James Wesley was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire in the 4th quarter of 1857. He was the fourth child of agricultural labourer Thomas Wesley (though in two censuses his father’s name is given as ‘Westley’) and his wife Sarah (née Wells). Thomas was born in the village of Quarrendon, near Aylesbury, in 1821 while Sarah was born in Stanbridge in Bedfordshire in 1830. The couple married in St Mary’s Church in Aylesbury on the 2nd of November 1846.
Their first child, William, was born in 1848, followed by George in 1853 and Thomas in 1855. At the time of James’s birth in 1857 the family was living in Buckingham Road in Aylesbury.
Three years later Sarah gave birth to the couple’s first daughter, Sarah Jane, and in 1863 their fourth son, John, was born. Susan, the couple’s youngest child, was born in 1869.
In the 1871 Census we find William is working as a groom while Thomas and James are, like their father, described as labourers. George is a hotel ‘boots’ or ‘boot boy’. Usually a boy or young teenager, the boots was the lowest ranking male servant in a hotel, his main job being to clean, polish and care for the guests’ boots and shoes though he may have done other odd jobs as well.
Hotel work in London
We do not know when James gave up labouring to move to London and follow his brother George into hotel work but from 1881 at the latest, and for the next thirty years, he would be employed in a variety of roles in at least three hotels in the capital.
In the 1881 Census we find him working as a cellar man at the Euston Hotel in Drummond Street, St Pancras; by the time of the 1891 Census he has moved to the York Hotel in Albemarle Street in Mayfair where he is employed as a waiter; and in the 1901 Census he is a porter at the Bath Hotel in Arlington Street, again in Mayfair.
However, in 1911, now aged 53, he was no longer living in a hotel but in a boarding house at 14, Dorset Street in Marylebone. Does this move denote a downturn in his fortunes or, perhaps, the onset of the mental health problems which would beset him over the next few years? In the census he is again described as a hotel porter but we do not know where – or, indeed, if – he was working at the time.
We hear nothing more about James until the 26th of November 1914 when he was admitted to the Northumberland Street Workhouse in Marylebone. He was discharged to the infirmary on the same day ‘for observation’ and remained there until the 2nd of December when he was transferred to Long Grove. Sadly, James died in Long Grove less than three years later. He was buried in plot 1350a in Horton Cemetery on the 29th of June 1917.
James’s parents, both of his sisters and his brothers William and John all remained in Aylesbury for the rest of their lives.
- His father Thomas died in 1885 and his mother Sarah in 1890.
- William worked as a groom all his adult life. He married, had six children and died in 1896.
- John also married and had two children. In 1911 he was working as a stoker in a gas works. He died in 1915.
- Susan Wesley died in 1892 aged just 22.
- Sarah Jane married gas fitter Cornelius Foster in 1896 and the couple had five children together. Sarah Jane died in 1935.
- At the age of 18, in 1873, James’s brother Thomas emigrated to Queensland, Australia, on an assisted passage. In 1882 he married Mary Ellen Palmer and together they had three children. Thomas died in Queensland in 1935, aged 79.
- Like James, his brother George also became a hotel porter – in the 1881 Census we find him working at the White Hart Hotel in Margate, Kent. Sadly, George was to die five years later, aged just 32.