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Alfred Ibberson was born at 11 Leadmill Rd, Sheffield on 1 August 1840. Viscount Melbourne was Prime Minister, and the young Queen Victoria was in the early years of her reign. The ‘Penny Post’ had begun only months earlier.
Alfred’s parent’s were Samuel Ibberson and Mary Watson. Mary had married the widowed Samuel three years before and the couple already had a son, Allen. Samuel had earlier married Sarah Gamble in 1827 and they had two sons; William and Walter, before Sarah died in 1836. Samuel and Mary went on to have five more children; Sarah, Selina, Thomas, Arthur and Susan. The family are detailed in the family tree pages here.
We have no specific record of Alfred’s childhood beyond census returns, and he first appears in written records when he joined the army in the recruiting campaign which followed the Indian Mutiny.
Alfred was recruited into the 4th Light Dragoons by a Corporal Robert Smith on 16 October 1857, in Sheffield.
The regiment had distinguished itself during the Crimean War by taking part in the famous, though ill judged, charge of the light brigade on 25 October 1854.
Sergeants 4th Light DragoonsAlfred was initially medically examined in Sheffield on his attestation, and later re-examined in York on 21 October 1857. Final medical approval was accorded in Aldershot where he was entered into the regimental register, with the number 33, on 12 November.
On their return from the Crimea, the regiment spent a year at Brighton and then moved to Aldershot in 1857, where they were quartered in a camp of newly built wooden huts.
It was here that Alfred joined the regiment. He appears to have been in Aldershot during most of the following year. The regiment moved to Birmingham during the summer of 1858, involving a march of seven days. Later they moved to Coventry and then to Nottingham. This time without Alfred. His service record shows that on 8 February 1859, he went absent without leave and remained AWOL for one week. This resulted in a month’s imprisonment from 16 February.
Alfred rejoined the Regiment on 18 March 1859. In July of that year the 4th Dragoons moved to Manchester and a year later, in the summer of 1860, went to Dublin. A few days before the transfer to Dublin, Alfred deserted and was AWOL from 22 June 1860 until he was recaptured on 9 June 1861. He was tried by Court Martial and imprisoned for a second term. He was held in England from 10 to 18 June, and then confined in Dublin until 30 September, when he was allowed to rejoin the ranks.
On rejoining his unit in Dublin on 1 October 1861, Alfred forfeited the 2 years and 208 days he had served to date and was obliged to re-start his engagement in full. During the period October 1861 to May 1867, Alfred was placed in cells no less than nine times for periods ranging from two days to a week.
Cahir Military BarracksThe five years the Regiment spent in Ireland were uneventful. Each summer they moved from Dublin to Cahir, then to Newbridge and so back to Dublin, and for the last year, to Dundalk. It was whilst in Cahir in 1862 that Alfred reported sick with a bout of diarrhea lasting four days. The army attributed this to “irregular living.”
During his service in Ireland, Alfred met his first wife, Elizabeth Short. They were married in the parish church of St James, Dublin on 2 June 1864. The marriage was entered in the Army register Book and certified correct by the Adjutant, Captain R Duncan.
From Ireland the Regiment went to Scotland, where it was stationed in Edinburgh from 1865 to 1867. It was here that the Regiment was inspected by the new Inspector-General, Major General Lord George Paget. Lord Paget had been in command of the 4th Dragoons as Lt. Colonel during the charge of the light brigade in 1854.
Lord George PagetIt is not surprising, therefore, that “His Lordship was pleased to express his entire approval of all he saw in barracks and in the field.” In 1874 Lord Paget became Colonel of the Regiment.
Piershill is a small urban district of East Edinburgh and lies immediately to the East of Jock’s Lodge and a mile West of Portobello. The barracks, built in 1793 and demolished in 1934, lay to the west of the district at the junction of Portobello Road and Restalig Road South.
Alfred and Elizabeth had a daughter, Catherine, who was born on 30 April 1866 whilst the Regiment was in Edinburgh. Her birth is recorded in the Army Births and Baptisms Register as taking place in Piershill Cavalry Barracks.
On 15 October 1867, the Regiment embarked on the troopship Serapis, bound for India. The strength was 27 officers, 450 other ranks, 55 women and 71 children (including Alfred, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Catherine)
Troop Ship SerapisThey landed in Bombay in November after a voyage of six weeks via the Cape of Good Hope. (The Suez Canal had not yet been built) The Regiment went by train the eighty miles to Deolati, where it spent five weeks taking over the native servants, followers and horses from the 7th Dragoon Guards.
In the first week of January 1868, the Regiment departed on a two month march of 700 miles to Meerut, near Delhi. The march was completed with only two casualties, both due to fever. It was said by the men that you were not a pukka soldier until you had served in India, eaten rump steaks for breakfast, been shaved in bed and had experienced a two month march. By now Alfred must have been a pukka soldier!
It was while Alfred was stationed at Meerut that he re-engaged on 8 June 1868. His service conduct also began to improve..
The Regiment’s eleven year deployment to India passed serenely. The first five years were spent at Meerut and the following six in Rawal Pindi. It took no part in operations on the frontier or in police duties during civil disturbances. Perhaps the most notable events were the Viceroy’s Durbar at Amballa in 1869, and in 1875 when a squadron went to Lahore to provide a royal escort for the Prince of Wales. In Dehli on 1 January 1877, Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. A detachment was provided for the ceremonial parades, and a trumpeter of the Regiment acted as one of the heralds.
Alfred’s medical records show him as being in Meerut in 1868 where he remained until November 1872 when the Regiment moved to Rawal Pindi.
Meerut BarracksUnfortunately we cannot be sure if he took part in the Durbar, or the royal escort. We do know he embarked on a ship for his return to England on 27 February 1877, so it is likely he had left Rawal Pindi before the proclamation of the Queen as Empress of India.
During his service in India, Alfred seems to have reformed somewhat for, on 14th May 1869 he was awarded one penny good conduct pay which he managed to maintain until 20 November that year. The good conduct pay was restored on 20 March 1870 and held for two years until May 1872, when it was again forfeited. There followed a week in the cells from 20-26 May. The one penny good conduct pay was restored on 27 May 1874 and increased to two pence two years later. In August of that year it was reduced back to one penny, indicating Alfred had blotted his copy book in a minor way.
Rawalpindi Cavalry BarracksThe married roll of the 4th Hussars, dated Rawalpindi 1 July 1876 shows Alfred as serving in D Troop and being married to Elizabeth, with a daughter, Catherine. The same entry gives the date of Catherine’s birth as 30 April 1866. That is two years after the marriage in Dublin, and whilst the Regiment was stationed in Edinburgh. It could be that mother and child were not placed on the marriage roll until they joined Alfred in Rawal Pindi in June 1874. Where they were in the interim is not certain, but probably still in Meerut.
Alfred’s son, Allen had been convinced that Elizabeth was the Ward of one of the officers of the Regiment and that she was married to Alfred in India. Later research revealed the true details of the marriage in Dublin.
Alfred’s son, Allen believed that the family split up shortly after their return to England, and that Elizabeth and Catherine went to live at Strood, near Rochester, Kent. Where Elizabeth worked as a prison warder. Eventually committing suicide by shooting herself.
However, the 1881 census shows Alfred and Elizabeth living at 115 Porter St, Sheffield and Alfred working as a hair dresser. There is no mention of Catherine at this time.
1881 CensusElizabeth did go to Rochester some time after the 1881 census, not to work as a prison warder. But to become the common law wife of James Pickett. It can be no coincidence that James had been a sergeant in the 4th Hussars. In 1881 he is a serving soldier in Aldershot with a wife and family. By 1891 he is living at 13 Millivey Terrace, Bonstead, Rochester with Elizabeth and Catherine.
It is reputed that after his army service, Alfred returned to Sheffield and knocked on the door of his father’s house. An upstairs window was opened and a voice called out. “Who is that?” When he replied “Alfred”, the riposte was, “It can’t be, he’s dead.”
Eventually, Alfred was able to persuade the family that he was still alive, and presumably he stayed in the family home for a while. During his time in Sheffield he worked as a grinder in a cutlery mill, which was driven by water power. He also honed the blades for cut throat razors, on a contract basis, at home. A lot of the blades were for razors for the army. Allen’s comment on these razors was. “They were alright for chopping wood, but not much good for shaving with.” The blades were not hollow ground but were more of a wedge shape. What Alfred did was to finish them by honing them on a little oil stone. This was known as ‘setting’ the blades. They had already been forged and ground. Once honed, the blades went back to the manufacturer to be fitted with handles. Alfred was paid by the gross. In effect he was working as a ‘Little Mester’.
It is difficult to follow Alfred’s movements between 1881 and 1889. At some point during this period, he went to Manchester and was employed by his brother, Allen, and was taught the saw making business. Allen, Alfred’s son, believed he later returned to Sheffield where he borrowed money from a loan shark and was unable to repay the debt. Allen also believed this was the reason for Alfred’s move to Chesterfield.
In 1889 Alfred was living in Brampton, Chesterfield, and on 21 March 1889, married for the second time. The wedding was celebrated at St Thomas’ Church, Brampton. (I have been unable to find evidence of a divorce from Elizabeth) The bride was Sarah Ann Jenkinson, aged eighteen and a spinster. The groom gave his age as 45 (he was in fact 49) He gave his occupation as hairdresser and that of his father, Samuel Ibberson, as clerk. The witnesses were Ebenezer Proud and Charlotte Sims. Charlotte was Sarah’s mother who had now married. She was unable to read or write, so made her mark.
Sarah Ann JenkinsonThe 1891 census shows Alfred living on Chatsworth Rd, Chesterfield, with his wife Sarah and daughter Jane. Their ages are given as 49, 20 and 9 (the record of baptisms for St Thomas’ Church gives Jane’s date of birth as 12 July 1890, so the census should read 9 months) Alfred’s occupation is recorded as ‘self employed’.
Alfred’s son, Allen remembered being told that his father had a barbers shop on Chatsworth Rd. The address was; 1 Stone Row, which was somewhere near the junction with Barker Lane. “The shop front was on the right hand side of Chatsworth Rd and at the side of it was a passageway, leading back twenty yards or so, and Stone Row was up that Yard. The Row belonged to old Harry Mason, who worked at Plowright’s. The entrance to the shop has since been blocked up and it is all one wall now.”
1891 CensusAlfred had an inventive mind, and whilst living on Chatsworth Rd, he experimented with building an incubator. On one occasion he filled the drawer with eggs and waited expectantly for them to hatch. Unfortunately on removing the drawer to inspect the eggs, he dropped it and broke the lot. No doubt the crash was accompanied by some choice Drill Sergeant’s epithets.
Apparently whilst running his business on Chatsworth Rd, Alfred also spent several days each week cutting hair in Brimington. Later the family went to live there when the Chatsworth Rd shop lost custom to a higher class establishment that opened three doors away. Whilst living at Brimington, Sarah used to walk to Chesterfield, to the market.
Sarah told Allen that she used to carry a loaded revolver in her muff on these trips.
It is probably while living in Brimington that Alfred started a business sharpening saws, knives, scissors and other edge tools. For over thirty years he stood the Saturday market in Chesterfield, having a pitch at the North East corner, near the former site of Boots the Chemist. Initially he stood this pitch with a portable grinding kit, but later he was to have a stall a little further into the body of the market and a workshop near his home. On weekdays he worked as an itinerant scissors grinder and went on a regular basis to several places around the town, and to Hasland, Brampton etc. His cry of “Any knives or scissors to sharpen,” was well known in the areas he visited.
His portable grinding kit was somewhat like a tall wheelbarrow with a single large wheel. This wheel served not only as transport, but could also be driven by a treadle mechanism and was connected to the grinding shaft by a belt. On the shaft was a natural stone grinding wheel and a glazing wheel. The glazing wheel was a wooden disk with a leather covered rim. The leather had fish glue applied and was then rolled in an abrasive powder before the glue dried. The disk was used for polishing out the marks left by the grinding wheel. Attached to the superstructure of his portable kit were a saw setting block and a vice to grip the saw blades whilst they were being sharpened with a three square file. There were also hooks from which to hang the scissor blades both before and after sharpening, and a toolbox for hammers, punches and files.
Sarah Ann was born at the Poor Law Institute on Newbold Rd. By the time she married, her mother was living on Walton Back Lane, on the left hand side, close to Walton Church when heading in the direction of Holymoorside. By this time her mother had married and Sarah had a younger step brother, Jack Simms. Jack later lived at 2 Lenthall’s Back Row off Barker Lane, somewhere near the Old Hall Rd end.
Chesterfield Poor Law InstituteShortly after Sarah’s death from tuberculosis in 1912, the family were evicted from 1 Dixon’s Rd and moved to Apperknowle Rd, Unstone. Within a year the family moved again, this time to Albert St, Stonegravels. Later moves took them to St Mary’s Gate and finally to 22a Soresby St, where Alfred was living when he died.
Alfred was not a big man. His height was 5ft 7ins and he never weighed more than 10st 7lbs. Despite his small stature, he kept himself fit and must have had some sort of reputation as an athlete for, around 1900 he was involved in walking from Sheffield to Chesterfield to satisfy a wager. The following article was published in the Derbyshire Times on Friday 8 March 1946, on the occasion of the death, at the age of 88, of Joseph Green, a well known publican and sportsman:
There were some aspects of Alfred’s life about which Allen was very reticent. Indeed there were some things he never disclosed to his family until after he was in his nineties. Why he was so guarded is difficult to conceive, perhaps because the values of today are so different from those of earlier times.
Unbelievable as it may seem, the family were not aware that on 6 January 1923, Alfred was married for the third time. His new bride was Eliza Annetts. She eventually survived Alfred and continued to live in the town, possibly in Hasland. Allen eventually disclosed the third marriage when asked who had attended Alfred’s funeral. He replied, “well there was me, Maude and Mrs Ibberson.” When pressed about a Mrs Ibberson he had to admit that Alfred had married again. Apparently there had been a report of the marriage in the Derbyshire Times, and it seems this marriage caused something of a stir locally.
The reason the Poor Law official thought the marriage would be illegal was because Eliza Annetts’ mother was Sarah Ann Jenkinson’s half sister.
Alfred and Eliza had a daughter, Mary, born 24 July 1930.
Alfred was a member of the RAOB (Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes) and the family have a scroll showing Alfred and the senior members of his lodge in their regalia. This scroll was sent to his sister, Selena in 1908 and returned to Allen after Alfred’s death in 1932.
Right up until his death, Alfred continued to carry on his grinding business. Allen, rather reluctantly, completed the last of the work for him when he became too ill to carry on.
The story above has been substantiated by records, but varies with the story recounted by his son Allen. Some of the discrepancies were no doubt due to failing memories, but some may have other causes. The story as told by Allen is that which Alfred himself told his children.
Gen. Sir Frederick RobertsAlfred was mounted and his cavalry unit overtook an infantry company who were engaged in the practice of pricking the blisters on their feet. The cavalry laughed and joked about this but it was not quite so funny when they had to have their own blisters pricked for, of course they were not on their feet!
One night whilst at either Kabul or Kandahar, Alfred was on sentry duty at a mountain pass. he heard a sound like pebbles dribbling down the slope. He fired without a challenge and daylight revealed the greased, naked body of a very dead native.
When caught, mutineers were subjected to summary trials followed by execution.
The men were incredibly cruel towards the natives. One member of his company used to put a rope around the necks of the natives and pull them over his shoulder, thus breaking their necks.
Conditions for the British troops in India were extremely harsh and there was very little food. The troops were starving. When on parade and before inspection, they were ordered to ‘blow pumps.’ This meant to puff out their cheeks to make them look fatter and better fed. As a result desertions were common and Alfred became one of these. When caught, such deserters were subjected to field punishment number one: Being tied to the wheel of a gun for several days and left out in the sun; and possibly a flogging. In addition the left side of the rib cage was tattooed with a three inch letter “D” (Alfred had such a mark) Their enlistment time then restarted and had to be served in full again.
As part of his duties Alfred accompanied the officers of the Regiment on their pig sticking forays. He said the lances they were using were not effectively penetrating the pigs. Alfred was asked if he could do anything about this. They had with them a farriers forge, and Alfred made some lances which were more effective.
Alfred claimed he served as valet to the Hon. Frederick Ellis, an officer in the Hussars. Ellis travelled widely as a military attaché and was accompanied wherever he went by Alfred. At some point he went on an expedition to the Mountains of the Moon in Ethiopia. At some point Alfred also claimed to have accompanied Francis Younghusband on some of his expeditions to the Himalayas.
Whilst returning, time served, to the UK in 1882 on the HMS Malabar, the troops were disembarked to take part in the Egyptian War.
HMS MalabarDuring this war, Egyptian prisoners were herded into a compound and the British guns were fired into the mass of humanity. (Lord Haw Haw made much of this in his propaganda broadcasts to discredit Britain in the 1940?s)
Alfred claimed to have married his first wife in India. She was, he said, the Ward of one of the officers of the Regiment. She bore him a daughter, Kitty while still in India. He separated from his wife on his return to the UK. The wife took her daughter and went to live in Strood, near Rochester where she worked as a prison warder. Later he alleged, she shot herself.
In lieu of a pension Alfred claimed he had been granted land in Australia and he had visited but found the land unsuitable and so returned to the UK. Apparently he was shipwrecked in the Red Sea on the way home. Later he said he wrote to Lord Roberts in order to regain his pension after abandoning the land in Australia. The pension was partially restored after many years and was backdated to 1882.
Alfred was my great great grandfather. His story is one of the best documented of all my ancestors.
His long career as a soldier, his eventful family life, and his colourful character give us a clear insight into his personality. It feels as though we can actually get to know him.
I would have liked to meet Alfred, and hope this short biography explains why.
Alfred was a member of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. He is pictured here in his regalia, around 1908.
Alfred married Sarah Ann Jenkinson at St Thomas’ Church, Brampton on 21 March 1889.
His first marriage had earlier failed.
Census Documents: 1881-1911
Alfred and Elizabeth are living in Sheffield.
He is working as a hairdresser.
Alfred and Sarah are living on Chatsworth Rd, Brampton.
He is working as a hairdresser.
Alfred and Sarah are living with their young family on Back St, Brimington.
The family are living near Lordsmill St, Chesterfield.
Alfred is a grinder and an army pensioner.
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Alfred Ibberson 1840-1932
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The history of the world is not complete until it includes yours.LaRae Kerr, genealogist and author
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