My Paternal Family
Grt grandparents: Charles and Elizabeth (nee Breed) Wray
Charles Wray, my great grandfather, was a cut above the ubiquitous ‘Ag. Lab.’, being a hurdler maker/carpenter which indicates a skill which generated a higher wage. He migrated a few miles from his family home in Tewin, Herts to Hill End, south-east of Preston, probably in search of work. Once his roots were planted at Austage End, near Kings Walden, there he remained, content to work and rear seven children.
Charles was baptised at Tewin, Hertfordshire on 27 February 1820. Information about his birth-place came as a surprise to his grandaughter, Maggie Whitby (nee Wray), who believed that her family originated from Luton, Beds. Charles was one of nine children (and the last son) born to his hurdle- making father, Robert, and his wife, Jane. In 1841, only he and his younger sister, Esther, were living at home with their parents:
If he wanted to work in the family trade of hurdle-making, as the youngest son he was probably compelled to move to another parish because there was insufficient demand for his services at Tewin as his father and two brothers were already supplying the local needs. As a result, when he married at St Marys, Hitchin on 8 December 1849, Charles was living at Hill End, Herts. Hill End even today is a somewhat remote small cluster of dwellings which can be accessed either by foot/bridle paths off the road to St Pauls Walden near Hitchwwod or by a lane which runs from the London Road to St Paul’s Walden. It is more of a rise than a hill.
Charles was illiterate and had to mark his marriage certificate - while his bride was able to sign her name confidently (although her sister, Catharine, also marked). William Cannon, a witness and probably Charles’ best man, was a single farm labourer living at Ley Green, Kings Walden, Herts. which was also Elizabeth’s home. Ley Green is around three miles due east of Hill End.
To St Pauls Walden
Note that Charles was a ‘Journeyman Carpenter’ which means that he was self-employed. In addition to their newly-born daughter, Lydia, he and Elizabeth produced three other children between 1851 and 1861 - Margaret (baptized 4 Jan 1852), Henry (baptized 5 Dec 1852) and Alfred (born 16 April 1858). The births of the first two were at Breachwood Green, Kings Walden but Alfred was born at Charlton, Herts. By June 1861, the burgeoning family had moved to Austage End - another rather remote rural cul-de-sac which is off the Preston to Kings Walden Road and not far from Ley Green. It is also linked at its northern end to Dead Woman’s Lane at Preston by a footpath.
1861 census at Austage End, Kings Walden, Herts
‘Charles Ray (sic) of Kings Walden was charged with committing an assault on Henry Hill. It appeared both men are hurdle-makers and because some gentleman had employed Hill, defendant went to him at his work and committed the assault complained of. Fined £1 and costs.’ ‘Charles Ray was summoned, charged by Hill with assaulting him on 12 March. From the evidence of the prosecutor (Hill) it appeared that he was making hurdles in a wood. Ray came up to him and charged him with taking the bread out of his mouth. This the prosecutor said he could not help as he had been told to do the job. Ray then went up to him and struck him with a hurdle sideways. When the prosecutor got up, Ray then pulled him by his coat and struck him a blow in the eye with his fist. (The mark was still visible) Ray also said that if he found out that the prosecutor had asked for the job, he would drop on to him and give him a good thrashing. The prisoner said that he had gone and sworn at the prosecutor for taking the job out of his hands. As he was going away, he told Hill what he would do to him if it was true. Hill retorted, and he went back and struck him in the eye with his fist. The magistrates said that one man had as much right as another to do a job and therefore fined Ray £1 and 12s 6d costs which were paid.’
A court case gives a glimpse of Charles’ character when he was fined for assaulting another hurdle- maker. In March 1860, two Hertfordshire newspapers carried these reports:
Four months after their marriage, their first child, Lydia, was born at nearby Fogmore. The parish record of 13 April 1850 (see below) mentions that she was privately baptized which usually indicates a problem with the health of either the newly-born child or the mother which prevented a visit to the baptismal font. But both survived the experience (of the birth, and the baptism).
When the 1871 census was taken, Charles and his household were still living at Austage End:
Elizabeth continued to help support her family by straw plaiting, as did ten-year-old Elizabeth, and their two youngest boys Alfred (12) and Arthur (9) were ploughboys. In view of the heavy, clay soil that was ploughed locally, it is perhaps surprising that they could physically cope with this work. In both 1871 and 1881, Charles was described as an ‘Ag Lab’. There was a farm along the lane - Austage End Farm (41 acres), which was part of the Temple Dinsley estate. It is possible that it was here that Charles and his sons worked, although there were other farms nearby - Leggats, Parsonage and Wants End Farms. When Temple Dinsley was sold in 1873, there was a later sale of some remaining holdings such as Austage End Farm, which was advertised in this way:
With this in mind, there is a faint scribbled note by the 1871 census enumerator in the portion of his report that included Charles’ household which may indicate that the Wrays were working on this farm. It reads ‘Farmhouse unoccupied Mr Bennett of Hitchin tenant’. Comparing the censuses of 1871 and 1881, there were only four households recorded along Austage End Lane in 1871 (and no farmhouse) and six households and the farmhouse recorded in 1881. The map below is dated 1884 and shows these seven buildings at the northern end of the lane. Austage End is sometimes described as a hamlet - which is perhaps an exaggeration:
By reconstructing the enumerator’s walk, I believe Charles was living in one of the two cottages ringed - and was certainly working at Austage End Farm.
Path to Dead Womans Lane
A year later, in 1851, Charles, Elizabeth and Lydia were living with Elizabeth’s parents at Ley Green, Kings Walden:
As Austage End was Charles’ home for more than twenty years, I’ll give an impression of the lane and its surroundings. The lane is a turning off the Preston to Kings Walden Road near a staggered junction one road from which quickly leads to Ley Green. It heads north north-west for half a mile, passing a small groups of buildings near the junction called Cox Green (where there was a smithy and a well in 1884) before winding and gradually ascending between low hedgerows to reach the farmhouse and its associated houses and crossing footpaths.
Charles (64) died at Austage End in April 1884 and was buried in Kings Walden Churchyard. The cause of his death was a stricture or narrowing of the oesophagus (the tube from the back of the mouth to the stomach). It is caused by acid being regurgitated from the stomach which produces heartburn. This affects the cells of the oesophagus and swallowing becomes painful and difficult. Smoking and alcohol consumption contribute to the condition. Knowing this is an example of the benefits of studying family history because it can reveal congenital health weaknesses. I, too, have had the same problem and had an endoscopy recently. If this procedure had been available to Charles, his life may have been prolonged.
The view southwards from the start of the lane
The view northwards from Cox Green
The lane winds and gently climbs….
The view south-east from Charles house
1881 census at Austage End, Kings Walden, Herts. This entry was two houses away from Austage End Farm. It reveals that that Charles and Elizabeth’s son, Robert, was born when Charles was about fifty-one years old.
Following Charles’ death, Elizabeth (who was still straw plaiting) moved to four-roomed Holly Cottages, Ley Green (which was a mile south west of Austage End and near The Plough inn) and living with her son, Arthur, who was a hurdle-maker like his father.
Elizabeth (71) died in March 1896 when she was living at Wandon Green - yet another move to east of the outskirts of Luton. It’s likely that she was living with her son, Robert as he and his family were living at Wandon Green from 1899. Elizabeth was buried at Kings Walden:
Hill End, Herts
The children of Charles and Elizabeth
Lydia Wray was born at Fogmore, Herts and privately baptized on 13 April 1850. In 1861 she was a straw plaiter at home with her parents, but ten years later she was lodging with her aunt, Elizabeth Croft, and her husband James, at Ley Green, Kings Walden where she continued to plait straw. In the summer of 1885, Lydia married Frank Smith (who was almost twenty years her senior) at Newbold Verdon, near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire, which is sixty miles north of Preston. Frank was a plumber/glazier.The couple had two children. In 1901, the family were living on Main Street, Newbold Verdon and in 1911, Lydia was supporting her husband as a grocer in their four-roomed house. Lydia died in the December Quarter of 1931, aged 81. Her death was registered in the Market Bosworth District of Leicestershire.
Margaret Wray was baptised at Kings Walden on 4 January 1852. She married John Smart at Kings Walden on 3 April 1880. Emma Breed was a witness. The couple settled at Ley Green, Kings Walden and were living in a four-roomed home at New Houses in 1911. John was a carrier - specifically, a coal carrier in 1901. Margaret worked as a straw plaiter (1891) and laundress (1901). The couple had one daughter, Florence Smart who married Albert W Ward in the Hitchin area in 1916. Margaret died in the summer of 1937, aged 86.
March 1901
August 1904
January 1892
Jan 1892
Nov 1896
Henry Wray was baptised at Kings Walden on 5 December 1852. Unlike his older sister, Margaret, Henry was poorly educated, being unable to sign the marriage register:
Henry’s father taught him the craft of hurdle-making. On Xmas Day, 1874 at Kings Walden, Henry (22) married a local girl Mary Ann Mardell. She was five years older than her husband and was the daughter of a farm labourer. The couple settled at Heath, Breachwood Green, Kings Walden and had five children.
In the 1890s, Henry and his family joined the drift from the countryside to the emerging town of Luton. In 1901, they were living at 66 Lea Road - a dilapidated district. Henry was employed as an iron foundry labourer and his daughters, Ruth and Lydia, found work as straw hat finishers. Then, towards the end of 1901, Mary Ann died. She was fifty-one.
1891 census at Heath, Breachwood Green, Kings Walden, Herts
1911 saw Henry still at their five-roomed home at Lea Road with his single daughters, Ruth and Elizabeth. In 1921, Henry (68) was living with his married daughter, Elizabeth May Betts at 64 Lea Road and working as an engineer,s labourer at Hayward Lylers Brass Foundry, Crawley Green Road, Luton. Later, Henry lived with his son Ellis at 12 Tavistock Crescent, Luton. He died there, aged 79, on 14 February 1932. The cause of death was ‘epithelioma’ (a cancerous tumour) of the tongue. Sadly, Henry probably choked to death. There is a seperate article featuring Henry’s son, Ellis Wray, which has photos of Ellis and his brother, William. See Link: Ellis Wray
Alfred Wray. My grandfather. See Link: Alfred Wray
Arthur Wray was born towards the end of 1861 and baptised at Kings Walden on 8 March 1868. When he first attended school somewhat late in his young life, the log book noted that he had not attended school before and was ‘very backward’ (ie uneducated). In 1871, Arthur was plough boy and in 1891, he was living with his mother and working as a straw plaiter He married Clara Keens in the spring of 1892 at Luton, Beds. Clara was the cousin of the MP, Sir Thomas Keens (1870 - 1953). The couple settled at Luton. In 1901, they were at North Street and Arthur was working as a factory labourer. Clara was a straw hat machinist. Ten years later, in 1911, he and his family were living at the six-roomed 323 Hitchin Road, Luton. Arthur was then a gas stoker at Luton Gas Company with three children and nephew Stanley Keens. He was literate, signing the census form if somewhat carefully.
Sue Blee comments, ‘I have found that Clara and Arthur must have been very kind and generous people. Two of Clara's brothers died leaving young widows with children and they appear to have taken in at least two of the children - Stanley, son of Walter and Percy the son of Roland who died of consumption in 1911. Percy lived with Clara and Arthur until he emigrated to Canada in 1925.’ Arthur died in the summer of 1929 at Luton aged 68.
In 1921, Arthur and Clara were living with their son, Jack (aka John), a straw hat blocker and their married daughter, Lily Philpott and her husband, Horace (27) and their son, Horace (2). Arthur was still a gas works labourer
Right: Arthur and Lily (seated) with their three children (l to r), Kate, John and Lily.
Elizabeth Jane Wray was born towards the end of 1866 at Kings Walden and baptised there on 8 March 1868. She was a straw plaiter in 1881 and she next surfaced for her marriage at St Pauls, Islington in 1895 - (see below).
Elizabeth and Charles settled at Holly Cottages, Ley Green, Herts and Charles worked as a domestic gardener. They had five children.
By 1921, the family had moved to Watford, Herts. Charles and his son, John William, were gardeners at Garston Manor (shown below). With them at 2 Woodside Cottages Watford were their married daughter, Ivy, and her husband, Charles Woodhams who had married at Watford earlier that year.
Robert Herbert Wray was born towards the end of 1871 and baptised at Kings Walden on 11 October 1874. He married Annie Isabell Brant at Kings Walden on 15 February 1893:
Robert learned his father’s trade as a hurdlemaker when he was young, but from 1901 until 1921 he is noted as a gardener. From 1899, he and his family were living at Wandon Green, Kings Walden.
In 1921, the family were living at Peters Green, Herts and Robert was a gardener for Richard Oakley Esq., Lawrence End, Luton while their daughter Madge was a servant for Mrs Oakley. In 1939, Robert (now retired) and Annie were living next door to Lawrence End’s Lodge at 1 Rose Corrage, Peters Green, Kimpton (ringed and pictured below).
September 1909