An article in The Leicester Mercury dated 1st April 1837 exposed some scandalous accusations relating to my husband’s 4x great grandmother Mary Caulton, nee Bullard and her family.
Thomas Goddard and Benjamin Caulton, (a youth of 19) were charged with assaulting the mother of the latter, Mary Caulton, residing in Wheat Street.
The complainant said that her son repeatedly ill-used her, in consequence of her refusing to supply him with food for which he was too idle to work; and that, a few days ago, while engaged in the motherly act of preventing him swallowing some victuals, (which she considered he had no right to,) by seizing hold of his cheek, he and Goddard struck her, adding with perfect indifference, “Goddard’s woman was standing by, he lives with my daughter, who has left her husband these two years.” The daughter here stepped forward, with the most disgusting effrontery, and said “I’m the woman, gentleman – my mother compelled me to marry against my wish, and I’ve lived with Goddard nearly two years – I’ve been married eleven years today, and I’m 26 years old.” This modest woman added that her “marriage name, was Lydia Gunton, and that her husband’s name was Henry,” and Goddard said that both she and her mother had repeatedly taken out warrants against Gunton for his brutal conduct towards his wife.
Benjamin said that his mother had induced him to leave his situation to come home and attend to her frames, and that, after he had done so, she and one of his sisters illtreated him, and refused to give him anything to eat, upon which he determined to help himself. On being questioned by the Mayor, he said that, so far from being able to read, he did not even know his letters; he had been two or three times to a Sunday school, but his father (who died about a year ago) and mother allowed him to go or not, just as he pleased; his mother had never sent him to church or chapel, and never went herself; he did not know two words of the Lord’s Prayer, never having heard that or any other prayer, at home, in the whole course of his life.
The eldest son, twenty nine years of age, then presented himself and confirmed his brother’s statement of the manner in which they had been reared, adding that their parents never wished them to do anything but work, and that they often threatened to turn their children out of doors if they did not bring home money or by some means or other, whether they acquired it honestly or not being a matter of perfect indifference to them.
In answer to questions from the Mayor, the old woman (who seemed totally lost to shame) said that she had buried six children, and that ten were still alive, towards who she considered she had performed the part of a mother, having taken “eight of them, clean and comfortable, to the Methodist’s chapel in a morning, (once in her life, perhaps) to lift up their voices” – Here the Mayor very properly checked her hypocrisy by desiring to hear no more, remarking that the only excuse she could possibly have for her conduct, was the fact of her having had so many children, which, however, ought to have made her more careful, they being either great curses or great blessings, generally speaking, according as their early training had been judicious or otherwise. After censuring the old woman in the strongest terms for neglecting her children in so unnatural a manner, the worthy Magistrate expressed his surprise at the unblushing effrontery exhibited by the daughter and her paramour in publicly avowing their immoral and disgraceful connection, and advised them to lead a more reputable life in future. As regarded Benjamin Caulton, the Mayor said that though there was no doubt his mother had grossly and shamefully neglected him, in not teaching him to read, and instilling into his mind the first principles of his duty towards God and man, yet it was not too late for him to improve, and he would entreat him to apply his mind in such a manner as would enable him to remedy the unpardonable omissions of his parents. – The Parties were then dismissed, the expenses being divided.
Mary Bullard had been baptised in Godmanchester, Huntingdonshire on Christmas Day 1787, the daughter of John Bullard and his wife Ann Cole, the second of their eventual ten children. John Bullard and his family were mostly Straw Basket Makers. Mary had married George Caulton – a Framework Knitter on 23rd November 1806 in Leicester. The marriage register shows both George and Mary could not read or write as they both signed their names with an x. The article above seems to state that George and Mary had 16 children, of which 6 had died, however so far I have only managed to find 14 children with 3 burials prior to 1837.
George born 19th Feb 1808 – baptised 27th June 1810
Lydia born 16th June 1809 – baptised with her brother George
John born 25th Nov 1811 – baptised 7th Jan 1812 and again aged four and a half on 1st May 1816
Frances baptised 13th Dec 1813
Elizabeth baptised 4th Dec 1815 – buried on 26th June 1839 aged 23
Benjamin baptised 14th May 1818
Mary Ann baptised 30th March 1820 – buried 23rd Jan 1827 aged 6
Sarah baptised 27th Dec 1821
James baptised 28th Sep 1823
William baptised 19th Aug 1825
Peter baptised 13th Aug 1826 and buried on 21st Aug 1826 aged 3 weeks
Eliza baptised 12th March 1828 – buried on 13th April 1828 aged 2 months
Eliza baptised 3rd Aug 1831
Harriet born around 1832 – no baptism found
As the article mentioned – Mary’s husband George had died about a year before the case went in front of the magistrate, having been buried in Leicester on 13th March 1836 aged 50. His occupation varied across some of the baptism entries for their children between framework knitter (FWK) or wire worker. It looks likely that Mary carried on the framework knitting to bring in money for the family from the mention in the article about getting her son to tend to the frames. The address of Wheat Street given in the article was one of the slum areas of Leicester so it is likely that the family were living in cramped, unsanitary conditions.
It would have been a struggle for Mary to have been widowed with children still to look after, but by 1836 her elder children were mostly all grown up and married.
Her eldest son George had married aged 19 to Esther Dunkley in 1827, going on to have ten children, of which 3 died in infancy. On the 1841 census his occupation was Stocking Maker, George was a Framework Knitter making Silk Gloves in 1851 having moved from Leicester to Basford in Nottinghamshire with his wife and children. They were still in Basford in 1861 where his occupation was given as Cotton Glove Maker. In the mid 1860s George’s married son George junior and his wife and children emigrated to America and George senior must have joined them prior to 1870, it is likely it was after his wife Esther died in 1869. They are in Philadelphia in 1870 where George was working in a Woollen Mill and in Needham, Massachusetts in 1880 where George and many other families were working as Framework Knitters. George died in Needham in 1892.
Mary’s eldest daughter Lydia was of course mentioned in the article as having married very young to Henry Gunton who she indeed married when she was 16 in 1826. It seems rather sad that she was berated so much in court about being so brazen about her marital circumstances having left Henry for apparent ill treatment and taking up with Thomas Goddard. She and Henry never had any children, and likewise she and Thomas never had any children either. They remained together for at least 40 years until his death in 1876. In 1878 Lydia married William Waring, technically able to as Henry Gunton had died in 1871, allowing her to marry officially without committing bigamy. William died in 1889 and Lydia died in 1904 aged 95.
On George and Lydia’s separate marriage entries they too signed their names with x confirming the details in the newspaper article about them not having been taught how to read or write. Lydia was a witness at her brother’s wedding in 1827, bearing in mind that by then she had been married to Henry Gunton for a year, her name was initially noted as being Lydia Gunton but Gunton was then crossed out and Caulton written, so it looks like she was already disassociating herself from Henry that early on, given the article stating that she had been living with Thomas Goddard for two years by that time having left Henry – at least by 1835, it shows that it was likely that if she had not yet fully left Henry until 1835, perhaps they had several periods of breaking up and getting back together again before finally splitting up when she met Thomas?
Mary’s next son John married Ellen Robinson in 1830, John’s marriage entry shows him signing his name with an x. He and Ellen had a daughter Mary Ann the same year they married and a daughter Lydia in 1834. However it looks like John and Ellen did not stay together long. By the 1841 census Ellen was living with David Moulding/Moulden and was having children with him. Their children were registered under a mixture of surnames, given that she was technically still married to John Caulton. John’s daughter Mary Ann was staying with his sister Lydia in 1841. John’s daughter Lydia died in 1848.
John is living with his sister Lydia in 1871 and her long term partner Thomas Goddard.
John died in 1894 – his will states that neither his wife Ellen or his daughter Mary Ann should inherit anything from him and it was his housekeeper Sarah Preston – who he appears to have lived with since at least 1881 – and seem to look like they are pretending to be married in the 1891 census, who inherits from him instead. His will, written in 1885 states his wife – “commonly known as Ellen Molding” left him around 35 years prior to “cohabit with a man by that name by whom she had children”, but it must have been longer than that as her first child with David was born in 1840.
The next child of George and Mary Caulton was Frances who married aged 19 in 1832 to David Gunton, David was the brother of Henry Gunton who had married her sister Lydia. Frances and David had a son called David in 1832 but David senior died the same year – his burial entry notes he was from the “Fever House”. Just two years later David junior died. Frances went on to have a son Joseph in 1836, his baptism entry states he was the son of David and Frances however David couldn’t have been his father, so he was illegitimate. Frances then went on to have a son Richard in 1838 who sadly died the same year, he was the son of Richard Jennings who she went on to marry that year, but both his birth and death registration were listed under the surname Gunton. Frances and Richard stayed together until her death in 1870 and never had any more children, Richard died in 1889. Again, Frances was another child who could not read or write having signed both her marriage certificates with an x.
As we know George and Mary’s next child Elizabeth died in 1839 aged 23, interestingly she had not been married off young like so many of her siblings. The next child we know survived into adulthood was Benjamin who was mentioned in the newspaper article about assaulting his mother. I do not know what became of Benjamin. He is mentioned in the newspaper article in 1837 but does not appear in any censuses and I have not found any marriage or burial entries for him in Leicester. It is possible he could have moved away. The family surname often gets spelled in different ways, Colton, Cotton etc. so can be difficult at times to pinpoint them but so far I have not come across any likely entries. He might have emigrated.
The next child Mary Ann sadly died in infancy so we move on to her sister Sarah – she married John Nichols in Leicester in 1840 aged 19. As expected she too signed her name with an x. She and John had 13 children – of which four died in infancy. Her husband was a Framework Knitter like most of the other men in the extended family. They remained in Leicester, with John dying there in 1887. It is possible that Sarah remarried the same year to a William Wagstaff and then died in Leicester in 1890.
Sarah’s brother James was the next child and he married Caroline Berry in 1843 – when he was 20. As you can guess, he too signed his name with an x on the marriage register. He was a Framework Knitter by trade. He and Caroline had three children Hannah, Benjamin and Mary Ann, Benjamin sadly died in infancy. They also moved to Nottinghamshire like his older brother George, and it was there that Caroline died in 1864. James went on to remarry in 1866 to Louisa Cresswell. James died in Nottingham in 1879 and Louisa died in 1891.
George and Mary’s next two children Peter and Eliza both died in infancy, their next child – also called Eliza may well have died young too, she doesn’t appear on the 1841 census with her mother – she would have been about 10 years old, I have not found a burial for her or a marriage.
The last known child of George Caulton and Mary Bullard was Harriet born around 1832 who does not seem to have been baptised. She appeared on the 1841 census with her mother and her brother James at Bedford Street, Leicester with her married sister Sarah in the next household. Bedford Street was the address given on many of the children’s baptisms, so it looks likely that the Wheat Street address in the article was a temporary home, and that Bedford Street was the main street that the family lived on for many years. Wheat Street is actually very close to Bedford Street, Bedford Street was likely part of the slum area that was cleared in the 1950s and replaced by a ring road and factory and shop units.
Harriet married George Holmes on 17th July 1848 in Leicester when she was about 16 years old. At that time she was living at Peggs Yard, George was living at Mansfield Street and was working as a servant. Both Harriet and George signed with an x on the marriage register. By 1851 they were living at 4 Keens Yard, Leicester and George’s occupation had changed from Servant to Framework Knitter and Harriet had the same occupation. They would go on to have 14 children with three who died in infancy.
Mary b. 1847 – note that she was born before George and Harriet married – her birth was registered as Caulton and in 1851 she was with her aunt Frances Jennings and her maternal grandmother Mary living at 70 Russell Street, Leicester. By 1861 she was with her parents and down as Holmes. It isn’t entirely clear if George Holmes was her biological father though.
Frances b. 1849 d. 1851
Sarah b. 1851
Richard b. 1852 d. 1853
George b. 1854
Harriet b. 1857
Frank James b. 1859
Fanny b. 1861
Charles Henry b. 1862
Lydia b. 1865
Sarah Eliza b. 1866
John Tom b. 1868 d. 1872
Elizabeth b. 1870
Emily b. 1874
Harriet’s mother Mary did not make it to the 1861 census. Her death was registered under the surname Colton, she died on 19th February 1854 at 72 Russell Street, Leicester – the widow of George Colton a Framework Knitter. Her cause of death was cancer of the uterus and her married daughter Sarah was the informant of her death – living at the same address.
In 1861 Harriet and her family were living at 18 Providence Place, Leicester and by 1871 had moved to 47 Britannia Street, Leicester and by 1881 at 211 Argyle Street, Leicester. George and Harriet continued as Framework Knitters during that time. By 1891 they were living at 21 Royal East Street, Leicester and Harriet no longer had an occupation listed but George was now a General Dealer. Providence Place and Argyle Street no longer exist, and Britannia Street and Royal East Street while they are still in Leicester are likely much different now – mostly all now filled with retail units with not much in the way of the original buildings what would have been there. They are not far from Bedford Street so likely would have still been populated by slum style housing. George did not get to see 1892 as he died on 29th December 1891 at 5 Sarah Street, Blackfriars, Leicester, aged 65. His occupation was down as Rag and Bone Collector. His cause of death was Bright’s Disease. The informant of his death was his married daughter Elizabeth Martin at the same address. Sarah Street is now known as Bath Lane and consists of blocks of flats and retail units.
Harriet is then with her married daughter Sarah Lagor in 1901 at 67 Leamington Street, Leicester, her occupation listed as Housework, and with her married daughter Harriet Veasey in 1911 at 106 Mount Road, Leicester. Harriet died on 17th March 1916 at the same address aged 84. She is described as being the widow of George Holmes, a Framework Knitter. Her cause of death was given as Heart Failure. The informant of her death was her married daughter Sarah Lagor of 1 Slate Street, Leicester.
It is Harriet’s daughter Elizabeth b. 1870 who my husband is descended from as she was his 2x great grandmother – she married Sheldon Alfred Martin in 1891 and I have written about their family here.
It seems sad that all of George Caulton and Mary Bullard’s children did not get the opportunity to get an education, although they were likely the same as many other families of the time where the families stuck in poverty could not afford to send their children to school, especially when they had a large family with many mouths to feed and the mother needed help around the home and indeed sending the children out to work to bring in more income. However if the newspaper article accusations are true about them caring more about money than educating their children, then this does seem sad, especially given how young many of the children were when they got married, ranging from 16 to 20 into some unhappy marriages with Lydia Caulton and Henry Gunton and John Caulton and Ellen Robinson. Also seems quite telling that they didn’t seem to care how the children brought money in either, turning a blind eye to whether it was legally gained or not. Framework Knitting dominated the family, even with George Caulton junior moving to America – still doing the same work there. There is a great website by the Framework Knitting Museum based in Nottingham that gives some great background about the trade and the tools used – https://www.frameworkknittersmuseum.org.uk/about-us/history/.
As the years went by education became more freely available and laws were put in place to ensure children had a proper education. In 1880 a law was passed to make it compulsory for children to attend school between the ages of 5 and 10, the minimum school leaving age was raised to 11 in 1893 and to 12 by 1899 and to 14 by 1918. This was then raised to 15 in 1944 and it stayed as 15 up until 1972 when it was raised to 16, then raised to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015. Now students have to stay in education until age 18, but this is not limited to staying at school. After the age of 16, students can choose different education paths such as to go to college or to start a workplace apprenticeship.
It makes me wonder what kind of relationship the other Caulton children had with their mother in relation to the accusations in the paper, certainly with Mary living with her daughter Frances they seem to at least have remained close, but most of the other siblings seemed more aligned with Lydia and her long term partner Thomas Goddard. I also think that of course in comparison to society today, there is no scandal in Lydia leaving her husband and being in a hopefully more happy loving relationship with Thomas. Back then divorce was out of reach of most normal people as it was expensive and before 1857 could only be obtained via an Act of Parliament. After then it was available by way of a court order, but still could be an expensive process, so it would have been quite common practice to separate and end up living with someone else and pretending to be married to avoid the stigma.
I also wonder what became of some of Mary’s other children like Benjamin, the subject of the article from 1837 who seems to have disappeared, and also what other children George and Mary had if her figures were correct with stating she had 16 children? Were she and George as bad as they sounded? It seems they might have been but all we have is one newspaper article and not the full story. I do know that Mary’s youngest brother Jubilee Bullard was in the papers in 1843 for having broken windows in his brother Robert’s pub, The Hog & Chequers in Godmanchester. That he was known for being quite violent and had previously been committed to jail for assaulting their father John. Jubilee ended up in the Bedfordshire Asylum – being committed there on 23rd December 1850 until his death there on 24th July 1855. Where the Bullard family a bit of a bad sort, just a couple of bad apples or victims of poverty? How many other families experienced the same things when families were large and money was tight?