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

THE WORKHOUSE

WORLD WAR I - I - WORLD WAR II

simonknott.co.uk I home I e-mail

LIFE GOES ON

 

Life Goes On: an introduction

 

   
                   
   
Reynolds   When the 1911 census came on line in 2009, I expect that I was like many people who had not previously investigated their family history. This was the first census that had been taken during the lifetime of my grandparents' generation, and I was fascinated to see the original forms filled in by their families. Three of them were young children; one was not even born yet. Their fathers did the kind of jobs I'd expected - one was a foreman in a cement works, another a baker's labourer, the third a roadsman for the council, the last a horseman on a farm. These were the lives of ordinary families of a century ago. That's where I came from. An interesting detail was to find that my maternal grandparents, aged 8 and 7, were living just two miles away from each other in two neighbouring Cambridgeshire villages, Oakington and Dry Drayton. Did they know each other already? I imagined these two children passing in a country lane without a glance, without the possibility of even imagining that just eleven years later they would be married.

And then there were my great-grandparents, of whom I knew nothing - except one of them, who I could remember meeting when I was very young, for she died when I was six. I could see that she had been born in Dry Drayton. I knew her maiden name, and, finding her parents living elsewhere in the village, I found that they too had been born in Dry Drayton. Her grandmother, who was still alive, had been born in Dry Drayton.Her daughter, who would be my grandmother, had also been born in Dry Drayton. I wondered what it would be like, growing up and living as a poor farmworker in what was by now a rather characterless commuter village, generation after generation.

My Dry Drayton-born grandmother was the grandparent I knew best, so I started poking back through earlier censuses, to find the story of her mother's generation. I expected it to be the story of poor, contented agricultural labourers, working hard for not much money and going to church on Sundays. What I found was quite different. For a start, the family had run a bricklaying business (as had, quite separately, another of my ancestral families). Of my great-grandmother's brothers and sisters, three had gone to live and work in the industrial slums of south London, and they had never returned. One had gone to the Midlands to become a coalminer. One, a soldier, had gone to India. And another, the youngest, had been killed in the first few minutes of the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Well, I was hooked, as you can imagine. I was aware of the temptation with family history to try and follow the male line back as far as possible, perhaps even into the Dark Ages, although you don't need to be a genealogist to realise that the further back you go, the less reliable the data gets. Also, every single one of my eight great-grandparents was from a poor working-class family, and these are the people who successfully disappear under the statistical radar once the insistent census enumerator has stopped knocking on the door. And in any case, what interested me more was the story of those eight great-grandparents, and the families of their parents, the sixteen families of my great-great-grandparents. This would take me back to the very end of the 18th Century, before civil registration began in 1836 or the first census to name names in 1841, but recent enough for the data to be plentiful and reasonably reliable.

It has been an exciting quest, and it is still not complete. All thirty two of my great-great-great-grandparents were born in England: twenty-one of them were born in Cambridgeshire, seven of them in Kent, two in Essex and one each in Suffolk and Devon. Given the proximity to each other of the other four counties, the Devon one seemed to me an exotic species. I have been helped by the fact the the parish records for both Cambridgeshire and Kent (particularly the Medway area) have all been immaculately either transcribed or filmed, and are readily available. By piecing the data together, and making contact with other researchers, I have uncovered remarkable stories: a young woman who walked 300 miles across England in the 1840s while pregnant with my great-great-grandmother. A convict who was transported to Australia at the same period leaving his daughter, another of my great-great-grandmothers, in the workhouse. Another great-great-grandmother probably knew Charles Dickens. Indeed, Dickens's stories of the workhouse became vivid for me. Most of my sixteen families had an intimate relationship with the workhouse. At least four of my great-great-great-grandparents would die in one, and so would one of my great-great-grandparents. More than half of my ancestral families had members with a record of a stay in the workhouse, often as children. Dickens' Great Expectations became especially resonant for me, for it would turn out that one of my great-great-great-grandfathers was a boy in Higham, Kent, the village where Pip lives and home to the churchyard where he meets Abel Magwitch, while a great-great-great-grandfather on the other side of my family was a convict on the hulks. This happened at exactly the time at which Dickens set the book.   Hats off to the Kent Knotts

The First World War also loomed large. At least five of my direct line ancestors were killed in the conflict, including two in the Battle of the Somme just six miles and twenty days apart. And back in England, villages that I had barely heard of became touchstones, and I visited them with excitement, and had the frisson of finding the graves of direct line ancestors in three of them. More than thirty Cambridgeshire parishes, and almost twenty in Kent, have my direct line ancestors in their parish records. And yet, because they were so poor, sometimes no other record remains. Dozens of my ancestors are in the Dry Drayton parish records back into the 16th Century, but there are just two graves in the churchyard which remember their names.

I had always grown up thinking of Ely as the home of my family, and searching the parish records and censuses emphasised this. Three of my sixteen families had been in Ely since the sixteenth century, and others would join them. In the poor Waterside slums of the 19th Century, every single street had my family names in it.

1962: me, my mum and great aunt Violet   The next step is, I suppose, to follow some of these families further back. I can't do all of them, and besides, what would be the point? My thirty-two great-great-great-grandparents had large families, and so did their children. I estimate that each of them had about five hundred descendants of my generation, more than a thousand of my children's generation. Each of them died more than a century ago. And yet I think that with several of them I would have found much in common, much to talk about. I hope that some of them might have recognised themselves in me.

As I talked to relatives and shared my research, and came into contact with other researchers, the richest fruits were the photographs that began to appear, of relatives I had never seen before, which brought their stories to life. A great-uncle killed at Ypres bears a startling resemblance to one of my brothers born almost exactly half a century later. My Dry Drayton-born grandmother as a child a century ago looked exactly like my daughter does now. The story goes on.






If this is your first visit to this site, you might start by exploring my four grandparents, because that is how the site really began. Their index is
here.

Alternatively, you might be interested in one of the sixteen families which formed the goal of the research. They are my great-great-grandparents' families listed in order as if from left to right along the top of a family tree, from my father's father's father's father's family on one side to my mother's mother's mother's mother's family on the other.

My father's father's families:

Knott: the story of the century in and around the Medway towns (my father's father's father's father's family)
The story of the Knott family is the story of the Industrial Revolution. When we first enter their lives they are agricultural labourers. As the 19th Century progresses, they leave the fields and go into the factories. As the Medway Towns grow and merge into each other, forming one of the world's first industrial conurbations, the Knott family come there, and for more than a century there they remain. At first, the Knott men are employed in the brickfields, and later in the cement factories. As the industries decline, so the Knott family starts to spread out into the rest of England.

Bowles: a long walk through Victorian poverty (my father's father's father's mother's family)
North Kent looks to the Thames estuary, and to the open sea beyond. Although its traditional industries of brick-making, gunpowder manufacture and hop-growing are well known, successive censuses show that a goodly proportion of the inhabitants of parishes like Faversham, Sittingbourne, Halstow and Upchurch earned their living from the sea. Although the Bowles name can be traced to Chilham, near Canterbury, we find them by the start of the 19th Century living in Sittingbourne and Faversham, and it is the second of these two ancient towns which would become the family home. That the Bowles children who came to adulthood in the late Georgian period were mariners is beyond question, but popular family tradition holds that their real trade was smuggling.

Waters: coming home to the Medway (my father's father's mother's father's family)
Waters is a particularly common surname in north Kent, and the Waters family are found throughout the 17th and 18th centuries in the parish registers of the adjacent parishes of Newington and Low Halstow in Kent, although there is no indication that all the various strands of the name, landowners and farmworkers, are actually related. My Waters ancestors are certainly from one of the poorer branches. But my great-grandfather could describe himself as an engineer, a cut above the ordinary working classes in the mid-Victorian period. Engineers were in great demand during the height of the Industrial Revolution, and it is perhaps no surprise that a year after their marriage we find the Waters family living hundreds of miles away from Kent in the slate mines of north-west Wales, where he worked as a stationary engine driver, probably in a quarry.

Harrall: out of the pages of Charles Dickens (my father's father's mother's mother's family)
Even today it is easy to get lost in the narrow lanes of the Hoo peninsula, despite the proximity of the Medway Towns. This is the marsh country of Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations. When my great-great-grandmother Mary Ann Harrall was seven years old, Charles Dickens himself moved to her home village of Higham. He would have been a familiar sight to the Harrall family, because he was well-known for wandering around country lanes, talking to working people. He used many of these conversations in his novels, and turned some of those he met into characters. I wonder what they thought of him? I wonder if any of the Harralls are disguised among his characters?


My father's mother's families:

Page: from the Cam to the Ouse to the Somme (my father's mother's father's father's family)
The pretty villages along the tributaries of the River Cam to the south of Cambridge have now begun to merge into the city's suburbia, but they must once have had identities and loyalties of their own. Nevertheless, even in the late 18th Century the Page family can be found scattered through half a dozen of them. Over the decades, they would work their way northwards, the agricultural workers becoming industrial workers. It is the story of the Nineteenth Century. My great-great-grandfather was a stone dresser, and his work must have been in demand in the 1870s when Cambridge, and its colleges in particular, were undergoing a building boom. but perhaps his work took him further afield, because he married my great-great-grandmother in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral. It is likely that it was the restoration project at this building which had brought him to Ely.

Wiseman: the Waterside's labouring poor (my father's mother's father's mother's family)
The Waterside district of Ely was, until well into the 20th Century, one of the poorest areas of housing in Cambridgeshire. Four of my sixteen great-great-grandparents lived and died there, and many of their descendants were born in the same small group of streets beside the river, including my father. What brought the Wisemans from over the border in Mildenhall, Suffolk, to the Waterside district we will never know, but they married into the Appleyard family, an Ely Waterside family of long standing, related to the boatbuilding family of the same name. The Appleyard boatyard still exists in Ely today.

Cross: at the heart of the Waterside (my father's mother's mother's father's family)
Cross was the most common surname of all in the Ely Waterside district of the 18th and 19th Centuries, and while it is possible to trace my Cross ancestors back into the 18th Century through the Holy Trinity parish registers, there is also the opportunity for confusion. I can say for certain that my great-great-great-great-grandparents were married in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral in 1828. Their first child was baptised just six weeks later. It is even possible that he was born before the marriage. The father was a labourer, as his son would grow up to be. They lived on Potters Lane, at the bottom of Back Hill. Some of their descendants would still be living in the same street more than a century later.

Carter: workers from the bleak fen (my father's mother's mother's mother's family)
The Carter family arrived in the Fens from Wickhambrook in the rolling hills of south-west Suffolk. They can be found in the Ely Holy Trinity records, but they lived three miles out in the bleak fenlands, in the village of Prickwillow. They were agricultural workers in what was among the most exposed landscapes of England. In the 19th Century they would move into the city of Ely to work in the new agricultural processing factories. It is the Industrial Revolution in miniature. But theirs was an abusive family, with a sad ending.


My mother's father's families:

Cornwell: a Histon dynasty (my mother's father's father's father's family)
Histon today is a sprawling northern suburb of the city of Cambridge, but even in the 19th Century it was a large and busy village, inextricably joined to the neighbouring village of Impington. Traditionally a farming community, it was also the home of the Chivers, who built their first big fruit-processing factory in Histon towards the end of the 19th Century. My great-great-grandfather was born there in December 1819, and was thus the first born of my sixteen great-great-grandparents, entering the world when George III was still on the throne, the year before Queen Victoria was born, just four years after the Battle of Waterloo.

Huckle: gone for a soldier (my mother's father's father's mother's family)
The large agricultural villages to the west of Cambridge were home to my Huckle ancestors, and the family they married into, the Farringtons, whose graves can be found scattered throughout local churchyards. My great-great-great-grandfather was born in Comberton, and travelled a few miles west to get married in Bourn, where my great-great-grandmother was born. The family soon moved back to Comberton. In 1841, at the time of her marriage, her father was recorded as a soldier, but he was dead before the 1851 census, and buried in Comberton churchyard. Huckles were still being buried at Comberton until well into the 20th Century. Remarkably, a photograph of his daughter survives.

Mortlock: crossing the Great Ouse (my mother's father's mother's father's family)
The River Ouse threads up through the brickfields of Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, entering Cambridgeshire to become the Great Ouse. Beside the river as it enters the county is Swavesey, where the Mortlock family were non-conformist millers and farmers in the late years of the 18th Century. Their name appears in the parish registers from about 1750 onwards. The name Mortlock is still visible on Swavesey windmill, and the Mortlock name, albeit from another strand of the family, is remembered today in Cambridgeshire by the notorious non-conformist financier John Mortlock, the self-styled 'master of the town of Cambridge', whose bank was the first in the city. Even though they were only very distantly related to him, my Mortlocks were the most prosperous of my sixteen great-great-grandparents' families.

Mansfield: Huntingdonshire's underclass (my mother's father's mother's mother's family)
In 1815, the year that Wellington defeated Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo and thus the year that the 19th Century began in earnest, my great-great-great-grandfather was born in Needingworth on the border between Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire. In general, the Mansfield family had a reputation for living outside the law, rarely marrying and producing illegitimate children at a prodigious rate. In 1851, a large minority of the inhabitants of the St Ives workhouse had the Mansfield surname. My great-great-great-grandfather was not among them, however, because he had already been convicted of breaking into a dwelling house, and he was transported to Australia.


My mother's mother's families:

Reynolds: out of Essex, to Cambridge and beyond (my mother's mother's father's father's family)
In the churchyard of St Michael at Great Sampford in the gentle clay hills of north-west Essex there is a line of Reynolds graves, with three surviving headstones from the late 18th and 19th Centuries. They were to the families of the brothers of my direct-line ancestors. The Reynolds were an established family in Great Sampford, and provided the village tailors down the generations. But there can never have been enough work to sustain every member of the family, and in each generation there had to be others who were mere farmworkers, and who moved away.

Carter: quiet poverty in the hilly parishes of south-east Cambridgeshire (my mother's mother's father's mother's family)
Wandering around the quiet, neat churchyards of St Mary, Shudy Camps and All Saints Horseheath, not far from where Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex meet, I could find no mention of the Carter family, or the families they married into, the Lucases, Alstons, the Parmenters. But they were here, down the long generations, for the Carter family feature in the records of these parishes and their neighbours back into the 17th Century and beyond. Many families in rural England before the Industrial Revolution were poor, and many were large. The Carter family, I think, were poorer and larger than most.

Anable: the long Dry Drayton generations (my mother's mother's mother's father's family)
My great-great-grandparents were both born in Dry Drayton, and were both from Dry Drayton families of long standing. Despite the encroachment of Cambridge suburbia across the fields, Dry Drayton is still largely rural in character, although the parish does now contain the large new village of Bar Hill to the north on the busy A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon road - where, incidentally, one of my Anable ancestors' great-great-grandchildren lives with his family. The Anables lived in the centre of Dry Drayton village, and the family name first appears in the parish registers in the 17th Century. Samuel's mother was a Rogers, and his grandmothers' surnames were Markham and Chapman; these three family names are found in the Dry Drayton registers from the mid-16th Century onwards.

Stearn: a quiet touchstone down the Dry Drayton centuries (my mother's mother's mother's mother's family)
The Stearn family appeared in the Dry Drayton parish records for half a millennium, and then in the 1950s they quietly disappeared. This is what happened to England. And what else remains of them? One gravestone in the parish churchyard. The name scattered across genealogical websites. And yet, I have a photograph of my great-great-grandmother in the 1930s, her parents already dead in the Chesterton workhouse, standing in front of her thatched cottage which no doubt had no running water and certainly no electricity. All gone today, all gone. But I am here, and many Stearn descendants come to read this page. What would she have thought of that, I wonder?

 
                   
         



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

THE WORKHOUSE

WORLD WAR I - I - WORLD WAR II

simonknott.co.uk I home I e-mail

LIFE GOES ON