John Redgate Piggin 1810-1876


While not exactly a story of rags to riches, John Redgate Piggin's life does mark a rise in one generation from the world of Nottinghamshire tradespeople to the middle-class affluence of an urban business "notable".

The earliest certain evidence of his ancestors is to be found in Bulwell, a village six kilometres northwest of Nottingham. In the year 1773, William Piggin, a butcher and small businessman, had married Miss Elizabeth Marriott at Bulwell and had six children, of whom one was named Samuel. This was to be JR's father. Samuel is described in the records variously as a "setter-up" or as a framesmith: professions connected with the traditional Nottingham stocking industry.

The mechanical stocking frame was invented at Calverton, north of Nottingham, in 1589, and the industry's gradual development in the East Midlands during the 17th and 18th centuries until the recession and Nottingham riots of 1811 (when Samuel was 31) is detailed in Marilyn PALMER's history, Framework Knitting (Aylesbury, Shire Publications, 1984).

Wool and cotton stockings were knitted by piece-workers called framework-knitters, who paid a rent for a stocking frame that was installed in their cottages, from which they supplied their output under contract to the stocking merchants or hosiers. The framesmith's job was to set up these machines in the knitters' cottages and maintain them. He was thus in the direct employ of either the hosier or a local investor who lived off the rental of frames, and a social step above the poor knitters, who worked strenuously from dawn to dusk, treading these heavy wooden machines and controlling the knitting parts by hand and eye.

While the eldest Piggin sons continued as prosperous butchers, Samuel in 1801 married a yeoman farmer's daughter, Jane Redgate, with hosier links. The union produced five children. Samuel and Jane's children all appear to have benefitted from their connection to or inheritance from the rich merchants of the Stirtevant family. It is possible that Samuel was in the employ of the Stirtevants.

Little is known about JR's early life. He was born in 1810 in the lap of his mother's family at Red Hill, a farm in the parish of Arnold. Today Arnold is a northern suburb of Nottingham. Red Hill, which has given its name to a drab brick housing estate built on the site in the mid 20th century, was largely in the ownership of his mother's relatives. At the age of nine, the little boy would no doubt have been taken to see his dying grandfather, Samuel Redgate, at the Crook'd Horse homestead nearby. JR's father almost certainly continued working as a framesmith: a document of 1823, mentions Jane and Samuel Piggin living at Red Hill but indicates that the farms were in the hands of tenants. We know almost nothing else of their lives then.

At the end of 1831, young JR had achieved his legal majority and suddenly received a legacy of 100 pounds from a great-uncle, John Stirtevant. He appears to have put it to good use: within the year he was a married man. Some time in or before 1832, JR had moved to Alfreton, just across the boundary in the adjoining county of Derbyshire, where he had met Mary Stanley, the daughter of the keeper of the Waggon and Horses public house there (the pub still exists: photo). She was a teenage bride, four years his junior. They married in the big impersonal church of St. Mary in the city of Nottingham, which is perhaps an indication that the bride was either pregnant or that on other grounds there was no desire in her family to celebrate the event.

The death of the great-uncle had relieved JR of the need, if there had been any, to contribute to his parent's income: his mother was willed the rents of two properties at Red Hill and another at the Bottom, a nearby place.

The first record of JR's business activities is in Pigot's Directory of 1835, where he is listed among the grocers and tea dealers of Alfreton. In the 1841 census he appears as a simple grocer, trading and living on The Market Place, Alfreton, with his wife, five-year-old son John, one baby and just one servant, a 14-year-old girl named Elizabeth Johnson. Close by on the Market Place was Mary's mother's pub.

JR's mother died when he was 40. Under the trusts and terms of the Stirtevant wills, JR's older brother, Stirtevant Piggin, inherited the land at Red Hill, but JR was to receive 200 pounds. Perhaps that provided him with a fresh financial fillip for his business. Bagshaw's Directory of 1846 lists JR not only as a grocer, but also as a corn factor and flour dealer. His brother-in-law Thomas Stanley made malt, requiring large quantities of barley, so the two of them may have cooperated in their grain-buying.

By 1850 JR was sufficiently well off to afford to send his son, Thomas Stanley Piggin, to The Academy, a private school in The Park at Nottingham. From this point on, JR seems to have become principally an estate agent. In 1852, when he and his brother Stirtevant were granted probate of their brother Jonathon's will, he was living at Sneinton, on the east side of Nottingham, and by 1858 be was living at Portland Road, close to the centre of Nottingham, while four years later the Nottingham Directory lists JR as one of the three "notables" living in the parish of Calverton to the north of Nottingham. He was by then 52. His son had meanwhile made a start as an estate agent, though we do not know if he worked for his father or set up independently.

By this time, JR's first wife Mary had died, leaving JR a widower at the age of 48 with three younger children aged 13 (Elizabeth), 10 (James) and 8 (Ann). At the age of 53 he remarried in Derby, taking as his wife a woman named Caroline. Her surname is given in family notes as Obell, but this is not confirmed by the General Register Office's indexes. The remarriage must have so galvanized JR's elder brother, Stirtevant, that he too married the following year - for the first time at the age of 56. Stirtevant Piggin was living in Portland Road in 1864, but we do not know if he had taken over JR's former home there or was merely occupying a neighbouring property.

The most puzzling aspect of JR's life is his relationship to his father, who had been excluded from any benefit under the Stirtevant wills. Samuel was 62 when his wife Jane died, and he appears to have remarried in 1844. This does not appear to have lasted, nor does he seem to have been taken in by any of his children: seven years later in the 1851 census we find Samuel (age 72, "married", framesmith) living at 42 Hawthorn (Lane?) in Arnold as a lodger with strangers. In 1861 we find Samuel dying while residing at 4 Lower Vine Street, Leicester, a considerable distance away from his sons. And whereas his sons passed for "gentlemen", Samuel is described as of "no rank". He was buried 16 March 1861, having reached the age of 82. Though the evidence is thin, it would seem as if Samuel with his tradesman's ways was kept in the background by his upwardly mobile children. They must however have paid for his grave, which was a "freehold" one.

We know nothing of the last 13 years of JR's life, nor do we know what became of his second wife Caroline. He died in 1876 at the age of 66 after a three-day bout of diarrhoea. The place of death is given as Morton, which is in Derbyshire. It is not clear why he was there, but the informant is named as James Redgate Piggin, the son, with a residence at Morton, so it is likely that James was caring for him.

© Jean-Baptiste Piggin 2000-2009
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