Surname Saturday – Barker

This week’s Surname Saturday themed post covers my paternal Barker family, who I’ve traced back to a village in the county of Hertfordshire, England.

Today’s Surname Saturday themed post crosses the border into Hertfordshire, and visits a small village where my Barker ancestors lived.

My progress in researching the family history of my Barker family is somewhat incomplete. Of course, a family tree is never really complete, but what I mean to say is that it is not very well documented.

This will no doubt be down to the fact that researching Hertfordshire is not as convenient for me as Cambridgeshire, and also because I have stumbled across name duplication from different family groups.

It’s been more of a ‘i’ll come back to this puzzle later‘ approach. That’s probably why blogging about it here today is actually a good thing – as I do get messages from distant relatives who have read the blog and find myself getting back on the trail.

Meet the Hay-binders!

From what I do know, the most recent Barker in my ancestry was my Great Great Grandmother, Mary Ann Barker, who was born in 1854, in Barkway, Hertfordshire. She was the third of at least nine children of William Barker and Mary Head, who had married in October 1847. In all, it appears that she had 3 brothers, and 5 sisters.

  • Joseph Barker (b.c 1849)
  • Louisa Barker (b.c 1850)
  • Mary Ann (as mentioned, b. 1854)
  • Harriet Eliza Barker (b.c 1856)
  • Henry Barker (b.c 1859)
  • Elizabeth Barker (b.c 1861)
  • Esther Barker (b.c 1864)
  • Thomas Barker (b.c 1866 – d.1913)
  • Frances Barker (b.c 1869)

William Barker (born around 1823 in Barkway), is noted as a ‘Hay Binder’ at the time of the 1861 census, and his wife Mary is noted similarly as ‘Hay Binder’s Wife’. The rolling countryside around Barkway would no doubt have been great for hay, but by 1880 he had turned his hand to being a carpenter.

William is deceased by the time that Mary (his daughter) marries for the second time in 1896. Mary (née Head), his wife, appears to survive until at least 1911, when it looks like she is living alone as a widow at the Clock House in Barkway.

Barkway parish church, Hertfordshire
Barkway Parish Church would have been very familiar to the Barker family.

Thomas Barker

Note that the only death date I have of Mary’s siblings is for Thomas, her younger brother who died in 1913. He was my Great Great Great Uncle.

I only have this information due to a recent connection with distant relative (2nd cousin, twice removed, apparently!) Peter Barker, who is Thomas’ grandson. He kindly sent me the following photo of Thomas – it being the only photograph I have of a Barker relative.

Mary's little brother, Thomas Barker (1866-1913). Image: Peter Barker.
Mary’s little brother, Thomas Barker (1866-1913). Image: Peter Barker.

Sadly, Thomas died in July 1913 at London’s Royal Free Hospital when he was in his late 40s, from blood poisoning, which was as a result of his injuries of being run-over by a cart. He was a carman.

Finding Esther…

William was baptised at the parish church in Barkway on 16th March 1823. He was the second of at least seven children of Joseph Barker and his wife Esther. It’s worth noting now, that I am uncertain of the identity of Esther, as I have two possible candidates, but the dates are out.

Esther #1 may have been ‘Hester Hawks‘ who married Joseph Barker in 1809 – but then there was either a very long pause before marriage and first child (12 years), or there’s 12 year’s worth of children hiding somewhere.

Esther #2 may have been ‘Esther Elizabeth Nottage‘ (‘spinster’) who married Joseph Barker (noted as a ‘bachelor’) after the baptism of William (himself, the second child) in November 1823 at nearby Braughing. Were there two illegitimate sons, and a marriage in a different parish to hide the shame?

I’m stuck.

My only slight glimmer, is that on the same day that William went to church to be baptised in March 1823, he was joined on the day by John and Anne Nottage for their son’s baptism (also a William, albeit Nottage).

My Downton Abbey Moment

By the time of the 1871 census, Mary Ann becomes a kitchen maid for a wealthy land owner John H Phillips – a Justice of the Peace (JP) for Hertfordshire, and Deputy Lieutenant for Cambridgeshire. He is also noted as farming 400 acres, and employing 19 men and 7 boys.

Here, she is one of several staff members, including a Lady’s Maid, a Page, Butler, Nurse and a housemaid.

Research by the kind volunteers at Royston and District Museum, brought up several references to John Phillips and his family’s brewery, but none of Mary herself.  As a kitchen maid, it was unlikely that she’d be well documented, but it was worth a look in case a photograph might have been lurking.

However, what is likely, is that this is where Mary Ann learnt her skills in servitude, and hopefully earned herself a good reputation. The heads of the household may have written her a suitable reference that helped to take her down to London by 1880, where she appears as working in the now famous Abbey Road in St John’s Wood.

It was there in London, that she met my Great x 2 Grandfather George Burnell of Somerset, and their lives (and mine) grew into a new branch of the Burnell tree.

Check out some great ‘then-and-now’ photos of Barkway from Tom Doig over on the Barkway village website.

Surname Saturday: BURNELL

The Burnell family moved from Somerset to London, on to Bedfordshire and then on to Cambridgeshire.

Travelling around 300 miles, the Burnell family went from Devon to Somerset to Middlesex to Bedfordshire and on to Cambridgeshire.

When looking back at the families in my ancestry, few are more travelled (so far) as the Burnell family. The family have covered 5 counties in just over 200 years. That doesn’t sound like such an achievement by modern day standards, but in the 18th and 19th centuries, this was a journey. It was a journey for work – a journey for survival.

Back in the 1790s, the family was living in Combe Florey, Somerset. Robert Burnell and his wife Martha (née Evans – a Welsh connection?) were married in the parish in January 1816. It appears that Robert had come from Morebath, Devon, whilst Martha was a resident of the parish.

The couple had at least four children, with Samuel as the oldest – born just 2 months after his parents’ wedding. I have no record of what became of Samuel’s three sisters: Caroline, Mary and Maria – although each are born years apart, suggesting that perhaps there were more siblings.

Samuel Burnell married Mary (neé Babbidge) at Combe Florey on Christmas Day in 1839 (both illiterate) and together they bore a total of 12 children, including my Gt Gt Grandfather George Burnell in 1850. By 1861, Samuel is noted as a ‘road contractor’ and the family (by then almost complete) are living in poor houses.

The road to Middlesex

Their son and my ancestor, George, went off to work in what was then Middlesex, but is now absorbed by Greater London. In 1880 he married Miss Mary Ann Barker of Barkway, Hertfordshire. They married in All Saint’s Church, St John’s Wood on 9th May 1880, both naming residence as ’46 Abbey Road’ – a road that would find fame around 80 years later.  In 1885, my Great Grandmother Daisy Burnell was born in the Stables in Abercorn Place, London – an area that Charles Booth categorised in the two highest categories (‘Middle class well-to-do’ and ‘Upper-middle and Upper classes. Wealthy’) of his Poverty Classification system.

However, whilst this sounds like the family may have hit wealth in this part of London, they were undoubtedly servants to the wealthiest people of London.

A new start in Bedfordshire

By 1889, the couple and their four children left for Dunstable, where George became the landlord for ‘The Royal Oak’ in Church Street, Dunstable in Bedfordshire. Sadly, George died soon after in June 1891, leaving his pregnant widow with a young family and £75 13s 4d (worth today at about £4,500).

Seeking Hope in Cambridgeshire

Seeking to make ends meet, a pregnant Mary took her young mourning family off to Littleport, Cambridgeshire. Here they made a new start in the company of The Hope Brothers – a clothing manufacturing business.

Mary later re-married to James Smith, and appears to have died in 1929.

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