Clarke Occupations


Clarke Family Occupations

Agricultural Labourers

farm_workersWhen reading census records for  East Essex by far the most common occupation listed was that of agricultural labourer especially in the rural areas. This trade was passed on from generation to generation often for the same landowner. The Clarke and Cole families were listed as agricultural labourers in several census records and worked for Bridgeman Farm Tillingham Essex.

Many people started work from the age of six, and some have lived to accomplish eighty years of work; retiring from field work at eighty six years of age, they might still be seen busy chopping wood for the house.

Those were the days of the smock frock which was worn and shabby due to everyday work, a better one, of a soft greenish hue was worn on Sundays. The smock was a comprehensive garment that reached below the knees. The farm labourers lower extremities being cased on Sundays in short brown leather buskins, which met the hem of the smock. The wives of the farm men appeared on Sundays in large circular cloaks that enveloped their spare figures. The wages  started at  four pence a day, and even that was a rise upon what their parents had had when children were employed at 3 pence a day. Wages were nine shillings a week for an able bodied man.

The child labourer was for rook scaring, or leading the plough team, or sorting potatoes; a woman could  have done as much work on four pence a day with the teams as  a man with a wage of thirty shillings a week would do.

Implements were then very scarce upon the farms, and hardly any of the farmers had even drills of their own. To possess a drill, or more than one, and take it round the neighbourhood, or let it out to farmers, was a trade in itself. At harvest the produce of fifteen hundred acres of arable land, had to be reaped with the sickles and was  gathered with outside help. The harvesters who were called ” Yankees” who would often lift up their hands and exclaim at the abundance of crops.


Cole Family Occupations

Thames Bargemen

g.a.m.c.Faversham2Thames barges were an important part in the life of East Essex by making use of many creeks and inlets to collect

the produce from the farms and take it to the markets. Barges were very flat bottomed wooden craft to ensure that they could navigate the  many shallow inlets by sailing in as little as 3 feet of water and then lie on the mud

without tilting. They were sized  80 feet long by 20 feet wide to ensure that they could carry a large load. The distinctive sails have a large topsails, mainsail and foresail on two masts. The rusty red colour is due to the waterproofing traditionally used on the sails.

Although the cargo was light it was bulky and it was common to see a barge loaded with 12 feet of hay on top of the decks with the helms man at the wheel totally blind relying on information from an assistant  perched on top of the hay. The fastest passage would be made in one day although the average journey time was two days. Longer journeys in adverse weather could spell financial disaster for the bargemen if they were carrying fresh produce.

The barges of Burnham and Bradwell were the only barges to deliver produce to London during the plague a service for which they were accorded privilege trade status in the years to follow.

A crew of two, often family members sailed barges, such as William Cole b 1868, and his crewman William Smith of Norwich, Norfolk. He was the master of a Thames Barge named G.A.M.C which was built in Sittingbourne in 1869. It was registered in Rochester, but just before WW1 it was bought by Cyril Iondes who converted it to a home and named it “The Golden Hope” . It is believed that the original barge finished it’s days in 1940 as a house boat on the Blackwater, Maldon, Essex, and was eventually broken down in 1951 on the River Chelmer.


Smith Family Occupations

Potteries of Staffordshire

potteryThe Smith and Hemmings families were all involved in the Pottery Industry, which In 1759 Josiah Wedgwood set up his factory at Stoke on Trent and was quickly followed by the likes of Minton, Copeland, Spode and Ridgeway. As the popularity of pottery took off (partly fueled by the fashionable tea trade from the East Indies), so too did the number of factories in the Potteries. By the end of the 19th century over 200 factories were operating in the area.

One of the reasons that production moved to the area from other areas was the loss of woodland in more rural locations like Coalbrookdale and Norwich. The availability of coal, together with ivory clay and red or blue Etruria Marl and water from the River Trent meant that manufacturers had ready access to all the resources they were likely to need, including a large labour force in the urban area.The success of the potteries around Stoke was a double-edge sword. Ill health was widespread with diseases like ‘potter’s rot’ caused by the use of lead glazes. At the start of the 20th century, over two thousand bottle kilns throughout the city created a permanent haze of smoke and pollution over the area. Today most of the bottle kilns have been destroyed and, when visiting the somewhat sanitised remainders, just how grim working in them would have been.

The bottle kilns themselves were as individual as their owners, with no two arrangements or designs being quite the same. The kiln consists of two main parts, the hovel, which is the outer bottle shaped structure acts as a chimney and protects the oven inside. This is the kiln itself and is known as the crown. Crowns are round and their foot-thick walls are strengthened with iron bands, to protect them from the forces of firing. Items to be fired were placed in fireclay boxes and were stacked to the top of the crown before the doorway was sealed and the fires lit.

Bottle kilns were generally fired once a week. The first, or biscuit, firing took three days and a second firing, known as glost firing, took two. Kilns never fully cooled and the intense heat added to the dark and claustrophobic conditions in which men, known as placers, stacked and replaced the saggars into towers known as bungs. Temperature control during the firing was crucial and failure could ruin weeks of work. As well as the bottle kilns there were other specialist types of kiln, including Muffle Kilns and Calcining kilns.

In total, over 1,500 potters came and went during the area’s heyday and the reality of life in the potteries is easily forgotten in a fog of nostalgia.


Mining in Staffordshire

coal miningCoal-mining as a fully fledged industry began in Staffordshire with small private mines at the end of the eighteenth century.  The presence of coal, and clay, meant the Industrial Revolution came quickly to the area.

North Staffordshire was a centre for coal mining. The first reports of coal mining in the area come from the 13th Century. Part of the North Staffordshire Coal Field, the Potteries Coal Field covers 100 square miles and the city had several pits including Hanley Deep Pit, Trentham Super pit (formerly Hem Heath), Fenton and Wolstanton The last mine to close was the Trentham Super pit in 1994. The industry developed greatly with new investment in mining projects within the City boundaries as recently as the 1960s and 1970s

Hem Heath was the deepest shaft in Staffordshire at 3,420 feet. In 1963 Hem Heath Colliery was paralysed by a strike of 1,300 men. Miners aggravated by a six shilling a day drop in the shift rate.

Sneyd Pit Disaster

Due to an old superstition miners never worked on New Year’s Day, but because the war was on in 1942, they were told they had to work.

Just before 09:00 there was a sudden explosion and 57 men died. The youngest victim was only 15 years old.

The explosion was believed to be caused by derailed tubs damaging the electric cable combined with dust ignited and caused the explosion. The pit was later closed in 1966.


Houghton Family Occupations

Silk Weaving

silk weaverMany of the Houghton ancestors were employed as silk weavers according to the censuses. Silk workers from France had arrived in England 200 years previous, and had managed to establish what was by now a flourishing industry. Originally opening their looms in Spitalfields, they then went on to establish Mile End New Town, and the overspill from these areas headed for Bethnal Green. In time, the greatest number of weavers were based here. Who would believe that a hundred years later the area was to become full of poverty and overcrowded slums.

A weaver had generally two looms, one for his wife and another for himself, and as his family increases the children were set to work at six or seven years of age to quill silk; at nine or ten years to pick silk; and at the age of twelve or thirteen (according to the size of the child) he was put to the loom to weave. A child very soon learns to weave a plain silk fabric, so as to become a proficient in that branch; a weaver had thus not infrequently four looms on which members of his own family were employed. On a Jacquard loom a weaver could earn 25s. a week on an average; on a velvet or rich plain silk-loom from 16s. to 20s. per week; and on a plain silk-loom from 12s. to 14s.; excepting when the silk is bad and required much cleaning, when his earnings were reduced to 10s. per week; and on one or two very inferior fabrics 8s. a week only are sometimes earned, though the earnings were reported to be seldom so low on these coarse fabrics. On the occurrence of a commercial crisis the loss of work occurred first among the least skillful operatives, who were discharged from work

By the 1830s the silk trade was lessening, but there were still 17,000 looms in operation in areas covered by Spitalfields, Mile End and Bethnal Green, with some 100,000 people dependent upon them. Then in 1860 the industry, weakened by a number of changes in working practices, received a shattering blow when low-price European goods flooded the market. At the outbreak of the First World War, hardly 50 of the traditional looms remained with just a remnant of the thousands of weavers who had toiled in the district for more than two centuries.


Leave a Reply