The history of the Baker family (June’s ancestors) as I know it goes back to a certain ‘Symon Baker’ born in about 1620, of whom all we know is that he had a son called Daniel born about 1650. They seem to have originated in Gloucestershire and eventually gravitated to London, with certain excursions to Lancashire and Guernsey when one of the 19th century William Bakers was ordained in the Church of England and naturally had to go where he was sent.
His eldest son, therefore, William Augustus Baker, was born at Farnworth in Lancashire in 1854. William Augustus described himself in the 1881 census as a ‘tea dealer’ (which I suspect means he sold tea from a cart, rather than being a commodities broker on the Stock Exchange), but by 1891 he was calling himself an ‘accountant’. He died in 1897, aged only 43, leaving behind a widow and nine children. This is the ‘Bunch’ we’re going to be talking about today – and we have an almost unprecedented opportunity of seeing them all in one place, which probably last happened at some point before or during the First World War.
William and his wife Alice – she was born in Stepney of a father who was a Customs officer and a deaf mother – managed to squeeze out nine living children in fifteen years, despite taking a breather in 1884, 1887, 1889, 1891 and 1894/5. There is little evidence to suggest how Alice and her children supported themselves in the immediate aftermath of William’s death, although later evidence would seem to suggest that they took in lodgers – and no doubt some of the elder children were able to do part-time work, but there is a gap in the record here. William Augustus’s will, which was not proved until 35 years after his death, declared effects to the value of £250 – roughly £17,000 in 2021 money.
So here is our cast of characters: William Augustus and Alice seem to have evaded being photographed – unless they turn up in the background of a wedding group somewhere – but their children managed at least one turn each before the lens. Since there are so many of them, we’ll have to split them into two groups.
Eda never married. By the 1891 census she was already living with her family in what would be her lifelong home, 17 Eccleston Road, West Ealing, London. Always referred to just as ‘17’, this property was not relinquished by the family until some time in the 1970s. In 1901 she was a ‘domestic nurse’ (i.e. nurserymaid or similar, probably untrained) to a family named Spencer in Rickmansworth; in 1911 she was living – presumably in a similar capacity – with her younger married sister, Nell, who had a six month old son. Eda then disappears from online records until the death of her mother in 1928, after which her surviving brothers joined forces to ensure that she would either inherit or otherwise acquire the lease of 17. The details are still elusive, but she was certainly in the business of letting rooms to lodgers – specifically, it seems, to single young men who worked for the GWR and later British Rail. This was how Alec came to be living there immediately after WWII, and how he met – and eventually married – her niece June.
The eldest of what I have called elsewhere ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’. Six of the brothers worked for the GWR in some capacity, and all six of these eventually went off to fight in the First World War. Will married Gertrude Chaloner and they had two sons, another William and a Ronald. I have not had a chance yet to research either the wartime careers or the GWR work histories of the ‘boys’, so details are somewhat lacking in many cases.
Rob was married twice; the first time to Annie King, with whom he had four children – Joan, Olive, Delphine and Derek – and, after her death in 1929, to Rhoda Mary Balsdon. The last of the ‘boys’ to die, Rob lived in a house in Ealing with Rhoda and their hyperactive poodle, Pepe. He was house-bound for many years, and was therefore the first person I knew – and probably one of the first in the country – to own a (*gasp*!) colour television. He used to enjoy watching the racing on ITV in the afternoons, but whether or not he ever had a flutter I am unable to say.
Nell’s life had interesting parallels with her mother’s. Alice married at 28 and was widowed at 43; she had nine children, the youngest being eight months old when his father died. This youngest son was also the first of the children to die, being killed in action in 1917 (see Part Two). Nell, in turn, married in 1909 at the age of 23 to John Stewart Percy and was widowed at 40. She gave birth to ten children – James, Mary, Maxwell, Barbara, Pamela, Montague, Anne, Jean, Colin and Timothy – the last of whom was born after her husband’s death, and unfortunately died as a baby.
If Nell was employed outside the home at any period between the 1901 census – when she is a ‘scholar’ at the age of 14 – and the date of her marriage, the record does not show. Her husband’s untimely death in 1926 left her a wealthy woman with a large family, and her younger brother Frank became her business manager; he ran cinemas, pubs, hotels, dance halls and at least one billiards club on her behalf for a period of more than thirty years before she began to divest herself of them.
She was clearly, from her photo, the glamorous one in the family!