This is the story of James, a poor 19th century working man....
Born in 1818 James was the third of four children. His family were extremely poor, as were so many rural families in that era. James’s father (another James) took on whatever jobs he could find but money was in very short supply.
James was like all other children from poor families – because his parents were almost illiterate, it meant he and his siblings had very little schooling. They were taught to write their names and to read very elementary words but that was about the extent of their schooling.
A good term to describe James and his brothers and sisters would be *urchins* as their clothes would either be patched up or left tattered, for there would be no surplus money to waste on making new clothes for the children – there would be hardly enough to provide adequate food for them. There were many times when James and his brothers and sisters went hungry when their father could find no work…. Things weren’t quite so bad during late Summer and early Autumn for that was the time the children showed their initiative by scavenging the wheat grain left on the fields at harvest time - this grain would be taken home to be ground down and eaten for breakfast with hot milk, or if there was no milk they would soak the grain in hot water before eating . A happy coincidence for them was a big orchard close to their home and the children used to gather the windfall apples and delight in taking these home for their mother to use in a pie – a real treat. I suspect, there would also be quite a few apples collected which hadn’t fallen off it’s parent tree – a case of *scrumping* - something even children today will do given the opportunity.
I imagine living the humdrum life they did, the children just accepted their lot in life, and because of their unfortunate circumstances were devoid of any ambition.
As James reached his teen years he found some casual work on a farm in a nearby village and walked the three miles there and back every day. (not something today’s children would relish doing)
It was in these early teen years that he met the girl who became his childhood sweetheart. Her name was Maria – although some reports have her named as Mary…She and her family lived near this farm and after a few weeks her family offered James the chance to live with them to save his six mile round trek each day.
When James and Maria were both sixteen Maria gave birth to a baby daughter and a baby son followed twenty months later…It was at this time that Maria’s parents decided that Maria and James ought to marry….Of course with James and Maria being so young ( they were both still only aged eighteen) this meant they would have to continue living with Maria’s parents, as James couldn’t support his young family without relying on their help. A year into the marriage a second daughter was born.
….During the next few years James tried to find whatever work he could to improve their financial position, and throughout this time their family continued to increase.
Unfortunately work prospects were very bleak and I was saddened to find that James and another man from the same village were caught stealing from the local *big* house. I have no record of what they stole, but it must have been something significant as they were both sentenced to serve eighteen months in Stafford gaol for theft….Mercifully for Maria, while James was incarcerated her parents continued to support her and her young family and helped her through this difficult time.
I believe James was basically a good person and it was only poverty which caused him to resort to thieving. When released from prison in 1851 he appears to have been a very chastened man and determined to remain on the right side of the law. I imagine it could have been all too easy for a man in his lowly position to have descended into a lifetime of crime, but it appears the harsh reality of prison had a lasting effect upon him.
With some help he managed to acquire a rundown cottage for his growing family to dwell. He also secured a steady job labouring at a local pottery works which had recently been built. Thank goodness he did, for his family was increasing year by year- by 1864 he and Maria had a total of eleven children living out of thirteen born.
A typical 19thC Pottery Works
Although they were such a large family it seems to have been a very happy and loving one. It’s good to know that out of adversity James was able to turn his life around into something worthwhile….He died in 1892 at the age of seventy four – outliving his beloved wife by six years.