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Harry Burch - a curious menage-a-trois

Updated: 23 hours ago

Harry Burch was Jane Burch’s second child, and I just have a feeling he might have been a bit of a bad boy. He was born in Mendlesham in 1854. In 1870 at the age of 16 he enlisted in the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards, based in London and Windsor.

After 10 years he was discharged from the Coldstream Guards, and a distant relative has the paperwork, he was “found unfit for further service” and one of the things he had was syphilis, his conduct was described as “latterly good” which implies it hadn’t always been good. He came back to Stowupland and was living with his mother Jane and working as an agricultural labourer.


He obviously got restless because the next year, 1882, he was back in London working for the New River Company and he married Emma Gillam in Tottenham. Emma was 7 months pregnant and actually only 14 when she married but put 18 on the marriage certificate, whether Harry knew how young she was we’ll never know. Anyway, Emma’s mother had died 2 years before Emma married, and in the 1881 census, Emma aged 13 was living in the household of a George Murch. George Murch is 47 and he had had a glittering military career including service in India, Ireland and Canada, he was widowed with 5 adult children and his first wife had died in childbirth in India, he was retired from the military and now working as a general labourer. Presumably, he met Harry through the military, because from here on in Harry and Emma Burch and George Murch’s lives were very intertwined. The three of them moved from Tottenham to Edwyn Street in Leicester around 1888 and settled there. Sadly, in 1889 Harry died of pneumonia aged just 35. Harry and Emma had had 4 children, the youngest born just weeks after he died.


In April 1891, Emma aged 23 married George Murch who is now 65 and working as a gardener, and her and George have four sons, sadly the very youngest died at only a year old. George Much died at the age of 87 when Emma was 46. Tragically for Emma, her oldest son Harry Burch junior dies in Suffolk as a result of a tragic accident just a month after her husband George. Emma also outlived six of her eight children and lived to 97.

Interestingly she kept the 4-year white lie about her age, all her life, and even celebrated her 100th birthday when she was 96.


A twist in the tale, is that in recent years, DNA tests have proved that 3 of the four children Emma had with Harry, were not in fact Harry's children but were George Murch's children. The eldest son, also Harry, was sent to live with Harry's mother in Stowupland, Suffolk, after Harry senior died, he was not in fact his biological son, and he was a few years later to die in a tragic accident when a horse and cart collapsed.


Emma was a true matriarch, very kindly and hospitable, and hosted huge gatherings of all the Murch’s including George Murch’s children from his first marriage, and her Burch children and grandchildren, and is still remembered very warmly by grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Leicester. I’m very grateful to a relative there who has shared photos and documents about Harry Burch with me.





Emma Gillam 1868 - 1965
George William was a military man
George William Burch 1884 - 1954 (Harry and Emma Burch's second son, who actually turns out to be George Murch's son)

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