Buried under the Census!

Archives, Libraries, Press Reports, Research, Stephenson Family 1 Comment »

In the past three years I have collected a vast amount of census related material on Robert D’Onston Stephenson, his mother and father, his brothers and sisters, and his uncle, auntie and cousins.  Not to mention the collection on some of the “supporting cast” including Thomas Piles, Dr Kelburne King, Drs Brett and McKay, Annie Deary, and more.  Whilst many of these were done on my computer with an Ancestry subscription, many where done at local libraries and archival centres.

When the work was done at home, the entries where transcribed as I found them, thus giving me a clear time line for selected family members, however, as an equal amount was done externally, these were filed away for future reference.

I never actually realised how big this collection was, until last night, when I was faced with the task of sorting through the material, to file it in boxes per individual, therefore making research easier, and less time consuming.

To date I have over 100 files on different people associated with Robert D’Onston Stephenson.  Each file contains,

  • Birth, Marriage, and Death information
  • Census returns from 1841 to 1901, and in a couple of cases 1911
  • Grave Transcriptions
  • Obituaries
  • Last Will and Testament
  • Newspaper reports
  • Misc files such as lunacy reports, criminal convictions, and magistrates appearances

In creating such a space, I am now able to see wether or not I have the correct information, and wether I can fill any gaps that appear in the lives of those that surrounded Robert D’Onston Stephenson!

Bridlington- Findings and Photos!

Archives, Libraries, Press Reports, Research, Stephenson Family 9 Comments »

Getting there…

Travelling from my daughters nursery in the taxi, we passed the former site of Willows House, family home of the Stephenson’s, and home to Robert during the Incident at Flamborough in 1868. The taxi followed Wincolmlee, weaving through the winding streets, passing the mills of years gone by before passing the location mentioned in The Custom’s House Records on Robert D’Onston Stephenson, affectionately termed “The High Flags” after the local mill and raised kerb stones.

Driving along Charles Street, we passed the location which was the birthplace of Robert D’Onston Stephenson, and now a communal office of sorts, before driving through the City Centre to Paragon Station.

After setting my wife and son to the bus, I headed off to buy a ticket and sit on the platform, awaiting my train, and even though I was hundreds of miles away from the East End of London, I was in my own little RipperLand. You see, the platform is overlooked by The Quality Royal Hotel,” once known as The Royal Station Hotel, and a place visited by no fewer then 4 previously named suspects in the Whitechapel Murders!

The train arrived as the wind and rain battered the railway station, and it’s doors flew open, allowing the waiting passengers respite from the weather.

As the train departed, it took us past the bottom of Arlington Street, former home of Richard Stephenson Snr, and his final home before his death in January 1889, next we passed the Spring Bank West General Cemetery, final resting place of the Dawber family, and Dr Kelburne King.

It’s weird to think that this man, although many miles away from Bridlington Quay, was despatched to take care of Robert D’Onston Stephenson. The big question remains, “Who sent him?” and we can only theorize that either it was the Stephenson family, the Dawber family, or HM Customs themselves.

On the train a lady looked at my notes and asked what I was researching, as I told her about the Stephenson family, and Jack the Ripper, she mentioned that “He should be killed!”

Puzzled I asked for her to explain why, and it was clear that she was discussing Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, not Jack the Ripper. It appears that wherever you go in Yorkshire, you will always meet someone who has a friend of a friend who worked the case of the Yorkshire Ripper, just as everyone has a theory on who Jack the Ripper was!


Arriving at Bridlington about an hour after departing Hull, I exited the train and made my way through the town to the sea front. The high buildings at this point provided shelter from the wind, but the rain was falling and it was quite cold. I pulled down my woolly hat, and pulled up my hood, and headed for the harbour.

I passed the location of the Library and Local Studies Centre, and even though it wouldn’t open for another 45 minutes, I knew where it was, and this would save me time later.

The little road down to the harbour was wet, and the stones where slippery underfoot, but I made it down in one piece, and was surprised to see the tide was high, and the harbour fuller than I had ever seen it.

I made my way along the harbour, taking photo’s and observing the fishermen prepare their boats, asking as I went along for a boat to take me to Flamborough Head, but the weather was against me, and no one would commit to taking me out, even the pleasure cruiser was locked down for the day!

I walked along the empty seafront, and passed several Victorian lamps and numerous memorials to lost fishermen. Heading along the harbour pier, I noticed a lone bunch of flowers attached to a lamp post. No card was attached, and their significance was lost, but it was quite a poignant moment.

After several minutes I headed back into Bridlington Quay, and made my way to a little café for breakfast and a warm drink, reading my timetable for the day and pouring over my maps. After a short while, and with ten minutes to kill, I headed for a local book shop and the tourist information centre.

Local Studies

At 9.30 I made my way to the Local Studies Centre, and climbed the three flights of stairs, reaching the top short of breath, I noticed the lift!

The Local Studies Centre is a small room, boxed on three sides by huge book cases, and a selection of tall bookcases stand in the centre of the room, in the centre of the room stands a small table, with four chairs. Even though the room was so tiny, the collection was huge, with a massive selection on Hull related books, and trade directories that we don’t have in our local collection! I also noticed a selection of books on local folklore, and the paranormal, alongside a huge collection of material on the sinking of an American Battleship at Flamborough!

I got down to work and found,

Several New Trade Directory Entries for the Stephenson’s

Several New Trade Directory Entries for the Dawber’s

Several New Trade Directory Entries for the Dawber family business featuring full page advertisements from 1895, 1897, 1899, and 1901!

Several New Trade Directory Entries for the Black Lion Hotel.

A half page Advertisement for the Black Lion Hotel circa 1888.

Several newspaper entries for the East Yorkshire Rifle Volunteers, and their meetings at the Black Lion Hotel.

Several Newspaper entries for the meetings by Methodists, and Primitive Methodists in the hamlet of Bridlington, just moments away from The Black Lion Hotel.

After several hours, I left the Local Studies Library and headed to find a bus that would take me to Flamborough, but after some time waiting I was informed the next bus was an hour away. I took this opportunity to sample the local Fish and Chips, and walked back around the sea front, noting how quite it was, despite the weather looking a little better.


After an hour I headed to the Bridlington Bus Station, and noticed that the buses where every two hours, thus meaning, if I make it Flamborough, I have to sit and wait for the next bus back, which would be two hours later! Having been to Flamborough many years ago, and seeing that there isn’t much around, I decided against this, but will return in the future.

I decided at this point, it would be better to travel up to the Black Lion Hotel, and left Bridlington Quay. The road from Bridlington Quay to the old town of Bridlington was about a mile and half, and took about 20 minutes to walk up, what I did notice, was that most of the way it was uphill, only slightly, but nevertheless, it affected me, and I was quickly becoming tired. I also noticed the large amount of Pubs, Inns and Hotels along the road up, and wondered why Robert D’Onston Stephenson didn’t stay closer to Bridlington Quay!

What was the reason for Stephenson staying at this hotel?

Eventually I passed St John’s Avenue, where Dr Brett once resided with his family, the street still has a lot of Victorian properties and is tree lined and quite luxurious. Next up I crossed Brett Street, named after Dr Brett, which is a more modern street, lined by neat town houses either side.

What I did notice whilst walking up to the High Street, was the large number of religious buildings. Between Bridlington Quay and High Street I counted 8 churches, 6 of these within 5 minutes of The Black Lion Hotel!

High Street

Next I reached High Street, and turned left into a time warp. It appears untouched, apart from the cars, and road, and there is a wonderful collection of 17th, 18th, and 19th, Century properties adorning both sides of the street. Many of these have been turned into little shops, cafes and galleries. I noticed an antique watch shop, and chuckled at the thought of finding a watch inscribed with Stephenson’s name!

Further along I noticed another antique shop, this one with several Victorian beer bottles in the window, but nine for the Black Lion!

I also noticed that several pubs and hotels lined the street, one of which, The Victoria, was a huge three story property, and in a prominent position in the street. Finally, as I rounded the bend in the road, I saw the Black Lion Hotel. The pub, still with it’s yellow paint stands on the brow of a hill, nestled among the other properties, and it could be driven by, if one didn’t know where it was.

The Black Lion Hotel

Heading through the double, double doors, I reached two doors, one leading left, and one leading right, I chose the left, and entered a cosy bar, with exposed wooden floorboards, a log fire, and exposed brick and timber adorning the walls. I introduced myself to the Bar Manager, and passed over my research, to which I was given a free drink, whilst the manager and several locals read through the piece.

One of the men told me about the inn, and what had gone on there in the past, tales of smuggling and illegal gambling, and even the possibility of people trafficking and slavery back in the mid 1800’s!

The cross roads opposite the Hotel also had a unique story. Cross Hill obtained the name as Witches where hung from here, some attached to crucifix’s, but wether this is folklore or actual fact remains to be seen.

The Hotel consists of three bars, all with wooden flooring, exposed brick and vintage green tiles behind the bar, and seemed to be stuck in the Victorian period, not that this was a bad thing, I actually found it to be a lovely, warm welcoming pub, although it was weird sat in the spot, drinking lemonade, knowing Stephenson was here all those years earlier!

As I left the hotel, I made my way back along the High Street and headed for the railway station. I was tired out, and ready for home, but excited at what I had found. The problem is, it still raises more questions.

Why was a member of the HM Customs staying at a hotel associated with smuggling?

Why was Robert D’Onston Stephenson staying at a hotel that was quite a distance from Bridlington Quay? Especially as there were hotels closer!

Why was the barrow belonging to the Black Lions Landlord at Flamborough, a location associated with not only fishing but smuggling?

Why not take the barrow to Bridlington Quay, which is much closer?

Why did Kelburne King get sent to Bridlington?

Who Sent Kelburne King to Bridlington?

Why wasn’t the local Doctors and Surgeons trusted?

Did the friend that Shot Robert D’Onston Stephenson have ulterior motives?

Finally, a suggestion put forth by a local had me quite interested, he explained,

The Black Lion was known as a smugglers haunt, is it possible your Hull Man, a man of the HM Customs was sent here to keep an eye on things? Is this why the barrow was at Flamborough, and is this why the HM Customs sent Kelburne King, instead of trusting the locals?”

Anyone wishing to see the photo’s of the day, can view them here,


Bridlington or Bust!!

Archives, Libraries, Research, Stephenson Family 3 Comments »

I did think about incorporating this into my usual “Adventures in Research” thread, but figured it deserved a thread of it’s own, hopefully showing people what goes into the planning and execution of a research trip.

It was decided some time ago that a follow up visit to Bridlington was in order, not just for research into Robert D’Onston Stephenson, but also the Dawber family, who actually resided, worked and died there!

On Monday, I contacted Bridlington Achives after checking their website, and recieved a reply that I was able to gain access to the centre for research on Thursday 9th April 2009.

As the centre opens at 9.30, I had to book an early train, which worked out well, as the tickets were quite cheap. It does mean that I arrive 45 minutes before the centre opens, but this means I can do a quick recce of the location, before taking a short walk around Bridlington Quay itself.

After researching for several hours, I figured I would be in need of refreshment, and where better to visit than The Black Lion itself! The centre stands about 1.2 miles away, giving an estimate of about 25 minutes walk.

I am hoping to walk, and take in Brett-Street, allegedly named after Dr Brett, on of the Doctors who assisted at the Quay after the shooting.

If the weather is against me, I will seek out a bus or taxi to take me up into the old town of Bridlington.

I don’t really have anything planned for my arrival at the pub/hotel, but I hope to make contact at some point today to arrange a meeting with the landlord.

After that the world is my oyster, I am free for the rest of the day and have thought about travelling upto Flamborough Head.

Two options are available to me at this point, bus, or boat!

Planning a research trip is essential, whilst I have visited locations in the past on a whim and made significant finds in the Stephenson/Dawber time line, I always plan a trip like it is an important event, and something I might never be able to do again.

For this trip I have set out a “Wish List“” of what I want to look at, and what might help me in my search.
This includes,

  • Dates
  • Times
  • Locations
  • People

I also work out a list, in advance, with the help of the location I am visiting that I refer to as “My Tools
These are simply things that will help me in my search and include,

  • Newspapers
  • Trade Directories
  • Burgess Rolls
  • Polling Books
  • Census Returns
  • Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes
  • Maps

And any other item the centre might be holding that might help.

As a rule, I believe that “If you don’t look, you don’t find

I always take a sample of my chronology or a sample of who was where and when! This usually helps me think outside of the box, and helps me find things that have been overlooked. For example, The Dawber Family where not only working at Bridlington Quay, but had lived there and died there, yet we know very little about the time they spent there.

Is it possible that Robert D’Onston Stephenson chose Bridlington to be close to family?

Without looking into the family who where there, we will never know, but we need to look to establish that they were there, and this might help us.

As well as my “Wish List” and “Chronology” I have also printed off a copy of “Robert D’Onston Stephenson-Dissecting the Incident at Flamborough Head
Found Here, http://www.casebook.org/dissertation…amborough.html
I will present a copy of this to both Bridlington Archives and The Black Lion Hotel, as a thank you for their hard work and help.

I have already packed the bag with pens, pencils, notepad, digital dictaphone, digital camera, batteries, “Wish List”, “Chronology” and “Itinery”

6.45 Take Daughter to Nursary!
7.00 Daughter at Nursary
7.10 Taxi from Daughters Nursary to Railway Station
7.52 Train Departs Hull
8.39 Train Arrives Bridlington
9.30 Bridlington Local History Centre and Archives open.

Blank space for research and visit to the Black Lion!

16.14 Train Departs Bridlington
16.58 Train Arrives Hull
17.30 Get home and back to reality!

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