A Lost Sole of Mow Cop - Frank Lakin Jepson 1917-70
by Christopher Charles Jepson (1946)

My father's name was Frank Lakin Jepson who was born the son of Frances Elizabeth Jepson (1898) in Mow Cop on 7th May 1917. Francis, better known as 'Lizzie', was the daughter of Charles Lakin Jepson (1874) and Sarah Jane Minnie Jepson (née Wardle) (1874). Charles, a coal miner, and daughter Lizzie, aged 14 at the time of the 1911 Census, and all her siblings were also born in either Mow Cop or Biddulph. This is basically the story of Frank written from what I have managed to ascertain to date. It is a work in progress and, hopefully, may be of interest to your readers and also jog some local memories. Any information that anyone has that would enhance my story would be very much appreciated.

Firstly, before continuing Frank's story, I would like to add a little more about his family, particularly his Grandparents and Uncles and Aunts. I do not need to tell you much about the life and times of working class folk in pre 20th Century Britain, other than to say that survival was a miracle; even more so if you were a coal miner or from a coal mining family. Charles and Sarah had a total of twelve children. Three of these children died at or soon after birth, one died at the age of three and a fifth child died in her teenage years. There were seven survivors; four girls and three boys. Lizzie was the second oldest.

(Photo left is Frank taken in 1940 aged 22)

In the 1950's, when I was a young lad, no more than nine years old, my father, Frank, would occasionally take me to visit some of his Uncles and Aunts. They would sometimes give me 'two shillings' or 'half a crown' and on some occasions I would return home with as much as 'seven bob' which I would always give to my mother. We were also a poor working class family that needed every penny available to survive. I remember the names of Uncle Charlie (Charles Wardle Jepson -1905), Uncle Teddy (Hugh Bourne Jepson - 1907), Auntie Kath (Kathleen Ivy Jepson - 1910) and Uncle Chris (Christopher Maxfield - 1907 -Kath's husband). Hugh Bourne being nick named 'Teddy' is a strange one. It would appear that the family were 'Methodists' and his parents, Charles and Sarah, decided to name him after the famous Mow Cop Methodist Preacher 'Hugh Bourne'. It is thought that young Hugh Jepson had more respect for Edwin 'Teddy' Clark who ran the choir at the Wesleyan Chapel and decided that he would also go by the name of Teddy.

Returning to my Dad's story - Frank Lakin Jepson, as you may well have already guessed, was born illegitimate. His Birth Certificate did not name the father. As Frank’s second Christian name was ‘Lakin’, I had given the idea of his father’s surname also being ‘Lakin’ some serious consideration. It was not uncommon for a mother to name her illegitimate child with the father’s surname in his title. There had been many Lakin’s in the area where Frank had been born and at one stage, when building the family tree, I did consider the option of Frank’s father being, believe it or not, a milkman by the name of Arthur Lakin.  Had it of been true it would have given new meaning to the well know saying - 'your father was the milkman'. After further research, however, I did discover that the name 'Lakin' was, indeed, born out of an illegitimate situation but not that of my father's. A third great grandmother of mine had also been born out of wedlock and some date soon after her birth her mother married a Charles Lakin. Hence the Christian name 'Lakin' being passed down through the family to both Lizzie's father and to her son Frank.  

The shame of his been ‘base born’ was something that would trouble Frank for the rest of his life.

Frank was baptised at the Wesleyan Methodist Church at Hillside, Mow Cop on 23rd May 1917. The Staffordshire Archives confirm that his parents had been ‘Elizabeth Jepson of Mow Cop and one ‘Joseph Sherwin’ (1897) from Packmoor, Newchapel, Staffordshire.

The 1911 Census confirmed that Joseph Sherwin also aged 14, living at home, in Packmoor, with his parents and two of his nine siblings. The Sherwin home in 1911 had also housed five boarders that worked in a nearby Ironworks. One can only make assumptions of how Lizzie and Joseph met. At the time of Frank’s birth in 1917 Lizzie had been employed as a Domestic Servant. By 1917 Joseph’s parents, now in their twilight years, possibly needed help with the running of their boarding house. One theory is that Frances may have provided that help, and subsequently met and formed a relationship with Joseph. Lizzie’s Uncle Frederick Ernest Jepson (1882), brother to her father Charles Lakin Jepson lived in the same street in Packmoor as the Sherwin's and he may have secured Lizzie employment with the Sherwin’s. Frederick may even have provided Lizzie with Lodgings.

Digressing a little from Frank's story - his Great Uncle Frederick Ernest Jepson had also been born in Mow Cop where he worked in the coal mines. His first three children were also born in Mow Cop. Sometime after the 1911 Census had been taken and before 1920 (possibly 1916) Frederick's first wife, Ann Elizabeth Jepson (née Taylor - 1882), had died.  After her death Frederick moved to Durham where he continued to mine and where he remarried. His second wife, Susannah Biggnall (1885) gave birth to two more children. Frederick married a third time in 1947. The significance of Mow Cop born Frederick Ernest Jepson is that at the age of 68 he was the oldest coal miner to die in the Easington, Durham pit disaster that claimed 83 lives on 29th May 1951

Returning to Frank and his story - strangely, Joseph Sherwin, his father, forsook Lizzie for another woman (an Elizabeth Jane Bateman - 1894). He married this other woman on 3rd May 1917, just four days before the birth of his own son Frank. Joseph however did attend his son’s baptism which was solemnised at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on 23rd May.

In 1920 Lizzie again became pregnant out of wedlock. This time, however, she did marry the father of the expected child thus sparing her family of yet another scandal. Lizzie’s husband to be was a George Ralph Stanway (1898), who, like the Jepson clan was another born and bred Mow Cop coal miner. Lizzie, with son Frank, had lived with her parents and with a number of her siblings prior to the marriage.

Leaving the Jepson abode, even though for new surroundings not too far away from the happy Jepson home, did not go down well with the 3 year old Frank. And the loss of the newly weds first child, a little girl named ‘Jessie’, soon after birth did not help matters either. They were unhappy times. Had Frank have been blessed with a little sister soon after leaving the ‘safe’ Jepson environment then, perhaps, his life may have got off to a much better start than it had. Scars born in childhood can be scars born for life and this proved to be the case for Frank.

From stories told by Frank in latter years, it was not hard to picture that he never formed a good relationship with his stepfather. And even though George and Lizzie had two more children prior to Frank’s eighth birthday he still felt as though he was an outcast and would often run back to his grandparents. He had a considerable fondness for his Granddad, Charles. Aeroplanes were still in their infancy in the early 1920's and Frank was fascinated by them. His Granddad, on one occasion, had told him the story of a plane that had crashed in Mow Cop in the year that Lizzie was born. One of Frank's stories was of day he dragged a tree branch home with the hope that his Granddad would be able to make him an Aeroplane. Unfortunately Granddad saw Frank's asset as something different and cut it up for firewood.

Frank commenced school at Mow Cop Castle County Primary. Here he had to withstand jibes from other children regarding his parentage. The angry young Frank, therefore, grew up with a chip on his shoulder and often prepared to fight to defend his name.

The year 1929, in particular, proved to be an extremely difficult year for the young Frank. In January his grandmother Sarah Jane, who had probably been more of a mother to him than his own mother, died at the age of 55. Then two months later his stepfather and mother decided to ‘up sticks’ and moved to Nottinghamshire, taking Frank with them. So, in the space of just three months the eleven year old boy had experienced the collapse of his world. He had lost his grandmother and was also deprived of his grandfather and all of his ‘Mow Cop’ family with whom he had formed bonding relationships. He had to say goodbye to his Uncles Charlie and Teddy and Auntie Kath. Leaving Kath was a significant loss to him for she was just seven years older than him and more like a big sister than an Aunt.

In 1930, whilst the Stanway's lived in Nottinghamshire, Lizzie and husband George had a fourth child, a son whom they named Arthur. At the time of Arthur’s birth Frank was still only a twelve year old. When asked, Arthur, who was 82 in February 2012, stated that he had little memory of Frank. All he could recall, or believed, was that Frank lived with his grandfather and his grandfather’s family more than he did with him or his mother. This is possibly true for in later years Frank stayed in touch with his Jepson brethren but, with the exception of Arthur, never mentioned the Stanway's. Unfortunately, although Arthur is my Uncle and my Dad's brother, his family do not wish to re-kindle the past and refuse further contact.

Where Frank completed his schooling is unclear. Having moved to Nottinghamshire in 1929 it can only be assumed that he was registered at a school in that county. However, with his track record of running away from home it is also likely that he played truant on many occasion during his final two to three school years.

After leaving school Frank, at some point, became another Jepson Coal Miner. Again from tales told he was quite the strong guy. Stories include carrying hundredweight bags of coal, one on each shoulder and using his back to hold up ceiling props whilst other miners inserted prop shafts. Whether he commenced his coal mining career in Staffordshire or Nottinghamshire is uncertain but the former is thought to be the most likely. Frank often spoke of Mow Cop and Tunstall but never mentioned any Nottinghamshire coalfields.

 In his late teens and twenties Frank had many brushes with the law. It has been said that he and his Uncle Chris (Lizzies sister Kaths husband) were a couple of opportunists who were regularly involved in small time capers. In 1937, at the age of 19, Frank was arrested after allegedly holding up a constable with a loaded revolver in New Mills, Derbyshire. On this occasion Frank was reported to have stolen the gun and cigarettes from a garage. Although not yet clarified, it is understood that this incident did result in Frank serving time.

In July 1940 the Stanways lived at Brown Edge near Melton in Staffordshire which means that at some point prior to that date the family had moved back closer to their roots. Frank, meanwhile, was living in Chatterley, near Tunstall in Staffordshire. The significance of this is that the now 23 year old Frank was no longer in prison and no longer living with his mother. Whether he was released from prison to join the Army is unsure but on the 26th July 1940 Frank was conscripted into the 11th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment at Hereford. With World War II well underway the Army needed every soldier it could muster. Within two months of enlistment, however, he was declared a deserter. Whilst AWOL he was arrested for breaking into and robbing another garage. He was subsequently caught and was charged and sentenced to twenty months hard labour. After just over a month of his prison term he somehow managed to talk himself back into his regiment.

For a full twelve months Private Frank Jepson buckled down to Army life but then, in late December 1941, he went AWOL for the New Year’s Eve period. Nothing exceptional there as many soldiers did the same for New Year celebration However, despite detentions, fines and the threat of further time at His Majesty's pleasure Frank would continue to go AWOL.

On 21st May 1942 Frank was transferred to the Pioneer Corps located at Craven Arms in Shropshire. Whilst there he met his wife to be: Rebecca (Becky) Price. After a short courtship they married in Shrewsbury in September 1942. One month later he, with his regiment, embarked for North Africa.

Frank told very few stories about his time in Africa. Perhaps this was for obvious reasons. One story was of an occasion when he knocked a soldier out of the back of a moving lorry that almost killing him. He had hit the man for being disrespectful of another Staffordshire born soldier’s dubious birth - a subject that, because of his own upbringing, still troubled him immensely. He told stories of scorpions in sleeping bags, snakes in rucksacks, sandstorms, broken down vehicles and much more but never mentioned any conflict with the enemy. His only conflict had been in the boxing ring where he had learned another skill for looking after himself.

In Africa Frank returned to his wandering ways and was AWOL, or had lost his kit, so many times that the Army gave up on him and in October 1943 he was shipped back to England where he would serve out the remainder of the Second World War in prison. Surprisingly his Army Record showed that he was awarded with the African Star. He was released from HM Shrewsbury prison in November 1945.

After his prison sentence Frank returned to wife Becky who, at that time, was living at the home of a sister. Although having married Frank in 1942, Becky had no knowledge of Frank’s past. His turning up on the doorstep in November 1945 had been a complete shock to her. Having not returned home in May 1945 following the end of the war in Europe she did not known whether he was alive or had been killed in battle. Frank had not made contact with her since embarking for North Africa three years earlier.

Frank and Becky moved into their first home at the Grange Lane, near Donnington in Shropshire in 1946. Frank returned to what he knew best which was coal mining at the nearby Grange Pit. In December of that year the couple had their first, a son (me), of eight children and eleven months later came the first daughter. In 1949 the Family moved to a ‘post war’ prefabricated home at Priorslee, near Oakengates in Shropshire. Frank meanwhile continued to work the coal mines. At Priorslee the family was expanded by two more sons.

In 1950, soon after the birth of the second son, Frank again got itchy feet and attempted to return to soldiering with the King Shropshire Light Infantry. Fortunately, for the family at least, the army rejected his application. It can also only be assumed that his war time military record helped scupper this planned escape from family life.

In the early 1950’s Frank developed an abscess near to his inner ear. An operation subsequently followed. Coal mining, it seemed, was beginning to have an adverse effect on his health. As a consequence he had come out of mining and sought employment above ground. In 1953 the family moved to ‘Old Field’, Sibdon, near Craven Arms, the place of Beckys childhood and close to where her mother lived and Frank became a farm labourer.

The family's stay at Old Field lasted a mere five months, during which time the tiny house in which they lived was severely damaged by fire. The family’s next move was to Cubbington in Warwickshire where Frank became a Cowman and his wife, Becky, gave birth to child number five and daughter number two. Again the stay was short, perhaps just over a year, as Frank wanted to return to coal mining. This time the move was closer to his roots in Staffordshire; to Chesterton near Newcastle-under-Lyme. The ‘new home, new baby’ syndrome continued with the birth of child number six and daughter number three in 1955. Unfortunately the ear infection returned and Frank was again forced to look for farm work.

Weston Jones, near Newport in Shropshire was the family’s next move and another Cowman job for Frank. This was another short adventure before moving on to a similar position at ‘The Lye’, near Morville, Bridgnorth, Shropshire.

In 1958, whilst living at The Lye, Frank had a motor cycle accident that would hospitalise him for the biggest part of three years. Initially the hospital stay was for a broken leg. He returned home in plaster but wanted his bike back. Impatiently, he decided to push it home himself from the farm, where he had worked and it had been garaged after the accident.  Having only one good leg proved fatal. He dropped the bike on his plastered leg and did more damage than was done by the original accident. Following another spell in hospital, more pins in his leg and more plaster he again returned home. Unfortunately, this ordeal would trigger a lengthy psychological break down that almost brought the family to its knees. For his wife, Becky, having not long given birth to their seventh child and fourth daughter and who during the same period had lost her mother. It was the most distressing of times. Frank moved through a period of being excessively aggressive towards her to one of being in fear for his own life. The second of these two character changes resulted in a prolonged stay at a psychiatric hospital.

At the time of his accident, Frank had already given notice to the farmer that he had worked for and another farm job back at Craven Arms beckoned. As a consequence of the accident the family would have become homeless had it not been for Becky. She managed to secure a Council House in nearby Monkhopton. Becky swore that this would be her last move with Frank. In 1959 she gave birth to her eighth and final child and fifth daughter conceived during those late troublesome Lye days. Becky was true to her word; Frank, who returned home in late 1960, was never allowed to uproot the family again. For the next ten years, until his death in 1970 he would again be a farm worker. He would make concrete slabs and saucepans and work on the building of a power station, be it for only half a day, and finish his working life employed making carpets.

Frank, during his life, had never settled down. His childhood had been turbulent. His Army experiences had been hell. With Becky he had fathered eight children. With each child that was born their appeared to be an ‘upping of sticks’ and a move to new pastures and a new job. Shropshire > Shropshire > Shropshire > Warwickshire > Staffordshire > Shropshire > Shropshire and then finally to Monkhopton in Shropshire. Bucket toilet > flush toilet > bucket toilet, ditto, ditto, ditto. With the bucket toilet went a tin bath, the boiler in the outhouse and paraffin lamps and candles.  Old Field’s water supply was from a pump in the back yard fed by a nearby stream. The Lye was slightly better initially having a solitary tap into a Belfast sink and Calor gas lighting. Life for Frank's wife, Becky, had been far from a bed of roses.

Frank, during his married life, was always in employment despite his gremlins and deficiencies. His wage packet he would always hand over to his wife; Becky. He did not drink but could not live without a fag. It could not be said that he was a real family man for he never played with his children. He was, however, the great protector and it was God help anyone that caused anxiety for either his wife or children. A point proved on more than one occasion. Frank loved motorbikes and considered himself an expert on their mechanics although this is far from being the truth. He enjoyed football and as a lad myself, when living in Chesterton, I remember him taking me to see Port Vale and occasionally to see Stoke City. In 1957 I even remember a visit to see the, then, famous Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Frank Lakin Jepson, born in Mow Cop in 1917, died in Bridgnorth Hospital following a severe stroke in January 1970 aged 52. Sadly, it is more than likely that he never new who his real father was. It is also sad that he, perhaps also did now of the death of his mother. She had died three years earlier in 1967. Frank lost touch with his family during those raw late 1950's years and little more is known of them than is included in this story.

Frank's wife Becky outlived him by 40 years, passing away in the same Bridgnorth hospital at the age of 92 in February 2010.

Christopher Charles Jepson (1946)

Written 23rd June 2013