Julie Andrews’ family tree is alive with the sound of music
10+ minute read
By Ellie Ayton
Comedians, bandmasters and vaudeville performers. Secrets and scandal. Julie Andrews’ family history has it all.
But if we told you one of her ancestors might have at least five known names, would you believe us?
With so many unanswered questions surrounding her maternal grandfather, we delved into our family records to uncover the truth.
When was Julie Andrews born?
Julie Andrews was born Julia Elizabeth Wells in Surrey, 1935. Her mother was Barbara Ward Morris, who married Edward Charles Wells in 1932. They divorced when the Second World War began, and Barbara married the Canadian Ted Andrews in 1943. Aged 14, Julie discovered that a family friend, and not Edward Wells, was her biological father.
Barbara and Ted Andrews were travelling vaudeville performers who entertained soldiers through the Entertainments National Service Association, and later the young Julie would join them on stage.
In 1947, she performed at the Royal Command Variety Performance at the London Palladium, described as ‘the 13-year-old with the voice of a grown up.’
She was the youngest solo performer ever in a Royal Variety Performance, singing before George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Who were Julie Andrews’ parents?
One of the first places we searched for Julie’s family tree was the 1939 Register. We found her mother, brother John and aunt Joan at Westwill in Hersham. As Julie is alive, her record is redacted.
It’s clear that Julie’s love of performing and talent runs in the family. In 1939, her mother was a travelling concert artist, and her aunt a proprietor of a dance school. Also present in the household is another concert artist, Muriel Ellis.
The young Barbara Morris (born in Surrey) and her sister Joan (born in Kent) were living in Yorkshire in 1921. William Arthur Morris, Julie Andrews’ maternal grandfather, was a corporal for the Denaby and Cadeby Colliery Company. Julie’s maternal grandmother, Julia (who she was named after) was born in Warwickshire.
The mystery of William Arthur Morris
In 1911 Barbara Morris was barely months old. She was living with her mother, Julia (a domestic servant at the time), and Julia’s parents and siblings at 3 Ryden’s Grove, Surrey.
Julia’s parents were William Henry Ward, a gardener from Warwickshire, and Julia Emily Hearmon, born in Berkshire.
But where was William in 1911? The short answer is we have no idea.
Barbara’s baptism record gave us a small clue: when she was baptised on 16 October 1910, it gave her father as William Arthur Morris, a soldier. Another piece of the puzzle was her birthdate, 25 July, and their residence of 3 Ryden’s Grove.
William and Julia married in Godstone on 28 February. According to their marriage certificate, William was 22 and a private in the Grenadier Guards, stationed at the Guards depot at Caterham. Julia Mary Ward was 22, a domestic servant living at Allestree House in Caterham Valley.
It stated that William’s father was also a William Arthur Morris, a musician.
Given that Barbara was born in July, and William and Julia married in February, she must have been conceived before the wedding.
This led us to a military record for William Arthur Morris, a 23-year-old hairdresser born in Wolverton, Buckinghamshire. He attested for the Grenadier Guards on 8 June 1909, listing his mother Alice Morris of 565 Young Street, Wolverton as his next of kin.
On 3 March 1910, William was promoted to lance corporal. But by 30 July he had deserted. Given how close that is to Barbara’s date of birth of 25 July, we wonder if he disappeared to be with Julia and his newborn daughter.
So why wasn’t he with his wife and child, a year later, on the 1911 Census?
In Julie’s memoir Home, she recounts,
“Arthur Morris was angry, talented, a womanizer, a bully, a drunkard, and illegitimate… his own childhood was unhappy to say the least, as he was banished to the scullery most of the time, for his mother eventually remarried and his stepfather couldn’t stand the sight of him… As soon as he was of age, Arthur ran away to join the army and became a Grenadier Guard. There he learned music and gained a promotion into the brass band, where he played the trumpet. He also excelled at piano.”
William’s military record gives us further insight: on 5 November 1912 he re-joined his regiment awaiting a trial. Ten days later he was charged with desertion and loss of kit and sentenced to 63 days detention.
We spotted this in a Derbyshire newspaper in 1912: a deserted Grenadier Guard, Michael Morris, was arrested for travelling on the railway without paying the fare. He gave the name William Ward (the name of his father-in-law) and his occupation as a miner (which he later was in 1921). The article is dated 22 October 1912: barely days before our William Morris re-joined his regiment ahead of a trial. Could this be him?
Julie also remembers that her grandfather was known, while a deputy at Denaby Colliery, as the Pitman’s Poet, and entertained villagers with his musical skills.
“Recently Arthur Morris, who is well-known at Denaby Main and throughout the district as an entertainer, composed an interesting poem entitled ‘A Pit Pony’s Memories of the Strike,’ thousands of which have found a ready sale, and a copy of which has been accepted by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.” – South Yorkshire Times and Mexborough & Swinton Times, 20 August 1921.
In the interest of treating every part of a record as a clue, we were particularly intrigued by this one on the military record: a further note says he enlisted in the Oxfordshire Light Infantry as no. 7195 Percy John Sharman on 4 November 1902, and discharged on 12 June 1907.
This revealed a whole other realm of possibility for Julie’s elusive grandfather. Was William Arthur Morris even his real name?
So, we began searching for William’s apparent earlier name: Percy John Sharman.
Who was Percy Sharman?
The military record for Percy Sharman states he was born in Bedford, became a bandsman in 1903, a lance corporal in 1905 (but in 1906 reverted to private), and forfeited 12 days’ pay for absence in May 1907.
A month later, he was tried for a felony and discharged. With all this detail, a pattern of behaviour began to emerge. Could William and Percy really be the same man?
Both military records describe blue eyes, brown hair and a mark on his back. Further clues give the name of Percy’s mother and brother, Alice Powell and Fred Sharman, both of the Swan Inn, Sherington. On William’s record, his mother was listed as Alice Morris.
Which led us to the 1901 Census record for Percy, and more doors began to open.
Percy’s mother is the widowed Alice Rosa Sharman, a publican born in Jersey. His brother Fred (George Frederick) is in the household, as are two sisters. But crucially, Percy isn’t listed as Percy John Sharman here.
He’s Percy John Keech, a butcher’s assistant born in Bedford in 1885. If anyone is keeping track of William’s aliases, we’re currently on five: William Arthur Morris, Michael Morris, William Ward, Percy John Sharman, and Percy John Keech.
Who was Alice Sharman?
Julie’s potential great-grandmother was born Alice Rosa Paskins c.1870. Interestingly, she was also born out of wedlock. Her parents were William Keech, a militia bandmaster, and Alice Rosa Paskins, who was born in 1850 in Jersey. In 1871, Alice appears with her unmarried mother in St Helier.
In the 1891 Census, Alice and her first husband, George, ran the Royal Oak pub. Young Percy, on the other hand, was living with his grandparents.
A tradition of military service and music might be apparent in Julie’s family tree. William Keech served in the 3rd Bedfordshire Regiment as a bandmaster. A long obituary was featured in the local newspaper when he died in 1903. It mentions his additional service in the 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment, serving in Gibraltar and Malta, singing before Edward VII in India (when he was Prince of Wales), and rising to the rank of Drum Major.
Curiously, his grandson Percy Keech does not appear in the long list of mourners. Upon double-checking his military record, we remembered he was in India in 1903.
From our research, we believe Percy was born illegitimately when Alice was around 15-years-old.
Alice’s brother, William John Keech (born 1875) became a celebrated organist, choirmaster and music teacher who settled in Surrey.
A comedian in the family
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We haven’t finished Percy’s story!
In March 1909, 22-year-old comedian Percy John Keech was sentenced to three months’ hard labour for stealing money from the till at The Fox. He also had a previous conviction for stealing a bicycle. This is the last trace we can find of him with this name.
Earlier in 1907, Percy hired a bicycle and tried to sell it. This matches what we learned in his military record and the previous article, with this newspaper confirming he was a deserter from the Oxfordshire Light Infantry.
Another article describing the same incident gave us yet another alias: J Archer. If we’re correct, Percy John Keech/Sharman was discharged in 1907, was convicted of stealing from a pub till in March 1909. By June 1909, it's possible he had reinvented himself as William Arthur Morris.
While the only solid connection between these two names is the note on William’s service record, there are other facts which line up, such as the name of his mother, Alice, the physical descriptions, the signatures and handwriting on the service records, and the pieces of evidence from newspapers and Julie’s own recollections of her grandfather.
We cannot account for William Morris before June 1909, and we can't find Percy Keech after March 1909. A coincidence? Perhaps. The only sure-fire way to be certain is to see if Julie Andrews is up for a DNA test.
William had a very good reason for wanting to avoid the census in 1911: he was twice a deserter, with a handful of minor convictions to his name, and on the run from the law. It’s entirely possible he does appear on the 1911 Census, but we just don’t know which name he used.
Researching Julie’s grandfather has been a lesson in treating every piece of evidence as a clue and not believing everything you see on paper.
Do you have a runaway rogue in your family tree? We'd love to hear their story. Tell us all about it here.
Image header: Wikimedia Commons