John Prideaux 1796 – 1871

The fire at Chudleigh started at midday on 22nd May 1807 and whipped through the town remarkably quickly. By four that afternoon, much of the town had been burnt or pulled down in order to stop the flames spreading. There are very descriptive and interesting accounts written about the event and its aftermath by Anthony Crockett and also in Mary Jones History of Chudleigh.


John Prideaux was at school when the fire started and went through the mix of terror and excitement that only children can experience. The fire started and spread in the area of Chudleigh between the school and his home. John  had to get through the flames in order to see his parents and in the end watch his home burn down.

The home of the Prideaux’s was burned badly because  it sat directly in the path of the fire and nothing in that area survived. I hope they managed to remove some of their belongings and animals. There is no record of any of them being injured in the flames. However, they would have been lucky to keep any part of their possessions.

By the end of the day, many had lost everything, but equally, assistance and provision arrived from far and wide. It is to be hoped that the Prideaux family were not one of those who had lost so much that they were forced to wait for the repair of the Workhouse. I prefer to think of Thomas Prideaux and his family being able to attend the General Meeting of the Parish at the vicarage the following day.

Money came in from all over the country and there were many tales of generosity towards the town. Insurance money was also paid out. The fire itself caused an Act of Parliament to be passed. Fame indeed.

The Relief Committee which was created in order to hand out monies and arrange rebuilding to take place was chaired by Lord Charles Clifford, the largest landowner and landlord of many. He was also an eminently sensible and generous man. Some other notable members were Montague Edmund Parker, husband of the daughter of the JP who heard Thomas’s case against his landlord, soon after their arrival in Chudleigh, and William Bond who was possibly John’s schoolmaster.

Money was handed to various families and a good deal of it appeared to go to some who were more affluent than others. But rarely was enough paid out to any individual to recompense, so one assumes that the townspeople helped each other out.

Thomas Prideaux was one of the eleven carpenters in the town at the time and after the event he worked steadily to rebuild houses and shops. This must have stood him in good stead for the future. Many moved into the buildings at the rear of the burnt out houses until the new houses and shops were built. Cloud and silver lining come to mind. Thomas Prideaux did well out of the disaster.

John Prideaux  saw the complete destruction of his small cob, thatched cottage with mullioned windows. But he also saw his father involved in rebuilding the town in a modern way and watched the face of the town  change forever. I hope he was excited and not freaked. It could well have inspired his decisions later on in his life.

John completed his education  and he learnt the carpentry trade  from his father.

Chudleigh and small town life eventually became boring to him however and he and his brother Peter talked about seeking their fortune in London. They had heard from the many travellers who came through their town to Exeter and Plymouth about the excitement and the many jobs which were available to a man of ideas and education in the busy London streets. Could they possibly be paved with gold? Perhaps they could restore some riches to the family.

Charity Prideaux was upset about the idea of  the boys leaving  her, because she knew that she would never see them again. The thought of them travelling to a place which might as well be on the moon as far as she was concerned, was impossible to contemplate. John reminded her that he was almost thirty years old and it was about time he had an adventure.

She could not persuade them to change their minds and in January 1824, Peter Prideaux  and John Prideaux left their home town of Chudleigh riding on the back of a cart. They carried  their belongings and hid money about their person. Charity and Thomas and the other children stood out in the road waving until the cart had finished climbing the hill out of town and vanished from sight.

Charity was never happy again.

John  and Peter Prideaux soon arrived in Exeter and met a man called John Lock at  an inn there. He was from near Bideford and told them that he could find them work. Bideford was a smuggling centre and John Lock  had the  Prideaux men  staying with him for several months helping him with the business of avoiding duty. These Prideaux men were strangers in Bideford and would not be known to the Revenue men.

One of the biggest imports here was tobacco and duty was loyally paid as the ships unloaded their cargo. However, when the tobacco was then exported again, the custom duty could be reclaimed.

John Lock was part of the organization which brought this same tobacco back into the country via other means and sold it duty free at that point. There was a lot of money in this. The Prideauxs stayed at Landkey where John Loc lived and slept in beds made up in the stables outside the cottage.

I am sure that John Prideaux did not know that the residants of the Acland manor sitting against the side of a hill nearby, were the descendants of Baldwin Acland and Joan Prideaux, the sister of William Prideaux of Adeston born four hundred years previously.

John Prideaux and Elizabeth Lock, the daughter of the host and employer John Lock were attracted to each other. John had no real intention of getting married, but the pregnancy announcement to her father ensured that he was trotting up the aisle of the local church before he knew what had hit him.

So much for the planned adventure.  Not yet out of the county and married and about to be a father. He didnt return home to Chudleigh to announce his shame and proceeded with the initial plan.

The couple  were married on Monday 18th October 1824. John was still determined to see London and soon the three of them left another tearful family in Landkey, never to return.

When John, Elizabeth and Peter Prideaux arrived in London, it was not all that they had expected. Work was hard to find and the place was horrible. London was filthy, smelly and full of violence and crime. John and Peter Prideaux  lost their possessions as soon as they arrived and turned to crime themselves in order to survive. The baby was born dead, much to the disappointment of John and Elizabeth. It took another four years before their daughter Charity was born, on 28th February 1829.

Elizabeth Prideaux was adamant once her daughter Charity was born, that she would not bring her up in this filthy hellhole. John agreed with his wife and the three of them travelled  to Nottingham where they heard there was some work.

As a journeyman carpenter, John  soon found work.  They were never going to be rich, but they could eat and sleep safely. Soon Edwin John  joined their family, arriving on 4th October 1833, a healthy boy.

Another child in the already overcrowded terraced house they were living in did not reduce the anxiety of the family in any way. Money and food were in short supply and jobs even more difficult to keep. Almost immediately, work dried up in Nottingham and the family found themselves walking towards Cheshire.

On arriving at StaleyBridge, bone tired and underfed, the family took some lodgings with the little money they had and John went out to try and find work. Some work was given to him, but not the kind of master carpentry he was capable of doing. He must take what he could get. It was a nightmare for the family traveling from one place to another through filthy lanes in the rain and cold,  and arriving in a new place trying to look presentable enough to obtain lodgings and work.

The life the family was leading began to take its toll and soon Elizabeth and the children fell sick with fever after catching it from another poor family in the next cottage. The damp and poor water supply encouraged disease and the poor hygiene, lack of food and anxiety combined to  rapdily wprsen their conditions.   John Prideaux only just managed managed to get the family to the Ebenezer Chapel on 24th June 1837 to have them baptised. Shortly after the ceremony  Charity and Elizabeth were dead, leaving John in charge of three year old Edwin.

By the next year John was married to Mary who had been born in Wakefield, but had lately lived in Scarborough. The couple settled in Staleybridge and in 1838 they became parents to a  son they named Matthew. It would have been imperative for John  Prideaux to marry as soon as possible if he had any chance at all of keeping his son Edwin with him. Had this happened in his home town, or even his home county, his mother would have immediately taken in the boy. But this new life he had chosen for himself, away from the safety and comfort of connections meant that he was alone. John was the first Prideaux in my line to become an adventurer and break away from any security whatsoever. So far it had done him little good.

By 1838 the Chartist movement was underway and Stalybridge played its part in its history. The Peoples Charter of 1838 gave the movement its name. Stalybridge was like other towns in the country where the Industrial Revolution had encouraged thousands of people previously living in villages to come to the towns and find work. Now they lived in overcrowded houses and streets in filthy and unhygienic conditions. The working man wanted the vote and better conditions. It was getting near the time when the workers did not want to accept the poor wages on offer.

I have no way of knowing where John worked, all I know is that he called himself a carpenter or a joiner all of his life. There were cotton mills in Stalybridge and in Leeds, where in 1841; the whole family lived in Saville Street.

The railway was being completed in Leeds that same year and coal mines still producing coal. The family were caught in a Dickensian trap of living in absolute squalor but needing to be there in order to make ends meet. Why did they keep moving around? John may have got himself into debt like Mr. Macawber and had to up sticks to yet another town.

John Prideaux  had little training in managing a family and its accompanying finances having lived with his parents in a town where everyone knew him. I can’t imagine how scary it must have been for them all. Moving from town to town and living in the smelly, dirty hovels which the addresses suggest. Workhouses beckoned if money was not earned.

The family must have been constantly hungry, dirty and anxious. I think of Tiny Tim in the snow, with the crutch. No! It does not bear thinking about.

I would have tried to find them work.

This is how researching ones own history affects us all. One knows what happened to people in certain times and in certain situations. But, as soon as we learn their children’s names and know something of their history, one feels for their troubles. They become ours. Is this what religious teachings mean when they tell us that everyone’s suffering is also ours?

Saville Street was right in the centre of Leeds, just off Wellington Road.The following photo shows City Square with Wellington Street running past the top centre. Saville Street is one of the streets off there. John and his family were now well placed for all the mills and factories. Most others on the same streets worked in the mills or shops.There was a railway station on Wellington Road which was opened in 1846; it was known as the Leeds and Bradford Railway station.  There would have been plenty of joinery work there. Perhaps he worked in the mills, or took work wherever he could. I hope he did not drink too.

Soon, though, John Prideaux took his family straight down south again, back to London. His brother Peter Prideaux was still there, so I expect he was hoping that his brother could find him work and lodgings. Did they walk? Did they take the train? Did they find Peter and his family? I can’t find that out.

Sometimes, it will seem as though I am writing with far more detail in these later chapters. That is because I am adding family stories to the facts I discover and so am able to link the records with a story.

If these are incorrect, you will have to blame my dead family and not me.

In 1851 the family was living in 52 Boston Place, Christchurch, St Marylebone. This street is just off Baker Street. I don’t expect that they ever consulted Sherlock Holmes though.

Mainly because he was not real.

Edwin and Matthew were also working as carpenters. Boston Place  was right by the railway, as was his brother Peters house, four miles away in Whitechapel. The workhouse not far away also helped to keep their eye on the ball.

A scary truth is that the two brothers may have had no idea where the other one was living, unless both were in contact with their parents by some means and they in turn told the other brother their address. The cities and towns were so crowded then and the two families could have passed within inches and not known each other. Mary Prideaux and the children were not known to Peter and his new wife and family equally so.

Each house in Boston Place seems to house several families with jobs as diverse as stableman, Coldstream Guards soldier, artificial flower maker and men who worked on the river.  52 Boston Place was opposite Marylebone  railway station.

Edwin John and Matthew were working  here as carpenters, perhaps on further construction at the railway station.  Now life changed drastically for the family. All I know about this man and his family are the facts from the records.

John Prideaux  lived as a lodger at the Marquis of Granby Cottages in St. Pauls with a fellow carpenter George Oliver. He told the census taker that he had been widowed. He appears to stay at this address until his death.

We discover from the next story about their son Matthew Prideaux , that Mary and Matthew both moved away from London, although Mary went to Scarborough and Matthew went back to Leeds. Mary always said after this point that she too was a widow. What possibilities this opens up for my  enquiring mind.

Did John get into debt again and Mary could take no more? She certainly would not have had to now that the boys were grown up. Was John a drunk and a wife beater? Did he come across some criminal element he had dealings with on his early excursion there in the later twenties with his first wife and the couple decided that it would be safer to split up? Did they both believe the other to be dead?

I do know that during the spring of 1871 John Prideaux was leaning against a balcony in central London, which he was supposed to be fixing. He pushed against it to test how damaged it was and he fell to the ground as the rail gave way with an almighty crack.

He was seriously injured and taken to Middlesex Hospital with a fractured skull and died soon afterwards. It was 6th May 1871.

Edwin John Prideaux,  who had dropped the first name Edwin, married Jane.  He had also started saying he was born in London, wanting to either hide his origins or fit in a little better.

Their first son was called Edwin, but he died aged two on the 8th May 1854 at home in 5 St Marks Road Kennington. His death certificate said that he had been malformed, this being certified at 14 weeks old.

His father, who was still working as a carpenter, was present at his death.

Their second son John died aged 8 on the 26th October 1863 of a fever. This time his mother Jane was present at his death. They were still living at St Marks Road,

Their other children were Jane who was born in 1851 and Henry born in 1853. Because of the ages I think that Jane and Edwin were twins, with Edwin dying young.  There is also a record of an Edwin John Prideaux , carpenter, son of John Prideaux carpenter marrying Mary Ann Bryant, a 35 year old widow and dressmaker. She was the daughter of James Walker a bookbinder. They lived at 26 Holywell Lane, in Shoreditch on 16th March 1856.  This does not seem to fit in with the story as every other detail matches, so perhaps it is just coincidence that Edwin John, son of John married in London at the same time.

Henry and Jane never married and even after their mother Jane died in the 1880s they still lived with their father in 1891, although they had moved to Dunstan’s Road, Camberwell. Both John and Henry were still working as carpenters, although John was now 76. John still did not refer to himself as Edwin, but had started saying that he was born in Chudleigh, Devon, which of course was where his father and not he was born. Remember he was born in Nottingham. Confusing isn’t it?

A Rosina Bernard was living with them as a lodger, she did not work but lived on a small means. In 1901 Rosina had left or died, John had died and Henry and Jane still lived together, although they had now moved to Tudor Court, East Ham. Henry still worked as a carpenter. My research on them ends here.