My great-great grandfather first appears in the records in 1848, when on 6th April of that year, he married Elizabeth Dobson, in St Peter’s, the parish church of Maer. James, recorded as James Maddocks, was about 26 and Elizabeth, the daughter of John Dobson, about four years younger than him. Even now, he does not come wholly out of the mysteries, for the marriage certificate unusually omits both his trade and his residence. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is recorded as living in the parish of Madeley. Their son, George Maddocks, was born in Madeley on 1 June 1850, at which point his father is recorded as a labourer.
However, it would appear that the marriage was not a success for on 18 February 1856, James married Ann Williamson at St Margaret’s, the parish church of Wolstanton in Staffordshire. This time he used the name James Griffiths and there is probably a very simple reason for this – Elizabeth, his first wife was still alive. It is not impossible that the couple divorced but hugely unlikely since the time and expense needed to secure a divorce was beyond most people. In practice, a quiet disappearance was not unusual. (The custom of “wife-selling”, referred to in Thomas Hardy’s novel, “The Mayor of Casterbridge” was a genuine custom serving as an alternative to divorce, although the “purchaser” was the wife’s accepted lover and not, as in the novel, a casual passer-by.)
Although both James and Ann claimed to be living in Knutton, this may have been, like many residences on marriage certificates, something of a fiction – certainly, I have seen marriages in this area of people who lived both before and after in Cheshire, as if North Staffordshire was just far enough away to be married with no questions asked or relatives protesting.
Ann Williamson had been born in Wrenbury, Cheshire, in about 1832. Her father, Samuel Williamson, was a shoemaker, while his father, James Williamson, had also been a shoemaker. There is a persistent story in the Griffiths family of a lost fortune and Ann’s grandfather James is one possible source of this story. James had died in 1845 and had left his properties at Burland to his children. He had owned four cottages, a smithy and a further plot of land and each was to go to a different son or daughter. Unfortunately, there was one more child than things that could be bequeathed and in addition, James owed his sister the sum of £20. To pay off his sister, and to make up a monetary bequest to the children of his deceased son John, the inheritors were each to pay a sum of money to the trustees of their father’s estate, ranging from £15 to £25. It should be noted that £20 in 1845 is worth something like £1,440 now and would have taken several months to earn. Ann’s father, Samuel, for instance, was to have inherited a cottage and land at Burland but was supposed to pay the trustees £25. In the event, it seems likely that the estate was not broken up for when James’ daughter Hannah (by then Hannah Burgess) died in 1889, she left four cottages, their gardens and a smithy – which sounds exactly like her father’s estate. I guess that Hannah’s husband bought out the others’ share, but this could have gone down in family story as something they had no real choice in and so felt resentment over.