Mysterious Uncle Theo
Often when compiling a blog post, I end up going down a rabbit hole. Which is exactly what happened while writing this one about my husband’s great uncle, the enigmatic Theodore Percival (and the reason why this post is later than usual). But it wasn’t his story that caught me out. It was one about his wife.
But being as I’m still trying to unravel all the details, you’ll have to wait until another time to hear her story. Meanwhile, I’m going with Plan A, to tell you about “Uncle Theo”.
I’ve always been intrigued by Theo since discovering certain information had been er… “over-egged” on his wedding certificate.
Theo was born in Clacton-on-Sea, in Essex in 1891, the younger son of Shadrack and Mary Ann Percival, nee Simmons.
To his knowledge, my husband never met his great uncle and the only photo we have is a small snapshot of him in naval uniform, dated 1918. The little boy behind him is my husband's father, Dennis, aged 4.
Despite this evidence of a naval connection, I haven’t found his name in any Navy records, but perhaps his were amongst the many WWI records lost during the bombings in WWII.
On the 1911 census, Theo is listed as an apprentice engineer. You might just be able to make out the "visitor" on the census return – Dorothy Mary Tate. This is the woman Theodore would marry four years later, in 1915 (and the cause of my distraction when writing this post!).
For some reason which I’ve yet to fathom out, the couple tied the knot in Northampton. I’ve nothing to suggest either had links to Northampton, though it is a part of the world associated with a branch of the Percival family - but an affluent branch, not connected with Theo.
It’s possible that he was in Northampton for work. The wedding certificate records him living in Forfar Street, at the same address as the wedding witnesses, and his occupation is mechanical engineering draughtsman. Dorothy's address is in Middlesex.
Neither Theo's parents or Dorothy’s were witnesses on the marriage certificate (Dorothy’s father is recorded as deceased), suggesting no one from the families attended the wedding. But it was in wartime, so perhaps it was difficult to travel.
In autumn of that year, The Derby Scheme, was introduced, which assessed whether the fighting force's needs could be met by volunteers alone. Any men not volunteering would have to attest to being in an "essential" occupation. The anticipated plan caused a surge in recruitment as men preferred to avoid the ignominy of being "fetched" to serve their country.
As Theo and Dorothy married by licence, perhaps Theo had decided to join up at this time ahead of the scheme, and it was for logistical and expediency reasons they chose the marriage location.
The notorious anomaly
The anomaly which has always fascinated me is what appears on the couple's marriage certificate under Theo’s father’s occupation, which is recorded as "architect". In fact Shadrack was a postman. A transcription error? I've always wondered whether Theo was trying to imply that his origins were a little further up the social scale than they really were, not least because Northampton was the location of that more affluent branch of Percivals. Perhaps Theo had aspirations!
Up until recently, the next key source of information on Theo was the 1939 Register, where there is a significant reference to Theo’s association with the navy.
At this point, Theo, Dorothy and their 2 children, Enid born in 1917 and John born in 1919, are living in Bexhill, Essex. Theo's work concurs with his engineering background and he's recorded as being a Supervisor on the design of the Director of Fire control of naval ordnance.
Department of the Director of Naval Ordnance was a specific Whitehall Department responsible for the procurement of naval ordnance of the Royal Navy.
Two passenger records from 1933 show that Theo travelled to Argentina, accompanied by two engineering colleagues, suggesting that his trip was work related. As to what he went to South America to do is an area of research I’ve yet to follow.
With the 1921 census being released, I was eager to find what Theo was up to. I found him in Clacton-on-Sea, along with his wife and two children, at the home of his parents, Shadrack and Mary Ann, as “visitors”.
Theo’s occupation is, engineer draughtsman, as it had been at the time of his marriage. But because the 1921 census calls for the employer and location of employment to be recorded, I noted that Theo worked for Vickers Ltd. The company’s history shows they were involved with both naval ordnance and the manufacture of torpedoes. There appears to be plenty yet left to unpick about Theo’s engineering career!
Theo died in 1966 and when I first had sight of his death certificate, I did wonder whether this was another naval connection, as it stated that Theo had died of heart attack in the Seamen's Hospital in Greenwich, a service set up many years before specifically to benefit naval servicemen.
But it seems this was not the case. Between 1943 and 1956, the hospital became part of newly formed National Health Service and so Theo’s admittance is more likely have been because Theo had moved from Bexhill to Greenwich shortly after WWII. He appears on the electoral rolls in Greenwich from 1946 along with his wife, Dorothy… who has an interesting story all of her own… Coming soon to a blog post near you!