top of page

James and Helen


Helen Jones Dowding (also known as Helen James) was born in Clifton, Gloucestershire on 10 February 1852, although her parents actually lived in nearby Bath. She was the daughter of Edwyn Dowding, a sollicitor and landowner, and Harriet Louisa Jones, a saddler's daughter.  On Helen's birth certificate (as well as those of her siblings), Harriet claimed to be married to Edwyn, but there is no proof that any marriage took place. To complicate matters further,  the couple are never shown together on census returns, where Harriet states that she is a widow and uses the surname James.

Helen grew up in Bath in reasonably affluent circumstances with her mother and sisters: the 1871 census calls Harriet a "lady", and her adult children have "no occupation", so we presume that Edwyn provided for his irregular family. However, Edwyn died in 1872, and soon afterwards, his children were working for their living.

Helen's sister Louisa married in 1875, and within a very short time moved to Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester, where both Helen and their mother Harriet are shown as "visitors" on the 1881 census. A year later, when her son was born, Helen's home address was the same as Louisa's.

James Jones, a ship's steward, was named by Helen as her husband and the father of her son:



m. Sarah Ellen Potts, 1907

However, there is no record of a marriage between the couple, and seven years later Helen stated that she was married to William Henry James, a mercantile clerk, when she registered the birth of her daughter:



From this point on, the whole family used the surname James, and when the two children were baptised together in 1890, their father's name was given as Joseph William James, a clerk.

Bizarrely, the 1891 UK census lists "Ellen" James as an unmarried woman living alone with a female lodger: neither husband nor children are mentioned.


By 1901, Helen and the children had moved to Bunyan Street, Ardwick, where Helen worked as a waterproof garment finisher, and Charles (as he was known) as a commercial clerk.  Helen continued to live in Ardwick with her unmarried daughter until her death.  She died of heart failure and chronic bronchitis in Withington Hospital on 6 January 1932, and is buried in Southern Cemetery

Second generation
Helen Jones Dowding 1852
Robert Charles  James
Robert Charles James

Robert Charles James (known as Charles) was born in Ancoats on 15 January 1882, although as a small child he apparently spent some time in Bath, judging from two photographs of him which were taken in a Bath studio. He was baptised at the same time as his younger sister in St Saviour's Church, Chorlton on Medlock on 9 July 1890.

As a young man, he was involved with the Central Hall and Albert Hall Methodist Missions, and belonged to the Band of Hope. He particularly enjoyed singing in their various choirs, and must have had a good voice, because he also sung with the Beecham Operatic Society and the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) Male Voice Choir in Manchester.

For many years, Charles kept a diary, and after visiting the Wilmott Street Mission with one of his Methodist groups or choirs he wrote: "Wilmott St. Mission.  Met Sarah Ellen Potts.  What does this mean?" In fact Sarah was soon to become his wife: she was born in Pendleton on 11 February 1881, and was the daughter of Charles Potts and his wife Jane Nesbitt.

Charles and Sarah were married in Stockport Road Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Longsight on Charles' 25th birthday, 15 January 1907. The newly married couple initially lived in a flat over a shop in the Longsight/Levenshulme area before moving to 8 Sherrington Street, North Road, Longsight. At the time of their marriage,  Sarah was working for Macintosh (later taken over by Dunlop) making tyres and observation balloons, and Charles occupied a clerical post.  

They had four children:





Charles Edwyn James
Edith James
Winifred James
Cyril James


m. Dorothy Heynes Dupree, 1943

m. Albert Williams, 1936
m. Elizabeth Annie Gosling, 1956

When World War I broke out, Sarah took a corner shop on Romford Street/Clopton Street, and Robert joined the Army Service Corps in 1915.  They badly needed drivers, and although Charles had never driven, he volunteered to try, and was sent on a short course.  At the end of the course, he passed the test, while (according to family lore) several London bus drivers failed.

Charles went over to France on 19 April 1915, and mainly drove lorries containing supplies to the front line.  His company almost certainly formed part of a Divisional Supply Column, and the embarkation date suggests that it was probably attached to 49th (West Riding) Division, but this remains to be confirmed. Supply Columns were responsible for the supply of goods, equipment and ammunition from the Divisional railhead to the Divisional Refilling Point and, if conditions allowed, to the dumps and stores of the forward units.


He sometimes drove officers, and on one occasion when the officer was late returning to the vehicle, he went to look for him.  Having met up, they returned to the lorry, only to find that a shell had destroyed everything except the cab and chassis. 

Charles also did some dispatch riding with a motorbike and sidecar, and later was attached to a photographic and reconnaissance unit.  He brought back some good-quality photographs, presumably taken while he was attached to this unit, which show that he was stationed at Doingt and Péronne (Somme) in France and Namur in Belgium.  Doingt was retaken by the Allies on 5 September 1918, so the photographs date from the last months of the war, and the extent of the bomb damage shown in some of them is unbelievable.  At the end of the war, Charles was sent as Army of Occupation of the Rhine, and was finally demobilised on 4 July 1919.  

His campaign medals are the 1914/15 Star (awarded to all who served in a theatre of war before 31 December 1915 and were not eligible for the earlier 1914 Star), the British War Medal (awarded to all who served overseas in any capacity) and the Victory Medal (awarded to all who entered a theatre of war).  This trio of medals was nicknamed “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred”, after popular Daily Mirror cartoon characters of the time.

When he returned to England, Charles found a civil service job at Grangethorpe Hospital, which catered for the badly war-wounded.  Later, he worked as a clerk for a shipper in Whitworth Street until the effects of the Wall Street Crash were felt in Manchester in 1930, when he was made redundant. He was only unemployed for a short time before being reemployed by the civil service, where he worked until he retired. During World War II, he worked in an office dealing with the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen, and afterwards in various Labour Exchanges.

In the Depression years (and after), a civil service clerical job had a certain amount of prestige, but was not terribly well-paid; however, with the exception of 1930, Charles always managed to take his family away for two weeks holiday each year. By modern standards the destinations were hardly exotic: Blackpool, Rhyl, Llandudno, Bridlington and Fleetwood for example, but it was considerably more than many other families in Manchester enjoyed at that time.  

Charles lost a leg to gangrene in 1953, and suffered from cardiac problems in later life. He suffered a fatal heart attack while on holiday in Blackpool with his son Cyril, and died there on 16 August 1958.

After Charles' death, Sarah lived on her own for a while, before going to live with her daughter Edith in Belper. She died of a coronary thrombosis in Babington Hospital, Belper on 6 August 1965.

Florence Gertrude James
Florence Gertrude James

Florence Gertrude James ("Gertie") was born on 21 December 1889 in Chorlton on Medlock. She lived with her mother, who apprenticed her as a dressmaker/machinist, paying a premium to do so.  Gertie had to work for two years without pay while she learned the trade, and after that she earned 2/6d (12p) per week. As time went by, much of her earnings was calculated on output ("piecework"), so when trade was slack, or when she was bored, she became a waitress, and worked intermittently for many years at Lockharts, a café on Market Street in Manchester. Gertie never married, and died in Manchester on 26 February 1981 at the age of 91.

bottom of page