Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “george lilley”

Four Victorian families

Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 at the age of 18 and remained the English regent until 1901 when she died, the longest reigning English monarch to date. The 1800s in England have come to be known as the Victorian Era, a time of tremendous change in which the British Empire was the greatest power in the world. It was an exciting century in which fortunes were made and empires both individual and national were built. It was a time of great optimism and great achievement, but it was also a time of poverty and suffering for many people. England may have been a paradise for the wealthy but for the poor life was a continuous struggle for survival. Even the rich were not immune to pain and suffering in a world where medical possibilities for the relief of disease and the prevention of early death were extremely limited.

For the majority of the poor there was little hope of rising above their circumstances and migration was an attractive option if they could afford it. Thousands left England every year for the new worlds of America, Canada and Australia, among other countries. The statistics indicate that between 1840 and 1860 somewhere between 4 and 5 million people left Britain, and the great majority of those who left were poor. In America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand there was the lure of gold and the dream of riches tempted many.

The Holford name is English, but as I have written before, it was not originally so; it was changed from Holdorf at the end of the First World War. John Holdorf, who arrived in Australia in 1856, was born Johann Holtorf, in the Duchy of Holstein, in present day northern Germany. John Holdorf (1828-1898), the first Australian of the Holford line, married another German migrant, Caroline Fischer. However, in the line that leads to me in any case all the subsequent Holdorfs and Holfords married British women. Charles Holdorf (1869-1954) married Florence Stacey, who though Australian born was the daughter of an English migrant. Charles Holford (1899-1977), who was the next in line and my grandfather, married Winifred Ross, whose father had come as a child to Australia from England. Ian Holford (b.1933), my dad, married Gwen Simmonds, my mum, whose father was also an English migrant, though Mum was born in Australia. As for me (b.1961), I am married to a Swede, and one of my brothers is married to an English girl. We Holfords may have a strong streak of German, but grafted in are English and Scottish, and a little further away the Irish, but they are another story.

In the mid nineteenth century when our German ancestors left Europe, there were four families in England whose descendants would be grafted into our tree. The first was the Stacey family. William Stacey was born in Bedford, north of London, in 1831. He married Caroline Hedge and they had two sons, George and William. Caroline died at a relatively young age and the boys were left motherless. When he was 16 George left England forever and settled in Australia, while his younger brother William remained with his father in England. George later married Mary Atkinson, an Australian born girl from Berrima, New South Wales and they settled in Goulburn. Their first child, Florence, married Charles Holdorf. George’s father, William, still in England, remarried and moved to London. He was a shoemaker, so he presumably did not live in poverty, but his life was unlikely to have been easy. He never saw his first son, George, again. What prompted George to leave at such an early age is uncertain. Another story waiting to be uncovered.

The second of the Victorian families was named Ross. James Ross was born in 1827 in Scotland. He married Mary Marston and they moved to Birkenhead, near Liverpool where they started a family. One son was named William and he was a child when the family migrated to Australia. As a young man he married Alice Hickson and together they had five daughters, one of whom was my grandmother, Winifred. She married Charles Holford, my grandfather.

The third family was that of George Lilley and his wife who I believe was called Mary. George was born in 1839 in Surrey, south of London. He was a farm worker. They had a son, George Frederick David, born around 1876. The younger George changed his name from Lilley to Simmonds, and married Mabel Butler. They had five children, the first of which was my grandfather, my mother’s family. He would migrate to Australia after the First World War, in 1923. His daughter Gwen would marry my father.

The fourth family, and the one I have the most information on, was the Butlers of Bristol. Mabel, as I mentioned, married George Simmonds. Her father, Ephraim, was born near Nottingham in 1837, the year Victoria became queen. He was one of a large family and his oldest brother, William, became rich and famous through his tar distillery in Bristol. That story has been partly told, but since I have more information on this family there will be more stories to follow. Ephraim followed his brother to Bristol and became a shopkeeper, selling umbrellas I believe. He married a Bristol girl called Jane Coombs and they had three daughters, the youngest of which was Mabel. However, only the first two were born in England because Ephraim and Jane decided to migrate to South Africa in the late 1860s. Jane died tragically in childbirth with Mabel, who never knew her mother. Her father, a few years later decided to return to England with his three daughters, but also died tragically on the voyage home. The three girls were orphans and were taken in by the family. Mabel’s story has also been partly told elsewhere in this blog, but there are still lots of gaps to fill in, more stories to tell.

Four Victorian families are therefore a part of our family history: the Staceys, the Rosses, the Lilleys and the Butlers. The first three were poor, the last was rich. Probably the reason I have most information on the Butlers is precisely this: their wealth. Wealthy people have always tended to leave more traces of themselves than the poor. However, the branch of the Butler family from which I am descended fell on hard times and ended up poor, with the seemingly inevitable result: emigration to Australia. The fortunes of these families were very different and each illustrates a different aspect of what it meant to be English in the nineteenth century, in the Victorian era. I hope to be able to tell more of their stories in the entries to follow.


Redhill to Hounslow in 1905

Last Monday I returned the car we had rented for the week to an office in Crawley and was being driven back to the B and B where we had stayed overnight in Horley. It was 6.45am and the traffic around Gatwick was already heavy. The driver complained about the traffic. “The other day,” he commented, “I needed to go up to Hounslow. I set the satnav and it told me that it would take 45 minutes but the traffic was so heavy on the M25 that the time got longer and longer and in the end it took over an hour and a half.” We had done the same trip the week before (see previous blog, By train through George and Mabel’s world), also with the help of a GPS and via the M25, and it had taken over an hour for us too.

Hounslow, near Heathrow, is not really that far from Horley, near Gatwick, where we were staying. Horley is a stone’s throw from Redhill, where Mabel Butler had her first son in 1905, George Simmonds, my grandfather. Nowadays, if there is no traffic, it probably takes even less than 45 minutes from Redhill to Hounslow, but it was different a hundred years ago when my great grandparents, Mabel Butler and George Lilley made that journey. I sat in the rental car staring out the window into the darkness of the autumn morning and found my thoughts wandering back to them and the move that marked the start  of their life together. How long did it take in 1905, I wondered? There was no M25 and there were few cars. The roads were probably dirt, and must have been muddy when it rained. They may have travelled by train into London and out again to Hounslow, or more likely, since George was a furniture carman, by horse and carriage.

But they may not have travelled the journey together, considering the circumstances of their move. Mabel had just had their first son, my grandfather, but she was unmarried, and whether it was general knowledge in the area that George Lilley was the father I don’t know. Perhaps she moved alone, to escape the comments of a disapproving community. Redhill was a small place then, and Mabel was not from those parts. Perhaps she knew few people in the area. She was from London, and had grown up in Bristol and the West Country. She was not a girl, already 29 years old when she had her first child. Perhaps she moved to Heston without George, perhaps she knew someone there who was willing to take her in, an unwed mother unable to work, with a newborn baby. But George could not let her and their son disappear from his life. So he came after her. But it is also possible they made the move together. I imagine it was hard to do things secretly in those days, as it is today.

The truth is I don’t know exactly when Mabel moved, or what the circumstances of that move were. What I do know is that her address in 1905 was St Johns, Redhill, and she was unmarried, but in 1908 her address was Gilberts Cottages, Heston, and her name had changed to Mabel Simmonds, her husband was George Simmonds. So some time between 1905 and 1908 she had moved from Surrey to Middlesex, and her “husband” George had moved there too, though whether they moved together or not I have no way of knowing. How they got there and what they took with them I don’t know either. But they settled initially in Heston village, by Osterley, and, apart from moving house a number of times, remained in that area for the rest of their lives.

By train through George and Mabel’s world

Old Surrey map

Old Surrey map

We have been in Surrey. We flew into Gatwick airport the other night and stayed at a B and B in Horley. We caught a train the next day into London, passing through Redhill, Merstham, Norwood Junction and New Cross before finally getting off at London Bridge. We did not plan it that way, but coincidentally the train we happened to be on passed through many of the places that feature in the lives of my mother’s ancestors that I have been researching: George and Mabel, the English grandparents she never met. The map above shows some of these places.

My grandfather was born in Redhill, Surrey, though he would likely not have remembered it. His parents on the other hand, especially his father, knew it well. George Lilley, my great grandfather, was born, I believe, in 1874, around Banstead, Surrey, very likely in the tiny village of Walton-on-the-Hill. However, as a child he appears to have moved northward with his father and sister, toward London. When he was 6 he was living on the northern side of Croydon, on the edge of Norwood. At the age of 16 he was back in the Banstead area, where he lived at Mint Cottages, Banstead Place (now seemingly called Mint Road). At 26 he was married and living in Reigate, at 14 Cecil Road, an address I cannot find on any map. His wife Rosetta died and they had no children. When George was 30, around 1905, he moved with his second wife, Mabel, to Hounslow in Middlesex, and left Surrey behind, along with his name, Lilley, changing it to Simmonds.

George’s father was a farm labourer. George himself grew up in rural Surrey and the first suggestion of his occupation is in the 1891 census when he was 16 and listed as an agricultural labourer, the same as his father. What that means is unclear, but presumably he was a farmhand too. However, in the next census, in 1901, George Lilley’s occupation is listed as furniture carman. Somewhere along the line he had moved away from farming to the transport business. However, he must have had green fingers, because in later life he worked in market gardens around Hounslow, but it would seem his main involvement was in the transport side of things. In WW1 he joined the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps) and worked presumably in transport.

Mabel Butler, my great grandmother, grew up in the West Country, mainly Bristol, but moved to London some time as a young adult, where she became a nurse and worked at the South East Fever hospital in Deptford. The hospital was renamed a number of times, but at one stage it was called the New Cross Hospital. It does not exist now, though I believe some of the buildings still stand. When Mabel had her first child, my grandfather, George, she listed her occupation on his birth certificate as “laundress of Merstham.”

Somehow Mabel Butler of suburban Bristol met George Lilley of rural Surrey. They had a child and moved to Hounslow, where they made their home. They changed their name to Simmonds, probably around the same time. They had four more children between 1908 and 1916. They finally married legally in 1917.

I sat on the train staring out the window as we headed into London. We stopped at Redhill and I tried to imagine what it looked like in 1905, the year my grandfather was born. We passed through Merstham, and I wondered where Mabel worked as a laundress. What did laundresses do in 1905, before the advent of washing machines? Why was a nurse working as a laundress? The hills of Surrey became more and more densely built up as we rolled north through Croydon and stopped at Norwood Junction. I tried to imagine what Norwood looked like in the late 1800s when my great grandfather was a lad. His address in 1881, according to the census, was Glen Cottages, 2 Cobden Road, Croydon. According to google maps that spot is just half a kilometre south of Norwood Junction station. We headed north again toward London, stopping at New Cross, where my great grandmother, in 1901, was a nurse. The train finally came to its terminus at London Bridge and we disembarked for a day in London.

The next day, yesterday, we left the guesthouse in Horley where we had been staying. We stopped in Redhill to get some things from the shops. There is a big, airy shopping mall called The Belfry just off the high street. Mabel would not recognise the Redhill of today. We set the sat-nav for Osterley House but somehow got off track and found ourselves motoring through the wooded hills north of Redhill village. The leaves were changing and there was a chill in the air, but the sky was blue. The hills of Surrey are very beautiful, quiet and peaceful away from the busy thoroughfares.

We emerged from the woods onto the infamous M25, another feature of our day that Mabel could never have imagined. We joined the swollen rush of traffic heading west and north toward Heathrow, but turned off before we got there and drove through the streets of Hounslow, up Wellington Road, where Mabel died in 1946. We turned into the treelined approach to Osterley House and estate. We parked the car and walked up a sweeping driveway toward the great old house which featured so clearly in the memory of Uncle Jack when I met him in Brisbane back in the 80s, memories now a century old.

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.

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