What happens on Kate Winslet's episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

By Guest, 12 August 2019 - 10:04am

Military service, Scandinavian roots and overcoming huge poverty - the Academy Award-winning star discovers stories of hardship and resilience

Kate Winslet Who Do You Think You Are?
Hollywood A-lister Kate Winslet's family history journey took her to Sweden (Credit: Wall to Wall)

Academy Award-winning actor Kate Winslet’s mum, Sally, was “a brilliant multitasker”.

So much so that, when her daughter was born in Reading in 1975, Sally supposedly broke off cooking Sunday lunch to nip to the maternity hospital and returned in time to serve crumble for dessert.

Sally died two years ago and Kate misses her terribly, something that underpins her desire to learn more about the family stories of her mum and her actor father, Roger.

“It was always a real struggle,” she says of her childhood, “but we were very, very happy.”

She begins with family stories of a Scandinavian connection.

A letter from Kate’s maternal uncle, Mark, reveals he was told that his mother’s great aunt, Lily, was Swedish.

Via a visit to the Swedish Church in Marylebone, London, Kate learns Lily was the brother of her own great great grandfather, Alfred Johanson Lidman.

A tailor who did well in London after emigrating as a teenager, Alfred was born in 1857, in the Swedish parish of Halland.

The stories of Scandinavian ancestry are true.

Kate: “This is just brilliant!”

Kate heads north to a Swedish country estate complete with its own small palace, Sperlingsholm.

Records show that Kate’s 3x great grandfather, Johan Christian, was born on the estate, the son of stable groom Anders Jonsson.

Here, the tale turns darker.

The 1830s saw crop failures in Sweden.

In 1831, Anders’ three-month-old son, Gustaf, died aged of “twinsoot” – malnutrition.

Anders was clearly desperate.

Arrested for stealing food, he was sentenced to be whipped, but died in jail before the punishment could be enforced.

His son, Johan, became a navy rating, a job that entitled him to a croft, or cottage.

And while Johan lost two children, and was discharged from the navy and flogged for embezzlement, he eventually became a tailor, a trade he passed to émigré Alfred.

“It really is a story of survival of people who fought and carried on in the face of incredible tragedy,” says Kate.

Kate next turns her attention to her father’s family, a search that begins with her dad showing her a marriage certificate for her great grandparents, George Sims and Florence Bick.

It reveals that George’s father, Thomas Bick, was of “independent means”, a reference not to wealth but an army pension.

Going back further Kate learns her 3x great grandfather, William, was a drummer boy who enlisted aged 11.

He served in the elite Grenadier Guards and became a drum major – a uniformed performer in marches, but also someone who carried out disciplinary floggings with a cat o’nine tails, a job given to drummers because of their strong arms and rhythmic sense.

For Kate, knowing what she does about her Swedish ancestor, this is an especially disquieting revelation.

In 1839, William was discharged because of chronic rheumatism.

In his 40s, he had 11 children.

What could he do?

He eventually became principal warder at Dartmoor prison, a time when the jail was considered forward-looking for its focus on rehabilitation.

A newspaper article from 1851 describes him glowingly as an “intelligent officer”.

Kate visits William’s final resting place, in Plymouth.

“It makes me feel as though I fit somewhere more, knowing all of this,” Kate says.

“It’s completely overwhelming actually.”




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