Frances Johnson born 1829 in Staunton Harold, Leicestershire
Frances Johnson (b1829) was my second great-grandmother and until recently had been a completely unknown quantity to us. My parents started doing Family History research in the early 1980s, but little was known about Frances, even though her granddaughter (and my grandmother) Edith Johnson (b1896), was still alive at the time.
Birth of son Thomas Johnson 1852 by William Astle
All we have known for the past 30 years has been based on the information from various certificates. First, from the birth certificate of her illegitimate son Thomas (b 19 Apr 1852, Lount), which gave his mother's name as Frances Johnson, with no father specified. On Thomas's baptism record (15 Aug 1852, Worthington) his mother is given as Frances Johnson, while the father is given as Joseph Johnson (Frances's father), probably for propriety's sake. Thomas's marriage certificate (9 Jun 1873, Breedon) then gives the extra piece of information that Thomas's father was a certain William Astle.
Birth of son John Bott 1856 by James Bott
We did know that in 1855 Frances got pregnant again, this time by James Bott, whom she married 21 Jan 1856 at Breedon, before giving birth on 6 Jul 1856 to a son, John Bott. After that Frances and James seemed to disappear completely. Census returns for the area in 1861 gave no further trace at all neither of Frances nor of William Astle nor of James Bott. Her son Thomas was living with his grandparents Joseph Johnson and Sarah Watson in both the 1861 and 1871 census returns, while her son John Bott was also living with Joseph and Sarah in the 1871 census.
What happened to Frances Johnson and William Astle?
So what happened to Frances, and what happened to William Astle, the supposed father of Thomas Johnson? All will be explained below!
In 2014, I started unravelling the story of Frances of William. It seems like a soap opera. Frances was born around 1829 in Staunton Harold, near Lount, Leicestershire. No trace of her birth or baptism has yet been found, the only information on her birth is from the various census returns.
She was the eldest of 9 children of Joseph Johnson and Sarah Watson, who married 28 Jul 1828 in Breedon-on-the-Hill. The census returns all give her place of birth as Staunton except the 1851 which specifies Lount. Her sister Elizabeth Johnson was born in Newbold and christened 24 Jul 1831 in Breedon. Her other brothers and sisters were all born in Lount.
So we know where the family settled, and we also know that her father Joseph Johnson was born 11 Jun 1809 in Coleorton.
In November 2015, I discovered that her mother Sarah Watson and grandfather John Watson had been born in Heathend, part of the then parish of Heathend and Staunton Harold, 3m SW of Breedon and 3m N of Lount. She was baptised in Calke on 26 Nov 1809, over the border in Derbyshire, but only 1m from Heathend. Her father John Watson was also baptised in Calke, on 8 Mar 1789. Unfortunately, Frances does not appear to have been christened at Calke, nor in nearby Ticknall or Melbourne in Derbyshire, nor in Breedon, Worthington, Coleorton, Whitwick or Griffydam.
Through the census return in 1841 for grandfather John Watson, we now know where the name "Frances" comes from. John had a daughter named Frances, b1818, who was a younger sister to Sarah, her mother. That is, Frances Johnson was most likely named after her aunt Frances Watson, her mother's sister.
William Astle born 1825
On 19 April 1852, Frances gave birth to an illegitimate son, Thomas Johnson. From Thomas's marriage certificate from 1873, we know that Frances's father was William Astle. During 2014, I discovered that William Astle was born 15 May 1825 in Aston on Trent, Derbyshire, some 8 miles from Lount. In the 1851 census, taken 31 March 1851, his name is reported as William Astall, and he was actually living in Lount, the same village where Frances Johnson was also living. So this puts them together at the crucial time, being as Thomas Johnson was born in April 1852.
The question is, why didn't they get married? Well, William was not only in a relationship with Frances Johnson, he had also had an illegitimate child called Sarah (b1849) by a girl named Hannah Higgins, who not only was from the same village of Lount, but lived next door to Frances! He then got Hannah pregnant again in early 1852! We can imagine young William being asked to account for his actions by the two girls, as by early 1852, both of his girlfriends were pregnant!
William Astle marries Hannah Higgins 1852
In the end, he decided to marry Hannah, which he did 31 May 1852, just one month after Frances had her child! In the 1861 census, William and Hannah are still living together, and now they have 5 children: Sarah b1849, William b1852, Benjamin b1855, Elizabeth b1857 and Mary b1860.
Frances Johnson marries James Bott 1856
In 1855 Frances is pregnant again, this time by James Bott, whom she married in January 1856, before giving birth in July 1856 to John Bott. James Bott, however, is hardly the ideal husband for Frances. He continually either abandons her and his child or assaults Frances. He is convicted a number of times for assault and spends some time in jail. Frances goes into and out of the poor house many times between September 1856 and 1861, sometimes with both children (Thomas b1852, John b1856), other times just with John. Towards the end of the 1850s, Thomas moves permanently in with his grandparents Joseph and Sarah.
The reason why Frances is not immediately visible in the 1861 census is because she and son John Bott are at the time living in the Ashby de la Zouch Union Workhouse. James appears to have continued his life of crime and assault, but following his spell in jail in February 1859, in March 1859 he was committed to Leicester and Rutland Lunatic Asylum, where he died in July 1864, aged just 29.
A further complication is that on 30 July 1861, (so after the census was compiled in April 1861), Frances had another child while in the poor house. No name is given, in fact when Frances is discharged from the poor house in September 1861, the child is still specified as "infant". As far as I can gather, Frances did not return to the poor house afterwards. The child was subsequently called George, on his birth certificate the father is specified as James Bott, who was though in the Lunatic Asylum at the crucial time, while William Astle was still married to Hannah Higgins. So there may be some doubt over his real father, and we will never know.
Frances finally marries William Astle 1864
The next important date is 1863, when Hannah Higgins dies. With James Bott also dying in July 1864, the way is open for Frances and William Astle to finally get together. They married 26 Dec 1864, and then lived together until William's death on 19 Sep 1899. Frances died 22 Jan 1903. They had two further children, Joseph in 1867 and Hannah in 1874.
In the 1871 census, Frances and William were living together with William's children by Hannah, and with George, who was born in the poor house. Thomas Johnson, also a child of William and Frances, was not living with them. Neither was John Bott, Frances's child by James Bott. Both of these children of Frances went to live with their grandparents, Joseph Johnson and Sarah Watson.
Presumably, when Frances and William got married in 1864, son Thomas, then aged 12, was not completely happy, and could have argued that being as William didn't want Thomas before, why should Thomas, now a teenager, go and live with someone who had previously refused him? Thomas was though in contact with other members of the Astle family, he and his half-brother William Astle (b1852) both moved to Tibshelf at the same time and lived within100 yards of each other for a while. Furthermore, Thomas did name his second child "Fanny", so perhaps he wasn't completely estranged from his mother, even though they do not seem to have been in contact after Thomas moved to Tibshelf in 1875.
In all the census returns from 1871 onwards, the Astle family is registered as Hassall, and when Frances died in 1903, her death was registered as Hassell. Interestingly, her son John Bott was present at the death.
On a final note about William, it is interesting that he managed to get two young girls pregnant and didn't seem inclined at the time to "do the right thing", but eventually ended up marrying both of them!
Thomas Johnson moves to Tibshelf 1873
My grandmother Edith Johnson always said that her parents Thomas Johnson and Sarah Rushton Reed had eloped to get married in 1873. Perhaps, but why elope locally to get married in Breedon? Possibly the reality was slightly different, Sarah was pregnant at the time, so perhaps rather than an elopement, it was a rushed wedding! Soon afterwards, in 1875, he and his new bride moved away from Lount, Leicestershire to Tibshelf, Derbyshire, and the rest is history. Frances did not follow them.
Perhaps this is why there was no knowledge of Frances when my parents started researching her back in 1980, and our grandmother Edith Johnson, granddaughter of Frances, was still alive. Frances was an enigma, and the only mention of William Astle was as Thomas Johnson's father in the 1873 marriage certificate. Neither could be found.
Now we have unravelled the story and it is quite clear what happened. We are though still missing the exact date of birth of Frances. I suspect that she was born either just before or just after Joseph Johnson and Sarah Watson got married in 1828, most likely a standard 6-month Johnson pregnancy!
Summary of Frances's life story
1829 born: Staunton Harold.
1841 census: living in Lount, near Staunton Harold, parish of Breedon.
1851 census: living in Lount, near Staunton Harold, birth specified as Lount.
1852: gives birth to Thomas Johnson.
1856: marries James Bott (January), gives birth to John Bott (July), enters the poor house at Ashby for the first time (September), after husband James deserted her.
1857-1861: in and out of the poor house in Ashby more or less continually.
1857: James Bott convicted for assaulting Frances.
1858: James Bott convicted for assaulting Frances.
1859: James Bott committed to Leicester Lunatic Asylum.
1861 census: living in Ashby poor house, birth specified as Staunton; gives birth to son George (unknown father).
1864: James Bott dies, Frances marries William Hastle.
1867: gives birth to son Joseph Hassall.
1871 census: living in Newbold, Worthington, with husband William Hassall, birth specified as Staunton.
1874: gives birth to Hannah Hassall.
1881 census: living in Newbold, Worthington, Parish of St Mathews, birth specified as Staunton. William is not present, I think he was in Leicester hospital.
1891 census, living in Newbold, Worthington, address Newbold Toll House, birth Staunton. William is back home again.
1899: William Hassall dies in Beeston, Notts, at home of daughter Elizabeth.
1901 census, living in Newbold, Worthington, St Mathews, address Newbold Gate House, birth Staunton.
1903: death of Frances Johnson Hassell, 22 Jan 1903, aged 74, in Newbold, Worthington. Her son John Bott was in attendance.
8 December 2016