Dec 032010

One of my most difficult challenges has been to trace my Player family relatives back to their London origins and beyond. I’m not alone on this — I know of several other Player researchers facing the same problem.

I have written about my Player family ancestors before. The family lived in Coventry, England and owned a prosperous watchmaking company. Joseph Player, the patriarch in the penny farthing photo, was at least the second generation of watchmakers in his family. His father William Player was variously called engine turner, a watch case maker and a watch dial painter. In other words, he worked with a lathe and made watch parts that required this expertise.

Before the industrial revolution, watchmakers worked from home. They often lived in homes with “top shops” — a well-lit atelier on the upper floors of a residence. Here they would have enough light to work on the small and intricate watch pieces.

A Top Shop on Craven Street. Source: Peter Barton

There were several watchmaking specialties such as dial painter or case maker and they would each work on their various pieces in their own workshops. The manufacturer would coordinate the process, gather the various parts and have them assembled. Watchmaking required a community and you often find watchmakers living in a particular part of a city. In Coventry, several watchmakers lived on Craven Street and this is where you can find the Player family.

The watchmaking industry in Coventry grew rapidly in the mid-19th century and at this time you find watchmakers from all over the country moving to this city. The William Player family moved from London to Coventry some time between 1841 and 1851.

At least two of William’s brothers were also watchmakers. His brother John Byard Player moved to Reading and opened a watchmaking shop there. William’s brother Horatio remained in London and continued to make watches in the Gray’s Inn part of London.

William, John Byard and Horatio were the children of John Player and Patience Byard. John and Patience’s marriage is well-documented, as is the baptism of their children (with one possible exception). They were married in the Old Church in St. Pancras and lived in the Shoreditch area of London. As three of their sons were involved in watchmaking, I would not be surprised if John Player or perhaps Patience’s family were also involved in the industry.

Unfortunately, however, I have never been able to positively confirm the identity of John’s parents. With newly digitized parish records, there are three possible John Players born in London who could be our guy. I have investigated two of these families (both families are included as John’s parents in my tree) and have not found any conclusive evidence that would confirm a relationship between the families.

Here’s what I know for sure:

– John’s father was likely named John as our John is listed as John Jr on his marriage record.

– In 1791, the year of his marriage to Patience, John was a resident of St Giles Cripplegate in London. This may not mean much, however, as one only had to live in a parish for a short time before being considered a resident).

– John died before 1818. Patience signed the marriage allegation between her daughter Ann Elisabeth and Mortimer Corner (Ann was a minor and required her parents’ consent to marry). Patience is listed as a widow.

Here are some other possible clues to this puzzle:

– In Coventry, a Thomas Player is found living next to a group of other Players. He is a watch dial painter and lists his birthdate as 1803 and birth place as Birmingham. He is the only Player born in Birmingham.

– In 1803, a Daniel Player died in Birmingham. According to the baptismal records, John and Patience had a son named Daniel. The death record for Daniel lists his parents as John and Prudence Player. Pretty close, isn’t it.

– Patience Player died in Jul 1831 and was buried in St Andrew Holborn, although her address is listed on the burial record as St James, Clerkenwell. Why was she buried in a parish other than the one of residence? This could mean that she had a connection to the St Andrew Holborn parish.

– Another descendant of this family found some old family notes from c. 1900 which were copies of information about a Player family from Bristol. There are certainly many Players from Bristol, but I also haven’t been able to find a connection here.

Honestly, I think that the best chance of solving this puzzle is finding information about John’s profession and finding an apprentice document which lists his parents.