Saturday, 20 February 2016

Gervase Petter

Gervase Petter (1819–1900)
Gervase Petter, the father of FrederickCharles Petter, was the son of Thomas Petter (1783–1863), a brickmaker and sheep farmer, the tenant of 12 acres and a farmhouse (Hambledon House) in Fyning, near Rogate, West Sussex. 
He and his wife, Sarah Tipper (1791–1864), had at least 11 children after their marriage in Rogate in 1811 – one child every two years between 1812 (Thomas) and 1834 (Carolina), with a gap between 1829 and 1832 when a child or children may have died. 
All were boys (Thomas, George, Charles, Edward, Gervase, Jarvis, Henry and Lewis) except the last three (Mary, Elizabeth and Carolina). 
By 1861, only Edward and Carolina and their parents were still at the farm; Thomas died of ‘decay of nature’ (what we would now call dementia) in 1863, and Gervase was there when he died. 
Sarah may be been turned out of her home; she died a year later in the tiny nearby hamlet of Terwick Common (called ‘Trerwick’ in the contemporary parish records), which may be where one of her children lived or farmed.
Gervase was the fifth child, still living at the farm aged 22 in 1841 but in Tottenham, northeast London, by 1851. A year later, the year before his marriage to Eliza Sarah Forster (1826–1906, also from Tottenham but perhaps with family in Shoreditch, where they were married), he was lodging with James Cornell in Castle Place (a road/alley that no longer exists) near the Tottenham High Road and White Hart Lane, and involved in a case at the Central Criminal Court. Gervase, true to his farming background, kept rabbits in a shed at his lodgings; when one was stolen, he testified in court on 2 February 1852: there was a guilty verdict and the thief was sent to prison for 6 months.
In 1851, Tottenham, originally a low-lying area of fields and marsh bordering the River Lea to the east and Edmonton to the north and a settlement since the Domesday Book, was in James Thorne’s words* ‘a long straggling hamlet’, still essentially rural, a place of general gentility and health, with small farms, brewers, paper mills and brick- and lace-making. 
The farms provided food and fodder for horses in London and the market gardens salad crops for the city. 
There were a few big houses and Bruce Castle, a former manor house, and some low-level industrial development along the Tottenham High Road and White Hart Lane, the two main through roads. 
Tile works and The Kilns (later Williamson’s) brickfield and pottery workshops might have been a source of employment for Gervase, given his father’s trade, but we do not as yet know how he was employed, nor where in Tottenham he raised his family of five. In the 1860s, Tottenham began its decline to the overcrowded and impoverished suburb it became towards the end of the century: the population grew by 10,000 in the decade and there were frequent crises over sewage disposal and clean water supplies. 
By the 1870s such enterprises as Dickinson’s paper mills and Nathan’s furniture workshops provided a larger source of employment and with the coming of the railway (see below) a tide of lower-paid workmen flooded into the new stock brick terraces, crammed in 40 to an acre with minimal front or back gardens, overcrowding and urbanizing the whole area. 
Tottenham had had one of the earliest London railway lines, opened by the Northern and Eastern Railway (NER) in 1840 for trains along the Lea Valley with stations at Ferry Lane and Marsh Lane (later Northumberland Park). 
In 1872 the Great Eastern Railway (GER) opened a line from Bethnal Green to Edmonton, with stations at Seven Sisters, Bruce Grove and White Hart Lane, providing cheap early morning workmens’ tickets into the city.
All Gervase’s children were born in Tottenham but his grandson Archibald Graham said his family came from Edmonton, and Eliza, Gervase’s wife, died there in 1906, so it looks as if at least some of the children made the move north to the slightly more salubrious area. 
Gervase himself died in Wandsworth, possibly at the home of one of his children.
*James Thorne, Rambles by the Lea (London: Charles London Knight, 1844).

Thanks Barbara !

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