The Primes of Cambridgeshire and Middlesex part two

The Primes of Middlesex
We saw that my 3x great grandfather William had left home to find work by the time of the 1841 census. He is the first to move away from Cambridgeshire as we next find him on his wedding day on the 15th June 1856 in Bethnal Green. We can see evidence of the early start to his working life as he is unable to sign his own name on their marriage certificate. His bride is Emma Clayden, daughter of gardener John. Emma, originally from Saffron Walden in Essex, can be found there in 1851 with her family, employed as a house servant. At the time of their marriage, however, they are living together in Bethnal Green with only William's occupation recorded as a bricklayer. Their marriage entry is an interesting one. Firstly, William gives his father's occupation as Farmer when, we know from the records, that we was always a labourer and never owned property. William is therefore trying to 'big up' the status of his family and background. Secondly, William and Emma give their ages as 30 and 25 when, in fact we know William to be around 33 from his baptism date in 1823. Furthermore, on later census returns and from her death certificate we know that Emma was born around 1835-37. Her marriage certificate, however, gives her year of birth as around 1831 so she would have been about 21 - perhaps they were trying to hide the fact that there was over a ten year age difference between them!

In March 1859 William and Emma are living at 5 Lindsay Cottages in Islington and William is employed as a builder's labourer. On the third of the month their first child is born: John William, my great great grandfather. The nature of his birth is a little mysterious, however. His birth certificate records his place of birth as Grosvenor House Highbury New Park - what was Grosvenor House and why was Emma there? By the 2nd December 1860 they have moved to 3 George Street in Islington where their second child, Annie Elizabeth is born. I have been unable to locate William and Emma on the 1861 census but, but August 1867, they have moved again to 5 Morton Road, about half an hour's walk away. The most likely reason for the moves is to follow the cheapest rents. Another reason could be up-sizing to larger properties as William and Emma have since had two more children. In August they choose to baptise their children all together - 7 years-old Annie Elizabeth, 3 year-old George Alfred and newborn Susan. Sadly George develops croup which, affecting his ability to breathe, ultimately takes his life at age 3 in November of that year. When the census enumerator knows again in 1871 he finds the family with a new addition - 4 month-old Joseph. Joseph is baptised on the 5th July 1874 and the baptism record shows that his father William has changed his occupation to gardener. In 1871 my great great grandfather is already working at the age of 12 as a milk carrier and within the next ten years, forges his own careers as a joiner.

William and Emma continue to move their family. In June of 1876 they baptise their final child, Martha, and give their address as 30 Milner Square but by 1881 have moved to a flat at 21 Sebbon Street. This would be quite a squeeze for seven people! Annie and Susan have both found employment as housemaids, although apparently not living in as I have been unable to find duplicate entries for them elsewhere in the households of their employers. The census return confirms William's change in occupation to a gardener and includes the annotation Not Dom (i.e. not domestic). This suggests he may be working maintaining one of the private gardens in London's squares. The following census of 1891 shows quite a change in circumstances, however. This census tells us that William and Emma (now 60 and 65) occupy only four rooms at the property. 15 year-old Martha is still living at home. Next listed on the return in 2 year-old Gerald Boscon. His relationship to the head of the family is Nurse-child. A nurse-child 'can mean a number of things, from informally adopted or fostered, to temporarily "farmed out" to close kin, or family friends or near neighbours or private individuals who offered a service at what must have been ... a very low price.' (Rigden, 2012). Perhaps Emma was doing what she could to help supplement their income. Following Gerald is an entry for an Emma Gillespie. At 34 she is widowed and looking after her three children; 7 year-old Hugh, 6 year-old George and 1 month-old Archie. But who is she? Her relationship is given as daughter but this may have been an error by the enumerator as I have found no records to substantiate this - perhaps she is a paying lodger or a family friend?

William remains a gardener for the rest of his life. He dies on the 20th March 1889 aged 76 from Syncope - a sudden loss of consciousness (Genealogy Printers, 2002) - and cardiac failure brought on by bronchopneumonia and a weak heart. His death certificate records that he dies In Milner Square and that a post mortem and inquest is held. I went to Islington Local History Centre and tracked down the following newspaper report from The Islington Gazette:

Islington Gazette, 24 March 1899
He is buried in Islington Cemetery on the 25th March. Emma survives her husband by two years. She dies aged 64 at the Infirmary on Highgate Hill. The Infirmary, at that time, was owned by Islington Union and operated as a workhouse infirmary (Higginbotham, 2014). This may not mean that Emma was already in the workhouse as some individuals only entered the building because they needed medical care. Emma is buried in Islington Cemetery on the 8th August.

In 1871, in the village of Widdington in Saffron Walden, the Wisken family occupy one of the properties. 47 year-old Charlotte, a farm labourer's wife, is looking after her four children - 14 year-old George, 11 year-old Emily, 9 year-old Charlotte and 5 year-old Robert. Emily is the focus of our attentions. By the time she is 21 she is employed as a live-in housemaid with the Skaife family in their home at 33 Milner Square, Islington. The household staff is small with only another housemaid and cook also living in. The other housemaid is also named Emily - I wonder if the cook called them by their surnames to distinguish them! During her employment here Emily meets my great great grandfather John. This may have been whilst the Primes were living at number 30 in the 1870s or John may have found carpentry work with one of the residents - perhaps even the Skaifes. Either way, by the end of 1881 Emily has giver up her life of domestic service and moved in with John and his family at 21 Sebbon Street. They marry on the 21st December.

John and Emily stay close to the primes, not moving more than a mile away. Their first child, Emily Janet, is born in October of 1882 with William Henry following in 1884, Valentine Walter (my great grandfather - so named because he was born on the 14th February) in 1889 and Arthur Charles in 1891. (The 1911 census return recorded that Emily actually gave birth to a total of six children with only four surviving. I have so far been unable to find any record of the other two children.) At some point in the next ten years, following his father's death, John and Emily move their family in with Emma. By 1901 their daughter Emily, now 18, and their son William, now 16, both contribute to the family's income by working as a book-folder and a messenger for the Great Northern Railway. Following Emma's death later that year the family choose to remain in the property. William follows in his father's footsteps and becomes a carpenter. The 1911 census return describes the industry in which they are connected with as Builder so we get a picture of what type of carpentry work they might be doing. My great grandfather Valentine is now 22 and is employed as an engineer's clerk. Arthur is employed as a brass-finisher in the engineering industry. Their sister Emily has been married to electrician Clement Walter Woodhead for six years and they have a 2 year-old daughter - they are either living with, or visiting the family. John lives to the age of 63 (when he dies of cancer) and is buried in Islington Cemetery on the 22nd March 1920. Emily, like her mother-in-law before her, as admitted to the Islington Infirmary. She dies there and is buried on the 16th February 1925 aged 67. (I have visited Islington Cemetery and have been unable to find headstones for John, Emily, William and Emma.)

Emily & Clement, 16th September 1905

Valentine & Eleanor, 12th September 1914

Genealogy Printers (2002) Causes of death and old medical terms. Spalding: Spindrift.

Higginbotham, P. (2014) St Mary's, Islington, Middlesex, London. Available at: (Accessed: 13 July 2014).

Rigden, S. (2012) Ask the expert - nurse child. Available at: (Accessed: 13 July 2014).

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