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.
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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.
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.
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:
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.
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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.’
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.