Global Battcock Family Tree

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Frank Battcock (1823-1913), steam and farming in the Fens

Frank Battcock was born in 1823 in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, London where his father Thomas was a corn and coal merchant.  He was the youngest of five brothers.  Two of his older brothers, Thomas and Frederick, took over the family business. 

In the 1850s he moved to Cookham where he met Ann Sharp.  Ann Sharp was born in Remenham in 1823.  Her parents were rich farmers.  Frank and Ann were married in 1854 at St Mary’s Church, Hurley.  They were both 31 when they married which was not unusual in the 19th century. They moved soon afterwards to Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire where Frank farmed. 

Hemingford Abbots was then a small village with about 500 people in Huntingdonshire. The parish and village was south of the River Ouse. Near the river, the meadows often flooded.  It was rich farmland and the farms grew wheat, barley, oats and beans.  The nearby village of Hemingford Grey was famous across England for its enormous gooseberries.

It is not clear how much land Frank farmed when he first moved to Huntingdonshire but by 1880 he was a very prosperous farmer farming 1,000 acres including Battcock’s Island.  He employed 26 men 15 boys and 2 women. 

Frank was a very modern and innovative farmer as the following article in the Journal of Agriculture highlights.

“Mr. F. Battcock, Hemingford, St, Ives, Hunts, Sept. 13”  “We found everything about Mr. Battcock indicative of sound sense and good practical farming. As in some other cases, so with him, steam is no plaything. If it could not be used profitably, it would soon be abandoned. Two farms united — one, Capt. Douglas’s; the other the property of the Rev. J. Linton — make an occupation of 970 acres. Of arable land there are 700 acres. The two farms extend 3 miles from end to end. One consists of 450 acres of heavy land, with blue clay subsoil, where 3 horses find ploughing 3 roods a day 6 inches deep to land on a subsoil of gravel and yellow clay. The heavy land is drained 3 or 4 feet deep, the drains being from 10 to 11 yards apart. The fields are of a good size — 30, 40, 50 acres. There is still a great deal too much timber about, which the landlord objects to remove. A plentiful supply of water difficulty is experienced on the heavy-land farm to procure water in dry seasons. Mr. Battcock has searched through 70 feet of blue clay and 50 feet of clay and limestone for water, but without success. The heavy-land farm was taken in 1854.”

“One of the greatest advantages attending the introduction of steam, which took place in 1858, was, that the drainage, which had been undertaken earlier, began at once to act much better. This may be considered the key to every after improvement, tending as it does to increase the fertilizing power of every pound’s weight of manure. It was soon found that the ridges could be turned down, and the crops grown on the flat. In 1861 so much improvement was experienced in the weight of the grain-crops as to make it politic to abandon the four-course, and to adopt the five-course system, which allows two white straws in succession. The landlord gave permission for this deviation from established custom. The tenant finds that though the 5-course gives less straw, it gives more corn; in fact, to use his own expression, “Five crops pay better than four.” The change entails less harvesting, and less trouble with the men, who always endeavour to shirk the heavy-laid crops of the 4-course system. The rotation is as follows: 450 acres are so divided into 5 plots of 90 acres each, that the land comprised in these plots lies together, and can be cultivated with the smallest amount of shiftings possible; they are in beans and seeds, wheat, hedges, stacks, and general details all bespoke good manage- ment. The stock carried by the farm is 100 beasts and 1000 sheep all the year round. About 300 down breeding ewes are bought in every year and sold off fat. The lambs are carried forward and sold fat in the hogget stage. The 4-course husbandry is adopted on the light land, two green-crops being taken on the fallow-shift: this is only possible with steam.

The horse-power has been reduced from 30 to 21. Mr. Battcock desired to keep five or six good mares to bring a foal every year. These mares are turned out about May, and are brought up for harvest. Their help and the steam together so much eases the work falling to the other horses that “they require,” Mr. Battcock said, “one-third less corn.”

The Apparatus was bought of Mr. Smith in 1856. It consists of the engine, of 10-horse power, made by Messrs. Eoby of Lincoln, 2 cultivators, 5-tine and 3-tine, a windlass, driven by strap, since then a scarifier to take 6 feet, and 1400 yards of rope and a drill, made by Butlin of Northampton. The windlass and 2 cultivators are of Smith’s original model, and were found in a good state. The scarifier, to take 6 feet, was of the same shape, having two rows of tines and front disc-wheels. The engine, with 12-inch cylinder, and simple reversing-gear and steel fire-box, which he does not recommend, was in good repair. The repairs are heaviest and tear of rope is very slight. The present fire-box, a steel one, will last two years longer. The engine being employed in other farm- work, steam cultivation should only be debited with half the repairs incurred.

Steam has made little way in the fens. The anchor of the lighter sets of tackle will not hold, and for the heavier the land is too rotten. Mr, Battcock is of opinion that no man established in business with less than 500 acres should embark in steam. A young man beginning might do so with 300 acres of ploughed land. The cases are different where a man has all to buy, and where he has to dispose of the power that has served him to make way for that which is to serve him better. A man already possessed of horses and implements would have to sacrifice 100/. in quitting them for steam. Had this gentleman to start again, he most emphatically stated that he would do so with the apparatus he now has in preference to any other ; and that he would never more attempt to farm without steam. Has long given up keeping separate accounts. Harvesting is done with carts.

Frank had 1000 sheep. Dramatic improvements were being made in sheep farming with stock breeding being organized systematically for the first time in England.  The great British sheep breeds such as the Southdown Sheep were all developed in this period.  His cousins, the Webbs were developing a breed of sheep particularly suited for the local environment.

With the increase in sheep farming and the disappearance of the small farms, there was a growing number of impoverished farm workers and labourers.  This led to crime and violence.  In some areas this resulted in concerted resistance such as the Swing Riots or the Rebecca Riots.  There was little organized resistance in Huntingdonshire but a steady rise in crime.  In 1855 Robert Wright appeared before the Midsummer Quarter Sessions for stealing one of Frank’s sheep.  Robert Wright was 47 and a labourer who was “able to read and write imperfectly” appeared at the Midsummer Quarter Sessions before James Rust, Esq. for killing a sheep worth 40 shillings which was the property of Frank Battcock, farmer, Hemingford Abbotts. He was found guilty and having several previous convictions for felony was sentenced to 14 years’ transportation to Australia.  A few decades earlier he would have swung for stealing a sheep.

Frank and Annie had six children: Edward Frank, Arthur Henry, Florence Anne, Herbert James, Frank William and Percy John. Only three of the children survived childhood which was not uncommon at the time.  Edward Frank Battcock was born in 1856 but died aged 9 of meningitis. Frank William Battcock was born in 1864 and drowned in the Ouse when he was 7 and finally Percy John Battcock was born in 1868 and died at 10 months.

Of the children that survived, Arthur Henry Battcock was born in 1858.  Arthur went to Corpus Christi, Cambridge University and became a lawyer.  This was the first generation of Battcocks to go to university and move into the professions.  Two of Arthur’s cousins also became lawyers. Arthur married Edith Ellen Gemmell.  They did not have any children. 

Florence Anne Battcock was born in 1860 and married Thomas Ernest Ivatt.  They had four children: Alwyn (who ended up in the colonial service Nigeria); Frank and Eda (who both emigrated to Canada) and Harold (who died in the First World War).  Herbert James Battcock was born in 1862. He was Humphrey Battcock’s father.

Frank carried on farming into the 1890s although Herbert would have been running the farm by then.  In 1896 Frank retired and sold his properties for £6,000.  He lived with his daughter in the Cedars in Hemingford Abbots.  He died in 1913 at the age of 90.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Thomas Battcock (1781-1845), corn and coal in Chelsea

Thomas William Battcock was baptized in 1781 at St Mary Abbots in Kensington.  He became a corn and coal merchant.

Coals from Newcastle 

With the rapid industrial revolution in London, coal was the business to be in.  Business was booming.  Britain had the best environment for businessmen in the world with the largest common market, few taxes and severe restrictions under the Combination Acts on any form of trade unions.  Adam Smith could not hold back his praise: “the security which laws in Great Britain give to every man that he shall enjoy the fruits of his own labour, is alone sufficient to make any country flourish”.  Much of this business required coal.  The trade in coal in London had grown wildly from 800,000 tons in 1700 to two and a half million tons by the end of the century.    Thomas owned a wharf known as Battcock’s Wharf, where the coal would have been unloaded. 

The trade in coal was severely regulated in London.  Within 24 hours of any ship with a cargo of coal reaching Blackwell, the captain had to have sent to the Clerk of the Coal Market a copy of the certificate of shipment.  The original certificate had to be sent to the Coquet Office of the lord Mayor.  The Clerk of the Market exhibits the certificate to denote the cargo is for sale.  The Coal Factor was in charge of selling the coal to the merchants.  Coal was allowed to be sold on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between twelve and two as set out in the “Sale of Coal Act”.  The books are shut at two and the Factors have to get the contracts by three to the Clerks who receive one penny.  The coal was heaved out of the ships by “whippers” into lighters under the “inspection of a Meter” appointed by the Corporation of the City of London.   The Meter was paid three shillings a day and the Captain usually invited him for dinner aswell.  The “whippers” could only be employed by “undertakers” who had to have a license from the Corporation.  Undertakers were not allowed to be publicans but this ruling was regularly evaded.  The lighter would take the coal to the merchant’s wharf such as Battcock’s Wharf in Chelsea.  At the wharf, the coal was now under the control of the “Land Meter” who assessed how much coal was unloaded. 

Corn, middlemen and merchants

Thomas was also a corn merchant.  Corn and coal often went together.  It was an interesting if dangerous time to be a corn merchant. With the introduction of the Corn Laws in 1804-13, which imposed heavy tariffs on imported corn, the price for bread was kept high.  The trade in corn was dependant on the quality of the harvest in England and the prices varied widely depending on the weather.  As is often the case, people would blame high prices on the merchants.  There had many riots and disturbances with crowds attacking and looting stores and trying to lynch corn merchants.  The riots were followed by a flurry of pamphlets defending and attacking the merchants. Adam Smith’s defense was often quoted: “the interests of the inland dealer and that of the great body of the people, how opposite soever at first they appear, are even in years of scarcity exactly the same”. Sir Thomas Turton investigated if there was any hoarding or whether merchants were involved in anti-competitive cabals.  He found no evidence of hoarding and did not feel that the merchants could control the market. 

Thomas would have negotiated the purchase of corn at the Corn Exchange or more likely at the two coffee houses just outside and the corn would have been delivered to his wharf.  He would have sold his corn onto “jobbers” who would then sell the corn onto the millers and bakers across London. 

Thomas must have been considerably successful as he bought two houses in Cheyne Walk in 1821.  He lived at number 1 and had his business at number 2.  Mick Jagger lived at number 3 in the 1960s. The houses in Cheyne Walk were traditional 18th century merchant’s town houses with back rooms with small “powdering-closets”.  Thomas also owned the wharf down on the river called Battcock’s Wharf and other properties called Battcock’s Cottages in Queen Street (now called Flood Street), where is brother William lived. 

He married Elizabeth Rubergall in Deptford by special license.  Elizabeth was born in 1781 in Chelsea.  Thomas and Elizabeth had five children: Thomas, Frederick, George, Henry and Frank.  Thomas Smith Battcock was born in 1813.  He took over the family corn and coal business.  He married Catherine Walker Taylor and died of pneumonia at the age of 34.  Their oldest son Frederick Walker Battcock traveled around the world leaving and ended up in New Zealand where he married Elizabeth Fremlin.  There are many of their descendants across New Zealand.[i]   

George Battcock was born in 1815 and became a wine and spirit merchant.  He married Jane King.  His son George Arthur Battcock was director of the Mutual Life Assurance Society and donated the clocks for the Clock Tower in Maidenhead built as part of the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. George’s grandson George fought in the First World War and there is a very good book about his regiment in the war[ii].  Frederick Battcock was born in 1817 and worked in the family coal business.  He married Fanny Drouet who ran the business after he died.  Henry Battcock was born in 1820 and married Jeannette Gertrude Spence.  He started work as a grocer but then emigrated to Argentina.  Frank Battcock was born in 1823.

After Elizabeth died in 1838, Thomas bought the Ashford Manor House.  He died there in 1847.


[i] I am in contact with Lynn who is Frederick Walker’s great grand daughter.

[ii] There is an excellent book about his regiment.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Thomas Battcock (1763-1800), the journey to London

Thomas Battcock was born in Ford, Sussex sometime between 1750 and 1765.  He started out as a farmer.  In the 1770s Thomas moved to London.  It is not clear why Thomas moved to London but life was pretty difficult in Sussex.  Two of Thomas’ cousins died in work-houses.  Thomas was part of the huge movement of people out of the rural areas in the 18th century.  In some villages 70% of the people moved away. 

Thomas moved to a London where the heads of traitors were stuck on pikes on the gates into city and the streets ran with filth.  By the time he died, London was the largest and most important city in the world.

Thomas started out in Kensington.  In the 1780s, he married Margaret.  Thomas and Margaret married in their twenties which was quite a young age for the time.  Most people did not get married until they were thirty.  Thomas and Margaret had three children: Thomas William, William Robert and George.  Thomas was christened in Kensington but there is a reference to William being christened in Ford, so Thomas must have still been in contact with his relatives back in Sussex. 

William married Mary, who came from Devon.  They lived at 4 Queen Street (which is now Flood Street) in Chelsea.  They had one son called William Thomas John Battcock in 1803.  

William played cricket for Sussex as cricket first became an organized and spectator sport.  Sussex as a named team started in 1729. After Richmond, the team’s patron died in 1751, the team declined until the Brighton club was established at its Prince of Wales Ground in 1790. This club sustained cricket in Sussex throughout the Napoleonic Wars and, by the end of the war had one of the strongest teams in England. Tens of thousands would turn up for county matches.  This was mostly for the gambling.  Thousands of pounds were bet on each match and even on individual innings and batsmen.  Bookies were not banned from Lords until 1825. 

George Battcock was baptized in 1788 in Kensington.  Thomas Battcock died in 1799 in Kensington leaving an estate worth £5,000.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Charles Battcock (1737-1793), feudal farming in Ford, Sussex

Charles Battcock was born in Ford in 1737.  In 1762, Charles married Mary Shoosmith Ellman.  They had at least four children: Amelia, Daniel, Ann Marie and John Chatfield.  Thomas Battcock was born in 1763 and grew up in Ford and was probably their oldest child.  Mary Shoosmith Battcock died in 1774 and Charles in 1793.

Ford is a small village in Sussex near Littlehampton, now famous for its prison.  Ford had never been a large village but by 1608 the village was virtually deserted. In 1724 there were only 5 families[i].

It is remarkable how little had changed in Ford over the centuries when Charles was born in 1737.  The land ownership and farming systems in Ford were feudal and medieval.  Much of the farm land in Ford was still described as “Demesne” land owned by the Lord of the Manor.  Most of this land was leased out as one farm, although there were a few “copyhold tenants”.  The privileges granted to each of these “copyhold tenants”, and the exact services they had to render in return for these privledges, were described in a book and a copy was given to the tenant. In 1608 eleven copyholders had between 10 and 30 acres each.  The main crops in Ford were wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas, tares, vetches, and hemp and cattle, sheep and pigs were reared.  In 1631, the large farm in Ford had 29 cattle, 221 sheep, 34 pigs, and at least 88 acres of crops.  There were also still a number of commonly owned “open fields”.  These open fields had not changed much since the middle ages. 

Charles would have being growing up in a rapidly changing world.  There were more changes in farming in Ford in Charles’ lifetime than the previous 500 years.  The first major change was that the common land was “enclosed”.  Unlike most of the rest of England, in Sussex the “enclosing” of these open fields and dividing up the land did not start until the 18th century.  Adam Smith described this process as “sensibly dividing the country between opulent men”. 

The richer villagers who managed to set up large farms did very well out of the enclosures and were able to improve and innovate.  However the small farms were not so viable.  With the enclosures many other common rights were taken away such as the right to collect firewood from or graze cattle on commonly owned waste lands.  The campaigning journalist Arthur Young wrote of the small farmers: “they fare extremely hard, work without intermission like a horse… and practice every lesson of diligence and frugality without being able to soften their present lot”.  Many small farmers sold up and by the end of the century three quarters of the land was farmed by tenant farmers.  The tenant farmers did not do much better.  The Rev John Howlatt wrote “He works harder and fares harder than the common labourer and yet with all his labour and with all his fatiguing incessant exertions, seldom can he improve his condition or even with any degree of regularity pay his rent and preserve his present situations”.  Many moved out of the villages.  Most did not go very far, usually to the nearest town or city.  It was the younger and braver that moved to London.

By the middle of 18th century most if not all of the copyholds had been subsumed into two farms of 211 acres and 108 acres.  These were probably Ford Place and Newhouse farm.

Two of Charles and Ann’s children moved away from Ford.  Thomas went to London and John to Brighton. 


[i] From: ‘Ford’, A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 5 Part 1: Arundel Rape: south-western part, including Arundel (1997)

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Elizabeth Battcock (1800s), the pink pills that cure all ills

In the early 19th century, Elizabeth Battcock made the Dixon’s Antibilious Pills in the Pill House at Storrington for George Dixon.  Dr George Dixon began making antibilious pills for his wife. These were so “efficacious” that he started giving them to his friends, such as the Duke of Norfolk, the Dowager Lady Saye and Sele and Viscountess Bulkeley. Rave reviews followed, and by the 1790s George was manufacturing and selling masses of his little pink “pills to cure all ills”.  By 1798 Ching’s, the pharmacist, at 4 Cheapside, was running ads claiming to be the “only warehouse for Dixon’s Pills, celebrated for removing bilious disorders”.
When George’s brother, the Rev. Joe Dixon, moved to Storrington, Sussex, in 1795, George and Elizabeth went with him. In 1800 George began to have cards printed, offering his (expensive) services as a surgeon to local Sussex gentry. But the pills were starting to dominate his life. By 1801 they were all over the United Kingdom, and selling in boxes at 5s 9d, and half boxes at 2s 9d, and five-boxes-in-one at a guinea each. These pill-boxes were not genuine unless stamped with the name “G. Dixon, Storrington” and sealed with the arms of the proprietor.  By the time George died in 1821, his pills were famous all over the world. Every city in the USA carried them.  The Battcock family, who had for years actually done the making of the pills, continued to manufacture them in the Pill House at Storrington for the Dixons.  Elizabeth Battcock lived to well over 90.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

John Battcock 1731 Mason in Storrington

John Battcock (1731), Mason of Storrington

The first Battcock in Storrington that there is any sort of story about is John Battcock, a stonemason who was born in 1713.  He married Ann Smallpiece in 1731 and rebuilt the church tower of St Mary’s in Storrington in 1754 which is still standing.

The tower had been struck by lightning in 1731.  Despite repairs, what was left of the tower collapsed in 1746, destroying much of the nave.  The reconstruction of the tower cost £1,625. John Battcock built the tower with round-headed openings, flat rustications, a plain parapet and a pyramid. 

The mason profession was handed down for generations with the village mason being a John Battcock more than a hundred years later.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment