Building up strength

I am able to walk much further these days, mostly managing OK in the house and able to go out every day with some interludes of using my manual chair in the house (and powerchair for most outings). My new foot and ankle PT exercises are much harder and I’m venturing out of the house on foot (to visit next door or 2 houses down- a very steep hill) Today I figured I’d try to get to the bottom of the hill and back. I have a new cane with 3 legs that unfolds to become a seat so I used that on one side and my normal cane on the other. Down was OK, I sat for a bit on Mission and listened to the music coming out of the club on the corner, thought about whether I could make it across the street to Walgreens and buy something and not suffer too much from it now or tomorrow. On reflection I was somewhat weepy feeling from the intensity (physical and emotional both) of my half block journey so maybe better to take this more slowly.

Uphill was way harder and I stopped to rest twice (the cane with the fold out seat was a good idea.)

I’ll try icing my ankles and doing gentle stretches now – maybe an Advil and a tylenol – I hate the feeling of the entire arch of both feet spasming – so many separate weird little muscles. It also gets just a little bit of the “snake squeeze” feeling that is so scary (because it can get really bad)

Maybe going down just 3 houses, stopping, and coming back and doing that for the next week. It would be neat to have a small challenge like that, daily.

I need to install my pull up / toe stand bar somewhere under the deck – it doesn’t fit in any door frame upstairs but i’d like to start the combination toe-stands and pull ups again.

And maybe learn to do a push-up properly now that I have stronger toes! Ambition!

What will it be like if I can walk more? It was very strange seeing Mission as a vertical person. I felt so tall and unshelled.

I have been trying to imagine as I ride the bus, whether I could get to the bus stop, and then take the bus somewhere, and then I’d need to get across a street and probably a block or at least half a block the other direction to catch the bus home. Then another half block + up the hill again and then half a flight of stairs. Fucking yikes! I’m not there yet.

Keeping firmly in mind that I was in more or less this state in 2011 and then was felled for an entire year by bilateral achilles problems which have lasted a DECADE and which i’ve only just improved in the last 2 years to the point where I can walk flat footed and stand on my toes for a few seconds. So. Must not fuck this up ! NO MOON BOOTS!!

If you see me walking around, please know I’m struggling and having my own kind of private journey over here and just keep your comments and assumptions to yourself!!!!

Books and house projects

Just a quick note on my reading and activities lately.

Son of the Storm – Very interesting fantasy novel about climate change across a continent where the world building has roots in West Africa. There is a magic rock
called stone-bone or ibor (which I keep imagining as dinosaur fossils, but, I’m sure more will be revealed in book 2) A somewhat reckless and privileged mixed race university student, his rather horrible and power hungry girlfriend who has her own battles to fight, and an invader from the Nameless Islands. Complicated politics!

Travel narrative of Rabban Sauma from around the 1290s – I read Wallis Budge’s translation and his honking big preface which was extremely boring but that the book exists at all is very cool. Sauma and his student or acolyte or fellow monk, whatever, travel from China (Mongolia? anyway China adjacent central Asia with a free pass from the Khan) to Persia, Rome, and then further west visiting I think a French and English king but I’ve already forgotten. Charles somethingth…. The point was to get the Pope to agree to join with the Mongol Khan to attack the Arabs in Jersusalem and elsewhere (this plan did not come to fruition). The writer adds they removed many of the trivial details (probably just what we would want to read today). Lots about splendid churches, fancy tile, vestments, a peaceful interlude of prosperity and close ties to various Khans, then our hero gets his ass kicked and it’s very sad.

This was a little detour from an edition of Ibn Battuta’s travels (much abridged but very good).

Annals of the Cakchiquels – Another nifty old book, a Mayan history from 1571. If you are going to read something Mayan then go for the Popol Vuh, but if you’ve read the Popul Vuh and want more depth and want to know about first contact with the Spanish (spoiler, everyone dies of various diseases and society collapses), try this!

Accounts of China and India:55 (Library of Arabic Literature). This was a good anthology with a ton of footnotes.

The Mill Town Lasses (a series). Fairly light fiction, a family saga set in a Lancashire cotton mill town (pretty much exactly where a good chunk of my ancestors worked in the mills and mines.) Well written and researched! I enjoyed these!

The Open Society and its Enemies – Karl Popper. I read this if I have trouble going to sleep. Works every time.

The Lost City of the MOnkey God – Douglas Preston. Interesting non fiction story of various searches for “lost cities” of Honduras. (Spoiler – Using LIDAR, they find a crap ton of archeological sites in jungle so thick and remote it has been uninhabited for hundreds of years).

Botchan – Natsume Soskei. Famous Japanese novel from 1906 about a sort of bumbling dork, I don’t know how to describe him but he is earnest and mediocre and unambitious, a bit spoiled by a nanny, half assees his way through school and goes off to the provinces to become a teacher – Suddenly embroiled in the politics of small town life – Always fucking up but in a kind of endearing way ! I loved this book.

Victories Greater than Death – Charlie Jane Anders. What can I say, this was fabulous. Young adult space opera that has crucially cozy “chosen family” moments while also having a lot of ass kicking and a fast moving action plot and complex, interesting politics. I love the aliens and the scariest villain with the scariest superpower you have ever seen.

The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett. Recommended enthusiastically and it was ok but basically the sort of book a lot of book clubs are going to read this summer or maybe already did in some recent year. If you like twins who go their separate ways and one lives as black and one passes as white and then their very dark and very pale children meet, this book is for you. It’s good but kind of like if current day Nella Larsen hit you over the head with a hammer.

Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace. Fabulous! YA dystopia, perpetual war, extreme water rations, war orphans living in bombed out city dorms ekeing out a living by streaming their VR gaming in a simulation of the actual war zone they’re in. Highly recommend!

The Misfortunes of Alonso Ramirez – Another cool history “primary source” about a Puerto Rican guy from the 1600s who goes off to sea and kind of ends up a pirate. Actually written by Carlos Sigüenza de Gongora who is very interesting indeed! I love him! So, I heard you like prefaces, ok, if you don’t, then maybe stay away, but if you really like longity-ass explanations of a fairly short primary text then look for all the books about Alonso Ramirez, because there’s years of scholarship about how this is a novel by Sigënza and is Mexico’s first novel and then it actually turns out it is an amazingly provable mostly-true story, or at least, Alonso is a historical person whose movements we can partly trace.

The World of Alphonse Allais – This is a tiny, charmingly printed hardback that I somehow had on my bookshelf & hadn’t read till just now. It’s little humorous vignettes of Paris life that were printed in I guess a newspaper or journal, and the preface here (ALWAYS READ THE PREFACES AND INTRODUCTIONS! BEST BIT!) goes into a long funny ramble about how Allais isn’t THAT amazing, but hits a perfect note of just amusing enough to be amusing. (True) If you like whimsical nonsense, absinthe, the hijinks of of a little light adultery, and Paris bistro life from I guess around 1890, go for it.

In 1965 – Albert Robida. Ok this is wild – it is French science fiction from 1920 – kind of lighthearted BS about the future of aircars and spires (fabulously reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller’s zepplins and towers) along with a powerful feminist manifesto (which sadly must be defeated but which has some cool potential) . Then a Gulliver’s Travels-ish novella about a guy who is shipwrecked on a Centaur Island. My favorite bit of that story is how the centaurs finally force him to wear a prosthetic horse butt so he won’t look so deformed, and they never understand that he can’t just gallop several miles with them especially with a giant prosthetic wooden horse butt strapped to him. Kind of awesome read from a disability perspective.

MORE TO COME and I haven’t even mentioned all the stuff about moving, the new house, various house projects, etc. but that is taking up a lot of my thoughts and energy. Am writing some poetry but not a ton. Also reading for the Otherwise Award.

How to make a coronavirus piñata

I bet you would like to BEAT COVID-19. And here is one way! Make your own coronavirus piñata and (safely socially distanced, masked, outdoors) hit the piñata until it is DEFEATED!

All the diagrams of the shape of the virus that I’ve seen have a round shape with at least 3 different sizes of “protein spikes” coming out from the middle, with each kind being a different height. Each spike has an extra bit on top like a flat top or a sort of flower shape. This is not too hard to make, but doing the “protein spikes” was a little bit of a challenge.

Here’s one model I looked at, from the CDC:

coronavirus diagram

Here’s how I made a coronavirus piñata, in some detail! I am putting in all the details, because, while I grew up making piñatas I realize a lot of people did not or they bought their piñatas from a store. It’s so much fun to make them because the multi-day process builds up anticipation.

Make a standard piñata shell over a large balloon.

(You can also use a plastic or paper grocery bag stuffed with paper or other bags to make the shape – the important thing is, you have to be able to pull all that stuff OUT of a small hole.)

You will need:

  • about 3-4 days
  • a round balloon
  • flour
  • water
  • a bowl
  • a newspaper
  • some twine or strong cord
  • somewhere to work
  • black paint
  • regular school glue
  • thick cardstock or thin cardboard, two or three pieces
  • paintbrush (or your fingers)
  • scissors
  • red, orange, and yellow rolls crepe paper (or colors of your choice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees NOOOOOOO I’m joking. Never put your piñata in the oven. It will catch on fire. Very bad idea!

Mix a bowl of warm water and some flour to make a thin, soupy paste, beating out all the lumps. Tear some newspaper into long strips a little less wide than the space between two fingers (so that you can efficiently use your fingers to strip the paste from the newspaper).

Set up a place where you can make a mess. It helps to have either a place to hang the balloon on the cord from somewhere that puts the balloon at your working level, or, you can perch the balloon on a tray or on top of a cooking pot.

Tie the cord to the end of the balloon, leaving a long piece to hang the piñata, and about 6 inches or so on the shorter end, to build into your paper mache base.

This is going to make a big mess!

Now, take a strip of newspaper, carefully dip it into the flour and water, and use your fingers like a squeegee to strip excess paste from the newspaper. This takes a delicate touch because when the paper gets wet, it will break easily. Now lay the paper across your balloon. Repeat this until the balloon is covered with 1 layer of paper. Leave a hole near the top to put in the candy, decorations, and prizes!

Hang the piñata to dry. If you have a space heater you can put it nearby. Otherwise, it will take at least a day to dry out.

unpainted wet pinata

Wash your bowl and work surface quickly so the paste doesn’t dry into glue!

Once the shell is dry I do recommend you add one more layer. Unless your piñata is for very small children – in that case one layer might be okay.

Repeat everything to add another layer of paper!

Hang the piñata to dry again. (And, now, you can pop the balloon if it hasn’t popped already!

It does not matter if your piñata is not perfect, or it’s lumpy, or a weird shape. It will still look amazing once you cover it with paper, and you are going to break it anyway!! Don’t worry!

Look how ugly it is! But we have no worries.

lumpy looking pinata base

(I am leaving out the part where I hung the piñata outside in the sun to dry, then forgot about it. Raccoons came in the night and slashed it open, so I had to add some repairs and dry the shell again before I painted it. I recommend you skip the step with the raccoons. Again – do not worry about any little imperfections, such as a raccoon invasion, or that your virus is not a perfect sphere.)

Now you have some choices. Normally I would wrap the piñata around and around in overlapping layers of frilly crepe paper, but for this coronavirus effect, I painted the balloon shell instead. I thought black would hide any imperfections in the shape and would make the color of the protein spikes stand out more beautifully! I used washable tempera paint that cost about 3 dollars for a 16 oz container. The paint dried in a couple of hours when I hung the piñata near a space heater. Otherwise, expect it to dry overnight.

Now you are ready for the decorations!

Take your roll of crepe paper, and stick the scissors into it so that you are cutting a fringe about 1/3 of the way through several layers of paper at once. This next picture shows what that looks like, with a sneak preview of making it into a tall spike shape!


You can’t cut too many layers at once, just cut a few, then make some decorations, then when the fringed part ends, cut some more fringe into the roll.

To make the spikes, I had two requirements. One, they have to be strong enough hold the “flower” fringes of paper up high at two different heights. And two, I have to be able to attach them firmly to the piñata base. But how to do this? (Tape will not work!)

I happened to have thick colored cardstock in bright yellow and orange, the same color as the crepe paper I bought. But, my original plan was to use plain white cardstock or strips of a thick cardboard box, painted black. Construction paper might work if you roll it into a tube with several layers. Another idea, you could use paper or plastic straws.

So, using my cardstock (#60 thickness I happen to know) I cut out rectangles and taped them into small tubes about the size of a drinking straw. Then, cut the base of the tube 3 times to give 3 flanges to glue onto the piñata. If you look back at the photo above you can see the tube and two visible flanges.

Then, I wrapped the fringed crepe paper around the other half of the tube and taped it into place. Spread out the fringe to make the flat, carnation-like top of the protein spike for our virus!

Then glue the spike onto the piñata and hold it for a moment for the glue to stick. This took a couple of hours to make all the tall spikes, then the medium spikes.

Here is a picture of this phase of construction. In it, you can see that my shape is not perfect, the paper is very lumpy, and the paint job is not very good. None of those things mattered – You are not building something perfect; you are building a PARTY.

pinata construction phase

The most numerous spikes are the short red ones, much less work. For those I just used the base of the crepe paper, cut into flanges, and glued them directly to the piñata base.

Things got tricky because the glue does not hold quickly enough to stop the taller spikes from falling off, unless they are at the top of the sphere. So I had to keep turning the piñata and carefully propping it up, without squashing the spikes.

pinata half finished

Maybe you will think of a better way to do that! Or maybe you will have better glue!

But, while I am working on it, it’s so peaceful and meditative. I’m thinking of the vision of the finished object, and also thinking with love of the event and the people I will host and how they will be astonished by the ridiculousness of this project and the ephemeral nature of ritual celebration and destruction ! We will BEAT the CORONAVIRUS! Together! With joy and love!! And from it, somehow, we will extract ABUNDANT GOOD THINGS even if those things, when not metaphors, are little bottles of hand sanitizer and chocolate bars and “crispy fruit” packets from Big Lots!

It reminds me of my favorite poem by María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira about ephemeral things!

You must put all of that love into your piñata making. It is very important!

Back to construction: I think you could go faster by having one layer of the spikes be nearly flat to the surface, then the crepe-paper height layer, then only one layer of “tall” spikes on straws or other tubes. But, your finished product might lack a little bit of panache.

Once you’re done gluing, let your spikes dry for some hours. Then carefully stuff the piñata with candy or prizes and some crumpled remains of the crepe paper as filler.

Oh! It’s almost done now!! But after taking this photo I added more spikes because I noticed a big empty spot!!

me with pinata

Look how beautiful it is when finished, despite its asymmetry, my sloppy paint job, and the raccoons! So festive! (At least, it is beautiful to me, after so many hours.)

finished pinata

Hang it up, play some music, and take turns ceremoniously beating it with a stick!

youth with pinata

It turned out that the pieces of the broken piñata were the perfect shape to make attractive hats.

milo with pinata hat

liz with hat

Have a good time! And if you make your own covid-19 piñata please show me the pictures!


Moving house and internal geographies

At the start of the year we had no idea we’d be buying a house and moving. January 2nd we impulsively looked a house for sale down the street, loved it, scrambled to get our shit together, made an offer, and bang!!! We have a house. The move-in has been slow as I could not figure out how to manage an all at once pack and move without physically messing myself up in a zillion ways. But now we are more or less done aside from a few plants and a towel rack – then a final cleaning for the garage.

I love the new house so much – it’s a joy – and I never thought we’d be able to buy. We are now in massive debt — a weird feeling. I feel very lucky.

victorian houses and bougainvillea flowers

There is room for me to have a piano and I got a free one (a synthesizer in a nice wooden cabinet) from the local buy nothing group.

Little bits of myself are expanding or morphing as we settle in to the potential of the new space. Different habits start to surface.

Someone asked on Twitter how many times folks have moved in their life. I counted & it would be 28 times.

At Noisebridge at the start of weekly meetings when we went around for introductions Mike K. would always say “I’m not the quartermaster, or the ombudsman” (and I’d think — oh!! i’m both of those things, in this space! a good way of describing those roles) A lot of my brain does that quartermaster role. I have a whole mental map of where everything was in the old house, another of when it moved and to where and sometimes even in what kind of box (!!???) and now am creating a new geography for the new house’s contents.

So when I think “where’s my good scissors?” I get three answers, or sometimes just the location from the old house first. It feels so weird to prune the old map away!

My relation to the larger map has also changed. We are only two blocks away, but we are closer to a lively intersection (sometimes chaotic at night) and a bit further from the posh little shopping area on top of the hill. The sounds and the presence of neighbors are very different. I won’t hear the skateboarders bombing the long hill anymore or the people going up the hill with huge bags and carts of crushed cans to the recycling center on the other side. Instead I get pleasantly louder trolley noises and those late night altercations, and a few more buses (also pleasant to me) and a view of the 7-11 and gas station. After the pandemic the dance club/bar will fire up again — that should be interesting.

I notice different trees, my view of the sky is different, we get more sun (HOORAY!!!) I see the moon from the window, the hills, I can sit out on the front steps and look off far into the distance.

view of hills

From the back windows I can see a slice of downtown, and from the way the hills are shaped, get the visceral feeling of being perched halfway up one side of a valley. The old house was also perched but was smaller than everything around it, and in a position on a steep hillside that meant the range of our view was limited to the block or the houses just surrounding us. So the visible world has expanded.

The first thing I did to change the new house: hired someone to come pave over the gravel pit between the front and back so that I can get my wheelchair into the back yard and ground floor basement. (Still need small ramps built but I have temporary metal ramp to get the chair into shelter.)

Really looking forward to building a nicer little free library! Maybe shaped kinda like our house!!

Bad Invention: Meowbrows!

My cat likes to nuzzle my face in order to scratch her chin against the rim of my glasses, often knocking the glasses right off. I was thinking that I could hot glue some old toothbrush heads to some sunglasses, bristles pointing forward. The cat would then be able to affectionately bump my face while getting its face scratched.

Bad Invention time – I shall make ONE MILLION DOLLARS!!!

Credit to danny for the excellent name!

The first philosophical fantasy novel

To fall asleep lately I’m reading Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, by Ibn Tufayl or Tufail, written in the 12th century. It’s about a child marooned on an island from infancy, raised by a doe, who figures out philosophy and spirituality from first principles. Before age 7, he invents clothing and modesty, as well as rudimentary weapons.

When his loving doe-mother dies, he tries to figure out how if he can find and fix what’s wrong with her by cutting open her heart, which has an empty chamber where he figures the intangible part of her that wasn’t her body, that loved him and that he loved, must have been.

Then he goes on to dissect and vivisect other animals of the island to figure out how Life works. I think he is going to discover the idea of the divine in his next 7 years.

Somewhere along the way the frame story narrated by Ibn Tufayl explains how we know that the earth and sun are both spherical and how from that plus the properties of light and heat we know that life can exist at the Earth’s equator.

This book was translated into Latin in 1671 under the title Phliosophus Autodidactus and it sounds like it was super influential.

Ibn Tufayl’s Wikipedia article tells us this was written in part as a response to al-Ghazali‘s Incoherence of the Philosophers.

Phrases stuck in my head

Sometimes rather than musical earworms I get particular words or phrases stuck in my head. Last night I woke up with the phrase “Overoles Chiriboga” sort of echoing around every few seconds. This was from a shop sign in downtown Quito, Ecuador, which struck me as both an interestingly resounding phrase and a very beautiful shop front, with a cool font and beautiful paint job.

I took a good photo of it, thankfully, so it isn’t just in my memory. I love the guy standing there with a lot of luggage, and how he is sort of hanging out with the mannequin.

That’s all – there is nothing much to say about this — maybe just a common poet’s curse and blessing — but because I can’t get it out of my head, now you can have it too.

storefront in quito

p.s. it fits perfectly with the Dead Kennedys “California Uber Alles”.

The tailor’s fall, and his daughter’s escape

In my last geneology post I wrote about Jenny Cumpsty and her daughter Jennet Dobson. Jennet married William Crane, a tailor in the town of Garstang, in 1863.

First, a quick summary of William’s life since he is central to our story.

William was born in 1841 in Pilling in a family of farmers. He was an apprentice tailor by age 17, married at age 21 in Garstang and set up his own business as a tailor there and then in Barrow-in-Furness. He and his wife Jenny had three children. After his wife died of smallpox in 1871, he lost his business as a tailor and worked in brickyards and coal mines for the rest of his life. He remarried in 1872 in Farnworth, near Bolton, and had two more children, living and working at Top o’th’ Meadows in Darcy Lever. His second wife died in 1890. He married a neighbor in 1895. He was still working as a navvy in 1911 at age 70. In 1917 William died, a widower for the 3rd time, at age 76.

The Cranes north of the Wyre

Now let’s pull back in time a bit, and look at William’s side of the family.

William’s parents were John Crane, or Craven (b. 1812) and Ellen Parker.
John Crane’s parents were John Crane (b. 1775) and Cathrine Lewtas.
Ellen Parker’s parents were William Parker and Betty Hoole. It is a bit confusing so here is a tree view:

william and jenny's direct ancestors
tree view of william crane and jennet dobson’s parents and grandparents


As a refresher, here are two maps of the area over the river Wyre. The Pilling Moss was part of a larger area of peat bogs north of the Wyre and south of Morecambe Bay. All the villages I mentioned in the last post are within about 5 miles of each other, in case that wasn’t clear. That also holds true for this post!

Overview of the area near Garstang
old map of the fylde

Detail from 1829 map showing Pilling, Stalmine, Hambleton, Out Rawcliffe, Kirkland, Garstang, Calder Vale
1829 garstang map

Preesall and Stalmine, 1775-1792

My 5th great-grandfather, John Craven, was a farmer in Stalmine, Out Rawcliffe, and Pilling. He was born in 1775 in Preesall, around the time of the Pilling Moss Bog Burst.

In 1792, at age 17, he married Catherine Lewtas in St. James Church, Stalmine. John and Catherine could both sign their own names, which surprised me!

marriage record

The Crane family in Out Rawcliffe

Some time in the 1790s, the family moved from Stalmine to Out Rawcliffe.

Their first child, Alice, was born in 1793. Their children were Betty, b. 1794; Ann, b. 1797; Richard Lewtas, b. 1798; William, b. 1800; Robert, b. 1803; Thomas Lewtas, b. 1805; Catherine, b. 1807; Matthew, b. 1809. Their son John Crane who was my direct ancestor was born in 1812, and his younger brother Henry in 1814. So, John and Henry grew up as the youngest sons in a large family of farmers and agricultural laborers.

Here’s a summary of what happened to John’s older siblings. Alice married Thomas Bimson, a tailor in Pilling and then a licensed victualler in Liverpool; after his death, she married Thomas Higginson, a farmer of 60 acres, and lived in Bradshaw Lane, Pilling. Her oldest children took Higginson’s name, married, and lived on farms next to her in Pilling. Richard Lewtas Crane ended up as a laborer in Liverpool. William became a farmer in St. Michaels on Wyre; he could not write his name. Robert became a carter, and lived with his sister Catherine and her family for most of his life. Catherine married a local farmer, Thomas Fox; she couldn’t write her name. Thomas Lewtas Crane married and was an agricultural laborer – unlike his older brothers and sisters, he was literate, signing his name to his marriage certificate.

Their mother Catherine died at age 60, in 1835.

The Crane families move to Pilling

Back to our person of concern, John Crane, William’s dad, born in 1812.

In 1841, John Crane senior is listed in the Pilling census as John Crane, age 65, farmer, living with his children Thomas, 35; Robert, 35; Henry, 24, and two young servants.

Next door to him in Pilling is John Crane, 25, agricultural laborer, with his wife Ellen and their children Matthew, Henry, and William, 3 weeks old. That’s our John Crane & his son William Crane!

Ellen Parker’s parents were William Parker and Betty Hoole. She was born in Nateby in 1814.

Ellen’s father was an agricultural laborer; both parents were from Out Rawcliffe. William’s parents were from the same area. Betty Hoole was born in Barnacre and Upper Rawcliffe in 1795. She married William when she was 15.

John married Ellen Parker in 1835 when he was 22 and she was 20. So, when we see them in the 1841 census, they have been married for 6 years, are still under 30, and have three children. John may be working on his father’s farm alongside his brothers.

In 1847, John’s father John Crane senior died.

John Crane junior moves back to Out Rawcliffe

In 1851, John and Ellen Crane are living in Out Rawcliffe with thir children Matthew, 14, agricultural laborer; Henry, 12, ditto; William, 9, ditto; John, 8, and Richard, 6 are both in school; Robert, age 1, is the youngest. William, John, and Richard were born in Pilling, while Robert was born in Out Rawcliffe, so that gives us a likely date for the family’s move, between 1845 and 1850. It would make sense that they moved after John Crane senior died, in 1847.

In 1861, John and Ellen are still in Out Rawcliffe living with Matthew, 24; Richard, 16; Robert, 11, all agricultural laborers. Their daughter Catherine, 7, is in school.

William the Tailor

Meanwhile, William Crane became an apprentice tailor with Thomas Wilkinson in Kirkland, a village or town that looks a bit larger than Out Rawcliffe, more or less a satellite town of Garstang — certainly larger than Pilling. We see him in the 1861 Census, age 19, living in the household of Thomas and Ann Wilkinson.

Unlike his older brothers and his younger brother Robert, he isn’t stuck on the farm. It would likely have cost money to buy him a place as an apprentice.

In 1863, on Feb. 4th, William married Jennet Dobson. In 1861, Jennet was a servant for the Hesketh family in Tarnacre Lane, Upper Rawcliffe — less than a mile by the road to Kirkland. Perhaps they met in Kirkland; we can imagine that he did some tailoring for the Hesketh family, but there’s no way to know. I don’t have an image for their marriage record but would love to see it to see who was literate and who witnessed.

Caroline Crane was born in Garstang, 24 November 1863. Their son John James was born in 1866 in Kirkland, (also called Churchtown). By 1869, the family had moved north across Morecambe Bay to 74 Scott St., Barrow-in-Furness, where Jane Elizabeth was born.

By 1871, from the census, William and Jennet, Tailor and Tailoress, ages 29 and 32, were living in Barrow-in-Furness at 183 Dalton Street. Caroline, 7 and John J., 5, are in school. Jane is one year old. They have two lodgers, ages 19 and 20. I get the impression that Barrow-in-Furness, then nicknamed “The English Chicago”, was a not-too-horrible industrial and port town, with a shipyard and a railroad, happily NOT located in a giant peat bog surrounded by miles of treacherous tidal sands, so it sounds like another step up in life for the Cranes. I hope their little family was happy and that Caroline had a good early life.

detail from 1871 census

Later that year, 21 August 1871, Jennet died. The family was living at 305 Dalton Street.

William the Brickmaker

First, let’s follow William after his wife’s death. He was not able to stay in Barrow-in-Furness and he lost his tailoring business. Perhaps there were crushing doctor bills. I also imagine the children were brought to live with relatives until their father found a stable situation.

In September 1872 he married Frances Ann Hardman, in Farnworth with Kearsley. William was 31. On the marriage record, he signed his own name though his wife signed with an X. His father John Crane (junior) witnessed the marriage, signing with an X, listing his occupation as a furnaceman. Frances Ann’s father was a collier, and her mother witnessed the marriage (X, her mark). William was working as a brickmaker.

william crane marriage record

William and his father John are still close physically to Pilling and Out Rawcliffe, but in time and modernity they have leapt from generations of peasantry to an urban area in the thick of the industrial revolution. Farnworth, now basically part of Bolton ie Greater Manchester, was a huge coal mining center and also the home of paper mills, iron foundries, cotton mills, and brick and tile factories. Its population more than doubled from 1851 to 1871 when it was a town of 20,000.

In 1881, William, 39, is an excavator (navvy) at 127 Ellesmere St in Farnworth. He may have worked on rail lines into the mines, dug canals, or ditched and drained the remaining peat mosses in the Farnworth area – the census doesn’t have that level of detail. He lives with his second wife Francis Ann, 33; his son John J, 15, labor in the brickworks; Jane E, 11, scholar; and Ann, 4, his daughter with Frances Ann. They have two lodgers, Thomas Fletcher, a blacksmith, and his wife Mary E. Fletcher, 29. Note those lodgers for later! And, I notice also that Jane Elizabeth is able to stay in school at the late age of 11, probably the first “scholar” over age 10 in of her ancestral tree.

Looking at this I can’t help but admire William. From a horrible tragedy, and a downward step from having a profession to doing hard physical labor in a brickworks and then a navvy around the mines and mills, he pulled his family through. He found another wife who is caring for his children, and he is able to support them. Though we don’t know anything about his personality, we can see evidence of his values and his skill in survival.

William and Frances Ann had a second child together, Henry, born in 1884. William’s father John Crane died that same year. Frances Ann died in 1890 in Bolton leaving William, at 49, once again a widower with young children.

John Crane and Ellen Parker have a marker to their memory in the Out Rawcliffe churchyard. It mentions that he was a deacon for the church for many years and it also lists Elizabeth Ellen Gardner (b. 1848 d. 1931). Maybe Elizabeth Ellen was a niece or other relative (or someone who survived her was a relative of John and Ellen, and put up the stone for them all at once.) John Crane was a farmer in Out Rawcliffe for 10 or 20 years before his children scattered and he became a furnaceman in Farnworth/Bolton.

gravestone for john crane

Map of Farnworth, turn of the century

For context, here is a 1908 map of Farnworth. You can click through on it to download it & get a higher resolution for zooming in.

large farnworth map

Caroline in the mills

We’ve seen William Crane move from Barrow-in-Furness to Farnworth & remarry in 1871-1872. By 1881 his younger children are with him. But where is his oldest daughter, Caroline, in 1881?

I found her in Great Lever, living with her uncle Henry Crane’s widow, Alice (Lowe) Crane. Alice, head of the household, age 38, is a charwoman. Her sons William 18; James, 16; John, 14; Richard, 12, are coal miners. Henry Junior, the baby, is 3 years old and god knows who takes care of him while everyone is at work. Alice’s brother William Lowe, 36, is an excavator, along with a lodger, John Hazler. Finally we come to 17 year old Caroline, Alice’s niece, Comber Tenter in a cotton mill.

Much respect to Alice who had to keep house for all these people while working outside the home herself. I like to keep in mind they were not likely to have running water so someone would have had to fetch water in buckets daily – and imagine doing the laundry for four coal mining teenage boys!

I found this definition of a comber tenter from the online version of A Dictionary of Occupational Terms Based on the Classification of Occupations used in the Census of Population, 1921. (ah,those females and their e-textiles!!)

comber (cotton) ; comb minder, comber tenter. Operates combing machine, which combs out short fibres in preparation of fine cotton yarns; guides cotton laps on to rollers, starts machine, receives combed cotton, in form of slivers, in boxes or cans, and removes cans as they are filled.

I ended up reading some stuff about the history of cotton mills, which first developed in Lancashire, and about the various roles in a mill. The combing/carding machine, basically a giant toothed roller, was invented in 1760.

Carding: the fibres are separated and then assembled into a loose strand (sliver or tow) at the conclusion of this stage.

The cotton comes off of the picking machine in laps, and is then taken to carding machines. The carders line up the fibres nicely to make them easier to spin. The carding machine consists mainly of one big roller with smaller ones surrounding it. All of the rollers are covered with small teeth, and as the cotton progresses further on the teeth get finer (i.e. closer together). The cotton leaves the carding machine in the form of a sliver; a large rope of fibres.[11]

In a wider sense carding can refer to the four processes of willowing, lapping, carding and drawing. In willowing the fibres are loosened. In lapping the dust is removed to create a flat sheet or lap of fibres; Carding itself is the combing of the tangled lap into a thick rope or sliver of 1/2 inch in diameter, it can then be optionally combed, is used to remove the shorter fibres, creating a stronger yarn.

A carding room in a mill would have been full of dangerous machinery and very fine airborne particles of cotton which caused breathing problems for many workers. Children – if Caroline worked in the mill from a younger age onward — would scuttle around under and inside the working machinery to pick up bits of lint and help keep everything running. I think that role is what “tenter” implies. I don’t have a good source for this photo but it shows a young girl taking a spool of combed cotton from a machine, I think maybe after it is drawn:

combing process in a mill

Being in the mills and mines of Lancashire in the mid 1800s meant some of the family were likely to have been in trade unions. It may be possible to find them in specific unions if I had access to those records! Rochdale (where Caroline’s future husband had roots) was an early example but by the 1850s there were huge union and mill vs. worker fights.

In Preston in 1853 mill owners locked out 20,000 workers for 36 weeks and the workers’ families began to starve. The center of industrialization was also a center for worker organizing! Perhaps Caroline Crane was able to join the Amalgamated Association of Card and Blowing Room Operatives that formed in 1886!

Caroline married Ralph Hutchinson in 1884 in Great Lever.

The Hutchinsons and Doodsons

Let’s look at Ralph Hutchinson and his ancestry. Ralph was my great-great-grandfather!

Ralph Hutchinson was born in 1866 in Kearsley. His parents were James Hutchinson and Ellen Doodson.

James Hutchinson was born in 1843 in Kearsley. His parents were Adam Hutchinson and Ann Allen, both born in Lancashire around 1800. Most of the men and boys in the family (in 1841) worked in coal mines.

Adam Hutchinson’s parents were John Hutchinson and Margaret Tonge, both born in Kearsley in the mid 1700s. My research isn’t solid enough to go further back with any certainty.

Ralph Hutchinson’s mother Ellen Doodson was born in 1842 in Kearsley. Her parents were Joseph Doodson and Mary Rawlinson.

Joseph was born in 1805 in Kearsley; Mary Rawlinson in 1801 in Rumworth. What a weirdo, not even from Kearsley!

The family may have been affected by the Preston riots of 1843, when thousands of cotton mill workers went on strike.

In 1851 Joseph was in the mines and Mary was a weaver in a cotton mill; they lived in Rayley Row with two children and a 73 year old aunt who kept the house.

In 1861, still living in Riley Row, Joseph Doodson is still in the mines at age 56, but Mary has stopped working in the mills. Their son is in the mines and they have three daughters, including 19 year old Ellen, in the cotton mills.

The American Civil War would likely have affected the family as it contributed to the Lancashire Cotton Famine from 1861-1865.

Ellen married James Hutchinson in 1864, in Farnworth with Kearsley. They were both able to sign their names. James lists his father Adam’s occupation as a carder, and Ellen’s father Joseph was a collier.

marriage record from 1864

I can’t find Ellen and James in 1871! They would have been 29 and 28, with their son Ralph around 5 and son James either not quite born or in his first year. They may have lived in Little Hulton, where James was born.

In 1881, Ellen and James are 39 and 38. They have four sons, Ralph, James, Joseph, and William, all living at 75 Primrose Lane in Kearsley. James is a coal miner, as is his 15 year old son Ralph. James, 10, and Joseph, 7, are still scholars. Ellen is notably not in the mills.

Ralph and Caroline

I am now looking at maps to think about how close Ralph Hutchinson and Caroline Crane lived and how they may have met. In 1881, Ralph was in the mines at 15, living at 75 Primrose Lane in Kearsley. His family church was St. John the Evangelist, quite close by. Caroline, in the cotton mills at 17, lived a few miles away at 22 Hall St in Great Lever. I think they may have met when Caroline’s father moved to Great Lever between 1881 and 1884.

Ralph and Caroline were married in 1884 in St. Michaels church in Great Lever. They both claim to be 20 years old, though surely Ralph was certainly lying since his birth date of 1866 is well documented. And they both list their residence as Annie Street in Great Lever, so either that’s where they were going to live when married or they may have both lived on that street and been neighbors. This seems plausible to me since other couples married on the same day have separate addresses. Ralph’s father James is listed as a collier, and Caroline’s father William Crane as a tailor — though at this point he hasn’t been a tailor since 1871; he’s been a brickmaker, an excavator, and a navvy for years. I wonder if this is a sign of his pride (or his daughter’s) in his original profession. And, I’m happy to report that both Ralph and Caroline were literate.

marriage record for ralph and caro

Ralph and Caroline’s life in Darcy Lever

In 1891, Caroline and Ralph lived at Top o’th’ Meadow in Darcy Lever.

In 1891, Ralph Hutchinson, 25, is a coal miner. Caroline (Crane) Hutchinson, 28, is a housekeeper (likely of her own house). Ellen, 5, is a scholar while Jennet, 3, and James, 11 months, are the youngest in the household. Caroline’s father William Crane, 49, widower and farm laborer, lives with them along with his son Henry Crane, 7, scholar, and Ann Ellen Crane, 3. Baby James is my great-grandfather.

Notably, they live next to several houses full of Fletchers, and a household of Norrises which included Martha Fletcher, age 49, sister in law of John Norris, a widow “living on her means”. It looks like Martha came to Darcy Lever to live with her married sister after she was widowed. You can guess why I mention her — William Crane (with his two young children, who need looking after) is on the prowl.

Caroline and Ralph in Farnworth
In 1901, Caroline, Ralph, and thir children are in Farnworth living at 12 Princess Street. Ralph, 35, is a chemical laborer. Ellen, 15, and Jane, 13, were both knotters (Knitters?) in a cotton mill; the initials G.O.P. or C.O.P were written over the entries – maybe an abbreviation for the name of the mill? James, my great-grandfather, is 10; Mary Ann, 8; Sarah, 6; John, 4.

As much as I make fun of growing up in the middle of Pilling Moss, growing up in the middle of the Farnworth gas and chemical works, cotton and steel mills, and coal mines may also have had its down sides, espeically as they were industrial works in the middle of yet another Moss — the whole area is a ginormous peat bog. (“Moses Gate”; Moses = Moss). The younger children seem to be at home or maybe in school, a bit longer, and more of the children grow up to be literate. The ones who aren’t blown up in a coal mine or dead of inhaling cotton fluff in the mills, that is.

Here is Princess Street on a 1908 map of Farnworth.

1808 map of farnworth

Ralph’s father James Hutchinson is 57 and a laborer (plasterer) in 1901. His mother Ellen is 59. William, 24, is a coal hewer. They live at 105 Brackley Street in Farnworth.

William remarries

In 1901, William, age 57, with his wife Martha (Fletcher) Crane, 59, is living in Darcy Lever, Bolton, at the same address (Top o’th’ Meadows, near Radcliffe Road and Crows Nest Road.)

He is on the same road also as James G Hardman (29) and his wife Clara, likely relatives of his late wife Frances Ann.

William is working as a carter on a farm. His son Henry, 17, is a general laborer while Ann E, 13, has no occupation listed.

James Fletcher, 24, listed as “son” is Martha’s son and William Crane’s stepson, a colliery laborer, along with their boarder William Hallows, age 50.

Next door at 407 Radcliffe Road, William’s son John J Crane, 35, a colliery engineer, lives with his wife Sarah E, 32 and their daughter Janet, 13. (Named after William’s mother, who was named after her mother and grandmother!)

About Top o’th’ Meadows

About Darcy Lever:
“The township abounded with coal, but it has practically been worked out. Several mines were worked till recently; one is still in operation. There is a cotton mill at the village.”

This 1860 description of Top o’th’ Meadows is online at

Valuable freehold estate called “BARLOWS,” or “TOP O’TH’ MEADOWS,” Situate in Darcy Lever, near Bolton. To be sold by auction by Mr. William Lomax, junr., at the house of Mr. Gillibrand, the Horse Shoe Inn, in Little Bolton, on Wednesday, the 14th day of October next, at six o’clock in the evening, subject to such conditions as will be then produced.

Lot 1. All that valuable freeshold estate called “BARLOWS” or “TOP O’TH’ MEADOWS,”, situate in Darcy Lever aforesaid, on the Highway leading from Bolton to Radcliffe, containing 14A. 3R. 30P. or thereabouts, statute measure, and comprising a good Farm House, with Two Dwelling-houses, Barns, Stables, Shippons and Gardens, adjoining or near thereto, now in the occupation of Thomas Fishwick and sub-tenants. And also FOUR COTTAGES, in the occupation of George Pickup and others, and the Mines, Minerals, and Appurtenances belonging thereto respectively. Also a ground rent of £3 a year secured on Cottages Coloured blue on the plan.

The Estate is situate within two miles from Bolton, and is connected therewith by excellent roads, and lies contiguous to the Railway from Bolton to Bury, and is half a mile from Bradley Fold Station.

There are valuable Coal Mines under and belonging to this Estate, which are let under an arrangement for a lease of ten years from 1860, at a minimum rent of £50 per annum, the Produce Rent being after the rate of £60 per foot per Cheshire acre.

I figured A is acres and R is roods, but had to look up what “P” stands for in measuring land. It is “perches” and 40 perches = 1 rood; a perch is a square rod.

Setting the scene in early 1911

In the early 1900s, Ralph’s father and mother James and Ellen died.

William Crane, Caroline’s father, wass a 69 year old widower working as a navvy laborer in Bolton, living at 551 Radcliffe Road (this is actually still Darcy Lever and I think may be either Top o’th’ Meadows or very near it.) Living with him were his son Henry Crane, 26, also a navvy; his daughter Ann Ellen Crane, 23, a charwoman; and a grandson, William Crane, age 2. They have a boarder, James Hurst, 25. James Fletcher, William’s stepson, lives two houses down on the same road.

Caroline and Ralph lived a mile or two away, at 130 Hall Lane in Farnworth. If you look on older or present day maps, Hall Lane is a main road running from Moses Gate on the north side of Farnworth, to Little Lever a mile to the east. Early in 1911, Ralph is 45, an “out of work coal miner”. Caroline is at home. Their daughter Janet, 23, is a quilt machinist in a weaving mill. James, 20, is a “side piecer for cotton spinner” in a spinning mill. Mary Ann, 18, has the occupation of “colored weaver (cotton)”. Sarah, 16, is a quilt weaver. John, 14, is a plater in the bleachworks.

Ralph and Caroline’s oldest daughter Ellen, age 25, had just married Walter Bibby, a blacksmith in December 1910. In early 1911, they are living with Walter’s widowed mother and his two younger brothers at 10 Algernon Street in Farnworth. Later, in May 1911, Ellen’s daughter Lily was born.

I’ll write more about Caroline, Ralph, and their 6 children emigrating to Rhode Island in my next post.

William Crane died in August 1917 in Bolton. His brother John Crain died in November 1917.

To sum up Caroline’s life so far:

Caroline Crane was born the oldest child of her tailor parents, in Garstang, 1863 — in the middle of the Lancashire Cotton Famine. She spent some years of her early childhood in Barrow-in-Furness north of Morecambe Bay. Her mother died of smallpox when Caroline was 7. Caroline likely went to live with her father’s brother Henry; at age 17 she was a comber in a cotton mill in Great Lever outside of Bolton. Her father had remarried and had more children — no longer a tailor, he had lost his profession and had to turn to rougher work as an excavator and navvy in the Bolton area brickworks and mines. Caroline married at age 20 to Ralph Hutchinson, a coal miner, and had 6 children with him. Her children went into the mills as teenagers, and the family lived in various locations in the Farnworth area. In 1911, at age 45 her husband lost his job as a coal miner and the family emigrated to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in the Blackstone Valley where the U.S.’s first cotton mill was built.

Call for stories of childhood games

I’m working on a zine (or maybe a small book) of people’s stories of games they made up as children. This can be a simple story or paragraph or two — or you can go into more detail.

Examples — in one vignette, I describe the rules of a game my sister and I would play that we called “Animal Wrestling”. In another, we get a true confession of what 4 year old me was pretending while in a bubble bath (alien planet; dome cities).

Email me your stories of home-brewed games – whether played solely in your imagination or with siblings/friends!

Jenifa taught me

While researching my family tree I have come across some interesting characters. From just a few records over the years, I try to construct a picture of someone’s life two hundred years ago. I look up the siblings, look up the neighbors, speculate, write emails to random 4th cousins, and bring it all together with solid sources.

My grandmother Esther’s parents emigrated as teenagers with their parents and siblings around 1911, all from a very specific area of Lancashire. I’ve done some work researching each branch of her family.

Here’s a chart that shows an overview of the people I’m going to write about in my next few posts.

tree showing esther's parents and grandparents

Here’s as much as I can tell about Jenny Cumpsty, one of my 4th great-grandmothers, and her daughter Jennet, tracing them and their descendents down to people in living memory. They’re the great-grandmother & grandmother of Caroline Crane from the chart above.

From studying Jenny’s family a bit further back and further onwards, it’s clear she was right on the cusp of the family’s transition from a life of agricultural labor, out in the sticks, to one of industrial work centered around growing urban areas.

For many generations, this branch of the family lived in The Fylde – an area just north of Preston, east of Blackpool, and west of Garstang – This is north of what is now Greater Manchester, south of Morecambe Bay. The land is mostly a peat bog, a lot of it below sea level.

old map of the fylde

relief map of The Fylde

Most of this branch of family were from Pilling and Stalmine. There was not even a road to Pilling until 1806. Just to set the scene, let’s read a bit about the famous Bog Burst of 1745 and the general feeling of this area of The Fylde, north of the Wyre River — Cockerham Moss.

The Pilling Moss Bog Burst of 1745 involved the eruption of the raised mire now known as Rawcliffe Moss, following a period of exceptional rain, but was probably also due to human activity, both from long-term peat-digging and also because of more recent land drainage and improvement for agriculture. More than 40 hectares of farmland were inundated, in places covered in peat up to five metres deep. Property was damaged, but no casualties were reported. Enclosure and drainage after 1830 have ensured that nothing similar can happen again.

The mosses, mosslands or raised mires of lowland Lancashire have always been a noteworthy aspect of the local landscape, in the literature often carrying more than a hint of menace. Thus William Camden [in 1637] wrote of the presence in Lancashire of ‘certaine moist places and unwholsome called Mosses’
– from The Pilling Moss Bog Burst of 1745, William D. Shannon, Contrebis 2018 v36.

Charles de Rance, a geologist, reported in the 1870s that a local proverb said, ‘Pilling Moss, like God’s grace, is boundless’. He adds, ‘this area is very thinly inhabited, and those who live in the area are, I am informed, often subject to idiotcy and rheumatism’.

The folk of Pilling, near Cockersand Abbey, had the legal right for many centuries to take stone from an outcropping in the sands just offshore, Wet Arse Scar; this right came into dispute in 1808.

Histories of the area north of the Wyre are mostly lists of the architectural features of its churches, and heraldry of the families who owned the land on which my ancestors were hapless peasants grubbing in the mud in their clogs and smocks.

Jenny was born in May 1804 in Mains in the parish of Kirkham to James, a husbandman, and his wife Sarah Kea (Key, or Kaye). (Perhaps a distant relative of John Kay who invented the flying shuttle!) Jenny was christened 17 Jun 1804 in the parish church at Poulton le Fylde (St. Chad’s).

Her father was born in Stalmine, and her mother in Hambleton. Mains, (or Maynes, or Means) Hall was a manor in Singleton which had been owned by the Hesketh family. It is in Kirkham parish, just west of Singleton and east of Poulton-le-Feeylde — right across the Wyre river from Hambleton. Jenny’s family may have been tenants on Hesketh land. Oats, barley, potatoes, and wheat were grown in this area; there were also dairy cows and sheep.

The following paragraph is from a history of a village a few miles south, on the Ribble River, describing farming families overlooking a busy road on the weekend. Though the area is not exactly correct — a more populated towns south of the Wyre — and there wasn’t a major road near Jenny’s family, I like the picture it draws of the farmers of the Fylde in their aprons and clogs.

Farming families used to stand en masse in their fields, adjoining the main road, getting their entertainment from the constant stream of traffic passing through the village at weekends, dressed in their hessian ‘Brats’ (sacking aprons) and clogs. The ‘grannies’ wore beautifully made cotton sun bonnets, intricately tucked, generally heliotrope colour and most becoming!

Another history of village life in The Fylde says,

The flat Fylde landscape was a desolate and remote area in early history and remained visited by few outsiders until the arrival of the railway. There are still vivid memories among the older inhabitants of collies sent north by rail from Welsh farms to start work on the Fylde and of calves wrapped in sacks with just their head protruding and bearing a forwarding address label.

The River Wyre, which dissects the Fylde, was a barrier between the communities of this small piece of coastal flatland but occasionally families did move across the river boundary.

During Mr Lee’s research he heard of a family who made every effort to ensure their children were safe during the hazardous journey across the tidal reaches of the River Wyre.

“They put their children into milk churns to make sure they were sufficiently immobilised to keep them safe and prevent them from falling overboard!” says Mr Lee.

Mains, Kirkham Parish

Back to our young family and Jenny’s birth in 1804 in Mains.

Jenny was the third of eight children. It seems likely she was named after her mother’s mother, Jennet Walker of Hambleton. Her name is sometimes listed as Jane, Jain, Jennet, or Jenny; surname Cumpsty, Compsty, or Compstive. In the image of her christening record below, you can find Jenny listed on the right, 5th entry down.

christening records, 1804

The British Census began in 1801, but all I have currently are birth, marriage, and death records for the early years of Jenny’s life. Still, we can construct something of a picture of her home life from her siblings’ births, and imagine her growing up as part of this large farming family.

In 1810, Jenny was 6 years old. Her older brother John was 11; her sister Alice was 8. Younger siblings were Richard, 4, and Peggy, the baby.

In 1816, Jenny was 12. John was 17, Alice, 14. Her younger siblings were Richard, 10; Peggy, 6; Sarah, 3; and James, the baby.


In 1820 Jenny was 16 years old. Her younger siblings were Richard, 14; Peggy, 10; Sarah, 7, James, 4, and Henry, the baby. The older children were born in Mains, while Henry was born in Hambleton.

It looks to me as if the family all moved to Hambleton between 1816 and 1820, perhaps to be near Jenny’s mother, Sarah Key’s, family. Enclosure was starting to affect more of The Fylde as landowners drained, fenced, and marled the peat bogs. But I don’t know why they left Mains. If I look look at which of their relatives were in Hambleton at that time, from birth, christening, marriage, and burial records, it may give clues, so I’ll try that later.

A little tidbit about Hambleton:

Dr. Charles Leigh of Singleton, writing about 1700, states that the River Wyre ‘affords us a pearl fishing, which are frequently found in large mussels, called by the inhabitants Hambleton Hookins, from their manner of taking them, which is done by plucking them from their skeers or beds with hooks.

detail map showing mains

In 1821 her oldest brother John married Nancy Green. They had a son, Richard, in 1823.

In 1824-1825, Peggy, James, and Henry died in Hambleton. Perhaps it was cholera. Whatever happened with the family that moved them across the Wyre to Hambleton, it may not have been a positive change, since within 5 years of their move, several of the younger children died. It must have been a grim time for 20 year old Jenny Cumpsty, spinster. And when she is called a spinster, it seems likely she literally was spinning by hand since the region was known for its textile production.


In June 1825, at age 25, Jenny married William Dobson of Stalmine, Moss Side. Stalmine was (and is) a small village on the Wyre river just north of Hambleton. The “moss side” was to the east of the village, away from the river and the port, and closer to the wild lands of the peat bog — here, the Pilling Moss. In the 1820s, enclosure and drainage of the Moss continued, which meant that more and more of the land & its resources that had been in common use by nearby villagers was now owned, managed, and rented as private property.

A local detail: “A curious wooden track of split oak trees laid on birchwood scrub, known as Kate’s Pad or the Dane’s Pad, crosses the moss. Pollen tests have established that it pre-dates Roman times. Farmers have dug up trees of 50 ft in length.”

stalmine map detail

Jenny and William’s marriage was in Kirkham parish (not sure exactly where). Grace Compstive was a witness, likely one of Jenny’s relatives. The other witness was William Fairclough. Neither Jenny nor William could write their names – same with their witnesses – you can see their names are all in the curate’s handwriting, with “X – his mark” or “X – her mark”.

Jenny and William had three children, John, James, and William. They lived in Stalmine Moss Side. I have not found any evidence of William’s profession.

In April 1835, Jenny’s husband William died. She was left widowed with an infant and two small children under age 6.

In October 1837, banns were read for Jenny’s marriage to John Charnley, a 40 year old lath cleaver — and widower — in Stalmine. However, John and Jenny did not marry. Jenny was born 9 months after the initial banns were read, and her sister Sarah 18 months later.

Four months after Sarah’s birth, in 1841, John Charnley married Nancy Wilson. What a cad!

Later in their lives, both Sarah and Jenny used William Dobson’s last name, like their older siblings.

Jenny Cumpsty was listed in the 1841 Census under her birth name, as a 35 year widow living in Hambleton with her 5 small children, John, James, William, Jennet, and Sarah. Jenny’s occupation is simply listed as “Pauper”.

Notice in the census record that she lived near to James Roskell and his family. And William Fairclough, who witnessed her first marriage, was another neighbor.

Out Rawcliffe

detail map rawcliffe

In 1850 Jenny married John Roskell, older brother of her neighbor James. John was a widower with children, a blacksmith in Out Rawcliffe. He also owned a small farm, and could write his name.

We can see Jenny in the 1851 Census, now married, living in Out Rawcliffe with her husband the blacksmith, her stepson Robart, 15 and an apprentice to his father; her new 5 month old baby John; her youngest daughter Sarah Dobson (really daughter of John Charnley and born out of wedlock.)

In 1851, Jenny’s older daughter Jennet Dobson, my 3rd great-grandmother, was 12, working as a house servant for a family in Nether Wyresdale. We’ll come back to Jennet, but for now let’s stick with her mother.

In 1861, Jenny and her husband John Roskell the blacksmith were now 60 and 57 years old, still lived in Out Rawcliffe. Sarah, Jenny’s daughter, still lived with them at age 20, along with her half brother John, age 10, still in school. Jenny’s mother Sarah Cumpsty, age 87, also lived with them.

Now it gets upsetting. In Feb. 1862, John Roskell was imprisoned in Preston for 9 months for “carnally knowing a girl above the age of 10 years and below the age of 12 years”. He died in 1862.

What did Jenny do to survive? What happened to Sarah, and to John Roskell junior, still a child?

(I looked – And John worked as an agricultural laborer on nearby farms until his marriage in 1877 – his daughter Elizabeth gone in 1881 to live with her uncle, Jenny Cumpsty’s son William Dobson – and I see John Roskell in the 1901 census back on a farm as an unmarried servant, a cattleman. Because of his father’s imprisonment and death, he didn’t have the chance to become a blacksmith like his older brothers did.)

Jenny’s mother Sarah Cumpsty died in 1864, age 90.

In 1868 Jenny married Sylvester Tomlinson in Garstang. Clearly, she could get it. She died shortly after, aged 64.

I see her as a tough survivor of tough times.


Back to Jenny’s daughter Jennet Dobson, my 3rd great-grandmother.

Jennet must have had a difficult childhood, as an illegitimate daughter of an impoverished widow in a small village. When her mother remarried in 1850, Jennet was 11 or 12, and she may have already been in service.

By 1851, at age 12, Jennet Dobson was in service for a farm family in Nether Wyresdale. That was probably a good thing, since her new stepdad John Roskell ended up convicted of being a child molester. The household where Jennet worked (Burn’s Farm) consisted of John Burn, 41, farmer of 104 acres; Ellenore Burn, 36; John Walker, 18, farm servant; Jane Dobson, 12, house servant; Ann Burn, 5, scholar; Jane Burn, 9 months. I picture them as a modestly well off small family with two young children, able to hire and support two extra workers in their household.

Ten years later, Jennet is working for what looks like a more wealthy family, the Heskeths of Upper Rawcliffe With Tarnacre, at Tarnacre Lane. That household was Thomas Hesketh, 74, “Farmer”; his son James, 33 and wife Emma, and their two young daughters. They had 4 servants, Jennet as the “house servant”, two 19 year old men and a 14 year old boy.

In 1863, Jennet married William Crane, a tailor, in Garstang. I’d like to see the parish record of that marriage to find out who stood up as witnesses for the young couple. That may give some clue to how they met.

10 years later, in the 1871 census, Jennet, 32, is listed as a tailoress, so likely worked with her husband. Caroline, 7, and John J., 5, are in school and they have a 1 year old sister Jane E. (I have seen her in some family trees as June Elizabeth). They lived in Barrow-on-Furness.

Caroline and John were born in Garstang, while Jane was born in Barrow-on-Furness. In 1871, the family had three lodgers, Richard (Houdan), 20, laborer; Isaac Ireland, 19; and John Eastham, 31.

Jennet died of smallpox later in 1871, leaving three children under 10.

This information about smallpox comes from my 4th cousin & fellow researcher Janette from Farnworth, who found it on Jennet’s death certificate. She also adds that William and Jennet moved to Barrow-in-Furness shortly after the railway was built across Morecambe Bay, enabling relatively easy transport. Thanks Janette!

I hope Jennet Dobson Crane had a happy life as a young wife, mother, and tailoress from 1863-1871, after her difficult youth. She got the hell out of the Moss lands of Over Wyre, a place that sounded entirely too Moist, even if now the little bits of it that remain are lovely nature preserves. Good work Jennet, rest in peace!

It is hard to picture what would then have happened to Jennet’s young children, including Caroline. Maybe they went to live with their grandfather or other relatives – a few years later she is living with her father’s sister. This crisis may have motivated changes that meant a year later William has moved to a bigger town (Farnworth) and is working as a brickmaker. He and his sons worked in coal mines and Caroline in the cotton mills around Farnworth and Darcy Lever. As I’ll trace in my next post, Caroline and family came to the U.S. to work in the cotton mills of Rhode Island.

There is a lot to say about the mid-1850s cotton mill industry in Lancashire, and the coal mines – I hope to go into some of those details!

Caroline was my grandmother’s grandmother and though she died before I was born, it’s interesting to trace these echoes of her past.

Here she is in 1942 with her son James Hutchinson, her granddaughter (my great-aunt Gladys), and a great-grandson. They came a long way from their ancestral lands of The Fylde!

caroline crane