George Torr
one time owner of Garbrand Hall Ewell Surrey.


George Torr, the only son of Richard and Martha Torr, was born in 1814 in Whitechapel London, a year after the birth of his sister Emma. On the 4 December 1814 his parents had him baptised in St Mary's Whitechapel. His father Richard was at this time a brush maker by trade and the family lived in Fieldgate Street Whitechapel.

Although no death record has been found, it would seem that Emma had died as in 1817 another daughter was given her name.

Richard, Martha and their family moved to the north end of Trundley's Lane at Deptford in Kent (Surrey Quays area 2010) where Richard, according to the St Paul's baptism records of four of their daughters, now worked as a (manufacturing) chemist. These four daughters were:
  • Grace born on 4 April 1821
  • Martha born on 9 March 1823
  • Sarah born 31 January 1825
  • Elizabeth born 7 December 1830.
According to the 1841 census, though, there were five other sisters: Ann, Mary, Hannah, Elizabeth and Martha.

Richard had opened an animal charcoal (burnt bone) works west of Trundley's Lane in a large open diamond-shaped garden, completely environed with railways, where in 1832 he had introduced the improvements in the construction and setting of revolving retorts for reburning animal charcoal. Although he usually bought ammoniacal liquor from the Chartered Company, they sold tar to Richard in 1833.

The later factories in Burke Street Deptford and Lower Road Whitechapel prepared animal charcoal, supplying it for the purpose of purifying sugar, which, after it had been used, was returned to them to be re-burnt. There were only two businesses of this kind in London at this time.

1840 Pigot's Directory
1840 Pigot's Directory

Richard died in 1847 and when the next census in 1851 was taken, his widow Martha and daughters Emma, Grace, Hannah and Elizabeth were living in Bromley Common Kent.

Two siblings married in 1848; Martha married William Smith in Bromley and George married Elizabeth Jackson in Greenwich. Martha was destined to share with her brother George, the terrible fate of their future children.

Following George and Elizabeth's marriage, four children were born to them:
  • Elizabeth 2 March 1851
  • George 29 (December quarter) 1852
  • Ada 4 August 1855
  • Florence 2 December 1857

Patent awarded 26th January 1852.
Patent awarded 26th January 1852.

1856 Business Address
1856 Business Address.

All the children were baptised on 31 March 1858 in St Paul's Deptford, just months before the devastating holiday they took later that summer, the results of which may have been their whole reason for them moving to Garbrand Hall in Ewell. At the time of the baptisms the family were still living in Trundley's Lane.

George and Elizabeth were holidaying in Augusta House (previously named Trafalgar House) in Worthing, the former residency of the late Princess Augusta, sister of King George IV. With them were their four children; Elizabeth aged 7, George aged 5, Ada aged 3 and 8-month-old Florence. William and Martha Smith (George's sister) and their six children visited them there, along with Elizabeth Torr's 4-year-old niece Clementina Jackson. William Smith later returned to London, leaving his family there.

While the adults went by carriage to the Littlehampton regatta, the servants took the children out on the Mary Eliza, a small pleasure yacht that George Torr had previously sailed in. In a seemingly calm sea the yacht capsized and what followed was reported in the Sussex Express, and soon appeared in the Times on 28th August 1858.

Out of the 21 people on board, 13 of them drowned. These included George and Elizabeth's 3 daughters Elizabeth, Ada and Florence Torr, their nieces and nephews Martha aged 9, Richard aged 7, Thomas aged 5, George aged 3 and 1 year old Clara Ann Smith, and 4 year old Clementina Jackson. Servants Harriet Humphrey and Ann Hennis, boatman Edwin Blain and his wife, who worked as a domestic in the Augusta House, lost their lives as well.

The Times, Saturday, Aug 28, 1858
The Times, Saturday, Aug 28, 1858 - Click image to enlarge

The Times, Tuesday, Aug 31, 1858
The Times, Tuesday, Aug 31, 1858

It has been surmised that the Torr family may have moved to Garbrand Hall in Ewell because of the newly opened railway link to the village but, with the sad loss of their children, a move in 1859 to a new home, without any memories, must have played a large part in their decision. Maybe this tragedy was also why George Torr became a substantial benefactor to Ewell, providing money for the new infant school that was built in 1861 in West Street and for the upkeep of St Mary's Church.

Children outside Ewell Boys National School c.1920
Children outside Ewell Boys National School c.1920
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre

Garbrand Hall was to be the Torr family home for 37 years until its sale in 1896. The old saying 'new house, new baby' came true for George and Elizabeth as the St Mary's Ewell parish records show that their daughter, Bertha Diana Torr, was baptised on 29 December 1860.

More sadness was to befall the family though on 8 November 1865, when their 13 year old son George died after '5 days of congestion of the brain'. In memory of his only son, George donated £800 to St Mary's church for the purchase of a new 'Willis' church organ. The organ was destroyed by fire in 1973.

George drew up his Will on 15 August 1866 and less than a year later, on 7 July 1867, died aged 52, leaving Garbrand Hall, which was then locally known as 'Torr's Hall', to his widow Elizabeth and their only surviving child Bertha. He then gave his trustees the option to sell, or carry on with, his animal charcoal businesses. George also remembered his sisters Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth in his Will and left annual bequests to each of them.

Elizabeth, his widow, continued to live there with her daughter and an adopted daughter named Emily Onions, devoting herself to the beautiful gardens that she created with the help of her head gardener James Childs and under gardeners.

Bertha, aged 22, married William James Bell, a barrister, on 26 September 1882 in Ewell. It was after this marriage that the partial sale of the Garbrand Hall's valuable plant collection began to take place.

Soon after making a codicil to her Will in 1885, Elizabeth moved to the Manor House Highbury Middlesex and died on 24 May 1886 at 100 Cromwell Road South Kensington (now a Holiday Inn Hotel).

Researched by Hazel Ballan 2010


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