Nostalgia: More details unearthed about last rural postie

VILLAGE SCENE: Smithy Brook, Edge End, Thornhill  part of the area covered by rural postman John Woodcock.
VILLAGE SCENE: Smithy Brook, Edge End, Thornhill  part of the area covered by rural postman John Woodcock.

More and more people are discovering their family trees and using family history websites to help them, but not everyone knows how to do this.

Some time ago I wrote an article about John Woodcock, Dewsbury’s last rural postman who was born in Whitley in 1849.

I asked if there were any of his descendants still living in the area to help me research his life further, but none came forward.

John, who retired from the local postal service in 1909, was not only Dewsbury’s last rural postman but also one of the last in the country.

He began work as a postman in 1871 and during his 38 years service had walked a distance equivalent to walking 10 times round the world.

Every day, sunshine or hail, he had tramped 22 miles round the widely-scattered areas of Thornhill, Overthorpe, Briestfield and Whitley.

The picture on this page gives readers an idea of just how rural the area of Thornhill was when John was delivering the post.

I have used the picture before but it wasn’t shown to its best advantage and so I show it again because, like John, it is an important part of our social history.

Although none of John’s descendants came forward, I was contacted by Greg Race, who is an avid researcher of family history.

He offered to help using his computer skills to search through census forms and other historical documents to find out more about John.

Greg’s findings have helped add more to the life of John Woodcock, enough I hope to make local people with the name of Woodcock to sit up and take notice, and perhaps wonder if he’s an ancestor of theirs.

Greg started his search by using the birth details I had given in my article about John having been born in Whitley in 1849.

That was all he needed to know.

With the benefits of his subscriptions to both “Ancestry” and “Findmypast” websites, he was able to come up with a lot more about John than I could ever have found.

In the 1851 census, Greg found a one-year-old boy of the name John Woodcock, living at “Quebec”, Whitley, Dewsbury.

His parents Thomas and Hannah Woodcock, were coal miners at a time when many women worked in coal mines alongside their husbands and children.

Four other children were living in the family home – Christina, Samuel, Emma and William – no doubt John’s older siblings.

In the 1861 census, the family was living at the same address but there was an addition to the family, eight-year-old Sarah.

The census also revealed that John, aged 11, was a coal miner.

The 1842 Mines Act made it illegal for children under 10 to work in mining, so it was quite lawful in 1851 for a child of John’s age to be employed as a miner.

In the 1881 census, John was described as being aged 31 and living at 82, Edge Road, Thornhill, and his occupation was shown to be “Rural Letter Carrier”.

Living with him were his wife Hannah, and three boys, Harry (b.1877), Fred (b.1878) and Sam (b.1879), each one being enumerated as John’s sons.

Using the 1881 census information, Greg was able to locate a marriage record for 1875, showing that a John Woodcock was married in the Dewsbury District to Hannah Brook.

John’s marriage was confirmed by the 1911 census which showed that at the time of the census, he and Hannah had been married for 35 years.

Ten years later, the family were living at Cross Gate, Thornhill, with John again being described as “Rural Postman”.

Apart from his three sons, mentioned in the 1881 census, there was now another son, Tom, born in 1890.

By 1901 the family had moved to Town Street, Thornhill, with John’s job title being shown as Rural Post Messenger.

At this time, Fred, Sam and Tom, were still living at home, and both Fred and Sam appeared to have become butchers, while Tom’s occupation was listed as “school”.

Finally, in 1911, John and Hannah were living at Town Lane, Thornhill, and the only child still living with them was 20 year old Tom, whose occupation was shown to be “Teacher Elementary”.

By this time, John was enumerated as a “pensioned parish postman”, but there was a puzzle regarding his wife’s occupation.

Whoever had filled in the census form had written by Hannah’s name – “domestic duties at home”, but this was changed by the enumerator to read “shop duties at home”.

Greg also found a burial record in the parish records of Thornhill Parish Church relating to a man called John Woodcock

An entry in the register for 1916 shows that a John Woodcock, aged 66, was interred on the 7th August of that year.

Greg could find no other corresponding death entry so we are led to believe that this is the John Woodcock we have both been researching.

All of the above information has been obtained by viewing the original census records available to view online.

l If there are any members of John’s family still living in the area, it would be interesting to hear from them.

My email address is tresham3@gmail.com.

Grateful thanks to Greg Race for his invaluable help in providing me with these facts.