Date:January 06, 2013

Emma Shellaker


Unmarried, Pregnant, Send Away


Sam Abell Geary & HorseDuring the second half of 1898 Emma Shellaker, who was 32 years old, unmarried and possibly, at that time, the choir mistress at the local Baptist Chapel, became pregnant. The father of this child was a local man, SAM ABELL GEARY (pictured right), who was around 12 years her junior being around 20 years old when Emma became pregnant. Sam was a carpenter by trade, as were other members of the Geary family in Billesdon.

The Census Returns for 1891 shows Sam living with his family in Uppingham Road in that village, together with his father, WILLIAM GEARY, a carpenter born in Thornton, Leicestershire around the year 1841 and his mother, SARAH GEARY who was born in Ulverscroft, also in Leicestershire, around the year 1854. Sam Abell Geary himself was born in 1877. The Census also records an older brother, JOHN GEARY and a younger sister MARY. A swift marriage of Emma & Sam was considered but Sam’s mother was opposed to the idea as she did not approve of Sam ‘courting’ Emma. The age of Sam Geary’s mother may have been a significant factor in Sarah Geary’s opposition to the relationship, as her potential daughter-in-law was only eight years younger than herself!

As marriage between Sam & pregnant Emma was now ruled out, her family decided the baby, once born, would be given away for adoption. Consequently it was agreed the child would be adopted by Emma’s older sister ‘Polly’ (Mary Jane) who, as mentioned above, had married Frank Brown in 1892, (bigamously as it later transpired but that is another story!) and at that time was living near Bournemouth with her husband and, at that time, their three children of their own. So Emma was subsequently “sent away” to stay with her sister Polly at her home in the Bournemouth area on the south coast of England until the baby was born to avoid the disgrace which pregnancy would bring to the family, and in particular to evade the wrath of the Reverend Field, the Baptist Minister at the Chapel. The following year, on Thursday the 16th of April 1899, Emma gave birth to a daughter. Emma registered her child’s birth the following month on the May 17th 1899 at Christchurch in Dorset. Christchurch is around five miles from Bournemouth where the baby was born  at “174, Holdenhurst Road”, the home of her sister Polly.

As can be seen below this certificate does not identify the name or occupation of the father but the baby’s name, as registered was “Doris Mary Geary Shellaker”, confirming beyond doubt the full parentage of the child.

Doris Mary Geary Shellaker - Birth Certificate 1899

The Birth Certificate of Emma Shellaker’s First Child – “Doris Mary Geary Shellaker”

However the arranged adoption of her daughter by Emma’s sister Polly did not take place as intended as Polly herself became pregnant with her fourth child during the time Emma moved down to the south coast for her own confinement. Polly already had three children under the age of six and with another baby on the way it now became impractical for Polly to adopt Emma’s baby. Another plan was now required…….

Before I explain the fate of Emma’s new born daughter I should outline details of the family of Emma’s mother – the Grocock family, and include an introduction to the CURTIS family.

The maiden name of Emma’s mother, Mary Ann Shellaker, was GROCOCK. She was born in 1837 or 1838 in the nearby village of Hallaton in East Leicestershire. She was one of at least five children of JOHN & ANN GROCOCK. John Grocock was a carpenter in Hallaton. Of the five known children of John & Ann Grocock two died in infancy – WILLIAM & JANE. Mary’s two surviving siblings were a brother JOHN, who was two years her junior and a sister named EMMA, who was born around 1842 or 1843, when Mary was five years old.

Later, in adulthood the two sisters married; MARY ANN married RICHARD SHELLAKER in 1861 and EMMA married THOMAS CURTIS. (The year is unknown). After their marriages both sisters lived with their respective husbands in Tugby. Thomas & Emma Curtis (nee Grocock) had at least two daughters; JANE & LOUISA.  Louisa was born around 1871. Both of these girls were baptised as infants at the church at Tugby on May 7th 1871. Baptised also on that same day was Elizabeth Shellaker, the younger sister of Emma Shellaker who was born in 1867 but later died in 1888. At the time of the baptism of his daughters, Thomas Curtis is recorded as a ‘Carpenter’, later in the 1891 Census he is listed as a ‘Grocer’.

So it was to her sister, Emma Curtis, that Mary Shellaker turned to for help in a second attempt to find a home for the child of her unmarried daughter, Emma. Consequently Emma’s baby daughter, who was registered at birth as Doris Mary Geary Shellaker was adopted by Emma Shellaker’s Aunty, Emma Curtis and the child grew up in Tugby as ‘Mary Curtis, the adopted daughter of Thomas and Emma Curtis’. But as Thomas & Emma Curtis were at this time both around fifty-six years of age, Emma daughter was actually raised by Louisa Curtis, one of daughters of Thomas & Emma Curtis. Louisa was around twenty-eight years old at that time and was a midwife who remained unmarried throughout the rest of her life. She was the other witness of the marriage in 1892 of Polly Shellaker and Frank Brown.

Baptist Chapel, Back Street, Billesdon. c.1906It is a Wednesday in mid-November, 18 months have passed in our story since the birth of “Doris Mary Geary”, and there is wedding taking place. Emma Shellaker marries Sam Abell Geary on 14th November 1900 in the Baptist Chapel in Billesdon.

However most of those present on this November day were totally unaware that when Emma Shellaker, spinster of the parish and choir mistress at that chapel, walked into to marry Sam Abell Geary she was, for the second occasion in her life, pregnant.

At the time of their wedding Emma was 34 years old, Sam Geary was 23 years old. The couple were married by the REVEREND J. B. FIELD (who was the grandfather of John Brown, the future husband of Emma’s sister Nellie).

The photograph of the right of the interior of Billesdon Baptist chapel was taken around 1906, only six years after Emma’s wedding. Emma’s wedding in 1900 was to be the first of many ‘Shellaker family’ weddings to have taken place at the Baptist chapel in Billesdon; Emma’s brother John (my grandfather) would be married in this chapel a few years later.

Also some of the children and grandchildren of Emma would also, over the next decades, be married at the chapel, as would the children and grandchildren of Emma’s brother’s & sisters. (I myself was married in this Chapel in 1981).

As can be seen from the certificate the marriage was witnessed by the respective fathers of the couple; RICHARD SHELLAKER & WILLIAM GEARY. The third witness was Emma’s younger sister HELENA (NELLIE) SHELLAKER.

Emma Shellaker & Sam Geary Wedding Certificate

The Wedding Certificate of Emma Shellaker & Sam Abell Geary

Postscript: At the end of December 1998 I sent a draft copy of Emma’s ‘biography’ to GORDON GARFOOT,  one of the sons of ‘Doris Mary Geary Shellaker’ which he forwarded to his brother KENNETH GARFOOT. I subsequently received letters from both Gordon & Ken informing me their mother, Mary Curtis, (Emma’s daughter – ‘Doris Mary Geary Shellaker’) told them Emma Shellaker was pregnant for a second time by Sam Geary at the time of her wedding to Sam and it was during this second pregnancy that Sam’s parents allowed Emma & Sam to be married.

Several copies of the photograph below are within the collections of various members of the current Shellaker family. Most of these photographs, if not all, are faded or torn. I have restored one of those photographs (the picture on left) using Photoshop, repairing the tears and scratches and enhancing to make the photograph sharp and clear – as I have done with many of the photographs on this website. [Click on the image to see a larger copy of the photograph].

None of the copies of this photograph are dated but I can say with certainty it was taken prior to July 1904. However I am speculating it could have been taken at the occasion of Emma’s wedding on 14th November 1900. My thoughts to support this idea are as follows;

  • The family are all in their 'best clothes'.
  • The reception of weddings of some other Shellaker children were held at Billesdon Lodge Farm - which is where this picture was taken. It is fair assumption that Emma's wedding reception would have been at the Lodge.
  • Emma's sister Polly, who around this time was living in Christchurch in Dorset, is present in the photograph. Obviously she would have a guest of the wedding of her sister and so this would have created an ideal opportunity to take a photography of all of the family. Polly's husband, who would have also travelled up for Emma's wedding, was a professional photographer - he may have been the person who took this picture.
  • The plants in the background show seed heads and dead roses - so it appears the photograph was taken in the season of autumn which obviously fits the month of November.
  • Emma, who is on the far right of the front row, appears to have a wedding band on the third finger of her left hand. Interestingly the other two women in this photograph who are married, Emma's mother Mary (centre) and  Polly (second left) are clearly showing their own left hand and rings can be seen on their third fingers, conversely the two unmarried girls, Nellie (far left) and Sarah ( second right) are actually covering the left hands.
  • IF, and I have no proof, the photograph was taken on  14th November 1900 the ages of those in the photograph would have been....Back row (front left to right). JOHN (21 Years), WILLIAM (37 Years), RICHARD - the father  (70 Years). Front row (front left to right). NELLIE (21 Years), POLLY (36 Years), MARY - The Mother  (63 Years), SARAH  (39 Years) and EMMA  (34 Years). These ages are feasible with the appearance of those in the photo.

Shellaker Family Group Orignal and Revised

Circa 1900 – The Shellaker Family at Billesdon Lodge Farm

Back Row; JOHN, WILLIAM & RICHARD (father).
Front Row: NELLIE, POLLY, MARY (mother), SARAH & EMMA

The Census of 1901, recorded on Sunday 31st March, records, for the first time, Emma & Sam living as a married couple in Front Street, Billesdon.

1901 Census - Emma & Sam Geary in Billesdon

1901 Census – Emma Geary (nee Shellaker) and Sam Abell Geary in Billesdon

Road/ Street Name Relationship Age Marriage Status Occupation Employer/Worker Working at Home? Where Born
Front Street Sam A Geary Head 23 Married Carpenter Worker At Home Leicester
Emma Geary Wife 34 Married Leicester, Tugby

The head of a household was required by law to complete the Census form on the Sunday night detailing all those persons who were sleeping in the house that night. The Enumerator would deliver a Householder’s Schedule to each household and would return the following day and collect the information schedule. They checked the contents for discrepancies and clarified anything the head of the household did not understand or helped the householder to complete the Schedule. Refusal to accurately complete the Census was punishable by a fine of £5 or 1 week’s imprisonment. Consequently Emma’s adopted daughter “Doris Mary Geary Shellaker” was recorded, as required by law, on the 1901 Census. She was in the household of Thomas Curtis in the village of Tugby.

1901 - Emma Shellaker's Daughter Mary Curtis

 1901 Census – Mary Curtis, Daughter of Emma Shellaker in Tugby 

Road /Street Name Relationship Marriage Status Age Occupation Employer/Worker Working at Home? Where Born
Cottage & Shop Thomas Curtis Head Married 58 Wheelwright Own A/C At Home Leicester, Tugby
Emma Curtis Wife Married 58 General Shopkeeper Own A/C At Home Leicester, Hallaton
Louisa Curtis Daughter Single 29 Dressmaker Own A/C At Home Leicester, Hallaton
Doris Mary Nurse Child 1 Dorset, Blandford

The child, Doris Mary is recorded as being one year old (but is only two months away from her second birthday). I am unable to explain her birthplace as recorded of ‘Blandford Dorset’, a village some twenty miles away from where her birth certificate indicates she was born, which was at ‘174, Holdenhurst Road, Bournemouth’, at the home of Emma’s sister Polly.

Two terms on the Census may require an explanation:

Wheelwright – The occupation of Thomas Curtis, is that of a person who builds or repairs wooden wheels for carts and wagons.

However the most interesting term is the description of the relationship of the child ‘Doris Mary’ with the head of the household, ‘Doris Mary’ is recorded as being a ‘Nurse Child’. (Also it is interesting to note there is no surname recorded on the Census for the child).

Nurse child – Usually this term describes some kind of informal fostering arrangement and was used, for example, if one or both parents of a child died and the person remaining was unable to look after the infant. In those cases the child would often be placed with another local household (possibly other distant family or friends) who for a small fee would look after the child on their behalf, hence the term ‘nurse child’. The term often also hides some kind of illegitimacy – a good neighbour who takes a child in from a single mother who is unable to look after it.


Six months after their marriage and two months after the Census, on the 31st May 1901, Emma & Sam Geary made a small change to their original wedding certificate.

On the right side of the copy of the wedding certificate (see image on the right) held at the Register Office the following addendum was added:

“In entry No. 27. Col 4 after ‘Bachelor’ read ‘Spinster’, corrected on the 31st May 1901 by one G. Harrison, Registrar in the presence of S. A. Geary, E. Geary. The parties married”.

I do not know why Emma & Sam considered it necessary to add the word ‘Spinster’ to this certificate. They possibly felt that they were not legally married if the information given was not totally accurate.


Front Street Billesdon - Sam & Emma Geary's HomeThe Geary family (Emma & Sam) lived at 44, Front Street, Billesdon. The house was known as “Ivy House”. At the back of this house was a saw mill and workshops where Emma’s husband Sam, carried on his trade as a carpenter. (Front Street is now known as Church Street).

The photograph on the right shows “Ivy House” – 44, Front Street, Billesdon. Although this picture was taken in the 1960’s, several years after Emma’s death, the structure of the house had remained relatively unaltered since the time Emma lived there with her family.

In March 1931, following a fire which destroyed the home of her sister Nellie in Back Street Billesdon, Emma provided a home in her own house for Nellie and her family; husband John Brown, daughter Olive and also for Sarah Shellaker, the unmarried sister of Emma and Nellie, who was living with the Browns at their home at the time of the fire. This arrangement continued for a year until 1932 when a new home for Nellie & her family was been built in Back Street on land adjoining the destroyed cottage.

During their time at “Ivy House” Nellie, John & Olive Brown and Sarah Shellaker lived in the front room and the bedroom above. These rooms were connected by a separate staircase in the corner of the front room linking the room with the bedroom. These rooms at those of the left of the photograph on the right. Often after the Sunday evening service at the chapel the two families would return to the house and gather around the piano and Sam Abell Geary would undoubtedly ask ………. “Well Olive, shall we have a tune? ”.

Sam Arthur GearyIn July 1901, approximately seven months after their marriage, Emma and Sam had a baby son, whom they named SAM ARTHUR.

However baby Sam only lived for seven months before passing away on Thursday the 1st of February 1902. Below is a copy of a card that Emma & Sam had printed for the funeral of their first son, Sam Arthur.

There is a verse inside the card which reads:

This loving bud, so young and fair, Called forth by early doom ; Just sent to show how sweet a flower, In Paradise could bloom.

The child, Sam Arthur Geary, was buried in Billesdon cemetery.


Some years ago I was told by Olive Swift, the daughter of Emma’s sister Nellie, that after Emma and Sam had married they wanted to have their illegitimate daughter, Mary ‘Curtis’, back to live with them.

However, Mary, now eighteen months old and living with Mary & Tom Curtis, her adopted parents. Nellie had told Olive that prior to the ‘adoption’ of Mary, Tom Curtis was a very heavy drinker but he had ceased his drinking when he and wife (and Louisa) assumed the responsibility of raising the young baby.

There was great fear within the family that Tom Curtis may have resumed his drinking habits if Mary were returned to Emma & Sam.

So as a result of this concern Mary remained with her adopted parents for the rest of all of their lives.

Emma's father, Richard ShellakerSoon after the death of their first son, Emma becomes pregnant again (for the third time) and in the same year as Sam Arthur died, Emma gives birth to a second son.

This child was born on Friday 12th of December 1902 and was named WILLIAM ALBERT GEARY, but was thereafter known as ‘BERT GEARY’.

Bert’s Certificate of Birth is shown below on the left.

Eighteen months further on in our story see the death of Emma’s father RICHARD SHELLAKER, (pictured right) who died at the aged of 74 years, on the 20th July 1904.

After the funeral service at the Baptist Chapel in Back Street Richard was buried in the cemetery at Billesdon. Emma was nearly 38 years old at the time of her father’s death.

A further Sixteen months pass after the death of her father, and three years after the birth of ‘Bert’, Emma and Sam had another child, their fourth, when on Wednesday 15th November 1905, Emma gave birth to a girl who was named ANNIE ELIZABETH.

The certificate of Annie’s birth is below right.

Birth - William Albert & Annie Geary

 The Certificates of Birth of William Albert Geary and Annie Elizabeth Geary

Next page : Family Weddings and the Final Chapter