Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Story of a Down-to-Earth Family Heirloom (Part 1 of 3)

I'd like to share with readers the story of a recent investigation into several family photographs which resulted in a rather unexpected, but delightful, discovery. First, I will need to provide a little - okay, perhaps quite a lot of - background material. If you'd rather skip the background, and cut straight to the chase, then feel free to click here.

In a couple of recent blog articles (here and here), I've discussed photographs relating to the Miller family of Weston Underwood in Derbyshire. My great-grandmother Edith Newman Brown née Miller (1872-1956) and my cousin Lynne Tedder's grandfather Frederick Newman Miller (1885-1958) were two of ten surviving children of John & Eliza Miller. John Miller's parents were James Miller (1815-1893) and Mary née Cuckson (1815-1878). James was a drainage contractor who had worked in Nottinghamshire and Cheshire, before settling in Weston Underwood in the late 1850s.

Image © The National Archives & courtesy of

It seems likely that he was initially employed in some capacity by Lord Scarsdale - Alfred Nathaniel Holden Curzon, 4th Baron Scarsdale, of nearby Kedleston Park - who owned all of the land in the hamlet of Weston Underwood at that time. He was probably involved in both draining of land and as a brick manufacturer, since that is how is shown in the 1861 Census (see image above), employing 8 men. James Miller's three sons, aged between seven and twelve, and including my great-grandfather John, were all working in the brick yard. Harrod & Co.'s 1870 Directory of Derbyshire [from Historical Directories] and the 1871 Census [from Ancestry] show James continuing as a brick, tile and pipe maker and land drainer. All three sons were still working in the brickyard, although John was by then married and living his wife Eliza, the local school mistress, in the adjacent village of Mugginton.

The next decade, the 1880s, saw some significant changes for the Millers. James's sons and daughters were growing up and leaving home to get married, and the arrival of grandchildren resulted in a rapid expansion of the extended family. An older daughter Ann Miller had married farmer Edwin Fearn and was living at Ireton Farm, Mugginton. James William Miller (1852-1921) had married Hannah Oakley (1853-1915), a farmer's daughter from Kirk Ireton, had moved into the Mill House, Mugginton, and was now farming on a small scale himself, as well as continuing to work in the brickyard. Third son Tom Cuckson Miller married Lucy Hunt, daughter of a farm worker, and was helping his father out in both the land drainage and brickmaking enterprises.

Image © & courtesy of Lynne Tedder
The Post Office at Weston Underwood, taken from the south
(along what is now Cutlers Lane)
Undated, Image © & courtesy of Lynne Tedder

In the early 1880s, by which time their family had expanded considerably - four daughters and three sons by 1882 - John and Eliza Miller opened a grocery and sub-post office in Weston Underwood. These two photographs (above and below), which were sent to me by cousin Lynne, show the house in which the Millers lived, and in which the grocer's shop and post office was located. It looks a rather large building, but it would have had to house a large family, the shops and possibly a few servants and labourers from the brickyard.

Image © & courtesy of Lynne Tedder
The Post Office at Weston Underwood, taken from the west,
i.e. the south side of the Mugginton road (now Bullhurst Lane),
Undated, Image © & courtesy of Lynne Tedder

It is not clear when the photographs were taken, although I suspect they date from the 1920s or 1930s.

Image © & courtesy of Lynne Tedder

Also sent to me by Lynne was this image of the front of the building, which clearly shows the shop window as well as the signs, "John Miller, Grocer & Provision Dealer" above the door, and "West Underwood Post Office" above the window. Since John Miller's name is still there, I presume it must have been taken prior to his death in 1922. It appears to have been printed in postcard format.

Image © & courtesy of Lynne Tedder

Perhaps a reader more familiar with this era can identify some items in the shop window. I'm afraid all I can make out is the notice which appears to read, "LOST RED & WHITE COW."

Image © & courtesy of Lynne Tedder

Also worth mentioning as being of some curiosity, but probably little relevance, is the parrot in a cage placed by the front gate!

View Larger Map

The house in question is located a short distance to the north-west of the cross-roads in Weston Underwood, as shown in the Google Maps satellite image above.

Image © & collection of Charles Bernard Payne

In my father's collection was this far more recent photograph of the house, which I scanned a decade ago, although it was perhaps taken in the 1970s. While some of the detailing had changed by then, and the original shop entrance appears to have been bricked in, it is obvious that the fabric of the building was largely intact.

In Part 2 I will relate the most recent investigations into the property which formed a central part of the Miller family's lives, from perhaps the late 1850s to the turn of the century, and well into the 1900s.

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