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Thornhill Eras

© David Hallam - 2004


A History of the Thornhill Family in Beeston


The Early Days - The Thornhill family can be traced to several generations of that name, or variations of it - Thorningley, Thornalow, Thornalough, Thornell to name but a few - that lived in Chellaston, a village in south-east Derbyshire. The earliest we have traced is Edward Thorningley who was born about 1675.

John Thorningley, a grandson of Edward, and Sarah (nee Hansen) moved from Chellaston to Beeston around 1780; they had married in Chellaston in 1770 and brought the first five of their children for baptism there between 1771 and 1777. This was the beginning of an era of migration between the low lying farm lands of south-east Derbyshire and the Nottingham area - including Beeston - where the first stirings of industrialisation were beginning to show. A little later, this was to be a movement which embraced the great radical Non-Conformist religeous movements of the day and some of its leaders were to follow the same route - James Hudston of the Methodist New Connexion came to Beeston from Wilne and the family of the great Baptist radical, John Clifford arrived from Sawley.

But initially, John, a yeoman farmer, was at least nominally an Anglican - perhaps because the alternatives had not yet formally developed - and the majority of the later of John and Sarah's children can be found in the baptismal records of Beeston Parish Church. In all, they had at least eleven children, five of which outlived their father. Robert, their eighth child was born in Beeston on 25 April 1786. His mother died in 1801 when he was 15.

The Strict Baptists were formed in Beeston in 1804 and about a year later, in September 1805, Robert Thornhill, aged 19, applied for membership. This appears to have been the encouragement that others in the family needed - his father and brother Joseph applied in November and his brother Thomas also joined.Thomas married Isabella Hewitt and they set up home in Chilwell and their son Septimus was to be an early influance on John Clifford, as his Sunday School teacher. Later, their sister Sarah also joined following her second marriage in 1829. In doing so, the family became part of a radical Baptist element many of whose members were lacemakers living in the Villa Street area of Beeston.

The Beeston Baptist community lived to a strict moral code and moral discipline was strictly maintained through the regular meetings of its members. Its minutes record that both Robert and his brother Joseph fell short of the high standards demanded of them. In August 1806, these minutes record that Robert was expelled "for fornication", apparently with Ann Cox who he married a month later and, by doing so, appears to have redeemed himself with his peers as he was received back into communion by November that year. This marriage was to be shortlived, and Robert was widowed prior to 1812, but the couple appear to have had one son, William, born in 1809; it is possible that Ann died having him.

Alone again, Robert was soon in trouble with the Chapel. In November 1812 he was expelled for "irregularity of conduct" - probably because of unacceptable behaviour with Ann's sister Catherine who, only 18, was quite possibly keeping house for Robert and his infant son. Again, the couple wasted no time in attempting to formalise the relationship. After apparently being refused a marriage ceremony at Beeston, probably because the Law and the Prayer Book then prohibited marriage to a wife's sister - the register entry remains unsigned - the couple seem to have soon found a more sympathetic and flexible incumbant - or one without knowledge of the facts - at nearby Greasley where their marriage ceremony took place in December 1812. Again, the marriage was to be shortlived with Catherine having died, apparently with no surviving children, prior to Robert's third marriage in February 1814, this time to Elizabeth Kerry (nee Cockayne), widow of the baptist John Kerry. Together, they were to have nine children.

Robert's father John's death around the end of 1811, came early in this turmoil in the son's life and could not have but increased his problems. John left no real estate but did leave 20 to each of his surviving children - no small amount at the time - and the remainder, except for his household effects, to his eldest son John. The household items he left to Robert - quite likely because he and his family were living under the same roof.

Robert described himself as a lace manufacturer - a term that implies a degree of entrepreneural content and the ownership of machines rather than making lace for an employer - and was therefore amongst the first generation of Nottingham area lace makers. By 1821 he appears to have moved to Sneinton, a suburb on the south-east fringe of the centre of Nottingham, which was then opening up to accomodate over-spill from overcrowded Nottingham. Robert and his family lived there until they returned to Beeston around 1826 and by 1829 he was recorded as operating three lace machines at Beeston when he signed the Restriction of Hours Deed, an attempt to limit the over-supply of product which was threatening the viability of the industry. During the time in Sneinton, in 1822, he apprenticed his son William to Mark Newton a tailor, operating in Mount Street, Nottingham. It seems that the completion of this apprenticeship coincided with the move back to Beeston because it was at that time that William's own tailoring business was set up on the High Road - then the Turnpike - just to the east of its junction with Villa Street - a site now occupied by MacDonalds. At the rear, this property joined with Robert's lacemaking workshop which ran through onto Villa Street.

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