Running off with Sailors


“If I had my way, I’d treat some of these Continental fellers like we used to treat Chinese dope smugglers – hang ’em.”

The Amazing Baker Girls

It’s always interesting to discover a previously unknown story in a Family Tree, especially when the detail turns out to be unusual or sensational, and I had one such occurrence recently when re-rersearching Danny Baker’s Family Tree during the airing of his BBC comedy series Cradle to Grave ( #CradleToGrave ) based on his autobiography Going to Sea in a Sieve ( #goingtoseainasieve ), and now that he’s making an appearance in “I’m a Celebrity” I thought this would be a good time to share the amazing story of his female ancestors again.

It came about due to some missing links in the original tree that I researched back in 2005, notably with a number of the women in the Baker Line.  It is a fact that on the average women are generally far less straightforward to trace than men in Family Trees.  There are two main reasons for this; first, historically it has been the norm in most English speaking countries for women to change their surname when they marry, and therefore they suddenly disappear from your line of sight, and secondly, and this is a fact born of years of research not just stereotyping, women have a much greater tendency to knowingly lie about their age on census forms and marriage certificates, especially where there is a large age difference between a woman and her husband.  So there tend to be lose ends to tidy up on the female sides of trees once the main research is complete.

The thing was, Danny’s Great Grandmother and Great Aunts had done a bit of a disappearing act in the archives, and so additional digging was required.  One of their stories would yield a world spanning adventure, but we start with Maria Baker – Danny Baker’s Great Grandmother.

Ma Baker

Maria was a farm girl from Salisbury, daughter of a Dairyman. She had come to London looking for work, which she found as a domestic servant, and she also found Robert William Baker, the son of a Chemist from Kensington and the grandson of Queen Victoria’s Yeoman of the Royal Wine Cellars at Windsor Castle.

Robert William, failed to follow his father into the Chemist’s trade, instead he was apprenticed to a Lamp Maker, making Tin Signal Lamps for the railways.  This came about after a family split, caused by Maria, when she and Robert William started “living in sin” away from the upmarket surroundings of Kensington, in the working class cheaper parts of London’s East End – Bow and Poplar. The couple had seven children in the 12 years between 1877 and 1889, five boys and three girls.  During that time Robert William moved from making signal Lamps for the Railways, to working as a Journeyman Tinsmith in a preserved food factory, i.e. making Tins for canned food, actually a new technology at the time, so not a bad trade for a working class man, but an extreme step down in a single generation, from his Father and Grand Father’s positions in society, and all for the love of Maria.

However the move to the East end was a bad one for Robert William, living down by the docks there was always the threat of serious disease from the living conditions.  Working in crowded factories, with boat born disease from the scores of foreign sailors coming in from exotic climes.  Like the storyline from a Dickensian tragedy, Robert William contracted Typhoid in 1889 the same year that his youngest son Arthur was born, Robert was acutely ill for two weeks and died on Christmas Eve 1889, leaving Maria to fend on her own for her seven children from Christmas Day 1889.  Merry Christmas Maria.

Maria had had twelve happy years with Robert Baker, but now she would need to fight to keep body and soul together, working as a Housekeeper taking in lodgers, with the children recorded as working as shop boys and girls and errand boys from an early age.  Between 1891-1901 the family lived in exactly the same area of Poplar, in Claremont Terrace and Alpha Road.  This area was slowly improving through the 1890s especially around Alpha Road.  The Booth inspectors who chronicled the relative poverty of London at the time, described Alpha Road as being comfortable looking with neat gardens inhabited by Dock Foremen and permanent hands.  Alpha Road can be seen on the map of the Isle of Dogs below, it runs vertically on the left of centre in between West India and Millwall Docks.  So Maria had managed to keep her family’s heads above water in a respectable working class neighbourhood, without the aid of a man in her life, quite an achievement in 1889.

Blond Bombshell

In 1899 Carl Oscar Blom a Seaman from Vastervik on the Baltic East Coast of Sweden,  arrived in the Port of London, and made his way from Poplar Docks to the Scandinavian Seaman’s Temperance Hostel in Garford Street Poplar.  The Scandinavian Seamen’s Temperance home was a famous institution in the Docks, having been opened in 1888 by no less than Prince Oscar of Sweden and Norway.  The Swedish & Norwegian Royal Family were a great supporters of Britain, and of Scandinavian seamanship commerce and exploration, and had the distinction of being mainly of French descent, their Royal House of Bernadotte having been founded by the constitutional appointment of one of Napoleon’s Military Marshals when the Quisling Scandinavian politicians of the time were eager not to be at odds with the little dictator Napoleon, who had conquered and ruled most of Continental Europe until 1815.  The Marshal himself was descended from a peasant farmer, so he epitomised the ultimate rags to riches story.

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Carl Oscar Of Sweden and Norway By Anders Zorn – From Emil Hildebrand, Sveriges historia intill tjugonde seklet (1910), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52378

The Seaman’s home was therefore a magnet for the many Scandinavian Sailors and Officers from ships stopping over in the Docks, and as a consequence of this influx into Poplar of tall, blond, blue-eyed, cash flush sailors, it was also a Mecca for unattached young women, and although in the words of the song “All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor”  many of the not-so-nice girls liked them as well, and the Hostel did receive complaints from Church going locals about the “Ladies of the Night” who flocked around its clients, like bees around a honeypot.

The Mission was in Garford Street, which as can be seen from the map above, was only a short walk North along the River from Alpha Road.  Despite the suspect activity of young women around the Mission, the romance between Maria Baker, the widowed mid-forties mother of seven children, and Carl Oscar Blom, the middle aged Scandinavian Seaman, was likely to have been a much more mellow affair.

scandinavianMissionGiven that the Seaman’s home was a temperance establishment run under strict dour Scandinavian Protestant morality, Carl Oscar would no doubt have been pleased to have made the acquaintance of a woman of similar age, who could provide some affection, and the comforts of home to a sailor who was a long way from home.  For Maria it was a chance to have companionship with a strong man of the world, and to become what she had never been in the eyes of Robert’s family; a respectable married woman.

So Maria saw to it that the relationship with Carl Oscar was respectable or “proper” as the working class expressed it (pronounced “prop-pah” in Cockney, or “prarp-er” in Maria’s slight Wiltshire burr) and their courtship culminated in Banns being read three times in All Saints Church Poplar between 21st May 1899 and 4th June 1899 (while Carl was at Sea) and on his return he was married to Maria on 17th June 1899.  This of course was in contrast to her not marrying  Robert William Baker, despite the love they shared.  Maria had taken her chance to “make an honest woman of herself” in the speech of the day.  She had a ring, a husband, respectability, and a small business.  No one could turn their moralistic noses up at her or her children anymore.

Maria was also very conscious of her age, and reflected this on the wedding certificate where she gave her age as 32, when she was actually about ten years older than this, which says a little about her, in as much as she was probably  quite an attractive woman and could bluff a younger age.  Carl Oscar Blom, her merchant seaman betrothed, was 43.

Carl undoubtedly gave Maria some romance, and probably a little companionship, although not much, as he spent so much time away at sea.  A sailor’s life was a tough one, and within two years Carl had died while on his travels.  Where he died is not clear, although a Seaman off a Swedish Ship called Carl Oscar Blom died in Plymouth Workhouse Devon, of Spinal Meningitis in 1900, however his date of birth is given as 1871, abour 16 years younger than our Carl Oscar, so this may just have been a coincidence.

Robbed of a second husband after another ten years of wedded happiness, Maria never the less kept the family going, she had now lost two partners but still managed to do well by the standards of the time, so much so, that Maria was registered to vote in local elections from 1903, although it would be some time before she could vote in National Elections.  Maria had overcome a double loss to become a woman of means in the area around the docks.

Maria was a born survivor, never a victim, and by 1911 she had setup in a five roomed house at 54 Poplar High Street as a Housekeeper, effectively a landlady running a boarding house.  Arthur Baker, her youngest son, was still living at home, and was working as a Pawn Broker’s assistant, a healthy trade around Poplar Docks.  Her boarders included young Ernest King a Dock’s Customs Officer, Harry Wright a sailor from Surrey, and notably two Danes, Johan Nielson the 80 year old caretaker of the local Danish Church in Poplar, and Henry Julius Otadel who was wealthy enough to be living “on his own means”.

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Poplar High Street

 

So the Scandinavian connection continued, and Maria’s presence as a character in Poplar would continue until August 1930, when she died of heart failure in her seventies, having outlived two partners, seen a daughter die in tragic circumstances (as we shall see below) run a business, and become a well known figure in the Cockney and Scandinavian Community of the London Docks.  In short she lived a long and successful life by the standards of the time.

Maria’s last address was in Toronto Buildings Poplar, these flats had been built by the London County Council (LCC) between 1899 and 1901 in Cotton Street, after land was purchased and houses demolished to make way for the Blackwell Tunnel under the Thames linking Poplar with North Greenwich, although not that attractive to look at, for their time the five story flats were spacious, self contained, better equipped, and sanitary, than what had gone before in the East End.  Next door to Maria lived her ever loyal youngest son Arthur Baker and his wife Beatrice, it was Beatrice who reported Maria’s death.

Interestingly her death certificate shows how family stories contain seeds of truth, but get changed over time; her daughter-in-law Beatrice, knew the basic facts about Maria, but conflated her two husbands, telling the officials that Maria was the widow of “Robert Blom” a Lamp Maker.

Cecilia, tragically following in Mother’s footsteps

Whilst researching Maria, I managed to untangle the tragic story of Cecilia, Maria’s eldest daughter.  She too had fallen out of the records, but I managed to discover that Cecilia had the same taste in men as her mother, at least as far as Scandinavians from the Docks were concerned.  In the early 1900s she took up with a Norwegian called Engle Bjornson, a shipwright. Most likely Engle caught the eye of Cecilia while he was a boarder in her Mother’s guest House, and in 1905 Cecilia and Engle married in All Saints Church Poplar, just like Cecilia’s mum Maria had to her Scandinavian Sailor Carl Oscar Blom.

Work called, and shipbuilding started to focus on the North of England around Tyneside rather than in Poplar, so Cecilia moved North with her husband to Wallsend, where they lived in two rooms in Carlyle Street on Willington Quay.  The couple had a tragically short lived daughter, poetically named Alida Lenea Bjornson, who died soon after birth in 1908.  The shock took its toll on Cecilia, affecting her mental health, which in turn put a strain on the marriage.  Around this time she started to change her name from Cecilia to Selina, with various spellings, as if she were trying to create a new start with a new name.

Things came to a head with “Selina’s” mental Health around the time of the First World War, so much so that in 1918 we find Selina back in Poplar with her Maternal family.  But her mental state became too much for her family to cope with, and having a very unstable young woman in a guest house, was just too much.  Reluctantly  the family agreed to put her into the infirmary in Tower Hamlets Workhouse.  When she was booked in, her second name “Ellen” is represented by an “H” in the admissions book, which may represent the Official’s interpretation of her Cockney accent, they mistakenly assumed that she was dropping an “H” from the front of “Helen” pronouncing it as “Ellen”.  This perhaps is an indication of Edwardian Authority’s attitude towards  the working classes, and her likely treatment, which saw her being sent to Colney Hatch Mental Asylum a few days later, where she died in the same year 1918.

For his part it seems that Engle lost no time in taking up with a local Northumberland girl named Minnie, taking up with her as soon as Cecilia was out of the way, but he himself died within the year in 1919, leaving £132 to Minnie (about £20,000 in today’s earnings).  Minnie was called his wife in his will, but there is no sign that they were ever legally married, so she was very fortunate to have pulled off the inheritance.  Within four months of Engle’s death Minnie with a small fortune in her pocket had married another local man,  she must have made quite a catch.  It seems that relationships in the docks of Wallsend could be taken up and set aside with little room for sentiment.

Shanghai Phoebe

Family history can sometimes throw up some strange and unexpected coincidences that look like echoes of the past, and one of my favourites is in the Baker Family.

Phoebe Jeanette Baker was Maria’s sister-in-law, Cecilia’s Aunt.  She was  the youngest of eight children born to Robert William Baker the Chemist (not the Lampmaker mentioned above, he was her elder brother).

It seems that there was a rebellious streak in the family, shown by the younger Robert William moving away from leafy Kensington to squalid Poplar and marrying Maria the Cow Keeper’s daughter from Salisbury, but this pales into insignificance compared to what Phoebe did.

Phoebe gravitated towards her brother Robert William and his wife Maria, she was not that much older than Robert’s eldest children, so was treated like an older child.  Visiting her older brother in the East End brought her into contact with the mystery of the Poplar Docks, sailors from all over the world, exotic sights and smells from the spices and other cargos coming into the port of London, and the sun tanned hard skinned men from the boats.

Then in 1889 the Docks exploded with the Great Dock Strike, when the Dockers came out en masse to get “The Dockers’ Tanner” – sixpence (2.5p in modern terms) a small reward per hour for the back breaking work they had to do, the strikes lead to violence and unrest in the Docks, and men’s families started to starve, the atmosphere was fragile and sometime chaotic, for Phoebe there were threats to stability nearer to home, as her Father’s health was being dragged down by Bronchitis.

Into this sea of unease besetting the 19 year old Phoebe breezed the 30 year old ship’s Captain Abel Wardlaw Best.  Five feet ten (tall for the time), tanned and well built, with thick brown hair and grey eyes, a strong man fresh from the China Seas, Abel must have turned young Phoebe’s head.

Abel’s Slave owning Family Past

Abel Wardlaw Best was indeed an exotic creature, born in Agra in India, the son and grandson of Barbadan Sugar Plantation Slave owners, and educated in Scotland. His family’s fortunes had initially taken a downturn during the Napoleonic wars in 1808 when Great Britain banned the Slave Trade (but not slave owning) and the Royal Navy intercepted and freed slaves from all vessels including foreign ones. this was followed by the Abolition of Slavery in the whole of the British Empire  in 1834.

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Strangely Slavery was never abolished in Great Britain as Slavery had not been recognised as a legal state of existence since before the middle ages.  This was actually defined under English Law in a court ruling, that neither in written law or “Common Law” (the unwritten Law of common practice by the English people) that slavery was never a recognised state of being, and indeed was effectively in breach of an Englishman’s (“man” in it’s original English definition of “a person” not the post Norman definition of a male) right of Habeus Corpus as enshrined since the 13th century, i.e. the English right not to be held against their will without trial.

This had lead to some interesting situations, as legally any slave that set foot in Great Britain could be viewed as no more than a servant, effectively automatically free, and there are recorded instances of the Cockney “Mob” in cahoots with Black Londoners, attacking rich foreign and colonial slave owners in London and their slave catcher agents to spring black slaves from their servitude.  This was such an issue, that no less than Justice Sir John Fielding, the man who developed the first Police force in London, advised American and Caribbean Planters visiting London, not to bring their Slaves with them, as once in London, seeing and being approached and encouraged by the numbers of free black people living in the metropolis, they would not only demand wages, but were likely to run off to get baptised and married, and the Planters could find themselves in mortal danger from the working class populace, “The London Mob”, should they try to retrieve their slaves.

Intriguingly some of these freed London slaves went on to join the Royal Navy and faced the prospect of being part of the Navy’s anti-slavery Patrols, thereby actively freeing up other African slaves.  Even the plaque on the side of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar square in the heart of London shows a black sailor, holding a rifle on the left, on Nelson’s flagship fighting the French.

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By Eluveitie – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18848707

Once not only trading in slaves, but the owning of slaves was itself outlawed, the Best Family from Barbados received over £7,500 in compensation from the British Parliament  (the equivalent of around £10,700,000 in today’s economic terms) for the loss of their 1,323 slaves.

From Slave Owners to Diplomats

Like many British West Indian Plantation owners, the Bests used their money, and connections to maintain positions of power in the British Empire.  To hedge their bets, a number of plantation families seeded their sons into the British East India Company (EIC), and from there into the British Diplomatic and Judicial  Corps in India.  As well as their money and connections, the Planters’ families could boast a knowledge of trade in goods from the tropics to more temperate parts of the world, as well as a tolerance for tropical conditions generally, and an assumed superiority and willingness to exploit native workers.  The Bests jumped into this world with a certain gusto,  which is how Abel managed to get himself born in Agra.

The family seemed to court adventure, which they duly found in the city of Agra during the Indian Mutiny.  The EIC ran a Private, but British Government sanctioned, Colonial Army in India. The EIC Army was actually three separate Armies, those of Bengal, Bombay, and Madras, numbering at peak over 120,000 men, so one of the largest standing armies in the world.  It was used both to maintain order in India, and to fight wars around the area, including major actions against, Sindh, Persia, China, Afghanistan, Burma, Nepal, the Punjab, and against the Sikhs, as well as providing volunteer officers and men for the Crimean War against Russia (via the Anglo-Turkish Legion).  The largest number of men in the EIC Armies, were local Indians, armed, trained, and paid by the EIC and generally called Sepoys, alongside these there were European, mainly British and Irish Troops under EIC pay.  The entire Officer class were British.

BengalFusiliers

In 1857 the EIC authorities in Agra received news of the mutiny of Sepoys in other Indian Cities.  In response they had the Bengal Fusiliers, the local EIC British Troops, disarm the local Sepoy Troops.  This was despite the fact that for two months the Sepoys had shown no sign of rising in revolt, despite the uprisings in other cities.  In May 1857 6,000 refugees; British Families from the surrounding area, poured into Agra, this was triggered by unrest and rumours amongst the Indian population on the back of the general uprising against the East India Company in Delhi.

Disgruntled at having been disarmed, and faced with a massive influx of panic stricken British refugees, the local Agra Sepoys attempted a brief uprising in June 1857, probably more for effect than in any organised military manner, and lacking the arms of the EIC British troops, they were driven off and the British holed up with their civilians in the Fort at the heart of Agra.  The Bengal Fusiliers sealed off and defended the Fort before any serious violence could occur, and the displaced Sepoys set up a half hearted siege, it seems almost pandering to a kind of wish fulfilment for the panicked British civilians.

Agra1857

The farce started to turn into a crisis due to the crowding of British and other European civilians in Agra, not because of shortages of food or water, but more because of fear and a lack of medical supplies.  But the fear was real for good reason; the Sepoys in other areas did have a reputation for shocking treatment of captured men, women, and children, so the British Bengal Fusiliers held the City doggedly, driven by fears for the women and children.  Many of the Sepoys lost interest and headed off for the siege of Delhi, which was a much more dangerous and exciting affair.

Delhi was eventually relieved by the British, who then sent a flying column of battle hardened British, Sikh, and Punjabi troops, to Agra.  Contrary to popular myth, many Indians and other local troops including the Sikhs, Punjabis, and Gurkhas, stayed loyal to the British, and were a major factor in putting down the uprising.  The relief column when it turned up at Agra, was initially treated with disdain, mainly because they had taken to wearing rough Khaki uniforms (the first time British Khaki was ever adopted by British soldiers) much more practical than the Redcoats that were generally worn.  The British civilians in Agra, seeing this mixture of deep tanned men of various racial backgrounds, covered in dust with worn and bloodstained clothing, initially thought they were an army of invading Afghans, and for their part, the Flying column was surprised to find the Bengal Fusiliers in Agra resplendent in unblemished red uniforms with immaculate white cross belts, as if on parade rather than under siege.

Sikhs1857

The British column was initially attacked in camp at Agra by Sepoy artillery followed by a cavalry charge, but the British, Sikhs, and Punjabis, were battle hardened regulars, they formed ranks held the Sepoy attack, counter attacked around the Sepoy flanks with Cavalry, drove the Sepoys off, then followed up, catching them at  aRiver crossing where they tore the Sepoy ranks apart with Artillery fire, and routed them with a final Cavalry charge.  The siege was over, order and British rule were restored, and the Best’s settled down as part of the ruling elite, with Abel Wardlaw Best being born there on 24th March 1859.

Abel Takes to the Sea

His parents decided to send Abel back to Scotland for schooling, bt by the age of 15 it was felt better to send him to a Naval training ship, HMS Conway, in Liverpool.  He graduated from here to the Royal Naval Reserve as a Mid-Shipman, but unable to find gainful employment, the restless young man at the age of 20 became a second mate in the Merchant Marine.

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where he graduated to a Naval training ship, may have been a very wilful young man, ran off to London and worked on ships till he got his Master’s certificate.

After this Abel was off to sea, working his way up to a ship’s Captain in the South China Seas. His travels brought him back to the Port of London and it was here that he met Phoebe and swept her off her feet.

Phoebe Shanghaied

Robert William Baker had given in to love rather than follow the demands of his Middleclass Family when he married Maria Clerk, in so doing he swapped salubrious Kensington a perhaps life as a middleclass Chemist, for an albeit skilled working class existence as a Lamp maker to live by the docks in the East End.  Seeing love triumph amid the adventure of the Docks, Phoebe set her mind on finding her own romance the way her older brother had.

Being wilful and young, just 19, she was literally Shanghaied by Abel, who whisked her away from London and her Family to the other side of the world.  The effect on her Mother and Father can only be imagined.  Robert William and Anne must have been horrified, their youngest child taken away to the ends of the earth by a 30 year old hard bitten Ship’s Captain.  And of course, the shame of it.  Their eldest son having lived in sin and raised a family out of wedlock in the docks, and his influence had corrupted their youngest child, leaving her captive to the whims of an older man in a ship on the South China Seas!

On a more prosaic level we can believe that in Phoebe and Abel’s eyes, they simply had their honeymoon first, and their marriage after.  When they got to Shanghai in China Abel did the decent thing, and on  15th April 1889 they were married in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Shanghai.

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Cathedral of the Holy Trinity Shanghai

That same year 1889 her beloved older brother Robert died of Typhus in Poplar, and by 1897 her father had also died.  By 1898 Phoebe and Abel were living in Hong Kong, where Abel was working for The Taikoo Sugar Company, once again sugar played a part in this story. Abel was a Wharfinger (Harbour Master) at Quarry Bay.  An important job, where Abel would be responsible for the goods and storage on the docks, as well as the docking of ships, and settling disputes between ships Captains and crews, in keeping with his position Abel was also a Juror in the Hong Kong judicial system.

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Tai-Koo Docks Hong Kong 1903

Phoebe and Abel, had no children during their marriage, and despite having run off and lived with Abel in China for some years, life away from home living in the strange environment of ex-patriot Shanghai and Hong Kong, a staggering change for a girl from Kensington, would have lead to some homesickness, especially as Abel was often away at sea Captaining Merchant ships between Swatow, Singapore, Saigon and Bangkok.

After she heared of her Father’s death, Phoebe sailed back to England to spend some time with her Mother and sisters. So we find Phoebe living in Hammersmith with her maternal family in 1901, where her mother lived off a pension from her her dead husband’s estate, whilst her sisters worked. Undoubtedly Phoebe was much better off than her mother and sisters, Able had both family money and had built up a good business of his own, so she no doubt helped her mother for a while. She must have seemed like a strange exotic creature now to her family, having lived in places they could only dream of and would never visit.

Abel did his best, and decided to move to a country more conducive to Phoebe, where she would feel less alienated; the USA.  Abel arrived in New York in April 1905, Phoebe left Liverpool on 1st June 1906 and arrived in New York on 10th with £70 in her pocket.  This would be the beginning of Phoebe’s next big adventure.

Alexandra Baker in California

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Echoes of Family History

Our story now takes an even more interesting turn.  When I put together a Family History, it’s not just a dry chart full of names.  I always work from the point of view that all those people that once lived, and without whom we wouldn’t be here, have the right to have their stories told, otherwise they are just remain non-existent; telling their stories brings them back to life and a Family History adds to a Family’s dignity and helps explain their place in the world.  The actions of our ancestors echo across the centuries in what we are and what we do.

So it is always nice when members of the families I produce these works for get in touch to discuss what I’ve found, perhaps do some research of their own, and, very, very, occasionally, become part of the story by unconsciously living a life of adventures that mirror those of their ancestors, showing that both Genes and Memes are passed through the generations.  This is what makes the Culture, the Folklore, and the Mythology of a Family.  For me, when this happens, it’s like finding a rare gem.

This was what I would find when I was contacted by Alexandra Baker, Danny Baker’s niece, who had some questions about The Baker Family Story.  Alexandra is a successful Music promoter in California, the CEO of High Rise Public Relations, who started out in Kent and South London, and made her way in the tough world of the Music Industry to her current success, with acts as diverse as Boy George and The Maccabees.  Just like Phoebe, Alexandra starting in the South of England, travelled to New York, and then to California forging success in a hard world.

Phoebe in the USA

So, Phoebe had followed Abel to New York and then to California.  This made sense, Abel’s experience was predominantly in the South China Seas, so a California base was what was needed for Able, and something useful to do was what was needed for Phoebe, and sure enough we find Abel and Phoebe living at 251 Winston Street Los Angeles from 1907 when Abel becomes a naturalised American citizen.  By 1910, perhaps having taken another lesson from her plucky sister-in-law Maria in Poplar, Phoebe started running a boarding house at the Winston Street address while Able was away.

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Los Angeles early 1900s

Winston Street was full of boarding houses, providing clean decent lodging for the burgeoning workforce of Los Angeles.  As well as Phoebe and Able, there were lodging houses run by a Japanese Family with Japanese lodgers, an Austrian Family with Austrian lodgers, and American Families with American lodgers, plus a German and his American family living in their own rooms.  Phoebe and Able had two American lodgers, a salesman and a mariner.  All the neighbours except the Austrians and Japanese spoke English.  Years later in the 1930s the area would begin a slow decline as the richer owners moved out and slum landlords moved in.  It is now the skid row area of Los Angeles, and is becoming gentrified again.

A Rancher’s Wife

Phoebe and Abel move up in the world by 1917 when Abel is recorded as a Rancher.  Abel would have been 58 by then, so long stints at sea were probably less attractive, and there was a boom in demand for food driven by the Army’s requirements for suppliers for the millions of soldiers shipped over to Europe, and to fulfil demand from Great Britain for food now that so many men were in the trenches rather than in fields.  It was a lucrative business.

The timing was interesting as it coincides with a business consortium buying up large areas of relatively cheap Ranch Land, that had been subject to drought in previous decades, the day before the City of Los Angeles passed a bill to build and aqueduct to bring water to the area, and unsurprisingly a major member of the syndicate was also on the committee that passed the bill!  The ranch land after initial development for food, soon became prime building land and was sold off in “the sale of the century” to allow for urban development on the suburbs of Los Angeles. It would appear that Able was in the right place at the right time.

But the ranching and speculating life didn’t suit the marriage of Able and Phoebe, and the couple divorced sometime between 1917 and 1920.  Abel gave up ranching, and lived in the Harvard Military School in Los Angeles, possibly teaching seamanship, interestingly the ceremonial uniforms of the boys were confederate Grey.

HarMil

Sometime after 1920 Abel went back to sea and headed once again for Hong Kong – he had cashed in his chips, and invested his small fortune in stocks and shares, there was nothing to keep him in California anymore.

Phoebe and an Irish Soldier

In the 1874 when Jeremiah Joseph Hannon travelled as a teenager from Ireland to the Town of Milford, Worcester County, Massachusetts with his parents and younger brother and elder sister, he had little idea of the adventure his life would turn into.  The civil war was over in the USA and there was plenty of work in the North for those willing to take it up, Jeremiah worked with his Father repairing Boots for the local Shoe shop.

Having crossed the Ocean, hammering nails into boots seemed like an anticlimax, and Jeremiah set out West in search of adventure.  He was 6 feet tall with blue eyes, black hair, and a rosy complexion, and by 1892, in his early thirties, Jeremiah had made it to California to work as a Fireman on the Railroad in Los Angeles. A Fireman’s lot on a steam Train was a hard one, shovelling coal into the train’s boiler to keep the steam up and the engine rolling, it built hard strong lean men, but it was endless toil, and once the excitement of travelling the country by train had worn off, Jeremiah craved more adventure.

A game of International Chess by US vested interests

In 1898 when when Jeremiah was around 40 a new opportunity for adventure presented itself.  With the blowing up of the American warship The Maine in Havana Harbour, the Spanish American War burst onto the scene.  Spain had been losing power on the world scene since the Peninsular War in the early 1800s when The Duke of Wellington assisted by the Portuguese, and by Spanish guerrillas, had thoroughly defeated Napoleon’s forces in Spain.  Years of civil strife followed, fuelled by the Anarchist movement in Europe.  Late in the 1800s Spain gained some stability, but the previous weakness at the centre of Spanish politics and the successful overthrow of Spanish rule in Mainland South and Central America had encouraged liberation movements in far flung colonies, notably Cuba, The Philippines, and Guam.  Most of these places had been under Spanish rule for around 400 years, and Cuba in particular was thought of as a Province of Spain by the Spanish rather than a colony (a parallel to the British attitude towards Ireland).

At the same time there was a movement to expand America’s interests on the World Stage by a number of powerful men in American public life, the US had already mounted an illegal invasion of Hawaii in 1893, this came about because of civil unrest carried out by a fifth column of US Sugar Planters and Missionaries living on the Island over a period of decades (sugar once again in this story).  The US invasion, unsanctioned by the US Congress, and therefore to all intents and purposes illegal, was hastened by the fact that the Hawaiians had always leaned towards Great Britain for protection in the past, to the point where the British Government had provided troops and ships in 1843 to protect the Islands from the French, honourably pulling out after a few months when the danger had past, in stark contrast to the US approach in the following decades.  The legacy of this Hawaiian-British relationship is defiantly proclaimed in the Union Jack flag still flying in the corner of the Hawaiian state flag!

Flag-of-hawaii-flying

After the invasion the Monarchy of Hawaii was replaced with a puppet Republic largely controlled by US Commercial (Sugar) interests, but this was too precarious for the expansionist forces in the USA, and in 1897, shortly before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, an attempt to officially annexe the Hawaiian Islands was put before congress and defeated, the defeat in part driven by pressure from the signatures of 21,000 native Hawaiians protesting at the attempt to rob them of what little sovereignty they had left, but a year later, given the likelihood of war with Spain, the US desire for a naval base in the North Pacific was too tempting a prize to be left un-stolen, as the USA would badly need a stopover point for resupply en-route to the Spanish possessions in the Philippines if they were to in consider an invasion.  So all pretence of protecting the independence of Hawaii was dropped, and an annexation bill was passed, effectively robbing Hawaii of any chance of independence and self determination.

A confrontation with Spain was guaranteed when ships from the newly developed and highly powerful US fleet were dispatch to various Spanish areas of interest, culminating with the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbour killing over 260 of her crew.  At the time the blame was firmly placed on a Spanish mine by the US authorities, but later investigations point towards an explosion caused by the poor quality coal used on the ship which gave off a high flammable gas in in the area of the ship’s ammunition magazine.  Whatever the cause, the sinking of the Maine ensured that War would be the likely outcome with the Americans adopting the slogan “Remember The Maine, to Hell with Spain!”

USS_Main__(ACR-1)_blowup_grande

Explosion Aboard the Battleship Maine, Havana Harbour

Not wanting to miss out on the adventure, Jeremiah enlisted on May 16 1898 at Little Rock Arkansas, into the 2nd Regiment of Arkansas Infantry, and after basic training, no doubt because of his age and Railway experience, Jeremiah was transferred to the 3rd US Volunteer Engineer Regiment and shipped to Cuba.  After a few weeks he returned to the US and was disbanded.  By this time Jeremiah had a taste for Army life and adventure, and re-enlisted within two months for a chance to fight in the Philippines in the 33rd US Volunteer Infantry.

The War in the Philippines against the Spanish took very little time and few casualties on the American side.  The main Spanish garrison in Manilla had little stomach for the fight after seeing their slightly antiquated fleet sent to the bottom of Manila Bay by the vastly superior US Fleet, and offered to put up a token resistance just to save face, as long as the US forces didn’t allow their Filipino insurgent allies take control of the town or molest the surrendering Spaniards. There was some confusion, and some units of US soldiers were involved in heavy fire, but overall the “attack” went as planned.

manilabay

If anything it went too well, as, now in possession of the Capital the US Government decided that rather than handing the Philippines back to the Filipinos, they would replace the Spanish themselves and rule the country as a colony.  It was no surprise that the Filipinos didn’t take to this idea, and immediately opened a guerrilla war against American forces as they had for many years against the Spanish. The war was barbaric on both sides, fought in the jungles and villages of the Philippine Islands, and was a foretaste of conditions in Vietnam 60 years later.  However, the US forces were so well armed and provisioned that it was a forgone conclusion that they would eventually overrun Filipino resistance.  There was some outcry through allegations of looting, burning, and killing out side of battle by US soldiers, and to a great extent this was sanctioned by their higher command.

Jeremiah was in the thick of it, his Regiment the 33rd were known as “The Texas Regiment” because they were apocryphally believed to be cowboys, which was undoubtedly true of some but not all the volunteers, but it shows the general demeanour of the regiment who found themselves fighting through the Jungles of the North of the Island of Luzon, where they were instrumental in capturing and killing many important Filipino senior guerrilla leaders.

33rdUSV

33rd USV Philippines

In 1900 Jeremiah was based in Bangued, and town named by the Spanish and meaning “Roadblock” in recognition of the obstacles the Filipinos had put in their way when Spain was conquering the country nearly 300 years before.  The US forces suffered comparatively few casualties to action in the Philippines, but many more due to disease, and Jeremiah was no exception to this. He left the regiment in December 1900, and in 1903 when back in the USA.

One thing that can be said for the US Government of the time, they did look after their injured veterans well.  Jeremiah was shipped to The National Home for volunteer disabled soldiers, Battle Mountain Sanitarium, Hot springs, Fall River, South Dakota.  He was suffering from acute Arthritis anterior sclerosis, an inflammation of the eye associated with arthritis, which was leading to atrophy in one of his eyes, plus rheumatism, a hernia, varicose veins, sciatica. Jeremiah was in a bad way.

hotspringssanitarium

Hot Springs Sanitarium

By 1909 Jeremiah had made some progress and is well enough to be discharged to the home of his elder sister Mrs Mary McCarthy in San Francisco, where he plans to be a farmer. Whatever the results of this, we next find him working as a cook in The National Military Home in Los Angeles in 1916. He remains a cook for some years there, with a brief spell in 1918 when he is readmitted to the Sanitarium for his health. Sometime between 1917 and 1922 Phoebe met and married Jeremiah after her separation from Abel. The two live in Kiowa Avenue Los Angeles in the Sawtelle Veteran’s accommodation, and we can only assume happily, as Jeremiah, was hardly a catch given the state of his health and his lowly status, so it was most likely a love match between him and Phoebe. The even voted the same way; Republican!

The Veterans home had a noble pedigree, and had even housed Wyatt Earp’s father in his later years.  Indeed Wyatt Earp lived with his family in Los Angeles, not that far from Phoebe during her time there.

WyattEarp

Wyatt Earp Los Angeles Resident

Phoebe and Jeremiah would stay in Kiowa Avenue until Jeremiah eventually passed away in 1932, still an invalid, suffering from pneumonia, he had also contracted TB quite possibly in the Philippines (TB can take decades to kill after an initial infection), which lead to many complications including gangrene in his left foot. The care Phoebe must have provided for him can only be imagined, and with this care he at least managed to live to the relatively old age (for the time) of 75.  Their love must have run deep, Phoebe had given up a life of wealth to live with a wounded veteran, as they say, love conquers all.

Later Years

In the same year that Jeremiah died, Abel returned from Hong Kong to England, 19th August 1932. He had amassed a good deal of money during his time at Sea and invested $8,000 (somewhere close to $500,000 in today’s value) in Stocks and Shares, only to get hit by the Wall Street crash of 1929, after this he was quoted as saying “Chinese Pirates and dope smugglers are a picnic compared to the Bulls and Bears of Wall St.”. He was left. as he put it, “…finding that my share dividends would not buy me a cup of tea daily.” so returned to England to live quietly in retirement in The Royal Alfred Home for Aged Merchant Seamen in Belvedere Kent.

His last quote was concerning the political situation in Europe with the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco; his verdict was;

“If I had my way, I’d treat some of these Continental fellers like we used to treat Chinese dope smugglers – hang ’em.”

Nine years after his return on 28th February 1941 Abel died. He left £101 in his will, about £16,000 in today’s money. He is buried in St Clement’s Church, Cambridge, UK.

Phoebe outlived both of her husbands, stayed on in the apartment in Kiowa avenue as the widow of a Volunteer Serviceman, and she died on 28th February 1944. Her grave shares the same plot as her beloved Jeremiah at South Sepulveda Boulevard Los Angeles, California.

Life Comes Full Circle

And so we come full circle.  Having spoken to Alexandra Baker, Phoebe’s  Great Great Niece and exchanged some information about Phoebe, I was delighted to see that Alexandra and her cousin took the time to find Phoebe’s memorial in California to pay her respects, from a pair of modern “Amazing Baker Girls” to the original one!

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

Danny Dyer’s Family Story part 4;


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

Still following in their Father’s Footsteps…

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

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

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

Danny Dyer’s Dutch and Belgian Ancestors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still in the Docks

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danny Dyer’s Family Tree Part 2: Watermen and Lightermen


“Redknap’s men would wend their way through the Poplar marshes, and would need more than a pint of Ale when they arrived at the Inn on Dolphin Lane, they would be looking out for a meeting with Edward Dyer a fellow Waterman from the lane, to row their packages across to the Wealthy residents of Greenwich and upriver to the City of London.”

Father Thames

The Thames was tfather thameshe main thoroughfare of London, its name goes back to pre-Celtic Indo-European languages as Temisios, to the Romanised version as Tamesis, the name just meant dark or muddy river.  The river kept its name as Tameis  until the 16th century, when an “H” was added in order to try to reinforce the false idea that the name was derived from Greek and Celtic.  The many foreign sailors who plied the river called it “The London River”, but to Cockneys, to this day, it is just “The River”, everyone in London knows which one you mean.

The River has two different physical parts; the tidal part reaching from the North Sea and English Channel to Staines, which meant that the level rose and fell up to 28ft at some points, and indeed The River could be seen to flow in both directions, both upstream and downstream depending on the direction of the tide, lending the river a strange and mystical air to the natives who settled on its banks; a river that flows backwards at certain times of the day was indeed a strange thing.  On this tidal stretch the river rarely flooded more than the marshes on its banks, but could summon up a terrible flood when influenced by tidal surges from the North sea.  The tidal river brought the wealth of the world’s nations to London in commercial trade, plus more domestically, the Coal and Timber of the North of England, the Limestone of Southwest England, as well as the fruit and veg of the market gardens of Kent and Essex.  The other half of The River, the non-tidal part, flowed from its source in Gloucestershire down to Staines; faster flowing, fed by the rain off the fields and hills, and tending to break its banks to feed the fields that grew the corn and cattle to help feed London.

In these ways The Thames extended London’s reach from Gloucestershire to the North Sea along its navigable length of over 230 miles.  However, as well as the division between Tidal and non-tidal Thames, there was a much more local division to London.  As already mentioned in Part 1 of Danny Dyer’s Family History, London Bridge, built on a shallower part of The River, stopped the travel of larger vessels upstream.  This meant that to get upstream through the dangerous arches under London Bridge took great skill and experience, unskilled boats were frequently capsized trying to shoot the arches of London Bridge, and many passengers were drowned and goods lost.  In an age of poor roads, in a crowded City, where the easiest and fastest transport was by boat, the need for skilled and trusted boatmen was high.

Watermen and Lightermen

It is into this environment in the boom time of the British Empire, that Edward Dyer (Danny Dyer’s Great Great Great Great Grandfather) enters the story and takes his apprenticeship as a Waterman in 1803 at the age of 14. This meant seven years of boatmanindentured labour.  In return for being clothed, housed, feed while he learned his trade, Edward would agree to work six days per week for his Master, wouldn’t swear, gamble, or take strong liquor, and absolutely could not marry during that time, he may have received no wages at all, or perhaps the odd piece of pocket money, a hard life for a boy, but at the end of it he would be a man with a profession, licensed to carry passengers and goods safely on the Thames.  He would also have developed a physique to match his work’s demands, pulling on big oars in a Thames Wherry up, down, and across the river, six days per week, several hours per day, would build a magnificent physique, a strong back, big arms and shoulders, and calloused hands with a vice like grip, plus the stamina of a cart horse.

Romantic Deptford

During his time plying passengers between the North and South Banks of the Thames, Edward met Mary Robertson from Deptford on the Kent (South) side of the River, he was no doubt courting her between trips to and fro from the old East India shipyards at Deptford, to the new East India Shipyards at Blackwall, and, immediately after he finished his apprenticeship and was free to do so, he wasted no time in marrying Mary on 28th June 1810 in St Alphege Church at Greenwich.

Ironically St Alfege was the Archbishop of Canterbury who was unlucky enough to St_Alfegehave been captured by the same Danish Vikings who had captured London, and been seen off from by the Norwegian Viking Olaf (St Olave in Part 1 of Danny Dyer’s story) when London Bridge was pulled down. Alfege really was unlucky, his monks were unable to raise the ransom asked by the Danes for his release, so the Danes took him down near The River and executed him, on that spot was built St Alphege’s Church, and rebuilt in 1712-1714, this is where Edward Dyer and Mary Robertson married.

The couple set up home in Butcher Lane Deptford, where their first child Elenor Dyer was born in 1812.  The sojourn South of The River was short lived, and by 1814 when their second child, named Edward after his father , is born in Limehouse.The couple would have six more children up to 1832 all born in Poplar.

London Bridge Really was falling down

th-2

“London Bridge 1830”. Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:London_Bridge_1830.jpg#mediaviewer/File:London_Bridge_1830.jpg

 

Times were changing, in 1810 Locks were put in up River at Teddington, bringing the tidal reach of the Thames back 16 miles down river from its former reach at Staines, taming and controlling the River’s ebb and flow upstream.  A more important change for Edward Dyer the Waterman was when London Bridge finally did fall down, this happened when the “new” London Bridge was built between 1825 and 1831, the old bridge was torn down once the new bridge was completed, and the new bridge had a major impact on the Thames Watermen. Much wider spans meant  that progress for boats was much safer than it had been, so people could be transported with much less risk, and this was taken advantage of by unlicensed watermen, swarming like unlicensed mini-cabs to transport travellers up and down the river.  Worse still, steamboats came onto the river scene in large numbers from the 1830s and by 1835 it was estimated that around 3.5 million passengers travelled per year between The City and Blackwall, virtually all by steamboat.

Watermen would need to pick up adhoc passengers wanting private transport and any given time that it was required.  This was reflected in the impact it had on Edward’s living, he temporarily went into transporting goods rather than people as a Lighterman in 1828, and the building of an Iron Bridge over the River Lea into Essex, and the roads linking Poplar from Blackwall to North Millwall, and on into the City meant that foot and horse travel was greatly improved all the way from South Essex into the City of London, with an associated decline in the need for the transport of travellers by Watermen on the river.  This period also coincides with outbreaks of Cholera among dockside communities, and Edward and Mary lost three of their children in infancy between 1814 and 1831, Edward, Caroline, and Emma.

But the early 1800s weren’t all bad news for the Dyers, despite the declines in certain routes for Watermen and the tragic loss of their children, work was always there as the Docks boomed, so there was always a background demand for transport, and Mary’s family connections across the Thames in Greenwich and Deptford opened options for transporting workers across to Blackwall as the new and expanding docks drew in many workers from south as well as north of the river.  And big families meant at least some children would survive.

Just as the Dyer’s Family had risen in three generations from 4 and then 6 Dyers, to Edward and Mary’s Family of 11 children and adults, albeit reduced by the Cholera Father Thames brought to their door, Poplar had also grown from 1,000 people in the 1600s to over 4,000 in 1801, and tripled again to more than 12,000 by 1821.

An echo of Smugglers

The Dyers lived in Alpha Street.  Alpha Street had an interesting history, as it developed from the old Poplar marshland path which ended in the local Beer House and a few cottages, a welcome sight for any lost travellers that had wandered through the marshes of pre-industrial Poplar.  This sounds innocuous, but the sight of the tavern and the Watermen’s cottages appearing out of the mists of the Poplar marshes would also have been a welcome sight to men travelling with carts and pack horses filled with luxury goods, which may have avoided Customs Tax on its way over from France and the Netherlands.

Goods were brought to landing places at Blackwall and the River Lea by the (alleged) smuggling Foreman family (ancestors of Jamie and Freddie Foreman of acting and Kray Twins fame) bringing goods upriver from their Boat Yards at Faversham, a handy route avoiding the Royal Naval Cutters on the Isle of Sheppey.  Enos Redknap (ancestor of Harry and Jamie Redknapp of footballing fame) Landlord of The Gunn Inn at Cold Harbour would be a man to deal with, under the patronage of the Royal naval Boatyard close by, the sailors turning smugglersred“Nelson’s Eye” to the unofficial business ventures of this man from a long line of King’s watermen.  Redknap’s men would wend their way through the Poplar marshes, and would need more than a pint of Ale when they arrived at the Inn on Dolphin Lane, they would be looking out for a meeting with Edward Dyer a fellow Waterman from the lane, to row their packages across to the Wealthy residents of Greenwich and upriver to the City of London.

The Taming of the Marshesmillwall

As the marshes in North Millwall were dug out to build the docks for the East India Company, Alpha road developed a position as a route between the Millwall and West India Docks.  The days of smugglers were coming to an end, to be replaced by the Dockers and shipwrights.  The older cottages from the 1700s penetrated by the cold and damp miasmas of the marshes, a harsh environment to try to raise nine children in, both the floors of houses and the marshland paths were dirt based, but by the early 1800s these were starting to be replaced by houses thrown up by speculators which were still rough and slum like, but set out in straight lines with wooden floors along cobbled streets.eastindiadocksentrance

Times were changing, some things for the better some for the worse, Edward and Mary’s surviving daughters would marry local Smiths, Boiler Makers, and Shipwrights, and their one remaining son Edward William Dyer (Danny Dyer’s Great Great Great Grandfather) would serve as an apprentice to his father as a Waterman,  and his Father Edward would persist in his trade as a Waterman, but the takings were ever diminishing, and in Edward’s case would lead to poverty and eventual death In Poplar workhouse in 1864, Mary outlived him by a few years to 1867, moving one of her daughters and her family in and working as a Housekeeper.  Both Edward and Mary Dyer had lived into their seventies, a good age for working class people in early Victorian London.  But now the steamers on the Thames easily passing London Bridge and offloading their passengers onto purpose built jetties had stolen the Waterman’s Trade, the removal of trade barriers and a numerous Customs and Police Force spelled the death of smuggling, and the metal ships in the dockyards heralded a new age.  We shall see in Part 3 how the Dyers adapted.

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

Danny Dyer’s Family History Part 1: Proper Poplar Cockneys born and bred


A Proper Cockney

Danny_DyerDanny Dyer landlord of the Queen Victoria Pub in BBC’s Eastenders, isn’t just a professional Cockney, he’s a proper Cockney, and his line is documented back into the 1700s in Poplar, and there is reasonable evidence to take it that his ancestors were plying the Thames at least as early as the 1600s at the time of Cromwell and Charles I, and before that most likely living in the City of London or again Poplar as Dyers.  So he’s London born and bred, and so were his ancestors as far back as it is possible to trace.  Circumstantial evidence would seem to indicate that Danny’s Family were the original Dyer Family in Poplar.

The Dyers as dyers

The Dyer Family name came from the trade in the Middle Ages, dyeing cloth, silk and leather.  A good trade, but a dirty one, both from the Dyers’ staining of their skin and clothes during their work, and their need to use large amounts of urine as part of the process, for both extracting dye from natural materials, and for fixing colours in cloth (old pee, and new pee being used in each process respectively!).  This tended to make the dyers congregate together somewhere between the weavers and tanners.  Ua46acd4bce4264ddac19f6d45737bf36sually near the Thames for access to a constant water supply for the washing process.  Their natural materials to produce the dyes came up the Thames from Kent, where a plant called Weld was produced and shipped by boat to provide all shades of yellow for dyers, in addition to other home grown plants such as Woad and Madder.  The dyers as a trade grouped around Thames Street near the North side of London Bridge, and got their own Royal Livery Company in the 1400s.  Unfortunately they were dyers, not builders, and it wasn’t the most prestigious Trade Company, as reflected in their bad luck with their Company Hall; the first two attempts of which were burned down, and the second two buildings fell down due to jerry building.

However Danny’s Dyer Family had moved from their ancient art, and went over to working on the Thames in other capacities, by the time of the English Civil War in the 1600s, we find Dyers on the Thames acting as Watermen and Lightermen, transporting people and goods, and indeed they would carry on living on the river right up to the present, and the River would in return provide them with a living for generations.

London Bridge is falling down

When Peter Dyer the Shipwright (Danny Dyer’s Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather) listened to his wife Eleanor singing to their sons, Peter, a toddler, and Edward a baby, in the summer of 1768, he most likely smiled and got on with hammering at the wooden ship of trade that he worked on in the East India dockyard at Poplar.  Eleanor sang to the boys, held their hands to make an arch that they would run through;

“London Bridge is falling down,

falling down,

falling down,

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair Lady!”

The tune and words had been adapted and formalised a hundred years before, but the song and the playing at arches had roots going back into mediaeval times, and beyond to the Viking period.  For in 1014 Ethelred The Un-Read (un-read = badly advised, rather than “Unready”) hired a mercenary Norwegian Viking force to sail up the Thames and attack London, held at that time by King Cnut’s father Sweyn and his Danish Vikings.  The Norwegians tied ropes around the stanchions of the fortified wooden London Bridge, hurled grappling hooks onto its fortifications, turned their longships around, hoisted sail to catch a westerly breeze, and rowed hard with the downstream tide to wreck the fortified bridge, allowing them to bring their own and Ethelred’s English ships and troops up the Thames and outflank the Danes, forcing and force the Danish garrison to give up control of London and Southwark back to Ethelred and the English.

This was celebrated in a Viking Saga in a poem that went;vikinglondonbridge

“Yet you broke the Bridge of London,

Stout hearted warrior,

You conquered the land

Iron swords made headway

Strongly urged to fight;

ancient shields were broken,

Battle’s fury mounted”

The Rhyme obviously would have scanned better in Old Norse, but it tells the tale, and Grappling hooks and Viking axes and swords have been found in the Thames at the site to reinforce the romance of the story with archaeology.  Now it was this folk memory that gave rise to the nursery rhyme that Eleanor sang to her sons.  The Viking who pulled London Bridge down,  Olaf Haraldsson, later became ruler of Norway, and on his death was hailed as a very popular Saint in England becoming St Olaf, with a Church in Southwark by the side of the rebuilt London Bridge, which you can visit today, now known as St Olave’s.  This was typical of robust British paganism lightly dressed as Christianity, a Norwegian Viking General hailed as a saint by the people of London, for helping to recapture their City.

But 750 years later in 1768, up around the big bend in the river from Poplar, London Bridge wasn’t falling down, and wouldn’t for another 70 years, this was despite the stone bridge already being 600 years old.  It once stood full of brick and stone buildings along its length, some several stories high, a spectacular site in mediaeval times, but these had been demolished in Peter and Eleanor Dyer’s lifetime, in 1762, to improve the flow of foot and horse traffic across the bridge.  London Bridge still presented a hazard to navigation, and even with a widened mid-span was unnavigable for large ships.  This blockage to large ships meant that the building of bigger ships could only be carried on down stream in and around the Poplar area, and this was where the Dyers lived.  So London Bridge inadvertently gave Peter Dyer his trade as a shipwright, as with many aspects of London, the River Thames and its history would decide the trade and future of the lives of its working class inhabitants, including the Dyers.

Claude_de_Jongh_-_View_of_London_Bridge_-_Google_Art_Project_bridge

East Indiamen, Popular in Poplar

Shipwrights in Poplar, made their living in the 1700s at Blackwall, North of the big bend in the Thames, and just upstream on the Thames from the River Lea, making a convenient place for large vessels to moor, with a road to take goods from the shore direct to the City of London, cutting out the navigation of the massive bend in the river around the Isle of Dogs.  it was from here that Captain John Smith and his Virginia Settlers set out to found what would become the first permanent English Settlement in America, perhaps the Dyers as Watermen and shipwrights played their part in transporting the settlers to Blackwall, or making their ships seaworthy.  It was also here that the convenience of Blackwall was hit upon by the ever efficient East India Company, they sponsored the dockyards that grew up in Blackwall between the late 16th century and on into the 1700s just at the time when the records show the Dyers plying their trade there as the painting from the 1780s shows below.BHC1866

Peter Dyer and his son Edward would work as shipwrights in Poplar, a good living, but not a great one, but they would have seen a massive increase in trade with ships pilling into Blackwall from all over the world, numbers growing steadily as the British Empire grew, a result of wars with the Spanish, and French.  By 1789 when Edward Dyer when the next Edward Dyer is born (Danny Dyer’s Great Great Great Great Grandfather) to Edward and wife Mary, the third generation of Dyers in Poplar, the Empire is burgeoning, and in the year of Edward’s birth, the Blackwall Docks are extended and renamed as the Brunswick Docks.  But with the development of docks and the wealth flowing into the City of London, opportunities were opening up to less skilled trades, like Watermen and Lightermen, who could make easy pickings from River traffic in both people and goods.  In Part 2 of Danny Dyer’s Family Tree we will see how his ancestors took advantage of this.

 

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Danny Baker’s Family History, the Riddle of Windsor Riches to Poplar Rags


To mark the upcoming series about Danny Baker’s early family life, thought I’d reissue my blog about his, maybe surprising, Ancestry:

When I first looked at Danny Baker’s Family Tree, many years ago in 2005, Danny was overjoyed to learn that none of his ancestors were Royalty, he said on his morning radio Show:

windsorcastlered“Oh Paul McNeil! Thank you so much for this!  I’ve always wondered about this sort of thing and now I can see that there is not one drop of Royal Blood anywhere in my tree!”

And although he was right, some additional recent digging has turned up a Royal connection, albeit in the Royal Beer and Wine Cellars!

The origins of the Baker name are self explanatory, and originate from the Middle Ages when surnames were first legally required for purposes of identification for taxation, the baker in the village would have been given the surname “Baker” if he didn’t already have one of his own, by the local Lord’s Bailiff or Bailey (and hence the surname Bailey).  From then on the name would have stuck although the trade may have changed.

Keeping the Royal Family Drunk

Danny Baker’s Story starts in modern times, in the 1790s, with Charles John Baker, was born.  He started his working life in Windsor Castle in the 1820s as a Groom in the Royal Beer and Wine Cellars.  He worked well and rose to 2nd Yeoman of Her Majesty’s Cellar in the 1830s.  By the standards of the day these were well paid appointments.  He would have had some responsibility for Wine and Beer ordering stock to keep availability at the right level for the Royal Family and Royal entertaining. Unfortunately for Charles his wife died in 1837, and he followed three months later in 1838.  This left their two sons Charles John and Robert William as orphans at the tender ages of nine and six respectively.  However all was not lost as the Royal Family looked after their own, and the two boys each received £15 per annum to pay for their upkeep.  To put this into perspective, a Farm Labourer at the time may have earned £20-£30 per annum.  The boys most likely stayed with a lucky relative, until Charles’s death in 1840, and until Robert William was twelve in 1845, when the Royal allowance stopped and he was able to get an apprenticeship, most likely with Royal Patronage, as a Chemist, a well paid and highly respected trade.

Posh Chemist

Robert Wilchemistliam moved to London to take up his trade, with a Scotsman, Robert Watson, in Hanover Square, Westminster, a prestigious Middle Class area. He was to continue in this trade for the rest of his life, over 50 years, as a Chemist and Druggist.  He brought great stability to his Family living for over 30 years in Princes Road Kensington, where he raised eight children with his wife Ann (a local girl). He lived to his 60s and left £279 to his wife, the equivalent of about £30,000 in modern purchasing power.

Tin Cans

His eldest son, also called Robert William, failed to follow his father into the Chemist’s trade, instead he was apprenticed to a Lamp Maker, making Tin Signal Lamps, most likely for the railways, a much less prestigious trade than his Father’s.  This may show some form of family split, as Robert William is soon living away from the upmarket surroundings of Kensington, in the working class East End in Bow and Poplar, not only that but by his early twenties he is living, apparently unmarried, with Maria Clark, a country girl from Salisbury in Wiltshire, who had moved to London. The couple have severn children in the 12 years between 1877 and 1889, five boys and three girls.  During that time Robert William moved from making signal Lamps for the Railways, to working as a Journeyman Tinsmith in a preserved food factory, i.e. making Tins for canned food, actually a new technology at the time, so not a bad trade for a working class man, but an extreme step down in a single generation, from his Father and Grand Father’s positions in society.

The move to the East end was a bad one for Robert William, and living where he did in the East End, down by the docks, was even worse, as shown in the same year that his youngest son is born, Robert William contracts Typhoid and is dead within two weeks on Christmas Eve 1889, leaving his wife Maria to fend for her seven children on her own from Christmas Day.

Ma Baker

Maria would fight to keep body and soul together for ten years, working as a Housekeeper, and quite possibly running a shop as the boys are recorded as working as shop boys and errand boys from an early age.  Between 1891-1901 the family lived in exactly the same area of Poplar, in Claremont Terrace and Alpha Road.  This area was slowly improving through the 1890s especially around Alpha Road.  The Booth inspectors described Alpha Road as being comfortable looking with neat gardens inhabited by Dock Foremen and permanent hands.

In 1899 Maria finds some love in her life when she met and married a Swedish Seaman, Carl Oscar Blom, living in the local Scandinavian Seaman’s Hostel in Poplar by the Docks.  It gave her some short lived solace, but tragically within two years, Carl had died on his travels, in Plymouth Workhouse Infirmary. It is possible that Maria never hears what happened to him, simply never sees him again.

Popular in Poplar

But life must go onlimehouse, The family become an institution in the Poplar Docklands, Dockers, Blacksmith’s Strikers, Chemical Works Stokers, Barman, Pawn Brokers Assistant, and a Wood Merchant’s Clerk.  Maria herself would survive until 1930 seeing in her mid-seventies.

Danny Baker’s line came from Maria’s son Thomas, Shop Boy, Barman, and then a Dock Labourer right up to 1950.

Oh what a lovely War!

However, prior to this there was The Great War.  The Bakers attempted to do their bit, Thomas served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and his younger brother Arthur in the Bedfordshire Regiment, fortunately for the two of them, they got shipped separately to India, which compared to the Western Front or the Dardanelles was a cushy posting, months on a ship sailing through the Mediterranean and the Tropics, then a bullet free existence in the Raj.  It was about time the Bakers got a lucky break, and the First World War was certainly the time to get one.  Their time in uniform was uneventful, but there is an interesting glimpse of some foibles in the Army medical records, both had varicose veins (possibly a family trait, so watch your legs Danny) in addition Thomas had very poor eyesight and a large hairy mole on the back of his upper left arm!

Once back home, life for Thomas was back to normal, and back to the Docks, right up until 1950.  Danny’s father would follow his father Thomas into the same trade.

 Like what you’ve read?  If you’d like a Time Detectives Family Tree drop Time Detectives an email on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk they cost £300 – £600 and make a great present.

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.

Published in: on April 27, 2014 at 7:29 pm  Comments (1)  
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