Paint and Colourman

This chapter is under substantial review as more information has come to light. It should be updated over the next couple of months.

This Chapter has also now been broken down into two sections. The first section From Tradesman To Poor House is available although still under review. This current page will later only deal with the Children of John Gransden.

Richard and Mary Gransden of Cobham had a very large family with at least six of the eight children surviving into adulthood. Many of the children, particularly the men married and moved away from Cobham.

John, the sixth child, was one of those that married and moved away from Cobham. John married Sarah Wood of Strood on the first of February 1782 by licence. Marriage by licence meant that bans didn’t have to be read out in church for the three weeks prior to the wedding. Sarah had grown up in Strood, so it was reasonable that when John and Sarah married that John would move to Strood when they started their own family. Strood was a small town only a few miles from Cobham. It was an agricultural area but life was also dominated by the river with fishing and oystering being common professions of the town.

John was the first of the Gransden family to make his way out of Kent. Sometime between 1787 and 1805 John Gransden, his wife Sarah and their first three children, John Robert, Sarah and Robert Wood moved from Strood, three kilometres away from Cobham, to Portsea, Hampshire.

It was common for the river around Strood to flood, one of the very large floods occurred in 1791 around the time that John and his family moved to Portsea. This flood was the largest seen in over 60 years and may well have wiped out the livelihoods of many of the local residents including the Gransden family.

During the late 1700’s and early 1800’s farming in Kent went through some radical changes. New crops were being introduced and some of the older crops no longer had a market. This plus an increase in population meant that the tradition of gravelkind now often meant that land was being divided up into smaller and smaller lots. Previously the death rate for children had been so high that it was unusual for more than one male son to survive until he was an adult. So even though land was split between male heirs it was not that common for land to be split up. Where more than one male child survived infancy and inherited it was common for one child to buy the other out when their father died. By the late 1700’s this was less and less the case.

Other social aspects of Kent’s culture had also changed. During the early part of the 1700’s unmarried men and women would live with a farmer and take part in their daily life. By the last quarter of the 1700’s the divide between land holders and their workers including husbandmen was increasing. This meant that farmers were living in their own grander houses. Farm workers were becoming itinerant and were less likely to have a permanent abode.

It is probable that the changes in social circumstances combined with the flood of 1791 combined to help the Gransden’s decide to move to Hampshire.

By the time John was an adult he and his sibling had spread out around the Medway towns of Strood, Cobham, Stockbury and Northfleet. It is probable that John himself was now more of an agricultural labourer than a husbandman. Agricultural labourers lived in poor dwellings, usually mud-brick with two rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. The floors were of packed earth and the roof was thatched. It was common for the houses to be damp and cold. It was also usual for them to be tied to the job. So that if for any reason a labourer could not work the whole family could lose their home.

Children of an agricultural labourer would be expected to work as soon as they could. This would include children as little as six years old or even younger. These children would spend their days chasing mice out of the harvest fields, lifting crops, scaring birds with rattles and other tasks. It is easy to see that John would not have wanted this sort of life for his three children. At the time of their move to Portsmouth the two eldest of John and Sarah’s children would already have been working and quite possibly little Robert Wood would also have started working. Their parents would have thought through the move very carefully but watching their children grow up working from the age of five, skinny, hungry and barely clothed would have had to have made an impact on their decision to move to a new county.

The labourer’s job was not well defined, they could be doing anything from digging ditches to taking in the harvest, sowing seeds, fencing, walling and maintaining roads and taking livestock to market. Labourers would be expected to work from sunrise to sunset with breaks for meals and to have a drink. Most of these were short, with the main break of the day being a lunch break where the labourer would get a chance to sit down.

Harvest time was the busiest period of the year. This could be reaping hay, digging up potatoes or picking fruit and hops, as was common in Kent. However at other periods of the year it was common for little or no work to be available to the labourer, often they would be laid off. When this happened, labourers would go to work on fishing fleets, work in breweries or find other jobs to tide them over until harvest time the next year. It may well have been this sort of work that gradually helped John and his family to move to Portsea.

The Agricultural Labourer’s wife also had their part to play. Sarah would have spent time looking after the cottage and making sure that food was prepared but she would have also been required to help at harvest time and any other time during the year that extra hands would have been required.

John’s family was not wealthy, or even well off. John’s wife Sarah died on the fifth of January 1846. She had been living for at least five years in the local poor house. Sarah died of dropsy, usually caused by congestive heart failure. At this stage it has been impossible to find when John died but it was before 1841. By 1841 Sarah was already living in the poorhouse and she was noted down as a widow.

John and Sarah had five children all of whom survived infancy and married. The three eldest of these children married in Hampshire, the two youngest, showing the adventurous spirit of their parents moved to London.

John’s children continued to display their independence and adaptability. Painting and building or plumbing seems to have become the profession that most of them found themselves in. During their lives the type of painting seems to have been fairly flexible with both ship painting and house painting being very common. John’s son Robert Wood also seems to have branched out and become a colour and oil man. Originally a colour and oil man sold colours for painters. But later they widened their range of products and sold a variety of household goods such as candles and soaps, starch, matches, firewood, brushes, baskets and brooms, lamps, linseed and other oils, beeswax, vegetable wax, etc. This range could also extend to grocery items such as sauces, pickles and jams, and to chemicals and drugs such as soda, salts, quack pills and poor man’s plaster and a miscellaneous mixture of other commodities including hardware, ironmongery, china, lamp-black, size, ochre, chalk, sand, gunpowder and shot.

Many colour and oil men were self employed, but others were employed by a larger company. There is nothing to indicate if Robert was self employed or not. It seems that Robert was very versatile he was described at various times as a painter, plumber, builder and colour and oil man. He was in his seventies when he died and was still working as a painter. at this time. He seems to have worked as a colour and oil man when he was in his fifties and sixties it is possible that this sort of work was too much to maintain as he became older so he fell back on a trade that was maybe not so demanding. In fact in his last years he was a painter’s assistant. This may well have been so that he didn’t have to climb ladders and do some of the more complex and demanding jobs anymore. At no stage was there any indication of failing eye sight, but it is unlikely that as Robert grew older that some of the many infirmities that are common to old age did not also visit Robert limiting his drive and abilities.

Robert Wood was born in Kent like his two older siblings but spent much of his young life in Alverstoke Hampshire where his youngest two siblings Mary Elizabeth and Charles William were born. Alverstoke had many advantages for the Gransden family. It was close to the naval port of Portsmouth which provided year round work at the ports and in other area’s to do with being a large shipping port but it was also an agricultural area which would have meant that John would have been able to fall back on skills that he already had from his time in Kent.

At the time of his marriage to Mary Anne Stone on Saturday the 17th of October 1812 Robert was still living in Alverstoke. However shortly after Robert and Mary were married they moved to Portsea where the first five of their eleven children were born.

The family seems to have moved around the Portsmouth, Portsea and Avlerstoke area’s a bit in the early years. But from at least 1841 to 1873 when Robert died they lived at All Saints in Southampton. For the last ten years of his life Robert was a widower, living as a lodger and working as a painter’s assistant. His wife Mary died on the 17th of March in 1863. She died of general decay, rheumatic gout and diarrhoea. So she had obviously been in a decline for some time when a last illness, probably some sort of gastritis bug gave her diarrhoea, this would have resulted in dehydration and for someone in an already weakened state this would have lead to her death. By the time that Robert Wood died he would have seen his two eldest children and his second youngest child move to New South Wales, Australia, it is doubtful that he ever saw them again or the grandchildren that they would have provided him with. At least four of Robert’s other children lived long enough to marry and at least one of them provided him with grandchildren that he would have known. However in his last few years he must have waited to hear from the majority of his family and maybe wished that he still had his wife to share some of the trials and tribulations recounted in their letters.

© Christina Bean 2014


Paint and Colourman — 2 Comments

  1. There are still descendants of Robert Wood Gransden living in Southampton. Ironically there is a link with Australia from the 1920’s. Can provide more information if required. This is not my branch.

  2. Hello David,

    I am a descendant of Mary Elizabeth Gransden, the younger sister of Robert Wood Gransden. You can trace Mary’s line in Tina’s family tree. Mary was baptised in Portsea in 1805 and died in Southampton 1870. Her daughter Elvina Gransden Love lived in Southampton for many years and all her children were born there. Including my great grandfather Abraham Sims who was a naughty boy. But that is another story. I think Elvina moved to Southampton to be near to her Gransden family. These are probably the ancestors of the Gransdens you refer to. Any information or photographs would be welcome.

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