Joseph and Hannah Downing: The Oldest Couple in Essex

My grandfather, Aubrey Downing, passed away last year at the grand old age of ninety-six, and I had the privilege of giving the eulogy at his funeral.  Of course, I just had to sneak a bit of family history into it by telling the congregation that it was no surprise to me that my grandfather had lived so long - he came from a long line of long-lived Downings.   The average life expectancy for a man born in the 1700s was about 35.  Our three Downing ancestors born in that century far exceeded that.   John Downing  (my 5th gg) lived to 88, Joseph Downing (my 6th gg)  lived to 77, and Samuel Downing (my 7th gg) lived to 73.  However, Joseph Downing junior (my 4th gg) took it a step further and made headlines with his old age. Read more...

Catherine Downing: The life of a lunatic

Catherine was the older sister of my ancestor Henry Downing. Like many young women of her time, she went into service at a very young age. At the age of fourteen, she spent five months in Surrey Lunatic Asylum. On her discharge, she found another position as housemaid with a family near Chelmsford. Her next employer, however, was a step up. Horace Lloyd was a wealthy barrister and counsel, living in Sussex Gardens, Paddington. Horace Lloyd was so posh that he even has a Wikipedia entry. This environment must have been very unnerving for a poor girl from rural Essex and could have tipped her fragile mental health over the edge. Read more...

James Dorr: Transported to Australia

When I first read the 1819 will of the Southminster Downing patriarch Joseph, one thing stood out.  Joseph had stipulated that upon his wife's death, his capital should be divided equally amongst his children, "except my daughter, Sarah Daw [Dorr], the wife of James Daw [Dorr], who has before been provided for". Read more...

Joseph Downing: How My Family Came To Essex

My majority of my research has centred on my mother's family, the Downings, who lived in Southminster, Deepest Essex (and later Southend-on-Sea).  This lively family were always up to mischief and rarely off the pages of the Chelmsford Chronicle.  But I knew they weren't always from Southminster.  Every Downing that I had researched was descended from the same man, Joseph Downing.  According to his burial record, Joseph was 77 when he died in 1819, meaning he had been born around 1742.  But there was no baptism for Joseph in Southminster, or indeed of any other Downings prior to him.  Where did he come from, and why?

Frank Thomas Beale: A Fallen War Hero

Frank Thomas Beale, 1889-1916 Waggoner and Soldier of Beckley, Sussex, and my great uncle. My great grandfather, Frederick, survived the war.  Several of my other relatives were not so lucky.  Frank Thomas Beale was my great uncle, my father's mother's brother.  He was the oldest child, and only son, of Percy and Phoebe Beale, who … Continue reading Frank Thomas Beale: A Fallen War Hero

Passchendaele100

My great grandfather, Frederick Allen Downing, survived the Battle of Passchendaele. Half a million soldiers, mostly from Great Britain, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, did not.  I joined Guided Battlefield Tours for their Passchendale Centenary Tour and went to pay my respects to his fallen comrades.  If Frederick had never returned home, my grandfather … Continue reading Passchendaele100