If I could travel back in time to meet an ancestor, I would go back to October 10, 1837, when my 4th great grandfather Thomas Bradley was committed to Lincoln Castle Prison for the manslaughter of his step-father.While in prison for this misdeed, he might be in the state of mind to listen to a stranger from the future with this advice:
“In 20 years, when your daughter leaves for America, you should join her. Leave your poverty and bring all your hope for a better world.”
As I have uncovered the details of Thomas’ life, I can’t help but have sympathy for him. The Lincolnshire newspapers leave behind an image of a drunk, riotous, perhaps even violent man who was arrested several times. His family life was less than admirable. He never married and probably fathered four illegitimate children.
His occupation is worth mentioning – he was a musician left blind after a bout with small pox. In the newspaper, he was called a “blind fiddler.”
I can’t help but think that being born into poverty exacerbated any inborn character faults he many have had. He was born in Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire, England in 1813 to Mary Bradley. His baptism is recorded in the Parish Register of the Parish of Pinchbeck. The record says: “1813 4th Nov Thomas, bastard son of Mary Bradley, in Pinchbeck, a servant.” Illegitimacy rates in England had risen from 3% in 1750 to 7% in 1840.[i]
What future did the illegitimate son of a servant have in England in 1813? I would ask Thomas’ mother Mary that question, if I could. I wonder what sort of life she envisioned for her baby at that time. Perhaps she would have given him up for adoption, if that were an option at the time. She did eventually marry a man named William Tales, 10 miles north of Pinchbeck in Swineshead. Whatever advantage Mary gained from this marriage, it didn’t prove to be a boon in the long run.
In 1837, Thomas and his step-father got into a fight and William Tales died. The Stamford Mercury Newspaper reported:
“An inquest was commenced on Thursday the 5th inst. by Mr. Mastin, coroner, at the Green Dragon, Swineshead, on the body of an old man named Wm. Tales, who was supposed to have died from injuries received from his son-in-law, who is a blind fiddler. (October 13, 1837 – Stamford Mercury – Stamford, Lincolnshire, England)
“Committed to Lincoln Castle, on the 10th inst, Thos. Bradley, charged with the manslaughter of William Tales, of Swineshead. (October 20, 1837 – Stamford Mercury – Stamford, Lincolnshire, England)
“Assizes for this county: Thos. Bradley, 24, charged with manslaughter killing Wm Tales, at Swineshead. (March 02, 1838 – Stamford Mercury – Stamford, Lincolnshire, England)
“Lincolnshire Assizes: Manslaughter at Swineshead. Thomas Bradley, of Swineshead, was charged by the coroner’s inquest on the body of Wm. Tales: the Grand Jury found no true bill. (March 09, 1838 – Stamford Mercury – Stamford, Lincolnshire, England)
‘No true bill’ means the grand jurors decide there is not probable cause to support the charges, or that the charges should not be pursued for other reasons, so they vote a “no true bill.” The indictment is not returned and no criminal case ensues. This is when, I assume, Thomas Bradley was released from prison.
After Thomas’ release from prison, he and his mother, Mary Tales, are recorded in the 1841 Census on Drayton Road in Swineshead. Mary is listed as a widow. Her occupation was gardener, and Thomas was a musician. Mary had another son named Pearce Sumpter Bradley, ten years younger than Thomas. He was an agricultural laborer.
In 1851, the census record shows Thomas Bradley, age 36, was still living in Swineshead on Drayton Road with his mother. The census taker noted that Thomas was “blind.” Thomas was still unmarried and working as a musician. The mother of Thomas’ children, Ann Miller, was living in a Union Workhouse in the nearby city of Boston. Their daughter Sarah, my 3rd great grandmother, was living there too. What was it like to live in a Union Workhouse? Peter Higginbotham writes:
The threat of the Union workhouse was intended to act as a deterrent to the able-bodied pauper. This was a principle enshrined in the revival of the “workhouse test” — poor relief would only be granted to those desperate enough to face entering the repugnant conditions of the workhouse. If an able-bodied man entered the workhouse, his whole family had to enter with him.
Life inside the workhouse was intended to be as off-putting as possible. Men, women, children, the infirm, and the able-bodied were housed separately and given very basic and monotonous food such as watery porridge called gruel, or bread and cheese. All inmates had to wear the rough workhouse uniform and sleep in communal dormitories. Supervised baths were given once a week. The able-bodied were given hard work such as stone-breaking or picking apart old ropes called oakum. The elderly and infirm sat around in the day-rooms or sick-wards with little opportunity for visitors. Parents were only allowed limited contact with their children — perhaps for an hour or so a week on Sunday afternoon.
By the 1850s, the majority of those forced into the workhouse were not the work-shy, but the old, the infirm, the orphaned, unmarried mothers, and the physically or mentally ill. For the next century, the Union Workhouse was in many localities one of the largest and most significant buildings in the area, the largest ones accommodating more than a thousand inmates. Entering its harsh regime and spartan conditions was considered the ultimate degradation.
The workhouse was not, however, a prison. People could, in principle, leave whenever they wished, for example when work became available locally. Some people, known as the “ins and outs”, entered and left quite frequently, treating the workhouse almost like a guest-house, albeit one with the most basic of facilities. For some, however, their stay in the workhouse would be for the rest of their lives.”[ii]
Ann Miller and her daughter Sarah joined the LDS church and by 1856, they had left England with other Latter-day Saints for Utah Territory in the United States. Ann’s other 3 illegitimate daughters (whom I assume are the children of Thomas Bradley) remained in England. Thomas remained in England too. The end of his life included newspaper articles about his debts and riotousness. These excerpts from newspapers in the area illustrate:
Wm. Blackbourn was charged with stealing three sovereigns, the money of Thos. Bradley, at Swineshead, on the 7th May. – Mr. Gleed appeared for the prosecutor, and Mr. York for the prisoner. – From the evidence it appeared that the prosecutor and the prisoner were drinking together at the Red Lion inn, Swineshead, on the night in question, and left about ½ past 2 in the morning. The prosecutor (who s blind) was desirous to proceed home, but was induced by the prisoner to accompany him to a brothel, where the prosecutor fell asleep. On waking he discovered that he had been robbed, and the prisoner had left the house. It was shown that the prisoner had borrowed a shilling on the Monday, and on his apprehension he was found to have money in his possession for which he could not give a satisfactory account. – Verdict, not guilty. (July 5, 1861 – Stamford Mercury – Stamford, Lincolnshire, England)
County Court…Oliver (Wm.), Swineshead, v. Bradley, (Thos.) farmer. Claim £2 16s 1d, for ale and tobacco. Plaintiff said that the bill was a copy of the score kept on the board in chalk, and thence copied in a book from time to time. The defendant, who was quite blind, denied owing plaintiff a farthing, and called a witness to prove that on the day when he was charged 16s 8d for drink he was never in the house. The plaintiff was nonsuited, and his Honour advised him not to keep such long beer scores for the future. (December 12, 1862 – Lincolnshire Chronicle – Lincolnshire, England)
James Blackbourn and Thomas Bradley, of Swineshead, were charged with being drunk and riotous at Swineshead on the 10th inst. Fined 17 6 each, including costs. (April 01, 1864 – Stamford Mercury – Stamford, Lincolnshire, England)
He lived in the same cottage on Drayton Lane until he died on 16 Mar 1872. He was buried 3 days later on March 19th in Swineshead.
My time travelling visit to Thomas in prison might have catastrophic consequences. What if he decided to immigrate to America right away? I wouldn’t be here. His daughter Sarah wasn’t born until 4 years after his prison time. Visits to ancestors back in time could really change the future!
It’s fascinating to consider how the events that played out in the past contributed to who I am today. If Ann and Sarah’s lives hadn’t been so terrible, they may not have wanted to leave England and join the Latter-day Saint movement in Utah. Although their lives were hard, I’m grateful that they took that courageous step to leave what they knew behind and hope for something better. Sarah’s posterity is proof that with hope, faith, and daring, a person can change their family tree for the better.
This post was originally part of a blog party hosted by Elizabeth O’Neal about time travel to visit an ancestor. Who would you visit? What would you say to them? Share in the comments.