Tuesday, August 7, 2018

My lost Frosts. They simply melted away...

Remember Richard Frost, the (presumably) eldest son, also presumably "natural born" (illegitimate) son of my great-great-grandmother, Sarah Frost?  This is about his family.

Richard Frost was born in 1847 or thereabouts. He married Eliza Worthy (which is sometimes transcribed as Wortley), who was born in about 1850 in either Nottinghamshire or in Shepshed, Leicestershire--she was certainly living with her parents in Shepshed ("Sheepshed") by the night of the census in 1851, aged nine months. (Later censuses say she was born in Nottinghamshire, though the 1851 says Shepshed.)
Richard Frost and Eliza Worthy marriage, 1870
The married couple were living together with Richard's parents, Emmanuel and Sarah Bonnett (nee Frost), on the night of the 1871 census--by which time the Emmanuel's family was living on Birstall Street, Leicester. I have the impression that the families moved around the area quite a bit... Wharf Street, Birstall Street, later Brunswick Terrace, off Palmerston Street, which no longer exists... Gresham Street, Upper Brunswick Street, all over the area between Belgrave and the city centre that is now mostly vanished (see this story about the demolished 'slums' of Leicester.)

By 1881, Richard and Eliza have three children: two daughters, Elizabeth born in 1874, Maria born  1876, and a son born in 1878, named Richard after his dad. Eliza's parents, William Worthy and his wife Sarah nee Hayes, are living with them in their home at 4 Brunswick Terrace, Palmeston Street: Richard is a shoe finisher, Eliza a milliner--a hat-maker, Eliza's father a framework knitter.

But the very next year, tragedy struck: Richard died, on 7 June 1882, aged only 35. While I am sure that the family had little money, somebody managed to find the pennies needed to put a simple, one-line obituary in the paper. His address is given as Gresham Street... did the family move again so soon? To a better home, just the other side of the Great Northern Station?

Richard Frost's obituary, from the Melton Mowbrary and
Oakham and Uppingham News, 8 June 1882
Reproduced with kind permission of findmypast.com 
I hope they did move to Gresham Street. It has to be said that Brunswick Terrace, off Palmerston Street, was one of the poorest areas of housing in Leicester. Palmerston Street (later called Taylor Street) ran parallel to Syston Street, Birstall Street and Willow Street, but instead of individual terraced houses facing the street, it had "terraces" or courtyards of houses off it, fourteen houses to a terrace, each one tiny. Brunswick Terrace was the closest to the corner of Palmeston Road and Catherine Street, at the point where it changes to Upper Brunswick Street. Gresham Street was a long street of larger terraced houses--a step up from a little house on a terrace.

Map from National Library of Scotland, OS Map published 1904. shared
here under Creative Commons Licensing and with the addition
of indication of Brunswick Terrace. More maps here. 
But then... Eliza disappears. Richard Junior disappears. Maria disappears.

The closest I have come to finding them is a sighting of an Elizabeth Frost whose birth-date is given as 1875 in the 1891 census, who fits Richard and Eliza's daughter. Listed as born in Leicester, working as a sixteen-year-old servant in Lambeth, London, and employed by a married couple called Nash and their daughter, also Elizabeth, but have no way to verify that this is indeed the very-same Elizabeth... because there is another Elizabeth Frost, born in 1876 with birth registered as Barrow upon Soar, which might have been Belgrave and therefore Leicester from the perspective of a Londoner. But after the 1891 census, I can't find her again either. Nothing.

Logically, Eliza Frost nee Worthy was only 32 when Richard died, and very much young enough to marry again. The children were young enough to be adopted by, or to simply adopt the name of, her new husband. But I have searched everywhere for a marriage record for an Eliza Frost after the death of Richard... and nothing. Eliza isn't short for Elizabeth--she had a younger sister of that name, so her second marriage isn't mixed up in a confusion of firstnames: it would have been recorded as Eliza unless some self-important registrar decided that they knew better than the person who owned the name, but I searched the Elizabeth Frosts too, and all the Eliza and Elizabeth Worthy's too, just in case. Nothing.

I searched for Richard Frost (junior) and Maria. Nothing. I searched all the Richards, no surname, throughout the country... nothing. Censuses, marriages, deaths, everything... nothing.

I did find one Eliza Frost listed as the mother of someone who died in the USA, but that was yet-another Eliza Frost, not our Frost-nee-Worthy Eliza.

Did the whole family die, with nobody left to report the deaths or pay for an obituary? That would be way, way too sad. I prefer to think of Eliza meeting a rich gentleman, setting sail with all the children to Australia, or the USA, or Canada, and marrying her beau on the boat.

I have no idea where any of them went. If you find them, please can you return them to me?

Friday, July 27, 2018

A few Frosty tales. Leicester, Knighton, Countesthorpe, Rotherby. And a non-existent Alexander Frost, the hatter.

Frosts of Knighton and Countesthorpe with two Williams: which is which?

I have recently been going down a few Frost rabbit-holes and burrowing around... coming up in places like Countesthorpe and Ratby and Rotherby, and becoming confused in the process.

(Remember Sarah Frost, my great-great-grandmother? This is her family. Carvell--Bonnett--Frost.)

I had originally traced Sarah Frost's ancestors to her grandfather, William Frost, who was born in Knighton, Leicestershire in about 1776. His date of birth comes from the 1841 census, where the census-takers did not record the exact year of birth for the adults: the enumerator was supposed to round down to the nearest five years--but not all did. Or they rounded up. So there is a big margin of error. As he died before the next census in 1851, 1776 is just a mark in the sand.

Knighton St Mary Magdalene,
Photo by Charvex from Wikimedia Commons
Knighton was then a village with a chapelry, St Mary Magdalene, which meant that it had parish records of its own but was part of the much larger parish of St Margaret's of Leicester. There were baptisms, marriages and burials recorded in Knighton, but some events--especially marriages--seem to have been carried out at St Margaret's church, or at least recorded there rather than in Knighton. Sarah's grandad William was from Knighton, according to his marriage, and my earlier research came up with a baptism for a William Frost, Knighton, in 1776: born to mother Mary Frost, no father named. A bit of a brick wall.

This research was done several years ago and involved lots of staring at microfiche copies of parish records on a squeaky machine in a dark room in a family history research centre in the USA.


Since then, more parish records have been digitised, and I recently found another William Frost, also baptised in Knighton, in 1773. Aarrgh. I cannot yet find any definitive evidence to say which of these two Williams--baptised 1773, or 1776--is the "right" William to be my great-great-great-great grandad. He could be either one. I cannot find a reliable death record or marriage record that would eliminate one or the other. So in my online tree, they are both marked with warning signs. Because I don't know which William married Mary Bryan. I just know that one of them did!

BUT: the second William Frost, baptised in 1773, his parents were John Frost (b. 1748 in Knighton) and Sarah nee Leavis or Loavis. And guess what? This John Frost was our unmarried mother Mary Frost's brother, older by a year. So... regardless of which William it is, the Frost family line goes back to William's grandfather, my sixth great-grandfather, Joseph Frost of Knighton, born about 1720. And from Joseph... the tree stretches way, way back to Countesthorpe, and eventually to a Richard Frost baptised there in 1615. That's as far as I have travelled in time so far... Countesthorpe has amazing records so if you have any ancestors there, you are in luck for research! (The only question I have in this line is around a John Frost who was baptised in Countesthorpe in 1678, but appears to have got on his bike or horse or cart and travelled to Leicester, married Elizabeth Newton in St Margaret's at the relatively late age of 32 in 1710, and then settled in Knighton. Was it a second marriage? Were there earlier children? Still to find out!)

While delving into these Frosts, I found many more Frosts, seemingly unrelated to "mine". That was the part that ended up in Rotherby, so far with no connection to either Knighton or Countesthorpe, as far back as another William Frost, who was buried in Rotherby in 1702--and where there are so many William Frosts that it is difficult to distinguish one generation and family from another. Along the way from the 1900's in Leicester to 1700 Rotherby by way of a few other places, I found some interesting and sad Frost stories:

Birth certificates for Alexander and Eliza Frost
- Two children, Eliza and Alexander Frost, who both listed their father as Alexander Frost, a hatter, on their marriage certificates. Though there never was an Alexander Frost. Their mother, unmarried, was Eliza Frost, born in 1829 in Leicester, daughter of Joseph Frost and Anne nee Taylor. I spent ages trying to find Alexander Frost, the father; an unusual name that should have been relatively easy to track down. But then I found the birth registrations. Eliza Nichols Frost, born 1862, and Alexander Nicholson Frost, born 1864, both to Eliza Frost, and neither with a father named. The registrar was the same for both: did he force the unwed mother to include the father's surname, or part of it? Or were the couple living together as common-law husband and wife when the babies were born? There was an Alexander Nickols, a hatter, born in Scotland but living close to Eliza Frost in a large, Leicester boarding house in 1861. But no trace of him ever after, and Eliza did not marry him--in 1871 she and her young son Alexander are together in the Union Workhouse on Sparkenhoe Street in Leicester, daughter Eliza is living with Eliza's older sister Ann and her husband, James Bland. Did the children know their father? Or was he just a fairy-tale Alexander Frost, pulled out of a hat like a rabbit to put on their official paperwork? We may never know...


Marriages of Alexander and of Eliza Frost, naming father Alexander
1861 census entry for Alexander Nickols in Leicester, a hatter from Scotland


- A connection between my paternal, and maternal, lines that I had no clue about. The Frosts are from my mother's side. There are Lords, on my father's side--a Ruth Lord married a Riley, her sister was Bathsheba who also married one of the Riley brothers, and they both lived in villages on the Syston side of Leicester. The Lord sisters were born in Countesthorpe. And one of their ancestors married a Mary Frost from my mother's ancestry... not part of the blood line, Mary was a second wife but--the connection is there, and I now find that I have a long-ago direct ancestor, also called Bathsheba... what a lovely name. Bathshebas on both sides of the tree. Maybe it was in the blood to fall in love with Thomas Hardy's writing. (More on the Lord story later.)

- A sad story of what were probably triplets, born to (probably) the William Frost who was buried in Rotherby in 1702. He -- or his son, or his father William -- married Elizabeth Sea, or Lea, of Market Bosworth, on 3 December, 1704, in the village of Barlestone, Leicestershire. The husband was living in Rotherby at the time of the marriage, and the family settled there, with three sons, Thomas, William and Samuel baptised in Rotherby in 1705, 1706 and 1708. Then comes the sad part: the records show three children baptised together on the same day, 16 January, 1710: a daughter, Ruth, and two more sons, Richard and Charles. Given the spacing of the older children and the marriage, it is most likely that these were triplets rather than a group of older (and possibly sick), unbaptised children being baptised together, though there is nothing in the parish records to indicate a multiple birth. But then tragedy strikes... little Richard was buried on 20th January. The mother, Elizabeth, was buried in Rotherby on 24th January, just two weeks after the babies were baptised. Baby Charles, on 29th January. Ruth survived into early February, buried on 5 February 1710. Within two weeks, William Frost had lost his wife and three children, leaving him a widower with three sons under the age of five. (I think it is this William Frost who remarries to Mary Bayley in 1716 and has more children with her.)

Sometimes the parish records will mention a multiple birth--I have seen "twin" next to a baptism record, sometimes with, sometimes without, the other twin's name. And once, a set of triplets, where the record showed the baptism of two children and also said that a third child had been stillborn. A vicar or clerk being respectful and helpful and kind. Early UK parish records only include the father's name, not the mother's. Occasionally the year, or even the exact date, of the birth itself is included with the baptism (but most often not). And then you have the very early records which simply say, John Smith baptised... and nothing else. No name of father, or mother, no age, no clue whatsoever. Could have been a newborn. Could have been a thirty-year-old who had just realised that they had never been baptised and wanted to do so before being allowed to marry. Or a ninety-year-old John Smith, preparing to meet his maker.

Family history is a treasure hunt, a mystery story, a forensic investigation, and an adventure. Be prepared for sorrow, surprise and intrigue. Even if it's down a rabbit hole that ends up nowhere near your own ancestors!

Friday, June 1, 2018

And more Toons (not "ours", yet): meet the Whissendine Toons!



It's easy to fall down the rabbit-hole when researching a prolific family. Like the Leicestershire Toons.

This week, I was trying to find the son of one of "my" Toons, from the branch that had nipped off to Thurmaston a few generations ago. This was a George Toon, born about 1851 in Thurmaston, the son of Arthur Toon and Elizabeth Upton. No trace of George after the 1861 census, when he and his elder sister Harriett are living with Arthur (a stocking-maker) and Elizabeth on Main Street, Thurmaston, Leicestershire. No sign of him (or Harriet) with mum and dad on the 1871 census, but by then George would have been 20, Harriett 22, and they would very likely have been making their own way in the world. No death records fit, either, I checked. He just vanished.

Friern Hospital
Photo by Philafrenzy 
So I was quite excited when I found a George Toon, born in Leicestershire, working as a porter in a lunatic asylum (!) in Friern Barnet, near London, in 1881, and then married to a Kate, and living in a cottage on the grounds of the asylum in 1901, kindly called "the farm", though whoever had transcribed the census called him George Loon. Freudian slip of the pen? Maybe this is our George! Must have been an interesting place to raise your kids... (They were living on Maidstone Rd, Friern Barnet, in 1911.)

This George had several sons, and gave them long-winded names like "Harold Edmund Victor Toon", which somehow didn't feel so Syston. I started to have doubts... something didn't feel right. (Harold Edmund Victor served in the First World War in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and in France. He was demobbed with the rank of Sergeant, Signalling.)

But how to know for sure if this was "my" George, from Thurmaston, when the later censuses only said born in Leicestershire? Work backwards...

I found the parish record for the marriage of George Toon and Catherine Ellis at the Liverpool Road Methodist Chapel in Islington, 2nd April 1885. George, a widower (I haven't found first wife yet), Catherine (or Kate)'s father named Edmund (now we know where Harold's second name came from)... and George Toon's father? A John. John Toon. Not Arthur Toon from Thurmaston. Not "my" George... but another Toon from Leicestershire. So of course, I had to work out where this Toon branch fit into the overall Leicestershire Toon tree.

Sigh... I have now traced this branch all the way back to a John Toon, born about 1765 in Whissendine. The Whissendine that one year thinks it's in Rutland, the next in Northamptonshire (many of the church records are considered "Northampton")... and later, for a while, it was in Leicestershire, before Rutland returned to the map as it should.

However... I can find no connection after 1765 with any of the Toons of Hoby or Syston or Thurmaston or Asfordby. If they are, indeed, a branch of "my" Toons, then they must have forked off before then--maybe around the mid-1600's, where we have a John and a William in Hoby and I am not sure where they end up. It looks like there were farmers in Whissendine set of Toons; brothers William and John together farm and graze over 150 acres in 1851. Cunningly, these brothers have two cousins with exactly the sames name and almost the same ages, all born in Whissendine, but I am pretty certain that the joint farmers are the sons of William Toon and Mary, not the sons of John Toon and Ann. (John, William, George in every generation... yes it is confusing.)

There are at least a couple more generations of Toons in Whissendine prior to the John of (about) 1765. Research material is a little piecemeal, and nobody else seems to be researching this family yet, at least not on Ancestry. If you borrow any data from my tree on Ancestry, be sure to look at the comments because there is quite a bit of supposition and caution...

I did, however, find this interesting story on a history website about Whissendine:

Also buried within the Churchyard, is Nanny Toon, ‘The Whissendine Witch’. Annie lived in a mud cottage on Horton’s Lane at the end of the nineteenth century, and was reputed to be particularly mindful of local farmers who overloaded their milk-carts. Anybody breaking her limits would have a curse put on them preventing their milk turning into butter. The local carter was a recurrent offender. Annie Toon is said to have been murdered by the local villagers by means of being covered in a barrel of treacle. Interesting story, probably not true – one can’t really expect a mob of angry villagers to bring about the abrupt demise of an apparently evil old lady and then lovingly inter her in a prestigious position within the local Churchyard, up close to the Porch, can one?

So which Toon is this??? Murdered???  Oh but wait... there are no dates ("end of the 19th"), no marital status (widow or spinster?), no age other than "evil old lady". I searched the censuses, and there is no Ann, Annie, Hannah or any other female Toon, in Whissendine, at the end of the 19th, at least not according to the censuses. There is a 77-year-old Ann Toon who died in Whissendine in February, 1855--hardly at the end of the century. But I couldn't resist ordering her certificate, to find out if there was treacle involved, and if so, how much.

Now to go back to the orginal quest... finding the missing George-of-Thurmaston. And if I come across a the missing link between "my" Toons and the Whissendine bunch, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ever have a deja-vu that you can never shake?

Ever experienced deja-vu that was so real you could taste it?

Family trips to Melton Mowbray were always something special for me. Whether to the swimming pool, where my sisters and I learned to swim, our Dad swimming sidestroke but teaching us the right way to go, or on special days during the school holidays, to Melton's cattle market, to see all the livestock from bantam chickens to huge bulls, squealing pigs, and gentle sheep and cows. Or the stalls on the streets of the town, selling cheese and clothes and all the sweets in the world, and the old pork pie shop and the bakers' scenting the air with freshly-baked, crusty bread.

Just a bus trip away from Syston, it's not really a surprise that the town became a hang-out for my teen friends and I, even more so as we all started to attend Melton's College, even before several of us moved there and rented a little terraced house with an outside loo and a cat called Oedipus. (We were drama students. It explains almost everything.)

We used to explore places that we shouldn't; tumble-down buildings that were scheduled for demolition, like the big house to the left of the bridge in this photo of old Melton; empty, abandoned, why couldn't it be made safe and pretty again?

There were other, less grand, abandoned houses that we explored, mostly around the area that is now paved over and rebuilt, the area of town that Norman Way now runs right through. These were terraced houses, workers' cottages, rundown, tumbledown, empty of the people who once called them home. Curtains behind broken glass, peeling wallpaper, a broken teacup; doors creaking in the breeze.

One day, I walked through the door of one of these abandoned, Melton Mowbray homes, and was struck with such a feeling of deja-vu that I can remember it to this day. The scent of the damp wallpaper and the cold soot in the fireplace. The way the light fell through the window. The sensation of moving through low doorways. The holes in the plaster ceiling. The floor, maybe it was flagstone, maybe quarry tile, I don't think it was wood. Being in a very a small room, and then another, out to the back of the house. Like I'd been there before, but I had never, ever opened the door to that house on an old street in Melton.

It's a strange feeling, that depth of deja-vu. Unnerving, even; yet somehow comforting, too. A bit like going home.

It wasn't until many years later that I obtained a copy of a little book about Syston's history. I was already researching the family tree, and was reading everything I could find about the town, and the copy of the book was already second-hand. The booklet is Syston As I Remember It, by Chris Gregory, published in 1992 and I think reissued in 2006, ISBN 978-0850223330. On page 12 is this picture:


I turned the page and saw this photo... and had the deja-vu, all over again. That was the house! That's the one that I remembered in the house in Melton! But why?

The houses don't look the same; the one in Melton was a red-brick terrace; this, an ancient cruck cottage, with a thatched roof and wooden beams. But... I saw this photo, and the sensation came back, even stronger than before.

I had never seen this photo before.

The cottages to the left of this photo were on Lower Church Street and would have faced the main door in the tower of St Peter's and St Paul's church. The cottages are long gone; they were replaced by the church hall and its car park. The cobble pavements are gone, replaced by tarmac and concrete. I had no memory of these cottages from my childhood or teen years, and I was on that street at least once each and every week of my youth. And yet: seeing this photo triggered what must be my earliest memory.

I was being carried through a tumble-down house; the smell of damp, peeling wallpaper, a forgotten picture on the wall, an old fireplace smelling of soot; curtains behind broken glass, a stooped doorway, a home empty of its people.

Grandad Fred Toon had a vegetable garden on the land which later became the car park for the village hall. The cottages were demolished very, very early during my lifetime. I think my Dad carried me through the abandoned cottage, to visit his father who was working in his garden. Maybe my pram was left in the street, in front of the cottage, and he just picked me up and carried me through, a short-cut to Grandad Fred.

That's where I think the deja-vu came from.

I could be wrong; this might all be my imagination, or someone else's story. All I know: I knew that cottage, and at some point in this life or another, someone carried me through it.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Continuing the family business: Fred Toon--part five

Fred Toon obituary
(If you haven't read the rest of this story, begin with the tale of Willey Toon and the Painters of Syston.)

Grandad, Fred Toon (1884-1975), eldest child of William and Annie nee Cook, carried on the business as painter and decorator. I wonder if he had any choice in his career; if it was what he dreamed of becoming, when he was a child? Did he want to do what his father had done, or did he have other expectations, cut short when his father died, leaving him the man of the house?

He played cricket on the village team. He was a member of the Syston council. He was in the British Army, served with the Wiltshires during WW1. He went to India with the army, sometime between the first and second world wars, leaving his wife Sarah Toon nee Riley at home to raise the children, and then he came back home, and made more babies. There is a photo, somewhere, of Fred Toon in his pith helmet, Army shorts and his ever-present moustache, somewhere near the Afghan border... I'll have to find that one again.

Grandad Fred (Frederick) Toon and grandma Sara Elizabeth nee Riley (1882-1962) had eleven children; Edward (Ted) being the youngest, born in 1928, father to my sisters and I.

High Street, Syston, 1890?
I always thought of the house on the Green, Syston, as being the Toon family home, because that's where all my childhood Toon memories are, but Ted Toon told us that no, that was only a later house; he and his ten siblings had grown up in a house next to the (newer) Methodist Chapel on High Street, Syston. The house had been demolished, and was once where the Methodist Hall now stands.

I found a photo of that house--or rather, the Methodist Chapel historians did, it's on their website, together with a history of all the Methodist chapels in Syston, including the one on Chapel Street where great-grandma Annie was caretaker. The chapels which at one time were considered "dissenting" because they were not Anglican, Church of England--more on that later, in a story about Richard Toon and Syston schools.

Fred Toon's and Sarah nee Riley's home was to the left of the chapel in this photo, on the corner of High Street and Upper Church Street, Syston. I wonder if that row of children in front of the chapel contains Toons? Wouldn't that be amazing!

William Toon, Annie Cook, and the painters of Syston (part four)

Blue ridged glass bottle for arsenic, Europe, 1701-1935 Wellcome L0057809

If you haven't read the other parts of this story, begin here at Part One and continue here at Part Two and Part Three.

William Toon, painter and decorator, died on 27th January, 1900, aged thirty-nine.

The story goes: he died of arsenic poisoning.

My inner, precocious eight-year-old, and probably yours too, goes all Agatha Christie. After all, together with cyanide, arsenic was her favourite method of killing people; more so than belladonna, strychnine, ricin or any of the many other poisons that the pharmacy-assistant-turned-author used. There's even a book all about Agatha Christie's use of poisons and a good review of it here. Think Miss Marple and 4.50 from Paddington. Think mystery and suspense and in the library by Colonel Mustard with a blue bottle of poison. Think murder!!! But... whoever would have wanted to murder my great-grandad William, father of ten growing children, in the village of Syston, Leicestershire, in 1900? And why?

It turns out, it's a lot more mundane than an Agatha Christie story. It's very much more likely that he was poisoned by the tools of his trade.

Arsenic was definitely a risk to a painter and decorator. In Victorian times, arsenic was used both in paint, and in wallpaper, to make vivid, beautiful emerald green. Green wallpaper contained it, though by 1900 it was pretty clear that this wasn't a very good idea. It's rumoured to have killed babies, children and Napoleon, so without doubt a risk to someone who worked with paint and with wallpaper every day of the week. (Today you can buy a paint called Arsenic Green, but I don't think the "lively, mint green" matches the original, and it doesn't contain the poison. This colour green feels more like it.)

Arsenic wasn't the only danger: another risk to a painter was lead. Banned in paint in France, Belgium and Austria by 1909, banned by the League of Nations in 1922, and phased out of household paint in the UK by 1960, I still remember my dad emphatically telling me to keep right away from the pink primer that he used on raw wood, because he worried that it still contained traces of lead. Everyone, everyone!!! knew that lead in paint was dangerous. Everyone. So imagine my horror when purchasing my first home in California, to discover that any "old" house was at risk of having lead in its paintwork. ("Old" meaning as recent as 1978. 1978!!!!!) Really. I still find that ridiculous... but then again, the USA is the country that in 2017 doesn't believe in global warming, either, so that explains a lot.

Great-grandad William Toon wasn't poisoned by anyone. He was just poisoned.

Death certificate, William Toon, Syston
I have his death certificate. It says that the cause of death of William Toon, Master Painter, was chronic plumbism, (chronic lead poisoning), uramia (indication of kidney failure), and convulsions (could indicate either lead poisoning, or arsenic poisoning, or both). I can find no record of an inquest, which would have been held very soon after a sudden death, and most likely would have been held in a local public house, as happened in the story of the Butchers of Syston. But a search of the newspapers, and the death certificate give no sign of an investigation. William's poisoning was chronic, not acute: it happened over a very long time. Annie Toon nee Cook may have been caring for a very sick husband well before the day that he died. Maybe she had more on her plate than we ever imagined.

Arsenic poisoning? It's much more likely that great-grandad William Toon, founder of the Toon painters and decorators business in Syston, was poisoned, over time, by lead and by lead alone. But as far as I'm concerned, arsenic isn't ruled out, and it still makes for a good, family, Agatha Christie mystery.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Willey now William, Toon, Annie Cook, and the painters of Syston (part three)

If you haven't read the other parts of this story, begin here at Part One and continue here at Part Two.

Willey, later William, Toon and Annie Cook were married in 1882, with first son Frederick, my grandad Toon, arriving shortly afterwards. Then, all the others: Alice Annie in 1883, Tom in 1884, Joseph Horace in 1886, Maggie, also in 1886, Walter in 1889, Mary in 1891, Lucy in 1893, Bertha in 1895, Olive in 1896, Alfred Walker (who the family called "Walker", carrying on the family name of his grandmother, Mary Walker) in 1898, and Albert, the youngest and final child, in 1900. Tom died in infancy; Bertha, when less than a year old. The other ten all lived to be adults, several to a good old age, including my grandad Fred Toon (1882-1975). By 1891, the family were living in a house on Chapel Street in Syston, I believe at the High Street end, close to the Wesleyan Methodist chapel building, as great-grandmother Annie was the caretaker of the chapel building later in her life. Living in William Toon's home on the evening of 5th April, 1891, were Willam, a painter by trade, his wife Annie and her sister Lizzie--a cap maker, together with William and Annie's children Fred, Annie, Horace, Maggie and Walter, a niece of Annie's aged one, also called Annie Cook... and baby Mary, William and Annie's latest daughter, who was just three days old! (And which was probably the reason for Lizzie Cook's visit, to help look after the family when the baby arrived.)

Here is the whole family, a few years later:


That's Annie Toon nee Cook seated at the front, Fred the eldest at the back with the moustache. I think the back row is Mary, Maggie, Fred, Horace, Alice, Walter and at the front, Olive, Alfred, great-grandmother Annie, Albert and Lucy. Though I might have mixed up Olive and Lucy, and possibly Maggie and Alice. The photo was taken on the day of Frederick's wedding to Sarah Elizabeth Riley of Queniborough, Leicestershire, on 6th June, 1907.

I first saw this photo several years back, shared by one of the Toon cousins but I had no clue who everyone was... recently another cousin shared it again and told me, that's Annie and all her children! Thank you!

 (And again... I have no clue who took this photo. If you have any info regarding ownership of the copyright, please let me know so that I can attribute it and beg forgiveness.)

William, Fred's father, Annie's husband? He is not in the picture. He's not in the picture, because he died on 27th January, 1900, aged 39, leaving Annie a thirty-eight-year-old widow with ten children to raise, not one of whom was of full age, and a Painter and Decorator's business to run.

In the 1901 census, great-grandmother Annie is listed as a Painter of Houses; son Fred, aged 19, is a "worker". Alice is 18 and a waitress in a cafe; Horace is an apprentice tailor. Maggie, aged 14, is an upholsterer's apprentice. They were not just working to make money; every one of them was learning a trade. The other children, aged 12, 8, 5, 2 and just one year old, were all either at school, or at home. I think we are safe in assuming that Annie Toon nee Cook had a lot on her plate. And yet... look at the photo above. A few years later, and all the children are growing up healthy and well cared-for, with natural, happy faces for this photo. I think she did a very, very good job.

But what happened to great-grandad William, to cause him to die so young? That's where the poison comes in. Wait for the next part of the story to find out more!

Click here to read Part Four!

If you haven't read the other parts of this story, begin here at Part One and continue here at Part Two.