Mansfield 187?-ca 1883 James John Dearman
James John Dearman was one of the first people I tracked in this family history saga, and one of the first to come up with an unexpected turn of events - or two.
One starts with one’s parents, so having duly found my husband’s father in Bridgend, Wales in the 1901 census (I knew this was where he was from) - which became my starting point for the whole Dearman saga, I found James John too with the rest of the family - well most of them. And so I discovered that Arthur’s father’s name was James John and that he had been born in Enfield, Middlesex - the first surprise, because my husband had thought that the Dearmans were Welsh, and so they were through the female line (Margaret Louisa Jenkins), but not through the Dearman line itself.
My next surprise when I started tracking James John, was to discover him in the 1881 census (my next port of call) in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire with a different wife, Agnes, and two children. What on earth was he doing in Mansfield, who was Agnes and where were these children in 1901 because they were not in Bridgend? The age was a little bit wrong (four years too old going by the 1901 census), but I was later to discover that this was a man who was never consistent about his age, and indeed sort of got increasingly younger as he aged, but there were absolutely no other candidates anywhere in England or Wales, and everything else tallied - birthplace, name and profession. So it had to be he.
After all the usual investigation, this is the story as far as I have been able to piece it together.
At some point between 1871 and 1881 James John left Enfield for the Midlands. Maybe all those brothers in one small house, finally became too much. Maybe he was just an adventurous soul. Maybe a friend persuaded him to join him in a search for fortune in the industrial north.
Anyway he is next found in the small town of Alfreton in Derbyshire, near the border with Nottinghamshire and not very far away from Mansfield. There was a coal mine there - as there was practically everywhere in the Midlands at that time, so one can only guess that he went there in search of work. There are no Dearmans in the immediate vicinity, so I doubt he was visiting relatives. Anyway, on November 9, 1874 - a Monday - James John married Agnes Ashmore. He was 20 and she was 17 (she said she was 19), so both under age, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped the marriage which was by Banns - the normal way of marrying, so either the vicar turned a blind eye, or they had parental permission. Agnes’ sister Mary Ann was one of the witnesses. James is a labourer living in Alfreton, Agnes lives in Mansfield. Does this imply that James was actually working in Mansfield and had met her there, or did she know somebody in Alfreton? Was there a family connection to the place or was it chosen for its distance from Mansfield, with James living there for a time, to satisfy the residency requirement. Marriages usually took place in the bride’s parish, but in this case the situation seems to be reversed. It is tantalising to wonder how they met as there seems to be no obvious connection. It would be nice to think of the wedding being the joyous occasion that is depicted in the painting at right, but I suspect it was a much more low key affair. But they were so young - she was a teenager, and he only just out of teenage. Were they in love or were they just caught by youthful lust?
For, as so often seemed to happen at the time, Agnes was pregnant when they married. James John’s birth was registered in the March quarter of the following year in Mansfield (four months later), which implies that they must have moved there after the wedding. Perhaps they moved there to be near her parents, or maybe just because there was more work in Mansfield.
In between the wedding and the 1881 census - a gap of 7 years, James became a plasterer. This is another mystery really, as there seems to be no connection to the trade, just a loose connection through his father’s trade of bricklayer. Agnes’ father worked in the local iron foundry as a moulder, so this is not where it came from. Maybe he had a friend who was one. Although still young, James is unlikely to have gone through the apprenticeship process as this would have not been financially viable He must have just learnt on the job I guess. He must have been reasonably good at it, as this is the trade he stuck to all the rest of his life. I am guessing that now that he had a wife and family he decided that he should do something better than labouring - and the building trades would have been in high demand, as this is the era of massive growth of urban centres. A skilled tradesman earned twice as much as a mere labourer. It’s certainly a characteristic of the Dearmans I know, to be successful. They have a drive to get somewhere in life, so maybe they got it from James John.
When the 1881 census was taken, James and Agnes had one more child, Annie who was born in 1877. Their address is 3 Vallances Buildings or Square, Nottingham Road. I do not think it is there any longer, but probably looked much like the ‘square’ on the right. It seems to have been a common form of housing in the area. So I guess it would have been fairly depressing and unhealthy, but, on the plus side, fairly communal - indeed Agnes’ parents lived at no. 12. There would have been people to help out with fractious children, gossip over the washing, maybe even a communal wash day. There would have been a communal toilet, a communal pump, like the one in the picture below, and the slops would have just been thrown into an open drain. Not a very healthy place to be, so it was no wonder that babies and infants often died.
Because the censuses are taken only every ten years and because by the next census James was in Wales, I looked elsewhere to fill in the gaps between the two and discovered that there were two more children born to James and Agnes. Elizabeth was born in 1880, but only lived a few months, so she must have been not long dead when the 1881 census was taken. Although this sort of thing is commonplace for the time, it must nevertheless have been a major blow for the young couple.
Indeed it may have contributed to their move to the larger town of Nottingham, which is where the final tragedy of their life together took place. Their address is John Square - the small dot on the map below right. The year is 1882 - eight years after their marriage, and Agnes is pregnant again. This time though, it kills her - and the baby too - a boy named William. On 28th November, 1882 Agnes dies in childbirth. She was 27 according to the death certificate, but in reality she was only 25, maybe 26. James was present at the death.
And what does James do? Well it seems he ups and leaves. The children are abandoned - probably left in the care of their grandparents or maybe their aunt, and four years later he is in Cardiff, marrying again and reinventing his life.
Why, why, why? Is he devastated? Does he have some kind of a breakdown? Is his heart broken? Is there no more work (unlikely)? Or is he simply a bastard and chooses this moment to escape from commitments he never wanted in the first place? One can understand him leaving the scene of the tragedy - but leaving the children - how could he? Or did he think he would be coming back to get th
MID NINETEENTH CENTURY HOUSING IN NOTTINGAM a University of Nottingham site which describes the growth of Nottingham and the housing conditions at the time. Highly recommended. Mansfield would have been very similar, and besides he ended up in Nottingham.
Mansfield, Nottinghamshire - Market Street
From The Complete Book of Trades 1842
1850s train travel- a little earlier than James’ journey, but it sort of shows what it might have been like - the train is at the back of the picture.
Alfreton - Parish Church of St. Martin
Village Wedding - A painting by Sir Samuel Luke Fildes
A not very wealthy couple with child.
A Nottingham ‘Square’ - not where James and Agnes lived, but probably very similar
A woman collecting water from the communal pump
1862 Map of Nottingham - the spot marks the ‘square’ in which Agnes died. Click on the link for a a larger view. Note the tiny streets and ‘yards’.
What happened to the children?
I have, at last produced a page about all of James John’s children, so please check it out to find out what happened to them.