He bas born in 1825 at Appleton-le-Moors near Lastingham, the son of Jane Midgley, a widow.
His mother was Jane Watson in Market Weighton in 1786.
In 1806 at Middleton on the Wolds, Jane married Richard Midgley, a farm Labourer who had been born at Foston by Malton in 1776. Their first child was christened William Watson Midgley in 1809 in Market Weighton, and the next, Mark, was born at Middleton in 1811. He may have died, or may have been re christened for some reason as in 1813 at Strensall there was a christening of Mark, son of Jane and Richard Midgley. Samuel, Jane and Elizabeth were christened there too.
In April 1820 Richard Midgley died. His posthumous daughter Mary was born a few months later.
James Midgley was not born until five years later. It is not known who James' father was and Jane appears to have gone away from Strensall for the birth to stay with her brother who was by now living up at Appleton le Moors near Lastingham. Afterwards she returned to Strensall which is where James grew up and where in later life, when he had left the village, he claimed to have been born.
In 1832 Jane married again to a widower called Thomas Styan. Neither bride nor groom could sign their names. There was a charity school at Strensall which James probably attended. He wrote with a good copperplate hand.
James started his working life as a farm labourer. In the 1841 census for nearby Huby, James is given as being approximately 15 years old, one of seven Agricultural Labourers living in on the farm of John Plummer of Huby.
Until the middle of the nineteenth century, farm service was a common, perhaps the most common, way of dealing with rural youngsters when they reached working age and became too big and too hungry to fit into the crowded cottage of the agricultural worker. Children of farmers often went into service, so it was not only an institution catering for the labouring poor. The youngsters benefited from being housed and fed by the farmer whilst learning the skills needed to carry them through their working lives. They gained freedom from parental control and were able to broaden their horizons and mix with other workers within the system; they also received an annual wage from which the thrifty would save towards the future and marriage and which the not-so-thrifty would spend on beer and tobacco. They might, in their time as servants, work on several farms, usually within a radius of 10 or 15 miles of home.
Farm servants were different from other agricultural workers in that they were hired for a year at a time. These workers found employment through the annual hiring fairs, which were held in the market towns of East Yorkshire during Martinmas week at the end of November. Hiring fairs were held in places like Beverley, Bridlington, Driffield, Hedon, Hornsea, Howden, Hull, Malton, Patrington, Pocklington, and York. Here the agricultural servants – male as well as female – would gather in order to bargain with prospective employers and, hopefully, secure a position for the coming year. If a bargain was struck, the farmer would seal the transaction by giving the hired lad or man fest, or fastening, money – a small sum – in recognition of the hiring. In the late nineteenth century the amount was usually 5s for a wagoner and 2s 6d for other workers. Once the fest had changed hands, a legal contract had been entered into.
Local newspapers reported on these colourful and sometimes rowdy gatherings.
The Driffield Times, 15 November 1873
Early in the morning the great stream of humanity rolled into the town, conveyed thither in every conceivable appliance that could be obtained for the occasion; but conspicuous among the rest were the heavy wagons with their living freight, which were deposited amid the greetings of those who had chanced to outstrip them in the drive to town. Other vehicles, from heavy wagons to the humble donkey and cart were to be seen threading their way through the streets to their several destinations. The railway Company, too, brought hundreds into the town by special and regular trains, which were literally packed. At nine o’clock the bustle was commenced in earnest, for by that time most of the servants had congregated …
One former Farm Servant described the fair;
We lined ourselves up on one side of t’road and farmers on t’other. They looked you over, talked to one another, and asked each other if they knew you and what you were like. They’d discuss you among themselves. Then they’d come across and say, “Noo, lad, dos’t thoo want takin’ on?”
This tradition continued right through into the 19th century. James’ nephew William mentioned it and joked about the tradition in a letter to his cousin Carrie;
Sent from 1 Grove Street, Dewsbury12.11.'00 My Dear CousinYour nice letter of the 9th instant came to hand in due course. I was pleased to hear from you. Tell Uncle I read the para. you sent in your letter and I agree with the decision. It would be monstrous if Farm Servants could leave their situations by giving a month's notice - if that were the law what on earth would happen to the poor farmer? Why, he would be an object of pity and be the victim of even greater hardships than he now has to battle with. You remind me of Martinmas, well, nobody has asked me to stop again, so I shall be open to engagement. I have been a sort of foreman this year and would like to be foreman next year if I am spared. So if uncle is wanting one and he thinks I am good enough for him and I have to leave my "Place" at Martinmas, don't forget me. You see I am an orphan without a home - if I leave this "place" - and I shall want a "place" where the master and "missus" will be kind and good to me. I can plough, thatch, mow, sow, milk, feed horses and work them at all farm work. I am a good getter up in the morning - never later than 8 o'clock as a rule - and am ready for anything at 9 o'clock. I have had a good wage this year - about £350 with extras and would not like to have less for the next, so if you think my qualifications are equal to what uncle requires in a man I hope you will give me a chance. I don't expect any difficulties about the wage.
William was joking about taking a ‘place’. He was a Police Superintendant at this time! The farm workers hours were from dawn to dusk six days a week and essential care of the cattle or horses on the Sunday. Normal wages were also much lower than than William was teasing about; the Driffield Times, of 14th November 1874 reported the average wages being offered at that Years fair as;
Young foremen £25; experience foremen, £30, and in a few instances £32 and £33; young waggoners £18; experienced waggoners £20; strong plough boys from £13 to £15; young maids-of-all-work obtained £9 to £12; housemaids £12 to £14; experienced cooks £20.
His Grand daughter Daisy remembered an old rhyme her Dad used to sing about Martinmas;
"Come all ye dames ariseand let the maids lie stillThey've risen all the yearIt was against their will"
“Martinmas, on the twenty-first of November, was when the farm servants would go to the Hiring Fairs in places like York and get hired by a new farmer if they didn’t want to stop on with the farmer they were with. If they were stopping on they had to stay at home and do a days work. I remember hearing the workers talk about Martinmas.
"Is 'ta stopping on Jack?""Nay. I've packed me box. I'm off to the hiring's tomorrow. Bert.""If you get taken on Jack, don't spend your fest all at once. Tha could get drunk for a shilling!"
The fest refers to when a man was taken on by a farmer, he was given a shilling to seal the bargain. The fest was probably a corruption of feast -a chance to go and treat yourself.”
The hirelings lived with the farmer or farm foreman, whose wife looked after them and on whose cooking skills, care and consideration their well being depended. Living conditions were basic and on the rough and ready side; sleeping in crowded attic rooms, sweltering in summer and waking to frozen-stiff clothes in winter, they had no bath or washing facilities except a cold tap in the yard outside the kitchen door.
According to his grandson Oswald, James first met Ruth Lockwood when he was ‘leading wood’ for the building of the York to Scarborough railway line. This means that he was transporting the railway sleepers by cart. The railway opened in 1845.
At his marriage in 1848 in the parish of Westow, (by banns) the details are not given in full. He is simply recorded as being of full age, living in the parish of Westow and neither his nor Ruths fathers names or professions are recorded. He is described as a farmers servant and her profession is again not recorded. The witnesses were Thomas Fearby and George Lockwood.
Oswald Midgley, his grandson described how he was a farm labourer until he was 45 (1870) and then he rented farms, first at Hutton Buscel and finally Buttercrambe, near Stamford Bridge.
By the 1851 census for Strensall James was 26 and still an Agricultural labourer but now he had his own cottage in the village. His birthplace is given as being at Appleton, his wife Ruth was shown as being born at Fimber whilst his son Aaron (1) and daughter Jane (3 mos) were both born at Strensall.
By the 1861 census James, who was now 36, had moved on again to Sheriff Hutton. He had also improved his station as now he was Hind (a type of foreman) for William Linton.
William Linton, (pictured left) appears to have been important in his life as there was a photo of him in the family album. He was a Land Agent and in 1863 was living at Mount Pleasant, a farm of over 200 acres in Sheriff Hutton.
This time James’ birthplace was given as being Strensall. Also shown in his household are his wife, Ruth, his children Aaron (11) and Sophia (5) who were born in Strensall, and Sarah (3), Ann Elizabeth (2) and William (5 months) who had all been born at Sheriff Hutton - indicating that the family had moved between 1856 and 1858. Also visiting was Ruth's sister Sarah, who is described as a Farm Servant of 18 and John Elliot of 19, a carter, birth place unknown.
The large farms all had foremen, usually as a married hind living on the farm in a house provided for him. It might even be the old farmhouse where the farmer had moved into something better. The foreman often had to be a 'good managing man', they were expected to join in the work themselves when they were needed, so they were not farm managers. Their duties, however, including the control of the labourers, made them far more than head horsemen. If they were hinds, they boarded all the servants, including those who worked among the stock. They were paid by the farmer for doing so and acted as his proxy.
At the 1871 census for Low Roans, Sheriff Hutton, James had moved up again in the world - this time he was the Farm Bailiff. The older children had now left home, but eight were still left at home, ranging from Sophia at 15 to Caroline at 2 months. There were also two servants living in, Thomas Steeden (18) and John Morten (18), both local lads from Sheriff Hutton.
By the 1881 Census James, now 57 had finally made it. He was the Farmer of the Home Farm which extended to 80 acres. His birthplace was still given as being Strensall. At home with him were his wife Ruth, his oldest son Aaron and a grandson William Midgely of 6. Plus six other children, ranging from William at 19 to George at 8, all of them born in Sheriff Hutton.
By the early 1880's he had moved to Birks Farm, Buttercrambe and he was listed there in the Bulmers Directory of 1890.
At the 1891 Census he is listed as 66 and a Farmer at Birks Farm Buttercrambe. Still at home are Ruth his wife, Selina, Caroline and George. They also have two Farm Servants living in, John Wilson and Edgar Winn.
James was renowned for his cattle breeding and entered many competitions, sometimes sending his son George in his place. In 1898 he won a large embossed silver cup as Winner of the Cattle classes at the Bradford Agricultural Sociey Show which is still in that family.
At the 1901 census for Birk Farm there is; James Midgley, a farmer aged 76 from Strensall, Ruth his wife aged 72 from Fimber, George, his son aged 29 a farmers son born in Sheriff Hutton, Elizabeth R. his daughter in law from Newnham, Gloucestershire, and his grandson Thodore O aged 1 born in Buttercrambe. Also there is his brother in law, James Lockwood aged 61, 16 year old Fred Hopper from York who was the horseman for the farm, and 16 year old George W. Magercroft from Nottingham who was cattle man on the farm.
To have worked his way up to become first a hind or kind of foreman, then a farm bailiff and finally a tenant farmer in his own right, was a remarkable achievement in those days, especially given his background; he must have been a remarkable man.
Threshing Day on Birk’s Farm in the 1890’s was very much a family affair. This picture was taken during a quick break.
At the back on the engine; Woodliffe (grandson), Tommy Harrison - the machine owner. Front left to right; Woodliffe (grandson), William Midgley (son), Luke Woodliffe (grandson), Henry Woodliffe (son in law - from the next door farm), James Midgley, George Midgley (son - with the drinks bottle), Arthur Midgley (Williams son), unknown, Luke Woodliffe (grandson), unknown.
He had several posts with the parish of Bossall with Buttercrambe. He was first recorded as an Overseer for the parish in 1884 and then again in 1885 when the meeting was held at his house. He was present at the meetings in 1886, 87 and 88 and then seems to have let his duties lapse until 1892 when he was once again elected Overseer, which post he held until 1894 when the meeting was also held at his house. He attended the meeting in 1895 and in 1896 was appointed Assistant Overseer at a meeting at his house. He was host again in 1898 and in 1899 he missed the normal meeting but was present at a debate on the payment and appointment of an assistant overseer at the payment of £4 per annum. This was his last recorded presence, in 1902 his son George Midgley took over. He was literate and signed his name in the minute book on numerous occasions in a confident copperplate hand.
From Daisy Midgley, Grand daughter;
“I never knew either of my Dads parents in person because they were all dead and gone before I came on the scene although I do remember a picture of James and his wife on a corner cupboard that we used to have, with him at one side and her at the other. I don't know who had done it, probably a local cabinet maker or something but he had put their initials, RL and JM and the date of their wedding or something, all intertwined. That is what I remember of him - a little fellow in a bowler hat and a frock coat by his picture.”
Another grand daughter, Carrie Falkingham had a letter that was written by James Midgley's nephew in 1898 to her Mother about James and Ruth's golden Wedding;
I am in receipt of your letter of the 22nd inst. and in reply I beg to thank you for inviting me to be present with my dear father at my uncle and aunts celebration of their Golden Wedding. I am sincerely sorry to say I cannot be present in consequence of pressure of duties. If I am absent in body I will be with you in spirit - I am quite sure it will be a very joyous gathering and one that will be fondly remembered by all who take part in it and especially by my cousins with pardonable pride and gratitude. I and my brothers and sisters were thankful to have virtuous parents who lived long enough - by the mercy and goodness of our Father in Heaven, to celebrate their Golden and Diamond wedding and believe me I heartily and sincerely pray that God may spare dear aunt and uncle to each other and all my cousins to spend their diamond wedding and that they and we may all meet in an unbroken family at the throne of Glory in heaven for Jesus Christ's sake.
I also pray that perfect health and strength may be vouchsafed to them for many, many years and that every succeeding year may excel the previous one by all that makes for real happiness in this life and in that which is to come - and that the rich and abundant blessings of God may rest upon you all when you meet together to celebrate the happy event. My wife joins me in wishing you and all my cousins and particularly uncle and aunt health and every temporal and spiritual blessing and believe me to remain your affectionate cousin
In 1894 James and Ruth were photographed at their daughter Harriet’s wedding to Joe Wallis. James is standing rear left with his distinctive beard, Ruth is to the rear between Joe and Harriet with her best bonnet.
James became ill in 1902 and received a letter from his nephew William;
Letter to James MidgleyFrom 1 Grove Street, Dewsbury20th Feb 1902 My dear uncle,Cousin Carrie's letter came to hand this morning informing me of your very serious illness. I am much grieved to learn such sad intelligence concerning your state of health. I wish I could do something that would relieve you but that appears to be humanely impossible. Apparently medicinal skill from which much was hoped and prayed for is unavailing in your case. Well my dear uncle, be of good cheer, there is one physician who can heal you and save your immortal and redeemed soul which is far more precious than the body however much it may be loved by your family and us. You have been mercifully spared by our heavenly Father to see a ripe and honoured old age. Do not murmur, dear uncle, but submit with patience and resignation to the will of our Father in heaven through Jesus Christ our blessed saviour. Say with all your heart and soul and mind and will, "Thy Will be done". May the Holy Spirit enable you to surrender yourself to Jesus. Say,
Jesus thou art my righteousnessFor all my sins were thineThy death has made of God my peaceThy life has made him mine.May God help you and bless you.
I hope you have had the advice and spiritual direction of your ministers, if not, Dear uncle, let me beg of you to send for one without further delay. I am sure he will be a comfort and help to you in your grievous affliction.I wish I were nearer to you. I would be delighted to be permitted to direct you to our saviour who can "save to the uttermost", a most blessed and glorious assurance - "Only believe"
Just as I am without one pleaBut that thy blood was shed for meAnd that thou bids't me come to theeO Lamb of God I come.May the Lord by the influence of his Holy Spirit enable you to say; - I yield, I yield, I can hold out no moreI sink by dying love compelledAnd over thee Conquerer.
Give my sincere love to dear aunt and to all my cousins. In this my dear wife heartily writes - also my children. My dear father loved you very much and for his sake I love you. It has been my misfortune not to have known you many years ago. I only wish I had had that pleasure. Dear uncle if I have been deprived of that pleasure on earth let us so live and die that we may enjoy it eternally in heaven. I am endeavouring by the Grace of God to live for heaven.
O that will be joyful When we meet to part no more,
God bless you my dear uncle is the sincere prayer of your affectionate nephew,Wm. Midgley.
James died in March 1902 and a notice in the newspaper recorded;
MIDGLEY - On the 16th inst. at Birks Farm, Buttercrambe, after a long and painful illness, James Midgley, aged 77 years. Interment at Buttercrambe on Wednesday at 2.30.
There was an In Memorium Card which read;
A light is from our household goneA voice we loved is stilled;A place is vacant at our hearthWhich never can be filled.
In loving memory of James Midgley (Birk's Farm, Buttercrambe) who died March 16th 1902 aged 77 years. Interred at Buttercrambe on March 19th.
He was buried in the churchyard of the little church at Buttercrambe.