Freers on the move

One of the family history mysteries that has always been a source of fascination to me is how my great-grandmother, Clara Freer, who was born and brought up in Ruabon, Denbighshire, came to meet and marry my great-grandfather, Frederick Blacknell, who was born and brought up in Calverton, Nottinghamshire. Today, with the easy movement of people such a meeting would be perfectly normal but back in the second half of the nineteenth century didn’t everyone stay, more or less, in their home village?

Well, I already knew that wasn’t entirely true as I had previously discovered that Clara’s father and mother (William and Mary Ann Freer) had made a big move to Ruabon from Quorndon, Leicestershire in about 1860. But had Clara moved to Nottingham, or Frederick to Ruabon – and why? What was the connection?

In the first instance using census records I decided to trace as far as possible the movements of Clara and her eight sisters and five brothers to see if anyone else had a connection to Nottingham. The results were more surprising than I could possibly have imagined. All but four of William and Mary Ann’s children settled away from Ruabon and only three never left the vicinity. And as it turned out Clara had not one but at least two spells living in Nottingham, and Nottingham was where three of her sisters also settled down to live.

Freer sibling migrations, 1860-1930

The map above gives an indication of where the fourteen children made their homes in adulthood:

  • George, William and Anna were the stay at home folk and lived out their days in Ruabon
  • Edgar moved down to the West Midlands living in the Worcester and Birmingham area
  • John didn’t move too far and settled in Shropshire, initially in Adderley and then in Whitchurch
  • Sarah (later Eddleston), Mary Ann (later Almond) and Edith (later Evans) all settled in the Manchester area
  • Helen spent a good deal of her time in the London area but was also housekeeper in Bedfordshire. She married late in life and spent at least the last few years living with her niece Gladys Marchant’s (née Freer) family
  • Frances (later Goodman), Mary Jane (later Rudkin) and Lucy (later Johnson) all settled in Nottingham
  • Clara (later Blacknell) lived most of her life in Ruabon but spent at least six years living in Nottingham
  • Charles Henry settled in Cheshire (Crewe and Nantwich)

The most interesting discovery from my many hours of perusing the census records was that both Mary Jane and Lucy had spent time as single women in Nottingham living with a John and Sarah Moseby. In both cases they were identified on the census record as their grandparents. The Ruabon Freers had family in Nottingham! One can only speculate that Clara was likewise sent to live with grandma to ease the numbers living in Ruabon and, perhaps, learn a skill (Mary Jane and Lucy were described as machinist and seamstress respectively on the census records) or maybe she went to live with one of her three sisters living in Nottingham at the appropriate time. It doesn’t then take a big leap of imagination to see how Clara and Frederick might then have met.

Clara and Frederick married in Nottingham in 1890 but moved to Ruabon three or four years later. They had another short spell in Nottingham around the turn of the century and then again returned to Ruabon where they both remained until Clara died in 1918. Interestingly, Frederick returned once more to Nottingham, this time with his daughter, Ethel in 1926. He remained there until his death in 1948.

But, that isn’t the end of the story. In accordance with Frederick’s wishes, his body was brought all the way back to Ruabon so that he could be buried with Clara in the parish graveyard.

Frederick & Clara Blacknell’s grave. Ruabon, Denbighshire. 1948

By Hanna Appleyard

Hanna Appleyard (née Nan Morris) is the granddaughter of Gladys Blacknell. Hanna has been very active in researching her family history especially along the Freer line.

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