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Until we find the marriage of John and Mary, the following is conjecture, but 90% likely! His age as given at burial would fit the John Tompkins who was born in Arncott (in Bucks) or Blackthorne (across the River Ray in Oxfordshire) in 1763 and was baptised on 9th January 1763 at Ambrosden Church.
John was the only son of Joseph Tomkins (age unknown) of Arncott and the then 21 year old Anne Hopcraft, also of Arncott.
When Joseph married Anne on 11th October 1760 at Ambrosden she was still a minor. Joseph and Anne signed the register with crosses The witnesses at the wedding were John Ellitt and Edwin Winslow.
Joseph’s parents (John’s paternal grandparents) and any siblings and their children (possible aunts and uncles and cousins for John) are not recorded. Anne’s parents (John’s maternal grandparents) were John and Catherine Hopcraft. Anne had two sisters: John’s Aunt Catherine would have been 22 when he was born and his Aunt Sarah would have been 14. Catherine and Sarah’s possible marriages, dates of death or children (further possible cousins for John) are not recorded on the tree
John had an older sister Mary, born 20 September 1761 who died 14 October 1761 and a younger sister, Elizabeth, born in 5 October 1766 (both at Arncott). The dates of Elizabeth’s possible marriage and children and death are not recorded.
John’s mother Anne died at Arncott when she was 38. She was buried at Ambrosden on 25 August 1770. John would have been 7 and his sister Elizabeth 4 (if still alive).
His father remarried the following year on 29 January 1771 to Elizabeth King at Ambrosden Church. The witnesses were Jono King and Henry King (the latter witnessed other marriages so possibly not a relative).
John’s grandfather John Hopcraft died in 1771 and was buried on 25th April at Ambrosden.
In 1772 Joseph and Elizabeth had the first of John’s four half-brothers and sisters (recorded as Tomkins). Sarah was baptised at Ambrosden on 29 March 1772.
John’s grandmother Catherine Hopcraft died in 1773 when John Junior was 10.
In 1774 Joseph and Elizabeth had John’s first half-brother Thomas. However, having been baptised on 22 October at Ambrosden, he died, and was buried 9 days later. In 1776 another half-brother, also Thomas, was born and baptised on 21st January at Ambrosden. This second Thomas Tomkins survived only until 1782 (when John would have been 19) and was buried on 30 October. A second half-sister, Mary, was baptised on 21 September 1778 at Ambrosden.
In 1799, when John was 36, his half-sister Mary (then aged 21) married William Newton Purcell Beaill (!) at Ambrosden Church on 5 August. The witnesses were James Cross and John Shouller (the latter was a regular witness).
Later that year John’s father died at Arncott and was buried on 11 November 1799 at Ambrosden.
In the Hearth Tax 1662 Official Returns for Blackthorn, there are two entries for Tompkins: William Tompkins, John Tompkins 2.
In the Hearth Tax 1662 Petty Constables Returns for Noke: Widow Tomkins
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Robert Tompkins, a resident of Reading, Berkshire, was the second son of Robert Tompkins and Ann Osborn and seemed to have led an interesting life.
While browsing through some 19th Century newspapers recently, looking for a different surname entirely, I vaguely noticed that advertisements for horse sales by a Robert Tompkins in Reading, Berkshire started to appear regularly in Jackson’s Oxford Journal in the 1850s. Actually, to start with I was ignoring those pages completely until I realised that some news was often tucked away at the bottom of a page. I had a Robert Tompkins, auctioneer, in my family tree, so out of interest I had a look at one or two of them. An address and a date appeared on one so I started to work my way through every available edition more systematically and managed to put together a fascinating story about a very interesting person.
I knew the bare outlines of the life of Robert Tompkins, younger brother of my great great grandfather John Tompkins, through census returns. I also had a tiny photograph of him from the picture of the wedding group of John’s children’s double wedding, but hadn’t really investigated him at all.
Robert Tompkins was born in 1834, the second son of Robert Tompkins and Ann Osborn. Robert senior was a tenant farmer, moving around frequently, to the extent that all of his children were born and baptised in different parishes. Robert junior was baptised in Barton Hartshorn in 1834. In 1841 the family were at Spa farm, Dorton, Buckinghamshire. In 1851 Robert was living with his parents at Grange Farm, Sydenham in Oxfordshire. He married Sarah Jane West in the spring of 1856 in the Wycombe area of Buckinghamshire.
From 1861 onwards, Robert junior was living in Reading, Berkshire and describing himself as an auctioneer. His eldest daughter Louisa was visiting John Tompkins in 1891 and Robert, together with his wife, appears in the wedding group of his nephew and niece in 1890. In fact, it was Louisa’s place of birth as given in 1891 which helped me work out whether I had the “correct” Robert when I was following him through census returns. He died in Reading in 1897.
This much I already knew from the usual sources, but I gleaned a surprising amount of detail about his life and interests from the pages of the Jackson’s Oxford Journal.
The first reference to his auctioneering was an advertisement in August 1857:
Although the majority of the advertisements I came across had been concerning the sale of horses of all kinds of quality, type, breed and size, he was also a general auctioneer, dealing with the selling of carriages, carts, wagons and farm implements. Apart from organising auctions on their own premises, auctioneers would also undertake farm sales. When tenant farmers (or their widows) left their tenancy, the livestock and farm equipment was theirs to sell. In the auctioneers’ advertisements, you can often find quite a lot of interesting detail as in Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Oxford, England), Saturday, April 21, 1860:
There is a gap of about ten years for more advertisements, (1864 to 1873) and I haven’t managed to establish when he started doing so and whether this was just a title he gave the business himself, but by October 11, 1873 he was calling the business the “Royal Horse & Carriage Repository” and incidentally stating that the business was started in 1856. This was the year in which he had married Sarah. Was the business started with a dowry or perhaps with an inheritance from his mother who had died in 1854? I need to do some more following up here to see if I can find out the answer.
The business had also moved to Friar Street, still close to the cattle market and the railway station. Interestingly, in the same edition, he advertises that “A Military, Hurdle, and Flat Race Meeting would be held on the Race course at Reading on 5th and 6th November, 1873” under his management.
During this time, it looks as though he must have been a reasonably successful businessman and well known within the community, as on November 9th 1872, it was reported that Mr Robert Tompkins, of the well known Horse Repository, was elected a member of the Reading Corporation. In the Reading Municipal Elections, he had headed the list at the close of poll with 251 votes, 91 votes ahead of his nearest rival. The election was by ballot, and the contest was for Abbey Ward. There had been two other candidates, one of whom had previously represented the ward for three years. Abbey Ward is where his business premises were located.
Whether it was because it was an interest of his, or through being a Corporation member, Robert had some interest in rowing. Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported that “On the evening of Thursday, 4th December 1873 the annual dinner of the Reading Rowing Club was held at the Upper Ship Hotel, when Mr. Robert Tompkins occupied the vice-chair. There was an unusually large number of members present. The Secretary reported that there was a balance of over 30l. against the Club. He also stated that the donation list was extremely small that year and urged the general public to take more interest in the Club.”
The committee must have been successful in their wish for more support as on Saturday, 21st July 1877, Jackson’s Oxford Journal carried a long and detailed report on the Reading Regatta in which Robert is listed as one of the umpires. Wikipedia notes that “The Reading Working Men’s Regatta was established in 1877. It was promoted by the Mayor and Corporation of Reading, receiving Royal patronage in 1896.”
Robert’s interest in rowing appears to have been more than as just a committee member though, as The London Gazette of October 16th 1874 lists two provisional patent protections to George Blake and Robert Tompkins, both of Reading, in the county of Berkshire, for the invention of “improvements in boat lowering and detaching apparatus” and “improved means or appliances for steadying and for steering ships, boats and other vessels”.
Robert also competed in the prestigious Annual Islington Horse Show, held in the Agricultural Hall, winning prizes for his own horses; third place to a de Rothschild, with a chestnut Hunter named Confidence on one occasion and second prize in a field of 56 horses with another Chestnut, Sunbeam, in the following year.
Tucked away in a paragraph of snippets of local news from Reading on November 14th 1874 it was reported that Mr. Robert Tompkins, so well-known in connection with his Royal Horse Repository in Friar-street, had disposed of his business for the sum of about 21,000l.
Three years later, he bought back the business. On November 17th 1877 another announcement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal:
I came across an article in The London Times from 1893 which gives a clue about him as a person and also gives a rough idea of the dates of when he stopped his “career” as an auctioneer.
(Before MR. JUSTICE HAWKINS and a special jury)
TOMPKINS V. TOMPKINS’S HORSE AND CARRIAGE REPOSITORY (LIMITED).
“There is a fine covered sale yard with lantern lighted roof, auctioneer’s rostrum and office and tan ride. The stabling is in several blocks, comprising 53 loose boxes and 46 stalls. Other buildings are a foreman’s cottage, harness room, chaff house, lofts, dog kennels and foiling houses.”
The Central Cinema was built soon after on the site of the auction yard and the Ibis Hotel now stands there.
The Reading Directory for 1888 lists Robert’s business at No. 24 Friar Street and his son-in-law next door at No. 25.
In the 1891 census, Robert’s daughter and son-in-law were living at 25, Friar Street and Alexander was described as an auctioneer’s assistant. Their youngest son was born in Reading in 1900 and by 1901 they were living in Eye and Dunsden in Oxfordshire and the son-in-law was a house agent (employer). I wonder if he stayed with the firm when his father-in-law finally parted company with the repository and at what point he set up on his own.
Clearly Robert’s working life as an auctioneer had come to an end by 1893, but thinking that I might find out more about his interests in rowing, horse and greyhound racing, I began to explore the possible references in the Arts and Sports sections which had come up in my search. To my surprise, I found a Robert Tompkins listed on Saturday, December 29th, 1894 as the proprietor of Queen’s Hall, Reading in The Era. It was only when I found an announcement in The Era of the sale of the theatre following his death which gave his home address, which I already knew from the census returns, that I was sure this was the same Robert. No longer being involved in the Auction business, it looks as though he found something else on which to expend his energy although it was to be short lived.
The Queen’s Hall and Assembly Rooms is described (in its own advertisements} as “Fully licensed. Two minutes from the railway station and one minute from the market place. Queen’s Hall is one of the largest in England with Handsome Assembly Rooms adjoining. The acoustics are simply perfect. This splendid building is now open for Stage Plays, Concerts and other High Class Entertainments.”
In April 6 1895, The Era reported that “Sir Augustus Harris has acquired a long lease of the Queens’ Hall, Reading, and intends to convert the building into a first class theatre. The hall, which has only recently been opened is of larger size, and was erected through the enterprise of Mr Robert Tompkins, who is now to be congratulated upon having secured such an eminent lessee. Mr C Irvine Bacon who has been manager for Mr Tompkins will be retained in a similar capacity by Sir Augustus Harris.” Sir Augustus Henry Glossop Harris was an influential British actor, impresario, and dramatist. Manager of Drury Lane Theatre, he was nicknamed “Father of Pantomime”.
The Era also reported that Sir Augustus had “added to his many other enterprises a long lease of the Queens’ Hall, Reading which he intends to convert into a first class theatre.”
By November of that year, Robert was advertising The Queens’s Hall New Theatre as complete and “possessing one of the Largest and Best Stages in the Kingdom and open to treat with High-Class Companies for Dramatic Performance and other Entertainments.” I wonder if they managed to acquire the “Entire Gas Fittings for a Stage. 24ft. opening in perfect condition.”, which they were looking for in July of that year and did they also find the “Scenic Artist, Wanted Immediately, to Paint and Touch-Up Dock Scenery on the Premises.”, who they needed in September.
The Era carries many reviews of various musical performances, pantomime and plays staged by various companies during this period. However, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the strain of work following Sir Augustus’s return from a trip to the United States caused a breakdown in his health and he died shortly afterwards in June 1896. Robert advertised for another lessee in April 1896 “due to failing health” – this could have been due to Sir Augustus’s failing health or his own since Robert died himself six months later.
Later that year, having just lost such an important client, Robert then fell foul of the local licensing authorities. In September 1896, the renewal of the dramatic licence for Queens Hall wasn’t granted. It was opposed by Harry Brandon Ormsby Trench who was the proprietor of the New Royal County Theatre, who had his own dramatic licence renewed at the same Licensing session.
Like Robert, Ormsby Trench had built his own theatre in 1893, The Prince’s Theatre of Varieties in Friar Street, which he then completely remodelled using an architect. It can be seen from the report of the Licensing session in Jackson’s Oxford Journal, that Robert was quite proud of the fact that he had acted as his own architect and as the dramatic licence wasn’t granted on grounds of safety maybe this was a mistake. The New Royal County Theatre had also been opened in 1895 with full dramatic and wine and sprits licences.
The two theatres were in direct competition as can be seen from the types of acts and plays which appeared there. Both produced pantomimes, but interestingly the Liberal Association held their meetings at Queen’s Hall, while the Conservatives held theirs at The Royal County Theatre. It looks as though Ormsby Trench had found a way to see off the opposition. Certainly the reviews of plays in The Era stopped at this time, and any advertisements or theatrical gossip only referred to variety acts.
The Era announced Robert’s death on Saturday, February 13, 1897 in the Theatrical Gossip column: “Mr Robert Tomkins [sic], the proprietor of the Queens’ Hall, Reading, expired at his residence, Westlands, Reading, on Sunday last, in his sixty-third year. Mr Tomkins [sic] had been in failing health for some time past. He was one of the most respected inhabitants of the town, and was also widely known as the founder, and for many years proprietor, of Tompkins’s Royal Horse Repository in that city.”
His funeral was reported in The Era on the 20th February: The funeral of the late Mr Robert Tompkins, proprietor of The Queen’s Hall, Reading, took place on the 11th inst. at Reading Cemetery. The inscription on the breastplate was as follows: – “Robert Tompkins, died Feb. 7th, 1897, aged sixty-three years.”
Presumably his family weren’t interested in continuing with this business, as The Queen’s Hall was put up for sale in, September 1897. “The Queen’s Hall and Assembly Rooms. For sale, by private contract in consequence of the death of it owner. This hall is greatly in demand for Exhibitions, Shows and all kinds of Entertainments. Seating accommodation for 2,000. Apply to Tompkins, Westlands, Reading.”
It didn’t sell privately and was put up for auction in London a year later by Wm. R. Nicholas and Co., Auctioneers. Again it didn’t sell and was re-advertised in June 1899. It wasn’t until February 1900 that an announcement appeared in The Era saying that it had been sold by private treaty; not as a theatre or for use as a hall, but to a firm of printers to be used as a printing house and factory.
The various advertisements, particularly for the unsuccessful auction and later the private sale of the premises, describe the building. It was situated close to the railway station on the corner of Valpy Street and West Forbury Road and was a substantial size, with a frontage on to the roads of 193ft by 123ft . It boasted a hall (102ft by 69ft), gallery and good stage, five lecture rooms, three dressing rooms, four bedrooms, bathroom, Buffet Promenade etc. It was advertised as “the largest hall in the town and eminently suited for a Theatre of other places of Entertainment, for which it had been specially constructed and was suitable for a variety of other purposes where space was required.”
The only other comparable building suitable for “histrionics”, The Royal County Theatre, was also advertised for sale by the same firm in 1900. The Queen’s Hall was still being used right up to the final sale as can be seen by the dates of various advertisements in The Era and Jackson’s Oxford Journal which range from “Rex Fox, a high-wire artist and part of Poole’s Myriomara”, to a grand gathering of the Liberal Association and the Reading Abbey Boxing Club’s Open Competition.
Finally, four years after her father’s death, and as announced in The London Gazette in February 1901, Robert’s middle daughter, Florence Emmeline Hutchinson was able to begin to wind up her father’s estate, for which she had been appointed administratrix in May 1897, by giving notice that all debts, claims and demands upon her father’s estate should be received by the end of the following month.
What started out as a cursory glance at some advertisements and what I thought would be a brief article about the work of an auctioneer, turned into the beginnings of a full scale research project into a fascinating person which is still not finished. Ideally, to complete the picture I should obtain his will, and in the future I might even be able to make contact with the descendants of his daughters to discover yet more detail.
We are always told that using newspapers will help us with our research, but I hadn’t anticipated being able to find out quite so much detail about one man and his development from the young newly married son of a tenant farmer to a successful and wealthy businessman, as well as gaining an insight into his personality.
Gale Digital Collections – by invitation only. Otherwise accessible in some public and university libraries.
19th Century British Library Newspapers:
Jackson’s Oxford Journal
The Times Digital Archive, 1785-1985
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell was published in 1877.
Victorian London > Publications > Social Investigation/Journalism > The Horse World of London, by W. J. Gordon, 1893 – Chapter 13 – The Sale Yard.
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On the same page as Ethel Louise de Fraine in 1901 [Bluestocking], I had spotted a Dorothy Emily Gillett.
There are many Gilletts around and not all are connected to our Gillett line, so she wasn’t necessarily going to be one of ‘ours’ but following her, I found that she was. In fact, she was the second cousin of Susan Gillett. Ethel Louise was the second cousin of Thomas Turner de Fraine. The families were connected by marriage from 1890, so they may well have been aware of their ‘relationship’.
The de Fraine, Tompkins and Gillett families often sent both their sons and daughters away from home for a few years of education, and I have several times spotted familiar surnames on lists of pupils, which when I have tracked them through other census returns and through birth registrations have turned out to be related to the name I was originally looking for. Often they are of an age not to have appeared on the previous census and are not with their own families in the following census, but appear then as visitors with members of the families with whom they were at school or have even married into the family.
As early as 1841, I have found several different sets of two or three female, or very young male, Gillett cousins listed as pupils/scholars and staying in the house of an aunt or other older female relation who are enumerated as a schoolmistress. Rather then applying for posts as governesses, it looks though they may have made their income by educating their own relations. Finding these mixed households have often helped me to disentangle families who have a habit of marrying their cousins.
Later on the girls tend to appear in larger establishments which sometimes, but not always, are listed by the name of a school, and again familiar surnames appear on the pages. The families did not seem to send their offspring to the elite Public Schools, but to small independent schools. The boys seem to go at about 9 years old and the girls at 11. A fairly typical school at the time will have been the one included on this website (page 6) Mr Galland’s Academy.In 1851, GT de Fraine aged 9 was a pupil at what became Trinity School, Old Stratford, Passenham. Two of his sons, Thomas Turner, aged 14, and his younger brother Herbert George, aged 11, are listed there in 1881. Edwin Osborne Tompkins, then aged 12, was at the same school in 1871.
Thomas is listed as one of the pall bearers at the funeral of the headmaster:
The Northampton Mercury November 24th 1883
DEATH OF THE REV. JAMES THOMAS. We deeply regret to announce the death of the Rev. James Thomas, which occurred on the 12 inst., after an illness of only three days. On Saturday last the funeral took place in the pretty little churchyard of Passenham.
At a quarter past-two the sad procession started from the scene of so many years’ loving labour. The order was as follows—The hearse, with coffin of plain oak, with brass mountings, consisting of a Latin cross, a star, and a shield bearing the following inscription;—” James Thomas. Feel asleep Nov. 12th, 1883. Aged 56.” The following pupils —T. T. De Fraine, A. Barton, A. Plummer, G. Bailey. C. C. Wheldon, M. Mead -having requested to be allowed to bear the coffin from the hearse to the grave, as last token of love and respect for their late dear master, were allowed to act a pall bearers, their strength not being sufficient to bear the corpse. The carriers were old servants of the deceased and residents in Old Stratford. Then followed five carriages, containing the family and relatives of the deceased ; and after them the rest of the pupils and the household servants. The coffin was met at the churchyard gate by the Rev. G. M. Capell (rector of Passenham), Rev. J. Wood (vicar of Old Wolverton, and rural dean), Rev. F. W. Harnett (vicar of St. Georges Wolverton), with the choirs of Deanshanger and Old Wolverton. On entering the church the solemn strains of the ” Dead March ” in Saul were heard. The prayers were impressively read by the Rev. G. M. Capell. When the pall was removed the coffin was covered with wreaths of the choicest flowers, many of which came from a distance, as tokens of love and respect for deceased. Hymn 265,” Thy way, not mine, O, Lord,” was then stung, and after the two psalms were chanted, the lesson was read by the Rev. J. Wood. On coming to the grave, hymn 260, “Hark, my soul, it is the Lord,” was sung, and the remainder of the sad ceremony performed by the Rev. G. M. Capell ; then all that was left on earth of one who was endeared to everyone who knew him by hit kindliness and consideration was committed to its last resting place. When the coffin was lowered, the hymn 140, “Jesus lives,” was sung, and then the beautiful service closed with the Blessing. Amongst those present were the Rev. B. Cadogan, rector of Wicken, and Rural Dean ; Rev. J. B. Sams rector of Grafton ; Rev. J. M. Lester, vicar of Stony Stratford ; Rev. P. G. Macdonall, rector of Cosgrove ; Rev J. W. Spark, W. H. Bull. Esq., Messrs. W. H. Robinson, J. Hudson, J. A. Scrivener, W. Reeve, H. Roberts, &c., and many ladies. © Old Stratford
The number of pupils at Trinity School was 22 in 1851 and by 1881 there were 35. The school had closed by 1891 when it was time for George Lee de Fraine to be sent away to school. He is listed then at the Grammar School, Oxford Road in Thame.
Having read Tom Brown’s Schooldays and Nicholas Nickleby, I wonder what the regime was like for the boys there.
The Victoria County History for Northamptonshire, quoting from Kelly’s Dir. Northants. (1885), advts. p. 32., describes the school, which by that time also took day boys:-
In 1885 the bishop of Peterborough and the rectors of Wicken and Passenham were described as the school’s ‘visitors’; the classrooms and dormitories were said to be ‘lofty and well arranged’; the 8 a. of grounds included facilities for football, cricket and tennis; there was a swimming bath; and the school had its own dairy. The fees were 35 guineas a term, ‘strictly inclusive’.
Thomas later went to Osborne’s father to learn about farming and went on to marry Osborne’s sister. It would seem logical to think that this is how they met since the families had no connection other than through the school as far as we know. Herbert George later married one of the daughters of the headmaster of Trinity School in 1897.The Northampton Mercury September 3rd 1897
MARRIAGE OF MISS E. A. THOMAS. An interesting wedding was celebrated at St. Giles’ Church on Tuesday, the contracting parties being Miss Emma Sophia Thomas, third daughter of the late Rev. J. Thomas, of Trinity School, Old Stratford, and Mr. Herbert George de Fraine, second son of Mr. G. T. de Fraine, of Walton, Aylesbury. The bride, who was given away by her mother, was attired in a simple costume of white alpaca, and wore a large white hat trimmed with lace and roses. She carried a beautiful shower bouquet, the gift of the bridegroom. The bridesmaids were: Miss Thomas, Miss B. Thomas (sisters), and Miss F. de Fraine (sister of the bridegroom). They were dressed in costumes of grey cashmere, and wore white Toreador hats trimmed with pink roses. The officiating clergymen were Rev. J. Thomas, of Thornhill, Dewsbury (brother of the bride), and the Rev. C. H. Scott. Mr. G. de Fraine acted as best man. Miss Walford presided at the organ, and played Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” at the close. The presents were of a useful and handsome description. © Old Stratford
The Tompkins sisters were also sent away to school. In 1871, Sarah Jane Tompkins was a pupil in Paddington aged 13, and Annie Maria Tompkins, aged 14, was a pupil at Grove House, High Street North, Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Rosa Ellen Tompkins (later to marry Thomas) was a pupil aged 15 at Packfield College in Lewisham in 1881, and in 1891, their half sister, Alice, aged 13, was a pupil at a Ladies School at 133 Green Lanes, Islington – along with Constance and Edith De Fraine. They were 13 and 11 years old respectively.
Checking for other names in a census listing for a school threw up something else interesting just this week. Previously, I had idly wondered how Osborne’s niece Ethel Tompkins, brought up in London and Aveley, Essex, had met and married a William Grimwood Boocock, from Yorkshire in 1907.
When trying to track down another branch, I came across a Mortimer Eve in 1891 at the same school as a WG Boocock of Yorkshire. Mortimer’s family were in the vicinity of Aveley and they were related to the Mannings who were related to the Tompkins of Aveley. Maybe Mortimer took William home for the holidays?? Who knows … … … …