Thomas Mickleburgh (1845)
Thomas Mickleburgh was taller than was usual in men at that time and was often called Long Tom, to distinguish him from Little Tom who was of approximately the same age but of a completely unrelated family of Mickleburgh also living in the village of Horningtoft.
He asserted his rugged character as a youth when, wearing his smock, he was working in a local field with a gang of men scything the corn and the farm foreman rode in on his horse. The foreman considered that the men were not working hard enough and laid his horse whip across their backs. When hit, Tom grabbed the whip, pulled the bullying foreman from his horse and gave him a good thrashing.
Knowing that his parents were living in a tied cottage on that same farm and that if they protected him they would probably be evicted and sent to the workhouse, Tom went home packed a small bundle and walked to Wells where he signed on as a deckhand of a coastal collier that was returning to Newcastle. He worked in the coal mines at Newcastle for about 18 months and when he thought that the dust had settled he walked back to Horningtoft to find that the foreman had been fired and that all was well.
At the age of 20, Thomas married Sarah Ann Barker. Less than two years later Sarah Ann died just before Christmas of 1868. In November of 1873, at the age of 25 Thomas married Sarah Bowden and it is thought that he and Sarah lived in Dodmans Lane for the rest of their lives where they raised five children:- Alice, Jane, Thomas, Lilly* and Robert. together with their eldest Grandson, Harry. Harry was my father and it is to him that I owe much that I learned of Tom who died when I was six years of age and of whom I have only faint memories.
*Just over a year before Lilly was born Thomas and Sarah had another daughter Lilly who died at the age of two months so, as often happened in those days, when their next daughter was born they also called her Lilly. Confusing for the records. Tom was church and Sarah chapel but the difference never caused any problems and although neither had received any formal education, every Sunday evening, Tom would read aloud passages from the family bible. (displayed below). Harry never worked out whether Thomas could read or was quoting from memory assisted by the recognition of some words. He never tried to read anything else and certainly could not read a hand written letter.
In an era when probably nobody else in the village had gone further than walking distance from the village, Tom was highly regarded as a travelled man who had many interesting things to tell. He gained a reputation as a wise, outspoken and completely honest man. An example being that when stopped by a rather pompous local parson Tom was asked "Don't you raise your hat when you meet a gentleman" Tom's reply was " I do when I meet one". A very daring thing to say in those days.
A sidelight on the times was that when drinking in the Bell, Tom and the other farm labourers could not afford to buy each other a pint as is the custom today so when one bought a pint for one old penny, the practice was to say 'Pull the top orf a that' and pass it round for a sip each before returning to the purchaser to finish.
In his later years Tom became so respected in the village and surrounds that he was often asked to mediate in disputes that today would be taken to court. Both parties would agree to meet in Tom's cottage and to abide by his decision. The family all went out to keep the affair private and both parties would put their case, with witnesses if needed. Tom would ask further questions and sometimes visit the site before giving his judgement. He never revealed what went on but apparently nobody ever questioned his decision.
In his very late years Tom would often sit in the cottage doorway with his old muzzle loaded gun lightly charged with shot to scare the birds or catch a pheasant. On one such occasion a new young local Bobby walked in and demanded to see his licence. Tom soon informed him that none of those new fangled licences were required for a muzzle loaded gun and demanded that the Bobby leave his garden. He reinforced the point by peppering him up the backsideas he went out of the gate. The old gun only had a small charge of gunpowder as more would probably have burst the barrel. No serious injury was caused and nothing more was heard of it as the older police sergeant laughed his head off when the young man reported it. Can you imagine the fuss that would be caused by shooting at a policeman today.
Considering his status and the times that he lived in, Thomas was always a snappy dresser. He was never without a bright red and white neckerchief as shown in monochrome in the picture and he retained a sprightly step and very erect stance to the end of his days.