The Miller's Daughter from 'Blue Mills'
Jessie Staniland Dixon (1865-1933)
Milling and farming heritage
Jessie Staniland Dixon was born on 26 January 1865 in Blue Mills1
, a mill house on the edge of the village of Witham, Essex. She was the
eldest of four daughters of Thomas Butler
(1836-1905) who was born in Wickham Bishops, Essex. Her
father was a master miller and farmer of 89 acres. Jessie's father took over the corn milling and
farming businesses from his corn-dealer father Robert Walker Dixon 1st
in 1858, and by
1881 was employing 14 men and three boys.2
Jessie's mother, Sarah Hannah Stocks
, was born in Leeds
in 1839 and at 24 married her father in 1863 in Selby.
To find out what Witham was like, click Witham in 1851
Blue Mills, Witham (1865-1880)
Jessie lived in Blue Mills
, a water mill opposite Benton Hall
, a nearby manor, until
around 1880, and she would have attended either the National & Infant Schools in Witham or possibly
the British School there. Blue Mills
, or Blue Mill
as it was called in the Domesday
Book of 1086, was one of five water mills (aka Machins Mill
), and still exists today on the same
spot. It is situated on the River Blackwater half a mile downstream from the point where the River
Brain meets the River Blackwater.
Sketch of Blue Mill(s),1979
Blue Mill, or Blue Mills as it became to be known more recently, is thought to have belonged
to one of the two local manors, Blunts Hall or Benton Hall, at
Domesday.3 At that time, the water mills were
retained by the lord of the manor, who would have taken a percentage of the income made from grinding
corn.4 "The mill is one of the Blackwater's
handsomest, with its weather-boarded building standing on a two-arched bridge beside an elegant Georgian
mill house. The mill was last worked in 1895.5 The
building is now Grade-II* listed.
Wickham Bishops (1881)
Jessie's father's businesses prospered and he eventually moved the family out of Witham and into The Mill
House, 4 Mill Road in Wickham Bishops, another small Essex hamlet about three miles east of Blue
Mills. By then, Jessie had three younger sisters: Hannah Mary Dixon (b. 1868), Harriet Dora
Dixon (b. 1871) and eleven-month-old Lucy Kathleen Dixon (b. 1880). The household was run
by one general domestic servant.
Wickham Bishops (1891)
By the time of the England Census of 5 April 1891, Jessie's upwardly mobile and successful father had moved his
family to yet another new home, this time into a house next door to Wickham Place, called The
Chase, a former water mill dating from C18 or earlier, and situated three miles south of Witham. Jessie was
now 26 and still single, her father and mother were 55 and 52, respectively, while her sisters Hannah, Harriet
and little Lucy were 23, 20 and 10, respectively, and all unmarried. Jessie's grandmother, Hannah Mary
Staniland, a 78-year-old widow, had moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. The seven-strong household
was being run by an 18-year-old general domestic servant, Lucy Fuller. The building, which later became known
later as Chase House, is now Grade-II* listed.
Two houses up the road at The Place,
2 Mill Road, Wickham Bishops were living Jessie's uncle, Robert Walker Dixon 2nd (47) and his wife
Susan Goodman (50) and their family of three children Harold (21), a Cambridge University medical
student, Hugh (19), Cambridge undergraduate, and Rolls (18) a trainee gardener. Jessie's uncle farmed 130 acres
and employed 6 men.
Jessie Staniland Dixon
Photo: Madeleine Swithenbank
Chapel-Allerton, Leeds (1898)
By 1898, Jessie had moved to Norfolk House
, Chapel-Allerton, Leeds, Yorkshire, where she lived prior to
her marriage to James Swithenbank
(1863-1910), a cloth manufacturer like his father6
, from Ossett, Yorkshire. By 1881, James's father was employing 175 people in
his cloth manufacturing business which was clearly a female-dominated industry judging from the workforce,
which comprised 19 boys, 37 men and 119 women. James Swithenbank's pre-marriage address was 11 Westfield
'Blue Mills' girl weds owner of 'Bank Low Mills' (1898)
Dixon (33), the girl from Blue Mills married James Swithenbank 4th (35) of Bank Low
Mills in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Chapel-Allerton on 13 September 1898, according to the rites and
ceremonies of the Wesleyan Methodists, and in the presence of Edward Coborn Martin, the Methodist Minister who also
officiated at their wedding, and Margaret Wilson.
"Grandma married James Swithenbank for some unknown reason; I think she was the 'dark horse' of
the family. Granddad was a cloth manufacturer and also a Methodist
Jessie Staniland Dixon (ca. 1909)
Photo: Madeleine Swithenbank
James Swithenbank 4th
: Wesleyan Chapel, Chapel-Allerton, Leeds
(built Dec 1884, demolished late 1970s)
Ossett's clothing and rag trade
For further details about the clothing and rag trade industry, click Ossett's Clothing and Rag Trade 1800-1899
website compiled by Stephen Wilson.
Chapel-Allerton, Leeds (1901)
In 1901, Jessie and James Swithenbank were living at 9 Slainbeck Lane, Chapel-Allerton, Leeds, with a
26-year-old domestic servant called Theresa Jackson running the household for them. James was an employer in
the clothing industry and almost certainly took over father's manufacturing business at Bank Low
after his father died in March 1899 until at least 1907.
Second marriage, Cornwall (1926)
Sixteen years after James
Swithenbank 4th passed away aged 47, 61-year-old Jessie married 50-year-old bachelor Charles Marshall
Thomas, an optician from Penryn. The couple were married in St Nonna Parish Church, Altarnun,
Launceston, Cornwall, on 18 September 1926, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Anglican (illegible)
Church. Jessie's father, Thomas Butler Dixon, had died in 1905 and John Marshall
Thomas had died in March of the preceding year (1925) aged 76 at Market Street, Penryn, so
neither father were at Jessie's second wedding.
Death of first son
1926 was also the year in which Jessie saw the tragic loss of her first-born child, James Staniland
Swithenbank, by her first marriage. He died of a brain tumour at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital
in Exeter on 4 October 1926, in the prime of his life aged just 25. His profession was "motor lorry driver".
His brother Kenneth Swithenbank, of Browfoot, Staveley, Kendal, Westmorland, was present. James's last
address was 6 Carmarthen Terrace, Camborne.
Scorrier & Falmouth (1929-1933)
Jessie Staniland Marshall-Thomas9, as she had
now become, was living in a house called Reen in Scorrier in 1929.10 Concurrently, Jessie and Charles had a second house in Falmouth called
Condora in Gyllyngvase Terrace, Falmouth, close to Gyllyngvase Beach.
Jessie gave birth to James Staniland Swithenbank in
Leeds, Yorkshire in September 1901 and later to Kenneth Butler Swithenbank on 31 May 1905 in Roundhay, Leeds.
James Swithenbank (L) and Kenneth Swithenbank
Park View Crescent, Roundhay (1905-1907)
private address (and therefore Jessie's) is given as Park View Crescent, Roundhay, Leeds, from 1905 until 1907,
in the British Phone Books (1880-1984), telephone no. Roundhay 156, which records also confirm that he was a
Jessie's life after 1909
The following list shows that Jessie
and James Swithenbank moved several times and even had two addresses concurrently, one in Leeds and one in
Falmouth. Clearly, the move to Falmouth took place around 1910 contemporaneous with her husband's retirement.
1910: Ladywood Road, Roundhay, Leeds (Roundhay 119); note same digits as Falmouth
1910: 'Wickham', Falmouth (Tel: Falmouth 119); named after 'Wickham Bishops', near Jessie's birthplace
1911: 8 Gyllyngvase Terrace, Falmouth (Tel: Falmouth 119)
1912: Mrs James Swithenbank, 'Wickham' Falmouth (Tel: Falmouth 119)
Marriage of first son (1924)
Jessie's first son, James Staniland Swithenbank, a 24-year-old a motor-car
driver, married 26-year-old Harriett Williams, the daughter of a Cornish miner, on
22 November 1924 at the Wesleyan Chapel in Camborne, Redruth, Cornwall. They married by
certificate according to the rites and ceremonies of the Wesleyan Methodists. The bride and bridegroom's
fathers were both deceased.
Charles Marshall-Thomas was one of three witnesses to the marriage, which means that
Jessie and Charles Marshall-Thomas would have known one another at least two years before they married. James
and Harriett lived at 6 Carmarthen Road, Camborne [MC].
Travel and hobbies (1910-1926)
James Swithenbank died on 5 November 1910, aged 47, from chronic nephritis, at 'Wickham', Gyllyngvase Terrace,
Falmouth (which later became Condora), in the presence of Jessie. After his death, "Jessie travelled
quite extensively, I believe, with Aunty Stocks (Lucy). Jessie also liked to paint, although
unfortunately I haven't any of her paintings".8 No evidence
of her travels has yet been found in the genealogical records. Nevertheless, her husband James almost certainly
left her with more than sufficient funds to enable her to remain a lady of independent means for the next 16
Zimapan, Scorrier (1930-1932)
On 20 August
1930, Jessie and Charles Marshall-Thomas bought another house, this time Zimapan Villa, from Walter
Parsons Thomas who was selling up and returning to live in Holyhead, Anglesey, north Wales, to be near his children
and grandchildren. The couple's telephone entries for their other house in Scorrier, Reen, were discontinued
after 1929, so it can be safely assumed that they had sold off Reen, probably using the revenue
from the sale as part payment of the purchase price of Zimapan Villa. Alternatively, they may have
returned Reen to its landlord if they had been renting the house while looking around for a suitable
property to buy.
Little is known about what Jessie and Charles did in the two years (23 months)
they owned Zimapan Villa, or who they invited down to visit or holiday there with them.
Jessie and Charles paid former accountant, Walter Parsons Thomas, £500 for the house and
land. To cover the cost, they took out a mortgage of £350 on the property, borrowing from the Abbey
Road Building Society. Variously described as "joint owners in trust", "estate owners of the property", and
"joint tenants beneficially" of Zimapan Villa, they invested £150 of their own capital in the
Jessie's correspondence (1930)
However, some inkling is given
in one of her letters written five months before they bought Zimapan Villa. On 25 March 1930, Jessie wrote
to her son Kenneth and her daughter-in-law Florence Helen Long, addressing him as "My dear Boy" (although he was 25
years old!), describing renovation work they were carrying out in Condora, Falmouth. Apparently the
wallpaper that Jessie had put up herself years ago had become "shabby...after all those years", suggesting that the
house had been in her possession before her marriage to Charles.
Convalescing in Altarnun (1930)
She also wrote that she was recovering from an illness at a farm in Altarnun, 50 miles from Falmouth
(the distance was spot on), the village where she and Charles had married four years earlier, and that she
still needed 15 hours sleep a night. She proposed meeting her son and daughter-in-law, Kenneth and Florence,
"somewhere between Cornwall and Lancaster" [ed. 404 miles] as a compromise, as travelling was an issue for
Jessie given her recent illness and incomplete recovery, although she felt she could manage four days of
travelling at 50 miles per day.
Transcript of letter No. 1
To: Mr and Mrs K. Swithenbank
59 Lune Road
March 25 1930
My dear Boy,
I write you both in this letter (p.1) &
hope you will be able to make it out written in pencil, but I am having a
rest at the lovely farm where I was married or rather near the church. I
don't get up until 11 A.M. and go to bed at 8, but am very much better.
Auntie Stocks wants me to go to Leeds, but am not equal to the journey. This
place is 50 miles from Falmouth & I was not overtired & return
home tomorrow. A new calf arrived here last night and a hen was set the
first one (?). It has been a long winter, but not cold. No doubt your busy
time will be coming on at the garage at Easter. Would it be possible for you
both to meet us somewhere on the way from Cornwall to Lancaster, that is if
you can ('t) spare time to come all the way down. Wells, Glastonbury,
Shepton Mallet are all on the way & Bristol. Let us know for I could
manage say 50 miles a day & come 200 miles. Lancaster is not so far
north as Windermere, is it? We are rubbing along as usual. There was a heap
to do to Condora (p. 2)
as you may imagine after all the years and the same wallpapers were on
that I had put up. Shabby was not the word for them. There were jobs to do
but of course (?), no buses, char-a-bancs or cars, farm carts, woodpeckers
& birds of all sorts. Do you remember Mrs Hoare? I do not know if they
are alive or not. Now I must close.
Much Love as ever to both,
Mother X X X X X X X X
Letter courtesy of Madeleine Swithenbank.
Jessie's writes from Zimapan (Christmas
By the end of 1930, it appears from Jessie's letter Christmas letter written from
Zimapan that Kenneth and Florence Swithenbank were planning to move to Cornwall from Lancaster, so that
they could be near to Jessie, probably out of concern for her recent illness that March. However, the couple had
not moved by Christmas, possibly on account of the bad weather to which Jessie alludes.
Transcript of letter No.
To: Mr & Mrs K. Swithenbank
59 Lune Road
My dear Children,12
We have been anticipating for a long time
to hear that you were coming to Cornwall. Evidently the weather has prevented
you and it will be very delightful when Spring comes. So far we have had no
snow, frost or [word illegible]. It is just possible that we may be going
North13 early in the year
and when everything is fixed will let you know. It will certainly not be during
the first week in January. Weather, roads and other things [ed. have to be]
considering. How are you both? Kenneth14 always expects to receive a calendar from
Mother. Mrs Thomas15 is
very poorly, so that may prevent our early departure. And we have to be within
calling [ed. distance] when she is ill. 8 miles.
Many ... [word illegible] wishes & love
X X X X X X X X X From Mother
Letter courtesy of Madeleine Swithenbank.
Jessie and Charles sell Zimapan (1932)
On 19 July 1932, Jessie and Charles Marshall-Thomas sold the jointly-owned house and garden known as
to Lena and William Fairhurst
for £550, giving them a £50 profit before
conveyancing and mortgage-related costs. See also The 1932 Conveyance
Jessie's last days (1932-1933)
Jessie and Charles moved back into their principal residence, Condora
in Falmouth. Eleven months
later, Jessie died at her home in Falmouth on 11 June 1933 aged 68, of a mediastinal tumour (probably sarcoma)
and valvular disease of the heart, as certified by the J. M. Blarney M.D. Her husband Charles was present when
she passed away. No post-mortem.16
Charles returns to Penryn
After Jessie died, Charles Marshall-Thomas sold Condora and returned to the town of his birth to
live his last years in 80 Helston Road, Penryn. Charles Marshall-Thomas died in Dolvean Nursing
Home in Falmouth, on 28 August 1935, of carcinoma of the pancreas, just three years following Jessie.
Charles's stepson, Kenneth Butler Swithenbank, notified the authorities of Charles's death and a
Lamanova Budock was in attendance.17
1. BC 10 Feb 1865, Witham. Referred to in older documents as Blue Mill.
2. The 1881 England Census.
3. Janet Gyford, Domesday Witham, 1985.
4. Janet Gyford, Domesday Witham, 1985.
5. From Down the Chelmer and up the Blackwater, by Vernon and Joan Clarke of the
Foxearth and District Local History Society, 1979.
6. Marriage certificate of JSD and JS.
7. Madeleine Swithenbank, granddaughter of James Swithenbank 4th. 2010.
8. Madeleine Swithenbank.
9. The words Marshall and Thomas were originally unhyphenated; hyphenation
sometimes added later, presumably because a double-barrelled name added a certain prestige to the family
10. British Phone Books, 1929.
11. Abstract of the Title of Mrs Daisy May Aberdeen to freehold property known as
Zimapan Villa, Tregullow, Scorrier, Redruth in the County of Cornwall 2 September 1944. Document with
12. "Jessie was writing to my parents, Kenneth Butler Swithenbank and his wife
Florence Helen Long". Madeleine Swithenbank, 2010.
13. Probably to see Aunty Stocks in Leeds. Madeleine Swithenbank, Jul
14. Jessie's son (KBS) by her first marriage to James Swithenbank 4th.
15. Charles Marshall-Thomas's mother, Emma Sly.
16. Death certificate, 12 June 1933, Falmouth, Cornwall.
17. Death certificate, 29 August 1935, Falmouth, Cornwall.