Friday, 1 May 2009

A mystery marriage in Barton-under-Needwood (Part 6)

James Hoult (1803-1882) was born at Church Broughton in Derbyshire, son of a shopkeeper. He settled at Swadlincote in South Derbyshire around 1828 where he operated a bakery and grocer's shop. He married Abigail Abell (1815-1874), daughter of Lullington farmer Richard Abell, around 1832. In 1842 James Hoult, perhaps with assistance from his father-in-law, started farming on a property of some 280 acres at Rangemore, near Tatenhill, across the county border in Staffordshire. By this time they had three daughters, and another three daughters and three sons were born at Rangemore before they made a second move some nine years later to Upper Blakenhall Farm near Barton-under-Needwood.

Image © The British Museum & courtesy of Gale Cengage Learning
Advertisement from The Derby Mercury, 24 March 1847

A sale notice for stock, farm equipment and household effects at Upper Blakenhall appeared in The Derby Mercury of 24 March 1847. Presumably the Hoults moved in not too long after the property had been vacated by the previous tenant.

Image © The National Archives and courtesy of
1851 Census: Upper Blakenhall Farm, Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire
National Archives (NA) Ref. HO107/2012/368/34/122
Image © The National Archives and courtesy of Ancestry

The census taken on the night of Sunday 30th March 1851 appears to have caught the Hoults in mid-move. Their eldest daughter Mary Ann, then aged seventeen, was obviously regarded as pretty responsible, as she was installed with nine year-old younger sister Margaret Ann and a servant in the new house at Upper Blakenhall. James and a pregnant Abigail - she would give birth to a fourth son in about August - remained with two more children and a couple of servants at Rangemore, presumably winding up affairs. The other children, perhaps to keep them out of the way during the upheaval, were staying with Abigail's brother John Abell farming at Coton Park in Derbyshire.

Image © Derby Museum & Art Gallery & courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
A Cottage in Needwood Forest, 1790, by Joseph Wright (1734-1797) of Derby
Image © Derby Museum & Art Gallery & courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Upper Blakenhall, a separate farm to that of Blakenhall Manor, was probably part of the Wychnor (or Wichnor) Estate, home of the Levett family, and was situated on the southern margin of what had been the huge 70,000-acre Royal Forest of Needwood, celebrated by Derby's well known romantic artist Joseph Wright in his 1790 painting, Cottage in Needwood Forest (shown above). However, the agricultural enclosures which were enacted in 1803 and completed by 1811, although strongly resisted by many including the poet F.N.C. Mundy, resulted in its deforestation with only a small few patches remaining today. By the mid-1800s, the denudation was well under way - indeed, the Hoult's previous farm at Rangemore was one of those created by this process.

Image © Ordnance Survey and courtesy of David & Charles
Extract from the First Edition of the One-inch Ordnance Survey Map, 1834-1891, showing Upper Blakenhall Farm & Barton-under-Needwood

It seems likely that James Hoult was a lessee of Upper Blakenhall, rather than a freeholder. They were to remain living there for over three decades until James Hoult's death in 1882, and not only would it have come to be regarded as the family home but they, too, would have undoubtedly have left their mark on the property. The amount of land which they leased varied over time, according to census data, from 232 acres in 1851, to a maximum of 247 acres in 1861, then 192 acres in 1871 and finally 212 acres in 1881.

Image © Cris Sloan & courtesy of,uk
Farmland and Park Piece Plantation, near Upper Blakenhall Farm
Image © Copyright Cris Sloan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence, Courtesy of

Kelly's 1868 edition of the Post Office Directory of Staffordshire describes the countryside in the parish of Barton-under-Needwood as, "exceedingly fertile, and in a high state of cultivation, studded with numerous farmhouses ... a great portion is fine pasture and meadow land ... The crops are wheat, beans and barley." A map produced by Gerald Carey in his book on Barton parish shows the area occupied by Upper Blakenhall Farm as "mainly arable with some cattle," and it is likely that this predominance of crops over livestock doesn't represent much of a change from what it was a century and a half ago. The Derby Mercury reported on 15 October 1862 that:
Mr. Dickenson held his 12th monthly sale of fat and store stock, &c., at the Bowling Green Inn, Burton-on-Trent, on Monday se'nnight. There was a very large show of beef and mutton of first-class quality, and a considerable attendance of butchers and farmers. The stock was supplied by the following gentlemen ... Hoult, Blakenhall.
The 1861 Census shows James Hoult employing four labourers, including daughter Margaret as a dairy maid, son William as a shepherd and daughter Catherine as a house servant. Mary Ann Hoult was still living at home, and presumably helped on the farm, although she is not shown with an occupation. Her sister Ann was living and working in Lichfield, where she was apprenticed to a milliner, while another sister Sarah Jane was at boarding school in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire.

Image © The British Museum & courtesy of Gale Cengage Learning
Advertisement from The Derby Mercury, 10 May 1864

In June 1864 Upper Blakenhall Farm was offered for sale by auction. Although it is not clear who bought it, or indeed if a sale was effected, the advertisements in The Derby Mercury, which appeared for four weeks prior to the sale, are useful since they detail the actual properties occupied at that time by James Hoult:
  • Blakenhall Farm, 182a. 0r. 4p.
  • Ryelands and two Row Meadows, 19a. 3r. 20p.
  • Cote Closes, with Buildings and part of Allotment, 28a. 1r. 18p.
  • Damford Weir Meadow, 6a. 3r. 39p.
This amounted to a total of 238a. 3r. 1p. (1 acre = 4 roods = 40 perches) which presumably James Hoult continued to lease.

Mary Ann was not the first of James and Abigail Hoult's children to marry. Their eldest son William James Hoult (1843-1900) had married Hannah Newcomb in 1868 in Cheshire, and by February 1870 was probably operating the 184 acre dairy farm at Cranage in that county, where he was certainly living at the time of the census in April 1871.

Living at home with James and Abigail in 1870-1871 were four of their children:
- Ann Botham Hoult (1835-1872)
- Louisa Georgiana Hoult (1847-)
- John Abell Hoult (1849-)
- Constance Emily Hoult (1853-)
Mary Ann's other siblings were living further afield:
- Margaret Abigail Hoult (1841-1901) was living at Hoon House, Hoon, Derbyshire, where she was housekeeper to a farmer, James Archer, who she later married in 1874.
- Sarah Jane Hoult (1846-) was in Over Whitacre, Warwickshire, also working as housekeeper to a farmer James Archer, who she later married.
- Third son Joseph Emmanual Hoult (1851-), their first child born at Upper Blakenhall and now aged twenty, was apprenticed to a chemist in the High Street, Burton-upon-Trent.

Mary Ann Hoult's husband-to-be Jacob Botham Smith (1840-1925) was born at Aston-on-Trent, where his father Jacob Botham Smith senior (1800-1864) was a butcher and farmer. His three older brothers Joseph Botham Smith (1829-1915), James Hardy Smith (1836-1928) and John Hardy Smith (1838-1920) were also farmers, with properties at Draycott, Weston-on-Trent and Aston, respectively. He also had a sister Elizabeth Botham Smith (1831-1912) who was married to Derby grocer and chandler Charles James Storer (1828-1891).

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The married couple who we are trying to fit into this wedding portrait were:
  • Jacob Botham Smith, aged 29, and Mary Ann Hoult, aged 31
I have demonstrated that there were certainly no shortage of male family members to be present at the marriage ceremony and reception party, but we should also investigate the likelihood of which of them were actually there. In summary, the males most likely to be present were, in order of decreasing age:
  • James Hoult, aged 67
  • Joseph Botham Smith, aged 40
  • James Hardy Smith, aged 34
  • John Hardy Smith, aged 32
  • William James Hoult, aged 26
  • John Abell Hoult, aged 21
  • Joseph Emmanual Hoult, aged 19
Since the marriage took place in the groom's home parish of Weston-on-Trent, it is probable that some of his family would be present at the ceremony. If the reception did take place in the bride's home at Upper Blakenhall - a possibility suggested earlier in this article - the wedding party would have needed to travel there from the parish church at Weston-on-Trent, a distance of about 20 miles (32 kilometres). Some of the Smith family may also have accompanied the happy couple to the bride's home for the reception, but the Hoult family would surely have been present in force. The journey would probably have taken several hours [Source: Yahoo Answers] in a horse-drawn carriage, suggesting that they would not have arrived at Blakenhall until the afternoon or the following day.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Estimating ages from photographic portraits is always tricky, particularly with early cartes de visite. However, it is a process that one often has to attempt in the course of researching old photographs, and I shall provide some provisional ages for this one, in order to try and match the participants with the family concerned.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

1. The Groom is seated on a chair to the right of, and slightly behind, the bride, perhaps to accomodate the large skirts of her wedding gown. He has short hair with a slightly right of centre-parting, short sideburns, and looks to be in his late twenties or early thirties. This could well be Jacob Botham Smith, who was aged 29 at the time of his marriage.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

2. The Bride is dressed in a white wedding gown with veil and is carrying a bouquet in her left hand. She is seated more or less at the centre of the group, and her being slightly forward from her husband gives the appearance that she, rather than her husband, is the primary subject of the photograph. She looks to be around the same age as her husband, i.e. in her late twenties or early thirties, although the harsh white light reflected from the wedding gown, together with the fact that she has her eyes facing somewhere in front of the photographer's feet, has made it difficult to see her face very well. Since Mary Ann Hoult was thirty-one when she was married, it would also fit rather nicely.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

3. The Youngest Male in the group, standing on the left, is probably in his late teens or early twenties. He has both of his hands resting lightly on the shoulders of the groom, seated directly in frot of him. Often, this would have been arranged by the photographer to suggest that there was some relationship between them, but might not necessarily have been the case. Jacob Smith didn't have any younger brothers, so I suspect this was one of Mary Ann's two youngest brothers, John Abell or Joseph Emmanual Hoult, aged 21 and 19, respectively.

N.B. The rather vacant expression in his eyes is due to a technical photographic quirk, rather than any zombie-like qualities of the subject. Albumen and collodion emulsions used in early photographic processes had poor sensitivity to certain wavelengths of light, and in particular extra sensitivity to the blue end of the spectrum, which could result in some rather strange effects such as that seen here. Photographers often retouched their subjects' irises as pencilled dots on the negatives to make the portraits a little more realistic.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

4. The man standing in the middle appears to be the Oldest Male. He has a fine moustache and long sideburns or Dundreary whiskers, and hair which is perhaps thinning somewhat on top. I would say that he is in his thirties at least, perhaps even early forties. None of Mary Ann's brothers were that old. It could, however, be one of Jacob's three older brothers, aged between 32 and 40.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

5. The fully Bearded Man standing on the right is probably in his mid- to late twenties or early thirties. This could be Mary Ann's brother William James Hoult, aged 26, or the youngest of Jacob's three older brothers John Hardy Smith, aged 32.

One of the questions that occurs to me at this stage is why the wedding group should include this particular selection of family members. On refelection, however, it is clear that this portrait, or indeed the group of three cartes de visite, should not be considered as a complete set. Almost certainly they were originally part of a larger collection of photographs, and the full context has naturally become obscured as a result of being separated, as well as from the loss of any knowledge of the provenance.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Glebe Farm, Weston-on-Trent, 14 April 2009
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

Jacob and Mary Ann Botham settled at Glebe Farm, near Weston-on-Trent, after their marriage, where Jacob farmed 300 acres of land, employing five labourers and five boys. The census of Sunday 2nd April 1871 shows them living at the farm with a daughter Mary H. Smith, aged 11 months, and five servants. Mary Hardy Smith was born at Weston-on-Trent, probably in the month of April 1870, if the age given in the census was accurate. The birth was registered at the Shardlow Register Office during the second quarter (April-June) of 1870, and Mary Ann was baptised at St. Mary the Virgin Parish Church, Weston-on-Trent on Saturday 7 May 1870.

This implies that Mary Ann would have been at least six months, and presumably quite visibly, pregnant at the time of her marriage in early February 1870. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look for any signs of such a pregnancy in the carte de visite portraits. Unfortunately, large expanses of white colour never photographed well in those early years (photographers usually advised their customers to wear only dark clothing to avoid this problem) and, even with digital enhancement, the definition is not clear enough to make out whether the subject is pregnant or not.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The portrait of a woman feeding the dogs is intriguing, but it is difficult to interpret a great deal from it. I can't even make out whether the subject is the same woman as the bride in the wedding group portrait. If it is, then she has changed clothing, presumably into a brown or black "travelling dress" as discussed in Part 4 of this series of articles. Perhaps she is saying a last goodbye to the family pets. Again though, I can't make out whether she is likely to be pregnant or not.

At this stage most readers will be able to tell that I am fairly confident that the Smith-Hoult marriage is by far the most likely candidate for the wedding portrait. In Part 7, I will discuss the architectural aspects of the portrait that have convinced me - with a confidence of, say, above 90% - that it must be the right one.


International Genealogical Index (IGI) from the LDS church online at FamilySearch
1841 Census of Swadlincote, transcribed by Brett Payne, on the Swadlincote Parish Pages
Derbyshire Petty Sessions, an index compiled from original records by Michael Cox and presented online by John Palmer on his Wirksworth web site
The Derby Mercury, in 19th Century British Library Newspapers, Digital images online from GALE Cengage Learning
Index to General Register Office Births, Marriages & Deaths from FreeBMD
UK Census 1841-1901 indexed images from Ancestry
Pigot's Directory of Derbyshire, 1831, from Ancestry
W. White's History, Gazetteer & Directory of Staffordshire, 1851, from Ancestry
Harrison, Harrod, and Co.'s Directory and Gazetteer of Staffordshire, 1861, from Ancestry
E.R. Kelly's Post Office Directory of Staffordshire, 1868, from Ancestry
J.G. Harrod & Co.'s Directory of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland & Staffordshire, 1870, from the University of Leicester's Historical Directories
E.R. Kelly's Post Office Directory of Staffordshire, 1872, from Ancestry
F. Wright's Directory of South Derbyshire, 1874, from the University of Leicester's Historical Directories
E.R. Kelly's Post Office Directory of Derbyshire, 1876, from Ancestry
Reprint of the first edition (1834-1891) of the One-inch Ordnance Survey of England and Wales: Sheet 34 (Stafford) & Sheet 42 (Lichfield & Birmingham), publ. 1970, David & Charles, ISBN 0715346342 & 0715348574
Gerald Carey (undated) The Parish Of Barton Under Needwood In Staffordshire, a 2004 web version of the book of the same title by Gerald Carey
Gerald Carey (1999) The Manor Of Barton Under Needwood in the County of Staffordshire, 2001 web version
Needwood Forest, Wikipedia article
How fast can a horse and carriage travel? from Yahoo Answers
Cameras From Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures, by Brian Coe, 1978, Crown Publishers, ISBN 0517533812


  1. Aha! I was right then. It is the Smith-Hoult couple. The others were definitely "maybes" but again, it was the age of all the brides vs. how young the picture of the bride looked to me. Women usually looked older than they really were back in thise days. Very seldom did they wear cosmetics and unless they were very wealthy, they led very hard lives just to keep a household up and running.

    Glad to see that you came to the same conclusion, although for different reasons LOL,

  2. Thank you, Sheri. Your opinions about the ages are very useful, as i always find that part of it so subjective ... and difficult. I think you're right about the other families - none of them seem to fit, age- and gender-wise.

  3. I just randomly stumbled across this page while looking for something else. It was an interesting read, but I have to say that I have a different impression of the photograph than your conclusions.

    To me there is an enormous resemblance between the two men on the left. I think they also resemble the bride. I would suggest that they are the bride's brothers.

    The two other (rightmost) men look related to each other as well - although not as strongly. I would suggest they are Smiths.

    So in conclusion, I would suggest:
    1. William Hoult
    2. Mary Ann Hoult
    3. John Hoult
    4. James or Joseph Smith
    5. Jacob Smith (groom)

  4. Thanks for your input, Paul. I agree with several of your conclusions, particularly the resemblance between the two men on the left, which is of course enhanced by the fact that one has his hands on the other's shoulders.

    I think your conclusion is a very probable option, but I still can't make up my mind. It also seems to me rather odd/unusual that the groom should not be seated next to the bride. I think that unless we find some other family photographs to compare them with, we may never be sure about this.

    However, I've just had an email from a descendant of a cousin of these Smith brothers, so we may well be in luck.

    Regards, Brett

  5. No-one in the photo seems that enthuisiastic about the occasion. The bride was 31 - which seems rather old for the time. Suggesting the possibility of an arranged marriage.

    The way the two men on the left are posed together and with the bride suggests a familiarity that is missing from the other two. If the marriage was arranged, the bride and groom may not have been very close at the time of the wedding.

    I note also that the man on the right seems to be the only one with a hat - a top hat at that. The groom is likely to be the most formally dressed man at a wedding. Particularly a farmer's wedding.

    All guesses of course, but it's been fun. Thanks for the opportunity for a bit of amateur sleuthing!

  6. And thank you for your input too. I find that it is from readers that one usually gets the most stimulation in the form of ideas and encouragement to continue with this sort of thing.

    Your suggestion of an arranged marriage or marriage of convenience seems quite likely considering their respective ages.

  7. I just happened across your blog today, and found it fascinating as I grew up at Barton Park Farm. I agree with your conclusions though, as I don't remember anywhere that looked quite like the background from the photographs.
    Very interesting though!
    Tracey Critchley

  8. Fascinating! I used to live at Barton Park Farm, so I was really interested to see it when I stumbled across your blog. I don't remember any buildings quite like the ones in the pictures though, so I think you're correct in ruling Barton Park out.

  9. Thanks Tracey for dropping by, and I'm pleased to read your comments, as they appear to confirm my suspicions. Regards


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