POTTERS AND COAL MINERS
Charles Mason was my great-grandfather but because he continued to have children well into the 20th century (by his second wife) there are several members of my family, not much older than me, for whom he is simply the grandfather. Charles moved to Norfolk as a young man to marry my great-grandmother Rebecca Buxton, his first wife. She was a native of Easton near Norwich, but he had grown up in the Stoke on Trent area in Staffs. Staffordshire is a part of the country I know very little about, having only once been there and that was many years ago. Nevertheless it is the family’s Staffordshire connections I am going to attempt to describe in this blog.
Charles’s father Joseph Mason was a tailor in the village of Tittensor just outside the town of Stone, but by the time my great-grandfather was 14 the young lad had moved five miles away to the village of Milwich to be a domestic servant. Rebecca had met her husband to be by also being placed in service in Staffordshire, but in her case it was many miles from her home in Norfolk.
Charles was the youngest of his family; the next oldest to him was his sister Hannah. She was just two years Charles’s senior and she too had become a live-in servant in her early teens. She was married at the age of 18 to William Worsdale, a Staffordshire potter who was living at Trentham near Stoke. Stoke on Trent was known as the Potteries, and such well-known names as Spode, Minton and (most famous of all) Wedgwood had their factories there. The young couple were married at the Church of the Resurrection at Dresden, a mid 19th century red brick church designed by the Gothic Revival architect Sir Gilbert Scott. His most famous building is St Pancras Station in London. The church was built on land given by the Duke of Sutherland who lived on the Trentham Estate. The pollution got so bad that he left in 1905 and moved much of his great wealth to Canada. In 1912 when the borough of Stoke on Trent refused his gift of Trentham Hall he demolished the house. Trentham Gardens remain though, now a local beauty spot.
Both Hannah’s parents Joseph and Ellen Mason were dead by the time of her marriage and she was given away by her elder brother, also called Joseph. He had performed the same service for his elder sister Ellen who had got married a year earlier. Joseph was working as a gardener in the Stoke on Trent area. Hannah went on to have seven children by her husband William Worsdale over the next dozen years. In 1889 however he died and Hannah was reduced to scraping a living as a washerwoman. In 1894 she remarried to James Goodwin, a man some 20 years younger than her. The marriage once again took place in the Church of the Resurrection and once again my namesake Joseph Mason stepped in to support his sister. The best man was James Goodwin’s elder brother George. Hannah went on to have two more children by James Goodwin, a son Fred and a daughter Ida.
The district was called the Five Towns in the novels of Arnold Bennett (although there are in fact six of them) and apart from the potteries its major industry was coal mining. Trentham pit was closed in 1994 bringing to an end centuries of coal mining in Staffordshire. James Goodwin was a miner and in 1900 his job was dealing with the pit props that were used to support the roof of the mine. By 1911 he was working right at the coalface as a hewer of coal. By then his 15-year-old son Fred was working as an electric motor operator in the pit.
My first cousin twice removed Fanny Wordale (Hannah’s daughter by her first husband) was an enameller by trade as a teenager. By the age of 27 she had qualified as a nurse and was working at the North Staffordshire Joint Smallpox Hospital in the village of Bucknall-cum-Bagnall. The patients were mostly children with a few young men and women. The Cowpox vaccination for Smallpox which had been discovered by the rural physician Edward Jenner and introduced by him in 1796 was making this much less of a problem by the 20th century, but for those who missed out on inoculation the virus was still a serious (and in a third of cases a fatal) disease. After a global campaign by the World Health Organisation it was the first disease to be eradicated, in 1977. After more than a decade of treating the sick Fanny married Robert Russsell in 1919 at the age of 35. Tragically she died a year later.
It must have been a hard life for Hannah, and one afflicted with sadness; besides the death of Fanny two of her sons by William Worsdale died as teenagers during Edward VII’s reign. A year after the First World War broke out her son Fred signed up in the Royal Fusiliers and by November 1917 he had risen to the rank of Corporal. He died on 28th of that month from wounds received in the Battle of Cambrai that had begun eight days earlier. He was 21 years old, but he had already won one of the highest awards for gallantry, the Military Medal.
On a happier note Hannah’s youngest daughter Ida Goodwin married Charles Jones in 1923. She like her mother lived all her life in Staffordshire and lived to be 82. Hannah lived to be over 80, dying in Stoke on Trent in 1939, a year after her brother Charles died in Norfolk and only two years before her much younger second husband James.
The composer Havergall Brian was born in the Dresden suburb of Stoke on Trent, just three years after Hannah’s first wedding. His privilegeid background was very different from the grinding poverty of my great grand-aunt. The low point of her working life must have been when she was a young widow, having to support a family on her own.
This brief picture of Hannah Mason has been built up from such documents as census returns and death certificates, and is therefore lacking any personal details. In contrast my portrait of Charles Mason and his Norfolk family has lots of human touches that have been passed on to me. You may read my account of Charles Mason by clicking on the About tag at top left hand corner of this blog.
Since writing this blog I have been contacted by a distant cousin who shares the same great-great- grandfather, Joseph Mason. His great-grandfather was another sibling of Hannah and Charles, John, born in 1845.