In about 1827, in the small Warwickshire village of Wootton Wawen, near Birmingham, Frances Agnes Cox was born. Her father Job was a butcher. Job’s father, Samuel, a coal merchant.

In the 1841 Census, Frances, then 14, was working as a maidservant in Wootten Wawen, in the home of her uncle, also a butcher. Uncle William and his wife, Ann, had seven children.

In 1850, the unmarried Frances Cox gave birth to Walter William Cox in Birmingham. She was fortunate to have had a brother, Joseph, who was around to help her. The child was named Walter William Cox.

Frederick Thomsett, (1829-1865) father of  the infant was living in Kent. In the 1951 Census of Kent, he was still at home as the unmarried son, aged 21, with his parents in Canterbury where he had been born. Samuel Thomsett and Job Cox both witnessed the marriage in The Parish Church, Marylebone, London, so presumably they approved.  Or had no option.

In  28 June 1852, he must have hot-footed it up to Birmingham to marry Frances Cox in June 1852 and do the noble thing by taking on the role of stepfather to Walter William Thomsett who then became Walter William Cox Thomsett, as can be seen on his and Mary Ellen’s Marriage Certificate on 8 July 1875.

In the 1861 Census, Frances was living in St. Pancras with her husband Frederick Thomsett, a bricklayer, and their son Walter William, now 10 years old. Frederick died in 1865; it was said that he fell off Southwark Bridge but his Death Certificate reads:

3/10/1865 at the London Gaslight, Princes Street, Nine Elms – Frederick Derr Thomsett, 39, Bricklayer. Cause: Suffocation by a large quantity of building materials falling on him through an explosion of gas at Nine Elms. Accidentally. Information received from William Carter, Coroner for Surrey. Inquest held 9 November 1865.

Two years later, in 1867, Frances Thomsett married William Terry (1817-1881), a widower, at St. George’s Church in Battersea. In 1871 she was still living with William Terry, an undertaker’s porter, at 17 Faringdon Street.

On joining the RA at Woolwich in August 1870, Walter gave his age as 20 and place of birth Birmingham. That is, he was born before August 1850; in the 1881 Census at Newcastle he was stated to be 30 and born in Birmingham. Neither he nor Frances Cox could be found in the 1851 Census and there was no birth given for Walter Thomsett in 1850 or any nearby year. So Walter did what it seemed many Dickens’s did – they fibbed about their age.  (I, myself,  am only 29!)

In 1881, Frances was a widow, living on her own at 17 Faringdon Street and working as a housekeeper. She was still there in 1891.

 In 1899, her nearest relative was her grandson, Bernard Thomsett who lived in Plymouth and he kept his eye on his mother, even when, in 1901, Frances was in Homerton Workhouse where she died eight years later. Something that gives rise to speculation is the fact that Walter Wm Cox Thomsett had a general store in Plymouth when his mother was in the workhouse and apparently he used to travel to London occasionally and at least once to Eastbourne to see his son Walter. The family is unaware of him visiting his mother when she was in the workhouse. 

New-found Relatives

When John and Peter (grandsons of old John Dickens)‘discovered’ me – as they did many other family members – and started asking questions about Arthur and his father, Charles Henry, I was very happy to work with my new found cousins to find out more of the family about whom Arthur always used to say:  “Our family has given over 500 years to the British Crown”. Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but he was proud of all his family’s military endeavours over the years. When his brother, Louis, was knighted, he told everyone who would listen that ‘this’ was his brother. In earlier days, he was just as proud of his brother Peter who navigated the first Comet to fly out to South Africa.

Notwithstanding the fact that he had become a naturalised South African when he arrived in this country, he was always proud of his British roots. ‘There’ll always be an England,’ he would sing, accompanied by his chorus of four offspring who accompanied him with great gusto; even though,at that time, not knowing very well exactly where England was!

Came the day, when playing about on the internet; I discovered a whole new family: The Thomsetts. I had of course heard about May Agnes Thomsett, my father's mother, as he did speak about her from time to time. As children, we didn't pay particular attention to family history, but now, in the latter days of my own life, I want to know more - how much more difficult it is this way. If only I'd listened!

Thanks to the marvels of the internet, I put a message onto RootsWeb.com and didn't have the faintest hope that anything would come of it. Two years later, I received a reply from my message under the heading: Desperately Seeking Great-Granny! (Susan had long since been found).

Imagine my surprise when I received a reply from someone named Jackie telling me that she was the great granddaughter of Sgt.Maj. Walter William Thomsett, RA, Gunner (1850-1935)  and Mary Ellen Thomsett (Mullins) (1857-1924) who were married on 8 July 1875 at the Catholic Church of St Mary’s in Limerick.  I wrote back immediately telling her that I, too, was their great granddaughter!

We knew that May Agnes (Thomsett) Dickens,my grandmother, had been born in 1876 but we also know now that  Jackie is the granddaughter of May's brother, Walter Archibald Thomsett.  Thus my grandmother May and Jackie's grandfather Walter Archibald are siblings and children of Jackie's and my respective great-grandmother, Mary Ellen Thomsett.

3 Generations at Eastbourne

Walter William Thomsett (1850-1934), Walter Archibald (1895-1971) and his children Frederick, Marie and Hilda (dec.)

Walter William Cox Thomsett and Mary Ellen Thomsett's children were:

May Agnes Thomsett (1876-1920) born in Limerick
Walter Archibald Thomsett (1895-1971) born in Fermoy.
Bernard Walter (b.1880) in Newcastle-on-Tyne
John Frederick (1878-)  born in Limerick
Twins Rose and Lily born (1886) in Fermoy (died in infancy).

On his daughter’s birth certificate, Walter stated his profession as RA, stationed at Curragh, which was a big British military camp near Dublin.  It is also interesting to note that his name is given as  Walter William Cox Thomsett; a reference back to his mother Frances Agnes Cox.

From Army records, we know that Walter Wm. Thomsett was born in 1850 in Birmingham, England. His trade before joining the forces was bricklayer. In 1867 at 17.1/2 years, he signed on with the Cape Mounted Rifles and served for two and a half years.

On 9 August 1870, he signed on as a regular soldier with the RA at Woolwich and served, after re-engagement in 1880, till his discharge on 6 March 1889. His total service, including the period with the Cape Mounted Rifles was 21 years. At the time of his discharge, his intended place of residence was 4 Albert Residency, Battersea

Mary Ellen Thomsett (Mullins), Walter Wm. Thomsett
and May Agnes Thomsett, born 1876

His description at the time of his enlistment with the RA in 1870 was: Age 20 years 6 months. Height 5’4”, chest 34 ins. weight 133 lbs. His complexion was sallow, eyes hazel, (ah! so that’s where I got them!) hair brown. He had a scar on his forehead and his religion was stated to be Roman Catholic.

He was first posted to 14th Brigade which, in 1877, was converted into 3 Bde. On 1 June 1879 he was tranferred to 6 Bde and finally, just before retirement, he went to 1 Bde based at Woolwich 14 April 1887. He progressed through the ranks to finish as Battery QM Sgt. via Bombardier, Corporal, Sergeant, Battery Sgt Major.

In August 1874, he arrived in Limerick as a Sergeant in C Bty 14th Bde and remained in Ireland until 1887 and his return to Woolwich. In Ireland he was stationed, after Limerick, at Curragh, Kilkenny, Dublin, Newcastle, Dublin, and finally Fermoy. He married (with leave) Mary Ellen Mullins in Limerick 8 July 1875 and was placed on the Married roll. The following year a child was added to the Married establishment; a few days after Walter had been transferred to Curragh.

He saw no action in his service but was awarded a Good Conduct medal in 1886. He had passed a short course in gunnery in 1872 and obtained a 2nd Class Certificate of Education in 1873. His character was said to be ‘exemplary’ and ‘very good, regular and temperate’. The only blemishes on an otherwise clean medical sheet were colic (in 1872) and a boil (in 1877) of uncertain origin.

( Mary Ellen Mullins’ father John Mullins (soldier) had married Hanora Murnane on 26 August 1843 in the Parish of St John's in Limerick.)

 Fermoy - Ireland

                   Charles Henry Dickens: Bombardier, 67th Battery, Fermoy 1891

As contractors to the Army with a Grocery store in Fermoy, Walter William and Mary Ellen  must have known Charles from his popping in and out of the store whilst stationed in Fermoy, and it isn’t too hard to imagine that Walter William had his beady eye fixed on the young Charles whom he considered to be loitering with intent.

However, with Charles being 19 and May a slip of a girl of about 13, there was nothing doing then but Charles must’ve filed it away in his head to return and claim the lovely May for his bride at a later date. (Which is exactly what he did!)

As it happened, Charles’ regiment was timeously re-called to spend 6 years in India, after which time he was recalled back to Ireland in 1896. It is now even more likely that Charles saw May Agnes again and, not taking any chances with Papa, swooped the young lady off to marry her in the Registry Office in Liverpool on 5 August 1897. And again in St Mary’s Church in Limerick. Just to make sure!

Charles was then sent to Portsmouth where their first son, Arthur Charles was born in July 1898 in Hilsea Barracks near Portsmouth but on 12 November 1899, the 65th Battery was sent to South Africa, reaching Cape Town on 12 December. May and the infant Arthur spent their waiting time at Ingoldmells until Papa came marching home.

Walter Wm.Thomsett was discharged from the Army in 1889 with the rank of BQMS and died in Woolwich in 1935. He was given a military funeral which was attended by his son Frederick, then 10 years old.

                       Walter William Cox Thomsett b.1850 Birmingham

When my second-cousin Jackie sent me her family tree and photographs, she said her Mum, Mary (Walter Archibald's daughter)  used to call Walter William ‘Grumpy Ganddad!’ (That sounds both familial and familiar!)  He was very formal and still wore morning suits, stiff collars and bowler hats. His son, Walter Archibald, never saw action in either world wars due to a gammy leg which must have been a major disappointment to his career soldier father.

When I wrote to Walter Archibald's son, Frederick, aged 85,  he said, in his reply, that he had worshipped his grandfather and hadn't found him grumpy at all!

      Walter Wm. Cox Thomsett; Son Walter Archibald; Grandson Frederick

              Catherine Anne Hodgson and son Frederick Walter Thomsett

Walter Archibald Thomsett (1895-1971) and Catherine Anne Hodgson (1891-1965) had three children:

Mary Catherine Elizabeth b.1927
Frederick Walter b.1924
Hilda Valerie  (b.1931 - dec. age 63)

Mary Catherine Elizabeth married Eric Victor Beercock in 1948 and produced seven children with the age difference between eldest and youngest being 19 years.

Post Script:

In 2006 I had received a previous email from Jackie’s Uncle, Fred Thomsett, then aged 82, (son of Walter Archibald and grandson of Walter Wm.and Mary Ellen)  who used to be a teacher and Headmaster. He told me that when he was ‘a common airman in 1943’ (his words), his father told him his cousin was Air Commodore Louis Dickens. Then, when he was fully trained in 1944, he was posted to Elsham Wolds, 103 Squadron, only to discover that Dickens was the CO of the Group.


Charles and May's firstborn - Arthur Charles b.1898   

  May's brother - Walter Archibald b.1895
What well-dressed little boys wore - circa 1895!)

                       Grandparents Jackie & Terry and Babies

In September, 2010, I received this beautiful family photo from Jackie.

and then this one ... aaaah, SO beautiful.

8 November 2011 - Just received news of the latest little angel, one

Archie Mallaghan, below, son of Lisa and Daniel. Lisa, of course, is the daughter of Jackie and Terry Utley. Jackie being my cousin and both of us being granddaughters of  May Thomsett  (my grandmother who married Charles Henry Dickens) and May's brother Archibald Thomsett whose granddaughter is Jackie Utley. Congratulations Lisa and Daniel!

Tis a fine broth of a boy is Archie - inserted Christmas Day 2011

Arthur Charles Dickens











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