Bruce Johnson's Family History Website

Our earliest ancestors were the Mudford family,  who were weavers and cloth makers by trade in Devon and Somerset.   John Mudford was born born 1536 married Agnes from Chiselborough, Somerset.   The family contiuned in that area until the late 1700s when Hannah Mudford, born in West Chinnock  1778 moved up to Londonand  married James Barlow
The Barlows were a Lancashire family who worked as bargees on the canals, and at length found their way down to London where they mingled with the Thames lightermen and the coastal sailors.   George Barlow became a sailor, he married a girl from Sunderland and settled in Seaham.   The 1861 census shows his wife at Dawdon and his daughter was born in Seaham in 1867,   however our family is descended from Georges brother,  James Barlow.

James had a daughter called Charlotte Barlow,  who married a sailor called William Wheatley. 
Some of their children had quite spectacular names:
George Wheatley born 1833
Sophia Ann Wheatley – born 1835, died 1863

Wheatley was born 1838
Mesach  Wheatley born London 1839
Shadrach Wheatley  born 1843 in Fording bridge near Southampton
Charlotte  Wheatley was born in 1846

After all the children were born the Wheatleys moved to Scotland and got work in the textile mills on the east coast. They almost certainly had relatives and friends there from Williams seagoing days.   George,  the oldest son joined the Royal Navy in time to fight in the Crimean War,  getting his leg blown off fairly quickly.

George returned the east coast of Scotland where is father William Wheatley and his mother Charlotte now lived around Montrose. He was an energetic, charismatic character and despite his wooden leg, or perhaps because of it, he soon found a girl who would marry him.

Marriage of George Wheatley to Jane Findlay  1855
10th October 1855, George married  in Montrose Scotland – but it was a Church of England wedding. His bride was Jane Findlay, a local factory girl – a power loom weaver.  It appears that his father William had now settled down in the local community as his profession, on the wedding lines, is given as a flaxweaver.
George could perhaps be described as prolific. Some sources in County Durham suggest that he was to have 20 children from 2 different marriages. Unfortunately confusion has arisen because he had three brothers away at sea and this led to a lot of small Wheatleys in the census – but few older ones!  I estimate the real total is more like 12 , but a one legged man is somewhat limited in his choice of sports and pastimes and George quickly began to fulfil his duties a s a husband and father

Children of George Wheatley and Jane Findlay

George William Wheatley born 1856 – Montrose / Angus Scotland
Josephine born 1857
Ann Wylie Wheatley   born 1st October 1860 in Forfar – Montrose district.
Cathrine  1862  ?
John 1863 ?
Charlotte Wheatley born  1866  (died aged 3)

Death of Jane Wheatley (Findlay)
Sadly the records report the death of  Mrs Jane Wheatley (Findlay) 23rd March 1867  “in childbed”  at Dundee aged 32, possibly giving birth to the child registered as “Fanny” or “Johan” her husband’s occupation now listed as a “Spirit Dealer”  The informant was her brother John Findlay, her parents were  listed as John Findlay, Spirit Dealer and Catherine Laing (deceased).  Interestingly George had picked up the trade of spirit dealer from his father in law.

So by the summer of 1867 George was in his mid thirties. He had lost a leg and lost a wife. He found himself with several young children to care for and was now in the liquor business. His three brothers,  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were all off at sea and difficult to trace in any of the official records.

George soon married another wife and kept on having children.

Eventually his brothers  Mesach and Abegnago  both married girls called Anderson.   The Andersons had cousins in Sunderland,  and one of them was married to a young man called Rayner.   His brother John Rayner was another sailor and he took a fancy to Anne Wheatley.

There must have been many links among these seagoing families because at this point George Wheatley,  the one legged, twice married, whisky selling, ex-sailor with almost 20 children,  decided to move down to County Durham where he set up a sweetie making business, with some help from the Rayners.


We can trace the Rayner family back to John Rayner who lived in Bocking, Essex, in the 1640's. The Rayners seem to have stayed in that area until  Thomas (1831)  who went out to seek his fortune and ended up in Sunderland.  The children of Thomas Rayner and Mary Ann Natt were:

  • (James) George Rayner born in Greenwich12th June 1856
  • John Rayner born in Deptford10th February 1857
  • Matilda (b1866,  North Shields)
  • Mary-Ann Rayner (b1870, Monkwearmouth)
  • Thomas Rayner  (b1872, Monkwearmouth)
  • William Rayner (b1876 Monkwearmouth).

Every generation of Rayners gave their profession as confectioner,   but John Rayner became a sailor and sailed backwards and forwards between London, Sunderland and Scotland.    Whilst in Scotland he got to know Ann Whylie Weatley and later married her, amazingly,  in the same church where my Mum and Dad got married a hundred years later.

John Rayner had a brother, James George Rayner, him and John were both slightly shady characters.

Wearmouth Colliery and the Sunderland Docks

James George Rayner: Gambling, Guns and Chocolate biscuits

James George Rayner (b1856) seems to have decided that London was not the place for him and he returned to Sunderland at some time in the 1880s setting up a confectioners shop,  probably with a bit of help from various family members.  Despite being married with a child he ended up living with a girlfriend called Mary Emily Rowell, but in 1889 he was arested for selling "Prize Packets" effectively an illegal lottery.  As he wouldn't or couldn't pay his £5 fine he was sentenced to a month in jail and when he got out she refused to move back in with him.   On October 1st 1889 he attempted to kill her, firing four shots at her in Mowbray Park, one of which hit her in the shoulder. He appeared in court the next day and was eventually sentenced to 5 years in Dartmoor prison  for shooting with intent to kill.  All this was reported in The Newcastle Weekly Courant
  (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England), Saturday, October 5, 1889; Issue 11203.  and was passed to me by Carol Ravenhall. 

His time in prison did little to reform him and not long after his release
  he was back in court on forgery charges - Friday January 12, 1894.   His wife Sarah A. Rayner was also charged. Her sister Jane Brown and also her daughter testified on her behalf that her husband had threatened to shoot her if she ran away. She was discharged.  At Durham Assizes March 1894 - he was convicted of "forging requests for orders, with intent to defraud biscuit and chocolate manufacturers at Sunderland in October and December last" - sentenced to four years' penal servitude.
However the 1901 census shows him as 46 yr old confectioner - now in Jail in Bristol which suggests another charge. 

John Rayner - Jack of all trades

John Rayner had been a sailor but he settled down as a confectioner (Baker) at 172 High Street East in Sunderland.   He lived there till his wife died and then he moved to Scotland,  living off the money he had gained from selling the shop.  He had two sons, Frederick and Arthur.   In his later years he toured with a circus, working as the elephant keeper,  my Grandma Jenny Rayner actually remebered this from her early childhood.  She also said he was an alcoholic.   Later he went to Leeds, to live with Arthur’s family and here he died in 1917 aged 59 years old. His death certificate reveals that he had an inflammation of the spine leading to paralysis and paraplegia.  

The Bakers Shop

The shop was at 172 Sunderland High Street,  a very good position in its time. I have tried to find it in old pictures of Sunderland , but without success.  The following is as close as I can get at this time:

171 was a pub,  The Great Eastern in 1881, but later renamed The Fox and Goose.
172 was our bakers shop.
173 was a private house in 1881 occupied by a the captain of a fishing boat. 
 Joplings store stood at 176 and 177,  but the store expanded and gradually took over all the buildings down to 173,  until it moved to High Street West in 1919  then  it burned down in 1956 and was finally reopened in new premises in John Street.

These two artists impressions of Joplings both show a smaller building just partly visible on the right hand edge.   That is our shop.

We can see it is plain, and three storeys high,  so it probably resembled the picture on the right,  of some of the last old buildings to be demolished in the street. 

In it's time though,  it was a good spot for a business.   John Rayner must have been doing well.

The Sunderland Bridges

Frederick and Arthur,  the tragic brothers

In the era of the First World War many families lost a son, and some lost more than one. How tragic that the Rayner brothers should survive the war only to perish as the results of their own actions.

Frederick Augustus Rayner

After his wife’s death John Rayner moved back to Scotland an lived for a while in Edinburgh. His  older son, Frederick Augustus remained in Sunderland and became a lodger in Bell Street Sunderland.   His hosts were his future wife Mary Sproston and her mother Dorothy.  They had at least 2 children, Dori Annie (1908) and Frederick Augustus (1910).   Frederick kept a shop, following in the family tradition of confectionery. He was conscripted into the army in World War One and  by the time he returned both his brother and his father were dead. It seems he may also have had business problems; his confectioners shop had been left in the hands of his wife whilst he was away fighting, she had given credit to friends and regular customers and the business had gotten into debt.  In those days people had little understanding of depression and certainly no way of treating it.    Imagine the possibilty of post traumatic depression caused by watime experiences,  coupled with bereavement, debt, conflicts in the marriage and a failing business.

His death in 1928 was caused by inhalation of household gas .  The death certificate states this was “self inflicted whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed”.  I have had some correspondance with  a family member who still  lives in Sunderland.  I am sure we all  feel a sense of loss.

Arthur Rayner

Born 172 High Street Sunderland. After his mother died in 1894 he went back to Scotland with his father John, both are listed in 1901 census in Edinburgh, but Arthur returned  to England soon after -probably living in Hartlepool as his brother was there. 

Arthur  reappears in the record books in England in 1906 aged 22 when he marries Jane Isobella Conkey  (born Sunderland 3rd ¼   1882   10a 460  ) The marriage took place  in  Sunderland (last 1/4 1906 10a 988)   

Their children were Jenny,  born  1908  in Monkwearmouth, although the birth record is hard to trace,  it appears to have been wrongly transcribed as Dorris, not Jenny
Margaret 1909
Arthur 1910
John  1912  The family moved to Leeds in 1909/1910 where he ran a stall in the market selling bottled sweets - possibly from the Wheatleys factory.

The little Rayners: Margaret,  Arthur,  John and Jenny with their mother Jane Isobella c1914
The Conkeys

William John Conkey was born in Ireland 1858 and married  Sarah Jane Stewart (born  1854)  He was a member of the Orange Lodge, which may narrow down the field of parish records to be searched.  It would certainly have pleased my father if he had known.  Like many others of their generation William and Sarah sought to escape poverty and starvation in Ireland by leaving home.  They went first to Scotland where their first child was born and then moved on to Houghton Le Spring in  County Durham in England.
William worked at a coke works, hard work in hot dusty conditions.
.   William and Sarah had eight children:
Margaret Conkey: born  Scotland or Ireland  1878  married George Turner in 1897 (witnessed Jane Isobella) (I have her wedding certificate)
Robert John Conkey   born Houghton 1880
Jane Isobella Conkey born 3rd ¼   1882     10a 460 
Sarah Jane Conkey 1884
Ethel Conkey 1886 born second quarter 1885  died 1913
Sarah Anne Conkey – born Houghton 1887 10a 424  died 1906
John Conkey 1889
Mary Conkey born 3rd ¼ 1892  10a 484

Jane Isobella Conkey married Arthur Rayner  in  Sunderland on November 4th 1906 10a 988 .  Their children were
Jenny 1908
Margaret 1909
Arthur 1910
John  1912
The family moved to Leeds in 1909/1910 where he ran a stall in the market selling bottled sweets - possibly from the Wheatleys factory.

Arthur Rayner died aged 32 in January 1918 in hospital in Sheffield.  The cause of death is given on his death certificate.
My grandmother used to say  that he had been involved in an industrial accident in a munitions factory during the war which involved inhaling gas and died from the after effects of  in 1928.    In that, of course, she has borrowed from the tragic events surrounding his brother. She would have been 20 when Frederick Augustus died, too old to really get the uncle confused with the father.  I suspect she knew the true story,  but who can blame her for keeping a family secret.  

So those were the Rayners.

What always strikes me is that the men may have been colourful characters,  but the women had to be strong,  they were the ones who kept going in that family.  If it wasnt for them we would none of us be here. 

 Grandma Johnson

Little Uncle John

Now came the Johnsons

The village of Hayfield is in Derbyshire.  In the late 1700s a law was passed that if a smaller church was linked to a larger church,   all weddings had to take place at the main church.  As a result the church in Glossop, Derbyshire, handled all the marriages for the small town of Hayfield,   as well as its own parishioners.

John Johnson (c 1773)
John Johnson married Nancy Garrit on 17th April 1796 .  He may have been a wheelwright.  (Piggots directory 1824)  

Thomas Johnson 1797
They  had a son called Thomas Johnson, who  was born in Hayfield, Derbyshire, and baptised on August 25th 1797 

Thomas married Ann had five children and moved back to his wife's home town of Norton Le Moors in Staffordshire.

William Johnson 1842
Their son William married Ann Mountford, a woman from a highly religious family, who were closely connected to the "Primitive Methodist Movement".  

Thomas Johnson 1874
Their son,  another Thomas Johnson was born on St Georges Day,  1874.  He married Sarah Ann Lowe. This particular Thomas seems to have taken on some of his mother's religious values and was soon to pay a terrible price for speaking his mind.

At this time sad events were developing not far away at Hemsworth  in the Wakefield district of Yorkshire.  In May 1904 the Kinsley Colliery was purchased by new owners and  became Fitzwilliam-Hemsworth Collieries Ltd. The GNR were still chasing their money and the miners wanted more pay, in fact the miners came out on strike and stayed out for 3 years .   By 1905 both sides were desperate and the owners had resorted to evicting the miners from their homes – which were owned by the company.  This was known as the Kinsley Evictions and has passed into mining history as an example of the miners struggles at their most painful.  In fact it was this bitter dispute which led to the passing of the Trades Disputes Act 1906.

The miners cottages that belonged to the mine owners somehow were reduced to almost ruins during the course of the strike, either by the owners – to stop the people moving back in – or by the miners – to prevent blacklegs being moved in. 

Thomas Johnson, who was a lay preacher, preached a sermon in which he condemned the mine owners for their greed and blamed them for the suffering of the Yorkshire miners.Keeping in mind that his mother came from the "Primitive Methodist" tradition,  with its huge open air rallies,  this must have seemed quite a challenge to the authorities in his own area. As a result his employers sacked him and blacklisted him from working in the Staffordshire mines.

In 1906 Sarah was expecting another child but the family were evicted and had to flee the area in search of a new home in an area where they would not be known so that Thomas could find work..

The family barricaded themselves inside the house with timber (railway sleepers) to gain a few hours while Sarah had the baby, Reginald, but he died at birth. Shortly afterwards the family left Staffordshire, sneaking out of the house in the dead of night

They used a child’s pram to carry their possessions and walked from Staffordshire to Durham, in order to find an area where Thomas was not blacklisted by the employers. A month of walking brought them to Horden, where Clement died from the hardships the family had suffered on the journey.   Three year old William was the youngest to survive.  On January 18th 1910 Sydney was born, the youngest of their children.

Thomas served in the first world war, possibly in the Sunderland battery of the royal artillery reserve, fortunately he survived.

Thomas and Sarah spent the rest of their lives in Seaham Harbour.  As for their sons:

John Thomas Johnson eventually returned to Staffordshire and has a family there
Arthur married Jemima Corrigan and after her death in 1942 he remarried Anne Sanaghan
William  Johnson married Jane Annie Rayner  at Easington in 1927  
Sydney married Winnie

The next generation were  my uncles and my aunts.

After that came my cousins - too many of us to list here .

So that's the story,  Mudfords,   Barlows,  Wheatleys,  Rayners, Conkeys,  Broster-Lowes, Mountfords and Johnsons. 
They came from England Ireland and Scotland.  They were poor, they were patriotic and they were protestant.
They had more than their share of hardship and tragedy.

I wonder what they would think of us and what we have become.
I think they would want us to remember them, and to think about them now and again. 
That's why I did this research. So that the next generation growing up get a chance to read this story.

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