Apr 072020

It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, also the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Richard Ewing.

Before gas and oil-fired tunnel kilns were introduced into the pottery industry the pottery was fired to 1000°C and above in bottle shaped kilns that were heated by coal. The fumes, gases and irregular bursts of heat produced would severely damage the unfired pottery if unprotected so the items were all placed in a box called a saggar. This box was made of fireclay, generally round or oval, and they had names like Long Toms, Jumbo, fiddles and kites. They didn’t have lids as the saggars were piled on top of each other in the kiln and the next saggar in the stack acted as a lid with the top saggar in each stack being empty and generally being an unfired or ‘green’ saggar.
Whilst a person could make a saggar on their own they were often made by a team of three – a master saggar maker, a saggar maker’s bottom knocker and a frame filler. The job of the frame filler, who was generally a male apprentice, was to make the sides of the box and to do that he used a wooden mallet called a mawl or mow. Saggar marl (clay) was mixed with water and other additives elsewhere in the factory and delivered to the saggar shop in the form of very stiff moistened sheets of clay. After putting sawdust or ground up old saggars onto an iron table to stop the clay sticking to it, the frame filler placed a sheet of clay on top and then battered it flat with the mow to make a large rectangle. Once the clay was properly compacted to the correct thickness, normally about ¾ inch, a strip of clay was cut that was the correct size for whichever type of saggar was being made and then wrapped around a wooden drum which effectively acted as the template.

A master saggar maker was often paid by piece work i.e. for each saggar that he made and then he in turn paid his two assistants. A saggar only lasted for about 40 firings in the kiln so there was always plenty of work for saggar makers. If you want to see a saggar being made just type in ‘mauing the saggar’ in Youtube. The photo below shows saggars at the Gladstone Pottery Museum at Stoke-On-Trent.

Saggars at the Gladstone Pottery Museum at Stoke-On-Trent.

Apr 062020


It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, also the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Liz Budd.

If your place is anything like mine, employment for much of its history has been largely agricultural; farmers and their wives, ag labs and dairymaids, cattlemen and team-men. In my place, the agricultural workers were the vast majority, supported by a limited cast of regulars including an incumbent, shoemaker, wheelwright, blacksmith, and miller.

An oft-considered 'problem' with rural labourers is the lack of records they are assumed to have left behind. Such was the regular lamentation from researchers when I was working in an archive search room. So, please forgive me a small moment on a soapbox, even though I know I probably preach to the converted here. Agricultural labourers *did* often leave something for us! After all, for the majority of people, rural life was life until relatively recently. The usual caveats about record survival and access remain. However...

Contrary to popular opinion a significant number left wills and other probate. Many more leave mentions in the parish chest (settlement and removal records, rates, overseers' and churchwardens' accounts, bastardy - all sorts of things), as well as emigration records, poor law material, newspaper articles, not to mention the goldmine that is the manorial archive. A lucky few are noted in surviving deposited diaries (and some of course left their own journals and letters). Should it be challenging to find a particular individual in these sources, accessible archives can nonetheless be used to help piece together how another's life may have been lived.

And so, if you haven't realised already, (having hammered home my point), I value the agricultural labourers in my place a great deal. This last year my One-Place Study has necessarily extended from Badingham, Suffolk into neighbouring Cransford. Both have close personal links to me, and the latter is the setting of the book that I'm (very slowly) writing. I've been looking to extend into 'new' sources because, despite the confidence of my earlier paragraph, I am unlucky, and many of the parish records for my place are UFP, that dreaded archivist's abbreviation for 'unfit for production'.

Recently I have found 'the Premiums offered by the East Suffolk Agricultural Association to which are added Rules and Regulations for the present year, together with the names of the officers and a list of the members'. It is the reason I requested 'E' for this blog post. The point of the said premiums was as follows: Excitement. Enterprise. Emulation. Encouragement. Employment!

Agricultural Associations continue today, with Suffolk Agricultural Association aspiring to be 'a force for good and central to all matters food, farming and the countryside'. The Association runs events all year round, headlined with the annual Suffolk Show. But the Association is not new. The East Suffolk Agricultural Association came into being in 1831 when a group of farmers and landowners began meeting at the White Hart in Wickham Market (six miles from my place) with the idea of organising a show. Thenceforth, the East Suffolk group continued until 1856, when it merged with its West Suffolk Equivalent.

One way in which the Association looked to advance agriculture in the area was to offer premiums. In so doing it hoped to create 'Excitement of Enterprise and Emulation among the Owners and Occupiers of Land' and 'Encouragement of Skill, Industry, and Good Conduct among Cottagers, Servants, and Labourers in Husbandry'.

For my place, several years' worth of the Association's prize-givings were published, and some of these are now available as digitised volumes. The great and the good were listed (as subscribers to the Association) as well as the winners of premiums. The premium classes included everything from spade drainage to lambing, ploughing to dairying - and being the labourer bringing up the most legitimate children with the least parochial relief: quite the direction in which the landed Victorians wished their labourers to strive!

On page 16 of the 1843 Premiums, we find Mary Pipe at the top of a list of 'Unmarried Female Dairy Servants' - Class IV of the proceedings that year:

To Mary Pipe, of Cransford, (aged 24) 6 years servitude with Mr. and Mrs. Mayhew, of Cransford; recommended by W. A. Shuldham, Esq. 2L[1] 

Until finding this list, Mary existed as an entry in the census of 1841 and in a further handful of mentions in parish records and later census enumeration books. This premium write-up offers a small window into an otherwise veiled part of her life. It suggests that she wasn't just a brief occupant of the farm in question, but was there for at least six years. One might suggest that she must have been good at her job and quite the asset to her employers!

Having had the privilege of visiting the former manor house where Mary worked, I can see in my mind's eye the route she walked from kitchen to buttery, pantry and dairy. Added in the 17th century, with diamond-mullioned windows and an overhead cheese loft, the dairy must have had a ladder up which Mary climbed time after time. For Mr and Mrs Mayhew, ageing by the 1840s, she was likely much more than 'just' a dairymaid, performing many other duties as the lone female servant living-in at the farm. They perhaps missed her a great deal when she left, possibly not until her marriage in 1846, by which time she would have been at the farm for nearly ten years.

The sum of £2 might have been around 40-50% of Mary's annual wage, so quite a bonus. One wonders whether she went to nearby Framlingham or Saxmundham to spend any of it. Whether it was shared with her family (wheelwrights in the village) or whether perhaps she kept it safe in order to set up home with her intended - a soon-to-be master shoemaker - who would be her husband for fifty years.

A year earlier, in Badingham, one John Adams had received a £2 premium in Class III ('Male Unmarried Yearly Farm Servants'). Oddly enough, some thirty years later he was living-in at the same farm in Cransford as Mary had been previously, along with his wife and daughter, who likely fulfilled other roles on the farm.

Church Road, Cransford

Church Road, Cransford

The Cransford in which Mary worked hard in her dairy was a village in flux. On the face of it, the population as a simple number was very similar between 1841 and 1851, but dig a little deeper and change was afoot. There was not a large-scale movement of whole families at this time (although one family did almost all up-sticks to work on the railway) but young, unmarried workers in their teens and early twenties, both male and female, were leaving. Some went to London to sell ham and beef, to work in coffee houses and bars, others to make boots and sell cloth.

In their place came older married agricultural labourers from neighbouring villages with their wives - and hordes of children! Even if it was not explicitly stated in the reasons for the existence of the premiums, it must have been noted by landowners that a proportion of the most energetic and industrious youngsters were off to pastures new. At a time when (in my place at least) there appears to have been no apparent shortage of work for experienced labourers and dairymaids, it must have seemed reasonable practice to reward them for staying put. Perhaps a financial prize might have gone some way to encourage a few young men and women to remain and for others to raise their game, especially if wages as a whole were otherwise low, the cost of living relatively high, and new opportunities from urban employers were dangling on the horizon.

A quick search for similar records offers up other digitised results for the Highlands and Oxfordshire. I'm sure others exist in local studies collections and record offices up and down the country, as well as in the archives of modern-day Agricultural Associations.

So, I challenge you to find similar records for your place, or to find corresponding write-ups in the local newspapers. Can you find a superlative shepherd, a prize-winning ploughman or, indeed, a dazzling dairymaid like Mary Pipe?

Here's hoping you find someone that radiates precisely the kind of 'Excitement of Enterprise and Emulation among the Owners and Occupiers of Land' that the Association were hoping to find!

[1] Available online: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=A62gMFFD9nkC&q=cransford#v=snippet&q=cransford&f=false Accessed 30 March 2020

Apr 042020


It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, also the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Steve Jackson.

Waters Upton, a small village in rural Shropshire and the subject of my one-place study, has rarely been the centre of media attention. In April 2010 however, Waters Upton hit the headlines in newspapers and their websites across the UK – all because of the occupation of a parishioner who had hired the village hall to ply her trade.

Waters Upton map

From Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map SJ61, published 1957. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland [https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

Waters Upton finger post

Original photo (c) Copyright Milestone Society, taken from Geograph [https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/6055856]



The village hall was originally built and opened in 1874 as a Church of England schoolhouse by the Rector, John Bayley Davies. It became the village reading room after the school closed (between 1916 and 1919), and later took on its present function. It is run by a registered charity (number 513630), the activities of which are described as being: “To manage a building for holding communal activities and for hire to local residents of the civil parish of Waters Upton and groups operating therein.”




One website carrying details of the village hall describes it as being “both figuratively and literally at the heart of the village [which] has been the site of interesting goings-on for nearly a century!” In recent years those ‘interesting goings on’ have mainly been meetings of local clubs, including the Chestnut Club (for local seniors), the Waters Upton Art Club, a Bridge Club and Whist Drive, and Fitsteps (for ‘keep fit’ enthusiasts). Appletrees Nursery, a childminding service for local parents, has also operated there.

As we have seen, the phrase ‘interesting goings on’ took on a whole new meaning in 2010 (details, including the name of the young lady at the heart of this story, can be found online, but here I shall refer to the protagonist only as ‘Miss A’). The Shropshire Star broke the news on April 10th, under the headline “Hall used for sexy shoots”. The paper reported that “’professional’ dominatrix […] Mistress Tia, alias Telford woman [Miss A], 27, invited ‘slaves’ to Waters Upton Village Hall, near Wellington, to film kinky scenes for her website, which members pay £20 a month to access.”

BDSM equipment: Original photo by David Shankbone, taken from Wikimedia Commons

BDSM equipment: Original photo by David Shankbone, taken from Wikimedia Commons


Naturally this story was quickly picked up by other newspapers, which devised a variety of headlines including “They Don’t Like It Upton” (the Daily Mirror) and “Whip Round for the Village Hall” (the Scottish Daily Record). The services offered by Miss A were described as including “boot worship, bondage, caning, verbal abuse, flogging, waxing and whipping.”


When questioned by reporters, Miss A said that she was running a business and had done nothing wrong. She noted that she used the village hall because she was local (at the time she was living within the modern-day boundaries of the civil parish of Waters Upton) and it was a “good space”. On her website she described the hall as “a really big place with nice wooden floors which really accentuate the sound of my heels.” At least one newspaper reported that Miss A was filmed there “whipping male ‘sex slaves’ and using them as ashtrays and furniture […]”.



All very Personal Services, and very much not the kind of occupation I am used to finding in the parish registers, census returns and trade directories for the parish! Of course, times have changed since the era covered by my one-place study – but equally, sex work of various kinds, while often carried out clandestinely, has always been around. Those interested in learning more about the subjects of sex, sexuality and sex workers in both historical and contemporary contexts will find the Whores of Yore website a fascinating resource.

Reaction within the community of Waters Upton to the news of what had been going on in their midst was mixed. Some villagers told reporters that they were “disgusted” or “shocked”, or that it was “distasteful” that the village hall had been used in such a way. Others took a more relaxed view, including a pensioner who was quoted as saying “I am 81-years-old so it does not bother me. If they want to do it, let them do it.” The down-to-earth take of another villager was: “There is obviously an outlet for it otherwise she would not be making so much money. There is a need. If not here then where?”

That became a question for Miss A herself to answer, as her ‘village occupation’ – at least within the settlement of Waters Upton itself – was very short-lived. She had used the village hall for five Saturday ‘photoshoots’, but once the nature of those photoshoots became known to the hall’s management committee no more such bookings were permitted.

Apr 032020


It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, also the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Ruth Marler.

Porthleven is a fishing village, the most southerly port in Cornwall and the vast majority of residents were of a fishing or related industries background. Many people who live in the village believe that their family has lived there forever. They forget that everyone comes from somewhere.

Thomes Wetheridge was born in Ilfracombe, Devon in 1809. In 1831 when he was a resident of the parish of Landewednack, the Lizard, the southernmost tip of Cornwall, he married Jane Thomas in her parish of Gunwalloe, Cornwall and they had eight children. Those children were: Thomas b1832 Middleton-by-Bognor, Sussex;  Jane b1835 Middleton-by-Bognor, Sussex, Robert b1837 Pit's Deep, Hampshire; Edmund b1840 Pit's Deep, Hampshire; William b1842 Pit's Deep, Hampshire; Philemon b1846 Watchet, Somerset; John b1848 Minehead, Somerset; Jacob b1851 Ilfracombe, Devon. Ann b1853 Porthleven, Cornwall. In 1861 when Thomas was 53 the family were still in Porthleven and were still there in 1871.

Those with some geographical knowledge of the UK may have noticed that all his children were born in coastal locations around the south coast of England so it will come as no surprise to them to learn that Thomas’s occupation, whilst in the prime of his life, was “Coast Guard”. In the 1841 census he is with his family at the Preventive Station, Pitts Deep, Hampshire with his occupation, “Under the Customs”. In 1851 he is living at Ilfracombe, Devon and is a “supeannuated Coast Guard". In 1861 in Porthleven he is recorded as a “Fisherman” but still in Porthleven in 1871 he is again a  “S Annuated C. Guard”.

To begin with, what we now know as the Coastguard Service was more concerned with the prevention of invasion or smuggling than the saving of lives. That purpose was reflected in how Thomas’s location was recorded in 1841 census. Address: “Preventive Station”.

In the 16th century men watched on the cliffs of Devon and Cornwall to warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada. In 1805, in Kent, they were on the alert for an invasion by Napoleon and in the 20th century they watched for invaders from Germany.

Whenever taxes are imposed on certain items, illegal import or export of goods becomes a highly profitable pastime and it is estimated that by the middle of the 18th century 50-65% of the spirits consumed in Britain were smuggled ashore. To ensure that taxes and duty were paid  Customs Officers were appointed at ports and the official export of some goods was restricted to specific ports only. The Board of Customs collected import taxes on goods via their network of Customs Officers at ports. 

By 1831 the Coastguard Service (which had been formed in 1822) combined all its predecessors: Board of Customs boats; Riding Officers; Preventive Water-guard with Watch Houses & boat crews and the Coast Blockade.  This new service had men serving on ships and on shore.The onshore coastguards were posted away from their homes to avoid any chance of collusion with smugglers. Coastguard Stations were built to house both married and single men and were commanded by a Chief Officer (usually a RN Lieutenant) backed up by Chief Boatman, Commissioned Boatman and Boatman ranks. The complement of each rank depended on the size of the station. In 1839 there were over 4,553 Coastguards posted around the coast.

On 1st October 1856, (after the end of the Crimean War), control of the Coastguard Service was transferred to the Admiralty. Here, all the traditions and historical associations with the smuggler finally disappeared. By this time smuggling was dropping and the lifesaving role and Naval Reserve aspects were more significant.

The Coastguard had always performed some kind of duty in wrecks, salvage and life-saving apparatus. In 1866, they were finally authorised, by an Instruction to 'take an active part in the workings of a lifeboat.' Another duty became the reporting on movements of buoys, beacons and light vessels. In this same year, 1866, in Porthleven a castellated Coastguard station incorporating living accommodation for several families and a central area for storage of lifesaving rocket launching apparatus was built. This still stands proudly above the harbour, first being used as residential accommodation for Porthleveners and then in later years it being converted into stylish holiday lets.




Soon the Coast Guard came to be considered as a Royal Naval reserve. Signal exercises were constantly conducted - twice daily - using semaphore flags and telegraphy, and flashing lamps at night. There were many exercises and manoeuvres involving the Royal Navy and the Coastguards.  After the First World War the Coastguard Service significantly reduced its manpower and control of the Service changed hands 5 times after 1923. Over several hundred years, the  Coastguard Service, and all its predecessors, have shown that it can adapt with the times, the needs of these it protects and new technology. 

Several families now living in Porthleven can demonstrate a history of several generations that have served as Coast Guards. However, there is no longer the need to post men away from their home port to ensure that they do not collude with smugglers.

Apr 022020

It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, also the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Alex Coles.

Employment opportunities in any given place will be determined by the natural landscape to a certain extent, particularly when looking at early or traditional opportunities. My place, Wing in Buckinghamshire, happens to be situated right on the edge of a bed of blue marl brickearth, and the hamlet of Littleworth had beds with enough clay in them (an “almost inexhaustible bed of fine blue and white clay” if you believe the advertising) to warrant setting up a brickworks.

map of the border of Buckinghamshire and Wing showing clay bed location

Wing is tucked into the "curl" of the blue marl beds in the north of Buckinghamshire

In 1850 Great Britain abolished its brick tax, a tax per brick used in construction that had been established in 1784 to pay for the American Revolutionary War. That sounds like a great time to invest in brick production, and in 1859 Richard Harris, a Wing-born miller, did just that, establishing a brickworks over six acres in Littleworth. It had two kilns with 12 furnaces plus numerous sheds and buildings, and produced bricks, tiles and pipes.

The brickmaking year involved being outside digging up the clay in autumn, spading it in winter, tempering it in spring, and finally moulding and firing. As far as I can tell from the census the Wing Brick Kilns didn’t employ great swathes of people – as well as boss Richard there was a foreman, George Trueman, plus three labourers at the time of the 1861 census, however it’s possible there were more workers either just describing themselves as plain labourers on the census or only employed at certain times of the year. In subsequent census records there were again no more than 5 brickmakers/brickworkers recorded. Still, that means there were at least 5 families supported by this local business.

You can learn more about brickmaking generally and brickmaking in Wing specifically on my website.