Hannah was born at Burdopecrag [Birdhope Crag], near Rochester, Northumberland, in 1834. This is border country between England and Scotland and just outside what is now the Northumberland National Park.
Her father Thomas was a shepherd. By the time she was 6 she was no longer living with Thomas, his wife Eleanor and their other 7 children who were aged between 15 years and 2 months. I found Hannah instead living with Adam Hindmarsh, another shepherd, and his wife Hannah in Little Ryle, just over 10 miles to the north-east as the crow flies, 30 as the car drives.
By the 30 March 1851 census she has been joined at her Uncle’s house by her older sister Ann; they are both recorded as his nieces, and their brother Michael, a shepherd, is also there.
In contrast Alexander’s early years are such a mystery that I’ve spent many hours trying to tease out how he’s related to Adam and Hannah Hindmarsh. Census entries state he was born in North Shields, Durham. The only birth I can find there at the right time says Alexander’s father is called William, so I have the wrong entry as that would give his uncle Adam Hindmarsh two brothers called William, and I know the other one is correct. Why did his mysterious father travel there? Love? Employment?
In the 1851 census I find Alexander working as a shepherd in Grey’s Forest, Glendale, staying at Fleehope House in the College Valley, with the Black family.
It appears Alexander and Hannah are actually related to both Adam and Hannah, that Alexander is Adam’s nephew and Hannah Drummond is Hannah’s niece. Perhaps their match was encouraged as a way to strengthen the relationship between the two families, perhaps the children Adam and Hannah didn’t have. They married in Burdhope in April 1856; their first son, William arrived later that year.
In April 1861 Alexander is away working as a shepherd in Carham, boarding with William and Elizabeth Elliot. William is a farmer of 129 acres employing 8 labourers, so perhaps he was also Alexander’s employer. Carham is right by the river Tweed – if Alexander had swum across he’d have been in Scotland.
In April 1861 Hannah is back visiting her aunt and uncle at Featherwood. She has with her their three young sons: William (6), Adam (2) and baby Thomas, just 2 months old. Perhaps she leapt at the chance for company and support for her baby.
The April 1871 census shows them in a much different location. They’ve moved to work for Sir William and Lady Margaret Armstrong at Cragside stately home. I visited Cragside when I was a kid and and had remembered it being hundreds of years old. However obviously not much info had gone in that day as I’ve just been reading about Sir William and Cragside and the truth is much different. He bought Cragside in 1863 on a holiday in an area he’d enjoyed visiting on holiday as a child.
Armstrong wasn’t a Duke but rather a polymath Victorian engineering magnate who appears to have a very wide range of interests and energy to match. He and architect Richard Norman Shaw designed and built the house. Further info about Cragside: History Today article and for lovers of engineering this CIBSE Heritage Group Website has lots of info.
Alexander is a coachman, the 1871 census tells me, before adding the more official ‘Domestic Servant’. He and Hannah have 6 children living with them. William is now a 14-year-old farm labourer, Adam (12) and Thomas (10) are scholars, John (7) and Alexander (4) are perhaps running round either helping or getting in everyone’s way, and Andrew is only a year old. The info in the record suggests that Alexander Jnr and Andrew were born locally, the older boys born in a different registration area [in the Featherwood area], so perhaps Alexander Snr started at Cragside c 1865.
In January 1881, Armstrong made history when Cragside was the first home in Britain to have domestic electric lights. The lights, designed by Norman Shaw, were powered by hydro-generated electricity, but Dad remembers thinking on our own visit a hundred years after their creation that they didn’t look particularly safe! Still it must have been a wonder for the staff to look up at the house and see the electric lights gleaming through the windows.
In April 1881 Alexander and Hannah are living at Cragside Farm with their children John, Alexander, Andrew, Michael D, Hannah E T, a 7-year-old scholar, and little Elizabeth, their 2-year-old. By 1883 the gardens were stunning and hosted the 28th Annual Rothbury Flower Show (see news cutting).
By 1891 Alexander is working as a gardener in these grounds and they still have five of their children living with them at Pethfoot College, Whitefield. William is a married barnman – (although his wife isn’t listed on the page) – but Adam (32) is widowed and working as a general labourer. Andrew (21) is a groom, Hannah (17) is a dressmaker’s assistant and 12-year-old Elizabeth is still a scholar.
Next door lives their son John, now married to Barbara with an infant daughter Ann. He’s working as a nurseryman on Lord Armstrong’s estate; his father Alexander also works on that estate.
Hannah died in spring 1894, aged only 60. For the March 1901 census Alexander, himself only 65, was listed as ‘Formerly Coachman Dom’ so maybe he was too old or infirm to work – he died that spring.
© Text copyright Lynne Black 30 January 2015
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/alexander-hannah-hindmarsh/