Beck Family History

by David Hume

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Henry Beck - William Coker Beck

Jo believed that the Becks dated back to the Norman Conquest.

She was right. Indeed, the earliest record of the name in England appears in a list of noblemen who came over with William the Conqueror from Normandy in 1066. His name was written Beke. Jo noted the earliest name was spelled Bec, and there is a village and Benedictine abbey (founded in 1034) in Normandy. (Two abbots from Bec subsequently became archbishops of Canterbury, Lanfranc and Anselm.) The river is actually the Bec – and in early English ‘beck’ was also the word for river. There are many Bec/Beck-related family names involved in English politics in the 11th – 13th centuries, including Antony, who was (all at once) Bishop of Durham, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Prince of the Isle of Man – needless to say, a Crusader. Many were involved in ecclesiastical politics in the diocese of Lincoln (also founded by the Conqueror), including two bishops.

However, these sterling gentlemen were a separate branch (and supposed to be celibate). In the mid 17th century, a branch of the Lincoln family engaged on the Royalist side in the civil war. Their cause being defeated, they were obliged to flee for their lives and two of them in disguise were able to obtain employment under the Duke of Dorset at Arlington in Sussex. The oldest record we have of our direct Beck antecedents comes from a copy of the Register at the Arlington Church, taken by our forebear Henry Beck in 1819. It reads:

June 11th 1689 Nupti ANDREW BECK de Folkington et BARBARA FULLER de Arlington.

Subsequently their 3 offspring were christened/baptized as follows.

March 6th 1694 Baptizatus fuit ANDREW BECK filius ANDREW BECK et BARBARA uxoris ejus.
December 5th 1696 Baptizatus et DANIEL filius ANDREW BECK et BARBARA uxoris ejus.
December 12th 1698. Baptizatus est JANE filia ANDREW BECK et BARBARA uxoris ejus.

We are all descended from Daniel via a William. By the time we get down the family tree to Henry, the family had certainly left the Established Church fold, and had embraced Methodism. Henry Beck was involved in the introduction of Methodism to the seaside town of Hastings in Sussex.

Henry Beck (1783-1868)

Henry recorded the introduction of Methodism to Hastings for a Jubilee Service in 1867.

‘I, Henry Beck, was born at Laughton, 6 miles from Lewes, September 3rd 1783. I removed with my parents to Lewes in 1791. In 1803, I married my first wife (Sarah Savage), and in 1804 removed to Eastbourne and under the Methodist ministry there both myself and my wife were awakened and converted. I joined the Methodist society and in 1813 I was put on the Brighton and Lewes plan as a local preacher. In the year 1817, August 1st (in the providence of God as I doubt not), I removed with my wife and family of 6 children to hire a house called 3 Bluchers Buildings, now known as 3 Russell Street, where I resided nearly 40 years….

On the first Sunday morning after my arrival in Hastings, I went to the Croft Chapel at 7 oclock to the prayer meeting and engaged in prayer as did a gentleman’s servant who was also a Wesleyan, lodging temporarily in Hastings, and with whom I shook hands after the prayer meeting and afterwards became intimate.

Hastings in 1817 was a place in every respect greatly different from the Hastings of 1867. Different in size, in population and in character. Smuggling was exceedingly rife, swearing and profane language were shockingly common, Sabbath breaking notoriously prevalent, it being no uncommon thing for several colliers or coal vessels to on the beach unloading on the Lord’s day, and other vessels unloading groceries etc while drunkenness and its sad train of evils abounded on every hand (would that this sad vice had by this time ceased but alas it has not, it is still a curse to this locality as well as our national disgrace and shame).

Finding no Methodist cause in Hastings and beholding the prevailing ungodliness, I felt constrained to exert myself to commence preaching, and hired a room to this purpose, situate in Winding Street, a room that was generally used during the week as an auction room.’

Some insight into the dedication of Henry can be gained via excerpts from the Centenary handbook of the Parish talking of its early days.

‘The little band was encouraged by one of Methodism’s greatest preachers, Rev Jabez Bunting, and in 1822 a preacher was regularly appointed, the Rev John Geden, who erected a Chapel which was occupied until the theatre was bought in 1834. The comment made at the time was that it was “a disgrace to the town that so fine a building should be sold so cheap for a Methodist chapel” It is a fair assumption that the anger of the community was not directed so much against the price paid as the fact the Methodists were the purchasers’…

‘Occasional attempts had been made to introduce Methodism into Hastings, but the opposition as violently determined. If the preacher [presumably Henry] stood on the beach to address a multitude in the open air, he was assailed by the missiles of a mob of fishermen and smugglers, encouraged by those whose craft was in danger, and sometimes even guns were fired over the heads of the preacher and his congregation’.

We have many details of the Beck family tree; they seem to have specialised in very large families with lots of males, so there are numerous Beck descendants from the Henry Beck, and we are probably related to most of the current day Becks in the South of England. Most closely, we are related to son Joseph Beck (1808-1868), who married Harriet Apps and begat William Coker Beck. In the 1841 census, the family was resident at London Rd, Hastings with children Elizabeth (8) and William C (6), and Joseph was a baker. In 1841, old Henry (aged 55) was also a baker, in 1851 he and Sarah were still around, at 3 Russell Street, Hastings, with two servants. Henry, and a servant Henry Tully, were also both listed as bakers. By 1861, Henry (77) and Sarah (75) were still going strong, living at White Rock Road, Hastings, listed as Lodging Keepers and with two servants, a cook and a housemaid.

Hastings Hastings


William Coker Beck (1835-1892)

William Coker Beck married Jane Neve, who was born in Battle, Sussex. Battle is a lovely town just inland from the seaside town of Hastings, and commemorates the famous battle with the Normans. Neve is a fairly common name in Sussex and Kent. In the 1841 census, Jane aged 5 was living with her parents William Neve (employed to farm 270 acres on Messen Farm, where he employed four men; born 1797 in Crowhust, East Sussex) and Jane Moon (born about 1802, also in Battle, Sussex) in High St, Battle, Sussex (shown in the two images above), along with siblings William (9), Walter (8), Albert (6), Frank (3), Frederic (2) and Arthur (3 months). Many years later, descendents of the Becks still lived in the Battle/Hastings area. Jo’s cousin Kingsley Beck, was a chemist in Hastings, and I visited his widow, Victoria Beck, there in 1977. The Neve family genealogy is recorded in great detail on www.neve-family.com. The line from Jane dates back to a Robert Neve, born about 1595, who was killed in a skirmish at Stilebridge during the Battle of Maidstone, Kent, in 1648, shortly after his youngest son Robert was born in 1646. This is a battle in the English Civil War, arising from a Royalist uprising. Since the parliamentarians marched in from elsewhere, under General Fairfax, he presumably fought on the Royalist side. Thereafter, we have Edward Neve (1690-1756, m Sarah Kite); William (1713-1766, m Sarah Cobb), William (1739-1831, m Harriet Lansdell), Charles (1770-1853, m Elizabeth Reeves) and William (1797-1877, m Jane). These Neves seem to have had remarkable longevity for the time.

Beck Family

The Beck Family. Clockwise from top left.
1. Jo's grandparents William Coker and wife Jane Neve.
2. The family of 11 children.
3. Jane (Neve) Beck.
4. William Coker
5. Young William Henry Beck (Jo's father)


Jo recalled William Coker Beck as a miller, and he may have followed his father Joseph into that area of business. In the 1871 census, he was resident at his father, Joseph's former address in London Rd, and was a miller, employing three men. In the household were also wife Jane, children Albert, Bessie William Henry, Frederic, Kate Ethel, Frank, Aubrey and Susannah (aged 12 to 1), uncle William Henry (a widower), a servant, and grandfather William Neve (aged 79), who had a housekeeper. By the 1881 Census they had moved to 146 Mt Pleasant Rd, Ore, Sussex, and he recorded himself as an Assistant Overseer and Jane listed her profession as Assistant Overseer’s wife. Assistant Overseer is apparently a role in the town governance. In the parish directory of 1867 he is recorded as the agent for Phoenix Fire, and also as Collector of Land, Assessed and Income and Assistant Overseer for the Parish. In the picture we have of him, he certainly looks the part of the burgermeister. The description of the parish in 1867 is as follows:

ORE is a parish, in the Eastern division of the county, Baldslow hundred, and in the rape, union, county court district, and rural deanery of Hastings, from which place it is a mile and a half north-west, diocese of Chichester, and archdeaconry of Lewes. The church of St. Helen is a small plain edifice, consisting of a nave, chancel, a south aisle of later erection, two porches (one them used as the vestry), and a low square tower: the interior contains a trefoliated recess on the north side of the communion table, nearly concealed by a pew, and a sepulchral brass, with the effigies of a man and woman, the arms and inscription gone. The parish register dates from about 1600. The living is a discharged rectory, gross income £575, with residence, in the gift of trustees, and held by the Rev. William Twiss Turner, M.A. of Trinity College, Cambridge. Christ Church is a handsome structure in the Decorated style, consisting of nave, chancel, north aisle, and transept, with bell-turret: it was opened for divine worship in the summer of 1859, for the accommodation of that portion of the parish bordering on Fairlight. The Wesleyan chapel, which has lately been erected, is a neat Gothic structure, capable of accommodating about 200 persons. Here is the Hastings Union Workhouse. The Hastings Cemetery is also situated in this parish. The scenery in and around this parish is very beautiful. Ore Plate, the seat of Thomas Spalding, Esq., is a modern mansion, which has replaced one built by John of Gaunt. Coghurst Hall, the seat of Charles Hay Frewen, Esq., J.P., is a commodious mansion, situated in a fine park. Hurst Court College is a spacious mansion, is the seat of the Rev. Martin Reed, LL.D., who trains a limited number of young gentlemen for the Universities. The parish comprises 2,149 acres; the population in 1861 was 1,636.

William Coker Beck was also a Methodist “Local Preacher”. Children Bessie, Frank, Susannah, Aubrey, Arthur, Edgar and Nellie were still living at home as shown in the lovely family photograph (above). Jane Neve’s family also seem to have become professionals/merchants. All were still resident in Battle in 1881; Albert (b 1834) a lawyer, Charlotte (b 1844) living with her mother Eliza and managing a boarding house, Frederick (b 1839) a master draper employing 14 assistants, and Francis (b1838), a chemist employing two assistants. Perhaps young William Henry, Jo’s father, took up his trade as a chemist under the influence of his Uncle Francis. In the 1881 census, at age 19, he was actually living at 6 Finkle St, Selby, Yorkshire and working as a Chemist’s Asst. On December 23rd, 1889, William Henry Beck married Susan Grace Moxon at St John's Church, Ealing; with William Coc(k)er Beck recorded as "clerk of school board", and Thomas Edward Moxon (deceased) as "gentleman"; witnessed by brother Frank Harold Beck and sister Kate Gertrude Moxon.

In another part of her diary, Jo in later life remembered her father very fondly:

‘ One of my earliest happy memories was going North when about 5 years old to Sydney with my mother to stay with the Stewarts, riding from the station in a hansome [Hansom] cab, and going to the theatre with my parents. My father while his eyesight lasted loved musical comedy and when I was quite little I went to see Geisha Girl and Flora Dora with him, and also saw all the Gilbert and Sullivans, and as I grew older, all the good dramas. Another thing I have always missed is my Dad’s ‘surprises’, often instigated by my mother. He didn’t have much, but what he had he gave. He never had a win without distributing his bonuses to us. We never went away but that some surprise was not waiting for us on our return. A room done up, something new etc.


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