Earlier today, I visited the public library in Bromsgrove searching for a book in the history section to read over Christmas. And I spotted a new acquisition by Stephen Bates with the title Penny Loaves & Butter Cheap – Britain in 1846.
1846 was just six years after my great-grandfather William Jackson was born. And that got me thinking.
My middle name is Thomas, and I’m named after my paternal grandfather. Yesterday, 17 December, would have been his 142nd birthday. He was born in 1872.
Grandad was a Staffordshire man, from Burton-upon-Trent, son of William Jackson (b. 1839) and Harriet neé Bailey (b. 1842). He died in February 1967, aged 94.
When I was born in 1948, the fourth youngest of his grandchildren, he was already in his mid seventies. He was profoundly deaf, so never served in the military – unlike my maternal grandfather, Martin Healy, who served with the Royal Irish Regiment on the Northwest Frontier for nearly five years from December 1894, and in South Africa during the Boer War for almost three years from November 1899.
Grandad was married twice. His first wife, Maria Bishop, died in 1902 giving birth to their second child, William. A daughter, Alice was born in 1899. He married Alice Bull (my grandmother) in August 1904, and they had four children: Winifred (b. 1905), Frederick (my father, b. 1908), Edgar, (b. 1914) and Rebecca (b. 1916). Grandad worked in one of the breweries in Burton, as a stationary engine driver.
After retirement in 1931, Grandad and Grandma moved to Hollington, a small village about halfway – more or less – between Ashbourne and Derby, where Grandma was born in 1880.
They lived in Ebenezer Cottage, and some of my earliest memories are of visiting them, along with aunts and uncles and cousins for large family Sunday gatherings. Grandad had his chair in the far corner of the room from the door, and woe betide any of us grandchildren bumping up against his chair and waking him up from a nap. He had this big white moustache, and bushy eyebrows. It was hard talking to Grandad – you always had to shout to make yourself understood.
I’m sure he was very fond of all his grandchildren, but you couldn’t always tell as he often had this stern look on his face. I don’t remember him smiling very much, but I’m sure he must have done. I have heard told that he was very strict with his children.
In 1954 my grandparents celebrated their Golden Wedding, with a party held in Hollington village hall. In 1964 it was their Diamond Wedding anniversary, a small family affair held at the house of my Auntie Wynne (my dad’s elder sister) and Uncle Cyril, where my grandparents had been living since the early 1960s after they had become too frail to continue living on their own at Ebenezer Cottage.
The beginning of the Victorian Age is for me only three generations back, to 1839 and the birth of great-grandfather William. The Napoleonic Wars had ended just a couple of decades earlier; the Crimean War was still 14 years in the future. The railway network was just beginning to expand rapidly, the canals already moving towards decline. And of course, there was increasing urbanization and that major transition from a pre-industrial to an industrial age and its associated evolution of the political system in the UK. Twelve of Charles Dickens’ 15 novels were published during William’s lifetime. William died in 1888, aged 49.
And for me, it has always been interesting to conjecture what impact – if any, or to what extent – the great events of those times had on my family. At least we know when and where they lived, and what they did for a living. These are my ‘live’ connections with history.