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.

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.


Absalom Payne, Police Constable


Doc. Ref. D3891/6/45/2/11

Absalom Payne was born circa 1791 – 1794 in Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire.  On 14 Aug 1814 he married Gertrude Smith of Earls Barton, Northamptonshire and they had at least 2 children.

Gertrude pre-deceased her husband in 1855 and Absalom died in the December Quarter 1868 age 77.

Absalom Payne first came to our attention in August 1838 when he was paid 6s for “services” by William Williams the Parish Constable of Uttoxeter, who went to Northampton to “fetch John Buckley”. William Williams refers to Absalom Payne as “Police Constable”.

The 1841 Census reveals that Absalom Payne’s occupation was listed as “Night Police” whilst in the 1851 Census he is a “Police Constable”. By the 1861 census he had left the police Force and was working as a Baker.  (His son William was also a Baker)

Absalom must have been one of the earliest Police Constables according to a web site[i] about the Northampton Police which says:-

The Government passed an 1835 Act which gave town councils the responsibility of forming full-time professional police forces – this was six years after the creation of the Met Police in London.
As a result, separate police forces were created in Northampton and Daventry. The first chief constable of the Northampton Borough Police was the Northampton-born Joseph Ball, who remained in the position until 1851 when he retired with a pension of £35 a year. Initially, the Northampton force had one superintendent and 24 police constables, who worked in a primitive shift system and were paid either 12 shillings or 14 shillings a week, depending on the time of year. This was regarded as a low wage at the time, especially as the role involved working shifts at night.
The[ii] very first police station in Northampton was in Dychurch Lane, it then moved to Fish Street.
William Williams’ Bill for his expenses does not indicate if the 6 shillings to Absalom Payne was paid directly to him in addition to Absalom’s salary or paid to the Police Force itself.

[i] http://www.northantstelegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/retro-history-of-northamptonshire-police-1-5801126

[ii] http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/the-chron-looks-back-at-what-life-was-once-life-for-northampton-s-prisoners-1-3482631

Pig jobbery

A pig jobber is a slightly archaic name for a pig trader.  The occupation is listed many times in the trade directories of nineteenth-century England, and this sort of business could benefit from parish funds.  Uttoxeter bought pigs regularly, to fatten them up on the scraps left by workhouse inhabitants and then sell or use the meat. In the two years between March 1827 and February 1829 the parish bought a total of 16 pigs for £41 19s 6d, or an average of £2 12s 6d each.  The parish also tried to grow their own, as when they paid to have a sow put to a boar, otherwise accounted for as ‘brimming the sow’.

This engagement in animal husbandry is not surprising in itself, but it is perhaps more notable for the extent of the enterprise and particularly the problem that it has raised in writing biographies for this project. The pig jobber or dealer who garnered 100% of Uttoxeter’s custom in 1827-9 was one James Sowtee.  He was listed under this name in both the vouchers and other parish accounts.  The problem is that, according to the historical record, he does not otherwise exist. The surname ‘Sowtee’ is wholly unknown on genealogical websites such as forebears.co.uk and rarely crops up anywhere, with or without the forename James.  The national archive holds records of a Chancery case heard in 1838 between Sowtee and Bowden, but otherwise the name draws a blank. It is substituted instead with homophones such as Souter or Souter.

Therefore tracking down Uttoxeter’s go-to pig jobber has been a piece of detective work. As the name Sowtee was unrecorded, I looked instead for a common equivalent i.e. the name Sowter.  This name was found throughout England in 1881 but was most prevalent in Derbyshire (and of course Uttoxeter sits close to the Derbyshire border). Next I looked for the name in the digitised historical directories for Derbyshire, and scrolled through the 24 ‘hits’ for the directory of 1829.  This turned up one John Sowter living in Bag Lane in Derby (then a poor area of the city, now the rather smarter East Street) working as a pig jobber.  Therefore I suspect that either the parish or the directory recorded his first name incorrectly, but that this is likely to be our man.  I would be happier if I could find him subsequently in a census or with a death record, to confirm the first name decisively.


Postscript: this was not the whole story! See the biography for James Sowter.

The West Family

Lydia West was born in Shenstone in 1798, but her siblings Louisa, Mary, Ann, Elizabeth, Henry and Eli were born in Uttoxeter. Their father Joseph was a Quaker and a grocer who had set up shop in the Market Place by 1818.  The Wests took their share of the grocery business arising from workhouse supply and in the period 1821-29 the family earned £51 13s 9.5d by these means.  Payments on parish bills in 1826-7 were receipted by daughter Lydia West, and in later years her sister Ann also signed for parish money.  We have not yet found Elizabeth signing for parish money, but she lived with her brother Eli, his wife Mary, and the couple’s children at the time of the 1841 census.  All three women may have retained connections to the business at some level , although it was their brother Eli (born 1806) who took over the business in the 1830s.  The West’s grocery continued to supply goods including candles, soap, sugar, tea, coffee, treacle, tobacco and rice for use at the workhouse, but only once or twice per year. They competed with Ralph Bagshaw and other grocers for parish contracts, and ultimately Eli’s heart was not in the grocery trade.  By the mid 1840s he and his brother Henry had re-established themselves as manufacturing chemists in the city of Derby. They initially formed a partnership with one Francis Hollingworth but this agreement was dissolved in 1846 whereafter the Wests continued alone.  In 1861 Eli was employing three other men.  At that time his sister Ann was still living with him.

John Shaw, Grocer and Tea Dealer

John Shaw of Carter Street, Uttoxeter, was principally a grocer and tea dealer with a side line in the manufacture of sewing cotton and linen thread, the latter probably in association with Robert Shaw. Apart from John, the 1818 trade directory lists a number of other Shaws: Robert Shaw, linen and cotton manufacturer, Sheep Market; Mary Shaw, lace worker, Pinfold Lane; and perhaps most significantly because it may have enabled John to access workhouse contracts, a Job Shaw, governor of the House of Industry, Uttoxeter Heath.

Like many nineteenth-century grocers, Shaw carried a range of foodstuffs: loaf sugar, moist sugar, mixed tea, Congou tea, coffee, treacle, ginger, pepper, mustard, rice, saltpetre, black pepper, currants, raisins, and clove pepper. He also stocked soap, candles, tobacco, black lead, soda, whiting, starch and blue.

Shaw was prosperous enough to have illustrated pre-printed billheads such as the one dated 30 November 1835 which provides further evidence of the goods he stocked including tobacco, pickling vinegars, and ‘every description of eating and other oils, butters, hops, seeds, &c’.

There is a stylised westernised depiction of a ‘Chinaman’ dressed in flowing robes and wearing a bamboo dŏulì or rice hat. He is sat by the coast on chest of Fine Hyson tea with his left arm resting on a canister of ‘Turkey and all other Coffees, Cocoa &c’. Behind him is a pagoda, similar to the one at Kew Gardens in front of which is a large six sided, oval jar. Out at sea is a tea clipper.

Representations of Chinamen are seen on other billheads, often in conjunction with other generic figures (see ‘Advertising a Global Outlook’ post), and raises interesting questions relating to national sentiment.

Transporting tea was hazardous, with ships subject to storms, shipwrecks and smuggling. To compensate for erratic supplies to the domestic market, tea was often adulterated, reused and imitated. There was a thriving trade in second hand tea purchased from servants working in grand households, or from hotels to which the unscrupulous added a range of adulterants to ‘improve’ its colour and taste: ferrous sulphate, verdigris, and carbon black, were favourite additives. Such adulteration was widespread and often commented upon, but only occasionally was action taken against those involved: in 1818 eleven people were tried and convicted in London for adulterating tea. But it was not just that adulteration existed but who was believed to be doing the adulteration. Thomas Short’s A Dissertation upon Tea (1730) and John Lettsom’s Natural History of the Tea Tree (1772) both alleged that it was the Chinese. Such accusations grew during the rest of the century, increasing significantly in the nineteenth. The reality was that most of the adulteration was carried out in Britain by domestic dealers and suppliers eager to overcome shortages.

Shaw’s representation of the ‘Chinaman’ as a means of advertising his wares comes just prior to the introduction in the late 1830s of Indian and later Ceylon tea from Britain’s expanding empire. Purchasing and consuming products from the empire was regarded as patriotic; Indian and Ceylon teas were increasingly associated with Britishness whilst Chinese tea was regarded with suspicion. Like the representation of the Chinese figure in ‘Advertising a Global Outlook’, Shaw’s ‘Chinaman’ is presented as placid and unthreatening. It would be interesting to know whether later bills presented by Shaw continued to adopt the ‘Chinaman’ as a sales technique, or whether he had succumbed to national sentiment.


John Burnett, Plenty and Want: A Social History of England from 1815 to the Present Day (London: 1989)

Frederick Filby, A History of Food Adulteration and Analysis (London: 1934)

W. Parson and T. Bradshaw, Staffordshire General and Commercial Directory presenting an Alphabetical Arrangement of the Names and Residences of the Nobility, Gentry, Merchants and Inhabitants in General (Manchester: 1818)

Liza Picard, Dr Johnson’s London: Life in London 1740–1770 (London: 2000)

Erika Rappaport, ‘Packaging China: Foreign Articles and Dangerous Tastes in the Mid-Victorian Tea Party’ in Frank Trentmann (ed.), The Making of the Consumer: Knowledge, Power and Identity in the Modern World (Oxford: 2006).

SRO, D3891/6/42/75, Bill to Overseers from John Shaw, 30 November 1835

James Walvin Fruits of Empire: Exotic Produce and British Trade, 1660–1800 (London: 1997)

N.B. This  is a work in progress and will probably be amended as further information from vouchers and other sources becomes available.