30 January 2017

Outside Right: George Reay and The Beautiful Game

George Thompson Reay, my great grandfather, was born on February 2nd 1900 in Pit Row, East Howdon, then a village just to the east of Wallsend along the River Tyne. He was the first son and fourth child of ship caulker William Reay and his wife Mary Thompson Peel, and the grandson of Mary Thompson, who I wrote about a fortnight ago, here.

The Reay side of my family has always had a noticeable penchant for sport, particularly football. My grandfather, George's son, played football in his youth semi-professionally, as did my father, and my younger brother too. Somehow that gene has been lost on me!

George is different because he did play the game professionally. Although when he finished attending school at the age of 14, he went to work in the local pit and was involved with the local colliery football team there. Preferring the love of the game to the horrid conditions of coal mines in the early twentieth century, George sought to play the game professionally. In the early 1920's after playing for his local mining team, he was signed for Percy Main Amateurs, the local team which had only been founded a few years earlier.

I don't know how long George spent with them, but it wasn't a long stretch. By December 1923 he had already moved on to play for Blyth Spartans, South Shields and Hartlepool before moving to Reading in December of that year. Records show that the coach at Reading perhaps didn't think much to George, playing him only once in the whole season during a 2-0 defeat to Luton  on December 15th 1923.

George Thompson Reay
From Reading, George moved to Kettering for the 1924-25 season and it was here that he began to make his mark on the game. He played a total of 56 matches for the Popppies as an Outside Right and scored 3 goals for them. George's game improved during the first half of the 1925-6 season, scoring 3 goals in 23 games before Christmas. Someone must have been watching him because at this point in time, he changed clubs again, heading north to play for Scottish side Raith Rovers. Some in the family claim that George was the first Englishman to play for a Scottish league football side, but so far I have not managed to prove this, or in all honesty see hard documented evidence of it.

At Raith, George got his big break. He was signed on December 6 1925 for a transfer fee of £750, a meagre amount in comparison with today's ridiculous fees but in his day, that was a fair amount of money. He made his debut a few days later, and in February 1926, scored his first goal in a 2-0 victory for Raith over Clydebank.

In a game which no doubt would have made him a household name among Raith fans, he also scored their only goal in a 1-1 draw against their local rivals, Dunfermline.

Raith Rovers team, 1927. George Reay is on the second row, second left. 
It was also around this time that George met and married a local Fife lassie, Janet Williamson Herd, or Jenny as she was called. She was eight years his junior and the daughter of quarry contractor John Herd and his wife Ethel Violet Emmeline Fisher.

George and Janet married in Edinburgh in early 1927. His occupation is given as 'Professional Footballer' on the marriage certificate.

George played his last game for Raith Rovers in December 1927, the same month as his son George William Reay, my grandfather, was born in Kirkcaldy. He was transferred down south to Bristol Rovers, quite the move for all three of them I'd imagine. At Bristol George regularly found himself in the local papers appearing for the club and scoring goals, which totalled 9 in 67 appearances for them. After being signed in early 1930 for Coventry, he would have been disappointed with only being played for one game there, and obviously felt a need to move again that same year.

And move again he did, this time to Burton Town, where he spent three seasons. One report in the papers notes how he had to have some time out of the game due to him having a 'poisoned wrist', an injury presumably from the game. But newspapers also record that George was a man very well thought of by the club and they valued his ability to lead down the right of the field and set up goals if he couldn't score them himself.

After leaving Burton in 1934, George played one game for Gresley Town FC and played one game for them that December. This is the last record of George playing football I have been able to find, as around this time, he and Janet decided to move to Kettering, the town where he used to entertain the crowds a decade earlier.

In Kettering, George returned to his old club as a groundsman and had three more children there with Jenny. During this period, the people of Kettering honoured him for his service to the club by naming two houses after him, which to this day can be seen on Bowling Green Road.

"Reay Houses" on Bowling Green Road, Kettering.
Never being a man who in his youth certainly travelled with his job, George sought security as the Second World War came and moved to Corby, eight miles from Kettering, to work in the steel industry as an electric furnaceman. He would regularly go back up to visit his family in Howdon, including his siblings and elderly father William. He was a regular drinker in the Duke of Wellington pub which stands near the entrance to the Tyne Tunnel now, and my father recalls that he had his own personalised tankard waiting for him whenever he went back. 

George and Jenny spent the rest of their lives together in Corby at the family home in Stephenson Way.

Stories from relatives recall how George loved to bet and go to the races in his younger days and that through his love of sport and fitness, also raced as well as played football. A rather illustrious family legend is that he once somehow managed to get into a race with Eric Liddell, the famous racer on whom the film Chariots of Fire is based. Eric beat him, obviously...

George died in Rushden Hospital in 1970 aged 70. His wife Jenny died in 2001 at the age of 92.

22 January 2017

Ted Howell - The Man Who Beat The Saints

Edwin John Howell, or 'Ted' as he was known, was born on January 25th 1904 in Cogan, a small suburb of the Welsh seaside town of Penarth. He was the ninth of ten children to dock labourer Henry Howell and his wife Sarah Ann Liles, and a great nephew of Comfort Howell, the subject of my first Ancestor Story post only a few weeks ago.

Ted was brought up in a house almost completely full of boys. Although his parents had three daughters, sadly none of them survived until adulthood, leaving Ted to grow up with his six brothers Joe, Harry, William, Bob, George and Jim. George was tragically killed in France in 1918 in the closing months of the First World War, tearing a hole in the heart of the family.

After attending Penarth Boy's School, Ted went to work as a railway porter at Penarth. It was here that he met a young girl from Tredegar called Beatrice Lillian Griffiths, who had come to Penarth to work for a wealthy lady named Mrs. Rhys-Jones. He offered to carry her bags for her and the rest is history; they married on Christmas Eve 1925 in Cardiff Registry Office and had four of their five children in Penarth.

The Howell family in Penarth, 1934-5
Ted lost his father just before he married Beatrice and his mum passed away six years later. At this time, Britain was in the midst of The Great Depression, which saw wages plummet and work disappear for thousands of workers, mainly industrial. Wanting the best for his family, Ted must have heard about fellow Welshmen and women leaving for Corby in Northamptonshire, where the erection of a steelworks in the town offered secure employment, higher pay and of course, the clincher - a house that practically came with the job.

On April 7th 1936, Ted and the Howell family left Penarth behind and made the move to Corby, changing trains at Leicester. They settled briefly in Deene Close and later Wheatley Avenue before moving to Lindisfarne Road. During World War 2, Beatty gave birth to her fifth and final child in 1942, completing the family.

While family was his greatest love, however, Ted had another great passion - Rugby. Perhaps unsurprising for a young working class Welshman, the game with the funny-shaped ball was Ted's biggest pastime, having played since his days as a teenager in Penarth. When he came to Corby, one of the first things he did was to help set up a rugby club there, which was called Stewarts & Lloyds after the steelworks. It was the first such club to be set up in the town.

Having set up the club, Ted became its first ever fixtures secretary, a position he held for many years. A few of the minute papers from the early meetings have survived and are treasured family heirlooms. One such record states that the committee decided the 'knickers' for the players should be black, and the shirts striped. Ted also kept a collection of newspaper cuttings from his rugby career which again are an invaluable source of information.

But researching Ted through online newspapers, I found a mention of him partaking in another community endeavour. An article in the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph in November 1936 states he sponsored the attempted formation of a Welsh Exiles Society, a social and philanthropist club for those Welsh expats who wanted to give something back. I've never heard of this society, so might have to do some more research to find out if it actually got off the ground!

Ted played rugby until at least the late 1940s, one article in particular referencing his appearance at a Corby game where they beat the Northampton Saints, always the formidable side. This was most likely the highlight of his career, and occurred in January of 1946.

Interestingly, despite the war being on and Ted making a note of the fact that minutes weren't kept for 1942-1944 due to a shortage of paper, the team still played and didn't abandon a single match. That's quite something. His scrapbook ends in 1951, indicating that may have been the year he retired from the game. That would have made him 46 years old, which is an advanced age to be playing a sport like rugby.

*  *  *

As his attempt to set up a Welsh Exiles Society in Corby suggests, Ted was a man who believed in community. He was a socialist and a supporter of the Labour Party in Corby. Like many left-leaning Welshmen, Ted looked up to fellow lefty and founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan, who, apparently worked down the same pit as one of Ted's relatives before entering Parliament.

Another family story is that, during the Second World War, Ted apparently came rather close to being arrested after a local policeman overheard him inferring that Churchill should be sent to the battlefields of Europe instead of ordinary men and women. As controversial and outspoken as this would have been at such a time, it is understandable that Ted felt some anger towards men like Churchill, especially given the fact that his brother George and some of his cousins had been killed during the First World War.

Ted seems to have been a firm but fair man, and obviously cared a great deal about his Welsh roots and the community in Corby. As a local Councillor myself, perhaps there's a little bit of him in me too. Who knows...

When he died in July 1961 aged just 57, his funeral was well attended by not only family but members of the Corby community and of course, his rugby teammates. The tributes were led in the local paper by his brother in-law Richard Stanley 'Stan Price', who was a former Labour Councillor in the town.

All in all, the rugby community in Corby owes Ted Howell almost as much as I do, and I'm quite proud about that.

16 January 2017

There's Something About Mary - A Tyneside Tragedy

For this week's Ancestory Story, I've chosen to write about the life of my great, great, great grandmother, Mary Thompson. I started researching Mary in 2007 and in doing so quickly hit one of those dreaded brick walls that I just couldn't even climb, let alone knock down altogether.  So before I start on her story, I will explain exactly what problem I encountered when I started to find out more about her.

When I ordered the birth certificate of my great, great grandmother Mary T. Peel in 2007, it came back stating that she was born in November 1874 in East Howdon, near Newcastle in the northeast of England. Her parents were recorded here as James Peel and Mary Peel Snr, nee Thompson.

Yet, when I tried to find a marriage for these parents, I couldn't, even after thorough searches of all the registration indexes. The only rather curious entry was for a James Peel and a Mary Turnbull, which was registered in early 1874 in the very same district (Tynemouth). Given this coincidence and even though Mary's surname was not the same one I had, I ordered the certificate and sure enough, the bride certainly appeared to be the same Mary. Her approximate year of birth (1850)  matched that to my Mary Peel in the 1881 census, the first census taken after the 1874 marriage.

Marriage certificate for James Peel and Mary 'Turnbull' at St. Nicholas' church, Newcastle (now Newcastle Cathedral).

 As the certificate shows, Mary was a Turnbull. We know that because her father is a Turnbull and she's a spinster. The 1871 census, taken three years before, tells us that James was running a pub in East Howdon called the Jenny Lind Inn, and if local newspaper reports are anything to go by, ran it rather well too. But this census throws up yet another mystery, because Mary isn't listed as a daughter at all. In fact, she's a Thompson again and is listed as a servant. Going back a further ten years still to the 1861 census, she is listed on that as James' niece!

I almost gave up with that, but after some perseverance and some help, I now know where 3x great gran Mary came from...

* * *

The truth as we now know it is this. Mary was born a Thompson, but she was raised as a Turnbull. As the graphic below shows, she was born in 1850 to Jane Thompson, an unmarried servant girl who was in fact Mary Turnbull's older sister.

Prior to giving birth to Mary, Jane Thompson had sadly found herself unable to manage, particularly as a pregnant woman without a husband. As this was a big social stigma at the time and her parents Robert and Jane had died years earlier, Jane was left with little alternative than to enter Tynemouth Workhouse in the city of Newcastle. It was here that she gave birth to Mary on May 3rd 1850.

Tynemouth Workhouse main building as photographed in the 1950's
Jane and Mary must have stayed in the Workhouse for some time, for they can be found there almost a year later on the 1851 census, listed as paupers. Interestingly, Jane's occupation is 'servant', meaning that was probably her job before entering the poorhouse. Perhaps she may have had a fling with the master of the house? Who knows...

Mary's father is not listed on her birth certificate, so sadly I'll probably never know the identity of my biological 4x great grandfather on this side.

Although the exact circumstances of what happened next are not known, I do know that Mary went into the care of her mother's sister with the same name and she and her husband James Turnbull raised her as her own, even employing her as a barmaid in the family house, The Jenny Lind Inn. Given the fact that Mary never knew her real father and James Turnbull had raised her as his own, it is not surprising that when she got married to James Peel in 1874, she put uncle James down as her father, and thus changed her name to Turnbull.

With James Peel, Mary had a total of eight children. She never forgot the kindness of the Turnbull's for raising her as their own and giving her all of the love and opportunity their own natural children got too. James and Mary Turnbull went on to have many children of their own too, so although on paper the family would appear somewhat broken, they were all very close and had a warm childhood in the Jenny Lind. This is evident by the fact that Mary's first son was given the name James Turnbull Peel when he was born in 1881.

Next, however, something rather strange happens in Mary's life, and it's only thanks to recently digitised newspapers on www.britishnewspaperarchive.com that I know about it.

On Friday, April 17th 1891, the Shields Daily News reported that Mary Peel was up in court in North Shields for assaulting her neighbour, Jane Lydon. It sees that the press even back then still had a knack for misspelling surnames, as the lady in question was in fact Jane Leighton. A look at the 1891 census, taken just six days before the incident was alleged to have taken place, tells us that this undoubtedly refers to my Mary.

As a side-note, the man who would become my 2x great grandfather, William Reay, is living in the house in between them.

The 1891 census for East Howdon showing Nos. 12 - 14 Pit Row

Although only a recent find, after viewing the holdings of Tyne & Wear Archives it appears that any further information on trails and offences at this time in North Tyneside have not survived, meaning this could well be all we have to gain an insight into just what happened. It seems like it came down to Mary's word against Jane's, and the jury found Mary to be guilty. Something must have led Mary to assault her with a rock, and if the curse used by Mary against her is accurate, it may well have had something to do with drink. Although one thing I am not too sure about is whether it was the mother or daughter that Mary assaulted.

This was an interesting time for Mary to have committed this alleged offence, for soon after she became pregnant with her final child, John Peel.  She had had a son called John before but sadly lost him in infancy. So that census image above gives a little insight into what was a fairly busy time in the Peel household!

Mary gave birth to John prematurely 125 years ago today at the Peel family home at 14 Pit Row, Howdon. She had not expected to give birth to him so soon and he was born prematurely. During this traumatic process, despite the fact that Mary had done it seven times before, she haemorrhaged and died, aged just 42. Cruelly, as premature as he was, John never made it either. His death certificate records he was just five minutes old. In the space of about ten minutes, James lost them both.

Mary and John were buried in Preston Cemetery, in North Shields on January 19th 1892. Their burial entry in the books of Preston tell us that they were buried together in the same coffin, and that even though he remarried after her death and been widowed again in 1916, James Peel was buried with them when he died in 1917. Interestingly, he did not purchase the grave until 1906, indicating that perhaps the grave was paid for originally by someone else. I suspect the Turnbull's of the Jenny Lind may have paid for Mary to be buried, which I find somewhat fitting.

* * *

When I first came across Mary, her life was a complete mystery. I have always found Tynemouth a difficult area to research, even more so for the fact that I was trying to track down a name like Thompson there. And that's before even uncovering the mystery of Mary's birth in the first place. 

But after 125 years Mary's story is now known and recorded to hand down to whatever generations come after me, if any. And in some way I suppose if it were not for the kindness and love that James and Mary Turnbull showed her when they took her in and raised them as her own, Mary may not have survived at all. Following on from that, I suppose my family owe them a lot. They probably gave her more of a home than her own mother Jane ever could. 

So, finally, the only obvious question you're probably wanting to know is, what exactly did happen to Mary's mother, Jane?

The answer to that is short: I don't know. No death seems to 'fit' in the area and she certainly didn't die in the Workhouse. A marriage in 1862 to a man called Thomas Routledge is certainly a good fit as her age and father's name are also accurate, but unless other clues present themselves, I cannot know for certain. But I do wonder if Jane ever saw Mary again after their time together in the Workhouse, or if the Turnbull's even knew what happened to her.

Something for a rainy day, perhaps...

Thank you to my distant cousin, who I know would not like to be named but who also blogs about his family history. He is a descendant of James Turnbull's sister Margery and helped me find Mary's true parentage. You can view his fascinating blog here, which he keeps updated quite regularly too: http://intertwiningbranchesfh.blogspot.co.uk/

7 January 2017

Southern Comfort - The Story of a Victorian Madam

Today I'm sharing one of the most high-brow stories from my family tree - that of my 3x great grandfather's sister, Comfort Howell.

Comfort Howell was born in Ashleworth, near Tewksbury in Gloucestershire, in 1825. She was the third child and second daughter of farm labourer Emmanuel Howell and his wife Mary Barnes.

As she was born before September 1837, Comfort does not have a birth certificate which means that the first record we have of her is when she was baptised. This took place on November 27th 1825 in Ashleworth's St. Andrew & St. Bartholomew's church, as shown here:

Comfort's baptism entry in the Ashleworth parish registers.

Emmanuel and Mary would have a total of eleven children, and sadly as Comfort was growing up, she lost both a little brother and then a sister too. In such times it was almost a normality for parents to lose children; one of the main reasons why couples had so many of them.

It is not known whether or not Comfort went to school, but we know her working life started early as she appears in the 1841 census aged 16 in Gloucester's city centre, employed as a female servant to a bricklayer called John Cooper, his wife and their six children. Ten years later in 1851 and still in Gloucester, she was in service to Charles Church, a superintendent of the Gloucester Tram Road.

Between 1851 and 1854, Comfort moved from Gloucester to London, where, on October 1st 1854, she married a widowed man named John Preedy, a boot-maker. Presumably she had found service in the capital or had followed her aunt (after whom she was named) there and chose to stay. The marriage took place in St. Martin in the Fields church, which stands just off Trafalgar Square.

St. Martin in the Fields Church, London

Nine months after her marriage to John, Comfort gave birth to a little girl, who she called Celia Ann Preedy. Celia was born in Westminster and was baptised the following year, presumably as she was unwell. Tragically, Celia died later that year, and was buried in Victoria Park Cemetery in Hackney. After this loss, Comfort and John had no more children together.

Following this sad chapter for Comfort and John, they moved to Soho, into a property that still stands at 14 Gerrard Street, now firmly within the district's Chinatown. Comfort and John show up here in the 1861 census, and again in the 1871 census too. 

And in 1871, there's quite a lot going on in 14 Gerrard Street...

On first look this census perhaps doesn't raise much interest. That is, until you go further down the list. Note the five 'lodgers' who appear in the census, as well as one solitary male who, as are the girls, spending the night at this property. The giveaway perhaps may be that a couple of them are reluctant to give first names. 'Miss Bowls' and 'Miss Watter/s' for example, are perhaps trying to hide their full names from the authorities. 

In short, it appears that Comfort and John were running a brothel. As a 'madam', Comfort would undoubtedly have had a direct influence over the running of the house and regular contact with the girls who used it as a way to make money in the mid-Victorian era. John was still making money from his boot making, but it seems Comfort had her eyes on rather saucier ventures.

I don't know just how long Comfort and John were using their home as a brothel, but in 1872 their luck ran out. In February of that year, they were found out, arrested and put on trial at Clerkenwell Sessions Court. After pleading guilty, they were both ordered to keep to strict conditions. They also had to appear in court whenever asked, with a penalty of £50 if they broke these conditions. That's about £2,400 in today's money, so quite a hefty sum of money considering prostitution in London at this time was rather common, although still discreet. Indeed, these events took place only a decade before Jack the Ripper began targeting girls in the city.

And it appears that after such a brush with the law, Comfort and John did indeed cease running what the court referred to as 'a bawdy house'. 

For the Preedy's, things seem to have gone downhill from here. In January 1875, John is recorded on the admission registers of Westminster Workhouse as being admitted there as destitute, presumably as the result of a significantly reduced income following their brush with the law. The workhouses were notoriously bleak places, almost a hell on earth for those struggling to survive or on the breadline. John lasted four months in such a place and records state he actually discharged himself.

Over the next decade, John and Comfort would become well acquainted with the workhouses, as the following list shows. 

2.12.1875 - John Preedy admitted to workhouse with wife, Comfort. 
8.12.1875 - Comfort Preedy discharged to Cleveland Asylum.
17.6.1876 - John Preedy discharged from workhouse.

They made it back though - in 1881 both of them are still in Central London and are even employing a servant.

But times get hard again for John, and harder still for Comfort. He is admitted back into Westminster Workhouse again in late 1882, returning home to his wife in April of 1883. Then, tragedy strikes, 

John, now an elderly man approaching 70, had stopped working in the London boot industry between 1883 and 1886, and became employed as a street sweeper for St. James' Vestry in the city. On September 26th 1886, as he swept the road  near Beak Street, John was knocked down by a speeding brougham stagecoach, like the one in this picture.

It appears as if the horse hit John at speed, but didn't kill him. However, the wheels that followed it did, as sources report he tried to get back up as he was hit a second time. He was taken to Middlesex Hospital where he died, leaving Comfort with no income and a widow. 

Thomas Haley, the 22 year old driver of the speeding coach, was found not guilty of manslaughter and released.

Without her husband, any children or cousins left in the city, Comfort was left on her own. In the years following John's death, she moved into a small house in Shaftesbury Avenue where she befriended an old widow named Ann Pearce and took her in as a paying lodger. After Ann died, however, Comfort struggled on again, and entered Westminster Workhouse in August 1897. She died there on April 8th 1898 aged 73/74. 

Because she died as a pauper, Comfort was never buried with John. Her sister in-law, a 'Mrs. Howell' buried her in St. Pancras Cemetery in Islington in a pauper's grave with no headstone and no marker to tell others exactly where she lies. 

Comfort Howell - the woman who lived up to her name for a short while,  and then, not so much.