Great Grandfather Ellis John Grey

I have already covered a part of my Great Grandfather Ellis John Grey’s life when I wrote about his wife Jane Hall. Here however I will cover his life in more detail particularly his childhood and what happened to him after his wife died at the young age of 49.

I had a terrible time trying to find Ellis’s birth. I had already learnt in the early days of my research to check our family name spelt GREY and GRAY. I knew his name from my Grandfather’s birth and marriage certificate and had found him on a couple of census returns. The census returns were pointing me in the direction of a birth recorded in Buckingham. Then bingo, not only a spelling of -AY (in more recent history we spell our name with an -EY) but his name recorded at birth was John Elias. Born on the 11 July 1844, the son of John Gray a Blacksmith and Rosetta Bowden. Rosetta’s surname was spelt Boughdon on his birth certificate yet another reminder that a lot of our ancestors were illiterate and it would be down to individual registrars how names would be spelt. It was his father John who was the informant of his birth and I wonder if he told the registrar the decided names the wrong way round because one month later, on 11 August 1844 he is baptized with the name Ellis John. Maybe the registrar misheard, Ellis or Elias are quite similar.

Ellis John (or John Elias) Birth Certificate

Ellis had a sister Maria two years older than him and the 1851 census finds the family living in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire. Both Ellis aged 6 and his sister are at school. Tragedy would strike the family just four years later when Ellis’s father dies at the age of 41. The cause of his death was Abscess of the Lungs. As a Blacksmith one can only imagine the type of conditions he would be working in. No health and safety making sure masks were worn back then.

So at the age of ten Ellis becomes the man of the family. By the next census of 1861, Ellis at just 16 years, is working as a Gardener, a job he has probably been doing for some time. Children in Victorian England would most likely be at work by the time they were eight and a half. In rural areas they tended to be a bit older but with Ellis losing his father he probably would have had to work to help support his Mother and sister. What I find interesting about the 1861 census is while Ellis and Maria are both working, there is no occupation listed for their mother Rosetta. The family are living in Hemel Hempstead at this point. This is where Ellis would marry Jane Hall in 1869.

At the time of his marriage Ellis has moved on from gardening and is a Rural Messenger for the Post Office. By the 1871 census the newly married couple have moved away from Hertfordshire to Clifton on Dunsmore in Warwickshire and Ellis is now employed as a Railway Policeman. The railways in Britain would have been rapidly expanding at this time. Ellis was employed by the Midland Railway Company and was to move his family to Nottinghamshire. I have managed to trace a bit of Ellis’s career with the Midland through some of their employment records. In November 1872 he was working as a Porter at Radford Station earning 17 shillings, this was to rise to 18 shillings in 1873. He had signed for his rule book in February of 1872 so I think this is probably when he started working for them. Sometime between then and 1877 he moves to Linby Station as a Pointsman and then succeeds the Gateman at Hucknall, his wages rising from 21 to 22 shillings. Another advancement sees him back at Linby as a Signalman. This fits in with the 1881 census when the family are living in the Railway Gatehouse, Linby.

1881 Census showing Ellis and his family living in the Railway Gatehouse

From what I can find out from the records the trail runs dry in 1885. I know they were in Linby in September 1883 as my Grandfather is born in the Gatehouse there. By the 1891 census the family are back in Hertfordshire in Kensworth. They have been there for at least two years as a son Laurence was born there in 1888. Ellis is now working as a Publican and a Farm Labourer. They are residing in the Red Lion on Village Road. Why the change from the railways? This move bought them closer to Jane, his wifes family. Her father had died in 1882 in Hook Norton, Oxfordshire about 50 miles from where they now lived. Jane’s family were farmers and it seems strange that Ellis is now working part of the time as a farm labourer. Is the intention to go back to his wife’s roots and help her mother with the family farm?

The family do in fact move to Hook Norton at some point as when Jane dies in 1897 that is where her death is registered. It is also interesting that on her death certificate Ellis is stated as being a Farmer. Did they return to help on her Mother’s farm or because of Jane’s failing health? Ellis remains in Hook Norton for the rest of his life. On the 1901 census he is listed as a Farmer in Netting, Hook Norton. He has two of his sons living and working with him, Ellis John (there is yet another Ellis John in the next generation – can get very confusing sometimes) and Laurence. Carter and Plough boy respectively.

In 1907 Ellis John Grey passed away at the age of 63.His son Ellis John was present at the time and registered the death. Cause of death was Sudden Heart Failure and his occupation was that of Farmer. According to the Hook Norton parish registers he was buried on the 01 August 1907.

Ellis John’s Death Certificate.

Back in 2007 I took a trip down to Hook Norton. It has a Brewery thought to have started commercial brewing back in 1856. There is a Brewery Museum, which also houses a Village Museum and Archive. I met up with two lovely ladies there who gave me some fantastic bits of information about the Grey’s of Hook Norton. However the best part was they put me in touch with a wonderful lady called Nellie. I went to visit her and it turns out she was my father’s cousin. Like me she was born a Grey and had the most fantastic poster for the auction when the Grey family farm was sold after Ellis’s death. Someone had written next to each lot the amount of money it went for. Lots included everything from cart horses and pigs, to farm implements and even manure, and all the household furniture. Ellis unfortunately did not leave a Will but according to the National Probate Calendar on the 12 August 1907 Elena Maria Woodcraft who was Ellis’s oldest child, was appointed Administer of his estate.

Poster advertising the Auction at Netting Farm.






Tears for Jane


I don’t know what I hoped to achieve when I started researching my family history back in 2000. My beloved Dad hadn’t long died and one of the last conversations he had with my mother in law, who had researched her family, was his regret of not keeping in touch with his father when his parents separated. He wondered what had happened to him and asked if this type of research would help him find out. Unfortunately not long after, he suffered a massive heart attack so never did find out. I suppose this got me thinking, I really didn’t know much about my father’s side of the family and my journey began.

I suppose most of us when we start our research wonder how far back we can get but real family history isn’t just about dates and skeletons in the closet, it’s about people, how they lived, what they did and how the world outside the family affected them. My interest in Social History definitely has arisen from all my research.

I would like to tell you about Jane, one of my paternal great grandmothers. It was her who really got me hooked into finding out all I could about my ancestors and what life had been like for them. It was her death certificate dropping through the letter box that set it all off. She was the first of my ancestors that I had managed to trace through her birth, marriage and death certificate and five census returns from a young toddler of 2 years old in 1851 to a 42 year old wife and mother in 1891. It was the 1901 census that gave me the clue to her death having occurred as her husband was listed on that as a widower. Sure enough that day I held her death certificate in my hand and I confess to shedding a tear for this woman I had never met but felt such a connection to. She was just 49 years of age and the cause of death on the certificate was breast cancer and exhaustion. I don’t know why the word exhaustion upset me so much. I probably had this image of a sick woman trying to carry on looking after a young family. Sixteen years later their are so many more names on the chart but what is really important to me is their lives and how they made their way through it all.So this is Jane’s story.

Jane was born on the 23 April 1848 in the lovely Oxfordshire village of Hook Norton. Her parents were James and Elizabeth Hall.She was baptized on 03 July 1848 in the local parish church. James was a Labourer on a farm, Hook Norton was a agricultural community. Elizabeth had already given birth to three other girls and would go on to have two boys after Jane’s birth. So Jane was to grow up in Hook Norton with her sisters and brothers. The 1851 census, when Jane was just 2 confirms James’s occupation as an Agricultural Labourer, the eldest two girls Louisa and Hannah being at school, leaving Jane and her sister Maria at home with Elizabeth.

Jane Hall Birth Certificate

The 1861 census we find Jane still living with her family in Hook Norton. During this year her youngest brother James is born and on a wider scale this is the year that Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert dies.

Eight years later, on 13 September 1869 Jane marries Ellis John Grey. This marriage takes place not in Hook Norton but in Marlowes Chapel, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. This was a Baptist Chapel and I have found no connection to the Baptists in either Jane’s or her husbands family. Her husband was registered on the 1861 census as living in Hemel Hempstead. The address given on her marriage certificate was Kings Langley which is 74 miles away from Hook Norton. Had Jane moved to be near her betrothed? Ellis at the time worked for the Post Office as a Rural Messenger. Did the couple meet on one of Ellis’s rounds? On there marriage certificate there is no occupation listed for Jane.

Jane and Ellis’s Marriage Certificate

Two years later, on the 1871 census the couple had moved on to Clifton on Dunsmore in the parish of Rugby in Warwickshire. Ellis had left the Post Office and is now listed as a Railway Policeman. Their first daughter Elena Maria was 11 months old and had been born in Kings Langley before the move. Jane’s occupation is noted as Policeman’s wife.

Jane was to have 10 children altogether. Her second daughter Rosetta was born while she was living in Clifton on Dunsmore. During the mid 1870’s the couple were on the move again to Nottinghamshire. Five of Jane’s children would be born here including my Grandfather, James George William Grey.

By 1881 Jane’s husband is now a Railway Signalman and the couple are living in the Railway Gatehouse at Linby in Nottinghamshire. On the census of that year we actually see an occupation listed for Jane as a Dressmaker. There are at this time 6 children in the family. Elena and Rosetta have been joined by Ellis John, Annie Christina Florence, Jane Elizabeth and Hilda Lilian.It wouldn’t be long before Jane was pregnant again with my Grandfather who was born in 1883.

The 1891 census is the last time we will see Jane. She is 42 years old and the couple are back in Hertfordshire in the village of Kensworth. Her husband has two jobs that of Publican and Farm Labourer. Jane has had two more children Laurence Percy and Septimus Henry since the move and was pregnant again with Camellia Violetta who would be born in December of that year. Why the move? It would have bought her closer to Hook Norton Just some 50 miles away. Her father had died in 1882 leaving her mother with a 22 acre farm to manage. Could it be they thought they could help out being nearer?

Five years later in 1897 Jane died on 09 November back in her home village of Hook Norton where her widowed husband settled. On her death certificate her occupation is listed as Wife of Ellis John Grey, Farmer. They must have made the move back to help with the family farm or was Jane’s health the reason? The cause of death was Scirrhous of Breast (Breast Cancer) and Exhaustion. She had died with her husband at her side aged just 49. Her youngest child was just a month short of her sixth birthday. The Hook Norton Parish Register has her burial date as the 15 November 1897.

Death Certificate for Jane Grey nee Hall

She would have seen three of her daughters marry but would not be there for the marriages of six of her other children. Nor would she witness the death of one of her sons during World War One.

The lovely Oxfordshire Village of Hook Norton