Leonard George Emerson


This biography was written by Victoria Doran.

If all the reports are true then Len Emerson would have been most parent’s ideal for a son-in-law.


Although the photo shows Leonard H Emerson it is in fact of Leonard G Emerson. It is from the Birkenhead News report of his death.

According to all reports, Leonard George Emerson was known as ‘Len’, so that is how this biography will refer to him.

Len was born in the spring of 1892 in Preston, Lancashire the eldest of the 3 sons of Stephen Frederick Emerson (1866-1940) and Emma Mennell (1860-1941). His parents had married at St Bridget, West Kirby on 12 July 1891 and both of them lived in West Kirby at that time. They brought Len back to St Bridget on 21 August 1892 to have him baptized where his paternal grandparents lived.

L G Emerson baptism jpg.jpg

The Emerson family originated in Holkham, Norfolk where Len’s great grandfather John Emerson (1814-???) was a carpenter. His great grandmother Margaret Rockley (1814-1888) came from King’s Lynn in the same county. John and Margaret were married in Holkham in 1838. They moved frequently, their eldest child being born in Derby, Derbyshire in 1840 before they returned to Norfolk for the birth of Len’s paternal grandfather Stephen Samuel Emerson (1842-1900) again at Holkham. However their later children were born in various other Norfolk locations before the family moved to Stepney London by 1861. They were not very well off, John being unemployed in 1871.

Stephen Samuel Emerson married Amelia Susan Norman (1843-1921) on Christmas Day 1865 at St Dunstan & All Saints, Stepney. Amelia’s father, an agricultural labourer in Holkham, had died when she was only 4 years old, leaving her mother Susan Ransome (1815-1892) a pauper with 3 very young daughters. Not surprisingly, Amelia became a domestic servant in London before her marriage. There are indications that Susan came from a family with a little money, as her mother was described as an annuitant in censuses in 1851 and 1871, though she also worked as a sick nurse.

Stephen Samuel Emerson worked in Stepney as an oil refiner, an occupation I have been unable to find a definition of. Len’s father Stephen Frederick Emerson (1866-1940) was the eldest child in the family, with 4 daughters following before the birth of Herbert William Emerson (1881-1962) in 1881. In 1877 the family had moved to West Kirby as the children were admitted to Grange School that year, and Len’s grandfather had changed his occupation to gardener. This was a major change both of place and occupation for which there seems to be no obvious explanation.

However the 1881 and 1891 censuses may provide the clue.

In 1881 Len’s father, aged 14 and still at school, is living with George de Landre Macdona (1810-1886) at Hilbre House, West Kirby. George de Landre Macdona and his wife were Irish and their son John Cummings Macdona became Rector of Cheadle, Cheshire before moving to West Kirby, when his parents joined him. The Macdona family were wealthy, but of special interest is that they were breeders of St Bernard dogs.


The kennels at Home Farm, Hilbre House from the collection of Heather Chapman

In 1891 Len’s grandfather described himself as ‘keeper of dog kennels’, before returning to gardening by 1901. As he lived in South Road at the time, it seems likely that he was ‘keeping’ the Macdona’s kennels.

It is difficult to see how the Macdona and Emerson families could have come into contact with each other, as they were in completely different social situations. However ‘dog fancying’ was a pastime that cut across society, and it is possible that Stephen Samuel Emerson met the Macdona family in London in connection with dogs, and was persuaded to move to West Kirby. He seems first to have worked at Kirby Mount, but possibly the Macdona family found him the job. It is difficult to see where and when he learned how to be a gardener, as Stepney would have been very urban during his life there.

Stephen Frederick Emerson, Len’s father, married Emma Mennell (1860-1941) on 12 July 1891 at St Bridget, West Kirby.

S F Emerson marriage clip jpg.jpg

Emma was born at Church Minshull, Cheshire but both her parents came from the East Riding of Yorkshire, from families of agricultural labourers.  Emma’s father George Mennell (1832-1896) rose to become a farm bailiff, which brought him to Cheshire. Her mother, Elizabeth Wiles (1838-1874) died when she was about 13 years old and her father remarried the much younger spinster Ann Jackson (1845-1916) the following year, moved to Staffordshire and had more children. By 1891 Emma had moved to West Kirby. She was living in Sandy Lane at what appears to be the staff accommodation for one of the hotels, and was working as a waitress,

Len’s father was an electrical engineer and moved his young family around, Len being born in Preston, Lancashire and his brothers Herbert Stephen Emerson (1900-1959) and Harold Norman Emerson (1901-1961) both being born in Doncaster, Yorkshire.

The household also included Maud born about 1885. She is described variously at censuses, but she seems to be an illegitimate daughter of Emma. Her place of birth is variously London or Sheffield.

They had moved back to West Kirby to 9 Grange Road by 1 March 1909 when Len joined the 4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment as Private 775 for 4 years service as a Territorial. By then Stephen Frederick Emerson was running an electrical shop and business at the same address, and employing Len as an electrician. Both his brothers subsequently joined the business as electricians and ran it after their father retired.

Len joined the Church Lad’s Brigade at its inception, played football for West Kirby AFC and regularly attended St Bridget’s Church. He was teetotal and a non-smoker. He would have known and probably been friendly with Herbert Spencer (1894-1916) who also belonged to the  Church Lad’s Brigade, although Herbert joined the Cheshire Regiment.

When he enlisted as a Territorial, at the age of 17 years and 2 months he was 5ft 7 in tall. It is probable that he grew further as he enlisted in the Grenadier Guards early in the war, and it is thought that they required recruits to be around 6 ft tall at that time, though the standard was lowered later. He joined the 3rd Battalion as Private 17782, and we know he was already serving by 6 November 1914 from the list in the Deeside Advertiser.

Grenadier Guards cap badge.jpg

Cap badge of the Grenadier Guards

Len’s WW1 military record has not survived, but we know from his medal card that he landed in France with his battalion on 26 Jul 1915. The following article from the local press is dated September 1915.

49 1915 Oct 16 Emerson in the thick of fighting.jpg

from the collection of Heather Chapman

At some point, probably in 1915, he was moved to the Guards Machine Gun Regiment with the number 108. Later he was promoted to Sergeant.

The following article is from March 1916, and gives some idea of Len’s character.

63 1916 Mar 4 Len Emerson from the firing line in a day.jpg

From the collection of Heather Chapman

On 26 July 1917 Len was gassed. There does not seem to have been any specific action on that day. He died in the 53rd General Hospital at Wimereux, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France near Boulogne 2 days later on the 28 July. He was 24 years old.

He is buried at Wimereux Communal Cemetery.

Wimereux Communal Cemetery jpg.jpg

His uncle Herbert William Emerson, who was only about 11 years older than  Len (and further in age from his own brother, Len’s father), attended Calday Grange Grammar School, then Magdalene College, Cambridge before joining the Indian Civil Service. He did not serve in the armed forces. However he had a very distinguished career becoming Governor of Punjab and finally High Commissioner for refugees for the League of Nations. He received a KCMG.

Clearly this was a family with many talents, which circumstances did not always allow to be expressed to their full.

Birth: Q2 1892 Preston, Lancashire
Death: 28 July 1917 at 53rd General Hospital, Wimereux, France; gassed
Addresses: 6 Roberts Road, Doncaster, Yorkshire (01), 9a Grange Road, West Kirby (11)
Occupation: electrician
Units: 4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (Territorial); 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards; 4th Company, Machine Gun Guards
Numbers and Ranks: Private 775; Corporal 17782; Sergeant 108
Medals: 15 Star, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: Wimereux Communal Cemetery (II O 6A), Nord Pas de Calais, France; Grange Hill War Memorial, West Kirby; St Bridget & St Andrew churches, West Kirby
Sources: CWGC, MC, SR, DA, BN, Prob, Census: 01, 11, CGB, PR, BR, WKN, WKED


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