The Zimapanners







Coastguard's Son from Shingle End

Walter Parsons Thomas (1857-1942)

Coastguard cottages
Walter Parsons Thomas (WPT) was born in one of the coastguard cottages at Shingle End, Worth/Sandwich, Kent on 18 December 1857. Walter was the youngest of seven children of William Thomas (b. 1819, Portwrinkle, CON) and Hannah Parsons, b. 1819, Harwich, KEN. Walter's parents had recently moved their family further up the Kent coast from Birchington, Epple Bay, to one of the Shingle End coastguard cottages in Worth/Sandwich, Kent. Walter's father worked for the Coastguard Service whose paymaster was by then the Admiralty. The job, which required the job holder to move at regular intervals from one coastguard station to the next, eventually enabled William Thomas to reach the rank Chief Coastguard Officer.

Walter's brother and sisters
Walter's other brothers and sisters were: George (b. 1843), Hannah (b. 1847), John (b. 1848), Edward (b. 1849), William (b. 1851) and Susannah (b. 1856).1

From England to Scotland (1861)
In 1861, Walter Parsons Thomas's parents upped sticks again, moving to the Coastguard House in Carsethorn, Kirkbean, Scotland, along with five of their children: Hannah, John, William, Susannah and Walter P. By then, George and Edward, who were respectively 18 and 16, were apparently no longer cohabiting with them.

From Scotland to Wales (1871)
The 1871 England Census and coastguard records show that Walter Parsons Thomas's parents had moved again to the coastguard station at Amlwch, Anglesey, accompanied by their daughter Susannah. By then, none of the other children were living at home. Walter's parents had two lodgers.

Nautical education (1868-1872/3)
The 1871 England Census also shows that Walter Parsons Thomas, who was by then 13, was at boarding school (since approx. the age of 10), the Greenwich Hospital School (GHS) in Greenwich, Kent. This was a famous school that taught navigation and seamanship skills to boys aged between 10 and 15, in preparation for a life in the Navy.

Rigorous and disciplined school life
This would have been a tough and rigorous education for a young boys like Walter. Apart from learning naval and navigational skills, boy cadets had to climb high into the rigging of a sail-training ship, swim in a cold outdoor swimming pool, and perform cleaning, laundry, baking, tailoring duties alongside an extensive school curriculum. School breakfasts offered bread and dripping and a mug of cocoa, although lunches during the summer included roast beef. Discipline was draconian, and boys who broke the rules were publicly flogged in front of the other pupils. However, between 1871-72, the School's superintendent, Captain Burney, a stickler for discipline, instituted a system of treats for the boys. This system rewarded well-behaved boys with school outings, concerts and, in 1872, a visit to a London theatre, to which Walter Parsons Thomas would have made. These treats no doubt came as a welcome respite to cadets who followed an otherwise arduous school life.

Many graduates never joined the Navy
Walter Parsons Thomas probably left the GHS in 1873 when he was 15. There are no records of his ever having enlisted into the Royal Navy or other related maritime service. In fact, as Admiralty records show, too few cadets were enlisting into the Navy after graduation, on account of the tough, disciplined approach to naval training at Greenwich.

Social history
For further details on aspects of social history at this very British institution, click Greenwich Hospital School.

Married in Liverpool (1878)

Walter Parsons Thomas began his working life as a bookkeeper. On 18 October 1878, aged just 21, and while employed as a bookkeeper in Liverpool, he married 22-year-old Margaret Anne Evans from nearby Bootle, but who originally came from Caernarvon town. Their marriage certificate describes Walter's father rank or profession as a "gentleman" (!), and Margaret Evans's father, William Evans, as a builder "deceased". It also refers to 'Parsons' as Walter's middle name for the first time. The certificate shows that Eliza Hannah Parsons was one of the witnesses to the marriage, which was solemnized at the Registry Office in the Parish of Liverpool, Lancaster [ed. Lancashire]. She was presumably a relative of Hannah Parsons, Walter's mother. There is no evidence at this point that Walter Parsons Thomas had become sufficiently engaged by Wesleyan Methodism.

First child (1880)
By 1880, Walter Parsons Thomas, bookkeeper, had moved from Liverpool to 25 Williams Street, Holyhead, with his first wife, Margaret Ann Evans. On 29 February 1880, she gave birth to a son, William Evans Thomas.2

Railway clerk in Holyhead (1881)
By 1881, Walter Parsons Thomas's father William Thomas, 62, had retired from coastguard work and was living in Holyhead together with Hannah (64) and daughter Susannah Jones (Thomas) and her husband William Jones, a 27-year-old railway company painter, and their grandchild Nellie (5). Meanwhile, Margaret Anne Evans and Walter Parsons Thomas, whose profession was recorded a "railway clerk", had moved from Williams Street to 6 Tower Gardens, Holyhead, together with their one-year-old son "Willie E" (William Evans Thomas). Walter Parsons Thomas had two further children: George Owen Thomas (b. 1883) and Susannah G. Thomas (b. 1887), both of whom were born in Holyhead.

Wesleyan House preacher (1901)
In 1901, Walter Parsons Thomas and Margaret Anne (both 43) had moved again, this time to Top of Steam Hill Road, Holyhead. Walter Thomas became a Wesleyan House preacher in his spare time. Their two cohabiting children were William Evans Thomas (21) and their 14-year-old daughter Susannah Grace Thomas. William Evans Thomas was, like his father, also working for the railway. George Owen Thomas, by then 18, had left home by the time of the England Census of 31 March 1901.  

Remarries in 1910
In Q2 1904, Margaret Ann Thomas died in Holyhead. Six years later, Walter Parsons Thomas remarried on 29 December 1910, this time to Angelina Hales. Both their fathers had died by the time of this marriage.

Zimapan, Scorrier, Cornwall (1921)
In 1921, Walter Parsons Thomas moved to the Cornish hamlet of Scorrier, Cornwall, where he bought an old count house called Zimapan, and lived there for nine years with his second wife, Angelina Hales, who it turns out was originally from Carharrack, Gwennap.
In 1930, Walter and Angelina sold the house, by which time it had doubled in value, and returned to Anglesey in August of that year, and were still in Holyhead in 1933, as there is an old photograph of Angelina and other members of the Thomas family, taken by Walter Parsons Thomas in a garden in London Road, Holyhead, Anglesey. The couple moved back to Holyhead in a house called Zimapan in Upper London Road.3 This entry confirms that WPT lived in two Zimapans during his life: one in Scorrier, Cornwall and the other in Holyhead, Anglesey.
Walter Thomas died at Zimapan in Upper London Road, Holyhead from a muscular degeneration of the heart and acute bronchitis on 9 March 1942 aged 84. His son, George Owen Thomas, was present at his death. George Thomas's address was 63 Halthew Avenue, Holyhead.

1. The sources for the above biography can be found in the section on Greenwich Hospital School and details on WPT's siblings can be found in Key data.
2. William Evans Thomas's middle name was derived from his mother's surname (Evans). WET married Margaret Parry Reynolds on 31 May 1909 and had two children in Holyhead: Walter David Thomas (b. 18 Oct 1909) and Inez Grace Thomas (b. 1 Jul 1917), the mother of the author of this website. NB: WET's middle name is spelled 'EVENS' on his headstone in SS Holyhead and in his obituary. This does not tally with the spelling registered on his birth certificate.
3. Death certificate, 9 Mar 1942.