How family trees grow to forests! Following Francis Hellier through the census and beyond…

One of the first things I am doing for my ‘One Place Study’ is following people through the censuses and trying to understand the relationships.  I particularly like it when I knew the more recent family members or can find something to bring the family to life.  The focus here is on Francis Hellier. It is very much a work in progress…

Francis Hellier was born in 1873 in Sticklepath.  In 1881 we find he is a ‘scholar’ aged 8, living with sister Elizabeth aged 3, brother William aged 5, sister Mary aged 11, brother Joseph an 18 year old working at the Edge Tool factory.  His father Joseph aged 53, is an agricultural labourer and mother Ellen Smith, originally from the New Inn, Drewsteignton, aged 46.

Following the census through we find 9 children of Joseph and Ellen. However the 1911 census tells us that Ellen had 15 children of whom 5 had already died. Further investigation is needed!

Hellier family tree so far from census information

By 1891 both Francis and his father Joseph are copper miners, and brother William, at 14, is a stone cutter.   Brother Joseph, still a blacksmith, has married Alma Grace Curtis of Northlew and lives 3 doors down the street. The census suggests the two households are living either side of Sticklepath Methodist Chapel. Joseph and Alma go on to have two children, Joseph and John who both emigrate to America.  Joseph (junior) returns to marry Mary Ann Hamlyn Counter of South Zeal and whisks her away to America, but sadly dies in 1926.  Mary Ann has returned by 1939 when we find her living with Elizabeth Blanche Counter – later Blanche Wonnacott.

Joseph Hellier blacksmith is one of these Finch foundry workers.

1897 brings major life events for Francis with marriage to Ellen Louisa Coaker and the birth of their first son Frank. On census night 1901 their 2 room house in Sticklepath has 6 occupants.  One of Ellen’s 11 siblings, Alberta aged 12 is staying and two more children, Ernest and Ellen Louisa have been born.  Francis’s work is still copper mining ‘below ground’.

After a gap of 7-8 years another son George is born, bringing their total to 4 children.  It is helpful that the 1911 census tells us that they had not had any other children or infant deaths. The family by then are living at Skaigh Cottage in Belstone, Francis is working as an agricultural labourer again, and the 13 year old Frank is a jobbing gardener. We await the 1921 census for more information about Francis prior to his death in 1936. 

Sons Frank and Ernest both went to war. Frank returned but Ernest, a Private in the 3rd battalion, Norfolk regiment, died aged 19. He was drowned when his transport ship HMS Aragon was torpedoed in Alexandria Harbour on 30 Dec 1917.  I think Frank married Nora Helen Cooper of Willey ( a hamlet close to Sticklepath) and by 1939 they had moved elsewhere in Devon. Their younger brother George Hellier, a farm labourer married Dorothy Wilkes in 1933 and they are living in Skaigh Cottage in the 1939 census with their son Francis G Hellier a 5 year old already at school. 

Turning finally to Francis and Ellen’s daughter, Ellen Louisa Hellier.  She married a young man who was originally from London – Albert Thomas Stead, later Sticklepath’s postman, known as Tom.  I wonder how they came to meet?  In 1939 Ellen is living opposite the Methodist chapel in Farley Cottage, I presume Tom had already gone to war and their son Bert’s entry (presumed) is not yet visible. They lived at White Rock Cottage on Back Lane Sticklepath opposite the Finch Coal yard in the 1960s when I knew them.  

Bert 1986 (at my wedding).

Census documents give us so much information but a little personal knowledge brings their story to life, and reminds us how much we miss with only a 10 yearly snapshot. In 1935 Bert was living in Skaigh Cottage Belstone with his Grandfather Francis.  It was the year he started school in Sticklepath.  I would like to quote his words from “The Book of Belstone”  p162 he says about Francis and Skaigh Cottage:

“He worked at Vitifer and Golden Dagger tin mines, then at Ramsley copper mine before coming here from Cleave Mill Cottages.  If he forgot to dig vegetables for Sunday he wasn’t allowed to get them on the day.  When we had a joint, the meat was always for the men, veggies and gravy for the children, then maybe a piece of suet pudding with treacle. There was a copper at the side of the house, a cauldron with a wood fire underneath where the washing was done.  That water came from the old Greenhill Mine leat which ran through the garden; Uncle George fitted a wire mesh over the pipe to stop the sticklebacks getting through.  I collected drinking water from Lion’s Mouth.” The Book of Belstone Chris and Marion Walpole 2002

Starting with one individual, Francis Hellier, in the 1881 census, we have rapidly linked the Hellier family with the Smith, Curtis, Counter, Wonnacott, Coaker, Cooper, Wilkes and Stead families. With Francis one of nine siblings it is easy to see how one family is quickly related by marriage to many others – we have only looked at a few of them. What is also striking is the connection to so many surrounding villages and hamlets – Willey, Belstone, South Tawton, South Zeal, Drewsteignton etc. Next time – a Hellier-Bowden marriage.

The Lion’s Mouth

If you spot any errors or have any further information, especially documents or knowledge of sources that can help me further or photographs, please do get in touch!

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