John Shrubsole

John Shrubsole was my 4th great Grandfather; he was born in Monks Horton, Kent, England in 1766. At the time of writing this we are still hopeful of tracing our Shrubsole ancestry back further than John.
John married Ann Clements in St Peters church at Monks Horton on July 10 1809.
At the time of their wedding Ann had a daughter named Elizabeth Oldfield Clements who was born 1807, and died in 1885.
The marriage of John and Ann produced 9 children, David was their eldest and was born in 1810, and he became my third great Grandfather.
Sarah was the youngest born in 1828, the year that Ann died, so did Ann die in childbirth?

A little about Monks Horton

The tiny hamlet of Monks Horton is in a rural area of Kent ten miles or so south of Ashford. The name Monks Horton dates back to around 1150 to the reign of Henry the second. At that time Robert de Ver founded the Priory of Cluniac monks in the western part of the parish. Most of the Priory which was said to have been of considerable architectural beauty has long since disappeared, only a little of its foundations have survived. It was probably destroyed as so many monasteries were in the reign of Henry eighth, when he broke away from Rome and made himself head of the church.
The 1,079 acres of land that makes up the parish of Monks Horton was not very good farming land, the northern areas being chalky and covered with flints, was only suitable for grazing.
Land to the west was wet and swampy with deep miry clay, but some drainage in later years has improved its condition. In those early years the farmers and their families would have had a hard life making a living.

So what would life for John Shrubsole and his family have been like?

I have always had a passion for all forms of history, and after some research on the period from the 1750’s to the 1850’s I have been able to put together a story of what life for John and his family may have been like. Compared to life in the 21st century John Shrubsole and his family would have lived quite a hard and primitive existence, however for them it was all they knew and when everything went well and according to plan, their lives would have still been enjoyable and probably more harmonious than family life today.
We know from records that John and his family lived on a small farm of probably no more than twenty or so acres in the parish of Monks Horton. The farm appears to have been rented and worked by the Shrubsole family before being purchased by a Widow Shrubsole in 1793, who presumable was John’s mother.
Our information also suggests that the Shrubsole farm was situated at or near No 8 Broad Street, and was probably the same farm land that was later owned by Edward Edwards who had married Elizabeth Shrubsole, and was described in the 1841 census as a grazier.
A directory of Monks Horton of the 1800s reads that Thos Bradley and John Cox were shoemakers. Henry Spain, linen manufacturer. Jas Brenchley Blacksmith. And a number of people including Edward Edwards were farmers and Graziers.
We don’t know what John Shrubsole would have grown on his farm, but it would have probably been a variety of vegetables, grown for their own consumption, and selling on any surplus. Animals such as cows for milk, cattle, and sheep would have been raised and kept. Chickens, ducks and probably geese for eggs and meat, also one or two work horses may have been needed to work the farm.
It is impossible to say with any certainty what the accommodation at No 8 Broad Street would have been like, as it has been either demolished or rebuilt over the years. However the typical Kent farm cottages of that period were of two stories often built in pairs; they were built with shallow brick foundations with the brick or stone work continuing up to the bottom of the first row of small windows. Windows were always small, as were the panes of glass because glass was expensive, and used sparingly.
From the bottom of the windows the rest of the building would have been of a timber frame construction with an infill of a mud lime and straw plaster, which would have been painted with a lime whitewash. The roof would have had a steep slopping angle and probably thatched with straw or covered with shingles [thinly cut wooden tiles, usually made of Chestnut wood].
Inside the cottage there would have been two rooms on the ground floor, one larger with a floor of flat laid clay bricks; this would have been the main living room area, and would have an open fireplace. Dry mud or bricks would cover the floor in a smaller room called a scullery, and was where the cooking and washing was done. This room also had a wood stove, or open fireplace for heating water and for cooking.
All the water would have been pumped up from a well, probably in the garden. Sometimes the well was dug inside the kitchen or scullery, but this was usually only in houses that belonged to the more wealthy.
A deep wooden trough would be where all the washing was done including personal hygiene, which in those days was not a priority. The drainage of the trough was often a large bucket under the trough, or through a clay pipe outside to a soak away.
The water would be carried in wooded buckets, two at a time with the aid of a yoke, which was a wooden device that fitted across the shoulders with a bar or chain hanging down on each side with a hook to hang the buckets on. The floor area around the wooden trough would have been covered with removable boards, to allow access water to drain away.
A rough wooden stair case would give access to the upper floor, which would have been divided into two or three small bedrooms; sometimes another bedroom was built into the roof space and was called an attic or loft and reached by a rough wooden ladder.
The toilet or lavatory was a small wood or brick building that would be situated in the garden often as far away as twenty yards from the cottage. At night chamber pots were used and empted each morning. The lavatory consisted of a large metal or wooden bucket that was placed under a wide wooden seat with a large hole cut to sit over. Each day the bucket was empted into a lime pit that was usually dug at the end of the garden, and as far away from the cottage as possible. It has been said that the contents of those lavatory buckets were sometimes dug into the garden, which made the taties grow to an enormous size.
The most important of their animals were their sheep, and were depended on for many of the necessities of life. The lighting for the home was by candles or crude homemade tallow lamps; the tallow being made from the solidified fat scraped from the skins of sheep. The natural oil in sheep’s wool is lanolin, and it too had many uses, such as soap or as a skin conditioner, also used to lubricate the wheel bearings on farm machinery such as ploughs, carts and wagons.  
The wool from the sheep would be cut and spun for clothes. Most families had a spinning wheel, sometimes called a Spinning Jenny, which would have probably been in the family for generations, and handed down from mothers to daughters. 
The spun wool would often be dyed before being knitted into garments.  Natural dyes were made from plants;  red dye was made from the root of a plant called Madder, and blue dye was made from the flower of a plant called Woad. Both Madder and Woad were grown commercially during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Certain mosses or herbs were used to make various green dyes.
The most important part of the sheep was the meat, Lamb from the young ones, which would probably be sold to the local Butcher, and Mutton from the older ones which would make up most of their diet.
A large pot would be used to cook the meat with whatever vegetables were in season at the time, making what we today would call a stew, which they called pottage.  
The sheep skins would be cleaned and treated with salt before being used as mats or to put on beds through the winter months. In the lives of the Shrubsole family, and families like them, nothing was allowed to be wasted. Their lives revolved around work, each member of the family was responsible for his or her own jobs that were referred to as daily tasks or chores.
Schooling was almost unheard of for the working classes, and was only available to those who could afford to pay for their education. However some of the children from poor families were given schooling paid for by bequests from wealthy families. Some basic reading and writing skills were taught in the churches, or chapels in the form of Sunday schools, but this was usually only learning to write your name and where you lived, it was left to the parents or older children to tutor on matters of arithmetic, which because of the money system most people did became fairly well informed.
Children’s toys and games were mostly home made with skills that had been passed down from generation to generation, and made from whatever materials were available. Books like a Bible would be very treasured items, the inside cover was often used to record births and deaths.
Travelling more than walking distance for working class people was rarely attempted, as the majority of the so called roads were no more than dirt covered cart tracks. During the summer months the dirt roads would dry out turning the wheel ruts into a hard uneven surface that was almost impossible to walk on, and in winter they would turn into mud.
Those who had to travel went on horse back or wagons, which eventually led to the formation of toll roads. These were stone based roads built across private land and maintained by the land owner. To use the toll road a fee had to be payed, often a halfpenny per wheel or per animal was charged, the tolls were collected by the land owner at a gate built across each end of the toll road called a turnpike. If a woman could carry her pram or small cart across the toll gate line, she would not be charged. The nearby A20 started its life as a toll road.
For John and his family their only outings would have probably been to family gatherings, or going to church on Sundays. Church was considered to be an essential part of life, and a sin not to go. So for them their cottage and farm was very much their life.
In some communities a once a year day trip was organized, usually through the church. Wagons drawn by teams of horses would be donated by local farmers, to take people and their children on visits to the nearest town, or if it was not too far to the nearest seaside town, these were often referred to as Sunday school, or church outings.
One of the most important establishments in the village community was the Ale House or Public House, where Beer or Ale would have been made and sold. The difference between Ale and Beer is that Beer has a bitter flavour that comes from hops. Hops were first introduced into Britain from Europe around the fourteenth century, and were widely grown throughout much of southern England.   
Ales and Beers made up a substantial part of their diet, often replacing or supplementing meals when working away from home. A piece of bread with cheese and a jug of Beer was considered a good lunch, and no doubt our John Shrubsole would have enjoyed such a meal.
Many different types of home made wine such as Elderberry, Blackberry and Dandelion were also made and enjoyed at family gatherings.
So even though their lives were much different to ours, I like to think they still had a reasonable amount of enjoyment, and were probably much more in tune with each other than we are today.


Story researched and written by John P Smith. April 2014.


My thanks to John for this insight into the lives of our ancestors;  he has put in a lot of work & I am grateful.   It’s the detail like this that add the flesh to the bones on the family tree.

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