The Aburn family in Towcester in the 18th Century

St Lawrence's, Towcester

St Lawrence’s Towcester © Copyright Andrew Smith and licensed for reuse under

William Aburn, my 4x great grandfather, was born in Towcester, Northamptonshire in 1788 and was baptised at the parish church where he married Ann Downing in 1812.   William’s parents were James and Martha (nee Course) who had married in Towcester in 1786. Ann Downing was the daughter of William and Sarah Downing (nee Sutton) who are described on Ann’s birth record as “paupers”.

Ann Downing’s baptism record, showing William and Sarah as “paupers”.

More about them later…. but for now, back to the Aburns.

James Aburn is listed in the Northamptonshire Militia list in  1796; his occupation is given as “cooper”.and  it was noted that he had “4 children under 10”. This was significant as his wife Martha died of smallpox that year during an outbreak of the disease. The parish register records that

“The Small Pox broke out in this Parish about that time [May 1796] and continued to Rage with Accumulated Fury untill the beginning of December when the Inhabitants underwent a general Inoculation. Those marked with a cross died of the natural small Pox”.

Parish register notes about the 1796 smallpox epidemic in Towcester.

The four children referred to in the Militia list were Elizabeth (born 1787), William (born 1788), Thomas (born 1791) and Sarah (born 1795).

Being left to care for the 4 young children, one of whom was only a toddler, must have been very hard for James; perhaps he had help from the many Aburn relatives living in Towcester at this time.  Eventually, in May 1806, he married again, to a spinster named Sarah Collins, but it appears that she died just a few months later: there is a burial record in November 1806 for Sarah Aburn, wife of James Aburn.

Is this Sarah (nee Collins) James’ second wife?

James died in 1834 at the age of 85.

James Aburn’s burial record


Going back another generation, still in Towcester, James’ parents were Edward and Elizabeth (nee Bodily). They had married in August 1739 and had 5 children: Joshua (baptised 1739), Lucy (baptised 1742) Frances,  James  (both baptised 1751) and Josiah (baptised 1753).

Edward’s  baptism in 1711 is recorded in wonderfully spidery writing and it’s just possible to decipher the surname “Aburn”:


When Edward died in 1778 the parish register records his burial: Edward Aburn Clark (sic) of this Parish died April 21st, buried the 24th of April 1778. A Man well deserving of his Office.

Edward’s parents Mark  (a cordwainer) and Elizabeth Aburn, however, remain rather a mystery at the moment.  They appear in the Towcester records from 1700 when a son, Mark, was baptised, followed by six more children ( including Edward)  but so far I haven’t been able to establish a marriage record or any clues as to where they originated.




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The Aburn family in Bethnal Green (originally from Towcester, Northamptonshire)

My 3x great grandmother, Frances Aburn, was born  on 6th January 1814 and baptised on 26th June 1814 at St Matthew’s Bethnal Green. Her older sister, Martha, was also baptised that day although she had been born in Towcester, Northamptonshire in 1812 and baptised there on September 4th 1812.

Their parents were William and Ann Aburn (nee Downing) and at the time of the 1814 baptisms the family were living in Turk Street, Bethnal Green.  William’s occupation is given as “cooper” so it’s possible that he worked at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, just a few hundred yards from Turk Street.

Map showing the location of Turk Street

William and Ann had married in Towcester on 21st July 1812.  One of the witnesses to the marriage was an Elizabeth Aburn, most probably William’s sister who was baptised in Towcester in January 1787.  William was baptised in the same church on November 2nd 1788.

Marriage entry for William Aburn and Ann Downing

Having moved to London sometime between 1812 and 1814, William and Ann settled in the Bethnal Green area to raise their growing family.  They were living in Busby Street at the time of the births of the next three children:  Elizabeth (born 1815), James (born 1816) and Mary Ann (born 1819) but by the arrival of their next child, William, in 1822, they had moved to Brick Lane.


William  died in November 1823 aged just 34 and was buried at Christ Church, Spitalfields.  William and Ann’s last child, Eliza, was baptised at the same church in May 1824, the abode being given as Wilkes Street.  Eliza may have died the same year, as there is a burial record  in the 1824 Christ Church records for an “Elisabeth Auburn” of Wilkes Street, aged 1 year.

Christ Church Spitalfields where William was buried

My 4x great grandmother Ann was now, at the age of 37, left with a young family.   No records have been found for her until the 1841 census when she was living in Queen Street Spitalfields with her sons James (a scrivener) and William (a cooper).   Ann is listed as a laundress.

By 1851 Ann was living at number 5 in the Brewers Almshouses, Mile End Old Town Upper.  This census provides the link back to her origins in Towcester – she is described as a widow aged 63, formerly a laundress, born in Towcester, Northamptonshire.

Ann Aburn in 1851 – her surname is transcribed on as “Abwin”

Ann died in July 1859 and was buried in the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery.


The next instalment of the Aburn story will go back to Towcester to discover the Aburns  in the 18th Century.

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Remembrance Sunday

In memory  of

My great grandfather, John William Saunders (1875-1920) of the

17th Battalion Kings’ Royal Rifle Regiment.

He was  wounded and taken prisoner in 1917. He died in 1920 and is buried in Chingford Mount Cemetery.

The CWGC headstone for my great grandfather, John William Saunders. (Chingford Mount Cemetery, London E4)

Thanks to my cousin Lynn for the use of this photograph.



My half great uncle Leonard Eric Mason, (1908- 1944) Flying Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

He was killed when Lancaster  ND879  was shot down  on 23rd May 1944.

He is buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.

Thanks to John Mason for these two photographs.

Also see


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Leonard Eric Mason (part 4)

Now in the UK, Leonard was posted to East Kirkby Airfield in Lincolnshire as part of 57 Squadron Bomber Command.

At 22.12 on the night of 22nd May 1944 Lancaster ND879 took off from east Kirkby in Lincolnshire headed for Braunschweig (Brunswick) in Germany. As was usual, once airborne there was no radio contact. The crew members were:

Pilot:: F/O John Colin Marland 22

Flight Engineer: Sgt. Denis Charles Gallagher 23

Navigator: Sgt. William Low 26

Air Bomber: F/O Leonard Eric Mason 35

W/Op Air: Flt Sgt. William Thomas Nichol Norris 22

Air Gunner: Flt Sgt. Harold Roy Bailey 21

Air Gunner: Sgt. John Wilson 27

The aircraft was reported missing on the morning of 23rd May, and the next of kin of the crew members were notified immediately by telegram. The following day a letter was sent to Leonard’s brother, Arthur Hayter Mason, confirming that the aircraft was missing and the crew were presumed dead although “there was of course every possibility that they were able to abandon the aircraft and land safely in enemy territory”.

In October 1946 an investigation into the crash reported that the plane had crashed at Schleptrup, north of Osnabruck in  Germany. The investigating officer found wreckage of a British aircraft in the forest about half a mile from the road. An eye witness, Herr Hatke , stated that he saw the aircraft over his house at about 2000 feet , on fire with one wing burnt off. It dropped some bombs and crashed into the forest. The local Chief of Police also witnessed the crash and stated that the Lancaster came in from the west and was attacked by a night fighter. Both men went to the scene of the crash but the aircraft was burning fiercely and they were unable to get near because of the exploding ammunition. The next day six bodies were removed from the wreckage and a seventh was found a few hundred metres away.

The bodies were buried at Achmer Airfield Cemetery by the Germans and in March 1946 they were exhumed and removed to Achmer Temporary British Cemetery. At this time one of the bodies was identified as that of Sergeant John Wilson and it was therefore presumed that the other victims were the rest of the crew.

In May 1948 Leonard’s brothers received confirmation that his remains had now been moved to Reichswald Permanent British Cemetery.

The Canadian war service records on give far more detail than I have provided here. It is heart-rending to read the communications between the family and the authorities, and to read, for example, the list of Leonard’s personal effects which were to be returned to his next of kin.    Out of respect  to the family I have not included these here but the records are readily available on Ancestry if you wish to read them.

Leonard Eric Mason was 35 when he died. He was the oldest member of the crew.

He is commemorated in the naming of Mason Rapids in the Caribou River, Manitoba as part of the Canada Geographic Renaming Project.

Acknowledgements, and thanks to :

Mr John Mason

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Leonard Eric Mason (part 3)

1923: The next stage of Leonard’s life was about to begin.


He sailed from Liverpool on the SS Megantic on 1st June 1923. He was 14 years old, travelling with a large group of about 100 boys – the Salvation Army’s latest shipment of children to Canada. From his War Service file we learn that between 1924 and 1926 he worked as a farm labourer, eventually leaving to get a better job. From 1926 to 1928 he studied grades 9 and 10 at the Manitoba CCS. Between 1928 and 1941 he was employed periodically as a carpenter, miner and drill operator by D. A McKenzie of Matlock Beach, Manitoba, and in 1940 he did a few months’ work for Mr A E Holmes of Winnipeg, working as “a finisher and a miner and diamond drill operator”.

He applied to join the RCAF on May 1st 1940 but was refused because he was not tall enough. He reapplied on February 14th 1941 and enlisted at Winnipeg on 11.10.41. Presumably the height requirements had been relaxed!

The interviewing officer described him as “a good natured husky fellow who has roughed his way – confident but not overbearing”. Leonard’s ambition was to be an Air Navigator but he was thought to be unsuitable for this role because he was rather a “plodder” and although he had worked hard to achieve a good general standard of education the study for the navigator role would be beyond him. He was obviously well-regarded, though, being described as “generally courteous and cooperative, a man who has worked very hard and is a dependable, serious, plodder type”.

Leonard’s Service Records on include his Final Training Report which included the comment that he was “a keen bomb aimer who has shown great improvement in his cross country bombing.” He was regarded as a very keen officer and was awarded his Air Bomber Badge on 22nd January 1943.

He was posted overseas in March 1943 and disembarked in the UK in April of the same year.

To be concluded…..

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Leonard Eric Mason (part 2)

A while ago I wrote a post about Leonard Eric Mason, one of the half brothers of my great Grandfather, Herbert. I had found (on the details of Leonard’s departure for Canada in 1923. He had been a resident at the Chase Farm Schools in Enfield and was sent to Canada for “betterment”. Since then I have found out more about Leonard Eric and his time in the RCAF during World War 2.

Leonard’s father, my great great grandfather John Thomas Mason had died in September 1911. On September 11th 1912 Leonard and his brothers , Alfred (b.1903) and Lawrence, (b.1907) were placed in the Greenwich Workhouse by their mother Dorothy.

Two days after being admitted to the workhouse, Lawrence and Leonard were “discharged to Calvert Road”. This refers to a group of cottage homes adjacent to the workhouse, which could accommodate up to 50 children. Alfred is listed as discharged but no location is given, perhaps he went home to his mother. The Mason boys seem to have been in and out of the workhouse for short periods: Alfred and Lawrence were admitted again on 7th November 1912 and young Arthur Hayter Mason who was almost 2 years old was admitted the following day.

According to Leonard’s Canadian War Service file, he moved to the Chase Farm Schools in 1914 and stayed there until he left for Canada. The photograph below is of Leonard and Arthur Mason during their time at the Chase Farm Schools in Enfield. At the moment I haven’t located any records relating to their residence at Chase Farm; it doesn’t appear to be online yet and so I need to visit the archives to see what I can find.

Chase Farm Schools had their origin in the old parish workhouse at Chase Side, Enfield. Eventually, in 1884-6 a new set of buildings was erected on the Chase Farm site and these buildings continued as a school until the start of the Second world War when it was used to provide care for wartime casualties, and then after the war it became a general hospital.

For more information on Greenwich Workhouse and Chase Farm Schools see Peter Higginbothams’s There is plenty of fascinating information on this site including photographs, maps and plans of the workhouses.

Thanks to John Mason for the photograph of Leonard and Arthur.

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John William Saunders – a prisoner of war in WW1 (Part 2)

As noted in an earlier post, my great grandfather, John William Saunders of the 17th Battalion Kings’ Royal Rifle Regiment, was wounded and taken prisoner near Ypres in June 1917. The following detail is taken from the battalion’s war diary for the month of June 1917.

At the beginning of June 1917 the 17th battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps was moved back to E Camp and set to work on railway construction alongside the 9th Battalion Canadian troops. Others were constructing dugouts on Canal Bank.

1/6/17 : the diary reports that 2 men were killed, 5 wounded, 8 gassed and 1 wounded at Duty (all were “Other Ranks” ) .

16/6/17: the battalion moved up to the Front Line – Hill Top sector. Whilst holding this line the trenches were heavily shelled day after day. A listening post was attacked by the enemy patrol, bombs were thrown and 3 men were wounded. Support came up, the enemy were cleared and one wounded man was taken as prisoner.

20/6/17: 2nd Lt Eckersley was informed whilst on observation work that a man of the 117 Trench Mortar Battery was wounded and in a dugout that had been blown in. He immediately went to the man’s assistance and after some difficulty, under heavy shell fire, succeeded in extricating the wounded man and carrying him to safety.

23/6/17: bombardment with gas shells

24/6/17: the battalion was relieved by the 16th Rifle Brigade in the Front Line and moved back to Right Support, accommodated in dugouts on the Canal Bank, finding working parties daily.


An image from 1917 showing soldiers near the Ypres Canal.


Image: NLS under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence

Casualties during tour in Front Line:

Killed: 2nd Lt L.D Welter; 2nd Lt F Longley (7th London regiment , attached)

Also killed: 9 Other Ranks; wounded: 39 Other Ranks: missing believed prisoner of war 1 Other Rank.

30/6/17: Battalion relieved in Right Support Hill Top sector and moved back to divisional reserve.

Casualties during tour on Canal Bank:

Other ranks- killed 3; died 1: died of wounds 3; wounded 18.

I assume that the “Other Rank” reported missing believed prisoner of war is likely to be John William Saunders as there is no mention of any one else being taken prisoner. The Gefangenenliste from the camp at Limburg states that he was captured at Ypres on 23rd June 1917. From there he was moved to the hospital in the Schillerschule at Wurzburg.

The CWGC headstone for my great grandfather, John William Saunders. (Chingford Mount Cemetery, London E4)

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Finding Edward and Alice Sheepwash


When I first began my family history research about 15 years ago one of the main sources  available was the 1881 census. I bought a set of the CDs and went about finding as many of my ancestors as I could, and I was relatively successful.

One person that puzzled me, though, was my great grandfather, Edward Neville Sheepwash.  He appears on the 1881 census living at Fitts Rents, Nuthall Street, Shoreditch with his widowed mother, Mary Ann Sheepwash, three of his siblings and his uncle, William Harding.

The odd thing was that Edward had married Alice Miles in 1879, yet here he was listed as “unmarried” and there was no sign of Alice anywhere.  Over the years I have thought about  this oddity  from time to time, searching the various online resources as they became available,  but I had no luck finding Alice.

Then a couple of weeks ago I decided to try to tidy up some of the loose ends in my research.  I posted a question on Rootschat, asking whether anyone could help me find Alice.

Within an hour or two, three researchers were on the case and by the following day they had found Alice with Edward, enumerated in the census at 40 Great James Street Hoxton.  This street was just across the main road from Nuthall Street.  Both roads were very close to the Shoreditch workhouse which had been completed in 1866.

Edward and Alice Sheepwash

Edward and Alice Sheepwash

Edward Nevill    26 – walking stick maker
Alice Nevill    20 – wife
Louisa Baker    5 – visitor

I have no idea why they couple were listed under the surname Nevill – was it an error or a deliberate deception? At the moment I don’t know who Louise Baker was or her connection with the family. That’s research for another day. But for now the mystery is solved,  thanks to Rootschat and especially the three members who helped me find Edward and Alice.


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Happy New Year!

Not related to my family history, but here are two New Year cards from my collection of old postcards.  A very happy New Year to everyone!

This lovely card was sent to an address in North Strand, Dublin in 1912.

This lovely card was sent to an address in North Strand, Dublin in 1912. It is a Raphael Tuck “New Year” series card, No.N5603

This image of Dunolly Castle was sent to an address in Larne, Co.Antrim in 1921

This image of Dunolly Castle was sent to an address in Larne, Co.Antrim in 1921.  It’s one of the Raphael Tuck “Scottish Castles” series, No.  7181

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Rebecca Couling: a Death Certificate, and a conviction for stealing beer

The GRO’s PDF pilot phase 1 ordering service for birth and death certificates has now come to an end but I managed to get an order in just before the deadline.  The PDF arrived within the stated time despite the warning that there could be a delay due to “high volumes of demand”.   I hope this becomes the standard service from the GRO – it must be much more efficient and cost effective.

Here is what I received – the death certificate of my 3x  great grandmother Rebecca Couling (nee Billing / Billings):

couling-death-certI haven’t actually gleaned much more information about Rebecca from this but I do now know that John, my 3x great grandfather died between 1851 and 1860 which should help me to locate his death.

Rebecca’s death comes just two years  after she appears to have been convicted of feloniously receiving stolen beer “well knowing it to be stolen”, as described in this report from the Reading Mercury on 23rd October 1858.

rebecca-couling-convictionThe sentence was one month’s imprisonment with the last week being solitary confinement.  I wonder if Rebecca regretted  receiving the beer which was presumably shared with one of the other accused, one Esther Smith ” a prostitute”.

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