#52Ancestors #20: William Dolton – a mysterious end?

William Henry Thorn Dolton was born c November 1862 Devon, England. His father John Willing Dolton had worked on the land but by William’s generation the family was living in Plympton St Mary [now part of Plymouth].

52 ancestors logoWilliam was the fourth child, second son, of John and his wife Selina Ann Horn [his middle name Thorn was probably the result of the registrar mis-hearing his parents]. His father John had been married previously but after the death of his first wife had struggled to cope with three young children and William’s older half-brothers and sisters had been raised by their grandmother Elizabeth Dolton.  By the age of 20 William was apprenticed to a blacksmith, but that doesn’t seem to have worked out as later he was working as a quarryman (stone), a labourer in the limestone quarries, and later still as a tar worker.

He married Bessie Ann Preece, in August 1883 in Plymouth Registry Office and they had their first child the following summer, named William Samuel for his father and grandfather.

William Jnr was followed by 7 more by 1896: Ernest Francis, Florence Selina (my great-grandmother), Francis (who died in infancy), Bessie Matilda (died in infancy), Mary Kathleen and another Francis, who again died in infancy. I found a reference to a 7th child but haven’t found a birth entry for him/her. Four lost children, how cruel…

It was a very poor time and a time of great change in the country. In December 1913 a suffragette had burnt down an (uninsured) Devonport timber yard as a protest – I’m sure William and his mates would have had strong thoughts on that as the smoke curled high above!

Three Towns in One: Derby Daily Telegraph, 4 May 1914   © National Newspaper Archive

Three Towns in One: Derby Daily Telegraph, 4 May 1914
© National Newspaper Archive

This year is the centenary of the merging by Local Government Order of the three towns of Plymouth, East Stonehouse and Devonport and there are loads of events on.  And where am I? Scotland. When did I get to visit Plymouth? Last year. Bad timing. Plymouth Remembers commemorates this; the Plymouth History Festival is on at the moment and there are so many events relevant to the lives of my ancestors that it’s really frustrating being so far away!

I suspect back then people just got on with their lives – I wonder if there was discontent about losing the prominence of the names of East Stonehouse and of Devonport by taking the name of their neighbour? Local rivalries? Or just cynicism that whatever they were called they’d still have to go to work and to pay their taxes?

Western Morning Times, 16 October 1942

Western Morning Times, 16 October 1942 © National Newspaper Archive

William lived through the First World War, and the 20s and 30s when Lady Astor was MP for Plymouth.  He would have seen many grandchildren and heard of their sporting successes and also seen his daughter Florence [then] Glover busy in the Co-operative movement.

I believe William met his death in 1942, in a fall from a 3rd floor window. This news cutting refers to a coroner’s report so tracking that down will be my next step.

© Text copyright Lynne Black 16 May 2014
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/william-dolton/

5 thoughts on “#52Ancestors #20: William Dolton – a mysterious end?

  1. pastsmith

    Wow, lots of sad things in his life, but I’ll bet his wife felt the loss of babies loss more than he did. How dreadful to carry a child, birth a child, care for a child and then lose them in infancy. Do you think they were old enough to have grave markers, or didn’t they do that? That’s what I think about with the little children that leave life too early. Is there any remembrance of them anywhere? I don’t find very many in my relatives.

    1. starryblackness Post author

      I agree with you about the babies, it’s heartbreaking for them.

      I suspect they were quite poor and wouldn’t have afforded it, but further on I’d definitely like to do some work on all my ancestors, follow up free sites or get a subscription to sites that specialise in gravestones and see if I can find a lot of relatives.

      Right now I’m finding this challenge is taking up a lot of time and I’m spending as much time writing as researching. However I’m very glad I’m doing it – it very rewarding and puts the focus on people rather than only the dates and places.

  2. Pingback: #52Ancestors #19 Florence Dolton and a flock of Nightingales | starryblackness

  3. Pingback: #52Ancestors #21: Bessie Ann Preece of Oreston | starryblackness

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