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Most people will know Jamie from his many film roles as well as his menacing portrayal of Derek Branning in BBC's Eastenders. His family history is equally dramatic, and is outlined here.
Origins of the Family
In Faversham Kent
The Foreman name is predominantly an eastern England Coastal name. From Northumberland in the North to Kent in the South the name spreads down the English coastline, with the notable almost exception of Essex where the name's history is sparse. Jamie's ancestors were no exception to this rule. The name is Old English, and most likely derivation is from "foremost" or "leading" man, exactly as the work position of foreman in the building trade denotes a leader of a team of men, the same was true of the first holders of this name, in this case perhaps a leader of a team of shipwrights or carpenters. The fact that the name distribution corresponds roughly to the areas first settled by the Angles and Jutes, among the sophisticated seagoing communities of the Romano/Belgic British on the east coast of England, may indicate that this was a name applied by the Germanic incomers to leaders of craftsmen from the original inhabitants of the area who were still prized for their abilities in carpentry and metalwork.
On the North Kent Coast a tidal Creek off The Swale in the Thames Estuary had given a safe harbour to boats navigating around the Isle of Sheppey, trading up the Thames and with mainland Europe. Since at least the Iron Age British Belgic tribesmen had traded with their cousins in Northern France and the Low Countries, well before the Romans invaded, and the Romans, always having an eye for both the strategic and a profit, developed the port on the creek as a stopping off point between London and Gaul, and dredged the Oyster beds that provided tons of food for Roman households.
This trade port was still prized after the Roman Province of Britannia broke up in the Dark Ages and gave a summer residence to the Jutish Kings of Kent. At this time name of the town developed from a Belgic/Jutish interpretation of the Roman word for a craftsman Faber, into Faefer, so it became Faeferham the village of the craftsman, possibly Iron workers or boat builders from Roman times. This direct use of loan words from Latin would seem to indicate that Faversham was one of the earliest areas to settle Germanic speakers before the collapse of Roman Brittania, in addition modern research does seem to indicate that the Belgic tribes were speaking a Germanic rather than "Celtic" derived language when they arrived from the continent in the iron age, so the shift to "English" from Belgic/Latin was probably that much easier, and doesn't need explanation by the forcing out out the original inhabitants by the incoming Jutish settlers amongst an already thriving community. The other interesting point is that Faversham is unique as a place name in the UK, a fairly rare occurrence seeming to imply that it was shaped by a unique set of circumstances.
The Creek at Faversham held twelve feet of water at a high tide, so could accommodate most trading vessels of the mediaeval period, and an ancient quay called "The Thorn" had been built to make good use of the deeper parts of the channel near shore. The Isle of Sheppey nearby is derived from Old English "The Isle of Sheep" and the town thrived under the Normans, and reached a Mediaeval peek with the Wool trade that made Britain rich. The Traders of Faversham although always in the shadow of the bigger port of Chatham, none the less, built a steady trade between London and Europe, and the town slowly grew.
The boom in building in London from the 18th century made the need for bricks an urgency, and Faversham was ideally placed to ship the yellow Kentish clay bricks up the Thames, straight into the heart of the capital. Being a busy port the one trade that was guaranteed was that of Boat Building, and from at least the 1700s onwards there was a family in Faversham building the boats of the wool traders, the brick traders and Oyster fishermen. These were the Foremans.
For at least 200 years from the 1600s into the 1800s smuggling was rife along Faversham Creek, even remarked upon by Daniel Defoe, lamenting the growth of the town on the back of it. So throughout most of coastal Kent smuggling was accepted and often supported, larger enterprises being financed from London. Smugglers maintained this position above the law by a mixture of threat, bribery, goodwill, and family connections. An enterprising family of boatbuilders may have avoided a little tax here and there themselves.
Faversham was ideally placed to support the smugglers, it provided a good port away from the Naval base at Sheerness on Sheppey, and the excise cutters at Whistable. Surrounded by mud flats, Salt Marshes, with many inlets and creeks, their navigability known only to local men in small boats, and yet the main Faversham Creek deep enough for a large North Sea trading ship. With the Isle of Sheppey and the swift currents of the Swale providing both cover and means of escape to the smugglers' fast cutters, and the short passage to France and Flanders reducing the time needed to be at sea, meaning the Faversham Smugglers were not liable to be under the noses of the patrolling revenue cutters for very long.
The Gangs, or "Companies" as they liked to style themselves, along the North Kent Coast tended to be smaller than the big organised Gangs of other parts of Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, therefore attracted less attention from the authorities. For example the smuggler gangs of Deal were so big notorious and well organised that in 1785 1,000 troops were sent in to attack the town and try to capture their boats! The smugglers of Faversham were more low key, although openly brazen none-the-less, as when in 1821 two smugglers from the North Kent Company were captured by the excise men as part of a Naval Blockade, and marched to the gaol in Faversham, only to be released a few days later when the gang attacked the town gaol. A £100 reward (equivalent of about £5,000 today) was posted, but the men were never recaptured. Faversham had the added advantage of the Oyster trade with the Dutch who turned up surprisingly low in the water for boats with empty holds when coming to legally purchase the Faversham Oysters.
Unless the Foremans were the only honest shipwrights in the whole of North Kent, it is almost impossible to imagine, given the general collusion of the populace of Kent with the smugglers, that a family of carpenters and shipwrights working in the heart of an area that had been smuggling territory from the 1600s through to at least the second half of the 1800s, were not up to their eyes in the business. However, they were no doubt smart enough not to be manning the boats themselves or exchanging fire with the Navy and Revenue Men. They would have provided a key lynch pin service, building and repairing the fastest boats, that ran the blockade to the continent, and equally the barges that hoisted their red sails and peacefully slipped up the Thames past the looming floating Prison Hulks that held Dicken's Magwitch, to London where the real profit lay. It is unlikely that the Foremans ever went short of Rum, Tobacco, or gold sovereigns.
Samuel Foreman 1810-1897
Ann Transom 1811-1898
The Foreman's had been documented as shipwrights and carpenters in Faversham from at least the mid 1700s. Their grandfathers may have been among the "...rabble of seamen and others.." who captured James II on 12th december 1688 during his attempt to flee to France at the end of his fairly disastrous reign. So Faversham was not a backwater, it was a place with far reaching connections within the Kingdom and the world beyond.
The friction with France during the 18th century was a boon to the Foremans, they were building ships throughout the period of the wars with France into the Napoleonic Wars and the early 19th century; the family prospered during this century of warfare and smuggling.
Samuel Foreman is the first that we can trace with a direct line to Jamie Foreman. He would have known fairly good living conditions, large houses were built on the back of the legal and illegal trades of the town of Faversham, and there was no reason for any man not to be either gainfully employed, or making money by other means on the waterways of the Town. The attack on the town gaol and the freeing of the two smugglers by the North Kent Company was no doubt witnessed by a ten year old Samuel, whilst the Family took no notice and got on with their work like the rest of the town. Samuel's father stopping work to use words like Kiplings for the boy's benefit:
Five and twenty ponies,
trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie -
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!
Samuel would have worked as an apprentice for his Father or Uncles for seven years from the age of 12. During this time he would have worked long hours for no pay, just board and lodging, and would have had strict rules applied to his conduct. At the end of the apprenticeship, he would have become a qualified Journeyman Carpenter around 1829/1830.
He was obviously very skilled as he subsequently qualifies as a Pattern Maker, a highly skilled branch of carpentry, which involved crafting wooden "patterns" or the outline representations of particular difficult joints for shipbuilding, that could then be used by less skilled men to make the actual parts for a ship in a repeatable way without mistakes, their skills could also be used to make moulds out of wooden models for iron parts for ships and machinery.
By the 1830s the world was changing, peace at the end of The Napoleonic Wars meant that trade with the continent was ongoing, reducing the relative benefits of smuggling, and many of the gangs had been finally overwhelmed and either hanged or transported to Van Dieman's land by the authorities. An age of inventiveness, of Businessmen rather than Lords, of steam and engineering was being born in Britain.
Samuel moved up the coast to Dartford in Kent, as there was a demand for skilled men by entrepreneurs like John Hall, originally a Blacksmith and Millwright, who now built steam engines, and was applying his knowledge of iron working to build the engines for new ships. John Hall had purchased the government gunpowder works at Faversham so had a connection with the town that would have made him aware of the best craftsmen there. Samuel would have found good employment in such an environment, and may have met the inventor of the steam engine Richard Trevithick, who had been contracted to come to Dartford by John Hall to build a new type of steam reaction engine for his steamship design. Unfortunately Trevithick would never complete the project as he died suddenly in the Inn in the town, and was buried by Hall's directors and workmen, the funeral being financed by the sale of his gold watch. Samuel may well have witnessed the great man's funeral, marking the end of the beginning of the age of Steam
The coming of the age of the new Queen, Victoria, proved good for Samuel in Dartford, and in 1837 he had saved enough money to return to Faversham to marry a girl from the village of Ospringe, Ann Transom. They returned to Dartford and raised two children in Park Place; Thomas born in 1838 and Sarah born in 1843.
In 1849 modernity in the shape of Steam, continued its impact on Samuel with the Steam Railway line coming to dartford. This opened up a less parochial market for Samuel's talents, and in the same year the family had uprooted and moved to Shoreditch in London, to 3 Appleby Street, off the Kingsland Road. The driver was most certainly work for Samuel, as Appleby Street is within walking distance of the Regent's Canal and particularly the Kingsland Basin where barges and lighters were moored and repaired. These barges interestingly transported many of the types of commodities that made their way through Faversham to London such as coal from the North East coast, and timber from Scandinavia.
Appleby Street was working class, relatively rough and ready, but nowhere near as bad as many London areas at this time. Arthur Samuel was born within a year or so of their arrival, and the Foremans shared the small two story terraced house with a Bricklayer and his family. Most of their neighbours were London Cockneys, with a small scattering of men from Kent, Surrey, and a few other English Counties. The Family stayed whilst the work lasted into the 1850s, when they would have seen an Italian called Carlo Gatti build ice storage pits by the canal to sell the ice in warmer periods for people to use for simple refrigeration, and also to make ice cream, bringing widespread sales of Italian ice cream to London for the first time, a great treat for the Foreman children.
But the trade on the canal slowly declined, so Samuel and the family once more took the advantage the railway being extended down the Kent coast to Faversham in 1858 and to Faversham Creek in 1860, the foreman's moved by train back to their roots in Faversham, settling in Abbey Street. Many of the houses in Abbey Street had been privately owned by individual families, but during the 19th century many of these well to do owners had moved out and the houses were now let to tenants, such as the Foreman's. To Samuel and his family memories of Abbey Street would have been good ones, with well to do families in the street, now it was their turn to live in the same houses, a great contrast to Appleby Street in Shoreditch, but no doubt the children missed the Italian man and his ice cream.
Samuel and Ann would stay in Abbey Street for the rest of their lives, down near the waterfront, and a short distance from Ospringe where Ann had been born. Samuel carried on working as a Carpenter on the boats of the Swale and Thames tidal waters, large scale smuggling was gone and steam boats were moored in small numbers alongside the large numbers of sailing barges and Dutch and Scandinavian vessels along the creek. Samuel and Ann would see their days out among friends and family in the place where their roots were, with memories of travel the length of the Thames, of smugglers, and steam engines, of London and ice cream.
Thomas Foreman 1838-1901
Emily Louisa Miller 1848-1922
Soon after the family moved back down to Faversham, Thomas aged about 21 decided that his prospects would be better served in The Royal Navy than working on dry land in Faversham. In 1861 we find him sleeping overnight as part of the skeleton watch crew onboard HMS Plover on the Medway River. On the night of the 1861 census, Thomas now a Stoker 2nd Class, was onboard with Fred Smith another Stoker, the Assistant Engineer, the ship's boy, and an able seaman who had brought his wife and four sons onboard for the night (a common occurrence in home waters with local families nearby).
Being a Stoker 2nd Class onboard this small gunship, was about as low a rank as you could get, but guaranteed a quick recruitment for those physically fit enough to live up to the job as the Navy had a tremendous need for Stokers now that steam was taking over from sail. Thomas having trained as a Blacksmith, would have been brawny, and used to hard work in hot environments, a perfect qualification for a life below decks stoking the ship's boilers, probably the least glamourous job on the ship.
The Plover was one of the hybrid transitional ships in Navy service at this time rigged with both sails and a steam engine powering twin screw propellers. It looks as if a life in the Navy suited Thomas for a while, but not for long, as in 1866 he is back on land in Lambeth, South London working again at his old trade of a Blacksmith.
In his late twenties he obviously decided that it was time to settle down, and on 4th November 1866 in St Mary Lambeth, he married Emily Miller, seven years his junior, and technically a minor at the time being barely 18, who married with the permission of her father a local Carpenter.
The marriage was a fruitful one with seven children born between 1867 and 1888, although there is a gap of seven years between 1882 and 1887 when no children are born to the couple, perhaps they had children that died too young to reach the 1891 census, or perhaps there were other reasons for the gap, a separation or an illness? The children we do know about are Thomas Joseph born 1867, Herbert Arthur 1870, Louisa Emily1873, Ernest Alfred 1875, Edward James 1879, Lillian Emma 1881, and Nelly 1888.
During the 1870s and 1880s he worked as a smith on coach works, an job that guaranteed work at this time in a city awash with private coaches and carriages for hire, the taxis of their day. Also during this time the family moved from Kennington in South London to Battersea, also in South London, and Battersea would be the home of the Foremans for generations to come. During this time they saw the old wooden Battersea Bridge come down and the new Iron Bridge go up. A major undertaking and a sign of the times.
They lived in Acre Street and Sussex Srteet near the Railway. Small two story houses had been put up by speculators especially from the 1870s onwards who followed the Railway, building over the old Market Gardens that had produced Pumpkins and asparagus for the gentry in the city, replacing them with workers keeping the railways and factories running. In 1889 we find Thomas working as a Fitter, which was a logical move for a blacksmith, from horse drawn coach repairs to repairs for steam powered trains and machines in this industrious area of South London. A skilled job which would have produced a comfortable living if Thomas was careful with his money. It is most likely that Thomas used his smithing skills on the railways, given the fact that he lived right in between The London Chatham & Dover Railworks, and The London and South Western Railworks in Battersea, with several rail lines clattering alongside the streets he lived in. Things looked good for the family until Thomas, at the age of 63 in 1901 died leaving his wife to look after the two youngest girls, supported and helped by their older siblings who were at work.
After Thomas's death, Emily and some of the family stayed in the area when Sussex Street changed to Wadhurst Road, having taken the house over from her son Herbert Arthur who had lived there in 1894. It lead directly into the Railworks.
Eldest son Thomas Joseph had found work as a Fishmonger, a good trade that guaranteed food on the table, at least fish that is, and was living in Clapham with his family. Living till 1940 in the Wandsworth area.
Herbert Arthur was less fortunate and worked as a Bricklayer's Labourer, an unskilled job that meant long days outside in all weathers, carry bricks and mortar in a hod up and down ladders all day. He and his family moved frequently, mostly in Battersea, but lived for a while in the early 1890s at Canal Bank in Peckham, literally alongside the Surrey Canal. They only stayed in Peckham for a couple of years, long enough for their first two children Ethel and Annie to be born, and soon moved back to the family home turf in Battersea, and initially into what would become the family's HQ in the area for some years' 82 Wadhurst Road.
Ernest Alfred took a similar line to Herbert as a labourer, married Florence Holloway in 1901 and moved away from the area to Croydon, where he stayed for the rest of his life, dieing there in 1944.
Edward James worked as a Brewer's Labourer, a slightly better job than his two labouring brothers as much of the work was inside, and he would get a beer ration along with his wage. He had married in 1900 to Helen watson and they stayed in Battersea living at 82 Wadhurst Road with other members of the family.
The roads the family lived in in Battersea were working class, but not slums, the further you moved from Lambeth towards Clapham, the better the area generally became, many slums had been pulled down to make way for new estates of small terraced houses in the 1870s and 1880s. So the family managed to keep it's head above water at the turn of the 1900s, despite the shock of Thomas's death, mainly by mutual support, grouping together in and around Wadhurst Road; there was safety in numbers. Supporting each other Herbert, Ernest, their Mum Emily, and the younger girls, plus the boys wives, and some of the grandchildren made sure the rent was always paid, the kids went to school, and any trouble could be sorted out quickly. The elder brother Thomas wasn't that far away in Clapham, just a tram trip away, and Ernest in Croydon could always get back on the train if needed.
Herbert Arthur Foreman 1870-1934
Emma Watson 1873-1960
Thomas's death must have had a profound affect on the family, he had struck out on his own after leaving the Navy and started a new life for his family in South London. But at the age of 63 he was gone. There were cousins north of the river in the east end, but it was the South London in Battersea and Clapham area that the Family grew, and learned to be self sufficient. They had to be, Thomas and Emily had had seven children on a Blacksmith's wage, and Herbert and and Emma would have thirteen children on a labourer's wage. Times were going to be tough.
Herbert grew up at a time of massive change in Battersea, at the turn of the 1800s the population of Battersea had been a few thousand labourers, market gardeners, and some Gentry, by the time Herbert was born it had risen to about a hundred thousand, the gentry had gone, selling the leases of their land and mansions to speculators and railway men, the railways proliferated, small scale industry followed, and tens of thousands of houses were needed for the workers, rows of small estate houses were thrown up quickly and rented out to the working classes, by the time herbert was a teenager all the market gardens and virtually all the gentry's houses were were gone, bricks and mortar, iron railways, and cobbled streets had taken over.
Herbert Arthur worked as a Carman, driving carts, a common trade all over London, the equivalent of a van driver today. He and his family moved frequently, mostly in Battersea, but lived for a while in the early 1890s at Canal Bank in Peckham, literally alongside the Surrey Canal, an interesting, almost rural part of Peckham with a slower pace about it reflected in the leisurely comings and goings of the red sailed Thames barges and long canal boats that plied the quiet back water. It does make you wonder if Herbert ever told stories to his wife Emma that he had been told by his father and grandfather of the Thames barges and smugglers of the family's life on Faversham Creek, dodging the revenue men. Nostalgia aside, Herbert slaved in the local surrey docks and wharfs as a Sawyer in the Deal (Timber) yards. The family only stayed in Peckham for a year or two, long enough for their first child Ethel Annie to be born, and soon moved back to the family home turf in Battersea, where Herbert gave up the backbreaking sawyer job, and went back to being a Carman. the family would spend the rest of their days in Battersea.
Between 1894 and 1913 the couple would have a further twelve children in Battersea, which must have been a massive struggle, especially as Herbert worked between 1895 and 1914 as a Labourer, often for a Bricklayer. This again is hard work, all day in the open lugging bricks and mortar up and down ladders all day, building big hard muscles, and an ability to take care of himself, albeit he must have been dirty and exhausted at every working day.
The family's poverty was reflected in their constant moves in the streets of Battersea, between lodging houses in the years between 1894 and 1915 no less than ten times that we know of, barely living in the same house for a year at a time. Battersea became a Metropoltan Borough in 1900, with money and decision making being devolved to the local Council who were quick to start making improvements to the area, building an electricity generating station and updating some of the street lighting from gas to electricity. They also built a public baths for the many working people in the older houses who had no bathrooms or hot water, and of course well maintained council houses were built. These improvements would continue during the next decades, a testament to what can be done when decisions and budgets are taken away from central government and devolved to locally accountable decision makers.
Whereas the First World War brought tragedy to many families, for Herbert and his burgeoning brood it was a time of opportunity. Herbert himself was slightly too old to be conscripted, and fortunately his first four children were all girls, meaning that his sons were just too young to be called up. Couple this with the fact that most able bodied Labourers were now being blown to bits in France and Flanders, and Herbert, for once in his life would gain some good fortune.
Good fortune is a relative term, he was now working as a Labourer in the Gas Works, a better job than he had had before, but still a tough one, stoking furnaces with coal, and emptying them of of the residue left after the coal gas had been driven off for lighting and heating the homes and Industry of Battersea. At least he was now working indoors, and would never be cold at work, quite the reverse. He was also working in an environment composed to a large extent of older men and young able bodied women, who, for the first time were being given roles in what had been male dominated industry. What Herbert made of this we don't know.
This new stability is reflected in the family settling at 22 Sheepcote Lane Battersea, where they would stay for decades, living with the active socialism of the various Trades Union men and women living in the same Lane. The Lane itself was parallel to the omnipresent railway line, and the family would've heard the trains rattling by night and day.
For the rest of Herbert's life from 1919 till 1934, and for at least another generation after this, the family lived on in Sheepcote Lane, a rare degree of stability. Emma would outlive Herbert by many years dieing in 1960.