Who Walked Around in my House?
I recently had reason to peruse the Conveyance Deeds of my family home over a small social and boundary issue which had occurred in the neighbourhood. In a quiet moment I later chose to read again through the legalese of the pompous sounding document, mostly with glazed eyes and only a half interested mind, but one bizarre fact did jump from the page to catch my attention when I saw that the house - which is a regular and basic detached three bedroom pebble-dashed dwelling had changed hands for the princely sum of 270 English pounds when it was first purchased on the 22nd day of September 1921 - to buy a new front door for the house would cost me twice that today! A price converter shows me that this would today be the equivalent of £10,000 but I know for a fact that I could today raise up to £200,000 in a sale, so I suggest that it is a 'funny old world.'
This in turn led me to become intrigued as to who, just a few years after the end of the 1st World War, had paid out this then princely sum of £270 in exchange for the first use of my present domicile; who was it who had once shared ownership of the house with us, making the same walk up the steep front steps from the now busy roadway to my creaking front door, or had almost certainly brewed tea in the same back kitchen overlooking the town, walked up the stairs with its little twist at the top and likely slept, protected within the same four walls of the very bedrooms which we occupy today - no wonder I now keep looking over my shoulder! In my hobby as a genealogist and with a sense of challenge I determined then and there to search out the life and times of this very first person who had laid out his money to purchase his very own piece of real estate and legally walked through that front door in 1921, a time now rapidly approaching a century ago.
But I was less than prepared for the story which was to unfold before me as I commenced my searches as the purchaser, now deceased, was of no great local interest initially but when I dug deeper into his family background I was to become quite frankly, amazed at the story I was unearthing.
Who was this man?
But where had Robert Symonds come from originally - was he local? His place of birth given on that Census entry is clearly stated, 'Whitechapel, London E', definitely an address in Victorian times to get a writer's juices stirring! Well, in my idle curiosity, I was about to unearth to my great surprise and total amazement the most fascinating background of the family into which he was born and the world into which he was to take his first steps. Most importantly I was to learn of the existence of his father, Francis of whom I have become quite proud. So bear with me as I first leap backwards a couple of centuries to properly introduce you into the world of one of those Symonds families of Barrow in the tiny county of Rutland.
Written in well practised manuscript of the fly-leaf to the 1841 Census for Barrow, some zealous official has penned the following personal observations/instructions on what seems to have been a festering dispute within the two villages but don't ask me what the eventual outcome was. The note reads:
But it was from this Census and the Parish records of the day that I was to trace the person whom I believe to be the first 'Symonds' to permanently plant his feet in the area. On Saturday the 19th February 1820 during the first quarter of a new moon, a young, 20 years old Francis Symonds of not-too-far away Boothby Pagnell in Lincolnshire, took for his bride-to-be Elizabeth Woodcock, also just 20 years of age and from neighbouring Cottesmore Parish (just across the road!). It seems that they set up their home in the smaller of the two parishes and by 1833 had produced at least seven surviving children. It is recorded that Francis was an incoming 'agricultural labourer' who would typically work hard and long for the Lord of the Manor, as would his children alongside him as they grew, but we need not bother ourselves as to the minutiae or make-up of the siblings - four boys and two girls - suffice to say that in 1821 the first-born arrival was to be named Robert.'Note, The 'Parish Return' and 'Carlisle' both describe Barrow as a parish. 'Lewis' however calls it a chapelry belonging to Cottesmore.The return of 1831 is not to be followed.See 'Carlisle'.
Getting up socially from being an 'ag lab' was not an easy achievement in those long ago days when great servility, basically caused by a lack of any education, existed throughout the land. But first born Robert Symonds was to be not held back by tradition and at a very early stage in his life he was working ten acres of rented arable field in neighbouring Cottesmore, most likely for himself and his family. In the 1851 Census, not only is Robert now proud to be enumerated as a 'Cottager', but it shows that he had become the first member of his family to marry and was present with his wife Elizabeth (Freeman) and two of their three children, Francis, b. 1850 and Mary Ann, b. 1851. The daughter of William and Elizabeth Freeman of Cottesmore, Elizabeth, with Robert and their families was to celebrate their nuptials on the 18th October 1848. It is also to be noted that in the 1851 Census, Robert and Elizabeth are sharing the residence with William Woodcock - his grandfather and Elizabeth Woodcock - his mother-in-law and this might suggest to me that it is the Woodcock's house that they all now reside. William, at the age of 80 years was to die within that year and Robert, as the oldest grandson had probably inherited from him.
In 1853, a third child, Elizabeth, named after her mother, was safely delivered into the world and it might have seemed to all their friends that many more would be expected to follow, but tragically and without doubt devastatingly for Robert, his dear wife Elizabeth was to die unexpectedly at home at the age of just 28 years. The Parish records show that the funeral took place on Wednesday the 14th June, 1854 and with oldest son Francis just 4 years old, what a desperate family affair it must have been for all.
In spite of this terrible blow, it seems that Robert was to get on with life as best he could. It was at a time when the Parish was available to assist to a certain degree, but any excessive pressure to provide funds from a public purse would frequently result in a trip to the workhouse or travelling the counties in search of paid employment. There are many hints that the Symonds family were made of stronger stuff than this and as Robert had established himself with the possession of land and some form of livelihood, this would have secured him with a path forward. In the 1861 census, ten years on, Robert and the three children have been joined at home by his sister Mary Ann Symonds, now aged 34 and her son William aged 6. With Robert not remarrying, who better as a surrogate mother for the growing childre with dad out all hours on the farm! and she together with sister Elizabeth who would train to be a dressmaker, no doubt contributing to the the family survival whilst living in the family home.
By 1871, 'cottager' Robert Symonds had celebrated his fifty years and was working the farm at Cottesmore along with his daughter Elizabeth, now 17. Also shown in the household are his nephew William, an 'ag. lab.' and his mother, Mary Ann. Sadly, in 1880, almost at the same age as her mother before her, Elizabeth was to die in September of that year at the age of just 27. But a glaring omission from the census return of that year had to be that of the oldest sibling, Francis who, after 21 years, was in his coming of age year and who was not recorded as being with the family. Had he severed his roots with Rutland or just failed to register his presence to the authorities? A close search of official records the width and length of the British Isles failed to locate my young man from Cottesmore and my curiosity was to grow.
So, where then was Francis Symonds of Cottesmore in those early days of 1871? Seemingly tied to the farm of his father Robert - who had not re-married - he was by now grown into a man and I would have expected to see him preparing to take over his family inheritance into the next generation.
So my next discovery was to be an absolute and total surprise when I discovered that, according to the National Archives 'MEPO' records, Francis Symonds, warrant number 54716, had joined the Metropolitan Police Service, attesting at Great Scotland Yard on the 18th September, 1877, four days after his 22nd birthday. These forms were to tell me that Francis stood at 5 feet 8 and a 1/4 inches tall in his stockinged feet, was fair-haired with a fair complexion and possessed hazel eyes. They also advise that a point of identification was the presence of 'Gout on the second finger of his right hand.' His address at the end of his period of service is given as '11e Block, Peabody Buildings, Glasshouse Street, E.' an address of some interest in Victorian London which I will refer to later. On his appointment to the police family he was initially to Join 'L' or Lambeth Division which was south of the River Thames and probably when he was there, still relatively undeveloped compared with the massive and heaving population of the more established city to the North. However, for reasons not known to me, Francis was to be transferred to 'H' or Whitechapel division on the 3rd June, 1876. For reasons which will later become clear - having served a total of 20 years and 8 months which is less than the usual 30 years service required to claim a maximum pension - Francis was to voluntarily resign and return to his rural roots at Cottesmore, complete with wife Elizabeth and the four young siblings to enjoy a more rustic existence.
Why then, was my discovery of the story of Francis of such a big curiosity for me? Well I now need to confess to a personal interest in Francis's great choice of adventure in life - as adventure it would most certainly have turned out to be - was a journey which I was to emulate about a century later when I too turned my back on a rural life in Leicestershire to join one of the world's most venerated city police forces. My reasons were those of adventure, excitement and perhaps curiosity combined with the fact that as a single young man with no ties, the world was then my oyster. Thus I have wondered and tried to understand what might have passed through Francis's mind all those many years ago, as he toiled on the farm and went about his rustic chores. Was he to become footloose and fancy free; had he known another police officer from the area who had maybe sewn a seed or two in his mind, or perhaps he had read tales of derring-do of the famous Mets in newspapers which had stirred his ambitions? Or what of his domestic conditions - was there sufficient work for him on the farm, had he upset his father in some way, or was he like me whilst at a loose end, seeking excitement, adventure or perhaps independence. I fear we will never know, but whatever the motivation was that got young Francis aboard that London train, the established fact is that he was indeed to achieve his goal and at some time towards the end of that summer of 1871 - or of course maybe earlier, as he told the Police that his former occupation was that of 'baker' - I have visions of a tough and weather-worn young farmer's boy with a few saved-up shillings in his pocket and a small bundle of belongings - maybe tied at the end of a stick - to see him through his early days in the capital city. I wonder if he walked to the railway station at the nearby town of Oakham or whether he was given a lift in a cart by his dad? Whether he would travel direct to the Metropolis from Oakham remains beyond my knowledge of train timetables of the day, but he would probably have travelled via Peterborough Railway Station on his way South.
Meet Elizabeth Ann Kinnett
Having verified that Francis did sign up for the Metropolitan Police and had sworn his allegiance to Queen and Country in 1871, I was then to discover that he had encountered and courted a young lady in London whom he would be soon to marry. Of the same age as himself, Elizabeth Ann Kinnett was as much a country girl as he and she too had chosen to emigrate to the the Capital to earn a living - and perhaps to seek adventure. Born in 1849 in the parish of Purton, Nr. Cricklade in Wiltshire, she was the second daughter of James and Mary Kinnett, agricultural workers. By 1871 and at the age of 20 she was working as a live-in cook at the home of agricultural chemist, Edward Young-Jollife and his young family in London Road, St Pancras. Whenever it is that they met - or where - I know not but in the Spring of 1879, the couple would exchange their marital vows at Kensington in London.
Francis and Elizabeth were to start their married life in in Turner Street within the Tower Hamlets environment of East London. A quick guide to the whereabouts of the family is of some importance at this point in order to understand what an existence the Symond's family was about to undertake during the next twenty years. 1881 marked the arrival of the first of their four children with the arrival of son, Robert Francis the man who would later buy my house in Melton Mowbray in 1921, maybe with the help of a few shillings from his father's estate. But prior to my preamble, I will mention two extremely pertinent facts by way of a clue now, as to which way I am going here.
1. The bulk of Francis's service was carried out in 'H' division, Whitechapel, headquartered by Leman Street Police Station and the epicentre of the ill-famed Spitalfields slum area, teeming with a great influx of immigrant citizens of many and divers nationalities and widely considered to envelop the most notorious and infamous dens of iniquity, crime and deprivation of any city in England - not to mention the fleshpots, gambling dens and brothels all tucked away within the wretched and squalid poverty of the 'rookeries' of narrow streets and alleyways.
2. Over a sustained period of 1888, this area was to become the reluctant host to arguably one of the world's most notorious mass murderers who ever existed; the ever mysterious and yet never apprehended, Jack the Ripper. All four of Francis and Elizabeth's children were to be born within the catchment of those mean streets between 1881 and 1890 and I insert the following brief account of those astonishing 6 months just in case there is someone out there who has never heard of the man.
From 'THE FIFTY MOST AMAZING CRIMES OF THE LAST 100 YEARS' published in 1936, I have drawn upon;
'The Fiend of East London: Jack the Ripper' by F.A. Beaumont.
[London's most horrible case of the invisible assassin.
Who was he? Why did the murders suddenly stop?]
"Don't let my doss [room]! I'll be back with the money, I shan't be long." pleaded Mary Ann Nichols, her eyes wide with fear as the lodging-house-keeper thrust her from the door of 18 Thrawl Street, Spitalfields, late on the night of August 30th, 1888.
Abandoned by her lover, for whom she had left her husband, Mary Nichols had sunk lower and lower into the squalor of the East End of London. And now she had reached the bottom of the abyss, for Thrawl street and its neighbourhood enclosed the worst slums in Britain. And through the jungle of its dark and fetid alleys ranged at midnight a fiend who murdered with horrible mutilations such women as Mary Nichols.
Thrawl Street had many cheap lodging houses for women, one with sixty beds. If she could only get the fourpence needed for a 'doss', she would be safe for one night more. Frantic with terror, she tried in vain to beg the coppers in one public- house after another. Every woman she met seemed to have the promise of shelter that night. But no one had any money to spare for her.
At 3.45 a.m., a man named Cross was passing down Bucks Row, a few minutes' walk from Thrawl Street, when he saw what looked like a tarpaulin lying in the road. As he was a carter, this interested him. He approached nearer and was horrified to see that it was a woman lying there with her throat cut from ear to ear, and her body stabbed and slashed in a manner that needed only one glance from a hastily-summoned surgeon, Dr Llewellyn, to decide it was the work of 'Jack the Ripper.'
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The greatest murder mystery of modern times has never been solved. The 'Ripper' killed six women in three months, all within a district covering only a square mile, densely populated, and livelier and more alert by night than in the day-time.
Each murder was followed by mutilations of a special kind, taking several minutes, and in one case over an hour, to perform, and each occurred in a place where the murderer might have been caught in the act at any moment. The body of the victim was left lying there, and was usually found a few minutes later.
There was a police cordon around the area of the murderer's activities, wile the district was tooth-combed day and night by the C.I.D., plain-clothes men, the police , and special patrols. Every street woman in the East End, every crook, pickpocket and bully was on the watch for the killer, and listening for an unguarded remark that might lead to his lair. And the Ripper went on murdering as recklessly as if he were in the middle of the Sahara. From that day to this, Scotland Yard has never had the slightest inkling of his identity, or motive.
It was not until the body of Mary Nichols was found gashed in exactly similar fashion, on the cobbles of Bucks Row, did London awake to the dread that a murderer was at large who preyed on women. Dr Lewellyn revealed at the inquest that every vital part had been attacked, and a certain organ removed, and that in his opinion, the murderer had 'anatomical knowledge.'
Much has been written of this particular terrible social aberration in the passage of London's long and turbulent history and only this year, as I write, new claims are being made as to the true identity of the ruthless assassin who arrived, left his very bloody mark on possibly 16 occasions and seemingly vanished into thin air in the briefest passage of time. But what must life have been like, dwelling within the streets, yards and alleyways of Whitechapel and its environs in that awful year of 1888. The previous year had witnessed the great and tumultuous celebrations of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, an extravagant and world-wide salute to her extended 50 years as Monarch of a great and growing Empire? Now, almost anyone out at night within a whistle's blow of a beat man could be considered a suspect and many innocent men were indeed taken in to custody by an increasingly beleaguered and fatigued police force which quite frankly just could not cope. Bloodhounds were utilised, the sewers were swept as a possible means of escape from the dingy and narrow streets and as Beaumont writes:
'... one newspaper suggested that every woman in Spitalfelds should be shadowed day and night by two amateur patrols. and should learn a complicated system of whistling and signalling to summon aid if she found herself attacked.
Another urged that the stalwart giants of the Metropolitan Police Force should shave off their beards and moustaches, dress themselves in women's clothes, and try to lure the Ripper into custody. This agitation became so popular that Sir Charles Warren was forced at length to protest in strong and bitter terms against it.'
To cut a long story necessarily short, the record was to show that Marie Kelly was 'infamously' considered to be the final one of Jack the Ripper's victims. As another summer in the Metropolis was to fade away from the day-to-day lives of the by now terrified inhabitants of the parish of Whitechapel, to be followed by the dreaded long and dark nights of winter, Marie too was hideously murdered and her body violated in dissection. In the early hours of the 9th November 1888 her young life was violently ended and like all of the previous victims, there was no mistaking the mark of the Ripper.
'... Policemen waited for hours in Dorset Street for Sir Charles Warren's pack of bloodhounds to arrive. But they never came. A few hours before the Ripper killed Marie Kelly, the Chief Commissioner was handing his resignation to the Home Secretary. And then there were no more Ripper scares. The hue and cry died down, and crime experts began to delve into a mystery that has fascinated - and baffled - them ever since.'
Police Constable (54716) Francis Symonds. Metropolitan Police, 'H' Division.
My point in the foregoing observations of domestic life in long-ago Whitechapel, is of course related to my discovery of the life and times of Cottesmore-born Francis Symonds. As I have previously stated, for me as a former police officer who also travelled 100 miles from the bosom of my family to work as an unmarried police officer in the sprawling Metropolis of London, his ambition and achievements - if indeed that is what they were - have left me guessing the answers to a myriad of questions which I would love to have asked him in a different time zone.
But let me first lay down what I do know of his time in London and the place in which he was to live and raise a family of four apparently healthy children. By 1881, Francis had served his time in Lambeth and at the time of the census in the Spring of that year, he was living with Elizabeth at No. 27 Turner Street in rooms above an old police Station which was soon to be replaced. Ironically, less than 100 yards from their home, Turner Street was crossed by a road known locally as 'Rutland Street' and I wouldn't be surprised if it did not raise a memory or two in him once in a while as he walked his beat. Sharing this house with them was first-born Robert Francis who was just 10 months old.
Within the following 10 years the family had been completed and the record in 1891 was to show that in the care of Police Constable Symonds and his wife Elizabeth were all four siblings. Robert was by now 10 and he was big brother to Elizabeth Emily, b. 1883, Mary Ann, b. 1884 and Lydia Maud, b. in 1889. It is possible that a girl, Eliza Alice died at birth there in 1887. Of interest is the fact, already mentioned, that the family were by now resident at the new Peabody Buildings in Glasshouse Street, Whitechapel, (11 'E' Block) which still stand today, now as as protected and preserved buildings considered to be iconic, living architectural markers of a Victorian past. They are in fact currently being redeveloped with a view to many more years of use yet to come. (See this interesting website)
Francis's father, Robert, who had lost his wife Elizabeth at such an early stage in his married life, never re-married and in the absence of his only son it seems that he got on with running the family farm with his nephew William. Could this have been an abrasive cause for domestic disharmony and perhaps, a reason for Francis to decamp? Once again, we can only guess but in the early weeks of 1891 matters would come to a head when his father was to die at the age of 70 years. He was interred at Cottesmore on the 7th April 1891 but there appears to be no record of any Probate or Will in the wake of his passing, so I would hazard a guess that there was some connection with the early resignation of Francis from the police force almost exactly one year later in the light of probable inheritance questions which would have arisen. The official police record of his resignation tells us that:
I would suggest that this amount would have been a tidy little sum to take back to rural Rutlandshire, where he would be able to comfortably assume and maintain the responsibility of his new inheritance of the family smallholding at Cottesmore. Still only 42 years of age, Francis had a few years left in him yet and together with the companionship of his wife Elizabeth Ann they settled down to their new lives away from the filth and deprivation of Whitechapel, not to mention the nightmarish memories of 1888 in that part of the Metropolis. The census for 1901 shows just youngest sister Lydia Maud living at home with her parents at the age of 11, whilst Robert was pursuing a career as a builder and carpenter in nearby Melton Mowbray and his sister Elizabeth was employed as a housemaid at Market Overton. Mary, currently known by her second name of 'Annie,' was, at the age of just 16yrs, living-in as a nurse to the two young children of local Barrow farmer, James Steward.'Francis Symonds, late a Constable Resigned from this Division on the 11th day of May 1892 with pay to the 6th day of May 1892, to which day inclusive he has been paid, and he is entitled to a pension of £33,, 5,, 8 per Annum, commencing on the 7th day of May 1892.
T. Arnold, Superintendent.'
But, as they say, all good things must come to an end, though for at least another decade former constable Symonds seemed to relish his new life with Elizabeth. Both were to become most popular members of local Cottesmore society, she being in the membership of local sewing and similar committees and tea afternoons and he, according to newspapers of the day, apart from being sworn in as the local Parish Constable each April, was a frequent prize-winner at shows with his cattle and local grown produce. But the idyll was to be broken when, in the summer of 1910, an amazing period of domestic activity in the Symonds family, moments of both sadness and apparent joy, came to be in a fashion that is hard to imagine. During that summer, following a brief illness and apparently with little warning, Francis Symonds was to die peacefully at his home in Cottesmore; he was interred in the church of St Nicholas on the 13th August. Later that month, the Grantham Journal was to announce the wedding of Robert Francis Symonds and Ada Wilmott at St Mary's C of E, Melton Mowbray on the 24th August 1910. In the same 'Notices' column of that edition of the newspaper, was to be found the following notice:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: - Mrs Symonds and family desire to return heartfelt thanks to all kind friends in their sad bereavement. No cards - Cottesmore, Oakham.
Bizarrely, within just two more months, on the 10th October 1910, Elizabeth Ann Symonds, dear wife of Francis of Cottesmore for over 30 years and mother of his four children, was also to die and be buried alongside her husband - both were just 61. Daughters Mary Annie and Lydia would remain in the family home and carry on the work of running the farm, both never having married. Mary was to die in 1962 at the age of 71 years, followed by Lydia ten years later at the age of 82 in 1972. Sister Elizabeth, who also never married, spent her remaining years working in service, returning to Cottesmore to die in 1967 at the age of 85.
Having now come full circle I return to the subject of Robert Francis Symonds, the man who was in 1927 to build the house which I now own. Like his siblings, there were no children from his marriage, or indeed from either of his marriages and so with all of the family passing on, that particular branch of the Symonds family would cease to exist. Robert's first wife Ada was to die in 1939 and having spent the war years as a widower, he would in 1945 marry Elizabeth Emily Lindsay, a teacher. He was then 65 years of age but sadly he was to die on the 6th June, 1947. 20 years later in 1967, his new wife would pass away at Uppingham in 1967. This situation would now leave baby sister Lydia as the last remaining member of the Symonds family. Ask people today in the little chapelry of Barrow or its neighbouring parish of Cottesmore about any members the family named Symonds who once lived in their midst and you will almost certainly receive a negative response. I have wondered how much people came to learn of their previous lives in the big city far away, or whether they were wont to talk later of the terrible year of 1888; nothing seems to have been recorded in local newspapers or the like.
Tucked away at the edge of the graveyard at the rear of St Nicholas' Church in Cottesmore can today be found two separate stones, the sole reminders, side by side, of the vanished family which they now represent. Barely legible engraving in the soft local weather-worn stone in which the words are carved vaguely delivers their simple message from long ago. On the one to the right, the message states:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF ROBERT SYMONDS WHO DIED APRIL 4TH 1891 AGED 70 YRS
The one to the left is that of his daughter with its equally simple message:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF ELIZABETH SYMONDS WHO DIED 27TH SEPTEMBER 1880 AGED 27 YRS.
A family gone now forever and apparently, forgotten.