Is there a ghost in my family tree?

It’s not every day that you find a possible relative who was reportedly haunting a street. I turn ghost-hunter, meets ghost-buster, to see whether there’s any truth in the story.

I love a good ghost story, and more so the ones that are written about the area that I know well.

A victorian photograph of a mocked haunting
Did Jeremiah Newell return from the grave? Does he return, looking for his bed? Photo: Getty

There’s lots of ghostly stories about Cambridgeshire – ranging from ghosts of Oliver Cromwell, to the beastly Black Shuck. I’ve even been shut in the pitch black of Peterborough Museum basement overnight with night vision cameras. I’m a complete sceptic, and one that doesn’t get scared.

On one of my many ventures into bookstores, I picked up ‘Ghosts & Legends of Cambridgeshire‘ by Polly Howat (1998, Countryside Books), and when I got to page 41, I found myself reaching for a pad, pencil, census returns and parish register transcripts.

Howat’s story is about a Jeremiah Newell of Ely, Cambridgeshire. This uncommon surname and the location fits perfectly with my Newell family tree.

According to her write-up, Jeremiah, or Jerry to the locals, liked a drink. And on one night he had been drinking in his local pub – The Royal Oak on the corner of Potter’s Lane and Back Hill.

The Royal Oak pub, Ely, Cambridgeshire
The Royal Oak pub (now private house) sits on the corner of Potter’s Lane and Back Hill, Ely. Photo: Simon K.

He would have waved goodbye to (or been ejected by) landlord William Fenn, and made his way down the side of the pub towards his bed in Potter’s Lane. It appears to have been his last.

It’s safe to assume that Jeremiah was likely to be somewhat drunk as he staggered that short familiar few meters home.

The next morning, the residents discovered Jeremiah curled up, on top of a dung heap. Presumably, this would have seemed warm and comfy to a drunken Jeremiah, and perhaps he mistook it for his bed… but he had died during the night.

The Cambridge Chronicle of 17th November 1866 backs up the story  – with a guess at what Jeremiah had slept in or on, and complete with quotes from two residents who witnessed Jeremiah’s return (one of whom appears to be quite the wordsmith).

Cambridge Chronicle 17th November 1866
The Cambridge Chronicle report of Jeremiah’s death and subsequent haunting of Potter’s Lane residents in Ely. Copy held at the Cambridgeshire Collection.

The newspaper article suggests an exorcism was requested by residents, but it is not clear whether it ever took place (not sure where i’d find that information), or whether the drama of the story led the reporter or their contacts, to stray a little from reality.

The Stamford Mercury

The Stamford Mercury, which is not the local newspaper, and perhaps therefore has a different set of reporters, carries a very different story. I found a copy of this on FindMyPast. It’s dated from the day of Jeremiah’s funeral (2nd November 1866), and so doesn’t make reference to his ghostly return.

The Stamford Mercury claimed:

  • Jeremiah Newell was found alive in a puddle by a gas man (the gas works were right nearby)
  • Jeremiah Newell was escorted to The Black Swan pub – next to The Royal Oak (and just off to the left of the photo above).
  • Jeremiah Newell was given beer, demanded gin, and then hit his head after dozing and falling over.
  • Jeremiah Newell was laid outside in the sunshine but was found dead shortly after.

These events are completely different from the other two, and I’m tempted to believe that the report from the non-local Stamford Mercury may well be more accurate.

Finding the facts on Jeremiah Newell’s death

Believer or non-believer bit aside, how can I get closer to telling the proper version of this fun story on Halloween?

To try to help me resolve this, I ordered his death certificate (to find cause and location), and I contacted the team at Cambridgeshire Archives to attempt to locate a copy of the Inquest.

Sadly, floods in the 1960s decimated a lot of Ely records (including the 1861 census), and according to the Cambridgeshire Archives team, it seems that the inquest book covering this period was lost. This is a big shame for unpicking this story.

Jeremiah  Newell's death certificate, noting his cause of death.
Jeremiah Newell’s death certificate, noting his cause of death.

As for the death certificate, it revealed that he died on Halloween – precisely 148 years ago today.

In what is probably one of the fullest descriptions given in a ‘Cause of death’ column that I’ve yet seen:

“Congestion of the Brain occasioned by drunkenness, exposure to cold, and a fall whilst in a state of intoxication”

The informant box is equally crammed with writing:

“Information received from William Marshall Coroner for Isle of Ely, Ely. Inquest held 2nd November 1866 (P.[?].)”

So, it seems that Jeremiah died following The Stamford Mercury’s account of events.

Perhaps with his death taking place on 31st October 1866 – Halloween – the residents had taken the opportunity to dramatise his departure, when really he was just victim to his alcohol abuse.

I imagine that the Inquest may have specified any evidence of the gas man, and also which pub he died in, but that now remains a mystery.

Is Jeremiah Newell related?

He’s in the right place, at the right time, but linking him up has proved a little tricky.

Jeremiah was the second of three known children – John (b.c.1809), Jeremiah (b.c. 1814) and Mary (b.c. 1816). All were baptised at Holy Trinity, Ely, Cambridgeshire, as the children of John Newell and his wife Alice (née Block/Black).

Whilst it’s possible to see them together in 1841 and 1851, it’s the earlier records beyond Jeremiah’s Newell grandparents that are ambiguous with common names.

My Newell’s remain in Ely either side of the dates that I’ve found for Jeremiah, his parents, and his nieces and nephews. The connection remains elusive, but tantalisingly close. I guess this bit will haunt me a bit longer.

Jeremiah Newell’s timeline:

  • Jeremiah Newell was baptised on 25th June 1814, at Holy Trinity church, Ely, Cambridgeshire.
  • He was the second of three known children of John Newell (soldier) and his wife Alice (née Block).
  • Jeremiah appears to have married widow Susannah Bidwell (née Pigeon) on 4th September 1858 at Ely.
  • Jeremiah died on 31st October 1866, of injuries sustained whilst drunk, and in cold weather.
  • Jeremiah was buried, aged 52yrs, on 2nd November 1866 at Ely cemetery.
  • The burial register notes him as having lived on ‘Back Hill’ (which is the adjoining road).
  • The Cambridge Chronicle reported the haunting on 17th November 1866.
  • Polly Howat’s book, re-tells the story, 132 years after his death.

Does the ghost of Jeremiah Newell continue to wander Potter’s Lane?

I’ve previously wondered whether the dead could help solve genealogy puzzles, so perhaps I should pop along tonight to see if Jeremiah is willing to talk…. and clear up the confusion over what really did happen that fateful night in 1866.

He might even be stone-cold sober by now.

Happy Genealogy Halloween!

Wedding Wednesday – 1925

This week for Wedding Wednesday, I’ve gone back to 1925, to the wedding of my Great Grandparents Ernest Dewey and Susan Moden at Ely, Cambridgeshire.

This week’s Wedding Wednesday blog post, visits Ely in 1925, when my Great Grandparents were married.

After a nine year courtship, that reached back from November 1925, and into the First World War, Ernest Edward Thomas Dewey and Susan Jane Moden were wed at St Mary’s Church.

I’ve only stumbled across two photographs from this wedding, and neither of these show the bride or groom.

Here’s the first photograph – in very poor condition – showing their bridesmaids and the best man.

Bridesmaids Gladys (left) and Grace (right) with the mystery Best Man (centre).
Bridesmaids Gladys (left) and Grace (right) with the mystery Best Man (centre).

Their bridesmaids were Ernest’s cousin Gladys Anderson, and Susan’s younger sister Grace Violet Moden. Here is the other photograph, which has clearly been better looked after.

Gladys Anderson and Grace Moden in 1925
Gladys Anderson and Grace Moden in 1925

The best man is currently nameless, but a newspaper check should hopefully reveal his identity.

Ernest had many brothers, and Susan had just one. This man could easily be any one of those siblings (as was seemingly often done in this part of the family), or someone entirely different.

Bulldozing History – How the Eagle and Lamb became extinct

How The Eagle and The Lamb became extinct in Ely, Cambridgeshire, and how my ancestors survived it.

I get a sense of comfort or closeness in knowing that I am visiting somewhere where an ancestor once worked, lived, or even died. I don’t think I am alone in this, but it’s frustrating when you can’t see or visit the place they once knew.

It was five years ago since I first wrote about my publican ancestor, the uniquely named ‘Vine Cross’ (or Sabina Steadman Taylor as it turned out), on this blog.

Since then, my goal of seeing a photograph of her now demolished pub had drawn a blank and I aptly put it ‘on ice’. However, I recently received an email from a Robert Flood who had seen my request somewhere online, and had a photograph of the pub on file. This was Vine’s home and business. This was The Eagle and Lamb on Cambridge Road in Ely, Cambridgeshire.

The Eagle and Lamb, Cambridge Road, Ely
The Eagle and Lamb just before demolition in the 1980s.

You can be sure it’s the same site, going by the distinct chimneys of the house next-door, and that the pub site was also home to the Eagle brewery, part of which has been incorporated into one of the few houses that the newer development contains. The photo is sad, and I can probably understand why it was demolished in 1987/88. The pub closed in September 1932.

The modern day site gives little away – the lampost has seemingly moved a few feet, and perhaps some brick wall survives, but aside from this, there’s no other mark of this once being a place where many patrons enjoyed getting slightly (respectfully of course) sloshed, and where my Great Great Great Grandmother ‘Vine’ Cross and her husband George worked and lived, and for a while seemingly brought up their daughter’s Moden family.

Between George and Vine, the couple had the second longest landlord holding of the property (12 years). They were beaten only by Charles Scarr who held it from 1873 to 1889.

As for the wider history of the site, I turn to ‘Ely Inns’ by Patrick Ashton. As part of his book he has documented its past from the land purchase in 1848. He says:

.. on 7th April 1856, Richard Porter, freehold brewer, purchased the site for £700 and ran his business from there until he sold the premises to Morgan’s Brewery Co. Ltd on 24th June 1889 for £1250. Morgan’s closed the brewery part of the business in 1902 but used the site as a distribution depot until 11th May 1920 when Ely brewers A&B Hall purchased the premises for £5000.

My Great Great Great Grandfather George Cross was landlord from 1892 until his death in 1898, afterwhich he was succeeded by his wife ‘Vines Cross’, who then held it from 1899 to 1904.

In 1901 Sabina appears as ‘Vina Cross’, a 48 year old widow. Joining her at The Eagle and Lamb, are a ‘roadman’ Richard Ingrey (67yrs), and William Lemon (44yrs) a ‘railway platelayer’. In two rooms, it is listed that her 30 year old married daughter Mary Ann Moden, was living with there with her husband Edward and their three daughters (one being my Great Grandmother, Susan Jane Moden).

Calling time on pub life

Ten years later, she’s still on Cambridge Road, but living further along on the corner with Barton Road. She’s living alone, aged 58 years, and working as a shop keeper.

Vine Cross signature 1911

Sabina/Vine died in March 1916.

The shop was handed on to her daughter Mary Ann Moden who lived nearby, and the site remained as a shop until the 1980s (during which time I visited it once as a child, but was completely oblivious of my connection to it). It is now a private house.

What next for my Eagle and Lamb research

I hope to now find more records relating to George and ‘Vine’s time at The Eagle and Lamb, and also seek out an old photograph of Vine’s shop whilst it was under her ownership. It seems that there may be a trail of brewery documents to follow, but for now, it remains a mystery.

If you use Google to search for the Eagle and Lamb in Ely, Cambridgeshire, you pretty much only get search results for content that I’ve created. Surely there’s more information waiting to be discovered?

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day might be widely celebrated as the beginning of a year, but to many it also represents another occasion too – births, deaths, marriages, baptisms….

So here comes 2012! How do you see in a New Year?

Whilst still just another 24 hours, looking back it has played a role in a range of historic events in my family. Here’s a list of some of them.

On this day: 1st January..

  • 1815Sarah Yarrow was baptised at Little Thetford, Cambridgeshire.
  • 1890Thomas Kempton Yarrow married Kate Sarah Kempton at St Mary’s Church, Ely, Cambridgeshire.
  • 1898Eliza Freeman married Arthur Digance at Coveney, Cambridgeshire.
  • 1921Leonard Arthur Barber was born in Witchford, Cambridgeshire.
  • 1986 – Sidney Albert Fitch dies aged 77 years.

Has someone in your family tree marked New Year’s Day for a different reason other than a new year?

Surname Saturday: FREEMAN

Surname Saturday takes a look at the FREEMAN surname in Cambridgeshire.

An old name that stretches as far back as the Middle Ages.

Dating from at least the Middle Ages, it is widely believed that it was historically given to a person who was not a ‘serf’ (a slave) and were therefore quite literally ‘a free man’.

Distribution

In 1881, there were 19,124 people with the surname in Great Britain, ranking the surname as the 197th most common surname. Current estimates suggest that it hasn’t changed very much at all, with 24,892 (an increase of just over 5,000), placing it as the 208th most common surname. Over in the USA, there’s an estimated 162,686 people with the surname.

1891 statistics from Ancestry.co.uk show that the distribution of the surname gave a few concentration areas in England.

Freeman in Cambridgeshire

The most recent Freeman ancestor in my tree was Mary Ann Freeman, born in Prickwillow – a village close to Ely, in Cambridgeshire in 1837. She was the oldest of ten children of John Freeman and his wife Mary Grey.

Mary Ann married Edward Moden, an agricultural worker of Coveney. Together they had six children, the last of which (my ancestor) was born four months after Edward’s death in 1867. Mary Ann, with a large but young family, remained widowed until 1871 when she re-married to David Seymour in Coveney. A few months later, the family had moved to Green’s Farm in Ely, and they welcomed their first child together, followed in 1874 by their last child.

Mary Ann’s parents, John and Mary, were from Prickwillow and Ely respectively. John was one of 11 children of John Freeman and his wife Phoebe of Coveney. John (snr) was in turn, one of seven children of William Freeman and his wife Sarah, again of Coveney. Prior to this generation, the family remain a little tricky to locate, with only a few speculative possibilities – but all in Cambridgeshire.

Freeman as a middle name

There are two occasions in my tree, one of which is an ancestor, where the surname has been used as a middle name. Whilst middle names were often the maiden name of the child’s maternal side, which fits for John Freeman Moden, whose mother was the Mary Ann Freeman detailed above. The same cannot be said for John Freeman Dewey.

John Freeman Dewey (b.1856) was illegitimate. Therefore, the use of the name could be a nod to his paternity, like in the case of Sabina Steadman Taylor. Alternatively, the choice of ‘Freeman’ could easily just hark back to the origins of the name – ‘a free man’ (of no master – or father). The identity of John’s father remains, and probably always will, a mystery.

Remembrance: Herbert Martin

Remembrance of Private Herbert Martin, 1884-1917.

Herbert Martin (1884-1917)
Herbert Martin (1884-1917)

Herbert Martin (40572) enlisted as a Private of the 7th Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment.

He was tragically killed on his way home towards the end of the First World War in a train accident in France.

His name is featured on the Little Downham war memorial and was until recently also on a stone in the cemetery, along with his sister Emma and her husband John William Goodge.

Herbert is named in the Cambridge Regiment’s instalment in St. George’s Chapel in Ely Cathedral, where it lists the names of the brave who died during the two world wars.

Surname Saturday: CROSS

Information about the CROSS family from Ely, Cambridgeshire and their impact on the city, and travels to Australia.

Four centuries living in Ely, the Cross family is also one of the largest and most far-reaching.

With one of the earliest mentions of the family being a baptism in 1669 at Ely’s Holy Trinity Church, the Cross family went on to rapidly grow in to one of the largest families I have researched.

A growing family

My most recent Cross ancestor was my Great Great Grandmother, Mary Ann Cross who was born in ‘Buggs Hill’ (Cambridge Road), Ely in 1870, as the daughter of George Cross and his wife Sabina Steadman “Vine” Taylor. Following on with her parents’ business skills, she opened a shop on the corner of Barton Road and Cambridge Road in Ely which she traded from until her death in the 1950s. The shop closed in the 1980s and is now a private house.

Whilst Mary Ann was just the only one of George and “Vine”‘s two children to survive into adulthood, her father was one of 12 children. His father Jacob Cross, was in turn one of 11 children, and his father Philip Cross was one of around 15 children! As you can imagine, the potential for descendants from all of these children from the 3 generations is high and resulted in a large Cross population in and around Ely during the 1800s.

Finding a new life

For some though, Ely was perhaps too small with all these relatives around in the mid 1800s. Cross family groups like that of (another) George Cross and his wife Julia decided to start afresh in Australia. In 1855 they emigrated, following their older son Matthew who had already gone there to mine for gold. Julia was literate and a great letter writer, and a book of letters that she wrote to her mother back in England has been compiled and is now sold at Ely Museum.

Descendants of the Australian Cross families are many, but one – Pamela Phyllis McClymont – decided to set up the ‘Cross Family History Society’. Sadly Pam died several years ago, but she was pleased to pass a lot of information on about the family, including her own book ‘Who’s Who: Cross Family (Volume One, 1997)’ which details no less than 372 descendants from that 1669 baptism.

The Museum and the Tea Shop

One of the Ely’s Cross residents, Frederick Vernon Cross (known as just Vernon Cross) took on his father’s thriving bakery business on Forehill in the centre of the city. He transformed the business from being just a bakery into what is seen as Ely’s first tea shop, running regular advertisements in newspapers for delicious cakes and tea.

Part of the shop also became a space for Vernon to display the artefacts that he had found with his father at nearby Roswell Pits. These included many fossils and bones and his growing collection had begun to dominate the shop. On Vernon’s death in 1976, his private collection was saved by the then recently founded Ely Museum Trust. Today, the museum marks Vernon’s contribution to the collection with ‘The Vernon Cross Meeting Room’. Vernon also published an autobiography titled ‘Cross Words’, detailing his family, childhood, the bakery and his time at war.

The shop is now part of The Royal Standard public house, but if you go in, you’ll find that there are photographs on the wall of the old shop and even one of the shop signs is hanging on the wall as a nod to its history.

Check out the CROSS family at The Family Tree UK.