The life of George England 1811-1878Published 27/11/2016Firstly, many thanks to Chris Jones who has done so much to check out documents and establish the facts about the remarkable Mr England, though a fair bit of speculation still has to be done.
The previously accepted facts were that George England was born in 1811 in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and by the age of 14 had moved down to London to begin an engineering apprenticeship with the prestigious John Penn Boiler Works and Shipyards in Deptford who were noted at the time as manufacturers of marine steam engines. It is odd that he moved down to London when there were many shipbuilders and engineers nearer to the place of his birth. However, a gentleman called Henry England lived in South London, and George certainly knew him as he crops up in several references. Perhaps he was an uncle and arranged his apprenticeship, and may even have provided accomodation in the early days?
The dictionary of national biography has the birth date of George England as 1811 in Newcastle upon Tyne. On a much later marriage certificate from the 1850s, he says his father was also George England, an engineer. The profession of engineer quoted though, should not be taken at face value. After all, by that later marriage, his father would have died, and George would want to keep up appearances. He was not alone in this, as his later associate Robert Fairlie did exactly the same thing on his marriage certificate, and it can be demonstrated that his father was a blacksmith!
So we are looking for a George England who had a son in Newcastle in 1811. The records that remain are sparse but there is one, who was married to a Mary Whinney in 1808. Their son, George England, was born on 8th July 1811. There are records of four other children, Eliza (1809), Isabella (1813), Anne (1814) and Mary (1816). Isabella is an unusual name and important in what follows. Years later in July 1832, the papers are full of the story of a George England, accidentally killing his wife Mary, with their daughter Isabella as a witness. This George England, was an anchor smith and a publican in Swalwell (in the Whickham district of Newcastle upon Tyne). He had a disagreement with his wife and pushed her. She fell backwards and her head hit a broken flagstone, causing her death. His remorse, backed up by his daughter, led him to be convicted only of manslaughter, and he was given a sentence of 3 months imprisonment. Had he been found guilty of murder he wouild have ben hanged. The juxtaposition of a George, Mary and Isabella, so close to Newcastle makes it almost certain that this was the family our George England was born into, although it cannot be absolutely proved.
The Newcastle he was born into was a hive of industry, commerce and shipping, and if his father was a metal worker or smith then the young George would have had at least second-hand knowledge and would have had no difficullty in finding work in the engineering or shipbuilding industries.
The next statement in his biography is that he was apprenticed to John Penn and Sons in Greenwich at the age of fourteen. This age ties up with the school leaving age of the time. It was certainly the custom in those days to go straight into an apprenticeship. As an example a near contemporary of his, from Newcastle – John Nixon (1815-1899) a famous mining engineer, at 14, went straight into an apprenticeship in Garesfield, west of Newcastle. However, this doesn’t explain how and why he travelled so far from his parents and how such an apprenticeship would be paid for.
Chris Jones speculates that he may not have served an apprenticeship at all; he may have left home following a family argument (it is obvious that both he and his father had fierce tempers). Apprenticeships were very expensive, and a strong young man with a basic knowledge of even basic blacksmith work would have found some kind of work easily enough. He could have travelled down to London by boat, there were many cargo and passenger ships running up and down the East Coast and if you had the time and didn't mind a bit of hardship for a few days, the fares were cheap. Even after the railways were established, some travellers preferred to use ships to travel from the North to London, due to the low cost. George may even have worked his passage. Chris has unfortunately been so far unable to establish a family link to Henry England, though the surname suggests they must have been related somehow.
If he did work in the shipyards in South East London, and his apprenticeship lasted seven years then that would leave him looking for work around 1832. The first hint we have of him is from his first marriage. He married Jane Dafter from Wiltshire. Her unusual surname helps us identify that this is the right George England being married. The service was carried out in St Clement Dane’s church on 28th July 1834. The record is just before marriage certificates were introduced and so is light on information, informing us that they were both of full age (she was a year younger than he) and that they were living within the parish, which was located in Westminster.
George is next mentioned in a court case from January 1838. At this time his wife Jane had a shawl stolen and there are a few paragraphs about the case in the records from the Old Bailey. There were other George Englands at this time in London, but (in checking in the 1841 census, only 3 years later) there were fortunately no others with a wife called Jane. She describes herself as his wife and gives her address as Edgeware Road. There is the hint that things are not well in their marriage. She went to spend Christmas 1837 with friends in Greenwich rather than with her husband.
We finally find George for the first time directly, in 1839. He appears in Pigots Directory and his address is 27, Gloucester Terrace, Vauxhall Bridge Road, near the current position of ( the much later) Victoria Station. He gives his profession as Smith. Also on 30th April 1839 he appears in the minutes of the London and Southampton Railway as being paid for the supply of tools.
The marriage was not a success and he left Jane to live with a lady called Sarah Hannar, the same age as himself, with whom he went on to have three children, Mary, born 1841, Eliza Anne, born 1843, George Junior born in 1844. When his first wife died, he married Sarah. The 1861 census shows her as his wife by then. By 1839, England had begun renting a vacant factory building on a piece of land between Pomeroy Street and Kender Street, just off the Old Kent Road, in the then semi-rural district of Hatcham, now better known as New Cross. The premises consisted of a cottage, where the family lived, and a manufactory and had initially been used by one Henry Duxbury, who was involved in the leather trade. George patented (No. 8058, registered 7th May 1839) for a design of screw jack and on the 2nd March 1841 took out patent No. 8860 for a machine for weaving woollens. These inventions made him successful enough to be able to purchase the factory, which he renamed The Hatcham Iron Works. He lived with his family in the cottage attached to the premises which he also bought. Though records show that he first paid rates on the property in July 1840, it is not until the 1846 edition of the Post Office Directories that he is listed as ‘England, George & Co. Engineers and patent screw jack manufacturers, Hatcham Iron Works, Old Kent Road’. He was already interested in railway engineering, having sold tools to the London & Southampton Railway in 1839 and in 1843 had tried out his ‘manumotive railway carriage’ on the London & Croydon Railway.
"In the Kentish Mercury of 24th June 1850, we read that there wasa meeting of the inhabitants of the parish of St. Nicholas and St. Paul, Deptford (which included Hatcham), to decide their part in the Great Exhibition of 1851, "Mr George England being one of those present on the platform." In the same newspaper a week later, there was a report of a concert held in aid of the funds of the Deptford Mechanics and Literary Institute, in which George England was interested, and one Henry England was authorised to collect funds for this laudable venture. In the course of his address, the speaker made the following remark: "I was much pleased to find today that we had an extensive establishment in the hamlet of Hatcham in Mr England's workshops- I saw no less than four locomotive engines in the process of construction, and engraving of one of which I hold in my hand and whuich for elegance, lightness and speed, is not to be surpassed. " (As three locmotivesd had already been sold, that means at least seven were made-see products Pt1. The engraving would presumably be the "1848" "Little England" engraving. )
CH Dickon SLS Journal 1961 p139
"No further references to the firm appear in the Kentish Mercury until 8th November 1858, when Mr George England was charged with "unlawfully assaulting and baeting his apprentice, George Effingham Pattie on the 2nd instant." England's defence was that the apprentice had stolen or removed some spanners belonging to his, England's son who had been articled to the firm in that same year. (A dinner and dance was given to all hands to celebrate this occassion). England futher alleged that it was not the first time this had happened , the apprentice also pointing out that it was not the first time he had been beaten either. The magistrate gave his decision as "fine 5 shillings and costs or 7 days imprisonment", adding, as a rider, that the defendant "had beenrather too free with his correction." The fine was duly paid England remarking, in doing so that the magistrate would soon have to adjudicate again, as it was now begun."
CH Dickon SLS Journal 1961 p139
By 1861, a frequent visitor to Hatcham Lodge was Robert Francis Fairlie, an engineer who had been born in Glasgow 1831, himself the son of an engineer. He trained at Crewe and Swindon the works of the London & North Western Railway and of the Great Western Railway respectively, both of whom regarded themselves as the finest railways in Britain. He had begun his professional career in 1853 as the locomotive superintendent to the Londonderry and Coleraine Railway, later working in India for the Bombay and Baroda Railway (for whom England had built six locomotives in 1859, though four of them were lost at sea during transit). Fairlie had returned to London by the end of the decade and was working as a consultant engineer.
Though no doubt much of the talk between England and Fairlie was of engineering matters, Robert also paid a great deal of attention to Miss Eliza Anne England, affectionately known as Lizzie. At seventeen, George thought Lizzie a little young to be seriously courting, and he asked Fairlie to wait for a couple of years before pursuing her. He agreed to do this, but in January 1862 Lizzie and her sister went to the Crystal Palace for the day. Only Mary returned and by the time George and Sarah found out that the couple had eloped, having gained a licence to marry after Fairlie signed an affidavit to say he had her father’s permission, they were well on their way on the Boat Train. When the couple returned from their honeymoon in Spain, George took Fairlie to court for perjury. The resulting Central Criminal Court case, reported in The Times of 8 April 1862, caused much public interest. Under cross-examination by Sergeant Ballantyne (who appeared for Fairlie), England was forced to admit that he had run away with his present wife(Sarah Hannar), the mother of Eliza, and that he had a wife living at that time. He had lived with this lady many years but could not marry her until his wife died. By a quirk of English law, at that time, a child born out of wedlock was considered nobody’s child. In law she was nothing to do with England and could marry whom she pleased. There was no case to answer and therefore a verdict of not guilty was returned. England was furious, declaring that Lizzie, who had no money in her own right, “would not get a farthing from him”. The family were quickly reconciled, (possibly when the first grandchild appeared!) and Fairlie gradually became involved in England's work. The case was widely reported in the press, and George’s reputation and social standing were undoubtedly damaged by the revelations.
Since 1857, England had been one of the ten directors of the Crystal Palace Company. There had been a certain degree of incompetence and corruption involved in the project, particularly involving one William Robson, who defrauded the company of £28000 by maintaining a false record of shareholders. He was the registrar and used the money to ‘satisfy his strong desires and vitiated tastes including gambling and women’. He supported a wife and two mistresses with money he claimed to have made on the stock market. He was sentenced to 20 years transportation.
Following the revelations the other nine directors asked England to resign. He initially refused. One commentator on the case said of him; “He asserts, and I daresay with some reason, that his earnest wish to rout out incapable officials and put the Palace on an economical and remunerative basis had made him many enemies, who use his family affairs as an excuse for trundling him out.”
At one stormy meeting England made many complaints against the chairman and mentioned several cases of goods being supplied to the company at what he considered to be exorbitant prices. Having had his say, he then resigned, despite a vote taken at an ordinary general meeting of the shareholders, begging him to stay in office.