Shearsby families

Van Dieman’s Land, 16 September 1845: Emanuel Reed disembarks

Emanuel Reed was born in Shearsby and christened in the village church on 2 February 1823. He would have been just over two years old when things outside any control of his happened that haunted him during his life in England. At his trial in Leicester on 4 January 1842 for stealing rabbits his defence made much of the fact that he was the orphan child of parents both of whom came to an untimely end. In brief: “The father had been absent for some time, and on his return found his wife had formed an illicit connection with another man. One day she led him by the side of a canal, and whilst he was in the act of drawing his smockfrock over his shoulders, she took the opportunity to push him into the water; this causing his death, for which she was afterwards executed”.

Emanuel pleaded guilty of stealing two rabbits from Thomas Marvin, at Shearsby and one tame rabbit from Hannah Herbert. The jury was perhaps already familiar with the events that led up to the arrest of Hannah Read and her subsequent trial for the murder of her husband, as with some leniency they ordered that he receive one month’s imprisonment for his crimes.

He had first drawn attention to himself in 1839 after erecting a small hut for himself in a street in Shearsby. The officers of the parish were unhappy with this and brought him before the justices. At that time he was described as ‘a young urchin’ (Northampton Mercury, 21 September); ‘a poor boy, who appeared quite destitute’ (Leicester Journal, 20 September) and ‘an idle and dissolute lad’ (Leicestershire Mercury, 14 September).

On the census night of April 1841 he was staying in John Goode’s farmhouse on Back Lane in Shearsby.

In September 1843 he was again in trouble with the law being charged under the Vagrant Act with being a rogue, but it was for rabbit stealing again, in Coventry on 3 January 1844 that he received a 7 year sentence of transportation. In Warwickshire his family circumstances would be less sympathetically recalled. He had to wait until the middle of the following year before leaving England.

On 14 June 1845 he set sail on the Marion 2 from Woolwich on the 94 day journey to Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania). He arrived in good health, according to the Marion’s Surgeon Jn. W. Elliott and was measured as 63.25 inches tall (1.6 metres). He said that he could read and write, was single and a protestant and had skills as a fellmonger. His family relationships included b [brothers] Uriah and Bennett, s [sisters] Ann and Mary, but ‘np’ [no parents].

He received a Conditional Pardon in November 1847 and a Free Certificate in February 1852. He married Bridget in Hobart and travelled to Victoria, to the Geelong area. Bridget died in 1874 (probably childbirth related) and Emanuel married Adele Fresse in 1877. He remained in the Geelong area and owned his own farm eventually at Gnawarre.

In 1879 he was called upon to help one of his neighbours whose wife had attempted to commit suicide, and despite Emanuel’s efforts to save her, she eventually died of her wounds.

Emanuel Read died aged 85 in Geelong Hospital, Victoria on 17 August 1902 of heart failure and pneumonia. He is buried in Mount Moriac Cemetery , Victoria.

Leicestershire Mercury (Leicester, England), Saturday 14 September 1839; pg. [3];

Leicester Journal (Leicester, England) Friday 20 September 1839; pg. 3

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, January 08, 1842; pg. [2];

Northampton Mercury (Northampton, England), Saturday 23 September 1843; pg 4.

Coventry Standard (Coventry, England), Friday 04 January 1844; pg 4.

The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) Tuesday 23 September 1879; pg 6

Geelong Advertiser (Geelong, Victoria, Australia) Monday 22 September 1879; pg3

“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JQY1-FZ4 : 6 December 2014, Emmanuel Reed, 09 Feb 1823); citing SHEARSBY,LEICESTER,ENGLAND, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 595,767.

Digital Panopticon entry for Emanuel Read https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/search?e0.type.t.t=root&e0._all.s.s=emanuel%20read

Archives Office of Tasmania. Recommendation for a pardon for Emanuel Reed in 1852. http://search.archives.tas.gov.au/ImageViewer/image_viewer.htm?CON33-1-70,313,223,F,60

Featured image: South West View of Hobart Town, Van Dieman’s Land; South West View of Hobart Town, Van Dieman’s Land; South West View of Hobart Town, Van Dieman’s Land. Royal Museums Greenwich. In Copyright.

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Shearsby, St. Martin’s Day 1633: William Throne goes to plough

November 11th was celebrated as the feast-day of St. Martin of Tours. Martinmas marks the end of autumnal preparations and the beginning of winter; a turning point in the agricultural year. In 1633 the saint’s day fell on a Friday and the weather must have been good enough to entice one Shearsby farmer, William Throne, out to the fields with his plough. November may be late for preparing the ground for cereals, but would not have been an uncommon time for ploughing in a bean crop.

St. Martin’s Day also makes an appearance in the ecclesiastical year, with special services for prayer run where the participation of the parishioners was expected. Throne’s decision to skip prayers for ploughs got him into trouble with the church authorities when the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, visited Leicestershire to look into the lives and actions of its population. Laud was concerned to check on conformity with reverent behaviour, liturgical decorum and ceremonial discipline. William Throne was called upon to account for his actions before the Archbishop’s team.

The most likely link between the activities of Shearsby parishioners and the Archbishop’s investigators would surely have been John Moore, Rector of Knaptoft and Shearsby.

He was not alone in finding himself under such scrutiny. In Kilby, Thomas Summerfield found himself in trouble for letting his swine, ‘and other nasty beasts’ profane and pollute the churchyard by foraging there, damaging the young trees planted to create a boundary around the church. Thomas Coltman was excommunicated in Wistow for refusing to kneel to take communion. Thomas Hill of Somerby was reprimanded as churchwarden, yet a very frequent sleeper in church. Bitteswell was the home of the notorious puritans Edward and John Dillingham, who, it was noted with relief, had gone to New England.

Examples like these highlight the tensions between church and community that the Archbishop’s focus on order and the behaviour of ordinary people created. Some historians have seen the accumulation of all the individual grievances and annoyances of laud’s policies as helping to create the conditions for the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. A Calvinist consensus in the counties was upturned and this provoked a reaction against the alliance of Church and State. Andrew Chambers has found evidence that at least one Leicestershire church pastor embraced the Archbishop’s policies. That would raise the prospect of a positive impact from an initiative that aimed, after all, to bring order where there was contention.

As to whereabouts in the village William Throne’s farm was to be found, there are some clues in later land transactions. In 1709/10 John Seale (the third of that name) sold ‘Throne’s farmhouse, situated to the south of the churchyard’ to another John Seale (the forth of that name). There remains a small corner of land south of the church on which a farmhouse might then have stood. It would have been inconveniently between the Rectory and the Church, at least from William Throne’s point of view, requiring the ploughman to cross the paths of the preacher.

References

Cressy, D. & Ferrell, L.A. 2005; Religion and Society in Early Modern England: A Sourcebook, 2nd ed., Routledge Ltd, Florence.

Conveyance of Thrones farmhouse, situated to the south of the churchyard, Shearsby; and of Bishop’s half yard, Turville’s half yard, Lammmas Close, and other land in Shearsby; from John Seale (3) of Shearsby, yeoman, to John Seale (4) his son.

Cambers, A. 2002, “Pastoral Laudianism? Religious Politics in the 1630s: A Leicestershire Rector’s Annotations The Midland History Prize Essay, proxime accessit”, Midland History, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 38-51.

Image: A ploughman and a ploughboy working in a field. Engraving by Hemsley after Craig, 1805. © Wellcome Library, London. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

© 2017

Shearsby, 3 July 1841: Very Valuable Tithe-free Estate, called Bullivant’s Farm for sale

Up for auction at 4PM on 3 July 1841 at the Three Crowns Hotel (corner of Horsefair Street and Gallowtree Gate, Leicester) was the ‘very valuable tithe-free estate, called Bullivant’s Farm’ in Shearsby. This farm could be found near the church in the village and consisted of a good-sized substantial brick-built farm-house, with out-buildings, walled garden and the following rich grazing and arable land.

No. Area Acres. Roods. Perches.
1 House, Garden, &c. 1 1 16
2 Home Close 11 2 14
3  Cotton’s Close  1  0  15
 4  Townsend Close  7  0  14
 5  Osier-bed Close  12  1  28
 6  Bean Hill Close  14  2  32
 7  Barn Close (Arable)  9  1  15
 8  Meadow  6  2  37
 9  Far Close  13  0  27
 10  Far Long Close  12  3  20

Measurements: 40 perches = 1 rood, 4 roods = 1 acre.

The whole of the above farm land (excepting Barn Close) was said to be rich grazing land, in a high state of cultivation. It was then in the occupation of a Mrs. Walker (widow), who was under notice to quit by the next Old Michaelmas Day (29 September).

The farm was free from any tithing obligations, but subject to a land tax of £6 12s. 10d., a Fee Farm Rent of £1 and a Quit Rent of eight pence per year to the Lord of the Manor. Purchasers might take advantage of the offer for one half of the purchase price to remain on mortgage for five years at 4.5%.

In November that year the farming stock, hay, corn wool, keeping, furniture, etc. belonging to William Walker was up for auction. The first day’s sale consisted of 230 ewes and theaves (1 – 2 year old ewes, that have not yet given birth to lambs, at least in the Midlands and some southern English counties), 75 fat shearhogs (lambs after first shearing), 155 lambhogs (second year lambs), five rams, fourteen capital dairy cows, eleven in-calf heifers, two barren cows; eleven fat cows, steer, seg (“An aged bull that is castrated is called a segg.” Oxford English Dictionary), five calves, five draught mares, two hackney horses, pony, yearling colt and filly, foal, five store pigs, two sows, capital six-inch and narrow wheel wagons and carts, double and single ploughs, harrows, land roll, winnowing machine, fleaks [I have no idea what a fleak was], horse tackle, ladders, etc. Also about 770 fleeces of superior wool.

All the above was to be sold at the Saddington Keeping at an auction supervised by B. Payne & Son from 10 o’clock onwards. Later that day the sale moved to the Keeping on parry’s land for the wheat, barley oats, 170 acres of grass keeping rented until the next 25th of March, 20 acres of stubble, three acres of swedes and some stacks of hay and clover.

On the second day of the sale all the household furniture, china, glass, brewing vessels. dairy utensils, kitchen requisites and about fifty capital cheeses were to be disposed of.

In April 1842, some 70 acres of superior grass-keeping land, recently occupied by Mrs. Walker, came up for sale. This may well have been the same land as her husband had farmed during his lifetime

Two years after the initial sale, on 22 July 1843, the Leicester Chronicle’s Births, Deaths and Marriages column carried the news of the passing of Ann Dowell, who had died in Leicester, after a very painful illness, the previous Tuesday. Ann was the widow of the late William Walker, who had died on 3 April 1841, aged 52.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, July 03, 1841; pg. [2];

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, November 20, 1841

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, April 23, 1842; pg. [2];

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, July 22, 1843;

Image: Shearsby Parish Council (2016) The Parish of Shearsby: Map of fields by M. Jeffery.

© 2017. Comments, Likes and Pingbacks welcomed, especially if you know what the word ‘fleak’ means.

Bath Inn, Shearsby, 18 April 1839: William Simons’s land up for auction

Potential purchasers of agricultural land were invited to gather at the house of Mrs. Reeve, the Bath Inn, Shearsby, on Thursday 18th of April 1839 at 4PM. On offer was the field to the right hand side of the turnpike road from Leicester to Welford, at the foot of John Ball Hill, owned by William Simons. This field (or Close) contained 3 acres 2 roods of excellent grazing land.

Also for sale that day was the dwelling-house, then occupied by Thomas Ross, with its spinning-room, comb-shop and offices. In the 1841 census Thomas Ross was found living in Church Street with his children Grace and James.

There were also two tenements, with a shared garden, in the occupation of – Weston and – Whitmore in Mill Street. In 1841, 30-year old John Whitmore, agricultural labourer, lived with his wife Ann (25), daughter Mary (5) and sons John (2) and William (1). Robert Weston (28) was a stocking frame knitter, living with his wife, also Ann, and daughters Harriet (4) and Mary (2). Both families living just next door to  John Pallet’s smithy.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, April 13, 1839; pg. [2];

© 2017. Please check the timeline to view this story in the context of other village stories by date.

 

13 April 1918: Private Robert Simons, Service Number 21373

The Grave Registration Report for the Ploegsteert Memorial in Hainault, Belgium has only brief details about Robert Simons. He is just one of the 11,401 casualties buried and commemorated there. It states that he was the son of Reuben Simons, of Fleckney, Leicester; husband of Grace Lilian Simons, of 103, St. Leonards Rd., Clarendon Park, Leicester.

He was a member of the Third Battalion of the Coldstream Guards, service number 21373. Around the date of his death there was action in the Ypres/Armentiers area in the Battle of the Lys.

In the 1901 census, Robert, aged 14, was registered with his sisters; Mary E. (14), Frances Helen (11) and Florence Rebecca (9). He had been born in 1887, but was already working as a hosiery hand. At the next census in 1911 he was found visiting the Briggs family of Sutton In Ashfield, Nottinghamshire and working as a hosiery maker.

His first appearance in the census returns though was in 1891 as Bob Simons living on Mill Lane, Shearsby with his parents Reuben (born in 1850) and Eliza, and older brothers Charley and Harry. Reuben had married Eliza Weston in 1872. She was the daughter of Thomas and Mary Weston of Shearsby and had been christened there in April 1848.

References

“England and Wales Census, 1901,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XS45-WHC : 8 April 2016), Robert Simons in household of Mary E Simons, Shearsby, Leicestershire, England; from “1901 England, Scotland and Wales census,” database and images, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : n.d.); citing Lutterworth subdistrict, PRO RG 13, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey.

“England and Wales Census, 1911,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XWS9-RY4 : 2 August 2017), Robert Simons in household of Mabel Briggs, Hucknall Under Huthwater, Huthwaite, Nottinghamshire, England; from “1911 England and Wales census,” database and images, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : n.d.); citing PRO RG 14, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.

“England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2DLL-6GK : 13 December 2014), Reuben Simons, 1872; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing 1872, quarter 3, vol. 7A, p. 17, Lutterworth, Leicestershire, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.

“England and Wales Census, 1891,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:W63G-GZM : 1 April 2016), Bob Simons in household of Ruben Simons, Shearsby, Leicestershire, England; from “1891 England, Scotland and Wales census,” database and images, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : n.d.); citing PRO RG 12, Leicestershire county, subdistrict, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.

“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NPC8-YXX : 6 December 2014, Eliza Weston, 02 Apr 1848); citing SHEARSBY,LEICESTER,ENGLAND, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 595,767.

Shearsby, 1629: An example of the use of gossip as a weapon

The case of John Moore v Elizabeth Turvile (1629) arose from the Rector of Knaptoft and Shearsby wishing to defend himself from insults directed his way by one of his female neighbours and parishioners. Elizabeth Turvile, it was alleged, had said that he ‘had preached false doctrine and delivered many things in his sermon that might better have been left out, and that he had kissed Motley’s wife, and that one Black Dick’s wife was coming to the town and that she would be a more fit woman for Mr John Moore to kiss’.

This powerful mix of literary criticism and sexual gossip had left the Rector with little option but to sue his neighbour. The legal discussions relating to the case can still be found UK’s National Archives.

This altercation is included in Bernard Capp’s 2004 book ‘When Gossips Meet’ as an example of how women might use gossip as a tactical device as a way of keeping clergymen in their place. Turvile was a member of the major land-holding family in the village, and John Moore a leading campaigner against enclosure. Witnesses to the dispute suggested that Turvile felt some of the Rector’s sermon material was intended as personal criticism of her, but that the immediate context was his attempt to impound her pigs.

Her comments also reflected badly on other neighbours: the wives of Motley and Black Dick, effecting either intentional or collateral damage to their reputations.

Whether he felt that recourse to the law had cleared his name or not, the Rev. Moore found himself repeatedly bringing cases to the courts, often revolving around land disputes with his son.

References

Capp, B 2004, When Gossips Meet, Oxford University Press, UK, Oxford. [online] [accessed 1 March 2017]. http://bit.ly/2lV2T5V

[Moore v Turvile, 1629] LRO, 1D 41/4, Box 6/88– 90.

Short title: Turvile v Moore. Plaintiffs: William Turvile and others. Defendants: John Moore, clerk. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C3961465

Short title: Moore v Moore. Plaintiffs: John Moore the younger. Defendants: John Moore the elder. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C5727147

Short title: Moore v Moore. Plaintiffs: John Moore the elder. Defendants: John Moore the younger and Joan Moore his wife. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C5727519

Shearsby, 14 January 1835: William Simons’s Insolvency

By the end of 1835 hard times had caught up with 54 year old William Simons. The debts had piled up beyond his ability ever to discharge them and he had had to sign the legal papers to end his tailoring business by insolvency. William Walker, a Shearsby farmer (and friend) and Thomas Davies, a Leicester grocer, took responsibly for managing affairs on his behalf. They were hoping to sort out as much as possible within two months. Anyone who owed money to Simons was asked to pay the estate or risk being sued themselves.

In April 1939 William Simons was selling land that he owned in the parish. However, eventually things may not have worked out too badly for him, as in 1846 William Simons was noted as the School-Master for the Shearsby village children.

William was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Simons and had been christened in the village church on 5 August 1781. In the 1851 census, William Simons, aged 69 and a teacher, was living in Mill Street, with his wife Ann. She was a few years older than him and originally from Wanlip.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, January 17, 1835; pg. [1];

Shearsby, 6 Edward III: Lay Subsidy assessment

The hamlet of Shearsby as a whole contributed 40 shillings to the amount collected for Leicestershire in 1332, the sixth year of Edward III’s reign. Those who paid the tax are listed here. There are people recognisable from the 1327 Assessment given that different transcribers have been at work in copying the details.

Name Shillings Pence
William Charnells 5
Laurence Chaplain 6
Clemence Dancelot 18
John Heyne 3 6
 John Ravenhed  18
 John son of Hugh  20
 Roger Heyne  2  6
 Isolda de Veer  2
 John Petlyng  2  6
 Roger Swan  3
 William Helewys  3 6
 John Gode  18
 Henry Dorewood  5  10
Total 40

Farnham, George F. (1931) Leicestershire Medieval Villages. Vol.5. Leicester, W. Thornley. [Accessed at the Leicestershire Record Office].

Image: Edward III and his son the Black Prince. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Leicester Townhall, 29 August 1837: “The Man of Ross” called to pay his ale-score

“BUT all our praises why should lords engross?” asked poet Alexander Pope in 1732 before putting forward the case for John Kyrle (1637-1724) as a non-aristocrat who had made a memorable impact during his lifetime. Kyrle had dedicated time, expertise and a good deal of money into his philanthropic efforts on behalf of Ross-on-Wye, the town where he lived. For this he became known as the “Man of Ross”, celebrated not just in verse, but also in popular culture, with a pub carrying that name in the town.

Over one hundred years later there was evidence that his fame was still recalled when his name was alluded to in the Small Debts Court held in the Leicester Guild Hall. The reporters who wrote up the cases in the Small Debts Court, held on Saturdays and dealing with less than life and death issues, tend to adopt a more informal writing style. the defendant, Ross, is frankly described as ‘a blunt customer’, while the landlady, Mrs. Colton, is described as intervening in a way ‘less conciliatory than her spouse,  and in her heat, forgetful of the character of her house’.

The case was brought by a beer-house keeper called Colton who was chasing a £5 debt owed by Shearsby wool-comber Samuel Ross. Colton had brought the amount of the debt down to £5 so as qualify for the attention of the Small Debts Court after Ross (he claimed) had stood surety for his drinking companions who had spent the whole day drinking at Colton’s House.

Ross countered that while he might, as he put it, have “passed his word” for a pint or two of ale for a friend, but that he had not been present for a good part of that day and had not intended for the publican to carry on the supply of beer until two in the morning at his expense. One of Ross’s companions that day, another wool-comber, explained that they had been attending a village wake held about eleven miles from Leicester. They had spent the day drinking and gambling, as was their habit, but that it was unfair for the whole charge to fall onto Ross.

The Commissioner asked if the witness would admit to any share in the ale included in the bill. Somewhat reluctantly, he agreed to having drunk his portion with the rest.

Colton tried to coax payment out of Ross with friendly phrases: “Come, come! Ross is an honourable name, Sam: the ‘man of Ross,’ you know”. Sam Ross replied: “Honourable name, indeed! Are you to fix this debt upon me because they call me Sam Ross? If that is to stand good, an honourable name would be the ruin of a man.” His view was that the landlord had trusted the men doing the drinking and should have looked  to them for payment.

Mrs Colton, the landlady, was roused by this response: “Looked to them for the money! was it likely that we would trust such a set of scoundrels , without some security?”

The witness brought in by Ross, joined in: “Why, mistress, you encouraged the scoundrels, as you call them, to drink your ale when Sam and your husband were at the Shearsby feast; and they got so drunk in the house, that they began to fight with the poker and tongs”.

The Commissioners found in Colton’s favour, but fixed the re-payments in monthly 10s installments. They took the opportunity to express their opinion of the reprehensible conduct of the landlord: there did, after all, appear to have been a good deal of Sunday drinking on his premises. Ross said that it was hard on him to have to pay the bill for a score of drinkers, most of whom had left town and would not be seen again. The Commissioners told him that at least he would have the assistance of his witness, who had admitted to swelling the bill with his share of the drinking.

SMALL DEBTS COURT, TOWNHALL, AUG. 29.
The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, September 02, 1837

Pope, Alexander (1732) The Man of Ross [Online] http://www.poetryatlas.com/poetry/poem/2833/the-man-of-ross.html [accessed 13 April 2017]

© 2017

Shearsby, Tuesday 25 August 1840: Disgraceful attack on four Irish labourers

Trouble was already brewing between the resident agricultural labourers of Shearsby and the visiting Irish by the late Summer of 1840. On Thursday 20 August Thomas Wilson brought a case before the Lutterworth Petty Sessions asking the magistrates to bind some unnamed defendants to ‘keep the peace to all Irishmen that might come to England’.

The following week the magistrate J. A. Arnold, Esq., then presiding over the Lutterworth Petty Sessions, heard that this peace had been already broken in what was reported as a disgraceful attack upon four Irish labourers.

It was Andrew Wilson, a Shearsby farmer, who made the complaint against John Elliott and Thomas Botterill for willfully and maliciously breaking two of his barn doors and two gates. Despite the prejudice perceived to have existed for some time among the local labourers against Irish reapers, Wilson had allowed four reapers to sleep in his barn about half a mile away from his house. One of this group, Thomas Hands, stated that he had been awakened at sometime in the night by several people calling out “Are there any Irishmen here?” and demanding admittance. but the Irishmen refused to open the doors “till they had lost their lives”. At this the defendants said that they should lose their lives then and began a violent attack on the barn doors. Finding that they could not force open the doors they ran to the nearby field gates and broke them down so that they could use the bars as levers. They managed to lift the lower parts of the doors from their hinges and tried again to enter, but were repulsed by the Irish inside, one on each side of the door and armed with forks.

Foiled in this attack, they then began to throw stones at the barn and kept this up for three to four hours, accompanied with the uttering of dreadful threats. Negotiation was their next ploy: “they called to the Irish and told them they were their own masters, and if they would come out they (defendants) would see them safe four miles along the Leicester road, and if they would promise not to come back to this part of the country again no harm should be done to them”. The Irish replied that they just wanted a night’s sleep and would go elsewhere of their own accord next morning and never come back, but that they would not come out of the barn just then, for fear their lives would be sacrificed.

At that point the Rapid coach came by, placing this whole incident somewhere along the Turnpike Road from Leicester to Welford (and onward south to London, about 80 miles south). The besieged Irish called out to the passengers for assistance and at this their attackers disappeared. The Irishmen then made it safely to the house of Mr. Wilson, reaching him a three in the morning.

It was 20 year old Thomas Wilson who was roused and had to deal with the disturbance. He listened to Hands and his account of what had happened and then went with the Irishmen back into the village. There they were able to identify John Elliott and Thomas Botterill, and to the best of Hands’ belief: Samuel Dyson, Daniel Billingham, Robert Wesson and Richard Simons.

At the Petty Sessions, William Fretter said that all of that group had been in his house that night and had drunk a good quantity of beer (which he had needed to bring over especially from Gilmorton, three miles away). When had they left at nine o’clock, he described them as ‘rather mellow’.

Mr. Marsh, the solicitor defending John Elliott and Thomas Botterill, called George Billingham. Elliott had been in his company at Fretter’s until nine o’clock, after which they had returned to the Shearsby, but had not passed within 150 yards of the barn in question. When they reached the village they had gone to Botterill’s house and stayed there until sometime between 11 and 12, after which he had gone home. Mary Billingham corroborated his statement and Jane Botterill, Thomas’ wife, swore that her husband had gone to bed when Elliott left, not leaving the house again until he went to work the next day.

The magistrate was unimpressed by these alibis and fined Elliott and Botterill £1. 7s. 6d., adding that he thought it was a most disgraceful assault. The Shearsby labourers involved do not come out of this story looking well. The trigger for their actions had been the presence of Irish reapers in a largely sheep-grazing parish (and consequently few opportunities for supplementary wages at harvest tine) to which alcoholic beverages had been copiously added. However, framework knitters work long hours and need their wits about them to avoid losing fingers to their machines. Their drinking during the working week may be an indicator of the effects of the economic downturn of the 1840’s, making them workless and wageless knitters.

Thomas Willson was the son of Andrew and Alice Willson and was christened on 3 January 1819 at Shearsby. In the 1841 Census he was found in Knaptoft Fields with his parents and siblings: Arthur, Eliza and Cornelia. Andrew Wilson (christened 1 January 1778 at Shearsby) had married Alice Waples of Husbands Bosworth on 31 Oct 1816.

In the same 1841 Census there was a 60-year-old Thomas Botterill, working as a carrier, in the first house surveyed in Church Street,  Shearsby. John Elliott was recorded as a 25-year-old butcher living in Hill Street, next door to Richard Simons, a 28-year-old Stocking Frame Knitter. Samuel Dyson (25, Agricultural labourer) lived farther up Hill Street. A 3-year-old Eliza Billingham was staying in the house that day, indicating a Dyson-Billingham connection. In fact Daniel Billingham had married a Mary Dyson in Shearsby on 30 January 1837. Robert Weston (28) was recorded living in Mill Street with a wife and two children and working as a Stocking Frame Knitter. There was a William Fretter born in 1814 in Mowsley, something that again points to the action taking place uphill from the village of Shearsby.

The Monthly Chronicle commented later in 1840 that “A greater importation of Irish labourers has taken place this year for the harvest than the oldest inhabitant of Liverpool can remember, in expectation of gaining employment in the Northern, Midland and Southern districts. In this, however, they have been egregiously disappointed… we have seen scores of these poor fellows with blistered feet and scarcely able to crawl… not having obtained a single day’s work in Lancashire, Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire, through all which counties they had in vain ‘padded the hoof’.

Leicestershire Mercury (Leicester, England), Saturday, August 29, 1840; pg. 3

Coventry Standard (Coventry, England), Friday, September 4, 1840

Image taken from page 155 of ‘Sunlight and Shade. Being poems and pictures of life and nature. Illustrations by F. Barnard, etc

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What next?

Where Thomas Hands and his party come from in Ireland? There is some suggestion that the name is known in Dublin and Monaghan, but that might just be in the singular ‘Hand’ form, with ‘Hands’ more likely in Ulster region.