James Keen and Elizabeth English

James Keen and Elizabeth English Marriage Certificate from 1836

James Keen, the illegitimate son of Arabella Keen, daughter of William Keen and Mary Evans of Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire was born in 1813, the first child in the family to be born after the family moved to Blockley, now in Gloucestershire, but then in Worcestershire. James was christened at Blockley on 14th January 1814 but the parish register entry gives no clue as to paternity.
He was probably reared by his grandparents, as often happened in such cases. I have to date been able to find no marriage or death for Arabella, so her fate is rather a mystery yet to be solved.

On the 6th September 1836 James married Elizabeth English, a Spinster, at Stowe. Both sign the register with good signatures and witnesses were William Hobbs and Richard Blizard. A son, Henry was born at the same place in 1838, but by 1841 James was living in Blockley, minus his family, with a family named Herbert, Tailors by profession. James was described as a Shoemaker.

James Keen and Elizabeth Hopkins

At that time, 1841, Eliza Hopkins, 45, a Silk Woman, was living in Powells Row, Blockley with Eliza Hopkins, 21, Mary Hopkins, 18 and Susan Hopkins, 13 and one Mary Gossan, 55, also a Silk Woman. All were stated not to have been born in the county (Worcestershire).

As the result of extensive research I now know that Eliza, Sr., was the second wife of William Hopkins, who was by then deceased - the children of that marriage were Mary and Susan. Eliza, Jr. was the child of William's first marriage to Hannah. At the time of Hannah's death and-William's second marriage, they were living at Winchcombe, Glos.

Blockley until the second half of the last century was a very busy area with many mills connected with the silk ribbon trade at Coventry and most of the men were Ag. Labs. and the women Silk Throwsters, which was a cottage industry - they took their finished work to the mills. Then the ribbon trade gradually dwindled away with the advent and increasing use of buttons and buckles. It's a beautiful, picturesque village and the mills have been turned into expensive homes. All of the buildings, including council houses, are built of Cotswold stone, a lovely, warm shade of amber and the overall effect is very pleasing.

By 1851, James Keen, Married, 37, a Cordwainer was living at Blockley with Eliza Hopkins, Lodger, Unmarried, 31, Operative Silk Throwster. Two children had at that time emerged from this union, namely James Keen Hopkins, 8 and Charles Keen Hopkins, 1. The seven year gap between these two boys suggests that James and Eliza had not lived together for the whole of that time, but that's merely a metter of guesswork.
At the same time, James' wife Elizabeth was living at Market place, Stow with her parents Joseph English, 56, a Stone Mason and Alice, 62, a Laundress. Elizabeth appears as Elizabeth English Keen, Daughter, Married, Schoolmistress, born at Stow. Son Henry was then 13 and a Stone Mason's Boy - presumably working for his grandfather.

In 1871 Eliza's name is shown as Eliza Keen and, still at home with James and Eliza were Charles, unmarried, 21, and two additions to the family, John, unmarried, 19 and Mary Ann, 14.

I had previously found the marriage of James Keen and Eliza Hopkins at Stratford on 10th August 1875. Knowing that he had been described as "Married" in 1851 and a "Widower" on his marriage to Eliza Hopkins, I next looked for the death of Elizabeth English Keen, which didn't take long, working back from the marriage. She died in 1875 and obviously James and Eliza were married as soon as possible after that event. However, they didn't want too much publicity about it because they went to Stratford-on-Avon for the ceremony, no doubt long-awaited by Eliza. Witnesses were Henry Edden and Martha Truby, both Blockley names, presumably friends. Elizabeth made her mar
Eliza (Hopkins) died in February 1881, just before the census, in which James, 68 and Charles, Shoemaker, 31, were left living together.

Their son James was living in Blockley (see his story) with his large family and son John, also a Shoemaker, was at Lower Street, Blockley with wife Matilda, 35, born Norfolk, Beckham, and children Mary B., 1, born Bucks., Aylesbury and Eliza, 2 months, born Blockley.
I have yet to trace the marriages of Mary Ann and of Eliza's half sisters Mary and Susan.

Five years later, on 26th February 1886, James, stated to be aged 75, died at Shipston Union (the Workhouse) of Bedsores and Gangrene. We cannot now know any more details, but I did wonder why he was there when he had children who might have taken him in, but it's possible that he was suffering from a form of dementia making it difficult for them to do so. With such afflictions, he must have suffered a great deal of pain before he died.

James Keen and Mary Ann Driver
Of Landgate Cottages, Blockley, Glos. (formerly, until 1931, Worcs.).

I have so far not been able to find anything relating to her early life but Mary Ann's married life, poor soul, seems to have been one of constant childbearing. I have found sixteen children born to her between 1866 and 1893.

The daughter of James Driver, Agricultural Labourer and Mary Ann Butler, Silk Winder, she was born on the 2nd April 1846 at Moreton-in-Marsh and christened there on the 2nd August of that year.

James Keen (in all official documents James Keen Hopkins) was born at Blockley on the 4th March 1843, although I can find no birth registration under any combination of his names, the illegitimate son of James Keen and Eliza Hopkins. He learned his father's trade of Shoemaker, which was his lifelong trade.

Marrying Mary Ann on 13th May 1865 at Moreton-in-Marsh (Blockley), he proceeded to father his enormous family. I could find only one who died in infancy, most unusual for the time. James and many of his children were extremely musically talented. The following is an extract from "Blockley Through Twelve Centuries" by H.E.M. Icely:

"Blockley was formerly in Worcestershire and became part of Gloucestershire in 1931. It is and was a beautiful village on the edge of the Cotswolds. Apart from agriculture, the main industry seems to have been that of silk weaving, mostly for Coventry."

This is fully covered in the book and most of the women in the Keen and related families were employed as Silk Weavers or Throwsters, work often carried on in their homes.
My father-in-law, Edwin's recollection was that most of the family played musical instruments and were members of the village band. He always retained happy memories of past Christmases when they would take part in performances of The Messiah in Blockley Church. He was always instantly reminded of this whenever he heard the Hallelujah Chorus. James was the Parish Organist and, like most village people of the day, much of their family life revolved around the church and its activities.

A further extract from the Icely book:

"But our narrative must return to the earliest years of the century and the doings of Blockley folk. One of the most respected of them was James Keen, of a family long established in the parish. A shoemaker by trade he was at the heart of a number of traditional organizations in the village. Soden records that he was leader of the bellringers in 1874. In that he must have been keeping up a family tradition, for the churchwardens' accounts show that a John Keen was head ringer in the time of George II and was paid 1s. 6d for the refreshment of the men who under him rang the peal for the coronation of that king in 1729. He was also leader of the brass band and custodian of its instruments. The band has ever since been a cherished institution, serving and entertaining the parish and, on occasion, other neighbouring villages. Before Mr. Keen's day the shoe was on the other foot and, in 1861, the Victoria Friendly Society had to call on the band of the Moreton and Campden Volunteer Rifle Corps to lead its traditional march before its annual feast, a fife and drum band which was then practising under the church organist, not being, as it would seem, quite ready for the task. In its honourable history since those early years of the century the Blockley Brass Band has played its part in Remembrance Day and other national occasions, in the churches, in concerts, at Christmas time for carols. Many good Blockley names occur in the list of its members since Keen's time, but there is space to mention only one to stand for them all: that of Baden Godson, bandmaster after the second World War, and other members of his family.

Music was James Keen's grand passion - he was the church organist and it is on record that on many Sundays he played in other churches besides his own in Blockley. In 19~)1 he found a newcomer to the village who shared his musical passion, John Milton. Together they founded the Blockley Choral Society. There had been an earlier enterprise of the sort, for a programme has survived of a concert held 'in the Assembly Room of the Crown Inn for the benefit of Mr. W. Warner, pianist of the Blockley Choral Society'. Sacred music, drawing room ballads and comic songs made up the programme of 1866. When Keen and Milton started their Singing Class - it took the title of Choral Society five years later, in 1906, when first it took part in the annual festival of the Stour Choral Union -they had far loftier aims.
Under a succession of inspiring conductors, of whom Reginald Smeeton is the latest, the Society has presented choral works grave and gay, winning many 'banners' in the festival competitions, prior to 1964 since when the Society has given ambitious concerts employing professional musicians. John Milton lived to serve as its leading spirit, librarian and occasional conductor for fifty years."

Note my copy of the programme for Entertainment given by The Blockley Cricket Club on the 18th April 1881, at which Mr. Keen' sang an amusing song and then, later in the evening, something in more serious vein.

According to my father-in-law Edwin, the Keen children all attended the village school in Blockley. The cost was One penny per week per child, which was the reason why they left at the age of 12 - with so many children in the family, there were always several of them at school at any time so the cost was prohibitive of any further education. For the time, though, to have received schooling to that age was quite good.

The silk trade in Blockley was finished by 1885 and from then on most of the young people moved elsewhere to seek work.
During World War I three of the sons, Harry, Edwin and Ben served in the Army. Edwin was in the Wiltshire Regiment and in the trenches in France was badly wounded in the head and face (see his story).

Benjamin Keen, Pte., 12357, enlisted at Campden, served in France with the 2nd Bn. Gloucestershire Regiment (later, after Korea, known as the Glorious Glosters). Wounded, he was brought back to England and died in the City of London Military Hospital, Clapton, N.E. on 14th May 1915, aged 22. See photograph of his funeral at Blockley (amongst the chief mourners his two brothers in uniform) where he is buried in the Cemetery, a War Graves headstone marking his grave. His name is also to be seen on the War Memorial in the centre of Blockley village.

Two of the daughters, Bess (Elizabeth) and Fanny married Londoners (Bess in fact married a man named Keen) and from then on lived in London. One of them, I think Fanny, had a daughter, Mercedes.

George had a son, George, who was killed in WWII while serving in the RAF, and a daughter Doris who lived with her parents in Ladywood, Birmingham until their death. When I met her in about 1948 she was living alone.
Sydney married Virginia - they lived in Birmingham and their children were

1. Millie, who married Cyril --. In 1991 Millie supplied me with some of the family photographs which I was able to have copied. Both Millie and Cyril have died within the last four years.

2. Edwin, who married Rose, but later divorced. They had two sons. Edwin also has died within the last four years.

3. Benjamin, who married Doreen. They have four daughters, many grandchildren and in 1993 became great-grandparents. Ben was a prisoner of war in WWlI on the infamous Burma Railway and suffered great privation, the effects of which have remained with him.

4. William, who married Mary. Their children are David, Lyn and Sallyanne. They have ten grandchildren. Bill and Ben both worked for Stellite at Shirley, Birmingham, but in the early 1960s the firm transferred to Swindon, Wilts. and both brothers went with it. Den and I became good friends with Bill and Mary when our children were young and I remain so today. They came to visit me in Tasmania in 1990.

When Syd was taken ill in 1951 Den and I, with Den's parents, went to see him - it was the last time the brothers were to meet, as Syd died soon afterwards. In appearance Syd and Edwin (Ted) could have been twins - they were so much alike.

I have only one photograph of their father James, side-faced, seated at the organ in Blockley Church, but they were both obviously like him.

As with the earlier generation, all of the sons were taught the shoemaking trade and I know that at least Syd and Edwin always did their own family shoe repairs.

The family used the name Keen Hopkins for the baptisms of all of their children and James, Mary Ann and son James were all buried as Keen Hopkins. See story of James Keen and Eliza Hopkins.

James Keen Hopkins died and was buried at Blockley on 4th December 1905. Mary Ann survived him for 23 years when she too died and was buried at Blockley on 3rd November 1928, her eldest son James, of Mount Pleasant, Blockley having also been buried there on the 1st April of that year.

Over the years Den and I visited Blockley a few times and once called and had tea with a cousin, Alec Hale and his wife Joyce, who lived at Park Road - Alec had a brother nicknamed "Mushy", I remember. Their mother Millie Keen married George Hale and I have a photograph of their grave at Blockley Cemetery. I'm not sure where Millie fits in Bill Keen thought she was an aunt, as they had always called her Aunt Mill, but I have been unable to find a baptism for her and I feel she may have been the daughter of one of James and Mary Ann's older sons (Bill seems sure her name was Keen before her marriage).

Another name which is well connected with the family is Payne but here again I haven't yet found the connection. Blockley Parish Registers are not available through the LDS church, so I had only seen them at Gloucester Record Office and as my time there has been limited I was able to find a limited amount at one visit. However, I have now discovered that the Bishops Transcripts have been filmed and I am in the process of going through them.
The last time I was in Blockley (with Bill and Mary in 1991) a local shopkeeper told Mary that the last resident with the Keen name, one John Keen, had died about four years previously, but I have now Jim Keen's story (I stayed with Jim and Jean at Willoughby for the 1995 Keen Reunion in Sydney) that during the course of his voluntary work at Taronga Park Zoo he met a young lady who said her name was Keen and she lived at Blockley, but there wasn't time for him to have a longer conversation with her to pursue the matter.

Fish Cottage, which Bill Keen had never seen before and was unaware of, although our branch of the family had known all about it from my father-in-law Edwin, was empty when we saw it on that occasion and so we wandered around the garden uninterrupted. It was William Keyte who tamed the trout and his wife was Maria Keen - the trout is a Blockley legend. I have since heard from their descendant Alison Rowe of New Zealand that a young couple have now bought the cottage and are in the process of renovating it.

Apart from Alison, a Mrs. D.A. McDonald of New Zealand has made Keen family entries into the LDS Ancestral File and I have written to her twice, with no response.

Resource Information:
Josephine Faith Keen
Tasmainia, Australia

Resource sources:
Parish Registers
B.M. & D Certificates
Family members
Gloucestershire Record Office
Blockley through 12 Centuries
by Mr Icely
Victoria History of the
Counties of England
British WWI Records
Census reports
Bishops Transcripts
As of August 7, 1998