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Joseph Lane (1766-1826)

3 x great grandfather of Henry Austin Lane - Generation 6.


Left click images for an expanded view.

Joseph was born in the rural village of Colyton, east Devon, located 138 miles (223 kilometers) south west of London. This was a rural village in which most adult men worked on the land or in associated trades such as shoe making, carpentry and black smithing. From its cottages, women produced Honiton lace using bobbins to fashion intricate scroll work patterns with depictions of flowers and leaves.


During his lifetime, Joseph was most influenced by the Agricultural Revolution (1750-1850), which was triggered by the need to feed a British population that was expanding rapidly (from 5.8 million in 1750 to 16.7 million in 1850), in line with the Industrial Revolution (1760-1850). Food production was massively increased through mechanisation and improved farming practices, while much of the work traditionally carried out by agricultural labourers was eliminated.


At the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Ann Bartlett:

  • Joseph signed the parish marriage register with his mark, indicating that he was illiterate. Most probably, instead of attending school, he worked for a low wage alongside other menfolk to gain the knowledge and skills needed to become an agricultural labourer.

  • He was described in the parish register as a 'sojourner' (a person who did not stay in one place for very long). It seems that as work became harder to find, he adopted a nomadic existence as he moved from farm to farm in search of work.

  • He was working in all weathers for 60 hours or more each week on tasks such as cultivating land, undertaking harvesting, caring for livestock, mending hedges, clearing ditches and repairing farm buildings.

There's little doubt that Joseph and Elizabeth were impoverished and living on the road, owning only what they could carry in a hand cart, and sheltering in tied cottages belonging to the farmers for whom Joseph worked. It's likely that their only respite from this unremitting existence came on a Sunday, when best clothes were worn, church was attended, and a wholesome meal was shared before Joseph took himself off to the local tavern.

​Unsurprisingly, given their way of life, Joseph and Elizabeth had only two children. Their son Barnaby Bartlett Lane who moved to London when he was 19 years old, and their daughter Mary Anne Lane who died in Seaton and Beer, east Devon, when she was 30 days old.


At the end of a gruelling life, Joseph died in Chumleigh, north Devon, where he was resident for 1 week, before his demise at the age of 60 years. Elizabeth outlived him by 17 years, and died in Tiverton, east Devon, aged 72 years.


The romantic notion of travelling on the open road through England’s ‘green and pleasant land’ free from society’s constraints, epitomised Joseph and Elizabeth’s lifestyle. In reality though, they may have been shunned as vagrants whose idleness failed to keep themselves and their children decently clothed, clean, healthy and well-fed.


The Footloose Farmer


​Born of less than noble creed

life was very harsh indeed

for Joseph every day

as he toiled for meagre pay.


​Accepting of his lot in life

with a dutiful wife

Joseph was unhealthy

and at the mercy of the wealthy.


​Yet when all is said and done

against the odds he won

the battle to survive

for future generations to thrive.


© Mel Hamson, 2012


​Note: If you would like to know more, or have information that improves this history, we would love to hear from you.

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