It was James’ baptism record which gave me his father’s name and took me back another generation in the Dearman saga. He was baptised in the Parish church of St Mary the Virgin on April 26th 1801, which ties in with his age at death. His parents were William and Ann (née Mason), and he was the middle child of five. Essendon is a village - it still seems to be a village - on the northern outskirts of London near Hatfield and not too far from Enfield which lies to the South East and is where the Dearmans later settled in force. The picture at the top of the page was taken around 1901 which is a century later than our James’ birth, but it looks like not a lot has happened in the interim. It could be any time in a couple of centuries before that (except for the telegraph pole).
As an aside there is a second James Dearman born around this time in the area, but subsequent discoveries eliminated him as this family’s Dearman ancestor. Nevertheless we shall keep him in mind when it comes to James’ first marriage.
William’s father was an agricultural labourer on the Bedwell Park estate I think, and no doubt the children all eventually participated in work on the estate. I’m pretty sure he inhabited one of the worker’s cottages on the estate. Bedwell Park is an ugly kind of building that replaced a medieval manor house, and, at the time, was occupied by Samuel Whitbread of brewery fame. He was said to be a charitable and generous man, so maybe life for his workers was not too bad. I cannot find any pictures of the cottages but the picture at left probably gives at least an impression of the type of dwelling (the smaller one) they may have occupied. And the painting below that shows estate workers at home. Curiously, when I was trying to find suitable paintings to illustrate this part of James’ life I found that almost all of those that existed were romantic pictures of idyllic country life. Surely it wasn’t like that? Surely it was hard grind with people living in pretty poverty stricken circumstances? Why else would James and his brothers have resorted to petty crime? Nevertheless the people in the painting at left look fairly well dressed and whilst the room is not grand, it is clean and reasonably comfortable looking and most importantly the people seem to be enjoying a leisurely meal. You would think that there would have been little leisure time - hard work all day followed by a quick meal and then bed before starting all over again.
But to return to James’ story. Eventually there seems to have been a family of five children - well these are all that I can find, but since none of them bear their parents’ or grandparents’ names I can only guess that there are others. Five is relatively small for the times after all. Maybe the family lived elsewhere before Essendon and I have missed them somehow. Another interesting comment on my search for suitable illustrations, is that if you look for paintings of children working on farms you mostly find pictures of women working, accompanied by children, some of whom are working, some of whom are just tagging along. No doubt as the children grew, the boys would have joined the men working in the fields, the gardens and the stables. In James’ case it must have been the fields as his later labouring tasks included threshing and ploughing.
And so he grew with his brothers and sisters, playing in the idyllic Hertfordshire countryside, helping out at home and in the fields.
The next we may know of him is a very early marriage. I say ‘may’ because I really do not know whether this is our James or a different person. In October 21, 1815 a marriage took place between a James Dearman and Sarah Barnett (or Barnell). Why do I think this is possibly our James even though he would have been only fourteen or fifteen years old at the time? Well on the Banns notice, initially the groom’s name was written as Joseph and then crossed out and replaced with James. He had an older brother Joseph, although only two years older than he so it is unlikely that he was already married. For one potential scenario is that Joseph got Sarah Barnett pregnant, then dobbed his brother in to marry her because he couldn’t. A bit imaginative? The second piece of evidence for the marriage is that they were married with the parents consent, which would imply the couple was underage - though that said, neither parent was a witness. And I should note, that, although underage, at that time girls of 12 and boys of 14 could marry (with the parents consent) - well it’s actually a bit ambiguous, as I think theoretically 16 was the age at which one could marry.
And evidence against the marriage being ‘our’ James? Well first of all, I do not have the supporting evidence of James’ second marriage which would have said whether he was a widower or not. Then there is another James Dearman married to a Sarah, from the same area at what must have been about the same time - and I have not been able to establish this Sarah’s surname. So it could be another person altogether. And, if I’m honest, this is probably the most likely explanation. Then the Church of All Saints in Edmonton is not the Dearmans’ usual church. However, marriages usually took place in the bride’s parish church and Sarah could have come from there.
Indeed if it wasn’t for that ‘Joseph’ crossed out on the marriage banns, I would be completely ignoring this marriage but I guess there is a slim chance that this is our James. If it is he and if she was just as young, then I can only assume that this was a shotgun wedding and that she was pregnant - though whether to James or Joseph or somebody else altogether we cannot tell. And if this is so I can only assume that she died, most likely in childbirth, although I cannot find a burial. I do not know whether the baby survived - maybe a Sarah? If this was a wedding for our James, then James and Sarah were only children really. So a rather sad start to adult life if this happened. And if it didn’t, well I guess that James was just working hard alongside his father and big brother, albeit in a bucolic English countryside setting.