My mother, Isabella Errington (her maiden name Carr). She was a very very industrious dutiful mother amongst her family. And my farther was the very patron of Industry and honesty.” (20)
Although Anthony Errington’s writing about home and family is dominated by his family’s labour, he speaks a lot about his childhood, mainly expressing his huge admiration for his parents. Their inspirational work ethic and respectable reputations are both characteristics that he aspires to later on in his life. His parents both started their first house in “High Felling, in the Chepelry of Heuth in the Parish of Jarrow, County Durham.” (20) The two brought up four sons and five daughters there. Before his siblings reached the young age that they required for work, his father would work 3-4 days down the pit a week “erning to get mony to bring up his family.” (22) On top of this work, his father made sure that religion was a dominant part of the household, making his children “charatable, to shun bad company, and to keep the comandments in a christian life. And to love each other was the charge from our parents.” (22) From reading comments like this, it is clear that Anthony’s upbringing made him mirror many characteristics of his father’s. A life of honest work, love for his peers and being a devout Catholic were all something that he believed in and they were important to pass down the generations.
Anthony’s mother’s roles conformed to working-class gender roles in the 18th century. She had to work from the early age of 11 in “sarvise” (20) at Powders Close, south of the River Tyne. This shows that women had much more domestic roles, a sarvise will have been a servant to a much wealthier family. Her early work continued in her home life too. Isabella learned her domestic role from an age, joining the cycle of a woman’s duty to care for others, a reminder of the patriarchal gender roles at the time. Another common role was medical care. Omella Moscucci writes that “Healing was part of women’s domestic activities, and every housewife was expected to understand the treatment of the minor ailments of her own household, and to prepare her own drugs.” (9) This was an important element of the household as illness ravaged families. Anthony’s sister Isabelle, “died of the warter in the brain at 11 years of age.” (20) I will explore illness in more depth on a latter blog post as it was a tragically frequent occurrence during Anthony’s lifetime.
In the chapter entitled ‘Brotherly Love’, Anthony speaks about the time his brother Geordie, who enlisted into the “ridgment of foot.” (36) It was 19 years before we could receive one letter from my Brother” and “24 years after he left Newcastle he came home, not one wound on him nor lech on his back. Out of 1500 men at Newcastle, there was 26 left alive of that number.” (38) This is a moment of huge pride for Anthony, his brother had amazingly survived this brutal ordeal as a soldier but it is also a period of his life that must have been truly heart-breaking for him. He didn’t see his brother for 24 years and also didn’t even get a letter from him for the majority of that time. It is clear that this was the brutal reality of family life at the time, they were broken up so easily due to the time consuming that their class were destined to do and also the fatal risks that came with much of the work.
Ann Hindmarsh was houskeeper to Mr Sill, Squire Ellisons Stewart. I got equented with her and in proses of time I married her and we set up house at High Felling where my first sun was born.” (45)
Anthony eventually started his own family, which was an exciting change in his life. He only speaks briefly about his own family as his work in the pits is the dominant subject. One moment that he does talk about is very harrowing, Anthony’s wife died on 9 March 1809 and he was left with “2 Suns, and 2 daughters to Lament the loss of a Mother and honest partner in life.” (60) Heart-breaking moments like this in Anthony’s memoir show the fluctuations of happiness and sadness in his life. What makes it worse is that Anthony’s parents were so important to his upbringing whereas his children lost their mother so young. Sadly, it is the his own family life that we hear less from, potentially because it was quite hard to speak about. Although this is a sad end to this post, it can bring peace to our minds that it is clear that Anthony still proceeded to live a productive life, continuing the honest working mentality that his parents taught him, whilst using religion as a comfort for the abundance of loss in his life.
Errington, Anthony. Coals And Rails: the autobiography of Anthony Errington, a Tyneside colliery waggonway-wright. 1776 – c. 1825. Written between 1823 and about 1830. 1:231.
Moscucci, Ornella. The Science of Woman: Gynaecology and Gender in England, 1800-1929. Cambridge University Press, 22 Jul 1993.
‘Soldier from the 15th Regiment’ – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Yorkshire_Regiment
‘Take a street-by-street tour of old Hebburn and see its people and places’ –