The Ballad of Beeby Williamson

We are a curious lot in the Archives. By that I don’t mean we are unusual, but rather that we can be a bit nosy. We love a mystery, and we love an unusual name. We came across this name in the admission register of Victoria Road School. At first there was a debate over what the name actually was. Was it Becky? Someone even thought it said Buby – surely not! But we landed on Beeby – but was that the right name?

The name written in the index of the admission register

Over the years we’ve come across some unusual and even unique names: Rooper, Hercules, Maybole and even Mafeking (after the siege during the Boer War in 1899-1900). But is this name Beeby? From the school register, we know that the child was born on 10th December 1911 – too late to look them up in the 1911 census. So I have a quick look for a Beeby Williamson on ScotlandsPeople – no results for a birth. Was the name wrong? Was Beeby born outside of Scotland? I did notice, however that there was a marriage for a Beeby Williamson in 1906 – but it was in Dundee. Was this Beeby senior? He was marrying Catherine McIntosh Lumsden. I decided to see if I could find a birth for Beeby in England (Beeby is a place in Leicestershire so maybe the name came from there). Low and behold, there was a registration for a Beeby Williamson in 1912 (sometimes it took a few days to register a birth so December babies are sometimes listed under the next year) born in the Wigton district of Cumberland and his mother’s name was Lumsden.

So we’ve confirmed the name. It was Beeby. But there are a few more mysteries in the entry. Beeby’s guardian is not his mum or dad but a Mrs Meldrum. Who is she? We know his parents were married in Dundee, so is she a relative or friend of the family? We notice that her address was Victoria Lodge (or Cottage), so we looked through the index for another child with the surname Meldrum who lived at Victoria Cottage and got lucky. There wasn’t just one but four! I choose to look up Linda’s birth certificate from 1906. I found out that her father was William Meldrum, a Master Shipbuilder, and her mother was Martha Meldrum, nee Lumsden. We had the connection. A bit more searching confirmed that Mrs Meldrum was Mrs Williamson’s sister, i.e. little Beeby’s aunt.

Market Place, Wigton cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Rose and Trev Clough –

But why was Beeby up in Dundee if his parents were in Cumberland? Beeby senior didn’t die until 1952, in Cumberland, and his mother was still alive at the time he started school. So he wasn’t orphaned. A bit more research shows that Beeby had one elder sibling, Margaret Elizabeth born in 1908, and three younger siblings: Alfred born in 1916, Myra born in 1919 and Sarah born in 1920. All born in Cumberland. Beeby was admitted to Victoria Road School on 20th August 1917. I have heard of children being sent to live with aunts, cousins or grandparents if the mother can’t cope or afford it, but this doesn’t quite fit with this case. Mrs Meldrum had at least 4 other children at this time, whereas Mrs Williamson had 2 other children beside Beeby. Beeby’s father was an auctioneer so is likely to have had a good income. Perhaps Beeby was just sent to Dundee to get a good education. Or perhaps other family circumstances meant that he needed to be sent away, perhaps his father or mother was not well. Unfortunately the admission register does not record when Beeby left the school so we don’t know how long he stayed with the Meldrums.

The Victoria Road School Admission Register, showing the admission for Beeby Williamson in 1917

One final mystery in the register entry is the address. Where is Victoria Lodge or Cottage? As the School was on Victoria Road, at first I wondered if the house was on this road. But looking closer it seems that Victoria Lodge is at Victoria Dock. This didn’t seem right. Would there be a house right in the busiest part of the docks? In amongst the cranes, the ships, the foundries and the sawmills? To find out where it was, I took a look at the valuation roll for 1917. We found Victoria Lodge – and judging from the properties listed beside it and the location description, it seems that it was on the south side of the dock, near to the East Graving Dock. (Probably near the block of flats on the new Thorter Row.) Unfortunately the old Ordnance Survey maps don’t indicate what buildings are used for, nor can we find any documents relating to the house in the Harbour Trusts records. We are still on the hunt for old pictures of this area of the docks, to see if we can identify the house.

Victoria Dock – Victoria Lodge was probably just beyond the East Graving dock.

You might be wondering, but what happened to Beeby and his family? His youngest sister, Sarah, was born on 21st June 1920 in Cumberland. His mother Catherine died on 6th October 1920 in Dundee. At first I though maybe the death was child birth related but it seems that her cause of death was ‘Opium Poisoning’. I’m not sure if this means that she used it recreationally or medically. Either way it was a sad end for a woman of 39 with five children under twelve. At some point Beeby moved back to Cumberland and lived with his father, following him into the agricultural auctioneering business. He married Barbara Threlked in 1939, but I’m not sure if they had any children – there was no Beeby the Third. Beeby died in 1989, still in Cumbria. So he seems to have spent all of his life in Cumbria with the exception of a few months or years at Victoria Road School. Without these records, his time in Dundee might have been lost forever.

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