Robert Sergeneson and Maria Gardiner – connected to the father of witchcraft?

I am known for my keen reading habit and I often order books which I mean to get around to reading at some stage. This usually leaves me with a pile which from time to time I decide I need to sort out. This week I noticed the pile was getting rather large, and after some ruthless sorting, I decided that there were only four which I needed to do anything with; the rest could be filed on my bookshelf as reference material.

One of the books I decided it was time to browse and determine what to do with it was Philip Heselton’s on “Witchfather: A Life of Gerald Gardner”. It turns out that I’d bought the book because it had a pedigree chart for some members of the Sergeneson family, who are in my Serjeantson West Riding of Yorkshire tree. That motivated me to browse the book to see how its subject, Gerald Gardner, was related to the people on the chart.

Gerald Brousseau Gardner was born in 1884 in Lancashire. He married Dorothea Frances Rosedale in 1927 and spent time working in Ceylon, Borneo and Malaysia. Just prior to WWII, while living at Southridge, Highcliffe-on-Sea, Dorset, it is thought that Gerald was initiated into the New Forest Witches coven. He became devoted to promoting this new found religion and became involved in initiating people into the Wiccan culture. There is now a blue plaque on his former home Southridge, which names him as the “Father of Modern Witchcraft”.

Gerald’s parents were William Robert Gardner (1843-1935) and Louise Burguelew Ennis (born about 1843). William was the youngest son of Joseph Gardner (1791-1865), a well-known timber merchant from Liverpool and Maria Jackson (1801-1876). The connection between Gerald and the Sergeneson family is through his aunt Maria Gardner (1833-1914). The following chart shows the key relationships in the Gardner family.

Abbreviated chart for the Gardner family

Maria Gardner married Robert Sergeneson (1828-1896), in 1856; they had five children: two boys and three girls. By the 1891 census the family were living in Litherland, Lancashire with Robert’s occupation recorded as a master cooper and Edmund’s as a commercial traveller for timber. The following chart shows Robert, Maria and their immediate family.

Family chart for Robert Sergeneson and Maria Gardner

The Sergeneson family had moved to Formby, Lancashire by the time Robert died in 1896. In 1901 both Maria and her son Edmund and his family are living at separate addresses in Formby. Maria was living on her own means and Edmund was a commercial traveller in hard woods.

It’s in 1907 that Gerald Gardner received an invitation to visit the Sergeneson family whose address was Redholme, Freshfield Rd, Formby. The following OS map from 1927 shows the location of Redholme marked in blue:

OS Lancashire XC.3 date 1927

Heselton’s records that Edmund’s wife Nellie explained to Gerald that she was his godmother and that Edmund’s mother Maria was his aunt; someone he had never met. They were also connected through Nellie’s family. When Gerald returned home to Blundellsands after the visit, he apparently asked his mother why he hadn’t previously met his godmother, Nellie. It seems that the Sergeneson’s were Methodists; a faith no longer practised by the Gardner family. This did not put off Gerald continuing to visit the family.

Edmund and Nellie continued to live at Redholme. In the 1921 census Edmund was recorded as a manager at J Gardner and Sons, hardwood merchants, Peel Rd, Bootle. The company had been established in the late 18th century; it specialised in tropical and sub-tropical hard and fancy woods. Edmund and Nellie continued to live at Redholme until their deaths in 1925 and 1930 respectively.

So now just three more books to browse and decide what to do with!

Lastly – I would like to know more about the Sergeneson family mentioned in this blog post. Do contact me if you have any further information which you are willing to share.

Note: the map used in this blog has been reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under the following creative commons licence and sourced from the NLS maps site


1921 Census. : accessed June 2022.

Biography and Genealogy Master Index (BGMI). : accessed June 2022.

Births, marriages and deaths. : accessed June 2022.

Census records. : accessed June 2022.

England and Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. : accessed June 2022.

Formby. : accessed June 2022.

Gerald Brousseau Gardner. : accessed June 2022.

Global, Find a Grave Index for Burials at Sea and Other Select Burial Locations, 1300s to Current. : accessed June 2022.

Heselton, Philip. (2012) Witchfather: A Life of Gerald Gardner, Volume 1 Into the Witch cult. Loughborough: Thoth Publications.

J Gardner and Sons. : accessed June 2022.

Liverpool, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1919. : accessed June 2022.

OS Maps. : accessed June 2022.

The Wicca Man. : accessed June 2022.

UK and Ireland, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960. : accessed June 2022.

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