Not Jossa South London Family (Part 5)


John Felix 1887-1951

John Felix Jossa (Jacqueline Jossa’s Great Grandfather) was the youngest of the Jossa brothers, born in 1887, just two years old when his Mother died, and seven when his Father remarried. John lasted longer at home with his Father and Step Mother than his brothers, right up to the age of twenty-two, and followed his Father’s trade in Engineering. So it seems that John Felix was perhaps, the “well-behaved son”. Being younger, and seeing the scrapes his brothers had got into with the Police, Magistrates, Workhouse, Army, and Navy, he may have had a more measured approach to life.

Despite being a bit less headstrong than his Brothers, John was not without an adventurous side, and on 22nd May 1909 he boarded the SS Philadelphia and sailed for the USA no doubt to escape home, and find a new life in the USA. Eight days later he disembarked in New York. As we have already seen in Part 3, John worked as a machinist, and lived with some members of his Mother’s extended Somers Family. In 1910 big brother Louis, freshly back from the Boer War, joined John and the Somers, living in an apartment with a friend of theirs named John Curran, their future brother in law.

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

Their apartment was near 10th Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue at the time, or Death Avenue as the locals called it, because of the high numbers of deaths caused by the locomotives that crossed the roads in the area. To try to cut down on this high death rate “Westside Cowboys” were employed to ride in front of trains to warn pedestrians to clear the way, these men were present riding the streets from 1851 to 1941. One can be seen in the photo below.

Everyone in the apartment with John was English, apart from John Curran who was Irish. English born people were the third largest immigrant group in their block, after “Yiddish” Russian Jewish immigrants (and one Austrian Jewish Family) and Italians, followed by Germans. Almost all the Americans in the block were children living with their immigrant parents. The English don’t really fit the representation of immigrants that are normally associated with New York in the early 20th Century, the English (and they do call themselves English not British) were probably barely seen as “foreign” compared to their more exotic neighbours, so, despite their large numbers, tend to be overlooked in popular US culture.

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

Back to Britain

In 1912, two Years before the outbreak of WW1, John was working as a Machinist in New York, and had stated his intention to take up US Citizenship. But with the outbreak of the Great War two years later in 1914, John’s loyalty to Great Britain came to the fore. Giving up a comfortable, and safe living in New York, John braved the U-Boats to cross the Atlantic back to England to help as a machinist in Woolwich Arsenal.

Experienced Munitions Machinists were highly sought after for the War effort, and therefore exempt from military service. John lives initially at home with his Father and Step-Mother at 4 Congo Road, both men supporting the War effort, John as a “Turner” and his Father Charles as a Fitter, both skilled trades. Alongside the skilled men “volunteers” mainly older businessmen from other trades, gave their time to work alongside the professional tradesmen, that, as illustrated in the picture below, was remarked on at the time.

In July 1918 John married Sarah Anne Jones a Farmer’s daughter, who had left her Father’s Farm to help the War effort as a munitions worker in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, and was living at Hinstock Road in Plumstead, about 15 minutes walk from Congo Road where John was living.

With most of the able bodied male population away fighting, women stepped up and took to working in munitions to help with the War effort, without their work, the war would never have been won.

MUNITIONS PRODUCTION ON THE HOME FRONT, 1914-1918 (Q 110261) Young female munition workers filling shells in a factory at an undisclosed location. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205352942

Many of these women may never have been away from home before, and were thrown into fulltime dangerous work for the greater good. Some lived with relatives and friends in the area, but many lived in local Hotels and Hostels that were specially set aside for their use, as Women Only Establishments, it would appear from reports at the time, that this built a great camaraderie for many such girls and women, giving them their first taste of Independance and social freedom, as the picture below illustrates.

After marriage the couple settled down to live at 93 Durham Rise, Woolwich, just 5 or 10 minutes walk from John’s Father’s House at Congo Road.

Deaths in the Family

However the proximity to John’s father would be short lived, as his Father Charles died on 1st October 1919, was laid to rest on 6th October, and his will was passed through probate on 24th October.

Charles Jossa, the Engineer from Belgium, who had come to England, married twice, and raised five sons, before the death of his first wife, and the subsequent alienation between his sons and his second wife, left an inheritance of £972 6s 11d to his second wife Ann Jossa (Anna Brewer Taylor the Boys’ Stepmother). That amount of money is roughly equivalent to between £250,000 to £385,000 in today’s value. Fairly soon after her husband’s death Anna went back to where she grew up at Quidhampton just outside Salisbury in Wiltshire, and died there in 1924, at 67 years of age, she never remarried. When she died Anna left £154 16s 3d (£26,000 to £51,000 in today’s money) to Mary Jane Hale her widowed sister. Once again this points to a serious family rift between the boys and their Father/Stepmother, other than with John’s brief return before marrying and moving on, there is little evidence of the rift ever being fully healed.

John Felix Jossa, and his wife had troubles of their own. Their daughter Mary Harriett was born in 1919, around the time of John’s Father’s death, but she would be dead by April 1920. The dates of the deaths of Charles Jossa and Mary Harriett, place them squarely in the middle of the Influenza Pandemic.

The Blitz

But not all was bad news for John Felix Jossa and Sarah Ann, the couple would have three sons and two more daughters from 1921 to 1930. John kept to the same occupation of an engineering machinist, at a time when there was continued high demand, especially for munitions workers at Woolwich Arsenal, by 1940 32,500 workers were employed in Woolwich Arsenal. During World War 2 the ordnance factories at Woolwich were targets for German bombs and Rockets, starting in the Blitz in September 1940, there were many raids, and much damage inflicted, during 25 raids 103 workers were killed and 770 injured, forcing some parts of the complex to be moved to other locations.

It seems that John Felix, having seen the adventures and misadventures of his brothers, and having had a few of his own, had decided that the most important thing in life was a stable family home. His and his brothers’ experiences with his Father and Stepmother, the gradual alienation and disintegration of the Jossa Family unit, would have reinforced a psychological need to provide a stable home, and that is exactly what John and Sarah built over many years between the two World Wars and after. The couple would spend the rest of their lives at 93 Durham Rise. John died in 1951 and Sarah Ann in 1968.

There is one more story to tell, this will be of World War 2 and will come in the next instalment.

Not “Jossa” South London Family


Part 1 Great Britain: A Land of Opportunity

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

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

A Belgian Engineer

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

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

Charles Jossa

Publican’s Daughter

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

The Malt Shovel Oldbury

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

Move South

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

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

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

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

Image result for the royal arsenal woolwich history

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

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

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

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

4 Congo Road, Plumstead

Stepmoms and Stepsons don’t always get along

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

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

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

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

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

And you can read Part 2 here.

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

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