On Doris’s father’s side, George Josiah Edge, going backwards in time, the family line takes us initially to Sunderland but soon to the West Midlands and Yardley during the time of the rapid growth of Birmingham’s engineering and metal working industries, and before that to the traditional English rural, farming communities of Shropshire, back to about 1640 on present knowledge.
The family name is a topographic one, apparently first found in Cheshire and is especially now to be found in Lancashire and the West Midlands. It is for someone who lived on or by a hillside or ridge, from Old English “ecg” meaning “edge”. After the Norman invasion of England in 1066 the surname was usually spelled “Egge.”
Our branch of the Edges first appear in known records in 1640 in Hodnet, Shropshire, where a Thomas Edge (abt. 1640-1711) married Jane Stud in 1663. Thus we come to a small area of villages around Wem.
In exploring pre-industrial families, one is often looking at a small number of villages quite close to one another. People did not travel far, not at least until the advent of improved roads in the 18th century with the work of Wade, Metcalf, Telford and McAdam and the creation of Turnpike Trusts. Roads and road transport were poor and hazzardous. In the 17th century, people referred to the counties in which they lived as “countries”. One might walk to the nearest town to market, or ride if you were more fortunate. Going to the county town would be a rareity, if it ever happened. Hodnet was 15 miles from the county town of Shrewsbury and so very likely out of reach for most, but Market Drayton more achieveable at 5.7 miles. This is the context in which one should imagine life at this time.
Very little has been found so far about our family apart from the pre-registration evidence of succession, baptism, marriage and burial. Our Thomas moved to Wem, a small market town, since his son, also called Thomas, is born there in 1671. The latter in turn moves to Waters Upton, where his son Samuel is born about 1695. Sadly when the latter died in 1778, in his burial record he is marked as a “pauper”. One might bear in mind that in the 18th Century a pauper’s funeral was dreaded by most, a ceremony of humiliation and disgrace, often to be placed in unmarked graves. To be “put away on the parish” (ie at the parish’s expense) could be a shaming that extended to the family at large.
Samuel’s son, also called Samuel (1724-1804), remained in Waters Upton, but his son Rowland (1761-1807) upped sticks and moved to Sutton Coldfield in Warwickshire, 41 miles away, where he married Hannah Smart from Aston in 1788 and where they had 10 children, not uncommon in that period.
Birmingham and the Industrial Revolution
The Edges’ move to the Birmingham region reflects a major trend of this period, the move of rural people to the fast-growing conurbations to earn better money than the grinding poverty of rural society.
The Birmingham region was by the late 18th century a fast-growing centre of metal-working industries focused on small workshops and a highly skilled workforce, a region sometimes called “the workshop of the world”. Thus in the case of the Edge family, better earnings came in the form of wire manufacture and, for the Edge people, being a wire drawer. A whole range of products required copper wire to be used in some form. Wire drawers would draw strips of copper by pulling the metal through a single, or series of, drawing die to reduce the cross-section of a wire. Wire drawers were working in a whole range of businesses and were highly paid.
Thus we find several generations self-employed, as many were to begin with, or employed in this business. Initially in Aston, they are latterly to be found in the records living in Yardley at the Hay Mills factory. Hay Mills, then owned by Webster-Horsfall, was well-known for the production of copper wire cables that were being laid on the sea beds across the oceans for the new telegraphic communication, and were the pioneers of the first successful transatlantic cable in 1866.
As mentioned above, a striking feature of this research has been the large families so many people had. Having eight children was not uncommon and there have been several found with much larger numbers. This was the era before effective contraception was more commonly available, and yet when health and housing was improving. It should be borne in mind however that there was still a very high infant mortality rate, and it is very noticeable how many families in our research show children with very short life spans. However things changed by the end of the nineteenth century. Starting in the 1880’s birth control became much more widely practised, aided by campaigning and education and the availability of techniques that worked. Birth rates declined from almost 35.5 births per 1,000 in the 1870s to about 29 per 1,000 by 1900, a fall of about 29%. Thus with our Edge family, while Rowland had 10 children, by the time of George Josiah at the end of the century, it has fallen to three. Thus also, families were able to improve their living standards simply by having less mouths to feed and house and women in particular were less tied and worn out by relentless family responsibilities.
Sunderland and the Durham connection
George Josiah was the last of our family Edge to live in Birmingham however. After World War One we find him and his wife Frances Ellen have moved to Sunderland. This town was a major shipbuilding centre, with an important coal-mining hinterland, and metal-working skills would have been in strong demand. They had however suffered one loss to their family of three children, the eldest Harold being killed in the First World War in France. The war had cut a swathe through a whole generation of young people.