Some occupations in
our family history occur regularly, and some not so often. And
one of these is "mole catcher". While William Martin generally
described himself as a farm labourer, on at least one occasion he
was more precise, saying his work was catching (and presumably
killing) the moles which interfered with the crops.
William, our Helen
Davidson's maternal grandfather, lived and worked in Sussex in
southern England in the 19th century, and as such, his working life
and family life were totally intertwined. He and his family
moved from farm to farm around the village of Ashurst Wood, a short
distance from the main town of East Grinstead, living and
working on the farms. In total, William and Sarah had 10
children, all of them born on whatever farm he was working on at the
time of the births. His work descriptions varied from the
generic "farm labourer" to "carter" and most originally in one
instance "mole catcher".
catchers at work in a 19the century painting by James Lewis Walters,
held in the Carmarthenshire County Museum
Weald website says it's a " medieval landscape of wooded, rolling hills
studded with sandstone outcrops; small, irregular-shaped fields;
scattered farmsteads; and ancient routeways. The 1461km area
covers parts of Kent, Sussex and Surrey at the heart of South East
left: The location of the High Weald, in SE England, and above
right: the farms between East Grinstead and Ashurst Wood, where
William spent his life.
William was born in
1821, the first son of farm labourer Richard Martin and his wife
Hannah. Which farm is uncertain, but wherever, it was near the
village of Ashurst Wood, some four kilometres from the regional centre
of East Grinstead. By his mid teens, William would have been out working
himself and in 1841 he was 20 years old and a servant at the farm
known as Luxford's (or Luckford's). On the UK Census of 1841, one
of William's co-workers was a 15 year old servant girl, Sarah Mitchell.
Eighteen months later, William and Sarah married at St Swithin's Church,
in East Grinstead (right).
One of the first farms they lived and worked at was Busses Farm, a
kilometre or two further away from East Grinstead, a little closer to
After 10 years of marriage, the young couple had four children, at least
three of them born at Busses Farm.
By the time of the 1861 Census, William and Sarah had moved on, to a
farm cottage at Shovelstrode Farm, some three kilometres away, and for
that census, William gave his work as a "carter", an occupation he was
to return to in later years, alternating it with farm work. Their next
move was to nearby Water Farm, before a final shift, by 1881, to
Homestall Farm, two kilometres north of Ashurst Wood.
By this time, Sarah's health was deteriorating, She suffered with
dropsy, a condition often caused by chronic heart disease, and her
unmarried daughter Mary was called on to nurse her mother in her
illness. She lingered on until October 1885, dying at home at the
cottage at Homestall Farm.
At the time of Sarah's death, William was aged 65, and still working on
the farm. In East Grinstead, he met Hannah Brown, a housemaid in
her mid thirties. Hannah had a young son, Bramwell, living with her.
After five years of widowerhood, William, then 70 years old, married
Hannah in the Zion Chapel in East Grinstead (right), and took
his new bride and her son back to Homestall Farm.
The marriage didn't last, but it did produce one child - a daughter,
Isabella Jane, known as Jennie.
By the turn of the 20th century,
Hannah, Jennie and Bramwell had all left Homestall Farm, with Hannah
going so far as to say she was a widow in 1901, when in fact, William
was still alive, even if only for another year.
He died in 1902 aged 80, of heart disease, at home in Homestall, under
the care of his daughter Emma.