The Fighting Wannop Boys

I think a lot about Miriam Wannop when I’m writing about Jack. I’ve spent two years on him and could probably (and will probably) bash out 100,000 words, given the time. Here is all that I have managed to find out about his wife:

Miriam Allen was born in Durham in October 1858 and was baptised on the 11th December of that year. Her father was a police officer named John, her mother was Ann, and as a baby they lived in the town of Staindrop. When Miriam Allen was about 19 she married a carpenter, John Wannop, and in 1878 gave birth to their first child, Joseph. 

May Wade (née Wannop), Jack, Thomas, and Miriam, Brockley Cemetery

Miriam had many more children after the family moved south across the country to Wandsworth, London, and then New Cross, to Brockley, and back to New Cross, and when most of them were long, long, dead, she spent her old age at 16 Cottesbrooke Street and saw the bombs fall on her neighbours. She died in 1948 at the age of nearly 90, one of those remarkable mid-Victorians who almost hit the rock n’ roll era. 

Miriam Wannop lived longer than nearly all of her 10 children – she buried two of her four sons (the body of a third has no known grave, but was likely left in France) – and several of her daughters.

She’s now a couple of feet below the ground in the family plot in Brockley Cemetery, above the coffins of John and two of the kids, May and Thomas. 

That’s it, so far, the total sum of information I have managed to find about a woman I believe was probably quite extraordinary and, at the very least, had the heart and patience of a saint. When your husband disappears to America to fight a man called ‘The Strangler’, leaves you in New Cross with a handful of toddlers, and doesn’t return for a year and a half, you’d need to be a special kind of person. 

This is a photograph tagged as Miriam and Jack Wannop on Ancestry, but looking at the age difference between the couple and the fact that he does not resemble any sketches or photographs of Jack, I believe it could be Miriam and her son Joseph:

The story of Miriam Wannop and her children is all the more sad because it is not particularly unique or unusual. It was repeated millions of times by women born in the 1850s and ’60s, with sons born in the ’80s and ’90s. Shocking infant mortality rates, and a generation destroyed by war, left far too many families like the Wannops.

The 1911 census entry for the Pattes of New Cross, later Catford (Warren ‘Dais’ Patte being a boxer, book-maker, agent, and administrator for Jack’s gyms), brings tears to my eyes every time – Mary Patte was 46 then, had given birth 14 times, and seven of them were dead. In 1913 she lost Dais and an eighth child too. Of two remaining sons, Edward fought in WWI in his late teens and survived. But only into his twenties.

I’ll start with the youngest Wannop boy, and may add to this post later. Please note that much of this information has been transcribed from difficult-to-read military records, and I am also not a military historian. It’s my first time working with these types of sources – do let me know if I appear to have anything wrong (formal names of regiments or military job titles and so on!) or you have other suggestions and corrections. I have used Ancestry and a short free trial of Fold3 to find sources, but I’m sure there will be other places I have not known, or had the chance, to look.

I am currently in the very final stages of writing my MA dissertation on Jack (and it’ll all be over!) so the research for this article has not, perhaps, been as thorough as I’d like. I intend to add to and amend it at a later date, and will try and put together a few words on the Wannop girls too.

Sidney Clarence Wannop (1896 – 1918)

Sidney Wannop was the fourth of Jack and Miriam’s sons to be born, although possibly not the last. I know from the 1911 census that they had 10 children in total, and two had died by then. There are only eight children listed on an unfinished family tree compiled on Ancestry a few years back by Danielle Tilling, who is a descendent of the youngest child, Hilda Wannop, and I have found birth records for all of those eight. I have also identified a ninth – Margaret Ethel Wannop. She was born in March 1898, baptised in July, and died in September.

The tenth I am unsure of, but in Brockley Cemetery there is another baby Wannop, Alfred, who was born and died in 1903, the same year as Hilda’s birth. I cannot be certain, but with so few Wannops in London at the time, and Brockley being home to the family at the time of his life and death, it is very possible that he was the tenth, or alternatively may have been a grandson to Jack and Miriam.

Sidney Clarence Wannop was born in January 1896 and baptised on 13th February at St James Hatcham in New Cross, the same church where his name now appears on the WWI memorial.

The image tagged as Sidney Wannop on Ancestry

Sidney grew up with the Wannops on Merritt Street in Brockley, alongside his older sisters May and Mary and brother Thomas. The family soon moved to 16 Cottesbrooke Street, Deptford, and the 1911 census shows 15-year-old Sidney to be working as a butcher. At Dulwich, he enlisted as a gunner on the 13th April 1915 with the 162nd (Camberwell) Howitzer Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery according to one set of military records.

Confusingly, he also enlisted with the 186th Brigade five months later. 

It appears that naughty Sid Wannop deserted at Bulford on 20th September 1915, for a reason I cannot determine, but I’m sure he had a good one. Two days after disappearing he went to Rotherhithe to re-enlist under the name of Sydney Wannop (with the same family contact information, address, etc). Not the most cunning attempt to evade detection. One can only imagine that Jack, or perhaps Miriam, dragged him back by the ear.

By the time the Records Office caught up with his fraudulent enlistment and started demanding a trial, the corresponding officer who was commanding the 186th Brigade said that he had “never heard of him” and reminded the records office that the Battery in which he was serving had now formed the 174th Brigade and were elsewhere. The Records Office’s attempts to get Sidney punished were effectively then ruled out by the Commanding Officer of the 186th filling out the paperwork dispensing with the need to put him on trial, and Sidney was permitted to continue under his second enlistment as Sydney Wannop, apparently suffering no punishment as a result. Sidney was in England until March 1916, his conduct sheet showing a couple of minor infractions for other things – he was confined to barracks for absenting himself from a parade in October 1915, and fined and confined to barracks for overstaying leave in February 1916.

In March 1916, Sidney (well, technically still Sydney) was posted to France and on the 23rd March 1918 he died there aged 22, killed in action. Sidney has no known grave, but his name is listed on the Pozieres memorial in France, at St James Hatcham, and on the memorial at the Mazawattee Tea Company in Deptford.

The names of New Cross men killed in WWI can be found in the memorial garden on the east side of St James Hatcham. Sidney is on the bottom right.

Thomas Wannop (1890 – 1928)

Thomas Wannop was born in Brockley, south east London, on 17th March 1890 and grew up on Batavia Road, New Cross. As a toddler he was among the first cohort of pupils to attend the newly built Childeric Road School (now Childeric Primary School) when it opened in 1893. In 1909, at the age of 19 Thomas was working as a ‘tin works labourer’, most likely at the biscuit tin factory of A.G.Scott in Deptford (the 1911 census shows Jack Wannop to have been an employee of Scott’s too, and Thomas’s sister Mary was a biscuit packer). Following in the family tradition, he enlisted at New Cross with the Royal Regiment of Artillery, Horse and Field Artillery, on the 9th December 1909, and until the outbreak of WWI was stationed in England. His enlistment records show him to have been 5ft 7.5 and 131lb with a 36-inch chest. His religious denomination was given as Presbyterian.

In 1911, holding the rank of Gunner with the 125th Battery Royal Field Artillery, Thomas was living in barracks at Headley, Hampshire (among his unit the delightfully named Theophilus Shepstone Deacon, Bertram Bennett, Issachar Dutton, Lancelot Hemsworth, and Algernon Bailey) before transferring to France in August 1914, soon after the outbreak of war.

His military record shows him to be there until the 22nd of April 1919, with the exception of two weeks furlough in March 2018: these being the two weeks prior to Sidney being killed. He returned to France five days after his little brother died, quite possibly at that time unaware of what had happened. He was discharged after nine years and 135 days, in receipt of the British War Medal and Victory Medal and now surplus to military requirements. His military medical records show bad lungs caused by gas used on the battlefield in 1918 resulting in shortness of breath after exertion, stabbing pains, and he could find himself vomiting after meals.

Thomas Wannop died in Greenwich on the 19th January 1928, aged 38, and is the third Wannop buried in the family plot, after his sister May and father Jack.

John Wannop Jnr (1881 – 1955)

The second son of Jack and Miriam was born in October 1891 and as a young boy attended Stanley Street School in Deptford. At the age of 18 he married a local girl the same age by the name of Alice, and the 1901 census shows the teenagers in their own home at 10 Cottesbrooke Street – a couple of doors down from John’s parents.

The photograph tagged as John Wannop Jnr on Ancestry. I adore this photograph. While I still have not found (after two years of searching) a good portrait of Jack, I imagine them to have looked a lot alike! That’s a strong jaw.

As a lad we find Jack Jnr’s name appear a few times in boxing listings and alongside his father at meetings of Jack’s sports and social club, the New Cross High Hat Brigade. ‘Young Jack Wannop’ acted as a second to boxers at the Queen’s Hall, Peckham, in October 1911, and he sparred with Jack Kingsland of Bermondsey in an exhibition bout at Amersham Hall, Amersham Vale in New Cross – 20 years after his father (Jack Snr was still hosting competitions in the Hall until at least 1907). Jack Jnr’s affiliation as simply ‘New Cross’ marks him out as his dad’s boy, in contrast to other local fighters who are nearly all, during this period, noted as members of the New Cross-based Old Goldsmiths’ Boxing Club instead.

By 1911, John (‘Comm Agent’) and Alice (‘laundress’) were parents to six-year-old William Thomas, two-year-old Lillian Rose, and baby Violet May. They had two more children who had died young. Indeed, the baby Alfred Wannop buried in Brockley, mentioned earlier in this post, may have been John Jnr and Alice’s, rather than Jack Snr and Miriam’s child – I am not sure. The family were still at 10 Cottesbrooke Street, and had a widowed 63-year-old named Selina Eldridge lodging with them.

John’s military records are unfortunately badly reproduced and I have not managed to work out much of anything yet. I believe he may have registered with the Royal Navy at Deptford and first saw service in March 1898 aboard the HMS Impregnable and remained enlisted for 24 years. The 1939 Register lists John (an assistant foreman at a paint store) and Alice (still in laundry) at 1 Detling Road in Bromley, their daughter Lillian still with them, as well as a son, born in 1914 and named Leonard. I have found a death registration for a 73-year-old John Wannop in Bromley in 1955, although I am not certain that it is him.

Joseph Wannop (1878 – 1929)

Joseph was born on the 16th February 1878 in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, making him the only northerner among the Wannop children, although the family soon moved to London. His military records show him to be just under 5ft 11 as an adult, with a fair complexion, brown hair and blue eyes, a slim man with a 32 inch chest. He joined the army in January 1899 at the age of 20, his civilian occupation given as ‘machine hand’, and went on to serve in the Boer War with the Scots Guards. He was discharged 24 years and 24 days later on a pension of 66d per day. In 1910, Joseph married a Mary Elizabeth Allan in Chipping Warden, Northamptonshire, his occupation on the parish register given as Sergeant with the Scots Guards (his pugilist father, as always, simply ‘Carpenter’), although he later transferred to the RAF.

Joseph’s military awards

Joseph was discharged the week before Jack died in February 1923, and lived until 1929, dying at the age of 51. His discharge documents have the following names and dates written in the margins. ‘Alexandra’ is Alexander Joseph, and he fought in WWII:

This post is illustrated with family portraits uploaded to Ancestry by Danielle Tilling. Some of the section on Sidney is written with thanks to the kind help of Dr Ben Swift, who transcribed Sidney’s records.

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