Mary Ellen McIlRoy lived on the estate at 56, Ross Way and I came across her name because it appears in both the birth and death registers of St John’s church in the course of two years during the war. What is her story?
Mary Ellen was the daughter of William Charles Holden and his wife, Mary Ann. She was born on 28th November 1877 possibly in the Royal Herbert Hospital, but certainly in the Charlton/Woolwich area where her father was a Corporal in the AHC. By 1891 there were five other children in the family of whom she was the eldest, and the family were living in Woolwich, where her father was by then a hospital orderly. Her youngest sister was born in 1897. No doubt Mary Ellen had a responsible role in the family as the eldest child.
On April 18th 1897 at the age of twenty, Mary married Danby Hunter, a house painter, with whom she had two children – Maud and William Danby. Danby, who claimed on his marriage certificate that he was a bachelor at this point, had already had two children by a previous marriage and one of them came to live with them. Danby Hunter died in 1906, leaving Mary Ellen with the three children.
Where she went for the next few years isn’t clear – she didn’t return to her parents’ home in Fenwick Street, Woolwich – but she eventually met and married John Alexander McIlroy in 1914. By this time her eldest two children, if not the third, were living independently of her. John, who had served for twenty-one years in the army travelling around a great deal and living most recently in Yorkshire, was by then earning his living as a blacksmith in Woolwich. He too had been widowed and had had at least four children with his first wife. At the time of his marriage the children would have been aged between six and fourteen.
The marriage took place in Woolwich on 4th October 1914 and we can only assume that at some point during the next few months John was able to get a job as a blacksmith at the Arsenal and so the family came to live in Ross Way. He was probably also in receipt of an army pension. The children by the couple’s previous marriages were now aged between eight and sixteen and there is no way of knowing if they all came to live in the newly formed household. None of them were registered at Deansfield School in the autumn of 1915.
On 28th September their daughter Mary Ellen McIlRoy was baptised at St John the Baptist church, Eltham and it was here only two months later that John Alexander was buried. There is evidence of some ill-health in his army record – ‘debility’ – and this may have contributed to his early death at the age of 44, leaving Mary Ellen a widow for the second time with several children and a baby. Some time between 1916 and the 1919 Electoral Register Mary and her family moved on from 50 Ross Way. A family tree on the family history website Ancestry shows her marrying once more in the 1920s and there is also a picture of her wedding to John Alexander but I haven’t as yet got permission to use that in the blog.
There is an interesting puzzle about the occupancy of 50, Ross Way in that on 12th August in 1916 (a few weeks before Mary Ellen’s baptism) a John Everett aged 27, rifleman, and Grace Brooks had given this address when they married at St John the Baptist church, Eltham. Were all these people living in the house? It was a Class 1 house with three bedrooms upstairs but also an extra bedroom on the ground floor. Was this being sublet, with or without the permission of the London County Council who were then managing the estate, and if so how common was this?
Blog Written By: Lynne.
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