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By Jan Wood, a decendant of William
William Sherwood, Master Bootmaker of Rushden

William Sherwood
William Sherwood
William SHERWOOD the oldest son of agricultural labourer Thomas SHERWOOD and his wife Hannah (nee WARREN), was baptised in Irthlingborough St Peter parish church on 7 January 1796. His parents moved from Irthlingborough to Rushden sometime between 1809 and 1813. William rose from this humble background to become a master bootmaker, and worked all of his life in Rushden. It is recorded that the famous boot manufacturer John CAVE of Rushden was once an apprentice of William SHERWOOD - though it is also recorded elsewhere that John CAVE’S master was William's brother Edmund. Perhaps William and Edmund worked together, as they were both bootmakers and also next-door neighbours in Little Street, Rushden. John’s brother Frederick CAVE is also known to have been a shoemaking apprentice for Edmund SHERWOOD in 1841, when he was in his teens.

William SHERWOOD is said to have made sailors’ boots and to have sold them in Southampton, and he probably did the same in nearby Portsmouth, where his sister and several of his children later lived.

William married three times. His first wife was Martha GROSS, the daughter of poulterer John GROSS and his wife Mary (nee FISHER); both were ardent Baptists from Rushden. William and Martha married in St Mary’s parish church at Rushden on 10 October 1816, after banns had been published on 15th, 22nd and 29th of September. Both bride and groom made their marks, and the witnesses were William’s sister Mary SHERWOOD, who made her mark, and Martha’s brother John GROSS, who signed his name.

The FISHER family, who were Martha GROSS’S maternal ancestors, were already members of Rushden Baptist Chapel in the 1760’s, and married into other prominent local Baptist families – notably the LINNETTS and the SERGEANTS. Although they didn’t baptise their children, Baptists did have to marry in the local parish church until he marriage law changed from July 1837. Thus the Rushden St. Mary's marriage register records that Mary FISHER had married John GROSS in 1790.

The old chapel 1990s side view frontage
The oldest part of the chapel in 1810
Side view of the extended chapel c1990s
The frontage when it was a nursery school

Martha SHERWOOD nee GROSS had been born in 1794 in Rushden, and died on 8 September 1834, aged 40 years. She was buried in the Old Baptist Meeting House burial ground in Little Street, Rushden, and later her husband and his second and third wives shared the same headstone. All of the gravestones were cleared away years ago, though there are a couple of photos which show the burial ground as it was. The only official source of records for Martha’s year of birth, age and date of death is the Rushden Baptist Chapel Meeting Book, which gives details of members’ deaths &c. Her age, date of death and burial were also recorded by a later descendant on the back of a photograph of her husband William SHERWOOD, taken when he was an old man in the 1870’s.

The burial ground
The burial ground

Martha GROSS had three sisters - Sarah, Mary and Elizabeth - and two brothers, Joseph and John, both of whom were eventually farmers. All of them remained Baptists. Her sister Sarah had married shoemaker Thomas CODGBROOK in 1812, and Mary who had married farmer Henry BAKER, kept a grocery shop in High Street, Rushden. Sister Elizabeth married Yelden-born shoemaker George CLARIDGE in 1823 in Rushden parish church, and was the mother of William CLARIDGE, whose shoemaking factory was established in Rushden in 1860.

Martha's brother Joseph GROSS spent his younger married life as a tallow manufacturer in Southwark, south of the River Thames in London, and later returned to farm at Church End in Wollaston before retiring to Rushden. Her younger brother John GROSS owned a farm in Rushden and in the 1860s he and his wife lived at Gross’ Lodge, which had formerly been known as Marshall’s farmhouse.

At least five or six children were born to William SHERWOOD, master bootmaker and boot manufacturer, and his first wife, Martha nee GROSS. They were not baptised as infants, and so the names of five of these children are only known because they were recorded on the back of a photograph taken of William SHERWOOD as an old man in the 1870’s.

When the census was taken in June 1841, William SHERWOOD, aged 45, was a shoemaker living in Little Street Rushden, with his children [Joseph] Gross and Edmund, as well as two other SHERWOOD relatives named Elizabeth, aged about 20, and Alfred, aged 9. Neither Elizabeth nor Alfred were named as children of William and Martha, on the back of the photograph of William SHERWOOD, so it is not clear who they were.

Soon after this, William SHERWOOD married lacemaker Mary BAYS, a spinster and the member of another well-known local Baptist family. Mary was the daughter of mason William BAYS and had been born in Irchester in about 1800. They were married at Rushden Old Baptist Meeting Chapel on June 24, 1841, by the Reverend Jonathan WHITTEMORE. Both William and Mary signed the register. Witnesses were William WHITTEMORE and Joseph BAYS, both of whom signed the register themselves.

William and his second wife Mary had a daughter Mary who was born in 1843. They also had a son, James SHERWOOD, who was born in October 1844, but who died in infancy in October 1845; he was buried in the Baptist Old Meeting Burial ground.

In 1851 when the census was taken, William SHERWOOD was aged 54, and was described as a shoemaster, employing 8 men. He was living in Little Street, Rushden with his wife Mary, aged 50, and their 8 year old daughter Mary, who was a scholar. They had a shoemaking apprentice named Joseph ADAMS, aged 18 and born in Northampton, living in with them. Mary SHERWOOD (nee BAYES) died on 23 December, 1852, at the age of 52, and was buried in the burial ground of the Rushden Old Baptist Meeting Chapel, with Martha SHERWOOD.

William married as his third wife, Mary EATON, another Baptist who had been born in 1810 in Hardingstone, Northamptonshire. They had no children of their own. In 1861, when the census was taken, William SHERWOOD, aged 64 and still working as a shoemaker, was living in Little Street, Rushden with his third wife Mary, aged 51, and his youngest daughter Mary, aged 17, who was working at home as a shoe-closer. By 1871, when the census was again taken, William SHERWOOD, then aged 74, had gone blind, and so had retired from shoemaking. He was living at no. 1 Little Street, Rushden, with his 61 year old wife Mary who was employed as a schoolmistress, and his daughter Mary, still unmarried at 28, and employed as a shoe machinist.

William’s daughter Mary married in 1872, and William died four years later - in his 80th year, on 10 April 1876. His death certificate confirms that he died at 79 years old of chronic bronchitis, and his niece Rebecca WEST (nee SHERWOOD) who lived nearby in Rushden, acted as informant, having been present at his death. He was buried with his first two wives in the Old Baptist Chapel graveyard. His widow Mary was still alive in April 1881 when the census was taken. She was aged 71, and was living alone in Little Street, Rushden, next door to William’s nephew Joseph SHERWOOD, and was supporting herself as a dressmaker. She died 6 years later on May 1st, 1887, aged 76, and was buried together with her husband and his first two wives, in the burial ground of the Rushden Old Baptist Meeting Chapel.

William’s oldest sister Mary had married a poor shoemaker named Eli COX and they had been removed to Odell, Bedfordshire by the Rushden parish overseers of the poor soon after their first child was born. They spent their lives in Odell, and their daughters married and settled in Olney and Lavendon, Buckinghamshire, in Carlton, Bedfordshire and Bozeat, Northamptonshire. His youngest sister Rebecca married shoemaker William GEORGE of Irchester, while his sister Hannah SHERWOOD remained a spinster and lived with her elderly parents in Rushden. Another sister named Eliza married William Henry DORE of Portsea, who left the Navy, became a grocer and eventually a wealthy property owner in Portsmouth.

His brother Edmund SHERWOOD lived in Little Street, Rushden, right next to the Baptist Old Meeting Chapel, all his life, and had four children. In 1911, long after Edmund had died, the only SHERWOODS left living in Rushden were Edmund’s son Joseph and his second wife and descendants. There may well have been other families descended from female SHERWOOD family members, but there were only 14 who still bore the surname, and as stated, they were all members of Joseph SHERWOOD’S family.

Most of William and Martha’s children moved away from Rushden when they grew up. Their daughter Selina SHERWOOD, born in about 1817, was employed as a servant at Guy’s Hospital in Southwark, London before marrying a baker and settling in Portsea, Hampshire. When her husband died, he left Selina at least three freehold properties in Portsea.

William and Martha’s son William SHERWOOD, born in Rushden in about 1821, also moved to Portsea and married there, before moving to Wolverhampton and opening a shoe-manufacturing business and shoe-shop. His son William George built this into a very prosperous business; from about 1875, he also started building rows of terraced houses to rent out to working people, and by 1898 he had become an Alderman on Wolverhampton Town Council.

Their next son John SHERWOOD, born in Rushden in 1824, spent a short time in the shoe trade in Portsea and London before going into partnership with his uncle Joseph GROSS in his oil and tallow business in Southwark. He had married Elizabeth SMITH from Rushden. After the partnership was dissolved in 1862, John continued alone. Paint-making was eventually introduced as a side-line and developed into a large part of the business. The company, later known as Gross, Sherwood and Heald, became very successful. John’s son John Sidney SHERWOOD who took over the paint and colour business, married Emily, the daughter of Rushden shoe manufacturer John CAVE in 1888.

William and Martha’s son Joseph Gross SHERWOOD, born in Rushden in 1826, also moved to Portsmouth, where he worked as a bootmaker and had a large family, while their son Edmund SHERWOOD, born in 1828, stayed in Northamptonshire, became a boot agent and draper in Wollaston and raised seven children. William Arthur Edmund SHERWOOD, born in 1893 in Wollaston, was one of Edmund’s grandsons. He became headmaster of South End schools in Rushden, in 1932.

William and Martha SHERWOOD also had a daughter named Martha after her mother, whose fate has not yet been discovered.

William’s youngest child Mary SHERWOOD married shoemaker Thomas BRIGHTWELL and lived all her life in Rushden until she died in 1932. She had several sons. Thomas and Mary were members of Rushden Baptist Church, as was their son, Sydney Corbett BRIGHTWELL. Sydney was employed as a commercial traveller in the boot and shoe trade, while his brother Ernest Arthur BRIGHTWELL became a schoolteacher.

1. Irthlingborough St Peter, register of baptisms (Northants Record Office)
2. 1841 census, Rushden, Northants.
3. Rushden St Mary parish – register of marriages [Northants Record Office]
4. Rushden St Mary parish – register of marriages [Northants Record Office]
5. Rushden Baptist Chapel Meeting Book [transcript information from original in Rushden Park Road Baptist Church]
6. 1851 census, Rushden , Northants (HO107/1743, sched. 111, fol. 280)
7. 1861 census, Rushden, Northants (RG9/952, fol. 47)
8. 1871 census, Rushden, Northants
9. Death certificate, 1876 (GRO)

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