Research: John Smith

My 3x great grandfather John Smith was born in 1835 in Hull, East Yorkshire. He was one of 3 known children; William (1826-?), David (1829-?) and John (1835-?). Their parents were Robert and Elizabeth Smith (nee Clarkson).

In 1841 John was 6 years old and was living on Scale Lane in Hull with his parents and 2 siblings. John’s father, 51-year-old Robert was working as a shoemaker and would have been providing for his family via this trade, whilst John’s mother, 41-year-old Elizabeth was caring for the children and tending to household duties. John’s 15-year-old brother, William, was working as a Joiner’s apprentice, so he would have been earning money for the family, too.

John was about 13 or 14 years old when his father Robert passed away in 1849. A few years later, in 1851, John was 16 years old and was living at 13 Scale Lane in Hull with his mother. I discovered that 13 Scale Lane had actually been an Inn called the Dog & Duck Inn (and sometimes referred to as Tavern), which was being ran by a John Dean in 1818. A milliner, which is a person that makes and sells women’s hats, worked (and probably lived) at the residence at about the same time under the name E. Hodgeson and Co. In 1826, the residence was a home and workplace to Thomas Norris, who made gloves and breeches.

When John and his mother lived there in 1851, his mother was recorded as a widow and she was working as a shoemaker. Elizabeth probably took over the shoe making business when her husband passed away, in order to keep up an income for herself and her children’s survival in the early Victorian times. John was working as an Apprentice Joiner and would have been earning a small amount of money for himself and his mother.

A written contract, called an Indenture, would have been created for John, a new apprentice, and a very talented and experienced Joiner, who became his Master. The Master would have instructed and taught John the art of joinery and prepared him for later life, when John would use the trade to survive and earn money for himself and family. The Indenture bound the Master to the apprentice, and vice versa, meaning that they had to both fulfil their half of the contract. The contract would have stated that the apprentice should not work any longer than 12 hours a day and that the apprentice should not work on Sundays. John would have started his apprentice in about 1849 at the age of 14 and would have become a fully qualified Joiner in about 1856 when he was 21 years old.

A map from 1886, showing Scale Lane.

John Smith married Ann Elizabeth Watson on 21st June 1857 in the parish of Holy Trinity in Hull. They went on to have 5 known children; Thomas Watson (1861-1926), Frances Elizabeth (1866-?), John Robert (1869-?), Florence Avis (1875-1940) and George Yeoman (1880-1891).

In 1861 John was living his wife, Ann, at 1 Henry’s Place, which was located on Sykes Street in Hull. Elizabeth would have most probably been pregnant with their first child at this point in time, but she would have still been tending to all of the housework and cooking. John was still working as a joiner at this time, which meant that had been working as a fully qualified joiner for about 5 years. This suggests that he must have been, at least, fairly good in his trade and was a successful worker.

The image below shows Sykes Street on a 1893 map of Hull. I imagine that in 30 years, the street and surrounding area had changed, but the basic layout of the streets would have remained very similar. Henry’s place would have been located in one of the little off-shoots from the larger, Sykes Street.

In 1871 John was living his wife and their 3 oldest children, at 2 St. Mary’s Square, which was located in Hull. He was recorded as being a Joiner. John’s 60 -year-old widowed mother in law, Frances Watson was living very close, if not next door to them and was recorded as being a baker. Because of this, I am sure that most days, the Smith household would have had fresh bread on the table and would have shared the company of Frances!

In 1881 John was living his wife and all of his known children, at 5 Kirkby Street, which was located in the Sculcoates district of Hull. It appears that John’s wife had stated that her name was Eliza, which means that she was referred to as Eliza, instead of Ann. 46-year-old John and his oldest son Thomas Watson Smith, who was 19 at the time, were both recorded as being Joiners.

The image below shows Kirkby Street on a map from 1893. I believe that the the layout of the street would not have changed very much in the years between the census and the map. This means that we can clearly see the location of the Smith household, 5 Kirkby Street, on this map.

In 1891, 56-year-old John was living his wife and 2 of his 5 children, at 4 Featherstone’s Entry, High Street in Hull. 56-year-old John was recorded as an employer and was still working as a Joiner. John’s 21-year-old son, also called John, was recorded as being a joiner, too, which suggests that he was working for his father. Florence Avis Smith, my 2x great grandmother was just 16 years old and her occupation was recorded as “Housework” but she was also “Employed”, meaning that she would have worked in someone’s home (or multiple people’s homes) doing their cleaning, washing etc.

Because John Smith is a very common name, and can be one of the most difficult names to research, I have not been able to exactly narrow down which date John passed away in. It is something that I often revisit, looking for more clues and leads and in hope of, one day, finding how “my” John Smith lived his finals days.

I always wonder about what happened to my 3x great grandfather, John Smith, but I also always wonder what happened to all of the woodwork that he worked on and created. I would love to own or have to opportunity see something that was made by him, but again his name is too common for anything with “John Smith” written or carved into it, to be narrowed down to being his!

As usual, if you know anything about John and his family, I would love to get in touch and learn more about their lives.

Thank you very much for reading,

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