Shearley you can’t be serious?


Sometimes genealogy can be a disappointing hobby. Take this week for instance. My mum and I have been researching our family tree for many years, and one particular branch has us stumped.  No sooner do we think we have got somewhere when our ancestors laugh in our faces (possibly stick two fingers up at us too) and then do that annoying Ha-ha just like Nelson from the Simpsons.

First of all my mum received a Will she had ordered, it had mentioned the Executor as being one of our family. We could see no reason for this but of course on reading the Will all would be revealed and we would be able to work out everything that eluded us so far about this family. Oh we were excited, the Will would give us a clue that would lead us to the real baptism of great x many Grandad Francis Shearley.  And there his dad would be waving to us outside the church beckoning us in to join the family for the baptism and learn all kinds of names and dates to add to the family tree.


What a let-down that Will was. It told us nothing we didn’t already know. And to add insult to injury Francis and his wife Maria didn’t even get left anything in it. And it cost my mum a tenner! – looking closer  his dad obviously wasn’t ‘waving’ at us from outside the church. Ha-ha.

While waiting for this wonderful Will to arrive my mum found us a little diversion to keep us occupied.

My mums Grandma, Edith Shearley, had an older brother Frederick who, amongst his many children had a son named William.

William was born in Greenwich, London in 1889 and when he left school he started work at nearby Deptford Bridge Station as a parcel porter.

Every night after work he would return home to his parents house near Blackheath Common. Meanwhile a few minutes walk away lived Nellie Crowe a young woman from Tonbridge in Kent, who was working as a cook in a private house.

At some point in 1911 William and Nellie met and decided to get married. They were married in Lewisham in the spring of 1912 and errr, fairly soon after, their daughter Beatrice (named after Williams sister) was born. All good so far. However poor William died in 1915 leaving Nellie and Beatrice to fend for themselves. Nellie decided to move closer to home, and we next found her in Sevenoaks, Kent working at the station as a ticket collector.

Now all we really knew of Beatrice was that she died in 1917. We had to know why. We just had to.  My mum scoured the newspapers of the time and found an obituary  for the little girl.

Beatrice had lived in the Hip Hospital close to her home for a year and a half before her death. She was suffering from what was called ‘hip disease’. This was a very painful condition which caused inflamed joints, abscesses and could even dislocate bones. It is now believed to have possibly been a complication caused by tuberculosis. Many children died from hip disease and autopsies did show that some of them had TB deposits in their lungs.

After 16 months at the hospital Beatrice went home. It had become obvious that she didn’t have long to live and perhaps Nellie decided it would be for the best to take her daughter home and care for her there.

Beatrice was buried at the (then) fairly new cemetery near her home and as it is only about an hours drive away – via Marks & Sparks – we decided to go and find her. We were sure we would find her headstone and maybe it would help further our research.

Our outing was quite unusual, I managed to drive to the cemetery without getting too lost, we arrived to find not only was the cemetery office open but a kind soul was there to find the burial in the register and even walk us to the spot. My mum had forgotten her notebook and pen but not to worry I had my camera and …..

…..oh bugger, no headstone. Just a patch of grass, squished between two unrelated memorials. It must be the wrong place. Surely little Beatrice had a headstone? we walked around checking but no it was the right place. We stood there looking down at the grass, just where Nellie must have stood with her brother Percy and sister Alice beside her.  Some of the nurses from the hospital had attended the funeral too so there would have been quite a crowd there.

It has left us with more unanswered questions. Beatrice seems to have no family buried close to her.  None of her Shearley relatives attended her funeral.  She has no memorial to mark her last resting place and yet someone purchased the grave for her. Arghhh!

So yes, it is sometimes a disappointing hobby, but then it is one that gives us great satisfaction when things do eventually slot into place.

In the meantime if you ever find a Francis Shearley please do tell him we are looking for him, and give him a little ‘wave’ from us won’t you.

Return visit to beatrice

In memory of Beatrice Shearley aged 5.

It could all be rubbish.

I can only apologise to anyone who has been waiting for a new post. I have an excuse or 2 though. I have several new and exciting projects on the go… a couple don’t even have anything to do with dead people!

One of the projects is de-cluttering the house and doing a bit of decorating.

Soooo last Sunday I packed the car full of old junk and headed over to the local tip. I had a lot of old boxes to put in the cardboard recycling skip, so I climbed up the horrible metal steps in my sensible shoes (I have been known to get a boot heel stuck in the grills of those steps before…) and threw them in to the almost full bin. Then I spotted a pile of books sitting  near the edge of the container. Books! In the skip!!

One of the books looked quite old and I just couldn’t resist flicking the cover open to have a little nosy…

Edith Price

The inscription inside was almost illegible but the  year was still clearly visible, written in ink it said 1878.  I was pretty confident I could find something out about the Victorian owner of the book so I asked one of the staff if I could take the book home.

Printed in 1833, the book has the rather grand title ‘The Students Manual, An Etymological And Explanatory Vocabulary Of Words Derived From The Greek’ by R. Harrison Black, LL.D. According to its author it was originally compiled for the use of a young female relative and was then ‘published with the hope of it being generally useful more especially to young ladies – whose mode of education precludes them from an acquaintance with Greek.’ Thoughtful chap.

Now I won’t fib, this one has been a toughie. But I do not give up on dead people easily. Unless they specifically ask me to.

So I began by studying the inscription.  I have it as ‘from M.Blackstone to Edith M K Price. 1878’.  We can tell from the photo that the M.Blackstone has been written long before the rest of the dedication, it is in a steadier hand and the ink is of a slightly different colour. The book has been given to Edith by M long after M initially owned it.

I can only find one likely recipient, Edith Mary Karslake Price born in Scotland circa 1857, making her 21 when she was given the book.

Next job was to find Edith as close to 1878 as possible. In both 1871 and 1881 she was living in Rottingdean, on the outskirts of Brighton, with her mother and siblings including  younger brother Salisbury who later in life would become a Vicar.

Now I had to try and locate an M Blackstone.

A mile away in Ovingdean, living a quiet life next door to the local Vicar was an elderly spinster, Miss Margaret Blackstone. Born in 1799 in Wymering, Hampshire, Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Bigg-Withers and the Rev. Charles Blackstone. The ‘Materials for a history of the Wither family’ located on has some great information on the Bigg-Wither family including some letters written by them.

The Bigg-Withers family owned Manydown Park, Hampshire and were neighbours of the famous Austens and one of them, Harris, proposed to Jane. She apparently accepted his proposal briefly, changing her mind the next day.

Charles Blackstone died in 1804 and his widow Margaret spent much of her time at her childhood home with her also widowed sister and their combined collection of  small children.

Margaret the younger lived with her mother until Margaret Snr died in 1842. Then she gradually moved her way towards Brighton during the next few decades.

Could Margaret have been the mysterious M? We have no real way of telling. I think M was probably a woman, and had a love of learning. Both owners of the book came from families of wealth and property, were fortunate to be in a position where they could have a good education, and both had Clergymen in their immediate family.

Perhaps the women met socially as they only lived a few minutes walk apart, Margaret discovering their shared love of learning giving her book to Edith for her birthday. Could it have been a gesture to show the shared frustration felt by women who were limited in their studies by the age they lived in?

Maybe Margaret isn’t the correct M.Blackstone after all.  We’ll never know.

Margaret and Edith lived on their private incomes during their lifetimes and remained  unmarried. They died in 1885 and 1943 respectively.

Now I am sure I must have one project that doesn’t involve the dearly departed somewhere.








Albert Dadswell Baldwin

The summer in East Sussex during August 1856 was particularly fine, although towards the end of the month the weather turned stormy. On the 24th a young widow of just 28 stood watching at the graveside, the burial of her husband of only short two years. Perhaps she was holding her one year old daughter, perhaps the small girl was with relatives awaiting her mothers return.

Albert Dadswell Baldwin was born in 1833 to James and Sophia. He was the eldest of 7 children that I have so far found – all but the youngest of them being boys.

James Baldwin was a hairdresser and the family had premises on the high street in Wadhurst a small but bustling village on the border of Kent and East Sussex. As the children grew he trained some of them up in the same trade, just as his father had done with him, and a couple of them eventually married and moved away from the village, becoming hairdressers themselves in other villages close by. Albert, however, stayed at home and took over his fathers shop along with his younger brothers.

I usually have a picture in my head of how the people in my research looked, and to begin with I was seeing an image of Albert with one of those long curly moustaches (or is that moustachi?!) standing in front of a mirror waving a pair of scissors around while chatting  about holidays, the sound of hairdryers and the phone ringing in the background.  Then I remembered it was 1856 not 1956.

It was about this time that the first post boxes started appearing in the UK, ‘Londonderry Air’ was published for the first time, and the clock tower which would eventually hold ‘Big Ben’ hadn’t even been completed yet. Yes it was a loooong time ago.

Of course I’ve had to do a little research into the art of Victorian Hairdressing….. and to my dismay I found that Albert probably wasn’t curling and plaiting hair into those beautiful 19th century hairstyles, he was more than likely to be found cutting the hair of Fred next door who had just finished a days work spreading manure on the potato fields. And didn’t have a shower at home. Or a bath. In fact he would have shared a toilet with at least one of his neighbours and his wife would have got the tin bath out of the shed on a Sunday for him. Albert certainly earnt his money!

A few doors away from the Baldwins lived James Burt, a tailor, and his daughter Emily. Emily was a dressmaker and also took care of her brothers and her widowed father, cooking, cleaning and generally keeping house.  Albert and Emily were the same age and might have attended the village school or a ‘Dame school’ together as they grew up a few doors apart. They were married in the spring of 1854 and the following year their daughter Elizabeth was born.

Albert became ill during 1856, and the doctor diagnosed Consumption, the lung disease we now know as Tuberculosis.

The prognosis for Albert wasn’t good. Tuberculosis was occasionally curable, depending on the strain  but most cases ended with the death of the patient. It was a familiar disease to families in Victorian England – it was easily spread through coughing and didn’t discriminate between victims, young and old were all at risk.  Albert would have had a terrible cough, and he would have gradually got weaker and weaker. By the time he was coughing up blood he would have been very unwell indeed.

Albert was dead within a month. He was just 32 years old. He passed away quietly at home while life outside the bedroom window carried on as usual. A friend and neighbour shoemaker Richard Pilbeam sat with him as he died and it was Richard who went to the local Registrar William Martin to officially report the death and receive a copy of the certificate.

Emily returned to the home of her father, taking her daughter with her. She probably returned to dressmaking to help pay for her keep – but, as is often the case for women, the census gives her occupation just as ‘Housekeeper’.  James Burt died in 1875 and 4 years later Elizabeth married Sidney Ansell, and Emily lived with her daughter and son in law until her death in 1911. She remained in the village, close to her husbands family for the rest of her life. She never married again and had died a widow of almost 55 years.



And I will seek a foreign home.

Thomas Woolley

I rather thoughtfully scrawled my name on the fly leaf of this book when I was  10 although luckily it wasn’t over the original owners name.  I have no idea where it came from, I thought I had pinched it from the school library but having researched it, now I think it may have belonged a distant relative at some point.

The book, ‘The clock on the stairs’ by Alice Webber, was given to Thomas Eli Woolley for his good conduct and careful work at school in 1904, funnily enough he was almost 10  when he got the book. He was the eldest of 7 children born to Amos, a labourer, and Mary Ann and the family lived in and around Plumstead, southeast London. After he left school he became a printer, an occupation he continued with for many years.

I can’t find hide nor hair of him serving in WW1 but, as a great many service records were destroyed during bombing in WW2, it is possible there are just no surviving records for Thomas. He was of an age to go to war so it is likely he did.

Now, as the war ended, Thomas decided to do something very exciting. Just as the Roaring Twenties were beginning, 25 year old Thomas packed his bags and left behind London, setting sail for New Zealand. He might have paid for his ticket or if he was an ex-serviceman he may have been able to take advantage of a free passage. This was being offered to various groups of people to assist them to start a new life in NZ.

He sailed from Southampton on the 20th of May 1920 on board the Osterley and arrived in Auckland (via Sydney) finishing his journey on the Riverina on the 20th of July.  The passenger list gives his occupation as still being a printer although he was unable to find work in the printing industry on arrival.    He settled in Moa Street, Otahuhu and found work at the Westfield Freezing Works, which I think froze meat before it was sent to the shops.

A few months after Thomas arrived, his younger sister Elizabeth set out to join him.  Leaving Southampton in November and sailing through a terrible storm lasting several days, she arrived in Auckland on the SS Arawa on December the 28th 1920 and presumably lived with her brother while she found work.  Elizabeth was 22 years old. I wonder how their family felt, thousands of miles back home knowing they were unlikely to see Thomas and Elizabeth again.

Life in Otahuhu would have been a fair bit different from London I would imagine. The weather, the people, the housing, simply the access to the cleaner fresher coastal air would have been like nothing the pair would have known. It would have taken time for them to settle down and get used to their new life. Sadly time wasn’t something Thomas had a lot left of.

On the 13th of April 1921 Thomas was at work. He was stirring boiling tar in barrels when his apron caught light and despite the best efforts of his work colleagues to quickly put the flames out, Thomas suffered terrible burns to his arms and legs.  He was taken to hospital where for a time he rallied but after two whole weeks of suffering he passed away from septic shock on the 30th of April.

His sister placed a small notice in the newspaper. She would have had to telegram her parents back in England, who would have been unable to travel to her. The voyage out had taken 2 months. Thomas’ father Amos wrote a small obituary for his beloved and eldest son giving details of his funeral on the 2nd of May at Otahuhu public cemetery.  Not quite ten months after arriving in Auckland.

Elizabeth stayed in New Zealand, even if she had wanted to return to her family it is unlikely she would have been able to afford to.  In 1923 she married a local man and died a widow aged 93.


What were the chances of that happening?

Serendipity.  Coincidence. Fluke. Chance.

Family history and genealogy is full of it. Whether or not we believe in magic or fairies  sometimes  something will take pity on us and put us out of our misery and while we are researching something,  that elusive ancestor will pop up living next door to a totally unrelated person we are looking at in the 1851 census.

When I was researching Annie, one of my first posts on the blog, I was surprised to find that I had actually visited her home before as  it is now the veterinary surgery I take my cat to. Not that Gingercat is very impressed.

While I was researching Esther (see previous post) I found that her brother Archibald was killed in World War One. I spent an afternoon trying to find out which local war memorial his name was recorded on. There was a choice of two churches it could have been at. I emailed Penshurst church and they said no he wasn’t listed there and to try Speldhurst Church.

So I actually drove to Speldhurst to look for myself – but he wasn’t mentioned on the memorial there either. I did have a look around the church though as I hadn’t been there before and it is well known for its windows that were  designed by William Morris and they are indeed worth a look.

speldhurst church

I had also tried to discover where Esther was buried, I had a date of death for her and her husband but I had no luck in finding her last resting place.

I did find a mention of her father Edgar Child’s funeral in a local paper, it was held at a tiny  chapel that I hadn’t heard of before. I wondered whether there was a war memorial there with Archibald’s name on so yesterday I dragged the family and the dog over to the chapel to have a look.

There was no memorial there so I had a quick look for Edgar and his wife Harriet. No sign of them.  I was about to give up when who should I find right beside me but Esther herself, quietly waiting with her husband and daughter for me to find her.


Esther’s grave with her childhood home in the distance.

So I was fairly pleased with that!  I wasn’t so pleased with the muddy wet dog we had to take home but it was a small price to pay.

As we left I had a quick glance round for interesting headstones and one caught my eye, that of Hope Constables wife, Emma Ann Lewis.

Hope Constable

That evening I sat down to see what I could find out about Hope and his wife. The first thing I discovered is that  he was a builder and brickmaker.  And amongst the many buildings he built was Speldhurst Church. Yes, the one I had visited and admired for the first time a couple of days before.

The second thing I found was that his 12 year old daughter Ama Beatrice drowned in the river beside the family home. But that’s another story.



… with best love from Esther

Esther Childs

I spotted this small bible and the common prayer book laying side by side on the table, obviously trying to get my attention by flapping their pages about in the breeze. And (as much as I tried to resist) of course I ended up picking one up. Inside it read  ‘To Mother with best love from Esther. Christmas 1910.’

Not much to go on there so I put it back down.

Then I picked up the bible. ‘To Esther A E Childs from her sister Belinda. Christmas 1903. The Lord bless Thee and keep Thee.’

So now I had given myself a dilemma. Do I buy the book with the inscription? and if so do I leave the other book behind which Esther has given to her mother? Arghhh!

So I asked the stallholder how much he wanted for the bible. He took a quick look at it and told me he thought it once belonged to someone in his family. And then asked a couple of quid for it.  And then even though the other book had no other information to give me I bought that too because I just couldn’t bear to split them up.

It took me a while to find out about ‘Mother’ and her two daughters – their surname is sometimes spelt with an s on the end and Belinda isn’t really her first name – she was baptised Clara. But eventually I tracked them down and here is a little peek into their lives.

The Autumn of 1888 is remembered for its connection to the Whitechapel Murders, and at the same time Jack was finishing off the last of the Canonical Five, a little girl was being born in the small parish of Penshurst in rural Kent, about 30 miles south of London. The little girl was named Esther after her paternal aunt.

The village grew up around the medieval manor house Penshurst Place which today is partially open to the public. And apart from seeing many a royal visit and being owned by kings and earls  some of that film The Other Boleyn Girl was filmed there (but maybe we will forget about that last ‘claim to fame’…! )

Esther’s father Edgar worked on one of the many farms within the parish as a carter and her mother Harriet tried to keep the household running smoothly with three growing sons at school, a small daughter and now a newborn baby to contend with. Another daughter would follow a couple of years later to complete the family. The couple were luckier than many – all six of their children survived childhood.

Both Harriet and Edgar were born in the village. They were married in the parish church, just a few minutes walk from the family’s cottage, where their children would later be baptised. The children all attended the small village school and Edgar remained at the farm for his entire working life. All in all they were just an ordinary hardworking family.

Belinda was the first child to leave home, in the 1901 census she is living with a family in the village working as a maid. Also in the household is 16 year old Mary Mortlock who is the family’s cook! I’m not sure I have ever seen a cook as young as her. If I had been Mary the whole family would have dined on scrambled egg on burnt toast frequently.  That and burnt tinned soup.

Belinda was married in 1906 (maybe the food drove her away?) to Frederick, a signalman on the main line to London,  and moved away from the village to a workers cottage near the railway in the local town. Belinda and Frederick had several children.

The three sons of the household remained at home until they married, Henry was a builders labourer, Archibald a gardeners assistant and the youngest, Alfred helped with the horses his dad used on the farm.

Esther went to work as a domestic servant for a family in the village. She would have had a great many duties including perhaps making beds, cleaning carpets, laying and lighting the fires, emptying chamber pots, washing up, laundering, ironing and mending  clothing, cleaning floors and windows, helping to prepare and serve meals. The list of jobs is endless. Add to this that the family ran a grocer and draper shop and we might find that Esther sometimes had to work in the shop too.

But I suspect she must have had a little time to herself occasionally because on Saturday the 12th of April 1914 Esther Annie Elizabeth got married to Frederick, a local bricklayer.  She wore a cream taffeta dress with white lace and silk,   her sister Grace was the chief bridesmaid and wore blue and her two young nieces (complete with silk bonnets) carried white flowers tied with pretty blue ribbons behind the bride into church.

The three sons of the family joined up during the First World War and Archibald was badly injured twice whilst serving in France before going missing in April 1918.  A small article about him, along with his photograph, appeared in the local paper with his distressed wife Hannah asking for news of him from his comrades. She was later was informed he had been killed in action and she received the  £19 17s 4d back pay owed to him, followed by his service medals.

Archibald may not have known about the death of his father, Edgar died aged 65 in January 1918 following an operation in hospital. His funeral was attended by a great many people, he was obviously a very well thought of man.

Grace was now the last of the siblings remaining at home, and I can’t imagine she had an easy life – perhaps she helped keep house for her widowed mother, spent caring for relatives in the village or helping around the farm if she was able to get some work there. With her siblings all supporting families of their own, money would have been tight. Harriet and Grace remained in the family home until Harriet’s death in 1920 and shortly after this Grace was married.

Both Clara and Esther survived their husbands by many years and lived well into their nineties.

I don’t know how the books remained together for such a long time, someone obviously looked after them. And now they are sitting next to each other on my book shelf. But should they be on yours?


Lest we forget.

daniel t kay

Lest we forget.

Today being the 11th of November I thought it fitting to remember a soldier from my family  who died at the end of the Great War of 1914-1918. Thank you to mynwent for kindly allowing me to use the photograph.

My mum has written his story for you….

Daniel Thomas Kay was born in Stepney, London on the 11th October 1896, the son of Robert McGowan Kay and Ellen Catherine Nolan. As was often the case in those days he was named after his grandfathers. The Nolans had lived in the area for many years but the Kay family had moved from Oxfordshire where Roberts Scottish grandfather had worked for the Churchill’s at Blenheim Palace.

The young family lived and worked in East London, Robert was in his early 20’s and worked in a horseshoe factory as a labourer, possibly keeping the fires hot enough to melt the metal or moving sacks of coal around to the blacksmiths. It would have been hot and uncomfortable work. Ellen was a seamstress before her marriage and probably continued sewing to help support the family.

Three year old Daniels life changed for ever when, on the 2nd of March 1900, his father died from pneumonia and his maternal grandfather, Thomas, succumbed to bronchitis. Daniel and his mother seemed to part ways at this point, the little boy moving in with his widowed maternal grandmother Joanna and her children, while his mum, who was just 21 years old, moved in with her in-laws. Life was hard in those days with no real financial help for families where the breadwinner had died. It must have been a difficult time for Ellen – living apart from her son so she could support him and herself by returning to work.

The following year, when the 1901 census was taken, Daniel was still living with his grandmother, his uncle Thomas and his aunts Teresa and Annie where, according to family legend, he was spoilt rotten. Meanwhile a couple of miles away in Poplar, Ellen was still with the Kay family. Amongst the family there was her widowed brother in-law Charles and his 4 year old daughter Jane. Charles and Ellen became a couple soon after this and happily Daniel was re-united with his mother. Ellen married Charles in 1908, by this time I think it was almost acceptable for this to happen – before that it was illegal. As Ellen was a catholic I won’t mention the fact that they had already had two children together!

A month before the 1911 census the couple had their 5th child, Ellen. 14 year old Daniel was working in a paint factory with his stepfather Charles, and his stepsister Jane was a feather curler – curling feathers for ladies hats, which for some reason gave the family a great deal of amusement.

On the 9th of September 1914, just over a month after Britain entered the Great War, Daniel went to the local recruiting office and signed up.  He was a few weeks short of his 18th birthday but gave his age as 19. His service records tell us he weighed 118lbs had dark brown hair, blue eyes, was 5 feet 4 and 3/4 inches tall. He joined up at Greenwich and joined the London Rifle Brigade. He was then sent off for basic training.

By the autumn of 1915 he was in the trenches somewhere on the front line in France. On the day of the 23rd of September he came face to face with a German soldier of about the same age. The two youngsters hesitated while they took the situation in for a couple of seconds. Finally a decision was made and the other soldier fired. The bullet hit Dan’s chest pocket containing his grandmother Joanna’s bible and entered his upper arm. He was reported as missing in action, and later his family were told he had died of his wounds.

However, it later transpired through the Red Cross that he had been taken prisoner and had had to have his arm amputated. He was among first of 300 British officers and men to be sent to neutral Switzerland where he arrived on the 30th of May 1916. These men were chosen from German prisoner of war camps because they were regarded as being unable to take any further part in the war due to their injuries and wounds.

As they arrived in Switzerland people came out to cheer them along their way. Many of these men were suffering from terrible depression after being held prisoner for so long. The men made their own entertainment in their new home, they put on concerts and plays and those that were able could enjoy some freedom by walking and exercising. They could write to their loved ones and receive parcels from their families. Efforts were made to enable wives and mothers to visit them while they waited to be allowed home and many women did undertake the rather perilous journey across the sea to spend a few weeks with their men.

His mother Ellen made several attempts to see him, once her boat had to turn back after being torpedoed, but eventually she did manage to see him and when he told her about his grandmother’s bible saving his life she told him that Johanna had died at about the same time. Ellen reported back to the family she had left him in good spirits and they had talked about him returning to England after the war.

Unfortunately they were not to meet again. Daniel died from pneumonia, a complication of the influenza he fell ill with in November 1918. On the evening of the 5th of December a Catholic Priest sat with him briefly on his ward visit as he did each evening with many of sick and dying men, and later that night Daniel passed away in his sleep. He was just 22 years old.

Daniel was buried in a small graveyard and later he was re-interred in the larger cemetery at Vevey, Switzerland in a commonwealth grave. He is with 87 other men who died of wounds or influenza while waiting to go home to their families. His mother was allowed to choose the words to go at the bottom of his headstone – He died that we might live.

His brother and sisters had happy memories of Daniel. Ellen was three years old when he left for war but always remembered him swinging her round and making her squeal with laughter.

Digging up the past.


I sometimes worry what the librarians at my local library must think of me.  My list of reservations must look very odd. Mostly full of books about Victorian death, disease, hospitals, murder, cemeteries, railways, murder again, adultery, asylums and prisons, interspersed with ‘The day the crayons quit’ (brilliant book!) and ‘The Twits’ (ditto) and various other children’s books for when my daughter and I have forgotten her card. I will put my hand up to the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ though 😀

I am finding that when I begin to research a new item I am heading straight to my library account and reserving yet another book.

Well this week is going to throw them!

The item I have chosen  is a Common Prayer book that was given to Albert Early for his birthday. It doesn’t have a date on it but I have managed to narrow it down by census to the 1890’s. He was born on the 19th of January 1888 and he lived with his family in a quiet village near Battle in East Sussex.

I  began to research ‘Little Bertie’ as he is called on the flyleaf of the book but I found myself returning to the inscription again and again so I decided to see what I could find out about the giver of the birthday present.

It did take me a while to decipher the signature (L Leila L Coutwith Waterhouse Hawkins) but after finding Albert on that 1891 census entry and a quick search I had confirmation of the lady’s identity, Louisa Leila Leezinka Waterhouse Hawkins.

Louisa, although I think she preferred Leila so I will call her that, was born in 1842 in London. She was the eldest daughter of Frances ‘Louisa’ Keenan, an artist, and Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins who was a sculptor and natural history artist. Her younger sister Margaret was born in late 1847.

In 1851 the Great Exhibition was opened in Hyde Park, London.  It was only a few minutes walk from the family home in Paddington and no doubt Leila, who was 9 at the time, would have been able to see the huge glass structure that everyone was calling a marvel, a crystal palace. It was designed for various Countries to show the best of their industry and it must have been an amazing experience to visit it at that time.

After the exhibition was closed in October 1851 it was moved some miles away and across the Thames to Sydenham where it was rebuilt and incorporated within a much larger structure.

Leila’s father Benjamin, who by now had become very interested in natural history and geology,  had been working alongside many famous biologists and  paleontologists. He was commissioned to create 33 enormous extinct animals for public display. He retreated to his  studio for  two years and sculpted the huge life sized mammals and dinosaurs which were to be  displayed within the grounds of the new Crystal Palace Park.

After a lavish dinner actually inside the structure of one of the animals on New Years Eve 1853 the collection was opened to the public and Benjamin and his creations were a roaring success.

Dinosaurs were a fairly new discovery at the time – their remains having been first discovered only about 30 years before, so while Benjamin’s finished work is not accurate in our modern times it was impressive to the Victorians. I visited the park many times as a child as I grew up nearby, and I can still remember seeing those big scary monsters hiding in the foliage!

Leila took after her parents artistically.   In 1858 aged just 16 she exhibited her work for the Society of Female Artists in London.  She became a Student of the History of Fine Arts. She entered and won painting competitions. She had a bright future ahead.

Things began to go wrong for the Hawkins family in the early 1870s. Frances discovered she wasn’t the first Mrs Hawkins. In fact she discovered she wasn’t the only Mrs Hawkins. There was another one and she was alive and well. It seemed Benjamin had married Frances when he was already married and a father to 6 children.  It destroyed the relationship and Benjamin left the family to work in America.

Margaret was next to leave the family home, she married and moved away.  I have been unable to find her in later life.

Now it was just Leila and her mother. The two woman left behind life in London and moved  to the quieter, picturesque south. They seemed to live with various unconnected families in Sussex, Leila continuing to earn her living by painting .

They must have had some contact from Benjamin because, after the death of the first Mrs Hawkins in 1880 and Benjamin now being free to marry – he decided to marry Frances, legally this time in 1883. The couple never lived together again so perhaps they married to legitimize their children.

After Frances’ death in Brighton in 1884,  Leila settled in and around Battle, famous for its abbey built on the site of the Battle of Hastings. This is where I found her in 1891, boarding at the home of  Frederick and Emma Early and their five children in a village  just outside the town .  I think she enjoyed her time with this family, perhaps it reminded her of happier times.

In July 1912 Leila was admitted to the County Lunatic  Asylum in Hellingly  East Sussex.  She had been living in a beautiful house in the centre of Battle and still classed herself as an artist the year before even though she was approaching 70.  She died at the Asylum a few weeks later.

I really do hope she had a good life, but I can’t be sure.

Benjamin passed away in 1894 and is buried in Putney, London. I have been unable so far to locate Leila’s last resting place.

The whole family seems to have been scattered by the wind and lost.

I’m off to reserve some dinosaur books.  And top of my list is Barbara Kerleys Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins…. for my daughter of course 😉

Update 26th October…..   I just had to go back and visit those dinosaurs! So spent a lovely day with my whole family wandering round the park ☺

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A Blank Space.

WP_20140421_005Occasionally on my travels I stumble across (sometimes quite literally) a headstone like this one belonging to Caroline Young.  Caroline has died in  the prime of life and her husband has  purchased a memorial for her and rather thoughtfully left a nice blank space on it for his own name to be added to it when he joins her.

Except his name hasn’t been added to the stone .

The usual reason for this is the surviving spouse has married again and is buried with their second spouse.  I have found a man who married three times,  his first two wives are buried together and he is buried with his third wife.  Not quite sure how those first two dearly departed wives would have felt about that!

Caroline and James were both just 22 when they married in 1843. James seems to have moved into the quiet village with his parents and siblings a couple of years before this.  He worked on the surrounding farmland but in later years he became a Sawyer.  They had five children and if Caroline had lived just a month longer they would have been married for 20 years.

By the time of the 1861 census James and his three youngest children are living alone, the two eldest children have left home and are working away.  Caroline has gone AWOL but I think I may have found her mistranscribed in an infirmary in a nearby Kent town as Catherine instead of Caroline.

If this is our Caroline,  I think she must have been fairly unwell to have been admitted into the hospital. Nowadays if we are ill enough to go into hospital we are fortunate to know the standard of care provided and the progress of medicine is such that we will have the best possible treatment, but back in early to mid Victorian England things would have been very different. Usually a patient had to be recommended to the hospital by someone who donated money towards the upkeep of it.  Another way of being admitted was to be sent by the local Parish Clark. There were no antibiotics, not much in the way of pain relief and too much in the way of infection. A good outcome to a stay in hospital wasn’t always likely at that time. Patients may also have been required to pay something towards their keep, this may have prevented some people going until they absolutely had to.

Doctors may have been young and inexperienced, they would quite possibly have taken on private paid work to survive as  positions at voluntary hospitals were sometimes unpaid. The matron at the hospital Caroline may have been in worked there for almost 30 years and I noticed that after she had left the hospital and returned to her native Devon she was given the occupation of ‘Spinster’ in the 1891 census. Nothing mentioned about a whole working life devoted to caring for the sick and dying.

We know Caroline died in 1862, and I have ordered her death certificate so I can find out what happened to her and where. I will share that information with you when the certificate arrives hopefully next week.

Second marriages could be fairly rapid, sometimes just months after the loss of a spouse. It was most likely necessity –  a working man left with several dependent children needed a wife to care for his family. A widow with small children needed a steady income and of course both would want companionship. There was little official help available for bereaved families and the workhouse was a grim prospect.  Sometimes potential partners were neighbours or friends.

Another reason for a quick marriage could be where the new wife was a servant already in the household and tongues had begun wagging, especially after the arrival of a new child.

But James didn’t rush into another marriage, he waited 2 years before he married new wife Ann who  was a widow. Her husband had died shortly after Caroline in May 1862 and is buried close to her.  Ann brought to the marriage her own three children making a new household of 6 children.  And a father-in-law as Ann’s elderly father moved in with them. It must have been true love!

James, Ann, some children, a couple of nieces, a grandchild or 2 and a father-in-law moved into town where James opened a Beer Shop. He was fined a shilling for selling beer after hours (maybe he needed the money to support his extended family!)

Ann passed away in August 1888 and James followed her in 1908.  He lived with his widowed daughter Esther and her children  for the rest of his life. He passed away peacefully at home and was buried 4 days after his death.

Ann and James Young


I’ve managed to track down Ann and James’ last resting place, they are buried together in a quiet spot in  a cemetery on the outskirts of the town they lived in. Funnily enough if you stand at the edge of the churchyard Caroline is buried in you can see the cemetery where James is in the distance, only trees and fields separating the two.


A shady hat and a bottle of smelling salts.

Flora LouisaThis pretty sepia photograph was taken in India to celebrate the wedding of Flora and Edward Hart at the church of St John, Calcutta in 1883. Flora sent this copy home to her family, thousands of miles away in Bristol.

I purchased the photo from a flea market many years ago. The reverse gives a name and a date, but I misread the surname and so unable to find any clue of Flora, I gave up. Defeated. Until now. Having recently found* the picture again  and looked at the name from all angles until there it was, staring back at me.  SLANT became HART and all was revealed. And a good job too really because Flora has an interesting story to tell.

*Not that it was lost, it was just filed away ☺……

Flora Louisa Dix was born in 1857 in Bristol, England. She was the fourth of seven children born to  George Dix and Emma Churchill.  George was a local Auctioneer and by 1853 also the Landlord of the Black Horse. Emma -along with her four siblings -had grown up in the pub, her father Robert having owned it at the time.  The family seem to be a fairly affluent one, documents found online show George was able to loan money to friends and family. £500 in one case, a huge sum at that time.

Emma Churchill suffered a truly horrendous year in 1871. Firstly, in the February, she lost her husband George, his death was was quickly followed a few weeks later by her mother Mary aged 71 and then her father Robert passed away aged 77. She gave the pub up in 1874 and settled back comfortably (maybe a well-deserved glass of stout in hand?) to watch her children marry well.

Lets get back to Flora… now  we do have one teeny tiny problem with Flora. I can find no record of her climbing aboard a steamship and sailing to India. Nothing about the 2 or 3 week voyage she took through the increasingly hot weather, what class she travelled in or even the name of the ship that took her.  Nothing about who she sailed with or when she left England. It must have been after the census taken in April 1881 where she was living with her mother. And it must have been before February 1883 because she married in the March. Infuriating isn’t it.  We know she was single though, but we don’t know if she knew her future husband or not at this point. When she stepped off the ship and into a new life full of exciting sights and smells, who was waiting for her at the dock?

Fortunately however, we can have a little peek at what her voyage would have been like.  Because in 1882 a handy little book was published for people wanting to travel to India. Its called Indian Outfits and establishments, a practical guide for persons to reside in India, and its online to browse through. It gives advice about routes to travel, baggage weights, what clothes to take -12 thin cotton nightdresses, 12 thicker cotton nightdresses, 26 various kinds of petticoat, vests, drawers, bodices, 36 lace hankies, corsets, stockings, wrappers, mittens, a good stock of collars and frills, plain dresses, afternoon dresses, evening dresses, tennis dresses, – the list of clothing  is endless. This of course is in addition to clothes simply needed for the actual journey.

The traveller is advised to pack a months worth of clothes for the voyage and onward travel by train. It won’t be possible to wash clothes while sailing. And  a shady hat for using on deck. And ginger in case of seasickness. A favourite book and some writing materials. Brandy, sticking plaster, smelling salts, a glass to drink from. Oh and some candles for the train. Maybe a tin of sugar and some cocoa and biscuits.  An umbrella, waterproof wrap and some shawls. Also a chair may be of some comfort.

Cabins might be shared with 4 or 5 other women, I can’t imagine how jam-packed the ladies were with all their bits of luggage.  But of course these ladies wouldn’t have been able to buy these vital comforts en route to their new homes. The book goes on to describe places of interest to visit if time allows, how to engage and manage servants, how to furnish your home, illness and entertaining and a great deal more. It really is a fascinating read.

During the British Raj (1858-1947) a great many British men had travelled to India, the majority to work in some capacity. Edward Hart was to be one of these men. He was born in Portsmouth on the south coast of England in 1856. His  father, Edward Hart Snr – an Engineer,  had died when Edward was a small boy and his mother Elizabeth had married again a short time later. Her new husband, Thomas Hindmarsh, was a Civil Engineer who was involved in building the railway system in India. Elizabeth and Thomas had three children during the 1860s and then it seems Edward may have accompanied his stepfather on one of his trips to India after 1871.  Edward had been training to be an engineer himself and would eventually work on the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. Again there is no record of these outward journeys, argh!

Perhaps the couple met through their families,  perhaps through mutual friends. Maybe they wrote letters to each other and then Flora travelled to meet her intended. It is even possible that Flora simply upped and left England with friends bound for India and met Edward for the first time over there, many women did indeed do this. What we do know though is that the couple settled to down and had four children who, like their peers, were sent to boarding school in England. A country they had never seen, with a completely different climate and with family they had never met.

In 1889 Edwards half-sister Elizabeth married  another Civil Engineer, Sulyarde Cary. The marriage was short-lived  and the widowed Sulyarde went on to marry Georgianna Dix, a younger sister of Flora’s in 1893. This sister had followed Flora out some years later,  perhaps as a result of Floras letters home. A second sister, Beatrice, joined them in 1900, along with her husband – Edward Harts half brother Thomas Hindmarsh who had been working in Bengal on the railways since 1884.  It is possible the 3 sisters were near enough to each other to be able to enjoy each others company in what could otherwise have been a lonely existence, having to live at a distance from the servants and local population with only a small crowd of fellow British wives. While the men got on with their work the wives were left to keep house and raise the children.

I have found a  mention of Edward Hart being promoted to from Captain to a Major of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Volunteer Rifle Corps in July 1903. 

Beatrice died in India in 1904 at the age of 30. She was shipped home to Bristol and buried in the village churchyard. Georgianna followed her sisters path in 1906 aged just 33 possibly escorted by Flora who stayed in England, while Edward seemed to make many more crossings to Bombay.  Edward died in 1934 and his death registered in Southampton. Flora is living in London at this point and remained there, dying at Ealing Common during the second world war in 1941.

What an amazing life Flora must of lived, from our distant viewing point – Flora may well have disagreed.