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Oxford War Memorials: St Frideswide’s Church, Oxford

Tom William Robert ABBS (1893–1914)

Abbs in OJI
Oxford Journal Illustrated, 14 October 1914
Reproduced by kind permission of Oxfordshire
County Council, Oxfordshire History Centre

Abbs on memorial
Abbs was registered as Tom, but the
church, the CWGC, and the local newspaper
have all wrongly lengthened it to Thomas

Parents and siblings
  • Father: Richard ABBS: born in East Runton, Norfolk in 1859/60 (registered Erpingham district first quarter of 1860); died in Grimsby area in 1935
  • Mother: Kate MAXEY: born in Oxford on 19 December 1857 and baptised at St Aldate’s Church on 24 January 1858); died in Bournemouth in 1927 (death reg. second quarter as Kate ANGER, the pseudonym she adopted after leaving her husband)

Tom’s parents were married at Holy Trinity Church, St Ebbe’s, Oxford on 18 July 1880. They had ten children (of whom the two shown in italic died in childhood):

  • Kate Abbs: born at Norham Mews, Oxford on 25 April 1881 and baptised at Holy Trinity Church, St Ebbe’s, Oxford on 19 June
  • Margaret Emily Abbs: born at Norham Mews, Oxford on 23 December 1882 and baptised at Ss Philip & James Church on 28 January 1883
  • Cyril George Abbs: born in Warnham, Sussex in 1883/4 (reg. Horsham district first quarter of 1884)
  • Violet Maxey Abbs: born in Warnham, Sussex in 1886 (reg. Horsham district third quarter)
  • James Henry Abbs: born in Warnham, Sussex in 1888 (reg. Horsham district third quarter); presumably the twin of the next
  • William Robert Abbs: born in Warnham, Sussex in 1888 (reg. Horsham district third quarter);
    died in infancy, death reg. Horsham second quarter of 1889
  • Jessie Eva Abbs: born in Warnham, Sussex in 1889 (reg. Horsham district fourth quarter);
    died age 6, reg. first quarter of 1896
  • Roger Dick Hamilton Abbs: born in Horsham, Sussex in 1892 (reg. Horsham district second quarter)
  • Tom William Robert Abbs: born in Horsham, Sussex on 24 December 1893

There should be one more child who died before the 1911 census. One candidate is Charles Arthur Abbs, born in 1896 (registered Holborn fourth quarter); died at 21 Bridport Street, St Ebbe’s at the age of two months, with the funeral at Holy Trinity Church in St Ebbe’s on 1 February 1897. (Kate’s widowed mother was living at 55 St Aldate’s Street in 1896/7, and a Henry Mills was listed at 21 Bridport Street in 1899.)

Immediately before his marriage, Tom’s father Richard Abbs (23) was already a domestic coachman like Tom's grandfather and living at Norham Gardens in North Oxford, and a court case reported in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 28 June 1879 showed that he worked as groom for Colonel Baynes. His banns were read at Ss Philip & James Curch in June and July 1880

Tom’s mother Kate Maxey (22) was the daughter of a tailor and was living with her family at 28 Cambridge Street in St Ebbe’s prior to her marriage in her parish church.

The 1881 census shows the recently married couple living at 3 Norham Mews, and their first two children were born there in 1882 and 1883. The family moved to Warnham in Sussex around the end of 1883, and the 1891 census shows them living there at Coachman Cottage (which adjoined Field Place Mansion) with six children: Kate (9), Margaret (8), Cyril (7), Violet (4), James (2), and Jessie (1). By the next year they had moved to Horsham in Sussex. (Meanwhile back in Oxford, Richard Abbs’s brother Abraham (25), a French polisher, was boarding at 55 St Aldate’s Street with Mrs Hannah Maxey, Kate’s widowed mother.)

Two more children were born in Horsham after the 1891 census: Roger in 1892, and Tom himself at the end of 1893.

1901: The family split

The family situation was very different by the time of the 1901 census: Tom’s mother Kate Abbs (43) had left her husband and children, and was calling herself Kate Anger, working as a servant to Miss Frances Leach and her companion at Edgecombe Tower, Priory Road, Bournemouth. (Also in Bournemouth at Henley Tower were William Baker (76) and his wife Ann (74): see 1911 below.)

Tom’s father Richard (40) was back in Oxford working as a coachman in 1901, living at 5 Wards Row in St Peter-le-Bailey parish. He correctly recorded that he was still married, but he and his children James (12), Roger (9), and Tom himself (6) were in fact looked after by a housekeeper, Oxford-born Annie Cousins (31).

His other four surviving children were all away from home at the time of the 1901 census: Kate junior (22) was a housemaid to a banker at St Mary’s House in Beverley St Mary, Yorkshire; Margaret (19) was a schoolroom maid to a widowed Peeress at Canyonleigh House, Christow, Devon; and Cyril (17) is hard to find, but is likely to have been in London. Violet (14) was staying at 37 George Street, Oxford with her uncle and aunt, the grocer Robert Twining and his wife (born Mary Ann Abbs at East Runton and married in 1880, the same year as her brother, at St Mary Magdalen Church); and this was probably a permanent arrangement, as she was still with them in 1911, after Twining had retired and moved to 99 Kingston Road. Geoffrey Cyril Abbs (2), the son of Violet’s brother Cyril, was also staying with the Twinings in 1911.

1911: the Osney connection

Although Tom's father remained married to Kate until her death in 1927, he described himself as a widower in the 1911 census: he was then lodging with Mrs Jean Dix (35) at 24 East Street, Osney and her two children. (Jean’s husband was not at home on census night because he was a night watchman.)

Meanwhile Richard’s estranged wife Kate Abbs (53) was living in Bournemouth (at a house called Rochdale in Tregonwell Road) with Henley-born William Baker (86), who was now a widower, and was working as his nurse/attendant. This was a large house used as a retirement home, and Baker had three rooms there. He oddly described her as his wife when he filled in the original census form, but this was crossed out and changed to “attendant”. Kate described herself as having been married for thirty years, with ten children (three of whom had died).

Tom himself had already joined the Royal Navy by 1911, and he spent census night at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, where he was an officer’s servant, aged 17. His home addressed would have been his fatherís lodgings at 24 East Street, as his mother had abandoned him.

Poppy Tom William Robert Abbs was already in the Royal Navy when the First World War started, and he served as a sick-berth attendant (Service No. M/4398). At around 6am on 22 September 1914 he was on HMS Aboukir, which along with two other ships was spotted in the North Sea by the German submarine U-9, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen. This fired a single torpedo at close range at HMS Aboukir, which broke the ship’s back, and she sank within 20 minutes with the loss of 527 men, including Tom Abbs, aged 20. He was the first Osney man to die in the war.

He has a very brief entry in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, which simply reads: “ABBS, TOM WILLIAM ROBERT, S.B.A., M. 4398, H.M.S. Aboukir; lost in action in the North Sea. 22 Sept. 1914.”

He is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial: Panel 6.


Tom Abbs’s parents

  • Richard Abbs (born 1860/1) was living at 3A Beaumont Buildings, St John Street, Oxford just after the war. He may have gone to live with his married daughter Kate at Grimsby, as he died there at the age of 75 in the third quarter of 1935. His brother Abraham and Abraham's wife Lucy Quarrey Abbs remained in Oxford: Abraham died at 128 Walton Street in 1931, and his funeral was at St Giles’s Church, Oxford.
  • Mrs Kate Abbs alias Anger (born 1857) may have inherited some money from William Baker, who died at Kings Langley, West Cliff, Bournemouth on 14 January 1917. He left £8,631 11s. 11d., and probate was granted in March 1918 to his sons William James Baker (a Lieutenant Colonel in the RAMC) and Herbert Kandra Baker (a solicitor). Kate herself died at the age of 69 in Bournemouth on 8 June 1927 (reg. under her alias Kate ANGER), but probate was not granted until 11 January 1930. The record reads:

    ABBS or ANGER Kate of Bellagio Moordown Bournemouth (wife of Richard Abbs) died 8 June 1927 Probate London 11 January to Kate Shaw (wife of James Shaw). Effects £370 10s.

Tom Abbs’s siblings

  • Kate Abbs junior (born 1881) was working as a lady’s maid at Hambleton Hall, Oakham, Rutland at the time of the 1911 census. She was married in the Grimsby area in the first quarter of 1921 when she was almost 40: her husband was James R. Shaw.
  • Margaret Emily Abbs (born 1882) married the builder Frederick Capel at St Margaret's Church, Oxford on 14 October 1905. They lived at 81 Lonsdale Road and had three children baptised at Summertown on the dates shown: Phyllis Evelyn Capel (5 January 1908); Dennis Frederick Capel (1 May 1910); and Barrington Capel (31 December 1911). The 1911 census shows them at 81 Lonsdale Road in Summertown with their first two children and a servant. They moved into Oxford proper at some point between 1912 and 1915 and had two more children: Peter G. Capel (in 1915, reg. third quarter) and Barbara K. Capel (in 1922, reg. fourth quarter). Margaret died in Oxfordshire in 1967.
  • Cyril George Abbs (born 1884) married Rebecca Atkin at St George’s Church, Hanover Square in the first quarter of 1908, and their first child, Geoffrey Cyril Abbs, was born in 1909 (reg. Marylebone second quarter). At the time of the 1911 census Cyril was a Prudential insurance agent living at 146 Great Portland Street, London. He emigrated to Australia (with his brother James) at the age of 30 on 10 July 1912 on the Dimboola, and his wife and son followed on a year later. He died in Australia in 1943. His son Geoffrey served in the Second World War within Australia.
  • Violet Maxey Abbs (born 1886) sailed for Montreal in Canada from Liverpool on the SS Lake Manitoba on 9 June 1911. She was probably following Percival Richard Abel, an ironmonger’s assistant from east Oxford, who had set out for Montreal on 13 May the previous year, as they were married in Canada in 1912. They had at least one child, John Percival Abel, who died in Vancouver in 1986. Violet was widowed and married again, becoming Violet Maxey Bradley. She died in Victoria, British Colombia in 1952.
  • James Henry Abbs (born 1888) emigrated to Australia with his brother Cyril at the age of 24 on 10 July 1912 on the Dimboola. He signed up for the army on 1 May 1916 in Dubbo, New South Wales. He was 27 and single, and named his next-of-kin as Mrs Kate ANGER, of Rockdale, Westcliff, Bournemouth.  (This indicates he knew of his father’s death, and the current address and pseudonym of his mother.) James served in France in the First World War in a machine gun company and returned to Australia in 1919. He was a racehorse trainer after the war. He did not marry until he was 37. He died in 1954.
  • Roger Dick Hamilton Abbs (born in 1892) married Mabel L. Stevens in the Farnham district in the third quarter of 1914. They had three children. The first, Tom F. H. Abbs (born 1915/16 in the Weymouth district) was probably named after his dead uncle. The other two had their births registered in the Christchurch district: Roger A. J. Abbs in 1919 and Joan F. Abbs in 1921. Tom's brother Roger Abbs served in the Navy on the Pembroke in the First World War (Service No. L713): he was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. He may still have been in the navy in 1936, when he sailed from Malta to the UK on the Modessa. In the Second World War he served as a cook from 1936 to 1946.

For more on the Abbs family, please see Shirley Elrick’s website

© Stephanie Jenkins

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