William Henry Preece: from poverty to pillar of the community

There is some mystery surrounding the twenty-three years of my 2x great grandfather William Henry Preece's life where, from 1861-1884, he disappears from the records. William shares his name with Sir William Henry Preece (1834-1913) who 'was a major figure in the development and introduction of wireless telegraphy and the telephone in Great Britain.' (Encyclopadia Britannica, 2013). Our William's life is no less interesting, however. In 1869 William and his younger brother Albert are orphaned = just one day before William's 11th birthday. Within the space of six months their parents, William and Emma, have died of tuberculosis. The children then vanish. There is a possible match in the 1871 census for a Wm H Preece who is at the Newport Market Industrial School in Soho. 'Industrial schools were established "for the better training of poor and neglected children" who were "in danger of becoming criminals" (Industrial Schools Act 1857). Children were housed, fed, clothed, educated to an elementary level, and given some industrial or agricultural training.' (The National Archives, no date). Great Uncle Jim provides some speculation about what happened to him next:
'The family lore is that he was unhappy with his foster family ... and ran away from home. At some time he went to India and worked in the railways and joined a Masonic Lodge in Calcutta. He became religious, [and] returned to England to work for the Methodist Church as a missionary for seamen.' (Preece, no date).
He reappears in the records in 1884 aged 26 when, on the 15th November, he married 31 year-old Elizabeth Sanders. Their wedding takes place in the church of St. Nicholas in the west coastal town of Whitehaven in Cumberland (now Cumbria). Even here family gossip has something to say on the subject: '... family rumour suggests that he had to do the honourable thing by her as she was compromised by being the only person to meet him at the docks on his return from India, she being a single female!' (Preece, no date).

William was born on the 14th August 1858 to Emma (nee Jones) and William, an upholsterer, at 18 Great Pulteney Street, Westminster. Within the next two and a half years the family move to Camden where Albert Richard Charles is born in December 1860/January 1861. William and Emma baptise both children on the 23rd January. Within only three months they move again. Heading back towards their original address they settle, lodging at number 5 University Street. This property is now the Rayne Building of University College London in Camden. However, in 1861 it provides a home for five households. The majority of those living in the street are working class employed in some form of trade. William and Emma are the first listed at No. 5 with their two sons. William presents his occupation has Atmospheric Clock Maker - perhaps this provides a more reliable income than upholstering, although it is a very odd change in occupation!

Eight years on and tragedy strikes. Aged only 34 William dies from TB on the 7th March 1869. His death certificate records that he had been suffering from the disease for almost two years. The rest of the information on the certificate is not provided by Emma but by a woman named Annie Avenall, probably a friend of the family. She states that he had been living with her at 52 High Street, St Giles North. She records his occupation as upholsterer again, adding the term journeyman. This suggests that he was employed on short term contracts only and had been unable to find regular work. Emma had also contracted the deadly disease around the same time as William and was therefore probably too ill to register his death herself. She dies aged 34 on the 15th August. Her death is recorded by an M. Newton who states that she had been living with him at 8 North Street. They are both buried in unmarked "common" graves in Paddington Cemetery; William on the 11th March and Emma on the 18th August. However, the big question is: what happens to the children?

I took my research to an 'Ask the Expert' session at the 2014 Who Do You Think You Are Live Event in London. He corroborated my findings in that the only possible entry for William in the existing census returns is the one at Newport Industrial School in 1871. (Another scenario is that he had already run away and stowed on a ship to India. However, we could not find an entry in the censuses for Albert either - his whereabouts will require further research). Unfortunately The London Metropolitan Archives (who hold surviving records for the school) confirmed that there are no surviving records relating to the pupils. The next confirmed record of William is of his marriage to Elizabeth. William gives his address as Strand Street, Whitehaven, but Elizabeth's is in St Peter's Battersea - over 300 miles away! In his own research Great Uncle Jim writes that William worked for The Seamen's Christian Friend Society. He had been given his first appointment the year before to run the Anglican Seamen's Mission in Whitehaven: 'It is believed that [he] ... found a suitable premises and had them adapted to suit the Mission's needs.' (Preece, no date). It looks as those he went first and now, having found and settled at premises at 49 Strand Street, Elizabeth makes the journey to begin their married life together. They live at the Mission and name it Sailor's Rest. In his memoirs David Wylie of Whitehaven remembers the location:
'In the lower part of Strand Street between Marlborough St. and the Marketplace was the Sailor's Rest Mission hall, on the right going down.' (Wylie, no date).
Unfortunately the Mission is no longer there.

It is three years before William and Elizabeth start their own family. Emma Elizabeth is born on the 6th June 1887 and my great great grandfather Victor William Magnagde is born two years later. The 1891 census taken on Sunday 5th April shows that William and Elizabeth have now settled a few doors down in a 4-roomed property at no. 43. It is a full house that night as, shown with them, is John Sanders (their 13 year-old nephew) and visitors Sarah Marston (William's 24 year-old sister in law - probably from his wife's side) and Alice Jones (his 16 year-old cousin).

In 1898 William is appointed to head the mission in the Sussex town of Southwick. The Seamen's Institute is located in Albion Street, Southwick.
Seamen's Institute, Southwick
'At the time of his leaving the Sailor's Rest in Whitehaven, he was presented with a large black slate Westminster chiming clock. This had a brass plate inscribed "Presented to Mr W.H. Preece together with a purse of money as a mark of appreciation for the fifteen years earnest work as missionary at The Sailor's Rest Whitehaven. 11 July 1898." After his death, the clock was consigned to a cellar where it remained until the 1950s. It was rescued by the author [Uncle Jim] prior to the demolition of Cosy Nook [William and Elizabeth's future home] and was elevated to the loft of its new owners home for maybe half a century before being handed to the 4th generation Lucy Horrox (nee Lucy Preece) in the 1990s. It has now been fully restored and proudly stands ... under a suitable framed photograph of its original owner.' (Preece, no date).
William and his clock
Following their move down the length of the country the 1901 census find the family living in a large house on Lighthouse Terrace in Kingston-by-Sea; a coastal town situated between Shoreham-by-Sea and Southwick. Their position in life has improved. Included in the household this year is 16 year-old Ada Gray who is employed as their General Domestic Servant. Emma and Victor are now 14 and 12 and have a little sister - 4 year-old Lillian Theodora. According to Great Uncle Him his aunt Lillian (nicknamed Lily) was born on the 6th March 1869 in Whitehaven and adopted by my 2x great grandparents. Once again we see William and Emma opening their doors. On this census return are recorded visitors Dora, Christopher and Sydney Norton, aged 10, 8 and 6 respectively. By 1911 the family have found their home at "Cosy Nook", 157 Albion Street.
Cosy Nook
'The approach to the dwelling was via a narrow alley between a jeweller's shop and the Copper Kettle Cafe on Albion Street which led to the very secluded dwelling, made up of several old, terraced cottages and adjoining out-houses (stables etc) made into one, with a three quarter-acre garden entirely surrounded by walls as high as 2-storey buildings; a sheltered sun trap with many fruit trees and bushes (including a mature fig tree), and three separate, spacious chicken enclosures.' (Preece, no date).
For the first time the census of this year records the number of rooms within a property. At Cosy Nook there are six rooms including the kitchen, but not count[ing] scullery, landing, lobby, closet, bathroom ... This census is also the first time we can see the original forms completed by our ancestors. As head of the household William completed this census form and we can see that he has very neat handwriting:
Excerpts from the 1911 census return
52 year-old William remains working as a missionary for The Seamen's Christian Friend Society. He had 58 year-old Elizabeth have now been married for 27 years. Still with them are 23 year-old Emma (known as Dot) who is employed as a teacher, as is 22 year-old Victor. 14 year-old Lily is also still at home whilst she is at school. It is possible that she is not yet aware of her adoption as Elizabeth includes her in the number of children born and still living. On census night there are also three additional occupants. Two of them are 3 year-old Rosa King and Edith Lottenberg, both of whom were born in London. It seems a little odd that these two toddlers should be there without their parents - are William and Emma baybsitting, have they been left at the Missionary, or have they taken them in from a children's charity? The final occupant that night is a certain Mildred Alice Williams - Victors future wife!

William was remembered in an article from the Worthing Herald which describes the life of the Southwick Post Office:
'Lucy Cabot retired on September 28, 1910. Her final customer was Mr. W. H. Preece, the resident priest at the Seamen's Mission. He purchased a 1d stamp and stuck it on one of his visiting cards. Lucy Cabot initialled it and dated it.' (Heasman, 2009).
William lives until the age of 71. He dies on the the 11th January 1930 at home. He had spent his life dedicated to his missionary work. He had also received an honorary certificate and a sum of £25 from the Carnegie Hero Trust Fund as a result of the following act of bravery:
William receiving his certificate
'William Henry Preece (64), Missionary, "Cosy Nook", Southwick, Sussex on 17th July 1922, sustained serious injuries while endeavouring to stop a runaway horse which had taken fright and bolted at Southwick Sussex. Preece ran into the road, grasped at the reins, and succeeded in steering the animal clear of a group of children and the occupants of a motor cycle and sidecar. Unfortunately, the horse stumbled, pulling Preece to the ground. The horse then struggled to its feet, and before the man could get clear, the wheel of the cart passed over and fractured his right leg.' (MacDonald, 2013).
This has been entered in the Roll of Honour, 'a beautifully illustrated book that is displayed in the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in Dunfermline.' (MacDonald, 2013).
The Roll of Honour and William's entry
The Probate Calendar states that his effects came to the total of £646 5s 4d (around £20,000 in 2005) (The National Archives, 2011). It would be interesting to obtain a copy of his will to see if he donated any of his possessions or money to charitable causes. My great great grandmother survives William by twelve years. She dies on the 26th January 1942 aged 90. William and Elizabeth are buried at the church of Kingston Buci St Julian. Their headstone reads:

In loving memory of / WILLIAMS HENRY PREECE / Seamen's Missionary / who passed away 11th Jan. 1930, aged 71 / O hear us when we cry to thee / For those in peril on the sea / Also of his beloved wife ELIZABETH / died 26th January 1942 / aged 90 years / Reunited. [These last three lines are along the top of the stone on the south end of the tombstone - the left side in the photograph below.]

William and Elizabeth's grave
Encyclopaedia Britannica (2013) Sir William Henry Preece. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/474588/Sir-William-Henry-Preece (Accessed: 09 November 2014).

Heasman, T. (2009) Lucy at the post office. Available at: http://www.wothingherald.co.uk/CustomPages/CustomPage.aspx?SectionID=4821 (Accessed: 16 October 2011).

MacDonald, H. (2013) Email to Rachel Chavez, 04 June.

Preece, L. J. (no date) Descendants of Richard Steel. [Notes from family history software].

The National Archives (no date) Series reference HO349. Available at: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/displaycataloguedetails.asp?CATLN=3&CATID=7904&Searchlnit=4&SearchType=6&CATREF=HO349 (Accessed: 26 October 2011).

The National Archives (2011) Currency convertor. Available at: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/default0.asp#mid (Accessed: 18 September 2011).

Wylie, D. (no date) Memories - David Wylie. Available at: http://www.mywhitehaven.co.uk/2011/10/memories-david-wylie.html (Accessed: 26 October 2011).

No comments:

Post a Comment