Following the Work

Article published in Community Voice February 2021

Back in 2014 I attended a talk at The Snibston Museum in Coalville about local mining. There I met John Kidger who was researching his family history. I was pleased to meet him because the big house – Yew Tree House, previously The White House – in School Lane across the road from us was built and occupied by the Kidger family for many years, and they built the cottages which in the 1970s became our “Froggarts Cottage”. We corresponded for a while and he came to visit on one of his regular trips to the area. Turns out his Kidgers are not related to the Yew Tree House Kidgers who owned the butchers in School Lane and were part owners of Peggs Green mine before it closed in 1859. John's Kidgers were working miners, but never aspired to mine ownership!

John sent me research about his family's movements "following the work" as mines opened up and were worked out.

"Thomas Kiddyer arrived in Repton, south Derbyshire in the early 1730s. In 1735 he married a widow Anne Eaton at nearby Twyford. The marriage was the subject of a Marriage Bond held at the Diocese of Lichfield because, in this case, Anne was 37 and Thomas only 25. Anne already had 3 children and went on to have 3 more with Thomas, 2 of whom survived.

Seeking employment for Thomas the new family tried their hand in Burton-upon-Trent around 1745. That didn't seem to work out and by 1747, possibly after being removed under the Poor Law, they appear in Thringstone and then Coleorton where father Thomas and sons Thomas and Richard worked in the coalmines. At this time young Thomas was aged 10 and Richard started in the pit when he was 7 years old.

Both brothers married and raised families in Coleorton and worked in the local pits. During the 1770s production at collieries like Paddock at Coleorton was decreasing and employment prospects were getting precarious. Thomas and Richard were likely aware of the situation and were looking elsewhere. In 1772 Richard sought formal settlement in Repton and his elder brother tried in 1775 but neither succeeded.

The brothers decided that their future lay elsewhere and it is likely that mine owners in Chesterfield convinced them to relocate to Chesterfield in north Derbyshire and some inducement (or possibly hollow promises!) persuaded them.

Whatever the circumstances, the two Kidgers (the name had changed by now) settled in Chesterfield and worked in the mines and there are many of my ancestors in that area to this day."

In Coleorton there are a number of families who have lived here for many generations. It was a very mixed economy, with a lot of relatively small-scale farming. Often families owned a small plot which they used for themselves and before the enclosures they could graze sheep and cattle on the Moors. Many families worked at home – lacemaking, hat-making, frame-work knitting, spar bauble-making. Not a few had shops attached to their cottage or a beer-house or inn. Trades such as blacksmiths, carpenters and builders were always in demand, and the "big houses" like Coleorton Hall needed servants, cooks and gardeners. So there was a core of employment opportunities to keep most families afloat and for the next generation to be able to start their own families here.

But industrial coal-mining from the 1600s onwards attracted people like the Kidgers to good wages and maybe a house for a while. Many colliers moved between mines as the fortunes of each pit changed. Limby Hall (known in the 18th century as "Linby Hall") was likely named by miners who travelled south from Linby mine in Nottingham to work the Coleorton mines. They probably lived in temporary accommodation which they named "Linby Hall" – to remind them of home.

It was not just the working people who moved around to make a living.

The 7th Baronet - Sir George Howland Beaumont - inherited the title and ownership of the Coleorton estates and mines in 1762 at the age of 9. So until he reached his majority the Coleorton estates were run by a manager (Boutlbee). Sir George lived in Dunmow, Essex, where his mother was born, and completed his education, married and went on extensive European travels. Eventually he decided to move to Coleorton Hall to make it his home and to get on top of the business side of things.

Sir George and wife Margaret moved in early 1800s and the pair set about integrating themselves with village life including ensuring that the Free School and Alms house set up by the 3rd Viscount Beaumont in 1702 was well looked after. So it was natural to look to their home county to find a suitable schoolmaster.

"Two hundred years ago in 1820 Lucy and John Beckwith moved 127 miles from their home near Castle Hedingham in Essex to become headmaster and headmistress of the Beaumont Endowment School in Coleorton. At that time the School was located in the same building as the Alms Houses which housed widows from the parish. The pair were both just 23 years old, having married 4 years before on 7 January 1817, so it must have been a big undertaking and adventure to move up north away from their families. There were no other Beckwiths in Coleorton at that time.

"Coleorton Hospital & School" from an original engraving bt S Shaw in 1794. Note the slag heaps from the mines in the background.

The School and "hospital" (the alms house) were funded by a trust set up by Viscount Beaumont of Coleorton Hall in his will in 1702, with the mission to teach local children to read and write free-of-charge. There were eight rooms on the ground floor, six for the widows, two for the schoolmaster, and two large rooms above for the schoolrooms to accommodate up to 60 children. John Beckwith, as master, received an annual salary of £65, an allowance of 12½ tons of coal and occupied the rooms rent free."

The dynamics of family life are fascinating. Of course the most important part of family life is securing an income and somewhere to live and bring up children. Although this often necessitates moving away, some families stay put. Several Coleorton families can trace their lineage back through generations that haven’t strayed very far – Bradford, Ward, Platts and more.

Sandra Dillon
Coleorton Heritage Group
February 2021

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