It is an interesting question when you ask a couple how they met. Did they get together through mutual friends, or perhaps through a shared hobby? Maybe they met at university, or bumped into one another in the pub. For younger couples, a dating website may have provided the introduction. I like asking this question because there’s often a great story to tell. You also find out more about the couple, perhaps where they once lived, what jobs they were doing, their common interests etc. Similarly, it can be useful to look at the how your ancestors got together. By doing so, you may well discover something interesting about their lives. I thought I could best illustrate this by looking at courtships in my own family, starting with my two sets of grandparents and then my four sets of great grandparents.
Paternal Grandparents – Herbert & Frances
My paternal grandparents, Herbert Batchelor and Frances Powell, met at chapel, specifically the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Cooling, Kent, where they both sang in the choir. As an old lady, Frances related this story to her grandchildren; one year, as a prank, she sent Valentine’s Day cards to all the boys in the choir, including Herbert. This was how their romance was kindled. Though a small, but charming tale, it reveals that my grandparents both had a love of singing. It is also no surprise that they met at church, as their mutual Christian faith was a feature of their long and happy marriage.
Herbert came from a prosperous farming family whilst Frances was from a more modest background, her father being a cooper at the local cement works. When they married on October 23 1912, at the chapel where they had sang together, Frances was just 22 years old, whilst Herbert was two years older. However, they would have both left school by the age of 14, Herbert to work on his father’s farm and Frances to go into service, so they could have been courting for a long time. At the time of the 1911 census, just one year prior to their marriage, Frances was working as a domestic servant for an ironmonger in Kensington, London. I wonder how long the couple had been living so far from each other? As a servant, Frances would have had very little time off, perhaps a few hours on a Sunday. Did Herbert take the train from Kent and meet up with her in London? Did they write letters and postcards to each other? It must have been a real love story.
Maternal Grandparents – Ernest and Maggie
The story of how my maternal grandparents met is rather different. They got together because of a family connection, as they were second cousins. After the death of his mother, my grandfather, Ernest Bullock, was sent off to sea and joined the Royal Navy as a stoker when he turned eighteen. Rather than go back home to Wantage, Berkshire, (particularly, as his father had remarried), he spent his leave with his elder sister, Amy, who was working in London. Amy was employed by Lady Beauchamp of Madresfield Court, Worcestershire, as a nursery governess. The family had a London home at 2, The Boltons, in South Kensington:
Ernest describes one of his visits to Amy in his memoirs:
I had a sister in service as a nursery governess at No. 2 “The Boltons” in South Kensington, so I made my way there and rang the bell. I knew the maid that answered the door but she didn’t know me in my untidy state. I asked for my sister who guessed that it was I when informed that it was a sailor who was the caller. I explained the circumstances to my sister whereupon she asked her mistress if I could stay there for the time being. Permission was readily granted. I was given the full treatment, a hot bath, a splendid meal, a night-cap, and one of the maid’s beds to sleep in. It was no surprise that I slept the clock round. On awaking, the bed was surrounded with friends and relatives who thought that I was never going to wake up. A shave and brush up did wonders to my appearance as did the meals I had. The leave passed all too quickly and I returned to the ship only to be sent with the whole crew into the barracks for draft to another ship.Memoirs of Ernest William Bullock 1893-1978
Was my grandmother, Maggie, one of the relatives around the bed? Maggie Bullock, was the eldest of three daughters and grew up in the small village of Wylye, Wiltshire, close to Salisbury. After she left school, probably in the summer of 1911, she was sent into service in London. When an old lady, I remember asking her where in London she had worked. Unfortunately, she couldn’t remember but she was familiar with all the main stores so it was probably close to the West End. Many years later, when my uncle had a posting to India and needed to purchase suitable clothing for the climate, my grandmother apparently knew exactly where to go. As a young girl away from home for the first time, living in the big city, Maggie was put in touch with her second cousin, Amy. Maggie visited Amy from time to time and it was on one of those visits that she met Amy’s younger sailor brother, my grandfather, Ernest. With the end of the First World War, Ernest managed to get a few days shore leave at Christmas and married his sweetheart, Maggie, at his bride’s home church of Wylye on December 23rd 1918:
This story tells me that the fathers of Ernest and Maggie, (who were first cousins) must have stayed in touch. Though they lived in different parts of the country and probably had never personally met, family ties must have remained strong.
Maternal Great Grandparents – Josiah & Lucy
My great grandmother, Lucy Nock, was born in Hagley, Worcestershire, in 1858, the daughter of a gardener who worked for Lord Lyttelton at Hagley Hall. Lucy didn’t have much chance of an education for by the age of 12, she was working, alongside her elder sister, Harriet, as an assistant housemaid for an attorney at law in Stourbridge, (as recorded in the 1871 census). Ten years later, in the 1881 census, she was still working as a housemaid in domestic service, but as she was enumerated as a visitor, her place of work is unknown. At the relatively mature age of 30, she married my great grandfather, Josiah Simeon Thomas Bullock, who was ten years her junior, at the parish church of Far Forest, Worcestershire on October 11 1888. She was described as a servant and her residence was Far Forest Vicarage, so her employer must have been the vicar, the Reverend Josiah Lea.
The irony is that Lucy and Josiah may never have met if Josiah hadn’t committed a theft. He was convicted of stealing a pair of boots whilst he was working as a goods porter in Cirencester, Gloucestershire. This resulted in him being sentenced to three months hard labour in Gloucester Prison. You can read the full story here. Josiah had worked for the Great Western Railway since April 1886 but as a result of his conviction, he lost his job in May 1887 and returned home to Far Forest, Worcestershire, where his father was the station master. Fortunately, he was able to get a new job working as an agent for the Prudential Assurance Society. It is likely that a romance was kindled between him and Lucy after he returned to Far Forest, which resulted in their marriage the following year.
I am sure Josiah regretted his actions and being sent to prison must have been a humbling experience. However, meeting Lucy was one good thing that came about as a result of this sorry affair. Josiah must have swept Lucy off her feet, despite being a decade her junior and with a criminal conviction to boot. If he hadn’t had stolen the boots he would have remained in Cirencester and would probably have married someone else.
Maternal Great Grandparents – Albert & Minnie
Work was often the reason why a person moved to a different place and consequently, they then met their beloved. My great grandfather, Albert Simeon Bullock was a signalman for the Great Western Railway who was born in Bristol in 1870. From his railway employment records, I know that on March 16 1895, he was posted to the village of Wylye, Wiltshire, and it was here that he met my great grandmother, Minnie Gale, a local girl. They married the following year on August 17 1896 in the parish church of Wylye. They would have known each other for less than eighteen months. Minnie had lost her mother as a young teenager but unlike her three sisters, who had to leave home and find work as domestic servants, Minnie’s job was to be a housekeeper for her widowed father (as recorded in the 1891 census). If her mother hadn’t had passed away, she might have left Wylye and therefore, never have met Albert.
Paternal Great Grandparents – George & Rose
Work also brought my great grandfather, George Henry Powell to Cliffe in Kent. George was a native of the Isle of Wight, where he worked as a cooper in the local cement works, but when the industry went into decline there, he upped sticks and found a new job at the cement works in Cliffe. It was here that he met his sweetheart, Rose, the daughter of George Thorndike, who was the beerhouse keeper of the Victoria Inn on Church Street, Cliffe.
In Cliffe, at this time, there was a big influx of young, single men who had come from all over the country to work in the cement works. Of course, far from home, they all needed to find lodging. In the 1881 census, there were seven young men lodging at the Victoria Inn. Although I don’t know exactly when George arrived in the village, (some time in the 1880s), he could well have found digs at the Victoria Inn and met his future wife there. Certainly, Rose would have helped out at the family business. Did their eyes meet across the bar? They were married on June 22 1890 in the nearby parish church of Frindsbury, ten days after the birth of my grandmother, Frances, so George did the decent thing in the end.
Paternal Great Grandparents – George & Elizabeth
How my great grandparents, George Alfred Batchelor and Elizabeth Jane Maton met is a bit of a mystery, largely due to the absence of Elizabeth in the 1881 census. George, born in 1858, grew up in Cooling, Kent, with his family who had moved there in 1870. His father, James was a farmer and beerhouse keeper, and he became a farmer too though as a Methodist, he was teetotal so no beerhouse for him. Elizabeth was born many miles away in Hampshire, in the village of Amport, in 1862.
George and Elizabeth wed in the parish church of Cooling on March 16 1885 but how did Elizabeth land up in Kent? At the time of the 1881 census, Elizabeth’s parents and all her younger siblings, (she was the eldest), were recorded in Salisbury, Wiltshire, but Elizabeth is missing from the household. Unfortunately, I can’t find her anywhere in the 1881 census. As a young unmarried woman, aged 19, it seems likely that she was working in service somewhere, perhaps even in Kent. Coincidentally, (or not so coincidentally), George’s married brother, James William and his wife and daughter are also missing from this census. Almost certainly, his family were living in Cooling at the time, as James, like his brother and father, was a local farmer. It seems probable that the enumerator carelessly missed them from the enumeration. Could Elizabeth have been working for James and was this was how she met his brother, George? It’s a theory, if far from proven.
I’ve enjoyed looking at the stories of how my grandparents, and then my great grandparents, met each other. Herbert and Frances enjoyed singing in the choir and their shared Christian faith brought them together, even though their courtship must have been marked by a long period of separation. Ernest and Maggie only set eyes on each other because their families had stayed in touch and they both found themselves in London, Ernest’s sister, Amy, being the accidental matchmaker. For some couples, it seems a pure fluke that their paths crossed. Josiah and Lucy would probably have never met if Josiah hadn’t lost his job and been forced to return home after spending time in prison. Albert happened to be posted to Wylye where he met and courted his sweetheart Minnie. She may well have moved away from home if her mother hadn’t died young. George moved from his home on the Isle of Wight to find work in Cliffe, Kent because of an economic downturn in the cement industry back at home. He could well have met Rose in her family pub, the Victoria Inn, and even found lodging there. It is still a mystery how George and Elizabeth met, as George was from Kent whilst Elizabeth was from Hampshire. Was she working in service locally for George’s elder brother, James? These examples from my own family history illustrate that just like today, couples often met as a result of a new job, a shared interest, mutual ties or even in the pub. There just wasn’t any online dating!
© Judith Batchelor 2021