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John Burch - a fowl story

John Burch was Jane’s 1st and oldest of her nine illegitimate children and is my great great grandfather. He was born in Mendlesham, Suffolk to Jane on 25th November 1851. In April of that year Jane, who was 19, had been a house servant for a farm bailiff in Mendlesham (but in case you’re wondering I don’t think the farm bailiff is the father of John, he was 73, and the other house servant was a female in her 60’s). I’m guessing that Jane would have given birth to John in her widowed father’s house in Green Chapel Road, Mendlesham, also living in the house were Jane’s siblings Samuel 23, Harriett 14 and Walter 12. These houses only had 4 rooms total so it’s hard to imagine how crowded and stressful it would have been.

In fairly quick succession a brother and two sisters, Harry, Sophia and Mary Ann were born and the house in Mendlesham was even more chaotic and overcrowded with four infants. Somewhere around 1865 when John was about 14 the family, Jane and her now six children, (Henniker and Selina had been born), moved to Stonham road, Stowupland, where two more brothers were born, Herbert Walter and Reuben Richard. On the 1871 census Jane is still a single woman, and with 8 children, John is now aged 19 and working as an agricultural labourer in Stowupland. The following year, 1872 John’s mother Jane has her ninth and last illegitimate child, Eva Jane.

John and his brother Henniker Hipperson are the only two of the nine siblings to stay in Stowupland, the other seven all marry and move away to London or elsewhere in Suffolk.

In 1874 John Burch marries Mary Ann Berry at Trinity Church, Stowupland, they were both 22, one of the witnesses was Mary Ann’s father, Robert Berry, a blank was drawn under the name of John’s father. Neither John or Mary Ann were able to read and write and signed the register with an “X”. Mary Ann was the oldest of five children in a farm labouring family from Stowupland, and both her and John Burch lived in Stowupland all their married life. Stowupland and Mendlesham appear to have been quite close knit communities, there were many families including the Burch’s who lived in the area for generations and the Burch family was very extended. John and his wife Mary Ann would have had many many relatives living close by. John and Mary Ann themselves had six sons and one daughter as follows: William, Ernest, Herman, Arthur, Gertrude, Bertie and John.

At the age of 36 John decided to get himself christened at Holy Trinity church, Stowupland, maybe it was this long before he realised Jane had never had him christened. Jane’s other children were christened in batches of two or three at a time.

Sometime between the ages of 40 and 50 John becomes a pork butcher and general dealer in pork, fowl, and eggs, and it seems he had a round of customers.

In 1896 when John Burch and Mary Ann are 44, an amusing story involving them both is reported in the Bury Free Press:

In 1910 when John and Mary Ann are 58, Mary Ann sadly dies of bronchitis and flu, and then in 1916 John’s mother Jane Burch dies at the age of 84.

John’s son Bertie joins the military in 1916 and seems to be writing from Canada trying to get furloughed or discharged from the military to help his aged father who is struggling with his pork butchers business and his long egg rounds. Bertie was discharged in 1920 by which time his father John Burch has become bedridden. In fact, John was bedridden for about the last 10 years of his life between the ages of 65 and 75. During his last years his three youngest children, Gertrude, Bertie and John are living at home with him, Bertie and John are running the pork butchers, fowl and egg round business, and Gertrude is keeping house.

Now about the being bedridden thing, many many years ago, before computers and e mail, my great aunt (who was John Burch’s granddaughter) told me in a letter that John Burch only had one lung, or, it might have been leg, and now the great aunt has died, and I stupidly lost the letter, and I never clarified whether it was one lung, or one leg!! There is a lesson to be learned here. But anyway, despite the only one lung or leg, and I’m inclined to think it must have been lung because otherwise how could he have done such physical work for so many years, I’m guessing that he had had TB at some point in his life. Anyway, despite only have one lung, John Burch lived until the age of 75, and he died in 1927 of cerebral thrombosis, which I believe is a blood clot which would have caused a stroke.

If I could step back in time, I would like to ask John why he left all his money, £126 15s, in his will to only his youngest son, John Burch, what about the others? Of course, I’d also like to ask him if he knew who the father of all his mother’s children was too, but I have a feeling that would be taboo and swept under the carpet. John Burch junior, who inherited the money, appears to have carried on in the fowl business in Stowupland until his own death in 1940.

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