The history of the Besfords

Thomas Besford (1833-1914)

Thomas Besford was born at Espley, Northumberland, in 1833. He was baptised at the parish church of St. Mary Magdalene, Mitford, on 21st April 1833.

Thomas was the seventh (and last) child of Robert Besford (1792-1844) and his wife Mary Besford (née Marshall).

The 1841 census recorded Thomas aged 8 and living with his parents and siblings at Cowpen, Blyth. His brothers William Besford (1823-1906) (17) and John Besford (1826-1914) (14) were working as coal miners. His sister Mary Besford (1822-1883) (19) was working as an agricultural labourer, as was his father Robert. His sister Ann Besford (1825-1896) (15) was working away from home as a servant at Earsdon West Forest Farm.

Ten years later, the 1851 census recorded Thomas as 17 years old and working as a coal miner (he would be a coal miner for the rest of his working life). He was living with his elder brother John Besford and John’s wife Margaret Besford (née Patterson) at Cowpen Square, Blyth. Also sharing the house were Thomas’s brother George Besford (1831-1908) (20), his sister Ann Besford (25) and Ann’s two sons, Alexander (8) and Robert (2).

Thomas married on 15th March 1856. His bride was Alice Charlton, the daughter of Thomas Charlton, a coal miner, and his wife Sarah. Thomas was 23 and Alice 20. They were married in the Chapelry of Horton. 

Five years later, the census of 1861 recorded Thomas and Alice living at Cowpen Square, Blyth, with no children in the household. 

The 1871 census tells us that Thomas and Alice were now living at Cowpen Row and that they now had a family: Sarah Jane Besford (8), William Besford (6), Mary Besford (4), and George Besford (1).

Thomas’s wife Alice very sadly died of smallpox on 1st September 1871, leaving Thomas with 4 young children. How he coped with this situation while having to work as a coal miner can only be a matter of speculation, but we know that his sister Ann Besford was living very nearby at Cowpen Square with four of her sons who were all working. Thomas’s nephew Alexander (Ann’s son) was also living at Cowpen Square with his wife Elizabeth and two young sons. Thomas’s elder brother John Besford was also living at Cowpen with his wife Margaret and son and daughter David and Margaret. Thomas may have had help from any or all of these family members.

On 1st September 1877 Thomas Besford married again at the age of 44. He married Isabella Oliver at St. Mary’s Church, Horton. Isabella was 31 and a widow. Thomas was still living at Cowpen Square at the time of his marriage and Isabella was living at Cowpen Quay.

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Horton, Northumberland
Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Horton, Northumberland

A little over three years later, the 1881 census recorded Thomas and Isabella living at 16 Cowpen Square.  In the household with them were Mary Besford (15), George R. Besford (11), William T. Besford (3), and John Besford (1). Mary and George were Thomas’s children by his first wife Alice. Willam T. and John were his sons by his second wife Isabella. 

The 1891 Census tells us that Thomas and Isabella had moved to South Broomhill, Northumberland. From the ages and places of birth stated for their children it is clear that they moved from Cowpen around 1885/6. The household was recorded as follows: Thomas Besford (58), coal miner, Isabella Besford (44), George R. Besford ( 21), coal miner, William T. Besford (13), coal miner, John Besford (11), David Besford (8), James Besford (5) and Alice Besford (1).

Thomas and Isabella’s son David sadly died in 1898 at the age of 15.

The census taken in 1901 recorded Thomas as 67 years old and still working as a coal miner, but with the additional detail that he was a hewer. His wife Isabella was now 54. They still had three of their children living with them: John Besford (21) and James Besford (15), both working as coal miners, and their daughter Alice Besford (11).

When the 1911 census was taken, Thomas Besford was 77 and had retired. His wife Isabella was 64. They were still living at South Broomhill. Their daughter Alice (21) was living with them, as were their son William Thomas Besford (33) and William Thomas’s son, Thomas Wilfred Besford (7). William Thomas was working as a coal miner (hewer). A 25 year old man named James Smith (a colliery labourer) was boarding with the family.

Thomas Besford died on 4th March 1914 at Cross Row, East Chevington. He was said to be 80 but must have been almost 81. Thomas’s son James Besford, who was living at Chevington Drift, registered his father’s death. 

The 1921 census records that Thomas’s widow Isabella Besford, now 74, was living with her daughter Alice, who was now married with three children. Alice was now Alice Smith, having married James Smith, the man who was boarding with her parents ten years earlier. James Smith was now a deputy overman at Broomhill Colliery.

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