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Thursday, 17 November 2011

Joseph Threadgold

A gamekeeper
Joseph was born 1856 into a Cheshire family steeped in farming history, Agriculture and working the soil was the only occupation this family had ever known.
He was the youngest of eight children, which proved a disadvantage when he became of an age to start work. His three older brothers all worked on the family farm, but even an affluent farm can only support a certain number of workmen, so it was decided that Joseph would need to look elsewhere for work….As a country boy this proved to have limitations, but he was fortunate to be offered a post working as an apprentice gamekeeper on a large Staffordshire Estate - the main drawback to this, meant he had to move away from his family, but he soon settled into his new way of life, even though it was a steep learning curve, as he had little idea at that time what the work of a gamekeeper entailed.

In the beginning Joseph was given the more mundane tasks to do like repairing the equipment and game pens, clearing the woodland and burning the bracken. He enjoyed this work and by 1881 had become a ‘proper’ gamekeeper which meant taking on more responsibilities.

It was at this particular time that Joseph began courting Martha who worked as a maid up at the ‘big house’ They married in 1882 and began married life in a cottage on the Estate. This was to remain their home for many years, and where they brought up a family of eight children.

Nowadays a gamekeeper’s job is very diverse, but more than a hundred years ago Joseph’s main work was to ensure a balanced countryside, with pheasant, partridge and grouse etc. thriving, thus enabling a plentiful wildlife.
Other tasks would be the protection and management of the Estate waters, making sure they were always kept clean and well stocked with fish. There was also the need to control predators such as foxes and rats by legitimately shooting them or by the use of ferrets.
One of the less pleasant tasks gamekeepers like Joseph had to undertake was the regular nightly Estate patrols armed with their shotguns, hoping to deter poachers from stealing whatever they could trap. These traps were lethal and in most cases cunningly concealed. If a man accidently trod on one of these traps it could mean a badly maimed leg where amputation was sometimes necessary.
….Poaching was a tempting sideline for some of the local labourers, as they thought it was their natural right to hunt and fish, but it was a contentious issue between them and the gamekeeper, as all game and fish on the Landowners Estate was his sole property, and by law could only be killed by the landowner himself, his employees or by any of the people rich enough to join the occasional shooting parties held on the Estate. This battle between gamekeeper and poacher was particularly in evidence at times when the Estate was building up it’s game and fish reserves, in readiness for these shooting and angling parties…...Extra men would need to be employed as *beaters* at these shooting parties to flush the game birds out into the open, as all visiting parties wanted value for their money and the chance to boast they had had a successful shoot.
I appreciate these shooting parties are not looked upon favourably by some people, but they were part and parcel of the country landowners way of life in the 19th century.

Of course Joseph enjoyed a few perks in his job. There would always be the odd rabbit for the stew pot and even the occasional game bird would wing it’s way to the family table, but this was normally accepted by the Estate owners.

I suspect the long solitary unsociable hours a gamekeeper had to work could be a source of frustration at times, with only his dogs and a shot gun for company. This type of work would not suit everyone, but for a young man born and bred in the country, this profession was valued, and in some cases essential.

Times were beginning to change though on the large Estates at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries and it’s worth noting that none of Joseph’s seven sons followed the family tradition of working on the land – every one of them as they grew up made their way into the towns to take up a more urban lifestyle.

After Joseph’s retired from work he and Martha moved off the Estate and went into a cottage in the neighbouring town to live out their remaining days …Joseph died in 1933 at the age of seventy seven.

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