• Wendy Percival

The DeLacy-Staunton mystery solved!

In the mystery of Edward DeLacy-Staunton, the name on a plaque on the wall of East Worlington church, more tantalising clues have emerged and it seems we now have the identity of the person most likely to have commissioned the plaque (see posts The Mystery of Mr DeLacy-Staunton and The DeLacy-Staunton mystery unravels for the background to the case).

Edward DeLacy-Staunton's brass plaque

A discovery by a Devon archivist revealed that a Mrs Matilda DeLacy-Staunton appeared on the electoral roll of East Worlington during the 1920s and 1930s. Clearly, she’d lived there prior to these dates, as she appears in a newspaper picture in May 1917, as one of the local women supporting the war effort working the land in Worlington (see The DeLacy-Staunton Mystery unravels).

Probate clue

Matilda died in 1939 in Exmouth, 3 years before Edward had been killed in action in 1941, so she could not have commissioned the plaque. Her entry in the Probate Records, however, gave me an important clue, even though I was not able to access her will because Devon’s probate records had been destroyed in a World War II bombing raid. But the probate entry listed her beneficiary as Elizabeth Constance Uchaf Hammond, spinster.

The said Miss E C U Hammond is also pictured in the newspaper photograph of 1917 and is named in the listing below the image as the local Women’s Land Army Registrar.

I searched for Elizabeth on Ancestry and found her living in north Devon on the 1891 census (though not in Worlington) aged 29, and a governess. Was her profession significant in Edward’s story?

At this point I contacted a lovely lady in Australia on whose tree Elizabeth appeared and explained about our investigation. She was fascinated and just as intrigued, as she didn’t know about Edward or what his connection was to Elizabeth (known by the family as Connie). We promised to keep in touch and we’ve been communicated regularly as things have been uncovered.

The Cope connection

Meanwhile, I followed another lead – that of the Cope question. Edward’s wartime death had been recorded under the name of Edward Hugh Harold Cope, rather than DeLacy-Staunton. At this point, pieces of the puzzle began to come thick and fast!

A Neville DeLacy-Staunton popped up on the 1939 Register, living with a Matthew and Muriel Cope in Hendon, Middlesex.

Matthew and Muriel had only married that year and before their wedding, Muriel (or Mollie, as she was recorded in the 1939 Register) had been Muriel DeLacy-Staunton, a widow.

This suggested that Neville was Muriel’s son, and a younger brother to Edward, and that after their father had died their mother had remarried – hence the listing of Edward's surname as Cope.

And so to Canada...

So, where did Elizabeth Constance Hammond fit in? The answer would come from Canada.

I discovered a passenger record for a Muriel Fitzgerald who’d travelled to Quebec in November 1920. A month later, she got married… to John Hugh Cumming DeLacy-Staunton. On the marriage record, both the bride and groom’s parents were listed. John DeLacy-Staunton’s father was Francis DeLacy-Staunton and his mother was Matilda, nee Hammond – the Mrs DeLacy-Staunton who’d lived in East Worlington.

In 1925 Muriel travelled from Canada back to England with her sons, Edward, then 3 and Neville, aged 11 months. The passenger records give East Worlington as her destination address. Was she just visiting her mother-in-law or had it been the death of her husband which had prompted her to bring her sons to Devon? That’s a question I can’t yet answer, as I’ve not been able to find a death record for John. He’s been difficult to track – not surprising, perhaps, being as the marriage certificate records he was born in South Africa.

The Hammond connection...

Tracing the Hammond family through the censuses, it emerged that Elizabeth Constance Hammond was Matilda’s older sister and therefore, Edward’s great aunt. It seems likely that it was she who commissioned the plaque in the church as she continued to live in the village until 1947 when she died, aged 85, and was buried in East Worlington churchyard.

While we have at least solved the mystery of who commissioned Edward’s memorial, a few intriguing questions remain – such as the one I raised earlier – when did Muriel come back from Canada and resettle in England? When did her husband die?

And what of Matilda? Where and when had she married Francis DeLacy-Staunton? Canada? England? South Africa? And what happened to him?

But that’s quite common with family history, isn’t it? Solving one mystery often leads to more questions.