An investigation into our hidden histories, by Nick Barratt. This week: film star Kate Winslet
Despite an impressive list of film credits, Kate Winslet is perhaps best known for her role in Titanic where she played the romantic lead opposite Leonardo Di Caprio as the two characters fall in love across the class divide, only for their romance to be rudely interrupted by an iceberg.
|Tangled roots: the actress |
Sadly, an investigation into her family tree has failed to provide an ancestor who sailed on the vessel - that would have been too good to be true - but there are plenty of other stories that appear to have been scripted by a playwright.
Who is she related to?
Kate Elizabeth Winslet was born in 1975 in Reading, the daughter of Roger John Winslet, a swimming-pool contractor, and Sally Ann Bridges, a barmaid. The couple had married in 1968 and were both based in Reading. Indeed, the Winslet family's connections with the town can be traced back to the mid-19th century in an unbroken chain.
Roger's father, Charles John Winslet, worked in men's clothes shops, rising from an assistant to manager over the course of his career. He was born in the town in 1908, the son of a licenced victualler, Charles Winslet, and his wife, Emily. Charles had followed a family profession by running a pub. His own father, John, had run The Broad Face Hotel that stood at 9 High Street, Reading, for many years.
This appears to have been a family business. In the 1901 census, John's daughter, Catherine, was a barmaid and his son, George, worked as a barman, while Charles was described as a cellarman. However, it seems likely that John had enlisted the help of his sons when his wife Susannah died, because 10 years earlier, George had found employment as a butcher and another son, John, was a railway clerk, while daughters Catherine and Sarah worked behind the bar.
John junior's desire to work as a railway clerk can perhaps be linked to an earlier pub that his father ran, the Railway Tavern at 33 Greyfriars Road, Reading. He had been there since at least 1871, when he was bringing up his young family assisted by his niece, Ellen Winslet. Three years earlier, he had wed at St Mary's Church, Reading, and the couple started married life together at The White Hart, Caversham Road. The marriage certificate reveals that John's father, Thomas, was also a publican, showing that the trade ran in the family from generation to generation.
Kate's maternal grandparents also had connections to pubs and hotels, yet this side of the family is riddled with secrets. Her grandfather was a dentist, Archibald Oliver Bridges, who lived with his wife, Linda, in Reading. They married in 1938 and the certificate reveals that he was 17 years older than her and that he had divorced from his first wife, Florence.
Linda was the daughter of a hotelkeeper, George William Plumb, and his wife, who had the extraordinary name of Florence Theodelinda Lidman. The Plumbs hailed from Fulham in London, whereas the Bridges had arrived in Reading from Kent via the capital.
Archibald was the son of Robert Tilby Bridges, a print compositor from Sheerness, Kent, and Louisa Amy Hales, the daughter of a policeman. Robert's ancestry comes under particular scrutiny, because it appears that his parents were cousins. Robert Tilby Bridges was born in 1859, the son of Robert Bridges, a joiner at HM Dockyards, and Mary Ann Ottewill. The marriage certificate for their wedding on August 17, 1851 reveals that he had been widowed and that she was nine years younger than him. But in the 1851 census taken a few months earlier, they were listed as living together and her relationship to him was cousin.
The Bridges remained in Sheerness, living a few doors down from another branch of the family, so clearly their relationship did not cause the sort of scandal in the mid-19th century that Kate Winslet's screen role generated in the early 20th.
There are a number of research avenues that these stories have thrown up. In particular, royal dockyard employees can be investigated at the National Archives, where some service and pension records are held.
Similarly, one of Kate's ancestors, William Plumb, was listed as a policeman. Although there is no central archive for police records, the records of service for police officers who worked in the Metropolitan Police can be found at the National Archives, because they were administered by the Home Office. Local authorities had responsibility for running other forces, so you would have to look in the relevant county archive, local police museum or even the police force itself.
Finally, tracing the history of pubs and publicans can be quite fun and there are a wide range of sources available, such as trade directories, victuallers' licences and newspapers.