I certainly had some fun finding out about my great-grandfather George Davies!
George first appeared to me aged 46 on the 1901 census. He was living with my great-grandmother, Honora Shea, in Newport Street, in the city of Worcester. George was a hawker. Honora was known as Norah Phillips and she was a widowed hawker with three young children, John, Ellen and Norah.
I was very excited to note from the census that George was born ‘At Sea’! Considering his age at the time, 46, I wondered what were the circumstances of his family for him to be born at sea? Could they have been merchants? Maybe his father was of a military background? Could he be the son of a returning convict? Whatever the circumstances, I found him very intriguing.
I looked for him in the archives for births registered at sea and on earlier censuses but, curiously, I could find nothing for him. There were a number of George Davies’s of a similar age group who were hawkers and agricultural labourers, but to discover which one was him was going to be very difficult.
Around this time, through Ancestry, I had managed to find new cousins, still living in Worcester, who were also descendants of John Shea and Margaret Donovan, so I turned my attention to getting to know them, working out how we were related, and sharing stories through a dedicated family Facebook group.
Honora was mother to six children; John, Ellen, Norah, Lavinia, George Alfred and Margaret. The family used the surnames O’Shea, Honora’s maiden name, and Phillips, which was the surname of Honora’s mysterious first husband, Frederick, also a hawker. The three youngest of Honora’s children were born after the 1901 census, so it is possible that they were all George Davies’s children. George and Honora were not married, so I looked for the children’s birth registrations under all three surnames. Lavinia Phillips’s birth certificate names her father as Frederick Phillips (deceased), General Hawker and her mother as Norah Phillips formerly O’Shea. George Alfred Davies’s birth certificates names his father as George Davies, General Hawker, and his mother as Norah Davies formerly Phillips, suggesting they had married, but there is no evidence to support this. The youngest, Margaret, does not appear to have been registered at all.
The British Newspaper Archives threw up some interesting articles that helped me discover more about George and Honora. On 14th July 1900, George had been summoned to court for a maintenance order by his wife, Mary Elizabeth Davies of Dolday, Worcester. Mary had left George because of his ill-treatment of her and she also claimed he was always out drinking with Annie O’Shea. So, not only was our George already married, but he was also already acquainted with Annie (Honora) O’Shea before she was pregnant with Lavinia. This adds weight to the thought that George could be the father to all three of Honora’s younger children! Mary Elizabeth was clearly a woman scorned as the following week, on 21st July 1900, she once again appeared in court, this time for assaulting her crippled husband, George Davies, by striking him in the back, causing him to fall over outside the Golden Lion in Worcester. George did not attend the later court sessions.
Now I had discovered that George was already married, I looked for a marriage registration. I found a marriage for George Alfred Davies, a hawker of Taylors Lane and Mary Elizabeth Warburton, also of Taylors Lane (although she originated from Manchester), at the Parish of St Nicholas in Worcester on 3rd May 1891. George’s father was called Thomas Davies and he was a labourer. Mary Elizabeth’s father was Edward Warburton, a carter. I was now a step closer to identifying George as I knew his father’s name and occupation, and he wasn’t a sailor!
Using my AncestryDNA results, I looked for other people who had Davies descendants in the Hereford and Worcester area. There were a few, but with not much information on their family trees. I did send messages to some of my DNA matches but most hadn’t attempted to solve their Davies line. This line had been my main brickwall since starting my family history, so I was determined to identify my George! The only way to do this was to use information from my DNA matches family trees to try and find their common Davies ancestor. Whoever that common ancestor was, they must also be my ancestor. It took a long time mapping out how my estimated 3rd and 4th cousins connected to each other, but eventually I found a common connecting family in Herefordshire. Francis Davies, of Ivington, and Eliza Cheese of Dilwyn, were the ancestors of several of my DNA matches. What’s more, I found that they had a son named Thomas, born in 1834 at Dilwyn. Could he be George’s father?
I found a marriage for Thomas Davies to Ann Davies in 1853 also at Dilwyn, and this couple had three sons. The eldest son was George, born 9th December 1855 at Dilwyn. This had to be my George! George’s younger brothers were William and John, both of whom have descendants that are 3rd cousin DNA matches to me.
George was living with his parents in Dilwyn on the 1861 census, but later, on the 1871 census he was with an aunt and uncle from his mother’s side of the family, the Preece family. His movements are a little sketchy between 1871 and 1891 so I have not been able to positively identify him on the 1881 or 1891 censuses. From the local newspaper reports it seems he was well known around Worcester in the 1880’s for being a petty thief, stealing apples from local farmers, to sell at market. He was also known to the police for being regularly drunk and disorderly. George and Mary Elizabeth appeared in court throughout the 1890’s for various violent spats between them, so I think it’s unlikely he strayed further than fields in the Hereford and Worcestershire region.
I imagine that George Davies was just a bit of a rogue. He lived in the heart of Victorian Worcester, amongst other hawkers, dealers, labourers, charwomen, servants and grooms. He was married but may have had a rugged charm about him for he had three children with his lover. He liked a drink, but it frequently got the better of him, and he was often in the police cells. I imagine when he was drunk he would tell wild stories of how he was born at sea, engaging those around him, to cover that he was a simple country boy estranged from his family. Unfortunately, George is missing from the 1911 census. His widowed lover, Norah was still living in Worcester with four of her children. His wife, Mary Elizabeth was also in Worcester, a charwoman declaring herself a widow. There is no death registration in Worcester for George that fits his age, so I still don’t know what became of him. Perhaps, there was yet another quarrel, another woman, another drunken fight or had he once again simply headed away to the fields to find some more fruit to hawk?
George Davies 9th December 1855 – ?