Who Do You Think You Are?
SEAFARERS AND LACEMAKERS
What a coincidence to see a ‘Record Masterclass’ on nautical apprentices and an ‘Ancestors at Work’ piece on lacemakers – occupations of my ancestors – in the November issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.
When my great great grandparents Joseph Taylor and Sally Robinson married in 1855 in Wicken, Northamptonshire, I was surprised to see his rank or profession listed as “seaman”. Wicken is almost as far from the sea as it is possible to get, so I thought that it was an error in transcription. However, when
I found him, aged seven, in the 1841 census in the workhouse at Yardley Gobion with his sisters, it rang a bell. They were in the workhouse because both their parents and their grandmother were dead and their grandfather died not long after the 1841 census. When Joseph grew up a bit, he was probably ‘encouraged’ by the workhouse into employment and he perhaps thought that a life at sea was preferable to becoming an ‘ag lab’ as the rest of his family had been.
I have found him listed in the 1845/1854 register among many other Joseph Taylors with the magic word “Wicken”, as number 368 866. I have a copy of his register ticket dated 29 July 1847 stating he was 16 and born 11 June 1831 in Wicken, Northamptonshire. I know he was christened 16 June 1833 in Wicken, so it may be that they had part of his birth right and got the year wrong. I have not found him in the 1851 census, but in 1861, the family – Joseph (27), Sally and three daughters – were at 25 French Street, St Michael’s, Southampton. My great grandmother Eliza Harriet was born in Wicken, but her sisters were born in Southampton.
In the early 1860s, he must have been lost at sea; there are various dates and boats where a “Joseph Taylor” is listed as deceased crew. By 1865, Sally was back in Wicken and married to George Church, with whom she had four more children. One of them was a George Joseph Church, who was sometimes listed in records as “Joseph”.
In addition, many of Sally’s extended family in Wicken, Passenham and Deanshanger were listed as lacemakers. My great grandmother, Eliza Harriet, may have been taught to make lace in school. I certainly have a photo of her at her pillow, making lace, which was probably taken in the 1920s. My mum used to talk about “pillow lace” when I was a child, which I then thought meant lace for trimming pillowcases.
Since I retired, I have taught myself to make bobbin lace and now belong to the Lace Guild and a local lacemaking group. My cousin let me have some of Grannie’s bobbins, the only evidence we have of her lacemaking, since unfortunately none of her work was kept. Jennifer Chilcott, by email
Editor Replies: It’s lovely to hear about your seafaring ancestor, Jennifer. I wonder if your great great grandfather lied about his age so he could join up? Well done, too, for following in your great grandmother’s and grandmother’s lacemaking footsteps – it’s great that you still have the original bobbins!