Monday, 14 May 2012

Reuben Newnham (1855-1922)

Reuben Newnham (1855-1922) in 1905
There is long-standing story in the Newnham family that Reuben was either Jewish or had Jewish connections.
Having investigated his life there is no evidence to support this story.

He was the last of ten children born to John Edmund Joseph Newnham and Frances Merzaler Mallery. It may be that John and Frances had a liking for more unusual names - Frances herself was given the middle name of Merzaler or Mezaler. It is so rare that the only other person with this given name that I can discover was her grand-daughter, Eleanor Herberta Merzaler Newnham, although it also exits as a very rare surname and French place name.

Also, unusually for such an early period, John had three given names and all his brothers and sisters - born between 1807 and 1833 had either two or three given names. This practice was usually the preserve of the nobility, but was very unusual for a carpenter.

Back to Reuben: He was born in Woolwich, Kent on the 24th August 1855 and baptised at St Mary Magdalen, Woolwich on 7th October 1855. In 1872 he travelled to the United States to visit his brother, Robert George Newnham, who had emigrated to Toledo, Ohio in June of the same year. It is likely that Reuben was intending to find work in America with a view to staying there permanently. Whilst no record of his travels around America has been uncovered, it is likely that he travelled to Chicago, Illinois and it seems he certainly had a high regard for America. This is evidenced when, on his return to England, he became a house builder. His own house was called Chicago and at least three terraces of his houses had American-influenced names.

But of any Jewish influence or connections there is no evidence. It is certainly possible that he did not hold strong Christian beliefs. Although he was married in church (at Holy Trinity, Sheerness, Kent in 1884), only one of his children was baptised: Agnes Adelaide Newnham was baptised at the age of 14 in 1902. There is no record of the baptism of any of the other 12 children that were born to Reuben and his wife, Agnes Julia Tillett.

Maybe some evidence will be uncovered one day but for now I think it more likely that Reuben was agnostic.

1 comment:

  1. There seems to be some evidence that the Mallerys had some Gypsy or traveller connections.