A RAILWAY STORY
The Jones family were resident in the Buckinghamshire village of Ludgershall for generations (from at least the 17th century) until the arrival of the Great Western Railway in Oxfordshire opened up the possibility of travel. It was an opportunity that the working class welcomed with open arms. Prospects of wider horizons and adventurous careers were there for the first time, and no longer would they have to look for spouses in their small home communities. I am sure the new blood that this freedom of movement introduced into the gene pool of the English people has done nothing but good for the nation.
William Jones (born 1817) could now abandon the traditional family job of working on the local farm in Ludgershall. Even before the first trains were runnig, he had joined the band of hard-living and hard-working navvies who were constructing the embankments and cuttings by hand with spades and wheelbarrow. To be fair to him, he may have been the exception, neither drinking nor smoking and not even swearing; I just do not know. What I do know is that he would certainly have been better paid than his fellows who had remained tied to the land. This travelling lifestyle took him down the line as it progressed into Cornwall. There he spotted a young lady with striking red hair, riding her adoptive father’s horse through the town of St Austell. Young Sally Oliver had already lived through a difficult time; born in 1825, she was orphaned at an early age, and Sarah Greene (her birth name) was adopted by a local clergyman, the Revd Oliver. She joined the rough group of travelling navvies when William Jones married her in 1855. Their eldest child was born in Devon in 1856.
William’s grandfather (also called William) was born in 1770 and worked as a farm labourer until he was over 70 years old. In spite of his humble job on the land, at some stage during his life he had learned to read and write. This we learn from the fact that in old age he was employed as Parish Clerk at St Mary’s church in Ludgershall. If any remuneration accompanied this employment it was but a pittance, and before the Old Age Pension came to the aid of those too old for manual labour times were hard for the poor. Luckily William’s wife Mary (née Silver) could continue to work at home in the local trade of lace making.
William senior’s eldest son John was also a farm labourer, and he was the father of William junior, who became the navvy. Unlike his relatives, who had lived in a small corner of Buckinghamshire their entire lives, William junior moved all over Southern England, following the railways. They were springing into life across the country. After the railway reached its terminus at Penzance he began work on the Somerset and Dorset Railway, where a daughter was born in Evercreech, Somerset, in 1860. By 1869 he had fathered another son and daughter. He was working in Portsmouth, where the railway was being extended to the dockyard to service the Royal Navy ships. His eldest son (aged 15 in 1871) was a locomotive fireman on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, which had been running to Portsmouth since before the young man was born.
By the 1880s William was in his late sixties and too old for the strenuous work of railway construction. In any case, by then all the principal routes that we still use today were already in place, and the great age of railway building was drawing to a close. William Jones was working as a general labourer in East Molesey, Surrey, no doubt for the London and South Western Railway who ran a branch line into the suburb at Hampton Court. The whole family was involved in the railways, and by 1890 the former navvy was living in retirement in a railwayman’s cottage in Middle Street, New Bradwell (now called Spencer Street, part of Milton Keynes). His younger son Samuel (b. 1863 in Chard, Somerset) was employed at the Wolverton workshop in the carpentry trade, building railway carriages for the London and North Western Railway.
A few years earlier Susannah, the navvy’s eldest daughter (born, you may recall, in Evergreech), had moved to London to work in service. Railways continue to play a major part in the family history, because in London she met Phipp Peachey who had caught the train down to London from his home in Lakenheath in Suffolk. Like the Joneses, the Peacheys had for centuries before the arrival of the train lived in their local area, in their case the warren at Lakenheath. They married in Wandsworth in 1883 before Phipp and his wife returned to his home in Suffolk. Phipp and Susannah Peachey were my great-grandparents.
Samuel’s sons had followed him into the carriage works (after 1923 it belonged to the LMS); his two youngest children were Marjorie and Kathleen, who both remained unmarried. Kathleen was a schoolteacher before developing Disseminated Schlorosis; the same age as my mother, she and Kath had become best friends at school together. It was through this friendship that she met my father, one of the Jones descendants.Marjorie was the Matron in charge of the Dr Barnardo’s children’s home in Felixstowe, Suffolk. She was a good pianist.
What became of the railways that allowed my ancestors to meet? The Somerset and Dorset line fell victim to the railway closures of the 1960s, but all the other places mentioned in this post, St Austell, Portsmouth, Hampton Court, Wolverton and even Lakenheath, still have railway stations. Lakenheath only has a handful of passengers a year, and is only served by four trains a week (on Saturdays and Sundays) to allow people to visit the nearby nature reserve. It is too far from the village to draw any custom from the large American airbase that now occupies Lakenheath’s former warren. The line itself, which takes trains from Norwich to Cambridge and Norwich to Liverpool, is increasingly busy however.
My great-aunt Ruth kept in touch with this side of the family; her mother was Susannah Peachey (née Jones). I have lost contact with these Jones relations, but I have however read some posts online from them, one of which records that only in recent years did the last member of the Jones family to live in Ludgershall pass away. I have never been to Ludgershall, although I must have been near to it on my way to and from Oxford. It is only 16 miles away. John Wycliffe, the 14th century founder of the Lollard movement, was Rector of St Mary’s, Ludgershall, for several years. It was an appointment that allowed him to spend most of the week consulting the libraries and intelligentsia of the University. It would have been no distance for him to travel on a pony.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF RAILWAYS