William Joseph Beadsworth

Name William Joseph Beadsworth
Corps Northamptonshire Regiment, 7th Battalion
Rank Corporal
Service No. 15858
Date/Place of entry September 1914 Northampton
Date of death 31 July 1917
Memorial/Grave Menin Gate, Ypres

William Joseph Beadsworth was born in Bethnal Green in London’s East End in 1898. His father William was born in Leicester and descended , as was the Cottingham family, from the Drayton Beadsworths. William senior was therefore second cousin to the Cottingham Beadsworths and first cousin of Arthur Beadsworth and Alec Slater Beadsworth

William senior was a shoe finisher, as was his father Joseph.  Leicester’s growing shoe trade attracted many people from the rural hinterland to settle there from the 1820s onwards. In 1828 there were 58 boot and shoemakers established there but within seven years this grew to 119. In these early years  shoemaking was done by hand, almost always in the family home; existing  factories  put out the work and operated pretty much as a distribution centre.

Machine methods of shoemaking were introduced from the 1850s, pointing the way to factory production. While in the country at large the number of people employed in shoemaking started to shrink in this decade, in Leicester the number rose from 1,393 to 2,741. By 1861 40 per thousand of the population of Leicester were employed in the industry. It was nevertheless still less important than Northampton, which employed 152 per thousand. By 1871 the total number of workers employed in the industry at Leicester was about 11,000.

Finishers were generally considered the lowest tier of worker in the shoe industry. Finishers worked with burnishing and other irons heated by gas flames, usually in cramped conditions. It was not a healthy occupation. 

In 1893 there was a serious recession in the trade and most factories in Leicester and Northampton were on half time working.  William however had already moved on, though not to a more salubrious location.  In 1888 he got married in Bethnal Green where shoemaking was one of the local industries, though not the most significant. His bride was Emma Hooker, one of several children of a woodcarver living in a dismal area known as the Old Nichol, twenty narrow streets of terraced houses squashed between Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green. There were seventy four shoemakers there in 1890. The Old Nichol was generally considered to be the worst slum of the East End. The area was razed shortly afterwards and replaced by Britain’s first ever council housing development, the Boundary Estate.

William and Emma were living in Durant Street in 1891 and stayed in the area until the end of the decade. Durant Street is close to Spitalfields and is nowadays a highly desirable address but in Charles Booth’s famous Survey into Life and Labour in London (1886-1903) he called it one of the worst streets in the area, ‘due to immigration of thieves, prostitutes and bullies.’  There were only two licensed grocers in the area but innumerable pubs and beerhouses.  A short distance away in Cyprus Street lived another shoe worker, Arthur Eagle Maydwell from Cottingham. Arthur was a clicker, one of the more skilled - and best paid – occupations of the trade. A clicker cut out the leather for the various parts of the shoe.  He seems to have learned his trade in Leicester St Margaret’s before moving to Bethnal Green.

Five children were born to William and Emma Beadsworth in Bethnal Green including William Joseph in the spring of 1897; one son died in infancy. By 1900 they had moved to Northampton where four more children were born. William carried on working as a finisher and the family lived in a five-room house on Moulton Road, KIngsthorpe.
In 1911 fourteen year old William Joseph was working as a clicker. Three years later, within weeks of the war beginning, he enlisted in the newly formed 7th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment. The 7th was a Kitchener New Army battalion and formed part of the 73rd Brigade in 24th Division. William Joseph must have shown some aptitude as he was promoted lance corporal the following January. 

The Battalion arrived in France under the Fifth Army on 2nd September 1915 and was almost immediately sent into action at Loos. It then fought on the Somme through 1916 and at Vimy Ridge early in 1917. William was made a full corporal on 26 January 1916 but was away from the action for part of the year. He was admitted twice for fever to Rouen and returned to England on furlough on 25 August for treatment for an undescended testicle. He rejoined in October but may have been posted to the 3rd Battalion – his service record is far from clear – before returning to the 7th at the end of April 1917.

31st July was the first day of the 1917 Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Pilckem Ridge. The Fifth Army went into action against the German army to the north-east and east of Ypres at 3.50am following an enormous artillery bombardment. Initially it made progress but the German counter attack in persistent and heavy rain during the afternoon forced a partial withdrawal. According to the Soldiers Died in the Great War index William Joseph was in the 7th Battalion A company when he was killed in action that day. He was just twenty years old. His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres. It wasn’t until 4 September that his father was notified.

He appears to be the only member of his immediate family who lost his life during the war. His father died in 1935, and his mother Emma in 1924.

Including William Joseph there are only six men named Beadsworth listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for the First World War. All but one of them were descended from William and Alice Beesworth of Drayton and Bringhurst, and were therefore second cousins of the Cottingham branch. Harry, Charles Edward, William Joseph, Arthur and Alec Slater Beadsworth. The remaining soldier listed on the website, Thomas Storey Beadsworth, was descended from a Beadsworth family of Uppingham and so highly likely to be a distant relative.