Wilkins Shepherd Sim

Family tree: Irene Wilkins ancestors

My beloved Nan on Mum’s side of the family was Irene Maud (how she hated her middle name) Wilkins. A day out in Skegness involved everyone dressing in their Sunday best, including hats. A popular advert at the time says: ‘Skegness is SO bracing’, which might explain the need for coats. Bessie (in the front of the photo on the right) had written on the back: ‘Nice family snap. I was 14 and had daisies in my bonnet – it came from London’.


Irene (left) on a day out with the family at bracing Skegness

Irene’s father was Charles Wilkins, born in 1867 in Crayford Kent. He started work as a grocer’s assistant, but progressed as an engineering machinist, and he was a gun maker’s labourer for a time.

Charles’ father was Charles W. Wilkins, born in Bexley Kent in 1842 – he became a brick maker and labourer, living in Duke’s Head Yard, close to the local pub. His wife was Jane Sim Shepherd of Crayford, Kent; her middle name derived from her father who was a baker – for some reason William Sim never married her mother Ann(e) Shepherd, though his name appeared on Jane’s birth certificate, signed with a cross by Ann. Jane was only 36 when she died of cancer.

Ann Shepherd was born in 1818 in Crayford Kent. Her two girls lived with her father, James Edward Shepherd, who was born in 1783 in Mitcham in Surrey. He was a print works labourer, but this obviously did not bring in enough money to keep the family into old age, because he is recorded as almsman in 1861, dependent on charity for their keep. His wife Elizabeth was from Devon and their granddaughter Jane was their housekeeper in Crayford before her marriage to Charles.

The 1841 census shows James Shepherd’s household in Crayford village with 23-year-old Ann, next door but one from John Thomson the baker. Living with him, presumably as a baker’s apprentice, was William Syme (at the bottom of this census form).

William Syme_1841

Kitty Shepherd (Ann’s sister) had three children with Thomas Reed of Eltham, Kent. Kitty died sometime after the birth of the third child in 1843. Thomas married Ann in 1849 and they went on to have five more children, the youngest was named Kitty.

Meanwhile, between 1843 and 1846 William Syme moved to Bethnal Green and married Sarah Jane Douglass. They had two children. William died on 1 Apr 1850, age 37.

William Syme ancestors

William’s parents were James Sim or Syme (spellings vary through the records) from Dunfermline and Janet Henderson of Wemyss. We can trace the family via the Henderson / Laughtan branches to Holm and Paplay in the Orkney Islands. John Laughtan (born about 1700) ran Easterbister Farm which can be traced back to an early ninth century Norse farm settlement. Records of the Earldom of Orkney by J. Storer Cllouston includes John Laughton of Eastbister in 1492 and Orkney Parishes by the same author includes James Laughton on the farm in 1674.

Penelope Lively’s Memoirs of an Orkneys Addict was published in the New York Times in 1997: “The islands are poor, and ever have been. Their clever, industrious inhabitants have traditionally lived from agriculture and fishing. The chief exports of the Orkneys, the saying goes, are beef and professors. Many Orcadians are descended from the Vikings who overran the islands in the eighth or ninth century, and to this day they seem Norse. To hear Orkney accents is to be reminded at once that Orcadians are not necessarily Scottish. It is a glorious accent — soft and lilting, unlike anything else. Orkneys’ two towns — Kirkwall and Stromness on the Mainland, have little shops, selling the sort of things that Orcadians need — rope, fish hooks, paraffin.”