This week’s #52Ancestors theme is Textile and gives me chance to write about my only bit of the family from up north. The story started down south of course. In 1818 or thereabouts Phillis Funnell, my great x4 grandmother met a young soldier who was stationed at the barracks in Ringmer, John Thelwell. On 6 November 1818, my great x3 grandfather, John Funnell was born. For a number of years the only clue to John’s father that I had was a warrant for the arrest of his putative father, John Thelwell, late of Ringmer now a gunner driver in the Corps of Royal Horse Artillery stationed at Ringmer for the child to be born of Phyllis Funnell of Chiddingly – ref. P292/15/12 – date: 6 November 1818.
It wasn’t until I started searching the Royal Horse Artillery that I discovered who John Thelwell was. Probably born in 1793 in Gorton, Lancashire to John Thelwell and Martha Marsh, he had 11 siblings, 3 of whom died as small children. Despite a lot of searching this John seems the most likely but his second marriage certificate in 1855 names his father as Thomas strangely. John was married to two different Nancy’s, the first one died young in an asylum. He had 10 children, 5 of whom died under the age of 5. He died in 1870, a Chelsea Pensioner, having fought at Waterloo.
Looking through the census returns held for him, marriage records, burial of first wife and his children’s baptisms and burials they all have his occupation as Weaver or Dresser. Both occupations involved in the Cotton Industry. Specifically his burial record in 1870 was Cotton Warp Dresser. He was living in Brimmington, Stockport and further research should be carried out possibly find out who were the main cotton factories in Stockport.
According to a very useful website that has a list of old occupations Old Occupations - C2 (rmhh.co.uk) a Cotton Dresser was an Operator who assembled the yarns or threads prior to the weaving of cloth.
In the early days of power weaving, looms had to be periodically stopped every few minutes to adjust the cloth and dress the warp with a flour paste to strengthen the threads as they unrolled from the beam. In 1803 William Radcliffe invented the dressing machine operated by a dresser who prepared the yarns for weaving. This was found in a book I purchased ‘My ancestors worked in Textile Mills’ by Adele Emm and published by The Society of Genealogists 2019.
During the 1851 census two of John’s sons, aged 19 and 17 were also involved in the cotton industry as a Power Loom Weaver and a Silk Plush Weaver (part of the Top Hat industry). In 1861 the household has a Cotton Twister and a Cotton Winder. All the neighbours were involved in various parts of the industry in the three census returns I have for John, 1841 to 1861. In 1851, agricultural labourers formed the biggest occupation group in England and Wales, servants next and third was those working in textile industries. The industry was concentrated particularly around the north west and Manchester became known as Cottonopolis.
Currently that is as far as I have got with my research into John Thelwell’s cotton past. It’s all completely new to me, with most of my family hailing from Sussex I am much more used to Agricultural Labourers and the odd brickmaker. But I look forward to finding out more about Lancashire and its cotton industry as well as more about John’s heritage.