George Robert Lendrem, a weaver in Teeside who disappeared.

The body in the ‘Wear’

Cavan historian Jonathan's Smyth's popular Times Past column this week looks at George Robert Lendrem, a weaver in Teeside who disappeared.

In February 1892, George and Thomas Oliver made a grim discovery as they journeyed along the River Wear at Fatfield, Durham, England. A body had washed up, which the coroner confirmed was male and aged in his 60s. The deceased had gone to his watery grave approximately four weeks prior to the Oliver’s discovery. No further details about the man’s identity were found. He was wearing black trousers, grey stockings, a black kerchief with white spots, two dark coloured waistcoats, a brown knitted jersey, and a black coat.

In the pockets they found a white handled pocketknife, an ‘old silver snuff box’, and five pence ‘in money’. Having completed an autopsy, Mr Graham, the coroner, gave permission for the remains to be buried.

Reported missing

A month earlier, George Lendrem had been reported missing by his family on January 24, 1892. He had travelled to Durham City in the previous month to visit his son’s family and to spend time with his grandchildren during Christmas.

George Robert Lendrem was born in Ashfield, Co Cavan, in 1822 and a glance at the church registers for Ashfield show that there were Lendrum (Lendrem) families living in the townlands of Corballyquill and ‘Corabay’. In Ashfield Churchyard, there is one unmarked burial plot listed as number 78 on the map, which accompanies the inscription list published in the Breifne journal, published in 2009-2010.

Around 1839, George, at the tender age of 17 emigrated to England, and settled in the Teeside town of Barnard Castle, Durham. Tourist brochures describe Barnham Castle as a ‘must see’ European market town, taking its name from the historic castle, around which the settlement grew. This English town inadvertently drew considerable attention to itself from media outlets around the world during the Coronavirus restrictions of 2020, when Brexit ‘mastermind’, Dominic Cummings, drove 260 miles to ‘test’ his road vision: I suppose he’d have gone to Specsavers, if they’d not been in lockdown.

Having made Barnham Castle his new home, George Lendrem soon became friendly with Jane Wigham, the daughter of a local Worsted Mill owner and on April 6th, 1845 they were married. George worked as a carpet weaver in his father-in-law’s mill and he and Jane lived in the Bridgegate area where most of the mill workers resided. The Lendrem’s first child was a daughter whom they named Mary Ann and as the family later expanded, they moved into a larger property at 128 Bridgegate. By 1861, Jane Lendrem worked as a ‘minder’ at the mill while the eldest of her children was still in school. At the time, the Lendrems had five more children, Sarah, Charlotte, William, Robert, and ‘baby’ Catherine.

In 1871, the Lendrem family was living at number 65, Bridgegate and George was still earning a living at the woollen factory. His daughters Mary Ann, Sarah and Charlotte were now employed as minders in a flax factory. The Lendrem’s sons William, and Robert were carpet weavers while the youngest children, Catherine and another arrival, George Jnr, were still attending school. Mary Ann had her own family, a baby daughter named Sarah Jane, whom the church records noted as ‘illegitimate’, a first grandchild for George and Jane. Seven years later, tragedy struck, and George’s beloved wife Jane died. Afterwards, George moved with Catherine and George Jnr into a smaller dwelling in the Bridgegate area. Catherine worked nearby as a domestic servant and George Jnr was apprenticed to a clog maker.

By the 1890s, George Robert Lendrem had retired and in December 1891, he travelled to see his eldest ‘surviving’ son William, daughter-in-law Sarah and the grandchildren who lived at Hallgarth Street, Durham City. According to Dennis Lendrem who is a descendant, George was not of a calm mind during his visit and the family being concerned, allowed him to stay with them for longer.

Fateful day

On January 24, 1892, George Robert Lendrem went for a walk along the famed River Wear, accompanied by his granddaughter Jane. The picturesque Wear river rises in the Pennines, flowing eastwards to Co Durham, pleasantly meandering its way through the Cathedral City of Durham, running alongside Durham Castle, it passes beneath Framwellgate bridge, making its way towards Sunderland and then onwards to the North Sea.

George Lendrem asked his granddaughter to return home because he wanted to walk alone, but, he never came home that evening and soon after, his worried family reported him missing. Recently, Dennis Lendrem, recalled that it took more than ten years of research for him to discover what happened to his ancestor. A family tradition was that he had drowned, possibly in the North Sea, and on following up that line of enquiry, it was discovered that an infant called George Lendrem had died at sea in 1892; however, the puzzle remained unsolved because the age was incorrect.

Family history

Dennis began to muse over whether his ancestor could have fallen into the River Tee as it wove its way through Barnard Castle. But that theory proved fruitless. Then a newspaper clipping surfaced, which reported the death of George Robert Lendrem who drowned in the River Wear. Excited by the information the Lendrems turned their attention to finding his grave. They headed to Durham City, where the home of George’s eldest son had been. Dennis recalled: ‘We were working on a theory that he had perhaps drowned in the Wear and we followed his journey downstream to Fatfield near Washington’. With the kindly help of the local vicar, they discovered George Roberts Lendrem’s final resting place. It was a moment tinged with sadness, as they gazed wistfully at the headstone so badly worn that the surname was almost illegible. The Lendrems had planned to hold a reunion at George’s grave in 2020, but the Coronavirus ‘knocked that on the head’, as Dennis said.

Having solved the mystery, a delighted Dennis Lendrem finished by proudly telling me, that ‘George was a young Cavan man who emigrated to England where he made good, marrying the mill owner’s daughter, and becoming ‘a pillar of society’.

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