George Brown was my great-great-grandfather. While I know quite a bit about George and Ann Brown of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England after the marriage of George and Ann, I know nothing of George’s childhood. Since his parentage is a total unknown, I’m stuck, totally unable to grow my family tree beyond this broken branch.
It is not that I cannot find a George Brown born about 1815 in Sheffield, but that there are many individuals named George Brown born in Sheffield about 1815. As part of the Busting Your Brick Wall Challenge, I’m going to research George Brown’s world in early nineteenth century Sheffield, in the hopes of getting to know him better by learning more about the place he called home and the time he lived in.
In the early nineteenth century, much of the town of Sheffield nestled in an area bounded by the Don, the Sheaf and the Porter rivers. To the north of the Don through the Old Park Wood was Pitsmoor. On the surrounding hills stood the stately residences of the gentry and the leading merchants and manufacturers of the town.
Water was supplied to the town by the Water Company, collected from surface water into reservoirs, the main store of which was at Redmires, about seven miles west of the town. The reservoir at Redmires occupied almost forty-eight acres and in some places reached a depth of forty feet. In all, the reservoirs of the Water Company contained some 45 million cubic feet of water and easily supplied all of the homes in Sheffield with fresh water through some forty miles of cast iron pipes, which had almost totally replaced the old wooden pipes of earlier years. Later in the nineteenth century, the Water Company would construct the Dale Dike Reservoir just west of Bradfield and in 1864, it would fail, sending a cascade of water through the city of Sheffield.
The hills surrounding the town were home to pole-cats, weasels, foxes, moles, shrews, hedge hogs, squirrels, rabbits, mice and rats and the rivers, despite run off from the manufacturies, were home to perch, pike, trout, eel and the occasional salmon near Brightside weir.
The average cottage house in Sheffield stood on a half cellar. On the main floor would have been a kitchen and a 12 x 12 foot day room, and upstairs, two bedrooms about 12 x 8 feet. In most cases, a family would have had a house to themselves and, unlike the cities of Manchester or Liverpool, none had to resort to living in a cellar. The average household was home to about five people.
The total length of public and private roads in Sheffield in the 1840s was nearly 46 miles, of which about sixty-five percent were maintained by the town. Only just over one third of these were provisioned with sewers which, although shockingly low by today’s standards, was actually a better ratio than in most of the northern industrial towns of the time. The roads were augmented by a series of footpaths extending some 47 miles throughout the town and many of these were now flagged and widened from previous years. The trend by the early 1840s was shifting to paving the roads using square stones rather than by macadamizing them, and in general, the roads of Sheffield were considered to be in good condition compared to other towns in the north.
Sheffield’s main industry was the manufacture of cutlery and tools from razors, files, table knives, scissors, pocket knives, and silver plated items, along with the manufacture of the raw material required: steel. Other related manufactories such as those who made the horn handles for the tools and implements sprang up as well. By 1830, it was said that ‘from this one town and its environs go nine-tenths of the knives that are used in the whole world’. 1Rural rides, William Cobbett 1830
With these primary industries, Sheffield had a reputation for being grimy and dirty and in the working class areas the worst houses were built ‘back-to-back’ with not so much as an alley separating them.
In 1818, an act of parliament permitted the formation of a group of Improvement Commissioners who’s job it was to pave, light and clean the streets of Sheffield in the area within three-quarters of a mile of Sheffield Parish Church. That year the streets of Sheffield were lit by gas for the first time, funded by an annual tax of 1s 3d on the pound against all property in the town with a rental of over £7 per annum.
In an effort to keep the streets of Sheffield clean, all occupiers were required to clean and sweep the footpaths and ditches in front of their residence before 10:00 on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Those who did not were subject to a fine of ten shillings, and householders were regularly fined for a failure to do so.
The commission also set about establishing a watch and by 1833, thee were fifty watchmen employed. Their mandate was to ensure that footpaths were unobstructed, and to report any excessive smoke from chimneys, unsafe walls or cellars and any unsanitary middens 2household scrap piles. 3An actual police force for the city of Sheffield was not established until 1850.
Although many of the workers in this trade might have worked on their own account, owning their own tools and renting their own work spaces, the actual distribution of the finished product was controlled by merchant capitalists who in the end, collected a great percentage of the revenues from the products, leaving the workers struggling to provide for their families with their meager share. Besides the merchants were those who owned the industrial sites and buildings who rented work space to the artisan workers, making their money from real estate. The ensuing discontented political climate in Sheffield was further ignited by the events of the French revolution and the city became a hotbed of political protest and unrest.
In the early part of the nineteenth century, the economy in Britain was in serious decline. By 1812, the Napoleonic wars had been raging for almost a decade and the United States had just declared war on Britain. Prices for wheat and other staples were high with wheat at 126s 6d per quarter, although they would plummet to half of that by 1815.
In 1812, on Tuesday, the market day in Sheffield, a number of poor men who were out of regular employment and therefore working on creating a new burial ground in the west end of town, came into the market and incited a riot. The workmen from the factories joined with them to accost the potato dealers in the market, protesting about the high costs. The riot went on for about two hours until the Magistrates and peace officers intervened. A troop of Hussars from the barracks were also summoned and finally the rioters were subdued. Seven people, men, boys and one woman, were committed to York Castle to await trial.
In 1819, the workers of Sheffield demonstrated against the Peterloo massacre that had taken place in Manchester, although it was a non-violent protest. Although as a working class, the Sheffield cutlers sympathized with the textile workers of Lancashire and elsewhere, the truth was that the manufacture of tools did not lend itself to mechanization in the same way that the textile industry did. With the technology of the time, men were still required to make tools. Machines that could do so had not yet been invented.
The population of Sheffield grew rapidly, from about 25,000 in 1790 to almost double by 1820, a large town by the standards of the time.
Black Sheffield: It was dark before we reached Sheffield; so that we saw the iron furnaces, in all the horrible splendour of their everlasting blaze. Nothing can be conceived more grand or more terrific than the yellow waves of fire, that incessantly issue from the top of these furnaces, some of which are close by the way-side. ~From Rural Rides by William Cobbett 31 January 1830.
Working Class Families
Within the working class families in Sheffield, children would have begun earning a living at a young age, contributing to the family income. Most would have likely followed their father’s trade, probably in one of the occupations related to the manufacture of cutlery and tools.
By 1831, over half of the Sheffield men were employed in manufacturing, with only 3% working in agriculture, with the rest split between the retail and other trades. By 1833, the total exports from Sheffield of hardware and cutlery was close to £1.5 million and growing in the relatively better economy that followed the panic of 1825. 4Holland, George Calvert. “The Vital Statistics of Sheffield.” Google Books. 1843. Accessed July 13, 2016. https://books.google.ca/books?id=57kHAAAAQAAJ.
Sheffield Parish Church
Sheffield Parish Church, aptly located on Church street, was the most ancient of Sheffield’s churches, with parts of the building dating back to 1280. The vicar in 1833 was Thomas Sutton who had come to the parish in 1805 not long after major renovations had been completed. The north and south walls of the nave had been rebuilt and the old galleries and pews were taken out, extending the nave and oak benches were installed.
In 1833, there were a total of ten bells, many of which were new in 1804 and the church was one of the oldest in Yorkshire to practice change ringing, having had a team of bell ringers since 1869. 5the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a controlled manner to produce variations in their sounding order.
The peal of the church bells could be heard at the hours of 5, 9 and 12 o’clock as different melodies distinguished the hour. In 1835, two years after George Brown married Ann Healey, the sixth bell at the Sheffield Parish Church broke during the ringing of the chimes and came crashing down, a weight of 18 cwt, sending the ringers running for their lives, silencing the bells until repairs could be made.
The Sheffield Parish Church (now the Sheffield Cathedral) had three services on Sunday; one at a quarter past ten in the morning, a second at three o’clock in the afternoon and a third at seven in the evening. Prayer meetings took place every Wednesday and Friday and on all Saints Days at eleven in the morning and again at three in the afternoon. Another prayer service took place every evening at seven o’clock on on Wednesday evening, this was followed by a lecture.
Little Emma Brown, George and Ann’s first child, was only five years old when she died. There do not appear to have been any particularly virulent epidemic diseases in Sheffield in 1839 and no record of an accident is found in the newspapers but it was not uncommon for children to die before the age of five.
In fact, George and Ann Brown would lose three of their seven known children at an early age.
Child mortality in this period of Sheffield’s history was about 25 percent for children five and under. Statistics from the Sheffield General Infirmary show that between 1837 and 1842, over 6,000 children died, representing half of the mortality in the infirmary. These early deaths were attributed to diet deficiencies (many children lived on bread and tea) and generally poor sanitation, especially in the working class families.
When five-year-old John Brown died in 1862, his burial was recorded in the St. Philips Church burial register but since the burial grounds surrounding the church had been closed in 1859, he would have been buried at Wardsend Cemetery on land that had been purchased by Rev John Livesey, the Vicar of St. Philips.
Sheffield Burial Grounds
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, burial space in Sheffield was to be found in the lands around the ancient Parish Church and in the eighteenth century churches of St. Paul and St. James as well as in a few Dissenting burial grounds in the city. In 1836, the Sheffield General Cemetery was opened but it’s burial grounds were not consecrated, and primarily served the needs of the Nonconformist population. Between 1839 and 1846, over 14,000 interments were recorded in the Church of England burial grounds and by the mid nineteenth century, the burial grounds of Sheffield had reached a critical capacity. The General Board of Health prepared a report to Her Majesty and in reference to the St. Peter’s Church burial ground (the Parish Church), the report noted:
On 3 April 1855 the London Gazette carried the notification that the burial grounds of St. Paul’s church in Sheffield were to be closed. In 1859, the church yard at St. Philip’s Church was closed.
In 1859, using £2,600 of his own money, Rev. John Livesey purchased land for a new parish cemetery at Wardsend, opposite the junction of the valleys of the Rivelin and the Don. The new burial ground was consecrated by the Archbishop of York on Tuesday, 5 July 1859.
In 1862, on the night of June 3, a riot broke out at Wardsend after a crowd found a gaping pit containing coffins both with and without bodies. One of the bodies had clearly been dissected. The crowd surged towards the home of the sexton, Mr. Isaac Howard, who was suspected of disinterring and selling bodies of the recently deceased for medical dissection. Howard fled his home, leaving his wife to deal with the angry mob. Unable to dissuade the crowd, Mrs. Howard fled with only a small suitcase, after which the sexton’s house was set ablaze, burning to the ground.
During the inquiry that followed the riot, it was discovered that the Sheffield workhouse had been supplying the medical school with bodies for dissection, something that was legal at the time. They were, however, transporting the corpses in sacks, and the law required that coffins be used. After the corpses had served their purposes, the medical school was then disposing of the dissected bodies by sending them to Howard to be interred in wooden boxes, again disregarding the requirement that coffins be employed. When it was revealed that Rev. John Livesey had made a false entry in a burial register regarding the body of a boy by the name of James Greatorex, Livesey was committed to the York Assizes and bail was set at £750. Howard testified that he had indeed removed the bodies of some children from their graves but said that it was on the direction of Rev. Livesey. Livesey was then convicted and given one week imprisonment at his trial that same August. Howard was also found guilty and sentenced to a three month sentence. Livesey was subsequently pardoned by the Queen.
It was into this cemetery that George and Ann Brown committed the body of their son John on 2 November 1862.
Family naming patterns in the 1800s were not universally followed but tradition was that the first son would be named after the paternal grandfather, the second son after the maternal grandfather, the third after the father, the fourth after the oldest paternal uncle. Likewise, the first daughter would be named after the maternal grandmother, the second after the paternal grandmother, the third after the mother and the fourth after the oldest maternal aunt. Whether George and Ann followed any naming patterns is unknown, given that we do not know who their parents were, but there is a somewhat better than average chance that Ann’s mother’s name could have been Emma and that George’s father’s name could also have been George.
Widows and Widowers
During this period in English history, it was not uncommon for a spouse to die at an early age, often leaving a widow or widower with little choice but to remarry, especially when children were involved. With few well paying jobs available for them, women needed a husband to support them and, unless they had the support of their extended family, men needed a wife to look after the domestic affairs and the children so they could devote their time to earning a living.
The metal trade occupations were dangerous with many of the workers succumbing to early deaths from respiratory diseases as discussed in an article about the File Grinders of Sheffield. It is not surprising, therefore, that George Brown Jr., the oldest of George and Ann’s sons, died at the age of 52 of plumbis bronchitis exhaustion in 1889. having worked as a file cutter from at least the age of 13.
His younger brother William Joseph had also worked as a file cutter for some years but by 1881, he had abandoned the trade and instead worked as a carter. In the end though, the ravages on his lungs from the occupation of his early years caught up with him and he died in 1906 of tuberculosis at the age of only 53.
Although alcoholism was not generally regarded as a disease during the nineteenth century, certainly the act of drinking alcohol was increasingly frowned upon during the Victorian period. In fact, the Temperance Movement has it’s roots in Northern England from the earliest part of the nineteenth century. However, during the same period the number of licensed victuallers and beer house keepers rose and the Sheffielders of the time spent a great deal of their leisure time in the pub. Such was probably the case with George and Ann Brown.
Margaret Healey, one of the witnesses to George and Ann’s marriage in 1833, was the widow of Charles Healey, who ran the Rein-Deer Hotel in Sheffield from 1820 to his death in 1823. His widow took over running the hotel until about 1830 when she was forced out, presumably by her landlord, but it is possible that Ann Healey, whose relationship to Charles and Margaret Healey is unknown, drank there before her marriage.
The Hussar was one of the Inns located on Scotland Street where George and Ann lived for much of their lives together and might have been their local pub.
At the inquest into Ann Brown’s death, the coroner, D. Wightman ruled that her death was due to ‘excessive drinking of alcohol’. Unlike many coroners in this time period, Wightman does not appear to have shied away from this type of verdict, this frequently appearing in the newspapers in Wightman’s inquest rulings. After Ann’s death, George went to live with his daughter Ann Smith and her husband George.
Besides alcohol, many Sheffielders in this time period regularly used drugs such as laudanum, available from local shops for medicinal purposes but also became addicted to their effects. They sometimes used the drug to put an end to their lives.
Socializing with Ancestors
There are many other aspects of life in nineteenth century Sheffield that can be studied to learn more about how my Brown family lived but I already feel as though I know them better by the things I’ve touched on so far. Two of George and Ann’s children, Emma and Sarah Ann, were previously unknown until I began to write about the child mortality rate in their time and place and noticed significant gaps in the birth dates of their children. I’ve ordered the death certificates for these two young daughters to find out what they died of at such an early age. It is doubtful that this information will bring me any closer to finding George or Ann’s parents, but certainly I know them better and feel more confident that I will eventually find what I seek.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Rural rides, William Cobbett 1830|
|2.||↑||household scrap piles|
|3.||↑||An actual police force for the city of Sheffield was not established until 1850.|
|4.||↑||Holland, George Calvert. “The Vital Statistics of Sheffield.” Google Books. 1843. Accessed July 13, 2016. https://books.google.ca/books?id=57kHAAAAQAAJ.|
|5.||↑||the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a controlled manner to produce variations in their sounding order.|