Ian C Pidgeon

St Albans

England

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Chum's Tale


William Pidgeon comes to Long Stratton

Long Stratton, or Stratton St Mary as it is sometimes known, is a small market town in south Norfolk, about 10 miles south-west of Norwich.  It lies on the A140, the old Roman road which led from London to the Roman town of Venta Icenorum, near present day Caistor St Edmund. A small corn market has been held in Long Stratton since 1257.

William Pigeon came to Long Stratton from Swainsthorpe, five miles north on the Norwich road, in search of work in the surrounding fields.  He met and courted Susanna Rope, and on the tenth of October 1781 they were married in St Mary’s church.  Over the next twenty years they produced eight healthy children:  William, Ann, Jonas-Rope (named after Susanna’s father), John, Maria, Hannah, Mary and Sarah.  They were a hard working country family, not given to the airs and graces of the city, and marriage came relatively late in life to many of this younger generation. 

Ann was the youngest to marry.  In 1809 she married Thomas Folkhard, a blacksmith from Hedenham, where they settled.  Later that year, tragedy struck the Pigeon family when John died at the age of 20.  At about the same time, Ann gave birth to a baby boy.  On Christmas day the Folkards visited Ann’s parent’s home in Stratton St Mary and the baby was baptised there and given the names John Pigeon, after Ann’s deceased younger brother.

Long Stratton, Norfolk in the 1950s

[The Francis Frith Collection]

Maria Pigeon and her son Jonas Pigeon

It was to be many years before any of the younger sisters were to marry.  But this did not prevent Maria forming her own family.  In 1820 she gave birth to a daughter Hannah Pigeon, who was baptised on New Year’s Eve in Hedenham, where Maria had gone to stay with her sister Ann’s family.  When Hannah later married, she gave her father’s name as Mr Pointer, a labourer.  Still unmarried, Maria bore two sons - Jonas Pigeon, baptised in Hedenham in January 1824 and William Pigeon, born in Hedenham, but baptised at Stratton St Mary in December 1828.   When the sons were married they gave their father’s names as Benjamin and John Norman, respectively.

Maria returned to Stratton to work as a house servant and bring up her “fatherless” children.  Hannah became a dressmaker and eventually married James Duffield, a lime burner.  William was a labourer like his father John Norman, and married a local girl, Emily Gill.  Also following in the footsteps of his father (Benjamin Norman), Jonas eventually became a farmer.

Jonas was 25 years old when he married Hebe Howlett, the daughter of a Norfolk farmer. Hebe had been born in the hamlet of Langmere, about six miles south of Stratton.  She was the daughter of Harcourt Howlett and his wife Sarah, one of 14 children, all of whom were christened with a name beginning with H, a Howlett tradition continued by many of Hebe’s brothers.  Harcourt Howlett and several of his brothers were farmers and many of Hebe’s brothers became farmers, too.

Jonas Pidgeon and Hebe Howlett were married at Long Stratton in May, 1849.  They named their children Sarah Ann (born 1849), John Howlett (born 1851), Horace Howlett (born 1852) and Harriet Howlett (born 1857), partially maintaining the Howlett tradition. 

Harriet Howlett PIDGEON

Charlotte and
 John Howlett PIDGEON

The miller’s misfortune

Their eldest son John Howlett Pidgeon became a miller.  At first he was a foreman of a mill at the end of Waterloo Bridge in London.  Later he owned his own mills on a farm at Stratton St Michael (a mile or so north of Stratton St Mary) where he ground corn, wheat and maize.  One mill was steam driven, another by wind.  In 1880 he married Charlotte Cunningham of Stratton St Mary.  They had four children:  Eliza Alice Jane (born 1882 and known as Alice), John Hubert (born 1884 and nicknamed Chum), Jonas (born 1886 and nicknamed Omey) and George Henry (born 1888, later known as Bob). 

The children used to play in the fields by the mills.  They enjoyed catching rabbits and shooting sparrows and pigeons with their father.  The wind mill was four stories high and had sails which turned within a foot of the ground, so it was surrounded by a wire fence.  But once, when Chum was quite young, his foot was caught up by the sail and he was nearly taken up to the fourth floor level.  Fortunately, his mother rushed out and stopped the mill.

In the mid-1890s John Howlett Pidgeon ran into financial difficulties.  As Chum later explained, he was ruined “through the defalcations of a solicitor” and his property had to be sold.  He was also unable to continue paying for the education of his sons.  But he had a good friend, Dr James Gowing Middleton who had known him all his life, and whose family was distantly related to the Cunninghams, Charlotte’s family.

John Howlett PIDGEON

Dr James Gowing MIDDLETON

James Gowing MIDDLETON was born in 1850 at Topcroft, Norfolk, the son of Robert MIDDLETON (a master builder) and his wife Eliza.  He was initially educated at Lowestoft, but an uncle who discerned exceptional possibilities in the lad sent him to Aberdeen University, where he graduated in medicine.  After training at hospitals in Glasgow and London he travelled abroad extensively with a British peer, visiting Russia, Spain, Morocco and Egypt amongst other places.

Dr J G MIDDLETON

On a visit to Spain in 1887 Dr MIDDLETON was induced by a man to climb to the top of the lofty tower of Cordova.  Once there it became clear to the doctor that the man’s motive was to rob him then push him off the tower to make his death appear to be suicide.  Realising his predicament, Dr MIDDLETON drew a revolver and shot the man dead.  The Spanish police, to whom he promptly reported the incident, granted him a temporary release.  On  returning to Spain to stand trial he was given an honourable acquittal after it was established that the man had been the leader of a gang of desperados.  In local folklore Dr MIDDLETON thus became known as the English gentleman who killed the last king of the gypsies.

He settled in Paris, where he built up a practice with considerable reputation, being consulted by patients in Holland, Austria, Italy and Algiers.  In 1893 in Paris he was additionally awarded a diploma of Docteur en Médecine.   He lived in Paris for 25 years before returning to England.

Dr Middleton decided to take Chum and his brother Jonas and complete their education.  They were sent first to a prep-school in Rouen and afterwards to the Sorbonne in Paris, where Chum remembers being squeezed into a corner by the other boys and made to shout “Vive les Boers!”  (This was during the Boer war.) 

Chum and Omey PIDGEON change their name to Middleton

In France it was necessary to register for practically everything – including residence, work and schools.  Visas, fees and guarantees were needed by anyone with a different name from their guardians.  So for this reason the boys were adopted by Dr Middleton and changed their names to Hubert John Middleton (John Hubert/Chum) and James Gowing Middleton Jr (Jonas/Omey).   Their younger brother George Henry Pidgeon was to have changed his name to Robert Middleton, hence the nickname of Bob.   But he didn’t wish to be adopted and kept his own name, but the nickname remained.

Chum and Omey could have changed their names back to Pidgeon when they were 21 years old, had they wished, but both decided to keep their Middleton names.  When they returned to England their brother Bob was selling cars, as Dr Middleton’s money was “getting lower” and he was unable to pay for Bob’s education abroad.  The three brothers clubbed together to buy a taxi, a new Italian Fiat.  They opened a garage and ran a successful taxi business.

Jonas PIDGEON, alias

James Gowing MIDDLETON Jr 

In 1904 Chum, now also known as Hugh, first travelled to the United States.  After he returned to England he travelled extensively abroad.  Examples of his activities were reported:  “Mr Hubert Middleton arrives today at the Queen’s Hotel” (18 Feb, 1908) and “Mr Hubert J Middleton has arrived in London from Nice.  He will return to Nice during the first week in April in a new 16 horse-power four-cylinder Bentall automobile” (25 March, 1908).  At his wedding in 1916 it was stated that he had been one of the original members of the Royal Automobile Club, but this must have been a joke about his lifestyle, as the RAC was founded in 1897 while he was still at school in France.

Eva Mary MIDDLETON

 

On 13 April 1913, Omey married Eva Mary Middleton, Dr Middleton’s niece.  In the official record Dr James Gowing Middleton was given as Omey’s father.  Chum wrote, “I can see how this mistake in the church register could have been made.  If I remember rightly, Eva was staying with the Gowings at Tharston Hall.  But the wedding reception was at Harry Gowing’s about 200-300 yards from the Hall.  Dr James Middleton, O(mey) and I drove over from Stalham in Dr J’s car – around 35-40 miles – which was a long drive in those days.  We all met at the church.  Immediately after the ceremony everybody rushed down to Harry G’s and I’ll bet the sexton or whoever took charge of the Reg. just said ‘I’ll fill in the details’ and assumed Dr J.G.M and J.G.M were father and son, and that’s all there was to it.  We were all strangers.  I think O & E were duly driven to the RR (railroad) station, Forncett, for London and duly proceeded to Liverpool for boat to Canada – Toronto!  The Middletons & Gowings, including all of us excepting Eva, were virtual strangers to each other.  In fact I don’t believe even Dr J knew more than 3 or 4 Gowing people and even these were only acquaintances made a week or more previously on a visit to arrange plans for the wedding.  No Pidgeons were present.  They were in Yarmouth at that time and no auto to take them – about the same distance as from Stalham;  by train, impossible;  to Norwich, cross the town, another line to Forncett.” 

James Gowing (Omey)
and Eva Mary MIDDLETON
in Toronto, 1913

 

The young Middletons go west

James John MIDDLETON
aged 4 years

Omey and Eva stayed in Canada for a while, before settling in New York.  Eva gave birth on 27 March, 1915 in New York City to a boy, James John Middleton, but she died as a result of the childbirth on 6th April.  Omey and the baby moved to Cranford, New Jersey where they boarded with Mrs Frances Lanzerich and her husband.  Mrs Lanzerich became James’ foster mother.  Omey returned to England twice with young Jimmy, once in 1922 and again about 1928 when they toured Europe, including Russia.  Whenever Omey returned to the USA he gave as his nearest of kin his “parents Mr & Mrs Middleton, 79 Marine Parade, Gt Yarmouth”.  This was the address of his parents Mr & Mrs Pidgeon, but he gave their name as Middleton, presumably to avoid any potential problems with the immigration people.  Omey was 6’ 3” tall with dark hair and blue eyes. He was a motor engineer and ran a gas station and a florist’s shop with greenhouses while living in Cranford.  He died in 1931, aged 45 from lung cancer.

Chum & Omey in 1913

 

Chum also emigrated to the USA in 1913, arriving at New York aboard the SS Kaiserin Auguste Victoria on October 25th.  On the ship’s manifest he was registered as Hubert Middleton, 30, of the stock exchange, born England, nearest relative Dr. J Gowing Middleton of 50 Willesby Rd, Gt Yarmouth.  He was 5’ 11½” tall, had dark hair and complexion and blue eyes.  By 1915 he and his brother Omey were running a successful business called Middleton’s Stone Ginger Beer Company.

On 28th June, 1916 Chum married Renée Evelyn Peters.  The wedding took place in Hoboken, NJ but the wedding breakfast was across the Hudson River at the Plaza in New York City.  Joanna Peters (the bride’s mother) and James G Middleton (the groom’s brother) were the witnesses.  Harriet Pidgeon, the groom’s aunt also attended.

Omey in
Middleton's Stone Ginger Beer Company
circa 1915

Chum's Wedding: (top) Harriet PIDGEON, Mrs PETERS, the parson, (bottom) Jane, Renée & Chum

Born in the USA at White Haven, PA, Renée had previously married Dr Jorge Arroyo in Paris, France in 1907, but they had since been divorced.  She had also travelled to New York on the SS Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, arriving on October 25th, 1913.  Renée boarded at Cherbourg, Chum at Southampton.  Was this how they met?  Or had they met previously in Paris and planned a romantic rendezvous en route to the States?  She brought with her from her previous marriage six-year-old Renée Jeanne Amalia Arroyo, who had sailed with her English governess Maryon Greyden from Antwerp to New York in March 1914.  Then 5 years old, she had been registered as Zaza Arroyo on the ship’s manifest, but was known as Jane and was brought up by Chum and Renée.

Chum and Renée continued to live in New York City until 1940, when they bought a 300 acre wooded farm in Medusa, Albany Co., NY.  They continued to spend winters in New York City, but March to November was spent on the farm.  They raised chickens, angora rabbits and karakul sheep which were sold as little black lambs to nearby Catskill Game Farm and advertised as “right from Persia”.  They had a wonderful old farm house which they completely modernised and added a large “casino” for the ping pong table and piano.  While tending his karakul sheep in old work clothes, the family often joked that he was once considered to be the best dressed man on the French Riviera.  Renée died in 1964, aged 80 and Chum followed two years later, aged 81. 

Chum and Renée had no children of their own.  Omey’s son Jimmy married Mary Gene McCALL, who documented most of this story and provided the photographs.  They had four sons, three of whom are now deceased.  Jimmy died in 1974 and Mary in 2014.  This branch of the "Pidgeon-Middleton" family lives on through their surviving son and grandchildren.

Renée & Chum on the farm in 1949
with great-nephews
Philip (7 months) and Larry (2½ years)

 


Page Updated  15 Apr 2016

 

©  2006 - Ian C Pidgeon