Ashbourne, Derbyshire

A Portrait Of Ashbourne

Excepts from Early Victorian Country Town - A Portrait Of Ashbourne in the Mid 19th Century
(By kind permission oh Mr. A. Henstock)

By the Ashbourne Local History Group - 1978
Edited by Mr Adrian Henstock . Contributors include:-
Cyril Caderbank, Hazel Fletcher, Herbert Inch, Doreen Wheatcroft, Aarlen Collier, Peter Fletcher, Reginald C. Smith
This book is currently out of print.


Chapter 5 - Ashbourne At Work

 

In the 1850s Ashbourne supported a wide variety of tradesmen and craftsmen who supplied the town and its dependent rural area with essential goods. The weekly market in particular attracted regular influxes of country people into Ashbourne and the 1857 Directory stated that 'the chief support of the town is derived from its well-reputed markets and fairs'. Apart from the 'well-supplied' Saturday market the town boasted no less than 13 annual fairs. At this period fairs were still primarily commercial events - markets for specialised types of livestock or produce such as horses, cattle, sheep, pigs or cheese - and usually lasted two or three days. The profits of the tolls of the markets and fairs belonged to the lords of the manor, the Boothby family, but were sold in the 1850s and passed through various private hands.

Many of the goods supplied by Ashbourne tradesmen were actually manufactured in the town from local raw materials. Luxury or specialist commodities had to be brought in from Derby or beyond, at first by road but after 1852 increasingly by railway. The only essential items, which had to be imported, was coal, from either the east Derbyshire or the north Staffordshire coal fields. Conversely very few of the town's manufactures were consumed outside its own area, although some products such as clocks, brass and iron castings, embroidered lace, cotton yarn, cheese and malt all probably reached more distant markets.

Within the town itself there were no large employers of labour comparable to the modem factories. Discounting domestic industry the largest units of employment were small workshops each employing a handful of men. There were some 'industrial' buildings in the form of malthouses and tanyards but these required only a few men to operate them. The 1851 Census provides details of the number of employees of 17 master tradesmen. The highest number in any one business was eight, and this was at the Dawson family's malting and tanning business in Compton, which also employed two members of the family. Thomas Hall, coachbuilder in Compton, employed seven men, as did John Wigley, boot and shoemaker, in the Market Place. Three other bootmakers employed six, five and four men respectively. When considered along with the number of one-man shoemaking concerns in the town, the importance of this craft is evident. Four tailors employing five, three, two and two men respectively, and a draper with three men, demonstrate the importance of the clothing trades.
Another maltster employed five men, a currier two men and a boy, a publican and carrier three men, a painter three men, and two timber dealers four men each. In these small businesses relationships were personal and there was no doubt little need for any form of combinations or trade unions and no evidence has been found of them. However, the mid-19th century saw the erection of a great number of both private and public buildings in and around Ashbourne that demanded large labour forces. For example the major local builder of the Ashbourne area, William Evans of Ellastone, who carried out such contracts as the erection of Osmaston Manor and the Ashbourne Workhouse, was described in the Census as employing one book-keeper, one carver, two plasterers, six woodsawyers, eight bricklayers, 27 carpenters, 31 labourers and 36 masons, a total of 112 men. In such circumstances labour disputes were more common, and one case is recorded of six masons employed on the Workhouse site being fined by the town's magistrates in August 1847 for riotous conduct and intimidating other workers.

Although there were no factories within Ashbourne itself, there were three large cotton mills within the immediate vicinity, one of which employed 90 people in a vastly different working environment to the other businesses in the area. One notable feature of the work-force of the cotton-mills was that it comprised large numbers of women and girls as well as men, and indeed female jobs in the area were far less varied than those of the men. One of the commonest occupations for a young unmarried woman was in domestic service. Another major source of female employment was the domestic textile trade; no less than 73 women are described as lace-runners or lace-workers. No females appear to have been employed as shop- assistants or as clerks - both male preserves - but women worked as dressmakers, milliners, charwomen or washerwomen.
Two-thirds of the unmarried females in Ashbourne were employed in 1851 - all except the very young, the very old, or those of private means. Only just over a quarter of the married women worked, however, chiefly members of the poorer classes Many of the small businesses were family concerns, and the family in its broadest sense was a basic commercial link. Sons, nephews and cousins - often from far afield - were found 'situations' with their relations in their respective trades, and they often succeeded to the business or eventually founded one of their own. This practice partly accounts for the large numbers of tradesmen in Ashbourne who were born outside the town .
Examples of such family businesses are many. The malting and tanning concern of the three Dawson brothers was continued by one of the sons; John Whitham, chemist and druggist, was succeeded by his son; John Hobson, auctioneer and printer, was followed in his business by his two sons. Birmingham-born Edwin Bradley became a partner with his uncle Septimus in his grocery and tobacco business; John Wray Lister came from Lincolnshire to assist his uncle John in his draper's business, and Thomas Wise, the attorney, brought into his business his nephew from Nottingham, John Joseph Wise.
A remarkable train of family connections brought to Ashbourne over a long period a number of immigrants from the lead-mining village of Bonsall some 15 miles away, all of whom founded businesses in the town. John Hobson had come in c.1809 and commenced trade as a currier of leather, to be joined in c.1825 by a brother-in4aw, Adam Smedley, a cabinet-maker. By the next decade another relation had arrived, Adam Smedley Gratton, also a cabinet-maker. Adam Smedley's son, another Adam, was apprenticed in the town as a grocer, founded his own business in the Market Place, and was joined in c.1860 by his cousin from Bonsall, John Henstock, who subsequently set up on his own in the same trade. Of the smaller manufacturing trades, that of clockmaking was a family concern par excellence, and such names as Harlow, Haycock, Davenport and Elleby were virtually synonymous with the trade in Ashbourne.

The Census lists every inhabitant's occupation but because of the diversity of the various trades and the impossibility of distinguishing between the tradesmen or craftsmen and their employees (was a 'maltster' a master or employee?), any attempt at a functional classification would be of no positive value and probably misleading. Instead, therefore, a simple list is given here of the average numbers of businesses named in the five commercial directories published between 1846 and 1857 (Table 1).

TABLE I

PROFESSIONS AND BUSINESSES, 1846-1857

Attorney and Solicitor

5

Bank 'manager'

2

Surgeon and General Practitioner

5

Veterinary Surgeon

2

(Private) Schoolmaster or mistress

6-9

Baker and flour dealer

8

Butcher

10

Confectioner

3

Grocer and tea dealer

4

Wine and spirit merchant

4

Fishmonger

1

Fruiterer

2

Innkeeper, publican and beer retailer

35-40

Cheesefactor

1

Brewer

1

Maltster

4

Corn factor and dealer

5

Pig dealer

1

Tanner

2

Currier

3

Sadler

4

Boot and shoemaker

14

Linen and woollen draper

11

Tailor and draper

15

Milliner and dressmaker

12

Furrier

1

Hosiery dealer

2

Straw hatmaker and hatter

8

Hairdresser

2

Chemist and druggist

4

Tobacco manufacturer

1

Basket maker

2

Ropemaker

3

Joiner and cabinet maker and builder)

9

Wheelwright

4

Cooper

2

Timber merchant

3

Bricklayer (and builder)

3

Plumber, glazier and painter

8

Ironmonger

3

Blacksmith

5

Whitesmith

4

Brassfounder

1

Ironfounder

1

Brazier and tanner

4

Watch and clockmaker and pinion maker

5

Chairmaker

2

Upholsterer

2

Mason

2

Engraver

1

Brushmaker

1

Seedsman

4

Auctioneer and appraiser

2

Bookseller and printer

3

Pawnbroker

1

China and glass dealer

3

Coach builder

2

Coal merchant

1

Toy dealer

1

Horse and gig hirer

1

Piano merchant

1

Fishing tackle manufacturer

1

General dealer ('shopkeeper')

14-25

N.B. The same person sometimes carried out more than one of these
trades, but each has been counted separately.

Professional businesses have also been included for purposes of comparison. As might be expected, food and clothing establishments comprised the largest number, although many families were at least partly self-sufficient in their food supply and the number is perhaps not as large as one might have expected. The extremely small numbers of fishmongers and fruiterers is notable, suggesting that these commodities did not form a very large part of the diet of the average Ashburnian.
Clothing was a different matter, however, and there were 26 tailors and drapers and 14 boot and shoe-makers. Of the miscellaneous trades, no particular group stands out, with the possible exception of the various metal trades, a specialist branch in which Ashbourne may have been unusual. A noticeable feature was the number of persons who carried out two or even more trades' for example, tanner and maltster, plumber and glazier' The most important trades are dealt with in more detail in the following pages.

Malting

A common industry in many Midland towns, and closely allied to agriculture, malting involved the conversion of barley corns into malt preparatory to its conversion into ale. Ashbourne's seven malthouses were amongst the largest 'industrial' premises in the town in the mid-19th century. They were situated behind properties which fronted Church Street (3), lower St. John's Street, Union Street, Compton and Hall Lane, and four still exist today although are no longer active. The concentration in fashionable Church Street is notable, especially when one remembers that the malting process produced its own distinctive smell - likened to a mixture of apples and rushes. Some idea of the nature of the process can be gained from a description of the Union Street malthouse published prior to its auction in 1852. A three storey building with a frontage of 99ft. it contained a "cistern capable of steeping 14 ˝ quarters (of barley), drying kiln, couching floor, grinding room, store rooms . . . . .together with the Maltster's House, stabling for three horses, cart house and yard".

The process of steeping in water, 'couching' and drying were all necessary to accelerate the fermentation of the barley corns, which were spread out on the floors. Barley was obtained chiefly from the countryside south of Ashbourne which, although predominantly devoted to dairying, had a substantial arable acreage. This area also supplied barley to the Burton maltsters and brewers, and it seems that during the rnid-19th century the proximity of the Burton industry, only 15 or so miles away, produced a decline in Ashbourne's malting trade.
Although the majority of the Ashbourne public houses brewed their own ale from local malt, Burton ale was available in the town, especially after the opening of the railway in 1852 connected both towns by rail. Some of Ashbourne's malthouses fell vacant in the 1840s and '50s or were offered for sale and the number of businesses fell from seven in 1846 to four in 1857. In its day, however, it had obviously been a thriving trade, as all the maltsters were men of substantial means, for example the Hartshomes, Hemsworths and Dawsons. In about 1858 the Union Street malthouse became the premises of the newly-formed Ashbourne Brewery Company.

Tanning and Associated Trades

This was another agriculturally-based trade and one which had been practised in the town since the Middle Ages, often combined with malting. Tanning was the process of converting the hides of cattle or sheep into leather prior to manufacture into boots, shoes, saddles and bridles, bookbindings (and Shrovetide footballs), etc. by other craftsmen in the town. The process involved soaking the skins in water, steeping them in pits of liquid lime in order to remove the hair, stretching them and steeping them again in tannin.
The constant water supply which was vital to the process was obtained from the Heninore and Bentley Brooks, the lime from the limestone hills a few miles to the north of the town, and the tannin extract was obtained from the bark of oak trees. Newly tanned leather had to be 'curried' - dressed, greased and coloured - and this process was carried out by other tradesmen called curriers. Tanning also produced a distinctive and unpleasant smell, and the Dawson brothers' tanyard behind Compton, which was combined with a malthouse and guano warehouse, was notorious for its offensive odours. The other firm was that of the Morleys - father and sons, who lived in Church Street but had a tanyard about a quarter-of-a-mile outside the town on the Mappleton road where water from the Bentley brook was diverted into the building. Both firms combined their trade with malting.
There were two principal firms of curriers and leather cutters in the town, and in addition John Hobson seems to have moved into the printing business from currying, presumably via bookbinding. The Census describes 14 persons employed in tanning as well as nine curriers, one skinner and one fellmonger, all practitioners of related trades.

Clockmaking and Other Metal Trades

A wide variety of metal trades existed in the town manufacturing various iron, brass, copper or tin objects from pots and pans to pails and ploughshares, bells and bedsteads. Many of them were combined with other occupations; for example, Thomas Barnes in the Market Place was described in 1855 as a grocer, tallow chandler, ironmonger, tinman, brazier and insurance agent, and Thomas Gibbs, publican of the Ostrich in Back Lane, was also a whitesmith and bellhanger.

The most 'industrial' concerns were those which actually founded iron and brass, and there were four or five such foundries in Ashbourne in the mid-19th century, each situated in small workshops in the yards behind the main streets. Two were in Compton, two on the north side of the Market Place, and one in upper St. John's Street. The ironfoundry in Compton was owned by James Bassett, whose family ran a similar concern at Winkhill, between Ashbourne and Leek. In the late 18th century the Bassetts had also owned a foundry at Mayfield which manufactured parts for the nearby cotton mill, and in 1834 the Ashbourne firm had cast the iron mileposts still to be seen along the old turnpike road to Leek. A brassfoundry also of 18th century origin was that owned by the Frith family in Frith's Yard in the Market Place. By 1846 it was con- ducted by James Heywood, but it probably closed soon after.

The other three brassfoundries were particularly associated with the clockmaking industry, for which Ashbourne was a noted centre. The businesses involved had connections with larger centres of the industry in the Manchester and Birmingham areas. The Harlow family's business as brassfounders, clock iron-work and pinion makers was founded in the early 18th century and had at least one patent to its credit; by the early 19th century it had branches both in Ashbourne (upper St. John's Street) and in Birmingham under the direction of Robert Harlow (1779-1828). His eldest son, also Robert, had moved to. Stockport in 1833 and established his own brassfoundry there (existing until recently), and the Ashbourne and Birmingham businesses were continued by the second son Benjamin Wyatt Harlow, until his death in the 1840s, when the third son, William, took control. In 1851, however, William sold both businesses and moved to Stoke-on-Trent, thus severing the long connection between the family business and Ashbourne. The successor to the Harlow business was William Robert Davenport, whose father had come to Ashbourne from Manchester. He leant his trade with the Harlows and set up on his own in 1837 making brass cuttings and movements for 30-hour and eight-day clocks, etc. in a foundry behind the Market Place, subsequently moving to the old Harlow workshops in St. John's Street. In 1856 his nephew William set up in business in Dig Street as a jeweller and watch- maker, but never seems to have manufactured parts.

Another important firm was that of the two Haycock brothers, John and Thomas. Both born in rural south-west Staffordshire it is probable that they learnt their trade in the nearby Black Country, but before 1826 they had settled in Ashbourne, taking over a workshop in Smith's Yard, Compton, and by the 1850s were describing themselves as clock iron (or forge) work and pinion makers, brassfounders, and bell-founders. The firm subsequently became noted manufacturers of clocks, turret clocks, steam gauges and general iron and brasswork. A clock-gear-cutting machine purchased from the famous Derby firm of Whitehurst's sometime before 1855 was still in use by the Haycocks' descendants until recently. Two other families were engaged in the clockmaking trade but probably not in the founding business - the Ellebys and the Etches. Henry Edward Elleby had a regular contract in the 1850s for maintaining the Ashbourne church clock. The Etches, employed by the Ellebys, were responsible for the clock; installed at Ellastone Church in 1842, at Ilam Church and at Okeover Hall in 1857. One of the Ellebys set up in business in Derby in the 1840s, later moving to Manchester. The Census also mentions Joseph Gallimore, a watch pinion maker, living in Old Bank Yard, and Joseph Brandrick, pinion maker, of Tiger Yard.

Lace Embroidery

Ashbourne's principal textile trade of the 1840s and '50s was that of 'lace running', carried out by domestic female outworkers. This was the process of embroidering or figuring patterns by hand onto plain machine made lace net, destined for conversion into curtains, shawls, veils, bonnets, and all the other frilled garments and furnishings so beloved of Victorian taste. In 1843 an observer described the method in use in the east midlands as follows: 'Each workwoman has a frame, on which the net is stretched out horizontally, at a height of about three feet from the ground. She sits on a stool or chair, places her left hand under the stretched net, to keep it in a right position for working, and with her right hand works the pattern with needle and thread in every part where the stamper has imprinted a device. The needle is inserted between and among the meshes of the net, and stitches of greater or lesser length taken, until there is a body of thread laid in sufficient to mark the device conspicuously. This working round of the outline is called "running, while the filling up of the interior parts is termed either "fining" or "open working", according as the original meshes of the net are brought to a smaller or a larger size by the action of the needle. It is sad work to see how continuously these poor females must labour before they can earn a small pittance.'

In Nottingham, the main lace-centre of the east midlands at this period, wages averaged 1s. for a day's work of 14-16 hours, but in the country areas they could be as low as 6d. The trade went through a depression from 1844 to 1848 but by 1849 there was a gradual revival and it was reckoned in Nottingham that a mother and daughter could earn 4s. 6d. per week each., but the Derby newspapers for 1851 were full of references to the depressed state of the trade. One of the reasons was that a new machine capable of carrying out embroidery was invented in 1841 and the number of domestic outworkers needed slowly declined. By the time of the 1861 Census, the number of lace-workers in Ashbourne had fallen dramatically.

Of the 73 females in Ashbourne in 1851 employed as lace runners, over half of them were daughters or other relations of the head of the household, wives forming the next largest group. They were drawn entirely from the working classes; and the small income derived from this work may well have been vital to the family budget. In nearly half the cases only one member of the family was engaged in lace work, but in 12 households two members were involved, in three cases three members, and in two cases all four daughters. Ages varied from 11 to 66, although well over half were in the 20-35 age group, and there were only four younger girls aged 19, 17, 12 and 11 respectively. It would appear that there was not the economic necessity to employ children in the trade as was common in the Nottingham area. Over two-thirds of the lace- runners lived in Compton or the adjacent areas, with a smaller group in Mutton Lane and others scattered around the other working class areas of the town, although curiously, not in the densely-populated yards off Dig Street. There was a remarkable concentration of 25 on the west side of Compton, although there were only three on the opposite side of the street. Nearly all of these 25 lived in two adjacent yards, suggesting that the women perhaps worked together on lace frames in neighbours' houses.

The existence of large numbers of lace workers in a town some distance from the main Centre of the trade gives cause for some surprise, but it should be noted that the 1851 Census reveals the presence of 14 similar workers in the adjacent village of Clifton and 11 more in the lead-mining village of Brassington some seven miles away; there may well have been others in nearby villages. Derby at this time possessed a small number of lace manufacturers and so it must be presumed that the Ashbourne colony was an offshoot of the Derby trade. However, the lace-working tradition in Ashbourne can be traced back to the beginning of the century at least, and it is just possible that it may have originated from direct Nottingham connections. The Hayne family of Ashbourne Green Hall had invested their fortune in the Nottingham hosiery trade in the 1770s, and by 1812 had built up an empire of over 1,000 domestic lace machines scattered over the east midlands. A 'lace manufacturer and corn dealer' had been resident in Compton in 1829 but no similar person appears in any later directory except for that of 1855 which names a lace agent living in the Market Place. The domestic system usually required the existence of an agent who acted as the middleman between the workers and the manufacturer's warehouses.

Staymaking

The demand for stays or corsets from Victorian ladies for whom fashion dictated should have wasp-like waists was high throughout the last half of the 19th century. Staymaking was once practised by both men and women and in 1851 the Church Street almshouses contained two men, aged 68 and 82, who had retired from the craft. Apart from this there does not seem to have been any substantial tradition of the trade in Ashbourne. The only working staymakers in 1851 were two young wives, one in Mutton Lane and one in the Middle Cale.

In 1855 a small stay-making workshop was founded in the town by two Manchester textile manufacturers, Richard Cooper and Charles Smith. The traditional story is that they both retired independently to Ashbourne for health reasons and entered into partnership as something of a hobby, but they may well have -been influenced by the presence in the town of a potential female labour force in the declining domestic lace industry. The firm was established in the rented lower floor of a cottage at the foot of Derby Road close to Compton and employed four or five females, but by 1860 it moved to larger premises in order to house its 25 employees. By 1870 a new factory had been built on the west side of Compton for its rapidly-growing labour force, the first such building actually in the town. The factory has since been demolished and is now the site of Sainsbury’s supermarket.

Cotton Spinning

A third textile trade of the Ashbourne area was that of spinning raw cotton into yam, a process which was concentrated into three large mills close to the town. Although they fall outside the area of this present study, they must be mentioned briefly in order to give a balanced picture of the local economy. All were founded in the cotton-boom of the Arkwright era in the late 18th century and all used water power from local streams to drive their machinery. Two were situated close together on the banks of the Dove at Hanging Bridge and Mayfield respectively, both little over a mile from the town; the third was sited some three miles to the north on the Bentley Brook at Woodeaves.

William Archibald Cooper's Hanging Bridge mills employed 90 hands in 1851, nearly 30 of whom lived in tows of cottages built along the road to Ashbourne, and Cooper himself lived next to the mill at Holme Cottage. The Mayfield mill, owned by J. Chambers in the 1840s, had closed down by 1850 but was re- opened shortly afterwards by John Haigh. The original three-storey mill, built of brick with cast-iron columns, stood near to the owner's imposing mansion and a group of stone-faced cottages for workers, some dated 1856. Surprisingly perhaps, these mills drew their labour from their immediate surroundings, and very few came from within Ashbourne itself. The 1851 Census names only five persons in the town - all girls aged from 15 to 24 -- as factory hands, twist hands, cotton spinners or cotton doublers.

Situated some 40 miles from Manchester, the cotton capital, the mills of the Ashbourne area seem to have suffered from considerable economic difficulties in the mid-century, and often changed ownership. Unemployment must have been common in the industry; the Ashbourne Union Workhouse in 1851 contained seven persons aged from 17 to 57 described as factory or mill-hands. Unemployment in Lancashire also had its effect on the Ashbourne area in that millworkers travelled to or through the town in search of work.

Domestic Service

Early Victorian upper and middle-class households depended. on the employment of numerous domestic servants, many of whom lived in with the families. Over l5O households in Ashbourne in 1851 maintained one or more resident domestic servants, just under a quarter of all the households in the town, and it is therefore evident that the employment of servants was by no means the monopoly of the upper classes alone. Persons of private means headed some 18% of the households, which employed servants, and 13% were those of the professional men or private schoolteachers. Inns and public houses accounted for 15%, food retailers for 16%, clothing retailers for 9% and the remaining 30% or so were households engaged in miscellaneous trades.

The total number of domestic servants in the town in 1851 was 230, some 200 of them female, an average of between one and two per household. Most (105) of the employers had only one servant, but 32 had two, and 16 employed three or more. Of the last category, five employers were persons of private means, four were professional persons, three conducted private boarding schools, two were publicans and two were grocers (both in the Market Place). Of course possession of servants cannot always be equated simply with the economic status of the employer, as the size of his family or the nature of his business had a direct bearing on the number of servants he engaged. Captain Powell's large family of eight children at the Mansion no doubt required the presence of his six servants whilst his nextdoor neighbours, the two elderly Misses Dale, only needed three. It was the Green Man, an important coaching inn, which employed the highest number of servants - 9 - in 1851. The running of this establishment required a cook, two chambermaids, a scullery maid, two waitresses, a book-keeper, a shoeblack and a bailiff, and in addition there was an ostler living in the yard and a housekeeper who was a relation of the innkeeper.

The next largest numbers were the six of Captain Powell, and five each retained by Miss Buxton a spinster of private means in Compton, and John Skevington, a surgeon. This list does not include the large mansions immediately on the fringe of the town, but it should be noted that Cockshutt Heathcote kept an establishment of seven servants and a governess at the Green Hall, and both Mrs. Gell at the Grove and Sir Matthew Blakiston at Sandybrook Hall also had seven resident servants each. Analysis of the ages of the servants shows that the greatest numbers were within the 14-29 age group, with only 34 aged over 30 and only 15 under 14. It would therefore appear that very few children were employed in this type of work, but it has been suggested that the ages of young servants given in the Census returns were often falsely inflated by the employer in order to avoid censure.

 

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