The Girl Next Door? Local History, Maps and Back-to-Backs

On first examination it would be easy to assume that the subjects of this entry in the 50 Marriage Mondays series had met through being neighbours, possibly from childhood.

Marriage Certificate - Thomas Adams & Mary Ann Barton

Marriage Certificate – Thomas Adams & Mary Ann Barton

Bride: Mary Ann Barton, of 1 Bk 89 Heneage str
Groom: Thomas Adams, of 2 Bk 89 Heneage str
Date: 29 March 1902
Location: St James Church, Ashted, Birmingham

Only a fragment of Heneage Street exists today, and none of the buildings along the street survive.  The parish of Ashted lay within the Duddeston and Nechells redevelopment area, first proposed in 1937 due to the unsanitary state of the housing. Redevelopment commenced after World War II when the area had suffered bomb damage due to its proximity to industrial targets, including St James church, which was demolished around 1956.

So, can we locate the residences of Thomas and Mary Ann?  A clue lies in the addresses.  The abbreviation ‘Bk’ stands for back, indicating the houses 1 and 2 were situated behind the house numbered 89 that fronted onto Heneage Street.  Behind the houses that lined the streets there were courts or yards serving several 2 or 3 story Back-to-Back or Tunnel-Back houses accessed by an alley or passage.  Many such houses on Heneage Street had only 3 rooms. The houses of each courtyard shared outdoor toilet facilities and water pump.  Birmingham Lives, The Carl Chinn Archive includes photographs of this type of housing, like Court 15 in nearby Adams Street.

The 1890 1:2,500 scale Ordnance Survey map shows Heneage Street stretched from Woodcock Street in the west to Great Francis Street in the east.  It also shows the confusing jumble of courts.  A larger scale map, (available at, coordinates 408330, 287837) the 1: 500 Ordnance Survey Town Plan of Birmingham, dated 1887-1889, shows individual houses, but does not give house numbers.  However, the 1903 street directory[1] makes it clear that the house numbers ran from 1 to ca. 150 along the south side starting at the Woodcock street end, and from 151 upwards along the north side starting at Great Francis Street.  So number 89 was on the south side between Henry Street and Willis Street:

South side Heneage street
……… here is Henry st ………
Nicholls Harry, coal dealer
75           Smith Joseph, confectioner
81           Hayes Mrs. Elizh. shopkr
89           Heybeard Mrs. Dora, pawn-broker
90           Pearson Hy. painter & glazier
91           Hurst Mrs. Mary Ann, haberdasher
93           Avery Rowland G. grocer
97           { Gill Herbt. Edwd. chemist TOWN SUB-POST, M. O.O. & S. B
……… here is Willis st ………

Counting back from 97, the post office (marked in green) on the corner of Heneage and Willis streets, 89 is a house (marked in yellow) with a passage on both sides leading to courts 15 and 16 (marked in blue).  Each court contained 3 back-to-back houses (marked in red).

Back-to-back houses behind 89 Heneage Street

Back-to-back houses behind 89 Heneage Street

The street directory does not list everyone who lived in the street, but only those prepared to pay for an entry, such as businesses.  To answer the question of whether Thomas and Mary Ann met as neighbours, I turned to the 1901 census, taken a year before their marriage.

Neither Mary Ann nor Thomas lived in Heneage Street in 1901.  Pawn broker Dora Heybeard is enumerated at no 89 and the Bagliss, Tebbett and Browning families are listed at 1, 2 and 3 houses in court 16.  Court 15 is not identified in the address column, so I am not sure which census entries relate to those houses.

The most likely candidate on the 1901 for Mary Ann Barton, is a 26 year old pen grinder, enumerated as a boarder with the Kidner family at Court 23 house 1, Clifton Road, Aston.  The address again gives the clue that the house was a back-to-back.  I have not identified Thomas Adams on the census because there are several possible candidates.  Both Mary Ann and Thomas had moved more than once prior to 1901 with their parents, but apparently left home by 1901.  In 1901, Mary Ann’s parents and Thomas’ parents lived at 85 Adams Street, Aston and 5 Guthrie Street, Aston Manor respectively.

Year Mary Ann Barton’s address Thomas Adams’ address
1871 N/A 2 bk of 27 & 28, Barr Street, St Martin
1875 35 Brewery Street, Duddeston N/A
1881 60 Richard Street, Aston 13 Upper Hockley Street, Upper Hockley Street, Birmingham All Saints
1891 Court 2 House 4, Dartmouth Street, Aston Upper Hockley Street, Birmingham All Saints
1901 Court 23 house 1, Clifton Road, Aston Not found

It is clear that the Barton and Adams families moved around the poorer parts of Birmingham close to the city centre.  They may have been even more mobile than suggested by the census records presented here.  Several addresses indicate back-to-back houses.  Investigating the area has helped me understand my great grandparent’s humble origins.

© Sue Adams 2013

[1] “UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories, 1770-1941”, Birmingham, 1903 Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham, image nos 141-142. digital image. Ancestry ( : accessed 18 September 2013)

Engagement Evidence – The Diamond Ring

An engagement is generally a much more informal event than the marriage that may follow.   A couple may become engaged long before any legal formal notice is given in the form of banns or civil alternative.  I know about the marriage of my grand uncle and grand aunt from their marriage certificate:

Bride: Evelyn Victoria Griffin
Groom: Charles Percival Fleming Jones (known as Percy)
Date: 13 July 1929
Location: St Michaels, Handsworth, Stafford

Some couples announced their plan to marry to their social circle through a newspaper personal column or other equivalent of today’s social media.  Some held a celebratory party.  Others simply started preparing for their wedding with no announcement or celebration.  The abiding symbol of an engagement is the engagement ring.  Thanks to Percy and Evelyn’s daughter, I have a document that records the purchase of Evelyn’s engagement ring.

Engagement Ring receipt

Engagement Ring receipt

The receipt, clearly torn along the perforation from a carbon duplicate book, is filled in by two people with different handwriting.  The first records:

Date: July 4 1928
Purchaser: Mr Nelson 184 Warstone Lane, Bham
Item: Diamond Ring
Price: £15/-/-

It is not obvious what “WO/137” and “MH” refer to.

The second hand records, some of it overwriting the 2 one penny revenue stamps:

Payment: Received Cash £15/0/0
Signature: SolleN? elson
Date: 6/7/1928

I think the signature is Mr Nelson’s, who received payment, presumably from Percy.

It seems quite obvious that Nathan Brothers were jewellery manufacturers, but who was Mr Nelson?  The 1921 and 1932 editions of Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham confirm that Nathan Brothers were jewellery manufacturers based at 120 Vyse Street[1].  I did not find a Mr Nelson, but two businesses operated at the address given, 184 Warstone Lane: Joseph Wainwright, a manufacturing jeweller and Sechaud A. & Co., precious stone dealers[2].   Both Vyse Street and Warstone Lane are in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.  The involvement of two businesses might indicate a custom-made ring.  I suspect Mr Nelson worked for Sechaud & Co. and that they supplied the diamond for the ring made by Nathan Brothers.

From this receipt, we can estimate that the couple became engaged about a year before the marriage.  What I do not know is whether Percy bought the ring before or after his proposal of marriage (assuming he did the traditional thing).  It would also be nice to add the story of Percy and Evelyn’s courtship, so dear relatives, what tales can you add?

© Sue Adams 2013

[1] Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham, and the counties of Stafford, Warwick and Worcester 1921. Kelly’s Directories Ltd: London. p. 355. digital image. Ancestry (accessed 8 July 2013), UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories 1770-1941. Birmingham. 1921 Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham. image no. 397.

Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham, and the counties of Stafford, Warwick and Worcester 1932. Kelly’s Directories Ltd: London. p.441. digital image. Ancestry (accessed 8 July 2013), UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories 1770-1941. Birmingham. 1932 Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham. image no. 506.

[2] Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham, and the counties of Stafford, Warwick and Worcester 1921. Kelly’s Directories Ltd: London. p. 358. digital image. Ancestry (accessed 8 July 2013), UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories 1770-1941. Birmingham. 1921 Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham. image no. 400.

Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham, and the counties of Stafford, Warwick and Worcester 1932. Kelly’s Directories Ltd: London. p.445. digital image. Ancestry (accessed 8 July 2013), UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories 1770-1941. Birmingham. 1932 Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham. image no. 510.

Linking the Jeweller’s chain through Trade Directories

Edward John Adams or Edward James Adams, featured in ‘Common Surname Trouble – Adams in Birmingham’, presented an identification challenge. This marriage appears to be his second.

Marriage Certiticate - Edward John Adams & Sarah Lucas nee Brain

Marriage Certiticate – Edward John Adams & Sarah Lucas nee Brain

Bride: Sarah Lucas, widow
Groom: Edward J Adams, widower, jeweller
Date: 2 June 1863
Location: Edgbaston, Birmingham
Groom’s father: James Adams, jeweller

A recap of evidence found so far

Evidence from census, birth and marriage records suggest that Edward John Adams, started out working as a butcher in the 1840s, then became a jeweller and retired around 1870.  He was widowed before 1861, so was free to remarry.  He had a son, also named Edward, born ca 1837.

Another younger Edward J Adams or Edward James Adams worked as a jeweller from the 1870s and had diversified into watch and clock making by the 1890s.  The ages of this Edward indicate a birth date ca 1837, which is consistent with him being Edward John’s son.

Event Year Name Age Occupation Address Household members
Marriage 1834 Edward Adams
Census 1841 30 Butcher 13 Sand Pits Mary (30), Edward (4), Sarah (6), Joseph (2), Maria (1)
Thomas’ Birth 1844 Edward John Adams Jeweller & Butcher
Emma’s Birth 1846 Butcher
Census 1851 Edward Adams 40 Jeweller 9 Branston St wife Mary (44), children Edward (14), Joseph (12), Jane (8), Thomas(6) and Emma (4), and brother George (27)
Census 1861 50 30 Kenion St widowed, children Edward (24), Joseph (22), Maria (21), Jane (19), Thomas (17), Emma (15), niece Sarah (27)
Thomas’ Marriage 1866 Edward James Adams
Census 1871 Edward J Adams 60 Retired Goldsmith Henwood Hall, Solihull wife Sarah (51)
Census 1881 70 Jeweller Spring Villa, Kingsbury Rd, Erdington wife Sarah (61)
Census 1871 Edward J Adams 34 Jeweller 76 Spencer St wife Emma (34), child Edward J (7), 1 servant
Census 1881 44 Avenue Rd, Acock’s Green wife Emma (44), child Edward (17), 1 servant
Census 1891 Edward James Adams 53 Clock & Watchmaker Sunny Side, Augusta Rd, Acock’s Green wife Emma (53), 1 lodger

The records that associate Edward senior with his second wife, Sarah, only give a middle initial J, leaving room for doubt about whether he is the same person the man who married Mary Foster in 1834.

Same person?

Using Ancestry’s ‘UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories, 1770-1941’ collection and bearing in mind the caveats discussed in ‘Picking up the Tailor’s Thread through Trade Directories’,  careers and residences of the two men are summarised as follows:

Name Years Street Address Occupation
Edward Adams 1839, 1841 13 Lower terrace, Sand Pits Jeweller
1849 21 Unett St Butcher
1858 20 Anderton St Jeweller
1862 30 Kenion St
1866 Henwood Cottage, Solihull
Edward John Adams 1872, 1876, 1880, 1882 Tyburn, Erdington private resident
1884 Tamworth Rd, Erdington
Edward James Adams 1872 76 Spencer St Jeweller
1873 76 Spencer St & 70 New St
1876 76 Spencer St, 70 New St, 81A Bull St Gold spectacle maker, jeweller & electro-plater
1880, 1882 76 Spencer St & 81a Bull St
1884 34 St Paul’s Square & 81a Bull St Spectacles maker, jeweller & optician
1888 34 St Paul’s Square & 82 Bull St
1876, 1880, 1882 The Avenue, Acock’s Green private resident
1884 Hazelwood Rd, Acock’s Green
1892 Auckland house, Sherbourne Rd, Acock’s Green

Entries for private residents, usually the more affluent and respectable people, do not give the exact street address.   Tyburn, Erdington is very close to Kingsbury Road, so I am reasonably sure that the resident Edward John Adams is the same person as the jeweller at Spring Villa on the 1881 census.  This census indicates that wife Sarah was born ca 1820 and the birthplace for both is recorded as Warwick, probably meaning the county, which is a bit vague.  Sarah appears on the 1851 census with her first husband James Lucas and son William, and as a widow on the 1861 census with William.  Sarah Lucas, nee Brain’s birth date, reported as ca 1820, matches the jeweller’s wife at Spring Villa.

Moving out of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter

The trade directory entries chart Edward John Adams’ jewellery business at Sand Pits and Kenion Street in the Jewellery Quarter and his retirement to the suburbs.  Edward James Adams expanded his business, occupying Jewellery Quarter premises in Spencer Street and St Paul’s Square as well as nearby city centre premises, whilst residing in Acock’s Green.


This all started with my confusion over the inconsistent naming of Thomas Adams’ father on his marriage certificate.  I am now convinced that the middle name James was an error.  I am also ready to conclude that Edward John Adams married twice.  The second marriage names his father as James Adams, a jeweller, an elusive piece of information.

© Sue Adams 2013