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  • Writer's pictureJessica Feinstein

Joseph Beckett, stonemason

Joseph Beckett (son of John), was Ari’s 5x great-grandfather. He was born in 1773 in Chilmark, Wiltshire. His mother was Ann Sopp.


Here is the record of his baptism on 23 May 1773:

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Wiltshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812

Joseph married Sarah Foyle on 13 April 1809 in the nearby village of Teffont Evias.

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Wiltshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1916


The Ley family, who were lords of the manor in Teffont Evias from 1545 to 1692, left their mark on the parish church with their splendid tombs and a selection of coloured glass window panels like this one.

Joseph and Sarah had five children between 1810 and 1823, and it is from their baptisms that we know he was a stonemason.

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Wiltshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1916

We know from British History Online that “Portland stone outcropping in the valley marking the boundary between Chilmark and Teffont Evias has long been quarried. Some of the Chilmark stone which was used in the Middle Ages for many buildings in the county may have come from Teffont Evias.” (

“Teffont Evias manor in 1860 included a freestone quarry near the boundary with Chilmark and a quarry on Butts Hill west of the village street. T. T. Gething & Co., later the Chilmark Quarry Co. Ltd., occupied that near Chilmark, with others in Chilmark, from 1908 or earlier until 1937. The firm supplied stone c. 1909 for the restoration of paving in Westminster Abbey. The quarries, which extended underground for 18 a., in 1937 became part of R.A.F. Chilmark’s storage depot for bombs and high explosives. They were so used in 1984. In 1977 their surface area was part of 35 a. in Teffont Evias and Chilmark which were classified as of special geological and biological interest. The Butts Hill quarry remained within the Teffont estate and stone was taken from it occasionally during the Second World War. It closed in 1947.”

Joseph died at the age of 66, on 4 May 1839. The cause of death was consumption.

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I wonder if this was possibly a disease called “stone-masons’ phtisis”, caused by inhaling fine particles of grit. A book called Mortality from Respiratory Diseases in Dusty Trades by Frederick Ludwig Hoffman says that “The stonecutters’ trade is one which requires both skill and arduous physical labor. The men as a rule work in the open air, and in very warm or wet weather under shelter; but all are liable to inhale the dust and small particles from the material upon which they operate.”

A Bulletin of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics says that “The health of stone and marble cutters has, from earliest times, been notoriously bad.” It quotes a 1705 work by Ramazzini on diseases of tradesmen which says: “In hewing marble or stones out of the rock, in polishing and cutting them, [workers] oftentimes suck in, by inspiration, the sharp, rough, and cornered small splinters and particles that fly off; so that they are usually troubled with a cough, and some of them turn asthmatic and consumptive.”

Joseph’s burial took place on 10 May at the church at Chilmark.


Ari, this is how you are related to Joseph:

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