The Four Wives of James Knaggs

At the end of March 1851, James was at the Pigeon Pie Inn, Sherburn, with older sister Jane and her husband, William SAWDEN. He was 25-years-old, working as a joiner and single. It would be three years before he found a wife. For reasons unknown, he crossed the Humber to Lincolnshire, wooed Sophia MARSHALL and married her in Winteringham on 15 August 1854. In early summer the following year she gave birth to William, their only child, in Filey. When the boy was five months old she died. The family is minimally represented on the FamilySearch Tree.

Sophia’s headstone in St Oswald’s churchyard has fine letter forms that have withstood 164 years of weather quite well.

A year later, James married Ann REYNOLDS in North Frodingham. There is a Scarborough birth registration in the September Quarter of 1859 that could mark the entry of daughter Anne into the world but the child then disappears from view. Mother Ann vanishes too. I cannot find a record of her death but on census night 1861 James is with his third wife, Isabella née BROWN, at 10 Pembroke Cottages, Islington.

James has given up his trade and become a Lay Missionary. His firstborn, William, is living in Winteringham with grandfather William Marshall and “step grandmother” Catherine. (Sophia’s father has married for the third time.)

In 1871 James is the Minister at Stratford Congregational Church and a widower, but young William, 15, is with him and the three children born to Isabella. Ten years later James is a widower still and now an “Independent Minister”. William is working as a grocer’s clerk and the other boy, Cornelius, has a similar position in a chemist’s shop. James’ daughter Isabella Margaret, 18, is listed as “housekeeper” and there are two other servants. Fourth child, Caroline Mary, now 14, is a boarder at Milton Mount College, Gravesend.

By 1891, James is back with the Congregationalists – and has found a fourth wife, Eliza, fourteen years his junior. If this is Eliza Mary WOOLFE, they are in the eighth year of their marriage. Margaret seems to have dropped both her first name (Isabella) and skivvying for her father. At 28 years of age she is now a “Professor of Music”.

In 1901 James is 75 and retired but his house in Hampstead rings with the voices of two native South Africans – Marjorie Knaggs, 9, and her sister Isabel, 7. I must seek out their parents.

James Knaggs is the first fellow I have happened upon who married four times. I haven’t found appropriate statistics for Victorian Britain but in 21st century America 3% of men and women have married three or more times.

I will flesh out James and Sophia’s thin pedigree on the Shared Tree when I can. Quite a few of the people mentioned above have IDs already but they are scattered all over the place. Dots to be connected – and a lot of merges to be done.

Found Object 46 · Filey Sands

The Three Marine Engineers


Oil seems to have run through the veins of Frank, Edgar and Charles. A fourth brother, William, followed their father into mechanical engineering. All told, five HUCKS boys and one girl were born in St Pancras, Middlesex. Charles was the odd one out. Better known as Bennie Hucks, or just BC, he became one of Britain’s best known early aviators and  appropriately (but only with hindsight)  was born near Stansted Mountfichet, two miles from  what would become one of the UK’s busiest airports. I don’t know what motivated his parents, William and Kate Elizabeth nee PETCH, to name him after the village of his birth but one of the mottos of the Primary School that bears the name is “Optimism and positive thinking lead to success.” I suspect the human Bentfield had both in spades, being so magnificently daring and all.

This day in 1911 though he came unstuck in pursuit of a £50 prize for being the first person to fly a Yorkshire built aircraft into Leeds. He took off from Filey Sands in his Blackburn Mercury monoplane and turned the nose westward. Twelve miles from the coast and with another 50 to go his engine sputtered and died.

…the pilot was left with no option but to try and land the aircraft which he did on land belonging to Mr J.Coverdale, at Grange Farm, East Heslerton. The field he selected had cows in it which the pilot attempted to avoid. Following the landing the aircraft sustained damage but the pilot escaped uninjured and after a short time in the area he managed to borrow a bicycle from a Mr Edwin Owston and rode back to Filey!


GrangeFarmEastHeslertonI think I have found the obliging Mr OWSTON, born 15th May 1882, and working nearby as a Postman at the 1911 census! And (left) is a satellite view of Grange Farm. Alas, the pale specks in the pasture field are not cows.

Robert Blackburn built flying machines at Flat Cliffs, just south of Filey, and established a Flying School there. The lives of one pilot and his pupil ended on the beach.

Bennie survived several Yorkshire coast prangs, became the first pilot to cross the Bristol Channel in September 1911 and shortly afterwards assisted Harry Grindell MATTHEWS with the testing of his Aerophone. He joined the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War and approaching the end of the conflict was a Captain in the Aircraft Manufacturing Company. He died of pneumonia on 7th November 1918 at the age of 33 and is buried in Highgate Cemetery. I don’t think he married.

There are 19 people called HUCKS in Filey Genealogy & Connections. I did some family history research this morning and found Bennie’s great grandparents John HUCKS and Sarah HALFHIDE. They are both on FST (John MXYD-GGV) and so are a few others in his immediate family but mostly disconnected. I couldn’t find our aviator so if I have time tomorrow I’ll create a record and unite him with parents and the other two marine engineers at least.


This photo of Bennie is on the information board on Royal Parade, Filey so I have taken the liberty of snapping and sharing it. I think copyright is with BAE Systems. You will find quite a few photos of him online and a short film of him looping the loop. There are many brief feature articles about him too – and this obituary.