John Tolliday, born in 1783, in the parish of All Saints’, Sudbury, was a member of a well-known and hard-working family of freemen.

Image from the Sudbury Town Archive

His family had worked with textiles known as ‘says’, which were heavier woollen cloths, woven by hand at home using hand-spun yarns and often produced in natural or bleached white. The weaving industry in Sudbury was organised in the ‘putting-out’ system and was controlled by the clothiers, or merchants, who provided the raw materials. There were five main processes: wool sorting and cleaning, combing, spinning, weaving and finally scouring and dying. The Tolladays were expert sayscourers.

John’s career was cut short when he was ballotted into the West Suffolk Militia for three years during the Napoleonic Wars. In theory all men between the ages of 18 and 45 were liable to be ballotted into the Militia but generally only the poorer men were likely to serve as wealthier individuals could pay for substitutes and even insure against being ballotted. John Tolliday did not have enough money to pay for a substitute so was forced to see something of the world beyond Sudbury.

He married Sarah Must at All Saints’ Church in June 1803 and became a Freeman of Sudbury on October 28th, 1806. The impact of the war with France can be seen amongst the names of the candidates who were making certain of their votes as freemen. Sixty nine men were admitted over two days day; thirteen belonged to the West Suffolk Militia, one in the East Essex, seven in the West Essex, one in the Royal Westminster Militia as well as three in regular army units. before. All but one admission was by birth.

Further research is needed to discover the date of John Tolliday’s death. If he survived his service in the West Suffolk Militia he would have found that the manufacture of woollen cloths such as bays and says in Sudbury was declining. By the 1840’s it had all but disappeared.

John Tolliday did not have a large family. Four children were born between 1804 and 1809 but none after that date which suggests that he did not return from service in the West Suffolk Militia. His widow Sarah, however, remarried in July 1815. She married a bricklayer, James Gallant, and lived until the age of 71. She was buried at the back of the Independent Meeting House in Friars Street.

A new generation of the Tolliday family in Sudbury became silk weavers. This was a time when the whirl of the shuttle was heard at nearly every other cottage in the town and terraced houses were specially built for the silk weavers. Each cottage had a living space on the ground floor, bedrooms on the second floor and a large open room on the first floor with windows at the back and the front to give enough natural light for every part of the loom.

This is a photograph from the Sudbury Town Archive which shows Alice Housden’s loom. She was one of the last of the Sudbury hand weavers and it is likely that Stephen Tolliday used a similar loom. His son, Felix, lived next door to Alice in Church Row, Sudbury.)

John and Sarah’s son, Stephen, grew up in Cross Street, Sudbury, which was in the parish of All Saints’ .

A photograph of Cross Street, Sudbury, c1874 from the Historic Photo Archive of Sudbury. The Spread Eagle Public House is on the right.

On November 23rd, 1828 he married the daughter of John and Susannah Parsonson, Maria. The marriage took place at All Saints’ Church, Sudbury.

Aged 22, he was admitted to the Freedom of Sudbury in 1830 by birth.

As well as a long history of working with textiles, the Tolliday family also had a tradition of campanology and he, and his own sons, Arthur and Felix, were great chimers. Stephen, for example, began to ring bells at the age of 12 and was a ringer for many years at St. Gregory’s and St. Peter’s Churches. He became involved in a notorious incident on March 10th, 1863, on the wedding day of the Prince of Wales, which led to him being banned from ringing or chiming by the Rector, Rev. J.W.H. Molyneux.
Fortunately, the ban did not last too long, although some of the Sudbury band joined the ringers in Long Melford, and Stephen Tolliday went on to ring and chime in local churches with his sons. Towards the end of his life, Stephen was unable to use his hands – many years of throwing a shuttle for 16 to 18 hours a day and bending over a loom had ruined his health and he was unable to ring church bells or hand bells any more. He died in September 1893, aged 85. Muffled peals were rung at St. Peter’s before and after his funeral and half muffled peals were rung in the evening to mark the passing of an old Sudbury ringer.