Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry
The James Family
One of my sets of 4xgreat grandparents was Richard James & his wife Elizabeth who lived mainly in Nottinghamshire in the first half of the 19th century. For a long time I knew nothing about them before about 1815 when they baptised what I thought was their first child (Elizabeth James) in Nottingham. From their ages at death they were already well into their thirties by the time they had Elizabeth, which seemed unusual so I started to look further.
Richard was described as a "Pensioner" on his death certificate. In those days this could indicate an army pension. Chelsea Pensioner records are now available online and I found the discharge of a Richard James of the Nottinghamshire Militia in 1819. This Richard James of the militia was the right age for my one, he had the same occupation (framework knitter), but most convincingly he was also afflicted with asthma - a condition listed on my Richard's death certificate. The discharge papers also give a description of Richard:
Richard had been in the militia since 1794, so it seemed possible that he had met and married Elizabeth while away on service. There is a book "The Historical Record of the Royal Sherwood Foresters; or Nottinghamshire Regiment of Militia" by Captain A E Lawson Low which gives a detailed description of the movements of the Militia throughout much of its history. By comparing the locations given in the book with baptisms found on the internet I have found several further children and a possible marriage for Richard & Elizabeth. I understand it was not uncommon for the wives of the militia men to follow them round the country.
1797 - Militia stationed in Hull. There is a possible marriage in 1797 between a Richard James & Elizabeth Bourks in 1797 in Kingston upon Hull. Sadly although I have checked the original register, there is nothing to confirm (or deny) whether this is indeed my Richard & Elizabeth, but it is the only plausible marriage I have been able to find.
1803 - Militia stationed in Thanet, Kent. A George James was baptised in 1803 in Thanet St Laurence to Richard & Elizabeth James. Thanet is near Ramsgate and there is a George James living in Nottingham in later census returns who is said to be born in Ramsgate around 1803. This George was already married with children in the 1841 census, having married before the statutory registers began in 1837. But his first wife Ellen sadly died in 1844 and George remarried in 1847. On this marriage certificate it gives his father's name as Richard James a framework knitter and George was said to be living in Independent Hill - the same address as my Richard had lived at earlier in his life. So I think I can be reasonably confident that George is one of my long lost 4 x great uncles.
1805-1807 - Militia moved about a bit but stationed generally in Rye, Steyning, Brighton areas. An Ann James was baptised in 1805 to Richard & Elizabeth James in Playden (near Rye). The East Sussex archivist has confirmed for me that the original entry describes Richard James as being "Of the Nottingham Militia". In 1807 two children - another Ann & Mary James were baptised in Steyning to Richard & Elizabeth and again the original entry shows Richard to be of the Nottingham Militia. Mary was said to be born in 1801, although being baptised in 1807. I don't know what happened to Ann, but there is a Mary James who married Thomas Dewey in 1820 in Nottingham; they had 2 children William & Mary Ann Dewey. Thomas was hanged a few years later for murder (see below) and I think Mary Dewey died in 1833. But there is a child Mary Dewy living with Richard & Elizabeth in 1841. Of course the 1841 census doesn't give relationships, but I think it is reasonably safe to assume this is their grandaughter, the orphaned child of Mary Dewey (nee James).
1809 - Militia stationed in Salisbury. A Sophia James was baptised to Richard & Elizabeth James in 1810 in Salisbury. Again there is nothing to prove this is my Richard on the original register, but Sophia was a fairly unusual name then and my Richard did have another daughter years later named Sophia.
1811 - Militia stationed in Dublin. I've not found a baptism for this one, but there is a Richard James living in Nottingham in later census returns who is said to be born in Dublin around 1812. This Richard also had a daughter called Sophia and was also living in Freeman Street in 1841 - the same street at the same time as Richard senior and Elizabeth. Richard (junior) had 2 wives - the first, Rachel Corp, he married before statutory registration, but he married the second (Angeleana King) in 1882 and the marriage shows his father to be Richard James a framework knitter. So again I'm reasonably confident that this Richard James belongs to my family too.
The table below shows Richard & Elizabeth living in Freeman Street with some of his youngest children and grandchildren.
|City or Borough of Nottingham|
|Parish or Township of St Mary|
|Place||Names of each Person who abode therein the preceding Night||Age||Profession, Trade, Employment or of Independent Means||Where Born in Same County|
|Freeman Street||Rich. James||60||FWK||No|
| ||Eliz. James||60|| ||No|
| ||Charles James||20|| ||Yes|
| ||Hannah James||20|| ||Yes|
| ||Sarah James||2|| ||Yes|
| ||Thos James||15|| ||Yes|
| ||Mary Dewy||15|| ||Yes|
| ||Alfred Riley||8|| ||Yes|
Richard James died in 1850, sadly before the 1851 census which would have told me where he was born. But luckily his army records indicate that he was born about 1778 in Loughborough. There is a Richard James baptised in Loughborough to a Richard & Margaret James. The parish register doesn't give any more details, but I'm reasonably happy that this is the baptism for my Richard. Elizabeth lived on until 1866 and both the 1851 & 1861 censuses (in both of these she is living with her son Charles and family) suggest she was born in Lincolnshire. Assuming the marriage I found between Richard James & Elizabeth Bourks is the correct one, then it looks like Elizabeth was the daughter of George Bourks and Elizabeth Griffin.
Of Richard & Elizabeth's 11 children, 7 survived to adulthood and all but one of these married and produced children. So there must be a lot of descendants out there somewhere! The eldest known child was Mary James who married Thomas Dewy in 1820 in Nottingham. The couple had at least 2 children before things went wrong. Thomas & Mary were living in Brook Street, Nottingham and it seems Thomas began an "improper acquaintance", as the papers called it, with his neighbour Maria Austin. Maria was also married, although her husband lived away in Leicester. Maria Austin's husband returned to Nottingham in the summer of 1825 to sort out something to do with the apprenticeship of their son. It seems that when Thomas Dewey saw the two of them together his jealousy may have caused him to argue with Maria and ultimately to stab her with a butcher's knife. He was apprehended at his in-laws house (i.e. Richard & Elizabeth James) in Independent Hill and subsequently found guilty of murder. The newspaper reports that on the night before he was hung, his wife and baby visited him for one last time at the gaol and he gave the baby (presumably Mary Dewey) a bun as a final sad present. The whole thing seems incredibly sad to me - poor Mary was left with no husband and a small child to support, knowing that not only had her husband cheated on her, but that he was a murderer too. Poor Mary seems to have died in 1833 in Freeman Street, so it looks as if her parents took her and little Mary in, then continued to care for the child after her mother died. I wonder if they ever told her what her father had done?
The family tree below summarises what I know about the James family. It is hopefully reasonably accurate, but if you spot any errors, or any relatives, please feel free to E-mail me
Please click on one of the red links on the tree to move to a different page.
If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com
© Nicky Rowberry 2020
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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry