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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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.

Travelling with the Lings (part 1)

Having previously looked into my grandfather Frederick’s paternal ancestors the Englands, in this new series of posts I will attempt to trace the history of his mother’s family, the Lings. This first part focuses on their origins in the village of Hundon and tracks their progress through the centuries up to the late 1850s.

* * *

Although the medieval origins of the name ‘Ling’ hint at an even more ancient family connection to East Anglia, the earliest known ancestors of my grandfather Frederick England’s mother Maud can be traced back to a small collection of villages in Seventeenth Century Suffolk. The first of these whose names we know were Maud’s seven-times great-grandparents Abraham and Mary Linge, whose five children were all baptised in Hundon between 1665 and 1676. Given their children’s baptism dates, it seems likely Abraham and Mary would have been born in the 1640s at the height of the Civil War. This chaotic backdrop may explain why no baptism record can be found for either of them, as in many villages a breakdown in civil society combined with the religious upheavals of the time led to an extended gap in parish registration. According to Leonard Caton:

During the disquiet which led to the Civil War William Dowsing, who was born in Laxfield in Suffolk , came to [Hundon’s] All Saints Church in 1643 and his Puritanical beliefs led him and others to destroy 30 pictures and take down three popish inscriptions there as well as ordering the steps to be levelled. He did similar damage in over 150 Suffolk churches where he smashed stained glass windows, brasses or anything that he thought had Roman Catholic overtones. 

Puritans
Contemporary woodcut depicting puritan soldiers burning ‘Popish’ images (via Purse Caundle History, Dorset).

Little is known of Abraham and Mary’s lives during and after the Civil War, however an ‘Abram Longe’ is recorded in the Hundon Hearth tax returns of 1674 whose house apparently contained two fireplaces. In addition there is an inventory of goods belonging to John Pritches of Hundon in Suffolk Record Office (Ref. HD 1538/266/3) which was co-written by Abraham on 14 October 1681. Abraham died and was buried in Hundon on 22 July 1715, three years after the burial of a ‘Mary Ling,’ who may have been his wife, on 13 February 1712. While Abraham and Mary had grown up during arguably the most turbulent period in British history, by contrast their son Richard Linge (bp. 12 July 1674) and the majority of his descendants would probably have led far more tranquil lives working as thatchers, millers or agricultural labourers tilling their quiet corner of eastern England.

Hundon map 1783
Detail from Hodskinson’s 1783 map of Suffolk, centred on Hundon and showing the locations of several other nearby villages where members of the Ling family lived, including Barnardiston, Kedington and Poslingford (via St Edmundsbury Chronicle).

Richard and his wife Susan Linge appear to have had five children between 1695 and 1706, the eldest of whom, Thomas, was Maud Ling’s five-times great grandfather and the first in a line of four direct ancestors of hers to bear that name. Their details, as well as those of their wives, were as follows:

  • Thomas Ling (b. c. 1695, Hundon, Suffolk) and Mary Gilbert (bp. 9 May 1698, Hundon, Suffolk, m. 11 August, Hundon Suffolk)
  • Thomas Ling (bp. 20 March 1725, Hundon, Suffolk) and Grace Summers (bp. 18 January 1718, Hundon, Suffolk, m. 25 October 1748, Hundon, Suffolk)
  • Thomas Ling (bp. 4 December 1749, Hundon, Suffolk) and Ann Firman (b. c. 1750, m. 5 November 1772, Hundon, Suffolk)
  • Thomas Ling (b. c. 1776, Hundon, Suffolk, bp. 16 July 1780, Hundon, Suffolk – d. 1 May 1862, Hundon, Suffolk) and Mary Cuthmer (b. c. 1769, Poslingford, Suffolk, m. c. 1804 – d. c. 1856, Suffolk)

The fourth Thomas Ling listed above is the first for whom we have anything other than parish registers to rely on for biographical information. In the 1841 census he is listed as an agricultural labourer, however by 1851 both he and Mary were said to be paupers (i.e. supported through parish poor relief, the closest the Nineteenth century had to a welfare system) and had moved in with their son Joseph’s family on Clare Road. Mary appears to have died at some point the following decade, as by the time of the next census in 1861, Thomas, now eighty four, is the only one of Joseph’s parents still living with him. He died on 1 May the following year and was buried in the village churchyard. Between them he and Mary had had at least five children, whose names were:

  • Susan (bp. 5 April 1806, Poslingford, Suffolk – d. 21 May 1859, Hundon, Suffolk)
  • Thomas (b. abt 1809, Hundon, Suffolk – 24 September 1864, Toodyay, Western Australia)
  • Sophia (b. 5 April 1810, Hundon, Suffolk)
  • Sarah (b. 8 November 1812, Hundon, Suffolk)
  • Joseph (b. abt 1818, Poslingford, Suffolk)

Both Thomas Jr. and Joseph became agricultural labourers, although at the time of the 1841 census Joseph had been as a blacksmith. Thomas Jr. appears to have been in trouble with the law on numerous occasions, the first of which occurred in 1830 when he was sentenced to three months imprisonment for stealing “a quantity of potatoes, the property of David Potter” (The Ipswich Journal, 27 March 1830, p. 4, col. 5). Three years later he was imprisoned again for two months for stealing part of an elm tree (The Suffolk Chronicle; or Weekly General Advertiser & County Express, 5 October 1833, p. 4, col. 6), and in December 1844 he was arrested for night poaching, fittingly enough, in a place named ‘Ling Wood’ near Stoke with three other men (The Norfolk News, Eastern Counties Journal, and Norwich, Yarmouth, and Lynn Commercial Gazette, 5 April 1845, p. 4, col. 4). Although poaching was a widespread and even tacitly accepted means of supplementing the wages of rural labourers, the punishments inflicted were often harsh. After pleading guilty on 27 March the following year Thomas was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and hard labour at Bury Gaol.

bury-gaol
Bury St. Edmunds Gaol, c. 19th Century, where Thomas Ling was imprisoned in 1830, 1833 and 1845. Source: Acton Books.

It would be ten years before Thomas received his final and most serious conviction, when on 2 July 1855 he was sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation for sheep stealing (The Suffolk Chronicle; or Weekly General Advertiser & County Express, 14 July 1855, p. 4. col. 1), a crime which still carried the death penalty in certain cases. He set sail from London aboard the convict ship Clara on 19 March 1857, and arrived one hundred and six days later in Fremantle, the main port of Australia’s Swan River Penal Colony. According to his entry in the Convict Transportation Registers, Thomas had been 5’2″, dark and stout with brown hair and hazel eyes, semi-literate, a Protestant, and a father of five. He also was also recorded as having a number of tattoos, including a mermaid on his right arm, a cross and a ring on his right hand, plus a dog and hare and two birds on his left arm (Steve Smith, e-mail message to author, 11 September, 2016). Five years after his arrival he received a conditional pardon on 15 Decemeber 1862, but he would never return to England. He died just two years later.

fremantle
Panorma of the Swan River Settlement by Jane Eliza Currie, 1831. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

While it is unclear what happened to either Sophia or Sarah Ling, we know rather more about their eldest sister Susan, Maud Ling’s great-grandmother. In 1824, when Susan was eighteen, she was described as a pauper in the Hundon parish registers. As she is not recorded as suffering from any form of physical disability (e.g. blindness) in later census returns, to qualify for parish support at such a young age means her family must have been either unable or unwilling to help her financially. Given that her parents were themselves listed as paupers in the 1851 census it’s clear her family were far from wealthy, so the former is certainly possible. The latter scenario is perhaps equally plausible however, as the reason for her appearance in the parish registers of 1824 was because that year she gave birth to an illegitimate son, George Ling, who was baptised on 19 September. Taking into account the prevailing attitudes towards illegitimacy at the time we cannot rule out the possibility that she may have been disowned by her parents after becoming pregnant.

As was usually the case in these circumstances, the father’s name was not mentioned on George’s baptism record, however later events may provide a clue to his identity. Just a few months after George’s baptism, Susan married an agricultural labourer named Samuel Mayes on 7 January 1825. The closeness of this date to George’s baptism, plus Samuel’s apparent willingness to marry this young, presumably ‘disgraced’ single-mother, could be an indication that Susan was involved in an affair with him at the time George was born, or perhaps that he was pressured into the marriage by Susan’s parents. They had at least two sons in the decade after their marriage, John (bp. 17 May 1829, Keddington, Suffolk) and Thomas (bp. 12 August 1832, Keddington, Suffolk – d. abt November 1904, Alfreton, Derbyshire), however Samuel appears to have died at some point before the 1841 census, leaving Susan once again with no family support and in receipt of parish pay.

At around forty nine years of age Susan is said to have contracted scrofula (Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald, 3 May 1859, p. [2], col. 7), a disease usually caused by tuberculosis whose most noticeable symptoms are the development of chronic abscesses on the neck. In centuries past it had been known by the name the ‘King’s Evil,’ for it was believed only a royal touch could cure it. After apparently “suffering dreadfully” from the disease for four years she died at her home in Hundon on 21 May 1859 aged fifty three, although it’s not clear whether this was as a direct result of her condition. The sad details of her final hours can be found in the coroner’s inquest report below which was printed in the Bury and Norwich Post the following week.

Susan Ling's death
Report on the inquest following Susan Mayes’s death.  Source: Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald, 3 May 1859, p. [2], col. 7 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Susan’s youngest sons John and Thomas Mayes, both of whom she had been living with at Horn Row in 1851, went on to become agricultural labourers like their father Samuel. Her eldest son George however had already left Suffolk by 1851, and was beginning to set in motion the unlikely chain of events which would cause the Ling family name to become synonymous with travelling within just two generations. His story continues in the next post, where we’ll find him living in Barnsley with his wife Elizabeth and infant son John, Frederick England’s grandfather, in 1849.

Sources

Caton, L. ” A Brief History of Hundon”. The Village of Hundon, Sudbury, Suffolk. December 2007. Accessed 11 March, 2016. http://www.hundon-village.co.uk/hundonhistory.html.

Evans, George Ewart. Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay. London: Faber and Faber, 1965.