Margaret Annie Wood, mother of Jane Barder and Sally Hows, was born on 6 November 1909 at 14 Marlton Street, Greenwich, daughter of Ernest John Wood and Annie Freeman Bormond. Marlton Street still exists on the map as a turning off Woolwich Road: on the ground it is a couple of hundreds of yards of tarmac leading to a dead end at one of the approach roads to the Blackwall Tunnel. In Margaret’s infancy her family moved to Tooting. Their house, 249 Lessingham Avenue, was on the Totterdown estate. The London County Council had lobbied for an amendment to the 1890 Housing of the Working Classes Act allowing it to build “working class tenements” beyond its boundaries, and Totterdown, arising from fields in Tooting, was the first of its well-planned cottage estates. The viability of such working-class housing depended on planned transport, and the construction of the Totterdown estate went hand in hand with the electrification of the tramline from the Embankment to Tooting. The Prince of Wales opened the tramline and visited the first of the cottages in May 1903. The streets of 1,229 two-storey houses were completed by 1911 but the commons of Mitcham and Tooting provided the area with a rural ambience. Margaret used to tell her children about the lavender fields of Mitcham and the large families of gypsies who frequented the commons in her childhood. They were especially in evidence, apparently, during the annual festival that was Derby Day in those times. Tooting and Mitcham were on the route taken by toffs in their carriages and cars to Epsom Downs, and children such as Margaret and her brothers would cluster along the route calling to them to “throw out your meanies”. The toffs would respond by scattering small coins as they passed.
Four Wood children survived to adulthood: Margaret, the only girl, had three brothers, Arthur, Ted and Joe. Another brother, Ernie, died as a child, possibly from meningitis. The memory of this brother’s death lived with his siblings for the rest of their lives, giving the lie to the belief that at a time when so many children died, each individual death was regarded less tragically than a similar happening today. Margaret and her brothers were educated at Franciscan Road School, a typical London County Council school on the estate and she had very happy memories of school. She had less happy memories of her first work experiences when, as a 14-year-old, she worked in a factory owned by Courtaulds on an unguarded guillotine machine, terrified that she would be one of those who lost fingers or hands. For the rest of her life she spoke of the cruelty of piece-work in factories increasing pressure on the unfortunate employees. Luckily she found another job in a clothing workshop where, for six days a week, she and other young women finished silk clothes by hand under the close but kindly supervision of Mrs Crowther, the owner’s wife.
In September 1933 at St Jude’s Church, Brixton, Margaret married Frederick Cornwell, a Brixton market trader: Fred’s brother, Sid, was already married to Margaret’s cousin, Dorothy Nye. Fred and Margaret’s first married home was 15, Loughborough Park, Brixton, a house and road which miraculously survived not only bombing but also the wholesale demolition of housing stock around Coldharbour Lane to clear the way for the inner London ring road which was never built. They were living there when their first daughter, Maureen, now commonly called Jane, was born in 1934 and when their second child, Sally, was born in 1936. Later in the 1930s they moved to Bonham Road, Brixton and then, finally, to 23 Winslade Road, Brixton, their home when the war started.
Second World War
Margaret was old enough to remember the First World War: the main thing she described was hunger. As she described it, food was short and rationed by price rather than by Ration Books. She claimed that as the only girl in a family of boys, she was always served after her brothers and that there was never enough for her. Like so many of her generation, she certainly had a hard Second World War. One night in the 1940 blitz, 23, Winslade Road was badly damaged by bombs which destroyed their previous home in Bonham Road, parts of Hayter Road and some houses in Winslade Road. Fred and Margaret and their daughters were in their Anderson shelter and not injured, but after they had been got out in the middle of the night by the air raid wardens, they had to leave their half-destroyed house and make their way through the mayhem of the bombs to his mother’s house in Coldharbour Lane. Their surviving belongings were rescued the next day and taken to a Government store in Coldharbour Lane, from where they were looted. Fred was offered some of his own possessions to buy back over the next weeks as he stood at his stall under the arches – an episode that was not uncommon at the time. He and Margaret had refused to allow their daughters to join the mass evacuation of London’s children at the beginning of the war but, now homeless, Margaret no longer had any choice, and she and the girls were evacuated to Accrington in Lancashire. Fred had already received his call-up papers, and after just one leave to visit his family in Accrington he was sent off to the Middle East to join the Eighth Army and fight at Tobruk and Alamein. He became a sergeant and ended the war in Palestine, returning to England and demob leave only in April 1946.
Margaret’s parents’ house in Bruce Road, Mitcham, was destroyed by a landmine soon after the Winslade Road bomb and they followed their daughter to Accrington. Her brother Arthur was in the Navy: his wife, Ivy, and children, Keith and Beverley, joined the Accrington exile. It was not a happy experience. Each of the three families was billeted in one room of a tiny mill house with no inside plumbing. In her first billet Margaret and her children were not allowed in the house during the day. Accrington folk, displaying the attitudes of Brookside rather than those of Coronation Street, mocked the Londoners for cowardice in running away from the bombs. Margaret decided that she preferred London, bombs and all, and saved from her weekly Army allowance until she had enough for her fare back home in an overcrowded train which was frequently shunted into sidings to allow priority for military movements and troop trains. Her parents, Ivy, Keith and Beverley, also returned to the familiarity of London.
Ernest and Annie Wood, who had lost everything to the Bruce Road landmine, were allocated a requisitioned maisonette in Heaton Road, Mitcham and provided with furniture. Margaret and the girls were given shelter by one of her many cousins, Julie Kelly, who welcomed them into her council house in Shooter’s Hill Road, Blackheath, although it was already crowded enough with her six children. The Anderson shelter was a necessary addition to the three bedrooms. After some months Margaret was also allocated a requisitioned flat, in Winterwell Road, Brixton. Requisitioning was the way in which the government tried to deal with the problem of people made homeless by bombs. Properties which had been left empty were compulsorily taken over and allocated to those in need. Eventually the Winslade Road house was made habitable again: and not only Margaret and her children but also her parents moved back in, minus all the familiar possessions which had once made it home. There was more bombing, especially the Little Blitz of January to April 1944, when Brixton once again suffered heavily, and buzz-bombs and rockets followed towards the end of the war. By now, protection from bombs was provided by a Morrison shelter, a steel topped cage which filled the kitchen. The three adults and two children slept in it most nights, and sometimes spent much of the day crouching inside. Each bomb that fell dislodged a tin colander which clattered onto the quarry tiles in the scullery and Annie, the grandmother, would curse as she crawled out of the Morrison and went outside to replace the colander on its hook. When Margaret sent her children to school in the mornings she must have wondered whether they would return and, above all, she never knew from day to day whether her husband was still alive. She nursed her parents in their final illnesses and they both died in the house, her father in 1944 and her mother in 1948. Fred died in 1966 and Margaret then moved to share Brian and Jane’s home until she died in 1985. In her last hours of painful consciousness in the Trinity Hospice, Clapham, she insisted that she should sign her pension book for her daughters to collect the accumulated monies. She did not want “That Woman”, Margaret Thatcher, to get it after her death.
Margaret was a Londoner with relatives throughout South London. Extended journeys by bus and tram to visit aunts and cousins were a regular feature of life, as were the “Days Out” to Hampton Court, Fair Green, and Richmond, which were the equivalent of today’s package holidays to Spanish resorts. There are few Londoners whose family trees don’t reveal some migrants from elsewhere but Margaret probably had fewer than most.
Ernest Wood’s family
Margaret’s parents, Ernest John Wood (always known as Jack) and Annie Freeman Bormond (Nin), were married on 11 April 1903 at St Mark’s Church, Clerkenwell. Annie’s address was 6, Granville Square and Ernest’s was 67, Naylor Road, Peckham. Granville Square is an elegant Islington oasis of expensive family houses, apparently little changed since it was built about 150 years ago. The 1900 Post Office Directory shows 6 Granville Square and a number of adjoining houses as “apartment” houses. Not only Annie, but also her younger sisters, Georgie and Gertie, were married from 6 Granville Square with Ernest John Wood signing as a witness to Georgie’s wedding. Peckham resident Ernest’s connection with the area might have come from his occupation. He was a postman, described on the marriage certificate as a letter carrier. The Royal Mail had begun to use the old Cold Bath prison, or Clerkenwell Gaol, as a temporary parcel office in 1877, changing its name to Mount Pleasant in 1888. The old prison building was finally replaced by a purpose-built Post Office building in 1890 and then, as now, Mount Pleasant was the London headquarters of Post Office operations, just a brisk five minutes’ walk from Granville Square. The 63 bus today, and for generations, has run between Peckham and Mount Pleasant: perhaps its horse-drawn predecessor did so as early as 1900 and provided transport for Ernest when he had to visit his headquarters.
He was born in Peckham in August 1874 to Edward Wood and Margaret Seear (formerly Parker). Clarkson Place, Carlton Grove, his birthplace, is now buried under Southwark housing estates, although the name Carlton Grove remains on the map. It is part of a network of streets, running off Meeting House Lane, just north of Peckham High Street and Queens Road. Peckham had been largely rural until 1868 when the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway built stations at Rye Lane and Queen’s Road. This encouraged the speculative building of the streets of artisan houses which gave way to the Southwark building blocks of the 1960s and 70s. Naylor Road, Ernest’s home at the time of his 1903 marriage, still stands as an example of the kind of streets which surrounded him as he grew up. A form completed by his father, Edward, requesting a copy of Ernest’s birth certificate for the purpose of the education act and employment of children, suggests that Ernest left school in July 1837, aged 13, but in the 1891 census, when the family was living at 95 Meeting House Lane, Peckham, Ernest, aged 16, was neither a scholar nor employed.
In September 1894, however, he was established as a postman in the London Post Office, in effect, in those days, a civil servant. His application for superannuation, dated April 1934 and involving Public Money, is carefully preserved in the Post Office Archives at Mount Pleasant. He retired on 21 May 1934 after 39 years and 8 months’ service: he had been earning one hundred and seventy-four pounds, seventeen shillings and fourpence a year. His attendance record for the previous four years is listed on the form and shows that he had suffered long periods of sick leave. Indeed he was a frail person, badly asthmatic, who had spent many months in a Post Office sanatorium in Kent. He was fortunate that as an established postman he was entitled to welfare benefits not available to others at that time. It is possible that his job, and perhaps his frailty, were factors in the family’s move to the LCC Totterdown estate around 1912. Employment in the civilian uniformed ranks of society in late Victorian and Edwardian England––postmen, railwaymen, bus and tram drivers and conductors––was prized for its job security and status. The Mount Pleasant Archives have produced an information sheet devoted to “Postal Uniforms–Key Dates”, thus signifying the importance attached to the uniform. In 1872, for example, Good Conduct Stripes, consisting of horizontal gold lace bars worn on the left breast, were introduced for London Letter Carriers. In 1914 these stripes were abolished, but men were allowed to continue wearing existing stripes. In 1910 a Committee on Uniforms reduced uniforms to six classes, corresponding to six groups of Post Office grades! The Key Dates continue to 1992 when postmen were allowed to wear dark-coloured shorts, of a similar length to Bermuda shorts, in hot weather, and postwomen were provided with uniform culottes and allowed to wear saris. The uniforms still exist but perhaps inspire less envy and respect in a more prosperous society.
Ernest was not the only member of his immediate family to qualify for this status. His father, Edward, and Richard, his grandfather, were both Bermondsey-born workers in the insalubrious leather trade, but Edward’s sons did not follow the family occupation, either because of a gradual decline in the Bermondsey leather trade or, more likely, because of a desire for something better. The 1891 census shows Ernest’s older brother, William, aged 20, as an unestablished letter carrier (he later became a postman), and 14-year-old Albert as a telegraph messenger. The nineteenth-century Wood boys were perhaps introduced to the Post Office by a Joseph Wood, telegraphist by occupation, who was living at 4 Carlton Place in 1871 when his daughter, Ann, was baptised at St Jude’s, Springhall Lane, Peckham, Ernest’s baptismal church. It seems probable that Joseph was a relative.
Ernest’s only sister, Margaret Elizabeth, was the first of his siblings to be born in Peckham. She was baptised at St Jude’s in June 1872 when the family lived at 18 Clarkson Place: her two older brothers, Edward and William, had been baptised together at St Jude’s in the January of 1872 when Edward was nearly 4 and William about 18 months. These delayed baptisms suggest that their parents must have felt that they were at last settled: and indeed Ernest, who was baptised at St Jude’s in 1874, the year of his birth, lived the first 30 or so years of his life in the streets off Meeting House Lane. This curving thoroughfare, linking the Old Kent Road to Peckham High Street, pre-dated the nineteenth-century terraces of Edward’s youth: it still survives, like most of the surrounding streets, in name rather than architectural detail. Ernest’s grandparents, Richard and Maria Wood, were living at 16 Meeting House Lane for the 1871 census. In the 1881 census they were living at 93 Meeting House Lane and by the 1891 census Edward and Margaret Wood, Ernest’s parents, were living at number 95. After their marriage, Ernest and Annie moved into his pre-nuptial home, 67 Naylor Road, possibly with his parents. Their first child, Elliott Arthur, named Elliott after his maternal grandfather but always called Arthur, was born there and baptised at St Jude’s in November 1905. Ernest George, the little boy who died, was also born in Naylor Road and baptised in May 1908. Margaret, as already mentioned, was born in Greenwich in 1909 and Thomas Edward, known as Ted, was born in Greenwich, in 1911. By the time the youngest child, Joseph Albert, was born in 1915 the family had moved to Tooting.
Edward Wood, the children’s grandfather, had died at the age of 58, some months before Arthur was born, thus leaving Margaret, his wife, a widow for the second time. In February 1859 Margaret Parker had married Thomas Seear at St Mark’s, Kennington Road. Lambeth-born Thomas, a butcher, had died in 1864 at the age of 28, leaving Margaret a young widow with two sons. These boys, Thomas, born in Camden Street, Walworth, in 1860 and Henry Kenton Seear, born in 1863, were Ernest’s much older half-brothers and are listed with the family living in Leo Street, Peckham in the 1881 census. Like Edward Wood, their step-father, they were both working in the leather trade. Margaret herself was baptised at St Mary Newington, Kennington Park Road, in April 1835. Her parents were Joseph, a labourer, and Sophia. The family lived in William Street, Locksfield, an address and locality which have long since disappeared but which were around Newington Butts. There is no record of a marriage between Joseph and Sophia at St Mary Newington. The Mormon IGI index lists just one marriage between a Joseph Parker and a Sophia, a more uncommon name than either Joseph or Parker. This took place in September 1827 when Joseph Henry Parker married Sophia Kendrick at St Martin’s Church, Birmingham. It is possible that these were Margaret’s parents, but in order to be sure one would have to have evidence of their birthplace and I have not been able to find them in the 1851 census which would provide this evidence. The Mormon index does not claim to be all-inclusive and it is possible that there were other Josephs and Sophias marrying elsewhere in the country at the relevant time. By 1859, according to her first marriage certificate, Margaret’s father, Joseph, was dead. When she married Edward Wood in 1868 at St John the Baptist Church, Hoxton, her father was described as a soldier, with no reference to his death. A Joseph Parker was a witness to this 1868 marriage but I assume that he was a brother rather than a miraculously revived father. A soldier who had died before 1859 could have been killed in the Crimean War, but he is not listed in the casualty list at the Public Record Office, now the National Archives. Perhaps he just died an early death, like so many subjects of Queen Victoria.
When Margaret and Edward Wood married in July 1868 they both gave 35 Curtain Road, Hoxton, as their address. Neither they, nor any other Woods, Parkers or Seears, were at this address for either the 1861 or the 1871 census and their presence in North London in 1868 is puzzling. When their first son, Edward, was born, not very long after their marriage, they were back in South East London, their familiar home ground: the 1881 census gives Edward’s birthplace as Deptford. It was he and his younger brother, William Richard, who were baptised jointly at St Jude’s once the family had found a home in Peckham.
Edward Wood was twelve years younger than his wife and only 21 when he took on the responsibilities of step-sons and premature fatherhood. Both he and his father, Richard, were described on the 1868 marriage certificate as curriers, or leather dressers, and Edward had grown up among the leather works of Bermondsey. Most social histories of nineteenth century London describe the national importance of Bermondsey’s leather trade and its pervasive olfactory presence in the air of this riverside area. Stephen Inwood in his 1998 History of London writes that in 1850 it was estimated that a third of the nation’s leather-dressing and tanning was carried out on the Surrey side of London and he quotes Henry Mayhew in “London Labour and the London Poor” as describing Bermondsey as a parish almost entirely devoted to leather and its by-products. He has some nice quotes from VS Pritchett’s autobiography, “A Cab at the Door“. Pritchett as a young man worked as a clerk in a Bermondsey leather factory between 1916 and 1920 and his descriptions of the workings describe what our forebears must have taken for granted.
“I liked its pungent smell. I liked watching the sickly green pelts come slopping out of the pits at the leather-dresser’s down the street, I liked paddling among the rank and bloody hides of the market;… At home my family edged away from me: I stank of the trade.”
“There was a daylight gloom in this district of London. One breathed the heavy, drugging, beer smell of hops and there was another smell of boots and dog dung: this came from the leather which had been steeped for a month in puer or dog dung before the process of tanning. There was also…the stinging smell of vinegar from a pickle factory and smoke blew down from an emery mill….Out of each brass-plated doorway came either the oppressive odour of new boots; or, from the occasional little slum houses, the sharp stink of poverty.”
Indeed poverty, as much as leather, dominated the air of Bermondsey. Stephen Inwood refers to Charles Booth’s researches into poverty in the later years of the nineteenth century and summarizes them thus:
“His findings suggested that the worst concentrations of poverty were in the riverside parts of South London, rather than in the East End. Dividing London into fifty districts of roughly equal population, Booth found that the only two districts with over 50 per cent living in poverty… were Southwark and Bermondsey…That part of Southwark between the Borough High Street and Blackfriar’s Road was, in Booth’s view, the worst in London.”
Our family lived just outside this “worst” area, but they earned their livings among the sickly green pelts and the rank and bloody hides.
Edward and both his parents were baptised at St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey. Richard Wood, his father, was born in March 1810, son of Edward Wood, a fishmonger, and his wife, Sarah. Maria Webb, Edward’s mother, was baptised at the same church on 16 April 1816, with her brother, William: their parents were also William and Maria. William Webb was a potato dealer and the family lived in Bermondsey Street, a few hundred yards from the Borough Market, a fruit and vegetable market since 1276. It is tempting to surmise that the Webb Street which runs off Bermondsey Street suggests an equally long connection of the Webbs with this area. Edward was born to Richard and Maria in 1847 but his birth does not appear in the post-1837 Civil Register. Registration was not made compulsory until the 1870s and many families of the Woods’ age and income found the expense and bureaucracy too much to handle. He was, however, baptised at St Mary Magdalen on 1 August 1847, his sister, Margaret, having been baptised there in November 1844. The family was living in Willow Walk for both these baptisms but they were not there for the 1851 census. Londoners tended to move frequently in these teeming streets and they are often difficult to find in the censuses. Willow Walk still exists, running parallel to the Old Kent Road, almost to Tower Bridge Road. In Edward’s youth it was lined by leather tanneries which were replaced by railway marshalling yards, themselves now giving way to a modern industrial estate. In 1857 Richard and Maria had another son, William, whose birth was registered. He was born in King Street, East Street (off the Walworth Road), and they were living at 25 King Street for the 1861 census. Richard was listed as a leather cutter as he was in the 1871 census when Richard and Maria were living at 16 Meeting House Lane. Edward had married Margaret three years before, and we have no record of their address in 1871. By1881 Richard and Maria were living at 93 Meeting House Lane and Richard, aged 69, was still working as a leather cutter. Edward and Margaret were now also in Peckham, in Leo Street. Edward and his two step-sons were working as cleaners and bleachers in the leather factories; the five Wood children were all at school. By 1891, Richard and Maria had disappeared: Edward, still a cleaner and bleacher, and Margaret, working in a milk shop, had moved to 95 Meeting House Lane. Before 1903 they had moved round the corner yet again to 67 Naylor Road, Ernest’s home when he married Annie Freeman Bormond in April of that year.
Annie Bormond’s family
Annie was living in Granville Square, Islington when she married but she too was Bermondsey born: her parents, however, were recent arrivals in South London. On her marriage certificate her father, Elliott Bormond, was described as a Chief Engineer. He had indeed been a qualified engineer but he had died in 1892: the marine register of deaths shows that he died of pneumonia in Buenos Aires whilst First Engineer on a ship called the Anjer Head. There is plenty of evidence for his marine career. Documents survive both at the National Archives in Kew and at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. He qualified as a second-class engineer in May 1864 and as a first-class engineer in September 1867, on both occasions in London. The examinations demanded considerable engineering knowledge and experience, both practical and academic, and an engineer’s post was responsible and reasonably paid. In 1914, not too long after 1892 in those pre-inflationary days, a chief engineer on a liner would earn around £30 a month, while on a tramp he would earn about £20. This compares well with Ernest’s post office salary of £174 a year in 1934. After his examination success in 1864 Elliott had an unbroken record of voyages until 1872. Most were short, calling at Mediterranean and Adriatic ports. Between sailings he passed his first class certificate. From 1870, on the Northumbria, he was on a longer assignment to Port Said and Bombay and away from England for about 18 months. In 1872 he did another short Mediterranean trip and there is then a lengthy gap in his sea-going record. His next journey was not until 1884 and he had only two more, in 1885 and 1887, before the voyage that ended in his death in 1892. On 25 June 1884 he applied for a replacement certificate, explaining that his original certificate had been lost at sea when his ship was in collision with SS Vosscombe of Sunderland and that he had reported the loss to Southwark Police Station on 25 June 1884. A replacement was issued, and returned to the authorities after his death.
His well-documented professional career contrasts with the lack of information about the milestones of his personal life. On the various forms he completed when applying for examinations and certificates he states his year of birth as 1835 and his place of birth as Newcastle. 1835 was too early for the civil registration of births, deaths and marriages, which began only in September 1837 and I have not found a marriage certificate for him and Sarah Freeman, Annie’s mother. However, because searches of civil and church records show that there were only a few inter-related Bormonds in England, concentrated in Northumberland and Durham and adhering to the Church of Scotland or Presbyterian church, it has been possible to establish Elliott’s family roots.
The earliest sign of a Bormond in the Mormon International Genealogical index is the 1845 baptism, in Glasgow, of Thomas Bormond, son of William Bormond and Elizabeth Meason. Bormond is an uncommon name in the UK and it seems that most branches of the Bormond family grow up, as we did, with a story that the Bormonds came from France. This might well be true since there are more Bormonds in French records than in UK records. The IGI lists 2 Bormond marriages in the 1760s. John Bormond married Sarah Walker in 1763 in Alnwick, Northumberland, and William Bormond married Elisabeth Stuart in Dumfries in 1767. It seems likely that John and William were sons of Thomas. One or other of these marriages produced another William Bormond who married Catherine Whelis in Alnwick in 1794 and a Joseph Bormond who married Catherine Bower in 1796, also in Alnwick. The offspring of William and Joseph and their respective Catherines account for all the Bormonds in nineteenth century UK records: there are only 15 Bormonds in the national index of the census. A preponderance of daughters helped to limit the spread of the Bormond name. Elliott descends from Joseph Bormond and Catherine Bower. Between 1797 and 1812 they produced seven children, all baptised at the Clayport Presbyterian Meeting House in Alnwick. One of their daughters, Agnes, married a cousin, William Bormond, and they lived and produced a family in Blyth, Northumberland. The 1841 census shows William as a Pitman at Cowpen Colliery. Joseph remained in Alnwick and worked as a nailer, presumably a self-explanatory occupation.
Just one of Joseph and Catherine’s seven children was a boy, another Joseph Bormond, born in 1806. His wife was Mary Elliott who was born around 1809 in Castle Eden, Durham, and, after the obligatory Joseph for their first son, their second son, born around 1835, was named Elliott, a name which persisted in that branch of the Bormond family for some generations. Joseph and Mary made numerous moves in their married life: their children’s births were registered in Gateshead, Middlesburgh, Bishopwearmouth, Bridlington and York. When the births of his older children were registered Joseph gave his occupation as ‘provision merchant’ or ‘bacon factor’ but when his son John was born in Bishopwearmouth in 1844 Joseph was listed as Agent for the British Temperance Society. A book held in the Livesey Collection of Temperance History at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston, PT Winskill:The Temperance Movement and its workers: a record of social, moral, religious and political progress (Blackie and Son, 1892) contains much information about Joseph Bormond who is described as the well-known Northumbrian Temperance advocate. One anecdote describes how in 1840 he was induced to settle down at Middlesborough [sic] as a provision dealer, and with all the energy of which he was capable in those days he gave the temperance movement his earnest sympathy and support….At this time a large number of excavators were engaged in cutting the Middlesborough Dock: and it is an interesting and important fact that the first dock in Middlesborough was cut by teetotal navvies who signed the pledge under Mr Joseph Bormond and his co-workers.
There are descriptions of his preaching to large meetings throughout the north-east, and his work in the colliery districts of Northumberland and Durham, especially during the miners’ strike of 1844 when he was the agent of the Northern Temperance Association. His work was apparently reported in the Northern Temperance Journal published by Mr James Bewcastle of Newcastle-upon Tyne. He was a founder member of the Vegetarian Society in 1844 and remained a strict vegetarian throughout his life. He was also a founder member, in 1876, of The Order of Danielites, pledged to abstain from flesh, alcohol and tobacco. In or about 1855 , according to Winskill, Joseph settled in London where he became well known as an able, earnest and laborious temperance and moral reformer, guided by high-toned religious principles. He is shown in the 1861 census living off the Old Kent Road in Peckham and appears in the 1864 London Directory running a Temperance Hotel at 45 Essex Street, the Strand. This was the address that Elliott Bormond gave when he sat for his first examination as a ship’s engineer. Again according to Winskill, towards the end of Joseph’s life a number of his friends bought an annuity for his old age, but unfortunately the investment failed and all was lost. This made his last days far from being what they ought to have been. In February 1889 he fell in the street, broke his arm, and suffered other injuries. He was taken to the London Temperance Hospital where he died on 22 March. He was buried in Tooting Cemetery and his son-in-law, Pastor John Bennet Anderson, Bryom Hall, Liverpool, officiated at the graveside. Joseph’s only listing in the British Library catalogue is as the author of an appendix to one of Anderson’s works, Bible Teetotalism and the Voice of Facts; being the substance of lectures delivered in St John’s School Room, Westminster and other parts of London by John Bennet Anderson, Home Missionary of St John the Evangelist, Westminster. 2nd edition revised and corrected, containing important additions, including Testimonies of Very Eminent Persons, with an appendix by Joseph Bormond. Second edition published in 1868 by Heywood and Co. Joseph has no gravestone at Tooting cemetery, now Lambeth Cemetery, Blackshaw Road. He was buried in a common grave. So far there are no clues as to which of Joseph’s daughters married the pastor.
When their grandfather died, Annie Bormond was about 16 years old, Annie’s brother, yet another Joseph Bormond, was 18 and their oldest sister, Sarah was 25 years old. And yet the story of Joseph’s mission, or his prestige, was never mentioned to his great-grandchildren. The only hint, clues which now fall into place, came from Annie’s brother, our Great Uncle Joe. He and Annie were great friends and we used to see a lot of him, particularly during the wartime months when his daughter, Julie, shared her shelter with us. Uncle Joe, a retired ship’s carpenter with a gift of the gab perhaps inherited from his preacher grandfather, used to tell us that there had been money in the family and that it had been given away by a family member who had become an Evangelical Christian. Uncle Joe’s resentful account of the Evangelical Christian suggests that he knew a bit about his grandfather’s career and had perhaps heard some gossip about the annuity failure. But the flimsy nature of his information suggests that even though Joseph Bormond lived in London from the 1850s onwards, his contact with Elliott’s family was either tenuous or hostile.
It is possible that this resulted from his disapproval of Elliott’s relationship with Sarah Freeman. There is no record that they were legally married. However Sarah Bormond, formerly Freeman, registered all their nine children as children of Elliott Bormond, described variously as a steam vessel engineer or marine engineer. Confusingly, however, she gave the first seven children the second name of Freeman, as, for example, Annie Freeman Bormond. Annie’s brother, Joseph Freeman Bormond, claimed that this was because if the family fortune, given away by the Evangelical Christian, were ever restored it would only go to those called Freeman. He obviously realised that there was something unusual about the naming, but the more likely explanation was that Sarah was afraid that they were not legally entitled to the name Bormond. However, after seven children, in 1878, Sarah changed her practice and named her eighth child Florence Georgina Bormond. The youngest Bormond child was Gertrude, born in 1881, and she was given the unlikely second name of Bennett. 1881 was a strange year for names in the Bormond household. The 1881 census shows them living at 250 Lynton Road, Bermondsey. However, the family head was named as James Barnard, a 44-year-old marine engineer born in Hoxton: Sarah and the children were listed as Barnards. At the time Sarah must have been heavily pregnant with Gertrude Bennett Bormond who was born in May 1881 and registered as Elliott’s child. Elliott gave Lynton Road as his address when he reported the loss of his engineer’s certificate in 1884: James Barnard, unlike Elliott, has no entry in the Kew index of ship’s engineers: Elliott had no recorded voyages between 1872 and 1882. Was James Barnard of Hoxton in fact Elliott Bormond of Newcastle, for some reason living under an assumed name? Or was James Barnard merely a lodger, mistaken by the census enumerator for husband and father? Is it possible that Gertrude’s second name, Bennet, was an indication of conciliation with Joseph Bormond and his son-in-law, John Bennet Anderson?
Like the Woods, Sarah and Elliott are difficult to track through their various moves. They seem to have remained longest at 250 Lynton Road where they were living for the 1881 census. It was there that Georgina and Gertrude were born, where 7-year-old Agnes Freeman Bormond died in 1883, and where Elliott was living when he reported the loss of his certificate. No. 250 Lynton Road has gone but the long road still exists, a mixture of the flat-fronted cottages such as they would have lived in and post-war council houses. Sarah Freeman Bormond, their oldest child, was born in January 1864 at 45 Queen Street which is shown on the 1872 Bermondsey map, running alongside a tannery and ending at the walls of a rag-and-bone yard. When Elliott sat his examination as a second engineer in May 1864, he gave his address as 45 Essex Street, in the Strand. In those days, before the Royal Courts of Justice had been built, Essex Street was not yet the preserve of barristers; but we know that its No. 45 housed the Temperance Hotel, run by Joseph Bormond. In 1867 when Elliott sat an examination as a First Engineer his address was Philadelphia Terrace, Mount Gardens, Lambeth, behind the Lambeth Palace grounds. Sarah was living at 4 Manor Street, Bermondsey, for the birth of Joseph in 1871 and of Annie in August 1873. Manor Street led off Lynton Road, but is now submerged in the post-war Manor Estate. Sarah and the children were there for the 1871 census but Elliott was on his travels. The 1891 census shows Elliott and Sarah together for the census for the only time. They were living in Ivydale Road, Peckham with 4 of their surviving children. Records do not reveal where Elliott and Sarah met. Perhaps he came to London in the 1850s with his parents to do the ship-building training necessary for his marine engineer qualification. Stephen Inwood points out that until the 1860s London was Britain’s leading ship-builder and that most of the early pioneering work on steam-powered and iron vessels was done on the Thames. Maudslay Sons and Field of Lambeth were England’s leading manufacturers of marine engines and they were just one of many engineering companies based in Southwark and Lambeth.
Sarah Freeman was born not south of the river, but in London Street, Bethnal Green, on 29 May 1839 and baptised at St Matthews, Bethnal Green, in the November. Her birth was not entered in the post-1837 Civil Registers. She had an older sister, Emma, born at Union Street, Bethnal Green in February 1832 and baptised at St Matthew’s a month later. Their parents, Charles and Sarah, both previously widowed, had been married at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, in May 1830. The family is listed in the 1851 census at 9 North Street, Bethnal Green. Charles, then aged 77, was a silk dyer, Sarah, aged 59, a laundress, 17-year-old Emma a servant and 11-year-old Sarah a scholar. The birthright of a silk dyer’s daughter in 1839 was no more promising than that of a leather-worker’s child. Huguenot settlement in Spitalfields after 1685 had expanded the existing minor silk trade into an industry which made fortunes for a few, provided employment, albeit sweated, for many thousands and made a huge contribution to London’s economic life. Like all textile trades it was always volatile, dependent on fashion fads, threatened by foreign competition and, increasingly, by new labour-saving machinery. There were widespread riots by desperate weavers in the 1760s, culminating in the hanging of two of their leaders in Bethnal Green in 1769. Protectionist legislation following this unrest maintained employment levels, although not wage rates, for a while, but within a couple of decades the industry collapsed. Again I summarise Stephen Inwood’s account: The 1851 census shows about 21,000 men and women working in the silk industry compared with about 50,000 in 1824. The 1840 Handloom Weavers’ Commission found that they were a “Lilliputian” race whose children were “squalid, wretched and starved.” In 1849 Henry Mayhew found the weavers of Spitalfields living in a state of gloomy destitution. Many women, like Sarah Freeman, the mother, were forced into casual employment as laundresses. 11-year-old Sarah Freeman in 1851 was perhaps lucky not to have been working, as she might have done in earlier years, in a sweated workshop, but her family could probably have done with her earnings and her designation as scholar probably signified her age rather than her participation in education.
These were the conditions in which an elderly Charles Freeman struggled to support his second family. He had been born in Allesley, Warwickshire, between Birmingham and Coventry, and baptised there in July 1773. In October 1795, already a silk dyer, he married Mary Peet at St Dunstan’s Stepney and their son, Charles, was baptised at Christ Church, Spitalfields in August 1796. Sarah therefore had at least one brother old enough to be her father and, in those days of regular additions to the family, probably more than one. Although Charles became a veteran in the silk industry, still working at the age of 77, his arrival some time before 1795 made him just one more of the rural migrants so resented by silk workers fighting for a living. Eighteenth century enclosures and agrarian reforms, coupled with turnpike roads and better coaches, increased the number of dispossessed rural workers drawn into London in search of work and higher wages.
According to the 1851 census Sarah Conner, the widow who married Charles in 1830, was born in Bexley, Kent. In 1871 she was living with her daughter and family at Manor Road, Bermondsey, and gave her place of birth as Crayford, a village which borders Bexley: Crayford had calico and silk printing mills as late as 1876. Sarah, either alone or with her first husband, presumably left to find greater opportunities in the Spitalfields area. I have not tracked down her first marriage or her maiden name. A James Conner was born to James and Sarah Conner and baptised at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green, in March 1818. He may have been another, older, half-brother to Sarah Bormond. After the 1851 Bethnal Green census our next confirmed sighting of the younger Sarah is the birth in 1864 of her first child, yet another Sarah, in 45 Queen Street. Sarah, the 59-year-old laundress of 1851, was still working as a laundress, giving her age now as 73, when she was listed with her daughter’s family in 1871 at Manor Road. Elliott’s wages as a First Engineer presumably did not stretch to supporting his mother-in-law as well as his growing family. The older Sarah Freeman must have died before the next census in 1881: she is not listed with the mysterious Barnard family. The two ages that Sarah, the laundress, herself gave to census-takers place her date of birth as somewhere between 1792 and 1798.
Sarah Bormond’s children
Despite the poverty of her childhood and the apparent ambiguities of her adult life, Sarah Bormond managed to raise eight forceful, interesting children. Her oldest son, Elliott Freeman Bormond, apparently followed his father into seafaring, but Annie never had any contact with him in my lifetime. Joseph, the other son, became a ship’s carpenter and raised his family in Greenwich. He was always full of news and views, and speculation about the Bormond family, including his theory that they were descended from the Bourbon Kings of France! Annie kept in touch with her three older sisters, Sarah, Emma and Mary, throughout her life. In the 1940s we used to visit Aunt Sarah in her rooms in Coldharbour Lane where she must have been a near neighbour of John Major’s family. Even in her late 70s she was a tall, ramrod-straight figure, testament to her calling as a corsetière, working in Bon Marché, Brixton. At the age of 30, in 1894, she had married a corset manufacturer, John William Russell, a widower. He was a witness at the weddings of two of her sisters, Emma and Gertie. By 1901 Sarah Russell, corset maker, was the head of a household in Granville Square, Islington: her step-son William Russell, a valet, was living with her. When she died in Coldharbour Lane in 1945 she was the widow of a Mr Knibbs. Emma had married Edgar Nye, a printer, at St Giles’s Church, Camberwell in 1899: both Edgar and Emma gave their address as 46, The Grove (now Camberwell Grove). When we paid our regular visits to Aunt Emma, she lived above a coal office in Abbeville Road, Clapham, with Aunt Mary. The family tale about Mary was that she had been the mistress of a rich German merchant who had a wife at home and who had been interned and died during the First World War. In fact she appears in the 1891 census living at 21 Keppell Street, Bloomsbury, the wife of Adolph Strauss, a negotiator of patent agents, born in Prussia. Nine-year-old Gertrude Bormond was visiting her sister at the time. There is no trace of Mary or Adolph in the 1901 census but Adolf Strauss Collen was a witness at the weddings of both Annie and Georgie in 1903, and Mary Collin, perhaps Mary Bormond/Strauss, was a witness at Sarah’s 1894 wedding.
As well as Sarah Russel’s household in 6 Granville Square the 1901 census also shows a household headed by Sarah Bormond at the same address. Annie, Georgina and Gertrude were still living at home with their mother. Annie was a sewing machine saleswoman, Georgina was a dress-maker on her own account and Gertrude was a corset maker. However, Annie’s children, Arthur, Margaret and Ted, spoke as they grew older of their mother and two of her sisters having performed as a music hall act, The Three Diabolos. As children we understood that our grandmother had been a piano teacher. There was certainly a lot of music in the Wood household. Family sing-songs and everyone performing their party piece, particularly during the war, were reality, not myth, in this family but we never saw Annie performing on either the diabolo or the mandolin. Clerkenwell was an entertainment centre in Edwardian days. The Sadler’s Wells Theatre was a music-hall from 1893 to 1906 and there were many other variety theatres in the area. Granville Square was a convenient address for the three young diabolos to live and look for work. I have looked through theatre advertisements in the Islington Gazette at the turn of the century but unfortunately found no trace of our grandmother and her sisters. Marriage and motherhood intervened before they became stars. I assume that Annie’s stage partners must have been her younger sisters, Georgie and Gertie, but as far as I know she had lost touch with them and we never met them. There was certainly no secret about Georgie’s music-hall past. We knew that she had been a music-hall performer with her husband, Georgie Royal, along with such names as Albert Chevalier and Gus Elen, and that they later ran a theatrical boarding-house on Brixton Hill. George Royal could have been a second husband, or perhaps it was the stage name of John Brown, the actor who married Georgie in 1903. In 1902, Gertie, the youngest sister, had married from the same Granville Square address as her sisters, Georgie and Annie, a year later. Her husband, William Figgures, was a carpenter whose family lived in Stoney Street, Southwark, beside Southwark Cathedral and the Borough Market. His father, John, was a fruit and potato merchant, as William Webb, Ernest’s great-grandfather, had been in 1816.
Those of us who descend from the marriages of Woods, Webbs, Parkers, Freemans and Bormonds are somewhat unusual as Londoners in that so many of our forebears have roots in London which pre-date the nineteenth century. A William Wood was a fishmonger in London in 1695: it would be nice to think he handed down his trade to Edward Wood who was a fishmonger in Southwark when his son, Richard, Margaret’s great-grandfather, was born in 1810! The majority of Londoners by the end of the nineteenth century would have had at least one agricultural labourer as a grandparent, but traces of the Woods and Webbs disappear into the church records of riverside London, rather than the parish churches of rural England. Charles Freeman had a rural background in Warwickshire but he had left there before the end of the eighteenth century: Joseph Parker, the soldier, might also have had a rural Warwickshire past but he was in London by 1835 when Margaret was born in Kennington. The elusive figure of Elliott Bormond, who adds so much mystery to the family story, might have been of distant French ancestry. He certainly had a Tynemouth background and that wasn’t nineteenth century rural. So we can claim to be true Londoners, even if we can’t claim the bucolic roots of most of our fellow Londoners.
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Jane Maureen Cornwell Barder
January, 2000; revised October, 2005