Selwyn's branch
Tillett family gathering

Selwyn's Branch

Click on bevelled photographs for full-size versions

My great-grandfather, Benjamin Tillett (1821-1888) was married three times.  First to Betty Lyne in November 1839.  She was 14 and already pregnant.  They had eleven children, eight of whom made it to adulthood.  Ben Tillett MP is the last of these (born September 1860). Betty died in 1863, of acute bronchitis, 2 days after their last child, Charlotte Minute, was born (she died too) - aged 38.

Next Benjamin married Elizabeth (Foskins) Taylor in 1864.  I don't know if she had any children from her first marriage, but she certainly didn't with Benjamin.  She died in October 1867, jumping out of a window to escape from him when he was in a drunken rage.  She broke her leg and died later in hospital.  

Then he took up with Mary Jane Cook, the woman next door.  She was born Mary Jane Chick in 1835, either in Bedminster (a suburb of Bristol), or in North Petherton in Somerset, where her father, William Hill, was the village schoolmaster, and her mother, Anne Chick, was his housekeeper. 

Mary Jane Chick 1899.jpg (87819 bytes)

Mary Jane Chick with a grandson

She married Joseph Cook in Bristol in 1857, and they had two daughters.  At the time she met Benjamin Tillett, she claimed to be a widow, but I wonder, as all their children were born before she and Benjamin married in 1883!  I suspect they may not have married till then because Police Constable Cook was not yet dead?!  When Benjamin died in 1888 she very quickly married Joseph Hayball, who died in 1899.  She herself died some time after 1903, but finding a record of her death is so far elusive, as I have no idea which of her previous surnames (or even a new one) she might have been using!

Mary Jane and Benjamin had five children:

Henrietta Lansdown (1871-?)
Joseph Henry (1872-1900)
Selwyn William (1875-1877)

Benjamin Selwyn (1877-1962) (my grandfather)

Eva (1879-1891)

Benjamin Selwyn Tillett c1920(bw).jpg (52119 bytes)

Henrietta (1947) and Benjamin (about 1910)

My great-grandfather, who was fanatically anti-theatre, was nearly 60 when my grandfather was born, and spent the last few years of his life virtually paralysed.  It would have been difficult to stop grandfather and his older brother, Joseph, from sneaking off to watch the local stars of the music hall, and to teach themselves the songs and intricate dance-steps.  This is exactly what they did - and then as teenagers, and young adults, they took themselves around the pubs of backstreet Bristol on Saturday nights to entertain.  It was exhausting work for a few coppers, but it helped to keep the families fed, particularly when both brothers married quite young and the children began to come along.

Then tragedy struck.  They had danced all night - to coin a phrase - at a pub on a Saturday in January 1901, and came out into the bitter cold drenched with sweat.  Brother Joseph caught a chill, which in the cramped two-up-and-two-down where they all lived turned to pneumonia.  In less than a week he was dead - at 28 - leaving a widow and four small children.

Joseph's oldest son, William Henry (1893-1956) married Ivy May Jennings (1895-1966) in 1914.

Their grandson, Peter Irving Tillett, is my nearest relative who is still a Tillett.

Peter & Shirley.jpg (62276 bytes)

Peter is shown here examining his grandparents' marriage certificate with his wife Shirley.

My grandfather, Benjamin Selwyn, continued a lifetime career on the music halls, and in time my father and his two sisters followed the same course. 

Grandfather was first married to Mary Jane Allen from Cheshire, and they had two children: Selwyn William Onsley and Joseph William Henry.  Selwyn was born and died in 1899.

Joseph and his mother seem to have been left behind in Bristol when grandfather walked to London in search of work in about 1905.  As there is no record of the death of either of them in British sources, I believe they probably emigrated, but have yet to find out where.

In 1909, grandfather married Maude Emily Millicent Page (1880-1964).

Ben & Maude.jpg (53012 bytes)

They had three children:

Hettie Mabel (1907-1996)
Benjamin Selwyn Leonard
(my father) (1909-1996)
Eva Christina
(1912- )

Ben & Etta (doll).jpg (52661 bytes) Busby.jpg (76835 bytes)

On the left, my father and his older sister Etta are shown partway through one of their acrobatic dance routines; on the right, Etta and Eva in Busby Berkeley mood.

In 1937, Eva married Alexander George Brown, a Canadian Scot.  They had celebrated nearly 64 years of married life when Alex died in July 2001.

Alex & Eva.jpg (34510 bytes)

Alex & Eva are shown here in 1995 with me at their home in Johnshaven on the east coast of Scotland, between Montrose & Aberdeen

They have two children: Alexander Selwyn John (born 1938) and Colin Nigel (born 1947).  Selwyn and his wife Carol have one son, Steven (born 1963); Colin has one son and four grandchildren.

In October 1947, my father Benjamin Selwyn Leonard married Nellie May (Norma) Woodward, whom he had met while they were both serving with the RAF in a hospital outside Jerusalem in 1944.  

Ben & Norma c1945.jpg (23667 bytes)

My mother died in September 1992, a few days short of their 45th anniversary and her own 80th birthday.

I was born in October 1954, and am an Anglican parish priest, working in a benefice of five parishes near Norwich in Norfolk (where many people think I'm a local boy, but as explained on the front page of this website, this isn't actually the case!).  In April 1995 I married Cassie (nee Nicholson) (born 1963).  Fortunately, Cassie shares my enthusiasm for genealogy, and has her own one-name study of the Skingley surname - her mother's maiden name.

Blithe Spirit (C&S sepia).jpg (42600 bytes)

If you're wondering, we've just finished playing Charles & Elvira in a staged-and-costumed play-reading of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" to raise funds for the church...

This is just a brief resume of my own immediate family.  In the course of my researches, I've unearthed a huge amount of detail and some wonderful stories about 

  • Ben Tillett MP and his five families

  • all those who emigrated from the coal fields of South Wales to the USA

  • the well-known musical agency firm of Ibbs & Tillett

  • the families from Bristol who moved first to Bethnal Green and then emigrated to New Zealand

  • and several cousins, all trained as engineers, who moved to the industrial North of England and settled in Manchester, York and Hartlepool

If any of these is striking a faint chord with you, it would be wonderful to hear from you - please e-mail me.

For a taste of all the other things we get up to, visit www.tillett.org.uk...