The story of a dusty old chimney sweep who swept a fair neighbour off her feet caused much hilarity in a Shropshire village in 1883. But who was the “gay Lothario”?
The story appeared in March in both the Wellington Journal and Eddowe’s Journal and reads as follows.
A Shropshire Elopement in Humble Life.
—A rather amusing case of elopement has taken place at Waters Upton, a small village a short distance from the town of Wellington. The gay Lothario is a chimney sweep, of over sixty summers, and married. The fair but fickle one is not half his age being only twenty-seven years, married, and has a family. The parties reside in what is termed Sitch Lane, in the parish of Waters Upton.
Up to the time of the elopement no suspicion of their mutual loves had arisen, but it is stated that on the night prior to their flight the “dusky” lover visited the fair one while her husband was away at chapel, and whither his own wife had wended her way.
At the house he had a bath, and, dressed up in their best, on the following morning they shook the dust of their native village from their feet, and wended their way to fresh scenes, taking with them the whole of their clothes.
They appeared to have taken care to be well provided with money, for Mr. Sweep” had his pockets lined with the proceeds of the sale of five pigs disposed of a few days before.
The “lady” also took particular notice not to go away empty-handed, for she took with her a fair sum of money which had been left in the house by her husband for the wages of some men who were to call for it on Monday.
She took with her one child, leaving the others to the care of the deserted husband.
Wellington Journal – Saturday 24 March 1883
The Eddowes’s Journal added..
No tidings have yet been gained of their whereabouts.
Eddowes’s Journal, and General Advertiser for Shropshire, and the Principality of Wales – Wednesday 28 March 1883
So their identities were kept secret by the papers, probably to avoid any possibility of legal action or to spare the blushes of the husband who’d been cuckolded.
But by following the clues I have been able to have a pretty good guess.
Two years before the story broke the 1881 census recorded everyone living on Sitch [Sytch] Lane.
It’s not a long list of people, as you can see below, just a page and a bit in the 1881 census.
At the top of page 1, as you can see below, we have our Chimney sweep.
Henry Beresford 50 year old Chimney Sweep married to Charlotte, 49, with a child Mary Jane who’s 10 years old – living at number 2.
The newspapers say the chimney sweep has seen “over 60 summers” (sounds like a guess) but seeing as he’s the only chimney sweep on Sytch Lane it’s most probably him.
So who is the “fair but fickle one”?
The newspaper story gives her age as 27. It was written two years after the census, meaning the woman would have been 24 or 25 years old.
It also says she was married, and judging by the final sentence she had a few children “She took with her one child, leaving the others to the care of the deserted husband”- Remember, this statement still a little vague
That leaves us with three potential matches.
- Hannah Ferrington living at number 6.
In the ’81 census (above) she has one 5 month old child, Samuel, but by the ’91 census this number had grown to 4. She’d also moved home, with her husband, to High Hatton – perhaps to avoid future encounters?!
From this you can tell she would have had 2 children, by the time the story was published.
2. Elizabeth Morris living at number 10. In 1881 she had one daughter, 5 year old Mary Jane.
But by 1891 she had 4 more children and was living at 23 Crudgington Road. She too would have had at least 2 children at the time of the article.
3. Finally Emma Jones.
She only appears at Sitch lane in the 1891 census with her family – living next door to the Beresfords!
As you can see she has 6 children…but a search of the marriage records reveals she only got married in 1885 which raises more questions and her age suggests she was a year younger than the woman in the article.
Ultimately it might be none of these and it would take a long time to trace every possibility. The fact the woman used money left for two workers suggests her husband would have employed people, there’s also a possibility there were more than two children when the affair happened. This all opens up other potential avenues – too many to go into here.
A chip off the old chimney stack?
Let’s get back to Henry Beresford.
He died in the summer of 1900 and his wife died early in 1911 – just before the census.
But remember they had a daughter, Mary Jane Beresford. She married a man called Thomas Fletcher, a baker from Bolas Magna in 1899, and they both lived on Sytch Lane with their son Bertram Harry Fletcher born 1900/01.
By 1911 they’d had 3 more children. Doris aged 8, Nora ages 7, and Marion aged 6.
But let’s stick with Bertram. He too became a baker but in 1918 joined the RAF – it’s here we get a first glimpse of what the one of the family looked like…
In 1922 he married Alice Williams in Market Drayton where he then lived. In the 1939 census he’s listed there with Alice and is working as an Aircraft Assembler.
But in 1947 there’s a record of Bertram H Fletcher marrying a woman called Mary Lowe from Stone in Staffordshire.
Bertram died at the end of 1980 in Stoke On Trent.
Mary died in October 1997 in Stoke On Trent.
Was this a bigamist marriage? I have found no record of a divorce between Alice Williams and Bert. But having spoke to distant relatives of Alice via Ancestry it seems there is a family rumour that this was indeed the case.
Alice died in just a few months after Bert in 1981 but in Childs Ercall Shropshire, the same district as our “gay Lothario” chimney sweep who caused much amusement when he dusted off the soot from his feet and swept his fair neighbour off her feet nearly 100 years earlier.