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Helmdon Historical Articles

THE WATSONS - The Story Of A Family

an article by Nick Jackson



It is hard to imagine Helmdon without the Watsons, but if you were to go back in a time-machine to the middle of the eighteenth century you would not find a single inhabitant of Helmdon bearing this name.

The first reference to the Watsons to be found in the Helmdon Parish Register is the marriage between William Watson and Mary Ward on 12th October 1790.   Three sons,   Edward, James and William, were born of this marriage between 1792 and 1795, followed by a daughter Mary, who was baptised in October 1797.  Mary Watson unfortunately died in childbirth and was followed to the grave by her short-lived daughter Mary.

William Watson then married Ann Elliot “of this parish” in 1799 and three months later their first daughter Mary, presumably named after her father’s unfortunate first wife and her equally unfortunate half-sister, was baptised.  William and Ann’s family continued to grow:  Sarah 1801, John 1803, Ann 1804, Susanna 1808, Richard 1809 and finally George in 1814.

George Watson and his wife Harriott Stanley are to be found in Whitfield with a large family of four sons and six daughters.  George’s four sons subsequently leave for London about 1870.   Of their four surviving sisters three marry and remain in the locality.   However, one daughter Jane and her husband George Harding leave for New Zealand about 1875.

George’s two brothers John and Richard remain in Helmdon and have large families of their own.

By the latter part of the nineteenth century the Watsons are a well established Helmdon family, evidenced by the Parish Register recording the baptisms of the many grandchildren and great grandchildren of William Watson 1766-1841 and Ann Elliott 1775-1845.

John’s eldest son William 1830-1909, my great great grandfather, was born a labourer’s son but, through dint of hard work, he died a relatively wealthy man.  His fortune was inherited by his eldest son James 1856-1915.  On James’s death his widow Emily remarried and, according to family legend, her second husband squandered the Watson fortune!!

His eldest daughter Ann (1858-1930) met a young policeman from Weedon Lois called John Coggins, and shortly before her eighteenth birthday, in November 1876, my grandfather John Coggins Watson was born in Helmdon.  My grandfather was raised by his grandparents as their “youngest son”.  I guess the village knew the truth!!

My grandfather and his young wife Annie Lock left for Bedfordshire shortly after their marriage in 1898 where they raised a family of thirteen children. My late mother Lilian Watson (1919-1996) was their 12th and last surviving child.  Like her Watson forebears my mother’s early life was very much based around the land, as her father was a farm manager until his death in 1943.

John’s second son John 1837 and his wife Elizabeth Needle’s descendents are still represented in Helmdon.   Mark, Frank and Luke are now dead but it is a reassuring thought that, in an ever-changing and uncertain world, the Watson family is still represented in Helmdon after half a dozen or so generations.

Luke, and his sons Harold James (“Jim”) and Philip, farmers, remained in the village and their descendants live in Helmdon to this day, firmly committed to the life of the village.  

John’s youngest son James and his wife Sarah Gubbins also had a large family, some of whom lived their lives in Helmdon and some of whom left for what is now Milton Keynes.  One of their great grand children, Brian Watson, left Northamptonshire and is now a farmer in the Orkney Islands.

I guess you can take the Watsons out of Helmdon but cannot take Helmdon out of the Watsons.

As the youngest of about thirty first cousins, some of whose children are older than me, I was always overwhelmed by the size of my immediate family and equally curious to know where my mother’s family originated from.  I first started researching the Watson family as a teenager with my late mother.  In the Internet age it is so easy to connect to other branches of the same family, and I would be very pleased to communicate with any relatives descended from the Watsons still living in Helmdon. 

Nick Jackson 


Editor’s noteNick has deposited a substantial family tree with the Helmdon history website..  If you are researching Watson ancestry and  would like to see it in hard copy, please get in touch editor@helmdonhistory.com 

First printed in Aspects of Helmdon No 6  (2008)  

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