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A tribute to Muriel Sibley

We pay a long overdue tribute this week to the wonderful work of one of Formby's most respected artists, the late Muriel Sibley.

Mrs M E Sibley dedicated more than 40 years of her life producing a pictorial history of ‘The Viking Village’. She also made forays into and around Southport, replicating architectural gems from Lord Street to the oldie-worldie cottages of Marshside and Churchtown.

Anyone who met Muriel, who sadly passed away in 1993, saw exactly what she was like; her personality was warm, she was a generous human being, and yet, behind her smile, lay heartbreak – as we will see next week – despite an intriguing family history which reveals she was a descendant of fleeing Huguenots, from her maiden name of ‘LeFevre’.

The Huguenots were French Protestants, most of whom eventually came to follow the teachings of John Calvin (Calvinists) but, due to religious persecution, were forced to flee France to other countries from the 16th and 17th centuries. Few Huguenots worked the land, as the great majority were artisans, especially weavers. Those who came to Britain, especially the London area, included many skilled craftsmen, silversmiths, watchmakers and the like, as well as professional people - clergy, doctors, merchants, soldiers and teachers, with a sprinkling of the lesser nobility. The word ‘Huguenot’ - following centuries of terror and triumph – became a badge of enduring honour and courage, for those who respected people’s dignity and lives; however, mixed with a complex hypothesis, others saw them with different eyes, and with intended scorn referred to them as ‘roaming spirits’.

Muriel had European blood in her veins, entering the world as Muriel Edith LeFevre, born in West Ham, on November 23, 1912, the eldest of two daughters of 26-year-old Stratford-born Edith – a dressmaker –, and 28-year-old William, from Cambridgeshire – Police Constable with the Great Eastern Railway Company. Beginning with her immediate family, Edith and William had obviously met when being brought up just nine doors apart in Creek Road, and they had married in 1909 at North Witchford, moving to 198 Murchison Road, Leyton, Essex, with daughters Muriel and her younger sister, Winifred E, who was born in July 1915 in Hackney, London. In 1939, Winifred was still single, living in Romford, but may have married one Arthur Smith in 1947.

Muriel’s father, William LeFevre, who was born in 1884 in March village, North Witchford, unfortunately died just six days after Christmas, New Year’s Eve 1930, aged just 46, with the family living at 27 Stockland Road, Romford, Essex, when Muriel was 18 years old.

Probate was administered in London on February 16, 1931, and granted his estate of £204.12s.4d. to his wife, Edith.

Muriel’s mother, Edith Ellen Amelia Mony, also a French surname, was born April 24, 1885, in West Ham, Essex. In the 1939 Register from the National Archives, following the death of her husband, Muriel’s father, the 54-year old widow was a schoolteacher in a children’s orthopaedic ward. She is recorded with her 26-year-old single daughter, Muriel, then a council school teacher, still in Stockland Road, along with a lodger, 59-year-old married man, Frank N. Hudson, soldier, author and journalist, who may have been related or known to the family, as Elizabeth LeFevre’s maiden name was Hudson! This 1939 Register confuses many as it was a ‘register-in-progress’ – a working document up until 1991 – so records Muriel as ‘single’ but includes her later married name of Sibley, ie Muriel E Sibley - although her full maiden name was often recorded as ‘Muriel E LeFevre’!

Edith’s parents were James and Amelia L Mony, a Cambridgeshire couple, with James, Muriel’s maternal grandfather, being a railway engine driver. The 1901, Census had shown the Mony household, driven by 45-year-old James and his 40-year-old wife Amelia nee Bennett, with their three offspring, our Edith, 15, dressmaker; 14-year-old Ernest, an errand boy; and Ethel L, 13, all born in Stratford, Essex. Edith died in East Dereham, Norfolk in December 1975, aged 90.

Meanwhile, it had all been brick-dust and mortar chalk in Creek Road, March, North Witchford, in the 1891 Census. William’s parents – Muriel’s paternal grandparents – were William John LeFevre, a 31-year-old ‘Bricklayer’ and 26-year-old Elizabeth nee Hudson Hubbard.

Here was their son, William, 7, and daughter Gladys, 5, along with William J’s 20-year- old dressmaking cousin, Ellen E; his 74-year-old widowed nurse and mother-in-law, Edith Hubbard; 34-year-old brother-in-law, William, a bricklayer’s labourer; and his two-day-old daughter Agnes.

They were all born in March village, North Witchford, where, next door to them in this Cambridgeshire roadway, was 48-year-old railway plate labourer, James LeFevre – possibly Muriel’s great grandfather – and on the other side was 27-year-old Alfred LeFevre, also on the railways – possibly Muriel’s uncle. A decade later (1901), still in Creek Road, 40-year-old William J was still laying bricks, his wife Elizabeth was 36 years old, and now William jnr, 17, had also picked up the trowel to lay bricks, while siblings Gladys was 15, Evelyn was 9, and then came nine-month-old Violet A.

Incidentally, ‘LeFevre’ is an occupational Old French name for ‘ironworker’ or ‘smithy,’ one of the most common surnames in France from an early date, taken to Britain by the Normans and Huguenots, along with the variant, ‘Lefebvre’.

‘Sibley’ (or ‘Sebley’) comes from the Greek ‘Sibyl’ from the Latin ‘Sibilia’ - ‘the name of the priestess who uttered the ancient oracles’, later a common woman’s name after the Conquest, in the vernacular ‘Sibley.’

The names ‘Sibley’ (‘Sibly’ and ‘Sebley’) can also be traced back to 13th century Suffolk, with Geoffrey Sibilie in 1275 and Richard Sebely in 1327; as well as William Sibli in 1279 Huntingdonshire.

By the time he died, on March 13, 1956, Herbert had moved next door, to No 86 Hayes Road, although he actually died at 47 Park Avenue, Bromley. The Probate, read in London in May 30, figured at £1,855.18s.3d, favoured his son John, the analytical chemist.

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