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Henry Gayford (1795-1858) and Sarah Clarke (1802-1884)

In 1851 Henry Gayford described himself as a 'carpenter and tea dealer' which seems an odd combination to modern eyes, but was not unusual then. Henry was living a few miles North-West of Norwich in Lenwade, part of the parish of Great Witchingham, and the 1850 directory for the parish lists four grocery dealers for a village of 600; one of whom combined it with being a shoemaker, and another with being a blacksmith. Surprisingly, Henry is not included, so perhaps several people supplemented their income by trading groceries: not far away, one person even listed himself as a 'stationer, tea dealer, and hairdresser', so anything was possible! Twenty years later his wife, Sarah, would describe herself as a 'grocer's widow', although his death certificate called him a master carpenter, so both occupations would appear to have been important parts of his life. One of his sons was to become a carpenter, so Henry certainly hadn't put down his tools altogether, but he, along with others may have wanted to take advantage of the new laws. In 1834 the East India Company had lost its monopoly on the importation of tea, so that it was now no longer the preserve of the rich. Three-masted clippers raced each other - by the 1860s there really were races - to bring the product from China and, later, India, to supply the demand at home. When Henry started the average consumption of tea was already over 2lbs (1 kg) a year per head, but that was rising rapidly, so the opportunities for trade were good.



Lenwade lay on the Fakenham Road which allowed easy access to Norwich for supplies, and it was where Sarah had been born at the turn of the century. In fact, although they had moved around, both Henry and Sarah had spent all their lives in the villages to the West of Norwich. Henry himself had been born in Costessey ('pronounced 'Cossie') in 1795. He was the eldest of six children, all born in Costessey and the nearby Bawburgh. Both his parents died there as well, but seem to have mover there from elsewhere, so local roots were strong. <ref>A Sarah Gayford, widow, married a John Scott, widower, in Costessey in 1811. Clearly this can't be the same Sarah Gayford who died in 1852 aged 52. I have taken the latter to be Henry's mother, particularly as a Henry Gayford died in Costessey in 1834 aged 62.</ref> Henry was an experienced carpenter when, in 1822, he married Sarah Clarke, daughter of Robert, another carpenter from the village, and moved to the next parish, Hackford by Reepham, where they settled. In 1832 the Commissioners of the Poor Laws had visited the area and spoken to a number of landowners. John Culley, an important farmer in the area, and the largest landowner in Costessey after Lord Stafford, gave rather more honest answers than most of those interviewed, and showed how difficult it was for most people in the first decades of the 19th century. As a good employer he was paying his workers about 15s (75p) a week, although boys above ten could add about 2-4 shillings to this. Previously women could earn money spinning but that was becoming less possible. They lived off '' 'best white bread with very little meat. Plenty of potatoes and salt with garden plants; very little beer drinking tea or water. If the Malt tax was taken off they would all brew as they once did, as they once did giving yeast for bread as formerly.' '' Workers were unable to save, and virtually none owned their houses; they all rented from proprietors who charged high rents. In John Culley's mind the riots and burnings of 1830 and 1831 were wholly caused by there not being enough work for the labourers. The Gayfords were skilled craftsmen, not labourers, so their lives were better than this, but it wasn't an easy time for many.


Costessey Hall; a sight well known to Henry Gayford in his childhood


The mill in Costessey sketched in 1816; another familiar sight for Henry when young


Lenwade Mill in 1870 - Henry Gayford's likely place of work twenty years earlier

The riots mentioned by John Culley were the Swing Riots that spread across the country from Kent in 1830 following large cuts in wages. Norfolk was not as badly hit as some nearby counties, although ninety incidents were reported which often involved threshing machines being smashed as their introduction was blamed for there being less work for labourers. Some magistrates urged farmers to reduce the number of threshing machines and to set a minimum wage of ten shillings a week, but they also dealt firmly with rioters, some of whom were transported to Australia while a few were hanged. Although not directly involved, Henry and his family would have witnessed the damage and the effect on other families. He would have abhorred the violence because, throughout his adult life, he had been a Wesleyan preacher. When he died in 1858, his death notice said that he had preached 'for over forty years' suggesting that he had started doing so when barely into his twenties. Henry preached at the Wesleyan chapel in Lenwade which had been built in 1828, but there were Primitive Methodist and Reforming Methodist chapels in Witchingham as well. The different branches of Methodism did not see eye to eye and, in 1851, the superintendent of the Norwich Wesleyan circuit described Norfolk as 'the most disturbed county in the kingdom'. Preachers would often turn up to a service, to find that a rival service had already started and, in 1850, Lenwade was the site of the most serious outbreak. Henry was due to preach at an evening service, following an afternoon service where, Charles Povah, a senior Methodist was to lead. Povah was a pedantic man who had written to the papers after his treatment during a service elsewhere: he had turned up to find a service already underway, and after his protests, most of the congregation had left with the first preacher to continue the service in a barn. At Lenwade, hearing crowds outside, Povah had been unwilling to leave the chapel, so he and Henry had stayed in the chapel between services and announced at the first service that the evening one would start half an hour early. At the start of the evening service Henry's eldest son, Harry, was posted guard at the door, but couldn't prevent misslies being thrown into the chapel. At one point a potato was thrown at Henry, narrowly missing his head, and several windows were broken by other missiles. The service had to be stopped early, and one imagines that relationships between the villagers were very strained, Harry having reported at the trial that followed that some of his friends were involved in throwing missiles at Povah as he left which had hit him and broken his carriage. Later an effigy of Povah and 'another preacher' were burned, but whether that 'other preacher' was henry is not known. His preaching career was not always so eventful but, in spite of the length of his ministry, his death certificate doesn't mention it.

Sarah Gayford and her sister were close. Only a year apart in age, they came together in difficult times, which sometimes meant living with each other’s families. When Mary’s first husband died, she moved out of Norwich to be with Sarah in Great Witchingham where they had both been born. Her daughter, perhaps not surprisingly, also called Sarah, came with her; but Mary did not just live off her sister’s family: she became a school mistress and contributed to the income of the household. Within a few years, though, Mary had remarried a gardener and moved to Suffolk; so, for the first time in the lives the sisters were separated by more than just a few miles.

Meanwhile life in Great Witchingham appeared very stable. All seven children had survived childhood, and two of the sons were training to follow in their father’s footsteps as carpenters. The eldest, Henry, was working in the local mill; and the fourth, William, was soon to become a whitesmith. Henry senior, of course, was now a grocer as well as a carpenter; but the stability was temporary and the next few years were not happy ones for the Gayford family. Luke, Henry’s closest brother in age was happily married and working as a blacksmith nearby; but their other brother, Thomas, who had been working as a farm bailiff, was locked up in Norwich gaol. More importantly, though, both Henry, and Mary’s husband had died, so the widowed sisters, whose children had by now grown up, decided to live together again and settled in Norwich.


As the 1860s became the 1870s the women, now well into their sixties, needed help. Sarah moved to be with her married daughter, Maria, and Mary lived next door with another of Sarah’s children, Henry. He was no longer working in a mill, but was now a postal messenger, which he remained for the rest of his life. It was not long before Sarah moved in with him as well so, for at least the fourth time in their lives, the sisters were living under the same roof. The world had changed significantly in their eighty years together, something that they could tell just by looking at Sarah’s children. While two remained as carpenters, one was now working for the Royal Mail which had brought in universal postage in 1840; and the whitesmith was also a gasfitter following the widespread use of gas for lighting and household appliances. One of his children, meanwhile, was training to be a teacher, so middle class respectability was just around the corner.

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