In this blog we take a look at a little known Brimington initiative to help the children of First World War widows. We also briefly look at a largely forgotten, but once influential Brimington couple – the Tissingtons.
The 1921 census (if you can afford it)
Firstly, let’s get something off our chest!
After 100 years, the eagerly awaited 1921 census of England & Wales is now accessible online at findmypast.co.uk. Unfortunately, it is only available on a pay-per-view basis, charges being £3.50 for an image of a census form or £2.50 for a transcription.
There is a 10% discount on these prices for those who have a 12-month ‘Pro subscription’ to findmypast, but this still leaves the charges beyond the pocket of most individuals. A shame, we think, as it will effectively debar widespread local study of the 1921 census – unless you can afford it.
1.7 million more women than men
This is a shame, as the 1921 census includes much more information about individuals and families than in any previous census. At a statistical level, the census clearly highlights changes in society as a result of the first world war. Because of the number of men who had fallen, there were 1.7 million more women than men. The ratio of women to men was particularly marked in the 20 to 45 age group where the census reveals that there were 1,096 women for every 1,000 men. As might be expected, the war also had a profound effect on families: there were now730,000 children recorded without fathers (compared to 261,000 without a mother).
Help for the children of war widows – the Brimington Foster Fathers
These societal effects were of course well known a century ago, but the publication of the 1921 census has brought them back into public consciousness. Consequently, it is heartwarming to know that in Brimington, back in June 1919, a number of individuals came together to set up a society to help the children of war widows.
The society was known as Brimington Foster Fathers and the organising force behind it was Mrs Clara Tissington, supported by her husband Charles Ernest Tissington. Charles was chief electrical engineer at the Staveley Coal and Iron Company’s Devonshire works. Clara was one of the governors of the Brimington council schools. At the time the society was formed, the couple lived at Westwood Lodge on Ringwood Road. They were so well known in the village for their charitable work and involvement in village affairs, that the hill from their home down to Ringwood Lodge was for many years known as Tissington Hill. It’s believed that they occupied the bottom house, illustrated above.
Clara channeled her work for Brimington Foster Fathers through a committee that included all the Brimington school governors, with George Albert Eastwood, of Tapton Wagon Works and Brambling House, Hady, as president; three parish councillors, J T Holmes, J W Smith and H Jephson were vice-presidents and Brimington rector Rev. W A Dutton was treasurer. Clara herself was organiser and secretary.
The aim of the society was to take an interest in the welfare of the children of the war widows in the parish until they reached school leaving age – 14 years in those days. Visiting the homes of the children and seeing to their necessities took up a lot of Clara’s time, as did organizing fund-raising activities to finance the support of the children. As well as money raised through subscriptions, there were also one-off fundraising efforts, often of a very modest nature. For example, a bran tub organized by a child, Gladys Jones, raised just £1 and a ‘jam jar collection’ at the Central Girls’ School (Devonshire Street) generated £2 6s. 6d. Nevertheless, from inception in June 1919 to winding-up in December 1930, a total of £373 16s. was raised (equivalent to approximately £26,000 in today’s money).
Children who were eligible for support received grants of 10s. (50p) towards the cost of boots and the same amount to help buy a winter coat. They received a penny a week (when there were 240 pennies in one pound) and a birthday gift. There was also a tea given at Easter and one Christmas Mrs. C P Markham of Ringwood Hall laid on a treat for the children and their mothers.
For a number of years an annual summer treat was provided by Alderman Eastwood at Brambling House, to which the children were “taken by motor” – no doubt raising much excitement. Tea was provided for mothers and children and amusements were arranged.
In December 1920 there were 28 fatherless children participating in the scheme. The youngest was three years old, so at the winding up of Brimington Foster Fathers in December 1930, that child would have been 13, and perhaps the last remaining beneficiary. Access to the 1921 census would allow the 28 children to be identified, but perhaps it would be better were the beneficiaries to remain anonymous. It’s just good to know that the people of Brimington, led by Clara Tissington, helped them at their time of need.
Clara died in 1933. In her will she left money for the Tissington Almhouses charity, which comprised seven cottages in Lingard’s Yard. These were later compulsorily purchased and with the rest of the yard demolished to form the entrance to the Coal Industry Housing Association’s ‘Counties Estate’ (Devon Drive). The money from the cottages was invested and is still available for use today.
Clara’s husband retired from the Staveley company in 1927. He died in June 1935, having remarried shortly beforehand. By that time he was living at ‘Sunrae’ on High Street.