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’

Lost Down The Time-Travelling Rabbit Hole With Great Great Aunt Sophia

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A few weeks ago Su Leslie at Zimmerbitch and I made a bit of a pact to rid ourselves of excess paper files. Those of you who have followed her family history blog, Shaking The Tree,  will know, that on top of other talents, she is a genealogical super sleuth.  And I suppose this was in my mind when I said I’d make a start by pruning my own family history archive –  reduce copies (as in multiple) of documentary evidence, masses of scribbled notes and dead-end enquiries, and render them down to understandable brief storylines.

It seemed like a good idea.

Except it wasn’t.

First I should say that, due to the virus, our library service has given us Shropshire folk free access to two family history sites. I had forgotten this until suddenly, here was the chance to check a few things. And so the inevitable happened: the intention to junk became an impulse to add. I began musing about Great Great Aunt Sophia, born 1814 at Callow Farm in Hathersage, Derbyshire, the second daughter of Robert Fox, farmer and (illegal) pugilist, and Mary Ann Williamson, of origins unknown, though apparently born (not in Derbyshire) around 1788, and locally referred to as ‘the London Lady’. They married by bond at Southwell Cathedral, Nottingham in 1812, Robert Fox pledging £200 that there were no impediments to their union; his fellow bondsman one Benjamin Torr, button manufacturer from Hathersage.

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Sophia had plenty of her own mysteries. One is how in the 1880s she came to be living at the remote Scraper Low Farm (header photo) with her second husband, William Lister, a retired Sheffield silver stamper (Sheffield, West Yorkshire, long being a centre for the manufacture of silver goods and only a few miles over the Yorkshire-Derbyshire border from Scraper Low and Hathersage).

The other is why on every official document – whenever she was given the chance, she lied about her age. Even in her seventies she knocked off seven years for the benefit of the 1891 census enumerator. Yet this was nothing compared to the de-aging coup she effected on her marriage to Mr. Lister in 1881. They were both widowers in their late sixties, but the marriage licence they both signed has her down as 52 – fifteen years disappeared. Just like that. Well!

And in case you think this might have been a clerical error, or researcher misreading, she repeated the trick that same year. The 1881 census entry for the Listers ‘living behind’ 36, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, clearly states that Sophia Lister, born at Callow, was 52 while her new husband was 68.

And so I’m thinking if she could get away with that, either Mr. Lister was a touch myopic, which perhaps might be the case after decades in silver working. Or: she must have been blessed with very resilient skin. And indeed, the tale that talks of her mother ‘The London Lady’ does make a point of mentioning the refined features that Mary Ann Williamson, the supposedly well-born wife of a fist-fighting farmer, passed on to her offspring. Which of course only adds to the mystery. My further thought is that a fine complexion is not necessarily an asset to the daughters of a Derbyshire High Peak farmer. Conditions can be pretty bleak up there. I am guessing that Mary Ann may have discovered this to her cost. She herself died at 57 – of ‘general dropsy’. Seven children survived her, and their ‘fighting Fox’ father lived to be 84.

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Sophia had three sisters and three brothers. They were born between 1813 and 1829, and all lived into late middle age and older, apart from the last born, Robert, who died in his thirties. The girls, I know, were literate, since they sign their own names in practised hands on official documents. The three eldest certainly worked for a living, each one in the households of wealthy industrialists or merchants.

In 1851 Louisa, the third born, was cook in the grand London home of a Jamaica merchant and later went on to be housekeeper (a job that required much financial and people management) in even grander surroundings – the country and town homes of Robert Williams MP: Bridehead House in Dorset and Brunswick Terrace, Hove. All of which suggests to me that Mary Ann Williamson Fox, ‘the London Lady’ had trained her daughters well, and/or had some useful connections, and/or acted in the knowledge that they would need to earn their own living far away from farm life?

Louisa never married. She died of bronchitis in her 60s. The eldest sister, Mary Ann, was 29 when she married John Andrew, a carrier by trade, twenty years her senior. They married in Glossop, Derbyshire, a busily industrializing mill town between Sheffield and Manchester. According to the 1841 census Mary Ann had been working there, in the household of the Bennett family – cotton spinners and paper manufacturers. Sophia was at Callow in 1841, but ten years later she was in Stalybridge, Cheshire, in one of the brand new mansions of the Harrison cotton master dynasty. Here she took the opportunity to lose seven years.

Sophia Fox West Hill House

The next time she surfaces in the records it is 1857. She is 43, a spinster, the banns are being read in Glossop and she is marrying Derbyshire bachelor farmer, John Brocklehurst, 44. He signs the register with a cross. The farm, 37 acres, was worked by John on the death of his father John Brocklehurst. His widowed mother and two quarrymen brothers were also living there in 1851, though none of them were there by 1861. The farm, known only as Eastmeats, seems remote, near Chinley, on the edge of Glossop parish near Chapel-en-le-Frith. One wonders how Sophia even met the man. After her position at West Hill, it seems she had moved to Dunham, Chester (work place unknown) but this is the address on the banns and marriage licence.

But then comes another odd thing. In the next two censuses (1861 and 1871)  John Brocklehurst states he is married, and on both occasions while there is an entry for the dairy maid and household servant, Eleanor Jones from Anglesey, there is no sign or mention of Sophia Brocklehurst – either at Eastmeats or anywhere!

John Brocklehurst is dead by 1880, and the following year Sophia is marrying widower, William Lister, both then living at Norfolk Street, Sheffield, a busy cutlery making and electro-plating district. In different censuses William is either at 20 Norfolk Street or ‘behind 36 Norfolk Street.’ Number 36 was the Sheffield Club, custom-constructed in 1862 as a dining club for local businessmen, and paid for by its members – steel manufacturers, silver-platers, cutlers and solicitors. It is hard to work out from various censuses, but it seems the Club was built against a row of existing small properties, and the enumerator uses the Club as a means of pinpointing their location. The 1871 census has several households, including William and his first wife Ann Hawke, listed under the single page heading ‘Norfolk Street Club’. But in another (as will be seen) critical record of 1876, the Listers’ address is recorded as 20 Norfolk Street.

Sophia Fox Sheffield Club

The Sheffield Club, 36, Norfolk Street, copyright Sheffield City Council

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And so to Scraper Low. I know the Listers’ move to this remote small farm on the high moors above Hathersage happened after the 1881 census. The Barton family were still farming it in that year. But move there they did, because this is where William Lister died in 1889. However you look at it, the Listers would have both been around seventy years of age by the time they took up farming. Even if they were in a position to employ a farm hard, it still seems a surprising decision.

Here is the farm again, this time in its isolated setting, Stanage Edge behind to the right:

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And the easterly view from the farm: Over Owler Tor and Millstone Edge:

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To the north and east: Hathersage Moor and Higger Tor:

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I haven’t been able to find out much about the actual building, though it is listed and said to be an early 19th century remodelling of an 18th century range. Much of the moorland in the High Peak was grouse shooting ground owned from the early 19th century either by the Duke of Rutland and/or Devonshire, so I’m assuming the farm belonged to one or other major landowner, and was tenanted. That said, the early 19th century castellated makeover is bizarre. So another thought: perhaps it was done up to serve for a time as an aristocratic shooting-cum-hunting lodge?

The Barton family, who preceded the Listers, can’t have been at Scraper Low for long because they followed on George Grayson, who was only selling up in 1880. The auctioneer’s notice from the local paper that year gives a nice glimpse of the kind of farm it was:

IMG_0143 1880 auction

But what on earth were Sophia and William Lister thinking when they moved there: some dream of ending their days in a ruggedly remote fastness away from city living? William appears to have spent his entire working life in Sheffield’s silver trade, so perhaps he wanted a complete change (?) Also the marriage record does say that his father, George Lister, was a farmer in the Yorkshire village of Laughton en le Morthen where William was born. Obviously Sophia would have had some farming know-how, growing up at Callow. And then there were her twenty-three-year marriage to farmer John Brocklehurst.

Or was there?

A twist in the tale: four weddings, two funerals, one marriage duplicated, and two cases of bigamy?

Back to those 1861 and 1871  census returns for the Brocklehurst farm and that nagging query: where was Sophia?

Last week this thought had me finally tracking down John Brocklehurst’s will. And what a discovery that has turned out to be. Suddenly I seem to have evidence not only for one bigamous marriage but two. And if this weren’t surprise enough, I now have proof that Sophia married William Lister TWICE, first in 1876 as Sophia Fox (when she was still married to Brocklehurst) and then as Sophia Brocklehurst in 1881, and on both occasions sharing William’s address at Norfolk Street.

Meanwhile back at Eastmeats, John Brocklehurst’s will, drawn up in 1878 when he is around 65 years old, leaves all his possessions to widow Eliza Mottram, sole executrix. There is no mention of his wife Sophia in the will:

I give devise and bequeath unto Eliza Mottram the widow of William Mottram of Chinley aforesaid farmer and who now resides with me all my real and personal effects…

Please note the particular wording of this document.

Eliza, a Glossop lass, was 40 years old when the will was written. She had married William Mottram, a widower, in 1872. Mottram was one of  John Brocklehurst’s Chinley neighbours, a farmer and quarryman, and had presumably died at least by 1878. I haven’t found a death record for him yet, but in 1881  Eliza ‘his widow’ inherits John Brocklehurst’s ‘less than one hundred pounds’. Two years on she marries William Potts who works at a Glossop calico printing works.

BUT that’s not all. Then I found there was a marriage record for Eliza Mottram and John Brocklehurst. They married in 1875 at which time Brocklehurst claimed to be a widower. So now the odd wording of the will makes more sense. Wills doubtless still had sacred connotations for those making them. They were not the place for lies and wrong doing. So: Eliza is sole beneficiary and executrix but is nowhere called his wife. She is specifically William Mottram’s widow ‘who now resides with me.’

What on earth is going on here?

Some new-found circumstantial evidence?

So it seems that Sophia Brocklehurst was ‘a bolter’, and John Brocklehurst a bigamist. There is no knowing when she left the farm, but the 1876 marriage licence certainly proves that she did, and that she had reverted to her maiden name and unmarried status. She is not at the farm on census days in 1861 and 1871 and John Brocklehurst married Eliza Mottram in 1875 claiming he was a widower. Yet both of Sophia’s marriage licences prove she was still living. And the second licence states:  Sophia Brocklehurst, daughter of Robert Fox, farmer of Callow marries William Lister, so there is no doubting that Sophia Fox 1876 and Sophia Brocklehurst 1881 are the same person .

So where has she been for twenty years?

I thought we were in brick-wall territory. Over the years I had trawled the censuses several times, and so had my fellow Fox family hunters. Then a chance find of a strangely transcribed 1861 entry on the free census site suddenly seemed to fit. Brookbottom, Mossley,  a mill village among the many mill villages between Saddleworth Moor and the Pennines (Sheffield to the east and Manchester to the west). There was an entry for Baguley Hill for one Sophia Fox, but on the original form it looks like ‘Fix’ and that’s how it had been transcribed. The birthplace said ‘Adersige’, Derbyshire.

Adersige? No such place, but hang on, say this out loud and you could have the phonetic spelling of a dialect pronunciation of Hathersage? The age given is 37 (9 years younger than Sophia actually was, but it still could be her given her age-altering antics – and I’m not done with those yet).

This Sophia Fox was keeping house for Giles Andrew Senior (retired master cotton spinner and mill owner) and Giles Andrew Junior who had taken over the family business. It may be simply a coincidence, but Andrew is Sophia’s eldest sister’s married name. I can’t find out much about her husband, John Andrew, carrier and later farmer, except that he also hails from traditional weaving territory in Greater Manchester’s Hollinwood, not far away from Brookbottom in Mossley. Perhaps the Brookbottom Andrews were relatives; perhaps John Andrew knew them through his carrier business and could recommend a sister-in-law who needed employment. Perhaps Sophia had good references from her cotton master employers in Stalybridge, also not very far away.

Mossley Martin Clark creative commons

Photo: Martin Clark public domain; Mossley where three counties meet: Cheshire, Lancashire and West Riding of Yorkshire, between the Pennines and Saddleworth Moor

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Sophia map best

Sophia’s wanderings: Hathersage and Scraper Low first dot left of Sheffield (bottom right corner); Bradwell where she ended her days next dot left from Hathersage; third dot left of Sheffield is Chinley where John Brocklehurst farmed; Glossop where they married due north of Chinley; Stalybridge, Mossley, Manchester across the moors northwest of Glossop.

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Once I’d decided that Sophia could have reverted to her Fox maiden name and unmarried status, I began to search the records in places where she might be in 1871. Her employer, Giles Andrew senior died in 1863, and in 1871 Giles Andrew junior was no longer at the place where she kept house on Baguley Hill. The only likely record (of two possibilities) to emerge from this next trawl was in Manchester. There I found a Sophia Fox, unmarried, 48, and staying in a Buxton Road lodging house. She says she is an unemployed housekeeper from Derbyshire. Might it not be her?

But back to some facts: and another case of bigamy

I know for certain that by 1876 Sophia is at 20 Norfolk Street with William Lister. (The first Mrs. Lister died the year before). They marry at St. Paul’s Church, Pinstone Street, and this time Sophia knocks 11 years off her age, says she is a spinster and signs herself Sophia Fox – the signature identical to the one on her 1857 marriage to Brocklehurst. At the time of the marriage she was already living at Norfolk Street with William Lister.

Sophia signature Brocklehurst

Sophia Fox signature Lister 1876

Sophia Fox signature Lister 2nd marriage 1881

Well for goodness sake!

Not only did Sophia marry William Lister twice, she did so as ‘spinster’ Sophia Fox, daughter of Robert Fox, farmer of Callow while she was still married to John Brocklehurst. And then after he died and his small estate was settled on Eliza Mottram, Sophia must have wanted to put things right, and so re-married William as Sophia Brocklehurst widow, daughter of Robert Fox farmer (deceased) of Callow, but this time in Sheffield Cathedral. She also took the chance to lose 4 more years since her first marriage to Lister.

You have to wonder if William Lister ever did find out how old Sophia actually was.  Also did he collude in the bigamous marriage, or did it come as a shock, and it was he who insisted on making amends? Did Sophia know about Brocklehurst’s marriage to Eliza Mottram in 1875? Had she come to some agreement with him – that they would both keep quiet, she pretending she had never married, he pretending that she had died?

William Lister died in 1889, aged 76. He seems to have left no will, but was buried with his first wife in Burngreave Cemetery in Sheffield. The 1891 census has Sophia in Water Lane, Bradwell, a lead-mining village some miles from Hathersage. She is listed as living on her ‘own means’. In 1892 in her 78th year and a matter of days before her own death of acute bronchitis, her will is drawn up. She is clearly too ill to sign it with more than ‘her mark’. She leaves everything to her two brothers, George Brayley Fox of Callow, (my great great grandfather), and his younger brother, William.

In 1893 there is an unseemly court case in Bakewell County Court. William’s wife Sarah claims she has not received some expected sum of money for expenses accrued while taking care of ‘their sister’ Sophia during her illness. The newspaper details are brief but garbled, though they do mention the selling up of Scraper Low and of William Fox having the land valued, so perhaps the Listers did own the farm (?)

In any event Sophia’s estate was valued at £99, 16 shillings and 1 penny, hardly a fortune.

The scant records of her life could suggest that Sophia Fox was capricious, vain, even criminally dishonest. But I think she was loved too. If William Lister did not know she was already married when he first married her, he surely knew the second time when he married widow, Mrs. Brocklehurst. Sister Mary Ann, and brother George both named daughters after her. And in her last days it seems she was cared for, this in a year when much was going wrong for her brother George at Callow, and indeed for all Derbyshire farmers who complained of high rents and low returns from their labours.

When I told my sister Jo of these discoveries, her first thought was that Sophia was free spirit in an age when women were still much hemmed in by convention. I like this notion, but I sense darker currents too.

Two Septembers ago when Graham and I walked up the long track to Scraper Low Farm, I again wondered why Sophia had chosen this particular place to settle. It was only when we turned away from the house to retrace our steps that I think I found the answer. At the point where the track dog-legs back towards the road, there is a magnificent view across Hathersage’s Derwent valley. I could see Callow Barns (now a holiday let) where we were staying. Callow Farmhouse itself was now hidden by trees, but I could spot the two conifers at its back gate. P1080999

I remembered too that before the hifalutin Dukes of Rutland and Devonshire took over the moors east of Scraper Low, and went in for swapping parcels of land between them, it was said that the Fox family had long had a sheep run at Longshaw just beyond Millstone Edge and extending across the moors to Higger Tor. It was said too that in their day Sophia’s great grandparents, William and Sarah Fox,  had grazed 500 sheep there and that their son George built the shepherd’s cottage that was later bought and expanded by the Duke of Rutland to use when he came to Longshaw to shoot. That property still stands, and is the well known local hostelry of Fox House Inn. Further snippets of family legend say that the George Fox who built the original cottage there sold the sheep walk to the Duke of Devonshire for £200 in around 1810.

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So perhaps after all her wanderings – a life wherein she had not achieved the kind of social status she thought she deserved – Sophia Fox of Callow had come back, at the last lap, briefly mistress of her own domain, looking out on the farm where she was born and over all the high places of her farming ancestors.

 

copyright 2020 Tish Farrell

Related:

So What Did Great Great Grandfather George Brayley Fox Keep In His Barns In 1892?

Through My Great Grandmother’s Eyes? ~ Ancestral Perspectives

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Well I like to think my great grandmother, Mary Ann Fox, might have looked through the hole in this old Derbyshire gatepost on her way from Callow Farm to Hathersage village. The post stands beside a path she would have known well until 1886 when, at the age of 23, and apparently already betrothed to the local squire,  she ran off with a city type, a Bolton spindle manufacturer, Tom Shorrocks.

The High Peak of her homeland was by no means a rural idyll, although it looks so today. Alongside stock rearing and subsistence agriculture, small landowner-tenant farmers like the Foxes had for centuries engaged in other trades. Lead and fluorspar mining were mainstays of the area. So was the making of millstones up on Stanage Edge, though not so much for wheat grinding since the local gritstone discoloured the flour, but for pulping wood and crushing the lead ore for the smelting houses. The grind-stones also served the cutlery industry in nearby Sheffield and stones for wood pulping were exported to North America and Russia.

Hathersage, then (seen distantly here through the gate post), has a busy industrial past. From Tudor times it was the centre of wire-drawing, at first for making sieves for miners, and later for pins and needles. By Mary Ann’s day there were 5 such mills there, all powered by steam, their chimneys gushing out fumes that would have hung over the Derwent Valley. By then, too, the railway had arrived, the line from Manchester to Sheffield passing through land once owned by her grandfather. So, as I say, this was no rural idyll, but a community of industry and enterprise of the sort that had characterized High Peak farming families for generations. Growing and stock rearing might put food on the table, but farming did not bring the kind of prosperity that a rich seam of lead could be expected to yield.

But I do wonder if Mary Ann was not shocked to find herself in the little terraced villa on Kildare Street in Farnworth, (part of Greater Manchester), there in a maze of town streets, far from the far-reaching uplands she would have seen every day from Callow Farm. Did she miss these views? She certainly told my grandmother about crossing the River Derwent stepping stones on her way into Hathersage. And she told how she never forgave her father for taking away her pony, this because she would not desist from jumping the 5-bar gate at the end of the lane. He feared for her life. She mourned only her pony’s loss, back-broken by the overweight farmer who had bought it from her father.

Perhaps she had good reason to leave. Perhaps the squire of Abney was not to her taste. Perhaps city life was more exciting. From my perspective it is too easy to be overly sentimental about the loss of this landscape; one that I find so beguiling. It wasn’t really like this in great grandmother’s day. As L.P. Hartley says in the opening of his novel The Go-Between:  “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”

Square Perspectives #7

To Chatsworth And How Mary Ann Went To The Ball

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So here we have a fine contrast between the Fox family’s tenanted property at Callow Farm, a few miles uphill and upstream in the Derwent valley, and the landlordly premises that ate up farm rents and lead mining royalties and employed armies of local craftsmen and servants.

This, then, is Chatsworth House, the place called home by the Cavendish family, otherwise known as the Dukes of Devonshire. It is one of England’s most imposing stately piles, these days run by the Cavendish family as a charitable trust, and caught here so flatteringly in the October sun. The setting alone is magnificent.

And so how does it come to be here. Whose money built it?

The answer is somewhat convoluted – successive generations of royal patronage is part of it. But so too is Henry VIII’s desire for a male heir and his subsequent break from the Catholic Church, one result of which was the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

If you have ever wondered what happened to the amassed wealth of some 900 monastic estates during Henry’s big 1530s campaign to liquidate holy assets and usurp papal domination, then Chatsworth is one place to look. William Cavendish, courtier and royal employee was a man with a good head for figures and a strong survival instinct, though he did slip up badly in the end.

For a time he held a post in the  Exchequer. In 1530 he was also one of Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners who visited the monasteries to audit their wherewithal and demand its surrender to the Crown. This included the lead off the roofs, which would have been worth a fortune by itself, and its stripping key to the physical dissolving of monastic edifices, which disintegration happened pretty soon after the weather got in.

It is said William took unfair advantage of this appointment. On top of this he was officially rewarded by the king with a knighthood and estates in Hertfordshire. He continued to enjoy royal favour even as his former boss, Cromwell, fell from grace (and was beheaded). Cavendish was despatched to Ireland to repeat the property assessing exercise. When Henry died he remained in the young Edward VI’s court and was granted still more monastic land. He even managed to hang on when Mary Tudor succeeded (he having paved the way by sending the Lady Mary tokens of loyalty before her accession). When she returned the nation to the Catholic Church he conformed and so gained a post as her Treasurer of the Chamber (1546-1553). It was here he rather over-reached himself. In late 1557 when the auditors arrived in Westminster to discover what he had been doing while in office all those years, they found the accounts in a shambles. Sir William was accused of embezzlement. He then died pretty much at once thereby avoiding further unseemly exposure, but begging for clemency for himself and his family.

It was during his years of service to Mary Tudor that he married for the third time – a rich young Derbyshire widow, Elizabeth Barley. She would later become [in]famously known as four times married ‘Bess of Hardwick’. She wanted to live in her native Derbyshire and so Sir William sold up all his monastic acquisitions and in 1549 bought the then lowly manor of Chatsworth for £600. Thus began the massive building of the first Cavendish family seat, which was only completed by Elizabeth after Sir William’s death. She would later go on to build the even more astonishing Hardwick Hall. She also the founder of the Cavendish Chatsworth dynasty, bearing 8 children during her marriage to Sir William.

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Thereafter the heirs sought and bought titles, including the Earldom of Devonshire, and it was the 4th Earl who gained a further step up by being rewarded with the dukedom (1694) – this for his part in bringing Protestant William and Mary to the English throne. It was also  the 1st Duke who went in for some massive rebuilding, including most of what we see today. He began by adding more family rooms and the extravagant State Apartment for receiving the new monarchs. Once started, however, no frontage could be left untouched. He also had the formal gardens laid out on a jaw-dropping scale. This included the famous Cascade, though he lived to enjoy its creation for only four years after its completion in 1703.

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The 4th Duke (1720-64) decided the house should have westerly approach, which meant demolishing the 1st Duke’s stables since they interfered with the view. He also relocated the village of Edensor where his staff and tenants lived, so it too did not spoil the view. Architect James Paine was commissioned to build the new stables we see today plus a new bridge upstream of the house.

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And Capability Brown was engaged to make the now enclosed park look more ‘natural’. In the meantime the Duke found a vastly rich heiress to marry and acquired  even more property and family titles.

The 5th Duke was famous for marrying celebrated beauty and socialite, Lady Georgiana Spencer. They lived in London but had lots of jolly house parties at Chatsworth. They also lived happily in a menage a trois with Georgiana’s best friend Lady Elizabeth Foster. The 6th Duke never married, but nearly bankrupted the estate with all his ‘improvements’. These included funding plant expeditions around the globe and having his head gardener Joseph Paxton construct the Emperor Fountain (85 metre/280 feet of jet). The fountain meant draining the upland moor into an 8-acre man-made reservoir on the high ground above the house.

On the day we visited the jet was on short measures due to the high wind.

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The 7th Duke (1808-1891) was apparently a sober successor to the Batchelor Duke, a sad widower who lost his wife when she was only in her twenties. For thirty years he maintained strict economies in the running of the estate. Our family legend has it that my great grandmother Mary Ann opened the tenants’ ball with him one year, she as the eldest daughter of the oldest tenant family on the estate. He is said to have remarked to her on her family’s long presence in the locality, far longer than his own, he said. He would have been quite elderly at the time, and Mary Ann perhaps in her late teens or very early twenties. The blue silk covered  buttons from the dress she wore were apparently kept down the generations, and still in my grandmother’s sewing basket when my mother inherited it. I’m not sure if I have a real memory of seeing them or not. Anyway, it was not long after this that Mary Ann ran off with the Bolton spindle manufacturer, and had her more usual  bright print country dresses scoffed at by the dark clad women of Farnsworth.

When we went around the house we had hoped to see the ballroom, but when Graham asked the attendant she said it was in the family’s private quarters and had been turned into a theatre. And as for the interior rooms we did see, and the severe outbreak of aggravation they induced in me, they and it will have to wait till the next post. For now, here’s the Emperor Fountain making a rainbow, which we very much enjoyed.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

 

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Places People Visit

So What Did Great Great Grandfather George Brayley Fox Keep In His Barns In 1892?

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Here we were then staying in the ancestral Callow barns and in the greatest comfort, each day looking out on the fields farmed by four generations of our Fox family, and wondering what it must have been like to have lived a life in these remote uplands above the Hope Valley, to have worked this land in all weathers.

The name Callow perhaps says it all – deemed to mean cold or bare hill in Old English. A hard life then, and especially for the women who mostly died in their forties and fifties after giving birth over and over. By contrast the Fox men tended to be long lived 2x, 4x and 5x-great-grandfathers all lasted into their eighties, and George Brayley’s grandfather, George, was 93 when he died. Tough old birds the lot of them, and some of them prone to a bit of competitive fist fighting, a pursuit that was illegal but much favoured and therefore well supported by the gentry.

In the last post I said that many of Derbyshire’s yeomen farmers were also much involved in lead mining and processing. This dangerous trade could make your fortune or kill you. The Barmote Court that regulated the industry’s practices was an ancient institution going back to 1288 when 115 square miles of Derbyshire’s High and Low Peak was established as the King’s Field, a free mining area. Surprisingly the construct pertains today, the last surviving Barmote Court still meeting at Wirksworth once a year.

According to Peak District Online the rules of the King’s Field were as follows:

Anybody was allowed to set up as a miner and work by very liberal rules permitting them to search for lead ore anywhere but in churchyards, gardens, orchards and highways. The miners had right of access, water and space to mine and dump their waste without regard. They did however have to pay a royalty on all ore mined, of one thirteenth to the Crown( known as a lot ) and one tenth or tithe to the Church.
The Barmote Court was established to deal with disputes and claims arising from lead mining and to collect the royalties due.

In other words, the lead miners were likely to be tough, free-booting individuals and, although answerable to the Barmote Court in the staking and working of their claims, their pursuit of lead gave them the chance to break free from feudal obligations as tenant farmers and manorial employees.  One 16th century yeoman, Arthur Mower, also bailiff to the Lord of the Manor of Barlow, became so rich from lead mining and exporting he soon outclassed his lordship in terms of wealth and property. Not so the Foxes, at least not the Callow clan. But then George Brayley Fox did have quarry tools in his barn. And many more things besides.

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The 1891 census shows that George is seventy years old and  a widower. He is living at Callow with his son George (22 years) and daughter Louisa (25 years). His 9 year old step-grandchild from Farnworth, Bolton in Manchester is also staying there at the time of the census, and this may be a clue as to the real reason why George B had announced his intention to sell up by the following year.

Giving up the tenancy of the farm where he was born must have been a wrench. It was certainly newsworthy, and reports of the Fox family finally leaving Callow were published in regional newspapers as far away as Leeds. The reports made much of the family’s connection with Callow’s environs since Norman Conquest days, a claim that was part of the Fox family narrative, much repeated down the generations, but so far lacking verifiable substance. The report below also says that the reason for selling up was due to the high rent, which was very much a common complaint of Derbyshire farmers at this time. But I still wonder if this was the chief reason, or the one meant for public consumption.

Derbyshire Courier 25 March 1893

Derbyshire Courier 25 March 1893

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So back to facts.

On Saturday 29 October 1892 the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent newspaper listed items in the upcoming Callow Farm sale. It is a vivid snapshot of life on the farm, and the picture it gives is of a well-managed enterprise using up-to-date technology, not of a farm that is failing. Much of the equipment is stated to be new, and the livestock of good quality.

First there are the horses – a black mare in foal, and an ‘excellent worker’; a valuable six-year old brown horse with ‘splendid action’; a roan foal by Bedford. There are 23 cows including 5 strong bullocks, a cow in calf for 25th December, and 4 cows due to calf in April. Then there are ‘11 superior stock ewes, 6 fat sheep, one two-shear ram, 12 strong lambs’. Finally in the farmyard there are ‘two fine ducks and one fine drake’.

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And now for the barn contents.

These included some pretty high-tech (not to say cutting edge) gear of the day, including a nearly new Samuelson 2-horse combined mower-reaper complete with spare shafts. This was the sort of pioneering equipment that was shown off at national trade exhibitions of the day, produced by the Britannia Works, Banbury.

Samuelson mower reaper

There was also a plough, several sets of harrows, a stone roller, a horse turnip hoe, 2 horse carts, a winnowing machine, a joiner’s bench and tools.

Then there are clues as to what the farm was producing. There is a stone cheese press, rack and boards (nearly new), five stacks of white oats, three stacks of wheat, two brewing tubs, a quantity of eating turnips – all of which reflect the standard staple diet of Derbyshire farming folk. For the animals there was one stack of ‘prime new hay’ and two stacks of black oats – probably horse fare.

The whole lot up for auction at 12 noon on the 3rd November 1892.

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And the reason for the sale – well my big guess is that it has much more to do with his eldest daughter, my Great Grandmother, Mary Ann Williamson Fox. According to my aunt she was engaged to the Squire of Abney (just over the hill from Callow), but at the age of 22  she ran off and married a young widower, a shuttle and flyer manufacturer from Farnworth, Bolton. And not very long after that, it was all downhill for the last generation of Callow Foxes. But that story will have to wait for another time.

Mary Ann Fox

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Portrait Of My Aunt

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Miriam Wilkinson nee Hickling:  21st February 1914 – 17th March 2003

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There was only one thing my aunt loved more than her Devon garden, and that was the Derbyshire Peak District – the lanes round Bradwell, Ashford and Hathersage, the byways of Fox and Bennett family forebears. To a child brought up in the suburbs of Manchester, the Peak District of spring and summer holidays seemed like heaven.

For most of her married life, Miriam was a nomad – living in 42 different rented flats. Each one she tried to make home, and always with much flair and limited funds, as she followed her engineer husband from one telephone exchange to another, whenever and wherever he was dispatched to oversee the upgrade of Britain’s telecommunications. They had married at the start of World War 2, and the header photo probably dates from around this time. After a makeshift marriage whither my grandmother had arrived wearing only her shopping clothes since she looked down on the whole affair, Miriam had been left married, but stranded with her unsympathetic parents while my uncle was posted off to West Africa.

Looking back, he must have been helping to provide British navel and military intelligence with radio surveillance capability since he had no service rank as far as I know. He apparently lived in some style out in Africa. But it was all change a year later when he was posted to Coventry during the Blitz, presumably to work on restoring bombed out telephone connections. And this is where married life actually began, in a dismal rent room smelling of boiled cabbage and with Luftwaffe bombs raining down.

My uncle did not cope well with either the bombing or the war-time privations. Miriam had to keep him together on all fronts, while she went to work in a munitions factory. I cannot imagine what it was really like for her. She had lived a life of quiet and modest gentility, though always within the orbit of rich relatives. She had endured her mother’s spirit-crushing jibes while doting on a father who, in her hearing, had once described her to a family friend as ‘a dud’. Neither her mother or father had the faintest idea about parenting or how to prepare their two daughters for adult life.

My grandmother had been mostly brought up by a housemaid and a slightly dotty aunt as her own twice widowed mother drifted around in black silk dresses, taking covert sips of gin, while presiding over a Cheshire Inn. Grandfather had been abandoned by his own mother, who apparently fled merchant-class respectability and ran off to be an actress. She deposited grandfather with his dour Victorian Hickling grandparents, though returned in later life from time to time, wafting in at the family firm for a cash injection from ‘master Georgie’.

You can well see how lives of ‘quiet desperation’ get handed on from generation to generation.

Miriam had a talent for drawing and writing but even this outlet was denied. She had poor eyesight and had terrible headaches, but my grandfather would not let her have spectacles. No visible signs of imperfection would be tolerated. She told me how once, when returning from a childhood trip to Derbyshire by train, she had developed a rash on her face. Her parents being highly alarmed, took themselves off to another carriage to complete the journey to Manchester leaving Miriam alone in a state of disgrace. By the time she was fourteen she had suffered four nervous breakdowns and had to be taken out of school. Both she and my mother, who was eight years younger, were sent to small private schools. My mother was not allowed take up a place at a prestigious girls’ high school despite gaining a scholarship. My grandfather would have no ‘blue stockings’ in his family. He had some notion that providential husbands would somehow materialise: both his daughters would ‘marry well’ and thus be taken care of.

They did not and they were not. But each in their own very different ways made the best of very bad jobs, though in my mother’s case her methods of choice were destructive and damaging to others. Miriam remained stalwart, loyal to a man whose nerves were fragile, and who, in extremis, once attempted to strangle her as she slept.

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My mother, Peggy, probably sixteen years old, Miriam around the time of her marriage circa 1939. Both stepping out with so much intention.

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Miriam did not have a home of her own until the mid-1960s. It was on top of the hill in Pinhoe, near Exeter. There she made a garden that was filled with wildflower reminders of girlhood Derbyshire holidays – dame’s violets, bloody cranesbill, saxifrage, cowslips, primroses, the wild yellow pansies of the limestone uplands.  In their latter years, she and my uncle took to having an annual spring holiday in the Derbyshire Peak District. It was a source of great joy to both of them. Sometime later I took her ashes there.

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Miriam around 4 years old c 1918. The first time she met her father was when he returned from France at the end of the Great War. He had been an ambulance driver, and came home with gas-damaged lungs, which left him an invalid for the rest of his life. It left him the poorer too with years of medical bills to meet.  He said wearing a gas mask got in the way when he was trying to pick up the wounded.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Daily Prompt: constant

Traces of the Past ~ Tools Of My Grandfather’s Trade

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I hasten to say these are not my grandfather’s actual tools, but when I spotted this gardening paraphernalia in the gardeners’ bothy in the walled garden at Attingham Park yesterday,  I instantly thought of Charlie Ashford. He was head gardener at Redhurst Manor in Surrey from around 1921. I have written about him in the Tales from the Walled Garden. The links are at the end.

Attingham is one of Shropshire’s grandest stately homes, once home of the Berwick family, but now in the care of the National Trust. I did have photos of the house, taken on an earlier visit, but the computer seems to have eaten them, and yesterday the walled garden was my only objective. There has been a monumental restoration project going on there since 2008, and this was our first visit. (Always the same with places on the doorstep.)

I think this is probably the hugest walled garden I have ever seen, and I truly cannot imagine why one household would need to produce quite so much food for itself even if it did include feeding all the servants. Here is one corner:

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And yes, it was perverse to chose December for our first visit – a time when there is hardly anything growing. However, I was very taken with the climbing bean frames, just visible towards the back wall. Here’s a better view. I think they’re made from hazel whips. Ideal for sweet peas too.

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The path  around them leads to an adjoining much smaller walled garden. This is where we found the gardeners’ bothy, cold frames and glass houses, hot beds and hot walls – the kind of territory wherein my grandfather spent much of his working life:

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Charlie Ashford served his apprenticeship in an establishment as grand as Attingham. The position of head gardener was akin to the role of butler within the house. The training was long and there was a strict hierarchy of under-gardeners and garden boys. Redhurst, though, was a much less grand affair – a modest country manor by comparison. You can see it in the background in the next photo – grandfather in the dahlia and delphinium bed. IMG_0012

And here’s a glimpse of his working life from one of the talks his daughter, my Aunt Evelyn, gave to her gardening club. She was born in the gardener’s cottage at Redhurst and spent her earliest years in the garden there. I’ve posted excerpts before, but this is a longer version:

Imagine that we are standing in the holy of holies, my father’s potting shed. It was not all that large and the space was taken up with deep shelving on three sides of the shed. There was a door into the kitchen yard and another into the garden itself. On the back of one door were three large coat hooks to take the jackets that my father needed and also his green baize apron. On the other door hung his clean alpaca jacket which was worn when he went into the house, a dust coat to be used in the fruit room and his leather pruning apron with its thick, left-handed coarse leather glove sticking out of the pocket. These garments comprised his head gardener’s uniform; there was almost a ritual about putting them on for the various tasks.

My father’s own tools were hung in neat and spotless order on hooks to the left of the garden door. He insisted on clean tools and, after every task, the men had to be sure to wash, and then rub dry on old sacking any tool that had got even the slightest bit dirty. A little spot of oil was rubbed into the spades and trowels and forks until the metal shone. Wooden handles were treated with linseed oil which was thoroughly worked in. Only then could the tools be stored away. That is why probably to this day I am still using a well worn spade and fork that belonged to my father. There have been times when, if in a hurry I have hung my spade up dirty, I have gone scurrying back to give it at list ‘a lick and a promise’. I can almost hear my father saying, ‘That won’t do, miss. Dirty tools make bad workmen.’

The potting shed was filled with a wonderful mixture of smells of the sort you find in a ‘20s hardware store. Tarred string was the main one. Then there was the strange jungly smell of the raffia hanks hanging on the door. It suggested faraway places. There was bone meal, fish meal, sulphate of ammonia, Clays fertilizer, Fullers Earth, Hoof and Horn – everything to help bring in good crops – and all stored in wooden bins with brass bands and rivets and a wooden bushel or half-bushel measure on top.

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There was the annual ritual of sowing seeds for vegetables, preparing the asparagus beds, pruning and shaping the fruit trees, getting the cold frames ready, going over the tennis courts to prepare them for the summer season. There would be glass to replace in the long glass-houses or hot houses. The herbaceous beds required a lot of work in autumn: overgrown plant clumps to be carefully split and replanted, all to be mulched with well rotted manure from the stable yard, or a sweeter mixture of well rotted compost and peat for plants that did not like manure.

Wages were low, and hours were very long, but there were seldom any complaints. Early in the year one man would be set the task of planting out young tomato plants in one section of the glass house. In another section another worker might be potting up seedling chrysanthemums. And so the cycle of work went on.

Dad had his own specialist greenhouse in which he grew plants for the house. Primulas were a particular speciality but he was careful to see that whichever of his men was put to work here that he was not allergic to the plants. Primulas can secrete a substance from the leaves that causes a painful and persistent rash not unlike shingles.

The kitchen garden was walled on three sides by a wall at least eight feet high. On the south side was some rustic fencing over which climbed roses, clematis and honeysuckle – all in a tumbling profusion that looked natural, but was carefully managed throughout the year.

Much of the equipment that the men used was made on the estate. There were sturdy wooden wheelbarrows made in the wood yard behind the stables. The wheels turning at a touch with never a squeak allowed. On busy grass cutting days an extra section fitted onto the top of the largest barrows so that the men could trundle the piles of cut grass away to the ‘frame yard’ to be spread on compost heaps there. Here there was also a long low open shed in which all the mowers were kept: a hand mower for paths and border edges; a small motor mower for the terraces and the little lawn areas; a large sit-on mower for the long stretches of lawn and the rough grass places; and a huge wide mower with a heavy roller, which a horse from the home farm used to pull across the beautifully kept lawn at the front of the house.

Cucumbers were also grown in the cold frames and never cheek by jowl with tomatoes in the hot house. It was a job for two men getting the frames ready early in spring. The frames were built of brick with solid wooden supports or runners to hold the strongly built wooden lights. When I was older I could just about help my father to open or shut the frames. It was important to keep the cucumbers at just the right heat and to give them sufficient ventilation. Grown like this they always tasted succulent. This was not surprising as they were grown in a deep, deep bed of well rotted stable manure mixed with peat and compost and leaves – anything to make the mixture ‘hot’.

Thinking back on the work done in those gardens everything had its use and nothing was wasted – especially time.

At the big house, it was important that gardeners should maintain a succession of lovely flowers – all year if possible, and especially those with scents. As soon as anything special bloomed, like Winter Jasmine or Viburnum fragrans, a spray or two went into the house early in the morning for madam’s breakfast tray, or the desk in the Major’s study. This was quite a ritual. Into the house we would go, but not into kitchen because that was Cook’s domain. We go around the house and in through a side door and into the Butler’s Pantry. Here Johnny the Butler ruled supreme. When we arrived with Dad’s offering for the day, the exchange would go something like this.

“What have got today then, Charlie? Do you want two silver holders or one cut glass?”

“Oh, I think two silvers, please, Johnny. I’ve got some fine sprays of Winter Jasmine.”

Then Dad would take the delicate sprays from the shallow basket that he always used and arranged them in the vases with great artistry. Thanks for such offerings reached him without fail: “Please tell Ashford that the flowers were just what madam likes. The colours matched her dress today.”

Evelyn Ashford Gibbings

Tales from the walled garden

Tales from the walled garden ~ back to the potting shed

Tales from the walled garden ~ when Alice met Charlie

Tales from the walled garden ~ more about Alice

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Black & White Sunday ~ Traces of the Past

Looking Back: Traces Of The Past

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I took this photo on a whim, just to see how it would turn out. This old farm-field post was one of several on the footpath to the Hathersage stepping stones that cross the River Derwent just outside the town. For those of you who read my earlier Derbyshire posts, you’ll know I was on a quest to follow in my great grandmother’s footsteps, taking the path that she once took from Callow Farm and into Hathersage.

I don’t remember ever seeing stone posts like this before, and don’t know how old it is. But I think it’s safe to say that this and others were there in the late 1880s-90 when Mary Ann Fox passed by to do her shopping.

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You can read more of her story at Stepping Stones Through Time and Stronghold – The Telling Of Family Tales

There was also another idea running through my head when I took the photo – a far cry, too, from Derbyshire and my ancestors. When I saw the hole in the stone I was reminded of the 1960s young adult novel The Owl Service by Alan Garner. It is set in Wales and explores the rival affections between three teens through a parallel tale from the Welsh medieval story cycle of the Mabinogi.

It’s a great story, both the original and Garner’s use of it. Here’s a quick version of the myth.

The magician Gwydion makes a woman, Blodeuwedd, from flowers. She betrays her husband Lleu with a man called Gronw who tries to kill Lleu with a spear. He turns into an eagle and escapes. However, rough justice allows Lleu to have his turn to throw a spear at Gronw who may only use a stone for protection. Lleu throws the spear so hard, it passes straight through the stone and kills Gronw, and to punish Blodeuwedd for her part in all this, the magician Gwydion turns her into an owl.

So the first shot is my photo version – the stone of Gronw.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

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If you want to post some of your own ‘Traces of the Past’ please visit Paula at Lost in Translation

#ThursdaysSpecial

Stepping Stones Through Time

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This photo may work better as an idea than as an actuality, but this week Paula at Black & White Sunday gives us the prompt of ‘layers’, and here (for me at least) there are many layers, not only of light and shadow, surface reflections and leafy river bed, but also of present and past, the stones that my maternal ancestors may well have stepped on for nearly two centuries.

So goes the family tale anyway, the story my great grandmother, Mary Ann Fox, passed on to my grandmother, Lilian Hickling, who passed it on to her daughter, my aunt, Miriam Wilkinson, who passed it on to me. The photo, then, could be taken as a physical rendition of Chinese Whispers since, and as with all such family histories, there are bound to be distortions as word passes from generation to generation – omissions, elaborations.

But there are certainties too.

Mary Ann was born and grew up at Callow Farm on the hill above the River Derwent, just outside Hathersage in the Derbyshire Peak District. (The field path from the farm house to the stepping stones is still marked on the Ordnance Survey map). And so in later life, perhaps as a young wife and mother living in the close and gloomy streets of industrial Manchester, she conjured her old life, telling her three town-born children how, if she wanted to go to the shops she would have to cross the Callow fields and take the stepping stones over the Derwent to Hathersage.

Other scraps of tales have also reached me: my grandmother’s pronouncement to my aunt that her mother was ‘a sad woman’ (she was widowed twice: at 30 and at 41); that the waft of her black silk dress as she moved about the inn that she kept after the death of her first husband carried the scent of lily of the valley to cover the smell of gin.

My feeling is that as a young woman, Mary Ann, called Merian by her family, was headstrong and passionate, and in consequence made bad decisions. At twenty she went against family wishes and married Thomas Shorrocks, a Bolton spindle manufacturer, and widower with a young son. How she met him is still a mystery to me, although I have my grandmother’s acid remark etched in my mind: that her mother fell for the first man she saw wearing a stove-pipe hat, that she was a country girl swept off her feet by a townie. Grandmother said she scarcely knew her father, intimating that he kept away from home until they were asleep, staying on at his works or at his club. In 1893-4 his family firm went bankrupt, and he died aged 39.

Mary Ann’s first married home on Kildare Street, Bolton – a modest terraced villa with a small front garden – was a far cry from the sweeping high moors vistas around Callow. She did have a servant girl, however, to help with the children, but it is hard to imagine how she adapted to the dramatic change in circumstances. Did she try to fit in? Probably not. Grandmother related that the ever darkly clad Bolton women looked askance at Mary Ann’s bright print dresses. In my mind’s eye I see the colourful flash of free-spirited obstinacy that brought her to that place. It’s like the light flickering through the trees and onto the Derwent stepping stones.

The death of Mary Ann’s first husband coincided with her father’s decision to leave Callow Farm where his family had been tenant farmers for four generations. Derbyshire farmers were having a hard time in the early 1890s: prices for crops were low, and rents were high, and landowners unwilling to compromise on the rents. It seems likely that some of the proceeds of the farm sale of stock, crops, horses and household belongings were used to secure the licence for the inn in Hollinfare, Cheshire, where Mary Ann began a new life as innkeeper.

My aunt said the Fox family had decided that taking the inn was the best means of securing a home and living for her with three young children and an adolescent stepson. It  stood on the south bank of the great Manchester Ship Canal, which linked the vast industrial heartland of northwest England with the port of Liverpool. It was only recently opened in 1895 when she took over the inn, and doubtless the Foxes thought they had made a wise move, anticipating plenty of passing trade.

Mostly what it brought, it seems, was another marriage to another widower – one Charles Rowles, a ship’s pilot on the canal and a former sea captain. My grandmother disliked him, although she adored her young stepbrother, Giles, born a year later. She said that it was only once her mother had married, that Charles Rowles produced two teenage daughters from his first marriage, the said young women moving into the inn and thereafter trying to rule the roost. This would not have gone down well with my grandmother. If there was any ruling of roosts to be done, she was the person to do it.

For various reasons I’ve tried to discover more about the Rowles family. Scouring the census returns, I discovered that it rather looks as if Mary Ann’s younger brother, George Fox, eloped with one of his sister’s new stepdaughters. Louisa Rowles was possibly only 15 when she married George, although she claimed to be older. He owned a large pub in Manchester, but she, too, was left a young widow, and in the 1911 census is listed as a servant, working in another Manchester pub. What happened to her remains to be discovered.

As for Mary Ann, in 1905 she was widowed for the second time after ten years of marriage, and she herself died at the age of 46. So, as grandmother said, a sad woman indeed. As I took this photograph, these were some of the thoughts running through my head. It is all too easy to look back to Mary Ann’s growing up at Callow Farm and see a rosy past. It’s how we tend to view things: the glamour of an imagined rural idyll – the stepping stones back to happier days. I had hoped to be able to cross here too, and get a closer view of the farm, but there had been a heavy rainfall in the night and there was too much water in the river to attempt to cross without rubber boots and a stout stick. A quest, then, for another time? Perhaps.

Mary Ann Williamson Fox of Callow b.1863

Mary Ann Fox (1863-1909) sometime before her marriage, and before her father sold her pony. He had threatened to do this if she persisted in jumping the farm gate on horseback. She did not listen.

Copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

 

 

#blackandwhitesunday

Tales from the walled garden #3: when Alice met Charlie

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I think I can safely say that  my genetic make-up, in parts of its configuration, is down to a malfunctioning umbrella. At least this is what I gather from my Aunt Evelyn’s brief account of how her parents, my paternal grandparents got together.

But before we get into the umbrella business, please meet my grandmother, Alice Gertrude Eaton, a grocer’s cashier from Streatham, London (I have a notion that it was an early Sainsbury’s store because the emporium’s founders, John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury had the policy that ‘lady clerks made the stores run better’), and grandfather, Charles Ashford, head gardener, born in Twyford, Hampshire. You have seen them in their latter years in my earlier posts from the walled garden (see: #1, #2)

In  many respects they are an unlikely couple. Alice was a city girl through and through. She is perhaps unusual, too, in that, as a young woman, she had a responsible cashier’s job in a big grocery store. There were racy theatrical connections too. Her customers were the music hall stars of the day (The first Sainsbury store was in the theatrical quarter of Drury Lane so this may well have been where she worked). G H Elliott, a well known variety star, whose trademark act (I’m sorry to say) was to perform minstrel-style with blacked up face and wearing a white dinner suit, was also some sort of relative. He made his first recording in 1904, and had a long recording career. Alice was very proud of the family association. Then one of the witnesses on her marriage certificate is her older brother, Charles Kisber Eaton, a professional cricketer. It seems their father, also Charles, a plumber gas-fitter, had backed the winner of the Epsom Derby in 1876, the year his son was born. Kisber was the famous, Hungarian-bred racehorse that also won the Grand Prix de Paris the same year.

Charles Kisber Eaton: it’s quite a name. The Eaton family then, it seems, had a bit of urban edge, the kind of street-wise flair that grandfather did not. He was a countryman, my aunt said, to the soles of his well polished boots. And so how did he end up marrying a Streatham girl? Well here is the backstory according to my aunt:

I must now tell you a bit about my father.

He was born in a village called Twyford, near Winchester, the second son of a family of eight – four boys and four girls. He left school when he was 12 years old, and went to work at Twyford Vicarage as a pantry boy. He got up in the morning at 5 am – sometimes earlier – stoked the kitchen fire, cleaned all the boots and shoes. Next he filled the coal scuttles, got the wood and paper ready for laying the fires and all before cook and the house maids appeared at 6.15. Next job was to clean the front steps and polish the brass on the front door, and then sweep the drive down to the front gate. After this he had to help the maids carry cans of hot water for the family to wash or bathe.

After breakfast there were knives to clean, followed by further fetching and carrying for the rest of the day. Twice a week he would have to walk into Winchester (5 or 6 miles each way) to collect a special brown loaf for the vicar’s wife. The coach man would very often pass him on the way, but was not allowed to pick up little Charlie Ashford. But he was well fed at the vicarage and grew into a tall, strong boy.

Perhaps he grew tired of all the household chores for when he was about fifteen he went to work at a great house called Arle Bury Park, at Arlesford, north of Winchester.

This time Charlie Ashford went for outdoor work and became a garden boy, one of a staff of eight. There he lived in the gardeners’ bothy with some of the other men and boys, and had to take turns preparing meals for his elders. He was reasonably happy there, for although strict, the head gardener was a kind man who saw that the boys were fairly treated and taught to be good gardeners.

After several years of learning his trade, he went to Streatham in London, to a big house in Leigham Court Road where he worked for the proprietor of the Church Times. It was a good job with plenty to do, and he could spend his spare time exploring 1900s London.

And so here we have countryman, Charlie, roaming London’s streets in his spare time. The 1901 census has him lodging on Barcombe Avenue, Streatham. By now he is 26 and his landlady is Louise Eaton, a 54-year old widow, who is ‘living on her own means’. She is Alice’s mother, and the means appear to be income from running a boarding house. It is a substantial red-brick three-storey terrace house. Alice is also living there with her three sisters Ellen, Harriet and Jessie (the last two are listed as dressmakers) and brother Charles, of race horse fame and the professional cricketer. There are three other boarders besides Charlie, all gardeners. And at the time of the census there are also two visiting grooms. A full house then.

My own feeling about Charlie Ashford is that he was a taciturn, self-contained man, who needed a bit of a prod when it came to courting young ladies. Perhaps Alice, who was nine years younger, had worked this out. Perhaps her sisters had dared her. In any event, one Sunday afternoon at Barcombe Avenue, when it was too rainy for Charlie to go out on his usual city explorations, there was a loud knock at his door. When he opened it, there before him was a slim young girl in her Sunday best. She was flushed and agitated. She thrust an umbrella into his hand and stammered, ‘T-t-take my umbrella. The t-t-top’s come off’.

And so it began. Alice and Charlie were married in September 1905 at St. Leonard’s Church, Streatham Common. In January 1910, their first child, my father, Alexander Charles Ashford was born. Here we have another ‘grand’ name, although to be fair to my grandmother she had simply wanted to call him Alec. For some reason the vicar thought this was not a real name, hence the Alexander. My father always told me that when he joined the armed forces in WW2, and the recruiting sergeant asked for his name, the scathing response on hearing it had been ‘And who the devil do you think you are? A ruddy author?’

In fact my father was always a fame-seeker, hoping to be ‘discovered’ at every turn. Perhaps it was his mother’s tales of meeting people like Marie Lloyd in her shop, or hearing her admiring talk of G H Elliott. He was anyway a ‘mummy’s boy’, and increasingly so as he persisted in earning his father’s disapproval. Alex rather revelled in the tale of the day when his father grew so enraged, that he threw an axe at his wayward son.

And now for the full picture from which I extracted the portraits of Alice and Charlie. Here, between them, is Alexander Charles aged three. As family portraits go, I feel this is quite striking:

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And next, here is a photo taken around 1919 when grandfather was engaged as head gardener at Redhurst, and moved his family from Streatham to live in a country estate cottage. Alex is eight or nine here, and isn’t he so pleased to pose – and with that barely felt touch of his mother’s protecting hand on his shoulder:

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This next photo is of Charlie by himself at Redhurst and was also taken around 1919. Perhaps he does have a bit of dash after all:

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But mostly his life was about doing the ‘right thing’ without making a big show of it. I discovered among my aunt’s papers a little book that was Charlie’s school prize at the age of six.  The inscription to the little boy in this ‘improving’ slender volume is telling. I think he probably took its message well and truly to heart: waste not, want not…

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And finally another glimpse of the kind of man he was. The following is an inscription from a gravestone in the village graveyard of his Twyford birthplace that he has written down, perhaps from  memory in later life. I think the word ‘earth’ should be ‘death’, but either way these words still resonate:

This world is a city with  many a crooked street.

Earth is a market place where all men meet.

If life were a merchandise that men could buy,

The rich would live, and the poor would die.

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As for Alice, she spent much of her life from middle age onwards as an invalid, and died aged 65. It is not clear what ailed her exactly, but the burden of care usually fell on my teen-aged Aunt Evelyn. Evelyn was born when Alice was 40, thirteen years after Alex. My mother used to say that Charlie claimed that Evelyn wasn’t his when he first found out that Alice was pregnant again. Evelyn herself said she grew up feeling that her parents had reached a stage in their life where they didn’t want to be bothered with rearing a child. She said she never knew her father with anything other than his snow-white hair.

And so were they a happy family? Who can tell? This last photo from Evelyn’s album would seem to say so. And yet…?

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell