Tranmere Rovers

Not the football team in this case but rovers who have a connection with Tranmere. The story of Dora Mabel Jennings roves across the globe although it begins and ends in England.

Dora, born in Chorlton, Lancashire in 1863 was baptised on August 16 of that year at St John the Baptist church, Hulme. In her baptismal record we learn that the family residence was 26 Greenhill St and her father was a cashier. Sadly, we learn a little more about her father just three years later.

Jennings' death
Death notice Birmingham newspaper January 1867

Clearly the connection between the Lancashire Insurance Company and the Birmingham Fire Office (which had been incorporated into it) may explain why a child born in Lancashire should be living in Union St, Birmingham in 1867. Her father, however, died in Scarborough at the Prince of Wales hotel, clearly very suddenly and perhaps on holiday, although North Yorkshire seems a little bracing in January! Rose Agnes Jennings, Dora’s younger sister, was born on New Year’s Day in Scarborough so one presumes the whole family were there. Just two days later, their father was dead.

The girls’ mother, also Dora, was a widow at 26 years of age with three small daughters to care for. She had been born in 1841 in Cockermouth, Cumberland (as it was then) and it is quite remarkable how much coastal living features in the Jennings’ lives. William was born in Portsea and died in Scarborough; Dora was born in Cockermouth; Dora Mabel lived variously in Bombay, Algiers, Hythe and Hove and married a man who hailed from Duffus (north coast of Scotland), whose mother’s roots were in Tranmere (Wirral peninsula).

The Prince of Wales hotel where William Jennings died was later described (1932) as: First class Facing South and overlooking bay. Enclosed Suites. Hot & Cold Water in all Bedrooms. The image below shows its prominent position overlooking the sea.

Yorkshire by the sea
Prince of Wales hotel, Scarborough


We are making the assumption that the family were on holiday – perhaps they had been away for Christmas – although Jeremiah Jennings, William’s father, is described in one census as a hotelkeeper. Perhaps William was considering a career change. We will never know because his death changed everything for the Jennings family.

We next catch up with Dora Mabel in the 1871 census where she is a visitor in the household of George & Sarah Kelvington, 91 Carter St, Chorlton. In that year, petition papers for Dora’s election to RMIG show that the family’s address was Sandown cottage, Esher. That petition was successful on 12 October 1871 and Dora probably joined the School almost immediately, as she would have been eight in July 1871, the minimum age for pupils. Unfortunately, of her time at School we know nothing. She neither excelled nor was notably naughty! She would have left in 1879 at the age of 16 and she is ‘missing’ in the 1881 census. In the light of what we later learn of her, perhaps she was already abroad, although no travel documents have yet been found.

Abroad she certainly was  in 1883 even if we don’t know when she travelled: on 22 November she was married by licence to William James Colquhoun Dunbar. Perhaps she had gone to India as a governess and met her husband there; perhaps, as many did, she travelled to India to marry someone she had met whilst he was on a furlough in the home country. Given their respective backgrounds, it is hard to imagine how their paths might have crossed.

Married lines
Marriage record from Bombay

Dora was indeed ‘under age’ as she was then 20 years old, below the legal consent age at the time.

William James Colquhoun Dunbar was the son of Sir Archibald Dunbar 7th Bt and Sophia Dunbar, nee Orred. William was described as being from Duffus, Elgin, Scotland. The baronetcy is descended from Sir William Dunbar, 1st Baronet (died 1711) but the 4th baronet inherited the title Dunbar of Northfield (which dates from 1700) de jure as opposed to de facto – no doubt horribly complex legalities but as the 4th baronet’s father was not titled, we might assume that the 1st Sir Archibald inherited from a lateral family line rather than directly. Anyway, a lot of Honourables about.

His mother’s family were not Scottish. Sophia Orred was the daughter of George Orred, who owned Tranmere Old Hall. Of him, we know nothing except that he might be the person referred to rather unflatteringly in 1899:

‘… [Tranmere Old Hall] was pulled down by an ignorant boor who became possessed of it by some mischance, to make way for shops and houses.’ (Wikipedia)

In Carol Bidston’s book (1985) Birkenhead… Of Yesteryear, we learn that Tranmere Old Hall was a large, gabled building constructed around 1614. It was demolished in about 1860. An image of it can be found at

Another reference ( makes the claim that it was actually demolished in 1843, by which time George Orred was claiming ownership of half of it with the rest divided between more than a hundred others. Whenever it was demolished, Tranmere New Hall replaced it at some point although that too was demolished in 1936.

The name Tranmere is believed to be Viking in origin, from Norwegian Vikings who settled and colonised Wirral in the 10th century: in Old Norse Trani-melr means ‘sandbank with the Cranebirds’. (from Wikipedia, citing Professor Stephen Harding, Vikings In Wirral: Introduction). John Marius Wilson’ Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales adds

T. Pool, a creek of the Mersey, separates it from Birkenhead proper; a bridge over the pool connects the suburb with the town, or Tranmere ferry with Birkenhead ferry; and steamers incessantly maintain communication with Liverpool. T. Hall is an ancient edifice, commanding a fine view of the Mersey; and T. Old Hall is now a farmhouse.

Sophia Orred, George’s daughter and Lady Dunbar, was an artist in her own right.

Women artists
Dictionary of British Woman Artists by Sara Gray

Duffus, from where William hailed, is a long way from Yorkshire which appears to be the furthermost northern point in Dora’s travels. The name Duffus has undergone a variety of spelling changes through the years but it is probably a compilation of two Gaelic words, dubh and uisg, meaning ‘darkwater’ or ‘blackwater’. At one time, the region was below sea-level and the Loch of Spynie and stagnant pools of water were a conspicuous feature of the area. (Wikipedia) But all that is by the bye as Dora probably never went to Scotland. At the time that she married him in Bombay, he was Deputy Conservator of Forests in the Bombay Presidency. This is an officer role in the Indian Forest Service ‘responsible for managing the forests, environment and wildlife related issues of a Forest Division of a state or a union territory of India.’ (Wikipedia)

Despite all this rather complex interplay of connections, the marriage was not destined to last long. Just two years later, William died in Marseilles and, rather as her mother had been, Dora found herself a widow at a young age. In her case, she was just 22. She never remarried. In 1886, there is a fleeting reference in August 1886 to her at Villa du Palimer, Alger Mustapha, Algiers, an area that Sophia had visited and painted.

Algiers image from Google Earth

By 1891, Dora had returned to UK and was living at 69 Sackville Rd, Hove with her mother and sister. Ten years later, all three were living in London at 18, Vincent Square Mansions, St Margaret and St John, St George Hanover Square, London, overlooking the park.

masnions from Google
Vincent Square mansions from Google Street View

There is no entry for her in 1911 census although, if she had travelled overseas again, no travel documents survive. In 1925, she is writing to her cousin from Haslemere in Surrey and in this year, her mother died. Our next reference is the 1939 register which places her at 5 Brockhill Road, Hythe (with her sister Agnes; her older sister had died) and the following year sees her death on 24 October at Greenhayes, Hythe Kent, which may be the same place but given by a name rather than a street name and number. Her probate adds very little more to her story indicating only her date of death and the fact that her estate value was some £3440. So Dora’s roving came to an end on the south coast – a life reconstructed via fleeting and often impersonal references.

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