9 May 2015

Sarah Swinfield Raven - an update and an exciting discovery

by Di Swinfield

In my recent post about Sarah Swinfield Raven I mentioned Sarah's great-great-granddaughter, Colleen Swinfield, who had sent us copies of some family photos. I chose her photo of Sarah's oldest son, William, to illustrate what I wrote about Sarah's life. Among those pictures was another which caught my eye, after I had written about Sarah. It showed an elderly couple in the front garden of a house and was described by Colleen as, "William Swinfield 1841 photo believed to have been taken near Angel Yard, Earl Shilton about 1900".

This got us very excited as the only William Swinfield born in 1841 was Sarah Raven's brother who was also Geoff's great-grandfather. William has figured in a number of blog posts over the years, especially A Life in the Queen's Service and The End of an Eventful Life, written back in 2011. We know a quite a lot about William's life and death but until now we had no photograph of him. He died in 1905 when his only surviving son, Arthur, was a young and still unmarried man and the only family photos which we have were taken after Arthur's marriage and the birth of his son, Reg in 1925.

We had to contact Colleen to ask if she had any more information about this photo. She quickly replied that the photo was of William and his sister, presumably Sarah. Colleen had been given the photo by her Aunt Emma, who was the sister of her grandfather. Sarah's granddaughter, Emma, told Colleen that the families all lived "hand to mouth" and that most of the children wore shoes which had been thrown out by the shoe factories where their parents worked. It should be noticed that Sarah's shoes in the photograph are beautifully shiny!

We have no idea where Angel Yard might have been in Earl Shilton. Can anyone help us here? The photo was taken outside a house which has a front garden and looks rather more up-market. Was this Highfield Road? Does anyone recognise it?

All of this fits very well with what we know about William's life around 1900. He had settled in Camberley, Surrey, after a long career in the Army and his wife, Elizabeth, had died in the local Workhouse at Farnham in November of that year. By the time the 1901 census was taken at the beginning of April, William and Arthur were living with Sarah Raven at Highfield Street, Earl Shilton. This must have been rather more than a short visit as Arthur, aged 18, had found work as a shoe hand. Geoff's dad, Reg, also remembers his father, Arthur, being good at repairing shoes. It seems quite logical that the couple in the photograph were brother and sister, William Swinfield and Sarah Raven, both recently widowed.

By 1905 William was back in Camberley and met his unfortunate end after falling downstairs . Colleen has told us she has lots more photos which she is currently looking through. We can't wait!

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