Amos King | Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted

Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted

Biography:
Amos King
15/10/1850 –13/07/1911

AMOS KING; 1850 – 1911

No headstone marks the grave in Rectory Lane Cemetery in which Amos was laid to rest in July 1911. Some of the graves in the cemetery which lack headstones or other memorials today were originally so marked, but with the passing of time some have fallen and have been lost. Others, such as Amos’ grave, were never graced by the erection of a memorial in the first place. Amos died in poverty in Berkhamsted Union Workhouse and would have been given a pauper’s funeral. Newspapers of the time carry numerous reports of funerals of wealthy or prominent citizens of the town, often marked by shops closing and mourners gathering at the graveside to pay their last respects to the deceased. Apart from the Assistant Curate who conducted his funeral, it may be that the only other person in attendance at Amos’ burial was the grave digger. The cemetery burial records reveal that Amos was buried in a grave which already contained two other bodies and that he was buried at a depth of only two feet.

As an inmate of the workhouse, the cost of his funeral would have been paid for the by the Board of Guardians. Funded by local ratepayers, the guardians were responsible for the running of the workhouse and the care of the poor within the area of the parishes which comprised the Berkhamsted Poor Law Union. It was a perennial concern of the guardians to keep costs to the ratepayers for care of the poor to the minimum. That extended to the cost of burials. For example, in 1879 the guardians were concerned that “the contractor for coffins for the poor had in some instances decorated them contrary to the rules, the Clerk was directed to write to him on the subject, and inform him that in any such case in future, payment would be refused.” (Bucks Herald, 1879).

Although Amos was beset by poverty throughout much of his life, it was only the closing years of his life that were spent in the workhouse. He was born on 15th October 1850 in the small hamlet of Frithsden. His parents were George and Hannah King. At the time the 1851 census was taken, when Amos was only 6 months old, George was 43 years old and Hannah 44. Amos had four older siblings Sarah, who was 20 in 1851 and who was no longer living with the family. The next child was William, who was 16 in 1851, followed by Emma, 15, and Anne, 12. 

Both Amos’ father George and his older brother William worked as farm labourers. His mother and two older sisters were straw plaiters. An analysis of the 1851 census reveals that in the parish of Frithsden, of those working, 59% of men were engaged in agricultural work and 89% of women were straw plaiters. (Population, economy and family structure in Hertfordshire in 1851, Vol 1, The Berkhamsted Region).

Straw-plaiting was a profitable cottage industry for women and girls in Victorian times, supplying plaited straw to the hat makers of Luton and Dunstable. The craft was passed on from generation to generation and children were sent to dame schools to learn the craft. Children started straw plaiting at the age of 5. The work was well paid, “...it was a profitable occupation and in the first half of the 19th century many women and children earned more than men who laboured in the fields. A good hand at Berkhamsted could earn about 15s a week-then a handsome wage-...Farmers complained that straw plaiting “did mischief, making the poor saucy, rendering the women adverse to husbandry and causing a dearth of indoor servants and field labourers.” (Birtchnell, - A Short History of Berkhamsted.)

Amos’ mother Hannah died in 1855 and in the 1861 census we find Amos, then 10 years old and his widowed father living in Potten End with Emma and her husband James Foskett, a journeyman carpenter. James and Emma had married in 1856. George was working as a “jobbing labourer”, that is a labourer who does not work regularly for one person or organisation but does small pieces of work for different people.  Amos, a “scholar,” was attending school.

Amos’ father died in 1871. Amos continued to live with Emma, her husband and their growing family.  He was working as an apprentice to a woodware manufacturer and he went on to become a woodturner. Wood turning had been a trade long practised in the Chilterns. Local historian Percy Birtchnell noted that bowl turners had been plying their trade in the Chilterns when Berkhamsted Castle was in its prime. He quotes a mid 18th century writer, William Ellis of Little Gaddesden who says that alder poles were “turned to great account amongst the Berkhamsted and Cheshunt turners of hollow-ware, who in this commodity make more consumption of this wood and of beech than any other two towns in Great Britain... They make dishes, bowls and many other serviceable goods.”  The tools were primitive; instead of lathes they used a “shaving horse” but they were nevertheless skilled craftsmen. “Yet what feats of craftsmanship were they able to perform! It is on record that a Berkhamsted man turned a bowl so thin that it could be pushed inside out like a soft hat.”

In 1876 Amos married. The bride was Margaret Harris. Margaret gave birth to the couple’s first child, George in 1877. We know from the later census of 1911 that Margaret was to give birth to seven children in all, one of whom had died by 1911.

From the 1881 census we discover that Amos, Margaret and their growing family had set up home in Berkhamsted in the Wilderness. This lane, now part of a car park, ran from Back Lane behind the High Street to Mill Street. It was not a salubrious part of the town. Edward Greene described it 1918 an “insanitary agglomeration of dilapidated cottages unfit for human habitation” and “a reproach to the town,” and that was after the gas works which featured prominently in the lane had moved to Billet Lane. Birtchnall wrote that the Wilderness “had a rather unsavoury reputation” and that the people “living in the Wilderness could not afford to go anywhere else. The cramped, neglected cottages had ghastly surroundings. At the Back Lane end of the Wilderness were stables and slaughterhouses; then on the right was a burial ground, followed by the gasworks belching flames, smoke and fumes. Between two groups of cottages on the left was a gasholder; Two more gasholders were on the opposite side of the road. Farther on, near the junction of the Wilderness, Water Lane and Mill Street, was another burial ground and the Black Ditch, an open sewer.”

Ten years later in 1891, Emma and her husband James Foskett had moved from Potten End and were living in Ravens Lane in Berkhamsted. Amos was again living with Emma and James and working as a brush handle maker. Margaret together with their six children were not living with Amos. She and the children were all inmates of Berkhamsted Union workhouse. Unfortunately, the workhouse admission records have been lost, so we do not now know exactly when or why Margaret and the children became workhouse inmates. Given the harsh conditions of workhouse life, deliberately designed to deter all but the absolutely destitute from resorting to the workhouse and thereby becoming a burden on rate payers, we can be fairly sure that Margaret was unlikely to have sought shelter for herself and her children if she had any other alternative open to her.

It may have been that with a growing family to feed (the youngest child Edward had been born in 1889), Amos was simply not able to earn enough making brush handles to support his family. Economic necessity may have driven Margaret and the children into the workhouse whilst Amos boarded with Emma and James Foskett, making what money he could as brush handle maker.

Margaret and the children did not remain in the workhouse indefinitely. Whilst we do not know when they left the workhouse, we do know that they had moved on by the time of the 1901 census as Margaret and the children had then moved to Red Lion Yard.

Like the Wilderness, Red Lion Yard contained overcrowded, insanitary and dilapidated cottages. The Red Lion Public House had stood on Berkhamsted’s High Street on the site where HSBC Bank stands today, until it was closed in the 1870s. To the side of the pub was a gateway which led into Red Lion Yard. Birtchnell, noted that there had been as many as 18 cottages rented to several families in the yard. Amongst these were small cottages erected on garden ground of which four had been stables and others wooden houses on the property. Margaret and the children may have escaped the workhouse, but life in Red Lion Yard would not have been much of an improvement and probably quite a lot worse. Amos, in 1901, was still working as a brush handle maker and living with James Foskett in Ravens Lane, Emma having died in 1900.

In 1911 his wife  Margaret had moved to Aylesbury where she lived with two of her sons, and it was Amos who was then in Berkhamsted’s workhouse. Both Amos and Margaret were described in the census return as “married”, as they had also been in 1891 and 1901, although not living together. Amos was 60 years of age at the time of the census and his occupation was still that of brush handle maker. Again, in the absence of admission records, we do not know when Amos entered the workhouse or why. We do know, however, that Amos died on 13th July 1911 a few months after the 1911 census. He died of asthma and bronchitis. It may be that as he grew older and more infirm, he was unable to work and support himself, particularly if Emma was no longer alive to support him. Like many poor and infirm elderly, he may have had no alternative but to turn to the workhouse
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AMOS KING; 1850 – 1911

No headstone marks the grave in Rectory Lane Cemetery in which Amos was laid to rest in July 1911. Some of the graves in the cemetery which lack headstones or other memorials today were originally so marked, but with the passing of time some have fallen and have been lost. Others, such as Amos’ grave, were never graced by the erection of a memorial in the first place. Amos died in poverty in Berkhamsted Union Workhouse and would have been given a pauper’s funeral. Newspapers of the time carry numerous reports of funerals of wealthy or prominent citizens of the town, often marked by shops closing and mourners gathering at the graveside to pay their last respects to the deceased. Apart from the Assistant Curate who conducted his funeral, it may be that the only other person in attendance at Amos’ burial was the grave digger. The cemetery burial records reveal that Amos was buried in a grave which already contained two other bodies and that he was buried at a depth of only two feet.

As an inmate of the workhouse, the cost of his funeral would have been paid for the by the Board of Guardians. Funded by local ratepayers, the guardians were responsible for the running of the workhouse and the care of the poor within the area of the parishes which comprised the Berkhamsted Poor Law Union. It was a perennial concern of the guardians to keep costs to the ratepayers for care of the poor to the minimum. That extended to the cost of burials. For example, in 1879 the guardians were concerned that “the contractor for coffins for the poor had in some instances decorated them contrary to the rules, the Clerk was directed to write to him on the subject, and inform him that in any such case in future, payment would be refused.” (Bucks Herald, 1879).

Although Amos was beset by poverty throughout much of his life, it was only the closing years of his life that were spent in the workhouse. He was born on 15th October 1850 in the small hamlet of Frithsden. His parents were George and Hannah King. At the time the 1851 census was taken, when Amos was only 6 months old, George was 43 years old and Hannah 44. Amos had four older siblings Sarah, who was 20 in 1851 and who was no longer living with the family. The next child was William, who was 16 in 1851, followed by Emma, 15, and Anne, 12. 

Both Amos’ father George and his older brother William worked as farm labourers. His mother and two older sisters were straw plaiters. An analysis of the 1851 census reveals that in the parish of Frithsden, of those working, 59% of men were engaged in agricultural work and 89% of women were straw plaiters. (Population, economy and family structure in Hertfordshire in 1851, Vol 1, The Berkhamsted Region).

Straw-plaiting was a profitable cottage industry for women and girls in Victorian times, supplying plaited straw to the hat makers of Luton and Dunstable. The craft was passed on from generation to generation and children were sent to dame schools to learn the craft. Children started straw plaiting at the age of 5. The work was well paid, “…it was a profitable occupation and in the first half of the 19th century many women and children earned more than men who laboured in the fields. A good hand at Berkhamsted could earn about 15s a week-then a handsome wage-…Farmers complained that straw plaiting “did mischief, making the poor saucy, rendering the women adverse to husbandry and causing a dearth of indoor servants and field labourers.” (Birtchnell, – A Short History of Berkhamsted.)

Amos’ mother Hannah died in 1855 and in the 1861 census we find Amos, then 10 years old and his widowed father living in Potten End with Emma and her husband James Foskett, a journeyman carpenter. James and Emma had married in 1856. George was working as a “jobbing labourer”, that is a labourer who does not work regularly for one person or organisation but does small pieces of work for different people.  Amos, a “scholar,” was attending school.

Amos’ father died in 1871. Amos continued to live with Emma, her husband and their growing family.  He was working as an apprentice to a woodware manufacturer and he went on to become a woodturner. Wood turning had been a trade long practised in the Chilterns. Local historian Percy Birtchnell noted that bowl turners had been plying their trade in the Chilterns when Berkhamsted Castle was in its prime. He quotes a mid 18th century writer, William Ellis of Little Gaddesden who says that alder poles were “turned to great account amongst the Berkhamsted and Cheshunt turners of hollow-ware, who in this commodity make more consumption of this wood and of beech than any other two towns in Great Britain… They make dishes, bowls and many other serviceable goods.”  The tools were primitive; instead of lathes they used a “shaving horse” but they were nevertheless skilled craftsmen. “Yet what feats of craftsmanship were they able to perform! It is on record that a Berkhamsted man turned a bowl so thin that it could be pushed inside out like a soft hat.”

In 1876 Amos married. The bride was Margaret Harris. Margaret gave birth to the couple’s first child, George in 1877. We know from the later census of 1911 that Margaret was to give birth to seven children in all, one of whom had died by 1911.

From the 1881 census we discover that Amos, Margaret and their growing family had set up home in Berkhamsted in the Wilderness. This lane, now part of a car park, ran from Back Lane behind the High Street to Mill Street. It was not a salubrious part of the town. Edward Greene described it 1918 an “insanitary agglomeration of dilapidated cottages unfit for human habitation” and “a reproach to the town,” and that was after the gas works which featured prominently in the lane had moved to Billet Lane. Birtchnall wrote that the Wilderness “had a rather unsavoury reputation” and that the people “living in the Wilderness could not afford to go anywhere else. The cramped, neglected cottages had ghastly surroundings. At the Back Lane end of the Wilderness were stables and slaughterhouses; then on the right was a burial ground, followed by the gasworks belching flames, smoke and fumes. Between two groups of cottages on the left was a gasholder; Two more gasholders were on the opposite side of the road. Farther on, near the junction of the Wilderness, Water Lane and Mill Street, was another burial ground and the Black Ditch, an open sewer.”

Ten years later in 1891, Emma and her husband James Foskett had moved from Potten End and were living in Ravens Lane in Berkhamsted. Amos was again living with Emma and James and working as a brush handle maker. Margaret together with their six children were not living with Amos. She and the children were all inmates of Berkhamsted Union workhouse. Unfortunately, the workhouse admission records have been lost, so we do not now know exactly when or why Margaret and the children became workhouse inmates. Given the harsh conditions of workhouse life, deliberately designed to deter all but the absolutely destitute from resorting to the workhouse and thereby becoming a burden on rate payers, we can be fairly sure that Margaret was unlikely to have sought shelter for herself and her children if she had any other alternative open to her.

It may have been that with a growing family to feed (the youngest child Edward had been born in 1889), Amos was simply not able to earn enough making brush handles to support his family. Economic necessity may have driven Margaret and the children into the workhouse whilst Amos boarded with Emma and James Foskett, making what money he could as brush handle maker.

Margaret and the children did not remain in the workhouse indefinitely. Whilst we do not know when they left the workhouse, we do know that they had moved on by the time of the 1901 census as Margaret and the children had then moved to Red Lion Yard.

Like the Wilderness, Red Lion Yard contained overcrowded, insanitary and dilapidated cottages. The Red Lion Public House had stood on Berkhamsted’s High Street on the site where HSBC Bank stands today, until it was closed in the 1870s. To the side of the pub was a gateway which led into Red Lion Yard. Birtchnell, noted that there had been as many as 18 cottages rented to several families in the yard. Amongst these were small cottages erected on garden ground of which four had been stables and others wooden houses on the property. Margaret and the children may have escaped the workhouse, but life in Red Lion Yard would not have been much of an improvement and probably quite a lot worse. Amos, in 1901, was still working as a brush handle maker and living with James Foskett in Ravens Lane, Emma having died in 1900.

In 1911 his wife  Margaret had moved to Aylesbury where she lived with two of her sons, and it was Amos who was then in Berkhamsted’s workhouse. Both Amos and Margaret were described in the census return as “married”, as they had also been in 1891 and 1901, although not living together. Amos was 60 years of age at the time of the census and his occupation was still that of brush handle maker. Again, in the absence of admission records, we do not know when Amos entered the workhouse or why. We do know, however, that Amos died on 13th July 1911 a few months after the 1911 census. He died of asthma and bronchitis. It may be that as he grew older and more infirm, he was unable to work and support himself, particularly if Emma was no longer alive to support him. Like many poor and infirm elderly, he may have had no alternative but to turn to the workhouse

Relatives


No relatives have been linked to Amos King