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A family tragedy

1996/4 pp7–9


A family tragedy


Part of my maternal ancestry involves the Beams of Ewell. There appear to be two groups of Beams: the first group started with John and Mary Beams, whose first baby was baptised at St. Mary’s in Ewell in 1763. The second group came later when William Beams married Rebecca Hall in 1774.


My interest is with the first group. John and Mary’s eighth child was William, baptised 25 October 1775. Somewhere along the line William met and married Ann Chambers, who came from a very pretty village called Linton, near Cambridge. William and Ann occupied a plot of land in Ewell and were market gardeners. A son, Thomas, was born in 1806 (his birthplace is unknown at present).


This article is about Thomas.


Thomas left home and met a girl named Ann Nangrave, who came from Rotherhithe: they were married at St. Leonard’s in Shoreditch, 9 May 1831, and by the November of that year they were back in Ewell, where their first child was baptised.


The 1841 Census shows Thomas, Ann and the growing family living in his mother’s house, as it is stated that she was the head of the family. Problems started for Thomas when his mother died on the 24 January 1854 at the age of 88: he was now responsible for the market garden. By 1853 he had a very large family of 13 children to support. The march of progress was going to hit Thomas very hard, and the spread of the railways was to be his main concern.


In 1844 the Railways Act was passed, allowing prospective railway companies to compulsorily purchase land for the railway line: this was set out in the Land Clauses Act 1845. The people of Ewell were not immune from the effects of the ‘iron horse’. At this point of my research I contacted the Railway & Canal History Society who provided the following helpful advice and information:


‘From the Land Clauses Act 8 May 1845 (8 & 9 Vic. c.18). The prospective railway companies had to deposit with the Clerk of the Peace of the County, plans, books of reference, sections of the proposed railway and a notice of intent. Also a 1-inch/mile map of the line of the railway to the Board of Trade. The railway line in question was the first railway line through Ewell, the Wimbledon & Dorking Railway Co. by the Act of 27th July 1857 [in fact the first railway through Ewell was the Croydon to Epsom via Sutton section of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. Its station, now known as Ewell East, was opened on 10 May 1847]. The line was opened on 4 April 1859, from Raynes Park, Wimbledon Junction, to Epsom. A copy of the relevant documents should have been deposited at the Surrey Record Office’.


When the records were viewed they showed that Thomas Beams was the occupier of land owned by James Gadesden at Gibraltar in Ewell. The map shows the railway going straight through the plot!


Family tradition was that Thomas committed suicide due to the railway destroying his livelihood. Thomas had died 7 May 1856, and when the death certificate was obtained, it stated:–


‘Thomas Beams aged 51, gardener, committed suicide by shooting himself, being at the time temporarily mentally deranged.

Signed by William Carter, Coroner for Surrey’.


My next task was to try and find out whether the suicide had been reported in the newspapers of that time. I wrote to the Archivist at the Newspaper Library at Colindale, requesting where I could start looking for this information. The Archivist replied that they had found the article in the Surrey Comet for me. What an excellent service! Shown below is the article:–


Surrey Comet 10 May 1856. Determined Suicide:– On Wednesday morning last, a man named Beans [misspelling of Beams] residing at Ewell, put an end to his existence by putting the muzzle of a gun in his mouth. Death was instantaneous, his head being shattered to pieces. The unfortunate man has left a widow and thirteen children. It is believed that the embarrassed circumstances induced the commission of this rash and fatal act’.


On enquiring at the Surrey Records Office as to whether any Coroner’s Reports have survived, I was told that all the old records had been destroyed. Therefore, I cannot prove that Thomas’s suicide was due to the compulsory purchase of the land, but the circumstantial evidence seems to point strongly to it. His wife Ann continued to bring up the family and run the family market-gardening business: this is verified in the census returns of 1861, 1871 and 1881. She died on the 8 May 1882.


Peter Thompson, descendant of the Pilgrim/Beams family

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