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Thomas Roberts & Mary Ann Walder. A Story.


Staff member


I thought that I'd post my own success story surrounding how my great, great, great grandparents Thomas Roberts and Mary Ann Walder met. When I first started researching them, all I knew was Thomas was a servant and wed Mary Ann in July 1864 in London, 6 months after she gave birth to an illegitimate child, my great, great grandmother, 50 miles away in mid Sussex.

Mary Ann Walder was born in 1839 in Slaugham in rural Sussex, near the London/Brighton Road to John & Mary Walder, a middle class wheelwright family. Aged 24, on 31st December 1863, she gave birth to an illegitimate child, Mary Ann Walder Jnr, in Slaugham, Sussex. The birth was registered on 28th January 1864 in the Cuckfield reg district, the district that Slaugham came under.

Mary Ann Walder then suddenly moved to Stoke Newington in North London and wed a 50 year old servant called Thomas Roberts on 25th July 1864 at West Hackney Church. Thomas's father was Thomas Roberts also a servant, and Mary's father was John Walder, a wheelwright. The baby was then baptised as "Mary Ann Kate, Daughter of Thomas & Mary Ann Roberts" on 6 November 1864 at West Hackney Church. I knew that he probably was the father of the baby if, after marrying the mother he then had actually baptised the baby as his daughter in that case.

A new lead then. Could it be that they moved to London together? I couldnt find Thomas in the 1851 or 1861 censuses in London. I did need to find out more on him in that case if he had admitted paternity of Mary Ann Walder's illegitimate child. They stayed in London for good afterwards.

In the 1861 census, I then found a matching Thomas Roberts in Sussex, living in Brighton, Sussex, a few miles from Mary Ann's village of Slaugham, aged 47, a Servant, born in Kent, married to Esther and had one child, Ann aged 9 a scholar. All his details tallied with the one who wed Mary Ann. This suggested that they had actually met in Sussex and probably went to London together 3 years later in 1864. Could he have met Mary Ann in Sussex, Esther died, and they went on to meet in London? Thomas probably travelled a bit if he was a servant and footman.

Mary Ann Walder would have fallen pregnant in about April 1863 if she had her baby on 31 December that year. I then found a death ref for an Esther Roberts in Brighton in Dec Qtr 1863 in the GRO indexes. I sent for the cert and it said she died on 14 November 1863 and was the wife of Thomas Roberts, a domestic servant. The cause of death and length of her illness was very eye catching. It said "Phthisis (TB) for years, certified". It appears that Thomas knew Mary Ann and was having an affair with her while Esther was really ill. This also occurred to me why the baby was born illegitimate, because it was born only 6 weeks after Esther Roberts death, 5 weeks after her burial. The father had only just lost his wife when the babe was born.

TB (phthisis) symptoms werent nice. Lung cavities were involved. Thomas would have had to stay away from her for most of the time as it was contageous. No wonder why he sought comfort in a younger woman.

On 31 January 1864, Mary Ann Walder's grandad John died aged 73 after a knee abscess for 1 year and pneumonia 1 month certified. He was buried on the 8th February 1864 in Slaugham Church. Mary had lived in the same house as him all her life. Mary probably stuck around to grieve after his death so this indicates that she moved to London with Thomas inbetween say March and early June 1864 if they wed on 25 July.

I reckon their move was to escape a scandal back in Sussex because he fathered a child out of wedlock, and she went with a married man who has a dying wife. Everything just fell into place once I had collated all the evidence together. Thomas admitted paternity which was the right thing.

Thomas's eldest daughter, his only other child, 12 year old Ann went to live with her aunty Elizabeth in Bermondsey. Maybe she didnt approve?


that is lovely, I keep saying that I will write up stuff like that, but never seem to get around to it, but having said that, three young children keep me in tangles!! lol :)

When I first started researching this, I wasnt sure of anything until the fact that Thomas baptised the babe as his daughter once he wed the mum, and then even more new evidence came to light.

I needed to find out who Thomas's previous wife was and when she died as could that explain why he wed Mary after the babys birth? Once I found him for definate on the 1861 census, I had his wife. Then I found out that she died in the Dec Quarter 1863, and that his soon to be wife's baby was born on 31 December that year. Could that be why the baby was illegitimate? Is it because the father was still married to his wife way into the mothers pregnancy and became a widower just before Mary gave birth meaning he'd have to wed her after the birth?

When I obtained the death cert of his wife, the length of her illness just clicked everything into place. Due to the nature of TB, a stressed out Thomas saw comfort in his future 3rd wife while Esther was ill and due to no birth control, the rest was history.

That is why they left Sussex just afterwards.

Ben how very real these ancestors become to us when you manage to put flesh on bones so to speak, I too have a couple of relatives who died of TB it certainly seemed more common than I had realised.Good luck with your research. May all your brickwalls be little ones :)
Hi Pejay

It also occurred to me that while Thomas's Roberts previous wife was dying of TB, his soon to be wife fell pregnant. That clinched it. It doesnt take a genius to work that out. The fact that she died very well into Mary Ann's pregnancy also clicked why the babe was registered as being out of wedlock under her mums name.

And he did the right thing afterwards by marrying her. Once he wed her they baptised the baby.


If they wed in London in July 1864, it was probably 2 months before that when they went to view the church, so around May time, then before that they had to move there and that would have taken at least around a month from planning it, getting a job there and the move from Sussex itself didnt take more than a few days though. They must have been in London by at least mid April 1864 if they were still in Sussex in January.

Maybe Thomas went first to give them a head start then Mary joined a month or two later.