Where is Auntie Em’s husband?

My great grandmother Orpah Maria Proctor was born in Gubblecote in 1876, one of eight children. Orpah married Joseph Edwards from Wilstone in 1899 and lived in the village for the rest of her life, ultimately at Mardew, now 66 Tring Road.

Living next door at Lilac Cottage was her sister Emma, widow of Arthur William Edwards of Cheddington. The two spouses, although both Edwards, were not related. The Proctor/ Edwards family had a long standing habit of reducing first names to one syllable and younger members of the family, including my Mum (Pam Cockerill) who is now 94, always knew Emma as Auntie Em.

Mum remembers two things about Emma—she had a glass eye, after an accident with a cupboard door damaged her own beyond medical help, and her husband died at a young age after a farm accident, when he was kicked by a horse. But so far no amount of research has been able to actually confirm the latter or find a record of Arthur’s death or burial.

Arthur William Edwards was born in Cheddington on 21st December 1873 and was baptised there in 1874. His father George was a shepherd and his mother Sarah a straw plaitter. Arthur is listed in the National Schools Admission Registers and Log Books (1870-1914) in 1880 at 7 years of age, and on the 1881 census as a scholar. By the 1891 census he had left school and was working in Cheddington as an agricultural labourer. He married Emma Jane Proctor on 28th April 1897 in All Saints church Marsworth. Their first son Francis was born in 1898 and their second son Harold in 1900, both in Cheddington. The 1901 census records the family living in Station Yard, Cheddington; Arthur’s occupation is given as Horseman, and so far that is the last record of him that I can find.

Cheddington Station was the main yard for livestock transportation in the area, including racehorses belonging to Lord Rosebury, and police horses from London, sent for a rest away from duty in the capital. It is very likely that Arthur was killed at the station in an accident involving one of these horses, rather than on a farm as per family history. There is no record of Arthur on the Railway Employees website, nor on the Railway Accidents Log; neither is there report of his death in the local papers of the time. Local church records do not list his passing or burial.

But Arthur and Emma had a third son, Stanley, born in Wilstone in April 1902, suggesting Emma was no longer living in Cheddington at that time. The 1904 Electoral Roll lists Emma Edwards of Wilstone, as well as her mother Jane Proctor, as eligible to vote in parish and borough elections. This right to vote had been granted to all women who owned property and paid the rates in the 1844 Local Gov’t. Act. This presumably means Emma was widowed by 1904, possibly between July 1901 (Stanley’s conception) and April 1902 (his birth). The next census in 1911 lists Emma as a widow, living in Wilstone with her three sons. It has not been possible to ascertain how Emma could afford her own property but her situation had changed by c1920, because Emma was short of money and ‘fostered’ a little girl called Ethel Green, for which she received payment. This proved to be a very happy arrangement and Ethel became, and remained, ‘family’ all her life.

Like my Mum and Dad I have always had great affection for Wilstone and am very close to my immediate relatives but family history has uncovered even more connections to the village, which is even better! Emma’s eldest son Francis, always known as Frank, married Lucy Mapley on 6th January 1923 at St. Cross in Wilstone. Their daughter, Patty-Jane, was a bridesmaid at my Mum and Dad’s wedding.

Earlier, in1919, Lucy’s sister Constance had married Bertie Bussey; they too had a daughter, Vera (Rance), who lived in Wilstone, in the Long Row, all her life. OK, no blood ties there, but still relatives by marriage!

Emma’s fostered daughter Ethel continued to live with Emma until she married Richard (Dick) Gomm, well known as the villages’ first historian. Many people, aside from me, will remember Dick and Ethel and their children Susan and Robin; Emma, by now Auntie Em, lived with them until she died in 1959. She is buried in Wilstone cemetery, next to her middle son Harold who suffered from severe epilepsy. Emma is remembered on the new family headstone, which stands close to the memorials for Dick and Ethel.

by Alison Cockerill

This article is an extract from previous issue of the Village News. Any mention to events in the article have probably long since passed and are for information only.

Village News February 2021

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