Saturday, 3 August 2019

Finding Joyce & Joyce

Joyce Helen Sandeman (1902-1974) aged about 12
When Sentinel 7109 first arrived at Midsomer Norton in December 2004, I and the other seventeen original owners were unlikely to have envisaged the human interest that would come to light many years later.

As prototype to the two Radstock Sentinels, Sentinel works number 7109 ‘Joyce’ had worked at Croydon Gas Works from 1927 until 1960 prior to transfer to Bressingham Steam Museum in 1968 for use in preservation. But, in those 33 years of working life, ‘Joyce’ had amassed a history of her own.

I’d been aware that in 1927 ‘Joyce’ had been named after Joyce Helen Sandeman, the only daughter of the Croydon Gasworks Chairman William James Sandeman OBE.


I discovered that Joyce Helen had been born in 1902 and died in 1974 and that the naming was late in 1927 but it seemed odd to me that a loco would be named after an adult of 25 rather than a beloved child aged between maybe 5 and 15.

A clue was found in that Joyce Helen was described as ‘incapacitated’ in the 1939 registry whilst residing in a care home in Caterham. Thus I speculated that she had either been born disabled or become disabled before she was 25.

Through searching Ancestry.co.uk, I found that Joyce Helen had died a spinster with no siblings, nor any children, although her father had seven brothers and sisters. Thus, somewhere out there would be living distant relatives of Joyce Helen albeit of subsequent generations. I left it at that in 2016 but this year I determined to continue the search initially via local Croydon newspapers.

Before I had a chance to get started, astonishingly, in January this year I received an unexpected phone call from Ian Hocken who told me that Joyce Helen was his great aunt.

We were both very excited at having made contact. Ian told me that he had been at a family gathering last Christmas and the subject arose of great aunt Joyce’s steam locomotive and what had happened to it. So they did an internet search and found my 7109 blog and tons of YouTube videos of ‘Joyce’ in action.

It’s difficult to imagine how they must have felt at the discovery but Ian said they were absolutely gobsmacked. We discussed a little about the family and I was pleased to find that there are still two relations with Joyce Helen’s surname ‘Sandeman’: Elizabeth, who is in her 80s and Jenna who is 18.

After some searching of family albums, Ian sent me four scanned photos of Joyce Helen at ages of about 5, 9, 12 and 25. In the first three, she is a delightful and pretty young girl and clearly enjoying life (Photo). However, at 25, something terrible had obviously happened to her and she is visibly incapacitated. It’s a sad photo but it quashed my speculation that she might have been disabled from birth.

In April, I travelled to Ian’s home in Reigate to meet him and other relatives. I had a wonderful day and was made to feel like a member of the family – we do have a common relative in ‘Joyce’, of course!

Collectively, we don’t know what actually happened to Joyce Helen. A hundred years ago, people did not recover from illnesses that we now consider minor. Of course, WW1 could have played a part and Croydon did suffer bombing at that time. One day we’ll find out, perhaps.

I never thought that when I set out to restore a steam loco that it would lead to finding a new family but, on Saturday 27th July 2019, they came to visit Midsomer Norton station to see and ride behind ‘Joyce’.
Ian Hocken, Jenna Sandeman, Andy Chapman, Elizabeth Sandeman (Photo: Gail Coleshill)
It was an exceptionally enjoyable gathering preceded by an interview on BBC Somerset and attended by many local press and some of the volunteers that had contributed to ‘Joyce’s’ restoration.

I framed a dedication to Joyce Helen and presented it to Ian and Elizabeth on the day.

A Tale of two Joyces
Jenna, Ian, Elizabeth & Andy (Photo: Peter Nicholson)
I wrote a previous article about Joyce in December 2016 which can be found here: http://sentinel7109.blogspot.com/2016/12/who-was-joyce.html. Much of it has stood the test of time.

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