House of Christopher

A Journey from rural Dorset through the early development of our Railways (1569 to 2014)

©Compiled by Michael Russell OPC for Fordington September 2013

Welcome : My name is Michael Russell and I have been researching my maternal grandmothers family since the early 1970's. Over the years I have accumulated a vast amount of information and I have decided that it is time to record and share the information that I have. These accounts are based upon a considerable amount of authenticated documentation ranging from genuine birth, death and marriage certificates from the General Registry Office, to local parish registers, overseas consular returns, newspaper articles, wills, military records and many others. A few have been added to the text to help illustrate particular points or add interest but the vast majority are held in a separate library of supporting documentation in my possession. Many of these are now gradually becoming available to view on line at

At various points I have added a timeline or referred to events of the day as this has helped me to understand the environment within which they lived. Even so I can only scratch the surface. The nature of genealogy however is that it is constantly changing as new information comes to light and new generations emerge. It is inevitable therefore that some parts of it will be out of date almost as soon as it is written. Every effort has been made to base all statements on provable fact and any errors or omissions are unintentional. I started this research as long ago as the 1970ís and it was my Great Aunt Minnie Amelia Christopher who first aroused my interest in Genealogy and turned me into a local historian. As she was born in 1894 I was able to draw upon her considerable memory of family events that happened even before she was born and it is thanks to her that many of the family photographs survived which I am also gradually adding to my tree on Ancestry, where people are welcome to copy them into their own trees if they wish.

Over the years many different people have helped me with different branches of the family and shared their research for which I am eternally grateful. It is one of the reasons as I get older that I feel the need to share my research and I have made my tree on ancestry open to the public. My wife Jane is also a genealogist and we both wish you well with your own research

Michael Russell FIPD
OPC for Dorchester & Fordington
October 2013

My direct line of descent is through my maternal grandmother and its origins can be found in the 16th century in a family of labourers working at Edmondsham House in Dorset and the fields of Edmondsham Manor that surround the village of that name. From there, disturbed by the civil war, they migrate west to the parish of Hazelbury Bryan. The death of Humphrey Christopher in 1724 meant his two sons went in different directions. One Charles Christopher (1705-1791) ended up in Fordington and gave rise to a whole dynasty of Christophers that are recorded on my tree on rather than covered here. It was research into Charles Christopher that led me to become OPC for Dorchester and Fordington. The other son Joseph Christopher accounts for my line of descent from which the family progress through the parishes of Hilton, Cheselbourne, Stinsford, and Wareham to Lytchett Minster. This covers the first seven generations listed below and a more detailed account of their lives with research notes can be accessed through the links provided. If you have an ancestor living in Dorset prior to 1880 with the Christopher surname there is an 80% chance that they have already been identified as belonging to this line of descent.


The greed of local landlords gradually depressed agricultural wages keeping families in poverty and this was nowhere worse than in Dorset. Eventually these dropped well below subsistence level resulting in the swing riots of 1830 that started in Kent and swept south west through Dorset. Before it reached such a desperate state in 1826 George Christopher (1772-1847) took the monumental decision to move his whole family together with the family of his eldest son William Christopher out of Dorset. This was at a time when there were no trains, and the family (which consisted of sixteen individuals) would not have had enough money to move by stagecoach which took several days to reach London. In all probability they went by a local boat working out of Wareham where they are last traced, and worked their passage.

Arriving in London they settled initially at Hayes near the Grand Union Canal which in those days was a major highway carrying goods between Oxford and London. They worked in the surrounding market gardens that fed London, members settling in nearby Heston and Isleworth and 5 of his children marrying locally. Surprisingly his eldest son William returned to Dorset with his family right at the height of the Swing Riots in 1831. William's family now consisted of 6 children, 3 having been added during his stay in the London area. The decision to leave may have had something to do with the death of George's mother Elizabeth Christopher who died in Dorset in 1830, but they returned to Lytchett Minister where his fathers sister Sarah Christopher had married a local farmer called James Fancy. Given the riots it was obviously better to employ family on the farm and I suspect this is where they worked for some time.


In 1835 George's wife Jane (nee Dorey) died in Isleworth and this prompted George (now aged 67) and his youngest son Richard (aged 12) to return to Dorset to live with William and his family. George's other children however were well entrenched around Isleworth with their own growing families, and fortuitously placed as it turned out as the 1835 Act of Parliament had just been passed enabling Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) to start construction of the Great Western Railway . This sealed their fate as higher wages were on offer and the proposed line ran through the fields just south of Heston, Hillingdon and Isleworth where their families lived. It was too good an opportunity to miss and they took advantage of the huge surge in demand for employment that followed the advent of Railway construction.

My 3x great grandfather Henry Christopher Junior (1814-1865) was one of the sons that had married locally, at Isleworth in 1837 to Elizabeth Hawkins, the same year Queen Victoria ascended the throne. His brother Joseph also married in 1838 in Hillingdon where his marriage certificate confirms him to have already been working as a platelayer on the railway. The first 22 mile section of the GWR running from Paddington to Maidenhead was officially opened for business that year so there can be no doubt that he helped lay the original wider 7 foot gauge track of this famous railway line. In fact it was probably higher wages that enabled them to marry with confidence. Henry and Joseph spent the rest of their lives working on the Railways initially on the GWR. Henry's first child Henry junior was born at Isleworth in 1838, and Joseph's son David arrived at Hillingdon in 1839. This was the year that Brunel completed construction of his world famous bridge over the Thames at nearby Maidenhead which was at that time the widest single span bridge in the world. It still faithfully carries our much heavier trains today 174 years later.


From about 1840 Henry & Joseph switched to working on the new Eastern Counties Railway as it was built from London out through Hornchurch, Chelmsford, Colchester and onto Ipswich and Bury St Edmund's. In fact it's possible to trace the progress of construction of the line through the birth of their children which occurred at successive railway stations along the line.

Construction of the ECR line was completed in 1860 and the families initially returned to London. Joseph was now an experienced railway engine fitter and was employed at Stratford. Henry initially worked in the Docks but both he and his eldest son, also called Henry, soon gained employment as Engine Drivers on the Railway. Tragedy struck when Henry's son Charles died of Typhoid in April 1860 followed by his wife Elizabeth nee Hawkins in March 1861 from Pneumonia. His son's wife Mary Ann (nee Keys) took over the household.


By 1860 most of the existing main line Railways into London had been constructed, but British businessmen were still setting up ventures to build Railways elsewhere at home and abroad. One such Company was the Ottoman Railway Company known as the ORC which was building the first ever Railway line in Turkey to run from Izmir to Aydin. Henry Christopher senior, because of his extensive experience, was offered a job on the line as a Railway Inspector and some of his sons were also employed, so the family set off for Turkey at the end of 1864. When they arrived the line had already extended 49 miles to reach the difficult terrain of Ephesus Pass and the line was being used to ferry tourists out to the excavations being undertaken at the nearby fabled and buried city of Ephesus. Family folklore talks about members of the Christopher family being employed to help excavate the Temple of Diana, and selling tortoise shells to the tourists for extra income.

The CHOLERA OUTBREAK at EPHESUS PASS & the Death of Henry Christopher (August 1865):

In July 1865 the dreaded Cholera outbreak which had already ravaged Alexandria, and Constantinople reached Smyrna and hit those in Ephesus pass in August. Excavation of the tunnels through the 13 mile mountainous section including Ephesus pass came to a halt, and all the workers and Railway staff were quarantined at the Pass. From the report to the ORC Board in London we know 12 Englishmen, two English women and three children, one Italian and 40 natives at Ephesus Pass died from Cholera. Among these were Henry Christopher Senior and his grandson Joseph Henry Christopher and I have added the consular death certificates to my tree at Ancestry. Henry Christopher Junior returned with the family settling near his wife Mary Ann's family in Malden Essex. According to my great aunt, Mary Ann conceived a son on Mount Ephesus in Turkey that was born after their return to the England on 20th July 1866. They had him christened as Ephesus Harry Christopher at St Peters Church in Malden on 26th August in memory of their time in Turkey.

A DECADE of STEAM TRACTION ENGINES & John SADD & Sons of Maldon in Essex (August 1866-1877):

I recently discovered that on his return to England Henry Christopher settled at Maldon working as an engine fitter for John SADD and Sons who were timber and slate import merchants owning their own ships and barges with a private wharf at Maldon and who ran many steam traction engines to haul and deliver the timber pulled on carriages behind the traction engine. I would not have been aware of this if not for the fact that in 1869 Henry accidentally ran over and killed a 5 year old child which was reported in the Chelmsford Chronicle. Henry maintained and drove these machines for over a decade between 1866 and 1877.

RETURN of Henry CHRISTOPHER Junior to the RAILWAYS as an Engine Fitter, Driver and Signal Fitter (1878-1914):

In 1877 at the height of Railway development the opening of the new Jubilee Maintenance shed at Stratford created a surge in railway employment as the shed was built to enable them to maintain up to 130 steam locomotives simultaneously. This drew Henry back to Stratford to work as an engine driver again and rejoin other members of the Christopher family already employed there. It was here he honed his skills as an engine fitter on the constant steam of new engines being employed on the railways and went on to become a signals fitter maintaining the utterly confusing myriad of signal boxes used at the junction. In 1889 he joined the staff at the newly built Woodsford Ferrers Railway station where they lived for another decade returning yet again to West Ham in 1900 eventually living at 85 Arthingworth Street where Henry and his wife both died in 1914. His son Arthur William CHRISTOPHER (1859-1916), my great grandfather also became a signal fitter on the railways and his grandson Arthur William Harry CHRISTOPHER (1889-1968) also worked for the Great Eastern Railway.
More Detailed accounts of the individual families can be accessed via the links provided below:-

1. Charles CHRISTOPHER (c1569-1629) & Anna (c1571-1627/8) - my great x 10 grandparents
    Estate labourer of Edmondsham in Dorset

2. Robert CHRISTOPHER (1597-1635) & Elizabeth TOP - my great x 9 grandparents
    Estate labourer of Edmondsham in Dorset
3. Humphrey CHRISTOPHER (1627-1703/4) & Ann SCAMELL (c1630-1668) - my great x 8 grandparents
    Husbandman of Stoke Wake and Hazelbury Bryan in Dorset
4. Humphrey CHRISTOPHER (1665-1724/5) & Ann - my great x 7 grandparents
    Husbandman of Hazelbury Bryan in Dorset
    4.1 Charles Christopher (1705-1791) & Elizabeth ALLEN (1705-1792) Agricultural Labourer of Fordington in Dorset (Son of 4)

      (4.1.1) Thomas Christopher (1763-1827) & Elizabeth Knight Furbage (1764-1850) Militia Man - Research document (grandson of 4.1)
5. Joseph CHRISTOPHER (b. 1702/3) & Joan HOOPER (1704/5-1780) - my great x 6 grandparents
    Agricultural Labourer of Hilton & Cheselbourne in Dorset
    5.1 Joseph CHRISTOPHER (1774-1863) & Ruth BUSSELL (1776-1857) The Christophers of Cheselbourne in Dorset (Grandson of 5)

      5.1.1 John Christopher (1844-1923) & Ellen Channing (1855-1924) The Christophers of Cheselbourne in Dorset (Grandson of 5.1)
6. William Trask CHRISTOPHER (1741-1785) & Elizabeth DART (1744-1830) - my great x 5 grandparents

    Agricultural Labourer of Stinsford, Wareham and Lytchett Minster
    6.1 James CHRISTOPHER (c1764-1847) & Elizabeth CONEY (1776-1808) & Jane STICKLAND (1775-1860) Agricultural Labourer of Lytchett Minster and Morden in Dorset (Son of 6)
7. George CHRISTOPHER (1772-1843) & Jane DOREY (1776-1835) - my great x 4 grandparents
    Agricultural Labourer of Dorset and migration to Isleworth in Middlesex
    7.1 William CHRISTOPHER (1800-1856) & Isabella STICKLAND (1798-1882) Agricultural Labourer of Lytchett Minster (eldest son of 7)
8. Henry CHRISTOPHER Senior (1814-1865) & Elizabeth HAWKINS (1819-1861) - my great x 3 grandparents
    Labourer on Great Western Railway, Platelayer on Eastern Counties Railway and Inspector on Ottoman Railway Co in Turkey
9. Henry CHRISTOPHER Junior (1838-1914) & Mary Ann KEYS (1835-1914) - my great x 2 grandparents
    Journeyman Smith, Engine Fitter in Turkey, Engine Driver in Kent, Engineer and Signal Fitter.
10. Arthur William CHRISTOPHER (1859-1916) & Catherine Lucy DENMAN (1857-1935) - my great grandparents
    Strict Methodists, Signal fitter at Wickford in Essex
11. Emily Bertha CHRISTOPHER (1888-1960) & Percy Nicholas Mc NALLY (1885-1967) - my grandparents
    Emily was a strict Methodist all her life, Percy a Plasterer by trade, served at Eppes in WW1 and lost 2 of his bothers, one of which won the DCM
12. Edna Clara McNALLY (1915-1995) & Cyril Frederick RUSSELL (1910-1975) - my parents (Private)
    Cyril joined the Army aged 14 attaining the rank of RSM WO1 in the REME and serving in India, Africa, Belgium and Germany before resigning to become a Senior Executive Officer in the Civil Service
13. Michael RUSSELL FIPD (b1946) & Jane Barbara ROOKER (b1950) - myself (Private)
    Joined the Civil Service attaining the rank of Principal before privatisation; Head of Regional Sales for NCM Credit Insurance, retired in 2000, Genealogist and Social Historian

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