William Joseph Partleton (b1835)


William Joseph Partleton was born on 25 February 1835, the son of William Partleton (1808-1868) and Ann Milligan [nee Smith](1809-1873). Below we see William's christening record at the Church of St Mary Newington, in south London, ten days before that of his cousin Emma Partleton:


William's dad's occupation is recorded as 'comb maker'.


Below we see the church of St Mary Newington in this marvellous Victorian photo of about 1860. Its bell tower is at the left in the distance.



"Where is St Mary Newington?", I hear you ask, and it's a fair question.

Up until the late 1700's, Newington was a tiny village on the marshy south side of the river Thames, entirely separate from London, ten minutes walk from Lambeth. The place name Newington has subsequently completely fallen out of favour and this whole area of London is now only ever known by one name... the Elephant & Castle:


As we can see from the modern map above, Elephant & Castle is at the confluence of lots of major roads. Practically every major bridge in London points directly at it. This explains why it is a bit of a traffic nightmare. In 1981 my highly unreliable Lotus Esprit broke down during the morning rush hour on the big roundabout, and I waited an hour for the AA whist a maelstrom of irritated traffic growled around my hapless car.


Anyhoo, 146 years before my car broke down, William Joseph Partleton was being christened just around the corner:



On the above map, which is of 1799, we see St Mary Newington church outlined in blue. The Victorian photograph we saw a moment ago was taken from the viewpoint of the blue arrow.


In the the engraving below (1798), we see the church from the viewpoint of the green arrow, from Cross Street. The road on which the church is located is called Newington Butts. The name 'butts' signifies that it was formerly a medieval archery practice ground.



Circled in red on the map, we see why the district has evolved such an odd name: it is named after the notable pub set in an island at the junction of all the roads; the Elephant & Castle.



Below we see a painting of the Elephant & Castle pub, in the year 1825, seen from the viewpoint of the red arrow in the map - it's the building in the centre of the picture. This is how the scene would have looked in 1835 - the church is in the distance behind the trees on the right. If we're travelling by carriage, we'll have to pay a toll to use the roads south. That's what the little octagonal turnpike building is for:



Before we get too dewy-eyed at the unspoiled charm apparent in the painting above, we might have a quick look at The Times of 25 January 1833:



In the next lively picture (1826), seen from the yellow arrow in the map, we can see that traffic problems at the Elephant & Castle are not a new phenomenon. This would be a very familiar location to William's mum & dad. It you fancy an oyster, you can buy one from the lady at the right of the picture 'cause that's what she's selling:



In 1847, 21 years later, we see that the view hasn't changed much. There are always omnibuses:



In 1858, we get a slightly different view. The pub is on the right; it has been slightly remodelled to suit the Victorian taste, and we can see shops on the New Kent Road:



The next photo is 1910. The pub is immediately behind the photographer and we are looking directly north.



In the following picture we are looking south from the red arrow, 90 years after the painting from the same viewpoint. The population of Lambeth and Southwark has quadrupled:




In 1922 we see the traffic problem at the Elephant translated into modern terms. There are people trying to cross the road amid the chaotic melee of traffic and trams:



Finally we have an interesting picture of the Elephant & Castle from the year 1926. It's the General Strike, and there's unrest on the streets of Newington. We're looking east towards the New Kent Road.



We seem to have left our William far behind... not to worry, we'll soon get back to him to wet his head. But before we do, there are some more really nice pictures of Elephant & Castle taken in November and December 1948 by famous photographer Bert Hardy, chief photographer of Picture Post magazine:


The first one actually puts us inside the Elephant & Castle pub:



At some time during the 20th century, a large advertising elephant had been placed above the pub. On the street far below, the scene is one of post-war austerity, lots of bomb damage in view:



I really like the next one, a very atmospheric view of a typical Old London smog at the Elephant. You can hardly see across the road. Visible through the mist are strange temporary traffic lights.



The next picture is another great example of Bert Hardy's astonishing skill with a lens. Evening-time and everyone is hurrying home at the Elephant:



It's very hard to analyse exactly why, but some photographs are so infused with genius that we are transported above the regular plane of things. This next picture is just such an example. Somehow the photographer has managed to capture this scene so perfectly that we are tempted to step through the screen and have a little walk around the Elephant & Castle, just before Christmas in the year 1948.


Folk are going home from work. There's a comforting glow coming from the buses. My mum Joan Partleton (1928-2003) was a clippie (that's a bus conductress, for our foreign readers) on these London buses before I was born. Fares please! Ding!



Just to be absolutely clear here, the lady in the photograph below is a London Transport clippie, in the 1950's, but it's NOT my mum, as - alas - we have no photographs of this:



Here's your ticket, which anyone who ever rode a London double-decker routemaster bus would recognise; printed off with a quick spin of the handle on those most excellent ticket machines round the conductor's neck:

For goodness sake, when are we going to get back to William... Ok, Ok, lets just finish off the story of the place where he was christened.


As a consequence of the above, in the 1960's there was a major redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle area, much of it designed by the famed Hungarian architect Erno Goldfinger... MuHaHaHa Mr Bond, I'm building a concrete roundabout, a shopping centre and some low-cost tower blocks, which we see in construction below, in 1964...



This redevelopment was budgeted at 3 million pounds in the 1960's. The old Elephant & Castle pub was demolished; its location is somewhere under the roundabout which we see middle left in the photograph above.


Left: a tower block in construction at the Elephant in 1964


I like a bit of modern architecture, and this rebuild was very well-intentioned, but it's fairly widely recognised that this particular arrangement of concrete slabs was never a success, and time has not been kind, as we see in the modern photograph below:



Here's a satellite view of how the Elephant looks today, an unleavened monotonous splat of concrete:



Some visual relief is provided in the middle of the roundabout. It has been enlivened since the early 1960's by a big shiny steel sculpture which houses electrical transformers for the London Underground:



During this research I became really curious about one thing... exactly where is the location of the old Elephant & Castle pub which we saw in all those old paintings...? This was an itch I just had to scratch, so below we see the modern map overlaid on a Victorian map of 1862. All the minor roads match perfectly, and we see the former location of the pub outlined in red. It lies buried inside the boundary of the big roundabout at the southeast side:



At the time of writing (2008), the Elephant & Castle of the 1960's is being eased out, and the area is undergoing another major redevelopment - much needed. The budget: 1.5 billion pounds -  exactly 500 times the budget for the 1960's development! Construction has already started, and below we see an artist's impression of the finished project. What would William have made of it?!!! Will it be another big mistake?!!!



Ok, finally, we can have a cup of tea and get back to the story of William Joseph Partleton. We left him in on Tuesday 13 May 1835, aged six weeks, screaming his lungs out at the font at his christening at the church of St Mary Newington, which we see in the engraving below:



The church was pulled down 40 years after William's baptism, in 1875.


And so we move on. In 1838 William gets a little sister, Mary Ann (thanks to Terry Partleton for this certificate):



From the above document we learn that William's mum, who was married under the name Ann Milligan, was formerly Ann Smith. It is likely that her first husband, Mr Milligan, has died. William's dad is still a comb maker and the family have moved a mile or so south to 10 Gloster [Gloucester] Street, Vauxhall Walk, Lambeth, next to the river Thames:



Lambeth in the 1800's is a notoriously malodorous place. Bone and fat boilers, tallow candle factories, sulphuric acid manufacturers, not to mention the ever-present stench from the river Thames  which was effectively a large open sewer at the time. And ah yes, William's house is right next to the South Lambeth Gas Works. Not an easy one for the estate agent to sell; industrial fumes and donkeys grazing in the piles of rubbish in the street:



In the next picture we get a look at the interior of the South Lambeth Gas Works. Converting coal to gas. Hell on earth.



In 1841, William gets another sister, Caroline,



and we find the family together in the UK census of 1841, still at Gloucester Street:



In 1844 William's little sister Caroline dies aged just 3, cause unknown, and is buried at Lambeth burial ground which can be seen in the top right of the Gloucester Street map:



In the 1851 census we find the family still living on Gloucester Street. William now has a brother, George, aged 5 years:



William's dad has reverted to the usual trade for 19th century Partletons in London; house painter. William himself is now gainfully employed as a 'Labourers Lad'.


Researching family history, one becomes aware that a very common pattern emerges whereby young men in this era frequently become married between the age of 20 to 24. William is not to follow this pattern, as later information shows that he was homosexual.


By the time of the next census, 1861, aged 27, William has left home:



He's living in the suburb of Enfield, ten miles north of Lambeth:



William gives his age as 27 and he is living as a lodger in Turkey Street, Enfield, which we see below:



Enfield is famous for being the home of the Enfield Rifle, the principal small-arm used by the British army for over 100 years. If we examine the census sheet, we see that William's landlord and most of his neighbours are 'gun makers', and we may assume it is rather likely that William, who is described as an 'engineer' is also employed at the gun factory.


The Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield was founded in 1816. It manufactured rifles and swords. Its location is shown circled in red in the map above, just off Ordnance Road, and below, we see what it looked like to our William. Step into his shoes:



Here's an old-fashioned 'assemblers bench' at the factory. One man would assemble a whole gun by hand:



From the mid-1850's, the Royal Small Arms Factory became a pioneer of the 'American System' which meant the introduction of machines and production lines which we see in the following 1861 illustration of the RSAF; the exact year when William worked there. One of those chaps below could be him! Step into his shoes into a large noisy room full of clattering, rotating pulleys...



William's job is 'Engineer'. In Victorian parlance, this doesn't tell us much; it just means a person who operates or maintains a machine. It might be the steam engine which drives all the pulleys, or it could be the very machine in the photo below which is displayed in the Science Museum in London. A copying lathe:



This lathe, which was manufactured in the USA and installed in the RSAF in 1855, takes a 3-D object such as the rifle stock which is clamped to it, and manufactures an exact copy of it. There's no question that this exact lathe and our William were both in the same factory in 1861!


Below we see the finished product: An Enfield 1853 Rifled Musket, which was what the factory made between 1853 and 1867:



We now move on to a period of William's life which he'd not remember with great fondness. In 1862 he was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to jail for 3 months:


As you may have surmised, William's arrest for 'The like' [ie 'unnatural practices with intent' dittoed from the previous line] translates as homosexual acts, specifically anything short of buggery. I'm going to assume that the offence must have taken place in public or there could scarcely be any evidence. This was a risky business. The penalty for buggery had been reduced from death to life imprisonment just one year earlier, by the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861. William's partner Jacques Nicholas Bourgosis received a larger sentence - six months - for his part. It looks like Jacques was probably a Frenchman - he's not in any UK records, Birth, Death, Census, or - unsurprisingly - Marriage.


Below we see a photo of Middlesex Sessions House at Clerkenwell where William and Jacques appeared:



He's probably prefer not to be reminded that he had to ascend those steps in 1862!



The interior of the courthouse, which we see below in an earlier engraving of 1805, was surely especially designed to make the accused feel pretty nervous.


         Left: The Interior in 2009


Imagine poor old William in the excessively grand lobby which we see above, awaiting his name to be called and knowing that he's probably going to jail...


The court had been built in 1780 and ceased to function as such in 1920. It is presently a fancy conference centre. Yuk.


William's dad died in 1868. In the 1871 census, we find William as head of household, with his mum Ann and younger brother George:



William has moved to Erith in Kent:



He's living at 2 Victoria Street, next door to The Victoria pub. The pub's still there exactly as William would have seen it, as we see below ... step into his shoes ... but the house, which would have been next door at the right of the picture, has been replaced with new housing:



William is now 36. His job is now more specifically defined as 'Machine Maker'. Living with him are his young brother George. George is not William's 'son' as the census sheet seems to imply! - but is Ann's son. George has followed the family trade and become a house painter. The boys' widowed mum Ann Smith/Milligan is still working, as a 'Tint Maker'.



Why is William living in Erith? Well, before WW1, Erith was a manufacturing centre, especially for the manufacture of... you may guess... small arms and ammunition. The British armament manufacturer Vickers had a gun factory here.


William's mum Ann died two years later in 1873, and his brother George died aged just 33 in 1878, cause unknown. And next... well, nothing... What do I mean, nothing?


What I mean is that we never see William again. There is no death registered - very unusual. He doesn't appear in the 1881, 1891 or any subsequent census.


It can't have been easy being gay in Victorian England. Maybe William emigrated. Perhaps he went to France? Maybe he stayed in England and changed his name? New information becomes available every year. Perhaps one day we'll find out.

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