It’s a startling experience when you discover some five generations of your family have successively worked in occupations centered around one industry.
It is one of those ! full-stop moments where you just have to pause and wonder particularly about family commonalities beyond genetics.
The surprise is that irrespective of era or gender or even which corner of the earth they were living on, and even whatever their eventual occupation that generally defined them, family members over five generations from great-great grandfather all the way down to self share work experiences.
My Great, great grandfather John Hannaford Williams’ marriage certificate shows John was working as a ‘Grocer’ when he married (Ann) Eleanor White in Plymouth, in the country of Devon (England) on the 16th May 1852.
For over two decades that was all that was known of John and his wife Ann, aside from their migration to Australia in 1855 with their little daughter Kate.
But with a bit of recent detective work through social directories it’s fascinating to discover not only that John worked in the Bakery industry like me, and my father before me, but that he learned his grocery trade from a previously undiscovered older brother.
An 1852 Plymouth town directory shows John Hannaford Williams as the proprietor of ‘J.H. Williams & Co. Fancy Bread and Biscuit Makers’, a business situated in 23 Cecil Street in Plymouth and which also operated as a Grocery and Tea Dealer operation.
But as John Hannaford Williams’ wedding certificate for 1852 year showed he lived at 22 Cornwall Street in Plymouth, I trekked through Slaters’ 1852-1853 Topographical Directory (covering ten English counties including Devon and available through the University of Leicestershire’s Special Collections Online) to find there was also a grocer/tea dealer living at that address, but this timed named Samuel Williams.
A search of the 1851 UK Census (available online through commercial genealogy organisation Ancestry.Com) reveals both Samuel Williams and John Williams lived at 22 Cornwall Street and that the two men were brothers.
Cornwall Street in Plymouth fell within the parish of Saint Andrews for this census purpose, and Samuel lived at 22 Cornwall street in 1852 with his wife Elizabeth and their four sons as well as brother John Hannaford Williams (Grocers Assistant) and also two other young men who worked as apprentice and assistant, and a female servant and her younger sister.
It was already known from John Hannaford Williams’ death certificate here in Australia that he had been born at Ivybridge, in the Ermington district of Devon which is about 9 miles east of Plymouth.
John H. Williams’ marriage certificate in England shows John was born about the year 1827, which this 1851 census not only confirms but also provides that John’s brother Samuel Williams was born about 1814, and also in the Ermington area.
So from this small titbit of information it can be assumed that their Williams parents lived around Ivybridge in Devon from at least 1814 – 1827 (unless their mother went there perhaps to family for the births of her children.
John’s marriage certificate says his father was Robert Williams, a timber merchant by occupation but there is no requirement on the marriage certificates of this era to record his mother’s details.
The 1861 UK census (Ancestry.com) next confirms that Samuel Williams was born c 1814 in Ivybridge, Ermington. By this year Samuel had moved address to 7 York street Plymouth and was working as a grocery’ assistant, and there had been another son and finally a daughter added to the family unit:
Samuel Williams (born c 1814, Ivybridge, Ermington) married Elizabeth ? (bc.1815, Igglepen, (Ipplepen?)Devon)
- Francis Williams born c1842 East Stonehouse (by 1861 a Grocer’s assistant)
- Frederick Williams born c1843 East Stonehouse
- Charles Williams born c1846 Plymouth
- Alfred Williams born c 1850 Plymouth
- Albert Williams born c1852 Plymouth
- Emily Williams born c 1856 Plymouth
There is a clear similarity between the two brothers in the naming of their children:
John Hannaford Williams (born c 1827, Ivybridge,) m 16 May 1852 Eleanor (Ann) White
- Frederick John Williams born 1852 Plymouth (buried aged 3 weeks, Plymouth)
- Kate Williams born 1853 Plymouth (migrated to Australia 1855. M George Wilson)
- Alfred John Williams born 1856 Geelong, Vic (married Elizabeth Mary Hives)
- Charles Francis Williams born 1858 Footscray, Vic (married Mary Ann Brayshaw)
- Frederick Augustus Williams b1860 Ballarat, (married Lotty Meredith Samuels)
- Emily Ada Williams born 1861 Ballarat (married Frederick Wm Commons)
- Augusta Williams born 1861 died 1864, Ballarat
- Annie Augusta Williams born 1866 Ballarat, (married James Milhinch Bickett)
- Henrietta Williams born 1867 Ballarat, married William Morgan Williams
When John Hannaford Williams’ firstborn son was buried at age 3 weeks in the latter part of 1852, the cemetery’s records confirm the family’s address as Cecil Street Plymouth.
Perhaps it was this tragic loss in the family that compelled John and his wife to migrate to Australia with their toddler-daughter Kate just three years later.
Though he worked variously in Australia as a grocer and miner, John Hannaford Williams also worked as a ‘carrier and storeman’ for a flour company in East Ballarat, probably Thomas’ Flour Mills where his son Charles Francis Williams worked for many years.
Some fifty years after his arrival in Australia, John Hannaford Williams’ grandson of the same name (but known as ‘Jack’ Williams) also took up employment with Thomas’, where he spent several years before a brief stint in Tasmania which ended with him being trapped in a cave-in at a mine and then signing up to serve in World War 1.
My father did a brief stint at the age of 14 years greasing tins at the Apollo Bay bakery before discovering tip truck and all things roadmaking was far more fascinating.
In turn my sisters and I all earned some of our first pay packets as ‘casuals’ in local bakeries and when I first left school it was for a full time position in one of the most popular bakeries in Warrnambool, and no-one shall forget the popularity of Rob Van Wegan’s Heavy Fruit Loaf or his exceptional fresh, hot bread, pies and rolls.
You never forget working around flour: it clings to your skin, and clothes and coats your hair and every other square inch of surrounding space. The slightest puff of air and it rises uneasily and spreads far and wide, and coats your breath like a fine powder.
Its seems little wonder that John Hannaford Williams’ death cause was Fibroid Consumption of the lungs, though that might have been more to do with his mining stints around Ballarat.
John Hannaford Williams died in Everard Street Ballarat in 1901, having formerly worked as a ‘carrier and store man with the flour mills’, as well as a grocer, biscuit and bread maker and tea merchant and a brief stint at mining.
John Hannaford Williams and his wife were referred to by later generations of families as the ‘White Williams’, to distinguish them from subsequent family members who also took to marrying partners of the same surname.
Ann Eleanor White was the daughter of John White (a coachman by occupation in 1852) and Betsey Alloway. Her brother William Henry Peter White was a witness to her marriage to John Hannaford Williams, and is also shown in the Slater’s directory of 1852 as a parish clerk.
Given there is no evidence yet that John Hannaford Williams did a formal baker’s apprenticeship, maybe it was Ann Eleanor who was the impetus behind the launch of the J.H.Williams Fancy Bread and Biscuit shop at 23 Cecil Street Plymouth.
Its a curious thing that the name Robert Williams didn’t appear in the Australian families until the birth of my grandfather (the grandson of John Hannaford Williams). Even Samuel didn’t name any of his sons’ Roberts, so it seems there is some more detective work to be done to find out what became of the two brother’s parents.
But as the Williams’ had a tendency to live by their second christian name, maybe their father was really Frederick of Francis Robert Williams?
In Australia the Williams lived in the eastern district of Ballarat, around Everard, Webster and McWilliams streets, Gregory street and finally 3 Holmes Street.
It’s odd to think five generations of Williams’ all gained work experience in an industry reliant on flour, but it also makes me wonder if that is where sub-coeliac experiences within the current generation might stem from!