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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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’