Rob Beckett’s Family History in Winchester

A Cockney in Wonderland

On the 29th September 2022 British Award Winning Comedians Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan were featured in an episode of DNA Journey went out on ITV at 9 o’clock on that Thursday evening. It was a cracking episode of the highly successful series, and in the overnight ratings reached 2.9 million viewers. The Programme had been created by Voltage TV an independent production Company and was sponsored by Ancestry the Genealogy company. I was involved, as I usually am, in both researching the trees and finding stories that will be broadcast; when I’m lucky enough, I get the call to go onscreen and provide a bit of Class Diversity by being a Working-Class untutored Cockney Expert, for which I’m stereotypically grateful to Thompy the Director for: “Gawd Bless yah Guvnor!”.

Quite often I find stories about people’s dodgy ancestors, so when I turn up, you know the story is likely to get colourful.

The Beckett episode was just such an opportunity, and, as always the wonderful Director Iain “Thompy” Thompson and the Production and Editing Team have the unenviable task of cutting all the wonderful research and filmed scenes down to something that can fit the format of the programme whilst maintaining a coherence in the time slot available.

They did a fantastic job and the feedback I have seen from viewers has been exceptional; people saying they were doubled up with laughter from Rob and Romesh’s humour onscreen, and numerous generations of families watching the programme together, which in many households is unheard of nowadays. So plaudits all round, and well deserved considering how tricky it can be to get humour in Family History Shows, in which, let’s face it, “No one gets out of the Family Tree alive!”

Because of this, not all stories and details can be included, so I thought it worthwhile to write up a few more details to what was seen on screen in Rob Beckett’s Story. We’ll start with touching on the generations that came before ITV the Becketts arrival in Winchester.

And should you want to see the show, you can find it here on ITV Hub:

English Origins

Rob’s Beckett’s Beckett Family Origins go back to Early England, the name Beckett has one of two likely origins; the first is from a local name for family that lived by a Bec – a small stream in Old English, and such places abound in the Hampshire Countryside famous for its Chalk Streams teaming with Trout and Grayling, the other possibility is that it derived from the personal name of a man with the Old English name of “Bicca”, both likely origins point to a thoroughly English and most likely South of England family origin in the old Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex, which included Hampshire.

This Kingdom evolved and grew from British “Tyrant” Warlords staking a claim at the end of the Roman Empire, through Saxons expanding from within the mercenary enclaves of these Tyrants, and from Independent Saxon settlements in the Thames Valley pressing from the north, all at one time or another competing with Jutish incursions from the Isle of Wight in the South, and Anglian and Jutish pushes from the East in Kent and London.

Looking at Rob (as far as we can accept that the Phenotype reflects the Genotype) he has, in my experience, a classic thick set, thick fair haired, pale blue eyed, North Germanic, British look about him, typical of families originating predominantly in the East of Britain (including large parts of Scotland) and in the extreme South/South East of England, below the line of the Thames, and East of Devon and Cornwall. So far so good, my rule of thumb likely ancient history seems to fit the geographic history.

200 Years to Travel 26.5 Miles

East Tytherley

The first records I found for Rob’s ancestors in an unbroken line crop up in the little Hampshire Village of East Tytherley in the early 1700s. Here we find Luke Becket (spelled with only one “T”) working most likely as an agricultural labourer, as over 90% of the population of England at this time did this for a living, typical of the South of England Working Classes. Luke was Robb’s 5 times Great Grandfather (so Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather).

The family may have been in the area for several hundred years, tending the land and farm stock, mainly sheep from the later middle ages onwards, working for land owning farmers, and receiving small wages and a roof over their heads in return for their labours, they probably owned nothing other than a few sticks of furniture, some cutlery and tools, jugs and plates, maybe a chicken or two, and, if they were lucky a pig for fattening and slaughter in the winter, and if they were very lucky a cow for milk. Other than that, and the clothes they stood up in, they had nothing and little or no disposable income.

Luke had married a local girl named Rachael Reeves from a village just up the road named Broughton on 7th June 1736. Together they would have at least 8 children in the 19 years between 1738 and 1757, 6 Girls and 2 boys.


In the later 1700s Luke’s youngest child, also called Luke moved to Mottisfont a few miles down the road from East Tytherley, he was Rob’s 4 times Great Grandfather. This move may have come about because of a quest for work, if there wasn’t enough work in East Tytherley, it would be the younger sons that would generally have to move, as the elder, stronger, more experienced, and better-known older siblings would have already taken up most of the employment in the village. Given the short distance between the villages, it is likely that a landowner had recommended young Luke to a friend or relation in Mottisfont, or a larger landowner may have held other farms there and sent Luke to fill a gap in his workforce on a farm there.

By the time Luke was 28 he married a local Mottisfont girl Hannah Rogers, and the couple had 4 children, between 1787 and 1798, the first Baptised in Michelmersh a village 2 miles from Mottisfont, and the rest in Mottisfont Parish Church (below).


Luke and his family must have made an impression on the local farm owners and perhaps had risen in the local farm labouring hierarchy, as we start to see the family becoming more mobile, first with a move to Hursley around 1805, as then around the 1830s Luke Becket moved with most of the Family to Somerset, this may have coincided with the death of his wife in 1836. This was a fairly unprecedented thing for a labouring family to do in England at this time, especially as Luke was in his 70s when the move took place, prior to the introduction of Railways, this move would have required major planning and some finance, so it seems likely that Luke and Family had been relocated possibly by a Lord of the Manor or other large landowner to another of his holdings in the West Country. There was very little likelihood that the Beckets simply decided to upsticks and walk the 40 odd miles to Somerset, which would have taken them the best part of a week. So off to Somerset the Beckets went, to a new life under perhaps the same landowning employer.


However, Rob’s line is descended from Luke’s eldest son Edward Beckett. Edward was Rob’s 3 times Great Grandfather. Edward had moved to Hursley in the early 1800s and married a girl from the village, Sarah Carpenter, on 2nd November 1814. Sarah was already four months pregnant when they married, so the match was as much through necessity as anything else. The couple had 16 children between 1815 and 1847, so were settled and decided not to follow the rest of the Becketts to Bath, instead by 1818 they had moved a few miles up the main road from Hursley to Winchester, probably to Cheesehill Street (now called Chesil Street) where we will start to find them in the later records.

It is from the time of the move to Hursley that Rob’s Beckett line statrted to have their name spelled with 2 “T”s. This would not have been the family’s choice, as, as far as we can tell, they were all illiterate. As a Working Class illiterate family they would have had their name spelled however the local Vicar decided to spell it, that would then get entered in the Parish records, and would remain the spelling until another Vicar came into the Parish and decided to change it, all you owned as an illiterate Labouring Family was an “X” that you would scrawl (being unfamiliar with how to use a pen and ink) next to the name as written by your educated Parson. In Mottisfont they were Becket but in Hursley they became Beckett. The rest of the Family who moved to Bath tended to keep the single “T” so appear in the records as “Becket”. One of the many “gotchas!” that can catch you out in Genealogy.


In 1818 the family of Edward and Sarah are in St Maurice’s Parish Winchester, with their 3 children, and we know they are living in Cheesehill Street by 1841, most likely they were in the same street and possibly house from their arrival in Winchester from Hursley. Edward (misspelled as “Edmund” in the 1841 census) was working as an Agricultural Labourer, there is some evidence from his daughter Elizabeth’s marriage certificate that Edward worked as a Gardener, whether this was fora person with a large house in Winchester, or whether he was a “Market Gardener” growing vegetables for sale in the City is not clear.

Life was hard for the Becketts, in 1841 we find Edward and Sarah in what was probably an old two-up two-down cottage along with five of their surviving children. The house would have looked similar to those shown below that stillstand in the street (although the actual house they lived in isn’t there anymore), the “bowed” appearance of the house on the right isn’t a trick of the camera, it has actually bowed with age.

The couple had suffered the loss at least two children in the 1820s, three children in the 1830s, and one in the 1840s, plus a number of others who disappeared from the records, so they most likely saw seven or eight of their children die before they did, almost half of the family. Sarah would have been pregnant or caring for young children as half of her children died, and Edward would have set out for work each day with the constant fear that he may return to more childhood illness and death each night. Crammed into a tiny house with bugger-all money, life was a constant round of poverty, childbirth and child death, it must have had a devasting effect on the Becketts’ mental health.

George Beckett, Young offender

There is no doubt in my mind that this homelife regularly filled with tears and despair would have had an effect on the minds and disposition of the surviving children. The parents had little time to rebel as Edward had wages to earn with back breaking work, and Sarah was constantly pregnant and or nursing sick children. There would have been little time for the healthier children to call on their parents’ time, exhausted and emotionally traumatised as they must have been.

The children would have seen their parents going through the rigmarole of baptisms for their children only to see those children die long before their time, what kind of a God does that, and where is the justice in life for the poor? What is clear is that some of the boys at least, took short term measures to get by without thought for the consequences. One child in particular went off the rails early and doubled down on anti-social behaviour throughout his life, that boy was George Beckett, Edward and Sarah’s eldest child, Rob’s Great Great Grand Uncle.

George Beckett gets a Chance in Life

Strangely George’s story begins with what was a perfect opportunity for him to make something of himself in life. He was taken on as a boy to work in the Draper’s shop in Winchester High Street, owned by a Mr Withover (possibly a misspelling of Windover). It can’t be emphasised enough that this was a potentially life changing event for a boy like George, from a poverty-stricken family, most likely illiterate, who would normally be destined for a life of hard labouring in the fields or loading barges on the Itchen River. This was George’s step up in life.

George Goes Wrong

Unfortunately, George’s mentality was one of quick gains over long term prosperity. In 1830, George decided to make a quick profit to the detriment of his employer and made off from the Draper’s Shop with some items of clothing, which he either had decided to sell for a quick profit, or for his own or his family’s use, although that would have made them very conspicuous.

His employer Mr Withover (possibly a misreporting in a local Newspaper of “Windover”) obviously realised his loss and the likely culprit. George would have been apprehended, arrested, and taken into custody by a local Winchester City Constable (a voluntary position, attached to a Council Officer or a member the Mayor’s Office), it was likely that he had been found in possession of the clothes or that there were witnesses to him taking them or attempting to sell them.

Winchester City Bridewell

George would have been taken to the City Bridewell, the local lockup Gaol, that would have stood roughly where this building now stands near the junction of High Street and Market Street, about a ten-minute walk from the family home in Cheesehill Street.

The Bridewell had been opened in 1800 to replace the “ruinous prison of the City” based in what is now the Braodway. The new Bridewell would be in use for another eight years after George’s incarceration closing in 1838. It was sparsely used, crime was fairly low in Winchester by modern standards, only 22 people were incarcerated there in 1832, although this was a tenfold increase in 14 years. From there he was marched up the High Street past his place of former employment to be tried at the Law Courts.

George’s Brief Trail

At his trial in the April 1830 Quarter Sessions, George was summarily convicted. His conviction is recorded in a local Hampshire Newspaper as “…robbing his employer of various articles of wearing apparel and sentenced to be imprisoned one week and to be once privately whipped.” We originally thought he was about twelve when he was convicted, but it is likely that he was maybe a couple of years older, but still only a child. Three other cases were heard on the day but none resulted in a full prosecution. It was a quiet day in court but at this tender age George’s minor theft had ruined the rest of his life.

Newspaper report of Trial

On the positive side, Winchester was a fairly enlightened place judicially, as a few years earlier George would likely have faced a “Whipping at the Cart’s Tail” that would consist of him being tied to the back of a cart and paraded through the streets past the scene of his crime, whilst being heartily whipped as he progressed, for a set length of time, or until his back bled. I mentioned this “upside” of being privately rather than publicly whipped to Rob by saying:

“He was lucky”

Rob came back with:

“Lucky is a strong word”

I had to say

“Well it is relative!”


Once in prison George would have been tied to a framework, either a set of stocks, or a large wheel, and then whipped probably with a “Cat of nine tails” in front of an audience of officials, and the press would also have been present to witness the whipping. The function of the witnesses at a “Private Whipping” was three fold; firstly so that justice could be seen to have been done and reported accordingly, secondly to ensure that the prisoner was adequately punished and hadn’t bribed the gaoler to go lightly on him, thirdly to ensure that the punishment was thorough but not sadistic and to prevent the gaoler from going over the top for personal reasons or in a way that would put the prisoner’s life at risk. George would have been in extreme pain, probably crying out, and may possibly have fainted by the end of his ordeal.

His back laid open by a lash, bleeding, and with the local surgeon applying salt to the wound, not as is often stated to increase the pain, although it did, but actually to prevent infection, that would most likely lead to gangrene and death for the prisoner.

George would have spent the remaining week in the Bridewell, being fed and watered, and recovering from his wounds, with a doctor in attendance if required. Having ruined his chances of ever getting well paid employment again and having effectively publicly shamed his family by his conviction and punishment. We can imagine George being met by his mother at the Winchester Bridewell, and walked back to Cheesehill Street, to further recover from his whipping, and seek work at the bottom of the pile as a common labourer, bearing the stigmata of his scarred back for the rest of his life.

There were two routes George could have taken with his life, he could have worked hard, kept his nose clean in terms of the law, and had a poor hard existence whilst raising a family in the hope of better times ahead for his children, or he could decide that given his criminal record, and the pain and misery he had seen his family go through, with poverty and death at every turn, he had no chance to better himself and would look for opportunities to get by by any means possible and go to war with society generally. George, being George, took the latter route.

George Beckett Poacher

We don’t know how many times George successfully broke the law and avoided detection, but we do have a fair catalogue of the transgressions he was prosecuted for. The first after his whipping was two years later in 1832 when he was caught in concert with Joseph Williams a man of 27 “destroying fish” i.e. poaching. There were extensive laws against poaching, i.e. taking fish or fowl from the Itchen, and Bargemen could even be fined just for being caught with fishing nets or fowling pieces on their barges.

George and Joseph were basically stealing food in the form of fish, from the private waters of a landowner, the Itchen being famous for its Trout and Grayling, good fish to eat, most likely a crime driven by poverty. The pair were condemned to two months imprisonment with hard labour. George’s age was given as 19, whereas he was around 16 or 17, which probably shows that he actually wasn’t quite sure how old he was (not uncommon at the time for illiterate labourers).

John Beckett Copies George’s Example

George’s behaviour had an effect on his younger brothers, and on 1st October 1836 we find younger brother, 11-year-old John Beckett sentenced to twenty-one days imprisonment with hard labour for a misdemeanour.

Winchester Bridewell reports that John’s reading and writing was indifferent, that may have meant that he could write his name, but probably not much else.

Why such a harsh sentence for such a young boy for a “misdemeanour”? The answer to that can be gleaned from the fact that two of the magistrates who passed the harsh sentence on young John, Sir S.R. Jarvis, and Mr W. Neville Esquire, had previously sent his brother George to prison, so most likely the Becketts had acquired a deeply unenviable reputation with the forces of law and order in the City of Winchester, and the Magistrates had little sympathy for anyone with the Beckett name coming up before them.

George Beckett Labourer on the Itchen

George was lucky (as I said, “it’s relative”) once again, in as much as the Family lived on Cheesehill Street, and that street backed directly onto the River Itchen that had been tamed and canalised by the Romans, to turn it from a marshy meandering stream to a not too deep or wide free flowing River, and had a Royal Carter granted by Charles II to allow its continuation as a fully deepened canalised River, complete with locks and bridges all the way down to the coast at Southampton.

This at least gave George the opportunity to be employed as raw muscle to carry out heavy lifting work on the barges plying the Itchen between Winchester and Southampton, Coal, manufactured goods, and luxury products like wine coming upriver from the coast, and agricultural goods as well as flour from Winchester’s Mill flowing down to the coast for export and shipping to towns like Southampton and Portsmouth.

Once George moved out of the family home, he set up house “Near the Wharf” at St Peter’s Cheesehill, so not far from his parents, with a lady called Margarette (possibly Margaret) Beckett. Although Margaret had the Beckett surname, there is no sign of a marriage, and it is likely that she and George were living as Common law man and wife. The fact that his address in the census is given simply as “Near the Wharf” implies that they would have been living in fairly basic accommodation at the bottom of the social pile, without even the benefit of a street name. However, it did mean that he was right on top of the place where he could seek work on the River Itchen.

The area around the Itchen Wharves, with its easy access to cash in hand unskilled labour, and its bargemen with heavy thirsts grew a waterside culture of its own, with low cost rented housing, and Riverside pubs and Inns, in which the day labourers could dispose of their earnings. The Dog and Duck on Wharf Hill (pictured) had been there since 1784, and lasted for 139 years.

One other, even older, is just a short walk along Cheesehill Street where the Becketts were living, is still there. Called the “Black Boy” it was known to have been there as some form of Inn since at least 1750, its name has nothing to do with chimney sweeps, or child labour in coal mines, or slavery, (although the chances of seeing it on screen are limited due to modern paranoia about the name) it was just the nickname for Charles II and had been adopted as a cheeky accolade to the King who had made the Itchen Navigation possible by Royal warrant and had thereby driven the money-making opportunities to allow Inns like this one to thrive for 300 years, much in the way that there are pubs called the Royal Oak, all over England commemorating Charles II hiding in an Oak Tree. It’s a great pub to this day, good beer, good food, friendly bar staff, and interesting graffiti in the men’s loo.

I mention the pubs that abounded in the area as it seems to me that George Beckett, subsequent behaviour in the 1840s becomes continually, irrationally, anti-social, and leads me to believe that he most likely had a strong habit of drinking, impairing his ability to think rationally and control his temper. Between 1842 and 1845 George is convicted of three assaults that we know of, receiving fines and spending time in Gaol for is behaviour.

When we filmed the episode, we did the main scene with me in the Winchester City Mill, the reason for this is contained in the newspaper clipping below:

John Benham was the proprietor of the City Flour Mill (pictured), and a potential employer of men like George to load barges with his flour for shipping down the Itchen to Southampton and beyond. John Benham had purchased the Mill in 1820, and it would stay in the Benham family for the next 100 years.

Instead of winning John Benham’s favour, George along with a man named David Osgood, assaulted John Benham, guaranteeing that he would never be employed by the Mill.

Unfortunately, this assault didn’t make the cut in the programme, but it is illustrative of the self-destructive attitude George was adopting. So now not only did George have a generally bad reputation in Winchester, be he had bitten the hand that could’ve fed him. What the reason for the attack was we don’t know, perhaps John Benham had refused to take him on for some casual labour, or perhaps John Benham had had a harsh exchange of words with George, whatever the cause, there is no indication of attempted robbery or any other offence, so it looks likely that it was an extreme and violent reaction to a minor incident by a man who saw violence as a normal reaction to such situations.

Winchester Police Force

The City Police force in Winchester had been 1832, brought in in imitation of the Metropolitan Police in London in 1829. This had replaced Parish Watchmen or “Charlies” as they were called, and the Civic part time Constable with regular professional Police Force. The idea was taken up with gusto by Winchester City Council, making Winchester the first town in Hampshire to form a professional force.

Initially the experiment was not a great success, eight officers were appointed, but many were replaced within a short period due to drunkenness, and the Head Constable left after a year in 1833, his replacement was an ex-Metropolitan Officer who brought in discipline and remained in post for nearly twenty years. The Police were housed in the City Bridewell, which still housed prisoners for minor offences, the building that had housed Geroge Beckett when he was arrested as a fourteen-year-old.

Richard Bone

The new Head Constable knew what he wanted; he was determined to clean up the force by bringing in hard men from disciplined backgrounds. One such was a man named Richard Bone.

Richard Bone, born in Winchester in 1800, was an Agricultural Labourer at the age of 17, who gave up that hard life, and, living in Winchester, a Garrison Town, decided to get a nice Red Coat and join the Army at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when Britain stood triumphant on the World Stage. At 17 Richard was 5ft 5ins, had a dark complexion, dark hair and grey eyes, his appearance may tie into his surname being from the French “Bon” through the English “Bonnie” meaning good or good looking. He was posted to the 46th Regiment of Foot, the South Devonshire Regiment, and shipped to India. The Regiment had prior to this been in Australia and had been given orders to deal in the harshest possible way with Australian Outlaws – Bush Rangers, many of them escaped prisoners, and also with the local indigenous population who resented the loss of their lands to the new settlers and convicts who were shipping in from Great Britain. Although this was prior to Richard joining the Regiment the harsh and violent ethos of the regiment would have been imbued in his training, in 1833 the Regiment returned to England, having been lauded for their incredibly good reputation for discipline whilst in India, just in time for Richard to be taken into the Winchester City Police Force. Richard Bone’s background must have looked like a gift to the new Head Constable.

Richard took to his calling with vim and vigour, and his name appeared in the local press, concerning his intervention in disturbances at the local Beer Shops in Winchester City.

So we have the perfect storm of a hardened ex-soldier, no stranger to violence, and with a dim view of local violent offenders patrolling the Beer Shops of Winchester, representing the forces of law and order of the City, and a virtually unemployable hardened labourer, willing to resort to violence as an initial reaction to any confrontational situation, perhaps wishing to drown his sorrows in the aforementioned Beer Shops in Winchester.

George Beckett and Richard Bone

George had received a number of fines for assault during the 1840s, receiving relatively small fines of a few shillings or the possibility of Gaol, George was committed to the Bridewell for a further two weeks in 1848 for breaking a window, and sure enough, in 1849, after his string of other offences, George and Constable Richard Bone’s paths crossed, with the expected consequences.

In June 1849 the following appeared in the local newspapers:

Local newspaper

This was not only an act of aggression against a Policeman, but also an act against the civil authorities in Winchester. George was showing his violent contempt for the whole of society in Winchester. It seems likely that Richard Bone had the better of the encounter, as not only was George taken into custody, but he was allowed to pay his fine and leave court, rather than, as a well-known offender, being sent directly to prison. Ten shillings and costs was not a trifling amount for a labourer, so George obviously had a source of income from somewhere over and above the shilling a day that a labourer would earn at the time. So George was fined about two week’s wages, plus another few day’s wages for costs, what was left of his family were not well off, so he undoubtedly had other forms of income that aren’t obvious in the records.

George would now be a marked man among the City Policemen of Winchester, a known violent offender, he had attacked a Constable, he would not be getting the benefit of the doubt in any likely confrontations, and the City Police would be ready with their wooden truncheons at the first sign of aggression from George.

I broke it to Rob on the show like this:

“He punched a Copper”

At this point Romesh turned to me with a straight face, and said:

“So Paul, you’re saying that George was a Criminal?”

Me: “Yes”

Romesh: “A violent criminal?”

Me: “Yes”

Romesh: “…and, not only violent, but..”

Me: “Yes, he punched a Copper.”

Rob: “You’re telling me my family were scumbags?”

Me: “Well, you probably wouldn’t have wanted to live next door to them.”

Rob was mortified, and although Rob put a good face on it, he had said to Romesh earlier that he expected there might be some law breakers in his tree, and all he hoped for was that if there were they wouldn’t be violent. Unfortunately, his worst fears were exceeded.

The Family Falls Apart

After Edward and Sarah died in the 1840s, the family slowly fell apart, George spent his time in and out of Prison and trouble with the law, later on 21st october1849 George Beckett died, bringing his chaotic and violent life came to an end, George was in his mid-thirties. George had died of “Congestion of the Brain” which covered a host of possible underlying maladies, but was commonly associated with a stroke, or perhaps tellingly in George’s case, a concussive head injury. Perhaps George’s violent life had caught up with him with disastrous results. His death certificate was witnessed not by a family member, but by George Kelly, The Occupier of Winchester Workhouse, George was either an inmate in the workhouse, or was taken to the Workhouse infirmary, a common course of action for people who were too poor to afford a Doctor.

A number of the other children died young, a few married and moved on, and the youngest brother Charles also found himself in the workhouse at the age of 11, a couple of years after his brother George had died there, he must have been desperate and terrified.

Frederick Beckett

But Rob was fortunate (as I said “it’s relative”) he was not directly descended from George Beckett, who, as far as I can tell, died unmarried and childless. Robb was descended from one of George’s younger brothers, Frederick Albert Beckett. Frederick had seen the course of life his family had taken and had the intelligence to know that it was one of poverty, violence, and suffering, and decided that he needed to escape his circumstances, he would find his chance by moving a few miles outside of Winchester to the Village of East Stratton. One small step for a man, one giant leap for the Beckett Family.

A chance of redemption for Rob’s Family

More of Frederick Albert Beckett, Rob’s Great Great Grandfather in Part 2 of Rob’s story.

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