Our Littlefair Ancestors

My brothers William Fenwick Littlefair and Derrick were given the surname Simpson because our dad had come to be known as Albert Littlefair Simpson. I was named Albert Littlefair Simpson after him. Yet dad was registered at birth as Albert Brown Littlefair and did not officially change that name until we boys were in our 20’s. In his early years he had been known as Albert Littlefair Gill. His marriage certificate records him as “Albert Simpson otherwise Littlefair”,

An unmarried Margaret Littlefair, aged 19, had given birth to dad in the November of 1915. She had registered the birth some three month later giving her address as 44, Anchor Yard, New Elvet, Durham and her occupation as a Domestic Servant. Anchor Yard’s no. 44 was clearly a large communal dwelling as the 1901 census shows it housed some 47 people in 10 families. It used to be where the New Elvet side of the King’s Gate Bridge now is;

When Dad was just four month old, and on the 26th of February 1916, the 22 year old Margaret married a 29 year old John George Gill, a General Dealer, both being resident at 44 Anchor Yard. Was he dad’s father? In later years, dad’s half sister Elsie told me she had been given to understand that George Gill was dad’s father but we have no means of knowing if that was so and it doesn’t explain the Brown in dad’s name.

We do know that an R. Brown had resided at 44 Anchor Yard in 1914, the year World War 1 started and was possibly there in 1915.

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. That was before conscription started in 1916. Was R. Brown one of those volunteers, perhaps not even knowing Margaret was pregnant with dad

Margaret’s misfortune continued when her husband, John George, was conscripted into the Durham Light Infantry and off to war. Then on 10/12/1917, when dad was 2 years old, she gave birth to a baby girl and named her Margaret Gill. But the baby died some seven days later and was buried in St Oswald’s grave yard. Then just four months later John George seemingly was returned to this country with war injuries and died of those injuries at Scotton, near Richmond, N. Yorks, 8/4/1918. His war grave is in St Oswald’s Stockton road graveyard.

Margaret, Dad and Scotty

The widowed Margaret Gill became Margaret Simpson when she married Alfred Simpson (often called Scotty or Jock) in 1920. Dad, would be 5 at the time. The following year the 1921 census reveals that Alfred and Margaret and Dad were living at 16, Derwent  Street, Sunderland. Alfred is 23 years 8 months, born Glasgow ; an out of work general labourer previously employed by Rankin Builders of Stockton Road, Sunderland. Margaret is listed as born Durham and aged 25. Dad is listed as Albert Gill Simpson aged 5yrs 3 month and as Alfred’s stepson.

How long they were at Sunderland I know not but Dad’s half sister Doreen (Reenie) is listed as born in Durham in 1925 followed by Elsie in 1929 and Joan in 1932. I know Dad attended St Margaret’s School in Crossgate as he spoke of a teacher called Tommy Barr there who meted out much punishment.

We know the family were at 87 Elvet Bridge from 1935onward

Dad’s mother Margaret died 7th of January 1938 at 87 Elvet Bridge aged a mere 42. Dad would be 22 at the time, Doreen would be 12, Elsie would be 8 and Joan 5. Margaret is also buried in the St. Oswald’s Stockton Road Graveyard.

Dad, we know was living at 87 in 1937 but his marriage certificate of 6th of August 1938 records him as living on the market place side of Elvet Bridge at number 47. I presume mother would spend some time there before and after their marriage, though her address is given on the marriage certificate as Nova Lima, Moor Edge.

The marriage certificate says dad was 22 and a barman. Mother, is listed as Ruby Gladys Wells, a Gown Store Assistant and aged 23. Living at Nova Lima at the time of the marriage would be her mother Jesse Wells, brother Sid Wells and sister Maude Wells. The house was owned by eldest brother Jack Wells who was working in Brazil.

I was born at Nova Lima 6/4/39. It was probably a convenient place to be born as soon after a 1939 record shows that dad, mam and I were at 87 Elvet Bridge, along with Alfred Simpson, his three daughters Doreen, Elsie and Joan, dad’s uncle Herbie Littlefair, his sons Ronald and Fenwick and daughter Lillian.

So, It is likely that mam and dad had been living at 87 before my birth and that mother had been out with the raising of dad’s three half sisters

Dad was conscripted and started training for the Royal Artillery in April of 1940 so I think mam and I would then move to Nova Lima, particularly as mam was pregnant with Bill who was born there in June of that year and given the name William Fenwick Littlefair Simpson. The Fenwick bit was a tribute to the above mentioned Fenwick Littlefair who had tragically died at age 14 in a hotel lift accident at Hexham. He had been the lift boy and had somehow been trapped between the moving lift and the upper floor with the door open.
Mother’s sister Maude was married in 1941 and brother Sid was married in 1942 which made for more room at Nova Lima . Dad was able to reside there in his periods of leave e.

Though we have none of Scotty’s genes we do bear his name. Born in 1897 at Partick in Lanarkshire that became a part of Glasgow he had joined his father working in a Clyde shipyard before being conscripted into the army as a driver in the Royal Field Artillery. Field Artilleries operated lighter more mobile guns, such as howitsers and mortars, and moved in close support of infantry. Scotty would drive the almost certainly horse drawn transport that kept the guns and their operators close to the infantry.

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, knocking on a shuttered window and handing over money and a bet on a piece of paper that also had dad”s non de plume Scott X1 on it. (no real names given).

Margaret’s Siblings and Ancestry

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. Mary Ann had been born near Pittsburg in Alleghenny County, Philadelphia to Emigrants William and Ann Turnbull but Ann had come back to Durham with her daughters, including Mary Ann and had not returned to William in America.

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.

Dad’s mother Margaret was probably named after her Grandmother, one Margaret Proud, who had married her Grandfather also called Ralph in 1855 as in the family tree below. Margaret Proud died age 37 in childbirth. She is buried in a grave at Pelton along with those of her children who died young; John who died at 15 month, Elizabeth who died at 1yr 8 month, Margaret who died age 9 month, a John Thomas who died at 3 years and a second John Thomas who died after his mother Margaret at 14 weeks.

Ralph would be under pressure to find a wife to help support his family and in 1875 married an Elizabeth Chapman, who already had two children by a previous marriage. They went on to have a further three children.

Littlefair is a Durham 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. They did not christen their early children Rachel and Ralph in the Church of England and 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 was the one who married Margaret Proud at Chester le Street in 1955. The family tree shows how the children were christened at the Church of St Mary and St. Cuthbert in Chester le Street until 1866 when St Peter’s at Sacriston was consecrated.

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