In Search of Ethelberts

I like strong unusual names, so when I came across an Ethelbert Holborow in my tree it was too good of a rabbit hole to ignore. Although I don’t have a direct Ethelbert Holborow as an ancestor, I do have a number of other Ethelberts in my tree – mostly all connected with the Neal family in some way.

We’ve already seen one Ethelbert – Harry Ethelbert Stevens/Teagle/Holborow – but there are a few more stories attached to other Ethelberts in my tree, as we shall see …

Ethelbert, aka Æthelberht or even Æðelberht, is a cognate of the ancient Germanic name Adalbert, meaning “noble and bright”, and was the name of a couple of Kings of Kent (one of whom was canonized) and a Saxon King of England. My Ethelberts were somewhat more … prosaic than those guys!

We’ll start with a trio of Holborows: father, son, grandson.

The elder of the three was baptised on 29 November 1798 in Old Sodbury, Gloucestershire. He was the son of Francis and Sarah (nee Limbrick) Holborow, but he and his brother Francis weren’t to stay in the county. By 1818, Francis (at least) had moved to Clare Market, London and set up as a cheesemonger. He is listed at 22 Clare Street, Clare Market in Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide, and Street Directory. I don’t know when Ethelbert joined him, but a London Gazette article of 1825 states that their partnership has been dissolved:

Despite that, according to various city directories, the pair are recorded together at that address until at least 1835, and appear together in an insurance document from 1831 (and once things are back up and running I shall obtain the relevant manuscript from the London Metropolitan Archive!). Ethelbert is also named in a criminal case at the Old Bailey: on 13 September 1827 two boys aged 14 and 12 “were indicted for stealing, on the 1st of August, 4lbs. weight of bacon, value 2s., the goods of Ethelbert Holborow.” More on them at a later date.

Ethelbert married Elizabeth Frost in August 1829, and the first three of their five children were born and baptised in London. However, by the 1841 census the family have moved back to Gloucestershire and settled in Yate where he is enumerated as a clerk. In 1851 he is listed as a “Union Clerk” and in 1861 “Clerk to Guardians” (assuming this to be related to the Parish itself, or perhaps to Yate Workhouse). The Probate Calendar lists him as “Yeoman” upon his death on 27 January 1868. (Again, this Will is on the post-lockdown list!)

What of his son, Ethelbert? Born in the parish of St Clement Danes, London, c. 1831, Ethelbert junior initially followed the family exodus to Yate. However, by 1851 he is found back at 22 Clare Street with his uncle, George, and listed as a cheesemonger himself.

In 1861 he is still at 22 Clare Street, this time with his brother, Henry Francis, and the next year he marries Margaret Sherlock(e), a confectioner from Marylebone. Of course, he’d been having children with Margaret since 1857 when the baptism of Catherine Holborow took place (with Ethelbert being recorded as “Alfred”) …

… followed by George Sherlock Holborow and Ethelbert. Interestingly, in 1861 Margaret has chosen to record herself as a widow – presumably to cover up any inherent social stigma of living with her children but no husband. The marriage certificate certainly states that she is a spinster:

By 1870 the family have moved to Peckham, into a suburban terrace. It is here that he is awarded a patent for “the invention of improvements in window sash fasteners”. He had similarly been granted a previous patent in 1863, along with Isaac Parker, for “improvements in the construction of sights, for firearms”. By 1871, Ethelbert is now a “builder and house decorator”. Margaret sadly dies in early 1873, with Ethelbert following in June – but seemingly having moved back to Gloucestershire, and not above leaving a little surprise in his Will (and I’m not talking elastic gussets, here):

As can be seen, it clearly states that only his younger children (i.e. those born after his marriage to Margaret) are his Next of Kin and to be placed in the care of his (presumed) business partner. This is clearly challenged by the family in some way (or perhaps he left two Wills?) as this changes to their grandmother, Elizabeth, in a subsequent Grant of Administration:

So, then, what of the third Ethelbert (and his brother and sister born before their parents married)? Were they cut off from the family altogether? Perhaps.

On 23 September 1880, the Pennsylvania docked in Philadelphia. Onboard were three familiar nams: Catherine, Ethelbert and … Boy (aka George Sherlock Holborow). Quite why Ethelbert has been recorded as a female and a spinster is unknown!

Somewhat annoyingly, the trio arrive 3 months after the 1880 US census was taken, and with the loss of the 1890 census, it isn’t until 1900 that we pick them up again. Catherine made her way to Michigan by 1887 where she married Mandes Simmons and lived out her days. George and his wife, Susan Elizabeth Johnson, ended up in Los Angeles, by way of Indiana and Illinois.

As for Ethelbert … he remains aloof and distant (i.e. I can’t currently locate him in 1900 US census nor the 1901 UK census), but he does make an appearance in the California Voter Registrations for Nevada County, California (allegedly for the period 1900-1928). In 1911 he is back visiting in the UK and is in Chipping Sodbury. His occupation? Gunsmith. Perhaps this harks back to his father’s gunsight patent, and it’s something that I would love to know more about.

His last surprise comes in the guise of his burial registration – courtesy of the Dorset Memorial Inscriptions record set at FindMyPast. Dying in Bridport, Dorset on Christmas Day 1920, Ethelbert at some point in his life had converted to become a Quaker (does one ‘convert’ to Quaker-ism?). Sadly, it doesn’t appear that he left a Will (at least, not in the UK), but certainly another certificate for the list!

An interesting cross-section of life through the eyes of three Ethelberts – from cheesemonger to parish clerk, from gusset manufacturer to house builder, to gunsmith. Next time I’ll be taking a look at some other Ethelberts, this time from the connected Neal family, with a line of Ethelberts stretching back to the late 1600s.

Cover image: Ethelbert’s position in the genealogical roll of the Kings of England © The British Library Board, Royal 14 B. VI

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