Piecing Together a Family Story

By Jan Birrell

In 2023, Elmbridge Museum was approached by Jan and Fiona Birrell. They had a fascinating connection to a former local man, Peter Geesing, who lived in Walton with the Gill family over 150 years ago. Their story is an uplifting example of how local history can add colour to personal family histories. Here, Jan Birrell tells her family’s tale, and how she came across her great-great grandfather on the Museum website.

19 June 2023
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Framed oil painting, showing Framed oil painting, showing "Telegraph", a horse Mrs. Gill often rode, with Peter Geesing (1807-1895), the Gill's coachman, standing on the left. He entered their service in 1834 and retired 2 years before his death. The gold frame is covered in floral decoration.

The Geesing Family Tree

I was very excited when my daughter told me she was researching our family tree.  Sadly, my father never spoke about his family and my recollections are limited.  But, together with my daughter’s research and looking through many old photographs, we are slowly piecing together my past.

I was delighted to discover my relationship to Peter Geesing, the coachman of the Gill family of Apps Court.  He was my great-great-grandfather.  It all came about by accident – my daughter found a picture of the painting of the Gill family’s horse, ‘Telegraph’, on an art website.  Noting it was housed at the Elmbridge Museum, further investigation on the Museum website led her to establishing the connection and the Museum’s ‘Treasures of the Gill Family’ exhibition.

While we are yet to establish the origin of the name Geesing, Peter Geesing hailed from Nottinghamshire and it appears that family members before him also originated from there and Leicestershire.  It was his moving with the Gill family to Surrey that established my branch of the Geesing name in the south.

Photograph belonging to Jan Birrell showing some Geesing family members. Jan's grandfather, Pierre Geesing (1862-1937) is in the bottom right. He was the grandson of Peter Geesing of Apps Court. The other people in the photo are (top row left to right), Jan's father, Jan's grandfather on her mother’s side (Richard Henly 1865-1941), and Jan's uncle. Another of Jan's uncles is seated in the bottom row on the left.

Photograph belonging to Jan Birrell showing some of her family members, including some Geesings.

My father was born in Peckham, south-east London, in 1885 in the late Victorian era and my mother in 1905 in the Edwardian period.  Growing up, people used to comment on the disparity of their ages, but I never thought anything of it.  I recall my father telling me once that he had seen Queen Victoria.

He was the timber buyer for the Southern Railway, but suffered from life-long heart problems and died at age 73.  Of my two uncles, one died when I was two years old and the other we only saw intermittently.  Sadly, my grandfather died when I was little and my grandmother died before I was born.

In this photograph, my grandfather, Pierre Geesing (1862-1937) is in the bottom right. He was the grandson of Peter Geesing of Apps Court. The other people in the photo are (top row left to right), my father, my maternal grandfather (Richard Henly 1865-1941), and my uncle. Another of my uncles is seated in the bottom row on the left.

I hope that my daughter’s continued research will uncover more interesting family stories.

Jan Birrell (nee Geesing)

Peter Geesing in the Museum collection

A sepia photograph of Peter Geesing (1807-1895), the Gills' coachman, taken during his service at Apps Court, c.1850s-60s.

A framed photograph of Robert John Seppings Gill riding a pony in the mid 1860s, aged around 6. Peter Geesing can be seen wearing a top-hat on the right.

Robert John Seppings Gill riding a pony, with Peter Geesing on the right, taken at Apps Court in summer 1864.

Find out more about Peter Geesing and the Gill family

Visit our online exhibition, 'Treasures of the Gill Family'

See the exhibition here

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