A Canadian Adventure and a Canadian Adventuress

The father of the Trueman family of Hythe did not have an auspicious start in life. Henry William Truman was born in 1857 in the Elham Union Workhouse, the son of Jane Trueman, a single woman. His father was not named. What became of Jane is unknown, but little Henry was taken in by Thomas and Harriet Pilcher, who kept the Providence beerhouse in Hythe High Street. There must presumably have been a blood relationship, since the Pilchers already had a brood of children and were in no need of an extra mouth to feed.  Thomas Pilcher died when Henry was twelve, during the dreadful winter of 1869-70. The town’s water pipes were frozen and he collapsed trying to carry water down from a spring at the top of the hill. Harriet carried on the business alone. Thomas took the Pilchers’  name and was raised as their son. When he left school, he worked as a groom and assumed his birth name.

On 14 November 1876, at St Leonard’s church, Hythe, he married Rosanna Burrows of Ashford. She was the fourth child of the eight of James Burrows, a coach smith and his wife Abigail. Their wedding ceremony seems to have been rather chaotic. The bride misrepresented her age, saying she was twenty-one, not nineteen. Her Christian and surnames were both misspelt as was Henry’s surname. Nearly fifty years later, they went back to the church to have the record set straight.

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They set up home in Theatre Street, Hythe, a road of mostly small terraced cottages. Their first son, James Henry (Jim) was born on 17 April 1878 and William John in 1880.  Frederick Charles followed in 1881, then Harry Sydney (Sid) in 1886. By 1891 Henry was prospering. The family lived in Bartholomew Street, and he had become a cab driver and groom, and also a ratepayer, which entitled him to a vote. They stayed there until at least 1901, by which time the three eldest boys had left home and young Sid, at fifteen was apprenticed to a carpenter.   Once Sid had left home as well, Henry and Rosanna moved to 50 North Road, where they ran a general store and Rosanna’s father James moved in with them. He died in 1911 and is buried in St Leonard’s churchyard.

Their eldest son, Jim, became a tram conductor. Horse-drawn trams had started running from Hythe to Folkestone in the 1890s and by 1894 ran all the way from Red Lion Square in Hythe, where the tram sheds and stables were built, to the Sandgate hill lift, which took visitors up to the Leas.  Because of its seating arrangement, the tram was known locally as ‘the toast rack’.

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The ‘toast rack’ on its way back from Folkestone to Hythe. The conductor is standing at the back. 

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The tram sheds at Hythe, now converted into offices.

In 1899, Jim married a local girl, Cecilia Powell, the daughter of a marine storekeeper. They settled in Frampton Road, not too far from the tram sheds and two children were born: Georgina in 1900 and James Percy in 1902. Then, perhaps not seeing any great future in his line of work, Jim and Cecilia and their children emigrated to Canada in 1913. During the early-twentieth century, emigration from Britain reached unprecedented levels, with approximately 3.15 million people leaving between 1903 and 1913. The most popular destination during these years was Canada, drawing almost half of Britain’s emigrants.

They sailed on board the Sicilian  from London on 27 March 1913 and James, entirely untruthfully, told the immigration authorities that his occupation was ‘farming.’  The family went to Elgin County in Ontario, but within months Cecilia had developed Bright’s disease (which could be any sort of kidney failure)  and she died in hospital on 7 April 1915.

Jim and the children moved on to Fronterac, also in Ontario and Jim took up house painting instead of farming.  By now, war had broken out in Europe, and Jim immediately joined the Princess of Wales Own Rifles, a reserve infantry regiment, but did not volunteer then for overseas service. When he did, on 1 November 1916, he joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps, and was attached to a Field Ambulance Unit.  He had brown eyes, dark brown hair and was 5 feet 5 inches tall.  Two weeks before this, he had married again, to Violet Bertha Reid. When he joined up, he made his will, leaving everything to her.

Trueman marriage licence

He returned to England on Boxing Day 1916, aboard the SS Olympic  and was sent to Dibgate Camp, used as a training depot for the Canadians and very near to Hythe.  Within a month he was admitted to hospital at Sir John Moore barracks in Shorncliffe and by April was seriously ill with nephritis (kidney disease).  Although he rallied briefly, he was discharged from the army as no longer fit for service on 29 June the next year, and died at his parent’s home in North Road a month after that, on 24 July 1917.  He had told the military authorities that he did not want to return to Canada.

Jim was buried in the same grave as his maternal grandfather, James Burrows. His children were at his funeral, probably old enough now to make the journey from Canada alone. Rosanna Trueman, Jim’s mother, became their guardian. Violet, however was not there.  The army discovered that she had not legally been Jim’s wife: she had ‘married’ several soldiers in order to receive the separation allowance when they were sent overseas. Sensibly, Violet, if that was in fact her name, disappeared.

James Percy grew up to become a gardener, married and did not die until 1981.  Georgina married Percy Blackman, had a son and was still living in Hythe in 1939.

Jim’s next brother, William, stayed put in Hythe and opened, when he was still a young man, a newsagent and tobacconist in Bank Street, where he also lived with his wife and four children – Vera, Edna, Iris and Wilfred. He also took on the old family home in Bartholomew Street and rented it out. A Conservative, he was also a Freemason and member of the bowls club.  In his forties he became ill and missed his mother’s funeral in 1927, which took place not long after she celebrated her Golden Wedding Anniversary with Henry. William died, aged only forty-eight in 1928. and was buried in Saltwood churchyard.

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William’s grave in Saltwood churchyard. His wife Emily Evelyn is buried in the same grave.

Frederick Trueman, the third brother, had meanwhile left Hythe but had not gone far – only to Folkestone where he worked for some years for a brewery, E. Finn and Co., of Lydd, first as a clerk, later as manager of their Folkestone branch. He spent his working life in the catering trade, later with Maestrani’s in Folkestone and towards the end of his life at Slatter’s Hotel in Canterbury. Both were considered to be rather up-market establishments.

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The Maestrani family’s café and restaurant in Folkestone. It was demolished in the 1930s.

Slatters Hotel in Canterbury, now also demolished    Trueman Slatters

Frederick did not marry, and died in 1930, also aged forty-eight, weeks after his father. He is also buried in Saltwood, while his father is with the rest of the family in St Leonard’s churchyard.

Sid, the baby of the Trueman family went away, too, to Plumstead. He seems never to have become a carpenter, but worked as a canvasser and collector for a second-hand clothes dealer. He married and moved to Maidstone.  He is absent from the list of mourners at his family’s funerals, but occasionally sent a wreath. He died in 1959.

But there is a postscript. For years, the Canadian Army and Commonwealth War Graves Commission listed Jim as having no known grave, as although his family had notified the army that Jim was dead, they had not told them where he was buried. His name was recorded instead on the Brookwood Memorial to the missing in Surrey.

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Brookwood Memorial

Then, in 2015, two Canadian researchers, Diana Beaupre and Adrian Watkinson contacted St Leonard’s church. They were – and still are – researching the whereabouts of the graves of Canadian soldiers who died in the UK. We were able to tell them exactly where Jim’s grave was, and a couple of years later, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission erected an official War Grave memorial, in addition to the existing headstone. Since then, however, that original stone, already badly weathered when its inscription was recorded in 2015, has collapsed.

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The Trueman grave in St Leonard’s churchyard as it was in 2015. The inscription could only be partly deciphered:

Nearer my God to thee
In memory of/ …mes Henry …/…. 25th I….h aged …
… James Henry Trueman/ died July 24th 1917 aged 40
Rosanna Trueman/ died December 29th 1927/ aged 71 years
And/ Henry William Trueman/ died February …th 1930 aged 72 years.

On the obverse:

Also of Cecilia/Wife of James Trueman/who died 7 April 1915/buried Kingston Canada

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The Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone for James Henry Trueman, the only CWGC stone in St Leonard’s churchyard. 

The fascinating research being undertaken by Diana and Adrian can be seen here:

https://www.canadianukgravesww1.co.uk/

I am indebted to them for providing me with a record of Jim’s military service from the Ottawa Archives.

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The Peripatetic Life of Edwin Buller

Edwin Buller, born in Haddenham, Cambridgeshire on 3 December 1818,  was baptised in nearby Graveley in May 1820. He was the son of William Nicholas Buller, a surgeon, and Mary Ann nee Burrows. He had an older sister and brother and other siblings followed.

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Haddenham later in the nineteenth century

Edwin followed his father and trained to be a surgeon. This was not then an academic process but was learned through apprenticeship to a qualified man with a view to gaining membership of the Royal College of Surgeons. This was achieved after attending one session on anatomy and one on surgery and after passing an oral examination. His older brother William had already acquired membership and took Edwin on as his assistant while he continued his studies, which included visits to Charing Cross Hospital and the London Hospital. It did not, however, include providing a home for him (their parents were dead) and in 1841 Edwin was lodging in an agricultural labourer’s cottage in Haddenham where his brother practised. His prospects must have seemed well-ordered and predictable.

Then in 1842 he got caught up in an affair of his brother’s which changed his life.

William had, two years previously, eloped with nineteen-year-old Mary Bicheno, the daughter of comfortably-off parents from the village of Over, about ten miles from Cambridge. Her furious father refused to speak to his daughter, but the girl visited her mother when he was away from home. One of the reasons that Mr Bicheno turned against his son-in-law was probably that he was, financially, a disaster area. William employed a solicitor, a Mr Rance to help him deal with the many claims against him, but ended up owing Rance money, too, and the solicitor was running out of patience.

William, or perhaps Mary, or maybe Edwin forged a promissory note from Mary’s parents, to the value of £200 – a substantial sum, representing over three years wages for a skilled tradesman. Edwin delivered this to Mr Rance, to cover the money William owed him. Some time later, the solicitor, smelling a rat, visited the Bichenos in Over. They had, of course, no idea of the existence of the note. William, Mary and Edwin were arrested and accused of forgery and of uttering (presenting) a forged document. The magistrates at their first hearing in April 1842 were not convinced that Mary was involved, and discharged her, but sent the men for trial. Bail was not given.

The trial was in July. The jury thought it was likely that Mary, rather than her husband or brother-in-law, had forged the note, and acquitted William and Edwin of the charge of forgery. However, it was Edwin who had delivered the note to Mr Rance. The jury believed that he had known it was a fake and found him guilty of uttering a document knowing it to be forged. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Edwin served his term in the new Borough Gaol in Cambridge, built as recently as 1829.  He decided to use the time there to continue with his studies, but after two years inside (including the time on remand), his health, physical and mental, had broken down. He petitioned Queen Victoria for early release, a petition supported by the prison chaplain, the surgeon, several visiting magistrates and the mayor. They were all of the opinion that Edwin had been manipulated by his older brother. The outcome of the petition is not known.

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The Borough Gaol in Cambridge, overlooking a park known as Parker’s Piece

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Part of Edwin’s petition to the queen. 

The next few years are a blank. Perhaps he was able to continue his studies. In later years he used the initials MRCS after his name. However, from the time of his release, he rarely spent more than a few years in any one place, constantly moving on. He next appears in the records on 28 August 1848 when at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, he married Eliza, the widow of John Challice. She came from Cambridge, and the newly-weds moved back there setting up home with Eliza’s two sons at 5 Maid’s Causeway.

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Maid’s Causeway in Cambridge, a street of pretty Georgian houses

There Eliza carried on her profession of teaching dancing, which included calisthenics, often performed to music, and exercise classes with chest expanders.

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They had a son, another Edwin, born in March 1850 and Edwin senior ran a lodging house from the premises.

Three years after the wedding, Edwin was declared an insolvent debtor. His debts in total were £696 14s 8d and his assets only £51. 15s. One of his principal creditors was a spirits merchant, which may have been part of the problem. Eliza had seen it all before. Her first husband, John Challice, who referred to himself as an artist but actually earned his living by working as a clerk to a bookseller, giving drawing lessons and letting out rooms at the family home, was also declared insolvent shortly before his death. Did Eliza have poor judgement in her choice of husbands or was it in fact she who was the spendthrift? That seems unlikely: she earned £200 a year from her dance school, and had taken the precaution, before marrying Edwin, of getting all her furniture put in her own name, so it could not be sold.

Eliza died in 1860. Her sons by her first marriage were now adult, and Edwin left Cambridge with his son and went to live in St Helier in Jersey, where he set up as a surgeon practising in the High Street. Three years later, in Islington, he married again, to Louisa Hill. Twenty years his junior (though Edwin was always vague about his age and knocked several years off), she was the daughter of a publican. They had two sons, Charles Edwin and Edgar born in 1865 and 1867 in Essex and twins Reginald Arthur (who lived only a few weeks) and Ida Louisa in 1869 in Godmanchester in Huntingdonshire. Here Edwin was again working as a surgeon.

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Louisa died in 1870, and Edwin now moved to Exeter with the children, but before long they had been sent away to school or to relatives and Edwin was living in rented rooms and getting into debt. He owed money to his landlord but turned the tables on him and accused the man of stealing from him. The case was thrown out of court.

The next move was to St Mabyn in Cornwall, then back to Cambridgeshire where he set up in a joint practice with another surgeon in Ely. This was dissolved in 1885. He then went to Martley in Worcestshire, where he lived in Knightwick, practised as a surgeon and joined the Oddfellows. He left in 1892 and went to Christchurch in Dorset. Fourteen months before his death, his estranged son, Charles Edwin made an appearance in the town.

The young man had been apprenticed to a draper in Truro and had then, according to his own account, been accepted by the Diocesan School of Divinity in Bangor. There he became mentally ill through over-work and was admitted to an asylum before going to Montreal, a stay which lasted only six weeks. On his return to the UK, he threw himself on the mercy of his father, who had refused to speak to him for some years. Edwin sent him to Christchurch workhouse and – although this may not be relevant – immediately made plans to leave Christchurch and move to Kennington, near Ashford in Kent. He was resident there when he died, though the place of his death was given as 3 Park Avenue, Hythe. This was the home of Albert Prior, a gardener who had recently moved there from Ashford and may have been Edwin’s patient.

Edwin may not have known that Charles Edwin had again been admitted to an asylum for the insane in Bodmin. He died there twenty-eight years later in 1923. Edwin’s other surviving children, Edwin, Edgar and Ida, simply disappear from the record. Perhaps they were adopted by other family members and lived under other names or maybe emigrated.

Someone, though, paid for the funeral and the modest kerbstone memorial.

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The inscription reads simply ‘Edwin Buller born December 3 1818 Died December 26th 1895′. When it was recorded four years ago it was legible. now the inset lead letters are flaking away.