Not "Jossa" South London Family (Part 3)


Louis (“Lewis”) James Jossa 1881-1951

Cartridge Boys

“Lewis” (Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Great Uncle) was working full time from his early teens as a Cartridge Boy in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich doing the unskilled and somewhat dangerous work of filling cartridges with explosive powder. After his Father’s marriage to Annie Taylor he started showing signs of anti-social behaviour; in 1897 he was caught letting off fireworks in the street and received a court appearance and a fine for his efforts. Having said that, throwing a few Bangers around probably didn’t seem like such a big deal to a boy who risked having a hand blown off any day at work while loading explosives into cartridges. He got a five shilling fine, and no doubt a clip ’round the ear from the PC who nicked him, and probably from his Dad when he got home.

Louis carried on working in the Royal Arsenal, but just being a Labourer there, although regular fairly well paid work, obviously didn’t suit him, perhaps living at home with a new Step-Mother, and normal teenage rebelliousness all contributed to his desire to seek pastures new, and in the Spring of 1899, at the age of 17, he walked into an Army Recruiting Office, and joined his local Regiment, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment. We know from the records that he had Brown Hair and eyes, and like the rest of his Family was a Roman Catholic. He was known in the amy as “Lewis” Jossa.

Louis wasn’t a big chap at 17, only 5 feet 4 inches tall and 115lbs (just over 8 Stone) but he was used to handling explosives, was physically fit, and after being drilled at the Barracks for three months, and was most likely a crack shot, as he was soon put forward as a good candidate for The King’s Royal Rifle Corps. The KRRC were an elite regiment who traditionally recruited shorter men, who were considered wiry and fast moving, presenting a smaller target on the battlefield and when used as snipers. In July 1899 “Lewis” joined the Corps. This was an upward move in his Services Career.

Louis spent the first 18 months at home in England then in Cork in the South of Ireland learning Rifle drill, marksmanship, and marching at double time. In December 1901 his Battalion was shipped out to South Africa where the Second Boer War was being fought by the British against the White South African Boers. A Mounted Infantry Company had gone ahead, to be followed by Louis and the Infantry. They arrived at Durban from where they proceeded to Harrismith 200 miles away, in the Newly formed British Orange River Colony.

KRRC in South Africa

The Infantry Battalion’s first job was to build a line of Fortified Block Houses with areas of barbed wire in between, these were manned and defended, whilst the Cavalry and Mounted Infantry attempted to Drive the enemy Boer Units onto the Rifles of the infantry’s defensive positions, effectively surrounding and cutting off Boer Units and forcing their surrender. The Blockhouses and their barbwire stretched for over 3,000 miles. Louis’s position near Harrismith can be seen on the map below the label “DE WET” the name of the local Boer Enemy Commander.

One odd feature of British Soldiers’ humour, was that almost every Blockhouse had it’s own dummy guards and dummy cannon, setup partly as a joke, and partly to draw Boer fire, especially at night, so that the Boers would give away their positions whilst “Tommy Atkins” was safely within the Blockhouse defences.

The King’s Royal Rifles took part in a number of confrontations with the Boers for which they were commended by Lord Kitchener. As the Cavalry Columns drove the Boers towards the Block Houses and Barbed Wire, attacks would take place to try to force a way through.

So it is highly likely that Louis saw a fair amount of action, as he not only received the South Africa Campaign Medal, but also three “Clasps” to denote were he took part, Louis had the Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the 1902 Clasps. Louis would stay in South Africa through 1902 and the end of the War.

One notable clash took place when General Christiaan De Wet, the local Boer Commander, successfully tried a new tactic of having his mounted “Commandos” drive herds of cattle into the barbed wire to force a way through, he successfully escaped from British pursuit by employing this tactic, although, such attempts were not always successful, with the British firing from their Blockhouse with tracer bullets, and employing trains mounted with searchlights and Machine Guns to try to intercept the Boer Columns.

At the end of the War Louis and the KRRC were shipped out, and between 1903 and 1905 Louis was back in the UK, then between 1905 and 1907 was stationed in Malta, one of the main British Garrison Islands in the Mediterranean. In 1907 he returned to the UK. It seems that Louis served his time well in the Army, but like so many soldiers, when not in action, the Devil would make work for is idle hands, and on two occasions outside of his time in South Africa he lost his Good Conduct Standing and pay, although on each occasion is was restored.

In 1907 Louis left the Regular Forces and went back to Civvie Street, but still serving in the 1st Class Army Reserves, so attended occasional musters and would have received a small payment as being liable to recall in time of War. At this time he sought and gained permission to settle in Canada whilst in the Army Reserve.

In August 1907 Louis sailed in steerage aboard the steamer Corsican, bound for Toronto, registered as a “City” Labourer (as opposed to an Agricultural Labourer). He didn’t last long in Canada, work may have been had to come by, and within 6 months was heading south to New York to seek work. Some years later in 1910 the British Military would strike him off the reserves list for “illegal absence” from musters, probably completely unaware that Louis was by then living in New York.

It’s possible that some members of his Mother’s extended Somers Family were already in New York, and may have sent Louis word about opportunities there, as in 1910 we find Louis living in an apartment with three members of the extended Somers Family, a Widow with two grown up children, plus Louis’s younger brother John Jossa, and a friend of theirs named John Curran, more of whom later.

Louis was a worker in an Iron Foundry, his brother John was a Machinist in a Machine Workshop, and John Curran was a woodworker on the Railways, while the Somers were working as a Car Inspector on the local Street Railway, and a Telephone Operator.

10th/Amsterdam/Death Avenue NY 1910

Their apartment was near 10th Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue at the time, or Death Avenue as the locals called it, because of the high numbers of deaths caused by the locomotives that crossed the roads in the area. Everyone in the apartment with Louis was English, apart from John Curran who was Irish, and indeed English born people were the third largest immigrant group in their block, after “Yiddish” Russian Jewish immigrants (and one Austrian Jewish Family) and Italians, followed by Germans, almost all the Americans in the block were children living with their immigrant parents. The English don’t really fit the representation of immigrants that are normally associated with New York in the early 20th Century, the English (and they do call themselves English not British) were probably barely seen as “foreign” compared to their more exotic neighbours, so, despite their large numbers, tend to be overlooked in popular US culture.

The 12th Ward of Manhattan were the brothers lived was a poor one, and this was reflected in the diseases that plagued the area, in 1910 it was reported that the 12th Ward was the worst for disease in the whole of Manhattan with 188 cases of Measles (Measles was a killer disease for children in the early 20th Century), 104 cases of Scarlet Fever, 55 cases of Diphtheria.

Despite the challenges, in 1911, Louis married an Irish girl named Elizabeth Curran, the sister of his friend John Curran. They began to raise a Family with Charles in 1912, Louis 1913, George 1916, and Ellen in 1917. Louis had managed to move away from Labouring and was working as an Elevator Operator by 1915, and despite being on the draft for WW1 and having an experience of battle conditions in the Boer War, was never called upon to serve, probably because of his age and lack of citizenship. At the end of the War in 1918 Louis finally applied to become a US Citizen.

By 1920 Louis had returned to being a Labourer, now in the New York Shipyards, perhaps the money was better in the Shipyards, or perhaps work was hard to find? Sometime in the 1920s Louis and Elizabeth’s daughter Ellen disappears from the records, the inference being that she had died as a child. In 1922 Louis took the family North to Elizabeth’s brother’s Farm (Edward Curran) in Edmonton Alberta Canada, it’s not clear if that was for work or a family visit, but we do know that Edward was an ex-soldier who had been given a grant to build a farmstead in the Canadian Plains in 1921, under the “Soldier Settlement” scheme, aimed at bringing British ex-soldiers over to settle in the Canadian Prairies. So it’s possible that if work was in short supply in New York, the Jossa’s moved to Canada to help Edward on the Farm, maybe even to look into setting there themselves.

However, there were still costs involved, so new settlers needed capital to setup, even ex-soldiers needed large loans at times. Whatever the reason, by 1925 Louis and family were back in New York, and Louis had found work as an Electrician. The family’s neighbours are now predominantly Italians, and native born Americans, as well as a few English and Scandinavians, not many people registered as German, as there were some mixed feelings about Germans after WW1.

There was little change for the Family as the as the 1930s arrived, they still lived in the Amsterdam Avenue area, Louis was an Elevator Mechanic, but now his elder sons Charles and Louis were working for a Brokerage Company as a Runner and a Clerk respectively, strangely the younger Louis also appears on the 1930 census on April 1st (9 days earlier) as an ordinary seaman onboard the USS Neches, perhaps he gave up a life on ships in the time in between? Most of their neighbours were now Americans, with a large Irish population, some Canadians and Russians, and a smattering of English, Scandinavian and German immigrants, plus the odd Turk, Hungarian, and a Japanese Cook.

By the 1940s there was still little change for the family, still living at Amsterdam Avenue, Louis still working as an Elevator Operator, Charles their eldest son had left home, while Louis Junior and George were still at home, however the stock market crash that started in 1929 had put paid to their careers ion brokerage, with the value of stocks and shares collapsing, closing companies, throwing thousands out of work, and causing the start of the great depression.

The boys were lucky, they managed to get jobs Louis Jnr now worked as a typesetter on the New York Times, whilst George had got a job through his Dad as an Elevator Operator.

The Jossa’s neighbours were mainly American born, but with notable numbers of Russians, Germans, Irish, English, and a smattering of Hungarians and other East Europeans, and a few Canadians and Scots.

Come the outbreak of WW2 Louis signed up for the “Old Man’s” draft, which was quite an optimistic thing to do given that he was 61 years old by then, but hats off to him for chutzpah. At the time he was an Elevator Operator for Gresham Realty.

After the War Louis and Elizabeth retired to Santa Barbara California where their eldest son Charles had settled.

In Part 4 we shall see what happened to the other Jossa Brothers.

This is a small extract of the type of work Time Detectives carries out for clients when tracing their Family Histories. We produce Family Trees, and Family Stories ranging from £300-£600. They make an ideal gift for Christmas, Birthdays, Weddings, Wedding Anniversaries, and Fathers and Mothers Days. If you would like your Family Tree Researched why not drop us a line with an enquiry to paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Not "Jossa" South London Family


Part 1 Great Britain: A Land of Opportunity

Jacqueline Jossa is an actress well known for her part as Lauren Branning in East Enders, but her Family is more associated with South of the River than the East End, but that’s not all, there is a whole Family story covering Belgium to Canada, and The USA to France, so not “Jossa” South London Family!

The name itself has a number of separate origins, in Spain, Hungary, Germany, and Italy. But is so rare in the UK that all the Jossa’s in the UK are likely related, with the exception of recent arrivals from the EU.

A Belgian Engineer

The earliest ancestor that can be linked to Jacqueline via the records is Augustine Jossa, Jacqueline Jossa’s Great-Great-Great Grandfather whose son Charles Jossa, (Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Great Grandfather) was born in Belgium and came to England during the mid-Victorian period.

Charles Jossa was a Machine Fitter, a skilled worker, and came to work in the Industrial Town of Wallsall during the 1870s.

Charles Jossa

Publican’s Daughter

Frequenting the local Pubs, Charles dark good looks had drawn the attention of the Publican’s daughter in The Greyhound Inn, in Upper Rushall Street Wallsall. This was Mary Somers a Catholic Girl and the daughter of George Somers an Irish Publican who ran the Bull’s Head before George changed its name to “The Greyhound”.

The Malt Shovel Oldbury

He had moved the family up from Oldbury where he had run “The Malt Shovel”, frequented by the local Iron Workers, many of them themselves Irish, he ran a tight house and was not a man to be meddled with. The Greyhound could also be boisterous, and Mary’s Father George wasn’t beyond throwing out rowdies when the occasion arose, as in 1874 when one Michael Melville became “Drunk and Quarrelsome” picked a fight with another customer, and found himself slung out by George. So once our Charles Jossa had caught the eye of Mary Somers, it was beyond doubt that he would be doing the right thing by her, and in 1876 the two were married in Wallsall.

Move South

The couple had two sons in Walsall, George 1877 and Martin 1879, before moving to Nottingham, where son Lewis was born 1881. The Family’s stay in Nottingham was temporary, and by 1881 they had made a major move, South, to the Woolwich/Plumstead area of Kent, that would become part of South East London. Charles’ and Mary’s last two sons, the first called Charles after his Father in 1883 and John in 1885 were born in Plumstead, where the Family lived for a while in Walmer Road.

The reason this area was chosen for the move was that London by the South Bank of the Thames was a booming in light industrial work feeding into the heavier machine work around the Shipyards, Dockyards, and Railheads on the River Thames. More specifically the area the Jossas settled in was in walking distance of the Royal Arsenal, the preeminent spot for arms and munitions manufacture in the UK.

The area grew substantially at the time of the Jossas’ arrival, and the social side of life improved for workers in the area with guaranteed employment. In 1868 twenty workers set a Cooperative Society, that provided cheaper food, that grew to over half a million members providing Funerals, Housing, Libraries, and Insurance. In 1886 the workers set up the Dial Square Football Club, renamed two weeks later to Royal Arsenal (nicknamed the Woolwich Reds), entering the Football League as Woolwich Arsenal in 1893 (while the Jossas were living there) the team that would eventually become the modern Arsenal Football Club and move North of The River.

A Labourer could make 22s per week, a skilled man more, and there was always a huge amount of overtime available, with men starting at eight in the morning, and working anything up to 14 hours per day, so even unskilled Labourers could earn good wages if they were prepared to work for it. The problem was that there was an abundance of pubs in the area, where the men would come out from work and spend their overtime pay to slake their thirst, it was the mens’ propensity to drink that decided on how comfortable their families would be; the more they drank the poorer they were. Although there was a plethora of Churches and Chapels in the area, they played little part in influencing the habits of the local men, the only exception being the local Wilson’s Baptist Tabernacle, for the abstemious part of the population. We don’t know how this affected Charles, other than it seemed he kept himself away from the worst excesses of the area, and was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) the Union of the various skilled mechanics in the area, and attended lectures given by the society.

Image result for the royal arsenal woolwich history

The Jossa Family could walk to the hills above Woolwich, and look across the buildings of the Royal Arsenal, at the light green of the Marshes that were used as firing ranges, here frequent flashes were followed by the delayed sound of bangs and crumps from the testing of explosives and artillery shells. These explosions would rock whole streets of houses, and when they went wrong could shatter windows in nearby streets, for which there was no recompense for the local householders. Beyond this were the grey waters of the Thames where the River broadened after its confinement on the way around the bend at Poplar and Greenwich. The red sailed Thames Barges on the River filled with cement to feed the building of The City and Hay to feed the Horses that moved the people and goods around The City all brought up from Kent and Essex. On the far side of The River were the Victoria and Albert Docks on the North Bank, filled with masts and sails, and the black and red funnels of sea-going Ships and Ocean Liners. Good wages, five sons and an ever changing panorama of The City and River, Charles had many things that Families could only dream of in Victorian London

In January 1889, the Family would face a crisis. At only 32 years of age, Mary Jossa (Somers) died and was buried at St Margaret’s Church Plumstead. This left Charles with five pre-teen sons to raise. Charles managed to raise the boys as a lone parent to an extent, but as soon as they were old enough to work, the boys left home to find their own way in the world, suggesting that Charles didn’t have the time, or perhaps inclination or patience to look after the boys once Mary died, and they were old enough to work.

It took Charles some years to come to terms with Mary’s death, but eventually in 1894, five years after Mary’s death, Charles married Anna Brewer Taylor, known as Annie Taylor, the daughter of an Agricultural Labourer from Wiltshire. Annie Taylor had spent time in Hospital as a young girl, and her experience there had inspired her to train as Nurse, and then to find work in Croydon, South of London to work in Domestic Service looking after elderly well do Londoners who had moved to the suburbs. Somewhere between Croydon and Plumstead the couple met and married.

For some years the couple continued to live in Walmer Road in Plumstead. However from 1899 they moved to Congo Road Plumstead which would become their home for the next 20 years. Congo Road consisted of older two story houses built in the mid century, with long gardens, families took the houses then sublet, but Charles was earning enough not to need to and had all five rooms to himself and his family. At the front of the houses were small wooden railings, few flowers in the gardens, but many residents keep, pigeons, chickens rabbits and such small livestock.

4 Congo Road, Plumstead

Stepmoms and Stepsons don’t always get along

Even with a new wife there seems to have been little inclination for the boys to stay at home, and once the younger boys were in their teens, they left home at the earliest opportunity.

George Jossa the eldest son left once his father remarried and went to work back in Wallsall with his Irish Publican Grandfather George Somers, in The Greyhound. George Jossa was named after his Grandfather and worked hard in the with him, he was involved for better or worse, including at least one disturbance where a pair of local drunken ruffians were physically turned out of the pub by the two Georges and with the help of a Policeman, but only after one of the ruffians had managed to punch a barmaid. Sadly George Jossa would die a couple of years later at only 20 years of age.

Other signs of problems between the boys and Charles and Annie showed in small details we can glean from the records. In 1897 Lewis (actually anglicised from Louis) Jossa, appeared for the wrong reasons in the local paper:

Lewis was a Cartridge Boy, that meant that he had received a basic education in the Royal Arsenal, but had moved straight into work, probably from around the age of 14, doing the unskilled and somewhat dangerous work of filling cartridges with explosive powder, easy to see how letting off fireworks in the street would have come naturally to him.

So all was not well in the Family, and we will find out more about what happened to the five sons in the next instalment. Follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss the next instalment, and give us a like on the page if you’ve enjoyed it so far.

And you can read Part 2 here.

This is a small extract of the type of work Time Detectives carries out for clients when tracing their Family Histories. We produce Family Trees, Family Stories ranging from £300-£600. They make an ideal gift for Christmas, Birthdays, Weddings, Wedding Anniversaries, and Fathers and Mothers Days. If you would like your Family Tree Researched why not drop us a line with an enquiry to paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

The Redknapp Family History Part 3: The Dockers’ Tribe of London


The White Death, and the beginning of the end of the Watermen and Lightermen’s Tribe.

Joseph Reuben was the couple’s only son to survive into adulthood.  With his Father gone, and his Mother remarried to Levi Hill, he was apprenticed as a Butcher’s Boy by his Redknap relations in Hampton Wick back at the west end of the Thames.  But it would not be long before he was in the Tribe of Lightermen working with his Redknap and Pressman relatives up at the docks around East London, where he met and married Harriet Patterson, a Mariner’s daughter, in 1863.

Conditions in the cramped living conditions of East London were very different from the leafy lanes and terraced cottages of the watermen in Twickenham.  Diseases stalked the east London tenements and courts, especially “The White Death” colloquially called Consumption; because it consumed it’s victims, withering them away to pale thin wrecks.  This was Tuberculosis, TB, or Phthisis as it was called at the time, and in the spring of 1876 Joseph Reuben became a victim, weakening, losing weight, coughing up blood, losing the ability to work effectively, until hi death in the cold winter month of February 1877 after a nine month illness.  His mother Sarah (now Sarah Hill) reported his death.

As TB could incubate in families, sometimes with no obvious outward symptoms for decades, parents would infect children and children their siblings and their own children over generations, in this germ ridden environment it is quite possible that Joseph Reuben’s father, Joseph Edward Redknap may have disappeared from the records if he was suffering from the disease and died in the workhouse or on the river without properly being entered in the records.  The White Plague may have been haunting the family.

The Dockers Tribe

Joseph Reuben was the couple’s only son to survive into adulthood.  With his Father gone, and his mother remarried to Levi Hill, he was apprenticed as a Butcher’s Boy by his Redknap relations in Hampton Wick back at the west end of the Thames.  But it would not be long before he was in the Tribe of waterman working with his Redknap and Pressman relatives up at the docks around East London, where he met and married Harriet Patterson, a Mariner’s daughter, in 1863.

After Joseph’s early demise, Harriett keeps body and soul together for the family by moving in with a Norwegian Mariner, Arent Anderson.  It wasn’t that unusual for a attractive Cockney Widows to marry Scandinavian sailors plying their trade between the Frozen North and the Port of London.  Arent agreed to Marry Harriett in 1880 once she fell pregnant by him, but managed, by being away at sea for much of the following 15 years to put off actually marrying her.  Despite this she bore him two daughters in 1881 and 1891, eventually marrying him in 1895, and dieing a year later, perhaps the marriage was a concession by Arent to Harriett before her health finally failed her.  Her demise would cause her husband to settle for a while in Poplar working as a Dock Labourer, bringing us into contact with the Docker’s Tribe.  But fate would be cruel to the family and Arent would die in 1907 while away at sea in Norway, leaving £15 2s to his eldest daughter Harriett to administer.

Levi George William Redknap (Harry Redknapp’s Great Grandfather) worked as an errand boy after his father Joseph Reuben’s  death, to help bring some money into the household prior to his mother taking up with Arent Anderson.  Levi graduated from that to the obvious employment in the Docklands of a Dock labourer; the opportunities for Watermen and Lightermen had dwindled thanks to the more efficient transport of steamships, that had forced the muscle power of the Watermen and Lightermen off the Thames and into the Docks, using their muscles to unload sacks of goods instead of boats.

The Tribe of Watermen and Lightermen had had its day, and was entering the twilight of its existence, to dwindle to a shadow of its former numbers into the Twentieth Century.

The transition from Boatmen to Dock Labourers was a desperate one.  This was not an upward move brought about by new technologies, this was a trade and its associated Tribe collapsing, leaving the descendants of the Tribe to scramble as best they could for whatever other work they could get, which, around the Docks, was Dock Labouring; this would turn into the London Tribe of Dock Labourers.  Levi did have an advantage, in as much as being a Lighterman from a long line of Watermen and Lightermen on both sides of his parents’ families, he would have stood higher in the dockside pecking order.  Well connected through friends and family, Levi would have found it that much easier to get into work in the dockyards, and by the time of his late teens or early adulthood Levi was working on the Dockside, albeit at the bottom of the pile as a Labourer.  Despite the hardness of the times, in 1888 Levi married Ann Garner a girl from Peckham.

The Trade in the London Docks had been growing since the Napoleonic Wars. Although subject to the occasional downturn due to government legislation restricting imports and exports over the years, as a whole the tendency was upwards.   With the coming of the Railways from the 1840s, allowing  goods to be shipped out of the growing dockyards of London, and onto the home counties and beyond by goods train, rather than just serving the river borne and horse borne cartage area that had restricted the onsale of goods before the railways.

Although trade to the London Docks had been on the up, the same cannot be said for the wages of the Dockers.  The owners of the Docks squeezed them hard, and there was widespread petty corruption on the part of the Foremen and their cronies, the “Royals”; friends and family of the Foremen, deciding who would get work on which day.

Wages were starvation level for a common Dockside Labourer,  at 5 pence an hour.  The Dockers were demanding “The Dockers’ Tanner” six pence an hour, plus a small bonus for unloading a ship ahead of schedule, and 8 pence an hour for overtime; trivial amounts by today’s standards, but in an age when Labouring Dockers had to literally fight each other at the Dock gate for the jobs on offer whilst the Foremen and Royals looked on and laughed, the Dock owners felt that their Labour force was ripe for exploitation.

The scene had been set over the previous two years when the Match Girls had gone on strike and won, followed by the Gas workers at Becton.  Unions for the more skilled workers on the Docks were already in existence, and a power struggle ensued to control a Union for the common Dockside Labourers.  This struggle was ultimately won in 1889 by Ben Tillet.  In the same year Dockers down tools and walked off the job, Tillet pounced, declared a strike, and garnered support from not only the other dockside unions and other workers, but also from the Catholic Church, whose Priests saw first-hand the hardships and deprivations of their mainly Irish Catholic Parishoners in the London Docks, as well as being in the spirirt of an edict from the Pope who had spoken out against both exploitative Capitalism, and Revolutionary atheistic Socialism, both of which were rife in Europe.

Levi would have been in the thick of this situation, times would have been hard to say the least, no work meant no money, breaking the strike would mean fist fights day in and day out with the rest of the community while the strike lasted, solidarity and holding their nerve was the only option, and the support was massive, 100,000 people marching from the east End to Hyde Park for a rally showing support for the striking Dockers, the Government was jittery, there was the whiff of Revolution from the unwashed masses of the East End a nightmare in the making.  However, the strikers had to tread a careful line, as working class protests had been physically broken up by Police and the Army with great violence by both protestors and the authorities a few years before.

The strikers walked a careful line, undoubtedly there was a degree of violence and intimidation, but overall the protests were treated as “Cockney Knees-ups” boisterous and physical but overlaid with a degree of hard working class humour and banter.  This approach, along with the obvious reasonableness of the strikers’ demands, plus the backing of the greater working class community, the Unions, and the overt backing of a number of authority figures including the Catholic Church, swayed the balance in the Dockers favour.  The popular rising of the Unions worked, and within a month, the Dock owners capitulated and the Dockers got their Tanner.

Life got a bit better in the Docks after this, and Levi and Ann’s family grew with five sons born between 1889 and 1909.  But times were still hard, with the last two boys born in 1900 and 1909 both died young at four and two respectively, followed by Levi himself in 1910.

With the death of Levi, his eldest son William (Harry Redknapp’s Grandfather who started spelling Redknapp with two “P”s at this time) followed his father into the Docks, and his younger brother George started work as a Milkman.  The First World War interrupted the precarious existence of the family, and William enrolled in the 3rd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade.

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Published in: on April 27, 2014 at 7:29 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Redknapp Family History Part 2; Blackwall Taverns, Smugglers, and Jewish Ancestry?


Joseph Edward Redknap  1816 – 1850? –  Sarah Pressman 1813 to 1882

270px-Harry_Redknapp_2011_(cropped)Given That Harry Redknapp has been a very popular Manager of London football team Tottenham Hotspur, who have a high London Jewish following, so much so that they have been known “affectionately” if inappropriately to the fan base (both Jewish and Gentile) as “The Yids” (an epithet that has caused much controversy, given its anti-Semitic roots), it is interesting that Harry may have some direct Jewish ancestry.  So let’s delve into those roots.

At the outset it is necessary to say that there is no unequivocal written evidence that Harry Redknapp had Jewish ancestry, but there is quite a lot of circumstantial evidence in support of the theory, and I have had some correspondence on this subject with Professor David Newman of Ben Gurion University Israel (and a Tottenham season ticket holder) who wrote an article referring to Time Detectives research on the subject for the Jerusalem Post.

So, here we go; This part of the story starts with Harry Redknapp’s Great Great Great Grandmother Sarah Pressman, it seems quite likely that the Pressman’s were descended from Jewish Ancestry.  If  this is correct then her ancestors would have been one of the  Jewish Families from Germany and the Netherlands who came to England from the time of Cromwell’s Republic and through the Georgian Period (1700s), there being perhaps more than 30,000 Jewish people in England by 1800, of whom maybe a third to half of the population in and around London.  The Pressman name is extremely rare in England before the late 19th Century when there was a large influx of people with German/Russian Jewish descent from Europe.   Before that the rareness of the name does tend to point towards a foreign origin rather than a corruption of an English name, such as “Priestman” or similar.

Sarah Pressman’s Father Reuben Pressman was  a Thames Lighterman from Poplar, he also was the Landlord of The Gun Pub at Blackwall.  The Pressman’s had been Thames Watermen and Lightermen since at least 1707 around Rotherhithe on the Southbank of the Thames, just six years after the Beavis Marks Synagogue was built in London, still standing, and indeed the oldest Synagogue in England.  It is possible that the Pressmans belonged to a group of working class Jewish families that had integrated with other Jewish Families and local gentiles in similar trades, many had lapsed from practicing their original religion, and found it easier to get baptisms and burials performed at the local Church of England Churches, than risk the opprobrium of the more orthodox middleclass Jewish community at the local synagogue, much in the same way that most working class Christians would not bother with the church other than for baptisms, weddings, and burials.

The other factor was that in the 1700s no Jew could become a Freeman of the City of London, which meant that it would be hard for them to work as Watermen, perhaps it was worth a not too religious family paying lip service to Christian ceremony in order to stay inside of the world of river borne commerce.  And the example had been set by Benjamin D’Israeli, elected to Parliament in 1837, who had converted to Christianity to support his parliamentary career.  Why not follow the example?

Indeed the level of integration into British Society amongst the working class Jewish community at this time was widespread.  During the Napoleonic Wars Jewish Londoners joined up en masse for the East London Volunteer Regiments, to the point where they were such an important resource that the Royal Family visited Beavis Marks Synagogue to give thanks and to be entertained by the chief Rabbi, who had given dispensation to the volunteers, in order to be able to fight in the army, to swear the Protestant oath of allegiance and on the Bible, but cleverly on the Book of Leviticus rather than the New Testament.  Unfortunately some prejudice still existed, and the visit was lampooned by caricaturists.synagogue

The Pressmans married with the Argent and the Carvallo Families (originally Carvalho, probably from Portugal) and kept their Biblically Jewish first names, with Reubens and Hannahs, Josephs and Marys, along with Levis and Solomans.  If the Pressmans had arrived in the 19th century, then we could say that they were most likely from Russia, but at the early date that they were plying the Thames it seems much more likely that they were from the Hanoverian holdings in Germany, or possibly The Netherlands, this may well explain why we find them on the River, if they had arrived from the main cities that provided Jewish immigration into Britain in the restoration and Hanoverian periods, then that would have meant Hamburg and Amsterdam, both famous for their canals and port traffic, which would have meant that the Pressmans could have arrived already skilled as Watermen and Lightermen.  Their early date of arrival would also explain their intermarriage with the early arriving Sephardic Jewish Families from Spain and Portugal.

Interestingly it was these typically Sephardic Jewish Families like the Carvalhos that gave Cockney Culture its trademark Fish and Chips developed from Iberian Salt Cod, and the Catholic habit of eating fish on Fridays, which would increase the habit for Fish and Chips when the Catholic Irish started arriving in numbers to London and living alongside the Jewish community there.

The Gun Tavern, Smugglers, and Lord Nelson

But the Pressmans come into the Redknap story before Harry’s Great Great Great Grandfather Joseph married Sarah Pressman.  A young girl named Hannah Argent had married Reuben Pressman in 1804 in St Mary’s Church Stratford in the East End.  They had five children between 1806 and 1817,

blackwall2The interesting thing about Reuben Pressman was that he was the Landlord of The Gun Tavern at Blackwall, right by the Naval gun foundries.  The Tavern was just down the road from “Nelson’s House” at the docks, the Tavern is still there, and it is said by the owners that Lord Nelson had assignations with his mistress Lady Hamilton in the River Room of The Gun.  This may also explain why it was rumoured that the Tavern was a centre of the smuggling trade on the River, perhaps the association with their beloved Lord Nelson ensured that the local naval crews helped turn “Nelson’s Eye” (a blind eye) to the activities of Reuben Pressman, and helped keep the revenue men at bay?  The secret passageway under the Pub would have helped as well.

There would obviously have been a good living from both the Tavern in a crowded Naval and Dockside area, by the tax avoidance measures of the Landlord as a Thames Lighterman. and as a potential dropping off point for contraband.  But it would seem that all good things would end, and by 1819 Reuben had died, leaving The Tavern to his wife, Hannah (Argent) with future income going to his children after his wife’s death.

Running such an establishment, and the side operations, was not something to be undertaken lightly in a violent war torn age, and within a year Hannah had married Enos Redknap, a Lighterman and no doubt an associate of the Pressmans on the River.  Bear in mind that the Redknaps were champion scullers, some of the fastest men on the river without a sail, and had the royal warrant so had friends in high places.  Enos was fourteen years her junior, but no doubt could see the appeal of a Pub owning widow with both a legitimate business and possibly a lucrative side line (albeit with five children in tow, the eldest being only eleven years younger than Enos).  But Reuben Pressman had been clever and even in death looked out for his wife, as his will specifically stated that should she remarry, no future husband would have any claim over the property and income he had left her.  So Enos could enjoy the benefits of The Gun Tavern, without enjoying its ownership.

Whatever the love interest was between Enos and Hannah, it was strong enough that almost exactly nine months later Arabella Amelia was born to the couple. Unfortunately Hannah’s luck with men was not great and eight years after their marriage Enos had also died at just 33 years of age.  Undaunted Hannah married for a third time, Thomas Melvin, down river at Greenwich in 1834, although by now she was in her fifties, but within six years he had died and left her living under the protection of Thomas Argent one of her relations,  Now Joseph Edward Redknap was the second cousin of Enos, and would have been a contemporary with Reuben Pressman, being related by marriage, of a similar age and both Thames Lightermen, perhaps the Redknaps also rallied round to support Hannah and her children after Enos’s untimely death.

Joseph Edward Redknap, the Great Great Great Grandfather of Harry Redknapp was Sarah Pressman’s husband.  He was born as the Napoleonic Wars ended, a time of celebration.  He was a Lighterman, so transported goods rather than people on the Thames.  He was following in the profession of his family working on the mighty Thames.  Although born in Twickenham, he moved down river to Hammersmith and Poplar, this was a wise move, as with the growth of Empire a legacy of the gains made from the French and Spanish during the Napoleonic Wars, meant that imports flooded into London, and manufactured goods started to flood out.  The new wealth caused London to grow massively, bringing a demand for building material, food from the Thames side market gardens, and coal for fires. The need now, was for goods transport and this had started to overtake passenger transport on the Thames as a means of earning a living.

Joseph a strapping lad of 17 built up by years of rowing and racing on the Thames, would have cut a strong figure, and the attention of a slightly older girl of 21 was no doubt quite flattering to the young man, both had lost their Father, and the loss of Enos was shared by both, as Joseph’s second cousin, and Sarah’s stepfather.  In any case the attraction was strong enough that their first child, Sarah Elizabeth Hannah Redknap (named after her mother and both paternal and maternal grandmothers) was born just 8 months after their marriage.  No doubt the wedding hadn’t been exactly planned, but Joseph’s eldest sister Georgiana and her husband supported the young couple and acted as witnesses at the wedding.

The couple were blessed with seven children, but it would seem that they both had to work to make ends meet, and this is evidenced by the fact that Sarah, their eldest daughter spends some time staying with her Grandmother, now Hannah Melvin, and the Argents.  Unfortunately Cholera and other waterborne diseases were ravaging the people of London, especially along the Thames, and the family lost two children; Joseph and Reuben in 1839.

Joseph Edward turns out to be another disappearing Redknap, there is no obvious death record for him, but he is out of Sarah’s life sometime between 1851 and 1857.  By 1851 Sarah is living with her surviving children and some of the Argent Family in Poplar, she is shown as Married rather than widowed, but there is no Joseph present, and she is living in the same household as her mother Hannah Melvin.  No doubt encouraged by her three times married mother, she remarries in 1857 to Levi Hill, and sets up home with him and her surviving children.  Levi was a Railway Labourer, and the couple lived together and occasionally with Georgiana the daughter of Sarah and Joseph Redknap, Georgiana had married William Hudson, who eventually became a Publican and had his in-laws living with him and the family.   Sarah died in 1882, in her sixties.  Descendants of Hills and Argents would live in the same road as the local Synagogue, be treated in The London Jewish Hospital, and buried in Jewish cemeteries, more compelling evidence for good strong Cockney Jewish Fish and Chip eating roots in the family.

These snippets of evidence; likely foreign origin of the Pressman name, the fact that the vast majority of Pressman’s in later years were German/Russian Jews, and the fact that the Pressmans in the Redknap family intermarried with Jewish Families and carried Jewish first names, all point towards the likely Jewish origin of this part of the Redknap Family.  Personally I think the case is too strong to be ignored.

The marriages of Enos and Joseph Redknap into the tight knit Cockney-Jewish community of the Argents, Pressmans, Carvallos, and indeed Hills, supported the family through Cholera child deaths, and multiple dead breadwinners, all held together by the strength of Hannah Argent and her daughter Sarah Pressman through thick and thin and mutual family support.  By the middle of the 19th century Jewish emancipation was well under way, and indeed by 1868 Benjamin D’Israeli, a Jew converted to Christianity for career reasons, was Prime Minister.

The most striking effect of the joining of the Redknap and Pressman families was that it moved he centre of gravity of the family from the West of London, where it had been for two hundred years, to the East of London. where it would be for another two hundred years.

And if you’re interested in sitting in the Gun Tavern at Blackwall, where Hannah and Enos plied their trade, the sailors turning Nelson’s eye to the barrels rolling by, and perhaps Nelson himself drinking a Claret or taking other pleasures in the upstairs room, then you can visit it for a pint or two at: DDTheGun-c71_medium

http://www.thegundocklands.com/index.php

The Story continues here :

The Redknapp Family History Part 3: The Dockers’ Tribe of London
If you would like your own Family Tree researched, and your Family Story written up, please contact

paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk

for more details.

The Redknapp Family History Part 1; Origins, Redheaded Merchants on the Thames


Origins of the Redknapp Name

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The name Redknapp, (also spelled Redknap, Rednap and Rednup) is derived from the colour Red and the old English “cnaep” or “knap” meaning a hillock or brow of a hill, but also a 15th century slang word for “head” as in “the knap of the case” for the head of the house. So “Red Knap” could either mean someone who lived on the “red hill” or much more likely, the person with the “red head”, and given the colouring of a number of bearers of this name the likely derivation is fairly obvious.

Although there had been one instance of the name being spelled with two “p”s in the late 1700s, and various spellings with one and two “p”s and an “e” on the end in mediaeval  times, this Redknapp family’s original name was spelled Redknap with one “p” for the whole of the 19th century, and only acquired the extra “p” as a standard spelling at the beginning of the 20th century when many names in working class families became fixed in their spellings.  This was because from 1870 an act of parliament brought in compulsory schooling for children, and so all children (who actually went to school) were taught to read and write in Great Britain from that point on, and so would spell their name the way they first saw it written by an adult, their school teacher, that school teacher would spell the name however they felt like spelling it unless they were aware of how the local vicar would spell it in the Parish Registers, and that particular way of spelling the name would stick going forward, more of less unchanged to the present day.

Origins of the Family

Harry Redknapp’s branch of the family are most likely descended from Redknaps who were Mercers in late Mediaeval London.  Mercers were high status traders, the word being derived in English from the Old French Mercier (ultimately derived from the Latin Merx – trade goods, the same root as Merchandise).  There were a number law disputes naming London Redknaps in various court cases over trading and trade goods, a long tradition that would carry on down through the generations, this and indeed the origins of the nickname Red-Head (Red-Cnaep) was undoubtedly a notable identifier of the Red Headed English RedKnaps  amongst the dark headed French Mercers they competed with.

It’s not hard to see where a link with trade in London turned into a link with the transportation of trade along London’s River, and Harry’s branch of the family were part of an extended family of Thames Watermen and Lightermen (Watermen rowed boats to carry people on the Thames, and Lightermen specifically rowed “Lighters” which were large flat bottomed barges) living on both banks of the Thames both on its western reaches of the “Surrey Side” and London, and on the central and Eastern regions of the “Middlesex Side” depending on the availability of work.  their work was essential to the maintenance of the passage of goods and people through London before bridges and roads of the Victorian era started to devalue them.

King’s Watermen

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The Redknaps were not just any Rivermen, they were The King’s Watermen, chosen to row the Kings barge to transport him and the Royal Family along the River on State and more mundane occasions.  It is likely that this connection runs back to their days as Mercers, perhaps they were tradesmen to the nobility, and the Riverbourne line of the family that formed Harry’s line profited from the association.  They received uniforms every two years, and, as members of the Royal Household, were exempt from tax (that would surely strike a chord with Harry Redknap?).  Despite this the Thames watermen were known for the foul language and irreverence, even to the Royal Family, so much so that it was said that one of the reasons that Handel was commissioned to compose his “Water Music” for the coronation and procession on the Thames of George I was to drown out the abuse and foul language heaped on the Royals by the Watermen.  To the extent that comments that would have been treated as treasonous on land, were treated with humour on the Thames, as the watermen were incorrigible and beyond redemption.  Their language was labelled “Water Language” and was infamous in London.

The Redknaps rightly used this prestige to run a good business building boats on the Thames, transporting people as Watermen, and goods as Lightermen.  They fought hard for their rights, some times more than metaphorically, and ended up in court on one occasion for having a brawl with some land owners who took exception to them taking up passengers from their land, the cockney boatmen rolling on the bank and falling into some of the boats whilst grappling with their wealthy opponents.

Their appointment to King’s Watermen was no doubt to some extent due to them being very active professional scullers as well as professional river workers.  They raced for purses of sovereigns and silver trophies, in front of Royalty, the gentry and the common mob, and were successful,  In 1831 winning a race held by Sir Wathen Waller the King’s Surgeon, and Baroness Howe at Pope House on the Thames receiving a silver cup in the presence of the whole of the Royal Family, including King William IV.  The family raced for money from at least the 1820s till the 1860s,  several generations of Redknaps representing the watermen on Twickenham at the Thames regattas.  this would have made them local celebrities and they would have hobnobbed much as top sportsmen would in the modern age with Royalty and the well to do.  Fortunes would have ben won and lost on the strength of their backs, and the speed and length of the pull of their oars.  This was in the days before the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, when the heroes of the Thames were men who sported Cockney accents and plied the river for a living,

Watermen were a litigious lot, given the opportunities for theft of cargoes, and cheating in boat races, and for scores to be settled.  The Redknaps were variously called as witnesses for disputed boat races, attacks on them in pubs (as in one Waterman saying to a Redknap “I here you are saying that you are going to give me a good hiding?” before punching him in the face), as character witnesses against false allegations of theft from non-licensed watermen settling scores with the Redknaps licensed men.  But the Redknaps also had their more serious run-ins with the law, Enos (aka Enoch) Redknap was indicted for employing men who were not licensed Lightermen to transport Coals on The River, although he was not found guilty, but in 1815 he and an associate, along with a another Lighterman were prosecuted for stealing coal from a delivery on The Thames, The Lighterman was found not guilty, Isaac Moore, Enos’s Associate was found guilty and transported for 7 years, whilst Enos absconded and was never captured, although it looks like he continued to live in London and the environs.

The Story continues here :

The Redknapp Family History Part 2; Blackwall Taverns, Smugglers, and Jewish Ancestry?

If you would like your own Family Tree researched, and your Family Story written up, please contact paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk for more details.

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