The Lopsided Barge

How did my ancestor Edward PARKER move from Prickwillow to Colchester? From a malster to a mariner? My professional talk ‘The Lopsided Barge’ explains this incredible journey.

Talk overview

Where do we start?

My story starts in Prickwillow, Cambridgeshire. The settlement derives its name from the long thin skewers, or ‘prickets’ of willow which were used to roof the houses.

My first encounter with Edward PARKER was in the 1851 UK Census when I located his father George PARKER 1. Edward is detailed as the Grandson of the Head of the Household, aged 2; born in Cambridgeshire, Prickwillow. My first Cambridgeshire ancestor!

From the information gleaned from the 1851 Census I was able to track and order a copy of Edwards civil registration birth certificate 2; 28 June 1848.

Taking the information from the birth certificate of Edward PARKER I traced the marriage of his parents George and Mary 3; 19 September 1847.

Having obtained the marriage certificate I could then use the information detailed to find the birth or baptism of either the bride or the groom. In the case of George and Mary their baptisms should be recorded in the relevant Parish Registers.


If we return to the census we find Edward listed in the 1861 Census. Edward is listed as a malster. The malster prepared the malt from grain, usually to a brewer’s specifications. It was a different occupation to that of a brewer who turned the malt into beer 4. For more details on the malting process, and a comparison of old and new malting processes check out:

George his father is listed as unmarried. Mary his wife died in 1850 when Edward was just 2 years of age. Focusing my research on George I note that he is rather unlucky in marriage. On the 25 October 1851 George (age: 29) marries Ann Boulton, a spinster aged 19 in Stowmarket 5. Ann passes away in 1857. George then marries his third wife on 7 April 1862, giving his age as 35 (he was actually 39) 6. He is still a Malster, residing in Chelmondiston, Suffolk. His new wife Elizabeth Ann Driver (age 21 and spinster) bears him 4 children.

I return to the census after this small diversion, with a goal of finding Edward PARKER on the 1871 census. No luck! I try the 1881 Census – No luck! Then the 1891 and 1901 Census – No luck! What has happened to Edward; has he passed away, immigrated, or not been enumerated? With faint hope I check the 1911 Census, and after a few false starts I identify Edward in Colchester, Essex.

Listed with Wife Mary Ann (married for 35 years)

Occupation: Mariner (Able Seaman)

With one son.

I know this is Edward as he lists his birthplace as Prickwillow, Cambridgeshire.

Returning to my search at a later stage, and with the help of a contact I locate Edward on the 1881 UK census.

Edward – Ipswich to Colchester

How or why Edward moved from Ipswich to Colchester initially will perhaps never be known. The growth of the railways during the Victorian period is well documented. The line between Ipswich and Colchester was opened in 1846 by the Eastern Union Railway. Perhaps Edward used this line to travel to Colchester, where he met his future wife?

I also don’t know how he gained experience and employment as a mariner. Ipswich is located on the river Orwell, the docks were improved in fits and starts between 1805 – 1898. Maybe he found better paid work, or his wife had a connection with the trade – this is an area for further research in the future.

Further insights

To gain further insight into Edward and his career we can consult the Maritime History Archive 7. The archive is located at The Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and the database contains the names of over 118,200 seamen 8.

I find Edward in a crew list of 1881. I can now find out more about the vessel Edward is sailing, accessing the same archive 9.

So I have an interesting family story. Edward Parker, born 1848 in Prickwillow, Cambridgeshire. Becomes a malster and finally a mariner, sailing from Colchester.

+ What else might I be able to find in my research?


+ What about the title of this Blog; ‘The Lopsided Barge’, how does this dovetail into the story?


+ Well, to find out you’ll need to attend my talk, or book me to speak to a group you are a member of

+ This story also featured in my June 2015 Blog ‘Malster to Mariner’. It has been updated for this blog entry with new information.


Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.

What stories might your ancestors tell?


1 Source: Census 1851: 80 Violet Hill, HO 107 / 1794

2 Source: birth certificate Sept 1848, Parker, Edward, Ely, Vol 14, page 59;

3 Source: marriage certificate Sept 1847, Parker, George, Ely, Vol 14, page 93:

4 Source:; accessed June 2015

5 Source: marriage certificate Dec 1851, Parker, George, Stow, Vol 12, page 883:

6 Source: marriage certificate Jun 1862, Parker, George, Ipswich, Vol 4a, page 811:

7 Source:

8 Source:; accessed June 2015

9 Source:

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