Sapsford, Christy, Eaton and Day
Slaves, dogs and debauchery?
Hatfield Broad Oak
Hatfield Broad Oak, or Hatfield Regis, is a large ancient village, pleasantly situated on the eastern side of the Pincey Brook, six miles South East of Bishop-Stortford, and seven miles North East of Harlow and South West of Dunmow. It was formerly a market-town, and it still has a fair for lambs, on the 5th of August.
So, from the union of the Collin and the Whittaker families came the cycle shop founder, William Collins. His wife was Alice Jane Sapsford, my great-grandmother. Her parents were Charles Sapsford and Ann Eaton. But we need to go back one stage further to a place where we have some definite information and then work forward again. Our train is in a kind of shunting yard now as we switch tracks and look at poor people in the Essex countryside.
Thomas Sapsford (1809 to 1885) and Susan Christy (1815 to 1881)
What do we know about these two branches of the family who meet and produce the man who will marry a woman who will in turn produce great-grandmother Alice Jane Sapsford? We are still in Essex, but now seven miles to the south west of Harlow, at Hatfield Broad Oak, where the Sapsford family lived.
I have the marriage certificate of Thomas Sapsford and Susan Christie (3xG grandparents) which gives us some information. They were married in the parish of St Mary, Hatfield Broad Oak, on Christmas Day, 1838. Thomas was a labourer and his bride a servant. Both their fathers were labourers, too, so we have a picture of a working class, rural family attending a romantic wedding on 25th December in an old village church. Neither bride nor groom could write their own name, making their ‘mark’ in the register instead.
“There is a lot of history attached to the church of St Mary the Virgin [left]. In 1135, the second Aubrey de Vere founded a Benedictine priory there and the present day church is the part of the priory, west of the crossing. Nothing else remains of the priory but the outline of the cloister can be seen from the air. Apart from the 12th century north wall of the church, most of the exterior is 15th century. Inside the church there are many interesting things to see, especially the stone effigy of Robert de Vere, third Earl of Oxford, which sits in the chancel before the altar.” [georgraph.org.uk]
Searching around for a James Christie, the bride’s father and a labourer, produces no results. It is possible that he died between 1838 when the wedding took place and 1841 when the first census was taken. There are references to members of the Christy (spelled with a Y) family being paupers and in the Dunmow workhouse in the late 19th century, and, as we shall see, these lines of our ancestry were poor, working class, farm and field workers. These kinds of people don't get much mention in dispatches, records or local history. Unless you were to go to the local area and search around graves, books, records and registers it is unlikely you would find out anything else about the poorer members of our ancestry.
However, we are able to find out more about Thomas Sapsford, the groom, and my Gx3 grandfather in the Sapsford line, and his family. So, some more detail on Thomas:
Thomas Sapsford 1809 to 1885
Thomas’ father is named, on the marriage certificate, as John Sapsford and he was an agricultural labourer. Searching the census results for 1841 brought up two possibilities for this ancestor, my 4xG grandfather. The first John would have been 73 at the time of the marriage and the second would have been 62. The second John is from Hatfield Broad Oak, but there is no mention of a wife or occupation. However, it is likely that this John is the father we are looking for because of the area he was living in. Also, he would have been 30 when Thomas was born, which sounds like a reasonable age to be married and having a family. If this is Gx4 grandfather Sapsford we can put his date of birth at 1776, in Essex. But this is another one of my suppositions and not definite.
Checking through any possible references to Thomas and Susan (née Christy) Sapsford, the next generation, in the 1841 census brings no results. Checking their names and dates of birth (with a few years either side) in the whole country they don’t appear on any censuses at all, which is rather strange. It’s unlikely they were out of the country in June 1841 but we know that many people slip through the census net and that some of the documents are missing.
But we have more luck in 1861 where we find a Thomas and Susan Sapsford living at Green Hill, in the district of St John, Hatfield Broad Oak. Thomas is still an agricultural labourer and the couple now have seven children aged between two and 22. But the son we know about, Charles, (Alice Sapsford’s father) is missing, if indeed this is the right Thomas and Susan. Charles, the son, would have been around 20 years old and more than likely living and working away from home.
Charles Sapsford (1841 to ?) and Ann Eaton (1844 to ?) Gx2 grandparents
It is likely, in fact, that Charles was working as a general servant and housekeeper at Black Bush Farm, Stapleford Abbotts, 13 miles away near Brentwood, as this is what shows on the 1861 census. Charles Sapsford’s employer, a mister Philip Taylor was a ‘landed gentlemen and farmer’ who had 420 acres and employed 22 men, eight boys and four women.
1871. Ten year’s later Charles is married to Ann (Eaton) and they have four children: Mary Ann (born 1863), Alice Jane (1865, my great-grandmother), George (1867), and Sarah Ann (1869). Eventually they would have eight children, seven girls and a boy. They are living back at Hatfield Broad Oak in the ecclesiastical district of Holy Trinity, at Horell End Cottages where Charles is now an agricultural labourer.
Charles and Ann were married Q3 in 1862, but we have no more detail than this.
The condition of the agricultural labourer is as bad as can be, he toils like a slave, lives like a pig and often dies like a dog, with no pleasure but an occasional debauch at the ale house, no prospect but that of the Workhouse for an old age of rheumatism and misery. [The Essex Standard, 1872]
Meanwhile, in 1871, Charles’ parents, Thomas and Susan, are still living at Green Hill, Thomas now aged 62 is still labouring and they have four of their children living with them. The son, Thomas, is following in his father’s footsteps as an agricultural labourer and the daughter Emma is listed as being a ‘general servant, out of service.’ Ten years further on, in 1881, Thomas and Ann are still together, though getting on in years. Even though Thomas is now 73 he is still working, as is his younger son William.
Charles and Ann are living in White Roding Road, Hatfield Broad Oak with six of their children though great-grandmother Alice Jane is not with them. From this we can assume that she has met her husband, William Collins, and has moved away. We will get back to them, my great-grandparents, in a moment, but first, let’s just tie up the Charles and Ann and Thomas and Susan stories.
1891. Charles and Alice are living in Blocks Road, Hatfield Broad Oak where Charles is working as an agricultural labourer and their daughter Ellen (born 1874) is a domestic servant. As for the parents, Thomas and Susan, there is no record, leading us to assume that they both died between 1881 and 1891.
Just to recap, as all these dates and names can get confusing: great-grandmother Alice Jane Sapsford was the daughter of Charles Sapsford (who was the son of Thomas Sapsford) and Ann Eaton. We haven’t looked at Ann Eaton’s parents yet (my Gx3 grandparents) and it won’t take long as there is not a lot of information readily available about them.
John Eaton (1806 - ?) and Jane Day (1816 - ?), 3xG grandparents.
Ann Eaton’s birth certificate (she was born 28th July 1844 in Hatfield Broad Oak) puts her father as John Eaton and her mother as Jane Day. John was an agricultural labourer who couldn’t write his name so made a mark and the birth was registered in the district of Dunmow on 1st September 1844.
Checking the 1841 census, two possible John Eatons showed up in the Dunmow district. (The other seven John Eatons were either two young, too old, too far away from Hatfield Broad Oak, or, for other obvious reasons, not who I was looking for.) The first possible was a John Eaton born in 1825, making him 19 when Ann was born and the second was born in 1811, making him 33 at the time of birth. But in 1861 we find the real John Eaton, listed as – yes you guessed it – an agricultural labourer living with his son, John, of the same land-working persuasion and a daughter Ann, born 1845. (John Eaton and Jane Day had four children that we know of.) They are living at Hurdles End, Hatfield Broad Oak and this John Eaton was born in 1806. He is listed as a widower so we know that Jane Day has died before she was 46 – a rough estimation.
Because we know that Alice Jane Sapsford (my great-grandmother) had an elder sister, born around 1863, and that Ann Eaton, her mother, was still unmarried in 1861, we can place the date of the Eaton-Sapsford marriage between 7th April 1861 and sometime in 1863, assuming the fist child was born in wedlock. Here is what researcher Nigel came up with:
The Birth Certificate of Ann Eaton shows she was born 28th July 1844 at Hatfield Broad Oak. Her father is confirmed as John Eaton, an agricultural labourer. He registered the birth and signed with his mark (an X) on 5th Sep 1844 with registrar Thomas Cocky. John gave his address as Hatfield Broad Oak. The new information is that Ann's mother was Jane Day before she married John. I had already suspected she was Jane, but didn't know the surname. It's likely Jane died a couple of years later. I have found the Eatons in the 1841 census and 1861 in Hatfield Broad Oak. I cannot find them in the 1851 census. Jane is alive in 1841 but dead by 1861. I suspect she died in 1846. Another possibility is 1856. But without the 1851 census it is difficult to know.
So, the Eaton line doesn’t take us very far back but what it does show is that this part of our family were workers, probably poor, living off the land, some were in service to wealthier people but they tended to stay around the same area of Essex. Our ancestors were working class.
If you ever look through the Victorian censuses from 1841 to 1901, you will come across the term ‘Agricultural Labourer’ or ‘Ag Lab’ for short. What exactly was an Ag Lab? It’s interesting to know this as it seems to be the most common profession among our ancestors, certainly the Victorian and pre-1841 ones.
Before the industrial revolution the majority of the population of Great Britain were agricultural labourers (according to a Cambridgeshire history website, and most other historians). There were many different types of employment for labourers but they can be covered in three groups:
1 Labourers who worked for a particular farmer. Often they had tied cottages but if the farm did badly they could lose their jobs and their homes immediately.
2 Those who were mobile and hired themselves out every year at Michaelmas (29th September) through county fairs or market fairs.
3 Those with specific skills who could bargain for a wage, as long as their skills were in demand.
As for actual work, it was mainly farm work, cutting crops with a sickle, baling hay, threshing, ploughing and so on.
The following is from angelfire.com:
After the hungry years of the 1840’s that had bad harvests, wet summers and the potato blight (mainly in Ireland) things began to improve.
During the mid-Victorian decades farming appeared to be blessed with an unstoppable prosperity in many parts of the world. Growing cities, railways, steamships, and more modern machinery provided rich and expanding markets. Improved plant strains increased the harvests.
The collapse in the industry came in about the early 1880's with bad harvests, outbreaks of disease in livestock and falling wheat prices, especially in Europe. Many farmers who had farmed the same land for years went out of business. It wasn't until around the end of the 1880's that things began to again improve.
The romantic view of rural life in England in lots of cases was far from true. Farm labourer’s cottages were very often cramped and cold with leaking roofs and broken windows. Their diet was often very poor and their clothing was often handed down from father to son.
It depended on whom the farm workers were employed by as to what their accommodation was like. Some wealthy landowners built decent cottages for their workers, and they were generally free, but some landowners didn't really care how poor and dirty the farm workers cottages were.
Many workers relied on their small gardens to grow vegetables and maybe keep a pig, (because all of a pig can be used, eaten etc). They would make their own ale, cider and fruit wines. The corn gleanings collected after harvest would enable them to make bread.
A Dorset farm worker in the 1850's earned six shillings a week and described his daily diet as follows:
After attending the horses, ate a breakfast consisting of flour and butter with water poured over it, worked in the fields until midday then ate a piece of bread and occasionally cheese. Supper consisted of bread or potatoes and water, sometimes a little bacon (a luxury for many). At harvest time his master gave him an allowance of beer.
A report in 1843 gave an example of a weekly family budget for a labouring family:
Name.......... Age Earnings
Robert Crick.. 42 9s.0d
Wife............... 40 9d
Boy................ 12 2s.0d
Boy................ 11 1s.0d
Thread etc.... 2d
Total Earnings:13s.9d - Total Expenditure: 13s.9d
We should put the agricultural labouring in Essex thing into a bit of a context. At the time our Sapsford ancestors were working the fields there was something of a revolt going on. In May, 1872, the National Agricultural Labourers Union (NALU) was established to oversee the welfare and wages of general farm workers. In response, in Essex, a Farmers’ Association was formed and members refused to pay more that two shillings per day for a 12 hour shift. Remember that the labourers were hired by the farmers, often on a seasonal basis. The Farmers’ Association also encouraged farmers not to employ labourers who had joined the NALU and to sack those who did. Some members of the NALU were imprisoned for their activities and things got worse for the labourers when the Conservatives came back to power in February 1874. Farmers, now backed by the Government, went all out to attack the union. Strikes and ‘lock outs’ followed, though many men were forced back to work through the need to earn and eat. Others left the area and even the country.
Life for these ancestors of ours was not, it seems, very pretty.
So, to sum up this little section, we are still in Essex, in rural Hatfield Broadoak, and we have discovered Gx4 grandparents John Sapsford and his counterpart Gx4 grandfather James Christy, both birthdates unknown but late 1700’s. Their children, Thomas Sapsford and Susan Christy married and produced Charles Sapsford in 1841. Meanwhile John Eaton and Jane Day married and produced Ann Eaton who married Charles and produced, among others, Alice Jane Sapsford, my grandfather Collins’ mother.
Now we can travel forward in time a little and find out more about my grandfather, Hugh George Collins who was also from Essex and the fourth child of Alice Sapsford and William Collins.
 A Christmas Day wedding seems rather odd to us today but it was very popular in Victorian times, especially among the poor, as getting a day off to be married was not easy or done. You couldn’t get married in Advent or Lent under church rules, so Christmas Day, when all the family could gather easily, was popular. [Nigel]
 Relatively late, although the law allowed three months. Probably getting to the office was an issue. [Nigel]
 My ancestor was an Agricultural Labourer, by Ian H Waller, published by the Society of Genealogists Enterprises Ltd. is a good background read.