The Turner family in Lindsell and Stebbing. 2008

Last autumn I decided to profit from my retirement and invest some time in order to find out about my mother's, Joan Turner's, Essex ancestors. The result was a year's voyage of discovery that took me deep into Stebbing and Lindsell. I knew that my grandmother, Edith Mead, had come from Dunmow and I had actually taken her to Dunmow in her twilight years in the late 1960s, but I had never heard of Stebbing or Lindsell. To me it is amazing that today it is possible to re-discover one’s past without any written family history with just a computer, an awful lot of perseverance and a sprinkling of luck. Visits to the Essex Record Office (ERO), walks round Lindsell and Stebbing and joining the Stebbing Society are parts of a journey that now make my family's past seem very real.

The first of my Turner ancestors to reach Lindsell was John Turner who married Ann Savel there in 1718: he had travelled in all the way from Finchingfield (all of 6 miles). Thereafter each generation married and had their children baptised in Lindsell Church, until Ezekiel Turner married Rhoda Wilkinson in far away Stebbing Church in 1844. But even so, they still had the first of their numerous children baptised up the road at Lindsell. Ezekiel Turner was living at Simpkins, just outside Lindsell, in 1841, with his father. William, [who incidentally was the Parish Clerk for Lindsell Church for 30 years] and his brother, plus 2 other Turner families [probably his half brothers], and 3 other labouring families. But they were not in the lovely house that still stands there today: that was the domain of the Prance family, the actual farmers. Where the labourers (my family of Turners) had their shacks is a matter of speculation.

Simpkins, Lindsell

My great-great-grandfather, William Turner (1840 –1910), was almost certainly not a real Turner at all: he was the second illegitimate child of Rhoda Wilkinson, born before her marriage to Ezekiel. Even Rhoda’s third child, Joseph, was born a mere 6 days after his mother's marriage to Ezekiel Turner in 1844. After their marriage there were 8 more Turners born, 2 of these children dying in infancy. Rhoda seems to have fallen out with the vicar of Lindsell around 1852, because after that she had their children baptised in the Congregational Church, Mill Lane. She became one of the few [less than 80] members of that Church in 1858. I suspect she was buried there in 1878, and Ezekiel too in 1888, but no burial records have survived for that period, and the graveyard is not easy to search today. The informant of Ezekiel's death, at the Gatehouse, was his youngest daughter, Sarah Lagdon, and her family was still in Stebbing in 1901.

William Turner married Susan Perry in Stebbing Church in 1863, and my great-grandfather, George, 1865, was the only child of this union. One-child families were a rare event for those days. They lived, in turn, at Tanners, at Bran End, and finally at Carters Farm [alias Duck End Farm at times] for 20 years, from 1891 until 1911.

Carters Farm, Stebbing

George Turner in turn married in 1888, again in Stebbing Church, a Charlotte Parchment, a weaver's daughter, from Bethnal Green. I can only speculate on how these two met as London was a world away from Stebbing in those days.  Her father had moved from Braintree in 1855 to pursue his trade as a weaver in Bethnal Green, where, I suspect, conditions were even more atrocious than those of the impoverished labourers round Stebbing. Charlotte’s mother had died when she was 5, so she could have perhaps spent part of her childhood with her maternal Bennett grandparents back in Braintree. George and Charlotte then lived near the Mill in Lindsell until they moved to the Down, Stebbing, in 1894 and lastly [probably on George Turner's mother's death in 1899] they moved in with his father at Carter's Farm. During this time they had 3 children, the eldest was William George Turner, born 1889, my grandfather. Little snippets from the ERO reveal that both he and his brother were enrolled in Lindsell School at the tender ages of 3. Also the family seemed to have joined a Methodist Church, as their daughter was baptised on the 'Braintree Circuit' in 1894.


George Turner’s daughter Dorothy at Stebbing School in 1907

Both William and George appeared to have pulled themselves up from agricultural labourer level to small farmers of a kind (though I suspect the difference between “labourer” and “small farmer” was marginal). But when William Turner died in 1910, George, by now 45, and his wife must have decided that life could be improved if they were to move to Australia. I have not been able to ascertain whether conditions in Stebbing were particularly bad in this time or whether migration was common. They and their 2 younger children set sail for Melbourne in 1911. My grandfather, who was their only other child, decided to stay in England. And I have recently heard that his prospective bride had refused to leave her widowed mother, Ellen Mead, who was still running the Wheatsheaf Pub in Dunmow (The Wheatsheaf  has long disappeared). This Australian emigration of my great-grandparents was news to me; I had never known they had emigrated. But my researches revealed second cousins down under, and I even met up with one of them in June this year on a remote campsite in the north of Australia. The Internet is indeed a wondrous place finding both information and people. How rewarding genealogy can be! But, beware; it should carry a Health Warning “Genealogy can be Addictive”.


A new life down under in Melbourne, Australia

Should anyone have any extra knowledge that might help me in any of these people or places [for example with the Methodists], they can learn more at http://www.lyons-family.co.uk/fan-chart/index.htm. Just click on a person to see everything that I have found out about them. And I can be contacted at chris@corisande.com.

And, fast forward to 2015, and here is another article - The Joys of Genealogy - written for them

Chris Grant