52 Ancestors: Solo (Updated)

I don’t think that there is one solitary only child in my tree. Not anywhere. Even all the spinster aunts and bachelor uncles seem to be found in close proximity to their niblings in later years, and several of them make clear provision for them in their wills and testaments (yes, you may have several cauldrons of tallow, dear nephew …).

So I had to take a bit of a different tack with this week’s challenge and take a look at a line that’s just been hanging out for a while now. On it’s own. Kind of … solo.

I desperately want to make some kind of Man from U.N.C.L.E. pun during this article (you might have to ask your mum – unless you had the dubious pleasure of watching Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill gad about Europe a few years ago), but I don’t see how. Although consider yourself warned.

Anyway, to the point … I last talked about the mystery of the Robins family a while ago, in which I described how one of my 4 x great-grandfathers, Paul Robins, was a bit of a monkey in recording his birthplace in the census returns. Between him and the enumerator, the places varied from Blandford in Dorset to Brentford in Essex. No birth or baptism could I find. Paul being a far less common name than I thought wasn’t even much of a help. The whole thing was very frustrating. No wonder Paul was left hanging out on his own …

But a message from a random relative (we are connected through Paul’s son, David) had me checking a suggestion in her tree: a non-conformist baptism having taken place at the Lying-In hospital in Holborn in 1809 of a Paul Robins, son of Paul and Eleanor.

The Lying-In Hospital for Married Women (later the British Lying-In-Hospital for Married Women) was established in Holborn, London in 1749 and provided a safe, clean space for women to give birth away from home.

On examination of the full record (which is a bit too unwieldy to reproduce here, but I am very thankful for FMP having it!) shows that Eleanor was admitted on 24 February 1809, and was recorded as the wife of Paul Robins, a soldier who was from Calne, Wiltshire. Her “reckoning” was end of April, and Paul arrived on 10 May. He was baptised on 18 May, and they were discharged on 27 May.

This was Eleanor’s second trip to the hospital. Five years previously she had been delivered of a daughter, Elizabeth. There seems to be a third child, Ellen, born in August 1814 in Ealing. All name Paul, soldier, as the father.

But is the Paul born in 1809 my mysterious Paul? After all, mine ended up in north Wiltshire by 1838 and gave his year of birth as around 1814 and not 1809. Well, before he got there, he was admitted to the Royal Military Asylum in Chelsea. That’s not asylum in the bad way here … It was a school that took in the children and orphans (male and female) of soldiers and educated them up to the age of 14 when they were apprenticed or put into service. Paul junior’s record shows that his parents were Paul and Eleanor, and Paul was a member of the Coldstream Guards.

Paul was discharged on 24 February 1823, just shy of his 14th birthday, and “delivered to friends”. As the details of any master, their occupation and the date of any apprenticeship ending are all left blank, I think it’s safe to assume that he didn’t go into an apprenticeship.

But then there seems to be a blank space on Paul junior for a while. Then I thought I’d check the military collections on Ancestry for any Paul Robins, and found one, in the Coldstream Guards, who states he was from Calne, Wiltshire and previous occupation was a weaver. His Chelsea Pensioner service record shows that he originally signed up with the 62nd Foot Regiment (which would later become the 62nd (Wiltshire) Regiment of Foot based at Le Marchant Barracks in Devizes after the Childers Reforms of the British Army infantry regiments in 1889) on or around 5 February 1799. He was with them for almost two years – managing to sustain a serious chest wound after a ramrod was accidentally fired from a gun on the field – before transferring to the Coldstream Guards in November 1800. He stayed with them for sixteen years before being discharged due to ill health – the notes state he was asthmatic and had further complications following the chest wound which caused him pain when with the 62nd.

The Coldstream connection bears up further as they fought in the Napoleonic Wars (Egypt, Denmark, Portugal and France), and the RMA was set up specifically to help the children of soldiers that had fought in those Wars.

Now, there is a Paul Robins of the right age buried in Brentford, Middlesex in October 1822. There is an annotation on the record which I believe reads ‘Pvte’ as in ‘Private’.

If that is the case, then might he not also be the Paul Robins, soldier, who had Ellen in 1814 in the neighbouring Borough of Ealing with wife, Eleanor, and therefore also be the Paul, soldier, who had Elizabeth and Paul in the Lying-In Hospital? It seems likely. Also, keep in mind that my Paul’s place of birth could easily be an enumerator error for Brentford, Middlesex.

What of Eleanor and the children after this point? We’ve seen that Paul junior was placed in the RFA until he was 14. Elizabeth was 18 and Ellen 8 when Paul died. Eleanor would have needed help.

A few things then clicked into place. According to The Handy Book of Parish Law by William Andrews Holsworth, the following is true:

  • A woman marrying a man with a known settlement shall follow it, even whether she lived there with him or not;
  • Every person is prima facie entitled to a settlement in the place where he was born. But this he only retains until he is proved to have another, derived from his parents, or acquires one for himself;
  • Every child born in wedlock acquires, in the first instance, it’s father’s then settlement

In effect, Eleanor acquired Paul’s settlement rights of Calne, as did the children, despite having been born in London. Might, then, there not be records of them in Calne?

Follow me, dear reader …

In the 1841 census there is an Eleanor Robins listed as an inmate at Calne Poorhouse (incidentally, this would have been the ‘first’ poorhouse located on the southern edge of town, as opposed to the later Union Workhouse which opened after 1848 in a different location on the northern edge of the town), who died there in August 1845.

Further reviews of local records give a few other hints. The first being a marriage in 1844 for an Ellen Robins in the adjacent parish of Derry Hill with father Paul Robins, occupation weaver:

Ellen and Alfred then move to London where, on the census returns, she lists her place of birth as … Ealing. They would have no children, and both died in Plumstead, Essex.

In 1860 a John Robins married Mary Walker, a widow, in Calne. He lists his father as Paul Robins, soldier. In census returns, John states he was born in London.

Then in 1861 a widower, William Robins, marries in Calne to Sarah Sutton Harris. His father? Paul Robins, labourer. (Sarah’s father is a weaver, suggesting an occupational link between the two families.) William’s previous marriage, to Fanny Smart, took place in 1830 meaning there is no ‘full’ certificate listing his father. Like John, census returns show William’s place of birth as London.

What is interesting to note is that none of these certificates lists Paul as being deceased, as you would expect. However, it is unlikely that William’s father would still be alive at age 51, especially as census returns list his age with a year of birth closer to 1807 rather than 1810 as implied above.

I can’t find a baptism for William or John, and I don’t know what became of Elizabeth, which is a shame. I also feel that all the evidence above points to the children being those of Paul and Eleanor, with Paul being of Calne and being a soldier and a weaver. What I don’t have, strictly speaking, is any evidence directly linking my Paul to soldier-Paul. (My ancestor Paul lists his father, Paul, as a labourer on his marriage certificate in 1838, as William does.)

But is it sufficient? I’d actually love to hear from anyone on this! Am I bonkers to believe forgiving a five year difference in reported ages is enough to splice my Paul onto these Robins? I’d very much like to think that this is the right Robins family and fianlly stop Paul from hanging out on his own …

And no jokes about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (that’s Napoleon Solo …).

UPDATED TO ADD: Shortly after originally posting this, I looked into John a little harder, and found that he had joined the 21st Fusiliers. His Chelsea Pensioner records had some very interesting additions:

Firstly, it shows that he was born in Brentford. That tracks with the death for Paul senior, and possibly the birthplace of Paul junior. Secondly, he was attested in Bath, Somerset, so was likely not living in London by 1838. And then there is the thirdly:

The White Hart (to give it its proper name!) is a pub/coaching inn located on the edge of the centre of Calne (well .. it was … it permanently closed a few years ago and is awaiting development). By 1861 John, his wife Mary and stepson William were living a stone’s throw from the White Hart in The Quarry, off of Back Road (or Back Row as it used to be called) in an area known as Bollins Lane which no longer seems to exist.

So another piece of evidence connecting the children of Paul Robins to both Calne and Brentford!

Cover image: The British Lying-in Hospital, Holborn: the facade and an allegorical scene of charity. Engraving by J.S. Miller after himself. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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