The Miller Family Clock, Watchmakers, Carpenter, and Tailors
by Linda Ayres
John Miller, the eldest son of Joseph, a stonemason, and Ann, was born in Woburn in 1790. He was christened at the Old Church of Saint Mary, Woburn, on 12th December 1790. John and his parents subsequently moved to Bedford before his mother died in November 1803 when John was 13 years old. Ann was buried on 20th November 1803. The place of burial is unknown. John’s father, Joseph, was born in Houghton Conquest. He died aged 76 in 1837 in Bedford. Joseph was buried on 5th November 1837 in an unmarked grave in St. Mary’s Churchyard, Bedford.
John left school aged 14 and drew his apprentice fee from the Harpur Charity. He started his seven-year apprenticeship as a watch and clockmaker on 8th February 1804 with Samuel Handscomb, clockmaker, of Woburn (1771-1856). Samuel Handscomb lived on the High Street, Woburn, Bedfordshire, with his wife Ann née Dell, their two daughters, Caroline and Martha and their son Ebenezer.
John opens his clock making business
After he had finished his apprenticeship, John set up his clock and watchmaking business on the High Street, Bedford. He became an eminent clockmaker. His excellent works included a longcase clock with 24 figures and eight hands. His clock told the time in London, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Jerusalem, Bengal, Peking, Panama, and Boston, with a ninth hand for the minutes.
A year calendar mahogany longcase clock made by John Miller of Bedford is still sought after by collectors and can command a price of up to £18,000 (2023 prices).
The marriage of John Miller to Sophia Jackson
On 26th August 1812, John married Sophia Jackson at Luton, Bedfordshire. Sophia was born on 20th April 1788 in Luton and was the daughter of Elizabeth and Joseph Jackson.
After their marriage, they lived in rooms above the clock and watchmaking business on the High Street. They had three sons, John William born in 1816; Joseph born in 1818; George born in 1819; and their only daughter, Sophia, born in 1823. Their three sons went to the Commercial School which changed its name to the Bedford Modern School in 1873.
John died in 1833 aged 43 and was buried on 15th August 1833 in St. Mary’s Churchyard, Bedford.
Sophia Miller (née Jackson)
By 1841 Sophia and her four children had moved to Priory Street, Bedford. To make ends meet, she worked from home as a straw plaiter.
Sophia was born and raised in Luton, the home of the hat-making industry in England. Straw plaiting was a cottage industry that began in Luton in the mid-17th century and was mainly practised by women and children. Straw plaiting brought a degree of independence for women and at times, they could earn more than men.
Like many young children in Luton, Sophia may have learned to plait straw at home before being sent to a plait school between the ages of three and four. When Sophia had finished a length of plaiting, a dealer collected it and sold it to the hat makers in Luton to make straw hats. It took about 64 meters of the plait to make a straw hat.
In 1849 Sophia moved into an almshouse at 17 Harpur Green, Bedford, provided by the Harpur Trust. The almshouses were built in 1802 and were used to house people in poverty or old age. To be eligible for an almshouse Sophia would have had to live in Bedford for thirty years. Those who lived in the almshouses received a weekly allowance from the Harpur Trust, plus a yearly clothes allowance. They did not pay rates, and medical assistance could be provided
Sophia died on 10th March 1875, aged 86, at Harpur Green. Her son-in-law Rowland Hill conducted the funeral service at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave Reference C7 122
JOHN AND SOPHIA’S DESCENDANTS
John William Miller
John William, the eldest son of John and Sophia, was born in Bedford on 21st April 1816. On leaving the Commercial School, he served a seven-year apprenticeship as a carpenter. After he finished his apprenticeship, he set up his own carpentry business.
In 1848 John married Judith Beale Wood Hall, a widow.
Judith Beale Wood Hall was born in 1802 in Surrey. On 21 September 1829, Judith married her first husband, Joseph Hall (1808-1847), at Potton, Bedfordshire; he was the son of William and Ann Hall. After their marriage, Judith and Joseph lived at Pattishall Street, Bedford. They had three children: William (1830 -1847), Thomas (1832-1847), and Mary Ann (1839-1847). Sadly, Joseph and their three children died in June 1847 from scarlet fever within days of each other. Joseph and his three children were buried in unmarked graves in Holy Trinity Churchyard, Bedford.
During the mid-1800s, pandemic outbreaks of Scarlet fever in England caused a sharp rise in mortality. It was a highly contagious infection and one of the leading causes of death in children, sometimes within 24 to 48 hours. Bedford, at that time, was never without fever caused by poor housing and a poor drainage system.
After their marriage, Judith and John moved to Bromham Road, Bedford. By 1851 they had moved to 5 Conduit Street, Bedford. John’s carpentry business was obviously doing well as he could afford to employ a domestic servant. The 1861 census records that Judith and John had moved to 10 Conduit Street. By 1871 John was not working and did not employ a servant.
On 1st December 1872, Judith died aged 70 years. Grave Reference G4 9. John died In November 1880, aged 64 years. Grave Reference G5 .239. Their burials took place at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. They had no children.
Joseph, the second son of John and Sophia, was born in Bedford on 22nd February 1818. On leaving the Commercial School, he served his seven-year apprenticeship as a clockmaker. The 1841 census records Joseph living with his mother and siblings at Priory Street, Bedford. After finishing his apprenticeship, like his father, he set up his watchmaking business on the High Street, Bedford. In May 1855, Joseph sold his business to James Coster, a watch and clockmaker, silversmith and jeweller.
The marriage of Joseph Miller to Elizabeth Tregenza
On 5th January 1856, Joseph married Elizabeth at the Bedford Registry Office. Elizabeth was born in Bedford on 16 June 1831 and was the youngest of the six children of John Tregenza and Eleanor née Franklyn.
Elizabeth Tregenza’s Family
John and Eleanor Tregenza
John and Eleanor were married on 21st December 1815 at Corsham, Wiltshire. John was born in 1784 in St. Stephen in Brannel, Cornwall. (The Tregenza name is Cornish in origin). John moved to Bedford to become Governor of The New House of Correction, and Eleanor was the matron.
Unfortunately, Eleanor died aged 36 years, giving birth to Elizabeth. She was buried in St. Paul’s Churchyard, Bedford, on 21 June 1831. Eleanor left behind six young children.
The following year John married his second wife, Mary Ann, on 13th July 1832 at St. Augustine the Less Church, Bristol. Mary Ann was born in 1801 and was the second daughter of John Franklyn, a perfumer of College Green, Bristol. It appears that John and Mary Ann’s marriage was arranged, and Mary Ann was closely related to Eleanor, possibly her sister.
Marriage with deceased wife’s sister
Marrying his deceased wife’s sister was not unusual for a widowed man with children. Before 1835, the church would annul the marriage of a man with the sister of his late wife if reported, but if no one reported the situation, then the marriage was legal. It was voidable but not void.
After the 1835 Marriage Act had been passed, the only legal way for a widower to marry his deceased wife’s sister was to go abroad. The Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act 1907 declared that any such marriages would not be considered void or voidable.
Mary Ann became the matron of the New House of Correction. John subsequently took up the post of governor of Bedford County Prison, and Mary Ann became the matron. In July 1845, Mary Ann was too ill to work, and her stepdaughter Elizabeth stood in as matron. Mary Ann died aged 45 years in April 1846. There are no records of her burial. Elizabeth, then aged 15 years, was employed as the matron of Bedford Prison. Her yearly salary of £20.00 was £10.00 less than her stepmother’s.
It was said that John Tregenza was well-liked by most of his prisoners. A rumour goes that he was returning to Bedford on horseback one day with his pockets full of money to pay the warders at the Gaol when two highwaymen stopped him in a lonely part of the road. Out rang the dreaded challenge from one of the masked raiders; “Your money or your life! “ Coming nearer, the man peered at John’s face and then cried. “We can’t touch him, Bill. It’s the governor!” and rode off.
On 16th February 1849, John Tregenza died aged 65 years. His obituary read, “Leaving an unblemished character”. He was buried in St. Paul’s Churchyard, Bedford.
After her father died, Elizabeth moved to Somerset, where she worked as a shop assistant for William Sims at 1 New Bond Street Buildings, Bath. She lived in rooms above the shop. The shop sold toys, stationery, perfumes, and clothes. In 1855 William Sims sold his business and moved to 43 Milsom Street, Bath. Elizabeth became unemployed and returned to Bedford.
Joseph joins the New Zealand Gold Rush
Soon after Joseph and Elizabeth were married, he sailed to New Zealand, like many others worldwide, hoping to strike it rich in gold mining. The New Zealand gold rush began in 1852 when gold was discovered in the Coromandel Township on New Zealand’s North Island.
Elizabeth remained in Bedford. Perhaps she intended to join Joseph in New Zealand when he had secured a home for her. Elizabeth lived with George Wells and his family in rooms above his shop at 25 High Street, Bedford. George traded as a cabinet maker on the ground floor. Elizabeth worked for George as a shop assistant in the bazaar on the ground floor, selling items such as Jewellery and perfume.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth did not get the chance to join Joseph in New Zealand. He died, after a long illness, aged 42 years, in Wellington, New Zealand, on 21 October 1859. His death may have been from lung disease caused by breathing in silica dust created in gold mining blasting. Joseph was buried in Bolton Street Cemetery, Wellington, New Zealand. Joseph and Elizabeth had no children.
Elizabeth Miller’s second marriage to George Jones
Elizabeth moved to Liverpool where she married her second husband, George, on 21st April 1864, at St. Simon’s Church, Liverpool. George worked in the Telegraphic Department of the London and North Western Railway.
George was born in Bedford in 1835 and was one of the five children of Fanny and William Jones. The family lived at 54 High Street. From 1850 to 1869, William was employed as the clerk to the trustees of the Bedford Charity. On 6th March 1869, William died aged 67 at 54 High Street, Bedford. He was buried in Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave Reference F8 12. Before William died, he and Fanny were not living together. Fanny lived in Wellington Street until 1867, when she moved into an almshouse on 11 Harpur Green, Bedford. Fanny died aged 72 years in 1876 at Harpur Green. She was buried in Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave Reference C7 27.
Final years of Elizabeth and George Jones
The 1871 census records Elizabeth and George living at Froghall Lane, White Cross Terrace, Warrington, Lancashire. In 1875 Elizabeth died aged 44, giving birth to a daughter, Winifred Alice. George and their three other children, Isabella Edith, aged 10; Benjamin Arthur, aged 8; and Mabel Edith, aged 5, survived her. In 1877 George married his second wife, Ellen Glover. Ellen died aged 60 years in 1892 in Warrington. George and Ellen had no children.
The 1911 census records George, a retired telegraph inspector, living at 7 Aspley Street, Warrington, with his three unmarried children, Benjamin Arthur, a photographer; Isabella Edith, a school teacher and Winifred Alice, a housekeeper. George died aged 93 years in 1928 at Warrington.
George, the third son of John and Sophia Miller, was born in Bedford on 28th November 1819. George went to the Commercial School, where he excelled in mathematics. On leaving school, he moved to the West End of London, where he worked in the tailoring business. By 1841 George returned to Bedford and lived with his mother at Priory Street. By 1851 he had set up his tailoring business on the High Street, Bedford, and had four men working for him. He lived in the rooms above his business.
The marriage of George Miller to Mary Ann Tregenza
In 1852 George married Mary Ann Tregenza who was born in Bedford in 1825 and was the eldest daughter of Eleanor and John Tregenza. Before her marriage, Mary Ann was a teacher living with her younger brother John Tregenza Jnr. a draper and his wife, Ann née West, who was born in Islington, London. They lived together at 21 Adelaide Square, Bedford.
After their marriage, Mary Ann and George lived above the tailoring business on the High Street. In December 1855, George, then a Master tailor, moved to the newly built buildings, two doors from Messrs. Barnards Bank, at 8 High Street. As the business grew, he needed larger premises, and they moved to 4 and 6 Bank Buildings opposite the Swan Hotel.
George was a member of the Town Council for many years and was also a member of the Harpur Trust. He was the secretary of the Bedford group of Unitarians.
George, and Mary Ann, lived in rooms above 4 Bank Buildings with their seven children, Alice (1853-1932), Carlyle (1855-1929), Miriam (1857-1920), Mary (1860-1894), Ellen (1862-1940), George Jnr (1864-1918) and Gertrude Mary Ann (1870=1960).
Mary Ann died, aged 74 years, on 31st March 1899, at 4 Bank Buildings, High Street, and was buried at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave B4 177
George died suddenly on February 14th 1904. His nephew Rowland Hill Jnr., a Unitarian minister, conducted the funeral service at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave B4 166
John Tregenza Jnr – Mary Ann’s brother
John Tregenza Jnr served his apprenticeship to William Lowe, a draper in Gold Street, Northampton. By 1859 he had become a successful auctioneer and accountant. He subsequently moved from Adelaide Square to Mill Street, where he lived and ran his business.
John’s main interests were as the Chief Ranger of the Ancient Order of Foresters. On 1st December 1862, he was elected a member of the Town Council.
John and Ann had four children: Florence, born in Bedford in 1848; Frank (1854-1924); John Richard (1856-1927); and Harriet Maria (1860- 1894). All the children were baptised at St. Paul’s Church, Bedford, on 31st October 1860.
Ann Tregenza died in 1864, aged 41 years, at Mill Street and was buried at Foster Hill Road Cemetery, Bedford. Grave Reference G4 35.
On 12th January 1865, John married Esther Smith, a widow at St. Cuthbert’s Church, Bedford. In July 1865, John, Esther and the children moved to 31 St. Cuthbert’s Street, Bedford, where he continued to run his business.
Charles Higgins, the brewer, formerly occupied the house. It was advertised as being in a highly respectable neighbourhood. It had an excellent drawing room, dining room and breakfast rooms, a large entrance hall, five bedrooms, a nursery, two attics, a kitchen, and a good water supply.
Unfortunately, their marriage was short-lived, as John died on 19th February 1866, aged 39. On the day of his funeral, the cortege left his residence on St. Cuthbert’s Street. Two mutes,* headed the procession of Foresters wearing black silk headbands, scarves, and white gloves, followed by the hearse and two mourning coaches. He was buried in the grave next to that of Mary. Grave Reference G4 26.
Following John’s death it would appear that Esther left Bedford, and no records confirm what became of her. After John died his children moved away from Bedford and lived in other parts of England.
George and Mary Anne’s Descendants
Mary died at Hill House, Woburn Street, Ampthill, Bedfordshire, on 14th May 1894, aged 34 years. After Mary’s death, her remains were taken to her parent’s home at the High Street, Bedford. She was buried at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave Reference B4.199.
George Jnr. moved to Rushden, Northampton in 1888, where he traded as an ironmonger. In 1890 George moved to 14 High Street, Rushden. In 1917 fire destroyed his business premises. The fire was caused when an assistant dropped a piece of lighted paper on the floor near the oil engine. The oil saturated the floor and ignited, and the blaze became uncontrollable. Two workers narrowly escaped death. George Jnr. retired when he found it impossible to set up his business owing to the First World War. George died on 13th May, 1918, and was buried at Newton Road Cemetery Rushden. Grave Reference c73/74.
Gertrude Mary Ann
Gertrude Mary Ann died in Leicester; she never married. Gertrude bequeathed her grandfather John Miller’s longcase clock to the Higgins Museum in Bedford. Gertrude died aged 87 years on 11 March 1960, at 87 Knighton Road, Leicester.
Carlyle, the eldest son of George and Mary Ann, attended the Bedford Modern School. On leaving school, he trained as a tailor with his father. At the age of 26 years, his father made him a partner in the firm. The firm became known as George Miller and Son. George and Carlyle made military uniforms, women’s riding habits, hunting coats, liveries, and school suits for Eton College pupils.
The marriage of Carlyle Miller and Emma Belgrove
Carlyle married Emma Belgrove on 6th October 1886, at the Parish Church, Swanbourne, Buckinghamshire. After their marriage, they lived in the rooms above the business at 6 Bank Buildings, High Street, Bedford. Emma was born in Stockgrove, near Leighton Buzzard. She was the daughter of Leah and Thomas Belgrove of Dodly Hill Farm, Swanbourne, Buckinghamshire, and Clapham Park Farm, Bedfordshire.
Carlyle and Emma had three children, Mabel Belgrove Miller, born on 23rd July 1888; Geoffrey Miller, born on 10th November 1890 and Rita May Miller, born on 11th May 1896. Mabel and Geoffrey attended the Bedford Kindergarten School. Geoffrey went on to the Bedford Modern School. He won his colours at Rugby and played for the Bedford Town Rugby team. On leaving school, Geoffrey joined his father in the tailoring business as an assistant cutter.
After George died, Carlyle and Geoffrey continued to run the tailoring business. Carlyle was a Freemason, and from 1901 until 1902, he became a Companion of the Royal Arch Chapter of Sir William Harper. He was the Past Provincial Grand Warden and Past Provincial Grand Treasurer of the Grand Lodge of Bedfordshire. He was also a Worshipful Master of the Sir William Harper Lodge, No 2343. In 1928 he became the president of the Master Tailors’ Association (Bedford Branch). He was also a Commissioner of Income Tax.
Carlyle died at his home, 6-8 Bank Building, High Street, on 11th April 1929, aged 73 years. His funeral took place at Foster Hill Road Cemetery, following a funeral service at St. Paul’s Church. Grave Reference D5 223
After Carlyle died, Emma moved to 15 Grove Place, Bedford, with her daughter Rita and her son Geoffrey. Emma volunteered with the St. Paul’s Church Working Party during the Second World War.
Emma survived Carlyle by 18 years. She died on 13 February 1947 and was buried in the grave with Carlyle. Grave Reference D5 223.
Carlyle and Emma’s descendants
During the First World War, Geoffrey served in France with the Royal Army Service Corps until his demobilisation in 1919. In 1939 Geoffrey retired at the age of 49. The main reason why he retired was that his business premises, the Bank Buildings, were to be demolished, they were being demolished to provide a better approach to the Town Bridge. The bridge was widened from 27ft 3ins to 54ft.
Geoffrey never married. He lived with his sister Rita and her husband Harrold Percy Humphreys at 15 Grove Place, Bedford. He died aged 70 years on 16th June 1961. He was cremated at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. His remains were scattered in Plot 221D5.
Researched and written by Linda S Ayres
John Miller Apprenticeship Bedfordshire Archives Service Catalogue Ref X109/1/76
Marriage of John Tregenza to Mary Ann Franklyn. Bristol Mirror 14th July 1832
John Franklyn, father of Mary Ann Bristol Poll Book 1835
Joseph Miller’s death. Bedford Mercury 5th August 1837
George Skene Bucks Gazette 10th January 1846
Rowland Hill purchases the Bedford Mercury and Huntingdon Express. Bedford Mercury 9 January 1847
Sophia Miller moves into the almshouse. Bedford Mercury 7th April 1849
Samuel Handscomb watches and clockmaker. Woburn General History Cravens Directory 1853
William Simms Retailer, Bath Chronicle and Weekley Gazette 30th August 1855
The Bedford Mercury 6 December 1855,
1859 Family Search Historical Records. Joseph Miller’s burial.
Bedford Mercury and Huntingdon Express 26 May 1855. Joseph Miller sells business to James Coster
Elizabeth Miller’s marriage to George Jones. Bedfordshire Mercury 30 April 1864
31 St Cuthbert’s Street, Bedford. Bedford Mercury 16 December 1865
John’s Marriage to Esther Bedfordshire Express 21 January 1865
Bedfordshire Mercury 3 March 1866 John Tregenza Jnr Funeral
Carlyle Miller’s death. Bedfordshire Times and Standard 12 April 1929
Emma Miller’s death. Bedfordshire Times and Standard 21 February 1947
Bedfordshire Times & Standard 29 January 1954 John Clock and John Tregenza Highwaymen
Joseph, William, Thomas . and Mary Ann Hall’s death certificates.
Find My Past School Records
*‘Funeral Mutes’ were considered a normal sight at most upper-class funerals. Mutes were usually men whose job it was to stand outside the door of the deceased persons house, then accompany the coffin to its final resting place.
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