Putting Flesh on the Bones
By Brian Sewell
This article was originally published in the July 2000 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
Listening to the excellent speakers at our 1999 AGM, Gillian & I certainly agreed that establishing the bare bones of the Family Tree is only the beginning of a long, sometimes exciting, often frustrating, adventure. Wisely, we had decided not to start on our particular trail until I had retired, so about 18 months ago we began, since when we have probably made every possible mistake, some of them more than once!
Our beginnings were; an old newspaper cutting about the formation of the Sole Society, a sketch of my immediate ancestors, plus photo copies of an Army Pay Book & my great grandparents wedding certificate.
The certificate told us that my great grandfather David Sewell, a Labourer, married Louisa Hart in 1861 in “West Hackney Parish Church”, they were of “full age” & resided in West Hackney. Hardly the most helpful information, especially as I vaguely remember my grandfather, Joseph Sewell, talking about his childhood in Billericay, Essex, so why marry in Hackney? Still, it showed one great great grandfather was James Sewell, also a Labourer, the other, Charles Hart [deceased], as a Cooper.
The Army Pay Book, issued in 1887 was for a James Sewell, elder brother of my grandfather Joseph. From this we know the circumference of his head, height, hair & eye colour, scars & so on. It also told us that by then, father David had died & that in addition to my grandfather, he had another, younger brother, Charles living with mother Louisa in Billericay. It also mentioned a previously unknown older sister Elizabeth, who with my grandfather Joseph and James before he enlisted, were shown as residing in “Kings Road, Middlesex”. Searching modern maps didn’t enlighten us. Unfortunately, James appeared to have died in India in 1889 but it doesn’t say how.
The first move was to join the Sole Society, impatiently waiting for our first copy of “ Soul Search”, then deciding to go the 1998 AGM at Nuneaton. There, Geoff Sewell told us about the LDS Family History Centre in Northampton. The Good News was it is only 5 miles from our home. The Bad News was that Tony Storey soon got us there extracting Sewell birth indexes!!
However, it quickly enabled us to acquire useful information from the 1881 census index fiches. Finding “our” Sewell family in Billericay & showing great grandfather David had become a grocer in the High Street, was the impetus that has now become an addiction, not least of all because, as always, progress comes with additional questions. How many of the Sewells in Billericay, including two in the Workhouse, were my relations? We also found the death of David in 1883 aged 44, apparently from appendicitis & of gt-gt-grandfather James in 1884 aged 82, but he wasn’t to be found in the 1881 census for Billericay. A trip to Myddleton Street located David’s birth in 1839 & the certificate arrived shortly afterwards.
Obtaining the Billericay 1851 census index showed that gt-gt-grandfather James was born in Buttsbury, near Billericay. He married Amelia Cross and by 1851 they had seven children. It also provided some answers about the other Sewells we had seen in the 1881 census, identifying David’s brothers, Joseph & Stephen, as two of my grandfather’s uncles. It also showed Louisa Hart as being born in Haughley, Suffolk, then living in a property with 32 others, including a brother & sister, both born in Billericay but apparently no parents.
Off we went to the Essex Record Office to look through the Buttsbury Parish Church records. The result was a complete blank. Eventually, we did find the marriage of James to Amelia Cross in nearby St Giles, Mountnessing and the burial of a George Sewell, aged 4. Was George a relation? We did not know. Whilst at the ERO, we managed a quick view of the 1841 census, finding James & Amelia, plus their older children.
It also told us James was an “AgLab” & they were living at Gooseberry Green, between Billericay & Buttsbury. But James & Amelias’ ages didn't match up with those provided from previous sources. Of course, we now know that the adult ages in the 1841 census were rounded to the nearest 5 years.
Searching the IGI on the Internet provided the break through. We found gt-gt-grandfather James’s baptism date & more importantly, that it was at the Independent Meeting House, Billericay. After another appointment at the ERO we came away with 12 more members of our family, including Philip Sewel & Susannah Cracknell, parents of gt-gt-grandfather James. Philip appeared to have a brother Mark, who also married a Cracknell, providing a possible 7 further relatives! The details covered baptisms & some burials, including the baptism of the above mentioned George who was shown to be James & Amelia’s son. Curiously, there were no marriages. Again, we now know that dissenting churches weren’t allowed to undertake marriages due to the requirements of the Hardwicke Act, in force until 1837.
Separately, we contacted Billericay Library to see if they could provide any information about the occupants & trades of the High Street residents. Helpfully, they sent an extract from “Billericay & its High Street” by Harry Richman, one time curator of the small Cater Museum in the High Street. We had hoped to see a reference to David, particularly in respect of no. 51 “Crescent House”, a fine manor house in which one of my aunts had said she had visited as a young girl. Instead, there was mention of a Joseph [David’s brother?] at no. 49 next door, as being used “for Joseph Sewell’s cow [or cows]” !!
There was no indication of who occupied Crescent House during the crucial 1880s, just that a family called Ladbrook lived there in the early part of this century. We also noticed an O S Ladbrook on the war memorial but no Sewells. Whilst visiting “The Family Experience” at the N.E.C., Birmingham we managed to get a signed copy of this book, plus a supplement, from a Monmouthshire second hand book seller. The supplement told us “The building ...was built by a member of the Sewell family as a pork butcher’s ......Joseph Sewell occupied premises near here in 1867. The Sewells were connected by marriage to the ... Ladbrooks of Crescent House. The Sewells also had connections with the old windmill on Bell Hill and lived in one of the Mill Cottages until 1916. Stephen Sewell is also mentioned there in 1867 as a tenant....”.
From “Calling the Generations”, we found Joseph Sewell, described as “a gentleman”, who had been made a Trustee of the Independent Meeting House, whilst “ Victorian & Albertian Brentwood - A Pictorial History”, reproduced a poster showing the results of a referendum in the 1800s on the possible introduction of electric street lighting, with Joseph Sewell voting against it.
Returning to the Internet, this time the Commonwealth War Graves site, O. S. Ladbrook turned out to be Oscar Sewell Ladbrook. Obviously some connection but what?
Using the 1881 census index CD-ROM set enabled us to find gt-gt- grandfather James. A search showed him staying as a visitor at the “Brittania”, Hornchurch, a beer house in the High Street run by his daughter, Eliza Bridge. Another visitor was a Sarah Steward, born in Haughley, Suffolk which struck a cord with gt-grandmother Louisa Hart also having been born there. Just a coincidence, or was there a connection?
This question was soon answered as we obtained Louisa Hart’s birth certificate, finding her mother’s name was Sarah Murton. Almost immediately afterwards a kind researching contact sent us the full 1851 Billericay Census details, clearly showing that widow, Sarah Hart, nee Murton, had married a Jacob Steward. So Louisa Hart had not been orphaned and it also explained who the visitor was at the Brittania, Hornchurch. Back to our Billericay book which said, “ In 1862 & 1867 Jacob Steward is mentioned as the licensee of the “Fox” and in 1874, Mrs Sarah Steward”.
The next pieces in the puzzle were provided by the 1871 & 1891 censuses. The 1871 census confirms Sarah Steward as a Beer House Keeper [beer seems to figure strongly in our family], a Joseph Sewell, still in the High Street, shown as a “General Dealer” & Elizabeth Sewell, mentioned in James’s Army Pay Book turns up as Eliza, although we still can’t pin point her in the 1881 census.
The 1891 census shows Joseph Sewell, a Hay Dealer living in Mill Hill House, subsequently renamed Gatwick House, in Southend Road with his wife Jane & daughter Amelia, who had married Charles Ladbrook & their [then] three children, one of whom was Oscar Sewell Ladbrook. So we did have a connection with Crescent House after all! Joseph Sewell seems to have been a Victorian version of Dell Trotter but perhaps more successful. Meanwhile, Louisa Sewell, nee Hart, was now a widow living in another part of the High Street as a “Provision Dealer” with help from her son Charles, which she continued doing until at least 1906, if Kellys Directory is correct.
To illustrate the point that there is no end to the number of possible sources of information, we recently had about 10 minutes to spare in Billericay on a visit to Essex. We were looking for Mill Hill House, shown as Gatwick House on a 1950’s O.S. map. A quick dash up a secluded drive did indeed bring me to the entrance of a large house but there was no name displayed. However, just by the entrance was an electricity sub-station and on it inscribed “ Gatwick House S. S.”. Thank you Eastern Electricity!
We have just seen the 1861 census. More surprises. Joseph Sewell who had the cows in [at] the back of his shop is shown as a Dairyman, born in Buttsbury and is obviously a different Joseph Sewell to my grandfather’s uncle who was Joseph
Sewell the Hay Dealer and trustee of the Independent Meeting House. So even references in books can be misleading. However, although Joseph the Dairyman, also a Pork Butcher, is shown as being born in Buttsbury (it was never more than a few cottages, now long since gone) we cannot find any connection between him & my gt-gt-grandfather James, also from Buttsbury.
Furthermore, although we still don’t know why David Sewell married Louisa Hart in West Hackney, we now know that at the time of the census, 7 April 1861 they were single & living with their parents in Billericay. By the 6th May 1861 they were married in West Hackney after banns and giving West Hackney as their place of residence! Why? Any ideas?
A revisit of the 1841 census is now the next task. After that, we can really get started.
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