The Brandeston Bradlaugh Connection
Mike Smith - 27 April 2011
I was born and brought up in Worcestershire but for over thirty years I have lived in Essex. Nearly twenty years ago, I decided that I would like to research my family history. This was primarily to confirm or not some of the stories that my Dad used to tell about his ancestors, what they did and where they came from. When I announced what I had decided to do, my Mum said that there was no point looking into her ancestry because she was descended from Suffolk farm labouring stock.
An examination of the 1881 census for Brandeston did not reveal any Bradley families but there were a number of Bradlaugh families. A Suffolk born colleague agreed that Bradlaugh and Bradley could sound similar and so I carried on my research on the basis that the names were interchangeable.
James was born in Brandeston about 1857 and had indeed been an agricultural labourer all his life. His father was called John and he was born in Brandeston about 1816 and he was also an agricultural labourer all his life. John had eleven children, nine girls and two boys. In 1881 James’s only brother John was 16 and he was working as a groom.
James’s grandfather was called Thomas and he was born in the village about 1774 and the only mention of his livelihood was in the 1841 census when he was shown as an agricultural labourer.
So my Mum was right she did come from a long line of farm workers.
Since I started to write this article I thought it would be interesting to see if I could identify when my great grandfather changed his name from Bradlaugh to Bradley. So I obtained his marriage certificate and discovered a number of things:
his name in 1887 when he married was shown as Bradlaugh:
- he signed the certificate with a cross which could indicate that he was illiterate;
- he was a widower;
- he was married in the registry office in the Bosmere Registration District because he was living in Helmingham
- The fact that he was a widower was a bit of a surprise so I had another search of the GRO index’s and found another possible marriage. This marriage took place two years earlier at the registry office in Plomesgate Registration District because he was living in Brandeston. Although he claimed to be widowed at the time of his second marriage I cannot find a death recorded for his first wife.
James’s first child by his second wife was baptised as Bradley and took place in Helmingham Parish Church about six weeks after his marriage, his second child was also baptised in Helmingham but as a Bradlaugh and his other two children were baptised in other parishes also as Bradley.
I am assuming that James was illiterate and because he was not living in the parish of his birth and where all his family lived, when he had his children baptised the various vicars used the common spelling of the Bradley surname, which he would have been unaware of. Why was his second child baptised Bradlaugh, I have no idea.
James was descended from a long line of Bradlaughs who lived in the village for many years. My fifth and sixth times great grandfathers are the two Thomas Bradlaughs who are commemorated on the Peal Board in the Church. The first Bradlaugh recorded in the Parish registers is my 6 times great grandfather Thomas, who was baptised in 1694.
The Bradlaugh spelling is very specific to this part of Suffolk and I believe that the majority of people who have Bradlaugh as their surname can trace their ancestry back to the village.
The most famous of the Bradlaughs is Charles (pictured above) who was born in Hoxton, London in 1833. He founded, along with Annie Besant, the National Secular Society, which still exists today. He was the Member of Parliament for Northampton and he was the last person to be incarcerated in the prison in the Houses of Parliament. A search of the internet will reveal more information about him. Charles’s link to Brandeston is through his great grandfather.
As a result of his fame some people in the late 19th century incorporated his surname into their own and so where Bradlaugh is not used as a surname it is likely that they have no connection with the village.
Your Parish Historical Recorder has done a lot of work on the Bradlaugh family and with her help and assistance I want to try to confirm the earlier roots of the family.