Ernest Joseph Ellis-Femor

Ernest Joseph Ellis-Fermor was born in 1860 in Plumstead, Kent. His parents were Charles Anthony Ellis, born on 12th May 1829 in Plumstead near London (and baptised on 11th October 1829 at St Nicholas Church, Plumstead), and Julia Turnley, born 1833 in Clapham. They married on 22nd September 1852 at Upper Norwood All Saints Church in Surrey. At 19 or 20, Julia was a minor, and her father, James Turnley who was a solicitor with a house in Eaton Place South, Saint George Hanover Square, had to give his permission for the marriage.

Julia Turnley

In 1851 Charles was a clerk in the Ordnance at Woolwich, perhaps indicating that Julia married beneath her, though ordnance clerks could become quite wealthy since bribery was the norm for officers wishing to equip their units with ordnance.

By 1861, Charles was “First Clerk”, effectively in charge of a department. He was still living in Plumstead with Julia, a daughter Mary, born in 1855 and a son Charles born in 1859. The family had 3 servants, a measure of how successful Charles’ job had become.

Ernest was on the census, but farmed out to a wet nurse, Elisabeth Ross.

In 1867, it appears that Charles obtained a divorce from Julia, with someone called Gunner being cited as correspondent; Charles was accusing his wife of adultery with Gunner. This was highly unusual for the time, and very expensive, and it’s possible that the divorce was never carried through.

In 1875, in a newspaper notice requesting people not to sport (that is, hunt) over his land, James Fermor, the owner of three farms, cited Charles Ellis as the occupier of Church Farm, Ashmansworth. On 26th January 1876, James Fermor died aged 73, his obituary stating that he was “possessed of considerable property” and was a railway shareholder. He appears not to have had any living children. His will was proven on 10th March 1876 by Charles Anthony Ellis, his nephew, along with banker Charles Samuel Slocock of Newbury and James’ widow, Anna Sofia Fermor.  Charles Ellis’ mother, Mary Serjeant was Anna Sofia’s sister. On 11th April 1876, only a month later, Charles Anthony Ellis changed his name by deed poll to Charles Anthony Ellis-Fermor : it was a condition of the inheritance that he added Fermor to his name, and that of his descendants.

Six weeks later, he is using this name in a court case, where he was accused of selling inferior quality barley. He uses it again in 1879 when his daughter Mary, now Ellis-Fermor, was married to A Vereker Smyth, a Royal navy surgeon, at St Michael’s Church, Devonport.

In April 1880, he was elected Guardian of the Poor for Ashmansworth in the Kingsclere Union. In November that year, he was in court accusing James Faithful of stealing a bavin (a bundle of wood or twigs) worth 2 shillings, and in turn being accused by Charles Bowsher of not paying harvest money and wages. The case was proven against him and he had to pay up.

As if this wasn’t enough, on 13th October 1884, he was convicted at Winchester Court of indecent assault and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. It appears that he was accused of attempting to assault a 17 year old girl who had been sent to fetch some medicine.

In November 1884, an advertisement appeared in the Reading Mercury from Julian Ellis, his brother, seeking to contradict rumours that he was ill in jail. The writer denies this and seems to believe that he was unjustly convicted. Indeed he refers to petitions (presumably appealing for his release) that were circulating about Newbury.

He remained in Ashmansworth, as shown by a notice in September 1886 when his daughter Laura Maud Ellis married George James Vance Courtenay (son of another fleet surgeon) at Chiswick.

In November 1890, Julia (still named as Charles’ wife) died in Brixton aged 58.

In 1892, Charles is again in the news, this time as a witness in a Coroner’s court concerning some old coins found in the thatch of an old granary on Steele’s Farm, which he owned. He describes himself as a “landed proprietor” and claimed that the coins, worth £76, (£6000 today) belonged to the late Hannah Sofia Fermor (James’ wife and Charles’ aunt) and that he, Charles, saw them between 1838 and 1841 at Vernham where she lived. The case is complicated, but the jury found that they knew of no owner, and that therefore the money was treasure trove. There is a feeling that no one trusted Charles!

In 1904 he was summoned again, this time for allowing property he owned at 44 Rope Yard Rails in Woolwich to be kept “in a condition liable to prove injurious to health”. He promised to put them into repair. He died in Ashmansworth on 23rd November 1920 aged 91, leaving £43896 (equivalent to £1.275 million) in his will to his son Julian Augustus Ellis, solicitor, Mary Josephine Smyth, widow and Laura Maude Courtenay (wife of George James Vance Courtenay), his two daughters. Neither Ernest nor Charles’ other living son Joseph Turnley Ellis are mentioned in the probate calendar reference, which might suggest that he left them out of the will for some reason.

Back to Ernest. In 1871, at 11, he is in a boarding school with his brother Charles, a year older. (Charles died in 1890 at the age of 31). By 1881 Ernest is a lodger in Broadwater, Sussex and is described as a solicitor’s conveyancing clerk. Since he would be 21 by then, this indicated that he didn’t go to university (which was expensive) but became a solicitor by working as a clerk and then passing the Law Society exams established in 1860. His brother Julian, two years older, was in 1881 described as a law student, which probably means the same thing : most solicitors in the nineteenth century were trained as articled clerks, a form of apprenticeship.

By 1891, Ernest is described as a solicitor, lodging in Brighton. He is described as a visitor, so he may not have been living or practising there, but he maintained a liking for Brighton for the rest of his life. A Mr Ellis-Fermor (presumably Ernest) is listed as a visitor in Haxell’s Hotel on Marine Parade in Brighton in 1904. He clearly began work in the South, but moved: in 1889 he is appearing in court in Rugby concerning some compensation for allotment holders whose land had been sold and built on: a pretty minor case. He appeared to be working for Edmund Harris, a solicitor, and may have been learning his trade there. In 1890, he applied for a post of superintendent registrar in Preston, being described as a solicitor of Rugby, implying that he had qualified around 1890. He didn’t get that job, but his obituary stated that he was Deputy Town Clerk there before he moved to Ripley in 1893.

Ernest Ellis-Fermor

He first appears in Ripley newspapers in March 1893 when he appears at Alfreton County Court in a minor case. He had joined the practice of an established solicitor, Arthur Copson Peake in the Town Hall Chambers and became a partner and then principal. From then on, he appears quite regularly, the cases varying from the domestic (malicious wounding of a dog) to civic (the re-routing of Booth Street) and growing in importance until he is representing both the Butterley Company and Ripley Urban District Council.

In 1896 he was elected to the RUDC as a councillor, only 18 months after it had been established. Apart from one short break, he was on the council until just before his death, and was regarded as the “father of the council”. This, and the many other civic activities he took part in, brought him into contact with people like James Crossley, Albert Leslie Wright and all the important men in the town.

Initially, he took up lodgings in the town, appearing in the 1901 census in Wood Street, possibly in the household of widow Sarah Wood. Later, he bought “Woodlands”, a large house just off the Market Place, along with a number of other properties in the town.


His obituary in 1933 described him as a “bachelor”, and in law, this was probably true. He did, however, have a common law wife, Elisabeth Searancke, the daughter of George and Ruth Searancke of Moseley Street. George Searancke was a bootmaker from London who had gradually moved North, marrying Ruth Fox in Market Harborough in 1858 before moving to Ripley around 1860. They had six children. George died in 1899, leaving Ruth as a widow living in Moseley Street with Elisabeth and Constance, dressmakers, and Isabella, a telegraphist (maybe at the new telephone exchange down the street). In his will he left £491 to his wife – about £38000 today.

It seems likely that it was around then that Ellis-Fermor employed Elisabeth as a housekeeper, and came to know the family. When Elisabeth became pregnant, however, he obviously felt that the relationship had to be covered up, and he arranged for her to go to Brighton to have the child. Brighton was a much more cosmopolitan place than Ripley, and he knew it well, so it was an obvious place to set up a sort of second home. In 1911 he is found on the census there with Elisabeth and Violet, in a lodging house at 39 Marine Drive. Elisabeth’s surname is given as Fermor, and they are described as married, but I can find no record of the marriage. Violet’s birth, however, was registered, in late 1904 in Brighton, her surname given as Ellis-Fermor.

Violet Elizabeth Ellis-Fermor

This period was perhaps the year referred to in his obituary when he was not on RUDC; perhaps he spent more time in Brighton. However, it is clear that he, and Elisabeth and Violet, did return to Ripley, and during the next 25 years he spent a great deal of time and effort on public duties, most of them voluntary, as well as on his business. He was an overseer for the poor, on the Board of Guardians, Vice-President of the Hospital Committee, chair of the School Managers Board and of the Ripley Gas Company.

Just before his death, he published a book which the newspaper described as a “romance written when he was a young man”. I wonder: did the story of “Julian Scarlett” reflect his relationship with Elisabeth ? and why did he wait so long to publish it ?

He died in November 1933, after weeks of illness. In his will he left £33510 (about £1.7 million in today’s money) to Violet and Elisabeth and her sister Isabella (both described as “spinsters”) and his brother Joseph.

He was buried in Brighton.