Untold lives blog

275 posts categorized "Domestic life"

26 November 2020

George Poland & Son – furriers to the rich, friends to the poor

When furrier George Poland died at his home in Oxford Street, London, on 10 May 1860 at the age of 64, many local shops closed as a sign of respect.  Obituaries described him as a benevolent guardian to the poor, diligent, courteous and conscientious.

Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880
Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland was churchwarden for Marylebone at the time of his death.  He was first elected to serve on the St Marylebone Vestry in 1850.  He joked in 1852 that he had lived for 50 years in one house in Oxford Street, but was only two years old as a vestry man.

In September 1853 George Poland joined a committee appointed by the St Marylebone Board of Guardians to enquire into cholera and scarlet fever and the sanitary condition of the crowded and populous local districts.  Poland was also a director of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes which was incorporated by Royal Charter in April 1854.

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - list of directors

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - properties owned with rentsAdvert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 British Newspaper Archive

The aim of the Association was to acquire houses or ground in densely populated districts and provide clean and healthy dwellings for the poor by converting existing properties or building new ones.   Money was raised from shareholders and dividends paid.

By 1858 the Association owned a number of properties, many around Lisson Grove, a very poor area of Marylebone with appalling sanitary conditions.  Rents varied from 1s 3d to 5s 6d per week.  Some accommodation provided water and a sink in each room, whilst others had sculleries, dust shafts, and coppers and flat roofs for washing and drying clothes.  One of the properties acquired by the Association was Lisson Cottages.  The old houses were renovated in 1855 and let as apartments.  The Cottages are now listed artisans’ dwellings

Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes 3
Advert listing rooms to let from Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 16 October 1858 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland and his wife Jane (née Minton) had five sons, but two died as babies.  Charles became a quantity surveyor.  Edward worked as shopman and clerk to his father.  In 1847 Edward incurred debts for a diamond ring and the hire of horses and gigs.  He was admonished at the Insolvent Debtors’ Court for idleness, folly and vain extravagance.  Edward died in 1851 at the age of 27.

The eldest son George Arthur Poland, born in 1820, followed his father into the fur trade, apart from a brief period around 1850 when he worked as a straw hat maker.  He married Hetty Rosina Esquilant in 1842 and they had eleven children, two of whom died in infancy. By 1880, George Poland & Son were furriers to the Royal family.

George Arthur Poland also followed his father in his commitment to public duty.  He was a member of the St Marylebone Vestry for 23 years, serving as chairman and churchwarden.  He represented St Marylebone on the Metropolitan Board of Works and was involved in Liberal politics in the borough.  Poland was Master of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers in 1875.

Poland supported many local social improvement initiatives with both time and money.  When he died in 1883, his obituary in the Marylebone Mercury praised him as ‘an honest, warm-hearted, upright man; an excellent and willing worker; a friend to the poor. To know him was to love him; and the respect and esteem in which he was held by all classes are strong testimony to his excellence and worth’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Marylebone Mercury 10 July and 16 October 1858; 10 May 1879; 3 February 1883.
The Observer 12 January 1852; 14 May 1860
Records of Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes are held at Westminster City Archives ht
Anthony S. Wohl, The Eternal Slum: Housing and Social Policy in Victorian London (London, 1977)

 

19 November 2020

Eliza Armstrong’s children

This is a further instalment in the story of Eliza Armstrong, the child bought for £5.

Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885 Image © The British Library Board British Newspaper Archive

Helena Goodwyn’s recent post told how the Salvation Army stepped in to help Eliza when she was in financial difficulties following the death of her husband. This post focuses on Eliza’s children.

Eliza Armstrong was married at the age of 21 to Henry George West on 24 October 1893 in Newcastle upon Tyne.  Henry was a widower aged 35 living in Jarrow and he was working as a plumber.  The couple’s first child Reginald Ladas West was born in 1894.  His unusual middle name may perhaps be explained by the fact that there was a racehorse called Ladas which was very successful in 1893-1894.

Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 from Illustrated London News 16 June 1894 Image © Illustrated London News Group British Newspaper Archive


Sadly Reginald died aged 3 of tubercular meningitis in June 1897.  Eliza and Henry had five other children: Alice Maud May, William Frederick, Sybil Primrose, Phyllis Irene, and Henry George (Harry). 

Eliza’s life took another sad turn in February 1906 when her husband died of heart disease aged just 42.  She took in lodgers to help ends meet and places were found in National Children’s Homes for the three middle children.  Sybil Primrose and Phyllis Irene (just Irene in some records) were sent 300 miles to Stokesmead at Alverstoke in Hampshire.  They are both there in the 1911 census, aged 10 and 8 respectively.  In 1914 the Hampshire Telegraph reported that Irene West from the children’s home had won a Band of Hope prize.

William Frederick was placed at Edgworth children’s home in Lancashire, a ‘farm colony’ where boys and girls were trained in practical skills.  Many were sent to Canada.  In March 1912 William sailed from Liverpool with 90 other boys in the Dominion to Halifax, Nova Scotia. William became a farm hand in Ontario.

Eliza gave birth to five more children between 1907 and 1915: Reginald West in May 1907 (no father is named on his birth certificate) and four with Samuel O’Donnell, a lead worker - Francis Maurice, Frederick, Minnie, and Norman.

In January 1915 William enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He arrived back in England with his army unit in August 1915 and went to fight in France in May 1916.  William was wounded in the right leg at Passchendaele on 31 October 1917.  He was sent back to Colchester for hospital treatment.

From August 1916 to his discharge in July 1919, William assigned 10 dollars of his pay to his mother.  He returned to Hebburn and married Eliza Carr in April 1919.  The couple moved to Canada and later to the USA.

Newspaper report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917Report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917 British Newspaper Archive

In February and March 1917, Harry West (12) and his brother Reginald (9) appeared at a juvenile court after stealing purses by pickpocketing.  They had run away from home, sleeping rough and eating in cocoa rooms.  Eliza had searched for them night and day.  She asked that her sons be taken away, although they had a good home, because she could do nothing with them.  As the boys had several previous convictions for petty theft, it was decided to send them to Wellesley Training Institution until they were sixteen.

Poor Eliza’s troubles did not end there.  Just weeks later, on 19 May 1917, Samuel O’Donnell died aged 49.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Jarrow Express 2 July 1897, 23 February 1906, & 30 March 1917; Shields Daily News 24 February & 27 March 1917; Hampshire Telegraph 17 April 1914
Stokesmead National Children’s Home 
Edgworth National Children’s Home 

Canadian immigration record for William Frederick West
Canadian Expeditionary Force papers for William Frederick West 

Previous blog posts -
Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong?
Eiiza Armstrong – still elusive!
Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle

 

10 November 2020

A fatal pub brawl and its consequences

The saying goes that fate can turn on a sixpence, but for my great-great-grandfather John Barlow (1843-1884) it turned on a pint.  On 29 December 1884, John was having a drink after work in the Farmer’s Arms, New Ferry, when he accidentally picked up the wrong pint of beer and drank from it.  The pint’s owner, John Whitehouse, alias Mantle, objected and an argument quickly escalated into a fight. 

Two men fighting in a pub watched by other customers- Illustrated Police News 17 April 1869Two men fighting in a pub - Illustrated Police News 17 April 1869 British Newspaper Archive

Unfortunately, John sustained fatal injuries and died next morning in the Borough Hospital, Birkenhead.

Report of the fatal pub brawl at New Ferry - Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885Report of the fatal pub brawl at New Ferry - Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885 British Newspaper Archive

John’s death was obviously catastrophic for the family.  His wife Elizabeth was left widowed with three children – George Robert (16), John Robert (13), and Mary Jane (10).  Her parents Robert and Mary Gore lived in the same street and were a source of support, but her father died in 1887.  In the same year Elizabeth married a shoemaker called William Tasker.  In family legend, Tasker was a villain whose behaviour towards his step-children caused the boys to leave home.  But is there any evidence to support this?

In June 1886, George Robert Barlow joined the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, but that was before his mother’s remarriage.  By 1894 he was in Kirkee, Poona, where he married a nurse Rhoda Mary Moss.  By 1901, he was in Liverpool and described himself as a retired soldier.  He died in 1905, leaving his wife and one surviving son.

My great-grandfather John Robert Barlow (1871-1959) certainly left home to join the Merchant Navy, though the exact date is unclear.  Merchant Navy records are not centralised and it is difficult to track down individuals if you don’t know the name of the ship.  He is certainly absent from the 1891 and 1901 censuses; unlike ships in British ports, ships at sea were not enumerated.  Various documents describe him as a ‘trimmer’ (stoker), and later a marine fireman, so he clearly worked in the engine room of steam ships.  His death certificate describes him as a retired boatswain.  He married in Kirkdale in 1905 when he was 33, his bride Emma Gibbons was 18.

In 1889 Elizabeth and William Tasker had a son together named William George; in 1891, they were staying in a common lodging house in Birkenhead.  By 1901 they were lodging in Ormskirk, Lancashire.  In 1911, Elizabeth and William George were living with her daughter Mary Jane Kirkby in Rock Ferry, and Elizabeth is described as a widow.

And what of William Tasker?  The son of Daniel Tasker, shoemaker of Hoole, Chester, and his wife Mary, he was baptised in Chester in 1842.  His year of birth fluctuates in the records; on his marriage certificate in 1887, Tasker describes himself as 37 rather than 44.  Lying about your age is one thing, but did great-great-grandma Elizabeth really marry a wrong un’?  Possibly.  There is a William Tasker, shoemaker of Hoole, Chester, who appears in the Calendar of Prisoners Sent for Trial in both 1870 and 1871.  He was found guilty of riot in August 1870 after attacking Hoole Police Station, and sentenced to 14 days' hard labour at Chester Castle.  He was then found guilty of larceny in September 1871, having stolen ‘a coat, a pair of trowsers and a medal…’ from his father, and was sentenced to 12 months' hard labour.  Included are details of Tasker’s record of previous convictions for drunkenness, ‘breaches of Militia discipline’, assaulting police, and in May 1868 he served 14 days for stealing a duck.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
British Newspaper Archive (can also be accessed through Findmypast) includes reports of John Barlow’s death, for example Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885 & 29 January 1885; Cheshire Observer 3 January 1885; Chester Courant 7 January 1885; Morning Post 2 January 1885.
British India Office Marriages via Findmypast (Bengal, Madras and Bombay: Registrar Marriages ‎ (1891-1895) IOR/N/11/8 f.677, no.3)

 

27 October 2020

Wearing a face mask

With the coronavirus pandemic we are all getting used to wearing facemasks in a range of public spaces from shops to transport.  Yet whilst the wearing of masks feels very new to us it is not the first time that they have been employed as a form of protection during an epidemic.

Face masks have been worn as a form of protection from foul air, or miasma, since at least the early 17th century.  The miasma theory of infection, which was accepted by doctors from the 1st century BC until well into the 19th century, ventured that many diseases – such as plague and cholera – were caused and spread through populations inhaling bad air.  (Indeed, the disease malaria literally takes its name from bad (mal) air (aria) in medieval Italian.)  In order to be protected doctors, and the public alike, often carried posies of flowers to freshen the air around them or wore face coverings that both acted as a physical barrier against bad air and attempted to fragrance (and thus purify) the air that was breathed.

Coloured copper engraving by Paul Fürst depicting a plague doctor wearing a mask- ‘Doctor Beak from Rome’Coloured copper engraving by Paul Fürst depicting a plague doctor entitled ‘Doctor Schnabel von Rome’, [trans. ‘Doctor Beak from Rome’], 1656. from Wikimedia Commons


One of the most striking and recognisable protective face masks from the past is the long beaked mask worn by plague doctors throughout the 17th century. The mask has been credited as being developed in 1619 by Charles de Lorme (1584-1678), the physician to the French kings Henri IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV.  The mask, which was a form of early respirator, covered the doctor’s full face with glass openings for the eyes and two air holes for the nostrils.  The long beak contained a cavity into which was stuffed a variety of aromatic items intended to purify the foul air that passed through the mask.  It would typically be filled with dried flowers, herbs, spices or a sponge soaked in vinegar.  The mask’s grotesque features made the plague doctor an instantly recognisable and feared figure and it eventually became a popular costume for revellers at the Carnival of Venice – an event made famous for its elaborate masks.

Kid skin face mask with silk ribbonsKid skin mask with silk ribbons, worn as a prophylactic against the plague, c. 1660. Add MS 78428 B Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Although not as dramatic as those worn by the plague doctors, the British Library holds a face covering from the mid-17th century that has some similar features to shield against the plague.  The Library’s covering is made from fine kidskin leather and comprises a pouch into which the wearer could place scented materials to protect the nose and mouth from foul air.  The Library’s intriguing face covering is found in the archive of the diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706) and was possibly worn by him as a form of protection during the London plague epidemic of 1665-1666; the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague to occur in England.

It is not clear how much protection these plague masks afforded, but both de Lorme and Evelyn lived through years of plague to survive well into old age.  Masks can clearly help support public health and though it feels strange at first, we should remember wearing them in an epidemic is nothing new.

Alexander Lock
Curator, Modern Historical Manuscripts and Archives

 

22 October 2020

Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle

This blog post provides a modest update to curator Margaret Makepeace’s 2012 and 2016 blog posts on Untold Lives - Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong? and Eliza Armstrong – still elusive!  Readers are encouraged to refresh their memory of Margaret’s posts before reading on here.


A letter from Eliza West (formerly Armstrong) to W. T. Stead, dated 6 March 1906, and sent from 50 Gladstone Street, Hebburn, confirms Eliza’s marriage to Henry George West, and his death, which left Eliza struggling to support her family and searching for ways to generate the necessary income to keep her household afloat.

Gladstone Street in 1987 showing terraced housesGladstone Street in 1987. Copyright South Tyneside Libraries

That W. T. Stead and Eliza were still in touch may come as a surprise to those familiar with ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’, Stead’s series of sensational, New Journalism articles, published in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885, in an attempt to end the deadlock in Parliament over the Criminal Law Amendment Act.  Stead was vilified (and rightly so) for his part in the abduction of Eliza, in his overzealous campaign to prove that a child could be bought for £5 and sold into sex slavery on the streets of London.

In Eliza’s letter to Stead she thanks him for his ‘kind and welcome letter’ and the gift of a ‘butafull’ [sic] book.  There has clearly been some delay between Stead’s last missive and Eliza’s reply because she apologises for not responding sooner and tells Stead she has been ill.  The letter is familiar in tone, and in it Eliza informs Stead that she has made up her mind to take in lodgers: ‘for a liveing as I realy don’t know what else to do [sic]’.  She signs off ‘thanking you so much for all your kindness I never will forget nor cease to remember all your kindness to us'.

In the same year a letter on Salvation-Army-Headquarters-headed-paper and dated 31 October begins with the subject line:

MRS WEST = ELIZA ARMSTRONG

The letter is from Commissioner Adelaide Cox and begins ‘My dear Chief’ (presumably, therefore, it is addressed to Bramwell Booth).  Commissioner Cox informs Booth that she has ‘instructed Staff-Captain Salt to continue to visit this woman [Eliza West] once a week until she has really turned her present difficult corner’.

The letter goes on to say: ‘We are taking up the question of the children at our Headquarters here.  There are five; and the idea is to find Homes for the three middle children.  Mrs West is willing for this.  At present, there are two lodgers in the house, who pay weekly, and all would be well in this direction, but for the fact that Mrs West has something the matter with her leg, and is obliged to attend the Infirmary'.

Those five children were Alice Maud May (born 1896), and referred to as her eldest ‘May’ in Eliza’s letter to Stead, William Frederick (born 1898), Sybil Primrose (born 1900), Phyllis Irene (born 1902) and Henry George (born 1904).

Between March and October Eliza must have moved quickly to bring in the lodgers mentioned both in her letter to Stead and that of Adelaide Cox’s letter to Bramwell Booth.  And by 1911 it would seem that the Army had succeeded also, in placing those ‘three middle children’ elsewhere, because William Frederick, Sybil Primrose and Phyllis Irene are not listed as members of Eliza’s new household with partner Samuel O’Donnell in the 1911 census return.

Table based on census returns for the West and O'Donnell families in 1901 and 1911

* The 1911 census records ‘children born alive to present marriage’, and sub-divides that information between ‘total children born alive’, ‘children still living’ and ‘children who have died’.  Tellingly, and indeed poignantly, in Eliza’s column, under total children born alive the number 9 is written; children still living 8; children who have died 1; and then each number is struck-through as the realisation is made that only O’Donnell’s children count here, and so the numbers 3, 2, 1 are placed above the original numbers recorded.  This however, again, is not quite accurate, as Eliza’s dead child is Reginald Ladas West (born 1894, died 1897).  Nevertheless, this semi-legible, deleted information tells us that Eliza lost at least 1 child in her lifetime, and at the time of the 1911 census was survived by at least 8.  A recent search of the General Register Office birth index adds two more children born to Eliza and Samuel, Minnie and Norman O’Donnell.

Dr Helena Goodwyn
Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, Northumbria University

Further reading:
Eliza Armstrong's children

 

24 September 2020

Bringing the children home

In the 19th century, the East India Company made increasing efforts to bring the trade in enslaved people in the Gulf to an end.  The majority of the people imported into the Gulf came from the East Coast of Africa and Zanzibar, but some also came from India.  These were usually women and children who had been kidnapped from their homes to be sold in the Gulf.  It was one of the responsibilities of British Agents in the Gulf to discover and rescue these children.

This was not always easy.  The local rulers could be uncooperative, and the merchants and traders would disguise the origins of the children to avoid detection.  The Native Agent at Muscat complained that his efforts to emancipate children had turned the population against him.  Even after they had tracked down the children, the Agents faced further difficulties in freeing them; the British Government stipulated that they must avoid force, but also directed that no money should be handed over, to avoid stimulating the market.  The Native Agent would look after the children at the British Government’s expense until he was able to place them on a ship to Bombay [Mumbai].  The Senior Magistrate of Police at Bombay was responsible for reuniting children with their parents or finding an alternative situation for them.

Photograph of the buildings of the Muscat Consulate and Agency on a waterfront

The Muscat Consulate and Agency, c. 1870 (Photo 355/1/43)

Mahomed Unwur [Muhammed Anwar] lived with his brother, Mirza Abdulla [‘Abd Allah], in Butcher Street, Bombay, when he was twelve.  One morning his brother sent him to the bazaar where he met a man who enticed him on board a ship with sweets.  Two weeks later, he arrived at Muscat and lived there for six or seven months with the man who had kidnapped him.  He was offered for sale privately at different houses during this time, until one day, when he was gathering dates at the Customs House, he was taken to the house of the Native Agent.  He finally returned to Bombay in November 1843, where he was reunited with his brother and returned to live with him.  This happy ending was sadly fairly unusual for kidnapped children.  On the same ship returning to India as Mahomed Unwur was another child, a girl.

Painting of a street in Bombay busy with people, 1867‘A street in Bombay’, chromolithograph by William Simpson, from India Ancient and Modern, 1867. BL Online Gallery 

Eleven-year-old Auzeemah [‘Azimah] knew that she had been born in a village near Moradabad.  She was kidnapped and lived in Moradabad for three or four years.  A man then took her to Muscat and tried to exchange her for a boy, but while at Muscat she was discovered and taken to live with the Native Agent until she could be sent home.  Unfortunately, she remembered so little about her parents or her village that, despite lengthy enquiries by the Government of Agra, her parents were not found.   Auzeemah was instead placed with a family in Bombay who would bring her up.

Anne Courtney
Gulf History Cataloguer

Further reading:
The stories of Mahomed and Auzeemah can be found in IOR/F/4/2034/98123.

 

10 September 2020

Four 'Weddings' and a Funeral: A Liverpool Story

It started with checking family history loose ends in lockdown.  I was looking for a birth record in 1900 for Elizabeth A. Spinks in Liverpool.  In the 1901 census she was living with her mother Elizabeth Jane Spinks and maternal grandparents William and Margaret Davies in Becket Street, Kirkdale.  I eventually found the record for an Agnes Elizabeth Spinks.  Agnes’s father was Edward Spinks, an able seaman.  Spinks and Elizabeth Jane Davies had married in St Mary’s Church Kirkdale on 14 April 1895.  He wasn’t with his wife and daughter in 1901 because he was moored off Malta on the ship Illustrious

Plan of Liverpool 1845 with illustrations of ships and buildingsPlan of Liverpool (London,John Tallis & Co, 1845) Maps.25.a.2 Images Online

Looking to see what the family was up to in the 1911 census, I wasn’t prepared for the subsequent story of intrigue that surrounded my distant cousin Elizabeth Jane and the downright untruths recorded in the official documents.

Census entry for the Eccleston family 1911 Census entry for the Eccleston family 1911 via Findmypast © Crown Copyright from The National Archives

In 1911 she is recorded as Elizabeth Jane Eccleston, wife of John Eccleston, house painter.  They were living in Thames Street, Toxteth Park, together with daughter Agnes and Ellen Constance Eccleston (3) and John William Eccleston (1).  The census states that the Ecclestons had been married for 5 years.  This is certainly a fib, and the wedding a phantom one, no doubt designed to give the Ecclestons some respectability within the community, and their children some legitimacy. 

Edward Spinks was very much alive at the time of the alleged Eccelston nuptials.  He appears in the admissions registers of Liverpool Workhouse in October 1905, having been taken off the Laconia in Huskisson Dock; he is described as ‘temporarily disabled’ and suffering a fever.  Elizabeth is recorded as his next of kin, living in Pugin Street, Everton.  Edward reappears in the Workhouse records in April 1910, suffering from dropsy.  He had previously spent time in Toxteth Park Workhouse hospital with ‘congestion of the lungs’. 

Elizabeth left Edward to live with John Eccleston at some point in 1906.   Agnes was removed from school in Everton on 21 May 1906, probably because the family moved out of the area.

Marriage entry for Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 25 June 1913, at St Peter’s Church, Liverpool.Marriage entry for Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 25 June 1913, at St Peter’s Church, Liverpool. Lancashire Banns & Marriages via Findmypast, Image © Liverpool City Council.

Elizabeth’s third wedding (counting the fantasy one) took place on 25 June 1913 at St Peter’s Parish Church Liverpool, when she “married” John Eccleston.   She is described as a widow, living in Walnut Street.  Perhaps Elizabeth truly believed that Spinks was dead – his spells in the Workhouse infirmaries indicate he wasn’t a well man.  However, he didn’t die until November 1916, aged 44. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Everton Cemetery.

Marriage entry for Elizabeth Jane Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 5 Nov 1919, at St Mary’s Church, Kirkdale.Marriage entry from General Register Office for Elizabeth Jane Elizabeth Jane Spinks and John Eccleston, 5 Nov 1919, at St Mary’s Church, Kirkdale.  The church was opened in 1836, closed in 1973, and demolished in 1979.

Finally, Elizabeth and John Eccleston were married (again) in St Mary’s Church, Kirkdale, on 5 November 1919, 24 years after she’d married Edward Spinks in the same church.  This time, with Edward dead, presumably the marriage was legal.  Interestingly (or shamelessly) she was back living in Pugin Street, although not in the same house she’d lived in with Edward.  I have been unable to find any reference to a charge of bigamy against Elizabeth, though I find it surprising that she wasn’t ‘found out’, given the close knit ties amongst people in working class neighbourhoods within Liverpool at the time.  Perhaps by moving around this large industrial city, and lying on official documents, she was able to disguise her cohabitation, her illegitimate children, and bigamy.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Many cases relating to bigamy at the time can be found in the British Newspaper Archive.  A search for cases of bigamy relating to couples married at St Mary’s Church Kirkdale for example brings up the following cases:
Cheltenham Chronicle 17 Oct 1903: Case of Francis Huxham, barman, who married Agnes Edwards at St Mary’s, Kirkdale in 1900, then bigamously married Jane Hindley.
Cornishman 4 Nov 1909: Case of Daniel Young, seaman, who bigamously married Frances Stephenson at St Mary’s Kirkdale in September 1907 while married to Ellen Jane Opie of Penryn.
Dundee Evening Telegraph 24 Jul 1913: Case of Arabella Margaret Bake, married Joseph William Bake at St Mary’s Kirkdale on 25 Dec 1900, and bigamously married William Woolliscroft at Liverpool Parish Church in December 1905.
Liverpool Daily Post 3 Nov 1916: Case of Walter Turnbull Andrew Collier Hunter, seaman, married Jane Shaw Barton at St Mary’s Kirkdale on 23 December 1914, then bigamously married at St Anne’s Church Aigburth in December 1915.

 

20 August 2020

Death on the Cherwell

Browsing the British Library Online Shop, one of the Crime Classics caught my eye - Death on the Cherwell.  My great great uncle drowned in the River Cherwell and this is his story.

Cover of Death on the Cherwell showing two girls in a punt
Death on the Cherwell, a novel by Mavis Doriel Hay originally published in 1935 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Edwin Thomas Smith was born in 1856 in Headington, Oxford, the sixth of the eight children of Thomas, a mason’s labourer, and his wife Mary. His siblings married, and all but one sister left the area.  Edwin stayed with his widowed mother in the High Street at Old Headington and worked as a gardener.  He took an active part in village life, attending St Andrew’s Church regularly.  Edwin belonged to the Temperance Society, helping to run its lending library.   He was also a hardworking member of the Loyal Havelock Lodge of the Oddfellows friendly society, serving as Grand Master, Lecture Master, and Vice-President of the Juvenile Branch.

In 1885, Edwin was appointed caretaker of the newly established Headington Cemetery.  His duties were to dig graves, keep the cemetery tidy, and to keep the register of burials.  He did not stay in post long, but resigned following a dispute over his pay.  Then he became gardener at Lady Margaret Hall.

On the morning of Friday 7 June 1901 Edwin was found in the River Cherwell, face down in the water by the landing stage at Lady Margaret Hall.  A student called Miss May discovered him on her way to the boathouse.  Two workmen were summoned to lift Edwin out of the water, and the Vice-Principal, Miss Edith Pearson, attempted artificial respiration to no avail.

An inquest was held the same day.  Edwin’s sister Sarah Baker said that he had been suffering from giddiness for some time.  Jane Bunce, housemaid at Lady Margaret Hall, said she had spoken to Edwin just before he went down to the river to fetch water for the indoor plants.  He said that he had had a bad night and complained of chest pains.  The jury returned a verdict of ‘Found Drowned’.

Edwin was buried on Sunday 9 June in Headington Cemetery.  His body was taken from his home in the High Street to St Andrew’s Church preceded by 130 brethren of the Loyal Havelock Lodge.  The service was ‘impressively read’ by the vicar Reverend R W Townson.  Everyone then moved to the cemetery where the rest of the burial service was read, followed by the Oddfellows’ service.  The grave was covered with wreathes.  At Evensong later that day, Reverend Townson devoted the greater part of his sermon to the lessons to be learned from Edwin’s God-fearing life.

Edwin’s mother Mary died in 1905.  She was buried with her son.  Here is their grave, the inscription to Edwin faded and its stone cross broken from the base.

Grave of Edwin Thomas Smith and his mother Mary, with a stone cross propped in front of the main stone and a bunch of freesias

Grave of Edwin Thomas Smith and his mother Mary in Headington Cemetery - author's photograph Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (available via Findmypast) – e.g. Jackson’s Oxford Journal 15 June 1901.
Rules of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity Friendly Society

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