“my mind and will is…” Joan Bennet 1665

Joan Bennett of Gotheridge spinster dau of Wm Bennett senior 1665 will cropped

Revelations, mysteries, contemporary beliefs, conventions, testator glimpses – how they might have lived their lives, relationships social and personal, their character and state of mind, small and touching details – there are clues to all of these and more in the last will and testament of 10th great grandaunt, Joan Bennett, spinster of Gotheridge in the parish of Eyam (Pronounced Eem). As you’ll see later, there are also connections with tragedies yet to come, because I, as transcriber, have the luxury of hindsight – 356 years’ worth – although I have to say it was only when I’d finished deciphering the document I then discovered the sad ironies of Joan’s many bequests.

But first a recap. Last time I said I had found the 17th century wills of father and daughter, William Bennett, farmer of Gotheridge (Gotherage), an isolated tenant farm on the Highlow estate of the Eyre family, who died in 1620, and his daughter Joan who died in 1665. As a spinster daughter, of marriageable age, William had made provision for her in a manner that was not unusual at the time when spinsters and widows held precarious status. That is to say she was to be housed and fed and clothed well by William’s family. But there is also a suggestion that she had refused to marry, and William then says he is leaving her £20 (around £3,000 in today’s terms) and a bed, and it is up to her if stays or leaves Gotheridge, but whatever she decides she is to have the £20.

I don’t have baptismal dates for William and his wife Ann, or for their six surviving adult sons and daughters, but it is likely at the time of the will, all the offspring are 21 years and older. They were thus probably born between 1580s and 1599, the latter half of the reign of Elizabeth I. Also, as there appears to be a convention of naming heirs according to seniority, it is possible that Joan is the eldest rather than the family member most on William’s mind. Anyway, we can say she was at least 65 when she wrote her own will (possibly much older), this being done on the fifth day of April 1665, the fourth year of the reign of Charles II.

It’s a long will too for the woman who chose to stay on at Gotheridge and live out her days on the small family farm. The term ‘my mind and will is’ is used repeatedly, and although it is a common idiom, as you read on, encountering some very particular instructions to her relatives, you are left with a sense of a woman who will not be crossed.

Joan Bennett of Gotheridge spinster dau of Wm Bennett senior 1665 will resized

It begins with the conventional preamble:

I Joan Bennet…being weak of body but of good and perfect mind and memory praise be to almighty god for the same do ordain constitute and make this my last will and testament.

The bequeathing of her soul to the creator is quite a lengthy passage suggesting a woman of strong Christian faith. She is fully confirmed in the belief of ‘everlasting joy and happiness’ when her soul is redeemed at the ‘general day of judgement.’

Her first bequest is 20 shillings to be shared by her executor and friends among the poor people of Eyam. The National Archives currency converter says this, in spending power, was worth well over £100. Her next bequests are to the surviving 2 sons and daughter of her deceased brother William. Nephews George and Francis Bennet, both of Grindlow, are to receive the equivalent of £250 each, but their sister, Ann, married to Ralph James of Grindlow is to have £300 with the stipulation that it is “for her use only.” These are the grandchildren mentioned in William’s will who, in 1620, were each to receive a lamb.

The remaining bequests relate mostly to another niece, Elizabeth wife of Francis Frith of Eyam, and to their many children who range from six- to twenty eight years old at the time. Throughout this part of the will it is very much Joan’s ‘mind and will’ that her largesse be distributed very specifically to numbered offspring. Eldest Frith son Francis and third son Thomas and fourth son Henry are each to receive 30 shillings within a year of her death. Whereas the youngest sons Richard and George must wait 2 years for their £2  10 shillings, and if one dies then the other will receive his share.

Mary Frith the oldest daughter will receive 10 shillings, but to the youngest girls, Anne and Elizabeth, she leaves one cow, which is to be delivered to their mother Elizabeth. She then says if Elizabeth sells the cow, then the full amount received must be put towards the upbringing of the girls. She then bequeaths to niece Elizabeth:

all my wearing apparel linen and woollen to be delivered to her by my executor

And finally we come to the heart of the will:

My mind and will is I do devise give and bequeath unto William Frith second son of Francis Firth all my possession and interest of this my messuage and tenement* of Gotheridge if he can accord with the right worshipful Mr. Robert Eyre Lord of the same for the rent thereof. Item: my mind and will is if any of the abovesaid be not content with his or her legacy that they should lose his or her part by virtue of this my last will and testament.

[* house, outbuildings and land]

And after that stiff admonition, she then leaves all other of her possessions, moveable and unmoveable, quick and dead “unto my well beloved friend William Frith, second son of Francis Frith abovesaid” and further ordains him “my whole and sole executor of my last will and testament hoping he will perform the same according to the trust I have reposed in him.”

view from west of Gotherage Plantation, Bretton Clough below geograph-1595040-by-Peter-Barr

View from Gotherage Plantation, south of the farm site (over the brow of the hill to the left of the telegraph pole just seen on far middle right).

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So: the daughter to whom William Bennett gave leave and means to do as ‘she pleaseth’, stayed on at Gotheridge all her life. It seems likely that at least one brother, bachelor Francis lived there too. There is reference to the administration of his will in 1642 (though frustratingly no actual will) which leaves all his possessions to Joan and, I think, the nephew mentioned in her will Richard Bennet, husbandman of Grindlow. (Grindlow is small farming-lead-mining community a couple of miles southwest of Gotherage barn, and seems to have been another Bennett family stronghold).

But is there some hint that Joan’s bequest of the Gotheridge tenancy and all her chattells and cattells to ‘my well beloved friend William Frith’ was expected to be unpopular? I have seen instructions in other wills for legatees not to fall out, but Joan’s threat seems designed to keep everyone toeing her line. William was probably around 22 years old in 1665. I have no other record of him other than a mention in another later will.

His siblings Henry (17), and the younger children Anne (13), Elizabeth (10) and George (7) were all victims of plague in   the summer of 1666 as were his parents Elizabeth and Francis. The infection had first arrived in September 1665. It is said it came with a parcel of clothing materials from London, ordered by the local tailor for repurposing. The assistant who opened the package swiftly died, followed, over then next 14 months by 259 of his 800 fellow villagers. The villagers’ decision to close their borders to stop the infection spreading elsewhere is something of a legend. (See earlier post about Eyam here.)

But back to Joan’s will. Given the ready transmission of infection via fleas and possibly also body lice in used clothing, Joan’s bequest of all her clothes to niece Elizabeth acquires certain sinister resonances, despite being very much ‘before the event’;  the plague outbreak came some six months after the will was written. Elizabeth certainly had little enough time to benefit from the gift of linen and woollen garments. They appear to have been of good quality too; the appraisers assessed the worth of Joan’s clothing, along with her purse, at £20 (multiply by 100 for current values).

Joan’s other goods and farm stock were appraised at over £100. This included her mare, 4 oxen, 3 cows, 2 heifers, 35 sheep, 2 swine, bees, corn in the ground. In the barn were ploughs, harrows, carts, the grain store and an ale brewing vat. There were turves for the hearth and a stock of manure.

In the house was a feather bed, two ‘chaff’ (straw waste) beds, blankets, sheets, coverlets and quilts wonderfully called ‘bed hillings’. There were the usual boards for trestle tables, a cupboard and dishboard etc. There were 6 arks (chests), brass pots and pans, some pewter ware, 6 cushions, a good supply of oats, and sacks for storing corn, salt for salting hams. It all sounds modest enough. On the other hand, it seems all needs were being met, which is surely a true measure of wealth and wellbeing.

Joan Bennett of Gotheridge spinster dau of Wm Bennett senior 1665 inventory resized

There is no knowing if William did come to an agreement with Robert Eyre to take over Gotheridge. If he did do so, it would have been for a short time only. (The Highlow rent books in Derbyshire record office would be the place to look). In any event by 1668 Joan’s great nephew, Samuel Bennet and his wife Joan, are already living at Gotheridge. In that year the Eyam parish register records the birth of George, who if not the first born, is the first of several children born at Gotheridge. After George come Isaac and Amie, probably twins, Joan, then Anne and Samuel who both died in infancy and finally Richard born in 1688, who I believe is my 7th great grandfather.

But  what of William Frith who clearly enjoyed Joan Bennet’s highest regard, the young man who lost so much that was dear to him? For now I’m still looking.

copyright 2021 Tish Farrell

related posts:

When 11th Great Grandfather was about to die

In search of lost time in Eyam and an outbreak of plague

More Ancestor Sleuthing In High Peak: The Hatter Of Smalldale . Robert Jackson . 1786-1857 – Tish Farrell

When 11th Great Grandfather was about to die…

Gotherage ruin possibly with view across to Oaks which is due north geograph-6001283-by-Neil-Theasby

These last few months I’ve been tracking down great grandparents and have gathered rather more than are manageable. But one family line, the (Derbyshire) Bennetts of Eyam, Grindlow and Bradwell has yielded treasure. I’ve recently found two seventeenth century wills, of father and daughter, written 45 years apart. First was the discovery (on a well-known genealogy website) of the will of 11th great grandfather William Bennett, farmer of Gotherage (also Gotheridge and Godriche), a remote tenant farm between Eyam and Abney. It was written in 1620 – four hundred and one years ago – and on the 20th May, as in yesterday when I began writing this post.

William says he is ‘sick in body but of good and perfect remembrance’; it is time, then, to share out his worldly goods. As in all wills of this era, the most pressing provision concerns the afterlife and so he begins by bequeathing his soul to ‘Almighty God my maker and redeemer,’ and requesting that his mortal remains be buried in Eyam parish churchyard. There is nothing here to indicate his age, but the bequests show that one son and two daughters are married and have children of their own. Other sons, George and Francis, are apparently still at Gotherage, as is their sister Joan. All of William’s offspring appear to be adults since there are no coming-of-age conditions attached to bequests. And so, given that the usual marrying age was 21 (often older for men), it is likely that William was between 50 and 60 years old.

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William Bennett - 1620 Will Eyam top page 1 extract

The opening lines of William Bennett’s will 20th May 1620

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Having settled spiritual matters, William’s next thought is of his daughter Joan. There is every suggestion that she has refused to be married, and he seems anxious to ensure her well being. I could of course be reading this wrongly, but it strikes me as enlightened: for the next few centuries spinsters tended to be considered family burdens and therefore status-less. Here, it seems, is a father bequeathing freedom to a daughter to do as she likes.

And so he writes:

I give and bequeath unto Jone Bennet my daughter £20 * and a bed, to be maintained with sufficient meat drink lodging and apparel so long as she pleaseth to stay at Goderiche and if it please her to depart and go away from there then she shall have her portion paid her by my executors to do with it as pleaseth her going been against marriage before.

[* around £3,000 in modern monetary values]

The rest of the will comprises bequests to sons and sons-in-law, and a lamb to each of his grandchildren. Eldest son William receives 20 shillings (a month’s wages), son-in-law Thomas Furness 10 shillings. George however is to have £33 in lieu of the fact that his brother Francis has been managing the farm for his own use.

Finally, all William’s goods, catells and chattels are to be shared equally between his wife Ann (we hear nothing else about her) and sons Francis and George.

The will then concludes with monies owed to him by local householders in Eyam, Grindlow and Abney. It amounts to over £63, which is a tidy sum in 1620. In fact the National Archives currency converter says this was equivalent to more than £8,000, or a skilled tradesman’s wages for 1260 days.

William Bennett - 1620 Will Eyam top page 1 debts owed

Sums owed to William Bennett

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There is no clue as to what services William was rendering. It seems unlikely that these were all unpaid bills for farm produce since most of the people here were likely to be fellow farmers, at least in some capacity. And while the probate inventory sets William’s worth in goods and livestock at £133  19 shillings (£17,500), the contents suggest a fairly modest farming enterprise. My one notion is that he had a side-line in transporting lead ore to local smelting points in the area, one likely spot being due east of his farm, at Bole Hill, a name that historically signifies lead smelting.

High Peak farmers, of necessity, had many strings to their livelihood bow. Many combined farming and lead prospecting. The latter was a dangerous enterprise, but the lead miner’s freedoms associated with the King’s Field of lead deposits were well worth having. They included free timber from landowners’ woodland, free access to and over other people’s land while extracting ore, and the right to freely graze their animals on common land. In return, they paid ‘lot’ to the monarch, a 13th portion of their gains, and a tenth part tithe to the church, all overseen by the Barmaster and jurors of the Barmote Courts who were themselves lead miners.

Gotherage likely ruins looking towards Highlow SK2179 nr Stoke Ford geograph-2901207-by-Neil-Theasby

Here’s another view of the barn ruins, this time looking north towards Highlow and Hathersage

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And more general views, the first taken by Jonathan Clitheroe higher up the hillside above Gotherage Plantation and well above the barn ruins:

Gotherage geograph-3210953-by-Jonathan-Clitheroe (1)

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And this next Neil Theasby view which is taken beside Gotherage Plantation and looking  across Bretton Clough to Abney Barn. On the horizon, left of centre, you can just make out the scarred ‘face’ of Mam Tor below which were extensive lead mining operations in the 17th and 18th centuries (Odin Mine):

Edge of Gotherage Plantation Abney Low barn ahead geograph-6766052-by-Neil-Theasby

A challenging landscape, however you look at it.

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Gotherage Barn and fields 1898 OS CC-BY-NC-SA with banner

I have found the location of Gotherage Barn on an 1879 Ordnance Survey map. You can see farm fields much as they would have been delineated on the original estate tithe and rent book maps. The blue ribbon marks the barn remains, but there is no sign of the house where the Bennetts lived, though the presence of a natural spring below the barn might suggest it would not have been far away. You can see Bole Hill due east of the barn.  A trip to Derbyshire Record Office and a sight of the Highlow estate rent books would doubtless reveal more, but that will have to wait. I’m also relying here on landscape photos taken by the lovely people who post their work on www.geograph.org.uk and allow reuse under Creative Commons licencing. They also add map references and all manner of locational assistance. What stars.

The header photo by Neil Theasby, I’m pretty sure, shows a corner of Gotherage Barn, a building that is probably c1800s in date, and beyond it, across Bretton Clough, the Oaks Farm where there are other ancestral links, having been occupied by members of three separate family lines: Foxes in 1660, Bennets in the early 1700s, and 4th great grandfather, Robert Jackson the hatter in the 1850s. Oaks is another of the many Highlow farms, originally owned by the Eyre family, but now part of Duke of Devonshire’s estate.

I’ve been trying to reconstruct some image of life at Gotherage in William’s time. The probate inventory is very sketchy compared with others I’ve recently transcribed. For instance it doesn’t record items by room, and similar items are lumped together: ‘pewter and brass’ £6 13 shillings 4 pence , ‘bedding and nappery ware’ (cloth items) £10. And then there are bits I can’t decipher.

But basically the domestic furniture comprised bed frames and many kinds of boards: cupboards, dishboards, bread boards and boards that would have rested on trestles to make tables. There were also stools and chairs and arks (storage chests).

We do know that William’s purse and apparel were valued at £10 (£1,300). He had two mares and one saddle, so was well equipped on the very essential personal transport front. He had four oxen for working the fields, with ploughs, harrows and yokes in the barn. There was corn growing in the field, ten pounds worth in sheep and lambs, 2 swine, 4 steers, 4 cows, 3 calves one of which was being weaned. There were hams hanging in the roof space and stores of meal, malt, butter and cheese. I also think there were bees.

There are more clues about the house from Joan’s probate inventory of 1665. Besides the barn with its’ ploughs, harrows and carts’ there were three main rooms, ‘the house’ which seems to be the living-cooking quarters, ‘the parlour’ where the beds were, and ‘the chamber’ which appears to have been used to store things. The house might have been wholly stone built, but I’m also imagining a part-stone, part timber-framed house, one main large living space, perhaps with an upper storey attic ‘the chamber’ (?) above. It’s the sort of place that would leave little trace of itself once left to decay, and doubtless any stonework would have been re-purposed. Most of the Derbyshire farmhouses we see now are stone-built, but many were late 18th century re-builds, doubtless replacing aged and dilapidated predecessors.

But, I hear you asking, never mind about the house. What about Joan? What became of the young woman whose father appears to give credit where credit is due and is prepared to enable some (surprising) degree of free choice?

It will have to wait for the next instalment of the ‘Bennetts of Gotherage’.  For now here’s another striking Neal Theasby photo of the  barn ruins.

Gotherage possibiity geograph-6000694-by-Neil-Theasby

copyright 2021 Tish Farrell

More Ancestor Sleuthing In High Peak: The Hatter Of Smalldale . Robert Jackson . 1786-1857

P1080336cr

You can waste spend hours, days, weeks pursuing long-dead forebears. I think we might call it obsessive compulsive distraction disorder. On the other hand, on the plus side,  the activity can present very particular lenses through which to glimpse hitherto unthought-of aspects of our past. But more of this later.

In the meantime, my current pursuit has turned up a host of great grand elders, down to the 10th generation, the result of following only one branch of a great great grandmother’s tree. She, by the way, was Mary Ann Bennett of Bradwell, married to George Brayley Fox of Callow Farm, Highlow. And one of the odd things I’ve discovered is that her grandfather and the 4th great grandfather I never knew I had, one Robert Jackson, hat maker and native of the lead mining village of Smalldale, Bradwell (1786-1857) spent his last years as tenant of an isolated farm in the rugged uplands between Highlow Hall and Abney, a next door neighbour in fact of fellow Duke of Devonshire tenants, my Callow Fox farming ancestors.

Robert Jackson wasn’t alone at the Oaks. John and Mary, children from his second marriage to Hannah Eyre were living with him, both around the thirty age mark in the 1851 census. Whether their mother ever lived there is unknown. In 1841 the family still had the hat business in Smalldale, but by 1848 Hannah was dead, having seemingly died in another place altogether, several miles from either Oaks or Smalldale. I’ll come back to that.

Old_Bradwell

Bradwell in the late 1800s

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For geographical reference, the nearest city to High Peak is Sheffield, only a few miles north east of Hathersage (top right corner); Manchester to the north west:

Bradwell Grat Hucklow Highlow map

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This next photo, looking across to Highlow from above Hathersage, shows the general lay of the land between Callow and The Oaks (Offerton Moor above Callow).

P1080998 Callow Farm

And a closer view of The Oaks farm taken from the web:

Photos kindly supplied by Geograph, and may be reused subject to this creative commons usage licence Oaks Farm

So: a remote quarter to hive off to after 60 odd years of living and working in the fume ridden, busy industrial environs of Smalldale and Bradwell. The lonely farm that the hatter took on was only 32 acres, presumably all grazing in that exposed location, and although it was by no means unusual for Derbyshire folk have at least two principal occupations: e.g. farming and lead mining; farming and butchery; farming and millstone cutting or scythe-making or joinery or running delivery services, the late-day switch from hat making to upland  stock-raising at first seems surprising.

But then what about the famous Bradda Beavers!

On the other hand, one of Robert’s mainstay hat lines would have been the Bradda Beaver, a sturdy, brimmed hat made from thickly felted sheep’s wool. Their manufacture began in Bradwell and Smalldale the 17th century, and for a time the export of this highly durable headgear to London for further shaping and finishing was extremely lucrative. The trade supported several Smalldale and Bradwell hat-making families over many generations (In particular the Evans and Middleton families).

The hats were also sold in large numbers to local miners since they were both water resistant and stalwart enough to support a tallow candle for deep-mine prospecting. Robert’s own father, Christopher Jackson, was a lead miner, but his mother, Sarah Middleton, may well have belonged to Smalldale’s hat-making Middleton dynasty, and perhaps it was through her that he took up hatting rather than mining.

Bradda Beaver Peak District Mining Museum

Bradda Beaver Photo: Peak District Mining Museum

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The Bradda Beaver in the photo is a rare survival and now to be found in the Peak District Mining Museum in Matlock. The felting process apparently involved many rounds of heavy labour – carding and steaming and planking the fleeces. It is likely, then, that Robert Jackson knew his sheep. It is also likely, in the face of declining business, that he wished to secure the farm tenancy with his son’s future in mind. And sure enough, after Robert died in 1857, the records show that John remained at the Oaks until his own death in 1888.

Interestingly, father and son both put this address on their respective gravestones: ‘The Oaks, Highlow’, albeit in different graveyards (Great Hucklow and Hope). It makes me wonder if there isn’t just a touch of ‘social climbing’ by association – even in death? Highlow with its gentry and aristocratic connections was a location with cachet – both of status and romance. And there was always the annual tenants’ ball at Chatsworth to attend. Family legend has it that one year, around her eighteenth birthday, my Great Grandmother opened the ball with the Duke of Devonshire.

But back to gravestones and other odd discoveries.

P1050588

In the midst of ancestor searching a week or so ago my external hard drive died. It was while I was trying to assess the extent of file loss that I came across the photo above, taken several years ago on a ramble round Derbyshire. For some reason I’d opted to go to the small hamlet of Great Hucklow, halfway along the lane between The Oaks and Bradwell. I’d  simply wanted to get the gist of the village where I knew Fox family members had been lead prospecting in the early 18th century.

When we got there it was all surprisingly rural and, in search of something particular to explore, we’d ending up pottering around the redundant Methodist Chapel’s tiny burial ground, and that’s when I found this prominently placed stone, thought the addition of the Oaks address noteworthy as I also knew the Callow Foxes had farmed there in the 17th century, and so taken the stone’s photo. It is thus rather strange to now find I’d had passing ‘communion’ with the remains of an actual ancestor, though why he and Hannah chose to be buried there is a mystery. Until that point, as far as I have discovered, all family rites had taken place in Church of England parish churches; but now here was a non-conformist element (much in favour in mining communities). And what was Hannah’s connection with Great Hucklow. Had she died while visiting relatives there and her burial become a matter of some urgency?

Then I discovered Robert Jackson had left a will, which for the small sum of £1.50 could be ordered on line from the Government will and probate office. Often old wills are short on specifics, especially if there is a surviving wife. This one, though, threw up more surprising aspects, not least several bequests involving the former hatter’s ‘lead mines and shares in lead mines’. In other words he was leaving the rights, rents and income from a series of lead seams or rakes, along with barns and cow houses, in various named fields in Great Hucklow.

The beneficiaries apart from Mary and John, were ‘dear daughter Jenny Bennet’ from Robert Jackson’s first marriage, and ‘dear granddaughter Mary Ann Bennet,’ whose own mother, Hannah, Jackson’s eldest daughter from the first marriage, had died soon after giving birth. Jenny Bennett, as it turns out, was both Mary Ann’s aunt and her step-mother, having married her dead sister’s husband, Richard Bennett, lead miner of Bradwell, a year after Hannah’s death.

Phew! What a rigmarole. But presumably it was Jackson family proximity in Highlow that provided the opportunity for Gt Gt Grandmother Mary Ann Bennett to meet George Brayley Fox. She was only 22 when she married him at Hope in 1860, and he was pushing 40. Not only that, an elderly widowed Robert Fox was still head of the Fox family at Callow. He had lost his own Mary Ann back in 1845, she the locally named ‘London Lady’ of unknown origins whom he had wed by marriage bond at Southwell Minster, Nottingham in 1812.

P1080338

At the time of the 1861 Callow census Robert Fox is 83. It is perhaps telling that the newly married George and Mary Ann are recorded as ‘domestic servants’ (shades of Wuthering Heights?) Mary Ann is probably about to produce her first child, and it seems more than likely that step-mother Jenny Bennett and daughter Harriet, who are named as visitors, are at Callow for this very good reason. When the first son arrives he is christened Robert Jackson Fox, so honouring both grandfathers.

And finally a Great War connection…

There’s surprising historical postscript to the Smalldale-Bradwell hatting business. It’s what I meant by those unexpected lenses through which we glimpse small and telling historical details. The trade in Bradda Beavers struggled on in the late 19th century. Only one Derbyshire company survived into the twentieth century. But then came 1914 and the horror of trench warfare and the pressing need for soldiers’ helmets. The earliest ones were made in the nearby steel-making city of Sheffield. I came across this account from Julie Bunting in The Peak Advertiser 14 Aug 1995:

Long after hat making ended in the Peak, the design of the old Bradda Beaver was resurrected in a manner which deserves wider recognition. It came about in the early days of the First World War when British soldiers at the front were in desperate need of suitable helmets. Research centred on the steel making city of Sheffield, where in 1915 Walter Sissons, of W. G. Sissons & Company, silversmiths, suggested a pattern to the Munitions Committee. The die for the prototype was made from a plaster cast of an old Bradda hat, taken by Walter Sissons junior, who lived in Bradwell. The pattern met with instant approval and the Trench Warfare Department placed an initial order for one million helmets at 4s 6d each.

Of course establishing a die for the first Sheffield production was only the start. The Tommy’s ‘tin hat’, also known as the Brodie helmet, underwent several modifications through the course of the war.

Alfreton War Memorial 1

Photo:  Sleeping Gardens: War Memorial ~ Alfreton, Derbyshire

 

BradwellLeadMiners

And here are a few examples of Braddas as worn by some of the older members of the Bradwell Rake Head miners in the 1860s. (Photo: Bradwell Ancient and Modern 1912 by Seth Evans.)

Rights to mine for minerals in Derbyshire were held by the ruling monarch, a prerogative commonly known as the ‘King’s Fields’. These rights were mediated and overseen via rulings from the Barmasters and jurors of the Barmote Courts set up from 1288 at a number of locations across the lead field. I think it would be fair to say that lead miners did not care to answer to too many other people. There is still a surviving courthouse or Moot Hall in Wirksworth. Meetings are still held there. One way or another, besides the miners and their monarch, all social strata had some involvement in the lead trade during the heyday from the 17th to the early 19th centuries – dukes, gentry, parish priests, merchants, blacksmiths, joiners, lawyers, shopkeepers, candle makers, publicans, farmers…and yes…hatters.

Wirksworth Barmote Court 1814

copyright 2021 Tish Farrell

Related posts:

So what did Great Great Grandfather George Brayley Fox keep in his barns in 1892?

Lost down the time-travelling rabbit hole with Great Great Aunt Sophia

 

Historical sources: census returns for Hathersage, Highlow, Eyam, Bradwell; records of Hope and Eyam Parish Churches; Robert Jackson’s will; Seth Evans Bradwell Ancient and Modern 1812

Kindred Probability ~ Robert Jackson Fox 1861-1931

Robert Fox, Foolow (almost certainly) c1930sq

Anyone who toiled through the previous post on my ancestral aunt, Sophia Fox, she who never once told the truth about her age, probably wondered if there was a photo of her. Sad to say, until the other day, there was only one surviving photo of a  Callow-born Fox, my Great Grandmother, Mary Ann, whose misty image I’ve posted on this blog several times.

But then I found today’s photo. It was among a deceased aunt’s papers, a batch of photos that had in turn been sent to her on the death of her uncle, Tom Shorrocks. Aunt Miriam was responsible for starting me off on the Callow Fox hunt. She had tried to make sense of Tom Shorrocks’ photos for me, but had misidentified the location of his holiday snaps, thinking it was Cheshire when it was in fact Foolow, near Eyam in Derbyshire. I recognised the distinctive stone cross in the middle of the village green in one of the shots. And the one person Tom Shorrocks would surely be visiting on a trip from Manchester was his mother’s older brother, Robert Fox, erstwhile farmer, teller of family tales and boxing enthusiast. Robert would be around 70 in the photo, not long before he died in 1931.

Almost certainly Gt gt Uncle Robert Jackson Fox, wife Edith, and nephew Tom Shorrocks, Foolow before 1931

Edith, his wife, who looks none too happy in the photos, was the daughter of a wealthy Farnworth coal merchant. She and Robert started married life as tenant farmers at Shepherd’s Flat, Foolow, a remote spot with sad associations with the 1665 Plague of Eyam.

Shepherd's Flat

Like many Derbyshire farmers, I dare say they fell foul of falling farm prices at the end of the nineteenth century, for they appear to have spent much of their life in a cottage in Foolow village. Anyway it seems it was around the time of the family photo that great great uncle Robert struck up an acquaintance with GHB Ward, founder of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers and ardent campaigner for the restoration of footpaths across vast expanses of moorland whose centuries old common access and usage had been appropriated and restricted by the shooting classes. Ward also published the Clarion Ramblers’ Handbook, and in the 1930-31 edition there is an account of his chats with Robert Fox ‘The Story of Fox House Inn and Callow Farm’.

It’s all rather bitty and mostly anecdotal, but there is some documentary evidence provided by Ward’s own researches, and it’s anyway strangely wonderful to come upon family yarns, hitherto unknown, in a published source. This also includes a fairly recently re-published version included in an anthology of Ward’s best Clarion pieces.*

The Fox men had quite a reputation down the generations, known locally as The Fighting Foxes. There was Robert Fox’s grandfather, Robert, he who married the mysterious ‘London Lady’ in 1812, known as Bobbling Bob and famous for going fifteen rounds with some champion pugilist and winning the day despite a shoulder injury. The fight was at the Bell Inn, Hathersage, a hostelry that hosted these illegal contests. The local gentry were passionate supporters, laying bets of eye-wateringly huge sums on their fighting favourites.

Bobbling Bob’s son William, Sophia Fox’s younger brother, was another ‘bruiser’. The tale goes that he walked over 20 miles to Hayfield to take on a ‘fighting man’ who was ‘kept’ at a certain inn as a customer attraction. This bellicose individual was known to thrash all and any comers who dared to sit in his favourite chair. And yes, you’ve guessed it, Bill Fox went and sat in the very chair, ignoring warnings from landlord, and waited till  the fighting man put in an appearance and challenged him. And much to everyone’s surprise Bill won the day, and for several days afterwards stayed on at the inn as the ‘pride of the place’, and doubtless putting away a good quantity of Derbyshire ale, a habit for which he was also famous.

Robert Jackson Fox had more legitimate dealings with the boxing ring, though in the Sheffield Telegraph’s 1899 coverage of an upcoming contest between the city’s best fighter, George Corfield and London champion George Slark, there is some talk of side betting. It transpires great great uncle Robert had charge of George Corfield out at Shepherd’s Flat, ensuring the fighter put on some weight. He was in charge of providing the following, and doubtless Edith was preparing it.

On rising Corfield was given a cup of tea with a new-laid egg beaten in it. After this he walked for an hour before returning to the farm for a breakfast of mutton chops, toast and tea with a drop of whiskey. Next: more walking and light exercise, followed at 1 p.m. by a lunch of mutton or beef, fowl or rabbit, a few vegetables, pudding and a glass of Robert Fox’s home-brewed ale. After this, a rest, then ball-punching until tea-time which comprised another fresh egg, toast, celery and more tea laced with Scotch.

The whole rigmarole is described in a long article by a sports writer who, as the fight day looms, goes out to Foolow to see for himself how the training is faring. When he and four others in his party invite themselves to tea at Shepherd’s Flat, Robert Fox is quoted as saying that he can’t give them chops as the previous week he had to kill a sheep for George and there’s only enough left for him. He also told them that some of the hens were on strike but he could find a few eggs. And so these were served up with buttered toast and tea diluted with ‘most delicious Derbyshire cream’. And the final press opinion on Corfield’s form was that they had never seen him looking better. I’m only sorry I can’t find out if Robert Fox’s mutton, eggs and ale helped to win the match. (Or indeed make some money in those side bets).

KindaSquare #16

* David Sissons The Best of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers’ Handbooks ‘Ward’s Piece’