Fritz Guye Browning, cultured Regimental Sergeant Major, and his strait-laced wife, Maude, were bywords for respectability in my mother’s family – in sharp contrast to her paternal grandfather, who was widely known to be a bastard by birth and by nature. So perhaps you can already guess what my research discovered….
The marriage certificate for Fritz Guye (he was always known by both names in the family) and Maude Angelina Chittock noted his father as William Browning (deceased) Licensed Victualler. This tied in with what I had been told about his background; that his father was a publican in Deal, Kent. An easy matter, then, to trace him in the census from 1881 onwards, I thought.
The only entry I could find that fitted was Fritz Browning in 1901 at Shoebury Barracks which was probably him but this soldier had been born in Newington, Surrey rather than in Deal. Fortunately the birth, in January 1879, was easily found so I sent off, all unsuspecting, for his birth certificate. I was dumbstruck when I read it: his father was not named and his mother was Mary Jane Browning of 9 South Place, Kennington Park.
Back to the census and I quickly established that William Browning, the publican, was Mary Jane’s father and she was the eldest of six children. In both 1861 and 1871 Mary Jane was living at home and going to school in Deal. In 1881, however, she was a watch spring polisher, lodging in Cook’s Road, Kennington, South London.
I also found what looked like her in 1891, living ‘on her own means’ as a boarder at 57 Doughty Street – the street that contains the Charles Dickens museum and, (from Wikipedia):
In the nineteenth century "It was a broad, airy, wholesome street - none of your common thoroughfares, to be rattled through by vulgar cabs and earth-shaking Pickford's vans; but a self-included property, with a gate at each end, and a lodge with a porter in a gold-laced hat and the Doughty arms on the buttons of his mulberry coat, to prevent any one, except with a mission to one of the houses, from intruding on the exclusive territory." (Page 181, "Edmund Yates, His Recollections and Experiences" 1885 Richard Bentley & Son).One wonders where she found her own means to board in such a place….
There was no sign of her in the 1901 census, so the search went back to her son, Fritz Guye. Eventually, (bearing in mind that transcribers had trouble with both of his forenames), I found him in 1881. He was just around the corner from his mother, as a 2-year old ‘visitor’ in De Laune Street with a Mr and Mrs Castle. This, happily, linked him with the entry in the 1891 census in Deal, where (as the transcriber called him) Frity Castle, was a 12 year old boarder at his grandfather’s pub, the Druids’ Arms in Market Street.
I wondered, naturally, if his father really was a Mr Castle and searched for likely young men. Wider searching for Fritz Guye’s name, however, brought to my attention a Swiss watchmaker, working and living not far from Mary Jane’s London address in 1881, when she was a watch spring polisher. His name was Fritz Guye.
A helpful person on the Internet pointed me at the London Gazette, through which I discovered that the Guye brothers, Philippe, Auguste (see obituary below) and Fritz came from St Jean de la Tour near Geneva and their watch making firm, P & A Guye (of London and Geneva), seems to have faced bankruptcy three times, in 1879, 1888 and 1947. Fritz remained single until 1884 when he married Gertrude Percy Ashton-Glover in St George’s, Hanover Square. His son by Gertrude, Edward Fritz Guye, moved to Australia and was in WWI, later becoming a member of parliament.
It is possible, of course, that Mary Jane admired Fritz from afar and named her son in honour of him but the more compelling theory is that he fathered her child but was too far above her, socially, to even consider marrying her.
Going back to Deal in 1891 – the fact that his grandparents recorded him as Fritz Castle, boarder, on the census return seems to imply that he was not brought up as their son, yet throughout his life he gave the name of William Browning as his father. However, in his army records we get an inkling; Fritz Guye joined the Royal Garrison Artillery in 1894 at the age of 15 and, until he married in 1904, his mother was given as next of kin, with an address off Norfolk Road in North London and the name Mary Jane Browning. So he must have known the truth about his birth, yet even here he seems to have resisted complete honesty, for his mother was married in 1893, I discovered, to Thomas Goldfinch Akhurst, a stationer, and no longer bore the Browning surname.
Friz Guye’s army career sent him to Gibraltar with his Battery within six months of enlisting and he went on to serve in Malta and Jamaica before the turn of the century. He was in South Africa for the second Boer War and beyond (although presumably he was briefly back in Shoebury for the 1901 census) and later he served in Egypt.
Back at the barracks in Shoeburyness he met local girl, Maude Angelina Chittock and they married in 1903. They moved to Gosport in time for the birth of their first child, William Henry, in 1904. William died in 1911 and was never mentioned by the family. By 1905 they were in Scarborough where Florence Beatrice Maud (my grandmother, Flo) was born, as was her brother Albert Edward in 1907.
Shrewsbury barracks was Fritz Guye's last posting, where he was Regimental Sergeant Major and then later, as a pensioner, was the Barrack Warden, living at 7 Married Quarters. He died in 1931 of Syncope, which "Strictly means a faint or swoon. Syncope ... given as a primary cause of death, ....is also used to mean any sudden loss of consciousness. Here, it is a description of a mode of death rather than a cause of death" (http://www.encyclo.co.uk/define/syncope) with the underlying cause being Acute Leukaemia.