Richard Morgan of Chelsea, London, Gardener with a Secret

The search for my great-grandfather and the discovery of his mysterious past

I’ve previously written about the mysterious origins of Marie Louise Courtenay. Finding out where she came from took an enormous amount of work, but once I looked in the right places there were a lot of documents that would prove helpful. She was my paternal grandma’s mother. I was faced with different challenges when attempting to find the history of my paternal grandma’s father.

Marie Courtenay, having moved to London, married a man named Bernard Wellum in 1920. He died the next year, leaving her with an eight month-old son, Francis Ernest Courtenay Wellum. She remarried in 1927 to my great-grandfather, Richard Louis Morgan. What were the chances that both of these great-grandparents had mysterious pasts?

Richard was very secretive about his upbringing. He never told his daughter, my grandma, whether or not he fought in The Great War. He led his children to believe that his family was from Wales. He somehow managed to have two different birth dates in the 1939 Register, both of which were much earlier than what he stated on his marriage certificate. I would eventually find out that even his middle name wasn’t the one he was given at birth. It became obvious to me that he either lied on several occasions or that someone had lied to him.

One of my first steps into genealogical research was to order the marriage certificate of Richard Morgan and Marie Courtenay from the GRO of the United Kingdom. I was very interested in finding the mysterious origins of Marie Courtenay, but for a long time I simultaneously researched Richard Morgan’s origins. For a couple of years I didn’t have much luck for either family. I would eventually find more than I imagined about the Courtenays, but before that I found almost everything that I know about the Morgans, which unfortunately isn’t a lot.

The marriage certificate, which was dated 30 July 1927, listed their occupations, fathers, and fathers’ occupations. The difficulty in searching for Marie’s father was that, while several people had the same name or similar names to Ernest Henry Courtenay and had similar occupations, none was exactly a fancy leather worker. Richard’s father was listed as Richard Morgan of the Indian Civil Service, deceased. There were countless people with that same name and not one seemed to work for the Indian Civil Service. I did a lot of searching for a Richard Morgan in Wales and in British records of its subjects in India. There were none who fit the description perfectly.

Eventually I was very excited to find that both Marie Courtenay and Richard Morgan were listed in London directories in the 1920s. Richard first appears in 1923 at 75 Battersea Bridge Road, Wandsworth. In some of the years his name was spelled Richard Lewis Morgan. I was interested to see that, from 1931 to 1933, he was living with a woman named Beryl Bradner and another named Dorothy Kate Ambrose. This was after his marriage to my great-grandma and after they had lived together for at least two years in her own place. They had two daughters already by this time. I’m not sure why they had lived apart (until 1935), but I found it interesting that Mrs. Bradner’s first name, Beryl, was the same as my grandma’s middle name.

In the 1911 Ireland census, Beryl Bradner was living with her husband, Richard Bradner, in Howth Hill, Dublin. It stated that they had been married since 1894. (They had been married, in fact, since 1892.) If they were the only people in this household in Ireland, I could have easily written off Beryl Bradner as just a roommate of Richard Morgan twelve years later in London, needing no further investigation. Instead, there were two additional people in the Bradner household, both surnamed Morgan. Blanche Morgan was listed as a daughter-in-law, having been married in 1908. The census said that she was born in Norfolk, England in 1883, but I believe both the year and place to be wrong, probably deliberately so. The other person was Beatrice Eileen Morgan, Blanche’s daughter. Beatrice was just one year old, born in County Wicklow in 1909. So who was the mysterious Mr. Morgan who was Blanche’s husband, Beatrice’s father, and Beryl Bradner’s son?

Despite my suspicion that it was my great-grandfather Richard, I had trouble confirming it to be true or finding evidence to the contrary. So I decided to find more information about Beryl Bradner. She was born Beresford Buckley on 3 August 1854 in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, England. Her parents were Richard Buckley, gardener, and Ellen Rigby, whose name evokes a famous Beatles song. Richard Buckley was born in Dublin in 1808. They were married in Liverpool and had at least eight other children. One child, William, seems to have died before he was four years old. Another, Mary, may not have ever married. Aside from those two, I’ve counted 26 grandchildren for the couple so far.

An interesting fact to note about Richard Buckley is that he died at Powerscourt in County Wicklow, Ireland. That’s a fitting place for a gardener, as the estate contains one of the most impressive gardens in the world. He probably worked there for up to ten years before his death in 1881 and may have also worked there when he was younger, before 1841. I’ve never been able to find out who Richard Buckley’s parents were, despite knowing his approximate birth year and that he was born in Dublin.

I also had trouble finding the parents of Beryl Buckley’s mother. I knew that Ellen Rigby was born in Speke, Lancashire in 1811, but I couldn’t find a birth or christening record. I decided to look for any potential siblings and discovered a Thomas Rigby, an Ann Rigby, and a John Rigby who were also born in Speke over the next 12 years. They seemed to all share Thomas Rigby and Ann Taylor as parents. Ellen Rigby can be found in Powerscourt in the 1901 census. She died in Monastery, County Wicklow in 1903 at about 92 years old. Beryl Buckley herself lived into her 90s.

I was pretty sure at this point that Beryl was my second great-grandma, even if it was a different son of hers who was married to Blanche. I told my grandma about this discovery and she said that, yes, Beryl must be her grandmother. She told me that she doesn’t remember ever meeting Beryl, but that she was a very small woman, under 100 pounds, and that she lived to the age of 98 and died while on a ferry to Ireland. That information about her death was incorrect, like so much relating to the Morgans and Buckleys. She also said that Beryl used to send the family nice furniture when my grandma was a child, like a fancy green couch. She and the Courtenays supposedly didn’t get along very well, probably because the Courtenay’s fancied themselves descendants of nobles.

In order to find Richard Morgan’s father, I needed to find out where Beryl was before her marriage in 1892 to Richard Bradner. She was with her family in Cheshire in 1861. Only one child, Frank Buckley, was living with Richard and Ellen in 1871. Beryl, the youngest, had moved out by the time she was 17. In 1871 she was a servant in the same household in which her sister Sarah was a cook. That was in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, where Beryl would presumably stay for the next ten years and where Sarah would marry a man named William Goodier the next year. In 1877 Beryl was ordered to spend the night in jail for larceny as a servant and false pretenses on a second indictment. The alleged theft was possibly from Joseph Docker, who was the head of the household in which she was a housemaid in 1871.

I found a marriage record index for a Beresford Buckley to a man surnamed Morgan in Chorlton-cum-Hardy in 1881. I was certain enough that I had found the right marriage record to send £9 to the GRO in order to get a copy, which would list not only her husband’s full name, but also the names of both of their fathers. I was about to find out more about Richard Morgan’s father. I realized that I had hastily ordered the certificate, though, because there was another record (in addition to the index) on FamilySearch.org that had more information. Plus it was on the Lancashire online parish project webpage. So, before the copy of the certificate even arrived, I saw that Mr. Morgan’s first name was John, not Richard, and that his father’s name was George. I was thoroughly confused.

I wondered if John Morgan was just a witness to the marriage and maybe was the groom’s brother. It didn’t take me long to find out more about John Morgan. He was born in Timperley, Cheshire in 1855 to George Morgan and Sarah Ann Gratrix. He was a gardener, just like my great-grandfather Richard Louis Morgan would be. Despite having two brothers, John didn’t have a brother named Richard. When my copy of the marriage record arrived it confirmed what I had already seen. Why, I wondered, had my great-grandfather said that his dad was Richard Morgan and that he worked for the Indian Civil Service? That wouldn’t be an easy question to answer.

I searched thoroughly for children born in Chorlton-cum-Hardy in the 1880s with the surname Morgan, hoping I would find the birth record for Richard Morgan. There were none who fit the right description, especially not with a mother whose maiden name was Buckley. Knowing that the Beryl would be in Ireland by 1911, I directed my search there.

I had seen Richard and Beryl Bradner in the 1911 census, but now I found them in the 1901 census.¹ They were in County Dublin in both censuses, but in 1901 their residence was in Dublin proper. Eventually I found their marriage record. It was in Rathdown, County Dublin in 1892, not 1894 as had been stated in 1911. So Beryl had previously been married to John Morgan for at most eleven years. She was listed as a widow when she married Richard Bradner. I was somewhat skeptical about that considering the misinformation I had already found, but I eventually grew to trust that John Morgan had died by 1892. I suppose it’s possible that he gave up gardening and joined the Indian Civil Service.² But it’s more likely that he died in Ireland in the late-1880s or early 1890s. There is a death record for a John Morgan, 34 year old house painter, on October 26, 1889 in South Dublin. This man died of abdominal cellulitis in St. Vincent’s Hospital after 24 days of illness. He was married, but it the certificate doesn’t say to whom. The age is right on — suggesting he was born in late 1854 or the first three quarters of 1855. This could very well be Richard’s father, John Morgan, who was born between April and September of 1855.

All of this research was for the purpose of finding my great-grandfather, Richard Morgan, yet I had never seen a single document about him from before his 1924 residence in London. That changed when I found his census return for 1911, living apart from the rest of his family. He was at House 17, Fassaroe, Kilmacanoge, County Wicklow. His occupation was “gardener” and his age was 28. This put his birth year as 1882 or 1883, rather than 1889 or 1890 as stated in his marriage record. He was the father of one child, who must have been Beatrice Eileen Morgan, and he was listed as having been married for two years. However, I haven’t been able to find the marriage record and I’ve become quite doubtful that they actually married. That would be fitting, since they also don’t appear to have divorced, yet Richard married my great-grandma in 1927.

I eventually ordered a copy of Beatrice Eileen Morgan’s birth certificate. She was born in Rathdown, County Wicklow on 17 October 1909. Her parents were Richard Morgan, gardener, of Enniskerry, and Blanche Lilian Parker, of Powerscourt. So my great-grandfather had a child with another woman sixteen years before marrying my great-grandmother, and possibly never told anyone in the family about it. My grandma certainly didn’t know. There was just one issue with Beatrice’s birth record: It had Richard’s middle name as Henry, not Louis. On November 13, 2017 I told my grandma that I thought Richard Morgan might have been from Ireland. She replied the same day that that’s what the birth certificate says.

I had spent all of this time searching and asked her so many questions about Richard Morgan, and she had the certificate that whole time! She told me that Richard was born 22 June 1882 in St. Doulough’s Park, North Dublin. So it was the earlier of the two dates in the 1939 Register, not 1884. To be fair to my grandmother, I think she was confused by the middle name Henry and may have thought that the record could have been of someone else (like a brother). His middle name at birth was Henry and his certificate stated that the middle name Louis was his “baptismal name added after registration of birth.” The parents on his birth record were indeed Beresford Buckley and John Morgan. My grandma asked me if that confirmed that Beryl was Richard’s mother, then, and I said I had become quite certain of it. And, of course, after learning all of this information it was easy to see that the birth record had been on IrishGenealogy.ie all along, although the baptismal name hadn’t yet been written in on that copy.

I also found a record for Richard’s admission to school on 12 October 1885. Here his birth date is given as 7 May 1884, just three days before the incorrect of the two dates in the 1939 Register. And I’ve probably found his 1901 census record in Ireland. There’s a Richard Morgan at the Richmond Asylum and Grangegorman Annex Asylum, Arran Quay, Dublin. That was called an asylum for the mentally insane, so he may not have been doing very well at the time.

I was curious to find more information about Blanche Morgan. I found that her full name was Blanche Muriel Parker, born in Bowdon, Altrincham, Cheshire in 1879; not Norfolk, England as stated in the 1911 census; and not Blanche Lilian Parker, as it said in Beatrice’s birth record. Altrincham is where John Morgan was from and where many descendants of the Morgans and Buckleys stayed for decades afterwards. Her parents were Edward Parker and Catharine Jane Bernette Forrester. In 1896 Blanche was appointed as a sorting clerk and telegraph learner at the Belfast post office.

Finally, I believe that I found the reason for all of the deceit: Blanche Muriel Parker was married to a different man in 1906, which was just two years before she supposedly married Richard Morgan and three years before she had her daughter, Beatrice. In July, 1906 she married William Richard Bailey. There is an Ireland civil marriage registration entry for that quarter (July-September), and there’s another entry in the following quarter (October-December) for the same couple. It may be tempting to think that the second record is for a divorce, but Northern Ireland didn’t allow divorces until 1939, except by act of parliament, which was done very rarely. It seems as though Blanche Parker and William Bailey had two marriages, the second one a few months after the first. It could have been that there was a legal issue with their first marriage and, rather than correcting it, they simply married again. Or they could have been from two different churches, each one wanting to have a marriage in their own church.³ William Bailey doesn’t appear to have died until 1926 in Dublin South and Richard married my great-grandmother just a year after that.

Beatrice Morgan married William Hedley Harrison Graham in Raheny, County Dublin on 10 May 1937. Richard Morgan was there to sign the marriage record. I wonder if he told his wife, Marie Courtenay, that he was going to Ireland to witness his daughter’s marriage. I believe that Beatrice and William had one son together. It seems that they may have divorced at some point. Although her name was far from an uncommon one, there’s a record that may be of her marriage to another man in 1952. In addition to the name Beatrice E. Graham, Beatrice E. Morgan is one of the names on the record. Still, without ordering a copy or finding a previous divorce record, that’s just conjecture. William Hedley Harrison Graham was a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. He died 13 January 1963 and is buried in the military cemetery on Bear Road in Brighton, Sussex.

Beryl Bradner (née Buckley) died 24 February 1947 in South Dublin at the age of 92. There was actually an obituary for her, of which I have a copy. It states that she will be sadly missed by her sons. So there’s a new mystery. According to the obituary, my great-grandfather had at least one brother. That brother was never recorded in a census with Beryl. He didn’t live with Richard in London, unless he was born of a different father and thus had a different surname. I’m fairly certain that Beryl and her second husband, Richard Bradner, never had a child together. So this brother could have been a son of John Morgan.

It so happens that I’ve found a curious record in Cheshire. A boy by the name of Louis Morgan Buckley was baptised on 9 May 1880 in St. Martin, Ashton-on-Mersey. His parents names were listed as John and Berresford, who were living in Ireland. Indexers of this record have assumed that, since the child’s surname was Buckley, his father must have been named John Buckley. Similarly, one could assume that his mother was named Berresford Morgan. However, I’m quite certain that there was no Berresford Morgan, at least not until Beresford Buckley married John Morgan a year and a half later in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Lancashire. Next, I found a record for a birth registration: Louis Buckley in Chorlton, Lancashire, from April to June of 1878. I think that this has to be Richard Morgan’s brother.

I located a picture of Beryl Bradner’s tombstone, which she shares with Blanche Morgan. It appears that they stayed close for the rest of their lives. Richard Morgan is said to be the husband, and already deceased, however the Ireland civil death registration for Blanche appropriately lists her as married rather than widowed. I wonder if Richard, in fact, paid for the tombstone and wrote the inscription. Blanche’s middle name was claimed to be Lilian on the tombstone. As stated before, I believe that her real middle name was Muriel and that she never married Richard Morgan.

My great-grandmother, Richard Morgan’s wife, died in 1949. He lived for another 17 years. My grandmother had moved to the U.S. and his eldest daughter lived in Greece and Germany for some time. One might assume that he was lonely during that time. However, he may have married a woman named Annie Smith in 1953. She died in 1963 and he died a year later, in the first quarter of 1964. He couldn’t have been buried alongside my great-grandmother because Brompton Cemetery was closed at the time. He may have been cremated or could be buried in one of the four cemeteries operated by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. While in Richmond in September, 2018, I attempted to make it to the North Sheen Cemetery Office in order to do one free search of their records. Alas, after hiring a car and trying to navigate rush-hour traffic in multiple-lane roundabouts with a manual transmission, I recognized that I wasn’t going to make it there in time.

Long after I found the above information, I made an other very interesting discovery. I was unsatisfied with the story of Beatrice Eileen Morgan, my grandmother’s half-sister whom she never knew existed. She married William Graham in 1937 and was never heard from again. William lived until 1963. I don’t know if Beatrice and William divorced (which wasn’t legal in Ireland, where they married, until 1996), but I have become quite confident that Beatrice remarried in 1952. Out of the four names of men on the record whom she may have married, the only one who seems to fit is Ian Priestly-Mitchell (spelled Ian Priestley-Mitchell in the marriage record), a celebrated actor, play director, and radio broadcaster in Dublin⁴. I confirmed that he did, indeed, marry a woman named Beatrice. A little bit more research about Ian turned up something quite fascinating. The following story is from Old Ballinteer, County Dublin, A Social History, 1930–1960:

Ballintyre Hall was the home of the Mr. Desmond Beatty. Beatty owned the Raleigh Bicycle factory in Dublin city and drove himself to work every day in a big car. The Beattys had four children, Kathleen, Walter, John and Adrian. Mr. and Mrs. Morgan lived in the gate lodge of Ballintyre Hall. Mr. Morgan was chief gardener on the estate, assisted by Tom O’Brien from Ballinteer Park and John Harding from Taney Park. Morgan experimented to produce a new vegetable, Celtus, a cross between celery and lettuce. There were extensive gardens on the working farm. Their daughter Beatrice Morgan married Ian Priestly Mitchell of Radio Eireann fame.

Who was Mr. Morgan? That would be Richard, my great-grandfather. Mrs. Morgan would be Blanche, the woman with whom he had his daughter Beatrice in 1909 without ever marrying. Indeed, Blanche’s civil death registration states that she lived at Ballintyre House. Presumably, hopefully, Richard moved there after March, 1949, when his wife Marie died. And then at some point I believe he moved back to London.

There is another possibility, and it may be more believable than the above story. The fact that Blanche Parker was still married to Mr. Bailey and that Louis Morgan Buckley was born before his parents were married would have made the two a very good match at the time. Maybe Louis Morgan Buckley was the true father of Beatrice Morgan. He could have pretended to be Richard Morgan on both Beatrice’s birth record and marriage record, keeping a copy of his brother’s birth record in case he needed it. He could have been the Mr. Morgan who served as a gardener for Mr. Beatty, dying sometime before 10 June 1956, when Blanche Morgan died. Somehow this seems more plausible than my great-grandfather leaving London in or after 1949, living with the mother of his child in Dublin, seeing her married in 1952, and then making it back to London to marry Annie Smith in 1953.

Just a few years ago I had no idea that I had a great-grandfather named Richard Morgan. Once I learned of him, I had very little information concerning his character. I thought that he was from Wales. I knew that he was a short and slender man, yet he did heavy lifting at times for his gardening duties with the London City Council. The only time he seems to have been mentioned in newspapers was in 1935 when he reported to the constabulary an illegal indoor women’s wrestling group near his home in Chelsea. That makes him seem like a bit of a wet blanket, but for all I know the women were exploited and he was concerned for their safety. I knew that he was very quiet. He had a temper at times, but he was fairly nice aside from that. He raised a son who wasn’t his, biologically, and seemed to treat him well.

I think I’ve learned a decent amount of information on top of that. I learned that he was from Ireland and not Wales, that he was about eight years older than I had originally thought, that he’s been ascribed about four different dates of birth, and that his middle name was not even what I thought. I’ve been able to identify his parents and grandparents and scores of cousins. More importantly, I’ve learned that my grandmother had another half-sibling (in addition to Francis Wellum) or a first cousin, Beatrice Eileen Morgan, who may have living descendants. I’ve found out that Richard invented the Celtus, a hybrid of celery and lettuce. And I’ve learned that he probably had an older brother named Louis Morgan Buckley. I might not ever find out more information about his life before he married my my great-grandmother, but I’m probably okay with that. Now I know who my cousins are and I can say that I figured out the greater part of a fairly tricky puzzle.

¹The 1881 and 1891 Ireland censuses were deliberately destroyed by the government. It’s highly likely that Beryl Morgan was in Ireland both during the 1891 census, just a year before she married Richard Bradner there, and during the 1881 census with her parents, neither of whom were in England in 1881. Her father died in Rathdown in August of 1881 and she likely moved back to Lancashire shortly afterwards, perhaps for the sole purpose of marrying John Morgan.

²Richard Morgan’s marriage record really did say Indian Civil Service and not I.C.S, which could have meant Irish Civil Service.

³The first marriage of William Richard Bailey and Blanche Parker was in the Church of Ireland, so the second marriage could have been a Catholic ceremony.

⁴Despite his fame, nobody seems to have information about Ian Priestly-Mitchell’s parents. The hyphenated name is certainly unusual. Both surnames are common in Yorkshire and I think it’s very likely that he was from that area. The earliest reference to him that I’ve found to date is a newspaper article on 21 November 1924. In that, and articles on subsequent days, people who desired tickets to the play “The Dance of Life” were instructed to visit the secretary of the York Little Theatre. This person was named as J. Priestly-Mitchell, which could have been a typo or his birth name may not have been Ian. He soon joined the MacMaster Shakespearean Company, which was founded 18 January 1928. When the Savoy Players were founded in Belfast in mid-July, 1940, their first play was “When We Are Married.” This play was written by the famous broadcaster and writer John Boynton Priestley, who was from Bradford, Yorkshire and was three years Ian’s senior. I think it’s quite likely that this man taught Ian Priestly-Mitchell his trade. J. B. Priestley was from Bradford, the son of a man named Jonathan Priestley. His mother, Emma Holt, died in 1896, just two years after J. B. Priestley was born.

Feel free to write a response. Tell me what you think of this post, let me know if any of the people I mentioned are your ancestors or if you have additional information, or ask me about genetic genealogy or genealogical research. To see my other stories, click here.

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