The history of the Besfords

George Besford (1831-1908)

George Besford was born at Fenrother, Northumberland, and was baptised on 20th March 1831 at St. Cuthbert’s Parish Church, Hebron. He was the son of Robert Besford (1792-1844) and his wife Mary Besford (née Marshall).

By the time that George was two years old, in 1833, the family had moved to Espley, Northumberland. 

The 1841 census recorded George now aged 10 and living at Cowpen, Blyth, with his parents Robert and Mary. Robert was working as an agricultural labourer. George’s elder sister Mary (19) was also an agricultural labourer, but his brothers William (17) and John (13) were working as coal miners. His sister Jane (11) and brother Thomas (8) were not working. 

George’s father Robert died in 1844. Seven years later the 1851 census recorded George aged 20 and working as a coal miner. He was living at Cowpen Square, Blyth, with his elder brother John Besford (1826-1914) and his wife Margaret Besford (née Patterson) (1827-1914). Also in the household were George’s brother Thomas (17) and sister Ann (25), as well as Ann’s two sons, Alexander (8) and Robert (2). 

In 1855, at the age of 24, George Besford married Elizabeth Ramsey from Blyth.  Six years later (as per the 1861 census) George and Elizabeth were living at Hodgson’s Mills, Cowpen. George was still working as a coal miner. In late 1869, George and Elizabeth’s son George Robert Besford was born.

Hodgson’s Mills, source Mills Archive

The 1871 census recorded George as a coal miner, aged 40, and living with Elizabeth (35) and their son George at Crofton Mill, Blyth.

Boat racing

George was actively involved in boat racing. This was a sport which attracted large crowds and boasted prize money for successful competitors.  An article in the Illustrated Sporting News (29th July 1865) reported on the first Regatta on the River Blyth and recorded that George Besford was a member of the organising committee. Interestingly, one of the competitors in the regatta was George’s nephew Alexander Besford (23). Alexander was the son of George’s sister Ann Besford. 

A report in the Newcastle Journal (30th August 1869) records that George Besford was now the treasurer of the Blyth and Cowpen Regatta. The Regatta Committee organised and promoted races for yachts, skiffs, four-oared boats, and keel boats. George’s nephew Alexander was again a competitor.

A report on the 1870 Regatta (Newcastle Journal, 27th June 1870) noted that the organising Committee now included both George (as Commodore) and his nephew Alexander. Reports indicate that the regatta was a very important event in Blyth, attracting lots of spectators and boasting numerous competitors. One account notes that the Cowpen Colliery Band was there to perform during the proceedings.

Two further articles from the Morpeth Herald in 1874 show that George was still actively involved in boat racing in Blyth. The first of these (31st January 1874) reported on the one-mile Rowing Handicap Race at Blyth (in twelve-and-a-half feet keel boats and comprising heats and a final) and noted that George Besford officiated as referee. The second article (26th December 1874) featured a report on Boyd and Turnbull’s Handicap Rowing Race on the River Blyth, and named George Besford as the distance judge.

At the time of the 1881 census George and Elizabeth were living at Badger Row, Cowpen, Blyth. Their son George was now aged 12.

The 1891 census records George and Elizabeth at 8 Badger Row, Cowpen, now aged 60 and 55 respectively. George was still working as a coal miner. 

Ten years later the 1901 census shows George and Elizabeth still at 8 Badger Row. George was now aged 70 but was still working as a coal miner, specifically as a stoneman.


George died in 1908. It seems that he must have taken up bowling later in life. The Morpeth Herald dated 25th April 1908 reported, under the heading “Blyth Bowler Dead” that “There has just died at Cowpen Square a noted old bowler in the person of George Besford, who had reached the advanced age of 78. Besford will be remembered by the old followers of the pot-share as being in his heyday with such champions as George Emery, Robert Dodds and Ralph Bellamy”.

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