The Smith Disconnection
I have explored every avenue to identify the family history of the Smith family, but it has led almost nowhere. The present generation of Christine, Pamela, Angelina and Trevor can trace their ancestry only as far back as their shadowy grandfather, who made an excellent job of hiding his antecedents.
Let’s start with what we know. There was a man called Harry Smith - father of Vic and Cyril. We know that Harry lived in Willesden at 36 Victor Road. He was a master hairdresser. He was in a partnership with Alice Maud Edmonds. Actually there was nothing formal about this. There are no records that show that Harry and Alice were ever married. Family tradition says that the family lived above the shop where Harry plied his trade at 36 Victor Road Willesden. Was this number 36 in 1919? This was a traumatic time for our English forebears. World War One had just finished and many men had had traumatic experiences. Had Harry been a soldier? Was he wounded? Did he have shell shock? Harry and Alice had two children before Harry abandoned them.
Cyril Leslie Smith born 1919-2
Why did he abandon his family? I had hoped that the Catholic Children’s Society had some evidence that would shed light on this subject, sadly they didn't. Their mother, alone, with no way of keeping them fed, reluctantly placed them into the Catholic orphanage of St Mary’s. See page about this orphanage.
As Cyril and Victor were put into a Roman Catholic Orphanage it would seem likely that Harry was a Roman Catholic and they would likely have been baptised into that faith before they entered the orphanage. I employed a researcher and she reported that Alice was baptised into the Church of England and her parents were married in a C. of E. church, but she may have changed her denomination at some time, possibly in the 1920’s. As the boys were living in Willesden when they were young, the researcher contacted Our Lady of Willesden RC Church to see whether they still had the baptism registers from that period. They kindly agreed to search them, but couldn’t find the entries. The lady suggested further research should be undertaken at Willesden Green RC church and they looked for the baptism entries of the boys but, unfortunately, were unable to find them either. It has been suggested that further research be undertaken at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster to find out which other RC churches were in the area.”
Harry gives us no further hints about his life, but we do know that he was a master hairdresser. Looking at the 1911 census for hairdressers named Harry Smith we find 10 possibilities, four of whom are already married. I am mindful that Harry may have been having an extra-marital relationship. The names in bold are the most likely.
I. Harry Smith – 13 - born Brierfield Lancs. - working in shop with father, Hartley [hairdresser]
II. Harry Walter – 14 – born Westminster - apprentice hairdresser - father James
III. Harry Noel - 20 - born Ongar Essex - assistant hairdresser - mother Alma
IV. Harry Smith – 20 – born High Wycombe - hairdresser - mother Mahala see option 1
V. Harry Smith – 24 – born St. Albans - hairdresser – mother Selina
VI. Harry Smith - 23 - born Frome Somerset – assistant in hairdressing business in Portland [not family business]
VII Henry Smith b 1896 Islington, dad from Germany
Of course it is quite possible that Harry was registered under another name e.g. Henry etc. and had an additional name. He could have been born anywhere and moved to London. However, I am going to explore the names in bold.
So according to the London Electoral Registers of the period 1920 – 1930 there are 771,818 entries for Harry Smith living in London!!
Smith Research Option 1 - Smith of High Wycombe
The 1911 census tells us that there was a Harry Smith b 1891, hairdresser living at home at 48 Brook Street, High Wycombe. Brook Street no longer exists. Head of the house was Mahala Smith (nee Gossington), a widow aged 53. The stats tell us that she had been married 33 years and given birth to 10 children, 8 of whom were still alive. She had been married to Richard Smith born 1856 a chair maker/cabinet maker of High Wycombe. In 1901 they were living at 59 West Wye Road; 1901 and 1891 at 59 Oxford Road; 1881 at Shaftesbury Street, Oakmead.
Left: Shaftesbury Road where the family lived in 1881
Mahala Smith held the family together. She was the daughter of John Gossington b 1831 and Maria Sexton b 1831.
Mahala died in the first quarter of 1947 in High Wycombe aged 90 (vol 6a page 564) Westminster is 27 miles from Willesden.
Richard Smith was the son of Richard Smith 1827 – 1897 and Jemima Ann Russell 1825 – 1907. In the 1871 census we find the family living at the Bird in Hand public house, White Horse, High Wycombe with 75 other people. I think the current Bird in Hand must have been rebuilt. In 1881 we find Richard was a water cress grower in All saints, Wickham.
Their children were:
Alfred J Smith 1878 d 1958 Great Marlow. Married Jane. Issue: Alfred J Smith b 1901 Willesden. 1901 lived at Posord Road, Willseden. He was a general labourer.
Richard L Smith 1879 d Jun 1951 Amersham
Ethel E Smith 1881
Sidney George Smith 1885 d 1950 High Wycombe
Lancelot William Smith 1883 d 1964 Reading. 1911 labourer in Walworth; married to Edith K b 1879
Olive Maria Smith 1887 md John Dale insurance collector 1910
Archibald Frederick Smith 1888 d 1965 Amersham md Mary Keen. Child Freda Lilian Smith. He became a brakerman in a paper mill but his real occupation was that of a baker. At the outbreak of In WW1 he was living in Station Road, Loudwater, Bucks and he enlisted 16 Nov 1915 to serve in the British Army. His particulars are that he was 5’5”, weighed 130 pounds. He served in France (regimental no 217904) with RSIP Wiport and was wounded several times before being invalided back to England 7 Sep 1917. He received the British War Medal and the Military Medal. There may have been a daughter Freda Lilian Smith b 1915.
Harry Smith 1891 – in 1911 he was working as a hairdresser in High Wycombe, no idea what became of him so he is a contender
Smith Research Option II - Smith of St Albans
Once again we start with the 1911 census and we have another Harry Smith who is a hairdresser. In fact this Harry Smith is very intriguing as he comes from a long line of hairdressers and indeed from the twentieth century Smith family home of St Albans!
But this time, let’s be different and start with the earliest ancestor of this family.
Generation 1 William Smith 1812 -
William Smith born circa 1812 and married Mary Ann from Bodnam in Hereford. From the census we learn that the family lived at 7 St Peters Street, Saint Albans. This building was crammed between the Rising Sun public house (no 15 St Peters Street) on one side and the King William public house (3 St Peters St) on the other side. It must have a biggish house for the time, as he always seemed to have 3-4 lodgers or visitors at census time
We know of the following children:
Hannah Rebecca Smith bc 1843
William James Arthur Smith bc 1845
Joseph Smith bc 1848 married Selena Day.
Mary Ann died 9 Oct 1873 at home,
Generation 2 Joseph Smith 1848 – and Selena Day
We know nothing about the early years of Joseph Smith until he married Selena Day in 1874. She was born 1849 in St Albans, the daughter of William Day aged 44, a tin worker and his wife Elizabeth living at Holy Well Hill.
Joseph followed his father's occupation and became a hairdresser and in 1881 they are living at 3 Market Place, St Albans .. with a servant. I would think this would have been a perfect place to run a hair-dressers shop. The photo (left) is the same shop in 2019. The family does well and Joe advertises regularly through the 1870s in the Herts Advertiser (see below)
But business goes downhill because by the time the 1891 census comes around, they have moved further out of town to 19 High Street, Berkhamstead. This is a very small terrace house and it’s filled with children and ominously – no servant. They move to 19 High Street, Berkhanstead (the yellow one in the photo below). Imagine having 2 adults and 8 children in there. It has a fairly big garden though. I wonder where Joseph was conducting his business? Sometime after 1901, disaster struck the family. Joseph died about 1899. I don't know why he died, or when he died but this large family was left without the main bread winner and they had to leave the town that they had spent their whole lives in.
By the 1901 Selena and her children are living at 7 Princes Terrace, West Ham. Princes Terrace has been completely rebuilt and is unrecognizable. But Selena has taken the bull by the horns and we see that at age 50 she is working as a hairdresser and tobacconist shopkeeper. And she is working for herself as she is listed as an employer and the business is run from the home.
You have to admire Selena. She brought 12 children into the world and ran a successful business after Joe died.
Joseph and Selena had a big family.
Mary Ann Smith b 1875 became a domestic servant
Maud Smith b 1877
Mabel R Smith b 1878 married 1st quarter 1878 St Albans
Rhoda Smith b 1881 d 1957. She married ? Plumbley. In both the 1901 and 1911 census she was living at home and her husband wasn’t there. Their children:
Doris Rhoda Plumbley 1908-1945
Hilda Ida Plumbley 1909 - 1974
Arthur R Plumbley b 1911 Forest Gate; dMay 1989 Canterbury, Kent. He married Violet G Loynes in 1936 at St Olave Bermondsey.
Rhoda died 27 Feb 1957 at King George Hospital, Ilford, although she lived at 203 Henley Road, Ilford. Estate valued at £1650-10s-7d.
George Smith, b 1857 married draper’s assistant
Joseph Smith b 1882 and working as a hairdresser. He married Minnie from St Albans and settled at 34 Tylney Road, West Ham
William Smith b 1882 and working as a hairdresser
Florence Smith b 1885 not working but probably looking after the children
Henry (was Harry) Smith b 1886 working as a telegraph messenger
Edith A Smith b 1888
By 1911 Selena is 60 and has retired and is living at 89 Clarement Road, Forest Gate.
Victor John Smith/Edmunds/Edmonds 1918 - 1988
Victor was born and registered as Victor John Smith. His father was Harry Smith and mother Alice Maud Edmonds. His parents were not married. He was born 11 May 1918 at Twyford Lodge, Willesden. In 1918 Twyford Lodge was Willesden workhouse. In 1914, the workhouse was renamed Willesden Institution, and then in 1921 became Park Royal Hospital. However, to protect those born in the institution from stigma in later life, their place of birth was recorded as "Twyford Lodge". From this we can deduce the famlly were very poor. This is born about by the fact that Harry Smith abandoned hs wife and Victor was sent to St Mary’s orphanage in North Hyde.
After leaving the orphanage he joined the 1st Baalion of the Dorset Regiment in 1932 at the age of 14. His army dogtag number was 5724617. This was based at Portland Bill. From there he moved to Dover and in 1936 took part in the “Palestine Affair” (Ed: Israel’s heroic fight for independence). From there he returned to Dover in 1937 and on to India on the North West Frontier. Following this he was posted to Malta for 3 years - living through the Siege (during WW2). He received the General Service medal on 1 Feb 1940 in Malta. The Allies lost thousands of men attempting to defend the strategically important island in the Mediterranean. It was here that he married Bibiana (Bibi) Porsella on 11 Aug 1942. Bibi was born 17 Feb 1925. For the younger readers see the Siege of Malta.
The letter (above) was sent by Vic to Bibby, who had been evacuated to England. It was typical of the time in that it was not allowed to contain personal information or location of the sender.
The dashing fellow on the boat is Bibi's brother Lawrence Porsella. He emigrated to Australia.He did marry to Francis Nicholson but the marriage didn't last and his wife and daughter Vicky moved to NZ and lost contact with Lawrence. It is believed he had lung cancer.
My thanks to Les, Vic's son, for this information: "When my dad went into the army whoever signed him in spelt the name Edmunds (with a u) and from then on he stuck with it. My mum said that she didn't want to go through the procedures of changing the name back to what it was on his birth certificate as they had children.
Following the lifting of the siege in Malta in 1943, Vic took part in training in Tunisia and Egypt in readiness for the landings in Sicily and Italy and then returned to England to train for the landing in Normandy. He was a part of the victorious allied army that landed in France on D Day 6 Jun 1944, and he and his regiment managed to get as far as Arnhem - made famous by the film "A bridge too far). He did not reach Berlin because the battalion suffered severe losses and was withdrawn from the front line. He, together with other experienced veterans were brought back to England to train other soldiers for the remainder of the war. By this time he was a part of the 50th Division under the command of General Montgomery. By the time the war finished (2 Sep 1945), Vic had won 7 medals including the Palestine medal for the 1936 skirmish.
After being demobbed, he was directed to a number of jobs by the Military Board; Eventually he joined British Rail starting from the bottom and after 32 years finished up as an inspector. He retired in 1980
I'm hoping Vic's family can fill me in on more of his wartime stories and the medals that he got and some more photos. Vic died in 1988.
Bibi and Vic had 4 children
Patricia Brenda Edmonds b 1946 married Peter Oakeby and have two children
Leslie Edmonds b 1948 married Sue Adnitt. They also have two children
Michael Edmonds b 1949 married Pauline Turner and they have three children
Robert Edmonds b 1954 married Sue Dean; secondly Lena and there is one child. Robert lives in South Africa.
Vic and Bibi brought their family up at 18 South Street, Enfield, Middlesex. (Ed: Interesting as my great grandfather owned property in Enfield and managed the Railway Inn at Ponders End and the White Hart pub. Chris Dixon)
Bibi passed away on 5 May 2022 after suffering a heart attack. She was 97. What a wealth of stories she would have been able to pass on. I'm sad that I never met her.
11 Aug 1942 Vic and Bibi
Donated by Vic Edmonds
This poem was written by a friend
He's MO’s orderly, Eddie is his name,
He served in Malta and the Sicilian campaign.
Speaking of service he has got more than that,
for he has been to Nowshera, Landikotal and Sherat.
In the Palestine skirmish too he has been,
And wears the medal ribbon green blue and green
The Africa Sstar he wears on his chest
Of the two metal ribbons he thinks this the best.
Married in Malta to a very sweet wife,
Has never been so well off anytime in his life.
Now is in France with the PLA
Still going strong right from D-Day
As an orderly our Eddie is really fine and
Boots brasses or Sam Browne he makes anyone shine.
His cooking is excellent as good as can be,
It's a wonder he is not transferred to the ACC
If that were to happen it would upset the doc.
In fact it would give him a terrible shock.
For Eddie is the only one that does understand
Knows which way to brush him and keep him in hand.
The pair of them are pals regardless of commission
In fact their relation is an intimate position.
They swear at each other with no feeble meaning
But always finish up with a feeling that's pleasing.
It really does seem that it is the boss,
For it is certain his absence would be a great loss.
They will go on together with a smile under a grin,
Like peas in a pod right onto Berlin
Vic sent me this photo that was taken 26 Dec 1988
Back row: Cheryl, Leslie, Tracey, Sue Middle row: Vic, Steven, Laura, Pete, Bibby, Brenda Front row: Pauline, Ricky, Clint, Michaela, Karla
Cyril Leslie Smith/Edmonds/Edmunds/Smith 1919 - 2005
Cyril was born 15 October 1919. Most of the information here I got from Cyril before he died. Cyril and his brother Vince were sent to St Mary’s Orphanage School when their mother remarried to Joseph Turner. Cyril was admitted with a last name Edmonds.
Cyril said that he was good at boxing and was a member of the school band. He had a picture of the band marching in a street that he said was Willesden in the 1930s.
At the age of 15 years and 5 months, Cyril was given an ultimatum - join the Army or go to Borstal. He chose the Army and his Army form states that he signed up for 12 years (nine years with the Colours and 3 years with the Army Reserve). The army enlistment form states that he was 5 foot 2½ inches tall and weighed 120 pounds. His girth, when fully expanded was 34½” and the range of expansion was 2”. His religion was Roman Catholic. His complexion was fresh, eyes blue and he had fair hair. He had a distinguishing mark of a mole over his right chest. He started his training at Tidworth near Salisbury. His army number was 318901.
After basic training Cyril told me that he joined the cavalry – 14th/20th Hussars as a boy on 15 March 1935. But on the very next day he joined the 9th Lancers. I will need to get some help understanding this because the record gives us this data:
Enlisted st Kingston upon Thames 15 Mar 1935 as a boy entrant in the 14/20th Hussars. The very next day he "parted and joined" to the 9th Lancers. He embarked at Southampton 18 Mar and was then cross posted back to the 4/20th Hussars.On the 27 Nov 1935 he was cross posted back to the 14/20th Hussars. He was promoted to the rank of trooper 15 Oct 1937. And on 11 Apr he transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps.
These are Cyril’s words……."In the 9th Lancers I played in the regimental band. I played bugle, trumpet, cornet and horn. I specialised in first aid and became a medic. I was the transferred to the 15/19th Hussars and posted to the Khyber Pass - North West Frontier where I loaded bullets into magazines and played in the regimental band at parties. The cavalry still had horses.
I then transferred to 14/20th Lancers and saw service in India, specifically Trimalgaree, Pashaw, Delhi and Poona. By this time England was at war with Germany and I was based in Cairo and Alexandria. I then joined the 8th Army at El Alamein where I transferred from horses to tanks. The cavalry decided that mechanised transportation was better than horses and I soon found myself riding on armoured cars with 2 inch mortars. I then moved on to w wheeled armoured personnel carriers. It was during this time that I was wounded. A nearby Sherman tank was hot by an artillery shell and exploded, sending an inspection plate lancing into my body, causing me to be hospitalised. On my release I joined the 16th Lancers, seeing further service in the Middle East, chasing Rommel's troops back across the desert. At one time, our regiment was so close to Rommel that we could have killed hm, but the brass said that we should let him be as it is better to deal with the devil you know!
Eventually we returned to Alexandria in Egypt and I played in a concert. Towards the end of the war, my regiment was ordered back to England, taking the long way around via the Suez Canal and South Africa to avoid the U-boats of the Mediterranean, but we were tin-fished (torpedoed) on the way to Cape Town. I was lucky to have been picked up and was landed in India, eventually making it back to England in 1946. I went to stay with my mother, Alice Edmunds who was living at 21 Widegate Street, Bishopsgate."
After demobilisation, Cyril went to a training school in Watford to learn glassblowing. Then he worked in a factory making neon signs before moving onto St Albans working for for Marconi’s making HB electrodes. Then he moved to the De Havillands factory and was involved with moulding perspex canopies, windows and tail lights for aircraft . After a disagreement with his boss's son he resigned. At the Labour Exchange he was offered a jb wit the Green Line bus company and he was a conductor for three years before becoming a bus driver. He drove the long-distance routes. In the end he worked for the bus company for 35 years, all the while hoping he could get back to glass-blowing.