Sir Trevor Nunn – who do you think you are?

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My grandad was very proud that a famous theatre director shared his surname: Sir Trevor Nunn. Just out of interest, I wanted to see how Sir Trevor fits in with the various Nunn families. After all, is most famous living Nunn out there.

In order to preserve living people’s privacy, I won’t go into Sir Trevor’s siblings (if any) or aunts and uncles, but his parents’ names are stated on his Wikipedia page, so I’ll be going backwards from there.

Sir Trevor’s parents, Robert Alexander Nunn and Dorothy May Piper, married in Suffolk in 1937. Robert was a cabinet maker, who was born in Ipswich in 1910, the son of Robert John Nunn and Emma Grace Barber. They had married in Ipswich in 1907. Robert John wasn’t at home on the night of the 1921 census, but on the 1911 census, he was. The family – mother and father and three children – were living in a five-bedroom house on Rendlesham Road, Ipswich, and Robert John was working as a warehouseman. All of them had been born in Ipswich.

Robert John 29 years old in 1911, and there’s a birth for a Robert John Nunn in the Ipswich registration district in the June quarter of 1881 with Buckle as his mother’s maiden name. In 1869, Robert Nunn and Georgiana Julia Buckle married in the Ipswich registration district. Robert Nunn died between 1881 and 1886, as Georgiana – or just Julia, as she appears in the censuses – married George Jay in Ipswich in 1886. On the 1891 census, we find Robert John Nunn in a household on Bramford Lane in the St Matthew’s parish of Ipswich, living with his stepfather George Jay, a wardrobe dealer, his mother Julia, his sisters Hester, Constance, and Alice, and his half-sister Kate Jay, who was just a baby.

On the 1881 census, taken just before Robert John Nunn was born, we find the family living on Allan Road in Ipswich. Robert Nunn was 36, a fishmonger born in Harwich, Essex, and we see Julia too, along with daughters Julia, Hester, Elsie and Constance.

Sir Trevor’s great-grandfather, Robert Nunn, was born in Harwich, Essex, on 30 Oct 1843. He was baptised there on 13 Nov 1844, the son of John and Esther Nunn. John was a mariner. On the 1851 census, we find them living on St Austin’s Lane in Harwich, which runs north-east to south-west between Kings Quay Street, Eastgate Street, and Kings Head Street. This means that Robert grew up living just around the corner from the home of Christopher Jones, captain of one of the most famous ships of all time – the Mayflower. Robert had an older brother called John, and several sisters. In 1851, his maternal grandfather, William Britton, was living in the same house – he was an 86-year-old widower, born in nearby Ramsey, described as a “superannuated pilot.” He would have had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the waters around Harwich in order to pilot the ships into dock. Next door lived 69-year-old Hannah Nunn, a widow who was born in Harwich – she was Robert’s grandmother.

I haven’t found John and Esther’s marriage yet, and I’m wondering if they were married at all. Bearing in mind that they were both in their thirties when their children were first baptised in Harwich, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that one of them had already married someone else. Unable to get divorced, they lived as husband and wife, even though they never married. This wasn’t unusual in the days before divorce became easier for ordinary people to obtain – my gt-gt-grandmother left her abusive husband but didn’t get divorced from him, and moved in with another man; she took his surname and they pretended to be married. Another reason might be religious in nature. John was baptised at the Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Harwich in 1803, rather than at the Anglican parish church were Esther was baptised in 1806. John’s parents, John – another sailor – and Hannah, had another three children baptised at the chapel between 1809 to 1813: Sarah Ann, Susanna, and Grace. Then in 1818, they had a son, James Hugh Nunn, baptised at the Anglican church. Bearing in mind that the Wesleyans broke away from the Anglican church, it might sound odd that John and Esther didn’t marry based on that, especially as John’s parents evidently changed their religious views when he was 15, and John and Esther’s own children were baptised at the Anglican chapel. But it is something to bear in mind. Another possibility is that their relationship fell within the prohibited degrees – I haven’t found any evidence of this yet, but at the time, a man couldn’t marry his late wife’s sister, and a widow couldn’t marry her late husband’s brother. Of course, “couldn’t” isn’t the same as “can’t” and I’ve seen plenty of couples who flouted this rule, sometimes marrying in their own parish, evidently by a vicar who overlooked the prohibition, or in a parish where their relationship was unknown.

John’s parents, John Nunn and Hannah Willsher, married in Harwich on 14 Feb 1802. John died in 1834: he was buried in Harwich on 30 Aug that year, aged 58. This matches up with a baptism in Harwich on 30 Jan 1778 for John, son of William and Grace Nunn, which gives his date of birth – 22 Feb 1776. Bearing in mind John and Hannah named a daughter Grace, this would tie in with his mother’s name being Grace too.

William Nunn married Grace Cook at Ramsey, next door to Harwich, on 8 Apr 1769. William died in Jan 1820, and was buried in Harwich on 16 Jan 1820, aged 76. This means he was born in about 1744. And unfortunately, this is where the story ends. There is no baptism for a William Nunn in Harwich around 1744. There is a baptism in Thorpe-le-Soken, but there’s a complication. There are burials in Harwich around the time for the children of Robert and Peke Nunn, and Giles and Elizabeth Nunn – but no baptisms. This suggests that they may have been non-conformist, but there’s no baptisms in non-conformist collections – it’s entirely possible that the records have simply been lost. I’ve checked Suffolk baptisms, too, in Colneis and Samford Hundreds, and Ipswich, but there’s no sign of these children’s baptisms. Therefore, it seems likely that William was the child of one of these couples. Given that the name Robert appeared later in the family, he might be the son of Robert Nunn and Peke Bradley, who married in Ramsey in 1736. Giles Nunn and Elizabeth Cambler married in Colchester the year before. There aren’t any wills to help us, either, so unfortunately this is where Sir Trevor’s paternal line hits a brickwall. For now, at least. You never know!

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