Danny Dyer’s Family Story part 4;


Jacoba was interesting, born in Holland to Belgian parents, she came over to England with her family when she was a child around 1860.

Still following in their Father’s Footsteps…

Four of the five remaining sons of Edward William and Jane Maria followed their father’s footsteps into the shipyards of the London Docks working as Boiler Makers, Riveters, and Iron Ship Builders, being younger than their Father they mainly stayed in employment, but had their ups and downs none-the-less.

Esther Maria Dyer, the second daughter of that name,  her name had been unlucky for her younger sister of that name, she had died as a child during the family’s stay in Lowestoft, and the name would not be lucky for the older Esther Maria.  She married Edward Robert Auty in 1882 and had a number of children with him, and for nearly 20 years they lived as a happy family, but Esther was troubled.  Her husband work as a labourer in the Lead Works on the Docks, working with lead and grinding chemicals into paint pigment.  Doing this it would be no surprise if the contact with lead and many toxic chemicals had caused Edward Auty to suffer mentally, but, infact, it was Esther Maria who suffered.  It seems likely that having to come into contact with the chemicals and lead laden dust from her husband’s clothes when she boiled and washed them may have contributed to what happened to her later in middle age.  clayburyFrom the age of 40 in 1899 she was incarcerated in the London Lunatic Asylum, and stayed there until her death in 1940, so she spent half of her life locked away from her family.  Ironically, she outlived her husband by nearly 30 years, the long exposure to lead and other chemicals took their toll on his health in a different way.

Of the boys, the only one who didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps was Alfred Samuel Dyer, born in Limehouse, London in 1864, he shared his Father’s wanderlust, but took it much farther; he went into the merchant marine service in his teens, and travelled as an Able Bodied Seaman. By his early twenties Alfred Samuel had travelled to Sydney Australia at least twice, and married Emma Bacon there in 1892.  cootamundraHe continued travelling shipboard between Australia and Britain, and in 1903 he headed there on a ship that was stopping off via Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. He eventually settled in Cootamundra, New South Wales, Australia as a painter and decorator, but made a number of trips back to England where he stayed with his youngest sister Isabella, now married to William James Learey an Electrician, and now living variously in the suburbs of East Ham, Plaistow, and Ilford. He died in Cootamundra on 19th May 1947, and left about £800 (equivalent to more than £20,000 in today’s money) to his younger sister Isabella.

Danny Dyer’s Dutch and Belgian Ancestors

Danny Dyer’s Great Great Grandfather, Edward Thomas James Dyer, did follow his father even to the point of being unemployed alongside him in the 1870s.  But things picked up in terms of employment, although at the lowest level, as a shipyard labourer on boilers and Iron Ships, right through the 19th century and well into the 20th.  In 1875 he married Jacoba Ann Heester (Danny Dyer’s Great Great Grandmother) in All Saints Church Poplar.

Jacoba was interesting, born in Holland to Belgian parents, she came over to England with her family when she was a child around 1860.  This period coincides with the social and economic downturn in Europe after the Potato Famine in the 1840s.  Most people think of this as an Irish problem, and indeed Ireland was hit harder than any other country in Europe by the Potato blight that killed off crops in the 1840s.  However, the next worst hit countries (with the exception of the West of Scotland) were Belgium and Holland.  Many of the peasants in rural areas were highly dependant on the potato as a staple crop, and the failure of that crop sent death rates soaring in some regions, which in turn forced people to flee the land, and just as in Ireland, this flight and subsequent crowding of economic refugees in cities and docksides lead to out breaks of cholera. Typhus, and Tuberculosis.  It seems that George Heester being a middle class shoemaker, managed to get enough money together to move first from Belgium to Holland  with his wife Mary Ann, which is where they settled for a few years and had three children, two sons, Peter and John, and a daughter Jacoba Ann.  as the economy went downhill George moved the family again, this time to London.  Here he set up shop employing two men to work for him.  Undoubtedly he was not rich by any measure, but he had some means and a trade, so could live much better in prosperous London, than he could in struggling Holland.

How Edward Dyer managed to meet Jacoba isn’t clear, but meet they did, and married.  In the 22 years between 1876 and 1898 they had sixteen children, but lost nine of them in childhood.  These figures are quite hard to get your head around; Jacoba gave birth approximately every 16 months for 22 years, and she would lose children on a regular basis through the 1880s, how a mother could have dealt with the stress of birth and death on such a cycle was astonishing.

This round of births and deaths of Edward and Jacoba’s children added to the Family’s struggle with poverty, work started to become less skilled in many areas in the Dockyard Iron Works, thanks to industrialisation and use of heavy presses and machine tools to replace skilled manual labour, many of the men in the Iron Works either learned to operate the new machines, or tried to carry on the craft of their forefathers with skill and strength, only to find that the work became deskilled and the money sunk to follow it, Edward tried to cling to the skills he had learned at his father’s side, passed down through 150 years of skilled shipbuilding Dyers, and this choice gradually turned him from an Iron Ship Builder, to a Boiler Maker, to a Boiler Maker’s Labourer, to a Labourer; the fall in living standards was inexorable along with the trade, but the work was still abundant as long as a man would accept the low wages. With so many children and so many funerals to pay for, Edward had to take whatever money a strong pair of arms to wield a long hammer could bring him.

The Family’s decline was severe in the 1880s, echoed in the places they lived; Tapley Street in Bromley-By-Bow, was cheek by jowl with no less than five pubs in the immediate area.  These were known as “Cowsheds” on a Monday night, and Monday became known simply as “Cowshed day” the reason being that that was the night that the local women called “Cows” by their husbands, went drinking, using up the last of any money they had scraped together after the weekend was over, to binge drink on neat Gin in the warm weather, and Gin with warm water in cold weather.  So binge drinking by women in inner city areas of the UK is by no means a new phenomenum, and as today, without the sober influence of one half of a couple men and women from hard violent backgrounds have a greater tendency to get into fights when drunk, leading to the Docklands formidable reputation for violence by both men and women.  The use of the word Cow (pronounced “Kaah” in Cockney, as in “Aah naah braahn kaah?” – “How now brown cow?”) as a pejorative term for women, usually, older, and married women, came out in a pejorative for men as well as in “You Kaah-Son!” (You Cow Son!) that was considerd on the verge of swearing and is still in use to day, from there it turned into a general term for anything bad as in: “I’ve ‘ad a Kaah-Son of a day at work!”

By the 1890s after the deaths of their children had stopped, life picked up a little for the Family, and they lived in Leven Rd in Bromley-by-Bow, still a poor working class area, but at least the houses had some “Oil Cloth” (an early form of artificial flooring that was easy to clean) in their front halls, and some pots of flowers around the window sills, so the women of the area were trying to lift standards. Interestingly, the area adhered to the old working class stereotype of being able to leave your doors open without fear of anyone stealing anything, this was noted by the Booth commissioners during their rounds and was therefore undoubtedly true, but not because of the intrinsic honesty of the working class poor, rather for two other reasons; firstly that nobody had anything worth stealing, and secondly because everybody knew everybody else by sight and because there was always a neighbour around to see what was going on, so opportunities for petty theft were highly limited.

The family had lived through so much struggle and survived through the First World War, so it’s not hard to imagine when in 1915 on their 40th wedding anniversary, Edward singing the words of the musichall song of the “Singing Cockney Costermonger” Albert Chevalier:

We’ve been together now for forty years,myolddutch
An’ it don’t seem a day too much,
There ain’t a lady livin’ in the land
As I’d swop for my dear old Dutch.

“Dutch” to a Cockney just meant Duchess, but the irony of Jacoba’s roots wouldn’t have been lost on the Dyers.  Eventually “Dutch” would get transformed into Rhyming slang as “Duchess of Fife” = Wife, and therefore shortened to “Dutch”.

The Family moved out of Poplar to West Ham in Essex as it was then, Edward would continue working in the Docks into old age, before  he eventually died in West Ham in 1925.  Jacoba would live through to 1940, dieing at the ripe old age of 86.

Interestingly the children who actually survived childhood went on to live long lives, like their parents.

Still in the Docks

Edward and Jacoba’s youngest son George (Danny Dyer’s Great grandfather) went into the Navy, but was lucky in as much as his three years of service between 1916 and 1919 didn’t take him much further than Chatham, meaning he could actually make it home every time he was on leave, and probably some evenings.  He was a stoker in home waters, probably didn’t see any action at sea, he was lucky.  What we do know from his Navy Records was that he was 5ft 7ins tall, had brown hair and brown eyes, and had a fresh complexion.

Once out of the Navy George went straight back into the Docks as a labourer, a basic living, and hard work through the 1920s and 1930s.  He marries Ethel May Aldridge in 1920 in St Paul’s Church, Old Ford, Poplar, but they move across the River Lee to Custom House, West Ham, in Essex, where their four children are born in the ten years between 1921 and 1931.  They would see out their years in the Docklands, and their youngest son John Dyer born in 1931 would be Danny Dyer’s Grandfather.

(If you would like your Family tree uncovered, it costs from £300 to £600 for a full surname line, and makes for a great present, you can contact me on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk )

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Danny Dyer’s Family Tree Part 3: An Age of Steam


Following me Father’s footsteps, I’m following me dear old Dad…

millwalldocksOf the nine children born to Edward and Mary Dyer over twenty years between 1812 and 1832 only two were boys, both called Edward, and only Edward William, the second boy survived childhood.  Edward William (Danny Dyers’s Great Great Great Grandfather) was born in 1823, when old London Bridge was still standing, and a Waterman could still make a decent living ferry people through the tidal race of its narrow arches.  Unsurprisingly, to paraphrase the song by the cross dressing Victorian music hall songstress Vesta Tilley,  “…he was following in his Father’s foot steps, he followed his dear old Dad”, and indeed he did, he was apprenticed as a Waterman to his Father as a boy, but by early adulthood Edward William had realised that the pickings from this trade would be slim, London Bridge was now easily passable for the smaller steam boats coming up the Thames, and quays were being built out into the stream to allow people to be easily put ashore without the need for Watermen to get them there.Lancashire_boiler-Marsden copy

So Edward William decided that if you can’t beat ’em, you have to join ’em, and moved into an up and coming industry in the ship yards of Poplar as a Boiler Maker.  Boiler making was basic riveting and metal bashing to make the boilers that powered every steam ship on the river, and that carried Great Britain’s trade across the world.  The work was in high demand and ranged from unskilled metal bashing, to semi-skilled riveting.  No strangers to muscular work, Watermen with broad backs and strong arms, and contacts in the Docks found it easy to move from their whereas to take up the hammers in the ship yards to turn metal into works of steam combustion, and the wages were steady, men knew what they would take home, when they would clock on and when they would clock off, they had turned from self employed water taxis to wage earning, industrial artisans.  Boilermakers were skilled, and compared to many of the trades in the Docks, could be creative, and offered an element of autonomy in their work outside of simple muscle power.  The other interesting point is that Edward William moved into this trade immediately after the aptly named, Commercial, or London and Blackwell Railway, was built linking Blackwell and Limehouse to Fenchurch St station.  As we shall see, this pattern of docks and new railways would be a pattern of employment criteria for Edward William for many years.

London was booming, there was work for any able bodied man or woman, or child, who wanted it, provided they would work for fairly low wages.  To this magnet for the poorly off flocked labourers and servants from all over the country, and in the late 1840s whilst labouring in the Docks Edward William met Jane Maria Sparks, a Labourer’s daughter from Cosham near Portsmouth.  Jane Maria had left home to find work in London, and had instead found Edward William, strong, self assured and muscular, a man who’s family had lived in Poplar for more than a hundred years, well known in the area, he was not getting any younger at twenty seven, and liked the look of the fresh faced country girl, of seventeen, so much so that by 1850 she was pregnant, with his first son Edward Thomas James Dyer, but the Boiler maker did the right thing, and married Jane Maria at Christ Church on a sunny day 30th June 1850.

Life was hard in the Docks, but skilled men could still make a good living if they were prepared to travel to the bigger opportunities taking their in demand skills with them, and Edward William with his small family of Jane Maria and their son Edward Thomas James in tow would do just that.  Opportunity first called in Folkestone Kent in the early 1850s, wfolkestone swingbridge1851_edited-1hich had
grown on the back of railways and cross channel travel in steamships, followed by Portsea in 1852 at the burgeoning
Royal Dockyards of Portsmouth, where Jane Maria’s Father worked, and here the couple would have their second son Alfred William.

After Portsea, the Family travelled to Lowestoft in Suffolk in the mid-1850s (pictured below), where ship building and engineering works were booming, once again due to the coming of the railways which had boosted fishing and steamship shipbuilding, very similar to the activity at Folkestone, and given that the railways at both Folkestone and Lowestoft were developed by Sir Samuel Morton Peto, it could be that Edward William was contracted to one of Sir Samuel’s companies, travelling to where need was greatest for boilermakers to work on steam trains and steam ships.

The Family’s stay in Lowestoft was mixed, work was good, and Edward William was in a good place career wise, but in 1856 and 18reid_lowestoft_80058 they would lose two of their children; Esther Maria, who was less than a year old, and Alfred William at six years old.  After the deaths of the children, the Dyers were no doubt happy to put Lowestoft behind them, but reluctant to have to leave their two children in the graveyard at Mutford, but life must go on, and they were back in Poplar in 1859, but within a year, Edward William takes the family to Minster next to Sheerness, a Royal Naval Dockyard on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary.  This was the same year that the Railway arrived in Sheppey, so Edward William was once again specialising in working at ports that were being connected to the Railway System.  Leaving Lowestoft obviously helped the family, as from then on no more children died in childhood.Sheerness1850

By 1864 Edward William has moved the family back to London, to Limehouse, where he was working in the docks as plater and Iron Worker building iron Ships.  This was a step down in status from a boiler maker, and more likely related to riveting on large ship builds, rather than the more skilled work he had done previously.  But the family thrived, they would have another seven children in Poplar in the 1860s and 1870s.  Edward William at 48 and his eldest son Edward Thomas became unemployed Iron Shipbuilders in 1871, and would need to work through hard times outside of the family’s control,  The world economy started to go into a long depression caused by speculation in Germany and Austria on the back of massive over ambitious speculation sparked by Germany’s convincing win over France in the Franco-Prussian War, investment poured in and was lost through over-ambition, greed, and fraud, having a knock on effect to economies across the world.  At the same time that this was happening shipbuilding had started to move from Iron to Steel ships, making it harder for skilled muscle power to compete with machine tools, and there had also been a swing in the concentration of shipbuilding from the Thames to Scotland and the North East of England, where there was easier access to coal fields and iron mines to produce steel nearer to shipyards.ThamesIronworks

But life is strange, and when Edward William does find work again it is back in his old skilled trade as a boiler maker, and for the next twenty years Edward William would variously work as a boiler maker, a plater, labourer, and iron ship builder, always in the Docks of Poplar, and turning his hand to whatever paid for the burgeoning family.  edward would continue working in the Docks well into his 60s, and would die in 1896 at the age of 73, his wife Jane Maria would outlive him by 9 years, also dining at 73 years of age in 1905.  Both died in Poplar, surrounded by their extended family.

(If you would like your Family tree uncovered, it costs from £300 to £600 for a full surname line, and makes for a great present, you can contact me on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk )

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