Answers to Questions


LEWIS & SKINNER, St Albans, Mid-19th Century

January, 2010



St Albans

Mary Hider (mhider21 @t of Leicester writes: I'm trying to use web sources to add to the research my father Leslie (1910-2004) did in the 1970s. His grandfather Edwin Francis Lewis appeared to be the illegitimate child of Mary Lewis. My father was orphaned and brought up by 'Aunt' Lizzie Catharine Skinner (b. 29.10.1860 at the White Hart Tap, the daughter of Caroline Skinner (nee Lewis) and George Skinner. Caroline might have been Mary's sister, but I've not found Mary on any census data. Your Genealogy site has a list of publicans, intriguingly a George Skinner was publican of the Eagle and Child, London Rd, c. 1882. Her father might have become a publican, though in 1860 he was a hat blocker but Caroline also had a younger brother George. I can't find any historical references to the Eagle and Child; obviously in the vicinity of the White Hart Tap - could it be a previous name for that pub. None of the London Road addresses on the 1881 census have the Eagle and Child, nor Skinners, nor have I any results for White Hart Tap without a street name. I imagine Keyfield, Pageant Rd, Hart Rd were not built then - as a child my father lived in Hart Rd in a house named Lesvic after him.

Some of the memorabilia he kept about St. Albans I've just given to the museum.

I have divided this question into two parts. This part deals with the genealogy, and the other part deals with The White Hart Tap and Child & Eagle.

When your father researched the family in the 1970s there were few indexes of any kind. Apart from birth. marriage and death certificates - where copies could be purchased by post if you had sufficiently precise information, you need to travel to the place where the original documents were held and look through the handwritten documents. Census returns were at the Public Records Office in Chancery Lane - where you could only look at the enumerator books which were more than 100 years old. You might spend hours looking through hundreds of pages of hard-to-read handwriting looking for the name of your ancestor without success. Because searching was so expensive in terms of both time and travel it was important to understand the history of the documents, why the information was recorded, and what the limitations were - and limitations due to poor hand writing and erratic spelling were very obvious! For instance, when  I was researching my ancestors in the 1970's I sometimes travelled over 100 miles to spend a few hours looking at original (un-indexed) parish registers, sometimes including the costs of an overnight stay.

Today many of the key documents are indexed online, in some cases with the images of the original documents. This can make it easy to draft a family tree in hours when it would take years to have done it in the 1970s. However it is still important to understand what is available, why it was recorded, how it is accessed and also the errors that can creep in. While some of these services cost money, the costs are trivial compared with the time and travel costs of the 1970s once inflation is allowed for.

Your problem seems to be that you are having difficulty in using the online resources and as a result I spent a couple of hours investigating the Lewis connections online, using three online services. These were FreeBMB (for births, marriage and death registrations after 1837), familysearch (for baptisms and marriages - best before 1837 and for members of the Church of England). and Ancestry for the census returns (there are other census sites - but I chose this one).

To do further research yourself you will need to learn how to use these sites effectively - so I will simply outline the information I found - leaving you to go online and find the details. I have also looked into the background of the White Hart Tap and the Eagle & Child, which involves key information not readily available to you and feal with this separately.

Search for Edwin Francis Lewin

  1. FreeBMD: Search for birth between 1840 and 1860: Found in 1843 - together with reference to purchase the birth certificate - which (assuming he was illegitimate) will at least give the address where he was born - which could be a vital clue.
  2. familysearch: Using the birth date look for baptism: Found in 1843 - mother Mary, no father listed.
  3. Ancestry: Looked for Edwin Lewis born Hertfordshire circa 1843 in census returns. Nothing for 1851 or 1861. In 1871 and 1881 living in Paddington with wife Elizabeth. In 1891 living in Clapham with wife Louisa. In each case with children.
  4. FreeBMD: Search for marriages - as marriage certificates might give a clue to father's name. (Where a child is illegitimate he might insert a name here which could be a reflection of the truth - if his mother ever told him.) This shows he married Elizabeth Bland in London in 1870 and Louisa Foot in 1887. Purchasing the certificates will provide more information.

It may well be that none of these records throw any light on Edwin's father. However it was not uncommon to name illegitimate boys after their father, so perhaps his father was called Edwin Francis. There was a Francis family living in St Albans at the time but I haven't investigated this.

There are many possible reasons why Edwin is not easy to find in the 1851 and 1861 censuses. At the time of the census he may not have been recorded, or he may have been recorded incorrectly, For instance, in 1851 he may have been staying with a relative and been recorded as one of their children. Subsequently there may be some problems with interpreting the handwriting or faults in the indexing.

Search for Mary Lewis

  1.  Ancestry: A search for "Mary Lewis" in Hertfordshire shows a likely candidate in 1841 (aged 19, born St Stephens, living in Shenley with father Harry, aged 40), in 1851 (aged 29 with father Harry, aged 50, born Sandridge), and in 1861 (aged 39, St Albans Workhouse). In 1851 Henry had a granddaughter called Emily (aged 11) who was probably the 2 year old Emma recorded in the 1841 census.
  2. FreeBMD. This shows two entries for Emma Lewis - one born in 1838 and the other 1839. One of these is presumably Harry's granddaughter - and probably Mary's illegitimate daughter. Purchase of the birth certificate should clarify this. It would be a clincher if both Emma and Edwin were born in the same house.
  3. Ancestry: A look at the 1851 census suggests that the 1838 Emma was probably the daughter of Richard and Hannah Lewis, of Keyfield Terrace, and the 1839 Emma was the granddaughter of Harry Lewis.
  4. familysearch: Unfortunately this does not show a suitable baptism for Mary circa 1822, which may simply mean she was not baptised in a church or chapel with surviving registers.

It is not uncommon for people with the same name and approximate age, to be living in the same area - see Right Name, Wrong Body. There was another younger Emma Lewis (aged 1 in the 1851 census, the daughter of Charles and Winifred Lewis). They were probably all cousins.

At the 1851 census Harry, Mary, and Emily were living at "Snatch Alley" and Harry was an agricultural labourer.  This is more normally referred to as "Snatchup Alley" and it is possible that Harry worked for Robert Smith at the nearby Heath Farm. Twenty years later my great grandfather, Jacob Reynolds, became the farmer of Heath Farm. There is extensive information on Bernards Heath on this web site.

If the evidence points to Edwin having a sister called Emma or Emily it may be that there are some cousins you do not know about. For instance FreeBMD shows that an Emily Lewis married in St Albans in 1868 - Could this be her???

Search for Caroline Skinner, nee Lewis

  1. Ancestry: In 1861 George and Caroline Skinner were living in New London Road - and this provides the information that Caroline was 37 and born in St Albans and had probably been married for about 15 years, with all children being born in St Albans. They were living next door to a public house, the publican being Thomas Field.
  2. Ancestry: as we now know Caroline's age and place of birth we can find her living with her parents, William and Ann Dagnall Lane, St Albans, in the 1841 census.
  3. familysearch: This shows that Caroline was baptised in the Abbey (then just an extremely large parish church, urgently needing restoration), Using the batch number shows she was the only child of William and Ann to be baptised there - despite the census showing other children.
  4. familysearch: A further search showed that two earlier children Ann (1820) and William (1821) were baptised in the Dagnall Lane Old Meeting House

It is virtually certain that Caroline and Mary Lewis were not sisters - but if William and Harry were brothers Caroline and Mary Lewis would have been first cousins.

The Lewis family appear to have non-conformist connections - see Where to look before 1837 when the Parish Registers don't help. This means it might prove difficult to trace for earlier dates if there are not relevant baptisms on familysearch.

The Alma was on the New London Road - presumably on the corner of Alma Road (a public house is marked at this point on large scale O.S. maps) and the Eagle & Child was close to it, on New London Road. It would seem that George was at the White Hart Tap in 1859 and at the time Lizzie Catherine Skinner was born in 1860. However he had moved to what must have been the Eagle & Child beer house by the time of the 1861 census.

Mary Hider commented by providing the following additional information: When I first began this, I used all my father's manuscript notes, letters, etc & original sources. He'd had a letter that Edwin Francis Lewis might have married again - now that's proved. I do have the birth certificate (Poundfield) and have ordered the one for Emma 1839 to see if she's a half/sister. His marriage certifcate records his father also as Edwin Francis Lewis, a Law Clerk (perhaps to hide his illegitimacy).  One of the witnesses was Eliza Skinner and J. W. Syms (the man she married).

Edwin Francis was employed at William Whitely's in Westbourne Grove, Bayswater, and when he left 31 Oct 1889, was presented with of a card case/wallet that I have. Later he lived with his son, Hugh Llewellyn Lewis "until they moved to Leyton to escape from him, when it would seem he lived with Fanny and family, where he died 12 Nov 1905, 42 Laitwood Road, Balham" [my father's words].
His eldest son, Francis Henry 'Frank' I have recorded as b. 13 Mar 1867 (tho oddly there's another son of the same name b. 1881 in the census) and I'm sitting at 'Uncle Frank's table now. (We had to take his furniture in at St. Albans and could never dispose of it in case he needed to claim it again!). Frank lived and worked at W. S. Green's drapery store in St. Albans but about 1912 opened a shop at 58 London Road, St. Albans selling ladies' wear. My father, Leslie, moved with his parents Ernest Walter 'Jack' and Mary Elizabeth to live with him over the shop but moved in about 1913 to Hart Road - the house named 'Lesvic'.
I knew Uncle Frank when I was a child and his wife Marian Amy Chew ['May'] and traced what info I can - with one remaining mystery. Their wedding had been 14 Feb 1920 but in my father's diary this had been crossed out in 1955. I would have been 5 and the story I had always remembered was they went to a pub in Ashridge or Aldbury to celebrate their wedding anniversary but when she went to the ladies' she took the door to the cellar by mistake and fell to her death there. I can't substantiate that from any sources tho.

April, 2010

Mary Hider provided an update:  I've just received the death certificate for Marian Amy Lewis (nee Chew) that gave me the details to confirm my recollection of the tragedy of her death. It records that she died on 6 Sept 1955 at the Bridgewater Arms Hotel, Little Gaddesden. She died of a fractured skull and other injuries accidentally sustained when she fell down a flight of cellar steps. There was a coroner's inquest on 12 Sept. I thought I remembered being told that she and Frank had gone out for a meal and that when she went to the ladies, she took the wrong door.  Well, I guess that has put my mind at rest and she may rest in peace too.

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

January 2010   Page created
April 2010   Update message