Your finds - John Bland | The British Newspaper Archive Blog


Your BNA Family History Stories – Millers, Bakers, Blacksmiths and Firemen in Lincolnshire in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Introduction and background
We love hearing about your discoveries in The British Newspaper Archive.

John Bland of the Lincolnshire Family History Society dropped us a line to tell us about his family history research in The British Newspaper Archive. John has been researching the millers and blacksmiths in his family (research that involves learning about major legislation such as the Enclosures and the Corn Laws) and, thanks to The British Newspaper Archive, has just learned that one of his ancestors also worked as a fireman in the early 1840s. Through his reading of historical newspapers, John has also learned that the method (official paperwork was required before the fire engine was called into action) for calling out the fire brigade at this time was far from straightforward – indeed, it conjures up images of ‘The Keystone Cops’.

John has very kindly written a fascinating article about his ancestral and historical research in The British Newspaper Archive, and you can read his article below.

Researching my Lincolnshire ancestors
I have been researching my family tree on and off for many years. For a long while I have known that my ancestor and namesake John Bland was a miller & baker in Sleaford, Lincolnshire. This was not his first trade. His father, grandfather and at least one great-grandfather were blacksmiths and, as evidenced by the family being listed in the Universal British Directory of 1791 and an early advert in the Stamford Mercury placed by his grandfather, the concern was a sizable one.

John Bland blacksmith wanted advert
Wanted blacksmith advert | Stamford Mercury | 1 July 1791


Blacksmiths and bakers
John was born in the village of Folkingham to the south of Sleaford and was baptised on 26 February 1807. He had an older half-brother, William, who was born illegitimate in 1785, but his parents William Bland and Sarah Maltby went on to marry and baptise him at St Andrew’s Church, Holborn, on 1 May 1786. St Andrews was apparently doing a roaring trade in “no questions asked” marriages at the time. Sarah died at the age of 31 in 1794. William went on to remarry Mary Harrison at Folkingham in 1796, and the couple had four daughters before producing John, the youngest of the children. When John was born, his half-brother would have been a grown man working in the family business and would eventually inherit their father’s blacksmith tools in 1831. Whether John took to blacksmithing naturally is of course not known, but a marriage to Sophia, the daughter of George Glenday, miller & baker in Sleaford, was to act as a significant career change.


The history of milling in Sleaford
Sleaford and the surrounding area has had a long association with milling thanks to the fast flowing River Slea that never freezes in the winter. By the time of the Sleaford enclosure map of 1794, there were two Windmills in the town, a Post Mill at Galley Hill and a Tower Mill on the Tattershall Road. In addition there was Cogglesford Water Mill, still in existence. Shortly after Money’s Tower Mill was built in in the centre of Sleaford in 1796 and by the time the 1824 Ordnance Survey map was surveyed in 1814, a further Post Mill was recorded further out of town on the Tattershall Road. It is this mill that I am interested in as this was the Royal Oak Mill which was owned by George Glenday and later John Bland. One of the earliest references to George being a miller can be found in the Stamford Mercury on 24 December 1813 with the death announcement of the first of his three wives Anne.

Anne Glenday
Death notice of Anne Glenday | Stamford Mercury | 24 December 1813

George was still in charge in the late 1830s with the following article of praise appearing in a newspaper miles away from Sleaford (I doubt anyone would have thought of looking in this newspaper for a Sleaford resident!).

John Julian, late apprentice of Glenday
Hertford Mercury and Reformer | 21 November 1837

It is apparent that John was beginning to take over the running of the business with an advert for a further apprentice appearing in the Stamford Mercury:

historical newspaper reports on family history story in lincolnshire
Apprentice advert | Stamford Mercury | 1 June 1838

This along with another advert, this time for a Journeyman Baker, support this conclusion:

Journeyman Baker wanted advert
Journeyman Baker wanted | Stamford Mercury | 22 March 1839


The effects of the Corn Laws (and their repeal) and mechanisation
Following George Glenday’s death in 1840, the mill was left to his daughter Sophia, the wife of John Bland. All looked bright on the horizon, the business was apparently more than a one-man band, and there is evidence that John had built a seven bedroom house on Westgate, Sleaford. However, storm clouds began to appear with a raging national debate over the future of the Corn Laws, which had protected British farmers from cheap imports since 1804. The Corn Laws were eventually repealed in January 1846. This led to a fall in the price of corn and, subsequently, in the profits for millers, bakers, and farmers and was to trigger significant changes in rural life. These changes were further driven by increased mechanisation. This was to have a major effect on the fortunes of John Bland and also on other milling families in the town as evidenced by an early attempt in March 1845 to sell the mill.

Post Wind Mill attempted sale
Stamford Mercury | 7 March 1845

This attempt failed as John Bland was still in business as a Baker in the census of 1851. However, there were later attempts that culminated in a final, and apparently successful, attempt in 1855.

Sale of Wind Corn Mill
Stamford Mercury | 30 March 1855

A storm blows down the mill
I know that either this attempt was successful or that the named occupier approached John Bland to buy it as I have been in correspondence with a descendent of William Turner who did buy the mill and owned it for many years. The Turner family owned the mill until it blew down in a gale circa 1896. Between us we are, therefore, collating the history of this mill and the influence our respective families had on the town of Sleaford.

Many of the above articles in the Stamford Mercury (and more) have been known about for years as numerous eyes have been picking out anything to do with Sleaford Milling, but digitisation gives the opportunity to pick out anything that might have been missed. Boy was something missed!

The early days of the fire brigade in Sleaford
It appears that for a time, my ancestor was not only helping to feed the good townsfolk of Sleaford, he was also putting out fires! Whilst I was simply looking for the words Bland and Sleaford on the same page, I came across this little snippet from the Stamford Mercury.

Fire brigade
Stamford Mercury | 9 April 1841


The arrangements for calling out the brigade do not appear to be straightforward. By the time someone had headed to the Market Place, presumably proved that they had subscribed, and the various members of the brigade were called to alarm, many a fire would well and truly be out of control!

The Sleaford Subscription Engine
Curious to add a bit to Sleaford’s history, I have done some delving on the Sleaford Subscription Engine. It appears that efforts to raise funds to buy the Fire Engine got underway during the late 1830s from a notice located in the Lincolnshire Chronicle.

Fire engine
Lincolnshire Chronicle | 23 November 1838


How much one would have cost and what it would look like can only be conjecture, although no doubt a museum will have an example of a similar device. How fast was ‘great speed’? Even if it was drawn by horse, I suspect that 10 miles an hour would have been a maximum.

Nonetheless, the contraption was used and used very quickly. One of their early shouts was reported in both the Stamford Mercury and Lincolnshire Chronicle.

Fire in Sleaford
Stamford Mercury | 27 August 1841

John Bland actually lived on Westgate so probably was first on the scene – it really reads as if over half the town came to watch – the population at this time was less that 2,000!

historical newspaper reports on family history story in lincolnshire
Lincolnshire Chronicle | 27 August 1841


However, my first thought that such a contraption would be pointless in the event of a more serious fire was demonstrated by a report of a serious fire in November 1841:

Another fire in Sleaford
Stamford Mercury | 12 November 1841


My search for all things milling continues as I will be looking at some of the other milling families that John Bland was related to, either by marriage or by way of a business association. However, finding something that you are not looking for adds much to what you can learn from other family history sources such as wills and census returns.

The search continues…
My quest for what happened to John Bland’s fortunes continue. Whilst it is pleasing to be certain that he never had to face the stigma of bankruptcy, it does upset me that he had to end his days working for someone else, as can be gathered from his death notice appearing in the Stamford Mercury:

John Bland death notice
Stamford Mercury | 27 July 1888



Baking in Thorney, Cambridgeshire
His son, my great-grandfather, John Glenday Bland continued the trade of baking and gained employment as a Journeyman Baker in Thorney, Cambridgeshire, eventually buying out his employer’s business. He went on buy a mill at Gedney Hill, Lincolnshire, and it is pleasing to see that John Bland lived long enough to witness this as he was at Thorney at the time of the 1881 census. There is no doubt in my mind that his decision to marry a baker’s daughter was the right one as bread is needed by far more people than ironwork! The fact that he married a Glenday, enabling the name to be passed down the generations as a forename, is also partly responsible for me taking up family history research in the first place! Life would be rather boring without it!

Using historucal newspapers for genealogy research
The fact that so much of my ancestry comes from Lincolnshire in an area covered by the Stamford Mercury, the oldest local newspaper, has always made me realise the importance of newspapers in family history research. This has also been recognised by other Lincolnshire Family History Researchers, one in particular Teresa Williams has been ferreting out articles for years and the page on the Lincolnshire Family History website will hopefully be helpful to new researchers in seeing just how wide the range of articles are that can aid family history research.

John R G Bland


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9 comments On Your BNA Family History Stories – Millers, Bakers, Blacksmiths and Firemen in Lincolnshire in the 18th and 19th Centuries

  • What a wonderful piece of family history research. It tells us so much about those days and is so important that I think it is the sort of history that today’s school children should study. An amazing story.
    There used to be (and I hope still is) a very old fire engine at Wardown Museum in Luton, Beds. But I can’t remember if it was hand drawn or horse drawn – still something worth seeing.
    Thank you for this story, it certainly stirs up the imagination and brings the history of the day to life.

  • I too found a big surprise when searching through the Reading Mercury for references to my 2x great grandfather Thomas Briant. Thomas was a baker & grocer in Henley on Thames and in 1871 he and his family emigrated to Toronto Canada. I was curious why a man who seemed to be well set up in life, with a shop and house, would give it all up at age 42 and move, with 7 children, to Toronto. Was I surprised when I found the articles detailing his bankruptcy in all the news papers in southern England. No wonder he left! My father was not aware of the reason for the emigration, so it was a surprise to the whole family. Thomas appears to have set up as a baker again in Toronto, and the family prospered. But it was such a surprise to find all the articles in the papers – (including several fines for weights that were under-weight!). Mr. Bland’s story is so interesting and similar in a way. Thank you for the story.

  • Very interested in these articles. My own FH search has got as far as one Royal Canham, Miller. Married Sarah Brett 21/12/1816. Parents Dionysuis and Sarah.
    Have now come to a full stop albeit with such strange names. Another search of Newspapers is in order.

  • Interesting piece of research using using the newspapers. Have you made any head-way John linking your family to the Blands (blacksmiths) of Irnham?

  • Heather, Having discounted pretty much every other Lincolnshire possibility, Irnham still is on the agenda even though Registers do not support it. The email address that I have for you appears to be years out of date. Whilst I would not recommend putting your email address in a public domain, perhaps you might try and find me?

  • Jane, One of the descendants of the Bland’s that remained in the Blacksmith trade eventually went to Canada and became a Baker. Must be something in the hands.

  • Hi John, great piece of work using BNA – that’s at least two of us using BNA for researching little old Sleaford’s history. I managed to discover all the residents of Old Place, going back to the 18th century, mainly from the wonderful Stamford Mercury, as well as little details like adverts for a gardener (preferably Northern), wedding announcements and detailed descriptions of receptions, innumerable charity events, people falling off ladders, falling in ditches, births and deaths, the fact that Sleaford was home to a WW1 Red Cross Hospital. It goes on and on…
    @BNA – can we get the Sleaford Gazette digitised soon?!

  • Thanks John for a splendid piece on our joint Bland/Glenday ancestors. As you know, John Bland’s daughter Sophia Glenday Bland married William Henry Farrow, whose father Lewis Parker Farrow (born at Sibsey in 1805) was a master tailor in Sleaford, having lived and worked in his youth as a tailor in Windsor. Using the same BNA resource, I have been able to follow Lewis Parker Farrow’s career from the announcement in the Stamford Mercury in 1839 of his engagement as foreman with a Sleaford tailor (C. D. Newton), replacing the previous foreman Mr Nash, when he was recommended as having “great experience in both town & country”, to his leaving C. D. Newton in 1847 (presumably to set up on his own) when he was replaced by a Mr W. Harding “from one of the first houses in the trade at the West end of London”, and finally to him urgently advertising for an apprentice in 1854: “L.P. Farrow, tailor, West-Street, Sleaford, is in immediate want of an Apprentice”. This sort of detail really brings one’s ancestors to life.

  • Heather, Good to see you are still around and interested in the Bland blacksmiths. As John says, we have no proof of a link with the Irnham Blands, other than the fact that our original John Bland, blacksmith of Folkingham, married at Irnham in 1747. However, for what it’s worth, my own pet theory is that John may well have been a younger brother of the Thomas Bland who was apprenticed to John Bennett blacksmith at Irnham in 1731 and later became blacksmith there. But no baptism has been found for either Thomas or John.

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