William Challoner (1861-1936)

The first ancestor I did any major research on was my half 2xgreat uncle William, so it makes sense to blog about him first. He has been fascinating to research and unusual compared with the rest of the family. I also chose him because the family story that had been handed down to my Dad intrigued me – that he was a defrocked priest who later married. Suffice to say, this definitely set the challenge of finding whether this was true or not. There are still some unanswered questions but this is what I have found so far.

William was born in Whitwick, North West Leicestershire on 5th April 1861 (Ref_1) to parents Thomas Challoner a Policeman and Mary Ann Hood. Two days later was recorded in the 1861 census (Ref_2) at Whitwick Moor, which was more Thringstone than Whitwick, living with his parents, his brother John Joseph and auntie Eliza Hood. Whitwick was between Ashby de la Zouch and Shepshed where Thomas was based initially.

Ref_1 Birth Certificate
Ref_2 1861 Census

He was baptised at St Helen’s Anglican Church in Ashby de la Zouch. I suspect because Mary Ann and Eliza Hood had grown up in Ashby. This took place on the 7th July (Ref_3). The photo is one I took of the church when I last visited the area in Nov 2019.

Ref_3 Baptism
St Helen’s Church, Ashby de la Zouch

As a police officer, his father Thomas moved around with his employment around Leicestershire. I used the Leicestershire based newspapers from the British Newspaper Archives website (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) which recorded Thomas’ court appearances to work out a timeline. He had moved from Shepshed station sometime after 1864, moving firstly to Melton Mowbray station. The village of Kirby Bellars outside Melton was where William’s only sister was born in mid-1865. Thomas and family then moved down to Market Harborough area, where William’s younger brother Albert was born in 1868. On 2nd April 1871 census (Ref_4) William aged 9 was recorded in Lubenham, a village west of Harborough living with his parents Thomas and Mary Ann and his siblings John Joseph, Richard Cheatle, along with Elizabeth and Albert Curzon.

Ref_4 1871 Census

Still in Lubenham in December 1871, Thomas and Mary Ann had their 6th child Tom but sadly didn’t live for very long and then February 1872 Mary Ann also died probably due to complications from childbirth. William would have been aged 10. Probably not that long after, Thomas moved onto Narborough area, where in 1873 he had married for a second time and shortly after my great grandfather Francis Thomas was born.

Ref_5 1881 Census

I discovered that in the 1881 census (Ref_5) he had moved to Rugby, Warwickshire and become a scholar and boarder at St Maries’ Roman Catholic College where he would have studied philosophy and theology. At what point between the loss of his mum and 1881 did William move to Rugby is not clear yet. Did he move with his father to Narborough beforehand? Rugby would have been a fairly short train ride from Leicester.

St Maries turns out to be run by Italian originated Rosminians order of monks known as the Institute of Charity. Even to this day they still serve St Maries Church which dates back to the 1840s. There is a good write up on the history about St Maries church – www.stmaries.co.uk/history-of-st-maries.

The research starts to get interesting. After contacting the Institute of Charity organisation and Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives, they responded that William had taken his vows on 29th July 1879 aged 18, and mentioned that he may have joined the institute in either 1876 or 1877 as a novitiate – period of training and preparation prior to taking vows. So what made William switch from Anglican to Roman Catholic?

However, shortly after the 1881 census was taken, sadly William (aged 20) would lose his father Thomas, who had retired from the police force and had moved to Swannington. The 1891 census (Ref_6) interestingly shows that he had indeed become a Roman Catholic Priest.

Ref_6 1891 Census

The British Newspaper Archives became another fantastic resource in my research, in particular the Rugby Advertiser from 1888s to 1895. William is mentioned several times due to write-ups on some of the services that took place mainly around Christmas time. He would either be assisting in the services or leading them. The articles detailed how the church was decorated, what hymns were sung by the choir and who played the organ. The organist in question was a Miss Edwards, who would have moved from Leicester during the mid-1870s. She remained as the organist for some 18 years and also a teacher of Music. There are several articles where both Rev Father Challoner and Miss Edwards are mentioned together. The articles don’t mention her first names, but a bit research, discovered that Miss Edwards was a Agnes Mary born in Leicester 1851.

The Rugby Advertiser also mentions Rev Father Challoner’ visits to the Hospital of St Cross in 1893 along with various social events that he would be been involved in, for instance Choir Supper in Jan 1894, and he was a go to person for selling tickets for a String Band Concert in Dec 1894. The last article that he is mentioned in is taking part in Corpus Christi service in Jun 1895.

After Jun 1895, something must have changed as by October of that year he married a Florence Kate Edwards, Agnes Mary’s sister born in Leicester 1855 and also a Teacher of Music. Florence and Agnes parents ran a Chemist and Wine Merchant in Leicester’s High Street. I haven’t found any evidence of when exactly William left the church.

Ref_7 Marriage Certificate

So on the 2nd October 1895, (Ref_7) William is shown as a Tutor and marries Florence at St Peter’s Church, Leicester, witnessed by Albert Curzon (William’s brother) and his wife Emily. Sometime before 1901, both William and Florence move to 47 Cawdor St, Toxteth Park, Liverpool. Florence remains as a Teacher of Music living on her own means and William had started working as a School Attendance Officer as you see from the (Ref_8) 1901 census return.

Ref_8 1901 Census

According to the 1909 – 1921 electoral rolls of Reading (the source being www.findmypast.co.uk which has been another fabulous research tool) they had both moved down to Reading, Berkshire. William worked for Berkshire County Council firstly as a School Attendance Officer and then a Superintendent of Education. Initially they lived at 11 Field Road from 1909 to sometime during WWI, and then from 1918 moved a few streets away to 61 Russell Street. See photos of both properties below. The 1911 census returns (Ref_9) shows they were at Field Road.

Ref_9 1911 Census
Field Road

Russell Street

I recently visited Reading Records Office which is located very close to both roads so was able to get a feel for where they lived, both houses still there. Whilst at the records office, went through books of the Reading Education Committee. The committee would have met every month to discuss various topics of school teachers, school attendance and childhood diseases from Measles, Scarlet fever, Diphtheria that would affect schools in the area. School attendance fluctuated between each month and attendance officers would have to visit parents to find why their children were not a school. I will be going back to the offices at some point to see what the Berkshire County council versions of these committee meetings. I would imagine that William would have provided attendance information and provide accountability of various schools in Berkshire, etc.

It appears that he may have had a stroke in 1926 according to his death certificate 10 years later, which left him partially paralysed, which meant he had to resign as Superintendent of education. He was well respected by colleagues and was presented with a pocket watch when he left Berkshire County Council. This is still in the family and is being looked after by a descendant of Albert Curzon – see below, a rather stunning watch. I also found out recently that William was known as Will.

In his final years he spent mostly living on the south coast. According to the 1929 electoral roll, he had moved down to Highcliffe, Hampshire, where he spent 3 years in a property called Bramleigh in Wortley Road with a woman called Marian Emma James, whom may have been his housekeeper. For some reason Florence didn’t move down with him, so not sure why or where she went, but do know she passed away in 1931 further along the south coast at Hove, Sussex.

In 1931 William and Marian moved a couple of miles along the coast to Barton on sea, Hampshire to a lovely bungalow which is still standing today. The property was called Iver Cottage. I recently went to locate the delightful property and walked down to the cliff tops of Barton on sea. He would not have had to go far for a view the Isle of Wight and along the coast to Hengistbury Head as seen below.

Iver Cottage

View of Isle of Wight

View of Hengistbury Head

Sadly on 2nd December 1936, he passed away at his home according to his death certificate (Ref_10). In the New Milton Advertiser on the 5th December, there was a death notice (Ref_11), which intrigued me as it mentioned he worked at Oxford as well, but I have found no records to prove this. He was buried in the Roman Catholic section of St Mary Magdalene Church, New Milton. His passing coincided within a few days of the abdication of Edward VIII. William had lived through several changes of monarchy from Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V and Edward VIII and clearly had a varied life in different places in England.

Ref_10 Death Certificate
Ref_11Death notice

According to his will, his executors were a William George Chandler a Berks engineer, his brother Richard Cheatle Challoner who was still living in Leicester and his nephew Percy Jolley in Birstall. William bequeathed monies to several family members, in particular to his brother Richard, Sister Elizabeth and several nieces and nephews. William also left the bungalow to Marian, where she lived a few more years before moving onto Fulham.

Ironically twenty years later, my Dad came down to do an apprenticeship in Christchurch, the next town along from Highcliffe and where I grew up. It wasn’t until my Dad started researching in London a few years later that he found out how close he would have been. It has been an interesting journey researching William Challoner and I think probably more to find.


Ref_1 – Birth GRO reference 2nd quarter 1861 Ashby de la Zouch Volume 7A page 104

Ref_2 – 1861 Census RG09 Piece number 2272 folio 69 page 34 (from Findmypast)

Ref_3 – Baptism from Record office for Leicestershire DE1013/7 page 76 (from Findmypast)

Ref_4 – 1871 Census RG10 piece 3225 Folio 91 page 6 (from Findmypast)

Ref_5 –1881 Census RG11 piece 3077 folio 141 page 50 (from Findmypast)

Ref_6 –1891 Census RG12 Piece 2457 folio 76 page 14 (from Findmypast)

Ref_7 – Marriage GRO reference 4th quarter 1895 Leicester Vol 7A page 431

Ref_8 – 1901 Census RG13 Piece number 3437 Folio 13 page 18 (from Findmypast)

Ref_9 – 1911 census reference RG14PN6558 RG78PN326 RD121 ED3 SN114 – RG14 6558 schedule 114 (from Findmypast)

Ref_10 – Death GRO reference 4th quarter 1936 New Forest, Hampshire Volume 2B page 1011

Ref_11 – Article of New Milton Advertiser of his Death provided by staff at St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire


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