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By Robert G. Walden 
(If readers would like a copy of the full history please e-mail me. Paul.)


The name Walden subsisted in Feltwell from at least 1821 until 1986. Members of the family did move away (chiefly for employment) but some returned after many years absence. Three brothers who forsook all for The New World unsurprisingly, never saw the village again.


Two days after Christmas Day 1767, Elizabeth Barnard was baptised in Feltwell. She soon had a younger sister Mary who, although childless in later life, played an important part in the fortunes in Elizabeth’s offspring. At the age of 21, Elizabeth married a widower, John Walden, at Wells-next-the Sea in 1788 before returning to Feltwell with her eldest son Robert and his family in about 1820. What became of John I do not know. Coincidentally, a John Walden of Wells died in November 1820 but as he was aged 102 I rather hope this was not Elizabeth’s husband !

In 1813 her sister Mary Barnard, when 43 years old, married an important Feltwell individual, Ambrose Whiteman. Ambrose was a wealthy landowner. His sister, Ann Whiteman, had married John Forster of Feltwell and their daughter Jane married Elizabeth’s son Robert in St Nicholas’ Church on 24th March 1818. (Robert’s full name was Robert Searles Walden, sometimes referred to as Robert The Elder). Thus Ambrose was an uncle to Jane Forster via his sister but also an uncle to Robert The Elder via his wife, Mary. Jane and Robert would thus have been a very special couple to the childless Ambrose and Mary.

Robert was still living with his mother at Wells when he married his bride and that is where the newly weds lived until they returned to Feltwell in 1820. At Wells, Robert and Jane busied themselves helping to build the Independent Chapel (no doubt with encouragement from Ambrose - and it still stands today) and their first and second children are among the very first entries in the baptism register. Thus when the family returned to Feltwell for good, one of the three brothers of this tale had already been born - along with a sister, Mary Ann. She married John Ashby, a Kettering born independent minister from Calverton near Stony Stratford who appears to have been greatly respected by the Walden family because descendants of two of the three brothers to whom this tale relates were named after him.

The Two Tragedies

On Tuesday 14th March 1826, Mary Whiteman’s husband, Ambrose, while out riding, was thrown from his horse and suffered critical injury. He immediately called his nephew, Elizabeth’s son Robert The Elder to act as his sole executor and made his Will the next day. He lingered until the Saturday when he died.

Ambrose had been instrumental in acquiring or building the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in 1811 adjacent to his residence, Hill Farm in Hill Street. (This attractive house, otherwise known as The Laurels or sometimes as Daubeney’s, still stands and should not be confused with the grander, Hill House). The bulk of his estate he left to his wife Mary for her life and thereafter to his niece Jane (nee Forster), wife of Robert Walden The Elder. Incidentally, this included "The Barracks" or "Grange View Cottages"

This event was followed by an even greater tragedy for the Walden family just two years later. Jane Walden, the ultimate benefactor under Ambrose’s Will, died just 36 years old. If the cause of death is uncertain the clue is surely in the birth date and the name of her youngest daughter: Jane, born in 1828 ! She left Robert with six children aged between (presumably) a few hours and nine years old.

Robert The Elder died in 1861 at the age of 70. Although he was only 38 years old when his wife died he never remarried and remained a widower for almost 33 years. In his final days, his pioneering work with his young bride for the Independent Chapel at Wells must have seemed a long time ago.

The Three Brothers

The three male children of Robert and Jane Walden were: Robert Searles (The Younger), William Whiteman and Henry Forster. Contact with Wells was maintained for many years (the family owned land there in Burnt Street) and visits to Thetford also appear to have been quite regular. In July 1837 for example, the teenage William and Henry and their middle sister Elizabeth were all up for baptism/confirmation on the same day at the Wesleyan Chapel in Thetford. One can imagine the family group, albeit missing a proud mother, journeying along the old Brandon Road towards Weeting and then on to Brandon and Thetford itself.

Thus despite being raised in a rural village caught between Breckland and Fen, the three boys would have been well aware that there was a bigger world with bigger opportunities for those prepared to venture beyond the parish boundary. However, they could hardly have imagined that they would all die on foreign soil nor that one of them, would produce 17 little Waldens !

Robert Searles Walden The Younger

By his early twenties, young Robert was apprenticed in the village to John Moore as a grocer’s assistant. Unlike today, there were real skills to be learnt as a grocer. Certain foods had to be stored in a special way to keep well or not to taint other foods. Cold meats had to be cut and sliced properly. The keeping of proper ledgers and accounts would have been essential for the business to remain on a sound financial footing. Add the need to deal effectively with other merchants and it can be seen how a village grocery shop could provide good training for an aspiring merchant or businessman.

As the first born son Robert stood to gain his late mother’s inheritance on the death of his great aunt Mary and this in itself would have encouraged him to stay close to his roots. In truth, life in a Norfolk village in the middle of the last century was not easy. In any case, Robert was not a farmer and his unmarried sister Elizabeth was effectively running the declining farm herself, albeit with the help of hired hands. Both his younger brothers had married and on the death of his father in April 1861, there was nothing to keep him in Feltwell.

Less than a year later, on New Years Day 1862, 41-year-old Robert married 29-year-old Elizabeth Upton from Mundford. The marriage took place not at Feltwell but at the Independent Chapel in Thetford and shortly after their marriage, Robert and Elizabeth left their family and friends and emigrated to the tiny settlement of Baden, near Stratford, Ontario.

Exactly how Robert and his bride travelled is not known but one can imagine the emotional farewells as they said goodbye to family and friends in Feltwell, Mundford and Thetford. They would almost certainly have made their journey via the bustling port of Liverpool. Elizabeth was already expecting when they made the voyage and the hardships endured during the weeks spent crossing the Atlantic can only be imagined. Their firstborn arrived in the same year and was given the same name as his Ashby cousin born ten years earlier: Frank Ashby Walden.

Robert’s training with Mr Moore at Feltwell was put to good use because the family set themselves up as shopkeepers with Robert acting as Deputy Postmaster. On a visit to the town in 1976 I got quite excited to see that their shop (it still stands) was located on Beck Street. A coincidence! The town was established by one Joseph Beck who was actually the Waldens’ landlord. Despite Robert’s inheritance they were not wealthy. In 1863 for example, from Baden, Robert sold the remainder of his interest in 25 acres of pasture land called Stake Lode in Corkway Drove, Feltwell for 90 to John Gunstead, although none of the proceeds came to him. Out of total proceeds of 3,088, just 71. 18s. 10d went to Robert (and had been received three years earlier); the balance being paid to City of London mortgagees. The large mortgage is revealing and surely explains why so many emigrated from the eastern counties. Land in itself was of little value if it was heavily mortgaged.

CoinsMore coinsRobert and Elizabeth did however prosper in Canada and remained in Baden for nearly twenty years with an extended family of three sons, at least one of whom also kept a shop in the nearby town of Neustadt. Coinage was in short supply in remote and rural places and their son Robert William produced his own, very authentic looking tokens to give to customers instead of change.

There is an interesting postscript to this account. A grandson of Robert and Elizabeth, Allan Parker Walden, qualified as a doctor and emigrated back to England in the 1940’s and from 1951 to 1960 and again in retirement from1966 to 1982 he worked at King’s Lynn Hospital. He almost certainly had no idea that midway between Wells and Feltwell, he was virtually back to his roots!

In 1876 Robert and Elizabeth had a visitor; Robert’s younger brother, William Whiteman Walden.

William Whiteman Walden

Apart from emigrating like Robert, William’s life was very different from his brother’s. He married young: a Feltwell girl, Rachel Barton at St Mary’s Church in 1843, witnessed by Martha Spencer and Rachel’s brother George. William was just 22 years old and Rachel was still a minor. Seven months later she produced their first son. She was to produce a total of ten children over the next 17 years (two of whom died in infancy) as William tried to make the grade as a farmer, moving in 1847 to St Mary Magdalen . By 1850 however he had moved to Walsoken and was described no better than a ‘general labourer.’ If he had had dreams for his young family, by 1852 they had gone forever. The entire family moved to Shaftesbury Street in Newington, south London. That the family had suffered some form of disaster was apparent by these circumstances for working class south London was not the destination of an aspiring gentleman farmer. Some 40 years later in 1900 William wrote a letter to a granddaughter on the occasion of her marriage at Feltwell - another Rachel Walden - in which he revealed all:

William Whiteman Walden "…some time before your father was born, I was in the cattle dealing line - sheep, pigs and calves and cows in the year 1846. I realised from pigs alone 76 and in 1847 I rented a small farm 26 acres six miles from Kings Lynn. Then I …..planted 6 acres of sweed (sic) for seed, for cleaning the land. Which was very foul with twitch grass - and buying and planting the turnips, which I had to draw 8 miles, and had to hire for all- (as I only had a market nag). It cost me when I had finished 51 for the 6 acres. Well I had such a splendid crop and sometimes that sort of seed fetch 1 per pack. It was a new thing in that part to see such a crop - it got noised about I should get a large fortune by it. Well when it was in the red row (sic) a seedsman came down from Lynn and wanted to see this crop of seed he had heard so much about. I took him down to the field and it surprised him to see such a splendid crop and ask me what I would take for it just as it stood, he to do the cutting and threshing. I said I should have to see Father before I sold - he knew Father well. Oh said he, I know what he will say - keep it another week so it gets more weight but he said, I want colour. Well said he, I’ll give you 350 for the six acres - here’s 50 to bind the bargain - no I must see Father first - I’ll let you know in the morning. I went over to Father’s that night 33 miles from where I hired - Father said, no don’t this week unless he give 400. Well I went and told the seedsman. He begged me to take his bid and he would send men to cut it down for if there came a storm, then it would not hurt it so much. That was on Wednesday morning and on Sunday night at ten o’clock, there arose a storm. Hail Rain and blowing and in the morning I went down to the field and the storm had threshed the seed out on the ground and all I could gather of it did not make me quite 15.

That took all my profit away that I had made. I had to sell what I had to get the lease cancelled and get out. That loss I never did recover…"

(Note: Although the 33 miles to which William refers would equate to the return distance to Feltwell, the more likely explanation is that he had to travel to Wells in order to see his father that night.)

This upset was clearly a major event in William and Rachel’s lives. In Newington William got a job as foreman at the Gas Works but bringing up eight children in smokey nineteenth century London must have been hard and foreign to such country folk. If he made it back to Feltwell in 1861 on the death of his father or on the departure of Robert and Elizabeth to Canada one cannot imagine he held his head up high. The family moved around the corner to Westmoreland Road, Walworth in 1862 in what must have been very crowded conditions for there were three families all living at the same three-storey address. On the 2nd July 1862 fate dealt William another cruel blow; Rachel his wife died at home, aged just 40 years old. "That was a sad blow for me - 8 little ones around me." Poor Rachel lies in an unmarked grave in unconsecrated ground in the City of London Cemetery. On the day she was buried, some 53 other souls were lain to rest in that cemetery - a far cry from the kind of funeral she could have expected in Feltwell.

William now faced immense problems. He had to work to bring in money for his family whilst his young family needed looking after. Help was at hand however. Close by lived a 22 year old woman who had lost her father. She was called Ellen Morgan and William, very sensibly, married her less than two years after Rachel’s death. At the time of his second wedding William was called ‘a general dealer’ whereas his children referred to him at the time of their own marriages as either engineer or farmer. There was probably some truth in all of these descriptions, as he would have tried his hand at anything that might bring in some money.

William wasted little time in extending his family further and in September 1865 they were joined by the first of 7 children Ellen was to bear him. Little baby Rachel was born in Bethnal Green workhouse and although it was quite common for mothers in overcrowded homes to use the workhouse as a kind of labour ward, it certainly suggests that William and Ellen were on very hard times. Moreover, when Ellen registered the birth two weeks later, the workhouse is given as her place of residence.

By the birth of his next daughter in 1867 William at least had work of some kind as a stockman out at Stapleford Tawney, a small hamlet in south Essex. The number of children he had fathered must have been partly to blame for his lack of prosperity but by the birth of the fourth daughter in 1873, this man of the outdoors had had enough. His big brother had emigrated successfully and was settled in a clerical and retailing position. His eldest child was 30 years old but importantly, the youngest by Rachel was now 13 years old. He and Ellen decided to emigrate.

It is difficult to judge people of a bygone age by today’s standards. For a religious man to say farewell forever to all his children by his first wife means he was either heartless or desperate. On a purely practical point, it would have been impossible to take all his children (there were twelve living at this time) - six were already adult and four were already married. Dividing the family according to their mothers was a natural approach whereby the teenagers would live with their older siblings. His third son, Henry Barton, was to marry a Feltwell girl early the next year (1874) which suggests considerable contact had been maintained between London and Feltwell after Rachel’s death. Why was William in such financial straits? Could his family not help him out? William was 51 years old at this time and the decision to emigrate seems to have been a rushed one. Just before he sailed, his 15-year-old son wrote to him from Feltwell (probably staying with Uncle Henry who still resided in the village). He wrote thus:

"My Dear Father, Feltwell 4th August 1873.

I just scribble a few lines to you to say that I hope you will have a safe voyage please God, if you are determined on going to America as I was informed by Emma on Saturday, it is rather a short notice and sorry to say I do not think I shall be able to see you before you start, for if I was to come down it would do no good, and I should not be able to come down again for a long time, but I wish you a safe voyage and hope you will not be ill on the sea. One thing is that you will not be more than 3 weeks travelling. I suppose that you will take Ellen and the little ones with you and I hope that you will prosper in your labours. I should very much like to go with you, but I must be patient and as soon as ever I can I will come over to see you God willing. I do not feel sorry, because I think that you cannot do much better than to go.

I must conclude now with my kindest and dearest love to all from all. I remain your affectionate and ever loving son, Arthur Forster Walden. P.S. Please excuse this short note as there are only a few more minutes before post. Write please as soon as you get over. ‘Adieu, adieu.’"

Arthur never did make it to America and William never saw his first wife’s children again. Initially William and Ellen set up home not in America but in Stratford, Ontario. There would obviously have been a reunion with brother Robert in Baden. Two more children were born at Stratford before they moved to Detroit, Michigan where they had their seventh child in 1882. For all their unattractiveness, cities do offer jobs.

William remained a staunch Methodist even if his faith had been tested over the past 60 years or so. In the letter to his granddaughter Rachel in 1900, William clearly remembered Feltwell St Mary’s:

"I should very much like to have had the wedding group but unavoidable things must - or should be - looked over- was very pleased to have the record of your wedding. I think it must have been quite a surprise to Feltwell people. Especially to the old time folks. Why, had I been there with you I should have just gloried in it. For it was at that very altar on the 22nd August 1843 that myself and your Father’s mother were married or made one- it is well to have a home of your own providing we don’t set our affections too much on this world’s goods - our duty towards God who is the giver of all things that we possess is to use them aright and for his glory…..So you see that, that what our Lord said come to pass with me. In the world ye shall have tribulation - so if you should meet with any loss do not lay it to heart. For if you have done your best you may be sure it is the way in which God wishes to lead you…Haste happy day. That day we long to see. When every son of Adam will be free."

William Whiteman Walden died in Detroit on the 12th June 1902 aged 80. His 17 children had been born over a period of 38 years, of two wives, in three countries. His youngest daughter, Rose Ellen (Nellie), died on the 19th March 1969 - 125 years after the birth of his first son. As at 1999, William’s descendants still live near Detroit and in Feltwell.

Henry Forster Walden

Henry Forster Walden seems to have been practical and competent, to a degree his brother William probably was not, but like William, suffered personal tragedy.

Unlike his brothers, he married neither young nor old but at the age of 32. He married at the independent chapel in Thetford in 1857. (The Methodist influence on the family was still very strong and the family were particularly close to a Brandon preacher, a Mr W Goodson). His bride, a 23 year old Feltwell girl called Ann Gee, described herself as a dressmaker and presumably shared some of Henry’s practical qualities.

Four years later at the age of 36, when he and Ann were living in Cock Street, he described himself specifically as a "locomotive engineer". The description almost certainly refers to agricultural traction engines. In Victorian times they would travel the locality with their crew, threshing the ricks after harvest as well as ploughing in pairs. Kelly’s directory of Norfolk also describes Henry as an engineer as late as 1879, the year he left the village and his country. His practical bent is specifically referred to by the Rev. Daubeney "Mr Waldren (sic) was known as ‘Schemer’ Waldren from his aptness in scheming and making things." (See The Mission Hall on this Site).

The Rev Daubeney credits Henry with building the Mission Hall in the grounds adjacent to Hill Farm. His reference to ‘some 70 years ago’ probably dates it to the late 1860’s or 1870’s. It still stands and apart from its original function it has served as Sunday School, Scout Hut and venue for numerous Church jumble sales.

By 1871 Ann had borne him four children and they had moved into Hill Farm but the farm had shrunk to just 28 acres and employed just one man. In the spring of the same year Ann gave birth to their fifth child, a daughter, Edith Gee Walden. Baby Edith survived a few months; Ann did not. She was only 37 years old.

According to the Rev. Daubeney, Henry laid both of them to rest in the garden of Hill Farm House. Burial ‘at home’ was (and still is) perfectly legal and not uncommon for non-conformists. I remember in the 1960’s Rev. Frith politely asking my father whether the family would have any objections to the residential development then proposed on the land.

Thus Henry, at the age of 45, was very much alone with his children. His parents and aunt were long dead, his eldest brother had emigrated and his other brother William was struggling to bring up his own extended family in London. Six months later on the 21st November he married Eliza Smith at a Baptist chapel in Cambridge. Eliza was 38 years old and the widow of Samuel Smith. Her father, William Palmer, had been one of the village’s blacksmiths and the families would have known each other well although at the time of her marriage, she was resident in Cambridge. She gave Henry much needed support (although no children) until her death thirty years later. Moreover, eight years later, she accompanied her husband, his family and the Rev. Goodson on the100 day voyage to New Zealand. (Note: in his notes the Rev. Daubeney states that they emigrated to Australia. Although many boats did call there first, en route to New Zealand, it should be remembered that he was quoting Mr Addison writing some twenty years before him and some fifty years (i.e. the 1920’s) after the event).

They all settled in Onehunga (pron. ‘Onnyhunga’) – a suburb of Auckland in North Island. Henry and Eliza managed to acquire some good building sites in the centre of the settlement but things did not begin well for them however. On the 25th May 1880, only 3 months after arriving, his only son Arthur Gee Walden died aged 21 years. He had just started work as a schoolmaster but had suffered from TB for three years.

Henry and his family would have been aware of the volcano Tarawera erupting on the east coast in June 1886 burying the village of Te Wairoa and killing 153 people which would have been a little more violent than a Feltwell fen ‘blow’! Repeating the Mission Hall project of Feltwell, Henry built his own ‘Gospel Hall’ on Queen Street, Onehunga. He had just three surviving daughters and managed to marry them all off in the same year - 1892. All the weddings took place in their home on Church Street, Onehunga, two of them being married in a joint ceremony with the Goodsons as witnesses. One of the daughters, Clara Gee Walden managed to acquire a Maori princess called Kiekei Hopaia as a sister-in-law! Clara had four children: one was called Dora Ashby Bird.

In 1899, when Clara’s sister Beatrice died of pneumonia leaving two youngsters, Henry would undoubtedly have seen the parallel with his own life. Three years later Clara herself died of pneumonia aged 37 years and leaving four little ones, the youngest being only 9 months. Life was undoubtedly hard. The third sister, Dora, was the only one of Henry’s children to survive him but even she died in her late fifties.

Two years later Henry lost his wife and companion, Eliza at the age of 68. By this time Henry was already elderly and could have been forgiven if he had settled down to act the good grandfather. Yet three years after Eliza’s death he married for a third time! He was 79 and his bride was a 71-year-old widow called Emma Page. In September 1905 however he suffered a severe heart attack and, making his Will on the 18th of September, Henry died two days later. He was buried in a new grave in Waikaraka cemetery overlooking Manukau Harbour. At his request, the Gospel Hall was auctioned soon after his death and the proceeds divided amongst his descendants. He had lived in New Zealand for over twenty-five years.


Three brothers - the eldest married once, the middle one married twice and the third, three times. Two suffered considerable personal tragedy but of a kind which may not have been so unusual for the time. None of them began life as paupers but one got close to becoming one permanently.

If three brothers from the same family emigrated, how many other Feltwell families did the same? As far as is known, none of William Whiteman Walden’s children by his first marriage - four of whom were boys - ever followed the example of their father or uncles and emigrated. Indeed one son, Henry Barton Walden returned to Feltwell permanently in 1884 and had 11 children. Some of their descendants and hence descendants of Elizabeth Barnard and John Walden of Wells, still live there today.

 Robert G Walden (January 1999) ( rwalden@uss.co.uk)

Sources: Public Record Office London, County Records Office Norwich, Mrs Marjorie Wilson, Stratford Ontario, Ms Elizabeth Fisher, Auckland, the late A.J Orange, the late Mrs Margaret Varty and Family, Canada (descendants of Robert Searles Walden), Mrs Ruth Purdo, Florida and the Havrilla Family, Michigan (descendants of William Whiteman Walden).

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