I originally wrote this ancestry post about three years ago when I was researching my family tree and getting concerned that what I was writing was in a very different style to many other genealogists. Essentially it was “story based” vs “fact based”. Anyway here’s the post intro: “Enough of tin mines, enough of Cornwall and my mother’s “Waters” family history, time for my dad’s genealogy and the “Metters” family history! Time to delve into Devon and Durham, Cordwainers and Tailors ….. timeline ….. 1790 to 1947 ….. the year I was born (1947!).”
The Cordwainer’s Tale (1790-1861)
A Cordwainer is/was a shoemaker, someone who makes new shoes from new leather and not to be confused with a cobbler who was mostly a mender of shoes but who was permitted to make shoes but only from OLD leather! Note the word “permitted”, this was the rule of the guild of The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, granted their royal charter in 1439 but having been “incorporated” much earlier in 1272. Their patron saint is St Crispin, with St Crispin’s day being on October 25th which is also the date of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415!
James Metters was a Cordwainer and my Great x3 Grandfather, born in 1790 in Black Torrington, Devon, England. He married Ann Gale in Whitchurch, Devon, in 1815 and they had 3 sons. William was an Agricultural Labourer, James apprenticed with his dad and also became a Cordwainer. However it is the youngest son Jonathan who continues our Metters family Tale next!
The Tailor’s Tale (1821-1904)
A guild is/was a protective association of craftsmen or merchants who controlled the apprenticeship, membership and quality of goods they made and sold. They had real authority with the power to determine the flow of trade and even the ownership of tools of the trade. Most English Guilds systems date back to Norman times and originated in London, but individual towns soon created their own equivalents with guild associations for weavers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, carpenters, tailors to name but a few. The patron saint of tailors is Saint Homobonus.
Jonathan Metters was a Tailor, and my Great x2 Grandfather, born in 1821 in Whitchurch, Devon. He married Emma Strike in 1845 and they lived all of their lives in Tavistock, Devon. They had 8 children of which 2 were daughters. The third youngest son, Reginald, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a tailor but there are four interesting facts to be researched further. First, when Jonathan died in 1904, he left all his money, £800, (2019 value approximately £95,000) to a grocer in London. Second, his oldest daughter married a miner from Durham who died a hero. Third, Jonathan is recorded as being deaf, though not from birth in the 1861 Census ….. How did that happen? Fourth, middle son Henry was a “Grocer Boy” at the age of 12 years, but for some reason leaves Devon and continues the family tale.
The Innkeeper’s Tale (1849-1934)
In medieval times, innkeeper was one of the most prestigious and profitable occupations. Inns had bedrooms, dining rooms and a tavern or alehouse. The tradition continued through Victorian times and into the 1900s when becoming an Innkeeper was a popular choice for men who retired from hard physical occupations such as mining, or agricultural labour or navvies who built railways or ships or canals. The patron saint of innkeepers is St Martin de Porres.
Henry Metters was my Great Grandfather, born in Devon in 1849, a Grocer Boy at the age of 12. However he suddenly emerges as an Iron Ore Miner in Brotton, Yorkshire in the 1871 Census, but 2 years later he marries Maria in Easington, Durham. The next two Census records, 1881 and 1891, record him as a Coal Miner in Shildon, Durham. However it seems that for the rest of his working life he was an Innkeeper in Dock Street East, Monkwearmouth, Durham. The name of the inn is yet to be researched, but it no longer exists and there are two possibilities. Henry had 4 sons, a stepson, and one daughter. The second youngest son was James, who was working “down a coal mine” when he was 13 years old and who continues our family tale.
The Coal Miner’s Tale (1878-1948)
If steam was the “power” behind the Industrial Revolution in England, then clearly coal was its fuel. Coal mining expanded all over England, Derbyshire , Kent, Gloucestershire and especially in the north east county of Durham to feed blast furnaces, canal barges, water pumps in mines and locomotives. Without coal to slake the thirst of these engines and the bravery and physical strength of the men who burrowed their way towards the depths of hell there would have been no revolution! Their patron saint is Saint Barbara who must have been very busy!
James Metters was my Grandfather, born in 1878 in Sunderland, a coal miner for ALL his working life from at least the age of 13! James had 4 sons and one daughter with the youngest son, Martin, being my father. I never met my grandparents on this side of the family, my dad never talked about them either, he was a very “silent” man.
The Soldier’s Tale (1915-1982)
The Coldstream Guards are the oldest continuous regiment in the British Army, having been formed in 1650 at the request of General Monck who got permission from Oliver Cromwell. They were the original New Model Army and have been engaged in campaigns and battles such as Waterloo where they famously defended the chateau of Hougoumont, and Dunkirk in WW2. Their motto is “nulli secundus” second to none!
Martin Metters, born in 1915, was my dad and I know very little about him from conversations or personal experience. I do know he was a coal miner for a short time before he entered military service. By the age of 20 he was in The Coldstream Guards, 1st Battalion, and based at Windsor Castle! It was the 1st Battalion of The Guards who defended the escape from Dunkirk and who were the last to the beaches …. He was 24 years old! I wrote about home earlier here My Dad Wore a Bright Red Jacket
A Right Way?
So, is there a right way to write blog articles on family history? Hopefully I’m not about to lose a lot of friends …… but I believe there is! I assume that the family history blog purpose is to attract followers and engage with fellow family researchers, and is NOT to merely record family data. We do the latter in our notebooks, paper or digital, and on websites in the cloud such as Ancestry.com or on the desktop with a suitable offline programme. Surely we write blog articles to engage and discuss findings, content, contexts etc with others, or to write tips and hints to help others, or the converse which is to seek help on something. And yet I come across many blogs which drone on through quite uninteresting facts with very little story or historical context to them.
Now, I’m sure I have upset a few people, followers even, and I don’t mean too. I try really hard to write interesting history stuff about my ancestors related to the politics of their era, the economics, the technology changes and therefore the social consequences they had to face. Not everybody does it that way, but many follow almost a biblical approach such as the way “begat” is first mentioned in Gen. 4:18: “And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech.” It makes me smile every time I think of this when I’m reading a few blogs, but I also want to thank everyone who writes such engaging comments on my own blog. I must be getting something right, unless you tell me otherwise!
Categories: 1800s, 1900s, Devon, Family History, Lucky Dip, Metters
I think history should be told in an entertaining way. More folks would be interested in it that way.
Dr. B., I truly enjoyed your version of family history, including the “Canterbury Tales” approach to the titles. In my mind, geneology is very different from family history. The former is the skeleton — names, dates, places, events — but that tells you nothing about the person’s character, why a lad suddenly goes deaf, why someone moves from Devon to Durham, or in my case why a grandmother emigrates from Cornwall to Canada. That’s family history — putting the meat on the bones. It’s far more demanding because you have to immerse yourself in the ethics of the time, you have to try to imagine yourself as that person, but it’s also far more fun. I’ve enjoyed writing both my paternal and maternal family histories (from my grandmothers’ perspectives). Family history, or any creative non-fiction, allows an avenue for creativity and imagination that scientific writing does not, and trust me, I’ve done both. Ignore the skeptics, Dr. B., and keep on with your version of family history.
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Thanks Margaret, appreciate your insight as usual. In fact it was your recent couple of posts that made me go back to some of my earlier post to find three I had written that could stand alongside the quality of your own. One per week for now. I may try to contextualise some of my others to make them less academic ….. if only I can get these Haiku out of my head 😂😂🙏🕉
“Is there a right way to write?” (blog, family history, or anything really).
I enjoy your questions and your convictions, Dr B., and I agree with you that the first goal is to keep it interesting: first for yourself and then for any reader. Any goals after this first one depends upon how many readers you may want long-term, I guess.
Anyway, I will keep reading 🙂
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Thanks for your feedback Patrick. I have often written things in a very “scientific-academic” style as I was originally taught during my PhD years then scrapped them and started again. It might be why I have never attracted more followers!
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From soldier to writer…time marches on.