Clark & Emily Dring

A runaway marriage?

Life in Nottingham

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A Runaway Marriage?

My maternal great grandfather Clark Dring was the eldest son of John Woolston Dring, Land Bailiff of Somersham in Huntingdonshire. From about the age of 4 or 5 until he was 12 or 13 he attended a school but no doubt helped his father on the farm at other times. On leaving school, he became a farm labourer working, together with his cousins Woolston and George, for his father, at Warner’s Farm. In August 1869 he joined the Ely Constabulary and in 1871, when he and Emily Mary Hill decided to marry, he was a police constable living in Newn Lane, Ely, approximately 12 miles from his parents’ home in Somersham.  

Emily Dring nee Hill  undated but possibly 1870s.Emily was the daughter of Ely police sergeant William Frederick Hill and his wife Sarah. Her father was the son of a Westminster solicitor (William Hill) and had joined the Ely police force in June 1843.  W. F. Hill was one of the first 100 police constables appointed (Warrant No. 86) following the establishment of the  Ely Constabulary in July 1841.  He was promoted to sergeant in or about 1848 and this was the rank he retained throughout his police career. He married Sarah daughter of local landlord John Hall and his wife Mary (nee Dearsley), at St. Mary’s, Ely, on the 23 November 1847.  After living a year or two in Ely, where their children Frederick (b. 1848) and Louisa (b1852) were born, they moved to Sutton-in-the-Isle, a fenland village 9 miles from the centre of the city of Ely, and 7.5 miles from Chatteris, possibly as a result of William being posted there.  It was in Sutton that my great grandmother Emily was born in 1854 but sometime during the following 5 years the family returned to Ely.  There the family increased again with the births of William John in 1859 and Mary E(mily) in 1861.  Sometime prior to April 1871, the family moved to Whittlesey near Peterborough but may not have remained there long for William was "superannuated" on the 13th of February 1872.  In 1881, he and his wife were living in Chapel Street, Ely when the census enumerator called recorded the household of William F. Hill, “Sergeant of police retired”.

Houses in Chapel Street, Ely, Cambridgeshire. This is the street on which  William F  & Sarah Hill  lived in 1881.

Constable Clark Dring had evidently made a favourable impression on his sergeant’s young daughter but whether or not Sergeant Hill favoured their marriage is less certain.  Clark resigned from the Ely Constabulary on 4th December 1871 and just under a fortnight later, he and Emily were married  in Independent Congregational Chapel at Whittlesey. 

Methodist Chapel, Whittelsey, Cambridgeshire.Clark Dring was then 27 years old and the marriage certificate suggests that Emily was 19. However, to the Census Officers who called at their Nottingham home, Emily gave her age as 24 in 1881 and 36 in 1891.  In fact, she was born in Sutton, Isle of Ely, on 5th July 1854 and was therefore 17½ years old when she married Clark Dring.  Thus the “family legend” that the marriage was opposed by her father and the couple ran away to get married, may be true.   However, Emily was living with her parents in Peterborough End, Whittlesey, when they married[1] and Clark too may have lived there earlier that year for  a “John Clark Dring, aged 27, Police Constable 2nd Class -born on water!![2]” was recorded as lodging with Eliza Storey on Almshouse Street, Whittlesey St. Mary, when the Census was taken.  Could it have been my Great Grandfather?  The age, occupation and most of the name are the same but if it was, why was his place of birth given as “on the water” ?  Could Clark have been there, without his future father-in-law’s knowledge, to meet with and propose to his future wife?

We may never know the answer to this but the fact is that when Clark and Emily married Clark gave his address as Newn Lane, Ely and it may simply be that, like his father-in-law, the Constabulary had posted him to Whittlesey for a short period. However, only one Clark Dring birth and one Clark Dring death was registered between 1837 and 1920 and only one Clark Dring joined the Ely Constabulary in the same period. If it was the same man, why the difference in his stated place of birth?  This still doesn’t mean that the family legend is correct for the most obvious reason for them choosing to get married in Whittlesey, is that that was where the bride lived. Perhaps they were, after all, married with the approval of Emily’s parents. However, it is hard to reconcile this possibility with what happened subsequently - Clark and Emily’s flight to London with Clark exchanging the pay and status of a police constable for that of a railway porter.[3][4].

A New Life in London

Immediately after the marriage, Clark and Emily Dring moved to 4 Cambria Road, Brixton, London where their first child Victor Clark was born on 1st November 1872.   On the 9th December, the birth  was registered by his father who gave his address as 18 Vining Street, Brixton.  Clark had evidently given up his career in the police force and become a railway porter and this is perhaps another indication that theirs was a runaway marriage.   Why they chose to go to Brixton is not known –perhaps they had relatives or friends there?

Sometime before February 1876 and possibly when Clark started work for the Great Northern Railway Company in 1874 or following his promotion to railway guard in 1875, the family moved North to a new home in Carlton, Nottingham. 

Market Place, Nottingham about 1900


[1] Census of England & Wales 1871 PRO RG10 /1612  fo. 51 page 1. Whittlesey St. Andrews, Isle of Ely.

[2] Census of England & Wales 1871 PRO RG10 /1612  fo. ?  page 2. Whittlesey St. Mary, Isle of Ely

[3]Cambridgeshire Record Office CRO 370/89: Ely Constabulary, Summary Personnel Register Sheet   1841-1872

[4] Index of Births, Marriages & Deaths registered in England 1837 to 1920  FreeBMD http://www.freebmd.org.uk/ 

Life in Nottingham
Carlton-in-the-Willows, Nottingham, was an old township separated from the neighbouring hamlet of Netherfield by the line of the Midland Railway.  When Clark and Emily arrived there, it was a rapidly growing railway settlement whose growth had been boosted by the building of the Great Northern Railway Company loco depot nearby in 1873.

St. Pauls, Carlton, Nottingham where many of Clark Dring's family and descendants are buried. With a home and a steady income they soon settled in  and  in February 1876 the birth of my Grandfather, William Oliver Dring provided a brother for young Victor.  This was followed just over a year by a sister for the two boys, Sarah Elizabeth.   Sadly, the children shared but a few years for in 1879, Clark and Emily’s, Brixton born, first child, Victor Clark Dring, died in his 7th year.

In 1881, railway guard Clark Dring’s growing family lived at 84 Broadhurst Buildings, Carlton and 5 year old William and his sister were already going to school.  We know very little about their lives at this time but a railway accident provides an insight into Clark’s daily work.

 At about 8.10 p.m., on the 23rd June 1881, a GNR excursion train, returning from Skegness to Nottingham, was approaching Wainfleet station when the whole train, with the exception of the engine and tender, left the rails, and ran 157 yards before coming to a standstill.  None of the carriages in the train were upset, and the damage to rolling stock was very slight, though the rails of the permanent way were thrown out for over 100 yards.  None of the passengers were injured but 6 complained of being shaken. The line from Firsby to Skegness is a single line and Wainfleet station is situated about 4.75 miles from the terminus at Skegness. 

In giving evidence to the Board of Trade Enquiry,  Clark Dring said:   

I have been seven years in the service and about six years as a goods guard. I was in charge of the train and was travelling in the rear break; it was a third class carriage break. There was no one in the front carriage break. The train was made up as follows: engine and tender, second-class break carriage, two composite, one third-class, one composite, one third-class, one composite and two third-class carriages and a third-class break carriage.    

Train in full steam about 1900.We left Skegness at 8 p.m. right time. We were due at Wainfleet at 8.10, and were running nearly to time, not before time. I estimate the speed on passing the distant signal at about 18 miles-an-hour. I was looking out ahead through my dome light and saw some of the carriages near the front of the train pitching about and oscillating. I am sure that one of the front vehicles left the rails first, although I cannot be certain that it was the leading vehicle of all. As far as I could see, they were off towards the inside of the curve. I am certain that my carriage did not leave the rails until after those in front of the train. Inspector Judson was riding in my break compartment. The train pulled up within a few yards of where my break carriage left the rails.  

After we stopped I got out.  All the vehicles in the train was off; but none were upset. I did not observe exactly how the wheels were standing. There were a considerable number of passengers. Two or three complained of being shaken. I went back to protect my train but I did not examine the road.  The front rail was thrown out on the right-hand-side. The accident happened at 8.10 p.m. There were no couplings broken and no damage to the train to speak of. Steam was shut off just before coming to the distant signal. I saw the driver apply the break between the distant signal and the gate house. I felt the blocks grinding on my van before the accident took place. 

No blame seems to have been attached to Clark for this accident but it may be significant that in the Census Returns for 1891 his occupation was recorded as "guard -goods train".

Railway employees enjoyed a number of "perks" amongst them free rail travel and it is interesting to  think that Clark's family may have been able to go the seaside occasionally even if only for a day.  Of course they may also have used this "perk" to visit relatives in Huntingdonshire from time to time but if they did we have no record of it.

Sometime before 1891 Clark and Emily Dring moved to number 4 Godfrey Street, Carlton, perhaps to provide room for their family which by then had increased to seven with the births of Harry, Kate, Charles  and Fred.  The family would have been larger still had it not been for the death of their daughter Gertrude, at the age of 4 months, in 1887.  In 1893 another son, Horace, was born and all seemed well but within four years Clark Dring (my Great Grandfather) was dead having been killed by cancer at the relatively early age of 53. 

Raising such a large family on only a railway guard’s wages life cannot have been easy but the situation following her husband’s death, must have been very much difficult indeed, though the earnings of Emily's older children would have helped. In 1901 for example, of her 6 children still living at home, 3 were working and furthermore, the household also included Polly, wife of Emily's son Harry and she too may have contributed something to family income. At sometime in the 1890s, the family changed home again, this time moving to a house on Dunstan Street, Carlton and by the late 90s, Emily's sons and daughters were reaching the age at which they naturally wanted to leave home and establish their own families.  Her eldest surviving son, William Oliver, married his first wife in 1896, his brother Harry married Polly  four years later and over the next few years John Woolston (1902) and Fred (1903*) followed their example.

With her children leaving home, Emily, still only 49 years old, decided to get married again and in October1902 married, 54 year old widower, John William Clayton, a railway worker living on Foxhill Lane, Carlton, in the Charles Street Baptist Chapel, Netherfield.  After the 1st World War, she lived on Chesterfield Street, Carlton and it was there that her grandson Wally used to visit her as a young lad. Wally's cousin Hilda,  my mother, also used to visit her and was terrified of her. She described her grandmother as "like Queen Victoria with her hair drawn back" and  as “sitting in a rocking chair with her back very straight and dressed in black -a very imposing woman with a deep voice.  Sadly, Emily was to outlive, not only two husbands but also all her sons and suffered much grief.  My mother recalled how bitterly her grandmother had wept at the funeral of her eldest son, my grandfather, in 1937. 

In the 1930s and until she died, Emily seems to have had no home of her own but to have lived for three or four months of the year with one or other of her children’s families in turn.  Following the death of  my grandfather, she wasn't always treated very kindly by the members of her family with whom she stayed.  My mother recalled how her mother would ignore her mother-in-law (my great grandmother) even with regard to simple acts of hospitality like making her a cup of tea -her temporary guest was out of sight and out of mind in the front parlour!        Great grandmother Emily Clayton died aged 86, at Gladstone Street, Nottingham, in or about 1942 and I suspect that when she knew her end was near she welcomed it as a blessed release..