1909c l to r standing: James, Archie and Charlie Mills, seated: Rose and Eadie Mills
with Fred Woodnutt
James John Pafford Mills was born within yards of the sea at Portsmouth Point on
14 March 1852. His parents, James John (a seaman rigger) and Harriett (nee Lemmon)
were both from seafaring families and had married seventeen days earlier. He was
brought up amid the sights and smells of the infamous slum of East Street, Old Portsmouth
surrounded by his close family.
Across the short stretch of water of the Camber Docks was Portsmouth Dockyard and
here, as a teenager, James began a seven-year-long apprenticeship to qualify as a
skilled shipwright. 1871 found him at the home of his grandparents, James and Mary
Mills, at Inner Camber Quay - his own parents’ house was packed with his three brothers,
his sister, Harriet, and his maternal grandparents.
Meanwhile, the Tuck family was slowly meandering from Norfolk to Portsmouth via a
short sojourn in London. Jeremiah James Wright Tuck had also been a seaman (like
his father). His daughter, Rosina Amelia Wright Tuck, was born in Southwark, south
London in the summer of 1857 and baptised at St Mary’s, Lambeth on 21 February 1858.
The Tucks were in Portsmouth by the mid-1860s and in 1871 were living at 3 Chapel
Row, just three doors from the main Portsmouth Dockyard Gates. Do we sense that a
meeting of two young people is about to happen?
James and Rose (aged eighteen) married on Christmas Day, 1877 at Portsmouth Parish
Church. Rose was following a trend set by her sister, Maria Ann Maria, who had also
married a shipwright (William Bartlett) four years earlier. William and Maria Bartlett
were witnesses at the Mills wedding.
The newly-married couple dropped anchor at 7 Waterloo Street, Southsea (cost £200c)
which was part of a newly-built housing project designed for Dockyard artisans. There,
in the late spring of 1879, the first of three sons, James William, was born, quickly
followed by Charles Henry (19 July 1880) and Archibald John in late 1882.
The family was living at 7 Great Southsea Street in 1891 (with Rose’s brother, William
Tuck, as a lodger) and had moved again ten years later to 51 Lawrence Road, Southsea
(right). There is a decorative brick that announces that this terrace was built in
1894, so James and Rose were probably the first owners of the house. This was their
last move and their five-roomed house represented a gradual improvement in the quality
of their home.
Now, the spotlight turns upon their eldest son, James William. He was not at the
family home in 1901. My mother remembered his full name and that he was ‘encouraged
to leave’ home because he was an epileptic. He was known as ‘Boy’, which, to me,
seems possibly a little disparaging. She remembered that he lived in Romsey and
that he married someone with the surname ‘Herring’. All of which seems to suggest
that there was some contact for several years between the families.
While trying to trace him in the census of 1901, I found a James W. Mills aged 22,
born in Southsea and boarding at 9 Mitchell Street, Melcombe Regis, Dorset. The
clinching proof that this is my great-uncle is that his occupation was given as ‘barber’s
assistant’. With no prompting, my uncle, Patrick, said that James was a hairdresser.
In 1911, James was still single and boarding at 26 Bell Street, Romsey’.
James William ‘Boy’ Mills
To balance the apparent mistreatment of their eldest son, James and Rose (pictured
disapproving, above) showed great kindness to the young boy shown with them in the
photograph at the top of the page. His name is Fred Woodnutt. My mother recalled
that he was an ‘adopted’ son of James and Rose and that he later married and moved
to London. I have discovered that Fred was actually the son of James’ sister, Harriet
Mills, who married George Woodnutt. Fred was born towards the end of 1901 and Harriet
died the following summer. It appears that James and Rose generously took him into
their family shortly afterwards.
I later discovered that James married Catherine J Mackrell (not Herring - a perfect
example of my mother’s uncanny ability to muddle names!) at Romsey in the March Qtr
of 1913. The couple had no children.
Meanwhile, and perhaps in contrast to James William, James and Rose were becoming
more and more proud of Charles and Archibald who were forging promising careers in
teaching. Charles attended Hartley University College at Southampton and achieved
a first class degree. In 1909, he married a fellow student who was the daughter
of a prominent London business man and councillor. Of the Mills family, only Rose
and Archibald attended the wedding. James detested travel. Rose (who had to be
persuaded to attend) looks distinctly uneasy (see above right) in the wedding photograph:
evidently conscious of the social divide between herself and her in-laws.
After seeing Charles return unharmed from World War I and continue teaching and Archibald
appointed as headmaster of the Beneficial School, Portsmouth, Rose died from leukaemia
on 17 April 1922 at the relatively young age of 64. She was buried at Highland Road
Her grandson remembers her as being very kind, quick-tempered and blunt. She rarely
smiled. She was ‘manly’ and adventurous even ‘going up in an aeroplane’ shortly before
her death. She undoubtedly ‘wore the trousers’ in her household and her husband
was subservient to her.
After her death, James moved across the road to 64 Lawrence Road and lived with his
son, Archibald and his wife, Nellie. He visited Charles and his family every fortnight.
James died, aged 84, on 19 November 1936 at St Mary’s Hospital, Portsmouth and was
buried near his wife. He died intestate and left an estate worth £363 8s 2d.
A grandson recalls that he was, ‘a small man, deaf and totally bald with clenched
hands which were malformed’ (presumably from his shipwright work). He was ‘lackadaisical
and ran to work in the Dockyard - if he was late, he wasn’t allowed in’.
Portsmouth Dockyard had a workforce of four thousand in 1870. Among its elite hierarchy
were the skilled shipwrights who made up around a third of the workers. They were
apprentice-trained and sufficiently adaptable to work on metal shipping as shipbuilding
evolved from the wooden hulls of yesteryear.
In the final analysis, not only sailors’ lives, but Britian’s survival depended on
the quality of the work of shipwrights. Because of this mindset, the pace of their
work was ‘measured’ or ‘steady’ – some even said lazy or slothful.
Shipwrights were divided between the ‘hired’ and the ‘established’ men. The quota
of ‘established’ men in the dockyard was fixed annually by Parliament’s Naval Estimates.
Their numbers fluctuated, reflecting whether or not war was imminent. ‘Hired’ men
hopefully waited their turn to become ‘established’. They then had a slightly higher
rate of pay and could look forward to a pension. This was collected by retired wrights
and was a visible reminder of the benefits which awaited the current ‘established
men’ later in life. Established shipwrights were also guaranteed work no matter whether
any emergencies looked, or not. Few shipwrights were therefore to be found in the
workhouse. They also enjoyed paid holidays, paid sick leave and free medical attention.
James Mills – shipwright
An incident in around 1 October 1909, and its repercussions, provides us with a detailed
insight into James’ career. He was working on board HMS Neptune (shown below), a
dreadnought battleship which was laid down in January 1909 and launched on 30 September
of that year. She was to be the flagship of the Home Fleet from May 1911 until May
He was employed again from 20 December 1880 until 28 January 1899. Then, he was elevated
to being an ‘established’ shipwright from 29 January 1897 until he retired on 15
March 1912 – a little more than fifteen years. His weekly wages were between £1 12s
6d and £1 13 s 0d until he had a pay rise to £1 14s 0d on 1 October 1906.
James later declared, ‘I can honestly say that the thirty years I laboured in HM
Dockyard were used with a keen sense of duty’. His manager went on record as saying
that James ‘discharged his duties with diligence and fidelity and to my satisfaction’.
He was recommended for the Imperial Service medal. Despite James’ accident in 1909,
between 1903 and 1912, he had not been absent from work for a period longer than
His total annual pension was a little less than £119 – the loss of his 3/6d weekly
allowance mentioned earlier, represented a reduction of almost 20%. No wonder he
wrote that this money was, ‘essential to me in the maintenance of my wife and family
and its reduction would entail a hardship’. In 1917, his earnings from his temporary
private work were £3 10s 0d a week.
One further point of interest is that James signed himself James John Pafford Mills
(as shown below). This indicates his awareness of his family background and desire
to acknowledge the Pafford name. Of, course he knew his grandfather, James Pafford/Mills,
who died when he was twenty-seven years old.
If these dates are accurate, Neptune was floating in Portsmouth Harbour – which may
account for James’ accident. He was working on bulkhead stiffeners in the ship’s
bunkers when he fell on the edge of a plate and broke two ribs on his left side.
This injury was to plague him – although the ribs healed and there was no damage
to his lungs, he was unable to lift heavy weights. Almost four years after his fall,
he still suffered with ‘intercostal neuralgia’ on his left side.
As a result of this permanent injury incurred at work, James was awarded an extra
allowance of 3/6d a week. However, in 1917, this was suspended as he came out of
retirement due to ‘the present stress’ (ie WW1!) and was working. He appealed against
this decision and this was upheld because the allowance was small and the permanence
of his injury. Details of his appeal can be found at The National Archives and they
include a potted history of his work in the Dockyard.
Remember that James and Rose married on Xmas Day 1877. Then, he began work as a ‘hired’
man on 18 February 1878 when he was 25 years old.
There appears to be gap in his employment record. He was born on 14 March 1852. He
likely became apprenticed when he was fourteen years old in 1866 and his apprenticeship
lasted seven years – or until 1873 (in the 1871 census, he was described as a ‘Dockyard
Apprentice’). If he started working as a ‘hired man’ in 1878, what was his occupation
between 1873 and 1878 – or did James start his apprenticeship late? He was later
to say that he worked in the dockyard for thirty years – which may imply that he
was not in the yard before he began work as a ‘hired’ man.
James was earning between £1 7s 0d and £1 10s 0d a week. But he was laid off on 7
September 1878 for more than two years until 20 December 1880. This must have been
a worrying time for the newly-married James and Rose. There was the mortgage to pay
on their house which cost £200; their first son was born in the late Spring of 1879
and my grandfather was born on 19 July 1880, when James was still not a ‘hired’ shipwright.
Did he find alternative work as a labourer in the Dockyard?