Rogue elements in Uncle Arthur’s past A marriage that was never mentioned


‘Uncle Arthur’ was known as a “bit of a rogue” in relation to women, according to Dad. There wasn’t anything much to back this up other than he, Arthur William Howes, seemingly didn’t marry until age 50 {1}, and other relations mentioning wandering hands. Although his name came up occasionally, I didn’t form any impression of him as a child, and if we ever visited uncle Arthur and ‘aunt Bill’ in Ipswich I don’t remember it.

A recent visit to the HowesFamilies.com website threw up a surprise, however. In the last year, the researchers there had discovered and added a record of a marriage some 19 years before of the one to Bill. The source quoted is ‘divorce papers’ {2}. They have helpfully extracted a copy of the marriage certificate from the papers, and this clearly shows it isn’t some other Arthur William Howes marrying Elsie Matthews on 29th April 1916 in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Museum Street, Ipswich.

Arthur with his mother, photo dated 1932.

The website has also logged the divorce date as 26th November 1935.

Not the only wanderer

On going to the National Archives Discovery website to check the catalogue entry, the expectation was that his wife would be the one taking the action, due to his philandering. The boot seems to be on the other foot, however. The index description is:

Divorce Court File: 9860. Appellant: Arthur William Howes. Respondent: Elsie Howes. Co-respondent: Reginald Herbert William Hambling. Type: Husband’s petition for divorce. Date: 1934.

With a distinctive and complete name for the ‘other man’, it was easy to find him in the 1939 register. Hm, he’s in Felixstowe, in the same household as Elsie and her widowed father John W Matthews. Must be something in those divorce proceedings then. Elsie however is shown as a ‘widow’, while the slightly younger Reginald is written in as ‘seperated’ and a heavy lorry driver.

Keeping the Howes name

Reginald was also divorced, according to a tree on Ancestry, which quotes ‘Hambling v Hambling/Musk’ in 1938/39. This is backed up by the 1939 register entry for his wife, where her surname has been later amended twice. Her two subsequent marriages are again easy to find in the records.

So why do Elsie and Reginald not marry? She dies in Berkshire in 1983 still with the ‘Howes’ surname – the death record index confirms a birthday matching that of the 1939 register, so little doubt it is her {4}. A daughter is referred to in the Howes divorce documents, who was almost certainly living in that area with the married surname of Metheringham {3}.

Unanswered questions

That last fact unavoidably leads on to the sensitive question of who was the ‘real’ father of the daughter. The divorce papers express some doubt over whether Arthur was her biological parent.

There is no mention of the daughter in Uncle Arthur’s will (which does list other relations as beneficiaries if Hilda predeceased him) {5}, no entry in gran’s pretty comprehensive birthday diary and nothing else to indicate he acknowledged her existence. She wasn’t born until 8 years into the marriage, and would be the sole descendant of Arthur if she was his child.

Uncle Arthur and Aunt Bill, 1937 in Ipswich

There also aren’t any photos of Arthur with Elsie in the collection, but then the only ones of Arthur and Bill are in Dad’s own album, rather than his parents’.

If there are any Matthews or Metheringham relations to Elsie or Jacqueline reading this, Cutlock & Co would be delighted to hear from you. No info will be added here without permission.

A somewhat less crucial but still interesting query is why the 1916 wedding was in a Methodist chapel. The Howes side is not known for having a strong religious leaning – Arthur’s mother after all has no declared father.

This photo is thought to be of Ann H Howes (nee Cutlock) and her eldest son Arthur.

Notes

  1. It had taken some Cutlock research to work out who his wife, previously only known as “aunt Bill”, actually was. Arthur and Hilda Brock marry in Ipswich in 1935.
  2. For the period 1928 to 1937, “80% of suits that were filed in the Central Registry” survive in The National Archives (TNA) – the index is online but documents are not. A researcher for howesfamilies.com when visitng TNA in Kew took images of the few Howes related papers, but after relevant information was transcribed into the database these were binned. Anyone up for a trip to Kew?
  3. The daughter was given the Howes surname on birth, apparently in Paris. No more details given here to protect privacy as she may still be alive. Minimal information about the daughter is visible on howesfamilies.com but a starting point, extracted from the legal documents, was helpfully given via email by the person in charge there.
  4. Oddly, in the 1939 register both Elsie and Reginald have given date of births one year earlier than the actual case. This made Reg aged 42 rather than 41 – would this change reduce the chances of being called up? From the medal records on Ancestry, he did serve in Royal Field Artillery in WW1, latterly as ‘L/Br’ (Lance Bombardier?).
  5. The cost of ordering an electronic copy of the probate record, which should include any will, conveniently recently went down from £10 to £1-50 (to July 2020). It seems the subsequent flood of family research requests delayed the response from the Probate Office ‘Find a Will’ service a little.
  6. Arthur worked in the Post Office – link to more on his employment.

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