The Drages of Barkway

One of the family stories told to me by my grandmother was that her grandmother, Fanny Ann Miller, was married three times and that during what turned out to be her final illness her plan for when she recovered was to dye her hair blonde and go looking for husband number four! Because my grandmother knew Fanny’s maiden name, the certificates relating to her family were among the first I ordered when I started my research in 2008, but I quickly became stuck when I tried to trace her mother’s family.

Fanny’s birth certificate stated that she was the daughter of Charles Miller and Jane Camp. Charles and Jane’s marriage certificate stated that Jane was the daughter of William Camp, and Jane’s census entries gave her place of birth as Royston, Cambridgeshire* in about 1824. One of the witnesses on the marriage certificate was a Ruth Camp, and since in the 1851 census there are only four Ruth Camps listed in England and two of them are the wife and daughter of William Camp, living in Melbourn in Cambridgeshire, I figured that Jane probably belonged to that family. I found a certificate for a marriage of William Camp and Ruth Drage in Barkway, Hertfordshire in 1815, but I was unable to find a baptism to link Jane to William and Ruth. Because Charles and Jane married at the Aenon Chapel in Marylebone I suspected that the family were non-conformists and thought that the likelihood was that there was no baptism to be found, so I turned my attention to other branches of my family.

In 2013 I discovered the BMD registers site and my belief that non-conformists did not baptise their children was proved wrong, as I found baptisms for William, John and Ruth Camp, children of William and Ruth, at the New Meeting House in Royston – but still nothing for Jane. The National Archives catalogue page said that the RG4/96 document containing the baptisms covered 1806-1837, but the entries from it available on the site started in 1830. I contacted the site and they explained that 1806 referred to birth dates, not the dates of the baptisms. They also sent me an image of a a note from Thomas James Davies, who performed the baptisms, explaining that prior to 1829 baptisms had been entered into books containing ‘matters of discipline’ which were ‘private & are kept strictly so by the Minister’. So once again I gave up tracing that line of my family tree.

Then at the beginning of May this year I visited a family history fair near where I live and started leafing through a booklet on non-conformists at the stall of the Hertfordshire Family Society, looking for a mention of Barkway. A lady asked what I was looking for, and when I mentioned the village she told me that there was an expert on the area at the fair. When I found the gentleman in question he most kindly forwent his tea-break to show me his records. Not only did he have a document on William and Ruth, but he had the names of their parents and some children I didn’t know about too! He told me that Ruth was actually from Newsells, which is just outside Barkway.

That afternoon, inspired to look for more information on the family, I was thrilled to discover that the earlier baptisms at the New Meeting House which I’d been unable to find in 2013 were recorded in document NR7/1/1 held at the Hertfordshire Archives, and included baptisms for Jane and Hannah, children of William and Ruth. Finally I had enough evidence to step back a further generation! I also found the family’s 1841 census entry, which I’d missed previously because the surname had been mis-transcribed in the index of the site I was using.

I was still puzzled about how the local expert knew about William and Ruth’s parents, given that I still couldn’t find any baptisms for them. Some days later, when Googling for family names in the area I discovered that in 1799 the recently-appointed Rector of Barkway, Rev. Thomas Bargus, compiled a census of the parishioners of Barkway and Reed. Once I obtained a copy I found young Ruth and William: Ruth was the daughter of William, whose wife was called Ann, and William was the son of John, whose wife was called Emma.** And the families were marked as ‘Dissenters’/’children not baptised’.

I went back to the national censuses and had another stroke of luck – not only were William and Ann Drage still alive in 1841, but the entry set me off on a trail resulting in the identification of six possible children born after the 1799 census (listed in order of the strength of the evidence, not birth order).

Mary, Lucy and Etheldreda
Information from the national censuses makes it possible to identify with confidence three other daughters of William Drage: Mary, Lucy, and Etheldreda (‘Etheldreda’ being the name of an Anglo-Saxon saint who built a monastery at Ely, Cambridgeshire). Etheldreda Drage, born in Barkway in about 1813, married James Jeffery in 1839, so her marriage certificate gives her father’s name: William Drage. In 1841 Etheldreda, James and Christopher Jeffery were living with William and Ann Drage in Barkway. In 1851 Ann had died; Etheldreda is stated to be William’s daughter. By this time, Etheldreda and James had had two more children, Walter and Julia. In 1861 James had died and Etheldreda and Walter had moved to Great Chesterford, James’s birth-place; Christopher had stayed in Barkway but had moved next door to live with an aunt and uncle, William and Mary Howard. Mary Drage was born in Barkway in about 1806. She married William Howard in Barley in 1833 and one of the witnesses was Etheldreda Drage. In 1871 Etheldreda was living in Tottenham with her sister Lucy Stacey, who was born in Barkway in about 1814. Lucy Drage had married Charles Stacey in Barkway in 1836. (Intriguingly, one of the witnesses to Charles and Lucy’s marriage is a Thilla Drage; I haven’t been able to find any trace of an individual by that name in any of the record collections to which I have access.)

Maria Drage was born in Barkway/Newsells in about 1804 and married Thomas Blackeby in Barkway in 1822. In 1841 they were living in Bishops Stortford (where Lucy was living in 1851). By 1851 Maria was widowed and living in Marylebone; also living in Marylebone, at 10 Occus Street, was William Blackerby, born in 1823 in Bishops Stortford. When Charles Miller had married Ruth’s daughter Jane in Marylebone a few weeks earlier he gave his address as 10 Occus Street, and one of the witnesses on the certificate was William Blackaby.

Jemima Drage was born in Barkway/Newsells in about 1800. One possible piece of evidence for a link between Jemima and William and Ann is a rather perplexing record of the baptism at St George Hanover Square in 1818 of a Jemima Drage, daughter of William and Anne. (I find the record perplexing because there is no indication that this Jemima isn’t an infant, and why would the daughter of William and Ann, alone among her siblings, be baptised as an adult?) There is also a possible link to Ann’s family. The ages of Ruth and her sister Elizabeth in the 1799 census suggest that their parents were the William Drage and Ann Wattson/Watson who married in Barkway in 1795 (the person filling in the register spelled the Ann’s surname with two ‘t’s, but Ann signed her name with only one). At first I leaped to the conclusion that Ann must be the Ann Wattson baptised in Royston in November 1776, but then two factors combined to make me think that they were different children: Ann’s death certificate suggests a birth year of 1775, a year older than the Royston Ann, and one of the witnesses at the 1795 wedding was a Lot Watson, who is not among the Royston siblings. There was a younger Lot Watson in Barkway; when he married from the second time in 1837 his father was stated to be William Watson, and I thought it not unlikely that Lot the younger might be named after an uncle. So I began to think that perhaps there were three siblings, Ann, Lot and William, and since I couldn’t find baptisms for them then they could be from a non-conformist family. There are five Watson families listed in the 1799 census, only one of which is marked ‘Dissenters’ (in fact, the father, John Watson, is noted as ‘Clerk to Meeting’). The range of ages of his children would be consistent with them having some older married siblings; the eldest is Ruth, aged 13. A Ruth Watson married a Thomas Arrowsmith at St Martin in the Fields in 1812, and in 1820 a Thomas and Ruth Arrowsmith are the witnesses to Jemima’s marriage to George Evans at the same church.

Samuel Drage was born in Barkway in about 1808. The witnesses at his 1828 wedding to Martha Taylor were Etheldreda Drage and a John Watson (possibly an uncle or cousin), and when his daughter Keziah married at St Peters Walworth in 1856 she was living at 46 Francis Street (where Jemima was living in 1851 and 1861) and one of the witnesses was a Jemima Evans.

So the moral of the story is not to give up even if you think you have hit a brick wall – information might be out there somewhere!

* Today Royston is wholly in Hertfordshire, but the boundary between the counties used to run through the middle of the town.
** Please see my blog post My ‘Irish’ Ancestor for a story illustrating why it is unwise to assume that children of the head of household are also the children of his wife, even if she has the same name as the woman you know he married!
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3 Responses to The Drages of Barkway

  1. I am descended from Jemima Drage and had come to the same conclusions as you as to her parents. You may be interested in this biography of George and Jemima Evans (one of a series looking at all 64 in that generation):
    It needs updating (it has little about the Drages) although, despite decades of searching, I have yet to establish George’s parents with any degree of confidence.

    • Hello Richard

      Thank you for getting in touch! Thank you also for the link to your ’64 Regency Ancestors’ site – what an interesting project!

      I’d seen your RootsChat post from 2011 where you discounted Thomas and Ruth Arrowsmith as relatives, but the footnote in your ’64 Ancestors’ page on George and Jemima suggests that you have since changed your mind. Did you manage to find any records relating to Thomas and Ruth besides their marriage? I’ve found it quite frustrating that aside from that and their presence at Jemima’s wedding I haven’t been able to find any other records definitely relating to the pair – my searches for burials (or remarriages followed by burials) to try to ascertain a birth year for Ruth have turned up nothing…

      Kind Regards


  2. Jenny
    When I made the 2011 post I hadn’t made the connection between the Watson entries. Once I had seen that there were Watsons in Barkway my footnote was added to suggest a possible connection. I don’t have the Watson entries for the 1799 census so, it was only after reading your blog that I changed the ‘possible’ to ‘probable’ in the footnote, Ruth’s entry in 1799 making me more certain. Perhaps I am being too optimistic.
    As for Thomas/Ruth Arrowsmith I have been totally unsuccessful in finding later references. I followed up the witnesses at their 1812 marriage and one was a church employee and the other (Mary Messenger) almost definitely married a James Langley in 1817 (her signatures are identical), but none of those names means anything to me.
    I have followed countless trails for Thomas Arrowsmith (including a deaf artist (1771-1839) who moved to Manchester; the proprietor of the John Bull newspaper; and several others) to no avail. As you probably know a Thomas and Ruth Arrowsmith were living in Barton, Lancashire in the 19th century (he was a non-conformist weaver). He died in 1881 aged 93, so could have married in 1812, but she was only 57 when she died in 1858, so too young by some years.
    In general there are too many Thomas Arrowsmiths to be certain of anything until I can find a matching signature to the ones at the marriages (I have one that’s close which I’ll send to you to look at if you contact me via rjk AT and no references to a Ruth Arrowsmith. In fact, all we can be fairly certain of is that they were in London from 1812-1820.

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