Family History


Two names, 300 years

When my son was born in 1989 we named him JAMES. It was the only name we could agree upon. Shortly after I remembered that my father was named James, although he was always known as Ted from his middle name Edward. We hastily gave James his other grandfatherís name, Frederick, as his middle name. I didnít know then that the name James would link my son with 300 years of family history.

My father JAMES EDWARD STEER was born inLancing 13/1/1921. Before World War 2 he trained as a coppersmith and during the War served with the Royal Service Engineers. Some of this time was spent on the South Downs manning anti-aircraft stations. At the army camp in Camberley Surrey he met my mother DORIS HILL from Walberton, then a cook with the NAAFI and they married in Walberton 23/12/1944. After serving a spell in India before being de-mobbed my father joined the South Eastern Gas Board working as a meter reader then as a service technician. They lived firstly in Stanley Street, Worthing, a mice infested flat apparently but the best that was available with the housing shortage after the War. Shortly after I was born in 1952 they were given a newly built council house in Barrington Road Goring, and in 1961 bought their first house. 1975 saw a move to a bungalow in Ferring and it was here that my father died in 1992.

My fatherís father was GEORGE EDWARD STEER born 17 April 1877 in Lancing. He was a Steer twice, his father JAMES STEER from Wisborough Green having married in Lancing 14/10/1871 JANE STEER born Lancing 1849. Jane was the granddaughter of THOMAS STEER from whom all the Steers in Lancing in the 19th century sprang, apart from one family. George throughout his life followed one of the main occupations of the area at that time, market gardening and on census returns and certificates he is described variously as a market gardener, gardenerís labourer or gardenerís carter. At that time it was usual to transport market garden produce to Brighton railway station. In 1903 George married FLORA KATE WILMER who had been born in Angmering in 1879, although the family originated in Pulborough. They moved to Lancing in the 1890s and Flora was working as a live-in cook before her marriage. She died in 1922 of double pneumonia so my father, then less than two, was brought up by his father George (known as ĎSkipperí) and his three older sisters, MAY, ALICE and OLIVE GEORGINA. May married William Thomas in 1927 and had three children before her untimely death from ovarian cancer in 1933. During this time George was living at 10 Salt Lake Lancing. Their cottage has been demolished but the ones opposite, where various relatives lived, are still standing. During the War Alice and Georgina followed their father and worked as Land Army girls in the nurseries. Alice married Bill Millard in 1940 and George lived with them until his death in 1955 first in Freshbrook Road and then Fifth Avenue Lancing. George had two brothers. The elder JAMES JOHN STEER died aged 6 of pneumonia in 1880 and the younger FREDERICK STEER born 1883 spent most of his life working in market gardening in Sompting. I never knew about him or his family until starting this research. Did the brothers not get on? 

                    (James and George Edward Steer with either May or Georgina)

Georgeís father JAMES STEER was born 1834 in Wisborough Green (baptised 31/11/1834) the third son of JAMES STEER and REBECCA MIRAM. On the 1871 census he was a single man in Lancing, living near Monks Farm where he probably found employment as an agricultural labourer. What made him move to Lancing? Ten years earlier he was a carter living with uncle Stephen Ticknor in Billingshurst. It may have been because his cousin William Steer was working in Lancing for a while, being recorded there on the 1861 census. Until the 1890s the family lived at Monks Farm cottages and James worked as a farm labourer and carter however by the 1901 census they were at 2 Salt Lake (so named from the land once having being salt marshes) and this was where Jane died in 1908 of breast cancer and James in 1918 of chronic gastritis.

Jamesís father JAMES STEER baptised 2/1/1791 in Wisborough Green live and worked in Wisborough Green all his life. The 1841 census records him and his family as living in Sweepshurst. He married 2/10/1822 REBECCA MIRAM and they had six sons and three daughters. Rebecca died in 1860 and the following year the census records him as living alone with youngest son Stephen then 19. Ten years later the West Sussex Gazette reported 16/2/1871 on the ĎSad death of an old man by falling downstairs. An inquest was held Thursday last at the Three Crowns Inn by H Upton Deputy Coroner into the death of James Steer aged 80 years. It appeared from the witness that a neighbour who occasionally washed for the deceased went into his house and found him lying at the bottom of the stairs with his feet upwards quite dead. Mr Boxall surgeon said he only found a slight bruise of the left leg. His, the doctorís opinion was that the deceased being infirm had been unable to extricate himself when he fell and was suffocated. The jury reached the verdict to the effect that the deceased was suffocated by accidentally falling downstairs.í Of their children the second son MARK STEER seems to have achieved the most materially becoming a builder in Pulborough. Two sons, WILLIAM STEER the eldest and ELI STEER the fifth migrated to Surrey, Guildford and Leatherhead respectively and were both gardeners. Third son GEORGE STEER was an agricultural labourer in Horsham and Slinfold whilst the youngest STEPHEN STEER remains a mystery. He may have been an unmarried bricklayerís labourer in Southampton in 1891, otherwise I have been unable to trace what happened to him. Of the three daughters the eldest JANE STEER married Frederick Puttock captain of a canal barge who later became a farmer and shop-keeper in Wisborough Green; the middle daughter MARY STEER married an agricultural worker Charles Butcher and lived Horsham and then the Guildford area; ANN STEER the youngest died aged 5. All the children apart from Stephen left home early to work, reflecting perhaps the difficult times rural workers were facing in the 1830s to 1850s. My father kept in touch with the family of Eli in Leatherhead and I remember visiting his daughter-in-law Aunt Kate Steer as a child.

JAMES was left fatherless at the tender age of six. His father GEORGE STEER was baptised in Billingshurst 13/11/1763 (I am aware that now we are in the realm of supposition where it is difficult to get 100% proof of parentage). On 8/10/1788 in Kirdford he married MARY PELLETT aged 15 who also came from Billingshurst, daughter OF James and Mary. The marriage certificate shows him as already living in Wisborough Green. As well as James they had THOMAS STEER who died in the same year as his father, aged 3 and WILLIAM STEER baptised 23/8/1795. Four William Steers were baptised in the village that year. Basing my evidence on witnesses at marriages I believe William grew up to be an agricultural worker and woodworker in the village, marrying LUCY PACEY. The most interesting thing about George is his burial 4/8/1796. The parish register says he was member of friendly society and had a funeral sermon. Friendly societies were apparently only starting up formally at this time although they had been around for hundreds of years. They grew from the simple premise that if a group of people contributed to a mutual fund then they could receive benefits in time of need. The early meetings were often held as a social gathering when the subscriptions would be paid. It was often the only way working people had to receive help in times of ill health or old age. Two other Friendly Society members had funeral orations shortly after George, John Luff aged 34 on 12/8/1796 and Charles Boxer aged 48 23/8/1796. Were three membersí deaths in such a short time just coincidence? The Sussex Weekly Advertiser has no report of the deaths. Widow Mary remarried 17/11/1798 John Ticknor and had a further three sons and three daughters. She died in 1811.

Perhaps George decided to join a friendly society as a response to his own childhood. His father GEORGE STEER a husbandman from Billingshurst had married 18/1/1863 in West Chiltington, with the consent of his father James Steer husbandman, ELIZABETH PAGE aged 25 widow, mother of a two year old son Peter. George was 19, having been born 7 January 1744 in Billingshurst. As well as George the couple had Philip, Hannah and Sarah. On 7 December 1766 Billingshurst parish issued West Chiltington a settlement order for him and Elizabeth. I get the impression, I could be wrong, that George may not have been an altogether reputable person. Elizabeth was buried in Billingshurst from the workhouse on 23/11/1777 and on 19 December 1778 a putative father warrant was issued from Pulborough for George Steer of Billingshurst. The young woman in question was Mary Heather whose illegitimate son George was baptised 1/5/1779 in Pulborough. George remarried 7/8/1785 LUCY JOHNSON a widow with seven children and they had a son William born the following year. George was buried in Billingshurst on 24/9/1823 from Billingshurst workhouse and Lucy was buried there 2/3/1829 at the age of 89. Son William seems to have taken after his father for on 2/10/1805 a bastardy order was issued against him in relation to Amelia Etheridge who had given birth to a daughter Harriott earlier that year. The Child Support Agency is not a new idea!

Georgeís father JAMES STEER, husbandman, was baptised 1/10/1700 in Itchingfield, eldest son of WILLIAM STEER and SARAH WOODS. Sarah was Williamís second wife. Their second son was a George. James married 12/2/1722 MARY WOODMAN in Wisborough Green and they had four sons William, James, Thomas and George (he youngest child) and six daughters Mary, (twice), Sarah, Elizabeth, Martha and Keziah. All the children were born in Billingshurst. The eldest child Mary died as a young baby and the next daughter was given the same name. After Georgeís birth the family must have moved to Shipley as on 18/1/1762 there was a settlement order for James and Mary from Billingshurst to that parish. Mary was buried on 20/10/1781 in Billingshurst and James only survived her two weeks. His burial was 9/11/1781. I am now researching the ancestry of Jamesís father William. He may have come from Lodsworth where the Steers are mentioned from the start of the parish register.

So there you have it Ė in over 300 hundred years four Jameses and three Georges. If I or my sister had been born a boy would we have been a James or a George? I think not as my mother has always said she would have named a son David!