Edwin Brown, Foxhangers Lock Cottage and Semington Lock House

Edwin Brown was the lock keeper at the bottom of the Caen Hill flight and at Semington Lock House.

Edwin Brown, Foxhangers Lock Cottage and Semington Lock House
H W Anderson's skiff at Buckleys Lock, Semington, in 1912. Photograph displayed with permission from the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust Archive, © Jack Dalby collection.

Edwin Brown was born in Market Lavington on 12 Apr 1847. He married Rosanna Breach in 1873, and they had two children, Ernest Edwin James Brown, born 2nd January 1874, and Alberta Rosina Brown, born 12th Jan 1881.

In 1874 Edwin was still working as a platelayer, but by 1881 he had become a lock keeper. In the 1881 and 1891 censuses the family were living at Foxhanger Lock Cottage, and Edwin Brown was the lock keeper for the bottom of the Caen Hill flight.

The family moved to the Lock House, Semington, some time between 1881 and 1891.

1891 - Edwin's son Ernest leaves the lock house

Edwin's son Ernest soon left home soon after the 1891 census was compiled, joined the Great Western Railway. On 4th May 1891, he was recorded as an engine cleaner working in Tondu, Glamorgan. In 1894 he was promoted to shunter in Newport. That same year he married Mary Ann Boundy. Their only child, Ernest, was born in 1895. Ernest was working as a railway stoker in 1901 and was later promoted to an engine driver. His record shows several cautions and failed inspections. Finally, on 13th October 1912, he was dismissed from the Great Western Railway for stealing coal and gas mantles.

1894 - Alberta assaulted

In February 1894 the following article appeared:

COMMITTED FOR TRIAL On Monday (before Mr H H. Ludlow-Bruges and Capt. Chaloner) John Gulliver, labourer, of Semington, was charged, in custody, with committing an indecent assault on Alberta Brown, at Semington, on Jan 27. The prosecutrix, aged 13, deposed that on the evening in question she was walking through the village near Mr Miles' stable, when she met prisoner. He spoke to her, and when they got to the end of the pavement he pulled her behind the pump there and committed the assault complained of. Mr A G Smith appeared for the defence, but failed to shake prosecutix's evidence. Evidence was also given by Kate Gaisford and Rosanna Brown, mother of girl, the latter deposing to a communication made to her by her daughter on the Monday and to a further communication on the following Friday. She examined the child, but found no marks upon her. Inspector Millard proved arresting prisoner, and in reply to Mr Smith, said he had known him for 15 years, but had had no case against him. Prisoner was committed to take his trial at the next Quarter Sessions, bail being allowed.

I have not yet found a report of these Quarter Sessions.

Semington Lock House in 1901

In 1901 Edwin, Rosanna, and Alberta were living at the Lock House, Semington. Staying with them was a visitor, 4 year old Frances Alberta Barnes. Frances was born in 1896, the illegitimate daughter of Helena Sophia Mary Barnes, who did not marry until 1899. I have found no family connection between the Browns and Helena Barnes, who was from Bath, and was a dressmaker at the time. It would be interesting to see whether a father is named on her birth certificate.

Fishing Complaints, 1901-1902

In 1901 Edwin made a complaint against William Fox of Semington, for fishing in the canal. A summons was issued, but neither party appeared.

In October 1902 there was a further complaint and summons were issued against Lemon Henry Gowing, grocer, and Archibald H Gilbert, Relieving Officer of Melksham, for fishing in the Kennet and Avon Canal on 10th September, over which the Devizes Angling Asseciation had the private fishing rights. Edwin Brown gave evidence that he had seen the defendants fishing. Ome of the men admitted that he was there, and both admitted that they had not paid their subscription that year. Their excuse was that they had not met with the keeper (presumably Edwin), but they had since paid their dues. The two men were fined a shilling and costs, 8 shillings each.

1905 - Edwin's daughter Alberta leaves the lock house

Alberta married William Joseph Lye in Woolwich on the 25th Feb 1905.

William was a widower. He had joined the Royal Fusiliers but purchased his discharge before he was 19 years old. He rejoined the Army – the Royal Artillery – in September 1895. William’s first wife, Emily Matilda, travelled with him to Malta, and then to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. In 1900 they had twins in Canada, Cuthbert William George Lye and Gertrude Elizabeth Ida Lye. Next they moved to the Isle of Wight where a daughter, Lilian Lora Lye, was born in 1901. The family returned to England, and in 1903, Emily gave birth to another set of twins, Cecil and Dorothy, in Melksham. This time the outcome was tragic. Emily died two days after giving birth. Baby Dorothy died at 17 days, and baby Cecil at 26 days. Interestingly the address Semington Lock was crossed out on Emily's burial entry. Was there already a link with the Browns? By 1907, Lilian had been adopted by Charles and Sarah Wakefield. She was later known as Freda Wakefield.

When William remarried to Edwin's daughter, Alberta Brown, he was still serving in the Royal Artillery Regimental District Staff. Their first child together, Rosina Alberta Carrington Lye, was born in 1906. Their second, Constance Amor Lye was born in 1907. In October 1907 Alberta and William went out to Hong Kong. They probably left Rosina at Semington with her grandparents, taking baby Constance with them. They had a third daughter, Hilda Victoria, in Hong Kong in 1909, and returned to England on 21st December 1909.

On 15th February 1910, William was discharged as medically unfit (he'd had an aneurism) and he was given an Army pension. His behaviour was described as exemplary. William's address on discharge was given as Semington Lock, but he and Alberta soon moved away to The Bibney Lodge, Barnsley Park, Barnsley, Cirencester, where William found work as a hallman.

In 1911 William and Alberta were at The Bibney Lodge, with Alberta's stepson Cuthbert, and her daughters Constance and Hilda. William and Alberta had two more daughters, Ada and Elsie. Cuthbert Lye went on to serve in the Navy from 1918 to 1921.

Semington Lock House in 1911

In the 1911 census, Edwin and Rosanna were still living at Semington Lock House, with their granddaughter Rosina, Alberta's eldest daughter.

Semington Lock House in 1912

The photograph above was taken in 1912 on the occasion of a visit by Mr H W Anderson during a journey by skiff from Byfleet to Bath. It was in an album loaned to the K&A Trust archives by Mr M W Anderson in 1987. The people in the photograph, left to right, are:

  • Mr H W Anderson (from Byfleet).
  • a man identified as a lockkeeper (perhaps Ernest, who would have been about 38).
  • Mrs Gertrude May Hardy, nee Boothby from Upper Norwood, wife of William Eversley Hardy, manager and engineer of Bath Electric Tramways Ltd, married on 10 Sep 1910, (she was a friend of Mr Anderson’s).
  • Mr Brown (presumably Edwin Brown the lockkeeper).
  • Mr Faulkenden (a friend of Mr Anderson’s from Twickenham).
  • Mrs Shoreland and Mr Shoreland.
  • The children in the photograph are identified as “lock children”, and it is possible that they are Rosina, Constance, and Hilda.

World War 1

On the outbreak of war in 1914 Alberta's husband William re-enlisted, and was placed on the reserve. By January 1916 the Lye family were living at Lower Hanger Cottage, Bremhill. William, now working as a vulcanizer, was called up to serve in the Army Service Corps in WW1. He did not list any children from his first marriage in his attestment form.

1915 - Rosanna's death

Rosanna died in 1915 and was buried in Semington. Some time between 1915 and 1921 Edwin left Semington.


In 1921 Edwin, now aged 78, was living with his daughter Alberta and her family in Swindon.

In 1921 Edwin's son Ernest was living in Aberavon, Neath, Glamorgan, with his wife Mary. At present I have not established what he did after his troubled career with the GWR.

1927 - Edwin's death

Edwin must have gone to stay with them, for he died in Neath in 1927.

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