19th century fishmongers

Now there’s a bizarre blog post title, but it’s all to do with my family tree (of course). It’s a strange process – I’ve had success getting back to an ancestor born in 1791 but still no luck with someone born 90 years later. My great-grandmother, Alice West, still continues to elude me. I recently acquired her death certificate (this is jolly, isn’t it?) but it confirmed nothing of any importance. It did confirm that my mum and uncle were right in that she died on Shrove Tuesday (my mum carried on making pancakes while my grandmother went to Alice Senior’s bedside), and it also showed that she died two streets away from where she lived (a bit odd, but I’m sure there was a reason).

Unfortunately this was in 1953, before changes to the death certificate format were introduced… so useful stuff like her date of birth are missing. It provides her age (72) but I know from experience that there’s often a year or two’s margin of error. So a best estimate says she was born in 1880. That fact however doesn’t nail down her identity and leaves three possible Alice Wests to choose from. I have a prime suspect but no confirmation so the search goes on.

One factor you can hope for in genealogical research is unusual surnames. Alice West became part of the Clinch family, and Clinch is a fairly unusual surname. There was a few knocking around the Brentford and Chiswick area (there probably still is) but they have been quite easy to trace and follow. What you don’t want to find in your family are Smiths or Browns because, quite frankly, there’s hundreds of them in a square mile. So, imagine the mild tinge of despair when it was revealed that my great great grandfather James Clinch had married Mary Ann Brown in 1875. Mary Ann… very common (or should I say “frequently-occurring”?) given names, and Brown… well, you get the picture.

However, this is all about getting the right clues, and on James’ and Mary’s marriage certificate was the killer clue. Mary’s father was James Brown (yes, ha ha, James Brown). James, a frequently-occurring given name, Brown. Great. But there was James’ profession… fisherman. Fisherman? This was 19th century Chiswick, not Grimsby. A fisherman in West London (Middlesex to be precise). Was there a big trade in hauling gudgeon out of the Thames? Hmmm, tasty. However, this one piece of information made it possible to trace James in the censuses, and pin-pointed him and his family. I knew his name, his trade and that he had a daughter Mary Ann born around 1850.

The term ‘fisherman’ as his occupation was, I think, a bit of a generalisation, as a few of the census documents state his occupation as ‘fishmonger’ – which is a lot more credible. The bonus was that I was able to trace James’ parents – his mother Mary Ann (see, I told you) and his father Russell. This was great, as Russell was a fairly unusual name at the time, and while you could take your pick from hundreds of Charles Smiths there was only three Russell Browns… one was my great great great great grandfather, born in 1791, and another was his son (James’ brother). In 1841 Russell and the family lived at Fisherman’s Place in Chiswick, and James had obviously entered the family trade as Russell was also a fisherman / fishmonger.

Map of ChiswickAlso living at Fisherman’s Place in 1841 was a Mr George Brown and his family (including the other Russell). George’s occupation? You’ve guessed it, fisherman. So a good shout that he was probably my great great great great great uncle.

Now it starts getting difficult. 1841 saw the first complete census, so beyond this point you have to research parish records. In genealogical terms Russell Brown’s parents lived in the Dark Ages. They may have been alive in 1841 but there were 10,122 people with the surname Brown included in the 1841 census in Middlesex.

Finally, just for fun, I’ve included a little map of an area of Chiswick just to prove the wife was right, that a part of my family didn’t move more than a mile in 150 years. Actually this isn’t true because Henry Clinch Senior was born in the Reading area in 1819, moved to the Ealing area and is off this map in Brentford. However, these pins do cover over 100 years… the blue pin (bottom-right) was the location of Fisherman’s Place, home of Russell Brown in 1841.

The cyan pin (top-right) was where my grandparents lived until the 1980’s. The sort-of dark pink pins are James Brown, the red pins are James Clinch (James Brown’s son-in-law), green is Henry Clinch Junior (my great grandfather), and purple is where his wife Alice died. Yellow is the unconfirmed location of John Cotton, father of Sarah Cotton who married James Brown.


  1. This is really interesting stuff. There is a statistic that Ford bandy about, I can’t remember it exactly, but it goes something like when the Model T came out, 90% of people lived within 20 miles of where they were born, today it’s something like 20%.

  2. Isn’t it funny what you remember from when you are a kid.

    Our grandparents used to live on Wilton Avenue and when we went to visit them, especially in the winter, the highlight of my visit was our walk down to the corner of Devonshire Road and Wood Street. ( see map ) On this site was a little bakery shop. Why did I like it so much?…. Cream Cakes… No. It was to put my hands on the metal plates on the outside wall of the shop which were to dissipate some of the heat from the ovens. Just standing there getting your hands warmed in the cold air was great. Of course the smell of freshly baked bread just enhanced the experience.
    Sorry, but seeing the map just brought it all back.

    1. my grandmother worked at the little bakery on the corner of devonshire road for well over 20 years, in fact she lived over the grocery store for I think 50 years the bakery if I remember rightly was called Chris’ts. In fact I lived in coombe road across the road

  3. Perhaps I was just too young to remember the bakery, but I remember our grandparents’ house. They had the upstairs, and thinking about it now the house was narrow but from the front to the back covered a huge area. Their main bedroom was huge, bigger than our lounge, and filled with things that our Uncle Terry had bought back from various places around the world when he was in the Merchant Navy. I remember two black velvet cushions on the bed with scenes of Australia.

    Down the corridor was the kitchen / bathroom – yep, it was the kitchen, but the work surface lifted up and there was the bath. In the lounge there was armchairs, a dining table and the television sat on top of the fridge.

    I’ve driven past that area many times in the past few years, soon I will stop and get out of the car. If those houses in Wilton Avenue are still there I dread to think what they’d be worth turned into apartments.

    32 Wood Street, where my grandmother was born (1911) and where the Clinches still lived in 1953 has, I’m told, been bulldozed and built over. Many of the streets occupied by the family during the 1800’s (like Hunt Street and William Street) don’t exist any more because they were consumed by the Great West Road expansion.

    There’s some interesting info here, look for the section on Chiswick New Town…


  4. I have only just found this as I too am investigating the family tree and guess what…the George Brown who lived in Fishermans Place for the 1841 Census was my relative; fancy that. Thanks for the tip on Fisherman/Fishmonger as I was pretty stuck and looking through Parish records (which dont seem to come up in any logical order on the computer) is frustrating to say the least.

    Cheers 🙂

  5. Thanks for that, my George Brown (G.G.G Grandfather) was born 1800 in Chiswick and married a Mary Ann ??dont know surmane, who was born in about 1810 Chiswick. I know another Mary Ann and George; there should have been a law against naming your children after other members of the family.

    The above two were very busy (no telly) and had a sporting team sized family of which we descend from Martha born 1843 (at least they didnt call her Mary Ann). Martha married a William Christmas (and I thought Christmas would be an easy name to trace….huh..in Guildford)…and so on and so forth

    I have had many a giggle reading Ancestors and could relate to every word; and if you think Brown is hard try finding a Thomas Lewis in Wales around the 1800’s; there must have been a sale on the name and my family took the lot allocating it to fathers, sons, cousins, in fact any male born within a 5 mile radius for the next 10 years.

    You are lucky to be able to leave the computer to do some investigating…bit to far from Tassie so I have to look up the old Google Maps and see how far one place is on the map and if it would be possible for the census result to be my relative (good way to learn the UK countryside).

    So far have found some second cousins and made contact with many great people..and yes, found that there were no rich ancestors wills lingering in any vaults just farmers, fisherman, laundress, cabinet makers and cooks


  6. Hi there, russell brown is a relative to me I used to live on Devonshire Road, and my grandmother used to work in Chris”s the bakers right on the corner there is actually quite alot of history on russell brown on the ancestry website and with the help of others searching we have alot of history. email me if I can give anyone some info

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