I’ve been tracing one of my ancestral lines using some standard tools available on the web, and, apart from being an exercise that provided a lot of interesting answers and back-story, it did of course raise many other questions, as yet unanswered.
I know enough about my family since 1910, so I’ve taken the line of my father, George Middlemiss Barnes, born in Hartlepool in that year, and traced it back to 1791, at which point his grandfather John Barnes was born with ‘unknown father and mother’, which is the dead-end of dead-ends. From the overall information which has come to light, this line has never been moneyed, and I suspect that John’s forebears will have struggled to maintain a subsistence living in rural Wiltshire for generations before, much like the rest of the general population around the country in those times.
The Parish under Cley Hill.
The Barnes family comes from Corsley, in Wiltshire, but on the border with Somerset. Warminster and Frome are the local market towns, just a few miles east and west respectively.
But, ‘the visitor who climbs to the summit of the hill usually enquires after a survey, ‘Where is the village?’ – the remarkable fact being that, with a population of 7-800, there is no village properly speaking. The dwellings lie scattered over the area, in hamlets, in groups of two or three, or in solitary houses.’* There are nine principal hamlets, plus other smaller ones, dating from feudal times. There is a place named Corsley, but in fact the people are spread over nearly 5 square miles in places with other names, but nevertheless coming under the umbrella of Corsley, making the tracing of cottages and exact locations more difficult.
My first point of interest is to try to find out why my father’s line, in this case through John Barnes’ son, George, ended up in the North East of England – 300 miles north of the beautiful ancestral home area – at a time when people generally stayed in their locale, due to lack of opportunity and a transport system to enable a move. For George, was it for better-paid work? Did he have an entrepreneurial spirit? Was he thrown out of home? For whatever reason, George did indeed leave his home village at the age of 21. He left the rest of his large family behind, most of whom rarely moved more than a few miles from the set of hamlets amalgamated under the name of Corsley, on the edge of the Longleat estate in Wiltshire
To quote an article in British History on-line:-
Corsley has always looked to the nearby market towns of both Frome and Warminster. Much of its soil is suitable for either arable or pastoral farming, and the amount given to each has varied considerably. The cloth trade flourished chiefly in the 18th century but survived until the 1840s and (by the end of the 19th century) only about one eighth of households had an income insufficient to provide necessary food and clothing. This relative prosperity was largely due to the good gardens attached to the cottages, the abundance of allotment land, and the number of smallholdings in the parish.
I have a feeling that the Barnes family may have been part of the ‘one eighth’.
John Barnes was born c1791 in Corsley (but at an unknown location at this time), died and was buried there in 1860. In the 1841 census, he is listed as a ‘millman of cloth’. This tells me that he worked in a mill, of which there was one in Corsley, up a cart track from where I know that he lived at this time. There were a few others scattered around the river valleys in the area. But, to believe what is said in the article above, if the cloth trade only lasted until the 1840s, what happened then? That also remains a mystery to me at this time.
He married Martha Watts (1791-1858), in 1810. They would both have been 19, so where did they live? From investigation, the Barnes and Watts families lived as next door neighbours in a property on Bugwell Hill, which was split in two at a point in time to form ‘Rose Cottages’, and lived that way for 20+years. They never owned the cottages, but at least it made courting easier!
This marriage between the Barnes and Watts families resulted in 7 children born in Corsley between 1815 and 1835, and here they are with as much information as I currently have about 6 of them, leaving George, who is my direct antecedent, and whose path I shall follow later:
Harriet – 1815-1901 (86 years) Married Elijah Singer 4 June 1843, and lived in nearby Rodden and then Frome, where she died as a ‘boarder’ following Elijah’s death 10 years before. No children recorded.
Maria – 1821-1894 (73 years) No marriage recorded, but she worked in London as a servant when 40, then back in Frome as a charwoman.
Noah – 1822-1901 (79 years). By the time he was 19 he was working in North Bradley (7 miles from Corsley) as a Fuller (worker in the wool industry). He married Mary Doel in 1844, when he was 22. Their son Thomas was born 3 months later (!) in Chapmanslade (1 mile from Corsley), with a daughter Charlotte born in 1848 (died 1877 aged 29) in Wingfield (8 miles from Corsley). By 1851, he was a self-employed baker (with one boy) in Wingfield, and died in Frome 50 years later.
Henry born 1827 – I have no other information
Eliza – born 5 August 1832 – I have no other information
Sophia – born 22 March 1835. Interestingly in the 1861 census, she is listed as Head (and only member) of the Barnes household at Rose Cottages, and worked as a ‘plain needle worker’ (following the death of her father the previous year, and that of her mother 3 years previously). She married a ‘tea merchant’ James Gunning in 1867 in Warminster. They had a son John in 1868, and she lived in Warminster until her death in 1912, at the age of 77.
So, to George Barnes, born 6 June 1829, the 5th of the 7 Barnes children. By the age of 22, he was a puddler – a worker of iron at the furnace – living as a lodger in Bedwellty, Monmouthshire. Puddling is hot and heavy work with long shifts, so he must have been strong, and, one might think, a valued worker. When 23, he married Ann Beynon in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, and they went to live in Victoria, Ebbw Vale, where there was an enormous Iron and Steel Works, which, from existing photographic evidence, bears a striking resemblance to ‘Hell on Earth’ – and a world away from rural Corsley. Interestingly, they were both misspelt in the Civil Marriage Index, as George Barns and Ann Bynons respectively. Mistake or mischief? I wonder…
Back to their normal names, George and Ann had 6 children:
Edward Beynon – the eldest, my direct line, so more on him and his in due course
Hannah – born Victoria, South Wales 1856
John – born 1856 – Witton Park, County Durham
Martha Jane – born 1863 – Witton Park
George – born 1869 – Witton Park, died 1911
Frederick Charles – born and died 1871 – Hartlepool
By 1856, George had moved his family up to Witton Park, County Durham, where a new iron/steel foundry was built to take advantage of the geology, water supply and rail links to the North Sea ports. Was he headhunted or did he apply? There wouldn’t be many experienced puddlers around at that time, especially in an area new to the heavy industry, so I think he may have been recruited in, probably at a good wage. By 1861, he was living in Escomb near Bishop Auckland according to the census (this is a mere 2 miles from Witton Park, so he may have commuted – i.e. walked) but his two children Martha Jane and George were listed as having been born in Witton Park, so there may have been hospital facilities there.
Within another 10 years he had moved to 51 Thorne Street, Stranton, on the southern edge of Hartlepool’s town centre, still puddling – certainly the area was in full industrial development mode – and moving to Linthorpe, a suburb of Middlesbrough, with his family, and listed as a labourer in the 1881 census, as was his son John, before his wife Ann dies in Sunderland in 1885, and he is last heard of as a lodger in a house in Merrington, between Sunderland and Durham. None of his family were looking after him, seemingly, and no death record is immediately accessible.
Continuing with my direct family line, my grandfather Edward Beynon Barnes at 18 years old (1871), was following in his father’s footstepsas a puddler, and living in the family home in Stranton. He married Hannah Rose Knox (from Wrexham) in 1876, and lived at 152 Studley Road in Stranton, working as Shipyard Engineman.
20 years later, it was still just Edward and Hannah Rose, but they’d moved again in Hartlepool to 72 Scarborough Street, and now a Furniture Dealer (on his ‘own account’, which I take to be self-employed). Interestingly in the 1901 census, someone had written ‘Australia’ alongside Victoria – for reason unknown, as we know from previous census returns and all else, that he was born in Victoria, Ebbw Vale, in South Wales.
Hannah Rose died in 1906 in Hartlepool, without children from the marriage, but Edward was married again the following year to Maria Elizabeth Middlemiss from Stranton – she 20, and he 54!! They soon had three children, Edward born 1907, Edith in 1909, and George Middlemiss Barnes (my father) born Christmas Day 1910.
Edward Beynon Barnes died 11 December 1913 in Hartlepool, leaving £45-10/- (c£7000 in 2023 money) to his wife.
Valuable help from Eric Peddle, Hon Curator at the Warminster Museum and Archive, Rev Di Britten of Corsley, and members of the Corsley Village Community Group
* Maud Davies’ book ‘Life in an English Village’, which is teaching me much about life in Corsley in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Rose Cottages, Lye’s Green, Corsley – half of which was the Barnes family home during the mid part of the 19th century . Husband, wife and 7 children. Photo from 2022.