"A worthy dragsman, and a fat ’un" – my ancestor Isaac Batten, the archetype of the ‘swell coachman’

Stage coachman by George Cruikshank

‘Stage Coachman’ by George Cruikshank, The Gentleman’s Pocket Magazine, 1827.

This post is about my five-greats grandfather Isaac Batten (1790-1843). A minor celebrity of his day, as driver of the London-Cambridge stagecoach ‘The Times’ he helped to establish the early 19th century stereotype of the big, fat, Cockney, hard-drinking ‘swell’ coach driver or dragsman; a popular stock character that later appeared in works by both Charles Dickens and Walt Disney.

After hanging up his coachman’s whip in 1840 Isaac became a publican, just like his fictional counterpart in the Pickwick Papers. The doors of his old pub in north-west Essex are still open today.

Isaac Batten was born circa 1790,(1) probably in London.* Although I have not found a baptism record or any other document that explicitly names Isaac’s parents, it’s likely that his father was another Isaac Batten (born 1772), coachman, of Chelsea, and that his mother was called Mary. He also had a younger brother, Charles (1802-1880).(2)

(*That said, there is also a baptism of Isaac Batten, son of Isaac and Mary, in Freshford, Somerset, at the very end of 1789…)(3)

Either way, Isaac certainly had connections to London. Aged twenty-one he married Charlotte Mortimer (1789-1835) at St James’s Church, Paddington, on 30 May 1811.(4) There was an Isaac Batten paying tax in London as late as 1815.(5)

Charlotte & Isaac had six children, all easy to trace thanks to their parents’ distinctive choice of names:

  • Alfred Mortimer Batten (1811-1869)
  • Mary Anne Charlotte Batten (1817-1893)
  • William Wallace Batten (1819-1870)
  • Edward Charles Townshend Batten (1821-1895)
  • Frederick Adolphus Batten (1823-1826)
  • Georgiana Maria Batten (1825-1903)
Caricature of the swell coachman, 1832

Caricature of ‘the swell coachman’ from The Gallery of Comicalities (Part II), satirical print, London, 1832.
© The Trustees of the British Museum and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The first mention of Isaac’s occupation is in 1819 when, while living on Abington Street in Northampton, Charlotte & Isaac Batten, coachman, had their first two children baptised at the church of St Giles in the county town.(6) Their eldest son Alfred had been born in London (Clerkenwell or possibly Marylebone) just before his parents were married – but was baptised in Northampton aged eight.(6,7,8)

The term ‘coachman’ could mean a driver of one of several different classes of vehicle: privately-owned coaches, long-distance stagecoaches, and Hackney carriages. But at the baptism of his third child, Isaac’s job description was more specific: in the register for the parish of Welford, Northants, in 1819, he was recorded as a mail coachman.(9)

The introduction, thirty-five years earlier, of coaches which carried passengers in addition to the Royal Mail’s deliveries under armed guard, had revolutionised long-distance transport in England. Faster, less crowded, cleaner and safer (though more expensive) than private stagecoaches, the mail coach was the first reliable timetabled public transport service. The coachman – a tough, rough-and-ready, hail-fellow-well-met endurance sportsman, capable of driving through the night at breakneck speed and remaining cheerful throughout – rapidly became a kind of modern folk hero.

There is an excellent sketch description of the ‘coachey’ in The Gentleman’s Pocket Magazine (1827):(10)

“The stage coachman is a careless, jolly dog, in the very nature of whom there is something that smacks, like his own whip, of the dignity of monarchs. He is the elect of the road on which he travels … as he bowls along the road, with rubicund nose, and bang up benjamin [overcoat].

“Listen to the untutored melody of his voice as he preaches the word of exhortation to his tits [horses], and enforces his doctrine with the whip…

“Survey his importance. To some he gives a cool nod; to others a smile of recognition: but thrice happy is he who is honoured with a passing word.

“He has commonly a broad, full face, curiously mottled with red, as if the blood had been forced by hard feeding into every vessel of the skin; he is swelled into jolly dimensions by frequent potations of malt liquors, and his bulk is still further increased by a multiplicity of coats, in which he is buried like a cauliflower, the upper one reaching to his heels. His waistcoat is commonly of some bright colour, striped, and his small-clothes extend far below the knees, to meet a pair of jockey boots which reach about half way up his legs.

“All this costume is maintained with much precision; he has a pride of having his clothes of excellent materials; and, notwithstanding the seeming grossness of his appearance, there is still discernible that neatness and propriety of person, which is almost inherent in an Englishman.

“Every ragamuffin that has a coat to his back, thrusts his hands in the pockets, rolls in his gait, talks slang, and is an embryo coachey.”

The Gentleman’s Pocket Magazine (London: Joseph Robins, 1827)

There’s some evidence that the compelling composite individual described above was based – at least in part – on my five-greats grandfather. Or, at the very least, that Isaac Batten’s appearance and demeanor fitted the existing stereotype so perfectly that he became the living embodiment of the ‘swell coachman’ and helped to popularise a new stock character in English literature and caricature.

Tony Weller by Kyd

Tony Weller (from Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers) by Joseph Clayton Park (Kyd), 1899. Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (More depictions of the veteran coachman and publican can be found on The Victorian Web.)


“A rum but steady driver,
Quite happy – sans a stiver,
In box-coat e’er attired,
As rough as heart desired.
Sang, drank and smok’d he,
The droll compound us’d to be
Of sense, of nonsense, and of drollery.
Pray for the soul of Isaac Batten,
A worthy dragsman, and a fat ’un.”

Northampton Mercury, 8 May 1830.

The above poem by an anonymous author was published without comment in a local newspaper, under a title which suggested it had been taken from a real gravestone.(11)

I don’t believe it really was – Isaac Batten was alive and well in 1830 and at the peak of his notoriety, and the humour seems a little coarse and inappropriate for a genuine memorial inscription in the first half of the 19th century. The somewhat puerile rhyme Batten / fat ’un was perhaps too obvious to resist, and it’s telling that essentially the same joke was made in another satrirical poem about well-known coach drivers, written by ‘Rowton’ (pseudonym of some Cambridge wag) and published in another newspaper earlier the same year.(12) I suspect that the ‘tomb-stone’ poem was just a vehicle for a cheap pun on Isaac’s surname and a joke at the expense of his expanse.

(Alternatively, it’s possible that this really was a genuine headstone inscription and that it referred not to the Isaac Batten who was alive in 1830, but to another Isaac Batten – probably his own father – who was also a coachman, and whose burial record has not yet been discovered…)

Now seated in my glory

‘Now seated in my glory’ by Isaac Cruikshank, circa 1811. (The title is a reference to a popular play, ‘The mail-coach‘, first performed in 1795.)
© The Trustees of the British Museum and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

It seems that an important part of a coachman’s public persona was the capacity for the intake of impressive amounts of alcohol. Partly this must have been necessary to keep warm on top of a speeding mail coach in the middle of a winter’s night! Partly it must have resulted from their working ungodly hours and taking all of their meals in coaching inns. Partly there seems to have been a sense of pride amongst coachmen in having, and displaying, huge appetites for wine, women, tobacco, roast beef, and song.

Mail Coach Pillar

Mail coach pillar, near Llandovery.
© Copyright shirokazan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

​There is a memorial to the inevitable result of all this boozing at the reins, on the A40 between Sennybridge and Llandovery in Wales. On the night of 19 December 1835, mail coachman Edward Jenkins – well refreshed after a lightning-quick change of horses at the most recent coaching inn – overturned at full gallop and plummeted down 121 feet of Welsh hillside, his coach smashed to smithereens at the bottom.

Incredibly, no-one was killed or seriously hurt. A memorial pillar was erected in 1841 on the spot of Jenkins’ accident as a permanent warning against intoxication on the turnpike – the world’s first ever anti-drink-driving campaign.(13)

By the middle of the 1820s, our Isaac Batten and his wife Charlotte had moved from Northamptonshire to the university town of Cambridge and set up home in Brunswick Place (in a fairly well-to-do part of town near Midsummer Common, inhabited by lawyers, solicitors, surgeons and other professionals), where they added three more children to their family.(1418)

In Cambridge, Isaac became very well known as the driver of ‘The Times’ mail coach which ran the prestigious London-Cambridge route. The Times left Cambridge from the famous Eagle pub on Bene’t Street at 6 o’clock every morning (Sundays excepted), and ran down through Essex via Great Chesterford, Hockerill (Bishop’s Stortford) and Epping, reaching the George and Blue Boar Inn, Holborn, in under seven hours. The return coach left London at 3pm and was expected back in Cambridge by 9 o’clock.(19)

There is an explanation – of sorts – of Isaac’s move from Northampton to Cambridge, in the April 1829 edition of the Sporting Magazine.(20) (I say ‘of sorts’ because it’s written in such dense, late-Regency era sportsman’s slang, full of quotations from the classics, sporting jargon, double entendres, in-jokes, and nose-tap references to obscure people and places, that it’s a bit difficult to determine the exact story.)

It appears that Isaac was operating the ‘Rising Sun’ coach out of Northampton while its usual driver, John Topham, was in the infirmary having broken his leg. When Topham was fit enough to return to the driver’s box, Isaac Batten found himself unemployed. For a while he drove the Cambridge-Fakenham night mail (the ‘Fakenham Ghost‘), before being “brought out of darkness into light… and enthroned upon the bench of the Times, a situation every way calculated to call forth his energies and skill.”(20)

Isaac took over the reins of the Times from another celebrity dragsman called Bob Poynter, “a first-rate artist indeed – who, but for lifting his right hand to excess, must have been there to this day”. In other words, Bob Poynter had fallen victim to the coachman’s occupational hazard – rampant alcoholism.(20)

After Isaac took over the Times, he was supported by a second driver called Fawcett, formerly of the ‘Norwich Day’.(20) Mr Fawcett was a character in his own right: an accomplished classicist, an expert in Latin verse, and fond of shouting out, as he barrelled the Times down Bishopsgate Street, an apocalyptic line from Addison’s Cato:

“Here we go! Amidst the wreck of matter and the crush of worlds!”

Sporting Magazine, April 1829, p. 418.

The Cambridge Telegraph mail coach

The ‘Cambridge Telegraph’, a competing London-Cambridge coach, which ran from the White Horse, Holborn. Hand-coloured aquatint, 1825.
© The Trustees of the British Museum and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Times was popular with both students of the university and London sportsmen (even Charles Darwin mentions having come down to Cambridge on the Times in a letter in 1829),(21) its drivers Batten and Fawcett quickly gaining a reputation as two of the most skilled and entertaining of the many hell-for-leather dragsmen operating along the Cambridge road.(22)

“EXPEDITIOUS TRAVELLING.—We had an opportunity, last Monday, of comparing the speed of the Cambridge Old Times Coach with that of the Southampton Telegraph, and are bound in fairness, to give the “palm” to the former, which for general appointments, excellence of tits [horses], and superiority of tooling [driving], by the Swell Dragsman, Isaac Batten, exceeds anything we have hitherto witnessed on the road. We left Shoreditch Church at half-past three, drank tea at the Crown, at Hockerell, and arrived at the Eagle, at Cambridge, precisely at nine; thus, doing the whole distance, 58 miles, stoppages included, in five hours and a half.”

Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 18 March 1827.

Clearly the mail coachmen revelled in excess speed on the highway (and, you suspect, had a fairly cavalier attitude when it came to the safety of other road-users). However, Isaac Batten was careful to appear suitably contrite when in October 1830 he was hauled up in front of Bow Street Magistrates to answer to a charge of furious driving. Racing a fully-loaded Times against another stagecoach for several miles through Essex, Isaac had overturned a gig, injuring its driver. He pleased guilty at once, accepted the magistrate’s warning that next time he could be up on a manslaughter charge, paid the hefty 10-guinea fine there and then, and was on his way.(23)

The Coachman from Disney's Pinocchio

‘The Coachman’ from Disney’s Pinocchio (1940). Walt Disney’s interpretation of Collodi’s original character L’Omino (‘The Little Man’) from Le avventure di Pinocchio (1883) was influenced by the ‘swell coachman’ trope of English caricature – most noticeably, in his Cockney accent and box-coat attire.
© The Walt Disney Company. This low-resolution screenshot has been reproduced here for the purposes of criticism or review.

Isaac’s wife Charlotte Batten died at her home in Cambridge on 24 March 1835, aged forty-six.(15,24) Isaac carried on as lead driver of the Times for about another five years. The newly-developed railways had begun to carry mail in and out of London in the 1830s, and by the end of that decade the writing was on the wall for the mail coach service, which could not hope to compete with the train on price, speed, capacity, comfort or safety.

While some dragsmen did find employment on the railways, the widowed Isaac Batten followed another well-trodden path for ex-coacheys and took over the licence of an inn. On 2 June 1840, Isaac organised a sale of all his household goods and furniture from Brunswick Place (including his four-poster bed, carpets, tables and chairs, glass and china, his night-commode, and a collection of stuffed birds…)(17) and placed the following advertisement in several local papers:(25)


“ISAAC BATTEN, (Late coachman to “The Times,”)

“BEGS respectfully to inform the Nobility and Gentry of the University and Town of Cambridge, and those of the county of Essex, and the public in general, that he has taken the above Inn, which is situate near the domain of Lord Braybrooke, and is about 14 miles from Cambridge, hoping by strict attention to their comfort and convenience, combined with moderate charges, to merit a share of their patronage and support.

“N.B.—Dinners ready on the shortest notice, and on the most reasonable terms.

“WINES, of every description, and of the finest quality, good Stabling, Lock-up Coach Houses, and Loose Boxes for Horses.”

Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, 6 June 1840.

The Queen’s Head in Littlebury near Saffron Walden, Essex, was established in the 15th century and is still going strong in 2016 (www.thequeensheadinn.net). Isaac was clearly trading off his ‘swell’ reputation as a coachman, perhaps hoping to attract some of his former passengers – ideally those with money to spend on fine wines, rich food, and their horses – to his new venture. It’s possible to see a parallel with the late-20th-century cliché of the sports star (maybe an American baseball legend) retiring and opening his own bar where he and his customers can reminisce and relive the glory days. Certainly the Queen’s Head under Isaac Batten became popular with the huntin’ and shootin’ fraternity, and Isaac appears the picture of the genial host, keeping the “toast and song passing freely round” till late into the night.(26)

Littlebury, Queens Head

Queen’s Head Inn, Littlebury, Essex.
© Copyright Dayoff171, all rights reserved.

Three of Isaac’s children – Mary Anne, Charles, and Georgiana – appear in the 1841 census for the parish of Littlebury; the occupation of all three was innkeeper. In the same household was Mary Willmott, aged sixty-seven, also an innkeeper. Isaac himself was not enumerated – where was he on census night? – and a household of only four people seems oddly depleted for a busy coaching inn in June – were there no guests? – no servants or stableboys?(27)

On 12 April 1843, at the age of just fifty-three, Isaac Batten suffered a fatal cerebral apoplexy (i.e. a stroke) at his pub in the village of Littlebury. He was buried back in Cambridge at the Holy Trinity Church, just a couple of streets away from his old coaching base at the Eagle.(1,15,28,29)

It’s tempting to assume that Isaac’s relatively early death was a result of his lifestyle: the alcohol intake; the obesity. However at least one of Isaac & Charlotte’s children also died young of apoplexy – perhaps the Battens were at an increased risk of stroke through some genetic factor.

In the September after Isaac died, his son Charles Batten placed a newspaper advert offering up the lease of the Queen’s Head.(30) The same year an Act of Parliament was passed which paved the way for a railway connection between London and Cambridge. The heyday of the mail coach was over, though the speed and flair of the Times and her driver would be fondly remembered by those who had travelled in her:

“MANY must still be living who can remember those good ‘old coaching days,’ when the box-seat of a well-appointed conveyance was considered one of the most enviable of places, and when the coachman happened to be popular, and would hand over the ‘ribbons’ to some ‘gentleman dragsman,’ fresh from Oxford or Cambridge. Many a five-shilling piece, or even a sovereign, was his reward for endangering his passengers’ lives.

“To go back some forty years, when two of the best-appointed coaches of the day, the ‘Times Cambridge,’ and the ‘Cambridge Fly,’ one driven by Batten, the other by Fawcett, both celebrated men of that day. It is of the ‘Times’ we have to speak. On its panels was written Tempus fugit;’ by no means wrongly applied, for the journey from London to Cambridge, fifty-three miles, was completed within five hours; and it performed the wonderful feat, when running opposition to the ‘Fly,’ of changing horses and driving in and out the yard, of that (in those good old times) celebrated inn Epping Place, in the all but incredible space of one minute! These were pleasant days, gone, alas! never to return.

(‡Tempus fugit – ‘The Times flies’ – another pun.)

Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes, 1881, vol. XXXVI, p. 34.

Louth to London mail coach

Illustration of the Louth to London mail coach
being loaded on to the back of a train, pre-1845.
© Copyright The Postal Museum, all rights reserved.

Isaac Batten’s eldest child, my four-greats grandfather Alfred Mortimer Batten, was born in London (Clerkenwell or Marylebone) on 23 April 1811, but baptised in Northampton at the age of eight.(6,7,8)

On 16 November 1842 in Swaffham, Norfolk, Alfred married farmer’s daughter Mary Ann Buck:32 they had nine children. At first, living in Brandon on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, Alfred, following in his father’s footsteps, was a coachman – then, like many recently-redundant coacheys he found work as a railway guard, in London. Around 1855, Alfred and his growing family moved north to Liverpool, where in another change of career he became a pawnbroker. He was presumably supported in this by his uncle, Isaac Batten’s brother Charles, who was already in that trade in Liverpool.(7,8)

Alfred M. Batten died at his home in Ashton Street, Liverpool, on 15 March 1869; he is buried in Toxteth Park Cemetery.(1,33,34) Alfred’s own eldest child, my three-greats grandmother, was named Charlotte Georgiana Maria Batten after her grandmother and aunt. She married wholesale clothier John Burrows in 1859; the couple lied on the marriage register to cover up the fact that Charlotte was barely fifteen years old.(35)

Charlotte & John Burrows had a large family – twelve children including my great-great grandmother, Patti Lilian Burrows;(36) Patti’s daughter Marion Curry married master butcher Henry Harland Stainthorp in 1928.(35)

Isaac Batten family tree

Sketch family tree showing my descent from Isaac Batten & Charlotte Mortimer.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Of Charlotte & Isaac Batten’s other five children:

Mary Anne Charlotte Batten was born in Northampton on 17 November 1817 and baptised there just before her second birthday.(6) She was recorded in the 1841 census as an innkeeper in Littlebury.(27) Two years later, shortly after the death of her father, she married a barrister, William Beresford, who became a county court judge in Carmarthenshire.(34,37) She died in 1893 in Machynlleth registration district.(38)

Kelsboro Ware Toby Jug

Kelsboro Ware coachman Toby Jug, 1950s. “In box-coat e’er attired,
As rough as heart desired.”

William Wallace Batten was born and baptised in Welford, Northamptonshire, at the end of 1819.(9) On 15 January 1839, aged nineteen, he entered into service with Her Majesty’s Board of Excise and was posted to Ireland.(18) He married twice and had four daughters.(39) (One small oddity: at both of his marriages in Ireland, William’s father’s name is recorded as Isaac Smith Batten. Where did the ‘Smith’ come from? Isaac has no middle name on any other record he appears in.) On 2 July 1870, at his desk in the Custom House, Dublin, William Batten suddenly fell backwards without uttering a word, dead of apoplexy at fifty years old. He is buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.(3942)

Edward Charles Townshend Batten, known as Charles. Born in London on 18 September 1821,(7) he was baptised at the church of St Andrew the Less, Cambridge, in January 1828 aged six.(14) He was recorded in the 1841 census as an innkeeper in Littlebury.(27) Along with his uncle Charles and brother Alfred, Charles Batten was a pawnbroker in Liverpool.(7) He married twice and died in Eastcote, Northamptonshire, on 6 September 1895.(36,43)

Frederick Adolphus Batten was born in 1823 in Cambridge. He died shortly before his third birthday.(14,15)

Georgiana Maria Batten, born in Cambridge on 18 November 1825. For some reason she was baptised twice at the same church (St Andrew the Less, Cambridge) – once in December in the year of her birth, then again in January 1828 alongside her elder brother Charles.(14) She was recorded in the 1841 census as an innkeeper in Littlebury.(27) She married twice and had two daughters; both sadly died in childhood. Georgiana herself died in Southport registration district on 10 September 1903 and was buried in Toxteth Park Cemetery in Liverpool.(34,36)

I would like to thank a distant cousin T. F. C. Batten whose own research established the link between Isaac Batten of Northampton/Cambridge and his likely parents Isaac and Mary in London; also for the fantastic and generous hoard of digitised documents, articles, and ideas. Thanks also to the members of the RootsChat family history forum for suggestions for further research.

Paul Harland Stainthorp (paul@paulstainthorp.com).
Version 1.2, updated 18 November 2017.


  1. England and Wales, death certificate (certified copy); General Register Office, Southport.
  2. Personal e-mail; privately held by the author.
  3. “FreeReg,” database, FreeReg (http://www.freereg.org.uk/ : accessed 2 September 2016).
  4. St James’ Church (Paddington, London, England), parish registers; digital images, Ancestry Library Edition (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com/ : accessed 2 October 2015).
  5. “London, England, Land Tax Records, 1692-1932,” digital images, Ancestry Library Edition (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com/ : accessed 29 June 2016); London Metropolitan Archives.
  6. St Giles’ Church (Northampton, Northamptonshire, England), parish registers; digital images.
  7. “1851 England Census,” digital images, Ancestry Library Edition (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com/ : accessed 18 December 2015); The National Archives, Kew.
  8. “1861 England Census,” digital images; The National Archives, Kew.
  9. St Mary’s Church (Welford, Northamptonshire, England), parish registers.
  10. The Gentleman’s Pocket Magazine; and album of literature and fine arts (London: Joseph Robins, 1827); digital images, Hathi Trust (https://babel.hathitrust.org/ : accessed 9 May 2016).
  11. Northampton Mercury, 8 May 1830.
  12. Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 17 January 1830.
  13. Watkins, Graham, Mail coach monument, 8 March 2011 (http://www.grahamwatkins.info/ : accessed 26 September 2016).
  14. “Cambridgeshire Baptisms,” database, Findmypast (http://www.findmypast.co.uk/ : accessed 23 May 2016); Cambridgeshire Family History Society.
  15. “Cambridgeshire Burials,” database; Cambridgeshire Family History Society.
  16. “UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538-1893,” digital images, Ancestry Library Edition (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com/ : accessed 19 December 2015); London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library.
  17. Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, and Huntingdonshire Gazette, 30 May 1840.
  18. William Wallace Batten. Entry papers for service as an Excise man. The National Archives, Kew, ref. CUST 116/6/21.
  19. The Cambridge University calendar for the year 1829 (printed by J. Smith for J. & J.J. Deighton, 1829).
  20. Sporting Magazine, April 1829, vol. XXIII N.S., no. CXXXIX, pp. 414-419.
  21. Larkham, Anthony W. D., A natural calling: life, letters and diaries of Charles Darwin and William Darwin Fox (Springer, 2009)
  22. Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 18 March 1827.
  23. Courier [London], 23 October 1830.
  24. Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, and Huntingdonshire Gazette, 27 March 1835.
  25. ibid., 6 June 1840.
  26. Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 21 March 1841.
  27. “1841 England Census,” digital images; The National Archives, Kew.
  28. Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, and Huntingdonshire Gazette, 15 April 1843.
  29. Essex Standard and General Advertiser [Colchester], 21 April 1843.
  30. Chelmsford Chronicle, 1 September 1843.
  31. Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes, 1881, vol. XXXVI, p. 34.
  32. Church of St Peter and St Paul (Swaffham, Norfolk, England), parish registers; digital images, Findmypast (http://www.findmypast.co.uk/ : accessed 26 September 2016).
  33. Liverpool Mercury, 20 March 1869, p. 5.
  34. Anderson, Robert and Anderson, Rose, Toxteth Park Municipal Cemetery inscriptions (http://www.toxtethparkcemeteryinscriptions.co.uk/ : accessed 3 October 2015).
  35. England and Wales, marriage certificate (certified copy); General Register Office, Southport.
  36. “1891 England Census,” digital images; The National Archives, Kew.
  37. St Luke’s Church (Chelsea, London, England), parish registers; digital images.
  38. “FreeBMD,” digital images, FreeBMD (http://www.freebmd.org.uk/ : accessed 29 March 2016); General Register Office, Southport.
  39. Ireland, Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, “Civil Records,” digital images, Irish Genealogy (https://civilrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/ : accessed 2 October 2016).
  40. Evening Freeman [Dublin], 4 July 1870.
  41. “Calendars of Wills and Administrations 1858 – 1920,” digital images, The National Archives of Ireland (http://www.willcalendars.nationalarchives.ie/ : accessed 2 October 2016).
  42. “Dublin Headstones,” digital images, Ireland Genealogy Projects Archives (http://www.igp-web.com/IGPArchives/ire/dublin/photos/tombstones/ : accessed 1 October 2015).
  43. “Find a will: Wills and Probate 1858 – 1996,” digital images, Gov.UK (https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/ : accessed 1 July 2015); National Probate Calendar.

Stainthorp, butchers

This post is inspired by the BBC television programme ‘Hidden Histories: Britain’s Oldest Family Businesses‘, specifically the episode about Balson’s butchers of Bridport in Dorset. My own family history can’t compete with Richard Balson’s: his ancestors have been butchers in the same town since 1515, only a few years into the reign of Henry VIII – five hundred years ago and counting – but there was an unbroken line of Stainthorp butchers in the north-east of England for at least 127 years:

Another difference between my line of butchers and the Balsons: while they have been in Bridport throughout their long history, my ancestors moved regularly, running shops in Hutton Rudby (Yorkshire), Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Seaham (County Durham), Gateshead, Wallsend, Whitley Bay, and possibly elsewhere, and branched out into the dairy business and into running licensed premises.

Before we were butchers

I’ve already written about my ancestors Francis (1765-1822) and his son Francis (1803-1882) Stainthorp, who were both hand-loom weavers of linen in the Yorkshire village of Hutton Rudby. Weaving was the main occupation in Hutton, and my Stainthorp ancestors had been weavers since at least the 1690s.1,2

Robin Hood Island, Hall Green - Butchers figure / dummy - Guinness hat - St Patrick's Day

Butcher’s figure / dummy
© Copyright Elliott Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

By the middle of the 19th century, the industrial revolution brought cheap imported linen to Britain and killed off the cottage hand-loom weaving industry in north-east Yorkshire. Ironically one of the last uses of Hutton Rudby home-spun linen was to make the traditional striped material used for butchers’ aprons.3

The Stainthorps of Hutton Rudby were also farmers, again since at least the late 17th century,1 owning between 15 and 22 acres of land at Enterpen and North End.4,5 They will have slaughtered their own livestock and sold the meat locally and at nearby Stokesley market.

The booklet ‘A History Walk round Hutton Rudby‘ notes the “great many” butchers and slaughterers that were based in Hutton Rudby from the middle of the 19th century onwards, and describes some of the less-pleasant effects on the village environment:

“…the butchers’ refuse was dumped in the Blood Midden – the ponds off Green Lane to the west of Campion Lane. The smell was dreadful, especially when the farmer spread the rotted waste as muck, but it was a very popular place to go ratting, as the rats there grew “as big as terriers”.

– ‘A History Walk round Hutton Rudby’.6

One of these 19th-century butchers was my three-greats grandfather Charles Stainthorp.

Charles Stainthorp (1835-1905), butcher, farmer and dairyman

Charles was born in November 1835, the youngest and only surviving son of my four-greats grandfather, linen weaver Francis Stainthorp (1803-1882) and his wife Ann Seamer (1800-1883).2 He had two older brothers, William and Francis, who both died young of consumption – i.e. tuberculosis.7 Charles grew up with his parents at North End, Hutton Rudby;8 he is in the 1851 census of England as a fifteen-year-old farmer’s servant, in the household of farmer Ralph Agar at Tees Tilery, Normanby-on-Tees.9

In 1859, just before he married grocer’s daughter Ann Kay at Rudby All Saints’ church,2 Charles set himself up in business as a butcher with £50 capital.10 His first shop was located in Enterpen, which is the name of both a road and an associated hamlet-cum-suburb of Hutton Rudby proper.11

At first, Charles was the picture of the successful rural small businessman. He and Ann had six children (tragically, three died in childhood including their two-year-old daughter Phillis who was fatally injured when she fell out of her father’s butcher’s cart while travelling home from his shop in Enterpen).11 Charles also had an apprentice, the splendidly-named Denton Fortune, who later became a butcher in his own right in East Rounton.4,5 He continued to farm sheep on the family land in Hutton,12 and also bred and exhibited prize-winning greyhounds.13 During the 1860s, Charles Stainthorp held the role of chairman/vice-chairman of the local Friendly Society and presided over their annual dinners.14

By 1883, Charles and his son William had a butcher’s shop at 87 Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough.15 This building still exists, and in 2016 was occupied by a branch of the electronic goods retailer, Maplin.

Newspaper advertisment for Charles Stainthorp, butcher, 1883

Christmas advertisement
The North-Eastern Daily Gazette [Middlesbrough],
22 December 1883, p. 2

Around this time, things seem to have started to go wrong for Charles. Within a single year he lost both of his parents and his wife Ann (aged only 53, to heart disease).7 Already responsible for his youngest unmarried daughter Maria Stainthorp, and for a household including two servants, since 1886 Charles had also had to support six of his grandchildren, the offspring of his eldest daughter Lucy Ann, after her husband Alfred Cockcroft – violent and a meths-drinker – had abandoned his wife and children.10,16,17

By the end of 1887 Charles knew he was falling into insolvency. On 10 April 1889, at court in Stockton-on-Tees, he was declared bankrupt with debts of £686 3s 3d – close to £57,000 in today’s money.18

The Stainthorp family farm was sold, and Charles and William Stainthorp both left Hutton Rudby for good. There were no Stainthorps left in Hutton by the end of the nineteenth century.

Charles moved: first to nearby Skelton-in-Cleveland where son William was also living, and later to the Heaton area of Newcastle upon Tyne. By this time Charles had remarried, to Sarah Wood.19 27 years his junior – younger in fact than Charles’ eldest daughter – Sarah had been living in Enterpen, Hutton Rudby, and had two sons baptised and registered under her own surname.2 It’s not clear whether John George Wood and Joseph Wood were actually Charles Stainthorp’s biological sons, but he raised them as his own children and they both took the surname Stainthorp after Charles and Sarah were married.2022

047221: Shields Road, Heaton 1908

Shields Road, Heaton, 1908
Public domain image, Newcastle Libraries

In Heaton, in a departure from butchery, Charles and Sarah established a milk delivery business. Operating first out of 56 Addison Road, and later at 97 Cartington Terrace, Stainthorp’s dairy became well-known in the Heaton area and the business was carried on well into the 20th century by Charles and Sarah’s two sons John G. and Joseph, daughter Lily (1894-1974), and their descendants.2124

Sarah died in Heaton in 1904; Charles Stainthorp, “milk salesman formerly a butcher (master)“, passed away a year later on 21 November 1905, at the age of 70.7

William Stainthorp (1862-1924), butcher and publican;
also his sons Frank (1886-1918) and Charles (1887-1945)

My great-great grandfather William was the second child and eldest son of Charles Stainthorp and his first wife Ann (née Kay). He was born on 27 January 1862 in Hutton Rudby;25 by the time of the 1881 census he was working in his father’s butcher’s shop in Enterpen.5 Perhaps in order to strike out on his own in business, William later took out an £80 bank loan on which his father Charles was guarantor.10

When he married Margaret Annie Harland in 1884, William was living at the family butcher’s shop in Middlesbrough, at 87 Linthorpe Road.19

Margaret Harland was from a County Durham family of iron workers, but in recent years her father William Harland had been landlord of a string of Teesside pubs including the Cleveland Arms, North Ormesby, the Clarendon Hotel, Marske, the Tees Inn and the Lord Byron, Middlesbrough … and last of all the Royal Hotel, Redcar, where William Harland died in 1892, after falling down the stairs of his own pub.26 Margaret’s brother Henry Harland and half-brother William Dobson were also publicans.4,5,20

At first William and Margaret Stainthorp followed their Harland relatives into the licensed trade. In the late 1880s William was the keeper of the Crown & Anchor Hotel, High Street, Redcar (their first two children were born there)25; at the same time it appears they also ran a separate lodging house down the road at 135 High Street, Redcar – however they definitely still had the Middlesbrough butcher’s shop as late as 1887, and William’s occupation is recorded sometimes as an innkeeper, sometimes a butcher.25

Cleveland: Redcar: CROWN & ANCHOR

Crown & Anchor Hotel, Redcar
The building would have looked significantly different in William Stainthorp’s day, with an additional top floor demolished after 1961.
© Copyright emdjt42, all rights reserved

In the 1891 census William appears as a licensed victualler, landlord of the New Inn, 1-3 Cleveland Street, Skelton-in-Cleveland: two more of their children were born in those premises.20,25

In 1895, William, Margaret and their five children embarked on their next major move. (A sixth child, named William Harland Stainthorp after his maternal grandfather, had died aged 13 months of measles and is buried in Skelton cemetery.)27 By the end of that year the family were in Hartlepool;28 almost immediately they moved again, northwards to the area of Tunstall/New Silksworth, near Sunderland. (With all the chaos of these multiple moves, they neglected to register the birth of their youngest child.) Nowadays New Silksworth is part of the built-up metropolitan area of Sunderland. When my ancestors moved there it was a small colliery village of newly-built miners’ houses, surrounded by open fields.

This move also marks the end of William and Margaret’s career in the licensed trade, although two of their daughters married publicans, and Margaret Annie Stainthorp – like her father – died in a pub.7

Between 1897-1904, the Stainthorps lived at 57 Castlereagh Street, New Silksworth, Tunstall. Margaret and William’s last three children were born there, including the youngest of all, my great grandfather, Henry Harland Stainthorp (1904-1952).25 57 Castlereagh Street is at the corner of two streets and is currently a shop – in 2016, Devito’s pizza takeaway; before that a BMX bike shop – so it may well have been the location of William’s butcher’s shop in the early 1900s.

The impression given by snippets from the Sunderland Daily Echo is that William’s business was thriving in the first few years of the 20th century. In 1901 he advertised both for a “STRONG, respectable GIRL” to work as a general servant and for a “good MAN, capable of taking charge” of the shop in Silksworth.29 (A few years later he placed an advert in the same newspaper for a lost black-faced sheep… had his new assistant left the slaughterhouse gate open, letting William’s profits run away on four legs?)30

Birth notice, William Stainthorp

Birth announcement
Sunderland Daily Echo, 24 July 1901, p. 2

There is also an entry in Kelly’s Directory of Durham, 1902, for William Stainthorp, butcher, at 3 Trimdon Street West in the Millfield area of Sunderland. This can only be my two-greats grandfather, but I have no other record of a butcher’s shop at this address (which is right across the other side of the city from their home in New Silksworth), and the original buildings on Trimdon Street West have now disappeared.31

After 1904, the Stainthorp family moved two more times: to Horden in County Durham by 1911,22 then, around the end of the First World War, to the Northumberland seaside resort of Whitley Bay. I do not know where William’s shop or shops were located during this period. (As late as 1921, the butcher’s shop at 215 High Street East, Wallsend, which would later belong to William’s youngest son Henry, was being operated by a Mr William Coupe; before that by J. Cosans.)32,33

William died of a stroke at his home in Whitley Bay on 4 March 1924. His widow Margaret died fourteen years later at the Gladstone Hotel, Scotswood Road, Newcastle upon Tyne:7 I don’t know whether she was there merely as a customer or as the mother/mother-in-law of the licensee.

(Other pubs run by the descendents of William and Margaret include the Biddick Inn, Fatfield, and the Gibraltar Rock, Tynemouth. It’s likely there were many more but that will have to be the subject of a future blog post and a punishing genealogical pub crawl.)

My grandfather, born five years after William Stainthorp senior passed away, remembered his grandmother Margaret as a “sweet, quiet old lady”. He had less-fond memories of his aunt Madge – William & Margaret’s eldest child – who sent him to bed in the afternoon for misbehaving.34

Three of Margaret and William’s sons carried on the family butchery business: my great grandfather Henry Harland Stainthorp (below), and his two older brothers Frank and Charles:

Francis “Frank” Stainthorp (1886-1918)

Frank Stainthorp's headstone

Frank Stainthorp’s headstone,
Bedford House Cemetery, Ypres.
© Chris Leach, all rights reserved

I have already written about Frank Stainthorp, who was killed on 31 October 1918 near Kerkhove in western Flanders while serving with the 19th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.35

The second child and eldest son of Margaret and William, before the war I believe Frank ran his own butcher’s shop in Seaham, although I have not been able to find the exact location.

He married Mary Helena Mason (known as “Lena”) in Sunderland on 28 July 1919 – they had two daughters.19

Frank carried his peacetime trade into the Army: when he was up in court in 1915 for being so drunk at Chesterfield Midland railway station that he jumped onto the railway line and had to be dragged out of the path of an oncoming train(!), he told the magistrate that he was butcher to his battalion.36 (He was demoted from lance corporal back to the rank of private for this instance of being drunk and A.W.O.L.)37

Frank Stainthorp may have been butchering right up to his untimely death. The family story is that he was doing his rounds, “bringing food up to the front” when the call went out for volunteers for a mission into no-man’s land to rescue a wounded soldier. Frank volunteered for the mission and never returned.34

As an aside, what happened to Frank Stainthorp’s widow and two children after WWI is still one of the major mysteries in my family history research.

Charles Stainthorp (1887-1945)

Frank Stainthorp’s younger brother Charles was born above his namesake grandfather’s butcher’s shop at 87 Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough on 23 November 1887.25 In 1911, he was working as a butcher alongside his father William, and living with his parents in Horden.22 On 11 December 1912 Charles married Margaret Elliott Smith at Gateshead register office.19

Charles Stainthorp

Charles Stainthorp
Family photograph, © all rights reserved

Rejected from military service in WWI because of an unspecified disability,37 Charles established his own business south of the Tyne. One early premises, according to the ‘History of The Felling‘ website, was at 12 High Street, Felling.38

By 1939 Charles was living and operating out of a shop at 145 Sodhouse Bank, Sheriff Hill, Gateshead, supported by his three children: Sidney, Frank and Verita.

After Charles’ death in 1945, his middle son Frank Stainthorp (1916-1975) took over the shop in Sheriff Hill.

Stainthorp’s sausages are the best,
they’re good for your belly and your chest.
If you eat them twice a week
they’ll cure your sweaty feet!

– Gateshead children’s rhyme34

This shop at 145 Sodhouse Bank is the earliest Stainthorp butcher’s that I have a photo of. I am extremely grateful to two of my relatives who both sent me copies of this photograph. It was probably taken after 1945. The man in the door in the white butcher’s apron is Charles Stainthorp’s son Frank.

The last record I have of Frank Stainthorp’s Gateshead shop is from 1952.39 It’s now a private house, though some of the original features have been preserved including butchers’ hooks in the ceiling.34

F. Stainthorp, butcher, Sodhouse Bank, Sheriff Hill, Gateshead

F. Stainthorp, butcher, Sodhouse Bank,
Sheriff Hill, Gateshead, after 1945?
Family photograph, © all rights reserved

Henry Harland “Harry” Stainthorp (1904-1952), master butcher

Henry Harland Stainthorp

Henry Harland Stainthorp
Family photograph, © all rights reserved

My great-great uncles Frank and Charles Stainthorp had three younger brothers: William Harland Stainthorp, mentioned above, who died in infancy; another William Stainthorp (1901-1919) who died aged 17 of a kidney infection;7 and finally the youngest of the nine siblings – my great grandfather Henry Harland Stainthorp, known as Harry. He was named after his uncle Henry Harland, another publican.

Born in New Silksworth on 17 March 1904,25 Harry Stainthorp married my “Nana” – my great grandmother – Marion Curry at St Paul’s church, Whitley Bay, in 1928.19 The couple moved from Walkergate near Newcastle to the coastal village of Cullercoats – to Links Road, then in the 1940s to a house on the Broadway.7,25,40

From at least 1936 until his sudden death in 1952 (at just 48 years old),7 Harry Stainthorp had a shop at 215 High Street East, Wallsend, directly opposite Wallsend Town Hall.39,40 I am sure that a photograph of this shop must exist somewhere – perhaps in North Shields library’s collection of 50,000 local images.

The Wallsend shop is just off the right-hand edge of this commercially-available photograph.

When I passed the location of the shop on the High Street in 2015, the building was empty and shuttered.

Harry seems to have had an odd sense of humour: during the Second World War he had more than one letter published in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle in which he commented on the more absurd aspects of wartime restrictions, including a poem about the honey-trap agents apparently used by the Ministry of Food to ensnare an unwary Wallsend butcher tempted to bend the rules on rationing…

Medallion and sash of the Tynemouth Butchers Association

Medallion and sash of the
Tynemouth Butchers’ Association

which belonged to my grandfather.
© Copyright stainthorp_ph,
all rights reserved


You may talk about your ration,
Through teeth you can’t help gnashin’,
While knittin’ scarves to warm the soldiers’ throats.
But when it comes to duty,
I can tell you of a beauty,
Whose job’s to make the butchers burn their boats.

There’s a girl I’ve heard them say
In the Food Controller’s pay
Who plys her trade with nothin’ but good looks;
She flits from shop to shop
Like a sparrow on the hop
To buy some meat without her ration books.

With her “Please, please, please,”
She’s almost on her knees;
The butcher tries to meet those eyes that melt;
The mutt succumbs at last,
And wraps her meat up fast,
And another scalp is added to her belt.

– H. Stainthorp, Cullercoats, 1940.41

William “Bill” Stainthorp (1929-2010), master butcher

When his father Harry Stainthorp died unexpectedly in 1952, my grandad Bill Stainthorp gave up his job as a bank clerk with Lloyd’s Bank and his expected future career, to take over the family business.34,42 He was joined in this at first by his brother Robin (1937-2007), who later went into the insurance industry. A third brother, Norman (1944-2006) emigrated to New South Wales in the 1970s.

William “Bill” Stainthorp was born on 7 July 1929 in Wingrove Road, Fenham, Newcastle upon Tyne.25
He ran his late father’s shop at 215 High Street East, Wallsend until about 1967.39

W. Stainthorp, butcher, Ilfracombe Gardens, Whitley Bay

W. Stainthorp, butcher, Ilfracombe Gardens, Whitley Bay, about 1985.
Family photograph, © all rights reserved

Before the birth of his eldest son in 1954, Bill Stainthorp bought another shop at 9 Ilfracombe Gardens, Whitley Bay. This shop had already been a butcher’s before my grandad took it over – in the 1930s it was run by a Mr T. L. Tyson.40

In 1974, William Stainthorp was taken to court by the trading standards department of the newly-formed Tyne & Wear County Council for selling brawn (which contains 60% meat, the rest being jelly) in his Whitley Bay shop under the name “potted meat” (which by law must be a minimum of 95% meat). His argument that “it is one of the quirks in the North-East for people to call brawn potted meat” – and that only “visitors from the south” called it by its ‘proper’ name – fell on unsympathetic ears and he was fined £10 and ordered to pay £10 costs.43

I can remember visiting my grandad’s shop as a child – I have a clear mental picture of the layout of the shop, the cold room up a couple of steps, and a small yard out the back. For some reason certain details have particularly stuck in my mind – the smell of the shop, sawdust on the floor, my grandad’s collection of pottery pig ornaments in the window, and containers full of tripe and pease pudding (“Geordie hummus”!) in the display cabinet.

Bill Stainthorp retired in 1986,34 127 years after his great grandfather Charles Stainthorp started out in business in Hutton Rudby. As far as I know my grandad was the last of the line of Stainthorp butchers: by 2015 the shop on Ilfracombe Gardens was being used as the offices of a firm of heating engineers. Bill died after a fall, on holiday in Yorkshire in 2010.7

Timeline of identified Stainthorp butchers' shops

Timeline of identified Stainthorp butchers’ shops
Created using RootsMagic software. I have not been able to find the addresses of any shops between 1904 and about 1934.

The end.

Diagram of butcher's cuts of pork

Paul Harland Stainthorp (paul@paulstainthorp.com). Version 1.5, updated 18 September 2016.


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  2. All Saints’ Church (Rudby, Yorkshire, England), parish registers; digital images, Findmypast (http://www.findmypast.co.uk/ : accessed 2 August 2016).
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  30. Sunderland Daily Echo, 27 October 1904, p. 2.
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  34. Personal e-mail; privately held by the author.
  35. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, “Find War Dead,” digital images, CWGC (http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/ : accessed 1 April 2015).
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  41. Evening Chronicle [Newcastle upon Tyne], 9 May 1940, p. 4.
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