UK trip 9 May 2005: Gobowen to Whitehaven

Continued from UK trip 8 May 2005: Davies family at Gobowen | Khanya

We spent the light with John and Shirley Davies at Gobowen, near Oswestry. I woke up at about 2:00 am, and caught up with writing my diary and made family history notes. Later at breakfast Shirley told us more about their lives since I had last seen them 35 years before.

After breakfast Shirley did some spinning, and it was the first time I had ever seen a spinning wheel in action. I’d only ever seen them used as decorations before, starting with the people who bought our old house in Westville, and made it into the homes and gardens pages of one of the Natal papers, which featured a picture of a spinning wheel.

I’d also read about spinning wheels in Grimm’s fairy tales, and still had no idea of how they worked, and pictured someone with a fat thumb pressing raw wool on to the big wheel and somehow manipulating it into thread. The name of their house, Nyddfa, means “place of spinning”. The house was interesting — a compact single storey, with a nice back garden; no TV, but a computer, which Shirley worked on often. She said, “What did you do when you woke up early before you had a computer?” and I was at a loss to tell her. She wakes up before John, as I do, and John, she said, sleeps nearly 12 hours a night now. But as I get older I wake up earlier, and find the computer provides plenty to occupy me with in the early hours
of the morning. They had good furniture, and everything is neat and clean and comfortable, with ornaments, and such a contrast to their life in South Africa, where the furniture was makeshift, and
everything simple, the garden a jungle, especially at 11 Queens Road Parktown. Shirley said she hated living there, because she felt boxed in, but it held good memories for me, because that was where they lived when I knew them best.

Shirley Davis spinning at Nyddfa, Gobowen. 9 May 2005

Shirley Davis spinning at Nyddfa, Gobowen. 9 May 2005

We left just after lunch, at 1:30, heading north, and re-entered Wales, going in to Wrexham to cash a travellers cheque at the Nat West Bank, and then going on to the M6 motorway and driving as fast as the traffic and speed limit would allow. We stopped at one of the services places after we had passed the Liverpool-Manchester conurbation to buy sweets and a Coke and a Sunday paper, the Independent. While my Cottam ancestors had lived in Manchester and in the Lancashire area, we did not have time to go and look for the places where they had lived, and so stuck to the motorway through the urban areas.

I noticed a change there from when I had lived in the UK in the 1960s. Then I had been struck by how orderly and polite British drivers had been compared to South African ones, who tended to be aggressive. Back then British motorists would flash their headlamps to say “After you,” while South African motorists would flash their headlamps to say “Get out of my way.” Now it was the other way round.

I recalled a visit from Val’s second cousins a couple of years previously, John and Maxine Wincott. I took them on a tour of Tshwane, and John was amazed at the behavious of drivers at four-way stop steets and places where the road narrowed, how they filtered in, taking it in turns. On the busy motorway junctions in the Liverpool-Manchester area, however, if anyone tried to filter in from an acceleration lane there would be angry light flashings and sometimes hooting from other vehicles. I wondered if it was a change in culture brought about by Maggie Thatcher.

We turned off the motorway to drive to Windermere, where I had once visited the home of a college friend, Craufurd Murray, in 1967. Then it had been cold and overcast, and the lake had looked grim and grey and cheerless. Now it looked a bit brighter.

Lake Windermere, Cumbria, 9 May 2005

Lake Windermere, Cumbria, 9 May 2005

We drove round the northern end of Lake Windermere, through Ambleside, and then over the Wrynose and Hardknott passes, which were reminiscient of the mountains of Lesotho, though of course they were much lower and closer to the sea.

The Wrnose Pass, looking back East towards Windermere. 9 May 2005.

The Wrynose Pass in the Cumbrian fells, looking back East towards Windermere. 9 May 2005.

The roads were narrow and winding, and we saw lots of sheep. The young lambs were black, and the older sheep brown with white faces. Seeing them reminded me of Rebecca West’s book Black lamb and grey falcon, describing travels in the Balkans in the 1930s, and indeed the Cumberland fells looked a lot like the mountains of Albania too. The Hardknott Pass was even steeper than the Wrynose Pass, but we were going downhill over the steepest bits, down into Eskdale.

skdale, Cumbria, from the Hardknott Pass. 9 May 2005.

Eskdale, Cumbria, from the Hardknott Pass. 9 May 2005.

We drove in to Whitehaven, where Val’s Pearson and Ellwood ancestors had come from (see The Pearson and Ellwood families of Whitehaven | Hayes & Greene family history). We looked for somewhere to stay,
and also for a loo, but could not easily find either.

We went to see Nora Pearson, the widow of Val’s mother’s double-first cousin John Pearson (and the mother of Maxine Wincott, mentioned earlier), and had coffee with her, and showed her photos of the
family. She had been ill, and was only now able to walk around again. She had a cat which she kept a prisoner and would not allow to go outside, though she had a fairly big garden and lived in a quiet cul-de-sac. We had corresponded with her for about 30 years about the family history, but this was the first time we had actually met her face to face.

Val Hayes and Nora Pearson, Whitehyaven, 9 May 2005

Val Hayes and Nora Pearson, Whitehyaven, 9 May 2005

We phoned one of the bed and breakfast places on our list, at Lowca, and went out to stay there, and returned to Whitehaven for supper in a Chinese restaurant, one of the few open and serving food as it was after 9:30 pm. We were the only ones there, and an excessively polite and smiley waiter persuaded me to try Chinese beer, which wasn’t bad. We had eggs foo yong which was good, and sweet and sour pork, but that was not up to our benchmark of the Phoenix restaurant in Point Road in Durban, which was the standard by which we evaluated all Chinese restaurants.

We looked at books on old Whitehaven that the people in the B&B place had lent us, and there was one on Lowca Engineering, which had made steam locomotives, where Ernest Pearson (Nora’s father-in-law)  had worked. He was originally an acetylene welder at Lowca Engineering Works, near Whitehaven. He served in the 1914-1918 War in the Royal Flying Corps at Halton, Bucks and at Blandford, Devon. About 1923 the Lowca Engineering Works closed down, and he 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.

Tombstone Tuesday: Pearson of Whitehaven

This Tombstone Tuesday I’m adding some pictures of tombstones of the Pearson and Ellwood families of Whitehaven, Cumberland. They relate to the Pearson and Ellwood families featured in the post immediately below this one.

Gravestone of Daniel William Pearson and Sarah Jane Walker in Whitehaven Cemetery

Daniel William Pearson (1855-1929) and his wife Sarah Jane Walker (1857-1959) are buried in Whitehaven Cemetery, Ward 1, Section O.

They were Val’s maternal great-grandparents.

Daniel William Pearson was the son of William Pearson, a butcher of Whitehaven, and his wife Sarah Johnson, who was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk.

Sarah Jane Walker was born in Sylecroft, Whicham, in the south of Cumberland, and was the daughter of William Walker, a spirit merchant of Sylecroft, and his wife Agnes Duke, who was born in Ulverston, Lancashire (which is now part of the new county of Cumbria.

Daniel William Pearson started is career as a butcher, like his father, and then became Whitehaven’s Sanitary Inspector and Inspector of Nuisances (lovely title, that!) Two of ths brothers, Charles and Henry, were Anglican clergymen, while another brother, John Johnson Pearson, was an apothecary of sorts, and wrote books about his travels in the Middle East.

M Ellwood grave

Gravestone of Margaret Pearson (nee Ellwood), in Whitehaven, Cumberland, England

Our second tombstone is of Margaret Pearson, the daughter-in-law of Daniel William and Sarah Jane Pearson.

Ernest Pearson (1892-1975) was a plumber and electrician of Whitehaven, and married Margaret Ellwood (1892-1958), the daughter of Thomas Ellwood and Mary Carr.

They had three sons, Gilbert, Ralph and John, and a daughter, Edith Margaret Pearson.

Ellwood family of Whitehaven

We’ve just made contact with a previously unknown (to us) Ellwood cousin, Genie Zappanti of Arizona, USA, which has led us to some research done by Bruce Morrison, also of the USA, which has added several generations to our Ellwood family tree all at once.

Val’s maternal grandmother was Martha (Mattie) Ellwood, who married William Pearson in Pinetown, Natal, in 1913, and lived at 315 Main Road, Escombe, Natal.  They were both from Whitehaven, Cumberland, in England. After William Pearson died in 1956, Val’s gran went to live with them — they built on a granny flat, and she lived there for 12 years until she died in 1968. She wrote regularly to her brothers and sisters in Whitehaven, and they sent her the Whitehaven News, and so Val grew up hearing stories of the family in Whitehaven.

When we started our family history, therefore, the Ellwood side was quite easy, at least for a couple of generations back, because a lot of the material was at hand. But we were stuck with Val’s great great great grandparents, Robert and Martha Ellwood, and couldn’t get back any further than them.

One of the things genealogy text books tell you is that you should always get in touch with living relatives, and ask them what they know, and some of them may even be interested in family history. There’s no point in working hard to collect lots of information and draw up a family tree only to show it to a cousin who says, “Oh, Uncle George did all that years ago.”

But we started six years after Val’s grandmother died, and since she had died the family had not kept in touch with the Whitehaven relatives. So we wrote to the Whitehaven News, asking any Ellwood or Pearson relatives to get in touch.

Some did, and in some cases we remained in touch with them, especially some of Val’s mother’s double first cousins, Ralph and John Pearson. Their father, Ernest Pearson was the brother of William, and their mother was Margaret Ellwood, Mattie Ellwood’s sister. John Pearson’s wife, Norah, was an inveterate letter writer, and kept in touch for many years after John died, and we met her and her daughters Maxine Wincott and Zania McKenzie when we went to the UK in 2005. Ralph Pearson became interested in the family history after we had made contact with him, and collected a lot of information, especially on the Pearson side.

Thomas Ellwood (1845-1914)

Our letter in the Whitehaven News also elicited a response from a cousin we had not previously heard of, Mrs Mary Ann Tumilty of Elk Grove Village, Illinois in the USA. She happened to be visiting Whitehaven in the week that our letter was published, and when she got back to the USA wrote to say that she had a family Bible that had the dates of birth and death of all the children of Val’s great great grandparents, John Ellwood (1819-1892) and Bridget Anderson (1819-1876). That also revealed that Val’s great grandfather, Thomas Ellwood (1845-1914), had been born at Wingate Grange in County Durham, which was why we had not been able to find his birth certificate. Now, with resources such as FreeBMD, finding such things is relatively easy, but back in 1975 it wasn’t.

And now, 37 years later, we’ve made contact with another cousin in the USA, Genie Zappanti, who is also interested in the family history.

And through her we have also made the link to Bruce Morrison’s Ellwood Genealogy web site, which traces the Ellwood family back to the village of Dufton in Westmorland where they were farmers for several generations until some became miners. At first they were lead miners in nearby Alston, and later coal miners in Whitehaven.


Namibian cousins visit

Last month we had a visit from Val’s cousin Enid Ellis and her husband Justin, who were on holiday from Windhoek, Namibia. Val and Enid are cousins on the Pearson side of the family. We manage to see them once every 5 years or so, usually when they are passing through, and catch up with news of family and friends. This time we did it over lunch in Centurion Mall.

Enid Ellis, Val Hayes, Justin Ellis

Val (nee Greene) and Enid (nee Gammage) grew up in Escombe, in Queensburgh, Natal, near Durban and the families were very close, and they spent a lot of time together.

Steve met Justin when he came to Windhoek with a group of  students from Stellenbosch University to spend part of their summer vac there in 1970. Actually it was a funny summer, as for one week it was bitterly cold, and there was snow in the Cape, in December!

Steve and Justin met again in July 1972 (the real winter) at an Anglican Students Federation conference at KwaMagwaza in Zululand. Steve had been deported from Namibia, along with some other church workers, including the bishop, Colin Winter, and so Steve tried to persuade Justin to go there to take the place of some of those who were kicked out. Whether the persuasion did the trick, or whether it was something else, Justin eventually went.

A few months after that meeting, Steve met Val and Enid in Queensburgh, and in 1973 Val and Enid went to Namibia on holiday. In 1974 Enid decided to go back there, and later that year Val and Steve were married, and Enid and Justin as well. And a few years later Justin and Enid were deported from Namibia (an insidious habit), and spent a few years in England, returning when Namibia became independent in 1990.

Back in the 1970s we were all Anglicans. Now Enid and Justin are Quakers, and Val and Steve are Orthodox.

Keeping in touch with emigrants

I’ve been reading The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History and one of the articles raised the question of how long families that have emigrated keep in touch with those back in the country they came from.

Most of  of our ancestral lines have immigrants from somewhere else, and it is quite interesting to look at how they maintained contact, and how and to what extent we have re-established contact, mainly because of an interest in family history. A recent post about a Canadian Growden family is a case in point — they seem to have little or no contact with any other branches of the family, and little or no memory of where they came from.


One of the clearest cases is Val’s maternal grandmother’s family. She was Martha Pearson, nee Ellwood, and both she and her husband William Walker Pearson. They came to South Africa from Whitehaven, Cumberland, England about a century ago, and were married in Pinetown, Natal, in 1913. They lived just down the road from Val when she was young, within walking distance, and when her grandfather died her grandmother came to live in a granny flat that they built on to their house in Escombe, where she lived with them for 12 years until she died in 1968.

So Val grew up with her grandmother’s stories of Whitehaven, and Martha (Mattie) Pearson kept in touch with her brothers and sisters who lived there, and some of them had also married into the Pearson family. During the Second World War some of Val’s mother’s cousins were soldiers, and visited when troopships called at Durban on the way to south-east Asia. Martha Pearson occasionally returned to Whitehaven to visit family, and we have some of her old passports. Val’s mother and aunt went with her as teenagers, and remembered some of their English cousins, though they did not stay in touch with them. Val and her sister visited England in 1971, and passed through Whitehaven, and had thought of visiting relatives there, but it was late and they thought they were old and would already be in bed, so they drove through.

When we got married in 1974, six years after Val’s grandmother had died, and became interested in family history, one of the starting points was some of Val’s relics from her grandmother — her birthday book, cuttings of newspaper marriage and death notices, and obituaries of her father Thomas Ellwood (1845-1914)  and grandfather John Ellwood (1819-1892). We wrote to the Whitehaven News, asking if any members of the family still living in Whitehaven would get in touch. From that we discovered that Val’s great-uncle Ernie Pearson had died the previous week. But his daughter-in-law Nora Pearson wrote to us regularly for the next thirty years, keeping us in touch with news of the family, so the contact was maintained for another generation, and thirty years later, in 2005 we visited Nora, and her daughters who live in Edinburgh. Whether our children will keep in touch with their children after we die remains to be seen. We also visited another second cousin who lives in Wales.

But our letter to the Whitehaven News also brought contact with a forgotten generation of emigrants, about whom Val had heard no stories as a child. A Mrs Mary Ann Tumilty, nee Ellwood,  had been visiting Whitehaven from the USA in the week that our letter was published, and when she got home she wrote to us, and sent extracts from the Ellwood family Bible, which she had, and it gave all the children of John Ellwood, Val’s great great grandfather, who was born in 1819. Mary Ann Tumilty’s parents had lived in Northumberland, and emigrated to the USA in 1923.


On this side of the family I’ve told in another post how my father visited England for a Scout jamboree, and met a cousin with the unusual name of Herrick Hayes, and that helped us to make contact with second cousins that we had not previously known about, though attempts to make contact with Herrick Hayes’s descendants have so far been unsuccessful.

In general it seems that, unless there is a conscious interest in family history, contact seems to be lost in the generation of the great grandchildren of immigrants, and family history research can lead to the re-establishing of contact.

John Johnson Pearson — mystery uncle

One of the more interesting and mysterious members of our family is Val’s great-grandfather’s brother on her mother’s side, John Johnson Pearson.

When we started our family history research soon after we were married we were quite lucky with the Pearson side. Val’s grandmother, Martha Pearson (nee Ellwood) had lived with them in a granny flat for 12 years after her husband died, and so Val heard lots of stories about her youth and family in Whitehaven, and she left relics in the form of photos and newpaper cuttings with reports of births, marriages and deaths in the family, most of whom still lived in Whitehaven, Cumberland.

When we started our family history research we wrote to the Whitehaven News, and asked any members of the family who were interested to get in touch with us, and some did, including one of the family eccentrics, Anthony Hurton Pearson. Val’s mother told us that she and her sister had gone to the UK before the World War II, when they were teenagers, to visit the family, and they had been embarrassed by their cousin Tony Pearson, who was strange, and played fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Nevertheless, it was Tony Pearson who first told us about J.J. Pearson (we later found out that his full name was John Johnson Pearson). What he told us was a strange mixture of fact and fantasy. What we eventually found, from Tony Pearson and elsewhere, was the following:

J.J. Pearson was born in Whitehaven about 1850, the son of William Pearson and Sarah Johnson.

John Johnson Pearson was sometime editor of the India Herald and Karachi Beacon. He was the author of The exiles return to their lost inheritance (London, Stockwell, 1917), and was a British Israelite. He appears to have travelled widely through “the prophetic earth” (Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia).

According to Anthony Hurton Pearson he was an assayer who went to India (probably true), and the first to completely neutralise the by-products of the gas-making process at his Broughton Plant (doubtful), and was also known as Basil Gotto (more doubtful). He married a harem of Sikh ladies (even more doubtful), and  Joseph Stalin was his son by one of them (almost certainly fantasy), and that he later lived in Paris lecturing at the Sorbonne (doubtful).

Another far more sensible member of the family was Ralph Pearson (another of Val’s mother’s cousins) who got quite excited about it when we wrote to him, and followed up many of the leads we had found. He established that J.J. Pearson was indeed the author of the books that Tony Pearson mentioned, and even managed to photocopy one and send it to us, and as we had guessed from the title, it was a British Israelite tract. He had some kind of training in chemisty, as an apothecary, or perhaps an assayer, but does not seem to have belonged to any of the professional bodies (Ralph Pearson tried to follow that up).

We’ve found no record that he ever married (apart from Tony Pearson’s tale of the Sikh ladies), or that he had any children (not even Stalin!). He may have lived in Paris for a while, but it is unlikely that he ever lectured at the Sorbonne. The trail goes dead after 1924, so he may have died then, or disappeared, in Paris or elsewhere.

Anyway, it would be interesting to know a little more about him. He certainly seems to have been one of the family eccentrics, and to have lived a fairly interesting life, which took him far from Whitehaven.

So if you know anything more about him (or other members of the family) please help us to complete the puzzle and leave a comment below.

Cottam and Bagot and reading novels

I went to the LDS Family History Centre in Johannesburg today and transcribed more baptism records for the Cottam, Bagot and Mashiter families.

I reread Rider Haggard’s novel Allan Quatermain, and found that family history made me enjoy it more, as it had links with my great grandfather Wyatt Vause and Val’s great grandfather Daniel William Pearson. I’ve written about it more fully in my LiveJournal.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.