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Stuart Drabble, 2018

The Wright Family

of Rushden

Eli Wright 1859 – 1956

Eli was born in 1859 in the village of Dene (a.k.a. Dean, Deane or Deene) on the Bedfordshire - Huntingdonshire border, into a God-fearing family with nine children.  In his teens he moved to find work in Rushden, over the county boundary in Northamptonshire, eight miles distant.

In the 1881 census, 22 year-old Eli (unmarried) was living as a boarder at 2 Lewis Terrace, Rushden, with David Wright and his wife and young family.  Also in Lewis Terrace, at number 6, was William Wright, his wife and young family.  I haven’t checked, but David and William Wright may have been Eli’s brothers. Eli is shown as a ‘Shoe Rivetter’ on the census return.

Three years later, in October 1884, 25 year-old Eli married 19 year old Harriet Ann Burton (born Caldecott 1865) at Thrapston.  Harriet was illiterate at that time, signing her marriage certificate with a cross. Nine months later, on 22nd May 1885, their eldest child, Samuel Horace Wright was born at Chelveston.  Eli is shown on Horace’s birth certificate still as a ‘Shoe Rivetter’.

Eli and Harriet went on to have six children in total.  The others were Thomas Burton (Bert) (1887), Florence (1889), Lily (1891), Sidney (1895) and Ernest (1898) – see family group sheet attached.

In the 1891 census, Eli (32), was described as a ‘Shoe Sizer’, living at Harborough Park Road (no number given), Rushden, with wife Harriet (26) and their three eldest children, Horace (5), Bert (3) and Flo (1).

In the 1901 census, Eli (42) was described as a ‘Boot and Shoe Operator’, living at 28 Harbororough Road, Rushden, with wife Harriet (36) and all six of their children, Horace (15), Bert (13), Flo (11), Lily (9), Sidney (5) and Ernest (3).

Harborough Road was to remain the life- long residence for Eli and his family, although, some time prior to 1912, he either moved along the road to number 46 or the properties were re-numbered.  References from 1912 onwards place him at 46 Harborough Road.

All six children were baptised in the Rushden Baptist Church, which the entire family were to attend throughout their lives.  Eli’s name was first placed on the Members’ Index of the ‘Old Baptist Chapel’ (in a yard behind Little Street) on 23 April 1883, when he was 24 years old. That meeting Room was in use from 1723 until 1901, when it was replaced by the present church in Park Road, Rushden.  The Old Baptist Church was enlarged in 1796, 1868 and 1873, the last extension being the building of a new elevation and entrance from Little Street, which can be seen on the photos below:

Old Baptist Church After extensions  Baptist Church in Park Road
Old Baptist Church in Little Street
and after extensions
Baptist Church in Park Road built in 1901

H
Teachers & Officers 1910 - Eli Wright (back row, 2nd from right)
aving donated £5 towards the construction cost of £5,000, Eli’s name is on the list of subscribers for the new Church in Park Road. Eli was a Teacher at the Church for nearly 40 years. He can be seen in the 1910 photo (right) of Teachers and Officers, standing on the back row, second from the right.

Eli was joined by Horace at the church from an early age.  Horace kept a detailed diary in 1907 (the only one of his diaries to survive today), and this contains countless records of his attendance at the church or on church business, and of his various activities with the Sunday School where, by that year, he was the Leader of the Primary Helpers.


Primary Helpers - Leader Horace Wright (middle row 5th fr left)
But Eli had other interests as well, in addition to his career in the leather trade and his church.  In 1892 he joined the Co-operative Society, remaining a life member for 64 years and at one time serving on its Board of Management.

His other interest lay in providing himself with a supplementary income from owning and letting property. The 1910 National Valuation transcripts for Rushden have been digitised and can be seen on the Rushden Heritage website.  These show his situation at that time.

Eli is seen to have owned 18 cottages in addition to his house in Harborough Road, total annual (rateable) value of £169. The Valuation Returns also show that Horace owned a cottage in Harborough Road, annual value £8, which was occupied by Samuel Burton, possibly a relative of Horace’s wife (neé Burton). It is not known how and when Eli began this venture. I don’t think he came from a well-to-do family; his choice of trade and his illiterate wife suggest that was not the case.

Reports of Eli’s two dwellings in Park Road give an idea of his investment returns:  the two cottages in question were nos 107 and 109 Park Road, previously in the occupation of Mr Harry Evans and Mr Frederick Clayton, producing a gross rental of £27 6s. They were auctioned in October 1910 by Mr J.S. Mason, by order of the mortgagees.  They were withdrawn at £280, but sold after the auction to Eli Wright. (The Rushden Echo, 28th Oct. 1910, transcribed by Gill Hollis – from the Rushden Research website)

Having sufficient equity in his own property, perhaps Eli invested in what we would call today as a ‘Buy-to-let’ portfolio, paying mortgages with rental income.

Eli Wright’s Property Portfolio in Rushden - 1910

Location

Property

Owner

Occupied by

Annual Value
 (£-s/d)

Harborough Road

House

Eli Wright

Eli Wright

£10

Park Road

Cottage

Eli Wright

John Hudson

£8-15/-

Park Road

Cottage

Eli Wright

Griffith Child

£8-15/-

Park Road

Cottage

Eli Wright

Sidney Turner

£8-15/-

Park Road

Cottage

Eli Wright

Henry Clayton

£8-15/-

Park Road

Cottage

Eli Wright

William Brudnell

£9

Park Place

Cottage

Eli Wright

George Mitchell

£8

Park Place

Cottage

Eli Wright

Arthur Tew

£8

Park Place

Cottage

Eli Wright

John Alderman

£8

Park Place

Cottage

Eli Wright

Alfred Sayers

£8

Park Place

Cottage

Eli Wright

Thomas King

£8

Park Place

Cottage

Eli Wright

Quintus George

£8-15/-

Pytchley Road

Cottage

Eli Wright

William Cox

£8-15/-

Pytchley Road

Cottage

Eli Wright

Alfred Jones

£8-15/-

Pytchley Road

Cottage

Eli Wright

Charles Wiggins

£8-15/-

Roberts Street

Cottage

Eli Wright

George Bandey

£10

Roberts Street

Cottage

Eli Wright

Selina Norman

£10

Spencer Road

Cottage

Eli Wright

Alfred Dobbs

£10

Spencer Road

Cottage

Eli Wright

Charles Flanders

£10

In 1912 when Eli’s second son, Bert, was married, his occupation was given as a ‘Packer’ (presumably of shoes). Between 1912 and 1923, all six of his children married local girls and raised families of their own. I have no further record of Eli between then and 1936, when Harriet died, leaving Eli a widower for nearly 20 years.

Eli remained in the leather trade until the age of 77 years, moving eventually to live with his daughter Flo and her husband Frederick Robinson, for the last few years of his life. He died there on 1st March 1956, aged 97 years. He was by then the oldest member of the Co-operative Society and the oldest man in Rushden.  Four months before his death he was presented with a basket of groceries by the Directors of the Society.

Eli and Harriet are buried in Rushden cemetery (plot F33) with the following M.I., the first part composed by Eli and the second by Horace and Alice (son & daughter-in-law):

“in loving memory of Harriet, the beloved wife of Eli Wright, who fell asleep January 20th 1936, aged 71 years.  With the Moon the Angel face smile, which we have loved long since and lost awhile. Also her beloved husband Eli, who died March 1st 1956 aged 97 years. Reunited.”

At the time of Eli’s death, he had been blessed with six children, fifteen grand-children and two great-grand-children.  He was incredibly lively up to the end, going out alone and having an unimpaired memory. (Newspaper report, not yet dated)

Horace & Eli
Eli in bowler hat with Horace
Aged 97 - member of the Co-op
Here are two rather poor photos of Eli in his later years (Nesta’s collection): on the right is a photo of him, aged 97 years, receiving a basket of groceries from the Co-op in December 1955, a few months before his death. The presentation was made by Mr H. Bailey, president of the Rushden Co-operative Society, with Mr R. Griffiths, the Secretary of the Society and Mr H. Bradshaw (left), Branch Manager looking on.

On the left is a photo of Eli in his bowler hat with Horace, taken outside the back door of Horace’s house in Newton Road.  I estimate the year to be about 1939, shortly after Horace moved from Essex Road to Newton Road, after the closure of his Summit Footwear company in October 1938. On that basis, Eli would have been about 80 years old and Horace about 53 years old.


Family Group Sheet for Eli Wright
family sheet
I never knew Harriet, who died before I was born but I was 11 years old when Eli died. My father had married Horace’s eldest daughter, Nesta, in 1940 and spent the next ten years in the Army (Royal Engineers). Born in 1944, I spent several years living at Newton Road with my mother and grand-parents, while my father was absent, and I even attended the Newton Road Infants’ School for a term.  My recollection of Eli was that of an incredibly old, but alert and dignified gentleman, who shared, with Horace and the rest of his family, an intense faith in the Good Shepherd and the teachings of the Baptist church.

Note: The Rushden & District History Society have unearthed a lot of information about the Wright family and I acknowledge their work in this article, especially that of Kay Collins, the Research Co-ordinator of "Rushden Research". This article contains many items from the website.

Stuart Drabble
Dec. 2003, latest update March 2018



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