Arthur Sidney Fell – The Man Who Shouldn’t Be In Our Family Tree

Over the weekend I received a query on my @AncestryUK family tree. It concerned a man who really shouldn’t be there. His name was Arthur Sidney Fell and he had been my great aunt’s fiancé until his death at the age of 25 in 1932. Nellie never married and after her death numerous mementoes of Arthur were found amongst her effects, including the last letter she ever received from him and a glowing obituary published by the church they both attended. I felt that Arthur’s life deserved to be remembered and so I added him to our family tree as Nellie’s spouse (with an explanatory note).

The query came from a present-day member of the church where Arthur’s life is commemorated in a plaque. This man had been trying to find out more about Arthur. He thought that Arthur had been married because probate records refer to Emma Fell, widow. I explained that Emma was Arthur’s widowed mother and that I too had been flummoxed by a lack of records for his birth. And both of us had failed to find him in the 1911 census.

I also explained my confusion about an ‘In Memoriam’ card for Arthur which stated that he was the son of the late Thomas Philip Fell. Although this man had married an Emma she was born in 1838 and Mr Fell had died in 1893. Arthur was born circa 1906/7. How could they be parents and son? I checked TP Fell’s probate record which referred to him as ‘Thomas Philip Fell the elder’. Which meant there must be a younger TP Fell. The penny began to drop.

Thomas Philip had a son, also named Thomas, but rarely referred to with the middle name Philip. I checked this man’s 1911 census record. He was described as married but his wife was at a different address on census night. Not uncommon. However, also living in his house were Emma Moreton, her relationship to Mr Fell Jnr. left conspicuously blank but her occupation described as Housekeeper. Her four children were also residing in the house, including an Arthur Moreton aged 4. This seemed too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence. If you see what I mean.

I checked birth records for Arthur Moreton circa 1906/7: Arthur Sidney Moreton born in the last quarter of 1906 in Aston, Birmingham. Eureka! And so the riddle of Arthur Sidney Fell is solved and he will remain in our family tree with a more complete ancestry to his name. 

Biographical note

Arthur and Nellie had known one another since at least 1927 and had a lot in common, but chiefly a love of music and of the church. Nellie was a classically trained pianist who played for silent cinema and Arthur was First Fiddle and leader of the orchestra at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham (hence the references to the panto in his letter).

They both gave music lessons for their respective instruments. Jack and Kate were Nellie’s much younger cousins.
Nellie was a keen amateur photographer and I am very grateful to her for providing me with a wealth of candid family photographs from the 1920s through to the late 1940s, including some of Arthur.


Family History: In The Beginning (or how some tatty bits of paper sparked an obsession)

The Tatty Document That Started It All

I started researching my family history when I was about 18 and, 32 years later, I’m still at it. It has become a lifelong, all-encompassing passion. For my 50th birthday recently I requested certificate folders so that I could properly file away all my copy birth, marriage and death certificates, of which there are many. And I’m not even mildly embarrassed by that admission.

I blame my paternal grandmother – always known to me as Nannie. Mum and Dad both worked so during the school holidays I would be packed off to my grandparents in Birmingham. During one of my summer holiday stays with her, Nannie brought out a battered collection of photographs and documents, the latter held together with Sellotape. These scruffy bits of paper turned out to be her parents’ marriage certificate and her dad’s (my great grandfather’s) birth certificate. And along with them came the stories, passed down from parent to child…

Her parents, Louisa Georgina Seary (fancy!) and Percy Temple, had lived next door to one another in Gloucester Road, Islington. Apparently Lou used to tease Percy and throw stones at him across the fence to attract his attention (brazen hussy!) Her mother, Elizabeth, seeing the way things were heading, warned that if Lou married Percy she would have a lifetime’s work ahead of her, the implication being that Percy would not be able to support her.

1901 Census for Gloucester Street, Lou at 23 and Percy living at 25

1901 Census for Gloucester Street, Lou at 23 and Percy living at 25

Seven years later, as soon as Percy turned 21 in fact, the couple were married at St Silas’ Church, Pentonville, not far from where they were living in Vittoria Street. The certificate shows that Percy’s father was a Coachman and Lou’s a Tailor.


Nannie remembered that her mother had learned tailoring from her father, Joseph Seary. Lou specialised in making waistcoats and had used to sit under the table to work, whilst all around her was the chatter of German piece-workers helping to get the garments finished on time.

Before settling down with Percy, Lou had ‘walked out with’ a young man by the name of Gady (?) On one occasion, after being taunted by a group of youths whilst out walking, Mr Gady had flicked his coat-tails at the lads – an action which was the equivalent of saying “kiss my arse!” That got him dumped. Lou didn’t like his (lack of) manners.

Percy’s birth certificate prompted another story about a mystery which has never been solved. Percy Temple had been born in Darlington in 1887, the eldest son of John Temple, the groom (and later coachman) at Blackwell Hall and his wife Ellen Ann née Rochester. The couple went on to have 12 children in total, 10 of whom survived into adulthood. However, they gave Percy away.


Admittedly they gave him to his paternal aunt and her husband, but still…

Some time between 1891 and 1901 Percy went to the other end of the country to live with Jack & Jinnie Lewis née Temple in London. Fortunately, the move seemed to work out well for Percy. He trained as a Sign-Writer, met his wife and started a family.


Percy Temple (Jinnie Lewis to his right) with his aunts and uncle. Photograph taken by Jack Lewis c.1892

Over a decade ago I made contact with a cousin of Nannie’s who had numerous photographs (including the one above), documents and family stories relating to the Temples. However, she could not give me an explanation as to why Percy had been ‘adopted’. His 9 surviving siblings remained in the Darlington area and my grandmother remembered going to visit her aunts, uncles and cousins. In fact, she named my father after one of these uncles whom she regarded as her ‘favourite’.

But Nannie never met her grandmother. (Her grandfather, John Temple, had died in 1910 when Nannie was a baby). I assumed that Ellen had died young, worn out after all those children. But she didn’t. Ellen Ann Temple died in 1942 at the age of 83. Nannie was in her early thirties with two children of her own.



Ellen Ann Rochester, later Temple (1859-1942)

I was sent this photograph of my Great Great Grandmother in 2008. Nannie died in 1989 so she never got to peer into those eyes and wonder what ever had induced Ellen to give up her eldest son? And was that the reason why she never got to meet Percy’s family?