The tears were flowing last night on Who Do You Think You Are? It was, I think, the saddest episode I have ever seen. It featured Gregg Wallace of Masterchef fame, and his search for his great-grandfather and his great-great-grandmother.
The episode began with Gregg visiting his mum, who provided an early photograph of Gregg's gx2 grandmother. There was, however, no name or information to go along with it. Gregg's first impression based on his ancestor's appearance was that she may have been well off. The information he obtained about his great- grandfather, Henry Roland Springett, was that he had abandoned his wife and children and deserted from the Navy. Not a particularly happy story to research, but it gets worse.
Gregg began his search in Plymouth, where a check of Henry's Naval records revealed that no desertion had taken place. Furthermore, prior to joining the Navy Henry had been a greengrocer, the same as Gregg himself. The really interesting revelation from the records, however, was that Henry had been away on duty when his wife had conceived and delivered a second child. Rather than deserting his family, Henry had been the victim of adultery!
Further records revealed that Henry had attempted to divorce his wife, and to gain custody of his son, Gregg's grandfather. For unknown reasons, probably a lack of funds, these proceedings did not go ahead. It is thought that Gregg's grandfather grew up never knowing that his father had wanted him.
Gregg wanted to discover what had gone wrong in the marriage, and the answer shocked him. Henry and his wife Emily had had a child prior to Gregg's grandfather. Emily and her two children slept in the same bed while Henry was away at sea, and she left a small lamp burning so that she could nurse the baby. One night a terrible accident occurred when the young girl's flannelette nightdress caught fire from the lamp. She died from her injuries, and Gregg speculated that Henry may have blamed his wife for the horrific event.
More heartbreak was to follow. Later in life Henry met another woman named Emily, and they had two children together. His unbelievable misfortune continued when he witnessed her being knocked down and killed by a car.
The amazing thing about genealogy is that it often throws up stories like this, that make us feel so sad for our ancestors that we never actually knew personally.
Gregg's research into his gx2 grandmother was no brighter. He discovered that her name was Selina, and that she had had a hard life working as a gloveress from the age of eight. Census records revealed a brother who was listed as an imbecile. Further research revealed that he had died after having a fit of convulsions, probably witnessed by Selina. Shortly after this she was admitted to a lunatic asylum, with symptoms including raving about being damned.
After a few years she was released, and it was revealed that this is where Gregg's mother's photograph originated from. She went on to marry and have a family, but in later life suffered a relapse, and died in the asylum at the age of fifty-one.
Gregg Wallace's Who Do You Think You Are? story was filled with heartbreak and tragedy, but made for compulsive viewing. You can catch it now on the BBC iPlayer.