Time Detectives uncover Weatherman Simon Parkin’s Grandfather; The Underage War Hero

Simon Parkin


Having had some success with Fred Dinenage’s Family Tree, I was asked to see what I could find out for Simon Parkin, the Meridian Weatherman.  There didn’t seem to be anything too mysterious about it on first research;  but once we got further into it Time Detectives solved the mystery of a young runaway couple and an underage war hero in Simon’s past.  Read on…

Origins of the Parkin’s

The name “Parkin” shares the same root as Perkin, being a mediaeval name derived from Peter, more or less a nickname as “Little Peter”. It is predominately a Northern name concentrating in Yorkshire, Durham, and Derbyshire, which looked like it was further North than Simon’s awareness of his own ancestor’s roots in Lancashire.

The oldest ancestor we found for Simon in the Parkin line was George Parkin, a Labourer born in 1780 in the Sedgefield area of County Durham, in the village of Carlton near Stockton-on-Tees.  The Carlton that George grew up in had not changed very much since early mediaeval times.  Although the place itself is of English origin, the name has developed through Viking Norse, from Ceorlton (pronounced Churlton) in old English, i.e. the settlement of the Ceorls (tied peasants, often looking after livestock, one step above slaves), via the Norse substitution of the “K” sound for the English “Ch” sound, giving us our pronounciation of Carlton (with the same meaning).


Durham being part of a semi-autonomous area of England that had been a major part of the Viking Danelaw before the Norman Conquest, would stubbornly resist the Normans, culminating in William the Conqueror’s “Harrying of the North”; where the Normans destroyed most villages and killed a high percentage of the local population in response to uprisings backed by the Viking King of Norway.  The street layout of Carlton still reflects the subsequent Norman design with long strips behind the cottages denoting each peasant’s strip of farmland, put in place after the Normans Carlton some time after the population had been murdered by them .

It’s possible that Simon’s ancestors were moved into this Village by the Normans to replace the ethnically cleansed population who had been butchered.  It would have been from this mediaeval time period that the Parkin surname developed.  The fact that a surname could survive derived from a first name is an illustration of the paucity of population in the area, less than 50 people in Carlton in 1200, rising to just over 120 two hundred years later, for if the population had been large there would have been too many “Peters” to differentiate between them on first name alone.  A clear sign of the centuries it took for the area to recover from Norman brutality.

George Parkin 1780-1850s

By the time we catch up with the Parkins a few hundred years and about twelve generations later in the late 1700s, George Parkin, Simon’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather was a Labourer travelling between farms looking for work on the fields or with livestock. George was born a few years after America won its Independence from Great Britain, and would have been a teenager when the French beheaded their King by Guillotine. He was completely unaware of Electricity, Gas, or Steam Power.  The fastest he had ever seen a man travel was on a horse, across the fields chasing a fox.  If he travelled it was by foot, his house would have been lit by candles, and his only supply of water would have come from a pump over a well in the centre of the village.ploughing

It is unlikely that he ever travelled more than five or six miles from the main town of Sedgefield, but that was far enough to let him meet Margaret Hutchinson on his travels around the farms in the area, and he  he married Margaret in 1811.  They would settled down to live in the delightfully named Horse Shoe House, near Fishburn, Sedgefield, and this is where they would raise their two sons Thomas and William.

Life was hard for a common labourer and harder still in old age which was both a blessing and a curse; It is likely that George and Margaret lived in poverty in old age, George died at the age of about 75 in the 1850s, probably in the local Workhouse, Margaret survived into her mid 80s with the help of relatives for a while, but eventually also died in Sedgefield Workhouse in 1866.

William Parkin 1813-1870s


William Parkin, Simon’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather travelled a little further than his Father’s generation, but still no more than about fifteen miles from where he was born, and indeed got himself a trade as a Blacksmith.  He probably served his apprenticeship at the newly industrialised area of Acklam, near Stockton, just south of the River Tees, starting at about 12 years of age, and spending 7 years training before becoming a Journeyman (qualified) blacksmith.  It was in Stockton-On-Tees, after the had finished his apprenticeship  that he married Mary Neasham in 1836, Mary had travelled up to Stockton from the Village of Easington, over the border in Yorkshire.

Qualified and with his new bride, he worked his way North from Stockton and Thornaby, first to Elwick, then to Cassop and Kelloe, each of his three children being born in those respective places during the 1840s.   Working back in his home area around Coxhoe and Cassop, he must have had a degree of success, as he became a Master Blacksmith in the 1850s, which meant that he had apprentices or other men working for him, no doubt making tools for the Coal Miners around Cassop.

Unfortunately this was not to last, as by the 1860s he had moved the family back down to Thornaby near Stockton to find work as a labourer.  This probably coincided with the mass production of iron and steel implements from factories in the Midlands and the North of England, forcing smaller Blacksmiths out of business.  This was a big step down in status and earnings, but at least in Thornaby fit men used to hard work were wanted for work in the potteries, glass works, and docks on the river.

It seems likely that life became very hard for William and Mary at this time, as both fall out of the records, implying that they were either living anonymously in the roughest areas, or condemned to the workhouse and not fully tracked in the records, it is most likely that Mary died in the 1860s, and William in the early 1870s in the Stockton area.

William’s generation had seen the rise of Industrialisation, turning much of the North of England from pleasant, sparsely populated farmland, to heaving blackened mines and sweaty workshops, towns booming almost overnight because of their proximity to navigable water, sources of power such as coal and water,  and raw materials for manufacturing iron, pottery, and glass.  Steam Power moved wheels and cranks, saws and giant hammers, flushed water from mines, and powered ships trains to speeds that would have been unthinkable when his father was a boy.  But Industrialisation was not a blessing for the poor, and William died younger than his Father had.

George Parkin 1847-1902

cabinetmakerSimon’s Great-Great-Great-Grandfather George Parkin trained as a Joiner.  He  must have been very skilled, as he became a Case and Cabinet Maker, also a Coachbuilder, and a Show Case maker, all of which were specialist areas within the Joiners’ craft.  He is never described as a “Master” therefore, unlike his father, never employed men to work for him, so he would have worked for an employer.

Being a skilled man life would have been good, but his life takes a dramatic turn in 1870 when he marries a young girl called Alice Bartho.  Although the marriage certificate shows her age as 19, in actual fact she was barely 16.  Considering George was 23, there was a definite element of an elopement here.  This is reinforced by the absence of George and Alice from the census records in 1871, perhaps showing that they did not want to be found. From the mid 1870s they are definitely living away from the Sedgefield/Stockton area, living in Middlesborough, and by the mid 1880s the family has moved out to Margrove Park near Skelton Castle, where George will have found work amongst the rich owners of the Iron Stone Mines and local aristocracy at Skelton Castle.  who were much more interested in his skill in making beautiful objects for their mansions than in the age of his young wife.

In the 1880s, about ten years after they married, they finally moved back to the Stockton area for a few years, but were eventually on the move again about 1890, this time more than100 miles south to Salford In Lancashire on the outskirts of booming Manchester, and in particular to the area of Broughton.  Boughton was an area owned by the Clowes family who decided that only a better class of worker could live there.  They controlled building to the extent of limiting the number of pubs that could be built in Broughton.  It is possible that Alice had a sister or cousin in service in Salford, as a girl with this very unusual surname turns up there at this time, which, along with simmering family resentment over their elopement, and the demand for the “better class” of skilled craftsman by the nouveaux riche in Salford, may explain how they came to take the long train ride down to Lancashire.

Once there the family lived well, and saw in the new century, but in 1902 George is struck down with Liver disease and died.  Liver disease has one common cause; heavy drinking, the curse of the working classes in Victorian England, and despite the lack of pubs in the Broughton area, there were plenty outside, and this may have been George’s downfall.  Alice was forced to rely more on the income from the children, including the girls who found employment like thousands of others in the Salford Cotton Mills. Alice lived another nine years till 1911, when she died of heart failure.

Thomas Parkin 1879 – 1936


Thomas Parkin born in Thornaby, moved with his parents to Margrove Park and then Salford.  Thomas had followed his father’s trade as a joiner, but perhaps without the same desire or need to travel as he stayed in the Salford area for the whole of his life.  Perhaps the travails of his parents lives, and seeing his father die, made him want stability more than the previous generation.  He married at the age of 20 to May rebecca Tristram, a Lancashire lass, and the sister of his elder brother’s wife.

He died in Broughton in 1936 of Lung Cancer.  Most likely he was a heavy smoker, as most working class men in industrialised cities smoked from an early age, perhaps from around 12 years old, and continued it through their lives.  This death was not pleasant for his family and had a big impact on his son George Henry, seeing his father lose his strength and dignity, and suffering as he died over some months.  The sight would haunt him and have a profound effect on his later life.

George Henry Parkin 1900 – 1967

George Henry was a man who maybe wasn’t all he seemed.  He worked as a Shell Forger in a munitions factory during WW1 and although married at the age of 17 he actually gave his age as 22 on the marriage certificate, so he was underage when he married.

In 1919 he is a Lance Corporal in the 5th Manchester Regiment.  But it has not proved possible to find an exact army record or medal record for him, so the mystery begins.  Cross referencing in other records Time Detectives found an entry for him in a publically subscribed War Roll, not an official document as such, but one that was paid for by members of the public paying to have their account of their war record included. The entry for G.H. Parkin, has him in the 1st rather than 5th Manchester Regiment, apparently volunteering a month before his 15th birthday in 1915!

cologne1919How did a 14 year old manage to pass as an older man?  Investigations with Simon turned up some family photos of George, and it turned out he was a physically big man, so he drew himself up, stuck his chest out and lied about his age to the recruiting sergeant, and subsequently to the Vicar at his wedding, and maybe even to his bride-to-be!  The record states that he fought at Arras, Ypres, the Somme amongst others, and was a member of the Army of Occupation of Germany based in Cologne, being officially demobbed in September 1920.  These facts seem to tally with the Manchester Regiment’s movements if he moved between battalions, especially the army of occupation around Cologne, an interesting detail that bears out his story.  The picture here shows British troops and Tanks drawing up outside Cologne Cathedral.

However there is still a mystery, as, when he marries in 1917, his occupation is given as a Shell Forger, a civilian role, and his medals listed on the war roll (not the official medal roll) only list the General Service and Victory Medals, if he had joined up in 1915 he should have also had the 1915 star.

What was the possible explanation?  It seems that the lie about his age had been discovered, and he was sent home, in which case he wouldn’t have received the Star as he had joined illegally.  Then later in the war when he was slightly older and the need for men had increased, he reenlisted and served with the Army of Occupation in the 5th Manchester Regiment as per his entry on his marriage certificate.   This would also explain the change in Battalion number.

After the war, at least from his return to England in 1919, just prior to being officially demobbed, George worked in a Flour Mill for many years.  This would have a tragic and unexpected effect on his later life.  During WW2 he worked as a Metal Presser, and by 1967 he is a Lorry Driver.

In his sixties George suffered with his breathing, and this raised fears in his mind about the cause, most alarmingly the thought of Lung Cancer haunted him, having seen the horror of his father’s long suffering before he died.  One afternoon after a visit to the family he took a cab home.  On the way he asked the Cabbie to pull over by the Salford Ship canal at Trafford Bridge,  he left the cab, walked onto the bridge and looked over into the dark water, after a few minutes he walked back to the cab, and told the driver to drive him home, within a few yards, he stopped the driver again, walked back to the bridge and threw himself in.  He drowned before he could be rescued.  The inquest came to the conclusion that he had committed suicide “while the balance of his mind was temporarily disturbed”.  the fear of Lung Cancer had driven him to despair.trafford bridge

The irony was that it was found at he had some damage to his lungs from working in the Flour Mill, but he was not suffering from Lung Cancer, his fears had been misplaced.  Simon knew nothing of his Grandfather’s death, and it was an obvious shock to him when that was revealed on camera.

This was the dramatic culmination of the show, and lead Simon to look further into his history with his family.

A poignant end to an interesting Family History mystery.

The Family History of The Kray Twins Part 7: Mad Jimmy Kray

James William (Jimmy), the Grandfather of the Kray Twins had the chance of a reasonable start in life.  His parents only had two children, although there were three children from his mother’s first marriage, but compared to the hordes of children usually living in one room with their parents, the Krays were not in such a bad position.  Jimmy worked as an Electrical Apprentice at a Cable Maker’s Company, this was a great opportunity for him to lift himself out of the poverty of the East End, Electrical works at this time were a New Technology and a qualification in this area would guarantee him a good life for him and any family he may have in the future, even more so he had been made an Overseer Managing staff at the tender age of 17, an indication of his strength of personality as well as natural ability.  But life can be cruel, and the sweetest of things can lead to the bitterest of outcomes.  In his teens Jimmy fell for  a Docker’s daughter five years his senior, Louisa Eliza Turner, lied about his age, meaning that he didn’t have the blessing for the marriage from his father, and married her at St Anne’s Church Hoxton on 5th May 1901.  The reason isn’t hard to find, at the age of 16 he had made her pregnant, and a month after their marriage, James Frederick John Kray was born to them in Hackney.  So it is without a doubt certain that he would have been under massive pressure, and threats of potential violence from Louisa’s family if he didn’t “do the right thing”.

Things started to get worse for him, he lost his job at the Cable Maker’s, had to move house three times in 1901 with a wife and small child, and another one soon on the way, he worked as a Labourer, then a Porter, both poorly paid unqualified jobs, before finding his way to the street markets of the East end where he became a Hawker of flowers, a job he would do for more or less the next ten years.  Wheeling and dealing using his wits and drive to carve out a living, the family growing with child after child, John George in 1902, Albert Charles in 1904, Charles David (The Kray twins father) in 1907, Alfred  1909, William George in 1911, and Louisa in 1914.  So on the eve of the First World War, he was living in one room in the East End with a wife and seven children.  His prospects looked dreadfully bleak.

With the outbreak of the First World War (The Great War) Jimmy found a means of escape from this grinding poverty with the guarantee of regular money being available for his family.   Jimmy Kray joined the King’s Royal Rifle Company (KRRC) on the 14th September 1914, this tells him a bit about him physically, as the KRRC and other Rifle or Light Infantry Regiments were traditionally recruited from smaller fitter men, expected to march at drill at twice the normal speed and deploy at the jog-trot or run.  It also shows that he was quick to sign up.  Just as quickly he was shipped to Boulogne in France and marched to the front.

While he was in France Jimmy may have heard news from home that one of his second cousins, Clement had died of his wounds whilst serving in the Honourable Artillery Company.  Clement had been doing well for himself before the war, he was a young commercial traveller from Harlesdon, and no doubt enjoyed life and expected great things to develop, that was over now.  The Honourable Artillery Company consisted of both Infantry and Artillery, and his Battalion had fought at the first battle of Ypres, they had charged the German lines after an artillery bombardment, many of them had been cut down by the Germans on the way in, and had taken a terrible revenge on the Germans after they had surrendered, shooting many of them out of hand.  By their own admission many of the men had a blood lust brought on by battle, and such incidence were far from uncommon amongst the hard-bitten British professional soldiers, for example in the same battle 300 German prisoners were said to have been slaughtered after their surrender by the Royal Scots.

Ironically the KRRC fought at the 2nd battle of Ypres,  perhaps this made Jimmy want revenge, and would see him through his dramatic engagement with the Germans.where the Rifles were supporting a Canadian Corps.  The Germans had burst a hole through the french Colonial troops holding part of the front by using poison gas on them, the clouds of yellow gas filling trenches and killing thousands of the unsuspecting french troops.  They used the same tactics against the Canadians, and then launched three of their own corps threatening to overrun the Canadian position making a huge dent in the Allied Line, but the Rifles and Canadians fought a ferocious action against Artillery and Gas attacks, and finally faced three times their number of German Infantry pouring over the top and flooding into the Allied trenches.  The fighting was desperate, but despite initially being pushed back by sheer weight of numbers, the KRRC and the Canadians made a final stand and fought the Germans to a standstill; the line was badly dented, but held.

James was wounded in the fighting , “luckily” receiving a “Blighty Wound” that left him in one piece, but got him shipped back to England and honourably discharged after treatment in 1916.  he was awarded The Silver War Badge to wear, a necessary precaution to show the civilians back at home that he had done his duty and had been shipped out of the army because of his wounds, he wore the Silver War Badge as a mark of distinction; men who were thought to be shirking their duty at the front were in danger in the East End of receiving a beating from returned soldiers and their families, so the badge was a necessary precaution.  Having said this, the chances of many people who knew Jimmy Kray trying it on with him was probably small once they’d been toe to toe with him, the little man’s reputation for violence was formidable, and had no doubt been considerably enhanced by his time fighting hand to hand with beefy Germans outnumbering him three to one, there weren’t many situations that he would worry about after that.

The prevailing sentiment at the time was summed up in the poem In Flanders Fields, written by a Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, having just buried a friend who died at the second Battle of Ypres:



In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.


We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.


Take up our quarrel with the foe:

The torch; be yours to hold it high.
To you from failing hands we throw

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

This was published in Punch Magazine in December 1915,  it’s not a poem about remorse and hand-wringing guilt, so common after modern conflicts, it was about right and wrong, noble sacrifice and revenge.  The trauma these men suffered was channelled in the public consciousness into pride and action, no thought of surrender, quite the opposite.

One of Jimmy’s other second cousins, Sergeant George Kray of the Middlesex Regiment, was also discharged from the Army in 1916, and received his Silver War Badge, although he was discharged sick rather than wounded.  The number of men suffering debilitating serious illness in the trenches often outnumbered those wounded.

Sidney James Kray (another second cousin to Jimmy) was the only Kray to see the war out without being killed, wounded or having his health destroyed.  He left the army as a Corporal in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and like the rest of the cousins, served his time in France.

It wasn’t just the Kray men who did their part, Alice Kray (another second cousin) joined up and served as a Nurse having seen what had happened to her brothers and cousins.

Discharged with his scars and medals, Jimmy Kray came back injured from the horror of the tranches, to a single room filled with children, Elizabeth had been born in 1916, and as a sign of the relentless poverty the family found themselves in, she was the only child to die in childhood in 1918.  With no prospects Jimmy went back to trading in the markets, coming to the conclusion that there was money to be made trading secondhand clothes, what was called a Wardrobe Dealer, and he would carry on doing this for the rest of his life.  It wasn’t a great living, but then wasn’t bad either for a man with his wits about him.  According to Reggie Kray, one of the twins, his grandfather Jimmy would scan the local papers for news of a death, then go around to the house, offer his condolences, and also offer to buy any old clothes from the deceased they may want to get rid of.  The logic he used to get the cloths at a knock down price was that it was hard to sell clothes of those who had recently died, so would a few bob suffice?  Most people went along with this, especially if the main bread-winner had died and they needed some immediate money for the funeral and drinks for the wake.

Using his intelligence Jimmy then took to going around the local housing estates that were springing up in the East End after the First World War offering sets of presentable (cheaply bought) china in exchange for decent clothes, the many new housewives and young couples living on the estates would be only too happy to swap clothes for a nice socially aspirant set of china.  He continued doing the buying for the rest of his life, and had the sense to set his son, the Kray twin’s father Charlie, up in  a shop in Brick Lane to sell the clothes that he bargained for.

The trading brought stability to the family and they continued the family tradition of living in Gorsuch Street from the 1920s till Louisa’s death in the 1950s.  However the there was another side to Jimmy, he carved out a good living for his family in the harshest of circumstances, but was a terror around the markets, the little ex-Rifleman was a notorious brawler, just as well, survival would have been difficult with this fire in his blood. However Jimmy took it to another level, and earned the nickname “Mad Jimmy Kray”.  Some of this is most likely down to drink, as in later years he would have a heart condition most likely aggravated by bouts of heavy drinking that would lead to his death.

Drinking would eventually take its toll on Jimmy; he died in 1949 of a heart condition that was possibly aggravated by past heavy drinking.

To see my brief TV interview concerning the Kray Twins’ relationship to the Hamble Peninsula in Hampshire, and their favourite Pub there click here.

The Foreman Family History Part 2

Thomas Foreman 1838-1901
Emily Louisa Miller 1848-1922
Soon after the family moved back down to Faversham, Thomas aged about 21 decided that his prospects would be better served in The Royal Navy than working on dry land in Faversham.  In 1861 we find him sleeping overnight as part of the skeleton watch crew onboard HMS Plover on the Medway River.   On the night of the 1861 census, Thomas now a Stoker 2nd Class, was onboard with Fred Smith another Stoker, the Assistant Engineer, the ship’s boy, and an able seaman who had brought his wife and four sons onboard for the night (a common occurrence in home waters with local families nearby).
Being a Stoker 2nd Class onboard this small gunship, was about as low a rank as you could get, but guaranteed a quick recruitment for those physically fit enough to live up to the job as the Navy had a tremendous need for Stokers now that steam was taking over from sail.  Thomas having trained as a Blacksmith, would have been brawny, and used to hard work in hot environments, a perfect qualification for a life below decks stoking the ship’s boilers, probably the least glamourous job on the ship.
The Plover was  one of the hybrid transitional ships in Navy service at this time rigged with both sails and a steam engine powering twin screw propellers.  It looks as if a life in the Navy suited Thomas for a while, but not for long, as in 1866 he is back on land in Lambeth, South London working again at his old trade of a Blacksmith.
In his late twenties he obviously decided that it was time to settle down, and on 4th November 1866 in St Mary Lambeth, he married Emily Miller, seven years his junior, and technically a minor at the time being barely 18, who married with the permission of her father a local Carpenter.
The marriage was a fruitful one with seven children born between 1867 and 1888, although there is a gap of seven years between 1882 and 1887 when no children are born to the couple, perhaps they had children that died too young to reach the 1891 census, or perhaps there were other reasons for the gap, a separation or an illness?  The children we do know about are Thomas Joseph born 1867, Herbert Arthur 1870, Louisa Emily1873, Ernest Alfred 1875, Edward James 1879, Lillian Emma 1881, and Nelly 1888.

During the 1870s and 1880s he worked as a smith on coach works, an job that guaranteed work at this time in a city awash with private coaches and carriages for hire, the taxis of their day.  Also during this time the family moved from Kennington in South London to Battersea, also in South London, and Battersea would be the home of the Foremans for generations to come.  During this time they saw the old wooden Battersea Bridge come down and the new Iron Bridge go up.  A major undertaking and a sign of the times.
They lived in Acre Street and Sussex Srteet near the Railway.  Small two story houses had been put up by speculators especially from the 1870s onwards who followed the Railway, building over the old Market Gardens that had produced Pumpkins and asparagus for the gentry in the city,  replacing them with workers keeping the railways and factories running.  In 1889 we find Thomas working as a Fitter, which was a logical move for a blacksmith, from horse drawn coach repairs to repairs for steam powered trains and machines in this industrious area of South London.  A skilled job which would have produced a comfortable living if Thomas was careful with his money.  It is most likely that Thomas used his smithing skills on the railways, given the fact that he lived right in between The London Chatham & Dover Railworks, and The London and South Western Railworks in Battersea, with several rail lines clattering alongside the streets he lived in.  Things looked good for the family until Thomas, at the age of 63 in 1901 died leaving his wife to look after the two youngest girls, supported and helped by their older siblings who were at work.
After Thomas’s death, Emily and some of the family stayed in the area when Sussex Street changed to Wadhurst Road, having taken the house over from her son Herbert Arthur who had lived there in 1894.  It lead directly into the Railworks.
Eldest son Thomas Joseph had found work as a Fishmonger, a good trade that guaranteed food on the table, at least fish that is, and was living in Clapham with his family.  Living till 1940 in the Wandsworth area.
Herbert Arthur was less fortunate and worked as a Bricklayer’s Labourer, an unskilled job that meant long days outside in all weathers, carry bricks and mortar in a hod up and down ladders all day. He and his family moved frequently, mostly in Battersea, but lived for a while in the early 1890s at Canal Bank in Peckham, literally alongside the Surrey Canal.  They only stayed in Peckham for a couple of years, long enough for their first two children Ethel and Annie to be born, and soon moved back to the family home turf in Battersea, and initially into what would become the family’s HQ in the area for some years’ 82 Wadhurst Road.
Ernest Alfred took a similar line to Herbert as a labourer, married Florence Holloway in 1901 and moved away from the area to Croydon, where he stayed for the rest of his life, dieing there in 1944.
Edward James worked as a Brewer’s Labourer, a slightly better job than his two labouring brothers as much of the work was inside, and he would get a beer ration along with his wage.  He had married in 1900 to Helen watson and they stayed in Battersea living at 82 Wadhurst Road with other members of the family.
The roads the family  lived in in Battersea were working class, but not slums, the further you moved from Lambeth towards Clapham, the better the area generally became, many slums had been pulled down to make way for new estates of small terraced houses in the 1870s and 1880s.  So the family managed to keep it’s head above water at the turn of the 1900s, despite the shock of Thomas’s death, mainly by mutual support, grouping together in and around Wadhurst Road; there was safety in numbers.  Supporting each other Herbert, Ernest, their Mum Emily, and the younger girls, plus the boys wives, and some of the grandchildren made sure the rent was always paid, the kids went to school, and any trouble could be sorted out quickly.  The elder brother Thomas wasn’t that far away in Clapham, just a tram trip away, and Ernest in Croydon could always get back on the train if needed.

The Family History of The Kray Twins part 3: Revolution in Regency London

John Kray and Maria Etteridge Tree (Click to Enlarge)

When John Kray was sixteen he heard the news that Napoleon had finally been defeated at Waterloo by the mighty Wellington, it was the dawn of a new age. Great Britain had been fighting France for the whole of John’s life, and for the whole life of his father and his father’s father. Now war was over, and the boom protectionist economy that it had driven was about to descend into the bust economy of peace and competition. No one on the streets of London could see this, and the feeling on the streets was one of elation, chests thrown out, and heads held high. But as high prices, no votes and unemployment in town and country took hold, the countryside started to rise in disorder, and in 1816 this spilled over into London.

On a cold and clear day 2nd December 1816 John Kray laid his file and hammer down to stand at the door of his master’s Brass workshop with the other apprentices to stare on in astonishment at a mass of people surging through the narrow streets. With banners flying, the mob marched on for the Tower of London. These were the “Spenceans” a radical group of what we would probably call communists, the Spenceans were ultra-radical, calling for the destruction of all machinery and the sharing of all property. Many of the unemployed and dispossessed poor had rallied to their assembly, and the hot heads amongst their leaders were leading them to the Tower to win over the garrison, seize the armoury, and light the fire of revolution in the capital.

They surged through the streets around the Tower, calling to the people to join them, one grabbed John Kray by the shoulder:

“Come on boy, join us and live free as a cat!”

“What party do you follow?” John asked.

The man laughed “Whatever the parties you may call, they’re all alike so damn them all!” he laughed louder and sprinted back up the street to join the throng.

John Kray and his fellow apprentices followed “for a laugh” seeing these wild eyed revolutionaries and angry ragged men following them would have been the most exciting thing he had ever seen. They reached the Tower and call upon the garrison to join them. To their dismay and anger, the hardnosed guardsmen, fresh back from fighting the French just laughed in their faces. This was turning into a huge anti-climax, the battle hardened garrison, were easily capable of sweeping the Spenceans away with one bayonet charge, but commonsense prevailed, and the worst the would-be revolutionaries were hit with was derision.

Faced with this one of the younger revolutionary leaders lead a group of them into the City ransacked a gun shop, and shot a customer who remonstrated with him. At this point John and his friends would have decided that they would get back to work before things got completely out of hand, and the numbers of Spenceans started to dwindle, and their resolve to waver, until they were demoralised enough for the Lord Mayor and Militia to disperse them, capturing a number of their ringleaders. Despite the civil unrest they had orchestrated, the four ringleaders walked free because of a problem with the charges brought against them, James Watson, a surgeon and a leader of the more violent faction who had shot the man in the Gunsmith’s shop eluded capture whereas a sailor who had been with him was captured and hanged. The irony would not have been lost on the Krays; if you were a big enough fish, and had the right lawyer you could walk away on a technicality, if you were a foot soldier you would go to the gallows even if you didn’t pull the trigger.

Two years later in 1818, at St James Church Clerkenwell, the nineteen year old John Kray married twenty year old Maria Etteridge. They had six children over the next twenty years, three boys and three girls. John the Brass Finisher, although not a highly skilled job, would at least provide a regular income that would keep a family together with a roof over their heads, and food on the table.

They lived in Goodmans Yard within sight of the Tower. Living conditions weren’t great, one room in the roof of the house thirteen feet by eleven feet, with a fire place, and a window. In this space lived John and Maria plus five of their children. Their only furniture was a bed, a couple of chairs and a table, with washing hanging up across the room when it was too wet to dry outside. With no running water, their room lit by candles, and a rat infested privy in the darkened basement without any other form of sanitation, they would have considered themselves lucky compared to the homeless and starving families they could see on the streets. They even had a Charity School around the corner so at least the children would be able to read, write, and do sums.

The Spenceans had one last throw of the dice two years later in 1820, George III died leaving a constitutional crisis concerning the succession of his dissolute sons, and the Government was forced to call an election.  A plot was hatched by a group of Spenceans to raid a Cabinet Dinner with pistols and grenades, kill the entire cabinet, cut off their heads and stick them on spikes on Westminster Bridge, and proclaim a “People’s Parliament”.  Unknown to them the conspirator who thought up the plot was actually a government secret service agent, and led them into a trap.

The conspirators were surprised in a loft in Cato Street prior to the attack by a group of Bow Street Runners, who rather than wait for a detachment of Coldstream Guards to arrive to support them, decided to attack and take all the glory for themselves.  Although unprepared, the Spenceans fought with pistol and sword, and although over powered killed one of the Runners with a sword thrust.

Justice was swift and decisive, and it is most likely that John Kray would have taken half an hour out of his day to watch as four of the conspirators were publicly hanged in front of a large crowd, before their bodies were cut down from the gibbet and beheaded, the grisly heads held up to the crowd, with the old shout of “behold the head of a traitor!” Another example to John Kray and the crowd of working men and women of the futility of fighting the government when their spies were everywhere, and their vengeance swift and final.

See part 4 of the Kray Twins’ Family Story here.

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Family History of The Kray Twins Part 2: Georgian Goldsmith, Jeweller, Dealer, and Chapman

frederickkrayfamily Click to see tree

The first Kray we come across in the direct line is Frederick Kray born around 1773 in the City of London or nearby. Frederick is the Kray twins’ Great Great Great Grandfather. He worked as a Goldsmith, Jeweller , Dealer and Chapman, the first two occupations indicate an upmarket trade, but Dealer and Chapman indicate a trader of a lower level, working in the markets and Dealers Shops. A Chapman, indicates someone who barters and strikes deals (Ceap in old English being the root of “cheap” meanng a bargain or a deal). It seems likely that Frederick served his apprenticeship as a Goldsmith, then went into business on his own selling the goods rather than making them for sale. He is never described as a Journeyman or Master of his craft, so he may never have finished his apprenticeship.

In any case he makes some risky decisions in his life, getting young Mary, pregnant at fourteen in 1795 when he was twenty-two; not a crime at the time, but showing a lack of judgement. The pair stay together and have three sons between 1796 and 1800; Frederick Joseph, John (the Kray twins’ Great Great Great Grandfather), and Richard.

For a while Frederick gets by, managing to bring in enough money to take out a lease on a house, in Stanhope Street, Clare Market. This was an area wedged in between theatres and divided into “Ladyships” owing to the Madams who ran the brothels and lorded over the area. The rest of the streets and lanes were mainly inhabited by Butchers who ran herds of animals through the narrow lanes for slaughter in the shambles, cheap grocery shops, and stalls selling other goods.

Frederick most likely bought and sold jewelry, a precarious living and by 1806 Frederick finds that he can’t sustain his business, and is taken into Bankruptcy by his creditors. His debts are eventually discharged by the sale of all his worldly goods at a public auction from his home, strangers, and neighbours, picking through the Kray’s belongings, and buying them amidst cat-calls and jeers from the people rooting through their belongings, whilst Frederick, Mary and the children can just look on in despair.

Frederick never recovers from the blow, and the family struggles to survive, until in 1815 at the age of forty-two he dies. What caused his financial ruin and early death is not certain, but relations had not been all they could be between Frederick and Mary for some years as no children are born after 1800, despite them both being in their prime. Perhaps the proximity of the whore houses and drinking dens of the Clare Market had proved to be too much of a temptation for Frederick, a man with ready cash in his pocket.

Fortunately for the family the boys had managed to get trades, the eldest Frederick and youngest Richard following their father’s trade as Goldsmiths, the middle son John becoming a less  glamouros Brass Founder. This indicates that Frederick may still have had friends amongst the Goldsmiths, getting two of his boys into apprenticeships with them, perhaps John the middle son was less well disposed and therefore went into an allied metal working trade as a Brass founder, requiring less skill but more brawn. Mary and her eldest son Frederick crossed the Thames back to the Surrey side where she was born, and no doubt where her family still lived.

The two elder sons married at the end of their apprenticeships both in 1818, Frederick staying on the Surrey side of the river, and John staying in the City and Whitechapel. The youngest son Richard stayed north of the river and married in 1822.

See Part 3 of the Kray Twins’ Story here.

Jamie Oliver and the Sudanese Slave Trade

Jamie Oliver’s Ancestors

Not Sudanese, but did help stop the Slave Trade in the Sudan

We first hear of the Olivers living in Madron, a village about 2 miles North West of the coast of Penzance, the Village grew up around a fresh water spring, which, during the time of these early generations of Olivers was the only source of fresh water for both Madron and Penzance, Penzance being at this time the port area for Madron. There are standing stones in the area which were claimed to be able to cure rickets if the afflicted were passed through them, this pagan legend also extended to the Well at Madron, and as with all pagan superstitions, this was taken over by the Dark Age Christians and turned into a Christian superstition attached to St Madern which gradually changed in pronunciation over time to St Madron.

When the Normans came, their local lord of the manor had the church built near the now “Holy” Well of St Madron, and gave it to the Knights Hospitaller in return for them praying for his soul. It is most likely that the spelling of the “Oliver” surname happened during this time and may have come from the English name Alward (pronounced Alvard), as represented in Alverton just a couple of miles from Madron, the French speaking Normans priests and overseers Normanising the local name of Alver to Oliver.

The Olivers would have seen both the growth of Penzance, and it’s ravages at the hands of the Barbary Corsairs raiding the coasts for slaves to sell in the markets of North Africa, followed by plague in the 1570s, and the Spanish who landed in 1595, ravaged the town, held a Holy Mass, and set off to sea again before local forces could muster to confront them. The town’s woes continued during the English Civil War in the 1640s when the Roundhead General Thomas Faifax ravaged the town as a punishment for its Royalist sympathies, and a group of Roundheads destroyed the small chapel at Madron as a pagan remnant, plague returned in 1647 raising the death rate by 10 times the normal.

By the time of the earliest recorded Olivers in the 1660s Madron had started to take second place to its port of Penzance which had steadily grown in importance. After the ravages of the 17th century, things improved during the 18th century, at least judging from the number of children born to Henry Oliver and Jane Vinicomb between 1735 and 1750, seven in total, but times could still be hard, with two sons died in infancy. The Penzance and Madron area boomed during these times thanks to the Tin mining and good corn harvests, and its export via Penzance along with barrels of local Pilchards. By the mid 1700s when the Oliver children were growing up a battery of guns were put in place to deter Spanish attacks, wealthy traders and landowners began building houses in Penzance and enough local taxes were raised to have the streets paved.

By the time that James Oliver had married Jane Hoskin and started to raise his family in Madron in the 1770s, Madron had dwindled to an outlying village supplying the town of Penzance. Penzance itself now boasted a cosmopolitan air that would have been unimaginable a few generations back, trade with the Mediterranean had brought a synagogue, along with a theatre, and assembly rooms used by the gentry for balls and gambling. The Olivers would have been outsiders to all of this, the nearest they came to it was through Edward Hoskin Oliver who worked in the Gentry’s fine gardens, seeing the preparations for balls, and gossiping with the other servants about the scandals of the moneyed classes. To help make ends meet for the family Edward would have grown vegetables on his own plot to sell to the grocers in Penzance.

Richard Hoskin Oliver married Clarinda Davies in February 1806 in Gulval, her home village a couple of miles North East of Madron, where two of their sons Richard Davies Oliver and John Oliver were born. In the late Regency and early Victorian era the gentry of Penzance had started to build houses on the outskirts of the town to avoid the hustle and bustle of the life of the ever growing port and the comings and goings of those taking advantage of the new craze of seaside holidays for the racier classes. Gulval grew around the Village Square, with new stone houses replacing the older wattle and daub cottages, with a pleasant view over Mounts Bay. Most of this granite housing speculation was carried out by the Bolitho Family who the Olivers may have worked for and definitely would have doffed their hats to as they passed them in the village. Meanwhile Penzance grew with Gas lighting in the streets, and houses there had piped water negating the need to travel to Madron to collect water from the ancient well. A newspaper and promenade were opened to service the growing population and the increasing numbers of well to do Regency holiday makers frequenting the area.

So the opportunities in Penzance for local people grew as well, and Richard Hoskin Oliver made sure that his children would not be tied to manual labour as he was; all three of his sons were schooled and could read and write, a rare accomplishment at this time. Richard finds work as a Grocer, possibly selling some of the produce of his father’s gardening work on the family plot, James becomes a Hatter, and John goes into tailoring. Indeed John makes such a good living that he takes a house with spare rooms to run as a lodging house, before using his commercial acumen to move more upmarket to run the Anchor Inn in Barbican Lane Penzance. But the family would not hold together for long, Clarinda died in 1832 at the age of 53, followed by Richard nine years later in 1841 at 66, and this matched the gradual decline of the family.

The eldest son Richard Davies Oliver married and left the Penzance area, drawn by the opening of the Hayle Railway in North Cornwall in the 1830s, this was built alongside the main London to Penzance Coaching Road, originally to help with the transport of the foundry and Copper products from the area, but gradually growing to include passenger traffic from London to Penzance. Seeing this boom, Richard cleverly set up as a Grocer at Hayle Foundry living among the blacksmiths and foundry workers in the town, selling them his produce. The Oliver brothers’ entrepreneurial skill did not stop with Richard, as James and his brother John lived together and worked together in business, John as a Tailor and James as a Hatter. Between them they would have managed to corner the small market for the gentry and other locals in Madron.

After the death of his parents and his elder brother Richard moving to Hayle, James continued to live with his brother John and family, but in the same year as his Father’s death 1841, James married a local girl, Lydia Gray, and soon after passenger services were opened on the Railway in 1843 at Hayle where his brother Richard lived, James took his part of the profits from the hat and clothing business and moves his young family in 1846 to try his luck in London; the Railway had cut the travel time from a week or more to a day or two. James’s move would cut the family off from Cornwall for the rest of their history; London would now be the focus of their future, for better or worse.

Their adventurous move took them to Lambeth on the Surrey bank of the Thames, living in Duke Street, a side street in the triangle formed by Blackfriars Road on the East, Waterloo Road on the West, and the Thames to the North. The population of Lambeth doubled between 1831 and 1861, sanitation was basic; toilets either being emptied by the Night Soil men from the backs of the buildings and shipped out to provide fertiliser for the fields of Essex, or seeped through the ground from dry privies into the the underground streams and creeks that riddled the former marsh that most of North Lambeth was built on, running down into the Thames. Drinking water came straight back out of the Thames to hand pumps in the courtyards and street corners of the working class neighbourhoods, leading to a major outbreak of Cholera killing thousands in 1848/9, the Olivers witnessed its effects, but fortunately for them they escaped the disease itself.

The crowding of the area was reflected in the Olivers’ accommodation, eleven people lived in the three story terraced house at no. 10 Duke Street. The Olivers took the top floor. The rest of the street were mainly Middlesex and Surrey Cockneys, and the Olivers would have stood out dramatically with their Cornish accents, although James’s Hatter’s trade, was on a par with his Warehouseman, and Foreman Labourer, and print worker neighbours. So their immediate surroundings were respectable working class, with a veneer of the elderly living on charity of one form or another. But further afield away from the quiet backstreets in the hustle and bustle of the Waterloo Road and especially around the New Cut market five minutes walk to the south of Duke Street that the complexion of the area changed. Working men toiled for a six day week being paid on Saturday and Lydia Oliver would have gone shopping on a Saturday evening when James would have brought his pay packet home. During the day the New Cut market had a tranquil air, but at dusk on a Saturday night, when the gaslights were being lit and the market was busiest, she would have felt far from the rustic gentility of seaside Penzance and quiet Madron and Gulval.

Out from the slums of the Blackfriars Road scampered the dark shadow of the “Street Arabs”, hoards of children aged from 6 to 10 years old, mainly boys, the children of Irish smallholders driven from their fields by the potato blight and the cruelty of their landlords, to congregate in London and survive at the bottom of the social heap, wracked with poverty, and subject to prejudice for their origins and Catholic religion, the adults must have despaired, while their Irish Cockney children knew no better and flourished, not just surviving but revelling in a culture of their own filling the social niche left by Dickens’ Artful Dodger and his friends a generation before. They congregated in noisy groups on the street corners, out for a laugh at others expense. Pushing in between the crowds of shoppers, music hall goers, loose women with wide hoped skirts ankles provocatively showing, the girls arm in arm with the local bully boys avoiding the “Coppers” on their rounds, the Street Arabs would split into small groups to look for their opportunities, avoiding the stalls of the heavy fisted Costermongers, preferring to raid the stalls managed by older women, grabbing handfuls of produce and running in all directions to the cries of “stop thief”. If this was more mischief than anything else, then there was also a harder more feral set of children who would push the old women over to snatch the meagre takings from their stalls before taking to their heels. This must have filled the Olivers with horror, especially young James Oliver, the same age as the street Arabs, possibly physically a bit bigger than them given his rural upbringing amongst the sea air and market gardens of Cornwall, but he was probably no match for them in terms of their aggression, he may have held close and tight to his mother’s skirts when the Arabs were on the prowl. But he was schooled, and had a chance of rising above them by education.

The Olivers had moved from Cornwall to improve their lot in London, but the streets of London were not paved with gold, James’ work as a Hatter kept a roof over the heads of the family, and they were getting by, although by the early 1860s their roof had moved further south in the Borough to another three story house at no. 9 Green Street, again taking the top floor of the building. They shared the house with a pair of market porters the Bailey brothers and their families. By now the Oliver’s teenage daughter Clarinda had left home, to go into Domestic Service, but the family now had the addition of three more sons, Richard, John, and Alfred at regular intervals between 1852 and 1856. The Oliver children now had six Bailey children to play with, all in all, between the Baileys and the Olivers, there were sixteen adults and children crammed into the three floors of 9 Green Street.

The family stayed together through much of the 1860s, although Clarinda never returned home, marrying Thomas Taylor a local locksmith in 1866, however the family were to face hardships, as James’s trade as a Hatter brought dangers of its own. The Hatters had earned a reputation, epitomised by Lewis Carol, as “Mad Hatters” this was a result of breathing in the poisonous vapours of the Mercury they worked with, the results of this mercury poisoning were a bright pink face and hands, peeling skin, nervous fidgeting, and extreme mood swings, the longer term symptoms were madness, and various heart and liver disorders often leading to death. By the yime safety legislation was brought in in 1864, James had been working in this poisonous environment for more than 30 years, and at the age of 58 in 1868 James died, and the family fell apart.

With the main wage earner gone, the Olivers are forced to give up their lodgings, James the eldest son got a job as a porter at the Guildhall Hotel (a large upmarket Pub) in Gresham Street in the City, where he now boarded, Clarinda was living with her husband, leaving the youngest boys, John and Alfred, and Richard, to be apprenticed by their mother to a Butcher. Lydia their mother takes work at the bottom of the social heap as a Charwoman, cleaning in the early hours of the morning for just enough money to survive on. She moves into a room of a house owned by an elderly widow in Prices Road Southwark, the premises rattled day and night by the trains travelling above their heads on the line to Charing Cross. She survives through to 1896, and ends her days at the mercy of the workhouse.

Things go downhill for the younger boys; it seems that life as Butcher’s apprentices prove to be less than pleasant, the Butcher would have had total control over the boys’ lives, they would have received bed and board, little if any spending money, and would have been expected to spend up to seven years in this servitude before having the opportunity to qualify as a Journeyman Butcher. Some Masters were good to their apprentices, some were very cruel, especially if the boys in question had no father to look out for them. It seems likely that the boys had a very hard time of it, so much so that Richard disappears, leaving no trace in any records, the youngest boy Alfred ends up in the local Workhouse before he also drops out of the records completely, whereas John shows some fighting spirit, runs away to Kent, where he seems to have got into some form of trouble as we next see him in St Augustine’s Prison Canterbury, at the tender age of fifteen. It is possible that he ends up in prison for either a petty crime, or vagrancy if he was “on the Tramp”.

Whatever the reasons for his brush with the law, John Oliver is rescued by his elder sister Clarinda, taking the boy in with her and her husband and putting him to school, although he still may have been a little uncontrollable as witnessed by the scar he bore on his right wrist which was remarked upon when she marched him by the scruff of his neck to the Naval Recruiting Office in Woolwich. As Clarinda was illiterate she called in help from John’s School Master, Mr Fowler, who acted as a professional witness to the relevant papers, signing him up to the Navy as a Boy 2nd class to be followed by ten years in the ranks. She swore that he had not spent time in a reformatory, which although technically true ignored the fact that he had been in Prison at Canterbury! She also swore that he was not apprenticed at the time, which given that he may have just run away from a Butcher’s shop was also a bending of the facts.

But the Navy life was obviously one that suited John, far from the trouble and bad influences of the Lambeth slums, he served his two years with good character, training on HMS Topaz and Boscawen, at Portland and along the South Coast. After a year of “Very Good” Service he rose from a Boy 2nd Class to a Boy 1st Class, and the combination of good diet, hard work, and sea air had seen John grow five inches in height from five foot two to five foot seven, a decent height for a working class boy in the 1870s. In 1872 he moved into the Navy proper as an Ordinary Seaman 2nd Class, spent eight months in Barracks qualifying as an Ordinary Seaman 1st Class, before getting his first posting aboard HMS Philomel on 22nd August 1873, and promptly set sail for Africa and the Indian Ocean.

The Philomel cruised the waters along the East African Coast, including the Sudan (which is probably where the family legend of a Sudanese ancestor may have come from) intercepting slaving ships at sea, armed sailors and marines overrunning them with boarding parties, arresting the crews, and freeing the slaves. It must have made a nineteen year old from Lambeth grow up very quickly.

Having seen the warlike tribes of the mainland and chased the slavers and Pirates off the coast, as well as getting to know the dubious pleasures of the coaling ports of British controlled East and South Africa. But his adventures weren’t over, in 1875 the British resident diplomat in Perak in Malaysia was ambushed while washing in a river and murdered. A force of colonial Police and Indian Sepoys were sent to capture the aggressors, but became badly mauled by the Malays and were forced to withdraw. In the 19th century Britain would not tolerate such an insult, and an expeditionary force was shipped in in 1876 and sent flying columns of soldiers and artillery after the rebels, backed up by amphibious assaults by Royal Marines and Sailors from the Philomel and other ships. Although outclassed by the British Military, the Malays mounted savage ambushes in the thickly forested Jungle terrain, and fought from heavily defended villages, killing a number of the British troops until overpowered, their warriors killed and their leaders captured and hanged. By 1877 the war was over. Quite an adventure for John Oliver.

After this John steamed back to England and spent his time between 1877 and 1879 on the Thames in Barracks at Woolwich and on HMS Fisgard a training ship on the Thames, his service at this time was described as Exemplary, but as he was a Seaman with experience at sea, he was too valuable to be left on the Thames, and by October 1879 he was sailing again for the South China Seas on board HMS Albatross.

We next find him in 1881 moored in the harbour of Yokohama in Japan, this was only thirty years after Japan had opened itself up to the rest of the world, and there was an intense interest in British Naval ships there, and John as an experienced Able Bodied Seaman would have been highly regarded in such a place. John spent more than three years aboard the Albatross patrolling the China Seas, before coming home again in 1883.

When he did return his high standing was reflected in the fact that he served out the rest of his days in the Navy aboard the Admiral’s Flagship, HMS Duke of Wellington at Portsmouth, so his days of action on the high seas were over, to be replaced with days of pomp and ceremony serving the Admiral and Commander in Chief at Portsmouth.

On leaving the Navy John took a wife, Alice Mary Coombes, a nursemaid from Clapham, thirteen years his junior. He also took on a new career, and was fortunate in that Captain Sir Eyre Massey Shaw was the Head of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and manned it exclusively with ex-Sailors, who he considered disciplined, strong, and hardy, and of course they could be called upon to man river borne Fire Engines on the Thames, an important part of the Brigade’s duties, without needing further training. John was lucky that he joined in 1888, as a year later Captain Shaw was relieved of his command when the London County Council was formed and their bureaucrats took the Brigade over, opening up its recruitment to anyone, not just ex-sailors. John served as a Fireman throughout the late 1880s and through the 1890s, but his fortunes were mixed, as he turns up in 1891 working a what appears to be a private Fireman looking after an unoccupied building for its owners, although he does go back to the regular fire service later in the 1890s. During this period of stability the family settles down to a quiet and regular existence in Gloucester Road, near the Surrey Canal in North Camberwell, or Peckham as it is better known, in fairly comfortable two story home. Their neighbours were also respectable working class no one was well off, but all of them were keeping their heads above water, if anything the area could be described as quiet and slightly boring, as most of the men worked out of the area, commuting by foot or on the horse drawn buses and trams, leaving the streets to the housewives and pre-school children. The only major event that interrupted their lives during this time was the loss of John Alfred their eldest son who died within a year of his birth in 1895, children dieing in infancy in the area was not unusual, but this would not have softened their pain.

From the late 1890s Walthamstow, an East London Suburb had started to grow rapidly, its population doubling to nearly 100,000 by the turn of the 1900s. This rapid growth was matched by the local council’s attempts to keep pace with the population growth by a programme of civic investment, which included the setting up of a professional local Fire Brigade to replace the voluntary force that had been in place before, and the volunteers were gradually replaced by professional experienced Firemen, which proved to be the perfect opportunity for John Oliver and family to up sticks from Peckham, and move north of the river to 9 Selbourne Avenue, Walthamstow, with John joining the Professional Fire Service. Settled in Walthamstow with regular employment, the family grows with the additions of Edward Albert, and Violet Maud Oliver in 1902 and 1904. But John Oliver was not getting any younger, and by 1911, in his late 50s he was no longer working as a Fireman, but fortunately the local council looked after him and found him employment as a road sweeper.

The Family would later settle in Essex, where the modern Olivers have come to be associated with. Pukka!

If you’d like your Family Tree researched by Time Detectives, you can contact us on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk. You can receive a fully researched Family Tree, Family Report, and Full Family Story (up to 100 pages of Family biography as a full historical narrative) for £300 – £600 depending on the service you chose.

Carol McGiffin and Mr Bumble the Workhouse Master

Having worked on various lines of Carol McGiffin’s Family Tree (Carol is probably best known for ITV’s award winning “Loose Women” programme) I recently was lucky enough to turn up a new twist to her ancestry when I found her Great Great Grandfather McGiffin’s wedding certificate, naming (and shaming) his father as “The Master of a Workhouse” or Mr Bumble as Carol likes to call him.

Normally this fact on its own would be interesting but not mysterious, the difference here is that the McGiffins when we first find them living in the slums of Lambeth are on the breadline, not where you would expect to find the family of a well to do Workhouse Master.

The Masters of Irish Workhouses were often ex-Army or ex-Constabulary NCOs. It was a very good solid middle class position to hold in an area, providing a good wage, lodgings, food, employment for members of their family, a place on the Parish Council, local power and respect, and ample opportunity to make money on the side from embezzlement of the pauper’s allowances (by cutting the quality/quantity of their rations), the hiring out of paupers as “free” (effectively slave) labour to your friends on the Parish Committee, and of course the opportunity to take advantage of any young women unfortunate enough to be an inmate.

Not all Masters of Workhouses were this vile, but you only have to read Oliver Twist to see how they were viewed by the public at the time. So it seems that he was a Master of a Workhouse before the Great Famine in Ireland (as the three McGiffin boys were born between 1834 and 1840) Margaret was probably not legally his wife, for if she was it is very unlikely that she would have ended up in a slum in Lambeth with three children in the 1850s.

It is much more likely that she was an inmate of the Workhouse in the 1830s who became pregnant by the Master of the Workhouse bearing him three sons at a time when the workhouses were not overloaded, and a girl would be prepared to be quiet about the situation in return for better treatment for her and her children. However, at the end of the 1840s the Potato Famine hit Ireland, and the workhouses were flooded with several times the number of starving inmates that they were built to hold, the system broke down, and it seems that it was in this period that Margaret came to London with her three boys. Perhaps the Workhouse Master was worried that his indiscretions would be exposed, perhaps Margaret forced his hand?

London as a destination is odd for people from Northern Ireland during the famine, as by far the majority of refugees from the famine who fled to the mainland UK from Northern Ireland went either to Liverpool, Glasgow, or Bristol (in that order), London was just about the farthest part of England that someone from NI could travel to (for example, the McGiffin name is not uncommon in NI, but during the whole of the 19th century there were only one or two families with the name in London who weren’t direct relatives). This implies that Carol’s ancestors were sent as far away as was possible, reinforcing the idea that the Workhouse Master may have paid for a passage to London, rather than one of the nearer UK ports. London was far enough away to ensure that an inconvenient woman and three children would not be coming back in a hurry, but was far cheaper than the fare to Canada or the USA.

So a small family mystery from the early 19th century was revealed by a diligent piece of research. Carol seemed thrilled by the revelation as it brings yet another piece of the jigsaw of her family history past into place. Thanks to http://www.timedetectives.co.uk.

Fred Dinenage Family Tree

Fred levelled his eyes at me across my dining room table and said:

“You’ve shattered my illusions!  I thought I was a Brummie, but now you say I’m a Man of Kent, and a Man of Sussex!”

All I could say was that, he was also a descended from a Soldier who served at the Woolwich Arsenal, so he was also a Gooner, and he cameraman chipped in with the worst accusation of all, calling him a Southampton Scummer, what could be worse for a man who had been a director of Portsmouth Football Club, Pompey fans would be shocked and horrified.  I was tempted to use some cockney rhyming slang as one of his ancestors was born in Bristol City, but thought that he had probably suffered enough by then.

So how did we happen to be sitting in my dinning room insulting the good name of ITV’s Meridian Tonight anchorman Fred Dinenage?  The story starts with Fred appearing in my living room every evening covering stories across the South of England for Meridian,  as all regular viewers do I felt like I knew him without really knowing him at all, and whereas some men just can’t resist a pretty face, I just can’t resist the challenge of an unusual name

Out came the etymological dictionaries, the surname records, and Victorian encyclopedias, and I tracked the name back to its early roots, which lay in the word Dunnage, meaning the contents and covering of a boat’s hold.  This word doesn’t appear in English before 1620, so was of foreign origin, and low and behold, as with many nautical words, it has its roots in Dutch and Low German from the North sea coastline.  The term was variously written Dunnage, Donnage, and most tellingly Dinnage, probably from the Dutch word “Denne” for the deck of a boat via  “Dennen” to load a boat.  The word was taken into English by the sailors from the Southern and Eastern ports that traded with the North Sea ports of the Low Countries and Germany, and given that it appears in writing in the 16oos, it had probably existed in colloquial speech for at least a few hundred years before, back to Mediaeval times, when sea trade boomed via the innovations of the North Sea Cogge Boats, which were sturdy enough to survive the North Sea, broad enough to take large cargoes, and flat-bottomed to allow access to the shallow coastal waters and river estuaries from France to Denmark, taking their cargoes of English broad cloth from the downlands of Southern and Eastern England.

This fitted well, as the most common form of the Dinenage name “Dinnage” was almost entirely found in Sussex, which after the Black Death had reduced the population turned to less labour intensive sheep rearing and broadcloth weaving on the downs, which was then exported via the local ports.  A man who was skilled in loading a Cogge Boat to its maximum capacity without endangering the stability of the boat, or causing it to sit badly on the sea and lose speed by a bad distribution of weight in the hold, was a very valuable and sought after commodity.  So the name, and the Family, will have originated from Boat Hands, and Dock Labourers in Mediaeval Sussex, where most of the “Dinnages” stayed until the present day.

But Fred’s branch of the family was more adventurous than that.  They had moved up from the Sussex coast to Canterbury in Kent, and were living there in the Georgian period during the 1700s.  And whilst  Fred’s Great Great Grandfather Samuel was a boy the Napoleonic wars were raging across Europe and the rest of the world, and a new innovation in the British Army was developed; The 95th Rifle Regiment.  So successful had early experiments with these Green Coated troops proved on the battlefield, that a second Battalion was raised at Canterbury in 1805,  and local men flocked to join this elite unit and were duly shipped to Spain and Portugal under Lord Wellington to liberate those countries from the tyranny of Napoleon.  These were the originals brought to life in fiction as Sharpe’s Rifles.

Once Samuel “Dinnage” (this was how the army spelled his name) was old enough he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion 95th Rifle Regiment,  and we next see him taking part in the last battle of the Peninsular War, the storming of Toulouse in 1814, which was to finally destroy Napoleon’s armies in Southern France , guarantee the freedom of Spain and Portugal, and force Napoleon to step down as Emperor of France, and allow himself to be deported to Elba.  The battle  of Toulouse was a bloody one with over 8,000 men dying in the taking of the city.

Samuel was shipped back to Canterbury once Napoleon was gone, and the Royalist Bourbons reinstated in France, but the peace was short lived.  In 1815 Napoleon broke his parole, returned to France, and aided by the public hatred for the excesses of the “White Terror” carried out by the Royalists in revenge for their years of subjugation under Napoleon (more French citizens died during this than in the “Red Terror” of the French revolution) the country rose up in support of him.  So the 2nd Battalion of the 95th Rifles were embarked again, this time for Belgium.  They would face their last battle of the Napoleonic Wars, and it would be the ultimate battle of that conflict:  Waterloo!


Napoleon had managed to split the allied forces, separating Blucher and his Prussians, from Wellington and his Allied British, Germans, Dutch and Belgians.  After forcing Blucher and the Prussians to retreat, Napoleon faced Wellington, but on ground of Wellington’s choosing near the village of Waterloo.  The battle would, in Wellington’s words, be “A damned near run thing.”  The British units were spread across the field to bolster the morale of the rather skittish Dutch and Belgian troops, and much tooing and throwing took place over the two fortified positions which dominated key positions on the field, the French Heavy Cavalry dominated the field breaking like a wave against the solid allied squares, who holding their nerve, cut them down in swathes, as Wellington said when asked if he thought that the French Cavalry came up well, he dryly replied “..and they went down well also.” during this time Samuel Dinenage and the 2nd 95th Rifles were held in reserve, being finally moved up to support the crucial left flank of the Allied lines alongside the Foot Guards and the 52nd rgt.  This was to prove crucial, as the French overran the strongpoint on the allied left centre, and Napoleon then ordered his never beaten elite Imperial Guard to advance in column and break the allied Foot Guards on the left flank.  With drums beating and flags flying, the Battle hardened Imperial Guard surged forward muskets at the ready.  But Napoleon had not reckoned on Wellington’s cunning, he had ordered the Foot Guards to lay down in the corn field they occupied to conceal their position and protect them from French artillery fire, now he gave the order, “Up Guards and at ’em!” the British Guards sprang up in a perfect line, just 50 yards from the advancing Imperial Guard and unleashed a withering fire that stopped them in their tracks.  Surprised, shocked and bloodied, the Guard hesitated, and in this pause the Commander of the 52nd regiment wheeled his troops and the 2nd 95th with Corporal Samuel Dinenage, round the flank of the Imperial Guard column, unleashed a massive volley to their open flank, and then charged them as the British Guards hit them in the front, putting them to flight.  This had never happened before, the whole French army gasped in amazement, to see their finest troops in full rout from the shouting red coats and the green jacketed rifleman with Corporal Dinenage amongst them.  This was the beginning of the end, as the French wavered, Blucher and his Prussians arrived riding full pelt bare-headed at the French, pursuing them across country and wrecking havoc.  The Battle was over, the carnage had been massive, one in three of the Rifle regiment had fallen, the rest were exhausted.


The war was over, Napoleon was sent to St Helena  in the South Atlantic to while away the rest of his days, and Samuel Dinenage’s Rifle Battalion settled down to occupy France and make sure there was no further chance of Napoleon or his followers rising again to throw Europe into chaos.  The life for the occupying army was good, billeted with French Families friendly relations and fraternisation was common, especially as British soldiers, unlike those of most other nations, including the French, had been subject to heavy penalties including the death penalty, under Lord Wellington not to pillage, rape, or rob the local populace, so British Gold paid for food and lodgings, making them quite welcome guests, and any household containing British Soldiers was sure to be safe from any vigilantes looking for revenge at the end of the War.  It was in this situation that Samuel Dinenage, now Sergeant Dinenage met his wife to be Felicite Amable Pinnin from Versailles.  Samuel was tall, literate, brave, and earning a reasonable living, a good catch for a young woman prepared to travel, and on 9th December 1815 the pair were married by The Reverend Charles Dayman, the occupying force’s Chaplain at Versailles.


Life for an army wife was an itinerant one, and their progress can be traced by the births of their children, Florence in Rosult France (between Versailles and Waterloo) in 1816, followed by Hannagh, Sophia, and Samuel between 1819 and 1824, all born in Ireland, where Samuel had been transferred with the Rifle Brigade.  Samuel was now a Recruiting Sergeant, travelling in a small team signing up young men to serve the colours, and earning a very lucrative income with the bounties for each man recruited.


However Samuel was posted back to England in 1829 and living there until about 1834 when he was discharged from the army after about 20 years of service.  He received a pension from the army, moved back to his home town of Canterbury, and being able to read and write, rare among working men at the time. found employment as a Merchant’s Clerk.  This move spelled the break up of the family, the children going their own ways; Samuel the eldest son had died in infancy, the older girls married Butchers and a Fisherman settling initially in the East of London before they all moved to Gravesend where they raised their families.

By the 1850s Samuel and Felicite had moved to Woolwich Barracks where Samuel had been re-employed by the Army as a Barracks “Serjeant”, a Chelsea Pensioner in a more or less administrative and training role, where he may help with the new recruits, but would not see any combat in the field, given that he was in his 50s this was a good position to hold.  By 1855 he had died of the dreaded “White Plague” (TB) leaving Felicite to be taken care of as a seamstress living with her daughters and their families.

Present at Samuel death was his remaining son William Henry Dinenage.  He had left home at the tender age of 17 to join the newly formed Ordnance Survey in Southampton.  Impetuous and adventurous as his father had been, William Henry married a young girl from Liverpool, Jane Breeze.  he was employed as a “Computer” by the Ordnance Survey, calculating distances and heights of landscape features, and was paid 6 shillings a day, a very good wage, even if he wasn’t needed every day, by comparision a labourer received about 9 shillings a weekat this time.  He had obviously inherited his Father’s charm and persuasiveness, as he joined the Ancient Order of Forresters, and took to selling their life Assurance policies to the mariners’ families who lived in Southampton, rising to be secretary of the local branch, where he made his name after being sued by the wife of dead mariner, to whom he had refused assurance payments because of irregularities in the membership of her husband, this case lead to a change in law regarding Assurance Societies, bringing in better arbitration for dependants of the deceased.  William and Jane also had tradgedies of their own to deal with as both a son and a daughter died in infancy in the 1860s.

But overall William Henry was  sucessful, and well connected, making his living between the Ordnance Survey, Accountancy, and the Order of Forresters, in the early 1870s he decided to take over an Inn in Southampton which would prove his undoing; the business failed, and he was declared bankrupt.  This was the beginning of a difficult period for the family, the family broke apart, William Henry moving to the Industrial Midlands in the mid 1870s to become a Clerk at a Colliery, they struggled, and a son born in 1876 died shortly after birth, but they survived.  The younger children went with them, most of the elder children married and stayed in Southampton except for one of the boys who moved to Lincoln.  The other boys were a mixture of charm, brawn, and brains, like their father and grandfather; he two sons who stayed in Southampton went to sea working as 1st Class Stewards, the boys who went to the Midlands with their parents went into accountancy and Electrical Engineering, a New Technology, that offered great opportunities to the talented, whilst one son became a Railway Goods Guard.  The girls married men in good solid working class jobs, such as house painters and Railway guards.  But the stigma and shame of their Father’s Bankruptcy still haunted the family, the children commenting on their background in Southampton.

William Henry Dinenage and his wife Jane’s story ends in Walsall.  Both lived well into their 80s, Jane bore William 14 children the eldest William Edward being 30 years old when the youngest, Edgar Breeze Dinenage (Fred Dinenage’s Grandfather)  was born in 1881.  Their life had been eventful and full of ups and downs, but what we can say is that William Henry never gave up, he pursued any opportunity that life through onto his path, and despite failure and tragedy he always pushed on and did the best for his children.

Meanwhile back in Southampton as the new century came in, James Richard Dinenage (Fred Dinenage’s Grand or as we would say Great Uncle) had a stroke of luck, so well regarded as a Ship’s Steward, he managed to get a place on the ultimate Passenger Liner; The Titanic.  His family must have been overjoyed when they got the news, this was a major achievement, how tragic then, when news reached the family that the ship had gone down after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic.  They would have waited anxiously for news, but after several days when all the survivors had been accounted for, and the recovered bodies had been identified, there was still no news of James.  Eventually there was no possibility of his having survived, despite the lack of a body, and he was declared dead, lost at sea.  He left a young son and a widow who had already seen one child die in infancy, their plight was made worse by the ship’s owners, who immediately stopped the wages of their crew from the point that the ship went down, leaving the family destitute.  No doubt some help came from the Forresters and the family in Walsall, as James’s young son Richard John survived until the ripe old age of 83 living in Romsey Hampshire.

Back in Walsall Fred’s Grandfather Edgar Breeze Dinenage married Emma Louisa Smith, and rose from an Electrical Apprentice, through a qualified Journeyman Electrical Engineer and Armature Winder, to end up as a Company Director of an Electrical Engineering Company.

His son (Fred’s Father) Aubrey Dennis Dinenage) lived in Erdington in the Midlands, before eventually retiring to the Portsmouth area, which is how Fred Dinenage came to be back in Hampshire 100 years after his Great Grandfather had left under a cloud of Bankruptcy for the Midlands, and nearly 150 years after his Great Great Grandfather fought at Waterloo.FredDinenage2

Scandinavians Are Descended From Stone Age Immigrants, Ancient DNA Reveals

Scandinavians Are Descended From Stone Age Immigrants, Ancient DNA Reveals

How my Y Chromosome I1a ancestors took over Scandinavia in the Neolithic, see previous blog on Genetic Genealogy

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Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 7:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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Genetic Genealogy

Genetic Genealogy


There has been a massive interest in Genetics over the past few years driven by advances in research and improved techniques to decode our Genetic makeup. Most people know about the use of DNA to track down criminals, sometimes decades after the crime was committed, and the political hot potato of a proposed DNA database holding the details of every individual in the country to help prevent crime and terrorism, you may be less aware that it has thrown up some interesting applications when applied to Family History, sometimes throwing up anomalies in family lines, but more often linking people to geographic areas way back before written records were kept, and thereby extending albeit sometimes tentatively, the reach of the Genealogist.

Let me give three examples of what can be achieved using the latest research.


The first is my own Tree for the last 140 years we have gone by the name of “McNeil” and from then till the present generation the family lived in Peckham in South London. Straight forward Genealogy, using Birth, Marriage, and Death Records (BMD) showed the ebb and flow of my direct ancestors over that time, and Parish Registers filled in some of the blanks concerning brothers and sisters of the direct ancestors, added to this were War Service Records, and Census returns which showed a slightly wider picture of family and neighbours, from tall of this a picture of the impoverished family performing constant “Moonlight Flits” one step ahead of the rent man in the back streets of Southwark. But having gone back four generations the records seemed to stop. Eventually the course of the gap was tracked down to the Family changing their name between Neal, Neill, O’Neal, O’Neil, McNeill, and McNeil, which in turn with earlier census records and a lucky break with a marriage in the Catholic Sardinian Chapel in London, showed that the family had come over from Kerry in Ireland. The upshot of all this detective work was a fascinating family tree going back to 1801, but again a gap was found in that generation as records in Ireland are sparse to say the least, most Census records having been destroyed during the Civil War in the 1920s, and most of the remaining being pulped for newspapers between the wars, Catholic Parish records being hard to get hold of made the matter worse. So it looked as though the trail would stop there, until the option of Genetic testing came up.

Surnames are passed down through the male line, and in the same way, the Y chromosome is passed down from father to son generally unchanged through many generations before the odd benign mutation crops up to differentiate branches of a family from the rest of that family with a similar Y chromosome. Using these near identical Y chromosomes a family tree can be built up over thousands and tens of thousands of years, with specific mutations showing a timeline and, because of genetic research, geographic locations for the family line over the years.

So off went the swab of cells gently rubbed from the inside of my cheek, and back came a series of numbers showing specific mutations of my particular Y Chromosome, which fitted in to the latest genetic research showing the modern distribution of the Chromosome, and the journey it would have taken over time. The upshot of the results were that my particular Y Chromosome was of a type found in relatively low levels in the British Isles, and even rarer in Ireland other than in very specific areas/families, but very common in Norway, technically it is classed as I1a.

The reason for this “Norwegian” Gene in County Kerry in Ireland, is because there were very specific enclaves in Ireland, the Vikings having founded various ports in the West of Ireland in Kerry and Cork during the 9th to 11th centuries. That would also help to explain the family’s blonde hair as children, turning much darker with age, and the blue and grey eyes, there were Norse recessive showing up through the dark Irish genes through the generations.

Going back further, this particular I1a Chromosome traces itself back from Kerry to the coast from Bergen/Oslo in Norway through the Iron (500 B.C.) Bronze (1800 B.C.) and late Neolithic (3800 B.C.) periods. In the hundred years before this their Neolithic Culture and genes, perhaps driven by internecine warfare, had pushed across the Mesolithic indigenous tribes in the Baltic marshes and islands of Northern Germany and Denmark. In the 1,100 years before (5000 B.C. to 3900 B.C.) they had multiplied with a sedentary farming way of life in North central Europe, especially Germany, clearing forests, building long houses, raising cattle and crops, as well as the proto-German branch of the Indo-European language tree, and their decorated Linear Band Ceramic (LBK) pots from which their culture took its name. They had pushed up the rivers and river valleys through central and northern Europe along the Danube, Rhine, and Elbe in the 500 years from 5500 B.C. to 5000B.C. driving their cattle and carrying their seed wheat and barley in ceramic pots.

Prior to learning agriculture from their south eastern Balkan neighbours and making their long trek up the Rivers of Europe to the North and West, they hunted deer and boar in the woods and fished along the coastline of Slovenia during the Mesolithic Age for perhaps 6000 years, and the roots of the founding father of the Group lived in the Ice Age Balkan Refuge around 11000 B.C. where he and his family hunted horse and reindeer across the tundra and plains, painted cave walls and carved animal bones into voluptuous platted haired Earth Goddess figurines, before the glaciers receded and allowed them to spread North and West giving us one of the main Germanic/Nordic Gene Pools.

The other interesting research shows that the first individual to have blue eyes in the world (due to the OCA2 mutation) from whom over 99% of all blue eyed people are descended on either their male or female lines was born to this or a related group at the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago, and the Blonde Hair mutation (MC1R) appeared perhaps just before this around 11,000 B.C. in roughly the same area of the Balkans refuge. Pale skin probably originated (to a great extent via the SLC24A5 mutation) around the time of the earlier ancestral migrants of this and other groups reaching Eurasia in the period 20,000 – 50,000 years ago.

The line goes all the way back from here through various measurable Y Chromosome mutations in a direct line to Genetic “Adam” who lived in North East Africa about 80,000 years ago, and is the genetic Daddy of us all, who would have had black skin, hair, and eyes.

Quite a journey for the lineage of a working class boy from Peckham! This gives the broad picture of what can be discovered by combining genetics with family history, but how can it help in pining down other family research?


Let’s look at a Scottish example I recently traced. The Genealogical research started fairly conventionally with the family in Yorkshire working in engineering in the second half of the 20th century, and farming during WW2, prior to this the family lived in Sunderland, working in the ship yards, the generations living in late Victorian times were still in Sunderland but working as Gardeners in the Parks and Cemeteries of the town. Then I got back to a major leap for the family their Great Grandfather had been the Captain of a small vessel running wine beer and spirits up from the importers and distillers in Northern England to Leith in Scotland, which having gained its political and economic independence from Edinburgh by act of parliament acted as the Port for Edinburgh, and was a boom town in the mid-1800s. His parents and siblings had lived in Dundee and worked in the first Jute and Flax Mills in the city in the Georgian Period.

So far, so good, but then I hit a block, as is often the case, once you get back beyond Census returns and Government Birth, Marriage, and Death registrations, you are back into Parish Records which can be a bit hit and miss in their contents, and for which it can be difficult to find corroborating evidence, albeit that the Scottish Records are somewhat better indexed than their English equivalents. The question was where had the family originated? Were they natives of Dundee, or were they incomers with the flood of people who poured into the city to seek employment in the new Flax and Jute Mills?

Using traditional methods of Census returns, BMD Registers etc, I had narrowed the family origins down to two families, both with the surname Stewart, and the same Mother, father, and child’s name, these were the only two families in Scotland at the time that fitted the bill for my client’s ancestors, sifted through what little supporting evidence I could find it was fifty fifty which of them it would be, and at this point I applied the genetic information we had gathered from a test of my client’s Y Chromosome which swung the balance.

The two candidates for the family were one Family from Dundee, and another from the other side of Scotland in a small Peninsula in Argyll. At first glance the Dundee family looked the obvious candidates because of their Geographic location in Dundee, but there were some very small discrepancies which made me cautious. Applying the Genetic evidence showed that the Y chromosome of my client was of a type loosely referred to as “Celtic” i.e. the genetic “Haplogroup” R1b, the commonest male genetic group in Scotland, on the face of it not a great help, until you start to look more closely at the detail. There is in fact a genetic gradient between Dundee and Argyll, i.e. from West to East for R1b, it being relatively more common in the West (Argyll) than in the East (Dundee), and also my client was from a sub-group commonly referred to as the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages, “Niall Noigiallach”.

Niall of the Nine Hostages, the High King of Ireland in the second half of the 4th Century AD, the same Irish King who kidnapped Succat a Romano-British youth who escaped back to Britain and took Holy orders, returning to Ireland where he would become known as St Patrick! Niall is believed to be responsible for fathering the ancestors of a disproportionately large number of Irish descended men, up to 25% of the male population in some areas, which goes a way to showing how he left his mark on the tribes he defeated, and the likely size of his own personal “harem”. Niall defeated the Dal Riada (Scots) in battle when they originally lived in the North of Ireland, and forced them to migrate to Argyll and the surrounding area in what was Pictland, but was later to become known as Scotland. Interestingly some of these Scots warriors joined the Roman army as auxiliaries and are mentioned by at least one Roman writer as cannibalistic savages due to their habit of ritually eating the odd captive. As well as forcing the Scots to migrate from Ireland to Pictland, Niall also had his own colonies in Argyll and retained a loose overlordship of the Dal Riada (Scots). Genetically this “legend” is backed up by the replacement of “Pictish” genes and language with Scots Gaelic genes and language in Argyll during the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. It was from this movement of people that my client’s Stewart genes were descended, either from one of Niall’s own colonies in Argyll, or from a subject Dal Riaddic settlement on which he had donated his genetic line to a member of their female aristocracy. Eventually all of these Irish settlers became known collectively as Scots.

The other interesting fact apparent from this is that the Picts were not “Celts”, they had a separate language unintelligible to Gaelic and English speakers, a different genetic mix, pointing to a Scandinavian origin, and rode ponies that can also be traced back genetically to Scandinavia in pre-Viking times; Roman writers compared the Picts to Belgic, Germanic, and Scandinavian tribes in appearance, large limbed and with many red heads, unlike the dark haired dark eyed Gaelic speakers of the western extremes of Britain and Ireland. So counter intuitively, the next time you see a burly red or blonde headed Scot, draped in tartan and balling his Celticness at a Football or Rugby match, you can rest assured that there was probably nothing Celtic about his ancestry till well into the Middle Ages.

Using this genetic information I tied the family into the historical records, tracing them to Morvern in Argyll, and the picture became clearer. A small independent Sept of the clan Stewart held the lands of Morvern in Argyll, in the early 1700s they probably numbered about 1,500 of whom about 300 were men of fighting age. When Charles Edward Stewart landed in Scotland to raise the Scots in war against the house of Hannover in 1745 the 300 Stewart men of Morvern rallied to the Brattach Bhan, the White Banner, under Stewart of Ardshiel culminating in their presence at the Battle of Culloden, where the Highland Scots faced an army of Lowland Scots (there being very few Englishmen present at the battle) at the first sign of a retreat by part of his army of Highlanders “Bonnie” Prince Charlie ran away with his entourage despite being begged to re-enter the fight by the Clan Chief Clunie MacPherson who had arrived with reinforcements.

Despite this and the fact that Appin the wily Clan Chief of the Stewarts had not gone to the battle, Stewart of Ardshiel fought bravely with his men, attacking the Lowland Fusiliers and Cannon that faced him. These tore great gaps in the Highland ranks, and broke their charge. The Brattach Bhan, the White Banner which was the Royal Standard went down with the Standard bearer, and would have fallen to the Lowlanders, had not one of the Morvern Stewart Clan, a man called Mac an t-ledh, snatched it up, tore it from its staff, and wrapped it around his body to prevent it falling into the hands of the Lowlanders as Ardshiel and the bloodied remains of his brave clan including the Morvern Stewarts were forced to make their escape.

After the defeat Bonnie Prince Charlie took ship to France and lived the rest of his days travelling Europe living off the hospitality of whichever sovereign wanted to use him as a political pawn against the British Crown. The Clans were disillusioned by their leadership, and broken as a political force, with the lowlanders imposing harassment and armies of occupation in Highland areas. The Stewarts of Morvern were forced to give up their language, their plaid, and their religion (to a great extent), and settled down to work their crofts and looms for the Clan landlords who had refused to take the field in the rebellion (most Clan Chiefs had one senior member who followed the rebellion, and one that stayed at home and could therefore claim to be blameless if it failed).

In the intervening generations between Culloden where my client’s five times Great Grandfather fought alongside Ardshiel and Mac an t-ledh, and the birth of his three times Great Grandfather, the relationship between Clan Chief and Clansman was slowly eroded by the realisation of the Chiefs that they could become wealthy by turning their lands over to sheep and more intensive farming methods, these would produce more capital and higher rents than they could get from their subsistence farming clansmen growing Potatoes and a little Flax on their smallholdings. The situation was made worse by many of the chiefs preferring to live in Edinburgh or London rather than on their lands, and thereby loosing the connection with their tenants. The clansmen were slowly squeezed off their land by the avarice of their Chiefs, and were forced to embrace the future as best they could. In the case of Morvern the forests were cut down and the timber sold off for ship building and paper making, the tenants were removed from their ancestral homes in the interior and relocated to loch side and coastal settlements where they were instructed to supplement their reduced land holding with kelp collecting and fishing or small scale weaving.

Those who tried to grow Potatoes in the traditional manner were hit with an outbreak of Potato blight; it seemed as if even nature was conspiring against them. Their former farms were given over to sheep rearing by the Duke of Argyll. Betrayed once more by their countrymen, it was ironically English capital and an English industrial revolution that would save my client’s family. In 1829 it was to Dundee that the Stewart Family trekked and it was the English Industrialists in Dundee who welcomed in the starving Stewarts to work in their Flax and Jute Mills, pleased to find dispossessed skilled weavers used to handling flax were abundant and cheap it was a capitalist dream come true.

So the mystery of my client’s ancestry was solved by eliminating an obvious candidate for what was at first site a less obvious candidate via the genetic information which placed the Family’s origin amongst the descendants of a ferociously over-sexed Irish Warlord.


Here we have an example of evidence for a family staying put over a long period rather than throwing light on their travels.

Having traced the family through farming communities in Skipton in Yorkshire, where they had lived since the turn of the 20th century, it turned out that they had originated in Lancashire, over a period of hundreds of years, I followed members of the family from farm to farm, some never rising above labouring status, but the core line tenanting farms of their own paying rent to the local lord, and getting by through thick and thin, back to a single farmhouse out in the bleak marshes of the land between the Lune and Cocker estuaries on the Lancashire coast, where they slowly reclaimed rich farmland from wild marsh during the Georgian period. Generation after generation had been born, farmed and died in that place, side branches of the family never moving than a few miles from the family in the marshes.

This begged the question of how long they had actually been in that area? Civil records will take you back through the 19th century, Parish records, if you are lucky will add maybe a hundred to three hundred years on top of that if they still exist for the Parish, and you can find them, and they are legible, much further than this and you are in the lap of the gods for families that don’t own land or find themselves on the wrong side of the law. But genetics can throw a light further back than this if the circumstances are right.

In this case it was obvious that until the beginning of the 20th century the family had stayed in the same area of the same county, and for a great number of generations before that they had not even left one single isolated farm in the marshes. Given that the great upheavals of the passing of the Stewart, Georgian and Regency Kings and coming of Victoria had barely affected them, let alone the Corn Laws, Cholera Epidemics, Agricultural unrest, Industrial Revolution, The Napoleonic Wars, and Jacobite Rebellions, had not left their mark on them or their life styles, how long had they been there for?

My client carried out a genetic test on the male members of the family’s Y chromosome and came back with some interesting results. These showed that they had the “Celtic” R1b Y chromosome, which in this case pointed to the more or less original “indigenous” population of the West of the British Isles (as well as Ireland), they could have had other “intrusive” chromosomes from other “tribes” of the British Isles, for example the areas to the north in Cumbria, and to the south in the Wirral and Cheshire had strong intrusions of Viking settlers who show up with a different genetic makeup in modern British populations, or specific “indigenous” Eastern British chromosomes from the near continent, not just late Roman and Dark Age “English” markers from Frisia and Denmark, but ancient and related groups from early Neolithic farmers, and invading Belgic tribes. But none of these showed; the line was Celtic, and not obviously associated with sub-groups of the R1b type indicating Scots or Irish descent, it was most likely a native i.e. Mesolithic gene marker, probably in Britain from the repopulation of the land by Iberian hunter gatherers after the last Ice Age.

This gene marker had survived a second wave of immigrants and ideas from Iberia bringing Agriculture, polished stone axes and megalithic worship to North Wales, and ultimately to the indigenous tribes of the surrounding counties including Lancashire, this happened about 6,000 years ago. A third influx brought traders, miners and metal workers from Iberia to the Copper deposits of North Wales, and their trading and culture would have heavily influenced Lancashire leading to the Bronze age Culture between about 2,000 and 750 B.C., they would also have brought their “Lingua Franca” the Celtic language, which appears to have developed as a trading language for the Atlantic seaboard of Europe (rather than a movement of people) from the South of Spain to the North of Scotland.

The next major cultural innovation came with the Iron Age, with it came Belgic tribes (who the latest research would tend to show were not “Celtic” more likely “Germanic” in speech and culture from the North of France and The Low Countries) to the East of England from around 800 B.C. This ushered in an era of slightly colder and wetter weather and a push west against the Celtic speakers in the West by the Belgic speakers in the East. The Celtic speaking tribes with this family’s R1b gene in Lancashire adopted Iron tools and weapons and coalesced as a confederation called the Sistuntes (Sistuntii in Latin) in the coastal areas where their maritime trading and fishing skills helped them survive the climate down turn and warlike raids by the Brigantes from the East in Yorkshire. This places the Sistuntes bang in the middle of the area where the family were from both geographically and genetically.

The Sistuntes would have lived tolerably well in their little corner of Britain during the Iron Age, the climate improved again slightly from the turn of the Millennium from BC to AD, managing to just survive the Brigantian incursions, then came the Romans. In 79 A.D. the Roman Governor of Belgic Britain, the future Emperor Agricola, march to Mona (Anglesey) with a massive force of Legionaries, sweeping the North Welsh tribes aside, he crossed from the mainland to Mona, slaughtered the entire Druidic population there, and cut down their sacred Oak Groves. A Roman hob-nailed marching boot had been stamped down on the throat of Celtic resistance in the north west of Britain.

Agricola then marched north through Cheshire, to Yorkshire where the Brigantes were brought to heel, and into Lancashire where the Sistuntes were encountered. Being more interested in trade, and having seen what had happened to those who resisted, the Sistuntes sensibly acquiesced to Roman domination, and were rewarded with eight fortified military camps, connected by roads, which although built to protect Roman communications in the North of Britain actually protected the Sistuntes from the Brigantes, and enabled the Sistuntes to sell supplies to the garrisons thereby opening up trade and wealth for them. Out of the amalgamation of these Military camps, native civilian shanty towns, and agricultural villages, the Romans built Towns which would become Manchester, Warrington, Lancaster, Overborough, Freckleton, Blackrode, Ribchester, and Colne. The Roman occupation from the Sistuntes viewpoint was almost completely benign and indeed a great leap forward culturally, they could worship and live how they liked as long as they paid their taxes and kept the peace.

400 years of benign Roman rule collapsed over a period of about 100 years between about 400 A.D. and 500 A.D. What was left of the Garrisons in the cities held out under local Romano-British gentry. This was thrown into turmoil when the descendants of the Brigantes now with a veneer of Scandinavian pagan incomers from Angeln in Denmark, decided to push West again in what became known as part of the Anglo-Saxon invasions. In fact this was just a continuation of the Brigantian encroachments that had been going on since the start of the Iron Age 1,200 years previously, and carries up till this day with the rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancashire in Cricket; the names and weapons changed, but the genetic makeup of the players has remained more or less the same for the last 3,000 years.

The outcome of all this was that after initial setbacks when the invaders took some of the old Roman cities, the Celtic British managed to hold out, retake them, and formed the British Christian Kingdom of Rheged (sometimes two Kingdoms North and South) which at various times spread from North Wales and Cheshire to the Scots Border, the Anglo-Brigantes set up the rival “English” Kingdom of Bernicia facing them to the East, initially Pagan, eventually becoming Christian.

Politics being what it is, in 730 A.D. a dynastic marriage and a settling of disputes between the Celtic speakers of Rheged and the English speakers of Bernicia led to an amalgamation to form the Kingdom of Northumbria, giving them a fighting chance against the Picts, Scots, and Irish, who now menaced their coasts and borders. This was short lived as within 150 years Northumbria was effectively overrun by Norwegian Vikings in the West and Danish Vikings in the East.

Despite all of this turmoil the family’s ancestors survived to pass down their “Celtic” Y chromosome; a British “aboriginal” male line, that had survived Brigantes, Romans, Angles, and Vikings to come down intact to the present day. Interestingly names like “Roskell” appear in the early female lines of the tree and are derived from Old Norse, so although the male line went straight beck to Mesolithic times it intertwined over the centuries with genes through the female line from the Viking invaders and no doubt others. The point about the Y Chromosome is that is doesn’t get genetically shuffled every generation they way most genes do, so retains it “character” over millennia bar the occasional mutation which form the “branches” of its tree. Thereby giving us a glimpse of the amazing geographic stability of the families who farmed the marshes.


So as a tool for Genealogical research, genetics provides some certainties, a host of clues from which inferences can be made, but can be a blunt instrument in terms of throwing light on the specifics of a tree, other than proving a negative. As an example, genetics tells us some interesting facts, like if you have blue eyes you have a n ancestor who lived in the Balkans at the end of the last Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago, it can give you clues to an ethnic identity linked to a Celtic tribe allied to the Romans 2,000 years ago, a Viking colony in Ireland 1,200 years ago, and differentiate between two families in Scotland 200 years ago. Using it sensibly adds a new dimension to genealogical research, and paints in broad brush strokes the missing centuries in a family tree.

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If you would like to have your Family’s genetic Origins traced please contact Paul McNeil on the following email address:


Published in: on August 21, 2009 at 7:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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