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.

Jan 202008

Almost immediately after beginning my adventures in genealogy, I regretted not having done this research while my grandmother was alive. For one, her side of the family is particularly interesting. Her father, Richard Morgan Player, emigrated to Canada at the end of the 19th century and there are plenty of records in both England and Canada from his life. But more importantly, I wish I had done this while she was alive because I managed to find her relations in England. It turns out that our cousin Simon, a descendant of RM Player’s brother Joseph William , has been working hard at collecting family materials as well. Most of the exciting information that I have about the Coventry Players comes from Simon and I am grateful that I was able to find him.

Joseph Player Family of Coventry

(Click on photo to go to full photo album)

RM’s father Joseph Player owned a watch-making factory in Coventry, England. The family and all of their ancestors were well-established middle class citizens, could perhaps even be called upper class industrialists. I remember my grandmother telling me that my g-grandfather had taken my g-grandmother Jessie on a trip to meet the Coventry family and she had complained that they had treated her like a second class citizen. I have to say, however, that this was hardly fair to Jessie as she was the daughter of one of Ontario’s big fish: RE Truax (I’ll get to him at some point).

Joseph Player and his wife Eliza Newsome Steane Player had 13 children as follows:

  1. Joseph William (1865-1956)
  2. Isaac Steane (~1867-~1950)
  3. Samuel Newsome. Born in Dec 1869 in Coventry, Warwickshire, England. Samuel Newsome died in 1941; he was 71.
  4. Eliza Lomax. Born abt 1872 in Coventry. Eliza Lomax died in Meriden, Warwickshire, England, in Mar 1900; she was 28.
  5. Percy Morgan. Born abt 1874 in Coventry. Percy Morgan died in Coventry abt 1884; he was 10.
  6. Frances Gertrude. Born abt 1876 in Coventry. Frances Gertrude died in 1955; she was 79.
  7. Richard Morgan (1877-1950)
  8. Alfred Septimus. Born in Mar 1879 in Coventry, England. Alfred Septimus died in South Africa, on 25 Mar 1902; he was 23.
  9. Agnes Elizabeth. Born abt 1881 in Allesley, Warwickshire, England. Agnes Elizabeth died abt 1950; she was 69.
  10. May Jessie Byard. Born abt 1883 in Allesley, Warwickshire, England. May Jessie Byard died in 1950; she was 67.
  11. Miriam Janet. Born abt 1885 in Allesley, Warwickshire, England. Miriam Janet died in 1938; she was 53.
  12. John Byard (1886-1925)
  13. Francis Edward (1887-)

Simon and I were surprised to discover that we both had the beautiful family portrait which appears above in the photo album. We have taken to calling it the “penny farthing” photo. When we discovered another more distant Player cousin in Ottawa, we were again surprised to learn that his aunt had been sent a copy of the photo from Simon’s grandmother several years ago. It is easy to understand why this photo has not been lost over the ages. My grandmother had it hanging above her bed for years.

Joseph and Eliza Player also had the helpful habit of naming their children with family names. Almost all of the children have middle names of closely related families. For those of you who are descendants of (Lo)max and Bernice, you may be interested to know that the name Lomax comes from RM’s great aunt, Elizabeth Newsome Lomax. She married a Mr. Lomax, who must have died young as she lived with her brother Samuel Newsome for many years. RM’s sister Lilla’s proper name was Eliza Lomax Player and she died young in 1900. It was possibly for this reason that RM decided to name his son Lomax.

The penny farthing photo led to another discovery. At one point, my aunt wrote to me and told me that she had one of the chairs from the penny farthing photos. I mentioned this to Simon and he was able to tell me that his grandfather had the other seven from the set. My aunt took her chair to the Antiques Roadshow and the interviewer became quite excited to hear that the chair had belonged to a Richard “Morgan” as there was a furniture company in England circa 1820 called Morgan and Sanders. While it is very clear that we are related to a Morgan family (Joseph Player’s mother was Elizabeth Morgan), it is not at all clear that there is relationship between this Morgan family and Morgan and Sanders. This one will take more work to figure out.

All of the photos I have from Joseph and Eliza’s family can be found here: