Saturday, September 17, 2016

On the Trail of the Pittaways

Everett Cooke (1927-1987)
and Winifred Pittaway (1905-1937)

I never met my maternal grandmother. Winnie, as she was affectionately known, died two decades before I was born. She died shortly before my father's tenth birthday, far from her home in New Carlisle, Quebec, while undergoing treatment for cancer at St Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota.

Winnie and Dorothy
with their mother Rose
Winifred Ellis Pittaway was born in Caversham, Oxford in 1905, the eldest of two daughters of Arthur and Rose Pittaway. In 1907, shortly before Winnie's second birthday, the family emigrated to Canada, arriving at Montreal aboard the Tunisian in May 1907. The family headed west by railway to Calgary. After Winnie's sister Dorothy was born in 1909, Arthur moved his family further west to Castlegar.

Castlegar, in the interior of British Columbia, was a newly minted settlement. The first schoolhouse and the first hotel had only been built in 1908. Census data shows that Arthur had established himself as a farmer by 1911.

Winnie and Alfred Cooke
Arthur remained in Castlegar for the next 16 years, and it was there that Winnie met a young lumberman from the Gaspe region of Quebec named Alfred Harris Cooke. Winnie and Freddie were married at Castlegar in the spring of 1926. The same year, Freddie was asked by his father to take over the family farm in New Carlisle. Freddie brought his new bride east to the Gaspe, and my father was born the following year.

Arthur, Rose and Dorothy moved to the larger community of Trail, British Columbia where Rose died in 1934. Arthur remarried in 1940 and moved to Vancouver. I remember meeting him around 1965 when he was in his eighties. He died in 1970 and was buried beside Rose at the Mountain View Cemetery in Trail.

When I first started researching my Pittaway ancestors I had some difficulty discovering Arthur's origins. I knew that he had been born in England in 1878, and I knew from a note on the back of a blurry photograph that his mother's name was Margaret. The 1881 Census showed numerous Pittaway families in the West Midlands, but no Arthur and Margaret. Finally, I found several Pittaway families living in Watchet, Somerset, a harbour on the Bristol Channel.

Arthur Pittaway
Arthur Ellis Pittaway was the oldest of the three children of Joseph and Margaret Pittaway. Although his father was a mariner, Arthur trained as a carpenter, and by 1901 had left Watchet for Portsmouth, Hampshire. Also in Portsmouth in 1901, was Rose Broom Smith, a shopkeeper's assistant from Greenwich who was living with her uncle, a retired Royal Navy carpenter. Arthur and Rose married in Portsmouth in 1902. Rose was 12 years older than Arthur.

Arthur's father, Joseph Snow Pittaway was born in Watchet in 1852, the son of Frederick Pittaway and Ellen Burge. His wife, Margaret Mock, had been born in Braunton, Devon. Margaret's brother Joseph Mock (1835-1868) had married Martha Pittaway (1834-1889), Joseph Snow Pittaway's aunt. It was likely through them that Joseph and Margaret met.

Joseph Snow Pittaway began his nautical career in 1863 as a boy on the ketch Tom. His uncle, Joseph Pittaway, was the master. In 1871, he was mate aboard the Thomas & Sarah. The following year he was mate on the schooner Kelso. He became master of the Fortitude in 1873, followed by the Ann in 1876, and the Kelso in 1877.
Joseph was master of the Kelso for five years.

The Kelso was owned by the Beasley family of Watchet, and frequently carried iron ore from the Brendon Hills in West Somerset to Newport in Wales, and returning with a load of coal. A portrait of the Kelso hangs in the Watchet Market House Museum.

The Topsail Schooner Kelso by Thomas Chidgey (1855-1926)
In 1887, Joseph became Master of the Telegraph, owned by William Stoate of Watchet. He was Master of the Electric, also owned by William Stoate, from 1892 until 1903. The Telegraph and the Electric were ketches, sailing vessels with two masts ideally suited for moving cargo along the coast and across the Bristol Channel. A ketch is distinguished by having a forward mast (mainmast) larger than the after mast (mizzen).

Joseph afterwards sailed trows on the Severn River estuary, frequently carrying salt from Gloucester to Bristol. A trow is a small vessel. The only surviving Severn trow, Spry, built in 1894 is just under 22 metres in length with a beam of 5 1/2 metres.

When regattas became popular in the late 19th century Joseph took up the sport of yachting. He almost drowned in 1905 when his yacht capsized during a race at Minehead.

In the 1914 Kelly's Directory, Joseph is listed as a Master Mariner, however, the 1911 census shows him as a worker at the Wansbrough Paper Mill.

Margaret died in 1910. Joseph died in 1927.

Watchet Harbour by Thomas Chidgey (1855-1926)
Joseph's father Frederick Pittaway was born in Watchet in 1826. In 1849 he married Ellen Burge, the illegitimate daughter of Grace Burge (1792-1839), and the mother of five-year-old John Burge. Frederick and Ellen had ten children. Their oldest died at the age of eighteen months. Joseph Snow Pittaway was their second child.

Frederick was a mariner, however, he contracted measles in 1855 and became blind. The 1871 Census records Frederick Pittaway as a "late mariner" and "blind from measles." The 1861 Census indicates that he been blind for six years. His blindness, however, didn't stop him from getting in trouble with the law. An 1864 article from the Taunton Courier reported that Frederick, his brother Joseph, and several others were fined £2 each for assaulting a police constable. One the magistrates described the group as "a riotous bad lot of fellows." Frederick died in 1878.

James  Pittaway and Margaret Mock
Frederick's father James was the patriarch of the Pittaway family of Watchet. He was born in Penryn, Cornwall in 1798 and died in Watchet in 1879. He is likely the "eldest of the family" pictured with Margaret Mock. James worked at the paper mill in Watchet which later became the Wansbrough Paper Mill. It is not known when and why he came to Watchet, but in 1825 he married Jane Webber (1803-1876).

Joseph Pittaway (1830-1904)
James and Jane had eight children. Frederick was the oldest. Their second son, became a Master Mariner but drowned in the 1860 when the Medora sank off the coast of Wales. Their third son, Joseph, was also a Master Mariner. He and Ellen Wilkins had a large family including Charlotte who was the last Pittaway living in Watchet when she died in 1961. Joseph and Ellen's gravestone at St Decumans, Watchet is quite distinctive.

Alfred Pittaway was the fourth child of James and Jane. He was living with his parents in 1841 but afterwards disappears from the records. Martha was the first daughter of James and Jane. Her husband Joseph Mock was mate on the schooner Trial when it sank with the loss of all hands during a heavy gale in the Bristol Channel.

James and Jane's fifth son, Robert, stayed away from the sea and became a coachman in Leckhampton, Gloucester. His sister Elizabeth died in infancy. James and Jane's youngest child, Wentworth Pittaway (1842-1899) emigrated to South Africa.

In his will James describes himself as a "Paper Maker" and bequeathed his estate to his daughter Martha, the widow of Joseph Mock.

According to census data, James was born in Cornwall about 1798. I have not be able to find a baptism for him, but there is a marriage recorded for James Pittaway of the Worcestershire Militia and Ann Snow of Penryn at St Gluvias on 25 Oct 1795. But there the Pittaway trail ends.
St Decuman's Church and Watchet Paper Mills
by British School


  1. I am a descendant of Wentworth Pittaway - just wondering if there are any details available for when he emigrated to South Africa, which ship etc.

    1. I have no additional information about Wentworth Pittaway.

  2. I am a descendant of Arthur Pittaway and wonder if you had any information on any of the Ramsden family or where the middle name "Ellis" is from.

    1. Arthur Pittaway's daughter Dorothy married a RAMSDEN. Not sure where Ellis came from.
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