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© David Hallam - 2008


The Burnham Family in Beeston


John Wilkinson Burnham1, his wife Emma and the oldest five of their six children moved to Beeston around 1827; their youngest was born there in about 1828. John was born in Wilford, just across the Trent from Nottingham, where his family can be traced for several generations. His great-grandfather - and, eventually, his brother William served as Parish Clerk in their respective eras - and it is likely that others in the family served similarly in their time and there is no doubt, that their's was a respected family in the village. After their marriage in 1815, John and Emma - who originated from Chilwell, Notts and was christened "Emeretta" 2 - made their home in Clifton, adjacent to Wilford and across the River Trent at Beeston. John worked as a joiner, his brother William was a carpenter and it is likely that these trades had featured in the family over the generations.3

Click to see a photograph of Emma Burnham (née Godber)

The family would have had to make a simple journey on the ferry which operated at the river bend below the weir4 to arrive in Beeston - but, in settling in Villa Street they were moving from a quiet village setting into a fast changing community where lace making was then beginning to emerge as the dominant industry of the nineteenth century. It was an environment which was to serve John and his family well; by the time of the 1851 census he was employing three men - although these were, in all probability, his three sons, Edward, William and John, he had clearly formed a strong family business which, while retaining its core joinery business, was to diversify and prosper - but not without setbacks and sadnesses - for more than a century. John died in September 1853 and was buried in Beeston Churchyard where his memorial survives5; his will, clearly made in anticipation of his imminent death nine days later, left his whole estate - at upwards of 300, a reasonably comfortable amount for its day, being worth over 20,000 in todays values - to his wife for life and then to their six children6. The story of how his widow opened the Royal Oak public house is described here.

The fortunes of their children, in fact, varied considerably:
Edward Burnham - their oldest son (b. 1816) was clearly the most dominant family member of this generation. He married twice; his first wife, Elizabeth Facer, a shoemaker's Edward Burnham, etc daughter, died in 1845 at the age of 24, after seven years of marriage which produced two children. Edward quickly remarried - within about three months - this time to Ann Brewer (née Codling), a young widow who lived nearby in Villa Street. Ann had one eleven year old daughter by her first marriage and, with Edward, was to have seven more children - all of whom were christened at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, then on Chapel Street, Beeston.

Although Edward, following the family tradition, was a joiner by trade, by 1861 he had taken over the Royal Oak pub from his mother and was to build its success over more than twenty years. During that time, he also tried his hand as a farmer - probably on a small scale. By about 1884, he had passed over the management of the Royal Oak to his son-in-law, Alfred Ellott, his younger daughter Elizabeth's husband. After his wife died in 1891 he went to live with his daughter Mary's family on Queens Road and ended his days, in deteriorated health, in lodgings on Dagmar Grove. The photograph on the right, taken in 1894 in a booth at Beeston Wakes, Edward is seated at the front with his sons George (left) and Albert. The lady is identified as "Mrs Burnham" 7. At his death in 1901, he left an estate valued at 6597 - over half a million in todays values. He and his wife were buried in Beeston cemetery where their memorial survives.

Click to see a further photograph of Edward Burnham and his second wife, Ann

Martha Burnham - had a relatively short and somewhat tragic life. Born in 1818, she never married but had a daughter in 1841. Together with her daughter (who died aged 19), she lived with her parents - and eventually her widowed mother - all her life and probably assisted her mother in her Royal Oak venture. She died aged 48 in 1867. She and her daughter are each remembered on memorials which survive in Beeston churchyard.5

Elizabeth Burnham - it seems, had a particulary tragic life. In 1841, she married James Bates, a young butcher who had appeared on Villa Street by the time of the census earlier that year. After two children, born in quick sucession over the next two years, James died in July 1844, aged 27. Elizabeth appears to have been left in some financial difficuties as, by 1851 and despite she and her living with her parents, she is described as receiving parish relief. She died in 1857, aged 37.

William Burnham - was born in about 1823 and was to continue in his trade as a joiner - diversifying slightly for a while as a wheelwright - for the whole of his life. He married Eliza Storer, the daughter of another joiner from Crich, Derbyshire, who appears to have come to Beeston as a girl to work in the silk mill. Together, thay raised six children and continued to live in and around Villa Street all their married life. William died in 1892 and is buried in Beeston cemetery where his memorial surives.

Emma Burnham - was John & Emma's youngest daughter, born about 1825. In 1845, she married the "boy next door" 8 - Henry Belfield, who was born in Ockbrook, Derbyshire but who came to Beeston with his parents, Thomas and Catherine, sister Ann and brother Thomas at the end of the 1830s, probably following the opportunities offered in the developing lace industry - and in which Thomas senior found work. By 1841, Henry was apprentice to James Wood, a baker on Villa Street next door to the Burnham family9. After their marriage, Henry and Emma settled in Chapel Street where they raised seven children (see "The Next Generation") and established a bakery there which continued in the family for over 100 years - a business that is still recalled by older Beestonians. Thomas & Catherine Belfield (and one of their sons who died young) are remembered on a surviving memorial in Beeston Churchyard. The final resting place for Henry - who died in 1887) and Emma - who died in 1915, has proved more elusive.

John Burnham - born in 1828, was another in the family who had a short life. He worked as a joiner, married in 1885 to Sarah Cook and they had one son. He died in 1859 followed, the year after by his son. Both are remembered in a memorial in Beeston Churchyard.5

Click to read about the The Next Generation of the Burnham Family

or - Click here to go back to the beginning


1His middle name - Wilkinson - derives from his mother's maiden name - Martha Wilkinson. The only time this appears in the available source records is on his Baptismal record - at Wilford Parish Church on 20 October 1793.
2The Baptism Register for Attenborough (which included Chilwell) records her name as "Ameretta"
3An advertisement for the Beeston joinery business from the mid-1930s when it was being run by John Burnham (son of George and gt-grandson of John Wilkinson Burnham), claimed that the firm was "Established 1817" - presumably by John Wilkinson Burnham while in Clifton.
4The small piece of what is now the Weir Field, at the bend in the river opposite Clifton was, since ancient times part of Clifton Parish, and served as a ferry landing point. It is clearly shown as "Clifton Orchard - part of Clifton Parish" on the Enclosure Award map of 1809 and remained that way until comparitivley modern times when boundaries were realigned, probably in the 1930s.
5The Burnham family memorials can be seen starting here.
6It appears that only three of his children lived to inherit their share, the other three having predeceased their mother.
7This excellent photograph, unusually with a full caption with names, is from the Martin family album and has been kindly provided by Geoffrey Drinkwater. "Mrs Burnham" is clearly not Edward's wife as the photograph is dated 1894 and he had been a widower since 1891. It is likely that it is Mary, George's wife (then aged 45) but could be Emily, wife of Arthur (then aged 39).
8For some reason - perhaps initial parental disapproval - the couple married at St Peters Church in Radford, Nottingham where neither has any obvious connection.
9James Wood was clearly a friends as well as a neighbour of John Wilkinson Burnham; James was one of the executors named in John's will in 1853.


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