Friday, 22 April 2016

How I discovered we are not the Fords- The story of George (Wilks) Ford, his parents and his siblings

Harriet Ford, born 1816, comes from a long line of Fords whose records of births deaths and marriages have been kept in the registers of the ancient All Saints Church at East Meon for hundreds of years. She was my husband’s great great Grandmother.To date we have confirmed her family back five generations to the 1660s through marriages of Fords with the Philip, Greest, Norman, Webb, Coll and Sylvester families. The name Ford is of Anglo-Saxon origin and comes from the old English "ford" -- a shallow place in the river where people can ride or cross with their animals. The surname has been recorded as Ford, Foord, Foard, Forth and Forder since the time of the Saxons. The occupational surname Ford comes from being known as the keeper of the ford or being in charge of the river crossing.
Various church records show the Ford ancestors as paupers. Given the surrounds, presumably they were working as agricultural labourers in the nearby farms or around the ancient mills such as Frogmore and Draytons. From the notations in the various church records it looks like they and many others were literally “poor as the proverbial” church mice. It’s a time of no social security for those unable to work hence the need for an Alms House in town and another at Petersfield.

Daniel Ford b: 1675, d: 22 Mar 1730

... + Elizabeth Webb b: 22 Oct 1681 in East Meon, m: 02 Oct 1699 in East Meon, d: 11 Nov 1729 in East Meon

...... William Ford b: 28 Feb 1713 in East Meon, d: 18 Mar 1799 in East Meon

...... + Mary Norman b: 22 Nov 1719 in East Meon, m: 28 Jun 1737 in East Meon, d: 24 Oct 1785 in East Meon; pauper

......... Henry Ford b: 13 Dec 1753 in East Meon

......... + Sarah Greest b: Abt. 1753, m: 10 Oct 1781 in Hambledon, Hampshire, England, d: 07 Nov 1795 in Hambledon, Hampshire, England

............ Henry Ford b: 18 Apr 1784 in Hambledon, Hampshire, England, d: 1853 in East Meon; Union house

............  + Mary Phillips b: 1790, m: 11 Oct 1811 in East Meon

............... Harriet Ford b: 30 Jun 1816 in East Meon

............... Henry Ford b: 22 Nov 1812 in East Meon parish Church, d: 1814

Harriet is born and baptised in 1816.    Records from the All Saints Church show her father Henry and mother Mary are paupers. When the first census is taken in 1841, Harriet Foard aged 25 lives with her mother Mary Foard (50) and her four-year-old son Charles Foard at Frogmore part of the East Meon/Petersfield registration district. Frogmore has a local farm and Mill and the hamlet is located east of the main village. Both Harriett and her mother are agricultural labourers presumably living and working for the owners. A notation on the baptismal record shows little Charles as being the illegitimate son of Charles Kill. 
Harriet Foard, her mother Mary and son Charles in the 1841 census

Some of the Agricultural workers from the hamlet at that time include:
·         George and Hannah Sutton and family
·         William and Charlotte Blackman and family
·         Thomas Beames
·         Daniel and Mary Kent and family
·         William and Mary Silk and family
·         Olive Voakes and Hannah Newland
·         Hannah Shawyer and family
·         John and Elizabeth Hiscock and family
·         William and Leah Leach and family
·         William and Lydia Bricknall and family (life long friend of Harriett)
·         John and Ann Merritt and family
·         Sarah Cross, Phoebe Spencer, Nathaniel Taylor

By 1850 she had married William Wilkes an East Meon man who was working as an Agricultural labourer at Frogmore. Their marriage is recorded at Portsea on 27 May 1850. Incidentally, William Wilk’s mother Mary was also a pauper and he is christened in East Meon with a notation “illegitimate”. His marriage certificate does however give his father’s name as Philip.

William Wilkes marries Harriet Ford 27th May 1850

The 1851 census shows Harriet living with her sons Charles and William Ford as wife -Harriet Wilkes- to William Wilkes. Her two illegitimate sons are noted as "sons in law" by the census taker. Charles is now 14 and little William is 4. William Ford is found recorded in the Parish records as the illegitimate son of Henry Holmes having christened while Harriet was living in Poor Union House at Petersfield.
William Wilkes was working as an Agricultural labourer and young Charles aged 14  was listed as a Farm Under Carter
Others Agricultural labourers living nearby include:
·         Henry and Charlotte Pink and family
·         James and Jane Oliver and family
·         Henry and Hannah Shayer and family
·         William and Elizabeth Titheridge and family
·         William Smith
·         William and Leah Leech and family
·         William and Lydia Bricknell and family
·         Thomas and Rhoda Beams and family
·         Jeremiah and Marrian Pollard
·         Johnathon and Lucy Pink and family
·         John and Martha Appleton and family
·         James and Elizabeth Leach
·         Anne Merrett and family
Frogmore  Mill sign a little worse for wear

The Harriett Wilks nee Ford, William Wilks and the Ford boys 1851 census

Our George (My husband’s great grandfather) came along 1st April 1851 one day after the census was taken. Finally Harriet takes a legitimate baby along to the local church in East Meon for baptism. George is christened George Wilkes but his birth is registered as George Wilks, son of William Wilks and Harriet Wilks nee Foard.
George’s Birth Certificate records date of birth one year earlier than recorded on his Naval records
Here’s Harriett’s family details:
Harriet Ford b: 30 Jun 1816 in East Meon; from parish register East Meon, d: 25 Sep 1859 in Riplington, (Riplington Farm East Meon)

                 + William Wilks b: 17 Nov 1816 in East Meon; illegitimate, m: 1850 in Portsea Island, Hampshire, England Burial 14 March 1881

        Charles Ford  illegitimate son of Charles Kill b 1836

        William Ford illegitimate son of  William Holmes b 1846
                   George Wilks b 1851

It seems that the family moves from Frogmore during the next 10 years. In September 1859 Harriet Wilkes dies aged 43 with the Parish records recording her abode as Riplington. Riplington Farm house Petersfield is now Grade 2 heritage listed. The informant is her elderly neighbour from Frogmore, Lydia Bricknell who at this time is the wife of a (pauper) labourer at Frogmore. Harriett’s cause of death is lung disease which she has suffered from “long since”.  

We visited Riplington in 2014. Presumably William and Harriett lived in some of the outer farm buildings as shown here.
Riplington Farm  outbuildings where William, Harriett and George lived at the time of Harriett’s death.

Riplington Farm - grade 2 Heritage listed

Harriet Wilkes nee Foard Death Certificate 1959

By 1861 Harriett’s two older sons have moved on. Charles at 22 is lodging as an agricultural labourer at Soberton Village and William, 14 works as a servant for George and Elizabeth Gregory and family at a nearby farm. George,10 lives with his father William Wilks  an Agricultural Labourer having been put to work as a Carter at Drayton cottages in Frogmore.

Drayton Farm in 2014  – presumably the cottages were attached to the farm land.

George and his father William Wilks at Frogmore 1861 census

William Ford enlisted in the Royal Artillery at Fareham in 1866 aged 18 years 9 months.  He is described as a  5 foot 7 inch fresh faced labourer with grey eyes and brown hair. 18 months later he is back in East Meon vouching for his brother, George  as he enlists in Her Majesty's Navy in January 1868. George who signs with his mark  "X" commences his engagement in 1868 as George Ford not George Wilks.
The conversation may have gone something like :
"I'm his brother William Ford. Me mam’s died and I’m bringing my brother George to sign up for the Navy."
"Okay. Father's name?"
"Right then George (Ford) your brother has vouched for you. Welcome to the Navy"
George was a farm laborer at nine and had probably skimped on his education. William had got his age wrong by about a year but neither has noticed the incorrect surname. From then on Harriet's son George Wilks is George Ford Seaman and the Ford name carries on.

There are questions we will never know the answer to. This is one possible scenario we are clinging to. There could be others

·         Did George get on with his father? Did he run away?

·         Was he sick of the poverty?

·         Did he change his name deliberately? 

Certainly at the time the Navy was seen as good pay, a stable job, an eventual pension and probably adventure. George’s story of Life in the Navy, his marriage to Alice Barter, the birth of his many children and his life working with the Irish and English Coast Guard can be accessed by contacting Robyn Ford


So what became of William Wilks or Wilkes? Although in 1861 he is with with George at Draytons cottage farm. there is a good possibility he marries again after the death of Harriett. But maybe not. He appears in the 1871 Census at Frogmore again, a farm labourer widower aged 55. 

On 15 Mar 1879 William Wilks 63yo,Widower,Labourer of Frogmore son of Mary Wilks (illegitimate son) married Maria Pearce a  63yo,Spinster of Frogmore. Wilks is a fairly common name in the district but there is a burial recorded at East Meon which could well be him. The burial occurred 14/3/1881 of a William Wilkes aged 65 at East Meon. This was just a couple of weeks short of the 1881 census.


In 1861 Charles at 22 is lodging as an agricultural labourer at Soberton Village, Hampshire Shortly after 1861 Charles Ford moves on to Widley Farm where he remains for the rest of his life.

Charles earns his living as a long-term agricultural labourer in Hampshire. He outlives both his brothers dying at the age of 77 years. He lived and worked at Widley Farm until his death in 1913.  His wife Deborah Mason whom he marries in 1874 in Portsea died in 1895 after producing two daughters, Alice Emily and Elizabeth Fanny Ford. Both married and settled locally in the Widley Coreham area. Perhaps the family tradition has continued.

Technically the Ford name in our line  should die out with Charles.


And William Ford ….? After his early days as an agricultural labourer William enlisted in the Royal Artillery at Fareham in 1866 aged 18 years 9 months. We know he returned to East Meon and is involved in signing his brother George into the Navy. He returns to the Army. Chris Ford his great,great-nephew, after reading William’s military records described him as "quite a lad" and was probably correct in his assessment of him being “quite mad". His military records contain words like "bad", "awaiting trial", "placed under restraint as a lunatic". Sadly, in July 1875 he is discharged after being described as "melancholic" (Suicidal). So after his 10 years as a gunner in the Royal Artillery including five years service in India, he is considered unfit for further service. Returning to Petersfield aged 28 years where he works as a labourer.  In November 1880 he pleaded guilty to setting fire to a barn at nearby Froxfield causing over £1000 damage. This was reported in the The Hampshire Advertiser (Southampton, England), Wednesday, November 17, 1880; pg. 4; Issue 3592.

There is evidence from this case and another case in 1878 that William was a heavy drinker. The judge sentenced him to 10 years hard labour and the 1881 Census records him as a convicted felon at Pentonville Prison, Islington. As there is no further record of him it appears he is the William Ford whose death is recorded in 1882 at Islington.

Decisions and actions taken  after Harriet's death caused George's life to be vastly different to that of his mother and father, forefathers and surely his older brothers. William escaped for a while. Probably today his malaise would be called "post-traumatic stress disorder" and he would be pensioned out of the Army and receive treatment for his problems.

Three brothers- three fathers- three very different lives. Born in harsh times they may have remained paupers, died young, lived a tough life. One would like to think that Harriet and William fought for respectability and improvement of their lot through hard work and family.

Each of the boys and their father William Wilks maintained stable paid work. George's decision to join the Navy set a whole other train of career paths for the Fords to come. When he signed up, George was a boy of only 5 foot 2 1/4  inches tall. When he re-signed this ruddy faced farm labourer had grown three inches  and this blue eyed brown haired gentleman had begun a whole other story away from the quiet life of East Meon....

Pictured above is the ancient lead baptismal font where various family members have been baptised

All Saints Church East Meon 2014 where many Ford /Wilks records are recorded

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