Father's Mother's Mother's Mother's family
Prickwillow seems a desolate place even today, huddled on the edge of the great river in the bleakest part of the Fens. How much more remote and desperate it must have seemed in the early years of the 19th Century, a haunt of eel-trappers, poachers and cut-throats. The lonely road north out of Ely was considered a dangerous place after dark. Infant mortality was spectacularly high, and incest rife. In winter, Prickwillow would have been regularly cut off from the outside world, an island in the flooded, frozen fields. As if to suit such a forbidding landscape, my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Elijah Carter was a particularly mysterious character. He spent most of his life in Prickwillow, and he claimed on the 1871 census that he was born in Prickwillow shortly before civil registration began. But there is no record of a baptism in the Ely Holy Trinity PRs, into which Prickwillow fell, or on the 1800-37 Cambridgeshire baptism index for any Elijah Carter in the first half of the 19th Century. Because of this, Elijah is not immediately apparent on either the 1841 or 1851 censuses, and at first sight it appears that he comes into the public record with his marriage to Ann Convine in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral on the 15th March 1856.
But none of this was true. In fact, Elijah Carter was not really from Prickwillow at all. One clue to this is to be found on the 1851 census. The family of Ann Convine, Elijah's future wife, were living in Padnal, Prickwillow, next door to James and Rhoda Carter and their 19 year old daughter Sophia. The Carter family were from Wickhambrook, Suffolk, and the Wickhambrook parish registers reveal that Elijah Carter was the son of James and Rhoda, and was born in Wickhambrook and baptised there on 7th July 1833. Indeed, the 18 year old Elijah was still living in Wickhambrook in 1851 and working as a farm labourer, away from his parents and sister. Wickhambrook is today a pleasant parish of scattered hamlets grouped along winding lanes and around village greens in the rolling hills of south-west Suffolk. Even in the early 19th Century it must have provided a startling contrast with the Cambridgeshire fens. However, after his marriage there are solid references to Elijah in abundance.
Elijah had joined his family in Prickwillow by 1855, because on 12th May the Cambridge Independent Press reported that one Elijah Carter of Prickwillow had been charged with willful damage to a doorlock, the property of one William Convine of Prickwillow. Carter was confined during Sunday and as a consequence discharged upon payment of court costs and the cost of the damage, which were paid. William Convine was the father of Elijah's future wife Ann Convine. Elijah and Ann were married on the 15th March 1856. Ann had an illegitimate daughter. She was probably born about a year before they married. A second girl was born and baptised a year after the marriage, along with Ann's first daughter. Curiously, the first child was baptised under Ann's maiden name and without the mention of a father. We must assume that this girl was not Elijah's. The other daughter was recorded under the surname Carter.
Elijah receives two mentions in the Cambridge Independent Press in 1858 alone for assaults on Prickwillow villagers, and there are further records of assaults in the 1860s and 1870s. The 1861 census for Ely is lost. When Elijah and Ann re-emerge on the census radar in 1871 they have three children aged between 7 and 16, and are living on the Waterside in the centre of Ely. The census claims that all the family were born in Prickwillow. Next door are the Cross family, and Elijah and Ann's daughter Sarah would later marry Thomas Chapman Cross, a son of that family, and they would be my great-great-grandparents.
These are the children of Elijah
Carter and Ann Convine:
Sarah Ann Carter
Their daughter Sarah Ann was at home with her parents at the time of the 1871 census and then with her mother alone in 1881 when she was recorded as a farm labourer. Her father Elijah lived a chequered life at this time. There is a succession of reported offences and imprisonments in the 1870s, but Elijah was not at home for the 1881 census, when Ann described herself as the Head of the household, but as Married rather than Widowed. At the Bull Hotel in March, Cambridgeshire, an Elijah Carter of the right age gave his birthplace as Bury St Edmunds, the nearest town to Wickhambrook. It seems likely that this is our Elijah. Ann died in 1884, and after that there is no trace of Elijah, except for a brief intriguing glimpse of someone who is likely to be him being convicted of begging in central Cambridge in 1890.
Next door to the Carter family on Waterside at the time of the 1871 census were the Cross family, including seventeen year old Thomas Chapman Cross. Ten years later, in April 1881, the twenty-seven year old Thomas Cross was lodging in the Royal Oak public house at the bottom of Back Hill, where his occupation was recorded as a labourer on Board of Health works. Across the road in Broad Street lived twenty-one year old Sarah Ann Carter with her mother Ann and her brother James. Two important events in their lives would occur in the next twelve months: On Christmas Eve 1881, Thomas Chapman Cross married Sarah Ann Carter in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral. Sixteen days later, on the 9th January 1882, their first child was born, my great-grandmother Sophia Chapman Cross. Sophia was born in Broad Street, quite probably at the family home of the Carter family. Her father's occupation was given as a railway labourer. Sophia was baptised privately on 24th February, suggesting that she was too ill to be brought to church, and perhaps even that she was not expected to live. She inherited the middle name Chapman, her grandmother's maiden name, from her father, and it was also given as a middle name to most (although not all) of her siblings. Another child, Alice Chapman Cross, was born on Broad Street a year later, but after this Thomas and Sarah Ann moved to Potters Lane, where they would live for the rest of their lives. They would have nine children altogether:
Sarah Ann's mother died in the Broad Street house in March 1884 at the age of just forty-nine, and was buried on 10th March in Ely Cemetery in plot Cb231. Thomas Chapman Cross's parents were also living in Broad Street, but he and Sarah Ann were by now on Potters Lane, and by the time of the 1891 census they had five children. Thomas's occupation was given as a gasworks labourer - the Ely gasworks were immediately behind the terraces of Potters Lane. It is interesting to note on the census schedule the occupations of other occupants of this typical Waterside street. As well as the expected gasworks labourers and railway labourers (Potters Lane was also near to the railway station) there are printers, cow-keepers, lamp-lighters, shoe-binders, farmworkers, and those on parish relief.
Thomas Chapman Cross's mother Mary Ann died at home in Broad Street in February 1899, and was buried in Ely Cemetery on 25th February. She was 68 years old. The last of the Cross children, Violet, was born early in 1901, and on the 12th January of that year, a few days before a remarkable period in English history drew to a close with the death of Queen Victoria, her big sister Sophia Chapman Cross married my great-grandfather, the labourer Arthur Page, in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral. Arthur Page was also from the Waterside, and was Ely-born, but his father Henry Page had moved to Ely from Great Shelford, a village to the south of Cambridge, in the early 1870s. Henry was a stone cutter, and probably moved to Ely to work on the restoration of the cathedral at that time. He married Alice Wiseman of Victoria Street in 1874, and stayed in Ely. His son Arthur was born in Annesdale on the river front in 1882.
A few weeks after their marriage, at the time of the 1901 census, Arthur and Sophia were living in Bull Lane, today called Lisle Lane, off of Waterside. The 22 year old Arthur gave his occupation as a baker's labourer. Sophia was already pregnant with their first child, a boy, who was born on 22 November 1901. He was named Arthur Thomas Harry after his father and his two grandfathers. Soon after their son Arthur's birth, Arthur and Sophia moved to Broad Street, where their eldest daughter Violet Eleanor was born on 6th August 1904.
Soon after Violet's birth, Arthur got a job as a railway porter with the Great Eastern Railway, and the family moved some 30 miles to 7 Goodyers Yard, Narrow Street, Peterborough, where their third child Beatrice Sophia was born on the 30th January 1906. Arthur and Sophia were back in Ely and living on Back Hill for the birth of Florence May on 28th May 1907. It was recorded that Arthur was still a labourer for the Great Eastern Railway. Arthur and Sophia's second son, Percy, was born in Back Hill on 10th May 1909.
Sophia's grandfather Thomas Cross, the father of Thomas Chapman Cross, died in the Ely Workhouse in July 1909, and was buried in Ely Cemetery on 31st July. He was eighty. Arthur's father Henry would also die in the Workhouse four years later. However, all of Sophia's brothers and sisters survived into adulthood, an unusual feat in the Waterside at the start of the 20th Century.
By the time of the census in April 1911, Arthur was a general labourer working for the Co-op. A few months after the 1911 census, Arthur and Sophia had a sixth child, Dorothy Louisa, known as 'Doll', who was born in Back Hill on 26th August.
On 26th April 1913, Arthur and Sophia's last child was born, a girl, my grandmother Phyllis Alice Page. These are the seven children of Arthur and Sophia Page:
Soon after my grandmother's birth, Sophia and Arthur and their family moved to a house on Waterside. But storm clouds were gathering across Europe. Sophia's husband Arthur was 35 years old when the First World War broke out. He volunteered, signing up as a Serjeant in the 2nd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment along with his brother Herbert. His medal record shows that he arrived in France on the 26th January 1915. Meanwhile, Sophia's brother Herbert Chapman Cross also volunteered, signing up with the 5th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment.
Arthur Page and the The 2nd Battalion spent their first winter and spring bogged down in the trenches of the Vierstraat area of Flanders, before being part of the force which attacked and consolidated its hold in the woods to the east of Ypres. In general, the 2nd Suffolks seem to have spent an uneventful 1915 in Flanders, with few casualties. However, in March 1916 the attack south of Ypres began in earnest, and Arthur's brother Herbert was killed at St Eloi on 2nd March.
Sophia's brother, meanwhile, had sailed for Gallipoli and taken part in the ultimately fruitless assault at Suvla Bay there. After the battle, in which so many young men lost their lives, the surviving 5th Suffolks were transferred to Alexandria in Egypt rather than being returned to Europe, and placed on protection duty at the Suez Canal, which at least gave them a respite from battle.
In June 1916, Arthur Page and the 2nd Suffolks were also removed completely from the fighting and returned to depot at St Omer for training in open warfare. On July 1st, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the 2nd Suffolks set out from St Omer for the Front. They arrived on July 8th, and were placed in reserve, and then on July 14th they were moved into the southern end of Caterpillar Wood, to the east of Albert. Not far off, on July 18th, the Germans attacked and, at great cost to them, overran Delville Wood and part of the town of Longueval. Two companies of the 2nd Suffolks were sent to support the counter-attack, and among them was Serjeant Arthur Page. The casualties in the 2nd Battalion were heavy, and among those killed in the attack was Arthur Page. He was thirty-seven years old. It seems to have been a spectacularly foolhardy action: the two companies lost no less than ten officers in the attack, one of them, a Major Congreve, later being awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. Arthur's body was recovered, identified, and buried at Delville Wood cemetery in Longueval.
The Ely newspapers reported the Page family's plight. On 28th July the Cambridgeshire Times, which was incorporating the Ely Standard for the duration of the War, reported that Yesterday (Thursday) morning Mrs Page of Waterside, received a letter from the Chaplain to the 2nd Suffolk Regiment, informing her of the death in action of her husband, Sergt A. Page. He leaves a wife and seven children, for whom great sympathy is felt. On the same day, the Cambridge Independent Press reported that Mrs Page, Waterside, Ely, has received news that her husband Sergt A. Page, of the 2nd Suffolks, has been killed in action. The Chaplain of the Regiment has written a letter of sympathy to the widow, who is left with seven children.
It is said that when Sophia opened the letter from the Chaplain telling her of her husband's death, she immediately lost her hearing, and was deaf for the rest of her life. Every street in the Waterside would have had members of the Page and Cross families living in it, and the whole district must have felt a reaction to Arthur's death. Seventy years later, Sophia's son Arthur, who had been fifteen at the time, told me it was 'a terrible time, just terrible'. My grandmother, who was three, and who had in any case probably not seen her father for a couple of years, was too young to know what was going on. The oldest girl, thirteen year old Violet, looked after her, and between them there formed a strong bond which lasted for the rest of their lives.
As 1916 became 1917, there was more bad news for the Cross and Page families. Herbert Cross and the 5th Suffolks were moved north from the Suez Canal to engage in what would become known as the First Battle of Gaza in Palestine. There would be three battles in all, but between the First and Second there was a minor skirmish involving the 5th Suffolks and on 18th June 1917 Herbert Chapman Cross was killed. He was twenty-seven years old. He was buried in the British War Cemetery in Gaza City, which is today in the Palestinian State. The death of Herbert seems to have had a terrible effect on his mother Sarah, and she died at home in Potters Lane just three months later at the age of 57. She was buried in Ely cemetery on 9th October 1917 in plot F1148. Arthur and Herbert Page and Herbert Cross are all remembered on the City of Ely war memorial, and Arthur and Herbert Page's names were also proudly inscribed on the Holy Trinity parish war memorial now reset in Ely Cathedral, but Herbert Cross is not mentioned on this or the Ely St Mary memorial.
The years after the First World War were difficult times for Sophia and her family. The loss of the family's breadwinner plunged them even deeper into poverty. In 1924, Florence died in Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. She was just seventeen years old. In 1925, Sophia's father Thomas died in Addenbrookes Hospital at the age of seventy-four. He was buried in Ely cemetery on 14th October in plot G582. The same year, Phyllis's sister Beatrice gave birth to an illegitimate child in London, where she was presumably in service. She returned to Ely with the child, where she married Frederick Pepper in 1928, who may have been the father. At about this time, Beatrice and Phyllis's older brother Arthur left Ely looking for work in Yorkshire. In 1926, he married Ethel Gertrude Elizabeth Payne in Wortley, to the north of Sheffield. Ethel was pregnant at the time, and their son Arthur Percival was born in Peterborough on 24th September 1926. Arthur kept this marriage and child a secret from the rest of the family, and they did not find out about it until many years later.
By the end of the 1920s, Phyllis was living with her mother at 29a Fore Hill, a short distance from the Waterside house. They lived behind a shop called Oxford House, and shared a yard with the Clark family. Sophia and Phyllis both worked as fruit factory hands. Beatrice appears to have left Ely and Frederick Pepper behind, because in 1931 she had a child with Wilfred Midwinter in Wandsworth, London. Beatrice married Wilfred Midwinter in 1935. Two more Midwinter children would follow.
In the early 1930s, Phyllis's brother Arthur was still in Yorkshire, working on a road-building scheme. There, he met the Kent-born Vincent Helgia 'Joe' Knott, and brought him back to Ely where he met Phyllis. Joe went to work for British Sugar at Cantley in east Norfolk, but he married Phyllis at Ely Register Office on 15th August 1932, when he was 24 and she was just 19. The witnesses were Phyllis's brother Percy and her sister Violet. Joe and Phyl went to live at 9, Council Cottages, Cantley, and then in 1933 they moved to Ipswich, Joe firstly living in lodgings in Tacket Street in the town centre, before they both moved into rooms in Cavendish Street, the same street that I would live in almost exactly half a century later. They moved to 20 Fletcher Road on the new Gainsborough Estate in Ipswich, where their first child and only daughter was born.
They returned to Ely in 1935, where they would remain. They lived in Willow Walk off of Waterside, where Phyllis's grandmother Alice Wiseman had been born almost eighty years earlier. My father and his brothers were born in the house at 25 Willow Walk, but it has since been demolished. Some of her siblings were nearby. Violet married Bill Cooper; they lived at Stuntney, where he was a farmhand on Cole Ambrose's farm, and later at Ribes Court in Ely. Violet was the cook at the Bishop's Palace for many years, and Phyllis worked around the corner at the Palace School. Their sister Dorothy married Ken Long, and they also lived nearby, first at Stuntney and then at Nornea. Their elder brother Arthur eventually returned to settle in Ely. Phyllis's brother Percy died at 31 Silver Street, Ely in 1937; this house, almost opposite the Prince Albert public house, has also since been demolished.
In 1937, a great street party was held on Waterside to celebrate the Coronation on George VI. The official photograph of the occasion shows Sophia and Phyllis among the smiling crowd, as well as two of Phyllis's children: her daughter and her eldest son, my father, aged two. And then the Second World War came. It must have been with some trepidation that Phyllis waved goodbye to Joe, who went to serve as a motorcycle dispatch rider in Italy. After he returned at the end of the War, the family moved to a new council house at 37 Chief's Street in 1947. Phyllis and Joe lived in the house for the rest of their lives. Several of their children married in the late 1950s, and their first grandchild, a girl, was born in 1958. And that year Phyllis's mother Sophia died, at the age of seventy.
Phyllis is remembered by my parents' generation for being ahead of her time. Although she came from an extraordinarily poor working-class background, one where few families had aspirations, she was a great believer in education, especially for girls. She ensured that all her own children worked hard at school, all five of them winning scholarships to grammar schools. She was very proud when the first of her grandchildren went to university.
Phyllis Alice Knott née Page died of a heart condition in Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge, in 1990, a few weeks after she had attended my wedding. She was seventy-seven years old.
LIFE GOES ON: AN INTRODUCTION
MY GRANDPARENTS - I - MY GREAT-GRANDPARENTS - I - MY GREAT-GREAT-GRANDPARENTS - I - MY GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GRANDPARENTS
THE SIXTEEN FAMILIES
KNOTT - I - BOWLES - I - WATERS - I - HARRALL - I - PAGE - I - WISEMAN - I - CROSS - I - CARTER
CORNWELL - I - HUCKLE - I - MORTLOCK - I - MANSFIELD - I - REYNOLDS - I - CARTER - I - ANABLE - I - STEARN
CHRONOLOGY - I - DRAMATIS PERSONAE - I - WHERE PEOPLE CAME FROM - I - CALENDAR
MAP OF ELY - I - MAP OF MEDWAY
MAP OF CAMBRIDGE AND DISTRICT
WORLD WAR I - I - WORLD WAR II
simonknott.co.uk I home I e-mail
LIFE GOES ON