William Elliott of Foolow (1831-?)

The source for the information on this web page is a letter written by William ELLIOTT, born in Foolow in 1831, describing his childhood in Foolow and Eyam, and his early working life in Stoney Middleton. His literary skills well deserve a wider audience, and whilst more down to earth, certainly rival those of the better known historian, William Wood of Eyam. For someone who described himself as ‘a sad dunce at school’ we can only marvel as we read his closing comments:

‘...hopes we once built our airy castles with are (like their frail but lovely architect - Fancy) crushed; our vision seems narrower, some of our gems drift away, like fallen angels, seeming too earthly, yet we love their lonely beauty. Yes there is a purifying influence in the contemplation of the past...’

This, and the following annotated extracts are based on a transcription from the original source by Mable Porozynski (née SHAW), kindly contributed William's gr*3 granddaughter Marie. The original is a letter, undated, but the final page in William's original hand, is a printed proforma headed “REMARKS from 1854”.

The letter begins “My Dear James”, but was never sent. We do not know for certain who the addressee, James was, but another of William's descendants, who now has the letter, understood it to be a James Dribble or Dibble. However, possibly the local connection with Foolow makes DRABBLE more probable.

Besides this letter, William also kept a series of Journals, which are believed still to exist, in the possession of another branch of the family

William's Letter

I was born on the 12th of April 1831, at the village of Foolow about two miles to the Westward of Eyam, it is yet as then, called The Fold[1], and my recollections of it are very slight, the furthest stretch of my memory, was some ducks swimming in a pond in front of the house and Jonathan Rowland' polyanthuses and peonies. But as to the ducks, I have since been told that I tried to imitate them swimming, but got rescued when almost overhead in the nasty green water.[2] I remember it was very dirty and green, and never been cleaned, I should say for generations, and having noticed Jonathans flowers, I one day possest myself of every particle of them, so when he returned home at night, he soon discovered who had robbed him, and forthwith took every pain to frighten me, and succeeded so effectively that my parents had only to intimate to me that Jonathan was coming and I was instantly transformed into anything they chose. I had ever afterwards the greatest horror of Jonathan, (he was John Maddock's[3] father-in-law of Stoney Middleton).

When I was about 3 or 4 years of age, my parents returned to Crosslow[4], a small farm between Eyam and Foolow, I have no recollections of this place for some time, only the frequent visits of Jonathan.

I can remember the daisies in our field about this time, it is a small farm of about 12 or 14 acres, and father worked at Bretton in the slate pits, and mother was left to look after us and the cows, and I well remember when mother was very busy, father used to carry me on his back to Bretton a mile over the hills, a singular place where my father was born and reared, so I used to stay till dinner time playing amongst the tall foxgloves, of which there was a great abundance about the quarry, and at bilberry time often regaling myself on the moor fruit. About this time a cat we found at Crosslow became very much attached to me, so much so, that she would follow me about like a dog and would never devour her prey till I had seen it, birds, rats, weasels, etc, all alike, brought for inspection she would lay them at my feet, and fawn upon me until she thought I had sufficiently noticed them, then she would savagely devour them. She would follow me to Bretton, over a mile, and sometimes wait till night.

I tell you this because I had more affection for my cat than anything else in the world, what comical things we are thrown upon, you will laugh at me for saying so much about my cat, but since I have begun, I will proceed through rough and smooth event to riding on pig back, and the like adventures you never heard of before I warrant. So much are we thrown upon our own energies in these lonely latitudes, that the most laughable things often occur even in the ordinary scenes and intercourse of life.

I think the people as far advanced in civilization at Stoney Middleton or Calver to Foolow and Bretton as Burton where I am, is to Middleton or Calver a half dozen miles in those counties makes a wonderful difference, so much so, that to the North of Eyam, I could take you to places where you would not imagine civilization had ever reached,[5] where the children run like herds of young pigs, and speedily out of sight as possible, if anything foreign happens to invaded their territories, these things are facts which require to be seen to be believed, and no wonder, if it is how they are taught, an it is no more trouble to bring up a family than a flock of geese and chicks, they fare the best, it is wonderful what stout children these stout Peakarians have, and at one time you could see them with their hair cut off level all around with the sheep shears around a little billy-cock-hat of several generations and unmentionables not fit to mention at all. Suffice it to say, plenty of air holes are generally left behind, and they generally pass from the oldest to the youngest as leasable property, (God help the youngest).[6] You may laugh but I have actually seen Grandfather's breeches turned into trousers for a 7 year old who was proud enough of them but for the protuberance behind and before which be more useful for carrying hay in than for any other domestic purpose such as hiding the cat or young pups, and I saw these were made of such tough material they would last easily a family. The tailor was not much needed. There are very old men who wear the clothes they were married in, of course these things happen, not within the reach of railings or even stage coaches.

I cannot tell the exact time when I first had a love of painting, but I recollect well it was through some very tattered water-colour drawings mother had of my cousin Edward's, of Sheffield Park. I was told they were painted with brushes, with water-colours, this excited my curiosity so much that I determined to fathom it so I set to work with mother's blue-ball,[7] and brushes made of feathers. I drew the thin end of a feather through the quill and speedily made a stock of brushes, mother told me all painters made their own tools and colours too, I could not imagine how they could get such beautiful colours. I got a pretty good yellow from the juice of the celandine, something like gamboge, so with celandine and blue-ball I made a nasty green, (wonderful discovery since I had discovered it myself.)

My infantile subjects were birds, animals, old castles etc of course not very perfect in outline or colouring either, flowers, fruits etc. of course you could not expect much from these sort of tools. Then somebody told me I must first learn to draw before I began to colour, and mother's books were speedily filled with drawings all along the margins, old letters, in fact anything in the form of paper, even old sugar papers were not too low for my pencil. I had up to this time had nothing better than poor writing paper to draw on and my tools but own made ones.

I suppose I was about 7 years of age, when good fortune put it into my parents heads to treat me to a large box of colours, brushes and all, for 1 shilling, this was to me at the time the greatest treasure earth could offer me. I reveled in my tasty treasure, till somebody told me I must learn drawing before I learned coloring and I thought it must be right, as I had gained some knowledge in my blue-ball exercises, and as I was going to school at Eyam at the same time, I picked up some knowledge there too. I was a sad dunce at school, but at making old fellows on the slate, as we use to term it, I was an adept, and many were the thrashings I got for it long before I was put in the reading made easy, about the time of pothooks[8] and ladles I think, as near as I can say, but somehow or other I discovered that to be a painter, was to be a great man, so I determined to be a painter and worked away with heart and soul knowing there was no lad in our school who could beat me at it, young as I was about 8 years, and knew nothing but what had learned myself, so I grew very studious and the lads used to sneer at me and called me pale face, a nick-name I neither relished or deserved.

I saw some drawings done on cartridge paper, horrid scrawls, but I thought them grand, so some cartridge paper I must have, and forthwith set out to Bakewell 6 miles for a sheet to John Goodwins Bookbinder and Bookseller who since has been very kind to me, in fact I have to thank him and other perfect strangers for a great deal of good in painting and other ways, for I never received any good in the place of my birth, or amongst my own relations only from cousin Edward of Sheffield who had painted himself in his younger days, as an instance of the oppositions met with from those who should have put me forward, I will relate a schoolroom scene which once happened to me.

On my cartridge paper I had portrayed a passion flower, I borrowed the copy from Joe Middletons at (flat?)[9], and was exhibiting it to some of my schoolfellows, when old Crud, that was the schoolmaster's nick name saw some of us laying our heads together as he supposed shied the usual missile at our heads, a great heavy ruler, in order to disperse us, and woe to him who had to take it back again, it was Peter Blackwell[10] but he seeing paper out approached me as their possessor, and demanded, with his old nether lip down my drawing, this drawing I was very proud of as it had pleased me exceedingly, but I, backward at deliverance, unfolded it to his view, expecting a licking from the hazel stick he carried and which I had but given him the day before, however he asked me where I had procured that, I told him boldly I had made it, he with one of his incredulous looks, denied that I had, but my monkey was up and I stuck to it that I was the painter.

He did not thrash me but let me be till after dinner, when he again demanded my drawing, and I knowing he had no right whatsoever with my private property would not let him even see it, a run around the school was the consequence in which I proved victor, but knowing he would catch me sooner or later, delivered myself prisoner, a scuffle ensued the old fool was determined to extract my treasure and I was determined he should not so he gave it up for a bad job after showing me off to the other boys as an example of lying and obstinacy but in process of time he got pretty well convinced of my skill in drawing, he was a stern but good old man, and very industrious one of the best writers I ever saw and best kitchen gardeners too, he used to grow black kidneys as long as my foot, live like a king, and lived life wonderfully in his old ancient way, his name was Samuel Bloomley (alias Old Crud).

I dare say I puzzled our folks extremely about this time, taking such a studious turn and departing so much from the breed, father said that there must be something in me, but all tried to divert my powers into the pig headed farming way declaring that books and the like were only invented for the amusement of rich people, these conflicting opinions harrassed me sorely. I had lived in the conviction that I was right, they themselves never opposing till they saw according to their ideas that my tendency to learning was a growing evil, at least that it would never benefit me in my present circumstances, so far so good, secondly what would my poor parents do, they could never have afforded to give me an education beyond the usual one, and could hardly afford that, they saw too that it was impossible to cram anything into the (crud poke?) of one who the schoolmasters had pronounced stupid, and in those days all schoolmasters put forward, was true, or in other words (‘Ya canna get nowt into arr big stupid yed’) but I learned fast enough what I liked, took to what pleased me, but invariably disliked whatever was forced upon me...

It was about 1840 I became aware of a depository of knowledge in Eyam, the library of the Mechanics Institute[11], glorious institution for those d---md wild mountains, they might as well have had a library printed in Chinese for Eyam people, who in their habits are a little superior to Foolow lads had the greatest horror of books and reading and as sure as anybody was seen making his way to the library he was condemned as one who would never make his way in the world, they never spent their time in reading, nor fathers nor grandfathers, so reading was out of the question with the majority, yet there were oracles of learning amongst them, one of the celebrities was William Wood[12] author of the history of Eyam and other works, taxgatherer, librarian, etc. but however, I went in this institute, caring little about people's remarks and I was rejoiced, so I took out, lives of eminent men, devouring its contents greedily. I read of Raphael, Titian, Murrillo, Claud Bussain, etc these so filled my young soul that from that hour I determined to become a painter, had determined before but that was nothing compared with this grand determination this seemed to build a foundation of truth to rest upon. I learnt that from shepherds, some of them had become companions of princes, and thought that from the nature of things and time I might be as one of they, I thought there is nothing to great to perform, and nothing shall be wanting in me for this one object of my life, I read how they studied from nature, I did the same. I dreamed every night of painting poetry and sublimity.

I had as hitherto seen no oil paintings, so I must go to Chatsworth to see the works of the great masters. So accordingly I went, after meeting much opposition from the porters, who thought, I suppose, my appearance was not good enough to take a view of their palace, but however I was admitted, but never was so disappointed in my life when they told me these were the works of the great masters, they seemed to me enveloped in midnight darkness, what pleased me most was the painted ceilings in Chatsworth, but compared the paintings to treacle, so much for my opinions of the great masters in oil paintings, I thought I could easily beat Claude Bussain.

I returned home much better satisfied with myself, and set to work with greater vigour than ever, inwardly resolving to learn sketching with drawing pencils before I learnt painting. So I worked away every opportunity and drew Mary[13], that would have surprised you, for a youth of fourteen years.

Then one Sunday, W. Wood, gave me a newspaper to look at in which was an article headed, a genius extraordinary. It ran as nearly as I can guess: There is, in the vicinity of Eyam a youth who has, save by his own exertions made the most wonderful progress in drawing and painting, the name of the boy is W. Elliott.

You must remember these exertions were made under the most adverse circumstances. I had gone to school until my parents thought I was strong enough for some employment so I exchanged my schoolboy toys for the luxury of wheeling [...] and shovelling gravel at my uncles (hillock) you know what I mean, and I of course had not much time for painting only in winter when we were luckily frozen out (as we call it) My father had now exchanged his quarrying business, and worked at the mill in the Dale for Samuel [Thuwen?] and when I had been with my uncle some time, as they wanted a lad in the dale, I had to trudge morning and night into Middleton Dale to be there at six and work till six PM, so this further restricted me in my leisure.

Know that I had always the greatest dislike for farming because it encroached on my little leisure, not because I disliked it in itself. I could sufficiently admire a pastoral scene with cows and sheep, but somehow it was a source of much disquiet between our folks and I, that I should not (as they termed it) lay a helping hand on, for our farm had to be managed as it best could. We were very poor and I shall have occasion to tell you of a deal of povertys doings in my short history.

But labour nor fatigue could conquer my love of nature and my trying to represent her on paper, whether it was owing to solitude or the grand scenery in which I moved I know not. But I had my weather eye open, so in course of time I thought I had merited some better materials for the successful progress of my studies which had till now been very satisfactory and my dear friend, you know not the disappointment I was doomed to undergo. I had hitherto acquainted no living soul with my aspirations for I knew even so young, none with whom I mingled could or would understand me and I had none of those schoolmates I could call friends, in fact I never wanted or seemed to want them till too late.

I often watched the golden sunlight play on those grey rocks driving the shadows from their inmost recesses, then Autumn came and oh what flood of glory burst upon my view. I felt more like one walking in fairyland, I could not imagine that anyone could be more delighted than I was with the surrounding scenery. I drew and penciled and sketched, upon what?, why? upon miserable writing paper such as only (Froggatts sell) how I longed to paint with even Claude or Raphael, but alas it was denied me, so what was the use of grumbling and I had not philosophy enough to overlook my misfortunes, I grew peevish and tiresome but parents who liked me well enough knew not the cause of my grief. I was too proud to tell them as time passed on and change came over the spirit of my dreams.[14]

It has often struck me what some people will endure in these several situations, under circumstances peculiarly distressing, and I for a while was content to be clothed in rags to toil like a galley slave for learnings sake, as crude a loon as ever set foot in a hobnailed shoe with hair straight down and a fustian coat a mile and a half too large for me. Billy-Cock hat oh Lord whoever made it, I don't know, it must have been made out of this world, for I never saw its fellow.

I told you I thought I wanted some better materials to work with, particularly as I had discovered what I required. I was just at the top of my hopes just on the point of fancy's highest pinnacle, the world all ambered with beauty and glory, the rough scenery of nature was before me it is true but I could not shake off my ignorance of things in general, nor could I change my mountain abode, and not till now did I desire to do so. I now began to see my defects there were insuperable barriers between me and society, a cloak of peevishness seemed fettered over my shoulders but these things, these obstacles but made me endeavor the more to overcome these things and the first thing I will do will be to get some proper materials to work with for I was far before my appearance, in drawing and sketching.

So one golden afternoon in Autumn I determined to ask father for some money, but he, poor soul, thinking it was for my own good, denied me. I first asked him for 10 shillings, he answered, I had spent enough on that nonsense already, I then asked for 5 shillings with the like success, then 2/6, which was also denied me. What could I do, they knew not the fire that burned in my veins, they could never have imagined the dreadful effects of my father's words, all hope fled.... I slept not I ate little but wet for many a long night, my pillow with the bitterest tears I ever shed till nature would no longer stand it, then I was ill, very ill and Winter coming on, none knew what caused my illness, the doctor was sent for and he physicked me for the good of my soul...

However towards Spring I revived and with a sickly smile welcomed back the sunshine as it streamed through my cottage windows, the sunshine cheered me when warm days came I used to bask in its beams and to wander in the fields, still very weak. I well remember one morning towards the beginning of March I wandered into our ruin of a garden and what do you think I saw? In the top of our garden grew a large Elder tree where had once been a flower border. I saw springing a beautiful bunch of snowdrops they pleased me exceedingly these at least were not tinged with the cruel world, they grew fast in the genial sunshine. They soon opened their pendant drops of virgin snow, I admired them and revisited them often then came something else, large red buds which I discovered was a peony, some primroses too and a beautiful Polyanthus.

I loved my lonely companions they were smothered in grass, so I cleared it away, I loosened the loam around them and they smiled upon me for a long time, so that I at last began to smile myself, would you think it, that little patch of snowdrops awakened me from my lethargy, revived my curiosity in things I had never before seen in my painting days. I could not bear to think of painting. I dare not trust myself to dwell for a moment upon my disappointment. I got so much better that I could go long journeys although unfit for work, so from my neighbours I augmented my stock of floral darlings, till I lavished upon them a great deal of the warmth I used to expend in painting...

I regained gradually my lost temper some of my cheerfulness, but my pride, the lofty soarings of my mind were quite crushed and only right they should be. I exchanged an uncertain enjoyment for one in which I could delight and found that the floral world was almost boundless. I was a novice and my flowers were now confined to Polyanthuses, I now should think with a Horticultural view, large peony, primrose a white pink, a lily, some crocuses, daffodils, I admired their wonderful construction, their modes of growing, their forms.

My little plantation pleased me so much that I extended it across the top of our garden, and my neighbours, kind souls, gave me some slips, as we used to call them so that everything I got now was perfectly new to me. My plants grew under my protection until my 6 foot bed was perfectly gay with them. I felt as I surveyed them that life was after all not half so desolate as it had seemed to me a short time before...

I grew quite strong and was deemed fit for work again, so I had to trudge as normal to my old prison in the dale but with what different feelings. I was mastered, softened, subdued, spirit broken, but yet I loved nature. I again looked with pleasure on my old paints resolving to fathom the mysteries of the floral world I thought I was right here. I noticed the lichen, the ferns and the most obscure of subjects, drinking in the breath of the primrose, and blessing the flowers, I grew contented and happy enough. The change from the rattle of machinery to the stillness and beauty of my mountain garden was pleasant then I stole another 4 feet bed of my father's garden, for which I was threatened to have them all pulled up, but on the whole they looked more favourably upon gardening than upon painting, so I flourished in my way and pretty well too considering I had no knowledge whatever of the culture of flowers save what little I had picked up amongst a lot of old fashioned dotards, potato gardeners Mr Thornwell calls them.

I now began to long after painting again. I thought I could at least portray my favourites without offending anyone, so laid in a stock of new materials for flower painting and have done a little at it ever since, it was my amusement in my leisure hours along with gardening and I think the exchange for my old life was no worse...

I have in my floral travels met with many friends warm hearted and kind, so much so, that I can now go amongst strangers and shake warmly by the hand many who you would have thought would never have condescended to have noticed me in the least, amongst this number stands one permanently a favourite friend of mine and since I am writing my life I will pass no circumstance of note not even the sanctum of my affections, his name is James Smith of Banner Cross, Eccleshall, Sheffield, he possesses a beautiful flower garden and in my travels to Sheffield in search of novelties I happened to see his garden from the road and I could not pass without gazing over the wall. I suppose he had noticed me on these occasions looking at his flowers I dare say with longing eyes and one day he came up to me and kindly asked me in to see it.

He was pleased with my rough answers and my still rougher exterior, he saw that I was a flower lover and he loaded me with roots and cuttings and slips, it was to me a happy day I felt cheered with his kindness and a stranger too, how my pulse beat, I knew not how to thank him. The flowers he gave me were treasured by me, and I have most of them growing at Burton now and I shall think it hard if I am not permitted to take them with me when I leave Burton. I treasure them as something of great worth for that day was one of the sunniest I ever experienced, kindness from a stranger I neither expected or desired it, he told me to call again and again gave me anything I wanted out of his delightful retreat and I gave him some little matters he had not got. It was on the second time of my calling I saw Mrs Smith and was as pleased with her beneficent looks as with his kindness.

I had now commenced drawing and I showed him some of my efforts at portraying flowers with water colors he was quite pleased with them too. I was elated and one fine day I recollect it well, we were haymaking and Mr Smith and Mrs Smith and Miss Smith drove over to our house. I was overjoyed to see them, regretting I had no more to show them or to give them but however I showed them our neighbourhood myself, Middleton Dale and some scenery I know is not equalled in England anywhere for beauty. I think they enjoyed themselves, I know I did my best for their enjoyment. My father and mother wondered who I had fell in with, astonished to see such fine folks at our house and we so humble, so poor, so far out of their world, but they made, I am proud to say it of my parents (I did not expect it), as much of a welcome as our humble means could offer and I have blessed the day I first met with them and I will cling to my first delight of their humble life, for when trouble came they cheered me, they heeded not a partial world but took me as they found me a simple flower lover, they invited me to call any time and I invited myself often to their doorstep when in the neighbourhood...[15]

Another friend I found in a perfect stranger in my flower hunting expeditions, this was Moorhouse of Bretton a very clever little man whose dead brother had been a painter risen from humble circumstances to comparative affluence by his exertions in his favourite study, he had been a shoemaker. Moorhouse would often let me look at some of his brothers paintings, and I delighted to see them as they were the best I had hitherto seen, he was something of a florist too and quite one of my sort. I used to visit him at times, taking care to exchange all the information I could which he gave bountifully, gratis, poor Moorhouse, he is in bad odour up there, and I firmly believe he is as undeserving of it as a new born babe, I always found him honest straightforward and always ready to help, where help was needed, he had certainly one fault society will not overlook, and that was being too fond of his stepdaughter but I will speak of him as I find him, a friend to me in my need and I have found few such.

So I kept gardening and painting, as happy as possible, and my flowers flourished, I enlarged my borders till I had extended them through half our garden and the other half was sprinkled with roses of my own budding, your own kind father gave me instructions, so I expressed a desire for some buds to Mr Smith who had kindly taken me once through the hall gardens, so he kindly sent me some of the leading varieties and most of them grew. I too soon enveloped our cottage in roses and all this before 6a.m. and after 6.pm. attending to painting as well. I had about this time a bed of pansies, a bed of tulip, auriculars, pinks, carnations, lilys, in varieties all the most choice and rare alpine and other plant[s] that would flourish in our neighbourhood.

I saw The Firs garden, Eyam, also the Hall, and Lord Denmans and could procure anything they had, they were so kind to me. One day I had been to show Mr Lamb some of my pansies and he told our Rev Arban Amett[16] what a fancy I had for flowers and gardening, he very kindly gave me all the instructions in his power and interested his sister on my behalf who gave me several lessons in flower painting, she is the best painter I ever met with, but little knew they the undercurrent of my soul. I accepted the services of the Rev Arban's sister more through their kindness than through any inclination of my own. I thought it would seem ungrateful in me not to accept them.

I painted now for my own amusement, defying earth to blame me. I painted or rather daubed anything to give away, not with the inordinate ambition of my younger days but with a quiet pleasure, it was about this time your father was erecting Wik Cottage and I used to admire the situation the extreme dryness of it. It was here I first met with you, you used to fetch water, then came little Ben Jonson. We grew quite cronies in painting and flowers, I cannot remember first seeing you - often, before I ever spoke to you in Stoney Middleton, I was rather astonished at your opposition in my admiration of Robert Burns I thought you must be wrong, he was one of my kindred spirits one who seemed to sympathize with the depressed, to cheer and beckon them forward, the timid, I think I have since corrected my opinion of him and must own that a great deal of immorality runs through most of his writings, but that was to me a charm. I admired his truthfulness, his daredevil opposition to all established laws, and above all his “Highland Mary”, and thought too, I had a Highland Mary and I wept to touching strains to Mary, (in heaven was I when I read those immortal lines), men now always laugh at tears but they are the essence of humanity, there is more humanity in the cottage than the palace, maybe it is romance that throws a charm over my actions, these youthful imaginings.[17]

His concluding words to this piece are:-

Let us for the future live in honesty, purity and love, one towards another. Looking upward and onward, endeavour to excel in life, so far as an honourable ambition permits.

“Upward and Onward.”

[End of Text]

Submitted by William's gr*3 grandaughter, Marie. Many thanks to Marie, and her cousins Buirl and Mable for most generously sharing this remarkable, and moving document with us.

Editor's Notes:
[1] Approaching Foolow from the Eyam direction, The Fold is one of the group of cottages seen on the right side of the road immediately after turning left out of Foolow on the road towards Housley and the A623.
[2] The “duck pond”, or ‘mere’ is a walled pond, still in existence, fed by an underground spring and formerly used for watering cattle (so unsurprising it was ‘nasty green water’!).
[3] John MADDOX appears on the on Stoney Middleton 1851 Census with his wife Alice. Maddox was a shoemaker, aged 45, born Wem, Shropshire, and Alice was aged 42 born Foolow. There was a baptism of Alice ROWLAND in the IGI at Eyam in 1808 as daughter of Jonathan ROWLAND and Ann. Jonathan was buried at Eyam 27 Sep 1851 aged 77.
[4] Crosslow House is on the road between Foolow and Eyam, on the side of the lane leading up to Black Hole Mine. I love the story about the cat!
[5] I think my husband, not a native of Derbyshire, and coming from the sophisticated south, would accord with William's statement that he ‘could take you to places where you would not imagine civilization had ever reached’ even today!
[6] By 'air holes' in clothing he means holes - an expression my mother also would have used, with a degree of irony and humour. My mother's family were also very reliant on ‘hand me downs’ and others' cast-offs when she was a child early in the 190s, and she also spoke of them getting the 'pudding basin' haircut, or in William's case, ‘hair cut off level all around with the sheep shears around a little billy-cock-hat’.
[7] A 'blue ball', or blue bag - an essential component to washing day - was an antidote to the natural yellowing of white cotton, to make it seem whiter. Think of the pervasiveness of cochineal (red) and a blue bag would contribute a similar blue tint - put it in water, with the clothes, and the blue colour would leak out. I'm not sure what it was made of but I wouldn't be surprised if its essence is still a constituent of modern washing powders today.
[8] I can imagine by 'pot hooks' he may mean items similar to what I remember learning to make myself, whilst at infant school.
[9] Eyam 1841 Census lists a Joseph MIDDLETON at Shepherds Flatt.
[10] Probably Peter BLACKWELL born c.1833, the son of James BLACKWELL and Hannah BENISON, baptised at Eyam as Peter BENISON, 26 May 1833 son of Hannah.
[11] According to White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Derby, 1857, the Mechanics' Institute was established in Eyam 1824, together with a Subscription Library, which then contained 766 volumes. In 1857 there were 30 members, each paying 3d. (just over 1p) a month. William Wood was the librarian.
[12] Wood, William - The History and Antiquities of Eyam.
[13] Mary was the love of his young life - believed to be Mary MASON, daughter of Samuel MASON of the Lovers Leap Inn on the Eyam, East of the Church 1851 Census. In 1851 she was aged 15 so born c.1834/5 - and at the time William writes, perhaps aged 11 to William's 14.
[14] A portion of the letter here relates William's love for Mary - he says ‘Sometimes she would come and sit at our stove fire (nursing Jack, talking, laughing, singing and telling stories), me taking sly glances at her...’ On first reading I was puzzled by this as I thought he meant at home, and how could it then have been Mary MASON? But we now think this may have been the ‘stove fire’ at his workplace in Middleton Dale, where possibly Mary came to get warm! Lyrically, William's equivalent of ‘If I were a carpenter’ - he says he would still have loved her ‘If I had lived by selling blacking, or any other unpractical calling. Her name I carved upon the rocks and trees and I was happy’ - blacking being ‘black lead’ which was used to polish old fashioned fire grates. However we skip the full text as William says he hopes that James will not reveal this portion of his letter to anyone else, but ‘anything else I care not a fig who knows...’
[15] William follows this with the comment ‘don't imagine I was in love with Miss Smith...’ as he cared for Mary too much, but of Miss Smith ‘ ... she is certainly a sweet creature’.
[16] This must surely have been Urban SMITH. He did have a sister living with him in various Stoney Middleton Census.
[17] At this point he describes further his admiration of ‘M M’ and how ‘people took it into their heads to attempt to suppress (it) and many were the blowings up I got in consequence of my sometimes stopping out of nights rather too long...’ but that he ‘came to Burton and am here now and likely to marry if it happens, someone more lovely more admirable than M.M, and ...the clouds have vanished and all looks bright’.

In fact, William is known to have married a lady named Barbara, who (the Census tells us) was born in Barbados. One of his sons went to Canada, and a daughter and one of his grandchildren went to America, and he himself became a gardener at a country mansion. Mary MASON (if indeed it was she) married in 1857 Robert PINDER, a widower, and secondly William MOTHERSILL in 1869.

Original source contributed by ‘Marie’ in February 2004.
Notes by Rosemary Lockie, with assistance from Janet Kirk.

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