Mary Jane Towell

The last carrier in the county

Some surnames have come down in history because of the role or profession of the person. Smith is the most common, for Goldsmith, Blacksmith etc; Wright for Cartwright, Wheelwright etc. Mine should have been Carter for the generations my family fulfilled this role in Geddington. But my name is Mary Jane Towell/Towle/Towel and I am the last of the carters or carriers in my family, indeed the last in Northamptonshire.

Mary Jane Towel was a carrier who went to and from Kettering twice a day. Villagers could pay her to deliver or collect pretty much anything that would fit in her cart.

I was born and baptised in 1860 in Geddington, the sixth child of Alice and Thomas Towell who had also been born in Geddington. My mother was part of the large Lee family in the village, after whom Lee’s Way was named, and she took over the ‘carrying’ from her mother Mrs Alice Lee despite being unable to read or write.

We lived in Wood Street at that time. We were not a wealthy family, my father was a labourer and there would be more children to feed as the years went on.

By 1881 my mother had taken over from my grandmother Alice Lee as one of the carriers in Geddington. It was reported that my grandmother used to walk from Geddington to Desborough every day carrying two large baskets laden with goods. By now there was only my sister Alice and I living at home in the cottage in Queen Street with our parents and I was helping my mother with her deliveries, so it was a natural step for me to take over.

M A Towel was Mary’s mother, and also a carrier. This picture postcard was taken in Dalkeith Place in Kettering.

By the turn of the century I was living on my own in the Queen Street cottage and earning my own living, my mother having died in 1895. I had a two-wheeled carrier’s cart with a canvas covered top to protect my goods in inclement weather and, of course, my beloved pony Kitty to draw it. I always wore my straw hat and a starched apron over my black dress to pick up and deliver the orders I was given and I also had my name painted on the side of the cart in elegant script.

By 1910 there were two other carriers in the village, John Dainty and John Pyecraft, but I remained the only woman carrier. In fact I believe I was the only woman carrier in Northamptonshire at the time I retired in 1927.

In that year Kitty, my pony, as a result of a kick from another pony, suffered a broken leg and had to be put down. Kitty was a gentle, well mannered pony and became as well known as I was in the lanes and village streets we passed through on a day’s work. Often the village children would come to visit her in her stable behind my cottage at the end of the day.

I was proud to serve my customers and took great pains to deliver promptly and safely any goods which had been ordered. On occasions I used my lighter trap or buggy to take a passenger or two into Kettering or to visit the hospital.

I never married, but I did not lack for company. I had a big family, I knew everyone in my home village and many of the residents of farms and cottages across this part of Northamptonshire and I had my bees and the bee wine I made. I was 78 when I died, proud of my reputation, proud of my independence and proud of my service to my village.

Kelly’s Directory of 1914 gives an interesting insight into how business operated at a very local level at that time.

This post is part of a series about the Women of Geddington.

2 comments on “Mary Jane Towell

  • Peter Goode says:

    These stories of the Women of Geddington are fascinating. They are informative, they capture the spirit of the times when these venerable ladies lived and they are well written as well. Well done and thank you.

    • I’m glad you are enjoying them Peter. Researching the stories reinforces even more what the women contributed to the village without necessarily hitting the headlines!
      I think there are many more untold stories to find.


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