A (tenuous) sort of Jack the Ripper connection? Part One

It’s astonishing what a little undirected Googling will turn up! I was actually trying to pin down some further information about Macord’s Rents, which you may remember we talked about in It’s time to talk about the Huguenots Part Two, but instead I stumbled upon a reference to Macord’s Waterproof Isinglass Plaster. This was something I had actually encountered briefly ten years ago, when searching Trove, the invaluable online archive of the National Library of Australia. However this time it took me in an entirely unexpected direction – to probably the most infamous series of murders of all time, and to a young woman who very briefly wandered through the furthest reaches of my family history.

Let’s start with Robert John Macord, born in 1815, who was the third child and second son of John II and Elizabeth Macord of Limehouse Hole. In the 1841 Census he is a ‘chymist and druggist’, operating out of premises at 58 Minories, London. Those familiar with the Jack the Ripper saga will already recognise that this address is pretty much ‘Ripper Central’.

Robert seems to have been the inventor of a very successful new type of medical plaster made out of isinglass* – a natural product which clearly had a bewildering variety of uses at the time. There are a number of instances in online records of this product being advertised: the text below appeared in The Medical Times in 1848-49, for example, and some of the same testimonials also appeared in the Sydney Empire on Saturday 3 January, 1852.


Macord’s Transparent Waterproof Isinglass Plaster, and Isinglass Plasters on all fabrics, are manufactured at 58, Minories, London, and can be obtained of any druggist or surgical instrument-maker.


January 31, 1844

After having used in the London Hospital Mr Macord’s Isinglass Pluster, I am enabled to say that it has afforded me much satisfaction. I have found it to adhere well and to be free from any irritating property.

James Luke


February 26th, 1844

I have now repeatedly made use of the various forms of Isinglass Adhesive Plaster manufactured by Mr Macord, and am of opinion that they are likely to prove very useful in the treatment of wounds.

William Fergusson

Professor of Surgery in King’s College, Surgeon to King’s College Hospital, etc.


March 8th, 1844

I have directed the application of Mr Macords Prepared Isinglass Plaster in cases of ulcer and recent wound, and I think very favorably of the Invention. It is clearly an effective dressing, and easily applied. 

Benjamin Travers Jr.

Resident assistant surgeon.


March 27, 1844

The Isinglass plaster as prepared by Mr Macord is superior to any I have had made elsewhere, being both more adhesive, more transparent, and altogether more easily applied.

Robert Liston

See Lancet Jun15, 1844, page 365.


May 21 1844

I have made trial of Mr Macords waterproof transparent plaster in the treatment of wounds, and have been quite dissatisfied with its adhesive properties. It is, moreover, an irritating, and in most circumstances must be more advantageous than plasters containing resin.

James M. Arnott

Surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital.


May 30, 1844

I have used Mr Macord’s Transparent Plaster for the last three years with much success, and am happy to bear testimony to its great utility, also his Sedative Solution of Opium, which proves most effective.

C.L. Vidal

Surgeon, Royal Ordnance Hospital, Purfleet.


October 24th 1844

Sir – having used the different specimens of your Isinglass Plaster, I beg that you will be so good as to send me, for the use of Sligo Infirmary, twenty yards each of the four kinds you sent to me. Your transparent plaster may be considered expensive for hospital use. I consider it otherwise: through it you can see the state of the surface underneath ot, and thereby only have to remove it when it necessary, this measure being economical of your plaster and of the state of the wound to which it may be applied. I look upon your plaster as being cleanly and nice, as well as as being more applicable to most parts than any oily or resinous plasters can possibly be.

Your obedient servant ,

Thomas Little MD, LL.D., F.R.C.S.I

Surgeon to the Sligo Infirmary


September 1st 1845

We have employed Macord’s Transparent Sticking Plaster during the last twelve months, and in all cases where sticking plaster is required, except in operations for hare-lip, we prefer it to any other.

William Wright

G.M. White

H.C. Attenbury

Surgeons to the General Hospital Nottingham.


November 5th, 1848

I feel great pleasure in testifying to the utility of Mr Macord’s Transparent Isinglass Plasters; in small flesh wounds, they surpass in efficacy  any I have ever used. In haemorrhage, from leech bites, they form a crust with the blood which effectually covers it.

J.J. Rygate, M.B. Lond.


November 23, 1848

Sir – I have used the plaster you sent me, and have much pleasure in adding my favouritable testimony to those you have already received. Its transparency permitting without disturbance the satisfactory inspection of the wound. Its adhesiveness superior to that of any other application, and unaffected by washes, which are so frequently necessary to moderate inflammation in wounds. Its complete freedom from any irritating quality; and its cleanliness will render it henceforward and indispensable requisite to every practical surgeon.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

Henry Thompson, M.D., F.R.C.S.I.

Surgeon to the Tyrone Infirmary

To Mr Macord, 58, Minories.


Macord’s Isinglass Plaster, 1s 6d per yard: 14 in wide, on white or black calico. Directions – wet the plaster well with a damp sponge, or dip in water.

Macord’s Waterproof Isinglass Plaster, 1s 6d per yard; 14 in wide, on white or black calico. Directions – wet the plaster well with a damp sponge, or dip in water.

Macord’s Transparent Skin, 2s 6d per yard:  5 in wide. Directions – wet well the part, and apply the plaster dry.

Macord’s Waterproof Transparent Plaster, 4s and 6d per yard; 14 in wide. Directions – wet well the part, and apply the plaster dry.

A discount of 15% on purchases to the amount of £2. 


The Medical Times: a Journal of Medical Science, literature, criticism, and news. 1848 – 49, October – June. Retrieved via Google Books on Friday 3rd December 2021 from a volume held in the Bavarian State Library at Munich.

Robert John Macord died in 1863, but his business interests clearly outlived him; after his death the plaster (still bearing his name) continued to be made and packaged at 58 Minories, by a company named Winifred Hora & Co. They employed a number of day-labourers to accommodate fluctuating demand, and one of those day-labourers was Frances Coles, aka Frances Coleman, who at the time lived in Union Street, near Southwark Bridge. More information about Frances will be found in Part Two.

Of the names listed above, J.J. Rygate (who seems to have qualified in 1847) is of particular interest: Robert John Macord’s fourth son, Herbert Rygate Macord, born in 1849, is clearly named after him – and at just the time when the medical plaster business seems to have been flourishing. Herbert Rygate did not go into medicine or any related career; he seems to have been happy enough as a stationer and later a lodging-house keeper.

Robert John Macord’s third son, however, Horace Walford Macord, might fairly be called the ‘black sheep’ of his particular family. He described himself as a ‘druggist’ in the 1871 census, with premises in Kemp Town, Brighton. He married Alice Hurn in 1869 and they rapidly had three children; however the marriage seems to have broken down in 1878 when he alone emigrated to Australia – claiming to be an M.R.C.S. – leaving his wife and three children behind with her parents. Alice subsequently reverted to the use of her maiden surname, although I have been unable to trace a divorce. For the next few decades Horace Walford seems to have lived in New South Wales – where it is quite possible he started a whole new family which has descendants in the area to this day. He did, however, return – and indeed officially immigrated – to England in 1918, possibly reconciling with his wife Alice. He died in 1924, but a shop bearing his name – H.W. Macord, Chemist – was trading at 120 East India Dock Road, London, until at least 1934.

Obviously there are a lot of gaps in this narrative and lot of questions remain to be answered – what, for example, were Robert John and Horace Walford’s qualifications, and did Horace Walford father another dynasty in Australia? Watch this space, or one very much like it, for further details!

*If the word has ear-wormed you, be reassured that it gets a passing mention in the lyrics of ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top’ from Oklahoma!


It’s time to talk about the Huguenots… Part Three

So, let’s recap. June’s 5x great-grandfather was Mathieu Mocquard, occupation unknown, who married Ester Michelle. Her 4x great-grandfather was the first John Macord, who was a butcher but who also potentially started the family’s ‘property empire’; he married Ann or Agnes Gandey. Her 3x great-grandfather was the next John Macord, carpenter and undertaker, 1749-1816. His first wife was also named Ann, but further details are elusive; however June is descended from him through his second wife, Mary Armstrong, via the second Daniel Macord, 1792-1835, who started life as a carpenter but by 1822 had become a publican and victualler. He was in fact the earliest (so far) traceable licensee of the Horse Shoe public house in Grange Road, Bermondsey, an establishment which existed for over a hundred and twenty years before eventually being bulldozed; a block of flats known as ‘Trocette Mansions’ is now on the same site. Daniel and his wife Mary Smith (such an easy name to trace in records!) had four daughters – Mary, Rachel, Sarah and Lydia, as well as a baby son who died at five months old.

Daniel the victualler seems also to have gone in for property owning and management, although there is no clear evidence of him having done any of the actual construction; it’s far more likely that he just bought, sold and managed existing property. Unlike previous generations, however, Daniel’s holdings extended south of the river; as well as the Horse Shoe he also owned – or at least insured – two adjacent properties, one of which was an oil chandler’s yard. This sounds like an uncomfortable neighbour to have, and a good insurance policy was no doubt considered a necessity!

Daniel’s will – proved in February 1835, although the precise date of his death is still unknown – distributes a lot of silver spoons, plates, ‘milk pots’ etc., as well as two magnificent-sounding watches – one gold, one ‘engine-turned’, which in those days would have been a luxury item indeed. Given the history of engine-turning as a craft, there is a good chance that this watch – left to his eldest daughter, Mary – was of Huguenot work and may very possibly have been a family heirloom. It was certainly considered superior to the gold watch bequeathed to his second daughter, as she also had her late mother’s ‘gold hair ornaments and trinkets’ as well as a ring, brooch and earrings, to make up for the deficit. (Her mother, Mary, had died in 1833 at roughly forty years of age.) Clearly, victualling in Bermondsey in those days was a lucrative business – albeit probably very hard work, and in one of the less desirable areas of London.

Daniel’s second daughter Rachel was deaf, which is revealed in the census entries relating to her. In one, her name is actually given as ‘Rachua’, which may indicate the way she spoke – i.e. slightly indistinctly – which in turn possibly indicates that she had been hearing impaired from birth, or a very early age. She married John Adam Daniel, a customs officer, in 1844, and they had seven children together. Rachel is the most recent ancestor in this line to have borne the Macord surname; Colin Gronow, of the Macord One-Name Study, is descended from her sixth child and third son, Robert Macord Daniel, who was born in 1858, whereas June was the grand-daughter of Rachel’s fourth child and second daughter, Alice Ester Daniel, who was born in 1854. Alice married William Augustus Baker in 1882 and was the mother of the ‘Baker bunch’ as described extensively elsewhere on this blog.

And this is where we end our present brief sojourn in the company of the Huguenots. This is still an area for active investigation, not least because the records are confusing. Huguenot clergy were very keen on making notes of their congregations and tracking their births, marriages and deaths, and most of these records have since found their way into the central archives of The Huguenot Society which goes above and beyond to make this information available to researchers. However, many Huguenot places of worship were short-lived – and language confusion and transcription errors over three centuries or more have resulted in difficulty in matching up family members to one another. Two brothers, for example, who may have married at the same place but a few years apart, could easily be recorded with different surnames, especially in the earlier generations when varying Anglicizations of French surnames tended to be used. The same problems occur with new emigrants to the USA who had to go through Ellis Island, and also with the Chinese-descended population in Australia. Whether or not the immigrant was literate, whoever received them into the new country (where there was a formal process at all) may not have been, or not to the same extent, and names and identities were inevitably lost – in most cases forever. It’s really pure luck if existing records in the country of origin can ever be matched up to members of the immigrant population, and usually the fact of a family having relocated due to political, economic or religious upheaval puts a full stop to any line of enquiry – which is where we are obliged to leave it for now. However, as mentioned in the previous post, Mathieu and Ester had approximately 300 traceable descendants in their son’s line alone, which is plenty for any aspiring genealogists to get their teeth into!

It’s time to talk about the Huguenots… Part Two

Well, this is a big subject with a lot of ramifications! Apart from anything else, the present database contains over 300 people descended from Mathieu and Ester Mocquard – and that’s only the line through their eldest child, John (Jean Enry)! The line from their second child, Ester, is fairly well-established and is available online, but it seemed too massive an undertaking to incorporate it as it would very likely double the contents of the database – if not more. As for their third child, in a way he is the most interesting of all – although not to posterity, as he died unmarried and as far as we know did not father any children. He did, however, have a brief but fascinating career at sea, aboard HMS Cambridge, which I suspect he may also have helped to build as she was laid down at Deptford near where he lived. His name was Daniel, and he is the first in a series of Daniel Mocards/Macords whose brothers were very often called John. Daniel will, at some point, merit a post all of his own.

Given that families in those days tended to be larger, it’s quite possible that there were other siblings that we have not yet been able to identify – or, sadly, who were born and died in rapid succession without making much of a mark upon the world. For the time being, it is probably wise to assume that John, Ester and Daniel were the only ones who survived to adulthood. Similarly we have, so far, no information about the dates of death of Mathieu and Ester, although we suspect this information probably is available somewhere.

So, for now, let’s follow the first John Macord – also known as Jean and Jonathan. He was born in 1721 and baptised at the French Protestant church in Soho Square. He earned his living as a butcher, and was married at the Fleet Prison or thereabouts in 1748 to a woman named Ann or Agnes Gandey or Gander; their eldest child – another John, of course – was born in 1749 and baptised as St. George’s in the East which became the family church for many generations to follow. Whether in that case they can still be described as ‘Huguenots’ is a moot point, but they certainly remained staunchly Protestant!

We do not know for certain where they lived at this time; however in later years the family lived at a house on Old Gravel Lane which had been built a few years earlier in what was then a semi-rural area. Given that succeeding generations of Macords were deeply involved in house-building and buying, selling and letting property, it might be possible to conclude that the first John (the butcher) built his own house before he married Anne – and it was no doubt his place of business, too.

Again, although families at the time were often larger, we have firm evidence for only three children from John and Anne’s marriage – John II, Margaret, and Mary. John II was born in 1750 and in about 1770 he married a lady named Ann of whom we have no further details at the moment. They had five children, beginning with another Ann in 1771, at which point they lived in Pennington Street and John II earned his living as a carpenter and undertaker. I like to think that he, or another member of the family, may have made coffins for the victims of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders.

John II’s wife Ann seems to have died before 1785, and so did their son (yet another John!) who could not have been more than five or six years old. Subsequently John II married Mary Armstrong; the connection between the Macord and Armstrong families goes back at least to the first Daniel, the mariner who served aboard HMS Cambridge; Francis Armstrong was one of his shipmates and to judge by the fact that their enlistment numbers are only two digits apart it seems likely that they had been boyhood friends and/or workmates in Deptford and had signed up together in the Navy in search of adventure and booty!

Without wishing to complicate things further at this stage, I’ll conclude today by saying that John II moved into the house at Old Gravel Lane – presumably built by his father – in 1777. He continued the family tradition of building and owning properties, among others a small development of four houses and one workshop or outhouse between Choppins Court and King Street, very close to the St George’s Workhouse. This was in the part of London later excavated to make way for an extension to the docks; a canal between Shadwell Basin and Spirit Quay now runs through this area.

No pictures or descriptions of Macord’s Rents have yet been traced, but ‘rents’ at the time are best summed up as small and no doubt dark individual rooms opening onto a gallery or landing such as the wretched dwellings described by Charles Dickens in ‘Little Dorrit’. They would all have shared a privy and had to use a nearby pump for water. The only rational conclusion to form from this is that the Macords – who may have had many fine qualities otherwise – were at this time almost certainly slum landlords and were contributing to the poverty and wretchedness of London’s underclasses rather than doing very much to alleviate them.

On which note, we will step aside here and return with the next generation of Macords in a few days’ time.

This picture (source unknown) shows the rough present-day location of Macord’s Rents.

It’s time to talk about the Huguenots… Part One

Just as we can’t discuss Alec’s (Atkins) family history without involving the fascinating Chinese-Australian line, we can’t really go very far back on June’s (Baker) side before we run into descendants of the Huguenots. In fact, if my deductions are accurate – and that’s a very big ‘if’ at this stage, and may always remain so – June’s 5xgreat-grandfather was one Mathieu Mocquard, born in about 1695 at Lille, Nord Pas-Du-Calais, France. This man was married to a certain Ester Michelle, also of French descent, and they were the parents of at least three children – one of whom was ‘Jean Enry Mocard’, later known as John – or Jonathan – Macord, who was baptised at the French Church in London on 11 December 1721.

Before we go into the implications of the marriage between Mathieu and Ester and the children, grandchildren, etc. who emerged from that union, it’s probably a good idea to take a look at who these people were in the first place, and how they ended up in London at all.

Huguenots were French Protestants, usually members of the Reformed Church of France which in turn owed its origins to adherents of the theologian John Calvin. The origins of the term ‘Huguenot’ itself are disputed, but that isn’t especially relevant to this particular story. What is relevant, however, is that Huguenots in general were despised and persecuted by the Catholic majority in France – perhaps most destructively on the occasion of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 23-24 August 1572, as a result of which up to 5,000 people are believed to have been killed.

As in England and elsewhere at this particular period of history, different rulers had different religious leanings – even when they were members of the same family, like the half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth Tudor – and sought to impose these upon their subjects. Thus a new king could reverse the policy of his predecessor, and this is what appears to have happened with the Edict of Nantes in April 1598, which granted freedom of worship to French Protestants (Huguenots and Lutherans alike). If the French Protestant community relaxed at this news, however, they were to be disillusioned less than a century later when the Edict of Fontainbleau (22 October 1685) was enacted, which revoked the Edict of Nantes and removed their legal protection. The practical outcome of this was that those whose consciences would not allow them to return to the Catholic faith felt obliged to leave France by any means they could – and, because the Huguenots were on the whole hard-working, ingenious and creative people, this exodus has been described as a kind of early brain drain.

Naturally – especially for those who lived near the coast – England, with its restored Protestant monarchy and its thriving links to the New World (itself supposedly a haven of religious freedom), must have seemed like the best place to go. At the very least, being only twenty-one miles away across the Channel, it was probably one of the cheapest to reach. French Protestant Refugees therefore flooded into London, and Mathieu Mocquard was no doubt among them.

Unfortunately it is not possible to make much more than an educated guess about the family’s origins earlier than the birth of Mathieu, and if there is a record of his baptism and his parents’ names anywhere it is no doubt buried in some French archive. (Many of these have vanished over the intervening centuries, though.) However the surname ‘Mocquard’ apparently suggests the trade of moquette-cutting, which would place the family among the ranks of the distinguished artisan silk-workers who were such a major component of the Huguenot refugee community at this time. Many of them gravitated to the Spitalfields area of London, where a house has been converted into a ‘time capsule’ museum portraying how some of the more successful Huguenot refugees lived.

Whether or not Mathieu was a silk weaver – or indeed a moquette cutter – is still unknown. His sons, as far as we are aware, were not – and this perhaps indicates that he was able to get them apprenticeships in other, less overcrowded, lines of business. What London needed then, and what it has always needed and will always need regardless of the era, were builders and coffin-makers. This was how young Jean Enry Mocquard – or John Macord, as he at some stage took to calling himself – chose to earn what turned out to be a very successful living.

But that, as they say, is a story for another time…

The Baker Bunch – Part Two

We continue the saga of the children of William Augustus and Alice Esther Baker with their five youngest – all boys.

5. Stanley Baker (‘Stan’) 1888-1960

Alas, not the movie-star of the same name, who was forty years younger and Welsh. Stan was married to Grace Maud Philpot and they had one son, Philip Stanley Baker – June’s ‘Cousin Phil’ – who laid much of the groundwork of the family history detective work in this particular line. Alas, in later years, June became very confused, and actually spent a whole day with her Cousin Clive thinking he was Cousin Phil. Phil died in 2007, and it would be very interesting to know what had happened to his research material; enquiries I have made have yielded precisely nothing, unfortunately.

6. Reginald Baker (‘Reg’) 1890-1968

Reg was married to Jessica Munton, and their son was named John – and this is, I’m afraid, all the information I currently have about him except that, like all of his brothers but Frank, he both served in the First World War and worked his entire life for the GWR.

7. Frank Edward Baker 1892-1963

We’re on safer ground with Frank; he was June’s father. He married Edith Nellie Louise Mullinger (1895-1987) in 1919 and they had four children – William Edward Frank (‘Teddy’), June Edith, Pauline Mary, and Peter Neville Macord.* Frank was excluded both from working with the GWR and also from active military duty in the First World War as the result of a childhood accident which left him with only one eye. He did, however, go to France as an ambulance driver; the emotions of Alice as she waved away all seven sons, in turn, to the battlefields can only be imagined.

Frank had a glass eye, and is reputed to have entertained guests by taking it out and polishing it at the dinner table – but this story seems to have circulated about everyone who ever had a glass eye, and should probably be taken with a pinch of salt! He was variously in the licensed trade, a cinema manager, and the proprietor of a tobacconist and sweet shop – the business, and premises, of which he is trying to divest himself of in the course of the 1960 and 1961 letters on this site. He was also a Freemason, but this is an area of family history which is notoriously elusive and I have not attempted to research it yet; however I am aware that the masons refused to help Edith when, towards the end of her life, she needed a place in a residential care home.

8. Cyril Baker 1893 – 1960

Cyril married Beryl Smith, and they had four children – Patricia Kathleen, Iris, Anthony Cyril Raynham, and Clive Robert Ian. Again, as with some of the other ‘boys’, this is all the available information at the moment; clearly further research is indicated.

9. Hubert Dudley Baker (‘Bunny’) 1896-1917

Lacking any definitive information about how his nickname came to be, it isn’t difficult to imagine young Hubert being his mother’s darling and consolation after the death of her husband. Apart from this we know little, and it is only recently (i.e. February 2021) that a photograph of him has emerged on a ‘Member’s Tree’ in the Ancestry database, incorrectly labelled as being of Frank. Clearly a wrong attribution had become attached to it by someone who had never met Frank, or indeed anyone who knew him; close scrutiny, however, reveals a cap badge bearing the Prince of Wales’ feathers, and we know that Bunny was in the Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles.

The circumstances of Bunny’s death are still a mystery, although it should be possible to research. He died (appropriately for a railway worker) at Railway Dugouts, near Ypres, on 18 January 1917, and is commemorated on the Ealing Memorial Gates at Ealing Common, along with over 800 other local men.

So, these are the seven men and two women who made up ‘The Baker Bunch’. They undoubtedly knew hardship – Alice used to tell her sons always to carry a half-penny and a stone in their pocket, so that they could jangle them together and sound wealthy even though they weren’t – however they all seem to have won through in the end and made decent lives for themselves and their children, who by my reckoning numbered 26 in all, with goodness knows how many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren (Frank certainly has at least three!) and potentially great-great-great grandchildren before too long.

It really needs little more than this snapshot of one family to realise exactly how big a task Family History is, even when you already have a lot of the information you need. Family is indeed, as Dodie Smith memorably called it, a ‘Dear Octopus’ from whose tentacles one can never completely escape; that being said, however, it is not un-reasonable to document it to whatever extent is possible – if only so that future generations do not continue to confuse Phil with Clive, or Frank with Bunny!

[*Mullinger and Macord are both fascinating families with very long recorded histories; the Macords in particular were Huguenots who fled to England from religious persecution in France in the seventeenth century, and it would be reasonable to suggest that every single Macord in the various online genealogy databases is somehow related to ‘our’ Macords – it’s a particularly unusual surname. My distant relative Colin Gronow is currently working on a definitive ‘One-Name Study‘ of the Macords. The name came into the Baker line via Alice Esther’s mother Rachael Nickolls Macord.]

The Fabulous Baker Boys

Left to right: Will, Rob, Stan, Reg, Frank and Cyril. Date unknown, but certainly inter-war; 1930s perhaps?

I thought we’d done this before, but apparently not. Therefore – since we have recently mentioned June’s uncles Stan (who died in May 1960) and Will (who had a stroke that same year but survived), and we will shortly be mentioning Cyril who also died in 1960, and June’s father Frank is never far from the proceedings – it’s probably time to do them justice.

William Augustus Baker, 1854-1897, who described himself as a ‘tea dealer and rent collector’ (although we suspect his tea dealing was done from a barrow on a street corner somewhere) was June’s grandfather; however he died nearly thirty years before she was born. He had married Alice Esther Daniel in early 1854, and by the end of that year the first of their nine children was born; this was Alice Edith Macord Baker, 1882-1962, (‘Macord’ being a family name with a fascinating pedigree of its own), who is the Miss Baker (Aunt Eda) who sometimes appears in the letters.

Apart from Eleanor, 1886-1964, who made an interesting marriage and was subsequently the family superstar, all the rest were boys: William Ernest (Will), 1882-1962; Robert Lionel (Rob), 1885-1971; Stanley (Stan), 1888-1960; Reginald (Reg), 1890-1968; Frank, 1892-1963; Cyril, 1893-1960; and Hubert Dudley (‘Bunny’), 1896-1917.

Frank was blinded in one eye as the result of a childhood accident, which kept him out of military service in the First World War when – as far as I know – all his brothers went; however he was able to serve as an ambulance driver. Bunny, who was in the Civil Service Rifles, was killed in 1917 on active service and buried at Railway Dugout cemetery, Ypres. Alice was awarded a pension on his behalf.

All the surviving ‘boys’ except Frank joined the GWR. Again, his disability prevented it; Frank became ‘business manager’ for Eleanor when she was widowed, and ran a number of hotels, pubs, and other commercial operations on her behalf.

As you will have gathered, railways were what brought the family together; Alec Atkins, as a young man, came to lodge at the house in Ealing which was then owned by Eda Baker – and which presumably gave priority to young GWR railwaymen – and there he met her niece, June, whom he married in 1954.

Taken in the late 1950s, so potentially about 25 years later than the picture above. Left to right: Will, Rob, Stan, Reg and Cyril. I would like to thank the ‘boys’ for kindly lining up in birth order each time and making a humble chronicler’s life easier as a result.

In the late 1950s the ‘boys’ were featured in an issue of the GWR magazine; their photo was taken at an annual cricket match and an article was written about their many years of service – which must by this point have totalled about 200 years, a small drop in the ocean of the joined families’ overall service. Five of June’s uncles were railway staff; so were both of Alec’s uncles, his father, his grandfather and a myriad of predecessors dating back to the earliest recorded member of the family in railway service who was a packer in the goods department at Weston-super-Mare.

Apart from Frank the ‘boy’ I have the clearest recollection of is Rob, who outlived all the others. He lived in a house in Ealing – very close to, and possibly later subsumed by, a large branch of Sainsbury’s – with his second wife, Rhoda, and an excitable little white poodle called Pepe. Rob was house-bound and in very poor health, and as result he bought the first colour television I ever saw in private hands – although I had seen a demonstration of colour TV in a department store a short time before that – in order to watch racing in the afternoons. Whether or not he ever had a flutter, I am not in a position to say.

I’m in intermittent contact with Rob’s grandson Christopher, who is one of the many cousins I’ve been in touch with during my family history researches. Chris’s father, Roy, very kindly sent me a whole batch of old family photos before his death a few years ago – some of which I will be reproducing here in due course.

This blog is a year old!

I’d just been looking at celebrating the 150th post in a couple of days’ time when to my astonishment I realised that it’s actually a year since I started posting!

For anyone who may not have been around then, the justification for this blog is as follows: I have inherited, as well as a lot of family history paperwork, ten years’ worth of letters between (mostly) my parents and my grandparents. I am posting the letters now on the 60th anniversary of the dates they were written, although in due course there will also be some other family history related articles on here. I’m acutely aware, for example, that I’ve pretty exclusively stuck to the Atkins family (as well as their Chinese associates) so far; I also have Baker, Fewings, Mullinger and Macord in my family tree – the last two of which I have researched myself and come up with some fascinating snippets.

I have newspaper clippings, theatre and concert programmes, photographs going back to the mid-nineteenth century, and goodness knows what else. The aim is gradually to reduce the amount of storage needed, which is why I’m posting all these letters online – and yes, destroying the originals. They are valuable not for themselves but for the information they contain, after all.

I’m sorry to have to report, however, that I got short shrift from the second cousin who had previously indicated that she had a lot of family history memorabilia in her loft. She now denies having said any such thing, and reminds me that her father died in 1986. (I knew that, actually.) That was not so much a door closing as a blast door slamming shut and a detonation taking place on the other side of it; there is no route, now, leading in that direction, and although I think that is a terrible shame I have no alternative but to accept it. Her loss, I feel, but clearly this stuff has more value to me than it has to her. I shall at least not feel obliged to consult her about any of this in the future, which is something of a relief.

And so we enter our second year; I know there are a few people reading this now, and I’m not just whistling into the void, so we’ll keep posting and just see what happens. I feel I have an obligation to the people who amassed all this information in the first place to make some attempt to preserve it and share it with anyone who may be interested. I can’t imagine who you may be, or why you’re here, but I know you’re out there somewhere – to quote the words of a song – and even if you weren’t I’d probably still be doing this because I Am Really Just That Sad. 😎