Monday, August 7, 2017

Muslin by the yard - John Mason's trial

Limerick c 1900
John Mason was 18 years old when he was transported to Australia aboard the Parmelia. Until recently all that I knew about his crime came from his convict records, which stated that he had been sentenced in Limerick for 'stealing cotton'. The Limerick prison records (available at Find My Past) showed that he had been tried on 27 June 1833 and sentenced on 11 July, but gave no other details.

This week the British Newspaper Archive posted a new batch of pages from Irish newspapers, including the Limerick Chronicle, and I was finally able to discover a little more about John's trial. On 13 July 1833, under the heading "Limerick City Sessions" this appears:
John Mason, for stealing 29 yards of muslin goods from Thomas Evans.
James Evans sworn - He was behind the counter when he heard a pane of glass broken in the window; jumped over the counter and saw the prisoner outside with the piece of muslin in his hand; his brother coming out, they took the muslin from him.
George Evans sworn - corroborated the evidence of his brother, whom he saw struggling with the prisoner outside the window.
Thomas Evans; fully confirmed the testimony of the two preceding witnesses, young boys, who gave their evidence in a most correct and intelligent manner. Verdict - Guilty.
The sentence, transportation for seven years, given a few days later, appears on page 3 of the same paper.

Since reading this I've been trying to find out more about the shop owned by Thomas Evans. Where was it? What did it sell? On a genealogy site I found a Thomas Evans in Limerick with sons named George and James, born in  1817 and 1818 respectively. That seemed promising

The Evan's family in the 1846 Slater's directory p 264
Then I came across an entry in the 1846 Slater's National Commercial Directory of Ireland for Thomas Evans in William St, Limerick  (pg 264). But according to this he was an ironmonger, and the correct and intelligent George and James were hardwaremen in Rutland Street. Another entry showed Thomas Evans and his sons also held a license to sell gunpowder (p 274). It didn't seem likely that either of these stores would sell muslin by the yard. Had Thomas Evans changed his business in the thirteen years since 1833, or was this a different family?

George St, Limerick c 1880
The mystery was solved when I noticed a Hannah Evans listed as the owner of a haberdashery store in George Street, Limerick. Thomas Evans' wife and James and George's mother was named Hannah, so I'm guessing that it was the Evans' haberdashery shop rather than the hardware or gunpowder store that John Mason robbed. 

John was not the only Limerick resident sentenced on 11 July to being transported. Just below the newspaper account of John's trial is one for Mary Lynch, who stole a coat. She freely admitted that she was guilty, adding that she had deliberately stolen the coat in the hope of being transported, since so many of her family and friends were now in New South Wales. She was found guilty and had her wish granted.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Annie Reed

Market place, Barnard Castle 
(cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Ben Gamble )
Now that I've traced back through Alfred Pearson Bentley's forebears, it's time to have a look at his wife Annie Reed. As I've mentioned before, Alfred and Annie were married in Dewsbury in Yorkshire in 1869, and moved to Salford in Lancashire before 1872. In 1879, soon after the birth of their fifth child, Alfred sailed to America, apparently promising to send for his family as soon as he was settled. Instead he entered into a bigamous marriage in Boston with another Annie (Anne Jane Smith from Cheshire in England) and poor Annie in Salford either believed, or made believe, that he had died in the USA.

The castle at Barnards Castle
photo by Francis Hannaway
via Wikimedia Commons
At first glance it's not clear how Alfred and Annie Reed could have met, since he was born in Hunslet, part of the city of Leeds in West Yorkshire and she grew up in Barnard Castle, a market town in Teesdale, County Durham. However, her father, Henry Reed (b 1804), a carpet weaver, originally came from Leeds, so perhaps Annie's childhood family maintained some connections with Henry's family in Yorkshire. Her older half-sister, Jane, also married in Dewsbury in Yorkshire in 1853 and went on to live there, providing another connection to that county.

Annie's childhood

Annie's mother, Margaret Waite, was Henry's second wife. His first wife, Elizabeth Stout, bore him at least six children, all girls, but only two, Sarah (b 1827) and Jane (1831), survived childhood. Elizabeth herself died soon after the birth of the last ill-fated child in 1834.

Annie was the youngest of Margaret's four children. Hannah (b 1838) and John (1841) were a part of her childhood, but Annis (1844) died soon after birth. Henry, Annie's father, died in 1859 when she was about 13 years old.

In the 1861 census she was the only child still living at home with Margaret. The financial hardship caused by the loss of Henry's income might have led to Annie being sent to her relatives in Yorkshire, or perhaps she found work as a servant there. Her mother continued to live in Barnards Castle until her death in 1875.

Marriage to Alfred Pearson Bentley

When Annie married Alfred at the age of 23, she most likely thought her chances of having a more comfortable life than her mother were fairly good. Living standards for the working class in England had been improving over the previous years, and Alfred's skills as an engraver gave him good prospects for employment. He may well have inherited his father Ben's ambitiousness.

Their first child, James Henry was born in Dewsbury in 1870, and they were still living there at the time of the 1871 census. By the time their second child, Margaret Ann, was born they had moved to Hollinwood St, in the Ordsell district of the city of Salford, Lancashire. Their neighbours in this area of booming population included a "gold beater" and a lithographic printer along with masons, bricklayers, shop keepers and mill hands.

Sadly little James died in 1873. The following year Annie gave birth to another son, John Alfred, then Walter Horatio in 1876 and Ernest Reed in 1878. It was then that Alfred senior decided to go to Boston.


Perhaps he and Annie really believed that he was going to find a better life for his family in America and they would join him there, but then, somehow, he just got sidetracked from his plans after he arrived. Or perhaps the promise of a better life was just the story he told Annie, while secretly planning all along to meet up with Miss Annie Jane Smith in America. Or possibly his marriage with Annie had fallen apart and they tacitly agreed that, since they couldn't afford a divorce, he should conveniently disappear to America.

Whatever the case, Annie was still describing herself as 'married' on the 1881 census. By 1891 she had begun to call herself a widow. Whether she had received news that led her to believe this to be the case, or simply found it best to make this her story, she clearly didn't expect Alfred to return. Did she ever learn that he and his new wife and son had returned from America in the late 1880's and were living just across the county border in Cheshire? We'll probably never know.

Life must have been hard for Annie as a single mother with four children. In the 1881 census the family had an elderly woman, Jane Bastow, boarding with them, but she was on Parish relief, so she couldn't have provided much in the way of rent.

Arthur St, Pendleton (just north of Liverpool St)
from 1930 map of Manchester*
Click to enlarge.
By 1891 the family had moved to Arthur St in Pendleton, between Langworthy Park and the Salford cattle markets. Annie was taking in washing and ironing to make ends meet, and had another lodger staying with her. Any hope she might have had of her children having a better standard of living had gone west with Alfred. Nineteen year old Margaret had by now left home and was working as a servant, and the two older boys had jobs, John as a bricklayer's labourer and Walter as an office boy. A year later Margaret, still single, gave birth to a son, John Henry. She never married.

Annie died in 1899 at the age of 53. The doctor who wrote the death certificate gave "cirrhosis of the liver, ascites, syncope" as the cause of death. (Thanks to my cousin David for this information). It's impossible to know whether the cirrhosis and the associated ascites (fluid in the abdomen) were the result of alcohol abuse or some other cause, but her last few years must have been spent in very poor health. Neither the registrar nor the person providing the information were aware that Alfred was still alive and well. Annie was described on the death register as "widow of Alfred Pearson Bentley, an engraver journeyman".

*Map extracted from:
The site has a wonderful collection of old maps from all over Britain.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Harriet Smith, gentleman's wife

St James Church, Tong, built 1727
 © Copyright Humphrey Bolton
licensed for reuse under this CC Licence
Harriet Smith is one of those people whose story can only be told in terms of "daughter of..", "wife of...", mother of...". Anything we know of her character or actions has to be deduced or guessed.

She was born in Armley, near Leeds in Yorkshire, on 18 July 1817, the second daughter of James Smith and Martha Naylor. Her baptism in September that year took place in the Bethel Independent Chapel in Leeds. Her mother's family, the Naylors, were stonemasons from Pudsey, a market town between Leeds and Bradford. Her father's background is obscured by the difficulty of accurately tracing a name like James Smith.

Harriet married Ben Bentley in October 1839. The ceremony took place at St James church in the tiny village of Tong, chosen perhaps because it was mid-way between Pudsey and Ben's home town of Gildersome. Their first child, William, was born the following April. Perhaps Harriet had a miscarriage or still birth between William and her next child, Martha Ann, born in 1845. John Henry arrived in 1847, Alfred Pearson in 1849 and daughter Harriet in 1851. Then came a twelve year gap before Walter Smith was born in 1863.

I've described previously how Ben Bentley became a little too ambitious in making money and in 1856 found himself sentenced to four years penal servitude. He was in Portland prison in Dorset, on the south coast, from 1857 until December 1860. For his wife Harriet the whole experience must have caused both shame and anxiety. She would have had little or no opportunity to visit Ben so far away from Yorkshire. Did she miss him? Was their re-union a joyful one, or did Harriet take a while to come around to accepting Ben back into the marriage bed? We can only guess.

The death in 1861 of her daughter Martha, still in her teens, must have been a great sadness for Harriet. More sadness would have surrounded the bankruptcy in 1865 of her son William. Her first grandchild, as far as I can tell, arrived in 1870 with the birth of a son, James, to Alfred Pearson Bentley and his first (and only legitimate) wife Annie Reed. Several more grandchildren followed.

Harriet died in Dewsbury on 19 December 1876 at the age of 59. She was buried in the Soothill Nether cemetery at Earls Heaton, and the burial is recorded in the Dewsbury Quaker records. The record notes that she was "NM", not a member. Ben's burial, twenty one years later, appears in the same records without the "NM", so perhaps he was, or became, a member. Less than twelve months after Harriet's death he remarried.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Whybrew family past and present

This is a rather special post. A few weeks ago I received an email from Dawn Spradlin, who introduced herself as the great great granddaughter of Jeremiah Whybrew, David Whybrew's older brother. She had come across this site and realised that we must be related. I asked if she would be willing to write something about her research into her own family's history, or share some photos, and to my delight she said she would. Here's what she sent me.


Finding ancestors today is at our fingertips, through the internet, and that is how I met Stella. My daughter, Erin, researched the English Whybrew line of my great great grandfather, Jeremiah Whybrew, who immigrated to NY from Liverpool and settled in Oro, Simcoe, Ontario, Canada in 1851. He travelled on a ship named the Forest Queen along with his girlfriend, Hannah Leatherdale and 16 members of the Leatherdale family.

The Crown Inn, Wormingford, and Whybrew's house opposite.
Jeremiah is mentioned in chapter 5 of Stella’s book, “Susan”. He spent his childhood living in Wormingford, Essex, England along with his family, James (father), Sarah (mother), and siblings including his little brother David. The 1841 census states that they lived opposite the Crown Inn, which is still operating, having been built in the 1600’s.

In 1851 Jeremiah’s mother and father had died, his sisters had gone into service, Jeremiah had boarded the Forest Queen and little 10 year old David had gone into a work house. My heartfelt curiosity about a little boy enduring the workhouse all alone prompted many internet searches, until I found Stella’s Clogs and Clippers blog, with a wealth of information about David and his wife Susan Mason, Stella's great great grandmother.

Stella brought Susan Mason alive in her book "Susan". It was a real page turner for me and brought me closer and more connected to the Whybrews, along with the added benefit of meeting (via email) a current living relative.

Lumber camp, Oro
I can only imagine how my great great grandfather Jeremiah and his new wife, Hannah, coped with their first harsh Canadian winter in Oro, Simcoe, Canada. The area was booming with lumber camps, ore mining camps, shipping and railroads along the Great lakes.

Hannah died in 1867 at 38 after giving birth to a daughter, Emily. Jeremiah was distraught and his children were absorbed into other families. Jeremiah died drunk and prostrate in a snowbank in 1878. He was 43. All the children survived and moved to Escanaba and Gladstone Michigan. 

Vira Whybrew
My grandmother, Vira Whybrew, was born in Escanaba in 1894. She fell in love with an amateur baseball player and moved to Chicago where I grew up. My Whybrew line ends here.

The Gladstone Butchers baseball team

Emily Whybrew Alger
Once again heartfelt curiosity overcame me regarding Emily (my great aunt who died in 1938 in Los Angeles, CA ) and her history prompted me to do several internet searches until I found a living Whybrew. His grandfather and my great grandfather were two of Jeremiah’s children raised by other families.

To actually meet living relatives while following clues and instincts about the past is an amazing gift of this technological age, recharging our curiosity and discovering the links to each other.

Dawn Spradlin
Exeter, New Hampshire

Do you have information, stories, or photos relevant to any of the people and families mentioned here on Clogs and Clippers that you would like to share? If you do, I'd love to hear from you. You can use the contact form on the right to send me a brief message and I'll get back to you by email.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

William Bentley, tailor of Gildersome

Drawing of the first patented lockstitch sewing machine, 
invented in 1845 by Elias Howe and patented in 1846, 
15 years after William Bentley's death. He would have
done all his tailoring work by hand.
After posting a couple of articles about Ben Bentley my plan was to say something about his forebears and those of Harriet Smith, his wife. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot to say with any certainty about Ben's parents. 

His father, William Bentley, was born in Gildersome near Leeds and was baptised on Christmas day, 1785, at the parish church in nearby Batley. He was the son of Samuel Bentley, a clothier of Gildersome, and his wife Hannah Clough.

The baptismal records of several of William's children show that he was married to "Ann Wildrick", daughter of John Wildrick. I haven't been able to trace this Wildrick family or the marriage between William and Ann with any certainty. The only Ann Wildrick I've come across lived in Fishlake, near Doncaster, which is quite a long way from Gildersome and Leeds.

Possibly Wildrick is a variation on Weldrake, with several families by that name (or something similar) living in the Gildersome area. In 1785 a Nancy Weldrick, daughter of John Weldrick was baptised in Birstall, in the Cleckheaton parish, which is not far from Gildersome. Nancy is sometimes used as a diminutive form of Ann. Could this be "Ann Wildrick"?

Curiously, the only possible marriage I've come across for William and Ann, or Nancy, occurred in Oldham, Lancashire. William Bentley, tailor, "of Royton" (sic) married a Nancy Weldrake there on 3 June 1806. Unfortunately no details are given about their ages or their fathers' names. This date would fit in well with the dates of their children's births, but begs the question of why they would go to Oldham to marry. Was William there on business? Were they avoiding marrying in Gildersome for some reason? Or was this another couple entirely? For now it remains a mystery, and I'd be happy to hear any suggestions.

All the children of William and Ann were born in Gildersome. Matthew, the eldest, was born in 1808 and became a tailor like his father. John (1811) Ann (1813) and William (1815) followed before Ben arrived in 1819.

William's name appears in the 1826 General and Commercial Directory for the Borough of Leeds as one of the two tailors living in Gildersome, the other being William Dixon. In the 1830 Leeds and Clothing Directory he's listed as Wm. Bentley & Son, tailor (& draper). He probably had a shop front somewhere close to the Town Green, and would have sold fabric as well as making up clothing on commission and perhaps doing repairs. The first practical and commercially available sewing machine didn't appear until 1846, so he would have done everything by hand.

William died on 4 August 1831 at the relatively young age of 46. According to the Leeds Patriot and Advertiser on 20 August, he died "after a lingering illness". Ann, his wife, died in Gildersome in December 1849.

Image: By Frank Puterbaugh Bachman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

And it's done!

View the book
The book I've been writing about Susan Mason and her family is finally complete and published on Amazon worldwide. It's available as an e-book which can be read on any Kindle device or Kindle app. A paperback version is also available (although sadly not through the Australian Amazon site, which doesn't stock printed books yet). I'm still looking into other e-book options such as epub and ibooks.

I hope if you've enjoyed reading my articles about the Mason and Whybrew families here on Clogs and Clippers you will find this much expanded and chronological version of their stories interesting and enjoyable. The book has extensive endnotes and a bibliography.

I've had great fun writing it. My sincere thanks to all who have helped with the research, editing, and revising of the book. Thanks especially to Katie for the cover and Amy for her editing.

For UK readers, the Kindle edition is available here.
For customers of the Australian Amazon site, it can be found here.

Visit my new "author page" on Amazon for more information.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Almost there

My book about Susan Mason and her family is finally complete and almost ready to launch. In fact it's already sitting on the Kindle Direct Publishing page on Amazon. Once I set a price, then hit the "publish" button, it will be on it's way into the world as an ebook. I'm just waiting for confirmation from a couple of people that they're happy for their names to appear on the acknowledgements page. No doubt I should have thought to ask them much sooner.

In the meantime, here's a preview of the wonderful cover that Katie Stewart designed for me. The image is a detail from a painting by S.T. Gill titled "Rundle St, 1845" showing a street scene from early Adelaide. You can see more of Katie's work at her website Magic Owl Design.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Ben Bentley, Gentleman, part 2

Leeds Corn Exchange,
which Ben no doubt visited. Designed by
Cuthbert Brodrick and built in 1863.
Now home to a food emporium and boutique shops.
In my previous post about Ben Bentley I left the unfortunate gentleman languishing in Portland prison in Dorset, after he was arrested for embezzlement. So what became of him and his family?

Ben was released in December 1860, having shown "exemplary" behaviour while in prison. It seems that his time in penal servitude did not damage his reputation or his relationships irreparably. By the time of the census in April 1861 he was back with his family in Dewsbury in Yorkshire and was employed once more as a flour and corn agent (though perhaps not with the same employer). As time went on Ben became a corn dealer, and apparently did quite well for himself.

After the death of his wife Harriet in 1876, Ben married again, to a younger woman named Ann Dove (b 1835). He was still living in Dewsbury and working as a corn dealer in his seventies, but he seems to have retired after that. When he died in 1897 he left an estate of ₤474.11s.1d  (An adult male clerk could earn roughly ₤50 - ₤130 per annum according to newspaper advertisements at the time.) He was buried in the Friends burial ground in Wooldale, near Holmfirth in Yorkshire.

Ben and Harriet's children

Ben might have been pleased that all his sons went into white collar work or skilled trades. But his children had mixed fortunes when it came to money and marriage.

Typesetting using a traditional composing stick.
William, the eldest son (b 1840) became a letter press printer and worked on a weekly newspaper. He married Sarah Ellen Oates in the summer of 1864. By November 1865, according to an item in the Leeds Mercury, he was bankrupt. In 1874 he filed for divorce from Sarah on the grounds of adultery, after she had an affair with a neighbour. He remarried in 1877 to a Mrs Eliza Ann Leonard, but she died only two years later.

Ben and Harriet's eldest daughter Martha Ann (b 1844) died at the age of 16  in June 1861, less than six months after Ben's release from prison.

Ben's second son John Henry (b 1847) followed his brother William to the Friends (Quaker) school at Low Green in Rawdon. As I mentioned previously, the school was unusual for the time in being co-educational. He  became a solicitor's clerk in Huddersfield and married one of his classmates, Hannah Waddington, in 1868.

By the mid 1880's he had risen from being a solicitors' managing clerk to being a solicitor and he and his family were living in Cliffe House in Wooldale (which is possibly why Ben, his father, was buried there). In 1890 John was badly shaken and his left eye was damaged when the mail train in which he was travelling towards London collided with a goods train at Retford. He successfully sued the Great Northern Railway company the following year and was awarded  ₤1800 in damages. Despite this success, his life seemed to go from bad to worse from that point.

In 1898 he was declared bankrupt. In June 1900, in a case that was publicised all over the country,  he was struck off the roll as a solicitor for misappropriating clients' funds. Part of his defence was that he had been suffering from "mental derangement". By 1901 he was back to being a managing clerk in a solicitor's office.

I've already told the story of Ben and Harriet's third son,  Alfred Pearson Bentley (b 1849) in an earlier post. In the light of his childhood experiences and his family background, perhaps his later behaviour seems a little less incomprehensible. At another level it's difficult to understand how he could have abandoned his wife and children as he did, having experienced his own father's disappearance during his early childhood.

Ben and Harriet's younger daughter Harriet (b 1851) was no more fortunate in marriage than her brothers. Her first husband was a foundry worker named Barrett Butler. They married in 1871. Barrett died in 1884, leaving Harriet with four children.

In 1888 Harriet married John Inman, a widowed mechanic and labourer. They were together in Holbeck, near Leeds, in the 1891 census, but by the time the 1901 census was taken, Harriet had separated from Inman and was calling herself Harriet Butler again. She also claimed to be a widow, though Inman was still alive and living in the Holbeck Union workhouse.

The youngest son in Ben and Harriet's family, Walter Smith Bentley, seems to have been the most stable and unremarkable of the four sons (or at least he managed to keep his name out of the newspapers).  Walter was born in 1863, after Ben's release from prison. Like John Henry, he became a solicitor's clerk, but remained in that role for the rest of his life.

In 1887 he married Martha Gosnay at the Friends Meeting House in Dewsbury. They moved south, settling eventually in Stone in Staffordshire. After Martha's death in 1899 he married Ann Childs and they moved to Norfolk.  When he died in 1939 he was living near Shaftesbury in Dorset, not very far from Portland where his father had been in prison. It would be fascinating to know whether he was aware of his father's past connection with Dorset.

Image credits:
1. Leeds Corn Exchange © Copyright Chris Allen and licensed for reuse under
this Creative Commons Licence
2. Typesetting Image by Wilhei (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], 
via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Harriet Smith

26 January 2017
Name:Harriet SMITH110
Father:James SMITH (    -    )
Mother:Martha NAYLOR (1793-    )
Individual Facts
Birth18 Jul 1817Armley, Yorkshire, England14,610
Baptism14 Sep 1817 (age 0)Bethel Independent OR Congregational, Leeds, York, England810
Residence1841 (about age 24)Bramley, Yorkshire, England6
Residence1851 (about age 34)Relation to Head of House: Wife  Occupation: shop keeper; Leeds, Yorkshire, England1
Residence1861 (about age 44)Relation to Head of House: Wife; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England2
Residence1871 (about age 54)Relation to Head of House: Wife; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England3
Death19 Dec 1876 (age 59)Earls Heaton, Dewsbury, Yorkshire West Riding4,7
Burial22 Dec 1876 (age 59)Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England4
Residence Leeds, West Yorkshire, England10
Residence Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England4
1. Ben BENTLEY (1819-1897)
Marriage21 Oct 1839 (age 22)Tong, Yorkshire, England5
Census (fam)1871 (about age 54)3
 William BENTLEY (1841-    )
 Martha Ann BENTLEY (1845-1861)
 John Harry BENTLEY (1847-    )
 Alfred Pearson BENTLEY (1849-1922)
Harriet BENTLEY (1851-    )
 Walter Smith BENTLEY (1864-1939)


1., 1851 England Census, Class: HO107; Piece: 2321; Folio: 787; Page: 19; GSU roll: 87549-87552.
        2., 1861 England Census, Class: RG 9; Piece: 3409; Folio: 114; Page: 42; GSU roll: 543127.
        3., 1871 England Census, Class: RG10; Piece: 4603; Folio: 8; Page: 10; GSU roll: 848395.
        4., West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985, C786/2/B/2.
        5., West Yorkshire, England, Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935, West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; Old Reference Number: 50D90/1/3/6.
        6., 1841 England Census, Class: HO107; Piece: 1342; Book: 11; Civil Parish: Bramley; County: Yorkshire; Enumeration District: 15; Folio: 52; Page: 13; Line: 5; GSU roll: 464285.
        7. FreeBMD, England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index, 1837-1915.
        8., England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970.
        9., England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975.
        10., West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985.


More about Harriet Smith: 

Ben Bentley

26 January 2017
Name:Ben BENTLEY117
Father:William BENTLEY (1785-1831)
Mother:Ann Wildrick (1785-1849)
Individual Facts
Birth1819Gildersome, Yorkshire, England14,6,9,1214
Baptism22 Aug 1819 Gildersome, St Peter, Yorkshire, England7,10
Census1841 (age 22)Bramley, Yorkshire, England13
Census1851 (age 32)116 West St, Leeds, Yorkshire

Relation to Head of House: Head  Occupation: flour dealer; Leeds, Yorkshire, England1
MiscMar 1853–Apr 1853 (age 34)Letters to editor of Leeds Times; Leeds, Yorkshire, England
Residence17 Apr 1854 (age 35)"Residence: Dewsbury. Assistant in a corn mill"; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England16
Miscellaneous6 Dec 1856 (age 37)Imprisoned for 4 years for embezzelement from his employer; York Assizes, Yorkshire - North Riding, England15
Census1861 (age 42)Flour and corn agent, Bond St, Dewsbury

Relation to Head of House: Head  Flour and corn dealer; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England2
Census1881 (age 62)Market St, Dewsbury

Relation to Head of House: Head Marital Status: Married; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England6
Census1891  (age 72)2 Market St, Dewsbury, Yorkshire

Relation to Head of House: Head  Married to Ann  Occupation corn dealer; Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England4
Death21 Sep 1897 (age 78)Westview, Cartworth, Holmfirth, Yorkshire11,14
Burial24 Sep 1897 age 78)Friends (Quaker) burial ground  Wooldale, Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England12,14
Probate7 Oct 1897 (age 78)Wakefield, Yorkshire11

1. Harriet SMITH (1817-1876)
Marriage21 Oct 1839 (age 20)Tong, Yorkshire, England5
Census (fam)1871 (age 52) Elm Wood, Dewsbury, Yorkshire3,22
ChildrenAlfred Pearson BENTLEY (1849-1922)
William BENTLEY (1841-    )
Martha Ann BENTLEY (1845-1861)
John Harry BENTLEY (1847-    )
Harriet BENTLEY (1851-    )
Walter Smith BENTLEY (1864-1939)
2. Ann DOVE (1835-1900)
MarriageDec Q 1877 (age 58)Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England
1., 1851 England Census, Class: HO107; Piece: 2321; Folio: 787; Page: 19; GSU roll: 87549-87552.
        2., 1861 England Census, Class: RG 9; Piece: 3409; Folio: 114; Page: 42; GSU roll: 543127.
        3., 1871 England Census, Class: RG10; Piece: 4603; Folio: 8; Page: 10; GSU roll: 848395.
        4., 1891 England Census, Class: RG12; Piece: 3732; Folio: 13; Page: 19; GSU Roll: 6098842.
        5., West Yorkshire, England, Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935, West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; Old Reference Number: 50D90/1/3/6.
        6. and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1881 England Census, Class: RG11; Piece: 4560; Folio: 13; Page: 20; GSU roll: 1342099.
        7., West Yorkshire, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910, West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; Old Reference Number: D26/1/1; New Reference Number: WDP26/1/1.
        8. FreeBMD, England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index, 1837-1915.
        9. FreeBMD, England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index, 1837-1915.
        10., England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975.
        11., England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966.
        12., West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985, C786/2/B/2.
        13., 1841 England Census, Class: HO107; Piece: 1342; Book: 11; Civil Parish: Bramley; County: Yorkshire; Enumeration District: 15; Folio: 52; Page: 13; Line: 4; GSU roll: 464285.
        14., West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985.
        15., England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892, Class: HO 27; Piece: 115; Page: 436.
        16., West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985, C786/2/A/2.
        17. Source #1.

More about Ben Bentley:

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ben Bentley, Gentleman (part 1)

I mentioned in my last post that when Ben Bentley died in 1897 he was described in the probate calendar as "Ben Bentley, gentleman". Originally a man could only be described as a gentleman if he inherited, or was granted, a coat of arms. By the 19th century the term had started to be applied to anyone who was wealthy enough to live on their own means, without needing to work. Eventually it ceased to describe a person's status altogether, and acquired its current meaning of someone with courteous manners and good behaviour. But which of these meanings applied to Ben?

"Birdseye view of Gildersome"
photo by Simpson Morley (cropped slightly)
courtesy of History of Gildersome
Ben Bentley (1819-1897) seems to have been a man with ambition and a self confidence not always backed by wisdom. He began life in Gildersome, a small village 7 km outside Leeds in West Yorkshire. He was the youngest son of William Bentley, a tailor, and his wife Ann (nee Wildrick), whose families had both lived in the area for several generations.  For reasons known only to his parents, he was baptised plain "Ben" rather than "Benjamin", and continued to be known as Ben throughout his life, even on most official documents. (This fact proved helpful during my research in distinguishing him from the half dozen or so Benjamin Bentleys of similar age living in West Yorkshire in this period.)

Initially he seemed set to follow his father's family into the clothing trade. His first occupation was as a clothier, selling cloth or ready made clothing. But in his twenties he became involved in the grain milling trade. A few years after his marriage in 1839 to Harriet Smith he and his family moved to the inner city area of Leeds. By 1851 he was working as a flour dealer.

Not the Chancellor of the Exchequer

Ben probably had a fairly basic education, but apparently didn't let that stop him from promoting himself. On 12 March 1853 the Leeds Times carried a brief anecdote, titled "Not up in his arithmetic" about a wager made by gentleman farmer with a local agriculturalist. The wager involved the agriculturalist bringing one grain of barley to the farmer at the public house the next Friday, in return for a bottle of wine and a good dinner. The following week he would bring two grains for the same reward, then four, doubling the number of grains each week, for the whole year. The writer finished by saying "We will not insult the intelligence of our readers by working out the sum in detail, as the compositor would find it difficult to find the figures in his news case, but we apprehend the farmer will soon find it to his interest to get off the bet."

Ben Bentley didn't take the hint. The following week, in a letter to the editor signed "Ben Bentley, Kings Mill", he confidently offered his calculation of the amount of barley that the agriculturalist would have to provide. He even calculated how many times the carts required to carry it would stretch around the globe, and how many thousand years it would take to hoist it all into warehouses. He concluded:
"All this may appear to some to be an exaggeration but they who dispute it I should wish them to reckon for themselves, and I have no doubt they will find me correct in my statement.".
It was inevitable that someone would take up his challenge, and on the 26 March the paper published a letter from a correspondent signing himself "Dizzy" which began:
Sir.—Your Friend "Ben"-- not the Chancellor of the exchequer-- tells the public, through your paper, that he has "undertaken the task of reckoning" the amount of barley to be given by the Wakefield agriculturist for his 52 dinners [ ...]
...I should not have noticed this matter had not "Ben" requested that those who disputed his infallibility in figures to reckon for themselves. I have done as desired, and think he is wrong.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time was Benjamin Disraeli, thus the jibe at Ben's name.  "Dizzy" went on to provide his own calculations. The editor added a footnote to this letter politely suggesting that if Dizzy looked at his figures again he would see that they were not quite correct. But neither Dizzy nor Ben were ready to give up this argument.

The following week the correspondence column carried three letters. The first, from Ben Bentley, suggested that there were so many errors in Dizzy's letter that he was not a fit person to rely on for calculations. The second, from Dizzy, admitted that he had made a slight error in copying his calculations into his letter. He went into a long and detailed explanation of how he made his calculations, implying that Ben showed himself to be an amateur in such matters.

The third letter came from James Greaves, "A teacher of the Elementary Improvement Class of the Leeds Mechanics Institution". Ben's calculations were "erroneous", he said, but Dizzy's were equally so. He offered his own elegant solution to the problem. At this point the newspaper editor evidently tired of the matter, and having listed the names of others who had submitted letters on the subject, he let it drop.

Caught out

By the mid 1850's Ben and Harriet had five (surviving) children, including 6 year old Alfred Pearson Bentley. Harriet's family seems to have had connections with various non-conformist congregations in West Yorkshire, and their eldest son William (b 1841) was a border at Low Green school in Rawdon, a co-educational school run by the Quakers (also known as the Friends). Ben was working as a traveller for James Upton Wooller, a wealthy corn miller. Things seemed to be going well for them.

But perhaps Ben placed too much trust in his ability to impress others with figures, and the temptation to improve his income by fiddling the books a little proved too much for him. He began under-reporting how much money he received from his employer's debtors while over-reporting costs. In 1856 he was arrested for embezzlement. The case was reported by both the Leeds Times and the Huddersfield Chronicle when it came to court in August.
Extract from Ben Bentley's prison record
Source: Registers Of Prisoners In The County Prisons Of Wakefield 
HO 23 piece 16. Accessed at

Stealing from a master was a serious offence. The magistrate in Dewsbury committed him for trial in York, without bail. Four months later, on 6 December, he pleaded guilty to having embezzled ₤25 2s and was sentenced to four years penal servitude. He served the first year of his sentence in the prison at York Castle. Then on 23 November 1857 he was moved to Portland prison in Dorset on the south coast, far away from Yorkshire and his family. It was no seaside holiday camp. Convicts from the prison were used to quarry stone and build the breakwaters of Portland harbour.

This conviction must have been a terrible blow for both Ben and Harriet. For a family aspiring to join the new middle class, having a father in prison was a cause of great shame. Dorset was too far away for any sort of regular visits. What would the children be told about their father's long absence? How would they survive for four years without Ben's income? And how would Ben fare doing hard labour in gaol?

More in part 2.

*Corn is the term used in England for wheat and other grains, rather than for sweet corn or maize.