England Occupations Building Trades and Projects (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Buildings (cont.)

  • Thatchers
    Early roofing material was called thaec in Anglo-Saxon and the commonest were vegetable matter - straw, reed, heather, bracken (ferns), and turf (even seaweed was used on the island of Læsø in Denmark!) Thatch was the most widespread roofing material in Britain until the 17th century and even some larger buildings like churches were thatched. Even the compulsory coat of whitewash did not eliminate the risk of fire, however, and ordinances were enacted during the 17th and 18th centuries in various cities and towns prohibiting new roofs of thatch. So today the remaining thatch is located almost always in rural areas, and in the late 20th century made a comeback as the more affluent moved out into the countryside and could afford to re-roof in thatch. The work of the thatcher has been described by Fearn (Thatch and Thatching. Shire Publications, 1976), Maurin (The Thatcher. Family Tree Magazine. Vol 9 #3, page 4-5, 1993), Dixon (A Heritage of Anglian Crafts. Minimax Books, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, 1981), Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968 and All Made by Hand. John Baker, London, 1970), Bailey (The Industrial Heritage of Britain. Ebury Press/Book Club Associates, 1982), Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), and Staniforth (Straw and Straw Craftsmen. Shire Publications, 1981).
  • Tylers
    Tiles, wooden shingles and slates became the preferred roofing material in towns and also in parts of the countryside from the 17th century. At the same time it became popular to hang walls with tiles in south eastern England, followed by the use of glazed brick tiles (known as mathematical tiles) during the late Georgian period (early 1800s). The apprenticeships for the Tylers’ and Bricklayers’ Company from 1612-1644 and 1668-1800 have been indexed by Webb (London Apprentices Volume 2. Tylers’ and Bricklayers Company 1612-1644, 1668-1800. Society of Genealogists, 1996).

Other Building Projects

  • Hedges and Walls
    Hedges have been a part of the English landscape since at least Anglo-Saxon times and many ancient ones, recognized by their diversity of species, still exist. They were used not only to fence in livestock and as windbreaks, but as sources of wood, and habitat for wildlife (Hey). Most English hedges date from the period of parliamentary enclosure 1750-1850 (Manners, Hey). The considerable skills of the hedger, plasher or pleacher (one who prunes and intertwines branches to form stock-proof hedges) are outlined by Dixon (A Heritage of Anglian Crafts. Minimax Books, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, 1981), Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968 and All Made by Hand. John Baker, London, 1970), and Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974). In upland and especially northern areas of England, where climatic conditions did not permit the growth of good dense hedges, dry-stone walls constructed without the use of mortar were preferred. They had been used in villages for many centuries, but most such field walls resulted from the 18th and 19th century parliamentary enclosure of commons and wastes. The craft of dry-stone walling is explained in Garner (Dry Stone Walls. Shire Publications), Arnold (1968,1970), and Manners. Ditches for drainage often run parallel to hedges and walls, and these had to be maintained regularly along with the hedges and walls.
  • Canals, Bridges and Ponds
    The canal era was initiated by Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater who commissioned engineer James Brindley to construct a 67 km-long canal to carry coal from his mines at Worsley to Manchester, Lancashire. Bode (James Brindley [Canal Engineer]. Shire Publications) has written a well-illustrated biography of James Brindley (1716-1772) and his work. Further information on canals can be found in Bailey (The Industrial Heritage of Britain. Ebury Press/Book Club Associates, 1982) and in the Shire books on canal architecture and canals in Britain by Peter Smith.

England still has many mediaeval bridges that were built by local authorities such as boroughs or manors, by private individuals or by monasteries. They normally had an attached chapel, on the bank or the bridge itself, for the saying of a prayer for a safe journey and payment of a toll for repairs called pontage. Mediaeval bridges had pointed arches and were rarely more than 12-15 feet wide, hence most have been widened to accommodate increased traffic. Sometimes the original contracts or records of payments to the masons survive. Major bridges designated as county bridges became the responsibility of the Justices of the Peace during the 16th and 17th centuries and their records can be found in the Quarter Sessions. The smaller packhorse bridges needing repairs were also mentioned when local overseers of highways were delinquent in their duties. Records showing replacement of older wooden packhorse bridges with stone structures about 1650-1750 often survive with names of the masons. Hey (The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History. Oxford University Press, 1996) has a good section on older bridges.

The next phase in the late 18th and 19th centuries involved major engineering feats, and the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford (1757-1834) was the leading engineer (Pearce). He became famous for the construction of roads and harbours, and in particular several large bridges including the Menai Bridge linking Wales and Anglesey. Construction of ponds, whether so-called dew ponds (filled by rain not dew) on the chalk downs for watering sheep, or ornamental ponds in gardens, was carried out as described by Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974).

  • Roads
    There were Roman streets, Anglo-Saxon ways and lanes, and Scandinavian gates but the word road was rarely used before the late 17th century. During the next century it became more widespread through the building of military roads in Scotland and turnpike roads throughout Britain. The biggest improvement in technique was by Scottish engineer John Loudon McAdam (1736-1836) who invented the process of building roads with successive layers of decreasingly sized broken stone of nearly uniform size, each compacted before the next layer is laid. Tar is added to the top layers to form the smooth material we now know as tarmac. Chaloner (People and Industries. Frank Cass, London. FHL book 942 U3ch, 1963) has a chapter on McAdam’s contributions to road making.



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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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