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Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, an ancient Sherwood Forest Village recorded in Domesday




Recollections of William Lee of Woodborough 1838-1920



Chapter 1


The family history did you say? Well I don't know, perhaps it may interest someone in another fifty years, but it's a very common and ordinary history that I can give.


I have been thinking today, if my old Granny had left such a history as she could have given, going back well-nigh to the middle of the 18th century it would have been of interest today, so possibly this may be in years to come.


I think we will begin with my old Granny, Frances Lee, who would be your [Marion Lee] great, great grandmother. My first recollections of her were about 1844, and I will try to describe them as I remember. She would be then pretty well 80 years of age, of medium height with a linsey-woolsey dress, always wearing a shawl and a black silk poke bonnet with white cap showing. She would have made a good picture of one of the old puritan dames. Her walking powers at that age were wonderful, and although she always walked with a stick, which consisted of a common hazel stick cut out of the hedgerow - none of your fancy sticks of the present day. She would be down about 8 o'clock in the morning to breakfast, after which she sat down and smoked her pipe - not a churchwarden but a moderately long clay pipe; then she would turn out for a walk if it was summer time; probably the cows wanted taking out to the field down towards the moors about a mile off, and a little boy 'Billy Lee' must go down with her to open the gate and turn the cows in.


Then she was ready for a bit of gossip, she had certain cronies whom I remember very well; one named Southern, another Peck, and another Walwen. It would have been a picture could we have seen today those four old ladies seated round the chimney corner in the old house chatting together, and three out of the four smoking their pipes. She generally went for a gossip round during the morning, and was often to be met some part of the day going about her errands of mercy, perhaps the best known individual in the village at that time for her kindness and the help she was always giving to someone. Many a penny or twopence have found their way from her pocket to mine when pennies and twopences were thought much more of than they are now.


She was a great reader, not of the light frivolous trash on which the great readers of today pride themselves, but good solid reading, chiefly of a theological class which few would care to tackle today.

At this time of her life she was a truly and godly woman of the old puritan type. I have been given to understand that in her early days she was very fond of gaiety and was thought the reigning belle of the countryside; but she had been the mastermind piece in the home and ruled the household, and her husband too to a large extent.


Sometime during the early years of the 19th century a change had come over her, she was brought under the influence of the Methodist people and opened her house for preaching.


In the year 1812 it became the house of the Methodist Preachers and the horses that carried them and continued so to be as long as she lived; indeed to the end of the time as the old house was occupied by anyone bearing the name of "Lee".


My grandfather 'John Lee' died a year or two before I was born; he was the son of another John Lee whose tombstone is in Woodborough Church Yard; he is described as John Lee 'Lowdham'.

From an old will which I have I learn that his father died whilst he was still a boy and the Woodborough property was left by him to his sons. His mother appears to have married again and for some time kept the 'Magna Charta' at Lowdham, where my grandfather grew up to manhood's estate.


In the neighbouring village of Gonalston there lived a family of the name of Hind who appeared to have been in good circumstances, and there grandfather found his lady love - Fanny Hind. If I was disposed to let imagination have its play and do a little romancing, I might picture this somewhat wild young man stealing interviews in the leafy lanes with the gay and bouncing Fanny, unknown, for fear of father and mother Hind, who thought him beneath their daughter, and I shall say after she was married she was cast out of the family to a great extent.


They appear to have commenced their married life at Woodborough the old home of the Lee family, where family tradition tells us that the first stocking frame was invented by one William Lee, in the year 1589. Grandfather had learnt the trade of carpenter and joiner which trade he carried on, also farming the ancestral acres which numbered about thirty.


I never hear a great deal respecting this grandfather, but from various hints dropped by one and another, I gathered that he was one of those jolly sort of men, fond of company and his glass, in which I am afraid he indulged rather too freely, the consequence of this was the reduction of circumstances and leaving when he died a mortgage on the estate or a 'monkey' as it was then called. They had a family of eight, four sons and four daughters, and as it is always ladies first we will begin with the daughters, Elizabeth, Sarah, Fanny and Hannah.


Elizabeth was married to a Mr Cadsby, she died before I was born. Sarah married a Mr Soar, who I only remember to have seen only once or twice. Fanny was first married to a man whose name I do not know, he died young and then she married a Mr Morley who lived in the village. Hannah remained at home and was the presiding genius of the old house when I first remember it. She had a tendency to rule and drive those around her. She could scold the servant girl in first class style, and always took good care the old granny had not too much money in her pocket in case the good-natured old lady should give it away. We kiddies had to take good care our boots were clean when we went into the kitchen. She expected everyone to obey her behests whether they liked it or not.


The sons were John, Thomas, Samuel and William who was my father. My Uncle John was the eldest, he remained at home and after his father's death looked after the land and did a bit in the woodworking line, chiefly in the manufacture of the wood work belonging to the Stocking Frames. He was a cripple both in his hands and feet and always walked with a limp. His hands you would not have thought it possible for him to use, for anything. Yet as I remember him he was a cheerful old man who could be as grumpy at times as they make them; indeed he had the faculty of finding fault strongly developed so much so that I remember a remark made by one of the men whom he employed, after he had had a fairly good set down. "What's he good for if he can't grumble". Uncle Thomas was the village butcher and kept his position for a good many years in spite of all newcomers. I also remember a remark he made upon one occasion when an opposition knight of the cleaver came to the village. Someone reported that he had killed two sheep last week and only one this; yes, said Uncle, "he will kill half a one next week and send the other half to grass". He was a jovial chap full of jokes and fun, and the leading spirit of a good deal of the mischief done in the village, of which there was not a little carried on in those days. I heard of one or two of his exploits. One morning a cart which should have been on Terra firma was found on the top of a cow shed. The owner of the shed had let the grass grow on the old thatched roof to such an extent that I suppose some of the lively young village gentlemen thought the cart might be needed there to bring down a crop of hay.


Upon another occasion when Pancake Day came round there no frying pans available in which to fry the pancakes, they had been borrowed the day previous, and none of the borrowers were to be found, but eventually, there was a sorting out of the frying pans behind someone's haystack.


There appears to have been a jovial lot of scapegraces in the village at that time, and if not presided over by the Parson at any rate countenanced by his presence.


I have heard of such things as supper at the 'Punch Bowl' when the good things were given by one and another and the feast presided over by the parson. Yet I have never heard of anything really evil, but always done for fun and frolic.


I remember prior to one of the village feasts when I was a boy of eight or nine years of age this same Uncle coming to me with a very solemn face and asking if I could lend him a few coppers. I turned out my pockets and my whole store consisted of seven pence, which I had been saving up for weeks to spend at the feast, but, I lent it to him and alas I was penniless when the feast came, at which you might imagine I felt some slight resentment, but at the end of the week it was with a very solemn face that he came and told me that my seven pence had grown into a shilling, and such were the pranks that he played upon both old and young.


My Uncle Samuel died when quite a young man and last of all comes my father; he had learnt the trade of a joiner. Please note the distinction in those days between joiner and the carpenter. The joiner was regarded as much superior to the carpenter as the professional man is to the tradesman at the present day, although sometimes the joiner condescended to do carpentering work.


A carpenter was a man whose work lay in the fields in the construction of the rough farm buildings or hovels, as they were called in those days, heaving posts and rails out in the woods, and erecting fences, field gates etc., of which there was a good deal to be done in those early times, whereas the joiner was employed in the higher branches of the finished work required, and the erection of the better class buildings. It was once said by the Squire of Gonalston, for whom my father worked, that his head was like a pawnbroker's shop, "full of a bit of everything", and indeed there were a few things to which he could not turn his hand; he was capable of making and mending toys for the Squire's children; my lady's knickknacks for adornment or furnishing of her rooms, and I have known him take the trowel and hammer and do a few days work laying bricks, of which the only fault found by the professional of the trade was this - "that it looked somehow as if he had stolen the bricks and wanted to bury them in mortar". He was full of contrivances and ingeniousness; this made him a man in general demand, when any difficult piece of work was being accomplished he was always fetched. When I was a young man I was often told how I resembled my father.


Chapter II


My mother's family were named Dowdeswell, whom, I believe originally came from Gloucestershire, belonging to the yeoman class of those days. After various removals they eventually settled down at a small village in Derbyshire named Brailsford at which village I first remember them, they kept the Saracen's Head and farmed some 40 or 50 acres of land. This inn was one of the old coaching houses midway between Derby and Ashbourne.


My grandfather Dowdeswell I never knew. Grandmother I remember very well, she lived to be either 92 or 93 years of age and when over 80 she was wont to get up at 4 o'clock on a summer morning and see to the cheese making, after which she would go any lie down for a while. In the early days of my remembrance there were a good many coaches passing each way during the day and then all was bustle and excitement both in the road and in the house; in cold weather not a few brandies hot were consumed during the short period that elapsed while the four horses were taken out and four fresh ones put to the coach. I can still hear in my own mind the sound of the bugle as the coaches came up and the blast that was blown when they started off again with their four prancing steeds.


My grandmother's family consisted of two sons, John and Edward, and seven daughters, Sarah, Hannah, Susan, Mary, Elizabeth, Maria, and Dorothy. Here we will start with gentlemen first. John, who I think was the eldest, married I don't know who, had one son, he married and about fifty years ago went with his wife and child to New Zealand, his widow and five children are still living there. Edward married and held some position on Lord Scarsdale's estate, Kedleston Hall, near Derby. He lived at Derby with his wife and four children, but after his death they emigrated to America. The only one of which I have come to know of late years is Mary, she is commonly called Polly Dowdeswell; she is married to a sea captain named Cuthbertson and lives at Higher Bebington, Cheshire, and although she is a big bouncing buxom woman I still address her as little Polly Dowdeswell.


We will now go on to the daughters, Sarah was married to a man named Beresford, they resided at Derby and had a large family, all of whom I have lost sight of. Hannah remained at home and as Grandmother became infirm and had to give up her duties it fell to Hannah's lot to look after the household generally, and as I remember her with a cap and fine ribbons flying taking the tray or waiter with the glasses of brandy hot to the passengers on the top of the coach.


After the home was broken up she went to live at Sherwood but did not long survive and was buried somewhere in the neighbourhood. Susan married a farmer of the name of Wall who with his wife, four sons and one daughter went to New Zealand in 1840: he was one of the earliest settlers there and became a wealthy man, owning large tracts of land and did sheep farming in a very extensive way; his family are still living there to the third generation and I believe are doing well.


Next came Mary as I first remember her, she was dairy maid at home, but was thought much more of afterwards when she became the wife of my Uncle Tom the butcher.


It seems rather too bad to touch upon the weaknesses and defects of character, yet sometimes they strike a lad more strongly and perhaps appear greater to him than they do to people of older years. To me as a lad there was a streak of meanness in her character which manifested itself in many ways that were not always agreeable and especially to that same boy. I remember the butcher boy who under the vigilance of the old housekeeper said he used to get butter to his bread, but when she came they got nothing but lard. I also remember distinctly once when my Uncle took me as a little nipper with him to Nottingham Goose Fair, him buying various packets of gingerbreads and other things, which we called fairings, these I presumed were for me although they all went into his capacious pockets and were carried home by him, but never a ginger-bread did I see afterwards. I need not enumerate more of these failings. Some years after Uncle's death she went to live at Gedling where she died at the age of 80 years; she is buried in Woodborough churchyard.


Elizabeth who was my mother comes next about whom I will say more about further on. Maria married a Mr Wilder who was a farmer and Maltster, they lived at Brailsford, their family consisted of Sarah, Annie, Dick and Sammie, Tom and Lucy, Frank and Fanny, the last two were twins. As youngsters we made frequent visits to Grandmothers, when we used to have some rare fun with our cousins "the Wilders". There are three of them still living at Derby, Lucy who is married has one son, and Sarah and Fanny the eldest and youngest of the family did not marry.


But to progress with my Aunts, there is only Dorothy left; she was the youngest of the seven daughters, and considerably the youngest too, she was a spoilt child, she never married although in her younger days I believe she was in the habit of doing a fair amount of flirting: I believe she had very high notions, but did not manage to hook the fish she angled for. After the death of her sister Susan she went to New Zealand to be housekeeper to Mr Wall, but was not there long and I think she was very unsatisfactory. When she returned she lived with her sister Mary at Gedling and eventually died there at the age of 84. I should just like to mention that when I first remember her she was a beautiful woman always well dressed in the Grand Duchess style, but never soiled her fingers if she could help it.


Chapter III


My father and mother were married July 16th. 1830. My mother at the time was living at Welford. She was maid to Lady Lucy Smith. How they first met, I do not know, but have the impression that my father went to do some work at the Smith's house at Welford and there met Elizabeth Dowdeswell. They were married at St Peter's Church, Nottingham, and I have been given to understand that my father went out as though to Nottingham Market on the Saturday morning and brought his bride home with him at night, much to the surprise of Grandmother and the rest of the family. This could not be called a runaway marriage but was certainly a surprise packet for them at Woodborough. Their first home was a small house towards the lower end of the village in which were born five children, Mary, Samuel, Elizabeth, William and Francis: thus continuing the old family names. After my Grandfather's death my father appeared to have stepped into his place so far as the business was concerned, and if it was not a large business, at least it covered an extensive tract of country round about. My first recollections are of the time when we removed to a house higher up the village, next to the old homestead and I distinctly remember my mother sitting me on the settee in the pantry and putting my little boots on and buttoning them; and of being sent off the my Aunt Fanny's to stay during the time of removal. I also remember going to the new house and there being a hole in the wall at the back of the fire-place, leading from the living room to the kitchen and creeping through it. Here we resided until my father's death. The two events which stand out most prominently during that time were the deaths of two of my sisters, Elizabeth aged 11 years in 1847, and Fanny aged 9 years in 1850.


My Grandmother died in 1850 which meant the breaking up of the old home and division of her property, which had to be divided among her children. My father purchased the old house with the land, orchard and garden adjoining; he was preparing to remove into it when he was taken ill and after a somewhat protracted illness he died. Shortly after his death in the year 1851, April 30th., at forty-six years of age we took up our abode in the old house and managed to make a living somehow on the land. We failed to keep the business together as my brother was not old enough to take charge of it and the principal employer of my father, Squire Franklin of Gonalston withdrew his support.


My mother married again in the year 1863 at St Clements Church, Nechells, Birmingham, (sixteen years afterwards) a Mr Southern - he was a cottager with some half dozen acres of land adjoining our cottage land, he lived to be something over 80 years of age.


My sister Mary remained at home until mother's death occurred, September 12th 1870, aged 71 years, and afterwards with Mr Southern as his housekeeper until he died. By my father's will everything was left to my mother for her lifetime or during the time that she remained unmarried, but in the event of second marriage or her death the estate was to be equally divided among his three remaining children Mary, Samuel and William. Upon the occasion of my mother's re-marriage, by an arrangement, my sister retained the house and premises paying my brother and myself one third of its value. This was accomplished by taking a mortgage of two-thirds of the value of the Estate. Afterwards she lived in the old house until her death which occurred September 27th 1901 at the age of 70 years.


The land and part of the house was let to Mr Footit, Aunty Mary living in the remainder. Mr Southern at his death-bed left the rental of some of his property to her so long as she lived: she had difficulty in paying the interest on the mortgage and maintaining herself. In the meantime the mortgage was called in or there would have been some difficulty in securing another like amount. Taking the whole circumstances into consideration I thought it better that the Estate should be transferred to my son W.E. Lee, in the course of things it would, being copy-hold property, have naturally have fallen at my sister's death to me.


The house also was badly in need of repairs, so that in the year 1899 my son paid off the mortgage, and laid out a considerable sum of money on the restoration, alteration and repairs of the old house. After Aunties death he purchased the land that had been left to Aunty for her life-time by Mr Southern, thus retaining the whole place intact as he had always known it.


Here let me interpose a few remarks as to the restoration of the old house. The first thing to do was to get Aunty Mary, as we called her, off the premises before we touched the household goods. I drive down to Woodborough from Birmingham to supervise the work, and kept my horse and trap therefore six weeks (during that time) after some considerable amount of persuasion we induced Mary to come to Birmingham for a few weeks. After which the band began to play at Woodborough.


I turned everything in the shape of furniture out of the house and put them in the barn. We began by knocking the two chimneys down in the front part of the house; in the case of one of them it had been one of those large, open, old fashioned chimneys where you could sit in the chimney-corner and look at the stars, and it took up so much room that we constructed a wee staircase in the ground on which it stood. Needless to say there was no little amount of dust and soot and such like things which filled the lower rooms.


We then took off the roof, raised the walls of one portion slightly and put on a new roof; with various other internal improvements and alterations. Having done this, we then cut from underneath the external walls about three feet of brickwork and re-built with new, which seems rather topsy turvy, renewing the roof and upper part of the building first and the foundation last. Having completed alteration to the building I then began to overall the furniture; such pieces of it as I thought worthy or serviceable were replaced.


I then committed a great act of sacrilege by making a bonfire in the front garden and consuming a tremendous lot of old rubbish which had been accumulating for generations.


Edward sent down some new furniture and we furnished the house comfortably, but prior to this I should say I had the lady Miss Ingram, who was Aunties companion down for a week to clean and look after cleaning anything about the place.


Having done this we must needs have a house-warming and we arranged for my daughter Ella and her husband who were living at South Manor, Ruddington, and Edward and his wife to come down on the day by an earlier train, Aunty and my wife to come down later in the day. Aunty not knowing what was in preparation for her we thought to treat her to a great surprise. Rather unfortunately it turned out a very wet day and we got somewhat mixed up. It gave my poor old gee gee Dolly the opportunity of showing how rapidly she could pass backwards and forwards from Lowdham station.


We had prepared a good feast of roast beef and plum pudding and other good things, and although somewhat delayed in the commencement we finished up with a very good time.


Poor Aunty was rather flabbergasted but took it all very quietly saying very little, but I noticed that she was looking out for some of the things which were missing, I never let her know what was the end thereof.

This I learnt afterwards, although I thought we had made everything nice and clean; the first thing she did when we had all cleared off was to begin at the top of the house and clean everything over again. Alas, she did not live long to enjoy it as on September 27th 1901 she sat down to have her supper and died in her chair, at the age of 70 years and is buried at Woodborough cemetery.


At my father's death, my brother Samuel would be about 15 years of age; he had been working at the trade for a year or two and continued a year or two longer doing such jobs as came to hand. He then went to Nottingham as an improver and afterwards removed to Worksop where he continued for a good few years.


About the time of his marriage to Millicent Presswood of Worksop about the year 1860, he commenced in a small way at working on his own account, he afterwards built up a business as Cabinet Maker and Joiner, had a shop and premises in Bridge Street, Worksop, in the site of which is now the Market Place. There was born to them here six children; two of which died in infancy, three sons and one daughter are still living. Ernest the eldest is married, living in Edinburgh and has two sons. Percy the youngest is married and has two sons. Fred the second son and Kate the only daughter are living together at New Brighton, with whom the mother resided until her death a few years ago.


To continue with my brother, he removed to Liverpool and took a furniture business in St Annes Street which he carried on for some years, it was not a success as he was sadly deceived by a professed friend inducing him to take the business and was wretchedly deceived by the man from whom he bought it, eventually coming to the conclusion that it was best to dispose of it or sell out which he did at the expiration of his lease.


Arrangements were made for him to go to Woodborough and take up market gardening as Mr Southern was getting too feeble to look after things. The furniture was sent to Lowdham station, but before he could follow it he was taken ill and died.


At the time of my father's death I was about thirteen years of age, and a couple of years afterwards when my brother had left home to work at Nottingham, found me doing pretty nearly all the work in the place; there I learnt to cultivate the gardens, clip the hedges, plant and sow in the fields, to follow the plough, use the scythe and somehow manage to keep things in fairly good condition, whilst in the winter months I got a little schooling by tramping to Lowdham to a school kept by an old crank with a very high opinion of himself and his abilities, which strike me now as being very small indeed. At any rate it meant a six mile tramp every day, generally with a pastry in my pocket to hot on the stove for my dinner.


Before going in the morning there were one or two cows to clean out, milk and feed, and the same duties to perform when I returned home in the evening, but no home lessons. My ambition in these early days was to be a gardener, but my ardour was somewhat damped by the experience of my principal chum who went on trial to a nurseryman.


My mother was desirous that I should learn and follow the trade of my father; for this purpose I went to Derby with a view to an apprenticeship to a Mr Thompson who had a somewhat extensive business on the London Road. Having lived all my life amongst wood-working I fancied that I had gained some knowledge of the trade and was hoping in consequence to get better terms than the ordinary apprentices; this I failed to do and consequently returned home again.


My Uncle John who was still living and carrying on his wood-working business helped my with a little further experience and the following year I got work in the village which helped me along.


Well do I remember that summer; the working hours were from six to six, which meant being up at five in the morning, milking the cows and doing half an hour's walk before six o'clock.


The dinner hour was divided in this way, twenty minutes to eat, twenty minutes to rest, and twenty minutes cricket. After reaching home in the evening there was the milking and frequently while there was any light left I worked in the garden or field, with a day off now and again I managed to do all the work of the place, sometimes getting up at 3 o'clock in the morning and doing a couple of hours mowing or other work before turning out to do a day's work at the trade; occasionally I had a night off for cricket: the strange thing of all was I never knew what it was to feel tired.


In the autumn of this year I went to Worksop where my brother was working at the time and I put in the winter at an agriculture machine makers shop, sometimes working all night in order to finish work that was required.


The following Spring I removed to Carlton, four miles from Worksop. In the same shop as I, there were half a dozen young fellows about my age and here we have some rousing times. Although there was nothing vicious in the pranks we played and the games we carried on, yet there were many things we would rather did not see daylight. I remember this was the year the soldiers were returning from the Crimean War; in those days it was customary for them to tramp the country, not as now to be conveyed by rail from their port of embarkation to their destination.


Our shops were by the side of the road upon which many of them travelled, and day by day there were companies of soldiers sometimes on foot and sometimes on horse passing by. The condition of many of them was pitiful; we often used to throw coppers out of the shop window to them. I have also distinct recollections of the peace rejoicing, although I only took part in one. Almost every village and town in the Kingdom had its feast or rejoicing of some sort, but the village of Carlton appeared to be forgotten or the people in the village had not bestirred themselves to make any demonstration. Some of the young blunts thought it was about time they did and one Saturday evening there was a black flag hoisted on the top of the highest tree which stood on a hill. It could be seen for miles around, while the walls, large doors and such like places we decorated with inscriptions such as the following 'poor Carlton' 'no roast beef and plum pudding for Carlton'. This caused a considerable stir; everyone was enquiring what the black flag was for, for answer only to have the doors and walls pointed at.


However, the disgrace was wiped out one glorious summer's day; when at 4 o'clock in the morning we got on the Church tower and hung out flags all around, then set the bells ringing. We had previously prepared a good sized red, white and blue flag and your humble servant climbed the tree, pitched the old black flag down and hoisted the red, white and blue one in its place, there it remained to be blown to bits by wind and weather.


Throughout the day we were carrying on all sorts of games, tents had been erected on the lawn at the Hall and a sumptuous feast provided but all strong drinks debarred; here we stayed while daylight lasted and a jolly good time we had. Afterwards a select company of youths found their way to one of the public houses where we had previously ordered a good supper of roast beef and plum pudding which was washed down by a liberal amount of home brewed.


About this time work became slack, and after putting in some time at Worksop Manor I returned home in the early part of the next year.


It was while my brother and I were together at Worksop that we had a memorable walk home at Christmas, the distance being about 22 miles; we worked up till noon and started our journey about 3 o'clock. Our way led through part of the old "Birkland Forest", Edwinstowe, Rufford Abbey, and the White Post to Oxton. There was a slight sprinkling of snow on the ground when we reached the outskirts of the Birklands, it was just getting dusk and there were no less than nine different tracks, leading from the point of entrance, we had neither of us been this way before, and the question was, which is the right path? Perplexed I said "which way now Sam?" "I don't know" said he, but after pondering for a little while he said "they say when you are lost, set your walking stick up and see which way it falls", I said, "go on rear him up" which he did, needless to say it fell down. I said, "Go on lad we may as well go this way as any other". Providentially it was the right path. Had we taken to wrong one we might have wandered in the forest all night?


Upon a subsequent occasion on a bright summer's day I came to the same point myself, took a wrong path and was wandering about for hours and then only found myself out of the forest at the right point by getting instructions from someone I came across.


However, to continue, my brother and I found ourselves at the village of Edwinstowe where we got refreshments and then started for our long tramp. After passing the entrance to Rufford Abbey we had before us a stretch of about 7 miles, upon which I do not remember to have seen a house. It was a switch-back road with loose gravel surfaced and a nice sprinkling of snow upon it. If ever I tramped a hard weary 7 miles in my life that was it. Eventually we reached the White Post a welcome inn by the wayside and we were not long before we found ourselves inside with a plate of bread and cheese and a pint of beer. After this it was better travelling. We reached Woodborough somewhere about 10 o'clock.


However, we must return to the time I left Worksop and went home; I was home for a month or two doing such jobs as I could lay my hand on: after this I went to work at Southwell, my going there was somewhat singular. My brother had a friend Mr Harley who had lately gone to reside there and he wrote to my brother saying there was a job for him at a builder there if he could go at once, but two or three days previously Sam had gone elsewhere to work. I remember I was digging in the garden when my Mother brought the letter to me and I said "shall I go" which was rather risky, I was not yet 20 years of age and not at all proficient as a workman, but go I did and soon found out that I had much to learn and no-one to ask in my difficulties. One of the first things I was given to do was to make a sash window frame. I had never made one in my life, but I went and looked at one and took stock, then set to work to make it; it had only one error and you may be quite sure I never made the same blunder again. I went at somewhat reduced wages, but before I had been there three months they voluntarily raised my wages to the same as the men who had been on the ground for years. It was there that I met your Grandmother, see what great things turn upon small events. It was my mere chance that I went to Southwell at all, yet my whole life was affected by that small turn in events.


Here as elsewhere throughout my whole life upon going to a fresh place, the first thing I did was to seek out the Chapel and the associations connected therewith. The first Sunday morning I was there, it was School Anniversary, I first saw Nancy Sandover who afterwards became my wife, and I think it was a question of love at first sight. I remember the dress she wore very well but cannot describe it to you.

After that first meeting we were thrown together at various meetings and friends’ houses; in the autumn of that year we became engaged, her father had a fairly good position as Agriculture Gardener in two or three large gardens, one they called "The Old Palace Garden", another was called "The Strawberry Garden", in this we spent some very pleasant hours although I dare say both strawberries and other fruit suffered in consequence.


I continued to work at Southwell until the autumn of the year 1858 then work became slack, I went home did various jobs during the winter returning to Southwell again the following spring. We had arranged to be married sometime in the July, had taken a little house, prepared with our own hands the bedroom and sitting room and got together a few articles of furniture when work became scarce and I was out of a job.


My brother Sam was then at Worksop working for a Mr Gregg, he then wrote me saying I could have work there, which offer I accepted; after being there a few weeks took a little house and had my furniture, goods and chattels such as they were brought over, fixed the wedding for the beginning of August. Which wedding came off thus-wise? My brother and I hired a little four-wheeler and pony, got up early in the morning and started between 4 and 5 o'clock for Southwell. The drive was about 22 miles, our steed proved to be a very slow one; in fact I think we walked most of the way there that is with the pony or ourselves. We had reckoned upon being there by 8 o'clock in the morning, we did not arrive there until 9, they were getting very fidgety.


We were married in the Cathedral Church, my sister Mary, the bride's sister Mary, being bridesmaids, my brother Sam acted as best man the bride being given away by her father. We then repaired to the old home, and had what was called the wedding breakfast but was really a good substantial meal of the old English fare "roast beef and plum pudding".


About 4 o'clock in the afternoon we started on our wedding trip. I may say that the sun shone on us beautifully in the morning but it was raining heavily in the afternoon. We were going to spend our honeymoon at Worksop in our own little house and we had before us a drive of 22 miles with a gee-gee which you could not get more than 4 to 5 miles an hour out of at the best, and it rained all the way.


We then reached Edwinstowe we put the horse up and had a fairly good meal staying about an hour, we had still 9 or 10 miles before us and a horse that was lazy and tired; before we reached Worksop it was dark as pitch and the last mile or two before reaching Worksop I had to walk and lead the beast, because I could not see the hedges. Before reaching home we just escaped driving into the canal.


However, all's well that ends well. I may say we had a pretty good load so there was some excuse for the poor old pony, having done his 44 miles, during the day. Well as to furnishing I think the whole bag of tricks did not cost more than £16, except what the bride had prepared beforehand in the way of linen, crocks, etc., and I think we must have been pretty good plucked ones to take it on, on wages 24 shillings a week.


Well, we remained at Worksop about 2 years when work again became scarce, my master failed; I got work here and there for a while.


On June 9th 1861 our first baby was born which was your Father, [father of Marion K. Lee] poor little squealer had scarcely ever ceased crying night or day for the first two months of his existence, of course we had a very happy time, I remember at the end of the month the nurse left us, the mother was not able to walk downstairs, I had got a very bad gathered hand which I carried in a sling, on the other arm I carried her downstairs on the Sunday morning for the first time.


My wife had a distance cousin at that time living at Oldbury who was foreman for Chambers and Marsh, timber merchants, builders etc., and my wife had frequently visited them, and we wrote him asking if there was any opening likely to be permanent and where he could place me. He wrote saying, "come as soon as you like, I can place you", which offer I accepted. Of course this meant breaking up my home until I could settle things, your Grandma went home to Southwell for a few weeks, taking the baby with her, he was very ill and they thought could not live from day to day but he recovered and throve and became as good a baby as anybody need wish to have, while I found my way into that abominably dirty, uncivilised, hateful place called Oldbury.


Prior to this we had always prided ourselves upon our white linen caps and aprons to work in, but I went out the first morning fully equipped and came back at night black as a sweep, as every bit of timber taken out of the perch was covered with soot. There were no sidewalks in the street, the road metal was ashes, and the road was some inches deep with black mud from which there was no escape.


I stayed with Mr Sandover, the cousin the first week and first Sunday I spent with Rev’d. W.L. Watkinson who is now well known as Dr Watkinson, he dined with us. I remember his lady love who was living on the opposite side of the road. I walked with him to his night appointment some two or three miles out and back again.


A week or two at Oldbury was quite enough. Mr Harvey for whom I was led to go to Southwell had removed to Birmingham, we had corresponded and he wrote and asked me to come and spend a Sunday with him which I did, the first Sunday in September 1861. After a few inquiries I had work in Birmingham with Mr Stafford for whom I worked until the June of 1867; when I commenced business in my own account.


Joiners wages were then 26/- [26 shillings] per week, and the hours were from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. with two hours off for meals; and four o'clock on Saturdays. After working a while on those terms I got on piece work which was more an idea for the master to get more out of us than as supposed, to be any benefit to the workman. However, I began to use my brains as well as my hands and made the brains save the hands: my wages soon began to mount up, seeing which he wanted to alter the terms, which he did for a while and I submitted; this was repeated more than once upon various pretences, he said the other men were dissatisfied because I made so much more than they did, until eventually I told them that I would not work any longer on day work at the price the other men were working: he agreed to let me do jobs on piece and if needful to send me on day work, but I should have sixteen pence per hour.


For a long time I used to go at 9 o'clock in the morning, come home at 5 o'clock in the afternoon and had two guineas and upwards per week, more I dare not make, because of the other men on the premises who were making 26/-. We'd many a squabble and many a stiff fight in words, but I always managed to come out by some means top-dog.


One Saturday when he paid me he said "well, Will, I suppose you and I must part". I had asked no questions, but I think my reply was "oh very well" and I hadn't left him five minutes when the thought occurred to me; "this is providence directing you to begin business on your own account", which thought remained with me during the next week and there came a firm conviction in my own mind that it was the right step to take. Great events again turn upon little things.


When he paid me the next Saturday night, I said "well, goodbye Governor", "what do you mean" he said. "Why you told me last Saturday night that we had to part". Oh but he said "that's all nonsense". "Oh but I said it's too late to recall it now, I'm going to have a venture on my own". Well I'd saved a bit of money and my old Uncle John had died and he left me a bit, and I commenced by taking a bit of land on the Aston Road building a workshop on it, and bought a boat load of bricks from the man I had been working for at Oldbury. I got a man to lay them; pretty nearly all the rest of the work I did myself.


I picked up odd jobs here and there, and found I could double my wages; I them estimated for four houses at Nechells which was a stiff job, as I'd everything to learn except the woodwork. My old master behaved very creditably, he sent for me and told me any assistance he could give me in estimating, he should be pleased to do so, and he gave me some hints which were very useful to me. Small beginnings and a hard struggle lay before me.


A year or two after I had a very bad attack of rheumatic fever from which it was not thought I should recover, at the same time I had what was for me a large contract in hand - down in Digbeth, which might have turned out very disastrous; but amongst other things found under the ground we had to excavate were a few tons of old lead, it helped considerably however, and I came through that alright.


Some few years after there was a great boom in the building trade. Price of materials went up considerably, workmen were independent, scarce and drunken; and for a considerable time I couldn't secure a contract that I thought would pay. I became almost sole workmen upon the premises, then, within a short space of time I secured three contracts: men who had been doing so much failed. Prices dropped as rapidly as they had risen and I made more in twelve months than I should have done if I'd been full the two years previously.


There certainly seemed providence in this, as upon many other occasions, where I had lost contracts about which at the time I felt vexed, but before those who had secured them had completed, I was thankful that I had failed to get them. Many others came to me which proved more profitable than those could have been. During the meantime, and just before I commenced business on my own a baby girl was born to us at Nechells, this was in the March of 1867. And in the March of 1869, before I had recovered from rheumatic fever another baby girl, your Auntie Gertie, was born in Thomas Street, Aston.

The following year I built two houses in the Aston Road in front of the workshop, into one of which we went to live ourselves; and there we remained for about twenty-four years. In the meantime I had secured the lease of about 1½ acres of land on Gravelly Hill and about the year 1880, upon which were two houses partly built, these I completed and built two more, which are known as Highland Villas and Sherwood Villas. Also I had taken on other land in the Aston Road and Avenue Road which I had filled in with shops.


I built my own house and two adjoining at Gravelly Hill, also the three cottages in the Avenue Road upon land which had been my garden when I was living there: one of the three at Gravelly Hill by arrangement was your Father's for which he pays me a ground rent.


Some two or three years before leaving Aston Road your Grandma died after a very long and painful illness. Afterwards I married Miss Soar who died in 1911. My daughter Ella had married George Arthur Gregg of Nottingham in the year [----], they went to reside at Bulcote, Notts. Afterwards removing to West Bridgford, and from thence to South Manor, Ruddington, Nottinghamshire. They afterwards removed to Radcliffe where Arthur died - leaving two sons - Donald and Malcolm.


My daughter Gertie was married to the Rev’d. W.H. Parr in the year 1893, her first residence was Liverpool, her second Cardiff, her third Leytonstone, her fourth New Cross, their fifth South Norwood, and their sixth Wandsworth where your Uncle was taken ill and died in the April of 19[--]; leaving one son by a former wife and one daughter Marjorie. Gertie who was very ill at the time with tubercular affection came here bringing with her Marjorie; for a time we had hopes that she might recover but, in the Autumn of the year became worse, and died the following March. This was a very sad time for us as within twelve months there had passed away Gertie's husband, Ella's husband, my wife and Gertie. Ella came to live with me again in the following year, and also Marjorie and the rest you know.


Chapter IV


I am afraid the narrative of my life in the last chapter will leave the impression that my life had been a somewhat hard and unhappy one: this is very far from being the case. Upon the whole I should think that it has been a life full of blessings; many bright spots and of some little service in the world. The one thing that has made all the difference is "the peace of God which passeth all understanding, and the gracious sense of the living unfailing presence of God".


As a boy I have reason to believe that I was one of the most tiresome, and mischievous youths that could be found, but not without leanings towards better things, surrounded by goodly influences, and associations. There are a few years that I look back upon with regret from the age of about fifteen to nineteen when I was somewhat wild and wilful, although never falling into gross mischief, or immorality. But I got linked up with associates who frequented the public houses and were up to all manner of wild and foolish tricks.


Then came the great change which has affected the whole of my life. I was spending a few days at Matlock, the beauties of which were a revelation to me; the one thought came "how good God is", and I ought to live and serve him, but I don't, but I will, and I sought and found forgiveness for the past. "The peace of Good and there followed a changed life".


This was I believe the direct answer to my Mother's prayers. I was at this time what might be called an uncouth, raw, country youth: what reading I had done was of The Family Herald type, and in my case certainly old things had passed away, and if all things were not become new they were on the way to becoming new.

The only education that I had had was at the Village School, where only the three R's were taught as they were then called; reading, writing, arithmetic, and those very imperfectly; and a few months with an old fogey who open a school first in Lowdham Chapel, and then removed to Epperstone Chapel. Of self-improvement there had been none.


Now I turned my thoughts to other things, discarded all light and trashy reading; got a taste for reading of a higher class; took a delight in theological works. This I persuaded throughout my life, to the great benefit of body, mind, and soul. The worship and service of God became a joy to me; indeed it has been the great joy of my life.


Before leaving Worksop I was asked to become a candidate on the "Local Preachers Plan", I was given a note to preach and took several services there. I presume this information was conveyed in my note of removal when I came to Birmingham and joined the old church at Belmont Row, in which I have continued as a member, and local preacher to this date, which is 57 years, and in which I have held every office in the Church to which a layman is appointed.


I began to take services soon after I came to Birmingham; my first service was at Water Orton in a cottage in the morning, and the little old chapel at Curdworth in the evening; shortly after this I was appointed class leader at Lord Street, where I continued to lead a class for 15 or 16 years. My class commenced with less than a dozen members; before the end of the second year I had 40.

When I first went there, we had a small room one third of the size of the present one. Our congregation, and school increased until the room would not hold them; although we were a feeble folk we set to and worked, and begged, and gave, and prayed until we got the new room.


As my family grew up I came to the conclusion it was advisable to take them to Belmont Row, although Lord Street was considered to be part of the Belmont Row Society.


I became one of the trustees of the Chapel about the year 1874 or 1875. I was made Treasurer of the trust in 1878, which office I still hold. I have had three terms as Circuit Steward, two years about 30 years ago, and 8 of the last 10 years.


At the commencement of my Christian career, I took as my motto, Proverbs: 3. chapter, 5 and 6 verses, and I can sum up the whole of my life in the 15th verse of the 91st Psalm.



Dictated to his granddaughter Marion K. Lee shortly before he died in 1920.


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