Subject Name : Edward Mitchell
(b ca 1800 – d 1887)
Researcher : Diann Arnfield
Edward Mitchell was a bargeman in Godalming helping to bring prosperity to the town, but his own life was a struggle, serving time in prison for attempting to steal from his employer before ending his days in the Guildford Union Workhouse.
The details of Edward’s birth are unclear. Censuses indicate that he was born in Godalming somewhere between 1800 and 1809, but no positive baptism record has been found there for that period.
The first definite record found for Edward is his marriage on 3rd May 1831 to spinster Mary Stilwell at St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Godalming 1. Both were from Godalming with neither able to sign their name on the record. Like Edward, Mary’s origins are uncertain, but she is most likely to be the daughter of John and Hannah Stilwell baptised on 27th November 1808 at Witley, close to Hambledon which was given as her birthplace on the 1861 Census 2, 23.
Occupations were not provided on marriage records at that time, but Edward would have been a bargeman, as their first child’s baptism record on 19th February 1832 noted him as such 3. The family were living in Mead Row, Godalming, a road close to Godalming Wharf, the starting point for the Godalming Navigation, so it is most probable that he was working on the barges here.
The late 1700s saw a large increase in goods being produced in Surrey, helped by the county’s natural supply of water to power mills 4. This growth meant that better methods of transport were needed to move goods around. The Godalming Navigation, completed in 1764, was constructed along the route of the River Wey, linking with the Wey Navigation built over 100 years earlier, thereby enabling barges to reach the River Thames near Weybridge and then on to the London Docks, a distance of around 50 miles (80km). The Godalming Navigation was also linked to the Wey & Arun Canal which opened in 1816, enabling goods to be transported to and from the English Channel at Littlehampton.
Godalming was thriving in the early 1800s when Edward was born. In 1801, the town was considerably larger than Guildford. With the mills along the River Wey producing and transporting paper, leather, timber and flour, added to local industry such as textiles/hosiery and goods made of iron, the work of bargemen would have been crucial to the success of the area.
Despite this, Edward and his family were experiencing tough times. After a second daughter Maria arrived in about 1834 5, the Guildford Poor Law Union Minute Books for 12th December 1840 noted that Edward’s family were awarded ‘Outdoor Relief – male paupers & their families for the reasons herewith:- Wife dropsey & him ill. Relief ordered:- 5 shillings & 4 loaves for a period of two weeks’ 6. ‘Outdoor relief’ meant that they were supported at home, as opposed to ‘indoor’ being in the workhouse.
Six months later, the 1841 Census showed the family all together at Mead Row – Edward, age 32, a bargeman, wife Mary, also 32, and children Mary Ann, 9, and Maria, 7 5.
On 12th December 1847, Edward’s eldest daughter Mary Ann married bachelor Alfred Osbourn, a leather dresser, in Godalming’s St Peter and St Paul Church 7. The certificate noted Mary Ann to be aged 19, but she was almost certainly no older than 16. There must have been quite an air of tension in the church as Mary Ann was heavily pregnant, giving birth to Edward Frederick just two days later 8. Sadly, he died after just a few weeks 9.
The 1851 Census showed Edward, 42, still a bargeman, living in Mead Row with wife Mary, 44, and their younger daughter Maria, 17 10. Edward’s married daughter Mary Ann was also in Mead Row with husband Alfred and their second child, two-year-old Alfred 11.
Eight years later, Maria married Robert Scott in the St Peter and St Paul Church on 24th July 1859 12. He was a ‘frame-smith’ from Scotland, building, maintaining and repairing the frames used for making cotton stockings and hosiery. Framework knitting was a well-established industry in Godalming, as well as in the Scottish Borders, and the East Midlands 14, 15. One of the types of machines he would have worked on is currently to be found in the Godalming Museum 16.
In 1844, a report for the House of Lords on the framework knitting industry, and in particular the effect the introduction of wide frames and steam powered mechanisation, counted 102 frames in Godalming, of which 55 were in use, with Godalming having the widest frame, being ’54 inch on the needles’ 17. By the time of Maria and Robert’s marriage in 1859, this traditional industry was declining in Godalming, as hosiery factories were expanding elsewhere 17. They moved soon after their marriage to Leicester, the most important centre for the hosiery trade at the time, where they raised a large family 18, 19.
Business at Godalming Wharf went into sharp decline from 1849 after the railway station was opened in the town, enabling freight to be moved more quickly than by waterway 20. This clearly had an effect on the Mitchells. In March 1861, Edward, a ‘jobbing barge man’, was convicted of attempting to steal coal from his master and was imprisoned for three weeks 21. His Wandsworth prison record described him as age 55, 5 feet 9 inches (1.75m) tall with grey hair and eyes and a fresh complexion22. He weighed 11 stone 4 pounds (72kg).
The 1861 Census, just a few days after he was released from gaol, showed Edward and Mary, both age 54, living around the corner from Mead Row in Hare Lane with two lodgers 23. Edward gave his occupation as a bargeman, although the Census does not record if he was in employment after his attempted theft.
The following year, Edward’s wife Mary died on 12th July 1862 age 56 from dropsy, a condition she had been suffering from for over 20 years 24, 6. Edward’s life was clearly becoming harder, and at times he was a Guildford Union Workhouse inmate. The Guildford Union Poor Law accounts (which only exist for 1864 to 1871) noted that he spent eleven days there in 1865 and 89 days in 1866 25.
Where Edward was at the time of the 1871 Census has not been discovered. Now well into his 60s, he was neither with his eldest daughter Mary Ann who was living in Bridge Street, Godalming with her family including her father-in-law 26, nor with his younger daughter Maria and family in Leicester 19. In fact, no further records have been found for Edward until the 1881 Census, when he was an inmate in the Guildford Union Workhouse, age 80, a widower, occupation ‘bargeman’ 27.
There are no records to show when he had entered the Guildford Union Workhouse, but it seems likely that he spent his last years there, passing away on 12th September 1887 at the age of 87 from ‘gangrene of feet’ and ‘decay of age’ 28. He was buried two days later in Nightingale Cemetery, Godalming 29.
November 2019, updated September 2023
- Edward Mitchell & Mary Stilwell 3 May 1831 Marriage Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Godalming St Peter & St Paul 1813-1827; ref GOD/2/3; page 177; no 529. Surrey History Centre, Woking / Ancestry.co.uk
- Mary Stilwell 27 Nov 1808 Baptism Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Witley All Saints 1753-1812; ref WIT/3/1. Surrey History Centre, Woking / Ancestry.co.uk
- Mary Ann Mitchell 19 Feb 1832 Baptism Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Godalming St Peter & St Paul 1813-1833; ref God/4/1; page 274; no 2190. Surrey History Centre, Woking / Ancestry.co.uk
- Eighteenth Century, The Development of Transport Links ExploringSurreysPast.org.uk
Wey and Godalming Navigations Wikipedia.org
- Edward, Mary, Mary Ann, Maria Mitchell 1841 England Census Return for Mead Row, Godalming, Surrey; Public Record Office class HO107; piece 1073; folio 27, page 18. Ancestry.co.uk
- Edward Mitchell 12 Dec 1840 Able Bodied Outdoor Cases; Guildford Poor Law Union Minute Books; ref BG6/11/3; page 230. Surrey History Centre, Woking. Surreycc.gov.uk
- Mary Ann Mitchell & George Osbourn 12 Dec 1847 Marriage Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Godalming St Peter & St Paul 1837-1851; ref GOD/2/4; page 195; no 390. Surrey History Centre, Woking / Ancestry.co.uk
- Edward Frederick Osbourn 14 Dec 1847 England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index 1837–1915, 1848, Jan-Feb-Mar, Guildford Surrey, volume 4, page 17. Ancestry.co.uk. Copy of original from General Register Office gro.gov.uk
- Edward F Osbourn 3 Mar 1848 Burial Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Godalming St Peter & St Paul 1842-1880; ref GOD/5/2; page 64; no 512 (mis-entered in register as age 10 months). Surrey History Centre, Woking / Ancestry.co.uk
Edward Frederick Osbourn England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index 1837–1915, 1848 Jan-Feb-Mar, Guildford Surrey, volume 4, page 160. Ancestry.co.uk / gro.gov.uk
- Edward, Mary, Maria Mitchell 1851 England Census Return for Mead Row, Godalming, Surrey; Public Record Office class HO107; piece 1594; folio 680, page 11. Ancestry.co.uk
- Alfred, Mary Ann (age 23), Edward Osborn 1851 England Census Return for Mead Row, Godalming, Surrey; Public Record Office class HO107; piece 1594; folio 684, page 20. Ancestry.co.uk
- Maria Mitchell & Robert Scott 24 Jul 1859 Marriage Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Godalming St Peter & St Paul 1851-1875; ref God/2/5; page 112; no 224. Surrey History Centre, Woking / Ancestry.co.uk
- Robert, Maria, Mary Rebecca Scott 1861 England Census Return for Leicester St Mary; Public Record Office class RG 9; piece 2295; folio 16, page 27. Ancestry.co.uk
- The Godalming Framework Knitting Industry Surrey History Vol IV No I, Surrey Local History Council 1989/90, published by Phillimore and Co, Chichester
- The Growth of Framework Knitting History of Framework Knitting, Local History, Village History, Barrow Upon Soar Heritage Group BarrowUponSoarHeritage.org.uk
- Knitting Gallery, Godalming Museum, 190A High Street, Godalming GodalmingMuseum.co.uk
- Report of the Commissioner appointed to inquire into the Condition of the Frame-Work Knitters 1845, pages 18 and 136, printed by William Clowes and Sons, Stamford Street,London, for Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, incorporated into Reports from Commissioners Volume 23 Books.Google.co.uk
- The City of Leicester: Hosiery Manufacture British History Online British-history.ac.uk
- Robert, Maria, Mary R, Betsey, George, Fanny M, Robert Scott 1871 England Census Return for Leicester St Mary; Public Record Office class RG 10; piece 3284; folio 62, page 11. Ancestry.co.uk
Robert, Maria, Betsey, George Edward, Robert, Jessie Maria, Catherine Scott 1881 England Census Return for Leicester St Mary; Public Record Office class RG 11; piece 3174; folio 123, page 7. Ancestry.co.uk
- Transport and Communications, Godalming Wikipedia.org
- Edward Mitchell 12 Mar 1861, Surrey Provincial News Guildford, The Surrey Advertiser, Surrey Gazette &c, page 2. British Newspaper Archive / FindMyPast.co.uk
- Edwd Mitchell 8 Mar 1861 The National Archives, Kew; PCOM2 1770-1951 Home Office and Prison Commission Prison Records; Metropolitan Police; Criminal Record Office; Habitual Criminals Registers and Miscellaneous Papers; Wandsworth Prison, Register of Prisoners, register number 3402. Ancestry.co.uk
- Edward, Mary Mitchell, John, Mary Balchin 1861 England Census Return for Hare Lane, Godalming, Surrey; Public Record Office class RG 9; piece 429; folio 33, page 17. Ancestry.co.uk
- Mary Mitchell 12 Jul 1862 England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index 1837–1915, 1862 Jul-Aug-Sep, Guildford Surrey, volume 2A, page 33. Ancestry.co.uk. Copy of original from General Register Office gro.gov.uk
- Edward Mitchell 1865-1866 Indoor Relief; Guildford Poor Law Half Yearly Accounts 1864-1871, BG6/33/1. Surrey History Centre, Woking.
- Alfred, Mary Ann (age 39), Alfred, Fanny Maria, Hellen, Elizabeth, Frederick Orsborn 1871 England Census Return for Bridge St, Godalming, Surrey; Public Record Office class RG 10; piece 814; folio 76, page 3. Ancestry.co.uk
- Edward Mitchell 1881 England Census Return for Guildford Union Workhouse, Stoke Next Guildford, Surrey; Public Record Office class RG 11; piece 778; folio 91, page 3. Ancestry.co.uk
- Edward Mitchell 12 Sep 1887 England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index 1837–1915, 1887 Jul-Aug-Sep, Guildford Surrey, volume 2A, page 55. Ancestry.co.uk. Copy of original from General Register Office gro.gov.uk
- Edward Mitchell 12 Sep 1887 Guildford Workhouse Deaths 1887-1914, BG6/38/1-2, page 1, record 8. Surrey History Centre, Woking