'otherwise Debes'
- a family history

A gravestone at All Saints Childwall records the death of 'John Davies otherwise Debes' in 1832. He was born John Debes in 1774, and the explanation for the change of name, handed down through the family, is that in 1804 he was 'recruited' into the Royal Navy by the Press Gang in Wavertree, but escaped to Wales and changed his name from Debes to Davies to avoid detection. On returning home to Wavertree, where he had worked as a gardener, he established a successful business as a 'nurseryman and seedsman' under the title John Davies & Son.

Altogether, John had nine children - 4 of them recorded as Debes in the Holy Trinity baptismal register, and 5 of them as Davies - and the son who took over the business was Thomas. Thomas was John's second son, his elder brother (another John) having moved to London to work as an engraver. The business, which is indicated as Davies Nursery or Wavertree Nursery on 19th century maps, was on the site of the present-day Wavertree Library, One Stop Shop and swimming pool, on Picton Road (originally called Wavertree Road) to the west of Glynn Street.

The family did well. Thomas married Elizabeth Lunt in 1829. They lived in Sandown Terrace for a while, before moving back to the family home alongside the nursery. Thomas's sisters Mary and Sarah (born Debes) both spent their lives working in the nursery business, while Jane (Davies) acted as their housekeeper. His brothers George and Isaac married and founded their own gardening businesses, while Stephen remained at home to help Thomas. Thomas and Stephen are buried in the same Childwall grave as their father and grandfather.

The name Debes - which is of French Huguenot origin, and pronounced Debess - was revived by later generations of the family, but today in the UK there are only 9 adults and 2 children who carry it. The first John Debes had been a tailor in Wavertree, but there is no record of where he was born or when he moved into the area. Perhaps his parents had arrived in Liverpool (or London, where he is known to have married Mary Mears in 1770) as a result of religious persecution in their home country.

The nursery business in Wavertree came to an end in 1902, when Thomas's eldest son (another Thomas) died without children. In March 2015 members of the family visited the site where their ancestors had lived and worked. Our photograph (above) shows them standing outside the One Stop Shop - the former public baths - in exactly the same place as Thomas Davies had been photographed (top) 150 or so years earlier.

This article by Mike Chitty is a shortened version of the original account by Alan Debes, which can be downloaded from here.

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Page created 8 Nov 2015 by MRC, last updated 10 Feb 2016