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!

Surname Saturday: The Haylock family

This week’s SURNAME SATURDAY themed post looks at the HAYLOCK family of Ely, Cambridgeshire, England.

This week’s Surname Saturday themed post, takes a look at my Haylock family connection, living in Ely, Cambridgeshire, during the 18th and early 19th Centuries.

I’ve seen the Haylock family turn up amongst the branches of my relatives, but only recently have I stumbled across them in my ancestry.

The most recent ancestor to carry this name was my 6x Great Grandmother, Mary Haylock, wife of my 6x Great Grandfather, Francis Newell.

St Mary's Church, Ely
St Mary’s Church, Ely. Photo: Robert Cutts via Creative Commons.

Mary was one of at least three (perhaps five) children of John Haylock and his wife Elizabeth (my 7x Great Grandparents). It seems that Elizabeth’s maiden name was Elizabeth Parson, but there is a bit of questioning here, as whilst a John and Elizabeth Haylock had two sons (both named John) in 1769 and 1770, the only marriage for a John Haylock and Elizabeth at any time around those dates, is actually in 1772 in a marriage at St Mary’s Church, Ely (right place) – after their baptisms (wrong time), and just before Mary’s (maybe not so wrong after all).

I’m therefore documenting it, but treading carefully with this option.

Therefore, the confirmed legitimate children were:

  1. Mary Haylock b.c.1773 d.Jul/Aug 1826 (my ancestor)
  2. Sarah Haylock b.c.1776 (and witness at Mary’s marriage to Francis Newell)
  3. Flanders Haylock b.c.1779 (son)

I’m related to ‘Little John’

Whilst the legend of Robin Hood may well have been a fabricated story, ‘Little John’ does indeed sit in my ancestry.

My 7x Great Grandfather John (mentioned above) is noted at the 1773 baptism of daughter (and my 6x Great Grandmother) Mary as ‘little John’.

I’m pretty sure we’re not talking height here, it’s far more likely to have related to his position in family hierarchy – and is probably the son or grandson of another still living John Haylock.

This is where my trail goes cold for now.

However, the Ely Haylock family turn up a few times in other branches of my ancestry including as spouses in my Newman and Yarrow trees. I also once had an English teacher called Mrs Haylock.

Variants of Haylock

In my research in just the St Mary’s parish register of Ely, Cambridgeshire, I have found six variants of Haylock. Those being:

  • Heylock
  • Healock
  • Hellock
  • Helock
  • Harlock
  • Herlock

Some of these variants interchange during the same year, an indication at just how volatile the spelling was, how low literacy was, or how thick the fenland accent was carried across. As this just represents one parish, I’m sure there will be other variants.

There’s even a memorial tablet from 1863, to a Charles Theodore Harlock who drowned aged 29. I’ve no idea if he might be related, but could no doubt determine his immediate ancestry through the records and available censuses.

Origins of Haylock suggests that the origin of the name Haylock comes from an old Anglo-Saxon personal name.

They also show that in 1891, Cambridgeshire was home to 23% of all of the UK’s Haylock name-bearers.

Wordless Wednesday – Gottle O’ Geer

Wordless Wednesday – Frederick Vernon Cross with his ventriloquist dummies in 1909 (aged 13.5yrs).

Frederick Vernon Cross (1909)
Frederick Vernon Cross (1909)

Brown & Co (Ely) Ltd shop frontage re-appears on Forehill

An old shop sign re-emmerges on Forehill, Ely, right nextdoor to the former bakery of my Cross relatives. But what’s the history?

On Sunday, I was enjoying strolling in the sunshine in Ely, when I stumbled across this piece of work-in-progress on Forehill. Intrigued, I couldn’t resist a rummage in the records…

A close-up of the elaborate painted shopfront and proud historical signage.

Fortunately for me, immediately next door, is The Royal Standard pub, which was once two properties – the upper-hill part (and nearest to this shop, and shown in yellow below) was the bakery of Frederick Thompson Cross (my Great Grandmother’s second cousin, twice removed), and later his son Vernon Cross, both relatives of mine.

The shopfront of Brown & Co. (Ely) Ltd uncovered on Forehill, with the elaborate door on the right. The yellow painted building was home to the Cross family bakery.


The 1901 census reveals that Forehill was home to a range of businesses – including confectioner, publican, watchmaker, baker (my family), a boarding house, and a clothier.

The sole clothier on the street, and so likeliest candidate for this shop was Alfred Hammence, aged 51 in 1901, from Ely. With his wife Hannah, they were immediately before the Cross family on the census return.

Alfred and Hannah were joined by their daughters Lilian Mary (22) and Ellen Eugene (20), and Edward Spelman, a 25 year old assistant clothier.


Ten years earlier in 1891, Alfred and Hannah are at the same address, and this time, the location is clearer, with the census naming ‘The Royal Standard’ pub on the other side of the Cross’ bakery. Alfred and Hannah are joined by six children, a boarder, and a servant.

1891 Census for Forehill, Ely
Alfred Hamence, and neighbours the Cross family, on Forehill, Ely, in 1891. Click to see census on


Ten years earlier still, Alfred, now aged 31, is living at the property with his wife Hannah and their three sons Bertram (5), Hubert (3), and Ernest (1), and two daughters Lillian (2), and Ellen (2 weeks old). Also with them is William Malthouse, a 21 year old ‘clothier’s assistant’ from Hull, Yorkshire, nurse Lucy Mann (55) from Exning, Suffolk, and servant Elizabeth Lofts (17) from Little Downham.

Next door, in what was yet to become the Cross’ bakery, lives John G Benson, a baker from Norfolk. Frederick Cross at this time was living at home a few streets away in Waterside, where he’s noted as a ‘baker’.


Stepping further back, in 1871, a 21 year old Alfred Hamence is noted is now an Assistant at the same shop – the shop itself being managed by Benjamin Bagg (30), who is noted as ‘head’ of the household, and as a ‘Tailor’s foreman and manager’ from Bethnal Green, Middlesex. Along with Benjamin and Alfred are, Benjamin’s wife Caroline (30), their son Ernest (2), daughter Minnie (8 months), Benjamin’s sister Sarah (35), and William Dobson Carr (14), a ‘clothier’s apprentice’ from Whetherby, Yorkshire.

Again, what was to become the Cross’ bakery, was a bakery already, but it is now run by John Moore, a 41 year old ‘miller and baker’ from Mendham, Suffolk.

Sadly, the 1861 census for Ely was lost in a flood, so my view further back is obscured.


Coming forward again to 1911, Alfred, now 61 years old, remained at the address, as an ‘outfitters manager’, but he is joined by his wife of four years, Agnes Ellen, who at 44 years old, is 17 years younger than her husband. The couple live only with another assistant, Russell George Jude – a 24 year old ‘outfitters shop assistant’ from Mildenhall, Suffolk.

Ornate Evidence

Whilst the ornately decorated sign claims that ‘this clothing shop was opened in 1810′, I don’t have evidence to support that, not least because I don’t have access to any trade directories, or deeds, and of course the useful censuses don’t stretch far enough back, but there seems to be some essence of truth to the business’ longevity here.

Quite who ‘Brown’ was, and going by the suggestion of the shop sign, where the rest of his shops were – that’s all currently beyond the records I can search right now.

I have photographs of my Cross’ bakery nextdoor from 1892, 1896, 1906 and 1960 (as published in Vernon Cross’ autobiography ‘Cross Words’, but all give only about a 1 brick width insight into the style of Mr Hamence’s shop front.

What next for Alfred Hamence’s shop?

I’m hoping that whoever is carrying out this restoration, isn’t about to apply a layer of gloss over this terrific, and historical, signage, and that it will once again be boarded over and preserved, in hiding, for another generation to stumble across on a sunny Sunday.

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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?

The lost and unloved Nokes family Bible

A family bible for the Nokes family (seemingly of Essex) sits unloved in the corner of an antiques store in Ely, Cambridgeshire.

‘A present from his father and mother on his 24th birthday’ reads the inscription inside the cover. It’s dated July 30th 1891. A loving gift of a huge family bible, but one that now sits unloved in the corner of an antique store.

Tucked at the back, in the corner, on an old sideboard, I stumbled across this 3-4 inch thick, weighty, black covered (leather?) ‘Holy Bible’. It sits in a display at Waterside Antiques in Ely, Cambridgeshire. I’ve been here countless times before – scouring the items for books, marvelling at the collection of 40s/50s clothing, and checking out any photographs I might find.

This bible has been sat here a long time. I usually come back to it to see whether it’s still there, or to see if it has dropped down from its price tag (currently £80, i think). I can’t justify spending that on something that I wouldn’t use, nor is it related to me, but the curiosity of it is tantalising, so I felt that I should help it on its way home…

I’ve taken some photos. The bible was given to Frederick Nokes in 1891. A few pages further in are the delightful collection of names and dates that any genealogist would love to stumble across:

Matching with the dates inside the bible (born 30th July 1867), FreeBMD gives one result – Frederick Nokes born in the Braintree (Essex) district, in the September quarter of 1867.

The book also notes the birth of Anna (which reveals as having the surname Willsher) in 1867, and then notes that they were married in 1892. Unfortunately the bible is devoid of locations, but some more FreeBMD and rummaging reveals the details here.

On the 1901 census, Frederick and Anna appear at Burrows Lane, Earls Colne, Essex. They are both 34yrs old, and alongside them are two of their children (again, matching the bible), Bertie and Harry. Frederick is noted as being a ‘Painter – Agricultural Machinery’. It is also noted that Frederick was born in Bocking, Essex, whilst Anna was born in Great Tey, Essex.

By the 1911 census, the couple still live in Earls Colne, and appear with 4 of their 5 children (one is noted to have died). As a nice touch, the handwriting on the census form matches that seen for the entry of ‘Winifred Ada Nokes’ in the family bible.

Children of Frederick and Anna:

  • Gladys Nokes (1893-1894)
  • Bertie John Nokes (1895-1979)
  • Harry Nokes (1896-1917)
  • Winifred Ada Nokes (1902-?)
  • Robert Frederick Nokes (1905-1965)

The bible goes on to reveal that Anna dies in the Halstead district of Essex in 1963, aged 95, which is all corroborated with the FreeBMD records.

The most recent notation in this book is March 1965, regarding the death of Robert Frederick Noakes – noting that the ‘a’ in Noakes was added by the registrar.

By entering the Nokes data into (as a new tree) I was then able to explore a bit further – even uncovering photos which are identified as Bertie John Nokes, his wife Sarah, and son Roy.

This amount of personal detail makes me hopeful. Two Ancestry members seemed to know enough information about the Nokes family for me to feel like they would care about this unloved bible. I’ve messaged them both. At the very least, they can see the photos for themselves, but you never know – they might decide to buy it and bring it back into the family.

Do you have a family bible heirloom? Have you ever found a family bible with notes and researched the names?

Tombstone Tuesday

Two gravestones in Ely Cemetery, Cambridgeshire from the CROSS and JEFFERY families.


Cross and Jeffery graves, originally uploaded by familytreeuk.