The expression “Master Class,” when used today, refers to a demonstration by an expert, frequently an artist or musician, given to those wishing to learn how! But in Sedgley and the Black Country the term Master had a very different meaning. It was added as a mark of distinction to those blessed with possession of the mineral wealth, or the means of production, which our local minerals provided. You were a Coal master, a Lime master, an Ironmaster, or a Nailmaster, and sometimes a combination of any or all.
Surprisingly I remember the term prevailing in the area in the 1960s as an expression of respect when greeting an older person. A father once introduced his young son to me by bidding the lad “Say good morning to the Master,” and that was before I had entered the world of education where “Schoolmaster” was still used locally! But in Edward Nayler’s time those described in such terms were indeed members of a “Master Class” providing the wealth and upper society of a village like those of our area, particularly where possessing a parish church that frequently housed their reserved pews.
Thus, in 1836 Nayler records with dignity the passing of William Ellis, Lime master, who died at Sedgley on the 25th December, at the age of 71. Researching further I discovered that William Ellis’s Will, now held at the Public Record Office, was registered at The Prerogative Court of Canterbury on the 28th May 1837, an “honour” known only by those whose Will had implications within more than one diocese.
Nayler moves on to other local family events. Firstly a marriage on January 4th 1837 - at Gumley, Leicestershire, The Reverend John Fereday, Fellow of Worcester College Oxford, eldest son of John Turton Fereday, Esq. The Ellowes, Sedgley, to Susan, eldest daughter of the Reverend P. Apthorpe, M. A., Rector of Gumley. John Turton Fereday certainly belonged to the Master class, and was an All Saints Churchwarden.
Nayler’s next entry is of another Sedgley death - on March 24th in peace through Christ, Miss Sarah Nayler, of Sedgley, aged 32 an honourable and useful member of the Church of England. Was this a newspaper cutting of a relative? There have been many local families engaged in the nail industry and not just those at the peak of the industrial eras of the 18th & 19th Century. Some certainly existed in Tudor times, and earlier, and the name was first given to one plying the trade. Not surprisingly the surname remains here!
A fascinating illustration of money values in the early 19th Century can be found in the next entry referring to the Lower Gornal Church of St. James the Great that had been opened in 1817 as the first Chapel of Ease in the Parish of All Saints Sedgley! Twenty years later it seems that extension is needed.
St James Church, Lower Gornal was re-opened on the 18th June, when two sermons were preached by The Reverend Charles Girdlestone M. A., Vicar of Sedgley, and The Reverend W. W. Cartwright M. A., Vicar of Dudley. The sum of £26 8s was collected in aid of the expenses of the enlargement, and it is supposed that upwards of 1000 people were assembled on the occasion.
(Taking the congregation as 1000 it would be interesting to work out the average collection gift! Remember 240 pence in £1, and 12 pence in 1 shilling. TG)