THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THOMAS DRING 1857-1942
Thomas started life on March 1 1857 , in the village of Muston , Leicestershire, (pronounced Musson), a village nestling below Belvoir castle.
He was baptised on 7 April 1857 in Muston Parish church. His father William was at this time a Churchwarden at the church.
Thomas was the sixth child of William and Ann (Green) Dring's ten children, all of whom survived to adulthood. No mean feat for an Ag Lab who worked long hours for a low wage, and his wife. Ann had difficulty in just feeding them. Thomas next appears on the 1861 census, living with his parents and siblings at 51 Clarkes Row in Muston. Thomas like his father before him was to lead a somewhat nomadic life though.
Thomas aptly titled his reminiscences, “ A struggle through life”, and for a child born with a heart defect in 1857, it certainly was. The doctor held out little hope for the baby Thomas, but he was determined from the start.
In 1865 the family was on the move again and left for Derbyshire, briefly settling in Hawkins Row, Codnor. Their first neighbour was a Mr William Halston.
Thomas aged 8 and his two brothers William and John went to work for Butterley's of Ripley. He worked in their colliery at Waingroves. He pulled out pit props from underneath the pit cages with a long iron hook.
Thomas remembered well, Hill Top Farm, known as Ormonde fields being burnt down on 15 April 1866 . A spark from a pit chimney was the cause.
Later in 1866 the family moved again, this time to Tutbury in Staffordshire. Thomas's father had work on a large farm as a shepherd. Thomas helped with the milking of the 96 cows on the farm but found the task boring. The final child of William and Ann was born here in 1867. They stayed on the farm for about a year but in 1868 were thrown out of work at only a minute's notice.
The two eldest Dring sons, William and John had already returned to Codnor and lived at Westhill. They invited the others to join them and Thomas found work at Denby Common Ironstone Pit where he worked under Mr Cresswell. So at the age of twelve, Thomas was earning 1 shilling a day and working from 6 am to 8 pm . In the winter, the only time he saw daylight was on a Sunday.
Thomas was not happy with the long hours and low wage and in September 1869, he ran away from home. He walked to Langley Mill, then to Nottingham , where he got lost for a while before eventually getting back to Muston, (about 35 miles), where he arrived on the doorstep of his Uncle John Henry. He stayed the night and then his Uncle sent him back home again. He knew his parents would not be pleased and expected the belt for his troubles- he was not disappointed !!!.
The following morning he started work at the Exhibition colliery near Codnor Park monument. He was still there in 1873 when as he puts it, “ There was a big Strike”. Thomas recalled the large meetings held at both Ripley and Codnor. The strike cost Thomas his job and he was out of work for a month, before getting a job at Moorgreen. He worked there for a year.
Then began possibly the most interesting, exciting and dangerous period of his life.
On 11 February 1878 , at the Pear Tree Inn, Ripley, Thomas enlisted in the Army. At 09-15hrs on that day he became 1257 private Dring.T. 59th Brigade.
He enlisted for 6 years and:-
was 20 years and 11 months old.
5 feet 8 inches tall
Eyes- grey Hair- light brown
religion – Wesleyan
Thomas trained in Aldershot , Hampshire, ( as did his Great grandson, John Stephen Morse, ninety years later)
In December 1878 he transferred to the Royal Lancaster regiment ( Kings Own Rifles), 11 Brigade. Before departing for South Africa the Regiment went from Aldershot to Windsor where Queen Victoria presented them with a new stand of colours. The morning was fresh and bright. The men were wearing their white helmets, issued for service in South Africa and they were in light marching order, carrying only great-coats strapped on their backs. The King's Own marched into the castle headed by their pioneers and band. The ceremony was shortened at the wish of the Queen, out of consideration for the men who were standing in the cold without greatcoats. The men then were given lunch in the glass coachhouse before returning by train to Aldershot .
In 1879 his unit went to South Africa . He remembers the boat trip to Cape Town and then on to Durban . Thomas would have travelled on the Teuton an old ship that had been lengthened. She rolled horribly and frequent stops were made whilst the old engines were repaired. Cramped accommodation and indifferent food made life far from pleasant. To add to this, measles broke out on board during the 28-day trip. They reached Cape Town on January 9 th 1879 , two days before the British Government declared war. On the 13 th January Thomas arrived in Durban . The men being disembarked three at a time in large bucket shaped baskets worked by a crane. They proceeded into the interior immediately.
The South African countryside made a big impression on him. He recalled how beautiful it was. ( The difference between Derbyshire and its mines and the wide-open spaces of Africa must have been immense).
He travelled with his unit via Petermaritzburg and deep into Zulu territory. The only way was by foot and Durban to Petermaritzburg was some fifty miles and Zululand a further fifty. This in midsummer.
Thomas was part of the two companies sent to relieve the men at Rorke's drift who were surrounded by Zulus fresh from their smashing of the British at Isandhlwana. All night the defenders at the drift held on until relieved by Lord Chelmsford. The King's Own arrived shortly afterwards. Thomas recalled “ The gallant 24 th fought so bravely and were overwhelmed by the Zulu's”. It looked, he stated, “ A wicked and cruel massacre”. As he went by he saw dead men on both sides littering the ground. Thomas and his company helped bury the dead.
Thomas also remembered the strict and cruel discipline in the army. A man given 25 lashes for being drunk. The sentence being read out to the men, as a warning. The unfortunate man was tied to the wheel of a gun carriage. The drummer administered the punishment and the doctor stood by.
Thomas remembered the last major battle of the campaign – The battle lasted about four hours, with hardly a moment to spare. Volley after volley poured into the midst of the Zulu's. Thomas recalled that, “ It looked and sounded like a thunderstorm rising over the hills. Eventually the Zulu's were defeated and Thomas gave credit to his commanding officer, George White.
After the battle the men rested and washed in the river. They also washed their shirts for the first time since they had put them on in December 1878. It was now ten months later in October 1879 and they had not had a change of clothing because all of their spare clothing was still in Durban.
Thomas was reminded of home though. Whilst travelling through Lunabridge (possibly Lunaberg) he saw a large iron bridge. The plate on the bridge read, - Butterley Company, Butterley, near Ripley, Derbyshire , England.
Once the danger of a further uprising was over the Battalion left for Pinetown and the coast. The march began on 13th December 1879 , a year after leaving England . It was the hottest and wettest season of the year and storms were frequent. They had approx. 500 miles to travel; the ox wagons stuck in the drifts, the rivers were flooded and it was the end of January before they reached their destination.
On February 8 th the Battalion embarked at Durban en route for Bombay . A stop was made for a day and night in Mauritius and they reached Bombay on February 29 th . (Leap year).
From Bombay they went by train to Poona . Thomas described Poona as, “A beautifully situated place”.
Thomas was chosen to be a member of the guard of Honour for the Viceroy of India, for fourteen days. Thomas served in the mountains and also Ahmadabad . Here he recalled seeing bull baiting which he thought was “ A most cruel sport, and appalled him”.
Thomas was struck down by fever in Ahmadabad and was ill for a month. From 1882 to 1883 he served in Baroda .
In 1884 after four years of Foreign Service he returned home. Travelling via the Suez Canal and stopping off at Malta . The ship diet was mainly biscuits. Thomas thought they were, “ Hard as wood”, and in the opinion of the men, appeared to have been made in Roman times.
Thomas had seen action against the Zulu's and travelled through Asia , the Indian sub continent and Egypt .
Thomas said “ It was time for the return of the prodigal son after six weary years away from home and mother”.
Thomas left the army with two good references, two good conduct medals and the South African Medal and clasp 1879.
Thomas returned to his Mother Ann's house in Woodlincoln, Derbys and went in search of work. Thomas's father had died in February 1879 whilst Thomas was in South Africa .
Thomas worked at Daybrook , near Nottingham . At a colliery in Cinderhill and also Bestwood coal and Iron company. Thomas was living away from home, but was not happy.
(Note- leaving the excitement of the army for a “normal” life seems to effect many that way!)
Thomas was tired of a single life and at the age of 29 years decided to marry. As Thomas put it “ I picked a young lady for a companion”. He married Sarah Mainwaring on 7th August 1886 at Basford registry office. Sarah was the daughter of Joseph and Harriet (nee Fletcher) who had moved from Wolverhampton , Staffs before her birth at Ironville, Derbys in 1865.
By 1890 Thomas and Sarah were living in Wallsend, Tynemouth were their first daughter Harriet Ellen was born on 17 Jan 1890 . Sadly Harriet died in 1892.
In January 1891 Elizabeth Anne was born in Howden, Tynemouth .
Whilst in Tynemouth Thomas had been a cement works labourer and a general labourer.
By the census of 5th April 1891 Thomas, Sarah and baby Elizabeth were back in Codnor and living at Parkins yard. Sadly three days after the census, on 8 th April 1891 , Elizabeth Anne died.
Thomas and Sarah then had Emily Edith 1893, Nellie 1894, Sarah Ellen 1897, Ida Lily 1899. Mary Ann Elizabeth 1902 ( Grandmother of Author) and Sarah May 1903, . All of who survived into adulthood. In 1907 they also had George Walter who sadly died aged two days.
Thomas was again called to the colours in 1900 during the Boer war and aged 43 years. (I believe he was stationed at Preston in Lancs.) In 1901 he was demobbed for the second and last time !!.
Thomas and Sarah then stayed in the area and only moved three more times, Mount Street and 33 John Street Heanor and 1 Beryl Avenue , Marlpool, Heanor.
His grandson John Lewis Morse recalled that he was frightened to visit as a child because Thomas had horrible staring eyes. Thomas was by this time (1930) blind. Sarah was a tiny lady and John remembered as a fifteen year old lifting her into bed when she was ill. Sarah laid the dead out in the area of Beryl Avenue .
Thomas aged 84 years died on 22 June 1942 . Not bad for someone with a heart defect and given little chance by a doctor. Sarah died a month later on 31 July 1942 .
If during your research you visit Marlpool Cemetery , Heanor, Derbyshire and under a tree see a small black headstone with:-
Thomas Dring 1857-1942
Sarah Dring 1865-1942. Stop and say Hello
Researched and written by John Stephen Morse.
Born 146 Pease Hill Road , Ripley, Derbyshire.
Great Grandson of Thomas Dring.
John Stephen Morse e mail Steve