An intriguing piece of detective work was posted on the Bristol & Avon Family History Society’s Facebook page a few days ago by an Australian lady trying to trace her convict grandmother Gladys Violet NUTT of Bristol.
“Hi there. My grandmother was GLADYS VIOLET NUTT. My mother told me she was either committed to an asylum or went to prison for killing her husband. Is there a way to find out what happened to her?” – Linda Williams
Other than a good name to research there was not much to go on from the initial post, but the replies from Linda and help from other members added some more clues:
- Maiden name NUTT
- Born 1907
- Married several times, husband’s dying or leaving (family rumour had it Gladys murdered her husbands)
- Husband named RICKARDS
- 3 children: Ken NUTT, Ronald RICKARDS & Evelyn RICKARDS (Linda’s mother)
- Lived in Bristol (33 Padstow Road as per 1939 register)
- May have gone abroad
- Charged with theft several times
Linda’s family left the UK for Australia in 1962 when she was just a baby, with her last contact with Gladys in the 1970s from a prison (possibly Holloway).
It became clear in the replies that Ancestry “hints” were being used rather enthusiastically, but how much was correct? There were contradicting birth and death years, several husbands and trips abroad. Sticking to just the know facts above, I began to compile a timeline to see where it would lead. I started with the date of birth given in the 1939 Register (13th Oct 1907) and worked from there to trace her parents, then marriage and children. I found several newspaper reports which filled in gaps in between censuses (some of which were also found by other members helping Linda), but these stopped after Gladys married for the first time in 1933. After this, there is the 1939 Register and a likely second marriage in 1953, but then the trail goes cold. Perhaps figuring out the first part of her life could help Linda figure out the last.
Gladys Violet NUTT was born on 13th Oct 1907 in Bristol to James Joseph NUTT and Hannah KILEY (aka Joanna). She was baptised on 31st Oct 1907 in St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol.
James himself was the last of nine children (born 1875 or 1876), and the only boy born to Joseph NUTT and Ann BAILEY (also spelt Bayley). Joseph was a licensed Hawker of earthenware in Bristol and his parents died when he was about 16/17 (they died within a year of each other). Hannah was from a Roman Catholic family of seven children, with parents Michael KILEY, a Dock Labourer with Irish parents, and Agnes COX of Bath, Somerset. Hannah was 19 when her mother died, and her father died as WWI came to an end.
Although James and Hannah didn’t marry until early 1902, the 1901 census shows they were living together as though they were, and had already had one child together who sadly died shortly after being born. They were living at 4 Gough Buildings, Bristol and James was working as a Butcher. When Gladys was baptised in 1907 they were living at 5 William Street, Bedminster and James was working as a Dock Labourer. By 1911 the family were at 21 Weare Street, Bedminster and James was working as a Cattle Driver. Hannah records she had given birth to six children on their census return, but only one was still living (Gladys). I haven’t found any birth records for these other four children. Up until 1938 James and Hannah lived on Weare Street, which was sandwiched between the railway goods depot to the south and the River Avon and Temple Meads train station just to the north. The road is no longer there today, being demolished at some point after the 1970s.
Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.
James and Hannah had another son born on 29th Apr 1912, named James Joseph NUTT after his father, followed by another daughter in Jan 1915. Nellie May NUTT was baptised on 24th Jan 1915 at St Luke, Bedminster but died very shortly afterwards. The family were now living at 15 Weare Street, Bedminster and James was working as a Carter.
During WWI James served with the Gloucestershire Regiment (from obituary), although I haven’t found his records. In 1923 (age 48 and working as a labourer), James was charged with being drunk and disorderly and fined 5s. Hannah stated he was “a good husband to her when sober, but always tried to murder her when he had been drinking”. On Saturday he had attempted to strangle her.
Gladys first shows up in newspaper reports in 1925 age 18 after meeting with a serious accident whilst cleaning windows at 13 St. Paul’s Road in Clifton where she was working as a maid. She severed an artery in her right arm and was sent to the Royal Infirmary. Two years later her brother James was in the papers after colliding with a motor car whilst cycling along Victoria Street, Bristol and sent to the General Hospital suffering from shock.
Newspaper articles reproduced with the permission of the British Newspaper Archive and The British Library Board
In 1927, Gladys (age 19) was bound over for 1 year after attempting to obtain an evening gown by false pretences. During her trial, two more instances of similar crimes came to light, where Gladys had taken letters to shopkeepers requesting items on approval from the Mothers Superior at Arno’s Vale and Dighton Street Convents. In her defence, Gladys admitted to writing the letter in question, but only to “annoy the mother superior”. Gladys had been previously charged with theft and sent to Arno’s Vale Convent for two years, which took in girls aged 12-15 for up to five years. The last article recorded how her father was out of work and her mother worked hard to make ends meet. Gladys wanted to move abroad but had so far been unable to make enough money. She also had the offer of a situation in Weymouth, but don’t know if she ever took it up.
Both Gladys and her brother James were in trouble with the law by the time they were teenagers, although James is the only one I have found official criminal proceedings for:
- 13 Aug 1926 – Age: 14; Stealing a bicycle; Birched
- 21 Sep 1926 – Age: 14; Stealing a lady’s coat; Bound Over
- 01 May 1928 – Age: 16; Indecent assault on a girl of 7 years; Sentenced to 6 months
- 07 Jan 1929 – Age: 16; Stealing (3 counts, various articles, all property of his parents); Sentenced to 3 years in Borstal Institution
James stole several articles belonging to his parents in 1928, pawned them and spent the money. His mother was out working and his father was out looking for work at the time. James was repentant, promising to work to repay his parents, but as he had previous convictions was sentenced to 3 years in Borstal. The article also noted he had aspirations to move to either Canada or New Zealand to farm but had been unable to find employment to do so.
Gladys found herself back in court in 1930 (age 23), this time for the theft of books from her place of employment as a domestic servant at the Nurses’ Home in Terrell Street, Bristol. The newspaper report confirmed she had been in trouble twice before, and was profoundly deaf. Gladys was so upset by the thought of being sent back to a convent she requested she be sent to prison instead where she spent three weeks.
During the spring of 1931 (age 23), an unmarried Gladys gave birth to a son (Kenneth). The father is unknown, but he must have been of some means as he apparently paid for Kenneth to go to boarding school. Barely 16 months later Gladys was in court yet again, this time charged with obtaining money under false pretences and sentenced to 1-month hard labour.
Just a few months later, Gladys married Edward A RICKARDS (1Q 1933, Bristol) and on 21st Aug gave birth to a daughter (Evelyn), followed by a son towards the end of 1934 (Ronald). Gladys’s brother also married around this time to Doris Irene DAVERIDGE (4Q 1934).
Gladys’s father James died in Sep 1939 age 63 whilst at a nursing home in Bristol, just before the 1939 Register was taken. He was buried in the family plot at Greenbank Cemetery and the newspaper report of the service listed some of the mourners as the “widow, Mr James Nutt (son), Mrs G Rickards (daughter), Mrs Doris Nutt (daughter-in-law), and Master Kenneth Rickards (grandson).
When the 1939 Register was taken, Gladys’s mother Hannah was living at Bristol Mission Home of Rest in Nailsea, Somerset with the occupation “unpaid domestic duties“. She gave her date of birth as 8th Sep 1882, but her baptism gives her date of birth as 7th Apr 1880 (I’ve seen incorrect birth dates given a lot in this particular record set). The Mission provided holidays for women who would otherwise go without, but presumable offered respite too. Gladys was living at 33 Padstow Road, Bristol, age 32, married and also occupied with “unpaid domestic duties”, so must have had money coming in from her husband (or “elsewhere”!). Interestingly, no further surnames were added to her entry for later marriages, which was continually updated until 1991 with altered married names and even death dates (annoyingly not shown online). Under Gladys’s name are three redacted entries, which are most likely her children. They would have been aged 8, 6 and just turned or coming up to 5 at this time. Entries are kept private until that person reaches 100 or a death has been registered. In the case of Linda’s mother, as Evelyn died in Australia her death would not have been registered in the UK so her entry will remain closed until 2033.
It’s possible that Edward A RICKARDS was in the army when the 1939 Register was taken, in which case he would have been listed in a separate document not yet available to the public and explain why he was not at home with his wife and children. Linda’s family knowledge is that he walked out with his mandolin saying he’d be back but never returned. Other than his marriage to Gladys, the only other record found for Edward is a directory entry from 1938 at 7 Weare Street, Bedminster. I have researched and discounted five possible matches for this man, but their marriage certificate may help shed some light as to who he was, which should give both their ages, residence at the time of marriage and occupations, as well as both fathers’ names and occupations. The witness names can be useful too.
It all goes quiet in the records for Gladys after the 1939 Register until 1953, the same year as her daughter Evelyn married at age 19. It would seem Gladys moved from the Bristol area to Worthing, Sussex at some point and in 3Q 1953 married the recently widowed Ernest William WARNER, his first wife Annie Gladys ETHERIDGE having died two years earlier in 1951 aged 44 (with no children together). Their marriage certificate will confirm if Gladys was widowed or divorced. The index includes both her surnames of “NUTT” and “RICKARDS”, so most likely the correct woman, but the certificate should clarify this with her father’s name. It would also be interesting to find out her then current address and occupation. She would have been 45 and Ernest 50/51 when they married.
Ernest died seven years later on 27th Mar 1961 age 58 whilst living at St Michaels Nursing Home, 19 Downview Road, Worthing, Sussex. His probate record shows his previous address to have been 2 Brickfield Cottages, Durrington Lane, Durrington, Worthing, Sussex. Probate was given to “Samuel Thomas JAMES police constable and Elsie May JAMES married woman”, and he left £2004 9s 9d (roughly £47k today). Elsie was a younger sister of Ernest’s first wife. The following year Linda was born to Gladys’s daughter Evelyn and her family emigrated from Bristol to Australia. If Ernest was Gladys’s second husband, then perhaps there is mention of her in his Will or death certificate. Gladys’s mother Hannah died not long after this in 1Q 1964 in Bristol age 84.
OTHER MARRIAGES – I haven’t found any other marriages for Gladys after this one, and have been able to discount through further research several other entries listed for Gladys V Nutt/Rickards/Warner.
TRAVEL ABROAD – Linda thinks her grandmother may have gone abroad at some point, but the records found on Ancestry are for different women. This isn’t to say she didn’t leave England either before marrying Ernest or afterwards, just that the records online are not for her.
PRISON RECORDS – There are no records online to help research any further criminal charges, but the National Archives may hold some clues if Gladys was sent to Holloway in the 1970s.
DEATH RECORDS – There was a death registered in Worthing in May 1995 for Gladys WARNER age 87 with the exact same birthday of 13th Oct 1907, could this have been her? A note has been added by an Ancestry member saying they think the year of birth should be 1917 but offered no further explanation as to why. Ordering this death certificate could help confirm or deny this as the same woman.
A great way to find out more information would be for Linda to make contact with her two elderly uncles (if still alive) and cousins, and the children/grandchildren of Gladys’s brother James, many of whom are still in the Bristol area. Together they may be able to piece together the truth from rumour.
Buying these marriage and death certificates will help clarify several facts, as outlined above:
- Gladys V NUTT to Edward A RICKARDS
- 1Q 1933
- Volume 6a
- Page 192
- Gladys V NUTT / Gladys V RICKARDS to Ernest W WARNER
- 3Q 1953
- Volume 5h
- Page 1291
- Ernest W WARNER
- 1Q 1961
- Volume 5h
- Page 950
- Gladys WARNER
- May 1995
- Worthing 7864B
- Register Number 4B3C
- Number 108
RESOURCES & LINKS
- British Newspaper Archives
- Find My Past
- General Records Office (birth, death and marriage certificates)
- National Library of Scotland (maps)
- Probate & Wills
I undertook this research for my own interest, but if you would like me to help with a genealogical brickwall of your own I am available to hire.