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...