William Armer was the older brother of my great-grandfather Richard Armer, but for a long time, I didn’t think the two were related! Genealogy can be quite an expensive hobby as you need to order lots of birth, marriage and death certificates to verify the family links, find out more and generally just satisfy your curiosity. William’s second marriage certificate (1898; to Elizabeth Davis, the lady pictured above with her son, Thomas Armer) lists his father as William Armer (deceased), but his first marriage certificate (1879; to Catherine Bond) lists the groom’s father as John Armer. I take the name on the earlier certificate to be correct because John Armer was likely to have been present at his son’s first wedding. He died in 1887, so would have been deceased at the second wedding in 1898. All quite confusing, but hopefully the case will become clearer as you read the post (and there’s a family tree for this branch at the bottom).
My father once suggested that I should trace the family tree by phoning everyone with the surname Armer in the Lancashire phone book! In September 2017 I did something similar, but much easier. I posted a link to the blog on the Lancaster Past and Present Facebook page, which has 29000 followers. This generated five pages of comments with leads I am still following up. One comment was from a lady called Phyllis who stated that her father was Thomas Armer, born 8th September 1911. I ordered Thomas’ birth certificate to find out the names of his parents:
He was the son of William Armer and Elizabeth née Davis. Phyllis told me that Thomas had a twin sister who died aged 3 or 4 by falling into a lit fireplace. I later came across the record of the inquest of and Alice Ann Armer aged 3 years 5 months in the Lancashire County Council archives. The verdict is “accidental death due to burns accidentally received.” The entry is dated 27th January 1912, which must be the date of the accident rather than of the inquest, as Alice Ann’s birth in Quarter 3 of 1908 tallies with her age at death of 3 years and 5 months. She was not Thomas Armer’s twin, but an older sister, and was the youngest child in the family at the time that the 1911 Census was taken (image below the map).
Henry Street in Lancaster still exists (just north of the river across from the top end of the Royal Lancaster Infirmary), and is the small cut-through shown here on the 1898 map:
I managed to find the family in the 1911 Census, just months before the birth of Thomas and his twin sister. They lived at Lamb’s Yard which looks like it was off Henry Street. I also found them 10 years prior in 1901, at 6 Lamb’s Yard:
Phyllis told me that one of Thomas’ surviving sisters, Margaret, grew up to marry a Jim Hunt, with whom she owned the Caribou Hotel in Glasson Dock. Margaret would be the 9 year old on the 1911 Census, and is Margaret Elizabeth. I couldn’t find a marriage to James or Jim Hunt, but I eventually found the marriage of a Margaret Elizabeth Armer and a James Huntington. The dates fit, and she’s also the daughter of a William Armer, so I think she must be Thomas’ sister.
The Caribou is thought to be the oldest building in Glasson Dock, getting its first license in 1781 when it was known as the Pier Hall. It was named The Caribou in the late 1930s by Captain W.C. Hayward, a Canadian who moved to Glasson. Around 2002 it was converted into 7 apartments. Nice to think that it’s still there!
I couldn’t find any information about the Caribou when Margaret and Jim where there, which was in the 1950s and 60s. Phyllis told me that one of their sons was a steeplejack and had a very bad fall from a 300ft high chimney. He was saved from major injury by the great depth of soot into which he fell.
Phyllis told me her grandmother was called Elizabeth, but that she was her grandfather’s second wife, and that he was a lot older than her – which fits in with the 30+ years gap in the couple’s ages on the censuses. I ordered William and Elizabeth’s marriage certificate, which confirmed the age gap and that William had been married previously. It’s the earliest “Register Office” marriage I’ve seen in the family, but this would be entirely appropriate for a second marriage. The Marriage Act of 1836 introduced civil marriage, as well as enabling Nonconformists and Roman Catholics to act as registrars.
In 2018 I was thrilled to meet Phyllis’ older brother, Alan Armer, visiting from Australia! Phyllis had found a photo of their father Thomas with his mother (their grandmother) Elizabeth Armer née Davis. Apparently she sold butter on the black market during World War II.
Alan told me that William his grandfather was in farming with his father John Armer (1813–1887; my gg grandfather, Alan’s great grandfather). William was the eldest son, so would have expected to inherit the family business/smallholding. But William was something of a tare-away, so his father paid him off and the next son (my great grandfather Richard Armer) took over John’s farming interests. I don’t think these amounted to very much, as John Armer was listed as an agricultural labourer in all the censuses right up until his death – but still an interesting story!
William became head gardener for Lord Ashton at Ashton Hall (now Lancaster Golf Club), right up until his death, aged 82. Lord Ashton (real name James Williamson 1842–1930) was head of Williamson’s, the Lancaster linoleum firm, for whom William’s son Thomas Armer worked.
Taking the next jump back, I eventually found William Armer in the 1891 Census, living with Kate, who must have been his first wife, at 6 Lamb’s Yard, Lancaster (which was to remain his address in 1901 and 1911):
I ordered William and Catherine/Kate’s marriage certificate and was surprised to find that, on this certificate, William’s father was given as John, not William. Either there is an error on the 1898 marriage certificate, or there are two different William Armers both living at Lambs Yard, Lancaster. As I said at the beginning of the post, I take the first marriage certificate (made out when William’s father was still alive and most likely present at the wedding) to be correct.
I trawled through all the relevant censuses again to see if there were, in fact, two Williams but this wasn’t the case. The hypothesis that the marriages are for the same man is supported by Phyllis saying her grandfather married twice. But just to make sure, I listed William’s address and occupation at his different life events:
1879 married Catherine Bond 14 Henry Street/Labourer
1891 Census, married to Kate 6 Lamb’s Yard/Farm labourer
1895 Catherine’s death – certificate ordered, partly to check William’s address
1898 married Elizabeth Davis 6 Lamb’s Yard/Labourer
1899 John William born 6 Lamb’s Yard/Labourer
1900 Mary Isabella born 6 Lamb’s Yard, Henry Street/Labourer
1901 Census 6 Lamb’s Yard/Farm labourer
(later children listed only in 1911 Census, not Parish Registers)
1911 Census 6 Lamb’s Yard/General labourer
So after a lot of going round the houses, I concluded that William Armer (Phyllis’ grandfather) was the elder brother of my great-grandfather Richard Armer. The tree at the bottom of the post should make this clearer.
Meet-up with Phyllis in Lancaster, November 2017
Recently, Phyllis and I arranged to meet for the first time, on the steps of Lancaster Town Hall. We chatted in a café, and looked at family photographs and certificates, before having a walk across to Henry Street, home of Phyllis’s grandparents, William and Elizabeth. This was very exciting for me, and proved a big help in updating the family tree at the bottom of the post.
Phyllis told me that Thomas (her father) worked for Williamson’s of Lancaster, manufacturers of Linoleum. He used to organise cricket matches for the company, which were especially popular as many of the workforce were Asian immigrants. Sadly he died aged just 59 during one of these matches in Ryelands Park. Phyllis showed me her father’s freemans application, which I guess happened around his sixteenth birthday.
She told me that her father’s brother Richard had 26 children, and I’ve been able to list the thirteen surviving ones on the tree below. Apparently they lived in two council houses knocked together in Ryelands, and their mother would sound a gong when meals were ready. If you didn’t come, you didn’t get!
We went to look at Henry Street, finding the pub on the corner preserved, but the rest of the area transformed by new accommodation for the university, which you can see below on the far left.
Phyllis told me her aunt Elsie lived at Queen Street, just behind Henry Street and didn’t marry.
We asked a passer-by to take a photo of us at the Henry Street sign! It was lovely to meet and share family stories : )
We have the same 3x great grandparents, which makes us 4th cousins!
In 2018 I met up with Phyllis’ older brother Alan Armer and his wife Sandra, who remembered lots of the information above about our common ancestor John Armer. It was a packed hour and a half, and I jotted down so many snippets for the next edition of the family tree!
William’s younger brother Henry Armer (1849–1912)
Apart from William and my great-grandfather Richard, the only other surviving boy from the family was Henry Armer, born 1849. Lost to the 1861 and 1871 Censuses, he surfaces in 1881, a farm labourer at Lower Haddington, Nether Kellett, Lunesdale.
Further searching showed that he married a Hannah Lambert in the second quarter of 1873. Listing the baptisms of Henry and Hannah’s children shows how Henry’s occupation changed across the years (a ‘hind’ is another word for a farm supervisor):
But by 1891 Henry had left farming to work as a railway labourer and the family lived at Oxford Street, Carnforth:
In 1901 the family lived at Russell Road, Carnforth, with Henry working as a warehouseman/grocer.
The 1911 Census sees Henry a farmer at Highfield Lodge, Carnforth, working on his own account. A member of the Carnforth & Surrounding Villages Past & Present Facebook group told me that Highfield Lodge is now a fish and chip shop. She lived next door to the Lodge in the 1960s, and pointed out that the census enumerator’s route was Highfield Road nos 22, 24, 26, Highfield Lodge, then nos 49, 47, 45.
By 1911, the couple had been married for 37 years but sadly five of their eight children had died.
When I searched the Parish Registers for the deaths, I noticed that three of the children died within a week in November 1882, which made me order their death certificates. The two girls died from bronchitis, the boy from pneumonia:
Of the three surviving children, Nancy Edith married a Richard Brisco who was a farm bailiff at Cowburn’s Farm, Hardhorn/Normoss. They had five children, the latter four baptised at St Chad’s, Poulton-le-Fyde.
William Edward married Alice Bush and they had two children. In 1911 they were living at Dean Cottage, Warton, Carnforth, and William was a sorting clerk and telegraphist for the Post Office.
Albert Henry in 1911 was working on Oxford Street as a draper’s assistant for Messrs Marshall and Snelgrove, 16 Marylebone Lane, 3334/348 Oxford Street, London (taken over in 1919 by Debenhams). He was the first Armer I’m aware of to move from Lancashire to London. I later found that Albert Henry died at Ypres on 12 August 1915.