Sunday, 22 February 2015

James Miles: From Soldier to Telephone Operator

I've recently started travelling down a branch of my tree that has been much neglected in my family history travels, that of my 3 x Great Grandmother, Ann Esther Ibbott Miles' family. As I find happens so frequently, one particular person intrigued me more than most: James Miles, my 1st cousin, four times removed.

James was the nephew of Ann Esther Ibbott Miles and it soon became apparent that he had led an interesting and varied life.

Born at the beginning of 1853 to James and Mary Miles in the small village of Tempsford, Bedfordshire, where so many of my ancestors hailed from, he was the youngest of nine children. His mother gave birth to him at the age of 48, nine years after her last child, so his arrival was probably a bit of a surprise to the family. His father worked the land, as James would have done around his schooling.

By the time he was 18, James was working as a footman at Longstowe Hall, near Cambridge. This grand Elizabethan pile was owned at the time by Sidney Stanley, local landowner and a Justice of the Peace for Cambridgeshire. This was a large and busy household as not only did Stanley and his wife have seven children but they were looked after by a huge staff ranging from the butler, governess and housekeeper at the top of the servant's ladder to a number of housemaids and laundry maids at the opposite end of the pecking order. It was all very 'Downton Abbey'!

Longstowe Hall (photo courtesy
As a footman, James was not one of the senior or 'upper' servants. Although his days were long and he'd have been on his feet all day, his duties were deliberately undemanding. His main role was to be seen: serving meals, opening and closing doors, accompanying the carriage on journies. Dressed in an expensive uniform, his very presence in the house was to display his master's wealth. As the countryhousereader blog explains, having a footman was a sign of conspicuous consumption, a demonstration of riches. The footman was supposed to look good, so I can only assume, and maybe I'm a bit biased here, that James was a good looking young man. Getting employment as a footman was a good move for James, as he would have earned more than an agricultural labourer, of which many could be found in his family, and would have had room and board as a given.

The servants of Petworth House, Sussex in the 1870s.
Just the type of uniform that James would have worn.
(Photo via

Perhap life in this large privileged household didn't offer enough excitement and challenge for the young James Miles as in 1878, when he was 24 years old, James began a whole new chapter in his life; one which offered the prospect of adventure and travel. On the last day of January of that year, at 11am in the morning, James signed up for 12 years service in the infantry of the British army. He was to spend his army career in the 4th Battalion, the King's Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment who had their home barracks in Lancaster.

The badge of the 4th Battalion,
King's Own Regiment
James must have enjoyed the life of a soldier as he was to sign up for a second term, serving for 21 years in total. And what was there for him to dislike? He was clearly well respected as his service record (found in British Army Service Records 1760-1915 on shows that he was promoted up the ranks from private to corporal to sergeant, until by the time of his discharge he had attained the rank of colour sergeant. He did not see any action but served in several overseas outposts - Gibraltar, the West Indies and Ireland. The role of these outputs was to maintain the security of Britain's trade routes and to guard the British Empire's far flung frontiers.

A posting in Jamaica was once considered a death sentence, and James was not to escape illness. Even though he was stationed in Newcastle high in the Blue Mountains where soldiers were less susceptible to yellow fever, James still succombed to 'neuralgia' and later whilst in Up Park camp in Kingston, he fell ill with a fever that hospitalised him for two weeks.

The only blemish on an otherwise impeccable army career was his demotion from sergeant to corporal as a result of drunkenness in August 1884 whilst stationed at Castletown on the Isle of Man. My reaction to that was 'Oh James, why, oh why, did you do that?'. But it didn't stop him in his tracks and he was soon back on the promotional ladder. His service record states he had a 'very good' character and would have received many good conduct badges if he hadn't been promoted.

At the end of his second term, and exactly 21 years to the day since he had signed up, he was discharged from the army. He was 45 years old.

Bowerham Barracks, Lancaster - where James spent his 21-year military career.

In 1890 he had married Annie Gregory, a Yorkshire lass born in Sheffield who had worked at the County Asylum located a stone's throw from the Bowerham Barracks in Lancaster where James lived and worked. They had three children in the space of five years. So it was in 1899 that James and his young family left Lancaster and the army life he, and they, had known for so many years, and relocated to Longsight in Manchester. It was here that James embarked on a new career in a relatively new industry. He became a telephone operator.

James worked for the National Telephone Company [NTC]. The industry had only been in existence since the 1870s with the NTC itself being formed in 1881 and it's around about this time that the first telephone exchange opened in Manchester. Most telephone operators were women, so it strikes me as unusual to find James in this role. However, this is the job that he did from at least 1901 to 1911. A caller would connect to the exchange where a telephone operator such as James would connect them to the required destination. I'm really proud to think that an ancestor of mine worked in a fairly pioneering industry.

James died on 16th February 1915 at his home in Levenshulme, Manchester. He was relatively young as he was only 62.

I became intrigued by him when I discovered on one census that he'd been a telephone operator and on an earlier census he'd been a soldier. What a change in occupation! He was an ordinary chap, and he probably considered a lot of his day to day life to be pretty humdrum, but I think he has a fascinating career history - full of variety and innovation. He demonstrated his character through his army promotions and he looked the future in the face when taking on new fangled telephones in the first decade of the twentieth century. He started his life in a small agricultural village and ended it in a major metropolis working in an industry of the future. His life exemplified how life for everyone changed so rapidly in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Just your typical genealogical puzzle

I do like a good challenge. Last week I revisited the family tree of my 3 x Great Grand Uncle, George Cullip, who was born in Bedfordshire in 1802. I had done some brief work on his family a few years back so it was time to refresh my memory, confirm facts and double check all the sources.

I started with the 1841 census. This stated that George was living in Leeds with his wife Lucy and children Joseph (born, according to the census, in 1826), Cornelius (b.1831), Betsey (b.1836) and Mary Ann (b.1838). If I could find the children's baptism dates I would get a truer indication of when the children were born. I had previously discovered that when George married Lucy he was a widower. His first wife, Mary Ibbott, had died in Tempsford, Bedfordshire in January 1833. He subsequently married Lucy Stonebridge in 1837, again in Tempsford. I therefore decided to search for the baptism records in Tempsford for Mary and George's children. The Bedfordshire parish records are not yet online, so I turned my attention to This opened up an unexpected can of worms which tested my powers of investigation no end.

The Leeds 1841 census showing the children of George and Lucy Cullip.
The five year old Betsey triggered much investigation, assumption and a speculative conclusion.
George is resident with the family but features on the previous page.

I ran a 'parent search' looking for the children of George Cullip and Mary. To my surprise, there were six results, rather than the expected three (Mary Ann being the daughter of Lucy):

John, baptised Oct 1822
Joseph and Elizabeth, baptised Oct 1828
Cornelius, baptised May 1830
James and Alice, baptised Jan 1833

My first conundrum was where were James and Alice? They weren't on the 1841 census living with George and Lucy. The date of their baptism was 27 January 1833, just four days after their mother Mary had been buried. I came to the sad conclusion that she must have died as a result of childbirth. But had they too followed Mary to the grave? I can only conclude that that is what happened as I have been unable to locate them on any further census records. And unfortunately definitive death records are proving elusive too.

Secondly, I was intrigued by the birth of John in 1822. As he wasn't living with his parents by the time of the 1841 census he had slipped through my radar. In my earlier investigations into George, I had found a gaol record for him on the excellent Bedfordshire Gaol Register website. George had been committed in August 1822 to three months hard labour for refusing to obey a bastardy order. He was actually serving his sentence at the time of John's baptism in October. My theory is that George initially refused to admit to being John's father and perhaps after contact with his son he relented as, a year later, in December 1823, he and Mary were married. Whether this marriage was born out of love or duty is a matter of conjecture. It was five years before they had any surviving offspring so was the marriage initially strained? Of course, it may be that John's mother was a different Mary as the name was so common in the 19th century, but I like to think it is the same woman. My next task is to try and get my hands on the bastardy order, hopefully that will resolve the issue.

My final puzzle related to Elizabeth Cullip, I had initially noted down that she was born in 1836 as per the 1841 census. But this couldn't be the case if her baptism was in 1828! Why would a 13-year girl be listed as being five? Plus if she was Joseph's twin (an assumption brought about by the fact that they were baptised on the same day) then why isn't she noted as being the same age as him? By the 1851 census Elizabeth is listed as being 18 years old, indicating she was born in 1833 - yet another difference in her year of birth. It was at this point that a light bulb switched on over my head and I wondered whether in fact there were two different children. On the 1841 census the child is called Betsey, a common pet name for Elizabeth, hence my initial confusion. So I returned to familysearch and hunted for any Betsy or Betsey, rather than Elizabeth, born around 1833 in Tempsford. There at the top of the list was 'Betsy Stonebridge or Hare', baptised July 1832, daughter of Lucy Stonebridge and James Hare. The indecision regarding her surname led me to conclude that she must have been illegitimate. I had found my girl.

A subsequent search of the National Burial Index revealed an Elizabeth Cullip who died aged seven in 1833 and was buried in the February. There were indeed two children, one of whom switched between her birth name of Betsy and Elizabeth throughout her life, causing future amateur genealogists some trouble! I can only assume that the enumerator made an error on the 1841 census by rounding her age down from eight to five.

As Elizabeth Cullip's death followed so soon after the death of her mother I wonder whether Mary didn't in fact die in childbirth but had succombed to an illness which she then passed on to her daughter. We will probably never know.

Tempsford Church: the scene of so many of my ancestors vital life events.
Elizabeth Cullip was baptised and buried here.

As ever when searching one's family history, just as one door closes, another opens. I have more questions now which need answering. Was John Cullip the child at the heart of the bastardy case; did Lucy and George have any children I've not discovered yet (a quick glance at familysearch thinks maybe they did); what happened to the twins, James and Alice, who disappear from history after their birth? I'm still not entirely convinced that my conclusions are correct. But isn't that one of the reasons why family historians love delving into their past, to turn private investigator and get their teeth into a juicy case. For me, the case is not yet closed, and probably never will be...