census on which any of them can be found. We know rather more about their daughter Miriam however, who was not living with her parents in 1841 and did not show up in Alfreton until the following decade. Miriam was Mary Ann Hall’s mother and Maud Ling’s maternal grandmother. In the next post I will be focusing on her story as well as that of her husband, the tailor, postman, greengrocer and publican of the Devonshire Arms, Charles Buxton.

Travelling with the Lings (part 3)

This the third in a series of posts detailing the history of my grandfather Frederick England’s maternal family, the Lings.  This part focuses on the children of George Ling of Alfreton (1824-1884), whose life and ancestry has been described in parts one and two. Content warning: contains discussion of domestic violence.

* * *

By the time George Ling died on 18 October 1884 he had amassed a personal fortune of £1,807 12s. 11d., worth around £87,000 in today’s money. His will, hastily dictated from his deathbed just two days earlier, had stipulated that this be divided between his wife Isabella, his step-daughter Mary from Isabella’s previous marriage, and his eight illegitimate children by his late partner Elizabeth Hartley. As we saw in the previous post, oral tradition has it that Isabella ran off with a large portion of George’s wealth sewn into the lining of her skirt, possibly having felt slighted by the amount set aside for her husband’s ‘bastards’. It is not clear how much money was left after Isabella took flight, but it’s interesting to note how the generation of Lings which followed George and Elizabeth do not appear to have continued the family’s upward social trajectory which their parents had started. Many ended up eking out a living on the margins of society as hawkers without ever making the transition to more ‘respectable’ trades like their publican father had, and a number of them appear to have had repeated troubles with the law. Before focusing on their eldest son John, Maud Ling’s father and maternal grandfather to Frederick England, let us first look at what happened to George and Elizabeth’s seven other children, Emily, William, Elizabeth, George Jr., Susannah, Sophia and Thomas.

George Ling's children
Extract from page two of George Ling’s will listing all his and Elizabeth’s “illegitimate children”. Dictated 16 October 1884, proved 18 February 1885 at Derby.

Their eldest daughter Emily had been born in Mansfield on 8 April 1851 while her parents were running a lodging house at Chandlers Court. After the family moved to Alfreton, Emily married a twenty three year old miner from Nottinghamshire named Enoch Matthews on 31 December 1866, with whom she went on to have twelve children. Although the parish registers of St. Martin’s Church in Alfreton record her as being seventeen years old at the time, we can see from her date of birth that she had actually been just fifteen. No occupation is given in any of the censuses on which she appears, but according to the wife of one of Emily’s descendants she had been a small money-lender and had a reputation for being a very forceful woman. On one occasion she is said to have threatened to call in the loan of of a local headmaster who had punished one of her children. Another incident led to her being convicted of assaulting a man named Benjamin Munslow in 1903, a charge she admitted to “under great provocation” (The Derbyshire Times, 30 September 1903, p. 3, col. 3). The article reproduced below provides a glimpse of her infamously fiery temperament. She died at the age of seventy three on 15 January 1925, leaving behind an estate worth £1,434 9s. 6d. in her will.

A Pugnacious Alfreton Woman
‘A Pugnacious Alfreton Woman’, a.k.a. Emily Matthews (nee Ling). Source: The Derbyshire Times, 30 September 1903, p. 3, col. 3 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Emily’s violent streak seems to have been shared by a number of her brothers, all but one of whom are reported in the local press as having been charged with assault at one time or another. William Ling, George and Elizabeth’s third child, is perhaps the most notable in this regard. Baptised in Alfreton on 2 October 1853 and recorded as a collier in 1871, William’s first known run-in with the law occurred on 11 December 1876 when he was fined £1 and costs for assaulting a police constable (The Derbyshire Times, 23 December 1876, p. 3, col. 5). Five years later he was charged with making an affray and ordered to pay costs and keep the peace for three months (The Derbyshire Times, 31 December 1881, p. 6, col. 7). Two further convictions followed in 1888, when he was charged with drunkenness on Alfreton High Street (The Derbyshire Times, 14 January 1888, p. 6, col. 3), and 1893, when he was accused of failing to send his children to school (The Derbyshire Times, 22 March 1893, p. 3, col. 6).

At the time of this last charge William had been married to his wife Anne Clay for fifteen years, had fathered eight children, and was working as a ‘marine store dealer’ (see part 2) next to his father’s pub at 11 King Street. By the 1901 census however his wife and youngest daughter had both died of typhoid, and he staying in a lodging house just down the road from where he had been living ten years earlier. He also appears to have lost his marine store business as he gave his occupation as ‘coal miner’. All his surviving children had either moved or were temporarily staying with relatives. One of those children, Joseph William Ling, had been taken in by his older cousin Isabella (John Ling’s daughter) and her showman husband Enoch Farrar. This would prove to be a crucial development in the Lings’ story for it would eventually lead to their name’s close association with travelling fairgrounds, and in the next post we’ll see how big an impact that had on all their lives.

Joseph William Ling
Joseph William Ling (1885-1953), sixth son of William Ling (1853-1926), c. 1910 (Source: Ling, 1992, [ii]).

George and Elizabeth Ling’s fourth child and second eldest daughter Elizabeth (bp. 2 December 1855, Alfreton, Derbyshire) appears to have led a rather less tumultuous life than her elder siblings Emily and William. Like Emily though, she was married at a very young age and had lied about how old she was. The record of Elizabeth’s marriage to Scottish hawker James Herring on 6 May 1872 gives her age as twenty, but it’s clear from both her baptism date and her entry in the 1855 register of births that she had actually been only sixteen. Both girls were married far away from the parishes in which they had been born (Wakefield in Elizabeth’s case) which could explain why they, or perhaps their parents, felt emboldened enough to lie.

For several years Elizabeth and her husband James ran a lodging house next door to her father’s inn at 11 King Street, and had five children together between 1873 and 1886. After James’s death that year, her older brother William moved into the King Street property with his family and Elizabeth moved to the village of Brampton, just west of Chesterfield, where she carried on her husband’s former trade as a ‘general hawker.’ By 1901 she and her children had moved again to Chesterfield where she is recorded as a ‘fish hawker’ (one can imagine how stale the ‘Mrs Herring’s fish’ jokes became after a while). She died there in 1925 aged seventy two.

Fish hawker
A fish hawker, c. 1910 (via Spitalfields Life).

Like Elizabeth, her younger brother George Ling Jr. (b. 13 July 1857, Alfreton, Derbyshire) had worked as a hawker in Alfreton and Brampton before moving to Chesterfield, where the 1901 and 1911 censuses list him as a fishmonger. At the age of twenty he had married a woman from Steeple Bumpstead in Essex named Agatha Shearman (perhaps suggesting the Alfreton Lings had remained in contact with their East Anglian relatives) with whom he went on to have eleven children. George was the longest-lived of all his siblings, dying at the age of eighty four in 1940.

Sadly George and Agatha’s marriage appears not to have been a happy one. In 1886 it came to light that Agatha had been persistently mistreated by George after he was charged with assaulting her on 27 June that year (The Derbyshire Times, 10 July 1886, p. 2, col. 6). The details in the article reproduced below make for very difficult reading, but I have included it here as the voices of Nineteenth Century marital violence survivors like Agatha are so rarely heard. It’s an uncomfortable truth that many of our ancestors’ marriages were probably more similar to Agatha and George’s troubled relationship than we’d like to imagine, as throughout most of British history a man’s ‘right’ to beat his wife was unfortunately not only widely accepted but protected by law. It would have taken a rare courage to speak out against it like Agatha did.

Wife Assault
‘Wife Assault’, a description of Agatha Ling’s assault charge against her husband George. Source: The Derbyshire Times, 10 July 1886, p. 2, col. 4 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

And so we come to George Ling Sr.’s two youngest daughters, Susannah (b. 14 August 1859, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. 22 April 1936, Alfreton, Derbyshire) and Sophia (b. 8 July 1861, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. c. August 1932, Derbyshire). Susannah married a Staffordshire coal miner and greengrocer named Eli Davis, with whom she had ten children, and out of all George and Elizabeth’s sons and daughters her life seems to have been the most ‘settled.’ She remained in Alfreton all her life and neither she, her husband nor any of her children appear to have taken up hawking or general dealing. Like Susannah, Sophia had also married a coal miner, Enfield-born Henry Randall, but at some point before 1911 her husband appears to have abandoned her. In that year’s census she was recorded as still married but was living in her daughter Eliza’s house in North Anston, Yorkshire, and working as a ‘fish dealer’ (a traditional Ling occupation by this point, it would seem).

Rather remarkably, like their older sister Elizabeth, both Susannah and Sophia were married at the age of fifteen in parishes far away from Alfreton (Chesterfield in Susannah’s case, Hitchin in Hertfordshire in Sophia’s). In addition, like both Emily and Elizabeth, Susannah had lied about how old she was to conceal the fact that she was underage. While shocking to modern sensibilities, it’s important to bear in mind that in the Nineteenth Century it would not have been illegal to marry at such a young age with the permission of a parent or guardian, therefore they probably only lied about their ages in order to avoid a minor scandal or an expensive marriage license fee. Nonetheless it is highly unusual to find so many cases like this within one family. The only remotely satisfying explanation I can offer for this pattern of behaviour is that there were cultural factors at play. In the previous post I speculated that their mother Elizabeth Ling (née Hartley) may have come from a Traveller or Gypsy background, as this could help explain the occupations held by so many of her descendants (hawkers, showmen etc.). If correct this might also explain why her daughters all married so young, as to this day Traveller and Gypsy women tend to marry earlier than the general population, with ‘matches’ often having been arranged by the mother in early childhood.

Finally before moving on to Frederick England’s grandfather John Ling, let us briefly look at George and Elizabeth’s youngest son Thomas. Born in Alfreton on 25 July 1865, by the 1881 census he was recorded as ‘assisting at home’ at the Royal Oak inn. This perhaps suggests that Thomas was being trained to carry on his father’s business there before George’s sudden death three years later. Two months after his father died, Thomas married a woman named Sarah Bayley from Brampton. His three children’s birthplaces suggest the couple had moved to Sarah’s home parish by 1887, and at the next census in 1891 he is shown running his own lodging house there. The following year he appears to have begun working as a publican, as a beer license for the Butcher’s Arms was transferred to him on 2 July 1892 (The Derbyshire Times, 9 July 1892, p. 3, col. 6). As we have already seen, Thomas’s older siblings Elizabeth and George Jr. were also living in Brampton with their families at this time, but given his wife’s place of birth it seems likely they had only moved there after Thomas. These same three siblings appear together again in the 1901 census, where they were all working at fish hawkers, before Thomas’s premature death on 27 April the following year.

* * *

By the turn of the the Twentieth Century, the Lings were a family with one foot in the Traveller world of marine store dealers and fairgrounds, and another in that of the settled community of colliers and publicans. Nowhere would that division become more stark than with the children of George and Elizabeth’s first-born, John Ling, some of whom completely assimilated into their local communities, while others chose to embrace the caravan-dwelling lifestyles of Travelling folk. Their story will be told in part 4, but to understand how they got there we should look first at their father.

John Ling was born in Barnsley on 28 February 1849. As we saw in the previous post, the family had moved to Mansfield shortly afterwards, where they ran their lodging house at Chandlers Court, before settling in Alfreton, first on Derby Road and then later at the Royal Oak inn on King Street. At the age of twenty two John became engaged to a local woman named Mary Ann Buxton, whose step-father ran the Devonshire Arms just down the road. They were married on 21 March 1871 at St Martin’s church, and their marriage certificate is the earliest mention of John’s occupation as a general dealer/hawker. The national census taken twelve days later shows the new couple living at 135 King Street, however the 1876  edition of Kelly’s Directory shows that by then they had moved to number 84, located about halfway between their fathers’ two pubs. This same entry records John’s occupation as ‘glass, china and earthenware dealer’, suggesting a move away from general dealing towards a degree of specialisation by this point. It’s worth noting that china, earthenware and crockery dealing was then, as it remains today, a very common occupation among Gypsies and Travellers, with Crown Derby in particular being highly sought after by Traveller women.

Black Jack
‘Black Jack’, a licensed hawker from ‘Street Life In London’, 1877, by John Thomson and Adolphe Smith (via LSE Digital Library).

John and Mary Ann had two daughters in Alfreton before moving to nearby Ripley in about 1878, where they had three more children including Frederick England’s mother. Their names were:

  • Annie Elizabeth (b. 16 July 1872, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. 11 March 1940, Ardsley, Yorkshire)
  • Isabella (b. 1 October 1874, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. 9 November 1940, Fairground, Central Avenue, Worksop, Nottinghamshire)
  • George (bp. 11 November 1878, Ripley, Derbyshire – d. 16 May 1933, Sheffield, Yorkshire)
  • Maud (b. 17 April 1881, Ripley, Derbyshire – d. 22 July 1950, 119 Holbrook Street, Heanor, Derbyshire)
  • Bertha (b. c. November 1885, Ripley, Derbyshire – d. 17 October 1963, Etwall Hospital, Etwall, Derbyshire)

The 1881 census shows the family were living on Ripley High Street, probably above their shop, and that by then Mary Ann was working as an earthenware dealer alongside her husband. Clearly they must have been relatively successful at this point as they were earning enough to employ a domestic servant. Not that this appears to have made John behave any more ‘respectably’ than his wayward siblings however, as on 22 August 1880 John and his brother George had been charged with making an affray in Alfreton along with two men named James and Timothy Gregory. They were all fined and ordered to keep the peace for six months, and John was charged and fined separately for assaulting James. His brother George Jr. and father George Sr. were also charged with assaulting the same man but their case was dismissed (The Derby Mercury, 8 September 1880, p. 3, col. 4). It’s not clear what caused the fight but after some research into the identity of the Gregorys it transpired that James was a relative of John’s sister-in-law Anne Clay (he’s shown as Anne’s son Walter’s guardian in the 1901 census) so it was likely a family feud of some kind.

A later news story mentions “an itinerant pot dealer named John Ling, who hails from Brampton near Chesterfield” being involved in an accident while driving his wagon to Wath Market (The Derbyshire Times, 31 March 1888, p. 3,  col. 3). This article reproduced below places the him and his family in Brampton, along with his siblings Elizabeth, George and Thomas, until at least early 1888.

Accident To A Brampton Pot Dealer
‘Accident To A Brampton Pot Dealer’ (John Ling). Source: The Derbyshire Times, 31 March 1888, p. 3, col. 3 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Later that year the family moved north to Doncaster where they had two more children:

  • Charles Frederick (bp. 19 August 1888, Doncaster, Yorkshire – d. 20 February 1940, Fairground, Alveston, Derbyshire)
  • Olive Emma (b. 19 August 1894, Doncaster, Yorkshire – d. December 1988, Backwell, Somerset)

According to the 1891 census the family lived at 34 Silver Street in the town centre. They appear again in the 1893 Kelly’s Directory at number 18, however here their china and glass dealership is listed under Mary Ann’s name, not John’s. One possible explanation for this is that John may have been too ill to carry on the business by this point, as on 14 December the following year he died of lung congestion. He was forty five years old. In part 4 we’ll see what happened to his widow and seven children after his death, including Frederick England’s mother Maud.

Sources:

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

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.

* * *

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.

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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.