That Ole Devil Called Love

A chance find of a 1914 postcard of mystery elderly newly-weds leads me to unravel their happy day, and a likely link back to me.

Whilst helping my father to clear out my uncle’s house in Little Downham last year, i found absolutely tons of photos, but amongst them were many that had belonged to their neighbour (and my grandmother’s best friend) Mrs Vera Buttress, who wrote her name on the reverse of each one – including this one.

Elderly couple Mr Robert Symonds and Mrs Mary Howlett on their wedding day in 1914.
Mr and Mrs “Symons”, proving that you’re never too old to fall in love, or get married. Photo: Starr & RIgnall, Ely.

I love this photo – an elderly couple getting married in 1914 – and so I kept hold of it.

Today I finally decided that I would spend a few minutes to see if I could identify ‘Mr and Mrs Symons’ in records. No. No such marriage.

This frustrated me somewhat, as having a photograph, turning it into a postcard, and printing these would not have been ever-so cheap in 1914. So it felt unlikely to have been staged for the April Fool Day date written on the front.

The photographer clue

The photo is a postcard by Starr and Rignall – well known photographers of Ely, so i checked for a marriage on 1st April 1914 in Cambridgeshire, with a load of variants.

It was FindMyPast that turned up the answer, and unsurprisingly I found them in Little Downham, hence why Mrs Buttress had it. I turned to my transcription of the parish records.

The bridegroom is given as Robert Symonds, 75yrs, widower, otp, son of Robert Symonds, lab. The bride is named as Mary Howlett, 84yrs, widower, daughter of George Bonnett, labourer. The witnesses were George Lythell and Eliza Ann Lythell.

Now, this became much more interesting – the Lythell surname is a local surname (and I have many in my family tree), but more tantalising is that I have two Howlett to Bonnett marriages in my tree already.

I then tried to find Mary on the 1911 census from 3yrs earlier. There was nothing that stood out as even mildly correct.

I decided to turn to the other end of their lives and see when the couple died – and so I checked Downham’s cemetery records. This gave me Robert as being buried in grave L20 on 6th April 1918, aged 80, just days after their 4th Wedding Anniversary.

I couldn’t find a Mary (apart from one in 1908, presumably Robert’s previous wife). Instead, there’s an Elizabeth Symonds buried there on 10th Dec 1920 in grave L77.

This was both puzzling and exciting – in that whilst it’s not the Mary I was expecting, if this means she was really Elizabeth, then that would very likely place her in my tree as the Elizabeth Bonnett, daughter of George Bonnett (and also matching the wedding register) who married my relative James Howlett at Mildenhall, Suffolk in 1859.

Scene at Little Downham

With this being a wedding of a couple of older people, I wondered whether the newspapers might have picked up on it, and sure enough they had:

Newspaper report of the marriage of Robert Symonds and Mary Howlett Bonnett, 1914.
Scene at Little Downham: The marriage story in The Cambridge Independent Press, 3rd April 1914, page 11.

The article confirms the Lythells, the studio photograph, but once again refers to the bride as ‘Mary’.

Amusingly it also refers to their first ride in a motorcar.

The Honeymoon

Out of curiosity, I wondered whether this grand occasion might have appeared in any of the Cambridgeshire photographic books I’ve bought over the years. A quick flick-through the first one I grabbed from my collection, led me to this:

Newly-wed elderly couple Robert Symonds and Mary Howlett in a car in Ely, 1914.
“Mr and Mrs Lythell”, as the book caption wrongly notes, parked up outside the Minster Restaurant and Cafe, Ely, 1st April 1914.

This shows the couple again – clearly matched by their faces, and in a car as corroborated by the newspaper article, but here in The Archive Photographs Series: Ely (Chalford, 1997) they’re erroneously captioned with “A Little Downham couple outside the Minster Restaurant and Cafe on 1 April 1914. This photograph was taken after their wedding, a second one in each case; Mr Lythell was eighty-four and his wife seventy-eight“.

The ages and surname are incorrect (with Lythell interestingly being borrowed from the witnesses and best-man), but the rest of the detail matches, and even the style of ‘On the honeymoon’ writing matches that of the other photograph from my collection. I don’t have the original photograph of this, but I bet it too is a Starr & Rignall postcard.

So, the final piece of this jigsaw will be finding ‘Elizabeth’/’Mary’ in her first marriage to my relative James Howlett, and seeing whether between 1859 and his death (a date I don’t yet know), she uses one or either names, and that he has died by 1914.

Even if she proves to be someone different all together, I’ve enjoyed unravelling the clues, and sharing the happy couple’s day, more than 104yrs later.

My grandmother is highly unlikely to have borrowed this from her friend Vera because she knew that it was a relative – the ‘Mary’ shown in the photo would have been her great grandfather’s sister-in-law. I think it’s purely coincidence.

The reason I got this photograph out today was to collect up all these old photos that once belonged to Vera Buttress, and to organise a ‘handing over’ of them to their village history society… but it pays to just have a thorough look through such things because you don’t know what you might unravel with a little bit of research.

 

Surname Saturday: The Howlett family

Today’s ‘Surname Saturday’ post takes us back in time to meet the Howlett family.

The Howlett family are part of my paternal family tree, and give me one of very few tickets back through time beyond the fenland of Cambridgeshire.

Okay, admittedly it’s only to the adjoining county of Suffolk, but compared to most of the rest my ancestry – that’s the equivalent of the moon!

My most recent Howlett ancestor was Elizabeth Howlett. She was born to Thomas Howlett and his wife Caroline (née Clark) on 3rd March 1856, in the small parish of Kenny Hill – not far from Mildenhall, Suffolk, England.

Elizabeth Howlett with her husband James Gilbert, Burnt Fen, Cambridgeshire.
Elizabeth Howlett with her husband James Gilbert, Burnt Fen, Cambridgeshire. Photo: Andrew Martin

Thomas was the 6th of the 7 children of John Howlett and his second wife Elizabeth (formerly Goodings, née Poll), and the 8th child for Elizabeth after her first marriage to Michael Goodings ended with his premature death at just 27yrs.

John Howlett – my Great x 4 Grandfather, born in about 1786 in Ashfield, Norfolk is currently the extremity of my research. Likely suspects for his parents remain elusive.

At the ripe old age of 38, John married widow Eizabeth Goodings (née Poll) on 17th May 1824 at Wymondham, Norfolk, England, and around 3 months later she gave birth to the first of their eventual 7 children:

  • James Howlett b.1824
  • Hannah Howlett b.1827
  • Robert Howlett b.1828
  • Ellen Howlett b.1832
  • Honour Howlett b.1832
  • Thomas Howlett b.1835
  • Elizabeth Howlett b.1838

For John, this was his second marriage, and as I look back through my file, I see that I don’t yet know who my earlier Step-4x Great Grandmother was… or whether there was an earlier flock of Howlett children. I suspect there may have been – 38yrs in the 1820s, was probably leaving things a bit late!

Weaving in Wymondham

John is noted as a Weaver in 1824, and again in 1828 – just like his new-found father-in-law, Ishmael Poll (who is specifically noted as being a silk weaver). Wymondham had a booming weaving industry, and therefore once mastering weaving, there would have been plenty of looms around. Trade via Norwich, and Norfolk’s plentiful coast, no doubt aided this.  By 1841 though, he’s left weaving, and Norfolk, and appears on the 1841 census for Lakenheath, Suffolk, and has become a ‘labourer’ – undoubtedly on the fertile land surrounding his new home. He’d stay in the Mildenhall area of Suffolk until his death in February 1861.

Meanwhile, by the mid-1800’s John and Elizabeth’s children are marrying and bringing new branches to their family tree. All seven marry – some twice, and most have children.

Thomas’ little sister Elizabeth Howlett (1838) married George Gipp in 1854, and together they had 11 children – including the wonderfully named Rainauld Ishmael Gipp – presumably a nod to the child’s maternal silk weaving great grandfather.

Thomas Howlett

Thomas meanwhile, is working as an agricultural labourer. He married my 3x Great Grandmother, Caroline Clark in Mildenhall on 25th May 1855.

Thomas Howlett and Caroline Clark marriage register signatures
Thomas and Caroline were illiterate, both signing the marriage register with an ‘x’.

Ten months later, their daughter (and my 2x Great Grandmother) Elizabeth Howlett arrives. Life would have been hard for this young little family in the fenland, but it was about to get harder.

Caroline Coe (formerly Howlett, née Clark) - my Great x3 Grandmother c.1911.
Caroline Coe (formerly Howlett, née Clark) – my Great x3 Grandmother c.1911. Photo: Andrew Martin.

Thomas died aged 23 on 28th May 1858. Just days after his 3rd wedding anniversary, and just weeks after his daughter’s 2nd birthday.

He died at Whelpmoor, after suffering from Phthisis (essentially, Tuberculosis) for 9 months.

He must have been in severe pain, whilst desperately trying to provide for his family. Caroline was by his side as he died.

In later life, Caroline would go on to re-marry, to Robert ‘Dadda Bob’ Coe, and this new couple would spend their later years living next-door to her daughter Elizabeth as she married and raised her own family – this time with the Gilbert name.

 

 

The Gilbert family at Littleport

Earlier this year I was given this incredible photograph showing three generations of my Gilbert family outside their house at Burnt Chimney Drove, Littleport, Cambridgeshire.

Second from the right (not counting the dog!) is my Gt Gt Grandfather, James Gilbert – farmer of Littleport. His wife, Elizabeth (née Howlett) stands proudly next to him. My Great Grandmother, Clara Gilbert is 6th from the right, with at least two of her sisters next to her.

Third from the left, is Caroline Coe – my Gt Gt Gt Grandmother – Elizabeth Gilbert (Howlett)’s mother. She married Thomas Howlett in nearby Mildenhall, Suffolk but when Elizabeth was at most, 2yrs old, he died in his mid 20s. Caroline re-married to a Robert Coe and they lived next door to the Gilbert family in this photo.

I’m identifying the photo as being about 1910-1916. It has to be before 1916 as this is when both James Gilbert and his wife Elizabeth died. Caroline Coe died shortly afterwards.

It’s impressive to find a photo with so many relatives in it AND outside their house. I previously had no photographs of any of these people with the exception of my own Gt Grandmother.

%d bloggers like this: