My Sussex Foster Family History


My mother’s maiden name was Foster.   Both she and her brother, my Uncle Geoff, loved their father.  He was a sweet, gentle, and erudite man.  But sadly I never met him.  He died before I was born.

Uncle Geoff said that his father had always been reluctant to discuss his forebears at home.  But he did find out that his grandfather had served with the army in India and then returned to Essex to marry and settle down.

However, records are much more accessible today and we can uncover details of which he might not even have been aware.  The story as it appears today starts in industrial poverty and ends up in middle class respectability.

Early Records 

The Essex origin is not really correct.  The early records were in Lancashire.  It looks like Joseph Foster grew up in the early 1800’s in a farming family near Prescot and drifted to Bolton as a young man in search of work.  He was at various times a bleacher, plasterer, and painter.  He and his family resided in what was described in the census as “the back of Smith warehouse,” which doesn’t seem much of a place to live.

His son Thomas married and moved in his twenties to Ecclesall near Sheffield where he worked as a comb maker.  Thomas was illiterate.  An “X” marked his marriage certificate and the birth certificate of his son Joseph in 1853.  Soon afterwards he died and his wife Mary struggled as a charwoman to bring up their son.

When Joseph grew up, he left to join the Army.  We find him posted at the army barracks in Shoebury in Essex and in Woolwich in Kent.  He became a corporal with the Royal Engineers and was later promoted to sergeant major.  Whilst at Shoebury, he married Elizabeth Smithers.

Elizabeth Smithers, it appears, had come from very unpromising circumstances, the first of two daughters born illegitimate in an East End workhouse.  Her mother later married an Irish soldier and they all moved to Shoebury.

Elizabeth met another Irish soldier there, Francis McGladrigan, and they married in south Shoebury parish church in 1879.  Joseph Foster must have been his best friend as he was witness to the marriage.  However, in an extraordinary turn of events, Francis died nine days later of pneumonia.  Elizabeth then married Joseph at a different church in Bromley, Kent after an interval of fifteen months.

Over time, they had seven children, spread between Shoebury, Woolwich and Brighton where they had moved in the early 1890’s.  Joseph may have been posted overseas at the time of the 1901 census.  His wife was listed as the head of the family.

1901 Census.  5d Aubigny Road, Brighton

  • Elizabeth Foster, aged 41, head (married)
  • Elizabeth (Lizzie), aged 20, born Shoebury
  • Joseph, aged 18, born Shoebury
  • Jessie, aged 16, born Shoebury
  • Charles, aged 14, born Woolwich
  • Mabel, aged 12, born Woolwich
  • Cecil, aged 7, born Brighton
  • Dorothy, aged 4, born Brighton

Foster Recollections 

Uncle Geoff gave us these recollections shortly before he died in 1987:

“My father, Joseph James born in 1882, was the eldest son and he had two brothers, Charles and Cecil, and two sisters, Mabel and Dorothy.  By the early 1890’s, the family had moved to Brighton and was living at 91 Roundhill Crescent.

Charles went into the Post Office and on retirement became secretary of Hollingbury Golf Course.  Cecil became a salesman for a shoe firm in Northampton and lived and died there.  Mabel married (I believe) but I heard nothing about her.

The second sister, Dorothy, was to me as a ten year old the most glamorous of the lot.  She married a Mr Back who was the station-master of the two stations, Withyham and Hartfield, on the single track line between Three Bridges and Tunbridge Wells.  It was the event of the year for me to be invited to stay with them and their son, Harold, for a fortnight during the summer holidays, having free rides on the footplate between these two stations, filling up the one-penny-in-the slot chocolate machines and so on.

All this until Mr Back was sacked by the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway for fiddling – to the extent that he was able to set up a grocery shop somewhere in South London.  But from then on their names were never mentioned and I don’t know what became of them.

When my grandmother Foster died quite young, the old man married again and had a son, Arthur, from this second marriage who turned out to be simple-minded.  When grandpa in turn died, he left everything to his second wife.  She left with the lot, abandoning the simple son, and it was my father who paid for him to be accommodated as a farm-hand in Patcham.”

The old man was still living at the time of his son’s wedding in 1908.  By that time, he and his second wife had moved to Bognor. They attended the wedding, but not with Arthur.

Joseph and Edith Foster

From about 1904, Joseph (Joe) Foster was attending Trinity College in Dublin and Edith Bowles was studying in Dulwich, a distance apart, but they were in touch and saw each other.  It seemed a happy period.  They saved and handed down many mementoes from those days.

Joe painted landscapes and formal scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, done in a fine brush.  Edith kept notebooks of scenes, drawings, affectionate greetings, with school friends; and poetry books (collected poems of Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, Byron, Scott, Tennyson, Whittier, Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold, a number of them leather-bound and inscribed).

They were married in St. Saviour’s Church on Ditchling Road on August 8, 1908.  This is the reporting of the marriage, written in the newspaper style of the day.

“A pretty wedding was solemnised in the presence of a representative congregation at St. Saviour’s Church on Saturday, Miss Edith Madeline Bowles, youngest daughter of Mr and Mrs H.J. Bowles of Athelstan House, Ditchling Rise, Brighton, and Mr Joseph J. Foster, eldest son of Mr and Mrs J. Foster of Bognor.

Both the principals were for many years students of the Higher Grade School, and distinguished themselves in the competitive examinations, and much interest was expressed by their many old scholastic friends in their union.

The bride was given away by her father, who is headmaster of Hanover Terrace Council School, and is well-known in fraternal society circles; having for many years discharged the duties of Secretary of County Adur of the Ancient Order of Foresters, and also taken an active part in local Freemasonry.

The bride, who is tall and dark, looked charming in an Empire gown of chiffon taffeta, with the bodice trimmed with rich lace.  She wore a silk embroidered veil, surmounted by a coronet of orange blossom and carried a shower bouquet.

There were two bridesmaids, the Misses Mabel and Ethel Bryan, who helped to make a charming picture in the sunshine, in Empire dresses of Saxe blue colienne and picture hats; they carried shower bouquets of crimson roses, and wore gold brooches, the gifts of the bridegroom.

The service was fully choral, Mr Perry Saffel at the organ performing the usual voluntaries and helping the choir, which sang the two hymns, “The Voice that breathed over Eden” and “O perfect love.”  The Rev. C.A. Marona (Vicar) discharged the obligations of the nuptial ceremony, while Mr Frank Bowles acted in the capacity of best man.  As the happy pair left the church Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” was played.

A reception was held by the bride’s parents after the ceremony, and the newly-wedded couple were the recipients of many hearty congratulations from their numerous friends.  Mr G. Allbery, an ardent “Forester,” gave the toast of the bride and bridegroom’s health.  Mr and Mrs J.J. Foster subsequently left for their honeymoon.”

After their marriage, the Fosters moved to Kent where Joe worked for the war effort in a munitions factory. My Uncle Geoffrey had been born by then (in 1909).  They stayed in Eltham Park for much of the war until the Zeppelin raids prompted their return to Brighton.

My mother, Joyce Olive but known as Joy, was born there on December 5, 1917.  In 1918, they signed the lease on 77 Addison Road in Hove, an Edwardian house near the Seven Dials, which was to be their home throughout the inter-war period.

Joe now secured a position in London as a Patent Officer.  He became a civil servant and a commuter, making the walk every day down the hill to Brighton Station and catching the train to London Bridge.  He was a gentle man, much loved by his two children.  They lived a fairly comfortable middle-class life for the time with a maid in the home to help with the housework.  There were books and music around.

There was sadness later, as Uncle Geoff recounted:

“By the time of your parents’ marriage, my father was dying of cancer (happily he never knew this, having a dread of it since my mother died of it in 1941).  At the suggestion of our family doctor, my father had come to live with me in my flat over the Regent Theater so that I could tend for him as long as possible.  Jack and Joy’s wedding was the last function he ever went to.  After the honeymoon your parents returned to live in Addison Road and Joe, as I always called him, stayed with me for the last three months of his life.”

My Foster Family Tree

  • Joseph Foster ((1798-1852) of Prescot and Bolton married Ellen Forrest in Bolton in 1820
  • -Thomas Foster (1820-1856)
  • – Nancy Foster (b. 1827)
  • – Mary Foster (b. 1828)
  • – Ellen Foster (b. 1834)
  • Thomas Foster of Bolton and Ecclesall married Mary Blane from North Shields in Bolton in 1846
  • – Joseph Foster (b. 1853 in Ecclesall near Sheffield)
  • Elizabeth Smithers (1837-1884) of the East End, Brentford and Shoebury
  • – Elizabeth Smithers (1859-1905)
  • – Lavinia (Jessie) Smithers (1864-1922) m. Herbert Mann
  • married Timothy Noonan in 1871
  • Joseph Foster of Essex, Brighton and Bognor married Elizabeth Smithers in Bromley, Kent in 1880
  • – Elizabeth Foster (b. 1881)
  • – Joseph Foster (1882-1944)
  • – Jessie Foster (b.1885)
  • – Charles Foster (b. 1887)
  • – Mabel Foster (b. 1889) m. Mr. Steer
  • – Cecil Foster (b. 1894)
  • – Dorothy Foster (b. 1897) m. Thomas Back
  • – Arthur Foster (b. 1901)
  • remarried at a later date.
  • Joseph Foster of Brighton and Hove m. Edith Bowles (1884-1841) at St. Saviour’s Church in Brighton in 1908



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Written by Colin Shelley

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