This weekend I finally found myself with a bit of free time, mainly because my poor boyfriend had taken himself off to bed ill and hence he couldn’t force me to DIY. So, I turned to my family history for the first time in a while to do some proper digging.
I decided that I would focus my efforts on the family of Doris Ross, who was my grandfather Horace James Hancock’s first wife, before he married my mum’s mother Margaret Goulding. She’s not at all a direct ancestor of mine, but she died young, I’m not entirely sure how, and the couple didn’t have any children, so although I felt a little bit like I was intruding on someone else’s family, I knew that no direct line descendants would be researching her at least, and I’ve always been a little bit intrigued by her.
For one thing, Horace was born in Wales, and was supposedly a fireman in Brighton during the Second World War – however, his marriage to Doris took place in 1941, in Wakefield and it has never been clear how he came to be here. I had wondered if he only moved here after he met Doris, if she was local. As it turns out she was.
In fact she was incredibly easy to track down. Firstly, I was able to find her probate record, and thus confirm the death I had for her, in 1954, was correct. She was aged just 42, giving a birth date of 1912. This was a little frustrating, as it meant she wouldn’t appear on the 1911 census, but I was able to find a birth record for her, which gave her mother’s maiden name as Gillings. From this I was easily able to track down a Gillings–Ross marriage: Elizabeth Gillings married Claude Atkin Ross in 1908. And with a name like Claude Atkin Ross to follow the rest was a breeze. Finding his probate record, with Doris Hancock named as the executor neatly tied up the parcel, so I knew I had the right family.
I won’t bore you with all the minute details of the family tree. In brief, the family seems to be mainly upper working class and one branch originates in the tiny village of Lambley, north-east of Nottinghamshire, with other branches rooted more strongly in Wakefield and the surrounding areas. However, there were a couple of intriguing snippets:
First up, there’s the religion issue. The Ross line in particular seems to be somewhat undecided as to whether it is C of E or Wesleyan – in places, one sibling is baptised Wesleyan, and then the next C of E, which variation I struggle to understand. Claude Atkin Ross himself is baptised Wesleyan in 1909, a year after his marriage to Elizabeth. I can’t find any register at all of Doris’ baptism, but many of her siblings had Wesleyan baptism. I’d liek to find out more about why this might have happened.
Far more sinister though, is the family murder! The victim was Claude Atkin Ross’s aunt Emma Eliza Sheard, formerly Perkin, née Land – sister of his mother, Nancy Hagar Land. I was first alerted to the murder when I discovered her probate record, which read as follows:
Sheard, Emma Eliza of 4 Chevet-terrace Walton, Wakefield, widow who was last seen alive in or about July 1941 and whose dead body was found on 17 December 1948 at the Sharlston West Colliery Walton. Administration Wakefield 18 February to Harry Bramley Norman clerk. Effects £654 7s 8d.
Of course, this immediately piqued my interest, and I Googled her to see if I could find out more:
One of Walton's dark deeds happened at Chevet Terrace back in the first half of the twentieth century. Winifred Mary Hallaghan of Chevet Terrace was arrested in 1949 charged with with the manslaughter of her great aunt, Emma Eliza Sheard. When the Second World War started, Winifred invited her widowed great aunt to stay with her and her husband at Chevet Terrace. It seems that Winifred thought that the old lady might be nervous on her own. However, things did not go smoothly and Mrs Sheard, it seems, was not an easy woman to live with. In 1941 there was a quarrel between Winifred's husband, Don, and Mrs. Sheard over an electric light bulb. The quarrel ended with Don Hallaghan telling the awkward aunt that she had to go.
Mrs Sheard did not go at this point, for there followed a further exchange of bad-tempered words, this time with Winifred. Mrs Sheard said that Don should be the one to go as he had been having a bit on the side with the woman next door. Although Winifred did not believe her great aunt, she was sufficiently angered to strike her. The old woman fell backwards, hitting her head on a sewing machine. Winifred left her great aunt lying on the floor. Later, when she returned, she found her still lying there, at which point, she dragged her great aunt to bed. It seemed likely that Mrs Sheard was already dead. On her way to tell her husband about the incident, it seems that Winifred noticed children playing around a capped pit shaft not far from her home. And so it was that Mrs Sheard up at the bottom of the shaft, toppled there by her great niece Winifred.
Later, Winifred sold a cottage that her great aunt owned in Neville Street, Belle Vue - by forging her signature - all the while Mrs Sheard's remains lay at the bottom of the shaft. It seems that she did tell her husband and her brother about the incident in 1946, but they kept 'mum', so to speak. It was in 1948, that the corpse was discovered by a colliery electrician. At Leeds in 1949, Winifred was sentenced to five years in prison for forgery and three years for manslaughter.
I haven’t yet identified Winifred Mary Hallaghan – who would be a cousin or second cousin of Doris Ross. However, I can confirm that this is definitely the same family, as I have identified Harry Bramley Norman, executor of Emma Eliza Sheard’s will, as the son of Emma Eliza’s older sister Fanny Norman née Land.
I wonder whether Doris, who married Horace at around the same time as her great aunt disappeared, knew about it – after all, this could have been a quite distant branch of the family, or a very close one. Her father, Emma Eliza’s nephew, was still alive, but his mother had died in 1934, so he may not have had much contact with her family. If they were close, I wonder how they felt about this tragedy?