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Whittlesey Ancestors - The Anker family (Part 1)

By Daniel Hewitt and Alan D Craxford
with contributions from Stuart Cook and Margaret Long


It rapidly becomes apparent in any genealogical research project that the further back in time you go the more sketchy and less trustworthy the sources become. It often becomes necessary to build up an edifice of hints, half-truths and coincidences to explain from where a family originated and how they link to the absolutely proved line. In the prologue to this article (The Origins of the Anker Family) I reviewed the available fragmentary evidence about the arrival of Huguenot refugees from mainland Europe at the beginning of the 17th century to the point where a recognisable Anker family was established in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire. What follows is the story of my own branch of that family.

From Thorney to Whittlesey

Our story begins in Thorney, Peterborough in the year 1770. Twenty five years have passed since the events at the end of the previous article and James Anker and his fiancée Ann Pulford had made the decision to get married. Ann was born in 1749 to William and Dinah Pulford of Rutland, a tiny county in the East Midlands. After notifying the vicar of their intentions, the banns were read on the Sundays of March 4, March 16 and March 25. The couple tied the knot two weeks later on 9 April 1770. Since neither could read nor write they could only mark an "x" on their marriage certificate. There is no information concerning James' occupation, but like many at the time, he was probably employed as an agricultural labourer. Ann might have worked as a domestic servant. They were not well off. Their accommodation probably consisted of a small room in a rented cottage. By the following year, Ann gave birth to a son named William after her father. He was baptized on 10 November 1771.

District Map
Town Map

Maps of the area around Whittlesey and Whittlesey town showing places of interest (1)

In 1772 the family moved to the village of Whittlesey, an ancient market town about six miles away from Thorney. Over the next few years James and Ann added five more children to their family. They were Mary (1773), Thomas (1775), Henry (1778), James (1780) and Abraham (1782). All the children were baptized in Whittlesey except Abraham for whom there is no record, although evidence suggests he was the son of James and Ann. His birth fits the timeframe of his parents having another child and there were no other Anker families in Whittlesey at this time.

Both of James' parents (also named James and Ann Anchor) died within a few years of each other. James' father was first to die, at the age of 67, in 1778, shortly after the birth of his son Henry. His mother died in 1782. James appeared in the 1799 land tax records as occupier of land owned by William Richer. The yearly tax was assessed at 8 shillings 3 pence.

In the years that followed, all the children except Mary left home to get married. The eldest son, William, was the first to get hitched. He and Elizabeth Jarvis, his fiancée, were joined in Holy Matrimony on 6 June 1797. Five months later, William's younger brother, Thomas, married his fiancée, Mary Haddin, on 16 November 1797. In 1806, Henry Anker married Alice Williams, which was shortly followed by the marriage of his younger brother, James, to Sarah. Finally, 25 year old Abraham married Fanny Hollis on 19 May 1807 at St. Mary's Church, Whittlesey. Abraham was a labourer by trade. His wife Fanny was born in 1782 to Joseph and Sarah Hollis of Whittlesey. Her father was one of the marriage witness signatories. Another piece of evidence that proves Abraham is the son of James and Ann Anker is the record of his marriage to Fanny Hollis. Mary Anker is one of the marriage witnesses and is either his sister or sister-in-law (wife of his brother Thomas).

The family of Abraham Anker and Fanny Hollis

Whittlesey, St Mary

Whittlesey, St Mary (2)

There is no further information on the family until the marriage of Ann's eldest child. Abraham married his fiancée Fanny Hollis on 19 May 1807 at St. Mary's, Whittlesey. He was 25 and she was 21. Another piece of evidence proving Abraham is the son of James and Ann Anchor is the record of their marriage. One of the marriage witnesses is Mary Anker who was either his sister or sister-in-law (wife of his brother Thomas). The other marriage witness is Joseph Hollis, the father of the bride. Fanny (Frances) was born in 1782 to Joseph and Sarah Hollis. She was one of six children.

Abraham and Fanny had six children: George Hollis (1807), Fanny (1810), Joseph (about 1811), Abraham (1812), Sarah (1816) and Abraham (1819). Sadly, George never lived to see his second birthday. He died in April 1809 and was buried on the 28th day of that month. The burial record does not give a cause of death but given the high mortality rate at the time, it's likely he died of illness rather than injury. It is believed that his younger brother Abraham died before 1819 since there is another brother of that name born that year.

Due to the low life expectancy of children born during this time, they were baptized very soon after birth to guarantee their eternal salvation. Fanny Anker was baptized when she was two days old and Abraham Anker (1812) was baptized the day he was born. In the winter of 1811 Abraham's paternal grandmother died. Ann was 62. She was buried on 11 January. There is no record of her husband's death. If James Anchor were still alive he would be 66 years old. The baptism record of Abraham and Fanny's daughter Sarah indicates that the family were living in Low Cross, Whittlesey since 1816.

Tragedy struck the family three years later. Two months after their youngest son Abraham was born, the father died suddenly. Abraham was buried on 29 March 1819. He was 37. The burial record does not give the cause of death. Now a widow, Fanny had four children to raise by herself. As if things couldn't get any worse, her mother passed away later that year. Sarah Hollis was 69. It is certain that Fanny received support from her family and friends during her time of need. The family later moved to Churchgate.

Abraham marries Mary Wilkins

There is no further information about the family until the death of Fanny's daughter Sarah in 1828. She was 12 years old. The cause of death is not known. We can't imagine the grief Fanny went through. She had already lost two children, her mother and now her eldest daughter was dead. We are also aware of the harsh conditions that villagers had to survive through, particularly during the bitter winter of 1833. In January of that year the parish made a list of poor widows who lived in the Thorney and Whittlesey areas. Each widow was to receive one chaldron of coal to last them over the winter (3). Although Fanny's name is not recorded in the archives it is not inconceivable that, as a widow with many children, she too may have received such help.

This is the last we hear of Fanny and her children for several years until the marriage of her son Abraham. He was engaged to Mary Wilkins, a local girl from the village. Abraham had little choice but to marry her - Mary was already pregnant. They were married on 26 May 1840 at St. Mary's church, Whittlesey. The marriage witnesses were Joseph and Sarah Anker. At the time of his marriage, Abraham was 21 years old and lived at High Causeway, though it is not clear whether he still lived at home or had moved into lodgings. He worked as an agricultural labourer. Mary Wilkins was a year older than Abraham, of no occupation and lived at Workhouse Street. The couple settled in a rented room on Broad Street, Whittlesey. Whittlesey Workhouse was also located on this street. Mary's parentage is obscure. We have no idea who her mother is and on her marriage certificate she identifies her father as John Rait, a labourer, but there is no record of him in the 1841 census. He may have died prior to her marriage. His surname is different from Mary's which suggests he was her stepfather. There is no record of his death.

In September of that year, Mary Anker gave birth to a daughter named Mary. The following year, the Ankers took up residence in Scaldgate, Whittlesey. Abraham's mother, Fanny, moved to Eastrea. All her children had long since left home. She shared a house with four other lodgers who were all servants to Thomas Watson, a farmer. The 1841 census indicates that Fanny is also a farmer's servant. In 1842 Abraham and Mary celebrated the arrival of their second child, a daughter named Alice. Meanwhile, Abraham's mother was in a relationship with John Clarke, a 62 year old widower who lived in the village of Stanground. They were married the following year on 27 April 1844 at St. Andrews, Whittlesey. Fanny was 58 at the time of her marriage and John was 62. After being widowed for 25 years, Fanny had finally found someone to grow old with.

Hard times

Whittlesey, St Andrew

The church of St Andrew (4)

Mary Anker

Mary Anker

Between 1844 and 1851 Mary had four more children: Abraham (1844), Charles (1846), Joseph (1848) and Frances (1850) who inherited her name from her paternal grandmother. The Ankers were living in Lattersey Field since at least 1844 but shortly after the birth of Frances, the family fell on hard times. Through no fault of his own, Abraham found himself out of work. Perhaps it was due to a bad harvest. Any savings they had were soon exhausted. Abraham was left with no choice. He and his family reluctantly entered Whittlesey Union Workhouse which was situated on Broad Street. The Poor Law Act of 1834 had created a 24-strong Board of Guardians representing both parishes (St Mary and St Andrew) in the town to administer this institution. These buildings were considered prisons and were a last resort for the poor.(5). It is hard to imagine how the children felt having to leave their home and enter a strange, unfamiliar institution. The children probably stayed with their mother. Workhouse life was very hard and there were stiff punishments for infractions. Abraham's tasks probably involved breaking up rocks and Mary may have picked oakum, although the hours she worked were probably fewer since she had very young children The family were still inmates in the workhouse at the time of the 1851 census. It is thought that the Ankers were in the workhouse for no more than two years because Mary Anker had given birth to a son named Henry in 1853 and it was the norm for males and females, even husbands and wives, to be separated once admitted to the workhouse. Unfortunately, the admission and discharge registers do not survive for this time period.

The Ankers eventually moved back to Lattersey Field. On 22 November 1857 Mary gave birth to a son named George. According to one source, George had red hair and blue eyes. He is a direct-line ancestor. At the time of registering his birth, Mary indicates her maiden name is Wilkins, lending credence to the theory that John Rait is her stepfather. Despite this confirmation, her early life remains a mystery. There is no evidence to suggest she had brothers or sisters.

By the time of the 1861 census, there have been some changes. The Ankers are living on Pudding Bag Lane (6). Abraham, his wife and his three eldest children work as agricultural labourers. Abraham's mother and step father have moved to Scaldgate. Fanny and John were blind, unable to work. A housekeeper by the name of Pheebe Cunnington lived with them and saw to their needs. John died a few weeks later and was buried at St Mary's on May 5th 1861. Less than a year later Fanny passed away at the age of 76 and was buried alongside him on February 6th 1862. Abraham and Mary was presented with a perhaps unexpected addition to the family when another son, their sixth, was born in the Spring of 1865.

Continued in column 2...

Of two sons of Whittlesey

Joseph Anker

Joseph, the third of Abraham and Mary's sons, was born in Whittlesey in 1848 and appears in the 1851 census with his family in Whittlesey Union Workhouse. It is thought the family left the workhouse in 1853 since his younger brother Henry was born that year and workhouse rules forbade men and women, even husband and wife, to be together. He was baptized on January 20th 1853 at St. Mary's Church, Whittlesey, alongside his older brother Charles and younger sister Frances.

The 1861 census shows Joseph working as an agricultural labourer with his father. It appears that he had a brush with the law in 1865 when he was working for farmer B.W. Ground. He appeared before the Whittlesey Divisional Petty Sessions on October 5th 1865 charged with stealing six apples and 35 pounds of oil cake from his employer (7). He was sentenced to fifteen days detention. On July 10th 1874 Joseph married 22 year old Alice Ann Fitzjohn at Holy Trinity Church in Coates. Alice Ann was the daughter of John Fitzjohn and Martha Laud. She had previously given birth to a daughter she named Minnie on October 30th 1871 and who was baptised at St Andrews Church on June 23rd 1874. There is also a curious entry in the parish record for St Andrews Church dated February 27th 1875. On that date, a boy named Tom Fitzjohn, who was said to be the supposed son of baker T. Basley and Alice Ann Fitzjohn, a single woman of Eastrea was baptised. No age was given and a search of the birth indexes has failed to uncover a corresponding entry under either surname.

For a time Joseph and Alice Ann set up home in neighbouring Eastrea. Joseph's occupation was that of a platelayer, a person who maintained and inspected railway track. Joseph and Alice Ann had one child, a daughter named Susan Ann born on February 5th 1883 and baptised at St Andrews Church on April 1st the same year. Records also show that they formally adopted a boy, Horace John Fitzjohn. He was the illegitimate son of Alice Ann's daughter, Minnie, who was born on February 4th 1894.

By the turn of the century the family had returned to Whittlesey. Alice died in 1908. She was 56 years of age. In 1915 Joseph made a will and named Susan Ann as executor. Joseph left everything to his daughter, except for the sum of ten pounds which he left to his adopted son, Horace. Joseph died on 6 July 1917. He was 69.

Henry Anker

Henry, the fifth son of Abraham and Mary Anker, was born in 1853, five years Joseph's junior. He was spared the horrors of Whittlesey Union Workhouse that his family had experienced the previous years. Henry was baptized at the age of 2 at St. Mary's church, Whittlesey, on 17 May 1855. He grew up in a rural community. He appears in the 1871 census living with his family and working as an agricultural labourer.

In 1873 he married local girl Mary and had at least five children by her: George Henry (1877), Mabel Alice (1880), Emily (1883), Abraham (1885) and Gladys Mahala (1895). They made their home in Private Road, Whittlesey. Like his older brother Joseph, Henry works for a local railway company as a plate layer. Mary's occupation was dressmaker. We know little about the family in the years that followed.

Henry made a will in 1923 and appointed his wife and his friend George Lefevre as executors (although George ultimately did not discharge this function). He died on 21 August 1924. He was 71. His wife, Mary, died the following year aged 70. She was buried with her husband in Whittlesey Cemetery. The headstone bears with the simple memorial inscription "Peace."

What became of the older Joseph Anker?

There remains a blank in the ancestry of Joseph Anker. The general presumption is that he was born about 1811 in Whittlesey (his age declared on subsequent census returns point to that year) and that he was the second son of Abraham and Frances Anker and named in honour of her father Joseph Hollis. No baptismal record for him has been found.

As he grew he took up work on the land. On October 28th 1834 he married Sarah Head at St Mary's Church. Afterwards they set up home in King's Delph: a street a couple of miles west of the town. They were to have four children: daughters Betsy (1836), Sarah (1838), Fanny (1841) and son Abraham (1843). Through the years the family moved house around the area. The census of 1851 found them in Kingsland, an address which lay between the hamlets of Turves and Eldernell. In 1861 they were in Grassmoor, their immediate neighbours noted in the section below. By 1871 Joseph was farming 25 acres in Eastrea.

Their family life was not without incident. In June 1864, son Abraham was served with a summons in an affiliation case by Mary Ann Cox, also of Glassmoor, in respect oh her child. (8). Abraham married Mary Bedford in Coates in 1864. She presented him with a son who was also to bear the name Abraham. Then on January 24th 1867, Abraham met with a tragic accident. He was drowned when wading in the Wash, presumably looking for willow or hazel branches to make into fencing material (9).

Joseph's wife Sarah died in 1868. On June 23rd 1874 he married 52 year old widow Ann Busby. On the marriage certificate he declared his age to be 63 years and that his father was Abraham Anker, largely supportive of the presumption made above. Ann had already been working for him as a housekeeper for several years. Born Ann Faulkner in 1821, she had married rag and bone man Samuel Busby and had four children. Joseph died in 1885; Ann followed him in 1892.

The strange case of Joseph German

On Sunday January 3rd 1875, a three year old boy by the name of Joseph German was baptised at the Church of St Andrew, Whittlesey. At the same ceremony a five year old girl named Alice Ann German was also baptised. In each case the mother's name was Martha and both children were labelled "illegitimate". Alice Ann's "supposed" father was listed as Thomas Bates, while Joseph's was said to be Joseph Anker. It has taken a great deal of detective work and a number of assumptions have been required to unpick the truth of this situation - not least because of the commonality of names in the area at the time.

Two girls were born in Whittlesey in the 1840s and baptised Martha. The older was born in the spring of 1846 and was the daughter of John German (registered as Jarman) and his third wife Martha Etheridge. By 1851 she was living in the family home in Whitmore Street in the town surrounded by six other siblings. The younger Martha was born in the winter of 1847, the daughter of Isaac German and Susanna Garner. In 1851 she had one sister and the family were living in Coates. The two Marthas were first cousins.

At the beginning of the next decade, the older Martha now aged fifteen years had gone into domestic service in the household of agricultural labourer Henry Hughes in Glassmoor, a country road south of the town running in a south west to north east direction along the bank of a dyke called Bevill's Leam. The next door neighbours where Robert and Elizabeth Fitzjohn with their eight offspring. Robert was the brother of John Fitzjohn, the father of Alice Ann mentioned in the previous section. Next door to them were Joseph and Sarah Anker with their son Abraham. This Joseph was the younger Joseph Anker's uncle. Ten years later, Martha was living in Delph Street, Whittlesey as the wife of 21 year old agricultural labourer William Anderson although no formal marriage arrangement for the couple has been discovered. She had a daughter, Alice Ann, whose birth had been registered in Hull in the summer of 1867 and a son, John German Anderson, in Whittlesey in 1870. Another boy they named Charlie German Anderson was born in the spring of 1873. A final son, as noted in the census of 1881, was born in the winter of 1875 although paradoxically his birth was registered as William Anderson German and no mother's maiden name was listed. Martha died at the age of 32 years in the second quarter of 1878, her death was registered in her maiden name of German.

By 1861, the younger Martha was living at home with her parents in Coates and had six younger children in the household with her. At the time of the next census on April 2nd 1871, Martha now 23 years old was still living in the parental home but had her own daughter, Alice Ann (whose baptism is noted in the opening paragraph of this section) who was born in late 1869, with her. That same year another curious conjunction occurred when John Bates, the father of Thomas - Alice Ann's putative father, married Hannah Garner - Martha's maternal aunt. On Christmas Day 1874, Martha married 24 year old agricultural worker Thomas Grooms at St Andrew's Church, Whittlesey. In the interim, no birth registration has been discovered for her son Joseph German. Thomas and Martha had two more children before the end of the decade. In 1881 Joseph was listed as Grooms but reverted back to German when he became an adult and was married to Rosetta Bone in that name when they married in June 1895.

Overall, if indeed Joseph German's father was Joseph Anker, the balance of probabilities would suggest it to be the younger man who was responsible.

The story continues ... Whittlesey Ancestors Part 2


The authors would like to express their thanks for the help, comments and suggestions from the following in the construction of this article: Professor Rebecca Probert for her help and advice with Marriage and Family Law; Contributors to the Cambridgeshire Forum (including ciderdrinker and magslote} at RootsChat.Com


1. Whittlesey, Cambridgesire. From: Detailed Old Ordnance Survey 6 inch to 1 mile Old Map (1888-1913) ARCHI MAPS: Great Britain 2. Whittlesey, St Marys: © Bob Jones, and licenced for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
3. Thorney Parish Church: List of poor widows in the Thorney and Whittlesey areas: Bundle of overseers' vouchers (51 items) 1820; 1828-29; 1831-33: Cambridgeshire Archives. Reference Number: P155/12/21. Repository: Cambridgeshire Records Office.
4. The Church of St Andrew, Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire Churches © Ben Colburn & Mark Ynys-Mon: Reproduced with permission
5. Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire The Workhouse Peter Higginbotham 2006
6. "Pudding Bag Lane, Whittlesey"; thread commenced July 29th 2007 in Cambridgeshire Forum
7. Charged with theft of six apples: Whittlesey Division Petty Sessions: Cambridge Chronicle and Journal Page 7 October 7th 1865. The British Newspaper Archive; © The British Library Board.
8. Affiliation Order: March Petty Sessions. Cambridge Chronicle and Journal Page 7 June 25th 1864. The British Newspaper Archive; © The British Library Board.
9. Singular Death (Whittlesea) Isle of Ely: Cambridge Chronicle and Journal Page 6 February 2nd 1867 The British Newspaper Archive; © The British Library Board.

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Page added: June 8th 2010
Last updated: February 13th 2020

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