Friday 7 March 2014

Ancestral Context

When researching family history, genealogists put great emphasis on “proof”, and substantiating our conclusions. This establishes a sound basis for objective aspects such as lineage, occupations, residence, etc., but what about the more subjective aspects? For instance, why they moved from A to B, or why so-and-so married so-and-so.

Although good research may yield clues to these questions, we would be much less certain of a conclusion that tried to look into the mind of an ancestor than a conclusion identifying, say, their parentage. Does that mean we shouldn’t be asking those questions? No, of course not, but a focus on rigour and proof may be steering us away from asking them, and so persuading us that we shouldn’t be recording such notions lest they be considered mere guesswork.

Interestingly, academic historians often do dig this deeply and attempt to analyse why things happened the way they did. The point I’m trying to make here is that searching for the context for why certain decisions were taken may not yield anything concrete, but it is still worthwhile as it provides a backdrop for the more substantiated details. As long as we don’t try to elevate such conjecture beyond its supporting evidence, it can help to turn a bunch of disparate facts into a readable narrative. In lucky situations, it may even take you down unanticipated avenues of research and yield something verifiable that might otherwise have been missed.

Every so often, we find an ancestor who travelled far afield instead of remaining in the family village/town. Emigration is a common instance, but my example case for this post involves a 19th Century ancestor who travelled across parts of Britain from Suffolk to Henley, to Kensington, to Burton-on-Trent, and to Derbyshire. I just had to ask myself why.

Henry Woods was born in the small rural Suffolk village of Peasenhall in c1821 to George Woods and Elizabeth Calver[1]. At some point between the baptism of their last child (William, c1827) and the 1841 census, George moved the whole family 150 miles to Remenham Hill in Berkshire, near to Henley-on-Thames[2]. In the 1841 census[3], both Henry and George are ‘Drillmen’, meaning they operated a seed drill for planting seed.

I lived in Suffolk for a while, not far from Peasenhall, and was rather surprised to find an ancestor from that village, let alone from the county of Suffolk. However, I realised how little local knowledge I had when I recently found that Peasenhall was once world-famous for a new generation of seed drills. James Smyth founded a company based on a new lever design in 1800, and this lasted for about 160 years. Before that time, the only drills in use were block drills, in which all the coulters were fixed in one transverse wooden beam. These were “about the most unserviceable instrument of its kind which could be conceived”. The lever drill had each coulter fixed to an independent lever. [4]

In a strange twist of serendipity, I had such a corn drill in one of my outbuildings, here in Ireland. It was constructed in 1887 by R. Hornsby & Son Ltd. of the Spittlegate Iron Works in Grantham, England.

Figure 1 - Corn Drill from towbar

Figure 2 - Corn Drill from rear

Even stranger is that I also have the remains of a very old block drill. A neighbour once commented that “That’s Stone Age, that is!”.

Remenham was famous for lavender crops:

About a mile and a half N by E. from Henley, in the hundred of Beynhurst, county of Berks, is REMENHAM village and parish, intersected by the river Thames. Park Place, in this parish, was formerly the residence of General Lord Conway: The cultivation and distilling of lavender was established here by this nobleman, and there is still much of this fragrant plant grown in this neighbourhood.[5]

I don’t believe that George and Henry were involved in this since the planting of lavender was quite different from that of corn:

Park Place, near Henley-on-Thames, is celebrated for its lavender plantations which occupy between forty and fifty acres. ‘The plants are raised from cuttings which are slipped off and prepared by women in the autumn, and bedded in, in rows, in any spare piece of garden ground, where they remain for two years. The ground into which they are to be transported, being prepared by shallow trenchings or double ploughing, the plants are placed in rows four feet apart and at least two feet distance in the rows’.[6]

Their seed drills were most likely associated with the planting of corn, which was certainly a product of that region and used for malting[7].

While looking for a connection between Peasenhall and Remenham, I found some tantalising newspaper information. In 1831, a man called Henry Pope was working in Wallingford, just 13 miles west of Remenham, and capitalising on his association with Peasenhall to advertise a new and specialised type of drill:

HENRY POPE, Drill-Man, from Peasenhall, Suffolk, returns his sincere thanks to the Gentlemen and Agriculturists for the great encouragement he has met with since he commenced drilling in the neighbourhood of WALLINGFORD. and begs to inform them he is coming up with A NEW CORN DRILL, so constructed as to sow Clover Seed at the same time the Spring Corn is Drilled, ...[8]

This was not an isolated case of making capital from the association either. In 1839, a Thomas Teago of Peasenhall, “late apprentice in the firm of Smyth & Son”, ran a very similar advertisement:

THOMAS TEAGO begs to return thanks to Agriculturists in General, for the flattering encouragement he has received in the manufacture of his Improved Corn lever Drill, …[9]

By far the most unexpected connection appeared in 1843 in the form of two consecutive advertisements for property sales: one from the Peasenhall area (1000 acres of land for auction in Yoxford and Sibton, including parts of Peasenhall) and one from the Remenham area (Fawley Court Estate. 4000 acres in Henley, Oxfordshire, and Berks, including parts of Remenham). Both of these advertisements were run by the same agents: Messrs Farebrother & Co.[10]

Henry married a Sarah Roomes/Rooms/Roames in Feb 1843 in Henley-on-Thames. Both were recorded as living in Turville, about 8 miles north of Remenham. Sarah’s father, William, was recorded as a ‘Maltster’, and both Henry and his father, George, were now ‘Drill makers’. An interesting observation, here, is that the two witnesses were Charles Woods (Henry’s older brother) and a Sarah Oxlade. Both of these had a marriage of their own recorded in the same register entry, strongly pointing to a double wedding.[11] A clue to how Henry met Sarah can be found in the 1841 census, just two years earlier. Sarah and Henry’s younger brother, John (b. c1826), were both working as ‘Servants’ on the same farm in Cookham, Berkshire.[12]

By the 1851 census, Henry had moved a few miles east to Bisham, but his occupation was now that of a carpenter[13]. My first thought here was that it was something to do with barges since the Thames was an important trade route into London. However, the use of barges was in decline due to the Great Western Railway (GWR), from London to Bristol, being completed in 1841. By 1849, toll income from river traffic below Staines had fallen by 50%, and barge traffic was gradually being replaced by pleasure boats. Henley even got its own GWR branch line in 1857.[14]

Henry’s fourth child, Jane, was born in Kensington, London, in 1853. By the 1861 census, there were four children born in Kensington, and Henry was still a carpenter[15]. Although the River Thames is a dominant feature of London, Kensington would not be well-placed for anything in connection with it. Locating the family in the 1871 census took a little longer than usual as the enumerator must have been in a great hurry — the first initial of each person was used instead of their given names, and all their places of birth were recorded simply as “England” — but it showed that Henry was still in Kensington, and was still a carpenter[16].

Kensington at that time was a mixture of both rich and poor, and there were some awful slums in the area[17]. In trying to determine whether their addresses (see Table 1) were up-market or slum, I found a couple of newspaper references suggesting they weren’t slums: a mention of Francis Henry Tredle, 5 Ernest St, Cam(p)den Hill, Kensington, as “gentleman”[18], and a description of a house on Walmer Rd as “double-fronted house, detached, with large yard and spacious workshops, ... suitable for a Builder's or other manufacturing purposes"[19]. This assessment is confirmed by browsing the Charles Booth survey into life and labour in London (1886-1903). There were also some local breweries, such as the Kensington Park Brewery, Clarendon Rd, Notting Hill, owned by William Lake Woodman and Henry Woodman[20], and this was another possible link with the Henley-on-Thames area.

Henry’s wife, Sarah, died on 4 Sep 1872, aged just 51, of ‘Hemiplegia 5 months, Apoplexy 60 hours’[21]; basically partial paralysis following a stroke. He was remarried within six months but had also moved 130 miles north to Burton-on-Trent. I can understand the need to get away from Kensington, and the memories of a protracted demise, but why Burton-on-Trent? His new wife was Jane Phillips, née Parker (b. c1829 in Bungay). It’s not clear how they met since in 1871 she was running a grocers shop on the Staines Rd, Heston, Hounslow, about 10 miles west of Kensington. It is clear, though, that they had several things in common: both had been recently widowed; both were from villages in the north of Suffolk; Jane’s late husband (William Phillips, b. c1829 in Bungay, d. 1870) was a ‘Master carpenter’ in Brentford, and her father (Robert) was also a carpenter. They were married in Burton on 9 Mar 1873[22].

I know of no family connection with Burton-on-Trent for either of them, or for their former spouses. At that time, Burton was very well known for the brewing of ale, so the above theory may hold some weight. The following (lengthy) transcription is from a trade directory of 1874; the year after they were married:

BURTON-UPON-TRENT. In a broad trough of the Trent valley, in the county of Stafford, surrounded by meadows and bright green islands formed by numerous arms of the river, and standing upon masses and veins of gypsum, triassic rocks, sandstone, and arinaceous limestone, lies the town of Burton. It is 25 miles E. of Stafford, 11 S.E. from Derby, 33 N.E. from Birmingham, and 126 N.W. from London. Burton and pale ale seem to the world synonymous terms, and it will not be deemed amiss to premise our short description with a few broad facts anent the famous liquid staple of the town upon the Trent. Its twenty-seven breweries, belonging to the like number of firms, in addition to malt houses, cooperages, and other erections, cover nearly 300 acres of land. The history of ale brewing in Burton dates back at least to 1295, as in a document of that date yet extant Matilda, daughter of Nicholas de Milindale, leases to the Abbot or convent of Burton certain tenements for "two white loaves from the Monastery, and 11 gallons of Conventual beer, or cider, and one penny; together with seven gallons of beere for the men, and one sextary of hay”, &c. In 1777 Mr. William Bass established the brewery which was the germ of the gigantic business of his grandson Mr. M. T. Bass. At the close of the last century there seems to have been nine brewers only in Burton. Among these appear the names of Michael Bass, William Worthington, and Benjamin Wilson, the daughter of the last named being married to Samuel Allsopp. Mr. Wilson’s brewery, now the old brewery on the east side of High street, was then one of one of the largest in the town. Much of the success of the Burton ale trade was due to the manufacture of a peculiar liquid which was first introduced into the market from this town about 1823, under the name of India or Bombay beer, which then gradually assumed the position long and tenaciously held before by Hodgson’s pale ale.[23]

In 1880, Henry acquired the licence for the Pool Inn, Church Gresley, about 6 miles S.E. of Burton[24]. By this time, he may have been getting a little old for carpentry (59) and this could have been his dream of retirement. When Henry moved to Church Gresley, the youngest children by Sarah (Emma and John) came with them, and also his second son, George Henry. The others remained in Burton-on-Trent. The prior children of his second wife, Jane, remained in the W. London area and never moved north, except for Jane’s grandson, Charles Henry Florence, who is with her in the 1891 census after his mother— also Jane — had died in 1889.

The following table summarises the various locations of the family. I am assuming that Henry was at the same locations for the births of his children.

Until 9 Dec 1827
Peasenhall, Suffolk
Baptism of youngest brother, William
6 Jun 1841
Remenham Hill, Berks
1841 Census. Occ: Drillman
6 Feb 1843
Turville, Bucks
Marriage to Sarah Roomes. Occ: Drill maker
Camberwell, Surrey
Birth of Lavinia Woods
Princes Risborough, Bucks
Birth of George Henry Woods
Remenham, Berks
Birth of William Woods
30 Mar 1851
Bisham, Berks (Bisham St)
1851 Census. Occ: Carpenter
Cookham, Berks
Birth of Jane Sarah Woods
Kensington, W. London
Birth of Elizabeth Woods
Kensington, W. London
Birth of Henry Woods
21 Nov 1859
Kensington, W. London (Ernest St)
Birth of Sarah Ellen Woods
7 Apr 1861
Kensington, W. London (Ernest St)
1861 Census. Occ: Carpenter
8 Feb 1862
Kensington, W. London (Ernest St)
Birth of Emma Woods
Kensington, W. London
Birth of John Woods
2 Apr 1871
Kensington, W. London (Nutbourne Terrace)
1871 Census. Occ: Carpenter
4 Sep 1872
Kensington, W. London (Walmer Rd)
Death of wife, Sarah. Occ: Carpenter
9 Mar 1873
Burton-on-Trent, Staffs
Marriage to Jane Phillips. Occ: Carpenter
5 Aug 1880
Church Gresley, S. Derbys
Taking over Pool Inn
3 Apr 1881
Church Gresley, S. Derbys
1881 Census. Occ: Beer House Keeper
6 Aug 1884
Church Gresley, S. Derbys
Death of Henry
Table 1 – Where was Henry Woods?

Henry died 6 Aug 1884 in Church Gresley, aged 62, of ‘Morbus Cordis Syncope'[25] (i.e. a heart attack), and Jane continued to run the Pool Inn until she died in 1894 aged 66.

So, was Henry connected with the brewing trade after switching from seed drills in the Henley-on-Thames area? A barrel or cask maker would have been described as a “cooper” so there’s not much evidence for that. How much richer is the picture, though, when it includes some context rather than a mere list of facts such as those in Table 1?

[1] "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975", index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 2 Mar 2014), Henry, 18 Nov 1821.
[2] Henley-on-Thames is actually in Oxfordshire but near its boundaries with Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
[3] "1841 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 2 Mar 2014), household of George Woods (age 50); citing  HO 107/11, book 12, folio 12, page 19; The National Archives of the UK (TNA).
[4] “(Pea) Drillmakers”, blything wiki, created Dec 2007 ( : accessed 4 Mar 2014).
[5] Pigot & Co.'s Directory of Berks, Bucks ... , 1844. [Part 2: Hants to Wilts, & Wales], p.18 (image 173 of 531), online PDF, University of Leicester, compiler, Historical Directories ( : accessed 2 Mar 2014), “Henley on Thames”.
[6]  “Monthly Literature: lavender”, Reading Mercury (Monday 12 Dec 1836): p.2, col.4.
[7] "Brewing in Henley", Lovibonds Brewery Ltd ( : accessed 4 Mar 2014).
[8] "To Farmers", Reading Mercury (Monday 15 Aug 1831): p.1, col.5.
[9] “THOMAS TEAGO”, Huntingdon, Bedford & Peterborough Gazette (Saturday 3 Aug 1839): p.1, col.4.
[10] “Public Sales”, London Standard (Saturday 22 Jul 1843): p.1, col.3.
[11] England, marriage certificate for Henry Woods and Sarah Roames [Roomes], married 6 Feb 1843; citing 6/511/21, registered Wycombe 1843/Mar [Q1]; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.
[12] "1841 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 4 Mar 2014), household of William Peto (age 65); citing HO 107/11, book 12, folio 12, page 19; TNA.
[13] "1851 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database,  FindMyPast ( : accessed 2 Mar 2014), household of Henry Woods (age 30); citing HO 107/1694, folio 265, page 5; TNA.
[14] “Henley and the Thames River Trade”, VCH Explore ( : accessed 2 Mar 2014), attachment, “Henley River Trade after 1830” ( : accessed 2 Mar 2014).
[15] "1861 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 2 Mar 2014), household of Henry Woods (age 40); citing RG 9/17, folio 107, page 37; TNA.
[16] "1871 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 2 Mar 2014); household of H. Woods (age 51); citing RG 10/41, folio 127, page 67; TNA.
[17] Tom Vague, Chapter 3 in "Notting Hill History Timeline", VAGUERANTS ( : accessed 6 Mar 2014). This work was formerly hosted at and the Wikipedia page for Notting Hill had a broken link to it which was valid on 7 Jun 2009.
[18] "Copy of Returns: The Provincial Banking Corporation", Reading Mercury (Saturday 24 Feb 1866): p.7, col.3.
[19] "Kensington Park, Notting Hill", Cambridge Independent Press (Saturday 17 Nov 1860): p.4, col.3.
[20] "Local news: Embezzlement", West Middlesex Advertiser and Family Journal (Saturday 09 Jul 1859): p.2, col.2. "Partnerships Dissolved", Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (Thursday 24 May 1866): p.4, col.7.
[21] England, death certificate for Sarah Woods, died 4 Sep 1872; citing 1a/86/498, registered Kensington 1872/Sep [Q3]; GRO.
[22] England, marriage certificate for Henry Woods and Jane Phillips, married 9 Mar 1873; citing 6b/464/259, registered Burton 1873/Mar [Q1]; GRO.
[23] Wright's Directory of South Derbyshire, 1874, pp.163–164 (images 173–4 of 286), online PDF, University of Leicester, compiler, Historical Directories ( : accessed 2 Mar 2014), “BURTON”.
[24] "Swadlincote", Derby Daily Telegraph (Thursday 5 Aug 1880): p.4, col.2.
[25] England, death certificate for Henry Woods, died 6 Aug 1884; citing 6b/217/53, registered Burton 1884/Sep [Q3]; GRO.

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