Category Archives: Digweed

Discovering Digweeds and Tuttles in South East England

As part of my family research I have been following the Digweed family in my tree back in time. The earliest record I have for my seven times great grandparents, Thomas Digweed and Abigail Shepherd, is a record of their marriage on 16 March 1627/8 in Thatcham, Berkshire. Over the summer I have been visiting some of the places the family lived in in Berkshire and nearby places in Wiltshire.


St Mary The Virgin, Thatcham


Thomas and Abigail had at least seven children: three boys and four girls. Finding their records has been challenging though as there are many and different spellings of Digweed. A couple of examples are: Digwidd and Diggweed. While some members of the family remained in Thatcham others moved to nearby villages in Berkshire.



All Saints, Ham

My five times great grandfather Charles Digweed (1703-1760) was born in Thatcham and died in Greenham. Charles and his wife Ann Chapman (born about 1717) had at least eight children: four boys and four girls.  Their grandson and my three times great grandfather, John Digweed (1791-1851), settled with his wife Rachel Hillear (1793-1851) in Ham in nearby Wiltshire. John and Rachel had at least eight children: seven boys and one girl and John was recorded as an agricultural labourer living in Ham in the 1851 census. Their son Thomas (1836-1910) was my two times great grandfather. He too was an agricultural labourer who seems to have moved around somewhat probably in order to find work. With his wife Mary Ann Tuttle (1837-1900) he had at least twelve children: six boys and six girls. One of their sons, Francis Edward Digweed (1873-1959), was my great grandfather.



Great Grandfather  Francis Edward Digweed

By the 1901 census Francis was married to my great grandmother, Violet Kate Richardson (1878-1971), and living near Skipton in Yorkshire when he gave his occupation as a coachman. By 1911 he was a domestic coachman to the Lawley family in Escrick, Yorkshire. As an aside, I was looking at the records of the family (Forbes Adam collection) at the Hull History Centre and came across a number of mentions in the Estate account books for the mid-1910s of payments to Digweed for “clipping the mare”. A later photograph of Francis, provided by a family member, shows him in his chauffeur outfit standing by the Lawley family car.



I do remember my great grandmother Kate and I am lucky to have some family photos provided by one of my relatives. Also, some of the photographs of churches in Berkshire have been taken by me. What I didn’t find in any of these churches’ graveyards were any memorial stones for members of the Digweed family, indicating perhaps that they largely remained as agricultural labourers over quite a long period of time.


St Michael and All Angels, Shalbourne


When I visited Shalbourne though what I did come across were members of the Tuttle family buried in the graveyard: Stephen Tuttle (1803-1876) and his half-brother John Tuttle (1805-1887). Stephen was my two times great grandmother, Mary Ann Tuttle’s (1837-1900), father.



2nd Afgham War memorial


There were also some members of the Tuttle family on two war memorials. The oldest memorial was a cross dedicated to three soldiers of the parish who were “Soldiers of the 66th Royal Berkshire who fell at the Battle of Maiwand, Afghanistan”. One of these soldiers was Lance Corporal George Tuttle (1847-1880), my first cousin four times removed, who died in Afghanistan during the second Afghan War.




G D Tuttle

The WWI memorial in Shalbourne churchyard also has two Tuttle men on it: T(homas) Tuttle (1888-1917) and G(eorge) D(avid) Tuttle (1889-1917). Both were privates in the Royal Berkshire Regiment and are my second cousins three times removed. G D Tuttle’s grave in Shalbourne churchyard is marked with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone.



No members of the Digweed family featured on any of the WWI memorials in the churchyards I visited indicating that they had largely moved away from the area by the start of WWI. It was interesting though to find members of the Tuttle family. Just also to say that my photographic skills are not great and all the photos on this blog post, bar the one of Francis Digweed, have been taken by me, so apologies for their quality. It has been interesting visiting parts of Berkshire which were unfamiliar to me despite the fact that I gained my first degree from Reading University.

Occupation: fellmonger

It was with great delight that I came across an ancestor who was a fellmonger as many of mine are either labourers or worked on the land. However, I did think with the first record I found that it said fishmonger; finding further records for Thomas Bellinger (1841-1938) though convinced me that his occupation was fellmonger and that he lived in Bermondsey, South London. The Tanners of Bermondsey website[1] explains that ‘fell’ is a skin and that a fellmonger was someone who either provided or sold skins to tanners. They might also have prepared the skins by removing the hair or wool from them which wasn’t a pleasant task.

Thomas Bellinger, my second cousin four times removed, was born and baptised in Enborne, Berkshire in 1841 to parents John (1799-1883) and Sarah (1816-1852). John was an agricultural labourer who married twice and had probably at least seven children, most of whom stayed in Berkshire.  Thomas had moved to Bermondsey by the 1861 census when he was recorded as a boarder and fellmonger living at 5 Laxon Street; this was in the Leather Market area of Bermondsey. The leather trade was prominent in Bermondsey in the 19th century and part of the Leather Market building, which was erected by prominent tanners of Bermondsey,[2] still exists in Weston Street[3]. The City of London had banned tanning “because the stench was so foul” and it had moved to Bermondsey where the running water it needed was provided by the Neckinger and other tidal courses.[4] Bermondsey’s growth through to modern times has largely been attributed to the leather trade.[5]

Thomas married Sarah Withey in St James’ Church, Bermondsey on 29 March 1863 and together they had at least nine children, two of whom died in infancy, as shown in the following chart:

Descendant Chart for Thomas Bellingercropjpg

The family continued to live in Bermondsey as follows:

Census Address Notes
1871 5 Paulin Street Children: Robert, Henry and John
1881 36 Earnest Street Seven children at home

Robert and Henry were railway porters – possibly at the nearby London Bridge station

1891 1 Earnest Street Six children at home

Robert was married and had left home.

Henry was a leather dresser, John a dairyman and Thomas a van guard.

Sarah, Annie and Alfred were scholars.

1901 28 Fendall Street Three children at home

Henry was a hide cutter, John a fellmongers labourer and Alfred also worked with leather

1911 42 Macks Road Thomas was still a fellmonger despite being 69 and a widower.

He was living with his son Robert and family. Robert was a carman with Bermondsey Borough Council.

During the time the family lived in Bermondsey the population increased significantly from just under 30000 in 1831 to over 81000 in 1901.[6] Much of the housing were tenements in multiple occupation and disease and unsanitary conditions were rife. A report by the Medical Officer for Health for the year 1895 recorded a death rate of 22.1 deaths per thousand of the population in Bermondsey; this was more than the 19.8 per thousand of population recorded for London as a whole. Infant mortality was 162 deaths per thousand. The report particularly noted that deaths from violent causes had increased and that three people were found dead in the Thames and one in the Surrey canal.[7] By 1901 smallpox had also become a specific concern when an epidemic broke out in Bermondsey.[8] Interestingly, one of Thomas’s sons Henry died in 1902.

After Thomas’s wife Sarah died in 1909, Thomas and members of his family continued to live in Bermondsey until his death in 1938 aged 96.

I too came to know Bermondsey when I started work in Bermondsey Street in 2006. I didn’t know about my family’s collection to the area though and although I’ve walked down Weston Street many times, I wasn’t aware of its importance in the leather trade. I’d certainly like to see more of the Leather Market building; something I can rectify on my next visit to the London Bridge area.


Stephen Richards / Former Leather Market, Weston Street / CC BY-SA 2.0

[1] Tanners of Bermondsey. : accessed 28 July 2019.

[2] Malden, E. H. ed. (1912) ‘Parishes Bermondsey.’ In: A History of the County of Surrey. Vol. 4. pp. 17-24. London: Victoria County History. : accessed 28 July 2019.

[3] Exploring Southwark. The Leather Market. : accessed 28 July 2019.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Malden, E. H. ed. (1912) ‘Parishes Bermondsey.’ In: A History of the County of Surrey. Vol. 4. pp. 17-24. London: Victoria County History. : accessed 28 July 2019.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Dixon, John. (1896) Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Parish of Bermondsey for the Year 1895. London: Fredk Tarrant & Son. accessed 28 July 2019.

[8] Brown, R. K. (1902) Special Report on Smallpox in Bermondsey from October 12th, 1901 to September 6th, 1902. London: Frederic Shaw. accessed 28 July 2019.

My Irish ancestors in Walmgate, York

As part of my diploma studies with Strathclyde University I am currently studying Irish records. Some of my ancestors came over from Ireland sometime before the 1851 census and settled in the Walmgate area of York. The family concerned are my three times great grandparents:  James Weir (about 1784-1857) and Mary Carty (about 1804-1875). In the 1851 census they were living in Long Close, Walmgate, York with their seven children, six of whom had been born in Ireland, and one who had been born in York. James was described as an agricultural labourer as well as his sons: Patrick, John and James and daughter Catherine. Their daughters Judy, Ann and Mary were described as scholars and Mary Carty, a visitor and widow (and possibly James’s mother in law), was also living with them.

James died on 21 January 1857. His death certificate records that he was aged 78 and a labourer living in Long Close Lane; his cause of death was asthma and disease of the heart. His death was reported by his daughter Catherine who by then had married James Duffy.  By the 1861 census Catherine, James and family had moved to Middlesbrough.

After James’s death Mary (Carty/Weir) continued to live in York and was recorded in the 1861 census living with her daughter Ann, husband Charles Rafter and a “niece” Mary aged 11. A question I have is, was she the daughter of Mary who was born in 1851 when she was 47, or the daughter of one of Mary’s children? So far I haven’t been able to find a birth or baptism record for her.

My three times great grandmother Mary continued to live with her daughter Ann, Charles and their family. In the 1871 census they were living in the St Dennis area of Walmgate. Mary died on 24 March 1875 aged 67. Her cause of death was recorded a phthisis. She was living with her daughter Ann and family at 19 Dennis Street; her daughter is recorded as the informant on Mary’s death certificate.

My research into this family has had some success with three of James and Mary’s daughters: Catherine (born about 1826 in Sligo, Ireland), Ann (born about 1843 in Ireland and died in 1890) and Mary (born about 1851 in York and died in 1918). Mary married Luke Richardson (1846-1891) and they are my two times great grandparents.

I have had less success researching the following children of James and Mary who were all born in Ireland:  Patrick (born about 1824), John (born about 1834), James (born about 1836) and Judy (born about 1841). If you have any information about any of them then do please get in touch.

Beware of what you find

Researching my ancestors has become something of a passion for me and I really enjoy writing stories about the people I’ve met in this way. From time to time though, I find things out which result in me having a more sombre view of life in a rural village.

A recent example of this relates to the Richardson family; my great grandmother was a Richardson. I was surprised to see that I hadn’t completed all the birth, marriages and deaths information for part of this family who lived in Yorkshire in the late 19th century. As I progressed with the task I came across Mary Ann Richardson, my first cousin three times removed, who as a young child was injured in a fire and subsequently died. The accident happened when both her parents were at work and her two brothers were playing outside in the yard. It looks like she got too close to the stove and her clothes caught on fire. The inquest record explains that one of their neighbours saw her “with her clothes blazing all around”; and that Leonard Smales, a farm labourer, “seized her and rolled her on the floor” to put out the flames. Mary had burns to her legs, body, chest, chin and ears and although her wounds were attended to, she died. Rather poignantly the 1875 burial record for Mary records that she died aged four and three quarter years.

Life in rural Yorkshire wasn’t easy; both of Mary’s parents were working as labourers, Joseph on the railway and her mother Elizabeth on the land. They were at work the day the accident happened, a Saturday. By 1881 they had moved to a nearby village and Joseph was described as a railway platelayer for the North Eastern railway who perhaps had moved with his job?

Sometimes even brief records can pack an unexpected punch. On a recent visit to the East Yorkshire archives in Beverley I handled a small document which recorded the indictment and sentence of my five times great grandfather. Elias was given 7 years transportation for stealing a variety of grains; perhaps either to sell and/or feed his family. He never made it to one of Britain’s colonies though. Elias died in 1812 in a prison hulk ship moored off Portsmouth, probably of hulk fever. I tried to find out more information about his burial but it looks like prisoners were just put in unmarked graves or worse.

Seeing both these records gave me an almost visceral connection to the past, something which I was really surprised about. Sad those these stories are, it won’t stop me doing my research; and their stories deserve to be told, it has also made me more aware of the conditions my ancestors endured in a part of rural Yorkshire which I experienced very differently as a child. To me it meant freedom, fresh air and the chance to read and learn. For them it was more about the daily grind and being able to feed their families. Despite the current climate, in comparison to their lives, I feel very lucky to live in the present time.