More Wells siblings: George & Alice

Daniel and Sarah Wells brought at least seventeen children to St Andrew’s Church, Ham, for baptism.  I now move on in this post to the next two in line in the search for this couple’s descendants.

They are George Arthur Wells (#4) and Alice Mary Wells (#5) who were the fourth son in the family and the fifth child/first daughter respectively.  We learn, from their records of their baptisms, that George was born on 24 October 1877 and Alice on 25 August 1879 and for both of them, there are corresponding birth registrations in the Registration District of Kingston relating to their births in Ham.  Everything above board there, then.

For George, Ancestry hints at a George A Wells, aged 24, and a Metropolitan Police Constable in the 1901 census, when a George A Wells was enumerated at 28 and 29 Carlton Terrace, Paddington.  Until now, I have ignored this hint for the reasons which follow based on this age and birthplace.  This man’s age is given as 24, and we know that our George would not have reached this age for another seven months.  It’s an understandable mistake, however, if the person providing this information to the enumerator was basing it on the individual’s year of birth.  This is something Ancestry does all the time, and gets wrong three quarters of the time since the census is taken three months into the year.  At that point three quarters of the population have not yet reached the day in that year on which they will reach the anniversary of their births.    However George A Wells’s birthplace is given as Richmond, Surrey and we know that our George was born in Ham, and that all of Ham was included in Kingston.

Here’s what I did.  I looked on Free BMD for birth registrations for a George A Wells for the period 1Q 1876 to 4Q 1879, in the districts of Richmond, Surrey, Kingston Surrey and finally in the county of Surrey.  I found no results in Richmond, and a George Arthur Wells in Kingston in 4Q 1877, while in Surrey there were two results—the Kingston one already viewed, and a George Albert Wells in Farnham in 3Q 1877.  Indeed, the Metropolitan Police Constable looks much more likely to be our man, and, as with other children in this large family, the middle name of one became the first name of a younger sibling.  There is a point, indeed, at which Daniel and Sarah ran out of middle names.

For Alice Mary Wells we have been able  to locate her in the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses but were not able to identify her with certainty in the 1911 census.  Searching on Free BMD from the quarter in which 1901 census fell and the quarter in which the 1911 census fell, there were ten marriages of an Alice Mary Wells. A careful paging through of the Ham Parish Register of Marriages revealed that, unlike most of her sisters, she did not return to the parish for her marriage.

Following their 17 children, it was something of a surprise to find that Daniel and Sarah had relatively few grandchildren.  A factor may have been that the children perceived the difficulties of being part of such a large family.  The two people most interested in both the War Memorial research and the Wells family of Poynter’s Cottages, had, at that point in my research, been unable, in the absence of any research budget, to contact descendants of Daniel and Sarah. Contacts made to people who had these children on their Ancestry Public Trees, via their Ancestry usernames, did not respond.  One explanation could be that their Ancestry subscriptions had elapsed/

At some point, there had also been an Ancestry tree hint for Alice Mary Wells on the St Peter’s and St Andrew’s War Memorial Tree. I’m a bit wary of viewing those, especially if I’m at a dead end, because experience tells me that in that situation, taking note of an unsourced or inadequately sourced tree is risky.

I took a quick—and vehemently cynical—peek. At first sight, it seems that the Alice Mary Wells of the tree hint is on seven Ancestry Member Trees. Two of those can be immediately ruled out as not of interest.  On the remaining five trees, Alice appears as Alice Mary Eldridge, and she is not attached to any parents on any of those five trees.  Her year of birth is given variously as 1879 and 1881 and her place of birth as Kingston in one case and Richmond in the others.  Given that this Alice Mary eventually had four Eldridge and an earlier daughter, Dorothy Wells, and the location of her birth is flagged up in two cases as Kingston and as Richmond in the others,

Snip of 1911 Census entry

Snip of 1911 Census entry

I looked for this family in the 1911 census return for Hastings, the birthplace of Alice Mary Eldridge was described as born in Richmond—not visible in this snip—was then aged 30, while her husband was said to be 27.  We know that Alice was born on 25 August 1879, so she would have been 31 on 2 April 1911.  Perhaps at some point she, or with the census return, he, knocked a few years off her age?  This census entry is likely to be the source of the 1881 given for her year of birth and the ‘Richmond’ given as her birthplace.

It still puzzles me why no one has yet discovered that Alice’s parents were Daniel and Sarah.  Just to eliminate the possibility of two Alice Mary Wellses born in the Kingston and Richmond districts, I did another broad search for Alice Mary Wells on Free BMD from 1Q 1878 to 4Q 1883 finding no results in Richmond, and one result in Kingston, but that Kingston result was the only one generated for the county of Surrey and matches the information we have on the baptismal record for the daughter of Daniel and Sarah.  In addition, there is no other registration of the birth of an Alice Mary Wells in Kingston and no Alice Mary Wellls registration in Richmond for the entire period 1837–1915.  Searching for the period 1902 to 1907, ten women called Alice Mary Wells were married and one of them is the Alice Mary Wells who married Albert Ernest Eldridge in 1904, in Hastings.

Going back to the household in the 1911 census, I took a closer look at the two Wells children in the household.  One of them, Dorothy  Lucy Wells is described as ‘Daughter’ so presumably the daughter of Alice, rather than Albert, though it is possible she was their child, but born before their marriage.  Arthur Henry Wells is described as a nephew, so the child, perhaps, of one of Alice’s siblings.  Every member of this household, except for Alice, was born in Hastings.

Dorothy Lucy Wells is said to be aged eleven. If this is accurate, she must have been born in the period 3 April 1889 to 2 April 1890.  There is no matching birth in Hastings for a Dorothy Lucy Wells, or even for a Dorothy Wells for the period running from the second quarter of 1899 up to and including the second quarter of 1900.    To be doubly sure, I searched again for the period 1Q 1898 up to and including 4Q 1899 and this time for the whole of England and Wales.  There were nearly fifty results, amongst whom was Dorothy Lucy Wells, whose birth was registered in Poplar in the third quarter of 1898.

I found a Dorothy Wells of the ‘right’ age, the daughter of Ernest and Daisy Wells in Poplar in the 1901 census, and born in Cubitt Town.  Thanks to Simon Fisher’s extremely helpful website (see sources, below), I was able to establish that Cubitt Town fell in the Poplar Registration District in 1901.  This child, therefore, matches the birth registration I found, and can be put on the research ‘back burner’ for the time being.

I scanned the registration districts for the fifty births of any girl named Dorothy Wells, to see whether any were born in places to which Alice might have gone to give birth to her child e.g. where she had a brother and sister-in-law living, or another close family member living, or in Richmond or Kingston.  I also scrutinised registration districts in the area from which Alice’s father, Daniel, had emigrated to Ham.  None of these stands out in this list.

Nor could at that time discover, without ordering his birth certificate, whether his father, or more likely, his mother was a sibling of Alice Wells.  This, too, I put on hold.

Some months later, I made contact with one of Alice Well’s great nieces, and we had a conversation about her Wells grandmother.  After a long chat, as we ended our conversation, after some hesitation, she told me that her father had discovered, very late in his life, possibly only about the time of the death of his mother, that he had an older half-brother.  Following up on her grandmother, Alice’s sister, I discovered that she had married in the first quarter of 1911.  I had indeed found her in the 1911 census, but initially ‘rejected’ the document, because her birthplace was so wide of the mark.  Returning to view that entry, I realised, and subsequently confirmed, after further investigation to identify and match the husband in earlier censuses, that the householder had transposed the birthplaces of the couple, who were his lodgers.

Arthur’s aunt Alice, was not only close in age to her sister, and the two were both in service in Streatham in 1901. Perhaps even more importantly, she too, had had an illegitimate child. Alice is the most likely family member to whom her sister would have turned for support and Arthur Henry is very likely to have been this ‘missing’ half-brother.  It may even be that the P in the birth registration listing for Arthur Henry P Wells, is even a hint at the surname of his biological father.

Alas, it now seems clear that Arthur Henry did not ever become part of the family of his mother and her husband.

There’ll be more quite a bit more about why we think Sarah saw being ‘in service’ as the best opportunity for her daughters. Perhaps we can even see her hand in the workplaces of her daughters, ensuring that every one was in service near to at least one of her sisters, and sometimes they had the fortune to be in service in the same household!

Afterthought—research tip
To be quite clear, for the sake of family historians unfamiliar with this area, Ham was part of Kingston until the 1930s, when the northern part of Ham became part of the borough of Richmond.  The southern part of the parish is still in Kingston.  Confusion can also arise in that Ham is also a place name found in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Residents of small places have always been inclined to add the name of the nearest large town, when mentioning their parish to people who live outside the local area.  Even in London people often assume that Ham is close to West Ham—which it isn’t, so one usually avoids misunderstanding by tagging on the borough’s name, as in “Ham, in Richmond” or even, less frequently, “Ham, in Kingston”.

If referring to Ham, to an enumerator, Alice is likely to have been asked “Ham, where?” and have given the name of the nearest town she thought the enumerator would have heard of. If her husband the information, he might have based it on their travelling to Ham, via Richmond, if and when they visited his wife’s family.

This is an aspect family historians need to consider where an ancestor, born in a hamlet or village, emigrates  to a distant urban area.  He or she is likely to add on, or give when challenged, the name of the nearest large town, even if it falls in a different registration district to the birthplace.


Fisher, S.J., ‘London/Surrey Registration Districts/Churches’,, accessed 21/5/2016.

The National Archives, RG14/4762, Schedule No. 259, 1911 Census for England and Wales.



Charles Austin Pittar, MC

Charles Austin Pittar was the brother of Dorothy Mabel Austin Clarke, one of the ‘Civilian Dead’ whose names are recorded on the War Memorial in the parish of Ham, Surrey.  Dorothy and her husband, Sydney, were killed in an air raid over Ham in 1940, and their post is on my blog for Ham’s War memorial.  Charles was Dorothy’s only sibling.  It seems churlish to overlook Charles Pittar, and so I’m posting about him here, just to rescue something of his story, for his sister’s sake.

Lieutenant Charles Austin Pittar, M.C., (1898–1921)
The Coldstream Guards,
Died 1921, buried at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford.

Charles and Dorothy were the children of Charles William Erskine Pittar (1863–1931), and Mabel Frances Austin (1876–1955), who were married in Dresden on 20 August 1897.  (I am intrigued by that marriage in Germany, and hope one day to discover a little about the background to this.)

Charles (known also as Charlie or as Austin) was born in Calcutta, Bengal on 17 August 1898 and baptised there three weeks later.  His father was born in Kidderpore in 1863, where his paternal grandfather, Charles Frederick Pittar was a solicitor. His maternal grandfather, Ware Plumptre Austin, was also a Civil Servant, in Madras so the marriage of Charles and Mabel was in one sense another example of the prevailing dictum, ‘like marries like’.

Educated at Eton, like his father before him, Charles proved to be, according to a short biography included in the catalogue when his sword was auctioned in 1998, someone who ‘excelled at athletics, and was an accomplished scholar.’

Alexandra Churchill, in Blood and Thunder: the boys of Eton College and the First World War echoes this, describing him as ‘a phenomenally talented athlete and a bright boy’.  She also notes that he ‘had trouble with his eyesight and so operated with divisional troops rather than a fighting unit’. In connection with the events in which this was alluded to, she notes that ‘one of his main responsibilities in the hot weather’ prevailing on that day, was to get sufficient water up to the men on the fighting on frontline.

In an attempt to find out the cause of Charles’s death, and its connection to his military service, his service record was viewed at The National Archives. His medical declaration, made when he applied for a commission in 1916, does not record any eye problems. In the first category, for ‘serious illness or injury’ he does declare a kidney problem which occurred in 1911 and “was cured by the end of 1912”.

For the second and third categories, Charles strikes out the words “except as stated below”.  For the fourth category, ‘good vision for near and distant object… without the aid of glasses’, he does not strike out those four words, but nor he does he insert any information in the space below.

Many of the officers’ service records have been extensively weeded out, so one cannot say whether there were further investigations and there seem to be no papers indicating eye problems in what survives in Charles’s file.   Without a budget for any of my war memorial projects, I could not justify applying for his civilian death certificate and there was at that point simply no further clue to the cause of his death, in what survives in his service record.

In November 1918, Charles was awarded the Military Cross, the citation reading:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and initiative while on daylight patrol. He left his lines in broad daylight, accompanied only by his orderly, and scouted right up through the enemy outpost line, a distance of some 700 yards. He showed great daring and enterprise and the information he brought back was of the utmost importance.”

Soon after the award of the Military Cross was gazetted, Charles Pittar was affected “moderately seriously” by the influenza epidemic.  He recovered, but was regarded as still unfit for duty, so the Board recommended two weeks’ sick leave in the U.K.  His return to the field was delayed until late January 1919, by his spraining his ankle in Oxford.  Within a few months, Charles Pittar had relinquished his commission, but was allowed to retain the rank of Lieutenant.  He was demobilised on 14 May 1919.  His service record, which was weeded as early as 1933, mentions the report of his death in The Times of 2 September 1921, but gives no details.

The evidence his father gave at the inquest into Charles’s death, shows a modern reader that it was a result of his military experiences in France. His father said that his son suffered from severe depression after leaving the army and returning to Oxford, where he was a member of Queen’s College. The intention was to follow his father and both his grandfathers into the Indian Civil Service.  Another report, in The People includes the information that Charles was 2a fine scholar who had passed his examination and was to have entered the Indian Civil Service shortly.”

Charles appeared ‘quite normal’ on the evening of Sunday 28 August, and after dinner, retired to a room he used as a study, in an annexe to the family home, Elmdene, 374 Banbury Road.  The following morning, his father found a note from Charles, warning people that there was gas in the room, and that they should avoid an explosion.  There his father found Charles, dead, with a tube nearby, attached to the tap of the room’s gas heater, which was turned on full.

And always this cloud…

These words, taken from his farewell letter, were read in the Oxford Court by the Coroner:

I cannot ask you to forgive me for what I am going to do and I don’t think you will ever realise my general state of mind. There seems to be a sort of cloudbank that oppresses me.  Today, I have been in a most extraordinary state—a mixture between deep depression and wild excitement, and always this cloud. 

The findings of the inquest were that his death was caused by “temporary insanity”  and that verdict appeared in papers across the country.  The headline (‘A War Suicide’) in a report of the inquest in the Portsmouth Evening News, lays bare the cumulative pressure of the war, on a fine officer, and a brave soldier.  People knew what was unsaid.

Charles is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery, where there are a number of CWGC graves, many of them of airmen, based at Wolvercote Aerodrome.  He is survived, and remembered, by his two great nieces.

I am grateful to Elliot Metcalfe of the project Dorset in the Great War whose comment, six years ago, to an earlier version of this post, helpfully confirmed my suspicions about the likely cause of Charles Pittar’s death.

Further Reading

Churchill, A.J., Blood and Thunder: the boys of Eton College and the First World War, The History Press, 2014.

DNW Auction Catalogue, , accessed 29/3/2016.  This link is not currently arriving at the correct page.

Eton Roll of Honour,, accessed 22/5/2016.

North Star, Student’s Suicide—Oppressed “By Sort Of Cloudbank”, p.1, col.4, 31/8/1921.

The People, ‘Always The Cloud’  4 September 1921, p.7, col.4

The London Gazette, Supplement 29903, 12 January 1917, p.578,.

The London Gazette, Supplement 30997, p. 13165, ‘2. Lieut. Charles Austin Pittar, C. Gds, Spec. Res.’, 5 November 1918.

The National Archives, WO 339/82737, ‘Lieutenant Charles Austin Pittar, Coldstream Guards’, 1916–1922.

Portsmouth Evening News, ‘A War Suicide’, 31 August 1921, p.6.