Did my step 2x great grandfather have something to hide?

I have previously mentioned my step 2x great grandfather Henry Penkethman as he married Elizabeth Hallas nee Fox in 1917 in Stalybridge, Cheshire.

I first heard the name Penkethman while I was going through the old family photo album with my Dad back in 2003. He had pointed to a photograph of a woman and had said ‘Grandma Penkethman’. However the photograph he had identified with that name actually turned out to be a Mary Ashworth, nee McDonald – who was the aunt of Elizabeth Hallas’s son Albert’s wife Annie! He had said that he thought Grandma Penkethman had been on the Large side of his family and that she was quite well off and came from Cheshire. As Albert Hallas’s wife was Annie Large, I can perhaps understand where this confusion had come from.

Henry Penkethman was from Manchester and it seems he perhaps appeared to be fairly well off.

I have two photographs of him – one just on his own and another with some family members who I cannot make out, visiting the smallest house in Great Britain – in Conwy. I think the photographs were taken during the same trip.

Henry PenkethmanHenry Penkethman at Conwy

Penkethman is quite a rare surname. It is likely that it stems from being a servant of someone called Penketh. The origins seem to be in the Cheshire and Lancashire and Yorkshire areas, so Henry’s family presumably came from a long line of local Penkethman’s.

Henry was born in 1865 in Manchester the son of James Hignett Penkethman and Sarah Dunhill. James was originally from Nantwich, Cheshire and had married Sarah at Manchester Cathedral on 26th June 1864. They were both living at 7 Unity Street at the time and James was a widower. He was a cordwainer by trade – this was another name for a shoemaker.

By 1871 the family had moved to Wakefield, Yorkshire – where Sarah was born, and they lived on Providence Street. James was still a shoemaker and Henry was their only child. Their surname was down as Penketh, rather than Penkethman. In 1881 they were at George Street in Wakefield and Henry had taken up his father’s trade.

On 15th March 1885 Henry married a young widow Harriet Clewley – formerly Johnson in Manchester, she was six years older than him and had been previously married to a Daniel Clewley and they’d had a daughter Elizabeth Ann. Henry was a Railway Servant at the time of their marriage and they were both living at 25 Bunyan Street.

In 1891 they were living at 98 Boughton, in Boughton in Cheshire, Henry was a Boot Maker and they had two children of their own – James and William along with Harriet’s daughter. Sometime after the census was taken the family moved to Wrexham in Wales where their last two children were born – Benjamin and Dora.

In 1895 Henry was mentioned in the Wrexham Advertiser as assenting the proposal of John Evan Powell as a nomination for the West Ward of Wrexham County Council Election. He was mentioned again in the Wrexham Advertiser in September 1899 as a witness to an assault in Wrexham. A William Hannon – a Skinner, had been summoned on a case of having assaulted an Ivor H Rowlands – a Baker. Apparently on his way out of the local infirmary, for some reason he had shouted out “Down with priestism!” He heard a scuffle behind him and William knocked him down where his head hit the kerb and he tried to kick him and when he tried to get up William hit him in the eye and said “You___, if you say any more about priests I will kill you stone dead.”

Wrexham Advertiser 2 Sep 1899 H Penkethman crop

In the end William Hannon was fined a mere 2s 6d.

In 1901 they were at 19 Ruabon Road in Wrexham and Henry was a Boot and Shoe Maker. But by 1911 they had moved back into the Manchester area. Initially I had a hard time locating Henry and his family in 1911, and I thought it might be down to perhaps a mistranscription of the name Penkethman, I’d been no stranger to all kinds of different interpretations of spellings over the course of looking into him and his family, but in the end I was surprised at how I had found them. I’d searched for Dora – her name being a bit uncommon and having been born in Wrexham and had found them listed as Clewley – not as Penkethman. What was going on here? Henry was the one who filled out the census form, why on earth would he give their family name as that of his wife’s first husband?

Penkethman as Clewley 1911

They were living at 26 Ross Street in Ardwick, Manchester and Henry was a Boot Maker and Shop Assistant. Harriet then died in 1912 aged 54 and it wasn’t until today when I was double checking the Manchester parish registers on Ancestry that I discovered that Henry had married again inbetween the death of Harriet and his marriage to Elizabeth in 1917. He married another widow – Mary Ann Roberts on 21st September 1914 in Beswick, Manchester. Mary Ann’s maiden name was Toothill and her father had the wonderful name of Horatio Toothill and was a Silversmith. She was 43 when they married and they both lived at 48 Ashton New Road. She died just two years later in Stalybridge.

When Henry married Elizabeth in 1917 his occupation was given as Manager and was living at 7 Friendship Yard in Stalybridge. Elizabeth was the third widow Henry had married!

While I was tracking down what became of Henry’s children I discovered a mention for his son Benjamin on the Trafford War Dead website –

Benjamin Penkethman
Name of Rgt or Ship: Royal Field Artillery
Died: 10/04/1918 Age: 26
How Died: Killed in Action
Grave Photo: No
Cemetery or Memorial: XXX
Town Memorial: Not Listed
Extra Information:

I went to the Commonwealth War Graves website to find if there were further details but I couldn’t find an entry for him. So thinking back to the 1911 census entry I put in the surname Clewley and there he was:

Initials: B
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Gunner
Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery
Unit Text: Bty. 78th Bde.
Age: 26
Date of Death: 10/04/1918
Service No: L/9776
Additional information: Son of Henry and Harriet Clewley, of 33, Walmsley St., Stalybridge, Cheshire. Native of Wrexham, Denbighshire.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: XXXIII. F. 13A.

His service record does not seem to exist any more – perhaps one of the many that didn’t make it through the Blitz. I have no idea why he was enlisted as Clewley, especially as he would have probably joined up after his mother had died and seems to have no real reason to have gone under an assumed name, he wouldn’t have been underage so wouldn’t have been used to enlist under a false name.

His medal index card only gives the name Clewley – so it is interesting that the Trafford War Dead website has his name as Penkethman.

Benjamin Penkethman Clewley WWI MIC crop

Henry used the name Penkethman when he married both Mary Ann and Elizabeth and it was this name that was given when he died in 1926 in Stalybridge. It just seems so strange to use this other name and makes me wonder if he was hiding from something or someone, there seems to be no benefit to it. It doesn’t appear that Harriet’s first husband Daniel left a will for there to be any odd inheritance condition to use the name Clewley in order to keep any sort of estate.

However I did discover Henry’s father James in 1861 with his first wife Ann – under the name Hignett not Penkethman. I do not really know where the name Hignett comes from, James used it as a middle name when he married Sarah and it doesn’t appear to have been his mother’s maiden name. James had married Ann Roberts in 1855 in Chester and she had died in 1863. So perhaps this family were not adverse to going under aliases when it suited them! Henry’s own grandfather Joseph Penkethman was married three times too!

Henry Penkethman crop

Henry Penkethman 1865 – 1926

19 thoughts on “Did my step 2x great grandfather have something to hide?

      • Probably difficult without someone to say “oh yes, that was because of ….” and there probably isn’t anyone left who can do that. I also keep finding similar mysteries that don’t really leave a trace in the official record. My mum often has information, but because it is family folklore, it’s not always that accurate. Good luck 🙂

      • Yeah, it is frustrating. I will ask my Dad about it but its doubtful he would know anything but I am in touch with Henry’s stepdaughter Sarah Hallas’s granddaughter so will see what she might know too. You never know!

  1. Great research! I can’t believe you found him under a different surname. Sometimes you wonder whether our ancestors were hiding something then or whether they were just seeking privacy like people do today from the intrusiveness of government. I hope you find an answer, even though it seems unlikely. Let us know!

    • 🙂 I certainly will. I think sometimes it helps to search just with forenames and bits of other information to find who you are looking for. It just seems so odd, I can get perhaps a one off with the 1911 census, but for Benjamin to be enlisted under Clewley too seems so strange. I could understand it if Ben had been a Clewley, but only his older half sister was and by then she was married so wasn’t technically a Clewley anymore!

  2. Sounds like a plot for a television series! I can see no logical reason for the change of names unless he was hiding something or he temporarily lost his mind.

  3. Very interesting,,,,,,, especially as my surname is also Penkethman! (from the Wirral)
    Would love to hear more.

    • Thanks Tony! At some point I would like to delve a bit further back with the Penkethman’s! Not sure I’ll ever uncover the reasons for them using the name Clewley though!

  4. My mother is a Penkethman. She’s 91 years old, had 3 sisters (two still living) and a brother who died in WW2. Her father, my grandfather, was born near Nantwich in Cheshire. A lot of Penkethmans originate from there, from Cheshire and probably from the village of penketh neear Warrington.

    • Hi Tony. Thanks for the comment. I’ve certainly seen that the majority with that name do all stem from that area. I do love a good rare surname!

  5. Great story, my name is penkethman too, I’ve done a bit of research, I think I get mine back to Warrington but 1800’s plus lived in Manchester where quite a few were hairdressers. It’s been a long time since you posted have you found out any more?

    • Hi Jane – thank you for your message – apologies for the delay in responding but I have been on holiday! I haven’t looked more into the Penkethman family recently but I will spend some more time on it – see what I can find out. Please do feel free to email me on info@root-to-tip.co.uk and I can keep you updated!

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