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A Headache from Start to Finish
by Kevin Herridge

Part Three

William Frederick married Kathleen SMITH on October 3rd, 1936 and Henry George married Gladys LEGGE in 1938. The Second World War started in 1939 and Canning Town suffered from heavy bombing due to its close proximity to the docks and factories. During the Blitz the family would seek the safety of their air raid shelter. On October 16th, 1940, their shelter received a direct hit and John and his daughter Violet were killed. The rest of the family, except those in the forces, were buried alive and had to be dug out by rescuers. The report of “Bomb Damage in West Ham 1939-40” shows that on October 16th, 1940, an H.E. (high explosive) bomb was dropped on South Merton (sic) Road off Ashburton Road at 22.09. The ARP Warden’s Report (warden 2P 10) shows that “an H.E. bomb was dropped at 22.09, there were no casualties, four houses were damaged and no services were sent.” A supplementary message at 23.15 stated there were 15 casualties. This was confirmed by Warden 2P 12 who stated that at 22.14 an H.E. bomb was dropped on Butchers Road between Ashburton and Watford Roads. He too stated there were “no casualties, four houses demolished and no service sent.” A supplementary message at 23.16 stated there were “15 casualties – trapped in shelter and services were sent.” Both Wardens were clearly reporting the same bomb damage as South Morton Road backed on to Butchers Road and both roads lay between Watford and Ashburton Roads. John and Violet Ann were buried in a communal grave at East London Cemetery. The London Borough of Newham Records Office hold a photograph of the house with the roof collapsed and another of the back garden with the shelter blown out of the ground. I got copies and showed my Dad who confirmed they were of his house.

    I spent my “stuck” periods copying out all the HERRIDGE details from the International Genealogical Index by County and assembled them into little family trees. I also started collecting every mention I came across of my surname and all its variants. Shortly after I completed this my cousin Donna announced she was going to get married so the family organized a coach to take us all down to Canvey Island, Essex for the wedding. This was my chance. A captive audience! Wrong! Nobody on the coach could understand why I was interested in the family history. I was greeted with comments like, “What d’ya fink yer gonna find out then?”, “Whatcha doin’ that fer?”, “We never ‘ad no bleedin’ money,” “We never ‘ad nuffin’”, “We were related the DUNN family…the coat ‘n’ ‘at people.” I kept quiet and let my uncles “rabbit on.” I listened as they relived their memories but I had heard most of the stories before and did not learn anything new. When we arrived at the reception hall after the wedding I approached my aunts asking for full names of their children, their wives and husbands, and their children. As usual at a HERRIDGE get-together, a good time was had by all! The alcohol loosened their tongues and I managed to get back on the subject before they lapsed into a “HERRIDGE sing-song” of all the old East End tunes. On enquiring once again about their father I was greeted with, “You won’t find the ‘Old Man’s’ birth registration ‘cos ‘e was born in a caravan – ‘e was a Gypsy!,” “No ‘e wasn’t, ‘e was born in Scotland,”  “No, ‘e was born in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs.” All were feasible but which, if any, was correct? It was back to the other ancestors’ families.

    I decided to work on Mum’s family. Her great grandparents (BECKMANN and SCHWARZ) were German. Her father’s mother was of Gypsy and Irish descent (FRY and WHELAN) and her mother was of mixed Catholic Irish and possibly Welsh heritage (SHELDRAKE, MEAGHAN and LEWIS). I could see more problems stacking up in front of me. Her ancestors seemed to be on the lowest rung of the ladder in the social scale of London. Many colourful stories about these families have been handed down…but they are to be found in my mother’s family history.

    I started by checking through the baptism and marriage registers of St. Lukes, Canning Town, Essex (now part of West Ham in the London Borough of Newham). Mum’s parents were married there so I thought I would find lots of her family. I started from the beginning of the baptism records and to my absolute delight found the baptism of my grandfather, John HERRIDGE! It was dated November 22nd, 1885 and his date of birth given as March 25th, 1881. On November 9th, 1885 was his sister Beatrice Sophia (born October 26th, 1884) and on November 13th, 1885 was yet another sister, Alice Louisa but no date of birth. Two brothers followed; William in 1886 and Alfred Alexander in 1887. The family were residing at 15 Hill Street, Plaistow and John’s occupation was given as ‘engine driver.’ I purchased William’s birth certificate to find his mother’s maiden name to be Louisa FOREMAN. I was on my way! I easily located John and Louisa’s marriage certificate to discover they were married on November 3rd, 1874, in St. Mary Magdellan Church, Peckham, Surrey and came under the Camberwell Registration District. So we were from Peckham? Both parties were 19 and living at 12 Oswell Terrace, Nunhead and John’s occupation was given as “labourer” and his father given as Thomas, also a labourer. The witnesses were Albert FOREMAN, Louise’s brother, and Harriet DUNN…remember the story from my cousin’s wedding that we were related to the DUNN’s, the coat and hat people? John had a sister Harriet so it was probably her. I never followed up on it. I purchased Alice Louisa’s birth certificate (December 23rd, 1875) and checked the address, 12 New James Street, on the 1881 Census but found no sign of them. John’s occupation was given as ‘navvy’ - short for navigator – usually ditch, canal or tunnel diggers.

    John died on August 20th, 1904, of “malignant disease of the kidney, haemorrage and asthenia.” His widow was present at his death and they were living at 30 Herbert Street, Plaistow. His occupation was given as ‘engine driver – stationary’ and he was buried at East London Cemetery, grave number 20200 (a common grave).

    I checked the I.G.I. for Surrey with no luck but then checked London and found a John that fitted. John HERRIDGE was baptized on January 1st, 1854 at St. James, Garlickhithe in the City of London. His parents were Thomas and Eliza. Checking through the I.G.I. I found baptisms of more of his brothers and sisters: Elizabeth Ann, December 15th, 1850  (born November 15th, 1850) 1850; William Thomas, March 21st, 1852  (born January 2nd, 1852); Harriett Sarah, April 24th, 1859, all at St. James, Garlickhithe. A baptism for another son, Thomas, May 3rd, 1857 (born April 1st, 1857) was found at St. Michael, Queenhithe, City of London. A photograph taken of the riverfront and wharves, c.1859, shows that the scene never changed greatly until the 1950s. This area was just to the west of Southwark Bridge, on the north bank of the Thames and just a little southeast of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I visited St. James Church and photographed it (as I do with all family churches) and signed the visitor’s book. I mentioned in the remarks column that I was descended from John and added his baptism date. Some weeks later I received a letter from the churchwarden who had seen my entry and he kindly sent me details of the other children’s baptisms. I wrote back and thanked him and also mentioned the baptism at St. Michael’s. In his reply he told me he had access to that church’s records and that the family were living at 16 Trinity Lane in 1857. Trinity Lane ran parallel with, and between, Cannon Street and Upper Thames Street.

    I purchased John’s birth certificate and found the address to be 4 Kennet Wharf Lane, Lower Thames Street, a tiny lane running from Lower Thames Street down to Kennet Wharf on the banks of the Thames. As this was mid-way between Census years I purchased William’s birth certificate and found the families’ address to be 5 Worcester Place, Upper Thames Street. This too was a tiny lane running from Upper Thames Street down to Worcester Wharf and contained about eight houses and some warehouses. There was no trace of the family at that address in the 1851 Census but they were living in the same lane that John was born in but at number 13 Kennet Wharf Lane. William’s birth certificate gave me his mother’s maiden name, Eliza JOSEY.

    The Census return was a major breakthrough. It told me that Thomas was 23, a ‘carman’; Eliza was 23 also and Elizabeth Ann was 4. Eliza’s brother, Thomas JOSEY, was also staying with them, a 22 year-old soldier. Most importantly it told me the three adults were all born in Purley, Berkshire. They shared the house with James and Elizabeth CARTER, Elizabeth’s children (George and Catherine READ) and three lodgers – George DAVIS, George NEWMAN and Robert CORNWELL. It would seem a little overcrowded!

    The 1861 Census found the family living at 1 Black Swan Alley (don’t these addresses sound romantic – like something out of Oliver Twist!). I could not find Black Swan Alley on any of the old maps I had so I wrote to the Greater London Record Office to ask them. Black Swan Alley had been the old name for Kennet Wharf Lane. Thomas the father and Thomas the son were missing from the Census. Had they died? A quick check at St. Catherine’s House showed a Thomas death had been registered in the March quarter of 1858. As Eliza was given as married and head of the family in the Census I had to purchase the death certificate to see if she was a widow or not. At least that was my intention on my next trip to London.

    In the meantime I joined the Berkshire Family History Society and attended their Open Day at Reading Library. There I met Jean DEBNEY who was in charge of the Society’s library and bookstall. I got talking to her and soon discovered she lived in Purley and had a wealth of knowledge on the village and its history. She kindly let me photocopy all of her notes and they added greatly to my knowledge of the HERRIDGE family in the area. Amongst her notes was the burial of Thomas in Purley on August 25th, 1861. I purchased his death certificate and discovered he had died of “Diseased lung. Two months certified.” His occupation was given as ‘farm labourer’ and his age as 34. This then made Eliza a widow and the Thomas that died in 1858 was probably her son. He had certainly been living in a very unhealthy atmosphere in London. Living only a matter of yards from the rat infested wharves on the Thames, it must have been damp, foggy and extremely smelly! Cholera was rife in London at this time and 35 public wells were still in use in the City of London in 1866. The ‘Great Stink’ of 1858 was a “combination of an unusually hot, dry summer and the newly installed sewers which belched into the Thames. The stench was so bad that the river excursions had to be stopped and…nobody went near the river unless they had to. The same problem occurred occasionally until the late 1860s when BAZALGETTE’s drainage system came into operation.” (‘The London Encyclopedia’ – Weinreb & Hibbert, 1983).

Part Four


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