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!