Late Victorian Christmases in Waters Upton – Part 2

Christmas carols (and other entertainments)

Pleasant Evenings with the Children.—On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, a miscellaneous entertainment was provided by the children attending Waters Upton School, consisting of duets, dialogues, musical drills, songs, in character, &c. The Rev. J. B. Davies, rector of the parish, presided each evening. The whole of the children acquitted themselves admirably, and gave much credit to Miss Taplin’s careful training. On the proposition of the Rector, hearty votes of thanks were accorded to Miss Taplin (head-teacher), Miss Union [actually Miss M Minor] for presiding at the pianoforte, and to the children for their entertainments, which were heartily applauded. The proceeds are for providing prizes for the children. — Wellington Journal, 23 December 1893.

Miss Taplin was not enumerated at Waters Upton on any of the censuses, but the entry for Waters Upton in the 1895 Kelly’s Directory includes “Miss Sarah Ann Taplin, mistress”. She had embarked on a teaching career early on, the 1881 census showing Banbury-born Sarah at the age of 19 as an Assistant Schoolmistress lodging, with two other young women of the same profession, in the Hinckley, Leicestershire household of Schoolmaster and Schoolmistress Alfred and Fanny Webb. Ten years later in 1891, Sarah was (along with another School Mistress) a visitor in a household at Wivenhoe in Essex. Her short spell at the National School in Waters Upton followed.

The newspaper report from 1893 quoted above does not explicitly connect the entertainments provided by the schoolchildren with Christmas. The timing of the events makes the association fairly clear however, and this account for the 1894 (published on 5 Jan 1895) leaves us in no doubt: “The Christmas Season has been kept in this village in the usual way. Before the Christmas holidays began the children of the Parish School gave two evenings’ entertainments of amusing songs and dialogues, in which they were well instructed by their teacher, Miss Taplin.”

I have not yet established exactly when Sarah Taplin left Waters Upton, but by 1901 she was living and teaching at Shilton in her native county of Oxfordshire. The following year she was married, in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, to London & North West Railway worker William Meers. This did of course mean that her 20 year teaching career was over – but it also meant that Sarah was able to have children of her own.

The Wellington Journal’s summary of the seasonal celebrations of 1894 in Waters Upton continued by noting the beautiful decorations in the church “for the Christmas services by Mrs. L. V. Yonge, Mrs. Percival, and Miss M. Minor.” The offertories from these services were given to the Salop Infirmary, an institution I have written a partial history of (in four parts, so far) on my Atcherley family history website. The Journal’s report concluded:

At the end of the Christmas week there was also held a most successful entertainment in the Parish School. The room was well filled, and the proceeds, which realised over £5, went to pay for new church gates at the entrance to the churchyard. The programme was as follows:—Piano duet, Misses Annie and Alice Davies; song, Miss M. Minor (encored); song, Mr. Crewe; song (encored), Miss Lucy Rider; song (encored), Mr. Crewe; song (encored), Miss Sutton; piano solo, Miss Crewe; song (encored), Mr. Percival; song (encored), Miss Sutton (in place of Miss Nock, who was unable to be present). During the interval the rector (Rev. J. B. Davies) gave a short reading, and afterwards a very amusing piece was performed by four ladies and three gentlemen, the acting in which was of the highest character and was greatly appreciated. The performers were Rev. W. P. Nock, Dr. White, Mr. Ernest Rider, Mrs. L. V. Yonge, Miss Taylor, Miss Lucy Rider, and Miss Emmeline Heatley. At the conclusion the Rector proposed a hearty vote of thanks to all who had so ably taken part in the entertainment.

A whole cast of characters there, and what festive fun they had! Six of them (the Rev Davies and his daughters Annie and Alice, Mrs Yonge née Groucock, Miss Margaret Minor, and Miss Taylor) we have already met, in Part 1 of this story. Of the others, there are some I cannot identify with certainty: Doctor White, and Mr and Miss Crewe, may reveal themselves with further research. As was the case with some of their fellow celebrants, they may not have been Waters Upton residents. Emmeline Heatley appears from the 1901 census to have been from nearby Eaton upon Tern (upstream from Waters Upton), where she was born around 1875, while the 1891 and 1901 censuses show that the Rev William P Nock (born around 1861) was Rector of Longdon upon Tern (downstream from Waters Upton).

Lucy Catherine Rider was from Wellington. She was a daughter of surgeon John Rider and his wife Mary, née Tennant. Although it does not appear that the family ever lived in Waters Upton parish, John was born at nearby Crudgington and he, and his wife, were both buried at Waters Upton (in 1887 and 1919 respectively, see Memorial Inscriptions: Rider). Ernest Rider, from Shawbury parish, was Lucy’s first cousin, his father being John Rider’s brother Thomas.

A Holmes / St Michael’s Church / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Modified

That leaves Mr Percival, and also his wife (who helped to decorate the church). Herbert France Percival was born, surprisingly enough, in France (at Pau, now in Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Nouvelle-Aquitaine), on 7 March 1863 according to the Visitation of England and Wales (Volume 2) published in 1894. Mary Jane Cornes was born at Longsight in Lancashire on 26 August 1859 and baptised at Manchester Cathedral one month later. After a series of moves the Cornes family finally relocated to Crudgington where, on 3 August 1887, Mary Jane was married to Herbert Percival at Waters Upton. The couple settled (and Herbert farmed) in the parish where they wed, were enumerated there on the 1891 census, and their first two children (Geoffrey James France Percival and Sybil Mary France Percival) were born there in 1890 and 1892 respectively.

Herbert France Percival was included in the entry for the Waters Upton in the 1895 Kelly’s Directory, but he and Mary Jane had moved to Crudgington by the time their third and last child, Arthur Stanley France Percival, was born on 21 November that year. Possibly they had moved in with Mary Jane’s parents (Joseph Cornes, Mary’s father, died on 4 July 1897 and was buried at Waters Upton; see Memorial Inscriptions: Cornes).

Although the Christmas of 1894 was the last one the Percivals spent as residents of Waters Upton, it was not the last time they participated in the parish’s celebrations. The Wellington Journal of 1 January 1898 tells us this about an event which took place at Waters Upton on 29 December 1897:

Entertainment.—A concert was given in the school room, on Wednesday evening, by the church choir, assisted by a few friends. The performances were highly appreciated by a large audience, and credit is due to Miss M. Minor, the organist at the church, who had trained many of the choir to sing in public for the first time. The following took part:—The Choir, Miss A. Minor, Mr. P. Minor, Rev. L. V. Yonge, Mr. George Hall, Mr. Sam Dickin, Mr. Percival, the Misses Davies, Mr. W. A. R. Ball, Mr. Crewe, Willie Bennett, Mr. Tom Madeley, Mr. Tom Bennett.

The Percivals were still living at Crudgington in 1901, but by 1911 had moved (with Mary Jane’s widowed mother) to Towyn in Merionethshire. As for the other performers besides Mr Percival, we have already met Margaret Minor, the Rev Yonge and the Misses Davies. How wonderful to see so many other names, of people from within and outwith the parish! In the latter category were A and P Minor (relatives of Margaret of Meeson no doubt, though I have yet to identify them), and Tom (Thomas) Madeley (probably the one born about 1872 at Crudgington, a farmer’s son who was still living there in 1901 when he was a butcher).

George Hall was born in the neighbouring parish of Ercall Magna in 1878 but was probably by 1897 a resident of Waters Upton; certainly he was recorded there on the 1901 census when he was working as a sawyer. Samuel Robert Dickin was born a little further away at Little Ness, in 1875; he too must have moved to Waters Upton by 1897, and the 1901 census enumerated him there as a farmer, living with his sister Annie who was his housekeeper.

Brothers Willie (William) and Tom (Thomas) Bennett were both born at Waters Upton, in 1885 and 1880 respectively. They were sons of shoemaker Samuel Thomas Bennett and his wife Alice, née Lucas. Both were with their parents when the 1891 census was taken, and while William had moved on by 1901, Thomas remained (pursuing his father’s – and grandfather’s – profession, and appearing on the censuses of 1901 and 1911, and on the 1939 Register, at Waters Upton). Now there’s a man who saw a lot of Waters Upton Christmases!

All I want for Christmas is . . . a servant

WANTED, at Christmas, a General Servant, to do plain cooking, and make butter.—Apply, Mrs. J. B. Davies, Waters Upton Rectory, Wellington, Salop. (Wellington Journal, 17 November 1883.)

While searching for stories of Christmas at Waters Upton, I came across advertisements for servants wanted “at Christmas” or “for Christmas”. The “most wonderful time of the year” (as Christmas was christened in the well-known song penned in 1963) was also one of the busiest times, especially for servants. More relevant to the phenomenon of yuletide recruitment however is the fact that Christmas Day was one of the four Quarter Days in England and Wales, when rents were due – and servants were hired.

So as we have seen, at the end of 1883 the Rector’s wife Mrs John Bayley Davies (Susan Anslow Davies, née Juckes) was looking for a general servant who would cook, and make butter. The source of the milk for that butter was most likely cows kept on glebe land associated with the rectory.

In the Wellington Journal of 18 December 1886, two more ladies with Waters Upton addresses sought servants for Christmas. I was puzzled at first by Mrs Hoole, who was looking for a “trustworthy Servant” for “milking (two cows), attention to poultry, and plain cooking” for a family of two (“wages about £12”). Further research in the newspapers and then the censuses showed that Mr and Mrs Hoole were in fact living at Wood Farm, around 2 miles or so North of Waters Upton, in the parish of Stanton on Hine Heath. Presumably their post went through Waters Upton.

Mrs Shepherd, on the other hand, who wanted a “Servant Girl, at Christmas, age 15 to 16, who can milk or willing to learn” was definitely a Waters Upton resident. Jane Shepherd, née Rider, was recorded there on the 1891 census along with her husband Hugh, a farmer. The census shows that Hugh Shepherd was born at Old Deer (Aberdeenshire) in Scotland and that he was 15 years younger than his wife, who was born at Tattenhall in Cheshire. Baptism records for Hugh (in 1823) and Jane (at Harthill in 1803, the register giving the family’s abode as Broxton and a birth date for Jane of 8 December 1802) show that the couple were actually separated by more than 20 years. When they married on 12 Jan 1857 at Acton in Cheshire (by which time Hugh was already resident in Shropshire), both stated that they were of full age. Hugh was 33 and Jane was 54.

The 1891 census reveals something else about Jane – she was blind. This fact had also been recorded in 1881 (when the Shepherds were living at Wrockwardine), but not on censuses from previous years. Presumably she lost her sight through an age-related condition such as macular degeneration or cataracts. Whatever the cause, it is clear that Jane’s inability to see did not prevent her from running household affairs. In these matters she may have been assisted by her niece Mary Lewis, who was enumerated with her at Waters Upton in 1891 as a “Ladies Companion”. Jane Shepherd died, and was buried at Waters Upton, in 1894 (see Death notices etc. and Wills & probate after 1858).

It appears that the word ‘servant’ was accidentally omitted from the notice placed in the Wellington Journal by Miss Walker of Walker of Waters Upton: “WANTED, Girl, between 14 and 16, as General, either now or at Christmas; character required.” This I found in the edition dated 20 December 1890, but given the closeness to Christmas it seems likely that the notice had been running since November or thereabouts. Was it also placed in papers further afield, and did it result in the hiring of Sarah Ann Wilkes, the 16-yer-old Lancastrian who appears on the 1891 census as a general servant in the Waters Upton household of Sarah Ann Walker? I have found no other records for Sarah Wilkes, but Sarah Walker ran a private school in Waters Upton for more than 30 years and so saw many Waters Upton Christmases. I will write about her in more detail another time.


All uncredited images from the British Library Flickr photostream; no known copyright restrictions.

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