The Life and Times of Joseph Keyes

This is the fifth in my new series of blogs, telling the life stories of my 2 x Great Grand parents and next up is Joseph Keyes, the ninth child of eleven children, born to Joseph Keyes (Senior) and Hannah (Anna) Maria King.

Joseph Keyes was born 12th January 1852 in Prittlewell, Essex and he was baptised on 8th February 1852 at St. Mary the Virgin Parish Church, Prittlewell, in Essex. The families residence at the time is stated as being in Prittlewell and Joseph’s Father, Joseph Senior, is listed as a Labourer.

Joseph Keyes Baptism 1852

(Essex Record Office; Chelmsford, Essex, England; Essex Church of England Parish Registers Essex, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1918)

Joseph Keyes Birth Certificate

(Joseph Keyes Birth Record)

Prittlewell - (Annunciation of) St Mary the Virgin

(St Mary the Virgin Church, Prittlewell)

1861 Census

Jospeh Keyes Census Return 1861

(Class: RG 9; Piece: 1084; Folio: 76; Page: 14)

The first record that we find young Joseph on, after his birth, is the 1861 Census and here we find Joseph, aged 9, listed as a scholar and living at home with both his parents and five of his siblings, George aged 17, Emma aged 14, Anna Maria aged 11, Ellen Betsy aged 7 and Sarah Ann aged 4. The family home is East Street in Prittlewell.

East Street Prittlewell 1

East Street Prittlewell 4

East Street Prittlewell 5

(Images of East Street, Prittlewell kindly supplied by Hilary Scott)

1871 Census

Jospeh Keyes Census Return 1871

(Class: RG10; Piece: 1668; Folio: 102; Page: 33)

By the time of the 1871 Census, Joseph Keyes has left school and is employed as an Agricultural Labourer, which is noted in the census details for the family. He is still living at home with the family, still in East Street, Prittlewell, at home are both his parents, Jospeh Senior and Ann Keyes, but all of his siblings have moved away from the family home, so to utilise the extra space in the family home, Joseph Senior has taken in three boarders, who are also counted on the 1871 Census.

Between 1871 and 1881, our Joseph meets his bride to be, Elizabeth Bishop and they marry on 17th October 1874 at the Grays Parish Church (actually in the Church that I myself was baptised in!).

Grays Parish Church

(Grays Parish Church)

Joseph is listed as a Bachelor and Labourer and his place of residence is listed as Grays Thurrock.

Joseph Keyes Elizabeth Bishop Marriage

(Joseph Keyes Birth Certificate)

Joseph Keyes Elizabeth Bishop Marriage 1

Joseph Keyes Elizabeth Bishop Marriage 2

(Essex Record Office; Chelmsford, Essex, England; Essex Church of England Parish Registers)

On 9th September 1875, Joseph and Elizabeth have their first child, my Great-grandmother, Caroline Rosina Keyes and at the time of her birth, Joseph was employed as a Plate Layer for the Railways, which had just started to reach the outlying County of Essex.

There a couple of links here that give an insight into the role of a Plate Layer and the type of work that this involved.


Platelayers Society

1881 Census

Jospeh Keyes Census Return 1881

(Class: RG11; Piece: 1753; Folio: 60; Page: 29)

By the time of the 1881 Census, Joseph Keyes and his Wife Elizabeth are living at 18, Chapel Row, Grays in Essex and by this time they have three children, Caroline Rosina (My Great-Grandmother) aged 5, Clara Elizabeth aged 3, and William Henry aged 1. Joseph’s occupation is a Labourer at the Cement Works which was a large Employer at the time, it was one of the major industries in Thurrock. Joseph’s future son-in-law, William Chiddicks was to also be employed in the Cement Industry in Grays.

The following images were kindly donated by Dylan Moore from his wonderful historic site of cement kiln works in the UK.





Cement Kilns UK Website

The landscape of Thurrock was an ideal ground for the Cement Industry, one of the key ingredients in the mass production of Portland Cement, being Chalk, which was abundantly available in Thurrock. Mass excavations of Chalk Quarries blighted the landscape of Thurrock, as Industry thrived during the period at the turn of the 19th Century.

In the early years of the 20th Century, the banks of The River Thames, between Purfleet and Grays, were lined with wharves, cement works and lime kilns. Beyond the banks was a stark industrial landscape of quarries, tall chimneys, railways tracks and rolling stock. The Wouldham Cement Company alone, had five massive chimneys that were an unmistakable landmark along the River.

Between the two centuries, after the invention of Portland Cement, with the ready availability of chalk, Thurrock became an ideal location for Cement Works and Company after Company set up their businesses in Thurrock and they became one of the biggest employers in the area at that time.

1891 Census

Jospeh Keyes Census Return 1891

(Class: RG12; Piece: 1377; Folio: 5; Page: 3)

The next record that we find for Joseph Keyes is the 1891 Census and the family have moved to 26, Prospect Row, in Grays and Joseph is living at home with his Wife Elizabeth and five children, Caroline Rosina aged 15, William Henry aged 11, Albert George aged 6, Rose Amelia aged 5 and Alice Maud aged 4. Jospeh’s occupation is listed as a Labourer Cement Works.

1901 Census

Jospeh Keyes Census Return 1901

(Class: RG13; Piece: 1660; Folio: 14; Page: 19)

Between 1891 and 1901, Joseph and Elizabeth have two more children, Harry Joseph Keyes born in 1891 and Bertie James Keyes born in 1896 and the family are still living at 26, Prospect Place in Grays, with six of their children still living at home. Joseph’s occupation is still  a Labourer in the Cement works.

1911 Census

Jospeh Keyes Census Return 1911

(Class: RG14; Piece: 9975; Schedule Number: 288)

By 1911 Joseph and his family have moved to 57, Stanley Road in Grays and Joseph’s occupation has changed slightly as he is now listed as a Night Watchman at the Cement works. Jospeh is at home with his Wife Elizabeth and their four Sons, one of whom, Harry Joseph Keyes is following in his Father’s footsteps and working as a Cement Labourer.

The advent of The First World War was just around the corner for Joseph and his family and like millions of other families across the Country the Keyes family felt the full consequences of War. Three of the Keyes boys went off to War, but sadly only two of the boys returned. Albert George Keyes served with the 2/8th Essex Cyclists and survived the War, Bertie James Keyes was in the RAF and survived the War, but sadly Harry Joseph Keyes lost his life at Passchendaele (3rd Battle of Ypres) on 9th October 1917. One can never imagine the impact that the loss of a Son would have on a family and the consequences, but less than one month later, Joseph’s wife Elizabeth was to sadly pass away. So within one Month Joseph was to lose a Son to the ravages of War followed so soon by his own Wife.

Harry Joseph’s War story can be found Here

Six years after the Death of his Wife,  Joseph Keyes sadly passed away himself, on 20th November 1923, at the age of 71.

Joseph Keyes Death Certificate

(Joseph Keyes Death Record)

He died from Senile Decay and Bronchitis and was listed as living at 37, Hartland Road, Willesden, in Kilburn, London. Present at his Death was his Son Bertie James Keyes of 7, Sherfield Road, Grays, Essex. Joseph is buried at Buried at Grays New Cemetery, Grave Number 1056, Section 3.

Keyes Gravestone

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