52 Ancestors – Major Griffiths

This weeks’ #52Ancestors theme is favourite photo. This, to be honest changes all the time but today it is this photo of my Mum and the family dog Major. My grandad spent a long time on the army so I’m sure it tickled him to be able to order a Major around even though Major was very much his own dog!

Major used to follow my aunts into town when they were going to work and sit outside barking until they came out with a treat. This was obviously preferable to being dressed up in a baby’s bonnet and put in a toy pushchair by my Mum!!

One Christmas day my Grandad took Major to the Gamecock pub in Hereford. Whilst there, Major managed to get drunk and Grandad left him there to sleep it off. However my Mum and aunts made such a fuss, Grandad had to drive round and pick him up before anyone would eat Christmas dinner. Thank goodness there were no after effects.

My grandmother used to be horrified as Major had a habit of stealing bread, bacon and other bits from the Co-op van. He never ate any of it but proudly brought it in to my grandmother.

All of this is despite the fact that my Grandad used to train German Shepherds and won awards for their obedience. Stories of Major always used to make me laugh and hence today’s photo. Gone but definitely not forgotten!

52 Ancestors – William O’Brien O’Grady

This week’s theme for #52Ancestors is “Favourite Find” and mine is my great uncle William O’Brien O’Grady. Through family rumour and legend, one of my grandad’s brothers ( there were 7 of them) was a passionist priest called Father Cornelius who was based at some point in Paris.

I eliminated some of the brothers but still had two possible candidates. On the off chance, I found teh website of teh Passionist order in paris and emailed them in my A level French. they could not help me but directyed me to the Order’s main base in Ireland. I wasn’t holding out much hope but I got a wonderfeul reply. It included a photo of my great uncle when he was in the seminary in Enniskillen ( he is no. 2) and also an obituary which gave a flavour of the man he was.

William O’Brien O’Grady was born in Ballaghderreeen on 25th February 1890 to Anthony and Bridget O’Grady (both school teachers). He professed on February 19th 1908 at Enniskillen and was ordained in Dublin on 21st December 1913.

From his obituary:

“His outstanding personality was soon recognised and in 1920 he was appointed vice-master of novices; after that he was successively director of students and Vicar at Mt. Argus, Dublin.

When the Anglo-Hibernian Province was divided in 1927, Fr. Cornelius was appointed Rector of St. Annes Retreat, Sutton, where he remained until 1932. From 1933-1938 he was in charge of the chapel-of-ease at Hatchard Road, Highgate, and thanks to his activities, that pro-parish was soon put on a very sound basis and among the parishioners his memory is still green and venerated, and many stories are_ current of his kindness and humour.

From 1939-1950 he was Superior of St. Joseph’s Church, Paris. This was his longest, most exciting and most renowned superiorship. The period, of course, covered the war years when Fr. Cornelius was seen at his best. In spite of the strict rationing he somehow managed to get adequate food for hi~ community, and sometimes he was seen tramping across Paris and climbing steep stairs to take a few eggs or a little butter to a poor Irish or English governess. These gifts were made possible only by the sacrifice of little extras which had been given to him for his own use. Of the German occupation he had many grim and humorous stories to tell, including the story of his arrest and a couple of months in a German concentration camp. He handled the Germans with tact and courtesy and was rescued from several awkward predicaments by his ready wit.

With the French he was a great favourite and maintained cordial relations with the authorities, both civil and ecclesiastical. His wit and fluent, though not exactly classical, French were a constant source of amusement at the curial offices. The charity and hospitality of Fr. Cornelius became a by-word in the English-speaking community of France. Priests who called at Avenue Hoche were certain of a warm welcome and generous hospitality. Clerics who were students in France at that time remember him with warm affection and gratitude. The French clergy still enquire solicitously about “Pere O’Gradi” When he eventually he left Paris, the Cardinal sent the Vicar-General of the Archdiocese to see him off.

After leaving Paris Fr. Cornelius was Rector of Blythe Hall from 1950-1953 and Superior of Herne Bay from 1953-1959.

As a superior he was noted for his charity and understanding and if he had a fault at all, it was excessive kindness. He excelled in creating and maintaining a community-spirit among his subjects and to those in trouble he was always a helpful and compassionate father.

As a retreat-master and missioner he was one of the old school who gave satisfaction and edification wherever he went.
During his last days in Highgate he gave great edification by his patience and zeal. As long as he was able? he dragged himself down to the confessional and was always anxious to help in any way that he possibly could. He hated not to be,asked to do things. About his sufferings he maintained an almost unbroken silence and the doctors sometimes wished that he were less patient. After a long illness patiently borne he died quietly after a fierce heart attack. It was surely fitting that his “dies natalisll should have coincided with Our Lord’s own birthday.”

Such a wonderful obituary makes me sad that our lives never crossed but proud to be related to him.

52 Ancestors – Harry Griffiths

This year I have decided to take part in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 ancestors which is a series of weekly prompts to get you to think about an ancestor and share something about them. To find out more about it: https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/52-ancestors-in-52-weeks/

Week one’s theme is Foundations. About 23 years ago I began my family history journey by looking in a tin that had belonged to my maternal grandfather Edward James Griffiths. It had sat in the garage for a number of years and no-one was sure what was in there. What I found were some birth, marriage and death certificates and other pieces of information that would enable me to start my family tree. Although I knew that my Mum’s family were from Hereford, I didn’t know much more and so every step was a revelation. So, let me introduce my great grandfather Harry Griffiths:

Harry was the son of John Griffiths, a shoemaker, and his wife Mary Ann (nee Baker) and was born in Bush Bank, Herefordshire on 15th October 1877, only about 5 miles from where I live now. By the time he was 13 years old, Harry was an apprentice carpenter and living in Gomond street in the middle of Hereford. For most of his life he would would either be a carpenter or a workman. The 1901 census saw him living in Ledbury road, Hereford and was still a carpenter.

This was all interesting but what came next was a bit of a surprise. In his marriage to my great grandmother in 1917, he was listed as a bachelor but in fact he had been married before with two children! The 1911 census saw him living with his first wife (Fanny Elizabeth Newman) and her family in Leominster, Herefordshire. two children were registered to the couple, Ethel May born 1913 and William Henry born 1915. I searched thoroughly for the death of Fanny but there was no sign – could Harry be a bigamist?

This case taught me not to make assumptions. I had wrongly though that divorce was out of the question as they were relatively poor, however they were divorced in 1916 using a poor person’s divorce. Harry divorced Fanny on the grounds of her adultery with a Thomas Broome in Tenbury amongst other places. He also said that the two children were not his. Perhaps this is why he said he was a bachelor in his subsequent marriage. the divorce papers ( which I obtained from the National Archives) also filled in another blank. Although I knew he had been in World War One, there was no sign of him n the military records. However, his divorce papers stated that In 1916 he was living at 12 Ann street Abercynon but serving in F company of 21st Welsh Regiment, stationed at Kinmel Park St Asaph.

Harry Grifiiths married my great grandmother Elizabeth Davies on 5 December 1917 in All Saints, Hereford. My granddad didn’t have much good to say about his father but they lived for a time in Coningsby street Hereford followed by a house on the newly built College Estate. 1939 saw him working at the Royal Ordinance factory art Rotherwas as a shell filler and at wife’s death in 1942, Harry is listed as a munitions worker and shell filler living at 20 College Green Hereford.

Later in life, Harry had lost his legs and my Mum remembers asking him why he couldn’t skip like her! he also used to call her Bless and Kip. He seems to have lived with my Mum and her family for a while and died in Bromyard Hospital on 29th December 1955 of Myocardial degeneration, broncho pneumonia and Arterio Sclerosis. He is buried in an unmarked grave in St Martin’s, Hereford.

Shop ’til you Drop – 1861 style!

This month I have been looking at some of the delights on offer in Hereford in October 1861, courtesy of the Hereford Times. What would tempt you to splash the cash?

French and English Stay and Bonnet Warehouse

9 Saint Peters Street Hereford

Mrs Maclean

Begs most respectfully to inform the Ladies of this City and Neighbourhood that she has returned from London with a large stock of NEW GOODS for the AUTUMN and WINTER trade in straw, crinoline and military bonnets, ladies and Children’s Felt hats in Registered Shapes etc; French and English Ribbons, Flowers, Feathers; French and English Stays of the latest improved shapes. 

Mrs M begs to call particular attention to her large stock of Ladies Crinoline, both of English, French and American manufacture, with all the new improvements in patent adjusted springs etc. 

Bonnets Cleaned, Altered and Turned to the prevailing fashion.

Hereford Times 05 October 1861

Great Bargains in ironmongery

Selling off at J Grout’s (late Stephens’)

15 High Town Hereford

J.G being about to make considerable alterations on the above premises begs to inform Friends and the Public in general that he is now offering the whole of his old stock at a reduction of at least 50 per cent consisting of Register and other stoves, Fenders, Fire irons, Iron bedsteads, Papier maché and Japanned trays, Tea and coffee urns, Metal tea and coffee pots, Electro-plated wares, Dish covers, Baths, Toilet wares, Tin Goods, Builders’ ironmongery etc

N.B. Hotel and Innkeepers will find this a favourable opportunity.

Hereford Times 12 October 1861

Hereford Ropery, 10 Commercial Road

T Simister

Begs to inform his friends and the Public that he intends re—opening his Old-Established shop in the New Market entrance, High Town on Wednesday next, where they can be supplied on market days with Ropes, Twines, Sacks, waterproof covers and every other article connected with the trade.

T.S would also like to call l attention to his matting and fancy repository, High Street – Cocoa matting in stock from one foot to two yards wide and made up to any size required; likewise doormats in great variety

Hereford Times 12 October 1861

Photographic Institute

Castle Hill, Castle Green

Proprietor: Mr Wm Pousty of London and Cheltenham

Cartes de Visite, Album pictures and every style of Photographic portrait.

N.B. the first-class negative pictures are all coloured by Mr Gwatkin Hill

Carte de Visite 6 for 20s or 21 for one Guinea.

Hereford Times 12 October 1861

Pure Cheap Stirling Tea!!

Families and large consumers of tea are invited to make trial of the Sterling Congou at three shillings and three shillings and fourpence per pound being of good quality and worthy of trial.  New fruit of finest growth.

A Powell and Son

Eign street, Hereford

High street Kington

Hereford Times 19 October 1861

Golden Cross

Maylord street

Opposite the new market entrance

E. Fowles jun

Serves in any quantity either in or out of the House, the following beverages at the lowest prices:-

Genuine foreign wines and spirits

Family Fresh Dinner and Supper Ales

Dublin Porter, Cider, Perry etc

Chops, steaks at any hour

Well aired beds.  Comfort and economy.

Hereford Times 19 October 1861

John Griffiths (late foreman to Mr J . l Stephens),

bellhanger, locksmith, whitesmith, shoeing and jobbing smith, respectfully informs the public generally that he has commenced business in the above lone and hopes by strict attention to business, together with good workmanship, and moderate charges, to merit a share of public support.

Wire fencing. Palisading etc neatly and expeditiously executed. Wrought iron cider Mill screws on sale

New Market street, Hereford.  October 4th 1861

N.B. An apprentice wanted

Hereford Times 26 October 1861

Cheshire Cheese warehouse

New Ready Money Provision shop

No.2 Crescent (opposite the new market entrances) Maylord street, Hereford

C Everall

General Provision merchant

Begs to announce to the Public that he is removing from Church Street to the more commodious premises No. 2 Crescent, Maylord Street.

C.E. has just concluded engagements with some of the most celebrated Dairies in the kingdom and is about to visit the first Markets.  He will open his shop on Wednesday next when all persons desirous of purchasing the following articles of first rate quality, at the lowest prices, will find it to their advantage to give the above establishment a trial:

  • Cheshire Cheese
  • Gloucester cheese
  • Cheddar cheese
  • American cheese
  • Radnorshire Tub Butter
  • Fresh Butter and Eggs
  • Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, regularly by the Worcester railway
  • Genuine Scotch Oatmeal of the finest quality at the lowest price
  • Country fed and Home Cure bacon
  • Smoked bacon and Hams, highly recommended by families and hotels
  • Hillier’s celebrated pork sausages received fresh every morning at 10d per pound
  • Fine new Split Peas
  • Prime Lard
  • Pickles, pickling Vinegar
  • Worcester sauce
  • Spanish and English Onions
  • Etc etc

N.B. Families and Hotels supplied at Wholesale Prices

Observe: The new provision shop will open on Wednesday next.

Hereford Times 26 October 1861

Researching your agricultural Labourer ancestors

I cannot be the only person who has been disappointed in finding another agricultural labourer in their family tree, thinking that it must be a dead end.  It is true there is no single set of records that allow us to find out directly about our agricultural ancestors, but there are, however, a range of other sources that may give us an insight into their lives.

Local newspapers can be a rich source of information especially from the early 19th century onwards.  They may carry reports of the Agricultural Labourers Trade Union meetings, agricultural society dinners and other social events.  There may also be reports of ploughing matches and agricultural fairs.  Your ancestor could have won a prize for his large onions or the straightest furrow.  If you know the farm they worked on, there may be a farmer’s letter talking about the conditions and/or the good or bad harvest. 

Estate records can be very useful but it is a case of good luck if they have survived.  Larger estates tend to be the ones that did and the Victoria County histories can be used to identify the big landowners in the local area.  In some places however, smaller farms’ records have survived.  In Herefordshire Archives there are day books from the Garnons, Hampton Court and Moccas estates.

Rent rolls are a list of landlord’s lands and buildings with the rents due from them.  This may be in cash, kind (such as a certain percentage of produce), or labour.  These can range from just a name and a figure to more detailed descriptions of the tenant and the property they leased.  HARC has a wide range of these rent rolls and although you may not find your specific ancestor, it does give you a good idea of the community they were living in.  There may also be lease and tenancy agreements which will give you more information about the type of property your ancestor was living in.

Surviving wage books are rare but can be essential for discovering more about the work your ancestor undertook.   Agricultural labouring was not a single trade.  There were many different skill subsets within it which all attracted different wages.  Mostly seasonal tasks such as hedge laying, would have been noted in the account books.  For example, in Herefordshire in 1794, basic wages were a shilling a day, but hedge laying was paid at between 4d. and 6d. a perch (seven yards, or 6.5 metres) and an expert might lay three perches a day, thereby earning up to 18d. a day.[1]  There were also other seasonal variations.  According to an 1804 Report, Herefordshire agricultural wages averaged six shillings a week in winter, seven shillings in summer (for a longer day) but harvest wages were nearly double this. [2]  HARC has wage books from the Biddulph family estate near Ledbury, recent wage books from Gallimore and Parry Hop farm, wage books from the Garnons and the Pateshall family from Allensmore.

Hiring Fairs, for both farm and domestic servants, lasted in Herefordshire until the late nineteenth century.  At Bromyard, for instance, traditional ‘Mop Fairs’ were still held on May 1st and September 29th in the 1860s.[3]  Records of some hiring fairs are also available in local record offices.  For example, Chippenham Hiring Fair records at Swindon History Centre include a register of persons hired, where born, ages, duties, wages, last employer, and other details.  Some fairs have more detailed records than others depending in the how efficient the market clerk was.  Hiring fairs often were a little rowdy so your ancestor may have been named as being drunk and disorderly in the local press!

Farmers union records also exist and include minutes, lists of members, annual reports etc.  Agricultural reports made for the government such as Duncombe’s General View of the Agriculture of the County of Hereford (1805) can give a great background into working conditions and type of work undertaken. 

Tithe Maps of the 1830s and 1840s will give you information about the land use where your ancestor may have worked.  The Herefordshire Field-Names and Landowners Database (https://htt.herefordshire.gov.uk/her-search/field-names-and-landowners/) based on these tithe maps lists the field names  and landowners of each parish and these have been made into maps by Geoff Gwatkin http://www.geoffgwatkinmaps.co.uk/.

The National Farm Survey of 1941, held at The National Archives, can provide information on:

  • farm land
  • farmers and farm owners
  • life on a farm
  • the wider community within the parish where a farm was located

Every farm and holding of five acres and more was surveyed, including those of market gardeners, horticulturists, and poultry-keepers.  The survey also included a set of maps which showed the land belonging to each farm or smallholding.  Unfortunately, these records are not available online so you will need a trip to Kew or order copies online which can be expensive.

Further Reading:

(available free online) Lack, Katherine Joan (2012) Family dispersal in rural England: Herefordshire, 1700-1871.  Thesis for University of Birmingham

Waller, Ian. (2008) My Ancestor Was an Agricultural Labourer. (SOG)

Brown, Jonathan (2011) Tracing Your Rural Ancestors: a guide for family historians (Pen & Sword).

Hammond, John & Barbara (2005) The Village Labourer 1760- 1832(The History Press).

Reay, Barry (2004) Rural Englands (Palgrave MacMillan). 

Fussell, G E (1949) The English Rural Labourer; his home, furniture, clothing & food, from Tudor to Victorian times(Batchworth Press).

[1] Lack, Katherine Joan (2012) Family dispersal in rural England: Herefordshire, 1700-1871.  Thesis for University of Birmingham. P. 42.

[2] Lack, Katherine Joan (2012) Family dispersal in rural England: Herefordshire, 1700-1871.  Thesis for University of Birmingham. P. 43.

[3] Lack, Katherine Joan (2012) Family dispersal in rural England: Herefordshire, 1700-1871.  Thesis for University of Birmingham. P. 41

Flippin’ Marvellous – Some Shrove Tuesday Customs that don’t involve pancakes

Hopefully today you are enjoying some tasty pancakes but have you thought about how people celebrated Shrove Tuesday in times gone by?

In 1837 there was a letter of complaint to the Hereford Times about the “ridiculous and dangerous practice” in Kington of men and boys on the evening of Shrove Tuesday being allowed to “parade the town’s fire engines through the streets….incommoding the inhabitants and inundating the streets with water”.[i]

Another of Kington’s Shrove Tuesday customs at that time was “all the low fry and idle hobbldehoys” paying visits to the townspeople, demanding ale and cider.  If they did not get it then they inflicted “gross abuse and the most outrageous insolence” on the families.[ii]

One Shrove Tuesday custom that had died out by the end of the 19th century was that of cock fighting.  One type of event was that of throwing sticks at the hens and cocks.  The bird was tied by its leg and the person stood 22 yards away.  They typically had three throws for about 2p and they won the bird if they could knock it down.[iii]

Another custom that took place in both Ludlow and Presteigne was that of Pulling the Rope.  In Ludlow the rope was given out by the Mayor at the Market Hall.  The town was divided into four wards of roughly similar numerical value.  Two wards would then face each other to pull on the rope.  At one point it was said to have caused great excitement in the town with “all classes, from the aristocracy down to the humble labourer engaged in the contest” [iv], however 1854 was the first year it was discontinued and it went out of fashion.

In Presteigne though it was still going in 1903. The rope was purchased by subscriptions from the inhabitants. And two sides are formed. The aim was to dip the end of your part of the rope in the River Lugg which runs at opposite ends of the town.  If the rope was dipped in the Lower part of the river it is believed that the bread will rise and vice versa is true.[v]

[i] Hereford Times. 18 Feb 1837. Kington Nuisance. P. 4 col.6

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Leominster News and North West Herefordshire and Radnorshire Advertiser. 25 February 189. P. 02. Col. 04.

[iv] Hereford Times. 04 March 1854. P. 07. Col. 07.

[v] Hereford Journal. 28 Feb 1903. An Old Custom. P. 06. Col. 04.

Using FANs to take the heat out of your family history research

We all at some time come up against a genealogical brick wall which seems impossible to get over.  One method that may be useful is looking at FANs, the Friends/Family, Associates and Neighbours of the person.

Sources of FANs can include:

  • Researching extended family such as in laws
  • Witnesses to marriages, naturalisations etc
  • Baptismal records for Godparents
  • Neighbours from censuses and electoral registers
  • Co-habitants such as boarders, landlords or servants
  • Obituaries
  • Wills
  • Newspapers

Sometimes the perfect record doesn’t exist, whether you want to prove a relationship between two people or indeed if the Thomas Smith you are looking at is, in fact, your Thomas Smith.  By branching out your research into FANs, you can find that your ancestor is mentioned in another context that may tie them into your other research.  Or conversely you may find information that rules them out.

There are various types of networks that your ancestor may have been involved with:

  • An Estate network[i]. If your ancestor worked on and/or was a tenant of a local landowner then they may move to another property that belonged to the landowner that might not necessarily be in the same county.  Servants such as grooms and skilled servants are most likely to move around with their employer.  This means that they may not be where you think they should be on a census return.


  • An Economic network. If your ancestor worked in a specialised trade then they are more likely to move where the work is to be found.  For example, when a coal seam has been worked out then the skilled hewers are more likely to move to another coal seam rather than stay where they would earn much less if there was employment at all.  Andrew Todd also lists the examples of the woollen districts of West Yorkshire that attracted labour from Devon, Somerset and East Anglia in the early 19th[ii]  There was also a migration scheme in 1835 – 7 set up by the Poor Law Commission where approx 10,000 man and their families were guaranteed 3 years work if they moved from rural counties such as Northamptonshire, Suffolk and Norfolk to the northern textile centres.[iii]


  • A Huddle Network. In urban centres you may find that people cluster together with people from the same place as they are.  This makes sense as they will have the security of knowing someone who might be able to get them accommodation and/or work when they migrate.


When you visit a graveyard, look at other gravestones nearby to perhaps identify other family members.  Cemetery records are often more detailed than those of a church burial.  Private cemeteries started to appear in big cities in the UK in the 1820s and 1830s[iv] and municipal ones from the mid-1850s.[v] Grave books, if available, may include the name of the person who bought the plot and when, and also their address.  The people who are buried in the plot may not be on the headstone so it is always good to check.

In censuses, look forward or back a few pages to identify extended family.  Sometimes families tended to live in the same streets.  Make a map of the street and fill in details of who lived there to give you an overall picture.  Always take notice of people or families that share the house with your relatives.  They could of course be unrelated lodgers but more often or not there is a family connection or, in the case of migration, a link to their origins.

Newspaper announcements such as births, marriages and deaths may give family connections. Some marriages have a list of those attending, who they are to a couple and even their wedding presents.  Funerals also may attract press attention and list the attendees and who they were to the deceased.  In this way you can establish family relationships that can be the basis of further research.

Wills also can be a goldmine of information.  It could be that beside being a direct beneficiary, your relative could be an executor, a business partner, a debtor or creditor or involved with a mortgage.

All of these sources information help build up a picture of both an individual and a family that can be a godsend.  So next time you are stuck, think of the FAN method.  If it doesn’t always answer your question, it will give you more context and richness in your research.

Further Reading

Todd, Andrew. Problem solving through family reconstitution techniques. 3rd ed.

Legacy Family Tree Webinar.  Problem Solving with FANs. Beth Foulk. https://familytreewebinars.com/

Cluster Research – Start Your FAN Club!



[i] Todd, Andrew. Problem solving through family reconstitution techniques. 3rd ed.  P. 52

[ii] Todd, Andrew. Problem solving through family reconstitution techniques. 3rd ed.  P. 53

[iii] Todd, Andrew. Problem solving through family reconstitution techniques. 3rd ed.  P. 54

[iv] Todd, Andrew. Problem solving through family reconstitution techniques. 3rd ed.  P. 13

[v] Ibid.

The Victorian English Hiring Fair

Hiring fairs also called mop fairs or statue fairs took place throughout England in the 19th century and although by the end of this period they were on the wane, they still provided an important means to employ regular farm workers or farm servants.

These hiring fairs were for the hiring of farm servants who were different than general agricultural labourers.  Farm servants were hired for a fixed period, often six months or a year and were paid at the end of this period.  They lived on the farm itself and received bed and board as part of the package.  This meant that farm servants and therefore those attending the hiring fair, were young and unmarried.

At the old mops the occupations of the agricultural labourers and the domestic servants were indicated by badges:[i]

Carter – a piece of whipcord

Cowman- a lock of cow hair

Those employed in the fields- flowers

Shepherds – a crook

Farmers would approach the worker that they liked the look of and enquire about their skills and experience.  Negotiations over pay would follow and when an agreement was made a fest or fastening penny was given by the employer to seal the bargain.[ii]

This was seen as legally binding although in some places it was a convention that if the fest was returned up to a fortnight after then the worker was free to find another job.[iii]  If the worker left his employer during the period of six months or whatever had been agreed then it was up to the employer whether they were paid anything at all. [iv]

Problems with the system

At hiring fairs the two sides of the bargain were often strangers to each other and no written character or reference was required.  This led to abuses on both sides.  It was said that servants of bad character could rob his or her employer and run off before the employer realised that they had taken on someone who had no intention of working.

Some servants would take the deposit from a potential employer and not show up for work.  Others collected deposits from more than one employer and not turn up for any of them.

Some Masters adopted a system where they asked potential servants to give them a certain sum as surety for their appearance.  This did give the Master more security but at the same time made the servant more vulnerable.  An example was given in 1861.[v] of a “Master” who obtained 5 shillings from a potential servant and then took him into a public house to treat him.  Some gambling was going on and the Master regretted that after hiring his servants he didn’t have enough money in his pocket to join in.  The servant, thinking that it would get him in the Masters good books lent him the £3 he had of last year’s wages.  The Master was then never seen again.

A talk given to the Wenlock Farmers’ club by the Reverend Edward Jacson of Thruxton and Kingstone in January 1861 was reflective of the general mood of some farmers and “upstanding” members of society that hiring fairs or “mops” gave rise to many moral evils as well as being out of touch with modern ways of doing business.

Some servants remained drinking and enjoying themselves for several days and were summoned in front of the Magistrate by their masters in neglect of work.  If the Master agreed then the servant would need to pay costs out of their wages.  However, if the Master so wished then the “the fun of the fair ends on the treadmill”.[vi]

Mr Davies of Webton court in Herefordshire “Why, on the 1st May , all servantdom is let loose on the world and they refuse to enter upon a fresh contract until the 19th to the great inconvenience of the employer who is quite at their mercy and is often compelled to do the work himself if he gets it done at all.”[vii]


It was argued that by 1861 domestic servants were mainly employed through word of mouth/ references or employment agencies and therefore farm servants should be engaged in the same way.  Mr Nash Stephenson in his talk on Statute fairs in a meeting at Liverpool in 1858 even likened hiring fairs to American slave markets saying that “The character of the servant does not enter the bargain but that it is decided by the strength of the body”.[viii]

The registration system would work with a central office in the large town of the neighbourhood and have a resident manager.  It would open perhaps once or twice a week including market and fair days and there would be branch offices in some of the main surrounding villages.

The registration scheme did take off in certain areas such as Worcestershire[ix] but in 1878 the President of the Breconshire Chamber of Agriculture was “sorry to inform the Chamber that the register scheme had proved a failure as they could induce neither employers or servants to go to them..”[x]

There was a charge for using the registration offices and servants at the Presteigne office were charged one shilling whether they were hired or not.  This was thought to be the main reason they didn’t take off but a Mr Morriss of Talgarth had opened a registration office with no fees and still had little uptake. [xi]

The Herefordshire Domestic and Farm Servants’ Registration Society, of which J.H. Arkwright was secretary and treasurer, was founded in 1867 under the title of the Herefordshire Domestic and General Farm Servants’ Registration Society.[xii]  However like schemes elsewhere this seems to have been poorly recieved and  stopped operating by 1869.

Moral dangers

As the majority of hiring fairs or statue fairs were also combined with attractions and funfairs, in the minds of some they led to dangers of both the physical and moral kind. Tales abounded of inexperienced workers with their pay newly in their pockets being lured into public houses where “even the very devils in hell would delight and be satisfied with the orgies and revels that follow” [xiii]

Mr Humphries, Superintendent of Police in Kings Heath said in 1861 that “I have seen married and single conducting themselves with the greatest impropriety and young girls or rather children stopping all night dancing and drinking and allowing most indecent liberties to be taken.”[xiv]

Mr James Isaac, Chief Constable of Warwickshire in whose district in the 1860s 27 statute fairs were held, “on female servants they have a most baleful effect:  many cases of bastardy resulted from improper intimacies at or returning from Statutes”.[xv]

It was also said that on the following morning after the Mop that the police courts were full of people either answering charges of disorder and drunkenness or appearing penniless with their pockets emptied and sometimes even the shirt off their backs.[xvi]  Some men were described as being “ pot valiant” in that in the throes of drink they signed up for the army. In the morning, when sober, they needed to use the previous year’s wages to buy themselves out of their commitment. [xvii]

Although these comments and attitudes on hiring fairs did contain some genuine concern for those involved, it is hard not to see their attitude as rather patronising.  With the time around the hiring fairs being the only time in the year when farm servants had a proper holiday, it seems harsh to begrudge them time to let off steam before a new year of hard work will begin.


Over time, many hiring fairs became less about hiring servants and more about attractions and having fun.

By 1903 the Leominster May Fair had moved from primarily being a hiring one to a pleasure one.  The first rides for the children of the National British Schools was paid for by the Mayor and attractions included:[xviii]

  • Coconut alley
  • Biddall’s menageries
  • Shooting galleries
  • Giant Lady
  • Zara the witch and her thought reading

In Broad Street Hereford in 1862: “Adjoining the swing boats was Leon’s Circus where ladies.. made themselves conspicuous to our country cousins by their not over refined contortions”[xix]

Broad street also had[xx] :

  • Photographic studios
  • A talking pig
  • Performing canaries
  • Fortune telling horses

High Town had attractions including:[xxi]

  • Peep shows
  • Cabinets of curiosities
  • Wombwell’s famed menagerie with a Burmese elephant and a lion tamer.


As the 19th century progressed the hiring fair was in decline for a number of reasons.

The agricultural depression of the 1870s onwards meant the farmers were reducing the number of regular workers they hired, relying more on casual, seasonal workers around times such as harvest.  Rural depopulation was also an issue as travel links improved attracting rural workers to the cities and industrial conurbations.  The decline however was not evenly spread and some hiring fairs were still happening after WW1, despite being on a much smaller scale.

In 1878 the Presteigne hiring fair “has of late years very much deteriorated and this year the number offering themselves for hire was exceedingly scanty.”[xxii]

As was noted before, by 1908 Leominster was now predominantly a pleasure fair.  In article of the time, it was said the there was a time when the hiring fair was the day of the year for the local Savings Bank, there being a steady stream of all kinds of servants who had received their wages and wished to deposit some to be saved.  By 1908, the business on the day of the hiring fair was the same as any other day.[xxiii]

A noticeable trend at the beginning of the 20th century was the reluctance of female servants to re- engage for service at farmhouses.  It was said that they found domestic service in an urban or suburban setting to be more attractive as well as having more to entertain them in their rationed free time.  [xxiv]    In 1910 at the Sleaford May fair, one of the largest hiring fairs in England “not one girl in a hundred who accepted a situation in a farm houses would undertake duties of milking and the men will have to do their work.” [xxv]

Many farmers were also increasingly reluctant to employ regular male labour owing to the high wages demanded.  This is again because young men were finding work in urban and industrial districts to be better paid and more attractive.[xxvi]]

In a telling aside on the decline of the Mops, an article in 1903 said “it was stated in last week’s issue that there was no evidence of the old hiring fair but we understand a farmer form Malvern visited the t town and was successful in hiring a servant.“ [xxvii]

Records of some hiring fairs are also available in local record offices.  For example, Chippenham Hiring Fair records at Swindon History Centre include a register of persons hired, where born, ages, duties, wages, last employer, and other details.  Some fairs have more detailed records than others depending in the how efficient the market clerk was.

[i] Hereford Times. 13 May 1911. P. 05. Col. 7

[ii] CAUNCE, Stephen. (Autumn 1975) East Riding Fairs. Oral History. Vol. 03. Volume 02. P 46.

[iii] CAUNCE, Stephen. (Autumn 1975) East Riding Fairs. Oral History. Vol. 03. Volume 02. P 46.

[iv] CAUNCE, Stephen. (Autumn 1975) East Riding Fairs. Oral History. Vol. 03. Volume 02. P 46.

[v] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.2

[vi] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.2

[vii] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.2

[viii] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.1

[ix] Hereford Times. 12 Oct 1867. Gloucester: Statute Fairs. Page 10. Col. 4

[x] Gratis double supplement to the Hereford Times. 23 Nov 1878.  Breconshire Chamber of Agriculture: Hiring at Fairs. Page 19. Col.6

[xi] Gratis double supplement to the Hereford Times. 23 Nov 1878.  Breconshire Chamber of Agriculture: Hiring at Fairs. Page 19. Col.6

[xii] National Archives. Herefordshire domestic and farm servants’ registration society.


[xiii] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.1

[xiv] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.1

[xv] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.1


[xvi] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.2

[xvii] Hereford Journal. 30 January 1861. Hiring Fairs. P.3. Col.2

[xviii] Leominster News and Northwest Herefordshire and Radnorshire Advertiser. 08 May 1903. Leominster May Fair.  Page 08. Col 03.

[xix] Hereford Journal. 24 May 1862. The Hiring Fair. P 5. Col 1.

[xx] Hereford Journal. 24 May 1862. The Hiring Fair. P 5. Col 1.


[xxi] Hereford Journal. 24 May 1862. The Hiring Fair. P 5. Col 1.

[xxii] Hereford Journal. 18 may 1878.  Presteign May Fair. Page 08. Col. 4

[xxiii] Leominster news and North West Herefordshire and Radnorshire Advertiser. 08 May 1908.  Leominster may Fair.  P. 08. Col. 4

[xxiv] Hereford Journal. 01 June 1907. Hay: Decline of Hiring fair. Page 06. Col 4.

[xxv] Hereford Journal. 28 may 1910. P. 02. Col. 7

[xxvi] Hereford Journal. 01 June 1907. Hay: Decline of Hiring fair. Page 06. Col 4.

[xxvii] Bromyard news.  02 April 1903. P. 05. Col. 2

Introduction to Post Medieval Deeds

After recently completeing an online course with Pharos Tutors on Deeds and Disputes with Susan Moore, I have written an Introduction to post Medieval deeds.

Deeds are some of the most widely available and useful records held in archives.  Some can even date back as far as the 12th century.[i]  They are, however, often neglected partly because the legal language can be difficult to understand and partly due to the fact that before 1733 they were written in Latin.

Deeds are legal documents which are concerned with the ownership or possession of property, usually land or houses but can also include marriage settlements and mortgages.  You might be tempted to think that your ancestors would not have been rich enough to own property but even people of the most humble origin would have a little land such as a cottage and a field  and many people would have leased such property.  Even yeoman farmers might rent their farms for generations.[ii]

To read the rest of the article, email me and I will send you it in pdf format


[i] Durie. P. 239

[ii] Alcock. P. 20

Poor Relief Records

Want to find out more about using Poor Relief Records in England before 1834?

Then email me for a copy of my latest article.

Here is the first parargraph:

Parish records do not consist solely of registers of baptisms, marriages and burials.  There is a wealth of information that can be gleaned from the documents used by the parishes to administer themselves efficiently.  In this article I will briefly touch upon the work of the parish and then concentrate on how documents relating to poor relief can be invaluable when researching your ancestors.