Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

Who was George Lilley, and where did he come from?

George Lilley, resident in Reigate in 1901, listed his place of birth as Norwood, Surrey. But George Simmonds, who I have come to believe was one and the same person as George Lilley, listed his place of birth as Walton-on-the-Hill, Surrey.  Why should I believe they are the same person?

First, as I have mentioned before, I have always known that there was a name change: my grandmother, told my mother who told me, that George Simmonds was originally George Lilley and that he changed his name by deed poll.

Second, when George Simmonds married Mabel Butler in 1917, he listed his “condition” as widower. So he was married before he met Mabel, and his wife died. George Lilley of Reigate was married to Rosetta, two years younger than him. In the 1901 census they live 14 Cecil Road, Reigate. But in the next census of 1911 I cannot find a couple to match this one. I cannot find a Rosetta Lilley at all, and I cannot find a George Lilley who was born in Norwood, Surrey or the surrounding suburbs around 1875. They have both disappeared. Rosetta is presumably dead. George is now called Simmonds, and is “married” to my great grandmother, Mabel Butler.

Third, George Simmonds was a carman, as well as a market gardener, according to census records, birth certificate for his children, and his army records. George Lilley was a carman too, but he transported furniture, not vegetables. Still, the connection is there. George transported things – furniture, or agricultural produce, or military supplies (in the Great War) – presumably with a horse and cart. I know from letters that he had a donkey when he lived in Heston, Middlesex, before the war.

But what about the difference in birthplace? Checking census records backwards for George Lilley I discovered that in 1881, when George was 6 years of age, he was living in Glen Cottages, 2 Cobden Road, Croydon. He, his older sister Matilda, and his father (also called George) were boarding there with another family, Joseph and Mary Knight and their 6 year old daughter, Ellen. His mother is not mentioned, though his father is listed as married, so she was presumably alive, though not in the house on census day. Interestingly, Joseph Knight, came from Walton-on-Hill.

A quick check of the address on Google shows that 2 Cobden Road is on the southern edge of South Norwood, which is just north of Croydon (see map). It seems likely that George Lilley, age 26 and reporting his birthplace for the 1901 census, thought back to the place he grew up – around Norwood. But in the 1881 census his father records his birthplace as Banstead, which is adjacent to Walton-on-Hill, further south in Surrey.

There are a number of other records from George Lilley’s early life which I will write about later. But this address in Croydon satisfies me concerning the question of where Norwood comes into the picture. That area was George Lilley’s childhood home, one among several of which there are records. As a child he was forced to move repeatedly, though exactly why, and how often, is not clear. There was clearly a good deal of sadness in his young years – he lost his mother when he was a child, when he was 18 he lost his father who was his anchor in life, then as a young married man he lost his wife, Rosetta. Perhaps all this was what he wanted to leave behind when he changed his name to SImmonds. It was not until he settled with Mabel in Hounslow, Middlesex, that his life assumed some sort of stability, though there were several moves there too, and the Great War intervened. But it must have been wonderful to finally have a home, at 1, The Circle, Lampton.


“Married 10 years”


1911 England Census

The 1911 census is fascinating as it pertains to George and Mabel Simmonds, of Heston, Middlesex. As can be seen from this document, George and Mabel had been married 10 years and lived in Hounslow.  Their address, recorded elsewhere on the document, was 10 Courtney Place, Heston, Hounslow, Middlesex. George senior’s birthplace is recorded as Walton-on-Hill, Surrey, Mabel’s as Port Elizabeth, Cape Province, South Africa.

I know now that they were not married, in spite of what they claimed on the census. I have a copy of their wedding certificate dated 6 years later in 1917 (see the previous blog, “Changing names: the mystery of George Lilley”). That same marriage certificate indicates that George was a widower. I know from hearsay – my grandmother told my mother who told me – that George wasn’t always called Simmonds either, but was rather George Lilley. He is said to have changed his name by deed poll. I have not been able to find a record of that change.

I have wondered about all this as I have pondered my grandfather’s origins. His birth certificate only lists his mother, Mabel. The space for “father” is blank. Not until this census in 1911 does he appear together with his parents and his younger brother Fred on the same document. And they are clearly Simmondses and not Lilleys. In my previous blog I wondered why George and Mabel changed their name. I have also wondered why they took the name Simmonds. I can’t imagine how I can ever know for sure, since there is no-one to ask.

But this 1911 census, with its rather definite “married 10 years” got me to thinking. Did George and Mabel’s relationship start 10 years earlier? That would be 1901? I know that Mabel was a nurse in London in 1901 (see previous blog “Nurse Mabel Butler and the South Eastern Fever Hospital”). But where was George?

I cannot find him in the 1901 census. Not a George Simmonds born in Walton-on-Hill, Surrey in 1876. Nor a George Lilley matching those details. However, through a process of elimination of all possibilities I have come to the conclusion that George Lilley, of Reigate, Surrey, born in Norwood, Surrey in 1875 according to the 1901 census, is the man. He was a furniture carman. He was married to Rosetta Lilley, two years his junior. Further investigations have led me to believe that he was probably not born in 1875 but in 1874, and not in Norwood, but in Banstead, which is very close to Walton-on-Hill. Norwood, Surrey, is an area north of Croydon, closer into London. Reigate, Redhill, Walton-on-Hill, Banstead – are all south of Croydon. The reason I suspect that this place of birth is wrong is that there is no other census from 1881 onwards that record a George Lilley born in Norwood, Surrey. Having said that, why would be say he was born in Norwood, when he would later say that he was born in Walton-on-Hill.

There are many unanswered questions about my great grandfather. Not least is what happened to his first wife, who may well have been Rosetta. I cannot find a record of marriage for George and Rosetta, nor can I find any death record for Rosetta Lilley. She is even more of a mystery that George himself. This 1901 census is the only record I can find of them at all.

Going north from the Reigate area you come to Croydon, then on through Norwood you come eventually to Lambeth and the South Bank of London. The South Eastern Fever Hospital where Mabel worked is further east, also on the south side of the Thames, but not so very far away from all these places. In 1901 there was a network of so called Fever Hospitals around London. There was also a South Western Fever Hospital in Stockwell, which is even closer to Croydon and Reigate.

My theory is that in 1901 Rosetta Lilley, married to George Lilley, became sick with fever, and ended up in the South Eastern Fever Hospital, in Deptford. I suspect that she died there and that George was with her at the time. I think that he met Nurse Mabel Butler there in 1901 and that they somehow connected. Four years later Mabel was having her first child, and George Lilley was the father. Being an unmarried mother was perhaps not unusual back then, but Mabel grew up in a God-fearing Methodist family in Bristol, and it can hardly have been something she was keen to broadcast publicly. She and George decided to leave Surrey, where George had his roots, and settle in Hounslow, which was at the beginning of the Bristol Road. But when they arrived, probably shortly after Grandpa’s birth in 1905, they announced themselves as George and Mabel Simmonds, erasing the Lilley name from their subsequent history. Where the name Simmonds came from I have no clue, though there was very likely a good reason for it. George and Mabel married quietly some 12 years later, in the middle of the greatest war the world had ever seen.

Mabel and Osterley

A question that has fascinated me is how Mabel Simmonds, formerly Butler, of Heston, Middlesex, wife of a market gardener and carman before WWI, could have been invited to garden parties at the spectacular Osterley House, which was so close to where the young family lived, but so far removed from the life they lived. Mabel was probably around 30 when she and her husband moved to Heston, from Surrey where they had been living, and where their first son, my grandfather, was born. In the years that followed their arrival they had 4 more children – Frederick (1908), John (1911), James (1913) and Mary (1916). In 1923 my grandfather left for Australia, and a few years later his brother John went out to join him. James died in 1928, as did their father. Mabel was by then 52 years old, with two of her children still at home with her, Frederick, who was 20 and Mary, who was 12. They lived at 1, The Circle, Lampton. Mabel had been together with her husband, George, for 23 years when she became a widow. She remained a widow until she died in 1946, and though Mary married and moved on, Frederick remained with her until she died. After Mabel’s death both Frederick and Mary (with her family) left for Australia.

The thing that stands out as I have tried to get a picture of this family’s life through the few documents I have been able to track down on the internet, is the relative lowly status of the family. They were an ordinary bunch, living in ordinary circumstances. But Osterley is not an ordinary house. It is a stately home, and the people who lived there were aristocracy.The owners of the house were the Earl and Countess of Jersey, but who were they I wonder? The people who were invited to Osterley for the famous “Saturday to Monday parties” (see previous blog), were prominent people in society, writers (like Henry James), politicians, explorers (like Ernest Shackleton). But Mabel Simmonds lived in another world, in the village next to Osterley. In Victorian and Edwardian England these worlds did meet of course, but surely not at garden parties, unless the one was in service to the other. They were not equals.

The answer to the riddle must surely lie in her earlier life. Mabel was 29 when she had her first child, my grandfather, George. But though she lived in Surrey then and worked as a laundress, and had previously been a nurse in London, she had grown up in Bristol, where she was a member of the famous Butler family. The Butlers of Bristol had humble origins further north in England. The father of the family, Joseph Frearson Butler, came from a little village called Risley, between Derby and Nottingham. He married a local girl, Sarah Theobold, when she was 15, and together they had 14 children. Sarah died when she was 48, in 1850 (from exhaustion I imagine!). Her youngest was only 3 years old. Joseph remarried and moved to Bristol, where his son lived.

Bristol had become the centre of a Butler family empire, not because of Joseph, but because of his first born son, William, who was born in 1819. As a young man he had moved south, and worked for the great engineer, Brunel, in his railway building projects. Railways required sleepers, and these were wooden, but wooden sleepers required preservation to prevent them rotting away. The product that was used for this purpose (creosote) was made from tar, and there was a tar works in Bristol which William ended up managing, in connection with Brunel’s engineering works. Apparently a fire almost destroyed the tar works in 1863, and William, 44 years of age, was able to buy the plant from the owners. He built the business up again and became one of Bristol’s most successful businessmen, and presumably extremely wealthy.

My great great grandfather Ephraim, Mabel’s dad, was one of William’s younger brothers. He was born in 1837, also up north, so he was 18 years younger than William. Ephraim must have also moved south, for in 1863, the same year that William took over the Tar Works, he married a girl called Jane Coombs, in Bristol. I assume Ephraim ended up working for his older brother, though I have no definite evidence of this. Ephraim and Jane seem to have had two daughters, Sarah, born in 1865, and Mabel, born in 1876. There may have been other children in between, I have no record. But within a few years of Mabel’s birth, both Ephraim and Jane were dead, and the girls were left as orphans.

William Butler had a whole lot of children. His first son he named William, and when Sarah and Mabel lost their parents, this William junior was already in his late twenties, married to Esther, with three children of their own: Mary, William (the third!) and Joseph. William took his younger cousin, Mabel, into his home where she grew up, together with his children (her “cousins once removed”). William junior by this time was managing the Tar Works, and the family was prosperous. They had servants and a governess. His son, William, who was the same age as Mabel, in his turn later took over the company, William Butler and Co. Mary, who was 5 or 6 years older than Mabel, was like her “big sister”. Mabel’s real sister, Sarah, lived in Gloucester with other relatives.

What kind of relationship Mabel had with her cousins is impossible to know, but there is no reason to think it was a bad one. Although Mabel travelled a different journey to them in life, she would surely have remained in contact. They were her closest family in many ways, even if they were rich and she was poor. By the time she was a young mother, in the years leading up to the Great War, her cousin (once removed), William (the third), was also in his 30s and running the successful business in Bristol. It is easy to imagine that such a prominent member of Bristol society should be invited to Osterley, though exactly who he knew and what his connection was to the great house and its owners is hard to know.

Mabel lived in Heston village, close by Osterley. She was like a sister to William. When he was at Osterley it was only natural that he should call on her, and why not ask her along to the parties at the big house? John (Jack), her third son, was a happy little lad. He could come too. Jack was 3 when WWI broke out. Perhaps it was those happy years before the Great War that he first visited the majestic house with his mother. Uncle Jack was old when I met him, a man who smiled easily, his face tanned and wrinkled from a lifetime in the Australian sun. But he remembered with a twinkle in his eye and a chuckle those garden parties at Osterley, from another age and another world.

Uncle Jack remembers Osterley

The only one of the Simmonds boys that I ever knew was John (Jack), my grandfather’s brother, who must have been in his 70s when I met him one sunny day in Brisbane – could it have been in the 80s?. I can’t remember how we came to meet him, where we met him, or why. I was with Mum, but why we were in Brisbane I don’t know. My impression even now is of a cheerful man, enthusiastic, smiling. He talked a lot and he laughed a lot. It was then that I learnt that he had come out to Australia to join his big brother, George, in 1926, when he was only 15 years old. I can imagine the letters that had come back to England from George the adventurer, by then a stockman in the wild Queensland outback, spending his days on horseback chasing cattle, his nights sleeping under the stars in the bush. It must have conjured up exciting images in the mind of young Jack. There is no doubt that the world was different then, life was harder and perhaps people were tougher, but it must have been a wrench just the same for their mother Mabel to relinquish another of her sons to the distant colony of Australia. James was only 10 and Mary still a little girl of 7. Fred was also still at home, 18 years old when Jack headed off for the far side of the world.


An Englishman in the Australian bush

A few memories stand out in my mind of what Uncle Jack said of his early years. One was of poaching with his dad in the woods around Osterley House, which was near their home. Osterley must surely have had a gamekeeper, so there must have been an element of excitement to any poaching that was done, specially for a young boy. Jack was only 3 when the war broke out, and surely his memories of poaching with his dad were not before that. When his dad moved back home for good in 1919 he was 8 so his memories of nightly trips to rabbit traps on the Osterley estate must have come from the years after the war. Whatever the case, he related the story with glee in his eyes, and I got the impression even then that Jack was an adventurous spirit, like his big brother George, the grandfather I never knew.

The other of Jack’s recollections that caught my attention was his memory of garden parties at Osterley House. I thought little of it then, but I have often found myself wondering what it could mean. Jack said that he remembered going to such parties at the big house with his mother (see note below). I assumed at the time that this meant his mother must have been a housemaid there, but that doesn’t add up. Mabel would have been in her thirties, and married with 4 children. She surely would not have been a housemaid at Osterley in such circumstances. I hope to get to Osterley at some stage and get a feel for the place, and I will write about it then. Jack mentioned a set of Dickens novels that his mother, or he, received as a gift from some notable person who they met there. He also mentioned that many famous people came to garden parties at Osterley, and Ernest Shackleton was one that came to his memory.

Who, exactly, did Mabel know at Osterley, why was she there, and when was this? Was it before, during or after the war, or all of the above? Could it be that the choice of Heston as a home for the family was somehow steered by these connections? And what did father George think of it all? After all, his involvement with Osterley was as a poacher on the estate, which seems in stark contrast to Mabel’s as a guest of Osterley’s garden parties.

From British History online:

During the late 19th century it was the scene of much entertaining, notably at ‘the Osterley Saturday-to-Monday parties’ started by the Earl and Countess of Jersey in the eighties. These were largely attended by prominent Conservatives and also by several writers who have left descriptions of Osterley in their works. Among these was Henry James, who depicted it as ‘Summer soft’ in The Lesson of the Master. During the First World War part of the park was used as a motorinstruction camp and the whole property became a Home Guard school in the Second.

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