The story of William Edward Roberts left off with him having been sent away to the brutal Clio training ship in 1909 for 6 years. Many Children there died because of the harsh regime in which beatings and bullying were seen as character building. An initial search on the 1911 census proved fruitless and it was feared he may have died.
However a member of the Memories of Shropshire Facebook group, Joanne Osborne, saw the story (if you haven’t read it read it now The Boy In The Nest part 1) and started digging further.
The issue was we only had the information from the article in the Wellington Journal which gave us an age, and a rough address. For some reason he didn’t show up in the 1901 census in Shrewsbury when he would have been around 2 years old. Joanne discovered a school record of a William Edward Roberts and it gave an exact date of birth and address. He was born on the 21st August 1898 and his address was given as 1 May Terrace. She’d found the key to unlocking the mystery.
The census is carried out every 10 years but the full records are not released for 100 years. However in 1939 on the outbreak of World War 2 a special register was taken – much like a census. It was dubbed ‘The Wartime Domesday Book’ and unlike an ordinary census, it recorded date of birth, rather than age.
A search on this register revealed a William Edward Roberts, with the exact same date of birth as our boy from Shrewsbury. But this one was living in Crewe, 50 Audley Street, married to a woman called Lucy and was working as a plater on the railways.
From here it was possible to work back and discover more about his history. Union records revealed he’d started working for the railways in 1918 as a ‘helper’.
Other records showed that he married Lucy Prince in 1936 – she was about 10 years younger and interestingly already had a young boy living with her – a teenager called Frank Evans. After a bit more digging it was revealed he’d also had the name Prince. Was this a child from a previous relationship? The answer would later be revealed.
William and Lucy had a boy together, David Roberts born in 1940.
Checking the death records revealed that William died in 1979 – and Lucy in 2001 aged 93!
But the question still remained – was this the same William Edward Roberts who’d been sent to the Clio from Shrewsbury?
Another search on the 1901 Census revealed a boy with the same name and exact date of birth but born in Caernarfon in Wales. More evidence was needed – and Joanne found it. By checking the 1911 Census again she found William Edward Roberts on the Clio records – aged 12 and born in Caernarfon.
The full story was told on BBC Radio Shropshire and BBC Radio Stoke, and an appeal for relatives was made. What had happened to David? Or Frank?
The hunt for a living descendent was on.
Somebody heard – and the names rang a bell. A man called Gareth Roberts got in touch. It turns out he was William’s grandson. He had never heard the story of the Boy In The Nest and neither had his family. His dad David had died in 2015 so he couldn’t ask him.
It was a distant relative of his, Beryl from Shrewsbury, who had called him to say she’d heard the appeal. Between them they were able to fill in the gaps. William had a brother, John, who’d stayed in Shrewsbury and had 3 daughters, Beryl being one them. She’s now in her 80s . John is buried at Uffington Church yard.
Gareth’s mum says she can remember hearing a story that William served in the First World War but was gassed, hit by shrapnel and sent home. This would explain where he went after the Clio, assuming he stayed there for the whole 6 years. To throw a spanner in the works another story from the family is that William only learned to speak English in the army – but of course stories can change over the years as everyone knows.
We also obtained a birth certificate for the William born in Caernarfon in 1898 and his father’s name was William Hugh Roberts – occupation Iron Fettler. On the marriage certificate of William and Lucy in 1936, William’s father’s name was also given as William Hugh Roberts.
Barring some extraordinary coincidence there can be little doubt that The Boy In The Nest is the same boy who ended up in Crewe and had a family.
Interestingly William Hugh Roberts’ occupation on the Wedding certificate is photographer. Perhaps he took up a new career later in life, or our William made it up for some reason.
As for Gareth, The Boy In The Nest’s grandson, he doesn’t remeber too much about his grandad and was only 8 or 9 years old when he died. He grew up in Derby after his father moved there but Gareth says he can only really remember “a frail old man watching World Of Sport on Saturdays” when they’d pop over and visit “But the idea that he was lobbed off to a floating Borstal for arson, is all rather extraordinary”.
He remembers much more about his grandmother Lucy – “She always seemed to have a bit of a twinkle”. The house where Lucy and William lived on was Audley Street which was demolished but just beforehand, Gareth remebers there was a funny incident. “She didn’t trust banks very much, so she used hide all of the cash [on the stairs] behind the carpet. And they were just about to move out, loading the van, just about ready to go [when Lucy shouted] THE CARPET, THE MONEY!! and dashed back in to the house”.
She also had pencahnt for Catherine Cookson novels and thought they were “rather near the knuckle”. She also had a particulaurly memoral turn of phrase. When William would ask her what was for dinner she would often reply “Pig’s dicks and lettuce”.
Gareth now lives in Richmond, Surry, where he’s the Lib Dem leader of the opposition on the council. You can find him on twitter (@Gareth_Roberts_).
It’s a link with the Liberal Democrats that goes way back. Another interesting tale from the family was that William’s dad, William Hugh Roberts, apparently used to deliver coal to Lloyd George in Wales.
George later went on to be Liberal Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922 and more ecenelty voted one of Britian’s greatest ever Prime Ministers.
As Gareth jokes, that makes him “practically royalty” in Lib Dem circles.
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