Forgotten tales

stories of my family

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.

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