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.

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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.

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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.

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