Wednesday 23 May 2007

Thomas Edwin Cruwys of Tiverton

My friend Chris Gibbins in Devon has been searching through some of the old newspaper cuttings at the Devon and Exeter Institution and she has sent me a most interesting story about the golden wedding anniversary of Thomas Edwin Cruwys and Edith Baker. The article was originally published in the Tiverton Gazette on 4th October 1960 with the heading "Worked on a farm for shilling a week – memories of life in the early 1900s".
While farm workers discussed their 9s. a week pay rise, Mr. Thomas Edwin Cruwys, of 56, Council Gardens, Tiverton, was looking back over 50 years of married life, and recalling the days when he worked on a farm for 1s a week.

Mr. Cruwys, who was 72 this month, was talking to a "Gazette" reporter on Wednesday, his golden wedding anniversary. He and his wife, who was 73 on Friday, were married at St. Peter’s Church, Tiverton, by the late Rev. G. G. Hall.

Born at Witheridge, Mr. Cruwys started his working days at the age of 11, and for nearly a year he worked just for his food and lodging at Higher Withleigh Farm. Later, at Nethercleaye Farm, Withleigh, he earned 1s a week and recalls the time the farmer was taken ill and he was paid an extra sixpence a week for the additional work he had to do. When he gave up farm work his weekly wage was 5s. 6d.

For 46 years Mr. Cruwys was employed at Tiverton Cemetery, retiring as caretaker seven years ago.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Cruwys come from large families. Mrs. Cruwys, whose father was the late Mr. John Baker, sexton at Creacombe Church for about 50 years, was one of two girls and 11 boys. Three of her brothers went to Canada, where they took up market gardening, and are now living at Catarqui, Ontario. Two other brothers live at Tiverton and Bradninch.

Mr. Cruwys came from a family of six boys and five girls. His father, the late Mr. John Cruwys, was a mason.

During the First World War, Mr. Cruwys spent over four years in the Army, after volunteering in November, 1914. He served in Africa, where he contracted malaria, France, and Germany, and spent 13 months in hospital with two broken legs after he had been knocked down by a motorcycle combination.

Mr. and Mrs. Cruwys have had six children, five of whom survive, and nine grandchildren. During the Second Wold War all six sons were in the Forces at the same time, three in the Devons, and the others in the R.A.F., A.C.C., and R.A.M.C. Two were prisoners-of-war – the eldest, Mr. Tom Cruwys of Exeter, for two years, and the youngest, Mr. Sidney Cruwys, of London, for two weeks.

Their other sons are Messrs. Vic. Cruwys (Manchester), Charles Cruwys (Tiverton), and E. Cruwys, who lives with his parents.

Mr. Cruwys is a Roll of Honour member of Ye Twyford Lodge, R.A.O.B. [Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes], and the couple received a telegram of good wishes from the lodge on their anniversary. They also received flowers from Tiverton Aged People's Association.

A party given by their family at Exeter on the previous Saturday was a well-kept secret until Mr. and Mrs. Cruwys entered the room, where about 20 of their relatives were waiting for them.

One of Mr. and Mrs. Cruwys's most treasured possessions is a 42-piece tea-set which was one of their wedding presents 50 years ago, and which is still complete.
Since receiving the article I have done some further research on this family. Thomas Edwin Cruwys was born in 1888 in Witheridge, Devon. He belongs to the Witheridge Cruwys family which can be traced back to William Cruwys and Sarah Taylor who married on 2nd February 1820 in Witheridge. Thomas was the son of John Cruwys, a mason, and Sarah Quant née Chown. His mother was previously married to John Henry Quant, by whom she had three children, two boys and a girl. She was widowed in 1881 and married Thomas's father the following year. I have so far found a record of six children born to John and Sarah Cruwys, three boys and three girls. Further children were probably born after the 1901 census.

Tragedy struck the family on 29th March 1891 when Thomas’s older brother, George Herbert Cruwys, died in a house fire. A transcription of the newspaper reports about the incident can be read here. Thomas was only two years old at the time and probably had no memory of the accident.

Thomas's recollections of his early working life are confirmed by the 1901 census. Thomas, then aged 12, was a farmer's servant at Nethercliffe Farm in Withleigh, where he was working for Fred Phillips, 41, a farmer.

Thomas did not live to celebrate another birthday after his golden wedding anniversary. He died in 1961 aged 72 years and Edith died three years later in 1965 aged 78. All six of their sons have now passed away, though there are many living descendants. I wonder if the prized tea-set is still in the family.

The transcription of the article from the Tiverton Gazette is reproduced by kind permission of the Editor.

Tuesday 22 May 2007

John Henry Cruse,
fishmonger and pocket book maker

Michael Freeman has spent a further two days in London at the Guildhall Library and the Metropolitan Archives in search of the family of Henry Cruse the shipwreck survivor in South Africa. Michael had previously identified John Henry Cruse as the possible father of the South African Henry. He has now spent a considerable time researching John Henry and his family, but so far Henry’s baptism remains as elusive as ever. In the meantime I thought other researchers might find the story of John Henry Cruse of some interest.

John Henry Cruse was born about 1785. We do not know where he was born as he died before the 1841 census and no record of his baptism has yet been found. John Henry married Ann Parker on 2nd August 1812 at St Margaret Lothbury in the City of London. They were married by banns. John was a bachelor and Ann was a spinster. They were both from the neighbouring parish of St Christopher Le Stock. St Christopher Le Stock is in the centre of the square mile of the City of London. It was united with its neighbouring parish St Margaret Lothbury in 1781. The witnesses were Eli Noone and Ann Davis. Eli Noone is probably the churchwarden or verger as he was also a witness at the next wedding. We have not yet been able to identify Ann Davis. The first clue as to John Henry’s occupation is found in the baptismal registers of St Mary at Hill in the City of London, where John Henry was described as a fishmonger when his eldest daughter was baptised in 1813. The City of London is of course the home of Billingsgate Fish Market and John Henry almost certainly worked at the market where he perhaps had his own market stall. At that time the market was situated in the streets around Billingsgate Wharf by Lower Thames Street in the shadow of London Bridge. Fish and seafood were sold from stalls and sheds around the 'hythe' or dock. A purpose-built market was not constructed until 1850 and this building was demolished in 1873 to make way for the present building in Lower Thames Street which is now the largest indoor fish market in the country. John Henry worked as a fishmonger at least until 1817, but some time between 1817 and 1820 he made a rather surprising career move and became a pocket book maker. He had quite possibly inherited the business following the death of a family member. We have found records of four children born to John Henry and Ann:

- Ann Margaret Cruse, born on 5th July 1813 and baptised on 28th November 1813 at St Mary at Hill in the City of London. John Henry and Ann were living at Harper Lane at the time of the baptism.

- John Edward Cruse, born about 1815. No record of his baptism has yet been found. He was buried on 23rd February 1817 at St Michael, Crooked Lane, in the City of London. He was said to be 22 months old. John Henry and Ann were now living at Fan Court, Miles Lane, Thames Street. Miles Lane is one of the roads running off Thames Street and is next to Fish Street Hill, the approach road to the old London Bridge. Miles Lane can clearly be seen in an 1827 map of the City.

- Hannah Cruse, born on 30th June 1817 at Fan Court, Miles Lane, and baptised on 21st September 1817 at St George the Martyr, just across the Thames in Southwark.

- Thomas Cruse, born in the parish of St Michael Crooked Lane (probably at Fan Court, Miles Lane) and baptised on 17th September 1820 at St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey, on the other side of the river. Thomas was buried on 3rd March 1822 at St Michael, Crooked Lane. His age at burial was 17 months.

Ann Cruse née Parker died in 1836 and was buried on 20th March 1836 at St Michael, Crooked Lane. She was said to be 46 years old.

The following year, on 2nd July 1837, John Henry’s younger daughter Hannah married William Henry Willett, a coach painter, at St George in the East in Stepney. John Henry was one of the witnesses. John Henry also lived to see the marriage of his eldest daughter Ann Margaret. She married Richard Wrigglesworth, a glass cutter. The marriage took place some time before the beginning of civil registration on 1st July 1837 though the marriage has not yet been located and the precise date is not known.

Just three months after his daughter Hannah’s wedding John Henry died suddenly of apoplexy on 9th October 1837. He was said to be 52 years old. At the time of his death his address was given as 4 Little College Street, St Michael, College Hill. The informant of the death was his daughter Ann Margaret Wragglesworth [sic] of 2 St Dunstan's Alley. John Henry was buried at St Martin, Vintry, on 15th October 1837. Unusually the burial records for this church also record the cause of death and provide confirmation that John Henry died of apoplexy.

John Henry and his family are a very good example of the difficulties faced when researching in London. The City of London, the oldest part of the capital, was formerly a county in its own right. In 1811 there were 122,924 people living in the densely populated City of London District (the area which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Corporation of London and which is slightly larger than the medieval City). As a comparison, the nineteenth-century population of the City is roughly equivalent to the present-day population of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. There were over 100 churches in the square mile of the City of London, and of course many more churches in the surrounding area. The three baptisms which we have so far located all took place in different churches, and the baptism of John Edward Cruse has still not been found. Michael Freeman searched through 17 burial registers before he finally struck gold in the eighteenth register and found the burials of Ann and her two sons at St Michael, Crooked Lane! No doubt there were other children and any information would be gratefully received.

Saturday 12 May 2007

Colonel Derek Robbins (1918-2007)

I was saddened to learn yesterday of the death of Colonel Derek Ivan Mathie Robbins, OBE, a veteran of World War II and a survivor of the Normandy landings. Colonel Robbins is connected to my own branch of the Cruwys family through his first marriage to my father's cousin Mary Elizabeth Cruwys, the second and youngest daughter of Thomas Cruwys and Clara Mascord. Colonel Robbins served with the Wiltshire Regiment in North West Europe from 1941-1944. He served as town major at Bergen-Belsen in Germany in 1945. He modestly credited his rapid promotion through the ranks to the fact that so many of his colleagues were killed. After the war he served with the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment in Cyprus from 1956-1958 and subsequently worked for the Ministry of Defence in Oman from 1976-1979.

His first wife, Mary, died of cancer in 1962. He is survived by his second wife, Fleur, his three children and his seven grandchildren.

An announcement of his death was published in The Daily Telegraph on 2nd May which can be read here. An obituary was published in The Times on 11th May 2007 which can be viewed online here.

Wednesday 2 May 2007

Mary Ann Cruwys and
Samuel John Witheridge

Kim Cook of the Witheridge Family Society has provided some welcome information about a hitherto unknown Mary Ann Cruwys and her husband Samuel John Witheridge, a sailor who served with great distinction in the Zulu Wars and the First Boer War. Mary Ann Cruwys is descended from the Thorverton Cruwys family. This line can be traced back to William Cruess and Mary Brook who married in Thorverton, Devon, on 17th September 1721. I've compiled a brief outline of Mary Ann Cruwys's life below and Kim has kindly provided a most interesting account of Samuel Witheridge's life and naval career. Further information about the Witheridges can be found on the Society's website or by contacting Kim Cook.

Mary Ann Cruwys
Mary Ann Cruwys was the eldest daughter of John Cruwys and Sarah Thomas. She was born in St Clears, Camarthenshire, some time between 1852 and 1856. It seems likely that she was registered at birth as Mary Ann Thomas as she was almost certainly born before her parents' marriage in 1856 in Camarthan. Her father, John Cruwys (1831-1884), was an agricultural labourer. He was born in Thorverton, Devon, and was the fourth and youngest child of Courtney Cruwys and Sarah Weslake. Within a few years of their marriage John and Sarah moved from Wales back to Devon, settling in the seaside resort of Dawlish on the South Devon coast. By the time of the 1871 census John and Sarah were living at 8 Town Tree Hill, Dawlish with their four children, Mary Ann, 17, a domestic servant, Anne, 11, John, 8, and Maria, 5. Seven years later when Mary Ann married Samuel John Witheridge at Portsea Register Office on 8th March 1878 she was living at 44 Somers Street, Portsea. Just a few weeks after the wedding Samuel set sail for Africa on the HMS Boadicea. That was to be the last time Mary Ann saw her husband alive. Samuel served in Africa with the Naval Brigade for three years before tragically losing his life on 27th February 1881 at the Battle of Majuba in the First Boer War at the age of 30. Unsurprisingly there is no record of any children from the marriage. By the time of the census on 3rd April 1881 Mary Ann was a young widow aged 26 living alone at 25 Albert Street, Plymouth, and working as a cook.

Two years later Mary Ann married Joseph Charters, another seaman. At one time Joseph had lived a few doors away from Samuel Witheridge's family, and the records show that both men served on HMS Cambridge, although it is not known if they were ever aboard the ship at the same time. Mary Ann and Joseph had five known children:

1. Mary Charters, born in 1884 in Stoke Damerel
2. Edward John F Charters, born in 1887 in Stoke Damerel
3. Sarah Jane Charters, born in 1890 in Stoke Damerel
4. John Charters, born in 1893 in Stoke Damerel
5. Bessie Florence Charters, born in 1896 in Plymouth.

The last record we have of the Charters is from the 1901 census when they were living at 25 York Street in Plymouth. Joseph, Mary Ann and their five children were living in just three rooms in the house with the other two rooms being occupied by another family. Joseph, now 52, was a labourer and his wage was supplemented by a naval pension. We have no details at present of the deaths of Mary Ann and Joseph and it is not known if they have any living descendants.

Samuel John Witheridge (1851–1881)
Samuel John Witheridge, born in January 1851 in Plymouth, was the third son of  Thomas Witheridge (born 1820, Devonport) and Mary Ann Garry (born 1820, Exeter). On 30th March 1851, aged three months, he was in the family home at 1 Woolster Street, Plymouth Charles, with his parents and paternal grandfather Joseph Witheridge (born 1788, Wembury, not Holsworthy as the census states). At some time between 1851 and 1854, the family moved to 10 Lower Batter Street. On 2nd April 1854, Samuel's six-month-old brother, Joseph William Witheridge, died there of pneumonia. In 1855 his younger sister, Elizabeth Jane Witheridge, was born, but on 8th September 1857, Samuel's father Thomas Witheridge, a bargeman, died there of phthisis and diarrhoea.

Mary Ann Witheridge was thus left a widow, with four surviving children, all under the age of ten. Samuel's brother Edmund later wrote that Mary Ann kept the family out of the workhouse 'by turning a mangle'. By 7th April 1861, Mary Ann, with Thomas, Edmund (wrongly listed as Edward) and Elizabeth, had moved to 9 Looe Street, Plymouth Sutton, where Mary Ann was a laundress, but Samuel remained with his grandfather Joseph Witheridge at 10 Lower Batter Street.

In 1865 Samuel joined the Royal Navy as a boy sailor, and soon progressed to ordinary seaman and then to able-bodied seaman. By 1871 he was serving on HMS Caledonia which naval records state was based in Malta, but census returns place in Naples. In 1873 Samuel was transferred to HMS Cambridge, where he served until July 1874. During this time he was promoted from able seaman to TM, and his character was 'very good'. He then served as a TM on HMS Topaze from July 1874 to April 1876, when he was promoted to Leading Seaman. His character throughout was 'exemplary'.

In 1877 he went to the Portsmouth shore base, HMS Excellent, where he received gunnery training, and later served as an instructor to both Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel. When he married, on 8th March 1878 at Portsea, Hampshire, Mary Ann Cruwys, age 24, he was described as a Seaman, RM of HMS Excellent. Throughout his time on HMS Excellent, his conduct remained exemplary.

In April 1878 he was appointed Petty Officer 2nd Class on the newly-launched HMS Boadicea, a Third-Class Screw Corvette, which soon sailed for the Africa station. By July 1878, Samuel had been promoted to Petty Officer 1st Class, and was later appointed Quartermaster. In Africa, a number of Boadicea's crew were seconded to the Naval Brigade to reinforce troops in the Zulu Wars, and Samuel served in Pearson's column at Gingindhlovu and in the relief of Eshowe. He was awarded the Zulu Wars campaign medal, but its present location is unknown.

When the Zulu Wars ended, the crew returned for a while to HMS Boadicea, but in 1881 were again called upon to serve in the First Boer War, under the command of Sir George Pomeroy-Colley. After a number of failed encounters with the Boers, by mid-February it was apparent that Colley had made a number of serious errors of judgement, and may have been having a breakdown.

In a disastrous manoeuvre kept secret from other commanders, Colley led his motley collection of troops (who had never served together before) on a night trek up the treacherous south face of Mount Majuba to capture this strategic point 6,000 feet high. Although they secured the summit plateau, no proper reconnaissance had been made, and no entrenchments or fortifications were dug, except by the Naval Brigade. As a result, on the morning of Sunday 27th February, the Boers crept up a gentler slope of the mountain and over-ran the British troops. Throughout the ensuing battle Colley failed to issue a single order, and in the resulting chaos many lives were lost unnecessarily. Colley himself was eventually shot and killed.

The attrition rate was highest among the Naval Brigade, the most disciplined and well-trained troops there, as they guarded the retreat position, covering the fleeing troops. Among those who died were Samuel John Witheridge and his friend George Hammond, also from Plymouth. The two died side by side, shot through the head by Boers. Later, a Boer commandant pointed them out to a British officer as brave men 'who had stayed at their post till the last'. They were mentioned in despatches when details of the battle were published in the London Gazette on 3rd May 1881.

Samuel John Witheridge and George Hammond are both buried in the small cemetery on the summit of Majuba, and are commemorated on the Boadicea memorial in Haslar Cemetery, Portsmouth. Sadly, the cemetery at Majuba has been desecrated, partly because of the strong feeling that this was an unjustified battle, and partly because local tribesmen believed that 'white men's bones make good magic'. It is not known whether Samuel's grave is intact, but the memorial stone to the men of HMS Boadicea bears a large bullet hole.