Going back to his beginning, we find that Thomas was born in 1873 and that his baptism had taken place (fittingly?!) at St Mark’s Church, Stambermill on 12 June 1873 – when the church was pretty much brand new. Thomas attested in 1893 with the recorded age of 19 years and one month. He stated on his sign-up forms that he was a miner, born in the parish of Old Swinford, Worcestershire (which consisted of several rapidly industrialising townships, including Stambermill).
Thomas signed up for six years to be a militiaman for the County of Worcester. He stood 5 feet and 3 inches tall, weighed 125lb and was described as having a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair.
The Militia was generally filled through voluntary enlistment and brought with it an initial 56 days training and after that 21-28 days’ annual training each year. Joining the Militia was often attractive to men that worked in more casual occupations. If a job could be left and picked up again, then the additional pay (full pay for up to a month and a retainer for the rest of the year) was a useful extra income besides a civilian job. There were a few conditions of course, including that militiamen could be moved to full-time service during wartime.
The year 1893 was a pivotal year for Thomas for another reason – he married Elizabeth Dudley in December Quarter of the same year. Elizabeth, or Lizzie, was a local girl and in 1881 was enumerated as one of six children of her widowed mother. The latter was making ends meet as a servant at that time. Just before her marriage, Elizabeth was recorded on the 1891 census as a brick dresser, so perhaps she and Thomas met at work?
After enlisting, Thomas was placed in the 4th Battalion and three years later was promoted from Private to Corporal. When his six years were up, he was re-engaged but then discharged ‘totally unfit’ on 8 May 1900. I would suggest that the photograph was taken on his promotion to Corporal (hence the two chevrons) – the red tunic must have been striking!
In his civilian life, Thomas had a tough job. He was a clay miner: hard and often dangerous work. The precious clay lurked underneath the coal seam, and the mix of sticky clay, water, and companies conscious of budgets often led to accidents and fatalities. Thomas’ role was to get clay from underground to the surface – and it must have been gruelling. With such a strenuous physical job it is perhaps not a surprise that the army considered him unfit for service by 1900 – although he apparently remained fit for clay mining for some time after that.
By 1911, Thomas was living on Shepherd’s Brook, Upper Swinford. This address was a stone’s throw from King Brothers: ‘proprietors of Stourbridge Clay, manufacturers of fire bricks, glass-house pots…’ etc. We don’t know from the census which fireclay mine or mine(s) employed Thomas. However, we do know that there were several collieries within a small area besides King Brothers. All were competing for the famous local clay.
On the night of 2 April 1911, Thomas was recorded in the census as 37 and married for 17 years. He and his wife Elizabeth had had eight children and perhaps unusually for the time, they were all still living in 1911. Thomas, his wife, his mother-in-law and all eight children – aged between 0 and 16 and including identical three-year-old twins – lived in four rooms (‘not including scullery, landing, lobby, closet, bathroom; nor warehouse, office, shop’).
During the First World War, Thomas and Elizabeth lost their son William, who was killed in action on 30 October 1917. He is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial, which commemorates some 35,000 men with no known grave.
The 1939 Register, which gives us a snapshot of civilian life just after the outbreak of war, was taken on 29 September 1939. The information recorded was used to produce identity cards, and later, to issue ration books. (More on the National Archives website).
The Register finds Thomas and his wife Elizabeth at 14, Prescot Road, Stourbridge. By then he was a retired bricklayer’s labourer, and the couple shared their home with their daughter, Alice. She was sadly already a widow at 35. Thomas remained in the area his whole life, and his death was registered in Stourbridge Registration District in 1951.
Thank you to Mark for sharing a precious family photograph.
Tomorrow, Liz will be looking at two more images for a different member of staff. Full citations for the above story can be provided on request.