Bajwa, Mrs Jessie, nee Chalk

For an interview with Mrs Bajwa, see interview tape 4 . Note that she does not mention her time in Lahore.

For photos concerning Mrs Bajwa, see photos M 3168 to M3208. They are generally arranged with her early life in Witham first, her life in Lahore next, and her life in assorted places including Africa last. I don’t have a clear idea of dates, but for now I have given the photos these dates: Witham 1900 to 1920 approx., Lahore 1910 to 1930 approx, Africa 1920 to 1950 approx. These are very wide and wild, I hope they may be improved on one day.

In May 2020 I heard from Valerie Pellett, Jessie Bajwa’s granddaughter. She kindly wrote this piece for me, quoted below. It is about some amazing parts of Jessie’s life which were previously unknown to me.

Jessie Bajwa, her life, especially overseas
By Valerie Pellett, her grand-daughter
May 2020

I will see what I can remember! I have endless letters sent to her son, my Father, that have told me many things I didn’t know. I have not yet put them all into order, or indeed, read everything yet, but what I have learnt about my Grandmother and Father is many many times more than I knew before.

Jessie married Abdul Hamid, an Indian student who was  studying Maths at Cambridge University. She was also at Cambridge, possibly reading English. They married in England, and Abdul was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs for bigamy. He was already married to a woman named Dorothy, who proceeded to divorce him. Abdul and Jessie moved to Lahore (then part of India), where they lived with his Family, as was the custom. They were a wealthy and well respected family who had started and run the first newspapers in Lahore, but they did not seem to approve of Abdul’s choice of wife, despite Jessie converting to Muslim faith. They had two sons, Tarak and Osman (my Father), and photographs show the extended family of Aunts, Uncles, Brothers and Sisters, sitting outside the newspaper printing works, with staff and servants; including Nana and Abdul, and a baby Osman.

It would seem that Abdul was restless about his working life, and tried various ways of earning a living before settling down into the family business. One venture was in Africa, where he accepted a job to run a sisal plantation. (It never seems to worry the family that they are asked to do things that they have no experience in at all!) Anyway, he learnt on the job, and became proficient enough to invest some of his own money in land, to grow his own sisal crop.

There may be a bit of a gap here, as my (Pakistani-side) family do not seem to be too willing to discuss what happened next, but this is what I gather from the letters…

Whilst in Africa, Jessie and Abdul lived a good life, with servants and cars, foreign travel and both sons sent to boarding school at Brentwood in England. Many photos show Abdul with another man, with whom he is obviously very close, and I believe he had a relationship with. Abdul returned to Lahore, with the other man. I do not yet know how long for, or the reason for the return. ( My guess is that the relationship would have been vehemently disapproved of, as homosexuality is not allowed in Muslim religion). Osman had not yet been dispatched to boarding school as he had been unwell and needed to wear leg callipers for a time, so this left Jessie on her own in Africa, coping with a small boy who was at that time very fragile, and learning to run the business side of the sisal plantation. I believe the Plantation was in the foothills of Mt Kilamanjaro. At this time she also began to teach English in schools, and tried to write articles for magazines.

At some time she met Mr Bajwa, a barrister, who lived nearby in Tanga. Abdul had asked her to return to Lahore to live with him there again, but she had had enough of his Family and  bisexual tendencies, and asked for a divorce. It is interesting that in letters to his sons, regarding the impending divorce, he put all blame on Jessie for the marriage failure.

Jessie married Mr Bajwa. I haven’t yet found out when. She was widowed after only a few years, but photos and letters show that she had loved him dearly and been very happy with him.

She suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis, and eventually it was decided that she should return to England to live with Osman and his family (which includes me!), in Knebworth, Hertfordshire. She was never really happy living with us as the relationship between her and my Mother was not a happy one. She seemed to have a yearning for Witham, and with some money left to her from her sister Connie who had passed away around that time, she bought a small bungalow in St Nicholas road, where she lived out her years with a few surviving friends nearby.

I have also recently discovered that there was a third sister called Dorothy (which worried me for a time in case she was the Dorothy who had been Abdul’s first wife, but she hadn’t been…whew!) I had thought that Dorothy (the sister) had died as a small child, but recently found some letters from her to Jessie, as adults. I knew that the three sisters had been orphaned, and  been brought up by an Aunt (Fanny, I believe, who married into the Sprigett [Springett?] family) Edgar and Esther Chalk (Jessie’s parents), had both died aged 32, following Esther becoming ill, and Edgar going out in a storm to his parents house for help, and getting pneumonia. Esther died from her illness, and Edgar, knowing he was dying from pneumonia, asked for her funeral to be delayed so he could be buried with her, at the same time!

 Maybe because she had been the eldest of three small orphaned sisters, she had developed a strong personality, but Jessie was certainly quite a remarkable woman. 

There are still some letters to read, and some photographs to investigate, but I do feel I know something about my Father’s side of the family now. PS, and I have been to visit some of them in Lahore, Pakistan!

Family tree
(I, Janet Gyford, wrote all this some time ago, so see the above article by Valerie Pellett  for updates, especially about Jessie’s sister Connie)

Family history

Baptism of Jessie Chalk at St Nicholas church, 4 August 1892. Parents Edgar John and Esther Chalk, nee Horsenell.

Parents, grandparents and early residences
When she was born, the family was living in Albert Road, opposite the station.

Jessie was playing the piano by 3 ½, taught by her father Edgar. Edgar and Esther died in about 1899. Jessie and her sister(s) were thereafter brought up by an aunt and their grandparents John and Caroline Chalk of 55 Braintree Road. Jessie didn’t like the aunt.

When they were older the girls lived in 57 Braintree Road with a maid.
Jessie was determined to leave home. She went to Saffron Walden College.

(Here I omitted much of Jessie’s life overseas, for which see Valerie’s article above).

(Some of the following few paragraphs were told to me by Jessie in a separate conversation so may not be on the tape)

She Married a Tanganykan and they lived in Tanganyka when they were married and after. He died in 1941.

She had a job as a school secretary in Tanganyka in  1955.

She came back to Witham in 1964 to 40 St Nicholas Road, and died in the late 1970s.

Extracts from relevant documents, especially about the history of the Chalk family

1841 census returns, Witham, HO 107/343/16, folio 54, page11, Chipping Hill, part off [possibly Motts]
[the only John Chalk in 1841 except for one aged 65 married to Mary on folio 41 page 15]
John Chalk            40    Ag lab    born in Essex
Elizabeth Chalk            35        born in Essex
Emma Chalk            8        born in Essex
John            5        born in Essex

1851 census returns, Witham, HO 107/1783, folio 223, page 8, Cherry Garden Chipping Hill [probably Church Street]
John Chalk    Head    Mar    50    Ag lab    born Essex, Witham
Elizabeth Chalk    Wife    Mar    46        born Suffolk, Belstead
Emma Elizabeth Chalk    Dau    U    17        born Essex, Witham

1851 census returns, Witham, HO 107/1783, folio 234, page 30, schedule 88, Chipping Hill
John Coote    Head    Mar    55    Auctioneer and builder employing 19 men, farmer 69 acres, 4 men, 1 boy, born Essex, Braintree
[other Cootes: Mary (wife) George (son, 29, surveyor, Susannah (dau)
John Chalk    Servt    U    17    Servant    born Essex, Witham
This and the older John Chalk senior above are the only John Chalks in Witham; the latter’s age doesn’t quite tie up with the other years so possibly he is not the right one. But I couldn’t see any other suitable John of 14 in the nearby 1851 indexes.

1858 Congregational church marriage registers (ERO D/NC 3/3)
1858, 6 September
John Chalk, full age, bootmaker, of Witham, son of John Chalk
Caroline Eves, full age, single, of Witham, daughter of William Eves

John Chalk of Chipping Hill applied to build houses at what are now 57-63 Braintree Road (plan 8) [?whether John senior who would be about 57 then (perhaps most likely) or John junior who would be about 22 and just got married that year] (building plans, ERO D/HWi Pb1/1).

1861 census returns, Witham, RG 9/1107, folio 99, page 21, schedule 107, New Road
[probably Braintree Road]
John Chalk senior    Head    Mar    60    Ag labr    born Essex, Witham
Elizabeth Chalk    Wife    Mar    57    Laundress    born Suffolk, Belstead
Emma E Chalk    Dau    Unm    27    Laundress and dressmaker    born Essex, Witham

1861 census returns, Witham, RG 9/1107, f.98, p.20, schedule 106, Rivenhall Road
John Chalk junr    Head    M    25    Boot and shoe maker    born Essex, Witham
Caroline Chalk    Wife    M    29    Laundress    born Essex, Totham

1868 poll book
Includes Chalk, John, Witham, voted for the two Tories.

1869 and 1870
1869. Miss Chalk (owner?) applied to build what are now 5-6 Chalks Road (plan 31) [probably Emma E Chalk, sister of John junior, see census returns above)
1870. J Chalk junior (owner?) applied to build what are now 1-4 Chalks Road (plan 32)
(building plans, ERO D/HWi Pb1/1).

1871 census returns, Witham, RG 10/1695, folio 66, page 20, schedule 124, New Road
[probably Braintree Road]
John Chalk    Wr [sic]    Wr    70    Retd labr    born Essex, Witham
Emma E Chalk    D    M [sic]    37    Dressmaker    born Essex, Witham

1871 census returns, Witham, RG 10/1695, folio 66, page 19, schedule 123, New Road [probably Braintree Road]
John Chalk junior    Head    M    34    Boot and shoe maker    born Essex, Witham
Caroline Chalk    Wife    M    40    Laundress    born Essex, Gt Totham
Harriet Elizabeth Chalk    Dau    U    9    Scholar    born Essex, Witham
Edgar John Chalk    Son    U    4    Scholar    born Essex, Witham

John Chalk younger bought land including what became 7-10 Chalks Road; no building plans appear to survive for these. Miss Chalk owned adjoining land probably 5-6 Chalks Road; deeds of 8 Chalks Road, privately owned (see notes on Chalks Road).

1881 census returns, Witham, RG 11/1809, folio 65, page 21, schedule 124, Chalk Cottage [probably Braintree Road]
John Chalk    Head    M    44    Bootmaker    born Essex, Witham
Caroline Chalk    Wife    M    51        born Essex, Totham
Harriet Chalk    Dau    U    19    Dressmaker    born Essex, Witham
Edgar Chalk    Son        14    Scholar    born Essex, Witham

1886 Kelly’s directory
Only Chalk appearance in any Kelly’s directories is this one:
John Chalk junior, bootmaker, Chipping Hill

1880s. E Chalk for Mr Jones(?) applied to build what are now 6-8 Braintree Road (plan 44)
1887?. Harriet E and Edgar Chalk (owners) applied to build what are now 5-8 Albert Road (plan 47). (building plans, ERO D/HWi Pb1/1).

1891 electoral register
Ownership electors include:
Chalk, Edgar John of Witham, qualified by freehold houses in Chipping Hill.
Chalk, John of Witham, qualified by freehold cottages in Chipping Hill.

1891 census returns, Witham, RG 12/1425, folio 48, page 6, schedule 25, Braintree Road
John Chalk    Head    M    54    Living on own means    born Essex, Witham
Caroline Chalk    Wife    M    60        born Essex, Great Totham
Harriet Chalk    Dau        28        born Essex, Witham

1891 census returns, Witham, RG 12/1425, folio 51, page 12, schedule 60, Albert Road
Edgar J Chalk    Head    M    24    Carpenter and joiner    born Essex, Witham
Esther Chalk    Wife    M    22        born Essex, Faulkbourne

1901 electoral register
Ownership electors include:
Chalk, John of Witham, qualified by freehold cottages in Chipping Hill.

1901 census (RG 13/1725, folio 63, page 18, schedule 125, Braintree Road)
John Chalk    Head    M    64    Shoemaker (retired)    born Essex, Witham
Caroline Chalk    Wife    M    70        born Essex, Totham
Harriet Chalk    Dau    S    38        born Essex, Witham
Jessie E Chalk    Grd-dau        8        born Essex, Witham
Dorothy H Chalk    Grd-dau        3        born Essex, Witham

Chelmsford Chronicle,  20 May 1904
‘Miss Ethel Chalk, of Witham, has been appointed head mistress of West Ham Church Girls’ School, at a salary of £120 per annum [not sure where she fits in if at all]

1911 electoral register
Ownership electors include:
Chalk, John of Braintree Road, Witham, qualified by freehold cottages in Chipping Hill.

1920 electoral register
Electors include:
Chalk, John, Belstead Cottage, Braintree Road
Chalk, Harriet Elizabeth, ditto.
Also a number of Chalks from another Chalk family.

Info sent to Ann Turner 1 December 1999
(She is related to them.)
I don’t have any other info. to hand about Thomas Chalk or Mary Belstead who married in 1798. And I understand that the Chalks after whom Chalks Road was built came from Ipswich originally. I used to talk to a Mrs. Jessie Bajwa, nee Chalk, who was born in 1892 (she has died now). She was from this Ipswich family. Her parents were Edgar Chalk, builder, and Esther. Her grandfather John was the Chalks Road one. E.g. in 1858 the building plans of Scrivener Terrace, now nos 1-4 Chalks Road, have his name on. However, the John Chalks (senior and junior) that in the 1861 census lived where I thought she said they were, are given in the census as ag labourer and shoemaker, and born in Witham ! So more attention is required here, I guess (RG 9/1107 ff.98 and 99: Elizabeth, John senior’s wife, is given as from Suffolk, Belstead).


Newspaper report about Mrs Bajwa in 1976


11 thoughts on “Bajwa, Mrs Jessie, nee Chalk”

  1. I am from California and great grandson of Mr. Bajwa/Kapur singh Bajwa. I am trying to find out more info about my great grandfather in Tanganyika. From what I can contribute Mr Bajwa was from Chak 185 GB (Per Lincoln inn records) in Lyallpur Punjab. He was married to my great grandmother with whom he had one son My grandfather Hardev Singh Bajwa. Since they were sikh family they moved to punjab in India after partition. His wife stayed in Punjab while he moved to England . Then he owned estate in Tanganyika. I would love to reach Ms Jessie Bajwa’s Family as I am trying to find more about my family.

  2. Thank you for this piece. I am great grandson of Mr Bajwa from his family from his earlier marraige and I am interested in finding more about my great grandfather in Africa. I was trying to connect to Mrs Jesse Bajwa’s granddaughter to see if i can find more info n contribute with info i know,

  3. My name is now Ms Jo Theresa Nichollette Murphy (twice married) I live in New Zealand.
    My maiden name was Jo Theresa Nichollette Hamid( b. January 1939)
    My father’s name at birth was Mahommed Omar Hamid.
    But he was christened in the Church of England (by his grandparents) and re-named :
    Paul Ambrose Hamid. He used both names on his passport to NZ in 1949/50.
    My father was the first child (a son) of Dorothy Pizey and Abdul Mohommed Hamid.
    I was his first child (daughter) of Patricia Vaughn and Omar Mahommed Hamid.
    Through learning about Jessie Chalk, I now know that my father had at least two half brothers: Osman and Tarak. I wish he had known this.
    My father was dearly loved by his own five children, and carried the burden of shame and disappointment about his father’s behaviour……to the degree that we, his chillden, have had to unearth his provenance painstakingly ever since!
    Anyone who can shed further light on our forefathers would be well received.

  4. Sorry I haven’t moved forward with this. I’ll send a copy of your query to Valerie Pellett, Jessie Bajwa’s granddaughter, and she may be able to help.

  5. Hello. I am Dorothy’s grandson. Never met Omar but I remember him cropping up in conversations over the years between my mother Pat, Betty and Shirley. Strong possibility I may have a couple of old photos somewhere. Also vaguely remember seeing a family tree that was sent to us from NZ a fair while back. I’ve also have an account of the Abdul/Dorothy shenanigans given to me by Shirley. Might be an interesting read.

      1. Hi. Yes, that would be fine. Can’t reply directly to your email as it’s a “donotreply@” address.

  6. P.S. just noticed the address. Are you connected to Dorchester? Dorothy and Shirley lived with a family with that surname during WW2 in, I believe, Bridport Rd.

    1. Hello Fred

      No, no connection with Dorchester, neither the surname nor the place. The Gyfords were mostly from Suffolk.

      Valerie Pellett, Mrs Bajwa’s grand daughter, is looking forward to hearing from you and sharing information. I don’t seem to have any contact details for you, so here is her email address for you:
      Valerie Pellett

      I hope that works out for you.

      Best wishes, Janet

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