Date:January 01, 2018

Polly Shellaker


Childhood years in Tugby

On the last Friday in August, just before the 19th century had reached two-third of its span, MARY JANE SHELLAKER was born in the east Leicestershire village of TUGBY. The date of her birth was Friday 26th of August 1864, which was in the twenty-ninth reign of her majesty Queen Victoria. Mary Jane was the third child of RICHARD & MARY SHELLAKER.

Although I have located records for baptisms of the other Shellaker children, I have been unable to locate a record of Mary Jane’s baptism. However the Tugby parish records for Baptisms are incomplete for the period when she was born.

Her father, Richard was a butcher. He was also born in Tugby, thirty-four years prior to Mary Jane’s birth, in the year 1830. Her mother originated from the nearby Leicestershire village of Hallaton, where her family were carpenters by trade. Her maiden name was MARY ANN GROCOCK and she was around twenty-six years old when she gave birth to Mary Jane. Mary Jane’s birth was registered by her father on Saturday 3rd October 1864, and although she was named ‘Mary Jane’ on the official certificate, she was to be known asPOLLY’ from a very early age, a name which she kept throughout her life and one which I will now use for the remainder of this narrative.

William Shellaker (deceased) and his wife SarahPolly’s paternal grandfather WILLIAM SHELLAKER had died in Tugby in the November of 1855, nine years before Polly’s birth. However at the time of Polly’s birth, her paternal grandmother,  SARAH SHELLAKER, the widow of William Shellaker, was alive and also living in Tugby.

Polly’s grandparents, William and Sarah, are pictured on the right.

William was born in the year 1788 in the village of LYNDON in the county of Rutland and subsequently moved to Tugby sometime after his marriage in 1815. Parish records show the Shellaker family had lived in Lyndon for five generations, since around 1680.

Prior to Lyndon, the Shellaker family can be traced further back to the village of LODDINGTON, which is on the border of east Leicestershire and Rutland. (In these older parish records the family name is also spelt “Shelacres”, “Shellakars” & “Shillaker”).

Sarah was seventy years old when her granddaughter Polly was born. Sarah Shellaker’s maiden name was ‘Esther’ and she was born in the Spittlegates areas of Grantham, in the county of Lincolnshire. Sarah Shellaker was a member of the “Wesleyan-Methodist Society” and prior to his death her husband William had been a Leader of the Wesleyan Chapel in Tugby.

In the year prior to Polly’s birth her Grandmother Sarah is recorded as living in her own house in Tugby from where she was running a business. The 1863 publication of “White’s Trade Directory for Leicestershire” records that Sarah Shellaker ran a “Beerhouse”. [A Beerhouse was not a Public House but was basically a private house licensed to sell beer but not spirits, possibly just from one room.]

In contemporary Victorian trade directories of Leicestershire the village of Tugby around the time of Polly’s birth and her early childhood is described thus:

Tugby, a pleasant village upon an eminence on the road between the two towns, is seven and a half miles West of Uppingham and nearly twelve miles East by South of Leicester. The parish contains 1,540 acres of land and 364 inhabitants and lies partly in the East Goscote Hundred and partly in the Gartree Wapentake (or Hundred) in the eastern division of the county.

In the village was Anglican parish church dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket (pictured on the right). It was in this church that Polly’s parents, Richard & Mary, married on the 12th March 1861, three years prior to her birth and would be the church in which Polly was baptised. 

In addition to the church there was a relatively new ‘Wesleyan Chapel built in 1844’ in the village. It is highly probable Polly attended this chapel with her parents, siblings and grandmother Sarah as the Shellaker family were non-conformists.

The village also had two public houses – The Black Horse and The Fox & Hounds, one of which still remains.

Around the time of Polly’s birth the main local employment in the Village is recorded as “Farmers” & “Graziers” and in common with most small English villages of that time, it was largely self-sufficient. Village trades and occupations recorded included Tailors, a Boot & Shoemaker, a Blacksmith, Grocers, Bakers, a Carrier and Toll Collector, a Wheelwright, a Farm Bailiff and a Higgler – (which is a Pedlar, usually with a horse and cart).  There was also a Public Elementary School was built in 1872 and which was enlarged in 1885 and 1896 to hold up to 119 children.

When Polly was born her parents already had two children; SARAH, who was born on the 17th August 1861, celebrated her third birthday on the Wednesday of the week prior to Polly’s birth and WILLIAM , named after his paternal grandfather, who was around 18 months old, having been born in March 1863. It should be noted the first child Sarah, was born a mere five months after the marriage of her parents!



In August 1866, when Polly was two years old, her mother Mary gave birth to another daughter, who was named EMMA. The family increased again four months after Polly’s third birthday, when a fifth child and fourth daughter, who was named ELIZABETH, was born on the 16th December 1867. As Polly was growing up  there were many sad occasions in the Shellaker household;  between Polly’s fifth and thirteenth birthday, her mother gave birth to a further six children, all of whom died in infancy or in their early childhood years. The first of these children was LOUISA, who was born a few days before Christmas 1869 when Polly was five years old. Louisa lived for only six months dying in June of the following year, in 1870.

1871 – CENSUS
The 1871 Census taken on Sunday 2nd April 1871, records Polly, now six year old,  living with her parents and her three surviving sisters; Sarah, Emma and Elizabeth, and her brother William.

1871 Census Richard Shellaker in Tugby

1871 Census – The Shellaker Family in Tugby

Reproduced by permission of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland


As the information for this Census is not totally clear I have reprinted the details below:

Name Relationship Condition Age Occupation Where Born
Richard Shellaker Head Marr 40 Butcher Leicestershire, Tugby
Mary A Shellaker Wife Marr 33 Leicestershire, Hallaton
Sarah A Shellaker Daughter 9 Scholar Leicestershire, Tugby
William Shellaker Son 8 Scholar Leicestershire, Tugby
Mary J Shellaker Daughter 6 Scholar Leicestershire, Tugby
Emma Shellaker Daughter 4 Scholar Leicestershire, Tugby
Elizabeth Shellaker Daughter 3 Scholar Leicestershire, Tugby
George Talby Servant Not Known? 17 General & Domestic Leicestershire, Hallaton

On 18th February 1872, when Polly was eight years old, another daughter was born who was named FANNY but she again died in infancy on 22nd April. The following year, 1873, twin girls were born. Richard and Mary gave these girls the same names as their recently deceased daughters LOUISA & FANNY but like their namesakes, these twins also died in March 1873. Around this period another boy was born but he also subsequently died in infancy. He was named RICHARD after his father.

In June 1874 Polly’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Shellaker (née Esther), died aged eighty years. She was buried in Tugby churchyard alongside the graves of her granddaughters Fanny & Louisa and the twins of the same names. Polly was nine years old when her paternal grandmother died and when she was twelve her mother gave birth to another son, born on 19th October 1876, he has named JOHN RICHARD but he lived for only seventeen months before dying on 6th February 1878. At this time Polly has one surviving brother, William and four sisters; one of whom was older, Sarah,and two were younger, Emma and Elizabeth.

Tugby Village SchoolPolly attended the local school in Tugby in the year it opened in 1872. She started her schooling on the 14th October 1872, at the age of eight years and 2 months and on the same day as her younger sister Emma, who was just over six years old. They were joined, the following week on the 21st October, by their sisters Sarah and Elizabeth, who were aged eleven and approaching five respectively.

The Education Act of 1870 required the establishment of elementary schools throughout the country for which the school boards could charge a fee. This undated photograph may relate to the time the Shellaker girls attended the school. The interior of the school was reported to have a cold brick floor and was heated by open fires in the classrooms.

The children could not leave until they achieved a certificate of efficiency from the school. The children had tests twice a year. In one of the regular reports from the school inspector, after visiting in 1873 (at the time Emma and her sisters were in attendance), 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”.

Below is a section of the school register that relates to Mary Jane (Polly), No. 50, also included in this section is one of Polly’s sisters, Sarah – No. 43. In this section the date of Sarah’s birth is incorrectly recorded as 1862. She was born in 1861.

Section of Tugby School register showing grades

Section of Tugby School Register Showing the Grades Achieved

Mary Jane (Polly) Shellaker, as mentioned is number ’50’ on this list, achieved the ‘5th Standard’ and subsequently left Tugby School on Friday June 8th 1877, as shown on the column on the far right, two months prior to her 14th birthday.

Her sister  Emma, No.59, went on to achieve Grade VI, (‘The Sixth Standard’) which is evidently the highest standard attainable at this school. Polly’s sister Elizabeth, No. 68, also achieved Grade VI and her sister Sarah numbered ’43’ on this list, achieved Grade III. [Click on the image to view a larger copy of this list click on the image].

School Standards Explained. School Standards feature in the 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.”

Two years after Polly left school and after six consecutive deaths of her infant siblings, Polly now aged fourteen, had a baby sister, HELENA (known thereafter as NELLIE), born on 19th April 1879 and two years later another brother was born who was named JOHN. He was born on 21st December 1881 when Polly was seventeen years old.  Both these children lived well into adulthood. This 13th child, John Shellaker is my Grandfather. The birth of John was  the final child of  Mary Shellaker who, over a period of twenty years between the age of 23 to 43, gave birth to 13 children, seven of whom survived beyond infancy, six of whom lived into old age.

Nine mounths prior to the birth of her young brother John and four years after leaving school Polly is recorded on a second Census, taken on Thursday the 3rd of April 1881. She is living with her family in Tugby aged sixteen years. Her younger sister Emma is not listed as living in the family home in Tugby, she is boarding in Leicester at this time where she was attending a local school, training to become a teacher.


1881 Census – The Shellaker Family in Tugby

Reproduced by permission of Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland


Although the information for this Census is relatively clear I have reprinted the details below:

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

For most, if not all, of of her early years, Polly probably lived  with her family in a house in Chapel Lane, Tugby, where her father also had a Butcher’s shop. I have not, as yet, found any old photographs of the actual house in which Polly lived with her family but below are two relatively contemporary photographs of Chapel Lane, Tugby which show, in the photograph on the right a lady in a white apron in front of the Butchers with two people either side of her and also two boys further forward. Could these be people be Shellakers? – We will never know. [Click on the images below to see a larger picture of these photograph].

Two views of Chapel Lane in Tugby showing the Butchers Shop

The Butcher’s shop is the building on the right of that photographs. 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 in 1886. 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’.

Next Page: Dissatisfaction with a new home