News / Famous family trees: Upstairs Downstairs star, Anne Reid

Famous family trees: Upstairs Downstairs star, Anne Reid

22 September, 2015

Family historian Roy Stockdill takes us on a journey through time as he investigates a side of Anne Reid’s family history uncovered in her recent appearance on BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are?.

Had veteran actress Anne Reid, MBE, followed the inclinations of her family history, her thespian talents would have been lost to the world of theatre and television. For Anne, who stars in the latest BBC TV series of Upstairs Downstairs as cook Mrs Thackeray, comes from a family closely connected with journalism and newspapers.

Start exploring your ancestors’ story with a trial membership

Anne’s grandfather, father, uncle and three brothers were all writers, and her grandmother sold advertising space. Anne, however, never seriously thought of following the family tradition, ‘Though I’ve always enjoyed writing and have lots of stories at home’, she says.

Anne is also well known for her appearances with Victoria Wood, especially in the sitcom Dinnerladies, and with Maureen Lipman in the delightful Ladies of Letters. Veteran Coronation Street fans may remember her as Ken Barlow’s first wife, Valerie Tatlock.

Anne’s father, Colin Norman Reid, born in 1896 at Aston, Birmingham was a special correspondent in the Middle East for the Daily Telegraph. An uncle worked on the Manchester Evening News and her three older brothers, born in the 1920s, all worked in newspapers. The best-known was Colin Reid, a brilliantly witty writer for the Daily Mail.

Anne was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1935, some nine years after the youngest of her brothers. ‘I was a mistake’ she jokes, ‘but I think my parents were glad to have a girl after three boys.’ Her parents, Colin Norman Reid and Annie Eliza Weetman, were married at Redcar on the rugged, windswept coast of North-East Yorkshire in 1920.

Anne’s mother, Annie Eliza, also born in 1896, was from Darlington in County Durham. When WWII broke out they moved from Newcastle back to Redcar. The family moved around quite a bit – Anne’s father was born at Aston, Birmingham but the Reids came from Liverpool and before that from Fife, Scotland.

In the 1911 census, Anne’s father Colin, then aged 14, was living with relatives of his mother called Latham at Smethwick, near Birmingham – see their census return below:

Anne Reid, WDYTYA, 1911census, who do you think you are

Anne’s grandmother, Helena Latham, was born at West Derby, Liverpool in 1875 and married Thomas David Husband Reid, Anne’s grandfather, at Bolton, Lancashire, in 1894. Thomas, born in Liverpool in 1870, got his unusual middle name of Husband from his Scottish ancestors – more on them later.

Thomas Reid appears to have been the first member of the family to write for newspapers and contributed a cycling column to the Bolton Evening News under the pseudonym of ‘Pathfinder’. He also wrote for a cycling journal, the Northern Wheeler, published by the same company. The British Newspaper Archive contains a report of an accident he suffered in 1892 when his bicycle crashed into an unattended cart left across the road in the dark.

Thomas won a court case against the cart’s owner and was awarded £14 damages with costs. He subsequently died tragically young in 1906 at only 36, as a result of a long-distance cycling trip. According to Anne, her grandfather caught pneumonia and died, leaving his wife Helena a widow at only 30.

This would probably explain why, in the 1911 census, Helena’s 14-year-old son Colin – Anne’s father – was living with his mother’s relatives in Smethwick while Helena herself is found in Middleborough as a boarder and working as a traveller for the North of England Newspaper Co:

Anne Reid, 1911 Census, WDYTYA. Who do you think you are?

I found an interesting entry in the 1901 census in Aston Manor, Birmingham, from which Anne’s grandfather, Thomas David Husband Reid, appears to be absent – perhaps he was away on one of his long-distance rides!

The census sheet is somewhat curious, however, because it gives the impression that it was Thomas himself who completed the schedule. Helena Reid is shown as wife, four-year-old Colin Norman Reid as son, 68-year-old Mary Latham, Helena’s mother, as mother-in-law, and Ada Maud M Latham, 25, sister-in-law, but no head of household appears:

Anne Reid, WDYTYA, Who Do You Think You Are, 1901 Census

Maybe a tired enumerator made a mistake and forgot to copy into his book Thomas’ name as head of the household – it has been known! I was unable to find him elsewhere in 1901 but he was certainly still alive because he didn’t die until 1906.

Another interesting feature of this 1901 entry is that also in the household were two young male boarders, Frank Lloyd, 21, and Tom Gilson, 19, both of whom were footballers. I wondered whether they were playing for the famous Aston Villa club and, sure enough, I found both names online in an Aston Villa database.

Taking Anne’s ancestry back a further generation, I found her great-grandfather, also called Thomas Reid, in every census from 1871 to 1911, mostly in Liverpool. He worked for much of his life as a solicitor’s clerk.

I was initially stymied because in the censuses from 1871-1901, Thomas’s birthplace was shown merely as Scotland and, although I knew his birth year to be around 1833-5, there were far too many Thomas Reids of similar age born in Scotland to give me a prayer of identifying the right man!

Then came a breakthrough. I discovered Thomas Sr still alive in the 1911 census living at 3 Harrogate Street, Everton, Liverpool, aged 75. I felt sure this was the right man because Thomas was still a law clerk:

Anne Reid, 1911 Census, WDYTYA, Who Do You Think You Are

What was exciting was that Thomas had filled in the census himself – the 1911 census is the first one in which we can see our ancestors’ actual handwriting – and recorded his birthplace as Logie in Fife in about 1836. The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that Thomas had two widowed ladies of 70 looking after him, a housekeeper and a cleaning woman. When I told Anne this, she exclaimed: ‘Good for him!’.

The GRO death indexes indicate that Thomas Reid Sr died at West Derby, Liverpool in 1915 aged 79, outliving his unfortunate son Thomas Jr by some nine years.

Armed with the knowledge that Thomas Reid Sr had been born at Logie, Fife, I found him in the 1841 census. The census revealed five-year-old Thomas and two siblings living with their maternal grandparents David and Isabella Husband, both 65, on a farm at Easter Forret, Logie:

Anne Reid, 1841 census, WDYTYA, Who Do You Think You Are?

I found Easter Forret on modern maps – below is a picture of where David and Isabella lived.

Photo courtesy of Caroline Makein of Fife Rootsearch, St Andrews

Photo courtesy of Caroline Makein of Fife Rootsearch, St Andrews

It is a fairly remote place in the hills above Logie, about 10 miles from the famous resort of St Andrews.

I then found the birth of Thomas Reid in the old parish registers for Logie at ScotlandsPeople. He was born on 24 July 1835 and baptised on 21 August. The entry said he was the son of John Reid ‘School master here’ (i.e., at Logie) and Margaret Husband.

So John and Margaret Reid were the great-great-grandparents of Anne Reid and I also found their marriage on 28 November 1834 in the Logie old parish registers. John was again described as ‘School master here’ and Margaret as the daughter of David Husband, farmer, Easter Forret.

It now became clear where Anne’s grandfather, Thomas David Husband Reid, got his middle names from: his grandmother Margaret and great-grandfather.

My researches were still not exhausted, however, for I managed to find the birth and baptism of Margaret Husband at Kilmany, Fife, the adjacent parish to Logie, in November 1800. She was the daughter of David Husband and Isabel [sic] Heggie.

In the 1851 census, David Husband and his wife Isabella, now both 77, had moved to another farm at Kingbarns, Fife, closer to St Andrews:

Anne Reid, 1851 Census, WDYTYA, Who Do You Think You Are?

This census reveals David’s birthplace to be Leuchars, Fife, another parish adjacent to Logie. I found his birth and baptism in December 1773, which showed him as the son of another David Husband and Margaret Dickson.

The final piece of the jigsaw fell into place when I located the marriage of David and Margaret at Monimail, Fife, also fairly close to Logie, on 13 November 1767.

This meant I had managed to get Anne Reid’s Scottish ancestors back to her great-great-great-great-grandparents. I wonder if this couple, who wed almost 250 years ago, could ever have dreamed that one day a descendant of theirs would become a famous actress?

Finally, in researching another of Anne’s lines, I learned she had ancestors who were born on the estate of the Marquess of Cholmondeley at Cholmondeley Castle, Cheshire. A great-grandmother called Mary Humphreys was born there in 1831 and went into service in Chester, while a distant kinsman of Anne’s, called Edward Humphreys, born in 1809, was house steward to the Marquess and Marchioness for more than 20 years. He appears with them in the 1851 census at their London home, 12 Carlton Terrace, St Martin in the Fields:

Anne Reid, 1851 Census, WDYTYA, Who Do You Think You Are?

Truly a classic case of Upstairs Downstairs!

Roy Stockdill has been a family historian for almost 40 years. A former national newspaper journalist, he edited the Journal of One-Name Studies (for the Guild of One-Name Studies) for 10 years. He is on the Board of Trustees of the Society of Genealogists and is commissioning editor of the ‘My Ancestors…’ series of books. He writes regularly for Family Tree magazine.

  • Michael Meggison

    1. You can also add another interesting fact: Charles Chaplin’s half brother, Wheeler Dryden, was the father of the famous Spencer Dryden of the 1960s rock group the Jefferson Airplane. Spencer used to spend Christmas’ with his famous uncle.

    2. Are you considering genealogical research on the Beatles or Rolling Stones? I have interesting information found on McCartney, Harrison, Starr, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones.

    • Roy Stockdill,

      Yes, I was aware of the Spencer Dryden connection to Charlie Chaplin but ran out of space!

      Thanks for the suggestion about the Beatles and the Stones. I’ll think about it but the main idea of the blog is to link the subject to someone currently in the news or featuring on television (as with the Charlie Chaplin story and Anne Reid in Upstairs Downstairs). I have a feeling the ancestries of the Beatles and Stones must have been researched by someone at some stage for one of the many books and millions of words that have been written about them, but I’ll do a spot of Googling on them.

      Thanks again for the suggestion.

  • http://FamousFamilyTrees Debbie

    Thank you Mr Stockdill for two very fascinating family trees. I look forward to reading more of them!

  • http://Familysearch Brenda Halliday

    Thank you it was very interesting reading I am doing my family tree and it is very exciting when you discover all the different things about your family. Hope that you do more of these

  • Deborah Hart Stock

    I really enjoyed reading about Anne Reid’s ancestry – what a mobile family they were!

    I just have an observation about the 1901 census entry for the Thomas Reid family. Even if he wasn’t at home on census night, Thomas was presumably still “Head” of the family, so the enumerator would surely have been quite correct in his descriptions of the family members – the column title is “Relation to Head of Family”. I’ve definitely come across similar entries before, where the husband is absent from home, and in fact I’ve seen it cause some confusion for transcribers – the household starting with “wife” has been tacked on to the previous household, giving the impression that a man had two wives!

  • Roy Stockdill,

    Thanks Deborah. You make a very good point. You are right in that Helena Reid was the wife of the head of the household, Thomas, who wasn’t there, so perhaps the enumerator was following his instructions strictly according to the book. Clearly, if Thomas had been deceased by then Helena would have been head of the household but she wasn’t. However, I still haven’t found him. Was he on the road somewhere on his bike and thus out of reach?

    You are also correct in that this sort of description, where a female is described as a wife but no head of the household is present, does seem to cause confusion to transcribers!