In 1990 our daughter married and moved into a new David Wilson house on the outskirts of Rushden, a town we knew nothing about since both she and her new husband grew up in Essex. For 18 years the family has become involved in many activities in and around the town not knowing that in fact we had links with Rushden as early as 1900.
When I retired I became interested in family history and discovered that my ancestors were not from Surrey where my mother was born. In fact her father came from just north of where I now live and her mother was born in Cowley in Gloucestershire. It was while researching my grandmother Annie Collett’s family that our link with Rushden came to light.
Annie was born in 1881 the youngest of 7 children. Her eldest brother remained in Gloucestershire. Her eldest 2 sisters and remaining 2 brothers all moved to Cobham in Surrey where Annie later joined them, married and settled for the rest of her life. That left just one sister Emily Collett unaccounted for. I could find no marriage in Surrey or Gloucestershire. After a long search I finally discovered her wrongly indexed in the 1901 census working as a servant in Kidlington in Oxfordshire. Since her siblings had all married in Surrey I risked £7 to buy a marriage certificate for an Emily Collett who married in Oxfordshire in 1911. It was my Emily but this is where the surprises started. Emily had married in Kidlington Church a Joseph Thomas Tuffrey who gave his home address as Rushden, Northamptonshire and his occupation as bootmaker! But how did a servant in Kidlington meet a bootmaker from Rushden?
The answer was in the 1901 census where Joseph Thomas Tuffrey is listed living with his brother Herbert Jesse Tuffrey at 124 High Street South, Rushden. The brothers were shoemakers. Joseph’s place of birth was given as Kidlington in Oxfordshire – the village Emily was working in. The earlier censuses allowed me to find out more about the Tuffrey family. Joe and Herbert were 2 of 11 siblings. Emily’s friend and fellow servant also married one of the Tuffrey brothers but stayed in Oxfordshire. Another brother, Albert Henry, was a photographer in Rushden for a short time. Emily, like my daughter, moved as a young bride to set up home in Rushden after her marriage. By the time the 1918 electors’ list was published they were living at 3 Midland Road but by 1925 they had moved in with Herbert Jesse Tuffrey and his wife at 33 Station Road. The brothers parted company in the late 1920’s when the company hit financial difficulties and Joe moved to Wellingborough where my Great Aunt Emily died in 1933. Great Uncle Joe then brought his two young daughters back to Rushden and lived at Norview on Wellingborough Road looked after by Beatrice Washbrook - Joe & Herbert’s widowed sister. Great Uncle Joe earned his living mainly as a self-employed bootmaker from a shed at the back of the family home.
I recently traced Joe’s daughter Dot who is still alive aged 88. When she married in Rushden in 1940 she moved to Oxfordshire where she has lived ever since. From photographs she has, we could see that her parents’ marriage was quite a grand affair. Since Emily’s father was only a cowman I assume that the Tuffrey brothers were successful businessmen by 1911. Dot talked about her life in Rushden. She travelled by train to school in Wellingborough and used to walk and cycle around Wymington where my daughter now lives! She married at St Peters Church.
Herbert Jesse Tuffrey and his company
Spurred on I tried to find out more about Herbert Jesse Tuffrey and his company. Herbert married Fanny Hammond from Spalding in Kensington in 1900 but his banns were read out in Rushden St Mary’s Church. He therefore moved to Rushden between 1891 and 1900. In 1901 he was living at 124 High Road South but by 1910 he had moved to 73 High Street South.
He is listed in various trade directories and at times had quite elaborate adverts. His business and home address was 34 Station Road up until 1940 when his name last appears in directories. Until 1920 his company was given as Tuffrey Bespoke Bootmakers but after 1920 it became a limited company known as Tuffrey H J & Co with a registered address in Wentworth Road. In 1926 the company hit financial difficulties probably because, according to his grandson, Herbert was ‘not a very good businessman’. After a meeting of creditors in Leicester he agreed to pay them back over a period of time. The financial problems presumably built up slowly as the Quaker school that his son Edward (born 1906) attended gave him a bursary to finish his education. The firm’s financial difficulties were reported in the Rushden Echo dated 5th November 1926. This may well have been the time that brother Joseph moved to Wellingborough and severed his commercial links with his brother. The business seems to have revived again as adverts continued to appear in trade directories but no longer using the Wentworth Road address. Joe’s daughter remembers living in ‘rooms’ at Station Road before they moved to Wellingborough so from this I assume it was not just a small terraced house but sadly the building has been replaced by modern houses and I have failed to find out what was on the site before the new homes were built.
Advert from Phillipson's Diectory 1908
Herbert’s grandson still lives in Northamptonshire and told me that a family legend says Herbert was invited by John White to join him in business but refused because of his religious ‘principles’. He remained self-employed making hand made bespoke boots and shoes that were sent all over the world. He is reputed to have patented the first running spike and made specialist shoes for many sportsmen including golfers and boxers. His shoes were made to individual customer orders. In his adverts he claimed “Every pair guaranteed made to measure, special attention given to those suffering from corns bunions and in-growing toenails” He offered a measuring service in a 10 mile radius around Rushden. His prices ranged from 11/- to 24/6 post free (£41.09 to £91.51 in modern money according to the ‘Measuring Wealth’ website). One modern website offering hand made bespoke footwear has prices from £1450 so comparatively Tuffrey’s boots were a bargain.
Herbert was well known in the Rushden area as a Quaker and keen supporter of the Adult School which was also supported by other members of the family. Photographs of the Adult School choir when they won the championship are in Dot’s album. In 1934 Herbert’s son Edward married Agnes Finch in the Rushden Meeting House of the Society of Friends. In 1935 daughter Nora married John William Claridge son of another well-known boot manufacturer in the town. In 1940 Herbert and his wife left Rushden and retired to Penarth in Wales. Brother Joseph stayed in Rushden until he died in 1952 and his unmarried daughter Lily moved nearer to her sister Dot in Oxfordshire thus severing my direct family link with the town until 1990 when our daughter arrived. I wonder what Great Aunt Emily would think about her great great niece settling as a young bride in the same town where she had lived so happily? Perhaps she influenced our daughter’s search for her new home.