The S-Word part 2

At the end of the last instalment, I mentioned that I had a breakthrough which challenged some of what I believed about this family. The breakthrough came with Ancestry’s release of the WW1 pension records. I knew from my father that his dad, Robert Ernest Smith (junior) had served in the Army in the 1st World War and had been released early on health grounds.

Checking the pension records, I found Robert’s details and the first thing that caught my eye was his next of kin. It turned out that his mother (that I believed had died before 1901) was still alive in 1914 and she was living at No.2 Laburnum Cottages, Park Avenue in Egham. This address was new to me, so I immediately started investigating. Looking at old-maps.co.uk, I found that the road didn’t exist in 1899, but had appeared by 1914. I decided to go and have a look down that road to see if I could find Laburnum Cottages and I wasn’t disappointed, it was still there, a semidetached property with just the two houses. I decided to knock on the door and speak to the current owners, not really expecting to find much out (we are talking 93 years ago after all) but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the current owner knew more than I would have expected. It turns out that his grandfather (I think) bought both houses back in 1950, he moved, with his family, in to No. 1 Laburnum Cottages. The current owner told me that, when his family moved in, there was a Mrs Smith living at number 2 as a tenant and she stayed there until she died in the 1980s. At first I was very excited, thinking this was the wife of Robert Ernest (senior) however, when I thought about it I realised it couldn’t possibly be her as she was born c1856 but that this Mrs Smith could still be a relation.

The owner said that his mother was still alive and she would remember more, so I gave him my phone number & he said he would call me with any new info. A day or two later, he called me and gave me some more info. He told me that, when the property was purchased, there was also a Mr Smith living there but that he died somewhere in the 1950’s or 60’s and that he’d fought in the war and had been gassed. He also mentioned that living next door was a Mrs Bissett and that she was Mr Smith’s sister. Also he mentioned a Miss or Mrs George that lived with the Smiths and that she was Mrs Smith’s sister. Crucially, he also said that Mr & Mrs Smith took on the house from his parents.

I knew that Egham Museum held the Rate Books for this area, so I spent a couple of sessions poring over those and found that Robert Smith first appeared in the house (which had been built in 1907) in April 1910 and was also given as the ratepayer in 1911 (though he actually died in 1910), then Mrs Smith took over. In 1919, she was recorded as Mrs Elizabeth Smith (matching the name I had from the 1891 census) but there was a gap in Egham’s collection of Rate Books after 1930 and in the next available one (1934) there was a Miss George living there and she was still there in 1940-41. Then there was another gap and in 1943, the rate-payer was Albert George Smith who continued to appear until their rate Books ran out in 1962-63. The owner of the property changed in 1950, confirming what the present owner had told me about his ancestor buying the property.

I needed further information, so I went to the Surrey History Centre in Woking and looked through the Electoral Rolls where I found Albert George Smith first appeared (with Elizabeth Smith, his mother) in 1924 and is there until 1964 (with a gap of a few years between 1927 and 1930, I assume for his military service), Elizabeth disappeared after 1931. From these records, I also found that Miss George was actually Edith George and she appeared in 1929 and stayed there for a long time. I haven’t looked beyond 1970 but she was still there with Albert’s wife Alice E Smith.

As Elizabeth disappeared in 1931, I checked the BMD records & found that she’d died in the September quarter of 1931 (I was a little shocked to find any record as very few births, marriages or deaths seem to have been registered by this family). I ordered her death certificate and it gave her address, which matched the address I had been researching. It also said she was the widow of Robert Ernest Smith and gave the informant’s name as one W R Prangley (son-in-law). Again, a new name to me and a little searching found a marriage between Kate Smith (one of Robert Ernest Smith (senior)’s daughters that I already knew about) and a William R C Prangley in the June quarter of 1915 in Staines. A little further searching found two children born to this family, Gladys L Prangley (1916) and Bernard F Prangley (1919)

Going back to the information that the present owner of Laburnum Cottages gave me, I also checked the details of the next door neighbours and there was indeed a Mr & Mrs Bissett living next door to Mr & Mrs Smith and Mrs Bissett’s forename is given as Ellen. One of Robert Ernest Smith (senior)’s daughters was, in fact, Ellen Smith. I haven’t managed to find a marriage entry for this one as yet, but I feel confident that this is the correct Ellen.

One other clue I have to look for next is the name that I found in the Windsor Workhouse’s records. I mentioned in the last article that Robert Ernest Smith (senior) died in the workhouse infirmary in 1910 so, while I was at Berkshire Records Office, researching another branch of the tree, I ordered up the Death Register and the Inmate’s Relative’s Address Book from the workhouse. The Death Register confirmed the details I had and mentioned that he was from Egham and was buried in Egham (paid for by the Union) and the Relative’s Book gave up the name Mrs Attwell at 2 Laburnum Cottages, Park Avenue, Egham. Yet another new name to me and I believe (though I have yet to prove it) that this was one of his eldest daughters who had already married. It seems to me that, while Robert (senior) was alive, nothing was registered, after he died there definitely seems to be more registration going on. Unfortunately, I still don’t know what his wife’s maiden name is or where and when they were married, I know nothing of his parents and there is a gap after 1891 where they could have had numerous children that I have no knowledge of. I still don’t know why only the two Roberts appeared in the 1901 census (and at a different address) my best guess at the moment is that the census taker missed their house or they were out at the time, though that doesn’t explain why they were living where they were. According to the Electoral Rolls, Robert was still around the same area as they were in 1891.

I have a feeling that this family will be elusive for a long time to come, but I always hold out hope that one breakthrough could blow it all wide open!

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