Date:January 06, 2013

Nellie Shellaker


A Boy and his Grandfather

John Brown and his GrandparentsBillesdon, like a great many villages at that time, was practically self-reliant. The village had three shops selling food, in addition to four bakers.

Although the major occupation in the village was agricultural other trades included tailors, saddlers, shoemakers, midwives, coffin-makers, drapers, coopers, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, a rat catcher, a mole catcher, dressmakers, a florist, carpenters & joiners, lamplighters, (paraffin street lights were introduced into Billesdon in 1887), bricklayers, stonemasons, painters, framework knitters and a taxidermist with a national reputation.

The basic facts from the 1891 Census for Billesdon records the village as consisting of a total of 157 inhabited houses with 31 uninhabited. The population was 754 people, with a near perfect split between the sexes – 376 females and 378 males.

One of the 378 males recorded on this Census was a five year old boy, born in the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough, but at this time he was living in Back Street, Billesdon with his maternal Grandparents.

He was a boy with whom Nellie would very soon be acquainted – a boy she would in time marry and with whom she would spend the rest of her life. His name was JOHN BROWN.

Detailed further below is the section of the 1891 Census for Billesdon recording the young John Brown as living in Billesdon with his Grandparents. On the right is a faded picture of the young John Brown with them – The Rev John B. Field and wife Louisa and a copy of his birth certificate is below.

John Brown - Birth Certificate - 1885

 The Birth Certificate of John Brown

Initially John Brown came to Billesdon during an illness to stay with his Grandparents, the Reverend & Mrs. Field, with aim was to prevent infection to his younger brother & sister. After he recovered from his illness, his grandparents wished to keep him and this was arranged.

They lived together at the Academy, a three-storey early 19th century house located next to the Baptist chapel in Back Street. For a short period in the 19th century the Academy was used as a boys’ boarding school – hence the name.

John was a lively youngster, arranging all kinds of pranks with his friend, local boy, Charlie Naylor.

The Reverend Field was a Baptist Minister. At some time in her life John Brown’s mother, Elizabeth, had a drink problem. It is thought she engaged in bouts of drinking with a friend which caused her husband great distress and it was his sudden death that caused her to give up alcohol. Elizabeth Brown was considered by her son John to be “a lovely woman”.

John’s Grandmother, Mrs Field, also had a drink problem, believed to be more serious. It affected her behaviour making her ‘difficult’ which undoubtedly  was a very awkward situation with her husband being a Baptist minister.

Nellie met the young John Brown at the Baptist chapel in Back Street. The Shellaker family originally worshipped at the Methodist Church in Front Street but after a while the family moved to the Baptist Chapel in Back Street, although Nellie would later return to the Methodists.

It was during the time that the young Nellie attended the Baptist chapel that she first met John, who being some five or six years younger than her, received help from Nellie to find the hymns in his hymnbook.


1891 Census – Five Year Old John Brown in Billesdon

On this Census the place of birth of John’s Grandfather, the Reverend Field, is unclear on the original document. (Far right column). His birthplace appears to be ‘Hills Servington, Chippenham.’ I tried unsuccessfully to locate this place. Approximately five miles north of Chippenham in Wiltshire is a village named ‘Hullavington’ which may be the village in which the Grandfather of John Brown was born.

Road/Street Name Name Relationship Condition Age Occupation Where Born
Back Street John B. Field Head Married 69 Baptist Minister Hullavington, Chippenham
Louisa Field Wife Married 69 London
John W. Brown Grandson 5 Scholar Leicester, Market Harborough

It should be mentioned that Census data collection at that time was not an exact science. Those compiling the information would fill in the forms based on a discussion, often around the kitchen table, with the occupants of each house. He would often use his own judgement as to the spelling of the names of the occupants and their relevant places of birth. The place of birth of John’s Grandmother just states ‘London’ with no further information. Based on the ages recorded in the Census of sixty-nine years for both of John’s Grandparents they were born either in 1821 or 1822.

In this Census John is recorded as a ‘Scholar’ but it is not known which school he attended, although the Academy was for a short period in the 19th century used as a boy’s boarding school, so it is possible he was in attendance there. In 1877 the Revered Daniel Pick is recorded as master of the school.

Postscript (December 1999).
In October 1999, I wrote to the Baptist Union of Great Britain asking if any records existed in their archives with reference to the life of the Reverend Field. I received a prompt email reply, stating that a memoir was available in the 1916 Baptist Union Handbook. I sent for this memoir, which together with information in the history of the Baptist chapel at Billesdon and several chats with Nellie’s daughter Olive, I am able to provide further details of John Brown’s Grandfather via this link THE GRANDFATHER OF JOHN BROWN – Rev John Field


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