February was generally an unhappy month for a rural community; winter this year was continuing to be miserable. The provisions put aside in their winter store were threatening to run low. For the cottagers, that store included cured meat, vegetables grown in their gardens and wood and dry turves collected as fuel for the hearth. Any who had taken to Aldershot Heath, intent on foraging for more, might not have given the military man on horseback a second thought except the grudge of empathy for anyone out in such weather.
The fields had been too wet for the farmers to start anything useful during the previous month. Come February, the weather turned first to snow and then to frost. The Hampshire Telegraph wrote that the progress of domestic agriculture was ‘in arrears’. By mid-month, Bell’s Weekly Messenger was repeating its advice that there was no opportunity for sowing spring wheat with any certainty of success.
Despite all of that, farmers always had business to conduct, buying and selling hay as winter feed as well as engaging trade in barley, oats and wheat. This was also the time of year for local hop farmers to be buying in poles and other equipment. Continued care for livestock was always required and calving would begin before the month was out.
This was traditionally a period in the agricultural calendar during which to attend to maintenance. Work was required on the farm, but the high winds in December and January had added to the seasonal need for repairs, those having to be carried out to houses all across the village as well as to farm buildings.
Elsewhere, news of strikes by agricultural workers in South Wiltshire was being reported. Despite the weather, between 150 to 200 farm labourers had journeyed from farm to farm at Barford, Codford and Fovant “quietly stating their determination to get the advance they asked”. They were demanding a raise in the weekly rate from 7 to 9 shillings. The Portsmouth Times and Naval Gazette gave them support but stated that the farmers could not afford to meet the claim.
The Bank of England had raised the minimum rate of interest to 3 per cent. Money was tight. The mood of farmers was made worse as shipments of grain arrived from abroad and led to “some giving way in prices” for wheat, barley and oats. The over-supply of wheat at this time from the Baltic and the Black Sea was contributing to the fall in prices for farmers.
Saturday, 5th February 1853
Locally, the Reverend Dr Henry Carey had his focus on the sombre task of officiating at the burial of Frank Henning, the infant child of the supervisor at the District School. This was the infant who had been baptised eight weeks earlier by Reverend James Dennett, the incumbent’s prospective successor. The death was a tragedy for his parents, of course, but Reverend Carey might also have hoped that the younger curate would not take it too badly when he heard the news, nor that there would be any tittle-tattle in the village about this misfortune. The parents of the dead child were Francis and Mary Henning, aged 40 and 29, respectively. They had three older infants, all born in Aldershot, in December 1847, February 1849 and in February 1851.
Nationally, vaccination against Smallpox featured prominently in the news. The weekend edition of the Morning Post carried a report of the prevailing epidemic in London and there were calls for compulsory vaccination to prevent the outbreak of an epidemic.
Smallpox was identified in public policy as something which could and should be eradicated; it killed adults as well as infants, both rich and poor.
800 patients had been admitted during the past year to the Small Pox Hospital in Highgate. This was over ten percent more (88) than had ever been admitted. The record before that was in 1838, the start of a national epidemic during which almost 42,000 died. Legislation had followed in 1840 to set up a national system of voluntary vaccination; death rates then declined. Vaccination had been far from universal, however, varying considerably between Poor Law Unions and across the country. The rates of infant vaccination were much higher in London, for example. That was also true in the cities and crowded urban areas of the industrial North which had also suffered most in the earlier epidemic.
The incidence of smallpox in 1851 and 1852 was regarded as the possible start of another epidemic and there was growing pressure for further legislative action. Part of this pressure was coming from the London Epidemiological Society, a grouping of physicians and others interested in the causes of epidemic diseases and their prevention. Founded in 1850, the Society’s members were pioneers in the use of statistical evidence upon which to base actions to improve public health. A committee was put together to report on the state of small-pox and vaccination in England and Wales when compared to other countries, and thence upon the merits of compulsory vaccination.
Monday, 14th February 1853
The reminder of a wedding on St Valentine’s Day had been a happier note in the curate’s diary. Earlier in the month, Reverend Carey had read the banns for the third and last time for the forthcoming marriage of Jane Young and William Chuter.
The couple were both aged 22, baptised at this parish church in 1830, William in March and Jane in July. Likely, ‘Billy’, to give him a nickname so as not to confuse him with his father, had known Jane since childhood. The couple were of an age to have been taught by ‘Miss Williams’, the village school mistress. Had Caroline Hone have attended the wedding that day, she would surely have been satisfied to note that both were able to sign their names in the marriage register that day.
The bride’s family were from Aldershot ‘s West End. Jane Young had not yet reached ten years old when her father died, recorded as ‘William of Farnham’ in the notes of Aldershot’s burial register in 1840. Jane was in her widowed mother’s household in 1841. She had left the family household by 1851 for Clapham Common to be the housemaid for a ship owner.
Billy’s father was William Chuter, a farm labourer who also carried out the role of the official receiver for the Post Office in the village. Seeing young Billy stand at the front of the aisle in St Michael’s Church waiting for his bride to arrive, he and his wife Elizabeth would surely have recalled their own marriage at the same church nearly 33 years earlier, in March 1820. The Chuter family had long association with Aldershot and St Michael’s Church.
Stephen Chuter, the older of Billy’s two uncles on his his father’s side of the family, had become a potter in Aldershot. He had married in Farnham in 1813 to Jane Cawood, confusingly having the same maiden name as Billy’s grandmother. Stephen’s first born, now aged 35, was yet another called Stephen, baptised in Aldershot in 1817. Their daughter Caroline, although baptised at St Michael’s, was born in Pirbright in 1826. That was probably when Billy’s Uncle Stephen first established himself as a potter in Pirbright, occupying a house owned by William Collins, another potter. The younger son James, closer in age to Billy, was also born at Pirbright, baptised in August 1829.
Billy’s Uncle John, his father’s younger brother, was an agricultural labourer in Aldershot up on North Lane with his wife and family. He had married Catherine Miles in 1825. Although both locally born, they had wed by banns at Guildford, suggesting that they might then have both been living near Pirbright, something confirmed by the note in the baptismal entry in Aldershot in 1829 for their son, another called Stephen, ‘born of Pirbright’. Cousin Stephen was also about Billy’s age who had been a farm servant in Aldershot in 1851, in the household of the farmer William Gosden. It is unclear what Stephen was doing in 1853 as Mr Gosden had died shortly after the 1851 Census was taken and his son George was not a farmer, opting only to operate the shop he had earlier taken over from his father.
The day of the wedding had coincided with the fifth day of Lent. The curate might have mentioned that during the marriage service. However, that coincidence might not have been sufficient to deter many in the wedding party continuing to toast the happy couple at one or other of the village’s two public houses.
Stephen Chuter would have been remembered by some of the older members of the village, especially those who were now or had been local potters. During the ten-year period 1814 to 1823 there had been as many as fifteen children born to potters, with surnames including those Collins, Chuter, Fadgent, Gosden, Mason, Mullard and Smith. The day of the wedding, and especially the evening, might have been the opportunity for a get-together for some of those potters. The likely choice of venue would have been the Beehive Inn where, thirty years previously, three of the four active potteries in Aldershot had been located close by. The four potteries were then owned by the Fadgent, Gosden, Smith and Collins families, the latter situated further down the Street opposite the Green. By 1851 only the Collins and the Smith potteries were still operating, the latter by another called Collins.
Many potters had left the village, often moving to other more active potteries in the area. However, the families of potters had a strong web of social connection, sometimes underpinned by intermarriage.
Billy’s father also had two sisters. Billy’s Aunt Ann, the eldest, had passed away over three years previous, aged 63. She had married in Aldershot in 1816 to Richard Pharo who, widowed, lived with the family of his son James, Billy’s eldest cousin, who was now aged 30. Billy’s Aunt Jane had married much later in 1846 to Henry Stovold when aged 42. They lived on Boxalls Lane. Stovold was a labourer from Hungry Hill who had been widowed the year before, in May 1845. He had been left with four young children, including an infant who was baptised on the same day as her mother’s burial in Aldershot.
Monday, 21st February 1853
The sombre news of the deaths of two older adults in the village became known towards the end of the month. One death was of 60-year-old George Simpkin, whose funeral in Guildford had been held on the Monday. The other was for 89-year-old Mary Hughes, the service to be conducted locally on the Saturday following. Both individuals had commanded a degree of seniority in the village, although in quite different ways. The former, newly retired into the parish, was regarded as one of the gentry; the latter was the mother or grandmother to about thirty in the village.
Of independent means, George Simpkin Esq. and his wife Ann had been renting Woodbine Cottage which was close by Manor Farm, both properties owned by the Eggar family. The couple were incomers to the village; they had two servants, both also from outside the parish, a female house servant and a one recorded in the Census as a ‘gent servant’.
The motivation for their arrival was doubtless that Ann Simpkin was the sister of the wife of Mr Deacon, a member of the Aldershot Vestry. He lived on the eastern side of the parish close to the Ash Bridge, in what seems to have been the most genteel area in the village.
John Thomas Deacon had been born in London in 1805, his marriage in 1840 to Mary, ten years older than himself, apparently not resulting in any surviving children. He was the son of a lawyer, his father rising to be Marshall of the Admiralty Court of England before his death in 1850.
Simpkin and Deacon had married two sisters called Turville, both marriages taking place in West Clandon, close to Guildford. George Simpkin married Ann Turville in December 1836. John Thomas Deacon had married Mary in 1840, the couple setting up home in Aldershot by 1841 by renting a property then known as the Clock House from Elizabeth Osborne. They also maintained an address in London, at 2 Halkin Street, on the northern side of Belgrave Square.
Miss Elizabeth Osborne had bought the property in 1837 for £400. She was recorded as the owner-occupier in the 1839 Rate Book. By 1841, Miss Osborne was living in Weyborne in the household of the elderly Mary Knight. John and Mary Deacon continued to rent the Clock House, it later becoming referred to as Ash Bridge House.
Ash Bridge House stood at one of the corners of the two-acre meadow which ran alongside the road, later known as Ash Road, from the Red Lion Inn to the bridge that went over the Blackwater to Ash in Surrey.
As shown in two map extracts, the top one from the 1841 Tithe Survey and the one below from the 1855 Enclosure Awards, Cross House stood opposite. In 1853 this was owned and now occupied by the widowed Mrs Tice who lived with her unmarried daughter Esther. In 1841 it had been included as part of the properties owned by her late husband William Tice, the farmer of Holy Farm located further up North Lane. Cross House was then occupied by two distinct households.
One household in Cross House in 1841 was that of Henry and Elizabeth Cobden and their servant. The other was the widowed Ann Robinson, aged 84, her brother and her twin daughters, Esther and Mary, both unmarried. By 1851, Henry Cobden, a proprietor of houses, and his wife had moved across the Blackwater to live on Tongham Street, Seal, and Mrs Robinson had died.
Following the death of her mother, Esther Robinson moved to Yew Tree Cottage, which was set back from Cross House, on the other side of what was known as Malthouse Lane. This was owned and occupied by her widowed sister Ann Medding. Both were recorded by the 1851 Census as working as a needle seamstress.
Ann Medding’s husband David, a blacksmith aged 70, had died in 1848, the same year as the farmer William Tice, aged 79.
At the final corner of the four-sided meadow, at the foot of North Lane, were some cottages owned by Ann Harding, the widow of Thomas Harding who had died in 1850. He had run Shearing Farm, situated further up North Lane, past George Robinson’s farm. Harding’s pig-sty and cart-house shown within the triangular plot leading in from North Lane.
The idyllic setting for John Deacon’s house, with its south facing aspect across a mix of arable and hop fields, would not have been without some traffic of one kind or another down. Indeed, it acted as a throughfare for the farm workers from North Lane as it crossed over the main road to and from Ash onto the lower road to Farnham. John Deacon was also renting the two acre meadow at the centre of this small settlement, although whether he chose to let this for the purpose of grazing sheep is now unknown.
Deacon’s household in Aldershot in 1841 had included a locally born servant called Harriett Hughes. Harriett was one of the many grandchildren of Mary Hughes, news of whose death was also just becoming known.
Saturday, 26th February 1853
The funeral of Mrs Hughes took place on this Saturday. At age 89, her death was not unexpected, as neither had that of Mary Barnett in January have been, at similar age. Both were matriarchs of large families. Mrs Hughes had become a widow three years previously, in 1850. She and John Hughes the sawyer had raised at least 13 children during the first twenty of their fifty-seven years of marriage.
Many of her sons had become sawyers or carpenters and some of her daughters had married men in those trades. That resulted in their having a diverse career trajectory in terms of geographic mobility, including repeated connection with Islington. Given that some would have had to travel down by train from London, the number attending the funeral service would likely have been even larger had the weather not taken a turn for the worse.
Saturday’s Hampshire Telegraph reported of loss of lambs and ewes on account of the “long prevalence of wet weather” on the other side of the county, in Wiltshire. The newspaper noted that “Winter had at length set in with a considerable degree of severity, with sharp frosts and repeated falls of snow. It would later report that the thermometer at … Hyde Park fell in the course of Saturday night to 24 [degrees Fahrenheit], being three degrees warmer than on the previous night. … On Sunday … on the Serpentine there were no less than 10,000 skaters and sliders.”
Mary herself had been locally born, baptised as Mary Charlton at St Michael’s Church in January 1764, one of three sisters. She had married John Hughes at the age of 19 in July 1783. The place of baptisms for the children in the early years suggest that the family moved back and forth from Aldershot to Ash; alternatively, it might just have been a change of preference on where the christenings took place. At least one child was born in Islington.
The places of birth and baptism for the Hughes family provide an insight into the different life a sawyer might have had, when compared to the more static life of the agricultural labourers in the village. The length of the telling next, although foreshortened, needs to be long enough to illustrate what we can glean about migration from the village, including that of return.
The majority of the children of Mary and John Hughes had left for London at one time or another, likely having taken the mail coach to Southwark. As the older offspring left home, so the younger siblings were called upon to assist at home in their ever-increasing family.
The eldest son James had moved to Bermondsey. He was now himself widowed, retired and living in London on property funds yielding 3 ½ per cent per annum.
Thomas, now aged 53, had stayed on in Aldershot to become the sawyer of North Lane. He had married locally. Like his parents, he and his wife ‘Betsy’ also raised 13 children. Most were baptised in Aldershot, although his son William is recorded in census returns as having been born in Islington around 1835. That connection with London is also repeated with the later careers of Thomas’ two eldest sons.
The third son, Daniel, was born in Islington, although he was baptised in Aldershot in February 1802. He also became a sawyer and worked in London. All of his three teenage children by his second wife were born in Islington.
The fourth son, George, was also living locally on North Lane. He had married locally born Esther Fludder. For Esther, this was her second funeral of the year, the first being that of her young nephew Frederick Fludder.
At the time of her death, Mary Hughes had been staying with one of her eldest daughters who by then was married as Mrs Mary Shaw. Much of the organisation for the day would have fallen to her. As with her elder brother, the daughter Mary had also made her way to London, marrying at age 22 to John Shaw at St Mary’s Church, Lambeth in August 1810. He was from Penkridge in Staffordshire. By 1841, her younger brother John had joined them, working in Penkridge as an agricultural labourer. There also was a teenage girl in the household called Naomi York.
Mary Shaw had returned to the village to care for her parents some time before March 1845, as indicated by her husband’s role then as one of the two local tax collectors. John Shaw owned and was working the 5 ½ acres of land known as Legge’s. Their arrival into the village was about the same time in 1845 that Caroline Hone had herself moved back to the village, her husband Henry taking up the position at smithy. Caroline would have remembered having taught a number of children named Hughes from her time as the schoolmistress. However, Mary Shaw and family would have been strangers to Caroline, especially the girl called Naomi York, then aged 17.
Why young Naomi had been with Mary is not obvious. The supposition is that she was Mary Shaw’s niece.
=> By which sister is something of a mystery to be explored.
By 1851, Naomi York had become the village schoolmistress, moving into her own accommodation near the parsonage. It is not clear by what criteria Naomi would have secured that appointment, nor the preparation she would have had to undergo from 1845 onwards. Perhaps Caroline might have assisted Naomi in securing some form of training as a teacher in Farnham, building upon whatever schooling Naomi had received in Penkridge, Staffordshire.
By 1853, Naomi was no longer the village schoolmistress. She was now Mrs Snowdon having married at St Michael’s Church on May Day, 1852. She was age 24, the same age that Caroline had married when the village’s schoolmistress.
=> More detail about the Hughes family is given here.
Nationally, the press were reporting on proceedings in Parliament, now reconvened after a long recess. Sidney Herbert, in the Cabinet as Secretary of War and one of the leading proponents of army reform, was arguing in favour of bringing regular troops together. The Home Secretary, Viscount Palmerston, favoured strengthening the militia rather than reliance upon the voluntary regiments, the latter regarded as better suited for reserve policing capacity, if required.
The Naval and Military Gazette also contained hints of early planning to establish a camp for large-scale military exercises. It reported that the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Hardinge, “seems resolved to put the force at home into the best state of discipline, and that by assembling the corps to give them the habit of moving altogether”. Camps of instruction were to be formed in the summer.
The idea had earlier been mooted in an article entitled ‘The Army in 1852’ which was included in the Royal Military Magazine of that year, edited by Lt Col Hort, a fervent advocate for reform.
“With a young and untried Army, under Officers almost wholly inexperienced in war, is it fair or right to neglect such opportunities as might be found every year, to assemble large Camps of Instruction, where a Military spirit and feeling, which we so much want, would be created … The knowledge and power of controlling large bodies of men, is only to be acquired by practice .. the Artillery, Cavalry, and Infantry … constantly exercised together.”
Sunday, 27 February 1853
Reverend Henry Carey had only four more Sundays remaining in his role as the parish curate. Having lived in the parish for nearly fifteen years, Henry and his wife needed ample opportunity to say their goodbyes to all that they should. Matins and Evensong would each be occasions at which to address his congregation and deliver his valedictum, with time afterwards for farewell to individual members of his congregation.
There was also the need to assist his young successor, the Reverend James Dennett, with information about the parish. Some of that would have been collected by the Cathedral’s Rural Dean and on the occasion of the Bishop’s visitation every two years.
Doubtless, the Reverend Carey would also have recalled that two years previously, as part of the 1851 Census arrangements, additional schedules had been distributed to ministers for a Census of Religious Worship. The cause of some controversy at the time, this was for the Government to obtain information about church attendance in places of worship of the various denominations being practiced. The office of the Registrar General had opted not to ask this of individuals. Instead, it requested that the clergy in each parish report on the provision of seating and on the numbers present at Sunday services on 30th March, the date selected for Census Day.
The results had not yet been presented to Parliament; that would not happen until the end of 1853. Even then, specific information about Aldershot is not stated. Likely, St Michael’s Church was included amongst the 18 places of worship in the Registration District of Farnham, all Protestant but of which only 8 were of the Established Church of England.
(The return for Aldershot was one of “a handful of Hampshire parishes [which] were located in Registration Districts in other counties”, as later reported in an Appendix published very much later in 1993.)
Reverend Carey had recorded that there was seating in his parish church for a total of 270 persons, of which 150 was ‘free’ sittings, with 120 set aside for specific individuals and purposes. As for that Sunday, which happened to be Mothering Sunday, the attendance in the morning was 165 plus 79 attending Sunday School. Attendance was higher in the afternoon, at 230 and again with 79 at Sunday School. The curate had been directed to return the completed schedule the Monday following to one or other of William Wheeler and Henry Hone, the two enumerators for the parish.
Easter Sunday would come early this year, falling next month on the 27th day of March. That might have seemed to be a suitable occasion to mark the end of his tenure, with a new minister for the parish and promise of new beginning for him elsewhere. The news of his departure was now common knowledge.
The two churchwardens, Charles Barron Esq. of Aldershot Park and Mr Reuben Attfield, would have known about all of this at an early stage. Reverend Carey had now also had a long conversation with Thomas Attfield, his parish clerk. It was important that the curate’s successor did not confuse the two men called Attfield who were, distant cousins.
=> More about the Attfield family.
James Dennett would have learnt the distinction between a churchwarden and the parish clerk during his training to be a curate. The role of the parish clerk dated back to medieval times: it was an occupation, complete with renumeration. His purpose was to assist the priest, in this instance the curate. The qualification for the job, according to Canon 91(1603) was that “They should be at least 20 years old. Known to the parson as a man of honest conversation and sufficient for his reading, writing and competent skill in singing.”
The duties of parish clerk in Aldershot also included those of the sexton and, therefore, grave-digging and other preparation for burials. In combination this meant Thomas Attfield’s remit included most everything to do with the care of the church and the conduct of services, short of those duties which only an ordained and licensed member of the clergy was qualified to conduct. His duties also included leading the responses, singing in the choir and indicating to the congregation which hymns were to be sung.
The Parish Vestry would also meet next month. That would be an appropriate moment for Reverend Carey to say his farewells to the village elite. Most, of course, would have been regulars at the Church services, several having family sitting amongst the pews he had reported to the Census as set aside.
=> March 1853