The history of the Besfords

David Besford (1863-1954)

David Besford was born on 11th September 1863 at Cowpen Colliery. He was the son of John and Margaret Besford.

David left school in 1875 and, at the age of 12, began working at Pegswood Colliery, Northumberland. His first job would almost certainly have been as a driver lad, using a pit pony to take full tubs of coal to the bottom of the pit shaft, then returning with the empty tubs.

The 1881 census shows David aged 18 living with his parents at Broomhill and working as a coal miner.

David Besford was a Methodist lay preacher and met his wife, Mary Turnbull, whilst preaching outdoors in the street.

A report in the Morpeth Herald on the occasion of a presentation to David Besford in 1947 for long service as a lay preacher reports as follows:

“In expressing his gratitude for the presentations, Mr. Besford said that his wife had first seen him over sixty years ago when he was preaching at the corner of the street. Laughingly he said that he had in fact also noticed the young lady who was passing by at the time.”

David Besford married Mary Turnbull on 10th December 1887 at the United Presbyterian Church in Warkworth. This would have been because Mary and her parents (George and Mary Turnbull) were Scottish, and the Church of Scotland is Presbyterian.

United Reform Church Warkworth, pictured in 2017
The United Presbyterian Church, Warkworth. Now the United Reform Church, and a Grade II-listed building.

David and Mary lived at 19 Church Street, Amble until sometime between January 1893 and July 1894, when they moved to Middleton Street, Amble.

They had a total of twelve children, eight of whom survived beyond childhood. Their third child (and first son) was John William Besford. John William, to be known throughout his life as Jack Besford, was born at 19 Church Street, Amble, on 20th November 1891.

By 1901 the family were living at 9 Leslie Row, Radcliffe. They were still there in 1909, but by the time of the 1911 Census, had moved to Ashington and were living at 116 Pont Street. At some time between 1911 and 1914 they moved to 72 Milburn Road, Ashington.

David Besford with Mary Besford (seated)
David Besford with Mary Besford (née Turnbull, seated), 1920s/early 1930s

David Besford preached at various Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist Chapels for most of his adult life, in addition to working as a coal miner. Listings of Methodist Preachers published in the Morpeth Herald between 1905 and 1908 (during David and Mary’s time at Radcliffe) give us some idea of what he was undertaking. Although a Wesleyan Methodist himself, David preached regularly at Primitive Methodist chapels as well. He preached twice on Sundays on many occasions, frequently at different chapels. Here are the records of some of his preaching commitments:

Sunday 19th March 1905Widdrington Primitive Methodist Chapel2:00pm and 5:30pm
Sunday 30th April 1905Chevington Drift Primitive Methodist Chapel5:30pm
Sunday 30th July 1905Chevington Drift Primitive Methodist Chapel5:30pm
Sunday 17th September 1905Amble Primitive Methodist Chapel2:00pm and 6:00pm
Sunday 13th October 1907Broomhill Wesleyan Methodist Chapel10:30am and 5:30pm
Sunday 8th March 1908Broomhill Wesleyan Methodist Chapel10:30am and 5:30pm
Sunday 19th April 1908Red Row Wesleyan Methodist Chapel10:40am and 5:30pm
Sunday 16th August 1908Red Row Wesleyan Methodist Chapel10:30am
Sunday 16th August 1908Radcliffe Wesleyan Methodist Chapel5:30pm

David was good at carpentry, making small items of furniture, and a dolls’ house for Dora Besford. He also grew flowers and vegetables on an allotment. It is clear that Mary Besford must have worked very hard domestically to keep house and look after the family, but this was of course the norm in this era.

Various records (birth certificates, marriage certificates, censuses) show that David was working as a hewer between 1901 and 1920. It is actually almost certain that he would have graduated from a putter to a hewer by the early 1880s.

Mary Besford and David Besford
Mary Besford (née Turnbull) and David Besford 1920s/early 1930s

From the 1921 Census we can see that David (aged 57) was working as a stoneman at Woodhorn Colliery. This was one of the hardest jobs in coal mining (and they were all hard!) as it entailed hacking out stone with a pick in order to expose coal strata. By late 1921, we have a record (Alexander Sanderson Besford‘s marriage certificate) indicating that David was now a shifter. This would have entailed repairing the roadways underground in the mine and keeping them free from obstructions. 

David retired from coal mining in 1931 at the age of 68.

We know from the 1939 Register (taken for the purpose of issuing Identity Cards in the Second World War), and from David’s death certificate, that he spent the later years of his employment at Woodhorn Colliery working as a filler and a timberman. This would have involved shovelling downed coal onto a conveyor belt and putting in place and removing pit props as necessary.

David Besford and Mary Besford (née Turnbull), pictured in 1947
Mary Besford (née Turnbull) and David Besford, pictured in 1947

Mary Besford died on 28th June 1951 at 33 Bothal Cottages, Ashington, at the age of 86.

David Besford died at the and of June 1954 at 67 Juliet Street, Ashington, at the age of 90.

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