Friday, 14 February 2014

Romance in the records

photo courtesy of riptheskull (flickr)

The story of how couples met and fell in love is an appealing one. My parents met at a Wolverhampton dance hall when my father asked my mother to dance.

My husband's parents met on a flag day, when they were both standing outside Westminster Abbey, collecting for Great Ormond Street Hospital.

My maternal grandparents met while treading the boards across the country [see Strictly Music Hall].

For our ancestors further back, although we can't always know the details, information in the records may give us a clue to the story behind how couples came to know one another.

My great-grandfather Thomas Diggory was a groom living in Frodesley, Shropshire on the 1881 census. At the rectory, Richard Gleadon the rector had in his employ, a cook called Eliza Roberts, my great-grandmother. She and Thomas would marry 5 years later.

Thomas James Diggory b 1857

As I discovered last week [Great Witley Gives Up its Secrets], my great-great grandmother, Eleanor Williams's future husband James Hick, was the lodger!

While tracking Susan Sawyer, wife of the unfortunate Charles Gabriel Baker [Ancestors in the Spotlight] I found her on the 1851 census, aged 18, working as a milliner in James Smith's establishment in 58-59 South Audley Street, Mayfair. Amongst the other 30 milliners, drapers, haberdashers and silk mercers, also residents of 58-59 South Audley Street, was another milliner called Ellen J Baker.

Ellen Jane Baker was Charles Baker's sister. At first I thought it likely that Susan met Charles through her fellow worker. Perhaps the two girls were friends? Perhaps Charles visited his sister in London?

But Ellen was 4 years older than Susan, 7 years older than Charles, who would have been only 15 in 1851. Later that year, Ellen married Thomas Moxon and so would have no longer worked and lived alongside Susan. If they had been friends, perhaps she was invited to the wedding and met Charles there!

But one fascinating find concerning matters of the heart came to light on the 1881 census in Lambeth. It concerns the infamous black sheep in my family called Edward Henry Coules Colley who vanished from the family home some time after 1881 "never to be heard of again". In my post, Ancestors in the Spotlight, I revealed that he had run away to Australia in 1887 with a certain Elizabeth Woolf, who he eventually married (bigamously, I believe) in 1906, after fathering 8 children.

However, it seems that the passionate affair was not a recent liaison but had started several years before. Elizabeth had given birth to a boy, Leon, in 1876. Edward's wife Frances, had had daughter Maud in the same year. In 1880, Frances gave birth to Nelly, and Elizabeth to Albert.

By the time the 1881 census was taken, while Edward was still living with his wife, Frances in one part of Lambeth, Elizabeth was living at her uncle's house a few streets away and calling herself Mrs Colley.

Abandoned wife Frances Colley (nee Ellisdon)

By the time Edward and Elizabeth sailed to the Antipodes, their son Reuben had been born in 1882 and their daughter Violet in 1884.

I wonder how long Edward intended to maintain this 'double life'. Did he finally decide it was time to leave or did Frances discover his adultery and throw him out? And when? In 1887 when they left for Australia? Or before? As always, one disclosure merely leads to another question...

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