Lyon family – silver stick

These photos were sent to me by James Anscomb with the following message:

“I came across your site after receiving a gift from my parents that named a James Lyon of Bristol –
The object is a silver cane top with James’ motto inscribed on the top and his name and city on the handle.
My parents bought this as a congratulations for setting up my new company in Bristol and due to the name on it they saw it as the perfect item.
I know you mentioned a Robin on the page and I was wondering whether you may like some photos as it connects to this piece of history.”

These pictures refer to my post of February 2012.  Robin was Robin Tingle.  Many thanks and good luck to James in his new enterprise.

FLOWER family of Timsbury


I have received the following email from Neil D. Brooks (

“I have just finished a family history of the Flower family who emigrated from Timsbury in 1853.

“I found your article on the web “Life of a Bristol family” (Timsbury) which mentioned a John Flower being killed in a coal mining accident. My ancestors are James & Hannah Flower whose daughter married a Wellow lad (Jesse Humphrys) and they all emigrated to South Australia and were very successful Sheep Farmers and Wheat croppers.

“If anyone is interested in the Ones-that-got-away (to Australia) they can contact me or look at my where I have samples of my research.I have published a book after being convinced by the National Library of Australia that it was worthwhile and only way of recording my research. (It wouldnt be worth our while to post a copy of the book as postage is too expensive.) The book’s pdfs are available if anyone wanted to print it at your local Staples or similar stores.
I would be particularly interested in Timsbury, Wellow, Hassage or Hemington stories as that is where my ancestors came from.

“Thanks in anticipation, Neil D Brooks.”

I replied:

A John Flower (52) was one of 11 men and boys killed at Hayeswood, Timsbury, in February 1845. Thomas Flower was killed at Mells, 1871 and William Flower (50) of Smyth Hill, killed in a coalpit at Wellow, February 1856. These men are named in my book “Killed in a Coalpit, Volume II, the Mines of Mendip” which I wrote originally ca1990 and am now updating. Volume I (covering Kingswood District Pits, South Gloucestershire) has been updated and is currently with a publisher. It  should be available after October 2015, all being well.  

Stefania Ekner, nee Biegarczyk, 1921-2001

On May 8th 2015 we celebrated the 70th anniversary of VE Day. I am posting the following article as a tribute to Stefania Biegarczyk and to the millions of others who suffered but who did not survive the war. I was eight years old in 1945 and I have had 70 good years in which to remember them. The article, which first appeared in the Bristol & Avon Family History Society’s Journal starts off in mundane fashion. But please bear with me.

“This is an example of how one thing can lead to another in Family History. My first cousin Jack GREGORY attained his 90th birthday on April 14th 2014. What to give a 90 year-old-man? The majority of us who have survived to “a certain age” have everything we could possibly want in the realm of “stuff” and more of the same is often a nuisance. So I thought I would give him a present of “himself”. To this end I decided to research and write the outline story of his life and put it together as a booklet with a few historic family photos and some “then and now” shots of places Jack would remember. So I did the rounds: Bristol Record Office for his christening records, took a few snaps outside the graveyard of his ancestors, (the Wesleyan Chapel, Kingswood, now a scene of Gothic devastation with impossible access) and then started on the places where he lived as a child.

I was standing in the street photographing one of these abodes, not Jack’s house, but next door where another of my aunts once lived. This suspicious activity was noticed by the current resident who came out and asked politely “Would you mind telling me what you are doing?” My snooping could have resulted in an unfortunate “incident” but I explained that I had no sinister intentions but was engaged in family research, and that many years before my aunt had lived in the house which I myself had often visited as a child. The gentleman did not say “Clear off” as he had every right to do, but called his wife, and I elaborated on my mission. The world is divided into two groups of people: those whose eyes glaze over at any mention of history in general, let alone family history, and those whose appetites are whetted, principally, I think, by the not- to- be passed up opportunity to discuss their own ancestors. We chatted for some little while. The couple had been in the house thirty six years having actually purchased the house from my late aunt who they recalled. It started to drizzle. They invited me inside. So far, so ordinary and yet so kind.

We were sitting in the living room sipping tea and by now had exchanged names. I mentioned Bristol & Avon Family History Society and my column the Journal. “Do you ever do this sort of thing professionally?” asked Liz EKNER, the lady of the house. Those days are long gone but I still cannot resist a tale. At my urging, my hostess told her family story.

Liz, nee GRABOWSKA, and her husband Jerzy were both born of Polish parents and spent their early lives in different refugee camps in England after the end of the war. They met at a family wedding and were themselves married in 1976. Liz said she “knew everything” about her own ancestry, her father having fought with the Polish Free Forces but it was the Ekner side of the family which intrigued, a mystery specifically regarding Jerzy’s mother, Stefania BIEGARCZYK. Stefania and Sgt Kazimierz Ekner were married in Germany in 1945 and then came to England where their children were born. Eventually they fetched up in Kingswood where Kazimierz died in 1971 and Stefania in 2001.

“Between her marriage and her death we know everything there is to know about our dear Mum,” Liz went on, “but she would never talk about her early life, from her birth in 1921 until…….”

and her next words made me shudder. My stomach turned to ice……..

“……..until she was liberated from Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.”

Stefania was born at Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland, on 30.3.1921. The date is repeated on most documents pertaining, except one, a typescript listing camp internees which gives her birthdate as 30.6.1921. This may be simply a clerical error, though given the Nazis’ zeal for admin, the discrepancy is worth noting. The “Edited List of Polish Political Prisoners” states that her parents were called Jozef and Waleria. She was arrested for political activity and held in the transit camp at Pruszkow (Dulag 121) between 2.9.1944 and 9.9.1944. Following the Warsaw Rising, 650,000 Poles passed through in August, September and October 1944. 55,000 were sent to concentration camps. They were segregated by the Gestapo and SS into Aryan/Non Aryan, came from all social classes, civil servants, artists, doctors, scholars, shopkeepers, blue collar workers; they included the injured, the sick and pregnant women; were aged from infants a few weeks old to octogenarians. Ravensbruck was specifically a concentration camp for women. About a quarter of the women sent there were Polish, who were forced to wear two triangles, one red and another with the letter “P” for political. Their heads were shaved. Norwegian women who were classed by the Nazis as “the highest rank of Aryans” (!) were spared this indignity. Soviet, German and Austrian communists were also denoted by a red triangle; common criminals: green, Jehovah’s Witnesses: lavender, prostitutes, lesbians and gipsies: black. It has been called “the banality of evil”, and nothing sums it up better than the division of the women into these chillingly bizarre subsets. By the time Stefania came to the camp most of the Jewish inmates had been transported to Auschwitz.

Stefania arrived at Ravensbruck on 7 September 1944 where she became prisoner number 65783. She was there for seven months. With the rapid advance of the Red Army in the spring of 1945, the SS ordered the murder of as many prisoners as possible to avoid anyone being left alive to testify. These included the British SOE Agents Cecily Lefort, Lilian Rolfe, Denise Bloch and Violette Szabo. With the Russians only hours away, those who remained, some 20,000 souls, were ordered on a death march towards Northern Mecklenburg. Two thousand sick and dying prisoners were still in the camp when the Russians arrived. They rounded up those guards who had not escaped. At the Nuremburg War trials sixteen camp officials charged with crimes against humanity were sentenced to death. The chief wardress during Stefania’s time, Dorothea Binz, had toured the camp brandishing a bull whip in the company of an unleashed German Shepherd dog. She would select a woman at random and kick her death or order her to be killed. Another guard, Vera Salvequart was a trained nurse, who oversaw thousands of deaths in the gas chambers. Both were hanged by the British public executioner, Albert Pierrepoint in 1947.

It is not surprising that Stefania was so scarred by her horrific experiences that she refused to talk about them. Of her previous life all she would say is “my mother and father are dead. My sister fell under a train. My brother was shot.”

Liz and Jerzy who are bi-lingual in Polish and English, went to Piotrkow several years ago where they met the parish priest (they are Catholic) and searched for Stefania’s baptismal records and those of her siblings. They found no reference to the names Biegarczk or to SIEJEK, another name, apparently an alias, by which Stefania was sometimes known. Their niece Tracy has taken up the challenge and has uncovered more information, specifically camp records on which Stefania’s name appears, but so far nothing to supply a clue to the missing years. Liz says she “feels sure that somewhere, there is someone still alive, who knew Stefania, who knows something of what really happened. That there must be a relative out there…..”

Piotrkow is some 80 miles from Warsaw, about two hours by train. Why did Stefania leave there to go to Warsaw and thus become caught up in the Rising? Was she conscripted or did she go to Warsaw of her own accord? What terrible fate befell her parents, her brother and sister? Why can’t I find any of them on the LDS index ( Is there a kindly LDS member locally or at Utah who could help? Why did Liz and Jerzy find nothing in church records? What is the meaning of the alternative name “Siejek”? Can anybody help. Did you know Stefania? Or others like her?

Stefania on her wedding day to Sgt Kazimierz Ekner. He died in 1971.




Her identity card in her married name.

Diverted by the Bristol “L”

My colleague and old (in both senses!) school friend from KGS Brian Iles will be giving a talk on the subject of the famous BRISTOL “L” at Hanham Community Centre on Wednesday June 3 at 2 pm. If anybody can contribute any experience of this weighty subject, please contact me, or turn up on the day. Thanks

The following is an article of mine which appeared in a recent journal of the Bristol & Avon FHS:

“My great great grandfather Henry FRAY was so afraid of being incarcerated in Keynsham Workhouse that he fatally cut his throat with a razor in 1900. “The Workhouse” cast a terrible shadow over the lives of the poor, and was purposely designed as a last resort so appalling that people would go to any lengths to avoid going there, though I doubt whether Malthus and his like considered that suicide was an option that some would consider let alone carry out.

According to a recent TV programme, one in ten of us has connections with “The Workhouse” which I consider a conservative estimate. These connections may include anyone with ancestral inmates, whether a super-star like Charlie Chaplin or like the late Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who boasted a Workhouse Master as a forebear.

As some members may know, I have never been content with simply “tracing my ancestors” and have tried to put flesh on their bones, thus neighbours, workmates and friends of my kin are all grist to the mill, and appear in any number of the Indexes, Annals and Bulletins I have collected over a near half-century of fanaticism. Thus an interest in the Fray family and all their connections led to a general study of Keynsham Workhouse. Even with this work in its early stages, a new diversion, it does not need a statistician to work out the vulnerable classes: the elderly poor, the single mothers with children, whether widowed or unmarried, the orphaned or abandoned children. Those left over are probably infirm, crippled, injured or simple minded. The casual but able-bodied tramps who regularly appear are set to cracking rocks, about 2 hundred weight a go, in exchange for a bed of straw. Whilst there is a good deal of to-ing and fro-ing among the more settled inmates, some families perpetuated their acquaintance with the Workhouse down through several generations.

This small part of the Workhouse story concerns the court appearance of a young lady, spelt phonetically, no doubt as she herself spoke, (the notorious Bristol “L” in full evidence), as “Marshall” WELLINGTON. The case, reported on 27.9.1862, caused a great stir in the neighbourhood of Keynsham. So many people crowded into the court room, the Bench ordered everybody out except those directly involved, “including our representative” said the Bristol Mercury, miffed. The proceedings continued in camera. Not to be outdone, the reporter sniffed around and got his story anyway. You will not be surprised that the issue was sex.

James Harrill CANTLE, 39, a married farmer and beerhouse keeper, was summoned to show why he should not contribute to the maintenance of the illegitimate child of Marshall Wellington, of which he was the alleged father. It appeared that Cantle had known Wellington for ten years, when she lived at Cottage Farm in Keynsham. In his role as a special constable of Keynsham, he took her to Shepton Mallett gaol, six years before (1855) as a prisoner, charged with an assault on an inmate at Keynsham Workhouse. “He then kept her out all night and slept with her.” She stayed away from the district for many years until she returned in 1861 “and the intimacy was renewed.”

Marshall was severely cross-examined and admitted that she had had two illegitimate children before, and this in the opinion of the defence “rendered her first statement very doubtful”. Cantle totally denied any wrongdoing and said her story was made up for purposes of extortion. He offered to produce character witnesses which the magistrates declined. The summons was dismissed “apparently to the great satisfaction of the villagers.” James continued to live in Keynsham until his death aged 84 in 1904. He was married twice, but does not appear to have had children, which may or may not confirm the opinion of the Bench.

As in life, coincidences often turn up in Family History. James Harrill Cantle had an unexpected link with my Fray family for he was executor to the will of John Fray, a cousin of my ancestor Henry, an affair summed up in Bristol Mercury’s lurid headline of 22.4.1865, “Shocking Case of Attempted Murder and Suicide at Keynsham”, which is another story.

So let us go back to “Marshall’s” early life. She was a Workhouse child.

On 13 May 1840, she was baptised at the same time as her sister Harriett at Keynsham Workhouse along with a large job-lot of pauper christenings. Her name is given as “Martha” but I have not seen the original and I think this may be a mis-transcription. The girls were the daughters of Elizabeth WILLINGTON (sic), a single woman.

In 1841, the little family is still in the Workhouse. Elizabeth is 30, that is born circa 1811 and the two girls are aged 10 and five years respectively. The younger girl is shown as “Marsha”.

There was a cholera outbreak at the Workhouse in 1849, with victims in double figures, though not named in newspaper reports. It is possible Elizabeth and Harriet succumbed, though I have found no appropriate burials. Neither they nor “Marshall” appear listed at the Workhouse in 1851, though it is clear that by 1857, the latter had again taken up residence for the Bath Chronicle of 8 October that year says that along with Harriet LUCAS and Mary Ann WILLIAMS she was sentenced to 21 days imprisonment with hard labour for “misbehaviour” at the Workhouse.

In 1858, she gave birth to a daughter, Julia who was baptised at the Union Workhouse on 25 July. The baby died in 1859 aged “0”. A son, Albert was baptised at the Workhouse on 25 March 1860. The child to which the paternity case referred was Jemima, registered Keynsham 1862, though not baptised until 8.7.1867, “daughter of Marcia, base-born”, as part of another Workhouse job-lot.

In 1861, her name is at last correctly spelled, and she is still resident in the Workhouse: Marcia Wellington, pauper, aged 25, servant, born Keynsham, single woman, with her son Albert, aged one.

In 1865, she turns up before “the beak” again, shown as “Marshall”, charged with leaving “her two illegitimate children at Keynsham Workhouse” but as Mr (Humphrey) ENGLAND, the Master, was unable to prove she was in work and able to maintain herself and her children, she was discharged with a caution. (Bath Chronicle 3.8.1865) In 1871, “Martha” Wellington, aged 35, born Keynsham, is working at a pub, at 2 Gloucester Lane, a poverty stricken district at St Philips. Young Albert, aged 11, and Jemima aged 9, are still inmates of the Keynsham Workhouse. One imagines that most of her meagre wages went on their upkeep.

The death of Marcia Wellington is recorded at Keynsham in the June Quarter of 1875, aged 40. Her daughter Jemima is still in the Workhouse in 1881 and history may have repeated itself for there is a baby, Albert Wellington, aged 2 months also listed. Sadly the little one died shortly after the census was taken but before he could be christened. I have found no other mention of Jemima. Her brother Albert escaped to South Wales. He married Rosina Combstock at Bedwelty, in 1880 and in the census next year is a 21 year old collier, Rosina is 19, and they have a baby William, aged two months. A host of Combstock relations, who like Rosina, come from Coalpit Heath are living with them as boarders, and also working in the mines.

Albert and Rosina continued to live in Wales, and at least four of their sons followed their father down the coalmines. A daughter Marcia May Wellington was registered in Newport in 1900 but lived only a year. I like to think that the baby’s name meant that Albert remembered his mother, whose life from start to finish was so awful, with affection.

I should be grateful to hear from anyone who can plug any gaps of the Wellington/Willington family history, and also from anyone whose ancestors were in the Keynsham Workhouse.”

Longevity – Clifton Workhouse

The Bristol Mercury of 10.4.1841 has the following announcement:

LONGEVITY: “Died on 6th April at Clifton Workhouse, Elizabeth HILL, widow, who attained the advanced age of 108 years, in October last. The following are the ages of seven persons who have died in the above Workhouse in the course of the last four years:

1837: February, John JOHNSON, 100

June, Joseph ELLIS, 105

1838: August, John HOOD, 96

November, Ann BRADFORD, 94

1839: May, Samuel LONG, 92

1840: January, Robert HOLT, 93

The above E. HILL, 108

Now alive, Sarah PLATT, 94.

Total of ages: 782 years.

The deaths of Ann Bradford (Dec Qtr, 1838), Samuel Long, (Jun Qtr, 1839) & Robert Holt (Mar Qtr 1840) were registered at Clifton but ages are not shown in the indexes at this time.

A glance at the 1841 census shows there were five old ladies and one old man of 85 plus, living there at the time, among them Sarah Platt, (who died in the September Quarter of 1843). Nobody was shown as being over 90. It would interesting to see what the parish burial registers tell us, but I think somebody was “having a laugh” at the excited cub reporter’s expense. Don’t you?

message from Nasim Tadghighi re SKUSE

I am currently researching my family history and stumbled across a post on your site relating to one of my ancestors. My grandfather, John Skuse, is a descendant of Samuel Skuse and Hannah Skuse. I had been unaware of Hannah’s remarkable life, and am very grateful for your post:
May I ask if you have encountered any further information regarding the pair, especially Hannah? I have only been able to find the usual information (e.g. details from census records).
Kind regards,
Dr Nasim Tadghighi

Is anybody researching SKUSE to help Nasim? I do not have any more than I have out in the article.

Abel Hibbs, c1761-1852


“The solitary survivor of the wreck of the “Royal George” is now living at St George’s, Gloucestershire. His name is Abel Hibbs aged 91. Until lately he was a hale old man but is now bedridden, his only support the Poor Rate.”

(Report, Wells Journal, 3.1.1852)

In 1841 Abel was a labourer, living alone at Crew’s Hole. In 1851 he was a widower, born Downend,  a lodger at Trubody’s Hill, St George, in the house of William Feltham, a hawker. The census helpfully gives the information “aged 90, Relief from Parish, mariner-at-war, and one of the survivors of the ill-fated Royal George”. It is obvious the census man was very impressed by the ancient mariner that he added this information to the form.  Abel’s death was registered shortly after the newspaper article in the March Quarter of 1852.

On 29 August 1782, whilst undergoing repairs at Spithead, the Royal George began to take on water. She capsized and sank very quickly with the loss of 900 lives, who included 300 women and 90 children who were on the ship saying farewell to their menfolk who were about to embark from England. Only one child, a little boy, survived by clinging on to a sheep which had been on board.

The remaining officers and crew (most of whom were dead) were tried by Court Martial but exonerated from blame.  It was suggested the accident was due to the decaying of the timbers.