BROTHERS BATTLE TO TRACE FAMILY LINKS TO CITY’S ANCIENT CONFLICT
Family folk-lore suggests two brothers’ links with Durham City’s Freemen may stretch back to the 14thcentury Battle of Neville’s Cross.
But extensive research into the lineage of 27-year-old James Watson-Lee and younger brother Alex (22), who were sworn into the Drapers’ Company at the Lammas Guild Day (August 5th), has only found firm evidence that takes them back to the 1680s.
“It has been passed down by word of mouth through many generations that a member of the Lee family was among the citizens of Durham who helped defeat the Scots in the battle in 1346 and was rewarded with the freedom of the city,” said Dorset born James, a chartered accountant working in London’s Canary Wharf and now living in the capital.
“Detailed investigation of our lineage identified a common ancestor – Roger Lee – who we believe was born in the 1680s and became a freeman in 1705. But long-missing freemen’s documents stopped us going further back in time,” he added.
“Our own family records start with my great-great-great grandfather, William Lee, described as the son of Mark Lee a draper, and born in the 1790s. His son, also called William, was born in 1833, a year after his dad was made a freeman. The two Williams were both enthusiastic members of the Drapers’ Guild but worked in the coal mines – the father as an overman at West Rainton and his son ultimately as under manager at Eden Pit in Leadgate,” said James.
The brothers’ grandfather, known as Rex, was a student at Durham University on the outbreak of Second World War and never completed his studies after joining up.
He was an officer with the Royal Army Service Corps and fought extensively in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East, earning an MBE in 1943 for gallant and distinguished service and a mention in despatches in 1945. He served alongside so many soldiers called Lee that he used his middle name to be identified as Watson Lee, names that stuck after the war ended.
The brothers’ father Peter, a solicitor on the south coast and their uncle Mark, who lives in Essex, both joined the Drapers nearly 20 years ago. They are also related to the Calvert-Lees who are members of the Barbers’ Company.
James lists his hobbies as running and music while his brother Alex, studying to be a solicitor at the University of Law in Guildford following a history degree from the University of Birmingham, plays for a local football team in his spare time.