Saturday, 8 August 2020

Lister Beckett - Part 3 - his relationship with Edith Sokell

This is the third post in a series of four about the life of Lister Beckett.  

This is a story of a man who had two 'wives'. Charged with deserting his first wife in Dewsbury, he was caught by the authorities playing cricket but claimed in court to be 'under the doctor' and thus unable to pay any maintenance! Lister's second family lived in Concrete Cottages in Wombwell after his death and his son Sidney served in the First World War and is remembered on the Brampton Parish Hall Roll of Honour, hence my initial interest.

Websites and books used for reference are listed at the end of each blog post.

Part 3 - His relationship to Edith Sokell

In 1891 Lister Beckett was listed in the census as a visitor in the household of George Siddall, a 30 year old coal miner, in Wombwell near Barnsley. He was apparently single and 26 years old. These 'facts' are untrue. Lister Beckett had been married since 1880 and his wife Elizabeth was still alive and well in Dewsbury. He had been born in 1860 which means that in 1891 he was actually 31 years old. 

Evidence from local newspapers has shown that Lister left Elizabeth in approximately 1885 and had been 'neglecting to maintain his wife and two children' (Yorkshire Evening Post 1 September 1891). At the point Lister Beckett is a visitor in Wombwell he had been living away from his legal wife for about six years. He had two daughters with Elizabeth, Edith Beckett born in early 1881 and Freda Beckett born towards the end of 1882.

Also in George Siddall's household in 1891 was his wife Ann who was 38 years old and born in Worsborough and his step-daughter Edith Sokell aged 18 and a dressmaker's apprentice born in Wombwell. According to FreeBMD George and Ann had married in Q1 1881 in the Barnsley Registration District (RD).  I have been unable to find a parish marriage record for George and Ann's marriage on either Find My Past (which covers Wombwell, Worsborough and other places to the south and east of Barnsley town) or Ancestry (which covers Barnsley itself and places to the north and west). This suggests they married in a Register Office or in a non-conformist place of worship of some kind. Although Edith Sokell is recorded as George's daughter in the 1891 census later, in 1911, she is recorded as his step-daughter. 

Ten years earlier, in April 1881, not long after George and Ann married, I had found them living as boarders in the household of James and Augusta Whittaker at 4 Park Street, Wombwell. Spotting that Augusta was born in Worsborough I dug a little deeper. In Q1 1875 James Whitaker (one 't') had married Augusta Sokell in the Wharfedale RD.  George and Ann Siddall were living with Ann's sister and her husband! I found the Whitaker/Sokell marriage register entry in Otley on Ancestry and Augusta had declared that her father William Sokell (correct) was a colliery manager (not correct). This was probably because James Whitaker's father Ambrose, was a coal agent (true in 1881 - though he had been a carter in 1871) which was a managerial job and besides Otley (which is in the Wharfedale RD) is at least 32 miles from Worsborough so who would ever know! I wonder how James and Augusta met? That is really going off topic though so I shall reserve that question for another day.

It is important for this story to investigate Edith Sokell's background because by 1901 Lister Beckett had set up home with her and had at least three children with her. Their relationship appears to have been socially accepted by her family and the communities in the areas in which they lived and acknowledged by Lister's family in Dewsbury. At the start of my first post in this series I mentioned that our ancestors might have had a much more relaxed view of illegitimacy and unmarried cohibitation than we tend to imagine. This could have been because divorce was very difficult and very expensive before 1938, after which additional grounds of desertion for three years were accepted in divorce cases.

George Siddall was, according to all the census returns I have seen for him, born in Holmesfield in Derbyshire in about 1861. He may be the son of George, a stone waller, and Mary Siddall who were living at Holmesfield Common in 1861. The elder George appeared to have married late in life, he was 53 in 1861 and his wife Mary was 30; a daughter Anne Fox aged 5 is listed on the census along with John I Siddall aged 2 and George Siddall aged 8 months. The General Register Office (GRO) listing for the younger George Siddall's birth registration states that the registration took place in Q3 1860 in the Chesterfield Union in the County of Derby and that his mother's maiden name was Fox. This is corroborated by the registration of his brother John Isaac Siddall in Q3 1858 also in Chesterfield and also mother's maiden name Fox. It appears from this evidence that the elder George married a lady named Mary Fox who brought a child, Anne, to the marriage. I found their marriage on FreeBMD in Q4 1857 in Sheffield RD. Anne Fox would have been two years old when the elder George Siddall married her mother. This example of taking in a single mother and her child and listing the child as his daughter is an example of how illegitimacy was accepted in the 19th century. It may be that Mary had no other option but to marry an older man because of her situation, but that cannot be proven.

Sadly Mary Siddall died between the 1861 and 1871 census returns. In 1871 George Siddall the elder is a widower with three small boys, John I. aged 12, George aged 10 and Thomas aged 4. The family is still living at Holmesfield Common. I found George junior's baptism on 5 July 1863 in Holmesfield when he would have been nearly 3 years old, the entry before his, on 1 June 1863, was for an Elizabeth Hannah Siddall daughter of George and Mary Siddall of the Common, Holmesfield. I cannot find a birth registration for this girl of this name however there is a death registration for a infant (under 1) Hannah Elizabeth Siddall in Q3 (July, August, September) in Chesterfield, which led me back to a birth registration for Hannah Elizabeth Siddall Q3 1863 in Chesterfield, mother's maiden name Fox. I assume the family had Elizabeth Hannah (or vice versa) baptised in June 1863 because she was sickly and did not register her birth straight away (six weeks after the birth was allowed) so it fell in the quarter afterwards. They may have decided to baptise George shortly afterwards as the death of their infant daughter had reminded them that he had not been baptised immediately after his birth.  The GRO indexes confirmed that Mary Siddall aged 40, so a match for Mary's age in the 1861 census return, died in the Chesterfield RD in Q1 1871 - just before the census was taken that year. 

George Siddall junior, step-father of Edith Sokell, had a difficult childhood - his father was quite elderly (by the standard of the time), his mother and a younger sibling had died before he was 10 years old, and, as I soon discovered, his father probably died in 1879 at the age of 73. It seems that both George Siddall junior and his older brother John Isaac Siddall moved to the Barnsley area between 1871 and 1881. Presumably seeking work.  John Isaac Siddall married Jane Elizabeth Schofield in Q3 1877 in the Barnsley RD. She was, like Ann Sokell, born in Worsborough. By 1891 they were living in Wath upon Dearne caring for Tom Schofield their nephew. John Siddall was a coal miner. In the 1901 census Tom S. Siddall, aged 11, is listed as the son of John Isaac and his wife Jane Elizabeth. It seems they had no children born to them, who survived, so they adopted their nephew. Younger brother Thomas Siddall (born about in 1867 in Holmesfield according to the 1871 census) is a little more elusive - he does not reappear until 1911 when he is living in Norton Woodseats, Sheffield with a much younger wife Lily May, and a 4 year old daughter Lorna May Siddall.

William and Elizabeth Sokell, parents of Ann and Augusta Sokell, were from Barnsley or Worsborough, at least they both declared that they were born there in the census returns. This family is how my OH (other half) connects into the story of Lister Beckett. I have a working theory that if a family can trace their roots back to Barnsley at the beginning of the 19th century then I will be able to find a connection to my OH's family tree - however tenuous. In this case the OH's 5x great-uncle Charles Hawcroft had married William Sokell's sister Ellen in 1829 in Darfield. 

In the Sokell family too there is evidence of the acceptance of illegitimacy. In 1881 Edith Sokell (who, if you need the reminder, later set up home with Lister Beckett) is living with her grandparents in Wombwell at 88 Wombwell Main. We know that her mother had recently married George Siddall and the newly weds were boarding with her aunt Augusta in Wombwell. Maybe her grandparents offered to take her in for a while until George and Ann got sorted out with a house of their own. The 1881 census return states that she was born in Darfield in about 1873, although in the 1891 census she is recorded as having been born in Wombwell. I have found neither a baptism nor a birth registration for Edith. Which is unusual. It could be that her surname was mis-spelt or transcribed very badly and just doesn't show up in the online indexes.

William Sokell was 62 years old and a timekeeper in 1881, a job often taken by an older trusted man. As he is living at Wombwell Main I assume he was working at this colliery.  In 1871 at the age of 52 he had been a labourer living at Wombwell Main, and in 1861 a coal miner living at Wombwell Main. In 1851 he had been a linen weaver living in Wilkinson's Houses in Worsborough, next door to his parents John and Mary Sokell who were by then in their 70s. This career progression is common in Barnsley. As mechanised looms were introduced linen weaving, which had previously been a high status job, became a job for women and children. Men moved into the collieries and younger men took on the skilled trades like coal hewer whilst older men with less strength became labourers or worked on the surface screens sorting coal, and then in old age (if they lived that long) they took more sedentary roles like lamp cleaner or time keeper.

The gravestone of William and Elizabeth Sokell in Wombwell Cemetery
(photograph taken 3 August 2020 by Barnsley Historian)

Now Lister Beckett's connections are in my territory I am able to show you more than just snips of old maps and pictures from Google. This is the gravestone of Edith Sokell's grandparents in Wombwell Cemetery in plot 1220 in the Consecrated section number 11.

In Affectionate Remembrance
The Beloved Wife of
William Sokell
Who Died July 8th 1883
Aged 62 years
Also of the Above Named
William Sokell
Who Died June 9th 1902
Aged 83 years
In Life Respected in Death Lamented

The burial register tells us that Elizabeth died at Wombwell Main and William in Alms Houses in Wombwell. 

Base of a cross marking the graves of Ann and George Siddall in Wombwell Cemetery

Nearby is a cross style grave marker, sadly broken, for George and Ann Siddall; Ann was William and Elizabeth Sokell's daughter. My OH had to scuff away the soil from the base of the stone to make George's name visible for my photograph. If his date is lower down it would need someone with a trowel to expose it. The shaft and top of the cross are lying nearby.

In Memory of [on the shaft of the cross]
The Beloved Wife of
George Siddall
Who Died May 23, 1920
Aged 67 years
"Her End was Peace"
Also the above named
George Siddall

From the burial records again I know that Ann died at 105 Concrete Buildings, and George at the Montague Hospital in Mexborough in June 1946, although his home address was still 105 Concrete Buildings.

On the other side of William and Elizabeth's stone is another Sokell family marker - for their son Herbert, his wife Sarah and their son Stanley, who was killed in the First World War. You can find this stone recorded on the Wombwell Soldiers Remembered blog created by my friend Fay Polson.

When we were in the cemetery it felt to me like that corner was a Sokell family plot and George Siddall was buried there because of his marriage to Ann, who had been a Sokell.

Meanwhile in 1901 in Mexborough, about 24 miles away from his wife Elizabeth in Dewsbury, Lister Beckett had set up home with Edith (who was Edith Sokell) and their three children.  You will remember that Lister was visiting Edith's parents when the 1891 census was taken. Here's an image of their 1901 census entry cropped but with all the reference details visible - RG13 Piece 4408 Folio 106 and Page 49 - from the Ancestry website.

1901 census extract for Adwick Road, Mexborough (from Ancestry)

As you can see Lister and Edith were listed as married, and their eldest child is Ada who is 6 years old and born in Mexborough. The nearest record in the GRO I can find for this child is Ada Sokell, born Q4 1894 in Doncaster RD and no mother's maiden name. This clearly indicates that Ada was illegitimate. I also noted that she was born before the death of Adam Beckett and his funeral in June 1895 that Lister attended in Dewsbury. Did Lister's father know about his new little family I wonder? Having found Ada listed as Sokell I looked back to check for previous children to the couple who may have died before the 1901 census. Louisa Sokell, no mother's maiden name, was born in Doncaster RD in Q4 1892, but died in Q3 1893 in the Barnsley RD age 0.  There is a burial in Wombwell Cemetery for a Louisa Sokell that fits - died 10 July 1893 and buried 12 July 1893 aged 8 months. She is buried in plot number 2061 in section Con 8. That is at the far side of the cemetery from the previous Sokell plot - so much for my sentimental feeling for all the family being buried together.
As I have a spreadsheet of the burials in Wombwell I can sort them by grave details. My next discovery was very sad. On 3 August 1891 an un-named boy child just 4 hours old, 'son of Edith' Sookel, was buried in the same plot. The co-incidences are too great - this must be the Edith's first child, maybe with Lister Beckett, if so the baby was concieved in late 1890. At the point the census was taken on 5 April 1891 Edith was probably 3 or 4 months pregnant. She, and I imagine her mother, would have known her condition by then. So my assumption, in my last blog post, that there was nothing 'going on' at the time of the 1891 census was incorrect. If the baby wasn't Lister Beckett's Edith would have had the opportunity to marry the true father before the birth, but she couldn't marry Lister as he was already married. Did they declare him as single in the census return as this was how they were presenting him to the neighbours? Did Lister and Edith move away to Mexborough before Louisa was born (Mexborough is in the Doncaster RD) to disguise the fact that they couldn't marry, but sadly brought another baby back to be buried in Wombwell Cemetery just two years after their first born.

There is another burial in that same plot which is relevant to my story - but I will get to that in the proper chronological order. And nearby is a plot in which James and August Whittaker are buried - I mentioned them earlier - Augusta was Ann Sokell's sister, and therefore Edith Sokell's aunt. Quite the family gathering at this end of the cemetery after all.

The next child listed on the census return is Sydney aged 4 born in Wombwell. The registration record that corresponds with him is more obvious - Sydney Beckett Sokell, born Q4 1896 in Barnsley RD again with no mother's maiden name. Finally there is Freda aged 1; she was registered Freda Beckett Sokell, born Q2 1900 in Doncaster RD with no mother's maiden name.  I was slightly amazed that Lister now has two daughters called Freda - one in Dewsbury and one in Mexborough! Maybe this is why the elder Freda had become Hilda by 1901.

There is a child, George Sokell, born Q4 1898 in the Doncaster RD with no mother's maiden name who might fit between Sydney and Freda.  This child appears to die in the same quarter according to the registration records. A definite fit for the family is Eileen Beckett Sokell, born Q2 1903 in Barnsley RD with no mother's maiden name recorded.

There are no baptisms for a children of Lister and Edith Beckett on either Ancestry or Find My Past for 10 years either side of 1900. Mexborough and Wombwell baptisms are included in the record sets on Find My Past so I had expected a result or two. However I did find a record for the private baptism of George Sokell, son of Edith Sokell single woman, in Mexborough on 21 November 1898. This gives George's date of birth as 31 October 1898 and their address as 11 Dyson's Yard, Adwick Road, Mexborough. Private baptisms were often carried out if a child was not expected to live, and it seems likely that George passed away soon after as the registration of his death was in the final quarter of 1898. The baptism was performed by the local vicar W. H. F. Bateman, and he was obviously aware that Lister and Edith were not married and recorded George's baptism accordingly.

I did find the following in the Sheffield Independent dated 4 June 1902.

At the Montague Cottage Hospital, yesterday, Mr. Dossey Wightman, held an inquest touching the death of Ada Beckett, aged seven, who was killed whilst at play on Sunday afternoon. The child is the daughter of Lister Beckett, painter, of Adwick Road, Mexbro'. Mr. Mason, solicitor, Rotherham, attended the inquiry on behalf of Mr. Cavill, the owner of the property.
The father identified the body, and said he had visted the place where the child was killed by the fall of a stone pillar, and found that this had been snapped off close to the ground.
The Coroner: Can you form any theory as to the cause of the accident?
Witness: No, sir.
The Coroner said the action of the weather sometimes caused stones to crack.
Mr. Mason: You live near the place, and must know the gateway well?
Witness: Yes.
Do you remember noticing the stone at any time prior to the accident? - Yes, but I haven't noticed any flaw in it.
Did it appear to be in any dis-repair? No.
Florrie Brammer, seven years old, explained that the unfortunate child and herself had been to Sunday school and were walking along Adwick Road when the deceased and another little girl proposed that they should swing on a wire which was stretched between two stone gate-posts. Deceased got onto the wire and had a swing when one of the posts gave way and fell on her and then rolled off again.
The Coroner remarked that the children were evidently in the wrong to be swinging on the wire, and there was no blame to be attached to the owner of the property, who had a perfect right to have a cracked gate-post if he wished.
Police constable Farr said that the pillar was 14 inches square, and the crack appeared to be a new one, and had probably been caused by a passing cart. It had been up for some four or five years.
The jury returned a verdict of "accidental death".

I think the owner of the property might find themselves in a different situation these days as I assume the wire was between the gateposts to prevent their use, or hold the damaged one up and therefore he was aware of the damage and possible danger.

An article on 13 June 1902 in the Mexborough and Swinton Times reports Ada's funeral.

Widespread sympathy has been aroused by the untimely death of Ada Sokell Beckett, the youngest daughter of Mr. Lister Beckett, the Poplars, Adwick Road, Mexboro', who, it will be remembered, was fatally injured by the fall of a gate post. The funeral took place on Wednesday week at Mexboro' Cemetery. The bearers were the deceased's girl friends, viz, Misses Emma Briggs, Ada Briggs, Nellie Sharpe, Nellie Waddington, Phoebe Atkinson, Jennie Beaumont, Ethel Hunt, Annie Hulley, Betsey Walker and Gertie Harrop. The principal mourners were: Mr. and Mrs. Lister Beckett (father and mother), Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Siddall (grand-parents), Mr. and Mrs. Tom Beckett (uncle and aunt), Mr. John Beckett (uncle), Mrs. Pickard (aunt), Mr. Ambrose Whittaker, Mr. Albert Whitaker, Miss Dorinda Whitaker and Miss Clara Rogers (cousins) [... and many more names]

This report of the attendance of Lister's brothers Tom and John from Dewsbury at the funeral of their niece is very important - it means they were aware of his life in Mexborough with Edith and of his second family. Tom Beckett had brought his wife to the funeral too - so it wasn't something kept secret from incomers to the family. The newspaper reporter was obviously under the impression that Lister and Edith are married. Other relatives were mentioned including a number of Whittakers, children or grandchildren of Edith's aunt Augusta (nee Sokell) I should think, a Mrs. Pickard and a Clara Rogers - all useful information for future research.
I don't think we would consider it suitable for the bearers of a child's coffin to be her 'girl friends' nowadays - ten little girls of about seven years of age or thereabouts. Florrie Brammer, who was with Ada when she had her accident, is not amongst them. She was probably too upset to attend. But 100 years ago the Victorians and Edwardians had different ideas about death and funerals and children were more accustomed to funerals than they are today.

The Poplars, noted in the report of the funeral as the Beckett family home, is visible on the 1903 map for Mexborough and here on Google Maps (  The name is applied to a pair of semi-detached houses with off-shots at the rear.  There is a name and date stone in the modern photos, I think it may say The Poplars 1894, although it is not very clear. The houses are not present on the 1893 map of the same area. Not a large house, but fairly new at the time of Ada's death.

The Poplars, Adwick Road, Mexborough (from Google Maps)

At this point, June 1902, Lister Beckett and Edith had lost three children in infancy and a child of seven in a dreadful accident. They have Sydney aged 5 and Freda aged 2 at home.  To add to their problems the case of Lister's abandonment of Elizabeth was revived in early 1903. 

The full details of this event are in my previous post as they have more bearing on Lister's relationship to Elizabeth but here's the brief version. In January 1903 the Yorkshire Evening Post reported that Lister Beckett had been charged with deserting his wife in Dewsbury eighteen years previously. The court had made for 10s a week against Lister. The report also mentioned that Lister had been left an income of £1 a week from his father, so the court order takes half of this for Elizabeth. I can't help but wonder what effect this would have had on the income of the family in Mexborough.

I am aware that Lister Beckett and Edith moved to Pudsey in West Yorkshire after Eileen's birth in the second quarter (April, May, June) of 1903. Their next child, Elsie, was born in Pudsey in 1905 according to her entry on the the 1911 census return.

GRO entry for the birth of Elsie Beckett mmn Sokell

The North Bierley RD mentioned above includes Pudsey and a number of other towns between Bradford and Leeds (UK BMD).

It seems that Lister and Edith took advantage of being further from home (Pudsey is about 31 miles from Mexborough and 26 miles from Wombwell, but only 9 miles from Dewsbury) to pass themselves off as married. Certainly Elsie's birth was registered as if they were. This was a popular way for unmarried couples to appear to be in a regular socially acceptable relationship. If the couple wanted to marry bigamously (I am not saying Lister and Edith did, I have found no evidence of this) travelling a distance from their home town made it difficult for anyone to object when the banns were called or the notice posted at the Register Office.
In May 1906 Lister's second Dewsbury daughter, Freda Beckett, married in Dewsbury Parish Church. Did he attend the wedding - after all he may have been only 9 miles away!
At some point in the four years following Elsie's birth Lister Beckett and his family moved back to Wombwell, and his story will continue in the final part of my blog.

Ancestry - for census returns, parish records and electoral registers
Find My Past - much the same as Ancestry plus newspapers covering the whole country, but with parish records for the more eastern parts of Yorkshire
FreeBMD - a free index to births, marriages and deaths from 1837
GRO Online Index - as FreeBMD but you have to create an account and helpfully shows mother's maiden names all the way back to 1837 unlike the FreeBMD index.
Old Maps - very good map site with a variety of dates and scales. I hope adding links to the snips I have used covers me for copyright! My blog has no commercial links.
UK BMD - Index of Places in England and Wales - for use with Registration Districts 1837-1974

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