Sunday, January 6, 2019

More Syston butchers, a load of tripe, and a few gypsy tales (part three)

An idea of the travels of Frederick and Eliza
Google Maps
(If you didn't read part one, start here. Part two, here.) 

By combining the locations of censuses, births and deaths, and newspaper reports, we can get a picture of just how far the travellers roamed. Frederick and Eliza Blankley kept within the boundaries of the East Midlands, and mostly within Leicestershire, with occasional visits to Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. I found them as far south as Hinckley and as far north as Derby and Nottingham, but no further east than Syston, and no further west than Ashby de la Zouch. This map is plotted on today's roads: no doubt they took the country ways, along tracks that may no longer exist. And we have no insight into the days between the official records, no idea how long they stayed in each place.

I wondered why Frederick returned to living in a fixed house, after Eliza died. And why, after all those years on the road, with horses pulling his home and earning his income, he should decide to become a horse slaughterer.

Maybe it was because it was the only way he could get the darn things to stay in one place.

 On 27 September 1890, Frederick Blankley was fined for allowing four asses to stray, in Syston, Leicestershire. On 13 June 1891, working as a showman in Leicester Forest East, he was fined for allowing both horses and asses to stray, (plus having two unlicensed dogs). 14 July 1894, in Shepshed, Leicestershire, same thing, but this time with eight asses, two horses and one mare. Just two weeks after that on 28 July 1894, he was in Loughborough and his two horses, two donkeys and a mare were wandering about on the Derby Road, near Swing Bridge Lane, in the middle of the night. 12 March 1898, back in Syston, fined again - three horses and three donkeys on the loose. 23 July 1898, in Ratcliffe on the Wreake, Fred Blankley a showman, no fixed abode, and with six previous convictions for cattle straying, fined for - wait for it - four horses and fourteen, yes fourteen, asses. (I wonder if by this time he was looking after the fairground donkey rides?) On 17 September 1898 Fred was in court again, not this time for stray cattle, but after a fight with another family over a field to camp in, in Costock, Nottinghamshire. 17 June 1899, back to Loughborough again, and those dratted, wandering animals: fined once more, for allowing four asses to stray. 

I have not found any other newspaper stories or court reports after Eliza passed away. It looks like Frederick left the travelling community - I wonder how that worked, as he was only there through his marriage to Eliza, not from his own family roots. Would he have been asked to leave? Was it through his own choice? Did he miss the life, away from the road and the campsites, or did he relish the idea of staying in a solid house, in one place, after so much travel? We may never know - but we do know that his occupation became that of the person who puts the end to horses' lives, living and working in George Yard, Loughborough. Horses were being replaced by motor vehicles, both for transport and for farm work. Sadly, there must have been a demand for his trade, and hopefully it was all done humanely. 

Frederick and his second wife, Mary Ann nee Kellam, went on to have three children who survived infancy: Lillian May, born in 1905, who later married a Tom Burton from Barrow upon Soar; Percy, born in 1906, who lived to the great old age of 89, and Harry, born in 1909 and died in 1989. 

Frederick Charles Blankley passed away in the middle of 1931, in Loughborough, Leicestershire. three years after his son Fred junior.

I still have to tell you about little Ernest. That's part four of the story.

All news articles from the Leicestershire Chronicle, with kind permission of

Saturday, January 5, 2019

More Syston butchers, a load of tripe, and a few gypsy tales (part two)

Marriage of Frederick Charles Blankley and Eliza Smith, 13 June 1880
by kind permission of
(If you didn't read part one, start here.)

Frederick Charles Blankley, born in Syston, Leicestershire in 1858, son of John Corner Blankley and Charlotte Toon, decendant of a long line of butchers, he is where our story becomes much more interesting. While his ancestors seem to have lived in houses on streets of small towns and villages, Frederick Charles Blankley married into a family of horse dealers and travellers, lived in a horse-drawn caravan, and worked at a travelling fair. And it really wasn't all glamorous every day. The life was hard.

Eliza Smith was baptised in Whissendine, Rutland, on 30th May, 1858. Her father, John Smith; her mother, Selina on the baptism record, but maybe Carolina - records and researchers are not really clear after the baptism. John and Selina of no abode, occupation 'traveller'. In 1871, Eliza seems to be part of a huge family group, with John Smith possibly having two wives: Selina and Maria, but the census-taker might have messed up, or missed someone out. For certain, they are all travellers, living in caravans, in a field on Regent Hill, Sneinton, Nottingham, a track off Windmill Lane to the south, which no longer exists.

I am not going to attempt to try to disentangle the gypsy family that Frederick Charles Blankley married into: other researchers with far more traveller knowledge have tried, and the best account I can find is here: Johnny Two-Wives Smith, by Eric Trudgill on Gypsy Geneaology, which explains Eliza's mother being Carolina and Selina. I do want to take a look, however, at the reality of living as part of a travelling community in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Example fairground caravan, unknown family,
Coalville, Leicestershire, about 1900from NFCA Digital Collection

On the night of the 1901 census, Frederick Charles Blankley and Eliza nee Smith were living in a caravan, somewhere within the parish of Shepshed, Leicestershire. Fred is a horse dealer working at a stables: so is one of his sons, also called Fred. We lost track of the family in 1891: they may well have been travelling under the name Smith, not Blankley, in Derby and with a group of gypsy travellers and performers: Fred a horse dealer, living with Eliza and two sons, John aged 7 and Frederick junior aged 4, again in a caravan. Other families in the group included more horse dealers, roundabout and  swing boat proprietors, cocoa sellers, people who looked afters shooting galleries and riding donkeys: all those who would have made up a wonderful travelling fair. It's hard to be 100% certain that this is indeed our Frederick Charles and Eliza due to the name change: likely, but not certain. However, at the baptism of Nathan (born 1896), Fred's occupation is given as a travelling showman.

It seems nice, life on the road in a caravan. Romantic and free. You imagine beautiful horses, colourful homes, green grass and blue skies; a life outside of the rules of society. However, after 1838, like every other citizen, the travellers were still bound by law to report births and marriages and deaths. Frederick Charles and Eliza were no different: they reported the births of their babies. And far too often, they had to report their deaths, too.

These are the children that I have found, so far. Only John, Fred, Ernest and Sydney survived infancy. (At least, I think these are all from the same family - if there are errors that you know of, let me know.)

And poor Eliza. She passed away in her caravan, in Loughborough, on 15th December 1901, from postpartum haemorrhage, most likely at the same time as the last baby, a female, was born and died. Eliza was 43 years old.

I have not ordered the death certificates of all those babies - in a way I don't want to find out what happened to all those little ones: they were not all newborns, they survived one, three, six months, even a year or more. I can too easily imagine poverty and ill-health, in a little, cramped, colourful house on wheels.

Frederick Charles remarried, to Mary Ann Kellam in 1904, and they lived in a house, on George Yard, in Loughborough, just off the market place. Frederick's occupation, in 1911, along with his son Ernest, was that of horse slaughterer. A sad contrast to the life on the road, I think.

More about Ernest in part three... or maybe part four!

And see the wonderful collection of fairground photos at the National Fairground and Circus Archive (NFCA)

UPDATE: I couldn't resist... ordered the certs for four of the little ones. Little Flora was two months old when she died of bronchitis in March, 1888. George, aged four years in January 1889 died of pneumonia and meningitis. The family gave the same address for both, 11 The Rushes, Loughborough. Charles died aged 14 days in Sandiacre on 16th September, 1900, from "imperfect heart development". And the last of Eliza's babies, simply recorded as female, no first name, was only 16 hours old when she passed away from convulsions in the caravan in Loughborough - the day after her mother died. Seems just like a random thread of horrible luck.

More Syston butchers, a load of tripe, and a few gypsy tales (part one)

Honeycomb tripe
image shared under Creative Commons licensing
There are a couple of more unusual family names that wind in-and-out of my paternal tree (in both my grandad Toon's, and my grandma Riley's, lines, so much so that there I have relationships with several ancestors in multiple ways) and I have been exploring them: Possnett and Blankley. Like the Toons, they are sprinkled around the area between Syston, Loughborough and Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, with occasional forays into other areas, but not a lot of roaming until we find the Blankley that married a Smith, and then they were definitely travelling, in caravans.

In the story about The Butchers of Syston, we met my great-great-great-grandmother, Ann nee Possnett (b. 1778), who married James Toon (b. 1767). Ann Possnett's own great-grandmother was a Blankley: Elizabeth Blankley, baptised in Hoby, Leicestershire, in 1692. (This part of my heritage brought up two lovely names that have faded with time: Leonard (Possnett) and Gabriel (Blankley), names which were used through several generations. Now I have both Gabriel and Emmanuel in my blood. What does that say?)

Closer to my generation, and in Syston, Leicestershire, my great-great aunt Charlotte Toon (b. 1836, daughter of Richard Toon and his first wife Catherine Cooper) married John Corner Blankley in Syston on 30th January, 1859. Their son, Frederick Charles Blankley, was born sometime in 1858, before the marriage: there was a bastardy order placed against John Corner Blankley which was then abandoned, presumably because the parents married each other. John Corner Blankley and Charlotte went on to have several more children:  Catherine in 1859, Harry in 1865, Mary in 1866 and Florence Anne in 1872. There are a few gaps: maybe there were more children or pregnancies, not found yet. In 1861 and 1871 the family were lodgers in the home of John Brown, in Syston, but by 1881 they had moved to Tollerton in Nottinghamshire (and John Brown from Syston, their previous landlord, was their visitor in Tollerton - possibly connected to John Corner Blankley's paternal grandmother, who was a Mary Brown, born in Syston in about 1777).

John Corner Blankley's father was Charles Blankley, and guess what. He was a butcher, and he lived in Syston, on High Street. His father - John C's grandad - George Blankley was a butcher, too. I checked the 1841 census again, and realised that I had missed a few in the original story: there were at least three more Syston butchers, two called Sheffield and one called Charles Blankley, in Syston, in 1841. As well as John the eldest child, he and his wife Jane nee Corner had three more sons: William (born 1839) worked on the railway, went to London, and ran a coffee house. Charles (born 1849)  was a 'beast dresser', probably involved in butchery in 1871, but later worked as a labourer. Frederick, born 1853,  was a shoe finisher who was married and living in Leicester by 1861. Daughters Elizabeth (1837), Emma 1838), and Mary Ann (1843) the second - another Mary Ann born 1832 died in infancy) completed the family.
Butchers of Syston as listed in the
Gazetteer & Directory of Leicestershire & Rutland, 1861

John Corner Blankley was a butcher too, of a special kind: in 1861 and 1871, he was a tripe dresser. The guy who took the first three stomachs of cows, cleaned and scraped and prepared them, and made them fit for humans to eat. While tripe is no longer part of most peoples' diets today, it's not so long ago that people ate it frequently: I remember my own grandad gently simmering honeycomb tripe, in milk, with onions and either nutmeg or mace or cloves; my memory has me scudding through the kitchen, not wanting to see the skin on the milk but fascinated by the shapes in the tripe.

(And this is where we see the interconnections in the tree: while Charlotte Toon was my great-great aunt, John Corner Blankley was also my fourth cousin, four times removed.)

By the time the family were living in Tollerton in Nottinghamshire in 1818, John Corner Blankley had progressed from tripe dresser to cattle dealer. That might have had something to do with his eldest son, Frederick Charles, and the gypsies. More about that in part two of this story!