Friday, February 20, 2009

The Higgler

Moving on from my grandfather's mother's family, to my grandfather's father ... my great-grandfather, Thomas Faulkner. The fifth of nine children of Charles Faulkner, a farm labourer, and his wife Sarah (nee Mead), he was born at Stewkley in 1864. On the 5th November 1890, aged 26, he married Lizzie Ellen Smith at the Primitive Methodist Chapel, listing his occupation as "higgler" - a small time trader.

Thomas began life in intense poverty. The 1870s and 80s were a time of agricultural depression, and farm labourers like his father Charlie lived hand to mouth. My Dad remembered his grandfather telling him that as a child they were literally starving and only skimmed milk kept them alive. Thomas was an ambitious and able young man with a strong and determined personality. He started as an egg boy, selling eggs door to door. By 1901 he was listed in the census as an egg merchant, and in 1911 was a general dealer. On my grandparents marriage certificate he describes himself as a farmer. In fact, he had built up a successful family business as an egg wholesaler, and by 1911 was living in the village's sixteenth century Manor House.

Thomas and his wife had eight children, and he was able to make provision for all of them. One son inherited the egg business, and he secured farm tenancies for the others. My grandfather and his younger brother Albert began by sharing a farm, until Albert was able to move on to one of his own. This was the first generation to move away from the traditional names that occur repeatedly in the family over previous generations - Richard, William, John, Thomas, Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth and the like. Thomas and Lizzie Ellen choose newly fashionable names for their children - Henry, Leonard, Rupert, Harold, Albert, Ethel, Alice and Clara. (Not a change for the better, in my opinion!)

Thomas's marriage is the first reference I can find to this branch of the Faulkner family as Methodists, and from then onwards they were strongly connected to the Chapel. All their children were baptised there and in my childhood they were all still pillars of the Methodist community. The baptism records indicate that Thomas's brothers Richard and Edmund were also Methodists by this time, although it seems unlikely their parents were. I can guess why, but that will have to wait for my next genealogy post.

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