Archive for the ‘London’ Category

Proof that Thomas Edward Taylor won the Doggett’s Coat and Badge

July 22, 2014

I’m thrilled to say that I’ve been able to prove that my great-great-great-grandfather won the famous Doggett’s Coat and Badge rowing race.

It seems the rumour I started investigating in my last post is true!

Thames waterman records

My cousin Lorraine sent me this photo of twenty winners of the Doggett’s Coat and Badge.

While I’m not sure which man is which, the caption at the bottom states that a ‘T. E. Taylor’ is among the group and that he won the race in 1878.


Twenty winners of the Doggetts Coat and Badge

Doggett’s Coat and Badge race winners – please click to enlarge


There’s also a collection of Thames Watermen & Lightermen records available online at Findmypast.

These confirm that a Thomas Edward Taylor won the race in 1878. But a question remains: is this ‘my’ Thomas Edward Taylor?


Thomas Edward Taylor, winner of the Doggett's Coat and Badge race

Newspaper article reveals an address

There are millions of historical newspaper pages available to search at The British Newspaper Archive.

All of the words in the newspapers are searchable, so you can look for absolutely anything.

I searched the collection for “Thomas Taylor” “Doggett Coat and Badge” and found the following article, published in Reynolds’s Newspaper in 1886.


Cutting from Reynolds's Newspaper, 13 June 1886, found at The British Newspaper Archive.


It describes an inquest into the death of an apprentice lighterman, who had ‘drowned in the River Thames, opposite the House of Commons’.

Thomas Taylor witnessed the tragedy and gave evidence. The article stated that Taylor had ‘won the Doggett Coat and Badge in 1878’ and that his address was 13 Paradise Street.

Confirming the address

I already know that my great-great-great-grandfather had lived in Paradise Street, but not at that precise address. The 1891 census (included as part of my last post) placed him at 51 Paradise Street.

Thomas Taylor’s daughter Eliza was five years old at the time of the 1891 census. I calculated that this meant she would have been born in about 1886, when the newspaper article above was printed.

Using this information, I tracked down Eliza’s baptism record in the London parish records at Ancestry. You can see that her father was listed as being a Waterman and was residing at 13 Paradise Street. A perfect match!


Baptism of Eliza Taylor in Lambeth


It’s fantastic to have been able to prove so conclusively that my great-great-great-grandfather did win the Doggett’s Coat and Badge race in 1878.

The Doggett’s Coat and Badge race

May 20, 2014
Maria Taylor

Maria Taylor

Earlier this year, I mentioned that there’s a family rumour about the father of my paternal great-great-grandmother, Maria Taylor.

My nan believes that Maria’s father once won a rowing race called the Doggett’s Coat and Badge.


What was the Doggett’s Coat and Badge?


The Doggett’s Coat and Badge race is the oldest rowing race in the

Doggetts Coat and Badge race winner

Doggett’s Coat and Badge winner

world. It was set up and funded by the comedian Thomas Doggett and has been held on the River Thames since 1715. Unbelievably, it’s still going today!

Every year, six Thames Watermen who had recently completed their apprenticeships raced from The Old Swan pub at London Bridge to The New Swan pub at Chelsea. Watermen appear to have been similar to taxi drivers, rowing passengers along and across the river.

The prize was an orange coat, a silver badge and the winner also apparently became a Royal Waterman. This ties in nicely with another family rumour about Maria Taylor’s father – that he once took Queen Victoria across the River Thames.

Thomas Edward Taylor, Thames Waterman


I was introduced to Maria Taylor’s father for the first time on her marriage certificate. My nan has a copy of this in her possession, so I didn’t need to order it from the General Register Office.

Marriage certificate from 25 December 1899

George Jones and Maria Taylor’s marriage certificate – please click to enlarge

The marriage certificate shows that Maria married my great-great-grandfather George Jones at Putney Church on Christmas Day in 1899. My nan believes it wasn’t unusual for people to get married on Christmas Day, as it was often one of the only days they had off of work.

Thomas Edward Taylor is recorded as being Maria’s father – my great-great-great-grandfather. According to the certificate, he was employed as a Lighterman. Lightermen were similar to Watermen, transporting goods across the River Thames, so this occupation fits in with the family rumour.

I’ve traced the family through the census records at findmypast and have also found Thomas listed as a ‘Lighterman Waterman’ in many of the records. Here he is in the 1891 census, living at 51 Paradise Street, Lambeth with his wife and six children (including a 13-year-old Maria):

The Taylor family in the 1891 census

The Taylor family in the 1891 census – please click to enlarge


Next steps


My initial investigations seem to show that there could be some truth behind my family rumour. Thomas Edward Taylor had the right sort of occupation to have won the Doggett’s Coat and Badge race.

My next challenge is to see whether any records about the race and the Watermen who took part in it survive.

An amazing photo of the Jones family

February 16, 2014

I just had to share this fantastic photo from my nan’s collection. It shows my great-grandfather John William Jones, his seven siblings and parents in about 1916.

The Jones family in about 1916


My nan tells me that from left to right, the photo captures:

  • Tom Jones
  • George Jones, my great-great-grandfather
  • George Jones (nicknamed Bead)
  • John Jones, my great-grandfather
  • Maria Jones nee Taylor (known as Ria), my great-great-grandmother with baby Ann Jones
  • Maria Jones (known as Doll) with Edward Jones (known as Ted)
  • Harry Jones
  • Lilie Jones (who went on to marry Olympic athlete, Ernest Johnson)


I’ve found the family in the 1911 census, minus Lilie, Harry and Ann who were not yet born. The family of seven were living in three rooms at 29 Pearman Street in Lambeth – quite a squeeze!

George Jones was employed as a House Painter and it seems Maria had given birth to one other child who had sadly died before the census was taken.

The Jones family in the 1911 census

The Jones family in the 1911 census – please click to enlarge


There’s a bit of a family rumour surrounding my great-great-grandmother’s family – Maria Taylor’s father is thought to have won the Doggett’s Coat and Badge race, a rowing race along the River Thames. I’m looking forward to seeing if I can prove this for my nan.

The black sheep of the Silk family

February 25, 2013 published half a million Crime, Prisons and Punishment records last week, in association with The National Archives.

While testing the new records with a few of my family names, I discovered that my great-great-great-uncle William Silk was tried on 1 April 1913 at the Central Criminal Court in London – otherwise known as the Old Bailey.

Here’s the record I spotted:

William Silk in's Crime, Prisons & Punishment records

William Silk in’s Crime, Prisons & Punishment records – please click to enlarge

It tells me that William Silk was 49 years old and a Post Office Overseer. He was accused of stealing postal packets and postal orders to the value of £1. 10s. 6d., pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months hard labour at Wormwood Scrubs Prison.

William Silk was the older brother of my great-great-grandfather Charles Silk, who I know also worked for the Post Office. Charles was employed as a Sorter from when he started work in 1890 to when he retired in 1931, but census records reveal that William had progressed to being an Overseer by 1901.

The 1911 census below was taken two years before William was sent to prison and shows him living with a wife and four children. I wonder how the family faired after William’s trial, and also whether it was this incident that affected Charles Silk’s progression at the Post Office.

William Silk in the 1911 census

William Silk in the 1911 census – please click to enlarge

My Olympic connection

July 10, 2012

With the London 2012 Olympics just around the corner, it seemed a fitting time to learn about the Olympic connection in my family tree.

When I first started tracing my family history a couple of years ago, my nan mentioned that my great-great-aunt Lilie Jones (the sister of my great-grandfather) married an Olympic athlete named Ernest Johnson. My nan was a bridesmaid at the wedding and has a copy of this photo of the couple:

Lilie Jones and Ernest Johnson’s wedding

A quick search of the marriage records at told me that Lilie and Ernest married in Lambeth, London in the June quarter of 1937. I used this information to order a copy of their marriage certificate from the General Register Office.

Lilie Jones and Ernest Johnson’s marriage certificate

The marriage certificate tells me that my great-great-aunt was employed as a floor walker and that Ernest was a plumber – not giving much of a clue as to his athletic prowess! Luckily, the internet was a bit more forthcoming and I spotted this entry in an Olympic database:

Ernest Johnson’s profile at

My nan was able to confirm that Ernest competed at the Los Angeles and Berlin Olympic Games in 1932 and 1936 as part of Great Britain’s team pursuit cycling team. Amazingly, he won a bronze medal at both! My nan also produced this incredible photo of Ernest and the rest of the team – she believes it was taken at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Ernest Johnson is on the far right.

Team pursuit cycling team at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games

Although it’s nothing compared to Ernest’s incredible achievement, I’m very lucky to have my own Olympic connection this year. I’m currently rehearsing hard as I’ll be taking part in the London 2012 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies in just a few weeks’ time. It’s going to be an amazing experience and will now feel even more special because I know that my great-great-uncle would have been one of the athletes parading around the stadium 80 years ago.

Charles Silk: Post Office Sorter

March 14, 2011

As part of this project to show newcomers to family history how you can start tracing your family tree, I discovered that my paternal great-great-grandfather Charles Silk worked as a Sorter at the General Post Office (GPO).

A few weeks ago, I decided to visit The British Postal Museum and Archive to see what records they might hold about my ancestor. I thought it was best to be fully prepared about Charles’ life before I went, so I made a list of what I knew about his life and his work as a Sorter.


Charles Silk’s profile

1871/2 – Born in Islington.

1881 – Census. Occupation: Scholar, address: 60 Havelock Street, Islington.

1893 – Marriage certificate. Occupation: Sorter, address: 40 Arlington Street, Islington.

1895– Daughter’s birth certificate. Occupation: Sorter for the General Post Office, address:  40 Arlington Street, Islington.

1901 – Census. Occupation: Post Office Sorter, address: 40 Arlington Street, Islington.

1911 – Census. Occupation: Sorter for the General Post Office, address:  29 Wyatt Road, Highbury.

The information on The British Postal Museum Archive’s website told me that people tended to start working for the GPO at the age of 16 and retired at 60. Based on all of this, I was able to estimate that:

Charles joined the GPO between 1887 and 1893

Charles left the GPO or retired between 1911 and 1932.

I arrived with this information in hand, not really knowing what to expect as this was my first trip to an archive. The staff were lovely and got me signed up for a user card, explained the different sorts of information they held and advised me that I should start by looking for Charles’ pension or gratuity record as this would be the easiest to find and would provide me with the most detail about him.

I was shown how to use a microfiche reader – a completely new experience for me as I’ve done all my research online so far. Although the machines look a bit bizarre, they’re actually really simple to use. They reminded me a bit of a sewing machine as you have to thread a bit of the microfiche tape into the machine before you can start scanning through the pages to find the record you’re after.

I was advised to start searching the index to the pension and gratuities records when Charles would have been 60 years old (in 1931/1932). Sure enough, after a few minutes of scanning through names, I spotted Charles Silk’s and a note that he received a pension in 1931. Using the reference the index provided, the Archive’s staff were able to find me the treasury book containing my great-great-grandfather’s pension record. This is what the record looked like:

© Royal Mail Group Ltd, courtesy of The British Postal Museum & Archive.

© Royal Mail Group Ltd, courtesy of The British Postal Museum & Archive.


The record tells me that

– Charles was born on 27 April 1871 and was indeed 60 years old when he retired.

– He was a Sorter for the London Postal Service and had worked there for 41 years and a month.

– He started on 17 March 1890, when he would have been 18 years old.

– His wage was 68/6 a week at the time he retired. According to The National Archives, this equates to £114.46 a week today. While this seems low by today’s standards, the cost of living was much cheaper in 1931.

– During his service, Charles had also received Sunday pay of £18.7.5 (between £500 and £600 today), showing that he sometimes worked extra days.

– In the four years prior to his retirement, Charles was absent from work because of illness for 17 days. Over half of this happened in 1927 when he was off work for 9 days – I wonder why?

Embracing my maternal side

October 16, 2009

Good news! I’ve managed to fill in a bit more of my tree after a chat with the mother. Oddly, it seems that the lack of knowledge about my maternal family extends back another generation for while my mum could furnish me with information about her own parents, what she knew about her grandparents (my great-grandparents) was quite limited. What she was able to tell me, however, has revealed that both of my maternal grandparents had rather unsettled childhoods.

My great-grandmother Ada died early on in my grandfather’s life, when he was only about 10 years old. Subsequently, it seems that my great-grandfather Jack found it difficult to cope and eventually handed responsibility of his children over to their uncle and aunt, disappearing from their lives. According to my grandfather’s reports, he and his sister effectively lived as cheap labour for his uncle’s bakery business. He escaped from this as soon as he could, signing up with the RAF as a mechanic when the Second World War started and serving in the Far East.

My grandmother also lost a parent prematurely as my great-grandfather George sadly died when she was around two years old, leaving his widow Lucy to bring up their two young daughters alone. The family apparently believed that George’s death was a long-term result of being gassed in the First World War, an event that had left him with a persistent cough for the remainder of his life. Prior to speaking to my mum, I had always believed that my maternal ancestry was rooted in Hertfordshire. However, it seems that my great-grandmother Lucy and her family originally lived around West Ham, being evacuated out to Ware in Hertfordshire to work as land girls at the beginning of the Second World War.

It’s quite shocking to think that my great-grandmother Lucy would have been the only grandparent my mum knew when she was growing up. Indeed, my mum has actually never even seen a photograph of her paternal grandparents, Jack and Ada. Quite incredible, really. As a result of this, she was unable to fill in much of the factual information about my great-grandparents (such as dates of birth, marriage and death) that are needed to start tracing my lineage back further. To confirm these, I will need to dive into the birth, marriage and death indexes available at .