St Mary's, parish church of Attleborough, Norfolk.
Whites Directory of Norfolk, 1854, reported that:
"ATTLEBOROUGH, or Attleburgh, is an ancient market town, pleasantly situated on the Norwich and Thetford turnpike, 15 miles S.W. of the former place, and 14 N.E. by E. of the latter, and on the north side of the Norfolk Railway, which has a neat station here. In the Saxon era it was the seat of Offa and Edmund, successively Kings of the East Angles, who fortified it against the predatory incursions of the Danes. These fortifications may still be traced in the ridge called Burn Bank. It was afterwards the seat of the Mortimers, whose ancient hall, (now a farm house,) is encompassed by a deep moat. The parish contains 501 houses, 2,324 inhabitants, and 5,247 acres of land. The Rev. Sir Wm. B. Smyth, Bart., is lord of the manor of Attleborough Mortimer, and its members, (fines arbitrary ;) and Mr. C. Cochell is the steward. S. T. Dawson, Esq., is lord of Chanticlere manor, (fines arbitrary,) and the rectory has two small manors, subject to a fine of 2s. per acre on land, and to arbitrary fines on the buildings. The town is comprised chiefly of one long street, with several good inns and shops ; and the market on Thursdays is well attended. The old market cross was taken down many years ago. Fairs are held on the Thursday before Easter, Whit-Sunday, and on Aug. 15th, for cattle, pedlery, &c. A pleasure fair is also held on the day before the March assizes. A stone pillar on the Wymondham road commemorates the gift of £200, by Sir E. Rich,Knt., in 1675,for the reparation of the road, which is said to be the first turnpike made in England, being formed under an Act passed in the 7th and 8th of William and Mary..."
It was also home to many of our family ancestors - with a recorded family line going back to at least 1577 in this small Norfolk market town.
Here they are, first our Attleborough Ancestors on my late father's side, starting with that line going back to 1577:
My father descended from Attleborough ancestors via his mother, Doris Brooker nee Smith. When my grandmother Doris was alive, I interviewed her several times. She was born in 1904 in Norwich, but she remembered her father taking her on a horse and cart to Attleborough, where he visited a pub with a grapevine outside. I realised that this was his parent's old Attleborough beerhouse, the Grapes, but my grandmother herself didn't pick up on this family history. Since then, I've revealed a very old family history in Attleborough. It starts as I said, with an uninterrupted line from Robert Freeman, who had three children baptised in Attlebough between 1577 and 1581. The family may well have - most likely did have, much earlier connections to the market town - but on record, they start here, not long after parish registers were first introduced by Thomas Cromwell, following the church split with Rome.
The baptism of Ann Freeman in Attleborough, 1577, daughter of Robert Freeman. Robert fathered at least three children at Attleborough. He was my 11th great grandfather.
William Freeman, my 10th great grandfather, was the son of Robert Freeman, baptised at St Mary's Attleborough, in 1581. He was to go on and father a son:
My 9th great grandfather, Robert Freeman was baptised at St Mary's, Attleborough, in 1610, the son of William Freeman. He married an Elizabeth.
My 8th great grandfather John Freeman, the son of Robert and Elizabeth, was baptised at Attleborough in 1639. He married Agatha, and they had two sons in Attleborough between 1674 and 1675.
My 7th great grandfather, Thomas Freeman was baptised in Attleborough in 1675. He married Elizabeth, and they had five children between 1695 and 1707.
My 6th great grandfather, John Freeman, was baptised at Attleborough in 1699. He married Elizabeth.
My 5th great grandfather, named after his father, John Freeman, was baptised at Attleborough in 1734. He married Anne.
My 4th great grandmother ends the Freeman dynasty for our tree. Elizabeth Freeman was baptised at Attleborough in 1779. In 1803 at St Mary's, she married Robert Hewitt, a farmer - but most likely, not a prosperous one. Agriculture was changing, and many small farmers were losing their land, being squeezed into the ranks of labourers and paupers. They had five children at Attleborough, between 1805 and 1814. Elizabeth died age 52, leaving Robert a widower.
My 3rd great grandmother, Lydia Hewitt, was baptised at Attleborough in 1807. She married Robert Smith at St Mary's, Attleborough, in 1827. Robert Smith was also born in Attleborough. He had also farmed land, but the times were changing, and the family fell on hardships. They had six children born in Attleborough, before Lydia died age 37.
Their son, my 2nd great grandfather, Robert (Hewitt) Smith, was born in the town in 1832. Although he started out life in poor circumstances, he for many years, ran a beerhouse (the Grapes), and builders yard in the town, along with his wife, Ann (nee Peach) whom he married at St Mary's in 1857. In 1879, the couple made the local new headlines, when they were burgled by an armed robber:
They had six children born at Attleborough, including:
My great grandfather, Frederick Smith, born in the market-town in 1860. Fred served an apprenticeship as a wheelwright, and moved to Norwich - ending this part of the Attleborough Ancestors story.
Other Attleborough Ancestors of my Father
My paternal grandmother had other ancestors in Attleborough:
William Hewitt, my 5th great grandfather, was born near to Attleborough, at Great Hockham, about 1742. However, with his wife, Elizabeth, they moved into the parish of Attleborough itself. There, they had at least seven children, born at Attleborough between 1772 and 1783.
Their son, my 4th great grandfather, Robert Hewitt, married Elizabeth Freeman, as noted above. Ten years after Elizabeth passed away, he married again, to Ann Batterby, in Attleborough.
We have a lot of Smith ancestors from Attleborough. John Smith a 6th great grandfather, was born circa 1700, married Maria, and was buried in Attleborough in 1776.
Their son, my 5th great grandfather also John Smith, was baptised in Attleborough in 1731. He married Judith Dennis at Attleborough in 1771. They had four children there between 1771 and 1778.
Their son Raphael Smith, my 4th great grandfather, was baptised at St Mary's in 1775. He married Mary Smith (yes, also a Smith before marriage) at Attleborough in 1798. They had seven children born in the town between 1798 and 1813.
Their son Robert Smith, my 3rd great grandfather, was baptised in Attleborough in 1807. He was an interesting character. He married Lydia Hewitt. I believe that they had some land to farm, that they lost. Robert joined the ranks of the labourers, and lead them in a riot during the "Swing Riots". His mob attacked threshing machines, the local workhouse, then the parson at St Mary's, for refusing to drop tithe taxes. Robert threatened the parson with a mattock. The court quoted him as saying:
Somehow, he received a lenient prison sentence in Norwich Castle Gaol, and successfully appealed for early release. Robert and Lydia raised six children at Attleborough, before she passed away. He then married again, to a Frances Husk. In his fifties, they moved to Sculcoates, Yorkshire, and founded more Smith lineages there.
Another Attleborough Smith ancestor - Richard Smith, 5th great grandfather.
and his daughter, my 4th great grandmother, Mary Smith, whom married Raphael Smith. That wraps up my father's Attleborough Ancestry. However... I also have some on my Mother's side!
Attleborough Ancestors of my Mother
John Page, my 10th great grandfather, fathered Robert Page at Attleborough about 1630.
My 9th great grandfather Robert Page, married Agnes. Their son:
Thomas Page, my 8th great grandfather, was baptised at St Mary's in 1664. He had a son:
Also named Thomas Page - my 7th great grandfather, baptised in Attleborough in 1690. He married Maria Hynds. They moved out of the town, to Besthorpe. The family later moved to Wymondham.
There ends my Attleborough Ancestry - at least, that on record.
23 direct ancestors between 1577 and 1860. The association still goes on. We are still in Norfolk not far away. I had a sister marry in Attleborough. I work only a few miles from the town today.
I'd uncovered a Robert Smith who took part in the riot in Attleborough, but a question always arises when researching an ancestor with a common name - was he / she my Smith, Brown, or Jones?. So I need to look closer. And I do see a problem:
His son, my 2nd great grandfather, Robert Smith (the junior), was born 15th December 1832. Yet Robert Smith (the swing rioter), was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment in January 1831. How did he do that? Was Robert Smith the Swing Rioter NOT my 3rd great grandfather, Robert Smith of Attleborough, born there in 1807?
Then a few days ago, on the England & Wales, Prisons &Punishment, 1770-1935 collection at FindmyPast.co.uk, under correspondence, I find this Norfolk Court record, dated 30th November 1831:
I had problems reading even this copy that I had optimised with an image editor, so I had to get help on a Facebook genealogy group. Apparently it is an appeal by James Stacey, one of the three imprisoned ring leaders, for sentence remission. It also gives notice that the other two, Robert Smith, and Samuel Smith would also be appealing as soon as they had served one year in prison. Did they receive remission?
I also found this under the same collection, dated to "1832" under Home Office Registers Of Criminal Petitions:
James Stacey, Robert Smith, and Samuel Smith are all still serving time. I don't know how early in 1832 they are being recorded there - but, their sentence types are all recorded as "Rem" (remission), so it does look to me as though their original sentences were reduced. If they were released on remission by late March 1832, then Robert Smith the Swing Rioter had just enough time to return to my 3rd great grandmother Lydia Smith (nee Hewitt), and to father Robert "Hewitt" Smith, the junior. If so, do you see who the rector was at their son's baptism? The Rev. Franklin himself. The guy that Robert Smith held a mattock over, that with the thresher burning, attacks on the workhouse, and general rioting, landed him in Norwich Castle Gaol in the first place! Two years later he's baptising Robert's son.
Also at FindmyPast.co.uk, I've found more newspaper reports of the case. In my previous article, I reported:
Times were incredibly difficult for the poor. I wonder if he was behind the voice that was reported during the Attleborough Riot by a witness:
Above the confusion of the voices one rang out, more stridant and confident than the rest 'We are the strongest party' the man cried. 'We always have been and we always will be. This is only the beginning. We have begun at the foot, and we will go up to the head.'.
Well. One newspaper report stated that it was indeed our ancestor Robert Smith that said this:
Why did he do it? What was Robert's status? Around that time, he was recorded as a labourer. Later, a hawker, and an umbrella maker. Even later in life, after our 3rd great grandmother Lydia, died, he married Frances Saunders (nee Husk), and they moved up North on the railways, to work in the cotton spinning town of Sulcoates.
But I may have discovered another element to his story? Why he was angry, and why he was accepted or identified as a ring leader of the riot?
Had Robert himself recently experienced a loss in status? Did this finally drive him against the local Establishment? In 1841, he was living with his wife Lydia, and six of their children, at his father-in-law's farm on the edge of Attleborough at Hill Common:
Maybe we can now understand him, just a little more. Also on that 1841 census report - you can see his son Robert (Hewitt) Smith the junior, there aged eight years. He's the guy that became the Attleborough bricklayer, and the victualler of The Grapes Inn, that was held up at gun point in 1879. My 2nd great grandfather, and another story.
A vicious and armed attack on two of my ancestors in 1879.
The Grapes Inn, Attleborough, Norfolk. I wonder if that is my great great grandmother Ann Smith (nee Peach), standing in front of the beerhouse in this old photograph?
I first heard of The Grapes from my late grandmother Doris Brooker. She recalled in her childhood, her father, Frederick Smith, once taking her by horse and cart to a pub in Attleborough, that had a grapevine growing in the doorway. If you look at the above photograph, I think you can see growth on the front of the building. Was that the same vine? I had just seen a census that recorded her grandfather, as the victualler of the Grapes Beerhouse in Attleborough. It connected. She didn't know, but that beerhouse was where his parents had lived.
Here's how they relate to my late paternal grandmother:
My 2nd great grandfather Robert Smith, had been born in Attleborough in 1833, to a local family. His father, Robert the senior, at one point, lead a local riot against the background of the Swing Riots. After a sentence imprisoned in Norwich Castle Gaol, Robert the senior made a living as a hawker, umbrella maker, and as a labourer. In his fifties, he finally escaped the Agricultural Depression by taking a second wife, on the new railways to Sculcoates, a cotton spinning town in Yorkshire. Robert the junior and other siblings though, remained in Attleborough.
Robert the junior's wife, my 2nd great grandmother, Ann (nee Peach), had been born at Etton, Northants, in 1835, although her mother, Sarah Peach (nee Riches) was from a local Norfolk family. When Ann was an infant, her father David Peach was convicted of stealing two steers, and transported to Tasmania. Sarah and Ann returned to Norfolk. Ann subsequently must have grown up in a very poor single parent family in the town. Her mother Sarah, unable to remarry, made a living as a charwoman.
So both Robert and Ann were born into more poverty rather than riches. They married at Attleborough in 1857. Robert had become a bricklayer.
Between then and 1876, Ann gave birth to at least six children - Harry, Frederick (my grandmother's father), Alice, Emma, Samuel, and Nellie Smith. They must have worked hard to get what they had. By 1879, they were running the Grapes Inn on Levell Street in Attleborough. From there, they ran a beerhouse, a bricklayer's yard, a builder's merchant yard, and possibly a pork butchers. Here they are at the Grapes in 1881:
That's the background. That 1881 Census shows the family two years after the event that I am now going to retell.
The Attleborough Burglary
It was about one o'clock in the morning on the first of March, 1879. The beerhouse was closed. My great great grandmother Ann Smith, was suddenly awakened by a noise and a light on the landing. As she reached out to the bedroom door in order to investigate, a masked man carrying a revolver pushed into the bedroom, exclaiming "hoi-a-hoi!". Her husband Robert now awake, the intruder pointed the pistol at his face. The threat made, the burglar backed out to the landing. Just then, their eldest son Harry, awoke by the commotion opened the door of another bedroom. The intruder turned his revolver onto Harry, pointing it at a distance of six inches into his face. Harry slammed the bedroom door shut, and the gun was fired into it, splintering the door. The burglar then bolted from the Grapes, running out of the front door. Robert, Ann, and Harry surveyed the house. The intruder had kicked over a lamp, which needed to be extinguished. The house had been ransacked. Robert's silver pocket watch and chain had been stolen, some money, a carving knife, and some silver from a dresser.
The thief was a 20 year old John Clarke, originally from Shields in the North of England, but who had spent some time himself as a bricklayer, on the West India Docks in London. He was on a rampage in Norfolk. Armed, he committed a spate of burgalries at Attleborough, Spooner Row, Shipdham, and Foulsham.
The following Tuesday, he was at Little Walsingham. It was becoming to risky for him to continue his crime spate in Norfolk, and he was heading for the railway station, to escape back to London. He was tracked by the Police to a Little Walsingham pub, where they preceded to question him. He made a dash for it. As the police officers pursued him through the village, three times he raised his revolver and fired the gun at them - missing every time.
He reached the village of Great Walsingham. The Police officers had by now commodeared a horse and cart to pursue him. Locals joined in, including a game keeper's son called Codman. More shots were fired - one through Codman's apron! They chased him across the fields. Another bullet struck a horse in the neck. The rider of that horse, PC Goll, diismounted and forced Clarke to the ground - the gun fired again during the struggle. Goll managed to part him from the revolver, and to handcuff him.
Clarke was found with a number of stolen items including my great great grandfather's watch. He also had a piece of glass, painted with a death skull, that he would use with a lamp to frighten his victims. The next morning, he gave a full confession.
He was taken later that day to Norwich Shirehall. Angry crowds beseiged the building and a force of police had to keep order. There he was charged, and Robert, Ann, and Harry gave their accounts, and identified their stolen properties.
At the May Assizes, John Clarke was sentenced to twenty years penal servitude.
Norfolk News 10th May 1879
Eastern Daily Press 8th March 1879
Norwich Mercury 8th March 1879
My great grandfather Frederick Smith with his son Lenny.
This guide is really aimed at distant cousins with ancestry from the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. It's the perspective of a present day East Anglian from the ground. My ancestors were the ones that usually stayed in East Anglia.
First - definitions of what constitutes East Anglia. One modern governmental definition: "the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire". Estate Agents, trying to sell properties in idyllic East Anglia, often go even further, also including Huntingdonshire, Rutland, parts of Lincolnshire, and Essex. The ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia (see above image), didn't really include these add-ons. I go with that, but include parts of northern-most Essex. Why? Because on the ground, those areas still feel (and sound) East Anglian. Norfolk, Suffolk, eastern Cambridgeshire, and northern most Essex. That feels East Anglian. But it's heart remains the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.
East Anglia is situated on the North Sea coast of South-East England. It is lowland. A chalk bed lazily slopes down from west to east, with a layer of boulder clay on top running through mid Norfolk and high Suffolk. I say high, nowhere in East Anglia is high. This is Low Country. Our hills are in the main, very gradual, slight affairs. To the west of the chalk bed, lays even lower country - the ultra-flat landscape of the East Anglian Fens. Wetlands that have been drained for agriculture in rich peat and silt soils.
East Anglia is rural. It is agricultural. Largely arable, with favoured crops of wheat, barley, sugar beet, and oil seed rape. Medium size agri-business fields of crops across a very gently rolling lowland landscape, with parish church towers around every corner, and a buzzard in every copse of trees. Ancient narrow roads with bordering hedgerows, twist around long forgotten open fields and farmsteads. Mixed farming enters the river valleys, where cattle are fattened on rich grasses. Intensive pig and poultry broiler units also dot the landscape.
What about the East Anglians? That is one of the subjects of this post.
East Anglia isn't on the road to anywhere, but East Anglia. You don't pass through East Anglia on the way to the Industrial North, Scotland, Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham, or London. It's far out on the periphery of Hub.co.uk. It's main urban centres are the small City of Norwich, and the towns of Ipswich, Kings Lynn and Bury St Edmunds. They are all, 'small'. Norwich comes in at a lowly 48th in English town by population size. You see, small. Far more medieval towers than modern high rise towers.
After the urban centres, most modern East Anglians probably live in or near the market-towns. These are really tiny "towns" some little more than villages. Some are lovely, ancient, with unspoiled centres and market places. Places such as Wymondham, Holt, Diss, Woodbridge, Swaffham, Beccles, Pulham Market, Laxfield, Long Melford, etc. There must be dozens scattered across East Anglia.
Wymondham market-town centre.
The rest of the East Anglians live in the countryside, outside of the market-towns. Trying to explain this to American genealogists where the old Roman ideal of planned city prevails, is difficult. We have villages. We have lots of them. Most are early Medieval in origin. They are set in ancient divisions known as parishes. Many East Anglians now live in suburbs on the edges of towns - but until a century or two ago, most of them lived further out in the countryside, in these villages.
How many villages have we got in East Anglia? Would you believe, somewhere around 1,300, with over 700 in the county of Norfolk alone. They absolutely dot the East Anglian countryside. Living in the countryside, in farmsteads and villages - that really is the Anglo-Saxon way of Life. Look at the below snip of a part of south Norfolk. See all of those red circles. Villages. The Blue circle is a market town on the old Roman road (A140).
Until a few centuries ago, most East Anglians lived in the countryside. Most of these villages will have a medieval church. There are more than 600 of them in Norfolk. They'll also often have a later non-conformist chapel as well. Over 600 medieval religious buildings in Norfolk! Possibly the highest density of medieval churches anywhere in the World. This is because Medieval Norfolk was central. It wasn't so peripheral before the Industrial Revolution. The medieval City of Norwich was the second or third largest city in England after London. All of those empty medieval churches. Where did the populace go? Some of them may have been your ancestors.
How about the origins of the East Anglians themselves? Who are they?
There are very few "Celtic" place-names in East Anglia, other than the Ouse river system. Most of the villages and place-names in East Anglia are of Anglo-Saxon origin, dating to between the 6th and 10th centuries AD, around 1,200 years ago. In addition there are a number of place-names that are Anglo-Danish in origin, dating to the 9th - 11th centuries AD, with a cluster of them in eastern Norfolk. See the map below, of the area called Flegg, an Anglo-Danish place-name in itself. All of those -by place-names - they were most likely settled by "Viking" Danish immigrants during the 9th to 11th centuries.
Previous to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons during the 5th century AD, the region that we know call East Anglia had for centuries, been a part of the Western Roman Empire. Even further back than that, at the turn of prehistory to written history, the northern parts of the region were the home of the Iceni tribal federation, and the southern part to the Trinovante. These Late Iron Age peoples were descended from an immigration event from the Continent into the British Isles that took place some 2,000 years earlier. Call their ancestors Bell Beaker, Celt, British Celt, or Ancient Briton - their DNA is still the most dominant aspect of the modern British, and even English gene pool. The Roman occupation appears to have had little impact on their genetic make up.
Then the Anglo-Saxons arrived. They came from what is now Northern Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Early Anglo-Saxon artifacts found in East Anglia, have their closest correlation on the Continent with artifacts in Northern Germany, south of the Danish border. This was the origin of the Angles - which the early kings of East Anglia clearly identified with. Saxo-Frisians in what is now the Netherlands were well placed to migrate to the region, and contributed to this migrant community.
The most recent genetic studies suggest that rather than displace the Britons in the lowlands, that the Anglo-Saxons admixed with them in marriage. Indeed, as I said, genetically, the DNA of the earlier Britons is still the majority component, even in England. There was no genocide. However, an Anglo Saxon identity, culture, and language was adopted by all during following centuries.
West Stow reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village in Suffolk. The birth of the East Anglian village.
Not all of the Continental DNA in East Anglia arrived here during the 5th or 6th centuries AD. Some may have already been here from the Empire, or earlier. Some arrived during the 9th to 11th century settlement of Danes in the region. Then the Normans. The Medieval saw Angevins from Aquitaine, and other French arrive. Then during the 16th century, there was a significant settlement of Elizabethan Strangers (protestant refugees) from what is now the Netherlands. Huguenots followed. Asides from these noteable immigration events, there would have been a drip-drip feed of foreigners into the region. Dutch herring fishermen and engineers, Lithuanian timber and fur traders. Drovers from the Midlands. Indeed surname studies suggest that during the late medieval and following Tudor periods, there were a number of people moving into the Norfolk countryside - from the Continent, but also from other parts of England such as for example, Yorkshire. East Anglia isn't on the way to any where, but neither is it totally isolated from ingress of new settlers.
The consequence of the location of East Anglia in the North Sea World, is that Genetic Genealogists looking at their DNA "Ethnicity Estimates" or "Ancestry Composition" results might see high levels of DNA matching the panels for the Continent, rather than for the British Isles.
How did the East Anglians live?
Many genealogists proudly brag of documented descent from early medieval kings and emperors (usually Charlemagne). The lines that they trace in order to claim this must be those of the minority of the medieval European population - the titled and landed nobles, with their heraldic records. This elite weren't really representative of the entire population.
East Anglians were mainly rural, untitled, and really didn't have a lot of wealth. During the feudal Medieval, most East Anglians would have been within the ranks of the common peasantry, owing a range of fealties to their lords, in return for protection. Not all were particularly free, although there were high percentages of freemen peasants in eastern Norfolk. Others were tied in levels of servitude to their manors. They tilled their strips in the communal open field systems. They grazed their meagre livestock on the commons. They also worked the lord's land, supplied him with sheep fencing, ale, fuel, and grains. When called on, the men would have served the lord in wars against the Scottish, French or other houses. Life was hard, brutal, and often too short. However, the abundance of medieval churches across the region testify to the wealth that their labour actually created. It testifies to the success of their medieval economy here in East Anglia.
Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter (c.1325-1335), f.74v See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons. Originally published/produced in England [East Anglia].
Most peasant families didn't even adopt hereditary surnames until around the 13th to 15th centuries AD. Except for brief mentions in manorial records, tithes, and polls, most don't even enter the records until 1538, when parish registers were introduced with the English Reformation. So unless you tie into an aristocratic line - you are not going to trace your East Anglian ancestry much further back than 1550. Indeed, many parish registers are damaged, lost, or destroyed. Many records are illegible. There is no guarantee of making it back that far. I find it difficult to trace back rural East Anglian roots with a high degree of certainty much earlier than 1720, for the lack of correlative evidence from censuses, transcripts, etc.
Hoard of 12th century (Henry III) hammered silver coins recovered in Norfolk, and recorded by my late father.
Not all East Anglians worked the soil. There were skilled crafts people such as the cordwainers, potters, smiths, and weavers. Some based in villages, others in the towns. Protestant beliefs and practices spread across Eastern England following the Reformation, particularly in urban areas. This was re-enforced during the late 16th century AD, when protestant refugees from the Roman-Catholic crown, in the Netherlands, were invited to settle in Norwich, Ipswich, and elsewhere across East Anglia and south east England. One poll of Norwich at this time suggested that as much as one third of the City population consisted of these Dutch and French protestants. They were invited not only as allies against Roman Catholic Europe, but to bring their valuable crafts and skills to East Anglia.
Their protestant vigour was infectious. East Anglia became a hot bed of Protestantism. As the Crown and Establishment turned down the Reformation, opting for keeping Conservative values in their Anglican Church, so the Protestants ... protested. Some hopped back over the North Sea to the Netherlands, which had for the time being, repelled the Catholic powers. However, some of these most puritan protestants then asked the English king for permission to set up their own colonies in New England. Permission was readily granted. The Puritans left Eastern England en mass. The point though is that this particular chapter of East Anglians migrating away, was centred in main, on urban classes, skilled workers, and those that could actually afford the voyage.
Norfolk saw little bloodshed during the 17th century English Civil War, as it was safely Parliamentarian. Except for a riot and explosion in Norwich when the Puritans tried banning Christmas.
Back to the countryside...
Between the 16th and 19th centuries AD, the descendants of the old East Anglian peasantry had to adapt to a number of economic changes that were not in their interest. The great land owning families were enclosing and renting out their lands to free tenant farmers, breaking up the old manorial estates. Some fields were enclosed, and the peasants found themselves replaced by more profitable sheep. Even the commons were enclosed and privatised. While the more entrepreneurial freemen rented out land to farm themselves, as tenant farmers, many others found themselves surplus to requirement, and alienated from the soils that had fed their ancestors for generations. They became farm hands, the great army of "ag labs" (agricultural labourers) of the 19th century censuses. Not all labourers were equal. The more fortunate, loyal, and skilled might find themselves almost in full employment, with a regular wage and a tied cottage. The less fortunate were the paupers. Seasonal workers that had to constantly look for work, or beg for parish relief. The rural poor didn't always accept these changes without resistance. In 1381, Norfolk and Suffolk peasants joined in a rebellion that threatened London. In 1549, Norfolk peasants rose into an army that captured the City of Norwich. In 1830, East Anglia was a centre of the Swing Riots.
Many agricultural labourers and their families still married and baptised as Anglican at the Church of England, but although much of the puritanical fervour had by now swept away from East Anglia, many were increasingly turning to non-conformist chapels of the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Methodists. The Primitive Methodists were particularly successful in East Anglia during the 19th Century.
If you had rural working class East Anglian ancestors during the 16th to 19th centuries, imagine them very poor. Following the Agricultural Revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries, new machines and technologies replaced much seasonal and manual labour on the fields. The commons, where the poor had grazed their animals had been taken away. Poor relief was ceased, and the desperate were forced to enter prison-like workhouses, in order to be fed - families split into separate dormitories, the poor harshly penalised, and discouraged from asking for relief.
How the land owners, farmers, and parsons saw it - the East Anglian countryside simply had a large surplus of unwanted labour. They were encouraged to leave. Some to far away colonies - Australia and Canada. Others to feed the factories and mills of the Industrial Revolution in places like Newcastle, Yorkshire, or London. For many - the railways arrived just in time to escort them away.
Example of East Anglian Accent.
Researching rural East Anglian ancestry
Most East Anglians were not titled, nor recorded in heraldic records.
Parish registers online are incomplete. Not all parishes or registers have even been digitally photographed.
Some parish registers have been lost, destroyed, or are badly damaged.
The transcriptions of the registers on some online genealogical services are sometimes incorrect. Always if you can, try to see scans of the original registers online. Because of these frequent errors, the databases often fail on searches.
If your ancestor was rural, use OpenStreetMap.org and magnify down to get to really know the area that they lived in. Appreciate distances by foot. People did sometimes move more than several miles - but very often in East Anglia, didn't! It's not unusual to see one family in the same small parish for several generations. Sometimes marrying cousins. It was the arrival of the railways, that sometimes allowed families to finally escape the rural poverty.
You find Harry X marries Mary Z in a village. You search the online databases for his baptism (and parentage). You find a baptism of a Harry X in the same county. You add him and his parents to your tree. Problem is ... the baptism was 23 miles away, and you don't realise it, but there were a number of Harry X at the same time, several closer to the place of marriage - you have made an error. You just saw the one on the database. More research might have uncovered a more likely candidate, with siblings named like his children, in the village next to that in which he married Mary Z. Getting to know the area really well may have made you search harder.
Illegitimacy is a surprise to some. You will see plenty of it in 18th and 19th century East Anglia. It was generated by poverty, poor housing, poor education, and desperation.
Most of your rural working class ancestors will be illiterate, and sign with an X. Education of the labourers was discouraged. However, now and then, you will find one that served as the parish clerk. Some could read.
Widows and widowers, with children in tow, would frequently remarry quickly. Support for the children was vital to keep them out of the workhouse.
Infant mortality can be very depressing or sobering. Expect some high rates.
Don't be surprised to find ancestors listed as paupers, or as inmates in workhouses, gaols, or even the asylum.
Check non-conformist church records, as well as the Anglican. The Methodists operated by "circuits".
Another genealogist gave me a hint some twenty years ago, that they'd seen one of my Attleborough Smith ancestors as listed among the inmates of Norwich Castle Gaol. I never followed it up until today, when I bought a second hand book called "Unquiet Country". Voices of the Rural Poor 1820 - 1880. Robert Lee 2005.
The guy behind the till in the book shop said that he had been tempted to purchase it. I replied that I might find one of my ancestors in it. I didn't think that I would. Then sitting on the bus, on the way back, as I reading through the chapter "Seems we have a revolution on our hands", I read about an incident in Attleborough, Norfolk during December 1830:
At least their slow walk gave the two men time to weigh up what was happening. The churchyard was crowded. Francklin noted that many faces were muffled and masked. In evidence, too, were a number of sinister looking sticks, clubs and cudgels, some resting on the ground, some shouldered, some being slapped rhythmically against tensed, sweating palms.
"See the flag Dover?" muttered Francklin from the side of his mouth, 'Seems we have a revolution on our hands'. Still furled, but unmistakable and carried with defiant pride, the tri-colour flag of revolutionary France provided a splash of colour in a damp corner of the graveyard.
The background was the Swing Riots. Since August, many agricultural labourers and paupers took direct political action in protest against their deteriorating condition, that had been escalating with a long history of enclosure - the privatisation of pastures where the poor grazed their meagre livestock. A favoured target were the new machines of the Agricultural Revolution, such as the threshing machines, which reduced the need for much labour on the land. Masked gangs would set fire to them. A mythical hero called Captain Swing gave name to the riots. Workhouses would be attacked - the places where the poor were expected to plead for food and shelter, living as inmates for the offence of being replaced by such machines. Tithe barns would also be attacked - the farmers were falling over themselves to blame the Church for excessive taxation, that prevented them paying a living wage to their labourers.
Some of the labourers cried out "half, half," holding up sticks and a mattock was held up, the mattock was not held up till after I had agreed to reduce 10 per cent ... they became more violent...
East Anglia was the epicentre of the Swing Riots. Continuing in Attleborough, the rioters harangued the annual tithe meeting where the parson organised tithes for the forthcoming year. The Parson, the Rev. Francklin, was assaulted when he refused to drop the tithes to a half. He was forcibly imprisoned by the Swing rioters. One of the masked men lifted a mattock (a pick axe-like tool as top photo) when the parson refused to give more than a 10% reduction in tithe tax to the farmers that employed them. Another called for a knife, to cut off his head. The parson and his associates were beaten, the vestry pilloried with stones. Previous to arriving at the church meeting, the mob had already destroyed three threshing machines, and attacked the workhouse, demanding that the master fed them, or they would march him around the town with a stone hanging from his neck. This really was revolution in backwater Norfolk.
Then I read the names of the accused at the subsequent trial:
For their breach of the peace, and for having broken into and entered the vestry room of the parish church ... and for having beaten the Rev. Fairfax Francklin ... threatened him and kept him a prisoner for several hours', Robert Smith was imprisoned for two and a half years, Samuel Smith for two years....
and after that was decided he (witness) would communicate the result (to the labourers); saw Robert Smith with a mattock ; a cry was raised...
Hang on. Is that my 3rd great grandfather Robert Smith of Attleborough? It appears so. That hint twenty years ago. He was married only three years earlier, to Lydia Hewitt - by the Rev. Francklin! No wonder they didn't have any children for a few years. He was serving time in Norwich Castle.
Robert was born the son of Raphael and Mary Smith, in Attleborough during early 1807. At least three generations had lived in Attleborough, perhaps many more. Indeed, both of his parents carried the Smith surname previous to marriage. The Samuel Smith convicted with him may have been a cousin of his. Robert must have been around 24 years old when he raised that mattock at the parson. He had two young children to feed and a wife. Times were incredibly difficult for the poor. I wonder if he was behind the voice that was reported during the Attleborough Riot by a witness:
Above the confusion of the voices one rang out, more stridant and confident than the rest 'We are the strongest party' the man cried. 'We always have been and we always will be. This is only the beginning. We have begun at the foot, and we will go up to the head.'.
That was the voice not of a mob rioter, but of a revolutionary. Not just the beating up of an elderly parson perhaps. It had to be nipped at the bud, and after the military declared the Riot Act, the magistrates did just that.
While Robert languished in the gaol of Norwich Castle, his younger brother, Raphael Smith, passed away age 21. Tough times to live.
Robert was released and fathered several more children. In 1841 he was living at Lydia's father's farm at Hill Common, with six of their children. But Robert was diversifying. He was recorded on that census as a hawker - a salesman.
Three years later, in 1844, Robert's wife Lydia past away, age only 37 years. In 1849, with children to care for, Robert married a second time, to a widow named Frances Saunders (nee Husk). Her children by her previous marriage joined the household.
In 1851, Robert, living still in Attleborough with his family, was now working as an umbrella maker! Then something happened. The railways had arrived, bringing opportunities for many poor Norfolk families to move away. The cotton mill towns were beckoning. Robert, in his fifties, and Frances, left my 2nd great grandfather Robert Smith in Attleborough, and moved up North to Sculcoates, East Riding, Yorkshire. In 1861, there they were, until 1870 when Robert finally passed away. The Man with the Mattock.
Meanwhile his son Robert Smith (the junior) did quite well in Attleborough. He was a bricklayer. He had a trade. He married Ann Peach (who's own father had been transported to Tasmania in 1837 for stealing cattle), and they for many years ran a beerhouse and builders yard in Attleborough, called the Grapes. Their son Fred Smith also apprenticed into a trade. He became a wheelwright, moved to Norwich, where he met my great grandmother Emily Barber. They had several children in Norwich, including my grandmother Doris Brooker nee Smith.
Fred Smith with his daughter Doris in Norwich circa 1908.
EDIT: another newspaper report from the Norwich Mercury, dated 15th January 1831:
I'm on a fresh family tree run. Well, actually, this one I'm sort of restoring, after once trimming the branch out. I found them a while ago, but then noticed that one baptism would have made the proposed mother around sixteen. It can happen, but I don't see such young motherhood very often in my tree, so I cut a branch off. When in doubt - cut it out.
The Moll family lived during the 18th century in Ranworth, and the neighbouring parish of South Walsham in glorious Norfolk. Here's my Tracey on her phone earlier this year nearby at Ranworth Broad:
Isn't she lovely? Getting back to the subject, a fresh look at the Moll Family using online genealogy, and I saw my mistake. That early Moll baptism belonged to another mother / wife of the father, from an earlier marriage. It all fit after all.
I descend from them through my maternal grandmother, born Ivy Tovell. Let's start this time from the top, as far back as I can safely get on this line at the moment.
My 7th great grandfather Abraham Moll lived in the Norfolk parish of Ranworth. Where was he born? He couldn't have been the Abraham born at Hoveton, Norfolk in 1719. He'd be too young. He could have been the Abraham Moll born at Edingthorpe, Norfolk, in 1696. Just the right age. However, that's about 20 miles away. Did people move that far back then? Sure. My Thacker family line for example, shifted around East Anglia. But most in my experience did not. Therefore I like more evidence before accepting an origin just like that. When you go back much earlier than 1780, that extra quality evidence rapidly evaporates for the masses. That is where many, many, online genealogists go wrong. Particularly if they don't live locally, they just go for the nearest with the same name, and about the right date. If I had done that, maybe I'd now be back to Charlemagne like they usually are. But I wouldn't believe the pedigree. They shouldn't either.
So the earliest record - the baptism of his, and his wife's son Abraham (junior) at Ranworth in 1728:
I then have baptisms at Ranworth for four more of their children, including my 6th great grandfather Solomon Moll. The last record for Abraham (senior) though was his burial at Ranworth in 1745:
6th great grandfather Solomon Moll was quite interesting. Born at Ranworth in 1731, rather than the usual agricultural labourer, he was a cordwainer (a shoe maker). Over the years he apprenticed a number of young men in South Walsham, Norfolk, for example:
Solomon the shoe maker, married my 6th great grandmother Rebecca Johnson, in 1759 at South Walsham St Mary's:
and she was to give birth to my 5th great grandmother Elizabeth Moll at South Walsham in 1763.
I don't know when Rebecca died, but widower Solomon married a second time in 1805, to a widow named Elizabeth Ebbage. He must have been about 74 years old. Good on him. Maybe it was love. Companionship at least.
His daughter Elizabeth Moll married widower, Jacob Wymer at nearby Moulton St Mary in 1785.
Moulton St Mary. One of my favourite local rural churches. The walls, exposed by conservation work are covered with medieval murals.
My 4th great grandmother Mary Wymer was born at Moulton, Norfolk in 1789. She married a local farm worker named William Springall at nearby Halvergate (on the edge of the marshes) in 1811. They had at least seven children at Halvergate between then and 1834. One of them was my 3rd great grandmother Elizabeth Springall. She married local lad William Lawn over the marshes at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk during 1831. They settled at Tunstall, next to the marshes close to Halvergate. William was interesting. Although a marshman and labourer, he served as the parish clerk at Tunstall for 33 years.
Their daughter, my great great grandmother, Eliza Lawn, was born at Tunstall in 1849. She married George Tammas-Tovell at Tunstall in 1866.
Here she is, the old lady sitting on the right of the photo:
An interview with one of my late great aunts recalled that as an old lady, she'd sit long periods in front of a mirror, brushing her long grey hair. In the above photo, she poses with her son, grandaughter, and great grandaughter, my mother's sister. Probably taken at Halvergate or Reedham.
The boring stuff (last updated 20th Dec 2017)
My Ancestry tree currently contains the records of 2,924 family members. Including 328 direct ancestors for myself and my siblings.
Generation 3 (grandparents) has 4 individuals. (100.00%)
Generation 4 (great grandparents) has 8 individuals. (100.00%)
Generation 5 (2nd great grandparents) has 16 individuals. (100.00%)
Generation 6 (3rd great grandparents) has 31 individuals. (96.88%)
Generation 7 (4th great grandparents) has 57 individuals. (89.06%)
Generation 8 (5th great grandparents) has 70 individuals. (54.69%)
Generation 9 (6th great grandparents) has 68 individuals. (27.34%)
Generation 10 (7th great grandparents) has 46 individuals. (9.34%)
Generation 11 (8th great grandparents) has 21 individuals. (2.15%)
Generation 12 (9th great grandparents) has 5 individuals. (0.24%)
I have 156 direct ancestors recorded for my father.
I have 170 direct ancestors recorded for my mother.
I have 490 direct ancestors recorded for my children.
I was stuck for months with 279 direct ancestors on record, when suddenly over the past few weeks, it's grown to 296, with a total of 2,806 family members in the whole tree.
One recent breakthrough was on my father's line back to Oxfordshire. I knew that my 4th great grandmother Brooker (nee Seymore) was born circa 1795 at Drayton, Oxfordshire. Scanning through the digitally photographed parish registers of both Drayton St Peters, and then Drayton St Leonards, between 1780 and 1805, I had that eureka moment when I found this:
Actually, I found three baptisms of an Elizabeth to this couple, John and Phoebe (Faby) Seymour, as well as other children, and then their marriage in 1790:
So Phoebe (Faby), was a Godfrey before marriage, and a spinster. I've traced some of the lines back a bit further:
It looks as though around 1720, the Seymore family moved from the area of West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, to the villages of Lewknor and Aston Rowant in Oxfordshire. Not a dreadful distance, only around nine miles. I'll have to investigate these new ancestral villages in Oxfordshire sometime.
I've also made a little progress on another close by line, also on my father's Oxfordshire lines. My 3rd great grandmother Brooker was born Mary Ann Edney in 1845 in Shiplake, Oxfordshire. I've managed to extend that branch a little further back:
The Edney family has recently provided me with the furthest back DNA match on my paternal line. DNA matching suggests with a moderate confidence level, that I and another British tester share identical by descent segments of DNA with a predicted relationship of 5th to 8th cousins. Ancestry sees a relationship on our trees that it thinks is behind those segments:
I'm very keen to find these DNA matches, to biologically verify my research, where it can (over the most recent 8 - 10 generations). However, I'm particularly concerned about proving or disproving my paternal line beyond Generation 3, as I had a slightly colourful great grandmother on that line. The Edney match does indeed support, that my documented great grandfather, was indeed my biological great grandfather, but really I need more verification. I'm looking for matches with common ancestry in Oxfordshire or Switzerland, in order to do just that - alternatively a Y-DNA match from another tester descended on the Y line from an Oxfordshire / Berkshire Brooker family.
I've been trying very hard to breakthrough on a Suffolk based branch on my father's side. I have a brick wall above my 3rd great grandfather Robert Barber, born somewhere in Suffolk, around 1796. I do have some good candidates,
As you can see, a baptism of a Robert Barber of Halesworth, at a non-conformist chapel in Beccles during 1797. Tempting to claim them as ancestors, if I could, then I could actually go back a few more generations on that line. But I'm not convinced this is the right one. There were a lot of Barbers in Suffolk at that time. This is the thing about genealogy - you have to make that call, that decision to add, or not to add. The further that we go back, the less the resources, and the more missing. Then perhaps, we are forced to sometimes make slightly more generous decisions. I do struggle with that though.
As a side note, I have ordered Robert's death certificate from the GRO. He died quite young in 1846, and it smashed his young family apart, some ending up in the workhouse. I'd like to know what happened.
His son George got out of Shipmeadow Workhouse and got work at a farm labourer in the Hedenham / Woodton area of Norfolk. He married and settled there. They had a number of children, including a daughter named Emily Barber. When she was 11 years old, during the 1871 census, she was recorded as working as a "crow keeper" (children employed to scare birds from fields):
Emily later moved to Norwich, to work as a servant in a Solicitor's household. There she met a young wheelwright from Attleborough, called Fred Smith. They married at the bottom of Grapes Hill. They were very congregationalist new chapel. They raised their children in a terrace house in Suffolk Street, Norwich, including my father's mother, Doris Smith.
Here's Emily, with her son Sid Smith, who was a First World War veteran from the Western Front: