Robert James Duff 1846 - 1896

A Brief History of Robert James 1846 -1896
(and Wife Phoebe Plumbridge 1845 - 1884)

Born Ballyshannon, County Donegal , 1846.

According to a remnant of an army record Robert James joined the Third Royal Surrey Regiment (Militia) and it is thought he served 12 years 146 days, so he either enlisted or commenced service Nov 9 th 1858. This places it around the same time as his father James joined the Third Royal Surreys (having been discharged from the Fifth Regiment of Fusiliers at Chatham on the 28th September 1858). It is believed in those days the services took on "boys" from the age of 12. His military record shows his conduct to have been good and he was discharged on 31 st March 1871 aged 25 years 5 months (this is arithmetically incorrect as it should be 25 years less 5 months) due to weakness of his lungs. On his discharge he was described as being 5 feet 10 inches tall with brown hair, hazel eyes and of a dark (?) complexion. His stated occupation was a Musician

However on various documentation Robert James was also recorded around this time as being an itinerant farmworker and a "Journeyman Tinker". Perhaps whilst he was journeying and tinkering around Surrey he met one Phoebe Plumbridge. Phobe was born on 10 th August 1845 at Ripley, Surrey . Her family were landworkers in the Ockham/Shere/Cobham areas of Surrey we have been able to trace some of Phoebe's ancestors as far back as 1716 .

Phoebe and Robert James were married on 14 th August 1865 at St. Marks, Surbiton. They had 15 children. Phoebe Sarah Anne was born 12 th August 1866, Robert James was born 1 st January 1868, a baby was stillborn on 13 th May 1870, James born 30 th August 1871, Elizabeth born 15 th November 1872, Mary born 30 th December 1873, Ruth born 30 th November 1874, Andrew born 2 nd December 1875, another stillborn baby 14 th January 1877, twins Rebecca and Rachel born 16 th June 1878, Esther born 24 th September 1879, Catherine Carr born 1 st September 1881, William Charles born 22 nd February 1883 and finally Elizabeth (the 2 nd) born 3 rd June 1884.

From the number of children and mention of still births you'll gather that not all was well in this branch of the Duff family. The irony is that given the previous generation were mostly born in parts of the world generally known for disease and poverty, i.e. Ireland and Africa , thanks to the support of the military they survived well but as soon as the family try to survive in a part of the country now known for its wealth, i.e. Kingston-upon-Thames, tragedy regularly hits the family. However Robert James's family settled in the Norbiton area of Kingston . Throughout the late 1800s, according to published histories of Kingston , Norbiton was notorious for squalour, poverty and disease.

In 1868 it is known the family was living in Franklin Road, Kingston-upon-Thames. In the 1871 census the family were living at 21 Cambridge Grove Road, Kingston-upon-Thames (note James and family at no. 28 at the time). At this time he was recorded as being a shoemaker. In the 1881 census the family were living in Hampden Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, Robert James then back to being recorded as a Agricultural Labourer and his son Robert James, aged 13, working in a printing factory. In the 1891 census Robert James is noted as being a pauper - waggon lifter.

Phoebe tragically died giving birth to Elizabeth (2 nd) due to an internal haemorrhage. This is believed to be at her daughter Phoebe Sarah Anne's house at 2 Hazelhurst Road , Streatham. After Phoebe's death in 1884 Robert James could not cope with nor support his family. Robert James was consigned to the Union Workhouse, Kingston .

With the elder surviving children, Phoebe Sarah Anne and Robert James, by then being self-supporting, that left the younger members of the family. The Union Workhouse Kingston did not accommodate children and placed paupers' children to other institutions, mostly to Cowley Oxford but lesser numbers also to Brentwood and Grays in Essex, and Margate and Ramsgate in Kent . The Duff children, Rebecca, Rachel, Esther, William, Catherine and Elizabeth were sent to the Cowley Industrial School , an austere institution run on strict and harsh disciplinary lines by the Quakers on the outskirts of Oxford . The site is now the BMW factory. However, the children benefited from a basic education of the four "R"s - r eading, w r iting, a r ithmetic and r eligion. It is believed that this stood them in good stead when it came to employment. Upon leaving Cowley Industrial School they were found employment in the Kingston area by the "Guardians".

Robert James died on 26 th October 1896 at the Union Workhouse, Kingston . The funeral was 4 days later at 1pm, the undertakers were Farebrothers. He is buried in Bonner Hill Cemetery , grave no. E166A, register no. 18564. Unfortunately this plot was re-used in the 1960s and there is no longer any visible trace of him being buried there, although the burial is recorded in the cemetery records.


This page was last updated on 17th October 2010.