Wednesday, March 16, 2016

William James Beales

When Eliza Whybrew married William Beales in the autumn of 1891, she was marrying a man whose childhood was distinctly different to her own. Whereas she had spent her childhood moving from place to place with her father's army regiment, Bill had always lived in the same small village where his father and his grandfather had spent their whole lives.

Bill was born and raised in St Osyth, on the coast of Essex. His father James Beales was a farm labourer and horseman, and his mother Rosina (or Rosanna, nee Bines) the daughter of another agricultural labourer from the nearby village of Little Clacton. The extended Beales family was a large one - in the 1881 census Beales was the third most common name in St Osyth. 

James and Rosina with their sons c 1900(?)
Bill is on the far right
Like Susan Whybrew, Rosina Beales gave birth fourteen times*, but all except one of her children survived childhood (Emily, born in 1886, died at the age of 9). Life in St Osyth was certainly not luxurious, but it was stable and the village was perhaps isolated from many of the epidemics that spread rapidly through larger towns.

William received a very basic education at the local school. By the age of 12 he was already employed as an agricultural labourer. The Elementary Education Act of 1880 made school compulsory until the age of 10, and the school leaving age in England was nominally raised to 13. However, if parents could produce a certificate to show that their child had reached a satisfactory level of education, they could be employed sooner than this.

The Beales girls with James and Rosina
It's difficult to find out much about the Beales family. They didn't frequent the Police Courts, and they weren't far enough up the social ladder for their social life to be of interest to anyone, so their names don't appear in the newspapers or on local directories. It seems there are no records of baptisms of their children in the parish church registers at St Osyth. Most of what is known about them comes from the census records.

By the time of the 1891 census in April, William had found work as a coal porter and had moved to Colchester, where he boarded with a young couple named Edmund and Mercy Child. There he met Eliza, and they were married in Colchester at the end of 1891.

Though Eliza and Bill were in their early twenties when they married, both had younger siblings who were still toddlers. This was not uncommon in the days when many women produced a child every two years for 30 years. James and Rosina Beales' last child, Hannah, was born in 1890, but David and Susan had another three children born after Eliza's marriage  - James, Ada and Lily - though sadly neither James nor Lily lived long.

Bill and Eliza's first child,  Alice was born early in 1893, followed by Rosina (registered as Rosanna in February 1895), William James (June 1897) and Ada Kate (late 1899). Ernest David was born at the end of 1901, after the census. He was to be the only child of theirs that didn't live to adulthood, dying at the age of five. On the census Ada is listed as 'Adam', though she is described correctly as a daughter aged 1 year old.

In 1901 the family were living in a typical Victorian terrace house ('two up, two down') in Albion Grove in Colchester, not far from Pownall Cresent where David and Susan Whybrew and their younger children lived. Bill was now working as a grocer's porter, carrying goods for the shop owner and his customers and perhaps also helping to keep the shop in good order. It would not have been a highly paid job, so it's likely that the family had to live quite simply.

 A London bread van, circa 1910
By 1911 Bill had a job as a 'carman' with the Co-op, driving a horse-drawn cart. An article written in 1903 about the carmen of London described them as being poorly paid and  working long hours. Perhaps the Co-operative Society were more generous to their employees, but again it's unlikely that Bill earned much.

With the addition of Henry (born 1904 and nicknamed 'Son') and Miriam (born 1906 and known as "Mill", ) the family expanded to 6 children. Some time before the 1911 census they moved to a six roomed house in Campion Road, an even shorter walk from Eliza's parents' home in Pownall Cresent. A young soldier and his wife boarded with the Beales, which perhaps helped to pay the rent.

William and Eliza and their family were very much involved with the Salvation Army in Colchester. Bill played the cornet and was the bandmaster for many years. Eliza was possibly an officer, though that is uncertain. Alice and Ada both married officers and were officers themselves, according to my father. (Officers in the Salvation Army are the equivalent of the ordained clergy in other churches. Both men and women can be appointed.)

Rosina, as a teenager, worked in Ipswich as a servant to Albert Orsborn, who later became the 6th General of the Salvation Army. As mentioned previously, she left the Salvation Army when she married my grandfather, Thomas Ward. William James Beales junior followed his father into the Colchester band after his military service during World War 1. His son Bernard became bandmaster at an early age.

My father tells me that Son (Henry) was seen as something of a black sheep in the family, as he smoked and liked to have an occasional drink. Soldiers of the Salvation Army are supposed to "abstain from the use of all enslaving substances." I'm not sure how long his sister Mill (Miriam) remained in the Salvation Army, but it was she who recalled that her mother was born in Australia, thus setting off my search for the Whybrew and Mason families.

Bill Beales senior retired from his post as band leader in 1938, but apparently continued to play his cornet even when he was too ill to get out of bed. He died on June 13, 1945. He was much respected and his funeral was well attended. He was buried in Colchester cemetery.

William James Beales' grave in Colchester cemetery

Colchester cemetery
(both photos from
*I've now discovered from the 1911 census that Rosanna gave birth to 15 children, of whom 13 survived.