The Blackbands of Gnosall

A recent review of the data we have collected for the Staffordshire parish of Gnosall revealed a glorious surname, particularly when we consider the family business: the Blackbands of Gnosall were grocers and drapers, who doubtless supplied their customers with funereal black bands when required.  Further investigation confirmed the sobering reality of the name and the trade, since the latter was insecure despite commissions from the parish.

Brothers Gerard and Benjamin Blackband were both in business in Gnosall in the 1810s and 20s, and their uncle Joseph was in the same line of work in nearby Newport (Shropshire).  Gerard had an early partnership with William Keen, in an grocery and ironmongery, but this was dissolved in 1810 shortly before William Keen married Gerard’s sister Elizabeth.  Gerard Blackband himself married Mary Harper in 1811, while Benjamin married Elizabeth Burley in 1815: both couples had children baptised in Gnosall.  The two families remained in the parish, since Benjamin died there in 1845 and Gerard in 1853.

view Textiles: two fabric samples mounted on a printed background. Wood engraving with applied fabric, 1813.

Fabric samples on a printed background 1813: image courtesy of the Wellcome Trust

The parish made payments to one or other of the Blackband brothers for pauper clothing and textiles for working up into garments.  An account book dedicated solely to parish clothing 1811-12 records sales of robust cloth like thick flannel for 1s 10d-2s 3d per yard, and flimsier stuff like calico for 9d-10d per yard.  Women’s gowns and jackets were made of linsey, a relatively coarse but durable material of wool and flax (or wool and cotton).   Stockings and hats were bought ready-made; everything else was cut out and sewn from the raw materials.

<p>"The gestures of the three female Maldertons at the draper's counter suggest their shock and disbelief as they discover that Horatio Sparkins is a fraud — and are caught out buying inferior silks at "a dirty-looking ticketed linendraper's shop" (278) in order "save a shilling." The elegantly dressed young man with the slender waist and perfectly fitting tailcoat, waistcoat, and cravat is a very "fashion-plate," with Byronic curls and a shocked expression that betokens a mutual recognition between himself and Miss Malderton, centre. Although, as Schlicke, points out, what distinguishes this little tale from the previous London sketches in "Our Parish," "Scenes," and "Characters" is the contribution of all elements of setting, character, and costume to the plot, what connects this "tale" to the earlier, non-fiction pieces is the detailed description that George Cruikshank provides of a commercial establishment, with pricing prominently displayed. The very curtains in this prose-farce, suggestive of a theatrical performance, are priced to go."--Allingham, loc. cit.</p>

G. Cruikshank, A London Linen-Draper’s Assistant, 1839: image courtesy of the Wellcome Trust

Two features of the account book immediately struck me as interesting. First, it is only concerned with quantities of textile purchased, and the cost per unit, not with the overall expenditure on materials.  This suggests that the parish officers were not (in this instance) interested in the bottom line.  They were either monitoring the flow of garments to individual paupers (who wore through their clothing most rapidly?), to the indoor versus the outdoor poor (since the workhouse recipients are identified separately), to the poor of different parish ‘quarters’ (placed in different lists), or checking the price of cloth over time/from different shops.  Second, a small place like Gnosall could still draw on multiple suppliers for clothing and fabric.  The population of the parish in 1811 stood at just 2372 people across all of the parish, but the overseers still managed to spread textile purchases among the separate businesses of Mr Blackband (first name unspecified), Mr Bromley, and Mr Williams. One of our vouchers reveals that Benjamin Blackband was definitely supplying the Gnosall poorhouse with thread, laces and needles in 1823.

Perhaps it was this level of competition in such a small geographical compass that proved so difficult for the maintenance of the Blackband businesses, and perhaps there was a risk in one family investing so heavily in one type of pursuit.  Whatever the cause, though, both Gerard and Benjamin Blackband and their uncle Joseph of Newport suffered bankruptcy in the 1820s.  Notice was given of both Gerard and Joseph’s bankruptcies in 1822, while Benjamin followed in 1825.  The brothers’ recovery from this blow is difficult to chart, but by 1841 Benjamin was living in the household of his brother-in-law William Keen, whereas in the same year Gerard was living independently as a grocer with his wife and children, but lacking any household servants.  Once again, investigation of businesses identified in the vouchers suggests that parish custom was used to support fragile ventures.

Sources: SRO D951/5/29 account book of clothing supplied to the poor 1811-12; D951/5/81/117 overseers’ voucher of 1823; NA HO 107 census of 1841 (NB Gerard is listed under the surname Blackland); NA IR 27/304 death duty register 1853; marriages of 24 January 1811 in Edgemond Shropshire, 13 December 1811 and 14 March 1815 both in Gnosall; baptisms of 22 August 1813 and 5 December 1819 both in Gnosall; burial of 12 March 1845 in Gnosall;  London Gazette entries for partnership and bankruptcies on 18 December 1810, 22 October 1822, 10 December 1822, and 20 December 1825.

Silvanus Earp and a Chip Hat

On 8 June 1782, the parish of Wednesbury became indebted to the tradesman Silvanus Earp for a ‘chip’ hat, priced eight pence.  This refers to a hat made of ‘chip’ straw with a fairly wide brim.  Such headgear could be fashionable, and straw hats were certainly customised by both retailers and consumers with a bow or other additions to maximise their flamboyancy.  An entry in the Derby Mercury for 12 June 1800, for example, recommended that the fashion in women’s ‘walking dress’ required a coloured chip hat with flowers at the front.  News from London specifically in 1782 reveals that high-quality chip hats could be worth stealing, but could also be used by elite women in fancy dress who were ‘slumming it’, such as when Lady Beauchamp adopted the character of a French peasant girl for a masquerade ball at London’s Pantheon.  In the case of the Wednesbury purchase, we assume the hat was plain and intended to be worn by a parish pauper.

This image, cropped from The Gallery of Fashion (June 1794), shows the brim of a chip hat: the crown is largely concealed with a profusion of ribbons.

Silvanus Earp (1747-1822) was a general dealer in the 1780s, supplying the parish with both foodstuffs and textiles.  He was not used often by the parish authorities, being present in only a handful of the hundreds of vouchers transcribed for Wednesbury, but enjoyed a personal connection to the parochial officers which proved useful.  The witnesses to his marriage in 1774 included John Guest, presumably the man of the same name who was an overseer of the poor for Wednesbury in 1782.  There at least three generations of Silvanus Earps in the locality, since his father Silvanus senior was a baker in Wednesbury, while one of his sons  Silvanus junior was a factor or merchant who by 1851 had retired to Wolverhampton.  By the time of his death in 1822 he was described as a gentleman and left a lengthy will, albeit his estate was valued at under £100.

Sources: SRO D4383/6/1/9/1/9/3 and D4383/6/1/9/1/14/11 Wednesbury overseers’ vouchers 1782; Wednesbury St Bartholomew, baptism of 7 March 1747,  marriage of 7 April 1774, burial of 27 June 1822; Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry, will proved 24 September 1822; National Archives HO 107 census of 1851, for Penn Road Wolverhampton; Morning Chronicle 14 January 1782; Morning Herald 22 April 1782; Derby Mercury 12 June 1800.

Medicated Vapour Baths – for paupers?

Medicated vapour baths became popular in England in the 1820s. Such things were available in earlier decades, but Sake Deen Mohamed advertised them via both his published works and his bathing establishment at Brighton. The treatment he offered for muscular and similar ailments involved massage and steamy bathing with the addition of Indian oils. He introduced the word ‘shampooing’ to popular usage, although with a slightly different meaning to its current one (ie rubbing the body, whereas we lather our hair). Mohamed was named ‘shampooing surgeon’ to George IV and William IV.

https://wellcomecollection.org/works/xg5ewh67

What did such fashionable treatments have to do with the Staffordshire poor? We might have guessed ‘none’: but we would have been wrong. Spa towns like Buxton had long made bathing facilities available to poor patients, albeit in a heavily regulated way.  In 1785 for example the poor were admitted to bathe at Buxton between the months of May and October, on Mondays only, and funded places were limited to sixteen beneficiaries at any one time.  Successful applicants to the Buxton charity had to support their appeal with ‘a letter of recommendation from some lady or gentleman from his own locality certifying whether he was a proper object of charity, and if the patient was a pauper, also a certificate signed by the Churchwardens or Overseers of the poor that the pauper’s settlement was in, and a certificate from a physician or apothecary that the case was proper for the Buxton waters’.  In the 1820s, though, copyists of Mohamed developed their own vapour bathing equipment which was not dependent on location. Charles Whitlaw patented his medicated baths which could be installed in any town, and published his Scriptural Code of Health in 1838 thanking Anglican and Dissenting clergy for funding treatments for miscellanous workhouse poor.

It was still a surprise, though, to discover that the parish of Alrewas actually sent its paupers to a medicated vapour bathing establishment in Wolverhampton. The vouchers show that in 1831 the parish sent William Riley to the baths run by surgeon Edward Hayling Coleman at Dudley Street in Wolverhampton, albeit the parish paid the resulting bill rather slowly. In early 1832 they also sent a woman called Eams, possible Ann Eams born at Fradley in 1805 or her mother Mary, who Coleman reported in March to be ‘somewhat better’ as a result.

Coleman had invested in Whitlaw’s patented bathing equipment, and set up two facilities for treatment.  There was a public bath in Dudley Street costing 3s6d a time, and he also saw the more prosperous of his patients at his own house in Salop Street for 5s per bathing session.  We do not know the diagnosis for either Riley or Eams, but Coleman promoted his baths for cases of scrofula, cutaneous diseases, liver complaints, gout, rheumatism, asthma and (very optimistically) ‘cancer in it’s incipient stage’.  When the first cholera epidemic swept Britain in 1831-2, Coleman even reserved one or more of his baths ‘for the gratuitous use of the poor’.

 

Sources:  Ernest Axon, ‘Historical Notes on Buxton, its Inhabitants and Visitors: Buxton Doctors since 1700’ (1939), among the ‘Axon Papers’ held at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery ; Charles Whitlaw, The Scriptural Code of Health (London, 1838); SRO D 783/2/3/12/8/2/2 Alrewas overseers’ voucher, bill of Edward Coleman to the parish 1831; D 783/2/3/13/7/1 Alrewas overseers’ correspondence, letter from Edward Coleman 1832; Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser 22 June 1831 and 16 November 1831.

 

 

Stephen Garnett (1763-1840), overseer and obsessive?

The salaried assistant overseer of Kirkby Lonsdale, Stephen Garnett, is one of the few characters we’ve come across who appears in the historical literature before the start of the vouchers project. Historian James Steven Taylor identified him as a generator and hoarder of parish correspondence, when he (Taylor) wrote about the pauper letters which survive for the parish.

He was baptised in Yorkshire and had moved to Kirkby Lonsdale by the time of his marriage in 1787. Garnett made a living as a grocer, an occupation much surveyed by this project. He was also a methodical and careful man: having been entrusted with the task of managing poor-law correspondence for his home township, he went on to gather over 1200 letters and other documents between 1809 and 1836. As beneficiaries of his record-keeping, is it unkind of me to suggest he might have been obsessive?

The majority of items in the collection are letters from or about the paupers who were legally ‘settled’ in Kirkby Lonsdale but who lived elsewhere. Paupers requested poor relief by post, and tended to ‘threaten’ to return home. They might prove more expensive if on the doorstep than if relieved at a distance. Letters were addressed variously to Mr Garnett, Mr Garner or Mr Gardner.

Garnett was paid £10 a year for his services to the township, a modest salary, and an early example of a wage being given to a deputising overseer of the poor. He was described as a ‘Guardian’ of the poor, terminology used because Kirkby Lonsdale had formally adopted ‘Gilbert’s Act’ for the purposes of poor relief. It entered a union with sixteen other townships in the early nineteenth century and built a workhouse for use by all the locations in the union in 1811.

Most of the letters were written to Garnett, but a small selection of copy letters survive from him to other places. They show that he could write with some asperity, in protection of Kirkby Lonsdale’s finances. See for example his letter to a fellow overseer Mr John Scorah in Wakefield, 1825:

        Kirkby Lonsdale Novr 1st 1825

  Mr Scorah

        Sir/

        Yours of the 30th Ult. is now before me Respecting a man of the name of Isaac Middlebrook it would have been well if he had given you more Information as respecting himself stating the grounds on which he claims a settlement here, I have examined the towns Books but can find no such name in them nor is any such person known here by the oldest Inhabitant

  On this account I cannot authorise you to relief him on our account, but i wish to be rightly understood it is not our wish to put any obstackels [sic] in the way or cause any unnecessary trouble, if he can tell whear his parents lived or whith whoom he himself lived and by what means he gained a settlement it will be attended to, when we receive this Information we shall be able to tell wether it is in this Township or some other Township in this parish, thear being nine different Townships in this parish all maintaining their own poor

                I am Sir yours Respectfully

                    Stephn. Garnett

The preservation of so much paper by one man is striking, if not entirely unique. We might suspect that a similarly full collection of letters (and vouchers) for the parish of Colwich in Staffordshire might well be owing to the incumbency of John Wetton in the post of assistant overseer there.

Sources: J.S. Taylor, ‘Voices in the crowd: The Kirkby Lonsdale township letters 1809-36’, T. Hitchcock, P. Sharpe and P. King (eds), Chronicling Poverty. The voices and strategies of the English poor 1640-1840 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997); www.workhouses.org.uk

Who were you, Ann Peakes?

In 1831 Uttoxeter parish was paying for the support of one of its paupers, William Harrison, while he was living in Belper.  William was young, aged only 20, but very poorly and he died in October that year.  During his illness he was awarded a weekly sum of money between 3s and 5s, and when he died he was buried from the Belper workhouse.  The receipt of the money and the subsequent funeral expenses were receipted with the shaky ‘X’ of one Ann Peakes, despite the fact that Harrison’s father and namesake was also living in Belper at the time.  So who was Ann?

Peakes

There are a number of options.  She was either the nurse who took the weekly money as a salary for the care of Harrison junior during his illness, or a workhouse employee, or merely an intermediary between the parishes of Uttoxeter and Belper and the Harrison family.  Genealogical research reveals no more, in that the only Ann Peakes discernible in Belper crops up on the 1851 census as the wife of an agricultural labourer.  If the author of the ‘X’ was the same person as the census entrant, then she was only 20 at the time of Harrison’s demise (ie already married and the same age as Harrison himself).  Parish nurses were typically older than 20, but it is not impossible that a young married women might make money from parish employment in this way. 

Source: SRO D3891/6/35/1/11.

James Sowter (1783-1832)

James Sowter was born on 9 December 1783 to Samuel and Mary Sowter of Ashbourne in Derbyshire.  He was one of at least five children born to the couple, including older brothers John and Charles, older sister Frances, and younger brother Samuel.  James married Elizabeth Noble by licence in Ashbourne in May 1815, and was buried in the town in December 1832. The couple appear not to have had any children.

The Sowters were pig dealers or jobbers.  The brothers began in business with their father, but in 1808 the partnership between Samuel senior and his sons Samuel the younger, John and James was dissolved.  All debts owing to the concern were to be received by the same men with the exception of John, who presumably wanted to work alone.  The brothers all signed the dissolution agreement, while Samuel the elder merely made his mark.

Image courtesy of the Wellcome Trust: R. Hills, etching of an outdoor pig pen, c. 1815 https://wellcomecollection.org/works/r5wfkuvp. The blanket in the background advertises the engraver, rather than the pig-keeper!

The family supplied the parish of Uttoxeter with pigs between 1821 and 1829.  Their beasts sold for sums between £1 2s and £3 3s apiece, with variations presumably being based on age or size, and on whether adult sows were already in pig.  Samuel Sowter (who may have been the father or the son) supplied two pigs in 1823, but Samuel senior died in 1824 meaning that pig deals thereafter were with Samuel junior or, more regularly, James.  Uttoxeter bought nine pigs from James up to February 1829 but then the parish’s relationship with the family ceased.  Pigs were bought from a range of other men in 1831 including John Williams, Isaac Laban and Thomas Chatterton, but the Sowters had lost or given up the Uttoxeter parish business.

When James died, his widow Elizabeth turned to inn-keeping.  She had been the daughter of Mr Noble of the Red Lion Inn of Ashbourne, and so presumably knew the business.  In the period 1849-53 she was listed as a widow and publican at the White Lion Inn. She died in Ashbourne in 1855.

Sources: Ashbourne St Oswald baptism of 22 February 1784, marriage of 2 May 1815; London Gazette 14 May 1808, p. 685; SRO D 3891/6/8 and D 3891/6/9; SRO D3891/6/37/4/4; Derby Mercury 5 December 1832; Post Office Directory for Ashbourne (1849); census 1851; Staffordshire Advertiser 8 October 1853; Derbyshire Advertiser 28 September 1855.

Ralph Bagshaw (c.1772-1841)

Ralph Bagshaw was a grocer in Uttoxeter who supplied the poor law with both everyday items like rice but also spices and other goods like nutmeg and dried fruit – and not necessarily just at Christmas time. His bill-head represented him as a global trader, with barrels carrying his initials prominent in a non-specific but probably eastern location.

Bagshaw

Bagshaw was born in approximately 1772, married Maria Taylor in Uttoxeter in 1796, and went on to run his grocery business in the town with his two eldest sons, Edward Stanford Bagshaw and Thomas Bagshaw. His third son and namesake Ralph became a solicitor.

Bagshaw was prominent among the grocers supplying the poor law, but his importance could fluctuate quite significantly from year to year.  In 1821-2 for example he was paid £18 0s 2d for groceries, which represented nearly a third of the parish’s outlay on similar goods.  Other grocers in the town such as James Smith, Lewis Hall, and Michael Clewley, along with the firm Porter and Keates, competed with him to supply the workhouse with groceries, but none of them were paid so much as Bagshaw.  Compare this with grocery suppliers in 1823-4, and the picture had utterly changed.  Bagshaw was paid just £5 19s 6d, less than a tenth of the total outlay on groceries, whereas Michael Clewley was paid £20 1s 4.5d.  Clewley had supplanted Bagshaw for the supply of rice and other goods, but it is not yet clear whether this was simply because firms took equitable ‘turns’ in different years, or whether the well-connected churchwarden Clewley had more leverage.

After Ralph senior’s death in 1841 the grocery was carried on by Edward and Thomas. The will was witnessed by surgeon George Alsop whose biography (along with Clewley’s) is included in this blog.

Sources: Uttoxeter St Mary marriage of 20 October 1796; D 3891/6/8 Uttoxeter volume of parish bills, 1821-4; D 3891/6/35/3/41 Uttoxeter overseers’ voucher for groceries 27 January 1831; D 3891/6/40/7/29 Uttoxeter overseers’ voucher for groceries 31 October 1833;  Ralph Bagshaw will proved 1841.

John Beard (1766-1839)

John Beard was one of at least six children born in Wichnor parish to Thomas Beard and Mary (nee Smith).

John was a tailor who also, at the age of 60, took on the task of salaried or ‘assistant’ overseer in Whittington for twelve guineas a year.  As a result he is a signatory to many of the receipts paid for relief to the poor, and to numerous other parish documents such as apprenticeship indentures.  He also took apprentices himself into the tailoring business, including towards the end of his life twelve-year-old William Birch.  He did not receive an apprenticeship ‘premium’ or payment with this child, suggesting that he took the lad on willingly without financial inducement as mutually beneficial: Birch obtained training, while Beard continued in work into old age.  It may have been significant for Beard’s personal finances that the role of assistant overseer came to an end in the mid 1830s with the implementation of the reformed poor law.

Image courtesy of the Wellcome Trust: R. Seymour, a satirical illustration of a lecture for tailors, 1829, https://wellcomecollection.org/works/b3563szd. Note the attendees sit cross-legged, rather than on chairs, the presumed habitual posture of a tailor.

Beard died from ‘schirrus of the stomach’, a form of stomach cancer, in early December 1839.  His will left everything to his niece Elizabeth Elson, daughter of John Beard’s younger brother Thomas Beard and the wife of Joseph Elson.  William Birch’s apprenticeship had years left to run, so he was transferred to a Joseph Elson, possibly a different man to John’s nephew-in-law, for the completion of his term.

This story looks relatively simple, but it has had to be disentangled from that of another John Beard, a younger man, whose relationship to the parish officer is unclear (possibly a nephew or cousin).  John Beard junior owned land in Whittington adjoining that of John Beard senior, according to the Tithe Award, and was described as a ‘retired tradesman’ shortly before his death in 1861.

Sources: Tatenhill marriage of 27 June 1756; Wichnor baptism of 26 January 1766; Staffordshire Record Office D 4838/9/1/1-3 appointment of assistant overseer 1826-34; D4384/9/7/51 apprenticeship papers 1839-40; death certificate of 14 December 1839; PC 11 (1840) will of John Beard; tithe award index for Staffordshire; 1861 census for Whittington.

George Fieldstaff (c. 1789-1864)

George Fieldstaff was someone who benefited from the Old Poor Law as a labourer who was employed for his strength but also as a supplier of accommodation.  Unusually, for histories of the Old Poor Law, he spans the boundary of pauper-ratepayer.

He was baptised George Fieldstead in 1796, the son of James and Sarah Fieldstead, but all later census entries suggest that he was up to ten years old at the time of baptism.  The family’s surname is given variously as Fieldstad and Fieldstid before finally settling on Fieldstaff in the 1820s.  George married Elizabeth Bacon in 1820 and the couple had at least two children (Elizabeth and William), but he became a widower in 1824.  He then married Maria Brough (born c. 1786), who was herself a widow, on 17 January 1825, for which event neither spouse signed their name.  The second marriage produced at least one daughter, Martha, although not until 1835.

Censuses later describe Fieldstaff as an agricultural labourer and hawker, but after the death of his first wife he needed to turn to the parish for help and spent time as an inmate of the Uttoxeter workhouse.  By 1829 he was being employed in the workhouse brickyard, presumably cutting clay or hefting bricks in the manner of an industrial labourer, because he was paid for his work in May 1829.  In July 1829 was prosecuted at the Staffordshire quarter sessions for refusing to work while in the house but was paid again after he had resumed work in September of the same year.

Census labels notwithstanding, the most characteristic and persistent aspect of his employment history (discernible at this distance) is his keeping of a lodging house.  George Fieldstaff had escaped the workhouse by 1832, as between August 1832 and March 1833 Uttoxeter parish paid repeatedly to lodge itinerant people at his house on Smithy Lane, later Smithfield Road.  He charged three pence per night for an adult and one penny for a child.  By 1834 he was paying poor rate on the property as an occupier, on the basis of a presumed rental value of £1 15s per year.  This value was downgraded for subsequent years to less than half this sum, namely 13s 4d.

Image courtesy of the Wellcome Trust: G. Cruikshank, police raid a lodging house at night, 1848, https://wellcomecollection.org/works/xtqtzw9j

This level of rent value does not suggest that the Fieldstaffs offered a high standard of accommodation.  Lodgers from 1841 onwards were occasionally listed as women of independent means, but this might have been disingenuous or even sardonic as most of the occupants of the house were labourers, or even beggars.  At the time of the 1861 census, George and Maria were playing host to their grand-daughter Mary Ann Fieldhouse (who should properly have been identified as Mary Ann Hughes), but also housed eleven boarders aged from their teens to the seventies, born nearby (Ashborne) or much further away (Ireland).

Fieldhouse’s eldest daughter Elizabeth decamped to Burton on Trent with brazier Thomas Hughes and although they probably did not marry, they had numerous children together.  They may have been itinerant workers themselves for a time, as the birthplaces of the children are given variously as Ashby in Leicestershire, Stafford, Rugby, and Cheadle as well as Burton.  Maria ‘Fieldstaff’ baptised 1839 was probably the oldest illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth and Thomas (rather than the youngest daughter of George and Maria), because when she married she gave her father’s name as Thomas ‘Ewers’, a brazier (thereby claiming mother’s common-law husband as her father for the purposes of marriage registration).

George Fieldstaff was buried at St Mary’s church in Uttoxeter apparently aged 75, and left no will.  His only known descendants arise from the union of his daughter Elizabeth with Thomas Hughes, and who took the surname Fieldstaff-Hughes.

Sources: Staffordshire Record Office Q/SB 1829 M/20a; D3891/6/34/2/32 overseers’ voucher 1829; D3891/6/34/6/27; D3891/6/35/2/29 overseers’ voucher 1830; D3891/6/38/3/6 overseers’ voucher 1832; D3891/6/39/8/52a overseers’ voucher 1833; D3891/6/70-75 Uttoxeter poor rate books 1832-1838; 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses; baptisms of 9 November 1796,  27 March 1821, 11 December 1823, 13 May 1835, 30  August 1839, Uttoxeter, and 1860 Roman Catholic church, Burton on Trent; marriages of 2 November 1820, Milwich, 17 January 1825, Uttoxeter, and 1863, Burton on Trent; burials of 30 August 1824 and 23 August 1864, Uttoxeter; http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=500878.msg3577237#msg3577237; with thanks to Dave Marriott for information about Smithy Lane/Smithfield Road.

Coining it, in and around Darlaston

Darlaston’s history is intimately connected to the history of metal-working, particularly  the manufacture of gun-locks and other mechanical components.  We were startled, though, to find such expertise put to felonious ends, and the constable of Darlaston (Thomas Partridge) drawn in to give evidence against the accused.

In 1819 three men were tried at the Staffordshire Assizes ‘for having, at the parish of Darlaston, in the county of Stafford..traitorously made and counterfeited a certain piece of coin to the likeness of a shilling’.  Joseph Wilkes, Thomas Earp alias Reddall and John Duffield stood trial for their lives, since coining was a capital offence.  Witnesses were able to show that Earp had been apprehended with a parcel of metal blanks hidden inside his umbrella, and that Wilkes had taken possession of the dies or ‘stamps’ used to convert the blanks into counterfeit coin.  Duffield was the organiser of the scheme.

Image courtesy of the Wellcome Trust: an eighteenth-century illustration of a machine used in coining https://wellcomecollection.org/works/fuxnvhmx

The three men were working within a midlands network of counterfeiters, and were not apparently inhibited or deterred by the prosecution or execution of members of the circle.    John and Mary Bissaker of Warwick pursued a career in coining, and when John was executed in 1800 Mary carried on (narrowly avoiding execution herself in 1807).  It was Mary’s arrest and prosecution in 1819 that prompted the transfer of dies to the Darlaston men, and Mary’s execution that signaled the movement of the trade from Warwick to Darlaston.

But perhaps the most surprising part of the story is still to come.  When the three defendants were found guilty, Mr Justice Richardson initially sentenced them all to death; yet ‘the prisoners begged loudly for mercy; and the learned Judge was much affected.’  The astonishing result of this spontaneous appeal was that Richardson rescinded the death penalty for both Wilks and Earp, leaving Duffield as the only perpetrator paying for his crime with his life.  Surely this established a problematic precedent for this particular Judge, and for consistency of sentencing, even if it was expressive of candid humanitarianism?

Sources: The Times, 10 August 1819, p. 3; I.M. and M.K. Baker, ‘John Duffield of Darlaston and his descendants’,  http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/articles/Duffield/page2.htm, viewed 28 June 2018