Robert Allen’s first marriage

My great-great-great-grandfather’s youngest brother Robert Allen was certainly a character to be reckoned with!

Born in Colwall (Herefordshire) on the Malvern Hills, right on the border with Worcestershire, Robert was the youngest of ten children born to Thomas and Sarah Allen. Robert was baptised on 9 September that same year in the local church of Saint James the Great.

On 13 May 1858 Robert married Judith Bond. Nothing particularly remarkable there, except both bride and groom were already widowed (according to their marriage certificate at least) and – wait for it! – that Robert was 36, while his wife was already 60! That’s an astounding 24-year-age difference!

My 4x-great uncle Robert Allen’s marriage in 1858 to the widowed Judith Bond. Notice the age gap between them!

Judith had been born Judith Cooke in late 1797 – she was baptised on 1 January 1798 in Upton-on-Severn, near Colwall but just across the Worcestershire border. Her first marriage, to William Bond, took place in Colwall in 1813, a good eight years before her second husband was even born! The marriage produced two sons before Judith was widowed in 1847: John (1816-1851) and William (1818-1844). Only one of them ever got married and produced a child, who sadly died young. These early deaths meant that by her early 50s, Judith had survived her entire family.

I can only guess the reason why she and my distant uncle Robert Allen knew each other or why they decided to get married, he being closer in age to Judith’s late sons. Perhaps he was a friend of theirs and took pity on the helpless lonely widow, and they mutually agreed to look after each other in their later years. As Robert was a labourer-turned-publican, and Judith doesn’t seem to have been particularly well off, I do not believe there was any financial interest on either party.

Whatever drove them to become husband and wife, Robert and Judith Allen remained married for a number of years. Judith passed away in early 1893, when she would have been in her nineties. Robert survived her only by another six years, dying of heart disease in 1899.

Strangely (and here lies the mystery about Robert’s life), Robert is recorded as a widower in his 1858 marriage certificate to Judith Bond (née Cooke). If this is correct – and why shouldn’t it be? – then we’d be looking for a marriage between Robert Allen and N.N. sometime between roughly 1839, when Robert would have been 18, and 1858, when he married Judith.

Robert’s whereabouts between 1839 and 1858 also remain a mystery. There is a good chance he is the same Robert Allen recorded as a blacksmith on the 1841 census (see caption below), living in Hanley Castle, which is in Worcestershire but very close to Colwall. He is noted as “not” born in the county, which would fit, and perhaps significantly, he is living with the Spilsbury family (a Henry Spilsbury, born in Hanley in around 1805, would go on to marry Robert’s sister Anne Maria in 1844). Unfortunately, as marital status is not included in the census form that year, there is no way of knowing if Robert was married, single or even widowed by then. There is no N. Allen living with him at the time, so I can only conclude Robert was probably unmarried at the time.

Possible entry for Robert Allen on the 1841 census.

Robert’s presence on the 1851 census remains a total mystery so I have no way of knowing where he lived at the time, or whether he was married by then. This could potentially mean he had moved anywhere in the meantime, and may have been living on the other side of the world, for all I know. Of course, we know that by 1858 he was certainly back in his native Colwall, marrying the elderly Mrs Bond.

I have ordered a certificate for a possible marriage, that of Robert Allen and Ann Jones, registered in Ledbury registration district in 1850, but alas, it proved to be a dead end: this marriage is for a 50 year-old shepherd, the son of a David Allen from Woolhope. This is clearly not my Robert Allen.

This 1850 marriage entry for Robert Allen and Ann Jones proves he is not the same man as my 4x great-uncle.

There is no shortage of Robert Allens marrying between 1839 and 1858 across Britain. Many of those marriages are featured, with full details displayed, on Ancestry and FindMyPast – and yet none of them match Robert’s father’s name.

Robert Allen’s first marriage remains a mystery. Who was his wife? When and where did they marry? Did they have any children? Did the marriage even take place? Why has he vanished from the 1851 census? Perhaps one day someone will be able to provide answers to these questions…