Edward George Fouracres Risdon

Edward George Fouracres Risdon was born in Devonport, Devon, on the eleventh of April 1855, and he was my great grandfather. Although some information has already been given on the Edward Risdon page, in view of the effect his father’s death had on him, at the age of seven, and the fact that he went on to lead such an evidently happy and productive life, that productivity including twelve children (two of whom sadly died in infancy), one of whom was my grandfather, he certainly deserves a page of his own! Edward was the second child of his parents Edward and Ellen Maria, née Fouracres, hence his third forename, as was the custom of the time; there is some variance of opinion within the earlier generations of the family (i.e., earlier than I) as to whether this forename was hyphenated to the family name, but I have not found any evidence of this having been the case: in fact, it was more common for Edward to omit the other two forenames on official documents, so perhaps he felt uncomfortable with any suggestion that he might have aspirations of grandeur, ‘above his station’, or it could also be that he was conscious of the shame that his father’s suicide, and the events that preceded it had brought upon the family. Of course, that also meant that Edward junior was an exact namesake for his father, so there is always the chance that the son was occasionally mistaken for the father, which must have been uncomfortable.

Home life for the first few years, for Edward and his siblings, must have been not entirely unhappy, given that they were not completely destitute; to supplement his probably very variable income, it would seem (from his father’s will) that Edward relied on handouts from his father, Thomas, who had quite a varied career profile, but died relatively young at 53, the year after Edward junior was born. His sister (Jessie) Georgina was born in 1854 in Exeter, where his parents had married the previous year, but within about a year of Georgina’s arrival, they had moved around 60km south west to the dockyard area of Plymouth, Devonport, where Edward junior was born. Edward senior must have been tolerably successful there, because two years later, they were living in the city (Plymouth) rather than the satellite, and it was there that the third child, Ralph Alexander was born; other than the fact that he maintained something of a family tradition, by working in the leather industry as a boot & shoe machinist (his father being the exception), very little is known about Ralph: like several of the family, he gravitated toward Bath, where he died in 1908.

Within two years, the family had moved again, this time to the prestigious location of Bath, a city with which the extended family was to have much association in the years to come; unfortunately, an address is not forthcoming at the present time, because it was between censuses; a perusal of trade directories for the appropriate period might turn one up.1 While the family was living in Bath, the last child, Charles Holmes Risdon was born, in the December quarter of 1859. Within the next few months, Edward senior was to make a life-changing decision, to join the army, although what brought him to this momentous decision must have been the culmination of events and circumstances that had been developing over the previous few years, and the peripatetic nature of the family’s existence over the previous few years might be an indicator of that (although it is not in itself sufficient evidence). As related in the Edward Risdon story, he was an inveterate gambler; probably a congenital character flaw, rather than a response to specific events; as a result of which, he probably had significant levels of debt, more so than might be expected for an average journeyman jeweller; and his risky scheme to recoup his losses by winning bountifully on a horse-racing bet failed disastrously, so he saw the army as offering an acceptable escape route, for a variety of reasons: not the least of which were a regular income, albeit modest, and the opportunity to relocate from his home area, where he could be pursued by creditors and shamed by the social stigma (and he wouldn’t have to face his distraught wife on a probably daily basis). The best guess as to when this might have been is spring 1860.

Edward’s possibly hasty change of circumstances evidently instigated a relocation for his wife & children: little or no income, and social exclusion could have brought this about; so by the time of the census in April 1861, Ellen (shown on the return as Helen) and the four children were living back in Exeter, at number 27, Waterbeer Street, St Kerians, now adjacent to the Guildhall Centre. Ellen’s occupation is Seamstress, and the three oldest children are shown as scholars — even Ralph, at the age of three (and a half). This is where we arrive at another piece of information in the letter from Edward junior’s future daughter, known to later generations as Aunt Em which, although apparently impressive, has proved frustratingly difficult to corroborate, partly due to inconsistencies or inaccuracies (which might simply be the result of poor recollection at great remove). She says that at the time of her grandfather’s suicide, her father was a pupil at “a very select school” in London, where “one had to be sponsored by a member of the Royal family to get there & I think that is why the whole scandal was kept as secret as possible. … Of course at his father’s death he had to be recalled …” She also states categorically that it was “the bluecoat school” [sic] and that “Mother had a photograph of him in the school uniform, which was a dark blue long robe with a twisted gold girdle finished with two large tassles. I often wonder what happened to that photograph and who may have it, or whether it has been destroyed.”

Notwithstanding the limited availability (and variable results2) of commercial photography in the early 1860s, there are several inconsistencies and problems with this story. First & foremost is Edward’s age: in May 1862, he had only the previous month passed his seventh birthday, and it was uncommon (although not unknown3) for children below that age to attend what is known as a ‘pre-prep’ school; one hint of truth (and concomitant accuracy) might lie in the phrase “very select school”. With reference to note 3, there was quite a large number of small, and debatably select, private schools around the country (and London offered a very lucrative market for them), but they possibly had relatively short life-spans; without a potentially protracted and possibly unproductive trawl through contemporary London trade directories, this would be very difficult to corroborate, as would the ‘royal’ sponsorship, unless Aunt Em meant a charitable sponsorship; that is not the inference one is supposed to draw from the story, however, especially given the assessment of the situation as a “scandal”. The other inscrutable aspect of the story is the uniform: there were many charity schools generically referred to as bluecoat schools, but there was only one school, in London, whose official title was Blue Coat School, in the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster, and it was specifically intended for children whose parents lived in the same parish as the school.4 A “dark blue long robe” (known in school as the “housey coat”) is the uniform of Christ’s Hospital,5 but the “twisted gold girdle finished with two large tassles” would seem to be a complete fabrication,6 or a substitution for debatably hubristic contemporary motives, unless it was the case that there was another school in London with such a uniform (see above re. corroboration), similarity to that of Christ’s Hospital not entirely unintentional?

Despite the inconsistencies in the story, one possibility that has to be accepted is that it is true: just very difficult to corroborate. An alternative hypothesis is that it is a mixture of correctly and incorrectly remembered details, related second hand by Aunt Em, and the lack of the photograph is a significant stumbling block. The other factor that should not be overlooked is that these events were happening to a seven year old boy, so if he misinterpreted any of the details, and what he in turn told his daughter was unwittingly altered or exaggerated, it is hardly surprising that the story seems implausible. It seems that Edward junior did not attend Christ’s Hospital School (notwithstanding the uniform variance), with its long-established royal patronage, even though the family’s reduced circumstances, and perhaps erstwhile influential connections who could have helped, were plausible, because Christ’s Hospital has no record of an Edward Risdon around 1862, so we are still in the dark.7 Wherever it was that Edward went to school, by 1871 he was living at home again, home being 19 Smythen Street Exeter; still in the city centre. Edward’s occupation, despite being still only 15 (or possibly just turned 16, depending on the date of the census), was given as errand boy (as, indeed, was his youngest brother Charles, at the tender age of 12!); his younger brother Ralph, interestingly in light of Edward’s later occupation, is shown as apprentice shoemaker. The occupation of their mother Ellen, who had now remarried (for details, see the Edward Risdon page) is shown as “plain worker”; some light can be cast on this unfamiliar terminology by a fortuitous find, which is interesting for several different reasons, of a school record for the middle brother, Ralph. The entry for January 16th 1866 for Rack Street School, Exeter8 shows a Ralph A. Risdon, age 7 years and 9 months, of Preston Street (very close), parent’s occupation needlewoman, previous education private school, cannot write (my emphasis). Unfortunately, we are given no clue as to where the private school might have been, and the inability to write might not, in itself, have been a damning indictment: it might just mean that his attendance had been brief, perhaps also as a result of his father’s inauspicious death.

Edward junior married a Louisa Harris in the third quarter of 1874, and we are given no help by the index as to the exact location, because it is shown simply as Exeter.9 Edward was nineteen years old, and Louisa was twenty-three or -four, so this approximately five year age difference does allow for the possibility that Edward might not have been her first husband (this would be clarified by the mariage certificate: see note 9; I have not come across any mention of this in the anecdotal family history, however). Louisa’s age, thirty, is shown on the transcription of the 1881 census, although it could be a year out, because only age is shown on the original (and that could also be incorrectly stated by the resident, as happened frequently), so the actual age is an extrapolation on the part of the transcriber; Edward’s age is shown as twenty-five, and his year of birth as 1856, but this is a year out, because he was still a few days short of his birthday when the census was taken: had he given his age as twenty-six, his year of birth would later have been extrapolated correctly as 1855. Edward’s domicile between the 1871 census and his marriage is unknown, but there is at least an even chance that it was with his mother at Smythen Street (see above). In April 1881, the married couple were living at number 8 Morgon’s Square, which appears from old maps to have been an enclosed ‘yard’, notionally connected to Paris Street (which still exists, in somewhat altered form), although it is difficult to see where the actual access was: it was probably cheap, although not necessarily the most salubrious, and it appears to have been swept away in later well-intentioned redevelopment.

Edward has now, for unknown reasons, settled on the occupation that was to sustain him for the rest of his working life, and, indeed, near enough the rest of his actual life: boot and shoe maker. Not entirely uncoincidentally, his wife of nearly seven years is in the same line of work, her stated occupation being boot and shoe machinist; this begs the question of whether they were working from home, as was often the case at that time, but that must have made for a rather less than satisfactory home life: most likely this would have been accepted stoically as a necessity in a (regrettably protracted) period during which no or unsuccessful ‘enterprise’ meant inevitable destitution, with all the obvious consequences. By April 1881, they had two surviving children: Jessie Ellen (references to Edward’s mother and sister), born at the end of January 1875, and Edward George, born in the second quarter of 1876; his age is given as four, which is correct. Jessie was undeniably conceived before her parents were married: even taking the earliest possible date for that, the beginning of July 1874, that only left at most seven months before Jessie’s birth, so it is most likely (although not inevitable) that Edward and Louisa were living together as man & wife when Jessie was conceived, rather than sharing with Ellen, especially given the circumstances of her remarriage. Sadly, two further daughters, Amy (born 06/08/1878) and Lotty (so named, born 13/09/1879, although the birth was not registered until the December quarter), had died in infancy, both in 1880, albeit a few months apart; Amy in the June quarter, and Lotty in the September quarter: more than likely victims of some prevalent childhood illness curently stalking the land.

Between 1881 and 1887, another four children who survived infancy were born in Exeter, address unknown: Alfred John (18/04/1881, so his mother was literally days from delivery when the census was taken), Louisa Martha (28/01/1883), my own grandfather Charles Henry (08/12/1884), and Maud Annie (26/01/1887). Some time during the following two years, the family made a major move; not an inconsiderable upheaval for two adults and six young children: the eldest around 13 (so probably expected to help) and the youngest still probably only a toddler; as hypothesised in the Edward Risdon page, possibly his parents’ brief sojourn in Bath had a bearing on this, but Edward junior (seen here in a carte de visite style portrait some time around 1890) and his family settled there, although if Aunt Em (see above) is to be believed, they tried Bristol first, for an unspecified but brief period, perhaps because Edward junior thought his work prospects would be better there, notwithstanding his wife’s lack of enthusiasm for the city.10 The key phrase in Aunt Em’s letter is “to start in Bristol in business (my emphasis): this was a very brave move on Edward’s part — he was staking everything on being able make a go of his own business in a new city where he had, presumably, no previous contacts (although this could easily be wrong). He perhaps felt sufficiently confident because of the strong current and earlier association with the West Country of the boot and shoe industry,11 so perhaps he was hoping for wholesale as well as retail business; also there was strong trade union representation in the area for the boot & shoe industry workers.12

Now I have some solid information at my disposal as to the whereabouts of this family over the next few years, culled (with help from Ruth Marshall of Trowbridge) from local trade directories. Their first address in Bath (see note 10) was 4, Little Stanhope Street, which was a modest street off the Upper Bristol Road on the south side, just outside the city centre on the west side, near the river Avon, which winds its way right through the city. They were there from about 1888 until 1890-91; from there they moved roughly a kilometer further out of town to a slightly better street on the north side of the main road in 1891-3, number 74 Hungerford Road, Lower Weston (photographs here); in 1894, they were occupying a large corner property in a cul de sac, number 13 Clarence Place, back south of Upper Bristol Road (these dates are approximate), but in 1898, they had moved next door to a smaller property on the side, rather than the end, of the road (although they still had possibly seven children living at home; details to follow). In 1905, they were living in the property that comes closest to the river Avon of all their addresses, number 60 Locksbrook Road (which is the main road off which Clarence Terrace and Place is an offshoot); they were there for a few years, but by 1912, they were living in a larger property on the same street, number 141, that might have incorporated a shop for Edward’s trade (although looking at the photograph, that could have been a later addition).

The first child to be born in Bath was Emma Jane (03/07/1889), who came to be known by later generations as Aunt Em, and emigrated to New Zealand, living to the ripe old age of 93. She was followed on the 21st of November 1890 by Florence (aka Floss), so by the time of the census in April 1891, there were 10 people living in the modest terraced house in Hungerford Road, Lower Weston Bath; it has to remain a matter for speculation as to whether Edward worked from home, was employed on a full or part time basis, or had premises elsewhere. Louisa is not shown as having any occupation this time: with six children under the age of ten, one a babe in arms, that is hardly surprising! Sixteen-year old Jessie is shown as a general servant, dom[estic], a function she was to fulfil, albeit under a slightly more respectable name (housemaid), in a residential capacity, ten years later in an expensive area of Bristol, Durdham Park, for the family of a Thomas Thompson (66), late Captain, 78th Highlanders. Jessie never married, so evidently the twenty-seven year old son of the household, Arthur, a solicitor and single, was not a potential marriage partner, probably as much because of the rigid class system of the day as it was from any personal considerations. Fourteen-year old Edward George (still shown as just George) was by now following in his father’s footsteps, as an apprentice boot and shoe maker, a trade he was also to maintain until the end of his working life, although for some unkown reason, he ended up in Romford, Essex.

Albert was born in 1892, on Christmas day, and he stayed in & around Bath as a postal worker for the rest of his life. The last child to be born is Wilfred, on the 28th of January 1896, by which time Louisa is 46 years of age, and no doubt exhausted from child-bearing, not to mention the rearing of same: she did manage to survive another fourteen years or so after that, however. Wilfred was to go on to have an arguably (by me, at any rate) illustrious, and definitely controversial, life & career, which I have described in voluminous detail in my biography, Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles (for details, see the Wilfred Books page on this site). After Wilfred’s birth, there were two or three more moves of house, until they ended up in their final address in Bath as shown above, number 141 Locksbrook Road, in which Edward might have had a retail shop, or a workshop, or possibly both. It was probably while they were living there that Louisa died, at the age of 60; this might have been the catalyst for Edward to join the Plymouth Brethren, or to intensify his already pre-existing activities with the sect, as detailed in my aforementioned biography, because Wilfred was known (by his nephew Edward Leonard, aka Len, who was a great help to me with the book) to be an evangeliser in his youth, which does imply that he would have started before the age of fifteen, which he was when his mother died. Edward (and probably Wilfred) were aided and abetted in this activity by Jessie, who was also a religious bore in her later years. The latest Bath trade directory in which Edward is to be found is 1917, but now (October 2015) that the Electoral Registers for England & Wales, 1832-1932 have been made available online (free search, but subscription to findmypast.co.uk required to view records), it appears that Edward was still living in Bath as late as the spring of 1921, so it is probably during this year, all the children having by then left home (with the exception of Jessie, who moved back to keep house for him after the death of her mother) that he moved, although whether it was the final house move of his life is unclear, as there is still a gap of about a year.

For reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained within the family, Edward chose to move to Bournemouth; of course, there is a plethora of possible reasons to account for this: the equable climate, given that Edward was approaching the age at which most men retired from paid work, was certainly a prime contender. Having said that, it would appear that Edward continued to work, albeit at an appropriate rate, for the rest of his life, operating from a shed in the garden of number 66, Castlemain Avenue, West Southbourne. Evidently, Edward himself never actually owned the house (although that is also probably consistent with his previous domestic arrangements: house ownership by those ‘in trade’ was uncommon in those days, and that would seem to be borne out by the frequent moves, which renting easily facilitates), but the waters are somewhat muddied by the appearance on the scene of Jessie’s ‘gentleman friend’, a certain John Allen. Their relationship (for want of hard evidence to the contrary) appears to have been ostensibly strictly platonic (especially bearing in mind their shared overbearing religious zeal); the significant question, as yet unanswered, is the identity of the Mrs. Allen shown in the residential section of the 1922 Kelly’s Directory for Bournemouth. This also begs the question of where Edward & Jessie were living between 1921 and 1922?

The house appears to have been built some time between the turn of the century and the first world war13 (expansion of the town, although it was, by then, around one hundred years old, was still comparatively slow); up until the 26th of January, 1922, the house, given the name Aroosva,14 was owned by a Mark Sellick; however, the sale must already have been in progress when the 1922 edition of Kelly’s Directory for Bournemouth was compiled, because the only entry for 66, Castlemain Avenue is a Mrs. Allen, yet the following year, Mrs. Allen has mysteriously disappeared, replaced (or possibly supplanted?) by John Allen; Risdon, Miss Jessie, apart[ment]s; and Risdon, Edward, boot ma[ker]. On the 26th of January 1922, the conveyance of ownership was made to John Allen, who remained sole owner until 1936.15 So who was the Mrs. Allen, and what happened to her after John Allen bought the property? This question will have to remain rhetorical, but what can be assumed with a high degree of certitude is that Edward and Jessie were, notionally at least, tenants of John Allen to start off with; however, it is interesting to speculate as to the allocation of rooms: there would have had to be at least three bedrooms, probably all upstairs, which is plausible, to preserve the proprieties demanded by the proscriptive religion of Jessie & John; possibly a bathroom, but not guaranteed; at least one of the downstairs reception rooms must have been used for rental purposes, and the other one might have been a general purpose dining room; finally, there would have been a kitchen/scullery. Doable, but busy.

One would like to think that Edward George Fouracres Risdon enjoyed a pleasant and fulfilling retirement, until his death in the fourth quarter of 1933; by all accounts, he had his christianity to sustain him and prepare him for the long journey ahead and, according to his nephew Len (see above), he was generally amiable and not averse to poking fun at the notoriously ‘narrow-nosed’ John Allen (he related a tale with some relish about how parsimonious Allen was, to the extent of eating prune stones because he so abhorred waste); he lived long enough to see (figuratively, if not actually) his youngest son Wilfred achieve some prominence as the first director of Propaganda for Sir Oswald Mosley’s new British Union of Fascists (to which was later appended and National Socialists). There is some doubt as to where he spent his final months, because there is no entry for him in a Kelly’s Directory for later than 1931, so perhaps he was consigned to an old folks’ home? Eventually, I will try to ascertain where he is buried, assuming he was not cremated. On the first of April 1936, ownership of the house was conveyed to Miss J. E. Risdon and Mr. John Allen, which is somewhat curious, given that over two years had elapsed since Edward’s death, but I am loath to ascribe any lascivious motives to this action: it was most probably done for exclusively practical reasons, none of which, presumably, was John Allen’s impending demise because, although there was an omission of one year from the directory in 1931 (when Edward was still listed as a boot maker at the ripe old age of 75), he evidently survived until at least 1949, when the house was sold (completion May 5th) by John Allen “and another”, who is very sensibly assumed by the Land Registry to be J. E. Risdon “as there are no intervening deeds”.

After selling the house, Jessie moved in with Wilfred and Nellie Risdon at their home in Ruislip, which meant that they were also lumbered with the odious John Allen; prior to this, they had prevailed upon Len’s parents who lived near Bath, but they were having none of it, to their credit. It is not known when Allen died,16 but he and Jessie must have proved to be a resistible combination for Wilfred and Nellie, because according to Len, they eventually went to live in a house that had evidently been bequeathed to Jessie by one of her wealthy old lady friends in Bristol, near the rugby ground in Horfield; Jessie died in the March quarter of 1964, at the age of 89, in Bristol. The house in Castlemain Avenue, which nowadays looks somewhat scruffy, was converted into two self-contained flats around 1990; the first floor flat was for sale in 2002 at an asking price of £44,950 leasehold, with 88 years remaining of a 99 year lease; the reduction in length of the back garden, admittedly previous quite generous, in the modern photograph, is explained by the apparent necessity for two parking spaces (no doubt considered a good “selling point”, despite there being ample parking space on the main road), accessible via the service lane from the side road. Castlemain Avenue is now just another somewhat anonymous suburban street in the ever-expanding contiguous metropolis of Bournmemouth, Poole and Christchurch.