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 search of census records located a possible match for Richard Atkinson on the 1851 census. Richard Atkinson was recorded as a carver born Rotherhithe and was living in St George in the East in the county of Middlesex. Richard’s wife wasn’t Elizabeth but a lady named Anne. Also in the household were three children Anne, Robert and Elizabeth. The pieces of the puzzle slowly began to fall into place with the discovery of a marriage between Richard Atkinson and Anne Quinn in 1847 at St Dunstan’s Church, Stepney. The marriage confirmed Richard was a widower and his trade was carver.  After several attempts to locate a death for Elizabeth Atkinson I eventually obtained the correct death certificate. Elizabeth died on 12th September 1837 (shortly after the commencement of civil registration) from a stroke at her home in High Street Wapping, aged 52 years. The information on her death certificate was provided by her eldest son Richard Francis Atkinson. The death certificate didn’t shed any light on her identity. To complicate matters further Richard died in 1856 leaving his second wife Anne as soul provider for their four young children.

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.

Step 2:
Previously I had concentrated on trying to find a marriage for Richard Atkinson and locating records for Gwillym families in Rotherhithe and nearby parishes. This time I decided to concentrate on the London/Middlesex parishes in order to locate or eliminate records for Elizabeth Gwillym. Researching parish records in London or Middlesex can be a daunting task. Some parish records have been filmed by the LDS and just as many haven’t or have only partially been filmed. The surname Gwillym certainly posed its own problems when searching the IGI (International Genealogical Index) it usually brings back results which includes the surname Williams which is very popular indeed. I conducted a search on the IGI for any records for Elizabeth Gwillym within the British Isles and ticked the box ‘use the exact spelling’. This type of search doesn’t allow you to choose a county or specify which event you are searching for. The search returned 32 records for Elizabeth Gwillym. Only one event occurred in the London area.

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:
I searched for children with parents Thomas and Elizabeth Ludlow on the IGI (International Genealogical Index) and found three baptisms. The third child just happened to have been baptised in Rotherhithe, certainly a positive link.

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.
Esther Ludlow, daughter of Thomas Ludlow, victualler of Rotherhithe Wall, aged 2, buried on 24th August 1819.
Four weeks later Thomas Ludlow of Rotherhithe Street, aged 30, Eliza, aged 5 and Lucy aged 1, the daughter’s of Elizabeth Ludlow, widow of Rotherhithe Street were buried in the churchyard on the 20th September 1819.
The cause of the family’s demise isn’t recorded but it was likely to be a contagious disease that claimed their lives.

In conclusion:
Elizabeth Ludlow nee Gwillym married Richard Atkinson, on 28th June 1820 at St George’s Hanover Square.

Continues Part 2

Saint Helen’s Bishopsgate, London, marriage register, LDS film 883840
London Church Registers Compendium, Vol. 1 CD (WAGS)
St Mary’s Rotherhithe, baptisms & burials 1813- 1820, LDS film 0254546
London Lying-in Hospital, Holborn, patient registers, LDS film 0916632
St John’s Horsleydown, Bermondsey, baptisms, LDS film 821147
London Church Registers Compendium, Vol. 1 CD, (WAGS)
St George’s Hanover Square, Westminster, baptisms, marriages & burials, LMA X100/456, p301.
1851 Census, St George in the East,, HO 107, 1548, p.11
St Dunstan’s Stepney, Middlesex, marriage register, LDS film 6901979

Published: Vol 10 No 12, Western Ancestor Dec 2008


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