Thomas May 1819-1874

My 3x Great Grandfather Thomas May seems to have had an eventful life.

Born in Hinckley, Leicestershire in 1819 Thomas was the fourth child of William May & Catherine Townsend.
William was working as a tailor in Castle Street at the time of Thomas’s birth, he later became a master tailor & draper and hosiery manufacturer. He was also a publican and an agent for Royal Exchange Assurance.

In the 1841 census Thomas was working as a warehouseman, previously he had been in a partnership with his father as an insurance agent for Fire & Life.

By 1843 Thomas had followed his father into the hosiery business in Hinckley and had also married Sophia Lapworth, the daughter of John Lapworth and Mary Ann Hunt, in Coventry.

During the next ten years Thomas is noted in the local trade directories as a hosier; by the 1851 census he is a master hosier employing forty men, so obviously doing quite well for himself and his family. At this point he and Sophia have three children; William, Alice and Mary Ann.

Their eldest son, William, was born in Manchester in 1844, which seemed odd, so I researched a little further to find a reason for this. I found that Thomas’s older sister, Elizabeth, had married John Evans in 1833. In the following years John had many varied occupations in different parts of the country, railway porter, inspector of police (I find that a little difficult to believe!), sawyer, labourer and publican. In 1843, Elizabeth and John had a daughter, Catharine, in Manchester, so it’s possible that Thomas and Sophia were with them around this time.

Between the years 1846 and 1854, according to the local directories,Thomas May was also a publican; he had the Star at Stockwell Head in Hinckley.

Stockwell Head, Hinckley

In 1854 Thomas and Sophia had twins, Louisa and Richard Henry, both baptised on the 29th June at St. Mary’s Hinckley. Thomas’s occupation is noted here as hosier and grocer. Sadly, Richard died on the 4th December the same year and was buried at St. Mary’s.

Following this there is no further trace of Thomas in Hinckley. The Star’s landlord in 1855 is John Huston. There is a mention of a Thomas May as a landlord of The Grapes in Leicester in March 1856, but there’s no proof that this is the same man. if it is him, he’s running a disorderly house!

The proof of where Thomas & his family ended up is in the 1861 census. They were living in Dale Street, Sneinton, Nottingham. Thomas was employed as a warehouse man and there was a new addition to the family, a daughter, Julia, born in Nottingham in February 1857. So they must have been in Nottingham by early 1857.

I found a possible mention of Thomas in the newspaper court reports of 1858. It appears that Thomas had bought some shop fixtures from a Mr Slingsby in 1856 that were not actually his to sell. Thomas ended up paying the shop landlord for the items and was attempting to reclaim his money from Slingsby. Thomas lost this case, which may have been quite a blow to the family finances.

If this is the right man then he must have arrived in Nottingham sometime in 1856. I’m reasonably confident that it is him; there are other Thomas Mays living in Nottingham in both the 1851 and 1861 census but none of their occupations fit and my Thomas was working in a warehouse in 1861. He may have been trying to set himself back up in business in his new city.

In 1862, his wife Sophia died aged 42 of a malignant disease of the womb and was buried at St Stephens in Sneinton.

Thomas was an executor of his Uncle Richard May’s will in 1869, he swore an oath in Leicestershire and was described as a hosier living in Belgrave.

In the 1871 census 52 year old Thomas was recorded as a visitor at the Pump Tavern in Aston, Birmingham. His older sister Elizabeth & her husband John Evans were the keepers of the pub.

Thomas’s son, William, had married Emma Carr; they spent a few years in Nottingham and later moved back to Leicestershire. His daughters Alice, Mary Ann, Louisa and Julia remained in Nottingham and were living together in 1871 at High Pavement.

In September of 1871, Thomas married Sophia Staples, a widow, nee Sault, at St Pauls in Aston. John & Elizabeth Evans were the witnesses.

I have been unable to find much information about Thomas’s life after this time. In 1873 his daughter Alice married William Oldknow Oldham in Nottingham and gave her father’s occupation as publican.

Thomas died aged 55 on the 9th August 1874 at the home of his sister, Elizabeth in Belgrave, Leicestershire. Her husband John Evans was present at his death and was the informant. Thomas was buried at St Peters church, Belgrave.

The cause of death was hepatic dropsy; related to the liver and possibly cirrhosis.

I’ve been unable to find out why Thomas & Sophia left Hinckley in 1854/5. It seems quite a fall in status from an employer of 40 men in 1851 to a warehouse man in 1861. The May family did have money; they were landowners in Sutton Cheney, Leicestershire. Thomas’s father, William, had been described as gentry in one local directory, and he owned his own house in Hinckley. Thomas was the eldest surviving son so it would be usual for him to have inherited the majority of his parent’s estate.

I suspect that alcohol may have been part of it exacerbated by his run of bad luck beginning with the death of his infant son in 1854, his loss in status, loss of money in Nottingham and then the death of his wife. His lifelong proximity to alcohol is obvious and the cause of his death most likely alcohol related.


Stockwell Head;
Richard May death; The Leicester Chronicle. 16 December 1854
The Grapes; Leicester Journal 14 March 1856
May vs Slingsby; Nottingham Daily Guardian, Nottingham October 1858
Sophia Lapworth death; Nottingham Daily Guardian, Nottingham, 24 January 1862
High Pavement Nottingham; my photo
St Pauls Aston;
Thomas May death; Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury August 22, 1874

Those Places Thursday.. Sutton Cheney

It was interesting this last weekend to see one of my ‘ancestral places’ on the news. Sutton Cheney in Leicestershire was the stamping ground of my MAY ancestors and was in the news as it was a stopping place for Richard III’s cortege.

It has been reported that the King spent his last evening in the village and the church of St. James was where he attended his final mass in 1485. The cortege paused for a short service to take place, which was very well received.

Unfortunately my ancestors wouldn’t have been there at the time. The first ancestor I have recorded in Sutton Cheney was Jeffrey MAY born c1720.  His father, William MAY was originally from Stoney Stanton and his mother, Elizabeth TOWNSEND from Burbage, both in Leicestershire.  I have traced them further back to another Jeffrey MAYE born c1549 in Sussex; he married Joanna DENSTON from Stoney Stanton and settled there.

The MAY family stayed in Sutton Cheney until at least 1811, when my branch moved to Hinckley and into the hosiery trade.

On a visit to the church a few years ago I found gravestones marking the burials of my 5xGreat Grandfather Thomas MAY and one of his sons Jeffrey MAY.

Thomas May 1754-1842 
Jeffrey May 1777-1862

There were other MAY graves in the churchyard and I believe there is also a memorial inside the church, which was unfortunately locked when we visited. Hopefully I will manage a return visit at some point in the future.

Picture Credit: Church ITV News Central

Sundays Obituary – Thomas May

A distant cousin and I had spent lots of time trying to find the death of our mutual ancestor Thomas May, without success. 
Thomas is my 3x great-grandfather and he was born in Hinckley, Leicestershire in c1819, the son of William May and Catherine Townsend.  During his life he had lived in Hinckley, Nottingham and Birmingham so we needed to consider all these places when we searched for his death.

I managed to order an incorrect certificate – the age and occupation were both wrong; but I prefer to think of it as part of the process of elimination rather than being yet another £9.00 out of pocket!

My cousin had asked for help on both the Ancestry and Roots Chat forums but without luck.

Then a general search on the British Newspaper Archive  revealed the following death notice in the Leicester Chronicle of 22nd August 1874;

Thanks to the definite date and place I managed to find the GRO reference and order the certificate:

To my delight everything matched up – the newspaper said Thomas had died at the home of his sister in Belgrave, while the informant on the death certificate was John Evans.  Thomas had a sister, Elizabeth, who had married John Evans.  In the 1871 census, Thomas was living with Elizabeth and John Evans at their pub in Aston, Birmingham.

Thomas May’s death was attributed to ‘hepatic dropsy’ or an accumulation of fluid in the liver, possibly cirrhosis.  As well as being a hosier he had also been a publican; the cause of his death suggests he had enjoyed being a landlord far too much!

Newspaper Credit: Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury (Leicester, England), Saturday, August22, 1874; pg. 9; Issue 3395. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II

The Nottingham Oldhams

Back in autumn last year, I went in search of family graves in Nottingham’s General Cemetery.

Nottingham General Cemetery

The cemetery is fairly big and contains approximately 29000 graves.  The Nottingham Family History Society have memorial inscriptions for the graves, so I knew there were existing headstones there and I found the plot numbers by looking through the burial indexes in Nottingham Archives, they also had a map showing the original plot numbers from when the cemetery was founded in 1837.  The map is huge, it covers almost the whole of one study table in the archives, but I managed to get a reasonable idea of where to start looking and a very kind Roots Chat member helped me further with a map of areas which corresponds with the NFHS memorial transcripts.

Plot 2010 William Oldham (1814-1899) my 4x great-grandfather
Plot 2010 Thomas Oldknow Oldham (1856-1899) my 2x great uncle

The plot is the space on the left – no headstone for this one

Plot 2424 Thomas Oldknow Oldham (1843-1904) my 3x great grandfather
Plot 2424 Harriett Oldham (nee Winfield) (1828-1904) my 3x great grandmother
Plot 2424 Harold Claude Hammersley (?-1944)

Plot 1980 William Oldknow Oldham (1854-1886) my 2x great grandfather
Plot 1980 Alice Oldham (nee May) (1847-1938) my 2x great grandmother
Plot 1980 Edith Oldknow Oldham (1881-1896) my 2x great aunt

I haven’t yet placed a William Henry Oldham who shares a plot no 2010. I haven’t found him with the family in any of the census, so my next job will be to find out how he fits in.

I also need to find where the ‘Oldknow’ middle name comes from.  There are a couple of possibilites.  Most likely is that it’s a mother’s maiden name, or they could have some connection to the lacemaking Oldknows of Nottingham.  If a family had a vague connection to a more illustrious local family, it wasn’t unknown for them to annex their surname to their own as a form of one-up-man-ship with the neighbours!

So my next step with this family will be to look William Henry up in the Census and follow him back, to see if I can find him with his parents when he was much younger. Hopefully this will tell me where he fits in.