Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Whites -- Early to Mid-nineteenth Century.

 Good Times and the Swing Riots

  The Whites were now well established as farmers with old John White's eldest son, Thomas, becoming a farmer at Pollicott Farm in Ashenden in Buckinghamshire. The cousin of the three brothers, Richard White, the eldest surviving son of Thomas, old John's brother, and Sarah (Bradford), was farming at Fenny Compton. The farmers were not tenant farmers but land owners - the list of landowners in the county of Warwickshire for 1820 includes the names of John White and Thomas White at Shotteswell and presumably the next generation inherited their land from those two senior members of the family.
  Richard White married Kezia Curtis of Farnborough in Warwickshire on (May 1802 and they had a number of children born at Fenny Compton:- Emma (born 1803), Richard Thomas (born in 1804 and described in a later census as "mentally incompetent" when he was living as an adult with one of his brothers as an annuitant although it is not clear with that mental state had been lifelong), Thomas (born 1805 and died before 1810), Richard (born 1807), John, (1808), a second Thomas (1810), Sarah (1814) and Edward, born in 1816.  The most notable of these children is Thomas who married Elizabeth Proffitt who had been born in Balscott in Oxfordshire (I presume that to be her surname since many of the couple's offspring were named "Proffitt White" but I can not find evidence of there being a family in Balscott by that name in the 1841 census and I have not seen that village's parish records) since his line appears to have become the holders of the largest amount of wealth and land in the area.
 The Whites were therefore flourishing as an extended family in the area of Shotteswell and other nearby villages. They may not have had many agricultural workers labouring for them in the early years as the large number of sons born to the families are described as "farmers' sons" in the occupational section of the early censuses and this implies that they were performing duties on the farms. This may have been just as well as a widespread uprising of rural workers against their employers began in 1830 as the labourers attempted to halt wage reductions that were taking place and also to put a stop to the introduction of the new threshing machines that threatened their livelihoods. This uprising, called "The Swing Riots" after their probably mythical leader, Captain Swing, took the form of the destruction of threshing machines, cattle-maiming, rick-burning and full rioting. Fortunately for the Whites, Warwickshire was less affected by the riots than some other counties, particularly Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, berkshire and the East Anglian counties. At meetings the rioters demanded a minimum wage, the end of rural unemployment and tithe and rent reductions. Riots were often more likely to occur in larger villages where people were more anonymous (Shotteswell does not fit that description). We may conclude therefore that the Whites may have been untouched by these dark events in the English countryside which resulted in 1,976 trials of the rioters with nineteen of them being hanged, 505 being transported and 644 being imprisoned. The riots gradually faded away but the countryside remained uneasy. Life for the poor became even more difficult as the government passed The Poor Law Amendment Act in 1836 which made it more difficult for the impoverished to obtain help and the movement to repeal The Corn Law was growing in strength which, if successful, would result in the collapse of prices to the farmers. Despite all these uncertainties the Whites carried on with their business, increasing the size of their families and obviously becoming numerous and quite important in their local communities, second only to family of the local squire. 
  Joseph Arch, born in 1826 in Warwickshire and future founder of the Agricultural Workers' Union, left an account of Warwickshire village life in the period of the Anti-Corn Law campaign, between 1838 and 1846. Not surprisingly, the description centres on the hard life of the poor agricultural worker and highlights the way the poor were expected to behave towards their "betters". The parson's wife in his village expected the wives of the labourers to curtsey to her before they took their pews in church which was a way of showing homage and respect to those "put in authority over them". At the communion service, "First walked up the squire to the communion rails; the farmers walked up next (in Shotteswell, I wonder which went first, William and Elizabeth (Terrill) and their gaggle of children or Richard, the elder brother, with Elizabeth (Hawtin) and their offspring? - presumably Richard's family took precedence but I wonder if there was competition between the two brothers, or at least, the two wives, in claiming the superior spot in the micro-society of Shotteswell); then went up the tradesmen, the shopkeepers, the wheelwright and the blacksmith; and then, very last of all went the poor agricultural workers in their smock frocks". 
  Arch recorded that during the period, the teaching in most village schools was of very poor quality. It is difficult to know how good an education the White children would have received but one of the families, Thomas White's in Ashenden, had a governess living with them to educate the children, according to one of the mid-nineteeth century censuses. No such post is recorded in William White's household although, in 1841, he and Elizabeth did have a manservant, Daniel Tims, aged 18 and a female servant, Eliza Purser, aged 17, living in their home.
  According to Arch, "We labourers had no lack of lords and masters....There was the squire, with his hand of iron overshadowing us all....He lorded it right feudally over his tenants, the farmers....Most of the farmers were oppressors of the poor; they put on the iron wage-screws and screwed the labourers' wages down, doen below the living point....". It would be pleasing to think that our ancestors were somewhat kinder towards those they dealt with, especially the labourers of the district who worked in their fields, but we can not be sure. In the mid-nineteenth century, Shotteswell was described as a "poor and very unimportant parish" and possibly the local farmers were not well-off enough to show any generosity towards those who worked for them. Uncertainty about their financial futures would also have made them hesitant to have allowed too much of their money to leave them, the growing strength of the Anti-Corn Law movement would have made them fearful of an approaching great loss of their income and not surprisingly they would not have felt too generous to those who were campaigning to cut the financial ground from under their feet.

   The repeal of The Corn Laws

  On 25 June 1846, Sir Robert Peel, supported by The Duke Of Wellington, but opposed by Benjamin Disraeli, led a combination of Conservatives, Whigs and Radicals in passing the repeal of the Corn Laws. The Conservative government collapsed as a result. The Corn Laws had attempted to fix the price of corn in the range of 70/- to 80/- per quarter (eight bushels) by varying the import duty on foreign corn as the price of domestic corn varied; after 1850 the average price of corn for the next two decades was greatly reduced at 52/- per quarter. With the collapse in prices, farmers reduced their corn production severely - by 1885 corn-growing land in England declined by a million acres and 1886 the corn price fell to 31/- per quarter. In the 1830's, Britain imported just 2% of its grain, in the 1880"s, 65% of corn needs were filled from abroad. From 1871 to 1881, the workforce of agricultural labourers fell by 92,250 while urban workers increased by 53,496.
  All this had its effects on the White family and probably had the most devastating effect on William White and his children. Prior to the main disaster, William's eldest son, John Cox, put aside any interest in farming and became an innkeeper in Neithrop which is now a suburb of Banbury. On 10 May 1840 he had married Mary Whittlesea of Warmington and their first child, William, was born later in 1840 but he was not baptised in Shotteswell (he was later to become a butcher). John and Mary's next child, Thomas Henry, however, was baptised at St. Laurence Church on 12 July 1844 and the records interestingly describe John Cox's occupation as that of a "farmer's son". Their final child, Anna Marion, was also baptised in Shotteswell on 13 June 1846 and once again John's occupation was described as a "farmer's son".
  Alarmingly, the 1851 census which was held on 30 March 1851 finds John Cox to be a prisoner in Oxford Jail. I believe that this is the John White who was sentenced to three months imprisonment for the crime of larceny at the Oxford Court Trinity Sessions held on 14 July 1851 (I can find no other John White in the records who fits the bill). Clearly the sentencing occurred after the census so I presume that John Cox was in prison on the date of the census being held as a remand prisoner. The same census finds his wife, Mary, occupied as a publican in Neithrop, presumably having taken charge of the public house that she and her husband were previously recorded as living in, while John was in prison. 
  Meanwhile the 1851 census recorded William White himself living in Shotteswell, working as a farmer "of 137 acres employing 3 laborers" (sic), aged 59, and with his wife, Elizabeth, aged 55. Also in the same household were his children, Thomas, aged 25 "Farmer's son employ on Farm", Richard, 24 and George, 17 (employment details as for Thomas), Emma, 16, "Farmer's daur. empd at home", Charlotte, 13 (employment details as for Emma), John Smith, 19, servant employed as a "waggoner" and John Bayliss, widower, aged 68 employed as a butcher who was visiting the family. This census is very interesting: firstly it gives us a picture of William, almost 60 years of age, living apparently comfortably with his wife and family, farming a sizeable amount of land and employing men to work on it. Secondly the name of the visitor may be highly significant, since John Bayliss may have been a cousin of William's through his presumed grandmother, Elizabeth Bayliss, which would of course point to Thomas White and Elizabeth Bayliss being the correct Thomas and Elizabeth who had appeared in the Shotteswell parish records a century before having originated and been married in Bloxham, thus making us more confident in tracing our ancestry back to Willelmus Whit of Bloxham who paid his poll tax in 1377. Of course, the visitor's surname may be wholly coincidental. 

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