You never know what you will find when you start a Family Tree, and it’s always nice to find out something unexpected in the recent past, which is what I turned up with a Family Tree as a Christmas present, that I’d been commissioned to research.
Social Mobility brought to you by The Black Death
The Family probably took their name from a corruption of the name of a Village called Lidgate in Derbyshire, their name corrupted by various dialects to “Legat” over time. They wouldn’t have acquired this name before the Middle Ages, as surnames weren’t commonly used before that time, other than for the Nobility, and to be named after a place meant that you acquired the name after you left that place and went somewhere else – there was no point calling you by your Village’s name if you were still there, it was the fact that your home village was somewhere else that made your name a differentiator to identify you. This means that we can guess at the name arising at around the time of the Black death in the mid 14th Century, as before that time peasants were tied to the Land of their own Parish, and couldn’t just up and leave when they wanted.
The Black death changed all of that, as a third of the population died, creating a huge demand for mobile, and therefore, free Labour. Because there were few people in authority to enforce the Law, and the surviving landowners were prepared to defend peasants who came to work their lands as the only way to protect their own profits. Disease, a breakdown in law enforcement, and simple Capitalism, broke serfdom in England, and ensured that legalised slavery would never again be enforceable on the soil of England. This is the reason that Slavery was never legally abolished in England, i.e. it had ceased to exist thanks to the Black Death.
Warfare drives farming opportunities
There is a gap of 200-300 years after this until the family turnup at the end of the English Civil War in the Pleasely area, most likely via Chesterfield during the upheavals of the English Civil War. Over the following 200 years the family split, following working opportunities on the land, some going south to Duffield, our branch moving north to Whitwell, where they turn up renting land off of the Duke of Rutland, and had a fairly good holding of land at that. This association with the Duke of Rutland coincided with the Napoleonic Wars, when grain prices were high, and good farmers would prosper, and indeed that is what the family did. As with many prosperous families of the time they had many children, and because they were successful farmers could afford to feed them and were well away from the major urban areas and the diseases of the poor, overcrowded, and transient populations, this meant that many of their children survived which presented a problem.
The family had only one Farm, this meant that only one child could inherit, the others would need to find other means of employment.
In this family’s case, when the last major farm holder died he left the equivalent of £300,000 to his children, and of course The Farm. The son our family were descended from was a younger son, he took up as a master Blacksmith whilst one of his elder brothers got the farm (and his descendants gradually broke it up and sold part of it to the Duke of Portland), but our man used his inheritance to build a business as a Blacksmith and Farrier. He prospered, and as a Master employed men to work for him, including his two sons
Both sons carried on with the Blacksmithing, but by now in the mid 1800s the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and the boys moved with their families to Sheffield to take advantage of the working opportunities in the mines and steel works. Here skilled Blacksmiths were in high demand. Our man in this generation never became a Master Blacksmith like his father, he remained a Journeyman working in Industrial Sheffield. Unlucky in love, he lost two wives early in their marriages, and was outlived by his last partner. He fathered ten children, but not all of them stayed when successive wives moved in, and the family did start to go their separate ways early on. He died in his 60s still working as a Blacksmith in industrial Sheffield, a viral infection that attacked his heart and lungs brought about his end.
Miners and Heroes
His sons went into the heavy manual labour of Mining and Steel works, and his daughters, before marriage, worked as Domestic Servants. The sons were of great interest as both surviving sons served in WW1 in the Yorkshire Regiment. The brother that our family is descended from served admirably, received his medals and a war wound and was sent home because of his injuries before the end of the war. His brother was even more interesting, during service in France he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, an award for bravery under fire, in his case he had run out into no-man’s land under shellfire to dig out comrades who had been buried in the mud and brought them back to allied lines, and he did this several times.
Despite his bravery his service didn’t end at the end of the war, in the 1920s he was shipped off to North West Persia (Iran) to push the Turks out of the country, and to repel incursions by Lenin’s Bolshevik Russian forces, successfully in both cases, his unit was part of “NoPerForce”, and he didn’t return to England until around 1924.
Back in Sheffield, and straight back to working as a file cutter in a steel works. Both brothers put their experiences behind them and went back to the factory and the mine. His medals were eventually sold at auction in 2009 for £1,700.
The family carried on working in the Sheffield Coal Mines for further generations, their war time heroics and their past as well to do farmers buried – until of course Time Detectives dug them up and brought them back to life.
Interested in finding out your Family’s past and having it brought back to life? Contact me at Time Detectives on firstname.lastname@example.org. A great and unique present for someone you love.