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Berkshire Family Historian
March 2001

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Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, March 2001 Contents

A Baptist conundrum

Daphne Spurling

It all began with a phone call. 'Hi, Mum'. It was my son calling from his home in Pakistan, 'We've decided to give your new grandson the middle name of Shorney. "That's wonderful,' I replied. Shorney was my mother's maiden name. 'I don't know other close relatives with the surname so it would be great to keep it alive.' I later found that my closest male relatives with the Shorney surname in England would have to be descended from my 4 x great grandparents who married in 1760.

'There's just one point', he continued, 'can you tell us something about the family?' My mother had died when I was a teenager and we had spent our working life overseas, so my son knew only one cousin whom we had visited regularly when living in Lesotho for a year.

'That's easy,' I said, with great conviction remembering that an American cousin had published a book on the families of the four grandparents of her children. 1

And so it proved to be - initially. Although the book wasn't produced until 1960, the Shorney part had been based on a visit in 1932. Great Aunt Emmie, who had taken them round, had several advantages: she and her sister had married my grandfather's brothers and she had grown up in the next village and in the same Baptist community in Somerset as my grandfather; in fact from her surname she was possibly related to my grandfather's grandmother. Most important of all, my very sprightly great grandmother, Mary Duddridge, had only died in 1927 aged 92 and the family remembered the stories of her childhood of, what is now, 150 years ago. The book provided a wealth of information on family and farm life and from it we were able to identify and visit the family farm.

My great grandfather, Henry Shorney, was not strong physically and prone to depression. In 1883, when my grandfather was only eight, the great agricultural depression forced them from the family farm. The following 12 years were spent renting farms - one in Somerset and then three in Berkshire - until by 1895 they were at Langley Hill Farm where my great uncle remained until the 1920s. My grandfather, Arthur, became a civil servant, married Lilian Chapman in 1903 and their third child, my mother, was born at Theale in 1911. They moved to Lincoln when my mother was a teenager and retired to Somerset where we often visited my grandfather's relatives. But when I was 10 they returned to Lincoln when my grandmother's broken hip didn't heal. So I knew quite a lot about my grandfather Arthur and his family.

At this point in writing the story for our new grandson I realised that I knew nothing about my grandmother except her name, Lilian Chapman, and that she used to teach music. Where was she from, how had she met my grandfather? Then began a series of coincidences that led me onwards each time I reached an impasse. First my son gave me a Christmas present cheque with instructions to get on the Internet so that we could communicate more easily. I surfed madly during the 'month's free trial' - and it paid off. A website pointed me to another Shorney family member who has collected all references she found to the family. We don't know if we were related but she helped me to get back further 

Photo of Arthur and Lilion Shorney

Arthur and Lilion Shorney

than the family memory. But that still left Lilian. Several possibilities came to mind. Perhaps Lilian was from this area; after all Arthur. was 20 when the family moved to Calcot. I vaguely remembered Aunt Emmie saying that a leading congregational family in Theale 'were sort of cousins 'and finally the IGI showed two generations of Chapmans in Tilehurst called Frances Mary, the same combination of forenames given to my aunt. But first to follow the advice in all the books: 'ask relatives'. Arthur and Lilian's daughter-in-law said Lilian never spoke of her family and gave the impression that she was ashamed of them. She added that my grandmother had a brother whom she thought was a miner. And my cousin thought our great grandfather was a Baptist minister. Certainly the Baptist religion was a likely common factor. Arthur's mother, my doughty old great grandmother, described being sent as a boarder at the age of five to a school run by a Reverend Chapman and his wife at the Baptist Church in Stogumber, Somerset. Surely the families could not have stayed in touch for 6o years?

Alternatively perhaps Lilian's father had been based at Tilehurst. The next coincidence was a phone call from someone whom my husband had known briefly lo years ago. Over lunch we discovered he was connected with the Baptist church in Tilehurst, but he told us that it had not started until decades later. Perhaps great grandpa had been at a Reading church. But first a search of the marriage index working backwards from the birth dates of my mother, aunt and uncle. And with it came surprises. My grandparents were married at Coventry. How on earth did my grandfather, who so far as I knew had never lived north of Ewelme just over the Thames in Oxfordshire, come to marry someone from Coventry? Grandpa was living in Worcester at the time of the wedding and was still there seven months after the wedding when my uncle was born. That again was a shock as my grandparents were so puritan that they objected to me marrying before My 25th birthday and we were not allowed to play cards or have similar leisure activities on Sundays. My cousins who lived near them became as deft at hiding cards as youngsters are nowadays at exiting web sites they don't want parents to see. It was rather a let down when my cousin said she'd heard that Uncle Vernon was so premature that he fitted into a pint jug. And lastly, Grandma's names were Mary Lilian. At least the marriage certificate confirmed that her father was William Chapman, Baptist Minister. Then came the next coincidence.

As I was now on the Internet I joined the BFHS email discussion group. That week one message ended with the comment that the writer was happy to help anyone with Baptist ancestors. She suggested I contact the Angus Library of Regent Park College in Oxford. Back from them came an obituary including a photograph of my great grandfather, strict looking and wearing a fez. But the obituary didn't help my central question of how my grandparents had met. I still knew of no personal or geographical connection between them. I even toyed with the idea of a Baptist lonely hearts column. Great grandfather William Chapman had been born in Wendover, worked in Highbury , and had gone to the Midland College at Leicester. He had been a minister near Coventry for 20 years, then in Derbyshire, in Lincolnshire, in the Calder Valley on the borders of Yorkshire and Lancashire and finally outside Nottingham where I found him in the 188i census with a much younger wife, Mary Hannah, daughter Ma Lilian and son William Ernest. After 45 years as a minister he retired to Coventry where he had died in 1905 at the age of 86. We visited the Angus Library and read the Minute Book of the Stogumber Chapel which contained many references to my Shorney family and their friends and relatives in Somerset. Then the Angus Library sent another batch of photocopies that included references to him at training college and part of a table listing Baptist ministers. The table headings were missing but in one column was the word Maidenhead opposite William Chapman's name. That rang a bell.

Before settling at Langley Hill, my Shorney great grandparents had rented Whiteplace Farm between Maidenhead and Cookham. They were very happy there but the farm was soon sold to the Astors who wanted it as the home farm to Cliveden. At last a possible connection. Shortly afterwards I was at the LDS Research Centre in Tilehurst looking up my husband's family. Having a half-hour spare before closing I asked if they had the 1891 census for Maidenhead. They were not in Maidenhead, but I found them in Cookham. There was William Chapman, his wife and son. I don't know what they were doing there, as I know of no connection between him or his wife and Cookham, and it would have been mentioned in the obituary if it had been on official Baptist business. I have not yet found my grandmother in 1891, but it didn't matter. I had placed the two families in the same area and as strong Baptists they must have known each other. That wasn't quite the end of the story.

Wanting to trace my great grandmother's family I bought the indexed 1851 census for Warwickshire. She was there aged eight working as a ribbon weaver as indeed were her parents and older siblings. I also found 32-year-old William with Elizabeth his wife, and children William, Mary and Harriet. His wedding certificate to Mary Hannah in 1872 confirmed he was a widower and a Harriet Chapman was a witness. He had given his second son and daughter the first names of the children of his first family. I have now found that in a three and a half year period he lost his son and daughter both when aged 20 and both from tuberculosis and his wife from an abdominal tumour. No one in the family knew my grandmother was part of a second family. I still don't know what happened to Grandma's half-sister Harriet or to her brother William.

1. Shorney, Mary Wallace, 'This is your Heritage - Being a Series of Biographical Sketches Written for my Children'. Privately printed 1960.

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updated 20th August 2001