Not so Happy Christmas

One of the first things my mum’s family wanted me to find out about was their uncle Christmas Dyson, I was told that he suffered from polio as a child and consequently ended up with only one leg. I was told that he’d been taken in by Dr Barnado’s and that he’d died in a fire in London somewhere (one of the relatives had seen it in a newspaper)

I thought, with a name like that, he’d be pretty easy to track down, and his birth was easy to find, but that was where the trail ended for a while, I spent many hours trying to find a death record, but no-one knew when he’d died so it was a case of searching year by year through the records.

On finding his birth records, I realised that he hadn’t had a good start to life, not only had he contracted polio, but his father (Harry Dyson) died when Christmas was just 2 years old. His mother (Florence) was left with 3 children, living in a place that they had moved to only a few years previously.

When the 1911 census became available, I found that she had moved back to her home town of Sheffield within the two years after Harry’s death and all three of her children were with her. The census shows that she has declared that two of her children had died at this point and three were still alive (though she didn’t fill in the ‘Total Children Born Alive’ column). It is possible that these two had been stillborn and she had misinterpreted the form, but there is also the chance that they had two children that I don’t know about, so I need to investigate further. Unfortunately, Dyson seems to be quite a popular name in Sheffield so there are over 170 possibles and that’s just in the Sheffield district, add to that the fact that Harry & Florence moved around a bit (my grandmother, Evelyn, was born in Killamarsh in Derbyshire) and that number becomes rather scary.

In 1912, Florence remarried (John W Barker) and they had one child (that I know of so far) also called John W Barker. My mum gave me a photo with this (younger) John and his family taken when her family went up to Sheffield in around 1958.

Anyway, back to the point, eventually, I found Christmas’s death entry in the June Quarter of 1948 and so I ordered his death certificate. When the certificate arrived, it did indeed confirm that he died in a fire on the 7th June 1948, at 52 Roslyn Gardens, Romford, Essex. Cause of death was given as ‘Shock from burns and asphyxia from CO poisoning. House caught fire. Accidental PM.’ It also mentioned an inquest held on the 9th June so I immediately fired off an email or two to the local library and the local newspaper. A chap from the library was VERY helpful indeed and informed me that it had made the papers and that there were a couple of articles, he offered to photocopy them & send them to me. Obviously, I jumped at the chance. It was only when I received the articles that I discovered that he had married. His wife was called Maud and there was a mention of his brother-in-law a G.A.Wingham, so that gave me Maud’s surname.

The newspapers confirmed that Christmas had indeed died in the fire at his home. He was a tailor and the downstairs room was his workshop, it is believed that a pressing iron was left on overnight and that probably caused the fire, though, at the inquest Maud stated that there was no chance that any of the equipment was left on and the fire had been extinguished. Apparently, there was another family living in the house too (Harold & Kathleen Goulding and their daughter Dorinda) and they raised the alarm. Harold lowered his daughter out of the window and dropped her into the arms of a neighbour. His wife then climbed down a bed sheet which was too short to reach the ground, so she had to jump the last few feet, hurting her back on landing. Maud rushed down stairs to keep out of Christmas’s way as he had to use his hands to get down the stairs as his remaining leg was paralysed. Both Maud and Mr Goulding stated that Christmas was clear of the fire when they left the building, but he must have gone back for something because when the fire brigade got to him, he was back in the bedroom, under a bed with only minor burns but had died from asphyxiation.

The coroner was not very happy about the Electricity Board’s examination of the house but the origin of the fire remains unknown.

After posting messages about Christmas (before I found this information) on various message boards etc, I have now been in contact with two people that knew Christmas or had family that knew him, he was described as a lovely man who used to sit on the cutting table with his false leg propped up at the side, shearing up material for suits. One of the contacts also sent me a photo of Maud and a scan of the funeral card of Christmas. He was buried on the 11th June 1948 in the City of London Cemetery, Ilford in the Wingham family grave. Maud was also buried there when she passed away in August 1957.

I did try tracing Dorinda Goulding as I’d love to have found someone who might remember the fire. I know she married an Alan Meekings in 1966 but the only Dorinda Meekings I could find , turned out to be the wrong person.

The 1911 Census and me

Ooops, it’s been a while! My other life seems to have taken over all my genealogy time for the last few months. That was, of course, until the 1911 census was (partially) released ( Fortunately, most of my lot were from the Berkshire/Surrey/Middlesex borders, so I found quite a lot of relatives without too much trouble.

As with any new information, this census not only answered a few questions but also raised a few more! I found that Frederick Attwell not only had a brother Robert/Ernest (mentioned previously, who died before Fred was born) but also a sister, Florence, born 18 Dec 1910 in the Windsor Union Workhouse (again with no father’s name listed). Unfortunately, like Robert/Ernest, Florence also died young, shortly before her 2nd birthday.

I also found Elizabeth Smith (Attwell), my great-grandmother, living with her children in Park Avenue, Egham. Robert Ernest Smith (the only true Smith in the family I think) of course died in 1910 so no new clues on his parentage/place of birth. The children are all recorded as Smith and she has stated that she was married for 28 years which, in this case, I’m 99% sure is untrue as I do not believe they ever married BUT it does give me an idea of when they got together and it ties in nicely with my theory that my grandfather was the first child of this union, the two older children (Elizabeth & Alice) were from a different father(s) – Alice was the only one of Elizabeth’s children to marry as an Attwell. One of the children listed was my grandfather, recorded as Robert Smith, living at home, aged 27 and single. He married my grandmother 5 years later in Pooley Green Gospel Hall, which was literally just around the corner.

Of course, the big thing for a lot of people researching their families is that the 1911 census is the first that might actually feature people they knew and this is certainly true for me. I was unfortunate to only know one of my grandparents and that was my maternal grandmother, born Evelyn Dyson in 1904 in Derbyshire. I had to wait a little longer to see her on a census return as she fell into one of the counties that wasn’t released at the start, but she is now there, aged just 6, with her mother and siblings (another (sad) story to tell). This is where one of the new questions pops up. She has recorded that she had 3 living children (and they are all on the same return) and 2 that had died. This is news to me. I had no record of any other children in this family, so there is my next task!

Obviously, I found many other relatives too and that has just stirred up the genealogy wasps’ nest again, so I shall be buzzing around trying to solve the many new challenges over the next few months!

Old Windsor Churchyard

As a lot of my Smith/Attwell family lived in/around Old Windsor, I have spent a lot of time looking through old documents etc for that area. I happened upon a list of burials in the Old WIndsor Churchyard which contained a couple of my ancestors, the list was numbered & indexed and mentioned a map of the gravestones, but no-one seemed to know where this map was any more. After a bit of digging, I found it in the Berkshire Records Office, apparently one of the vicars at the Church had deposited it there, along with a copy of the list, so I managed to find the gravestones I was looking for.

I decided that, as a little project, I would make this available to the public, so I sought permissions from the BRO to copy the list & map and they agreed. I had to hand trace the map as it was too large to photocopy, but they agreed to photocopy the list for me. I then spotted a few names, mentioned at the begining of the list, of the original authors, so I made some enquiries and found that one of the authors was still alive & still living in Old Windsor. She happened to be a member of the Windsor branch of the Berkshire Family History Society (as was I) so I asked around & met up with her on one of their meetings. She was very pleased that the map had been found as she believed it was lost too. I asked her permission to transcribe the book and she was happy for me to do it but said that I’d need to get permission from the Church in Old Windsor as she’d handed over the rights to them. A quick email to the vicar and he also agreed that it could be published online (with a few conditions).

I started by scanning in the map (in sections which were then stitched together) and then used a vector drawing package to re-trace it into a scaleable image, added some colour etc to make it look nicer and made a PDF out of it. Then I scanned in all of the pages of the list & OCR’d them to save on some typing, then went through them twice, correcting & checking every word/date etc. to ensure that it was all correct, I tried to stick to the exact formatting (as far as possible) of the document so that dates/notes lined up with the text.

Having completed the task, I was offered the chance of having it hosted on Genuki’s Old Windsor page, so I agreed to that, so that people could find it (hopefully) easily if they were researching that area.

The list and a PDF copy of the map can now be found HERE

The sad story of a murder-suicide

I am in the fortunate position to have access (via work) to the Times Digital Archive, searchable copies of The Times newspaper going back to 1785. While searching for an article for someone else, I thought I’d search for any mention of the Windsor Union Workhouse as I have become rather intrigued by it with many of my relatives seeming to have spent time there. I came across one article which, initially, sounded rather gruesome but of little interest to me, about an inquest that was held in the boardroom (quite a common practice it seems) of a man in Old Windsor who killed his children and then himself. It was only as I read further that I noticed a name that rang bells, then further down a name that I KNEW was in my tree, then another, all of whom mentioned that they were related to this family. I opened up my tree and there it was, this family was indeed in my tree.

Mary Ann Pope (b 1826, Old Windsor) was my 2nd great grandaunt. She married a John Richard Cook in Eton in 1853 and had five daughters with him. Sadly, she died in childbirth in July 1864. Now John was a hairdresser/barber (in Eton College as well as working from home) but had, apparently, taken to drink at some point and had lost a lot of custom and, with it, any financial security. He ran up debts and eventually filed for bankruptcy. He managed to scrape by with some money from the College and from local benefactors, but it seems it was always a struggle. When his wife died, it seems he gave up any form of work and withdrew himself away, only briefly speaking to neighbours & family. The children were never, apparently, hungry as the money he did receive was controlled by the local vicar, who organised for the money to be spent on food.

On Sunday 2nd October 1864, just a few months after his wife had died, neighbours grew concerned that they hadn’t seen the children all weekend and called for the local policeman. After looking through the window and seeing children laying on a bed on the floor and not getting an answer at the door, he forcibly made entry into the cottage and entered the front room, there on the bed were three children lying side by side, all dead. Upstairs, he found the eldest child in a bedroom, lying on the bed, still alive but with ‘something black about her mouth’. In the next room was John Cook, lying on the bed, still alive but with his throat cut and, next to him the remaining daughter, again with her throat cut, and again, still living. On questioning Mr Cook, he admitted to taking poison but said that the eldest daughter had given it to the other children (there was a quantity of tea, containing Vitriol (sulphuric acid) nearby). When asked if he’d instructed her to give the tea to the other children, he refused to answer. He died shortly afterwards. The girl with the cut throat (Adelaide Cook b c1858 ) was conveyed to the Windsor Infirmary immediately.

Sadly, the eldest daughter (who had been poisoned with Vitriol) died three days later despite the best efforts of the people around her.

Adelaide survived the ordeal and next appears in the census in 1871 in the Female Orphan Asylum in Beddington, Surrey. Ten years later and she’s back in Old Windsor, living with her uncle, John Arthur, after that the trail has gone cold.

At the inquest, it was revealed that John Cook had written a couple of letters, explaining that, since the death of his wife, she had visited him on numerous occasions, asking him to join her and bring the children ‘before the place at her side was taken by someone else’ she apparently told him that she believed the vicar would show mercy and allow him to be buried next to her.

The funerals took place a few days after the tragedy, the children were all buried in a single grave, near to their mother. John’s body was buried without ceremony in the farthest corner of the churchyard.

Frederick Attwell

I am still researching this relative quite intensively, but I first became aware of him a few months back when I found him mentioned in the Windsor Union Workhouse Relative’s Book. His entry was one which kind of confirmed my suspicions regarding the Smith/Attwell combination as his relative was given as Mrs Smith (Attwell), grandmother. This meant he was the child of one of Elizabeth Attwell’s own children, but which one? After looking through the Baptism Book at the Old Windsor vicarage, I found two Fredericks, one a Frederick William Attwell, born 1897 to Elizabeth Attwell, Single Mother at the Windsor Union Workhouse, the other was a William Frederick Attwell, born 1909 to Elizabeth Attwell, Single Woman, Crimp Hill House (another name for the Workhouse).  The Relative’s Book had stated that the Frederick I was looking for was born in 1909, so I know that he must be the one. This means that his mother was Elizabeth Attwell (b 1877), daughter of Elizabeth Attwell (1855). The entry for his birth in the BMD registers is as Frederick William, not William Frederick which led me to believe that the earlier Frederick must have been the son on Elizabeth (1855) as I couldn’t find a death entry which would justify having two children of the same name.

The next time that Frederick (1909) popped up was in the School Records of St Peter’s School in Old Windsor, he joined the school in 1916, his parent/guardian was given as ‘The Master – Boy’s Home’ and his address was Albany House. He left the school in 1920, the note next to his entry reads, ‘Left the country (Gone to Canada)’. I later discovered that Albany House Boy’s Home was part of the Windsor Union Workhouse.

I was told that around the late 19th & early 20th century, a lot of children were sent to Canada (via Liverpool) to start new lives out there, so I started digging around passenger lists ( ) etc. and up popped Frederick on board the SS Metagama, leaving Liverpool 3rd Sep 1920, arriving in Quebec on the 11th Sep 1920 with the Macpherson party, destination Marchmont Home, Belleville, Ontario.  Some more digging gave me some interesting background information on the emigration process ( and some names of people to contact who may have more information. A couple of emails later and I got this information from John Sayers of BIFHS ( ):

On film #T-14948 is a copy of Frederick’s landing card, or 30A card. Between 1 Jan 1920 and 31 Dec 1924 Canada used the 30A Landing card rather than a copy of the ships manifest, in 1925 they went back to the manifest.

Ship Metagama, Frederick ATTWELL(his signature has Atwell), aged 11 born Windsor.  Church of England.

From the Liverpool Sheltering Homes to the Marchmont Home, Belleville, Ontario.

4′  1″ tall, medium complexion, brown eyes, light brown hair.

(It should say nearest relative from where he came but that has been left empty)


Film #T-15420 Inspection Reports

Fred ATTWELL aged 11, born 26 March 1911?, came from Windsor in 1920 through the Macpherson/Birt organization.

18 Feb. 1921 all areas good, has board, clothing and food and with Mark Morton, Lot 1, Conc. 3, Hungerford Township, Thomasburg, Hastings County, Ontario. (Just north of Belleville)

12 May 1925 – has been at the same place throughout, is slow at school.

13 May 1926, $130 a year, with Joseph E. Chapell, Thomasburg.

15 June 1927, $160 a year with William J. Webb – RR#2, Tweed

16 Nov. 1927 – Address uncertain.

21 June 1928 – Did not see – gone from Percy McTaggart, RR#2, Tweed.

Was with Mr. Shaw of Thomasburg.

31 July 1929 – $12 month, Mrs. Ella May, Thomasburg.



Film #C-4732 – RG76, Vol. 64, File 3081, Part 3.

Medical certificate dated 18 Aug. 1920 for 28 children including Frederick. 

Also a Form B, with Attwell, Frederick born 26.3.09 from Windsor Union

Also from Windsor Union were; Edith Bonaquest, 10; Leonard Brown, 15; three Sowden girls and Edith Terry. Twin Brown boys Charles and Frederick did not sail.


During my last visit to Berkshire Records Office, I spent some time looking through the records of the Workhouse and found several letters from the master to Miss [Lilian] Birt of the Liverpool Sheltering Homes during 1920, organising the emigration process, several mentioned Frederick and other children that were to be emigrated (including the ones mentioned in the info above). The departure from the home to Liverpool was also mentioned in the Master’s Journal.


So I now know where he was up until 1929 when he completed his indenture. Now I have to start looking for any descendants he may have but, being in England, this might not be so easy as I’ve only ever researched records in this country. If I can find a living descendant, not only will I make contact with this lost branch but I can then request information from Dr Barnado’s as they have now taken over the records and they will only give out records to the next of kin. There is a chance that they will have a photo of the young Frederick too.

Living Locally

Just a quickie today, I mentioned in the last post that I would talk about the benefits of living near your
ancestors. The vast majority of my known ancestors came from Berkshire, some from the west and, more
recently, I have found some from the east. I live 10 minutes from the eastern border of Berkshire, so it’s
not a huge difficulty in getting to the places mentioned in the records. In fact, my parents have recently
moved to within a mile of where a chunk of my dad’s family were born & grew up and I work in the same town as my grandfather was born.

This is all well and good, but what benefits does this offer, especially as a LOT of my research has been
done online? Well, the Berkshire Records Office (BRO) is only a 45 minute drive away, so I can often be found in there poring over microfiches, microfilms or even original documents to find new leads. More recently, I have been trying to find places mentioned in the records to get an idea of what life was like etc. This came in handy when a New Zealand cousin sent me a photo of a house, the only info written on the photo was the town ‘Old Windsor’. She gave me a few clues as to who was living there and why (they were apparently looking after the church). A little digging and I have found the house, Church Cottage, right next to St Luke’s Church, it’s still standing and it hasn’t changed that much. Other places that have gone are Bartlett’s Farm in Albany Road and Trafalgar Place. There are new(ish) houses where Bartlett’s Farm was and just a wasteland where Trafalgar Place stood though there is evidence of concrete floors & demolished brick walls scattered around.

While searching for Bartlett’s Farm, I came across a rather interesting set of documents at the BRO, letters
to and from Burnett Brothers & Sons in London, regarding the valuation of the property (amongst others). One of my relatives is mentioned in several of the documents as the then current tenant and there is even a hand-written letter from him. All of the documents are from 1897.

When I spoke to my parents about this search for old buildings, they handed me a book that a neighbour had given them when they moved in, all about the buildings in the town, it proved very useful in many ways, not least the fact that the author had printed he address in it and was still living there. I made a phone call and she agreed to meet me to chat about some of the houses. When I arrived, I was amazed to find she had all of the school records for the local school as the headmaster had decided to get rid of them and she felt she should preserve them for posterity. I am so glad she did, I found many of my relatives in there, including my own grandfather (the first time I’d seen him recorded as having been in the Workhouse, unlike many of his siblings who spent a lot of time in there it seems). It also confirmed my Smith/Attwell conundrum as he was recorded as Attwell but with a note stating his name was given as Smith when he was admitted.

The other interesting one was a mention of my Dad’s 1st cousin, Frederick William Attwell. His last attendance was in 1920 and the note next to it said ‘Left the country (Gone to Canada)’ his address was Albany House and the parent/guardian was ‘The Master, Boys Home’. I have since discovered much more about him, but using online resources and the kindness of other people halfway round the world, I will elaborate on that in the next thrilling installment!

Anyhow, none of this would I have found if I wasn’t close enough to visit the places in question. Speaking to locals is also a huge benefit, they will tell you things that no records will show, some of which are useful and some not, but when you find a clue that opens up a whole new branch, grasp it with both hands!!

I have several places further afield that I need to visit to try to further some of my other lines but I know I will only be able to get so far, as each little clue takes a while to research further and if you are only there for a few days, you can only get so much.

I know I am one of the lucky ones, most of my lot didn’t move too far.

And the search goes on…

Since my last post, I have continued to search for the Attwell family and also Elizabeth’s ancestry too. Robert Ernest Smith is still a conundrum and I guess I will have to tackle that brick wall at some point.

Before moving on to Elizabeth’s parents etc, let me just complete what I have on the Attwells to date. I now have two more birth certificates for her children, both were registered without a forename, both were female and both birth dates match up with the approximate ages I had for them from previous sources. The first girl (Elizabeth) was born in November 1876 and registered in February 1877 by the Master of Windsor Union Workhouse. The second (Ellen) was born in February 1888 and registered in April 1888 by an E Roberts from the Workhouse who was present at the birth (this appears to be one Eliza Roberts who was a nurse at the Workhouse in the 1891 census).

The only child from this family that I have no record of birth or baptism is Kate (c1886). I have searched for various versions of the name and the only possibles are a couple of Kate Smiths born in the area. It seems unlikely to be either of these, though, as all of the others were definitely registered as Attwells. I will continue to search for evidence of her birth though.

Now onto Elizabeth’s ancestry. She was born 17th Jun 1855 in Windsor, the youngest of four children of parents George & Mary Attwell (formerly Weller), her siblings were George (1847), Thomas (c1851) and Mary Anne (c1853), all born in Windsor. A quick search of the BMD registers yielded the marriage of George Attwell & Mary Ann Weller in 1845 in Windsor. A trip to the Berkshire Records Office also supported this with the full marriage entry showing the aforementioned couple married on the 1st September 1845, both of full age. George’s father is given as Joseph Pope (another surprise!) and Mary Ann’s father was William Weller.

I haven’t got very far with Mary Ann’s ancestry yet as she was born in Pluckley in Kent in around 1819 according to the 1851 census (she died in 1857) and I can’t find any records online, so a trip to the Kent Records Office is on my to-do list for 2008.

George’s parentage was easier than I first thought after seeing a different surname for his father on the marriage entry. A quick search in the parish registers found a marriage between a Joseph Pope and Sarah Atwall (sic) in 1815 in Old Windsor. I knew George was born circa 1815, so it seems he was born before the marriage, but I haven’t managed to locate his baptism record as yet.

After the marriage, Joseph & Sarah Pope had eight other children: Henry (1817), John (1819), Charlotte (1820), Eliza (1822), Maria (1824), Mary Ann (1826), Alfred (1827) and Caroline Amelia (1830). I have since been in contact with a couple of descendants of Caroline Amelia Pope so I have quite a bit of info from them and have even found the home of one of her sons from c1904-1908 after one of my new cousins sent me a photo of the house.

I have yet to find any more information on Sarah Atwall apart from her birth place being given as Lambeth in Surrey, circa 1791 (from the 1851 census). She died in 1856.

Joseph Pope, however appears in the baptism records for Old Windsor and is the son of Thomas & Phoebe Pope. He was also born in 1791 and was the third child of six, the others being Thomas (1786), Ann (1790), Phoebe (1793), Sarah (1795) & William (1799). Thomas was born in Highworth, Wiltshire, where their parents married in 1786 (one month before Thomas was born). The couple then moved to Old Windsor where the rest of the children were born.

Phoebe’s maiden name was Peaty and she was the eighth of ten children: Jane & Mary (both baptised 1744), William (1746), Richard (1748), Elizabeth (1750), Ann (1753), Rachel (1755), Phoebe (1757), Sarah (1759) & Rose (1760). Their parents were Richard Peaty & Mary Page.

The next entry will talk about the benefits of living near where your ancestors lived and I have been very lucky on most of my branches in that respect.