The story of great-grandmother Amelia Battam

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The wedding of Gertrude Elizabeth Brunker to Stephen Lee in September 1918. Amelia Battam (Granny Gregory) is seated right of the bride

The naughty lady of Shady Lane

This article by Gill James first appeared in the journal of the Channel Island Family History Society

When I was a child growing up in the ‘fifties there was a song with the above title often played on the radio. It purported to be about a lady of very dubious reputation; someone my English granny would have said was no better than she should be, who could solve people's problems physical and amatory, keep their secrets and much more besides.

Granny Gregory

It was the phrase my uncle Fred Crumpton used to describe my great grandmother, Granny Gregory, when I asked him about her. No one on my father's side of the family was prepared to elaborate any further, much to my disappointment. All my father's cousin, Aunty Gertie Lee, would divulge to us was that Granny Gregory had been married twice, that she had been born Amelia Rachel Battam and married first someone called Witt, then someone called Gregory. My grandmother, Georgina Mary Crumpton, was a daughter of her second marriage and Gertie was a granddaughter of her first.

She also said that Granny Gregory had been a local midwife (unqualified of course), a layer-out of corpses and also a sort of wise woman to whom the neighbours would go when they needed medical help as they could not afford doctors' bills.

Granny Gregory became something of a mystery, even a sort of heroine, at any rate a fascinating part of my past and, although she had died long before I was born, I was determined to find out more one day. It wasn't until I was helping my mother go through my father's effects that I found his birth certificate, dated June 1917 and that reignited my interest.

In the witness to the birth column was the mark of Amelia Rachel Gregory. Who was this woman with such an intriguing past, who had delivered her own grandson and yet could not sign her name?

She was married twice - however her first marriage lasted only seven months and her second even less, only three. Out of her 90+ years she was married for only ten months. She had six children (I am not sure I have found them all yet) but only her first was born legitimate. Her name was always changing on documents: she has been known as Amilia, Emilie, Emily, Emelie as well as Amelia.

Sometimes (especially in the census records) she used her maiden name of Battam; sometimes Witt, sometimes Gregory, which made tracking her and her family difficult, especially finding her children as they were sometimes living at a different address from her. On her second marriage certificate she is Amelia Rachel Battam, the Widow Witt. Her occupations in the census range from washerwoman and charwoman during the 1800s to nurse in 1911 (although I suspect my grandmother filled in the entry for her as the writing is identical to hers and perhaps she wanted her mother to appear more respectable).

Georgina Battam and Frederick Crumpton in 1910

'Bit of a witch'

Amelia Rachel Battam was born on 31 October 1841 and as she was regarded by some of the family as a bit of a witch it was perhaps the most appropriate day of the year on which to be born. She was one of a large family - her father was John Battam and mother Elizabeth Le Montais and they had ten or eleven children. They lived for almost all of their lives in the Havre des Pas area of St Helier - D'Auvergne Place and Roseville Street feature prominently in the family's census records.

John, his brother, father, grandfather and uncles were all marine pilots and other family members were sailors or connected with the ship building industry as rope makers, sailmakers etc, reflecting that area's most lucrative and thriving business. Her brother, William George Battam, spent most of his life at sea from the age of nine as a cabin boy, sailed around the world four times and went on a voyage on the ship Pandora to explore the Arctic. He retired to Southampton.

The Battam family in Jersey seems to be descended from two brothers, William and John, who came to Jersey in the late 1700s frorn Benenden (Bininden in the register) in Kent and married two Blampied sisters, Jeanne and Elizabeth respectively, in 1784 and 1785 at St Saviour's Church.

They were, according to some records I have yet to confirm, both either merchant seamen or marine soldiers and their children seemed to have continued the links with the sea. They also continued giving their children the same four names - William, Elizabeth, Jeanne and John occur in subsequent generations with monotonous regularity, along with Thomas, Philip, Rachel and Mary.

Amelia married shoemaker George Cornelius Witt on 16 January 1864. On their marriage certificate it states he was born in Jersey, which proved to be the first of quite a few errors I've found - and they both signed their names with a x confirming her lack of a formal education. George was a native of Hampshire.

Drowning tragedy

Tragedy struck just months later on 26 July 1864 when he accidentally drowned at La Crabiere, according to the death certificate issued in September 1864 by the Deputy Viscount, Thomas Simon. I read a report of the accident in full in the 30 July 1864 edition of Les Nouvelles Chroniques. He and a friend went swimming after lunch at Havre des Pas.

They dived off rocks into 14 feet of water and almost immediately George seemed to get into difficulties. He did not call out but was waving his arms. According to eyewitnesses nobody took any notice because it was thought he was having fun in the water, as bathers often do. It is thought that having swum so soon after dining he had a cerebral seizure and was dead almost immediately.

The jury brought in a verdict of accidental death by drowning. Thanks to that report I was able to trace his birth and family in the census records in Christchurch, Hampshire. La Crabiere I discovered is the name of the reef of rocks on a part of which the Bathing Pool at Havre des Pas was subsequently built in the 1890s and it is still marked on the Ordnance Survey maps for Jersey.

To add to the tragedy, Amelia's only legitimate child, Amelia Georgina Witt, was born at 5am on 5 September 1864, ten days before her father's death certificate was issued.

Who knows what part this whole experience played in the way my great grandmother's life worked out. It may well have coloured her whole attitude to marriage and everything else and perhaps explains why subsequently she seems not to have bothered about the proprieties.

Amelia's children

Amelia had five more children:

  • John Battam (afterwards recorded as John William Witt/Battam) born at 3.30am on 13 December 1867.
  • William Thomas Battam, born 4 July 1875, died 17 August 1875 of diarrhoea.
  • Georgina Mary Battam, born 30 April 1878. She was my grandmother and called herself Battam Witt or just Witt.
  • Alfred John Battam, born 7 August 1881.
  • Francis Gregory Battam, born 13 November 1882.

For all of the above births in the registers there is no name recorded in the father's section but the middle names of the last two children make John Gregory, the name of their father.

On 16 September 1883 Amelia Rachel Battam, widow and John Gregory widower, were married at St Luke's Church by licence. He was 78, she was 43. Also underneath their names is the following - 'their children Alfred John and Francis whom they acknowledge as theirs and to whom they give the right of legitimacy'. They both signed with a cross.

In the 1881 census John Gregory was lodging with her parents, so that would appear to be how they met. Between her two marriages she seems sometimes to be living with her parents and sometimes not. In 1871 she is with them in Dicq Road with her daughter Amelia Witt(8) and her son John Battam (3). Both children are noted as boarders.

In the 1881 census John is down as John William Witt grandson (13) still living with her parents and John Gregory, boarder. Her daughter Amelia was 16 and a servant at Elizabeth Place.

The second marriage was shorter than the first - three months to the day after their wedding the death from pneumonia of John Gregory (78) was recorded on 16 December 1883. His occupation was described as marine soldier on a pension.

Havre des Pas

Amelia appears in the registers as a witness to the births of numerous children, especially in the Havre des Pas area of St Helier. She also appears as a witness on entries in the death registers, and she seems to have carried on doing both well into the 20th century. When she helped deliver my father in 1917 she would have been 75, and when she witnessed the death of her sister-in-law in 1921 she was nearly 80.

What of her children? Their lives appear to have been as hard. Her daughter Amelia Georgina married William Thomas Brunker at St Andrew's Church on 4 August 1887 and they had 5 children:

  • Gertrude Elizabeth (1887- )
  • William George Henry (1888-1891)
  • Thomas William (1890-1892)
  • William Thomas (1892- )
  • Adele Amelia (1895- )

Three weeks after Adele's birth Amelia died of septicaemia and the family were eventually sent to live in orphanages - the girls to the Female Orphans' Home in Grouville and William to the Industrial School at Haut de la Garenne.

On leaving the orphanages Gertie and Adele went into service. In 1911 Gertie was in the household of Colonel Hibbert, at Petit Ménage, where she was a lady's maid. Adele was at the Old Women's Home in Regent Road.

William left the home to work for a Mr Pirouet at St Lawrence. He enlisted in 1915, was sent to France in August and was killed at the Battle of Loos in September.

Aunty Gertie married Stephen Lee, a greenkeeper/gardener at Victoria College, in 1918.

John William married Lydia Lucinda Stone in 1891. On their marriage certificate her father was named as Thomas Stone, occupation coachman, and John's father was John Battam, occupation labourer. He simply wanted to avoid the stigma of being illegitimate.

John and Lydia had a large family. Their son Harold Battam also went to France in 1915, but his experiences were very different from his cousin's, culminating in him being awarded the Military Medal for capturing a machine gun post at the Battle of Courtrai in 1917.

John William went blind and in 1911 is on the census as a blind street musician. He died in 1924.

Victoria College

For the first few years of the 20th century Granny Gregory seems to have lived first with my grandmother Georgina Mary and her husband Fred Crumpton after they married in 1900. Then when they moved in 1905 to Victoria College, where my grandfather took the post of porter, she moved next door to her son John and his large family in Eden Place, Ann Street, now long gone.

My grandmother's story would make a book on its own. She married Frederick Richard Crumpton in October 1900 and they had four sons - Fred in 1904; Frank in 1908; George, my father, in 1917; and Harry in 1919.

Fred senior was porter at Victoria College until he and my grandmother were deported to Bad Wurzach in Bavaria (he had been born in Kidderminster England) in 1942.

Her Red Cross letters and postcards make fascinating reading about their experiences at the Schloss until they were repatriated to England in 1944. Her handwriting is distinctive and recognisable, small but very neat and clear. Georgina lived to be over 90 like her mother and was full of stories about her younger days.

Granny Gregory's death was recorded on 10 February 1933 as Emilie Rachel Battam, widow of George Witt and widow of John Gregory, aged 91, of old age and heart disease.

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