Windrush Generation

Having spent a huge number of hours researching peoples’ backgrounds, including those coming in and out of the UK as both immigrants and emigrants, I was surprised by the somewhat blunt approach towards the Windrush Generation.

The UK Government has disastrously destroyed the landing records of the immigrants concerned, an absolute Philistine  approach to historical records, and it seems that this has been put forward as all the proof there is for these people.

Fortunately there are other sources, for example Ships’ manifests of British Passengers, which I regularly use to trace peoples’ ancestors in and out of the records, and I’ll be happy to look at these records for any concerned individuals, to see if we can find some evidence of arrival.

So, if you or members of your family are concerned about proving your status under the banner of #thewindrushgeneration please drop me a message and I’ll see if I can help.

Published in: on April 18, 2018 at 11:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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Farmland, Mining, and pushing the Turks and Red Army out of Persia; One Northern Family

You never know what you will find when you start a Family Tree, and it’s always nice to find out something unexpected in the recent past, which is what I turned up with a Family Tree as a Christmas present, that I’d been commissioned to research.

Social Mobility brought to you by The Black Death

The Family probably took their name from a corruption of the name of a Village called Lidgate in Derbyshire, their name corrupted by various dialects to “Legat” over time.  They wouldn’t have acquired this name before the Middle Ages, as surnames weren’t commonly used before that time, other than for the Nobility, and to be named after a place meant that you acquired the name after you left that place and went somewhere else – there was no point calling you by your Village’s name if you were still there, it was the fact that your home village was somewhere else that made your name a differentiator to identify you.  This means that we can guess at the name arising at around the time of the Black death in the mid 14th Century, as before that time peasants were tied to the Land of their own Parish, and couldn’t just up and leave when they wanted.

The Black death changed all of that, as a third of the population died, creating a huge demand for mobile, and therefore, free Labour.  Because there were few people in authority to enforce the Law, and the surviving landowners were prepared to defend peasants who came to work their lands as the only way to protect their own profits.  Disease, a breakdown in law enforcement, and simple Capitalism, broke serfdom in England, and ensured that legalised slavery would never again be enforceable on the soil of England. This is the reason that Slavery was never legally abolished in England, i.e. it had ceased to exist thanks to the Black Death.

Warfare drives farming opportunities

There is a gap of 200-300 years after this until the family turnup at the end of the English Civil War in the Pleasely area, most likely via Chesterfield during the upheavals of the English Civil War.  Over the following 200 years the family split, following working opportunities on the land, some going south to Duffield, our branch moving north to Whitwell, where they turn up renting land off of the Duke of Rutland, and had a fairly good holding of land at that.  This association with the Duke of Rutland coincided with the Napoleonic Wars, when grain prices were high, and good farmers would prosper, and indeed that is what the family did.  As with many prosperous families of the time they had many children, and because they were successful farmers could afford to feed them and were well away from the major urban areas and the diseases of the poor, overcrowded, and transient populations, this meant that many of their children survived which presented a problem.  LidgatePleaslyWhitchurch


The family had only one Farm, this meant that only one child could inherit, the others would need to find other means of employment.

In this family’s case, when the last major farm holder died he left the equivalent of £300,000 to his children, and of course The Farm.  The son our family were descended from was a younger son, he took up as a master Blacksmith whilst one of his elder brothers got the farm (and his descendants gradually broke it up and sold part of it to the Duke of Portland), but our man used his inheritance to build a business as a Blacksmith and Farrier.  He prospered, and as a Master employed men to work for him, including his two sons

Both sons carried on with the Blacksmithing, but by now in the mid 1800s the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and the boys moved with their families to Sheffield to take advantage of the working opportunities in the mines and steel works.  Here skilled Blacksmiths were in high demand.  Our man in this generation never became a Master Blacksmith like his father, he remained a Journeyman working in Industrial Sheffield.  Unlucky in love, he lost two wives early in their marriages, and was outlived by his last partner.  He fathered ten children, but not all of them stayed when successive wives moved in, and the family did start to go their separate ways early on.  He died in his 60s still working as a Blacksmith in industrial Sheffield, a viral infection that attacked his heart and lungs brought about his end.foundry3

Miners and Heroes

His sons went into the heavy manual labour of Mining and Steel works,  and his daughters, before marriage, worked as Domestic Servants.  The sons were of great interest as both surviving sons served in WW1 in the Yorkshire Regiment.  The brother that our family is descended from served admirably, received his medals and a war wound and was sent home because of his injuries before the end of the war.  His brother was even more interesting, during service in France he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, an award for bravery under fire, in his case he had run out into no-man’s land under shellfire to dig out comrades who had been buried in the mud and brought them back to allied lines, and he did this several times.

Despite his bravery his service didn’t end at the end of the war, in the 1920s he was shipped off to North West Persia (Iran) to push the Turks out of the country, and to repel incursions by Lenin’s Bolshevik Russian forces, successfully in both cases, his unit was part of “NoPerForce”, and he didn’t return to England until around 1924.


Back in Sheffield, and straight back to working as a file cutter in a steel works.  Both brothers put their experiences behind them and went back to the factory and the mine.  His medals were eventually sold at auction in 2009 for £1,700.


The family carried on working in the Sheffield Coal Mines for further generations, their war time heroics and their past as well to do farmers buried – until of course Time Detectives dug them up and brought them back to life.


Interested in finding out your Family’s past and having it brought back to life?  Contact  me at Time Detectives on  A great and unique present for someone you love.

Paul McNeil

Time Detectives



Published in: on February 18, 2018 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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London Bridge on the Hamble




Low resolution reproduction of original sections of Barry’s artwork


Having been born and bred near “The River” in London (there is only “The River” as far as Cockneys are concerned), and having a Dad who worked on Tower Bridge in London for much of his later life,  I’ve always been attracted to the life and history of Rivers.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I saw that our local Maritime Artist in Hamble-le-Rice, Barry Lester, had brought London to Hamble in one unique beautiful drawing.

Just in case you can’t imagine it, I have included the picture below, where I am displaying both surprise and delight to save you from having to actually imagine it.  I’m on the left of the picture, Barry the artist is on the right.


Barry loves to spend time drawing with his Grandchildren in London, and having drawn London Bridge “Falling Down” to reflect the children’s’ nursery rhyme, complete with London eye and a modern London Bridge, he was surprised by the amount of interest in the picture by other children and their parents.  Developing the theme Barry decided to draw London Bridge in one of its older incarnations in a more commercial way.

Put which period in history to choose?  The Roman wooden Bridge reinforced and defended by Danish Vikings that was pulled down by rival Norwegian Vikings fighting as mercenaries for the English?  Or perhaps the Mediaeval Bridge over which stormed Watt Tyler’s peasant army?  But no, there was one era of London Bridge’s life that showed it in all its architectural complexity, and one day when London changed from Mediaeval to modern.  That day was Saturday 1st September 1666, the day before the Great Fire of London.

Barry researched the artistic history of the Bridge and found that it had never been drawn in its entirety from that period.  The result is a unique and fascinating view of a London icon as it hasn’t been seen in nearly half a millennium.   That stretches for x feet and draws you in to the hustler and bustle of life in Renaissance London.

Most importantly prints of this fantastic artwork are available for purchase from Barry just in time for Christmas, if you are interested please drop a line to


If you would like to know a little more about the history of London Bridge read on…

When did London Bridge Fall down?

“London Bridge is falling down,
falling down,
falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair Lady!”

It fell down twice, both times it was pulled down by the hands of men.

The tune and words of the nursery rhyme above had been adapted and formalised in the 1600s, but the song and the “playing at arches” a children’s game where by the players held each others’ hands above their heads to form an arch, whilst their friends held hands and travelled underneath,  had roots going back into mediaeval times, and beyond to the Viking period.

Good Vikings and bad Vikings

In 1014 Ethelred The Un-Read (un-read = badly advised, rather than “Unready”) hired a mercenary Norwegian Viking force to sail up the Thames and attack London, held at that time by King Cnut’s father Sweyn and his Danish Vikings.  The Norwegians tied ropes around the stanchions of the fortified wooden London Bridge, hurled grappling hooks onto its fortifications, turned their longships around, hoisted sail to catch a westerly breeze, and rowed hard with the downstream tide to wreck the fortified bridge, allowing them to bring their own and Ethelred’s English ships and troops up the Thames and outflank the Danes, forcing the Danish garrison to give up control of London and Southwark back to Ethelred and the English.

This was celebrated in a Viking Saga in a poem that went;

“Yet you broke the Bridge of London,
Stout hearted warrior,
You conquered the land
Iron swords made headway
Strongly urged to fight;
ancient shields were broken,
Battle’s fury mounted”


The Rhyme obviously would have scanned better in Old Norse, but it tells the tale, and Grappling hooks and Viking axes and swords have been found in the Thames at the site to reinforce the romance of the story with archaeology.   The Viking who pulled London Bridge down,  Olaf Haraldsson, later became ruler of Norway, and on his death was hailed as a very popular Saint in England becoming St Olaf, with a Church in Southwark by the side of the rebuilt London Bridge, which you can visit today, now known as St Olave’s.  This was typical of robust British paganism lightly dressed as Christianity, a Norwegian Viking General hailed as a saint by the people of London, for helping to recapture their City, by slaughtering the Danes.

An Act of Royal Penance

The mediaeval bridge that Barry has drawn was built to by Henry II as part of his penance for causing the murder of his former friend Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, the bridge facilitated pilgrimage from London to Canterbury where Becket’s Tomb was situated.  More importantly the Bridge served London from Southwark and the Kent Coast and surrounding countryside, and with commerce, travel, and trade.

The bridge would be affected by the Great Fire of London with many buildings damaged, but the structure survived.


London Bridge saved Southwark from the Great Fire, as despite many of the buildings on its North side being destroyed in the fire, there was a natural firebreak in the Bridge’s structure towards the south side.  This had saved Southwark twice, once in a fire of 1632, but now more importantly from the Great Fire.

The bridge never fully recovered in architectural terms from the Great Fire and by 1762 the stone mediaeval bridge was 600 years old.  It once stood full of brick and stone buildings along its length, some several stories high, a spectacular site in mediaeval times, as portrayed by Barry, but these had been demolished in that year of 1762, to improve the flow of foot and horse traffic across the bridge.

London Bridge still presented a hazard to navigation, and even with a widened mid-span was unnavigable for large ships.  This blockage to large ships meant that the building of bigger ships could only be carried on down stream in and around the Poplar area.  So London Bridge inadvertently gave rise to the shipwrights of the Port of London in what is nowadays called “Docklands”.  As with many aspects of London, the River Thames and its history decided the trade and future of the lives of its working class inhabitants.


Falling down again

Times were changing, in 1810 Locks were put in up River from London at Teddington, bringing the tidal reach of the Thames back 16 miles down river from its former reach at Staines, taming and controlling the River’s ebb and flow upstream.

A few years later London Bridge finally did fall down, this happened when the “new” London Bridge was built between 1825 and 1831, the old bridge was torn down once the new bridge was completed, and the new bridge had a major impact on the Thames transport.


Much wider spans meant  that progress for boats was much safer than it had been, people could be transported with much less risk, and this was taken advantage of by unlicensed watermen, swarming like unlicensed mini-cabs to transport travellers up and down the river.  Worse still from the traditional Waterman’s point of view, steamboats came onto the river scene in large numbers from the 1830s and by 1835 it was estimated that around 3.5 million passengers travelled each year between The City and Blackwall, virtually all by steamboat.

The age of the Old London Bridge, as drawn by Barry, was finally over, but you can still own a fantastic work of art depicting it by contacting:

Time Detectives on




A Canadian WW1 Knight of the Air, and his son an Arctic Circle Knight of the Road

You never know in life where chance meetings are going to take you.  How meeting someone on a lonely road near the Arctic Circle would give the clues for Time Detectives to uncover a near forgotten hero’s story, from an incredible source.

In my other life, when I used to have a proper job, I was part of a small entrepreneurial team who put together a very successful software company and sold it to a big American corporation.  This meant that a number of us could do our own thing once the deal was done.  Amongst my other ventures I took the Time Detectives Genealogy Business to new heights, whilst my friend and ex-boss, Steve Jones (Jonesie), went off to travel the world in various adventurous ways by Land Rover and sailing boat.

During one of Steve’s sojourns, driving up from Denver Colorado to the Arctic Circle, he met a fellow traveller on the Alaskan/Canadian border of the Arctic.  Steve takes up the story from his blog at the time

“Today I met a homeless chap who was cycling the 400 or so miles from Anchorage to the Canadian border and claimed to be the son of World War 1 pilot Alfred Atkey… He told me he makes this trip on a regular basis and although he is Canadian he never crosses because he doesn’t carry ID. Anyway he had stopped to make some coffee but ran out of water so having supplied him with some and chatting about the exploits of his famous father I took this snap. I’ll let you decide if you agree his story to be true – .”

You can see Steve’s blog here, it’s got some cracking photos on it:

and the parts relevant to this story here:

Once I spoke with Jonesie, I knew I’d have to take up the challenge of testing the story from the enigmatic traveller he had met, and so another Time Detectives investigation was kicked off.


The Atkey Family Origins

The Atkey name comes from a nickname for someone who dwelled “At the Quay” so was a waterside name for a dockworker or sailor. The name is very rare, and seems to have originated in the Hampshire/Sussex coastal area of southern England.


Our Atkeys started in the Isle of Wight, which I can actually see from the beach near my home, as the name implies, it’s a large Island off the middle of the South Coast of Hampshire in England, forming the Solent waterway between Southampton and Portsmouth, one of the busiest waterways in the world.

The earliest valid ancestors we found were from the early 1700s in Shalfleet, a rural area on the Isle of Wight. By the 1770s they had moved to Carisbrooke nearer to the main town of Newport, which had started to grow from its connections to the Royal Naval base at Portsmouth just across the Solent.  The Atkeys at this time were leather workers and shoemakers.

During the Napoleonic Wars, in 1805, James Atkey was born, he followed his family as a Leatherworker and Shoemaker, and married a local girl, the wonderfully named Jane Trafalgar Grapes.  She derived her middle name from the Sea Battle Admiral Lord Nelson had won against the French and their Spanish allies, that destroyed all hope of Napoleon being able to mount a seaborne invasion of England.  In the euphoria that followed, proud parents would name children born in that year “Trafalgar”, Britannia really did rule the waves at the time.


Euphoria or not,  in 1855 James Atkey’s, a Methodist lay preacher, followed his religious calling and travelled to Canada  to take up the position of  missionary and teacher for the Anishnaube and their children in the Colpoy’s Bay area with his family.  He and his family lived in a Log cabin and would farm the land to support James’s missionary work.  James would live until 1868.

The Atkeys would carry on as Methodist Farmers in Keppel Ontario and in the Toronto area.  They also served in the Canadian Militia, ever ready to repel incursions from their potential enemy to the south, the USA, and incursions from Fenian rebels stirring up trouble along the USA/Canadian border.  And after two generations of “Alfred” Atkeys we arrive at Alfred Clayton Atkey.

War Hero

ALFRED CLAYBURN ATKEY was born 16 Aug 1894 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and diedalfredatkey 10 Feb 1971. He married IRENE E MARSHALL 1919 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. She was born 1900 in London, England.

Alfred Clayburn Atkey MC & Bar (August 16, 1894 – February 10, 1971) was a Canadian First World War pilot.

Alfred was born in Toronto, Ontario. His family headed west to a town called Minebow, Saskatchewan in 1906. When he was old enough Alfred returned to Toronto to work at the Toronto Evening Telegram as a journalist. In 1916 he joined the Royal Flying Corps as a probationary Second Lieutenant. By September 1917, he was a bomber pilot flying Airco DH.4 with 18 Squadron. May 1918, he was flying a Bristol F 2B fighter/reconnaissance aircraft with “A flight”, 22 Squadron.   Along with Lt CG Gass who was his gunner/observer, he claimed 29 aircraft shot down within a month.

In terms of number of claims, Atkey was the top Allied two-seater pilot of the war. His total number of aircraft claimed shot down was 38 (comprising 13 and 1 shared claimed destroyed, 23 and 1 shared ‘Out of Control’). Gass is rear gunner contributed some 13 of these claims (himself the most successful gunner in the RFC/RAF).


Atkey’s rank was Captain upon leaving the Royal Air Force at the end of the war.

Alfred Atkey received the Military Cross with Bar. The following was written in the London Gazette:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When engaged on reconnaissance and bombing work, he attacked four scouts, one of which he shot down in flames. Shortly afterwards he attacked four two-seater planes, one of which he brought down out of control. On two previous occasions his formation was attacked by superior numbers of the enemy, three of whom in all were shot down out of control. He has shown exceptional ability and initiative on all occasions.”

MC citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 22 June 1918

The following was written when he received the MC Bar:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During recent operations he destroyed seven enemy machines. When engaged with enemy aircraft, often far superior in numbers, he proved himself a brilliant fighting pilot, and displayed dash and gallantry of a high order.”

MC Bar citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 16 September 1918.

Alfred married Irene Marshall in 1919 at Portsmouth in Hampshire, more or less within sight of the Isle of Wight where his ancestors had emigrated from 64 years before.

The couple then migrated to the USA, were ion the New York area in 1920, and Alfred took the first steps to naturalisation in California in 1924.


Whatever the reasons, the marriage didn’t last, and in 1942 Alfred remarried to Dulcie May Boadway, they would have four children, the oldest of whom was to be Alfred (Al)Atkey.

Al Atkey; Knight of the Road

…and so we come to Al Atkey who Jonesie took up with on the edge of the Artic Circle.  His stories were indeed true, and in his own way he had s lived a life full of adventure, just as his father did, albeit in peacetime rather than war

Although Jonesie isn’t adding to this particular page on his blog site at the moment, other people are, and Al Atkey keeps popping up in various meetings with other travellers out on the road, here are some edited samples of the updates:

David Hoekje July 14th, 2009 at 8:44 am
Well now a year later I met Alfred just a week ago, at this time he explained that he was an amateur musicologist traveling Canada (yes, he’s in the Yukon) collecting money for female composers of violin concerti. He feels it is a lost art.

Let it be said that he’s not only in fine condition,  but that his clothing is only more delightful than when you found him. He is wearing one rubber boot and one tennis show. He is also wearing every item of clothing that he owns such that he appears like a cartoon character with his little head popping out of a mound of clothes; I’m not sure how he can move.

I gave him $20 on general principles, and a cup of ice since it was a hot day. A bit up the road I stopped in at Jakes Corner in Yukon (Jakes crossing) and spoke with a couple waitresses at this must see gallery / restaurant / ?  After visiting with the eccentrics at the lunch table I asked on a whim if any of them knew Alfred. They burst into laughter and said he’d spent the afternoon at their place a few days before. Apparently he’s using the bicycle more as a luggage carrier than for himself. They agreed that he was a delight, remarkably clean and alert for a man living outdoors, and somehow seemed to avoid the numerous human predators such a man might fall victim to.

Susan Hoefner July 19th, 2009 at 8:30 am
Al Atkey was part of our lives from 1980 until he was deported.

Linda M November 23rd, 2009 at 4:44 pm
re: Alfred Atkey: I’m a school teacher in a small community in the Yukon whose husband works in Whitehorse and lives near Marsh Lake. Ron got to know Alfred last spring and he hired Alfred come to do odd jobs around the place. In early September, after having to cancel his plans to travel on his bike all the way to Edmonton he showed up at our place and my husband took him in for the winter. He is warm, cozy, well fed, and happy. So, all of you out there who might have been wondering about his safety and well-being for the winter, worry no more. Of course, I can’t say where he might be as soon as the highways are free of snow in the spring.

David Hoekje April 29th, 2010 at 8:18 am
I just heard from a man who saw Al last Sunday. I’ll post his message below without his email address or name.
“Hi Just a quick update on Alfred. As of Sunday April 25th he was in Fort St John. I saw him on the road side making little to no progress so I stopped and asked him if he was alright. What a delightful experience that turned out to be. He was fine, as it was evening and he had no place to stay I put him into a motel for the night. He said he was headed to Red Deer to stay with a brother. I told him if I could talk to his brother I would put him on the Grey Hound. Haven’t heard from him so I imagine he’s on the road south. What a character.”

Donna Atkey May 14th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
Hi All,
I just read about my brother, Alfie, known in the north as Alcan Al. I am his younger sister, he also has a younger brother George and a little sister, Susan, who just passed away.

Just wanted to set the record straight that my father’s first wife was not our mother.   She ran off on my father and when he didn’t hear from her for many years, he went back to the homestead near Lone Rock and worked on his music career.

He enlisted in the second war, was assigned to Downsview, Ontario as a link trainer for new pilots. It was in Toronto that he met our mother, Dulcie May Boadway. They married in August of 1942 and had five children. The second child, George Vaughn only lived two weeks. They lived in Toronto, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Whitehorse, Lloydminster, and finally Toronto again where my father passed away at the age of 76 in 1971. Mom followed at the age of 59 in 1975. They are greatly missed.

Ken Atkey December 15th, 2010 at 10:08 pm
Alfred Atkey also worked at a creamery in Didsbury Alberta where he met my wife’s uncle Bob Dunkley. I believe he was based near Calgary for a while during the war.
My father who was injured in a plane crash in July 1918 met Alfred and his first wife in Toronto. According to the stories I heard from my mother she became restless and went on tour as “Billie Atkey” with a rollerskating act. She invited my father to a performance in the mid or late twenties at the Orpheum or Strand theatre. He went and took his oldest son who was three or four years old with him.

Chuck-Mary Clarke November 14th, 2012 at 4:19 pm
We met Al Atkey biking thru Fruitvale in the snow last night. We brought him home for the night and dropped him off in Salmo this morning to continue his trip home to Ft St John. He is healthy and in good spirits, anxious to get home to his camper in FSJ. We enjoyed his company and tales of his travels and dreams. We’re praying he makes it there safely.

Paul November 23rd, 2012 at 12:58 am
Hi everyone, Met Al last night at the Petro-Canada on Hwy 1 west of Calgary. We talked for a while in the restaurant there. As I am truck driver now, and a bike courier from a long time ago, we shared a few stories of cycling and life on the road. He told me of his father, and I shared some of my west coast pilot stories.  He seemed very interested in the history of Blatchford Field(City Centre Airport -Edmonton)I worked there for a while at the Edmonton Flying Club. I told him he should write a book of his life and adventures, he seemed to smile at the idea.  Who knows………… might see Al some night on lonely highway…….safe travels Al.

Jon Levesque October 15th, 2015 at 8:57 am
Hello. Just shooting everyone an update that I’ve had the great opportunity to meet Al here in Fernie. He’s staying with us until he decides where the open road will take him.
He sends his greetings to everyone.

Pat Ferris February 20th, 2016 at 9:56 am
Alfred was living in Fort St. John, BC, up to a couple of months ago.(as of Jan 2016) He does go on journeys on his bike to Alaska or Edmonton but has been here for the past 3 years or so. He was in good spirit and health. Cheers.

Ramada Hotel November 6th, 2016 at 10:07 am
Hello everyone,
We have Mr. Atkey staying with us here at the Ramada Hotel in Penticton, BC. He is in good spirits and seems to be doing well in his travels.

Monica Mikolas November 24th, 2016 at 5:28 pm
I just met Alfred Atkey tonight walking in Stony Plain, Alberta. He is a plesent man to talk with and he is very proud of his father and has such a beautiful demenor … November 24, 2016!

Cam Todd February 7th, 2017 at 9:16 pm
Fri. Jan 27 , 2017 6:30am. Intrigued by the orange bicycle helmet my buddy Wordie and I stopped on the roadside in Crow’s Nest Pass to aid a fellow traveller . Fortunately for us the gent regaled with tale after tale for miles on end ! The last we saw of him he was in a Walmart Parking lot heading for a CIBC.  Some days later we discovered we had been in the company of a truely unique Canadian !

Geminy Hansen June 21st, 2017 at 1:59 pm
we recently encountered Mr Atkey in Grimshaw Alberta! Today we were having a staff lunch and he was in the cafe! Intuition told me to ask him his name. My co workers bought him lunch and gave him some cash.

Kory Kopf July 10th, 2017 at 3:58 pm
Just dropped Al off in Mayerthorpe Alberta. He was the highlight of my day!

..and lastly a message sent directly to me I received recently:

Just wanted to let you know that this morning I had the privilege of meeting Alfred Atkey as he passed the small town of Devon, Alberta, Canada on one of his many treks (this time on an old bike with numerous bags of stuff tied to the handelbars) on his way “south” for the winter (south means southern Alberta and B.C.).

I bought Alfred a coffee and breakfast at the local A&W, which is apparently his favourite haunt when he is on the road.

What an interesting guy! I spent several hours with him and gave him a few things that he needed for the road, namely a can opener, a pair of winter gloves and a few other items that he needed to replace. The best thing that I gave though was a copy of his family tree from your website (I found it online and printed it off when I went home to get the can opener and gloves).

He was so excited to see the names of all of his ancestors and to read a bit of their histories! Just thought you might get a kick out of this. Alfred is now 74 years old and shows no sign of slowing up as he continues to move from homeless shelter to homeless shelter and to rely on the kindness of strangers. Alfred told me that someone he met on his travellers had created a Facebook page for him, but I have not yet attempted to find it.

Alfred is very inspiring and very humble. He mentioned several times that he could never be as great a man as his war hero father. I disagree.
Humbled and Sincere,
Sheryl Watson

Bon Voyage Al!





Published in: on September 25, 2017 at 10:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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Was Roman Britain Ethnically Diverse?

romanbritainI have had the somewhat bewildering experience of seeing two very different people I follow on twitter get into a massive spat over a BBC cartoon aimed at educating children.  The cartoon seems to be showing a well groomed man of sub-Saharan African pedigree with a Mediterranean looking Mrs, and children with varied skin tones, this was labelled as a “Typical” family in Roman Britain.  Considering that 99% of the population of lowland (Roman) Britain were to a great extent a mix of fair or brown haired, pale eyed, and pale skinned, individuals, and probably spent most of their lives covered in dirt and sweat from working the rich British Farmlands for the profit of, their native British overlords who were wilfully collaborating with the Roman Military occupation.   I can only guess that either the caption was a mistake, or this was an effort to re-write history at the BBC.  It’s a bit like putting up the picture below and claiming that it represents a “typical” Indian family from the Raj:

tennis-party_2214153kIt seems that wilfully or just through ineptitude, someone in the BBC is confusing the Romans in Britain with the people of Roman Britain.

The argument got quite heated with Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the hard talking Lebanese ex-new York and London stockmarket trader, mathematician and autodidact (in some areas), vs Beard the well mannered, academic, English lady.  Taleb said that if the picture from the BBC was “Typical” why was there no trace of sub-Saharan genes in the British gene pool, and Beard arguing that there was ample documentary and archaeological evidence for Africans in Britain.  Both were correct.

It escalated when Mary Beard asked Nassim Taleb if he’d read any books on Roman Britain, and Taleb calling Beard a bullshitter.  It seemed to me that they were arguing at cross purposes and across a massive socio-cultural political divide.   Taleb seemed to be arguing against apparent Political propaganda from the BBC aimed at re-writing history to make it more acceptable to an urban liberal elite, whilst Beard was arguing against an alt-right perception of British racial purity.

Romans in Britain vs Roman Britain

There were undoubtedly black Africans in Roman Britain, but not many.  There is evidence for more “Mediterranean type” North Africans, and even more Europeans from various states.  But even the highest estimates of the numbers of people from other parts of the Roman Empire in Roman Britain don’t go beyond about 5%, and that number varies widely up to the 5% maximum over the 400 or so years that the Romans militarily occupied us.  The largest numbers of these would have been concentrated in the military at very specific points of the country.  It seems also that integration between the indigenous Brits and the Roman sponsored incomers was low level at best, as genetic fingerprints suggesting a Roman past for modern British citizens is largely absent.  Without a doubt there was some intermarriage, indeed there is evidence for this in documentary sources, and soldiers wouldn’t be soldiers, if there wasn’t a local whore house servicing and profiting from their carnal requirements.  But given the relative numbers of Roman incomers at any time compared to the large gene pool of indigenous Brits, any residual genetic legacy has been drowned out.

So was there much ethnic diversity in the indigenous population of Roman Britain? No there wasn’t.  Was there much ethnic diversity among the Romans in Britain, absolutely.

To say that Roman Britain was ethnically diverse would be like saying that the Hampshire Village I live in on the South Coast of England is ethnically diverse because we have a Curry House up the road, or because we are only a hour and a half from ethnically diverse areas of London.  To say that the Romans in Britain were ethnically diverse is like saying that people who live in central London are ethnically diverse, which is true beyond doubt.  But they are two different things, and by no means mutually exclusive.

Trolls and the Academic Virtue Signallers

Unfortunately any hope of rationalising the argument went out the window as soon as the respective sets of followers got involved and started shouting “Fight! Fight!” like kids in a school playground.  From what I saw, the Taleb fans were far more unpleasant on a personal level to Mary Beard, than the Beard fans were towards Taleb.  The Taleb followers went into full personal insult troll mode, probably without knowing who Mary Beard was, especially as many seemed to be from the USA and for some strange reason Italy (then again they were discussing the Romans), whereas the Beard supporters tended to be more academic putting up tweets of blogs that generally didn’t negate Taleb’s arguments but gave a vent to their virtue signalling.

The underlying issue seemed to be that you had a group of fairly Liberal Academics on Beard’s side arguing for a re-writing of history to fit a politically correct agenda, and on Taleb’s side a group of unsavoury Trolls trying to silence any liberal dissent without actually taking it on in a rational argument.  I don’t believe that Beard or Taleb were responsible for either approach.

Interestingly I tweeted both parties to suggest that the issue was one of the Romans in Britain vs Roman Britain, but despite the fact that they both retweeted and answered many unpleasant or ill thought through tweets from both sides, thereby prolonging the pointless shouting match, my, hopefully rational suggestion got ignored by both.  That’s a shame.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

Taleb made a very valid point, saying that there was no evidence for sub-Saharan genes in the native British gene pool before the modern era.  This was absolutely correct,  academics on Beard’s side countered that the genes could have been lost through genetic drift, especially when looking at Y chromosomes and Mitochondrial DNA, without realising that if anything that probably supported Taleb’s argument.  This is because the smaller the representation of a chromosome in a population, the more likely it is to disappear over time through lack chance pairings, e.g. if a man is the only representative of his Y chromosome within a population and all his offspring are daughters, then his Y chromosome will disappear from the records.  So the lower the numbers of individuals with such ancestry the more likely their footprint is to disappear from the genetic map.

If the population was in any meaningful way “Ethnically Diverse” their genes would turn up, even in small numbers in current generations, and ancient samples.  So Taleb’s arguments don’t show that there weren’t ANY sub-Saharan Africans in Roman Britain, just that they were not represented in any statistically significant numbers, therefore the attempt to show “Roman Britain” as opposed to “the Romans in Britain” as ethnically diverse is nonsense.

Archaeology and DNA

I was also amazed in the number of academics who rallied to the cry that Genetics is not a silver bullet of proof, and can’t be taken in isolation, and were prepared to ignore it all together because it didn’t fit their arguments, and even tried to bolster their argument by quoting approaches that are far less rigourous than genetics, and facts that actually undermined their own arguments.

For example, a number of people quoted the evidence that bodies from high status “Roman” graves in Britain, notably Lant Street from Bermondsey in South London showed evidence, mainly through isotope analysis, of individuals who may have come from North Africa (or at least somewhere hotter and drier than Italy).  If they had read the actual conclusions from the dig (as I did), they would have seen that one young woman in particular who was cited as being “probably” raised in North Africa, actually had blue eyes according to genetic evaluation of her remains.  Blue eyes only developed once in history, and that was in Europe.  In other words she was an example of possible genetic diversity in North Africa, rather than genetic diversity in Britain.  In any case she is just as likely to have come from Southern Europe as North Africa.

To be convincing, what would be needed to make the BBC cartoon and caption true rather than politically correct propaganda aimed at children would be a sub -saharan African genetic profile from a Roman era grave in a non-urban environment in Roman occupied Britain, that had an isotope analysis that showed the person had been raised in Britain.  Some evidence of this has been found in non-sub-Saharan ancestry remains in the urbanised areas of Roman Britain, but not in the rural areas where the overwhelming large numbers of indigenous Britons lived.

Looking at other periods, the Amesbury Archer, has been shown to have come from somewhere in Central Europe, and he left a genetic marker in later generations,  born and bred in Britain.  Clear evidence of ethnic mixing albeit on a much less obvious European level.

If we look at  the latest genomic and other research on individuals from the urban Roman parts of Roman Britain, we see interesting results.  Firstly in the North of England in York, extensive testing has been carried out on Roman era remains from the Roman City, all the results bar one individual show  haplogroups of sub-lineages of  (R1b-L52/L11) the most common Y chromosome lineage from natives of Western Europe, one man was found to be from J2-L228 Haplogroup, which is described as “Middle-Eastern” but is better described as East Mediterranean and Near Eastern.  The rest of the male skeletons were found to be similar genetically to the modern Welsh, rather than modern Yorkshiremen.  All of the mitochondrial DNA  passed on by female ancestors in the bodies tested were from the most common Western European lineages.

One oft touted individual from York is the so called Ivory Bangle Lady, who undoubtedly spent many years in either Southern Europe or North Africa, and had an Elephant Ivory Bangle in her grave goods.  She has been claimed to be “African” and depicted more or less as a “Black African”, apparently based on some bone measurements.  It made a good story for press releases, and was eagerly taken up by the BBC.  however, looking closer at claims for her sub-Saharan African ancestry, and other individuals amongst Roman remains who even have Chinese claims for ancestry, it will be found that these claims are so far based on measuring size and relative proportions of bones and teeth (Macromorphology) rather than on any DNA evidence.  This approach is thought of as unreliable amongst Bioarchaeologists.  No isotope analysis or DNA studies back up the claims.  So at best an unreliable approach is being taken to make claims of headline grabbing exotic African origins for remains, let alone Chinese.

The obvious upside of this is that it brings publicity for the Archaeologists involved.  I’d be prepared to bet that if more detailed DNA research is carried out on these remains, all of the more exotic claims will be disproved.

Sampling Bias

Which brings us back to the other elephant in the room; ALL the Roman era bodies that have been subjected to genetic analysis and that show any sign of non-indiginous genetic makeup are ones from small but heavily Romanised enclaves, such as London and York, and military areas dominated by the Roman Politico-Military machine.  They just aren’t representative of the overall population of Roman Britain.

It’s a bit like an unexpected Tsunami hitting the River Hamble during Cowes week, and Archaeologists in two thousand years time uncovering the skeletons of the drowned from the mud, declaring that there were such a high number of Russians and Arabs among the dead, that Hamble must have been an ethnically diverse Village in deepest Hampshire, and therefore the whole of the UK must have harboured a massive population of Russians and Arabs; outside of Knightsbridge that just wouldn’t be the case.  Similarly did my maternal granddad serving in the British Army in India before and after the First World War make India Ethnically Diverse?  I don’t think so.

Getting back to the evidence, all the genetic and isotope evidence so far shows a balance between Indigenous British, European, and some Mediterranean (including the Roman Provinces of North Africa and the Levant) genetics, backed up by similar findings for isotope analysis.  But again this is from heavily Romanised urban militarised areas, where most of the population didn’t live, but where most of the high status (and therefore interesting from a media point of view) burials are found, and quite frankly, where “all the foreigners” would have lived in Roman times (to quote an imaginary Ancient British taxi driver) .  It simply isn’t a representative sample of “Roman Britain” although undoubtedly is a representative sample of “the Romans in Britain”.  Hence the twitter storm.

Mediterranean vs Sub-Saharan

All the examples of Africans quoted, bar one, were of North Africans, who were largely “Mediterranean” in genotype and phenotype rather than “Sub-Saharan”.  But unfortunately these people didn’t seem to be African enough for some academics, so you will find examples of Septimus Severus, Roman Emperor, half Liby-Phoenician half Italian, being described simply as an African Emperor of Rome who died in Britain (the last fact is correct), on the “Black Roman” section of the British National Archives site.

Twitter brings out the worst in people (on average)

The sad thing about the whole debacle was not just the appalling mindless despicable name calling of the trolls towards Mary Beard, from people with less than a fraction of her ability, but the sadly inept and downright incorrect arguments of many of the academics when trying to counter argue Nassim Taleb,  and their attempts to defend the indefensible, i.e. the intentional or otherwise inaccurate BBC propaganda aimed at children.  If only the BBC had resisted the chance to politicise the cartoon, and instead entitled it “An interesting and unusual example of a Roman Family in Britain” maybe the debate could have been carried on at a calmer level?

For my part I’m happy for my ancestors to have come from any background and skin colour. But I don’t want academic arrogance and missinformation driving a political agenda falsely re-writing history, nor do I want a debate drowned out by trolls hurling insults.

History may be written by the winners, but genetics is the voice of the people.

…and if you are interested in seeing who you are descended from, contact Time Detectives on




Looking forward to Danny Baker’s Tour “From Cradle to stage” Danny Baker’s Family History, the Riddle of Windsor Riches to Poplar Rags

“Oh Paul McNeil! Thank you so much for this! I’ve always wondered about this sort of thing and now I can see that there is not one drop of Royal Blood anywhere in my tree!” Dann…

Source: Danny Baker’s Family History, the Riddle of Windsor Riches to Poplar Rags

Published in: on March 4, 2017 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Part 3: “The Lost Temple” a Family lost and found in South East London


Lunch at Gilray’s Old London County Hall Building



In Part 1 Part 1: Finding the “Lost Temple” for an old mate and Part 2 Part 2: “What’s all the Waller about then?” we traced the maternal and paternal families of my mate Les Temple, who had slung a family mystery onto the dinner table when we were out for one of our occasional

“…let’s ‘av a pint and a bit of nosh, and tell each other the same old stories so we won’t forget ’em before we get dementia…” bashes.

…and it was a good laugh, as it always is.  This lunch was in Gilray’s Steak House which is housed in the old Greater London Council (GLC) headquarters on the Southbank of the Thames, an institution for which we both used to work 40 years ago.  Gilray’s overlooks Westminster Bridge, and brings back some great memories.  Probably put me in a good mood, so the revelation that there was such a great mystery in the Temple Family, was too good to pass up.  As we always say at Time Detectives:

“Every working class family has as much right to have their family history remembered and cherished as any family of the nobility.”

So having found the genetic ancestry of Les’s Family in parts 1 and 2, the last part of the puzzle was how and why did the Family end up with the Surname Temple, when their paternal line were the well to do, but slightly mental Wallers, and the maternal line were the hard working Gunmaking Scots Erskines.  we can start by finding out were the Temple line came from.

The Temple

The Temple who gave Les’s Temples the surname Temple was one William Henry Temple born around 1820 in Stockton-On-Tees County Durham.

William turns up in living in lodgings at Falmouth Road, Newington, Southwark, South London in 1871.  He was a travelling “Commission Agent” which was basically a travelling salesman, although what he was selling is not clear.  He was an unmarried 51 year old man and profoundly deaf, he probably wasn’t a great catch.  There the story may have ended with William passing his life as a Bachelor, but his life would change in 1871.

The Browns

In 1821, within a year of William Temple’s birth in Stockton-On-Tees, a child named Frederick Brown was born in Woodham Walter,  just to the East of Chelmsford in Essex.  He worked as a Gentleman’s Servant and married Mary Ann Gardner in 1842, the following year they were blessed with their first child Sarah Ann Brown.  The couple went on to have a further eight children over twenty years.  But the one we will focus on will be the eldest child Sarah Ann.

Sarah Ann, like many of the women in this story found employment as a Domestic Servant, and at the tender age of 18 was working miles away from Essex for a household in Croydon Surrey.  Like the women in the Erskine Family Domestic service didn’t work out for Sarah Ann, and at the tender age of 19 she was back in Springfield Chelmsford with her family where she gave birth as an unmarried mother to her son Edward.

A Perfect Match

Edward was looked after by his Grandparents whilst Sarah Ann worked in domestic service nearer to home in Chelmsford.  Her father was working as a Carman and Coal Porter, so life wouldn’t have been easy with several children to feed as well as a new grandchild.

At some stage around 1870 Sarah Anne Brown met William Henry Temple the same age as her father.  How they met is not clear, most likely Sarah Ann came back down to London to work in Domestic service again, and met William Temple there.  They hit it off and the middle aged deaf salesman found a wife, and the unmarried mother Sarah Ann Brown, along with young Edward in tow, found a husband and protector.

The couple set up home in a flat in Camden House, Kensington, and William took on Edward Brown as his own son, and he was renamed Edward Brown Temple in recognition of this.  The boy did well, working in a Warehouse and then as a Grocer’s Assistant.  It may have started as a marriage of convenience for both of them, but it undoubtedly had a loving core to it as the couple had seventeen happy years together until William’s death in 1888.

Edward Brown Temple

Edward continued to prosper after his step father’s death, looking after his mother in Cavendish Buildings Clerkenwell.  Cavendish Buildings were a reclaimed school building, redeveloped as a site for “artisans’ dwellings”.  Known at first as St Paul’s Buildings and later as Cavendish Buildings, these opened in 1890, and the Browns moved in when they first became available.  The Block was developed into 72 two and three-roomed flats arranged in four linked six-storey blocks, those at the north and south ends apparently retaining some of the school fabric.   Access was via a doorway on Dallington Street into a small courtyard, where a large, cast-iron staircase with decorative balustrading led to long, gallery-like balconies.


Cavendish Buildings

These Buildings were classed as very respectable, with no broken windows, and flowers on show on the windowsills, put there by the housewives to brighten up the area.

Edward was doing well working as a Grocer’s Assistant, and in 1900, married Martha Annie Bond.

The Bonds

Martha Annie Bond was the eldest daughter of George and Clementine Bond from Offley in Hertfordshire.  George was a Groom, who looked after horses for their owners, but after becoming unemployed in 1871, went out on his own as a Cab Driver (a horse drawn cab that is).

Martha Annie went to London to find work in Domestic Service, and found employment with a wealthy Widower’s household in Jermingham Road New Cross, South East London.  She was taken on as a “Lady’s helper” looking after the Widower’s elderly Mother-in-law who lived at the address.  How she met Edward Brown temple is not clear, but in 1900 they married at Hatfield in Hertfordshire in her parent’s home Parish.  Within a few years, 1903, their daughter Vera Ethel Clementina Brown temple was born at Little Heath Hertfordshire.

Bringing the Temple/Brown, Erskine and Waller strands together

There the story may have ended, but then in 1912 “Cyril Waller”, Les’s Dad, was born illegitimately to Emma Erskine, quietly away from Clerkenwell in Deptford, looked after by Emma’s mother, and financed we assume by the Father’s family the Wallers.

From the records it seems that Cyril was raised by Edward Brown Temple and Martha Annie Temple (Bond).  When this happened is not clear, but there is a distinct possibility that Cyril was “informally” adopted by the Brown/Temples, soon after birth.

I would speculate that after the birth of their daughter Vera, the Edward and Martha found that they were unable to have anymore children, and there is a distinct possibility that Edward would have liked to have had a son, and in 1912 Cyril came along unwanted it would seem because of his illegitimacy by both sets of his parents.

Baby Cyril’s plight would have resonated with Edward who was himself the illegitimate son of a Domestic Servant, but who’s mother had keep hold of him, and with the help of her parents managed to bring him up albeit in relative poverty until William Henry Temple, the kindly deaf middle aged travelling salesman had come along and offered safety and security , and raised the boy in a loving home of his own.  Cyril represented Edward’s opportunity to pass on the same selfless kindness to another illegitimate boy and raise him as his own son.  Compassion passed down through the generations as a noble Meme in the Temple Family.

But what was the link?

So we know what happened, i.e. Edward Brown Temple and Martha took on Cyril as their own, and Cyril took not only the Temple surname, but also dropped the “Waller” and adopted Edward’s name as his own middle name, which says a lot for his love for his adopted parents.

So how did the connection come about?  This will need to be intelligent speculation based on the facts we do know.  The family storey is that Cyril was brought up by an Aunt, but we were not able to find an obvious relationship between Cyril and Martha who raised him, so it seems there must have been another relationship.

There is a common theme linking the women in the story to Domestic Service in South East London.  Emma Suttle had worked as a Maid in Camberwell before winding up in Wandsworth Prison, and was living in Camberwell when she married William Dodd Erskine, her daughter Emma Erskine was a Domestic Maid in Bromley South London, Martha Annie Bond who along with Edward Brown Temple adopted Cyril had been a domestic servant in Deptford, Emma and her mother went to Deptford to give birth to Cyril, so  it is likely that the various women involved.  So it is possible that the women had some contact earlier in their lives.

Another explanation would be that Edward Temple the grocer new the Erskines from Clerkenwell, as they did not live that far from each other, we may never know for certain.

Wait a minute Mr Postman

Before we leave the story there is a postscript of a possible Temple/Erskine/Waller connection.

In  1924 Emma Erskine, Cyril’s Mother married a widower, and ex-Royal Navy Sailor called George Francis William Hand and moved to Hackney.  George Hand was now a Post Office Sorter.

Perhaps a coincidence but William Charles Waller, Cyril’s putative father Stanley Waller’s Uncle, was a Principal Clerk in the London Postal Service, a very important role.

In 1939 we find Cyril living in Ealing with Martha Temple (Edward Brown Temple having died in 1923) doing very menial work stuffing hemp under bedding.

In the 1940s Cyril manages to get a job as a Postman, a good job at the time, and a major step up from where he had been stuffing hemp mattresses.  Did he receive a helping hand?  Either through his Mother’s guilt via her new husband George Hand, or perhaps, were the Waller’s still paying their debt to young Cyril?  Did Cyril’s Father’s Uncle come to the rescue in Cyril’s hour of need, as a way perhaps of keeping the situation quiet going forward?  perhaps coincidence perhaps not?

Modern Times

A footnote into modern times, Les’s putative Grandfather Stanley Waller was still alive in 1969, a few years before we worked together, and his Grandmother Emma Erskine/Hand died in 1956 in Sidcup just South East of where Cyril was living in Peckham, and the same year that Martha Annie temple died, so Cyril lost two mothers in a single year.  Despite being so close in both time and space, the Family story was lost until now.

Les’s surname is now Temple, but it has no genetic link with his family whatsoever.  despite this the elderly deaf salesman from Stockton-On-Tees, William Henry Temple who died in 1888, passed down a legacy of compassion and the idea of Family as a loving unit whether there were blood ties or not.  What better legacy could a man ask for, and how proud can a family be of bearing the name of such a man?


Published in: on February 20, 2017 at 5:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Part 2: “What’s all the Waller about then?”

So having found out about Les’s Dad Cyril and Grandmother Emma’s origins Part 1: Finding the “Lost Temple” for an old mate, it was time to try to unravel who Les’s paternal Grandfather was.

Which brings us back to the mystery of the “Waller” surname as a middle name on Les’s Dad’s birth certificate.

The Waller Family

We know that Les’s Grandmother Emma Waller had been a young Domestic servant in the household of a widow called  Chappell, and that the widow’s daughter Jessie Chappell had married a clerk called Harold Waller, but what was the background to the Waller Family?

Blessed are the Cheesemongers

The first Waller in the line that we could find was John Waller, born around 1764 who was a Ladies’ Stay Maker, he ended up living on a private pension in the 1840s on Blackheath, then a village, now a suburb of South East London.

The Stay Maker’s son Charles Waller, was born around 1791, and was trading as a Cheesemonger during the Napoleonic War, from at least 1811, based at 176 Bermondsey Street Southwark, South East London now, Surrey in the early 1800s.  This may not sound very grand, but cheese was a staple of everyday life and also a very valuable commodity, and  Charles’s business was thriving, enough to allow him to have a dwelling, a shop, a warehouse, and stables in Bermondsey Street.  Charles had been fortunate enough to gain from the lack of foreign imports during the Napoleonic Wars forcing food prices up, as well as the demand for food supply to the Army and Navy that had the same inflationary effect on food prices at home.

Prosperous, Charles married the wonderfully named “Mary Cock” at St Antholin’s Church, st_antholin_cruseBudge Row in the City of London in 1810.  They would be together until Mary’s death in the 1830s, the couple had four children, three boys and a girl between 1813 and 1831.

Charles’s shop is no longer there, it was demolished in the mid-19th century, but the site has been mentioned in the context of an Archaeological Survey for some redevelopment work:

“176 Bermondsey Street, was insured as a cheesemonger and butcher to Charles Waller in 1819, according to Royal and Sun Alliance Insurance Group records. It appears the ground floor was used as a shop at this time (LMA, CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/480/953062), probably with residential occupation above”

The Archaeological survey was carried out prior to demolition of the mid nineteenth century building that had replaced Charles’s Business.  The site is now due to be developed as a Hotel in 2016: “Historic Environment Assessment ©MOLA2016 14 P:\SOUT\1646\na\Assessments\176-178_Bermondsey_St_HEA_06-09-2016.docx”

The location of Charles’s business is marked on the map below:


Charles was doing very well, thank you very much, he had a warehouse full of cheese, a shop to sell it from, and a stable for the delivery cart, albeit in an area surrounded by the smell urine and dog droppings used by the tanneries in the locality, but a good existence none-the-less.  Charles Waller’s life took a downturn in the 1830s when his wife died, but he picked himself up and life and business went on, in 1838 he married Harriett Gibson (originally Harriett Moss) a widow, and had two more children a boy and a girl.

Charles and Harriett remained in wedded bliss for ten years, until 1848 when their circumstances changed in a way that was out of their control, and that would affect the whole of Bermondsey and indeed the whole of London.

In September 1849 the great social reformer Henry Mayhew visited Bermondsey to report on an outbreak of Cholera that hit London in 1848 and lasted through 1849.  This Cholera almost certainly started in India and was transported by infected seamen coming into the London Docks.  Mayhew chose Bermondsey in particular to visit because, in his own words from The Morning Chronicle:

 “Out of the 12,800 deaths which, within the last three months, have arisen from cholera, 6,500 have occurred on the southern shores of the Thames; and to this awful number no localities have contributed so largely as Lambeth, Southwark and Bermondsey, each, at the height of the disease, adding its hundred victims a week to the fearful catalogue of mortality. Any one who has ventured a visit to the last-named of these places in particular, will not wonder at the ravages of the pestilence in this malarious quarter, for it is bounded on the north and east by filth and fever, and on the south and west by want, squalor, rags and pestilence.”cholera

Granted Bermondsey Street where Charles had his business was not as bad as some other areas, such as Jacob’s Island (where Bill Sikes made his last stand in Dicken’s Oliver Twist to die sucked into the Mud of the local creek) being several hundred yards from the Thames, but Charles’s property was only about two hundred yards from the Neckinger River which ran up to the Thames at Jacob’s Island.  The Neckinger derived it’s name from the practice of hanging Pirates at the point where this river met the Thames, hence the River’s local name of  “Devil’s Neckerchief” or “Devil’s Neckcloth” and maybe from that to “Neck-hanger” and in the Cockney dialect to “Neck-‘ang-ah” and so Neckinger or “Neck-ing-ah” as it was pronounced in the Transpontine Cockney dialect of the Surrey Side of the Thames.  The deathly associations of this River with hanged Pirates was nothing compared to the death it brought in Charles Waller’s lifetime.

Cholera is spread both by contact with infected people, and more widely by infected water sources, usually contaminated by sewage from infected people.  To all intents and purposes the Neckinger River was a partial sewer, as noted by Mayhew on his visit to Bermondsey:

“We then journeyed on to London-street, down which the tidal ditch continues its course. In No. 1 of this street the cholera first appeared seventeen years ago, and spread up it with fearful virulence; but this year it appeared at the opposite end, and ran down it with like severity. As we passed along the reeking banks of the sewer the sun shone upon a narrow slip of the water. In the bright light it appeared the colour of strong green tea, and positively looked as solid as black marble in the shadow – indeed it was more like watery mud than muddy water; and yet we were assured this was the only water the wretched inhabitants had to drink. As we gazed in horror at it, we saw drains and sewers emptying their filthy contents into it; we saw a whole tier of doorless privies in the open road, common to men and women, built over it; we heard bucket after bucket of filth splash into it, and the limbs of the vagrant boys bathing in it seemed, by pure force of contrast, white as Parian marble. And yet, as we stood doubting the fearful statement, we saw a little child, from one of the galleries opposite, lower a tin can with a rope to fill a large bucket that stood beside her. In each of the balconies that hung over the stream the self-same tub was to be seen in which the inhabitants put the mucky liquid to stand, so that they may, after it has rested for a day or two, skim the fluid from the solid particles of filth, pollution, and disease. As the little thing dangled her tin cup as gently as possible into the stream, a bucket of night-soil was poured down from the next gallery.”

So unbelievable did this seem to Mayhew and his companions, that they felt they had to test what they had seen:
” In this wretched place we were taken to a house where an infant lay dead of the cholera. We asked if they really did drink the water? The answer was,

“They were obliged to drink the ditch, without they could beg a pailfull or thieve a pailfull of water”.

“But have you spoken to your landlord about having it laid on for you? “

“Yes, sir; and he says he’ll do it, and do it, but we know him better than to believe him.”

Again Charles’s business was on the edges of this, but given the tide of Cholera that was tearing through the area, it is hardly surprising that we find Charles and his eldest son Charles Cock Waller (bearing his Mother’s maiden name), both died in 1848, quickly followed by Charles’s wife Harriett in 1849.  All carried away on the tide of pestilence that stalked the streets of Bermondsey, seeping up and down the watercourses of the area.


Where the Neckinger meets the Thames 1840


The deaths reveal some other interesting points about the Family.  Charles’s death must have been rapid and unexpected, as there are no signs of a will, Harriett does leave a will, and in it she leaves all of her possessions, including Linen, Furniture, Plate, and interestingly “Carriages”, as well as money, to her two children by Charles, that is daughter Harriett and son Thomas.  Although the will is witnessed by Charles’s eldest surviving son from his first marriage, John Waller, the Executors are not the Wallers, but rather the Biddle Family, Harriett’s sister and brother in law.  It as though there may have been a slight rift between Harriet on one side, and Charles’s children from his first marriage to Mary Cock on the other.

Business wise, we can see the results of the early deaths of Charles and his eldest son


176 Bermondsey Street

Charles Cock Waller. Firstly the partners of Charles’s Cock Waller, who ran a  Provisions Merchants with him formally dissolved the partnership.   Charles’s landlords at 176 Bermondsey Street took the opportunity of the two Charles’s dieing to re-claim the lease, and knock down the building and develop it into something more modern, which is the building pictured here that is now worth £4.5M and is being demolished after over 150+ years to make way for the proposed Hotel.


The children from the two sides of the Waller family go their separate ways after the their parents’ deaths.

John Waller, Charles’s eldest son, and the witness to Harriett’s Will, took up the remnants of his father’s business and moved it across the Thames to Catherine Street in Limehouse, where he lived with his elder sister Emma and a live-in Shopman as an employee.

Thomas Waller, Charles’s son with Harriett, doesn’t gain much from the Biddles after his mother’s death and winds up in the workhouse between 1857 and 1859, but is lucky enough to be apprenticed to a Mr White, a Shoemaker of Bermondsey, where he learns his trade to became a Cordwainer, someone who made shoes, rather than a cobbler who simply repaired shoes.  He lived on in Bermondsey.

William Ruglys Waller

William Ruglys Waller, Charles and Emma’s youngest son, lives-in as a Clerk in a large Draper’s business in the posh shopping district of Regent Street in the 1850s.  In 1861 he married a milliner Caroline Riddett from the Isle of Wight who he may have met at work, which meant they they couldn’t afford to live together in the west End, so moved to Deptford where William took up work as a Clerk in an Iron Monger’s Warehouse.  William and caroline have a good life for many years through the 1860s and 1870s, they have six children, between 1863 and 1872, four boys and two girls, and sets up a good business as a professional Mercantile Clerk, and is able to move back north of the river to Islington, a better area than Deptford.

William also undertakes some work as an accountant, so is a very accomplished and intelligent man.  During the 1870s, despite his success, both professionally and in his private life, William starts to suffer from depression and paranoid delusions.  Things get so bad that in 1878 Caroline has to be temporarily admit William aged 47 to Bethlem Hospital (pronounced as “Bedlam” by local Cockneys, from where we get the word itself).  After some time in the Psychiatric Hospital, William recovered enough to be discharged back to his wife, and indeed carries on with his career becoming the Manager of a Trade Protection Association in 1891.


Bethlem Hospital Ward

Watching the Detectives

Unfortunately William’s ill health didn’t fully go away, and flairs up disastrously as the new century comes in and between 1900 and 1904 he is admitted for more lengthy spells at Bethlem Hospital, suffering from depression, and believing that he was an evil person who had let his family down, was suspected of wrong doing by his employers, and was being followed by Detectives who wanted to observe and apprehend him.  Of course, none of this was true, he was loved by his wife and children, thought highly of by his employers, and was a generally successful man, but his wife would find him standing for long periods in their hallway with his ear pressed to the wall “listening for Detectives who were following him”.  His notes from the Hospital show the depth of his paranoia.wilrugwallerbethlem

The situation goes from bad to worse.  Psychiatry was basic in the late Victorian period, but not as brutal as it had been earlier in the century.  The doctors did their best for William, but had no effective treatments for his malady.  Worse was to come, his constant “picking at his skin” had caused a large carbuncle on his neck.  The well meaning doctors decided to lance this bioil, made three incisions in it which wept puss profusely, in the days before effective antibiotics, they were really shooting in the dark.

Within a few days of the incisions being made, William takes on a sudden fever, his temperature rose to 101 degrees, and he died within a few hours. It is declared that he died due to his dementia and fever.  But without a doubt the real cause of his death were the less than expert surgery his doctors had attempted that had lead to septicaemia (blood poisoning), as witnessed by his sudden fever, which caused organ failure and death.

I have seen many death certificates from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and can confidently say that many deaths were caused by  mismanaged interventions by doctors, which the doctors then managed to cover up with weasel words and lies rather than admit to their culpability, and this was a classic case of one of them.

There is an old joke about a Doctor watching a Bricklayer at work.  After a few minutes of observing the Bricklayer’s skill the Doctor smiles and comments to the Bricklayer:

“I see that there are many errors covered up by a trowel.”

The Bricklayer turns to the Doctor, with a wry smile of his own and replies:

“Yes, and many more and bigger ones with a shovel.”

His wife Caroline was heartbroken and died soon after him in the same year of 1905.

Following their Father’s Footsteps

William Ruglys Waller and Caroline’s children did well in life, despite the trials of their father’s mental health, which further shows the tragedy of the situation, he had been a very good father.

The boys followed their father as Clerks, the eldest William Charles became a senior Civil Servant (more of him later) Sidney and Lionel, the younger brothers became Mercantile Clerks in Shipping and Banking, doing well for themselves, and Catherine the youngest daughter worked as a Milliner’s Saleswoman, no doubt picking up on the Drapery contacts of her father.

This leaves the second son, Harold, who we first saw in part one of this investigation (Part 1: Finding the “Lost Temple” for an old mate).  He married well, into the Chappell Family of well to do itinerant Teachers and Clergymen.  Jessie Chappell, his wife, was born in Sandhurst Australia, once she and Harold were married they spent their life living with Jessie’s Mother in a large house, along with their only child, Stanley Harold Chappell Waller.  Also living at in the house was Jessie’s brother, a clergyman.  This household was where the young Emma Erskine, my mate Les’s Grandmother, comes into the Waller story, as the fifteen year old Domestic Servant to the family.

Cluedo: one of the Wallers, in the pantry with the Maid

As was stated in Part 1 of this story, Emma got pregnant out of wedlock, in about February 1912, probably around Valentine’s Day.  When her baby Cyril was born, she failed to name the father explicitly, but gave us a clue by giving Cyril the middle name of “Waller”.  naming an illegitimate child with the Father’s surname as a middle name was a tradition among unmarried girls who could not legally name the father of their child if the man refused to admit his involvement.  It is therefore highly likely that one of the Wallers was Cyril’s father.  But which one?

Normally, the suspicion is that the male head of the household would be the main suspect, but in this case Harold Waller, had died in 1903 some years before Cyril was conceived.  There is a possibility that one of Harold’s brother’s could have been responsible, but that’s more of a long shot, given that they were not living in the same household.  This leaves the intriguing conclusion that Cyril’s likely father was the lone remaining Waller, Stanley, the boy she had spent some of her youth growing up with, in the Waller/Chappell household.

As we said in Part 1 of this story, Young Emma Erskine would have spent some time looking after young Stanley Waller as part of her duties.  Stanley would have idolised Emma as a young woman who took an interest in him, walking him to school, and  feeding him his meals when he was at home. A good arrangement for everyone.

Having grown up with Emma as his nearest non-related female in the household, Stanley was undoubtedly attached to her.  Emma for her part would have seen the young boy grow into a strapping young man.  As the years went on there was ample opportunity for the relationship to change, and the six year age gap would have seemed a lot less of a difference once they were older.  By 1912 Stanley was a twenty year old single man studying to be a Pharmacy Student, and Emma a twenty seven year old single woman, seeing her chances of married happiness in life slowly slipping away.

Emma and Stanley’s birthdays were within a few days of each other in January, and as we said above Cyril would have been conceived sometime between the couple’s birthdays and Valentine’s Day 1912.  All of this is circumstantial evidence of opportunity and motive.  Only a DNA test can prove the fatherhood of Cyril beyond doubt, which isn’t likely to happen any time soon.  But it does paint a picture of circumstances arranging themselves to throw the couple together.

There is one last piece of the puzzle that points in the direction of Stanley as Cyril’s Father.  Quite often when a son of a well to do family had “sowed his wild oats in the wrong field”, the family would do two things, firstly they would make arrangements to have the child financially taken care of or adopted, depending on whether the girl’s family were struggling financially or wanted to hide the shame of birth.  In the Erskine part of this story, we saw that someone had paid a not inconsiderable amount of money to allow Emma to have the baby Cyril south of the river in Camplin Road Deptford, where Emma and her mother resided for a while before the birth, it is highly unlikely that Emma’s family had the money to afford this, so there was a well off benefactor paying to keep the birth discrete.

Secondly where there was a child born “on the wrong side of the sheets” between classes, the offending randy youth (almost always the man was from the moneyed Family and the woman from the working class Family) would be married off rapidly to a suitable, or just available girl of his own class, so that he would no longer pose a danger to the working class maids of the household.

This rush to marriage appears to have happened to Stanley Waller in the same year that Emma became pregnant.  Stanley was married off to a near neighbour in Hornsey, one Constance Florence Minnie Hamilton.  Perhaps a hint of something lacking in the marriage comes with the fact that no children are born in the first six years of the marriage.  Was Stanley still pining for Emma his Maid Servant?

Oh! Oh! Oh! What a lovely War!

As we have seen again in the Erskine story of Part 1, Emma’s brothers served their country in the front line and suffered the horrors of trench warfare and hand to hand fighting in the fields of France and Belgium, indeed her younger brother Henry being awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the face of the enemy.  This type of story is common for the millions of working class men who put their lives on the line to defend their country, even though these working class men didn’t have the vote at home until 800,000 of them had been slaughtered in the War, and bought the vote for working men with working men’s blood.

However if you came from the right background it was entirely possible to have a “Good War” without exposing yourself to too much hardship.  Once again it appears that Stanley Waller’s family connections in the Church and Business ensured that his would be a “Good War” just as it appears that the issue of an illegitimate child and a “ruined” Domestic Maid would not be allowed to stand in the way of his marital stability.

We don’t find Stanley in the Trenches “up to his neck in muck and bullets” as the working class men were.  To his credit he did join up in 1915, we find Stanley serving in the East Anglian Field Ambulance Unit of the Royal Army Medical Corps.  Stanley did see some casualties from the war, and indeed parodied them in a short poem that was printed in a local paper.


Stanley is promoted from private in the Ambulance Corps based in England, to 2nd Lieutenant in the Suffolk Regiment and shipped to Egypt, and then to Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps, in order to be taught aviation.  The strings that must have been pulled to promote a man straight from Private in a non-combatant unit to an Officer, and then straight into the newly formed and elite Royal Flying Corps can only be marvelled at.  His name is memorialised on an inscription of Metropolitan Waterboard Employees who served in The Great War, now held at the Steam Museum, Green Dragon Lane.

After the War Stanley Harold Chappell Waller had two children a boy and a girl, with Constance, and settled back into the Metropolitan Water Board, as an accountant, a revenue Collector’s Clerk, at the outbreak of World War II Stanley acted as a Volunteer Warden, and his son Gordon followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a full time Ambulance Driver, and in the Chappell family’s footsteps by becoming a Theological Student.

Stanley retired from the Water Board as a Managerial Supervisor, from where he retired on a good pension in 1955.  He would remain married to Constance until his death in 1969.  Stanley lived with Constance at 171 Higham Road, Tottenham, N17 from the late 1940s until the 1960s.  There is no evidence that he had any further contact with Cyril or Emma.


So we may have explained “What’s all the Waller about then” but there still remains the mystery of how Cyril came to take the surname “Temple”.  That will be explained in the next part of Les’s Family Story.

Part 1: Finding the “Lost Temple” for an old mate

Tall stories


I know.  We just haven’t grown up.

I have known Les since we started our first job together at the Greater London Council’s Electronic Maintenance Section, he was sixteen and I was eighteen.  Electronics sounded like New Technology in the early 1970s, but this place was  housed and managed in a very old tech way, being based in a small industrial estate in the back streets of Camberwell, South London.

Jobs like these were what cockney boys like us did if you didn’t work hard enough at school to get your A levels and go to University, but showed more intellect than was needed to work on a building site or digging up roads.  And we had a great time.

So much so that now, more than forty years later, having both had varied careers we meet up a few times a year to laugh about exactly the same stories from when we worked together, that we dredge up to tell each other every time we meet.  It’s got to the point now where I’ve started taking my grown up sons along, just so we’ve got a new audience to tell the same stories to for the next few decades.  If they were children it would probably be considered a form of psychological abuse, and we’d have social services down on us like a ton of bricks.

However, sometimes, we tell each other a new story, and the last time we met, Les told me a corker.  Apparently his dear old long departed Dad Cyril, was a bit of a mystery in terms of his Family background.  Les had never really known his grandparents on his father’s side, Les’s sister had found their father’s birth certificate, which contained a strange middle surname that had never been discussed in the family, and there were tales from older family members that Cyril had been raised by “an Aunt”.   Having a friend that you’ve known since your teenage years is a great joy, being able to help that friend solve a family mystery is a gift of an opportunity that can’t be passed up.

“What’s all the Waller about then?”

Les’s Family the Temple’s were Londoners as far as he knew, when we were kids both of our families had lived within half a mile of each other in Peckham, in Les’s case just off of Peckham Rye, although he did once claim that this was practically East Dulwich, but no way was he going to get away with that one.  After Les’s Dad and Mum  passed away, Les’s sister found their Dad’s birth certificate amongst their family papers, this was where the mystery began.  Les’s Dad was he was christened Cyril “Waller”, as Les put it “What’s all the Waller about then?” intriguingly, Cyril’s Mum Emma Erskine, had left the space for Cyril’s father’s name a blank, invariably this indicates an illegitimate birth, and usually means that a mother wasn’t prepared to name the father rather than not knowing who he was.  In the days before Jeremy Kyle style DNA tests, naming a Father without his permission could be both hard to prove, and could lead to legal repercussions.

So the first step was to trace Cyril’s mother to see what she had been up to before, during, and after the birth of Cyril, and her family background generally.

The Erskines

Emma Erskine was born in 1885 the eldest daughter of William Dodd Erskine and Emma Suttle. The Erskines were originally from Wigton in Scotland were Gunsmiths by trade, Thomas Erskine (Emma’s Great Grandfather) had started the Company in 1795 at Newton Stewart he was succeeded at Newton Stewart by James Erskine, who invented and patented the Erskine Cartridge Loading Machine.  The Erskine Company was one of the oldest firms in the trade., specialising in Gunsmithing and Fishing Tackle Trade, and Manufacturing of Cartridge Loading Machines.


James Erskine 1866 model shotgun

John Erskine, one of the founder’s sons, and the father of William Dodd Erskine had come to England, in fact to Liverpool and was apprenticed with his brother James to the Williams Company in the 1840s when there was a demand for British shotguns for export to the USA and Germany.  Together they built a business, and won a Bronze medal in 1851 at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace for their shotguns.

John stayed in Liverpool for nearly thirty years, married a local girl, and had three sons and a daughter, but their two elder of sons had died relatively young, leaving William Dodd Erskine to carry on the line in England after his parents retired up to Scotland.  Most histories of the Erskine Family claim that the male line died out after this generation, but Time detectives research has shown that the male line carried on in London with William Dodd Erskine.

William Dodd Erskine was a Watch Dial Painter, a skilled job, providing a liveable income, he would never get rich, but would always be able to provide for his family.  After his parents moved north of the border, William Dodd move south to London, where he found work and lived in the Finsbury area of London.

William Dodd Erskine was a creature of habit, and like stability, he lived at his first address of 37 Northampton Street Finsbury for seven years, his second address at 14 John Street for four years, and his last address of 32 Clerkenwell Green  from 1897 to 1929, over three decades.  These were humble lodgings in amongst more affluent areas.  He kept the same trade during his entire life, sitting at a workbench carrying out the careful and detailed work of painting watch faces.  It seems the only adventurous thing he did in life was to marry Emma Suttle in Emmanuel Church Camberwell in 1880.  It seems that William married Emma for love.

Emma had travelled down from Clare in Suffolk to find employment as a Domestic Servant in London, and wound up in 1871 working  for the MacLean family in Windsor Road Camberwell. Alan MacLean was a fairly well to do Post Office Clerk who could afford Emma as a general servant and another woman as a nurse to help his wife with their baby son.  This genteel lower middle class household must have seemed a far cry Emma’s dirt floored background in the family of agricultural labourers, and it seems that the vision of conspicuous consumption that she witnessed proived too much for her.

Her short lived career with the MacLean household came to an end a year later in 1872 wandsworthprisonerwhen Emma was tried and found guilty of stealing a Gown from the family and was sentenced to 6 months in Wandsworth Gaol.  Wandsworth was firm and run with military precision, women who couldn’t read when they went in would sometimes come out in a more literate state, and they would also be taught to sew and make clothes.  On the other hand there were not great opportunities for fraternisation, and women would be made to wear a veil (see picture) when taking exercise in the prison yard.  Spending time in Prison would have made it very hard for her to find work going forward and she faced a life of poverty as a result, until of course she met and married the stolid and unadventurous William Dodd Erskine, who saved her from that life.  What we know from the prison record is that Emma was petite, 5 feet tall weighing 7stone 5 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes, she could read and write a little imperfectly.slide_462874_6255254_free

Whatever trials she lived through during and after her incarceration, William was her saviour, she was still living in Camberwell when they were married, perhaps he never knew of her past imprisonment, perhaps the blue eyes and slim figure were too much for the quiet bachelor.  Whatever the varying degrees of mutual attraction, the couple had four children in the eight years between 1882 and 1890.  The only girl would be Emma Erskine born in 1885 and named after her mother.

Where the “Waller” came from

The one thing we can say about Emma Erskine, Cyril’s Mother, and Les’s Grandmother, is that she took after her mother in character more than her father.  She also went to work as a Domestic Servant, and in 1901 we find Emma as a live-in General Servant at the age of sixteen with the widow Emma Chappell and her family at 13 Wellington Road, Bromley-by-Bow, Poplar in the East End of London.

Also living with the widow Chappell were her grown up son William Chappell a Church of England Clergyman, and her married daughter Jessie.  Jessie was married to an accounts clerk named Harold Waller, with them was their nine year old son Stanley Waller.  So this is the first time that the name “Waller” appears in our story.

Young Emma Erskine would have spent some time looking after young Stanley as part of her duties.  Stanley would have idolised Emma as a young woman who took an interest in him, walking him to school, and  feeding him his meals when he was at home. A good arrangement for everyone.

By 1903 the Chappells and Wallers had moved to a large eight roomed house in Hornsey, a more salubrious area outside of the East End of London.  1903 was the year that Harold died, leaving Jessie Waller as head of the family with her son Stanley and Mother-in-Law Emma Chappell still living with her.  They now had a new servant fifteen year old Beatrice Cooper.  Stanley the son was in education as a Pharmacy Student.

Emma Erskine was back home with her parents in Clerkenwell Green, still noted as a domestic servant, but not living in.  In October the following year, 1912 Cyril “Waller” was born.  Intriguingly, the address where Cyril was born, and the address of the witness (Emma’s Mother) was given as Camplin Street in Deptford, South London.


75 Camplin Street

There are no other records of the Erskines living in Camplin Street Deptford, and the address itself was one of many privately rented small houses in a well to do comfortable working class area south  of the river Thames, not that far from Clerkenwell, but far enough that you could be a stranger in the area but still in reach.  It looks highly likely that someone had paid for the renting of the place in Camplin Street so that Emma could have her baby quietly and out of sight with her worldly-wise mother in attendance to make sure she was alright during the birth.  Camplin Street, was inhabited by very respectable working class people, railway workers and junior clerks, so would not have been cheap to rent, Young Emma would not have been able to afford the rent on her own, and her father had always been very frugal in the accommodation for his own family, with four adults living in two rooms on the first floor of the Clerkenwell Green apartment, so it is highly unlikely that Emma’s father William Dodd Erskine could have paid Emma’s lodgings in Deptford.  So why was Emma living in Deptford with her mother at the time of Cyril’s birth?

The reason for this was that Cyril was illegitimate, the same reason the father is not mentioned in the relevant place on the birth certificate.  So why the “Waller”?  A mother putting a surname as a middle name on an illegitimate baby’s birth certificate is invariably a way of the mother naming the father without risking legal action against her.  If the parentage can’t be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and if the father refused to acknowledge the baby, then claiming the father’s name could lead to serious consequences for a working class girl if the father’s family were prepared to pursue a case against her.  The surname as a middle name was their legal way out whilst still pointing the finger at the culprit.  As for the rental of the Camplin Road lodgings, it seems a reasonable conclusion that that was paid for as “hush” money by Cyril’s unnamed father’s family to avoid a scandal.

Come on you Lions

200px-millwall_fc_logoThe funniest part of all this is that being born at 75 Camplin Street, Cyril was born within sight of Millwall Football Ground, as Camplin Street (as it’s now called) leads off of
Cold Blow Lane where the club was from 1910.  Les is loyal West Ham fans, this makes for a wonderful irony, but lost on anyone who doesn’t understand the bitter rivalry between the two London Football clubs.  …and just for Les, here’s Millwall’s club logo, enjoy Les.

Post Script:  War hero in the Erskine Family

At least two of Emma’s brothers (my mate Les’s Great Uncles) served in the Great War.  Unfortunately not all their war records have survived the German bombing of the Records Offices in the Second World War, but we do know that Emma’s eldest brother John William George Erskine was a Corporal in the London Regiment.  Emma’s younger brother Henry Erskine, joined up well before the Great War, and in 1911 was serving as a Private in the Bedfordshire Regiment in Bermuda and Jamaica.

The really interesting time for Henry came in the Great War, when long term professional soldiers like him were the core of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that blunted and stopped the Blitzkrieg tide of the massive German advance across Northern France and Belgium.


Henry’s 7th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment WW1


Henry’s greatest hour came in the Battle of Thiepval and The Schwaben Redoubt in September 1916.  The commanding officer described the action that Henry took part in, and I’ve abbreviated it below:

 ” The Lewis Guns did great execution at this point.Two more strong points were taken at point of bayonet after a bomb preparation. The situation hereafter became very difficult as it was impossible to recognise any trenches owing to the intensity of the Artillery preparation which had obliterated everything. The final objective was almost impossible to locate accurately. This may account for parties of men over reaching by far the final objective. The final objective was held early on in the day and the whole of the Boche front line by parties of Lancashire Fusiliers, Bedfords & West Yorks. until the two latter were withdrawn at dawn, 29th.

The whole of this operation was carried out with great dash, personal cases of daring bravery were very numerous. The taking of strong points with a determined rush came off every time both on 27th & 28th. The fact that the right of the right attack was blotted out by machine gun fire may have led to the Queens filling in the gap and causing them to lose their real line. 

I was fully prepared to hold line won by us till day light or even later. Considering the great difficulties and the continuous barrage communication though slow was good. The work done by all the runners of the Battalion was beyond all praise. They were run off their legs from Zero until day light next morning and yet were ready to go on. As inevitable the question of later was one of extreme difficulty, by far the larger majority of the men fought on without fluid (water etc) of any sort from Zero. The courage, resolution & endurance displayed by all ranks was quite wonderful. They were out to kill and the Battlefield is a witness that they carried out to the full their intentions.


Even when the Battalion had been relieved by the R.W.K. and volunteers were called for in the event of a counter attack being successful on the ground they had so dearly won the preceding day, every man declared his willingness to return at once if needed. I might mention the extreme need for more stretchers. The Regimental stretcher bearers were absolutely inadequate to cope with the numberless cases of all Regiments, some means might be devised to alleviate the sufferings of the wounded and perhaps save many valuable lives. As it was the stretcher bearers of every Battalion worked right through the night and into the morning still leaving many men untended, who might have been brought in were more bearers available.

During this attack Capt. Bridcutt [John Henry BRIDCUTT, DSO] who was observing the operations through a very excellent Boche periscope noticed that the Boches had run down the front and intermediate trench had lined their parados and shot into the left flank of the advancing troops. All available men consisting of servants, runners, signallers etc. were lined up in front of the Battalion Head Qrs and commenced rapid fire into the flank of the Boche doing great execution and causing them to retire hastily.”

For his part in this action Henry Erskine received the Military Medal, this medal was awarded to ordinary soldiers, not officers, for Bravery in the face of the enemy.  The report is interesting not least as it refers to the Germans as “the Boche”, and reflects the desperate and savage nature of the fighting, with great emphasis on the soldiers “intention to kill” no fannying about with limited engagements in those days, this was hand to hand combat red in tooth and claw, even the generally non-combatant officers servants, runners, and signallers taking up arms and driving off a German flanking attempt at one stage.

Next puzzle to unravel

So we’ve tracked down Les’s Grandmother, Cyril’s Mother’s Erskine lineage, but which Waller was the father?  Well, we’ll find out in the next instalment.


The Russians are Coming!

(To Build you a nice Orangery)

I’m a professional Genealogist and writer, and I make a point of “collecting” interesting names, whether it’s on a commission to draw up a Family Tree, or just to set myself the odd challenge, and keep my Time Detective skills sharp.

A constant source of joy to me is meeting a complete stranger, hearing a name, and within a couple of weeks coming up with their Family Story, hopefully to their delight and amazement.

I have a terrible habit of engaging people to do work on my home, and to the horror of my wife, spend a couple of weeks distracting them from painting the window frames, or building the Orangery with wonderful insights into stories from their tree, that shows how they came to be where they are and who they are, bringing to life the people who gave them both their DNA (genes) and family mythology (memes) in the process.

The latest encounter happened when we bought our house down on the soft and sunny Hampshire coast in the village of Hamble-le-Rice on the peninsula between Southampton and Portsmouth. wp_20161126_11_57_20_pro The old conservatory had seen better days, and after checking out check-a-trade to find a builder with a good reputation in the area, we brought in The Swede brothers from Platinum Windows and Conservatories (there’s a plug for you Dan) to build us an Orangery.platlogo

Dan and Mark turned up in the cold December one with a woolly hat, the other with a Russian fur hat and set to work with their varied electricians, plasterers, builders, and floor screed layers (Dan’s father in law as it turned out), and builder’s apprentice Reece.

Hearing the brother’s really unusual surname of “Swede” and seeing Dan in his Russian hat, on a frosty morning, for all the world looking and the brothers had just got off a Russian widow-maker class nuclear submarine parked at Hamble Quay, got my mind working.  My wife spotted this, and I got the usual lecture on “…and don’t you start giving them loads of cups of tea and stopping them from working!”  I assured her I wouldn’t, then of course, did the opposite, I am a bloke after all, as soon as she was out the door and off to Pilates class, I put the kettle on, and started asking them about their family.

To cut a long story short, the “Swedes” were from Liverpool, put the name obviously wasn’t so the search began, and I gradually unfolded their forgotten story.


In 1821 the Greek Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Gregory V was summarily executed in Constantinople by the order of the Turkish Ottoman Sultan Mahmud.  The Sultan held Gregory responsible for failing to do enough to repress the Greek uprisings that would lead to eventual Greek Independence from Turkey, backed by such notaries as Lord Byron who travelled to Greece and took an active role in the uprising.  The execution of Gregory was a typical reaction from an evil despot to a man who had failed to deliver his will.


Seizing of Patriarch Gregory of Constantinople By Nikiphoros Lytras

Gregory was dragged from his Cathedral after celebrating Easter, and along with many Greek residents in Constantinople, murdered by the Turks.  To add insult to injury, and possibly to divert the guilt for what he had done, Sultan Mahmud ordered representatives of the Jewish population in Constantinople to drag the Patriarch’s body through the streets and then throw it into the Bosphorus, which they did albeit under some duress and fear for their own lives.


Gregory Thrown into the Bosphorus by Peter Hess

In retaliation to this the large population of Greeks living in the Southern Russian Port of Odessa in the Crimea rose up and murdered fourteen local Jews, there being few Turks available to be murdered, and the Jews made an easier target.  So the murder of Patriarch Gregory falsely identified “Jews” as “enemies” of Orthodox Christians,  and the subsequent Odessa riots by local Greeks showed that the Jewish population made an easier  and more available target to attack than the few and far between Turks in Russia.  Let’s face it, if you’re a bigoted psychopathic religious maniac, you don’t want to be wasting your time searching the docks for Turks, especially when they may be armed seamen capable of fighting back, much better to show your devotion to mother church by killing a few of your placid unarmed neighbours, murder, rape and pillage the easy way.

So, thanks to a psychotic Turkish Sultan, and the frustrated anger of Crimean dwelling Greeks, there began a long tradition of “Pogroms” i.e. murderous riots against Jews in Russia.  Further riots happened in Odessa in 1859, but the real series of Pogroms that had a major effect on the Jewish population of Russia started in 1881.

Assassination of Tsar Alexander II

During the late 1800s there was a rise in a pre-communist revolutionary movement in Europe, these Revolutionaries took the title of “Anarchists” and tended to be a mix of educated middle class leaders fired with a sense of social injustice and a desire to devolve society back to an imaginary simpler time of people all living together in happy communes, and the foot soldiers, usually young men, often from middle class families, or from families that had fallen on hard times, sometimes from the real actual oppressed minorities who had genuine grievances, and quite often either atheists or Jewish.

In 1880 Anarchists had made an attempted to assassinate Tsar Alexander II of Russia, which was a pity as he was one of the few Tsars in the whole of Russia’s history who had actually tried to bring about some reforms of the harsh Russian economic system that kept millions of peasants on the borderline of starvation.  The 1880 attempt was unsuccessful, and the Government took precautions to protect their head of state.

In 1881, in St Petersburg, an anarchist, a young man named Nikolai Rysakov, a member of the Narodnaya Volya (Peoples’ Will) Movement, threw a bomb under the carriage of the Tsar, it exploded killing one of his cossack outriders and injuring a number of bystanders.  The Tsar was fortunate to be travelling in a bullet proof carriage, a present from the Emperor Napoleon III of France, and was to all intents and purposes unhurt.  The carriage had done what it was meant to, and completely protected him from harm.


The Tsar’s guards rushed in, captured Rysakov, and at that point the Emperor made the mistake of stepping out of his carriage to inspect the place where the explosion had happened.  As Rysakov was being dragged away he saw one of his fellow terrorists in the crowd, Ignacy Hryniewiecki , and called out to him.  Hryniewiecki shouted “it is too early to thank God!” a threw a bomb at the feet of the Tsar.  The Tsar looked down in disbelief before the bomb exploded mortally wounding him and killing and maiming twenty other bystanders and members of his retinue.  An eye witness described the white of the snow covered street littered with pieces of clothing, severed limbs, broken sabres from the Tsar’s guard, and bloody lumps of human flesh.


The assassination of Alexander II, drawing by G. Broling, 1881

The Tsar died the same day.  This assassination brought a wave of repression from the authorities, police brutality, ironically held in check by Tsar Alexander, was now used as a tool of state, and thousands of political activists and peasant leaders were rounded up and imprisoned, exiled, executed, or simply “disappeared”.

One of the Anarchist conspirators, who hadn’t actually taken part in the assassination happened to be Jewish, and despite the fact that all the others were atheists, the Newspapers whipped up anti-Jewish feeling.  Opportunists grasped on this to use it as a weapon to take down the businesses of their business rivals, and this quickly turned into an all out anti-Jewish pogrom, most notably in the South and Western provinces of the Russian Empire.

The Swede Family

The Swede family described themselves in the records as coming from Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, which was a hot bed of anti-Jewish feeling.  They also claimed to have travelled from St Petersburg where Tsar Alexander was assassinated.  Given these locations and the fact that they arrived in the UK sometime between 1881 and 1891, the Swede Family were fleeing the anti-Jewish violence of the Pogroms.  So a bomb thrown on a winter’s day in St Petersburg gave rise to a mass exodus of Jewish citizens from the Russian Empire, some to Germany, some to the USA, and many to the UK.  A pair of terrorists set in motion a chain of events that would kick-off one of the greatest peacetime diasporas in modern history, for it is estimated that up to 2 million people, fled the pogroms in Russia from 1881 onwards.

Escape to Paradise – Liverpool!

During the 19th century, Liverpool was a magnet for migrants from Europe, and indeed Liverpool accounted for more migrants passing through to leave Europe than all other ports in the UK combined.  The largest number were Irish fleeing famine, followed by Jews from the Russian Empire fleeing the pogroms.

The Swede family arrived in Liverpool with little more than the clothes they stood up in.  Their original name may have been different from “Swede” but many Jewish families shortened or changed their surnames to fit in more easily with the native British population.  They had the additional complication of not speaking any English, but were lucky in as much as the local Jewish population in Great Britain could at least converse with them in Hebrew, or more likely the “Yiddish” dialect of Hebrew.

Most of the Jewish immigrants to Liverpool transferred almost straight away to American ships and headed for the USA.  The Swedes decided to stay in Liverpool.  The reasons for this are not known, but there was a huge philanthropic movement backed by the already present and prosperous Jewish community in Great Britain, and it may have been that the Swedes decided that given the help they had been given on arrival by the local Jewish community, Great Britain was a surer bet than a long transatlantic journey for an uncertain future in America.

So, The Swede Family consisting of Reuben the Father and Bertha the Mother along with their four children Annie, Martha, Samuel also called Nathan, and Israel Asher, all born in St Petersburg or possibly Poland depending on which records we are to believe, between 1869 and 1881, settled for a life in England.


Jewish Refugees in Liverpool


Determination and Business sense

Reuben was obviously a very resourceful man, as by 1891, from a penniless position on a Liverpool Dockside in the 1880s with a wife and four children in tow, he sets himself up as a Draper and General Dealer , living with his family in Gregson Street Everton.  Reuben and Bertha are in their fifties, eldest daughter Annie twenty two was working as a tailoress, and eldest son Nathan, fifteen, was working as a Hawker most likely selling his father’s drapery output.

In the coming years Reuben would become a Draper’s Hawker perhaps a downturn in hisscotlandroad business, or maybe just an easier way to use his skills to make a living.  The  girls Annie and Martha marry Jewish immigrant men and settle in the Liverpool area.  Bertha Swede died in 1895, leaving her husband Reuben to live with his younger daughter Martha and her husband and son Israel Asher Swede at 103 Scotland Road Liverpool, known locally as (Scottie Road).  Israel Asher becomes a shopkeeper, a Grocer, but after 1901 drops out of the records, and it’s not clear if he died or emigrated. Which brings us to our Builder’s line with Samuel/Nathan.


Brush with the Law

Nathan Swede married Leah Rose (actually anglicised from Rosenblum) the daughter of Jewish immigrants to Liverpool from Poland in 1894, and in 1895 their first child Joseph was born in Liverpool, Joseph would be their only son, and would be followed by four sisters.  Times were hard, and Nathan in desperation is caught stealing some cloth from his employer’s shop, and receives a month in prison for his crime. The clip from the Liverpool Mercury of 22nd February 1895 sums it up.  Interestingly the reporter mistakenly mishears Nathan’s accent when he gives his address as “Scotland” rather than “Scotland Road”!

nathanswedecourtThis would have meant lost wages and a struggle for employment once he was released, and in order to find a job he was forced to leave Liverpool, change his name to Samuel, and travel to Birmingham with his family where he finds employment as a Hawker of Hardware.  Two of Nathan/Samuel’s children, Lillian and Iris, were born in Birmingham in 1899 and 1904.


The Great War

There are no records of this part of the family being in the armed forces, which is strange as Joseph and Asher were of the right age to have served

It seems that the War had other implications for the Swede Family.  Golda met a “Doughboy” (an American Soldier) and fell in love.  Alexander Emanual Lovold,  the son of Norwegian immigrant farmers, settlers in the Wild West of South Dakota, her very own Cowboy Doughboy.   Alexander had tried to avoid joining up when War started as he was a Seven Day Adventist, and didn’t join until 1918, but was awarded a Purple Heart Medal so received an injury during his time in the Army.  Golda was young, only 16 when Alexander shipped back to the States, but they corresponded after the war ended and she went by ship to join him in 1922 when she was over 18.  Golda shipped out on her own, quite a trip for the young working class daughter of Russian immigrants to Liverpool.  Off the ship in Philadelphia she married her Doughboy, .Alexander.

It’s quite possible that their love story was frowned upon by Golda’s Family, perhaps she had run away to marry Alex without her parent’s permission, the tickets bought for her by Alex.  In any case the couple settled in Sioux City Iowa, where Alexander worked in the bustling railway goods yard. They would live together relatively quietly, Golda made a number of trips back on her own to Liverpool to visit the Family, between 1925 and 1937 but always alone, maybe it was the cost that stopped Alex accompanying her or maybe her parents hadn’t forgiven him for taking their daughter away from them?  She would stay for 3 months at a time before heading back to the states.


Golda, Iris, and Violet Swede

After the war ended Golda visited again in 1948, and for a last time after Alexander’s death in 1956.

The Family Grows

From a humble start the Swedes grow in size as a family.  Nathan and his wife Leah have seven children between 1895 and 1919, only one child was a boy, Joseph, the eldest born in 1895.  He married a local girl Ivy Ledsham, and like his siblings, it is this post First World War Generation that marries out of the Jewish Faith and into the local English working class Liverpool “Scousers”.  The upheaval of the Great War had given people a different perspective on life, and old barriers were breaking down.  Joseph and Ivy had ten children between 1925 and 1946, giving rise to a large extended family in the Liverpool area.  In 1927 Ronald James Swede was born, he was my builders’ Grandfather.

Ancestors Brought back to life

The brought us back to modern times and a Liverpool family with deep Russian roots, and a family adventure born of persecution and hardship that had culminated in success and a Happy British Family.

Dan and Mark were surprised and happy with their new found Family History, and I was happy with my Orangery!  And perhaps just as importantly, some brave but persecuted ancestors had had their stories brought back to life so that their descendants can have pride in their struggle, and a sense of achievement in how far the family had come from penniless refugees on the Dockside in Liverpool.  Every family deserves to know and honour their ancestors, we wouldn’t be here with out them!

Oh, and the Orangery looks a treat as well.



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This is a summary version of a Family Story researched by Time Detectives. You can have your own Family Tree fully researched, just drop me a line at and I can trace yours for you.  Prices start from £300 for a single surname tree with historical notes.



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