I have a scrap of paper with some lines written by my grandmother, Nanna Simmonds (Gert), presumably to Mum when she began researching her roots, before Nanna died. About her husband, my Grandpa George Simmonds, Gert notes:
George’s father’s name originally “Lilley” changed by deed of poll to Simmonds. Relatives therefore could be “Lilley.”
Names can be so difficult. When searching for Grandpa Simmonds own birth certificate in England about 25 years ago I was frustrated by my inability to find any document corresponding to his name and date of birth in the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages at St Catherine’s House in London. How could he not be there?
The solution was simple, though it never occurred to me. “Look under his mother’s maiden name,” the Registry attendant told me. I did that and there he was, George Frederick David Butler, born 22 August 1905 in Redhill, Surrey, son of Mabel Butler, father not listed. My mother, of course, was a bit shocked to think that her father had been born “out of wedlock,” but who are we to judge? It was hardly Grandpa’s fault of course, how he came into the world, and who could know the circumstances? Mum certainly couldn’t ask her grandmother, who died in 1946 in England when Mum was only 9 years old. Even Grandpa himself had passed on long before she discovered the truth of his birth, and he may not even have known himself.
Grandpa’s parents moved with him to Heston, Middlesex, some time after Grandpa was born, and he was baptized together with his brother Frederick at Heston Parish Church (St Leonards) in 1908. His name by then was George Frederick David Simmonds, exactly the same as his father, my great grandfather.
The 1911 Census
The next step was to trace that George Simmonds, my great grandfather. How could I find out more of him? I had a copy of his death certificate from 1928 where it states that he was 52 when he died, suggesting that he was born in 1876. I looked long and hard for a birth certificate in the online records on ancestry.co.uk, but should I look for George Simmonds or George Lilley? And though I had an approximate date of 1876 I did not know the place of his birth. Did he too come from Surrey?
The 1911 census for England gave me the first clue about George’s birth, stating that he was born in 1876 in Walton-on-Hill, Surrey, and that he had been married 10 years to Mabel Butler. They lived in Heston, Middlesex and had two sons, George my grandfather and his brother Frederick. However, the information about his marriage was obviously fabricated, since my grandfather’s birth certificate, only 6 years earlier than the 1911 census, has no father listed. Why did he write that he had been married 10 years? Was that an indication of when he and Mabel had met? Or was it just randomly selected because it sounded respectable? Why did they not marry before George was born? When and why did they move to Heston?
I wondered if the other information that George senior had entered in the 1911 census was true. Was he really born in Walton-on-the-Hill? The information is self reported, so it is obviously a version of the truth which George senior wanted people to know about him.
When was George really born?
The next useful set of documents to turn up was George’s army pension records. I knew from Mum that her grandfather was a soldier in the British army in WW1, that he had been in Greece and Ireland during his army service. I managed to find a pension application which he submitted in May 1919 prior to his demobilization. There is a whole lot of information there about his army service, but in addition it records his age as 42, which would give him a year of birth in 1877 or late 1876. Furthermore it indicates that he was married in 1917, and that he had 5 children, with their dates of birth listed. I began to wonder about his year of birth. Was he born in 1876 or 1877? I could not find any George Simmonds or George Lilley born in either of those years in Walton-on-Hill in Surrey.
From his army records I now knew the date of his marriage, which meant I was able to track down a marriage certificate. This I ordered from the registry office in the UK, since only marriage indexes are available online, not the certificates themselves. However, when it finally arrived in the post, this certificate raised even more questions about who George Simmonds really was. It states that George and Mabel tied the knot on 31 January 1917, when he was still in the army. Strangely George’s age is also recorded as 42 on that document, though it is two years earlier than his army discharge papers which also record his age as 42. Which is correct? If he was 42 in January 1917 his birth year would be 1874 or very early 1875. It lists his father as “George Simmonds (deceased), farm laborer.” Mysteriously, it also lists his condition as “widower.”
So was my great grandfather born in 1874, 5, 6 or 7? Why is he so vague about his age?
Tracing George Simmonds before 1908
The earliest definite documentary reference I have to great grandfather George is his second son Frederick’s birth certificate. It does not record George’s age or date or place of birth, simply that he was the father and that he was a “gardener, not domestic.” But how could I trace him before 1908? I resolved to look for a George Simmonds born in or around Walton-on-Hill, Surrey, in the years 1874-7. Because of the statement by Nanna Simmonds that her father in law was originally named Lilley, I thought I would look also for George Lilleys born in the same area and at the same time.
The types of record readily available on ancestry.co.uk are census, birth, death and marriage indexes. I thought I would look for references to George Simmonds or Lilley in the birth indexes for Surrey in 1874-77, and in the census records for 1881, 1891 and 1901. Since George had recorded himself as a widower I decided to look for evidence of a marriage for a George Simmonds or George Lilley in Surrey from around 1895 (when he was around 20) to 1905 (when George junior was born), though most likely I would find it between 1895 and 1900. I reasoned that if I could find a spouse for a George Lilley or Simmonds then I should even be able to find a reference to the death of that spouse sometime before 1905, since he had reported on his marriage certificate that he was a widower.
I was also keen to find documentary evidence of a name change from Lilley to Simmonds, but that would prove to be difficult. Name changes were common then as they are now, but documentation of names changes was neither legally required nor always recorded. Names were sometimes changed “by deed poll” but there was no legal requirement to do so. A person could simply decide that from this day forth he would be known as such and such, and then tell everyone that was his name. Names changed by deed poll are listed in the National Archives in Kew, London, but cannot be searched online. The only way to find them is to visit the National Archives in person and do the relevant search. That is a task for my next visit to London.
What of Walton-on-Hill, which George had given as his place of birth in the 1911 census? Where is that? I managed to find Walton-on-the-Hill with a simple Google search. It is in Surrey, not far from Redhill where my grandfather was born, and not far either from Merstham, where my great grandmother worked as a laundress. There are a number of villages and towns around it which have turned up as I have searched through records in ancestry.co.uk. These include Epsom and Banstead 5 or 6km to the north, Kingswood, 2km northeast, Reigate and Redhill around 8km to the southeast. So Walton-on-the-Hill is a little village about halfway between the more significant towns of Epsom and Reigate, Banstead and Redhill. About 500m east of the village centre is a green area called Banstead Heath, even though Banstead township is about 5 or 6km just east of north. The M25 is southwest of Walton-on-the-Hill, and the city of London is about 25km to the north. The suburb of Croydon is about 20km north east of Walton, closer to the city of London.
So the information I had was:
Date of birth: 1874-7 (from different documents)Place of birth: Walton-on-the-Hill, Surrey (from the marriage certificate)Occupation before WW1: nurseryman, market garden (from his army records)Marital status: married in 1917 to Mabel Butler; widower, presumably married sometime after 1895 (age 20)Children: George (1905), Frederick (1908), John (1911), James (1913), Mary (1916) – various documentsName: changed from Lilley to Simmonds sometime before 1908 when he is registered on Frederick’s birth certificate as Simmonds. (this according to my grandmother)Death: 1928 in Middlesex
The 1901 Census
According to the 1901 census there is one George Simmonds born in Surrey in the years 1874-7. His date of birth is listed as “around 1875,” and his place of birth as Caterham, Surrey. Caterham is about 12km east of Walton. On census day he was visiting an address in Tooting Graveney, London. He is listed as a carpenter’s laborer and he was visiting a family called the Boughtons. Another carpenter’s laborer named Alfred Bishop was also visiting.
As for George Lilleys born 1874-7 in Surrey there is also only one, and he listed his birth as being in Norwood, Surrey in 1875. He is married to Rosetta Lilley, and they live in Reigate in 1901. I cannot find any Norwood, Surrey, but there is a Norwood Hill, Surrey, about 6 or 7 km south of Reigate, so not especially near Walton, which is a good 10 or 12km to the north. This George Lilley is listed as a furniture carman.
Neither George Simmonds born in Caterham nor George Lilley born in Norwood quite fit the bill. They are the right age, but their birthplace is wrong on both counts. Either could be correct if the later reported birthplace of Walton was wrong, or if the birthplace recorded in the 1901 census was inaccurate. One is married with no children and the other is single. Given that George later indicated that he was a widower (on his marriage certificate) George Lilley would seem the more likely. Checking these individuals forwards to the 1911 census we discover there is no George and Rosetta Lilley in the 1911 Census for England. Checking George Simmonds of Caterham forwards we find that he has also disappeared by the 1911 Census, so he he can’t be ruled out completely? But he is not married in 1901 and he is a carpenter’s laborer. George Lilley reported his occupation as carman, which was George Simmonds occupation before he joined the army. George Lilley, of Reigate, born in “Norwood” in around 1875 seems to be the better fit.
What is becoming clear is that the George Simmonds who was my great grandfather and who appears in the 1911 census seemed to want to hide something of his past. That there was a name change seems likely, since my grandfather knew about that and told my grandmother. But did George senior also change his birthplace, and possibly his birthdate? Was he just careless, or did he really not know where and when he was born? Was it 1874, 5, 6 or 7? Was it Walton, Caterham, or Norwood? Where is Norwood really? There is no village with just that name in the area. If it is a reference to Norwood Hill then it is not far from Walton, but neither is Caterham. None of them are far from either of the others.
The 1891 Census
According to various documents George Simmonds’ full name was George Frederick David Simmonds. The 1891 census lists a George F Lilley born in Banstead, Surrey, but none born in Norwood, Walton or Caterham. However, Walton-on-the-Hill has a village green called Banstead Heath, and the village of Banstead is only a few km away toward London. In the census George F Lilley is 16 years old, living with his father, a widower, George Lilley, age 50, and boarding with a family called Bryant. Both Georges are listed as agricultural laborers. They live in Banstead in Mint Cottages. This represents a strong possibility, since George Simmonds reported his father to have been a farm laborer (deceased) on his marriage certificate.
Looking instead in this census for George Simmonds born in 1874-7 in Caterham, there is none. The closest match is a George Simmonds born there in 1872 and listed as a footman aged 19. That seems an unlikely match for my great grandfather. There is no George Simmonds born in this period in or around Walton-on-the-Hill.
The 1881 Census
George Lilley age 6 lives with his sister Matilda, age 9 and his father George, age 42 with the Knight family at 2 Glen Cottages, Cobden Road, Banstead. His father is listed as a coalman, he and his sister as scholars. His place of birth is listed as Banstead, as is his father’s. Matilda’s birthplace is listed as Kingswood.
The 1871 Census
There is a George Lilley living at Marshall’s Farm, Kingswood. He is 32, a farm servant, married to Mary age 20 with a daughter Frances age 2. He is listed as having been born in Banstead. Kingswood is between Banstead and Walton-on-the-Hill. This must surely be my great grandfather’s father. So it would seem that George had a sister Frances, though she disappears after this census, as does his mother, Mary.
Birth indexes and Baptism records
There is a birth for George Lilley registered in July-Sept 1874 in Epsom, Surrey. I also managed to find a baptism register for 1874 which lists a baptism at Kingswood, Surrey for George Frederick David Lilley on 12 July 1874, son of George and Mary. This last record is the only record under the name Lilley which includes all three Christian names and I believe this is the best evidence I will be able to find that George Frederick David Lilley, born in July 1874 was indeed my great grandfather, who sometime before he married my great grandmother, Mabel Butler in 1917, changed his name to George Frederick David Simmonds.
There is also a baptism record for Matilda Lilley, in 1872, same parents, same place, the parish of Kingswood. Searching for a similar record for Frances I discovered a Frances Emma Laley, born in 1869, daughter to George and Mary Laley, baptised in the parish of Kingswood. There are no Frances Lilleys baptised in that year and that place, so I can only assume that this represents another name change, but why and when? Alternatively, the person who wrote the information in the parish records mis-spelled or misheard the family name.
Who was George Simmonds, veteran of WW1, father of five, who married Mabel Butler and died in 1928 at the age of 52, or possibly 53? Before 1908 it is difficult to be sure. George Simmonds was a common name in England at that time. Had he been married before? Was he the George Lilley of the 1901 census who was married to Rosetta? What happened to Rosetta? What happened to George Lilley after 1901? They seem to just disappear. It would seem his wife died since he registered himself as a widower on his marriage certificate. Did he have any children to his first wife? Why did he change his name from Lille to Simmonds, and when did he do so? How did George meet Mabel? Why did they move to Heston? Why did they wait until 1917 to get married?
From the digging I have done thus far I have come to believe that George Simmonds was born George Lilley in July 1874, the son of George and Mary Lilley. I believe he had a sister called Matilda Elizabeth who was 3 years older than him and another sister Frances Emma 6 years older than him. His sister Matilda was born in 1872, Frances in 1869. Mary his mother must have died between 1874 when George was born and 1881 when the next census was recorded, in which his father is recored as a widower. George Simmonds named his only daughter Mary, which makes sense if his mother, who died when he was a child, was called Mary. This birthdate of July 1874 means that when he died at the end of 1928 he was actually 54 years old.
As far as occupation is concerned, his father was a farm laborer, and George was the same in the first instance. However, he became a furniture carman after his likely marriage to Rosetta. He and Rosetta lived in Reigate according to the 1901 census. By 1908 George is recorded as a nurseryman, a gardener, but his army records say that he was a carman before he joined up. It would seem that he drove produce from the gardens to the markets. He apparently had a donkey drawn cart. He may have had his own grocer shop in Heston. In the army he was in the Army Services Corps, a Horse Transport company.
There are too many uncertainties and converting them into certainties is difficult. The absence of certificates to confirm births, deaths and marriages makes it difficult. Name changes make it all very confusing. Perhaps one day I will get to the National Archives in Kew and then I will be able to find out more.