The history of the Besfords

Agnes Jane Hewit (later Besford) (1890-1958)

Photo of Agnes Besford

Agnes Jane Hewit was born on 20th February 1890 at 2 Middle Steads, Widdrington, Northumberland. Her parents were Alexander Hewit (24) a coal miner, and Dorothy Jane Hewit (née Ferrow) (27).

The census for 1891 records the family at 2 Middle Steads, Widdrington. Nicholas Hewit, a 53-year-old widower and coal miner, is shown as the head of the household. He was known as Uncle Nichol, being Alexander’s uncle and Agnes’s great-uncle. Agnes’s brother Thomas (known as Tom) was 5 years old at this point. Tom would later become a headmaster at Newbiggin. 

The 1901 census records the family at 11 Middle Steads, Widdrington. Agnes was now aged 11. Her father Alexander Hewit was working as a hewer, while her Great-Uncle Nichol was working as a Shifter.

Portrait of Agnes aged 17 in 1907
Portrait of Agnes aged 17 in 1907

The 1911 census shows the family living at 82 Mersey Terrace, Seaton Hirst, Ashington. (Mersey Terrace was subsequently merged with Milburn Road.) Agnes was now aged 21. Her brother Tom had married in 1909 and was now no longer part of the household. Her great-uncle Nichol had retired, and her father Alexander (now 45) was still working as a hewer. 

Photo of Nicholas Hewit, Agnes's great-uncle Nichol
Photo of Nicholas Hewit, Agnes’s great-uncle Nichol

By September 1914 the family’s address was 166 Milburn Road, Ashington, the same road on which David and Mary Besford were living with their family at number 72. This is presumably how Jack Besford and Agnes Hewit met each other. They married on 9th September 1914. 

Jack and Agnes had two children, Dorothy Jane (Dora) Besford (named after Agnes’s mother) and David Besford (named after Jack’s father). 

Agnes Besford (centre) with, left to right, Jane Hewit (her grandmother), Dora Besford (her daughter), and Dorothy Jane Hewit (née Ferrow), her mother.
Agnes Besford (centre) with, left to right, Jane Hewit (her grandmother), Dora Besford (her daughter), and Dorothy Jane Hewit (née Ferrow), her mother.

Agnes was a great support to Jack in his working life as a coal miner and in his trade union and political activities which involved him in many meetings over and above his working hours. Agnes had to “hold the fort” in his absence and carry out all the necessary domestic duties. Jack’s son and daughter, David and Dora, both remembered how difficult it often was to wake Jack up for work following late meetings he had attended the previous night.

Agnes Besford (far right) with her husband Jack on the platform at the Northumberland Miners’ Picnic in 1956.
At the microphone is Ernest Jones, NUM President. Other central figures are (left to right) Bob Main, Secretary of the Northumberland Miners’ Association, Aneurin Bevan MP, Tom Holliday, President, Northumberland Miners’ Association, and Bessie Braddock MP.
NRO 8049-016 Reproduced by permission of Northumberland Archives.

Jack retired in 1956, but Agnes Besford sadly died just two years later aged 68 on 1st October 1958 at 550 West Road, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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