Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

21 March 2016

Eliza Armstrong – still elusive!

In April 2012 I posted a piece about Eliza Armstrong, the young girl involved in W T Stead’s attempt to highlight the scandal of  child prostitution.  I tried to discover what happened to Eliza afterwards and appealed for help.  This is an update - Eliza is still proving to be elusive.

After the Old Bailey trial, Eliza was placed in the Princess Louise Home for the Protection of Young Girls in Wanstead Essex for good schooling and training before going into service. It was reported in the press that she did well at the Home and in June 1886 she was awarded a prize for general good conduct. By June 1889 she had been taken by the matron to ‘a situation with a good family in the country’.

I suggested that Eliza moved to North-East England and married Henry George West. Gavin Weightman has kindly sent me details of this marriage at the Register Office in Newcastle on 24 October 1893. Eliza Armstrong is aged 21 like our Eliza, but her father’s name is given as William Armstrong house carpenter, not Charles Armstrong chimney sweep.  However the 1901 census states that Eliza West was born in Edgware Road London – very close to Charles Street where our Armstrongs lived.  Is this just a coincidence? I have searched for an Eliza Armstrong born about 1872 to a William Armstrong in the Edgware Road area who could have married West in 1893 but have drawn a blank so far.  Can anyone do better?

Newspapers published a number of stories about Eliza’s family after she went away. In February1886 her father Charles was found guilty and fined for assaulting Ellen Jones a neighbour who appeared in court with ‘a fearfully discoloured eye and swollen cheek’. He claimed that her injuries were the result of her falling over his door mat when drunk. 

 ‘Assault by a sweep’ illustrating the Charles Armstrong court case

 ‘Assault by a sweep’ illustrating the Charles Armstrong court case, although the name plate says ‘W. ARMSTRONG SWEEP’ -  Illustrated Police News 6 March 1886. Taken from British Newspaper Archive.

Six months later Eliza’s 12 year-old brother John aged was arrested for begging in the Edgware Road. He said he wanted money to go to the music hall. His mother Elizabeth said he was a bad boy. She had beaten him, kept him without clothes and sometimes without food, but nothing made him behave. John was taken to Paddington workhouse.

Elizabeth Armstrong was sentenced to fourteen days’ imprisonment in August 1888 for being drunk and disorderly and for assault. She had struck Ellen Tuley of Charles Street with a sweep’s broom and kicked Police Constable Nicholas. Her defence claimed the Armstrongs had been subjected to systematic annoyance ever since the Stead case. Charles was so affected that he had lost his reason and was in Marylebone Infirmary.  Workhouse records describe how Charles was hearing spirit voices and seeing imaginary objects. He was declared insane on 4 August 1888 and taken to Colney Hatch Asylum where he died in 1890.

In July1897, Elizabeth applied to Marylebone Police court for news of her 16 year-old son Charles whose period of five years’ detention at Macclesfield Industrial School had recently ended. Having corresponded regularly and affectionately, his letters had suddenly ceased the previous December when he had said was keen to come home to help her.  The magistrate promised to investigate. And so shall I – another Armstrong mystery!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Sheffield Independent 12 December 1885; Illustrated Police News 6 March 1886; Cardiff Times 14 August 1886;   London Evening Standard 4 June 1886; London Evening Standard  3 August 1888; Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 9 Jun 1889; Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 11 July 1897.

St Marylebone Workhouse papers relating to Charles Armstrong’s detention are held at London Metropolitan Archives.


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