Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the month “June, 2013”

Changing names: the mystery of George Lilley


George Simmonds in his later years

The Holford name may be a simple variation of the original German name, Holtorp, but Mum’s maiden name, Simmonds, is a complete departure from the past, as far as I can work out. Mum told me before she died that her grandfather, George Simmonds, whom she never met (he died in 1928 in England 9 years before Mum was born), was originally called George Lilley. I found a note from her mother, (my grandmother Gert Simmonds) in Mum’s desk which among other things comments:

George’s father’s name originally “Lilley” changed by deed of poll to Simmonds. Relatives therefore could be “Lilley.”

The George she refers to here is my grandfather, her husband, Mum’s father.

I wanted to find a record of this name change by deed poll, but as the website of the National Archives in Kew explains,

People looking for proof of a change of name will often find that it simply does not exist. Historically, many people preferred not to draw attention to their change of name – for example, when divorce was more difficult, some people simply took their new partner’s name to allow them to appear married, and to make any children appear legitimate…

A deed poll is a legal contract involving only one party. Changes of name by deed poll were (and are) made before a solicitor who issues the document to the person changing their name. The solicitor may keep a copy on file, but it is unlikely to be a certified copy, and the file is unlikely to be kept for more than five years.

The person changing their name can ask their solicitor to ‘enrol’ the deed poll, for safekeeping, in the Enrolment Books of the Supreme Court of Judicature (formerly the Close Rolls of Chancery). However, this is not free, and most people decide against it. Consequently, many people who come to The National Archives looking for a record of an enrolled change of name are disappointed.

I have not had the chance to check the archives in Kew, though I am determined to do so the next time I am in London. But I fear my investigations may draw a blank.

George and Mabel marriage certificate

George and Mabel marriage certificate

So what am I to make of this reported change of name? Why does someone change their name from Lilley to Simmonds? I believe the answer may lie in a single word on the marriage certificate of George Simmonds to Mabel Butler, the word “widower.”

Let me recap what little I know, or believe I know about the mysterious George Simmonds senior, aka George Lilley, my English great grandfather. My attempts to trace his background are recorded on the Biographies page elsewhere in this blog. There it can be seen that my belief is that George Simmonds senior was actually baptized George Frederick David Lilley, in Kingswood, Surrey in 1875, first (and I believe only) son of George and Mary Lilley. I have yet to procure a copy of his birth certificate. I believe that he may have married a girl called Rosetta, sometime between 1895 and 1901, the latter date being another census year in England when there is a record for a George (26) and Rosetta (24) Lilley of 14 Cecil Road, Reigate. They do not appear again in the 1911 census, but George Simmonds, of Heston, Middlesex, does appear, married, according to the census record, to Mabel Butler for 10 years! However, George was actually not married to Mabel Butler in 1911; he did not marry her until 1917, and I have a copy of that marriage certificate.

It would appear that George Simmonds, of Heston, Middlesex, wanted people to think that he and Mabel were married. They had appeared in Heston sometime before 1908 when both their sons were baptized in the parish church. His marriage certificate lists him as a widower, which is why I have searched for a George Simmonds or George Lilley who was married in 1901 and lived in Surrey. George and Rosetta Lilley are the only ones that vaguely match though the birthplace listed for George is wrong. The fact that they disappear from the 1911 census makes me suspicious that George Lilley became George Simmonds sometime after 1901 but before 1908, when he is listed on his second son’s birth certificate. To date I have not been able to find a marriage certificate for George and Rosetta Lilley, nor a death certificate for a Rosetta Lilley, or any variations of that name. Nor can I find a birth certificate matching the George Lilley listed on the 1901 census, so the place of birth listed there for George Lilley may be wrong. This couple remains a mystery to me, but could this George Lilley have been my great grandfather?

Why did George Lilley change his name to George Simmonds? I am beginning to think that the story of George Lilley and his first wife, who may have been named Rosetta, was one that George Simmonds would rather people not know. George wanted to start a new life with Mabel. She bore his first son, my grandfather, in 1905. It is possible that George was already a widower by then, but it is also possible that he was still married. What happened to Rosetta? Had she died, was she disabled, physically or mentally? Or had they separated for some reason, were they divorced?

That would explain why George and Mabel did not marry until 1917. Perhaps George was still married to Rosetta. Perhaps something happened in 1916 or 1917 that made it possible for George to remarry. But I can find no record of a Rosetta Lilley or Simmonds of the appropriate age after the 1901 census. So what happened to her? She does not appear in the 1911 census. I cannot find a death certificate for her. She simply disappears.

Whatever the explanation, it would seem that George wanted to leave his past behind. He changed his name and moved to a village on the other side of London where nobody knew him. He and Mabel let people know that they were man and wife and built a new life, eventually having five children. He joined the army in 1915, at the relatively late age of 40. He, like so many others, wanted to serve king and country. He eventually legalized his union with Mabel in 1917, when he was 42, she the same age. He died 11 years later, at the age of 52 or 53, in 1928. He was damaged by the war, as were so many of that time. Before the war he had a good life as a carman for a nursery, driving produce into the London markets. Perhaps he even had his own store. What he did after the war I don’t know, though on his death certificate his occupation is listed as pipe layer: he was a laborer. By the time he died two of his sons had migrated to Australia, and one had died at the age of 14. His daughter Mary was only 12. His second son Fredrick, at the age of 20, was still living at home, and it would be Fred who remained with his mother until she died in 1946.

What happened to George’s own family, his two older sisters, his parents and his first wife, remains a mystery. He managed to hide it from the people of Heston. He has managed to hide it from me.


Holford: evolution of a name

Our family name has evolved over the last 300 years from Holtorp to Holford. With the help of a family tree drawn up by Victoria Reevey, publicly available on, I have managed to trace the Holford family name back to the end of the 1600s. Of course there are dozens of others involved but if I take just the direct line back then it is as follows, starting with me and ending with Dirk Holtorp, born 1688 (quoting names at birth)

David Ian Holford (b. Lautoka, Fiji, 1961)
Ian Charles Ross Holford (b. Sydney, Australia, 1933)
Charles John Stacey Holdorf (b. Goulburn, Australia, 1899)
Charles John Holdorf (b.Sydney, Australia, 1869)
Johann Holtorf (b. Bimöhlen, Schleswig Holstein, Germany, 1828)
Claus Holtorf (b.Bramstedt, Germany, 1791)
Detlef Holtorf (b. Bimöhlen, Schleswig-Holstein, 1764)
Dirk Holtorp (b.1724)
Dirk Holtorp (b.1688)

It looks like an Old Testament list!

Bramstedt is in present day northern Germany, just north of Bremen, south of Cuxhaven. However, there is a place called Bad-Bramstedt in Schleswig-Holstein, very close to Bimöhlen, which is the birthplace listed for Johann Holtorf (see the previous post, England and Germany united). So I wonder if Claus Holtorf was really from Bad-Bramstedt, which would make sense, since both his father Detlef and his son Johann are listed as being born in Bimöhlen. I have no birthplace for either Dirk junior (1724) or Dirk senior (1688) but it seems a good guess that they too came from this disputed area of northern Germany.

Whatever is the case, it is clear that my name, as English as it sounds now, is the fourth variation of Holtorp, and came originally from a German speaking family, apparently from Schleswig-Holstein, or more specifically from Holstein, these areas having been to a certain extent Danish a long way back in history.

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