The man behind the comic character Vic Reeves is Jim Moir, about whom very little is known. However, given the strange characters Jim Moir has created, not least his often surreal alter ego, none of his fans would be too surprised to discover that his family history was peopled with eccentrics and oddballs.
Jim certainly hoped that would be the case when he embarked on his search for his roots. The idea of discovering an unknown scandal or a dark secret is one that attracts many to family history, although of course not everyone finds one. Jim, however, did.
The person who fascinated him most was Simeon Leigh, his grandfather on his mother's side, who died in 1949. Family stories painted him as an aloof character, and made mention of how he had been married before meeting Jim's mother's mother.
There was even a rumour that Simeon was a bigamist, and that he had been paid £400 to leave his first wife. The story was that he'd been given a first-class ticket to Canada, yet had ended up in Huddersfield.
So what was the real story? Jim was able to discover that Simeon had indeed been married twice. Once to a Mary Jane Payne, and the second time to Lilian Crow, Jim's grandmother in 1926. Marriage certificates could be found for both unions.
The 1901 census revealed that Simeon and Mary had no children by 1901. Then other records show that they had a boy, Stanley Eustace Simeon, in September 1901, followed by Eric Trevers Edmund Leigh in September 1903, and another boy, Clarence George Leigh, in March 1905.
Then, 21 years after the birth of his third child, Simeon married again. Interestingly, on the certificate of his marriage to Lilian he declared himself a widower. Yet extensive research at the Family Records Centre failed to provide a death certificate for either a Mary Jane Leigh or Payne. Had he been paid to leave the country, yet stayed in England and entered into a bigamous marriage with Lilian?
As Jim discovered, bigamy was not infrequent in the late 19th and early 20th century in Britain, due to the severity of the divorce laws. Jim's research took him to Liverpool to meet Susan Reay, a relative from Simeon's first marriage.
Susan showed Jim a picture of Mary Jane at the wedding of Stanley - Simeon's eldest son, who was Susan's father. According to her, Mary was never divorced and never remarried and was known among the family as Granny Leigh. We will never know the truth about the circumstances of their separation, yet all the evidence points to the couple still being married when Simeon got married for the second time.
Simeon's father, Jim's great-grandfather, had the same name and was as colourful a character as his son. He was a domestic servant, a butler, in London before heading off in the 1890s to live in Suffolk where - or so Simeon junior's marriage certificate said - he became an estate agent.
In those days this meant running an estate for a wealthy industrialist, in this case the delightfully named Sir William Gilstrap, rather than wearing a cheap suit and hoodwinking young couples into paying a small fortune for a new home.
This role would have been a step up for Simeon senior. Rather than heading up the domestic staff within Fornham Park, as the house was known, he would have managed the estate, collected rents from tenants, and settled disputes among them. It was quite rare for a former butler to gain a position like this, as Jim discovered.
Then Jim found a woman, 92-year-old Violet, who had known the Leighs. She was astounded when Jim said that Simeon senior had been the estate agent at Fornham Park, because she had always known him as the butler. Someone was not telling the truth. Could it be that Simeon junior was practising deception once again?
Yes, was the answer. On Simeon senior's death certificate, his stated occupation in 1909 was butler, and his wife Harriet's death certificate described her as a widow to a butler. So, by roundabout means, Jim uncovered some of the secrets of his most intriguing ancestors, and found them to be the oddballs that he'd quite hoped to find.
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