Some months ago, my daughter-in-law, Trudy Hope, née Hedges, asked if I would research her family tree.  Her father Edward Ian Hedges was born in Milton-under-Wychwood in February 1936.  He has spent most of his adult life living in Banbury, and was employed as Clerk of Works at Bloxham School for many years before retiring.  Little did I know that the forbears of Ian (for that is the name he goes by), although mostly lowly agricultural labourers, have played such an important part in the history of the Wychwoods.

Ian’s parents were Ernest Thomas Hedges and Lizzie Rathband.  They married in 1908 and had nine children between 1909 and 1936; Ian was the youngest.  In 1911, they lived at College Farm in Upper Milton where Ernest was a ‘Carter’.  It was usually the job of the ‘carter’ to drive the horse-drawn cart, filled with produce, from the farm to market, probably at Chipping Norton.  Ernest and Lizzie continued to live in Milton throughout the 1920s and 1930s and in 1939 resided at Manor Farm, Upper Milton, at which time Ernest’s occupation (now aged 55) was still described as ‘Farm Carter’.

Ian’s father, Ernest was one of six children born to George Hedges (b.1855) of Upper End, Shipton and Elizabeth Ferriman (b.1855).  Elizabeth Ferriman was from the nearby village of Leafield.  They married in 1882 and resided in Shipton for the next 30 years.  Ernest was born at Upper End, Shipton in 1885 but by 1901, George and Elizabeth Hedges resided in a cottage near the Lamb Inn with five children: Frank (b.1883), Ernest (b.1885), William (b.1887), Lillian (b.1892) and George (b.1895).  Their sixth child, Rose, died less than 1 month old in 1889.  George’s occupation is described as ‘Carter on farm’ in 1901.  In 1911, continuing to reside in Shipton, George (aged 56) was still occupied as a ‘Carter on farm’; their son, William (aged 24), was a ‘Domestic gardener’ and son, George (aged 15), was a ‘Plough Boy’.  Ernest, by this time, was married to Lizzie Rathband and living at Upper Milton employed, like his father, as a ‘Carter’.

Ernest’s elder brother Frank married in 1908 and, residing in Shipton, is described as a ‘Farm labourer’ in 1911.  Frank and his wife, Elizabeth Turner, would move to Chipping Norton after the First World War, where he would be occupied as a ‘Domestic gardener’.  Ernest’s brothers William and George would enlist in the army in the First World War.  Both would join the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, George would join the 2nd Battalion in November 1915 and William the 2nd/4th Battalion in January 1916.  George was mobilized in February 1916 and took part in the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916, in which the British Army suffered over 60,000 casualties; the largest number sustained in a day by the British Army.  The battalions of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light infantry saw extensive service during the Battle of the Somme (1 July-18 November 1916).  On 28 July, the 2nd Battalion moved to the front line trenches near Waterlot Farm and sustained heavy casualties at the battle there on 30 July.  George was ‘Killed in Action’ on 31 July 1916.  William died on 27 June 1917 at the Battle of Arras.  Their names are inscribed on the war memorial on the green at Shipton.

Ian’s mother, Lizzie Rathband (b.1889) was the daughter of Edwin and Fanny Rathband.  She was born in Milton, where Edwin and Fanny lived in Hawkes Yard; Edwin employed as an ‘Agricultural labourer’ in 1901 and ‘Mason/labourer’ in 1911.  Fanny Rathband, née Honeybone, Ian’s grandmother was a prominent member of the ‘Ascott Martyrs’.  Prior to marrying Edwin Rathband in 1876, Fanny Honeybone, daughter of John Honeybone and Jane (Newman) lived in the Churchill Arms in Ascott with the Morris family, employed as a servant.

In the famous court case held in Chipping Norton on 21 May 1873, Fanny (aged 16) was named as one of the seven ‘ringleaders’ of the group of 16 women that were found guilty of molesting and obstructing two agricultural workers in the employment of Robert Hambidge of Crown Farm, Ascott.  Along with the other ‘ringleaders’, she was sentenced to 10 days hard labour; the other nine women spent seven days in gaol.  According to the evidence of one of the agricultural workers from the village of Ramsden, taken on by Robert Hambidge because his workers, along with others in Ascott, had gone on strike for better wages, on 12 May 1873 the women harassed the two men on their way to work and prevented them from entering the field they were meant to be working in (hoeing).  Fanny, along with two other women, was accused of pushing one of the men, John Hodgkins, into a hedge and telling him “they would duck us if we went to work”.  The women denied that they had molested or obstructed the men; stating that they had merely talked to them and tried to persuade them not to accept work on the farm.  The two clergymen magistrates did not believe the women and convicted them.

The conviction prompted what was described in the local press as ‘a riot’ later in the day when a large crowd assembled outside the police station at Chipping Norton, where the women had been taken to await transport to Oxford County gaol by train.  Expecting the women to be conveyed from the police station to the train station, agricultural workers from Ascott and other villages and inhabitants of Chipping Norton, assembled to cheer on the women but also made threats that they would attempt to release them.  Stones were thrown at the police station and the adjoining superintendent’s house, breaking every window and many roof tiles, and reinforcements had to be sent for from Oxford.  As the evening wore on, the crowd swelled to over 2,000 persons, mostly men, and it was not until 1.00am that the women were transported by four-horse dray, under police protection, to Oxford.

On their release from the county gaol ten days later, the women were met by a cheering crowd and officials of the Agricultural Workers Union.  They were taken to the Union headquarters and “regaled with a substantial breakfast” before being ceremoniously transported by horse and dray from Oxford to Ascott.  As they passed through villages en route, they were loudly cheered by the local population.  Following their arrival home, an open air meeting was held in Chipping Norton, again attended by between 2000 and 3000 people, at which speeches were given by the leader of the agricultural labourers’ movement and the Union, advocating changes to the Criminal Law Act.  Their legacy is that picketing was made legal in 1874 and the appointment of magistrates from the Church of England ceased.  Their names are remembered on the four seats around the bole of the chestnut tree on the green in Ascott-under-Wychwood.  More information on this episode can be found in Beverley McComb’s book The Ascott Martyrs.

After marrying Edwin Rathband in 1876, Edwin and Fanny had some fourteen children and resided in Hawkes Yard, Milton for the next 40 years.  An agricultural labourer for most of his life, by 1911, Edwin was employed as a ‘Mason’s labourer’.  Edwin died in 1929 and Fanny in 1939, reputedly in the Chipping Norton Workhouse; a mental institution from 1929, which would become the London Road Psychiatric Hospital (Cotshill Hospital) in 1947 before being redeveloped for housing in 1996.

Ernest’s father [Ian’s grandfather], George (b.1855) was the youngest of eight children born to Thomas Hedges (b.1801) and Elizabeth Bishop.  They resided on ‘The Green’ in Shipton in the 1850s and 1860s; Thomas is described as an ‘Agricultural labourer’ in the 1851 and 1861 Censuses.  Thomas died in 1864 and, by the 1870s, Elizabeth with sons Richard and George resided at Upper End, Shipton.

Ian’s great grandfather, Thomas (b.1801) was one of at least fourteen children, including twins, born to Thomas Hedges (b.1773) and Mary (Cole); two of the fourteen children died less than one year old.  Thomas and Mary resided in Aviary Row, Shipton close to Shipton Court.  Thomas died in 1840 and, thereafter, Mary resided with her son Thomas and his wife Elizabeth on ‘The Green’ at Shipton.  Thomas’s brother Richard (b.1819) was one of the Cospatrick casualties.  Richard married Sarah Ann Phipps in 1843 and resided at Lower Milton; Richard employed as an ‘Agricultural labourer’.  They had six children between 1845 and 1859 and by 1861 had moved to ‘The Green’ at Shipton.  In 1871, they resided in Red Horse Lane, Shipton with sons John (b.1851), Thomas (b.1854) and Charles (b.1859).  Their eldest son, Henry (b.1845), married Mary Townsend in June 1870 and emigrated to Canada (Toronto) where Henry was employed as ‘Upholsterer’.  Their three children, William (b.1871), Charles (b.1872) and George (b.1874) were born in Toronto.  However, inexplicitly, they returned home sometime between March and September 1874 and in November 1874, with brother John and his wife Sarah, brothers Thomas and Charles, and their father Richard and mother, Sarah Ann, all eleven of the Hedges family set sail on the Cospatrick for New Zealand.  With them were six members of the Townsend family; Mary’s mother and father, Henry and Ann Townsend, and sister Jane and her husband, George Charter, with their two children, George and Mary Ann.  All seventeen perished in the tragedy that struck the Cospatrick when it caught fire and sank in the South Atlantic, several hundred miles south-west of the Cape of Good Hope, in the early hours of Wednesday 18 November 1874.  The teak-built sailing ship carried 429 emigrants, 43 crew and four independent passengers, 476 people in total; only three of whom, all crew, survived.  A stone drinking fountain on the village green at Shipton, erected in 1877 in their memory, lists the seventeen casualties from Shipton.  The full details of this tragedy and its aftermath can be found in the book Women and children last: the burning of the emigrant ship Cospatrick by Charles R. Clark.

It has been possible to trace Ian’s ancestors further back.  Ian’s great great grandfather Thomas (b.1773) was the son of John Hedges (b.1750) of Shipton.  Research of the Shipton-under-Wychwood parish register by Joan Howard Drake, former archivist of the Wychwoods Local History Society, shows that the Hedges family resided in the parish back to the 16th century.  Although of generally lowly agricultural working class, Hedges are remembered in the memorials to the Ascott Martyrs of 1873 and the Cospatrick Disaster of 1874, as well as on the war memorial to the fallen in the First World War on the green at Shipton.  The name of Hedges will therefore continue to live long in the memory of the inhabitants of Shipton and surrounding villages.