One of my 5th Great Grandmother’s, Catherine ELLIS has recently proved of great interest as she was the Butt-Woman of Batter Street Presbyterian Chapel in Plymouth.
The Butt-woman was a responsible, salaried role within the life of the Chapel. As the Chapel Keeper she was responsible for keeping the Chapel clean, preparing for services, and for various other duties. Catherine’s second husband, William ELLIS was the Sexton of the Chapel and he had responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the Chapel and burial-yard (probably including the digging of graves, etc).
As tomorrow would be her 254th birthday (!), I thought it might be interesting to share something of the life of Catherine with the wider world since her life may be of interest to scholars and others interested in non-conformity of those days.
Catherine ELLIS was born Catherine ROOK at Petrockstowe, Devon on 9 March 1762; the daughter of John and Elizabeth ROOK, nee ROGERS. Catherine was baptised at Petrockstowe on 4 April 1762.
I’m unsure at this stage whether Catherine was brought up as a member of the Established Church – that is the Church of England. What is clear is that by the time of her marriage to my 5th Great Grandfather, William ARKWRIGHT in 1786 either she or he were almost certainly non-conformist.
The marriage of William ARKWRIGHT to Catherine ELLIS at Petrockstowe on 2 October 1786 was by Licence. Neither bride nor groom appear to descend from wealthy stock so the notion that they married by Licence suggests they negated the usual reading of Banns at the Parish Church as they were probably not regular attenders there. In those days a non-conformist couple, (unless Quaker, or Jew) had to marry in their local Parish Church – and then usually within the bride’s parish.
William and Catherine appear to hang around long enough in Petrockstowe for the baptism of my 4th Great Grandmother, Mary ARKWRIGHT in 1787 but they soon migrate the short distance to the City of Exeter. In Exeter 4 children are born to the couple, of whom 3 pass away in early infancy. What horrendous days they must have been.
By 1800 the couple with their surviving children arrive in Plymouth – what brought them to Plymouth isn’t yet known, nor is William’s occupation which might provide a clue.
Soon after their arrival, and certainly by 1803 William ARKWRIGHT passed away. Catherine with little or no form of subsistence then married her second husband, William ELLIS at Charles Church, Plymouth on 7 August 1803.
The couple appear then to have been connected with Batter Street Chapel for the rest of their lives.
It is a sad fact that practically all archives relating to the Chapel were lost during the Blitz of 1941. Other than the surviving Baptism and Burial Registers the only “archive” to survive was a C18 Chapel Account Book that had been taken home for research by a Chapel member as the Blitz occurred. What foresight!
The Account Book, now lodged for safe keeping at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (ref: 2026/1) dates from 1791 and continues until 1820. It provides something of a glimpse into the lives of William and Catherine ELLIS given their roles within the Chapel.
The following are some excerpts from the Account Book:
- 3 August 1805 – William ELLIS received 2s “having broke his leg”
- 1805 – The Butt-woman received an annual salary of £5 5s 0d
- 24 June 1809 – Wm ELLIS for “whitewashing the yard”, £1 3s 0d
- 7 June 1809 – Mrs ELLIS for soap, 1s 1d
- 24 June 1809 – Mrs ELLIS for brooms, 1s
- 11 April 1811 – Mr ELLIS for cleaning the yard, 10s 6d
- 11 April 1811 – Mrs ELLIS’ broom, 8s 1d
- 11 February 1817 – Mrs ELLIS salary increased to £6, 6s 0d per year
- 27 March 1819 – Mr ELLIS opening Mr MENDS vault, 10s
- 8 January 1820 – Mrs ELLIS for sundries, 2s 9d
- 25 March 1820 – Mrs ELLIS for floor cloth, 3s 6d
- 25 March 1820 – Mr ELLIS for whitewashing, etc, 14s
William ELLIS was buried at the Batter Street Burial-Ground on 17 November 1825 aged 77; the Burial Register records that he was the Sexton and that there was “no charge” for the funeral or burial.
Catherine ELLIS was buried at the Batter Street Burial-Ground on 27 January 1829, aged 67; the Burial Register records that she was the Butt-woman.
My ancestors connections with Batter Street were possibly maintained into the 1860s until the death of William GLIDDON, Catherine ELLIS’s son-in-law in 1868.
William GLIDDON had married Catherine’s first born daughter, Mary at Stoke Damerel on 23 July 1804. This couple went on to have a staggering 11 children, all baptised at Batter Street Presbyterian between 1805-1830.
There is still more to discover with this family and their connections with Batter Street. This is what makes researching ones family history so interesting – especially when it connects to fascinating local history as well. For example, one of William and Mary GLIDDON’s grandchildren, George Thomas GLIDDON, 1837-1886 was a well known and successful trader in Plymouth, as the advert below testifies:
The Batter Street Chapel doesn’t exist any longer as a place of worship, indeed it closed in 1922/23 but the Chapel building remains, in part at least, as Lady Astor’s “Virginia House Settlement”.
© Graham Naylor