A Tale of Two Grandfathers – Part One : James George William Grey

I have very different memories of my two sets of Grandparents. I have lots regarding my maternal Grandparents but very few of my paternal ones, the Greys. In fact I have no memories at all of my Grandad Grey as I never met him. I was just 7 years old when he died but as he and my Grandmother had divorced, he unfortunately was never on my radar. It was my much adored Dad’s death that started me researching my family history. A conversation he had not long before his death piqued my interest. He admitted to taking his Mum’s side when his parent’s separated and had totally regretted not keeping in touch with his father. I realised too late that I really knew nothing of this man and my journey started. So here is what I have found out about my Grandad Grey.

James George William Grey. Averil's Grangfather
Grandad, James George William Grey

James George William Grey was born on 26 September 1883 in the Railway Gatehouse, Linby, Nottinghamshire. His father, Ellis John Grey, was a Railway Signalman for the Midland Railway Company. By the time Grandad was 5 years old the family had moved to Kensworth in Hertfordshire where his parents ran the Red Lion Pub. It is here I found him on the 1891 census aged 7, along with Mum, Dad, two older sisters and two younger brothers. His mother, Jane Grey nee Hall, was originally from the village of Hook Norton in Oxfordshire and it was here the family moved at some point after that census, for Jane’s death is registered there in 1897. It is Ellis who registers the death and he gives his address as Hook Norton and his occupation as Farmer. Grandad was just 14 years of age when his mother died.

James George William Grey birth certificate

By the 1901 census Grandad is 17 years of age and still living in Hook Norton but not with his father. He is in fact living with his sister Annie Christina and her husband William Harris. His occupation is listed as Groom – Helper in a stables. I had a flash of inspiration regarding which stables this might be. William’s occupation on that census was Brewers Drayman and I knew Hook Norton had a lovely Brewery which is still in operation today. Could Grandad be working in the brewery stables? Getting in touch with the brewery to see if they had an archivist or indeed had any old records, I was delighted to find out that indeed Grandad did work in the stables there from January 1901 to August 1902 earning 11 shillings a week.

Hook Norton Brewery

Hook Norton was a small rural community but there were a lot of ironstone deposits in the area. With the coming of the railway in 1887 it opened up the opportunity to quarry this resource. Although certainly one of Grandad’s brothers worked at the ironstone quarry, it appears that Grandad himself moved to Coventry for employment. Coventry at this time was a thriving industrial city. The end of the 1800’s saw the city’s trades of watchmaking, silk weaving and bicycle production booming. In the early 20th century as these occupations started to decline car manufacture and electrical goods became the mainstay of employment in the city. My Grandfather’s occupation, well certainly according to his marriage certificate in 1909, was that of Timber Haulier.

He married my Grandmother Catherine Marsh on 05 June 1909. According to his date of birth Grandad would have been 25 years of age but his marriage certificate has him as 22. Grandma was just 17 although again the certificate has her at 19. The fact that Grandma gave birth to their first child, my Uncle Jim, just 5 months later means that Grandma was indeed pregnant at the time of the marriage. They were living with Catherine’s parents in Red Lane, Coventry.

Grandad and Grandma’s marriage certificate with the questionable ages

By the time of the 1911 census my grandparents now had their own home in Peel Street and Grandad’s sister Camellia was living with them along with the now 1 year old James (Uncle Jim). Grandad was still working as a Timber Haulier. In January 1912 a daughter, Hilda Annie (Aunty Hilda), was born.

At the outbreak of World War 1 my grandfather now aged 31 joined the Bedfordshire Regiment. Research is still ongoing into his military career but I do know at the end of the war he received the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 14 Star.

After the war he had 4 more children, including my father, the last being my Uncle Tony in 1931. By the outbreak of World War 2, when the 1939 Register was taken, my grandparents had separated. Grandad was living on his own in Cheveral Avenue. All of his children were with their mother, apart from Aunty Hilda who was already married by this time. His occupation at this time is given as Air Ministry Warden.

Grandad back row on the left at Aunty Hilda’s wedding

I have no idea why the marriage broke down or of the date of any divorce but on 19 March 1947 Grandad re-married. His second wife was Florence Kate Abel and they were married at the Register Office in Thanet, Kent. He was 63 and was described on the marriage certificate as “formerly the husband of Catherine Grey, formerly Marsh, Spinster, from whom he obtained a divorce”. He was living at 105 Westgate Bay Avenue, Westgate on Sea and gave his occupation as Odd Job Man (Boarding House). I know at this time his daughter, my Aunty Hilda, ran an hotel in Westgate.

This unfortunately is all I know of him. I was born in 1954 and Grandad died in 1961 of Broncho Pneumonia. He was living back in Coventry in Jobs Lane. His death certificate has his occupation as retired machinist in a car factory. I find it so sad I will never know if he even knew of my existance.

James George William Grey death certificate

The Great Hook Norton Farm Mystery

My Great Grandfather Ellis John Grey was a Farmer. He came to that profession when he was possibly in his 50’s. He had previously been a Gardener and a Rural Messenger for the Post Office, before embarking on a career on the railways. During his time with the Midland Railway Company his jobs included Porter, Pointsman, Gateman and Signalman. On leaving the railway company he became a Publican and finally at some point returned to his wife’s roots in Hook Norton, Oxfordshire and became a Farmer. See my blog on Ellis John Grey.

Two pieces of paperwork led me to his change of occupation. The first being his wife Jane’s death certificate in 1897. On the certificate Jane’s occupation is given as “Wife of Ellis John Grey, Farmer”. Secondly on the 1901 Census for Hook Norton his occupation again is listed as Farmer.

But why I hear you cry have I entitled this blog as ‘The Great Hook Norton Farm Mystery’. It’s because I am trying to find out the location of the farm and whether it was wholly or part of the farm that belonged to his wife’s parents. Sometimes our research creates more questions than it gives answers.

On Ellis’s death in July 1907 his daughter Elena Maria Woodcraft was appointed as Administratrix of his estate. On the 07 October 1907 there was an auction at Netting Farm on the instructions of Elena. Everything was to be sold including 5 Cart Horses and Colts, 3 Pigs, Barley, Oats, Meadow Hay, Harnesses, Implements and Furniture. I am assuming that Ellis was a tenant farmer and did not own the land.

From the Banbury Guardian – 26 September 1907

On a visit to Hook Norton back in 2007 I was introduced to a lovely lady who turned out to be my father’s cousin. She informed me that the farm had been off Netting Street. Looking at old maps really gives no indication as to the exact whereabouts of the farm or of it’s size. The 1901 Census only gives the address of Netting for Ellis and 2 of his sons who were living and working with him.

1901 Census showing Ellis John Grey’s occupation as a farmer and the address as Netting.

Ellis and his wife Jane had been living most of their married life in Nottinghamshire and Hertfordshire. They had made the return to Jane’s childhood home of Hook Norton sometime after the birth of their last child in 1892. Jane’s father, James Hall, who was a farmer had died in 1882 leaving her mother, Elizabeth, with the farm. Had the move back been to assist her aging mother? If so was Netting Farm originally the Hall’s farm?

Back in 1851 James is on the census as an Agricultural Labourer. On the 1861 census he is listed as a Carter. He has probably bought himself a horse and cart and is busy moving items around for people in this rural location. Moving further up the career ladder by 1871 he is farming 11 acres and employing 1 man and a boy. Further advancement by the 1881 census has him farming 22 acres. But the problem is the location of this land. The census records really don’t help here. The enumerators unfortunately did not give many addresses in the village. Each household just follows on from the previous one, with only a few of the larger properties having their address duly noted. The 1891 census, after James’s death, lists his widow Elizabeth, a farmer, in Thrutting. I cannot find Thrutting on any map but Elizabeth’s neighbours address on this census is Scotland Road. I am thinking that Scotland Road may well be Scotland End which appears on the 1901 census. Scotland End runs into Netting Street which is where we find Ellis farming in 1901.

None of Jane’s siblings took over their parents farm. I think it is reasonable to assume that Jane and Ellis came back to Hook Norton to help on the farm. Jane died three years before her mother. It looks like on her death Elizabeth leaves the farm in the hands of her son-in-law Ellis.

I suppose at the moment I cannot be certain that this is true. Maybe one day an illusive bit of information will drop in my lap then it will either confirm or destroy my theories.

Poster advertising the auction at Netting Farm. Someone has written next to each item how much it raised.

Newspaper extract copyright THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD from the website britishnewspaperarchive

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