On 6th June 1841, John RIDOUT was at home in Trinity Street, Kingsmead and had most of his children with him, although his eldest son John was married and living with his family in Bristol – he was a wood engraver. With John Sr were his sons William (18) George (14) Charles (10) and Edwin (7) plus daughter Eliza (12). At this point, John, William and George were all recorded as ‘turners’.
Ten years later, on 30th March 1851, John was what at the time would have been considered a quite elderly man at sixty-six but he was still working as a ‘turner in wood’. He was in son William’s house at Upper Trafalgar Place – a road in Holloway, long since built over. William was now a married man with three little children and was also a ‘turner in wood’. His younger brother Edwin, now seventeen, was a ‘French polisher’. George had left home and was lodging in Bathwick; he too was a ‘turner’.
The census information from these and later years shows that John’s boys followed him into the woodworking trade and it is highly likely that John taught them himself. In earlier records he had been described as a cabinet maker. I have been unable to trace any apprenticeship indentures for him but had he served a full apprenticeship he would have spent seven years learning his trade and he would have learnt many skills, including turning, engraving and polishing. The ‘Boy’s Book of Trades and the Tools’, published by George Routledge in 1866, describes the cabinet maker as being involved, not with the construction of a house but rather of the furniture inside. This fine work would have required good quality tools, perhaps better than those of a simple carpenter. The true artisan would have designed and built chairs, cabinets, sideboards and other furniture using more expensive woods or perhaps facing cheaper wood with a hardwood veneer. Many of the more intricate parts of an ornamental piece would have been supplied by a turner or wood carver, working under the cabinet maker’s supervision. Finally, the piece would be beautifully finished by the patient French polisher who painstakingly rubbed oil and other liquids into the wood, working in tiny circles until the surfaces gleamed.
In Trinity Street, John paid rent for a workshop which had been at the rear of his house according to the Cotterell’s 1853 street map. I imagine him here with his young boys, teaching them how to use a lathe to turn chair legs or a chisel to carve mouldings. I can almost smell the sawdust and linseed oil as he kept his growing sons gainfully occupied whilst Martha, up in the house, looked after the smaller ones. Perhaps it is just my fancy but the fact that each of the men learnt a different element of the cabinet making trade suggested to me that, at least for a while, John Ridout & Sons, furniture makers, truly existed in Kingsmead. There were one hundred and seventy-nine cabinet makers in the 1841 census of Bath, so competition was fierce, no doubt.
John died of ‘old age’ on 30th May 1855 – he was seventy. William’s wife was present at his death. John was buried in St Mark’s churchyard at the foot of Lyncombe Hill; there was no memorial stone. It had been John’s simple ‘No’ in answer to the 1841 census question ‘born in county?’ that had sent me backwards into history to track down his birth in Sherborne and, in turn, to discover a great dynasty to which he, and of course I, both belong. It was just the beginning…