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On the Road to Tutbury, Part II

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Now, Tutbury was an unexpected find. while we knew that between about 1770 and 1850 several ancestors had lived in or near Tutbury, we'd certainly never been there and didn't know what the town would be like. More of a village, really, but it seemed a lively place, just busy enough to be interesting but quiet enough to have a 'small town' feel. We drove around a while to orient ourselves.

In the center of the block on the right (photo below) you can just about see a half-timbered structure. That's the famous Ye Olde Dog and Partridge Inn; the oldest section dates from the early 1500s:

Tutbury has a claim to some national history: it is home to Tutbury Castle, which is now just a ruin, but the castle played an important role in some of the early stages after the Normans took over.

If you look closely at the second picture, just to the right of the tree leaves, you may be able to make out some of the castle ruins on top of the hill. It must have been an impressive site when it was still standing, looming as it did over the village.

Himself had a great-great-grandfather who was a glasscutter - this we know from the censuses that list occupation. There was a large glass factory in Tutbury by 1836; it may have replaced an even older works that dated from the early 1800s, and there is evidence that glass-making took place in Tutbury as early as the 1400s! This picture, from the late 1800s, was taken of the 'old' factory that was demolished in about 2000; it's posted on the Webb-Corbett history website:

While driving around we found a sign directing us to 'Georgian Crystal.' Now located in an old silk mill, Georgian Crystal was founded by several of the glassmakers who were put out of work when Royal Doulton purchased, then later closed, the Webb-Corbett Glassworks in Tutbury. After changing hands once or twice more, the last remaining building closed for good in 2007. Georgian Crystal lets visitors walk around the factory, looking over the shoulders of the glassmakers. We had to stand back from the glassblowers (understandably! we could feel the tremendous heat coming from the furnace even several feet away) but there was a slight elevated platform, so we had a good view.

The finished piece from the pictures above was a glass apple. I asked the men if I could buy that one, since I had watched them make it. They said I could - as long as I was willing to return in about a week. That's how long it takes for the large solid pieces like paperweights to cool down! They are kept in a special heated cabinet where the air gradually cools; if they are left exposed to room-temperature air, they are subject to cracking.

We were able to get very close to the glasscutters. They showed us how the guidelines are applied to the pieces, how the various patterns are incised, how the glass is then smoothed and polished, and a selection of different types of glassware and various patterns.

The glasscutters were friendly and informative - and I think there was only one who was younger than 70. It is, sadly, very much a dying art. There are no apprentices, so no one to pass the skills on to. Perhaps there's not much future in it, but regardless of the reasons, it strikes me as sad that before long, after some 600 years of industry, there will be no more glassmaking in Tutbury.

Our appointment at the parish church was next, so we drove there and had a few minutes to walk around the graveyard. We did not see a single stone with the name of Himself's forebears - Coates - and that was a tipoff as to the relative (pun intended) fruitlessness of our visit to St Mary's. Rosemary, the verger, was there at the appointed time and let us into the church itself. Since our focus was on finding documentation and information about family, I hadn't given the church itself much thought.

It was build in 1089 and is the 'oldest building in continual use in Staffordshire.' I am always amazed that it isn't just the Westminster Abbeys or York Minsters or Canterbury Cathedrals that are ancient and noteworthy: people have been attending services in St Mary's Parish Church for nearly a thousand years, and it's believed there was a very early Christian church on the same site from about 900. Amazing!

The carvings around the doorway and much of the exterior are probably much as they were when the church itself was built. The interior has been changed extensively, though there are a few elements that are from the original structure. Henry VIII's men found an active priory with several outbuildings and a church that was perhaps three times longer than it is now, as well as having sizable 'wings' (transepts) to either side of the center tower. By the time they were finished, all the outbuildings except one (which became the church's hall) were demolished; any gold or gems were removed from the shrines and chapels within the church; the church building itself was lowered by the equivalent of a story, and the length cut down by two-thirds and both transepts entirely demolished. The glass is half-full, though: unlike many religious settlements and churches, St Mary's survived the Reformation and continued to serve as the parish church, thus saving it from further destruction:

Rosemary had generously copied out from the parish records the very-little information available about the Coates family. We have been very fortunate in the people we've met while on this genealogy journey.

Leaving Tutbury we headed over to Stafford, to the records office and the reading room, to see how much documentation we could find in a few hours. Although there are still several gaps in the chronology for the generations between 1770 and 1850, we were able to substantiate several marriages (complete with the maiden names of the brides), name and birthdates of children, and quite a few burials. These last were apparently all in graves without markers: remember, we found no Coates' graves in St Mary's churchyard, and it looks as though the 'nonconformist' (i.e., churches other than CofE) congregations in Tutbury at that time did not have their own cemeteries. Although we will probably never be able to prove it, it seems likely that the Coates family was too poor to afford stones for their decedents - doubly likely in light of the fact that we have incontrovertible evidence that before 1840, very few of them were literate and could not even write their own names, making X's or crosses for 'their marks' when signatures were required.

The trip started with a grave, and ended with records about graves. I usually think of myself as a relatively cheerful soul, but sometimes, I find it motivates me to reflect when my thoughts are colored with a little melancholy, thinking of those who have gone before...

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  • no profile photo CD3291619
    Fascinating blog!
    Thanks for sharing; especially since I may never get to see England.
    (It's a long way from Alaska!)
    3876 days ago
    I don't know how I missed these blogs originally. Do I have to subscribe everytime I read one? Anyway, I love the history you share. Keeps me motivated to keep tracking down the Hinchcliffe's, Samuel and his wife Sarah Dawton who got married in Cheadle Parish on Dec 24, 1849. We actually saw the register at the church where there names were. Found his birth records but she is illusive and they soon came to the states from there I guess. No Hinchcliffe's in the graveyard. Thanks for sharing.
    3878 days ago
    I enjoyed your trip through reading both blogs. I would love to visit England...the pictures were outstanding in my opinion. The church was beautiful...and I love exploring an old graveyard. Blown glass pieces fascinate me also...I'm only seen glassblowing at the theme park Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO...so fascinating.
    emoticon so much for sharing.

    Also, I think you take a lovely picture...your smile fills your face with joy...I know you must have had a very enjoyable trip. emoticon
    3878 days ago
    I loved this trip it has been emoticon to see the church and the inside and the beautiful arcitecture! I know it must have been exciting! You must have walked a lot and stopped and talked a lot! I just wish I had been with you! It was beautiful! You have really done your homework on these buildings and history of the towns! That made it even more exciting!

    I loved the glass blowing! They do that in the mountains here in NC! I loved looking at the finished product it is exciting seeing this done because it is a beautiful art to me!

    You did good kiddo!!!

    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    3878 days ago
  • SROUS1340
    I think that is so great that you are filling in Bob's geneology. The age and history of building, such as the church kind of boggles the mind-people attending services for almost a thousand years in the same location. It reminds me of what a young country we are here. I went to an Indian reservation outside of Albuquerque that is supposed to be the oldest inhabited site in No. America. 1000 years of people living there, footprints in stone from thousands of generations climbing the mesa. It gives me pause. Lovely blog.
    3879 days ago
    Love love love England. Can't wait to go again. Thanks for sharing your trip and reminding me of my trips!
    3879 days ago
    Another amazing blog! thoroughly enjoyed it---the church was interesting. I have seen a few appentices here in the US learning that art---several at a glass blowing place in Jamestown, VA. Kids are soooo lazy today. Such a shame.
    3880 days ago
    Love glassblowing. DH and I stay at a little hotel near here that is a refurbish poor farm. Pretty amazing place with art throughout and gardens that wander. There is a glassblowing shop that we often visit for hours on end.. just watching the process from start to finish.

    Such a lovely visit! I hope you both get to do more gallivanting so we can all come along as well emoticon .
    3880 days ago
    I felt as though I was right there with you on your trip..Great pics you can be my guide anytime.I saw a glass demonstration at one of the theme parks here. It was so amazing watching them create their masterpieces. emoticon & a very fine blog if I say so myself.. emoticon emoticon
    3880 days ago
    Fantastic trip. My ancestors are from the area also, plus Scotland. One can just barely being to imagine the adventures and intrigue during all those years. Thanks for letting us all in on it!!
    3880 days ago
    We saw glassblowers at Williamsburg, VA who were much younger than expected. I wish there was some way to do an exchange or such to get these folks who are truly interested in the art of glassblowing to Tutbury. How awesome would that be?
    As always, thanks for sharing the journey with me. I haven't forgotten your package, though St. John's isn't as old as Tutbury! I'll be home by the end of the week, God willing!

    3880 days ago
    Awesome, as always!


    3880 days ago
    Being an American through and through - who thinks the Liberty Bell is old - it just amazes me that there are continual use structures that are 1000 years old. Not just the age but the history, the people who walked through those buildings, the lives lived. That is what I think about. The old church is that Romanesque style? I always liked that style - the church in Pisa looks like it.

    Have you ever done genealogy in Ireland - that is where my father's family was from - I wonder how different it is from the English. England is probably much more organized because of its consistent government - except for ole' Cromwell.

    I too get sad about lost skills and items - I see so much production now that is just junk - no skill or pride in manufacturing. So much of our world is going the way of cheap mass- production. I hope you do get something from their factory to preserve a piece of that.

    3880 days ago
    Love it, love it, love it. Can I come visit you and go on your next adventure? emoticon (Don't be scared, that's not a practical suggestion... )
    3880 days ago
    Another wonderful trip through your world and see through your eyes!
    Thanks for sharing!
    3881 days ago
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