A Roving (and Homesick?) Family Historian in Search of Her Rolleston Connections

My connection with Rolleston started in 1966 when my grandmother died. She had a trunk and in this trunk, amongst other things, were precious photos, the bodice of her wedding dress, the ornate silk flower arrangement from her wedding cake, a long brown hair plait tied with a blue satin, ribbon, a sampler sewn in 1830 by her greataunt, but most important was a beautiful photo album. Tucked away between the pages of this album was a letter written to her by her father, dated 17 December 1908, “OAK COTTAGE”, Rolleston, Burton on Trent. This led me to Rolleston on a visit in 2007 where I found Oak Cottage – now Apple Acres – and eventually in 2008 I met Helen Richardson and her family.

Henry Williams’ father was a coachman at Grays Inn, London, and he was born there in 1852. Hannah Pattison was born in Islington in 1847 and they were married in London in 1873. They both died 1924, at Highams Park, Essex, Hannah in June aged 77 and Henry in December aged 72. They are interred in the same grave in the City of London Cemetery. They have about 250 decendents and 7 generations in England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Sweden. He was a Brother in the Lion and Lamb Lodge in London and attended Quaker meetings.

My grandmother Florence, was the eldest of the 6 Williams children born in Essex between 1877 and 1899. She married John Bullock in 1905 and they emigrated to South Africa where my he had a commission in the South African Constabulary. John died aged 91in 1956 and Florence in 1966 aged 89. They had 4 sons and I am the elder daughter of the 3rd son. Two of the remaining children emigrated to New Zealand.

Henry completed his apprenticeship as a shirtmaker and went on to own his own Mens’ Outfitting establishments. The first as far as we know was in Woodgrange Road, Forest Gate, Essex, and between 1891 and 1901 census he had relocated with his family to Uttoxeter in Staffordshire, where he established another, this time with a haberdashery department at the back and the 3 older daughters were expected to assist.

By the 1901 census they had moved from the business/living premises in the town to “Park Grange”, a lovely country house on Kiddlestitch Road, about a mile outside Uttoxeter. He retired to “Oak Cottage” Rolleston in 1907 and the 1911 census lists the family living in Station Road, Rolleston.

My grandmother was very talkative about her life “back home” and my father (who is now 93) was an avid listener. She was also kept informed with letters and photos by her two sisters who remained in England. It is with the memories my father has, letters from her sisters many of which she kept, and photos with all the details written on the back.

From the stories passed down Henry was a very stern and difficult man and ruled with an iron rod. He totally disagreed with my grandmother’s association with my grandfather and forbade their association. My grandfather was paying court in Uttoxeter before he went to South Africa, and she recalled that when her father went to London on business, as pre-arranged between them, she put a white cloth on a bush in the garden to draw the attention of her young man, so that he knew the coast was clear. Obviously mother and sisters were secret allies.

Henry was very angry about the emigration to South Africa and had to be coaxed into going to the wedding. However, when he found he had a grandson named after him he wrote to her and that is the letter I found in the album.

Another was, whilst living in Rolleston her one sister’s young man paid one of his many visits to Oak Cottage. He knocked on the door and a very stern Henry appeared and said “who are you and what do you want”? The young man re-introduced himself and said he had come to visit Maud and was promptly told she was busy and that he could weed the garden while he is waiting !

In September 2008 I spent a week in Uttoxeter visiting all the places where my ancestors lived and worked. My grandfathers family moved from Derbyshire to Staffordshire in 1870. I spent hours driving through the country lanes, looking at old farmhouses, visiting churches and churchyards, and reading dozens of headstones in cemeteries.

My time with Helen in Rolleston was very special. She took time to take me around the Village and her historic knowledge of the town is excellent. I slept in the same room where my great-grandparents slept 3 months short of 100 years ago. It was overwhelming. During my time in London I also visited many addresses and the houses were still there.

England has always been in my blood and my psyche. I love the Royal Family, all the British Parades, I get the Royalty Monthly magazine every month, and every quarter “This England” magazine which I devour. I get goosebumps when I hear “Land of Hope and Glory”, the English countryside brings tears to my eyes and I adore driving along the country lanes. When I am in England I have a sense of belonging, and when I leave my heart weeps and I so wish my grandparents never emigrated.

Patricia Conchar, Great-grandaughter of Henry and Hannah Williams
Sydney, Australia
January 2009

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Last updated: 8 March 2009