What’s in my name? In the footsteps of my namesakes.

It’s very odd to see your name on a gravestone.

The first time this happened to me I was still at Primary School, exploring the old stomping grounds of my family with my parents. It was a weird sensation.

More recently I have been back to the same churches, taken photographs and done a lot of research, but no matter how many times I type ‘myself’ into a genealogy site or search engine, the bizarre twinge is still there.

There are certainly plenty of Elizabeths in the world – I can perhaps thank the Bible and a couple of famous Queens of England for that. Even in a rural primary school of 24, I was one of two. For the record, as the youngest, I was Elizabeth II not Elizabeth I. The name’s popularity may have dipped since the 80s but it’s still riding quite high in the ratings.

Despite its frequency, I think it’s a good name. True, it’s occasionally misspelt –  some people use an ‘s’ not a ‘z’ – and a lot of people assume they can call you something shorter regardless of having never met you before…but it has its benefits. Chiefly amongst these are the fact that it has at least 152 variants. It is a shame that my friends settled on ‘Liz’ when ‘Betty’ or ‘Betsy’ would be far more interesting shorts (and perhaps more suitable given my love of stockings with seams and pretty tea dresses).

My surname of course is much less common, and therefore – generally speaking – limits previous holders of my first and surnames to either ‘my’ Walnes or the ‘Lancashire’ Walnes.

For the purposes of keeping this blog short enough, I will only touch on three holders of the name here, who were, as I, ‘born to it’ as opposed to ‘married to it’!

The earliest namesake on my tree (according to ancestry probably my ‘tenth great grand aunt’), was born in 1616 in Pulham St Mary Magdalen and baptised there on 26th November of the same year. The register is in Latin: “Elizabetha filia Thos et Elizabetha bapt vicesimo sexto novembris” due to its age. Elizabeth, named for her mother, was one of three surviving children (one brother, Thomas, and one sister, Anne).

So far, I know little about her, but I am hoping to find out more from her father’s will which I have recently acquired through Documents Online (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/wills.asp). I think she may have remained single, passing away in 1668 – a possible will is on fiche at the Norfolk Record Office so I’ll give it a look some time in the next couple of weeks.

The next one came nearly 150 years later and is my ‘fifth great grand aunt’. She was born less than four miles away from the former Elizabeth, in Redenhall. She was baptised at St Mary’s church on 28th August 1754, about three months after her birth.

On 3rd April 1779, Elizabeth married John Gimingham at North Walsham St Nicholas. Seven years earlier, her sister Hannah had married John’s brother William in Norwich. The family tree began to tie itself into knots at this point!

Rev Thomas Lloyd, of previous blog fame, wrote of her:

Elizabeth, the sixth child, married John Gimmingham Esq. who enjoys a good appointment in a public office, by whom she has four daughters and one son, for whom he has the means of providing handsomely.”

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to move with John to London after their marriage. The romantic part of me would like to think it was all a bit Jane Austen (!) but I suspect the truth was somewhat different.

The couple went on to have four daughters – Elizabeth, Mary, Harriet and Anne – and a son, John, as well as two children that died in infancy.

The couple are closely tied to Old St Mary’s Church in Newington Butts. Only built in 1796, the church must have been relatively new when John and his wife were buried in a tomb near the alter. A book of monumental inscriptions, published in 1880 (The Old Churchyard of St Mary, Newington, Surrey. Part one with annotations) quotes the memorial as follows:

“In Memory of John Gimingham Late of Walworth who departed this life on the 17 Dec 1815 aged 66 Years Also two Daughters of the above who died in their Infancy Also Elizabeth Gimmingham Relict of the above who died 20 June 1832 Aged 78 Years Also Mary Gimingham Daughter of the above who died August 1852 Aged 65 Years Also Harriet Gimingham Daughter of the above who died 15 Sep 1854 Aged 56 years.” 

The ‘new’ church was built in 1876 after the ‘old’ was demolished for road widening in 1875. If anyone can suggest what might have happened to the Giminghams I would be interested to hear – were they moved to the graveyard on Churchyard Row which is still consecrated ground? Or do they now lie somewhere under the road or park? (http://www.southwark.anglican.org/where/lost-churches.)

To confuse the family tree even further, Elizabeth’s daughter Elizabeth married a cousin, Thomas Walne, and moved back to Norfolk as yet another Elizabeth Walne!

Finally for today I come to an Elizabeth Walne born another couple of decades later, my ‘fourth great grand aunt’. This one was born in Whitlingham just outside Norwich in 1787 and baptised at Kirby Bedon (Whitlingham’s church was already all but abandoned).

Living as an annuitant for several decades as the daughter of a local gent, Elizabeth was recorded in 1841 on Upper Surrey Street in Norwich with a servant. Against the idea of Victorian women being over the hill by 30, Elizabeth married David Cooper Colls – a purser and pay master in the royal navy – in 1846 at the age of 59. The couple married at All Saints Church in Norwich, a church nowadays in the middle of the city centre sandwiched between Castle Mall and John Lewis. The groom’s residence was given as Yarmouth, explaining why the couple moved to the ‘hamlet of South Town’ in Gorlestone [sic] now part of built up Gorleston/Great Yarmouth.

Marrying late must have suited Elizabeth as she lived until the age of 95, finally passing away in 1882 at 84, High Road, Southtown – the home she had lived in for at least 20 years, and possibly since her marriage. Elizabeth outlived David by nearly 30 years.

So what do I have in common with the previous owners of my name? Well, my old office at County Hall overlooked Whitlingham, I’ve visited London and I’ve also been inside Pulham St Mary Magdalen Church. In truth, I seem to have little in common with my Stuart, Georgian and Victorian ancestors, but perhaps as time goes on things will change – maybe I’ll marry late in life and settle by the sea! All of these women had gentry fathers, but none got a university education – I think I got a pretty good deal for myself by doing things the other way around.

While none of these women are my direct ancestors, I do feel a special connection to all of them. They represent women of different eras and circumstances on a path through history that eventually led to me.

…to think nobody knew ‘Elizabeth’ was a family name when I was born.

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