Lucraft and Luckraft One-name Study

Monday, October 31, 2005

Edmund Luckcraft : Woolcomber of Devon

by June Harwood of Dean Prior

The South Hams of Devon seemed a far cry from our family's research in deepest Birmingham! Looking at the census for 1861, however, Christiana Aston, nee Luckcraft, describes herself as born in Devon. The enumerator, getting part of the village name right wrote down ‘Ang Prior’, which had us baffled. Dean Prior, however, just five miles or so away from where we now live in Totnes, was, in the nineteenth century, a small village community of woolcombers. Buckfast Abbey, along the road, had been a local centre for the wool-trade from the thirteenth century on, and where, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a large wool and serge mill gave employment.

The Search for Edmund

Dean Prior lies beside the Exeter to Plymouth road, just a mile or so south of Buckfastleigh and five miles from Totnes. There we found Edmund to have been born in 1779 to Richard Luckcraft and Elizabeth, nee Maddick. The Maddicks are a large local family who farmed at Velwell, on the hill outside Dean, from the sixteenth century until this. Richard, Edmund’s father, however, was not born in the parish, so far as we could tell, but came, again as far as records show, from Blackawton, born there in 1745.

“Blackawton is a large village in the unknown country that lies in the hills west of Dartmouth. The parish was formerly more extensive, running down to the shore of start Bay, but the parish of Strete was carved out if it in 1881.

Richard’s father, again as far as we can tell, came from the neighbouring parish of Dittisham, lying beside the River Dart, and married a Mary Edmund there in 1744, and hence the use of the name which came down so many generations. An Edmund Luckcraft still farms at Blackawton.

Edmund's Childhood : a changing world

Edmund was born into a world changing rapidly and his life reflected these social changes. The war with France was in its sixth year, food prices were rising steadily and rural life was increasingly difficult for the labouring poor. The little Luckcraft family at Dean Prior struggled along with the rest, their lot made worse by illness and mortality. Elizabeth, Edmund’s mother died when he was two, six months after his brother Richard’s birth. His father was left with three children, all under six.

We do not know how he managed or who helped him; his wife’s family lived in the village and probably helped, but when Edmund was ten, his father, too, died.

My Father died when I was about ten years of age. I went to work for Messrs William and John Hoare when I was about 13 years old and when I was about 16 I was bound apprentice to Messrs William & John Hoare. I served until I was 21 years old.

Apprenticeship and after

Edmund had learned his trade as a woolcomber. But the manufacturing industries which had sustained the rural economy for centuries was moving to the large, northern towns. Edmund obviously felt he needed to follow.

Since I left my master’s service I have been at different places upon the tramp.

We can trace Edmund’s movements from his settlement statement, written in 1821, as he, in dire need, applied for the iniquitous ‘parish relief’ despite the fact he was in full employment. There are also other documents, letters and census records, found in Devon, Warwick and Worcester Record Offices.

Marriage in the Midlands

He left Dean Prior on finishing his apprenticeship at twenty one in 1800 and went ‘upon the tramp’ in search of work. He must have reached Warwick in or before 1805, for he married Christiana Broadbent at St Mary’s Church there on the fifteenth of January. The name Christiana is handed down from now on, to both his own daughter and also further grandchildren, in different parts of the country. In 1806, he tells us, (or the overseers of the poor, to whom the statement was directed), he took a house of Mr Clemens in Cocksparrow Hall and stayed there until 1809. Cocksparrow Street is marked, to the west of the city centre, in an area which would then have been Saltisford. He then moved to Mr Brookhouse’s house

I gave Mr Clemens notice at Michaelmas 1808 that I should leave at Christmas having the promise of a house of Mr Brookhouse’s house when it was finished.

It is obvious that the Overseers gave Edmund a hard time over this period in 1809 when he was renting two properties one of which he sub-let for three weeks. All this is documented in the records at Warwick Record Office.

We have a letter written from Kidderminster to his wife Christiana to the address No. 4, New Building, Warwick. We can assume this was Mr Brookhouse’s new house and that the family were still there when the 1811 census was taken. This records that Edmund Luckcraft lives in the district of Saltisford and that the family numbers five in all, three males and two females.

Edmund takes his wife back to Devon

What is clear from Edmund’s statement is that sometime following this census in or around 1812 Edmund moved with his family back to his birth place in Dean Prior. He then tells us that

I was at work for Messrs Parkers at Warwick and about eight or nine years ago last September I went with my family to Dean Prior. After being two or three days at Dean Prior my wife’s mother sent for us to, and put us in a house at Totnes.

It isn’t clear from this statement whether Mrs Broadbent, Christiana’s mother, lived in Totnes or whether she paid for them to rent a house. Whilst at Dean Prior, it is likely that the family were staying with Edmund’s brother, Richard, whom we know was still living in the village. We can find no evidence of Broadbent’s in Totnes at this time although there are several in the area around Warwick, especially in Coventry. It is likely therefore that she gave them money for rent, ‘and put us in a house in Totnes’.

The sort of indignity referred to in the accompanying notes about rural workers and parish relief is now Edmund’s lot:

I worked there (Totnes) some time but not having full employ I sent my wife for relief to the Overseer at Dean Prior, Mr John Broadridge. He refused to give her relief but ordered her to send me to Dartington to Mr Trude, a magistrate and he would meet me there. I went to Dartington and was examined to my settlement.

Return to Warwick

It seems his stay in Totnes was only from September until the following April, when he returned to Warwick:

I stayed at Totnes ‘till the beginning of April and then returned to Warwick and had relief at Warwick from the parish of Dean Prior for two years or more at 4d a week. It was agreed between my wife and the officer of Dean Prior that they would pay the relief into my brother’s hands and he should send it to me which he did at Warwick.

It is not clear whether Christiana (and presumably the children) stayed in Devon whilst Edmund returned to Warwick. What is clear is that, according to the Rent Books, the family were back living in Saltisford, Warwick, from 1814 and that Edmund moved to work in Kidderminster sometime around 1815. A letter dated 1832 relating to Edmund’s son Richard states:

....he further states about 17 years ago his mother was living at the outskirts of the town and he has fetched weekly relief for his mother and family when Edmund was absent.

Working in Kidderminster

Edmund and his sons, Richard and Edmund were then working in Kidderminster at the time of the Settlement documents (1819 -1821) whilst Christiana his wife remained in Warwick with the other children.

“He afterwards went to work in Kidderminster and left his family at Warwick”.

A letter from Edmund to his wife from around this time shows the conditions he was working under. It also shows he had two of the boys living with him in Kidderminster:

It is with the most painful sensation I acquaint you with my situation here. I have got work for myself only but only from seven in the morning until eight at night. Therefore I cannot render you any assistance until things take a more favourable turn or at best very little. Mr and Mrs Taylor send their respects to you and tell you Richard goes on very well, is well and Edmund behaves very well. We lodge at their house.

There is a further pitiful statement dated 1819:

I, Edmund Luckcraft will if possible send my wife and family 4 shillings per week after paying for a new pair shoes then I shall send 4s per week the first payment I shall send on the 10th April next which will be one pound for 5 weeks. After this I shall continue sending 1 for every 5 weeks and more if possible to do so.
Edmund Luckcraft, Warwick February 27, 1819.

That Edmund was the victim of the pernicious social conditions is borne out by the testimony of his boss:

Having the management of the combers at Messrs Hooman & Co. where Luckcraft is employed, I can vouch for the truth of what is stated above and think it a pity such a steady, industrious man should be obliged to take his family to their parish and hope and trust the overseers of Warwick will write to Dean Prior, near Ashburton, Devon, in order that they may be assisted either here or at Warwick. P. Gibson.

What prompted the renewed request for parish relief we do not know except that there is a possibility Christiana had another child at this time. The 1841 census for Kidderminster Workhouse shows an Edmund Luckcraft, 35, and a John Luckcraft, 20. If these are Edmund and Christiana’s sons, (their parents now both being dead), John would have been born in 1820.

Edmund & Christiana's Children

Because the Luckcraft family appear to have been non-conformists, tracing their children’s baptisms is proving difficult. The only one we have traced so far is Richard’s on 23.3.1808 at Brook Street Congregational Chapel, Warwick, which still exists. Searches continue for Christiana’s baptismal record in Devon.

Robert Luckcraft

Robert, about whom we know very little but we have assumed was the eldest, married Mary Cockram in Kidderminster in 1827.

Richard Luckcraft

Richard followed the path of many weavers and went north where he married Ellen Hoskinson in Preston in 1831, two months after the birth of their first son, Robert. The papers relating to his settlement in Denton, Manchester in 1832 are in Warwick Record Office. Despite the fact he was born in Warwick, it was still considered that he was the responsibility of his father’s parish in Devon, such was the iniquity of the parish relief system. After two daughters, both names Christiana after Richard’s mother, the first of whom died, Richard and his little family returned to Kidderminster where his fourth child, also Richard was born in 1837. Richard’s widow and family returned to Preston after Richard’s death in 1850.

His line prospers and his descendant, Jack Sanderson has the family Bible with its page of the births & deaths recording these descendants. Well-known family names, Edmund, Christiana, Richard continue to appear there, together with, showing their dissenting fervour, one son christened John Fergus O’Connor Luckcraft in 1842.

Christiana and the Aston's of Birmingham

Christiana married William Aston at St Phillips Church Birmingham on 26th March 1838. How they came to meet, and move to Birmingham, as yet remains a mystery. The Aston’s are my Father’s maternal line, and the name appears in the records of St Martin’s in the Bull-ring, Birmingham’s oldest and most central church, (along with the Hunt’s, into whom Grandmother married in 1898), back to when records first begin.

My father’s mother was baptised Lily Ada Aston at St Phillip’s church (now the cathedral), Birmingham in 1874. Her father was William Aston, who gives his occupation at the time of his marriage in 1868 as a wood carver. His father, also a William Aston, married a Christiana Luckcraft in 1838. On their marriage certificate her father, Edmund’s occupation is given as ‘woolcomber’.

That the Aston lines leads back to the Luckcraft’s and thence to Devon has been unexpected and fascinating. My father and his brother and sister all spent a life-time of family holidays in or near the South Hams, all the time unaware that their mother’s father’s mother had been born there and preceding generations before her.

Edmund and other possible children

By 1841 it is obvious that both Edmund and Christiana are dead. Three of their children had married and two of them at least moved elsewhere. The 1841 census for Kidderminster Workhouse records an Edmund, 35, and a John, 20. These might both belong to the family and, being seen as not belonging to the parish, expected to live within the Poor House, following the Reform Act of 1834. Research continues on these two. There is a further area of mystery concerning an Elizabeth Luckcraft in Somerset.

Father Edmund re-marries in Somerset

Edmund’s sons followed their father’s ancient profession of woolcomber and turned it to related industry; the carpet weaving trade of Kidderminster. Richard followed the move from wool to cotton and moved to the cotton producing area of Lancashire. Edmund, however, from the earlier generation and perhaps conscious he represented the last of a thousand years of hand combing, (mechanisation having now largely taken over), was less likely to make the transition, preferring to continue his ancient trade.

The Earl of Warwick had extensive lands in the Clutton and Harptree area of Somerset. They opened coal mines in the Radstock area, and at Temple Cloud, Cameley, Clutton, there was a collection of wool combers and wool sorters. On 7th May 1837 at Cameley, an Edmund Luckcroft, with an identical signature to that of his wedding to Christiana, married a Mary Sperring, widow. He died the following year on 27th January 1838 at Temple Cloud, Cameley, of heart failure, ‘the dropsy’. The age given is 57, which is a year or so short of what we know him to be. Ages, however in those days of few records were often approximate and if his wife was younger than him, could we blame him for a little vanity if she thought him two years younger than he truly was? We have yet to discover when Christiana died, which seems likely to have been in Warwick. For that we have to await the next chapter.

One mystery referred to above also remains. There is a document in Somerset Record Office which is a list of expenses in a settlement case dated 1844. It related to the removal of an Elizabeth Luckcraft from Kidderminster to Chew Magna, the same area as Edmund lived and died. It also referred to the removal of an Edward Luckcraft from Kidderminster, (which may, of course, be a clerk’s error for Edmund). Is Elizabeth a further daughter of Edmund and Christiana who was seeking to join her father and his second wife?

A final note : a tribute to Edmund

It is unlikely, of course, that this is the final note and that research will continue to uncover the story of this family who lived in one of the most difficult economic periods of recent centuries. But in the meantime, the church of Dean Prior struggles to survive. A handful of dedicated folk continue to assure there is a weekly service and that the church continues in good repair. A flower festival there last month raised money towards repairing the east wall. As I sit in morning service there I think of Richard and Elizabeth and their little brood. Elizabeth died when Edmund was three; she didn’t see her children grow up, but I’d like to think she knows that, nearly two hundred years later, her line continues to thrive and that we have returned to tend the place where she and so many of her family lie. This record, when complete, will be lodged in the church library with the rest of the parish records which have so far resisted transportation to Exeter Record Office.

June Harwood July 1998
(References available on request)
June allowed me to print this piece as an edited version of her work in the 1998 Newsletter.


  • In 1998 June Harwood posted a query on Ancestry re St John's School, St Nicholas Parish, Warwick. The email address on the query was at Plymouth University. It it is no longer current. I am following up on that query. Is it the same June Harwood, and if so, do you have a current email contact. Thanks.

    By Blogger Kay, at 9:05 AM  

  • There was a book published in New Zealand in 1956 called "The MAIR Family" & on page 82 is a reference to a Lieutenant Luckcroft off the H.M.S. Cormorant being shot dead by natives on Espiritu Santo (now northern Vanuatu) in early 1882 while on a punitive mission for the murder of Henry Mair on Nov 12th 1881.

    By an assumption, this officer would have been born about 1840s?

    I can't find any other reference to him at this stage -- perhaps the name is misspelled?

    By Blogger Murray, at 1:59 AM  

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