The Smith Family

from Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire

and Hurley, Berkshire

What family historian hasn’t sighed - perhaps with dismay - or maybe just with resignation, when they discover a Smith within their family tree?  Being no different from others in this respect, I did wonder just how much I was going to be able to find out about Helen Smith (1847-1940) who married Alexander Fletcher (1846-1893) in 1873

My initial reservations were not justified - here is what I was able to discover: first of all…

The Eighteenth Century

The family of William Smith 1758-1853 and Mary 1771-1855

William Smith (1758-1853) and Mary (1771-1855): William was a labourer (1841 Census) and he and his wife had eight children, five boys and three girls. This Smith family spent most of their lives in Marlow in Buckinghamshire, with the exception of George, the third son, who settled in Hurley, only 3 miles away, but just over the county border, in Berkshire.

William, the eldest son, (b1797) in Great Marlow never married; he worked as a gentleman’s servant all his life, first in Great Marlow and then in Cookham, and died in the 1860’s.

Thomas (b1800) married Margaret Jones from Wales in the 1830’s,  and settled in the Temple district of Marlow. They had three children, William, Jane and George. Thomas’s occupation is always listed as “domestic servant” in the census records, so it would seem that he too continued in the family tradition of service. I could find no record of Thomas or Margaret after 1861, and so presume that they both died in the 1860’s.

Of David Smith (b1809) I was able to find no trace at all, apart from his birth and christening. The same, unfortunately, also applies to his sisters, Mary Ann (b1807), Betsey (b1811) and Grace (b1815).

The family of George Smith and Louisa Collins

George Smith, the third son (1802-1883), was born in Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire, like his brothers and sisters - just a few miles north of Hurley, in Berkshire, where his future wife Louisa Collins was born.

Louisa Collins’ father Thomas was a shoemaker. In old age, he was Hurley’s poundkeeper, and lived at the Pound Cottage. Louisa, named after her mother, was the eldest of eleven siblings, all of whom were born in Hurley and baptized in the parish church there.

George and Louisa met when they were in the service of the East Family, whose home was Hall Place in Hurley.  For a long time I failed to find a marriage for George and Louisa. At last I found a couple whose ages and names matched exactly; but the ceremony took place in St George’s Hanover Square, in London, which seemed altogether too grand a location for my ancestors, until I realised that the East family might well have had a town residence as well as their country mansion - and they did, in nearby (and very fashionable) Brook Street. And a town house needs servants, just as much as a country one!

This explains how George and Louisa came to make their marriage vows in the beautiful and elaborate eighteenth century surroundings of St George’s Hanover Square.

Once married, it is very likely that Louisa no longer worked as a domestic servant, and eventually George became the gardener for Hall Place. All eight of their children were born in the Garden House in the grounds of Hall Place.

Hall Place - the background

Hall Place has been part of the Berkshire College of Agriculture for the past 60 years.  The grounds are well kept, as you might expect, and the mansion itself is imposing and magnificent. The Garden House was being renovated in 1999, when I visited it.  I think it must have been a delightful place to grow up in 150 years ago, and once the renovations are finished, it will still make someone a very nice home today.

I wish I could tell you how long George Smith was in the service of the East family: I know that the Smith family were living on the estate in 1841 and 1851 (the Census). However I can find no record of the family in the 1861 Census, and by 1871 the family has moved away from the Estate. But if we assume that George’s working life began when he was fourteen (in 1816/17), he may well have spent all his working life, forty years or so, in one employ.

As I am interested in social history, as well as the more immediate history of my own family, I also made a note of the inhabitants of Hall Place in 1851. 

The head of this household was Gilbert East, aged 27, Baronet and Landowner.  Living with him were his widowed mother, a ‘Dame Annuitant’; an unmarried sister; his married sister and her husband; his four nephews and two nieces; and his mother-in-law.  To keep all these people in the style to which they were accustomed, it took one Governess, one Housekeeper, two Ladies Maids, one Laundry Maid, one Housemaid, and fifteen other Servants - and of course, George Smith the Gardener. 

Ref. - 1851 Census HO/107 Piece no.1694, ff.255-256. 

The children of George Smith and Louisa Collins

Eight children were born to George Smith and Louisa Collins: there were four boys and four girls.  Like her mother before her, Helen Smith (1847-1940)  my maternal great-grandmother, went into service as a lady’s maid, when she was old enough (1861 Census Ref.753 f.26 p19), and until she was married. She was the third daughter, and the sixth child in this family. Much later on, when widowed, she kept a boarding house in York Road, Hove, Sussex (1901 Census Ref.935 f.68 p2).  Unlike her husband Alexander, Helen was blessed with a long life. In old age she lived with her (twice-married) daughter, who had settled in Gorleston, near Yarmouth in Norfolk, before the Second World War.  Helen died in 1940, aged 92.

The lives of the other Smith children:

George Stephen, the eldest son (b1839), never strayed far from Hurley, as far as I can tell. He worked first as an auctioneer’s clerk (1861 Census) and later on as a clerk to a wine merchant (1881 Census). In both these records George is listed as being married, but his wife was not at home on the night the census was taken, and so I do not know who she was. In 1861 he was living in the house of his brother-in-law, and in 1881 he is living with his sister Emma, and their elderly parents, so his marriage must remain something of mystery.  I could not find him in the 1891 Census.

Charles David (1841-1918) the second son,  was a gardener all his life, like his father before him. Because the record of this family in the 1861 Census is lost (or it maybe that they were somehow omitted from the returns), we must speculate that by the age of 14 or 15 he would already have left home, and been apprenticed to his chosen trade. At some point in the 1850’s Charles went west, to Devon, to explore possibilities for work there. (I couldn’t find him there, either, in the 1861 Census.) But in the autumn of 1861, in Tavistock, he married a Devon girl, Charlotte Ackland (1839-1893).

Not long after that, sometime in the mid-1860’s, Charles and Charlotte settled in Sydenham, Kent, and here they stayed for the rest of their lives. They had two daughters; Charles worked as a gardener, and eventually employed others to work for him. Charlotte appears to have set up her own business as a laundress, with her daughters helping her. In the 1881 Census she also employs three laundry maids and a housemaid, all of whom lodged in the house with the family. The picture I have in my mind is of an enterprising and hard-working couple, who were doing well for themselves.

Thomas John (b1842) appears in the 1851 Census (aged 8) with his parents, but there is no record of him thereafter. Possibly he died in the 1850’s.

Mary Ann (b1843) also appears in the 1851 Census (aged 7) but she died in the autumn of that year.

Louisa (b1846) the fifth child and second daughter: travelled up to London, and worked as a nursemaid in the house of an MP in Hyde Park Gardens (1871 Census). One wonders if her parents were able to get her a place with a good family, or to give her a recommendation, after their own experiences as servants in a comfortable London household - Louisa was certainly following in her parents’ footsteps. This would have meant that she was part of a very grand household. The MP and his wife had two little daughters, aged 5 and 3. To look after this household of four people, it took: one butler, two footmen, a cook, a kitchen maid, a scullery maid, a lady’s maid, two house maids and the two nursemaids (one of whom was Louisa). Louisa was 25 in 1871 - whether she subsequently married, or continued in service, I do not know.

Emma (1849-1914) the seventh child and fourth and last daughter, was still living at home with her, by now, very elderly parents in 1881. There can be no doubt that her task was to keep house, and look after them in their old age. Her father died in 1883, but her mother lived on for another decade. Mother and daughter are to be found in the 1891 Census, still in the hamlet of Cox Green in Berkshire.

Walter William (b1851) the eighth child and fourth and last son, became a stone mason. He found work in Swindon, in Wiltshire (1881 Census) fifty miles west of his birthplace in Berkshire. He married Ellen King from Chiseldon, just outside Swindon, in 1878.

Walter’s work seems to have taken him all over the country. The next “snapshot” we have is in the 1891 Census, when Walter and Ellen are to be found in Lancashire. Walter continues to ply his trade as a stonemason.  They have no children living with them…

I was unable to trace either Walter or Ellen in the 1901 Census, despite searching along as many different lines as I could think of. Because they also moved around quite a lot (and who knows how many moves in between censuses) it wasn’t practical to look for death certificates for them either, given that there really are rather a lot of Smiths in the indexes !

Looking for more details? Try the Family Groups page, where you will find Census references, birth, marriage and death records.