Left to right: Maurice, Ellen Annie, Benjamin Charles, Spencer Charles. Seated: Millicent, Kate Alice

 I am a descendant of Benjamin Charles ALSTON through his elder daughter, Ellen Annie, my maternal grandmother.

According to the 1841 census, Benjamin Charles (born 1833), was the fourth son of Peter ALSTON, silk weaver (born 1791) and Ruth (born 1794), the family living at Lukes Yard, All Saints, Sudbury.

Benjamin Charles, silk weaver, was admitted as a Freeman by birth on 9th November 1857. He married Millicent BERRY on 11th August 1859, also a silk weaver; they had four children, shown in the family photograph as young adults.

 He died on 25th November 1896 at the age of 63. Although described In the 1861 census as a silk velvet weaver and again in 1881 as a silk weaver, in 1871 he is a post messenger and at the time of his death he is recorded as an ex postman.  The address throughout this period is 2 Inkerman Row, Sudbury.  Millicent, born in 1830, survived until 20th March 1905.

Spencer Charles, their elder son born 1859, was admitted as a Freeman by birth on 3rd August 1883.  Described as a valet, he was living at Stitchill House, Torquay. According to the 1881 census, the Head of the Household of Stitchill House was George Edmondstone, retired Civil Servant, Annuitant, Government of India Bengal Residency, with his wife and a young lady visitor.  He was obviously a man of substantial means as they employed ten servants – a cook/housekeeper, upper housemaid, and under housemaid – Elizabeth Kerslake aged 20 – as well as a kitchen maid, coachman and wife, butler, gardener and wife, and Spencer Charles as footman, aged 22.  

Ten years later at the date of the 1891 Census, Spencer Charles is visiting the Kerslake family in Shoodleigh, Tiverton, Devon, he and Elizabeth Jane marrying that year, perhaps during that visit.  They continue in service together and ten years later are in the household of Nigel A.B. Bunn, his wife and three daughters. Though no profession is recorded for Nigel Bunn, the address in Carter Lane is the site of St. Pauls Cathedral School  in the Parish of St. Gregory and St. Paul, St. Martins, Ludgate, City of London.

There are eleven servants including Spencer as Butler and his wife as a servant.  In 1911 they have opted for a more rural life as resident caretakers of The Manor House, Herringswell, Mildenhall in Spencer’s home county of Suffolk. Elizabeth died in October 1923. Having returned to Devon, he died in July 1938 at 19 Chambercombe Road, Ilfracombe, leaving an estate of just over £8000 which was administered by his brother, Maurice.

Maurice was admitted as a Freeman by birth on the same day as his elder brother, 3rd August 1883. He is then living at 59 Parkholme Road, Dalston, London and described as a Merchants Clerk. Born on 21st April 1860, he was in London in 1881 as a Clerk and, as far as I am aware, was employed by the P & O Shipping Company throughout his career, always in the capacity of Clerk, – with prefixes of Shipping, Resident, Merchants and Shipowners Clerk – presumably rising in status as he became quite wealthy.

He married Isabel Emma in 1906 and in 1911 they were living at 13 Park View Road, Finchley, London. They did not have any children of their own but took on the upbringing of Maurice’s niece,  his elder sister’s daughter, on the death of her mother (see below). At some point they moved to Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire where he served as Mayor in 1928/29. The original of the portrait photograph shown here has been donated to the Dacorum Heritage Trust.

 Maurice died in March 1944 by which time he and Isabel had moved to 66 Brackendale Road, Bournemouth.  He left £23,000 to be administered by the Public Trustee to support his widow who lived into the 1950s.  

Maurice as Mayor of Hemel Hempstead 1928/29

Ellen Annie was born in 1864.  At the age of 17 in 1881 she is a pupil teacher and a book compiled during her training is being deposited in the Suffolk County Archive in Ipswich.  Like her two older brothers, she too left Sudbury and moved to Shrewsbury, Shropshire, presumably for a teaching position, where she met and in April 1898, married Robert McNaught, son of the Stationmaster at Shrewsbury and himself employed by the Great Western Railway as stationmaster at Woodside Ferry, Birkenhead.

Ellen Annie

They had two sons, Spencer born 1899 and Maurice born 1901 followed by Janet Mary born 24 April 1905.

Sadly in 1908 Ellen did not survive an operation carried out at home possibly for a strangulated hernia and, while the two boys remained living with their father in Birkenhead, Janet Mary moved to live with Maurice and Isabel, initially in Finchley, north London.

Robert McNaught employed a housekeeper, essential for a single father in a responsible position with two school age boys.  Maurice and Isabel employed a living in maid and Janet was educated at private schools at Berkhamsted and Milton Mount College. However, on leaving school she returned to her father’s household in Birkenhead while she trained as a domestic science teacher at the School of Domestic Science in Liverpool.  Her first and only job was at High Oakham School in Mansfield which she had to leave on marriage to Charles Leonard Patrick Vernier, an electrical engineer, on 6th February 1932 – my parents.

Left: Ellen Annie Right: Kate Alice

Kate Alice was born in 1869 and also trained as a teacher.  She never married and lived in Sudbury all her life. According to Kelly’s Directory of 1908 she was Infant Mistress at the Public Elementary School in Mill Lane and it is thought she may have become a Headteacher later in her career. A member of the Baptist church she lived at 18 Gainsborough Road, Sudbury until she moved into The Red House where she died on 26th October 1956.  In her will she left legacies to the Baptist Church, the Baptist Missionary Society and to the Red House Housing and Welfare Society from her estate of £7473.16s.8d.

Compiled by Judith Ann Vernier

April 2024