Rolling Back The Years – Part One

A few years ago and with a lack of nothing to do on those long winters evenings I invested some time and money into researching our various families backgrounds via the ten yearly census records now available on line back to the early 19th century, here is a snippet from the 1901 census, Suzannes family line, her mothers side of the family …

In 1901 Suzannes Great-Grandfather is 38 years old, Ebenzer Graham, a simply ace name, I do not have sons, I have daughters but if either of them shall ever bear a boy child I shall insist that he be named Ebenzer.

Ebenzer Graham is living at 26a New Row in the small pit village of Horton in the Wansbeck area of the North East of England, these days Horton can be found on the map and is better known as a junction off the A189 Cramlington to Blyth road, there appears to be no dwelling places at all there on the map and from personal knowledge of the area I can confirm that there is no sign of the pit village that used to exist there although the modern township of Cramlington is still growing like an intrusive vine and has almost reached that spot on the map where Horton once existed.

This is not unusual for villages like Horton would be owned in their entirety by the coal mine owner and when the pit was exhausted then the villages reason for existing would cease too, its likely that Horton pit and most of the village lies underneath the Cramlington/Blyth bypass, its near neighbouring pit village Shankhouse still exists.

The street name New Row suggests that it was a row of terraced houses added after an original row so presumably at some point the pit was expanding, other nearby villages have street names like Double Row, again suggesting that the pit owner felt it necessary to add another terraced row to his original one, Suzannes ancestor lives at 26a, a small dwelling house of two occupied rooms in which Ebenzer, his wife, two sons and a daughter live, next door at number 26 in another two roomed house lives James Clark, his wife, three daughters, three sons, a nephew and two boarders – its probably worth explaining that everyone on New Row worked at the coal mine and its unlikely that they were ever in the house at the same time.

Ebenzers work is described as “Coal Miner – Hewer” a job description given to the men who worked at the coal face manually cutting the coal out of the seam, his neighbour James Clark, the nephew of his neighbour and his neighbours two lodgers are also Hewers as are two other men who live at numbers 27 and 28 New Row, a colliery bricklayer lives at 25 along with his 13 year old son who is described as a brickmaker, another brick maker, this one 64 years of age lives at number 29, maybe surface work like brick making is reserved for the young and old, and number 27 New Row has been converted into a Mechanics Institute and so our ancestors live next door to a place which served to educate and lubricate the residents.

Ebenzer hailed originally from Sunniside near Durham, another big coal mining area twenty miles to the south, at some point when we go further back through the census’s we’ll find that his family moved north seeking a pit that was in full production, offering full time work and a tied rented house.

His wife Margaret is 35 years old in the 1901 census and she was born in Benton Newcastle, we never traced her lineage properly but in the late 19th century Benton was a desirable suburb of Newcastle and we wonder whether she married beneath herself, she is of course not employed.

Their eldest son John William is 14 years of age and was born in Horton village so we can see that the pit is well established, John Wm is of course employed at the pit and is described as being a pony driver, it will have been his job to look after the small ponies underground, leading them and their tubs of coal from the coal face where his father worked, to the pit shaft where the coal was hoisted to the surface – the ponies were rarely taken above ground.

Their second son Stanley is Suzannes grandfather, her mothers father, and in 1901 he is 9 years old, their youngest daughter Elizabeth is 7 years of age, unusually they are not described on the census as “scholars” then again none of the eight under 14 year olds in those five dwelling houses are described as scholars so maybe the census didn’t require those details to be taken (although they did ten years previously), its also notable that none of the women or girls of working age in those houses have any form of work.

We tracked that family group back over four more census forms, they were in the same house in 1891, ten years younger of course and with just one child, the street still showing everyone employed at the pit though there was one 16 year old girl described as “General Low Domestic” and a 12 year old boy as “Driver in Coal Mine”.

Ten years prior to that Ebenzer is 19 years of age, he’s working at the same pit at Horton but living with his mother Mary and step father John Armstrong in Middle Row and unusually the children don’t take the stepfathers surname, his mother has remarried at some point between 1871 and 1881 as in 1871 she is a single parent with four children and a lodger living a Newsham, another pit village just a mile or so up the road – and finally we reached 1861 to find Mary and Thomas Graham, an engineer living in Elswick in the west end of Newcastle, an area of heavy industry including the WG Armstrong works, hydraulic and weapons engineers which eventually evolved into the modern Vickers tank factory on the banks of the Tyne – Lord Armstrong, now theres another great story.

All of these details start from just one page in the 1901 census form, millions of personal stories stored online and all we needed to start from was the barest of details of our grandparents, names, offspring and place of residence, once bitten you won’t let go.

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