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James Wagland: from Merton to West Ham and back again (1800s to 1850s)

Travelling back in time, the fifth child of James and Mary was baptised Charles James at Merton church on 6th March 1808. His great uncle Charles died about three weeks’ later so it could be that he was named after him and his father. It appears that he never used his first name throughout his life so nor shall we from hereon.

We know nothing about his youth in the early 1800s other than that in all likelihood he spent it in Merton and at some point probably started work in the same mill as his father.

In textile mills at that time it was not unusual for children to start work at age 5. After ineffective parliamentary acts in 1802 and 1819, they were not supposed to work longer than a 12-hour day. Typically they would have a midday break for one hour and short breaks for breakfast and tea. They did not work on Sundays. In 1833 the Factory Act banned children under the age of 9 from working in textile factories; 9 to 13 year olds were limited to 9 hours a day and 48 hours a week; 13 to 18 year olds were limited to 12 hours a day and 69 hours a week. All children under eleven had to receive two hours education per day. Government Factory Inspectors were appointed to enforce the law. Further changes were made by Factory Acts in 1844, 1847, 1864 and 1867.

James became a father in 1826 at the age of 18 when his son William was born. There is no baptism record in Merton or the surrounding parishes so we don’t know who the mother was. However there is a baptism recorded for a William Wagland in West Norwood in 1826 to parents Richard and Mary. Norwood is about five miles (8 km) from Merton and separated by two other parishes. There are no other baptism, marriage, burial or census records for a Richard Wagland during this period – might James have given a false name?

The 1841 Census shows that William was living with his uncle and aunt, James and Emma Batterbee, in Preston, Sussex. Like his father and grandfather he also became a silk and calico printer. In 1848 he married Emma Allen, the daughter of another silk printer who had moved from Waltham Abbey to Merton during the 1830s. William and Emma had seven children in the Merton and Wimbledon parishes between 1848 and 1862. It is unclear how much contact he had with his father and family: on the one hand, he was living near his father in Nelson’s Fields in 1851 and at the time of the 1871 Census his half-nephew was staying at his house, yet on the other hand he was not mentioned in his father’s will.

Returning to James, he married Elizabeth Cass Castle on 9th January 1831 at St. George-in-the-East Church, Tower Hamlets. Elizabeth was the daughter of John and Rebecca (née England), born on 10th August 1810 and baptised on the following 7th September in St. Botolph-without-Bishopsgate Church, London. Her father died soon after her birth and her mother remarried in 1814 to James Marrion, a wire weaver. Rebecca and James Marrion had five children between 1815 and 1823 before Rebecca died, aged 36, in late 1824 when Elizabeth was about 14 years’ old. James Marrion remarried eight months’ later to Sarah Offin but had no further children. He died in 1872, aged 82.

Never knowing her biological father, Elizabeth must have been quite close to James Marrion as he was a witness at her wedding to James Wagland and two of her sons were baptised with Marrion as their middle name. While on the subject of middle names, Elizabeth’s middle name of Cass hints at it being one of her grandmothers’ maiden names but as yet we haven’t been able to identify any of the grandparents.

Immediate family of James Wagland (1808-1881)

James and Elizabeth’s first child, named Charles James after his father, was born in late 1831 or early 1832 in West Ham, Newham. Why was James in the East End at the time of his marriage and the birth of his first son? As will be explained later, given his subsequent business partnership with James Kayess, there is a strong probability that he was working at the West Ham Abbey Print Works (see page 21) which was owned at the time by Edmund Littler who moved to Merton Abbey in 1833. Was it purely a coincidence or was this the reason why James moved back to Merton, which is where his second child, Emma Elizabeth, was born in 1834?

James and Elizabeth went on to have a further seven children in Merton between 1837 and 1850, one of whom, Henry, died aged 7 in 1848.

From the 1841 and 1851 Census records we know that the family lived in Nelson’s Fields and thus, like his father, James probably worked for Edmund and Mary Littler at the Merton Abbey Silk Printing Works during this period.

As Nelson’s Fields in Merton has cropped up a number of times, the area’s name is worth a brief explanation. In 1802, Admiral Horatio Nelson, purchased Merton Place with its farm and woodland. He expanded the estate with the purchase of additional land south of his house until his Merton property covered most of the area west of the Wandle and north of Morden Hall Park. Following Nelson's death, Emma Hamilton (his mistress) got into debt and, despite help from friends, was unable to maintain Merton Place. She moved out in about 1808, the house was demolished in 1821 and the estate lands were sold off in parcels over the following years. The part of the Merton Place estate immediately south of the High Street was developed as small scale housing and became known as Nelson's Fields.

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