ROADS, Francis Elliot

Francis Elliot ROADS 2745b

Many people will not know what a coprolite merchant is. This story will make all clear.

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b. 1875-d.1946

Francis’s parents

Born in Royston, Cambridgeshire in the 4th quarter of 1875, Francis Elliot ROADS was the second of three sons born to Charles Roads and his wife Mary Elizabeth (née Linton). Charles and Mary were married in the Church of St George in Mary’s home parish of Orcheston in Wiltshire on the 17th of March 1870. 

We learn from the marriage register that his father Charles was a merchant, the son of Christopher Roads, also a merchant, and his wife Mary (née Biggs). Charles was born in Waddesden, Berkshire in 1836. Mary was born in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire in 1850, the daughter of William Linton, ‘gentleman’.

A ’coprolite merchant’

The couple must have moved to Mary’s birth village of Meldreth sometime after their marriage as we find them in the 1871 Census living in a house in Meldreth High Street with Mary’s younger sister, Letitia Linton, and a cousin, Charlotte Francis. 

The Roads also employed a cook, a housemaid and a pageboy which would suggest they were fairly affluent. We learn from the census that Charles was a coprolite merchant.

Between 1860 and 1890 there was a short boom industry in Cambridgeshire associated with the mining of coprolites (the fossilised excrement of animals). These were mined along a broad swathe of Cambridgeshire stretching from near Royston in the southeast to Soham in the northeast.

Although little actual mining took place in Meldreth it was a major location for the milling of coprolite and its transportation from the railway station to Ipswich for conversion into superphosphate by manure manufacturers. 

The phosphate content provided an effective fertiliser and was cheaper than guano imported from abroad. Meldreth has the first recorded coprolite agreement in Cambridgeshire: in 1851 John Clear was licensed by the Lady of Sheene Manor to dig for coprolites in North Field.

In the 1861 Census there were no coprolite workers identified. However, by 1871 it was a major source of employment in the village. By 1891 there was no-one listed in the census for Meldreth as working in the industry.


A move to Yorkshire

In the 3rd quarter of 1873 Mary gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son called Montague Linton Roads, followed by our subject, Francis, in the 4th quarter of 1875.

In the 1881 Census we find the family living at 23, Town Green Road, Orwell, Royston with a cook and a housemaid. Charles was still clearly benefiting from the coprolite boom. 

However, by the time of the 1891 Census the boom was over and Charles had moved his growing family – a third son, Christopher Wellesley Roads was born in the 1st quarter of 1884 – to the East Riding of Yorkshire where he ran the Britannia Hotel on Bridlington Quay. 

Although now aged 17 and 15 respectively, no occupations are recorded in the census for Montague or Francis but it may be assumed that they helped their father in the running of the hotel. (In 1889 Montague had enlisted in the Royal Dragoons but within a year he was discharged ‘at his own request on payment of £18’.) 

On the 1st of May 1888 Charles was initiated into the Londesborough Lodge of Freemasons in Bridlington.

Marriage and children

We next meet Francis in the 1901 Census, living at 58, Hall Place in Paddington. He says he is now married to Elizabeth and working as an omnibus driver but this may not be the whole story. From the census we learn only that Elizabeth was born in Stoke Abbot, Dorset, in about 1871. (Considerable research was required to discover more – see below.) 

The couple have two children, Francis (born Lambeth, 1895) and Annie (born Stoke Abbot, 1896). Francis was admitted to the Emmanuel National School on the 24th of May 1897 and Annie to Campbell Street School on the 29th of August 1898. 

In the 2nd quarter of 1902 Elizabeth gave birth to a second daughter named Florence.

Francis’s parents and siblings in 1901

In the 1901 Census we also learn that Francis’s father, mother and 17 year-old brother Christopher are also living in London. Charles is now running a boarding house at 2, Upper Bedford Place in Bloomsbury and Christopher is a ‘dealer in horses’.

 Montague runs the Exchange Hotel and Posting House at 7, Castlegate in Newark, Nottinghamshire, where he lives with his wife Sarah (née Dawber), a widow 9 years his senior. 

Francis’s father Charles died on the 19th of April 1904. He left his effects valued at £1,458 (equivalent to over £145,000 today) to his widow, Mary. 

Admission to the asylum

On the 13th of April 1909 Francis was admitted to Horton Asylum. Unfortunately we do not have access to Francis’s case notes yet so we do not know the nature or severity of his mental health problems or, indeed, when they began. On the 13th of April 1910 he was transferred first to Long Grove and then to the Manor Asylum. 

In the 1911 Census we find Francis, now aged 37, in the Manor Asylum. He is described as a lunatic and a former bus-driver. Interestingly, his marital status is given as ‘single’. The same details are repeated in the 1921 Census and the 1939 Register.

Francis’s mother and brothers

On the 14th of October 1915 Francis’s mother Mary died aged 65. At the time of her death she was living at 92, Loraine Mansions, Holloway. She left her effects, valued at £903-10s, (the equivalent of over £118,000 today) to her youngest son Christopher, an ‘advertising manager’, and her solicitor James Nightingale. It is interesting to note that she left nothing to her second son who was, at the time, a patient in an asylum for paupers.

Montague died on the 9th of May 1924 aged 50. At the time of his death he was running the Grosvenor Hotel, Mansfield Road, Nottingham.

The entirety of his estate, which was valued at £1,844, (equivalent to over £144,000 today) was left to his widow. He left nothing to his brother Francis. 

In the 1st quarter of 1960, Christopher, then aged 76, married Lilian Caroline Hall who was 12 years his junior. Christopher died in the 1st quarter of 1963. Lilian outlived him by almost twenty years, dying in the 4th quarter of 1982. 

The death of Francis

Sadly, Francis would remain in the Manor for the rest of his life. He died in the 1st quarter of 1946 having spent 37 of his 72 years in mental institutions. He was buried in grave number 2745b in Horton Cemetery on the 6th of February 1946. 

Who was Elizabeth?

We first meet Francis’s wife Elizabeth in the 1901 Census where we learn she was born in Stoke Abbot in Dorset in about 1871. We do not know her surname. The only marriage which took place between a Francis Roads and a woman called Elizabeth in the 1890s was in Thame, Oxfordshire in the 2nd quarter of 1895. However, later censuses prove that this is not our subject. 

From the documentation we have available it would appear that our Francis’s ‘wife’ was a woman called Elizabeth Ivory and if the couple were ever actually married it has not been possible to find a marriage certificate. 

Elizabeth was born in Stoke Abbot in about 1865 (not 1871) and on the 12th of August 1885 she married Police Constable Walter Weaver in St John’s Church, Hampstead. Walter was born in Beaminster, Dorset in 1865, so it may be supposed that the couple did not meet in London but already knew each other in Dorset. 

In 1891 William Weaver was living in Bromley, Kent and employed as a Police Constable. According to the census of that year he was living alone at 15 Newbury Road. He is shown as married but was clearly separated from his family.

We do not know how long the marriage between Elizabeth and Walter lasted but by the time of the 1901 Census Elizabeth was living with Francis, as his wife, along with their children Francis and Annie. A visitor to 58, Hall Place on the day the census was taken was 20 year-old Kate Ivory, born in Stoke Abbot, Dorset, who may have been Elizabeth’s younger sister. 

A return to Dorset

After Francis was admitted to Horton Asylum it would appear that Elizabeth reverted to her legitimate married name of Weaver and returned to Dorset with her three children.

In the 1911 Census she is living in Stinsford Lane, Beaminster with 17 year-old Frank (Francis), described as ‘cow man on farm’, and 9 year-old Florence.

It is interesting that, on their return to Dorset, Frank becomes Frank Weaver while Annie and Florence retain the name Roads – indeed, even after her marriage Florence called herself Florence Roads Hill. Could Frank have been Walter’s legitimate son, born before Elizabeth and Francis began their relationship?

Elizabeth remained in Dorset and died there in the 2nd quarter of 1938 aged 76. 

Francis’s children after his death

Annie: In the same Census in 1911 we find 16 year-old Annie working as a twine-twister in a spinning mill and boarding at The Kitchen, Pymore, Bradpole in Dorset. On the 5th of February 1916 she married soldier Reginald Keates in the parish church in Sherborne in Dorset.

At the time of her marriage Annie was working as a laundress. Interestingly, in the marriage register her father Francis is described as ‘deceased’. Had the children been told their father had died or was this to avoid the stigma of having a parent in an asylum? 

After the First World War the couple moved to Somerset and Reginald worked as a coach builder. Reg and Annie, (known as ‘Auntie Nance’ according to a Grandchild of Florence) had one son, Harold who in turn had three Children. Reginald died in 1963 and Annie in 1978. 

Frank: In the 3rd quarter of 1923 Frank married Hilda Legge in Beaminster. In the 1939 register he is described as a builder’s foreman. He died in Beaminster on the 8th of January 1958 aged 63. It is not known if he and Hilda had any children.

Florence: On the 26th of May 1923 Florence married Ernest George Hill in Beaminster. Ernest, like his brother-in-law Frank, was a builder’s foreman. The couple had at least one child, a boy called Ivor, born in 1928. Florence died in the 2nd quarter of 1987 aged 82. 

It is not known yet if Francis was ever visited by his mother, brothers, wife or children while he was a patient in the Manor. However, there is a visitor book where we may find evidence of this.

We have received communications from a grandchild of Florence. We love hearing from relatives!

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