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A family mystery solved.

Posted by Big John on March 14, 2016

When the last of my father’s sisters died a few years ago I found this tattered and faded old photograph in a box of letters and other documents …


(click on image to enlarge)

… I restored it as best I could, and then wondered … Who were these people, and where and when was this photo taken ?

Over the past few years I have looked into the history of the family and now have a fairly detailed record going back to 1635 and possibly before. They were mostly Sussex farmers who, at one time, were reasonably prosperous, but ‘fell upon hard times’ during the 1860’s. 

In the census of 1871 my great grandfather’s occupation is described as “labourer and drover” not ‘farmer’. During the 1880’s, like many other agricultural workers, my grandfather moved to the outskirts of London and in the 1890’s he found himself with my grandmother and two young children (final score ten) living in East Brixton, an area criss-crossed by railway tracks and viaducts and now known as Loughborough Junction.

Most of the above details come from public records including the census which was taken every ten years, and here’s something strange, for the family do not appear in the census for 1901, the year my father (Jack) was born, but a copy of his birth certificate …


(click on image to enlarge)

…  dated 11th November 1904 shows that they where living at No. 11 Lewis Road, East Brixton when he was born on 18th November 1901. Also, rather strangely, no dwellings are listed or the street name recorded in that census. In fact, the only trace of it that I can find is on a very old map printed at a time when East Brixton was shown as being outside of London and in the County of Surrey.

I discovered that it was renamed Rathgar Road around 1903 and was little more than a narrow alley ‘sandwiched’ between two railway viaducts. These viaducts still exist in many areas of Brixton including Rathgar Road. They all seem to follow the same design of brick built arches, and if you look carefully you can just see one corner of an arch and a semaphore railway signal above the corner of the building in the picture.

So I guess that this was Lewis Road at the end of the Victorian era, and suspect that it was the site of some sort of unregulated and dodgy housing for itinerant workers and their families.

That’s probably my grandparents standing in the doorway just in front of the postman. Perhaps he had just delivered my Dad’s …

…. first birthday card ? .. 🙂


3 Responses to “A family mystery solved.”

  1. Old family photographs are so precious…quite possibly nothing you own could be more valuable…

  2. rummuser said

    Your post has triggered some memories for me too and between my brother and I we too will carry out some research to find out the whatabouts of a particularly old photograph that has come our way.

  3. How wonderful. I’ve always fantasized about unearthing more of my family history, since so much of it that we “know” seems somehow mythologized, rather than historical. And we don’t even really “know” much anyway. Many tight lips in the older generations of my family — both sides.

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