Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “surrey”

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.

Changing names: the mystery of George Lilley


George Simmonds in his later years

The Holford name may be a simple variation of the original German name, Holtorp, but Mum’s maiden name, Simmonds, is a complete departure from the past, as far as I can work out. Mum told me before she died that her grandfather, George Simmonds, whom she never met (he died in 1928 in England 9 years before Mum was born), was originally called George Lilley. I found a note from her mother, (my grandmother Gert Simmonds) in Mum’s desk which among other things comments:

George’s father’s name originally “Lilley” changed by deed of poll to Simmonds. Relatives therefore could be “Lilley.”

The George she refers to here is my grandfather, her husband, Mum’s father.

I wanted to find a record of this name change by deed poll, but as the website of the National Archives in Kew explains,

People looking for proof of a change of name will often find that it simply does not exist. Historically, many people preferred not to draw attention to their change of name – for example, when divorce was more difficult, some people simply took their new partner’s name to allow them to appear married, and to make any children appear legitimate…

A deed poll is a legal contract involving only one party. Changes of name by deed poll were (and are) made before a solicitor who issues the document to the person changing their name. The solicitor may keep a copy on file, but it is unlikely to be a certified copy, and the file is unlikely to be kept for more than five years.

The person changing their name can ask their solicitor to ‘enrol’ the deed poll, for safekeeping, in the Enrolment Books of the Supreme Court of Judicature (formerly the Close Rolls of Chancery). However, this is not free, and most people decide against it. Consequently, many people who come to The National Archives looking for a record of an enrolled change of name are disappointed.

I have not had the chance to check the archives in Kew, though I am determined to do so the next time I am in London. But I fear my investigations may draw a blank.

George and Mabel marriage certificate

George and Mabel marriage certificate

So what am I to make of this reported change of name? Why does someone change their name from Lilley to Simmonds? I believe the answer may lie in a single word on the marriage certificate of George Simmonds to Mabel Butler, the word “widower.”

Let me recap what little I know, or believe I know about the mysterious George Simmonds senior, aka George Lilley, my English great grandfather. My attempts to trace his background are recorded on the Biographies page elsewhere in this blog. There it can be seen that my belief is that George Simmonds senior was actually baptized George Frederick David Lilley, in Kingswood, Surrey in 1875, first (and I believe only) son of George and Mary Lilley. I have yet to procure a copy of his birth certificate. I believe that he may have married a girl called Rosetta, sometime between 1895 and 1901, the latter date being another census year in England when there is a record for a George (26) and Rosetta (24) Lilley of 14 Cecil Road, Reigate. They do not appear again in the 1911 census, but George Simmonds, of Heston, Middlesex, does appear, married, according to the census record, to Mabel Butler for 10 years! However, George was actually not married to Mabel Butler in 1911; he did not marry her until 1917, and I have a copy of that marriage certificate.

It would appear that George Simmonds, of Heston, Middlesex, wanted people to think that he and Mabel were married. They had appeared in Heston sometime before 1908 when both their sons were baptized in the parish church. His marriage certificate lists him as a widower, which is why I have searched for a George Simmonds or George Lilley who was married in 1901 and lived in Surrey. George and Rosetta Lilley are the only ones that vaguely match though the birthplace listed for George is wrong. The fact that they disappear from the 1911 census makes me suspicious that George Lilley became George Simmonds sometime after 1901 but before 1908, when he is listed on his second son’s birth certificate. To date I have not been able to find a marriage certificate for George and Rosetta Lilley, nor a death certificate for a Rosetta Lilley, or any variations of that name. Nor can I find a birth certificate matching the George Lilley listed on the 1901 census, so the place of birth listed there for George Lilley may be wrong. This couple remains a mystery to me, but could this George Lilley have been my great grandfather?

Why did George Lilley change his name to George Simmonds? I am beginning to think that the story of George Lilley and his first wife, who may have been named Rosetta, was one that George Simmonds would rather people not know. George wanted to start a new life with Mabel. She bore his first son, my grandfather, in 1905. It is possible that George was already a widower by then, but it is also possible that he was still married. What happened to Rosetta? Had she died, was she disabled, physically or mentally? Or had they separated for some reason, were they divorced?

That would explain why George and Mabel did not marry until 1917. Perhaps George was still married to Rosetta. Perhaps something happened in 1916 or 1917 that made it possible for George to remarry. But I can find no record of a Rosetta Lilley or Simmonds of the appropriate age after the 1901 census. So what happened to her? She does not appear in the 1911 census. I cannot find a death certificate for her. She simply disappears.

Whatever the explanation, it would seem that George wanted to leave his past behind. He changed his name and moved to a village on the other side of London where nobody knew him. He and Mabel let people know that they were man and wife and built a new life, eventually having five children. He joined the army in 1915, at the relatively late age of 40. He, like so many others, wanted to serve king and country. He eventually legalized his union with Mabel in 1917, when he was 42, she the same age. He died 11 years later, at the age of 52 or 53, in 1928. He was damaged by the war, as were so many of that time. Before the war he had a good life as a carman for a nursery, driving produce into the London markets. Perhaps he even had his own store. What he did after the war I don’t know, though on his death certificate his occupation is listed as pipe layer: he was a laborer. By the time he died two of his sons had migrated to Australia, and one had died at the age of 14. His daughter Mary was only 12. His second son Fredrick, at the age of 20, was still living at home, and it would be Fred who remained with his mother until she died in 1946.

What happened to George’s own family, his two older sisters, his parents and his first wife, remains a mystery. He managed to hide it from the people of Heston. He has managed to hide it from me.

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