Sunday, 27 January 2013

In which you think one thing about your ancestors, and then...

Lydia Balcomb is my great-great grandmother - my grandpa's gran. She's someone that I had no idea even existed before I started doing research into my family tree a few years ago.

Looking at censuses I knew she was born in Chaldon, Surrey around 1839, that she lived in Bletchingley for the majority of her life, and that she had married twice, as my great-great grandfather (William George Watson) died in 1891. Beyond that, nothing. In my head, all my ancestors are sturdy, honest, peasant-folk. People that I could see myself having been 160 years ago. Then I started digging.

William George Watson is a shady character. He doesn't exist before he rocks up in Bletchingley and marries Lydia in 1866, allegedly hailing from Wiltshire, though I've found no records to prove this. They had eight children in the space of fourteen years, and I was concerned when I ordered up William's death certificate to find that he died in the Godstone Union Workhouse.

Things were clearly not easy. My view of the family as hard-working poor folk in difficult circumstances was confirmed when, following the poor house link, I found a long record of poor relief applications from 1870-1875, which no doubt continued, but the later records are lost.

My views were changed, however, when I got a week's subscription to the British Newspaper Archive in the hope I might discover something new. I looked up a few names, but was surprised when I looked for the Balcombs and Watsons in Surrey to find the following from 1885:

I wasn't sure what it meant. Was William neglecting his family? It certainly seemed that way when I found a later report where he was taken to court for it, as well as failing to send his children to school. However, equally it could imply that Lydia was none too innocent when it came to cash. My imagination was running wild with thoughts of gambling addiction, expensive drug habits, or something equally shady.

Then I came across another story, which made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion. In 1887, when she was 48, it seems that Lydia had a few too many, or simply got annoyed with one of her neighbours (and not for the first time, it seems).


Lydia Watson, of Bletchingley, was summoned on the information of Salome Richardson, with breaking and destroying plants growing in her garden, doing injury to the amount of 5s. -- Wm Richardson said on the Sunday morning, the 11th September, he found there had been a great many of his flowers pulled up and laid on the path, but he did not know who did it. -- Wm Wood, gardener, said on the night of the 10th he was walking down the road, and saw the woman, Lydia Watson, leaning on the gate. Witness lived a little further down the road, and standing there he saw her go into the garden two or three times and heard the leaves of the flowers rustle. The next morning he heard a great outcry because the flowers in the prosecutrix's garden had been torn up.-- Mrs Richardson said this was the third time she had had her flowers destroyed.-- P.C. Knight said the reason Watson did not come was because she said that was not her name, and as nobody knew it in Bletchingley she would not come till she was charged in her right name. He told her if she did not come a warrant might be taken out against her, so she promised to attend, but had failed to do so.--Mrs Watson ultimately appeared in court at about 2.30 in the afternoon and denied she was at the gate at the time alleged, but was in bed. The Bench inflicted a fine of 10s, with 5s costs.

I would dearly love to see more records on this. Mostly as I'm intrigued as to what she's going on about with her name. What is she talking about? Has she ditched the 'Watson' and gone back to her maiden name due to irreconcilable differences? Is she just nuts?

Either way, four years later William dies in the Workhouse, and a year after that she marries John Pooley, a seaman. She lives until 1906 when she dies of heart failure at the age of 67.

I then turned my attention to her earlier life. As she was born so soon after registration began I was having trouble finding her birth certificate. I knew when she was baptised so what I was after from the certificate was her mother's maiden name, and so I decided to go a different route and got the certificate for her youngest brother instead. In a perhaps predictable outcome, it turned out that her youngest brother was not her brother after all, but her illegitimate son. This was hurriedly covered up as the baptism claims otherwise, but the certificate seems to have the truth of it. What this son/brother gets up to in later life is none too pristine either, with another newspaper report of him being caught poaching, and it leading to an attempted murder. 

There was also a hint of another illegitimate child in the census, but he's an elusive character, and I'm not fully convinced. Given Lydia's behaviour thus far, though, I would not be surprised if she had ten rather than nine children after all. More research needs to be done, but Surrey's a long way away, and I've not yet exhausted my online sources. So, another certificate has been ordered - this time the next youngest child - in a bid to find out more about their mother. Here's hoping this one's not Lydia's too.

1 comment:

Mr Cushtie said...

Crikey! What's next? I wait with bated breath...