Part 1 Great Britain: A Land of Opportunity
Jacqueline Jossa is an actress well known for her part as Lauren Branning in East Enders, but her Family is more associated with South of the River than the East End, but that’s not all, there is a whole Family story covering Belgium to Canada, and The USA to France, so not “Jossa” South London Family!
The name itself has a number of separate origins, in Spain, Hungary, Germany, and Italy. But is so rare in the UK that all the Jossa’s in the UK are likely related, with the exception of recent arrivals from the EU.
A Belgian Engineer
The earliest ancestor that can be linked to Jacqueline via the records is Augustine Jossa, Jacqueline Jossa’s Great-Great-Great Grandfather whose son Charles Jossa, (Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Great Grandfather) was born in Belgium and came to England during the mid-Victorian period.
Charles Jossa was a Machine Fitter, a skilled worker, and came to work in the Industrial Town of Wallsall during the 1870s.
Frequenting the local Pubs, Charles dark good looks had drawn the attention of the Publican’s daughter in The Greyhound Inn, in Upper Rushall Street Wallsall. This was Mary Somers a Catholic Girl and the daughter of George Somers an Irish Publican who ran the Bull’s Head before George changed its name to “The Greyhound”.
He had moved the family up from Oldbury where he had run “The Malt Shovel”, frequented by the local Iron Workers, many of them themselves Irish, he ran a tight house and was not a man to be meddled with. The Greyhound could also be boisterous, and Mary’s Father George wasn’t beyond throwing out rowdies when the occasion arose, as in 1874 when one Michael Melville became “Drunk and Quarrelsome” picked a fight with another customer, and found himself slung out by George. So once our Charles Jossa had caught the eye of Mary Somers, it was beyond doubt that he would be doing the right thing by her, and in 1876 the two were married in Wallsall.
The couple had two sons in Walsall, George 1877 and Martin 1879, before moving to Nottingham, where son Lewis was born 1881. The Family’s stay in Nottingham was temporary, and by 1881 they had made a major move, South, to the Woolwich/Plumstead area of Kent, that would become part of South East London. Charles’ and Mary’s last two sons, the first called Charles after his Father in 1883 and John in 1885 were born in Plumstead, where the Family lived for a while in Walmer Road.
The reason this area was chosen for the move was that London by the South Bank of the Thames was a booming in light industrial work feeding into the heavier machine work around the Shipyards, Dockyards, and Railheads on the River Thames. More specifically the area the Jossas settled in was in walking distance of the Royal Arsenal, the preeminent spot for arms and munitions manufacture in the UK.
The area grew substantially at the time of the Jossas’ arrival, and the social side of life improved for workers in the area with guaranteed employment. In 1868 twenty workers set a Cooperative Society, that provided cheaper food, that grew to over half a million members providing Funerals, Housing, Libraries, and Insurance. In 1886 the workers set up the Dial Square Football Club, renamed two weeks later to Royal Arsenal (nicknamed the Woolwich Reds), entering the Football League as Woolwich Arsenal in 1893 (while the Jossas were living there) the team that would eventually become the modern Arsenal Football Club and move North of The River.
A Labourer could make 22s per week, a skilled man more, and there was always a huge amount of overtime available, with men starting at eight in the morning, and working anything up to 14 hours per day, so even unskilled Labourers could earn good wages if they were prepared to work for it. The problem was that there was an abundance of pubs in the area, where the men would come out from work and spend their overtime pay to slake their thirst, it was the mens’ propensity to drink that decided on how comfortable their families would be; the more they drank the poorer they were. Although there was a plethora of Churches and Chapels in the area, they played little part in influencing the habits of the local men, the only exception being the local Wilson’s Baptist Tabernacle, for the abstemious part of the population. We don’t know how this affected Charles, other than it seemed he kept himself away from the worst excesses of the area, and was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) the Union of the various skilled mechanics in the area, and attended lectures given by the society.
The Jossa Family could walk to the hills above Woolwich, and look across the buildings of the Royal Arsenal, at the light green of the Marshes that were used as firing ranges, here frequent flashes were followed by the delayed sound of bangs and crumps from the testing of explosives and artillery shells. These explosions would rock whole streets of houses, and when they went wrong could shatter windows in nearby streets, for which there was no recompense for the local householders. Beyond this were the grey waters of the Thames where the River broadened after its confinement on the way around the bend at Poplar and Greenwich. The red sailed Thames Barges on the River filled with cement to feed the building of The City and Hay to feed the Horses that moved the people and goods around The City all brought up from Kent and Essex. On the far side of The River were the Victoria and Albert Docks on the North Bank, filled with masts and sails, and the black and red funnels of sea-going Ships and Ocean Liners. Good wages, five sons and an ever changing panorama of The City and River, Charles had many things that Families could only dream of in Victorian London
In January 1889, the Family would face a crisis. At only 32 years of age, Mary Jossa (Somers) died and was buried at St Margaret’s Church Plumstead. This left Charles with five pre-teen sons to raise. Charles managed to raise the boys as a lone parent to an extent, but as soon as they were old enough to work, the boys left home to find their own way in the world, suggesting that Charles didn’t have the time, or perhaps inclination or patience to look after the boys once Mary died, and they were old enough to work.
It took Charles some years to come to terms with Mary’s death, but eventually in 1894, five years after Mary’s death, Charles married Anna Brewer Taylor, known as Annie Taylor, the daughter of an Agricultural Labourer from Wiltshire. Annie Taylor had spent time in Hospital as a young girl, and her experience there had inspired her to train as Nurse, and then to find work in Croydon, South of London to work in Domestic Service looking after elderly well do Londoners who had moved to the suburbs. Somewhere between Croydon and Plumstead the couple met and married.
For some years the couple continued to live in Walmer Road in Plumstead. However from 1899 they moved to Congo Road Plumstead which would become their home for the next 20 years. Congo Road consisted of older two story houses built in the mid century, with long gardens, families took the houses then sublet, but Charles was earning enough not to need to and had all five rooms to himself and his family. At the front of the houses were small wooden railings, few flowers in the gardens, but many residents keep, pigeons, chickens rabbits and such small livestock.
Stepmoms and Stepsons don’t always get along
Even with a new wife there seems to have been little inclination for the boys to stay at home, and once the younger boys were in their teens, they left home at the earliest opportunity.
George Jossa the eldest son left once his father remarried and went to work back in Wallsall with his Irish Publican Grandfather George Somers, in The Greyhound. George Jossa was named after his Grandfather and worked hard in the with him, he was involved for better or worse, including at least one disturbance where a pair of local drunken ruffians were physically turned out of the pub by the two Georges and with the help of a Policeman, but only after one of the ruffians had managed to punch a barmaid. Sadly George Jossa would die a couple of years later at only 20 years of age.
Other signs of problems between the boys and Charles and Annie showed in small details we can glean from the records. In 1897 Lewis (actually anglicised from Louis) Jossa, appeared for the wrong reasons in the local paper:
Lewis was a Cartridge Boy, that meant that he had received a basic education in the Royal Arsenal, but had moved straight into work, probably from around the age of 14, doing the unskilled and somewhat dangerous work of filling cartridges with explosive powder, easy to see how letting off fireworks in the street would have come naturally to him.
So all was not well in the Family, and we will find out more about what happened to the five sons in the next instalment. Follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss the next instalment, and give us a like on the page if you’ve enjoyed it so far.
And you can read Part 2 here.
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