Monday, March 2, 2015

52 Ancestors Week 9: James Myall (1810-1876)

The week 9 theme for 52 Ancestors is "close to home."  My choice for this week's story is close to home in a couple of ways.  The ancestor shares my name, and most likely spent time in the same building in which I was born.

James Myall was born in Southchurch, Essex, on the 9th of October, 1810, to Joseph and Hannah (née Constable) Myall (sometimes Myal)[1].  To my knowledge, he was the third generation of the Myall family to have moved to the Prittlewell area from parts unknown in the late 18th century.  My namesake is my 3rd great-grandfather; I'm the eighth generation of the family to be born in the area.

James's father, Joseph, was a mariner, or fisherman - like his father, Edward, and many of his brothers.  They were apparantly not well off.  In the 1841 census, James is living with his parents at Minerva Place, a building they shared with two other families [2].  Minerva Place appears to have been a boarding house at 1 Eastern Esplanade in what is now Southend (then still a part of Prittlewell).  This is most likely what became the Minerva pub, judging by the neighboring properties on the Census. [3]

The Minerva, now Tiffany's Restaurant, appears to have undergone significant remodeling since the early 19th century.  Image 2012 via Google Maps

James, for some reason, did not follow in the family trade (perhaps it was becoming unprofitable) - instead he is listed as "M.S." or "male servant" in 1841.  Things did not improve from there - James was described as a "jobbing man" - or odd-job man - in the 1851 census [4].  Together with wife Rebecca ("Rachel") and three children, he's living a few houses down from another pub, the Blue Boar, on West Street in Prittlewell.  The same building may still be standing in an area which, even today, is far from gentrified.  

West St, Prittlewell, 2014.  Image via Google Maps

The depth of the family's fortunes is reached in 1861 [5], with a stay in the Rochford Union Workhouse.  Clearly things had become so bad for the Myalls that they could no longer support themselves.  Interestingly, the Rochford Workhouse buildings reverted to the local council on its closure and the infirmary became the first building of Rochford hospital, the building in which I would be born more than 100 years later!

Rochford Hospital, 2009.  Image via Google Maps.

However, the family's stay in the Workhouse was relatively brief.  By 1871, James, Rebecca, and son Thomas, are living on North Street (now Victoria Avenue) in Prittlewell, somewhere in the vicinity of Priory Park [6].  It seems likely (although I'm not certain) that this is the house later known as 1 Priory Cottages, which would remain in the family for many generations.  James and his son Thomas (my direct ancestor) were both employed as house "painters".  This would remain Thomas's profession throughout his life, and he would stay in the house until his death.

Priory Cottages, 2014 (now 386 Victoria Avenue).  Image via Google Maps

To various residences of my namesake serve to reinforce the closeness of this story.  Not only are many of the properties still standing, but they are very familiar to me.  I walked past Priory Cottages on my way home from school; I misspent my youth in the Blue Boar, and the Minerva, playing the arcades at the Kursal behind the Minerva, and eating kebabs from the stores on West Street.  Little did I know I was walking in the footsteps of another James Myall.


[1] Southchurch Parish Register, Baptisms, Jan 27 1811. Essex Archives Online, D/P 120/1/12.
[2] 1841 Census of England, Essex, Rochford, Prittlewell, District 1, p3,  "Joseph Myal" Household.
[4] 1851 Census of England, Essex, Rochford, Rayleigh, District 2c, p35.  "James Myall" Household.
[5] 1861 Census of England, Essex, Rochford, Rochford, District 1 (Rochford Union Workshouse), p5.
[6] 1871 Census of England, Essex, Rochford, Prittlewell, District 3, p25. "James Myall" Household.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

52 Ancestors Week 8: William Frederick Romney (1863-1930)

This week's 52 Ancestors theme is "good deeds."  My chosen subject, William Frederick Romney, is my great-great grandfather, a soldier who apparently married a single mother, and adopted her son.

Mistaken Identity

There's a certain irony to choosing this ancestor to exemplify "good deeds", since for a while he was the subject of mistaken identity on my part.  A contemporary William Romney (no "Frederick") was also born and raised in South East Kent, was employed by the Southern Railway, and rose to become Intendent of Folkestone Harbour upon the outbreak of the First World War.  In that role, he oversaw the welcome of thousands of Belgian refugees at the beginning of the War, for which he was awarded numerous honours, including becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire and the Belgian Order of King Leopold II.

"Landing of the Belgian Refugees," Fredo Franzoni, 1915

Itinerant Bombardier

But this isn't a story about him. My William Romney was born, most likely, in late June 1863[1]*, the son of Frederick Romney, a Green Grocer, and Maria Romney, née Smith, in Dover.  The family lived at 93A Snargate Street, After a short stint as a waiter living at home[2], William enlisted in the Royal Artillery December 8th, 1888[3].  Mysteriously, he enlisted in Liverpool, which suggests he had traveled from home seeking work before enlisting (given that he moved from one port city to the other, one wonders if he took work aboard a ship).  His attestation states he was working as a warehouseman.

Short Service Attestation, William Frederick Romney, 1888.  Note his age is given as 22 years, 6 months.
Thereafter, as a member of the Royal Garrison Artillery, Romney found himself travelling some more - with postings in Weymouth (Dorset), Larne (Co. Antrim), and to the RGA depot in Cosham, Hampshire as a sergeant at the gunnery school.  By 1911, he finally settled in Shoeburyness, Essex [4], another garrison town (his medical record indicates he was stationed there by 1903).

West Gate, Shoeburyness Barracks. Postcard, postmarked 1912.  Image via

William re-enlisted 22nd May, 1915, at age 51 [3].  Presumably because of his age (the maximum age for recruitment to active service was raised from 38 to 45 in 1914 and to 50 in 1918), he dud not serve overseas, but served as Colour Sergeant Major at Sheerness and Battery Quarter Master Sergeant at Felixstowe.  In 1919, he was permitted to remain a Landsguard (reservist) at a rate of 17/6 per week.

34 Seaview Road, Shoeburyness, Essex (image via Google Maps)

The Stepson

The "good deed" in our story goes back to William's early military career. During his first posting, in Weymouth, he married Mary "Polly" Smith 25th October 1890.  Romney's service record indicates he married "without leave"  and it's easy to imagine a romance between the two. At 5ft 8 1/2 ins. (slightly above average), with light brown eyes and a couple of scars to match his khaki, you can imagine Romney cutting a dashing figure. But the relationship must have had its difficulties. Although there's no record of a punishment for the marriage "without leave," Polly already had an infant son, William George, born in 1886.  Given their relatively young ages, it's possible young William  been born out of wedlock, but Polly could also have been widowed.

The Romney Family, 1891 Census of England, Melcombe Regis, Weymouth, Dorset.  Note William G. Smith named as "Son of Polly Smith" (even though Polly's name is now Romney)

The 1891 census shows the Romneys living in the RGA garrison in Melcombe Regis, with William Smith as Polly's son [5]. But by 1901, he is shown as "William G Romney", indicating his "adoption" by the elder William (until 1921, adoption in England was an informal process) [6]. One can imagine the challenge of taking on a single mother and her son today, let alone in 1890, but the challenge seems especially acute for Polly, with her husband serving in the Army and their family's enforced wanderings. 

William George settled in Essex, like his parents, marrying Cecilia Susannah Gilson of Swansea in 1906 [7].  Somewhat poignantly, he predeceased his adoptive father, dying in the Orstead area in 1927 [8]. William Sr. died in the third quarter of 1930 [9].

Alternative Explanation

An alternative, though less plausible, narrative of William George's "adoption" would place the latter as the biological son of William Frederick, imagining he and Polly to have been togetherness few years  before they married in 1890.  This might explain their swift marriage, and the readiness with which the younger William was "adopted." It's also tempting to draw the conclusion that the son was named for his father.  The gaping hole in this theory, of course, is that I have no indication that William Romney was in Weymouth in 1886 - this is the period between the 1881 census, in which he's in Dover, and his 1888 army attestation, when he's living in Liverpool.  And if William George was his son, why not marry Polly at the time?  Obtaining William the younger's birth certificate might yield some answers - but most likely the father's name would be "unknown."

The Army Wife

This story brings home to me that military forefathers often provide us with a wealth of information through their service records, and can appear to have alluringly glamourous careers.  But theirs is only part of the story.  What about their wives and children who, at least in this case, followed their soldier father/husband across the British Isles for almost twenty years?  William and Polly's children included: Annie Beatrice (b. 1891, Weymouth),  Mabel May (b.1892, Weymouth), Elizabeth "Nellie" May (b.1894, Larne), Frederick William (b/d. 1896, Larne), Elsie Jane (b.1897, Larne), Frederick William (b/d. 1901, Cosham), Ernest Edward (b.1903, Cosham).

*Census returns consistently point to either early 1864 or 1863; the BMD register listing is for Q3 of 1863 (July-September, although late June registrations could show up here).  His army attestation gives June 1866 (for reasons unknown to me).


1. "Romney, William", England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915 . Births, 1863, Q3, Dover.  Vol. 2a, p731
2. 1881 Census of England, Kent, Dover St Mary, District 6, Household 72: "Frederick Romney"
3. War Office: Soldiers’ Documents from Pension Claims, First World War.  National Archives WO364; Piece: 3394.  Romney, William Frederick.
4. 1911 Census of England and Wales, Essex, South Shoebury, District 5, Household 167, "William Frederick Romney" 
5. 1891 Census of England, Dorset, Melcombe Regis, District 8, Household 214: "William F Romney"
6. 1901 Census of England, Hampshire, Cosham, Hilsea Barracks, piece 27.
7. "Romney, William George", England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915 . Marriages, 1909, Q3, Swansea.  Vol. 11a, p1697
8. "Romney, William G" England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes, Death Index, Sep 1927.  Orsett, Vol 4a p413
9. "Romney, William F" England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes, Death Index, Sep 1930.  Rochford, Vol 4a p555.

Monday, February 16, 2015

52 Ancestors, Week 7: Philip Chambers (1739 - after 1798)

This week's 52 Ancestors topic is "love." Something as abstract as love is often hard to find in genealogical research, especially in the majority of cases, where we rely exclusively on demographic records.  There's often very little personal information to enliven the stories of our ancestors.

My choice for this week's challenge, therefore, may not demonstrate "love", per se, but it does come with an interesting story, and lots of room for speculation!

The subject is Philip Chambers, my 6th great-grandfather, who was baptised in Keighley, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1739 [1].  Philip's father, Thomas, died in 1746, when the former was (presumably) only seven years old [2].  His mother, Jane (née Barker), died in 1757 [3].

Detail from Thomas Chambers's burial record, 1747.  Note the description "poor"
It may be because both his parents died as paupers (as indicated on their burial records), and that there was therefore nothing tying him to Keighley, that Philip made his way to Guiseley, twelve miles to the east.   It's perhaps worth noting that Thomas Chambers was a wool comber - a somewhat intricate occupation in the preparation of wool for weaving into worsted cloth. Keighley was a centre of wool production and textile manufacture in the 18th century, but the fact that Thomas died a pauper makes me wonder if he was an early victim of the changing nature of the textile industry as cotton pushed out wool as the material of choice.  I've yet to find a record of Philip's occupation, so he could either have left Keighley to try his hand at combing elsewhere (perhaps as part of an apprenticeship) or, equally, he might have pursued a completely different occupation altogether.  Philip's son (another Thomas) became a carpenter and moved to Bishopsthorpe, outside the city of York [4].  Philip's grandson, Robert, would himself move to London, perhaps in search of better opportunities as the industrial revolution gathered pace.

Wool Combing, 18th Century.  Image via

One in Guiseley, Philip married Mercy Smith (b.1743) on the 7th of January, 1771 [5].  Mercy, however, died in 1784 [6], and Philip remarried, to one Grace Whaley.  The juxtaposition of Mercy and Grace is fun in itself, but even more notable is the timing - Mercy was buried April 6th; Philip and Grace married just over four months later, August 15th [7].

Marriage record of Philip Chambers and Grace Whaley, Guiseley St. Oswold, 1784.

I haven't discovered any children of Philip & Mercy, whose existence might explain Philip's need to find a new bride (and mother). I have, however uncovered an interesting twist in the tale. Grace, a spinster, gave birth to an illegitimate "basal" child in 1778, Joseph Whaley [8].  Entering the realm of pure speculation, I wonder if Philip was Joseph's father.  If not, his willingness to marry a woman known to have fallen pregnant out of wedlock is itself remarkable.

Baptism of Joseph Walley, "a basal child" of Grace Whalley, 1778.

The example of Philip, Mercy and Grace shows what tantalizing glimpses of personal stories we can glean from genealogical records, but also the gap left by a lack of real personal detail.  While I've pieced together an interesting narrative here, so much of my "love triangle" hypothesis remains speculation.


1. West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records.  Keighley (Composite Register), Baptism, 6 May, 1739.
2. West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records.  Keighley (Composite Register), Burial, 13 Aug. 1746.
3. West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records. Keighley (Composite Register), Burial 23 Sep. 1757.
4. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1841. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1841.  HO107; Piece: 1356; Book: 11; Civil Parish: Bishop Thorpe; County: Yorkshire; Enumeration District:18; Folio: 9; Page: 11; Line: 6; GSU roll: 464295
5. West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records. Guiseley St Oswold, Marriages, 7 Jan 1771
6. West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; New Reference Number: RDP29/1/6.  Guiseley St. Oswold, Burial, 6 Apr. 1784.
7. West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; New Reference Number: WDP29/3/2.  Guiseley St. Oswold, Marriage, 15 Aug. 1784.
8. West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; New Reference Number: RDP29/1/6.  Guiseley St. Oswold, Baptism, 1 Nov. 1778.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

52 Ancestors, Week 6: John Thomas Richardson aka John Reeve (1888-1918).

I'm coming late to the "52 Ancestors" challenge set by Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small, and this is my first story for the project.  I'll probably go back and fill in some of my missed weeks later. I'd been interested in this project for some time (since it debuted last year, in fact), and the introduction of themes for 2015's challenge finally prompted me to act.

It's appropriate that this week's theme "So Far Away" should be my first post, since it allows me to showcase an intriguing family story that only recently came to light for me.  This is the story of my great-great grandfather, John Thomas Richardson, also known as John Reeve.  He's an appropriate subject for the theme of being "so far away" for a number of reasons: he traveled extensively in his relatively short life; his story out out of my reach for some time, and, as we shall see, he was removed from his own family history.

For some time, John Richardson remained a brick wall in my family tree.  I knew that he had married by great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Louisa Chambers, at the Church of St John the Divine, Kennington, London, on New Year's Day 1912, and that he was born in 1888(1).  But of his pre-marital life, I couldn't find a trace.  Not even in the 1911 census, just one year before his marriage.

Marriage of John Thomas Richardson and Elizabeth Louisa Chambers, 1912.

Coldstream Guards

Breakthrough #1 came with the discovery of his Army Pension Record.  This contained a short service attestation that he had joined the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards as a signaler at age 19 1/2 on the 18th July 1907 (2).  In January 1909 he was posted to the 3rd Battalion and sent to Egypt, where he served until March 1911.  The 1911 census showed him posted at the Tower of London, possibly in preparation for the Guards' ceremonial duties at the coronation of King George V (3).

Coronation of His Majesty George V.  British Pathé, 1911.  The 3rd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards were on duty at the Coronation.

In 1914, John was part of the British Expeditionary Force to France and Belgium - since he was dispatched August 12th, he one of the first British combatants of the First World War.  In 1916 he was discharged from the Army to serve in the Royal Navy.  A search of his regimental number showed that he died in January 1918,  and received a place on the roll of honour in Camberwell Cemetery (4).

Detail from the Roll of Honour, Camberwell Cemetery, London.  Richardson's name is second-to-last.  Note that he was recorded as a Guardsman, despite dying while in the service of the Royal Navy.

Alias John Reeve

So I'd pushed John's story back to 1909, but I still couldn't find any record of him in censuses before 1911.  The story took an unexpected twist when I took a gamble on a record I came across at the National Archives - a Royal Navy service record for a "John Reeve alias John Thomas Richardson".  The date (1901) wasn't promising, since John would have been 13, and to the best of my knowledge, John's Navy service began in 1916 (5).

Detail from John's Naval Service Record.  Note that whoever completed his service record was unsure whether to call my ancestor Richardson alias Reeve or Reeve alias Richardson.

The Naval Service Record helped me piece together an intriguing story, in which there are still a few holes to fill.  John Thomas Richardson had been raised in the Guildford Union Workhouse under the name "John Reeve" - where he appears on the 1901 census (6).  In his military attestation, John gave his place of birth as Guildford, but the workhouse officials have noted he was born in "Ireland - Unknown".  Ten years earlier, he appears (at age 2) to have been living with a foster family, the Elsons, also in Guildford (7).  Again, his place of birth is "Ireland."  I can easily see a 19 year-old who was raised in Guildford assuming that was his birthplace.

Detail from the 1901 Census.  Place of birth - "Unknown - Ireland"

Soon after that 1901 census, John Reeve was enrolled in the Royal Navy, on the Training Ship Exmouth and later TS Triumph.  The Navy's training ships were common destinations for orphans in workhouses in London and the surrounding communities.  The training was designed to give the children a skillset and career path that would be beneficial to them in future life.  The pathos of this orphaned adolescent working on a Naval training ship is brought out in his physical description on the Naval record, which measures him at 5ft with a "fresh" complexion on enlistment (presumably at age 12) and 5 ft 5 ins. by age 16.  A final description, perhaps taken in 1916, shows him standing 5ft 11 1/2 ins. with a "ruddy" complexion - perhaps the result of two years in the trenches of Flanders.

TS Triumph, c1887.  Photo: Wikimedia Commons

John was part of the majority of kids on the training ships who chose to enroll in the Navy as an adult, in 1904 (age 16) for 12 years of service as a signaler.  The motto of "join the Navy, see the world" appears to have applied to John, who served (as a "boy") on HMS Edgar and HMS Spartan in 1903, in the Home Fleet based in Devonport, Devon, before being assigned to HMS Hecla and HMS King Alfred in 1905-6, based in the China Station at Hong Kong, and HMS Powerful, out of Sydney in January 1907.

Hong Kong Naval Buildings, 1894.  Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Thereafter, as we know, he enlists in the Coldstream Guards under the name of Richardson (this is noted in the naval record).  It seems as though John may have deserted sometime around May 1907 and made his way to London by July, shortly after being promoted to 2nd signalman.  This explains a reference to a court martial and 14 days' detention for "making artfully false answer" in January 1908 to his 1907 service attestation - John had claimed no previous military or naval experience upon enlistment, presumably to avoid drawing attention to his desertion.

His Naval service resumes in 1916 (for reasons that aren't clear - the Navy record notes a special dispensation to switch services), and he served on HMS Cambrian, a newly-constructed cruiser. from July 1916 to July 1917.  In October 1916, he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery - perhaps from his Army service since he was mentioned in dispatches in 1916.  Returning home in 1917, he was invalided out of the Navy in October 1917, with an aortic aneurysm, which might well be the cause of his death in early 1918.  His two children, Violet (my great-grandmother) and Ernest, were five and two years old, respectively. Soon afterwards, with two small children to support, his widow, Elizabeth, remarried to a Herbert Edward Emery (8).

HMS Cambrian, 1915-8, From the Collections of the Imperial War Museum. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

What Next?

So I now have a picture of an individual with two identities, and still lacking a link to his parents.  John Richardson, a plumber, is the father named on the 1912 marriage record.  John Thomas's army service attestation originally listed his next of kin as Kate Richardson of Guildford and Elsie Reeves of Plaistow Lane, Bromley (before they were replaced upon his marriage) - but it's unclear what relationship they had to him.  At one point, I was even unsure which name to assign him.  My instinct is to believe that Richardson was his birth name, and that Reeve was either the name of a foster family, or one assigned to him somewhere along the way from Ireland to Guildford.  An alternative might be that Reeve was his birth name, and that Richardson was adopted when he joined the army to conceal his identity.  If so, it was an elaborate deception that included lying on his marriage certificate and passing his false name on to his children.

Detail from Army Service Record, listing variously Kate Richardson ,Elsie Reeve, and Wife Elizabeth Louisa as his next-of-kin.

The best clue to continue my search comes from the only census record I have of John as an adult - the 1911 record of him at the Tower. There, he gives his place of birth as "Newtownards, Belfast."  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a convincing matching record for a John Richardson (or a John Reeve) born in the Newtownards or Belfast districts in 1888.

Detail from the 1911 Census, in which John reveals his birthplace as "Newtownards, Belfast"

I can't help but be intrigued by this story of a relative I never met - I briefly knew his daughter, my Great-Grandmother - who seemed to have lived a life which, at first glance could be seen as interesting and exciting, but also which is laden with tragedy.  There's not only his untimely death at age 30, but the circumstances of his childhood.  The information in the 1911 census makes me wonder - did John meet his birth parents after all, or at least learn more about his infancy, since he knew where he was born? How and why was he sent from Newtownards to Guildford?  His story has taken a few unexpected twists and led me through a compelling narrative, but it seems there are still questions to answer.


1. London Metropolitan Archives, Saint John The Divine, Kennington, Register of marriages, P85/JNA1, Item 010, p.219
2. War Office: Soldiers’ Documents from Pension Claims, First World War (Microfilm Copies); (The National Archives Microfilm Publication WO364), piece 3273
3. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA), 1911. Registration District: Whitechapel, Sub-District: Whitechapel, Enumeration District: 21-30 (Tower of London) Class: RG14; Piece: 1497.
5. Admiralty: Royal Navy Registers of Seamen's Services, The National Archives, ADM 188/383/218005.
6. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA), 1901. Registration District: Guildford, RG13; Piece: 605, Folio 70, Page 16
7. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1891. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1891. RG12; Piece: 561; Folio: 72; Page: 35
8. London Metropolitan Archives, Saint Matthew, Brixton, Register of marriages, P85/MTW1, Item 027, p197