Maythorn Mill & the Nottinghamshire SWARBROOKES

My Swarbrooke Ancestors

                                 Freds Story


                                                 SILK THROWSTER (1842-1906)

The town of Macclesfield is almost synonymous with silk, for the industry has dominated the town from the 17th century almost to the present day. The weaving of silk cloth on hand looms began in the 1750's in skylight weaver’s garrets and mills. Gradually the home weavers moved into the great burgeoning mills, where, in the 19th century power looms replaced hand looms. However, the best quality cloths continued to be hand woven.(l)

It was here in Fountain Street, Macclesfield that Frederick was born on the 16th of October 1842, the 3rd son of William Swarbrooke (Silk Throwster) and Sarah Wilkes (Silk Winder), and a brother to John 8, Charles 5 and Elizabeth aged 2. Life must have been hard for a family of 6 in the 1840's with the average wage for a semi skilled worker only 85p per week, (plus a boy working in the Silk Mill could add a further 7p per week) and commodities like Bacon were 5p per pound, Bread 3.5p per loaf, Milk 0.5p per pint, Sugar 1.5p per lb, and, as there was no gas or electricity, Heat and light were obtained from Coal at 86p per ton and Candles at 4.5p per Ib. Income Tax was on average 2 l/2p in the pound. (2)


Fredericks father William (1804-1878) a Silkman by trade probably followed his father Samuel (1767-1834) a cotton twister, into the Cotton Mills of Cheshire where production changed from cotton to Silk in the 1780's, while his Uncle John (1792-1817) in his will of 1810 left Tools, Stock and Equipment associated with a Silk Throwster at Soho Mill in Macclesfield to his widow and daughter.

The next 10 years saw a lot of changes to Fredericks family with the death of his mother Sarah (aged 34) and brother Charles (aged 11) in 1848, and, in 1850 his fathers second marriage to Margaret Wylie (1827-1894) in Glasgow, Scotland, produced James, born 1852 (Paisley, Scotland), Sarah Jane, born 1857 (Southwell, Notts) and George, born 1860 (Derby)....indicating that the family travelled extensively looking for work in the principal textile Mills.


During this time Fredericks eldest brother John married Ann Eley at St. Alkmund in Derby (16th April 1854)) and his sister Elizabeth (Silk Winder) married George Musson (Gardener) in Southwell Minster on the 26th February 1860 in what must have been a grand double wedding with Georges sister Rebecca and George Walker.....little did Elizabeth realize that her new husband would become part of agricultural history.

According to the 1851 census of Paisley in Scotland all the children were with William and his new wife Margaret, and they were all back with the rest of the family at Maythorn in Nottinghamshire in 1857 when Sara Jane Rankin was born, and, after George was born in 1860 at Derby, William with his new wife and their children moved to Leek in Staffordshire leaving Frederick and his sister Elizabeth working in Maythorn Mill, Southwell as Silk Throwsters.(4)

As this tiny Nottinghamshire village was to become the centre of family life for the Swarbrookes for the next 45 years, it is worth spending some time looking at the "makeup" of this little community.


MAYTHORN.... a very old name identifiable in Saxon characters of the 10th century as being the "more northerly thorn" or Merethon, is a part of Southwell situated alongside the River Greet on the northern edge of the parish, where in the late 18th century a Water driven COTTON MILL was established by Thomas Gaunt and Co. producing cotton thread used in the stocking trade.

By the early 19th Century ownership of the mill had changed to "Johnson & Co" and production had changed to Silk Thread, whilst the motive power supplied from the river through a mill pond and sluices was said to be about 16 Horse Power which operated 2200 spindles. The Factory returns of 1838 listed 70 employees at the mill who either lived on site in a row of 3 storey cottages, with their own chapel and general store under the charge of a manager, or, in nearby Southwell.

The workforce was mainly composed of women who were required to spin silk on to bobbins and then wind it into hanks before it was washed and pressed and sent to Nottingham for use in the Hosiery and Allied trades.

Silk Winding was not the only industry at Maythorn as OSIER beds provided willow used for basket making, and HOPS, known as "North Clay Hops" with a stronger taste and twice as much flavour as Kentish Hops were also grown until 1866.... (Total of 5 acres in 1864)  Whilst the women and children (as young as 10 yrs) worked in the mill, the menfolk apparently farmed the adjoining land, brewed the beer, and even kept ducks on the 5 acre millpond."


May 1863 saw a visit to Southwell from a Waxwork Exhibition resulting in many absentee's at the local schools as noted in The Southwell National Schools Log Book (a kind of official diary as kept by the Headteacher), whilst on Saturday May 15th 1863, Hannah Cook (Mill Hand) and daughter of William Cook (Labourer) of Kedleston Street Derby, married Frederick Swarbrooke at Derby St Alkmund in the presence of George and Elizabeth Musson. It is interesting to note that whilst the Bride and the Best man signed the Wedding Certificate, The Groom and Matron of Honour (Frederick and Elizabeth) both made their mark., maybe the constant travelling had affected their schooling.

The beginning of 1865 saw the hurried enactment of a New Poor Law Bill to improve conditions in workhouses and a General Election increased the overall majority of Liberals from 46 to 82 in Parliament under the Leadership of Palmerston, whose death in office on Oct 18th saw Lord John Russell become Prime Minister, (5) whilst, at Maythorn Mill a first son named William was born to Frederick and Hannah and baptized in Southwell Minster on the 4th June 1865, quickly followed in Aug 1866 by John Robert, and their first daughter Sarah Ann in Feb 1868. (Both again baptized in Southwell Minster). Aug 21st 1867 saw Parliament introduce the "Workshop Hours Act " to protect women and young children in Factory's and Mills.


Employees living and working within the confines of the mill became very close, and numerous marriages took place, (usually at Southwell Minster), between the workforce, and Frederick witnessed at least 2 of these in Aug 1868 and Jul 1870 by signing his own name instead of making a mark. (6) probably taught by his new wife.  1869 saw the birth and death of a male child to Frederick and Hannah before Eliza was born in Jan 1871, Betsy in Sept 1875 and Lucy in Aug 1878, all being baptized in Southwell Minster.   Aug 7th 1971 was the First Bank Holiday, resulting from recent enactment of John Lubbocks Bank Holiday Bill, giving three leisure breaks between Spring and Autumn each year and one wonders how the workforce at the Mill spent their new found leisure time. Maybe they visited nearby Southwell Race Course (a short walk) and wagered some of their pay on the Horses or attended the small weekly Market (Friday) in Southwell which was not only a place of trade and gossip but was also the place where petty criminals were flogged in public. They were stripped and flogged "until their backs be bloody". Pregnant women were spared the ordeal until six weeks after the birth of the child!.... The House of Correction (a prison for the county at large) was also in the Burgage part of the Town and could hold up to 148 inmates.


Or perhaps they took a ride on the Midland Railway; Southwell Station opened in 1847 but traffic did not reach expectations and in less than a year horse traction replaced steam and soon operations ceased completely between 1849-1852 and 1853-1860. Regular Passenger Services resumed in 1860 between Nottingham, and Newark. (Single Track) and in 1865 an Act of Parliament authorised the Midland to build a 12 1/2 mile extension from Southwell to Mansfield plus the rebuilding of Southwell Station at a total cost of £500,000 inclusive of compulsory land purchase, and on the 5th April 1871 it was officially opened to traffic, or, maybe they saved up and visited the annual fair for Horses, Cattle and Sheep held on Whit Monday each year.

It was on Saturday December 5th 1874 that Mr Bradwell, Manager of the Southwell Bank together with his wife and daughter set out by train from Southwell to travel to Nottingham supposedly on bank business. At Rolleston Junction passengers had to leave the Southwell train and cross the line to reach the platform used by the Nottingham bound train. Mr Bradwell who was 74 years old, went on ahead of his wife and daughter and began to cross the line, where in spite of warnings shouted from the platform he seemed not to notice the approaching train which knocked him down, severed his right leg and arm and caused other injuries, with the result that although he was rushed to Newark for treatment he died at Newark Station shortly after arriving there.


The shock of losing such a prominent and well liked citizen in such a tragic manner was followed by an even greater one the following Saturday when a London accountant arrived with instructions from Lubbocks to look into the Banks affairs.  Monday morning the 14th December saw the fixing of a notice on the Banks doors saying that business was suspended following his findings and business was never resumed as the bank was found to be heavily in debt. At a meeting of creditors on Friday 29th January the London Accountant said that he had found the Banks affairs in a chaotic condition, some accounts had not been properly kept for upwards of 20 years, and the bank had made no profit for 7 years. Altogether the bank owed £96,000 and the final payment to creditors seems to have been 25p in the pound.

Whilst nearby Southwell was suffering because of the collapse of its main bank, all was not well in the Swarbrooke household at Maythorn as Frederick and Hannah lost John Robert in Feb 1875 aged 8 years, Fredericks father William died in Leek, Staffordshire in 1878 aged 73 years, his stepmother Margaret was now in a Lunatic Asylum in Stafford where she died in 1894, and little Betsy aged 4 years died in August 1881. Both John Robert and Betsy are buried in Southwell Minster.

During the past 30 years the cost of living had risen slightly but was now dropping again as Silk Workers now earned between 65p - 85p per week, Bacon was 5p per pound but soon fell to 3 l/2p per pound, bread 3p per loaf and dropping (2p in 1891), Milk 3/4p (l/2p in 1891), Sugar was constant at 3/4p per pound for some 20 years, and coal was now £1.05 per ton, Income Tax was 3p in the pound.

The Southwell Gas Company was established in 1852 by a company of shareholders in shares of £10 each, the capital being £2,480.00; and the town and shops were well lighted says the White and Co, directory of 1864 with gas being 22p per 1000 cu.ft. (approx 4 l/2p per therm) and the Gas Works survived until the coming of North Sea Gas.

Bicycles were starting to appear on the streets of Southwell with a Penny Farthing costing anything from £8 up to £12 depending whether you wanted one with gears or not, and with the slump in agriculture from the mid 1870's examples of flexibility in employment included some interesting combinations. The 1881 Census records John Henry Schumach of Eastgate (Southwell) as a Naturalist, Taxidermist and Deputy Registrar of Births and Deaths, William Mountney was listed as a Tailor and Income Tax and Gas Rate Collector, and J.H.Dodd was a Beer Retailer and House Painter.

July 22nd 1883 was a very important day for Frederick and Hannah as they watched their first born William marry Sarah Ann Smith (Domestic Servant), daughter of Thomas Smith (Labourer) of Farnsfield, at Farnsfield Parish Church; the only sour point being that Sara Ann was 6 months pregnant.

The marriage certificate was witnessed by John Hopkinson, a workmate at the mill with William and Frederick, and Jane Tomlinson best friend of Sarah Ann who all signed their names. William, like his father before him only made a mark on his marriage certificate whilst his wife signed her name; Why had he not learnt to write his name ?, as both his mother and father could by now write, and, although he was listed on the 1881 Census as a Silk Winder in the Maythorn Mill at the age of 15 years; due to the 1870 Education Act enough school places had become available for everyone to have a basic or elementary education as there were 2 Church of England, 1 Wesleyan and 2 Private schools in Southwell.

Family and friends once again congregated at Southwell Minster on the 27th November 1883 to witness the christening of Betsy, daughter of William and Sarah Anne and First Grandchild of Frederick and Hannah, who was quickly followed in 1885 by Mary Elizabeth and Samuel in 1888; all baptisms being in the Minster.

1885 also saw the Liberals returned to power in the November General Election with 335 seats; Conservatives taking 249 and the Irish Party 86; Salisbury remained Prime Minister but dependant on the Irish Vote which he lost in January 1886 and duly resigned leaving Gladstone to form his 3rd Government.

Eliza the second eldest daughter of Frederick and Hannah was by now courting a young man from Leeds by the name of John Rickett, a builder by trade as was his father David, and plans were being made for their forthcoming marriage at the Minster on the 7th April 1980 witnessed by Frederick and new sister in law Sarah Ann. Eliza and John quickly made Frederick and Hannah the proud Grand Parents of Ruth in 1891, Fred 1892, Isabella 1896 and Arthur in 1898, and, although they had left Maythorn in 1891 for a new home in nearby West Bridgeford, taking younger sister Lucy aged 12 years with them, they returned to Southwell and the Minster to have all the children baptized.


William and Sara Ann had also left Maythorne and were residing at nearby Kimberley in 1890 when Lucy was born and in 1892 when Robert entered the world only to die a few days later. Whether the shock of losing his second born son was the reason that William moved from Kimberley to The City of Nottingham and changed employment from Silk Spinner to Labourer is not known, but it also marked the start of a double life which I am sure Frederick and Hannah would not have approved of if they had known but perhaps they did know, as although further children were born to William and Sara Ann (John Henry 1898, Frederick Henry 1900,Florence 1905) they did not return to the Minster at Southwell to have them baptized, but chose to have it done in Nottingham City instead, nor did Williams eldest daughter Betsy marry at the Minster in 1901 or Mary Elizabeth when she married in 1904.

I am sure the whole family gathered at Southwell on the 6th October 1898 following the death of their Mother Hannah, Wife of 35 years to Frederick, Mother of 7 children and Grandmother of 12, who was interred in the grounds of the Minster with her 3 young children whose lives had been tragically cut short before they had really begun.

The next 8 years must have been a very lonely time for Frederick now that he had lost his wife, and all his children except the eldest daughter Sarah Anne had left home for pastures new, and even Lucy who had gone to live with Eliza at West Bridgeford had found someone to share her life with; and returned to Southwell Minster on the 8th July 1905 to marry Cecil William Peck (Groom - Norwood Stables) son of William Peck, the marriage being witnessed by Samuel William Swarbrook now aged 17 and Mabel Hopkinson.

The curtain finally came down on Maythorn Mill and Southwell Minster on the 31st of October 1906 when Frederick Swarbrooke aged 62 years was interred in the Grounds of the Minster thus once again joining his wife Hannah and 3 of their children. The name Swarbrooke was never again entered in the records of Southwell Minster after this date.


William, the eldest son of Frederick and Hannah continued to produce illegitimate children with Charlotte Emma Cartwright (Cigar Maker) divorced wife of George Breeze (Fireman- whom she had married in June 1892), before giving birth to William in 1904, Robert in 1906, and a second William Herbert in 1908 following the tragic accident of the first William in 1907. (Crushed under the wheels of a pony and trap) In 1908 when William Herbert was born, Charlotte Emma was living at 266 High Street, Ilkeston, whilst Sara Ann, Williams legal wife was in Mortimer Street. Nottingham



1).  The Silk Industry by Sarah Bush 1987.... Shire Publications No 194

2).  The What it cost the day before yesterday book by Harold Priestly. 1979...  Published by Kenneth Mason

3).  The Bramley Apple – See Seperate Story

4).  1861 Census for Southwell, Maythorne Mill, Ref RG 9/2470-55.

5).  The Chronology of British History by Alan & Veronica PALMER, Century Press.

6).  Parish Records of Southwell Minster,  Marriages 1868 - 1870.