Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Frederick Steane Yelf, his house, another Yelf and a Hundred year gap!

The Yelfs are a very small, select family. In the 1890’s there probably were not more than two hundred Yelfs in the world. Now, there are probably about eighty to a hundred. When you think that historically the vast majority of those Yelfs were to be found on the Isle of Wight you would think that the chances of associating two Yelfs with a single house, outside the Isle of Wight, over the span of a hundred years must be pretty remote. Or put it this way – pick any house in England and ask yourself what the chances are that a Yelf might have crossed its threshold – then try to calculate the odds that two Yelfs have crossed the threshold, but separated by almost 100 years. Well as it happens I stumbled over one of these rare beasts not a week ago.

I live not far from Wimbledon and actually work in South Wimbledon (Colliers Wood if you are not an Estate Agent) so I was quite intrigued to find that a couple of Yelfs had made their homes there at different times. One was Marcia Yelf, the widow and second wife of Robert Yelf one of the Ryde Yelfs, of Yelf’s Hotel fame. The other was an individual who first came to my notice on various census returns – Frederick Steane Yelf, third son of the same Robert Yelf of Ryde, but from his first wife, Sarah

Frederick was born in 1831 on the Isle of Wight. His parents were Robert and Sarah Yelf and the 1841 census return for shows Frederick and his brother Leonard attending the Play Street Academy under the tuition of Mr Browne. Leonard Keatley Yelf went on to become a notable GP living in Moreton–in-the-Marsh in Gloucester but Frederick seems to have opted for a career in the Civil Service. The War Office List of 1863 records Frederick as being a 3rd class clerk in the ‘Director of Works’ branch responsible for Barrack and Hospital Repairs and Construction. To quote part of his entry,

“YELF F. Clerk 3rd class, War office. Appointed a temporary clerk in the late Ordnance Office, Jan 1856 and promoted to the Establishment of the Consolidated War office in 1856”

By 1883 both Frederick and his brother both appear as executors on his fathers will and at this time he is living in Hammersmith. In the same year his War Office returns reads

“YELF FREDERICK S. Late junior Clerk, War Office. Appointed a temporary clerk in the late Ordnance Office, Jan1856 and promoted to the establishment of the Consolidated War Office, April 1856. Retired, on-reorganization, March 1880 on a pension of £226 13/4d a year with gratuity”

Which means he retired at about 52 years of age.

My first mention of Frederick at Wimbledon is in about 1887 when he seems to have moved into his new house in 34, Queens Road Wimbledon, a road of three story villas laying alongside the railway track and only three or four minutes from the station. Frederick’s wife Ellen seems to have died by about 1880 so for the whole of the twenty odd years he was living in Wimbledon it was with his daughter Florence Steane Yelf. By 1907 he has evidently de-camped to Hove in Sussex for the latter part of his retirement where he died in 1911, followed by his faithful daughter Florence in 1935.

Unearthing all this information was enough to persuade me to hop on my bike one lunchtime in order to see if the house was still there. In truth I was half expecting to find that the site was now a retail development but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the building itself was still there. Not unchanged though, as in it’s original state it had been a semi-detached building like the rest of the road around it, but both 32 and 34 Queens Road had been purchased and combined into a single building which, with suitable extensions, was now an exclusive retirement home! The pictures show the building as it now is - Fredericks house was originally the right hand side of the building with the single porch being the site of two front doors. All the neighbouring houses retain their original layout so it was easy to compare and to imagine the original layout.

So where’s the coincidence then? Well, when I showed the photograph to my wife she knew the house straight away. As an Occupational Therapist who specialised in wheelchairs she had visited the house in its current role as a retirement home, to assess some of the occupants ability to use powered wheelchairs. Little did she realise that she was by no means the first Yelf to have trod those floorboards (not, to be honest, would she particularly have cared - I seem to be the only one in the house who finds this sort of thing remotely interesting). And her verdict on the new building? - “Very nice!”. Well in truth you’d expect no less from a Yelf dwelling, even if the last one moved out just before the First World War!

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