Our Littlefair Ancestors

My brothers and I were given the surname Simpson because my dad had become known as Albert Simpson. But he was born Albert Brown Littlefair. 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, Durham 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 and when Dad was just four month old Margaret married a John George Gill.  Dad’s half sister Elsie, in later years, told me she believed George 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. To be dad’s father he would have needed to have been with Margaret in the February of 2015. If he was Dad’s father what happened to him? Some two and a half million men volunteered between the August of 1914 and the December of 1915 in response to the Kitchener “Your country needs you” poster campaigns before conscription started in 1916. Was R. Brown one of those volunteers, perhaps not even knowing Margaret was pregnant.

If the above speculation is correct Margaret’s misfortune continued because soon after her marriage to John George Gill, conscription started and John George was in the Durham Light Infantry and off to war. He was killed in the war’s final year, 2018. His grave is in St. Oswald’s church yard.

Margaret, Dad and Scotty

Margaret Gill, now a widow became Margaret Simpson when she married Alfred Simpson (Scotty) in 1920. Dad, aged 5 at the time soon came to be known as Albert Simpson. I believe he attended St Margaret’s School in Crossgate. He spoke of a teacher called Tommy Barr 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 who was living at Nova Lima, Moor Edge on the outskirts of Durham City. 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 joined him there but was soon 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. Scotty would drive the transport that kept the guns and their operators in close positions. However,it is almost certain that the transport he drove was horse drawn because first world war guns were nearly all pulled by teams of horses.

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. He worked for a bookie Teddy O’Neil who had premises in the lane joining mid Silver Street to Moat Side Lane, which runs around the castle. I would sometimes put bets on for dad there, using his non de plume (no real names given) Scott X1

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 and why I have that name

Littlefair as a surname originated in Durham and spread from there. Like all worldwide Littlefair ancestries 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. For a time it was lost at Cockfield where the names of the two sons of Dorathie Littlefair were written down in Church Records as Littleforth’s. At some stage this mistake came to light and the Littlefair name was restored. 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. Consequently, 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.

After that their subsequent children were christened in the Church of England but Margaret remained a non conformist Quaker and was buried in 1716 at a Raby church where monthly meetings of a Society of Friends (Quakers) took place. 

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 “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 left Cockfield and settled at Bishopwearmouth (before the growth of Sunderland and now part of it). There he married an Elizabeth Foreman and they had a family. Their son John married at Washington Holy Trinity Church a Mary Teasdale. 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 the Church of St Mary and St. Cuthbert at 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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