I have written about my surprise and partial disbelief at the story that my 2x great-grandparents James and Caroline BOXALL had 27 children. This sort of story demands proper investigation, a process which I began last Saturday at West Sussex Record Office.
I had previously checked parish register transcriptions for baptisms and burials at West Dean (near Chichester), Sussex and knew there weren’t baptisms for 27 children. Even taking into account a few unidentified burials and birth and death registrations I was struggling to come up with 27 children.
The 1911 census records that the couple had 13 children born living and that four had died. Obviously for there to have been a total of 27 children then there must have been another 14 that were either stillborn or died within a few hours, this seems a shockingly high number, more than were born living.
In the absence of official records I searched for some other evidence. The earliest record that I have found mentioning the 27 children is a report in the local newspaper, the Chichester Observer, on the 15th April 1936. Subsequent reports seem to draw on this first report and duplicate the error with the year of marriage.
WEST DEAN COUPLE CELEBRATE DIAMOND WEDDING
Wednesday will be a happy day in the lives of two of West Dean’s oldest residents, when they celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of their wedding.
They are Mr. and Mrs. J BOXALL, of Scout Cottage, who were married at West Dean Church on April 15th, 1886 the Rev. HUTCHISON. Mr. BOXALL, who is 83 years of age, has been confined to his bed for a number of years, but Mrs. BOXALL, at 79, is still active, and as cheerful as ever. Only one person who attended their wedding is alive to-day, and she is Mrs. MERRITE of Tillington.
Of Mr. and Mrs. BOXALL’S twenty-seven children, only seven survive, the eldest of whom is 59. Mrs. BOXALL told an “Observer” representative who visited her on Monday that she had triplets once and twins three times. There are 42 grandchildren and 38 great-grandchildren. Two of Mrs. BOXALL’S sons were killed in the War.
The walls of the little old cottage in which Mr. and Mrs. BOXALL now live, are hung with portraits of members of the JAMES’ family, who held West Dean Park.
Mrs. BOXALL’S most treasured possessions include a case of gold spoons which the late Mrs. WILLIE JAMES gave her when Mr. and Mrs. BOXALL celebrated their golden wedding in 1926, and a necklace which Mrs. JAMES bequeathed her.
Five years ago, Mr. BOXALL was taken ill, and all hope of his recovery was given up, but he pulled round after a stiff fight. He finds it now a great hardship to be confined to his bed, after an active life on the land.
“There’s nobody to-day would work like he did,” said Mrs. BOXALL.
Both Mr. and Mrs. BOXALL can claim a life-long association with the locality, for Mr. BOXALL was born at West Dean, and Mrs. BOXALL at Singleton.
There is some interesting information included, but nothing that really helps prove the story. One thing that didn’t seem right was the mention of two sons killed during the First World War. Having spent some time looking at the West Dean war memorial I knew that only one son was listed on the memorial, furthermore the two other sons that I knew about survived the war. Did this mean one of the missing children was another son who died during WW1 and had some how escaped the census enumerator for several decades?
After searching all the BOXALLs on the CWGC and Soldiers Died in the Great War looking for a connection to West Dean, but I still drew a blank. Then it dawned on me who this missing son was, what is more I had already researched his life and even written about him on this blog. He had to be Walter Henry BOXALL, the illegitimate son of James and Caroline’s daughter Alice Ruth. He was killed during WW1 and although he wasn’t their son it appears that he may have been treated as such after his mother married. When he started school in 1901 his parent or guardian was recorded as Caroline, although the 1901 census did show him as their grandson.
To me it looks like the story of 27 children can’t true, although they were only short by one. 26 children is still quite impressive, and it is still going to take some work to see if I can prove some more (I need to order some death certificates now), but now I can’t help but wonder about Walter Henry BOXALL, and why James and Caroline felt the need to continue pretending he was their son all those years later? or am I barking up the wrong tree?