“SAD LAXITY IN MORALS”
Recently, I passed through Fazeley Junction (twice), which is still a busy little place, despite the A5 by-passing in the early 1990s. Fazeley is essentially part of Tamworth, but is useful for boaters, boasting a Tesco Express, Chinese, Indian, and Bangladeshi restaurants and takeaways and a couple of pubs. There is also Tameside Nature Reserve, of which more another time (maybe). And it’s not so far to Asda, M&S, and other shops in the exemplar Thatcherite planning zone that is Ventura Retail Park.
Junction House is named on the map, and it is still there:
The Birmingham & Fazeley Canal was completed in 1789, under the direction of engineer John Smeaton. Like many engineers of the time, Smeaton worked on a range of projects, one of my favourites being the pier at St Ives, Cornwall.
Some more images from Fazeley Junction and surroundings.
The skyline is dominated by Fazeley Mill, also Grade II listed, formerly a textile mill, built in 1886.
I looked up the newspaper archive via Findmypast, and found this disturbing report of alleged assaults on a teenage girl.
Tamworth Herald 31 August 1872 p4 col4
COUNTY PETTY SESSIONS
Hannah Bird (13) charged Samuel Lowndes (16) with indecently assaulting her. Mr. E. Argyle defended. Both work at Mr. Tolson’s Mill, Fazeley, and the case disclosed a sad laxity in morals. It appeared from the evidence that the closets [toilets] at the mill for the men and women are separated by a wall, and the girls very often get perched on this wall, and watch the men, the complainant among the rest. On the morning of Tuesday last she alleges she was going to the closet and was met by Lowndes in the lobby who put his hands up her clothes, an act he had often done before, and she told her mother about it. — Maria Bird corroborated. — Mr. Argyle contended complainant was one of the most persistent “sightseers” on the wall, and Lowndes was in the mill at work at the time of the alleged offence. He called Caroline Thompson and Harriett Wood to prove this. — Two letters bearing on Lowndes’ excellent character were put in. — Being the first offence the bench said they would dismiss the case on payment of costs 9s. 9d.; but in future such cases would be severely dealt with.
The same complainant then charged Henry Platt with indecently assaulting her on Monday morning last, whilst at work in Mr. Tolson’s mill. This case was treated like the other and defendant was let off on paying 7s. 9d. costs.
Reading between the lines and based on some experience of factory and other workplace practices, even a hundred years later, some women endured what today would be considered serious assaults worthy of instant dismissal. This sort of casual treatment of, especially young, single women and girls, was probably a daily occurrence to which blind eyes were turned by management and ownership alike. Although things have moved on considerably in my lifetime, with a succession of equal rights legislation, it is still the case that there is alleged, and actual, discrimination on the basis of gender. As most will be aware the BBC is having to defend allegations on behalf of a large number of female employees.
A weaving family
I checked with Ancestry and found Hannah Bird in the 1871 census. At that time she lived on Mill Lane, Fazeley, with father William, a weaver, mother Maria (the one who corroborated), and was a winder, aged 11. Mother and two older sisters were also winders. Based on earlier research on my silk weaving ancestors – see Smooth as silk – a winder transferred thread from cocoons onto bobbins, which would be mounted on weaving machines. The livelihood of the whole family probably depended upon this one employer.
Note: Mill Lane runs south from the Watling Street (map above), though I suspect her home at that time is long gone.
In the 1871 census Samuel Lowndes is recorded at The Mount, which stood off Upper Gungate, Tamworth. He was 16 and a tape weaver. All of his family that were not at school were involved in either tape or elastic weaving.
Mr E Argyle
Kelly’s Directory, 1876, records under solicitors “Argyle E, 117 Gungate st, Tamworth”, just below “Argyle T & sons”, same address.
The 1871 census records, at Hawthorne Lodge, Upper Gungate, Tamworth, Edward Argyle, 59, with wife, four mainly grown up children and two domestic servants.
Upper Gungate still exists, but the whole area is very different now.
As it was in 1921:
In the 1871 census Mr Tolson was: William Tolson, 57, cotton manufacturer, born Wakefield, Yorkshire. He and his lived on Lichfield Street [Watling Street], Fazeley.
Nearby is an aqueduct over the River Tame as it glides northwards toward Tamworth and confluence with the River Anker.