Moreover, my ancestors' souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house.

Carl Jung (1875 - 1961)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Not “Holly Bowers”, but “Timaru”… The small mysteries that make family history research so intriguing

Among various family photographs of his great grandparents and other relatives, my late father was given an architectural drawing and plan of the house, Holly Bowers in Kemnal Rd, Chislehurst, Kent. He had this framed, because it was a family story that this house was the home of ‘one of the Clarksons’. There is a great website Kemnal Road  but nothing there about Holly Bowers
indicating a connection with the Clarkson family. I thought it may have been built by the Clarksons, but didn’t dig any further. Then, doing a more in-depth search to update information, I found a link. On the Kemnal Road website is a house called ‘Timara’, apparently occupied by David Clarkson in 1884.

I knew that my 3 x great grandfather, Joseph Clarkson, was a carpenter and builder in Greenwich, Kent before immigrating to Lyttelton, New Zealand, when he was 46 in February 1851. His eldest son, David Paxton Clarkson arrived in New Zealand in April 1851 with his wife Esther and baby son Joseph, and pursued a career as a carpenter, then a builder. He was also a businessman and drapery merchant, beginning a successful drapery business in Christchurch, selling it and continuing to import wholesale goods to New Zealand and Australia after returning to England prior to 1871. 

The 1871 census shows him occupying ‘Timaru Villa’ at 42 Manor Park, Lee, Kent. Timaru was a town in South Canterbury, New Zealand – the name obviously reminding the family of their time in New Zealand. According to a fellow researcher, David and Esther considered their time in Timaru as the happiest in their lives. David and his wife Esther (nee McAveney) and their children had returned to England for the children’s education, and presumably to enjoy their success by moving up the social ladder from a middle-class but prosperous residence in 1871 to the rather grand, new establishment at Kemnal Road, Chislehurst by about 1882. 
The exiled Empress Eugenie also lived in Chislehurst until 1885, so it was definitely an up market area. 
Not ‘Timara’ but ‘Timaru’. Timaru was designed by George Somers Leigh Clarke and built in 1878. The first mention I can find of the Clarkson family occupying it is in 1882, when James Stewart Clarkson, David’s son, who joined the Institute in 1882, lists it as his address in the ‘Royal Colonial Institute’s proceedings.

All through the 1880’s Esther advertises for servants: perhaps she was an exacting employer, or maybe servants were flighty, and inclined to leave.
One afternoon, in good weather, someone took a photograph of Esther (she is the woman in the cap and dark dress), a son (the young man seated, he would be about 19 and his name is not yet determined), and
at least one daughter - I think it is Jessie (also known as Tess), possibly the woman in the dark dress in the centre of the picture. Son James may be the man in the cap - I am currently conferring with other family members researching David and Esther, and together we hope to name everyone in the picture.  They are grouped at the entrance of the house, and we can match the pillars of the house with a contemporary photo from the Kemnal Road website.
On the porch at Timaru - about 1884

From 1886, it appeared that David Clarkson's business began to fail. David travelled to Australia in order to sell his estate and realise over 30,000 pounds of deficit in January of 1889. He died in June, 1889 in Randwick, NSW and his son and business partner James  was forced to offer 8 shillings in the pound. By July/August 1889 'Timaru' was put up for auction. Perhaps the lease was surrendered by the family, or they owned it and it had to be sold - another house in Kemnal Road, Oakleigh, was also auctioned at the same time, so it is possible the owner of both wanted them sold. Later, 'Timaru' was renamed 'Selwood'. It still stands, now supported housing, and separated into a number of flats. I don't know why the picture of 'Holly Bowers' survived amongst the family memorabilia. It too was a wonderful house, in a similar style, but designed by a different architect, George Lethbridge. Maybe it was kept because it represented a very gracious middle-class way of life that this branch of the Clarkson family enjoyed for a while, at least. By 1891, Esther and her unmarried children, Jessie, John and Maggie moved back to Lee, and were reduced to one live-in servant.    
London Standard - Wednesday 07 August 1889




  1. I have nominated your excellent blog for the One Lovely Blog Award. You will find the link on my own blog FamilyHistory4u along with a mention of your blog. Regards, Sharn White

  2. Thank you Sharn! MORE beautiful photos of Timaru have emerged, taken in different seasons and all without a photographer's stamp. I think a member of the family, possibly John, the unmarried son, was the photographer. We also have some clues about the other people: they may be members of the Lindley family. I will be posting more soon.