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Dersingham Folk
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Site by Mike Strange
George Mitchell - Carrier
Elizabeth Fiddick ©
George Mitchell was born on the 7th September 1842 in Dersingham. His parents were Edward Mitchell, born Elmham in 1817 and Susan or Susannah Martin, also born in 1817 in Pentney. George had four brothers, William born 1845, Frederick, 1848, Arthur 1850 and Edward born 1855. 

In the census return of 1861 Edward Senior, is recorded as a hurdle maker as are George, then 19, and William 16 while the three younger brothers are recorded as scholars. A hurdle is a temporary rectangular frame, strengthened with withes or wooden bars and used as a temporary fence.  Sheep farming and the wool trade that resulted had brought great wealth to this area over centuries and it had increased even further particularly since the Acts of Enclosure. But even before these acts a great common was described in the Dersingham Snettisham area that supported over 30,000 sheep. So, hurdles would have been in constant demand by the sheep farmers everywhere.

George’s grandparents, Henry Spooner Mitchell, 78 and his wife Eleanor 83, were still living in the village at that time.  Grandfather Henry is listed as Formerly Hurdle Maker. Eleanor sadly died the following year, but Henry survived her until his death in 1868. Living here at the same time was another Henry Mitchell aged 42 and his wife Susannah 37. Henry with his oldest sons James, 19 and Robert 14 carried on the Mitchell family tradition as hurdle makers. 

Making up the rest of the family were Ellen, 11, William 9 Henry 6, Susannah, 2 and grand-daughter Mary Ann just 9 months old. The village George was born into was described at the time as a large well-built village, sheltered on the North by rising and well cultivated fields and bounded on the South by a sandy heath and rabbit warren. A description still mostly recognisable today. However, then there were only 606 inhabitants and James Bellamy of Ingoldisthorpe Manor and Lord Cholmondeley of Houghton Hall were the principal landowners.

George’s life changed after the 1861 census was taken. We discover from an interview George gave to a newspaper reporter from the Midland Daily Telegraph (printed 7th September 1937), that he was working on the Sandringham Estate when Queen Victoria purchased it for The Prince of Wales in 1862.  He recounted that at the time the estate had been used mostly for shooting but the Prince of Wales had roads made, grounds redesigned and 1,000,000 trees planted. As an inside porter he remembered the birth of the future George V in 1865.  He would also have been on the Estate for the birth of Prince Albert Victor in 1864 and known Princess Victoria ,1868, Princess Maud of Wales,1869 as he recounts being run round by the Royal children.  He would have known of the sadness in the Royal family when Prince Alexander John born on April 6th, 1871 lived for only one day.

“They were great times in Sandringham in the early days,” he recalled,” The Prince of Wales had very large house parties attended by many foreign heads.”

He remembered the two skittle alleys where half the crowned heads of Europe had played.  A clear memory was of the best orchestras that were engaged for the dances when the servants often got the chance to look into the ballroom.

George also told this reporter that his wife had done the laundry for the Royal House for a time and I wonder if this is where they met for it was in 1864 that George Mitchell, age 22, married Sarah Ann Willoughby.

We learn a little more about his employment in the Royal house when he was visited by a reporter and photographer on the occasion of the death of George V in 1936.  George, then 94, was the oldest Dersingham resident.  We see him sitting in his comfortable armchair at home looking somewhat suspiciously at the camera while a young relative reads him the report of the King’s funeral.  The caption underneath records the fact that George had worked in the kitchens at Sandringham.

Click the pictures to read this article published in 'The Sphere' on 1st February 1936.
Sarah Ann has an interesting background that influences future events.  She was born in 1842 the natural daughter of one Mary Willoughby.  Mary later married a John Taylor and their son William John, Sarah’s half brother, married an Ann Lee.  John and Ann had four children among whom a daughter Annie (Mary Annie) born in 1886 comes to play a significant role in the history of the Dersingham Carriers.  This family were all living in Jarrow at this time.

Three years after George and Sarah’s marriage a son, George Frederick, was born.  The census of 1871 reveals George and Sarah living on Doddshill where George is recorded as a hurdle maker once more. Little George Frederick at four years of age is a scholar.  Also living with them is Sarah’s mother Mary Taylor who is listed as nurse.  The happiness of the family was shattered in 1875 when George Frederick died just 8 years old.  However the following year, 1876, George Walter was born to bring happiness back into the house.  But another small gravestone in the churchyard reveals it was not to last.  George Walter died in 1879 at just 3 years and 6 months of age.  So by the 1881 census we find George, recorded as an agricultural labourer, and Sarah living alone.
It was around this time that George built his house in Manor Road (seen here).  It is called Liddell House and the datestone holds the letters GM and the date 1881.  This was the time that George set up as a village carrier which is how he is described in the future census returns 1891 to 1916.  He also makes an appearance as a carrier in both White’s and Kelly’s Directories from 1890 to 1916. From these we learn that he travelled to King’s Lynn every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday returning the same day.  During this period first Thomas Rudd, and then John Edward Wyre also operated as carriers for the village.

Meanwhile, we establish that Mary Annie Taylor, Sarah’s step niece referred to earlier, after  living with different family members,  lived with her uncle George Henry Taylor in 1891 while her father,  having been widowed that same year, remained in Jarrow with the rest of the family.   Sometime after that Mary Annie came to Dersingham to live with Sarah and George and is so recorded in 1901.  She was 15 years old at that time and is listed as a domestic servant.  It is interesting, in light of previous comments, that in this entry Sarah is initially described as Laundress but this entry has been crossed out.

George’s business as carrier obviously thrived in these early years of the 20th century for  Albert Ding came to lodge in Liddell House to assist George with the business.  In the 1911 census he is recorded as 25 years old and employed as assistant carrier.  From this census we discover that Anne (Mary Annie,) now 25 years old, is no longer employed as a domestic servant but is working alongside George and Albert as an assistant carrier. It is perhaps not surprising then to learn that Annie married Albert Ding in the Primitive Methodist Chapel on the 20th October 1915.

It was not long after his marriage that Albert enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps, qualifying as a Motor transport Driver in 1916.  Throughout the First World War George continued as the village carrier no doubt still with Annie’s assistance. John Edward Wyre was another carrier in the village at the same time.

Albert was demobilised in 1919 and returned to the business.  The following year 1920, Sarah Ann died aged 78 and she was buried in the churchyard next to the graves of her two small sons. Perhaps this was the moment that George decided to hand over to Annie and Albert and take a well earned retirement for certainly by 1922, with George reaching his eightieth year, Albert Ding and John Edward Wyre are the two separate village carriers. 

George would still be a well-known figure around the village for another 15 years.  He was finally laid to rest at the grand old age of 95 but he will live for us still in that wonderful photograph of him sitting in his chair in Liddell House.
The lady who donated the two photographs above kindly wrote up the history behind them for us and here it is
:of George Mitchell with and Albert Ding with his with his new wife Annie (Mary Annie) Taylor

"I am writing this to you from my home in Dundee, Scotland. My father was a Scot and my mother a lovely Englishwoman from Gateshead. I came across your site as I sought to find out about Dersingham and, hopefully, that I might be helped to identify an old man feeding cats on a photo/postcard of the early 1900s which had been in an old postcard album I inherited from my late mother, who in turn had inherited it from her mother. My mother had written on the back "Gt. Uncle Mitchell of Dersingham". I had no idea who this was, nor the connection to my family, (my mother did not know that either)  though I was aware there may be relatives in the area because I had been told my Grandfather's father came from Norfolk.
When I came to the piece on Carriers (so interesting in itself to find how people lived and worked in those days) and particularly that on George Mitchell, it was so thrilling to discover I had, indeed, located "Gt. Uncle Mitchell". For Mary Ann Ding, nee Taylor,  was my Grandfather's sister and "Auntie Annie" to my mother, though to the best of my knowledge my mother never met her and her family personally nor ever visited Norfolk. Hence my ignorance. As you say in your piece it was the sad event of her mother's death that took Annie to Norfolk to be brought up by her father's brother and family in Holme-by the Sea. ( Her mother Ann died aged 32 in October 1889 leaving 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys, the eldest of whom was 8years, the youngest, a baby girl, only a few months old. This latter was taken in by her mother's sister and family who lived in Coundon, near Bishop Auckland. The 8 year old eldest daughter and the two boys remained with their father. Annie was the middle child and my grandfather, Wilfred, her younger brother.) It is a sad tale, but all too common in the nineteenth century, I believe. On top of that, the eldest brother, Edward, was killed in 1915, in WWI, leaving behind, in his case, a widow and 3 young children.

I have also attached another postcard photo from my gran's album out of interest as it is of Annie and Albert in Dersingham (on their wedding day, I am presuming.) Annie herself sent the postcard to my grandmother the week after Albert enlisted for service in WW1
Once this pandemic is over and we are free to travel again I hope to visit Norfolk and explore for myself this area which you have brought to life so vividly for me.
Again, many thanks,
Dorothy Alexander"