In His 99th Year



John Branford’s gravestone is one of the first you see when entering St Catherine’s Churchyard, Ringshall. John’s final resting place is located under the shade of a tree, beneath a stone erected by the inhabitants of Ringshall parish in Suffolk “to the memory of John Branford who died May 16th 1844 in his 99th year”. He sounded like he had a tale or two to tell and I wanted to know more.

There was a brief mention of his passing in one of the local papers, but no other information was given:

On Saturday last, at the advanced age of 99, Mr. John Bramford, of Ringshall.
(The Suffolk Chronicle; or Weekly General Advertiser & County Express. 25 May 1844, p3, c2)

John, who was more commonly recorded with the surname Bramford, can be seen on the 1841 census at Ringshall in the household of Ann Ramsey. Frustratingly, the 1841 census gives no relationship information but since people living in the same house often had family connections, researching the Ramseys was my best bet.

John Bramford in the household of Ann Ramsey at Ringshall in the 1841 census

The Ramseys were recorded as neighbours of the Squirrel family at ‘Red House’. Redhouse Farm was a 19th century farmstead located between Ringshall and Wattisham (and north of Great Bricett), across the road from Ten Wood. It has been totally demolished and is now a part of Wattisham Airfield (Redhouse Farm location on modern map). Few residences in the area were named in the 1841 census so it is unclear how close the Ramsey family were to Red House, but their household entry was immediately after.

Redhouse farm on c1902 map
Redhouse Farm on map c1902

The baptismal records indicated that the children on the census were Ann’s and their father’s name was Robert Ramsey. Interestingly, the births of her eldest children were recorded at the nearby Wattisham Baptist Chapel but from 1824 they were baptised into the Church of England at St Catherine’s, Ringshall  (The last recorded at Wattisham Baptist Chapel was Mark on 22 March 1820). Luckily, the eldest child Robert (born about 1815) was with his mother on the 1841 census and I was able to locate an 1815 marriage between Robert Ramsey and Ann BRAMFORD. Aha! First evidence of a family connection.

Ann’s baptism at Wattisham in 1793 seemed to indicate her parents were the John Bramford and Anne Green who married at Wattisham in 1790. Could this mean John was her father? He would have been nearly 50 at the time, which wouldn’t rule him out, but a younger father seemed more likely. Perhaps Ann’s father was the son of our John and she was his granddaughter?


outside view of Wattisham church
St Nicholas church, Wattisham where John married and his children were baptised

I thought this must have been the case when I came across the death/burial record of another John Bramford, son of John Bramford, at Wattisham in 1812. However, an estimated birth year of 1783 was given in the record which made him far too young to be Ann’s father, and this guy’s mother was ‘Mary Figg Bramford’ not Anne Green. The 1775 marriage record for this couple at Wattisham showed her maiden name was actually Mary Pegg. Our John would have been about 20 in 1775 – a common age to marry.

John had three children with Mary and then the baptismal records stopped in 1785. I was unable to find a death/burial record for Mary but in 1790 “widower” John Bramford married Anne Green and went on to have six more children – one being the Ann Bramford who married Robert Ramsey.

So, the Ann Ramsey John was living with at the time of the 1841 census was his daughter after all. It turns out, less than a year after that census night, Ann died and was buried in the same churchyard.

Gravestone of John Branford at St Catherine’s Church, Ringshall

John had outlived two wives, at least four of his children, and some grandchildren. He had lived through the reign of four monarchs, the publication of the first English dictionary, the American war of independence, the Napoleonic wars, the abolition of slavery, and the launch of the first public passenger train. 

And I would never have known anything about him, if the good inhabitants of Ringshall parish hadn’t erected that stone.

Bigamy Blues – Part 3

Featured Image: Long Bridge over the River Derwent in the 1930s via Derbyshire Live

(Continued from previous posts Bigamy Blues and Bigamy Blues Part 2)

Records show that Reuben and Mary eventually remarried in 1963 – 25 years after the bigamy trial. I wondered how that came about. Had they met up again years later and rekindled the romance? Had Mary stuck by Reuben despite the dishonesty? It seemed unlikely I would ever find out.

A Brave Act

Back in 1937, Reuben was reported in the newspapers as having rescued a child that had fallen in the River Derwent. For his efforts, the 16-year-old Reuben received a Royal Humane Society Certificate while a patient at the Royal Infirmary.

Derby Daily Telegraph, 17 December 1937, p1, c3

The Royal Humane Society has awarded testimonials on parchment to two Derby youths and a Derby man in recognition of the parts they played in drowning rescues…

George William Gamble (23), of 4, Back Colyear-street, Derby, who rescued Geraldine James (9), of 175, Osmaston-road, Derby from the Derwent, was assisted by Reuben Alfred Lamb (16), also of 175, Osmaston-road.
The child fell into the river while attempting to recover a ball.

(Derby Daily Telegraph, 17 December 1937, p1, c3)

Nottingham Journal, 21 February 1938, p3, c2

Presentation to Patient in Derby Infirmary
The Mayor of Derby (Ald. E. E. Paulson) on Saturday made presentations of three Royal Humane Society Certificates, two at the police court and the other at the Royal Infirmary.
In the latter case the recipient was Reuben Alfred Lamb (16), of 175, Osmaston-road who is a patient in the institution. He had been instrumental, in conjunction with George W. Gamble (24), of 4, Colyear-street, to whom the award had also been made, in saving the life of a girl who, while playing on the river bank near Siddals-road, over-balanced and fell into the water…

(Nottingham Journal, 21 February 1938, p3, c2)

The article annoyingly failed to mention why Reuben was in the infirmary.

I had resigned myself to probably never knowing the answers to any of my questions, when I remembered asking Rose (Reuben’s sister) about this incident before she died. Luckily I found the conversation…

[after being asked about her brother’s bigamy]

I had forgotten about that. She said she was pregnant, he believed her and said he’d marry her. Then he and his friend Bill Gamble saw a child in the river Derwent and Alfie jumped in and saved it. He got a certificate from the Humane Society for bravery, but got an infection and was seriously ill and likely to die so Dad, who had refused to let him marry, relented. The pregnancy lasted two years!!!! He was called up for the army, the yanks came to Derby and Cathy was in heaven, but Alfie left her and later married Mary. They had four or five children and were very happy. Cathy (Morgan) had a sister – Nellie Cash. She had a baby and hid it in the chimney. It was found by firemen I think. I don’t know what happened to her. How’s that for a tale?

(Rose Richards, 6 August 2016, punctuation edited for clarity)

It was such a joy (and a relief!) to reread this message. Of course Rose may have been biased, but although Cathy’ isn’t painted in a very positive light, this family version of events really helps to clear things up. It even alludes to the ‘associating with other men’ mentioned in the trials. I had previously seen articles about ‘the rescue’, so it was interesting that a seemingly unrelated incident had also played a part in this story.

And so, a rough timeline appears as follows:

1937 – Reuben (16) and Kathleen (18) discuss getting married; his father refuses
1937 – December – Reuben rescues child from river and comes close to death

1938 – February – Reuben receives award in hospital; his father consents to the marriage
1938 – abt June – Reuben marries Kathleen Morgan

1939 – Reuben is living with wife Kathleen and her father in Derby (30 Bradshaw Street)

1945 – Reuben separates from Kathleen (unclear whether this was before or after meeting Mary)
1945 – April – Reuben meets widow Mary Evans Mitchell at Nottingham Castle NAAFI canteen

1946 – Feb 2nd – Reuben marries Mary
1946/7 – Reuben visits Kathleen in Derby (in response to a telegram)

1947 – Jan 21st – Kathleen visits in Mansfield and reveals all
1947 – Jan 29th – Reuben is charged with bigamy
1947 – Feb 18th – Reuben is sentenced to 3 months prison for bigamy

1962 – Kathleen dies

1963 – Reuben and Mary marry

All’s Well That Ends Well

Reuben and Mary’s marriage in early 1963 appears to coincide with Kathleen’s death the previous year (no evidence of divorce has been found and Kathleen’s death was registered under the surname Lamb).

So there was a happy ending after all. Despite not being legally wed, Reuben and Mary remained a couple and built a family together before they were able to ‘make it official’ in 1963.

As for the baby in the chimney..? Now, that‘s another story altogether…

Bigamy Blues – Part 2

(Continued from previous post – Bigamy Blues)

Tragic Story

The revelation that her new husband was actually a bigamist must have been very upsetting for Reuben Lamb’s new bride, Mary.

Mary E. Mitchell had already become a young widow just three years before meeting Reuben; discovering her second marriage was invalid would have come as quite a blow.

Standard utility vehicle (or Tilly) used by WAAF during WW2
Standard utility vehicle (or Tilly) used by British forces during WW2- Richard Mitchell was killed in one similar

Through a combination of the 1939 register and marriage records, I found that Mary E. Mitchell was born Mary Evans White. In June of 1942, when she was 19, Mary married Richard Mitchell, a young soldier who served in the Sherwood Foresters. The marriage was cut tragically short when, only a few months later, Richard was killed in a vehicle accident.

The story becomes even more heart-breaking after finding out the accident happened while Richard was returning home on leave – presumably eager to see his new bride.

Nottingham Journal, 24 August 1942, p4, c6

A serious road accident, involving the deaths of two soldiers and a sailor, occurred at Mansfield on Friday night.
At 10.30 p.m. an Army truck was being driven to Mansfield along the Nottingham road near Mansfield cemetery, when it mounted the off-side pavement and struck an electric standard.
The vehicle turned completely round and the occupants were thrown into the roadway, the three men being killed.
The driver is in Mansfield Hospital in a serious condition.
The men who lost their lives were: Pte. R. Mitchell, of “Bryson,” Millersdale-avenue, Mansfield; Pte. F. Hallam, whose home address is at Doncaster, but who intended staying the night at Mansfield Woodhouse with friends; and the sailor, John W. Childs, of 7, Baums-lane, Mansfield.
Upon inquiry at the hospital on Saturday it was stated that the driver was suffering from severe head injuries, but was going on fairly well.

(Nottingham Journal, 24 August 1942, p4, c6)

Nottingham Journal 05 November 1942, p4, c4

Van Tragedy Sequel

Case Against Driver Fails at Mansfield

THE triple tragedy on Nottingham-road, Mansfield, near the cemetery gates, at 10.30 p.m. on 21 August, when two soldiers and a sailor going on leave were fatally injured in a motor accident, had a sequel at Mansfield police-court yesterday, when the driver of the Army utility van concerned, John Unsworth (19), whose home address is 1, Allen-row, Paddock, Huddersfield, was charged with dangerous driving. After a long hearing, the magistrates dismissed the case, stating, however, that it was a proper charge to be brought for investigation.

Unsworth, who was returning from Nottingham, where he had been on duty, was at the time giving a lift to the three men who were killed in the crash. the dead were: John William Childs, Navy signalman of Baum’s-lane, Mansfield; Pte. R. Mitchell, Sherwood Foresters, of Millersdale-avenue, Mansfield, and Pte. F. Hallam, R.A.S.C., whose home was at Doncaster.

“Broken Lamp-post”

Supt. W. Boler (prosecuting) said that at a bend in the road the van had apparently travelled 80 yards on the offside grass verge, broken off a lamp-post, and swerved back to its correct side, where it collided with a tree. Practically the whole of the nearside of the car was torn away.

An Army sergeant named Maitland would say, said the superintendent, that an Army van passing him about a mile before the scene of the crash was travelling at at least 55 m.p.h. and he saw no other traffic.

In a statement to the police Unsworth said that in passing the road barrier at the top of the hill he reduced speed to 30m.p.h. from about 35-40 m.p.m [sic]. “About 50-100 yards past the barrier,” he continued, “I hit an obstacle which might have been a large brick. The steering wheel flew out of my hands, and I think I swerved to the right-hand side of the road. I wrenched the wheel over to the left, and then to the right, to make myself square on the road. I felt a crash. Something thing [sic] hit me on the head. It might have been a lamp-post or a tree. I don’t remember anything else.”

Still in Hospital

Supt. Boler said that after the accident the steering-gear was found to be in perfect condition, and he found nothing which would cause a vehicle to “bump.”

Mr. W. Gamble (defending) contended that there was no direct evidence as to how Unsworth was driving other than his own statement. From the moment he hit some obstacle he knew little about what happened. He sustained severe injuries and was still in hospital

Nottingham Journal 05 November 1942, p4, c4

Nottingham Journal, 02 December 1942, p4 c5

Verdict on Three Dead Soldiers at Mansfield

A SOLDIER, Pte. R. Mitchell, and sailor, John W. Childs, belonging to Mansfield, and a second soldier, Pte. F. Hallam, of Doncaster, were killed on the Nottingham road, Mansfield, on the night of 21 August, when an Army utility vehicle in which they were being given a lift from Nottingham collided heavily with a tree.

The driver of the vehicle, John Unsworth, of Paddock, Huddersfield was also injured, and he appeared at the Mansfield Borough Court on 4 November on a charge of driving the vehicle in a manner dangerous to the public.

The Bench, after a hearing lasting over three hours, dismissed the case, finding that the accident might have been due to an error of judgment.

Yesterday the District Coroner (Lt.-Col. Bradwell) held an inquest at Mansfield on the three victims of the accident, and the chief witness was the driver. He was still wearing the hospital blue.

Statement By Driver

The long statement he made at the police hearing (which appeared in the ‘Journal’) was read over to him, and in reply to the Coroner he added that in approaching Mansfield he slowed down to 30 m.p.h., when suddenly the vehicle got out of control. In trying to steady it with the foot brake, he might have accidentally put his foot on the accelerator. That was the opinion on thinking further over the matter

The Coroner returned a verdict of “Accidental death,” and expressed his sympathy with the relatives.

An officer, who accompanied the driver of the vehicle to the inquest, also offered sympathy on behalf of the Army authorities.

(Nottingham Journal, 02 December 1942, p4 c5)

Three years later, Mary was to meet Reuben and the aforementioned drama would unfold. But their story wouldn’t end there!

(To be concluded in Bigamy Blues – Part 3)

Bigamy Blues

A while ago, while researching the Lamb family, I stumbled across a few newspaper articles regarding the trial and conviction of a family member for bigamy in 1947. Obviously I needed to know more…

Reuben Lamb and Kathleen Morgan had married at a young age – Reuben was just 17, Kathleen 19. After about a year of marriage, they were recorded living with Kathleen’s father at 30 Bradshaw Street, Derby in the 1939 register. (Note: For some reason, Kathleen was crossed out but added to a later page with the same information.)

The young couple on the 1939 register

The reports are a little unclear, but at some point Reuben joined the army and eventually found himself in Nottingham. It was here, in 1945, that Reuben met canteen worker, Mary Evans Mitchell who worked at a Navy, Army and Airforce Institute canteen located near Nottingham Castle. The NAAFI was established in 1920 to ‘run the recreational establishments needed by the Armed Forces, and to sell goods to servicemen and their families (source: Reuben told Mary that his first wife “had been killed in an air raid, and that his marriage had in any case been a great mistake.” (Nottingham Journal, 19 February 1947, p3, c3). Reuben and Mary grew ‘fond’ of each other – so much so that Reuben moved in with Mary at her sister’s home and they married in February the next year (1946).

“She was everything that the other one wasn’t…”

Less than a year later, the new life Reuben had built for himself came crashing down. Reuben went to Derby to see Kathleen ‘in response to a telegram’. While there, he may have let something slip, which led to the first wife arriving in Mansfield on the 21st of January to reveal the truth to poor Mary.

Reuben told the Nottingham Assizes:  “after he had deceived her [Mary] for so long, he simply had not the courage to tell her the truth when it actually came to the point of marrying her”. Kathleen claimed Reuben ‘thrashed’ her; Reuben denied this and claimed Kathleen had been ‘associating’ with other men. Regardless, the judge found that Reuben’s actions had been quite deliberate and sentenced him to three months in prison.

It’s impossible not to feel for Mary who, I was to find, was already no stranger to heartbreak…

(Story to be continued in Part Two)

Nottingham Journal, 30 January 1947, p4, c7
Mansfield Man For Trial on Bigamy Charge

A meeting in a N.A.A.F.I. canteen near Nottingham Castle in April, 1945, between a soldier and a canteen worker, which led to an alleged bigamous marriage at St. John’s Church, Mansfield, on 9 February last, was referred to at Mansfield yesterday.
Reuben Alfred Lamb, of 40, Titchfield-street, Mansfield, was charged with bigamously marrying Mary Evans Mitchell, a widow, of the same address, during the lifetime of his wife, Kathleen Lamb (27), of 30, Bradshaw-street, Derby. He pleaded “Guilty” and was committed for trial at the Notts. Assizes, bail being renewed.
Mr. E. B. Hibbert, prosecuting, said accused was legally married at the Derby Register Office in June, 1938, but he and his wife separated in 1945. At the second “ceremony” he described himself as a widower, stating his wife was killed in an air raid at Derby.
Mrs. Mitchell said, after demobilisation, Lamb lodged with her at her sister’s home. After Mrs. Lamb called he revealed the whole truth.
Lamb said that after meeting Mrs. Mitchell they became fond of each other. “She was everything that the other one wasn’t,” he said.
(Nottingham Journal, 30 January 1947, p4, c7)
Nottingham Evening Post, 18 February 1947, p4, c1

Sequel To Unhappy Marriage

Sentence of three months’ imprisonment was passed at the Notts. Assizes, to-day, on Reuben Alfred Lamb, 25, a grinder, who was committed from Mansfield on a charge of bigamy at Mansfield on February 9th, 1946.
“There is no doubt that what you did you did quite deliberately,” said Mr. Justice Morris in passing sentence.
Mr. Nigel Robinson, prosecuting, said the legal marriage was in 1938 at Derby, accused being 17 and his wife 19. He served in the army and on his discharge had a quarrel with his wife and left to lodge with a widow, Mrs. Mitchell, a N.A.A.F.I. worker whom he illegally married.
Lamb later went to see his wife in response to a telegram, and subsequently was alleged to have thrashed her.
Mr. W. A. Simes, defending, explained, in interrogation, that accused’s legal wife had been associating with other men. It had been an unhappy marriage. Lamb denied thrashing his wife. 
(Nottingham Evening Post, 18 February 1947, p4, c1)
Nottingham Journal, 19 February 1947, p3, c3
Said Wife Was Killed in Raid

Bigamy Sentence at Notts. Assizes

SEVERAL cases of alleged bigamy were dealt with by Mr. Justice Morris at Notts Assizes yesterday.
Reuben Alfred Lamb (25), a Mansfield grinder, who admitted bigamously marrying a young Mansfield widow on 9 February last year, was sent to prison for three months.
The widow was Mrs. Mary Evans Mitchell, of Mansfield, and Lamb was accused of marrying her while his legal wife, Kathleen, was still alive.
For the prosecution Mr. Nigel Robinson stated that Mrs. Mitchell was a widow whom defendant met while she was working in the N.A.A.F.I. at Nottingham.
“He deceived Mrs. Mitchell by telling her that he was a widower; that his wife had been killed in an air raid, and that his marriage had in any case been a great mistake.”
Mr. Robinson added that on 21 January this year the legal wife went to Mansfield to see Lamb. She told Mrs. Mitchell that he was already married, and Lamb thereupon thrashed her.
Lamb was defended by Mr. W. A. Sime, who stated that the legal marriage had been most unhappy Lamb had already taken steps for divorce, and proceedings were still going on
He and Mrs. Mitchell were very fond of each other and after he had deceived her for so long, he simply had not the courage to tell her the truth when it actually came to the point of marrying her
(Nottingham Journal, 19 February 1947, p3, c3)

An Ebbans By Any Other Name

The Ebbans surname is not a particularly common one. Spelling is a relatively recent convention so I’m used to seeing names spelled in a variety of ways in records – and that’s not including mistranscriptions! (See below for a list of Ebbans variations I’ve found so far – my favourite is ‘Ebbags’.) But something about the name ‘Ebbans’ intrigues me.

The family theory was that the name had mutated from Evans and that there were probably Welsh connections – a quite reasonable assumption considering the family’s proximity to Wales.  However, the further back I went, the further the family got from Wales. Also, the further back I went, the less likely I was to see the name spelt with a final ‘s’. I decided to track the name from the earliest Ebbans ancestor found so far.

In 1822, Mary Ebbon, an unwed woman, gave birth to Thomas Ebbon at Old Buckenham, Norfolk. Her surname was also recorded as Ebben, Ebbin and Ebborn in the Overseer’s Accounts for the parish.

parish register baptism entry
Baptism of Thomas Ebbon at Old Buckenham in 1822

From the 1841 census onwards, Thomas was recorded in official records as Thomas Ebben:

Thomas Ebben in 1841 census
Marriage of Thomas Ebben and Sarah Collins – 1855
Birth registration of William Ebben – 1856
Thomas, Sarah and William Ebben in 1861 census
Thomas Ebben on the Wolverhampton electoral register – 1877

The only noteable exception occurred when he was recorded as ‘Thos Evans’ in the 1871 census. Although it’s possible the surname was spoken as ‘Ebbens’, in this case the enumerator seems to have misheard, and/or recorded the more common surname (Evans), since Thomas and his children continued to be recorded as Ebben in subsequent records.

The family is recorded as Evans in the 1871 census
Thomas’ widow and daughter continue to use Ebben – 1881 census

Adding a final s

A deliberate shift to ‘Ebbens’ seems to have been initiated by Thomas’ son William (b1856) around 1880. William was still giving his surname without a final ‘s’ in 1875 (his marriage record), but in the 1881 census was recorded as Evans.

The family is recorded as Evans in the 1881 census

This may have been a simple error, such as in 1871, except that he actually signs his name as ””William Ebbens”” 3 years later, on his sister Mary Elizabeth Ebben’s marriage record. This is despite his sister (and father’s name) being recorded as Ebben on the same document. (Mary also continues to give her maiden name as ‘Ebben’ when later registering her children’s births.)

Marriage of Edward Morris and Mary Elizabeth Ebben – 1884

From 1881 onwards, William (and his children) consistently use a final ‘s’ (regardless of other spelling variants).

In 1895, William was first recorded on the electoral register as ‘Ebbans’ – a spelling which he used consistently until his death in 1926.

William Ebbans on the Walsall electoral register – 1895

The reasons for the shift to a final ‘s’ may never be known but it certainly seems intentional. The ‘Ebbans’ spelling in particular seems to be prevalent around the West Midlands area – elsewhere ‘Ebbens’ is more common. The research is still in progress but my hypothesis is: all those whose name is spelt ‘Ebbans’ are descended from this William Ebbans. We’ll see if that theory checks out.

Official Ebbans Firsts

  • The first official birth registration using the spelling ‘Ebbans’ was William’s son, John Ebbans, whose birth was registered in 1896.
  • The first official marriage registration was William’s son Thomas Ebbans in 1904.
  • The first official death registration was William’s granddaughter (daughter of the above Thomas), Elizabeth Ebbans in 1907.

Some Variations and Mistranscriptions of Ebbans 

Ebbens Ebbins Ebbing
Evans Ettans Ebbon
Ebben Ellen Ebbags
Hebbin Ebbaus Ebbam
Ebbin Hebben Hebbings
Ebbels Ebbers Abon