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My Family - by John Gray
My Family - by John Gray

          Part 1 of my story concentrates on my mother’s side of the family; Bates, Lawrence and Lucas. The information I have accrued is mainly from census, birth, marriage and death records from the 19th and early 20th century, together with archives and memories from current family members and friends. Members of the Rushden & District History Society have also been most helpful.

The Bates family had their roots in Rushden. A family named Battes is recorded in the 14th century and it is reasonable to assume that their descendents are the Bates’ (with one ‘T’) listed in various Rushden documents going back at least to the 16th century.

          Two hundred years ago, most of the members of the three lines of the family came from the neighbouring towns of Rushden and Higham Ferrers, together with a few foreigners from just over the border in Bedfordshire. The Lawrence and Lucas families were mainly Higham Folk and did not stray into Rushden until the industrialisation of the boot and shoe industry in the 19th century.

    In the early part of the 19th century, most of the men were employed on the land, as labourers, game keepers and the like but it was not long before the majority were employed in the boot and shoe industry, although some of the women were lace makers. Initially many were out-workers who had a workshop to the rear of their modest cottage or terraced homes. As the industry grew, factories grew up and home working grew less.

          As agricultural labourers, cordwainers (shoe makers), clickers, closers, machinists etc, most could be described as ‘Working Class’ (to use a ‘non-PC’ term). Existence must have been very hand to mouth, especially with the large families common at that time. One of the Bates families had no less than ten children. Childhood deaths were quite common; one Lawrence family lost three children. Children were also sent to work at a very early age. We have a record of one Bates boy working as a shoe closer in 1851 at 9 years of age.  

          One family may have found a radical way of making ends meet following the death of the breadwinner. When Charles Lucas died in 1850, he left a widow and six children. Two of the daughters, Ann and Jane, proceeded to produce no less than five illegitimate children. I may be doing them a disservice but I cannot help but think that ‘Ma’ Lucas and the girls found a way of supplementing the family income by offering ‘services’ to gentlemen in need! At least one of the daughters, Mary Ann, did the proper thing and married her man, who turned out to be Charles(1) Lawrence, uncle to Charles(2).

          By the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, family fortunes had begun to turn. George Lucas gave up his last and clicking knife to become a smallholder and trader. Several of the Lawrence family had started their own businesses, mainly in the boot and shoe industry, or went into partnership with others. Albert Bates, by virtue of being the ‘natural’ son of Charles(2) Lawrence, had a ‘leg-up’ in his father’s firm of Knight & Lawrence Ltd, eventually becoming a director. Joseph Bates turned his back on shoe making in the late 1800s and became a self-employed taxidermist, not a common trade. Of course, one member of the Bates family found fame and really made a name for himself!

By their enterprise, our ancestors gave my generation a head start, for as far as I am aware no members of the family could be described as living from “hand to mouth” during my lifetime.

An interesting fact came to light whilst researching my wife’s family. Until the mid 19th century a number of her ancestors were shoemakers in the north of England but later in the 1800s they were all in other occupations. This mirrors the situation in Northamptonshire. No doubt the Bates, Lawrence, and Lucas families, together with others from Northamptonshire, had put them out of business!

          The setting for this story is the remarkably unprepossessing Northamptonshire town of Rushden and its neighbour, Higham Ferrers. Rushden in particular is very much a product of Victorian industrialisation. Apart from an impressive Church, Rushden Hall, Birch Bros magnificent Art Deco bus station and a few gems of domestic vernacular architecture, it is largely Victorian red brick. Higham Ferrers is more fortunate in having much more history and several important historical buildings.

          In undertaking this research, one thing has surprised me, that is the immense sense of civic pride in the two towns, particularly when the casual observer would say that there was little to be proud about! In turn this has made me proud to have my roots in Rushden and Higham Ferrers.


I would like to thank the following for the assistance given to me in researching the above history of the Bates, Lawrence, & Lucas families. They are listed in no special order.

Daphne Bates, Denise Bates, Brian & Judith Wicks, Richard Bates, Jonathan Bates, Ann Bourgien, Peter & Margaret Knight, Mr & Mrs WC Knight, Dennis Lawrence, Catherine Lawrence, Betty Adcock, Anne Healy, Terry Bortz, Kay Collins, Mrs P Bird, Eric Fowell and the Northamptonshire County Record Office. If I have omitted someone, I apologise!         


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