Shearley you can’t be serious?

Beatrice

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.

Not.

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.

Albert.

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.