About our ancestors

My brothers and I were given the surname Simpson because my dad had become known as Albert Simpson. His marriage certificate to our mother records him as “Albert Simpson otherwise Littlefair”. But he did not officially become Simpson until 1967 when we were all in our twenties. 

An unmarried Margaret Littlefair, aged 19, had given birth to dad in the November of 1915. She registered the birth some three month later giving her address as 44, Anchor Yard, New Elvet and her occupation as a Domestic Servant. Number 44 was a large communal dwelling where the King’s Gate Bridge now is; the 1901 census shows it housed some 47 people in 10 families. Margaret gave dad the name Albert Brown Littlefair.

Less than a month after registering dad’s birth Margaret married a John George Gill.  Dad’s half sister Elsie, in later years, told me she believed Mr Gill was dad’s father but I still wonder about the Brown in dad’s name. An R. Brown had resided at 44 Anchor Yard in 1914, the year World War 1 started. Was he dad’s father?  I have not traced him and he may have volunteered, as did over two million, in response to the Kitchener “Your country needs you” campaign before conscription started. Soon John George Gill was in the Durham Light Infantry and killed in the war in its final year, 2018. His grave is in St. Oswald’s church yard.

Margaret, Dad and Scotty

Margaret Gill, a widow became Margaret Simpson when she married Alfred Simpson (Scotty) in 1920. Dad, at this time aged 5 came to be known as Albert Simpson. I believe he attended St Margaret’s School in Crossgate because he spoke of a teacher called Tommy Bar there who meted out much punishment.

In the August of 1938 when dad was 22 and a barman he married our mother, Ruby Gladys Wells, a Gown Store Assistant aged 23 and living at Nova Lima, Moor Edge. Earlier, in this same year, dad’s mother Margaret had died aged 42 at 87 Elvet Bridge. Dad had been there in 1937 but his marriage certificate of 1938 shows him as residing on the market place end of Elvet Bridge at number 47.

Though we have none of Scotty’s genes we do bear his name. He had been born in 1897 at Partick in Lanarkshire, soon to become part of the growing Glasgow. His father worked in a Clyde shipyard and he also but was then conscripted into the army as a driver in the Royal Field Artillery. They operated lighter more mobile guns, like howitsers and mortars and moved in close support of infantry and Scotty would drive the transport that kept the guns and their operators in such close positions. Later when we were boys, Scotty was a bookies runner operating in Durham Market Place and always on the look out for police because such activities were illegal.

Dad’s mother”s parents were a Ralph Littlefair and an American Mary Ann Turnbull, known as Polly. They resided at Daisy Hill, near Sacriston and later had a small holding at Nettlesworth. Ralph, like his father Ralph, had worked as a miner but became a cartman and horse dealer. His oldest brother William had been a cartman but then bought a Wheatley Green Farm and later a second and larger East Edmondsley Farm. Farmer William and his wife, also Margaret, had given birth to their fourth son Albert in 1895, the year before dad’s mother Margaret was born. My guess is Margaret and Albert, at near the same age spent a lot of their growing years together. It is almost certainly why Margaret named dad Albert.

Mam’s mother and father were Jessie Pook and William Maurice Wells. My mother was their second child and born in London’s Hammersmith, near Shepherd’s Bush. They moved to the North East and had three more children but were not married and did not get married until 1934, two years before William died. That marriage was at the Durham Registry office and witnessed by strangers. It is most likely that mother and her siblings never knew they were born out of wedlock.

Maurice William Wells had been a telegraphist before the age of 18. He then signed on for 12 years with the Household Cavalry at their Hyde Park Barracks where he was assigned to the Royal Horse Guards, otherwise known as the “Blues”. His rank was that of Trooper which unlike lowest ranks in other services was seen as that of a a gentleman. No rank of sergeant (servant) in the “blues”.

Nearly three years later Queen Victoria granted permission for members of her Cavalry to fight in the Boer War. So, for 14 months Maurice was fighting in South Africa against the Boers (descendants of Dutch settlers). The Boers were non uniformed farmers resisting British control of their Transvaal state. They had grown up with rifles and horses and so were proficient marksmen and horsemen and did not use conventional war tactics. Not only were the troops fighting the Boers but they were poorly fed and in conditions where high numbers succumbed to disease.

After the war and back in London Trooper Wells would have been on parade at Queen Victoria’s funeral early 1901. Later that same year he was discharged from the Horse Guards and we can only guess that he worked in the electrical industry because 12 to 13 years later he is describing himself as an electrician.

Back in the 1861 census, Jessie Pook’s father to be John Francis Pook, was at 13 years of age and apprenticed to a green grocer. He was a lodger at the green grocers. His father was a Butler in a house at Bath and his mother was a resident in the Bath Workhouse. At 22 years of age John Francis is in London and working as a green grocer assistant when he marries a grocer’s daughter Eliza Dennis. At the time of Jessie’s birth he is an oilman, selling lamp oils, etc and employing others. When Jessie is 7 he dies aged a mere 37.

Though left with children Eliza would manage because her father and brothers were nearby to give support. Eliza’s dad Reuben Dennis had kept cows near Marylebone, now at the heart of London. The Dennis family later owned multiple properties including green grocers, master butchers, an oil business, tailors, a fruiterers for the gentry and several top class hotels including the Rose at Hatton Garden that they rebuilt. One of Eliza’s brothers was Mayor of Marylebone, another a building society director.

When Jessie was 11 her mother married a tailor’s shop-man and widower James Hemming, who had children of his own to support. A tailoring business followed in which the older children participated. Later the now Hemmings owned a 12 bedroom “Prince of Wales” pub in St Pancras,
shown in the photograph as a Japanese restaurant. Jessie at the age of 23 worked as a barmaid in that pub.

Jessie and her two older sisters moved in high society. Her oldest sister married a barrister to be. Her slightly older sister Nora married a Septimus Sydney Wilkins Horncastle and had three children by him Harold, Sydney and John. Jessie must have been close to Nora because two of Jessie’s later family were named after these boys.

Septimus, aided by family, seems to have done a runner to America under the name of Jack Williams. Nora followed by boat giving her name as a Mrs Jack Williams. She gave incorrect ages for her sons but correctly listed her mother Eliza as her next of kin. She says she is bound for Elmendorf Farm racing stables at Lexington in Kentucky. I speculate that they were not going there and that Septimus is being threatened as a result of gambling debts. At this time Jessie is 32, has left the pub and is at Bexhill on sea, near Hastings, where other Pooks reside. Here she is working in a care home for the well off.

When nearly 37 years old Jessie has a son to Maurice William Wells at Kensington. They call him John William (Jack) and just over a year later in the April of 1915 they have a daughter and our mother to be Ruby Gladys at North Hammersmith, London.

In 1916 war conscription started and although William was a low priority at 37 years of age and married he knew both the realities of war. He knew he could be called up and I suspect his move north to Gateshead and his becoming an electrician in William Armstrong’s Elswick armaments factory was his way of avoiding conscription.

Maurice William, with Ruby (left) and Maude (right) at Office Street, Browney Colliery.

When Jessie is nearly 40 Sydney is born near Lobley Hill, Gateshead. A year later Maude is born near the Swallwell Road and a year after that a James is born at Newcastle

At Newcastle, William probably no longer worked in armaments and he and Jessie would have 5 children, the oldest of which (Jack) would be just over 5 years old.

Next the family moved to Browney Colliery near Durham where they resided in Office Street and where William worked as a Foreman Electrician. There, when mother was 17 and in 1932 her youngest brother James died. He was just 13.

We can trace our Pook ancestry back to 1822 at Tiverton in Devon, our Dennis/Pook ancestry back to 1799 at St. Pancras, our Wells ancestry back to 1815 at East Meon in Hampshire and our Gibson (William Wells mother) ancestry back to 1816 at Mortlake in Surrey. We can trace our Littlefair ancestry back to 1641.

Littlefair as a surname originated in Durham and spread from there. Like all worldwide Littlefair ancesties we trace ours back to a marriage in 1641 of a Thomas Littlefaire to a Dorathie Sigsworth at Gateshead. We know not why but some 12 years later Dorathie took her sons Ralph Littlefair aged 3 and Edward aged 1 to an area at Hamsterley/Cockfield in County Durham. Here she had relatives and here in 1655 she married a John Mayer. In 1658 she inherited a farm at nearby Woodland from her uncle and further inherited from her husband on his death in 1678.

Elsewhere in the north east the Littlefair name died out and for a time it was lost at Cockfield where the names of the two sons of Dorathie Littlefair were written down as Littleforth’s. When the mistake came to light their Littlefair name was restored and the worldwide Littlefair tree grew from there.

We are descended from Dorathie’s son Ralph and his “wife” Margaret Elstob who did not christen their early children Rachel and Ralph in the Church of England. When the travelling Bishop’s Court visited the area in 1675, Margaret was charged by the court with being a Papist and clandestinely married.  Two years later both Margaret and Ralph were charged by the same court with cohabiting in fornication or being clandestinely married. Thereafter their subsequent children were christened in the Church of England but Margaret remained a non conformist Quaker until her burial in 1716 at a Raby church where there were monthly meetings of the Society of Friends (Quakers). 

Ralph died in 1696, aged 46, some 20 years before his mother. His will, below, is about leaving his land and a share of a Colliery he owned, but also about how his inheritance upon his mother’s death was to be distributed.

My interpretation of the above is
In ye name of god Amen. I Ralph Littlefare of ye High Rowe in ye pish of Cockfield and in ye County of Durham, being visited of the sickness, but notwithstanding of good ——– (praised be god therefore) doe make this my will as hereafter follows.
First I do give unto my son Ralph Littlefare all my land after ye death of my mother and alsoe halfe of ye Colleyry after her death, and ye other halfe after my mothers death to my wife for her life and after her death to my son Ralph and his Heires, and ye pt of yeColleyry wch I have in my possession I do also give unto my wife until ye death of my mother.
I do give unto my son Thomas Twenty pounds to be pd by my son Ralph within four years after he enter upon this land if he be then living.I do alsoe give unto each of my Three Daughters Ten pounds to be pd by my son Ralph. Ten pounds to be pd to my daughter Rachell within six years after he enter upon ye land (if she be then living) Ten pounds in ye next year after to my daughter Mary (if she be then living) and Tenn pounds in ye next year following to my daughter Elizabeth (if she be then living)
I do give unto my son WillTenn Pounds to be pd by my son Ralph within Twelve years after he Enter upon the land (if he be then living) and Tenn Pounds to my son Daniel to be pd by him in ye year next following.
All ye Rest of my goods I doe give unto my wife Margret whome I do make my E –ecutaix of this my last will and testament, and hereto I have set my hand and seal this 13
th day of July in ye year of our Lord god 1696.


The sealed will was witnessed by an Antony Hodgshon jur and  a John Ward jur. It bears the name Ralph Littlefaire with a large B in the middle which will have been his mark and noted by an mk above it. The Cockfield Parish records show Ralph’s burial on the following day 14th of July 1696.

Ralph’s son Ralph also had a son Ralph from whom we are descended. His son John had left Cockfield and had married at Bishopwearmouth (now part of Sunderland) an Elizabeth Foreman. Their son John married at Washington a Mary Teasdale and they and their family lived at nearby Biddick, where a son Ralph was born, before moving to Ryton and then Edmondsley, where John died aged about 49.

Ralph (Margaret Littlefairs grandfather to be) was about 15 when his dad died He went on to marry a Margaret Proud at Chester le Street in 1955. They had all their family at Edmondsley, christening them at St Mary and St. Cuthbert Church, Chester le Street until 1866 when St Peter’s at Sacriston was consecrated. Their family included Margaret’s father Ralph and her uncle William, the farmer.

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