Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Whatever Happened To Robinson Thickpenny?

The picture is of my maternal grandmother, Kate Kellam. All we have ever know about her is that she was a barmaid in Keighley in the early years of the twentieth century when she caught the eye of my grandfather, Albert Beanland. As far as my mother knew she was Welsh and left home in somewhat difficult circumstances and was adopted by a Keighley landlord. Her father died and her mother - my great-gradmother - got married again to someone called Robinson Thickpenny. An unlikely name, I know: like a character out of a Dickens novel. But did he exist, and what was the story behind my grandmothers' flight to asylum in Keighley?
My current project has therefore been to track down the Kellam family and discover how the unlikely sounding Robinson Thickpenny came into the story. So far I have discovered that Kate was born in 1877, the daughter of Albert Kellam and Catherine Moody. Albert was born in Hereford and in 1891 he was living in Penarth, Wales with his wife - who was born in Plymouth, Devon - and his two daughters Mary Ann and Kate (my grandmother). Albert was a grocer and, for our family, must have been quite well off at the time as he is listed as having two servant. Albert and Catherine seem to have moved around the country quite a bit : they were married in Hartlepool (where Mary Ann their eldest daughter was born), whilst Kate was born in Rutland. So my grandmother was not Welsh, but was born in the very smallest of English counties.
The wonderful thing about census records is that they provide a snapshot at a moment in time. Thus the 1891 census provides this snapshot of a classic Victorian lower middle class family : Albert 38, Catherine 36, Mary Ann 16 and Kate 14. But by the end of the year the picture has radically changed. Albert Kellam was dead and the family home seems to have broken up. The next time we catch a glimpse of them is in 1894 when Catherine re-marries in Bramley. West Yorkshire. Her husband was John Robinson Thickpenny. J Robinson Thickpenny was born in Louth, Lincolnshire in 1861. By 1894 he is in West Yorkshire marrying Catherine and in 1901 the pair of them are living in Middlesborough, but without Mary Ann and Kate. He is listed as being a stone mason in the 1901 census (where he is wrongly recorded as being called J. Robinson Thickpeuny). By 1909, he too - like Albert Kellam before him - is dead. His death is recorded in St Marylebone, London.
So what's the story? Why did Catherine move around the country so much and why did she keep losing husbands. Where did J. Robinson Thickpenny come from ... and where did he go to.  I will try and find out the real story. If I can't, I think I just might make one up.

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