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GILES ancestry in Rotherhithe and Bermondsey

John Giles (1791-1873)

John Giles (1791-1873) was Neil's great great grandfather and his earliest confirmed Giles ancestor. On the basis of just the census records, he always seemed a rather shadowy figure, but thanks to Yvonne Chisholm (a descendant of a relative by marriage of John's daughter Sarah) a six page biography from a Methodist journal helps to augment the census records. There is no flyleaf, so there is no named author, and the publication is undated. However, it seems to have been written shortly after John's death in 1873.

John Giles was born on 22 February 1791. It is impossible to give a location. The only detailed censuses in which he appears (1851 and 1961) agree on Somerset, yet give an unreadable and different place name. His record can't be found for the 1871 census. The Methodist biography gives Wanstead as the birthplace, but this was presumably transcribed inaccurately from someone's handwriting as there does not appear to be a Wanstead in Somerset. Wanstead is in Essex, now Greater London. Wanstrow in Somerset is a possibility as websites show that there were Giles there around that time. There is no candidate for John's baptismal record in the IGI, even though, judging from the Methodist biography, he was born to a very strict Methodist family who would certainly have initiated their babies into the Christian faith.

John married a woman recorded in the censuses as Betty and Betsy (rather than Elizabeth, the name from which Betty and Betsy are normally contractions). According to the Methodist Biography, the marriage took place when he was 24 and she was 19. There is a likely event in the IGI for 30 Jan 1815 at St Mary, Newington when a John Giles married a Bettey Green. John would have been 23 at the time, but presumably the Methodist biography was not concerned with absolute accuracy on such matters. For example, the biography gives John's wife as Elizabeth, not Betty or Betsy. According to the IGI, there are two entries for a Betsy, in Buckinghamshire in 1796 (Betty's birth place and birth year according to census returns). Both are to a Thomas and Sarah, one at Stoke Goldington on 9 March 1796 and the other at Lathbury on 28 March 1796. Perhaps the two Betsy's were cousins or perhaps one baby was baptised twice to accommodate difficulties in travel for the wider family.

In 1841 John was a proprietor of houses; in 1851 a leather finisher; and in 1861 he was retired.

Whatever his employment, judging by the Methodist biography, his interest and commitment centred around the Methodist Church. The Methodist biography, although six pages long, lacks detail on anything other than matters relating to John's Christian faith. It gives his date of birth, date of death and the name of his wife as Elizabeth, but it does not give the names of his parents or his children, or his address or any employment information.

Extracts from the biography give a feel for what John was like as a person within his Church, although it is a pity that there is nothing similar on any other aspect of his life. The following extracts are illustrations.

Both his parents were religious; his father being a Methodist and his mother a Baptist. Preaching was established in the house of his father and the preachers were hospitably entertained by him and his good wife.

In the arrangement of divine providence he left the country[side] and came to London. Here he was led into society not at all adapted to foster the good impression received under the parental roof. Early habits led him to the chapel; yet worldly companions prevented him from joining the people of God.

Worldly cares overtook him ... and [he] drew himself from God and the church. ... A devoted 'sister' encouraged him to cast his soul on Christ; he did so and went home rejoicing in the Lord. This occurred about 28 years ago; and from that time until his death [in 1873], he never turned back again. ... He was an honest, upright man. Losses in business brought him into straits and difficulties, but he laboured hard, his wife too, till all he owed was paid; and no-one lost a farthing by honest John and Elizabeth Giles. [Presumably the business worries occurred sometime between the times of the 1841 and 1851 censuses and explain the change in employment.]

Both the husband and the wife joined Mr Tyler's class in connection with the Southwark Methodist Chapel.

Brother Giles joined this band of prayer leaders. ... Brother Giles also engaged as a tract distributor. ... Brother Giles visited on the Sabbath various workhouses on the south side of the Thames.

At the time of the Reform movement, he left the Southwark chapel, with others and joined the church in Weston Street. Mr Plumley in whose class he spent most of his time at Weston Street says: "My knowledge of brother Giles extends over many years and I can say I always found him a consistent, upright and God-fearing man ..."

Brother Giles was in his element at a prayer meeting; it could not be a dull meeting if he was there.

Mr Blott in whose class he met his death writes: "He was wont in his experience to express, in terms of self depracation, how unprofitable a servant he had been; his great unworthiness of the mercies that had been shown him ...  His prayers were eloquent in their simplicity. So intimate was his knowledge of our hymn-book that he would quote verse after verse ... including the page number on which [a hymn] was to be found. .. He was often called the Walking Hymn Book."

He often expressed himself as delighted to see the young coming up to fill the place he must soon vacate.

A very striking expression is used by my friend Mr Plumley "His experience was always deepened by humility."

When prevented by his last affliction from mingling with the people of God, he and his little grandchildren had many a concert together. And I know not which was the most delighted; the children, to sing their little pieces to their grandfather, or he to join with them in the singing. [It was his daughter Sarah's Fail children who were the grandchildren living with him in 1861. (His entry from the 1871 census is missing.) The whole Fail family later emigrated to New Zealand - see below - and the bibliography came from a descendant.]

One of the sisters visited him on the Sunday afternoon before his death. They had a glorious time together. After she was gone. he said to his family "O! She has quite lifted me up." ... [On] Monday he was rejoicing in the glory of God.

I visited him on the evening before his death when though still alive he was dead to all earthly objects... While lying in this apparent stupor, [he] broke out: "The angels are come to receive me." This took place on Thursday evening, September 25th 1873. He had reached the age of eighty two years.

There may have been some connection between his Giles family and the firm of John Giles Pilcher & Jeremiah Pilcher, Oilmen of Bermondsey because John's grandson, the son of his daughter Emma, Alexander George CRYER, went on to become its managing director.

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The children of John Giles and Betty/Betsy

John and Elizabeth Giles had the following children:

Burial plot where Sarah Giles and John William Fail were buried side by side in Purewa 

Above: The burial plot where Sarah Giles and John William Fail were buried side by side in Purewa Cemetery, New Zealand.

Below: The headstone.

Photographs courtesy of David Boyd

The headstone for Sarah and John Fail in Purewa Cemetery, 
						New Zealand

The children of Sarah and John were:

  • Mary and Sarah Fail (twins) were born 1844 but died the same year.
  • John William Fail was born in 1848 at Bermondsey.
  • Alfred Charles Fail was born in 1850 at Bermondsey.
  • Edward Fail was born in 1852 at Bermondsey.
  • Sarah Emma Fail, known as Emma, was born in 1853 at Bermondsey and died on 1 November 1942. She married Charles Spooner.
  • Albert Fail was born in 1855 at Bermondsey.
  • Joseph Fail was born in 1857 at Bermondsey.
  • Elizabeth Fail was born in 1860 at Bermondsey.
  • Elizabeth Fail was born in 1860 at Bermondsey.
  • Alice Annie Fail was born in 1861.

Details of this family are courtesy of David Boyd and Yvonne Chisholm, and more information is available.

All the baptisms were at St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey.

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