William and Jane Barnacle – Married or Living Over The Brush

“Living over the brush” most people, these days, recognise as a saying relating to a couple living together as man and wife who have not gone through a legal marriage ceremony. There are several suggestions as to where this saying originated. Does it have British Romani origins where a couple would literally jump over a broom, allegedly? Or has it come down from African American culture during the slave trade? However the saying started it is one I have thought of many times in relation to one of my maternal 2xgreat grandparents, William Barnacle and Jane Harrison. Numerous attempts to find a record of their marriage have drawn a total blank.

On the birth certificate of my great grandfather Frank Barnacle in 1865, his parents are clearly stated as William Barnacle and Jane Barnacle formerly Harrison. This certainly infers that they were married. William’s occupation is noted as ‘Watch Finisher’. Going forward to Frank’s marriage certificate in 1889 his father’s name again is confirmed as William Barnacle ‘Watch Motioner’.

Frank Barnacle Birth Certificate clearly stating his parent’s names

Looking at the census returns of 1871 and 1881 Frank appears as a 6 and 15 year old respectively, living with his parents in Coventry. Both of these censuses have Jane listed as William’s wife and William employed in the Watchmaking trade. Watchmaking in Coventry enjoyed a peak period between about 1850 and 1890. In fact Coventry was the third watchmaking centre in England behind London and Liverpool. Quite a few of my Coventry forebears were employed in the industry.

Interior of a watchmaking workshop about 1891

Looking at the census returns before Frank’s birth I was able to find William and Jane on the 1861 census. They are at the same address as 10 years later, Spon Street, Coventry. William is a Watchmaker and Jane a Silk Winder. Again these occupations tie in with the 1871 census. So I’m sure a have the right couple and yes, Jane is listed as William’s wife.

If a marriage did take place, it would have been sometime before 1855, assuming they married before having any children but I have found in the past not to assume this. In 1861 they already had two children, Emily aged 6 and Thomas aged 8 months.

Going back in time to the 1851 census William and Jane are both still single living with their parents and siblings. William’s occupation is given as ‘Watch Motioner Apprentice’ and his age of 17 years fits in with his age on subsequent censuses. So do I now have the name of his parents, Thomas and Sarah Barnacle. Of course this is why a marriage certificate would be most helpful as it would confirm his father’s name. Likewise for Jane’s father, who I believe to be Joseph Harrison who in 1851 was living with his wife Amelia and their four children including Jane aged 17 and a ‘Silk Winder’.

Using the census information I have found William’s baptism at St.John’s, Coventry on 10 March 1834. His parents Thomas and Sarah Barnacle are living in Spon Street and his father’s occupation is a ‘Watch Maker’. Jane’s baptism I found in the England and Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970. I have a little more information for her than William as the register is more detailed. Jane was born on 28 August 1833 in the parish of St.Martin in Birmingham.and she was baptised on 02 January 1834 at Vicar Lane Independent in Coventry. Her parents were Joseph Harrison and his wife Amelia Jane.

Baptism record of William Barnacle – Left hand page one up from the bottom.

The first census both William and Jane appear on is for 1841. William just 5 years old is with his parents and 5 brothers and 1 sister in Spon Street. His father is a Watch Maker so it appears William followed his father into that trade. Jane aged 8 is living with her parents in Spon End and her father is a Wood Turner. There are three more censuses that the couple appear on after their son Frank has left home to marry and start his own family. The 1891 census is strange in that they do not appear to be living together. Jane is found at 8 Chauntry Place which is where they appear to be living at the time of Frank’s marriage but she is alone, still stated as being married and working as a Charwoman. William I found in a lodging house in Spon Street.By 1901 the couple are reunited living in Birmingham with their daughter Rose, her husband John Clarke and two daughters Beatrice and Rose. William’s occupation has changed to Cycle Machinist. The watch trade in Coventry started to slump with the arrival of cheaper watches from America and Switzerland. However by the 1911 census William is back as a Watch Motioner and also back in Coventry with Jane.

Armed with all this information about this couple their marriage still alludes me, if indeed one actually took place. The search continues. Just to end their story Jane died on 26 August 1916. Her age according to her death certificate was 79 and the cause of death was Senile Dementia and Heart Failure. She died in the Workhouse Infirmary. William died just 17 months later on 11 January 1918 at the home of his daughter Alice. Cause of death was Senile Decay and Heart Failure. He was 80 years old.

William Barnacle Death Certificate
Jane Barnacle Death Certificate


On Jane’s death certificate it gives her occupation as Wife of William Barnacle. One day I may just track down that marriage until then I will keep asking that question “Are you living over the brush.”


A Tale of Two Grandfathers – Part Two : John Jones

John Jones was my maternal Grandfather and unlike my paternal one who I have no memories of at all, Grandad Jones is an entirely different kettle of fish. I grew up adoring my Grandad. He was a true gentleman, kind, loving and a big part of my childhood and teenage years. Here is his story along with some of my memories of him.

My Grandad – John Jones


John was born on 21 April 1893 (this also happens to be my birthday some 60+ years later) in Much Park Street, Coventry. Due to industrialisation, by the beginning of the 19th century cities like Coventry were growing rapidly. For most of the 1800’s and into the 20th century, back to back court housing was the home to many of the cities inhabitants. These houses were cheap to build, overcrowded with very poor sanitation. Just a thin wall would divide each house. There would be a privy shared with numerous neighbours in the courtyard. These would have originally been no more than ‘earth closets’ as it would be the early 20th century before flushing toilets and mains drainage would be connected. Much Park Street would have been such a community and it was into this that John was born.

The 1901 census gives us a little bit of insight into this world. My grandfather was just 7 years old and living in one of these courts in Much Park Street. The census tells me that the family occupied three rooms. So Grandad was almost certainly sharing a bed with one if not more of his four brothers. His father William was working as a Cycle Driller and his two older brothers, William 21 years old and Henry 18, were also working in the cycle industry as a cycle fork builder and cycle brazier. The census unfortunately doesn’t tell me if the younger boys Arthur, 12, Oliver, 10, and my grandfather were at school. The brothers also had a sister Annie Selina but the last I can find of her is on the 1891 census. As yet I have found no marriage or death for her and one possible record on the 1901 census of a 20-year-old servant but nothing to prove it could be her.

The following year after this census, the boys lost their mother, Sarah Ann. She was aged just 42 and according to her death certificate died of Alcoholic Cirrhosis of the Liver, Bronchitis and Exhaustion. What had driven her to drink so heavily we can only speculate but living in such conditions certainly was a possible factor. Read her story at Sarah Ann Davis.

So at the age of just 9 my grandfather was motherless and I wonder what his early childhood had been like with an alcoholic mother. By the 1911 census all the brother’s are living in different parts of the city, however, although he is still alive, I cannot find their father. William the oldest brother, is married with three children, as is Henry, also with three children. It is with Henry, his wife and children that my grandfather is living. Henry is still employed as a Brazier in the cycle industry and John is a Bottler. Oliver I found living with and working for a carting contractor. Arthur, also a bottler by trade, was a boarder with a family called Barnacle, Frank and Esther and their seven children. It is one of their daughters Clara that my grandfather would marry in 1918.

Unfortunately I have been unable to find my grandfather’s military history for World War One. His oldest brother William was killed in France in 1916, see his story here. I have also found Arthur and Oliver’s service records but nothing for Henry or grandad.

I wonder if it was Arthur who introduced my grandparents when he was lodging with the Barnacle’s? John Jones and Clara Barnacle were married at Holy Trinity Church, Coventry on 21 December 1918. They were to have four children, three boys and their youngest child a girl is my mother.

My Grandparents

On the 1939 register which was complied just before the outbreak of World War Two, John and Clara are living at 55 Gordon Street, Coventry. This is the house they spent the rest of their lives in and one I remember very well. A little terrace house with a cosy front room which was never used, along with the best china in a glass fronted cabinet. On the fireplace stood every one of their children’s wedding photos. One of my uncle’s sadly got divorced and Grandma, to our horror, took his wedding photo and cut my aunty out of the picture before replacing just my uncle into the frame. Mind you photos would not be taken with such regularity as they are today, so I suppose it was just the logical and cheapest thing to do. My grandparents spent their time in the back room which was dominated by a large table in the middle. Grandad had his comfy chair in front of the telly. On a winter’s day the fire would be lit. I will always remember the ticking of grandad’s clock on the wall. No one was allowed to touch that clock, he wound it up meticulously each week. Down a step and you were in a small kitchen with a pantry off. A gas cooker stood in one corner and a table in the other, either side of a fireplace. There was a sink with a wooden draining board and no hot running water. Out in the back yard was a coal house and an outside toilet. My mother tells me this was considered a luxury, your own flushing toilet. Where they had lived when she was a very young girl they shared a toilet with several of their neighbours. On the first floor there were two bedrooms. The front one was my grandparent’s. There was also an attic room.

However I digress. On the 1939 register in the house in Gordon Street was grandad who worked as a Radial Driller in the aeronautical industry, grandma who is described as an unpaid domestic servant, my three uncle’s (the oldest two also working in an aeronautical factory and the younger one at school) and my mother. I recall hearing stories as a child of my grandfather spending time in Kendal , up in Cumbria during part of the war. I know he was working for Hawker Siddeley who produced such planes as the Tornado, Typhoon and Tempest. However I can find nothing to support that they moved part of their production away from the Midlands.

Grandad saw two of his sons marry during the war years and in 1949 both my mother and her youngest brother married. That attic room in Gordon Street became home to my parents for the first five years of their marriage. When I came along in 1954 they were still there. So much of Coventry had been destroyed during the war and after it was over the city council were intent of getting the factories and infrastructure back in place. This meant no houses were being built. Luckily not long after my birth land was released for residential development and when I was 6 months old we left my grandparents for our own new home.

Me and Grandad outside my new home

Grandad saw out his working life with Hawker Siddeley. I am the very proud owner of his long service clock presented to him for 25 years loyal service. The inscription inside unfortunately does not carry a date. He retired in 1963 aged 70 but did not have a long retirement.

Being presented with a present on his retirement

I have many more memories of John Jones but they will have to wait for another time. Grandad died on the 16 July 1971. I was 17 years old and it was the day I broke up from school for the summer holidays. I remember arriving home and the curtains being closed as I approached the house. It was tradition then to do this on the death of a family member. I was heartbroken at the thought of never seeing my beloved grandfather again. A strange thing happened that day though. Remember that clock hanging on the wall that no one other than grandad touched, it stopped. Apparently this is not an unusual occurrence, I believe, as a clocks mechanism does get used to being wound up a certain way. However grandad had suffered a stroke several months before his death and couldn’t wind it, so my father had been given that privileged job. My father took ages getting it started again. The only way it would tick away was being on a slight angle. Eleven years later on the death of my grandmother the clock passed down to me and now has pride of place on my wall.


Sarah Ann Davis and the Illusive Birth Certificate

As Genealogists or family historians will know we spend an awful lot of time chasing paper clues albeit a lot of those are now available online, so we spend a lot of time in front of our computers. However for those of you who have never done this type of research and wonder how on earth we can find out so much about a person who died a hundred or more years ago I am going to tell you how I found out about my Great Grandmother, Sarah Ann Davis. She has really given me the runaround. Although her name has been on my family tree from very early on in my research ( I started back in 2000) it has only been earlier this year, 2016, that I finally found her Birth Registration.

Now I don’t want you to think I have spent 16 years trying to piece together Sarah’s life. As I am researching both the paternal and maternal sides of my family, I have quite a task on my hands. I tend to jump backwards and forwards. If I hit a brick wall I tend to leave things alone for a bit and go research a different ancestor. When I started my research there was no where near the amount of information you can get online today. So instead of popping on the computer at home when I have time to spare, it would be a trip to the library or local records office. Not living in the area where my ancestors came from meant I often had to wait until I could spare a couple of days away. Things have changed so much with new records appearing online all the time.

Two vital lines of enquiry are birth, marriage and death registrations and the census. Civil registration of BMD’s started in England and Wales on 1 July 1837. Before that date we have to look at Parish Registers which recorded baptism dates, rather than births, marriages and burial rather than death dates. Here we are at the mercy of them having survived and how good the local vicar or minister was at keeping these records. Regular censuses have been taken in the United Kingdom every 10 years since 1801. The first four however contained no helpful personal information, really being no more than head counts. The censuses are not released for public scrutiny for 100 years, so censuses available at the moment are from 1841 to 1911.

So onto Sarah Ann Davis one of my maternal Great Grandmothers. I knew her name from my Grandfather’s birth certificate. Here it is listed that his mother was one Sarah Ann Jones formerly Davis. My Grandfather’s baptism record also names her but does not give her maiden name. So the search begins to put together a picture of her life. My Grandad’s birth certificate gives me another clue to start tracking the family down, that of his father’s name, William Jones. Now I can start looking at the censuses and find the family quite easily on the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses. Sarah Ann appears on all of these as the wife of William. The 1881 census has her down as a Silk Winder but no occupation is given on the subsequent censuses.

Providing the information they have given is correct, and believe me over the years I have found out that what we read on one record may not be the whole truth, I should be able to start looking for a marriage for William and Sarah Ann prior to 1881. Sure enough they married on 04 November 1878 at the Register Office in Coventry. The certificate tells me that Sarah is a Spinster aged 21, very strange that the 1881 census 3 years later has her as 21, but this would make her of full age and not needing parental permission to marry. The bit of information I really need to try to find Sarah’s birth is her father’s name. This is on the certificate as Henry Davis, a Gardener.

Sarah Ann Davis & William Jones Marriage Certificate

The information I have from the marriage certificate and the census returns I can estimate her year of birth being about 1857 to 1860. I start looking for the Davis family on the censuses and this gets my head in a spin. Looking back, this family took me ages to sort out but more of that in another blog. Back to Sarah Ann and what the information on the censuses told me is her mother was a lady called Sarah. They also threw up another anomaly in that her father was a Silk Weaver, so why it said Gardener on her marriage certificate is a bit of a puzzle.

Armed with all this information I start trawling the birth indexes looking for a Sarah Ann Davis born around late 1850’s to early 1860’s. I find what I think could be her and send for the certificate. No, this Sarah Ann’s father is a David Davis, a Shoemaker. Back to the indexes again. I can find no match at all. I then strike lucky and find a baptism record in the parish registers of St.Michael’s, Coventry on 10 December 1860, parents listed as Henry and Sarah Davis, father’s occupation Weaver. This has to do for now.

St.Michael’s Parish Register showing Sarah Ann Davis baptism – One from the bottom, right hand page

I have better luck finding her death. Obviously now Sarah Ann Jones she dies at the young age of 41 years on 05 June 1902. The cause of death is a bit of a shocker though. She died of Alcoholic Cirrhosis of the Liver, Bronchitis and Exhaustion. My Grandfather was just 9 years of age and I can’t image what his early life must have been like.

Sarah Ann’s death certificate

Sarah’s birth still eluded me. Many times I went back over birth records but nothing ever matched. Doing more research into her parents I discovered her mother’s maiden name was Radford and although appearing as husband and wife on both the 1851 and 1861 censuses Henry Davis and Sarah Radford did not in fact marry until October 1861. Sarah Ann’s baptism had been December 1860 and although the parish records clearly stated her parents were Henry and Sarah Davis, their marriage proved that at that time her mother was in fact Sarah Radford. Looking through the birth’s again searching for a Sarah Ann Radford I was finally able to order her correct birth certificate. Sarah Ann Davis was in fact born Sarah Ann Radford on 08 September 1860. No father is named on the certificate just her mother Sarah Radford. The final jigsaw piece. A Great Grandmother who had an illegitimate birth and died an alcoholic. So sad. I truly hope she had some happiness in her life.

The Illusive Birth Certificate