A Victorian Gamekeeping ‘Dynasty’

My great, great grandfather, George Ashby, was born circa 1813 in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire. Even today, it is a sleepy, ‘unspoilt’, one-pub village, accessible solely by single-track roads yet lying only a few miles from the busy town of Welwyn and the A1(M). One thing that has changed is that the humble, ancient cottage that George was born in (which I identified by walking in the footsteps of the Census enumerator) would probably cost a cool three, four or five-hundred-thousand pounds today…

By 1841 George had moved to Kent and was married to Jane Wood with whom he produced no less than eight children between the years 1836 and 1860. Their four sons were Joseph, William, Charles, and Alfred Edwin.

The 1841 Census shows that there were several Gamekeeping Ashby’s still living in this part of Hertfordshire and, given that this was a profession that was handed-down the generations, I am quite certain that they were related to George, either as brothers or as cousins.

Having moved to Kent, where his wife was born, George spent the next 50+ years living and working at several locations but all within a small geographical area and on one, or at most two, estates.

1841 Park Barns near The Hermitage, Larkfield, Aylesford, Kent.
There were two other Gamekeepers and a Bailiff, amongst others, in residence and, as Jane was elsewhere, perhaps they were engaged upon a hunt at the time?

1851 Hermitage Woods, Aylesford, Kent.
George, Jane and their five children are recorded living here. Although the precise location remains unknown it appears to be part of the same Preston Hall Estate of Edward Ladd Betts where George was working a decade earlier.

Edward Betts was a railway engineer who’s first project was the Dutton Viaduct which he undertook with George Stephenson. Preston Hall became a hospital and is at the centre of the Royal British Legion Village

1861 Tyland, Boxley, Kent.
The family has grown by one but perhaps the most significant addition is that George’s eldest son Joseph, aged 24, is now also a Gamekeeper. They are living in a semi-detached house with the farmer (probably a tenant of the estate) as their neighbour. You imagine my surprise when, upon visiting Tyland Barn (HQ of the Kent Wildlife Trust) earlier this year, I was shown the very house that my great grandmother (then aged 3) was living in! Tyland was part of the Cobtree Estate owned by the Tyrwhitt-Drake family.

1871 Cobtree, Sandling, Boxley, Kent.
Only George, Jane and my great grandmother Kate are listed at this address which is a mile or so South of Tyland and now home to The Museum Of Kent Life. This open-air museum is a collection of Kent buildings that have been rescued from destruction and rebuilt. It owes its existence to the generosity of the last of the Tyrwhitt-Drake family who bequethed the whole of his estate to the people of Maidstone.

Son Joseph, now aged 33, is a Gamekeeper in Blyth, Nottinghamshire.
Charles, aged 23, is a Gamekeeper lodging in Wateringbury, Kent. The Head of the household he lodged with was also a Gamekeeper. Sadly, William had died in 1867 at the age of 22 so I have no written evidence that he was ever a Gamekeeper but the chances are that he was!

1881 Cobtree, Sandling, Boxley, Kent.
The widower George has with him his Gamekeeping son Joseph (and his wife) together with George’s 21 year-old son Alfred Edwin who now is also a gamekeeper. Charles, George’s second son, is still a Gamekeeper but now living at Larkhouse Cottage, Hempstead, Essex.

1891 Cobtree Cottage, Nr Tyland, Kent.
George is still a Gamekeeper at the ripe old age of 79 and with him is his sister-in-law Esther and a boarder, Arthur G Jeffrey, who is also a Gamekeeper but some 60 years younger than George.

Joseph, aged 50, is a Gamekeeper living in Moreton Green, Moreton Cum Alcumlow, Cheshire.

1901 Mill House, Sandling, Boxley, Kent.
George is listed as a Gamekeeper Retired but the word ‘Retired’ is crossed-out and the word ‘GameK’ has been added so maybe the old man was still practising the art?

Joseph is now a retired Gamekeeper living in Congleton, Cheshire. I can find no record of him having any children and, as Charles became a publican in Long Melford, Suffolk, and, as Alfred Edwin died in 1883, I think that this was probably the end of this particular Gamekeeping line.

1904 The Old Mill House, Sandling, Boxley, Kent.
At the age of 92, George, after a minimum of half-a-century of Gamekeeping, and having spawned at least three Gamekeeping sons, is laid to rest.

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