Answers to Questions


PIGGOTT, St Albans,  early 20th century

June, 2011



St Albans

Richard Castle (thecastles @t writes from the USA: I am looking for the name of my great grandfather.  Here's what I know:-

My great grandmother, Minnie Castle, was born in Hendon, Middlesex on October 8, 1877 (reference birth record Vol. 3A, Page 161). In the 1901 Census she is listed as Minnie Piggott, the wife of James Piggott living at 41 Hatfield Road, St. Albans.  They also have a 1 year old daughter, Elizabeth Piggott.

On August 29, 1910, she gave birth to my grandfather, James Castle in Oster House, St. Albans (reference birth record Vol. 3A, Page 829). At this point she has restored her surname to Castle from Piggott and evidentially split or divorced from James Piggott. There is no father's name listed on my grandfather's birth certificate. My great grandmother is listed on the birth certificate as being "a laundress of Watson's Row, St. Albans".  She is also listed as being resident of Oster House, St. Albans which makes me wonder if she was living in the work house at the time.

I can find no record of my great grandmother or grandfather in the 1911 census but I did find James Piggott who is now listed as single and living as a boarder at the Bee Hive Pub in Watson's Row, St. Albans.  

In 1918, Minnie Castle re-married James Piggott in St. Albans (reference marriage record Vol. 3A, Page 1444) and they lived together until death.

I don't believe that James Piggott is my great grandfather but I can find no trace of who is.  Since there is a strong connection with Oster House at the time of my grandfather's birth my next step was to check visitor records at the hospital around that time but I'm not sure how to go about that. 

When there is no father's name on the birth certificate, and there is no father's name on the marriage certificate (which you do not mention but I assume you have checked) the reality is that in the majority of cases there could well be no surviving record of the real father's name (assuming it was ever recorded elsewhere). In this case there has clearly been some kind of relationship between James Piggott and Minnie Castle and this needs to be a starting point for any investigation - to look for definite evidence one way or the other. The first stage is to gather all the information one can easily get together and see if it points in any particular direction. - So lets look at what we already know, and what I can winkle out of the records..

In the 1881 and 1891 censuses James was living with parents and siblings in Adelaide Street, St Albans. The 1881 census records the following:

Thomas Piggott Head 63 Chalk Pit Labourer Harpenden
Sarah Piggott Wife 58   Holloway, Middlesex
Thomas Piggott Son 25 Brick Labourer Harpenden
Henry Piggott Son 23 Brick Labourer Harpenden
Arthur Piggott Son 17 Brick Labourer St Michael
Alfred Piggott Son 14 Milk Boy St Peter
James Piggott Son 11 Scholar St Peter

By the time of the 1891 census Sarah was a widow. It is clear that James was the youngest of a large family where all the men were labourers of some description. I note with interest that in 1881 three of the sons were brick workers, as Adelaide Street is not far from Bernards Heath. They probably worked in one of the brick pits described in The Brickmakers of St Albans while young Alfred might even have been a milk boy delivering milk for my great grandfather, Jacob Reynolds of Heath Farm. Everything suggests they were poor and it is possible that some or all were illiterate.

My detailed researches of this part of St Albans reveal two court cases involving James Piggott.

The Herts Advertiser of 25th October 1890 (summarised in St Albans News of 1890) reported:

GAMBLING ON SUNDAY. George Harvey, William Little, Edward Grover, James Piggott and Samuel Simpson pleaded not guilty to playing cards on the Highway on Sunday, October 12th. They were seen by P.C. Sparks on Sunday at 3.30 in the Green-lane, near Oster-hills. They had formed a ring and were playing cards. The constable heard some money jingle and seized Harvey. He obtained cards from Harvey who said they belonged to Grover. He got 1s 8d from Harveyís hands in half pennies and pence. They were covered in dirt, where they had been lying on the ground. Various fines from £2 to 10s were imposed on the four. The case against Edward Little [sic] was dismissed with the admonition that if he is brought up again he will be severely dealt with.

On the 31 March 1894 the paper reported that James Piggott was fined for playing cards in St Peters Churchyard. The newspaper cuttings collection that these extracts come from only represents a small percentage of the St Albans news published in the last years of the 19th century. It is therefore possible that there were other cases involving James Piggott and that he spent several periods in custody.

There is no sign of a marriage between a James Piggott and Minnie Castle between 1890 and the 1901 census but in the Jan-March quarter of 1900 the birth of Elizabeth Piggott was registered in St Albans. The information on this birth certificate could well be relevant - right down to the name of the person who registered the birth and whether they could write their own name or merely made a mark.

What we do know is that James, Minnie and baby Elizabeth are living in Hatfield Road at the time of the 1901 census. The fact that Minnie is described as "wife" is no evidence of their being legally married. Definitely if they were illiterate the person who filled in the original household form would not have been so indiscrete as to ask to see the marriage certificate,

James Piggott Head 30 Bricklayers Labourer St Albans
Minnie Piggott Wife 24   Childs Hill, Middlesex
Elizabeth Piggott Daughter 1   St Albans
George Piggott Brother, widower 56   Harpenden

If the couple continued to live together the big question is whether they had any other children in the next few years and a check of St Albans births in FreeBMD helps. A number of Piggott and Castle children are registered and some turn up with other parents in the 1911 census and can be eliminated.   One particular case caught my eye.

The birth of Minnie Piggott in St Albans in the Oct-Dec quarter of 1907 is interesting as Minnie is not that common a name - so was she named after her mother? Even more relevantly a Minnie Castle, aged 5, died in St Albans in the Oct-Dec quarter of 1912! Again full details of the certificates might provide clues.

As you say, James Castle was born in "Oster House" in 1910 - a convenient way of recording his place of birth without explicitly saying the Workhouse.  My reaction is that he could have been named James after his father - something which was quite common - especially when the parents were not married and the mother wanted to record a connection with the father.

So it looks as if James and Minnie had daughters in 1900 and 1907 - so if they were living as man and wife what happened between 1900 and 1907 in the days before contraception. A return to FreeBMD shows there were two Piggott girls born in St Albans in this period who are missing from the 1911 census - but appear not to have died before the census. These are Sarah Piggott (birth registered June 1901) and Lily Piggott (birth registered June 1904). Could these be the daughters of James and Minnie? The only way to find out would be to buy the birth certificates.

The 1911 census is frustrating. The brothers George (66, widower), Arthur (45) and James (40) Piggott were all described as single general labourers boarding  at the "Bee Hive", Watson Row, St Albans. All the other boarders were male, and mostly labourers or other possibly lowly occupations. It is possible that the Beehive was being used as a kind of hostel for men who were capable of work but would otherwise be in the Workhouse.

However there is no sign of Minnie (34), Elizabeth (11), ?Sarah? (10), ?Lily? (7), Minnie (3) or James (1) Castle/Piggott in the online census index.  I could not find any records for anyone in the Union Workhouse at Oster Hill on the Findmypast web site - so I can't prove that the missing four  (or six) were in the Workhouse. (It is not clear to me whether the Workhouse census returns have not survived or whether there is some other reason for them not appearing in an online search.)

As you say in 1918 James Piggott married Minnie Castle and presumably the marriage certificate gives occupations, addresses and signatures of both the couple and the witnesses. Did they both give the same address - suggesting that they were already living in the same house.

[? A Sarah Piggott married Frederick F Nutt in St Albans the following quarter, 1918. If Sarah is James and Minnie's daughter the note below re Elizabeth is even more relevant to this marriage.]

An Elizabeth Piggott married a John Egan in St Albans in the April-June quarter of 1919 ref 3a 2049. She may have been the Elizabeth Piggott of the 1901 census - and the marriage certificate should give the name of her father. (If she is the right Elizabeth - did she give her parent's 1918 address as her own. James and Minnie might have decided to get married and regularise the children when Elizabeth became engaged.)

[? A Lily Piggott married Harry Heath in St Albans in 1924]

Was the James Castle who married Edith Chinnook in St Albans in 1932 your grandfather - and if so what, if anything does the certificate say about his father? Who were the witnesses. Did they include and of his sisters or brothers in law?


If Sarah, Lily and Minnie turn out to be the children of James Piggott & Minnie Castle and sisters (or half-sisters) to James Castle, the family would be a perfectly normal one with the following exceptions

(1) The couple did not married until a few months before one of their daughters got married. (Possibly when planning Sarah's marriage the minister discovered that her parents had never married.

(2) When James was born in 1910 in the Workhouse his birth was registered (by a Workhouse official?) in a way that reflected that Minnie Castle was not married. (True.)

(3) In the 1911 census James Piggott was described as being single (True - he had not yet married Minnie) and may have been living in accommodation which housed many poor labourers - perhaps as an arrangement with the Workhouse.

(4) Minnie Castle and five children which appear to be hers are all missing from the 1911 census but all are later recorded as later living in St Albans. They could well have been in the Workhouse  - where relevant census records appear to be missing.

(5) When the junior Minnie died her death was registered as Minnie Castle.

In order to understand the confusion it is important to realise that workhouses had different accommodation arrangements for men and women, and also for older children. Husbands, wives and older children were separated - and the workhouse officials  would undoubtedly be aware that James and Minnie were not married - and so they would not have been treated "the couple" as being married. Even if James and Minnie had been living as man and wife it is possible that they treated her as an unmarried mother when she was "under their care" and any children records would then use her maiden name as their surname.

If the purchase of additional certificates supports the above family reconstruction the situation becomes more like a normal family if we assume that all records made by James Piggott and Minnie Castle represented them as being married while all records made by the workhouse staff treated Minnie Castle being an unmarried mother.

The only "problem" is with the young James Castle who might have switched his name to James Piggott. However a lot depends on how long he was in the workhouse - and whether he ever integrated with the other members of his family when he left the workhouse. For instance if James Castle blamed his "father" James Piggott for the family being in the Workhouse he might very well decided not to switch names.

Actions Required

Much of the above involves a degree of speculation which can possibly be resolved by buying a number of birth, marriage or birth certificates, depending on how much detail you require. I would be most interested to have full details you obtain and possibly comment further. If you purchase more certificates get them from the official GRO web site. Commercial web sites such as Ancestry, charge a significant premium for something which you can do just as easily yourself.

A Final Question for possible Further Research

Why did the family go into the workhouse?  The final suggested portrait of the family suggests in about 1909 they were poor, had a family of four (with another on the way).  One possibility is that James may have ended up in prison, leaving the family without a bread winner.

### Late News ###

While the 1911 census data is not on the FindMyPast web site, within hours of the above appearing online Anthony has kindly sent me a copy from the Ancestry web site which shows Minnie and her children (all given the name Castle) in the St Albans Workhouse).

It is reassuring that my prediction was correct - but infuriating that there is this glaring hole in the FindMyPast website. More on what went wrong and why in my next full blog.

The Hole in FindMyPast

After a misunderstanding, for which they apologised, I got the following reply.

With regards to the pages for these records, after my own research this morning I contacted our application data team who have replied and agreed that there has been a serious issue with the indexing. They now have the full details and will add these however this will not reflect on the site until the next refresh occurs.

We do have a quality control team who will investigate any reported transcript or image issues and make corrections or rescan images where necessary.

The indexing of the records is performed by a separate team.  Prior to records being released to the live site, the records are tested to ensure images are available etc however due to the amount of records on line and in comparison the relatively small group of staff who have time to allocate to testing, some issues will be reported by customers such as you have done on this occasion.

Thank you again for your comments and I do hope that I have been able to address these for you.

More Information

Richard replied: Many thanks for supplying this information along with the 1911 Census view of the workhouse; much of it lines up with what I was previously told from family members (I did not know about Minnie Castle Jr. however).  I feel like now we need to get to the bottom of this mystery.   I do not have a copy of my grandmothers and grandfathers (Edith Chinnock and James Castle) marriage certificate to show at this time but I have been told by my aunt who looked at it yesterday, that a father of James Castle is not listed on the certificate. 

One of the informative things about marriage certificates is the identity of the witnesses, who are often brothers or sisters, or other close relatives  and friends, of either the bride or the groom.  (However sometimes they can merely be the churchwarden who was helping out.)  In this family it could be interesting to see if there were any Castle or Piggot witnesses.

I do have a copy of my grandfather's birth certificate, which is attached.  I also have a copy of Minnie Castle's birth certificate which I have also attached.  The reason I bring this up is that her father was also named James and her mother's name is Elizabeth.  Could it be that Minnie named her first child after her mother and her one and only son (my grandfather) after her father as opposed to naming him after James Piggott?


So Minnie had two possible good reasons for calling her son James.  

There is also one further child of Minnie Castle that you have not acknowledged yet - Florence Castle who was born in December 1914.  I previously ordered her birth certificate in the hopes that a father's name would be listed but once again it is blank.  Interestingly though on this one, Piggott is recognized as one of her forenames but Castle is still the surname.  I have to believe that in this case the last name was intended to be Piggott but the record was entered incorrectly.

If any error was made it was in registering the older children under the name Piggott rather than Castle! In a male dominated society an unmarried mother could not walk into the registrar's office and simply have a man's name entered on the certificate as the father. What a wonderful opportunity for blackmail. If the parents were not officially married I believe that the father's name could only be entered if he registered the birth. When Elizabeth was born, and at the time of the 1901 census, James and Minnie were living as Mr & Mrs Piggott. The registrar would take her word that she was Mrs Piggott and enter the father's name.  (No blackmail - because she misrepresented the situation by illegally claimed she was married to the father - which she obviously was not.) By the time James junior was born his mother and siblings all are being recorded with the surname Castle - because the workhouse knew that Minnie was unmarried.

So Minnie turned up to register Florence's birth, and for some reason the Registrar knows she is not married, so refuses to enter James's name in the father box. Minnie want to called the child Piggott - so included it as a given name. This use of the father's surname as a given name was not unusual in these circumstances.

Is it possible to look at prison records for the period to see if and when James Piggott was in prison?  This may help on deducing if he is my great grandfather or not.  How do I go about doing that? 

If James was, in fact, sent to prison in the St Albans area there would be three potential sources of information, which will almost certainly not be available online and need a visit to the relevant archive to view..

  1. The Court system - which has a number of different records for different courts - althought there is likely to be a preliminary hearing before the Justices of the Peace followed by the actual case at a higher court. There may be some records at HALS (Hertfordshire Archives and Library Service).

  2. The local newspapers some of which are available on microfilm at the St Albans Library or the British Library Newspaper Collection. This can be very helpful - but only if you know the dates pretty accurately as they are unindexed and you have to read the paper page by page, week by week! (The Times is available online - but the case would only be mentioned in the National Press if it was exceptional in some way.)

  3. Prison Records - I know nothing about these except that I believe some information is available in the National Archives at Kew.

Also, is there any information available about the local conditions at that time that may make a person turn to crime?  For example was there a recession going on or was St. Albans a depressed area in the years prior to World War One?  Or was it simply a way of life for poorer, less educated, people to have to turn to crime to survive?

The poor and socially inadequate are always with us. Clearly it was much harder to be poor a century ago. This web site includes the text and pictures of a talk I gave some years ago under the title Poaching and Petty Thieving in St Albans. This relates to a period a generation or so earlier, and follows the repeated court appearances of the Stratton family in some detail. I have come across cases where a homeless man appeared before the courts because he went into a brick works over Christmas and put some extra coal on a dying fire in order to keep warm.

I also have a question about my grandfathers surname; you say that he may well have decided not to switch names when James Piggott and Minnie Castle finally married in 1918 but at that time he would have been only 8 years old and as a juvenile not in a position to choose his own last name.  My question is why did James and Minnie Piggott choose not to change his name?  The obvious answer is that it costs money and maybe they could not afford to do it but could there be anything else to it?

It has always been possible to change your name without having to register the change with any official body or pay a fee.. Actors and authors often adopt professional names which may be completely different to their birth names. People who change religions may also adopt a new name while many women now decide to continue using their maiden name after marriage.  It is still perfectly legal for anyone over the age of 16 to start using a new name at any time, as long as they are not doing so for a fraudulent or illegal reason. Children living with a step-father are often recorded as having his surname. Changing your name by Deed Poll (which costs money) was (and still is) only necessary when you need to have written proof of the change of name - possibly because you have entered into legal contracts under the old name and need documentary proof.

The young James was registered as James Castle and may well have gone to school with that name. There may even be school records (if they have survived they could be at HALS) which record him as James Piggott after his parents married. If one was to be legally pedantic he could be described as "James Castle A.K.A. James Piggott" and could easily use either name, whether or not James Piggott senior really was his real father.

We may never know why young James ended up choosing to use the name James Castle. when he married. However it is worth asking if James Piggott was the kind of father figure that James junior would have been proud of? He was definitely involved in gambling in his younger days, he may have gone to prison, and he left his family destitute - so that they ended up in the Workhouse.  In other queries on this site the relation between husband and wife may have been based on the old saying: "A wife, a dog and a walnut tree - the more you beat them the better they be" and I have come across a case where a women ended up in a mental asylum when what probably happened was that she hit her husband (how disgraceful in a male dominated society) in order to protect their children from his (possibly drunken) anger.

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

August 2011   Page created