Today’s post comes courtesy of volunteer Clive Orton who has become a valued researcher here at the project and is a regular contributor to the project blog. Clive has made rather a speciality of researching family groups, of which there appear to be quite a few in the Knights-Whittome collection. In today’s piece, he tackles the Tabor family of Cheam. His findings show the importance of visual clues to the researcher and show how just one small detail in an image can open up the field of research quite revealingly…
Who do you think they were?
For me, researching the lives of the individuals and families in the collection is the icing on the cake of the Past on Glass project. Sometimes it’s relatively straightforward, as in the case of the Ainger brothers, who featured in this blog in March and whose lives had already been painstakingly documented by the Archivist of Epsom College.
At the other extreme are the ‘impossibles’; for example, we have images of a Mr Regalia and a Miss Steenackers, neither of whom has any readily accessible documentation in this country. I suspect that Miss Steenackers was a Belgian refugee (did you know that about 250,000 came to this country in 1914 after the fall of Belgium, most of whom returned home soon after the end of WW1?) Some of them lived in Cheam during the war years, but that’s as far as I could go.
Somewhere between these extremes lies the case of ‘Mrs Tabor’, who in the four images we have of her, taken in December 1906, looks to be in her early 20s.
As far as I can tell, there were two Tabor families in this area at the time: Arthur and his family living in Cheam and George and his family living in Ashtead. The first puzzle is that there is no obvious ‘Mr Tabor’; both Arthur and George were in their 50s, with wives Annie and Mary in their 40s, and none of their sons is quite old enough to be candidates for the role of our Mrs Tabor’s husband by 1906 when the photo was taken.
We do have a series of five images of another ‘Mrs Tabor’, dated to between April and June 1907, who looks to be in her late 40s or early 50s. This could easily be Mary or Annie, but I’ll come back to her later. There are no male Tabors in the collection.
So, a fresh line of enquiry is needed, and this is provided by zooming in on a necklace worn by Mrs Tabor, visible in two of the Knights-Whittome photographs.Enlarged this can be seen to spell the name SYDNEY. Who is Sydney, I thought, is he a husband or a fiancée? But the only Sydney Tabor in either family turned about to be Arthur and Annie’s daughter Sydney Evelyn. I was totally confused until my colleague Caroline pointed out to me that Sydney can be a girl’s name as well as a boy’s name. I never knew that, but suddenly the pieces started falling into place – she was Sydney, one of the Tabors of Cheam. Sydney was Arthur’s second name, and Evelyn was Annie’s second name, so perhaps they had been hoping for a boy when their first child was born.
This leads me into a digression on the family. Arthur had been educated at Eton and Cambridge, and had played cricket (rather unsuccessfully) for both Middlesex and Surrey in the 1870s. By the time that Sydney was born in 1886 he was Assistant Master at Cheam School, and in 1891 he succeeded his father as Headmaster, a post which he held until he retired in 1920. Annie died in July 1907. I believe it is possible that her photograph was also taken by Knights-Whittome. Pictured here, these are the previously mentioned images of the older ‘Mrs Tabor’ held in the collection.
Is it my imagination that makes her look frail in these images, dated 1907. Could they have been taken to provide the family with a memorial of her? Her tombstone can still be seen in the churchyard of St Dunstan’s Church, Cheam. Of course, I may have got it all wrong and these images may be of the other Mrs Tabor (Mary from Ashtead).
Let’s get back to Sydney. In April 1907 she married Claude Robert Higgens at St Dunstan’s Cheam. He was a stockbroker on the London Stock Exchange, and was 36 years old to her 20. He came from Hertfordshire, and they went to live at Morris Cottage in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire (he may have already been living there before their marriage).
Morris Cottage was so named because William Morris had bought it in 1894 for his sister Henrietta. She moved in in 1895 and died there in 1902. The house itself has similarities to Whitehall in Cheam: It was built in around 1500 as a timber-framed house, and had various additions over the centuries, including restoration by William Morris’ architect, Philip Webb, in 1894-95. It was thoroughly and well restored in the early 21st century by Between Time (Conservation Builders) Ltd. (see image) and is Grade II listed. Sydney and Claude had their first three children there: Humphrey (1908), Antony (1909) and Robin (or Robert) (1912). Then came Galbraith, born in Pembury, Kent (where Annie had come from) in 1919, followed by Katherine (1920) and Janet (1924) who were born in the Ware district of Hertfordshire, possibly at New Hall, Standon, where Sydney and Claude had certainly moved by 1935 and perhaps a lot earlier. Maybe Morris Cottage had become too small for the growing family and the three servants recorded there in 1911.
Claude fought in WW1, despite being aged 43 when war broke out. He is recorded as being a Major in the 1st County of London Yeomanry in 1917-1919, and possibly a Captain in the Middlesex Regiment before that. He returned to the Stock Exchange after the war, retiring in about 1938. He died in 1950 and Sydney in 1958, both in the Hertford district.
Sydney may have moved away from Cheam, but the name Tabor is not forgotten there, being remembered in Tabor Gardens, just south of the High Street, which was built on the site of part of the old Cheam School, after the rest of the school had been demolished to make way for the Sutton By-Pass in the 1930s. The old school chapel even survives as St Christopher’s Roman Catholic Church. It’s been quite a story to hang on one small necklace that could easily have been overlooked.