Doughty By Name, Doughty By Nature

Some time ago, I wrote about my great-grandmother Mary Ann Doughty and some of the twists and turns of fortune in her life. In the meantime, I have made contact with a distant relative in Canada who has done an enormous amount of research on that branch of the family, and was happy to share some of her findings. These included two newspaper reports.

The first concerns a fatal accident in what is now part of a council estate near to a small nature reserve, but at that time was a rutted cart track linking the expanding industrial villages of Tividale and Tipton. old crown tipton

There were a couple of public houses in Sheepwash Lane, one of which is still standing. Had the victim visited one of these on his way home?

05 August 1841 – Staffordshire Gazette and County Standard – Stafford, Staffordshire, England BILSTON. “On Saturday last, Mr. Benjamin Doughty, of Wolverhampton-street, iron basket maker, went out with a cart laden with goods to Tividale, and as he was returning by the Sheep Wash Lane, it is supposed that he fell out of the cart, for he was found quite dead with the cart upon him. An inquest was held on the body on Monday, when a verdict of “accidental death” was returned, and the body was removed to this town for interment. “

This unfortunate man, “quite dead” when discovered underneath a cartload of iron baskets and buckets, was my third great-grandfather, born in Bilston in 1797, and probably in his prime at the time of this accident. His first wife had died in May 1833, leaving him with a sixteen-year-old son, Charles; just one month later, in June, Benjamin had married a neighbouring widow.

His second wife was Eleanor Wallett, whose husband had died in January 1831. Forty-year-old Eleanor had six children, ranging in age from 5 to 20, so this second marriage was very likely also a matter of convenience for the couple: she would have been glad of a man to bring home a wage, and Benjamin would have wanted a wife to keep house for him and Charles. Eleanor’s eldest boy and girl had disappeared (died or left home, I’m not sure), and two of her teenage sons had gone to live with their elderly grandparents, also in Wolverhampton Street, so that would have made the household less cramped.

However, Eleanor’s other two daughters came along with her when she became Mrs Benjamin Doughty, and not surprisingly teenagers Sarah Wallett and Charles Doughty fell in love. They were married, aged 18, in June 1835, and remained in the parental home to begin with. This must have led to some sparks and fireworks among the iron baskets, and having the same person as stepmother and mother-in-law does sound rather alarming. Young Charles features in my next newspaper cutting, in trouble for domestic violence:

“27 February 1836 – Staffordshire Advertiser – Stafford, Staffordshire, England: Wolverhampton Public Office Wednesday Feb. 24th (Before the Rev. J. Clare) Charles Doughty, son and apprentice of Benjamin Doughty, of Bilston, was brought up in custody, charged with beating his mother-in-law and neglecting his father’s service. Forgiven on promising to behave better. The warrant, in the mean time, to stand over. “

I like the wording of this: I can’t imagine a modern magistrate saying to a strapping eighteen-year-old apprentice blacksmith that he is “forgiven” for beating his mother-in-law up if he promises to behave himself. All the same, I have a feeling that Eleanor would not have been a weak and helpless woman. She must have been doughty in nature as well as in name, since she appears to have continued the family business for many years after Benjamin’s death. In the 1851 census, aged 55, she is living with her unmarried son Nathaniel and two lodgers, her occupation: iron bucket maker. How long she did this I don’t know. She appears in the 1861 census, aged 65, without an occupation but boarding with a boot maker and his wife, apparently not related to her. This makes me wonder why she hadn’t moved in with one of her children. Perhaps she really was an awful mother-in-law? She died in the spring of 1869 aged 73. Charles Doughty continued working as an iron bucket maker as long as his father was alive, but he and Sarah moved out after the fight with their parents in 1836, and by the time of Benjamin’s demise were living around the corner with the first three of their eight children, who all but one survived to adulthood. Most of their children stayed in the area, except for my great-grandmother, Mary Ann.

The feud with his mother-in-law appears to have continued: on all the censuses right up to 1881, we find Charles working as a blacksmith, sheet metal worker or air pipe maker, but never involved in the bucket-making trade. The 1891 census shows Sarah as a 73-year-old widow in receipt of parish relief, living in one room, so Charles must have died in the 1880’s. A young family occupied 4 rooms at the same address: her grandchildren?

I have no information about the deaths of Charles and Sarah Doughty. These are common names in Bilston, and identifying the correct person can be difficult. I can’t find Sarah in the 1901 census, so she must have died before then. I’m disappointed to have lost track of her at this point in her life, and find myself hoping that she didn’t end up in misery and alone.

An interesting little twist to this tale is that after Mary Ann married my great-grandfather and went to live in Yorkshire, her daughter (another Sarah) married a man called Tom Lockwood and lived in a house just a few doors up from Sarah’s parents in Chapel Street. The 1901 census includes a housemaid at Mary Ann’s home, her 17-year-old niece Edith Doughty.

In 1902, Edith married John Lockwood, the brother of her cousin’s husband, and they also lived in Chapel Street. A Yorkshire mining village was probably a pleasant change from the Black Country. Bilston was not a salubrious place to live and bring up children. There were devastating cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1849, so serious that the town ran out of coffins and burial plots.

Mike Harbach says:
“Bilston suffered 2 major cholera epidemics, in 1832 and 1849. The 1832 epidemic started in Newcastle-on-Tyne and Sunderland at the start of the year and reached South Staffs in June. Bilston’s main period started on August 3rd, in the latter part of wakes week. Between August 3rd and Sept 29th (when the last case occurred) there were 3,568 cases and 742 deaths in Bilston. As a comparison, the death count for Wolverhampton was 193, Tipton 404, Dudley 277, and Sedgley 290. About 400 of the Bilston victims were buried in St Mary’s churchyard and 300 in the Wesleyan Chapel yard. Coffins couldn’t be made fast enough in the town and were imported by the cartload from Birmingham. The sum of £8,536 was raised by appeal for relief in the town from all over the country, and was used to help the 131 widows and 450 orphans under 12 that were left behind by the epidemic.

In the 1849 outbreak, Bilston was again the cholera ‘capital’ of the area with around 730 deaths in just 7 weeks. The lack of proper water supplies, drainage and sewage systems and general overcrowding was the main cause of the rapid spread in the town. George Lawley, in his ‘History of Bilston’, written in 1893, is particularly scathing about the habits and morals of the inhabitants contributing to the problems. To quote a paragraph:

‘Let us return to the causes which produced this high rate of mortality. The sanitary condition of the town was deplorable. Foulness and filth were seen in the old fashioned streets, the low courts and everywhere. Stagnant pools sent up their deadly vapours, sink-holes their effluvia, and wretched hovels their thrice-breathed atmosphere. Undoubtedly the chief cause of this state of things arose from the character of the people, who, brought together in great numbers by the demand for labour in the vast mines and forges of the town, were composed of the worst characters, morally and socially, that could possibly be conceived; similar to the hordes of animated life that stream into some newly found gold region. Being of degraded habits, and the houses numerically inadequate for the people’s accommodation, they herded together like swine, the filth of their tenements and their persons thus giving strength to the venom of the avenger’.”

I think my ancestors must have been very tough to come through all that, in spite of their “degraded habits” and the pigsty tenements they lived in. I feel quite proud of them. Doughty is as doughty does!

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4 thoughts on “Doughty By Name, Doughty By Nature

  1. Life was hard wasn’t it. My maternal grandmother’s family were from Darlaston and that district would have been much the same as in Bilston..

    • Very hard to imagine, today. Places like the Black Country Museum are so clean and sanitised, it just looks quaint. But the streets were open sewers and families of 10 lived in two rooms …

  2. I admire the depth and extent you have put into your research. Do you feel parts of you back there when you find out information? Do you think any part of your attitude has come form those times and people?

    • It’s amazing how much information is online! The research is fascinating, even addictive! I think maybe I project my own feelings and attitudes onto those I feel attuned to, but on the other hand I do carry some genes from these people and who knows to what extent attitudes can be genetic?

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