A Veteran Tar #Trafalgar

In 1866, one of the oldest inmates of Guildford Union Workhouse was allowed to sit with a glass and tell a yarn to his cronies by the workhouse fire.  At 86, John Ranger was hale and hearty and had some colourful tales to tell.

At the age of 24 he had volunteered to be a sailor, joining HMS Victory, under the command of Captain Hardy.  Soon, as you probably realise, he found himself at the Battle of Trafalgar where he witnessed Lord Nelson fall dying onto the deck.

He later had further adventures, when on June 1st 1813, while serving on the Shannon under Captain Broke, they engaged with the American ship the Chesapeake. He described how quickly they took the enemy ship, “We went into action at 4.30 and at five minutes to 5, I was on the deck of the Chesapeake and she was ours.”

The Chesapeake and the Shannon off Boston

John Ranger’s fame increased after an article was published in the West Surrey Times.  In 1822 he had left the navy very suddenly.  Disliking his task as part of a blockade against the slaving ships off the west coast of Africa, he jumped overboard and deserted.  This meant that he was ineligible for a place at Greenwich Hospital and thus he had ended up in the workhouse.

The article prompted Captain Egerton of HMS Victory to write to the newspaper offering to organise a trip for the old sailor to dine on the Victory on the anniversary of Trafalgar.  A fund was organised so that people could contribute, “a few Shillings to give an old fellow a treat, rigging him out in naval costume,” but did he go?  Captain Egerton required proof that Mr Ranger had indeed been a member of the crew that day and yet in the Muster Roll available now he is not named.

A family separated by the Poor Law #Workhouse #Canada

One of the many families split up and spread across the globe in Edwardian times were the LARNER family. In 1858, Thomas Larner was born in Wokingham Workhouse in Berkshire to 16 year old unmarried mother Mary Larner.  By 1861 he and his mother were living with his grandparents Joseph and Ann Larner, but ten years later, 12 year old Thomas and his 75 year old grandmother were living alone, both working as agricultural labourers.

St John's Church, Merrow where many of the children were baptised

At some point after 1871, Thomas joined the army and on being posted to Aldershot, married Mary Jane Ellis from nearby Hartley Witney. They married in Guildford in 1885 and when Thomas left the army a year later, they set up home in 4 Swaynes Cottages in High Path Road, Merrow in Surrey and began, as many couples at that time, to have a great many children.  Mary Jane obviously didn’t like her plain name as her taste for the more exotic emerged in her choice of children’s names.  They were born as follows:

1884       Maria Frances Isabel
1886       Thomas Joseph William
1889       Frederick Ernest Edward
1891       Ivy Elizabeth May
1894       Lewis Leonard George                   died 1917 in Flanders
1897       Albert Henry John                          died 1915 in Flanders
1898       James David                                   died 1898
1899       Rose Kathleen Maud
1901       Violet Mary
1902       Lily Irene Daisy

In Merrow, Thomas Larner became a general labourer but with onset of the Boer War he returned to the army leaving Mary Jane to look after the family.  His son, Thomas Joseph William Larner, left his job as a gardener for Mr Fitzjohn at “The Warrens” and also joined the army.  

Meanwhile Mary Jane was in trouble.

Sussex Agricultural Express 15th April 1890
Barkingside Girls' Village
By 1904 the family were in disarray.  In the absence of her husband Thomas, Mary Jane could not cope with the large family.  Her four youngest children had been taken away.   By 1911 Albert was an inmate of the Gordon Boys School "for necessitous boys" at Bagshot, Lily was one of the few resident children of Guildford Union Workhouse, Rose had been sent by Dr Barnardo's as a British Home child to Canada and Violet was a resident of Barnardo's Girls’ Village at Barkingside in Essex.  Three months later Violet was part of the Barnardo's party on board the Sicilian bound for Quebec.

Thomas had returned to his family and by 1911 he and Mary Jane were living in Aldershot where he worked as a fish hawker.  It is very unlikely that they ever saw or heard of Violet or Rose again.

British Newspaper Archive

An update on the Larner children

In the Workhouse Committee Meeting Minutes of November 5th 1904, stored at Surrey History Centre, the following decision by the Board of Guardians to adopt the children who had been "deserted" by their parents Thomas and Mary Jane is reported.

When the girls were set to Dr Barnardo's Village at Barkingside the Guildford Board of Guardians sent five shillings a week for maintenance and clothing of each child.

A Bundle of old Letters #19thCentury #History

Yesterday, when my daughter began to sort through my grandfather’s stamp collection which had been kept in shoeboxes, she made an exciting discovery.  She found family letters dating back to 1829.

The letters are all from members of our Hopkins family, who were lightermen on the Thames, living in Lambeth.  The oldest letter was neatly written by 9 year old William Hopkins, from his school, Lambeth Marsh Academy to his father, Robert Hopkins.  The neatness and formal vocabulary suggest that this was a school exercise and a year later he wrote a very similar letter to his mother Elizabeth Mary Hopkins (formerly Norris).

The next letter, chronologically, was written on December 26th 1838 by Elizabeth Palmer, my great grandmother, to the same William Hopkins, who by this time, was 18.  Three and a half years later they were married.  It is not exactly a love letter, as it describes, in detail, her journey, accompanied by her aunt, from Lambeth to Woodford in north London. As the coaches were all full they had to take a Fly and then walk a good distance, in wet weather.  However Elizabeth does remark that she cannot keep from writing to William, remembering their evening of playing cribbage together.  Pretending to her aunt that she is writing to her mother, she hopes that William “will favour her with a few lines.”  She concludes “with her kind love, Yours Affectionately.”  Her address was that of her uncle, Mr Goldsmith, the Postmaster, near the Castle Inn in Woodford.

The next letter from E. Clutterbuck in Lewisham to Miss Palmer in Lambeth was written in 1841.  With the aid of Elizabeth and William’s marriage certificate and perusing the census returns for Lewisham, I established that this was 20 year old Emma Clutterbuck, a friend of Elizabeth who was a witness at her wedding.  Writing on May 6th, Emma accuses Elizabeth of having forgotten the route to her house.  She writes at length about the sweet briars she is nurturing as a present for her.  She suggests that Elizabeth bring William with her, “for fear anyone else should take a fancy,” to Elizabeth!  Emma remarks that she intends to stay single as she has not seen anyone she fancies.  In fact Emma Clutterbuck never did marry.  I found her in Hackney on the 1871 census, still single, living with her unmarried sister Jane and her widowed sister-in-law Harriet.  In 1881 Emma died in Hackney.

Finally there is a letter posted in 1879 from my great uncle Ted Talbot, aged 8, to his grandmother Mrs Hopkins, the aforementioned Elizabeth Palmer Hopkins.