Above, Samuel William "Fiddler" Curtis, born in 1852 at Hassingham, Norfolk, the grandson of William Curtis (senior).
My 5th great grandparents, John Curtis, and Ann Annison, were married at Hassingham, Norfolk in 1801. I have so far been unable to trace where either of this couple originated, or their parents, but there were already Curtis and Annison families in that part of Norfolk prior, and I currently have no reason to think that they had moved into the area from elsewhere. I just lack their baptism records. Maybe one day I'll find them.
Hassingham in it's landscape in 1797.
Over the following eleven years, Ann Curtis (née Annison) had five children baptised at the Hassingham parish church of St Mary's, including a John, Richard, Theodosia, William, and finally in 1812, a Priscilla Curtis.
St Mary's of Hassingham.
William Curtis (I)
Their third son, William Curtis, was born at Hassingham during the winter of 1807/1808, and baptised in February at St Mary's. His father, John may have rented a tract of land, to farm himself, or he may have relied on selling his labour to other farmers. He may have done both. The rural poor had lost all of their ancient rights, with the enclosures, but they were free to sell their labour and skills to whoever. However, as the Agricultural Revolution gained pace - so the market for their labour was reducing, with the gradual introduction of new machinery and agricultural processes.
In 1827, William Curtis married my 4th great grandmother, Mary Ann Rose, at nearby Strumpshaw. They were both marked down as of being of that parish, both were single, both were illiterate. An interesting twist for myself looking at that marriage register, is that their witnesses were Mary Ann's sister, Rebecca Rose, and her fiancé, John Shorten. I only posted about their life a week ago "From Norfolk Labourer to Yankee Gunner". That couple were to marry in the next entry of that Strumpshaw Marriage Register, in November. They ended up as farmers in Illinois, USA, with five of their sons serving in the Unionist Army in the American Civil War. I keep seeing this theme in my Family History. My direct ancestors were the ones that usually stayed - often never moving far from their village of birth. But many of their siblings didn't stay. I'll come back to this theme later in this post.
Between 1828, and 1850, the couple were to have a total of at least eight children, all baptised at nearby Buckenham church: Anne Amelia Curtis (1828), my 3rd great grandfather, William Curtis (the junior, 1830), Henry Curtis (1833), Alfred Curtis (1836), George Curtis (1838), Priscilla Curtis (1841), Sarah Curtis (1848), and Henry Curtis (1849). A lot of mouths to feed. How was William supporting these children? If I look at the 1841 census, I find the family, as it was then, located at Buckenham (Ferry), Norfolk. William was a 34 year old agricultural labourer. These had been hard times for agricultural labourers in Norfolk. Machinery and new agricultural techniques continued to replace much of the traditional labour. Workhouses had been constructed - and Poor Laws were halting any provision of parish relief for the poor, outside of the workhouse - where inmates would be segrated from their families, and punished for being poor. The small farmers, once the brothers of the free labourers, were increasingly associating more with other figures of the rural establishment - the squires, the land owners, and the parsons. They often sat on the poor law union boards, determined to punish the poor. The Established Church just watched on - and the rural poor were turning to Methodism, and other Non-conformist chapels.
In 1830, the countryside erupted in violence - as labourers swarmed the countryside, attacking workhouses, farms, and in particular, the new threshing machines that were replacing much of their labour. They often did this under the name of a mythical Captain Swing, and hence this period of machine breaking and rioting was known as the Swing Riots. Another of my ancestors, on my father's side, was gaoled for leading a local Swing riot, at Attleborough. It was a period in which many local establishment figures were seriously concerned - the fear of Revolution was still in the air from France - indeed, French spies were often conjured up as being at the root of the problem - rather than their treatment of the rural poor.
It passed. But things did not improve for the East Anglian rural working class.
In the 1851 census, William, his wife Mary Ann, and their eldest children, were all recorded iin Buckenham as being agricultural labourers. Only there was now a ninth child. Richard Curtis. But he wasn't born at Buckenham Ferry, nor even in the County of Norfolk. He was born in 1850 at Firsby, Lincolnshire. This may infer that the family (if not just Mary Ann), had between 1841, and 1851, moved for a a period, to the Skegness area of East Lincolnshire. People were on the move. The rural poor were being squeezed out of East Anglia by the unemployment, poverty, and the workhouse. Perhaps William found more profitable labour in Lincolnshire for a while. Perhaps his skills with horses, or perhaps - like others he was attracted by the Fen drainage schemes, working as a digger - maybe like other that I've seen - it was work laying the railways? Firsby railway station opened for business in 1848. The railways were a part of a phenomena of migration that occurred across Norfolk during the Mid to Late 19th Century - they brought work, often attracted labourers away - and eventually carried many Norfolk families away to the Industrial North, to London, or to sea ports for migration elsewhere.
But by the 1851 census - they were back in their ancestral lands - back in Buckenham, Norfolk, by the River Yare, as though nothing had happened - except for that place of birth for young Richard.
Move on another ten years - the family are not in Buckenham in 1861. I cannot find William at all. However, I do find his wife Mary Ann Curtis, with some of their children, living in the Rows at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Mary Ann records her occupation as charwoman - a woman that worked hard, washing clothes and linen for a living. Their daughter Priscilla Curtis, is recorded as a silk weaver:
I wonder where was William? He could be at sea, or working away, sending money home. Too old for the military. I can't find anything on him in Criminal Records. What I do find, in the British Newspaper archives, are some references to a cork cutter by the name of William Curtis, living in Great Yarmouth, dating to 1858 and 1864:
Was this our William Curtis (senior)? Above he was working on Charlotte Street (since renamed Howard Street), Great Yarmouth. In 1864, he was addressed to the Church Plain, Great Yarmouth. If it was our William, perhaps he was living with Mary Ann and the children - but was away on business, or perhaps some other work (fishing?), on the night of the census.
William and Mary Ann Curtis, age 61 and 62 years of age, appear to have settled in the Yarmouth and Gorleston area. On the 1871, William and Mary Ann Curtis were addressed on "the footpath to Burgh". William recorded his occupation as a marsh man. Marshmen were responsible for the livestock kept on the marshes - horses, cattle, and sometimes sheep, fattening on the rich drained marsh grasses. He would have tended to cattle and other livestock along the southern edge of Breydon Water - an enclosed sea estuary, with the ruins of an old Roman shore-fort called Burgh Castle, on the higher ground immediately above the marshes. I posted an article of Burgh Castle here.
The view over the marshes from Burgh Castle.
Another ten years later, William Curtis (the senior), and his wife Mary, are now living in Litchfield Place, Southtown, Gorleston. Age 72, he now lists his occupation, for the very last time, as a Steam Engine Driver. Now that was a surprise.
William passed away in Gorleston, in March 1888. He was eighty years old.
William Curtis (II)
I mentioned above, that my 3rd great grandfather, William Curtis (the junior), was born at Buckenham, and baptised at Strumpshaw, Norfolk, in 1830.
William Curtis married Georgianna Larke, at Hassingham Church (photo further above) on the 11th February 1852. They appear to have lived in the village of Hassingham, Norfolk for several decades. No evidence this time of flits to Lincolnshire, or down river to Yarmouth. This generation stayed put. Georgianna was descended from two parish clerks for nearby Cantley.
Georgianna gave birth to at least nine children at Hassingham: my 2nd great grandfather (pictured at the top of this post) Samuel William Curtis (1852), Theodosia Curtis (1854), Priscilla Curtis (1856), Alfred George Curtis (1858), Sarah Ann Curtis (1861), Mary Curtis (1863), Walter Curtis (1865), Eliza Curtis (1867), and finally, Henry Curtis (1870).
Nothing unusual in their 1861 census record - Will was a 30 year old agricultural labourer with his family living in the parish of Hassingham:
Ten years later in 1871 - living at Hospital Cottages in Hassingham, still all as would be expected:
Another ten years later, William, Georgianna, and their sons and daughters Walter, Eliza, and Henry Curtis, are living on Church Road. No change, William is an agricultural labourer. Nothing on record happens to this family. They are the stereotype of the Norfolk rural working class family. William's 72 year old father was by now a steam engine driver living at Gorleston.
Move on to 1891. Not a lot of change. Except that they are living on Hassingham Road (High) and only their daughter Mary remains with them in the household. Mary is recorded as an assistant teacher.
1893. I have a record from the British Newspaper Records that looks like our William Curtis (II). A farmer named John Draper at Burlingham St Edmund, accuses him in court of cheating him of a toll fee. He had accused William - described as a teamman (a person that has skills at working a team of horses), of fraud. Draper suggested that he paid Curtis to take two wagons and several horses to Yarmouth via the new toll road - but that he in reality took them via the old roads and pocketed the toll fee that he had been given. The only witness backed up Will's account - and the case was dismissed:
However, I suspect that William's reputation was tarnished by this case - and there were few employer farmers in the area. He survived this. Maybe his personality and reputation was strong enough for other farmers to trust him. In 1901, he was living at Broad Farm, Hassingham. Yes, he was now a 70 year old agricultural worker.
He still had labour to sell. His beloved wife Georgianna died at Hassingham on the 1st April 1911 age 79. A few months later, the 1911 census record's Williams status. Age 80, he is still recorded as a working, employed, agricultural labourer. Now a widower, he had two of his daughters living with him. Mary who was single and age 45 (a teacher?), and Sarah, now under a married name - Sarah Stephenson. She had moved many miles away - but as we will see in the next generation with her sister Theodosia, not everything had gone well. In the wake of her mother's death, she was back home with her elderly father William.
William continued on. The Curtis's keep doing this - they had longetivity for a number of generations. He died at nearby Lingwood, age 96 in 1926. A grandson, J.P. Curtis, registered his death. Cause, senility and haematemesis.
Theodosia and Sarah Ann Curtis - sisters.
As I noted above, two of William (II) and Georgianna's daughters, were named Theodosia Curtis (born 1854), and Sarah Ann Curtis (born 1861) at Hassingham, Norfolk. They had an elder brother named Samuel William Curtis - pictured right at the beginning of this post. He was my 2nd great grandfather. This makes Theodosia and Sarah Ann - my 3rd great aunts.
Theodosia met a fisherman at Yarmouth. Maybe she was visiting on a market day. The boys working in the fishing fleet must have been exciting - they risked their life's out at sea, they didn't just work the land - they would sail out. His name was John Mitchell. In 1874, Theodosia married John.
They had a son:
He was baptised at Yarmouth in November 1877. It appears that like many Yarmouth fisherman wifes, Theodosia lived in the Yarmouth Rows. Her grandmother Mary Curtis, had lived there no more than ten years earlier - and with her grandfather, now lived nearby in Gorleston.
Something happened. You get that sometimes in genealogy. a family appears smashed up, removed from records. I'm going to make a guess. A lot of fishermen were relocating from East Coast harbours like Great Yarmouth, to Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire. My guess is that they moved there as a family between Nov 1877 and 1889. I don't know what happened to their child. He disappears. But so does his father, John Mitchell. He dies. I can't find them on either the 1871 or 1881 censuses. In future, Theodosia, now living in Hull, Yorkshire, declares herself as a widow. Pushed to guess, I'm going to say that John was lost at sea. It was a hazardous living then.
On the 1st March 1890 at Hull, Yorkshire, the widow Theodosia Mitchell, married a James Petersen, son of a Christiansen Petersen, an officer. I'm going to guess that these Scandinavian names may be Norwegian. James Petersen, like her late husband, is recorded as a fisherman. I have one record of him - that marriage to Theodosia - then he also disappears.
But .. before I continue on Theodosia, let me move back in time to Hassingham in Norfolk, and to her little sister Sarah Ann Curtis.
In 1881, 20 year old Sarah, was working as a servant in a Yarmouth household. Was she still in contact with Theodosia - I think so.
Like her sister, she moved up to Kingston Upon Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
The Great Unwritten Migration from Norfolk to Sculcoates, Hull, Yorkshire.
Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration - but I keep seeing Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire - particularly it's district of Sculcoates, in my Family Tree - as a place that a number of siblings of my direct Norfolk ancestors, moved to. Both on my mother's, and my father's side. I feel that this is a history that someone needs to write. It seems that the establishing of the railways, with stations both in Norfolk, and in Kingston Upon Hull in Yorkshire, facilitated a migration event that is unwritten. The squeeze was being put onto the Norfolk poor. Hull offered higher wages, expanding fishing and ship building industries, and a higher living standard. The word spread through the Norfolk countryside. It can't just be my family!
Back to Sarah. In late 1890, Sarah Ann Curtis married Albert Edward Stephenson at Sculcoates, East Riding of Yorkshire. Somehow she had also ended up in Hull - and my best guess is her closeness to her sister Theodosia. Her groom was, again, a Hull fisherman. Perhaps he knew Theodosia?
During the 1891 England & Wales national census, I find this:
The two sisters from Hassingham, Norfolk were living next door to each other in Hull. That brings them together. Things didn't go well though for Sarah. Her husband had some severe financial problems. Perhaps gambling? He ends up in Wakefield Prison in Yorkshire, guilty of debt, no less than three times between 1896 and 1907:
No wonder perhaps, that Sarah was keen to be with her father in 1911.
Back to Theodosia. Her second husband, the fisherman, James Petersen, also just vanishes from record. Abandonment, lost at sea, I don't know, but for the second time, she starts declaring that she is a widow.
In 1896, the widow Theodosia Petersen (née Mitchell, née Curtis), married a George Theakston at Sculcoates, Yorkshire. George wasn't a fisherman. He was a carter and van driver. Perhaps that saved his life - for he was Theodosia's third and final spouse. In the 1901 Census, they were living at 60 frances Street, West Sculcoates, Hull, Yorkshire. They had a daughter called Evelyn:
Theodosia Theakston survived long enough to be recorded onto the 1939 Register at the oset of WW II:
She finally passed away at Hull in 1942, age 87.