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.