My great-great grandfather was born about 1822 in Higher Wych, Cheshire, which is a hamlet in the south-west corner of Cheshire, in the parish of Malpas.
During his life, he used the names of James Maddocks and James Griffiths fairly indiscriminately and if we look for names like that in the baptismal register of St. Oswald, Malpas, we find just two. There was a James Griffies who was baptised in 1822 to Sarah Griffies of Broxton, and a James Griffith who was baptised in January 1824 to Mary Griffith. Both, incidentally, were illegitimate. James Griffies of Broxton cannot be my James Griffiths since he appears in the 1851 census at Broxton, at a time when my James is visible elsewhere, so the two people must be different.
Mary’s James was actually born in Worthenbury parish, just over the border in Flintshire, rather than Higher Wych, but there are many cases of people who were born in one place, moved to another at an early age and then always believed that they were born there. While Mary’s son is the better bet of the two, there is every possibility that our James was baptised in a different church or chapel, or indeed, may never have been baptised at all – indeed, the Griffiths family didn’t go in for baptism much in later years and Malpas church was some three miles away. As a result, we have to say that we don’t know anything of James’ mother.
James himself would marry twice, once under each of his names, but in both cases he said that his father was named William and he was a cordwainer (shoemaker). This makes it more likely that James’ father – or at least, the man that he regarded as a father figure – really did have that name and occupation. And there is indeed a shoemaker named William Maddocks, living in Wigland, near Higher Wych, in the 1820s. This William Maddocks appears to have married Anne Davies at Malpas in 1826 and two of their daughters appear in the Malpas baptismal registers. But again, there is nothing here to prove that William was James’ father.
So why did James use two names? One possibility is that he changed his name in order to disappear – if he did that, he made a remarkably bad job of it, for he used both names in later years. So that seems unlikely. More usually, this sort of thing happens when a child is born illegitimately – the first surname is the mother’s, and the second might refer to the real father or perhaps a step-father. Alternatively, the mother might have remarried and the other name is that of the step-father.
With no obvious evidence of Griffiths / Maddocks marriages that fit the facts, my own best guess – and it is only a guess – is that James was born James Griffiths, probably illegitimate, and he was at some time brought up in the house of the shoemaker, William Maddocks, with William acting as a father figure to him.