William & Sarah Shellaker


The Final Chapter

At present I do not know if Sarah Shellaker served her full 3 months in prison, but if she did, she would have been released during October 1855 in time to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary which occurred on the 15th November 1855. However 10 days after this anniversary her husband of forty years was dead.

On Sunday 25th November 1855 William Shellaker, the husband of Sarah Shellaker (née Esther) of Spittlegates, died at the age of 67 years. He had outlived three of his children by a considerable amount of time; Mary who died as an infant nearly thirty years before in 1826, his son William who had died, also as an infant, around twenty years ago in 1834 and Mary Jane, who had died in 1842  at the age of 14 years some  twelve years before William’s death. He was survived by his Widow Sarah, who at this time was 61 years old and by his son and only remaining child, Richard who had reached 25 years of age. William Shellaker was buried in the churchyard in Tugby, alongside the graves of his three children.

Over four years later in our story, Richard Shellaker, the son of Sarah and the late William Shellaker, in the parish church at Tugby on Tuesday 12th March 1861. His bride was MARY ANN GROCOCK who came from the neighbouring village of Hallaton where her family were carpenters by trade. Richard was 30 years old when he married, his bride was around 23 years old.

1861 – CENSUS
Three weeks after the wedding of her son, Sarah Shellaker is recorded on another Census. This Census, taken on was the night of  Sunday 7th April  1861, records Sarah, now a Widow aged 67 years old and as still living in the village of Tugby. She is living alone, a few doors down from the home of her son and daughter-in-law Mary. As can be seen on the section of the Census below her neighbours are the village Blacksmith and a widow, Martha Harrison who was a Grazier, ten years her senior.

On this Census there is an interesting change in Sarah’s occupation since that of ten years previously, 1851, in which she  was recorded as being a ‘Farmer’s Wife’. In this Census, Sarah Shellaker, member of the Wesleyan-Methodist Society,  now runs a Beer House!

Two years later in the 1863 publication of ‘White’s Trade Directory for Leicestershire’ Sarah Shellaker is again recorded as running a Beerhouse. A beerhouse was not a public house but was basically a private house licensed under the Beerhouse Act of 1830 to sell beers but not spirits, often from just one room.

Apparently The Beerhouse Act 1830 liberalized regulations on the brewing and sale of beer by individuals in the United Kingdom. The Act enabled anyone to brew and sell beer, ale or cider, whether from a public house or their own homes, upon obtaining a moderately priced license of just under £2 for beer and ale and £1 for cider without recourse to obtaining them from justices of the peace, as was previously required. The Act was allegedly aimed to wean the public from the consumption of gin.

1861 Census - Sarah Shellaker

1861 Census – Sarah Shellaker in Tugby

Reproduced by permission of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland
Name Relationship Condition Sex Age Profession Where Born
Sarah Shellaker Head Widow F 67 Beer House. New Act Lincolnshire, Grantham 


1861 – 1874 – ‘GRANNY SHELACRE’
Sarah Shellaker-1Sarah, pictured on the right, was to live for a further thirteen years after her son Richard was married and saw six of her grandchildren grow-up. Sarah Shellaker’s first grandchild arrived in August 1861, a mere five months after her son’s wedding. Richard named his first child was named SARAH after his mother. A second grandchild arrived in March 1863, a boy who was named WILLIAM after his paternal grandfather.

The following year, in August 1864, another girl was born and although she was christened MARY JANE although she was known thereafter as ‘POLLY’. Two years later, on 15th August 1866 another daughter arrived, she was named EMMA. Sixteen months passed and Mary gave birth to another girl in December 1867. She was christened ELIZABETH and she was the fourth girl and fifth child of Richard and Mary. Sarah, William, Polly, Emma and Elizabeth would have all know their grandmother, Sarah Shellaker.

But ‘Granny Shelacre’ was also living for a series of infant deaths which followed as over the next few years as her daughter-in-law Mary gave birth to several children, none of whom survived beyond infancy. A girl LOUISA was born in 1869 two years after the birth of Elizabeth, but she died within a few months aged only sixth months old. In 1872 another child was born, she was named FANNY but again she died in infancy.

In 1873 twin girls were born who Richard & Mary gave the same names as their two recently deceased daughters; LOUISA and FANNY but they also died in infancy. During this time it is believed that another boy was born but subsequently died in infancy. He was named RICHARD.


1871 – CENSUS
During the time her son and daughter-in-law were experiencing the sorrow of losing their babies in early infancy another Census was held. This one took place on Sunday 2nd April 1871 and records Sarah Shellaker, now aged 77 years old, still living on her own in Tugby.  However her occupation is not longer the owner of a Beer House but is that of an ‘Accountant’ and I would speculate she is looking after the accounts of her son’s Butcher’s Shop. This was to be the final Census on which she was recorded.

1871 Census - Sarah Shellaker

1871 Census – Sarah Shellaker in Tugby

Reproduced by permission of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland
Name Relationship Condition Age Occupation Where Born
Sarah Shellaker Head Widow 77 Accountant Lincoln, Spittlegates

On Tuesday June 9th 1874 Sarah Shellaker (née Esther), the widow of William and the mother of the deceased children; Mary, William & Mary Ann, died two days after her 80th birthday. She was survived by her son Richard who was 44 years old at the time of his mother’s death, her daughter-in-law Mary aged 37 years, and by five grandchildren; Sarah aged 12, William aged 11, Mary Jane (Polly) aged 9, Emma aged 7 and Elizabeth aged 6. Sarah Shellaker was buried in Tugby Churchyard, sharing the grave of her late husband William who had died 19 years previously in 1855.

They are buried next to the graves of their three deceased children; their daughter Mary, who was the first of their children to die when in 1827 aged she died at the aged only 11 months, their son William who died on 1st October 1835 at the age of 18 months who shares the same gravestone which record the death of their daughter Mary Jane, who died on 6th October 1842, aged 14 years.

The picture below was taken in 2011 and shows the three gravestones in Tugby Churchyard erected in memory of these five people. The inscriptions are now becoming increasing difficult to read but  I transcribed them in the late 1970’s and so I am able to superimpose the words, on the picture on the right, as they were carved on each stone. (Click on the picture to view a larger version). To the sides of these three gravestones, and in the same row, are three others gravestones all of whom are also members of the Shellaker family but from a latter generation, four offspring of their son Richard.

William & Sarah Shellaker & the Gravestones of their Children - Tugby Churchyard

Tugby Churchyard – The gravestone of William and Sarah Shellaker on the right, in the centre that of their daughter Mary and on the left their son William and second daughter Mary Ann 

William Shellaker - Emma Photo AlbumSeveral years ago I saw a photograph album which once belonged to Sarah’s granddaughter Emma Shellaker. Although most of the photographs had been removed, two pictures were of great interest to me. One was a small picture of a woman which took up a full page on the right side of a double page – under this picture were the words – ‘Granny Shelacre’ – an interesting spelling. This picture is shown above on the right.

Opposite the picture of ‘Granny Shelacre’, taking up a full page on the left side of a double page was a picture of a man but unlike the woman he had no name to identify him but I am convinced this man is William Shellaker. My reasoning is as follows…

  • He was placed in the album opposite a woman identified as ‘Granny Shelacre’, giving me the impression this was ‘Granddad and Granny’. (Neither Emma or any of her sisters knew their Grandfather William Shellaker – he died before any of his grandchildren were born).
  • I’m not totally sure but I believe one of Polly Shellaker, one of Emma sister’s, also had a photograph of this man. I was sent a photocopy of the same picture some years ago by one of Polly’s grandchildren.
  • He has the physical appearances of a Shellaker – relatively large smooth forehead, a jowly face – saggy flesh about the lower cheeks and jaw area and he has short, slightly stubby finger – all of which I believe are common within the Shellaker family, especially with the onset of old age.
  • But, and this to me is the deciding factor – he appears to have something wrong with his left eye (the right one as viewed). It was possibly what is known as a ‘lazy eye’ (Amblyopia) and could have been the reason, that in the column marked ‘Disability’ on the 1851 Census, a tick is against the name of William Shellaker – I speculate he was partially blind.
  • And again more speculation but on the 1841 Census he was making shoes, a skilled and detailed job requiring precision and good eyesight  – ten years later on the 1851 Census, he is a ‘Farmer with 70 acres’ – could his sight have failed during this time causing him to change profession?

 I am convinced that this is a photograph of William Shellaker.

And so ends my account of the lives of William Shellaker and his wife Sarah – theirs is a significant, and at times, a contradictory story.

Lyndon to Tugby – Shoemaker to Farmer
William was a person who started his life in Lyndon in Rutland but ended it in Tugby, Leicestershire; a shoemaker who became a farmer. Both of these actions and events undoubtedly had an influence upon the course of his son Richard’s life, which in turn led to the Shellaker family moving from Tugby to Billesdon Lodge Farm around twelve years after Sarah Shellaker’s death.

William Shellaker’s Census return of 1851 was the actual key document which enabled my research to extend further back in time to an additional six or seven generations as it revealed his birthplace as being in ‘Rutland, Lyndon’, a fact unknown to recent family members.

Supporting the non-conformist cause
In the face of almost certain hostility and unfriendliness from their fellow villages, both William and Sarah supported the non-conformist movement, the Wesleyan Methodist church; their children were all baptised into that faith in Oakham, Furthermore once the chapel had been built in Tugby, they became members and William himself became a leader of that chapel. We also know, from discovering the receipts of her subscriptions from the years 1859 and 1865, that Sarah was a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Society. And yet between those two dates, both William & Sarah appeared in court charged with theft, a charge for which 60 year old Sarah was convicted and sentenced to 3 months in gaol with hard labour. This ambiguity related to Sarah’s religious faith, continues in 1861, we discover she is running a beer house – an occupation surely at odds with a religion upholding and preaching temperance?

As mentioned in the narrative, William & Sarah Shellaker also provide the first recorded evidence, by the baptism of their first child in 1826, of the Shellaker family’s support of religious non-conformity. This support continued when the family moved to Billesdon, initially attending both the Wesleyan Methodist and the Baptist chapels in that village, and when the Wesleyan Methodist closed, remaining heavily involved with the Baptist Chapel in Back Street / Brook Lane. This month (April 2013), the Baptist Chapel in Billesdon celebrated their 200th anniversary and it is interesting to note the descendants of William & Sarah Shellaker have attended and supported this chapel for approaching 130 of those 200 years. Indeed at the recent anniversary service I counted at least eight of William & Sarah’s direct descendants seated in the congregation.

First Photograph
If the pictures are, as I believe, of William & Sarah Shellaker, they are the first ever photographs of members of the Shellaker family. Photography was an amazing new invention which they witnesses during their lifetime. The word ‘Photography’ first appeared in 1839, the same year as the oldest surviving photographic portrait in Britain was taken. The Crimea War in 1854 was the first war to be photographed. William died in 1855 so his photograph was taken in the earliest days of the process, possibly by someone who travelled around Britain recording landscapes and still life images. At that time many people, with sufficient knowledge and the desire to develop this new business, profited from selling quick portraits to common people.

Family Life
They are born toward the end of the Georgian era in the reign of George III, the third of four Hanoverian kings of Great Britain and lived to see the early decades of the Victorian era. They celebratde 40 years of married life, during which time they raised four children and buried three of them.

Sarah went on to see their sole surviving child, Richard, marry and also witness five of her grandchildren survive beyond early infancy. Maybe the fact that Richard’s own sibling all died at at early age created a desire within Richard to ‘continue the Shellaker line’ by producing such a large number of children of his own. But that is another story……