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Why Me?

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Why Me?

You will have to forgive me this personal indulgence - but I wanted to put here just a little bit about my connections with Stoke Damerel.

Why am I, Hugh Wallis, the OPC for Stoke Damerel? A good question and one that I sometimes wonder about myself. 

My interest in genealogy really started in August 2000 when my wife posted a message to a bulletin board about my great-grandfather, Thomas Henry WALLIS, and, within a day, had more information about him than I had ever dreamed possible. In fact it was only an 1881 census entry from Newington, Surrey which showed his father, William WALLIS, as being from "Stoke, Devon", and an 1851 census entry from Stoke Damerel showing his father as being Thomas WALLIS, Shipwright. But that was enough to get me going. I had never known any relatives on my father's side of the family and had had no idea that there was any connection to Devon, all known relatives up to then being from South London/Surrey area.

To add to all this, my parents had both been stationed in Devonport during World War II, my father being RNVR and my mother a Wren. This was where they met. Another twist of fate had caused Stoke Damerel to play a pivotal role in my very existence! Little did Mum and Dad know that during all their courting days they were walking the same streets of Stoke Damerel that my father's great grandfather and his father before him presumably had known so well. This maybe also helps to explain the mystery of why my father and his father both served in the Navy in the two Word Wars. It was just "what the Wallises did" - that race memory of the maritime connection maybe.

Finding out about all this led me to wonder about The Axe. A ceremonial wooden axe had been passed through the family along with the story that it was a wheelwright's axe that had been carried by one of my ancestors in the coronation parade of King William IV. Naturally we had assumed that this was in London somewhere, not having any idea that there was a Devon connection to our family at all. Now - having got back as far as pre William IV times I had not found any WALLIS wheelwrights but - we had shipwrights. Maybe this was a replica of a shipwright's axe and the parade was in Devonport, not London. Still thinking there was a London connection I contacted the Shipwrights' Guild of the City of London who confirmed that the axe looked very much like a shipwright's axe and suggested that I contact the Devonport museum. A quick check on Google brought me to the Plymouth Naval Base Museum whence I contacted Michael Phillips who, after some considerable kind searching, found a book containing the following:

"Form of the Dock-Yard Grand Coronation Procession,
 which took place at Devonport in commemoration of the 
Coronation of King William IV and Queen Adelaide 
September 8th 1831.
Containing the Order of Procession, Models, Emblems, Insignia,
Personifications, Descriptive mythology, Town festivities, Official
Documents, Former processions etc." 

The procession was led by:-


Six men with axes
Embellished with a crown and W.R.
FLAG - Royal Standard
Marine Band - Choristers
Six men with axes
Three officers, Conductors of the Procession
attended with appropriate banners,
crown, etc.

There is a note at the bottom of the page.

Note - The guards to the models carried slices and adzes, but more
generally axes. A shipwright`s axe measures 13 1/2 inches by 6 1/2
inches, the haft 2 feet 10 inches; it is very different from that of a
carpenter, which is usually denominated a hatchet.

This was the sixth Dockyard Procession:- First after Admiral Keppel`s
Victory in 1778. 
Before George III, his Queen and their three Princesses visited Plymouth
Dock in 1789.
For the King and Glorious Constitution, at a period of great national
disturbance in 1794.
Temporary peace made with Napoleon in 1801.
General Peace 1814. 
The present Coronation in 1831. "

This fit perfectly with the story (except for the slight wheelwright/shipwright wrinkle - but that could easily be explained by over 170 years of story telling) and with the description of the axe itself. I conclude that my great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas WALLIS, Shipwright in H.M.Dockyard, Devonport, was probably one of those "Six men with axes". How could I NOT take on the Stoke Damerel OPC job once it had been suggested to me. I wonder what 3g-gf Thomas would think about all this....

2002 - an addendum - I have now discovered that 3g-gf Thomas's father, also called Thomas, was a shipwright in the Devonport Dockyard as well and so maybe he was also involved in this parade, perhaps being one of the ones to carry "the Axe". Incidentally I have also discovered that John Mudge, the publisher of the commemorative book, married 3g-gf's sister, Jemima and so it all comes together...

The following are a few pictures of the Axe itself (you can click on the thumbnail images to see them full-size)

Axe_1.jpg (66488 bytes) Axe_3.jpg (32486 bytes) Axe_2.jpg (51089 bytes)