James Douglas (1837-1920) & Family



James was born on Christmas day 1837, son of James Douglas, watchmaker of Egham, and Martha Ann Boyce, daughter of George Boyce, a baker of Egham Hill. James was sent to St George’s Chapel School and soon became a chorister, singing for Queen Victoria. Choral singing was to remain a passion for life, in various church choirs.


There is an longish account written by James for his daughter Bessie (Elizabeth Ellen Wilkinson née Douglas), mostly about James’s choral career, which can be read here. This was written in 1901, and gives a flavour of what life in the choir and later was like.

After St George’s he was apprenticed (in what trade I do not know) in Amersham. This lasted about 6 years, and he then worked on the Great Northern Railway at Oswestry. He later lived in Manchester and sang at concerts given by Sir Charles Hallé. Evidently he spent two years learning the tobacconist trade in London before he set up in Torquay in 1863. He was still there 50 years later as the newspaper article from the Directory, a local newspaper, reported below.


James married Emily Ann Harris on 16 Apr 1862 at Weybridge. Though born in Weybridge, she had been living in Egham High Street. Emily was born about October 1938 in Weybridge, and was the daughter of William Lewis Harris and Ann Copper.

See James Wilkinson’s website here. James is a descendant of Elizabeth Ellen Douglas and her husband Harry Collard Wilkinson.



They had the following children: -

Elizabeth Ellen Douglas, born 8th August 1864, and baptised at St Saviour's on 6th September 1864, she died on 5th June 1937.

James Henry Albert Douglas, born 29th June 1866, baptised 12th October 1866 and died in about October 1876 at 1a The Strand, and was buried in Torquay Cemetery on 2nd October 1876.

William Boyce Douglas, born in 5th October 1867 and baptised 6th June 1869 at St Saviour's, and died 15th October 1925, and was buried in Torquay Cemetery on 17th October 1925.

George Reginald Douglas, born October quarter 1869, and died 2nd October 1936 in Edgbaston, and was buried in Torquay Cemetery on 6th October 1936.

Charles Herbert A Douglas, born December quarter 1870, and died in August 1911, was buried on 17th August 1911 at Littleham cum Exmouth.

Fanny Louise Douglas, born in September quarter 1872, and died 20th August 1940 in Totnes district and was buried in Torquay Cemetery on 21st Augist 1940.

Ethel Mary Douglas, born in June quarter 1875 and died 10th May 1936.

James Kelly Douglas was born on 7th May 1877, at 1a The Strand, Torquay. He died in March quarter 1878 in Newton Abbot district. He was buried in Torquay Cemetery on 7th Jan 1878 aged 7 months.


Most of James and Emily’s descendants can be seen here.

More photos below.

Emily died on 20th January 1911 and was buried at Torquay Cemetery on 24th April 1911, and James died on 31st August 1920, and was buried on 3rd September 1920 at St John's Torquay.


Note that the 1911 Census gives Emily as having had 4 Children who died





- - -

Fifty Years In Business Here.

- - -
Sixty-eight Years a Chorister.


Mr. James Douglas will on Saturday next celebrate his jubilee as a tradesman in Torquay. He came on November 1st, 1863, and he has been in business here ever since as a tobacconist—first in Fleet Street, and then, as now, on the Strand.

Born at Egham, Surrey in 1837, Mr. Douglas is seventy-six years old, he certainly does not furnish indication, in gait, body, or mind, that he has passed man’s allotted span of life and is approaching the advanced aged of eighty. He is still actively identified with business, he still attends church regularly and sings iii the choir, he is still able to enjoy the Pavilion concerts or a whist drive, and he can quip and joke with the readiest-witted. His memory, too, is still good, as he demonstrated in conversation with a Directory representative a few days ago.

It was after spending two years in London, learning the tobacco trade, that Mr. Douglas came to Torquay in 1863. His first shop, which he opened at once, occupied the site where the Wilts and Dorset Bank in Fleet Street now stands. “Fleet Street at that time,” said Mr. Douglas to the Directory representative, “was little more than a meadow. The spot where Cary Green now is was shingle, and I remember well that tradesmen and others used to take their mats there to shake them, I was the first tobacconist in Torquay. Tobacco to that time was sold at chemists’ shops and by Mr. Searle, a hairdresser, whose premises were opposite the present Union Hotel, in Union Street. So far as I know, “Mr. Douglas continued” I am the oldest-established tradesman in Torquay save one—Mr. N. Gerry, silversmith, of Fleet Street. There is not in Torquay to-day a doctor or a clergyman who was in active service when I came here in 1863, and the only solicitor in those days still living is Mr. Briscoe Hooper.”

After occupying the Fleet Street shop for nine years Mr. Douglas removed to a Strand shop, which that time was occupied by Mrs. Godfrey, a haberdasher, and there he continues to today. His other shop, on Victoria Parade, managed by his son Mr. G. R. Douglas, was established thirty years ago.

As a chorister, Mr. Douglas possesses a record which must be almost, it not quite unique. He has been singing in church choirs for a period of no less than sixty-eight years! At the age of eight he sang in the choir of Egham Parish Church, and at he age of ten his beautiful treble voice once won for him a coveted place in the choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, whereat the then organist was Sir George Elvey. “Well do I remember singing, as a choir boy, beneath Queen’s Victoria’s bedroom window at Windsor Castle on her Majesty’s birthdays.” remarked Mr. Douglas. “I sang also at Queen Adelaide’s funeral, the opening of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, the Festival of the Sons of the Clergy at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and later I was solo tenor in the choirs, of Holy Trinity and St. Peter’s Churches, Manchester, and in Manchester Cathedral, and I sang, too, at the Manchester Glee Choirs and in Charles Hallé’s concerts” When he came to Torquay, in 1863, Mr. Douglas at once joined St Luke’s Church choir. The then Vicar was the Rev G. C. Harris—whose memory, by the bye it is proposed to perpetuate in St. Luke’s new Church house—and the organist and choirmaster was Mr. William Vinning. Mr. Douglas then a - tenor, and a tenor he is still. His four sons were also in St. Luke’s choir. After ten years at St. Luke’s Church, Mr. Douglas transferred his services to Upton Church, where the Rev. R. R. (afterwards Prebendary) Wolfe was serving as Rector, and Mr. Michael Rice as organist and choirmaster. “In those days,” said Mr. Douglas, "ladies used to assist the choir of Upton Church. There are several whom I can cal1—-the ladies who are now Mrs. J. H. Cook, of Preston (late of Belgrave Road); Mrs. Labdon, of Warren Hill; and the Misses Jenkins.” In 1881 Mr. Douglas left Upton and attached himself to the St. John’s Church choir, of which he is still a member. In 1881 the Rev. H. W. Hitchcock was the Vicar of St. John’s, and Mr. H. Ditton Newman was the organist and choirmaster. Mr. Douglas has thus sung in church choirs almost all his life. “And when I have been at home and have been well, I have never missed a service,” observed Mr. Douglas.

“I think I may say,” Mr. Douglas proceeded, returning to his business experiences “that I was the first to sell fireworks in Torquay. Even leading tradesmen used to buy fireworks in considerable quantities to discharge them in the streets on Guy Fawkes Day.  I used to sell fireworks for the regattas; and I supplied the display on the occasion of the opening. of the- Haldon Pier, in 1875, and at succeeding regattas. It was the practice in those days for the fireworks to discharged from the yachts in harbour. I remember that one year I had obtained £60 worth of fireworks for the yachts attending the regatta, only to he informed by M. R. J. Slade, the hon. secretary of the regatta, that the yachts were so closely packed in the harbour that it would be dangerous to discharge any fireworks, which. consequently, I had left on my hands. I may add that during the time I have been in business I have had the honour of supplying several members of  the Imperia1 family of Russia,  the late Emperor Napoleon III.—who gave to me his autographed portrait—and his son the Prince Imperial. "

Mr. Douglas had not long been in Torquay before he identified himself with the town’s life. He was the first hon. secretary of the Torquay Athletic Chub, which today exists purely as a Rugby football club. The original object of the club, as is implied by the title, was. however, the cultivation of athleticism. To this end sports were held periodically—’on the field fronting Ehrenberg (all (then occupied by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts). on the cricket. field. and on Daddy Hole Plain. Mr. Douglas also associated himself with the Rowing Club from its formation. He was the promoter and conductor of popular readings, most of which were held in what is now Messrs. Farrant and Co.’s Pantechnicon. The principal place of entertainment in the town at that time was the assembly room attached to the onion Hotel, wherein Charles Dickens and other notabilities appeared. “I remember,” said Mr. Douglas, “that I cleared over £200 for the Torquay Hospital in three or four years when I promoted readings, etc., for the benefit of that institution and of the Moretonhampstead Convalescent Home. I received much help from the Baroness Burdett-Coutts and Lady Erskine, of Conway House. I negotiated for a visit by Sims Reeves, but when he told me that he wanted £150 to sing at two concerts I closed the negotiations.” Mr. Douglas was also the organiser of Torquay’s first nigger minstrel troupes, which bore such fanciful names as The Torquay Snowdrops” and The White Swallow.” Finally, it may be written that Mr. Douglas has been an auditor of the accounts of the Cemetery Company for thirty-five years.



James and Emily’s Sons

(Presumably) l-r George Reginald,

Charles Herbert, and William Boyce


James Douglas and Emily Ann (née Harris)


An earlier picture of James Douglas


Western Times 7th September 1920


Some pictures of Torquay

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