Joseph Titcomb – Chelsea Pensioner

It might come as some surprise to find a Chelsea Pensioner living in Lydiard Tregoze in 1841.  The Royal Hospital at Chelsea was founded by Charles II in 1681 ‘to succour and relief of veterans broken by age and war.’ There was also an out-pension scheme for soldiers who had been wounded in battle or who had served more than 20 years in the British Army, and it was into this category that Joseph Titcomb fell.

Joseph was born in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze on February 14, 1798, the son of agricultural labourer John Titcomb and his wife Elizabeth. Joseph was destined, like his father, to spend a lifetime tilling the soil, employed on one of the several local farms owned by the St John family. But Joseph’s coat was cut from a different cloth.

Following victory in the Napoleonic Wars, England emerged mired in debt.  As discharged sailors and soldiers swelled the ranks of the unemployed Joseph’s career path took a surprising turn when on December 4, 1815 he enlisted in the 14th Regiment of Light Dragoons.  The potential for civil unrest in these post war years was high and in 1816 Joseph was among the 677 men who embarked at Bristol for Ireland where the end of the war with Napoleon also saw high levels of unemployment, famine and epidemics of cholera and typhus.

The Regiment of Dragoons – 12 troops under the command of ‘Our mostly deare and most intirely beloved Cousin Prince Rupert’ was raised by Charles II in 1672.  The 14th has been described as one of the most illustrious regiments in the British Cavalry, a regiment famous for its esprit de corps.  Following the accession of the House of Hanover the 14th added King to its title.

Joseph was discharged at the age of 43 having served 25 years with the 14th.  In 1841 his old regiment began a 19 year deployment in India, fighting at Ramnuggur during the First Sikh War 1845-46.  But for Joseph it was a return to the quiet life, and perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, marriage and a family.  In 1843 he married Ann Young Woolford at St Mary’s Church.  The couple took up residence in Hook where their three children Elizabeth, Caroline and George were born.

By 1851 Joseph was widowed and raising his young family with the help of 17 year old Maryann Woolford. Described on the census returns as his daughter in law it is likely that Maryann was Ann’s daughter by a previous relationship.  For more than twenty years Joseph apparently survived on his army pension, giving his status as Pensioner and Chelsea Pensioner on the 1841, 1851 and 1861 census returns.  However, towards the end of his life, then in his 70s, Joseph appears in the Lydiard Park wages book employed between 1867-1870.

Joseph died at his home in Hook Street in 1875 aged 77 years and was buried on September 16 in the churchyard at St Mary’s.

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