After the Workhouse

I returned to the John Stork Problem this morning. It isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon.

I did some more delving and found a snippet of pedigree that gave the cuckoo in the Filey Stork nest the correct parents – Henry and Hannah NETTLETON – but hasn’t yet married John to Hannah STEEL.

I also found “Right John” (after the system had initially denied his existence and I’d created an ID for him). This seems to do a good job of the children he had with Sarah HARPER but also gives him an earlier wife called Sarah TWINHAM. She has borne three children after her death but there’s another reason for her being “iffy”. I think she married a Thomas PICKERSGILL in York.

John’s true first wife, Sarah HARPER, gave birth to eight children before dying in 1864 aged just 37. FamilySearch Tree gives her mother’s name as “Mrs Margaret Harper”. In looking to confirm this, I turned up several christening records of Sarah and siblings being born to Robert Harper and Rebecca.

Five Harper children were born in Bridlington between 1818 and 1830 but I have only been able to find two of them in the 1841 census. Sarah, 15, and her younger brother Richard, 12, are in the Bridlington Workhouse. They are not listed together in the enumerator’s book, but their ages fit very well with their christening dates. What became of the parents and other children?

Sarah may have been resourceful, or perhaps life dealt her some better cards in her later teenage years. She met agricultural labourer John Stork and married him in 1849 when she was 23 years old. At the 1851 census, they are recorded in High Street, Bridlington, with their first child, Emily.

Their youngest child, Sarah, was only two years old when mother Sarah died. John married again the next year. Ann CHAPMAN may have been a good stepmother, and in 1871 she was also caring for Fanny CHAPMAN, a nurse child. This may have been the daughter of a brother because a birth registration for Fanny gives the infant’s mother’s maiden name as WATKINSON.

John and Sarah Harper’s seventh child, Rebecca (perhaps named after her grandmother), married John MOORE, a fisherman who later worked as a brickmaker’s labourer.

They had eleven children, of whom nine reached adulthood. John and Rebecca are remembered on a handsome stone in St Oswald’s churchyard. It stands quite close to the grave of Rebecca’s Uncle Robert Stork. Her father, “Right John”, has a Filey burial record but no known grave.


A Companion for Today’s Robin


I snapped this chaffinch in Crescent Gardens this morning and didn’t notice its warty feet until I processed the photo. It seems finches of several species are prone to Fringilla papillomavirus (FPV). The condition is also called papillomatosis or, colloquially, fur foot or bumblefoot. The “warts” don’t seem to affect the general health of the birds but may accumulate to such a degree that perching becomes problematic – and feet are sometimes lost.

A Nice Little Workhouse

AmwellHertsJames DAY was born on 8 March 1815 in Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire.  He married in August 1840 and in the following year, working as an agricultural labourer, he was living in the hamlet of “Hamwell” with his wife, Elizabeth. Close by in this little green triangle, now Amwell, was the cottage of his parents, Thomas Day and Elizabeth née WEBB. Unusually, the younger Days didn’t bring their first child into the world until the summer of 1845 but went on to have six more.

To supplement his meagre wages, James took in lodgers – farm labourers and a blacksmith’s apprentice – and Elizabeth further boosted the domestic economy by working at home as a straw plaiter.

The 1861 census found the family in Hitchin, with five children at home. The second son, William, had left to be a soldier, and the birth of Alice Maria was still a couple of years away. James’ widowed father lived with them, still working at 74 as an agricultural labourer.

Ten years later, eldest son Thomas has flown and Thomas the Elder gone to that mythical better place, but three daughters and son George remain at home. Elizabeth is still plaiting straw and eldest daughter Mary is described as a farm labourer, age 19.

In 1891 James and Elizabeth are the only occupants of a dwelling in Welwyn Hill. No occupation is given for Elizabeth but, at 76, James is still working as an agricultural labourer.

By this time in my researches I had become quite attached to this family and when I discovered James in the workhouse in 1901, without his life partner, I shed a tear or two.

It seemed a miracle to discover that James’ final days may not have been as miserable as I had instantly feared.

By the early 1900s, the Welwyn workhouse had a reputation as operating a fairly generous regime for its inmates. This was, perhaps, because the town received a high proportion of its rates from railway companies rather than private householders. The Royal Commission looking at Poor Relief in 1906-9 heard that the workhouse was a small place, rather like an almshouse, with 17 inmates in residence. Each day 17.5 pints of beer were served, each person receiving it (as regulations required) under doctor’s orders.

The Workhouse, Peter Higginbotham


James died in 1902 and so did not enjoy the enlightened oversight of James Henry HILL and his wife Lizzie. In The Last Days of Welwyn Workhouse, their daughter Meta wrote: “our old people had a lovely time while they were there, they collected coloured soap, and oh, the tins of jam, etc!“

I wonder if, during his long life, James ever heard of Filey. Did he wonder what might become of his grandchildren, seven of them born in the north of England to soldier William? A second great-granddaughter of James has been a Filey shopkeeper for a number of years.

I wonder, too, what James knew about his forebears. His pedigree on FamilySearch has six generations of earlier Days – back to William who married Anne in Clophill, Bedfordshire in 1660.