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Elias and Frances Ford: great-great-grandson traces his family's history

A few years ago I was given a very old family bible. In the back pages were detailed all its owners from 1724 to 1860 and this started my interest in discovering my family history. I’d heard various names mentioned in the past by my parents and grandparents but have to admit that I never took much notice or interest. However, now bitten by the ancestry bug, I started growing my family tree and was also given a box of old family photos. The photos were Victorian or Edwardian but unfortunately most didn’t have any names on them and they still remain a mystery as to who they are. Luckily some did have names and I was able to identify my 2nd great grandfather Elias Ford.

Elias Ford circa 1860

Elias was born in a little village called Holbeton in Devon in 22 August 1841 and was the son of a schoolmaster. His pension records  show that he was 5’ 7” with brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. The records also show that he joined the police in Devonport on 29 October 1860. So maybe the police had recruiting parties that toured the country. In the 1861 census he’s shown as a police constable in Chelsea. In the 1871 census he’s shown as a sergeant in Westminster and in 1881 he’s shown as an Inspector in Woolwich. The pension records show that on 28 June 1866 he was promoted to sergeant and on 14 September 1875 he was promoted to inspector.

Elias married Frances at St Luke’s in Chelsea on 17 August 1867. Elias and Frances had four children, one of which was my great grandmother.

There was family folklore that he’d saved a woman from drowning. This has been confirmed by his police pension records released last year which show he retired on 1 August 1885 due to ill-health. The records show that he had chronic asthma due to rescuing a woman from the Serpentine in January 1869. Elias lived at 32 Cressingham Rd, Lewisham until his death in 1904. My uncle still has Elias’s police truncheon, a true family heirloom.

Frances ‘Fanny’ Grainger was born in Ringstead in Norfolk in 1835. Her brother, George, was also a police officer in the Met at the same time as Elias so she probably met him via her brother. Before she met Elias she was in service to the Fox-Strangeway family. My mother still has the carriage clock that was given to Fanny by Lady Fox-Strangeways as a wedding gift. Fanny died in 1921.

Last year I discovered that Elias and Fanny were buried in Ladywell cemetery (I drove past the cemetery everyday going to work never knowing that I had relatives buried there).  I thought I would visit and try and locate their grave. It was a long shot and I didn’t have any success in locating the grave. However, I was very fortunate to meet Mike Guilfoyle who was incredibly helpful and informed me of FoBLC. I intended to revisit at some point to renew my search. So armed with a pair of secateurs, my wife and three sons I recently revisited to renew the search. I knew the plot number, but that wasn’t too helpful as the graves didn’t seem to be in any order. After a lot of searching and a wonderful stroke of luck I was able to make out the name Elias Ford through the dense foliage. The headstone was completely covered by brambles, however, after half an hour with the secateurs I was able to read the inscription on the headstone. Luckily the inscription was in lead letters as opposed to being engraved, so it’s very legible and in relatively good condition.

Elias and Frances Ford
Elias and Frances Ford's headstone

From my research I’ve been able to discover that Elias had a sister who lost a son and three grandsons in WW1. He also had a brother called Frederick. Frederick was the grandfather of Sir Leslie Ewart Ford and the actor John Ford (father of the artist Inigo Ford and Anna Ford the former newsreader).

I revisited the cemetery not expecting to find their grave and assuming that the headstone was either too badly weathered to be identified, broken into illegible pieces or buried under years of vegetation, never to be discovered. So it was an incredibly exciting moment when I could make out Elias’s name through the leaves and brambles. I can’t say my sons shared my excitement or enthusiasm but hopefully one day they will. Maybe in years to come they’ll be showing their children the headstone and recalling the day that it emerged from its botanical hiding place into the light of Ladywell.

Justin Miller