James Silk (1851 – 1929)
First blog of my Kidderminster family connection and about another of my 2 times great grandfathers but from my maternal line. This is a story about the personal life of a 3rd generation carpet weaver, the locations where he lived in England, UK and a little bit of travel across the pond to the United States. There is a look at what happened to his siblings, nieces, nephews and where his descendants ended up around the world.
James was born to a Carpet Weaver Samuel Silk and Mary Ann Bennett in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. This can only be confirmed by his baptism and various census’s along with marriage and death information. I have tried several times to locate a birth certificate for him in the GRO. Although most births started being registered from mid-1837 when Queen Victoria came onto the throne, it was not compulsory until 1875 as a result of the Births and Deaths Act in 1874. Could it be a case of parents forgetting to register. Also, I did wonder if it could have been a case of registered as a different name, but again searching through the GRO records didn’t come up with anything concrete. The parish records of Kidderminster indicated he was baptised on the 25 Mar 1852 and according to the 1921 census taken on June 19 puts him being born around October/November 1851. He was Samuel and Mary Ann’s second son, their first being Henry who came into this world in December 1849, a couple of months into his parent’s marriage.
The family of Samuel and Mary Ann grew during the 1850s, living in the Churchfields area of Kidderminster during the time of Crimea War and a lot of political turmoil and growth in Europe in general. By the end of 1860, they had a daughter Eliza in 1853; another son Thomas in 1855; and then 2 more girls Emma and Anne born respectively in 1857 and 1860.
Sadly, in January 1861, the Silk family suffered a loss of James’ sister Eliza, aged 7. According to the 1861 census the family they were still living at Churchfields. Samuel was recorded as a Hand Loom Carpet Weaver and Henry a Factory boy aged 11, James aged 9, Thomas aged 5, Emma aged 3 along with Anne who was 3 months old.
Shortly after the census took place, across the pond the American Civil war started. In 1863, James gained another sister Clara and the last sibling to be born. American Civil war ended in the spring of 1865.
Carpet Weaving was a big thing in Kidderminster and the biggest employment in the area. Samuel and his father were also in the business, so not surprising that quite a few members of the family followed suit.
Kidderminster was a fairly small market town developing woollen cloth until around early 19th century, it was fast becoming a popular location for carpet manufacturing. Initially the weaving was done in people’s home when carpets were not very big in size but the increase of the size of carpets meant bigger looms were introduced and housed in factories. Kidderminster is well situated geographically near the River Stour, where the water was used to help operate some of the machinery but also to dye the yarn used. Nearby Bewdley, quite a strategic major inland port on the River Severn, was used to transport goods to the wider world and to carry raw materials from the surrounding areas, such as Birmingham.
Weaving would have been quite arduous and people would have had to work long hours either in their homes or factories. There are different types of techniques and different looms to create each type of carpet ranging from Brussels, Axminster and chenille, etc. Many carpet works had sprung up in Kidderminster. During its heyday there were 25 factories which employed around 12K personnel.
In the November of 1870, the Silk family experienced another loss. This time another of James’s sisters. Emma passed away aged 13 of Enteritis.
Another location carpet weaving was a trade, was Liversedge near Dewsbury, Yorkshire. A number of trade unions and business connections were made between the two places during the mid-19th century, resulted in migration of some workers from Kidderminster to Liversedge and vice versa. From 1871 James and his brother Henry did such that, perhaps to gain more experience.
As you can see the 1871 census sees James located as living as a boarder with the Gledhill family on Gas Street, Liversedge. Henry was working as a Brussels Weaver living as a lodger at Cooks Buildings, Mill Bridge with the Walters family.
James stays in Liversedge for majority of the 1870s, as he meets and marries Amelia Kaye (check out her blog – link at bottom of post) on 26 Jul 1873 – see below.
It looks like Henry returns to Kidderminster as he marries Harriet Thomas in December 1875. However, before they got married, he and Harriet found themselves in trouble whilst on a night out in Kidderminster in the March. No doubt brother James would have heard about the incident, as it was reported in the local press. See below from the Worcester Chronicle and Worcester Journal both reported on Saturday 20 Mar
Whilst James and Amelia lived in Liversedge, they had their first three children Samuel (Dec 1873), William (Mar 1876) and my great grandmother Mary Louisa (Jul 1878). James’ other brother Thomas also got married during this decade, in 1877 to Annie Eliza Mann in Kidderminster.
By the beginning of 1880s, James and Amelia had moved to Kidderminster as son number three Harry was born there near the end of 1880. The 1881 census’ sees the family living at Dudley Street Court in the Old Borough of Kidderminster.
Henry and Harriet are living at Duke’s Street in 1881 census along with their two girls Ellen and Emma. Sisters Anne and Clara are living with parents in Churchfields along with grandfather James Bennett.
During this decade there were a few changes within his family. Firstly, the family grew with the addition of Frederick (1883), Emma (1885) and James (1888). His sister Anne got married to George Hodson in December 1884 and then his father Samuel passed away mid-1885.
The 1891 census indicate that the two eldest sons Samuel and William were working as Mill hands and James still a Carpet Weaver. The whole family were living in 54 East Street – see below.
I could not locate Henry in the 1891 census, but did find Harriet at Churchfields with all her children Ellen, Emma, Lizzie, Henry and Willie. Brother Thomas was living at Chapel Street with Eliza and son Jesse. His occupation was a Beam Rug Weaver. Sister Anne is also living in East Street, with hubby George and children Percy G and Nellie. Sister Clara is a Royal Axminster Setter in Coventry Street living with her mother Mary Ann.
Sadly, in the September 1893, Amelia passed away, leaving my great grandmother Mary Louisa aged 15 to take care of the family for a bit. A year later James lost his mother Mary Ann. In 1896 however, James had met and married Annie Lewis from Oldbury, Worcestershire – see below.
As the Victorian era led to the Edwardian era, the 1901 census indicates that James was living with his second spouse Annie at 26 Franchise Street. His children Mary Louisa a Chenille Weaver, Harry a designer, Frederick was scrap cutter in a forge and Emma (Creeler for weaver) were living there along with wife’s sister Catherine also a Creeler at a Carpet works. His sons had left the nest, Samuel was in Burton upon Trent working as a dyehouse labourer, William and James are nowhere to be found as yet.
A few months after the 1901 census, Thomas, brother of James passed away. Sadly, died of an epileptic fit, at James’ home on Franchise Street. Thomas left behind his wife Ann Eliza and their two children Jessie (1886) and Nellie (1891). I would imagine this would have been pretty tough on the family. James was the informant as well. At this point in time, the only siblings of James alive were Anne and Clara. Brother Henry, it seems had passed on too, according to Henry’s wife Harriet death certificate in 1900 – but haven’t found out when or where yet.
Quite a few changes happened during this decade, several members of the family emigrated to the USA. Anne emigrated in 1904 with her hubby and 3 children (Percy, Nellie & Norris) to live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The other city the other members who emigrated ended up in was Amsterdam, New York State which was another place where the carpet weaving industry was big business. Their immigration across the pond was part of a mass immigration of Europeans to the USA. This was due to the lure of increased wages in the cities as part of the progressive era. 8 million immigrates came to the states alone between 1900 to 1909, same number combined of previous two decades and more than next decade of only 6 million.
Son Harry went first in 1905, sister Clara then in the Oct 1906, son James went over in Aug 1907 with nephew William (son of Henry). I have been lucky enough to meet descendants of William, James and Harry via visits to the USA and Canada, where James Jnr eventually settled. DNA matches have also confirmed the family connections.
Clara however has been a complete mystery, there is no sign of where she went after emigrating in 1906 – did she stay in Amsterdam or move to another part of the US. Doesn’t appear to have come back, as can’t locate her in any UK census. Also, no knowledge of whether she married even? This is going to be a case of trawling through some US vital records, which may take a while.
So back to my 2xgreat grandfather, some of James’ children had got married. His first eldest sons Samuel and William married a couple of sisters Mary Annie (1903) and Emma Hardwick (1904) respectively from the village of Stone, Worcestershire. My great grandmother married John Henry William Warwick in 1904.
James also becomes a grandfather courtesy of William who had James Reginald Silk in 1904 at Stone; Samuel with a daughter Dorothy Amelia Silk in Burton upon Trent in Feb 1907. Mary Louisa also had children in Burton upon Trent – John James Warwick (1906) Edith Mary Warwick in Aug 1907 (my grandmother) and Percy (1908). Sadly, John and Percy didn’t survive for very long.
James himself also decided to go over for visit to the USA to see his sister in the December 1906 and perhaps visit his other sister Anne. Not confirmed how long he stayed, as he appears in the next census in the UK.
May 1910 saw another grandchild Doris Warwick being born (who would live well into her mid-90s). This also coincided with the passing of British monarch Edward VII and then George V becoming king a few days later.
Sadly, just before 1911 census took place, James becomes a widower again when Annie passes on. The census records that he was living at 41 St John’s Street, Kidderminster with his son Frederick.
The 1911 census locations for the rest of the family are as follows – Samuel is in Burton upon Trent as a Painter’s Labourer with his family. William is a carpet weaver in Kidderminster with his family. Mary Louisa had moved over to Leicester, Leicestershire as hubby would have moved with his work as a cooper. Youngest daughter Emma was living with her aunt Eliza (wife of Thomas) and her cousin Nellie daughter of Thomas and Eliza, which I found out unexpectedly with the 1911 census and confirmed by GRO search. Nellie was in Kidderminster in 1901, but was lodging with the Tranter family in Chapel Street. I have not confirmed where Jesse is at this point, but initial research has yielded possibly link to Victoria, Australia.
It doesn’t look like any of the family were involved in the first world war, or at least not found any related records. The family across the pond had got married and James gained a few more grandchildren during the decade. Harry marries Rachel Lunn in 1911 and they have Harold James in 1912 in New York. James marries Elsie Frizelle in 1914 in Ontario, who have Ethel and James in 1917 and 1919 respectively.
Frederick his youngest son marries Hannah Maria Dalton in 1915 and was the only family member who wasn’t involved in the carpet weaving industry, as he worked in forge works for many years. Frederick and Hannah have 2 children Percival Frederick and Stanley in Kidderminster in 1916 and 1917 respectively.
Whilst trawling through the records, I discovered that James marries for a third time. This time to Ann Ayres (nee Johnson) who had been widowed 3 times herself. Son Frederick was the witness to this wedding in 1919.
As of January 2022, the 1921 Census for England and Wales became available via FindMyPast, which meant I was able to check out where everyone was. James was still living in Kidderminster and I was fully expecting to see him with his spouse, but found him living with a William Brecknell at 77 Franchise Street. Intrigued to find out who this William is, so will investigate at some point. This particular census also provided the name and address of employment which was rather useful. So, James was still a carpet weaver and his employer was Carpet Trades Limited of Mill Street. James’ spouse was living with her widowed adopted daughter Clara Maria Oakes at 38 Baxter Avenue.
1921 census indicates that his children Samuel and Mary Louisa are both living in the Burton upon Trent area; William in Stone, Worcestershire; Frederick and Emma are both still in Kidderminster area.
During the roaring 20s, he gains a few more grandchildren Elsie in 1925 to James and Elsie in Ontario, Canada and then Geoffrey to Frederick and Hannah in 1923 over in Birmingham, Warwickshire.
In 1924, James’ third wife Ann passed away in Kidderminster, leaving him widowed again. By this time, he would have lost many people in his life. Emma was the only one remaining in the Kidderminster area as Samuel and William ended up living in the Stone area; both Mary Louisa and Frederick had moved to the Birmingham area, perhaps James decided to move up there too. As when James passed away in March 1929, aged 77 he was living with granddaughter Mary Louisa in 323 High Street, Smethwick. He did however live to see his first grandchild James Reginald (son of William) get married in 1926 to Constance Gwilliames and become a great grandfather in 1928 when Eileen was born – another descendant to live well into her 90s.
Despite suffering heavy losses of family, his legacy lives on at least 3 countries – UK, USA and Canada. Posthumously, gains the last grandson Harold born in 1934 in Wiarton, Ontario, Canada. Two of his granddaughters Dorothy Silk and Edith Mary Warwick (my grandmother) both married into the same family, the Ritchie’s from Shropshire. Dorothy (known as Dot) married James Reidford Ritchie (known as Jim) in 1932 and Edith Mary marries Raymond Ritchie (Jim’s brother) in 1935. So, my first cousin twice removed, becomes my great auntie Dot Ritchie just to make the family connection even more complicated, also making the first cousins’ sister in laws.
My great grandmother Mary Louisa kept in touch with many of the family, especially overseas. According to family stories, Harry used to send Mary Louisa nylons during the WW2 and his son Harold (also known as Harry) came over to visit Mary Louisa during the war whilst with the US army.
I get the impression that Mary Louisa and Frederick kept the family together in times of trouble and they ended up living quite close to each other. According to the family, Frederick eventually ran an off-license near to Winson Green Prison, but sadly have lost touch with his line of descendants. I know his eldest son Percival Frederick sadly died just before WWII started, whilst stationed in Alexandria, Egypt with the RAF.
Emma, James’ youngest daughter never married, but she did remain in Kidderminster during the war, but she eventually moved to the Birmingham area as well where she became ill and was looked after by her sister Mary Louisa and my grandmother Edith.
During a visit to Canada in the 1990s, I met descendants of James and Elsie in Toronto and Wiarton, Ontario. Harold Silk showed me around the town, where he had been mayor. On my round the world trip in 2003, I also managed to visit some of descendants of cousin Willie (nephew of James and son of Henry) in North Carolina and Springfield, Massachusetts; and then descendants of Harry and Rachel in Amsterdam, New York State.
Hopefully in the near future will make a visit to Kidderminster to get a sense of where James and his family came from. There is a carpet weaving museum where they have a working loom, which will be interesting to watch. There are still some unanswered questions to investigate, like where was James buried – Smethwick or Kidderminster; What happened to sister Clara; Did Jesse end up in Australia? When and where did Henry pass away? The Silk family research have been quite a tough to crack with same or similar names appearing in several lines and will continue to fascinate me.
My second person to be a topic of a blog is my great great grandmother Amelia on my maternal line. How often in family history, do birth, marriage or death certificates get passed down the line for several generations, probably not often? Amelia Kaye was born in a village of Briestfield, Grange Moor, near Flockton,…