‘Where are you from?’ is a common question. It is however, rather difficult to answer. Does the questioner want to know what town or country your were born in, or where you have lived the longest?
From a family history point of view one would look to the ancestors for the answer. Today people move around and very few individuals are living in the town in which they were born. It is a popular myth that this is something new and has only occurred since the advent of modern transport. Any researcher soon finds out that our forefathers often moved around in the search for work, often heading for London or another large city or settlement.
The Vail family is no different in that respect. Whilst recent generations have been born and lived in the Surbiton and Kingston area, go back a few generations and one finds the original roots of the family.
My father Denis Gilbert Vail, known as Bill, was born at 33 Richmond Grove, Surbiton in 1929, he died on 1st April 2009 in Adelaide Road, Surbiton aged 80. His two sisters Pearl, known as Tina and Doreen were also born at 33 Richmond Drove. The family had lived in the house since about 1910. It was the family home of Gilbert William Vail, known as Bert, and his mother Hannah Vail (nee Trigg).
Most of the Victorian houses in Richmond Grove still exist apart from number 33, which along with its neighbours were demolished in the 1970s.
Gilbert worked on the railway when he left school, just before the WW2 he joined Surbiton Fire Brigade.
Fireman Gilbert Vail standing at rear – circa 1937
Gilbert’s father, William Vail, had died when he was an infant. His mother married a Taylor Albert Beakhurst, a widower, in 1907. Hannah was known as Nurse Beakhurst to her neighbours. We believe that she worked at Surbiton Cottage Hospital until her retirement in about 1919.
Surbiton Cottage Hospital 2004 - now a private club
Albert Beakhurst died in 1922 at about 71 years old. Gilbert, Hannah’s only child, was born in 1901 and married Bessie Wiltshire in 1925. She then moved into his family home. Gilbert died in 1949 of kidney failure. Hannah Beakhurst died in early 1934 at 33 Richmond Grove, Surbiton.
William Vail and Hannah Trigg married in 1900 at St Pancras registry office. They were both from the Kingston area but working and living in London. In the 1901 Census they are shown living at Coram Street, Holborn. He is a maker of picnic baskets she is shown as having no occupation. In the Census of 1891 she is shown as being a nurse at the Middlesex Hospital, he is listed as a basket maker.
Pickering Place, near St James Palace – home of William Vail 1881 Census
We can trace Hannah Trigg’s life from that of a young woman in service at the age of about 12 in Surrey in 1871. She would have had to be at least 20 before she could enter nursing as a probationer. Did they know each other before their move to London? If not it must have come as a shock when they talked to each other and found they both came from the Kingston area and were living so near each other in London. They married quite late in life – both being in their late thirties. Sadly they were only married six years when William died in 1906. Hannah moved back to the Surbiton area, living at 37 Browns Road. Her future husband Albert Beakhurst lived at number 35.
The 1881 Census shows William’s father, John Vail of Ely, who had married an Essex girl by the name of Elizabeth and they move to Kingston, Surrey. All their older children are born in Kingston. Their younger children are born in Stoke, near Guildford. This is where the family are living at the time of this Census return. Their eldest son William Vail has already left home and is living in lodgings working as a porter in London.
The 1851 Census shows Joseph Vail and his family. He is from Essex and his wife Elizabeth from Isle of Ely Cambridgeshire. All the offspring are born in Cambridgeshire. They both had the surname Vail – thus they probably are related. Their son John Vail is mentioned above. Joseph was born in about 1816 and died in about 1887. His wife died in about 1917.
Barton Road in Ely in which the Vail’s lived
Smock Mill Alley, also known as Smoke Alley, is now called Barton Road. Near this alley was a smock mill, smock refers to its shape rather than what was produced. Smoke maybe a corruption of the word smock. The buildings in the road today are modern and only one appears to date prior to the Victorian period. The Census reveals that the family moved from Cambridge to Ely in about 1847. The Vail family seemed to have moved around the Cambridge, Ely and Essex border area. Joseph was born in Saffron Walden, Essex. Just why he moved his family to Ely from Cambridge we may never know but it could be that there were too many tailors in Cambridge and not enough in Ely. Or maybe his wife wishes to be near her family.
St Mary’s Parish Church, Ely
There does seem to be a recurring link between Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and the Vail family. All places within 35 miles of each other.
The father of Joseph was WILLIAM VAIL baptised 12/1/1776 in Brandon, Suffolk, died 27/3/1839 in Saffron Walden, married ANN ATHEY 5/11/1804 in SAFFRON WALDEN, Ann was baptised 27/2/1777, MILDENHALL, SUFFOLK, she died 26/4/1850 in CAMBRIDGE.
The father of William was also a WILLIAM VAIL (Blacksmith) was baptised 27/12/1743, Ely, St Mary, buried 14/5/1826, BRANDON, SUFFOLK.
His father also a WILLIAM VAIL (labourer) baptised 19/10/1714, married Elizabeth WHITE, 21/10/1740, buried at Ely, St Mary, date unknown.
His father was THOMAS VAIL's birth date is unknown, he died and was buried in Ely, 27th September 1712. He married Martha CROFT on 15th September 1712 (The burial date and the marriage date do not tally).
Thus it is possible to trace our family back to 1712 and to say that we came from the Cambridgeshire and Suffolk area. The highest concentrations of the Vail surname in 1881 census was in Cambridgeshire at 12 Vail’s per million. There are still more Vail’s in that county than any other. It is recognised academic theory that even with migration, enough people of a particular surname tend to stay in and around the same place, so that counties showing the highest occurrence of a name are more likely to prove fruitful in searching for ancestors of that name. It is only in more recent years that the Vail surname has increased in other counties. Ely has strong family ties along with Brandon in Suffolk. St Peter’s Parish Church in Brandon may hold some more information about the Vail family.
Vail Family History
You can contact Ray Harrington-vail on rayharhar37 AT hotmail.com