Wednesday, 19 February 2014


On this day in 1865 Sarah, 5TH child of William GALE & Sarah BALDOCK, was born (see story 25th August 2013). One of 11 children she was born and raised at 6 Dorset Place, Islington. On the 1871 census she is listed as a 7 year old “scholar” and 10 years later she is a 15 year old domestic servant. I have not been able to find her on the 1891 census, nor in the marriages or death indexes during this period and so her story ends here. Happy Birthday Sarah! London, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


Today we celebrate a maternal ancestor and another 3Xgreat aunt. Marion was born in on this day in 1821 in Stewarton, Ayreshire, Scotland. She was the 5th child of Mathew BROWN and Mary KING and the second daughter named Marion and one of 8 in the family. 

Monday, 17 February 2014


Baptised on this day in 1797 was my 3Xgreat aunt, Mary Ann SKELTON. Born in Wellington, Shropshire to John SKELTON and Mary PASCAL, she was the youngest of their 8 children.


My great-great aunt, Margaret MACKENZIE married Joseph DAVIES on this day in 1882 in Dingwall, Scotland. Joseph was an officer of inland revenue which may give a clue as to how they may have met; Margaret’s father Ronald was the landlord of the Railway Hotel. Margaret and Joseph had two daughters; Martha (named after Joseph’s mother) in 1884 and Jessie Maggie (named for Margaret’s mother) in 1887. 

Saturday, 15 February 2014


All I can say to today is a very Happy Birthday to my baby brother Bean!

Friday, 14 February 2014


Valentines Day 1945, John Ronald MACKENZIE, retired Superintendent at the Woolwich Arsenal, died at the age of 85. John was the son of Ronald MACKENZIE and Jessie INNES of Dingwall Scotland and the father of my maternal grandmother, Jessie MACKENZIE. I have recently requested a copy of his will and will share this as soon as it arrives. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966

There are a number of stories I grew up with surrounding John MACKENZIE and I think it is fair to say that it was these mysteries which started my interest in family history research. To date I’ve not been able to confirm or deny with any degree of certainty the validity of these tales, but I keep at them regardless.

The first of these was that he was a boilermaker in the merchant service and when he married Annie HAMILTON (10th February 1885) he gave up the sea. Apparently he explained later in life to his daughter Jessie that he did so as he believed it was no life for a woman to be married to a sailor. Now I know from his marriage announcement that in 1885 he was indeed a boilermaker and was attached to the SS Duke of Devonshire but I have not been able to find any trace of him so far in the Merchant Navy records on-line. From help I have received from one of the genealogy message boards I have been told that boilermakers were usually land-based and rarely went to sea. I can’t find John in the 1881 Census returns which is frustrating as this would give a pretty good indication of what he was doing prior to his marriage. Maybe he was a merchant sailor and was at sea at the time, I don’t know, but it is a puzzle that I keep coming back to in the hope that I will find confirmation either way.

The one story that Mum always wanted confirmed related to his time at the Woolwich Arsenal. Mum had always been led to believe that during WW1 he had played an important role in a project for the navy, possibly regarding submarines, and as a result he received some form of award or commendation. I have contacted various archives in pursuit of information but so far have drawn a blank. However, there are still a few more avenues to follow so I’ll keep you posted.

The final story I was told about John MACKENZIE is with regard to his two sons, William and Ronald. Apparently Ronald, the eldest, was a child musical prodigy who played lead violin with the Carl Rosa Opera Company by the time he was 21. Son William endured the horror of the trenches in France and then tragically died during the influenza epidemic of 1919. Oh dear. Not quite.

There WAS an esteemed Ronald MACKENZIE associated with the Carl Rosa, but sadly that was not my Ronald, although great uncle Ronald actually was a violinist (see earlier story). Great uncle William was in France in WW1 but returned to England, married and had children (more about William in August). According to William’s son, Alex, the reason William seemed to disappear from the family is that he did not approve of John MACKENZIE’s second wife, Florence PLUMMER, who he married in 1901. They had a “falling out” and William refused to go to his fathers house again.

John MACKENZIE (in hat) with Grandma Jessie (left) Florence (nee PLUMMER right) and children l-r are Peggy, Doris, mum and I think the boy could be Johns grandson Ronald although this is only conjecture based on age. Taken in the back garden at Shooters Hill. 

There are a few other reminiscences about John from both Mum and Auntie Pat that I’ll mention here.

By all accounts the second Mrs Mackenzie, Florence PLUMMER, was not someone that Mum and her sisters could warm to (sounds like they were in agreement with John’s son William). She and her subsequent daughters with John, Mabel Marion born 1903 and Irene Muriel born 1906, apparently thought themselves a cut above his children with Annie HAMILTON; Ronald, William and Jessie. I recall Mum telling the story of when Auntie Doris was a teenager she was invited to stay with Mabel and her husband during the school holidays. She was very excited to have been asked until she got there and realized that she was actually expected to fill in for their maid who was taking a holiday. When Grandma Jessie found out she was furious and put Auntie Doris on the next train home!

I heard from both Mum and Auntie Pat that Grandma Jessie was always nervous when he came to visit her as he was very strict about childrens behaviour. I think "seen and not heard" was the idea  and on Sundays they were not allowed to sew, play of knit but were only allowed to read quietly.

Later in life John lived with his daughter Mabel (May) and her solicitor husband in Petts Wood Kent but when he wanted to smoke his pipe he had to go down to the garden shed as May would not let him smoke in the house. 

Also from Auntie Pat is the story that John was a keen rose grower who exhibited at Chelsea. He met the Queen mother a few times and thought she was a lovely lady.

In all, John MACKENZIE has always fascinated me, probably because of all the stories I grew up hearing. I must admit though that the more I hear, the more I am unsure about how much I like him. He seems very stern and Victorian; keen to keep up appearances and not averse to changing facts to make himself seem more important.

Rest in Peace great-grandfather John!

Oh dear, I did say that I would keep up to date, but I have just received confirmation of this birthdate so thought I’d slip it in here rather than wait for next years anniversaries!

Great Uncle Ronald MACKENZIE was born on this day in 1887 to John Ronald MACKENZIE and Annie HAMILTON. He was their eldest child and the brother of Grandma Jessie MACKENZIE.

Most of the information I have about Ronald comes from his Army enlistment papers dated 7th December 1915. At the time he was described as 5ft 8 3/4 in, a Protestant with a 36 1/2 in chest. He has a wife, Annie, whom he married “by Scottish Law”; interesting as neither were born in Scotland. I suspect this was simply a polite form of de facto, or common law as I have not been able to find any official proof of marriage in either England or Scotland. Strangely Ronald declares on his enlistment that he was born in Aberdeen; perhaps to legitimize his marriage story. According to his birth certificate he was born at 54 Chauntler Road Plaistow and as far as I can gather, he had always lived in London - he was certainly there on the 1901 census as a 14 year old.

Ronald was a violinist and I believe his wife was Annie WALKER, a music hall singer although I am still waiting to confirm this, hopefully when the 1921 census is released in 2019! 

There is a family story about Ronald that he was something of a musical prodigy who later became a violinist with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. Sadly, this is not the case. There WAS an esteemed Ronald MACKENZIE associated with the Carl Rosa, but he was an older man and a composer, not a violinist. I have written to the Carl Rosa archivist to see if he actually was a member of the Company but they have no record of great uncle although they did say that their records are not complete.

The story that has been handed down also is that Ronald was killed in a motorcycle accident around the time of the second world war but so far I have not been able to find a record of his death anywhere.

I have a lovely telling of the family story in a letter from Auntie Pat from 2 June 1998:

"Uncle Ron was something of a musical child prodigy I think. Mum told me of a time Grandpa took Ron to some classical concert when he was only about 6 or 7 as he was so keen on music and played the violin even then. Apparently during the performance Uncle Ron whispered to Grandpa that someone had played some wrong notes. Grandpa hushed him up but to his amazement at the end of the piece the conductor apologised for the error that had been made!! I understand that Uncle Ron became leading violinist with the Carl Rosa Opera Company - one of the world's finest, so he must have been pretty good. I think he was killed at a fairly young age in a motor cycle accident."

Happy Birthday Great Uncle Ron!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Today we have two weddings to celebrate. A couple from Yorkshire and another who started off in Scotland and ended up in London.


On this day in 1844, G-G-Grandfather Henry Stephenson, a tailor of Great Smeaton in Yorkshire married Ann Lodge. Not long after their marriage the couple moved to Hornby where they lived until prior to the 1861 census when we find them in Appleton Wiske. Then later they move to Yarm where they were enumerated in the 1881 census and then sometime between the 1881 and 1891 census they have moved again to Stockton-on-Tees.

During this time, Henry and Ann welcome at least five children – four girls and a boy. Francis (named after Ann’s father) born in 1850, Elizabeth in 1853, my g-grandmother Margaret in 1857, Jane in 1860 and then Mary in 1862.

The life of a tailor was not a lucrative one and the work was grueling. Most tailors of the time were little more than piece workers or out-workers attached to the many mills throughout the north of England at the time. Most worked in poor light and for long hours.

The iconic image of tailors sitting cross legged on a table is probably not too far from the reality. Windows were often small & to get the best light available tables may have been pushed up against them and work was done from there. Sitting cross legged, apart from being quite a comfortable way to sit on a hard surface also provided support for the often heavy fabrics being sewn. I read that this practice gave its name to a particular type of bunion – “tailors bunion” because instead of the usual distortion of the big toe, sitting cross legged on the table caused pressure on the little toe joint, leading to a bunion! Older tailors frequently suffered back problems, from being stooped over their work, and poor eyesight.

An un-credited article from 1966 which interviewed tailors in their 80’s offered this interesting insight into the life of a tailor
The tailor sitting in his window on his table, saw most of what went on, and vied with the shoe maker as purveyor of local news. His shop was reasonably warm too, as his iron was always heated ready for use. The tailor sat cross - legged on the table for several reasons, to keep his work clean, to have his material at hand, and to lay his pressing board across his knees.  His pressing board was called a donkey, this was for doing seams and sleeves, the iron was called the goose, before the days of gas it was heated on an open fire, or else had its own little charcoal heater.”

Poor Henry clearly did not make a fortune from his trade however as he died a widower in the Stockton Workhouse at the grand age of 92 in 1913


Great-grandparents John & Annie were married on February 10th 1885 in East Greenock.

Greenock Telegraph announcement
Although John is cited as a boilermaker on the SS Duke of Devonshire there is no information to suggest that he was in the Merchant Service. This was a long standing family story that I remember being told but sadly there is no truth in it at all. In fact John Mackenzie seems to have a rather large number of stories attributed to him, none of which I can verify.

Very soon after their marriage John and Annie move south to London where they remained. The 1891 census finds them at 628 Barking Road, Plaistow with their young sons Ronald (4) and William Hamilton (2) and my grandma Jessie just 1 year old. Also in the household are Annie’s two brothers from Glasgow; William an 18year old Marine Engineer and 15year old Stuart who is working as a clerk.

Sadly, Annie died in 1895 of consumption. No doubt she brought this to England with her as many of her siblings had already succumbed to the disease back in Scotland. John was left a widow with 3 very small children.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Okay, so this is the last of the January catch-ups. From now on I will NOT get so far behind again. I hope.


These maternal g-g-grandparents were married at the Parish Church in Lyminge Kent on this day in 1853. William was a 26 year old agricultural labourer while Ann was only 19. Both were born & bred in the parish and continued to live within its boundary all their lives; in Lyminge New Town, Mount Pleasant, Woodlands and Each End Hill (later called Etchinghill). 

Between 1855 and 1873 William and Ann had 9 children – Thomas, James, Ellen, William, Louisa (my great-grandmother), Charles, Elizabeth, Jane and George. I have very little information on these children other than what I have gleaned from the census records but I am sure there is much more information to be found!

On the 1861 census, William & Ann are living on Lyminge Street with 8yr old Thomas, 6 yr old James, 4yr old Ellen, 2yr old William and a 61 year old boarder called Thomas Raines. At the time Ann would also have been pregnant with my great-grandmother who was born 7 months later.

By 1871 the family have moved 2.5kms away to Each End Hill. Eldest son, Thomas is now 18 and like his father is also working as an ag lab, 11yr old William has no occupation shown, nor is he listed as a “scholar” like his 9yr old sister Louisa, but it is highly unlikely that he was not working in some capacity to bring in a small income to help the family. Like Louisa, 6yr old Charles is shown as a “scholar” but it must be remembered that this was hardly an indication that they were receiving much of a formal education as we know it. Until about 1870 all schools were charitable or private institutions and in small rural areas the standards of education were basic at best. Also at home was 3yr old Elizabeth. I have not been able to find where 16 year old James is at this time.

The 1881 census return shows the family have moved 6.5kms away to Woodland. Son Thomas is now 27 and still living at home, as is 10 yr old Jane and 8 yr old George. The Kennets have taken in another lodger, William Horolaw, a 17yr old agricultural labourer. G-Grandmother Louisa is now working as a domestic servant about 4 kms away at Monks Horton on the farm owned by Charles Hamon. Daughter Ellen is now 14 and living and working in Lyminge as a general servant to Alfred Vincent who describes himself as a “Grocer, Baker, Draper and Beer House Keeper”. James has now reappeared in the area as a 26year old living with his wife Roseanna Barham and her family and has learned the bakers profession. It is now William and Elizabeth who have spread their wings and cannot be found.

By 1891 William and Ann are back in Each End Hill and have only Jane and George still at home with them and both are employed outside the home. Jane is a domestic servant and George a general labourer. William, at 63, is still working as an agricultural labourer.

The final census on which we find William and Ann is that of 1901. Still in Etchinghill, at Ark Cottage, they are now living on parish relief, both being too old for the demands of work. Their unmarried son Thomas is now 46 and still labouring for a living. 40 year old William is now a widower and back at home working as a farm wagoner and horse worker and 28 year old George is still single and a journeyman stone worker. Intriguingly, also in the household is a 10 year old Louisa, born in Cheriton, who is described as “granddaughter”. Is she William’s perhaps? More research is needed here I think.

William passed away in 1908 and we see on the 1911 census Ann is still in Ark Cottage with Thomas and George. The interesting feature of this 1911 census is that the records we see are those completed by the householder themselves. These are not enumerators transcripts. What we have is a document in the shaky hand of the 76 year old widower, Ann Kennet just 6 years before her death in 1917.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Another January catch-up today!


The gentleman with the very grand sounding name is my maternal G-G-Grandfather who was born on this day in 1832. William was the youngest child of Alexander HAMILTON & Ann WILSON, both tambour weavers of Kilmalcolm, Renfrewshire, Scotland. I have often wondered why William was given such an unusual name as I can’t find Bontine or Cunninghame in either Alexander or Ann’s family tree. The only speculation is that at the time of Williams birth there was a prominent family in Kilmalcolm, the head of which was Robert Bontine Cunninghame GRAHAM whose son, William Cunningham Bontine, was born only a few years before my William. Perhaps my HAMILTON’s were repaying a kindness by naming their son after this family. It may also have been political as the earlier Robert Bontine Cunninghame GRAHAM was a radical Member of Parliament from 1794-1797 who attempted to introduce a Bill of Rights which presaged the Reform Bill of 1832 – the year my William was born. We may never know!

More will be told about William in July when I look at his marriage to Janet Cochrane SMITH but for now Happy Birthday G-G-Grandad!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Today I am playing a game of catch-up as I missed several anniversaries in January. The first of these is:


G-G GRANDMOTHER, Janet Cochrane SMITH was born on this day in 1837, the eldest of 8 children born to Stewart Smith & Mary Brown. Being the daughter of an agricultural labourer on a farm at Auchenmade in Ayreshire Scotland, Janet would have grown up in very modest circumstances. By the age of 14 she had already left home and was earning her keep as a domestic servant nearly 20kms away in Port Glasgow. At some stage Janet learns the trade of dressmaking as this is the profession stated on her marriage in 1855 to William Cunningham Bontine Hamilton. No doubt her contribution to the family income was much needed as she bore 11 children (only 4 of whom reached maturity). After the death of her husband in 1885, Janet moves to London to live with her son William and his wife Agnes in Woolwich. Living nearby was her daughter Annie who had married G-grandfather John Mackenzie. Another son, Stuart was also living in London.

I have written previously bout Janet back in 2009

Happy Birthday G-G-Grandma!