Monday, 1 October 2012

Family History Through The Alphabet Challenge : U is for...

Given that I was born in the United Kingdom it would be only fitting to write about it in this week's Alphabet Challenge for the letter U. However, that would be too easy so I am doing it yet again. Writing about something completely different!

The last known address of my 3 x g/grandfather's "wife" was Usk Road in Battersea, in 1881 (I say "wife" because they were not legally married). The census shows us that Sarah Mary Ann (nee Spencer) was living at 35 Usk Road with her husband Thomas Shepherd and three children: William and Charlotte (from her previous relationship with my 3 x g/grandfather) and a three-year-old daughter Emily. I am yet to prove a theory that Sarah died in 1883, aged 36.

Usk Road was not far from where Sarah lived with my 3 x g/grandfather Richard Humphries. In 1871 they lived together with William and Charlotte, as well as Richard's three grown sons from his first marriage, in nearby Putney. On the other side of nearby Wandsworth lies the South West London town of Battersea. Famous for the Dog's Home and the Power Station, Battersea was once a large market garden area and lavender field well before industry took over.


I don't believe there was anything quite as romantic as the image above of boats on the River Thames at Battersea for Sarah Shepherd and her children. The whereabouts of my 3 x g/grandfather Richard Humphries (see my post about him) after 1871 continues to baffle me as the paper trail dies off at this time but for Sarah, who remained very much alive, it must have been a very difficult time. She was left with two small children (she had had three but one died in infancy in 1869) and no husband. It is not known how or when she met Thomas Shepherd and the first I knew of him was from the 1881 census. From there I worked back until I found a marriage between he and Sarah in June 1876. Sarah claimed she was a "spinster" which technically was true. Thomas Shepherd, son of Samuel Shepherd, worked in a Candle factory and could not write or sign his name on his marriage certificate.

Sarah Mary Ann Spencer was born in 1846 in Battersea. Records indicate she was the daughter of Christopher Spencer and Mary Ann Hosier. Christopher Spencer was born in Wandsworth about 1822. In 1851 the Spencer family lived in King Street, Battersea but the following census paints a very different picture. Christopher died in 1856 and Mary Ann, along with her four children, were living with George Temple in Red Lion Street, Wandsworth. Interestingly, Mary Ann had only aged three years between 1851 and 1861!

Battersea Power Station
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Battersea was heavily bombed in 1944/45 and Usk Road was the last recorded road to be hit by a V2 weapon (in the Battersea district) on 27 January 1945. It is recorded that at least seventeen people died that day and more than twenty houses were fully destroyed or damaged.

I wish I knew why Sarah Mary Ann Spencer/Humphries/Shepherd was left abandoned with two small children. It was certainly not common for a bachelor to take up with an unmarried woman with children so what sort of person was Thomas Shepherd to do that so willingly? Then Sarah had a child with him: Emily. What is more intriguing is that by 1881 Sarah gave the children she had with my 3 x g/grandfather her name, Spencer and had totally dropped the name Humphries. Did Thomas know anything at all about Richard Humphries? Surely, you would think that this would totally baffle and confuse any of their descendents. Anybody trying to trace the family tree for their Shepherd or Spencer ancestors would possibly not even know of the connection with the Humphries family and that three children were registered at birth as Humphries (later becoming Spencer). These children were:

William Spencer Humphries born 1868 in Fulham
1881 census: William Spencer, aged 12

Sarah Spencer Humphries born 1869 in Putney
Died in 1869, aged 4 months

Charlotte Amelia Spencer Humphries born 1871 in Putney
1881 census: Charlotte Spencer, aged 8
When Charlotte married in 1893 to William Tilley she gave her father's name as Thomas Spencer, not Thomas Shepherd (just to further confuse the issue!).

Aftermath of V2 bombing in Battersea
Image courtesy of Wikipedia


  1. This family sounds like a puzzle that you're slowing working your way through.

    1. Thanks very much, I really feel for the family that may try to trace them now or in the future, so I am doing all I can to help out! xx

  2. Coo you got a lot more digging to do here Debra, age, seemed 'anything goes' was their motto, I have people like that in my tree, it certainly takes some sorting out xx

    1. Isn't that what keeps us going back again and again?! ;-) xx

  3. You would almost think she was trying to hide with all the changes and false information.

    1. I agree Kristin. In fact, my 3 x g/grandfather had something to hide as well. His first wife's "disappearance" was a little suspicious, and then he just disappears into thin air himself! Sarah could've done them over, hahaha xx