George Henry Ian Vogler – Part 3

International man of mystery?

Former Civic Theatre, Chesterfield

We left Ian Vogler as manager of the Little Theatre Nottingham in January 1947, he is next found as manager of the newly built Civic Theatre in Chesterfield (now known as the Pomegranate Theatre).

Civic Theatre, Chesterfield

Ian was appointed Manager of the new Civic Theatre, Chesterfield in November 1948 from over 120 applicants. He was widely praised for his energy and enthusiasm in making the first season a success.

The theatre opened on the 19th of February 1949 with “See How They Run”. Ian seems to have enjoyed his time in Chesterfield, with The Stage reporting that:

The Stage 23 June 1949
Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald 13 January 1950

However, by the beginning of 1950 the situation at the theatre had changed and Ian Vogler resigned following the departure of 9 other members of the company and staff. The circumstances which led to this situation are not clear from the various newspaper reports and Ian himself was stated to have made “No comment”

Festival of Britain, Colchester

Essex Newsman 6 October 1950

In October 1950 Ian was appointed director of the Colchester Festival of Britain celebrations in 1951. He is said in this report to be of South African parentage but this must be a mistake on his part as he later repeats this information in other interviews. His parents were both born in London although his paternal Grandfather Claus Vogler was from Hamburg, Germany.

He used his full name of George Henry Ian Vogler when applying for registration as a theatrical employer in Colchester in January 1951.

He was personally responsible for the week of celebrations in Colchester including sporting events, orchestral productions, art exhibitions and dramatic performances. A play was written especially for the occasion by Dorothy L. Sayers and staged at the Colchester Playhouse. The festival was well received and described as “a second Edinburgh Festival in miniature.”

Fife Ice Arena


Next, in 1952 Ian was appointed Manager of the ice rink in Kirkcaldy – Fife Ice Arena. Articles appeared in the local press (Fifeshire Advertiser and the Fife Free Press, & Kirkcaldy Guardian 19 July 1952). These would seem to have been compiled from information contained in a press release as they are very similar and contain much of the same information.

A summary of his career to date is given along with anecdotes of his time as a theatre manager at a “St Martin’s Lane Theatre” (possibly the New Theatre which is on St Martin’s Lane?) when, on VJ night, he was forced to compel Winston Churchill to extinguish one of his famous cigars. Ian still had the cigar as a souvenir.

Discussion is also made of his experience in producing ice shows and reference is made to his involvement with “Switzerland” at the Finsbury Park Empire in 1939. Ian stated that he was a fan of Ice Hockey and supported the Nottingham Panthers. He was also said to be a 45 year old Englishman, with a South African father and Scottish mother.

Fife Ice Arena.

It would be remiss not to consider the possibility that this is in fact a different man. This Ian Vogler can be traced back through his career through his adoption of the name Ian and his subsequent dropping of George Henry. The Fife articles confirm that he was the George Henry Vogler who was Manager at Finsbury Park Empire in late 1939. The George H Vogler, Theatre Manager living next door to the Finsbury Park Empire is recorded in the 1939 Register with a date of birth of the 22nd of June 1907 – the same as that of the son of George Henry Frederick Vogler and his wife Martha Diggines (as recorded in George Snr’s military papers). This surely confirms that they are one and the same.

The rink staged its first professional Pantomime that year, devised, produced and under the direction of Ian Vogler. It received favourable reviews and seems to have been well received. Unfortunately, Ian was unwell in January 1953 having had major surgery and later resigned his position at the ice rink.


By July of that year he was once again living in Nottingham. “Claremont” was a large house divided into apartments and Ian lived in one of these (Flat 2) for the remainder of his life. George Henry “Ian” Vogler died on the 10th of March 1982 and was cremated at Wilford Hill Crematorium, Nottingham on the 16th. At the time of his death he was still living at Redcliffe Road (but had moved to number 23 which I have been informed is a bungalow on the opposite side of the road to Claremont). His cremation was paid for by Fred Leatherland of the same address. Fred was the owner of the Little Theatre Nottingham who had appointed Ian as Manager in 1947. Ian’s ashes were scattered in the garden of rest.

I cannot say why Ian altered the truth regarding his ancestry. It’s possible he genuinely thought his father was from South Africa rather than Germany, or perhaps he wanted to create a more “exotic“ background for himself and ally himself with his new Scottish home by saying that his mother was from Scotland. She died when he was 12 so he may have been unaware of her origins. He had seemingly already invented an new name for himself so why not a new family too?

George Henry Ian Vogler – part 2

In which we follow Mr. Vogler on a nationwide tour of Theatre Management.

Having left the Finsbury Park Empire at the end of 1939 George moved to Norwich in early 1940.

The Norwich Hippodrome


Norwich Hippodrome 1932


The first record of George at the Norwich Hippodrome is Monday 4th March 1940.

He is recorded as G. H. Vogler, General Manager until the week of the 1st of April 1940 when he suddenly becomes G.H. Ian Vogler, General Manager. By virtue of the fact it is given in full, not just as an initial, it would seem that Ian was the name he was now known by. He would continue to be known variously as George Henry Ian Vogler or just Ian Vogler for the remainder of his career. A letter/advertisement placed in the Thetford & Watton Times and People’s Weekly Journal on the 16 November 1940 by him would seem to confirm this.

“Ladies and Gentlemen…

I should like to express my thanks: Au Revoir but not good-bye. At the invitation of Mr. Jack Gladwin I am taking over the management of the New Theatre Royal Norwich on Monday next the 18th November.


Ian Vogler

General Manager for Mr. Harry Hanson”

Thetford & Watton Times and People’s Weekly Journal. 16 November 1940

So for the remainder of this post I will refer to him as Ian Vogler because that’s what he seems to have called himself. I wonder why Ian?… Perhaps it had always been a nickname to differentiate him from his father (also George Henry) or a name he simply preferred to George? Would be interesting to ask him wouldn’t it?


Norwich Theatre Royal


Theatre Royal Norwich.




Ian Vogler’s first production down the road at the Norwich Theatre Royal was “May We Introduce”


In 1941 Ian was Organiser of the Committee for Entertainment of the Troops in Norwich. A former luxury motor coach was converted to seat around 30 with a small stage to give concert party entertainments.

The “versatile” Mr Vogler was also praised for his last minute performance in “Where the Rainbow Ends” in March 1942.  According to the “Stage” newspaper  26th of March 1942 “A few weeks ago Mr. Gladwin gave permission to Mr. Vogler to help Italia Conti out of a difficulty, and he played the part of Captain Jim Carey in “Where the Rainbow Ends” at the Royal, Norwich.”


Theatre Royal, Norwich – Auditorium


On the 27th of April 1942 Norwich was hit by the first of 4 major bombing raids, the second was on the 29th and the third and fourth followed on 27th June and 2nd August. Over 250 were killed and hundreds more injured. It was estimated that over 185 bombs with a total weight of 50 tons were dropped in the first raid alone, with another 45 tons two nights later.

On the 21st of May 1942 The Stage published a note from the producer of that week’s show at the Theatre Royal alluding to the difficulties Ian had had during and since the air raids:

“Much praise is due to Mr. Vogler for the way in which he met the difficulties. Pretty well all my artists had cancellations of accommodation before arriving, but Mr. Vogler had gone round, and when we arrived in the town he had accommodation ready and waiting for everyone. Nothing was too much trouble for him. He looked weary with the many ordeals he had been through and bed would have been the proper place for him, but there was no stopping him. Everything possible was done. He capped it all by sending every member of the company and staff a sprig of white heather to wish him or her luck. Fancy his finding time to think of such a charming gesture in the midst of all his difficulties.”

Sadly, the Norwich Hippodrome suffered a direct hit during one of these raids which killed the Theatre Manager, his wife and a Sea Lion trainer.

At the end of May 1942 Ian placed an advertisement in The Stage announcing his intention to leave the Theatre Royal on the 6th of June 1942.  However it would seem that he changed his mind because he did not leave until October that year. His departure was reported in the “Stage” –  “Tributes have been paid to his energetic work in organising entertainments for troops in the Norfolk area” and where he was described as the “enterprising resident manager”.


Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield


Lyceum Sheffield 1968 prior to closure


His appointment to Resident Manager at the Lyceum was announced a few months later.

After two years in the job he resigned his position due to ill health in April 1945.


The Stage 26 April 1945


However, by June he was living in Hampstead, London, having recovered and was available for work once more.


The Stage 07 June 1945


New Theatre, London

Ian was recorded as House Manager at the New Theatre, St Martins Lane (later the Albery, now the Noel Coward Theatre) during the run of “The First Gentleman” in July and August 1945. This seems to have beens a temporary position as he is not listed as Manager for any other production at this theatre.


Next he was employed as a personal assistant to the actor Eric Portman during the filming of “Daybreak” in 1946-7.



Little Theatre, Nottingham

In January 1947 it was reported that Ian had been appointed General Manager of the Little Theatre, Nottingham by the new owner Fred Leatherland. Ian was said to be pleased to be surrounded by old associates.


The Stage 23 January 1947




Part 3 – International man of mystery?



George Henry Ian Vogler – part 1

I recently completed a project for my best client, we’ll call her D. In the process of my research I encountered the above named gentleman who in the 1939 Register is shown as a Theatre Manager. I became fascinated by him, mainly because in my real life I am Box Office Manager for a busy west end theatre and I have been involved in theatre and performance since I was a child. In a further bizarre twist he also turned out to have a  connection to my other hobby – figure skating. I was hooked, but although related to D he wasn’t part of her commission. Therefore I saved him until later and have since been researching him in my own time. I told D about this early on and have sent her my findings too.

He had a considerable and varied career as a Theatre Manager so I think I may have to split this into about 3 parts to do him justice.


George Henry Ian VOGLER        (1907-1982)

George Henry VOGLER was born in West Ham on the 22nd of June 1907, the first child of George Henry Frederick VOGLER and his wife Martha nee DIGGINES who had married earlier that year. George Senior was born in Whitechapel, London the son of a German immigrant named Claus Vogler whilst Martha was born in West Ham, Essex, her family originally hailing from Devon.

George Jnr. was christened on the 21st of July at St John’s Church on Stratford. His parents would go on to have five further children the last of whom was Elsie Lilian born in 1918.

In the 1911 census, George Henry and his sisters Ellen Martha (aged 2) and Jessie Matilda (4 months) were living with their parents in 3 rooms at 8 Mays Buildings, Queen Street, West Ham. His father was employed as a furrier’s labourer whilst his mother took care of the house.

By at least 1914 the growing family had moved to nearby 62 Chapel Street, but in 1918 when he was only 12 George’s mother Martha died. His father had re-enlisted in the Army soon after the outbreak of war and served with the Local Guard, The Essex Regiment, but with Martha’s early death he was left with all six children to raise alone including Elsie who was only 20 months old. In 1923 he remarried to Betsy Lydia DOREE and had two further children. George Snr’s army records and pension application confirm the dates of birth for all six of his children. George Jnr was born on the 22 of June 1907.


Finsbury Park Empire.

George is first mentioned as Manager of the Finsbury Park Empire the week of the 22nd of August 1938. London theatres advertised their weekly line up (Bill) in the trade newspaper The Stage and details of the acts playing the venue that week are usually given along with information of the theatre management. 


Advertisement for The Finsbury Park Empire 22nd August 1938

In later years these tended to take the form of a review or preview of the Bill. These all end with details of the management: “G.H. Vogler is house Manager”.


The 1938 & 1939 electoral rolls show George living at 18 St. Thomas’s Road, Islington. The 1939 Register also confirms his address as 18 St. Thomas’s Road and his occupation as Theatre Manager. 18 St Thomas’s Street was located next to the back of the Finsbury Park Empire. George did not have far to go to work. It can just be seen in this 1910 photograph of the theatre.

Finsbury Park Empire c. 1910

On the right of the picture at the end of the theatre building is a small gap followed by a row of houses. Number 18 St Thomas’s Street is the first of these.

The Finsbury Park Empire was an important theatre. Seating over 300 it was second only to the London Palladium within the Stoll Moss group of theatres seeing many of the greatest acts of the day, including George Formby, Max Miller and Wilson Keppel and Betty.

Finsbury Park Empire auditorium.

It is unlikely therefore that this was George’s first theatre job. He may have worked his way up through the ranks in other Moss Empires (perhaps including the Stratford Empire near his birthplace), or he might have come to the Finsbury Park Empire from another theatre chain. It is interesting that he was living in the Finsbury Park area the year prior to his appointment as Manager.

In the week of January 1939, “Switzerland”( the first ice show in England) was performed at the Finsbury Park Empire. Presented by Tom Arnold it was billed as “A novel extravaganza on real ice”.

George’s last week at the Finsbury Park Empire was the 28th of December 1939 when the pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was presented.



Part – 2 Building a theatrical reputation in the provinces…


Christina Kenyon

I’ve talked about Christina’s first child before: Elizabeth Milligan Kenyon, however Christina herself seems to have lived an interesting life.

Born in 1844 in Whithorn, Wigtownshire, Scotland, Christina was the second child of parents James Kenyon and Elizabeth Hood. In 1851 she and her two younger siblings James (b. 1847) and Mary [Ann] (b. 1851) were living with their parents in Isle Row, Whithorn and all are described as agricultural labourers, including the baby!

By 1861 Christina was living at Upper Senwick Farm, Borgue in the neighbouring parish of Kirkcudbrightshire, the youngest of four servants.

Upper Senwick
Upper Senwick Farm, Borgue, Kirkcudbright

She is mistranscribed as Christina Kergan and apparently she (or her employer) did not know what parish in Wigtownshire she was born in. Additionally it was stated here that she was 14, but in reality she would have been nearer 16 in age by this stage. Another of the servants in this household is 19 year old Elizabeth Kergan [Kenyon] born in Kelton, Kirkcudbright (about 11 miles north-east of Borgue) who may be a cousin. Christina’s parents were living at the neighbouring  Clash Cottage in the same year.


On the 14th of October 1866 Christina gave birth to her daughter whom she named Elizabeth Milligan Kenyon, presumably in reference to the child’s father a Mr Milligan perhaps? Elizabeth was born in Gatehouse of Fleet and in 1871 was living there in Back Street with her Grandparents James and Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Christina was again working as a domestic servant this time at nearby Ruscoe Mains farm.

On the 19th of July 1872 Christina gave birth to her second illegitimate child James at Back Street, Gatehouse of Fleet. More than likely this address was her parents house.

Less than a year later Christina married James Brown in Workington, Cumberland in 1873 and they settled in the area. They settled in the area but appear to have had no children until the birth of a son John in 1880. In 1881 the couple were living at Schoose Farm Cottage in Workington with Christina’s illegitimate son James and daughter Elizabeth and their son John.

Another daughter, Grace Christina was born to James and Christina in 1882 in Workington but sadly Christina died there just 4 years later on the 27th of February 1886. She was only 40 years old. The youngest child Grace was living with her Aunt Grace (Christina’s sister) in 1891.

Ish… Updated

Breaking News!

My Dad’s Y-DNA results are in and although our surname is Little, not a single one of his 12 matches are Littles. They are all… wait for it… Bride or McBride. (Rather similar to Bryden I feel?)

My new working theory then is that James or his father, grandfather, great grandfather etc. was born (probably illegitimately) to a Bryden (or variant) father and a mother with the surname Little.

The search begins again…

My paternal 2 times Great Grandfather James Little was an inconsiderate so and so when it came to future family historians.

He may or may not have been born in Dumfriesshire anywhere between 1806 ish and 1812 ish. He may or may not have married his “wife” (H)ellen Carruthers also in Dumfriesshire in about 1830 ish. He may or may not have bothered to christen 8 out of 9 of his children. (James son of James Little of Garwald Water ch. 25 January 1834 in Eskdalemuir being the exception.)

They farmed at Snab, Kirkpatrick-Fleming, Dumfriesshire until about 1868 before moving south to farm Greenquarries near Rosley, Cumberland. He then had the audacity to die in England in 1889 thereby depriving me of the joy of a Scottish death certificate which would (hopefully) have shown his parents details.

Disgraceful behavior!

So who was he? Who were his parents? The simple answer is “Goodness only knows?” There are a number of possible baptisms so now I must try to rule each one in or out by tracing each James Little forwards.

Are there any clues? Well yes, possibly.

Three of his daughters married at the family home of Snab. On the 1st of February 1861 Mary Little married James Chisholm after Church of Scotland banns had been read. Janet Little married George Halliday on the 3rd of December 1867 and Jane Little married David Brown on the 16 Jane 1868 in United Presbyterian services.

So were James Little’s children christened in a non-conformist church (perhaps United Presbyterian) whose records no longer exist? or not at all? Did he marry in an alternate faith church too? Was he baptised in one?

Interestingly his daughter Jane LITTLE might just have been trying to help out her descendants in their researches. She is regularly recorded with the name Bryden, Brydon or Braydon as either a middle or surname in many official documents.

  • On her marriage (1868) certificate she is Jane Little Bryden and her father is James Little Bryden.
  • On 3 of her children’s birth certificates she is Jane Little Brown maiden surname Brydon.
  • On one she is Jane Brown, maiden surname Brydon Little.
  • Another has her as Jane Brown, maiden surname Little-Brydon.
  • Several of these children also refereed to her as some variant of these names on their own marriage certificates.
  • When Jane died in 1904 her son Ralph registered her name as Jane Braydon Brown and her father as James Little.
  • When her sister Janet died on the 12 February 1907 the same Ralph Brown (her nephew) gave her father’s name as James Bryden Little.

I am unaware of James Little using this name in any record himself so where did it come from? His mother’s maiden name? Or was he illegitimate and Brydon was his father’s name? Another piece of information seems to suggest that the latter may be nearer the mark. I have tested my father’s Y-DNA (James’ great-grandson) and all but two of his matches were with the surname Bride or McBride, non were matches with Littles! I think my own surname is wrong! This is a very recent development and I have not as yet delved into this much, but in my opinion Bride and Brydon are too similar to ignore.

There are no obvious matches for combinations of these names in the records, but I’m always looking…

Obscure Deaths

London 1665. The plague rages through the city, virulent and killing indiscriminately.

However, among  the reported 68,596 deaths from the plague were a large amount of more unusual causes of death as recorded by the parish clerks. Many of these sound rather gruesome whilst some just sound plain unfortunate.

For example:

One man was killed by a fall down the stairs at St Thomas Apostle Church. Whilst another was found dead in the street at St Bartholomew the Less.

5 were “distracted” – by what we’ll never know.

23 were “frighted” – frightened to death, presumably shock causing a heart attack.

397 (probably mostly children) succumbed to “Rising of the Lights” – The lungs were lighter in weight than the other organs and were often known as your “lights”. A cough which sounded like you might cough them up was referred to as rising of the lights. We now call this disease croup.

34 died of “Rupture” of what is not made clear.

6 lost their lives because of “Plannet” – Medical men at the time believed that the alignments of the planets had a significant effect on one’s health. Those who had been affected adversely by some astronomical misfortune were said to be planet-struck. In fact they were more likely to have suffered a stroke or heart attack.

And lastly 46 were “Kild by severall Accidents” – this just seems unfair!


Data from Bills of Mortality 1665 extracted in Brend, W. A. (1908) Bills of Mortality.  Transactions of the Medico-Legal Society.

Surviving Steerage – part two

This is a continuation of part one of this story.

Isabella’s return journey across the Atlantic was only 5 years after her outward voyage and there would have been little sign of the improvements in steerage conditions that were to come over the next decade with the introduction of ever larger and grander vessels. The Mongolian (built in 1890) was around the same age as the Majestic though slightly smaller and had accommodation for 1000 passengers in steerage. Isabella must have been relieved to reach the bleak wide open space of the North Westmorland fells and her family.

Her sons George and William were quickly enrolled in local schools and in 1901 Isabella and her sons were living in the hamlet of Wickersgill, Shap just a few houses away from her Mother Mary and several of her siblings. At some stage before 1907 Isabella and children were reunited with George when he returned from Canada because on the 26th September 1907 George, Isabella and their three children boarded the R.M.S. Cedric at Liverpool.

Cedric 2
R.M.S Cedric. c. 1902

The ship docked in New York on the 5th of October. Because the family had already lived in Canada they were considered non-immigrant aliens, their entry through Ellis Island would have been much quicker. With the ROSS family free to continue onward towards their intended destination of Ladysmith, British Columbia.

The R.M.S. Cedric was a much larger and newer ship than the ROSS family had travelled on previously. Built in 1902 she could accommodate 2352 passengers, the vast majority of these (2352) in 3rd class which had by now become the more common term for steerage.

3rd class berth
White Star Line, 3rd Class, 6 Berth Stateroom c. 1909

On the Cedric the mass dormitories of the older ships had been replaced by 8, 6 or 4 berth staterooms with space for baggage.

The air was circulated by means of spaces above the cabin partitions but still one of the main complaints was the quality of the stale air and most passengers took full advantage of the open deck allotted to them.

cedric dining room
R.M.S.  Cedric 3rd Class Dining Saloon

Separate dining, smoking and lounge rooms were provided on the Cedric for the 3rd Class passengers. The general intention appears to have been a reproduction of the facilities offered to the 1st and 2nd Class patrons albeit on a far simpler and more modest scale.

cedric lounge
R.M.S. Cedric 3rd Class Lounge
cedric smoking
R.M.S. Cedric 3rd Class Smoking Room

Founded in 1898 by James Dunsmuir as a miners’ commuter town, Ladysmith had grown by 1907 into a small but thriving city. With piped water to each building, a telephone exchange and by 1910 electric lighting, Ladysmith was certainly not an isolated community.

Ladysmith 1901
1901 Plan of the town of Ladysmith, B.C.
Ladysmith 1st ave
1st Avenue, Ladysmith. c. 1904

Over the following 30 years George played a full part in the Ladysmith community, serving as a school trustee, playing for the town football team, Alderman of the City and serving as President of the Ladysmith Aerie of the Fraternal Order of Eagles for a number of years until 1927. A charitable society raising money for various good causes, the Eagles Club also served as a social and recreational organisation for its members. Isabella was also active in the community with the Women’s Institute, playing an important role in the establishment of Ladysmith’s public library.

Ross & Ross
Advertisement for George Oliver Ross’ shop in Ladysmith. 1920

In 1910 an article appeared in the local newspaper The Ladysmith Chronicle extolling the virtues of George ROSS’s tailors business. By at least 1911 he had a shop on 1st Avenue and following a hiatus during the war  he had a shop on Gateacre Street by at least 1920.

Conditions aboard the late 19th and early 20th century ocean liners varied enormously. However, in general steerage accommodations were at best simple and at their worst squalid and Isabella ROSS was far from unique in travelling alone with children. The reasons why Isabella and the children returned to England and remained there for almost a decade as well as the whereabouts of George during this time are unclear, but eventually the Ross family successfully integrated into a new community far away from home.

Surviving Steerage – part one

On the 30th of August 1893, 32 year old Isabella ROSS (nee DEWHURST) boarded the S.S. Majestic at Liverpool to embark on an 8 day voyage before travelling across country to join her husband and a new life for their family in Wellington, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (B.C.) Canada. With her on that late summer morning were her two infant children. This was to be the first of three transatlantic crossings that Isabella and her young children would make over the next 14 years.

Isabella Dewhurst was born in Lancaster, England on the 31st of May 1861, the first of 12 children of railway goods guard Christopher Dewhurst and his second wife Mary (Lucas). Her sister Margaret Anne b.1873 featured in this earlier post: There and Back (and there) Again: A Dearborn Tale. By 1871, Shap born Christopher had been promoted to engine driver at the Shap Granite Works, Westmorland and had relocated his growing family – including 9 year old Isabella – to the nearby village of Tebay, Westmorland.

In 1879 aged 18, Isabella gave birth to an illegitimate daughter – Mary Elizabeth and after spending time as a general servant at a private boarding school in Lancaster, she married George Oliver ROSS on the 5 August 1889 in Irvine, Ayrshire. Described as a dressmaker from Carlisle, Cumberland, her husband George, a 22 year old tailor from Riccarton, Ayrshire, was 5 years her junior. Their son George Lucas ROSS was born on the 6th May 1890 in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire and William Malcolm ROSS on the 20th of November 1891 in Shap.

In early March 1893 George ROSS journeyed from Glasgow to New York aboard the S.S. Circassia, bound for a place called Sheldon. (Note was not made in the record of the State.) He travelled 2nd Class arriving in New York on the 20th of March and in August Isabella and their two boys followed him across the Atlantic. George’s brother William Oliver ROSS, a coal miner, had already emigrated to Vancouver around 5 years earlier in 1888-1890.

S.S. Circassia

Whilst few transatlantic crossings in the late 19th century could be described as luxurious, George’s journey in a 2nd class cabin aboard a ship designed for 1100 but carrying only 222 passengers would have been considerably more comfortable than Isabella’s cramped, noisy steerage accommodation on the S.S. Majestic.

Built in 1890 for the White Star Line, the S.S. Majestic had a capacity of almost 1500 passengers across 3 decks. Isabella and her sons George and William were accommodated in the lone female traveller’s Steerage quarters. With 1417 souls aboard, Isabella was far from the only lone woman with small children to manage. The ships manifest lists at least 20 other women, mostly described as “wife” but without accompanying husbands, in Steerage.

S.S. Majestic

Unlike her fellow 1st class passengers who boarded at Liverpool via a landing stage to the upper decks, Isabella’s first glimpse of the Majestic would have been a sheer cliff face of black bulwark as the paddle tender slowly crawled towards the hull. Following a medical inspection the gang-plank was lowered and a slow procession began to board. Clutching her children and their six bags close to her, fearful of losing her only possessions amongst the crush of the other 900 steerage passengers, Isabella began her journey to a new life. H. Phelps Whitmarsh describes his experience of embarkation in 1898 thus:

“Evidently the doctor was in no hurry; for we stood crowded together, in the heat of that summer day, two mortal hours, waiting his pleasure. Poor mothers! Poor babies! Tired, hot, and hungry (for no dinner had been served), the little ones cried incessantly, while the women complained in a high key, and twelve nationalities of men swore.”  Whitmarsh, H. Phelps. Steerage Class – Conditions in 1898 – A First-Hand Account.

According to the ship’s manifest, Isabella and her children were heading for Vancouver [Island?], to join George who had begun to establish himself as a tailor in the mining community of Wellington. Packed into the lower decks of the ship, steerage passengers had next to no privacy or comfort. To escape the constant throbbing of the engines those lucky enough to be in possession of a blanket spent as much time as possible on deck, the freezing Atlantic air being preferable to the smell of spoiling food and human confinement below. The classes of passengers were strictly segregated and the steerage section operated as an entirely isolated community.

After over a week at sea, the S.S. Majestic finally arrived in New York. The mostly immigrant steerage passengers were held back, sometimes spending an extra night on board whilst the 1st and 2nd class passengers disembarked and were admitted to America. Only then, carried on barges, were the steerage passengers transferred to nearby Ellis Island to begin the process of immigration.

Ellis Island
Early 20th century immigrants await processing in the Great Hall at Ellis Island

3 or 4 ships, with anything up to 5000 passengers, were processed by Ellis Island each day. Isabella and her children would have passed a further medical examination with the threat of deportation if they failed. America was only interested in admitting healthy persons who could become useful members of society, qualities which Canada, the ROSS’s final destination, also desired. Having passed the immigration board’s questions, Isabella and her sons were free to buy tickets to Vancouver Island and continue their long journey coast to coast across North America and the Canadian border to rejoin George.

ladysmith mapWellington, Vancouver Island was a coal mining town which grew around the Wellington Pits. By the turn of the 20th Century the coal seam was exhausted, the owner James Dunsmuir moved his entire production to the newly sunk Extension mines and Wellington became a ghost town. Many of the workers and their attendant merchants and suppliers moved their lives and their houses to Dunsmuir’s brand new commuter town – Ladysmith. As owner of the local railroad, Dunsmuir made trains available to transport the existing Wellington buildings and gave free plots of land in Ladysmith to his miners for housing.

George and Isabella’s daughter Myrtle Marie Dewhurst ROSS had been born in Northfield, B.C. (now a suburb of Nanaimo about 22 miles north of Ladysmith) on the 27th of May 1894. George’s trade as a tailor would have been hit hard by the closure of the Wellington pits. The decline of the town may have been a contributing factor in Isabella’s decision to return home to England in the spring of 1898. Isabella and her three children, George aged 8, William 6 and Myrtle 5, travelled aboard the S.S. Mongolian arriving in Liverpool on the 25th of March 1898. Another possible factor was the illness of her father Christopher who subsequently died on the 29th of September in Shap.

S.S. Mongolian

Part two to follow…




Jane Stephenson – A Victorian Single Mother of Six

Jane was born in 1832 in the tiny village of Bolton, Westmorland (now Cumbria) to Hugh Stephenson and his wife Jane (nee Bell). She was christened on the 9th of March that year in the parish church of All Saints.

All Saints Bolton Westmorland
All Saints, Bolton, Westmorland

Although her parents had married almost six years earlier in the same church on the 29th of May 1826, it seems Jane was their only child. She was still living in Bolton, Westmorland with her Father and Mother on the 1841 Census aged 9 years.

Despite extensive searching I have been unable to locate Jane in the 1851 census. She was not with her parents who were still living in Bolton. Her father Hugh was described as a riddle maker (a maker of sieves for grain.) He died of a hemorrhage on the 28th of April 1856 in the nearby village of Crackenthorpe, Westmorland.

It would seem likely that Jane, who would by now be aged 19, would have been earning her own living perhaps in domestic service or otherwise.

Jane gave birth to her first child William who was christened on the 28th of January 1852 at All Saints, Bolton and her daughter Elizabeth was christened on the 27th of July 1856 at St Michael’s Appleby, Westmorland (the county town about 4 miles away).

By 1861 29 year old Jane and her 67 year old widowed mother Jane were living in Albert Street in the market town of Penrith across the county border in Cumberland (also now Cumbria). Both were described as washerwomen and Jane stated that she was still unmarried despite the presence in the household of her two children.

Sandgate Methodist
Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Penrith. 2013. Copyright GW Oxley

The children were joined that same year by a brother James and in 1865 by a sister Mary Ann Reay who was christened in the Wesleyan Chapel just around the corner at the top of Sandgate, Penrith on the 13th of September 1865. (She is recorded as the alleged daughter of Robert Reay.)

In 1871 Jane was 39 years old and a charwoman living at nearby 20 Brook Street, Penrith with her three youngest children and her mother. She was still a single woman supporting her family and there were two more mouths to feed when her sons Joseph and John Alfred were born about 1872 and 1876 respectively. Both boys’ baptisms were recorded in the Wesleyan circuit records, noted as illegitimate, but unfortunately with no father’s name recorded for either of them .

Jane’s mother died at Brook Street, Penrith on the 12th of June 1872 aged 77 from cerebral softening, this may indicate she had suffered a stroke or hemorrhage. Her death was registered not by her daughter but by a neighbour, Frances Kirkbride (1871 census – 8 Brook Street) . Jane senior was buried in Penrith cemetery.

The younger Jane, by now 48 years old, was recorded as a Seamstress and dressmaker in the 1881 census of Penrith. She lived at 4 Thompson’s Yard with her youngest children: James (19) a Clogger; Mary A[nn] (15) a Domestic Servant; Joseph (8) and John A[lfred] (5) who were both described as scholars.

By 1891 Jane claimed to be only 56! (losing or gaining a few years across the censuses was fairly common because people may not actually have been sure of their true age). She had moved to Narrow Yard, Burrowgate, Penrith with her two youngest children. Joseph (18) was now working as a french polisher and John Alfred (15) as an errand boy.

In 1901 a 68 year old Jane and her family were living at Lynn Court, just off Albert Street, Penrith. In the household were her children; Mary Ann (34) a shirt seamstress; Joseph (28) a french polisher and John A[lfred] (25) an upholsterer. Jane also had two Granddaughters with her – Edith J[ane] Ousby (17) a shirt sewing machinist and Florence Ousby (8), these two girls were children of her own daughter Elizabeth who had married Joseph Ousby in 1878, but who died on the 3rd September 1899 aged just 41 whilst suffering from tuberculosis.

The 1911 census shows us Jane aged 77, a housekeeper at home at 42 Albert Street, Penrith. Her daughter Mary [Ann] (44) was described as a cook, domestic. Jane’s son John [Alfred] (33) was still working as an upholsterer and her granddaughter Rosa Ousby (24) was a dressmaker. Rosa was another of Elizabeth’s children.

Penrith Cemetery
Penrith Cemetery, Beacon Edge, Penrith

Jane Stephenson died aged 91 on the 20th of February 1924 at 42 Albert Street from senile decay. Her death was registered by her son John Alfred who wrongly records that she was the daughter of Michael Stephenson. (Michael was in fact her Uncle, the brother of her late father Hugh.) She was buried in the unconsecrated section of Penrith Cemetery, most likely because she was of a non-conformist (Wesleyan) faith rather than Church of England.

Elizabeth Milligan Kenyon

I’m still ploughing through my shaky leaf hints but predictably for me I couldn’t let my 2x Great Grandmother Elizabeth Milligan Kenyon go. So here are some details about her.

Elizabeth was born on the 14th of October 1866 to single mother Christina in the delightfully named Gatehouse of Fleet, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland. The small town is split between two parishes Girthon and Anworth. In 1871 she was recorded as Elizabeth Milligan and was living with her maternal grandparents James and Elizabeth Kenyon in Back Street, Girthon.

In 1873 her mother Christina married labourer James Brown in West Cumberland and in the 1881 census Elizabeth is shown living with them at Schoose Farm Cottage, Workington, Cumberland.

Schoose Farm
Schoose Farm, Workington. Copyright: Tom Routledge


In 1883 she had a son, Angus Milligan Kenyon and on the 31 of May 1886 Elizabeth married John Wilson in Workington. On her marriage certificate she claimed her father was Robert Milligan Kenyon. There may be some truth in this. Perhaps he was Robert Milligan? But I doubt he was a Kenyon.

Elizabeth and John went on to have 12 children between 1887 and 1909. I haven’t obtained all these children’s birth certificates because I am not made of money,

Mary Jane Wilson
Mary Jane Wilson (1889-1956)

but I do have that for the second child Mary Jane b.1889 because she was my Great Grandmother. When she registered the birth of her daughter, it seems Elizabeth got confused by the question “mother’s maiden name” and the registrar wrote that she was formerly Elizabeth Brown. This was of course the surname of her mother Christina following her marriage to James Brown. Mary Jane Wilson Birth CertPerhaps Elizabeth thought her maiden name was Brown, James was her step-father after all or perhaps she didn’t understand the term maiden name. Who knows what went wrong. What I do know is that before I knew who Elizabeth actually was, this little piece of dodgy information sent me off on a wild goose chase for non existent Wilson-Brown marriages. Only some major detective work led me to the real Elizabeth and that was largely down to her having been born in such an interestingly named place.

In 1891 Elizabeth, John and their growing family lived at 24 Turnpike Side, Workington and in 1901 & 1911 at 19 Mountain View, Workington.

19 Mountain View
19 Mountain View, Workington

In 1911 Mary Jane’s future husband the newly widowed Henry Moore is living at number 23 with his six month old baby Lillian, however Mary Jane was not at home on census night.

Elizabeth and John were still living at 19 Mountain View almost 30 years later when the 1939 Register was taken. Elizabeth’s date of birth is confirmed as above and their second youngest child Allan is listed with them as an unemployed labourer.

I have not confirmed Elizabeth’s death yet, but I have identified a likely record in the 3rd quarter of 1940, Cockermouth registration district. The certificate is on its way…