Bricks and Lodgers: an unexpected pairing

This website already features a biography of George Fieldstaff, one of the labourers in the Uttoxeter workhouse brickyard, who went on to become a rate-payer and lodging-house keeper.  In tracing the lives and livelihoods of additional brickyard workers, I didn’t anticipate that anyone else would follow the same pattern so closely, but at least one other man’s career mirrored that of Fieldstaff.  Samuel Neild was baptised in Abbots Bromley in 1796 making him a very near contemporary of Fieldstaff, if not exactly the same age.  Neild married later than Fieldstaff, and had more children, but he too was both an employee of the brick yard in 1829 AND a lodging-house keeper who accommodated the transient poor at parish expense.  In 1832 he housed Ann Blake and her two sons, while in 1834 the overseers paid fourteen shillings for a coffin for an unnamed woman who died at Neild’s house.

Furthermore, the Neild family were near neighbours of the Fieldstaffs.  The 1851 census gives the Neild address as 66 Smithy Lane, just five houses away from the Fieldstaffs at 60 Smithy Lane.  The constituency of the lodgers ran the same gamut from those independent of the parish to ‘beggars’.  The only notable difference between the two men was in their propensity to take money as paupers or employees: George Fieldstaff was given parish relief, while Sam Neild was employed beyond the brickyard to whitewash houses.  Did the men’s elements of shared experience make for common cause or heated rivalry?

Sources: Staffordshire Record Office D3891/6/34/12/70, D3891/6/37/10/41, D3891/6/37/12/33, D3891/6/41/7/58 overseers’ vouchers 1829-1834; baptism of 3 January 1796 Abbot’s Bromley; marriage of 8 January 1829 Radford Nottinghamshire; census 1851.


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.

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.

NB: this biography is a work in progress subject to change as new research is conducted.

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;; with thanks to Dave Marriott for information about Smithy Lane/Smithfield Road.

Morris Brothers, Aldridge and West Bromwich

Intrigued when examining two Poor Law vouchers for Aldridge, Staffordshire, which mentioned the trial of “the three Morrises”, my research revealed two brothers were both transported in 1819 to Australia for 7 years for Larceny (Theft).

Included in the description of costs claimed by Constable James Wakeman in a voucher (receipt): “Prosecution of the Three Morris’s” are various journeys and duties commencing 7 Jan 1818, including: taking Thomas Morris at Aldridge, executing two search warrants, attending his prosecution at Shenstone, using a chaise to take the prisoner to Stafford Prison, bringing the prisoner home from [West] Bromwich, journeys of witnesses, a journey to “West Bromwich and Wednesbury to take Mrs Morris”.

Included in the invoice for legal costs incurred on 13 March 1818 by attorneys Messrs Croxall and Holbecke, were costs “Instructions for Brief and preparing same against Thomas Morris on the prosecution of Samuel Boden, the like against Hannah, Thos and John Morris on the prosecution of Sophia Rogers…” and then on the same date “attending at Stafford conducting these prosecutions when Thomas and John Morris were transported”.

My research revealed Thomas and John Morris were born and baptised in West Bromwich, Staffordshire in November 1793 and October 1790 respectively to Hannah (nee Sheldon, 1764-1823) and James Morris (1765-1836).  There were at least four other siblings, Elizabeth, Mary, James and Anne, in the family with ancestors that can fairly easily be traced back to the seventeenth century.

Reports in The Staffordshire Advertiser revealed Thomas was tried at the Stafford Lent Assizes in March 1818 for the theft of a goose and a gander, whilst John and their mother Hannah were tried for “various other felonies”. Hannah was acquitted but John was found guilty of the “theft of wearing apparel” and was sentenced to 7 years Transportation along with brother Thomas.

It seems unlikely that the brothers were sentenced to transportation on first offences but with criminal records at that time usually only quoting names, and not ages or addresses, it is not possible to confirm what other offences might have been committed.  Transportation for 7 years seems to be the customary, albeit harsh, sentence for those convicted of larceny.

They remained at Stafford Gaol until being removed, along with 19 other convicts under sentence of transportation, to the hulks (holding prison ships) at Sheerness, Kent.  They did not leave England until 14 June 1819 when they sailed to Australia on the “Malabar” with 168 other convicts, arriving at Sydney, New South Wales, on 30 October 1819.

Various convict records describe the two brothers: Thomas was 27 years old, a locksmith and was 5ft 5 ½” with a “dark pale” complexion, black hair and hazel eyes. John was 29, a pistol maker, and shorter at 5ft 3 ½”, with a “dark pale”complexion, brown hair and grey eyes with a blemish in the right eye.

They appear to have served out their sentence in Sydney and remained there when granted Certificates of Freedom in March 1825, with Census records indicating they were living together in Market Street, Sydney, in 1828; Thomas was now a gunsmith and John a barber.  There are no apparent records of Thomas marrying or having a family although John secured permission to marry a Bonded Convict (still serving her sentence) in 1829, Catherine Richardson, who had also been sentenced to 7 years Transportation for “Coining” (passing counterfeit coins), arriving on “Competitor” the previous year.

Catherine died in 1842 and there are no records of their children, although John seems to have fathered a daughter with an “Anne D” according to other ancestry trees in 1850.

Both brothers stayed in the Sydney area, Thomas dying aged 56 years in 1850 and John in 1868, aged 78 years.  It is unlikely that they would remained in contact with their family in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, so would have been unaware that father James died in 1836 and their mother, Hannah, in 1823. Their only brother James seems to be more law-abiding, residing with his wife and family in West Bromwich and employed as a pistol filer until he died in 1860.

Written by Denise, posted by Alannah

Sources of Information:

SRO D120/A/PO/102, Aldridge Overseers’ Vouchers dated 15 Mar 1818

SRO D120/A/PO/103, Aldridge Overseers’ Vouchers dated 1818

England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975

England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892

New South Wales, Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842

Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868

New South Wales, Australia, Convict Applications for the Publications of Banns, 1828-1830, 1838-1839 New South Wales, Australia, Convict Records,  1810-1891

Australia, Marriage Index, 1788-1950

1828 New South Wales, Australia Census (Australian Copy)

New South Wales, Australia, Historical Electoral Rolls, 1842-1864

New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, 1827-1867

Australia, Death Index, 1787-1985

Australia, Birth Index, 1788-1922

Ancestry Family Trees


NB.  This is work in progress, subject to change as new research is conducted.


A Beer Ladder?

The Staffordshire volunteers have started to unfold the vouchers for Darlaston, and a grubby set of scraps they are too.  The surviving documents date from around 1816 to the mid 1820s.  They are tightly and chaotically bundled together and require numbering as well as calendaring.

The overseers’ account books for the parish precede the vouchers chronologically, but the volume covering 1790-1802 contains a useful workhouse inventory.  The list includes the usual complement of domestic goods, such as trenchers (or wooden plates) for serving meals to the poor, and sixteen bedsteads each with their own blanket and coverlid.  The combination and quantities of furniture and crockery suggest that paupers were required to sleep two to a bed, but this was quite usual in institutional settings other than workhouses.  It might have been well-regarded as a way to keep children with parents, and as a way to keep warm.

An unexpected item in the inventory was a ‘beer ladder’.  The kitchen contained a copper, which was presumably used for brewing, and the listing of mash tubs confirms that the workhouse was making its own beer.  Even so the ladder is slightly puzzling.  Was the copper so large that a ladder was required to add or stir contents?  Pam Sambrook’s book Country House Brewing gives a detailed account of the private estate’s brewhouse and its furniture, and sheds light on the role of the ladder.  Tall coppers required a platform or other device to allow the brewer to ‘watch the boil and stir the hops’, and while the workhouse set-up was certainly less sophisticated and large than that at somewhere like Shugborough, the brewing process would have been the same.  Ladders and step-ladders made a frequent appearance in brewhouse inventories elsewhere.

Calke Abbey

A further possibility, and this is speculation since I don’t think Pam mentions this terminology, is that the beer ladder at Darlaston workhouse was a variant on another brewers’ accessory the ‘oar’.  This was an implement with a long handle and a laddered or fenestrated paddle at the end for stirring or ‘rowing’ the mash.  Pam’s book contains useful illustrations of brewers’ ‘oars’ but not by the name of ‘ladders’.  What do you think?


Aldridge Overseers

Aldridge overseers’ accounts and vestry minutes yield the names of twenty men who held the office of overseer of the poor between 1823 and 1836.  Two men in each year were elected in this period, as the practice of employing a salaried assistant overseer was not supported continuously throughout the period.  A comparison of these names with those of local residents given in White’s Directory of 1834 reveals that, with the exception of Joseph Reynolds the beer-house keeper (and coincidentally assistant overseer 1820-2), all of the men whose names feature in the Directory were farmers.

1823  Charles Arrowsmith, Thomas Martin

1824  John Clarke, William Tookey

1825  Thomas Cook, Thomas Middleton

1826  Charles Juxon or Jaxon, Joseph Shelley

1827  John Smith, John White

1828  Thomas Crumpton, John Proffitt

1829  Thomas Keen, Thomas Martin

1830  Thomas Martin, John Nevill

1831  Thomas Martin, Joseph Reynolds

1832  Daniel Arblaster, Thomas Martin

1833  John Cliff, Thomas Martin

1834  William Bates, John Lea

1835  Daniel Allen, Joseph Shelley

1836  Daniel Allen, Joseph Shelley


So the important question for us will be, why did Thomas Martin do duty as an overseer so often?  He held office in seven of these fourteen years, and continuously 1829-33.  He presumably had an aptitude and taste for parish work; in addition to stints as overseer he was also the constable of the parish in 1826, when he was given five pounds ‘in consideration of his remaining in the office for the year ensuing as a bonus, for his extra duties in keeping the peace’.  The vouchers may reveal why keeping the peace was such an issue in the mid-1820s.

Sources: SRO D1104/4/1 Aldridge vestry minutes 1808-27; D4122 Aldridge overseers’ account book 1823-37.


If this is Friday, this must be Aldridge

The vouchers of Whittington parish have been typed up in quick time, meaning that we are now turning the focus to Aldridge.  This parish has crossed my radar before, as the home parish of farmer John Masgreave.  John was the elder brother of Ellen Parker neé Masgreave, for whom I wrote an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Once again I’m in quest of names for the overseers and churchwardens of a parish, and this time I have both a set of vestry minutes and a volume of overseers’ accounts to help with the search.  The vestry minutes reveal that Aldridge anticipated legislation of 1818-19 and appointed a salaried assistant or ‘standing’ overseer as early as 1815.  The first post-holder was Patrick Cormick, succeeded in 1820 by Joseph Reynolds.  Reynolds was appointed at a salary of £25 per year, ‘without any cost or charge whatever to the parish excepting all journeys more than 10 miles from Aldridge’.  The parish was clearly trying to keep control of its liabilities in relation to trips associated with legal matters or the settlement of the poor.  Reynolds was required to receive and collect all the poor rates, pay the poor, and ‘execute the general business of the parish subject to the controul [sic] of the overseers for the time being’.  In other words, the parish still elected annual overseers, but they were merely honourary as it was Reynolds who did all the work.

The vestry minutes contain highlights of parish business and low points of parish behaviour.  In illustration of the former, it was resolved in January 1824 that the conveyance of letters between Aldridge and Walsall should be continued by Mrs Hathaway.  Rules were drawn up for the times when this lady should be expected to travel between the two locations for the reliable carriage of post.  A letter bag with a lock and key was supplied to her by the overseers of the poor (for some reason: the mail was not typically their province).  At the other end of the spectrum there was the intransigence of the organist and choirmaster.  Richard Glover was discharged from this post in 1822 for for ‘inability, impropriety of conduct and neglect of duty’.  There is no elaboration of these charges, but given that the next post-holder William Prince was specifically required to arrive at church early, and to teach singing to four parish girls, one can only hope that lateness was the worst of his offence.


Penalties for profiteering overseers

An Act of 1815 made it illegal for churchwardens or overseers to profit by supplying goods to their parish in the same year that they held office.  The penalty for infringement was high at £100.  This law was probably more honoured in the breech, but some keen-eyed contemporaries tried to make sure that it didn’t fall entirely out of view.  Samuel Cook, a radical citizen of Dudley, was one man who tried to make sure parish officers were held to account on this score.  He went to the trouble in 1823 of printing a small poster with the heading ‘Overseers liable to One Hundred Pounds Penalty!’ where he copied out some portions of the Act to publicise the (otherwise neglected) legislation.

This poster came to my attention when visiting the archives at Dudley.  I was searching the catalogues for parish records pertaining to locations in the ancient county of Staffordshire, and particularly for overseers’ vouchers that might survive for Sedgley, Brierley Hill, Kingswinford, and Lower Gornal.  None of these parishes have surviving vouchers relevant to our project, but finding the poster was a bonus.

Samuel Cook used the same small poster, no more than six inches square, to ask some pertinent questions about the workings of the Old Poor Law in Dudley.  He suffixed the main content of the poster with questions, asking about malt bags found at the workhouse, and the pay rise of £20 per year recently awarded to Mr Shorthouse (presumably a parish official).  It is a shame there weren’t more acute observers of parish relief to ask these sorts of questions!


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.

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.


Rich, poor, or spendthrift?

Our latest parish of Whittington St Giles spent more money on poor relief than any of the other parishes we have studied so far, but what should we read into this?

Of course, Whittington didn’t spend the most money in absolute terms.  Large populous parishes naturally spent more than small ones, so the most spent per year in total (so far) by the parishes we have studied has been Uttoxeter.  The cost of poor relief in Uttoxeter was always higher than £1500 per year in the period 1816-1834, and rose to its highest in 1818-19, years of particular hardship in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars.  Then the totals rose to £3350, but never again exceeded £3000 before the change to the law in 1834.

Whittington, though, spent most per head of the population.  The parish dispensed thirteen shillings and seven pence for every man woman and child of the population in 1831, whereas Uttoxeter only spent eight shillings.  We could understand this in a number of ways. Either the population was particularly needy, or wealthy members of the parish could afford to pay high poor rates (and therefore did not stint in paying relief), or both.  Whittington’s proximity to the Cathedral town of Lichfield encourages me to think that it may have been a relatively generous parish with little motivation to cut costs, but full consideration of the vouchers will tell us more…


Finding the Overseers

Starting the new parish of Whittington has presented us with a challenge; how can we find out the names of the overseers when no accounts survive to accompany the vouchers?

Overseers and churchwardens are reliably named on some other forms of parish ephemera, such as apprenticeship indentures, but these may also survive patchily.  We can see that at some point in the 1820s the tailor John Beard was appointed as the (salaried) assistant overseer of Whittington, and that he shared the task with at least one other man per year, probably a rate-payer who was taking his ‘turn’ in office.  So far the list of men in addition to Beard looks like this:

1827-8 = Thomas Dennitts overseer (Hugh Nevill and John Coleman churchwardens)

1828-9 = John Stanley overseer (Hugh Nevill and John Coleman churchwardens)

1829-30 = [no indentures found so far]

1830-31 = James Whitaker overseer (Hugh Nevill and John Coleman churchwardens)

1831-32 = William Smith overseer (Hugh Nevill and William Wootton Shucker churchwardens)

It is useful to know the names of the overseers, churchwardens, and if possible the constables working in the parish each year, because their names might crop up repeatedly on vouchers.  Also they might, like Michael Clewley in Uttoxeter, be acting as parish officials at the same time that they received work from the parish, which was strictly speaking not allowed.

The search for names continues….