Thomas Smiles and Eleanor Ann Riddle
  Dinnington and Alnwick, Northumberland
Parents of
Thomas Smiles
Father: John Smiles
Mother: Mary Wilson
Eleanor Ann Riddle
Father: Ralph Riddle
Mother: UnknownHome.htmlshapeimage_5_link_0shapeimage_5_link_1

Nobody could have foreseen in 1835 when Thomas Smiles was born in the obscure village of Dinnington that his future would be any different to that of any other boy born in rural Northumberland at that time. For those who stayed on the land as agricultural laborers, there were the increasing economic difficulties brought by a revolution in farming. The most obvious alternative was the coal mines, associated industries or manufacturing.

Exactly why Thomas ended up as a tailor is uncertain. The Smiles family was surrounded by other families whose livelihood depended on the land. But there was one exception - a tailor’s family nearby. Did Thomas as a boy of 6 or 7 watch the tailor and his son at work - or did his parents first have that idea? We will probably never know, but by the time he was 16 Thomas had become one of two apprentices to another tailor in the village. He was the younger of the two by three years.

It must have been obvious to Thomas and his family that his best prospects lay outside the tiny village of Dinnington, and after he completed his apprenticeship he headed for the large historic market town of Alnwick, the county seat, some 40 miles away to the north. The town is particularly distinguished by the magnificent castle and some ancient history. Thomas took up lodgings in a boarding house run by an elderly Scotsman and his sister in Lisburn Street. Many of the houses in the street were well suited to single workers who had been attracted by employment prospects from all over the north of England. Divided into rooms for lodgers, they included among Thomas’s neighbors a bookbinder, a french polisher and a cooper (a cask or barrel maker). Thomas was the only tailor among them. 

Thomas worked hard and showed promise, earning the confidence of the tailor with whom he found work, and increased responsibilities. Turning 28, he felt confident enough to propose to Eleanor Riddle, an Alnwick girl, and they were married in the early summer of 1865. 

As he continued to work well, his employer promoted him to foreman, and the couple were able to set up house in the more comfortable and presentable Percy Terrace - around the corner from Lisburn Street but, with its hillside advantage, affording much nicer views of the distant Northumberland countryside. The new place provided enough space for the three sons - Ralph, Henry and Charles - who would arrive in the next six years, as well as Eleanor’s aging father, Ralph Riddle.shapeimage_6_link_0
Thomas Smiles: 
Born 1835 Dinnington, Northumberland, England
Eleanor Ann Riddle: 
Born 1837 Alnwick, Northumberland, England
Children of
Thomas Smiles and Eleanor Ann Riddle

Ralph Ridley Smiles - Born 1867 Alnwick, Northumberland
Henry John Smiles - Born 1870 Alnwick, Northumberland
Charles Wilson Smiles - Born 1871 Alnwick, N’thumberlndsmiles_henry_and_sarah_1870.htmlshapeimage_8_link_0

Market Street, Alnwick, leading into Bondgate.

Lisburn Street, Alnwick, where Thomas Smiles first lodged as a bachelor after moving from Dinnington.

The 1841 census showing the John and Mary Smiles family at Dinnington. Thomas is age 6. Image courtesy of the National Archives, London, England, and

After the birth of his third son, Charles, in the late winter of 1871, Thomas would have had good reason to be satisfied with his choices in life. He had a wife, three children, the means to support them, and excellent prospects for setting up his own business. In fact, that was his next step, and within the next few years he developed his own substantial tailor’s shop in Bondgate, the main thoroughfare and ancient highway that ran through the center of town. It says much for his industry that by the end of ten years, he was employing four men, a woman and two boys in the business.

As the 1880s passed and the three boys neared manhood, attention turned to the question of employment, and who would continue the family business. Neither of the first two sons showed great interest. Ralph, the eldest, left home and headed for Tynemouth to work in the coal mines. Henry, at the age of 21, was a law clerk, but he was unsettled and looking for something different. Only Charles, 20 years old in 1891, showed both interest and aptitude. And so for the next ten years Charles worked hard, becoming a master draper and assuming the business when his father retired. 

A year later, in 1892, second son Henry decided he’d had enough of law, packed a single bag and boarded the ship Britannic at Liverpool for the United States, taking his dreams with him.  

Three years later, in 1895, Ralph - still a miner near the coast, married Mary Jane Simpson at the age of 28 - the same age that his father, Thomas, had wed. He would never return to live in Alnwick. He named two children after his parents - Thomas and Eleanor - but died at the young age of 43.

Charles, the youngest of the three sons, married some three years later in 1898, but in his case there was tragedy. Within 19 months, his wife, the former Ann Jane Stephenson, died at the age of 27 of a cerebral tumor, leaving the couple childless. Charles continued to support his aging parents in their home in Market Street until 1907, when they both died within a few months of each other at the age of 72. There is no indication that Charles ever married again.

To find out what happened to Henry in America, click on his name in the “Children” box.

Percy Terrace, which takes its name from the Percy family who have lived at Alnwick Castle for 700 years. Thomas and his family lived here around 1870.

For details of the family tree of Thomas Smiles and Eleanor Riddle, click on the WorldConnect icon below. This will open a window for these individuals in the Otterson-Berry family tree at, a free site.