Saturday, July 29, 2017

The butchers of Syston: part one

Family history research is more than dates and ages and numbers of children and bloodlines; it's trying to find the stories, and always wondering: why did they do that? It's an enormous, multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, with many missing pieces, and some that have been forced into the wrong hole but look like they fit until you take a glance from another angle. Sometimes you follow the trail of your own blood; sometimes you find yourself researching the third-cousin of your great-great-great aunt's husband's brother-in-law. And sometimes you find information that makes you think, here's another story about a little too much time at the pub after a long hard week... until you find the part that breaks your heart. This story is one of those. I'll be writing it in installments. This is part one.

I'd researched the direct blood line of the Toons, years ago, and I'm still stuck at Christopher Toon, my eighth great-grandfather, who was born about 1600, probably in Rotherby, Leicestershire, or somewhere close to Rotherby. Not making any more progress with Christopher's ancestry, I decided to start filling in some of the gaps between myself and great-great-X-times-great Chris; and I found Elizabeth Toon, my great-great-aunt. Elizabeth was a daughter of James Toon (1767-1849) and Ann nee Possnett (1778-1834). Elizabeth was born in Syston, and was baptised there on 26th October, 1810, together with three of her older brothers, Richard (my great-great grandfather), William and Thomas.(Why all together? Why wait until Richard was nine years old?) Elizabeth was one of a family of thirteen children or more (James married twice: at least three children with Mary nee Sarson, ten with Ann nee Possnett, but still not quite as many as Richard would have).

Syston, at the time of this story, was a village, centered around the Green and the church of St Peter's and St Paul's. Syston's population was 1,264 in 1821, 1349 in 1831, and 1,421 in 1841.The 1851 census lists only 1,669 people. People had large families, and people were related, and people had done business with each other and grown up together all their lives. They might travel to Leicester, the big city, or to Loughborough or Melton Mowbray, the closest market towns, or they might visit nearby villages such as Barkby, Hoby, Rotherby, Queniborough... but it was a small community. And there were a heck of a lot of butchers for such a small community.

I digress. We didn't get to the butchers, yet.

When Elizabeth Toon was 22 years old, on 8th July, 1833, she married a young man called William Holyland. William was two years younger, aged 20. And yes... he was a butcher, or at least he was a butcher by 1841, when the census was taken and the Holyland family, now with children Doubleday and Harriett, lived on Cramp Street in Syston. I'll come back to that name. 

I'm not sure where Cramp Street was: somewhere near Brook Street and Chapel Street, but it has either disappeared, or has been renamed. There were at least six butchers and their families living on Cramp Street in 1841: John Adcock, William Hubbard, William Swain, Thomas Chamberlain and his younger brother, and William Holyland. In 1841, a butcher most likely did his own slaughtering... maybe in the back yard. It was probably a good idea that all the butchers lived on one street.

Let's go back to that name: Doubleday. That was the boy's name, and the only first name that was given for him on the 1841 census, when he was six years old. (His full name was Thomas William Doubleday Holyland). Doubleday was a family name, and it came from his paternal grandmother: it was her maiden name. "Doubleday Holyland" has a special ring to it: he must have been very proud of his name! Can you imagine? All the other kids were John, or Thomas, or William, or Joseph... and he was Doubleday. That could make or break a boy. But it wasn't Doubleday who was to get into trouble, at least not in the 1840's and 50's. It was his dad.

William Holyland came from a family of four or five children (there might have been more, but I haven't found them yet... and there might have been fewer, his two sisters might have been just one, who switched names, or someone didn't believe what they'd heard, and wrote Phyliss instead of Theodosia). William was the second-eldest, with his brother Thomas (born 1810) the oldest; then sisters Phyliss and Theodosia around 1815, and younger brother Charles, born in 1817. Sister Theodosia married Thomas Bevan, same age as herself. Thomas was a Syston lad; his dad, also Thomas, had been a coal merchant, working Syston Wharf, somewhere near Lewin Bridge, and running a pub too (this was either the Gate Hangs Well, close to Lewin Bridge, or the Hope and Anchor, right on the canal). After Thomas Bevan's dad died in 1831, his mother continued running the pub, and his brother John, born 1817, was the coal merchant. Remember that name. John Bevan (sometimes spelled Bevans) was a coal merchant.

Thomas Bevans? Yes. He was a butcher. That's at least seven butchers in Syston in the 1840s, for a population of about 1400 people. 

I imagine that butchery in those days was hard, physical work. You'd have to subdue and slaughter the cows and pigs and sheep, and then use knives and saws to prepare the meat for sale. You didn't have power implements, nor did you have the refrigeration. (Makes me think of the account of the pig, in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, which was written many years later in 1894.) I imagine that all of these Syston butchers were burly, strong men, and I have evidence to suggest that at least some of them spent much time in Syston's many public houses. Syston had a lot of public houses: maybe one for every 100 or so members of the population.

But that story is for another day. For now, remember these names: Holyland, Bevan, Adcock. And Wheatcroft, whose first name is a mystery, as is his hometown, and whether or not he was a butcher. But Wheatcroft was in Syston, in a pub, with Holyland, Bevan, and an elderly man called Adcock, one fateful day in 1847.

Part two of this story can be found here

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to read this; than you for putting in the effort, and also for making the story flow rather than simply reciting facts. It may interest you to know that many of the Holyland men were butchers; it seems to have been very much a family trade.