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Monday, November 21, 2011

George Tucker 1832-1914 - from agricultural Wiltshire to industrial Southampton

Linda and Margaret outside St Laurence's Downton

Great-great grandfather, George Tucker (1832-1914) brings alive a period of English history where great changes took place. By the time he was ready for work, the economic life of the nation was centred around great advances in transport and manufacturing rather than agriculture.

Downton during the Cuckoo Fair, May 2008
George Tucker, grandfather of Sydney George (1883-1919) and Albert Arthur William Tucker (1885-1964) was born in Hamptworth, Downton, Wiltshire in 1832, in a period of great turmoil. His parents were George Tucker (1802-1886) and Hannah Isaac (1800-1872).

Downton, eight miles south of the cathedral city of Salisbury and on the northern border of the New Forest, is a very pretty place – still just a small market town - which I visited in May 2008, together with my new found cousin Linda, the grand-daughter of “Bert” Tucker.

However in 1832 when George was born, Downton was a place of misery for many of its inhabitants, especially for the agricultural labourers such as George Tucker senior (b 1802) and his family, wife Mary and sons and daughter Ann, George and William.

Swing riots - contemporary etching
In the 1830’s Wiltshire was in the grip of a severe depression, caused mostly by the enclosure of common land – causing loss of farming rights of villagers; poor harvests between 1828 and 1830; and the introduction of farm machinery, which took away the jobs of many farm labourers.

Burning a hayrick
Riots spread to Downton, with machinery attacked. These riots were just some of the “Swing Riots”, which commenced in Kent and spread across to Wiltshire and further west. They were widespread in Wiltshire. The government response was harsh, and many of the rioters were sentenced to transportation to Australia, although later pardoned. Although some of those transported to Australia came from Downton, the Tucker family was not amongst them, nor amongst those convicted.

But living conditions must have been hard for the Tuckers. According to George junior’s marriage certificate, his father was a woodsman. Wages for Wiltshire farm labourers were 8/- per week, much lower than elsewhere in the country.

Many families were on parish relief at the time, and in 1835 a small group of families left for Canada. They wrote with enthusiasm to their families and neighbours back in Downton.
The parish vestry members were concerned about the high levels of relief being paid by the Downton parish to families. At this time, about 50-100 family men were permanently out of work. They saw emigration as a solution to their problems.

The following notice was published:
Downton February 28th 1836
Notice is hereby given, that all Fathers of Families, and all single persons, who wish to emigrate to Canada, are to attend a meeting of the vestry, tomorrow at three o'clock in the afternoon, at the vestry room ,at the church, for the purpose of securing their passage and other necessary arrangements
By order of the Select Vestry.

About 220 people from Downton took up the parish offer to go to Canada. This represented 1 in 10 of the population.

However, again the Tucker family was not represented amongst the emigrants.


In 1841 , the Tucker family was split into two households. George Tucker senior and his widowed mother Mary (nee Rice, a pauper), his sons George (9) and William (6) and niece Caroline (16) were living at Hamptworth, a hamlet between Downton and Landford where George senior had been baptized.

Meanwhile, his wife Hannah Tucker (nee Isaac) was living at Landford Lodge with her daughters Ann (11) and Mary (1). Daughter Mary (born in 1840) disappears without trace in later census records.

The household was back living together in 1851. George junior was listed in the 1851 census as an agricultural labourer, living with his parents and sister Ann, who married the following year. However, work cannot have been plentiful because when he married in Southampton in 1854, he was living at 29 Union Street, Southampton and described himself as a labourer.

In 1852, George’s sister Ann Tucker (b 1829) married George Dibden at Downton, and by 1881 was living at Nomansland, just to the south of Landford. She had five children. There are still Dibdens in the area.

Brother William became a servant with a distant relative at West Wellow, and by 1857 had moved to London to become a fireman. He died in West Ham, Essex in 1881, having fathered two daughters to his wife Emma (nee Arden, formally Garbett) - Alice (1867) and Ellen Elizabeth (1869).

George married Sophia Jefferis, a 20 year old from Fordingbridge, Hampshire in the Southampton registry office on 6th June, 1854. She too was living in Southampton at 85 James Street. She gave no occupation. Two of her siblings were her witnesses.

High Street, Southampton in 19th century
In 1858, Sophia gave birth to George William, the first of three children and the only boy. He was our great-grandfather. Kate Louisa followed in 1862 and Ellen Jane in 1869. Ellen was known as Nellie as an adult.

By 1861, the family was living at 9 The Back of the Walls, and George was a “shopman”. He then became a coal porter, an occupation he gave in every census from 1871 to 1901. On his death certificate he was described as a “retired stevedore” so it is likely he worked as a coal porter on the docks.

Needless to say, George was a man who personified the industrial revolution, seeing great changes in both his lifestyle and his occupation over the second half of the eighteenth century.

Coal porters in London at same time
He appears to have been a very stable man, living in the same house at 9 Bell Street, Southampton until his death in 1914. Unadventurous maybe? His wife Sophia lived there until her death in 1922. My father vaguely remembers visiting his great-grandmother there, probably not long before she died.
George's Bible, 1879
Sophia presented him with a bible in 1879, for his 47th birthday. She describes herself as his affectionate wife. So in all probability, they had a good marriage. The birthdates of their children were also listed.

They had plenty of sadness though. Their elder daughter Kate Louisa died at age 17, and Sophia lived to see her younger daughter Nellie die before her in 1918. Their daughter-in-law Agnes Mary Tucker also died before them in 1912.

Her son-in-law Donald McInnes (Nellie’s widower) was present at her death. Maybe he lived with the old lady. My father Bob remembers him, prior to Bob’s departure for Australia in 1925. He left Edith Annie Tucker (Bob’s mother) his few possessions. Certainly, Nellie (Ellen Jane) was living with her parents in 1901, probably whilst Don, a seaman was away. She was also living there in 1911 , with her employment listed as a fruiter’s assistant.

George Tucker died at home on 6th November, 1914 of chronic bronchitis. His daughter Nellie McInnes was present at his death.

During his lifetime he would have seen the movement of the population from village to industrial towns, the growth of the railways and the sea ports, the devastation from the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and the beginning of the Great War. He lived through the reign of three monarchs – Victoria, Edward VII and George V. Even though he was a general labourer (as described on his wife’s death certificate in 1922) and probably lived very simply in poor housing, his living standards would have increased significantly since his childhood in Hamptworth, Wiltshire.

In common with most towns in the early 19th century Southampton was dreadfully unsanitary. The improvement commissioners only paved and cleaned the main streets and the back streets were very dirty. Out of 230 streets in the 1840's 145 were without sewers. In one case 77 people shared one toilet. Not surprisingly in 1849 there was a cholera epidemic in Southampton, which killed 240 people. 
Life in Victorian Southampton gradually improved. After 1850 the town council took over the duties of the improvement commissioners. From then on all streets were cleaned and sewers were enlarged and improved. Nevertheless there was another epidemic of cholera in Southampton in 1865, which killed 151 people. At first poor people obtained their water from conduits, wells or pumps but in 1888 a new water works opened at Otterbourne. By that time most people had piped water.  Quoted from: http://www.localhistories.org/southampton.html

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