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Higgins family


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Part 2: James Higgins Jr (c1810 - 1896)


Early life and marriage to Ann Holland

James Higgins was the second-eldest child of James Higgins and Jane Burgwyn. He was born in Kington, Herefordshire, c1810 and baptised there 01 July 1810. It is likely he moved to Lyonshall with his family. He married Ann Holland (c1812 - 1875) at St Michael and All Angels Church, Lyonshall, 20 August 1835 (more information about Ann appears in the Holland section).

Like his father and father-in-law, James was an agricultural labourer. The family lived in the hamlet of Marston, near Pembridge, for a few years. The address given for the 1841 census was ‘Bannut Tree’, which could have been the name of a cottage or a farm (‘ban-nut’ is also known as ‘common walnut’). Ann's father was living with them and continued to do so for more than a decade.

Pembridge is well-known for its many mediaeval buildings (particularly the picturesque black and white timber houses). One of the highlights of the year for the family would have been the annual Pembridge Fair, held in May. Since their establishment in 1239, the May ‘Cowslip Fair’ and the November ‘Woodcock Fair’ had been key dates for agricultural labourers who were seeking work. However, by James’ time, it is not known if this was still a common practice. [1]

James and Ann had eight children: Alfred, Mary, Elizabeth, Jane, Sarah Anne, Eliza, Fanny and William Holland. By 1843, they had moved to Lyonshall, living in the village itself and then later moving to New Street (now the road to Titley off the A44) and it is quite possible that their cottage is still standing today.


Working life as a gardener

By 1861, James was working as a gardener and later a farm labourer gardener. At this time, the average annual wage for a general labourer was almost 50% more than for an agricultural labourer – £44 (£1,900 today) as opposed to £29 (£1,250) – so it is very likely James was trying to find better-paid employment. An average weekly wage of about 13 shillings (£2 today) would have been spent on necessities such as rent (1s 6d), bread (4s 8d), meat (2s for 1.5kg meat), tea and sugar (1s 3d), coal/fuel (1s), candles (5d), and tobacco (4d). There was little likelihood of saving any money on an agricultural labourer’s wage, especially when they might have to provide their own tools or buy boots, which could cost 15 shillings. [2]

Ann died in 1875, aged 62. James continued living in New Street with his daughter Eliza and her children. By 1891, Eliza had moved with her husband to another cottage in Lyonshall, and James came to live with them. James died 23 October 1896 in Union House, Kington, aged 86. This was a local workhouse but patients here were not necessarily workhouse inmates but might be those too poor to afford private medical care. (Some workhouse infirmaries became National Health Service (NHS) hospitals after 1948.) The cause of death was listed as ‘natural decay’ which likely meant he died of natural causes brought on by old age.


Children of James and Ann

Alfred (c1835 - 1882) was born in Lyonshall and baptised 25 October 1835. As a teenager, he worked as a farm labourer. He married Elizabeth Walker (c1843 - c1925) 31 December 1862 in nearby Eardisland. They had six children: Sarah Ann (c1863 - ?), Agnes Jane (1866 - 1866), William James (1867 - 1961), Elizabeth (1869 - c1870), Arthur (c1872 - ?) and Maria (c1877 - 1877). By 1867, the family had moved to Eardisley where Alfred was a farm servant for the Edwards family at Upper House, now a Grade II listed building. The Higgins family lived a few hundred metres away in Knapp House (now called ‘Knapp Cottage’), on what is Woodseaves Road. Tragedy struck the family when Alfred died 14 September 1882 following an accident at work, aged 46. An inquest was held a day later at the Tram Inn in Eardisley with testimony from witnesses and was reported p10 ‘The Hereford Times’ 16 September 1882. Alfred and two others had been in the wheat field Wednesday evening, having finished loading a wagon with hay and were tying it secure. The other two men were on the ground but Alfred was on the wagon when the rope they were pulling on suddenly broke and all three fell back on the ground, Alfred from a height.

          ‘William Davies deposed: … Higgins fell on his head a yard from us; Higgins was unconscious for a few minutes, and then said, “I am done,” and complained of pain in his breast-bone, and of numbed feet and arms; he was placed in a cart and taken home …’


‘Mr Harris, surgeon, Eardisley, said: … [Higgins] was unable to move his arms and legs, but was quite conscious; on his arrival at his home, I examined him and found every symptom of a broken neck; I knew nothing could be done for him, and he died at eleven next morning; he did not attach blame to anyone.’

The jury, after some questions about the rope which was apparently weakened after constant usage, returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’ and recommended farmers should supply ropes that were ‘sound’ and they should be checked by everyone regularly. Elizabeth later moved in with her daughter Sarah Ann’s family in Titley and died c1925, aged 80.


Mary (c1838 - 1920) was born in Pembridge and baptised 13 May 1838. By age 13 she was working as a house servant to a family in Lyonshall. She did not stay in domestic service and by the 1861 census, she was back living with her family with no occupation listed. The previous year she had given birth to an illegitimate son, Arthur (1860 - 1885) but it is not known who his father was. He was later raised by his maternal grandparents. Mary married gardener Thomas Matthews (c1843 - c1893) in 1863 after falling pregnant and they went on to have nine children: Thomas Jr (1863 - ?), Mary Ann (1866 - 1867), George (c1868 - ?), Elizabeth Ann (1870 - 1903), Albert (c1873 - 1931), Alfred Ernest (1876 - ?), William (1878 - ?), Francis Henry (1881 - 1883) and Frederick (1884 - ?).

The family moved from Lyonshall to Clehonger, near the county capital Hereford, where Thomas had been born. By 1870, they were in Durrington, Wiltshire, where Thomas continued working as a gardener. It is not known why they moved to another county: Thomas was not employed by an estate with a famous garden and there did not appear to be any family connections to Wiltshire. The area’s claim to fame was Stonehenge, only a couple of miles to the south-west. Tourism to the stones had been known since the 1500s and perhaps the Matthews family visited at some point. [3] By 1873, the were back in Herefordshire in Shelwick and then Stretton Sugwas, near Hereford. Thomas died c1893, aged 51, and Mary moved into Number 2 Mill Cottages, St Nicholas Parish, Hereford. She died in 1920, aged 82.


Elizabeth (1840 - ?) was born in Pembridge and baptised 20 September 1840, not long after she was born. She attended school as a child but there is no confirmed record of her after 1851.


Jane (c1843 - ?) was born in Lyonshall and baptised 23 July 1843. She attended school as a child but there is no confirmed record of her after 1861.


Sarah Anne (c1846 - c1868) was born in Lyonshall and baptised 31 May 1846. After she finished her schooling, she was a servant to a family in Kington. She died c1868, aged 21.


More information about Eliza appears in Part 3.


Fanny (1851 - 1947) was born in Lyonshall 16 October 1851 and baptised 16 November the same year. Like her older sister, Sarah, she went into service and was a housemaid for three siblings in Swain’s Hall, Breinton (near Hereford). She married police constable John Lloyd (c1850 - 1884) c1877 and she and her husband lived with her uncle Richard Holland in Leominster. They had one known child: Gwendoline (1882 - c1971). Sadly John died 13 June 1884, aged only 34, after a short illness. The ‘Leominster News’ reported that John had been a well-respected policeman for almost ten years (p5, 20 June 1884).

Fanny remarried Alfred Lane Pasco (1864 - 1953) in Leominster in 1886. Alfred worked his way up from a grocer’s apprentice, to assistant and then manager and then became a commercial traveller dealing in soap and later flour. The family moved around, living in Southport, Cheltenham and then Penarth, Glamorganshire, where Fanny died in 1947, aged 97. Alfred died c1953, aged 89. Some of Fanny’s descendants were blessed with similar longevity: her grandson George Lloyd Francis lived to be 101!


William Holland (1854 - 1908) was born in Lyonshall and baptised 17 October 1854. He worked as a gardener and after his mother’s death in 1875, he went to live with his sister Mary’s family in Stretton Sugwas. A year later, 02 December 1882, he was admitted as a pauper patient to the Hereford County and City Asylum in Burghill. The 1871 England census was the first time any mental infirmities were listed (previously ‘deaf’, ‘dumb’ or ‘blind’ were the only infirmities listed). William was not categorised as having any infirmity until 1881 when the word ‘fits’ was recorded by the enumerator. In the asylum, his condition was described as ‘lunatic’. There was a vagueness surrounding the definition of ‘lunatic’ in census reports: William may have suffered epilepsy or a mental illness or had what today would be described as a learning difficulty. [4]

William was probably luckier than some others admitted to asylums: Burghill had been newly-built a decade earlier and had many facilities to encourage the patients to work. There was a farm, gardens, workshop, brewery and laundry. A visit to check on patients’ welfare in 1889 noted: ‘…the Patients [have] been treated with kindness and efficiency…’ Oral histories given by patients there indicated that having a job within the asylum helped them. [5] William worked as a farm labourer and general labourer during his time there. It is not known what treatment he might have received for his condition (such as the infamous electric shock treatment, brain surgery or straitjackets). William died in the asylum 05 May 1908, aged 54.


Next: Eliza Higgins


[1] Mediaeval Pembridge website (

[2] My Ancestor was an Agricultural Labourer’, Ian H Waller (2010), Society of Genealogists Enterprises Ltd

[3] BBC History Magazine, Christmas 2013 issue

[4] ‘Morons, Imbeciles and Idiots’ by Campbell M Gold (2011), (

[5] Herefordshire Through Time website (