Going through the Mills (part 3)

This is the third in a series of posts about the Mills family, the direct male-line ancestors of my maternal grandmother Julia Mary Mills. In this part I trace the stories of her great-grandfather Reuben’s generation who lived during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

* * *

The children of John and Elizabeth Mills were among the first members of their family to abandon their ancestors’ rural way of life in search of work in the towns. In the previous post I speculated that this may have been a consequence of the Great Depression of British Agriculture which began in 1873, but the census shows that at least two of the Mills children left their parents’ home in Sutton Bonington in the 1860s, a time of relative prosperity. There could be a more local explanation however, as at around this time their landlord’s manor at West Leake had been put up sale (East Leake & District Local History Group, 2001, 8) and the threat of change would have led to a general unease among the agricultural workforce.

The first to leave was John and Elizabeth’s eldest son Thomas Mills (b. c. March 1830, West Leake, Nottinghamshire), who had already moved to Codnor in Derbyshire by 1861. That year’s census records him and his wife Elizabeth (née Hywood) living there with their two children George and Emma on Jessop Street, and Thomas’s occupation was given as ‘labourer on coal field’. Although the fact that Thomas’s wife hailed from Bolsover probably explains how the family ended up in Derbyshire, his occupation suggests the area’s well-established coal mining industry was another likely attraction.

So-called open-pit mining had been in operation at Codnor since at least the fifteenth century, but as Stuart Saint explains:

It wasn’t until the Butterley Company was established in 1790 that mining in the area began to get more advanced. The company invested huge amounts of money into mines that penetrated the coal and ironstone seams deeper than ever before. The local community grew from a small agricultural based workforce to a rapidly growing industrial one. The increasing population needed more housing and many of the streets in Codnor did not exist until the mid 1800s, when they were built to accommodate hundreds of workers needed for the many mines in the area.

One of these streets was Jessop Street, built in around 1860 and named for William Jessop, one of the Butterley Company’s founders, where Thomas and his family lived until at least 1881.

Sportsman2
Jessop Street, 1906 (via The Codnor & Disctrict Local History & Heritage Website).

By that year’s census Thomas was recorded as an ‘iron worker’, so it is likely he had begun working at the Butterley Company’s vast ironworks just north of Ripley. Although the company was one of the most distinguished engineering firms in the country, and had been responsible for such innovations as the great arched train shed at St Pancras Station, they would nonetheless face calls from their employees to improve pay and working conditions later in the century. These calls were initially fiercely resisted by the company, who fired eleven workers in 1874 for their role in a strike over pay, although no official charges were ever brought. Thomas was not among those who lost his job as a result of the strike, however given his union activity later in life (more of which later) it seems plausible he could have participated in it.

Codnor miners
Thomas Mills’s co-workers at the Butterley Company, who were refused work in 1874 for taking part in strike action (via Healey Hero).

Like any under-regulated nineteenth century workplace, the Butterley ironworks would also have been an incredibly dangerous place to earn a living, especially for men like Thomas who were forced to work well into old age. On Thursday 23 January 1890, Thomas, by then almost sixty, accidentally dropped a heavy iron plate he had been picking up, which fell and crushed one of his legs. Upon his arrival at Derby Infirmary the doctors were forced to amputate the smashed limb.

Codnor
‘Serious Accident at Butterley Ironworks’. Description of Thomas Mills’s accident which inaccurately gives his age as sixty eight. He is also said to be living on Nottingham Road by this point, the same address he would give in the next three censuses. Source: The Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 January 1890, p. 2, col. 6 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Fortunately Thomas survived the procedure, and the following year’s census shows he had already found work as a general labourer, one would hope with the assistance of a new wooden leg. Ten years later in 1901 he was recorded as a ‘head furnace weighman’ at the ironworks, a more prestigious but less physically demanding role better suited to a seventy one year old amputee. His work here would have involved leading the team who checked, weighed and recorded the coke and iron ore being charged into the blast furnace. A unique insight into the lives of the Butterley Company’s workforce at this time can be gained from this rare footage from 6 October 1900, which shows workers leaving the ironworks at the end of a long day’s work.

At some point before 1911 it appears Thomas returned to the coal mining industry, as in that year’s census his occupation was given as ‘colliery checkweighman (above ground) previously’ (i.e. recently retired). This job, while similar to what he had been doing at the ironworks, differed in that he would have been working not for the enrichment of the Butterley Company but for the benefit of his co-workers through their union, the Derbyshire Miners’ Association. At this time miners were paid by the amount of coal produced, so it was important the weights recorded were accurate. Two weighmen were therefore employed, one working on behalf of the company, and a trade union representative (a ‘checkweighman’) elected by the miners to verify his findings. The photograph below taken at Denby colliery in 1898 shows the type of weighing machine Thomas would have used on a daily basis. Note also the elderly one-legged man on the right. As Denby colliery was situated only about an hour’s walk from Thomas’s home on Nottingham Road, it is tempting to think the man in the picture could be him, even though the census suggests he was still working at the ironworks at the time.

00001tmp
A pit top weighing machine at Denby Colliery, Derbyshire, in 1898 (via Picture The Past).

It is interesting to compare Thomas’s story to that of Thomas England (see There’ll Always Be An England (Part 2)), whose grandson Frederick would go on to marry Thomas Mills’s great-grandniece, my grandmother Mary, in 1938. Not only did both men survive potentially fatal accidents at work, but as a result both ended up as  colliery weighmen instead of manual workers. Unlike Thomas England though, Thomas Mills’s accident happened near the end rather than at the beginning of his working life, which perhaps explains why his career did not benefit to quite the same extent. He died in the last quarter of 1914 at the age of eighty four.

It is unclear what happened to John and Elizabeth Mills’s second son Charles (b. c. 1833, Sutton Bonington, Nottinghamshire). Oddly, there is a baptism record for him from 8 June 1845 at Sutton Bonington, when he would have been around twelve, but after that we can only speculate. Charles’s baptism appears to have been a joint ceremony with his younger brothers Reuben (b. c. December 1835, West Leake, Nottinghamshire) and John Jr. (b. c. June 1845). Reuben we will return to shortly, but John Jr. is another son whose later life is a mystery.

We know a little more about their younger brother, John and Elizabeth’s last child Robert Mills (bp. 11 October 1849, Sutton Bonington, Nottinghamshire). Born almost twenty years after their eldest, by the time he was twenty one Robert was still living at his parents’ house but working as a labourer at an iron foundry. Six years later he married Charlotte Musson, another Derbyshire girl from Heanor, on 18 December 1877. The next census shows that by 1881 they had left Sutton Bonington and moved to Leake Road in nearby Normanton on Soar. It also shows that Robert had begun working as an agricultural labourer, an occupation he would still hold ten years later, and that Charlotte was employed as a hosiery seamer. The final census on which Robert appears records that by 1891 his family had moved back to Sutton Bonington where they lived at Rectory Farm, a short distance away from where he had grown up at Pit House. Robert died at the age of only forty nine and was buried on 1 September 1899 at West Leake. Over the course if their marriage he and Charlotte had twelve children together, and after Robert’s death many of them went with their mother when she returned to Heanor to work as a charwoman.

Rectory Farm
1901 25″ OS map showing the locations Pit House and Rectory Farm in Sutton Bonington, where Robert Mills lived in 1871 and 1891 respectively (via National Library of Scotland).

* * *

We return now finally to Rueben Mills, John and Elizabeth’s third son and my grandmother’s great-grandfather. Like his brothers, Reuben grew up at Pit House in Sutton Bonington, but by the time he was sixteen he was working as a farm servant for a  widow named Rebecca Oakley in Wilford. According to the 1851 census, Oakley’s farm covered thirty acres and employed three other servants (two domestics and a charwoman). Farm servants like Reuben differed from agricultural labourers in that they typically lived in the farmer’s house and received board as part of their pay. As a result, they were considered to be “just a little further up in the pecking order” according to Crawford MacKeand (2002):

If single, he “lived-in” and bed and board were part of the contract for hire, and if married, he was provided with a house or a cottage, with possibly some grazing rights or strip of land to use and some provisions for the family. Cash wages were maybe less than 40% of total income. Hiring could be a continuation of existing employment or a new contract established at a “hiring fair”, and was normally for a one year period, or at least six months.

[…]

In some areas the Farm Servant was also known as a “confined man” and this was a desirable status to be aimed at. He, almost always he, was skilled typically in horse or other livestock care…and was therefore employed continuously year round…The Agricultural Laborer on the other hand was paid day wages, hired on a short term as and when work was needed, and therefore much more characteristic of arable farming, for planting, hoeing, reaping etc. He or she was given no accommodation, often operated as part of a gang under a contractor, and received only wages.

It it may be hard for those familiar with Wilford as a Nottingham suburb to imagine it populated with farm servants and agricultural labourers, but in the mid-nineteenth century it still retained much of its original rural character. It is possible to get an idea of what the village looked like in Reuben’s day from the surprising number of Victorian oil paintings of it. Writing in 1914 Robert Mellors even noted that “Wilford has the honour of being the most painted, and best illustrated village in the county”, and that there were several paintings referring to it at the Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery:

There is a view of the Trent, shewing the church, ford, etc., painted by Thomas Barber, about 1840; a view at Wilford from the Trent, “Looking to the Castle,” by Benjamin Shipham; “Wilford Ferry” (The Cherry Eatings) about 1858, by John Holland, Junr, shows a boat being towed over, full of passengers, while a crowd of ladies wearing crinolines, and gentlemen top hats, are waiting their turn. The vendors of cherries are doing a busy trade.

The three paintings described by Mellors can be seen below, and more can be browsed via the Culture Grid website.

Reuben did not settle permanently in Wilford however. By April 1861 he had moved back in with his parents at Sutton Bonington, and that year’s census records his occupation as ‘agricultural labourer’, suggesting something of a downturn in his fortunes. This would prove to be a temporary state of affairs though, as by November he was once again working as a farm servant twenty two miles away at Langar Lodge. Soon after he would be joined there by his new wife Charlotte (née Wilcox), who he married on 25 November 1861 at St Helena’s church in West Leake.

Charlotte was the third daughter of an agricultural labourer named Thomas Wilcox (b. 1797, Beeston, Nottinghamshire – d. c. February 1872, Nottinghamshire) and his wife Mary Attawell (b. 27 June 1799, Bradmore, Nottinghamshire – d. 1862, Stanton On The Wolds, Nottinghamshire). She was born on 2 May 1840 in the village of Stanton On The Wolds, Nottinghamshire, and in 1861 had been working as a domestic servant for a farmer named Thomas Hardy on Main Street, West Leake. As Reuben would have been living only half a mile away at the time it is unsurprising that the two of them eventually crossed paths, they may have even shared the same employer. Whatever the circumstances of their first encounter, sometime around August 1861 Charlotte became pregnant with Reuben’s child, and six months after their wedding she gave birth at Langar Lodge on 9 April 1862. The boy who was christened George Mills on 11 May that year was my great-great-grandfather.

Langar Lodge
Langar Lodge, where Charlotte gave birth to her and Reuben’s son George in 1862 (via Little Langar Lodge).

Shortly after their son’s birth Reuben and Charlotte left Nottinghamshire and rural life altogether to settle in Codnor, where Reuben’s brother Thomas’s family had moved a few years earlier. The 1871 census records both families living on Jessop Street just eight houses apart, and like his brother Reuben’s first job here was at the local colliery. There he worked as a banksman, which involved directing the loading and unloading of the cage that carried men from the top of the pit down to the coal face below.

The family stayed in Codnor for at least six years, during which time they had the following three more children:

  • Ellen (b. c. 1865, Codnor, Derbyshire)
  • William H. (b. c. November 1866, Codnor, Derbyshire)
  • Elizabeth (b. c. 1870, Codnor, Derbyshire)

At some point before 1877 they moved back across the county border to Underwood in Nottinghamshire, another mining village, where they had their fifth and last child:

  • John Thomas (b. c. October 1877, Underwood, Nottinghamshire)

Unlike his brother Thomas however, Reuben would not stay in the coal industry for long. The 1881 census shows that by then he had returned to farming, and that his family had resettled in Ratcliffe-on-Soar near where he grew up. Of Reuben and Charlotte’s children, sadly only George, William, Elizabeth and John Thomas were living with them at this point, suggesting their eldest daughter Ellen may have died. Their oldest sons George and William, then eighteen and fourteen, had started work as farm servants, while Reuben was once again an agricultural labourer, an occupation he would continue to hold for the rest of his life.

Sometime before the next census in 1891 the Millses moved for the fourth and final time  to the large village of Kegworth in Leicestershire, where they lived on Nottingham Road. Many of their descendants would continue to live here well into the twentieth and even twenty first centuries, some of whom will be introduced in future posts. By this time all Reuben and Charlotte’s children except William and John Thomas had moved out, so they had been obliged to take in a lodger, a plumber and gas fitter named William Smart who was still living with them in 1901 and 1911.

Kegworth
Nottingham Road in Kegworth, where the Millses lived from the 1890s to the 1910s (via Kegworth Village).

Charlotte and Reuben died within just five days of each other on 18 and 23 November 1915 respectively. Charlotte’s cause of death at the age of seventy five was given as ‘old age [and] myocardial degeneration’, and Reuben apparently succumbed to ‘senile decay’ aged seventy nine. While Reuben died at the family home on London Road, sadly Charlotte’s last recorded address was the Shardlow Union Infirmary and Workhouse, suggesting she may have been unwell for some time.

The informant on Reuben Mills’s death certificate was his daughter-in-law Fanny Mills, who was also present at the death. Fanny was the wife of Reuben’s first son George and my great-great-grandmother, and I will be looking at this next generation of Millses in the next post.

 

Sources

East Leake & District Local History Group. 200 Years of Basketmaking in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, West Leake and East Leake, Nottinghamshire. East Leake: East Leake and District Local History Society, 2001.

MacKeand, Crawford. “Farm Servants and Agricultural Laborers”. The Wigtownshire Pages. 2002. Accessed 24 March, 2017. http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ainsty/articles/profession/aglab.html.

Mellors, Robert. “Wilford: Then and Now.” Nottinghamshire History. 2010. Accessed 26 March, 2017. http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/articles/mellorsarticles/wilford6.htm.

Saint, Stuart. “Mining.” Codnor & District Local History & Heritage Website. Accessed 9 March, 2017. http://www.codnor.info/mining.php.

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Going through the Mills (part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts on the Mills family, the paternal ancestors of my maternal grandmother Julia Mary Mills. This  part focuses on the years between 1750 and 1879 and the generations who lived through this period.

* * *

Since at least the mid-Eighteenth Century, the Mills family had lived in and around the cluster of small parishes between the East Midlands market towns of Nottingham, Derby and Loughborough. Here in the valley of the river Soar near where the borders of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire converge, they toiled in the fields for centuries, rarely venturing far from their ancestral homeland and quietly passing on their skills and knowledge from one generation to the next. Their story, unlike that of Frederick England’s ancestors, is one which retained a predominantly rural character until quite recently, and it therefore provides a glimpse of a different way of life to any I have looked at so far.

Nottinghamshire map
‘Mills Country’. Detail from J. and C. Walker’s 1836 map of Nottinghamshire showing Bunny, East Leake, Gotham, Kegworth, Sutton Bonington, West Leake, and other villages where the Mills family lived. Source: Nottinghamshire History.

My earliest identifiable Mills ancestor was my sixth great-grandfather Robert (b. c. 1750), who married Mary Clayton in Prestwold, Leicestershire on 23 May 1774. While Robert Mills’s family background is unknown, his wife Mary (the eldest daughter of William and Elizabeth Clayton) had been baptised on 26 October 1752 in Long Clawson. At the time of their wedding both were said to be living in ‘Burton’, which was likely a reference to the village of Burton-On-The Wolds just south of Prestwold. They appear to have had at least six sons, whose names were:

  • William (bp. 21 November 1774, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – bur. 8 May 1853, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • Edward (bp. 17 November 1782, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – 23 October, Bunny, Nottinghamshire)
  • Robert (b. 2 April 1784, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. 16 December 1863, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • Thomas (b. 8 April 1787, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. bef. 1793)
  • Thomas (b. 19 February 1793, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – bur. 4 November 1878, Gotham, Nottinghamshire)
  • Joseph (b. 23 July 1797 – bur. 13 Feb 1859, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)

From their sons’ baptism records it appears the couple had settled in the village of West Leake in Nottinghamshire by 1774, but beyond that we can be certain of little else. There is however some interesting potential evidence in 200 Years of Basketmaking in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, West Leake and East Leake, Nottinghamshire by the East Leake & District Local History Group (2001, 8):

In a newspaper interview of 1896 John Horace Mills said, “my grandfather’s great grandfather [he probably meant his grandfather’s father] lived in West Leake where he ran a public house called ‘The Basket'”. He also said that the osier beds there had served the family for 154 years. That dates them back to 1742. It seems possible the Mills of West Leake were rod merchants supplying the Withers of Ratcliffe on Soar with osiers, before they started as basket makers on their own.

Based on this account, the book goes on to speculate that it may have been Robert’s grandfather (possibly a Thomas Mills of West Leake) who first begun the family’s association with basket making.

Robert’s wife Mary died at the age of seventy and was buried in West Leake on 20 January 1822, while Robert himself was interred at the same place thirteen years later on 3 July 1835. All Robert and Mary’s surviving children found employment as agricultural labourers in nearby villages such as Gotham and Bunny, with the exception of their eldest son William, who continued the family’s involvement with basket making and also ran The Basket alehouse in West Leake. According to John Horace Mills (East Leake & District Local History Group, 2001, 9):

“William took the coach twice a year to London to collect payment for baskets ordered by the firm of Copestake & Moore”, which according to the Post Office Directory of 1846 were lace and sewed muslin manufacturers of 5 Bow Churchyard and 62 Bread Street. It was a very large firm with factories in Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Paris and New York, employing ninety clerks and over three hundred shopmen in their various establishments. Another customer was Parliament which placed orders for, ‘In and Out stationary baskets’.

Several of William’s children carried on their father’s basket making business and spread it to East Leake, where it evolved into the Beehive and Central Works.

The Basket
Plaque in West Leake commemorating The Basket, the Mills family’s alehouse and basket making workshop. Interestingly the plaque suggests it was originally opened by William’s younger brother Edward before William took it over sometime before the 1841 census (via Peter’s Pursuits).

* * *

Robert and Mary’s third son Robert Mills Jr. is my first Mills ancestor whose life can be traced in any detail, as unlike his father he survived long enough to be recorded in the census. At the age of twenty one he married a woman named Elizabeth Milner (b. c. 1783) on 17 November 1805 in her home village of East Leake, and over the next two decades they had the following seven children together:

  • William (bap. 1 June 1806, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. 1 May 1887, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • John (b. c. December 1808, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. 7 January 1892, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • Mary (b. c. 1811)
  • Sarah (b. c. 1813, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. aft. 1891)
  • Thomas (b. c. 1815, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)
  • Joseph (b. c. 1818, West Leake, Nottinghamshire – d. 22 May 1894, Keyworth, Nottinghamshire)
  • Elizabeth (b. c. 1821, West Leake, Nottinghamshire)

In the censuses of 1841-1861 Robert Jr. and Elizabeth were shown living in West Leake, and in all of them Robert was listed as an agricultural labourer. Although this is the earliest available evidence of what Robert Jr. did for a living, a brief reference to him in the local press tells us he had been doing this almost all his working life. On 17 October 1856 the Loughborough Agricultural Association held their annual meeting at the King’s Head Inn, and among the prizes awarded was one for “the labourer who has been for the longest time a member of any benefit or sick club, and of good character” (Leicester Journal, 24 October 1856, p. 6, col. 6). Robert, then seventy two, won second prize in the husbandry category for having been a member of the East Leake Old Sick Club for fifty years and eight months, meaning he must have been an agricultural labourer since at least 1806.

Agricultural labourers
Agricultural workers c. 1814, from George Walker’s The Costume of Yorkshire (via MaggieBlanck.com).

Agricultural labourers in early Nineteenth Century were the poorest class of working people in England, with average wages even lower than those of urban factory workers, and the toil they endured was just as exhausting and dangerous. Writing in 1956 the folklorist and oral historian George Ewart Evans warned against viewing pre-industrial rural life as in any way ‘colourful or romantic’, as the first-hand accounts of elderly farm workers he interviewed revealed a very different story. The language used by one old agricultural labourer from Suffolk is particularly striking (1965, 96):

He was paid the rate of 3s. a coomb for threshing; and he had no two thoughts about it: ‘Threshing was real, downright slavery.’

Like their fellow workers in the towns and cities, agricultural labourers in the early Nineteenth Century saw their livelihoods threatened by the introduction of new technologies such as the threshing machine, which together with low wages was one of the causes of the Swing Riots of 1830, a widespread uprising of agricultural labourers which started in the south of England but spread as far north as the Mills’ home county of Nottinghamshire. Elsewhere agricultural labourers attempted to improve their lot by forming trade unions, but the draconian labour laws of the time made such activities highly risky. The most famous victims in this regard were undoubtedly Dorset’s Tolpuddle Martyrs, three labourers who were sentenced with transportation to Australia for ‘swearing a secret oath’ as members of a Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers in 1838. Sick clubs like the one Robert Mills Jr. joined in 1806 were in many ways a precursor to the modern trade union movement, and because they involved working people organising and helping one another outside the structures of the church and state they were fiercely opposed by the establishment, as one former labourer Joseph Arch recalled (Arch, 1898, 10-35):

When they [the agricultural labourers] did start a sick benefit fund … the parson, the farmers, and the leading men of the parish did their very best to put it down, to stamp it out with their despotic heels. The parson refused point blank to preach a sermon in aid of funds for it… That a labourer, who had fallen out of work through illness, should be supported, even for a time, from a common fund over which the rectory had no direct control, was gall and wormwood to the parson. Worse still, the labourer’s wife would not be so ready to come to the rectory back-door, humbly begging for help. Worse and worse still, she and the children might slip out of the yoke of Church attendance altogether, if rectory charity were no longer a necessity. No; this sick club was the thin end of a bad wedge, and it must be pulled out and broken up without delay.

Robert Mills Jr. died of ‘natural decay’ aged seventy nine on 16 December 1863. Sixteen years later his widow Elizabeth died from the same cause on 31 July 1879 at the age of ninety three. On both their death certificates the informant was their daughter-in-law Sarah Mills (née Topley), wife of their eldest son William. In the next post I’ll be looking more closely at this younger generation of Millses, including Robert Jr. and Elizabeth’s second son John, my fourth great-grandfather.

 Sources

Arch, Joseph. The Life of Joseph Arch. London: Hutchinson & Co, 1898.

East Leake & District Local History Group. 200 Years of Basketmaking in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, West Leake and East Leake, Nottinghamshire. East Leake: East Leake and District Local History Society, 2001.

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

There’ll always be an England (part 3)

This is the third and (for now) last in a series of posts describing the paternal ancestry of my grandfather Frederick England, the first two of which can be found here and here. This part mainly focuses on his grandfather Thomas England’s children, including Frederick’s father Thomas England Jr. (1878-1944).

* * *

The funeral of Cllr. Thomas England at Swanwick Baptist Church on 24 February 1918 would have been one of the largest family gatherings the Englands had held for many years. The extensive list of mourners reported in The Derbyshire Courier (2 March 1918, p. 1, col. 5) gives some indication of the family’s size at this time, but also raises some puzzling questions. Among those present were his older brothers George and James, his older sister Mary and younger half-sisters Alice and Elizabeth, plus a fourth sister, ‘Mrs. Watson,’ who I have yet to identify. His two other known sisters, Hannah and Ann, had both died decades earlier, and while this Mrs. Watson could have been his half-brother William Grice’s widow Mary, I can find no proof that William died before 1918 nor that Mary later remarried and took the name ‘Watson.’ The identity of the second mystery mourner, ‘Mrs. T. England (widow),’ is even more obscure. Thomas’s wife Mary Ann had died in 1913 according to the same headstone beneath which Thomas was interred. This newspaper report is the only evidence I have ever found of him marrying for a second time between 1913 and 1918, and although it’s possible the they could have made a mistake I think this is unlikely given how detailed and comprehensive the rest of their account is. The idea of Thomas remarrying in his mid-sixties is perhaps surprising but at present I can think of no other explanation for this enigmatic widow’s presence at his graveside. Hopefully further research will reveal more in time.

Swanwick Baptist Church
Swanwick Baptist Church, c. 2010 (via Geograph). Thomas and Mary Ann’s headstone is the light grey cross-shaped one directly behind the darker one on the right.

Also present at the funeral were, of course, all of Thomas’s surviving children with the exception of one, to whom I will return later. His five daughters Lucy Ann, Emma Jane, Lottie, Nellie and Amy all attended with their husbands and families. The eldest, Lucy Ann, had married an electric crane driver from Northamptonshire named John George Smith with whom she’d had one daughter. John had died not long afterwards however, and by the time of her father’s funeral she was married to another man named Herbert Hoskin. Thomas’s second daughter Emma Jane had at least six children with Frederick James Fido, and Lottie, who was recorded as a dressmaker’s assistant in the 1911 census, had married George Whylde in 1913. Both husbands were local coal miners. Lottie’s death at the age of ninety two in 1987 makes her the longest lived of Thomas’s children, as well as the only one whose life overlaps with my own. Nellie, unmarried at the time of the funeral, went on to marry a lorry driver named Walter Syson three years later but it is unknown whether or not she had any children. Thomas’s youngest daughter Amy had four boys and two girls with Bertie Crownshaw, a baker from Sheffield, but sadly, as is the case with the rest of  Thomas’s daughters, little else is known about her. The only son of Thomas’s named in the list of mourners is his third, John James England. According to one of his descendants, John had been a boot boy at the Royal Alfred Hotel in Alfreton when he was ten before securing an apprenticeship as a sawyer’s labourer. By 1911 he was working at a chemical works (possibly Kempson & Co. of Pye Bridge, his father’s company) and had married Bertha Ellen Sparham, with whom he had five children. He is remembered fondly as a very “quiet, gentle man.”

So where were Thomas’s other sons? His eldest George William England had, like his father, been a coal miner since he was a boy, and by his early twenties was working as a hewer, one of the most dangerous occupations in an industry comprised largely of dangerous occupations. Hewers were responsible for loosening rock at the coalface with picks, working deep underground in sweltering conditions. By the time George started working in the 1890s there were still no restrictions on the number of hours a miner could be obliged to work per day, wages could be cut arbitrarily and safety measures were still minimal. But while the average miner’s working conditions could be said to have improved little since George’s grandfather’s fatal accident in 1850, the organised labour movement had grown in strength by then and was starting to demand a better deal.

In 1893 when George was sixteen the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain called a strike against a proposed 25% pay cut, in which George’s union, the Derbyshire Miners’ Association (according to The Derbyshire Courier, 10 July 1915, p. 5, col. 4), were participants. The strikers held out for many weeks, and eyewitnesses at Swanwick Colliery recalled seeing pit ponies, which perhaps had not seen daylight for years, grazing freely above ground (Stone, 1998). Unlike earlier strikes in the area though this one was a success, and the management agreed not to reduce any wages. Industrial action by miners would of course continue throughout the twentieth century, including the National Coal Strike of 1912 which began in Alfreton and soon spread across the country. Their core demands were expressed in a popular chant, which could be heard at pits from Kent to Clydeside:

Eight hours work, Eight hours play,
Eight hours sleep and
Eight bob a day

The miners’ victory that year led to the passing of the Coal Mines (Minimum Wage) Act 1912, one of the first minimum wage laws passed anywhere in the world and a huge milestone in the history of workers’ rights. Many of the basic freedoms we enjoy at work today owe a great deal to the efforts of people like George, his brothers, their wives and workmates.

At the time of the strike George had been working at Birchwood Colliery in Alfreton for about seven years, about thirty minutes away from where he lived at 118 Prospect Street with his wife Amy (née Kinnings) and four children. By 1915 he had been promoted to the position of colliery stallman, an overseer’s role which perhaps could have been the start of a promising career had disaster not struck later that year. On Thursday 17 June, George was working alongside fellow stallman Henry Jenkins when at around 12.30 midday they heard a crash. Henry, on hearing George cry out, ran to his aid only to discover that he had been almost completely buried under the fallen pit roof, fracturing his spine and inflicting several other internal injuries. He was quickly pulled out and conveyed to his house on Prospect Street but it was too late, he died of his injuries almost three weeks later on 5 July. The coroner’s inquest which followed returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’ but noted that a slight crack in one of the pit’s supporting posts had been detected before the accident and that nothing had been done about it. His funeral took place on Thursday 8 July at Alfreton Cemetery. At the following Monday’s meeting of Alfreton Council his father Thomas received a vote of condolence from the other councillors. He was, he said “passing through troubled waters, ” having lost his son-in-law (John George Smith), his wife and his son in such a short space of time (The Derbyshire Courier, 10 July 1915, p. 5, col. 4). Sadly, 1916 would see no reversal in the England family’s fortunes.

George William England
‘The late Mr. G.W. England’. Source: The Derbyshire Courier, 10 July 1915, p. 5, col. 4, via The British Newspaper Archive).

Edwin England, Thomas’s youngest son, was born on 8 November 1893. His three older brothers were all at least ten years older than him and had already started their first jobs by the time he came along. It therefore seems likely he would have been closer to his sisters growing up, all of whom were nearer to him in age. From the 1911 census we know Thomas and Mary Ann had a total of thirteen children together, but sadly only nine of them appear to have survived infancy. Of the four who died the only name we know is that of Ernest Edward England, who was born in early 1892 and died on 27 November that same year. Although infant mortality rates were much higher back then I believe the timing of Ernest’s death must have had an impact on how Edwin was raised, even his name sounds like it may have been intended as a tribute. Having gone through the experience of losing a son the year before would surely have made Edwin’s birth and survival feel even more special, and it’s easy to imagine him as the youngest boy in the family becoming something of a favourite. Unlike his older brothers, when Edwin started work his father would have been successful and influential enough to help him out, and perhaps it was Thomas’s recommendation which had secured him a clerk’s job at Birchwood Colliery by the time he was eighteen (The Derbyshire Courier, 4 November 1916, p. 1, col. 2).

While as a young man Edwin may have seemed poised to follow in his father’s footsteps, there was of course a key difference between him and his father. When Thomas had turned twenty one it had been 1871 and Britain was at peace. When Edwin reached the same age the year was 1914. On 4 August that year Britain declared war on Germany, and Edwin, as the only England brother not employed in a reserved occupation would have faced enormous social pressure to enlist in the army. On 9 June the following year he enrolled as a private in the 9th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters at Nottingham, and a month later he left Liverpool on a ship bound for the North Aegean. On 7 August he disembarked with his battalion at Sulva Bay, Gallipoli.

Men of the 9th Battalion
Men of the 9th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, refilling mess tins and bottles at a well. Gallipoli, August 1915 (via the Imperial War Museum).

The events of that famously ill-fated campaign to capture the Dardarnelle Straits from the Ottoman army hardly need repeating here, but the 9th Battalion are said to have “maintained stout hearts and a soldierly spirit” despite heavy losses. Edwin apparently escaped the battle “without a scratch” (The Derbyshire Courier, 4 November 1916, p. 1, col. 2) before his battalion were evacuated to Egypt via Crete in December. In July 1916 they were redeployed to France, and on 26 September 1916, at the Battle of Thiepval Bridge, the first large offensive of the Battle of the Somme, Edwin was killed in action near the village of Ovillers-la-Boisselle. He likely fell during the capture of the German Hessian and Zollern trenches however his body was never recovered. He was twenty two. His memory is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France, and on his parents’ headstone in the churchyard of Swanwick Baptist Church.

Edwin England
Edwin England, 1893-1916. Source: The Derbyshire Courier, 7 November 1916, p. 4, col. 3 (via The British Newspaper Archive).
A Pye Bridge Loss
‘A Pye Bridge Loss’. News of Edwin’s death reaches Derbyshire. Source: The Derbyshire Courier, 4 November 1916, p. 1, col. 2 (via The British Newspaper Archive).

Unlike George and Edwin, Thomas England’s second son Thomas England Jr. would go on to outlive their father by several decades, however his name is conspicuously absent from the list of mourners at his funeral. Apparently, his wife Maud did attend (identified as “Mrs. T. England (daughter-in-law)” in The Derbyshire Courier, 2 March 1918, p. 1, col. 5), which makes Thomas’s unexplained absence even stranger. There are a number of possible explanations for this of course, but before exploring these let us first take a look at his early life. To avoid confusion with his father I will from this point on refer to Thomas Jr. as ‘Tom,’ as this is the form he used on two of his sons’ baptism records and therefore was probably the name by which he was best known.

Born on 28 July 1878, by the time he was thirteen Tom had already left school and was listed as an ‘errand boy’ in the 1891 census. He would likely have started down the mines not much later, as by 1901 he is recorded as a coal miner. It is unknown which pit he was based at then but he would probably have been working for the Babington Coal Company at Birchwood Colliery alongside his brothers George and Edwin. At around this time, just up the road from the England family home on Park Street was a china shop at number 16 King Street run by a widow named Mary Ann Ling, who lived above it with her daughters Maud and Olive. Maud (b. 17 April 1881, Ripley, Derbyshire – d. 22 July 1950, 119 Holbrook Street, Heanor, Derbyshire) would undoubtedly have helped her mother out from time to time at the shop, and it was perhaps here where Tom met her for the first time. It’s tempting imagine a romance blossoming between them over the counter during Tom’s frequent visits as an young errand boy, but that’s maybe a little fanciful. Their wedding, which took place on 16 November 1901 at Alfreton, has already been described elsewhere but I’ve reproduced their marriage certificate below which gives their names, their witnesses, and their fathers’ names and occupations.

Ling England wedding certificate
Thomas England and Maud Ling’s marriage certificate with missing left quarter, 1901, Alfreton, Derbyshire.

Tom and Maud appear to have left Alfreton shortly after getting married. They had one son there in 1902 but the rest of their children were all born in Langley in south Derbyshire, including my grandfather Frederick England. Their names were:

  • Albert (b. 6 September 1902, Alfreton, Derbyshire – d. 17 October 1948, The City Hospital, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire)
  • Arthur (bp. 15 December 1904, Heanor, Derbyshire – d. c. May 1905, Derbyshire)
  • Harry (bp. 23 January 1908, Heanor, Derbyshire – d. 26 January 1958, 7 Grace Crescent, Heanor, Derbyshire)
  • Frederick England (b. 23 July 1912, Langley, Derbyshire – d. 24 September 1980, Codnor, Derbyshire)
  • Herbert Kenneth (b. 30 April 1915, Langley, Derbyshire – d. 27 March 1984, Derby, Derbyshire)
  • Norman (b. 23 April 1921, Langley, Derbyshire – d. c. May 1983, Nottinghamshire)

In the 1911 census the family were living in a three-room house at 15 ‘Odessa Yard’ in Langley. I initially had some difficulty locating the present-day site of this address but after checking the house numbers which came before and after the Englands in the census schedule I now believe they were actually based at 15 Laceyfields Road. Like his older brother George, Tom was a coal hewer, and we know from an article in The Nottingham Evening News (12 Nov 1910, p. [4], col. 4) that he was employed by the Butterley Company Ltd. at the New Langley Colliery (Thomas had been a witness to a recent pit fatality and was giving evidence during the inquiry). In 1912 he would most likely have participated in the National Coal Strike, as well as the General Strike of 1926. By then though he was no longer working as a hewer but an ‘onsetter’ (according to an application for a copy of his son Frederick’s birth certificate dated 4 August 1926). Onsetters were in charge of loading the cages at the bottom of the shaft which conveyed miners to the surface, as well as giving the appropriate signals to the winding engineman. Their equivalent above ground was known as a ‘banksman,’ which is the occupation Tom gave the following decade in both his son Frederick’s marriage certificate from 1938 and in the recently-released 1939 register.

Onsetter
An onsetter signals for the cage to be raised up the shaft, Denaby, Derbyshire, c. 1910 (Elliot, 2014, xii).

By this time he was sixty one years old and living at 98 Holbrook Street in Heanor with his wife Maud and their son Kenneth (Frederick and his wife Mary also stayed with them for a period in the late 1930s before moving across road to number 119). Tom died in 1944 while his sons Frederick and Norman were away fighting in Europe. Unusually for the time he chose for his remains to be cremated rather than buried, which was perhaps appropriate for a man who had already spent so much of his life below ground.

Although I know a great deal about my grandfather Frederick from my mother, and over time have managed to piece together almost as much about his grandfather Thomas England Sr., many of the details of Tom’s life are still shrouded in mystery. I have neither the wealth of anecdotal information about him which I have for his son, nor the extensive news coverage on his activities which I have for his father, and that has somehow always made him even more intriguing to me. This curiosity has been fed by the two major pieces of anecdotal information I do have about him: that he was an excellent fiddle player and a heavy drinker.

The former has always struck me as unusual. Given the time and place in which he grew up, if Tom was musically inclined one would probably have expected him to gravitate towards the local colliery brass band, or perhaps some form of sacred music (which I’m sure his father would have preferred). In contrast to these more traditional, community-based forms of music-making, to me playing the fiddle feels more individualistic, more romantic and possibly a little wilder. This image of him seems to fit well with the fact that he was also known to enjoy a drink. Although it was fairly common for miners to be heavy drinkers at this time, the very fact that this is one of the few pieces of information about him which has been passed down to me suggests his habit was somehow exceptional he may have suffered from alcoholism (Maud apparently had to hide money around the house to stop him spending it on drink). This is pure speculation, but based on the few details I have about him, Tom seems like very different character to his father Thomas England Sr., the respected town councillor, Freemason and deacon, so perhaps his absence from his father’s funeral was due to some kind of falling out? Alternatively Tom may just have been sick or unable to get out of work that day, and his drinking habit could have developed later (perhaps triggered by the deaths of his parents and two brothers in the space of five years). Like so much else about his life, the truth is now lost to us and we must make do with what have the faculty to imagine.

England family
Tom England (far right), with (L-R) his sister-in-law Ethel May England, mother-in-law Mary Ann Bestwick, c. 1935.
Harry England and Ethel Buxton's wedding
Tom England (far left) with Maud (seated) at his son Harry’s wedding to Ethel May Buxton, 1935.

* * *

Although I fully intend to return to Tom’s sons in future posts, because their stories are inextricably tied up with those of several living persons I am ending my in-depth history of the England family here in order to to preserve their privacy. In the posts to come I’ll be turning my attention to the family of my grandfather Frederick’s mother, the Lings, a family so different to the Englands with their deep roots in the Derbyshire coalfield it’s a surprise their paths ever crossed.

Sources:

Baker, Chris. “Sir Ian Hamilton’s Fourth Gallipoli Despatch.” The Long, Long Trail. Accessed 2 March, 2016. http://www.1914-1918.net/hamiltons_gallipoli_despatch_4.html.

Elliot, Brian. Tracing your coalmining ancestors: a guide for family historians. Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2014.

Stone, G. Strike action at Swanwick Colliery during the Nineteenth Century. Matlock: Derbyshire County Council, 1998.