By Dr Nick Barratt
Last updated 2011-02-17
Robert Lindsay has enjoyed a long and distinguished television career, most recently with Zoe Wannamaker in My Family. This is rather ironic, given that Robert confesses that he knew very little about his own roots beyond the level of his parents. His voyage into his past made some very surprising discoveries.
Robert grew up in Ilkeston, a small market town in Derbyshire. Sadly, his mother Joyce passed away in 2000 but his father Norman is still alive, and provided Robert with information about both their families. Norman's father was Jesse Stevenson, who served in the Sherwood Foresters during World War One. He served between 1915-1916 and was wounded on 13 February 1916 when a shell hit his company's billet at Armentieres, France. Records at the National Archives show that two were killed and 10 wounded during the barrage. Jesse's medical record says that he was wounded in the left leg by shrapnel and had to have his finger amputated. He was transferred to England and demobilised.
Eventually Jesse returned to work in the local Stanton steel works, the main source of employment in the town. Jesse and his wife Mary lived in a standard two-up-two-down house, built and owned by the company. Conditions would have been cramped, with poor sanitation and lots of people crammed closely together. His work in the factory was as an iron fettler. This was dangerous, tough and physical work, requiring him to remove the iron from the moulds and strike off the jagged edges.
Robert was fascinated with his mother's side of the family, particularly as Norman's mother Mary tried to persuade him not to marry Joyce, because the Dunmores were a 'bad family'. Further investigation showed that Joyce's parents had an unusual relationship. Hannah Hallsworth had two children out of wedlock before settling down with Raymond Dunsmore, and then as a couple they had four daughters. Yet Robert was shocked to discover that two further girls, Beryl and Patricia Ann, had both died young from pneumonia and were buried in mass graves in the local cemetery.
The surprises had only just started. Hannah's family were even more colourful. Her father Henry had a reputation as a womaniser, which on closer inspection appeared to be well deserved. In 1888, he had a child out of wedlock with Jane Farrands before marrying her in 1891. Yet by 1896 he had another child with Ada and claimed that they were married, even though they did not formally wed until 1899. They went on to have 13 children in total, and on separating he then fathered two more with a certain Mrs Blaydon.
The story did not end there. Evidence from census returns and certificates, obtained from the Family Records Centre, strongly suggests that Robert's great great grandparents, James Orgill and his wife Miriam, were both bigamists. Although they were living together in 1871, they appear to have separated by 1881 and by 1891 she claims to have married Joseph Barton, with whom she had four children. Miriam is still alive. In 1899, James then married Ellen Mottrain, even though no evidence of a divorce can be found. Divorce was an expensive procedure and not an option for many people. Instead, they would quietly move on to a new place and start again, even though bigamy was a criminal offence.
One final quest remained. Robert wanted to find out about his other grandfather, Raymond Dunmore, who according to family stories had served in the Royal Navy during World War One, on HMS Prince of Wales. He had been 'blown up' twice, possibly at the Battle of Jutland. A search of his service record at the National Archives revealed that he had indeed served at sea on the ship, but not at Jutland. Instead, he had been at the disastrous attempt to take Constantinople by sea, which resulted in the landing of troops at Gallipoli. The Prince of Wales was involved in landing Australian troops on the beach, and many landing craft were lost or sunk, their crews showered with bullets and shells. It is here that Raymond was probably 'blown up'. Given the horrors of the campaign, it may explain why he chose not to talk about it.
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