My Paternal Family
Grtx4 grandparents: Richard and Sarah (nee Peet) Fairey
At the end of the article, Part One of the Fairey Family, we described the re-location of Richard and Elizabeth (nee Homerstone) Fairey from Great Barford, Beds to Hitchin, Herts in 1713. Here, in 1716, my ancestor Richard Fairey II was baptised. It is with him that we begin the next episode of my Fairey’s family history
Greatx4 grandparents - Richard (II) and Sarah (nee Peet) Fairey
Richard Fairey II was baptised at St Marys, Hitchin on 29 April 1716:
His first wife was Sarah Peet, whom he married on 11 November 1736 at Letchworth, which was a neighbouring parish of Hitchin.
Sarah was the daughter of William and Ann Pete (sic) and was baptised at Graveley, Herts on 13 February 1723. The couple had a total of four children baptised at Graveley, none of which appear on the Find My Past or Family Search websites. Richard (a labourer) and Sarah had three children christened at St Marys, Hitchin in the late 1730s. Each baptism noted Richard’s wife as Ann - perhaps that was her second (and preferred) name - and that the father was Richard junior - his father, also Richard, still being alive. Then tragedy struck. The Hitchin parish burials’ record tells the story:
At around the turn of the year 1742, Richard lost his wife and then a prematurely new-born daughter, Ann, (their son, Richard Fairey, was born on 5 April 1841) within six days. Strangely, Ann’s baptism was not noted in the Hitchin record. Left with three small sons, Richard quickly re-married. His new bride was Susanna Mole whom he married at St Marys, Hitchin on 26 May 1743.
Richard and Susanna had six known children:
Before describing Richards life, we will consult a map of Hitchin dated 1820:
Site of bridewell and workhouse
St Marys
In 1753, the Faireys were living at Back Street. Hitchin. Back Street and Back Lane are common names in towns and villages (ie Back Lane, Preston) and generally denoted poorer areas of the community - they were what Americans would call, ‘the other side of the tracks’. Unlike many of their neighbours, the Faireys paid no rates. They were poor. When their entry appears in the parish accounts, they are consistently noted as the last household in the street, which likely means that they were living in one of the four end houses of Back Street (which today is known as Queen Street) which are depicted on the map. Richard was always noted as a ‘labourer’. Perhaps, ‘casual’ should be added to this job description as he seems to have offered his services intermittently to Hitchin authorities - for example, to repair the town’s roads. In the eighteenth century, Hitchin’s highways were best negotiated in the middle of the year, in the middle of town and in the middle of the road. The Statute for the Mending of the Highways (1555) attempted to improve the quagmire which was the nation’s transport infrastructure. It decreed that, during Easter week each year, two surveyors be appointed in every parish to direct a spring clean-up of roads. Over four days (soon increased to six) all householders were required to wield shovels, swing picks or draw ploughs to repair the ravages of winter. This was known as ‘statute labour’. Those who did not work paid a due towards the cost of the maintenance. After the Act was passed, Hitchin’s surveyors were dilatory – ‘...Hitchin is very apt to yeeld derty ways’ (1598). Its highways were churned by lumbering juggernauts carrying malt to London. Roads were obstructed by firewood, uncut hanging hedges and even dunghills. Millers allowed water to overflow onto highways. The nearby hamlet of Walsworth was described as ‘the muddiest place on earth’ and some of its field names reflected this – Wade-over Close; Puddle Acre. The guardians of Hitchin’s roads became more efficient from 1720 and surviving surveyors accounts books dating from 1729 give details of the work they oversaw. In the spring, the roads were ploughed, the resulting furrows being cast towards the middle of the thoroughfare. They were then harrowed level for the summertime traffic. In late autumn, they were ploughed again, more deeply, and faggots (from Gosmore) were placed in the bottom to improve drainage. Large stones were piled into the deeper holes and then soil, bricks and gravel (dredged from the river) were compacted and a final layer of flint finished the job. The casual labourers who worked on the highways were paid around 10p a day. The surveyors’ accounts sometimes record the work that was done by each person - Thomas Jolley received 10d in 1754 for ‘flinging up dirt’. Several women were employed by the surveyors such as Ann Frey who was paid 8/- for eight loads of stones. To further improve the roads, householders were ordered to sweep and clean up the street in front of their homes before sunset on Saturdays and fines were doled out if ducks fouled the pavement. Richard Fairey worked on Hitchin’s roads from 1852 until 1864. He may have worked on other occasions, but he is specifically mentioned in the surveyors’ accounts as follows: two days in 1754; four days in 1757; in 1758 he was paid 5/- for six loads of stones and his boys were paid 1/- ‘for picking stones after the plow’; in 1759, Richard earned 6d for laying in some faggots in Bancroft and 15/- for 18 days work on the Walsworth Road in June; in 1760, he received 11/2d for thirteen days work. In 1763 Richard worked at least for 13 days on Hitchin’s roads. That year, he was joined by a son (probably Thomas who was 15 years old and who was mentioned in the accounts). As he was used so frequently, he was probably an efficient worker.
Chapman’s Yard
Thorpe’s Yard
An extract from the Hitchin parish accounts which shows Richard working on Hitchin’s roads for five days during 1862 for a shilling a day.
In April 1754, Richard broke his femur or thigh bone. Because the thigh has large and strong muscles it has a great degrees of contraction and shortening. Considerable manipulation would have been required by several assistants to overcome strong thigh muscles and stretch them in order to place the bones in their natural position. In most cases at this time, it was necessary to employ additional means to accomplish this object by pulling the lower fragment away from the upper. This had to be done with care and yet with considerable force, If, after the pulling and resetting, both limbs were the same length again, then the procedure was successful, but this was not always the case. Richard possibly walked with a limp after his accident - and would have endured an agonising experience as the setting was done without anaesthetic. The work needed was so strenuous that helpers were given beer - even though the operation was carried out at spring-time. This was charged to the parish and entered into its surveyors’ accounts:.
Richard’s service were also called for during an odd episode in the autumn of 1763. Hitchin had a bridewell, or dedicated holding cell. Here, ‘dissolute paupers and idle apprentices’, vagrants and the unemployed, riff-raff and petty criminals, madmen together with ‘vagabonds and loose women’ were temporarily dumped. This incarnation was built in 1693 (it was replaced in 1808) using 15,000 bricks and three loads of timber from Breachwood Green, Herts. It was a two-storey building, measuring twenty feet six inches by ten feet six inches, with two small windows. It had a few plank beds and posts to which madmen and desperate criminals were chained. An inspection in 1776, revealed that there was no straw (for comfort) and the prisoners of both sexes were ‘quite naked and lousy’. The lower storey was for male prisoners and the upper floor was divided into two rooms for female miscreants. The ‘ladies’ were incarcerated using a ladder - either climbing themselves, or being carried. The bridewell was situated at the lower end of Tilehouse Street, between the junctions of Sun Street and Buckesbury and on the south side of the road. It was adjacent to the Workhouse and between the two were the Workhouse toilets. It was said that the offensive effluvia might kill the bridewell inmates if they were imprisoned there for a fortnight. In September 1763, a woman was languishing in the upper storey. She objected to her situation, saying she was pregnant. It was decided to take her to the workhouse. This posed a problem - how was she to be taken down the ladder between the two storeys? It was decided to employ Richard Fairey and Thomas Gent to manoeuver the woman to the ground. As the Workhouse was so close, it must have been the work involved in getting the woman down the ladder that was the main part of the payment of 4 1/2d each to the men - and this implies it took some time to complete their task. Was the woman large, was she compliant or screaming, how was she adorned? One can imagine an interested crowd watching as the spectacle unfolded and the two men toiled, ‘Shift ‘er ‘ip left a bit, Richard!’. The task was eventually completed - and the woman was found not to be pregnant and returned to the bridewell. This remarkable scene is featured in Reginald Hine’s History of Hitchin. He adds the droll comment that when the woman was returned to her cell she was there ‘to labour, in very deed’.
In 1755 the Poor Law accounts of Hitchin portray a picture of tragedy and poverty for Richard and his family: ‘Aug 4, paid for a coffin for Rich. Farey’s (sic) wife – 7/6’; ‘Aug 9, paid Thos. Everett for a cart to bring Richard Farey’s wife to the grave – 2/-, paid two men for attendance to the cart helping to bury her – 3/-’.  Susannah Fairey was probably in her mid-thirties.  She was spared the next episode to unfold – ‘Aug 16 paid for a coffin for Rich. Farey’s child 3/6 (This was Robert, who was just ten month’s old), for the burial of the child 3/2, for the affidavit by Edward Fairbeard 6d (which refers to the wool that was used for Robert’s funeral shroud), for carrying the child to the grave by two men 2/-.’ This type of payment to the poor was uncommon in Hitchin’s accounts which, taken together with the fact that they paid no rates for their home, indicates how poor the Faireys were. (Incidentally, Richard’s mother, Elizabeth, was still alive for on 29 September 1755 she was paid 10/6 for helping the nurse at the Folly.)
There is no record of Richard in Hitchin after 1763. Richard possibly moved from Hitchin to Ippollitts around 1763 - 14 October 1763 was his final payment for work on HItchin’s roads. His son, Richard III, was certainly living in Ippollitts in that year. Perhaps the family relocated to the part of Ippollitts that was in Preston. Richard ll was buried at Hitchin on 18 June 1780, aged sixty-four (see below). Richard was hardly on the shortlist of Hine’s Hitchin Worthies, despite being mentioned thrice in Reginald’s History of Hitchin. I’m grateful to Hine because these notes encouraged me to track down the source of his comments - which opened the window onto the details of Richard’s life of toil, sadness and poverty.