The first marriage of Alfred Newton Timpson

Alfred Newton Timpson married my great great aunt Alice Martha Stormont Robb, the daughter of my great great grandfather William Robb and his second wife Marianne Mansfield Palmer, in 1874. However, as I noted in the last post, this was not Alfred’s first marriage. He had previously been married to a woman named Caroline Maria, and indeed he had two young daughters, Isabella and Caroline, from that marriage.

Caroline Maria Timpson died in 1872, but when I wrote the previous post I hadn’t been able to discover her maiden name.. However, thanks to a comment on my earlier post from B Hathaway, I now know that she was born Caroline Maria Goshawk, the daughter of coal merchant John Bell Goshawk and his wife Isabel or Isabella. Taking this new information as a starting-point, I’ve been able to discover more about Caroline’s origins and family background.

John Bell Goshawk and his wife Isabella Hearl were both born around the year 1810, and were probably married in the mid 1830s. We know from later census records that Isabel was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, and there are suggestions that the Goshawks may also have been a Suffolk family. Caroline Maria, born in 1843 in Mile End, was the third of their four children: the others were Jane, born in 1837, John Bell junior in 1841, and Isabel in 1845. John Bell Goshawk senior seems to have died some time between 1845 and 1851.

A chandler’s shop (via

The census of 1851 finds John’s widow Isabel, described as a chandler’s shop keeper, living with her three daughters at 69 Mount Street, on the western edge of Bethnal Green. I’m not sure where her son John was living at this time. Isabel Goshawk the younger would die in the following year, when she was just seven years old. By now the Goshawks were living at Fryar’s Mount in Bethnal Green. Isabel Goshawk née Hearl died in 1860 at 16 North Conduit Street, Bethnal Green; she was fifty years old.

On 12th September 1864 John Bell Goshawk junior, 23, a lighterman, married Clara Eliza Silverton, 18, at St Dunstan’s church, Stepney. Clara was the second of the six children of George Silverton, a tailor, and his wife Elizabeth Boswell. They had been married at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, in 1844.Their other children were George junior (1845), William (1849), Walter (1851), Thomas (1859) and David (1868).

One of the witnesses to the marriage was John’s younger sister Caroline. Two years later, on 18th June 1866, she would marry Clara Silverton’s younger brother William, a chair maker, at the parish church of All Saints, Poplar. In a mirror image of the age difference at her brother’s wedding, Clare was twenty-three years old and William only eighteen. Sadly, William seems to have lived for only a month after their marriage, being buried at Tower Hamlets Cemetery on 28th July 1866. His widow Caroline would marry Alfred Newton Timpson three years later, but would also die young, at the age of twenty-nine, shortly after the birth of her second daughter.

Thames lightermen (via

As for John and Clara Goshawk, they would have seven children together and both live to a comparatively advanced age. In 1881, they were living with Clara’s parents in Exmouth Street, Mile End, and John was working as a dock labourer. The electoral register of 1887 shows John at Rhodeswell Road in Mile End. By 1891 the family had moved to Strode Road, West Ham, and John was again working as a barge lighterman. Ten years later, they were living in Woodbine Place off Wanstead High Street.

John Bell Goshawk died at the age of 64 in 1906, and in 1911 his widow Clara was still at Woodbine Place, Wanstead, with three of her sons. She would die two years later in 1913, aged 67.


Alice Martha Stormont Robb and the Timpson family

My great great grandfather William Robb (1813 – 1888) clearly saw himself as the guardian of the family’s Scottish heritage, despite the fact that he was born in Yorkshire and spent most of his life in London. It is thanks to William’s memorandum, written on 20th June 1880, that we know about his parents’ Scottish origins and their life before moving to England. On at least one occasion, William signed his name William Monteith Robb, thus preserving his Scottish-born mother’s maiden name, and he also honoured her in naming his first-born daughter, who sadly died when she was two years old, Fanny Margaret Monteith Robb.

William Robb would father fifteen children in all, five with his first wife Fanny Sarah Seager, and ten with his second wife, Marianne Mansfield Palmer. Both William and Marianne seem to have been keen to pass on the names of their respective parents and grandparents in naming their children. Marianne’s family were honoured in the names of their daughters Lydia Palmer Robb, Marianne Mansfield Robb and Rose Emma Tunstall Robb, and their son David Enoch Robb: Marianne’s father was Enoch Palmer, her mother Lydia Tunstall, and her paternal grandmother Ann Mansfield.

William and Marianne named their second daughter, born in 1857, Alice Martha Stormont Robb. Martha was the name of Marianne’s older sister, while ‘Stormont’ was a reference to the Robb family’s supposed aristocratic Scottish heritage. In his 1880 memorandum, William would write:

My mother Margaret Ricketts Monteith was the only daughter of John Monteith and Matilda his wife who was the daughter of Viscount Stormont who was engaged as well as my Father’s father in the affair of Prince Charles attempt to gain the crown 1745/6.

I’ve been prompted to re-visit the life of Alice Martha Stormont Robb, following a message via Ancestry from one of her descendants, whose DNA test results suggested that we share a common ancestor. Alice was born on 22nd February 1857 in Mile End Old Town, the second child of her parents’ marriage: her older sister Lydia Palmer had been born two years earlier in 1855, and William and Marianne were married the year before that. Two more daughters would follow in quick succession – Marianne Mansfield Robb in 1858 and Rose Emma Tunstall Robb in 1860. The 1861 census record shows the family living at 15 St Ann’s Road, Mile End. With William and Marianne are their four young daughters: Lydia, 5, Alice, 4, Marianne, 2, and Rose, 4 months, together with two of William’s children from his first marriage: Matilda Fanny, 14, and Charles Edward (my great grandfather), 10.

Victorian houses in Turners Road, Mile End (via Google Maps)

Four more younger siblings would arrive in the next decade: David Enoch in 1863, Eliza Ann in 1865, Gertrude Constance in 1867 and Alexander George in 1870. By the time of the 1871 census, the Robb family had moved to 31 Turners Road, also in Mile End Old Town. Alice was now fourteen years old. William and Marianne Robb would have two more children – Grace Amy in 1872 and Arthur Ernest S (Stormont?) in 1875. However, by the time of Arthur’s birth, Alice had left home.

Marriage to Alfred Newton Timpson

On 17th October 1874, Alice Martha Stormont Robb married Alfred Newton Timpson at Wycliffe Chapel in Philpot Street, Whitechapel. I’ve written about this chapel before: it seems to have been where my maternal 3rd great grandparents, William and Lydia Holdsworth, were buried in 1830, when it was still located in Cannon Street Road. And Charlotte Bowman, the aunt of Louisa Bowman, who married my great grandfather Charles Edward Robb, was buried there in 1854. Wycliffe was an independent – i.e. Congregational – chapel, and the choice of the chapel as a wedding location is a clue to the Timpson family’s religious affiliation.

Wycliffe Chapel

The Robb family were, by this time, confirmed Methodists. William’s Scottish forebears had been Episcopalian. His uncle William, after whom he was probably named, was almost certainly an Episcopal minister in St Andrews, Fife, and I suspect that his parents, Charles and Margaret, retained their attachment to its English equivalent, the established Church of England, following their move to London. Certainly there is no evidence of Nonconformity before William’s marriage to Fanny Seager. We know that the Seagers were Nonconformists, and Fanny would be buried at Whitefield Tabernacle in Tottenham Court Road. Shortly after Fanny’s death, William had their son Charles Edward, my great grandfather, christened at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Great Queen Street. It was almost certainly here that William met Marianne Mansfield Palmer, who would become his second wife. Marianne’s family, who originated in Staffordshire, were staunch Methodists and Marianne had been christened at the Methodist New Connexion Chapel in Longton, near Stoke-on-Trent. In time the Methodist tradition would be continued by my great grandfather Charles, who worked as caretaker to the Wesleyan Methodist Mission in Whitechapel. His son Joseph became a Methodist lay preacher, as did my own father, Peter Ernest Robb, the son of Charles’ youngest son Arthur.

Marriage between members of different Nonconformist denominations is hardly unusual.  Although my father came from a Methodist background in East Ham, my mother had ties to the local Congregational church, which is where they were married and, indeed, where I was christened. After our move to Chelmsford, when I was a small child, we at first attended a Congregational church, but later transferred to the new Methodist church on our estate, where my parents are still active members. Fittingly, the church in East Ham where my parents were married is now a combined United Reformed (i.e. Congregational) and Methodist congregation.

Alfred Newton Timpson, the man whom Alice Robb married in October 1874, was eleven years older than her – he was twenty-eight, while she was only seventeen – and already a widower. Some time before 1870 (I’ve yet to find a record of the marriage), Alfred had married his first wife Caroline Maria (maiden name unknown), by whom he had two daughters, Isabella Jane Caroline (1870) and Caroline Beatrice Katharine (1872). At the time of the 1871 census, Alfred, described as a twenty-five-year-old commercial clerk, born in Tunbridge Wells, was living at 75 High Street, Shadwell, with his wife Caroline, aged twenty-six and originally from Mile End, and eight-month-old Isabella, born in nearby Ratcliff. Caroline Maria must have died shortly after giving birth to her second daughter, perhaps as a result of complications from childbirth.

The Timpson family

Alfred was the fourth of five children born to Henry Clare Timpson and his wife Eliza. Henry Timpson, a surgeon and apothecary, had been born in 1816 in Birmingham, the son of Thomas Timpson and his wife Elizabeth Deykin. The record in the Nonconformist register, which was not completed until July 1837, describes Thomas as the minister of Union Chapel in Lewisham, though at the time of his son’s birth he was apparently working as a goldsmith at Horse Fair, Birmingham. Union Chapel was Congregationalist, and Rev Timpson, who seems to have been a prolific writer of religious texts, composed a history of the Christian church in Kent which he included a detailed account of his own incumbency there, which ended in 1854 when he retired due to ill health. Henry Clare Timpson seems to have had one sister, Miriam (or Marian?) Elizabeth, born in 1820.

Photograph of 19th century Lewisham

Rev Thomas Timpson appears to have been married three times. His first wife Elizabeth – Henry’s mother – died some time before 1828, when the first of Thomas’ children with his second wife, Frances Kate Harvey, was born. Frances was the daughter of Robert Harvey, a Bloomsbury schoolmaster, and his wife Amelia. She and Rev. Timpson had six children together. At the time of the 1841 census they were living at No 1, The Retreat, in Lewisham village, with Marian, Thomas’ daughter from his first marriage, and their own six children. Frances died in 1848 and in the following year Rev Thomas Timpson married Maria Barnard from Kings Lynn in Norfolk. Thomas would die in 1860.

Henry Clare Timpson had left home a number of years earlier. On 28th June 1840 he married Eliza Jane Shrewsbury. Born in Ramsgate, Kent, in 1817, and christened at the Ebenezer Independent (i.e. Congregational) Chapel in the town, Eliza was the daughter of Edward Shrewsbury from Deal and Eliza Jane Billet of London. At some point the Shrewsburys moved to south London, where Edward, described variously as a secretary and a collector, and Eliza can be found living in Kings Row, Newington, in the 1841 and 1851 census records. Alfred Newton Timpson had three older brothers: Thomas Edward, born in 1841; Henry Shrewsbury, 1842; and Howard Clare, 1844. There was also a younger sister, Elizabeth Jane, born in 1847.

The Timpsons lived first at Grosvenor House, Mount Ephraim, in Tunbridge Wells, where Alfred Newton was born, and later moved to Albion Road in Woolwich. This was their address in May 1847 when Henry Clare Timpson, described as a ‘Chymist, Surgeon and Druggist’, was declared bankrupt. However, the 1851 census finds the family still living at Albion Road, where Henry is still working as a surgeon and apothecary, and they can still afford to employ a family servant. Henry’s wife Eliza died three years later, at the age of thirty-six.

Henry Timpson seems to have married his second wife, Jane Smith, before 1861, when the census record finds the two of them living in Cambridge Road, Bethnal Green. None of Henry’s children from his first marriage are with them. The eldest of them, Thomas Edward, now twenty, was serving as a private with the 18th Hussars at Aldershot. I’m not sure where his brother Henry Shrewsbury Timpson was in 1861, but ten years later he was lodging in Warkworth, Northamptonshire, where he was working as an ironmonger, a trade he would later carry on in Ealing, where he lived with his wife, Banbury-born Ellen Elizabeth Potter, and their children. The third Timpson brother, Howard Clare, joined the Royal Navy and in 1861, when he was still only seventeen, was serving as a ship’s steward’s boy on HMS Firebrand, which on the night of the census was said to be ‘at anchor at Carthagena, near Granada, South America’ (now part of Colombia).

As for Alfred Newton and his younger sister Eliza Jane, then aged fifteen and thirteen respectively, the 1861 census finds them with their widowed step-grandmother Maria Timpson and her two adult daughters, Amelia and Ruth, both of whom worked as governesses, at the Retreat in Lewisham. Alfred Newton was already earning a living as a merchant’s clerk.

Alfred and Alice Timpson: from London to Wolverhampton and back again

As mentioned before, Alfred must have married his first wife, Caroline Maria, before 1870, and she must have died before 1874, when he married Alice Robb. Thomas and Alice’s first child, Alfred Percy Timpson, was born in Walthamstow in 1875. He was followed by Spencer Cuthbert, who was born in Mile End in 1877. By the time their first daughter, Marion Alice Rose, was born in 1880, Alfred and Alice had moved from London to the Midlands. The 1881 census finds them with Isabel and Caroline, Alfred’s daughters from his first marriage, and their own children Alfred, Spencer and Marion, living at Vine Terrace in Wolverhampton. Presumably the move was on account of Alfred’s work: he is now described as an accountant and commercial clerk.

In February 1880, Alfred was the victim of a robbery. A notice in the Police Gazette describes how, at about 7.30 pm on 17th February, somewhere between Bentley and Walsall, ‘three men who cannot be described’ stole a number of items:


The Timpsons were still in Wolverhampton when their next child, Sydney, was born in 1882. Alice gave him one of her own middle names – Stormont – thus perpetuating the link with the Robb family’s supposed aristocratic past. Wolverhampton was also the birthplace in 1886 of Alfred and Alice’s son Wilfred, whose middle name Mansfield commemorated Alice’s mother’s family.

At some point in the next three years, the Timpson family must have moved back to London, where Alfred began to work as a stockbroker. In early September 1889, he was arrested and charged at Mansion House Police Station with ‘forging and uttering a false cheque’ for £500, with the intention of defrauding his business partner, Edward Wace. Apparently there had been ‘a good deal of friction’ between the two men. When the case came to trial at the Old Bailey, Alfred pleaded guilty, and although the court record says that judgement was ‘respited’, a separate source states that he was sentenced to three months in prison, ‘without hard labour’, from 21st October 1889. The same year saw another family misfortune: the death of Alfred and Alice’s son Alfred Percy at the age of thirteen.

Old Bailey court room (1897)

Alfred Newton Timpson would have been released from prison in time to witness the birth of his and Alice’s sixth child, Howard, on 17th April 1890. Once again, Alice honoured her family heritage by using her grandmother’s maiden name – Monteith – as a middle name for her son. Records state that Howard Monteith Timpson was born in the Wanstead area, and certainly by the time of the census taken in the following year, the family had moved eastwards to Leyton. Alfred’s spell at Her Majesty’s Pleasure seems not to have affected his career unduly: he was back working as a stock broker and ‘agent’.

The Timpsons’ final child, Annie Edith, was born in April 1892. Before Annie was four years old, her mother would die. Alice Martha Stormont Timpson née Robb was only thirty-eight years old when she passed away in June 1995. Six years later, the census of 1901 would find Alfred Newton Timpson, a widower of fifty-five, and working as an accountant on his ‘own account’, living at 51 Woodstock Road, East Ham, with Isabel, 30, a nursery school governess; Spenser, 24, a commercial traveller; Marion, 21; Sydney, 19, a ‘hatters manager’;  Wilfred, 15, a pupil teacher; Howard, 10; and Annie, 8.

The children and grandchildren of Alfred and Alice Timpson

By 1911 the family had moved to 11 Newick Road in Clapton. In the meantime Alfred, now 65, had undergone another change of career. He is now described as a ‘limited company secretary’ and as an employer in the shoe trade. His daughter Annie, 18, is working with him as a ‘shoe trade forewoman’, as is Winnie Upson, 19, a visitor on the night of the census. Also still at home are Alfred’s daughter Caroline, 33, described as a housekeeper (presumably for her father); Wilfred, 25, a schoolmaster; and Howard, 20, a mercantile clerk for a soap manufacturer.

Marion Alice Rose Timpson had married Frank Alma Baker in 1903. Their daughter Alice Annie Alma was born at Southend in 1904, but by 1911 they were living in Cann Hall Road, Leytonstone. Frank was employed as a handyman in a brewery. In this record, Marion uses ‘Alice’ as her first name; an ‘Alice R.M. Baker’, who is almost certainly the same person, would die in Whitechapel in 1914. Frank died four years later (I wonder if were they both victims of the influenza epidemic?), leaving his effects in the hands of his father-in-law, Alfred Newton Timpson. Their daughter Alice married Peter John Peacock in 1929. He died at Waltham Forest in 1968 and she died at Pagnell Grange Nursing Home in Newport Pagnell, Milton Keynes in 1998, at the age of 94.

Spencer Cuthbert Timpson had married Mabel Isabella Wood in 1905, and in 1911 they were living in Mortlake Road, Ilford. Spencer was employed as a clerk for a dry goods merchant. They had a son, Percy Arthur, aged four, presumably named in memory of Spencer’s older brother, and a daughter Margery, whose middle name – Stormont – kept the memory of the family’s noble Scottish heritage alive. Spencer Timpson died in Chatham in 1960, at the age of 83; Mabel died in Canterbury in 1978. Their son Percy married Winifred May Wills in 1934; he died in Torbay in 1978. Their daughter Margery married Jack Savidge in 1937; she died in Pontypool in 1995.

Sydney Stormont Timpson had married Daisy Ellen Hosking in 1909 and in 1911 they were living in Grove Green Road, Leytonstone, with their one-year-old daughter Daisy Denise. Sydney was still working as a ‘retail hatters manager’. The couple would have two more children: Iris Madeleine in 1912 and Anthony Gerald in 1926. Sydney Timpson died in Tonbridge and 1954 and his wife Daisy in London in 1958. Daisy’s will describes her daughters Daisy and Iris, the joint beneficiaries of her will, as spinsters. Daisy died in Paignton, Devon, in 1984 and Iris in the same area, in 1999. Anthony Gerald seems to have been married twice (unless I’ve misinterpreted the records): firstly, in London, in 1948, to Freda Young, and secondly in Poole, Dorset, in 1978, to Maria Spinola do Amaral. Anthony Timpson died in Torbay in 1984. It seems that the three Timpson siblings – Daisy, Iris and Anthony – lived in the same part of the country, and possibly even lived together, in the closing years of their lives.

The grave of Private W.M. Timpson, Poperinge, West Flanders, Belgium

Wilfred Mansfield Timpson served as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the First World War and was killed in action on 12th May 1917. He is buried in Flanders, Belgium.

Wilfred’s younger brother Howard Monteith Timpson also served in the conflict, in the newly-created Royal Air Force, but he survived. Howard’s service record mentions his wife, ‘E.M.Timpson’, though other records suggest that he and Ethel May Polley were not married until 1918. I think Howard may have been married twice, but I’m not sure. He died in 1963.

In 1913 Isabella Timpson married James W Brook in Brighton. Her husband predeceased her and Isabella died in February 1953 in Uckfield, Sussex.

The youngest of Alfred and Alice Timpson’s children, Annie Edith, never married. She died in October 1966 at the age of 73.

As for Alfred Newton Timpson, he died in 1921, at the age of 75.


Although much of this post, particularly on the early history of the Timpson family, is based on my own original research, I should acknowledge my debt to other researchers who have recorded their findings at Ancestry, and especially to my second cousin Michael John Robb, on whom I relied for information about some of the later Timpson generations.

Charles Edward – or Robert Charles – Robb?

A memorandum written by my great great grandfather William Robb in June 1880, when he was sixty-six years old, and entered in the family Bible, includes a list of  ‘my brothers and sisters who lived to grow up’. The first entry in the list is for ‘Charles Edward who was born in 1809 and died in 1836 (Sept.) Fever.’ A separate document, also included in the family Bible, provides more details of the births, marriages and deaths of each of his siblings. In relation to his brother Charles Edward we read:

Born at Whitby Wednesday 7 February, Baptized

Feb 21st 1810. Died 27 September 1836. Age 26 years.

Buried at St.Martin in the Fields.

I’ve often tried, unsuccessfully, to discover more about Charles Edward Robb. I made another attempt more recently, in my quest to establish where my Robb ancestors were living when they first came to London. In a recent post, I mentioned new evidence that my 3rd great grandparents Charles and Margaret Robb (parents of William and Charles Edward) may have lived at 63 Lincoln’s Inn Fields on their arrival in London from Yorkshire, before moving to 29 Charing Cross by the time of the 1841 census. I wondered if finding Charles Edward’s address at the time of his premature death in 1836 might help to clarify the Robb family’s movements around London at this period.

Having failed to find any record of Charles Edward Robb’s death or burial in the available records online, I tried to order a copy of his death certificate from the General Register Office, only to discover that their records only begin in 1837 – the year after Charles’ death.  Frustrated, I returned to the records of births, marriages and deaths accessible online, and tried a different approach: just entering the surname ‘Robb’ without any other names, but searching for 1836 or thereabouts, and for the London / Middlesex area.

The burial of Robert Charles Robb, 2nd October 1836 (via

I was surprised to come across a record that closely matched the information for Charles Edward Robb. On 2nd October 1836, just five days after Charles’ death, a twenty-seven-year-old man was buried at the church of St Martin in the Fields. His address was given as Charing Cross, where my Robb ancestors would be living in 1841. The only problem was, his name was given not as Charles Edward but as Robert Charles Robb.

I’ve checked the parish register and there are no other burials in the parish for anyone with a name that is at all similar between the supposed date of Charles’ death (27th September) and the end of October (there were twenty-three burials in total during this period). Unfortunately, the parish had not yet developed the habit of inserting the deceased’s date of death in the margin, as it did in later years.

How can this be explained? Surely it is too much of a coincidence that another young man named Robb, from Charing Cross, would be buried at the same church in the same week? This must mean that either the parish clerk got the name of the deceased wrong, or his brother entered it wrongly in the family Bible. The former seems much more likely, especially as Charles Edward was not only the name of my 3rd great grandfather, but also of my great grandfather, the son of William Robb.

St Martin in the Fields

If the Robert Charles Robb who was buried at St Martin’s in October 1836 is actually my great great grandfather’s older brother Charles Edward, then it undermines my theory about the family living in Lincoln’s Inn Fields at this period. I based that theory on freemasonry records which find a ‘gentleman’ named Charles Robb registered with a number of London lodges in 1836 and 1837. At least one of these places him at 63 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in October 1837.

I don’t want to give up my theory about the Robbs’ earlier address without further evidence, as it fits so well with other facts about the family. There could be an error in the dating of the freemasonry records. Alternatively, it’s possible that Charles Edward (a.k.a. Robert Charles) Robb, who after all was an adult of twenty-six, was lodging at Charing Cross in 1836, while the rest of his family were still at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Samuel Hurst Seager in the London land tax records, 1821 – 1830

Continuing with my exploration of the lives of the Seager family in early nineteenth-century London, I’ve found my 3rd great grandfather Samuel Hurst Seager in the London tax records for the years 1821, 1827, 1828, 1829 and 1830, when he and his family were living in Crown Court, one of the narrow streets to the north of the Strand in the parish of St Clement Danes.

In 1821, Samuel was one of six tax-paying heads of household in Crown Court. His rent of £16 was the second highest in the court, after Ann Howard who paid £45. The other tax payers were William Leatherbarrow and three members of the Bulgin family: Thomas, Thomas junior and James. Crown Place is listed after Crown Court and treated as a separate address, also with six tax-payers, of whom one curiously (and probably coincidentally) was a certain William Monteith. (My 3rd great grandmother, the wife of my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb, was born Margaret Ricketts Monteith, and her son, who would marry Fanny Sarah Seager, daughter of Samuel, occasionally styled himself William Monteith Robb.) 

In this record, Crown Court is preceded by Temple Bar and part of Picket Street, which formed a section of what we know as the Strand, and then by Ship Place. Crown Court and Crown Place are followed by Star Court, Newcastle Court, Robin Hood Court, Clements Lane and Boswell Court, as well as further sections of Picket Street.

Land tax records for Crown Court in 1821 (via

In 1827 Crown Court and Crown Place appear to be listed as a single location, preceded by Picket Street and Ship Place as before, and followed by Star Court. Ann Howard is still the first-named resident, followed by the three Bulgins, while Samuel Seager is somewhat further down the list, with Richard Jones, Richard Owen and John Jerome before him, and Thomas Jones, Henry Roberts and William Loftin following. The amounts paid in rent are much the same as six years previously.

In the tax records for the following three years, 1828, 1829 and 1830, Crown Court and Crown Place again appear to be merged. There are a few new names, and Samuel Seager’s rent has risen to £24.

It’s interesting to compare these records with the situation as revealed in the census records for 1841. These also give us a sense both of the numbers of people in each of the houses in Crown Court, and the diversity of their occupations and social situations. By this time, Samuel Hurst Seager had been dead for four years and his family dispersed to other addresses in the area (see the previous post). The census record lists the households in Crown Court out of numerical order, beginning with No. 7, where the Seagers had been living at the time of Samuel’s death, but which is now headed by William Gray, a police constable, who occupies it with his young family. Other residents include a bricklayer and a law writer and their families.

No. 8 is home to M A Sangster, a laundress and probably a widow, with her two children, as well as William Bulgin, a coffin maker, together with his wife and daughter. Next door at No. 9 is another member of the Bulgin family – Thomas, a ‘Gt’ (gent?), with his wife and son. Their neighbours at No. 10 include two carmen, a plumber, a porter, and assorted relatives. No. 11 Crown Court appears to be occupied by two women, while No. 12 is the residence of John Allen, a labourer, with his wife and son.

Boswell Court, one of the streets close to Crown Court, and presumably similar to it in appearance and design (via

The census record then moves to No.1 Crown Court, another multi-occupancy house, which includes the family of John De Knight, a labourer; Richard Loftin, a compositor (a familiar surname from the tax records); Charles Thomas Spikin, another ‘Gt’, though his wife is described as a laundress and one of his sons works as a printer; and R H Matty, a young card maker.

No. 2 Crown Court is home to the families of George Griffiths, a bricklayer; John Mackbeth, a porter; James Lewis, a bookseller; as well as James Bence and William Ellis, two young tailors. At No.3 are Agnes Granger, a woman with an independent income, and her daughter; David Phillips, a tailor, and his wife; Mary Heston and Sarah Ganet, also independent ladies; as well as the families of Thomas Hilyard, a printer; Charles Bennett, a bootmaker; John Evans, a porter; and John Davis, a tailor.

The residents of No. 4 are Elizabeth Curd, a needlewoman and probably a widow, and her two daughters; and the families of John Aston, a porter; Richard Drew, a brushmaker; and James Martin, a coachman. At No. 5 is George Sharp, a ‘Gt’ and his wife, with their son Francis Sharp, a butcher; James Alford, a groom, and his family; Jane Stratton, a laundress; and Samuel Leonard, a shoemaker, and his wife.

The final house listed in the census for Crown Court is No. 6, whose residents include John Roberts, a carpenter, and his young son; Jane Furse, a lady of independent means; William Blatchley, a letter press printer, and his wife, a laundress, together with their three children; two young members of the Loftin family; Thomas Preston, another letter press printer; Richard Allworth, a bricklayer; and the families of coachman Thomas Hill and coal porter Thomas Cook.

At some point I plan to take a closer look at the Bulgins – one of the families who were neighbours of the Seagers, and residents in Crown Court over a long period – as a way of understanding life in that corner of London in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

The Seager family in early nineteenth-century London

In the last post, I reported my discovery that my 3rd great grandfather, Charles Edward Stuart Robb, and his family may have lived at 63 Lincoln’s Inn Fields when they arrived in London in the 1830s, rather than the house at 29 Charing Cross where they could be found at the time of the 1841 census. Finding further confirmation of the Robb family’s addresses during this period is difficult. However, we do have information about the whereabouts of the Seager family, with whom they would be connected by marriage. Charles’ son, my great great grandfather William Robb, would marry Fanny Sarah Seager in May 1836, and the new information about the Robbs’ address in Lincoln’s Inn Fields makes it easier to understand how William and Fanny may have met (though see this post for an alternative theory of how it may have happened). Here, I’ll attempt to draw together everything we know about the Seagers’ movements in London in the early decades of the nineteenth century, with the aim of throwing further light on my ancestors’ lives during this period.

Samuel Hurst Seager and Fanny Sarah Fowle were married at St Margaret’s church, Westminster – which stands in the grounds of Westminster Abbey – on 15th December 1811. Samuel had been born in Birmingham in 1778, the son of another Samuel Hurst Seager and his wife Elizabeth Cash, while Fanny’s origins remain obscure, though it appears she was probably born in about 1781. This means that Samuel and Fanny were thirty-three and thirty years old respectively at the time of their marriage. Samuel and Fanny Seager were my 3rd great grandparents.

According to the New Zealand novelist Ngaio Marsh, another of his descendants, Samuel Hurst Seager was forced by a dramatic change in family fortunes to take ‘some extremely humble job in the Middle Temple’, and from other sources we know that he was a porter at the Inns of Court. However, some records describe Samuel simply as a ‘labourer’.

St Clement Danes

The next record we have for the Seagers after their wedding is from 2nd May 1813, when their daughter Mary Ann was christened at the parish church of St Clement Danes in the Strand. At the time Samuel and Fanny were said to be living at 5 Crown Place, as they would be when their second child, my great great grandmother Fanny Sarah Seager, was baptised on 18th December 1814. I assume that Crown Place was either identical with or very close to Crown Court, where the Seagers would be living in November 1817, when their daughter Mary Ann died at the age of three. Crown Court was a narrow alley, leading directly off the north side of the Strand, to the east of St Clement Danes church and west of Temple Bar, and forming part of a dense network of streets between the Strand and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. These streets were demolished – with a total of 450 houses disappearing – in about 1870 to make way for the Royal Courts of Justice, which now stand on the site of my ancestors’ home.

The Middle Temple, where Samuel was employed, was on the south side of the Strand, immediately opposite the entrance to Crown Court.

When Mary Ann Seager died the family was at No.6 Crown Court, which is where their next three children would be born: Elizabeth in 1817, Samuel in 1822 and Julia in 1823. However, when their son William was born in June 1826, and when he died shortly thereafter, the Seagers were said to be back in Crown Place, at No.3. This was also their address when their youngest child, Edward, was born in May 1828. When Samuel Hurst Seager himself died in November 1837, at the age of fifty-nine, the Seagers were once more in Crown Court, this time at No. 7.

These frequent changes of address within the same street, or neighbouring streets, suggest that the Seagers were probably in rented accommodation, and perhaps subject to the whims of a landlord who owned a number of properties in the same area.

Part of Horwood’s 1792 map of London, showing the area between Lincoln’s Inn and the Middle Temple (this map gives a much clearer image of the streets where my ancestors lived than later versions)

By the time their father died, the older Seager children had already left home. Fanny, now twenty-three, had married William Robb in May of the previous year (1836) at the church of St George the Martyr in Queen Square, Holborn. Bride and groom were both said to be ‘of the parish’. If Fanny was still living at home, this was not strictly true, though Queen Square was barely a mile from Crown Court. If the Robb family was indeed living at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, as suggested by the Freemasony records, then William’s home was less than half that distance away, though officially in the parish of St Giles in the Fields.

Fanny’s younger sister Elizabeth would have been twenty when their father died, and perhaps still living at home: she would never marry. According to his father’s death certificate, Samuel Hurst Seager junior, who was eighteen at the time and responsible for registering the death, was already living away from home at 33 East Street, which was close to Red Lion Square in Holborn. He had perhaps already started work as a carpenter and builder, which would remain his occupation, both in England and after he had emigrated, with his brothers, to New Zealand.

We can’t be sure where William Robb and Fanny Seager lived immediately after their marriage, but when their first child, Margaret Fanny Monteith Robb, was born in February 8th, they were at 6 Tavistock Street, to the north of the Strand in Covent Garden, about a ten-minute walk from Crown Court and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The child died of croup two years later, in February 1840, at her maternal grandmother’s home in Crown Court.

By the time William and Fanny Robb’s second child, William Henry, was born, on 7th April 1841, they had moved to 12 Old Compton Street in Soho, though there is a suggestion that, like his two younger sisters, William junior may actually have been born at the City of London Lying-In Hospital.

The 1841 census was taken on 6th June in that year, when William Henry Robb would have been not quite two months old. I can find no trace of him in the census records and assume he must have been with a wet nurse, perhaps because his mother Fanny was unwell following the birth. That may also account for Fanny’s presence at her mother’s home, which was now in Hemlock Court, another in the network of streets between Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the Strand. Fanny Seager is described in the record as a laundress and her daughter as an embroideress. Meanwhile, Fanny Robb’s husband William was at his parents’ home in Charing Cross.

Plan from 1869, showing the intended location of the new law courts, between Carey Street and the Strand: the exact area where my Seager ancestors lived in the early decades of the nineteenth century

The other Seager siblings must all have left home by this time, but until now I’ve struggled to find them in the census records. However, I recently managed to track down Henry, Samuel and Julia, living together in a house in Carey Street, near the turning for New Court, which was very close to Hemlock Court. Both Samuel and Henry were said to be working as carpenters. Elizabeth Seager may be the young woman of that name who in June 1841 was working as a domestic servant for the Anderson family at Grove End Place in Lisson Grove. That leaves Edward as the only sibling whose whereabouts in 1841 remain uncertain.

Charles Robb – freemason? (and a possible new address for the Robb family)

Newly available records at Ancestry have led me to reassess what I know about my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb, and about the Robb family’s early years in London. Charles was born in Aberdeenshire in 1779, married my 3rd great grandmother Margaret Ricketts Monteith in Glasgow in 1802, then spent a number of years moving his family around Scotland and Yorkshire, before finally settling in London.

Until now, I’d assumed that, on their arrival in London, which must have happened by the mid-1830s at the latest, the Robb family had taken up residence at 29 Charing Cross, the address where they can be found at the time of the 1841 census. However, the membership registers of the United Grand Lodge of England Freemasons, which are now searchable at Ancestry, suggest otherwise.

A freemason undergoes an initiation ceremony (19th century)

I’ve found a Charles Robb in five of these registers. On 10th February 1836 Charles Robb, who gave his profession as ‘gent’, was initiated into the Enoch Lodge. He was said to be from Scotland, and to be living at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. There is a separate record of him paying his dues to the same Lodge from 1836 to 1838, when he resigned. On 31st October 1837, Charles Robb, a ‘gent’ of 63 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, was initiated into the St Andrews Lodge (West), and it is noted that he made payments to the lodge until 1847. This overlaps with Charles Robb’s membership of a third lodge, the Royal Athelstan, which ran from 10th October 1840 until 1849, though a separate document records payments up to 1852.

According to the census records, there was only one other Charles Robb living in London at this period: he was a twenty-six-year-old engineer, also from Scotland, living in Thames Street in the parish of All Hallows Barking. The same man would be living in Ranelagh Street in Belgravia in 1851, and working as an engine fitter. It’s possible that he is the Charles Robb whose name is recorded in the Freemasonry registers, but certain factors make it more likely that it was, in fact, my ancestor. Firstly, my 3rd great grandfather would describe himself as a ‘gent’ in other records, including the marriage register of his daughter Elizabeth. Secondly, he and his sons were all law clerks, and Lincolns Inn would be an obvious location in which to base themselves and seek work. Thirdly, the address is not far from where both Charles and his son William, who married in 1836, would later live. Finally, the abrupt ending of payments to the third lodge – the Royal Athelstan – coincides with my ancestor’s death in 1853.

If this is indeed my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb, then I’m not sure what his membership of the Freemasons, or his movement from one lodge to another, tells us about his social status, or about his religious or political opinions. However, the possibility that he and his family lived in Lincolns Inn Fields on, or soon after, their arrival in London, radically revises our understanding of their early years in the capital. Moreover, the date of Charles’ first initiation into a London Freemasonry lodge – February 1836 – may give us a clearer sense of when exactly the Robbs arrived in London.

West side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields in about 1835, by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd

Until now, the first date we’ve had for the Robb family in London was 23rd May 1836, when Charles’ son, my great great grandfather William Robb, married Fanny Sarah Seager at the parish church of St George the Martyr, Queen Square. This was less than half a mile from at the time of his marriage. The next date is 27th September 1836, when William’s brother died, at the age of twenty-six, of a fever. He was buried at St Martin in the Fields on 2nd October, a fact which may argue against the family being resident in Lincoln’s Inn: it would be their parish church when they lived at Charing Cross, but wouldn’t be the obvious choice for the former address. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find Charles’ death or burial in the official records: knowing where he died would help us to track the Robb family in their movements around London in the 1830s.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields was developed as a residential area in the seventeenth century, and was fringed by elegant three-storey villas, inhabited in the eighteenth century by aristocrats and political figures, but by the early nineteenth century mostly subdivided into apartments. No. 63 was on the west side of the square, close to the elegant Lindsey House at Nos. 59-60. Many of the original houses survive to this day, but No. 63 was demolished in the middle of the nineteenth century and replaced in 1886 by the building that now houses the Royal College of Radiologists.

63 Lincoln’s Inn Fields today (via Google Maps)

At the time of the 1841 census the west side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields formed part of District 9 of the St Giles South sub-registration district of the parish of St Giles in the Fields. Based on the census evidence, we can conclude that this was a socially mixed area: while solicitors, barristers and law students were in the majority, these buildings also housed other professionals such as booksellers, clergymen, surgeons and architects, as well as a number of artisans such as bootmakers, hatters, hosiers and laundresses. Unfortunately, no house numbers are given in the records, so it’s impossible to deduce who was living at No. 63 at the time. However, having reviewed the records thoroughly, I’ve concluded that nobody by the name of Charles Robb was living there in 1841, which lends some support to the theory that my ancestor may have been there in 1837 but had moved to 29 Charing Cross by 1841.

The mysterious life of William Henry Robb

As I noted in the previous post, my great great grandparents William Robb and Fanny Sarah Seager had five children, before Fanny’s death at the age of thirty-six in January 1851. Their first child, Fanny Margaret Monteith Robb, died at the age of two in 1840. The four children who survived were William Henry (1841), Elizabeth Margaret (1843), Matilda Fanny (1846) and my great grandfather Charles Edward (1851).

It’s not entirely clear what became of these siblings after the death of their mother. At the time of the 1851 census, two months after Fanny’s death, her daughters Elizabeth and (Matilda) Fanny, then aged eight and six respectively, were staying with their seventy-year-old maternal grandmother,  Fanny Seager, her daughter Edith and sons Samuel, Henry and Edward (all of whom would soon emigrate to New Zealand) in Gerrard Street, Soho. Meanwhile, nine-year-old William Henry was with his father at 16 Queen Street, also in Soho. There is no sign of three-month-old Charles Edward: I assume he was with a wet nurse.

I’ll probably return to Elizabeth Margaret and Matilda Fanny in future posts, but here I want to try to piece together the mysterious life of their brother, my great great uncle, William Henry Robb. William had been born at 11 o’clock in the morning on 7th April 1841. However, although his birth certificate gives the address  as 12 Compton Street, Soho, the 1851 census record claims that William Henry was born in Finsbury, which suggests that, like his two younger sisters, he actually came into the world at the City of London Lying-in Hospital.

William Henry Robb would have been almost nine years old when his mother Fanny died, and twelve when his father remarried, to Marianne Mansfield Palmer, in June 1854. However, William was certainly not with his father, stepmother, siblings and step-siblings at the time of the 1861 census, when they were living in St Ann’s Road, Mile End. In fact, to date I’ve been unable to find him in the census records for that year, when he would have been just twenty years old (the census was taken on his birthday, 7th April). The nearest match is nineteen-year-old William Stephen Robb, said to have been born in the City of London, who was working as a servant in the household of a pawnbroker in Kensington High Street.

Entry for William Henry Robb in the GWR Register (via

The next possible sighting of William in the records doesn’t occur until 1869, when we find the name of a William Henry Robb entered in the Register of Clerks in the Service of the Great Western Railway Company. He is said to be based at Paddington Station and to have started work in August of that year. How can we assess whether this is ‘our’ William Henry? One clue is the fact that William Henry Robb, railway clerk, shared the same birthday: 7th April. However, the GWR register claims that he was born in 1842, rather than 1841. This could be a clerical error, or an attempt by the employee to pass himself off as a year younger, for whatever reason. Add to that the fact that there were very few, if any, other William Robbs living in London at the time, let alone any with the middle name Henry, and there is a strong likelihood that this is William and Fanny Robb’s son.

It seems fairly certain that William Henry Robb, railway clerk, is the same William Henry Robb who married Phebea or Phoebe Humphreys on 5th October 1871, at the parish church of St Helier, Jersey, in the Channel Islands. Phoebe was only seventeen, though William was said to be twenty-seven, altered in the parish register from twenty-eight, when in fact he was either twenty-nine of thirty, which seems to suggest a habit of amending his age when it suited him.

Harbour at St Helier, Jersey: the earliest known photograph of the town (date unknown)

Phoebe Humphreys had been born in July 1855 at Grouville, Jersey, to John Humphreys, a retired Royal Navy seaman who was originally from Portsmouth, and his wife Jane Pitman, originally from Gloucester. In 1861, aged five, Phoebe had been living with her parents, three sisters and brother at 5 Union Place in Grouville. All of the Humphreys siblings were born in Jersey. By 1871, her father had died and Phoebe and her siblings were living with their widowed mother at the same address. Her mother was working as a laundress, her brother as a mechanic, one sister as an ironer, and Phoebe herself as a dressmaker.

A clue as to how William Henry Robb, a London railway clerk, might have met and married a young girl who had probably never left Jersey, is provided by the record of the 1881 census. This finds William H Robb, a thirty-seven-year-old railway clerk (he was actually thirty-nine or forty), living with his twenty-five-year-old Jersey-born wife Phoebe (she was actually twenty-six or twenty-seven) at 110 Kilburn Lane, Chelsea, with their eight-year-old daughter Beatrice P Robb, said to have been born in Ealing (we know from other sources that her full name was Beatrice Phoebe Humphreys Robb). Beatrice would be soon admitted to the Beethoven Street School, Queen’s Park, which opened in the same year.

The Robb family also had a boarder in 1881: thirty-two-year-old William Edward John Humphrey (in some other records Humphreys), also a railway clerk, and born in Paddington. The fact that he shared a surname with Phoebe makes me think that he was probably a relative on her father’s side of the family, though I’ve yet to establish the precise connection between them. Was he a colleague of William Robb’s on the Great Western Railway, who then introduced him to his young unmarried cousin from Jersey? His own railway record shows that he worked at Paddington, like his landlord. Alternatively, William Robb may have met Phoebe by some other means, and subsequently found work at his office for one of her relatives.

William Powell Frith, ‘The Railway Station’ (Paddington, London), 1862

We know from the electoral register that William Henry Robb was still living at 110 Kilburn Lane in 1883, but he’s more difficult to find in the census records for 1891. However, it seems likely that he is the supposedly forty-six-year-old clerk for the Great Western Railway at Paddington, to be found visiting widower Henry Day, a clerk in Her Majesty’s Office of Works, at his home in St Mary’s Terrace, Paddington. Alternatively, he may have been visiting one of the other people resident at the same address, either widowed housekeeper Letitia Hitchings, or the unmarried Alfred H Hitchings, an assistant stock keeper at Haymarket, who may have been her son. Some confusion is caused by the railway clerk’s name being written as ‘Wm H Stephen S M Robb’. The Stephen is reminiscent of the name we found in the 1861 census, and may have been either an additional middle name that was given at birth, or one that William adopted himself, for some reason. The reason for including the additional initials S.M. is unclear.

William Robb is described in this record as married, and one might assume that he was simply visiting a friend on the evening of the census, and that other records will show his wife Phoebe and daughter Beatrice by themselves at the family home in Kilburn Lane. However, if we search for Phoebe in the 1891 census records, we make an intriguing discovery. At 24 Rosaville Road in Fulham we find forty-year-old William Humphreys, a Fulham-born commercial clerk, living with Jersey-born Phoebe Humphreys, thirty-five. Both are said to be married and she is described as his wife. Not only that, but the couple have two children: seven-year-old Herbert and two-year-old Elizabeth, both of them born in Fulham. Despite the fact that William Humphreys’ age doesn’t quite match, this is almost certainly the Robbs’ former lodger, and William Robb’s former colleague, William Edward John Humphrey(s), who is now living with the former’s wife – as though they were husband and wife. The identity, or close similarity, of their surnames, must have made it easier to achieve the deception. Meanwhile, William and Phoebe Robb’s eighteen-year-old daughter Beatrice was with her maternal grandmother, Jane Humphreys, at Stone Cottage, Claremont Hill, St Helier Jersey, where she was following her mother’s earlier occupation as a dressmaker.

We have to conclude that, some time before 1883 (when their son Herbert was supposedly born), William Humphrey(s) and Phoebe Robb née Humphreys became a couple, and left William Robb and Kilburn Lane behind. Without further evidence, there is no way of knowing what precipitated this turn of events. Did William Humphreys and Phoebe Robb start an affair behind William Robb’s back, or was their departure together the result of the latter’s own behaviour?

Whatever the truth of the matter, we know that William Robb also found himself a new partner at about the same time. The 1901 census finds fifty-seven-year-old William Henry Robb, a London-born railway clerk, living at 43 Lockesley Road, Chiswick, with a forty-nine-year-old Hampshire-born woman whose name is given as Mary A. Robb. Like William and Phoebe Humphreys, they are said to be married, and Mary is described as William’s wife.  Also living with William is his twenty-nine-year-old daughter Beatrice. She now bears the surname Pellennec, and is said to be a widow, with a five-month-old daughter Jeannie M. Pellennec, born in France and said to be a French subject.

Beatrice had married Jean Marie Pellennec somewhere in the Brentford Registration District in 1899, when she would have been about twenty-six years old. I imagine that they met during her stay in Jersey. They must have moved to France soon afterwards, where Jeanie was born, and where presumably Jean Marie died, leaving Beatrice a widowed mother when she was still in her twenties.

Victorian houses in Crondall Street, Moss Side, Manchester

By 1901, Beatrice’s mother Phoebe and her new supposed husband, William Humphreys, now aged forty-five and fifty-two respectively, had left London and moved north to Crondall Street in Moss Side, on the southern edge of Manchester. William was now working as an accountant’s clerk, as was their son Herbert, now sixteen. Their daughter Elizabeth was now eleven, and they also had a third child William, aged nine. The 1911 census finds them at Great Western Street, also in Moss Side, the record providing a little more information about the family. William John Edward Humphreys, sixty-two, said to have been born in Bayswater, London, is working as an accountant for a calico printer, while his twenty-year-old son, William Horace Humphreys, is an accountant’s clerk, also for a calico printer, presumably the same one. Phoebe, described as a housewife, is now fifty-six. The couple state that they have four children, all still alive: presumably this would have to include William and Phoebe Robb’s daughter Beatrice , as well as the three children that Phoebe had with William Humphreys.

Also with them in 1911 is ten-year-old Catherine Pellenec, described as a grandchild, born in Paris, and as a British subject by parentage. This must be Beatrice’s daughter, the Jeanie of the 1901 census: her full name seems to have been Jeanie (or perhaps Jeanne) Marie Catherine Pellennec. Beatrice appears to have followed her mother north to Manchester, since the 1911 census finds her, now aged thirty-eight, working as a domestic servant in nearby Alexandra Park. In fact, it’s possible that Beatrice actually lived with her mother, and that Phoebe was simply looking after young Catherine while she worked.

In the 1911 census record William and Phoebe Humphreys claim to have been married for thirty-nine years, which would date their marriage to 1871 or 1872, the year when Phoebe actually married William Robb. We know this to have been a lie, since it would not be until 1916 that William Humphreys and Phoebe Robb were finally married, in the Chorlton registration district.

Meanwhile, William Robb, now sixty-eight and retired from the railway, was living at 51 Church Street, Isleworth, with his supposed wife Mary Anne Robb, aged fifty-nine. They also had a visitor, twenty-year-old Wiltshire-born Theodora Katherine Witt, who may eventually provide us with some clue as to Mary Anne’s origins and identity. William and Mary Anne claimed to have been married for twenty years, and to have no children.

Phoebe Humphreys died in August 1928 and was buried in Manchester’s Southern Cemetery. William Edward John Humphreys died in the following January and was buried in the same place.

Old photograph of Church Street, Isleworth

William Henry Robb died on 8th July 1914 at his home in Church Street, Isleworth, leaving effects to the value of £139 19s 2d, with probate granted to John Virtue Aloysius Kelly a railway clerk and presumably a former colleague. William would have been about seventy-three years old when he died. Does the fact that Mary Anne is not named in the probate record suggest that she predeceased him, or simply that there was no legal basis for her to act on his behalf?

Beatrice Pellennec died in Manchester in 1955, at the age of eighty-three. Her daughter Jeanne Marie Catherine Pellennec died in the same city in 1968, at the age of sixty-seven. It seems she never married.

I can’t prove that the William Henry Robb who worked as a railway clerk, married Phoebe Humphreys, and then set up home with a woman named Mary Anne, was the son of my great great grandfather William Robb, and the brother of my great grandfather Charles Edward Robb, but I believe the evidence points in that direction. If so, then this is the second case of bigamy (or perhaps more accurately, in this case, pretended bigamy) that I’ve found among my Robb ancestors. I wrote about the other case, which involved William Henry Robb’s aunt Elizabeth Robb and her husband Joseph Boden, in my blog The Bonds of Betrayal.

My great great grandfather’s grave

I’ve been revisiting my research into my Robb ancestors. In the last two posts, I reviewed the evidence for the claim that William Seager, a law stationer whom I discovered living in Holborn, London in the mid nineteenth century, was a relative of Fanny Sarah Seager, my great great grandmother. Fanny was the wife of my great great grandfather William Robb, a law stationer’s clerk, who I believe may have worked either with or for William Seager.

Reviewing the information about William Robb at Ancestry, I’ve come across records of his burial that weren’t previously accessible online. William, born in Richmond, Yorkshire, in October 1813, was the son of my 3rd great grandparents, Charles Edward Stuart Robb and Margaret Ricketts Monteith, who were originally from Scotland. After a number of years living in various locations in Scotland and then Yorkshire, they arrived in London, probably in the 1820s, and set up home at Charing Cross. Charles and his sons George William, Charles Edward, John and William, all seem to have worked as law clerks of some kind.

Covent Garden and St Clement Danes, from Greenwood’s map of 1827 (via

Whether William Robb met his future wife Fanny Seager through William Seager, or found work with William Seager because of his relationship with Fanny, remains a matter for speculation. However, we know that on 23rd May 1836, when he was twenty-two years old, William Robb married twenty-one-year-old Fanny Seager at the church of St George the Martyr, Queen Square in Holborn. This was just a few streets away from the home of William Seager in Little James Street, the same church having been the site of the second marriage of his father Thomas Seager some years earlier.

Fanny was the daughter of Samuel Hurst Seager, a porter at the Inns of Court, and her family lived in Crown Court, one of the narrow streets to the north of the Strand, in the parish of St Clement Danes. As noted in earlier posts, three of Fanny’s brothers and of one of her sisters would eventually emigrate to New Zealand.

William and Fanny lived initially in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, not far from Fanny’s parents, which is where their first child, Fanny Margaret Monteith Robb, was born in 1838. However she died two years later, of croup, at her grandmother’s house in Crown Court (Fanny’s father Samuel Hurst Seager had died in the previous year). By the time their second child, William Henry, was born in 1841, William and Fanny Robb had moved to Old Compton Street, Soho. This was also where they were living when their daughter, Elizabeth Margaret, was born in 1843, though the actual birth took place in the City of London Lying-in Hospital in Old Street. Later census records suggest that their next child, Matilda Fanny, may also have been born there, in 1846.

We know that the Robbs continued to live in Old Compton Street, since this is where their son, Charles Edward Robb, my great great grandfather, would be born in January 1851. Sadly, his mother Fanny died just four days after giving birth to him. She was buried at Whitefield’s Tabernacle in Tottenham Court Road. This, together with the fact that William and Fanny’s first child had been buried at Spa Fields Burial Ground in Clerkenwell, is evidence of the Seager family’s Nonconformity. I believe that William Robb, whose family were originally Episcopalian / Anglican, became a Nonconformist, and specifically a Methodist, as a result of his marriage to Fanny. Certainly, after Fanny’s death he had his young son Charles christened at the Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Great Queen Street, which may have been the church attended by the family.

Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Great Queen Street, London (demolished 1910)

It may have been at the same chapel that William met his second wife, Marianne Mansfield Palmer, whom he married in June 1854. Marianne (or Mary Anne) was originally from Longton, Staffordshire, where she had been christened at the Methodist New Connexion chapel in 1831. Her father Enoch was a bookbinder who had brought his family south to London when Marianne was still a child. She was only twenty-three, and William forty, when they married.

William and Marianne seem to have moved almost immediately after their marriage to the new and growing suburb of Mile End, where their daughter Lydia Palmer Robb was born in 1855. Three more daughters – Alice Martha Stormont Robb (1857), Marianne Mansfeld Robb (1858) and Rose Emma Tunstall Robb (1860) – were born in the next five years, all in Mile End Old Town. We can’t be absolutely sure of the Robb family’s address during these years. However, it’s more than likely that they were living in the house that they would occupy at the time of the 1861 census. This was at 15 St. Ann’s Road, which was situated south of Mile End Road between Burdett Road and Rhodeswell Road.

Four more children were born to William and Marianne in the next ten years: David Enoch (1863), Eliza Annie (1865), Gertrude Constance (1867) and Alexander George (1870), all in Mile End Old Town. By the time of the 1871 census, William, fifty-seven, Marianne, forty, and their eight children, had moved to 31 Turners Road. This road ran from south-west to north-east from Rhodeswell Road across Burdett Road to Bow Common, parallel to the railway line. The north eastern section of the road still exists.

William and Marianne had two more children: Grace Amy in 1872 and Arthur Ernest in 1875. By the time of the next census in 1881, when William was sixty-seven and Marianne fifty, they had moved to another house in Turners Road – No.70. This is where Marianne would died two years later, from phthisis – or tuberculosis. William Robb died in 1888, at the age of seventy-four, from senile decay and exhaustion. On his death certificate, the place of William’s death is given as 25 Oxford Street, Whitechapel: I wonder if this was actually  the London Hospital? The informant was his son, my great grandfather Charles Edward, who at the time was living in Betts Street, St. George’s in the East.

Entry in the Register of private graves, City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery (via

The record of William’s burial at the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery, and a register of private graces in the cemetery, are now available online at Ancestry. They reveal that he was buried in the same grave – No. 5362 – as his wife Marianne and her father Enoch Palmer. This suggests to me that Enoch was probably living with his daughter and son-in-law in Mile End at the time of his death. He was buried on 30th August 1867 in a grave that was ten feet deep and cost three pounds and three shillings. His daughter Marianne was buried on 13th July 1873 and his son-in-law William on 10th August 1888.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery is now a public park, and apparently the Friends of the park, together with the East London History Society, can offer help with locating graves. I really must find time to visit, and to see if the grave holding my great great grandfather, his second wife and his father-in-law, still exists.

Revisiting the family of William Seager, Victorian law clerk

In the last post I speculated that William Seager, the Holborn law stationer whom I discovered in the archives some time ago, might have been the cousin of my great great grandmother Fanny Sarah Seager, wife of law stationer’s clerk William Robb, and that his father Thomas might have been the Birmingham-born brother of Fanny’s father Samuel Hurst Seager. Since then, I’ve discovered some new records relating to William and his family, so I’ve decided to assemble everything we now know about them in a new post.

William’s father Thomas Seager was born in the 1770s, and may have been the son of Samuel Hurst Seager and Elizabeth Cash of Birmingham, and thus the brother of my 3rd great grandfather Samuel Hurst Seager.

Part of Holborn, from Greenwood’s Map of London, 1827 (via

At some point in either the late 1790s or early 1800s, Thomas married his first wife Elizabeth, though I’ve yet to find a record of their marriage or any information about Elizabeth’s origins. It’s not clear if Thomas moved to London before or after marrying Elizabeth, but certainly by the time their son William was christened in 1809, the Seagers were living in Portpool Lane, just off Grays Inn Road in Holborn, London. There is a note in the parish register of St Andrew’s Holborn, beneath the entry recording William’s baptism, that suggests he may actually have been born on 17th November 1805.

Thomas and Elizabeth had another son, Thomas, also born in Portpool Lane. He was christened at St. Andrew’s on 18th August 1811 but died less than a year later and was buried on 5th April 1812.

Thomas’ wife Elizabeth must have died before 1822, when he married for a second time, though I’ve yet to find a record of her death. Thomas Seager’s second wife was Sarah Redell who, according to later census records, was born in Birmingham. She may be the Sarah Riddell who was christened on 4th June 1784 at St Philip’s church in Birmingham (where the children of Samuel Hurst Seager senior were also baptised),  in which case she was the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Redell. A Thomas Redell and Elizabeth Stinton had been married at Harborne, Birmingham, in the previous year.

Thomas Seager and Sarah Redell were married at the church of St. George the Martyr, Queen Square, on 4th August 1822. This was the church where my great great grandparents, William Robb and Fanny Sarah Seager would be married fourteen years later.

Little James Street (author’s photograph, 2011)

As I noted in the previous post, Thomas Seager died on 1st September 1839 after sustaining an injury to the head when falling from a chaise cart in New Road (now Euston Road). He was buried at the parish church of St Andrew’s, Holborn, seven days later.  Thomas’ address at the time of his death was said to be James Street. It’s almost certain that this was Little rather than Great James Street, since that’s where his widow Sarah and son William can be found in the census record two years later. This was to the west of Grays Inn Road, off Theobalds Road, and less than half a mile from the Seagers’ former home in Portpool Lane.

Since Sarah is described in the census record as an ironmonger, it’s probable that this was also Thomas’ occupation (though his death certificate describes him as a ‘general dealer’) and that the Seagers’ home in Little James Street also served as their shop. (The Post Office Directory for 1848 lists a Mrs. Sarah Seager, ironmonger, at 2 Little James Street, Bedford Row, London.) William, still unmarried at the age of thirty, was now working as a law stationer. At the same address were Sarah Cole, fifty-five, a servant, Charles Cordery, eighteen, and Eliza Austin, twenty, both porters (in the shop?) and Louis Hastings, seventy, described as ‘independent’ (there is a record of him paying tax on a property in Little James Street – perhaps the same house – as far back as 1798). The novelist Charles Dickens lived in neighbouring Doughty Street from 1837 to 1839 (his house, at No. 48, is now a museum).

Victorian law clerks at work

In the 1851 census, William Seager, now forty-one, and his stepmother Sarah, sixty-eight, are still at the same address, which is said to be next door to a chandler’s shop at No. 1. The Seagers appear to share the building with writing clerk James Dolman and his wife Mary, both from Derbyshire, and widower John Thomas, an Exeter-born tailor. The Seager household also includes a servant, Martha Gambol, fifty-five, and an errand boy, sixteen-year-old Samuel Clarke. If the numbering of properties in Little James Street was similar to today, then the Seagers’ house was at the lower end of the street, near the junction with Grays Inn Road.

If the records are to be believed, then William Seager must have got married at some point between the 1851 census, which describes him as unmarried, and 1858, when the record of his marriage to Emily Adelaide Ashley describes him as a widower. However, despite there being a number of possibilities in the records, I’ve yet to find definite evidence of William’s first marriage. Emily, the daughter of Thomas Ashley (described in the register, like William’s father, as a ‘gentleman’), was actually a neighbour of the Seagers, and at least twenty years younger than William. The 1851 census finds her living at 3 James Street, with Liverpool-born tailor James Lake Langley and his Suffolk-born second wife Harriet Tetsell Currey. Emily is said to be their niece, but I’ve yet to determine which of the two was her blood relative. We know that Emily was born in either Bow or Stepney, but I haven’t managed to find a record of her birth or baptism. Interestingly, among the others living at No. 3 were one William Coppinger, 52, described as ‘Assistant to Ex(ecutive) Committee of Gt. Exhibition of 1851’: the census was taken in March and the exhibition ran from May to October. As we shall see, this is the first of a number of indirect connections between Emily and the artistic and cultural worlds of Victorian London.

William and Emily were married on 22nd August 1858 at the church of St Philip, Clerkenwell. At the time, the couple gave their address as 39 Baker Street, but by the time of the 1861 census three years later, they had moved back to the family property in Little James Street, and William’s stepmother Sarah had moved into an almshouse off Grays Inn Road, where she would still be living in 1871. Had Sarah become unwell and in need of care, or was she made to leave the family home by her stepson and daughter-in-law?

I had great difficulty finding William and Emily Seager in the 1861 and 1871 census records, and only succeeded in doing so by browsing through all the records for their likely enumeration district. The problem was caused by transcription errors at the Ancestry site. In the 1861 records, ‘Seager’ is transcribed as ‘Leager’, and in the 1871 records as ‘Teager’.

In 1861, William, fifty-one, now described as a general law clerk, and Emily, twenty-seven, were at 2 Little James Street with one servant. They shared the house with a meat salesman, a goldsmith and a mariner. Emily’s uncle and aunt, James and Harriet Langley, were still next door at No. 3, with another niece, Elizabeth Fulcher. (In another example of sloppy transcription, James’ surname is given as Langley and his wife’s as Longley).

‘The Pool of London’ by Matthew White Ridley (1862), via

William and Emily had one daughter, Harriet Adelaide Sarah, born in 1869. By 1871, the Seagers had moved to the next street, into what were probably grander premises at 3 John Street. William seems to have achieved some status locally: he was the census enumerator for his district. In this record, his wife used her middle name, Adelaide. They had a servant, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Jackson, and a boarder, a Strasburg-born hairdresser whose name is difficult to read in the record. In addition, the Seagers shared the house with two clerks, one a widow and one unmarried, and also with an artist. This was Newcastle-born Matthew White Ridley, who would establish a reputation as a painter and engraver, particularly of landscapes and sporting subjects.

House in John Street (author’s photograph, 2011)

William Seager died on 7th November 1874 at the age of sixty-six. The probate register describes him as being formerly of Little James Street, Bedford Row, but late of 3 John Street, which is where his widow and executrix Emily was said to be living. His effects were under £300. William’s stepmother Sarah Seager died either shortly before or after him.

Two years later, on 2nd November 1876, William’s widow Emily married oil merchant Samuel John Fowler of 54 Leather Lane, at St. Andrew’s, Holborn. He was said to be a bachelor and the son of another Samuel Fowler, described (like Emily’s father Thomas Ashley) as a gentleman. In the 1881 census Emily, forty-four, can be found at the house in John Street, where she is described as the householder. Athough she is said to be married, Samuel is not present. Instead, the house is also home to a number of boarders: William Schutke and Franz Uscher, commercial clerks from Germany, and Edward Depnall, another commercial clerk, from Leytonstone. There was a fourth boarder: thirty-one-year-old Francis Fowler, an architect, and perhaps a relation of Samuel’s.

‘Neptune’ by Charles Napier Kennedy (1889), Walker Art Gallery, via

Emily also had another artist as a lodger in 1881. This was Charles Napier Kennedy, then twenty-nine, who would soon achieve distinction as a painter of portraits and mythological scenes. Meanwhile, Emily’s daughter Harriet, now eleven, was a boarder at Grove House School in Hammersmith High Road, run by another artist, Alfred Davis, and his family. One wonders whether Emily’s connections with the art world were merely coincidental. Perhaps one lodger, who happened to be an artist, mentioned the address in John Street to a fellow artist who was looking for somewhere to live? But does that explain sending her daughter to an artist’s school?

By the time the 1891 census was taken, Emily, fifty-three, had become a widow for the second time, but was still living in John Street with two servants and a number of boarders. Her daughter Harriet had married wine merchant Hugh Maltby in the previous year, and they were now living at 10 Beaufort Gardens, Loampit Vale, Lewisham, with one servant. In that same year, they had a son, Hugh Owen Maltby.

Ten years later, Emily (who was now calling herself Adelaide again) had retired to 51 Moor End Lane, Thame, Oxfordshire, where she was said to be living on her own means. By this time Harriet, thirty-one, Hugh, forty-seven, and their second child, Irene Adelaide, five, were living, with a cook, at 110 Tressilian Road, Brockley. Meanwhile son Hugh Owen, nine, was at a school in nearby Breakspear Road.

In 1911, the Maltbys were still at the same address. Hugh senior was now an oil rather than wine merchant and Hugh junior, nineteen, was ‘assisting in the same business’, while Irene, fifteen, was still at school. They had one servant. Meanwhile, Harriet’s mother Emily, now seventy-three, had moved from Thame to Myrtle Villa, Woodfield Lane, Ashtead, near Epsom in Surrey, where she lived with a servant.

Harrriet died at the age of fifty-two on 7 May 1922, at Park Lodge Nursing Home, Tressilian Road. Administration of her estate was granted to her husband and son, both described as storekeepers, and to her daughter Irene.  Her effects were valued at £9514 20s 2d.

Harriet’s mother Emily died a year later on 21st May 1923 at the age of eighty-six, at her son-in-law’s home at 110 Tressilian Road, Brockley. Administration of her estate was granted to her grandson, Hugh Owen Maltby. Her effects were valued at £1015 5s 8d.

Harriet’s husband Hugh died in 1937 at Balmaine Park Gate, Blackheath, and his executors were his son Hugh, now described as a drysalter, and daughter Irene. Hugh Owen Maltby married Gwendoline Mary Baker in Greenwich in 1925. Telephone directories show him living in Brockley in the 1930s. I suspect that Hugh Richard Owen Maltby, who according to records available online was born in 1951, submitted a PhD thesis on ‘Crime and the local community in France’ at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1980, and is now a retired schoolmaster in Canterbury, is their son. Hugh Owen Maltby died in Blackheath in 1981 at the age of ninety.

Irene Adelaide Maltby seems to have remained unmarried. She died, aged fifty-nine in 1955, at Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, and the executors of the will were her brother Hugh, described as a company director, and his wife Gwendoline.

The Seager family: a new discovery?

My family history research began, more than a decade ago, with my father’s family: the Robbs, who moved to London from Scotland, via Yorkshire, at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, having traced them back to a village in Aberdeenshire in the early eighteenth century, I hit something of a brick wall, and shifted my attention to my mother’s family, whose story has preoccupied me for the past few years, as I’ve discovered their roots in, among other places, seventeenth-century London and sixteenth-century Sussex and Worcestershire. Now, however, I’ve decided to return to the Robb family and to try to put together everything I’ve discovered about them on a new website (watch this space for details). I’ve begun by reviewing my earlier blog posts about the Robbs, and in doing so, I think I’ve already made at least one new discovery.

Charles Edward Robb

The original source for my research into my father’s family was a series of typewritten sheets extracted, apparently, from a family Bible. Most of the text was written by my great great grandfather William Robb (1813 -1888), towards the end of his life, but it is prefaced and supplemented by additional information supplied by his son, my great grandfather Charles Edward Robb (1851 – 1934). The first section of Charles’ text reads as follows:

Father: William Robb. Born at Richmond, Yorkshire 25th October 1813.

Married Fanny Sarah Seager at St. George the Martyr, Queen Street, Bloomsbury, London, 23rd May 1836, who was born 22nd November, 1814. She was the daughter of Samuel Hurst Seager and Fanny his wife formerly Fowle. Her Brothers and Sisters were:

Samuel Hurst Seager                        )

Henry Fowle Seager                        )

Elizabeth Seager                        )      These are all in New Zealand.

Edward William Seager            )

and Julia Seager who married Charles Lambert who is one of the Clerks to the Commissioner of Lunacy, Whitehall  Place.

I’ve written extensively before about William Robb, and about Fanny’s family, the Seagers, which has included exploring their lives in London and then in New Zealand. With the help of my distant relative Richard Seager it has also been possible to trace the Seagers back a number of generations, to their origins in the West Midlands, though many aspects of their history remain shrouded in mystery.

Some years ago, I came across information about a William Seager (1809 – 1874), living in London at around the same time as my ancestor William Robb and his Seager in-laws, but who did not seem to be mentioned in family records. As I wrote at the time:

My interest in William, and my suspicion that he might be a relative of my Seager ancestors, was prompted by three factors. Firstly, he worked as a law stationer, and my great-great-grandfather William Robb, who married Fanny Sarah Seager, was a law stationer’s clerk in the same part of London. Fanny was the daughter of Samuel Hurst Seager, who was a porter at the Inns of Court. Secondly, William’s mother Sarah, (who turns out to have been his stepmother) was said to have been born in Birmingham, the birthplace of Samuel Hurst Seager. Thirdly, William and Sarah lived in Little James Street, only a few streets away from addresses associated with my Seager ancestors.

William Seager was the son of Thomas Seager, described in the records variously as an ironmonger, general dealer, and gentleman. After the death of his first wife (and William’s mother) Elizabeth, Thomas married his second wife Sarah Riddell in 1822. Not only was she from Birmingham, but the couple were married at the church of St George the Martyr, Queen Square, where William Robb and Fanny Sarah Seager would marry fourteen years later.

Church of St George the Martyr, Queen Square, London (author’s photograph)

In reviewing my old posts about William Seager and his family, as well as other posts about the Seagers, two hitherto unnoticed connections leapt out at me. Firstly, I remembered that Samuel Hurst Seager, the father of Fanny Sarah and father-in-law of William Robb, had a brother named Thomas. Richard Seager’s research established that Samuel was born in Birmingham in about 1780 and that he was one of at least five children born to another Samuel Hurst Seager and his wife Elizabeth Cash. His siblings were William (1776), Mary (1777), Thomas (1779) and Elizabeth (1781).

One obstacle in the way of confirming that Thomas Seager, the London ironmonger and father of William Seager, was Samuel Hurst Seager’s brother, is that Thomas’ burial record from 1839 gives his age at the time of his death as sixty-nine.  This would mean that he was born in 1770, rather than 1779. However, the discrepancy might be explained by inaccuracies in either the burial or christening records, or by the fact that (as often happened) Thomas was baptised some years after his actual birth.

However, it’s the second previously unnoticed connection that is even more intriguing. As noted in the text from the Robb family Bible reproduced above, four of my great great grandmother Fanny Sarah Seager’s siblings emigrated to New Zealand. Her brother Edward William Seager (1828 – 1922) worked as a policeman, prison warden, and was latterly a pioneer of mental health provision in his adopted country. He married fellow emigrant Esther Coster, and their daughter was the actress Rose Elizabeth Seager. Rose married Henry Marsh and their daughter was the crime writer and theatre director Ngaio Marsh (1895 – 1982).

Ngaio Marsh photographed c. 1935 by Henry Herbert Clifford (via Wikipedia)

In her autobiography, Black Beech and Honeydew, Marsh writes this about her Seager forebears:

My mother’s maiden name was Rose Elizabeth Seager. Her paternal grandfather was completely ruined by the economic disturbances that followed the emancipation of slaves in the West Indies. […] Among the Seagers […] there appears briefly an affluent and unencumbered uncle to whom my great-grandfather was heir. The story was that this uncle took his now impoverished nephew to Scotland to see the estates he would inherit and on the return journey died intestate in the family chaise. His fortune was thrown into Chancery and my great-grandfather upon the world. He got some extremely humble job in the Middle Temple and my grandfather went to the choir school of the Temple Church. None of the family fortunes was ever recovered.

These misadventures sound like the routine opening of a dated and unconvincing romance and I think they were so regarded by my mother and her brothers and sisters. Perhaps they grew tired of hearing their father talk about the fortune lost in Chancery and more than a little sceptical of its existence. Indeed stories of ‘riches held in Chancery’ have a suspect glint over them, as if the narrator had looked once too often into ‘Bleak House’. Moreover, my grandfather – Gramp – had a reputation for embroidery. He was of a romantic turn, and extremely inventive and he had a robust taste in dramatic narrative. The story of the lost fortune was held to be one of Gramp’s less successful excursions into fantasy and his virtuoso performance of running back at speed through his high-sounding ancestry to the Conquest was tolerated rather than revered.

He died when I was about eighteen. My mother and aunts went through his few possessions and discovered a trunkful of letters which turned out to be a correspondence between his own father and a firm of London solicitors. They were chronologically assembled. The earlier ones began with references to ancient lineage and ended with elaborate compliments. The tone grew progressively colder and the last letter was short.

‘Dear Sir: We are in receipt of your latest communication which we find impertinent and hostile. We have the honour to be your obedient servants…’

They were all about estates in Scotland, a death in a family chaise and monies in Chancery. The sums mentioned were shatteringly large.

Even then my mother was incredulous and I think would have remained so had not she and I, sometime afterwards, gone to stay with friends in Dunedin. Our host was another victim of the courts of Chancery and, like my great-grandfather, had written to his family solicitors in England to know if there was the smallest chance of recovery. They had replied extremely firmly that there was none but, for his information, had enclosed a list of the principal – is the word heirs? – to monies in Chancery. There, almost at the top of the list, which was a little out of date, was Gramp. For once, he had not exaggerated.

Ngaio Marsh’s paternal grandfather – ‘Gramp’ – was Edward William Seager. Her great grandfather was Samuel Hurst Seager. Until now I’ve regarded Marsh’s story of the ‘affluent and unencumbered uncle’ rather as she did when growing up: as a romantic fiction, and certainly as difficult to reconcile with the known facts about my Seager ancestors.

However, looking back through my posts about William Seager and his father Thomas, I recalled that I had obtained a copy of Thomas’ death certificate, which noted that he had died on 1st September 1839 in the sub-district of Somers Town in the registration district of St Pancras. The actual location of Thomas’ death was said to be ‘New Road’ (now Euston Road) and the cause of death as follows:

‘Mortal injury to the head by an accidental fall from a chaise cart’.

This is too reminiscent of the family story reproduced by Ngaio Marsh – of a Seager uncle who ‘died intestate in the family chaise’ – to be mere coincidence. However, if Thomas Seager was related to ‘my’ Seager family, it seems likely that he was Samuel Hurst Seager’s brother rather than his uncle. He would in fact have been the uncle of Samuel’s son (and Ngaio Marsh’s grandfather) Edward William Seager. Who in fact were the uncle and the ‘impoverished nephew’ in Edward Seager’s story about a visit to view possible family estates in Scotland? If this did indeed happen in 1839, when Thomas Seager died, then the nephew could not have been Samuel Hurst Seager, who died two years earlier. Perhaps Edward muddled up different elements of the family story, conflating a visit to Scotland involving his father some years earlier, with the death of his own (possible) uncle, Thomas Seager, in 1839?

I remain convinced that there must be some connection between these separate branches of the Seager family – and between William Seager and William Robb. I wonder if my great great grandfather William Robb, a law stationer’s clerk, worked either for or alongside William Seager, a law stationer, and that was how he came to meet his wife Fanny, who (if my theory is correct) was William’s cousin? Or perhaps it happened the other way round, and William Robb found work through his wife’s family connections?