Another Beach Photographer

Searching British Newspapers earlier this week I chanced upon Thomas Smith Percy ELSOM, “a photographer, obtaining a living on the seashore”. How many WDYTYA subjects begin their quest hoping to meet forebears with similar skills, occupations or obsessions to their own?

I make not a penny from sandscapes and guess Thomas speculatively pictured holidaymakers, hoping they would buy his snaps.

The first news report to hand was this, from The Stamford Mercury, 24 November 1905.

The Cleethorpes Elopement

As the result of a communication from the King, Thomas Smith Percy Elsom and Agnes Emily Wallis, of Cleethorpes, were both released from Lincoln Gaol on Friday morning. These two prisoners were charged at the Lindsey Quarter Sessions on October 20th  with stealing several articles, the property of the latter’s husband, at Cleethorpes, and were sentenced to four and three months respectively. Both prisoners at the time protested their innocence, and repudiated vigorously any intent to rob. Elsom was a photographer, obtaining a living at the time of the sentence on the seashore, and Wallis was the wife of the prosecutor, a blind man, who also gained a livelihood on the sands with a phonograph. The man was stated to have lodged with Mr. and Mrs. Wallis, and one evening the two prisoners went away together, taking the articles with them. When released from prison they had served a month of their sentence.

Wondering why the King would take an interest in this affair, and how much people would pay to listen to a phonograph on the beach, I went in search of Thomas – rather hoping we were related. I failed to find any evidence of his existence – and a second newspaper report explained why. He was an ELSON and therefore, to be blunt, not someone with whom we ELSOMs would care to associate. My sympathies shifted easily to the blind, betrayed husband and his two children.

With more detail from the second news item, I was able to put some flesh on the reported bare bones.

Thomas ELSON was the son of Joseph, an Appraiser and Broker, and Alice SMITH. He was born in Ramsgate, Kent in 1869. In 1901, aged 32 and single, he was enumerated in Covent Garden, London, occupation “Clerk”.

Richard Ernest WALLIS was born in Wragby, Lincolnshire, in 1870, the son of Thomas Harper, a builder, and Mary née HARE. In none of the four censuses to 1901 was his blindness noted in the returns. In 1891 he was working as a Butcher’s Assistant in Wandsworth, London and ten years later as a butcher’s shop manager in Paddington. He married Agnes Emily GRAVETT in Wandsworth in 1894 and they had two children in 1901, Ivy aged 3 and Leonard Ernest, 1. Their first child, Phyllis Agnes had died in 1895 and they would lose their fourth, Norman Edward, born in late 1904 and dead before spring the following year.

Agnes GRAVETT was a London girl, her birth registered in Greenwich in December 1872. I suppose it is possible that her path crossed that of Thomas in London but who knows why either of the Cleethorpes Elopers forsook the capital for the banks of the River Humber. It seems clear, however, that a landlady/lodger relationship developed into a plan to set up home together. The Nottingham Journal, reporting the sentencing of Agnes and Thomas on 21 October 1905, listed the stolen property:-

one smoker’s companion, a traveling rug, two tin boxes, five gold studs, one basket, six fish knives, six forks, and a quantity of household linen.

The absconding couple took one Wallis child with them and left the other at the house.

What happened to the prisoners when they were released? What lay ahead for the children?

The death of Richard Ernest was registered in Croydon in June Quarter 1906. He was 36 years old. In 1911 his daughter Ivy was enumerated at a boarding school in St George’s Road, Southwark, but I couldn’t find young Leonard that year. I haven’t attempted to trace the children after that census.

An Agnes E WALLIS married William G WALKER  in Thanet in 1921 but there are two death records, in 1951 and 1952, that would fit an octogenarian Agnes who didn’t remarry. She shares an eight generation pedigree on FST with Richard.

Thomas Smith Percy ELSON died aged 58 in Wandsworth in 1927.  He has a toehold on FST.

I was taken to Cleethorpes once as a child but the only clear memories remaining are of the paddle steamer crossing of the river on Lincoln Castle.

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