The theme for #52Ancestors this week is Light a Candle and I thought I would tell you about one of the surviving industries of East Sussex and my forebears who were involved in it.
For anyone who has been anywhere near the area of Mountfield in Sussex, may have seen some odd sights in the countryside, such as a covered conveyor belt cutting through Darwell woods, from Mountfield to Brightling. When I was a child, I have a memory of my Grandad standing with me and my sister on a bridge and watching the overhead cableway going into the ground and coming back out with its buckets full of gypsum. This system was used until it was replaced with the covered conveyor belt which must have been in the 70s or 80s.
Gypsum is a soft white or grey mineral consisting of hydrated calcium sulphate. It occurs chiefly in sedimentary deposits and is used to make plaster of Paris and fertilizers, and in the building industry.
The Mountfield website The Gypsum Mine – Mountfield Parish Website tells me that Gypsum was first discovered at Mountfield in 1872, a chance find as they were actually boring for coal.
Various of my Harmer forebears have in their time worked at the Gypsum mines, my dad remembers visiting an Uncle who lived at Netherfield where he describes a footpath that wound its way down from the village to the mines lit by gas lights especially for the workers to see their way to work.
Two were sons of my Great x 3 Grandmother, Ellen Augusta Harmer. She married John Fuller in Brightling on 16 February 1866, after having had two children whose father was unknown. One of those two was James Frederick Samuel Harmer, my Great x2 Grandfather. But back to Ellen. She and John had 6 children; Philadelphia, George, Robert, Mary, Charles and Rachel and the two sons, the subject of this blog are Robert and Charles.
John died in 1886 and Ellen had her three youngest children living with her on the 1891 census; Robert, Charles and Annie (Rachel Ann). Robert and Charles were both described as Stone digger and I presume they were working for the Gypsum mines. They were living at Darwell Hill which is at Netherfield and close to the Mountfield end of the mines.
Both boys married during the next decade; Robert to Naomi Smith in 1893 and on the marriage certificate he is described as a labourer and Charles to Naomi Luck in 1899 and again Charles is also a labourer. They were all living in Netherfield.
On the 1901 census Robert and Naomi were living on Darwell Hill with his father in law, William Smith, a widower and his mother, Ellen, a widow along with two children. Robert was a General Labourer.
Charles was living in Mountfield at what looks like Mineshaft with his wife Naomi and he was a Gypsum Miner as were many of his neighbours around him.
By 1911 Robert was also living on Darwell Hill and was a Gypsum Miner Worker, he had 3 children now. Charles had by this time moved to Hoath Hill, Mountfield and was a Gypsum Miner, he was living with his wife and her father, mother and sister.
In 1921 Robert was working at a Stone Quarry and was an employer so presumably not at the Gypsum mines but maybe connected. He was living with his wife and nephew Charlie who was 15 and was his kettle boy. They were living at Ivylands Green near Netherfield.
Charles was described as a Gas Engine Driver above ground at the Gypsum Mines at Mountfield, described as plaster and cement makers. He and his wife had a 12 year old niece living with them and remained at 4 Hoath Hill, Mountfield.
I am sure that as I continue to research the Fullers and the Harmers I will uncover more workers at the Gypsum Mines, there is the uncle of my Dad, for instance who lived in Netherfield. The mines apparently have another 20 odd years of mining left so will continue to draw employees, no doubt from the local area. Oh and the theme Light a Candle, well I guess right back at the beginning of mining the men would have worked by candle light rather than the electric lights they probably now use.