My great-grandfather William John Flanders (aka W.J. or Bill) was an Englishman who emigrated to the United States in his twenties and became a U.S. citizen five years before his death. He was short (5’6″ tall) and had a bit of a paunch, topped by a round face sporting glasses and a moustache. He loved cigars. He married twice and fathered two children, both sons. This farmer’s son lived in New York City and the New Jersey suburbs and was a gentlemen’s clothing salesman.
William John Flanders was born on 25 March 1865 in the small market town of Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, later the home of an RAF airforce base. He was the second of five survivng children born to William Flanders and Elizabeth Deeks Webb. His father was a farmer and successful breeder of hackney horses. The family lived within a 25 mile radius in the English Fen Country for almost 300 years.
In the 1881 English census, we find William and his brothers Horace and Frank as scholars at a boarding school in Kings’ Lynn, Norfolk, England, 35 miles from their home. William, also known “Willie” to his brothers, came to New York City in 1885 or 1886 – we don’t know why or exactly when, but we do know that his older brother inherited his father’s land and horse breeding operation. As a second son, Bill would have known he would not inherit; the decision to try new things in a new place is not surprising. His younger brother Frank also moved to New York City in 1888.
Bill Flanders worked as a clerk in Manhattan and on 7 October 1889, he married Bessie Jane Read of Sandwich, England, who was living in New York. His brother Frank witnessed the marriage. Bill and Bessie lived in Manhattan for nine years; their only child, Lester Maris Flanders, was born on 1 January 1891. The family went back to England in September 1892, making the outbound and return sailings on the new ship Mohawk, built by the Harland & Wolff, the firm that also built the Titanic.
Bessie and Lester traveled to London again without William in July 1894, also on the Mohawk. Four years later, on 3 October 1898, Bessie died at their home on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. She was 32 years old. Her body was taken to England, where she was buried.
After his wife’s death, Bill and his seven year old son Lester rented rooms from the recently widowed Alice McCormick and her daughter Charlotte on Hunts Point Road in the Bronx. A year later, he married the landlady’s daughter in a ceremony held at the bride’s home on 7 December 1899. He was 13 years older than his bride, who was 13 years older than her step-son. Their only child, William Charles Flanders, was born ten months later on 5 October 1900 in Belleville, New Jersey.
The Flanders lived in Newark and William worked across the river in New York City. In 1907 they bought a new home in the quiet residential area of Forest Hill, two blocks from the train station to the city. The household was multi-generational and included William and Charlotte, mother-in-law Alice McCormick, his son Lester, their son William, and Charlotte’s brother, Charles McCormick. Good thing there were five bedrooms! They probably saw a lot of Charlotte’s Heginbotham cousins living in neighboring Belleville, some as close as two blocks away. The Flanders were members of nearby St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Forest Hill.
Bill took the train to work from Forest Hill to New York City and later, to points west of New York, but in 1918 they also bought a used Oldsmobile for $665. We know that the family rented a “bungalow” in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, during the summer of 1920, the same year that Bill Flanders became a naturalized United States citizen. Bill passed his love of the Jersey shore to his son, who bought houses in Manasquan in 1934.
William John Flanders never returned to England after his trip in 1892. He died on 29 April 1925 at his home in Newark after suffering for 18 months with bladder and rectal cancer. He is buried in East Ridgelawn Cemetery in Passaic, New Jersey, next to his second wife, Charlotte, who survived him by over forty years and never remarried.
Bill Flanders and his son, also Bill Flanders, looked eerily alike: