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SAMUEL STERRY
MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER

By Kathy Sterry

When my great-grandfather, SAMUEL Sterry, was born on the 26 September 1848, Queen Victoria had been on the throne for 11 years and was onto her third prime minister, Lord John Russell. The Corn Laws had been repealed two years previously and the following year the Hungarian War for Independence was to fail.

I first heard of him from his posthumous daughter-in-law, my grandmother. She told me that he had come from the Forest of Dean and had died very young. His son, her husband, had come from her own area of Dewsbury in West Yorkshire.

Samuel Sterry

SAMUEL was born into a village close to the Forest of Dean which until very recently had been extra-parochial. This meant that those religious groups which did penetrate into the Forest had absorbed a large proportion of the inhabitants into their followers. The Church of England clergy concentrated on their own parishioners. Samuel's two elder brothers, Thomas and Emanuel had both been baptised, but Samuel and his younger siblings were apparently not baptised, certainly not in the Parish church of Longhope.

A number of parishes around Longhope have been searched but in none have the baptisms of Samuel and his younger siblings been found, as yet. Other branches of the family apparently became Baptists around this time. However the Baptist Church in Longhope at this time no longer exists and its records were destroyed in a fire.

Two of Samuel's brothers married in Baptist Chapels: Emanuel in 1869 married near Ross-on-Wye and Eli in 1883 married in Cheltenham. The family of Emanuel's wife, Elizabeth Smith, were certainly Church of England before the marriage. As they left the area after the 1871 census I do not know if they also became Baptists. Therefore only a small amount of purely circumstantial evidence hints that Thomas and Elizabeth Sterry became Baptists sometime between 1845 and 1848.

SAMUEL's father, Thomas, baptised 15 April 1804 in Longhope to Samuel and Hannah, was usually described, in the census returns and Parish Registers as a labourer. However on Samuel's marriage, his father was described as a Farmer. Was this step-up in status claimed from pride or had Thomas had an improvement in fortune before his death in June 1869? I am not aware, as yet, of any evidence to back up this claim of Samuels. The likelihood is that he farmed just an acre or two.

Thomas's father, Samuel, was admitted three times, between 1831 and 1836, to the Gloucester Lunatic Asylum; diagnosed as suffering from monomania although his symptoms seem, to me, to closely match those of a very heavy drinker or alcoholic. Samuel's wife Hannah had to pay money to the Parish towards his upkeep and as a result was described as a pauper later in the vestry accounts.

SAMUEL 's mother was Elizabeth Dawes, baptised in 1818 in Longhope to William and Sarah Dawes. Hers was a family who seemed to intermarry with the Sterrys quite frequently over the years. The name seemed to vary in spelling, during the early to mid-nineteenth century, more than Sterry did. it might be written Daw, Dawe, Daws, Dawes and so on. Sterry by contrast was already settling down to two main variants, in that part of the country at least.

One of Elizabeth's sisters had been baptised Clementina Mary and it must be in her honour that Samuel's younger sister was named, (although after the 1851 census she was always found recorded as just Mary, including her death at the age of 20 in 1871).

Over the next 13 years, which takes me up to the 1861 census, I wonder how aware Samuel and his family would have been of the various conflicts going an around the world, such as the Crimean war from 1854 to 1856, the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865. He would have been too young to go to Prince Albert's Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Crystal Palace and there would not have been much to interest his family in Darwin's "Origin of Species" published in 1859, especially since they could not write and probably could not read either.

Viscount Palmerston was the Liberal Prime Minister when young Samuel, aged 13, was found in the census of 1861 working as an agricultural labourer and living on a farm in Westbury-on-Severn. His elder brother Emanuel, aged about 16, was now working as a carter's boy and still living in Longhope, although not with the family. The eldest child, Thomas, was still living at home in the 1851 census but by 1861 had apparently gone from the area completely. He had probably left for somewhere like Gloucester or Bristol, to find work.

While his father might have been earning as much as 75p (equivalent) Samuel, at this time, was probably earning no more than 11 pence. Had they been renting a house another 27p equivalent would have been going out. Life would not have been easy. Clothes would have been worn until they fell apart, an overcoat would have cost the equivalent of about 2!! Candles cost about 1 to 2p per pound. Potatoes were costing about 2p for 14 pounds weight and along with other things like 4lb loaves of bread at 2p to 4p would perhaps have formed the bulk of their diet as meat cost about 3p to 4p a pound. The wage earners in the family would have had first call an any meat that ever found its way onto their table, if indeed it ever did while young children were being supported by Samuel's father. However, they might have had a few chickens, geese & a pig of their own, & also possibly trapped rabbits in the Forest.

The fifteenth of November 1873 found SAMUEL in Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, where he worked as a coal-miner and pit-sinker, marrying Anne Hemingway, daughter of Samuel Hemingway a Blacksmith, of Soothill Nether, Dewsbury. Here Samuel lived for the rest of his life. Over the next few years Samuel and Ann had 7 children: Mary Elizabeth (who later became Housekeeper to the Earl of Shaftesbury), Edwin, Ada, Eda, Sam, Archibald and Elsie, (who died a year later in May 1891).

Archibald and his mother Anne nee Hemingway

SAMUEL now seems to have been more prosperous. He and Ann bought a big Family bible for their first child Mary Elizabeth and Ann started keeping entries in it of births and marriages. However life still seems to have had its pressures as he may have been relieving his tension by drinking rather too much alcohol. Perhaps his children having to be supported until over the age of 10 was a strain.

Between the birth of his first child in 1874, the Education Act of 1880 and his death in July 1896 the strife in Africa, capture of Khartoum and death of General Gordon may have meant less to him and his family than Victoria's Jubilee in 1887.

By the time there was war with China and Japan in 1894 and the discovery of x-rays in 1895 Samuel may have already been harbouring the cirrhosis of the liver and stomach ulcer that lead to his death in 1896, on the 26 July. His youngest child, Archibald, my grandfather was only 8 years old. 1 wish I knew what memories he had had of his father but alas he died in 1949, before I was born!

 

SOURCES

Birth certificate
Longhope baptisms PR
Marriage certificate
Burial PR for Longhope and details from death certificate
1861 census for Westbury on Severn, Gloucestershire.
1861 census for Longhope, Gloucesteshire
"The What it Cost The Day Before Yesterday Book" by Harold Priestley
Marriage certificate Conversations of Mary Elizabeth Sterry with nephew Frank Sterry, plus estate records
Family bible, with Harold and Daisy Hansard
Death Certificate
Gloucester Lunatic Asylum admissions and case notes
Longhope Vestry accounts