Can’t get through your ‘Brick-Wall’?

Can’t get through your ‘Brick-Wall’? – The answer may be on your side!

A few years ago, whilst researching Rugby’s Victorian photographer, Edward Hall Speight and his family, I visited Market Harborough, where his son, Gulliver Speight, had his studio. 

I was looking out for early photographs by Gulliver – and as the local auction room had sold one of his portrait cameras a few years previously – I thought I’d browse the viewing for their next auction.  Well ‘luck happens’, and there was a small, rather battered, leather bound album containing 26 CDV [Cartes de Visite] photographs.  Surprisingly, the album included nothing by Gulliver or any other local photographers, but to my surprise, and delight, mainly CDVs by E. H. Speight and other contemporary Rugby photographers! 

On auction day, I drove back to Market Harborough to try my luck.  The album was unfortunately in a Lot with another splendidly colour printed Victorian photograph album, albeit with no photographs, but unfortunately someone else was interested. 

The bidding was heading well beyond my budget, when common sense prevailed, and I pulled out of the ‘race’.  Fortunately, I was able to identify the buyer who it seemed had little interest in the ‘tatty album’, wanting the coloured one.  She was prepared split the cost of the Lot and sell me the ‘tatty’ album.  If only I’d stopped bidding at half the price!  But anyway ‘luck happened’ and 16 Speight CDVs, and several other early Rugby items joined the research collection.

As so often the case, most of the portrait photographs were un-named.  However, the album was inscribed on the fly-leaf, ‘Thomas, WILSON, With love and best wishes From E. HULSEY  July 22nd 1884’ – or was it 1887?

Wilson is a fairly common name, but as the majority of the CDVs were taken in Rugby, the odds were that there was a longer term Rugby connection.  A quick initial search of the censuses looked for a Thomas Wilson with a Rugby connection.  The 1881 census was nearest the date of the gift and provided four candidates.  It seemed an unlikely and rather expensive present for three of them: the grandfather, the bricklayer and the ‘ag lab’. 

However, one candidate seemed an interesting possibility.  There was a Thomas Wilson who was a boarding pupil at the Hillbrow Preparatory School.  Born in about 1867 and aged 13 for the 1881 census, he would have been 16 by 1884.  Could this perhaps have been a sixteenth birthday present?

Hillbrow School was the preparatory school where some twenty years later, another, better known, Rugbyean attended.  Rupert Brooke, who was born on 3 August 1887, attended the school from about 1897 until 1901, and would also be photographed by E. H. Speight.  

A study of this and other census returns showed that this Thomas Wilson had been born in Dore, near Sheffield in Yorkshire.  His father, William, a snuff merchant from Sheffield, would have already been into his late 60s when Thomas was born, although his wife, Hannah, was younger having just turned 40 – it may be that she was his second wife, although that has not yet been established. 

From the number of domestic staff, it seems the family was well off and could have afforded the Rugby school fees.  Thomas thus seemed to be a likely owner for that small album.  It was possible that like Brooke, Thomas had gone on to Rugby School, however, a check with Mr. Rusty MacLean, the Rugby School archivist, showed that this was not the case.

As for ‘E Hulsey’– the greeting ‘with love and best wishes’ would probably suggest this was not from a male school friend.  More probably from an aunt, godmother or a female family friend.  No obvious candidates were apparent, and when the research started, there were no obvious Wilson-Hulsey marriages – and very few E. Hulseys in the 1881 or 1891 censuses, and fewer still that were at all likely. 

Thus there did not seem to be any longer term Rugby connection, and so it seemed there was a ‘Brick-Wall’.  But was it? 

Sometime later the thought occurred ‘was it actually “Hulsey”?’  A closer study of the dedication showed several words ending with a descending stoke - indeed there was one as a comma after the first name Thomas.  Could the name be “HULSE” and not Hulsey?

In 1881 there was a farmer of 60 acres, Joseph Hulse, aged 55, living at 33 Princes Street, Rugby, with his wife Emma née Twiddy whose marriage was registered in Q4 1862.  He was born in Acton, Cheshire and his wife in East Barsham, Norfolk.  In 1871 he was a milk dealer.  Could there be some connection?

Checking for family connections, there were amazingly a dozen Wilson-Hulse marriages on FreeBMD between 1850 and 1885.  Most could be ruled out as part of another pair and a female E Wilson would needed to provide an E Hulse.  There were two possibles: Elizabeth Wilson married in Q1 1874 in Chapel en le Frith, Derbyshire; and Eliza Wilson in Q4 1883 in Droitwich.  Unfortunately the Hulse in both cases was another bride!! 

So no obvious family members as yet - just another ‘Brick-Wall’. 

However, searching for older relatives had been a mistake!  After being on the back-burner for a year or two, a further search was made for Wilson-Hulse marriages over a longer time period.  With Warwickshire marriages having recently been added to Ancestry, this provided a record of the banns being called in Rugby for a marriage between Emma Hulse of the Parish of St. Augustines, Rugeley and yes - Thomas Wilson, a batchelor of this parish [Rugby], these being called on 10, 17 and 24 July 1887. 

How they had met is unknown – but people travelled far more than we appreciate.  Sure enough a marriage was found registered in Lichfield in Q3, 1887, between Emma Hulse and Thomas Wilson.  Tracking them in the censuses was now fairly straightforward.  Thomas was no longer the son of a wealthy Yorkshire family, but ten years older, and the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Wilson, a railway worker and laundress, of Newbold on Avon.  Thomas was a worker at the Rugby Gas Works, born in ‘1862’ in Newbold on Avon.  Emma was born in Rugeley, also in ‘1862’, the daughter of John Hulse, a farmer of ‘6 acres’ in 1871 and an ‘occasionally labourer’ and his wife, Hannah.

The album would be expected to contain family photographs, and some deductions can be made.  The CDVs taken by E. H. Speight include some with printed dates on the mounts for 1886, 1890 and 1892, and confirms their connection with the town from before 1884 until at least 1892.  At those dates Thomas Wilson would have been aged from 24 to about 30.  About the only photograph of a couple is assumed to be Thomas and Emma. 

Further photographs, with Thomas in the same suit, suggest they had others taken on that occasion, although Emma is wearing a different dress and a feathered hat, and posed against Speight’s ‘seaside’ backcloth, with rocks, beach and seascape, although only the base of the lighthouse on the right is seen!

This now called the transcription into question once more.  Could 1884 actually have been an 1887?  Look for yourself, what do you think?  This would have been just before their marriage, which was some time after the banns were called at the end of July 1887. 

Or was it indeed 1884?  Three years earlier, perhaps an engagement present - a rather long one maybe - or even a 21st birthday present?  Could he have been born in mid-1863 not 1862?   A check on Rugby registered births show possible Thomas Wilsons born in both Q3, 1861 (Rugby, 6d 415) and Q3, 1863 (Rugby, 6d 435).  Subject to obtaining an expensive birth certificate, the later date would suggest a 21st birthday gift, however, the baptism records from Newbold on Avon[1] decided the matter!

24 July 1861, Thomas, son of Thomas & Elizabeth WILSON, Labourer, Newbold on Avon

So the album could not have been a 21st birthday present, but it could well have been a present for Thomas’s 23rd birthday, and could they have become engaged then as well?  It would have been a long engagement, but perhaps not unusual if they needed to ‘save up’.

In 1891, Thomas was a general labourer and still living in Newbold on Avon, but now with his wife, Emma, and two very young daughters, and between 1896 and 1898, the family moved to Rugby, to live at 167 Cambridge Street.  By 1901, he was a gas stoker and there were five children between 12 and 2 years old.

The 1911 census showed that there had been a sixth child who had died.  With a common name Wilson, and no mother’s maiden names recorded on birth registrations until after 1910, the name of the child that died cannot be easily confirmed, but there is a gap in the children’s birth sequence in about 1892 and a possible ‘missing’ daughter is noted below.  The children were:

Beatrice Emily WILSON, born in 1889 in Newbold on Avon.

Ida Mary WILSON, born in October 1890; baptised on 2 November 1890 in Newbold on Avon.  By 1911 she was working as a housemaid at 41 Clifton Road, Rugby with James Jesse and Grace ‘McKenhell’ – actually McKinell – a Rugby Master Grocer.  She would later marry a Ranceford W. Loydall in 1919, and after he died, Harry Goss in 1928.

Possibly: Charlotte Elizabeth WILSON, b.c. 1893, who died as an infant in early 1894

Hannah Elizabeth WILSON, born in 1894, in Newbold on Avon.  She probably married Percival Bryan in Rugby in late 1922.

Thomas Rowland WILSON, born in 1896 in Newbold on Avon.  He died in 1954 in Birmingham.

Maud Helena WILSON, born in 1898, in Rugby, Warwickshire.

Now on the last page of the album, easily found, is a portrait of five children, the youngest being no more than two, the eldest girl about ten, and taken by Speight before the death of Queen Victoria – so say in about 1900.  This was surely the five surviving children – what a find!

But no, look again!  The children above are girl, girl, girl, boy, and girl.  This group appears as girl, girl, boy, boy, and baby who could be either.  So perhaps not a ‘find’, but who were they?

Emma’s elder brother, John Hulse, moved to Chorlton in 1891 and to Manchester in 1901.  There are CDVs from three studios in Manchester.  Were any of these images of his family?  Also he had a son, Herbert, who was seven years old in 1901.  Perhaps he was the extra boy – and one of the girls was away … ah well, remember ‘Optimism is NOT Proof!’.

Only one of the CDVs is named and dated – a young girl – ‘Ida CLAVEY November 24 1890’ – the photographer is at Bute, just outside Cardiff.  The 1891 census for Wales shows an Ida L[illian] Clavey, with a birth registered in Q1, 1889 in Cardiff, Glamorgan, Wales, who in 1891 was residing at 1 Lowdown Square, Cardiff St Mary, Glamorgan, Wales.  Her father, Harry Hurley Clavey, born in 1859, was a Marine Engine Fitter, from Bridgewater in Somerset, where his father, John Mitchell Clavey, had been the manger of the Red Ware Pottery.  Her parents had married in Bridgewater in 1884 and Ida’s mother, Lillian née Oliver, was entered as hailing from the same town, but in 1901 she was recorded as born in Cardiff. 

There do not appear to be any Hulse-Clavey or Wilson-Clavey marriages and so far no family connections have been established.  So why was that photograph in the album?

As well as the CDVs from Manchester, there are two from a studio in Burton on Trent, one of an older lady, perhaps Emma’s mother; one from Walsall – possibly of her three brothers; one from Lichfield; and single examples from Torquay and Blackpool – perhaps taken on holidays.  One from Edwin Lott’s studio in Bridgend is labelled “Princess Alice” – but bears no resemblance to any Royal and royal blood seems very unlikely!

The Rugby CDVs include one by W. Daynes, at Railway Terrace, where he was working from 1879-94, of an older man, perhaps Thomas’s father?  Two by C. Whetton, active 1881-86; and one by B. Morris, active 1887-97.  Thus all the photographs are from the same time period, and are most likely family members, a number being of Emma.

The album was bought in Market Harborough.  Had a member of the family moved to that area?  We cannot know, and for discretion, banks or solicitors acting as Executors and dealing with house clearances prefer not to use a local auction house, so the album could have come from anywhere.

It appears that Thomas Wilson’s death was registered in Q3 1913, he was 53; Emma’s death was registered less than a year later, in Q2, 1914, she was 52.   Somehow their ages had separated!  

A later communication included contact from ‘1066Andy’, who noted:

‘Re: Wilson family of Newbold/Rugby. … but yes have got Emma Hulse in Family Tree.  Her father was John Hulse 1816, grandfather was also John Hulse 1761, brother was John Hulse 1852, sister was Mary Eli Hulse 1855, another sister Sarah Hulse 1858.  Her husband was Thomas Wilson 1862 & yes have got a lot of Wilsons (15) as well.  Is CDV a photo album?  How can I help?  Don’t have any gossip, I did find her son in law Ranceford W Loydall 1890 + 2 Loydall grandsons.  rgds Andy’.

So perhaps further details may come to light.  Research continues and is never done, but at least a start has been made on the owner of this CDV album, and no ‘Brick-Walls’ were damaged in the undertaking of this research, as the answers were surprisingly local!!  If any reader has any further knowledge of the family, please get in touch.

John Frearson.


[1]       Pickard’s Pink Pages,; or RFHG, CD10, Parish Registers - Newbold, St Botolphs, £15.00; and register images on