When I saw this prompt, I immediately thought of Jessie Ann Lewcock, who baptised and buried five babies, three of them called Seth, their father’s name. Only her two oldest children survived to adulthood, a daughter, Grace Agnes, and Lewis named for her brother. Her husband Seth had already had a son named Seth with his first wife who had also died.
I have been interested in Jessie ever since I first came across her in my research. Maybe because I am supposed to be “musical” and she was a “professor” of music but mainly because I wanted to know how she somehow ended up in a Yorkshire pub far from her roots in Surrey. With the help of newspaper searches, it is possible to get some idea of her life apart from the bare bones of census returns.
Jessie was the fifth child of James and Jessamine Lewcock. They had had four sons, Kenric Mansell, Lewis James, George Albert (my great x3 grandfather) and Henry, then three daughters, Jessie, Agnes Mary and Alice.
James and Jessamine were bakers and confectioners with premises in Borough, Farnham in Surrey. Jessamine’s family, the Harts, owned property in Farnham as did James and his sister Ann who had married John Nash, auctioneer.
Borough, Farnham 1822. Painting by John Hassell.
The family were probably a typical mid-Victorian middle-class family. James was listed as Hon Sec. Farnham Mechanics Institute in Mirror Monthly Magazine Jul-Dec 1848. He was an ornithologist and also a taxidermist, while his sons George and Henry seemed to have been more interested in bugs and beetles and were competitive chess and draughts players, as was George’s son, Ernest. We know from a descendant of Agnes that the girls played at least piano and harp as did their daughters.
James died of Scarlatina in July 1848 and Jessamine was left with a business and 6 children aged 11 and under, Alice had died earlier in the year at 6 months old. Jessamine didn’t hang around and married Edmund Mason, 18 years her junior, within the year. Edmund died 4 years later.
Only the three youngest children were still with Jessamine in Farnham in 1861, living in Castle Street. Henry was 18, Jessie 17 and Agnes 15. Lewis had vanished altogether, Kenric went to sea sometime between 1851 and 1854 and then also vanished. In 1855 George was a printer’s apprentice in Chatham – he is my great x2 grandfather.
In 1871, Jessamine, Henry and Agnes were in Clarence Street, Kingston Upon Thames but Jessie was initially nowhere to be found. Henry appeared in Kingston on Thames in Clarence Street in 1867, listed in the Post Office directory as a draper and Henry and Agnes are at the same address with their mother. Jessamine died in 1876 when her residence was given in Thames Street. Henry married later in that year and Agnes married Henry Page in 1882.
While I was tracking down Jessamine’s offspring after 1861, using the “less is more” principle, which incidentally worked much better in the early days of searching Ancestry, I came across a Jessie born Farnham in 1844 listed at the Royal Oak, Eccleshill. I then found the same family in 1881, where Jessie was listed as a Professional pianoist [sic]. The husband Seth, was described as a general dealer and they were living at 2 Bank, Eccleshill. Then in 1891, when they were living at 94 Victoria Road, Eccleshill, she was just listed as a Professional and her daughter Grace was described as a Musician. Seth described himself as a jeweller (watch & clock repairs). In 1901, they were living at 44 Dudley Hill Road, Eccleshill. Seth was a jeweller (gold etc.) and Jessie wasn’t given an occupation.
I was pretty sure that this was my Jessie, which was eventually confirmed by their marriage certificate. They had been married at the Register Office in Bradford in February 1870. He was a widower aged 28 and a beer retailer and she was described as a Professor of Music aged 25. Her address was given as The Hive Inn, Croft Street, Bradford, his as the Royal Oak, Eccleshill.
© Crown copyright.
By 1911, it is Seth who is listed as a piano player, and Jessie again wasn’t given an occupation. They were living with their oldest son and his family in Birkshall Lane, Bradford.
I was given a lot of help early in my research into Jessie and her family by Margaret, a descendant of Seth’s brother, and it was she who told me about his first marriage and the babies dying and some detail about the surviving children, several years before I was able to find the same information online, one reason why I hadn’t needed to look at the North family until recently but I was very struck by Seth losing all four babies named after him so decided to return to their story and was able to add more detail, thanks to the online newspapers.
When Seth met Jessie, he was widowed with a small son, Frederick. He had lost his wife Mary in February 1867, and the first baby named Seth had died in the same year. Margaret told me that Mary had a son William, who was born 3 July 1864, the year before Seth married Mary Ayres – his name was given as Frederick William North but no father was mentioned. Seth seemed to have accepted him as his own according to the censuses. Mary’s death was reported in the Bradford Observer on 14th February.
Searching the British Newspapers Archive through Findmypast, I came across some clues about her and maybe how she finished up in Bradford. I assume that she was earning a living, or had to start doing so, and used her music to pursue a career.
These days, unless you play an orchestral instrument and are good enough to get regular orchestral work, earning a living as a musician is precarious to say the least, so most professional players have to give lessons, especially pianists. However, in Victorian times when Jessie was earning her living, there were many, many more opportunities for pianists to perform professionally. This was the height of the music hall and most towns and cities would have a tavern, theatre or music hall with live musical entertainment. Central to the programmes were the singing and especially the comic song.
By 1875 there were 375 music halls in Greater London, which meant a lot more performers were required. Throughout the 1860s it became more common for women to perform in the halls. Performing was a means of escape and independence for working-class women. Many women achieved, if not stardom, a decent living on the halls. [V&A]
“The Era” has hundreds of advertisements for Lady pianist and vocalists all over the country at this time. Many of the adverts mention that the performers would be living in or other accommodation would be provided. We will probably never know when or why Jessie started earning a living as a musician but there was one advertisement in “The Era” which might have been typical of the reason she went to Bradford – in 1867 she would have been 23. ( “The Era” 26 May 1867) and co-incidentally it was also the year her brother appeared in the Kingston Directory. Perhaps she left home to follow her musical career when they left Farnham?
“The Era” 26 May 1867
￼Or maybe she answered this advertisement which also appeared in The Era?
“The Era” 24 October 1869
Just after Jessie’s marriage, an advertisement for the Beehive Concert Hall in Croft Street appeared in the Bradford Telegraph on the 10th March 1870.
BEE HIVE CONCERT HALL, CROFT STREET, MANCHESTER ROAD, BRADFORD. Proprietor, T MUSCHAMP. Open every Evening with a first-class company. MISS ADA BLANDFORD, Pianist and vocalist. Wines and Ales of the best quality.
The reviews below give some idea of the type of entertainment on offer.
Leeds Times 27 August 1870
The Bee Hive Concert Hall, Croft Street, Manchester Road, has continued successful since the last notice, and the proprietor spares no expense in keeping everything in the best order. Miss Marian Taylor, as the pianist and excellent vocalist, still continues to give unmixed satisfaction; while Mr. Santon, the comique, and Madame Valeria , the ballad vocalist. Have both evoked no slight degree of admiring applause.
Leeds Times 03 December 1870
The Bee Hive Concert Hall, Croft Street, has also been well patronised, as Miss Blandford’s finished vocalism and accompaniments on the pianoforte continue to be received with as much zest as ever, while the duetts[sic] of the same lady, with the newly engaged Miss Boardman, with accompaniments by Mr. Vassalli have given more than usual pleasure. The rival ventriloquists, Clayton, and now the formidable Mr. Taylor, the comic and sentimental vocalist, have continued their career in the cellar and among the chimney post without leaving the room
Once married, the female performers generally had to stop working but in 1875 and 1876, advertisements appeared in The Era with the contact address being given as Seth at the Royal Oak. If this was Jessie, I wonder if she found work from them?
The Era 04 April 1875
A LADY is open to an Engagement as PIANISTE. Can play First-class Overtures, Read at Sight, Accustomed to Concert Business. Apply, A.B., care of Seth North, Royal Oak, Eccleshill, near Leeds, Yorkshire.
The Era 27 February 1876
WANTED, by a Lady PIANISTE, an Engagement. Accustomed to Concert Business, Overtures, Operatic Selections, and read at sight. Address, A. B., care of Mr Seth North, Royal Oak Inn, Eccleshill, near Leeds, Yorkshire.
I expect it was likely that she gave piano lessons. By this time, pianos were more common and so piano teachers, mainly female, were in demand.
As the appeal of learning an instrument increased, the numbers of teachers rose rapidly. The 1871 census showed 18,600 individuals purporting to be musicians with further rapid increases evident during the remainder of the century. It is likely that at least a third of these were involved in teaching and that over half of all teachers were female. To satisfy the increasing demand for piano skills there was a complementary expansion in the number of music teachers. It is thought that at the end of the eighteenth century there were about 2,000 professional musicians in Britain who both performed and taught. By the last decade of the nineteenth century, women piano teachers were even to be found in what Percy Scholes refers to as ‘the lower ranks of society’.
[The Social History of Piano teaching]
Bradford Daily Telegraph, 1899
A brief report appeared in the Leeds Mercury in December 1912 which reported that “A man named Seth North, aged seventy two years of Killinghall Road, Bradford” had been changing his shirt in front of the fire and the garment “became ignited” and he was taken to the Royal Infirmary suffering from burns. Hopefully the burns were not too severe, as he did not die until 1922 in Prestwich, Lancashire.
Jessie died from heart problems, aged 72, in the Workhouse Hospital, Horton on the 24th June 1915. The informant was her daughter-in-law Phoebe, wife of Lewis. The workhouse seems to have been the same road as the Bee-Hive Concert Hall had been so she had come full circle.
I often wonder if she or her descendants had stayed in touch with the Lewcocks. Until I started my research I had never heard of her but my great grandfather who would have been her nephew was in Leeds after WW1 until his death in and his son, my grandfather, and his family lived and worked in Headingley for a few years and his sister also had connections with Yorkshire..
Lewis the oldest child, born in April 1871, was a cotton mill hand, listed as a wool washer in 1911. He married Phoebe Watson in Pudsey in 1896 and they went on to have 5 children. One of his great grandchildren, descended from his daughter Annie, is a DNA match to me, my brother, our father and his sister. Annie and her younger sister Elizabeth had emigrated to Australia. He appears in the 1939 register and died in 1946.
Grace was also a musician and later married a singer. She sadly lost a son in 1896. “Many years ago my father gave me some information he had noted from a grave book and in the grave containing Seth’s parents there was a child aged 0 who was buried on 26th December 1896. I always wondered who he was so I obtained his birth certificate and he was born to Grace Agnes on 11 March 1896. She was still living at home with Seth and Jessie. He was called Edmund Francis and no father is mentioned. Grace Agnes was a harpist. “(Information from Margaret.)
I don’t know where Grace Agnes was in the 1901 census but she wasn’t at home with Seth and Jessie that night and married Herbert Parker later that year. In the meantime she had given birth to her second child, Percy so I am assuming that she was somewhere in Cheshire where Percy was born. Grace married Herbert Parker on 30th December 1901. She was a spinster and he was a widower. According to the 1911 census, their son Percy was born in 1900. He had been registered as Percy Parker North. Herbert died in Cheshire in 1930 and Grace in 1958.
© Crown copyright.