Date:January 06, 2013

Nellie Shellaker


A Birth and a ‘new’ name

Eighteen years, one month and a week after her marriage to RICHARD SHELLAKER, MARY ANN SHELLAKER gave birth to their twelfth child in the East Leicestershire village of TUGBY. The child was a girl, their eighth daughter, born on Saturday the 19th April 1879. She was named ‘HELENA’ but she was to be known thereafter as ‘NELLIE’.

Nellie’s father, Richard was a Grazier and Butcher who supplied meat to the villagers of Tugby and people of the surrounding area. He was born in 1830, also in Tugby, forty-nine years prior to Nellie’s birth. Her mother Mary originated from the nearby village of HALLATON, where her family trade was carpentry. Her maiden name was GROCOCK and she was approximately forty-one years old when she gave birth to Nellie and it was she who registered her daughter’s birth – a section of which is below.

1879 – The Birth Certificate of Helena Shellaker

Several of the various derivatives of the name Helen can be found within the Shellaker family over the last 400 years. The name Helen is an English derivative from the Greek name Helene. The name Helena is a Latin version of Helen. The names Eleanor, Ellenor and Elinor are English versions of an old French respelling of the Old Provençal name of Alienor, which was taken as a derivative of Helen.

The name Eleanor was first introduced into England by Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) who came from Southwest France to be the wife of Henry II, and subsequently became the mother of Richard the Lionheart & King John. The name was also borne by Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III and Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I.

Nellie was the twelfth child of Richard & Mary Shellaker although only five children remained alive at the time of her own birth.

The first child of Richard & Mary Shellaker, a girl, was born in August 1861, a mere five months after Richard & Mary’s married at the parish church at Tugby on the 12th March 1861. This first-born child was named SARAH. The couple then had a son, born in March 1863, who was named WILLIAM. The following year, in August 1864, another girl was born and although she was christened MARY JANE she was known thereafter as ‘POLLY’. Two years later, in 1866, on 15th August 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. These five children were alive when Nellie was born that spring of 1879 and all were considerably older; Sarah was seventeen, William had just reached his sixteenth birthday, Polly was fourteen years old, Emma was twelve and Elizabeth had reached her eleventh year in the winter preceding Nellie’s birth.

However, between the birth of Elizabeth in December 1867 and Nellie’s birth, eleven years later in 1879, Mary Shellaker gave birth to six children none of whom survived beyond infancy. A girl LOUISA was born in 1869, 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 to whom Richard & Mary gave the same names as their two recently deceased daughters; LOUISA and FANNY but they also died in infancy. A son was born in 1876, he was named JOHN RICHARD but he lived for only fifteen months before passing away in February 1878, the year prior to Nellie’s birth. During the years 1868 and 1878 it is believed that another boy was born but subsequently died in infancy. He was named RICHARD.



Tugby, around the time of Nellie’s birth, is described in a Victorian trade directory as.. “…. a pleasant village upon an eminence on the road between two towns, is seven and a half miles West of Uppingham and nearly twelve miles East by South of Leicester. Its parish contains 1,540 acres of land, and 364 inhabitants.” 

There is a church in the village, St Thomas a Becket (which is pictured right and is reproduced by permission of LeicesterPhoto). This was the church in which Nellie’s parents were married in 1861. In addition a “Wesleyan chapel was built in 1844”. It is probable Nellie may have attended the Wesleyan chapel with her parents as her parents were nonconformists and played an active role within that chapel. A school was built in 1859 – which  Nellie attended as a young child. The village also supported two public houses; “The Black Horse” and “The Fox and Hounds”.

Around the time of Nellie’s birth the main employment for the men of Tugby was that of “Farmers” & “Graziers”, and, comparable with most small English villages of that period, Tugby was largely self-sufficient. The other Tugby village trades and occupations included; “Tailors, a Boot & Shoemaker, a Blacksmith, Grocers, Bakers, A Carrier and Toll Collector, a Wheelwright and a Farm Bailiff.”

In addition a local had a trade described as a ‘Higgler’. This ancient occupation is described by Thomas Hardy in his novel ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ as “a dealer who buys and sells by picking up and delivering goods either on foot or by cart” also known as ‘Haggler’.

The Shellaker family lived in Chapel Lane, Tugby where they also had a Butcher’s shop. I have not, as yet, found any close-up old photographs of the house in which Nellie lived with her family but below are two relatively contemporary photographs of Chapel Lane, Tugby one of which shows a lady in a white apron in front of the Butchers shop with two people either side of her and also two boys further forward – could these be members of the Shellaker family? – We will probably never know.

I understand the Shellaker family home was next to the Butcher’s Shop, both of which are on the right of this lane. The roof apex of Butcher shop, which faces towards the camera can be seen in both of the photographs below. The date of these pictures is unknown although it is possible they were taken after the family had left the village. If anyone can supply an old photograph of the ‘far end’ of Chapel Lane which shows Butcher’s shop and the house in which the Shellaker family lived I’d be grateful if you would contact me. NB – The identity of the lady with the pram and children on the left picture below is unknown but it extremely improbable these people have any connection to the Shellaker family.

The original Butcher’s shop no longer remains although there is still a new Butcher’s shop on the same site in Chapel Lane –  ‘G. T. Doughty Butchers Shop’, under the ownership of Gary Gregg. The large house directly on the left was the village bakery and is now known as ‘The Old Bakehouse’.

[Click on the images below to see a larger picture of these photograph].

Two views of Chapel Lane in Tugby showing the Butchers Shop

Nellie was baptised by the Reverend Henry Johnson, just over a month after her birth on May 22nd 1879 – which was a Thursday. This was significant to our story as all of the seven other baptism recorded directly under that of Nellie’s took place on a Sunday, which was the traditional day for baptisms within the Church of England. A baptism on a Thursday indicates Nellie was ill and  near to death. This is supported by a note on the left of the record in the Tugby Parish Records indicating that this was a ‘Private Baptism’. A private baptism, which often took place within the home of the child, is usually an indication that it was considered highly likely the child was not expected to live. Helena, at this time, was seriously ill with, it is thought, inflammation of the lungs.

Below is the relevant section of the Tugby parish register on which her name is incorrectly spelt “Eleanor” and not “Helena” as on her birth certificate.

Nellie Shelllaker's Baptism - Tugby

 May 22nd 1879 – The Private Baptism of of ‘Eleanor’ Shellaker

The 1881 Census, which was taken on Thursday 3rd of April of that year, is the first that records the young Nellie Shellaker. The Census records her age as ‘1’ which is correct although when the Census was recorded she was only two weeks short of her second birthday. On this Census Nellie is recorded as living in Tugby with her parents, her brother eighteen year old William and three of her sisters; Sarah, Mary Jane (Polly) and Elizabeth who were nineteen, sixteen and thirteen respectively. The street name has not been recorded by the census enumerator although we know the family lived in Chapel Lane in Tugby. (NB. The number ’54’ is not significant; it is only a sequential number of the recorded households).


1881 Census – The Shellaker Family in Tugby

Although the information on this Census is relatively clear I have extracted the details in the table below. * Please note on this Census the birthplace of Nellie’s mother, Mary Ann Shellaker, is incorrectly recorded as Tugby. She was born in Hallaton.

Name Relationship Condition Age Occupation Where Born
Richard Shellaker Head Marr 50 Butcher & Grazier Leicester, Tugby
Mary A Shellaker Wife Marr 43 Leicester, Tugby*
Sarah A Shellaker Daughter Unmarr 19 Leicester, Tugby
William Shellaker Son Unmarr 18 Butcher Leicester, Tugby
Mary J Shellaker Daughter Unmarr 16 Leicester, Tugby
Elizabeth Shellaker Daughter Unmarr 13 Scholar Leicester, Tugby
Helana Shellaker Daughter 1 Leicester, Tugby

Nellie’s other sister Emma is not listed with the family. At this time she was living as a ‘boarder’ at ’94, Brunswick Street, Leicester’. Emma, who was fourteen years old at this time, was attending Wyggeston Girls School in Humberstone Gate in the center of Leicester.

Nellie Shellaker - The earliest PhotographANOTHER BROTHER ARRIVES 
In December 1881, when Nellie reached the age of two years and eight months, her mother gave birth to her thirteenth and final child.

The child, a boy, was named JOHN. He was baptized at the local parish church at Tugby in February of the following year, 1882. (This new baby, John Shellaker, was my grand-father).

The picture on the right is of Nellie as a young child. This photograph may have been taken just a few years after the birth of her young brother.

A family story tells of an incident, when Nellie, at the age of six, nearly drowns after falling through ice while playing on a frozen pond. She was rescued by her younger brother John Shellaker who himself was only around three or four years old!


Several years ago I saw documents showing Nellie attended the village school in Tugby and shortly afterwards, in the village of Billesdon. The Education Act of 1870 required the establishment of elementary school throughout the country for which the school boards could charge a fee.

On Monday 25th June 1883, at the age of 4 years and two months, Nellie was admitted to the local village school at Tugby. Her sisters Emma, Polly, Sarah & Elizabeth had also attended this school together but all had left a few years before Nellie’s first school day.

The undated photograph below could well be contemporary with the time in which Nellie Shellaker attended this school – she could be in this picture!

Tugby School-846x450

The interior of the school was reported to have a cold brick floor and was heated by open fires in the class rooms. The children could not leave until they achieved a certificate of efficiency from the school. The children were tested twice a year. In 1873 (ten years prior to Nellie’s first day), one of the regular reports from the school inspector reported: “The children are in fair order, reading fair, writing neat, spelling pretty fair, arithmetic weak, and needlework requires more attention. Punctuation requires further attention.”

Back in 1998 I saw the original school register from Tugby School and photocopied sections relating to the Shellaker children. The section of the register relating to Nellie’s schooling while at Tugby is below. The entry for Nellie is on the second from bottom line, against the number ‘345’. Her name is incorrectly spelt ‘Eleanor’. Her start date, as mentioned above, is recorded as 25th June 1883, together with her date of birth – April 19th 1879. (Click on this record to view a larger version).

Tugby School Register-Nellie Shellaker

[Regrettably I do not think this register no longer exists]

Although I no longer have the document, there was one puzzling aspect in this register regarding Nellie’s leaving date –  there are two entries for ‘Eleanor Shellaker’ in this register. Both of which have the same date of birth and the same staring date but against one entry the leaving date is Monday 27th October 1884 and on the second entry (shown above) the leaving date is blank.

In October 1884 Nellie would only be five and a half years old and in a record of Nellie’s life written many years later it is written …..

“at the age of seven (1886 / 1887) the family moved to Billesdon Lodge Farm. At this time she was receiving lessons from her sister, Emma. She started Billesdon School in Standard II. ”

It is known Nellie went on to achieve the ‘5th Standard’ at the age of eleven in June of 1890 while at Billesdon School – the copy of her certificate is on the following page. So we can speculate Nellie left Tugby School in October 1894, for reasons unknown but I will speculate shortly, and was taught by her sister Emma until the family moved to Billesdon.

School Standards Explained. School Standards feature in Thomas Hardy novel, ‘Jude the Obscure’. This book published in 1895 has a story primarily set between the years 1870 and 1886. (This period is around the same time period the Shellaker girls attended Tugby school). In this book one of the female characters is referred to as “a schoolgirl out of her standards”. In the end notes this sentence is explained as follows; “i.e. out of elementary school, the sixth standard being the last for children, the seventh standard for would-be teachers, the standards being degrees of proficiency as measured by exams.”

Next Page: The Family move to Billesdon