Richard Atkinson & Elizabeth Gwillym
According to oral history my husband’s great-great grandfather Richard Francis Atkinson was apprenticed to the sea in the rough colliery trade, transporting coal between Wales and London. Richard’s seafaring exploits took him to the Mediterranean, Odessa and South Africa. On returning to England he sailed for Australia and when he reached Sydney the convicts were making the wharves and the sea wall around the harbour. It was in Sydney that he met and later married Elizabeth Williams on 1 May 1847.
The stumbling block was Richard’s parents Richard and Elizabeth Atkinson. The only clue to Richard’s origins came from family folklore which suggested the family came from Kent, England and Elizabeth’s maiden name was Gwillym.
Richard and Elizabeth Atkinson’s four children were baptised at St Mary’s Rotherhithe. The family were living in Swan Lane when their son Richard Francis was baptised on 20th May 1821. Thomas Gwillym and his sister Eliza Watson were baptised together on 1st Jan 1826. Tragedy struck ten months later when Eliza died. She was buried in St Mary’s churchyard on 8th Oct 1826. A daughter Elizabeth was baptised the following year in November. Richard worked as a ship’s figurehead carver and by 1826 the family had moved to Rotherhithe Wall (an extension of Rotherhithe Street) and that was the extent of the information I had learned about the family. An exhaustive search of nearby parishes had failed to locate a marriage between Richard Atkinson and Elizabeth. An earlier search of the 1841 census for Rotherhithe also failed to locate the family.
The first step:
A planned trip to the UK brought a halt to my research. Nevertheless the experience of exploring London and travelling on the Thames to Greenwich and Rotherhithe brought a new dimension to my experience as a family historian and cemented a bond with my husband’s Atkinson ancestors.
Two years had passed since my original breakthrough and I still hadn’t identified a marriage between Elizabeth Gwillym and Richard Atkinson.
A marriage between Elizabeth Gwillym and Thomas Ludlow which took place on the 20th October 1811 at Saint Helen’s Bishopsgate. I had already established Elizabeth was about 52 years of age when she died leaving the possibility she could have been married prior to meeting Richard Atkinson. I still had no evidence to place Elizabeth in Rotherhithe or on the east side of the Thames.
The next step:
In order to prove any connection to this Elizabeth Gwillym I had to confirm these children belonged to the same couple.
I visited the LDS Family History Centre and ordered all four films for the children’s baptism records and the marriage between Thomas Ludlow and Elizabeth Gwillym. The baptism record for Thomas and Elizabeth Ludlow’s first born daughter Eliza was recorded in the admission registers of the Lying-in Hospital in Holborn. Elizabeth’s parish sent an order for admission on the 1st April and Elizabeth was admitted to the hospital on the 2nd May. Elizabeth was 27 years of age the wife of Thomas Ludlow, a waiter and her settlement parish was Newington, Surrey. Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter on 3rd May 1814 and the baby was baptised Eliza on 12th May. Elizabeth was discharged from hospital on the 21st May 1814.
Their second daughter Esther was baptised in Bermondsey, Surrey four months after her birth on the 5th January 1817.
Their third daughter Lucy was baptised at St Mary’s Rotherhithe on 28th October 1818 and Thomas was described as a victualler of Platform Wharf. A further search of neighbouring parishes failed to find any further children born to Thomas and Elizabeth Ludlow.
If Elizabeth Ludlow was in fact the elusive Elizabeth
Gwillym something had to happen to Thomas Ludlow, the most logical scenario being
her husband Thomas died before 1821. Given the time frame was prior to civil
registration the main records available to consult were church burial records.
The most likely place to start was the family’s last known residence
Rotherhithe. I commenced searching the parish burial records from October 1818
the date of their youngest child’s baptism. It wasn’t long before the secrets
which lay in the churchyard were revealed.
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