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What’s in a Sudbury name?

by Valerie Herbert

(Click on images to enlarge)

Sudbury, Suffolk, shares its name with other towns and villages, a river, a reef off Queensland and numerous streets around the world. Its largest namesake is Sudbury, Ontario, less than 130 years old and yet home to 158,000 people, dwarfing Mother Sudbury with its  population of only 20,000.

Downtown Sudbury Ontario

Canada’s Sudbury could not be more of a contrast to the little English town in its lush valley on the border between Suffolk and Essex that has a written history which dates back twelve centuries. Sudbury, Ontario, is a mining town in rugged country north of the Great Lake Huron. It produces a third of the world’s consumption of nickel, the valuable mineral used in alloys such as stainless steel and coins. The climate is very different too, hot and humid in the summer but the mean daytime temperature in January hovers around minus 13 centigrade. The average annual snowfall is 274 cm (more than 100 inches) and it can snow from September. Sudbury is largely bilingual, about a third of the population speaking French as their first language but almost half the population records its ethnic origins as being English, Scots or Irish.

The bonanza of nickel is the legacy of a massive meteorite strike almost two billion years ago which created a giant basin with deposits of copper, gold, platinum and silver as well as nickel. The discovery of this giant cache of precious metals led to Sudbury experiencing its own version of a gold rush in the late 19th century. Almost 100 years of mining and smelting turned the area into a polluted blot on the landscape visible from outer space. It was denuded of trees and seared by acid rain, its polluted lakes and waterways surrounding spoil heaps and smoking chimneys. NASA used it as a training ground for Apollo astronauts to prepare them for a terrain scarred by meteorites. Then in the 1930s Sudbury began to clean up its act. Eight million new trees are turning it green again and lakes and waterways have been cleaned. Only two mines remain, both owned by international conglomerates.

Satellite view of the mines

Greater Sudbury formed

Sudbury began the 21st  century by absorbing surrounding settlements to form Greater Sudbury which has its own university, airport, specialist regional cancer hospital and a science park that is a national attraction. Fibre optic cables carry broadband internet connection, radio and TV to every home and business in this city which has its eyes firmly fixed on the future. Yet, you may well be asking, how did this mining town, so unlike its Suffolk namesake, come to be called Sudbury. It is a matter of love or perhaps pleasing or appeasing the wife.

Science North - major visitor attraction

The area was a remote logging camp when the westward-bound Canadian Pacific Railway reached it 1883. The halt needed a name and the construction superintendent James Worthington named it Sudbury after his wife’s birthplace. But in the history of this burgeoning city his wife remains just Mrs Worthington, her family name and background having been washed away by the passage of time.

Sketch of Sudbury in early 1880s


The answers have at last been discovered in her home town of Sudbury, Suffolk, the breakthrough being an item in The Canadian News published in London in 1959. It records the marriage in Toronto of a James Worthington to Caroline Frances, ‘second daughter of John Hitchcock, Esq. of Bollington, Suffolk.’ There is no such place as Bollington in Suffolk but Ballingdon is the southern most part of Sudbury lying across the River Stour. Could this be the birthplace of Mrs Worthington? The facts support it. The census of 1861 records John Hitchcock and his wife Caroline living in Ballingdon Street next door to James Hale the blacksmith. There is no mention of a daughter Caroline but by that time she would have been married and living in Canada.

Detail of 1861 Census


However, 20 years earlier the June 1841 census records tailor John Hitchcock and his wife Caroline living in North Street, with Caroline F Hitchcock the second daughter among their six children. Her age is given as seven but she was probably nine as she was baptised at St Peter’s Church in September 1832. It was not unknown for the parents of large families to be hazy about birth dates.

Detail of 1841 Census North Street

St Peter's church about 1820 where the Hitchcock children were baptised

There is other evidence to support the proposition that this Caroline Hitchcock was the inspiration for the naming of Sudbury, Ontario. The Canadian census of 1881 records James Worthington and his wife Caroline living in Brockville on the St Lawrence River where the railway line began. Both were born in England and James Worthington is described as a contractor, a likely occupation for the man who brought the CPR to Sudbury.

An entry in the Commemorative Biographical Record of County of York, Ontario, published in 1907 is the conclusive piece of the jigsaw. It describes James Worthington as ‘one of the well known men of Ontario’ who in 1859 married as his second wife Caroline Hitchcock, daughter of John Hitchcock. According to the 1901 Canadian census she had emigrated in 1858, the year before their marriage. It is a likely that Caroline was among the many young women who emigrated to Canada seeking work as housekeepers, the predominantly male immigration having led to a shortage of women. The Canadian Immigration Report of 1849/50 records the arrival in Toronto of a party of 18 women sent out by the London Female Emigration Society who ‘were all placed in situations in the course of a few days.’ The report suggests that there were jobs for many more women in Canada.

The choice of employment for Caroline in her home town would have been limited. Many women spent long hours at the loom as silk weavers, the silk industry being a major employer, producing fabrics such as velvets and finely-woven silk for umbrellas. It still is an important industry in the town though now specialising in weaving jacquard silks for the luxury market – Michelle Obama has been photographed wearing a coat made of Sudbury silk.

Sudbury silk weaving in the late 19th century

Emigrating to Canada would have been a brave step for Caroline but she had a younger sister Emily as a companion. Eventually two more of her sisters and a brother would emigrate to Canada. A month after Caroline married James Worthington, 21-year-old Emily Hitchcock was also a bride. Her new husband, John William Malcolm, a 22-year-old carpenter, had been born in Canada. Within a matter of months he emigrated to the United States followed by Emily, the couple eventually settling in Hunter town, Indiana, where they founded a dynasty. They named their first-born son James Worthington Malcolm perhaps in gratitude to Caroline’s husband for financial support.

The Hitchcock family

The Hitchcock family was well known in Sudbury, Suffolk, in the 19th century as it flourished in numbers and influence.  Caroline and Emily’s father John Hitchcock was one of a family of ten and the father of eleven. He was  described as a draper when Caroline was baptised, then later as a tailor. But in 1846 he was appointed an officer of the Sudbury Union Workhouse, an institution for the destitute set up in 1837 under an Act of Parliament. He was one of three Relieving Officers who between them dealt with the poor and destitute in the 42 Suffolk and Essex parishes within its jurisdiction. As a Relieving Officer he would have had power and status as he decided if paupers were given assistance to remain in their own home or admitted to the dreaded workhouse. There inmates were harshly treated and families were separated – men, women and children being force to live apart. In 1851 there were nearly 300 inmates and 123 of them were children. Hitchcock had  a salary of £100 a year – more than four times the earnings of an agricultural worker – and he seems to have had a side line in providing coffins for paupers.

Passions could run high among the desperate poor and one man claiming relief attempted to attack Hitchcock with a large flint. The blow was deflected but the magistrates sentenced the attacker to pay a fine or serve two months hard labour in jail. The fine of two shillings would almost certainly have been beyond his means.

Sudbury workhouse survived into the 21st century as the Walnuttree hospital


Other Hitchcocks had influence in Sudbury. George Hitchcock, one of Caroline and Emily’s uncles, was chief constable charged with policing the town and their grandfather, another John, had been the landlord of the White Horse in North Street and proprietor of the Coffee House Inn on the Market Hill. This was pulled down in 1840 to make way for the handsome Corn Exchange which is now the town’s library. He died in 1828 at the age of 57 as recorded on his headstone in St Gregory’s churchyard. His wife Susannah lies buried there too. Caroline’s father died in 1865 at the age of 60 and was among the first to be buried in the town’s new town cemetery. Her mother then moved to London with her two youngest children.

Grandfather Hitchcock's headstone


Caroline’s father, grandfather and her uncle George were all Freemen of the Borough of Sudbury which gave them special rights including being able to practise their trades in the town and to graze cattle on the Common Lands. Sudbury Hitchcock’s became coal merchants, shopkeepers and coopers. In 1869 a Thomas Hitchcock was a corn and seed merchant as well as a maltster preparing barley for brewers. He was in business at Sudbury railway station and also in the towns of Bury St Edmunds, Lavenham, Ipswich and Colchester. In the 20th century three members of the extended family would served the town as Mayor. Harry Hitchcock, the owner of a timber and coal business in Station Road, was Mayor in 1915; his son Clifford served four terms as Mayor in the late 1930s and 1930s, and his wife Kathleen was elected Sudbury‘S first woman Mayor in 1963.

The English background of railway builder James Worthington is sketchier but the man whose name was given to both the settlement of Worthington close to Sudbury and a nickel mine, came from near Leek in Staffordshire. According to the  Commemorative Biographical Record of the County of York he was orphaned at five and emigrated to Canada at 17. He owned a small farm before moving to Toronto where he had a contracting business with his older brother John. Together and separately they built the University College and other structures as well as fortifications in Quebec.

The 1907 biography reveals that Worthington had been married before. His first wife was Hannah Shun ‘by whom he had one child, J. C. now deceased, who left four children, Harry, Charles, Ida and Pearl.’ There is no mention of any children of his second marriage to Caroline. It is possible that he hired her initially as a housekeeper or as nursemaid to look after his son. When they married she would have been 26 and he ten years older. It might have been a marriage of convenience but it lasted almost 40 years until his death. Despite his childhood as an orphan, or perhaps because of it, he had the willpower, courage and initiative that made him something of a pioneering figure in the development of the new nation. As a result Caroline enjoyed a life style far beyond that she would have expected in her home town.

At this time of his marriage to Caroline Worthington was a building contractor in partnership with his brother. Toronto was in the midst of a building boom. ‘Toronto, No Mean City, a celebration of the city’s great buildings of the past’, by Eric Arthur (Toronto University Press) records that their projects included the House of Providence, a huge Roman Catholic Institution opened in 1857 to care for the old, invalid and destitute. James continued in business on his own after his brother left the partnership, lured away by the hope of lucrative contracts to build railways that were then being built in a patchwork fashion in central Canada. James continued alone, two of his largest Toronto contracts were for the Ontario Bank and the Bank of Toronto which he built in 1861 and the following year.

Former Bank of Toronto built by Worthington

Then he too quit in the hope of making his fortune building railways that would open up yet untamed lands to the west which were rich in timber. Worthington joined forces with a Montreal businessman and they and took control of the Canadian Central Railway as it reached from Brockville on the St Lawrence towards Sudbury. Progress was slow because of the rugged terrain and the need to build bridges, and in 1880 Worthington was bankrupted through his debts to the Bank of Montreal. In the census of the following year he and Caroline were in Brockville at the beginning of the line. Living with them were two servants and Eliza, another of Caroline’s sisters, who had followed her across the Atlantic 10 years earlier. That same year the Canadian Central was amalgamated with the Canadian Pacific Railway and Worthington was  employed as construction superintendent to continue building the line.

Bridge at Sturgeon Falls built by Worthington


It took him the entire year of 1883 to build the 70 miles from Sturgeon Falls to Vermillion River just beyond Sudbury and the company, wanting faster progress, replaced him with another engineer. Worthington, now 61, turned his back on railways investing instead in the mining bonanza. He was director of  two mines in the Sudbury area,  one of them and a settlement near Sudbury being named after him. The Sudbury halt became a busy junction connecting the timber and mining town with Toronto and the west. Now a relocated Sudbury station lies on the CPR line connecting Toronto to Vancouver.

Sudbury Junction about 1890

At the time of the 1891 Canadian census 68-year-old Worthington had changed his life again. He was in business in the Swansea area of Toronto manufacturing bolts and employing a large workforce. He and Caroline were living comfortably, cared for by a cook, housemaid and coachman. The census return has a surprise – two other women were also living in the house. One was Caroline’s youngest sister 37-year-old Margaret Ann who had been a dressmaker. She would have been the fourth of John Hitchcock’s daughters to cross the Atlantic having emigrated with Eliza in 1871 perhaps persuaded  by Caroline’s letters home.

James Worthington died in Toronto in November 1898 and when it came to the 1901 census Caroline, Eliza and Margaret Ann were living together in Toronto with a servant. All three were Canadian citizens and Caroline discloses she was living on private means. She died four years later. Canadian census returns are readily available on line and free but  as with all census results, they are only as good as the information entered. In this case Eliza’s surname is given as Worthington not Hitchcock though she is described as Caroline’s sister and her age is correct. Caroline died four years later .

There is another surprise in the 1911 census. With Caroline dead, the head of the household in Wailer Road, North Toronto, was her youngest sister Margaret Ann Hitchcock. Living with her was the now widowed sister Eliza who had emigrated from Sudbury with her. But the household included yet another Hitchcock – their youngest brother Edward, now 60, who had moved to London after his father died and become a draper. He and Margaret had been born in 1848 and 1851 at Mounts Farm in Belchamp Walter, Essex, during a period when John Hitchcock’s duties at the Sudbury workhouse embraced the Essex villages.

So now the mystery of Mrs Sudbury’s identity has been solved and the story of her family told. She was one of the many who had  the courage and initiative to seek a new life in Canada but she also has her own special place in its history – a town named in her honour.

September 2010