Alfred (1903-1979) and Annie TATTERSFIELD – Northern Rhodesia

This section was written by John TATTERSFIELD, researcher of the TATTERSFIELD Family Tree.

My parents were JOSEPH ALFRED (descent JOSEPH, JOSEPH, GEORGE, JOSEPH, CHARLES PICKERING, JOSEPH ALFRED) and Annie, the daughter of Joseph and Louisa Crabtree of Deighton Lane, Batley. They had the unusual record, for those days, of emigrating twice!

Father was one of six children whose father, and generations before him, had worked in the heavy woollen industry of West Yorkshire. Father followed in their footsteps.

The early family appear to have achieved some prosperity during the lifetime of JOSEPH (1747-95). He left a will, apparently the first Tattersfield to do so, and his assets on his death came to nearly £300.

The next generation, in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, became employers of both male and female workers, and were generally described as Blanket Manufacturers. Some of them were very affluent. One son, WILLIAM, left some £1,500 at his death, and a grandson left £16,000.

My great great grandfather GEORGE’s woollen business called Tattersfield & Co, in or near Mirfield, went bankrupt during a depression in 1878, as reported under “TATTERSFIELDS in England”. His son, my great grandfather JOSEPH, was not able to sustain the business. The young CHARLES PICKERING, my grandfather, had to leave school, and started work at the age of 13. From being an office boy, he rose through the ranks of his employer, to become managing director.

Father and two of his brothers, GEORGE CHADWICK and CHARLES PERCIVAL, entered the textile industry and Father became a master dyer.

In 1930 his employer George Hurst, a cousin of my great grandmother Betsy Pickering, wished to open a branch in Canada. Father was sent as the dyer, and his younger brother GEORGE CHADWICK (called GEORGE) as the mill manager.

Not long after their arrival, the Great Depression caused the closure of the branch and put ALFRED and GEORGE out of work. Both scoured the country for new jobs. GEORGE was successful in finding one, and lived the rest of his life with his wife Denise in Canada, for many years in Lachute, outside Montreal.

Father did not find another job, so he and Mother, together with my brother JOSEPH REX (called REX), who was born in 1932, returned to England in 1933, where Father carried on as a dyer.

In the 1930s Mother’s only sister Phyllis Crabtree visited an aunt and cousins in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). There she met and married her cousin Edward Kendall-Smith (known as Ken), and never returned to live in England. This is mentioned more fully in Family Trees-Related Surnames-Barrett and Yeadon.

During the Second World War the Kendall-Smiths suggested that my parents should join them after the war in a tobacco farming venture in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Though my Uncle Ken was a railway engine driver, he had been brought up on a farm near Bulawayo but had never grown tobacco, as far as I am aware.

My parents decided they could not go if it meant leaving Mother’s parents, the Crabtrees, behind, with their only two daughters living together in Africa. A decision was made that they, now aged about 70, would come too.

It was nearly impossible, after the war, to get a passage out of Britain by sea or by air. After much persistence and two visits to London, Father obtained air passages for the family. A new airline called Mercury was ferrying two aircraft to Johannesburg to begin a scheduled service. The planes were not intended to carry passengers on their first outward journey, but my father secured seats on one. Accordingly my grandparents, parents, brother REX, younger sister PHYLLIS, and I took off from Black Bush airfield, London, in August 1947. The seven of us had a 26-seater Dakota (DC3) to ourselves!

As the aircraft was not yet flying to a schedule, we landed each day for lunch, and again for the night. The journey to Bulawayo lasted 10 days. Our co-pilot was arrested in Cairo where there was anti-British sentiment at the time. Luckily the pilot persuaded them to release him.

In Malakal, Sudan, we landed at the “airfield” which was a strip of ground with shorter grass than the general surroundings and with a small empty galvanised hut at one end. As we walked to the hut a gang of workmen formed a ring and danced around us, wielding huge grass-cutting pangas round their heads. They were all start naked! We, small family of seven staunch Yorkshire Methodists, kept together in a very tight huddle!

We completed our journey by train to Choma in Northern Rhodesia, where Uncle Ken had by now bought two farms totalling some 5,500 acres of virgin woodland. Our family brought the total number of Europeans who had settled in Choma and the surrounding farming area to 205.

A week after arrival, Father, the master dyer, found himself heading a gang of scores of labourers, trying to beat back a massive bush fire which swept through the farm.

The house we were to live in was not ready, as the corrugated iron roofing sheets had been stolen while on the railway system. The Kendall-Smiths and our family shared a small cottage. Each family had only one room, and the two families ate together on an open veranda. At the same time the mosquitos ate us, and malaria was rife. The kitchen was across the yard, as was the PK (picanini kaya or small house), a long-drop standing out in a small hut on its own!

By dint of much hard work the farms were developed. Trees had to be dug out by hand, complete with roots, to create fields for ploughing. The main cash crop was Virginia tobacco, which is very labour-intensive and required a workforce of some 100 people. In those early days life was very basic for everyone. Labourers did not wear shoes, had clothing full of holes and were given food by law as part of their earnings. They lived in traditional pole and thatch huts.

As well as 100 acres of tobacco, the farms were built up to produce maize, cattle, pigs, chickens, vegetables, beans, and a little cotton. Work was hard, holidays were rare, and there were few of life’s luxuries. REX and I had to go away to boarding schools, as our nearby village Choma only had one school for junior girls.

The small community had to provide its own social entertainments. Such time as was spare was spent visiting local farmers, playing tennis at the social club and hunting for our own and workers’ meat. Every week we screened a 16mm film in a large farm shed for the enjoyment of ourselves and our 100 workers and their families. Cowboy films were the favourite. The hero was readily identified and cheered on by the crowd of workers, who did not understand one word of English! Helpfully he either wore a white hat, or rode a white horse!

After six years of developing the farm, Father and my uncle decided to go their separate ways. The latter stayed on the farm, and Father embarked on a third career. He went into local government and became the Secretary/Manager of a village some 100 miles further north called Mazabuka. This was a post rather like a town clerk, but in a smaller community. The duties covered everything necessary to keep Mazabuka running, with its thousands of local and hundreds of European inhabitants.

After 11 years in that role he was obliged to retire by health problems, exacerbated by the uncertain political climate which then prevailed and in which he had to work. Our parents retired to Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe), where they lived near to REX and his wife Sheila. These were happy and untroubled times, but Mother’s health declined and she died in 1971.

In the same year my wife Judy and I returned from Zambia to live in England. A few years later Father, who suffered from emphysema, came to live with us, his health being much better at low altitude. He passed away in Kent in 1979.

REX and Sheila found the situation in Zimbabwe became intolerable, and in 2003 they left to live in Cape Town. Sheila passed away in 2011, and Rex in 2017, both in a care home in Rondebosch, outside Cape Town. They had no children.

PHYLLIS and her husband George Prior moved from Zambia to Rhodesia, and then on to Cape Town, where George passed away in 1990. Later PHYLLIS’s son and daughter both emigrated to Australia with their families, and PHYLLIS followed them to live in Brisbane.

My wife Judy and I still live in Kent, where I spend many of my retirement hours studying the Tattersfield family history, extending the family tree, and corresponding with interested members of the various family branches.

There are no TATTERSFIELDs now living in Africa, and the nearest relatives are cousins once removed, on mother’s side of the family.

Header Image: A flue-cured tobacco field in the southern African rainy season. The view is completely typical of the agricultural world into which Alfred and Annie Tattersfield arrived in Rhodesia in 1947.   Chris Sheppard /