James Henry Ellis                                                                                            Hastings

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Hastings 1872 - ca 1884

In 1873 James Henry Ellis materialises out of nowhere in Hastings, Sussex as the father of a new born baby boy.  The child - my grandfather, Frederick John Ellis - was born on December 1, 1873 in Black Hill Passage, Hastings.  His father is James Henry Ellis, a hawker, and his mother is Ellen Ellis, formerly Warnes, late Cook.  This is our first actual piece of evidence that the man existed.  What can we deduce from such sparse facts?

He seems to have a wife called Ellen.  I have yet to find any record of this marriage mind you, so who knows?  Maybe they never actually married.  It would appear that she has been married before.  When the wife’s name is given as formerly and late, it apparently generally means that she was born as the first name, and that she had previously been married to someone with the other name.  Ellen Warne(s) or Cook, however, is as hard to find as her ‘husband’ James Henry Ellis, and I have yet to find an earlier marriage either.

In late 1873, James would have been 33 - possibly a little late for the times to be a father for the first time, not that Frederick was his first child.

For we also know, because she was my mother’s aunt - that, in fact, there was also an older child - a daughter called Ellen, but as yet we have no record of her birth either, even as Ellen Cook (imagining that she might actually not have been James’ daughter, but the daughter of Ellen’s previous liaison)

Profession - is hawker.  On the birth (and death) certificates of his other children, he is described as a pedlar.  Apparently there is a subtle difference, well not so subtle really - a pedlar is on foot and a hawker has some form of cart, though not necessarily an animal to pull it.  Both of them are generally itinerant.  The address of Black Hill Passage, does not imply lots of room to house a horse or even a donkey, so even if he had a cart, it is most likely that it is one that was pulled along by a person not an animal.  At this point in time we do not know what he was selling.

I have gathered together a few bits of information about hawkers and pedlars.  If you would like to read it click here.

Hawkers had to have licences, for which they paid.  Maybe we can track one down for James Henry.  They were only issued for short periods though, and they cost money.  The licence at left is a very elaborate one, but is nevertheless an example.  One theory for why the licences were reasonably expensive is to discourage the existence of hawkers altogether.  So did hawkers and pedlars make a decent income or were they on the breadline?  My guess is nearer the latter, though, probably if you could get a good pitch then you might have been able to make money.  After all the people who man the stalls in the markets of today or have a street stall, would seem to make a reasonable enough living.  You would think that being a hawker would imply a certain toughness and a certain chutzpah - all that yelling at people to buy your stuff - and acquiring the stuff to sell at a rock bottom price too.  There is probably no doubt that it was not a respected profession though, and the itinerant nature of the trade might explain why the Ellises somehow avoided the censuses, though theoretically, even people sleeping in the fields and streets were counted.

James and Ellen must have stayed in Hastings for a few years.  We have no idea at the moment how long they had been there before the birth of Frederick.  Their last child, Lily was born in 1879 in Hastings a year or so after the tragic early deaths of Letitia and James who died within 10 days of each other, Letitia of TB and meningitis, and James of bronchitis and diarrhoea.  They lived at no. 5 East Hill Passage for a couple of years, but otherwise moved around.  Not exactly ‘no fixed abode’, but not very permanent either.  And always at addresses with names like Passage - which to me implies a crowded slum, although today they are conservation areas and probably pretty pricey.  We do not know when or why they left but by 1885 they were in Portsmouth, where Ellen died of TB and exhaustion, leaving James with three small children to bring up.


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