The Pearson and Ellwood families of Whitehaven

In the early 20th century three members of an Ellwood family from Whitehaven, Cumberland married three members of a Pearson family from the same town.

We’ve been scanning old photos, and it is good to have them in electronic format, so that they are less likely to fade and be damaged. But in electronic photos it is not possible to have the stories written on the back of those photos, so this blog post is really to help preserve the stories of the photos. In our family we call them “whozit” photos, because when we look at them everyone says “Whozit? Whozit?” And when the back of the photo just says “William” or “Henry” or “Uncle Joe”, I think many people will forget whose uncle Joe it was.

The Pearsons

Charles Pearson, a shoemaker of Whitehaven, born about 1768, married Ann Gatey in 1799, and they had several children.

One of their younger sons, William Pearson (1820-1895), became a butcher, and married Sarah Johnson (1819-1894) in 1845. Sarah Johnson was born in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, which is quite a long way from Whitehaven, so one of the mysteries of the family history is how they met.

They had six children, two girls and four boys. Two of the sons, Charles and Henry, became Anglican priests, and Charles was a pioneer missionary in Uganda, travelling up the Nile to reach that country. A third son, John Johnson Pearson, was a mysterious character, and we are not sure what happened to him. He travelled quite a bit in India and the Middle East, and was a keen supporter of the British Israelite movement, and wrote books on that topic.

The remaining son, Daniel William Pearson, was prosaic by comparison with his brothers. He followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a butcher, and spent most of his life in Whitehaven, and ended up by becoming the town sanitary inspector and inspector of nuisances.

The eldest daughter, Margaret, married Thomas Binks Cooper, who died young, and their daughter Sarah Johnson Cooper was brought up by her grandparents, and married Charles Stewart, a railway engine driver from London.

The youngest child, Sarah Johnson Pearson, married Joseph William Peile, and they had several children.

Daniel William Pearson

Daniel William Pearson (1855-1929) was the stay-at-home Pearson brother. In 1883 he married Sarah Jane Walker (1857-1929) and they had nine children, eight boys and one girl.

  1. William Walker Pearson (1883-1956)
  2. Edith Pearson (1885-1956)
  3. Henry Pearson (1886-1905)
  4. Charles Pearson (1888-1967)
  5. Frank Pearson (1890-1974)
  6. Ernest Pearson (1892-1975)
  7. Gilbert Pearson (1894-1969)
  8. John Pearson (1895-1918)
  9. Victor Octavious Pearson (1897-1971)

Children of Daniel William Pearson & Sarah Jane Walker, about 1902: William, Edith, Henry, Charles, Frank, Ernest, Gilbert, John, Victor

Henry died within a couple of years of these picture being taken, and so these are the only pictures we have of the whole family together.

The Pearson family about 1902. Back: Edith, Henry, William. Middle: Frank, Charles (kneeling), Daniel William, Sarah, Ernest. Front: Victor, John, Gilbert.

William, the eldest, was the first to leave home. After working for a shipping firm in Whitehaven, he applied for a job in the Port Captain’s Office in Durban, Natal, and emigrated there about 1909. His fiancée, Martha Ellwood, joined him there, and they were married at St John’s Church, Pinetown, in 1913.

With William overseas, and Henry dead, another picture was taken of the remaining six brothers in Easter 1913.

John, the second youngest, worked for Whittle & Co in Whitehaven, and in the First World War he joined the Border Regiment, and was killed in France in May 1918.

Charles worked for the Bell Telephone Company in Whitehaven, and then for its successors, GPO telephones which became British Telecom. He married Dorothy Roff in 1926 and they lived in Wragby Road, Lincoln.

3 Pearson brothers in Easter 1913: Back: Gilbert, Frank, Ernest. Front: John, Victor (on ground), Charlie.

Frank Pearson served in the army in the 1914-1918 War. He was Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for Egremont, near Whitehaven. He married May Dobbins and they had two children, Janet and Anthony. May was said to go off her nut occasionally, and their son Anthony, who never married, seemed to be eccentric, to say the least, but probably harmless. When we asked him about the mysterious John Johnson Pearson, he told us that he had taught at the Sorbonne in Paris, and had a harem of Sikh ladies, and one of their sons was Joseph Stalin. In addition he (Anthony) had invented a wave-actuated boat, which was stolen by the Norwegians). Janet married twice, first to Thomas Birkbeck the headmaster of the Cleator Moor School, and secondly to John Sharp. There were no children of either marriage.

Ernest was originally an acetylene welder at Lowca Engineering Works, near Whitehaven. He served in the 1914-1918 war in the Royal flying Corps (Service No 163675) at Halton, Bucks and at Blandford, Devon. In 1916 he married Margaret Ellwood, the sister of Martha Ellwood who had married his edler brother William. In about 1923 the Lowca Engineering Works closed down, and Ernest went to work for his brother-in-law’s company, John Ellwood & Co as a plumber and electrician, and remained there for the rest of his working life.

Gilbert trained as a watchmaker and jeweller. He served in the Black Watch Regiment in the First World War. After the war he started his own business as a watchmaker and jeweller in King Street, Whitehaven. He married Maud Dixon, and they had two daughters, Joan and Barbara.

Victor worked for Pattinson’s Flour Mill in Whitehaven. After his parents died he lived until his marriage (in 1929) with his brother Ernest Pearson. He married a niece of Ernest’s wife Margaret, and so became the third Pearson brother to marry into the Ellwood family. After their marriage they lived with Edith’s parents, John and Kate Ellwood, and then at Henry Street, and finally at Loop Road (South), Whitehaven. They had no children.

Martha Ellwood and William Walker Pearson about the time of their marriage at Pinetown, Natal, in November 1913

In the meantime the eldest brother, William, and his wife Martha (nee Ellwood) lived in Pinetown, and later in Durban. She had their wedding pictures printed on postcards, and wrote to the family. One of the cards, dated 23 Dec 1913, and sent to her brother John and his wife Kate, read

My Dear John & Kate,

It is rather late but we wish you every good wish for the New Year. We are getting a bit more settled down now & I like Pinetown well, it is a fine life. You will have heard all about our house etc. from Senhouse Street. Tell Edith I see plenty of “niggers” but am not a bit frightened of them.[1] How is May tell her to write & tell me all the news. It’s not a bit like Xmas to me, it is so hot today. Love to all from us both.

Your loving sister Mattie.

In 1915 William and Mattie’s first child was born, William Ellwood Pearson, known as Billy, followed by twins Mary (Mollie) and Arthur in 1918, but Arthur died young. Another daughter, Dorothy, was born in 1923, but before she arrived Mattie travelled back to Whitehaven in 1921, to see her family, and the children were able to meet their cousins for the first time.

Billy was 6 years old, and Mollie 3, when they met their double first cousins, Gilbert (4) and Ralph (nearly 2). They travelled by ship from Durban in January 1921, and the voyage lasted about three weeks. Martha and William met their brothers and sisters again, but John Pearson, William’s younger brother, had been killed in the First World War.

Pearson double first cousins, 1921. Molly Pearson (3), Billy Pearson (6), Gilbert Pearson (4), Ralph Pearson (nearly 2).

Gilbert and Ralph Pearson were the children of William Walker Pearson’s brother Ernest, and Martha’s sister Margaret.

There were also plenty of other cousins to meet.

There were also plenty of other cousins to meet. William Ellwood Pearson’s sister Edith had married David James Elson, and they lived in Liverpool. Their daughter Marjorie Pearson Elston was born in 1917, and was 5 when the South African cousins came visiting. Her brother Gerald was born in 1922. In 1939 Marjorie Elston herself married a South African, the Revd Terry Blake, a Congregational Minster, and her mother Edith went to live with them in South Africa when David Elston died. The Blakes had four sons and two daughters.

Another family with several links was the Nicholsons.

Samuel Nicholson and Isabella Frears had several children, who of whom married into the Ellwood family. Their daughter Catherine (Kate) married John Ellwood, and had two daughters: Mary Isabella Carr (May) Ellwood who married John Kelly and went to Canada; and Edith, who, as we have seen, married Victor Pearson, The son, Isaac Nicholson, married Elizabeth Renney Ellwood, and had two children, Doris and John Nicholson.

John Nicholson, Martha and Billy Pearson, Elizabeth Nicholson, May Addison, Ernest Pearson (holding Ralph, who is partly obscured), Maggie Pearson, Doris Nicholson, Grandmother Nicholson (Isabella Frears), and in front, Mollie, Billy and Gilbert Pearson.

This picture has four Ellwood sisters: Martha who married William Pearson, Elizabeth who married Isaac Nicholson, May who married Jonathan Addison, and Maggie who married Ernest Pearson.

John Ellwood Nicholson was about 14 when the picture was taken. He later became a draughtsman, and lived in Barrow in Furness. Isaac Nicholson, his father, was an iron moulder.

Mary (May) Ellwood married Jonathan Addison and from about 1910 they lived in Belfast, Ireland, where their two youngest children were born. They had seven children, three girls and four boys. One of the girls (not in the picture), Bessie, who later married Len Jupp, became legendary, at least in the South African branch of the family as the one who won a pissing contest with her brothers. The oldest, Mary Addison, married John Hayes and they lived in Belfast. They had no children. We wrote to them a few times before they died in the late 1970s, and those were the times of troubles in Norther Ireland, and on one occasion John Hayes wrote “Tempus fungus – times are rotten.” The second, Thomas Alexander Addison, emigrated to the USA in 1930, and married Elli Link from Latvia. Jack Addison married Mary Brown. Arthur married Margaret Hills. Ada married William McAlpine, and their daughter married Norman Little and livers in Canada, while their son Roderick married Margaret Banyard in Birmingham and lived in Suffolk.

Martha (Mattie) and Margaret (Maggie) Ellwood, two Ellwood sisters who married Pearson brothers.

Ernest and Maggie Pearson had two more children after Gilbert and Ralph in the picture – John (born 1923) and Edith (born 1929). Gilbert was killed in the Second World War in Burma, as a result of an accident when an ammunition lorry was being unloaded. Ralph served in the air force in the Second World War, mainly in personnel management, and at one point visited Durban, and made contact with his cousins there. After the war worked for NAAFI, which ran recreational services for the British armed forces, which meant they led a somewhat wandering life. He married Jean Mary Bearn and they had three children, Joseph, Susan and Gordon. When we became interested in the family history after we were married in 1974, Ralph was one of the people we wrote to, and he got interested, and did a lot of research, collecting a great deal of information, especially on Charles William Pearson, the missionary. He died in January 1996, just before Val won a ticket to see the cup final between Manchester United and Liverpool, but while she was there she visited Jean Pearson, and met their daughter Susan, whose son Kevin is the same age as our Jethro, and both being crazy about cars, they wrote to each other and swapped video tapes.

John, the third child of Ernest and Maggie, married Nora Lees, and we had quite a lot of correspondence with Nora, who wrote wonderfully informative letters, not only about the family history, but also current news about the family, and happenings in Whitehaven. In 2005 we visited her in Whitehaven (John had unfortunately died by then), and also met their daughters Maxine Wincott and Zania McKenzie, who were living in Edinburgh.

Edith Pearson married Ted Worsley and they had two children, Michael and Caroline, and lived in Northumberland.

Doris Nicholson married Reynolds (Rennie) Bonnington, a photographer, and they had a son Ian.

To be continued, as there are more photos of the Ellwood and Pearson families. Other members of the family may have copies of these photos, so we hope these stories will help, and if there are other stories, please tell them in the comments.


[1] Edith was Mattie Pearson’s niece Edith Ellwood, then 12 years old, who later married William Pearson’s brother Victor. May was Edith’s older sister, then aged 19. Senhouse street was the home of the Ellwood family.

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