By Ruth Johnson Norfolk Family History Society MN 499O

Mary Ann GREENGRASS was my g-grandmother, a foundling, so it was said. She was either found on the `green grass` of an institution or born at Holkham Hall, Norfolk, and brought to Great Ringstead Rectory to be raised. The family also said there was nothing further back to be found out concerning her origins. When I first became interested in family history, my first task was to look at the 1881 census for Great Ringstead, where my maternal grandfather Frederick Peter FRAMINGHAM (Mary Ann`s second son and last child) was born in 1884. I found Mary Ann with her husband William FRAMINGHAM, and one daughter, Kate, in Great Ringstead, but found the eldest daughter Lilian, in nearby Great Bircham, in the household of her grandparents, William and Eliza GREENGRASS. Well, that tossed the `green grass` story out of the window! (Sadly, on this very census day another daughter, registered as Ellen, but know as Harriet, died from injuries received in a burning accident.) Mary Ann`s birthplace and year are consistent on several censuses, being Fordham, Cambridgeshire, 1851, so I checked the GRO indexes but to no avail. I should, at this point, have ordered the 1851 census for Fordham, but decided to employ a private researcher instead. She found no trace of any GREENGRASS name in Fordham. This was entirely my fault; being new to family history research, I failed to give her a vital clue. William GREENGRASS`S first wife, Elizabeth BOBBIN, had given birth to several illegitimate children before her marriage, the only survivor being Susan Chilvers BOBBIN. Some time later my sister, Ann PAYNE who lives in Norfolk, took an interest and decided to have a look at the relevant records herself. There, on the 1851 census for Fordham was Susan Chilvers BOBBIN in the household of William and Elizabeth GYMER, as child of wife before marriage. William`s birthplace was incorrect, but Elizabeth`s and Susan`s were accurate. The GRO indexes were checked again and there was found Mary Ann GYMER, born 3rd May 1851. Her parents were identified as Willam and Elizabeth GYMER (formerly BOBBIN). William GYMER`S occupation is consistently given on all documents as wheelwright, as is his father`s name of Francis. These are all identical to William GREENGRASS; we are convinced they are one and the same man. Why William left Norfolk and changed his name may never be known. He and Elizabeth married at Stanhoe in Norfolk in 1844, and Elizabeth gave birth the following year to Issac who died the same year. Elizabeth gave birth to eight more children, who all died in infancy with the exception of Mary Ann. The family later moved to Ely, Cambs. We have been unable to find the family on the 1861 census as, unfortunatly, most of the 1861 census for Ely, was lost at the PRO about a hundred years ago. Elizabeth BOBBIN died during yet another pregnancy in 1858 and her husband gives his name on her death certificate as James GYMER! William remarried in 1858 to Eliza NEWMAN at Soham, Cambs; and if there were any children of this marriage we have been unable to find them, perhaps they used yet another alias. We have failed so far to find William and Eliza on the 1871 census in the areas of Ely or Great Ringstead. However Susan Chilvers BOBBIN is still in Ely, working as cook in a household. Mary Ann is now using the name GREENGRASS, and is in Great Ringstead as a visitor in a BOBBIN household in 1871. The house is on the same road as that of William FRAMINGHAM who she will marry the following year. On Mary Ann`s marriage certificate her father`s name is given as Robert William GREENGRASS. I have checked his baptism at Fulmodeston, and he was only given the one name of William. Mary Ann`s wedding date coincided with the 21st birthday of the person registered at birth as Mary Ann GYMER. However she gives her age as 24 on the marriage certificate. As her husband was 32, she may have wanted to appear older; but another suggestion is the possibility that the then teenage Susan Chilvers BOBBIN may have been her real mother. If anyone had likewise suspicions, Mary Ann`s age would have made it impossible for Susan to have been her mother. The hole in this theory is that it would have left a gap in the very regular pregnancies of Elizabeth BOBBIN. Susan travelled from Ely to Docking in Norfolk, and was a witness at Mary Ann`s wedding. Susan Chilvers BOBBIN married at the age of 37, to Peter TOW, widower who was 28 years her senior. They had one child, Frederick. Mary ann was widowed in 1885 and is to be found living in Great Ringstead Rectory as a domestic servant on the 1891 census. The rector, Arthur BATSON, gives his occupation as rector, composer, and artist painter. I think the story of Mary Ann having been raised at Great Ringstead Rectory derives from muddle over time, and that it was in fact my grandfather and siblings who lived there for some years, with their mother, Mary Ann. Perhaps the rector spent some time with the family; Mary Ann was said to have been very well spoken and my grandfather, Frederick, a very knowledgeable man. In 19O1 Mary Ann is living in Hunstanton, and her occupation given as upholstress. She died in 1931 from a cerebral haemorrhage. I wonder what secrets she took with her? William GREENGRASS is found in the Docking Workhouse in 1891, where he died in 1894. It states he is married, but Eliza is not with him. Possibly, she is the Eliza GYMER found working as a housekeeper in Whittlesey, Cambs; in 19O1, the age and birthplace fit. Lastly, the vicar at Great Ringstead at the time of William`s departure from the area to Cambridgeshire was Frederick Thomas William Fitzroy COKE, related to the COKES of Holkham hall. Mary Ann`s Story with it`s solved and yet to be solved mysteries was an excellent way to begin family history. I was hooked!

Mrs. Ruth Johnson
South Australia


P.S. After the publication of this article in The Norfolk Ancestor, March 2OO4, I was contacted by Bernie GUYMER who had my errant GREENGRASS/GYMER`S on his website in 1861 in Swanton Morley, Norfolk. Fantastic! Really paid off getting my story in print. And now I have found them in 1871 which is now online at This time they are at Benwick in Cambs. They certainly kept on the move. But why?

P.P.S. I have also recently found William GREENGRASS on the 1841 census and there appears to be quite a story there too; perhaps I will put it together sometime.

1841 census William Greengrass (20 grinder) living at Snettisham, Norfolk with Georgianna Greengrass (25) & Frances Savory. All born in County

1851 census William Gymer (32 bn Norwich wheelwright) living at Cottage by Roadside, Fordham, Cambs with wife Elizabeth (34 bn Ringstead) & Elizabeth's daughter before marriage Susan Chilvers Bobbin (13 bn Ringstead)

20th March 1855 baptism Downham, Cambridge Georgiana Gymer daughter of William & Elizabeth Gymer (

31st May 1863 marriage at The Independant Chapel, Soham Counties of Cambridge & Suffolk of William GYMER aged 39?? (wid wheelwright) son of Francis GYMER (deceased carpenter) to Eliza NEWMAN aged 30 (spinster dom serv) daughter of Alexander NEWMAN, labourer. Both of Westhall Lane, Soham. Witnessess Alexander and Mary NEWMAN. Registered Newmarket District June Quarter ref 3b 909

1861 census William Guymer (35 wheelwright) living 40 ?? Street, Swanton Morley with wife Eliza (26) & daughter Mary Ann (9 scholar). All shown as being born Ely, Cambs
1871 census William R Gymer (48 bn Fulderstone, Norfolk carpenter) living at White Fen, Benwick, Cambridgeshire with wife Eliza (37 bn Ely)
1881 census William Greengrass (56 bn Fulmodestone wheelwright) living in Tofts Road, Great Bircham, Norfolk with wife Eliza (48 bn Ely, Cambs) & grandaughter Lilian Framingham (8 bn Ringstead, Norfolk)
1891 census William Greengrass (62 bn Fulmodestone marr) inmate at Docking Workhouse

William dies Docking Workhouse 1894 aged 78. A William Greengrass' death registered Docking District June Quarter 1894 ref 4b 193 aged 76 (FreeBMD)

1891 census Eliza Gyumer (50 bn Ely housekeeper dom wid) living at Roman Bank, Walpole St Andrew, Norfolk with Cannell family
1901 census Eliza Guymer (70 bn Ely housekeeper dom wid) living Thoroughfare Yard, Whittlesey, Cambs with James FROST (75 bn St Ives, Huntingdon railway gatekeeper head wid)
1911 census Eliza Gymer (77 bn Ely wid) living 6 Barrack Yard, London St, Whittlesey, Cambs

Death registered of an Eliza Guymer aged 82 Chesterton District March Quarter 1916 ref 3b587