When I first started researching my family tree I became fascinated by the information I received from relatives about my great great grandmother, Mary Ann(e) Mason. On a hand written tree provided by my uncle she was named as “Mrs Wakerley” on her marriage to my great great grandfather John Thomas Mason. This seemed rather enigmatic to me – so who was this mysterious lady?
Subsequent research proved how dangerous it is to believe tales passed down through the family. In one version of events, the story was that Mary Ann(e) was “the daughter of the brother of a society gentleman” and she became pregnant after a relationship with a member of the royal family. Supposedly, she was made to marry another man but this relationship was purely one of convenience. After his death, she “married a Mr Wakerley and had two children by him” before he died. The tale went on to explain that she then married a Mr Davis, and later on she married John Thomas Mason, “bringing to the marriage a laundry business”.
All of this (with much more detail than I’ve included here) was presented to me as fact, and I have copies of letters written by one of her grandsons which confirm that this story was still in circulation as recently as the 1970s.
Of course, it all seemed very unlikely to me – so what were the facts?
Even 10 years ago, before all the censuses were available on line, finding information about the later part of her life was relatively easy. She died on April 29th, 1894, at 91 Northcote Road, Wandsworth. Aged just 42, she had suffered from “lymphangitis of the leg” for 21 days and “pyaemia” for 14 days. This condition, a form of septicaemia, was virtually incurable before the discovery of penicillin. Her husband, John Thomas Mason, a cleaner and dyer, who was present at her death, was left with a large family to support.
I quickly found the record of her marriage to John Thomas Mason: they had married on September 16th 1883 at St James Pentonville, in the parish of Clerkenwell, Middlesex. Her name is given as Mary Ann Wakerley, a 31 year old widow, the daughter of John Buckner, a cattle dealer. Several years later I returned to this marriage and found some confusing information on Ancestry. On February 4th 1883, John Thomas Mason had married a Mary Ann Thomas, a 31 year old widow, the daughter of William John Denman, a cattle dealer. The address of bride and groom on both these marriages is the same : 15 Rodney Street.
Comparing the signatures on the 2 entries, there is a remarkable similarity:
So – were the two brides the same person – and if so, why did the couple marry twice? I have no firm answers to this question as yet – especially as there is some evidence that the family story about a Mr Davis may have been at least partly true.
The 1891 census shows the family living at 21 Cairns Road in Battersea; there were 10 children under 21 (two of whom are listed as John Thomas’s step-daughters), as well as his sister, Esther, and a cousin called Mary Francis. There are several other intriguing questions raised by this census which I’ll follow up in another post.
The London Births and Baptisms (1813- 1906) record on Ancestry shows that Polly Isabel was born on March 30th 1884, and baptised on 25th April 1886 at St Michael’s, Battersea, at the same time as her brother John Thomas. The family was living at 91 Northcote Road, and John (senior) was still working as a jeweller. By 1888 the house number had changed to 89, possibly though renumbering or the acquisition of the neighbouring property. It was there that my great grandfather, Herbert Cecil Mason, was born on February 16th 1888 , and he was baptised on June 17th of the same year. His father’s occupation is now shown as “Dyer and Cleaner and Jeweller”. Obviously John Thomas Mason had not yet given up working in the jewellery business, although by 1894 he appears to have given his full attention to his laundry enterprise.
The couple had three more children before Mary Anne’s death in 1894: Francis Joseph, born January 27th 1892 who was baptised at St Mark’s Battersea on March 29th of that year. A daughter, Elsie May, was born on 5th December 1890 but sadly died in January 1891 and was buried at St Mary’s Battersea on January 29th.
So far – so good. I knew what had happened to my great great grandmother after her marriage to John Thomas Mason – but had they married twice? Who were the other children on the 1891 census, and would I ever find out who her parents were? Some of the answers would be provided as more information became available online.
To be continued …..