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10 posts from September 2014

05 September 2014

Melancholy suicide at North Mimms

In our last post, Wealth and Want, we left Samuel Blakey at Worship Street Police Court in August 1864 dismayed at the prospect of paying 10s a week to help support his daughter Susannah Heath and her children Emily and Sidney. He exclaimed that he would have to sell his farm if he was to comply with the order.  Was Samuel Blakey a heartless father or simply a struggling farmer with many mouths to feed? This is the story of what happened to the family afterwards.

In 1866, Samuel Blakey was suffering from ill health and decided to let his farm in North Mimms from Lady Day (25 March) 1867.  There was an auction in October 1866 of 18 horses, 24 fat bullocks, 45 ewes, 107 lambs, poultry, 180 loads of meadow hay and clover, 70 acres of wheat and the straw, 40 acres of oats, beans and barley, and farm implements.  His wife Sarah had a history of depression and was very despondent at the prospect of leaving the farm. On 9 March 1867 Sarah was found in bed with her throat cut, a ‘melancholy suicide’ which ‘cast a gloom throughout the surrounding neighbourhood’. 

Woman kneeling in graveyard
Image taken from Bewick's Woodcuts (1784.b.13, figure 1055) Images Online  Noc

Samuel moved to the city of Lincoln after Sarah’s death but was in North Mimms when he died on 24 November 1868.  The probate valuation of his estate states that his effects were worth less than £2,000. 

Samuel Blakey had a large number of children by his wives Mary Holmes and Sarah Shirtcliffe, born both in Lincolnshire and Hertfordshire.  Some of his children had stayed in Lincolnshire when he moved to Potterells Farm, for example George Shirtcliffe Blakey, a ‘mechanical draughtsman’. Others moved to Lincolnshire later: in the 1871 census, nineteen year old accountant Nathaniel Blakey is shown as the head of a household in Lincoln shared with his sister Harriet, 22. Their brother Robert Blakey stayed in Hertfordshire running a business as a corn merchant.

The magistrate was told in 1864 that Samuel Blakey’s daughters at North Mimms were dressed like ‘young ladies’ and there was ‘every appearance of wealth and respectability’, a stark contrast to Susannah Heath in her miserable room in Hackney. The disparity in lifestyle between the sisters persisted. Charlotte Blakey married wine merchant Henry Pratt and in 1881 they were living in Lincoln with three daughters, a niece, a governess, and two domestic servants. Lucy Blakey married brewer Francis Parsons and she too could afford to employ servants.  By 1901 Lucy was widow and living at De Walden Lodge Eastbourne with her unmarried sister Harriet and a cook, a parlour maid, and a housemaid.  Both Lucy and Harriet were living on private means.

And what became of Susannah, Emily and Sidney Heath?  In 1871 they were all still living in Hackney but with an addition to the family – one year old Susannah Heath.  Fourteen year old Emily and her mother were working as machinists.  Sidney became a potman but died aged nineteen in 1881.  I believe that Emily married William Campbell in 1874 and raised a family in London. But I cannot trace the two Susannahs after 1871.  Can anyone tell me what happened to them?

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records  Cc-by


Further reading:

British Newspaper Archive

Hertford Mercury and Reformer 16 March 1867

Watford Observer 16 March 1867

02 September 2014

Wealth and Want

In 1846 Samuel Blakey was elected guardian of the poor for the Lincoln Union. In 1864 he was summoned by poor law officials from St John Hackney in London to explain why he should not contribute towards the support of his daughter Susannah and her two children.

Samuel Blakey was a farmer in Scothern, Lincolnshire before selling up in 1849 to move to Potterells Farm in North Mimms Hertfordshire. On leaving Scothern he auctioned 338 sheep, 30 ‘beasts’, and five horses, together with grassland, farming implements, and part of his household furniture.  He was twice married and had many children.

Just starve us - comic song
H.1260.(1) Just starve us - comic song (1843) Noc

When he appeared at Worship Street Police Court in August 1864, Samuel Blakey, ‘an elderly and healthy-looking person of gentlemanly exterior’, was said to be a man of wealth and substance, farming about 300 acres in North Mimms as well as owning other property.  The parish of St John Hackney had written to tell him that his daughter Susannah Heath was being given relief and asking for some financial arrangement to be made.  Samuel had not replied.

Susannah Heath, ‘a lady-like but manifestly suffering woman’, explained her situation to the court.  Her husband William had died of consumption three years earlier leaving her with two children. Emily aged seven suffered from a ‘scrofulous complaint of the hip’ and Sidney aged two and a half was consumptive. Susannah herself had ‘an internal disease of a peculiar nature’. She sold ‘trifling articles’ such as mustard and starch, earning anything between 3d and 3s a week.  The parish provided her with tea, sugar, and bread.  Occasional small sums of money sent by her father and other relatives had all been spent.

The parish relieving officer reported that he had found the family in want living in a miserable room in St Thomas Square Hackney. The magistrate asked what order he was expected to make: the clerk to the parish trustees replied ‘Such only, sir, as shall keep the family off our hands merely’. When Samuel was asked by the magistrate how much he was willing to give his daughter, he claimed that he could not afford to allow her anything more. He had a large family to keep from a farm of 360 acres of bad land and needed to borrow money to carry on his business. However, the officer who delivered the warrant to attend court reported that everyone in the North Mimms area said that Samuel was wealthy and kept a carriage and horses. Samuel was said to look astonished at this.

Samuel was ordered to pay Susannah 10s weekly, 5s for herself and 2s 6d weekly for each of her children, together with the expenses of the hearing.  The magistrate ruled that the order could be rescinded if Samuel could show that the representation of his ‘position and sufficiency ‘was false. Samuel responded: ‘I must sell the farm. I must sell the farm’.

 To be continued...

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by


Further reading:

British Newspaper Archive

Stamford Mercury 28 September 1849

Liverpool Daily Post 22 August 1864

Hertford Mercury and Reformer 27 August 1864

Kentish Chronicle 27 August 1864


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