Tree of a younger brother: William Armer & Ellen Hays

I could call this post a tale of three Ellens: Ellen Hays, matriarch of the family; Ellen Arkwright, her daughter-in-law who was tragically widowed, and Ellen Cross who married Ellen Arkwright’s youngest son. These women married into the Armer family in 1846, 1884 and 1925.

The husband of the first Ellen was William Armer (1819–1891), my 2x great-grandfather John’s younger brother. As I’ve said, there are some sad stories further down this branch of the tree, but a lot of surviving Armers. This is due partly to the large family sizes of the time, and partly to the resilience of those people who worked in the busy port of Glasson Dock, or eked out a living on Cockerham Marsh, where the mud merges imperceptibly with the sea under that huge sky.

Although William’s baptism was registered at St Michael’s, Cockerham, the parish registers state that the ceremony took place at Shireshead Chapel, 3 miles to the east. Interestingly, he was the only one of his brothers and sisters to be baptised there.

Shireshead old map

1898 map showing Shireshead Chapel (right of the railway line), where William Armer was baptised in 1819. The chapel is now a recording studio; you can walk round the cemetery but there are no Armer headstones there.

William married Ellen Hays (1828-1910) on 11th September 1847, certificate below:


Their first son, Robert, was born 11th February 1850:


A cross-shaped headstone at St Michael’s in Cockerham states that Robert married  yet another Ellen and died in 1927. They had no children, and Ellen’s widowed mother Ellen (née Wright) was living with them at Cunliffe Fold Farm 3 miles NW of Preston at the time of the 1901 Census:

Rbt 1850 in 1901

Robert Armer (51), his wife Ellen (42) and her widowed mother also Ellen (72)

Their second surviving son, John, was born 7th July 1854:


John Armer married Isabella Jackson in 1875:

John and Isabella marriage 1875

The record above is from; the banns (below) are in the Parish Registers but not the marriage. This is likely due to a poor transcription, as the couple are listed as married on the 1881 Census.

John 1854 banns

Banns for John and Isabella’s marriage in the Lancashire Parish Registers. Overton is across the Lune Estuary from Glasson Dock and it seems that John was working as a farm servant on John Shaw’s farm of 64 acres

In the 1881 Census the couple are living at 21 Church Street, Lancaster, John a railway signal labourer and Isabella a dressmaker.

John born 1854 in 1881 Census

John and Isabella Armer in the 1881 Census: John and Isabella Armer and their daughter Edith May Armer. Mary Ellen Jackson is Isabella’s daughter from before her marriage to John.

Edith May Armer married William George Ecob in 1899. William was a police constable, and John Armer had, by then, risen from labourer to “Chargeman” in the signals department. Edith May and William had one child, Florence Isabell Ecob, born 25 July 1900. The family lived at 12 Sun Street, Lancaster.

Ecob marriage

Going back to William and Ellen, Richard was their third surviving son (born 1858).


Richard married Annie Robinson in 1883 and they had 11 children – of whom more at the end of this post, because this takes the story into the early twentieth century.

Here are William and Ellen living with their six younger children and Ellen’s widowed mother Bridget Hays in the 1871 Census:

Shireshead Wm 1871

William Armer and Ellen (née Hayes) in the 1871 Census living at Hills Cottage, Cockerham.

William and Ellewm-and-ellen-h-headstonen’s fourth child, James, was born 1860. James died age 33 from chronic pneumonia/pthisis or TB. He was a farm labourer before his illness and is buried at Cockerham with his parents (left).

James died at the “Lunatic Asylum, Lancaster” and his older brother John is named on the death certificate, then living at 12 Sun Street, Lancaster.

Henry was William and Ellen’s fifth son, born 1863. He lived with his wife (née Ellen Arkwright) at Gardner’s Farm, Thurnham and worked as a fisherman in 1891.

Because he was only 34 when he died, I ordered the death certificate. It revealed that Henry fell when stacking planks (or “deals”) at the basin in Glasson Dock, and died from his injuries 30 hours later at the Victoria Hotel, now the Victoria Inn.

The account of the accident was reported in the Lancaster Guardian, November 1897, and reading it from microfilm in Lancaster Library made me feel grateful for our modern safety measures and medical treatment. Henry’s widow lived to reach 78, and she and their son who lived for just three minutes are buried with him at St Michael’s, Cockerham:


Henry accident infant son


Glasson Dock in 1919. The swing bridge between the dock and the basin is still used today. Many of the descendants of Richard Huntington Armer (my 2x great-grandfather’s younger brother) are buried at Christ Church, just east of the Basin.

At the western end of the Lancaster Canal, Glasson Dock is a lovely place to visit, with boats still using the dock and the Basin. But it wasn’t until a few months after our visit in May 2014 that I found out about Henry Armer’s terrible accident.

What happened to Ellen after her husband’s accident?

When I put this post on Facebook, a lady called Brenda commented “My grandfather was only a baby when his dad was killed.” I messaged her to ask if she was one of Henry and Ellen’s descendants, and she confirmed that she was. Brenda said that Ellen had to farm out some of the children, but because William Henry was just 9 months old, she kept him with her and they lived at Lower Bank House, Thurnham, where he lived all his life.

Lower Bank House

Lower Bank House, built 1812. In 1881 and 1901 it was the home of Henry’s widow’s family the Arkwrights and later of William and Ellen Armer (née Cross).  Image from Google Streetview

In the 1891 Census (6 years before the accident), Henry is a fisherman living with Ellen, three children and a nephew, Richard Arkwright, at Gardner’s Farm:

Henry & Ellen 1891

Henry and Ellen (née Arkwright) in the 1891 Census. The address is on the previous page of the census and looks like Garnes Farm. It’s between Clarkson’s Farm and Fairsnape, so a look at the 1898 OS map suggests it’s Gardner’s Farm.

The next census is 1901, four years after the accident. From what Brenda told me, the children were taken in by other families – apart from the baby William who was Brenda’s grandfather. He stayed with his mother at Lower Bank House, where he lived all his life. It took me some time to find them in the 1901 Census, and this was because Ellen reverted to her maiden name Arkwright. In fact, it was only by searching the address “Bank House” that I found them:

Ellen and baby William 1901

1901 Census: Ellen and William (age 4) are entered as Arkwright.

Note Ellen’s older brother, Richard Arkwright, is 48. By the time of the 1911 Census, he is head of the household, Ellen has reverted back to her married name Armer, and three of the four children are with her.

Ellen 1911

1911 Census: most of Ellen’s family are back together. She is “Assisting in Business” of the farm, her son Richard is a cowman, daughter Ellen is a dairymaid and nephew Richard Arkwright is a horseman. William, now 14, is a “Boy assisting on Farm”

Brenda told me that when William was in his late 30s, he married Ellen Cross, who was in her late 20s and lived on the Moss near Pilling. I found that William H Armer married Ellen Cross in the final quarter of 1925 and they had five children, one of whom was Brenda’s mother. I later found a sixth child, Albert, thanks again to Brenda. Whoever transcribed the birth record entered the mother’s maiden name as Crose, not Cross!

Brenda also told me her Uncle Jim died in World War I. He was in the 21st Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment and died of wounds in December 1917 in France.

Descendants of Richard Armer and Annie Robinson

I pieced together this large family by combining the children listed on the 1901 and 1911 Censuses. There’s a family tree at the foot of this post, in case things are getting confusing! In 1901 they lived at Brick Row, Thurmham, and in 1911 their address is just Glasson Dock, Lancs:

Shireshead Wm son richard in 1901

1901 Census: Richard Armer and Annie Armer have 7 children at home. Their eldest son, William, is 15 and listed at the bottom, even though 14-year-old Edward is also working on the farm. Their eldest daughter Ellen born in 1884 (just 10 weeks after their marriage) has flown the nest, but, in a 2019 post-script, her great-granddaughter got in touch and brought us up to the present!

Shireshead William son richard in 1911

1911 Census: Richard and Annie have 10 children living, but just 6 are listed here. Missing are Ellen (1884), Thomas (1889), Elizabeth (1892), Annie (1894) and Richard (1897).

I noticed in the British Newspaper Archive that a Richard Armer aged 12 fell through the ice at Glasson Dock in January 1909, so I ordered his death certificate to find out who his parents were. The father was listed as Richard Armer, Labourer – so Richard who chased a ball is their one child who had died in 1911.

Richard 1909 ice Glasson dock

Sadly another son died in World War I. Edward Armer joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (2nd Battalion) and died in France on 26 August 1914, just a month into the war. He is commemorated on the War Memorial at Glasson Dock, and also at Le Cateau Communal Cemetery in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, 20 miles from the border with Belgium. Forces War Records lists Edward’s parents as Richard and Annie Armer of 15 Ridge Street, Lancaster.

I mentioned a 2019 post-script in a caption above, and, was contacted at Easter that year by Lynne Grigg née Hodgkinson. Lynne is great-granddaughter to Richard and Annie’s eldest daughter Ellen, and she kindly shared her Ancestry page with me. Ellen Armer who married Robert Hodgkinson is in a separate post, as there’s yet another sub-tree, but in this post I’d like to share Lynne’s photo of Ellen’s younger sister Elizabeth Armer who never married.

Elizabeth Armer

Elizabeth Armer 1892–1972. Photo courtesy of her great grand niece Lynne Grigg

Descendants of Thomas Armer

In 1911 William and Ellen’s son Thomas had been married for 22 years to a Mary Ann and the family lived in Padiham, Burnley. Thomas was a carter on a gentleman’s estate, and they had six children:

Thomas son of William 1911 Census

Thomas and Mary Ann’s family in 1911; the four older children are all listed as cotton cloth weavers

It came to light after the Armer Family Reunion in 2018, that Mary Ann was actually Thomas’ cousin, Mary Ann Armer, daughter of Richard Huntington Armer. I was shown the funeral card of Mary Ann and one of her children, Richard, who died just 18 months old. I’ve not yet found Thomas and Mary Ann’s marriage, but the information on the 1911 Census places it in 1889 or late 1888.

Mary Ann and Richard Funerals

William Armer and Ellen (née Hays) in later life

Both William and Ellen lived to an old age, for those times. William died from gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), Ellen from “senile decay”. That the informant was John Whittaker (son in law) gives us a clue that he married one of Ellen’s two daughters, and a quick check showed him to be the husband of the youngest daughter, Ellen.

Shireshead William death cert

I’m not certain of the location of Sand Side Cottage. This is Sand Side House, on the A588 between Cockerham and Pilling – or, more precisely, between Sand Villa and Braides. The inscription between the windows on the upper floor reads G.T.H. 1861, but I can’t find anything to shed light on this just yet!

Sandside House

Sandside House (black name plaque). The inscription on the stone shield reads G.T.H. 1861. Image from Google Streetview


Sand side map

Sand Side on the 1914 map, on the edge of Cockerham Marsh

What happened to William & Ellen’s daughters, Ann (1848) & Ellen (1870)?

Bookending the eight boys are William and Ellen’s first and last children, Ann and Ellen. As hinted on her mother’s death certificate, Ellen Armer married John Whittaker in 1891 at St Michael’s, Cockerham:

Shireshead William daughter Ellen marriage

The couple lived at Sandside, Cockerham in 1901 and 1911. They had one child, William, born 1893. The 1911 Census introduced four extra columns that have since proved very useful to genealogists:

  • Completed years in the present marriage
  • Total children born alive
  • Children still living
  • Children who have died

This was useful proof that the couple had one child only.

Shireshead William daughter Ellen in 1901 Census

1901 Census: John and Ellen Whittaker occupying Sandside Cottage with their son William and a 70 year old widow, Nancy Clarkson

John Whittaker in 1911

1911 Census: John and Ellen Whitaker still at Sandside Cottage. The couple had one child who had left home by the time of the census

John and Ellen’s son William was working as a Horseman on the farm of Fred Gardner at the time of the 1911 Census. It looks like Ellen’s older sister Ann married a John Marsden 12 years her senior, in 1866:

Shireshead William daughter Ann marriage

The only census in which I managed to locate the couple was that of 1871; they have a three-year-old son William, and are living in Glasson:

Shireshead William daughter Ann in 1871

1871 Census: John and Ann Marsden in Glasson with their 3 year old son William.

From the 1911 Census, it looks like William Marsden remained a bachelor and worked at Crooks Farm, Glasson:

Wm Marsden in 1911

The tree of William and Ellen’s descendants is an (unfinished!) mosaïc – pieced together from parish registers, census returns, BMD certificates, headstones and, best of all, stories from Armers alive today.


William & Ellen tree


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