A Truth Stranger than Fiction
The article that follows is an extract from a piece prepared by Tony PAice who many will know way back in 2002 and intrigued me no end when I read it so I hope you find if of interest.
There is a legendary lady sitting on the wall at the kitchen end of the Annexe to the Church of the Good Shepherd– Mrs Waters, Pyrford’s redoubtable midwife in the latter half of the 19th century. I would not question her professional or social conduct which has been the subject of much well-deserved praise in these columns. But she was never “Mrs Waters”.
“Oh yes she was,” an old Parish friend responded, and went on to quote no less a source than Nellie Smithers, a direct descendant of the good old dame. I re-checked my sources – the Pyrford census records from 1841 to 1901 – and found no sign of a Mrs Waters, and certainly no midwife of that name. Perhaps she had lived outside the village. There was a midwife – so the census informed me – and she lived on Church Hill. Her name was Jemima Allgrove, married to John, a gardener.
Then, out of the blue a confederate rang up to say that the Parish Office had been admonished by a visitor – another descendant of “Mrs Waters.” The ancestor was not Waters, but Allgrove. Oh how smug this pretentious local historian felt. The visitor explained further that the confusion arose when the villagers gave their midwife a nickname. When the waters break, send for…!
End of story? Not quite. I have just discovered a short account of a double wedding which took place on Friday 27 January 1865 between the two sons of John Choat, then the licensee at the The Lock or Anchor inn and two daughters – Mary Anne and Ellen – of a Mr Waters. The event is recorded in the Parish register, but the parents of the two young women are clearly entered as John and Jemima Allgrove. The 1861 Census further confirms them as the elder two daughters of John and his wife, Jemima, who was then described as the deputy schoolmistress.
By 1871 Jemima is described by the enumerator as “midwife”. So I could imagine that the Surrey Advertiser’s cub reporter, who described how ten smiling young couples escorted the brides and grooms up to St Nicholas that cold January day, had got the wrong end of the stick when overhearing a ribald remark at the back of the church. Or was some tongue in cheek village correspondent starting off the legend? We will never know – but the caption to the photograph in the Annexe needs changing, if only to add some inverted commas or an exclamation mark.
Many thanks Tony!