Thomas Howcutt (1830-1882)


Thomas Howcutt was born at Brighton and christened there at St Nicholas, its ancient parish church, on 12 September 1830. Although his parents, John Howcutt and Sarah Moodey had married at St James Piccadilly, neither originated from London. John was born at Brixworth, which is about six miles north of Northampton, and Sarah at Bar Lavington, a village a few miles from Petworth, Sussex. Both John and Sarah’s fathers had been farmers who experienced hardship during the early 19th century and were labourers by the time they died in the 1840s. 


When Thomas was baptised, the family were living at St John Street. His parents had three more children baptised at St Nicholas between 1832 and 1838. During this time, the Howcutts appear to have remained in the network of modest roads to the east of the centre of Brighton.


Brighton had flourished as a centre of fashion and society during the lifetime of the Prince Regent, who became King George IV in 1820. He died in the same year that the Howcutts arrived in the town. His brother reigned as William IV until his death in 1837 and was also a frequent visitor to Brighton. However, after his death royal patronage declined. The railway line which enabled day-trippers to visit from London did not reach Brighton until 1841. By then, the Howcutts departed from Sussex, as the 1841 census records John and his family at Holman’s Yard, Brixworth. Although he was only 10 years old, Thomas was already working as an agricultural labourer. His grandparents, Thomas and Elizabeth Howcutt, were among numerous relatives then living in the village.


The 1851 census records Thomas as a mason’s labourer living at Silver Street, Brixworth with his parents, a brother, sister and a lodger.


In 1856, Thomas married Mary Wright in the Newport Pagnell registration district [1]. Their first child, Thomas John, was born at Tickford End, Newport Pagnell on 24 August 1857. Tickford End is the area on the far side of the River Great Ouse from Newport Pagnell itself and is centred on the road now known as Tickford Street, which runs in a south-easterly direction from the town. Much of Tickford Street has been redeveloped since the middle of the 19th century but some of the old houses and cottages remain. 


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 Tickford Street, Newport Pagnell  



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Newport Pagnell Methodist Church

In view of later records of their attachment to the Wesleyan Methodist cause, it is likely that Thomas and Mary attended the chapel that the Wesleyans had built at Newport Pagnell in 1815 and which survives to this day.


By the time Thomas and Mary’s daughter, Mary Ann, was born on 25 July 1859, the family were at Bedford, where she was christened by the Wesleyan Methodist church on 4 September that year. The opening of Midland Station there, also in 1859, was one of the key events in a period of substantial economic and population growth in the town; there was clearly a need for those with building skills [2]. Thomas and Mary were to remain at Bedford for the rest of their lives.


In the 1861 census, Thomas and Mary were recorded at 15 Gwyn Street, Bedford, along with their children and Thomas’ 20-year-old niece Charlotte Wright. Thomas was working as a bricklayer and Mary as a dressmaker.


Both of Thomas and Mary’s children died young. Mary Ann was buried on 23 December 1863 and Thomas John on 25 August 1864, both at Bedford cemetery. In each case, a Wesleyan minister conducted the service and the Howcutts’ home was at Thurlow Street.


By 1871, Thomas and Mary had moved to 1 Lurke Lane, where they were accompanied by his widowed mother, Sarah Howcutt.


By 1878, Thomas was working as a gardener, coachman and odd-job man for the Bousfield family, who lived at Alpha Villa, a large house situated on the east side of Ampthill Road, just north of its junction with Offa Road [3]. The Bousfields were keen Methodists and had financed the construction of Southend Wesleyan Chapel, which still stands at the south corner of Ampthill Road and Offa Road.


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Alpha Villa


Southend Methodist church


In the 1881 census, Thomas and Mary were living at 17 Offa Road, at which stage he was a “Builder (Master) employing 2 men”. Thomas’ work was not confined to Bedford, as in November 1881 Mrs Charlotte Bousfield recorded visits by her husband, her son and herself to Clapham Junction where “Howcutt” was carrying out repairs to the houses owned by the Bousfields there [4].


Thomas’ death took place on 3 August 1882 at Offa Road (presumably at number 17) and was registered on the following day by his sister-in-law, Lydia Wright, who lived at 11 Allhallows Lane in the town. Dr W Wilson certified the cause of death as “Blood poisoning with sewer gas, ulcerated sore throat and pneumonia”. The burial took place at Bedford Cemetery [5].


Mrs Bousfield wrote as follows about Thomas’ departure from this life:

“That same day [8 August 1878] Papa & I paid the last tribute of deserved respect to our faithful friend Howcutt, and followed him to the grave at the Cemetery.  He was only ill three or four days, I was with him the greater part of the last & when he passed away.  We do, & shall, miss him continually; anything that was needed to be done at any of our houses, he was always at hand to do, & it always seemed a delight to him to do us any service.  His mind wandered very much & he never knew the end of life was near, but he so lived that for him to depart was “to be with Christ”.  The prayer & praise which he loved so much on earth are but exchanged for higher communion & praises before the Throne.  Nothing impresses the mind with the immense importance of living each day “as if the last” like seeing a strong man, in the prime of life, taken suddenly away.  If Howcutt had left the work of life to a death-bed, he would have had no space nor opportunity to prepare for the eternity into which he has now entered, I believe with joy;  but of how few who live around us could I say the same?   Truly men & women live as if the present would last for ever, & as if they neither desired the happiness of the righteous, nor feared the doom of those who despise Christ & make light of His Salvation.” [6]


When Mary proved Thomas’ will at Northampton on 4 November 1882, he was described as a bricklayer and his personal estate reported to be worth Ł150. The will had been signed on 6 July 1878 and left everything to his wife, subject to any mortgages or trusts.


By the 1891 census, Mary had moved to 13 Offa Road, where she was self-employed as a seamstress. 


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Offa Road

No.17 is the house with a red brick front

No. 13 is the right hand house in right hand picture


In the 1901 census, Mary was living in a 4-room house at 11 Howard Street, Bedford, with no occupation mentioned, She was accompanied by a boarder, Florence Peacock, who was working as a home-based needlewoman.


11 Howard Street was given as the home address when Mary Howcutt was buried at Bedford cemetery on 3 April 1907 [7].


Most of the houses in Bedford where Thomas and Mary lived have since been demolished. The exceptions are at Offa Road, where numbers 13 and 17 remain at each end of a terrace of three houses that were erected in 1878.




[1]      Census records from 1861 to 1901 confirm that Thomas’ wife was born at Newport Pagnell. The 1851 census records her as living there at Tickford Street with her widowed mother Ann and 10-year-old Charlotte Wright, who is also recorded as Ann’s daughter; as Ann was then aged 67, this appears to be a mistake. Charlotte was described as Thomas’ niece in 1861, so it is probable that she was actually Ann’s granddaughter.

[2]      The number of inhabitants of Bedford stood at 11,693 in 1851 and 13,413 in 1861. Twenty years later it had reached 19,533.

[3]      “The Bousfield Diaries” edited by Dr Richard Smart (Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, 2009), pages xx and 3.

[4]      It seems these houses were in Shelgate Road, as Mrs Bousfield’s diary mentions Mr Miall as a tenant of one of the houses (March 1883) and also that a tenant was a manufacturer of photographic dry plates (February 1888). The only Miall family living in Battersea in 1881 was that of Frank Miall, a photographic chemist residing at 54 Shelgate Road - he had moved to 13 Shelgate Road by the time of the 1891 census.

[5]      Thomas was buried in plot 129, section E8, which adjoined plot 139 where his son was buried, beyond which his daughter had been interred at plot 149. Virtually all tombstones have been cleared from that part of the cemetery.

[6]      “The Bousfield Diaries”, page 61, with additional text from the unedited manuscript kindly supplied by Dr Richard Smart.

[7]      Mary was buried in the unconsecrated part, in plot 221 of Section C. No monument seems to survive in the area.


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