My great grandfather, Frederick George Dunkley (1831-1916), lived all his life in the village of Silverstone, Northamptonshire. It is a common surname in the area. The census identifies him and many of the inhabitants there as general labourers but sometimes the term ‘woodman’ is added. The countryside around is even today surrounded by ample forestry land and local historians have identified a distinctive culture of sturdy independence or general ‘cussedness’ in the men’s character. Tree felling and timber sawing required some skill as well as a good level of fitness. All the Dunkley men were short and muscular. Frederick married in 1852, at the age of 22 to Elizabeth Ann Blackwell who was still a teenager. They had 10 children. Hard working, honest folk and devout Methodists who were proud of their respectability.
I have one studio portrait of them. Although poor, they have clearly dressed up for the occasion. His suit is typical of the Victorian era and early twentieth century, along with a rather bold tie and an unusual-looking soft hat. His beard is the early style of beard that first appeared in the mid-1850s but was often favoured by older gents well into the 1900s. His wife’s blouse and skirt combination was usual by the Edwardian era, her tailored skirt plain and her dressy blouse fashioned from the kind of bold patterned fabric often admired by mature ladies: to this she has added a prominent black lace collar that extends down the front – a separate ornamental accessory used to create an even more ornate effect. Many clues point to the first decade of the 20th century and it may have marked their 50th wedding anniversary in 1902.
In the 1911 census Fred still describes himself as a worker, age 79. He died in his 85th year and his wife in 1920 at the age of 88. Their strong constitution was inherited by my grandfather, one of their sons and his daughter May who was the subject of my previous blog. They were all very long lived and fit up to the end. May preserved many of their Victorian habits and virtues – which included a good simple diet and lots of physical work – and a way of life that died with her.