Having had some success with Fred Dinenage’s Family Tree, I was asked to see what I could find out for Simon Parkin, the Meridian Weatherman. There didn’t seem to be anything too mysterious about it on first research; but once we got further into it Time Detectives solved the mystery of a young runaway couple and an underage war hero in Simon’s past. Read on…
Origins of the Parkin’s
The name “Parkin” shares the same root as Perkin, being a mediaeval name derived from Peter, more or less a nickname as “Little Peter”. It is predominately a Northern name concentrating in Yorkshire, Durham, and Derbyshire, which looked like it was further North than Simon’s awareness of his own ancestor’s roots in Lancashire.
The oldest ancestor we found for Simon in the Parkin line was George Parkin, a Labourer born in 1780 in the Sedgefield area of County Durham, in the village of Carlton near Stockton-on-Tees. The Carlton that George grew up in had not changed very much since early mediaeval times. Although the place itself is of English origin, the name has developed through Viking Norse, from Ceorlton (pronounced Churlton) in old English, i.e. the settlement of the Ceorls (tied peasants, often looking after livestock, one step above slaves), via the Norse substitution of the “K” sound for the English “Ch” sound, giving us our pronounciation of Carlton (with the same meaning).
Durham being part of a semi-autonomous area of England that had been a major part of the Viking Danelaw before the Norman Conquest, would stubbornly resist the Normans, culminating in William the Conqueror’s “Harrying of the North”; where the Normans destroyed most villages and killed a high percentage of the local population in response to uprisings backed by the Viking King of Norway. The street layout of Carlton still reflects the subsequent Norman design with long strips behind the cottages denoting each peasant’s strip of farmland, put in place after the Normans Carlton some time after the population had been murdered by them .
It’s possible that Simon’s ancestors were moved into this Village by the Normans to replace the ethnically cleansed population who had been butchered. It would have been from this mediaeval time period that the Parkin surname developed. The fact that a surname could survive derived from a first name is an illustration of the paucity of population in the area, less than 50 people in Carlton in 1200, rising to just over 120 two hundred years later, for if the population had been large there would have been too many “Peters” to differentiate between them on first name alone. A clear sign of the centuries it took for the area to recover from Norman brutality.
George Parkin 1780-1850s
By the time we catch up with the Parkins a few hundred years and about twelve generations later in the late 1700s, George Parkin, Simon’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather was a Labourer travelling between farms looking for work on the fields or with livestock. George was born a few years after America won its Independence from Great Britain, and would have been a teenager when the French beheaded their King by Guillotine. He was completely unaware of Electricity, Gas, or Steam Power. The fastest he had ever seen a man travel was on a horse, across the fields chasing a fox. If he travelled it was by foot, his house would have been lit by candles, and his only supply of water would have come from a pump over a well in the centre of the village.
It is unlikely that he ever travelled more than five or six miles from the main town of Sedgefield, but that was far enough to let him meet Margaret Hutchinson on his travels around the farms in the area, and he he married Margaret in 1811. They would settled down to live in the delightfully named Horse Shoe House, near Fishburn, Sedgefield, and this is where they would raise their two sons Thomas and William.
Life was hard for a common labourer and harder still in old age which was both a blessing and a curse; It is likely that George and Margaret lived in poverty in old age, George died at the age of about 75 in the 1850s, probably in the local Workhouse, Margaret survived into her mid 80s with the help of relatives for a while, but eventually also died in Sedgefield Workhouse in 1866.
William Parkin 1813-1870s
William Parkin, Simon’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather travelled a little further than his Father’s generation, but still no more than about fifteen miles from where he was born, and indeed got himself a trade as a Blacksmith. He probably served his apprenticeship at the newly industrialised area of Acklam, near Stockton, just south of the River Tees, starting at about 12 years of age, and spending 7 years training before becoming a Journeyman (qualified) blacksmith. It was in Stockton-On-Tees, after the had finished his apprenticeship that he married Mary Neasham in 1836, Mary had travelled up to Stockton from the Village of Easington, over the border in Yorkshire.
Qualified and with his new bride, he worked his way North from Stockton and Thornaby, first to Elwick, then to Cassop and Kelloe, each of his three children being born in those respective places during the 1840s. Working back in his home area around Coxhoe and Cassop, he must have had a degree of success, as he became a Master Blacksmith in the 1850s, which meant that he had apprentices or other men working for him, no doubt making tools for the Coal Miners around Cassop.
Unfortunately this was not to last, as by the 1860s he had moved the family back down to Thornaby near Stockton to find work as a labourer. This probably coincided with the mass production of iron and steel implements from factories in the Midlands and the North of England, forcing smaller Blacksmiths out of business. This was a big step down in status and earnings, but at least in Thornaby fit men used to hard work were wanted for work in the potteries, glass works, and docks on the river.
It seems likely that life became very hard for William and Mary at this time, as both fall out of the records, implying that they were either living anonymously in the roughest areas, or condemned to the workhouse and not fully tracked in the records, it is most likely that Mary died in the 1860s, and William in the early 1870s in the Stockton area.
William’s generation had seen the rise of Industrialisation, turning much of the North of England from pleasant, sparsely populated farmland, to heaving blackened mines and sweaty workshops, towns booming almost overnight because of their proximity to navigable water, sources of power such as coal and water, and raw materials for manufacturing iron, pottery, and glass. Steam Power moved wheels and cranks, saws and giant hammers, flushed water from mines, and powered ships trains to speeds that would have been unthinkable when his father was a boy. But Industrialisation was not a blessing for the poor, and William died younger than his Father had.
George Parkin 1847-1902
Simon’s Great-Great-Great-Grandfather George Parkin trained as a Joiner. He must have been very skilled, as he became a Case and Cabinet Maker, also a Coachbuilder, and a Show Case maker, all of which were specialist areas within the Joiners’ craft. He is never described as a “Master” therefore, unlike his father, never employed men to work for him, so he would have worked for an employer.
Being a skilled man life would have been good, but his life takes a dramatic turn in 1870 when he marries a young girl called Alice Bartho. Although the marriage certificate shows her age as 19, in actual fact she was barely 16. Considering George was 23, there was a definite element of an elopement here. This is reinforced by the absence of George and Alice from the census records in 1871, perhaps showing that they did not want to be found. From the mid 1870s they are definitely living away from the Sedgefield/Stockton area, living in Middlesborough, and by the mid 1880s the family has moved out to Margrove Park near Skelton Castle, where George will have found work amongst the rich owners of the Iron Stone Mines and local aristocracy at Skelton Castle. who were much more interested in his skill in making beautiful objects for their mansions than in the age of his young wife.
In the 1880s, about ten years after they married, they finally moved back to the Stockton area for a few years, but were eventually on the move again about 1890, this time more than100 miles south to Salford In Lancashire on the outskirts of booming Manchester, and in particular to the area of Broughton. Boughton was an area owned by the Clowes family who decided that only a better class of worker could live there. They controlled building to the extent of limiting the number of pubs that could be built in Broughton. It is possible that Alice had a sister or cousin in service in Salford, as a girl with this very unusual surname turns up there at this time, which, along with simmering family resentment over their elopement, and the demand for the “better class” of skilled craftsman by the nouveaux riche in Salford, may explain how they came to take the long train ride down to Lancashire.
Once there the family lived well, and saw in the new century, but in 1902 George is struck down with Liver disease and died. Liver disease has one common cause; heavy drinking, the curse of the working classes in Victorian England, and despite the lack of pubs in the Broughton area, there were plenty outside, and this may have been George’s downfall. Alice was forced to rely more on the income from the children, including the girls who found employment like thousands of others in the Salford Cotton Mills. Alice lived another nine years till 1911, when she died of heart failure.
Thomas Parkin 1879 – 1936
Thomas Parkin born in Thornaby, moved with his parents to Margrove Park and then Salford. Thomas had followed his father’s trade as a joiner, but perhaps without the same desire or need to travel as he stayed in the Salford area for the whole of his life. Perhaps the travails of his parents lives, and seeing his father die, made him want stability more than the previous generation. He married at the age of 20 to May rebecca Tristram, a Lancashire lass, and the sister of his elder brother’s wife.
He died in Broughton in 1936 of Lung Cancer. Most likely he was a heavy smoker, as most working class men in industrialised cities smoked from an early age, perhaps from around 12 years old, and continued it through their lives. This death was not pleasant for his family and had a big impact on his son George Henry, seeing his father lose his strength and dignity, and suffering as he died over some months. The sight would haunt him and have a profound effect on his later life.
George Henry Parkin 1900 – 1967
George Henry was a man who maybe wasn’t all he seemed. He worked as a Shell Forger in a munitions factory during WW1 and although married at the age of 17 he actually gave his age as 22 on the marriage certificate, so he was underage when he married.
In 1919 he is a Lance Corporal in the 5th Manchester Regiment. But it has not proved possible to find an exact army record or medal record for him, so the mystery begins. Cross referencing in other records Time Detectives found an entry for him in a publically subscribed War Roll, not an official document as such, but one that was paid for by members of the public paying to have their account of their war record included. The entry for G.H. Parkin, has him in the 1st rather than 5th Manchester Regiment, apparently volunteering a month before his 15th birthday in 1915!
How did a 14 year old manage to pass as an older man? Investigations with Simon turned up some family photos of George, and it turned out he was a physically big man, so he drew himself up, stuck his chest out and lied about his age to the recruiting sergeant, and subsequently to the Vicar at his wedding, and maybe even to his bride-to-be! The record states that he fought at Arras, Ypres, the Somme amongst others, and was a member of the Army of Occupation of Germany based in Cologne, being officially demobbed in September 1920. These facts seem to tally with the Manchester Regiment’s movements if he moved between battalions, especially the army of occupation around Cologne, an interesting detail that bears out his story. The picture here shows British troops and Tanks drawing up outside Cologne Cathedral.
However there is still a mystery, as, when he marries in 1917, his occupation is given as a Shell Forger, a civilian role, and his medals listed on the war roll (not the official medal roll) only list the General Service and Victory Medals, if he had joined up in 1915 he should have also had the 1915 star.
What was the possible explanation? It seems that the lie about his age had been discovered, and he was sent home, in which case he wouldn’t have received the Star as he had joined illegally. Then later in the war when he was slightly older and the need for men had increased, he reenlisted and served with the Army of Occupation in the 5th Manchester Regiment as per his entry on his marriage certificate. This would also explain the change in Battalion number.
After the war, at least from his return to England in 1919, just prior to being officially demobbed, George worked in a Flour Mill for many years. This would have a tragic and unexpected effect on his later life. During WW2 he worked as a Metal Presser, and by 1967 he is a Lorry Driver.
In his sixties George suffered with his breathing, and this raised fears in his mind about the cause, most alarmingly the thought of Lung Cancer haunted him, having seen the horror of his father’s long suffering before he died. One afternoon after a visit to the family he took a cab home. On the way he asked the Cabbie to pull over by the Salford Ship canal at Trafford Bridge, he left the cab, walked onto the bridge and looked over into the dark water, after a few minutes he walked back to the cab, and told the driver to drive him home, within a few yards, he stopped the driver again, walked back to the bridge and threw himself in. He drowned before he could be rescued. The inquest came to the conclusion that he had committed suicide “while the balance of his mind was temporarily disturbed”. the fear of Lung Cancer had driven him to despair.
The irony was that it was found at he had some damage to his lungs from working in the Flour Mill, but he was not suffering from Lung Cancer, his fears had been misplaced. Simon knew nothing of his Grandfather’s death, and it was an obvious shock to him when that was revealed on camera.
This was the dramatic culmination of the show, and lead Simon to look further into his history with his family.
A poignant end to an interesting Family History mystery.