You are here: Desborough Study > Stories > John Letts

John Letts

some detective work ...

... and a theory

Some people are just plain hard to find in the censuses.

In 1851 John Letts was an innkeeper at Haselbech (a.k.a. Haselbeech, Haslebeech, Haselbeach, Hazelbeech, etc) but the local census merely remarks "husband absent" above the name of his wife Lucy.

He was eventually found to be visiting an inn in Fazeley, Staffordshire, half-hidden under the name "John Litts". Was it his accent or was it just that the enumerator couldn't read his own writing? No matter, a small puzzle had been cracked.

It did beg another question, though. What was John doing in Staffordshire?

One of his descendants, Jean Buswell, began to investigate ...

I searched all the households in Atherstone Street, Fazeley in 1851 and only one is a pub. The Plough & Harrow Inn, a coaching inn, was built 300 years ago and is still in use.

A bit of research produced the following information about Fazeley from John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72)

"Fairs are held on the second Monday of Jan., Feb., April, Sep., and Dec.; on the third Monday of July, Aug., and Nov.; on the last Monday of March, May, and June; and on the first Monday after Old Michaelmas."

The 1851 census was taken on 30th March, a Sunday, so could he have been there for the fair the following day, 31 March?

Fazeley, on the outskirts of Tamworth, is 38 miles from Haselbech by the shortest route. Why go to Fazeley and not to a market or fair closer to home? Interestingly, all the other men staying at the Fazeley inn that night were drovers.

What is so special about Fazeley/Tamworth fairs?

"The Tamworth breed pig originated in Sir Robert Peel's Drayton Manor Estate at Tamworth, Staffordshire, after the existing herd was interbred from 1812 with pigs from Ireland known as 'Irish Grazers', that Peel had seen in Ireland in 1809. Much of the improvement of the breed took place in Staffordshire and also in the counties of Warwick, Leicester and Northampton, England. The breed appears among the least interbred with non-European breeds, and therefore one of the closest to the original European forest swine." (last visited Apr. 29, 2010).

On the 1851 census John was recorded as just an Innkeeper, but on the 1861 census, he was a Licensed Victualler and Farmer. So that's my theory. He was going to buy Tamworth pigs!

Jean Buswell


top of page