Call Me Al

Part of the Stonewall Johnson series of posts – Who was the mother of Mary Ann Johnson?

The marriage entries for St Stephen’s Church, Birmingham show that Florence Ann Yeomans (eldest daughter of James Yeomans and Mary Ann Johnson) married Alfred Hickman in 1898. But did she?

Marriage entry in parish register
Marriage of Florence Ann Yeomans and Alfred Hickman in 1898

Alfred was recorded as a bicycle maker, as was his father, Joseph Hickman. One of the witnesses was Joseph Hickman – but this can not be his father, who was noted as ‘deceased’. Presumably it is a brother or other relation. The other witness was Sarah Smith.

Alfred or Albert?

Florence signs her name but her husband makes only his mark – nothing unusual for the time. However, careful examination shows that in place of Alfred’s signature is “The mark of Albert Hickman” – not Alfred. So which name is correct? You would imagine the official name, right? The one recorded in all the indexes as being Florence’s husband. But I’m not so sure. You see, I’m having a very hard time finding ‘Alfred’ after 1898 – maybe it’s because he was actually named Albert.

Shortly after their marriage, Florence died. She appears to have died either during or soon after the birth of her first child, who was also given the name Florence Ann. So using his wife’s name as a reference when searching the 1901 census for Albert/Alfred is not an option. Neither is using their daughter’s name since she also died soon after birth.

screen shot of GRO death search results
Deaths of mother and daughter Florence Ann Hickman in the Birmingham registration district 1898

However, I did come across a baptismal record for Florence Ann Hickman that seemed to definitely be a match. This child was born 28 April 1898 and baptised at St James’, Ashted in the ‘County of Birmingham’ on 1 June 1898.

Baptism entry in parish register
Baptism of Florence Ann Hickman in 1898

Brother Joseph?

The parents of little Florence were recorded here as Joseph and Sarah Hickman (shoemaker). Could this be the Joseph and Sarah Smith who signed Florence’s marriage record? My imagination conjured up possible scenarios… ‘Joseph is clearly a brother. He and Sarah Smith must have married soon after Florence and ‘Alfred’, and took on her tiny infant as their own when Florence died since the grieving father would be ‘unable’ to do so himself. Or perhaps they had simply taken the ‘sickly’ child to be baptised as quickly as possible and their names were mistakenly recorded as the parents..?’

But there was a snag:

screen shot of GRO death search results
Three Florence Ann Hickman deaths

There was another death of an infant Florence Ann Hickman! This hadn’t come up earlier as I had restricted the search for Florence Ann Hickman deaths to only in Birmingham. Opening up the search for births showed that Joseph and Sarah WERE the true parents of the Florence Ann baptised in Ashted (part of Aston registration district). 

screen shot of GRO birth search results
Two baby Florence Ann Hickmans in the Birmingham area

Using the maiden name of the ‘other mother’, I was able to find the marriage record of Joseph and Sarah – her maiden name was Holt.

Marriage entry in parish register
Marriage of Joseph Hickman in 1891

So what I had imagined was proved incorrect. Joseph did not marry the other witness ‘Sarah Smith’ soon after Florence and ‘Alfred’ married (he had actually married a different Sarah 7 years previous). Nor did he nobly take on his brother’s child and baptise her as his own.

But were they at least brothers? It still seems very likely. Joseph’s father’s name was also Joseph Hickman (deceased) but no profession was given. Tracking Joseph and Sarah Hickman down in the 1901 and 1911 censuses using Joseph’s occupation of ‘shoemaker’ supported the age given on his marriage record (an estimated birth year of c1868) and gave his birthplace as Birmingham. A search for a birth with those details gave me:

screen shot of GRO birth search results
Joseph Hickman – mother’s maiden name Preston

And a search for other children with the mother’s maiden name of Preston gave me:

screen shot of GRO birth search results
Albert and Henry Hickman – mother’s maiden name Preston

Not Alfred BUT an Albert. And the birth year matches the age given when ‘Alfred’ married.

At this point, I believe it’s very likely that Alfred was in fact Albert, and he and Joseph were brothers, but the search continues…

Evidence supporting:

  • the name Albert mentioned on the Alfred marriage record;
  • both fathers named Joseph and deceased;
  • matching ages on marriage records;
  • Joseph as witness on Alfred/Albert marriage (matching signature to his own marriage record);
  • Joseph also had a child named Florence Ann (seemingly in honour of Alfred/Albert’s wife)
clip from census
Possibly related 1871 census entry – father joseph (brother of Alfred)

Side note: The father Joseph Hickman appears to have been ‘boarding’ with a Theodosia Johnson on the 1881 census (daughter Emily H Johnson appears to be his – they married later that year in November)

Contradictory evidence:

  • The brothers from the above GRO search image, Albert and Henry, appear as the ‘children’ of Joseph Taylor and Mary Ann Hickman in the 1881 census (boarding with Robert Taylor in 1891)
clip of census image
Possible 1881 census entry for the brothers Albert and Henry Hickman

Stonewall Johnson

colourful family tree with mystery branch circled
Who was the mother of Mary Ann Johnson?

I’ve recently designed my own colourful family trees (see more about that here). The information held is minimal but besides looking pretty on the wall, it’s a useful way to see what gaps still need filling (particularly for those like me who absorb information best visually). For various reasons, there are a few question marks on the Richards family tree, mainly to do with death dates. I can live with that (for now) – I’d rather be as accurate as possible. But what really bothers me is the missing name on the Johnson branch.  This is a ‘brick wall’ I’m determined to break down and will start by consolidating all I know about Mary Ann.

Who was the mother of Mary Ann Johnson?

Mary Ann Johnson married James Yeomans at St Jude’s Church, Birmingham on 9 March 1874. They were both single and residing on Hill Street at the time of their marriage – the same street on which St Jude’s was situated. The area was one of the poorest parts of Birmingham at the time so they were likely not well off. Unfortunately, the church building of St Jude’s was demolished in 1971.

Marriage register entry
Mary Ann Johnson and James Yeomans were married in 1874

(Note that the year in the heading is 1875 but the full date gives 1874. All four entries on this page had the same issue. The preceding and following pages of the St Jude’s parish register were checked to confirm the year was in fact 1874.)

The marriage record tells us that Mary Ann’s father was a shoemaker named John Johnson. The witnesses at their marriage were George Yeomans and Eliza Millard.

The couple were to have 9 children between 1877 and 1900: Florence Ann, John Joseph, Julia, Catherine Ellen, Sarah Emily, Alfred Thomas, James Arthur, Leah and William Edward.

1881 census entry
Yeomans family in the 1881 census

Mary Ann appears with her husband and children living at the back of 20 Barn Street (house 1) in the 1881 census. Boarding with them is 20-year-old iron plate worker, Thomas Johnson. She gives her age as 26 which gives us an approximate birth year of 1855 and birth place of Birmingham.

1891 census entry
Yeomans family in the 1891 census

The 1891 census reiterates the same birth information. This time they are living in Court 40 (house 7) Hospital Street.

The birth place of their daughter Florence (in both censuses) indicates that Mary Ann spent some time at Bilston, Staffordshire – long enough to give birth there at least.

When her daughter Leah was born in 1897, the family were residing at 41 New John Street.

copy of entry of birth
Copy of the birth entry of Leah Yeomans

Mary Ann died in 1900 at the age of 41. Her death was registered at Birmingham in the September quarter of 1900 (Jul-Aug-Sep). The 1939 register gives her youngest son’s birth date as 5 March 1900 so she seems to have died within months of William Edward being born.

modern map of Birmingham showing locations of streets
Locations of the known residences of Mary Ann on a modern map of Birmingham

So the bare facts we have of Mary Ann as we begin our ‘brick wall’ demolition are:

  • born c1855 in Birmingham
  • father John Johnson (a shoemaker)
  • married James Yeomans in 1874 at St Jude’s in Birmingham
  • gave birth to first daughter in Bilston, Staffordshire (1875)
  • died in 1900 soon after youngest son was born

I’ll get my sledgehammer…

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)