Just a teapot
Just a teapot…?
Considering “heirlooms” and family stories that may have been passed down can give character to and insight into a mere recorded name.
Memories are not always reliable, but in this case most of the facts passed on orally can be corroborated so it feels reasonable to assume the stories told should be true too.
My great-great grandmother, Hannah Woodcock, was born about 1822 in Normanton, Nottinghamshire, the daughter of Christopher, an agricultural labourer. She was a capable lass and a hard worker. She found employment as a servant, in the kitchens at Burton Agnes Hall, near Bridlington in Yorkshire, with the Boynton family and eventually became cook. Also working at Burton Agnes was John Gabbertas, a “servant” (probably a cowman – records and memories not clear here). They became sweethearts and were married in October 1852.
Their employers, Sir Henry and Lady Mary Boynton, let them live in rooms in the Gatehouse at the Hall. They gave Hannah and John a tea-set as a wedding present. Over the years, Hannah used and treasured it.
About this time, the first railways were being developed and Doncaster was a centre for building engines and tracks. With a baby on the way, Hannah and John moved to Rotherham, where Hannah may have had relatives, while John sought work on the railways which held better prospects for a man with a family. Thomas was born in 1853 followed by Mary in 1856.
John was now working near Doncaster, so the family moved to Balby – and grew. John came in 1858 and Frank in 1860 and Elizabeth Ann in 1864. John seems to have worked away for some of the time but Hannah had a reputation as a strong, lively, capable woman and raised the family. She was also the one who was called out in times of sickness, birth or death – “Fetch Hannah!” would be the cry. The teapot was well used for family and friends when comfort was required.
Eventually, (by 1881 certainly) the family moved back to Rotherham. Of course the teapot went too. The sons married and found work in the industries which were thriving because of the railways – brass foundry, iron works, boiler makers. John, a railway labourer, died in 1885, but Hannah lived with her unmarried daughter, Elizabeth Ann, a dressmaker, till her death in1912 at the age of 87, described in the 1911 census as having “private means”.
The teapot followed Hannah’s moves, but in keeping with her generous nature, when her son John married Rebecca, she gave it to her. After she died, it came to her daughter, Edith(Edie), my great aunt. In her small cottage, alongside many valuable antiques she acquired at sales, it was displayed in pride of place. When Edie was 90 and had to move to a home, the teapot was passed to my aunt. A few years later she gave it to me with the request that it would eventually go to my elder daughter.
The teapot was never valuable and is now cracked so will not hold any more cups of tea. But it holds a story – or two.
A story of a hardworking girl of humble origin, who became a well thought of servant, a capable wife and mother, a practical, generous spirited and sociable soul who was a well- respected and valued member of the communities where she lived.
A story too of one of the social and economic shifts of the 19th century- the movement of many from the country and agricultural work, into the growing industrialised towns.
So then – not “just” a teapot.