HILLS, Hoddesdon & Cheshunt, Mid 19th century

February, 2005

Thelma Wigley (t.wig @t of Orpington, writes: On the 1861/71/81 censuses John Hills birthplace is given as Hoddesdon. Age given as 32 in 1861, 43 in '71 and 50 in '81.  I cannot find a record of his birth.  I have the 1851 census but cannot  find him or his father, William, on that.  I have John's marriage certificate,(1853), which  is how I found his  father's name.  John was in Cambridgeshire by 1861.  If you were able to find a record of his birth or any likely William Hills I would be very grateful.

Before replying I asked for more information from the Marriage Certificate and Thelma replied: The marriage took place on 7 May 1853 by Banns in the parish of Cheshunt. John was then living in the parish of All Saints and St.John's, Hertford, and was 'of full age'.  His occupation was Fireman on the railway - from 1861 census onwards he was an engine driver.  His father William's occupation is given as 'Gent' Both John and his wife, Charlotte Linzell, signed.  The witnesses both made their mark - they were Joseph Linzell (her brother I believe) and Elizabeth Crawley.

John and Charlotte had four children:  John Lannalot (?Lancelot) ch.Cambridge 9.1.1859, Susan Catherine Ellen (shown as Sarah on IGI) ch. Cambridge 31.3.1861, James William (previously believed to be Wm.James) b.12.7.1862 Cambridge and Charles K. born c.1865, possibly in Peterborough or Huntingdon.   I believe there were two earlier children who died, Alice Mary ch.19.1.1855 brd.28.11.1855 and William ch.6.1.1856 brd.22.6.1856.  Alice, William, Susan/Sarah and John were all christened at St.Paul, Cambridge. By 1871 the family was living in West Ham.

First of all I refer to Where was my ancestor's baptism before 1837 as this highlights a very common problem, and simply trawling through baptism indexes will not solve the problem.

What do we know about John's father William? He is described as "Gent" when John got married - but people described themselves in as rosy a way as possible on marriage certificates, The word may mean no more than that he was in retirement and was not obviously poor. In the very strongly class stratified society of the time I wouldn't normally expect anyone posh enough to be listed as "Gentry" in the contemporary trade directories to have a son in such a menial job as a railway fireman. So this entry is not as helpful as it could have been.

William was presumably in Hoddesdon when John was born - which was about 1830. He was probably alive when John got married (but there was no requirement to write "deceased" on the marriage certificate) and if John lived in Hertford, perhaps his father did. As John was marrying a girl from Cheshunt perhaps the families knew each other ("arranged" or at least socially approved marriages were commonplace). I therefore decided to look in the 1851 Post Office Directory for Hertfordshire.

  • In the global Court Directory (which listed the Gentry) there was no William Hills anywhere in Hertfordshire.
  • Under Hoddesdon - nothing
  • Under Cheshunt - William Hills was a shoemaker at Waltham Cross
  • Under Hertford - William Hills was a butcher in St Andrews Street

Of course the directory was socially restrictive in who it listed so there may be other William Hills in Hertfordshire. However it gives two names for checking in the 1851 census and elsewhere.


And now to John. I assume that you have been unsuccessful looking for him in the 1851 census for at least Hoddesdon, Hertford and Cheshunt. He had a mobile occupation and may have been missed in the 1851 census because he was working away from home on the night of the census. (I believe there were problems with recording over-night shift workers in 1851.) Alternately he may have been listed in lodgings in, for example, Cambridge

However his occupation could suggest a different source of information. Something which linked London, Cheshunt and Cambridge (with a branch towards Hertford) was the Great Eastern Railway, and it is likely that this was the railway company John worked for. I know that a significant amount of railway material has survived, which for some lines includes staff record books, and it is possible that details of his initial employment my have survived. My only contact with such records was when the Clinker collection of historical railway documents was transferred to Brunel University Library at least 20 years ago, as I spent some time looking at some of the staff books for the Great Western Railway. I know that the British Transport historical archives were transferred to the Public Records Office, so that would be a good starting point - and the London Metropolitan  Archives and the Cambridge Records Office might be able to point you in the right direction.

There are web page for Cheshunt, Hertford and Hoddesdon

If you can add to the information given above tell me.


Page created February 2005