Saturday, 10 January 2015

Robert Thomas Owen Ivall (1876-1953), fireman

Robert was a grandson of Robert Thomas Ivall (1812-65), the brother of my ancestor David Ivall (1816-67).  I have recently found paperwork (held by the London Metropolitan Archives) relating to Robert’s apprenticeship on the training ship Arethusa. It contains information about his early life, which I have added to this profile.

Robert was born on 6 September 1876 in Chalvey, a village which is now a suburb of Slough, Berkshire, and was baptised there on 15 October 1876. He was the fifth of six children born to Owen (b1846) and Emily Maria Ivall nee Moss (1845-83). They had 3 boys and 3 girls, although two of these children died before they reached adulthood.

The 1881 census shows Owen Ivall aged 35, a whitesmith (someone who makes or finishes items made of tin) living at 2 Sussex Place, Chalvey with his wife Emily Maria (34) and children Maria Emily(12), Eliza Ada (8) and Robert Thomas (4). There were several relations of Robert living in Chalvey at this time. Owen’s sister Marian was living at 6 Sussex Place with her husband Thomas Soen and their 5 children. Owen’s brother Thomas, his wife Lucy and their 6 children lived at 1 Jordan Place.

Robert’s mother died in 1883 when he was aged 6. His father married Sarah Smith nee Plumridge in 1885. Owen was arrested for public drunkness in 1886 and had frequent quarrels with his wife. They had separated by 1887.

Robert attended Chalvey National School for 5 years and Slough British School for 2 years, leaving in 1888 aged 12. He then did a series of menial jobs, cleaning knives and boots for 3 months, then working at a grocer’s for 4 months, a laundry for 12 months and a greengrocer’s for 3 months. I can’t find Robert or his family in the April 1891 census – they weren’t living at 2 Sussex Place then. Robert’s father deserted his children in June 1891, when Robert was aged 14. He tried to join the Royal Navy but was rejected for being just too short. By October 1891 Robert had been out of work for 3 months. However, he was then given the opportunity of an apprenticeship on board the training ship Arethusa, to learn the duties of a sailor.

In 1866, Lord Shaftesbury, a philanthropist and campaigner for the rights of children, promoted the idea of a naval training ship for homeless boys in London. Shaftesbury persuaded the Admiralty to loan a redundant 50-gun frigate called the Chichester. The ship was moored on the Thames off Greenhithe in Kent. It was managed by a committee of the 'National Refuges for Homeless and Destitute Children'. In 1873, following a donation of £5,000 from Lady Burdett-Coutts, a second ship was established. For this role, the Navy contributed the Arethusa, a wooden frigate which could accommodate staff and 250 boys. The Arethusa, built in 1849 had seen action in Crimea and was the last British ship to go into battle under sail. She took up position at Greenhithe and was officially opened on 3rd August, 1874. The Chichester was disposed of in 1889.

Training Ship Arethusa (in 1900)

Training for the boys included how use a compass and lead (to measure the depth of water), knotting and splicing rope, sail-making, knowledge of all running gear and parts of ship, reefing and furling sails, rowing and steering, swimming, cooking, carpentry and tailoring. Discipline was firm, punishments included birching. Arethusa boys were known on board only by their number, not by their name.

When Robert joined the Arethusa on 10 October 1891, he was aged 15, 4 foot 11¾  inches tall, his weight was 94 lbs and waist 30½  inches. He seems to have done well during his time on board – he was awarded two good conduct badges, a swimming prize, the Fleming Prize and the Rawlings Jersey. He was confirmed by the Bishop of Southwark at Greenhithe Church in December 1891. When Robert left the Arethusa on 30 September 1892, he was aged 16, 5 foot 1 inch tall, his weight was 112 lbs and waist 32 inches. He then obtained a job as a merchant seaman on “The Canada of Windsor” starting in October 1892. He worked on this ship for four periods between 1892 and 1895, each time being given a “very good” rating on discharge.

Robert joined the London Fire Brigade on 2 April 1898 aged 21. I have a copy of his service record. He was based at New Cross until 1 August 1900 when he transferred to Blackheath, where he stayed until 3 October 1901.

On June 22nd 1901, Robert married Florence Sarah Durnford at St John The Evangelist, Blackheath. They were both aged 24 and went on to have three children namely Robert Daniel (1902-92), Florence Sarah (1903-89) and Daniel Durnford (1905-2000). Both the sons later followed their father into the London Fire Brigade.


Marriage register entry for Robert

Parish records for the baptism of Robert Daniel Ivall in 1902 at St Thomas’s, Charlton, give the family’s address as 12 Springfield Park Crescent, Catford. When Florence Sarah Ivall was baptised in 1904, the address was Fire Station, Lordship Lane, Dulwich.

Robert had spells at Rushey Green (1901-3), Dulwich (1903-7), Eltham (1907-8), Greenwich (1908-9), Charlton (1909-10) and Perry Vale (1910-14) fire stations. The 1911 census shows Robert (aged 35, a fireman) his wife Florence (35) and children Robert (8), Florence (7) and Daniel (5) living at 199 Perry Vale, Forest Hill in SE London.

Robert was appointed a drill instructor in 1914 and spent the rest of his service as a Training Officer at the London Fire Brigade Head Quarters (in Southwark Bridge Road). In 1916 Robert was cautioned for accepting refreshments from strangers at a fire. In February 1918 he was personally thanked by the Chief Officer for services rendered. Having completed 20 years satisfactory service he was allowed to occupy married quarters in the Brigade rent free as from April 1918. Robert was promoted to the rank of probationary sub officer in 1922 and became a permanent sub officer in 1923. He retired from the London Fire Brigade in 1924 aged 47 after 26 years service and was awarded a pension of 62 shillings (equivalent to £93 at current values) a week. His record sheet shows “VG” for character and ability.

Robert then joined the Hampton Court Fire Brigade and lived in the palace grounds while he was stationed there. Electoral registers show him and his family at Hampton Court Palace from 1925 to 1936. He later developed heart trouble and retired to Bexhill, but didn’t like it there and moved to Abbey Wood in SE London. The 1939 national register and 1946 electoral register show him and his wife living at 4 Chancelot Road, Abbey Wood.

Robert died of cancer on 11 July 1953 aged 76 at 4 Chancelot Road and was buried in Plumstead Cemetery in grave 455, section O. 


Memorial on Robert's grave

The probate index record reads
Robert Thomas Owen Ivall of 4 Chancelot Rd, Abbey Wood died 11 Jul 1953. Probate to Robert Daniel Ivall, temporary civil servant. Estate £1,268.”


His wife Florence lived until 1974 when she died aged 98 and was buried in the same grave as Robert.

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