Entries in Raunds (6)


Ball, John (1882 - 1953)  SHOEMAKER

Ball, John (1882 – 1953)

John, or Jack as he was usually known, was the third John Ball in a direct line, only separated by his grandfather Thomas. They span the years from 1783 to 1953 and he was the only one that I touched, in his old age. I did not know him, for I was only seven when he died and it was a small part of an article in the Rance Reunited magazine that determined me to tell something of his story.

John was born the fourth child of John and Susannah, or Susan, Ball, in 1882. He followed Eliza, George Henry and Thomas In 1881 his parents and his siblings were living in Carlow Street, Ringstead. His father was an ironstone labourer in the Islip quarries. As we have seen in his story, on the 21st September 1886 he was buried in a fall of earth in the limestone pit that he was working and killed. John junior was only some three years old.

We do not know how Susannah coped with four young children on her own but by 1891 she has moved back to her home town of Raunds. She had not been able to write her signature at her marriage in 1874 so opportunities must have been limited for her. She became an army boot closer, sewing the uppers, and her children also worked to help keep the family from the workhouse. Eliza is away from home, also working as a boot closer and the two older boys are “Errand boy” and “Riveter and School”. At nine years old, John is still a “Scholar”.

By 1901 the whole family, including Eliza is living in Hill Street and all engaged in the army boot trade. Susan, the widowed mother, and Eliza, her daughter, are both closers and Thomas is a riveter but John has followed his older brother George and is a clicker. It appears that all are working at home, except George and John. This is what we would expect because "clicking" was considered the most skilled work and the one which cost or saved the employer the most money. The ability to match parts of the leather and cut the maximum from a hide were valued abilities. It was also true that it required room and was for all these reasons often centralised into a factory before the other shoeworking crafts. All around them in Hill Street are people in the shoework industry, mostly working at home.

There is a photograph in Old Northamptonshire in Photographs of  five men in the “Rat Pit” of Adams Bros, Raunds in about 1908. My sister, who was fifteen years older than me and so knew my grandfather well, was sure that one was him He is finishing a boot as one of the “handsewn men” so perhaps he could not get work as a clicker and had to settle for other work. He then decided, with his brother Thomas, to move to Wollaston where they both had been offered, or obtained, work

 "Handsewn men in the "Rat Pit" (Cellar) of Adams Bros., Raunds about 1908

I believe that Jack Ball is the man seated on the left

(From Old Northamptonshire in Photographs which published this with permission of Cyril Putt)

So, by 1911 things have changed. George Henry and Eliza appear to be working in a factory, George a boot clicker and Eliza a boot closer, although Susan, now 56, contnues to work at home. They still live in Hill Street. Two of the sons have left the nest. John has married Eunice Andrews on 23rdDecember 1905, some five months before the birth of their first child. They are living in Highfields Cottages, Marshalls Road, at the time of his birth. Thomas has married earlier, in 1902 to Charlotte Cade and the two couples have moved to Wollaston where they share York Cottages which had six rooms, excluding the scullery and any outbuildings. Thomas is now a “Bottom Stuff Riveter” and John is a clicker. Both work in a factory or workshop but the two wives are “Hand Boot Closers” at home.

 Jack played for Wollaston in his time there. He is the last player in kit on the right of those on chairs

Cutting provided by Brian Ball, Grandson of Jack and Eunice

John and Eunice already have three children, the older two, Aubrey (4) and Sydney (3), born in Raunds and Ronald (5 months) born in Wollaston. It seems that they did not move from Raunds until after 1908 so he could be the man in the photograph.

 John and Eunice with their sons (probably just after the First World War)


It is here that we come within the reach of living memory, or at least the memories of my father, who was Aubrey Ball, eldest son of John and Eunice, told to me in his last years. Senile Dementia was beginning to cloud his memory but I believe that the basic facts are true. He was born in 1906 and the first house that he remembered was in Thorpe Street next to the Blacks and opposite Partricks Stone Masons. If you look at the bottom of many of the gravestones in the cemeteries and church yards of Ringstead and Raunds you will see the Partrick name carved discretely at the bottom. John and Eunice moved back to Raunds but Thomas and his wife stayed in Wollaston and ran a fish shop. I know this because Aubrey went to stay with them for a time to help in the shop and was, he believed, treated badly by Thomas.

We must beware, however, of putting too much weight onto the slights suffered by a young boy, recalled seventy years later. This is particularly true of Thomas because the First World War took both brothers into the army. Soon after moving back to Raunds John and his  family moved back into the new houses In Marshalls Road that had been built for workers of R. Coggins and Sons factory. It was locally known as “The Colony”. My father said they were cheaply built and always cold but they are still there today. Before central heating and insulation most terraced houses were freezing cold in winter with one coal-fired room sucking icy draughts from the rest of the house.

Both John and Thomas enlisted. Thomas joined up first, in Wollaston in 1916. He became a private in the Northampton Regiment and later a rifleman in the 15th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. John did not join up until 1917 and put his preferred option to be the Essex Regiment. He became a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery but I think that he was in the 4a Reserve Brigade and never had to fight. Thomas was not so lucky and was killed on 15thOctober 1918 during the battle of Courtrai. Not only was he a few months from the end of the war but he was also resting, in reserve after being in the front line, when a shell hit the farm house where a group of the soldiers were sheltering.

John returned home and carried on with his life. He had been a talented runner and won many prizes over the years. He also played football until he was fifty. After his own career was over he trained some local runners including his youngest son Dennis who was born in 1917 and whose middle name was Verdun after the First World War battle., and his nephews, Harold and Len. This also shows another side of many shoemakers. He was an inveterate gambler. Amateur race meetings were organised but there would be a line of bookies also at the meets. My father told of one occasion which perhaps gives some insight into this:


I heard him say to a bloke once, “Look, according to the stopwatch you’ve got the beating of my boy (my cousin Harold). If you let him win you can have the prize money – as long as we win.”

And the bloke replied, “No, I’ll run and I’ll win the prize!”

“Well,” said Dad, “I’ll tell you now, before the race, you ent got a snowball in hell’s chance of winning that race.”

And he hadn’t because when it came to the bend he was shut out. Dad bet on Harold of course and he won the race easily. It was around three legs – I suppose it was about half a mile, something like that. Dirty work! This was amateur athletics!


The meetings were organised to raise money. They charged so much to go in, you see. There used to be a lot of running – athletics – in those days. What killed it was the gambling. There was a lot of gambling on it. And my father was one of the worst!

 John with his running trophies

This rough independence and occasional disregard for the law can be seen in another incident which made the local papers. In 1908 a piped water system had been established in Raunds. Water was taken from a well to a huge concrete tank or reservoir in Hargrave Road. All went well until 1921 when there was a long drought. I will let my father’s words tell, what happened next:

Well, the farm next to the well was sold. A man from the north bought it. He dug another well at his side of the fence and his well tapped the same supply so that the Raunds well began to run dry. So a group of men from the Woodbine Club got together one night and marched down to the meadows – with Sid and me behind them. They got the pumping machinery and threw it all down the well that he had dug.

 It made the national press. “Bolsheviks Cause Damage in Raunds”, or something like that. But after that there was no more trouble with the water supply. They never found out who did it. We had two policemen in the town. Although the police must have had a good idea who was responsible they probably thought it wiser not to take it up. I mean, after all, they’d got to live in the town with the rest of us!

I have an original copy of a photograph which fills in a little more of John’s history. It shows him standing in a clicking room. The same photograph is is Raunds, Picturing the Past and it tells us that it was taken in 1929 to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of John Horrell and Son Ltd of Wellington Hill, Raunds.


 John (third from right) in Clicking department of John Horrell & Sons Ltd (1929)

The next glimpse of John came to me quite recently when I saw a copy of the Rance magazine in the local library. To my surprise I saw a piece on  Adams Brothers by Paul Roberts. He movingly describes the clickers breaking into song as they worked. The would sing in harmony, with descant, songs from Nellie Dean to Abide with Me and Crimond., which was known locally as the Ringstead Hymn because of its Dissenting associations. He goes on to tell of an incident involving Jack Ball (which seems to imply that he was working at Adams at the time)

They credited Jack Ball with causing Labour to lose the seat in the 1935 General Election. Wing Commander James, the Conservative candidate, had as his agent a Finedon man called Chapman, nicknamed “Sugar Chapman”. They always introduced him at political meetings as a “Conservative Working Man”. His presence at political meetings was like a red rag to some of the Raunds’ Radical shoemakers. No one can recall hearing Sugar Chapman speak because of the uproar that his presence caused. As Wing Commander James left his Eve of Poll meeting in Raunds, Jack kicked his backside for bringing “Sugar Chapman”. “CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE ASSAULTED AT RAUNDS,” said the headlines in the next day’s Evening Telegraph. 

I first encountered John when I was a young child and I went on the bus  from Wellingborough to Raunds to visit my grandparents. I remember my grandmother a little. She was a proud woman who kept a neat house with polished brass jugs, full of wooden spills, in the fireplace. She had a special tiered plate for cakes and was mortified when I discovered a fly in my Tizer. Of my grandfather I have only two memories. One is of him standing in the workshop in his son Ronald’s garden where he was still doing outwork. He did the old clickers’ trick for me of taking a circle of leather, sticking it to the bench with a small curved knife and then pulling to make a shoelace. Magic and shoemakers are often associated. The other memory is of him sitting silently in the corner in Marshalls Road, as the grandfather clock beside him ticked the seconds slowly away.

He died on the 8th February 1953 aged 70 years to be followed by his “beloved wife” Eunice on 21stAugust 1956. They are buried in Raunds Cemetery . In 1919 The Shoe and Leather News Illustrated Biographic Dictionary of British Shoe and Leather Traders lists six boot and shoe firms in Raunds: Adams Bros.; R. Coggins and Sons; Tebbutt and Hall Bros Ltd.; The St. Crispins Productive Society Ltd.; Regulation Boot Co. (Raunds) Ltd. and John Horrell and Son.  All have fallen silent and many have been demolished. Most of the backyard workshops have also disappeared. What was once the vibrant lifeblood of the communities is now archeaology.




Censuses 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911

Rance Magazine (especially article by Paul Roberts)

British Army WW1 Service Records 1914 -18 ( (Commonwealth Graves Commission)

Raunds, Picturing the Past. David Hall, Ruth Harding and Cyril Putt (F. W. March & Co. and Buscott Publications 1988)

Old Northamptonshire in Photographs. R. L. Greenall (Northamptonshire Libraries 1976)


Do you know where the rest of this document is? Roberts & Phillips

Some years ago someone sent me three pages from what was obviously a much longer story of some local families including the Roberts and the Phillips. She found it with the effects of her mother after her death. She wondered if I could find where the pages had come from and whether the rest of the story was somewhere. I failed to find the source although I wondered if it had been written by Paul Roberts who wrote well about Raunds and Ringstead history. Does anyone out there know where the rest of the document is and would be willing to share it? It would be a great shame if it was lost forever. I have put one of the pages below.

Contact me at


George Ball (1891-?) and Leonard Ball (1893 – 1917) BROTHERS IN ARMS? REVISED VERSION

This is a revised version of the piece I wrote about George and Leonard Ball. More records have now come online and these give a better (but worse) picture of George although still unfinished. Can anybody add the missing part of the story?

George Ball (1891-?) and Leonard Ball (1893 – 1917) BROTHERS IN ARMS?

This is the story of two brothers. Their grandfather was James Ball, born in Ringstead in about 1831.  He was the son of Daniel and Phoebe Ball and most of that large family joined the military or looked for their fortunes in the New World. James was one of the few who stayed close to home.

James, together with his brothers Thomas, Samuel and Elisha, was baptised in Ringstead Church on September 12th 1841. He is aged 9 in the Census which preceded the baptism by a few months so he was born in about 1831/2. He left home early and I believe that he might be wrongly entered in the 1851 Census as John Ball, aged 19, born in Ringstead, a shepherd living-in at Wold Lodges in Tansor which is downstream on the Nene, on the other side of Oundle.

James married Emma Storks (or Stocks) from Riseley, some ten miles south of Ringstead, in Ringstead Church on 17th October 1855. Like his siblings, James had to leave Ringstead to find work, but he did not have to travel far, and was by 1861 a shepherd, like his father, living in Titchmarsh. He was with his wife Emma and their two children Phoebe and John who had both been born in Denford. The family had returned to Ringstead by 1871 and two further children Thomas and George have been born (all children now shown as born n Ringstead).

It is Thomas whose sons we are following here. He was born on 29th December 1865 and had a Methodist baptism on 6th May 1866.  It seems that his middle name was Samuel and he was sometimes known by this name. In the 1881 Census he is Samuel, aged 16, still living at home in the Ringstead High Street and working as a farm labourer. By 22nd April 1889, when he married Harriett Christiana Wright at Islip, he had become a bootmaker.

Pearce's Row was in the narrow lane on the left before the row of cottages. I think Church Street continued until the corner.

The couple moved to Pearce’s Row, Church Street, in Ringstead and by the 1891 Census they already had two children, Thomas Horace (1) and George James who was just one month old. By 1901 the family had moved to High Street in Moulton where Thomas was an army boot maker. There were two further children, Leonard who was born on 28th February 1893 and Emma born about 1897. The couple moved back nearer to home and in 1911 were living in Francis Street in the Westfields area of Raunds. Only their youngest children, Leonard who was 17 and unemployed and Emma (15) who was a “shoewoman girl”, were still at home.

Thomas junior and his younger brother, George James Ball, had already left home. It is George who we are following first. His story after the 1901 Census is a murky one and much of it I have found in retrospect as it is referred to in reports of later crimes.

The Northampton Mercury of 22nd March 1912 reported on the Kettering Divisional Petty Sessions where George  was charged with breaking into an auction mart in the old schoolroom in Corby between the 15th and 19th December 1911 and stealing a quantity of jewellery, valued at £105, the property of Leslie Ansel. We hear of the testimony of George's landlady in Corby and also from Police Sergeant Pinchen of the Sunderland Borough Police who stated that:

. . .while the prisoner was under arrest on a charge of deserting from the Army he confessed to the present charge.

On12th April George (aged 21) came before the Northamptonshire Quarter sessions and Inspector Dunn, who was a witness in the case against George, stated:

He was a native of Ringstead and had on several occasions enlisted, each time deserting and taking with him valuable property. The Witness [Inspector Dunn] held a warrant for his arrest in connection with the robbery of £50 worth of silver from the barracks of the Loyal Lancashire regiment.

The list of jewellery stolen was extensive:

. . . 247 gold rings, six long gold guards, eight gold bracelets, one rolled gold bracelet, eight gold chains, three gold pendants, one silver cigarette case, three silver matchboxes, eight long silver guards, 12 silver curb chains, 25 gold pins, nine silver brooches, and 16 watches.

At the first hearing there is evidence presented that George pawned at leat some of the jewellery in Kettering so he must have gone north soon after. After his arrest in Sunderland he was forcibly returned to Northamptonshire to answer for his previous crimes. George was travelling the country trying to get money wherever he could and it seems usually by criminal means.

George, as seems to have been his habit, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 months with hard labour.

After being released, George must have made his way down to Portsmouth, and enlisted again, this time in the Royal Navy. George James Ball born in Ringstead in Northamptonshire signed up for the Royal Navy on 25th November 1913. He had a union jack with “Unity” tattooed on his left forearm and a scar on the back of his left hand and a white scar on his chest.  We know that he was 5ft 8¾ inches with a chest size of 38¾inches with brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. (nearly all the military had grey eyes). He first served on Victory ll. This was the name given to the barracks and administrative base in Portsmouth.

He was given a “very good” character and ability rating on 31st December 1913 and moved to serve on a light cruiser, the HMS Liverpool on 7th May 1914 as a storekeeper.

It was at this point that something went wrong again for he was discharged with “Services No Longer Required” (D.S.N.L.R.) on 27th May just a few weeks after his move.  His record also notes the "Recovery of his GCB" [Good Conduct Badge]. He was sentenced to Confinement to Barracks (C.B.). There is some confusion because his official military service records give his date of birth as 26th March 1893 rather than 1891 but this is either a typographical error or perhaps part of George’s subterfuge.

Under The Prevention of Crimes Act of 1871 habitual criminals were recorded in detail in a register. These records are now online and in them we find “George James Ball, alias Thompson and George Ball”. His rank is now given as Stoker in the Royal Navy. He is shown as being born in Ringstead and to have a “flag, flower and UNITY” tattooed on his forearm and that at the end of his sentence he intended to live at 40 Pratt Road in Rushden, Northamptonshire.

From the Calendar of Prisoners tried at the Portsmouth Quarter Sessions of July 1914 we learn of the two thefts of which he had been accused. They both took place in May 1914 and included a suit of clothes, a vest, a cigarette case, a tie and a Post Office Savings Book.  He had been arrested on 29th May and as we have seen confined to barracks. He was charged on the 9th June and pleaded guilty at his trial on 9th July when he was sentenced to two concurrent terms of six months with hard labour.

Great Britain had entered the First World War on 4th August 1914 when George would have still been serving his sentence. He was released on 10th December 1914 so what happened to him after that? Did he sign up again or was he the George Ball from Peterborough Co-op who was appealing against being called up in 1917. Without another lead we may never know.

His brother, Leonard had a very different military career. When we left him in 1911 he was seventeen years old (but I think actually 18) and an unemployed shoehand living in Raunds. Late in the previous year Leonard had signed up for the Northamptonshire Regiment Special Reserve. He was 5ft 5¼ inches high, weighing 113 lbs. (8 st 1Ib). He had scars on both knees and one wonders if this was from his shoe work. He received a reference from Mr. Lawson from Adams Brothers who said he had worked there for three years but had had to be laid off because of “slackness of trade”. He was a private in the Special Reserve from 31st October 1910 until 30th March 1911 when he left to join the Royal Navy.

Like his brother, he started his training at Portsmouth (Victory ll) before joining various ships for periods of service returning to Portsmouth in between ships. He was a Stoker Second Class on the Renown (30/04/1911 – 23/06/1911); Hecla (22/09/1911 – 30/04/1912) Topaze (01/05/1912 – 31/12/1912) where he was made a Stoker First Class on 1st June 1912 and Princess Royal (14/11/1912 – 14/07/1916).

As we can see, Leonard served on the Princess Royal from the start of the war until 14th July 1916.  During this time, he had taken part in the Battles of Dogger Bank, Heligoland, Bight and the great Battle of Jutland. The Princess Royal went on to have a comparatively action free war but Leonard moved to the 10th Destroyer Flotilla of the Harwich Force He was first briefly on HMS Dido (09/09/1916 – 10/10/1916) which was the Depot Ship of the Flotilla and then HMS Myngs (11/10/1916 – 16/02/1917), before joining HMS Torrent (17/02/1917 – 23/12/1917).

HMS Torrent was part of the 10th Destroyer Flotilla of the Harwich Force. The Torrent was a brand new R Class destroyer and was the best type that the Royal Navy possessed.  Leonard must have been pleased to be working in the most modern engine room.

On the 4th June 1917, the Dover Patrol had bombarded the port of Ostend and Torrent along with other light cruisers destroyed and damaged German torpedo boats. Leonard was made an Acting Leading Stoker on 11th November 1917.

In the summer of 1917 Leonard had married Bertha Mary Skevington from Harrold, just across the border in Bedfordshire. He then went back to HMS Torrent which along with sister ships HMS Torrent and HMS Surprise sailed as part of a convoy. 

The Harwich Force destroyers formed part of the “Beef Run” convoys to and from the Netherlands. On this occasion they escorted the convoy to the Hook of Holland and waited near the Maas Light Buoy for it to return. At about 2pm on the morning of 23rd December they ran into a German minefield set to protect the port of Rotterdam and Torrent struck a mine and three other destroyers went to her aid. She struck another mine, however, and her sister ships Surprise and Tornado, trying to rescue the crew from the water also struck mines and sank. Radiant was undamaged and picked up men from the sea. 252 sailors died and only three men from the Torrent survived.

Among those lost was Leonard Ball. His body was never found and his death is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. He was twenty-four years old and had been in the Royal Navy for eight years.

His parents, Thomas and Harriett, had moved sometime after 1911 to 92 Queen Street in Rushden and it was there that they received the news of the death of their son. It seems that Leonard had been living in Pratt Street in Rushden but his new wife moved back to Harrold, perhaps to be with her family after Leonard’s death. They had only been married five months but had spent very little of this time together.

It was not surprising, therefore that Bertha remarried to John Drage in the summer of 1922 and moved to Bozeat and lived to be eighty-one years old.


I ought to add that the oldest brother, Thomas Horace Ball, born in 1889 in Ringstead was also a soldier in the First World War. In 1911 a Horrice[sic] Ball, aged 21, was a boarder with Jonathan and Miriam Ellis at 6 Woburn Place in Rushden. He was single and a shoemaker. I believe that in July-Sept 1911 he married Ada Ward (born 1893 in Northampton) in the Wellingborough District (which includes Rushden) but this is still to be confirmed.

He signed up with the 5th Royal West Surrey Regiment (Regimental No. 60528) and transferred to the 9th Middlesex Regiment, sometimes known as the Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex) Regiment (Regimental No.57010). He survived the war and Thomas and Ada are together at 14 Sartoris Road in Rushden in the 1925 Electoral Roll. So far I have been unable to find little else about his wartime experience and it may be his records are some of the many destroyed in a Second World War air strike.


England & Wales Crime, Prisons & Punishment 1770 -1935: Habitual Criminals Register 1914; A Calendar of Prisoners Tried at the General Quarter sessions July 1914 (

Northampton Mercury 12th April 1912 (

The Rushden Echo Friday 4th January 1918: Absent Voters Lists 1918 & 1919; 1925 Electoral Roll. (

Admiralty: Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services (ADM188/1121) National Archives (

UK, Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll 1914 -1919 (

Attestation of 6 Years Service: (

Roll of Honour- Northamptonshire – Rushden, (

Naval Casualties 1914-1919 (

HMS Torrent (

Various Censuses and Parish Registers ( and ).


John Phillips (1793 – 1847) BRIEF GLORY

John Phillips (1793 – 1847)

Sometimes the researching of our ancestors is like the books that we had as children where you join up the dots to make a picture. You often have to assume that their lives were described by a direct line between the dots. The official records are our dots and if they show a birth marriage and death in a locality we may not look further for the story of their lives unless a Census or other document alerts us to a hidden deviation in the lifeline.

It was in the mapping of my family tree that I first came across John Phillips the maternal grandfather of my grandfather, John Ball. He had been baptised in Ringstead Church on 31st March 1793, the third child of Henry and Ann. Ann died on 24th February 1811 aged 49 and his father married Elizabeth Fryar on 24th January 1813 in Raunds.

The next time that I found John in the local records he was marrying Elizabeth Rands from Fen Drayton in Raunds Church on 27th October 1817. The couple had 5 children; Sarah born about 1823, Susannah Catherine on 10th November 1826, Elizabeth in abt 1829, William in abt 1831 and Ann in abt 1837. I have not managed to find him in the 1841 Census although there are some John Phillips of about the right age around the county. Perhaps he had had to “go on the tramp” to find work as a labourer. At first I thought that he had died before 1841 but then found his burial in the churchyard of St Peter’s Church in Raunds (not Ringstead as I put originally) on 18th April 1847, aged 56.

So that was his life, spent labouring in the fields of Northamptonshire. Then I discovered that John had hidden in his life three years of excitement, fear and tragedy.

Jon Abbott had alerted me to a booklet written by Martin Aaron entitled Waterloo Men of Northamptonshire which listed two men from Ringstead who had served in one of the most famous battles in our history. One of these men was Sergeant Samuel Nichols who was killed at Waterloo. The other was John Phillips who had enlisted aged 20 in 1813, the year of his father’s marriage, in the 2nd Battalion of the 69th (South Lincolnshire) Foot Regiment).

I have not found any similar advertisement for the 69th Regiment but it does show some of the inducements offered at this time

Northampton Mercury 6th February 1813

The 2nd Battalion had been formed in July 1802 and was very young and inexperienced with the average length of service in 1815 being only 3½ years for Privates, less than any other British Regiment. It was approximately 57% English, 35% Irish and 7% Scottish. John was possibly recruited locally and probably embarked, with some artillery and horses, at Landguard Fort at the mouth of the River Orwell, near Felixstowe on December 17th 1813 and sailed with the Battalion to Willemstad in Holland the next day.

Looking out the gateway to Languard Fort near Felixstowe. Much has been altered but the old clock is the original one that john Phillips would have seen.

Own Photograph July 19th 2017

The French still held Holland but as they had now been mainly pushed out of Germany the Dutch and Belgians began to revolt against the occupying force and the British were eager to help this cause and also secure their own interests. Their first objective was to take the ports held by the French, particularly Antwerp. In this assault on Antwerp the British and Prussian allies had an insufficient force and as an alternative the British tried to take Bergen op Zoom, a port some 25 miles north of Antwerp  The 2nd Battalion took part in this ill-fated siege, on the 8th and 9th March 1814. It was an assault on an extensive fortified garrison held by the French. They managed to seize part of the defences but the French counterattacked and the British forces took heavy casualties and many others were forced to surrender. Of the 4000 British troops who took part, 2,100 were killed, although I have not yet discovered how many of the 487 men of the 2nd Battalion of the 69th Foot were killed or injured. After the battle, a negotiated exchange of prisoners took place.

We do not know if John Phillips was one of those exchanged prisoners but, after all the excitement and expectation of enlisting, it must have been a frightening and demoralising introduction to the realities of war. But worse was to come. Napoleon had escaped from his enforced exile on Elba and took his French army of 125,000 men into Belgium to confront the Duke of Wellington who commanded an alliance of British, German, Dutch and Belgian troops based at Brussels but camped across the surrounding countryside. 

The first encounter was at Quatre Bras. This was an important crossroads held by allies of Britain, the Dutch and Belgians, but on learning that the French under Marshall Ney were advancing on them Wellington sent his 3rd Division to reinforce the position. The 2nd Battalion of the 69th Foot, part of the 3rd Division, now consisted of 30 officers and 516 other ranks. There had obviously been some re-arranging of personnel. They had a forced route march of 12 hours and had just arrived there when they were immediately sent to relieve an exhausted and mutilated defensive square.

Uniform of the 69th (South Lincolnshire) Regiment

(From my own 1930s cigarette card)

As we have seen, the 2nd Battalion of the 69th was very young and inexperienced and perhaps partly because of this, although officers up to the Prince of Orange have been blamed, they were caught off guard. After being first told to form a line of battle, they were still trying desperately to form a defensive square, which was the standard defence against charging cavalry, when the French cuirassiers were in among them, appearing with frightening speed out of the tall rye crops. Michael Aaron has written:

The experience of the 69th at Quatre Bras was a horrific one - youngsters stumbling through the rye in terror whilst cavalrymen in armour hunted them down, slashing downwards with their sabres.

The two companies who had managed to form a square mainly survived but those unfortunate soldiers not formed up were massacred.

In all some 41% of the 2nd Battalion were casualties at Quatre Bras but this was not an unusual rate among the British forces who fought there. Nevertheless, the French had a series of mislaid or misunderstood orders and missed their chances for a decisive victory and the cavalry were repulsed and retreated.

The 69th lost 38 killed and 115 wounded and the “King’s Colour”, the regimental flag, was captured, which was seen as a great shame for the battalion.


The King’s Colour. Lost at Quatre Bras and regained after Waterloo

©Firing Line Museum of the Welsh Soldier (Commercial Commons Licence)

After Quatre Bras, Wellington withdrew to a ridge near to the village of Waterloo. Most of the troops marched there with little trouble from the enemy but a violent thunderstorm flooded the area and the infantrymen were forced to wade through water up to their knees. At nightfall, soaked and weary they had to get by on sodden biscuits and hunks of meat, uncooked because it was too wet to light camp fires. So, when we picture John Phillips at Waterloo we must remember that, like most of the foot soldiers, he would have been tired, soaked and caked in mud. He must have longed for home.

John and the 69th were positioned a few hundred yards north of the outposts of Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. He was part of Isaac Downing's Company. Because of their losses at Quatre Bras, they had had to join up with the 33rd Regiment of Foot to have sufficient numbers to form a defensive square. At about 11, on the morning of the 18th June 1815, when the sun had broken through the thick morning mist the battle commenced. Warfare was often a contest between charging cavalry and the foot soldiers formed in defensive squares and if these were properly formed and there was supporting artillery the cavalry would rarely win the day.

The heavy cavalry of the French thundered on the British squares only to be repulsed. Captain Mercer who was there said that it was “like waves beating against rocks”. The French, however, could have taken the day but the delayed Prussian army under Blucher arrived just in time and the battle was won. Wellington wrote, “It was the most desperate business I ever was in…”. Waterloo is remembered as a glorious victory for the Duke of Wellington and the end of Napoleon but for the ordinary soldier it would been a confused tumult of individual skirmishes with little idea of how the battle was unfolding.



The Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler (1782 - 1839)

This painting gives some idea of the chaos and the separate skirmishes within the battle.

(Wikipedia Commons)

The 69th who had lost their commanding officer and 153 others at Quatre Bras suffered a further loss of 6 officers and 64 other ranks killed, wounded and died of wounds. Among the wounded was John Phillips who was shot in the left shoulder by a musket ball. It is possible that his left arm had to be amputated but as yet this is not certain. Did he march with the rest of his 2nd Battalion of the 69th when the victorious troops marched into Paris and were reviewed by the Emperors of Russia and Austria and the King of Prussia? It seems unlikely.

Waterloo brought the French Wars to an end and the following year the 2nd Battalion of the 69th, along with many others, was ordered to disband. The battalion returned home in January 1816 and was “struck off” in the following October. Wounded soldiers were discharged and others moved to the 1st Battalion or other Regiments.

All the British troops who fought at Waterloo were awarded a “Waterloo Medal” (or should have been – there were many discrepancies) and had an extra two years added to their record of service in calculations of their pension. John was admitted to the pension scheme on 30th October 1816 and it was noted as a “permanent” pension perhaps indicating that he had a disablement that would not improve. In addition, prize money was awarded to all ranks: £433 2s 4d to field officers and £2 11s 4d for privates like John Phillips.

He returned to Ringstead and Raunds and suddenly back to ordinary life as a labourer. He would have had many stories to tell but, as we are now very aware the fear and uncertainty of battle can destroy a man’s mental health. There is no mention of him in the local newspaper so not for him the glories and the honours. As we have seen he married and had children but it would have been a difficult life if he had a damaged or amputated left arm, even with his small allowance as a “Chelsea Pensioner”.

His widow too would have had a very hard life. By 1851 Elizabeth is acting as a housekeeper for John Noble, a 62 year old shoemaker, living in Rotton (or Rotten) Row in Raunds. Her daughter Ann (13) is the only child still living with her mother and is working as a shoe closer. ten years later, aged 65, she is a lacemaker and with daughter Ann (23 – a boot closer)They are staying with her daughter Elizabeth (32 – a dressmaker) and her husband Edward Clark (33) a shoemaker.

Elizabeth was buried, aged 76, in Raunds on November 21st 1869


Much of the military history is taken from Fact Sheet 5-D02-01 on the “2nd Battalion 69th (South Lincolnshire) Regiment of Foot. Quatre Bras and Waterloo” produced by the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh (Brecon) which is an extract from A History of the Royal Regiment of Wales (24th/41st Foot) by J M Brereton. Cardiff 1989. [The 69th became part of the Royal Welsh Regiment.]

Waterloo Men of Northamptonshire by Martin Aaron [Lindon House 2015]. (Standard of the 69th Regiment of Foot).

British Army Service Record Transcriptions (

Waterloo Medal Roll 1815 (

The National Archives WO 97/821/157 Subseries of Records of the Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers Service Documents: Discharge Papers. {on John Phillips of Kingstead [sic]}

Windsor and Eton Express 19th December 1813 (  

The National Archives: Catalogue References MINT/16/112/46 1 &2: Waterloo Medal Book for the 2nd Battalion 69th Foot.

The British Army in the Low Countries 1813-1814. Andrew Bamford  (   

69th (South Lincolnshire) Regiment of Foot (Wikipedia)



Roberts, Benjamin Ebenezer (c1858 - 1925) and George Henry (c1865 - 1941) SHOEMAKERS NOT THATCHERS

Roberts, Benjamin Ebenezer (c1858 -1925) & Roberts, George Henry (c 1865 - ?)

John Roberts was born in about 1791 and was an agricultural labourer. Perhaps more surprisingly his wife Alice Page from Bythorn, who he married in Ringstead on 2nd August 1830, is described in the 1851 Ringstead Census as a “Church Sunday School Mistress”. One cannot be certain but one would imagine that this meant that she could read and write. They had five sons, William, John, William, Thomas and George between 1831 and 1842. Their first born, William, died at only eight months old but, as was often the case, a later son was also given the name.  All are shown as shoemakers in the 1851 Census. George, the youngest is only nine years old but he is already learning his craft. John, at 17 the eldest, is not living with the family but is lodging with another shoemaker, John Pearson and his wife, presumably as an unofficial apprentice. 

Shoemaker 1780

(With kind permission of Northampton Museums and Art Gallery)

The younger John was married just two years later in 1853, at the age of nineteen to Letitia Phillips, who was a year younger. The children followed quickly with almost all working in the shoe trade. Elizabeth, born c1854; Owen, born c1856; Benjamin Ebenezer, born c1858; John, born c1860; Alice, born c1864; George born c 1866 and finally Herbert, born c 1868. All are in the shoe trade in the 1871 and 1881 censuses, including the girls, except for George who is in 1881 a “Railway Employee”. (In 1891 he is a Midland Railway Station Master at Asfordby in Leicestershire where, later, his nephew Alfred Roberts held property).

The shoemakers, like the tailors and miners, were always known as a radical, freethinking part of the working class population. In the book Captain Swing which looks at the agricultural riots of 1830, the authors compare parishes with and without shoemakers and conclude: “The average riotous parish had from double to four times as many shoemakers as the average tranquil one”

If we look at the figures from the Censuses for Ringstead we find that there were some 36 shoemakers in 1841, 79 in 1851, 145 in 1861 and 186 in 1871. We must be careful in overstating this doubling of shoe workers every ten years in the early Censuses. Some of the increase is due to the lack of information on those who were not heads of families in the 1841 Census. Certainly some of it is due to the movement of women and girls from lacemaking, which declined very rapidly from 1851 to 1861, although only 35 female show workers are recorded in the 1871 Census. There was a great increase nevertheless mainly based on the production of army boots and shoes. Some of this increase seems to have been the result of the various strikes in Northampton culminating in the ones of 1857, 1858 and 1859. The introduction of machinery, especially in the closing process where a form of sewing machine was introduced in November 1857 led to workers fearing for their jobs and strikes were held. The shoemakers refused to work on any boots and shoes that had been "closed" by machinery. At first there was no trade union but the men belonged to benefit clubs to help see them through hard times. In April 1858 The Northamptonshire Boot and Shoe Makers Mutual Protection Society was established with the main objective of preventing the introduction of machinery and to protect,, equalise and raise wages, as far as possible.

The writer of an 1860 report on the strikes, coincidentally a man called John Ball, a common Ringstead name, criticised the action but did concede that: 

It is, however, undeniable that the improvements in machinery, when rapidly introduced into any branch of trade, sometimes deprive workmen and those depending on them of their daily bread. 

Of course daily bread must be taken literally here. The strike ultimately failed and many men left Northampton seeking work. The writer of the report estimated some 1500, mainly young men, left the town. There was a movement of some of the shoe making production to the Leicester area which had accepted the new machinery, often in larger factories. There was also a movement of the “coarser” boots and shoe manufacture into the smaller towns and villages such as Raunds and Ringstead. In these cases much of the work was “outwork”, based on piece work with comparatively low rates. 

Well into the twentieth century much of the work in the Ringstead area was done either at home or in small workshops. In his novel, The Feast of July, H. E. Bates writing of the end of the nineteenth century,  based mainly on the Higham Ferrars and Rushden area, talks of the two-storey sheds behind the cottages where the shoemakers worked. His heroine sees one such first-floor workshop for the first time.

She looked round the small oblong white-washed shop, with its crowded benches under the cobwebbed leather-dusted windows; the rolls of kip and calf and belly leather and the untidy mess of tins and sprigs and eyelets and brass tacks and wax-end. A glue pot was cooling on its burner. You could smell the hot breath of it and with it the close dark odour, almost the stench, of leather. 

Certainly Ringstead had such workshops attached to cottages as can be seen from the various sales in the Northampton Mercury (e.g. 19th December 1868 "Sale of cottages with shoe-makers shops")

This is South Place Works, Long Buckby in the early Twentieth Century but does give some of the atmosphere of a workshop and little has changed in the last one hundred years

With kind permission of Northampton Museums and Art Gallery

Others did not have that luxury and would work in the living room or in one of the bedrooms. This was particularly true for the women doing the “closing” which involved mainly sewing. Doris Watts speaking of the early years of the twentieth century in Rushden remembers:

Mother was a “boot finisher” and I can see her now in my minds eye in that little back room of our house in Cromwell Road finishing a boot that was strapped on one knee and with the other foot tapping the cradle that had a baby in it. It was a wicker cradle on rockers. Women in those days with boots and babies all in one small house had a very hard time. It was drudgery.

We must remember that in the Rushden area it was less likely to be the heavier, military boots that dominated the Raunds and Ringstead production. Incidentally Doris remembers her mother telling her of when her mother planned to marry her father, a Roberts.

When my parents planned to marry, Dad asked Mum where they should marry. The Roberts were brought up Ringstead Baptist but moving to Raunds became Wesleyans. The Raunds Baptists were known at Ringstead as a quarrelsome lot; in Raunds they were known as the “Chosen ones”. Mother said that they would like to be married at Rushden Church, where her mother had been christened. To mother’s surprise my father replied that he was broad minded himself “but had Grandfather been alive he would have forbidden it”.

In the early nineteenth century there had emerged entrepreneurs who acted as middle men and they began to organise small workshops where the clicking (leather pattern cutting) was done and they put out most of the other processes to home workers. In Raunds and Ringstead it appears that the workers would go to the factory to collect the work and then also take it back when finished. The middlemen had in effect become the factory owners. 

We do know that in 1867 there was only one major factory in Raunds, Wm. Nicholls & Son, because of a letter sent by a shoemaker to the Co-operator. Isaac Burton writes:

.....Raunds is a large village containing about 2,500 inhabitants, who are chiefly occupied in the shoe trade, but all under the control of one employer, who resides in the place. He keeps a grocer and draper's shop, and if you don't spend your money at his establishments, you must go and seek fro work at another village about four miles distant.

Underneath the letter is an article, Serfdom in the Shoe Trade, by Daniel P. Foxwell who, as a result of this letter went to Raunds and spoke at the Temperance Hall, trying to get the workers to form a Co-operative society.  Isaac Burton may have expected that Mr Nicholls did not read the Co-operator but word got back and a few weeks later his indignant rebuttal of the accusations was printed, although he does not deny the statement about the "company shop". Incidentally I have found Isaac Burton, born about 1835 in Raunds in the earlier censuses but in 1871, the census after his letter appeared, his parents and siblings are there(his brothers wrongly transcribed as Barton) but Isaac has disappeared. I cannot find his name again in the following censuses. Thee are many possible explanations for this but, perhaps, there is a story to be told

It is important to remember that shoemaking was not a single, uniform craft. Some master shoemakers made bespoke shoes by hand and did all the processes in their own workshops. Increasingly, most only did part of the process with the clickers being the aristocrats of the workforce. Their skill in cutting out the leather to produce matched pairs and to get the maximum from a hide was vital to the quality and the profit from boots and shoes. The clicking was the first to be organised into workshops and factories because of the space needed and the importance of it to the whole process. 

An article in The Boot & Shoe Journal in 1887 described the factories in Raunds, some of which appear to have had all the shoemaking processes within their four walls. He describes the factory of Messers W. Nicholls, for example, as "admirably arranged....The machinery which is of the best description, is driven by a gas-engine. The firm also curries the upper leather required and the whole factory is noticeable for completeness in every respect." Nevertheless he goes on to say:

Commenting on the army trade generally, I look upon Raunds as the centre of the army-boot-and-shoe making in Northamptonshire and the village of Raunds reminds me of the old days when scarcely anything but hand work was in vogue. The prices paid for closing and making are far from extravagant. The closing of army bluchers is done by hand throughout, and occupies the female workers in the village. For closing bluchers the sum of 31/4d., on an average is paid per pair. A man must work hard to make ten pairs of boots per week and there are many who do not make eight pairs, yet the inhabitants are generally an enterprising class of people, thrifty and industrious, comparing favourably with operatives in the trade elsewhere.

If we look in the Art of Boot and Shoemaking: A Practical Handbook, which was published in 1885, it describes many machines available for the shoemaking processes. These include the Upper Skiving Machine, The Rand Turning Machine, The Sole Moulding Machine, National Closing Machine, Welt or Forepart Stitching Machine, Mackay Heeling Machine, Inside Nailing Machine and Blake Buffing Machine. Many are like Victorian kitchen devices and are hand-powered mechanised processes. Raunds and Ringstead, however, tended to remain a cottage, outwork industry, reliant on the military's insistance on hand sewn boots.

Our shoemaker, John Roberts, has died before the 1871 Census, well before his fortieth birthday. His widow, Letitia, at 36 is living on Shop Street, on “Parish Relief” Her oldest daughter, Elizabeth, now 17, is doing “shoework” and Owen (15) and Benjamin (13) are both apprentice shoemakers. She has four other children who are ten or under and are at school. It must have been a very difficult time for Letitia. Next door lives John Barritt and his wife Rebecca. He is a shoe maker and shoe agent. Perhaps after all there were still small middle men who put out the work and collected it again for a commission. On the other side of her lives Sarah White who is fifty, also a widow, with two children. She is trying to make her living as a seamstress. All around are other shoemakers and their wives. We can only hope that she was helped and supported by the community in her hour of need.

By 1881 she was living in the High Street and is housekeeper for her family. Times are maybe a little better because Benjamin, John, and Herbert are all shoemakers and Alice is a shoe worker. As we have said, George, at fifteen, is the exception and is a railway employee. All her family will be bringing money into the house. If she feels unwell, Emma Kitchen is only a few doors away and she can help her because she is a vendor of patent medicines. Many would have had laudanum in them to dull the pain.

Letitia married John Smith in 1884 and the1891 Census finds her living in Rushden with John who is a "Cemetery Caretaker" and by 1901 they are in Stanwick with John now a general labourer. Her children are all elsewhere. She dies in 1909 aged seventy-five.

We cannot follow all the Roberts family lines so we will select two, Benjamin Ebenezer, son of John and Letitia, and George Henry, not his brother, the railway worker, but the son of Thomas, John’s younger brother. These two cousins carried on as shoemakers but the industry went through increasingly difficult times as the nineteenth century drew to a close. In fact, initially, many Raunds and Ringstead workers resisted unionisation because they had always made their own rules as to when they worked. Most would have initially echoed the words of an Ithlingborough shoe worker on the union's policy of speeding up the move from hand outwork to mechanised factory production:

The men do not thank the Union for doing so, they do not want their liberty meddled with, as they have shops to work in, and leading men will not go with their sons into such places as they know they will be. Some will leave the Union if they do not stop such interference.

(Boot & Shoe Journal 10th December 1892)

It was a common practice to drink heavily at the weekend (“fuddling”) and then take Monday off. It was known as Saint or Snobs Monday. It is no coincidence that Raunds had a Coffee Tavern a Temperance Band and a strong Rechabite movement. It was recounted, many years later, by Major Henry Attley that the Roberts were a musical family and Benjamin played the flute and had a fine baritone voice. They were also staunch non-conformists and his younger brother. John, was a well known local organist.  He also built organs in some of the local chapels. Mr Attley remembered "blowing the organ" for John and particularly one occasion when his attention wandered and the pressure dropped. "Blow, boy, blow!" John hissed at him as loud as he dared without the congregation hearing

The new unions saw the outworkers as undermining the rights, conditions and wages of workers in the factories. At the 1894 Conference of The National Union of the Boot and Shoe Operatives, a Stafford delegate complained about a navy contract being given to Raunds because non-union workers undercut the rates.

The Reverand A. C. Neely, who was the vicar of Denford-cum-Rngstead, writes a poem some thirty years later about the Hand-sewn Boot makers of Ringstead in 1896. He tells of the first-floor workshop, reached by a ladder and of their disdain for "machine-mades". he also tells of the hard work of making the boots:

“Hard work?” Why, yes, of course it is. Just try to pull this thread.

Can’t manage it? I thought not. Try something else instead.

Hammer this bit of leather, on this iron, on your knee,

It don’t hurt me a blessed bit – but you just try and see!

“Don’t want much of that” you say? Ah! You haven’t learnt the trick,

I’ll tell you about it sometime. Can’t learn it all so quick.

You’re right, it is hard work, sir and more than that, it’s Art

To do it all yourself like, and fit in every part.

The missus sews the tops, of course, but then that’s not so tough,

But if you had a day at that, you’d say you’d had enough.

Ironically, in view of what was to follow some ten years later the shoemaker is against strikes, although there is a hint of reservation:

“Did we go on strike last summer, when the chaps in town were out?”

No bless you, we don’t want to strike; we get on best without.

I’m not going to say, though, that many would refuse

(If they chanced to get the offer) sixpence more a pair of shoes.

We also hear that any boots which were rejected by the War Office for minor defects were sold locally very cheaply and the good vicar had invested in a couple of pairs himself. He also liked to go to the workshop and sit and talk to the shoeworkers about "all sorts of things".

At this time it was a campign in Egypt which they had made boots for but  it was the larger conflict of The Boer War at the turn of the century (1899 – 1902) which came to the rescue of the industry, especially in the Raunds area which was heavily dependent on military orders. The orders flowed in and the agreed price for making a pair of boots was met by the War Office and the factory owners. Once the war finished, however, the orders dried up and the contractors tried to undercut each other to try to secure the diminishing orders. Suddenly the shoemakers’ wages dropped as even the Ringstead Britannia Co-operative Society, which had been formed in 1891, cut costs to secure business.

                          Taken April 2010 by author (no longer a factory)

This led to a strike of the army boot and shoe makers and to the Raunds March of 1905 where 115 men (selected from the 300 who volunteered) marched to London to petition the War Office and Parliament. The views of the Union and the local workers were as one. Well nearly! All this is covered in J. Betts’ excellent book which anyone interested should read. I will just quote from The Times of May 15th 1905 to show what a considerable event this was at the time:


                                    THE RAUNDS STRIKERS IN LONDON

A demonstration organised by the Social Democratic Federation in support of the Raunds bootmakers who are on strike, was held in Trafalgar-square yesterday afternoon; and an audience of between 8,000 and 10,000 persons was addressed by Socialist and Labour leaders from three sides of the plinth of the Nelson column. The deputation of strikers assembled under the Charing-cross railway arch about half-past 2 and were there joined by contingents from Socialist and Labour organisations. A procession was formed and, headed by a brass band with twenty or thirty banners unfurled, the men marched to the square, where they met with an enthusiastic reception from the crowd. One of the 115 men who have marched from Raunds, a cripple who walks with a crutch, headed the strikers as they marched into the square to the strains of the “Marseillaise,” and was loudly cheered............ The crowd was the largest which has been seen in Trafalgar-square for some years and it showed its practical sympathy with the strikers by throwing coins, not unmixed with silver, upon the plinth for their benefit. In this way a sum of about £10 was collected. 

But what of our two Roberts’ cousins? Some twenty of the marchers were from Ringstead including over half the brass band that accompanied them on the journey. Most were young men but Edward Bird from Ringstead at 59 was the oldest marcher. There were no Roberts on the march but the conflict split the family. As we have seen from the more recent Miner’s Strike of the 1980s bitterness can brew up in communities when some go hungry and others continue to work. George Henry tried to carry on collecting his work from the factory in Raunds in defiance of the strikers and violence ensued. 

Insert pieces from newspapers on court case March 1905 

It appears, although as yet I have no proof, that George Henry was the only one in his family who was a strike breaker. Certainly, his own younger brother, William, appeared on behalf of one of those accused of violence against George. Was it all quickly forgotten after the march or did it make George a pariah in the community. David Saint has reported that George was a church man unlike the rest of the Roberts clan who were non-conformists. He also says that George ran a welfare club to help members get health care but that his great nephew, Paul, insisted that he was a narrow minded bigot and he had never heard anyone say a good word about him.  There is no real evidence in the official records except, perhaps, a hint in the 1911 Census in that Benjamin's children are all put down with one christian name but George and Mary's all have two listed. Does it mean nothing at all, is it Mary's influence, or or is it evidence of someone the locals would see as "putting on airs and graces".


Thomas Amos of Long Buckby (early Twentieth Century)

With kind permission of Northampton Museums and Art Gallery

All we can be sure of, is that in the 1911 Census, Benjamin is described as a “Handsewn Army Bootmaker” and George Henry is also a “Handsewn Army Shoemaker.” After George, however, is added the word, “Unemployed” Was this an indication that George was frozen out by the community. On the other hand Benjamin has a son, called George too, who is a shoe hand and also unemployed. Perhaps it was just the difficult times in the shoe industry a few years before some help came from a terrible source. I say some help because the War Office, gave a mortal blow to the area when they announced that for the first time men would be going to war in machine-made boots. The handsewn craftsmen were now in desperate trouble and in 1922 the local papers told of their plight. (piece from Northampton Mercury to be inserted)

Benjamin died aged 67 in 1925 and was buried on 21st September 1925 in Ringstead Cemetery. George Henry lived to be 76 and was also buried in the Cemetery on May Ist 1941. That part of the cemetery has been levelled into green anonomity and no headstone marks either grave

One of Benjamin’s sons, Alfred, was not able to follow his father into the craft. He was too short-sighted to do the work and was later said to have worked in Palmer's Grocery Stores in Raunds. In 1911, aged 19, he was a grocery assistant in Oundle, boarding with a widow and her elderly sister. He moved on to Grantham, married and had two children, one of whom was a clever girl called Margaret Hilda Roberts who made him one of the most famous shopkeepers in England. My Uncle, Dennis Ball, told me that he saw her, a very well dressed little girl, visit her uncle “Barrel Roberts” in Marshalls Road, Raunds. Terry Collins has kindly commented below to confirm that "Barrell" was Harold Roberts, brother of Alfred and that he lived on th eopposite side oMarshalls Raod at number 58. One wonders if her Great Uncle George’s views and his experiences in 1905 had some effect on Margaret Thatcher's  attitude to unions nearly 80 years later.

 House in Carlow Street said by Wilfred Roberts to be where Benjamin and his family lived

His workshop was at the back (house presumably much altered)

Chronicle & Echo 1975


Although not strictly in the nineteenth century the Raunds March, as I have said, could not be omitted. Queen Victoria died in 1901 and there followed the Edwardian postscript before the modern age blasted the world apart. In 1902 the Ringstead Band played for the celebrations in the village for the coronation of Edward VII. Below is a picture of the band, many of whom were, three years later, on that historic march.



 The band included many from the Mayes family. From the Back:

Back Row in the middle, holding a trombone, is Len Mayes; the two men on the left of the second row down are Benny and Ernest Mayes; the man, second left, on third row down is Harry Abbott Mayes. On the right of the front row, lying down, is Bill Mayes who later emigrated to Australia.

Behind him on the right is Benjamin Ebenezer Roberts

Photograph by kind permission of Vivienne Marshall, great-granddaughter of Harry Abbott Mayes

Perhaps as we look at Benjamin and the others in the photograph we can see something of what H. E Bates was describing in his autobiography:

The impression I chiefly gain from the recollection of those shoemaking men is not exactly one of coarseness; they lack the sheer belted belching muscle and guts of what used to be known as labouring men; they do not exhibit the beer-spitting swagger I remember of navvies, bricklayers or those wild-eyed drovers of cattle I sometimes used to see drunk and rosy-eyed, on Midland market days. Their roughness is of rather different order, and I find it difficult to describe. If I use the word rude, in the sense of uncouth, the impression will be a shade too strong. Nor are they loud; nor, in Rupert Brooke’s words, excessively “black of mouth”. Nor are they as forthright, or as blunt or as self-opinionated as Northern men. The impression I really get is of a dry, droll, unshaven independence and it is not at all an unlikeable quality.



 Censuses 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911

 Captain Swing. E.J. Hobsbawm and George Rude Lawrence and Wishart 1969 pps 181-182

The Art of Boot and Shoemaking: A Practical Handbook. John Bedford Leno (Crosby Lockwood and Co. 1885. Reprinted in Kessinger Publishing's Legacy Reprints)

 The Location of the English Shoe Industry. Harald Rydberg. Geografika Annaler SeriesB vol47 part1 1965

 Raunds Bootmakers March to London Centenary 1905 – 2005. J. R. Betts. Pub Graham J Underwood

 Account of the Strike of the Northamptonshire Boot & Shoe Makers in 1857-8-9 by John Ball (Report of the Committee on Trades’ Societies appointed by the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science 1860. (John W. Parker and Son, West Strand)

Shoemakers in Northamptonshire 1762 – 1911: A Statistical Survey. Hatley, Victor A. & Rajczonek, Joseph(Northampton Historical Series No. 6 1971 (Northampton Central Library)

Shoemakers in Northamptonshire. 1871 Authors as above. (Reprint from Northampton History News June 1983 with 1871 Census figures) (Northampton Central Library)

"Some Northamptonshire Villages. Raunds." The Boot & Shoe Trades Journal 21st May 1887 (Northampton Museum)

Saint Crispin's Men. A history of Northamptonshire's shoemakers. Albert V. Eason (Park Lane Publishing 1994)

The Times. May 15 1905

The Co-operator 1st June 1867 page 394 (also reply of 15th July 1867 printed in Rance Reviewed Summer 2004)

 The Feast of July.  H. E. Bates (Michael Joseph 1954)

 The Vanished World; An Autobiography.  H. E. Bates (Michael Joseph 1969)  Shoe making terms explained.

Boots on the March.  David Saint

Chronicle & Echo 8th February 1975 "Northants Roots of Mrs Thatcher" by Stanley Worker  The Papers of Baroness Thatcher LG., OM., FRS. Ref THCR 1/9

My thanks to Rebecca Shawcross, Shoe Resources Officer at Northampton Museums and Art Gallery for her help with research and the illustrations.

My thanks also to Sara Sharman for checking in the Ringstead Cemetery Register on the death of Benjamin and George Henry